The Campaign Trail – Highs and Lows, by Cllr Emma Daniel

This item was first posted on Cllr Emma Daniel’s own blog on 26th May 2015. She has kindly agreed to allow us to repost it on the Brighton Politics Blog.

It’s been ages since I blogged because campaigning took up every drop of physical and mental and emotional energy I could find. The by-election was quite time limited and, though like a bomb going off in my life, it was in effect a sprint. This last few months has been hitting the wall in the marathon and keeping going, taking a massive amount of optimism and hope to do so. I have never done this before. My colleagues have done it, and won and lost and got back up and done it again. I think my admiration for those with this experience couldn’t get any higher. Nor can my admiration for those with no election experience at all who rose to the occasion. There is nothing like it. If you haven’t volunteered for a political party I genuinely can’t recommend it enough.

I was chased out of a block of flats by a man calling me a war criminal and a paedo. I sprained my knee jumping down entrance steps as a big dog jumped out at me … canvassing with an existing fear of dogs is an emotional resilience mountain, I can tell you. (Yes, I know your dog just growls because he is being friendly, honest!)

I was told that the Greens would have been fine on the council if only those LABOUR MEANIES had supported them and that the i360 was ours (!!) also Valley Gardens (!!) and I mostly sucked that stuff up with good humour because I am good humoured. It goes with the territory. I did once, get a bit snappy with a morris man though which was probably the campaign nadir for me.

Overwhelmingly, though, people were LOVELY. Really and truly. Many were really supportive of political activists and I am lucky to work in one of the most politically knowledgeable and engaged wards in the city … which makes it really good to canvass.

In Hanover and Elm Grove, the campaign was a Labour vs Green council and parliament battleground, though there are a strong and loyal cohort of voters for other parties. It was good natured and I particularly commend David Gibson for his good humour and gentle nature displayed during both elections I fought with him. And next time, I do hope to bring at least one more Labour councillor with me. If we do a fair job on council I think that is possible.

The Parliamentary campaign was less good humoured, with many voters and activists decrying our candidate, Purna Sen, for even standing against Caroline Lucas. I felt this was unnecessary. Surely better to win the argument rather than be handed the seat? And fair play to her, she increased her majority. Our Purna is now working on global women’s issues for the UN and based in New York for the year. A fair and just tribute to her skills and experience. I hope she returns as a parliamentary candidate in future as parliament will be the richer for her participation.

On polling day I ended up sun burnt again! When will I ever learn? But we did an amazing job in Hanover and Elm Grove with a much more politically engaged and genuine relationship with the voters on the small council estates in the ward and an increased membership which just keeps going.

And then it was dark and I was stumbling home with very stiff legs when I saw the exit polls on twitter. It was like being run over. How had we lost the argument nationally so badly? Now there are endless articles explaining it of course – we weren’t left enough … we weren’t centre ground enough. But the thing is, we did lose the argument nationally.

A few days later and we were at the count with new Labour MP Peter Kyle for Hove (a massively cheering feature of the national results) and the former PPC for Kemptown, the lovely Nancy Platts, who despite her own grief at her narrow loss in the parliamentary elections came to stand by the local candidates.

On polling day, and at the count, I was convinced that the Caroline Lucas surge had wiped out the good work we had done in Hanover and Elm Grove on our council campaigning as I spoke to many voters who never normally vote who were going to vote for Caroline and had absolutely no idea there was even a council election on. But I held on and that was absolutely amazing. I am so grateful for the campaign volunteers, the party support and the support of the ward residents who do really care about who runs the council and provides them with a voice.

Going to a count is probably the most amazing and most brutal experience of my life. Seeing experienced and decent councillors wiped out, seeing talented colleagues voted in. I think I hugged everybody. I can’t really describe the count … the amazing officers plugging away with the ballot papers, the scrum of party activists and candidates checking the count and calculating results as they came out. The tears. I cried. And the jubilation. I think it’s the closest I will come to understanding football emotions.

Going through that process it’s clear that the voters of this city haven’t felt that one party has won the argument, and that many vote for councillors they personally believe in. But, they have marginally supported a Labour vision for the city but also giving us the message that they want us to be collaborative with other parties. To seek consensus where we can. And to consider the views of residents in developing schemes and projects.

