The Flight of the Fitches

Each autum in Brighton and Hove we witness a murmuration of starlings as thousands prepare to fly south for the winter. I recall a riddle from my childhood: “Why do birds fly south in the winter?” The answer, “Because it is too far to walk”. (When we relaunched the Politics Blog we didn’t promise to improve on the level of humour).

I like collective nouns. We have a Flight of Swallows, a Covey of Partridges, a Parliament of Owls, a Congregation of Eagles, a Committee of Vultures and, of course, a Murder of Crows – which naturally brings me on to Brighton politics.

What would be the collective noun be for the political groups? A Division of Greens, a Complication of Conservatives, and a Warren of Labourites. Perhaps it is too obvious to mention an Absence of Lib Dems.

I used to believe that it was a Charm of Finches. However, my team of underpaid research assistants and over-promoted SpAds has discovered it is really a Charm of Fitches.

In this post I lament the Flight of the Fitches. The departure of Brian and Norah Fitch to the more finely-twigged nests of Eastbourne, and Harris Fitch to the penal colony of Australia, will leave the Brighton, Hove and Hangleton political landscape all the more bleak and boring. It had been hoped that Harris would become the latest in a thousand generations of Fitches to join the Council and defend the No 5 bus.

The bus users of Brighton hope he will return soon.

I am sure we haven’t heard the last tweet from the Fitches of Brighton and Hove.

Advertisements

Are the Tories right to field an eleven year old in the East Brighton by-election?

A very interesting debate has been triggered by councillor Warren Morgan regarding the suitability of very young candidates in local elections. He has written in a personal capacity (and he emphasises not on behalf of the Labour Party) to Tory Kemptown MP, Simon Kirby, regarding the selection of an eleven year old (actually, he is 18) as the Tory candidate for the East Brighton by-election.

He wrote: “It is an immensely good thing that young people take an interest in politics, and feel able to get involved and stand for election; it’s something I actively encourage. Labour has a number of councillors who are in their late teens or early twenties, often in university towns where they have studied.

“However you have chosen an 18 year old who left sixth form only this summer to contest an election to represent one of the most deprived and difficult wards in the South East. As you will know from your casework, although crime has reduced and the vast majority of the eleven thousand East Brighton residents lead stable lives with steady jobs, there are unfortunately some people in East Brighton who are dealing with the consequences of domestic violence, alcohol or drug abuse, and homelessness. They often lead what are termed “chaotic lives” and have complex needs.

“Despite working for the police for four years prior to becoming a councillor, I have encountered many disturbing cases in my decade as a local representative. I’ve met a young girl whose mother was brutally murdered by her father. I’ve been to John Street police station in the middle of the night to address the potential community consequences of a fatal car accident in the ward. I’ve been briefed this week about a violent and unstable resident who has been threatening to his neighbours, council staff and police.

“Next May the changes to welfare support initiated by your government will have a severe financial impact on many vulnerable people in my ward; both of our casework loads are likely to rise as a result. Some people will face desperate financial hardship. Their cases can be distressing. They need to have councillors whose judgement and support they can rely upon and trust.

“I am sure the candidate you have chosen has many positive qualities, though his decision to use a photo of himself in fancy dress to launch his campaign does not bode well. However I would question your judgement in allowing someone so young and with such little life experience to run and potentially deal with the workload East Brighton councillors face. Of course we will be campaigning hard to elect our own, very well qualified candidate to the post, but I would urge you, before nominations close, to reconsider your choice.”

Interesting stuff, Warren. The are a couple of things I would ask you to ponder over your Sugar Puffs in the morning. You appear to say that there is something inherently different regarding East Brighton, the area you represent on the Counci, compared to, say, St Peter’s and North Laine or Rottingdean Coastal (wards where Labour themselves fielded teenage candidates Claire Calder and Harris Fitch at the last local elections). All wards have pockets of deprivation and challenging issues. I am not sure whether East Brighton is that different other than, perhaps, the scale of deprivation.

