Reflecting of the reasons for the Conservative victory in the Westbourne by-election

First of all, congratulations to Graham Cox on his victory. Here is the full result:
Graham Cox (Conservative) 1027
Nigel Jenner (Labour) 826
Louisa Greenbaum (Green) 645
Gareth Jone (LibDem) 45
Paul Perrin (UKIP) 36
Pip Tindall (TUSC) 26
Susan Collard (European Citizens) 13

It was definitely a good night for the Tories made all that better by Labour beating the Greens into second place. I think there are three factors that resulted in this good result:

Graham Cox: Graham, as I have said since his selection, was an inspired choice. His appeal transcends traditional party loyalties and we can expect to see him rising very quickly into a leadership position within the Tory ranks.
The Legacy of The Bishop: Graham’s predecessor, Brian Oxley, was well-respected and some support for Graham will have been derived from Brian. Graham will no doubt convert those loyalty votes for Brian to his own.
Mike Weatherley: In spite of rumoured tensions between Graham and Mike, the current standing and high profile of the MP for Hove will have benefited Graham.

Labour’s performance will have brought some quiet satisfaction. While they did not win the seat, Labour achieved its primary objective of beating the Greens. It was noticeable that the tone of most of Labour’s message at present in Brighton and Hove is anti-Green. Perhaps now it will turn it’s focus on the Tories who are, after all, enforcing the cuts on Brighton and Hove. The unrelenting attacks on the Greens is somewhat disingenuous.

For the Greens, third place behind Labour in second is the second worst result possible. (The worst result would to have been beaten by UKIP). In May the Greens did little work in the ward. In this by-election they worked it to win but did not improve their position or share of the vote.

As mentioned above, the Greens have been subjected to unrelenting attacks from the Argus and by three individual Labour members, Lord Bassam, Caroline Penn, and councillor Warren Morgan. While Jason Kitcat has diligently responded in a statesmanlike manner, the attacks are what the Greens must expect for the next three and a half years leading up to May 2015.

Labour’s LOLA campaign (Leave Our Loos Alone) shows some imagination. I would be interested to know who came up with this idea. More of that kind of propaganda will serve Labour well.

The Tories have cause to celebrate, Labour too. The Greens need to lick their wounds, reflect on where they have arrive in the political cycle, and devise a strategy for recovery. I will return to this theme in the new year.

But there was one big loser in this by-election whose performance betrayed his previous unblemished record, and that was the prediction of your Humble Blogger. As my three regular readers (Doris, Biker Dave and Grizzly) will know, my forecasts are usually spot on. But this time, failure. In mitigation, I did recognise the personal strengths of Graham Cox from the moment he was first selected and thought that his selection made a Tory victory a real possibility.

By way of contrition, I will share something later this evening about councillor Cox and me. This revelation will not doubt be the talk around Christmas trees of Brighton and Hove this Festive Season.

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Westbourne by-election: it could all be down to the weather this evening

Folklore has it that the Tory vote comes out in the morning and early afternoon, with Labour and Green voters turning out after 4pm. If that is the case, the Tories must be pleased with the glorious weather so far today, and must be feeling some optimism.

I will be watching the weather closely in the early evening. If it rains then I think the Tory candidate, Graham Cox, should edge it.

The Greens had a real boost to their campaign yesterday evening when the Tories declared it a two horse race between them and the Greens. Voters undecided between Labour and the Greens might just, as a result of this leaflet, decide to go with the Greens. It won’t take many, perhaps just a couple of dozen, to go Green rather than Labour.

The postal vote turnout was pleasing from a Green perspective, with around half of those with postal votes not returning them. Given that the Greens have never really worked Westbourne until this by-election, the majority of postal voters will have been for the other parties. Having said that, the Greens did run a postal vote campaign and have been expressing quiet satisfaction that the Green postal voters have returned their ballots.

The Tories have pulled out all the stops to hold on to this seat and get their candidate, Graham Cox, elected. The Labour campaign has been one that characterises Labour in recent years, a small, dedicated band of activists doing what they can, but not setting the election on fire. The one high point was the arrival of Hillary Benn who brought much needed publicity for LOLA, Labour’s Leave Our Loos Alone campaign. No matter what might have been suggested, this isn’t an election winning issue, it is a good hook to hang some campaigning on, and could, in due course, capture the imagination, but LOLA won’t be enough for Labour’s Nigel Jenner.

Both Labour and the Tories have been keen to have a go at the Greens Louisa Greenbaum, suggesting that both parties believe she is the candidate to beat. Weather permitting, the superior Green organisation should see Louisa home. There may be glorious sunshine right now, but there are rain clouds on the horizon. That is no metaphor for the fortunes of the parties, just a meteorological observation!

