An alternative view to the Brighton and Hove Independent 100

The Brighton and Hove Independent last week (30th May) published a list of the “100 people who make our city what it is”. The Editorial Director, Greg Hadfield has said he “expects – and even hopes – that almost everyone will disagree” with the list.

Let me be the first. There are the predictable names but it is who Greg has missed that demands comment. For example, why is your Humble Blogger not included? No politician can hope for recognition and success without endorsement from this awesome blog.

It is all very well to have Martin Harris from the bus company, but what about former Mayor, Brian Fitch, who singlehandedly, in a career stretching back to when Methuselah was a boy in short trousers, has saved bus route after bus route, most recently the Number 5, from being callously axed without a second thought to those isolated on our estates. What hope is there for them now that Brian has moved to Eastbourne?

More seriously, in the media section, there is no mention of anyone from the Brighton Argus. I just can’t imagine why not! Adam Trimingham, at least, should be there.

Three politicians from each of the main political parties are listed although the Green, Major Druitt, is listed because of his business influence, and Katy Bourne appears to have transcended her party political affiliations to be listed under Public Services.

But how does one make a judgement on who has made a contribution to make our city what it is. When reviewing the list, I was hard pressed to say for over half of them one thing they have done to make or change the City. Merely holding a position, elected or otherwise, doesn’t mean that you have helped to shape a place.

A better list would be who, over the last 25 years or more, has helped to make Brighton and Hove what it is today. Who is the modern day Herbert Carden, Margaret Hardy, Lewis Cohen, Dorothy Stringer, John Morley, Denis Hobden, Tony Hewison, Asa Briggs, or Richard Attenborough? Their influence on the City remains even though they are no longer with us.

I could mention people like Linda Pointing, Dani Ahrens and Melita Dennett, who (amongst others) were pioneers in the movement for lesbian and gay rights and recognition, and opposition to Section 28. Or Shirley West who was, for many years, the backbone of the Women’s Centre. Jess Wood from Allsorts continues this work, particularly with children and young people.

For fifty years Patricia Norman was central to the Friends Centre and to its adult education arm. Into her nineties she continued with a group for pensioners run from the Friends Centre, as well as being involved in the work of Brighton Housing Trust for over 45 years, most recently as its Life President.

Kate Page has been at the Resources Centre for almost 35 years, helping countless community organisations shape their communities. And Faith Matyszak provided the backbone of BME services throughout the 1980’s, 90’s and noughties.

Local domestic violence services were saved by a group including the above-mentioned Shirley West and Jean Calder, who subsequently became the first Director of the Women’s Refuge Project (now Rise). Jean later led the successful campaign to save St Peters Church as a place of worship, alongside Janet King, Isabel Turner and others. (Jean now has the honour to be a regular contributor to this esteemed blog.)

Interfaith activities were championed by Tehm Framroze, and now by Anthea Ballam. They should be on the list. Andrew Manson-Brailsford and Ian Chisnall continue to make the Church relevant in the community. Rabbi Elli Sarah does likewise for Progressive Jewish community.

While he will no doubt write a strongly worded letter against his inclusion, Tony Greenstein should be included for being a public irritant of gargantuan proportions but, more so, for being one of the most consistent anti-fascist in Brighton and Hove.

What about the campaigners who helped to close down the Dolphinarium? Or Duncan Blinkhorn and Mark Strong for getting the needs of cyclists acknowledged.

Mushtaq Ahmed was pivotal in establishing Sussex CCC as a force to be reckoned with. Dick Knight could represent all those who helped secure a stadium fit for the 21st century at Falmer.

Michael Chowen, a local businessman and employer, has been a philanthropist with a particular commitment to women’s services. Peter Field has had a long history in charitable work, not least in nurturing and developing housing services for homeless people.

I could go on and on, and I usually do, but those named above would be 25 of my 100.

First past the post or proportional representation? How about a bit of both? by Andy Winter

I have for a long time thought that local government would be an ideal place to introduce a combination of first past the post and proportional representation. It would work like this. Reduce the number of councillors to represent each ward to just one, and reduce the number of wards to 16. A further 8 seats could then be allocated on the basis of the proportion of votes cast across the city to those on party lists and, as suggested to me by Jean Calder, a further eight seats to independents voted for by the whole city.

This system would retain a constituency link, and might also encourage others to stand for election through the party lists or as independents.

Ward councillors would not be allowed to chair committees, but their priority would be to look after the interests of their constituents. They should be properly remunerated given that being a councillor is increasingly becoming a full time job. With just 32 councillors, it would be more affordable.

The current system does not allow for good governance. Currently, if the chair of housing or of planning came from, for example, Rottingdean Coastal, they couldn’t be expected to look at the merits of a housing development in Ovingdean on behalf of the city. They would, rightly, look after the interests of their constituents.