And secondly, are you saying that an 18 year old is not capable of making the judgements required of councillors? If that is the case, I think Labour needs to change its policies towards the armed forces where, under Labour and Conservative governments, 18 year olds are expected to make far more significant judgements – whether to take the life of another human being on the battlefield.

My Pal Paul Perrin has commented: “I think an 18 year old is almost certainly too inexperienced (in life) to be a good councillor, but the law is laid down by government and the selection rules by each party. There are also plenty of older people who would make lousy councillors.”

I say “Good luck” to Joe Miller. Enjoy the experience of being a candidate but don’t be too disappointed when either Chaun Wilson or Tracey Hill beats you on polling day. Your day will come, but probably not until you can grow a moustache of your own.

A new dawn and the hand of history greets the new Labour Party in Brighton and Hove

The new Brighton and Hove Labour Party formally came into being this morning with an all-City AGM. New officers have been elected and my source at the centre of power believes the new line-up of officers makes “a strong team” and that there will be a new focus on campaigning as opposed to endless meetings.

Adrian Morris is the newly elected Chair. (I know it will upset my Labour friends when I remind them that Adrian stood down at the 11th hour as candidate in St Peters and North Laine in the 2011 elections. I hope he has greater staying power this time).

The two new vice-chairs are Nigel Jenner (who did well in the Westbourne by-election in December) and Christine Robinson (who I respect as a strong trade unionist who works for GMB). The new executive committee is made up of Juan Leahy, Tracey Hill, Caroline Penn, former councillor Kevin Allen & Chaun (I am sorry but I don’t know her surname, but
she impressed with what sounds what appeared to be a great speech).

I understand that this AGM marks a watershed for Labour in Brighton and Hove with a shift of focus away from the internal reviews to a new focus on taking on the Tories & campaigning on national issues. Mike Weatherley will be a main focus of some of the campaigning, but it remains to be seen whether the New New Labour in the City will be able to let go of their obsession with the She Devil and All Her Works (my regular readers, Momma Grizzly, Doris and Biker Dave know that that is a reference to Caroline Lucas – not my view but that of the likes of Harris Fitch).

It looks as though Labour will field a candidate for Police Commissioner, which is a shame since the Party has no chance of being successful, where as an independent might just spring a surprise.

The Greens could take a leaf or two out of Labour’s book when it comes to selecting candidates for the European elections. Labour’s selection will have gender balance so if (as expected) Peter Skinner is number 1 on the Labour list, number 2 will be a woman.

So we have a new dawn for Labour in Brighton and Hove which can be nothing but a good thing for the political process. It really isn’t a time for sound bites, but I sense the hand of history on my shoulder …..

(Update: Chaun’s surname is Wilson)
(Update 2: changed ‘sound items’ to ‘sound bites’)

Westbourne, Kitcat, Bassam and Randall: This is the week that was

And what a week it has been – the 100 Year War between Bassam and Kitcat, Bill Randall becoming Mayor-elect, and campaigning in the Westbourne by-election. Where to begin?

The Westbourne by-election takes place on Thursday and the main three parties have continued to campaign hard, in spite of the terrible weather. All parties seem to have become quietly pessimistic, although the Tories are perhaps the most confident. Some Labour activists are still displaying bravado, and I imagine that young Harris Fitch will respond with a forecast of a Labour landslide (similar to that he achieved in Rottingdean Coastal, no doubt).

I think it is still probably too close to call, but from the soundings I have taken, the Green vote is solid and not impacted by the debate regarding the budget. Electors know that it is the Tory-led Coalition that is imposing the cuts from on high, and Louisa Greenbaum has proven, once again to be a strong candidate who is capitalising on being the local candidate who stood in the ward in May.

Unhappiness with the Tories nationwide is offset by a strong candidate in Graham Cox. For someone with the quality of being absolutely singleminded and determined to achieve in whatever he does, Graham has remained relaxed and balanced, and has developed a personal vote beyond the Tory ranks.

