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.

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Debate should not decline into bullying and name-calling

Let’s face it, there is not much that separates the different parties in Brighton and Hove. After all, 53 of the 54 councillors voted for the budget this year (the honourable exception being Lady Everton). Yes, there were differences about 1% of the budget, but on the rest there was agreement.

It is the 1% I wish to comment on, and how heated the debate is on these issues.

It has recently been suggested to me that politics in Brighton is getting increasingly polarised, that there are constant allegations of a Conservative/Labour alliance, accusations of the Barclays boycott being anti-Israeli & blogs about corruption. My esteemed correspondent say that it’s not healthy and that all 3 parties need to step back and take a deep breath.

Each of the three main parties in Brighton and Hove have decent hard-working members and councillors. Political activism is on the decline generally, so I have the utmost respect for the who give of their time, whatever their political outlook.

My regular readers (Momma Grizzly, Doris and Biker Dave) will testify that I don’t like it when political exchanges become personally abusive. For one thing it gives politics a bad name.

Twitter has added much to political discourse but it is also becoming the vehicle of choice for political bullying. Twitter is great when one party or activist is questioned or challenged by another, it is something else when the pack mentality takes over, with challenges being repeated over and over, even when a reasonable response has been given. It does not reflect well on those mounting and sustaining the attacks.

As for specific issues, there is no Labour/Conservative alliance. On Brighton and Hove City Council these two parties are in opposition, and it is the role of the opposition to oppose. Their opposition, however, is more convincing if they can support the Administration wherever possible and not oppose for opposition sake.

The Barclays ‘debate’ on Twitter has not been one that has reflected well on the political process, being an example of where one female Labour activist seems to have been repeatedly targeted by others (certainly evidence of no Labour/Conservative alliance).

Israel is always a very volatile issue, and some cannot accept that criticism of the conduct of the State of Israel (and in particular, the Israeli Defence Force) and Zionism is very different from being anti-Semitic. I expect criticism for just saying that.

The purpose of this post is to make a plea for reasonableness in political debate. Have your say but respect your opponents. The public prefers it when politicians agree when they can, and they respect respectful debate where there isn’t agreement.

A new dawn and the hand of history greets the new Labour Party in Brighton and Hove

The new Brighton and Hove Labour Party formally came into being this morning with an all-City AGM. New officers have been elected and my source at the centre of power believes the new line-up of officers makes “a strong team” and that there will be a new focus on campaigning as opposed to endless meetings.

Adrian Morris is the newly elected Chair. (I know it will upset my Labour friends when I remind them that Adrian stood down at the 11th hour as candidate in St Peters and North Laine in the 2011 elections. I hope he has greater staying power this time).

The two new vice-chairs are Nigel Jenner (who did well in the Westbourne by-election in December) and Christine Robinson (who I respect as a strong trade unionist who works for GMB). The new executive committee is made up of Juan Leahy, Tracey Hill, Caroline Penn, former councillor Kevin Allen & Chaun (I am sorry but I don’t know her surname, but
she impressed with what sounds what appeared to be a great speech).

I understand that this AGM marks a watershed for Labour in Brighton and Hove with a shift of focus away from the internal reviews to a new focus on taking on the Tories & campaigning on national issues. Mike Weatherley will be a main focus of some of the campaigning, but it remains to be seen whether the New New Labour in the City will be able to let go of their obsession with the She Devil and All Her Works (my regular readers, Momma Grizzly, Doris and Biker Dave know that that is a reference to Caroline Lucas – not my view but that of the likes of Harris Fitch).

It looks as though Labour will field a candidate for Police Commissioner, which is a shame since the Party has no chance of being successful, where as an independent might just spring a surprise.

The Greens could take a leaf or two out of Labour’s book when it comes to selecting candidates for the European elections. Labour’s selection will have gender balance so if (as expected) Peter Skinner is number 1 on the Labour list, number 2 will be a woman.

So we have a new dawn for Labour in Brighton and Hove which can be nothing but a good thing for the political process. It really isn’t a time for sound bites, but I sense the hand of history on my shoulder …..

(Update: Chaun’s surname is Wilson)
(Update 2: changed ‘sound items’ to ‘sound bites’)

Strengthening the links between Labour and the Greens

A postscript to this morning’s post: I had intended to comment on the gender dynamic of the Bassam/Kitcat debate on Twitter, and to contrast it with the exchanges between Caroline Penn and Alex Phillips.

With Fassam and Bitcat, no quarter is offered, no quarter given. What would make this exchange better would be if Lord Bassam didn’t blame the Greens for the financial challenges in Brighton and Hove, rather he should blame the Tory-led Coalition for their obsession with cutting local government.

