Election result that will change the European political landscape for a decade

The last two weeks have seen election result that will change the European political landscape for a decade.

In Britain, France and Greece, the voters have said a resounding “no” to austerity. Even in the voters of Schleswig-Holstein gave Angela Merkel a bloody nose, her CDU party’s worst defeat in Schleswig-Holstein since 1950. Gone is Nicolas Sarkozy, in comes the anti-austerity Francois Hollande as President, and the two pro-austerity centre parties in Greece have been rejected by the voters.

The two posh boys who don’t know the price of milk have been given notice. Writing in today’s Daily Mail, former Sun editor, Kelvin MacKenzie, has revealed that he has waged a £1,000 on Cameron being gone by November. He got odds of 10-1.

There is so much to comment on, but the rejection of austerity must be the headline. Other matters, in brief, include:

Labours excellent performance up and down the country and its growing lead in the opinion polls. However, the party should not be complacent and, in light of European election results, needs to show that it is setting its face firmly against austerity. Just saying that they would not have cut so far and so fast is the wrong message. It now needs to give people hope and begin to make firm promises about public increasing expenditure, investing in housing and infrastructure products, and reversing changes in the NHS.

Locally, Labour had an excellent result in Hastings, having secured its most seats ever on the Borough Council and reinforcing its hold in that town. But Hastings is a strange place, having elected a Conservative MP, Amber Rudd, in 2010 on the same day as it elected a Labour council. Sarah Owen, Labour’s energetic and electable young candidate, should not underestimate the Blue Lady, Amber Rudd, who has become a highly respected member of the local political establishment, across party divides.

The Greens have much to be pleased about. They increased their number of councillors by more than any other party other than Labour and the Scottish Nationalist Party. The highlight was the third place secured by Jenny Jones in London’s mayoral election, beating the Lib Dems who came fourth. This was achieved in spite of Brian Paddick being given equal coverage to Boris and Ken with Jenny being treated by the media as an also ran.

As for the Lib Dems themselves, they now have fewer councillors than at any point in their history. Perhaps this is a trend that will see these Tory appeasers returning their lowest number of MPs at the next election. Their claim, that they are preventing the worst excesses of the Conservatives, ring increasingly hollow. They are nothing more than Tory-enablers who, but for their enthusiastic participation in the Coalition, the Conservatives would have been able to force through many of their most extreme measures.

Finally, the relative success of the far right in Europe is extremely worrying. While the BNP lost all the seats it was defending in Britain’s local elections, Marine Le Pen in France and Golden Dawn in Greece sends a chilling warning to all democrats across Europe. I will write more about this soon.

(Note: An earlier draft of this post referred to Rising Dawn. This has been corrected to Golden Dawn)

Stupid statements from Douglas Alexander must have had Brighton & Hove Labour activists in Liverpool squirming

A well attended fringe meeting this week at Labour’s Conference in Liverpool was one that looked at how Labour could see off the threat of the Green Party which was described as a “creeping threat”.

Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander demonstrated his shallowness when he described the Greens as a “one policy party”. How Labour activists from Brighton and Hove must have cringed at this. Any reasonably minded person will acknowledge that the Greens have a range of policies, something that marks the Greens from their predecessor, the Ecology Party. With ‘leaders’ such as Alexander, no wonder Labour is struggling to gain credibility.

He said that campaigners should ask the Greens “what have you actually achieved for your party”. Well Shallow Doug, they have won their first seat at Westminster, and they have gained control of their first Council. This compares to you … having been … the election organiser …. in …. 2010 ….? Remind me of the result.

But of course the Greens in Brighton and Hove have begun to implement their manifesto, and nobody who has worked closely with the likes of Bill Randall, Amy Kennedy, Geoffrey Bowden, Ben Duncan, and others will have been very impressed. Council officers have been pleasantly surprised at the leadership being shown by their focus and work rate.

