Both Greens and Labour should avoid internal divisions if they wish to win Hollingdan and Stanmer

At the last local elections Hollingdean and Stanmer was keenly fought between Labour and the Greens. I predicted, quite correctly, that two Greens, Sven Rufus and Christina Summers, would win, and that Jeane Lepper would hold her seat for Labour.
The Greens underestimated the personal popularity of Jeane Lepper who, in the ‘Kings House Bubble’, is something of a figure of hate for the Greens. Similarly, Labour overestimated the popularity of the former councillors, Pat Hawkes and Christine Simpson.
Most of my sympathy last year was with Luke Walter, the Green candidate who lost out to Jeane Lepper purely on the grounds that he appeared lower on the ballot paper than the names Rufus and Summers. He wold have made a first rate councillor and I hope that he will consider standing in the future.
The loss of Hollingdean and Stanmer hurt Labour. It was their last remaining stronghold in Brighton Pavilion and the base of the former Labour MP, David Lepper, husband of Jeane Lepper.
It is no wonder that Labour has it as its number one target seat. There are regular campaign mornings targeting the ward and Labour is to select its candidates for the 2015 elections this coming September, a full 30 months before the poll.
And while Labour has got its act together, the Greens have decided to carry out its ‘enquiry’ into the actions of Christina Summers at the Council meeting  on July 19h when she spoke and voted against equal marriage.
In my last post I said that the Greens would be judged by its handling of Summersgate. Depressingly, it is emulating Labour in the 1980’s and 1990’s by taking divisive action against one of its members, action that will have just one winner, Labour.
But Labour is a funny old party. It could yet allow its deep sectarian divisions to scupper its prospects. While the old right calls for tolerance towards Labour’s party-in-a-party, Progress, there is hostility towards the soft left LRC. Labour would be well-advised to put aside its divisions and focus on winning elections. For that matter, so too would the Greens.

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 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 Great, the Good and the Ghost of Nobby Clarke predict a Green victory in the Westbourne by-election

And they’re off in the 12.22 Christmas Stakes, with the Greens perhaps going off too quickly, taking an early lead. Well, that’s the view of the Ghost of Nobby Clarke who reports: “Greens supposedly seen out in Westbourne yesterday, bit soon by my thinking but the 22nd might hold some ground then, if the Green Machine wasn’t in full effect last May and they polled the votes they did they’ll be a tough nut to crack on this one- De Ja Vu Goldsmid By Election.”

The Ghost recognises the clever tactical nature of the Green’s being quickest out of the starting gate by ensuring the by-election will be held on 22 December: “Of course strategically clever of The Green Machine as the tories and Labour will no doubt take another few days to get their house in order whilst you tread the cobbles picking up votes and delivering your first leaflet- plus as you well know most Tory voters will have their eye on Christmas but most Green voters will have their eye on the polling station You had paper candidates in May so imagine how you’ll fight without both hands tied behind your backs?, if thats twinned with Louisa Greenbaum as candidate (if she is) it looks rock solid.”

Given the demographic changes in the area, and the possibility that the Greens did not work the area in May’s elections, Zombie predicts a Green walkover: “Poets Corner…full of creative, arty, media and educated types; youngish and relatively well-heeled. Very reminiscent of the area around Blaker’s Park in social make-up. Once heavily Tory but now full of ‘progressives’. Add in an unwanted by-election, probable very low turnout and no obvious anti-Tory frontrunner-you probably have ingredients for a Green walkover if they work it hard. If it was true the Greens in May were only a nominal force their prospects must be very bright indeed. You would need to be very brave or charismatic to be the Tory or Labour candidates unless you like egg on the face.”

There has been an interesting comment from Luke Walter who, one suspects, is the strategic and organisational genius behind the Greens successes in Brighton. He says that the Greens have not worked Westbourne before, yet they came within a couple of hundred votes of winning the seat in May: “I think it is fair to say that the vast majority of Green resources went into neighbouring wards, namely Goldsmid, Central Hove and Brunswick and Adelaide.”

No doubt this is an understatement from Mr Walter. What he doesn’t say is that, even as I write this over my Sugar Puffs (good morning, Warren), the full might of the Green Machine is being mobilised to blitz the ward this weekend with Greenleaf papers.

The fact that Luke is not going to be the Green candidate, and that he is likely to organise the campaign, is another reason for concern for the Tories and Labour. He is, by some way, the best election organiser in the City.

But spare a thought, have some sympathy, for the dedicated activists in the Labour ranks. Take Labour activist, Pete Gillman, for example. He worked tirelessly in St Peters & North Laine in May, is now facing 4 weeks on the stump, in what could well be a futile cause: “Back on the campaign trail then. Me and my feet have only just got over the Council elections.  I would have preferred another few months before this was called but up for the fight as part of Labours resurgence.”

A final point about the Tory candidate. I suggested it could be one of the Young Turks who surround Mike Weatherley. Steampunk was first in with the predictable “Young turks don’t get voted-in for Christmas.” nice one Punky.

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.

Mike Weatherley and Alex Phillips: Eyes on 2015

Of the 200 most recent emails waiting in my inbox (brightonpoliticsblogger@googlemail.com), 58 were from Mike Weatherley, or rather from Michael Ireland, Robert Nemeth and Rachael Bates who all work for the MP for Hove.

Mike, with an eye on 2015, is clearly not taking any chances. The issues he has been raising are no doubt very close to his heart but, co-incidentally, they are issues that would appeal to a wide cross-section of his constituents. These issues range from prisoners’ bank accounts (the liberal vote), drugs (law and order, perhaps?), gay marriage (a bit obvious, that one), stem cell research (scientific progressives), VAT on electronic books, newspapers, etc. (all the geeks in town), and a climate change project (will he get The Dowager, Lady Everton’s vote with that one?).

Having looked at Lady Everton’s Tweets for the past few weeks, she seems to be here, there and everywhere, quietly going about her business, building a solid base for herself, and organising more than her fair share of Hen Do’s. Could it be that May 2015 might see a head to head between The People’s Mike and Lady Everton? It would make a very interesting contest given that the new Brighton Pavilion and Hove will be a boring one-horse race. Brighton and Hove North, on the other hand, will be fascinating, not least should the Greens pick up several additional seats, including Luke Walter winning the seat of retiring (though not shy) Jeane Lepper (a worthy successor to a fine councillor).

But back to the People’s Mike, while he shows a populist touch (get up close and personal to Alice Cooper, for goodness sake), he seems to have made a couple of gaffs in the last week. First, his high profile threat to rebel on Europe came to nothing. (Lady Everton is very pro-Europe, I believe, although believes that the UK’s membership should be renegotiated).

And now Mike has offered to personally evict the the St Paul’s Catherdral protesters @OccupyLSX. What is amazing about the St. Paul’s protesters is the very wide support they seem to be getting, not least from within the churches. At Rochester Cathedral on Sunday morning, for example, when the preacher criticised the closure of St. Paul’s, the congregation applauded. Mike is backing the wrong horse on this one. Today Mike said : “Quite simply, long-term camping in public spaces as a form of protest is unacceptable. Great thinkers and leaders did not find solutions to the world’s problems by lying around in public parks and squares.” I think Mike will find that two of the world’s greatest thinkers and leaders did lie around, one in simpleloin cloth and on hunger strike – and brought down Britain’s rule in India; the other in his prison cell, refusing to be released on anything but his own terms which lead to the downfall of apartheid South Africa.

It would be good to hear Mike criticise bankers’ greed, but then he would have to criticise capitalism. He is as likely to do that as Lady Everton is to down a steak and kidney pie.