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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Strengthening the links between Labour and the Greens

A postscript to this morning’s post: I had intended to comment on the gender dynamic of the Bassam/Kitcat debate on Twitter, and to contrast it with the exchanges between Caroline Penn and Alex Phillips.

With Fassam and Bitcat, no quarter is offered, no quarter given. What would make this exchange better would be if Lord Bassam didn’t blame the Greens for the financial challenges in Brighton and Hove, rather he should blame the Tory-led Coalition for their obsession with cutting local government.

The contrast could not be greater in the Twitter exchanges between Ms Penn and councillor Phillips. These exchanges are robust and challenging, but they are done with respect and some affection. There are definite differences in their politics (Ms Penn is Labour, but with a tinge of Old Labour; Lady Everton is Green, but also with a tinge of Old Labour). Both fight firmly for their respective parties, yet both are respectful of the other, able to accept criticism and acknowledge positives in the views of others.

I think these two women personify what I like most about local politics. They represent what is positive about certain Green and Labour activists. I look to the day when they work together, in a Green-Socialist party. I don’t believe that they have yet met each other, but I suggest they meet for a skinny latte over the holiday period.

Where my gender theory is chalenged is the persons of Sven Rufus (Green), Pete Gillman (Labour) and Momma Grizzly herself (True Blue with as dash of Orange). Sven and Caroline Penn have agreed a Christmas truce (football and mince pies in No Man’s Land perhaps). Recent exchanges between the two of them have been warm and shows the way forward between Labour and the Greens. Pete Gillman, too, is a nice guy, but borders on being more focused on the Greens than the Tories. Should he see that Labour and the Greens have more to unite than divide them, he will be able to help bridge the divide between the two parties.

And then there is Rachael Bates. Momma Grizzly shows none of the sisterhood that exists between Lady Everton and Caroline Penn. And nor would she want to be part of such a sisterhood. While the Grizzly One will long remain in my affections, this season of peace and goodwill between humankind is not for her. But in spite of that, I wish her a happy Christmas.

Westbourne By-election: Spare me the facts, speculation is rife about dates and candidates

The by-election caused by the resignation of respected Conservative, Brian Oxley, is going to be the big story in Brighton and Hove politics over the next few weeks, and the immediate two questions are: When will the by-election be held; and who will be the candidates.

But first, it has emerged that The Bishop has resigned to move closer to his elderly father who lives in Derby. It comes as no surprise that his resignation has been driven by a matter of principle, reflecting the quality that has made Brian the respected politician he is, respect that goes across party divide.

An example of that respect comes from someone at the opposite end of the political spectrum, Alex Phillips. Lady Everton wrote of Brian on Twitter: “Unsure as to why he stood down. He was very good though. A man I respected even if I didn’t agree with him. A gentleman.”

‘Clive’ who usually provides insightful and constructive comments on this blog, once again makes a helpful comment: “I don’t know the man at all except by repute, but he managed to pile up a lot of votes in Westbourne which must say something. As I’ve said on here before, that ward shouldn’t really be as blue as it is. One way or another I have a feeling that it won’t be after this byelection.”

When will the by-election be held? Valerie Paynter suggests that “residents won’t want the distraction of an election at Christmas.  That much is certain.” Valerie is probably right, but what is more relevant is that neither the Tories nor Labour will want a pre-Christmas by-election. They are both still licking their wounds and have been introspective since May.

The Greens, on the other hand, have everything to gain from an early poll. A December by-election will come before the details of the Council’s budget are fully absorbed. The Greens continue to have momentum, and an election before Christmas, when most people would be distracted, has the prospect of Green supporters in areas such as Westbourne being less flakey than those of the other parties. At present, as I have said in recent posts, given the choice locally of the parties of Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Caroline Lucas, I know which comes across as more aspirational and exciting.

As for candidates, my first prediction has proven to be way off the mark! Luke Walter won’t narrowly beat Caroline Penn as I suggested yesterday. Nor will he win, and neither will she. I have had it on very good sources that neither will be allowing their name to go forward for selection. A shame as both would make excellent councillors.

Someone in the know, Valerie Paynter, has suggested several names including Patrick Lowe (who also lost in Hollingdean in May), or Robert Nemeth (who lost to a Green in the previously safe seat of Withdean, and before that to a Green in Regency). Valerie dismisses the chances of Jan Young who, she says, “lost Central for a reason.  For CH to have been chosen over her seems to me to be more about rejecting her than showing enthusiasm for CH.  A number of residents led me to conclude this.”

Valerie’s comments suggest a split between the Hove Tory Establishment and the camp around Mike Weatherley. She suggests that the Tories will need to “rely very, very heavily on the goodwill that MP Mike Weatherley has accrued over his first year as a highly active Constituency MP in order to provide any hope for themselves in the by-election.”

If that is the case, which of his Young Turks will be the Anointed One? Will it be the Estate Agent, Rob Buckwell, a ‘veteran’ of by-elections having stood and lost in the St Peters & North Laine by-election? Perhaps the smart and fast rising Robert Nemeth, as suggested by Ms P? Could it be the genuinely delightful and charming Michael Ireland, surely a huge asset on the doorstep? Or could it be your blogger’s personal favourite, Momma Grizzly herself?