Caroline Lucas stands down …. as party leader

Tonight Caroline Lucas announced that she is to stand down as leader of the Green Party.  On a statement on the Green Party website she said she was doing so “in order to broaden opportunities for the range of talent in the Party and to raise the profiles of others aspiring to election.”

On Twitter this evening her Conservative rival in the 2010 general election, Charlotte Vere, said that she was trying to think of another party leader to stand down voluntarily and then not withdraw from public life.

My understanding that Ms Lucas is not planning to withdraw from public life. Rather, she is to focus on defending her Westminster seat at the next general election.

This is a shrewd move from Ms Lucas. Her profile as the lone Green MP is far greater than her profile as Party Leader. Of course being the leader gave her a significant advantage against Chuck Vere and Nancy Platts (the Labour candidate). However, having secured the win, she can now concentrate on her consistuency base.

A criticism of Ms Lucas, if it can be called that, has been that she tries to do everything and might have been in danger of running herself into the ground. This blogger was concerned prior to the election that, if elected, her role as leader she would mean she could not devote sufficient attention to the constituency. She has proven to be an excellent constituency MP (as I have no doubt would have Chuck or Nancy – Brighton Pavilion was particularly fortunate to have had three exceptional women condidates in 2010).

If a new Party Leader can support Caroline in her role as a Member of Parliament, even using the platform that leadership offers to become an MP, then the Greens will have taken a small, yet significant step forward.

For Labour and Tory activists with an eye on the general election in 2015, this news will be greeted with dismay. It means that Ms Lucas’s near certain re-election has itself moved a small, yet significant step forward.

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.

Chuck Vere is not an invisible woman in politics

The Tory Party began their conference in Manchester today.  And one of the themes for the week will be the role of women in the Tory Party.  In fact, in today’s Sunday Times, David Cameron apologised to women for his behaviour in the past which had been misunderstood.  New Man Cam admitted making a ‘terrible mistake’ in parliament by using words that could have been interpreted as being sexist – the “Calm down, dear” slight to Maria Eagle and the “frustrated” innuendo towards Nadine Dorries.  (If you want to line Murdoch’s pocket, you can read the article behind this paywall).

Invisible Women

Invisible Women in Politics

I saw this cartoon recently and it made me think that this is how it has been for several generations in all major parties.  Hopefully, though, this is now changing.  Labour in Brighton and Hove has had Gill Mitchell as its leader for almost 5 years, the former Conservative Leader of the Council was Mary Mears, and all four candidates from the major parties at the last general election in Brighton Pavilion were women.

Which brings me on to one of my favourite Tory women of all time, the universally popular Charlotte Vere.  Chuck managed to find a way to upset so many of her opponents in Brighton Pavilion, but she was nevertheless an awesome candidate.  I am sorry she moved onwards and upwards following her defeat.  Brighton is a poorer place without her.  After her defeat she was a leading light in the very successful “No” campaign against the pathetic Lib Dem proposals for voting reform. No doubt she will get a safe(r) seat at the next general election and will prove to be a very effective Member of Parliament (regardless of what you think of her politics).

Chuck is part of a new breed of  Tory Ladies, feisty and independent.  And we should recognise that the Conservative Party has changed.  Gone are the days when (as quoted yesterday in the Guardian profile of another feisty, independent Tory woman, Louise Mensch) an aspiring Tory candidate was asked what her husband would do for sex if she was away in London for 3 nights each week.

Chuck’s latest recognition comes in a profile in the Huffington Postwhich begins “Charlotte Vere is not a feminist, thank you very much. The former Conservative candidate and mother-of-two last shaved her armpits “this morning” and she’s definitely wearing a bra.”  Too much information already, but this profile, which has the serious intent of exploring the Conservative Party’s (and specifically David Cameron’s) approach to women. Chuck is quoted as saying: “The Prime Minister needs to change policy urgently and apologise for what he has been doing not just what he’s been saying.”