However, councillors elected from the lists would be free to take a city-wide view, and ensure that the needs of the whole city are met. They would be the chairs of committees and from their number the whole Council would elect the Leader.

Some people, who wish to represent a political party, could bring expertise and experience that would massively benefit the city but, for various reasons, they are not able to nurture a ward up to an election and for the four years afterwards.

Last week, Labour secured 35.6% of the vote in the local elections, the Conservatives 30.2%, and the Greens 26.2%. In addition to the seats won, their proportion of the vote would have given them three, three and two additional seats respectively.

As for the independents, we could see people elected from the arts, the universities, or the business community, as well as individuals with something to offer.

Forgive me if I use myself as an example. I might be able to offer something as a councillor in the areas of housing and homelessness. Currently, to stand any chance of election I would have to join a political party, become an activist, and stand for selection as a candidate. I’ve done that before. I don’t have the time or inclination to put myself through that again.

Many others, far better qualified than I, are excluded from serving because of the current system. The City is the poorer for that.

(This item first appeared in the Brighton and Hove Independent on 15th May 2015)

Who knew what about MI6 and Number 10’s dealings with Gadhaffi?

Last evening’s revelations from Human Rights Watch regarding MI6, the CIA and Gadhaffi is probably the most explosive plitical news story in a generation, and has the potential to bring down some leading Labour politicians from the last decade, perhaps even see some prosecutions.

At the very least it looks as though Number 10 under Blair and possibly Brown worked with the Gadhaffi in order to rehabilitate this monster, even to the point of helping him with speeches and the stage-managing of the 2004 meeting between Blair and Gadhaffi in the latter’s bedhouin tent (the venue was the idea of Number 10).

According to the Independent newspaper, “[The prime minister’s office is] keen that the prime minister meet the leader in his tent,” (quoting a memo from an MI6 agent). “I don’t know why the English are fascinated by tents. The plain fact is the journalists would love it.”

In another memo according to the Independent, UK intelligence appeared to give Tripoli details of a Libyan dissident who had been freed from jail in Britain.

Foreign Secretary William Hague tried last night (Saturday) to play down the revelations, saying that they “relate to a period under the previous government so I have no knowledge of those, of what was happening behind the scenes at that time”.

That isn’t good enough. Our strange ‘constitution’ doesn’t have Labour Governments and Conservative Governments, they have Her Majesty’s Government and Her Majesty’s Opposition, that ensures continuity regardless of the occasional general election. David Cameron understood this when he apologised for the Bloody Sunday massacre on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, even though he was a boy in short trousers at the time of this atrocity carried out by the British Army.

Questions need to be asked about who knew what and when. These questions will be asked, and it would be best if they were asked openly and answered publicly and honestly by the political establishment. For Labour, the party with most to lose from this Watergate moment, will it damage itself further by being party to a cover-up, even though the truth will out in due course – it always does. Will Ed Milliband assist in ensuring that light is shone in the darkest corners even if it provides discomfort, or worse, for his brother David who was the previous Foreign Secretary?

The UK’s Best Politician, according to the Independent’s Johann Hari, is Caroline Lucas

I have made no secret in this blog of my admiration for the Independent’s Johann Hari.  In my opinion, he is the best commentator on British politics and society.  I would encourage you to switch from the dull Guardian to the Independent for Hari alone.

In yesterday’s Independent his attention turned to Brighton Pavilion and to Caroline Lucas.  He has identified her as the UK’s best politician.  He wrote:

“Since 1997, Britain’s emissions of warming gases have actually risen – and if you factor in the emissions from goods now manufactured for us in China, they have risen dramatically. Very few politicians have been honest about the crisis we face, or demanded the swift transition to an economy powered by the power of the sun, the wind and the waves. Working on the inside, the Environment Secretary Ed Miliband has a strong claim to this award, often trying to drag other government departments towards radical low- carbon approaches. But he is, in the end, too tainted by ineffective compromises, and by his sometime promotion of false solutions like the myth of “clean coal”, to clinch it. ”

” The politician who has most inspiringly proposed solutions to the climate crisis is in another party and another parliament altogether. Caroline Lucas joined the Green Party 20 years ago when it had a shabby office and almost no full-time staff. She has played a key role in leading it now to the brink of a historic breakthrough – her probable election in Brighton Pavilion next month as the first Green to the British Parliament. “

David Cameron is the friend of the very very rich and would support them as PM

Yesterday I said that the Tories were planning a “sinister redistribution of wealth ….. from ordinary people to the very, very rich. What you can say about Cameron, he has class loyalty! This campaign could yet be decided nationally on the issue of class”.