I have heard some whispers about possible candidates including a Green candidate, early 40’s, who sounds as though she may well make a positive impact in a by-election and on the Council. More on her and other possible candidates tomorrow. In the meantime, you can share your take on the by-election either by DM me @BrightonPolitic or emailing me at brightonpoliticsblogger@googlemail.com. I’ll share your comments only with my three regular readers (Grizzly, Biker Dave, and welcome to So Cool Soozie, a woman with a certain mystery…).

Stormin’ Norman and the Curse of the Coalition Government

I’m not one for making predictions, as my regular readers (Warren, Momma Grizzly, Councillor Christopher, and Biker Dave) will testify, but I have a premonition about the future fortunes of the Lib Dem Member of Parliament for Lewes, Norman Baker. I can feel it it my waters that his time on the Green Benches (the colour, not the party) may be limited.

Actually, there is speculation about his future in several quarters, not least in the pages of Latest 7 magazine and in Brighton and Hove News in articles written by one of the nicest and most principled journalists around, Frank le Duc.

So why should Stormin’ Norman’s future look so uncertain? Well, for a start, he is a Lib Dem, and as my regular readers (the said WM, MG, CH & BD) will know, I have had my doubts about the Lib Dems. Apart from being untrustworthy, lacking backbone, two-faced, unprincipled, deserving to be confined to the dustbin of history, I think they are rather a decent bunch.

The Lib Dems are facing meltdown at the next general election for several reasons:

For helping to create the Coalition Government and thereby allow the Tories to run the country without a mandate;

For betraying their pledge on tuition fees;

For standing by while the privatisation of the NHS has begun;

etc. etc. etc.

And Stormin’ Norman’s part in this is not great. He betrayed his own written pledge on tuition fees, he agreed to become a Minister in this government that is implementing policies that were not in either party’s manifesto nor in the Coalition Agreement, and his government is bumping up rail fares (something that will not go unpunished by commuters in the Lewes constituency). On the issue of rail fares, Stormin’ Norman not only remained silent, he is the Transport Minister responsible for rail!

But it isn’t all bleak for him, as Frank le Duc has suggested, Lord Baker of Lewes is a likely reward for his loyal service to the Coalition. However, that would be a sorry end for someone who inspired so much hope as an anti-establishment MP in his early career.

In taking on the St Paul’s protesters, Weatherley goes where angels fear to tread

A week is along time in politics, and the People’s Mike won’t have enjoyed it too much. Last week I praised him for his Man of the People impressions – taking up issues that, by pure coincidence, would appeal to the people of Hove at a general election. But then he backed a wrong horse, and his mate George Osborne let him down.

Mike Weatherley had said he personally wanted to clear away the campers in the Occupy London protest from outside St Paul’s Cathedral. Perhaps the good Christian folk of Hove will note this. Even that well-known radical churchman, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, has come out in support of the protest. I guess he had to given his Boss said: “It is harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.” I also recall something from my childhood Bible study about “the rich being sent empty away” and “Blessed are the poor”. Perhaps someone could assist me with some more accurate Bible quotes.

In taking on the St Paul’s protesters, Weatherley goes where angels fear to tread

But the big disappointment of the week for Mike was the downgrading of his meeting with the Chancellor, George Osborne. A press release from his office on Tuesday said: “Mike Weatherley, the Member of Parliament for Hove and Portslade, is to meet with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to discuss the EU budget proposals.” Good stuff, Mike. Influential, eating at the top table.

But no. A correction was send out 32 minutes later from one of his aides, Momma Grizzly herself, stating: “Contrary to the earlier press release, Mike will be meeting the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Mark Hoban, not the Chancellor.” More picnic in Victoria Park, Portslade, than a Palace Garden Party, more go-carts on the seafront than Formula One.

And on the issue of Formula One, petrol head and Green councillor Alex Phillips hooked up with former world champion Damon Hill on Saturday in a Brighton to London race. Actually, it was a race to see who can get from Brighton to London using the least amount of energy. The car Lady Everton drove used the least energy. How many of us can say we have beaten a racing world champion? Certainly not the People’s Mike.

Mike Weatherley and Alex Phillips: Eyes on 2015

Of the 200 most recent emails waiting in my inbox (brightonpoliticsblogger@googlemail.com), 58 were from Mike Weatherley, or rather from Michael Ireland, Robert Nemeth and Rachael Bates who all work for the MP for Hove.

Mike, with an eye on 2015, is clearly not taking any chances. The issues he has been raising are no doubt very close to his heart but, co-incidentally, they are issues that would appeal to a wide cross-section of his constituents. These issues range from prisoners’ bank accounts (the liberal vote), drugs (law and order, perhaps?), gay marriage (a bit obvious, that one), stem cell research (scientific progressives), VAT on electronic books, newspapers, etc. (all the geeks in town), and a climate change project (will he get The Dowager, Lady Everton’s vote with that one?).

