Westbourne By-election: Spare me the facts, speculation is rife about dates and candidates

The by-election caused by the resignation of respected Conservative, Brian Oxley, is going to be the big story in Brighton and Hove politics over the next few weeks, and the immediate two questions are: When will the by-election be held; and who will be the candidates.

But first, it has emerged that The Bishop has resigned to move closer to his elderly father who lives in Derby. It comes as no surprise that his resignation has been driven by a matter of principle, reflecting the quality that has made Brian the respected politician he is, respect that goes across party divide.

An example of that respect comes from someone at the opposite end of the political spectrum, Alex Phillips. Lady Everton wrote of Brian on Twitter: “Unsure as to why he stood down. He was very good though. A man I respected even if I didn’t agree with him. A gentleman.”

‘Clive’ who usually provides insightful and constructive comments on this blog, once again makes a helpful comment: “I don’t know the man at all except by repute, but he managed to pile up a lot of votes in Westbourne which must say something. As I’ve said on here before, that ward shouldn’t really be as blue as it is. One way or another I have a feeling that it won’t be after this byelection.”

When will the by-election be held? Valerie Paynter suggests that “residents won’t want the distraction of an election at Christmas.  That much is certain.” Valerie is probably right, but what is more relevant is that neither the Tories nor Labour will want a pre-Christmas by-election. They are both still licking their wounds and have been introspective since May.

The Greens, on the other hand, have everything to gain from an early poll. A December by-election will come before the details of the Council’s budget are fully absorbed. The Greens continue to have momentum, and an election before Christmas, when most people would be distracted, has the prospect of Green supporters in areas such as Westbourne being less flakey than those of the other parties. At present, as I have said in recent posts, given the choice locally of the parties of Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Caroline Lucas, I know which comes across as more aspirational and exciting.

As for candidates, my first prediction has proven to be way off the mark! Luke Walter won’t narrowly beat Caroline Penn as I suggested yesterday. Nor will he win, and neither will she. I have had it on very good sources that neither will be allowing their name to go forward for selection. A shame as both would make excellent councillors.

Someone in the know, Valerie Paynter, has suggested several names including Patrick Lowe (who also lost in Hollingdean in May), or Robert Nemeth (who lost to a Green in the previously safe seat of Withdean, and before that to a Green in Regency). Valerie dismisses the chances of Jan Young who, she says, “lost Central for a reason.  For CH to have been chosen over her seems to me to be more about rejecting her than showing enthusiasm for CH.  A number of residents led me to conclude this.”

Valerie’s comments suggest a split between the Hove Tory Establishment and the camp around Mike Weatherley. She suggests that the Tories will need to “rely very, very heavily on the goodwill that MP Mike Weatherley has accrued over his first year as a highly active Constituency MP in order to provide any hope for themselves in the by-election.”

If that is the case, which of his Young Turks will be the Anointed One? Will it be the Estate Agent, Rob Buckwell, a ‘veteran’ of by-elections having stood and lost in the St Peters & North Laine by-election? Perhaps the smart and fast rising Robert Nemeth, as suggested by Ms P? Could it be the genuinely delightful and charming Michael Ireland, surely a huge asset on the doorstep? Or could it be your blogger’s personal favourite, Momma Grizzly herself?

I have heard some whispers about possible candidates including a Green candidate, early 40’s, who sounds as though she may well make a positive impact in a by-election and on the Council. More on her and other possible candidates tomorrow. In the meantime, you can share your take on the by-election either by DM me @BrightonPolitic or emailing me at brightonpoliticsblogger@googlemail.com. I’ll share your comments only with my three regular readers (Grizzly, Biker Dave, and welcome to So Cool Soozie, a woman with a certain mystery…).

Brian Oxley resigns seat on Brighton & Hove City Council: 3-way by-election pending

Brian Oxley, the much respected Tory Councillor has resigned his Westbourne seat on Brighton and Hove City Council which will see a by-election in this three-way marginal, possibly this side of Christmas.

Brian, also known to my loyal readers (down now to just Grizzly and Biker Dave) as The Bishop, topped the poll in May’s local elections with 1,228 votes. His fellow Tory, Denise Cobb, in second place, polled 1,152. And this is where it gets interesting. Just 132 votes behind Denise was Labour’s Simon Battle on 1,020 with the Green’s Louisa Greenbaum 109 behind Simon with 911 votes.

Given that Labour fought a hard fight in May with the Greens fielding, in effect, paper candidates in a seat which they felt they had little chance of winning. The exception to that view was Christopher Hawtree whose predictions one ignores at one’s peril, as I found out to my cost with his sensational win in Central Hove.

With their superior organisation skills, the momentum they continue to enjoy, and the loss of a popular Tory from the ballot paper, this is a genuine 3-way marginal.

