Dissenting voices should be welcomed by all parties

Politics, and party politics in particular, has a way to go to recover from the depths in terms of public credibility. Estate agents have been more trusted than politicians. I am not talking about expenses. I always thought that apart from excesses regarding duck ponds and moats, the debate about expenses was unfortunate. Elected politicians should be well paid and well resourced, equally so their support staff. Who would want to see Momma Grizzly having to seek out a second part time job down at Asda because she struggles to get by on the salary of a diary secretary for a Member of Parliament?

What has damaged politics is the party political system that favours party loyalists well above independent thinkers or those with experience beyond the political world. Too may special advisers, with no experience of the real world, get elected. The certain ending of political enhancement is to speak, let alone vote, with ones conscience.

This is particularly true in Westminster, but not unknown locally. Labour has a very sad record of stifling talent because it was ‘off message’. I am told that probably the brightest of all Labour councillors was Richard Stanton, a brilliant economist with a grasp of local government finance second to none, including council officers. He was kicked off the Council for his campaigning against the Poll Tax (as well as to settle a few scores for his support for the Troops Out of Ireland Movement).

More recently the likes of Joyce Edmond-Smith, Francis Tonks and Jack Hazelgrove found themselves at odds with the party establishment. How Labour would benefit from their likes again.

But all is not lost for Labour. Far from it. They have, in the wings, a number of excellent activists who have an element of independence of thought yet committed to the Party’s cause. To be successful in the local elections in 2015 the Labour Party will need to reach out well beyond its ranks and engage with those not yet supporters and, possibly more importantly, those who were once supporters, members and even activists.

The Green Party has achieved that over the past decade, attracting a broad base, from community activists (may I mention library campaigners?), LGBT campaigners, to traditional environmentalist types. It can cate unlikely bed-follows, if you pardon the expression, with the likes of Phelim MacCafferty and Christina Summers standing together, noted, under the same banner. Which is why I think the ‘process’ started against councillor Summers is ill-judged.  There is little the public likes less is the appearance of internal party divisions and the suppression of independent thought amongst elected representation.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives have created an eclectic group of councillors, from Tory-grandee types like Geoffrey Theobald to street fighters represented by Graham Cox. It is an uneasy coalition, one that ultimately could split. Indeed, where Labour has had the foresight to create a single district party, the Tories remain divided between the Hove and Brighton Pavilion association on the one had and the Kemptown association on the other.
But where the Conservatives appear weak is the damning of each and everything that the Greens say. Their opposition, and the of their MP’s , to everything the Green Administration does, weakens them since, frankly, I am bored of the press releases put out in the name of Mike Weatherley by Momma Grizzly and the other Bright Young Things between their shifts at Asda.

Some Labour activists fall into this trap as well. I would rather hear positive stories from Labour about their plans and policies. I have enough independence of thought to make my mind up about how the Green Administration is doing. Perhaps Labour could produce and widely consult on a range of policies that could form the basis of its 2015 manifesto. But if it is to do that, it must be more than lip-service, and party officers should not be looking for approval from their masters in Westminster.

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Lib Dem betrayal and police heavy-handedness is seeing the politicisation and radicalisation of a generation

It was a successful policing operation, according to the Metropolitan Police.  No students died! 

We are entering a fascinating period in the political life of the UK.  The Government have lost control of the streets.  Tens of thousands of students up and down the country are being politicised by the Lib Dems collusion with the Tories and radicalised by the heavy-handed policing tactics being deployed against them.

It is like the poll tax protests all over again and very different from the inner city riots of the early 1980s.  In the 1980s it was alienated youths, often black youths, who had no hope for the future and who were being treated heavy-handedly by the police. In 1990 it was working and middle classes uniting against the unjust Poll Tax.

As now, a popular cause was targeted by a political elite, fortified by their deluded self-belief and secure in their Westminster Palace, that made an enemy of the country as a whole.  The sight of police horses charging young people on the streets of London will have appalled many people, not least middle class parents whose children were the targets of the horses and the victims of police batons.  The students are being politicised, and so too are their parents.