Westbourne by-election, and the record of the Dear Leader

“I was sad to hear that Councillor Bill Randall has stepped down as Leader of Brighton and Hove City Council. I have never heard a bad word about him and I wish him well as Mayor.”

This is clearly the season of good will for these are not my words but those of the Deputy Chair (Political) of Brighton and Hove Conservatives, Robert Nemeth writing in today’s Brighton Argus.

But the Christmas spirit quickly evaporates and bad words are implied, if not said, against the Dear Leader (Randall, not Kim Jong-il). The “Greens did not hit the ground running”, decisions were taken “on the move rather than making the changes that were promised”, and that the situation has “no doubt been exacerbated by the internal squabbles”. He points to “chaos” on the issues of council tax, Falmer Stadium, and the Victoria Gardens campsite.

If that is not saying bad words against the Dear Leader, then I don’t know what is. And also, am right in thinking that history is being re-written? The Dear Leader hasn’t stood down after 6 months. He will remain the Dear Leader until the annual Council at which point he will become the Dear Mayor.

As for the Greens not hitting the ground running, my perception is that they did just that, and the approach to the budget has been quite extraordinary. By taking an open, inclusive approach to its preparation, and the invitation to Labour and Tory councillors, the opposition have been wrong footed, hence the all-out attack on the Greens by Labour’s Lord Bassam, Caroline Penn and Warren Morgan, and now Robert himself.

To suggest that there has been “chaos” is nonsense. These issues are the normal challenges that face a new (and yes, inexperienced) administration.

I don’t detect “internal squabbles”. There is debate and there are differences, but this has largely involved organisation and, to a lesser extent personalities. But such differences pale into insignificance when compared to the split between the the Hove and Pavilion Conservatives and the Kemptown Tories.

But enough of the Dear Leader, and enough of Mr Nemeth. All thoughts have turned to Christmas. Oh no they haven’t. Oh yes they have. OH NO THEY HAVEN’T!!! All thoughts are focused on Westbourne and tomorrow’s by-election.

I hear that both the Tories and Greens are pleased with their postal vote campaigns,I and that Labour and the Greens are pleased with their poster campaign. On postal votes, the Greens usually think they don’t do too well here, but they are quietly pleased with what they have achieved in Westbourne, and confidence levels are rising. But I hear from deep within the Labour camp that they are pleased with the number of promises they have secured for Nigel Jenner. The question is, how firm are these promises?

My prediction? I correctly ‘called’ the Goldsmid by-election, the Brighton Pavilion result (although I thought Chuck Vere would come second), and the number of seats the Greens would win in May (I said 22 or 23 – I didn’t see Chris Hawtree winning although he did). But this by-election is the most difficult ‘call’ because of the, likely, very low turnout. If this by-election was to take place in, say, May, I would think the Greens would win. They have the Big Mo, a candidate who lives in the ward, and in Luke Walter, the best election organiser in the City.

But the Joker in the Pack is the Tory candidate, Graham Cox. He is the equal to the Green’s Louisa Greenbaum, he is a first rate candidate. Without the other, either of these candidates would swing the result in an election as close as this.

If pushed, I would call it for Louisa Greenbaum, but it will be one of the closest results in years. I think that given the low turnout it could still go any one of three ways.

Best wishes to ALL candidates tomorrow. My respect for candidates remains, and I thank all seven of you for making democracy a reality.

(The original version of this post referred to Caroline Pegg. Her name has been corrected to Caroline Penn).

What defeat will mean for the losers in the Westbourne by-election

There are just two full days of campaigning left before the Westbourne by-election. And the result is too close to call.

As the Conservative candidate, Graham Cox, admitted in a comment on this blog earlier today, the Labour and Green candidates have him well beaten on the poster front, but added mischievously, that all the windows in Westbourne without a poster must be supporting him.

My Pal Paul, the UKIP candidate Paul Perrin, claims to have beaten Graham in the poster race. A good result for UKIP will be fourth place, ahead of the Lib Dems.

The only good result for the Tories would be to hold the seat but a narrow defeat (a majority of less than about 20 votes) can be explained away by a low turnout and the poll taking place when most people’s thoughts will be on turkey, duck, and sprouts, or if you are a Green, nut roast and organic cabbage.

Graham Cox, if he is elected, will prove to be an exceptional councillor, if his previous track record as a police officer is anything to go by. He will not be your ‘normal’ Tory councillor, with an appeal that will transcend normal party lines. (I also have a shocking revelation about Mr Cox which I will share with you at the weekend if, and only if, he is elected. It is a revelation that can only enhance his reputation).

