‘Summersgate’ is simply poor politics

I think I have upset some of my Green friends over ‘Summersgate’. Last night I was challenged by Rob Jarrett to say what my views are on equal marriage. I responded to @RobHove as follows: “100% in favour of equal marriage, 100% disagree with Christina Summers, 100% think Greens have made massive error expelling her”.

Equal marriage isn’t the issue here. In fact it is not something that the Council has any power over. The issue is making an issue of an issue vaguely related to that issue, if you follow me. No? I’ve commented on the politics, not the equal marriage issue. The fact that we are still discussing the expulsion of Christina Summers from the Green Group is an indication, not of a very wide consensus in favour of equal marriage, but of poor politics.

Politicians must be on their guard to avoid simple traps that can destroy reputations, personally or for the party as a whole. Often it is down to arrogance or immaturity, and often a fatal combination of both. Look at the Conservatives. They are falling over backward to assert their support for the police following Andrew Mitchell and ‘Gategate’. It detracts from their message and has become something far more damaging than the incident itself warranted.

The Lib Dems, bless, carry many burdens: Nick Clegg, Tuition Fees, being Lib Dems. How impressed we all were with ‘I’m Sorry’, now gone viral on YouTube. ‘Sorrygate‘ has had more than a million hits in just four days. I prefer the ‘gate’ associated with the Lib Dems to be known simply as ‘lackinganymoralfibregate’ but then I am just plain mean.

Labour is burdened, and will be for a generation, with something far more serious, Iraq. No matter how reformed they become, even if Ed Miliband was to do his own version of ‘I’m Sorry’ it is still going to take a lot more before Labour will be trusted again on foreign policy. Coming into Government, Labour’s ethical foreign policy promised so much …..!

But back to the Greens on the City Council. Overall I think they are doing well but losing the PR war quite badly. They are not unique. All incoming administrations struggle after their initial honeymoon. How the Greens respond over the next 12 to 18 months will be critical. They need to focus on what they were elected to do. Local councillors, when all is said and done, are elected to ensure they deliver good local services. Are bins being emptied and the streets cleaned? Can their children get into the school of their choice? What do people think of library services? Where will their children and grandchildren live? Is there visible homelessness on the streets? How good is the bus service? Is there traffic congestion? What is the economic outlook for the area? And so on.

Of course much is beyond the control of local government with spending constraints being imposed on an unparalleled level, the banks refusing mortgages, the overall economy.

So, how do I think the Green Administration is doing. Overall, very well. There is a good feeling around Brighton. The streets are clean, the bins are emptied, sensible decisions have been made about safeguarding services to the most vulnerable. The attacks of Labour and Tory activists are predictable, and are not any more representative of the views of the general public than, say, the views of this humble blogger.

The Greens have won praise and respect for their approach to budget setting which is more open than anything that has gone before. Jason Kitcat and, before him, Bill Randall, are both well respected, as are many leading members of the administration. They haven’t been assisted by the turmoil, not of their making, within the officer class at the Council.

My advice to the Greens is to carry on as you have begun, engage more with people outside the Council (council officers are not your electorate), and please avoid any future silly own goals such as Summersgate.

I am sure that there are other issues that are bubbling away in the background. I am advised that a few Green councillors are exercised about prayers at council meetings. Nobody cares about prayers before meetings other than a few councillors. It doesn’t impact on the lives of ordinary people. If you are tempted to try to do something about them you will become a laughing stock rather than the serious political force that you have become through many years of diligent building and for which you have my respect.

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East Brighton by-election candidates

The big beasts are lining up to contest the East Brighton by-election. First the Conservatives selected 18 year old Joe Miller, and now the Lib Dems have selected a relative veteran in Dominik Sokalski, a 20-year-old university student at Sussex University.

The Greens last nigh selected its candidate, Carlie Goldsmith, a fifth generation Brightonian who proudly grew up in Whitehawk, in the area, where she also brought up her own young family. She works as a criminologist specialising in youth crime and victimisation, community safety and the relationship between social inequalities and crime.

As yet, there is no news from UKIP, but in an attempt to cause a major upset, it might field the ever youthful, Paul Perrin who, rumour has it, is over 16 years old.

With the Lib Dems holding their conference in a telephone box on the sea front, and the Greens taking a daily pasting in the letters page of the Argus following their massive own-goal over Christina Summers, neither of these parties is likely to inconvenience the Returning Officer too much.

As for the Tories, they seem determined to insult even the police in this week of all weeks. One wonders how the two Posh Boys are being viewed by the Plebs of Whitehawk? (The one thing that amazes me about the Andrew Mitchell, with almost 80% of Telegraph readers thinking he should resign, is that he has survived this long).

