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.

State of the City – Labour

Good and bad things come in threes, so they say. Before my summer sojourn, there was a report entitled ‘State of the City’ prepared by the City Council, loaded with facts and figures. It is well worth a read. Then there was a debate, ‘State of the City’, organised by the other BHCC, the Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce, with speakers including Bill Randall, Simon Fanshawe and Roger French.

And now I present the Brighton Politics ‘State of the City’ a review of the political fortunes.

Before I went away I rather tongue in cheek suggested that the top politicians in the City were John Barradell and the Fab Four Super Directors for surviving the change in administration. And still they remain in post and likely to remain so. Here is what I really think.

Starting today with Labour, I have been impressed, as always, with the leadership and determination displayed by the East End ‘Family’. Gill Mitchell has held the group together as they have morphed from being the Labour Group to becoming the Labour and Co-operative Group. Warren Morgan and Craig Turton continue with their best Mitchell Brothers impression, and I for one am determined not to get on the wrong side of them.

Some of the newly elected councillors, not least those in Hove, (Penny Gilbey and Anne Pissadirou), have shown early promise, Penny following in the footsteps of her father, the late George Humphrey, and Anne active in Wish Ward. (She will have to work consistently hard as Wish is now seen as a natural Green target in 2015). A Labour activist that continues to impress is Caroline Penn, on Twitter as @ThePennyDrops – worth following.

But what Labour needs to do locally (because Ed Milliband isn’t doing it for them nationally) is capture the imagination of the people of Brighton and Hove. Labour needs a ‘Big Idea’ that will be seen to be transformational for the City.

Before the local elections, Warren Morgan kept emphasising that Labour was gaining in wards across the City. They may have polled well overall, but they were still a million miles away from forming an administration. If their Big Idea is to wait for the Greens to screw up, they will remain out of power of another decade or more. The Tories are as likely to benefit from a loss of support for the Greens than Labour is.

But the problem for Labour is that it has, since the time of Kinnock, looked almost exclusively to its leader for salvation. But politics has moved on and the electorate are looking for something new, and it isn’t whether Ed or brother David is the one to lead Labour into the next election. Can Labour move beyond the internecine squabbles of recent years? I doubt it in the short term.

What can Labour do that will turn the party’s fortunes around? Perhaps it needs to build a mass base, at it had in the 1980’s before the Kinnockites took over the asylum. Slowly and surely, the life blood was drained from the party. The Party could do worse than engaging once again with those who brought it success, left and right alike – Joyce Edmond Smith, Richard Stanton, Steve Bassam, Gill Sweeting, Andy Winter, etc. Their campaigning ability, their ability to engage with the electorate, is what the Party needs right now.

But there remain elements within the Labour Party that sees activists as a threat. It is fine to have ‘dependable’ people turning out to deliver leaflets, help with telephone banks, and occasionally knock on doors. But they shouldn’t get above and beyond themselves, and certainly should never question the leadership, locally or nationally.

Perhaps I look back on days that cannot be relived and successes that cannot be repeated. This is where I will incurr the wrath of Morgan and Turton. The Greens are the ones with the campaigning ability, the ones who have captured the imagination, and who still enjoy the Big Mo – momentum.

Labour has to decide on its parliamentary candidates in the not too distant future, and which should be all-women shortlists. Conventional wisdom has it that boundary changes will see Labour’s chances erode further in Brighton Kemptown. Brighton Pavilion will be a two-way fight between the Greens and the Tories, leaving Hove as its best chance. The Party leadership looks after its own and has ensured that Hove does not have an all-women shortlist, opening the way for Simon Burgess to become the candidate.

And here again, Labour will get it wrong. As I have always said, Simon is a decent, hard-working type who is an asset to Labour, working in a support role. There are few better. But as a candidate, in what could be a three-way marginal between Mike Weatherley, a Green (particularly a dynamic woman candidate) and Labour, he would be destined to be an also ran.

Perhaps Labour locally will need a further drubbing at the polls before it moves on and finds candidates who can match the appeal of Caroline Lucas and whoever the Greens field in Hove. I have an insight who that might be, and Labour will have little chance of matching her appeal.

Congratulations to the Greens for making history in Brighton and Hove

I must first of all start by congratulating the Greens on a result that exceeded just about everyone’s expectations. It exceeded mine. I thought the Greens would end up with 21 or 22 seats. I didn’t expect the two amazing results in Withdene where Sue Shanks topped the poll, nor Christopher Hawtree’s sensational efforts in Central Hove. I suspect that Green High Command had some doubts, but one man did not share them – Chris Hawtree himself.

