State of the City – Labour

Good and bad things come in threes, so they say. Before my summer sojourn, there was a report entitled ‘State of the City’ prepared by the City Council, loaded with facts and figures. It is well worth a read. Then there was a debate, ‘State of the City’, organised by the other BHCC, the Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce, with speakers including Bill Randall, Simon Fanshawe and Roger French.

And now I present the Brighton Politics ‘State of the City’ a review of the political fortunes.

Before I went away I rather tongue in cheek suggested that the top politicians in the City were John Barradell and the Fab Four Super Directors for surviving the change in administration. And still they remain in post and likely to remain so. Here is what I really think.

Starting today with Labour, I have been impressed, as always, with the leadership and determination displayed by the East End ‘Family’. Gill Mitchell has held the group together as they have morphed from being the Labour Group to becoming the Labour and Co-operative Group. Warren Morgan and Craig Turton continue with their best Mitchell Brothers impression, and I for one am determined not to get on the wrong side of them.

Some of the newly elected councillors, not least those in Hove, (Penny Gilbey and Anne Pissadirou), have shown early promise, Penny following in the footsteps of her father, the late George Humphrey, and Anne active in Wish Ward. (She will have to work consistently hard as Wish is now seen as a natural Green target in 2015). A Labour activist that continues to impress is Caroline Penn, on Twitter as @ThePennyDrops – worth following.

But what Labour needs to do locally (because Ed Milliband isn’t doing it for them nationally) is capture the imagination of the people of Brighton and Hove. Labour needs a ‘Big Idea’ that will be seen to be transformational for the City.

Before the local elections, Warren Morgan kept emphasising that Labour was gaining in wards across the City. They may have polled well overall, but they were still a million miles away from forming an administration. If their Big Idea is to wait for the Greens to screw up, they will remain out of power of another decade or more. The Tories are as likely to benefit from a loss of support for the Greens than Labour is.

But the problem for Labour is that it has, since the time of Kinnock, looked almost exclusively to its leader for salvation. But politics has moved on and the electorate are looking for something new, and it isn’t whether Ed or brother David is the one to lead Labour into the next election. Can Labour move beyond the internecine squabbles of recent years? I doubt it in the short term.

What can Labour do that will turn the party’s fortunes around? Perhaps it needs to build a mass base, at it had in the 1980’s before the Kinnockites took over the asylum. Slowly and surely, the life blood was drained from the party. The Party could do worse than engaging once again with those who brought it success, left and right alike – Joyce Edmond Smith, Richard Stanton, Steve Bassam, Gill Sweeting, Andy Winter, etc. Their campaigning ability, their ability to engage with the electorate, is what the Party needs right now.

But there remain elements within the Labour Party that sees activists as a threat. It is fine to have ‘dependable’ people turning out to deliver leaflets, help with telephone banks, and occasionally knock on doors. But they shouldn’t get above and beyond themselves, and certainly should never question the leadership, locally or nationally.

Perhaps I look back on days that cannot be relived and successes that cannot be repeated. This is where I will incurr the wrath of Morgan and Turton. The Greens are the ones with the campaigning ability, the ones who have captured the imagination, and who still enjoy the Big Mo – momentum.

Labour has to decide on its parliamentary candidates in the not too distant future, and which should be all-women shortlists. Conventional wisdom has it that boundary changes will see Labour’s chances erode further in Brighton Kemptown. Brighton Pavilion will be a two-way fight between the Greens and the Tories, leaving Hove as its best chance. The Party leadership looks after its own and has ensured that Hove does not have an all-women shortlist, opening the way for Simon Burgess to become the candidate.

And here again, Labour will get it wrong. As I have always said, Simon is a decent, hard-working type who is an asset to Labour, working in a support role. There are few better. But as a candidate, in what could be a three-way marginal between Mike Weatherley, a Green (particularly a dynamic woman candidate) and Labour, he would be destined to be an also ran.

Perhaps Labour locally will need a further drubbing at the polls before it moves on and finds candidates who can match the appeal of Caroline Lucas and whoever the Greens field in Hove. I have an insight who that might be, and Labour will have little chance of matching her appeal.

Who are the best politicians in Brighton and Hove?

At present, given their electoral success, the Greens could claim to be the best politicians in Brighton and Hove. Individual Greens could be seen as having achieving remarkable things. Caroline Lucas continues to be the dominant individual, but a success for the party is the emergence of other Greens. Bill Randall has made a solid start as the Greens’ first ever leader of a local authority, and is impressing all who deal with him. In the elections themselves, Christopher Hawtree stunned all with his victory in Central Hove.

Amongst the Tories, rumour has it that Mike Weatherley is looking for a junior position in the Home Office. He has focussed much of his efforts in recent weeks on home affairs issues – Travellers, squatters, anti-social behaviour, drugs, etc. With the support and influence of Mamma Grizzly, can we expect to see armed police as a norm, even the return of capital punishment? (I have no reason to believe the Grizzly One advocates either, but I know she will always respond to any provocation!)

