Planes, Trains and Automobiles (not forgetting the buses)

Planes, Trains and Automobiles was a 1987 film starring John Candy and Steve Martin. Twenty five years later we could be in for a remake set in Sussex called Trains, Buses and Automobiles. These are issues that could influence the 2015 general and local elections.

The Government has announced that rail fares are going up by more than the rate of inflation for the tenth year in a row. Why is Mike Weatherley not press releasing his support for his government? He knows that this is a source of increasing anger for commuters. Caroline Lucas was quick off the mark, along with one of the Green’s European Parliament candidates, Alex Phillips, leafleting at Brighton Station and appearing on the local news.

Public transport, and trains in particular, is the remit of Norman Baker, the Lib Dem/Conservative Coalition MP for Lewes. The good news for Stormin’ Norman is that rail fare increases will have little impact on his chances of re-election because he is already toast. We haven’t forgotten his written pledge to oppose increases in tuition fees, and then voted to support such increases. (Old joke: what is smaller than the Higgs Bossom god particle? A Lib Dem’s backbone).

Labour has done well on the buses, scoring a couple of direct hits on the Greens. That should serve them well in a couple of wards, although these wards are already Labour held or in the case of Rottingdean Coastal solid Tory. It is fortunate that come 2015 the octogenarian Brian Fitch will step up his campaigns to save the threatened numbers 5, 49, 27, 81, 26 and 50. What would help Labour is if the party at a national level came out with a bold policy saying that it will increase subsidies for local bus and train routes in order to get people out of their cars and onto public transport.

Automobiles, and in particular parking of such, will be an issue in the locals in 2015. Tories and Labour continue to make hay about the downturn in visitor numbers and blaming the increase in parking charges. I am not so sure if that is the whole picture. The Olympics, the ‘summer’ and the economic downturn are likely to have been more significant factors.

The People’s Mike hasn’t been completely quiet, writing to the City Council’s outgoing Chief Executive, John Barradell, urging greater provision for bikers. Is this a huge vote winner in Hove Park where Labour is campaigning energetically? I am told that Labour had an “amazing day in Hove Park. No exaggeration, we were really surprised how many Labour votes there were – and disaffected Tories”. Mike will certainly be relying on the Hell’s Angels Chapter of this parish for his re-election. He certainly can’t rely on the commuters.

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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.”

Stormin’ Norman and the Curse of the Coalition Government

I’m not one for making predictions, as my regular readers (Warren, Momma Grizzly, Councillor Christopher, and Biker Dave) will testify, but I have a premonition about the future fortunes of the Lib Dem Member of Parliament for Lewes, Norman Baker. I can feel it it my waters that his time on the Green Benches (the colour, not the party) may be limited.

Actually, there is speculation about his future in several quarters, not least in the pages of Latest 7 magazine and in Brighton and Hove News in articles written by one of the nicest and most principled journalists around, Frank le Duc.

So why should Stormin’ Norman’s future look so uncertain? Well, for a start, he is a Lib Dem, and as my regular readers (the said WM, MG, CH & BD) will know, I have had my doubts about the Lib Dems. Apart from being untrustworthy, lacking backbone, two-faced, unprincipled, deserving to be confined to the dustbin of history, I think they are rather a decent bunch.

The Lib Dems are facing meltdown at the next general election for several reasons:

For helping to create the Coalition Government and thereby allow the Tories to run the country without a mandate;

For betraying their pledge on tuition fees;

For standing by while the privatisation of the NHS has begun;

etc. etc. etc.

And Stormin’ Norman’s part in this is not great. He betrayed his own written pledge on tuition fees, he agreed to become a Minister in this government that is implementing policies that were not in either party’s manifesto nor in the Coalition Agreement, and his government is bumping up rail fares (something that will not go unpunished by commuters in the Lewes constituency). On the issue of rail fares, Stormin’ Norman not only remained silent, he is the Transport Minister responsible for rail!

But it isn’t all bleak for him, as Frank le Duc has suggested, Lord Baker of Lewes is a likely reward for his loyal service to the Coalition. However, that would be a sorry end for someone who inspired so much hope as an anti-establishment MP in his early career.