For the Labour Party, a win is still within their sights, and a win would prove to be a huge boost for the Party. It would see them start 2012 with renewed confidence and could be used to argue that the corner has been reached. If Nigel Jenner holds on to second place behind the Tories it would be acceptable because Labour would have beaten the Greens, a greater priority for them than even winning the seat. Third place behind the Greens in second would be a further set back, but a Green win would be a disaster for Labour in the City. No matter how much they argued low turn out, nut roast and pantomime distractions, and no matter how close they might come, it would be further evidence of the Green tide (copyright L. Walter) spreading into Hove.

The Greens, however, have the most to lose. Third place behind Labour and the Tories would be a disaster. Such a result would be presented as a rejection of the Green budget, and a sign that the honeymoon is over. Much would be made of the Green’s decision to have the by-election on December 22nd. The only result worse that third place behind the Greens would be fourth place behind UKIP, but that is even beyond the wildest dreams of My Pal Paul. I also believe that given the strength of the Green candidate, Louisa Greenbaum, the Big Mo still enjoyed by the Greens locally, and the superior nature of its election machine, Ms Greenbaum must be joint favourite alongside Graham Cox.

Second place for the Greens behind the Tories would still be a good result, establishing them as the challengers for 2015, and providing further evidence that they, and not Labour, are the party to rival the Tories in Hove.

I am now willing to make a prediction: there will be a low turnout and if it rains or snows, a very low turnout. All parties might hope for that since it will give the losing parties an excuse for the result. For the winner, a majority of 1 on a 15% turnout will feel like a landslide.

Westbourne, Kitcat, Bassam and Randall: This is the week that was

And what a week it has been – the 100 Year War between Bassam and Kitcat, Bill Randall becoming Mayor-elect, and campaigning in the Westbourne by-election. Where to begin?

The Westbourne by-election takes place on Thursday and the main three parties have continued to campaign hard, in spite of the terrible weather. All parties seem to have become quietly pessimistic, although the Tories are perhaps the most confident. Some Labour activists are still displaying bravado, and I imagine that young Harris Fitch will respond with a forecast of a Labour landslide (similar to that he achieved in Rottingdean Coastal, no doubt).

I think it is still probably too close to call, but from the soundings I have taken, the Green vote is solid and not impacted by the debate regarding the budget. Electors know that it is the Tory-led Coalition that is imposing the cuts from on high, and Louisa Greenbaum has proven, once again to be a strong candidate who is capitalising on being the local candidate who stood in the ward in May.

Unhappiness with the Tories nationwide is offset by a strong candidate in Graham Cox. For someone with the quality of being absolutely singleminded and determined to achieve in whatever he does, Graham has remained relaxed and balanced, and has developed a personal vote beyond the Tory ranks.

Labour has campaigned hard but (and this isn’t an anti-Labour position although I will no doubt be accused of this) this is not the right moment for a Labour revival to begin. Nigel Jenner, while competent and hard working, is not the stand out candidate. That is shared between Louisa and Graham. The Labour Group on the Council remains, largely, invisible, in the eyes of the general public, and the Labour campaign has not set the by-election campaign on fire.

Which brings me on to Higgs bosom, or know locally as the Kitcat Bassam Particle. Never before in the field of Twitter conflict, have so many tweets been sent so often, by so few. For days now this (yawn) fascinating debate raged. It has been hard to follow, on occasions even by Jason Kitcat and Steve Bassam themselves. Bassam has shown all his qualities as a street fighter, making it tough for the Greens by throwing accusation after accusation, challenge after challenge. Meanwhile, Kitcat has patiently answered all, well almost all, of the points raised by Lord Bassam. Jason Kitcat continues to impress in his role as the Cabinet Member for Finance.

I have to say that I don’t think that Twitter is the right forum for such an in-depth and ongoing debate. I will offer the services of this blog, once again, for the different budget positions to be set out.

I have just two further points on this debate. Firstly, other than Warren Morgan and to a lesser extent, Craig Turton, Labour councillors remain invisible which is a shame. A strong opposition from the left to the Greens would add to the political discourse locally. The second point is that Lord Bassam has been allowed to get off with the most remarkable rewriting of history. Under Labour, including under his leadership, the Council made huge cuts, closed more toilets and put up rates/council tax far higher than the Greens are proposing, but no one refers to this record.

And finally for today, leadership. The Leader of the Council, the much admired Bill Randall, is to stand down in May to become the Mayor. This is a largely ceremonial role and carries nowhere near the power he now enjoys. Some has suggested he is being ousted. Nonsense. Others say he is jumping to avoid difficult times. Even more nonsense. I understand that he never intended to serve a full term as Leader. Perhaps he didn’t believe this humble blogger who predicted before May’s elections that the Greens would win 23 seats and be the largest party. Forming the first Green administration and coping with the level of cuts imposed by government will have taken its toll. But Bill has managed the process with competence, charm, and good humour. There will have been a cost and he is looking older than his 36 years (that’s a joke, Momma Grizzly. He is too old for you).