I was going to blog further about this but then came across Johann Hari’s piece in Friday’s Independent. Johann Hari is, in my opinion, the most outstanding commentator of our time. A switch from the lame Guardian to the Independent is worth it for Hari’s writing alone.

I started to summarise his column but could do it no justice, so I have reproduced it in full:

If you’re looking for class war, just read Cameron’s policies

“It is very hard for the British people to make a serious choice in this election without talking about one factor above all others – class. This isn’t about David Cameron’s background; it’s about his policies. It is a provable fact that he will redistribute wealth – substantially – but in a strange direction: from everyone in the big wide middle and bottom of British society, to the very top.”

“Here are the facts. He will give a £1.2bn inheritance tax cut to the richest 2 per cent in Britain – with most going to the 3,000 wealthiest estates (including his wife’s). Then he promises to end the 50p top rate of tax, giving another £2.4bn to the richest 1 per cent. Then he has pledged to cut taxes on the pensions of the richest, handing another £3.2bn to the same 1 per cent. Then his marriage tax relief policies will give 13 times more to the rich than the poor. To pay for this, he will slash programmes for the middle and the skint, like the Child Trust Fund, SureStart and state schools.”

“But this is not called “class war”. No. The nasty “class warriors” are the people who try – with hard statistical facts – to point out this rip-off by the rich. This exposes the assumptions that underpin our politico-media debate. Money being endlessly shovelled up to the top by the state is considered the natural state of affairs; anybody trying to speak for the interests of the majority is considered a rude and irrational “warrior.” These premises were best rebuffed by the billionaire Warren Buffett, who quipped: “Let’s face it – if there’s a class war, my side’s winning”.”

– Johann Hari, Independent, Friday 9th April 2010

Labour Minister Lord Adonis has effectively called for a tactical Green vote in Brighton Pavilion to keep the Tories out

The Labour Party is calling for tactical voting, something that this blog has been doing for six months. Writing in today’s Independent, Transport Secretary Lord Adonis has called for Liberal Democrat supporters to back Labour in order to keep the Tories out of office.

He said it was vital to grasp the “fundamental Labour-Lib Dem identity of interest” to avoid a Tory government and that this was best served by Lib Dem voters voting Labour in marginal seats. He said that Lib Dems had a national policy that was similar to Labour’s.

He writes: “In Labour-Tory marginals, a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote which helps the Tories against progressive policies”.

If only that was completely true. The Lib Dems, in some respects, are well to the left of Labour.

What Andrew Adonis does not do is to call for Labour supporters to vote tactically in seats where the Lib Dems are best placed to beat the Tories, but this is implied. He cannot directly call for Labour supporters to vote tactically for another party as this is against the rules of the Labour Party and would result in his immediate expulsion from the Party.

By implication, Lord Adonis is saying that Labour and Lib Dem supporters should vote to keep the Tories out. In Brighton Pavilion this means a vote for the Green’s Caroline Lucas who is both the front-runner and the person most likely to beat the Tories. His call for tactical voting must be seen as a boost for Caroline Lucas’ campaign.

Finally, a comment left on this blog yesterday by Derek Wall that there is still a lot of work to be done by the Greens in worth repeating: “I would still urge people to help, elections are won by canvassing and leafleting”. Well said Derek, and well said Andrew Adonis!

Are Mike Weatherley, Simon Kirby and Charlotte Vere receiving any of Ashcroft’s Billions?

The Tories have come to town and focus is on Brighton Pavilion, but it is the Brighton Kemptown and Hove & Portslade constituencies that should be attracting close scrutiny because of the funding they receive from ‘Tory HQ’.  Because behind Central Office funding lurks the shadow of Lord Ashcroft.

And the question is being asked: “Does the noble Lord pay income tax in the UK?” or does his heart, and tax status remain in Belize?

The Independent today alleges that huge sums of money are being channeled into key marginal seats that David Cameron needs to win to see him elected as Prime Minister.

The Brighton Kemptown majority is 1,853 while in Hove and Portslade it is just 448, and both are in the top 50 targets. Both have received ‘Ashcroft’ money – cash allocated by a Conservative committee chaired by the billionaire Ashcroft.

Simon Kirby (Brighton Kemptown) and Mike Weatherley (Hove &  Portslade) should do the decent thing and refuse this money if it is not clear (a) whether the cash originated from Ashcroft and (b) whether he is actually a UK tax payer.

It is not clear whether Charlotte Vere’s campaign is receiving similar funding. Perhaps she, together with Kirby and Weatherley, could put out a statement to help voters make their decision, not least because Ms Vere has been so outspoken about Caroline Lucas and her expenses.