Labour has campaigned hard but (and this isn’t an anti-Labour position although I will no doubt be accused of this) this is not the right moment for a Labour revival to begin. Nigel Jenner, while competent and hard working, is not the stand out candidate. That is shared between Louisa and Graham. The Labour Group on the Council remains, largely, invisible, in the eyes of the general public, and the Labour campaign has not set the by-election campaign on fire.

Which brings me on to Higgs bosom, or know locally as the Kitcat Bassam Particle. Never before in the field of Twitter conflict, have so many tweets been sent so often, by so few. For days now this (yawn) fascinating debate raged. It has been hard to follow, on occasions even by Jason Kitcat and Steve Bassam themselves. Bassam has shown all his qualities as a street fighter, making it tough for the Greens by throwing accusation after accusation, challenge after challenge. Meanwhile, Kitcat has patiently answered all, well almost all, of the points raised by Lord Bassam. Jason Kitcat continues to impress in his role as the Cabinet Member for Finance.

I have to say that I don’t think that Twitter is the right forum for such an in-depth and ongoing debate. I will offer the services of this blog, once again, for the different budget positions to be set out.

I have just two further points on this debate. Firstly, other than Warren Morgan and to a lesser extent, Craig Turton, Labour councillors remain invisible which is a shame. A strong opposition from the left to the Greens would add to the political discourse locally. The second point is that Lord Bassam has been allowed to get off with the most remarkable rewriting of history. Under Labour, including under his leadership, the Council made huge cuts, closed more toilets and put up rates/council tax far higher than the Greens are proposing, but no one refers to this record.

And finally for today, leadership. The Leader of the Council, the much admired Bill Randall, is to stand down in May to become the Mayor. This is a largely ceremonial role and carries nowhere near the power he now enjoys. Some has suggested he is being ousted. Nonsense. Others say he is jumping to avoid difficult times. Even more nonsense. I understand that he never intended to serve a full term as Leader. Perhaps he didn’t believe this humble blogger who predicted before May’s elections that the Greens would win 23 seats and be the largest party. Forming the first Green administration and coping with the level of cuts imposed by government will have taken its toll. But Bill has managed the process with competence, charm, and good humour. There will have been a cost and he is looking older than his 36 years (that’s a joke, Momma Grizzly. He is too old for you).

As for his successor? I’ll return to that after Thursday’s by-election.

Westbourne by-election: update after the first weekend of campaigning

I think I have just seen the first flower of spring, one usually hears in late February. Today’s version is who has seen the first poster of the Westbourne by-election. Both Greens and Labour make the claim, but I am yet to see evidence in the form of a photo on Twitter or one emailed to brightonpoliticsblogger@googlemail.com.

But the troops have been out, both Labour and the Greens, and did I see a Grizzly?

Caroline Penn reported Labour posters up in Westbourne at lunchtime today, but the first report of a poster going up came at 14:29 yesterday (Saturday) from Green councillor Christopher Hawtree, who wrote: “Former Peace Messenger Brian Fitch looked daggers when he saw me giving a resident a poster which went straight up at noon.”

Any advances of 12 noon on 19th November?

The Tories recognise that the “by-election looks like a three way marginal… Bring it on and keep it blue!” says The Estate Agent (Rob Buckwell) on Twitter. Is this an indication that he might be the Tory Party candidate?

Both Labour and the Greens have been out on the knocker and delivering leaflets. The Greens, according to Luke Walter, have put a Greenleaf through every door in the Ward. Tim Sewell reports that there has been a good “doorknocking and delivery session” with Caroline Penn, Warren Morgan, Lis Telcs and “many others in Westbourne. Will be hard one to call.”