As for his successor? I’ll return to that after Thursday’s by-election.

Forget the Westbourne by-election: prepare for the next Battle of Hastings

While the Eurozone is in meltdown and International Capitalism is in crisis, the goldfish bowl of Brighton and Hove politics sees little further than the Green’s budget. The trenches of this battleground are concentrated in a few streets in Hove in Westbourne Ward. This first test of the Green administration is fascinating, with activists cheering on their own champions: Louisa Greenbaum (Green), Graham Cox (Conservative) and Nigel Jenner (Labour).

The UKIP candidate in the Westbourne by-election is being cheered on very loudly by Paul Perrin who is, by coincidence, the UKIP candidate in the Westbourne by-election. The candidates of the other parties have no cheerleaders, no one to defend their honour, and they make a sad sight as they trudged the streets, looking for a sympathy vote. How they would love a Christopher Hawtree, a Momma Grizzly, a Caroline Penn. At this time of peace and goodwill to all please take pity on the candidates for the Lib Dems, TUSC and the European Movement for the Annex of Schleswig-Holstein (I suspect I might have got that last one wrong – bloody predictive text).

But while the pavements of Westbourne are being pounded by the usual suspects, east of the centre of the Universe, in Hastings and Rye, a fascinating local skirmish is developing. It is a fascinating area where at the general election the constituency went from Labour to Conservative while on the same day the town council went from Conservative to Labour control.

The highly popular and well-respected Labour MP, Michael Foster, was defeated by the formidable Blue Tory Lady, Amber Rudd. Her cause was helped by the addition of Tory-stronghold of Rye to the constituency. Since polling day she has carefully nurtured the constituency, making friends and influencing people. As a constituency MP she will be hard to shift, although the backlash against the Tories and their Lib Dem poodles will keep this as a marginal seat. One fears for the future of the decent Stephen Lloyd in Eastbourne while Lord Baker of Lewes is set for higher things (the House of Lords) where he won’t have to renege on written pledges to his constituents.

But hark (a Christmas reference) who is that emerging from stage left, to challenge the incumbent? Who is this apprentice politician hoping to say to Ms. Rudd, “You’re fired!”. (And why this ever-so feeble attempt to mimic Lord Sugar?). For it is Sarah Owen, the newly selected Labour candidate.

Sarah is currently political advisor to Lord Sugar and is helping to develop Labour’s national small business policy. Previously she worked in the emergency planning department of the London Fire Brigade. And just in case My Pal Paul is worried that she might have worked in a genuine small business, thereby ruining his belief that all Labour, Tory and Green politicians have never worked in the ‘real world’, she did work as a ‘political assistant’ at … Brighton and Hove City Council!

And how did Ms Rudd react to Ms Owen’s selection? A little back-handed compliment: “It will be nice to have a new voice in Hastings and Rye for people on behalf of Labour.”

Westbourne by-election: the wooden spoon candidate enters the race

And then there were 6: Graham Cox (Conservative), Louisa Greenbaum (Green), Nigel Jenner (Labour), Paul Perrin (UKIP), Gareth Jones (Lib Dems), and now Pip Tindall (TUSC).

Ms Tindall, a former Green candidate in East Brighton, has been selected to contest the Westbourne by-election on behalf of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. When I say “contest” I really mean “crawl in last” since TUSC has the unenviable record of coming last in most elections locally.

But TUSC’s entry into this by-election race will have some small impact, for TUSC is to Labour and the Greens what UKIP is to the Tories, an annoying side show that will take a handful of votes from the more credible parties.

So why has Ms Tindall abandoned the party she stood for just 7 months ago? She said: “The Green Party says it’s opposed to cuts, but that’s just so much hot air if it won’t fight them when it gets the chance. I was horrified when I heard the Greens in Brighton intended to hand down the cost of the banking crisis to those least able to afford it – the public service users of Brighton and Hove.”

I am sure that the Greens are trembling in their boots as this Don Quixote charges an imaginary windmill. I can make a prediction about the by-election result: TUSC will come last, then the Lib Dems, then UKIP. Who will win? Not sure yet, it is a genuine 3 way marginal.

Tomorrow’s public sector workers strike will provide a morale boost for both Labour and the Greens. The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement will also ensure that anyone in doubt about going out on strike will have had and doubts removed. Good luck to one and all who are joining tomorrow’s action.