Focusing on the issues is so much better than personality politics …. sometimes

I agree with Craig (a variation of the theme ‘I agree with Nick’). Craig Turton, from time to time, criticises this blog for not dealing with the ‘isshoos’, as he says Tony Benn says it.

When, the other day, I posted on the protest camp in the Old Steine, I anticipated comment from the usual suspects, perhaps even from all four of my regular readers (Warren, Grizzly, Doris and Councillor Christopher), but there have been more comments than on any other post ever! Sadly, the tone of one or two comments reflect the intellectual calibre of those who leave comments on the Argus website (pond life). So I agree with Craig. This blog will focus more on issues (although I think many readers do enjoy the personality stuff as well!).

There are a number of pressing issues at the moment, many on a national scale. They are well covered elsewhere, although there is often a local dimension, such as the campaign to protect legal aid which is gathering pace. On the legal aid campaign, there is an excellent website and video and an online petition to sign.  I would encourage you to do so.  Even the Brighton Argus is taking up this issue, there is a strong editorial opposing the proposed cuts. Sometimes an issue such as this can gain momentum and could destabilise the reputations of MPs on the government benches, in our case, Simon Kirby and Mike Weatherley.

What are the other isshoos locally?  There is the Green Party agenda – housing, ‘ethical estate agents’, ‘Meat-free Mondays’, food recycling, ‘retrofitting’ homes (making them more environmentally sound, to you and me), the right to protest.  No doubt Paul Perrin of UKIP will find a reason to say these matters are a European/Green international conspiracy.  In all seriousness, having spoken to senior Greens, the economy of Brighton and Hove is an important issue, not least bringing in appropriate inward investment.  For too long, going back 20 years or more, the City has tried but failed to redevelop key sites in the City – Black Rock, Preston Barracks, the Municipal Market, the Open Market, etc.  There have been some successes, such as the New England Quarter, now in the heart of the Greens’ heartland of St Peters and North Laine.  But wouldn’t it be ironic if it was the Greens who achieved results on these long-neglected sites?

The biggest issue for the Greens, however, is how the cuts imposed by the Tory-led central government will be managed. What has impressed me (apart from Ben Duncan’s ill-advised comment on protests) has been the absence of big statements or initiatives that would be counter-productive.  The Greens would be wise if, as it appears, they are taking their time to set priorities and to come across as measured in how they are addressing the issues.  I hope that Craig agrees with me on this.

Being criticised for my constructive criticism of Green councillors in Brighton Pavilion

Local thespian, Ralph Brown, has taken issue with my blogging style.  In a Tweet earlier this evening Ralph twittered: “@BrightonPolitic I’m afraid your blog is losing it’s grip. Innaccurate, attention-seeking and shit-stirring speculation. Must do better”.  There’s nothing more satisfying than being recognised by one’s peers!

What Ralph has taken issue with is my criticism of local Green councillors. Ralph’s reaction was just what I was hoping to avoid.  It is fine to take issue with what I say, but he offers no evidence to support his view that what I have written is inaccurate.  In fact, I was quoting an assertion he had made about Brighton’s Open Market and Green councillor Keith Taylor’s failure to campaign to save it. 

“Attention-seeking and shit-stirring speculation”?  On the contrary, I have written from the perspective of supporting Caroline Lucas, the Green candidate in Brighton Pavilion.  I have called for tactical voting by Labour and Lib Dems.  I did the same in the Goldsmid by-election that saw the election of energetic and impressive Green, Alex Phillips.  But a blog must be allowed to make constructive criticism, and I do so because, as I said earlier, Caroline’s campaign is being let down by Green councillors in certain Brighton Pavilion wards, and specifically in St Peter’s and North Laine ward.

A far more constructive criticism comes from Luke Walter.  I am happy to reproduce the full text of his comment, and would urge you to read his excellent blog:

“I think there’s strong evidence to suggest that the Greens message, particularly in this campaign, is reaching other parts of Brighton, beyond traditional Green areas.  You can read my analysis of the ward breakdown from December’s ICM poll here: Whilst the poll has it’s flaws, it suggests that the Greens are performing well in Patcham and Withdean (actually out-performing the Tories in Withdean). Whilst there is work to be done in Hollingbury and Stamner, and the Greens need to shore up the vote in Regency, the message is getting through. In Hollingbury and Stamner, the Greens need to continue to make the case to Labour-supporting residents that their best bet to beating the Tories is to vote Green, as this blog has advised and rightly so. There is no doubt that the Greens can get their literature through the letterbox faster than any other party, and can certainly rely on a kind of national support the Vere and Platts campaign could only dream of. They just need those extra voters to trust the Greens, which we hope they will.”