I assume he means that it is a genuine 3-way marginal. Labour’s Spiritual Leader in Brighton, Lord Steve Bassam, does not think the same. On Twitter he wrote: “Feel a bit guilty as I think I ought to go canvassing in local council by-election. We all need to get out there it’s a R Tory/Labour fight.” I don’t think so, and nor do I imagine that Lord Bassam thinks so either. The Greens are the ones to beat but I admire the old campaigner’s instinct in talking down the Greens so to consolidate the anti-Tory vote with Labour.

Steampunk draws attention to an omission in my posts and comments by others: “Is Paul Elgood planning a come-back? I was going to say, nobody’s commented on the Lib Dems’ chances yet.” I have no knowledge about Mr Elgood but I think that the Lib Dems’ chances of winning are as likely as two of my regular readers, Biker Dave and Doris, eloping to Gretna Green.

Harris Fitch is full of bravado, the same bravado that led him to predict a win in Rottingdean Coastal in May: “It won’t be a futile course, we shot off the starting line months ago. We have so many keen members there compared to the Greens that we probably could man the election campaign with locals. Of course outside help is always welcomed though!” That is a remarkable claim, that Labour “shot off the starting line months ago”. I doubt it, but if that is the case (and I have seen no evidence of it in Westbourne Ward) it should make it a more even fight.

One welcome entry to the fight is the report from The Pepperpot Post that the shy and retiring Paul Perrin will be standing for UKIP.

Dr Faust has said that the issue of school places will be a key issue in the by-election. All parties will claim that they are the one who are most keen on a new school. The reality is that this by-election will not ultimately influence such provision.

Daniel Yates agrees that education is an important, but not the sole, issue: “the Labour and Co-operative vision for first class education with true community engagement really does appeal across a very wide political spectrum. Of course, there are also many other issues where this is true and we wont be sucked into believing that everyone is Westbourne is going to vote purely on schools.” If that is the case, how come education is in such a poor state after 13 years of a Labour government. Education is one reason why voters in Brighton and Hove have lost faith in Labour.

Keep reports flooding in. Either email me on DM @BrightonPolitic.

Who offers the better vision to inspire voters locally: Ed Miliband or Caroline Lucas?

Last week I wrote about Ed Miliband and his half-hearted support for the Occupy London camps, but at the same time distancing himself from some of their wider objectives. I concluded by saying that nationwide his feeble stance will make little distance because voters have few places to turn other than Labour. But in Brighton and Hove voters do have an alternative, the Greens.

As if to prove my point, Caroline Lucas has a letter published in today’s Observer that summarises the differences between Labour and the Greens far better than I could ever hope to do. She writes:

“Ed Miliband’s article was an object lesson in mealy-mouthed prevarication. On the one hand, he acknowledges that the protesters pose a challenge to politics to close the gap between their values and the way the country is run. On the other, he dismisses their “long list of diverse and often impractical proposals”.

“I should love to know which he finds most “impractical”: their call for an end to global tax injustice, or perhaps their proposal that our democratic system should be free of corporate influence? Or maybe it’s their support for the student demonstrations this week, or the strikes planned for 30 November?

“Until he can demonstrate which side Labour is on, Miliband’s assertion that “the Labour party speaks to that crisis and rises to the challenge” will remain hollow rhetoric.

“Indeed, the real challenge that the occupiers present to politicians like Miliband is that they are staging the debate that mainstream parties have been studiously avoiding since the economic crisis started – the question of how to completely refocus the values and goals of our economic system, rather than trying to get back to business as usual as fast as possible.

“I was proud to have been asked to address the Occupy rally in London last weekend, and proud to be able to say the Green party stands fully behind their goals. It’s a pity that Labour can’t do the same.”

Locally, I have never wanted to see Labour reduced to the rump in Brighton and Hove that they are today. I wood love to see the party challenging the Greens, testing their economic policies, and outflanking them from the left. The Greens have shown that they can win in Labour seats and May’s elections show that they have replaced the Lib Dems and are now picking up seats from the Tories.