The Met Police appear to have just one tactic – kettle to contain.  Not only is it not working, it has already undermined public confidence in th police.  There is anger at the increase in tuition fees, and it is right that it is aimed largely at the Lib Dems.  If the Coalition Government had hoped that that level of anger  would now receded, they are to be disappointed.  The betrayal of the pledge by Lib Dems, including Norman Baker, coupled with the treatment of student protesters (the majority of whom were non-violent and law abiding) will see this run and run.

The Labour Party has failed young people; the Greens are now failing them

Brighton has had, for several generations, a tradition of resistance.  In the 1930s, when Oswald Mosely’s Black Shirts tried to rally in Brighton, there were fierce street battles, and the fascists were prevented from meeting on The Level.  In the 1960s, with the founding of Sussex University, radical student activity abounded, with sit-ins and demonstrations. In the 1970s there were dozens of left-wing and anarchist groups operating in Brighton, based around the old Resource Centre where the Brighthelm Centre now stands.  Punk, New Wave, and Ska music vied with the politics of fascist groups. Feminist and separatist women’s politics was flourishing.

The arrival of the Thatcher government in 1979, and with it mass unemployment, saw Right to Work marches, the People’s March for Jobs, and more fascist activity.  The National Front was active locally, with many of its national leaders living locally. The Anti-Nazi League attracted lots of support from students and young activists, although not from the Militant-dominated Labour Party Young Socialists who supported the less militant Committee Against Fascism.  Militant and the LPYS didn’t support the opposition to the Falklands War, but hundreds of young people did march against the war.  This growing activism created momentum that led to Labour’s assault on the Tories 130 year control on Brighton Council.  Hundreds of young activists had joined the Party and led by David Lepper and Steve Bassam, Labour took control of the Council in 1986 for the first time ever.

The Poll Tax created further momentum and support for the Party peaked in 1990.  But within two years all was lost when the Brighton Labour Party was closed down as part of Kinnock’s witch hunt against Militant.  The Party has never properly recovered and young activists today are few and far between.  The anarchist and fringe left groups have gone.  Small, marginalised groups have emerged, but they are characterised by sectarianism and an inability to organise and mobilise.  Some young people have maintained their political awareness, but mainly in single-issue campaigning.  More often than not, they have become disillusioned and disengaged.  And who can blame them.

The Labour Party in government betrayed the heritage that brought advantage to many of its leaders by introducing tuition fees and saddling generations of graduates with years and years of debt.  Housing is a major concern and so too are job prospects.  The Greens, who should be in a position to harness the anger, aspirations and idealism of young people, are showing themselves to be poor organisers and somewhat elitist, in spite of the success of Caroline Lucas.  A question the Greens must answer is: why are talented young activists like Tom French in the Labour Party and not part of the next chapter of the Green’s march forward in Brighton?

The Labour Party has failed young people, the Greens are failing to capitalise.  What a failure by both.

How you can protest this very day against Blair and his war crimes

Have you heard about the small, silent protest you can make against Tony Blair?   People are moving his autobiography A Journey from the biography shelves and putting them on the Crime shelves.  There is even a Facebook group that is advocating this.  Someone has suggested it should be filed under ‘Mass Murder’. 

A Journey has even been spotted on the shelves for the category ‘Tragic Life Stories’ and Peter Mandelson’s The Third Man has appeared in the Fiction section in some bookshops.  I just can’t understand why ….!

I like that sort of subtle protest.  Perhaps a less subtle form was during the Poll Tax when someone appeared on a late night chat show ‘representing’ a group styled “Scotland for the Poll Tax”.  He said it was outrageous that people were filling in the gaps of the bar chart on poll tax bills with black felt tip pens, “Black felt tip pens”, he repeated slowly and with emphasis, then telling the viewers that it caused chaos in poll tax offices.  So he told the viewers one more time that the “must not fill in the gaps on the bar charts with a BLACK ….. FELT TIP …. PEN”.

What are your favourite subtle, or not so subtle, protest stories.  I will publish the best of them.

Terrible medical condition afflicting Labour and Green councillors in Brighton

Many years ago there was a Labour Party activist in Brighton called Chris Stanley whose partner, Hilary Metcalf, was one of the Poll Tax rebel councillors.  In his younger years Chris had been a councillor somewhere in Kent.  He made an observation that there was a medical condition that afflicted decent, ordinary individuals in quite amazing ways.  Their speech would be affected, they gained a sense of their own self-importance, a sense of grandeur. They isolated themseloves from others, tending to socialise only with those afflicted with the same condition.

