Westbourne by-election, and the record of the Dear Leader

“I was sad to hear that Councillor Bill Randall has stepped down as Leader of Brighton and Hove City Council. I have never heard a bad word about him and I wish him well as Mayor.”

This is clearly the season of good will for these are not my words but those of the Deputy Chair (Political) of Brighton and Hove Conservatives, Robert Nemeth writing in today’s Brighton Argus.

But the Christmas spirit quickly evaporates and bad words are implied, if not said, against the Dear Leader (Randall, not Kim Jong-il). The “Greens did not hit the ground running”, decisions were taken “on the move rather than making the changes that were promised”, and that the situation has “no doubt been exacerbated by the internal squabbles”. He points to “chaos” on the issues of council tax, Falmer Stadium, and the Victoria Gardens campsite.

If that is not saying bad words against the Dear Leader, then I don’t know what is. And also, am right in thinking that history is being re-written? The Dear Leader hasn’t stood down after 6 months. He will remain the Dear Leader until the annual Council at which point he will become the Dear Mayor.

As for the Greens not hitting the ground running, my perception is that they did just that, and the approach to the budget has been quite extraordinary. By taking an open, inclusive approach to its preparation, and the invitation to Labour and Tory councillors, the opposition have been wrong footed, hence the all-out attack on the Greens by Labour’s Lord Bassam, Caroline Penn and Warren Morgan, and now Robert himself.

To suggest that there has been “chaos” is nonsense. These issues are the normal challenges that face a new (and yes, inexperienced) administration.

I don’t detect “internal squabbles”. There is debate and there are differences, but this has largely involved organisation and, to a lesser extent personalities. But such differences pale into insignificance when compared to the split between the the Hove and Pavilion Conservatives and the Kemptown Tories.

But enough of the Dear Leader, and enough of Mr Nemeth. All thoughts have turned to Christmas. Oh no they haven’t. Oh yes they have. OH NO THEY HAVEN’T!!! All thoughts are focused on Westbourne and tomorrow’s by-election.

I hear that both the Tories and Greens are pleased with their postal vote campaigns,I and that Labour and the Greens are pleased with their poster campaign. On postal votes, the Greens usually think they don’t do too well here, but they are quietly pleased with what they have achieved in Westbourne, and confidence levels are rising. But I hear from deep within the Labour camp that they are pleased with the number of promises they have secured for Nigel Jenner. The question is, how firm are these promises?

My prediction? I correctly ‘called’ the Goldsmid by-election, the Brighton Pavilion result (although I thought Chuck Vere would come second), and the number of seats the Greens would win in May (I said 22 or 23 – I didn’t see Chris Hawtree winning although he did). But this by-election is the most difficult ‘call’ because of the, likely, very low turnout. If this by-election was to take place in, say, May, I would think the Greens would win. They have the Big Mo, a candidate who lives in the ward, and in Luke Walter, the best election organiser in the City.

But the Joker in the Pack is the Tory candidate, Graham Cox. He is the equal to the Green’s Louisa Greenbaum, he is a first rate candidate. Without the other, either of these candidates would swing the result in an election as close as this.

If pushed, I would call it for Louisa Greenbaum, but it will be one of the closest results in years. I think that given the low turnout it could still go any one of three ways.

Best wishes to ALL candidates tomorrow. My respect for candidates remains, and I thank all seven of you for making democracy a reality.

(The original version of this post referred to Caroline Pegg. Her name has been corrected to Caroline Penn).

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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…).

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.

Are Labour and the Tories ‘doing politics’ better than the Greens

Momma Grizzly cares! Earlier this evening she left a message on this blog with the simple question: “Are you still alive, Baps?”

Indeed I am but from time to time I am not in a position to post. However, the last week has been interesting. Mike Weatherley has been active (well supported by Grizzly, Mike Ireland and Robert Nemeth). He has been trying to take the political initiative on anti-social behaviour, dilapidated ‘heritage’ signs in Hove, calling for the Olympic flame to come not just to Brighton but also to Hove, has called for the new Green Administration to “get tough on travellers, squatters and quasi-protesters who are vandalising parts of Brighton & Hove”, suggested greater courage in architectural issues, and called on people to give blood!

So why this activity? Well Mike has always been an active MP but he must see that the advance of the Greens into Hove as a threat to his re-election.

The Greens are not doing themselves many favours as they have fed Mr Weatherley issue after issue – protest camp in the Old Steine, invitation to demonstrators, etc. The latest is the call by Caroline Lucas to decriminalise drugs could yet be spun by Mike, although I suspect he is not a million miles away from Ms Lucas on this issue. But it is an issue that does not play well with the public.