In fact, they have been winning seats from the Tories for several years, since Alex Phillips won the Goldsmid by-election. At the time and for a long time after, I did not appreciate the full significance of her victory. I saw it as a sign of momentum that would lead to the election of Caroline Lucas, even though Goldsmid is not in Brighton Pavilion. The real and longer-term significance is that it showed that the Greens could win Tory seats.

The Miliband approach to protest, and the contrasting approach of Lucas, will have a knock-on effect locally. Labour locally just isn’t doing it. There is some campaigning, and collecting signatures on a petition to protect the NHS is worthy, but opposing cuts to the NHS is like saying that you are against sin. Where is the energy, the doorstep presence offered by Nancy Platts, now returned to London, or the pre-election profile of a Fitch of a Brian or Harris variety. Is the number 5 bus route safe for another three and a half years?

In activists like Caroline Penn and Penny Gilbey, Labour have the potential to become a campaigning party once again. But the Party has spent the last three months looking at its organisation, and a new paid organiser locally is unlikely to inspire the troops unless they have something to be inspired by.

The Greens are still seen as the campaigning party (although the burdens of office are showing that they don’t have strength in depth in certain areas including their 3,000 majority stronghold of St Peters and North Laine where, I am told, their councillors have been invisible since the election). The Greens need to take stock to ensure that the hit they will take from next year’s budget is not exacerbated by a lack of campaigning on the ground. The Brighton Pavilion Greens should look to the Hove Greens, such as
Christopher Hawtree, Alex Phillips, Ollie Sykes, Phelim MacCafferty, etc. to remind themselves how politics should be done.

So as it stands, Labour remains in the Doldrums. The Green wind continues to blow through Brighton and Hove. It is likely that in 2015 Labour locally will disappear in a Green Bermuda Triangle comprising Lucas in Pavilion, a Green candidate winning in Hove, and a Green overall majority on Brighton and Hove City Council.

If you can’t say somethin’ nice about Caroline Lucas, don’t say nothin’ at all

Craig Turton asks: “Why oh why does BPB keep on banging on about some mythical obsession s/he thinks Labour has with the ‘Evil Princess and All Her Works’?” Well, Craig, spending time with Labour activists during and since the election, they seem to have two obsessions: one with Caroline, the other with the newly minority Green Council.

Labour activists find it almost impossible to have a rational conversation about Caroline Lucas. Take someone at random …. how about ….. Craig Turton. He writes: “The problem with Saint Caroline (BTW I first heard that nickname from a Green during the plot to throw over Keith Taylor) is that being in a minority of one with in essence the status of an independent MP representing the Brighton Pavilion Allotments and Residents Association, means that her ability in Parliament to influence government and its agencies to act as a catalyst in facilitating change for the City is far more limited than that of an MP representing the DUP or Plaid Cymru for example.”

Most people wouldn’t agree with Craig. Allie Cannell predictably, as a Green, writes: “Caroline Lucas does work with other people in parliament?!?!? Plaid Cymru and the SNP give the Greens lots of help in Westminster. She does propose, amend and oppose legislation. How much difference would one more Labour or Tory MP out of hundreds make? As we said over and over again during the general election campaign. I don’t understand your argument……”

I agree with Allie. But then Craig would say: “of course you would”. But Allie makes a good point. Caroline Lucas is one reason why the Greens did so well in the local elections. In fact, every time I hear a Labour activist rubbish Caroline Lucas, it drives me further away from the only party I have ever been a member of, and one which I think about rejoining from time to time. But it is the hostil attitude of Labour activists that is the primary reason for not doing so.

I would suggest Labour activists should spend the next six months following the Thumper Principle (that’s Thumper from Bambi who said “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all”).

In fact, I would challenge Craig, Warren, Harris and any other Labour activist who wishes to take up the challenge – post one genuine positive comment about Caroline Lucas. Not a back-handed compliment, something genuine. I won’t hold my breath ….