That condition, according to Chris Stanley, was known as ‘Councilloritis’. Yes, ordinary men and women, who previously showed no symptoms, would be afflicted almost immediately after they had been elected as councillors.  Take speech, if the victim served on the Council’s Planning Committee, where previously they may have said, “Those windows look a little bit pokey”, they would suddenly use a strange language, “I believe the detail of the fenestration on the southern facade requires further examination”. Where they may have once referred to “puddles in the road”, they began talking about “excess surface water on the highway”.

As for their sense of self-importance, they believe themselves to have somehow become superior to the rest of us. A tragic case involved the secretary of the Brghton and Hove Anti-Poll Tax Union who, on the back of his campaigning against the Poll Tax, was elected as a Labour councillor in Moulsecoomb in 1990. The very next day he paid his poll tax.  When challenged on this he repied, “Now I am a leading citizen of the town I have to set the right example”.

What about today’s crop of councillors? I am sad to say that the condition is rife in the ranks of Labour councillors with few, if any, showing signs of normality.  I don’t know many Tories so it is difficult to make any conclusive diagnosis.  The Greens have seen an outbreak amongst their ranks although some appear not to have been afflicted at all, able to live totally normal lives (if you regard the wearing of Stasi-style tabbards as normal, which clearly Green Amy does!).

Other Green councillors, sadly, are showing extreme symptoms and should be witdrawn from public life.  The good news is that one can recover, either through sheer determination or total abstinence from engaging in councillor activities.  But first the inflicted have to acknowlede the condition, and overcoming denial is the hardest part.

Defending the Greens Record of Campaigning

I have received a robust defence from Green Amy Kennedy of the Green Party’s record in campaigning against the closure of post offices. (see “Greens have been conspicuous by their absence in any campaign to save any single [Post Office)”. She writes:

“When the Brighton & Hove PO closures were announced in October 2007, Greens cllrs were appalled to find that no less than four of the six doomed B&H sub-POs were located in our wards (Trafalgar Street in St Peter’s & North Laine, Elm Grove in Hanover & Elm Grove, and Preston Circus and Preston Road in Preston Park).

“Subsequently, Brighton & Hove Greens were the only political party locally to call a public meeting to try and hold Post Office Ltd to account (http://www.carolinelucasmep.org.uk/2007/11/28/greens-fight-post-office-closures/), which was held on 6th December 2007 at the Friends Meeting House.

“The meeting was Chaired by Peter Crowhurst (North Laine Community Association), and the panel consisted of Caroline Lucas, Selma Montford MBE, David Bull (then Conservative PPC for Brighton Pavilion) Gary Herbert (Post Office Ltd), Malcolm Butler (Postwatch – consumer watchdog), and a CWU rep (sorry, name escapes me). Invitations were also issued to local Labour MPs, but in the event this offer was not taken up.

“Green councillors also organised petitions in all the condemned B&H POs (including the two in Hove), amassing several thousand signatures, in addition to supplying free template letters for customers to send to Post Office Ltd, Postwatch, and their respective MPs. We sent the original petitions to Hazel Blears MP (then CLG minister), and forwarded copies to PO Ltd and Postwatch.

“Needless to say, the axe fell regardless, thanks to the Labour government’s relentless drive to introduce “efficiency” into public services, regardless of the (not necessarily intangible) cost to communities. I have to say it was pretty ironic watching Nancy Platts running around trying to “save the Post Offices” when (if I recall correctly) both David Lepper and Des Turner voted for the proposals to close the B&H sub-POs, and hundreds like them across the country.

“We are still working to try and progress an “Essex model” at local authority level, so watch this space. And we have and will continue to picket with the CWU. So it’s not fair really to suggest that Greens aren’t doing anything to protect post offices and public mail services”.

Thanks, Green Amy. I stand corrected regarding the campaigning of the Greens.

She is right about the role of the Labour government in driving through post office closures. It truly is the Labour version of the Poll Tax. And given reference to the Poll Tax, now that was a real campaign. Not only did we ultimately get the Poll Tax thrown out, we brought down Margaret Thatcher.

Notwithstanding the activities of the Greens, Nancy Platts and others, post offices closed, remain closed and is unlikely to be a massive part of the general election. The campaign has not been successful.