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.

The Good, the Bad and the Also Rans

Pete Gillman, one of Labour’s candidates in St Peters and North Laine, writes: “Anyone else got canvassing injuries ? Sunburn, sore heels , repetitive Q and A syndrome ? I have loved campaigning and the Queens Park blitz for Labour on Monday was fun and effective. It will feel strange when all this is over.”

Pete is a great example of a hardworking candidate who has little (although not no) chance of winning next Thursday. For Pete it will be strange when it is all over. For the rest of us it is a shame that he (and many like him) will no longer be active on the doorstep after next week. One of the down sides of our system of government is that there is no place for defeated candidates. For Pete is a man of integrity who is willing to work hard, but who gets little thanks and almost no recognition.

There are many Pete Gillmans in all parties, working their socks off but won’t be amongst the 54 elected ones next Friday. Amongst their numbers I include Christopher Hawtree, Anthea Ballam, Rob Buckwell, Mohammed Asaduzzaman, Rebecca Taylor, Lis Telcs, Tracey Hill, and Momma Grizzly herself, Rachael Emma Bates. I realise that this is damning with faint praise, and will not be well received by the names Good ‘uns who will be fighting all the way hoping to pull off surprise victories next week.

Then there are the Bad. There are at least two candidates – I cannot say which party or which ward – who are on the unpleasant side of dodgy. Fortunately these two are unlikely to be elected, although their party holds out that they could yet be triumphant. If they were to be elected they would, in a short period of time, bring not just their party, but the City Council, into disrepute. All parties should look at the private business activities and vested interests of their potential candidates and councillors.

And finally, the Also Rans who count amongst their numbers David Watkins, the veteran Gerald O’Brien, and Harris Fitch (red rag to this bull – how long will it be before he comments that it’s still all to play for in Rottingdean Coastal?).

Other than ‘the Bad’, best wishes to all candidates. Even if you are a paper candidate, or someone who will be disappointed at the count, our collective thanks to all of you who are putting themselves out to make democracy work.

Doorstep Brighton 5: Secret Tories, Public Tories and the neo-deity Christopher Hawtree

 I am grateful to ‘steampunk’ for his appraisal of the Labour candidates in Goldsmid: “Nigel Jenner previously managed the council youth service, and while I haven’t worked with him personally  – on paper that’s a respectable credential. I suspect Labour will give Liz Telcs higher billing though.” 

On the Greens, Steampunk says: “Alex Phillips is one of the most energetic personalities in the Green Party today, and her exuberance could just give her team enough momentum to take a second seat in the ward. Ruth Buckley would bring a refreshing down-to-earth perspective to the council by virtue of not being a career politician and I would like to see her elected.”

As for the prospects of the parties, Steampunk says: “The Greens certainly have a better chance than Labour of taking the remaining Tory seat, but even so I think it is a tall order and more likely the status quo will prevail, one apiece in Goldsmid to Greens, Conservatives and Labour.”

Is Chris Hawtree a minor deity? He seems to be omnipresent and clearly works in mysterious ways!  He has been campaigning in Hollingdean, Patcham, Goldsmid, Brunswick and Adelaide, Portslade South, even Rottingdean Coastal where he is on the verge of unseating Mary Mears! But as always he offers very interesting and valuable insights.  In Goldsmid he writes:  “I sense rising support for the Greens in Goldsmid tho’ there is recognition that Melanie Davis has been diligent. Liz Telcs came across poorly in the by election.” Labour councillor Craig Turton reports that Labour’s team in Goldsmid, Lis Telcs, Melanie Davis and Nigel Jenner, have been knocking on doors and speaking to Goldsmid residents “months before the Greens even selected their candidates” and he promises a new Labour (he stresses not New Labour) website soon.

As for the Tories in Goldsmid, ‘Clive’ says the Tories have selected three candidate and that they are easily ‘googleable’. I tried but without joy.  Perhaps Clive can tell us more about Huey, Dewey and Louie. He does say that “they all look like estate agents, and will no doubt run their usual under-the-radar campaign, hoping that the core vote is enough to defeat a divided opposition.” 

Mr Hawtree points out that in Brunswick and Adelaide Labour voters are realising that the best way to get at the Coalition is to vote tactically for the Greens, not least because, as he says, “Labour has given up on Brunswick, there could be more such votes”.

An unknown factor in Brunswick and Adelaide is the candidacy of David Watkins.  The former Lib Dem is yet to announce whether he intends to stand.  Watkins has no organisation behind him, and he stands little if any chance of winning. If he does stand, he will draw some support from the Lib Dems, most crucially from Paul Elgood.  Even 100 votes leaking away from Elgood could see a Green clean sweep.

Chris Hawtree says that there is not much sign of Tories canvasing anywhere.  But don’t be deceived, the Tories never have the same street presence as Labour, the Greens or the party once known as the Lib Dems. 

In Patcham, the first mention of this ward in Doorstep Brighton, the Greens have been out canvassing.  The Greens did surprisingly well in Patcham at the general election but it would take a shift of Egyptian proportions to see the back of Geoffrey and Carol Theobald.