Labour, as the minority party in Brighton and Hove, with no MPs and few councillors, is finding it hard to be noticed. I retain some admiration for Warren Morgan and his fighting spirit. (Warren was recently photographed with sheep in Sheepcote Valley http://fb.me/BShMUeAA – Warren is the one wearing sunglasses).

Amongst the fringe activists, one has to mention My Pal Paul Perrin of UKIP. He never misses a chance to make anti-European comments, or to attack the political establishment. His latest target is payments to or expenses claimed by politicians. Perhaps he should be known as PayPal Perrin or perhaps No PayPal Paul.

But none of the above rank as the best politician. The are some individuals in the business community, Roger French from Brighton and Hove Buses, Sue Addis from Donatellos, and Mike Holland from Fingers in Many Pies, who have worked politicians of many shades to achieve their own ends. So too in the community and voluntary sector, there are several more than able politicians, who are able to bend with the prevailing wind. I think of Ian Chisnall from a church group, David Standing of Hove YMCA, Andy Winter of the Brighton Housing Trust, and Emma Daniel of the Community and Voluntary Sector Forum.

The best politicians in town, however, the five most accomplished by far, are John Barradell, the Chief Executive, and his Strategic Directors in the City Council (David Murray, Charlie Stewart, Geoff Raw and Terry Parkin). The Greens were committed to abolishing the Fab Four, but it looks as though they will survive and are going about their daily business showing not an iota of care. Such is their combined political nouce, they have made the transition from a Conservative to a Green regime as easy as moving from a starter of blue cheese and biscuits to a serving of steak, egg and chips (except, of course, on meat-free Mondays).

The seven Brightonians who I wish were councillors

This list of the seven people who I wish were councillors does not imply any criticism of the current 54 who hold elected office locally. In alphabetical order:

Dani Ahrens is one of the most principled and consistent campaigners in the City. Dani was part of the early campaign against Section 28, invading the Council Chamber and holding a banner promoting lesbian and gay equality. The then mayor, Joe Townsend, wisely allowed the meeting to proceed while Dani’s protest continued. She continues to provide a conscience for the left and she is also one of the nicest people I know. An official return to the Council Chamber would bring the highest level integrity to the Council.

Roy Brown of Bardsleys Fish and Chip Shop in Baker Street can put the world to rights and fry battered cod and chips in the space of fifteen minutes. Though he is shy and retiring, he has an opinion on every matter and doesn’t care who he might offend in criticising the local authority and councillors themselves. His commitment to the environment is genuine although his ‘No Cod Wednesday’ lasted all of five minutes. Under Roy’s leadership London Road would thrive once against.

Jean Calder is the only former councillor on this list. Jean is a tireless campaigner for the rights of women and children, and led the campaign to save St Peters Church om developers. She is a former Argus columnist whose writings were unlike anything that has appeared before or since. Jean is a first rate listener and story teller, who could bring the experiences of ordinary people into the heart of Council deliberations. A return to the Council Chamber would ensure that issues of women and children rights would not be sidedlined as they can, so often, be.

Roger French is already one of the most influential people in the City, running the bus company and chairing the Local Strategic Partnership. I am an admirer of Roger although a strong critic of his decision to charge double fares on his buses on Boxing Day – a modern day Scrooge! The reason for wanting him on the Council, apart from the City benefiting even more from his vision, is to make him democratically accountable which would be appropriate for someone with his level of influence.

Andrew Manson-Brailsford is the Church of England vicar at St George’s Church in Kemptown. Unlike many CoE clergymen, Father Andrew has a true commitment to his community. He is well liked and widely respected (although not always by the hierarchy of the Church). He has created a thriving community centre within the church. The Council would benefit from his record on regeneration.

Selma Montford has singlehandedly preserved much of the architectural heritage of Brighton. She has fought what sometimes has seemed to be a one woman campaign against the worst excesses of development. Selma has also been able to compromise and has not held up developments required for the economic prosperity of the City, but has done so without compromising her own integrity.

Isla Robertson is one of the most formidable, feisty and fearless women campaigners of her or any other generation. She has chaired the Pensioners’ Association for many years and, if she was in the Council Chamber, would ensure that the interests of pensioners, working class people and women would not be sidelined. God help any Council officer if they got in the way of Ms Robertson and her crusade to highlight inequality.

There could be many others on this list, such as Val Paynter and Val Richards, and others who have put themselves forward to serve the City but who have (yet) not been elected such as Anthea Ballam and Jo Heard. I apologise to all those who aren’t on this list … yet.

Roger French is nominated as Scrooge of the Year

I hope you all had a great Christmas. Mine was good, but am now back and ready for some blogging.

A new category for the Brighton Politics Awards 2009: Scrooge of the Year. The front runner is Roger French of Brighton and Hove Buses for increasing fares on Boxing Day, with a flat rate fare of £2.50, yet services are severely reduced.  For example, the No 50 (for Charlotte Vere and Caroline Lucas’ benefit the 50 goes from Churchill Square to Hollingdean) is running just hourly.

So reduced service and inflated prices from Scrooge of the Year, Roger French.