Greens must make the most of their backbenchers

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But can this be said to apply to the Greens who now control Brighton and Hove City Council? 150 days or so since getting the keys to the Town Hall, the Greens have been accused of selling out.

It is rumoured that a Green councillor has asked that the use “sustainable” be used rather than the word “green” in Council reports and publications because the word “green” is too political.

I don’t know if that is true, but the Greens are now entering the most challenging period of the administration – their first budget.

Tory leader Geoffrey Theobald sent me a statement in which he said the new administration was being “green” as in being “inexperienced … in their approach to running the council so far”. He wrote: “u-turns on issues such as the work programme contract, building on Toad’s Hole Valley and the ‘meat-free Monday’s initiatives show that they have got a long way to go, however they chose to label it.”

The reality, though, is that the ups and downs of the new administration is not much different from the first 5 months of any new administration. There have been no u-turns on any matter of substance. And neither the Tories or Labour have managed to lay a decent glove on the Greens. None of this is a surprise. Where the real battle will commence is the budget.

Most Green Cabinet members have been impressive in getting out and about and engaging with the business, third sector and community groups. Green leader, Bill Randall, in particular, has impressed the business community, and the feedback from the voluntary and community sectors has been very positive.

But for the Greens to continue to thrive they need to think about the role of backbenchers. Cabinet members and a single MP cannot, alone, carry the party and help maintain the Big M, momentum. They are likely to be the ones who will drawn negative coverage when the cuts are announced and implemented. Unlike other parties, the Greens are more likely to tolerate dissent in their ranks. Backbenchers can have a constructive role in presenting the Greens as a party of hope and aspiration while the Cabinet members take the flack for the inevitable compromises that they will have to take.

The names of a couple of Cabinet members have been suggested to me as possible candidates to take on Mike Weatherley. If the election was this week I would think that they would not be unreasonable choices. But after the budget the responsibility for being candidate must pass to a backbencher.

But part of the problem for the Greens, with one or two exceptions, their backbenchers (particularly newly elected ones) are largely invisible. To effectively challenge Weatherley in Hove, and more so in North Brighton and Hove, a lot more is needed from backbenchers who are needed as the eyes and ears of the Party.