The contrast could not be greater in the Twitter exchanges between Ms Penn and councillor Phillips. These exchanges are robust and challenging, but they are done with respect and some affection. There are definite differences in their politics (Ms Penn is Labour, but with a tinge of Old Labour; Lady Everton is Green, but also with a tinge of Old Labour). Both fight firmly for their respective parties, yet both are respectful of the other, able to accept criticism and acknowledge positives in the views of others.

I think these two women personify what I like most about local politics. They represent what is positive about certain Green and Labour activists. I look to the day when they work together, in a Green-Socialist party. I don’t believe that they have yet met each other, but I suggest they meet for a skinny latte over the holiday period.

Where my gender theory is chalenged is the persons of Sven Rufus (Green), Pete Gillman (Labour) and Momma Grizzly herself (True Blue with as dash of Orange). Sven and Caroline Penn have agreed a Christmas truce (football and mince pies in No Man’s Land perhaps). Recent exchanges between the two of them have been warm and shows the way forward between Labour and the Greens. Pete Gillman, too, is a nice guy, but borders on being more focused on the Greens than the Tories. Should he see that Labour and the Greens have more to unite than divide them, he will be able to help bridge the divide between the two parties.

And then there is Rachael Bates. Momma Grizzly shows none of the sisterhood that exists between Lady Everton and Caroline Penn. And nor would she want to be part of such a sisterhood. While the Grizzly One will long remain in my affections, this season of peace and goodwill between humankind is not for her. But in spite of that, I wish her a happy Christmas.

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: Labour selects an identi-kit candidate to match his UKIP & Tory opponents – a male in his 50’s

There is an earth shattering headline in a press release put out by the Labour Party when announcing its candidate for the Westbourne by-election. It screamed: “Labour Backs Nigel for Westbourne!”

It’s just as well that the Nigel it is referring to is Nigel Jenner who happens to be the Labour candidate. Gone is the description of him being the Labour and Co-operative candidate. One wonders whether, if he is elected on 22nd December, whether he will be a member of the Labour Group or the Labour and Co-operative Group.

Nigel, 54, is “a born and bred Brightonian and keen Albion fan” and “has worked for Brighton & Hove City Council in the past and hopes to utilise his skills and knowledge, especially in children’s services, to represent Westbourne residents effectively.” What is he saying, are there particular problems of child neglect in Westbourne that need addressing, something the Council is ignoring since he left? We should be told. At least Supercop is clear that Sussex Police have mislaid a police station somewhere in the Holland Road area.

But more on Nigel. He is “currently self-employed, working with city community and voluntary groups to help local young people, such as Brighton & Hove Albion’s Football in the Community scheme. Passionate about young people and education, Nigel is appalled by the savage Tory-led Government cuts to young people’s services in Brighton & Hove, which have contributed to an increase in Youth Unemployment by 127% in Hove alone, over the last year.”

The press release continues that Nigel “is particularly concerned with Hove’s ‘school places crisis’ and will be campaigning for a new school for Hove. Nigel is also opposed to increased parking charges for Westbourne residents and local businesses, as well as Green plans to allow 750 homes to be built on green-field land in Hove’s urban fringe, when there are brown-field options available to build the same amount of housing, across the city.”

There is a lot that Nigel opposes. One wonders where he thinks new housing should go, if not on a so-called green-field land in Hove’s urban fringe. Does he not want homes for the children of Westbourne residents?

Nigel concludes that “Westbourne and the residents of Brighton & Hove deserve better.” I hope he includes the good folk of Goldsmid Ward to which he tried to plight his troth in May but he was spurned at the altar. Yet seven months later, without a backward glance to Goldsmid, he is ready to leap, on the rebound, into a new relationship with Westbourne. Love can be so fickle.

Just two final points. With UKIP’s Paul Perrin (male, 50’s), the Tory’s Supercop Graham Cox (male, 50’s) and now Labour’s Nigel Jenner (male, 50’s) I think I’m beginning to notice a trend. Can’t quite see it yet, erm, are they all Gemini’s? No, that’s not it. No, I give up. Perhaps the Greens will put someone up who is, perhaps, male and in their 50’s. Or could they select one of those other things, you know, the sort of person the Church of England won’t allow to be Bishops.

Finally, Labour should proof read its press releases. It is something I am told by my loyal readers (Grizzly, Doris and Biker Dave) that I should do with this blog. If Labour is worrying why nobody has emailed to pledge support it might be that it has misspelt its email address thus: laboruactive@gmail.com. Or they might not be getting pledges of support because men in their 50’s are not the most inspiring candidates in this race, Perrin, Cox and Jenner apart.