The Greens need to ensure that they maintain the initiative otherwise they will be bashed at every turn. But the transformation from opposition into an administration is not an easy one. New portfolios need to be taken on, briefs understood, and invitation after invitation to be responded to. Time to do politics is being squeezed.

But doing politics is what the Greens need to do. It is easy to be seduced by office. But the Greens have offered a new style of engagement – openness and engagement, but already here are murmerings that some Cabinet members have become remote and communication within the council are not easy, in spite of what the Greens wish to achieve.

Labour and Tory councillors are putting themselves around and are presenting themselves as accessible to the community. This is not difficult while in opposition. One or two councillors have undertaken some publicity-catching initiatives, such as Dawn Barnett who visited travellers in her ward to give them directions to sites in wards represented by Green councillors. Dee Simpson, too, has shown some populist campaigning with the launch of a petition.

There is scope for the Greens, particularly those not in the Cabinet, to maintain the populist touch. They need to be the match for the newly liberated Tory councillors and the long liberated Labourites. The Greens should allow their non-Cabinet colleagues to have freedom to raise issues, even those for which fellow Greens are responsible.

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.

Hove set to be a three way marginal if exceptional candidates are selected

Earlier this week I speculated on the prospects of the three parties in Brighton Kemptown and Brighton Pavilion in 2015. Some correspondents have said it is hot air to speculate so far off, that there are many twists and turns between now and then: how the Green administration will fair, the state of the economy and, most importantly, the revival of the Labour Party which, according to Harris Fitch, has already begun!

Absolutely right, no serious commentator would be so foolish as to make any predictions at this stage. Since I am not a serious commentator, here is my take on Hove 2015.

Mike Weatherley, contrary to speculation, will not be approaching 70 in 2015. He is a sprightly 53 year old with the best years still ahead of him, and kept young by the bright young things around him (Michael, Robert, Grizzly). He has already built a respectable reputation and knows how to press the right buttons for key groups of constituents. He will be very difficult to shift, though impossible.

To defeat Mighty Mike will require a combination of a swing away from the Tories, a local factor or two, and a first rate candidate. An anti-Tory swing will be there unless the Tory government softens its harsh approach to public sector cuts. Inevitably, the scale of the cuts is and will impact on ordinary people and the level of anger will increase. Where that anger will be directed will depend on how Labour and the Greens perform ove the next 4 years. The consolation prize for Labour is their ability to be bit part players for the next 4 years. They can oppose both the Tories and the Greens from the side lines.

The Greens have a trickier situation. As a minority administration they will be scrutinised and criticised, whether justified or not. Already some nonsense has been written about the Green Council. Those most likely to be criticised will be the ten Cabinet members. But what the Greens have, and will continue to have going for them, is good will. Most neutrals, as well as those (like me) who can vote Labour as easily as vote Green, will continue, at worst, to give the Greens the ‘benefit of the doubt’, and more likely vote for the freshness of their ideals and approach.

So who might stand for Labour and for the Greens. The right candidate will pursued me who I might endorse. In Brighton Pavilion in 2010, there were three outstanding candidates. The Tory candidate Chuck Vere had a special something, and in spite of our occasional spats, I liked her and I think, secretly, she had a more than a little affection for me! In an other election Labour’s Nancy Platts would have stood out as an exceptional candidate and could have defied a swing against her party. But she stood in the wrong constituency at that election. For against her was the outstanding candidate of the 2010 general election, the Greens Caroline Lucas. Ms Lucas stands out as one of the top ten parliamentarians, and in particular, women parliamentarians.

In the end, after some hesitation, I supported Caroline Lucas’ candidature, and I will endorse (and I might be able to cast a vote for) the best candidate in the Hove constituency. The front runner in Hove for Labour is Simon Burgess. Simon is a nice guy, but he isn’t someone who will beat Mike Weatherley. Celia Barlow might try again, but she (like Simon) has a history of being beaten and (again like Simon) is unlikely to galvanise party members. I don’t know who in Labour locally has it, but I am willing to be persuaded.

For the Greens, there are several possible candidates. The name Hawtree has been mentioned, but winning a seat in Central Hove singlehandedly is one thing, winning a constituency is rather a different matter. Ian Davey has stood before, but lovely man though he may be, isn’t going to capture the imagination of the electorate. Forgive me Ian, but age and gender are not on your side.

Age and gender favour someone whose name has been suggested to me by several people recently, including Labour Party members, who fear that Alex Phillips might do in Hove what Caroline Lucas has achieved in Brighton Pavilion. Councillor Phillips has wisely avoided becoming a Cabinet member, allowing her the freedom to speak freely and to campaign tirelessly. She has energy, enthusiasm and ability, and the Greens would boost their prospects if they choose someone like Alex Phillips as their candidate.