Drawing up the battle lines in Brighton, Hove, Lewes, Ditchling, St John (Without) ……….

The lunatic redrawing of constituency boundaries has provoked much comment. Mike Weatherley has, not surprisingly, welcomed the new arrangements. He would, wouldn’t he, as the new Brighton and Hove North constituency is more winnable against a Green campaign that the current Hove constituency. Gone from Brighton and Hove North are the new Green wards of Goldsmid, Brunswick & Adelaide, and the half Green ward of Central Hove, and the arrival of Regency into the Hove constituency has been avoided.

Caroline Lucas will be laughing all the way to her landslide victory in 2015 with a constituency that currently has all Green councillors less Andrew Wealls in Central Hove.

It has been suggested that, contrary to what I said yesterday – that the new boundaries have been designed to contain the Greens – the new boundaries have been proposed in order to minimise the number of both Labour and Lib Dem MP’s. In Brighton and Hove the prospect of seeing a Labour MP elected for the next 25 years is near zero.

And on the matter of Labour, Simon Burgess has announced, through a comment on this blog, that he will not be seeking election in 2015. Perhaps with the proposed boundary changes he felt that he would be on a hiding to nothing. He would be right, but I personally hope that he seeks election, once again, to the City Council.

So who might Labour field in Brighton and Hove? The Brighton Kemp Town with Lewes and all stations to Ditchling constituency could be a fight between Stormin’ Norman (a Lib Dem enabler of the Tories) and Simon Kirby (occasional rebel Tory). What a choice! Could Labour secure enough votes to slip through the middle in a three way contest? Not if their performance in Lewes in recent years is anything to go by. The Greens? Not in 2015 but if they secure support from disillusioned Labour and, more to the point, mightily pissed off Lib Dem supporters, they could put up a challenge in 2015 and lay the foundations for 2020.

In Brighton Pavilion and Hove, Labour is likely to field someone who dances to the tune of Tom Lehrer’s Masochism Tango. Caroline Lucas is likely to be returned with one of the largest majorities in the Commons. Labour might struggle to hold its deposit.

In Brighton and Hove North, with Simon Burgess out of consideration in spite of a dedicated Facebook page and talk, as recently as Sunday, that the party machinery was lining him up for the candidacy, the way is left open for Dr Peter Kyle, a favourite of the national leadership and deputy chief executive of the chief executive’s organisation, Acevo. Dr Kyle has begun commenting on this blog which says he is either very discerning or perhaps a bit desperate!

I suspect that the candidate most likely to mount the most effective campaign against Mike Weatherley will be a Green. It will be less likely that this will be a Green gain than before, but after the High Noon Showdown between Kirby and Baker, it will be the most interesting fight in Sussex. Having been one of the most interesting elections in the country, the Brighton Pavilion election result in 2015 will be the most predictable in the country.

New constituency boundaries: containing the Greens and helping the Tories

The new boundaries for Parliamentry constituencies have been leaked, and I am grateful to Dem Soc, Brighton and Hove, and the fascinating Anthony Zacharzewski in particular, for sharing the information.

Enter, stage right, my friend Gerry Mander, who has created new boundaries designed to contain the Greens. There is no rationale other than that. The new Brighton Pavilion and Hove constituency (Brunswick & Adelaide, Central Hove, Goldsmid, Hanover & Elm Grove, Preston Park, Queen’s Park, Regency, St Peter’s & North Laine) guarentees the re-election of Caroline Lucas – the proposed constituency currently has just one non Green councillor, the very non-Tory and all-round nice guy, Andrew Wealls.

That is the tactic, load all Greens into one constituency. A central Brighton and Hove constituency makes some sense, but Brighton & Hove North is a most bizarre concoction: Hangleton & Knoll, Hollingdean & Stanmer, Portslade (north and south), Patcham, Hove Park, Westbourne, Wish, Withdean.

As St Anthony says: “It’s a strange division, as I suspect that the people of Hollingdean (Brighton & Hove North) would see themselves as having more in common with central Brighton than with Hangleton & Knoll or Mile Oak.”

That’s the least of it, AZ, what about residents of Stanmer Village and Portslade South? What on earth do they have in common.