And then there is the Labour candidate, Chaun Wilson, who we should refer to simply as ‘The Winner’. East Brighton is Labour’s strongest stronghold, thanks to the work of sitting councillors Gill Mitchell and Warren Morgan, and that of the recently resigned Craig Turton. The chances of Labour losing this seat is about as great as someone finding Nick Clegg’s backbone.

I look forward to seeing councillor Wilson in action. She will be a huge asset to Labour as it seeks to rebuild in time for the 2015 elections.

Westbourne by-election: comments that open up the sluices at both ends

Apologies for my silence. I’ve not been well. Three days with, as Monty Python said in regard to some Australian table wine, the sluices were opened up at both ends! That’s already too much detail for my three regular readers (Grizzly, Doris and Biker Dave. So Cool Soosie seems to have abandoned me).

I have just reviewed a few dozen comments on this blog and the overwhelming majority seem to be attacking the Green candidate, Louisa Greenbaum. It is quite obvious that Labour and Tory activists seem to think that Louisa is the front runner. And they are probably right.

Caroline Penn is one whose comments are normally positive about her candidate, Nigel Jenner, and lists his qualities. She makes a reasonable attack on the Tories for the closure of Hove Police Station.

Another Labour supporter, Gloria Van de Lay (who has teased me mercilessly in DM’s) describes Nigel as “locally resident” living, as he does, just outside the ward. She also sees the Tory record on policing as a weakness of the Tory campaign. I wouldn’t write Graham Cox’s chances off. He is an extremely strong candidate, is well known in the area, and is one of the most single-minded individuals I have ever met, judging from his record as the Top Cop in Hove some years back.

Having listed Louisa’s various interests from her Facebook page, Gloria announces that, on balance, she advocates a vote for Nigel. Fancy that. She is also beastly to the Lib Dem candidate, Gareth Jones. For me to defend a Lib Dem, well that how OTT she has been. I agree with Simon Williams, the former Green councillor, who suggests she lies down in a darkened room for a while.

Steampunk claims most of the Green councillors are over 70 but look younger due to healthy green lifestyles. He says that Alex Phillips is the youngest at 43. A brave man to take on Lady Everton. Careful crossing the road, Punk. You don’t want to be run over by a Big Lemon.

My Pal Paul (Perrin), the UKIP candidate, bemoans another party employee running for office. I understand Louisa works just 10 hours a week for the Greens. But why should it matter anyway? He also notes that Louisa was the Green’s ‘first’ candidate last time. A strong point in her favour, I would imagine, given that three of the other candidates stood elsewhere as recently as May. Her track record strengthens her position.

Paul also says that I have “really lost it” – I got his age wrong (he seems to have taken offence at giving his age as 14 and three quarters!) and guessing that my “beloved Louisa” was in her 30’s when she is, in fact, a male in her 50’s. Actually, she is 41. Paul says that I am “squandering whatever good will (I) have had in the past…”. Well, thank goodness for that. As long as Doris, Biker Dave and Grizzly still love me, I’m happy.

Linda F (a Young Tory, me thinks, under 50 anyway) joins the ranks of the Green bashers, mentioning the schools attended by Louisa (Leeds Girls’ High School) and a couple other Greens, as well as putting the boot into Nigel Jenner for attending Brighton College. I heard a rumour that the Tory Party leader, Dave Cameron, his mate Boy George, and several others in his Cabinet went to Eton, while his fag (not a derogatory term but indicates a junior boy who does the bidding of a prefect at a private school) Nick Clegg went to the inferior Westminster School.

My spiritual friend, Ghost, identifies some of Louisa’s advantages in this by-election, second on the ballot, the only woman, and an established profile in the ward.

Pete Gillman, like Caroline Penn, makes a characteristically positive intervention by focusing on issues, although he might be being a bit melodramatic by suggesting the Greens wanted “easy access to hard drugs and legalised brothels if they had their way.”

Mike Weatherley has gone out to show a united front with Graham Cox, promoting him on Twitter and canvassing for him. But the cause of unity is not helped by Valerie Paynter, the biggest fan of The People’s Mike in Hove. She challenges Graham: “You say you agree with Mike Weatherley ‘on most issues’. I wonder, could you tell us, on what named issues you disagree?”. Not helpful Ms Paynter, well not for the Tory cause.

My Pal Paul says this by-election will make no difference unless, of course, he is elected. I think he may beat the Lib Dems into 4th place, but not more. But RobS (who graces us with his presence, says that “the election of a Green is the one result that DOES make a difference to the running of the council. True it doesn’t change overall control, of course, but when a minority administration is running a council, an extra voice and an extra presence for committees etc. can improve the quality of council management and decision making.”

