Westbourne by-election: update after the first weekend of campaigning

I think I have just seen the first flower of spring, one usually hears in late February. Today’s version is who has seen the first poster of the Westbourne by-election. Both Greens and Labour make the claim, but I am yet to see evidence in the form of a photo on Twitter or one emailed to brightonpoliticsblogger@googlemail.com.

But the troops have been out, both Labour and the Greens, and did I see a Grizzly?

Caroline Penn reported Labour posters up in Westbourne at lunchtime today, but the first report of a poster going up came at 14:29 yesterday (Saturday) from Green councillor Christopher Hawtree, who wrote: “Former Peace Messenger Brian Fitch looked daggers when he saw me giving a resident a poster which went straight up at noon.”

Any advances of 12 noon on 19th November?

The Tories recognise that the “by-election looks like a three way marginal… Bring it on and keep it blue!” says The Estate Agent (Rob Buckwell) on Twitter. Is this an indication that he might be the Tory Party candidate?

Both Labour and the Greens have been out on the knocker and delivering leaflets. The Greens, according to Luke Walter, have put a Greenleaf through every door in the Ward. Tim Sewell reports that there has been a good “doorknocking and delivery session” with Caroline Penn, Warren Morgan, Lis Telcs and “many others in Westbourne. Will be hard one to call.”

I assume he means that it is a genuine 3-way marginal. Labour’s Spiritual Leader in Brighton, Lord Steve Bassam, does not think the same. On Twitter he wrote: “Feel a bit guilty as I think I ought to go canvassing in local council by-election. We all need to get out there it’s a R Tory/Labour fight.” I don’t think so, and nor do I imagine that Lord Bassam thinks so either. The Greens are the ones to beat but I admire the old campaigner’s instinct in talking down the Greens so to consolidate the anti-Tory vote with Labour.

Steampunk draws attention to an omission in my posts and comments by others: “Is Paul Elgood planning a come-back? I was going to say, nobody’s commented on the Lib Dems’ chances yet.” I have no knowledge about Mr Elgood but I think that the Lib Dems’ chances of winning are as likely as two of my regular readers, Biker Dave and Doris, eloping to Gretna Green.

Harris Fitch is full of bravado, the same bravado that led him to predict a win in Rottingdean Coastal in May: “It won’t be a futile course, we shot off the starting line months ago. We have so many keen members there compared to the Greens that we probably could man the election campaign with locals. Of course outside help is always welcomed though!” That is a remarkable claim, that Labour “shot off the starting line months ago”. I doubt it, but if that is the case (and I have seen no evidence of it in Westbourne Ward) it should make it a more even fight.

One welcome entry to the fight is the report from The Pepperpot Post that the shy and retiring Paul Perrin will be standing for UKIP.

Dr Faust has said that the issue of school places will be a key issue in the by-election. All parties will claim that they are the one who are most keen on a new school. The reality is that this by-election will not ultimately influence such provision.

Daniel Yates agrees that education is an important, but not the sole, issue: “the Labour and Co-operative vision for first class education with true community engagement really does appeal across a very wide political spectrum. Of course, there are also many other issues where this is true and we wont be sucked into believing that everyone is Westbourne is going to vote purely on schools.” If that is the case, how come education is in such a poor state after 13 years of a Labour government. Education is one reason why voters in Brighton and Hove have lost faith in Labour.

Keep reports flooding in. Either email me on DM @BrightonPolitic.

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…).

Can’t I leave you alone for just a couple of months without everything falling apart?

What on earth have you been up to while I’ve been away? Can’t I leave you alone for just a couple of months without riots, the collapse of a media empire, and further financial crises? And I hear rumours that a Green councillor has reported a Tory to the Standards Committee – tradition has it that it should be Tories referring Greens?

The riots were as predictable as they were tragic, and there will be more. Super-cops from New York are unlikely to understand what is happening in our inner cities, where second and third generations of unemployed, poorly educated, and alienated youths have little at stake in society, nothing to lose and some immediate gains to be made. “It’s our ‘pay day'” as one looter described it.

Much of the rioting was negative destruction and much of the looting was purely criminal. But to dismiss it as only that is wrong. It was also a political statement, with thousands of young and older people expressing their detachment from the norms that govern. How is it that after years of a Labour government, there are large numbers of young people so disillusioned that they are willing to destroy their own communities?