Ben Page, of the polling agency, Ipsos MORI, described Green voters as typically middle aged and middle class, and more likely to have voted Labour in the past. Steady on, Ben. Middle aged? He then contradicted himself by saying that the Greens “are picking up protest votes because the Liberal Democrats are now fatally compromised by their role in the coalition.” In Brighton and Hove it is clear that there has been a move from Labour to the Greens, but it has been more than a protest vote. For some it will be a protest, for others it was tactical – the Greens being best placed to beat the Tories in Brighton Pavilion. But for many, it allowed them to vote with their conscience, for a party that stands for what the Labour used to stand for, and a party without the legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan. No matter how much Labour activists deny this, it remains a significant factor in the Greens’ rise.

But the Boy Douglas is right when he describes the Greens as a “creeping threat”. I prefer the description coined by Luke Walter (who I have previously described as the best councillor Brighton and Hove doesn’t have … yet). Luke described it as a “Green tide” that started in town centre wards where the Greens had their early success but as they settled down and had families, moved to outlying wards such as Hollingdean and Stanmer and Withdene, where they Greens picked up 3 of the 6 seats available.

The most sensible comment came from Brighton Labour activist, Tim Lunnon, who is a decent, thoughtful man. He said “What I don’t know about losing to the Greens has not been discovered yet.”

What Labour needs to learn is how to beat the Greens, and they won’t get closer to beating the Greens while they have ‘leaders’ like the Boy Wonder Alexander coming out with inane stupidity such as the Greens being a “one policy party”.

A plea for Labour in Brighton and Hove to become an inclusive party of the left

It is said that Margaret Thatcher’s greatest legacy was New Labour, and in many regards this is the inheritance that Labour has to overcome.  Gordon Brown had a great opportunity to break with the past by making some big, bold changes, but he fluffed the chance.  So too had (has, just possibly) Ed Miliband.  But rather than announcing something ambitious, he set in train a two year review of Labour’s policies.  That might work for Labour Policy Forum anoraks like Simon Burgess (its national vice chair), it leaves most voters cold and bemused.

But there is another legacy of Thacher – the “enemy within”.  This was a phrase famously coined by the Iron Lady for trade unionists, most notably Arthur Scargill.  She had seen off the Argentinians in the Falklands War, and she turned her sights on the unions.  Under the disastrous leadership of Neil Kinnock, Labour turned on Scargill and then other ‘enemies within’ – Militant, the left generally, and then under Blair, the Brownites.  So much of Labour defined itself as Blairite or Brownite, even though there was not that much in policy terms to separate them.  After the fall of Brown, the primary points of reference related to the Miliband of Brothers, Ed and David.

Labour used to describe itself as a ‘broad church’.  There have always been those on the right (traditional social democrats), the soft left (Fabians), the non-aligned left (in Brighton these even included Christian Socialists), and  Trotskyists (divided into as many sects as there were members).  This mindset persists.  Recently in conversation with me, someone referred to the “Trots” as though they were as unpleasant as their namesake!  Little credit was given to the positive contribution Militant made to the building of the Party in Brighton, and to the success in 1986 when Labour took control of the old Brighton Council.

The leadership of any political party finds dissent difficult, and some times the dissenters can be a right pain in the proverbial. But that is a small price to pay for a vibrant political party.  Labour in Brighton and Hove should seek to become, once again, that broad church, inviting and welcoming anyone and everyone who is left of centre.  Sadly, it is unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future.  Labour is still licking its wounds from the last general and local elections, viewing the Greens as the new ‘enemy within’.  I cannot count how many times in conversation Labour activists have been quick to attack the Greens in general and Caroline Lucas in particular.  This constant sniping makes Labour look churlish  and sectarian.  Not attractive qualities.

The Greens offer a broad church for those concerned about environmental issues, and attract support and members from former Labour, Lib Dem and even Tory members and supporters.  While this is a strength, it is also a weakness.  The Greens don’t offer an ideological home for the left and socialists in particular.  I am more likely to say “I am a socialist, which is why I joined Labour” that “I am a socialist, which is why I joined the Greens”.  But at the moment most on the unaligned left are not likely to say either.

Why the Greens are likely to get the better of Labour in May’s local elections in Brighton and Hove

I’m always amused by the reaction some of my posts receive.  If I criticise the Greens, I can anticipate righteous indignation from Green activists from far and wide. If, as I did yesterday, criticise Labour (on this occasion for lacking a vision for Brighton) I am accused of being a Green supporter.