Apologies for the length of this post, but needed to catch up with you all. In your comments, please keep them fair and reasonable.

It is time to stop, once and for all, the nonsense of local council’s ‘Standards Committees’

I have written before about the Standards system in local government, how undemocratic it is that a panel made up of opposition councillors and non-elected individuals can sit in judgement on elected councillors, even depriving the electorate of one of their representatives.

This is not a party political issue, and I have rallied to the defence of both Green councillor Jason Kitcat and the Matriarch of Hangleton and Knoll, Dawn Barnett.  Not just that, but future Tory Leader, Grant Shapps, tweeted in support of Jason!  Jason was accused of posting selected extracts of video from council meetings featuring Tory councillor Geoffrey Theobald.  It must be stated that the People’s Geoffrey did not support the actions taken by one of his fellow Conservatives.

The Matriarch, it has been reported, was referred to the Standards Committee for handing out leaflets directing travellers camped in her ward to open spaces in wards held by Green councillors.  While I do not like the tone of much of the anti-traveller debate, I thought that what the Matriarch did was imaginative touched with humour.  She made her point very well.  It was rumoured that it was a Green councillor who made that referral but I am yet to see any firm evidence to confirm this. I have previously written about Dawn’s “sheer cheek”.

Jason’s case was thrown out while Dawn’s has gone quiet (although I may have missed developments during my two month sabbatical in Italy over the summer.

The latest fiasco relates to Ben Duncan, the Green councillor for Queens Park, cabinet member for public protection and representative of Brighton and Hove City Council on the Sussex Police Authority.  An anonymous complaint was made against him about posts on his blog and for attending various demonstrations.  The investigation took over a year and found that he had done nothing wrong.  I have previously posted on Ben Duncan’s case.

Quoted in the Argus he said it was wrong for standards procedures to be used to complain about people’s opinions.  “It is an abuse of the system and a waste of public money. This must have cost thousands of pounds. The standards board should be used to tackle allegations of real wrongdoing. It is not just that there is nothing wrong with expressing an opinion on policing, you could say if you’re not doing that you’re not doing the job properly.”

The implication of this case, more so that the cases of Jason and The Matriarch, would have been more sinister had it been found that Ben had been in the wrong. It would mean that a councillor could not be involved in certain activities, in this case, anti-way activities.  It would have meant that only those with more conventional views would be allowed to serve on the Police Authority.  What would be the point of that? 

I recall a Conservative councillor once saying to me that he wished that Labour wouldn’t be so political on the Council, that the Conservatives were apolitical in local government!  I got it, you are only political if you disagreed with the status quo.  Thank goodness for The Boy David, his mate Boy George and Little Nick, standing up for the status quo, and doing it, if I may say so, very well indeed.

Mike Weatherley, Simon Kirby and Caroline Lucas united against Dorries amendment

Congratulations to all three Brighton and Hove Members of Parliament, Simon Kirby (Brighton Kemptown), Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion) and Mike Weatherley (Hove), all of whom voted against the anti-abortion amendment tabled by Nadine Dorries which was defeated by 118 to 368 votes.

Other Sussex MP’s to vote against the Dorries amendment included Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye), Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) and Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne).

Tim Loughton (Shoreham and West Worthing) supported the Dorries amendment.

Norman Baker (Lewes), Peter Bottomley (West Worthing) and Henry Smith (Crawley) did not vote.

Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg voted against the Dorries amendment while David Cameron did not vote.

No Green/Red coalition in Brighton and Hove, and the Tories eye up 2015

The only consolation, if that is the right word, for some Labour and Tory activists following their joint defeat on Thursday is an element of glee that the Greens will be forced to make cuts. What a bizarre and sad reaction. What does it say about a politician that they can take any pleasure from seeing cuts being made? Take Momma Grizzly, Rachael Bates, she has said on Twitter: “Can’t wait to see the Greens having to make the cuts they said they’d never make.”

Such a reaction can be put down to one of two things, a bad reaction to defeat, or a deeply rooted ideological commitment to cuts and small government. Grizzly is an interesting Tory Party activist, the kind on the ascendancy within the Tory Party. And the group of young Tories who stood for election last Thursday (Robert Nemeth, Rachael Bates, and to a lesser extent Rob Buckley, Michael Ireland, Kerry Underhill, Rob McFarlane and Georgina Dore) are from that wing of the party that is ideologically committed to ‘small government/big society’, activists who are social libertarian and economically hardline (in the George Osborne, David Cameron and Nick Clegg mould).