What surprised me was how quickly the rioting began under the Conservative-led coalition. I thought that it would be next year, in the run up to the Olympics, once many of the cuts had begun to bite and the ‘undesirables’ had begun to be moved off the streets, that anger would boil over.  I think tthat remains a possibility.

The saddest part of the rioting and the appalling arson attacks, attacks that I condemn without equivocation, is the unlikelihood of investment going into these areas which will become more deprived and greater restrictions placed on the movement of youths around our capital and other cities.

As for riots in Brighton and Hove, I did hear a report on Twitter that there had been a tense standoff and a near riot in Brunswick Square when Waitrose ran out of organic peaches.

As for the Murdoch’s and News International, I did feel ever so sorry for them.  Afterall, who hasn’t gone in for a bit of phone hacking?  How do you think I get some of my not-so-exciting scoops?  But I realise I must apologise for my past excesses, for revealing the Sugar Puffs breakfast habits of Warren Morgan, exposing Lady Everton’s secret identity, exploiting the torments of the Estate Agent, and splashing scoops on the party life of Momma Grizzly.  I do apologise to each and every one of you. This is the most humble day of my life.

And who has been picking on poor Dawn Barnett? I thought that her initiative to provide travellers with directions to Green wards was a great political stunt.  Of course it will not deal with the challenges posed by travellers in the city, but it is not worthy of a referral to the Standards Committee.  I have always opposed the Standards system.  It was wrong when Jason Kitcat was referred to it, and it ill-becomes other councillors, particularly a Green councillor (if the rumours are to be believed) for making such a complaint.

So what else has happened while I’ve been away?  Not much news reached Tuscany this year.  Our neighbours, the Cameron family, packed up and left in a hurry.  Dave C (who was seen walking around in t-shirt, sandals and messy facial hair – I initially mistook him for Luke Walter, the best councillor Brighton doesn’t have) was heard muttering something along the lines “I will kill Boris …”.

I hope you have had a good summer.  I have had a relaxing time.  Now back to business …

Is there any place for comedy in politics?

The excellent piece by Pearl Ahrens got me thinking about humour in politics. Here’s a start: A man with a crocodile walks into a pub and asks the barman: “Do you serve Lib Dems?” “Sure”, says the barman. Man: “Could I have a pint of beer and a Lib Dem for my croc”. Not very funny, I know, and I adapted it from a joke told by Kevin Maguire on Twitter the other night. The butt of Kevin’s version were social workers, so I am showing some bias in the telling.

Politicians of all parties can be funny, but I am not sure whether they (we) as a breed are naturally funny. The ‘jokes’ at Prime Minister’s Questions are often very laboured, well prepared, and delivered with the same gentle touch that Vinnie Jones employs when he arranges flowers.

In Britain we have been blessed by generations of amazing satirists who have brought pompous politicians down to earth. Among my favourites is Brighton’s own Steve Bell. I’m not sure what kind of mind he has. How does someone think to picture John Major wearing his underpants outside his trousers? I heard from the great man himself (Bell, not Major) that Michael Hesseltine had loved being portrayed as Tarzan, even offering to pay a large sum of money for an original until Bell told Tarzan’s assistant that the cheque should be made payable to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament!

Much political humour is aimed at putting down one’s political opponents. Much of Churchill’s humour had a nasty edge, saying that Clem Atlee had a lot to be humble about, his reference to an empty taxi pulling up outside No 10 and out stepped Mr Attlee, and saying to a woman who had accused him of being drunk that she was ugly but at least he would be sober in the morning.

I can be accused of name calling on this blog, and I apologise if anyone has taken offence, although I think that secretly – or not so secretly – my ‘victims’ quite like my feeble attempts at humour. Momma Grizzly uses that description on her Twitter profile. The Estate Agent enjoys his title not so much, nor le Toothbrush or la Toothbrush. I’m not sure what Lady Everton, the Bishop, and others think of their names. I am advised, and The Ghost of Nobby Clarke can tell me if this is true, that the former Labour rebel, Richard Stanton used to refer to a very macho Labour Chief Whip (whose name I can’t remember) as Skippy (as in the Kangaroo). He apparently hated it.

Actually, the reason for this post is so that I can tell a couple of feeble jokes, and hopefully you can respond in kind. So here goes –

A politician went to see his doctor: “Doctor, I’m addicted to Twitter”. The doctor replied: “I’m sorry, I don’t follow you”.