Chuck has always been something of an Action Woman and has now set up Women On, a new think tank, an “independent, non-partisan think tank that aims to transform the debate around women. Women On … researches the issues facing women today, and promotes ideas and policies which enable all women to reach their full potential – economically, socially, culturally and politically.”

I wish her well (although I think it is a shame she treats the word ‘feminism’ as a dirty word).  I hope that she can link with other women who are interested in seeing an end to the “Miss Triggs syndrome” which, after all, is as relevant today even if it is done far more subtly!

Stupid statements from Douglas Alexander must have had Brighton & Hove Labour activists in Liverpool squirming

A well attended fringe meeting this week at Labour’s Conference in Liverpool was one that looked at how Labour could see off the threat of the Green Party which was described as a “creeping threat”.

Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander demonstrated his shallowness when he described the Greens as a “one policy party”. How Labour activists from Brighton and Hove must have cringed at this. Any reasonably minded person will acknowledge that the Greens have a range of policies, something that marks the Greens from their predecessor, the Ecology Party. With ‘leaders’ such as Alexander, no wonder Labour is struggling to gain credibility.

He said that campaigners should ask the Greens “what have you actually achieved for your party”. Well Shallow Doug, they have won their first seat at Westminster, and they have gained control of their first Council. This compares to you … having been … the election organiser …. in …. 2010 ….? Remind me of the result.

But of course the Greens in Brighton and Hove have begun to implement their manifesto, and nobody who has worked closely with the likes of Bill Randall, Amy Kennedy, Geoffrey Bowden, Ben Duncan, and others will have been very impressed. Council officers have been pleasantly surprised at the leadership being shown by their focus and work rate.

Ben Page, of the polling agency, Ipsos MORI, described Green voters as typically middle aged and middle class, and more likely to have voted Labour in the past. Steady on, Ben. Middle aged? He then contradicted himself by saying that the Greens “are picking up protest votes because the Liberal Democrats are now fatally compromised by their role in the coalition.” In Brighton and Hove it is clear that there has been a move from Labour to the Greens, but it has been more than a protest vote. For some it will be a protest, for others it was tactical – the Greens being best placed to beat the Tories in Brighton Pavilion. But for many, it allowed them to vote with their conscience, for a party that stands for what the Labour used to stand for, and a party without the legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan. No matter how much Labour activists deny this, it remains a significant factor in the Greens’ rise.

But the Boy Douglas is right when he describes the Greens as a “creeping threat”. I prefer the description coined by Luke Walter (who I have previously described as the best councillor Brighton and Hove doesn’t have … yet). Luke described it as a “Green tide” that started in town centre wards where the Greens had their early success but as they settled down and had families, moved to outlying wards such as Hollingdean and Stanmer and Withdene, where they Greens picked up 3 of the 6 seats available.

The most sensible comment came from Brighton Labour activist, Tim Lunnon, who is a decent, thoughtful man. He said “What I don’t know about losing to the Greens has not been discovered yet.”

What Labour needs to learn is how to beat the Greens, and they won’t get closer to beating the Greens while they have ‘leaders’ like the Boy Wonder Alexander coming out with inane stupidity such as the Greens being a “one policy party”.

Hove set to be a three way marginal if exceptional candidates are selected

Earlier this week I speculated on the prospects of the three parties in Brighton Kemptown and Brighton Pavilion in 2015. Some correspondents have said it is hot air to speculate so far off, that there are many twists and turns between now and then: how the Green administration will fair, the state of the economy and, most importantly, the revival of the Labour Party which, according to Harris Fitch, has already begun!

Absolutely right, no serious commentator would be so foolish as to make any predictions at this stage. Since I am not a serious commentator, here is my take on Hove 2015.

Mike Weatherley, contrary to speculation, will not be approaching 70 in 2015. He is a sprightly 53 year old with the best years still ahead of him, and kept young by the bright young things around him (Michael, Robert, Grizzly). He has already built a respectable reputation and knows how to press the right buttons for key groups of constituents. He will be very difficult to shift, though impossible.