Coalition partners Norman Baker and Simon Kirby will be eyeing up each other with suspicion, even hostility. The new Lewes and East Brighton constituency is made up of Moulsecoomb & Bevendean, East Brighton, Rottingdean Coastal, Woodingdean, all Lewes town wards, Saltdean, Chailey, Wivelsfield, Ditchling, Plumpton, Kingston, East Chiltington, Streat, and St John Without.

I think that this new constituency will see the end of Stormin’ Norman. Why vote for a candidate without backbone who implements Tory policies when you can vote for a candidate with backbone who implements Tory policies.

The aim, I suspect, is to guarantee two Tory seats in Brighton, Hove and Lewes. Simon Kirby will have taken some comfort. Mike Weatherley must be relieved, or is he? What if Caroline Lucas decided not to stand in Brighton Pavilion and Hove but chose, rather, to stand in Brighton and Hove North? She could win it given that she polls well in Withdene, Patcham and Hollingdean and Stanmer, and she could well attract lots of support in some of the current Hove seats. But then again so could another Green candidate, if the Greens choose their candidate with care.

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.

Labour’s prospects in Brighton Kemptown 2015

My dear readers (Grizzly, Warren, councillor Christopher and Doris), I apologise for my radio silence. Internet connectivity at my French country retreat leaves much to be desired. I have been catching up with the news and have discovered Brighton and Hove has a Green Council. What a turn up. I am grateful to those readers who expressed concern about my well being. GrapevineBandH asks: “Where are those enjoyable blogs lately? Are you unwell friend?” Momma Grizzly wrote: “Why so quiet on the blog, Baps? I’m missing out on B&H’s political goss!” while Alex Craven responded “No, please spare us of all that crypto-Green nonsense.” Bless.

My thoughts have turned to the next general election. The three Brighton and Hove membersof parliament will all be defending their seats. The two Conservative MP’s have interesting challenges.

But first of all a word about Norman Baker (Lib Dem, Lewes). Norman, you may recall, signed a pledge before the general election that he wold NOT vote for an increase in university tuition fees. So at the first opportunity to stand by this pledge, Stormin’ Norman does the exact opposite and votes FOR an increase in tuition fees. Norman can expect to be beaten at the next general election as the Lib Dems are wiped out across the country (as they were in the locals in Brighton and Hove). It will be a shame if the Lib Dem for Eastbourne, Stephen Lloyd was to lose. He is a man of integrity, who voted against an increase in tuition fees, and deserves to be re-elected.

As a result of Norman’s inability to keep his word, the Lib Dems lost out in the Lewes District council elections, and one of the beneficiaries was the Tory Party in those seats in Simon Kirby’s Brighton Kemptown constituency. If Labour and the Greens wish to challenge Simon Kirby in 2015, both will need to build support in Lewes District.

Those parts of Brighton Kemptown that fall within the boundary of the City Council, there are now 6 Labour councillors (up one), 5 Tories (down one) with the Greens static on three. Labour’s failure to win in Queens Park is a set back for Labour. The campaign run by Labour in Queens Park shows that a short term campaign focused largely around one very energetic candidate is not enough. The Greens had been building support over several years and that party was able to sustain support even with two councillors standing down. For Labour to recover in this area they need a good strategist (not the candidate!) and local residents buildig, building, building support. The East Brighton Three (Morgan, Mitchell and Turton) understand this – just follow @warrenmorgan on Twitter to gain a good understanding of what it takes.

In 2015 it is Labour that has the better chance of challenging the Conservatives in Brighton Kemptown. Labour would be wrong to follow the line it began promoting last year about an “invisible member of parliament”. Simon Kirby may not have the highest profile in Queens Park, but he is here, there and everywhere in Rottingdean Coastal and that part of his constituency that falls in Lewes district.

If the Greens want to challenge then it has a long way to go. Three Green councillors does not provide the platform needed but, should the Greens begin building in Lewes District (which it should do given the availability of former Lib Dem votes that are more likely to go Green than Labour), then the Greens could begin looking towards 2020 …

In future posts I will review prospects in the Brighton Pavilion and Hove constituencies.