Much will depend on the selection of candidate. In the Goldsmid by-election the Greens had an exceptional candidate in Alex Phillips who won the seat, the Green’s first in Hove. What is more, she won it from the Tories, dispelling the myth that the Greens could only win seats from Labour.

A possible candidate for the Tories would be Jan Young who lost her Central Hove seat to the said councillor Hawtree. She would benefit from name recognition as a former leading member of the last Tory administration.

Labour’s Simon Battle is a former councillor, well known and liked, but I suspect he does not have the stomach for over three years in a third party with no influence and less prospects. I can’t see him standing. Caroline Penn might put herself forward. She is likeable, modest, hardworking, energetic and might, I suspect, have ambitions beyond the local authority. Could she see a successful by-election campaign as the springboard to become Caroline4Hove in 2015?

The risk for Caroline would be a loss to the victorious Greens, something I think is very possible. For her, for any Labour candidate, to lose to the Greens would set up the Hove 2015 election very nicely. The key, I think, is the Green candidate. Waiting in the wings, and now living in the area is the Greens’ Luke Walter. I have described him as the best councillor not to be elected in May when he lost out in Hollingdean and Stanmer to the formidable Jeane Lepper.

Luke Walter, together with Alex Phillips, were the unsung heroes of the Caroline Lucas’ campaign in 2010. If he was to be selected, and the might of the Green Machine was to rally behind him, I would put good money on the Greens gaining the seat in the by-election, with Caroline Penn a close second.

Congratulations to the Greens for making history in Brighton and Hove

I must first of all start by congratulating the Greens on a result that exceeded just about everyone’s expectations. It exceeded mine. I thought the Greens would end up with 21 or 22 seats. I didn’t expect the two amazing results in Withdene where Sue Shanks topped the poll, nor Christopher Hawtree’s sensational efforts in Central Hove. I suspect that Green High Command had some doubts, but one man did not share them – Chris Hawtree himself.

The Greens have emerged from this election with 23 councillors (including 6 in Hove, up from 1), the Tories are down to 18 and Labour have remained static with 13. The Lib Dems have been wiped out as predicted, hoped for and encouraged by this Blogger. Labour now has just one councillor in Brighton Pavilion where the Greens are now winning in Tory strongholds.

Before touching on other results, can I mention those sitting councillors who have lost their seats. Politics can be cruel, and election losses for sitting politicians offers no hiding place. Focus is on those who have been victorious, but this evening we should pause to thank the following for their service to the City, often at a cost that ordinary citizens, even party activists, don’t see and can’t always appreciate: Paul Elgood, David Watkins, Jan Young, Melanie Davis, Ayas Fallon-Khan, Pat Hawkes, Christine Simpson, Maria Caulfield, Trevor Alford, Kevin Allen, Juliet McCaffery, Steve Harmer-Strange, Ted Kemble.

I got one result hopelessly wrong – Moulsecoomb and Bevendean – where I felt that Maria Caulfield would win and, on her coat tails, Ayas Fallon-Khan (moving from Goldsmid) and Cath Slater (well known locally) would cause an upset in Labour’s back yard. I was wrong. And so I eat Humble Pie (though I do prefer Sugar Puffs). And congratulations to Labour’s team in M&B, Leigh Farrow, Mo Marsh and mayor-elect, Anne Meadows. This result, along with the return of the Legend that is Brian Fitch in Hangleton and Knoll, the anticipated gains by Penny Gilbey in North Portslade and Alan Robins in South Portslade, and the unexpected election of Anne Pissaridou in Wish, were the few positives on a day when it seemed the Greens were conquering everything before it.

A bitter-sweet result, and one predicted in this blog, was Jeane Lepper successfully defending her seat in Hollingdean and Stanmer. A combination of the Lepper name and Jeane’s own reputation as a hard-working and effective caseworker saw her survive. One of the few errors the Greens made this year was to underestimate Jeane Lepper.

A quick word on the one Green who was not successful in H&S, Luke Walter. Luke must be incredibly disappointed tonight, but he should be proud of his achievements. He probably worked harder than any candidate in H&S, but electoral politics can be unfair, especially when your surname begins with a W or a Y (ask Jan Young). Luke has the advantage of age on his side, and his time will come before long. (I will be blogging on the fortunes of all the young candidates in the near future. None of them, other than sitting councillor, Alex Phillips, who I heard described as the “Baby of the Chamber” today, was elected.