At a political meeting I met a young women. I asked her her name. “Chantelle”, she said. I said “Go on”.

And finally, a joke I’ve told on this blog before: A man goes into the Lib Dem bookshop and asks the assistant: “Can I have a copy of your manifesto?”. “Sorry, we’ve sold out”. “I know that, but can I have a copy of your manifesto?”.

Some of my favourite things about politics in Brighton and Hove

The Greens: Thank goodness we live in a city that has the variety of politics and an openness to new ideas that allows a party like the Greens to thrive and enjoy electoral success. As a tribal Labour loyalist who voted Labour in May, I can’t imagine how very boring politics would be if we were still locked in a two-party dog fight, year in, year out. The Greens are forcing Labour and the Tories to rethink their strategy and policies, and (who knows when) both the old parties may just one day change for the better!

Warren Morgan: Warren will hate to be included in this list but he represents the fighting spirit that remains in parts of the local Labour Party. I can rely on Warren to spill his Sugar Puffs each time I post my latest take on the Greens. For him, it is the Evil Princess and All Her Works (i.e. Caroline Lucas) that personifies everything that is wrong with Brighton politics. Without the likes of Warren, Labour’s decline would be almost terminal.

The Young Tories: Rob Buckwell, Michael Ireland, Mike MacFarlane, George Dore, Kerry Underhill, Robert Nemeth and the incomparable Momma Grizzly, Rachael Bates. The Tory Party needs ‘modernising’ but not in the Blair/Cameron sense (which are no more than a cover for the worst traditions of paternalistic old-fashion politics). This new breed of young Tories will help the Tories break with their past and will challenge Blue Labour, sometimes from the left. Momma Grizzly is an enigma: a right wing, anti-monarchist, pro-Palin, capitalist. Other than her anti-monarchist tendencies, she represents much of what I oppose, but at least she has a sense of humour and passion, but that could make her all the more dangerous.

Community Gardeners: These groups represent the free spirit of campaigning that has long existed in Brightn and Hove. They are bottom up campaigners that genuinely ‘shape place’ to use the jargon of the City Council. Co-operative and communal, they bring forward a model of how things can improve, without consultants and council officers.

Christopher Hawtree: Chris is the latest in a long line of characters that have graced and enriched the political scene in Brighton and Hove over many years: Dennis Hobden, Ruth Larkin, Doreen Radford (the lady who it is said wore a new hat at every Council meeting), Richard Stanton, Sheila Hall, etc. Christopher’s election sent greater shockwaves around senior officers of the Council more than any other result on the night. It is said his election sent shockwaves around the Green Party as well!

The Blogosphere and Twiteratti: My life was sad, lacking in focus, days passing into weeks and weeks into years. I am the shy, retiring type. But then I discovered a whole new world and made loads of new friends: The Ghost, Zombie, Doris Day (she never returns my calls), Baron Pepperpot, Momma Grizzly, Rosa’s Lovely Daughter, Dr Faust, etc. Social media has enriched the political world locally, although no party has yet worked out how to make the most of it. When one party fully utilises Twitter, they can expect to reap electoral success.

The future: I don’t mean the young Tories (see above) or even the impressive young activists in Labour (Harris Fitch, Clare Calder, etc.) or in the Greens (Luke Walter, Allie Cannell, Alex Phillips, etc.) but those who active in their early and mid teens, such as Pearl Ahrens. With committed young activists like her, we can take courage for the future health of the political process.

Tory young guns firing bullets of indignation

I am not a small-state, socially liberal and fiscally conservative kind of guy. That may come as a surprise to some of you Eco-Marxist, Commie (credit for those labels to Chuck Vere and Paul Perrin – that would be a marriage made Hell) fanatics who have infiltrated the Green Party. I have a problem. I like Michael Ireland, one of the young breed of Tory candidates who stood and fell last Thursday. But Michael describes himself as a “small-state, socially liberal and fiscally conservative kind of guy.” I imagine it’s just a phase he’s going through.

The young Tories had such high hopes only to see each one fall to the Greens or, in the case of Michael, to Labour’s Brian Fitch, and Kerry Underhill also to Labour. Rachael Bates, George Dore, Mike McFarland (the guy lucky enough to leave his toothbrush next to George’s), Robert Nemeth, and Adam Love were beaten by Green opponents.

