‘Summersgate’ is simply poor politics

I think I have upset some of my Green friends over ‘Summersgate’. Last night I was challenged by Rob Jarrett to say what my views are on equal marriage. I responded to @RobHove as follows: “100% in favour of equal marriage, 100% disagree with Christina Summers, 100% think Greens have made massive error expelling her”.

Equal marriage isn’t the issue here. In fact it is not something that the Council has any power over. The issue is making an issue of an issue vaguely related to that issue, if you follow me. No? I’ve commented on the politics, not the equal marriage issue. The fact that we are still discussing the expulsion of Christina Summers from the Green Group is an indication, not of a very wide consensus in favour of equal marriage, but of poor politics.

Politicians must be on their guard to avoid simple traps that can destroy reputations, personally or for the party as a whole. Often it is down to arrogance or immaturity, and often a fatal combination of both. Look at the Conservatives. They are falling over backward to assert their support for the police following Andrew Mitchell and ‘Gategate’. It detracts from their message and has become something far more damaging than the incident itself warranted.

The Lib Dems, bless, carry many burdens: Nick Clegg, Tuition Fees, being Lib Dems. How impressed we all were with ‘I’m Sorry’, now gone viral on YouTube. ‘Sorrygate‘ has had more than a million hits in just four days. I prefer the ‘gate’ associated with the Lib Dems to be known simply as ‘lackinganymoralfibregate’ but then I am just plain mean.

Labour is burdened, and will be for a generation, with something far more serious, Iraq. No matter how reformed they become, even if Ed Miliband was to do his own version of ‘I’m Sorry’ it is still going to take a lot more before Labour will be trusted again on foreign policy. Coming into Government, Labour’s ethical foreign policy promised so much …..!

But back to the Greens on the City Council. Overall I think they are doing well but losing the PR war quite badly. They are not unique. All incoming administrations struggle after their initial honeymoon. How the Greens respond over the next 12 to 18 months will be critical. They need to focus on what they were elected to do. Local councillors, when all is said and done, are elected to ensure they deliver good local services. Are bins being emptied and the streets cleaned? Can their children get into the school of their choice? What do people think of library services? Where will their children and grandchildren live? Is there visible homelessness on the streets? How good is the bus service? Is there traffic congestion? What is the economic outlook for the area? And so on.

Of course much is beyond the control of local government with spending constraints being imposed on an unparalleled level, the banks refusing mortgages, the overall economy.

So, how do I think the Green Administration is doing. Overall, very well. There is a good feeling around Brighton. The streets are clean, the bins are emptied, sensible decisions have been made about safeguarding services to the most vulnerable. The attacks of Labour and Tory activists are predictable, and are not any more representative of the views of the general public than, say, the views of this humble blogger.

The Greens have won praise and respect for their approach to budget setting which is more open than anything that has gone before. Jason Kitcat and, before him, Bill Randall, are both well respected, as are many leading members of the administration. They haven’t been assisted by the turmoil, not of their making, within the officer class at the Council.

My advice to the Greens is to carry on as you have begun, engage more with people outside the Council (council officers are not your electorate), and please avoid any future silly own goals such as Summersgate.

I am sure that there are other issues that are bubbling away in the background. I am advised that a few Green councillors are exercised about prayers at council meetings. Nobody cares about prayers before meetings other than a few councillors. It doesn’t impact on the lives of ordinary people. If you are tempted to try to do something about them you will become a laughing stock rather than the serious political force that you have become through many years of diligent building and for which you have my respect.

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The division within the Greens over Christina Summers’ expulsion

The Argus’s Tim Ridgway is fast establishing himself as an outstanding local government correspondent, and the Argus is the better paper for his reporting.

Not that the Greens will be thinking so this morning as Tim reveals the list of those Green councillors who signed the letter resulting in Christina Summers being expelled from the Green Group on Brighton and Hove City Council.

