Who offers the better vision to inspire voters locally: Ed Miliband or Caroline Lucas?

Last week I wrote about Ed Miliband and his half-hearted support for the Occupy London camps, but at the same time distancing himself from some of their wider objectives. I concluded by saying that nationwide his feeble stance will make little distance because voters have few places to turn other than Labour. But in Brighton and Hove voters do have an alternative, the Greens.

As if to prove my point, Caroline Lucas has a letter published in today’s Observer that summarises the differences between Labour and the Greens far better than I could ever hope to do. She writes:

“Ed Miliband’s article was an object lesson in mealy-mouthed prevarication. On the one hand, he acknowledges that the protesters pose a challenge to politics to close the gap between their values and the way the country is run. On the other, he dismisses their “long list of diverse and often impractical proposals”.

“I should love to know which he finds most “impractical”: their call for an end to global tax injustice, or perhaps their proposal that our democratic system should be free of corporate influence? Or maybe it’s their support for the student demonstrations this week, or the strikes planned for 30 November?

“Until he can demonstrate which side Labour is on, Miliband’s assertion that “the Labour party speaks to that crisis and rises to the challenge” will remain hollow rhetoric.

“Indeed, the real challenge that the occupiers present to politicians like Miliband is that they are staging the debate that mainstream parties have been studiously avoiding since the economic crisis started – the question of how to completely refocus the values and goals of our economic system, rather than trying to get back to business as usual as fast as possible.

“I was proud to have been asked to address the Occupy rally in London last weekend, and proud to be able to say the Green party stands fully behind their goals. It’s a pity that Labour can’t do the same.”

Locally, I have never wanted to see Labour reduced to the rump in Brighton and Hove that they are today. I wood love to see the party challenging the Greens, testing their economic policies, and outflanking them from the left. The Greens have shown that they can win in Labour seats and May’s elections show that they have replaced the Lib Dems and are now picking up seats from the Tories.

In fact, they have been winning seats from the Tories for several years, since Alex Phillips won the Goldsmid by-election. At the time and for a long time after, I did not appreciate the full significance of her victory. I saw it as a sign of momentum that would lead to the election of Caroline Lucas, even though Goldsmid is not in Brighton Pavilion. The real and longer-term significance is that it showed that the Greens could win Tory seats.

The Miliband approach to protest, and the contrasting approach of Lucas, will have a knock-on effect locally. Labour locally just isn’t doing it. There is some campaigning, and collecting signatures on a petition to protect the NHS is worthy, but opposing cuts to the NHS is like saying that you are against sin. Where is the energy, the doorstep presence offered by Nancy Platts, now returned to London, or the pre-election profile of a Fitch of a Brian or Harris variety. Is the number 5 bus route safe for another three and a half years?

In activists like Caroline Penn and Penny Gilbey, Labour have the potential to become a campaigning party once again. But the Party has spent the last three months looking at its organisation, and a new paid organiser locally is unlikely to inspire the troops unless they have something to be inspired by.

The Greens are still seen as the campaigning party (although the burdens of office are showing that they don’t have strength in depth in certain areas including their 3,000 majority stronghold of St Peters and North Laine where, I am told, their councillors have been invisible since the election). The Greens need to take stock to ensure that the hit they will take from next year’s budget is not exacerbated by a lack of campaigning on the ground. The Brighton Pavilion Greens should look to the Hove Greens, such as
Christopher Hawtree, Alex Phillips, Ollie Sykes, Phelim MacCafferty, etc. to remind themselves how politics should be done.

So as it stands, Labour remains in the Doldrums. The Green wind continues to blow through Brighton and Hove. It is likely that in 2015 Labour locally will disappear in a Green Bermuda Triangle comprising Lucas in Pavilion, a Green candidate winning in Hove, and a Green overall majority on Brighton and Hove City Council.

Greens continue to prosper where Labour fears to tread

Bravely, four weeks after the event, when he knew which way the tide was running, and taking his lead from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Ed Miliband has come our, unequivocally in favour of the protest campers outside St. Paul’s Cathedral. Well, almost.

Writing in today’s Observer he carefully distances himself from the “long list of diverse and often impractical proposals” of the protesters.

At least he recognises that the Occupy London protest and similar protests around the country and the world as “danger signals” that only “the most reckless will ignore”.

Miliband writes: “the challenges that they reflect a crisis of concern for millions of people about the biggest issue of our time: the gap between their values and the way our country is run ….. I am determined that mainstream politics, and the Labour Party in particular, speaks to that crisis and rises to the challenge”.

Perhaps the first challenge Ed can rise to is to reframe “the way our country is run” to “capitalism”. He should name what we all know. What we are experiencing is the greatest crisis of capitalism EVER. The 99% believe one thing, the 1% – bankers and their supporters in the media and political elite – another. Instead Ed trots out cliche after cliche, carefully choosing his words so not to offend the 1%.

His second challenge is to support the day of action on November 30th. This will be the nearest thing the UK will have to a general strike, pathetic and limited though it is. Imagine if Miliband provided what is known as LEADERSHIP and called for an actual general strike on that day.

But Miliband won’t support this or any other industrial action. No Labour leader ever has. Nationally Miliband’s fence-sitting won’t matter. The unions will have to support Labour. TINA – there is no alternative.

But in Brighton and Hove there is. Green Party leader, Caroline Lucas, was one of the first to visit the Occupy London camp, Ben Duncan emerged from his sick bed to visit the Brighton camp (a sad little gathering, it must be said). Mike Weatherley has been quick to condemn the Brighton camp.

Labour locally has remained quiet. Like their ‘leader’, they are waiting to see where the people are going so that they can lead them. (Can anyone source the quote from the French leader who said “There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them”).

People in Brighton and Hove have a genuine choice. They can support the People’s Mike (Mike Weatherley who would wish to personally evict the campers at St Paul’s), or they can wait and see what ‘decisive’ action Labour takes, or they can support Caroline Lucas and the Greens who are demonstrating which side they are on.

Rumour has it that the trade unions in Brighton are becoming disenchanted with Labour and are privately looking to work more closely with the Greens. It might be expediency given the forthcoming budget. But it might just be that the Greens continue to prosper where Labour fears to tread.