Anyone who regularly reads this blog will know I dish it out to both Labour and the Greens.  I accept that it is not necessarily in equal measure, and that I have been more critical of Labour than the Greens.  I do this because I think Labour deserves it more. But that doesn’t make me a Green.  I hope that I might be seen as a critical friend of both Labour and the Greens.

Many in Brighton and Hove who see themselves as being on the left of British politics, are in a privileged position of having choice when casting their vote.  In many parts of the City a Green vote is certainly not a wasted vote.  Neither is a Labour vote.  Labour activists are mistaken to point to Oldham East and Saddleworth as evidence of the Greens in decline.  They are equally wrong to say that the result across the City last May point to Labour coming fourth and therefore Labour is the challenger to the Tories in May.  In Brighton Kemptown and Hove, many Green supporters will have voted Labour (as I encouraged in this blog).  In local elections voters are more willing to vote for less traditional parties, such as the Greens.

In Brighton Pavilion, voters will have far greater confidence to vote Green given the result last May.  Labour did some damage to itself by saying that Caroline Lucas had no chance of winning.  Voters will be less inclined to believe scare tactics in future.

When I criticise Labour it is not because I am anti-Labour or pro-Green.  I offer constructive criticism.  Labour needs to articulate a vision for the City so that a floating voter of the left, like me, can decide how to vote.  I will cast my votes based on three considerations:

1. Which of Labour or the Greens is articulating the better vision for the City, and which party’s policies do I prefer. (In this regard, the Greens are winning.  Labour must get its act together to make the choice a bit tougher)

2. Which candidates (there will be two or three fielded by each party in each ward) are most likely to beat the Tories.  Both Labour and Greens should take care not to make unfounded claims (see my blog Labour more guilty than the Greens of misleading the voters of Brighton Pavilion of 9th May 2010).

3. How impressive the individual candidates are (rather there are certain individuals I would be reluctant to vote for as I wouldn’t want to see them elected as a councillor).

In some seats voters will have a proper choice between Labour and the Greens (Goldsmid, Preston Park, Queen’s Park, Hollingdean and Stanmer, possibly Regency although Jason Kitcat will poll very well). As things stand, the Greens don’t have the edge, they have a sizeable gap.  I’m not sure whether Labour is capable of bridging that gap at present.

Brighton and Hove Politician of the Year 2010

There are five nominees for the Brighton and Hove Politician of the Year: Juliet Williams (Lib Dem), Paul Perrin (UKIP), Mike Weatherley (Conservative), Nancy Platts (Labour), and Caroline Lucas (Green).

And the winner is Caroline Lucas.  Her election in May, the only non-Conservative in Sussex and the first ever Green Member of Parliament, came after the liveliest, most keenly fought election campaign in living memory (for that credit should be shared with Nancy Platts and Chuck Vere).  But Caroline’s achievement was extraordinary, locally and nationally. 

The award is for more than the election victory itself.  It is also for how she has conducted herself since May, her energy and determination as a local MP.  She is almost the only politician who has provided any opposition to the ConDem Coalition, and thereby encouraged those who are opposing the cuts and who are being impacted by them.

Her victory shows that there is an alternative to Labour and the Tories.  It poses the biggest challenge to Labour for a generation.  There is no Labour politician locally who matches Ms Lucas in terms of competence and reputation.  For traditional Labour voters, Caroline Lucas provided a viable and attractive alternative, allowing them to cast an anti-Tory vote without fearing that their vote would be wasted.  There were those in Brighton Pavilion who stuck with Labour for just that reason, fearing that a Green vote would split the anti-Tory vote and allow Chuck Vere to be elected.  Next time they will have no such dilemma and Caroline Lucas will be returned with a significantly increased majority.

The challenge for the Greens is whether they can convert the goodwill and enthusiasm resulting from Caroline Lucas’s election into electoral success in May’s local elections.  There is no reason why they should not be able to do so other than the Green’s poor organisation in their target wards.  It takes more than energetic candidates to win elections; it requires the organisation and mobilisation that Caroline Lucas was able to achieve.  Can the Greens do it again?  I am not yet sure.