According to Tim, those who signed the letter were: Liz Wakefield, Rob Jarrett, Leo Littman, Phelim MacCafferty, Lizzie Deane, Sue Shanks, Christopher Hawtree, Ben Duncan, Sven Rufus, Mike Jones, Stephanie Powell, Amy Kennedy, and Ruth Buckley.

Those who did not sign were: Matt Follett, Bill Randall, Geoffrey Bowden, Ian Davey, Ollie Sykes, Alex Phillips, Pete West, Jason Kitcat, and Ania Kitcat.

I am personally disappointed with some who signed and pleasantly surprised by one or two who did not.

When histories are written of political administrations, the moment that an under-fire group turns on its own members is the moment that defeat becomes likely. The Greens still have time to reflect on what got them elected in 2011 and return to the campaigning political operation that so inspired many voters.

(Note: the original posting had Tim Ridgway as a “loyal government correspondent” now corrected to “local government correspondent” and the names of Geoffrey Bowden and Bill Randall had become fused as Geoffrey Randall. What a thought!)

Jason Kitcat defending the indefensible

It is nothing but outrageous, and in today’s Argus Green Council Leader, Jason Kitcat, defends the payment to councillors in Brighton and Hove allowances of £11,463. It is a disgrace and I am bitterly disappointed, nay shocked, that councillor Kitcat can defend the indefensible.

But unlike the Taxpayers Allowance, I think this figure is far too low. We expect a great amount from our councillors, and most put in more hours than the majority of us work. It isn’t just a matter of attending meetings, it is the community engagement, the case work, the background research, the attendance at community meetings, and so on. We expect them to have a broad vision for the City, to articulate policies, and to debate the issues of the day.

I think that councillors should be paid much, much more, perhaps three times the current amount, but I think there should be far fewer councillors. I would suggest a reduction from the current 54 councillors to, say, 20, with extra responsibility allowances for perhaps 5 or 6 of them – the Leader, the cabinet member/chair of 3 or 4 key portfolios, and the leaders of the opposition parties.

The current cost of allowances in Brighton and Hove, excluding special responsibility allowances, is around £620,000. The BPB alternative would cost £688,000, the difference being saved from the numerous special responsibility allowances that currently exist.

Councillors are important. At the last election we lost four young councillors who could not afford the time and career sacrifice that being a councillor entails. By paying councillors a decent salary, and contracting them to work a set number of hours (thereby allowing them to develop alternate careers and/or training) the quality of democracy would improve.

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

What are you doing, Brighton? Since I last commented on the affairs of this fair city the wheels on the bus no longer seem to be going round and round, but seem to have fallen off.

In the space of 3 months the Dear Leader, Bill Randall, has been replaced by the Son of the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Kitcat, or Jason as he prefers to be known. Well, that had been anticipated for many months, so no shock there. But from a tier of 5 senior officers (a chief executive and 4 Super Directors) three are moving on to pastures new.

In September chief executive, John Barradell, is moving to take up a similar position in the Corporation of the City of London, Charlie Stewart is to become the chief executive of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, and David Murray is heading off to, actually I have no idea where.  In the case of Biker Dave, it was a bit of a pantomime, a matter of “is he going? Yes he is. Oh no he isn’t, he’s going to become interim chief executive! Oh no he’s not! Oh yes he is!” etc.

In fact Finance Director, Catherine Vaughan, who has never before enjoyed such high prestige (by which I mean featuring in this esteemed blog), has been recommended to act up …. as interim chief executive. Catherine is highly respected, and is said to have a good working relationship with Jason Kitcat from his time as Finance Chief. They will need to work well together because the next year could be brutal as the Council has to make up the amount to be lost following Labour and the Conservatives acceptance of the government’s council tax freeze bribe, and further cuts to budgets. How they managed the budget process for 2012/13 was very impressive, and bodes well for Jason Kitcat’s leadership should he remain engaged and responds on a political level.

