Dissenting voices should be welcomed by all parties

Politics, and party politics in particular, has a way to go to recover from the depths in terms of public credibility. Estate agents have been more trusted than politicians. I am not talking about expenses. I always thought that apart from excesses regarding duck ponds and moats, the debate about expenses was unfortunate. Elected politicians should be well paid and well resourced, equally so their support staff. Who would want to see Momma Grizzly having to seek out a second part time job down at Asda because she struggles to get by on the salary of a diary secretary for a Member of Parliament?

What has damaged politics is the party political system that favours party loyalists well above independent thinkers or those with experience beyond the political world. Too may special advisers, with no experience of the real world, get elected. The certain ending of political enhancement is to speak, let alone vote, with ones conscience.

This is particularly true in Westminster, but not unknown locally. Labour has a very sad record of stifling talent because it was ‘off message’. I am told that probably the brightest of all Labour councillors was Richard Stanton, a brilliant economist with a grasp of local government finance second to none, including council officers. He was kicked off the Council for his campaigning against the Poll Tax (as well as to settle a few scores for his support for the Troops Out of Ireland Movement).

More recently the likes of Joyce Edmond-Smith, Francis Tonks and Jack Hazelgrove found themselves at odds with the party establishment. How Labour would benefit from their likes again.

But all is not lost for Labour. Far from it. They have, in the wings, a number of excellent activists who have an element of independence of thought yet committed to the Party’s cause. To be successful in the local elections in 2015 the Labour Party will need to reach out well beyond its ranks and engage with those not yet supporters and, possibly more importantly, those who were once supporters, members and even activists.

The Green Party has achieved that over the past decade, attracting a broad base, from community activists (may I mention library campaigners?), LGBT campaigners, to traditional environmentalist types. It can cate unlikely bed-follows, if you pardon the expression, with the likes of Phelim MacCafferty and Christina Summers standing together, noted, under the same banner. Which is why I think the ‘process’ started against councillor Summers is ill-judged.  There is little the public likes less is the appearance of internal party divisions and the suppression of independent thought amongst elected representation.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives have created an eclectic group of councillors, from Tory-grandee types like Geoffrey Theobald to street fighters represented by Graham Cox. It is an uneasy coalition, one that ultimately could split. Indeed, where Labour has had the foresight to create a single district party, the Tories remain divided between the Hove and Brighton Pavilion association on the one had and the Kemptown association on the other.
But where the Conservatives appear weak is the damning of each and everything that the Greens say. Their opposition, and the of their MP’s , to everything the Green Administration does, weakens them since, frankly, I am bored of the press releases put out in the name of Mike Weatherley by Momma Grizzly and the other Bright Young Things between their shifts at Asda.

Some Labour activists fall into this trap as well. I would rather hear positive stories from Labour about their plans and policies. I have enough independence of thought to make my mind up about how the Green Administration is doing. Perhaps Labour could produce and widely consult on a range of policies that could form the basis of its 2015 manifesto. But if it is to do that, it must be more than lip-service, and party officers should not be looking for approval from their masters in Westminster.

State of the City – Labour

Good and bad things come in threes, so they say. Before my summer sojourn, there was a report entitled ‘State of the City’ prepared by the City Council, loaded with facts and figures. It is well worth a read. Then there was a debate, ‘State of the City’, organised by the other BHCC, the Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce, with speakers including Bill Randall, Simon Fanshawe and Roger French.

And now I present the Brighton Politics ‘State of the City’ a review of the political fortunes.

Before I went away I rather tongue in cheek suggested that the top politicians in the City were John Barradell and the Fab Four Super Directors for surviving the change in administration. And still they remain in post and likely to remain so. Here is what I really think.

Starting today with Labour, I have been impressed, as always, with the leadership and determination displayed by the East End ‘Family’. Gill Mitchell has held the group together as they have morphed from being the Labour Group to becoming the Labour and Co-operative Group. Warren Morgan and Craig Turton continue with their best Mitchell Brothers impression, and I for one am determined not to get on the wrong side of them.