Thanks, Luke, very constructive.  And Ralph, I will try better!  But perhaps you could encourage those hardworking but bureaucratic Green councillors to get out campaigning for Caroline!

Green councillors may be hard working bureaucrats but they still lack the ability to campaign on local issues

Luke Walter, as always, puts up a spirited defence of Green councillors in a comment on my earlier post, 83 days to go, and Caroline Lucas continues to be let down by local Green Councillors.  He writes: “I would actually say that the Green councillors around St. Peter’s and North Laine, particularly Keith Taylor, is busy pounding doors almost every weekend, the rest of the time he’s pursing case work. Yes, perhaps they have missed one issue, but you have to remember, the local party is pretty stretched in regards to the campaign.”  He goes on: “I would say Green councillors work hard, one way or another, as the vast majority of councillors do.”

Allie Cannell also comments: “The Green Party makes it very clear that all green councillors have to do a lot of work as part of their role and are not allowed to just sit in the role, as some councillors do…..  They all meet up reguarily with the local party and have to report back on what they’ve been doing to make sure they are complying by these standards the green party demands!!!!”

I have no doubt that Green councillors and Keith Taylor in particular work hard as ward councillor (although I am not in a position to have any first hand knowledge of this).  What my observation is, and has always been, is that the Green councillors, particularly in a ward such as St Peters and North Laine, are poor campaigners.  They appear to have slipped into the habit of Labour councillors of being hard working, dedicated … bureaucrats!  To bring about change, it isn’t enough to be a hard working councillor, you have to campaign. 

On 3rd February, this blog referred to an earlier exchange with local thespian, Ralph Brown regarding the Open Market.  I had said that local Greens had much to learn about local campaigning.  Ralph accused me of being a Tory!  (I have hardly recovered from this slur but am making good progress, as I am sure Charlotte Vere will be pleased to note!).  Ralph said that Keith Taylor had been working on the regeneration of Brighton’s Open Market “for many years”, and that I should, in effect, ‘watch this space’.  I continue to watch and wait, and I all I observe is  further decline in the Open Market.  What Keith and many Green councillors lack is a grounding in grass routes campaigning, and so will lack that cutting edge required to win the Council in May 2011, and will undermine Caroline Lucas’ campaign in May 2010.

I have called on Labour and Lib Dem supporters to vote tactically for Caroline Lucas in May, and I would love to see a Green council elected in May 2011.  I am not a Green Party member, but I hope that supporters and members of that party will see my criticism of local Green councillors as constructive.  Unless the Greens learn to campaign, unless they broaden their support base beyond the Muesli Belt, and until they can understand and articulate issues from the perspective of ordinary people, they will remain a party with mere aspirations for office and may well lose the historic opportunity to demonstrate a new politics by forming an administration in Brighton and Hove.

The election of Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion will see Keith Taylor become an MEP

Thanks to Gary Dunion, a Green Party activist in Perth, Scotland, (follow him on Twitter @garydunion) for alerting me to today’s breaking news regarding the appointment of Brighton Green councillors, Rachel Fryer and Keith Taylor, as the Gren Party’s spokespersons on Education and on Planning and Regeneration, respectively.  Congratulations to both.

I was reminded of an exchang I had with local thespian, Ralph Brown (@ralphwjbrown) regarding the Open Market.  I said that local Greens had much to learn about local campaigning.  Ralph accused me of being a Tory! He said that Keith Taylor had been working on the regeneration of the Open Market for many years,and that I should, in effect, ‘watch this space’.

Well I’ve watched and waited, and I have observed a further decline in the Open Market, including the closure of the most prominent stall run by Council Leader, Mary Mears.

Given Councillor Taylor’s ‘success’ in the regeneration of the Open Market, I am glad that the election of Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion will not see, nice guy that he is, Keith gaining any additional authority for planning and regeneration. What it will mean is that Keith will succeed Caroline as a Member of the European Parliament!

Scott Digby: A here today, gone tomorrow politician

Why are the Tories bothering with their Brighton Pavilion open primary’ (or what Jason Kitcat argues is, in fact, an ‘open caucus’)  given that Conservative Central HQ operative, Scott Seaman-Digby is so far in front of others that his selection is almost a formality.

Scott has busied himself around the constituency on official Party business well before the announcement of the shortlist. He has become well networked and opportunities have been created for him to meet with community leaders, the police and others. If I was one of the other five, I would be totally pissed off.

To his credit, he has been very busy meeting with councillors, Association members and others, and he has created a comprehensive website in record time, having launched it well before the shortlist was announced.  It was as if he had been tipped off about the shortlisting in advance. He is clearly very talented, and I have no doubt that he would be a diligent and hard-working Member of Parliament.