Back to wheels on the bus. The axing of the bus routes, and the confusion over bus tenders, hasn’t looked good for the Greens. A u-turn in the last couple of days, when a wedge of cash was found down the back of the sofa, has saved the services. Is this yet another great result for the fearless campaign to save the number …? What number is it this week, councillor Fitch

Labour has run a successful campaign to save the bus routes. And credit hear should go to councillor Gill Mitchell and the party dynamo, Caroline Penn, who always seems to be snapping at the heals of the Greens and Tories, taking well aimed bites along the way.
Labour seems to be in good spirits following its restructuring, and once again full of fight.

The Enigmatic Flo has lamented my absence in recent months, asking why I was not giving credit where credit is due. She has chastised me saying it is about time I said something nice about Labour. Yes, the Labour Party in Brighton and Hove seems to be in much better shape, taking the Greens on in a concerted fight back. Target seats have been identified, with Hollingdean and Stanmer being high on their hit list.

Being the political establishment is never easy, and the Greens have taken a knocking in recent months. Labour made a mistake some years back when they had highly competent people at the helm of the City Council, but they lost the political argument. Something similar is happening with the Greens. The bus fiasco hasn’t helped.

The Tories are not benefiting much from the Green’s ill-ease. Apart from Bulldog Bobby from Westbourne, my identical twin brother, Graham Cox, they are lacking punch. The Bulldog appears to be doing all the running, and my prediction is that it will be Bobby who leads the Tories into the 2015 local elections.

But neither Labour or the Conservatives should be complacent over the difficulties being experienced by the Greens. All administrations have difficulties, but there are some good political tacticians within the Green ranks. As long as the Green Group doesn’t assume it is the Green Party locally to the exclusion of others (as the Labour Group did in Brighton from which it is only just recovering) the Greens will remain a political force locally. After all, the Greens have a trump card, and one that infuriates Labour activists. Remaining the outstanding politician in the City, head and shoulders above the rest, is Caroline Lucas.

The Greens are well placed to have 2 MEPs elected in 2014

Over the next two years there will be two key elections that people in Brighton and Hove will be able to vote in. The first is the election in November of the Police Commissioner. The result of this pan-Sussex vote will almost certainly see the election of a Conservative into what could become a highly politicised, controversial position.

I think it is such a shame that the Labour Party is fielding a candidate since it has no chance whatsoever of winning. I have said before that an independent candidate, such as Ian Chisnell has a much greater chance of producing a shock result than someone from one of the opposition parties.

But the real reason for wanting an independent is that this role should be free from narrow party political influence.

But more intriguing is the election to the European Parliament in 2014. This election is based on a multi-member regional constituency across the South East. 10 MEPs are elected from this region. Last time the parties, all of whom field a slate of candidates, achieved the following results:

  • Conservative 812,288; 34.8%; 4 (total votes; 5 of vote; MEPs elected)
  • UKIP 440,002; 18.8%; 2
  • Liberal Democrats 230,340; 14.1%; 2
  • Green Party 271,506; 11.6%; 1
  • Labour 192,592; 8.2%; 1

No other party polled sufficient votes to have an MEP elected. The British National party, with 101,769 votes (4.4%) came sixth.

The interesting question is what will happen to the Lib Dem vote. It can hardly expect to hold firm. This will be true in every election coming up over the next three years. Some of its vote might transfer to Labour but it is likely that the Greens will benefit most.

The Green Party itself will no doubt benefit from the higher profile that the party has enjoyed following the election of Caroline Lucas to Westminster and the election of the first ever Green Council in Brighton and Hove.

My friend, the Enigmatic Flo, will no doubt tell me that Green support itself will not hold firm, with Labour being the main beneficiary. But European elections are not that straightforward and it gives disenchanted voters from across the South East a positive opportunity to vote for, and have elected, non-mainstream parties. I include the Greens and UKIP in this category. Together they had 3 MEPs elected with Labour returning just Peter Skinner.

The Green Party will almost certainly take over from the Lib Dems in third place and, if the UKIP vote weakens, the Greens could be challenging for second place. In either case, it would result, almost certainly, in the election of two Green MEPs.

The Green Party is in the middle of the selection process for its candidates for this election. Particular interest should be given to who comes second and third, assuming that the current MEP, Keith Taylor, is number one on the Green list. The Green party would be well advised to select a woman is number two on its list in order to present a balanced ticket.