Can I extend a warm, if brief, welcome to the Conservative candidates in East Brighton, Kelvin Poplett, Chris Sandland and Peter Booth.  They have established an impressive website www.eastbrighton2011.com and seem well organised. No doubt they will do well in Roedean Bottom and on The Cliff, but along Whitehawk Way … ?  They may have the common touch but they ain’t Mary Mears.

Finally, Dan Wilson reprimands me for failing to report on the Labour campaign in Wish ward: “There’s been some great campaigning by Labour in Wish ward these past weeks” he writes. I stand corrected but I’m not sure of how he addresses me – ‘Bappy’.  I can cope with BPB and ‘Baps’ (credit here to the lovely Chuck Vere and a moniker adopted for me by Momma Grizzly, Rachael Bates), but Bappy, sounds like ‘Nappy’, but then some people think I’m full of …….

Goldsmid – a three-way marginal that the Greens really must win to become the largest group on Brighton & Hove City Council

In Hove, the most interesting seat is surely Goldsmid and all three parties in Brighton and Hove (given its sole councillor and standing at 8% in recent opinion polls, I don’t think we need to regard the Lib Dems as a viable party locally) believe they can win the three seats in Goldsmid.

Currently, all three parties have one councillor, Ayas Fallon-Khan (Conservative), Melanie Davis (Labour) and Alex Phillips (Green).  Councillor Fallon-Khan has been deselected by the Tories and will be standing in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean where (to the shame of Labour) he has a better chance than not of being elected partly due to his own personal strengths and because of the work undertaken by the sitting ward councillor Maria Caulfield.  Fallon-Khan’s deselection will significantly reduce the Tory’s chance of holding a seat and I predict that they will go away empty handed in May.  A challenge for residents in Goldsmid is to identify the Tory candidates for the ward.  It appears to be a well-guarded secret, and long may that last.

Melanie Davis has worked consistently since elected last time out, but she will struggle with the dire state of the Labour Party in Hove, and in the east wards of Hove in particular.  A quick look at Brighton Labour Party’s website shows out of date it is, some sections have been ‘under construction’ for many months, and has no reference to May’s local elections nor a list of candidates.  (The latter omission may be wise since Labour is struggling to find candidates in several seats in Hove).  The website is symbolic of a locally party on its knees.  While there is activity elsewhere in Brighton (Queen’s Park, East Brighton, Regency and, em, well, err, somewhere else, I’m sure), Labour in Brighton and Hove is a poor shadow of its former self. 

Back to Labour in Goldsmid, it at least has its own website.  But a website is a two-edged sword.  In reporting Labour’s track record in Goldsmid, there are only 6 entries since September 2008, and some are attacks on the City Council and the Tory councillor.  It also provides links to its most recent leaflets, the most recent two having been published in Spring and Summer 2010 (oh, dear, not much ambition there).

On the plus side, Labour in Goldsmid has selected three candidates (important if you want to win an election!). They are Lis Telcs (who was soundly beaten in the Goldsmid by-election a couple of years ago by the Green’s Alex Phillips), Nigel Jenner (about whom I know absolutely nothing – he must be a footballer, then) and councillor Melanie Davis.  Melanie should survive but I can’t see Labour doing any better than that.  Her defeat would signify a crushing defeat for Labour in Brighton and Hove, something that can’t be ruled out.

Alex Phillips is one of the sitting councillor in Goldsmid having won the 2009 by-election giving the Greens their first ever councillor in Hove and critical momentum for Caroline Lucas’ successful campaign for Parliament in 2010.  Alex, who works part time for Keith Taylor (who replaced Caroline Lucas as MEP in the south east) has nurtured the ward since her election and should be re-elected without too much difficulty.  She will be joined in the election by science teacher Rob Jarrett and ‘young mum’ Ruth Buckley.  Rob has been around forever, popping up here and there on different campaigns over the years.  Ruth Buckley is relatively new to electoral politics, but part of a generation, particularly women, inspired by Caroline Lucas.  The Lucas effect stretches beyond Brighton Pavilion and could result in a Green clean-sweep in Goldsmid.

However, if the Greens fail to make progress in Hove and in Goldsmid in particular, their hope of becoming the largest party on the City Council will be dashed.

Has Labour given up and gone home?

The thing that amazes me about reaction to this blog is the absolute lack of response from Labour supporters. Not one person, even those who know me, has defended Liz Telcs, the campaign that was run (or not) in Goldsmid Ward, or the reputation of the Labour Party in Brighton and Hove.

I remain, at heart, a Labour (that’s Old Labour) supporter. I am a socialist, not a Green. But frankly, the Greens offer an alternative, and show some ambition. Come on Labour Party members. Has the Party died in Brighton? Have you all given up and gone home? Have you just rolled over and surrendered?

Is there anyone out there?

PS Good luck tomorrow, Alex. A Green victory is in the best interest of Brighton and Hove.