If this is the best Labour can offer in Brighton and Hove, we are doomed

The other week, shortly after Ed Miliband was elected Labour Leader, I received a ‘letter’ from the Labour Party entitled ‘A fresh fight for a fairer society’. It must rank as one of the most ineffective party political communication I have ever seen. If this is the start of Labour’s ‘fightback’ in Brighton and Hove, then the Greens and Tories will be laughing all the way to the election count next May.

It starts “Dear Voter”, immediately defining the relationship. The election is six months away, but I know that Labour is interested in just one thing. There is nothing about wishing to engage, work in partnership, recognise past failings.

The letter goes straight to an attack on the Tories and Lib Dems. That really should please me, but some how it doesn’t. There is no scene setting, nothing positive, just a rant against the Tories and Lib Dems. Only in paragraph 5 is there anything remotely positive and apart from that the whole of the first page is negative. There is some complete guff at the bottom “Labour Values” and “Community thinking”. What on earth does either of that mean? Is it “Labour values community thinking”?

At least page 2 starts with something a bit more positive – “We say – there’s a better, fairer way.” It then reports that “At our recent Party conference we elected a new leader and we will begin a fresh fight for a fairer society.” What the letter fails to do is say who the newly elected leader is. (I understand it to be one of the Miliband boys).

The rest of side 2 is ok, presenting some policy priorities, and then making an invitation to join the Labour Party. But the letter is not signed, and the only two names on the letter are mine (in the address box) and the name of the publisher, a Mr Keith Day of 49 Church Road, Hove. Even the email address in the “Contact us” section is “council@brightonhovelabour.com”.

This leaflet is a disaster, a waste of paper and of effort. Please, Labour Party, this is an embarrassment. We, the people of Brighton and Hove, need you to put up a bit of a credible challenge next May. At this rate you will let the Tories hold those seats where you should be challenging. If this is the best Labour can do, we are all doomed!

Sussex Police get policing of ENA counter-demonstration totally wrong

The England Nationalist Alliance (ENA) marched through Brighton today.  About 30 of “England’s finest”, protected by several hundred police, made their way from Brighton Station to Victoria Gardens.  There was at least one police vehicle for every member of the ENA – excluding the police helicopter.

The ENA is not a Brighton-based group and they were made to feel unwelcomed. They could only take to the street protected by the police. I assume that the ENA is just a front for the English Defence League (EDL).

A group of anti-fascist demonstrators (from what I could see made up mainly of 15 and 16 year old girls) were penned into an enclosure around the Mazda Fountain (at the bottom of North Road).  This required a ridiculous number of police officers and police horses.  The biggest threat they posed to public  order would have been a mass Barbie make-over!

The ENA was escorted back to Brighton Station followed by hundreds of anti-fascist demonstrators (excluding those in the Barbie-pen). Then, quite inexplicably, the police didn’t escort them onto a train back from where they came, but allowed them to leave by the station’s side entrance and into the New England Quarter and on to Circus Circus.  Staff at Circus Circus served them.  A boycott of Circus Circus is in order, me thinks.

At Brighton Station I spoke to a police officer who described the ENA as “good as gold” and that this was a free country and that they have a right to demonstrate.  (Can we assume that the police will, in future, defend the right to demonstrate for those outside the EDO factory in Brighton.

Three points for consideration:

The excessive deployment of police officers, quite unnecessary, given the numbers from ENA and the disruption caused by the police themselves;

The tactic of penning small numbers of mainly teenage girls; and

The decision to allow the ENA members to get out of the station, thereby prolonging the disruption and (one would suspect) cost of the policing operation.

This was not the finest moment for Sussex Police. It will have had the unintended consequence of politicising a significant number and, regrettably, against the police.

And one final point – where were our politicians?  There was a time when Labour councillors would lead anti-fascist demonstrations.  Perhaps not in today’s world.  But maybe a Green councillor or two?  And from our Green Member of Parliament, Caroline Lucas, nothing. Oh dear.  Please correct me if I am wrong, but they were noticeable by their absence.