To defeat Mighty Mike will require a combination of a swing away from the Tories, a local factor or two, and a first rate candidate. An anti-Tory swing will be there unless the Tory government softens its harsh approach to public sector cuts. Inevitably, the scale of the cuts is and will impact on ordinary people and the level of anger will increase. Where that anger will be directed will depend on how Labour and the Greens perform ove the next 4 years. The consolation prize for Labour is their ability to be bit part players for the next 4 years. They can oppose both the Tories and the Greens from the side lines.

The Greens have a trickier situation. As a minority administration they will be scrutinised and criticised, whether justified or not. Already some nonsense has been written about the Green Council. Those most likely to be criticised will be the ten Cabinet members. But what the Greens have, and will continue to have going for them, is good will. Most neutrals, as well as those (like me) who can vote Labour as easily as vote Green, will continue, at worst, to give the Greens the ‘benefit of the doubt’, and more likely vote for the freshness of their ideals and approach.

So who might stand for Labour and for the Greens. The right candidate will pursued me who I might endorse. In Brighton Pavilion in 2010, there were three outstanding candidates. The Tory candidate Chuck Vere had a special something, and in spite of our occasional spats, I liked her and I think, secretly, she had a more than a little affection for me! In an other election Labour’s Nancy Platts would have stood out as an exceptional candidate and could have defied a swing against her party. But she stood in the wrong constituency at that election. For against her was the outstanding candidate of the 2010 general election, the Greens Caroline Lucas. Ms Lucas stands out as one of the top ten parliamentarians, and in particular, women parliamentarians.

In the end, after some hesitation, I supported Caroline Lucas’ candidature, and I will endorse (and I might be able to cast a vote for) the best candidate in the Hove constituency. The front runner in Hove for Labour is Simon Burgess. Simon is a nice guy, but he isn’t someone who will beat Mike Weatherley. Celia Barlow might try again, but she (like Simon) has a history of being beaten and (again like Simon) is unlikely to galvanise party members. I don’t know who in Labour locally has it, but I am willing to be persuaded.

For the Greens, there are several possible candidates. The name Hawtree has been mentioned, but winning a seat in Central Hove singlehandedly is one thing, winning a constituency is rather a different matter. Ian Davey has stood before, but lovely man though he may be, isn’t going to capture the imagination of the electorate. Forgive me Ian, but age and gender are not on your side.

Age and gender favour someone whose name has been suggested to me by several people recently, including Labour Party members, who fear that Alex Phillips might do in Hove what Caroline Lucas has achieved in Brighton Pavilion. Councillor Phillips has wisely avoided becoming a Cabinet member, allowing her the freedom to speak freely and to campaign tirelessly. She has energy, enthusiasm and ability, and the Greens would boost their prospects if they choose someone like Alex Phillips as their candidate.

Fall out from local elections continues

As you would expect, a very robust and coherent defence of Labour has been received from Warren Morgan in response to my post yesterday. Reglar readers will know that I am an admirer of Warren. He is a very able politician, and one who is able to organise well. However, before the election I repeatedly told him (when he was predicting greater success for Labour that materialised) that his views were influenced by the excellent organisation in East Brighton, something replicated in just a few wards elsewhere in Brighton and Hove. As the Greens have advanced, Labour has become more marginalised. ‘But we polled almost the same number of votes as the Green’s, I hear the Labour Deniers plea. But you didn’t win the seats. In the first year of a Tory-led government that is slashing public services across the board you should have been able to pick up more than a handful of seats from the Tories.

In fact Warren himself talks about how close it was: “Labour scored the same number of votes citywide as the Greens – a fact. It didn’t get those votes where they were needed to win the seats, admitted. Labour was 150 to 200 votes short of winning additional seats in seven wards. It didn’t, but had it done it it would have been the largest group, just. Labour finished a relatively close second in all three parliamentary seats in the city last year, and level with the winners in terms of votes this year. Labour’s vote went up in every ward, most by 350, some by 500, one by 700. That does not paint a picture of a Party in terminal decline.”

Warren does reveal something I have called for, that there will be a wide and open review of what went wrong: “Of course lessons need to be learned both in terms of policy, organisation and message, but any debate is painted as dissent and division. Over the coming weeks and months Labour will be consulting, meeting, listening and debating, not just within our membership but with voters, organisations and others to determine what we can do better.” I welcome that open debate although having seen some comments by various activists (for which I am criticised when quoting them on this blog) I am aware that there is a wish for greater control to be put in the hands of a smaller number of individuals at the expense of ward branch organisation. Very dangerous. But good luck in that debate, Warren, and if I can be of any assistance ……!