Locally, three candidates have put themselves forward, Jason Kitcat, Ania Kitcat and Alex Phillips. My prediction is that Alex Phillips is most likely to appeal to Green Party members in the region and would be a valuable asset at number two on the Green list. I would anticipate that in May 2014 Ms Phillips will join Mr Taylor in Brussels.

The Green Party ‘establishment’ at sixes and sevens over Jason Kitcat’s decision to stand for the European Parliament

My post last night regarding the decision of councillor Jason Kitcat to put his name forward has attracted a reaction from the Green Party ‘establishment’. I received one email that aimed to set out the correct facts (something that has never unduly influenced me):

“We began our selection process for the 2014 (not 2013) European Parliamentary elections last Autumn. … That’s before Bill publicly announced he’d be standing down; let alone Jason emerging as our nominee for Leader of the Council. We are currently selecting a list of ten candidates from a total of 18 nominees. This process will end on 9th April. At that point we’ll know where Jason has been selected on the list, if at all. Since 1999 we’ve had one MEP in the Region. We are hopeful that we might make that two this time. Therefore, unless Jason is selected first or second; his chances of being elected as an MEP are more or less zero. Even if he is selected in first or second place; the election isn’t until June 2014. That’s 2 1/4 years away. I can’t see any reason why this should interfere with his work as Leader of the Council. This is especially true as we elect our Group Leader once a year, so in order for Jason to still be Leader of the Council by the time of the European Elections, he’d have to stand and be re-elected twice by the Group and Local Party.”

I’m not sure if I entirely agree that an election two and a quarter years away would not interfere with his work as Leader of the Council. I would hope it would not, but then it would be a pity if a candidate selected so early did not campaign energetically across the south east constituency during that time.

There were comments left on my earlier post that tend to contradict each other. Rob Shepherd writes: “It is not the case that Bill Randall decided to stand down after just one year in office. In fact, he made it clear when he took office that it would be only for one year” while Ben Duncan writes: “All candidates (Jason included) seeking nomination to the Green Party’s list for the European Parliamentary election put their names forward last year… well before the role of Leader of Brighton and Hove City Council became vacant”.

It could be that both are correct but it means that the right and left of the Greens aren’t aware of what the other is up to. Whatever the situation, I coninue to hold the view that Brighton and Hove City Council needs someone of the calibre of Jason Kitcat as its Leader. His effectiveness will be watered down if he was to be selected as a candidate for the European elections.
 

Is Jason Kitcat right to be seeking selection as a candidate for the European elections?

The decision of the leader-elect of the Green Party in Brighton and Hove, Jason Kitcat, to put his name forward for the panel for candidates for the European Parliament is, unsurprisingly, attracting criticism. Conservative councillor Graham Cox, for example, has tweeted “New Green Council leaders pledge lasted 14 days. Already trying to leave for Brussels.” He tweeted later “Why are the Green leaders so keen to head for Brussels? Are they bored with us locals in Brighton and Hove already?”

It is inevitable that a newly elected administration will make some mistakes and it is expected that some of what they do will be misinterpreted and misrepresented. However, some things can be avoided. Putting one’s name forward for election to a different body within weeks of being chosen to be your party’s leader on a local authority is something that could have been avoided.

Questions were raised when the current leader, Bill Randall, decided to stand down after just one year in office. He is likely to be formally elected as the Mayor at the May Council Meeting. I personally understand why councillor Randall has made his decision. As you would expect with someone like councillor Randall, it was done for very proper reasons and came as no surprise to many, including this Blogger.

Should councillor Kitcat be elected in 2013 to the European Parliament, the Greens on the City Council will have their third leader in just over a year. I for one would hope that councillor Kitcat withdraws his name from the Green list for the European Parliament in order to focus on leading the Greens up to and beyond the City Council elections in 2015. He is extremely able and should he go to the European Parliament, he would be a huge loss to the City as there are few to match his ability.