The Greens have emerged from this election with 23 councillors (including 6 in Hove, up from 1), the Tories are down to 18 and Labour have remained static with 13. The Lib Dems have been wiped out as predicted, hoped for and encouraged by this Blogger. Labour now has just one councillor in Brighton Pavilion where the Greens are now winning in Tory strongholds.

Before touching on other results, can I mention those sitting councillors who have lost their seats. Politics can be cruel, and election losses for sitting politicians offers no hiding place. Focus is on those who have been victorious, but this evening we should pause to thank the following for their service to the City, often at a cost that ordinary citizens, even party activists, don’t see and can’t always appreciate: Paul Elgood, David Watkins, Jan Young, Melanie Davis, Ayas Fallon-Khan, Pat Hawkes, Christine Simpson, Maria Caulfield, Trevor Alford, Kevin Allen, Juliet McCaffery, Steve Harmer-Strange, Ted Kemble.

I got one result hopelessly wrong – Moulsecoomb and Bevendean – where I felt that Maria Caulfield would win and, on her coat tails, Ayas Fallon-Khan (moving from Goldsmid) and Cath Slater (well known locally) would cause an upset in Labour’s back yard. I was wrong. And so I eat Humble Pie (though I do prefer Sugar Puffs). And congratulations to Labour’s team in M&B, Leigh Farrow, Mo Marsh and mayor-elect, Anne Meadows. This result, along with the return of the Legend that is Brian Fitch in Hangleton and Knoll, the anticipated gains by Penny Gilbey in North Portslade and Alan Robins in South Portslade, and the unexpected election of Anne Pissaridou in Wish, were the few positives on a day when it seemed the Greens were conquering everything before it.

A bitter-sweet result, and one predicted in this blog, was Jeane Lepper successfully defending her seat in Hollingdean and Stanmer. A combination of the Lepper name and Jeane’s own reputation as a hard-working and effective caseworker saw her survive. One of the few errors the Greens made this year was to underestimate Jeane Lepper.

A quick word on the one Green who was not successful in H&S, Luke Walter. Luke must be incredibly disappointed tonight, but he should be proud of his achievements. He probably worked harder than any candidate in H&S, but electoral politics can be unfair, especially when your surname begins with a W or a Y (ask Jan Young). Luke has the advantage of age on his side, and his time will come before long. (I will be blogging on the fortunes of all the young candidates in the near future. None of them, other than sitting councillor, Alex Phillips, who I heard described as the “Baby of the Chamber” today, was elected.

But the day belonged to the Greens who, I understand, were in celebratory mood when they retired to the Cricketers Pub for an orange juice after the count. Never before in the United Kingdom have the Greens become the largest group on a Council, and this is the largest group of Greens ever elected (what do you think of that, Norwich?). So congratulations to all newly and re-elected Greens throughout Brighton AND HOVE. I will blog more on the Greens remarkable achievements and the challenges that lie ahead in the next few days. But for now, enjoy the night, encourage Bill Randall to go wild and have another lemonade, return to your constituencies and prepare for ….. I’m not sure. A coalition? A minority administration? Definitely Christopher Hawtree to be Lead Councillor for Libraries! Congratulations, All.

North Portslade: The birth of a new Labour dynasty and further evidence of Tory splits?

My friend, Christopher Hawtree, has asked me to comment on North Portslade. Last time out, it would be reasonable to assume that the Alphabet Factor had had a large influence on the outcome of the elections. The result was split with Bob Carden (from another Labour dynasty) and Trevor Alford (Conservative) being elected. But, in fact Alford was third on the ballot paper and Carden in the bottom half! This time they are the top two on the ballot paper.

Bob Carden topped the poll in 2007 with Trevor Alford second, Tory Theo Brake-Child third and Labour’s Nicole Murphy fourth. North Portslade must be one of Labour’s top targets. Anything but a comfortable win and the election of two Labour councillors would be a disaster for the Party.

Bob Carden’s running mate this time is Penny Gilbey. If Penny was to be elected, and I am confident that she will, it would be the start of yet another Labour dynasty. Her father, George Humphrey, was the former leader of the Labour Group on Brighton Borough Council in the early 1980s.

Standing in this election as an Independent is Theo Child. Could this be the same person as Theo Brake-Child, the former Tory candidate. Is this yet another example of the split in the Tory rank, similar to the split in Hangleton and Knoll where Jo Heard is also standing as an Independent?

The second Tory candidate is Kerry Underhill. Her dad, a butcher, runs a shop on London Road, just outside the Open Market. Is her candidature an indication that the faction led by her dad’s near business neighbour, Mary Mears, has gained control in North Portslade?

“Deep and wide, deep and wide, the split is running deep and wide ….”.