We get an interesting Green insight from Luke Walter, one of the most able campaigners in Brighton and Hove who was unlucky to have missed election in Hollingdean and Stanmer purely on the grounds of the alphabet (something he identified several weeks ago was likely): “We understood our demographic better than Labour, we understood the kind of people who vote in local elections, we even understood their motivation for voting. In nearly all of these, Labour and the Tories got it wrong. Labour were saying ‘if you vote Green you get the Tories.’ The Tories were saying ‘if you vote Green you get Labour.’ I think we were the only ones saying ‘if you vote Green you get Green.’ The truth is, Warren and his councillor colleagues in the Kemptown constituency need to try and understand why 1000 or so voters in EB and M&B voted Green in the locals with no obvious campaigning and with the continuous message ‘Greens can’t win’ or ‘voting Green only helps the Tories here.’ ”

What is impressive about Luke (something not that obvious in other parties) is his ability to be self-critical about the Greens own performance: “We Greens are also at fault. We greatly underestimated our vote in those wards, as well as Westbourne in Hove. This mistake won’t be repeated again. Reading the comments from Labour councillors and Labour supporters, it is clear the party is in a pickle, as I’m sure the Tories are as well. Weatherly should be sweating in Hove and Portslade losing six seats last Friday. The same for Kirby in Kemptown, who was beaten into third by the Greens in two sizeable wards in his constituency. If the Greens political opponents are waiting in the dark until we slip-up, they’ve got another thing coming. From now on, they can expect a more confident, more slicker and bolder Green machine in Brighton AND Hove.”

Dr Faust reprimands me, that I “need to develop a more even handed approach with your critisisms of parties.  You ask for an apology from Labour about ‘misleading’ material (which I would contest), but don’t ask for the same from the Green Party.  You say the same about claims made over recent elections, but again don’t expect any contrition from the Green Party who did exactly the same.  In both cases I consider the material put out to be par for the course tactics in trying to win votes and seats. Consistancy would be welcome.”

My dear Doctor, I have never pretended to be consistent or even-handed. A hint of bias has occasionally come through in my writings on those two-faced, yellow-belly, snake-in-the-grass, rats sometimes known as the Lib Dems. I was SO sad to see them wiped off the face of the political map in Brighton and Hove on May 5th. As for being even handed in my criticism, I don’t dish it out for the sake of it. I am critical of Labour’s use of misleading graphs in two elections in a row and the poor organisation in the City and of party HQ. Last week I did criticise the Greens for their use of a graph but their use was less misleading because of a simple factor – they WON. Labour’s claims were misleading as they claimed that, in 2010, they were the only party who could beat the Tories in Brighton Pavilion (horribly misleading and unforgivable, as would the Greens claim had they not won) and, in 2011, that they were the only party that could form an administration. With just 13 seats out of 54 that is a big ask!

(In case there is any doubt amongst those other than my four regular readers – Warren, Christopher Hawtree, Momma Grizzly, and Doris Day – I am not anti-Labour. I voted Labour on May 5th. I just want to see Labour get its act together. I am also aware that there is a suggestion that there is a ‘snitch’ in Labour’s ranks, someone who is passing me information. In fact, there are almost a dozen Labour activists with whom I am either in regular contact with or who DM or email me regularly, along with several Tories and several Greens. No Lib Dems, alas).

Results in Brighton Kemptown that will have Nobby Clarke and Dennis Hobden spinning in their graves

This evening I take a look at the Council seats up for election in the Brighton Kemptown constituency. This is far less exciting than several of the seats in Brighton Pavilion.  The Conservatives will retain all three seats in Rottingdean Coastal.  Even with the Green Tide of Progress described by Luke Walter, where Green voters move from town centre wards such as Queens Park, Regency and St Peters & North Laine to outlying, the Greens (and Labour) will fail to win this seat by a country mile.

