Labour is no closer than ever to understanding how to respond to the Greens

The Labour Party in Brighton and Hove is in an unenviable position. Its group of councillors (now officially the Labour and Co-operative Group) has made a decision not to approach the Greens about a formal coalition.

Already some party activists and councillors are already making unrealistic predictions about 2015. Rob Macey has written: “we need to set a high bar for the greens. they have got what they have always wanted but I predict that this will lance the boil and give us the opportunity, if we sort ourselves out, to take full control back next time around.”

There is no way that Labour will come anywhere near taking control next time. The next locals are likely to take place on the same day as the general election in 2015. Caroline Lucas will be re-elected with a thumping majority, with Labour coming in a distant third. (It is not just me who thinks this, but one leading member of the local Laour Party has written “With the win in Withdean as well as those in Preston Park and Hollingdean & Stanmer Caroline Lucas is now well placed to achieve a five-figure majority in 2015.”)

Labour has misled the electorate in two elections running (that only Labour could beat the Tories in Brighton Pavilion in 2010, and that only Labour could form an administration in 2011 – has Laour sacked the genius who insisted on this tosh?).

Yet Labour activists are blinded to reality. Christine Simpson has asked: “I am still not sure why their (the Greens) message was more believable than ours to many people in different parts of the city, except that they can put themselves forward as the non political party with clean green hands.” It might be the freshness of the Greens but Labour’s obsessive attacks on Caroline Lucas make the party look like bad losers, and many people are delighted that the City has produced the first Green MP. Caroline Lucas certainly hasn’t betrayed the faith people had in her and her reputation goes from strength to strength.

Labour on the other hand remains tainted by the last government. I have posted recently about the Labour Party welcoming David Milliband to Brighton – a very big mistake which no one in Labour has yet defended. Compared to the Greens, Labour appears tainted by Iraq, privatisation, university fees, etc. And now Labour activists are getting excited about Blue Labour. The Greens in Brighton and Hove will be laughing all the way to the next elections and beyond.

Labour needs to wipe the slate clean. Perhaps Gill Mitchell could apologise for Labour’s misleading statements on its election material. That would be a start. At least Labour should say now it won’t mislead the electorate in future elections. Craig Turton is one of the few Labour politicians with the necessary understanding of the situation: “I’ve said before that criticising the Greens is the political equivalent of clubbing seals and our experience on the doorstep has proved this has been the case so far as voters simply don’t believe us.”

But the immediate dilemma for Labour is how it responds to the Green administration. In private one former Labour councillor pleaded with her former colleagues regarding a coalition: “don’t take the LibDems’ role to the Green Party. Let them mess it up!” Now that sentiment is not something most people in Brighton want to hear. It is in the best interests of the City and its residents that the new administration is successful. And Labour needs to support the Greens to be successful.

This is the unenviable position for Labour councillors. If they vote against the administration (ie. with the Tories), their reputation will plunge further and they will rightly be criticised by many, including this Blogger. If they abstain on crucial votes the question will be asked “what is the point of Labour councillors” (abstaining on the budget did not help an already wounded party). And if they vote with the Greens, the Greens will get the credit because they and nor Labour are the administration.