Having looked at Lady Everton’s Tweets for the past few weeks, she seems to be here, there and everywhere, quietly going about her business, building a solid base for herself, and organising more than her fair share of Hen Do’s. Could it be that May 2015 might see a head to head between The People’s Mike and Lady Everton? It would make a very interesting contest given that the new Brighton Pavilion and Hove will be a boring one-horse race. Brighton and Hove North, on the other hand, will be fascinating, not least should the Greens pick up several additional seats, including Luke Walter winning the seat of retiring (though not shy) Jeane Lepper (a worthy successor to a fine councillor).

But back to the People’s Mike, while he shows a populist touch (get up close and personal to Alice Cooper, for goodness sake), he seems to have made a couple of gaffs in the last week. First, his high profile threat to rebel on Europe came to nothing. (Lady Everton is very pro-Europe, I believe, although believes that the UK’s membership should be renegotiated).

And now Mike has offered to personally evict the the St Paul’s Catherdral protesters @OccupyLSX. What is amazing about the St. Paul’s protesters is the very wide support they seem to be getting, not least from within the churches. At Rochester Cathedral on Sunday morning, for example, when the preacher criticised the closure of St. Paul’s, the congregation applauded. Mike is backing the wrong horse on this one. Today Mike said : “Quite simply, long-term camping in public spaces as a form of protest is unacceptable. Great thinkers and leaders did not find solutions to the world’s problems by lying around in public parks and squares.” I think Mike will find that two of the world’s greatest thinkers and leaders did lie around, one in simpleloin cloth and on hunger strike – and brought down Britain’s rule in India; the other in his prison cell, refusing to be released on anything but his own terms which lead to the downfall of apartheid South Africa.

It would be good to hear Mike criticise bankers’ greed, but then he would have to criticise capitalism. He is as likely to do that as Lady Everton is to down a steak and kidney pie.

State of the City 2 – The Tories

I like Mary Mears, and I like Geoffrey Theobald. They are two of the great servants of the city, both proud leaders, past and present, of the Conservative Group on the City Council. The problem is, and here I let you into a tiny secret, they are not great fans of each other.

For several years there has been a fault running through the local Conservative Party, or should that be Conservative Parties? The Brighton Pavilion and Hove Associations are as one, sharing a single website, but the Brighton Kemptown Association is cast out into deepest outer space.

The exception to this rift is the relationship between the two Conservative MPs, Mike Weatherley (Hove) and Simon Kirby (Brighton Kemptown). The two obviously like each other and often are seen together at events. It is, perhaps, their friendship that might build the bridge between the two sides.

One would have thought that there was more to unite them than to divide them, not least the threat posed by the Greens across Brighton and Hove, although this threat is posed primarily in Brighton Pavlion and in Hove.

So apart from the divisions between the Conservative Associations themselves, where are the dividing lines? Clearly Mary Mears and Geoffrey Theobald have deleted each other from their respective Christmas Card lists. Several supporters of Mary Mears were unsuccessful in May’s local elections, thereby paving the way for Geoffrey Theobald’s successful challenge for the Leadership.

Simon Kirby is close to Mike Weatherley, and Mike appears to be close to Geoffrey, Mary remains close to Simon, perhaps through The Bishop, Brian Oxley, who works for Simon and who was Mary’s loyal Deputy Leader. Brian is a councillor in Hove, a fellow ward councillor in Westbourne with Denise Cobb, now one of Geoffrey’s deputies.

I am advised by one of my sources within the Tory ranks that there is a debate about the right kind of candidate to stand in future elections. Mike Weatherley and Simon Kirby both had hugely successful private sector businesses successes before entering politics. Historically private non-political achievement seemed to be a prerequisite for progressing in Tory Party politics. Now with the bright young things working for Mike (Momma Grizzly, Mike Ireland and Robert Nemeth) it seems to be easier to progress as a political employee than someone with a non-political career. Don’t get me wrong, all three are very talented with strongly held and passionate views, and each one will make a formidable councillor or, as is more likely in the long term (especially with the Grizzly One) member of parliament.

(It is worth noting that a few former Green councillors did not stand again at the recent elections because they found being a councillor was not compatible with progressing their professional careers).

One person who tends to be highly spoken of by all factions (I hope my endorsement does not harm him), and who has even struck up a positive working relationship with fellow ward councillor, the Green Christopher Hawtree, is Andrew Wealls, who is much liked and admired by councillors from both Tory factions and by his political opponents alike.

Like Labour, the Tories need their own ‘Big Idea’ so that at a local level the Tories have something positive to promote.  The standing of the Tory Party nationally will struggle during the lifetime of this parliament.  Further civil unrest will cause further damage.  Cameron, Boris, and the others have hardly covered themselves in glory first time round, not coming home from foreign holidays at the earliest opportunity as London burned.  The Tories are being successful in turning key constituencies against them – the police and the army,  to mention just two.

Mike and Simon continue to work hard, pumping out regular press releases to key media outlets (thanks for all of them, boys).  Bolundary changes might help them, but both have challenging times ahead, particularly Mike with a determined Green Party likely to run him close in 2015.  It’s great to form a government, but it’s not much fun when your party becomes increasingly unpopular.