Neighbouring East Brighton will remain solid Labour.  Even in a bad year for Labour (and this is not one of them) East Brighton should remain Labour. With Warren Morgan, Gill Mitchell and Craig Turton, Labour has a strong and active team.

Woodingdean’s two seats will be retained by Conservatives Dee Simpson and Geoff Wells.  Dee is a hard-working champion of the ward while Geoff Wells is a likeable if somewhat ‘unconventional’ Mayor. 

That leaves Queens Park and Moulsecoomb & Bevendean.  Labour faces tough battles in both, in Queens Park from the Greens who hold all three seats, in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean from the Tories who will be seeking to increase their single seat (that of the highly respected Maria Caulfield).  Queens Park is probably too close to call at present, with an energetic campaign being run by the Labour team.  Chris Cooke is most likely to take a seat from the Greens, but the Green councillors (two of whom are standing down) have gained a huge reputation for hard work and community focus.  If I had to make a prediction (and you know how I shy away from saying anything definitive …. ) I would predict two Greens and one Labour councillors returned from Queens Park.  But then again, it could be three Greens, or perhaps two Labour and a Green, and there again it could be three Labour …  What an interesting contest!

But it is Moulsecoomb and Bevendean that will be a headline result in May.  I predict that the reputation of Maria Caulfield, one of the most popular ward councillors that I have ever observed, will bring through her two Tory running mates, seeing two gains for the Conservatives with Maria holding her seat with a substantial majority.  What a state of affairs for Labour!  Nobby Clarke and Dennis Hobden will be spinning in their graves (or in Dennis’ case, whatever afterlife he has moved on to!).

So, from Brighton Kemptown there will be 8 Conservatives, between 3 and 6 Labour councillors, and up to three Greens.

Predicting Green gains in Preston Park and Hollingdean & Stanmer in May’s local elections

Yesterday Luke Walter made some really interesting observations about changing demographics in areas outside the town centre (see yesterday’s post).  He noted that Green supporters from the town centre wards are moving to more outlying areas which could result in electoral gains for the Greens in areas such as Hollingdean and Stanmer.  (For the record, Luke is standing in Hollingdean and Stanmer for the Greens). 

As you would expect, Labour activists have responded.  Dan Wilson, the thoughtful Labour candidate in Regency ward has written: “I don’t disagree with Luke’s view of how Brighton and Hove is changing. But I would note that his critique of change relies on Labour being in govt. I think a coalition at Westminster combined with a Tory council locally is a salient difference on the doorstep in 2011. It’s a precarious situation out there. Clear anti-Tory sentiment, I sense a lack of clarity of where the Liberal support will land, massive numbers of Green/Labour switchers. And who knows what they will do. Good canvassing for us lately but proving hard to crystallise the Labour vote as ever but it is so different from a year ago and the run up to the General Election. I am quite surprised the Greens aren’t doing more to protect their flank.”

My prediction is that the Green vote in Brighton Pavilion will harden, resulting in comfortable Green wins in St Peters and North Laine, Hanover and Elm Grove, and Regency.  I also think that the Greens will pick up at least one extra seat in Preston Park in addition to the one already held by Amy Kennedy.

Hollingdean and Stanmer is harder to predict, but in each election where a party has momentum unexpected results are achieved (as with Amy Kennedy in Preston Park last time). I suspect that H&S will be the ‘breakthrough ward’ for the Greens this time, defeating established Labour councillors.  I have previously said that ousting Labour’s Jeane Lepper is the big ask, and I doubt whether all the factors are there for this to happen.  She will survive because of Labour’s relative strengthening in the polls but more importantly (and this is why I single her out) her reputation in the ward which others underestimate. I think H&S result will go 2 Green and Jeane Lepper.

The Greens may well strengthen their position in Patcham and even Westdene, but I doubt whether they will run the sitting Tories even close.

So in Brighton Pavilion, my prediction is the Greens returning 12 councillors, the Tories 6 and Labour 2.

  • Hanover and Elm Grove: 3 Greens
  • Hollingean and Stanmer: 2 Greens and 1 Labour
  • Patcham: 3 Conservatives
  • Preston Park: 2 Greens and 1 Labour
  • Regency: 2 Greens
  • St Peters and North Laine: 3 Greens
  • Westdene: 3 Conservatives

In the next couple of days I will share my predictions for Hove and Brighton Kemptown (including a sensational prediction for Rottingdean Coastal!).