Some of the newly elected councillors, not least those in Hove, (Penny Gilbey and Anne Pissadirou), have shown early promise, Penny following in the footsteps of her father, the late George Humphrey, and Anne active in Wish Ward. (She will have to work consistently hard as Wish is now seen as a natural Green target in 2015). A Labour activist that continues to impress is Caroline Penn, on Twitter as @ThePennyDrops – worth following.

But what Labour needs to do locally (because Ed Milliband isn’t doing it for them nationally) is capture the imagination of the people of Brighton and Hove. Labour needs a ‘Big Idea’ that will be seen to be transformational for the City.

Before the local elections, Warren Morgan kept emphasising that Labour was gaining in wards across the City. They may have polled well overall, but they were still a million miles away from forming an administration. If their Big Idea is to wait for the Greens to screw up, they will remain out of power of another decade or more. The Tories are as likely to benefit from a loss of support for the Greens than Labour is.

But the problem for Labour is that it has, since the time of Kinnock, looked almost exclusively to its leader for salvation. But politics has moved on and the electorate are looking for something new, and it isn’t whether Ed or brother David is the one to lead Labour into the next election. Can Labour move beyond the internecine squabbles of recent years? I doubt it in the short term.

What can Labour do that will turn the party’s fortunes around? Perhaps it needs to build a mass base, at it had in the 1980’s before the Kinnockites took over the asylum. Slowly and surely, the life blood was drained from the party. The Party could do worse than engaging once again with those who brought it success, left and right alike – Joyce Edmond Smith, Richard Stanton, Steve Bassam, Gill Sweeting, Andy Winter, etc. Their campaigning ability, their ability to engage with the electorate, is what the Party needs right now.

But there remain elements within the Labour Party that sees activists as a threat. It is fine to have ‘dependable’ people turning out to deliver leaflets, help with telephone banks, and occasionally knock on doors. But they shouldn’t get above and beyond themselves, and certainly should never question the leadership, locally or nationally.

Perhaps I look back on days that cannot be relived and successes that cannot be repeated. This is where I will incurr the wrath of Morgan and Turton. The Greens are the ones with the campaigning ability, the ones who have captured the imagination, and who still enjoy the Big Mo – momentum.

Labour has to decide on its parliamentary candidates in the not too distant future, and which should be all-women shortlists. Conventional wisdom has it that boundary changes will see Labour’s chances erode further in Brighton Kemptown. Brighton Pavilion will be a two-way fight between the Greens and the Tories, leaving Hove as its best chance. The Party leadership looks after its own and has ensured that Hove does not have an all-women shortlist, opening the way for Simon Burgess to become the candidate.

And here again, Labour will get it wrong. As I have always said, Simon is a decent, hard-working type who is an asset to Labour, working in a support role. There are few better. But as a candidate, in what could be a three-way marginal between Mike Weatherley, a Green (particularly a dynamic woman candidate) and Labour, he would be destined to be an also ran.

Perhaps Labour locally will need a further drubbing at the polls before it moves on and finds candidates who can match the appeal of Caroline Lucas and whoever the Greens field in Hove. I have an insight who that might be, and Labour will have little chance of matching her appeal.

Hanover and Elm Grove – they will weigh not count the Green vote next May

Don’t let Lib Dems defect to Labour or the Greens

What would you do if you were a Lib Dem councillor in Brighton and Hove?  Faced with a backlash against that party in next May’s local elections, do you rely on your personal vote to see you home even though the tide is very much against your party?

At the last locals, Joyce Edmond-Smith, a long-standing and highly respected Labour councillor in Hanover and Elm Grove, faced the Greens who had momentum on their side.  Joyce was Labour’s foremost green activist, with a better environmental record than many Greens.  She enjoyed a large personal vote, well-deserved and hard-earned over many years, but it wasn’t enough to save her and she was beaten by 624 votes.

David Watkins and Paul Elgood bear no comparison to Joyce when it comes to a personal vote.  Brunswick and Adelaide has a highly transient population and turnout is traditionally low.  Last time turnover was below 28%.  Being a Lib Dem councillor can’t be much fun at the moment.

So what do you do? I think that there is a chance that they will either not stand again so to avoid being beaten, or they may cross the floor and join either Labour or the Greens.  Their applications should be rejected.  If they really find the ConDem coalition distasteful, they should have taken a principled stand at the time.  Any defection now will be opportunistic and self-serving.