It is likely that this ‘Magnificent Seven’ (irony is not my most attractive characteristic) will stand again in 2015, but in safer Tory seats. 2015 will see another lage turnover of Tory councillors – the Normans will stand down in Withdene (where Rob Nemeth somehow managed to lose the seat for the Tories), so too may the Theobalds along with Brian Pidgeon in Pacham, and several of the Hove Tories will call it a day. Expect the Seven to secure nominations in these seats and, if elected, see the Tory group move sharply to the right. Several of the Seven are closely associated with Hove MP, Mike Weatherley. Grizzly tells me that all seven are in fine fettle.

Meanwhile, Labour is repoted to have rejected a coalition with the Greens on the Council. Gill Mitchell, leader of the Labour group, offered qualified support. She said: “With the Greens having 23 seats they are clearly able to form a minority administration to run the council. Labour successfully ran the council with the same number of seats between 2003 and 2007 and the Conservatives governed with 26 seats for the past four years. So it is right that the Greens, as clear winners, are given the opportunity to implement their manifesto in the same way. We will support the Greens where they bring forward sensible proposals in the best interests of the city as well as being an effective and challenging opposition when we think they are getting things wrong.”

One of Labour’s unsuccessful candidates, James Asser (who stood in Regency Ward) said: “It’s the right decision and everyone I’ve spoken to agrees.” (James is one reason why Labour can have some optimism for the future – very personable and engaging).

Warren Morgan has commented that no coalition has been offered, that the Greens don’t need one. “They won more seats than Tories & the right to implement own manifesto.”

As for the Greens, many are nursing sore heads this morning after celebrating long and hard on Friday evening at the Sussex Cricketer and again last night at 112 Church Road. For my part, I could be seen strutting my stuff at Abandoned until the wee small hours ….

Is it time to consider tactical voting for May’s local elections in Brighton and Hove?

Can Brighton and Hove afford another four years with a minority administration? It might come as something of a surprise to many that I think the Tories have not done too badly as the administration for the last few years. Much of what they have done I can applaud, other things not. I have found all the Tories with whom I have engaged open and friendly. They have been prepared to listen. On the other hand, they seem to have two obsessions – with the motor car and with a minuscule cut in the Coucil Tax.

It is the young Tory candidates (in particular Momma Grizzly and The Estate Agent) who believe that the insignificant Council Tax cut is likely to put fire in the bellies of ordinary folk in Hollingdean and Stanmer and in Goldsmid wards. There seems to be collective denial that the savage cuts being imposed by the Coalition government might provoke a more negative reaction for them. They are fortunate that much of the anger has been channelled into two related issues – university fees and Education Maintenance Allowance – and that most of the anger is focused on the spineless Nick Clegg and his Yellow Band of Traitors. (Do you really think that I, on occasions, allow my feelings for the Lib Dems to show – damn them all to hell?).

Central government cuts are yet to bite fully, but when they do, the Tories will experience their own special pain. The Lib Dems will experience pain all too soon as they line up on May 5th with a request to voters: “Please punish me, and please make it hurt …. a lot”. (I believe that there have been Tory MP’s, no one current, who have paid good money for such services).

So, from a tactical voting perspective, who should be supported? Labour has little chance of forming an administration in May. If they stand still they will have done very well. They will pick up the odd seat here and there, but are likely to lose the same number, if not more, seats.

I’m therefore advocating a mass tactical vote in favour of the LIB DEMS. I’m sorry, I’ll type that again. I’m advocating a mass tactical vote AGAINST the Lib Dems. I don’t know what came over me there.

The Greens, for several years, the party in the ascendency, should end up with at least 20 seats, but with some tactical voting they could edge up to the magic 27. I am not advocating votes for Greens in seats where they don’t have a monkey’s chance of winning. No, I would still encourage Labour votes in those wards.

Should the Greens fail to reach 27, I hope that a coalition between the Greens and Labour might be achievable. Being the junior partner in such a coalition administration might be exactly what Labour needs – a reminder that they have lost the confidence of the people of Brighton and Hove. Labour councillors and activists should begin building for 2015, showing humility and respect, not least for Caroline Lucas and what she represents. Labour hopefuls could do a lot worse that listening to and learning from her. (I now await the predictable tirade from Labour activists that follows whenever I make such observations).

Does this make me a Green? Absolutely not. I remain torn between both parties and I expect to be voting for at least one Labour candidate in May. But I am impressed by my dealings with several Green councillors and activists and, of course, by Caroline Lucas herself. But the Greens have huge challenges ahead, not least how to respond to cuts being imposed from central government. Their talent ranges from the inner serenity and wisdom of the Buddha himself (Bill Randall), the experience of Pete West, the talent and discipline of Green Amy (not to mention her tasteful range of Stassi tabards), and the youthful potential, passion and energy of Lady Everton (Alex Phillips).

The election campaign is fascinating, but so too will be what emerges after May 6th.