Labour’s strengths and weaknesses in Brighton and Hove

East Brighton councillor, Warren Morgan, has submitted a particularly robust and characteristically thoughtful response to my recent post about the state of Labour in Brighton and Hove.  I had, perhaps unfairly, reflected on councillor Morgan’s earlier revelation that Labour is yet to select for all seats for May’s local elections as a sign of Labour’s decline in the City. 

Warren has made some very sound points which deserves prominent coverage, and a serious response.

He says that it is “a hell of a leap to suggest Labour is ‘in decline’ because it hasn’t quite selected candidates for two ultra-safe Tory wards three months out from polling day… I don’t see any evidence that the Greens or the Tories have finalised their line-ups for May yet, indeed they may well change their candidates at the last minute as the Greens did in Preston Park in ’07.”

He continues: “I’ve no idea who the Greens or Lib Dems are putting up in East Brighton, and the Tories only selected for Queens Park a few weeks ago. Labour selected candidates well in advance compared to the previous two sets of local elections in wards where we are campaigning to win back seats lost last time.”

The point I was making in my earlier post was that the was a time when Labour would have had all it’s candidates in place many months before polling day, even in no hope seats. There was a time when hopefuls would seek to be selected in no hope seats in order to learn the ropes and hope to be seen to be an energetic and able candidate. And again, potential councillors learned the ropes, honed their debating skills and generally toughened up for several years before even being considered for the panel of candidates, let alone being selected to fight a winnable seat.

Now we have the situation where Labour struggles to find candidates, credible or otherwise, to stand in certain seats. To that extent, they are in decline.

Warren reflects on the state of the parties nationally: “Labour are 10% ahead of the Tories in the national polls, and have been winning council by-elections with 10 or 20% swings around the country.” Warren is right about that, but as he will know, Brighton bucks the national trend, at least in Brighton Pavilion.  He disagrees, “Labour locally are better resourced, have a good set of candidates who represent the entire spectrum of the city and who are campaigning from opposition locally and nationally for the first time in decades. That puts us in a strong position.”

We have three factors that will mean that Labour will not bounce back in the same way as it may do elsewhere. 

First, and most significantly, is the Caroline Effect. Labour shouted “wolf” too often last year, and many traditional Labour voters like me will vote for a Green candidate (in winnable seats) with much more confidence than before.

Second, and related to the first, is the anger that many Labour supporters continue to feel about Labour in government. Yes, many will be very, very angry about the Tory-led Coalition Government, and many will take advantage of the Green option in these locals.

And third, Labour has a real fight on with the Tories who, under Mary Mears leadership, will threaten Labour in its own heartlands, including Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, the two Portslade wards, and Hangleton and Knoll (although all of these currently have at least one Tory councillor).

Warren, unlike some of his less thoughtful Labour colleagues, recognises the strength of the Greens, and thinks that most voters don’t cast their votes in locals based on local issues: “No one suggests the Greens aren’t strong in many wards but their star is fading as Cameron’s cuts consolidate the Labour vote. The Tories seem hideously unpopular on the doorstep, and even their council tax stunts and incumbency (in the council & MPs offices) won’t help much in the face of a big national swing. Much as we all like to think that voters are immersed in the intricate nuances of local democracy, most cast their vote based on the national picture at the time.”

Warren’s analysis is credible, but one with which I disagree.  The Tories under Mary Mears aren’t as hated as he suggests. The “council tax stunts” as he calls them, may not have the impact on the doorstep as the Tories might hope, but it has galvanised Tory activists, especially the Estate Agent classes in Goldsmid, not to mention Momma Grizzly.

Warren’s personal strengths as a councillor and campaigner, for which I have great respect, means he sees Labour in the rest of the City as if it reflected East Brighton.  I am sorry to say, and I mean this, it is not the case.  If Labour had more Warren Morgan’s in it’s ranks it would be far better placed to challenge effectively in May.  And because of this, I stand by my view that Labour’s decline will continue.