But the day belonged to the Greens who, I understand, were in celebratory mood when they retired to the Cricketers Pub for an orange juice after the count. Never before in the United Kingdom have the Greens become the largest group on a Council, and this is the largest group of Greens ever elected (what do you think of that, Norwich?). So congratulations to all newly and re-elected Greens throughout Brighton AND HOVE. I will blog more on the Greens remarkable achievements and the challenges that lie ahead in the next few days. But for now, enjoy the night, encourage Bill Randall to go wild and have another lemonade, return to your constituencies and prepare for ….. I’m not sure. A coalition? A minority administration? Definitely Christopher Hawtree to be Lead Councillor for Libraries! Congratulations, All.

Celia Barlow’s candidature in Central Hove makes this seat a three way marginal

When David Miliband was defeated by his brother Ed for the Labour Leadership, he announced that he would be withdrawing from front-line politics. He did not mean he would be resigning his seat in the Commons, withdrawing to become an academic at an Oxford college, or joining the lucrative lecture circuit in the United States (he may well be doing so for all I know). No, he meant that he would no longer be on the front bench. This description of ‘front line politics’ shows just how arrogant he has become, that it was his birthright to be leader of the party of his choice.

Does David Miliband have any idea what the real front line is like – those candidates going from door to door in wet and windy February and March, hoping to persuade the electorate to support them or, more than likely, someone else in the local elections. This is the real front line. David Miliband, and Ed as well, see knocking on a few doors when making a whistle-stop tour to Brighton, Hull or Swindon, as a photo opportunity that might secure them a few votes in an upcoming leadership election.

Is it any wonder that Labour in government became so detached from ordinary people when they see the cosy gentleman’s club of the Westminster Bubble as ‘the front line’.

Why do I mention this now? I wish to pay tribute to the decision of Celia Barlow, the former Labour MP for Hove and Portslade, who is standing for election to Brighton and Hove City Council on May 5th in Central Hove. I say good luck to Celia. Many former MPs see local government well beneath them after the have scaled the lofty heights of Westminster. I do not include David Lepper or Des Turner in this criticism. Both had given a lifetime of service as local councillors and had they not been elected to Parliament they would probably be thinking about hanging up their canvassing cards and Council gowns (oh, those were the days) about now anyway.

Celia said: “Politics is in my blood. I have been a member of the Labour Party since I was 16 and even served as a parish councillor in my time. I do not think it’s that unusual. I know of people in Parliament who have gone back to being councillors”. The last one I can think of locally, Celia, was Dennis Hobden when he lost his Kemptown seat to Andrew Bowden in 1970. But Dennis was not, I am told, your usual politician. Nor, in this respect is Celia.

Celia has a huge mountain to climb, and again this is to her credit that she has chosen a tough seat to fight. The two Labour candidates came seventh and eighth in Central Hove behind the Conservatives, Lib Dems and the Greens. Celia’s candidature should boost Labour because of name recognition (which is second only to Mr Pickwick himself, Christopher Hawtree, rumoured to have made the ultimate sacrifice by switching from the safe Green target of Rottingdean Coastal to Central Hove). Celia can certainly beat the Lib Dems. Let’s face it, anyone can beat the Lib Dems these days, even Leo Artreides who polled just 19 votes at the general election in Brighton Pavilion. We could have a situation where there is a split result. I think that Jan Young will hold on. Andrew Wealls, a decent Conservative (most at local government are), may yet again be a Tory candidate fighting the wrong seat at the wrong election. He was beaten by the unstoppable Alex Phillips in the Goldsmid by-election a couple of years ago. The Greens will have hopes of making a breakthrough here, especially if the Lib Dem vote does collapse as spectacularly as the polls suggest. And then there is Celia.

I think that it will be a split result, Jan Young and either Celia or a Green. But the Greens better get their skates on and decide who will be their ‘lead’ candidate is to be in Central Hove.

The final word goes to Jan Young, and she pays a huge compliment to Celia: “Of all the wards in all the city she had to choose mine”. Perhaps, if Celia is successful, along with Jan, it could be the start of a very beautiful friendship ….

Tactical voting in Central Hove – difficult one to call

Central Hove is a difficult seat to call.  The seat is currently held by Young and Older councillors, Jan Young (901 votes) and Averil Older (964).  Runners up were the Lib Dems (692 and 667 votes) with the Greens coming in third (420 and 333 votes).

Both Jan and Averil are well known and respected councillors and it is unlikely that they will be shifted.  We can expect the Lib Dem vote to collapse thanks to the ConDem coalition, with their votes spread between Labour and the Greens.  Given that Labour came a poor forth last time (317 and 304 votes), on balance anti-Tory voters should vote tactically for the Greens.

This ward should be a lower priority for the Greens than, say, Brunswick and Adelaide, although they should regard this seat as similar to Preston Park Ward where they have made a breakthrough and should win all three seats in May.  The Greens may not win it this time around, but they should continue putting up candidates who will run this time and again in 2015 and who are prepared to serve as councillors.