Young candidates from other parties fared no better with Labour’s Clare Calder, Tom French and Harris Fitch, the Greens’ Luke Walter and Allie Cannell, and the Lib Dems Rebecca Taylor, Tallulah Frankland and Larissa Rowe all lost. In fact no new young councillors were elected, and there remains just one councillor under the age of 30, the Greens’ Alex Phillps.

The young Conservatives are not a happy bunch. Last night I posted comments from a Tory Party member regarding the young Conservatives. Today I have been bombarded by these said Tories denouncing each other as if one of them is my informant. At no point did I intimate that my correspondent was one of their number. But look at how they turn against each other:

Michael Ireland: “I was shocked to see this post after having just cleaned my teeth this morning. Whilst the anonymous poster might have provided a fascinating observation for the blog, their comments, whilst ostensibly representing our group, are merely their own opinion.”

Robert Nemeth: “I’ve never posted on here before but it has been drawn to my attention that it may well be assumed that I am your cowardly friend. As I am neither cowardly nor your friend, I would very much like to distance myself from public attacks on colleagues. There is no real group of young Conservatives as such but, if there were and it did have a spokesman, that person would not be such a sneak. Hopefully it is nobody that I know. For the record, I am dead impressed by the Greens’ organisational skills. I doubt that they managed to get in such a position by sneaking around on blogs.”

Rob Buckley: “Your informer, whoever they may be, does not speak for the entire younger generation within the local Conservative Party. I know some of his/her assertions to be inaccurate. This highlights the problem with hiding cowardly behind anonymity.”

And finally, Momma Grizzly: “I entirely agree with Rob Buckwell. Whoever your ‘informant’ is should have the guts to come out from behind the veil of anonymity if they are to say such comments. They certainly do not speak for all of the younger Conservatives and I’m not impressed that this person who has chosen to remain anonymous has taken it upon themselves to say that they represent our views.”

Labour activists reacted with similar indignation when one of their numbers passed on views which were then passed on to this Blogger. Anonymity is something that you may have to get used to. But there are some fascinating insights that I won’t share, which is a shame. For example, today I received a great email from a Labour activist from Hove who asked me to keep his/her comments ‘off line’, a request which I will respect.

But do keep the comments coming, email to brightonpoliticsblogger@googlemail.com and indicate whether I can use them. Alternatively, Direct Message me through Twitter @BrightonPolitic, or simply leave a comment on this blog.

The Good, the Bad and the Also Rans

Pete Gillman, one of Labour’s candidates in St Peters and North Laine, writes: “Anyone else got canvassing injuries ? Sunburn, sore heels , repetitive Q and A syndrome ? I have loved campaigning and the Queens Park blitz for Labour on Monday was fun and effective. It will feel strange when all this is over.”

Pete is a great example of a hardworking candidate who has little (although not no) chance of winning next Thursday. For Pete it will be strange when it is all over. For the rest of us it is a shame that he (and many like him) will no longer be active on the doorstep after next week. One of the down sides of our system of government is that there is no place for defeated candidates. For Pete is a man of integrity who is willing to work hard, but who gets little thanks and almost no recognition.

There are many Pete Gillmans in all parties, working their socks off but won’t be amongst the 54 elected ones next Friday. Amongst their numbers I include Christopher Hawtree, Anthea Ballam, Rob Buckwell, Mohammed Asaduzzaman, Rebecca Taylor, Lis Telcs, Tracey Hill, and Momma Grizzly herself, Rachael Emma Bates. I realise that this is damning with faint praise, and will not be well received by the names Good ‘uns who will be fighting all the way hoping to pull off surprise victories next week.

Then there are the Bad. There are at least two candidates – I cannot say which party or which ward – who are on the unpleasant side of dodgy. Fortunately these two are unlikely to be elected, although their party holds out that they could yet be triumphant. If they were to be elected they would, in a short period of time, bring not just their party, but the City Council, into disrepute. All parties should look at the private business activities and vested interests of their potential candidates and councillors.

And finally, the Also Rans who count amongst their numbers David Watkins, the veteran Gerald O’Brien, and Harris Fitch (red rag to this bull – how long will it be before he comments that it’s still all to play for in Rottingdean Coastal?).

Other than ‘the Bad’, best wishes to all candidates. Even if you are a paper candidate, or someone who will be disappointed at the count, our collective thanks to all of you who are putting themselves out to make democracy work.