But for all his preparation and the launch of his website ‘Digby4Pavilion‘, a review of his ‘My Brighton Blog’, launched on 23rd October, reveals how shallow is his knowledge of Brighton and Hove. He refers to meeting with “Michael and Simon, the two selected Brighton candidates”.  I think the Michael being referred to is Mike Weatherley, Tory Parliamentary candidate for Hove & Portslade. Anyone with any local knowledge knows the uneasy relationship between Brighton and Hove, actually, and would never refer to Hove as Brighton.

His repeated, folksy use of life in ‘Pavilion’ is most strange. For example, he says that he met “local Pavilion councillors”. I know of no one who ever, ever uses the term ‘Pavilion’ as if it is a recognisable community or geographical area. Kemptown, yes, but Pavilion, no. And his reference to going to “the coast” and to “the seaside” suggests someone who sees Brighton as a fun day out, a bit of recreation, rather than a complex mix of communities.

Follow his itinery recorded in his blog. He discovers Bill’s in North Road, visits the North Laine, the Lanes, the County Hospital, Brighton College, Preston Manor, Withdean Stadium and Waterhall. He has lunch with Association members at Withdene. At the Open Market he meets a stall owned by the family of Councillor Mary Mears, the Conservative Leader of Brighton and Hove City Council. Yet he is still to meet working class Mary Mears (and here we return to the class divide within the local Tory Party – visits Brighton College, lunches in Withdean, but has yet to make the acquaintence of  Mary Mears).

In an earlier response to this blog he says that “the time I have spent in Brighton since 2001 probably qualifies me as equally local, on the ground pretty much 4 days a week at present”. (What does that say about his commitment to his constituents in Hillingdon?).

Given his itinery to date, he has barely scratched the real Brighton.  Sadly, his commitment does not run deep. In his blog on 27 October he says that “if I am not successful then the site winds down with a thank you to everyone I have met in the process”. He is a ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ kind of politician.


The Art of Electoral Politics

In a recent blog I was critical of the Greens for not campaigning in an effective way over post office closures or the threat to the Open Market. Given that Party’s ambition to win Brighton Pavilion, it needs to fandamentally improve in its campaigning, not least because of the regular absence of Caroline Lucas from Brighton on European and Party business.

In the late 1980’s and 90’s, before the creation of the unitary Brighton and Hove authority, there were annual elections in Brighton, with a third of the Council up for election each year, and the County Council elections every fourth year.  This resulted in Labour, for example, always being on elction footing.

In the marginal wards Labour activists went door-knocking throughout the year, as there was always an election the following May. Leaflets were published at least quarterly and in some areas even monthly.

It was rare for any Labour candidate to be told, “We only ever see you at election time”.

Sadly, that is now the case for all parties, not least the Greens. Take Goldsmid, for example. In May and June you couldn’t avoid being confronted by Alex Phillips or one of her campaign team.  She attracted wall to wall coverage and had a compelling website.

But what has happened to Alex? In a previous post I said it felt like she had disappeared from the face of the earth. Of course she has not, and a recent Tweet from her saw her asking for more support, this time in sponsorship – she is running in support of Rise, formerly the Women’s Refuse Project (why on earth did it have to change its name?).

While I hope she gets a lot of support and money for Rise (one of the most important charities in Brighton and Hove), she should be seen to be doing something, not merely asking for things.

And it is not confined to Alex. Most, other than Bill Randall, are anonymous in the pages of the Argus. Yesterday I admitted I couldn’t remember the name of the 3rd Green councillor for the area including the Open Market (I looked it up, it is Ian Davey).

But what is worse than being invisible, is when a local councillor uses community meetings to score party political points against other parties on the Council. I have been at several meetings in recent months where a senior Green has done so on more than a couple of occasions. Inept. Uninspiring. Counter-productive.

The Greens don’t do genuine community politics

In previous posts I have been critical of the Green Party and its apparent lack of campaigning ability.  Give it a climate camp, and it does fine; Pride and it is there. But when it comes to issues that impact on ordinary people, like post office closures, it hardly has the finest record in town (notwithstanding what Green Amy tells me).

Today I took a stroll through the Open Market, in the heart of St Peters and North Laine, the area represented by two former Green Leaders, Pete West and Keith Taylor, an a third Green councillor whose name always escapes me and must have the lowest profile of all his colleagues (although Alex Phillips seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth since her election).

The Open Market is dying on its knees. Stall after stall is closing.  Even Open Market Matriarch and Tory Leader of the Council, Mary Mears, has closed her stall.

But where on earth are the Greens? Why is there no campaign? Where is the petition, the march, even an occupation? It is because the Greens don’t do genuine community politics. In St Peters and North Laine they have office, but don’t know how to use it.