Where will Lib Dem votes go in Brighton and Hove?

As the Lib Dems drop into single figures in more and more opinion polls, the big question is “Where will Lib Dem votes go in Brighton and Hove?”.  It is true to say that there are not that many in the first place, but their distribution could make all the difference in certain key seats.  Experience on the doorstep throughout the city, reported by Green and Labour activists alike, is that former Lib Dem voters are not keen to be reminded of their Lib Dem past.

Nationally, it is said that Nick Clegg is giving the veil of respectability to David Cameron, and Simon Hughes continues to give the veil of respectability to Nick Clegg.  No such problem locally.  There may, ironically, be a chance that the Lib Dem vote won’t drop too badly throughout the City, not because the vote is holding firm, but it could become the ‘conscience’ vote for Tories who know that a Lib Dem vote will not hurt their first choice, the Tories, as much as a vote for Labour or Green. 

But traditional Lib Dem voters continue to desert that party in droves.  In a comment in response to an earlier post on this blog, ‘Clive’ says: “My membership card went into the shredder several months ago and I will not be voting for the party”.  He warns activists not to underestimate the Liberal tradition: “The Welfare State and old age pensions were essentially Liberal creations for a start. More recently the Liberals/Lib Dems has promoted advanced positions – way ahead of public opinion – on matters such as gay rights and abortion”.  One challenge for Labour and the Greens is to articulate a vision equal to that of the Welfare State for the 21st century.

I suspect that Labour will not benefit as much as the Greens from former Lib Dem votes this time round since Labour comes across locally as still being bitter about their humiliations at the last general and local elections.  The Greens, on the other hand, come across as positive and bright.  That perception is not altogether fair.  Labour has a number of bright and enthusiastic young activists and candidates, not least Tom French, standing in Queen’s Park, and Dan Wilson in Regency.

I expect the Tory vote to slump in Brunswick and Adelaide, with Tories shifting their support (as the did in Oldham and Saddleworth) to the Lib Dems.  Paul Elgood is active and has a personal vote.  That may yet save him, but at least one seat will go to the Greens.  Labour doesn’t stand a chance in Brunswick and Adelaide.  To change that position the Party has to select candidates, not just in B&A but, so I am advised, in three other Hove seats.  Doesn’t that say it all about the state of Labour?

Labour is showing signs of life in Brighton but will still be the big losers in May

I have been delighted by the debate recent posts have provoked.  Clearly the local elections have begun to catch the imagination of activists.  This is understandable since interesting results are likely in individual wards and for the City Council as a whole.  But I have to say some predictions are well off the mark.

For example, Christopher Hawtree deserves an award for Hopeless Romantic of the Year in thinking he has a chance of unseating Mary Mears in Rottingdean.  Hell will freeze over before the Tories lose Rottingdean, and Mary is well respected amongst many voters.  I know that is hard for Labour and Green activists to swallow, but it is the reality.  She has not been guilty of the arrogance that epitomised the defeated Labour leaders last time out.   

Allie Cannell says that the Tories should not be complacent.  They haven’t been which is why they will do reasonably well in May.  They will lose seats and control of the Council.  While councillor Mears and her colleagues will be making some unpopular decisions in the budget, she has ensured that her core support is in place and the Tories will retain all their seats in their safe wards, and have a very good chance of beating Labour in its heartland of Moulsecoomb and Bevendean.

The keen fight between Labour and the Greens shows no sign of cooling.  I have called on both parties to focus on the Tories when they seem to regard each other as the real enemy.  However, when it comes to the election itself, I disagree with Steampunk who questions why Dan Wilson and Tom French are standing against the Greens in Regency and Queen’s Park wards respectively.  Elections are elections and each party must be free to field candidates against each other.  In spite of Dan’s regular criticism of my blog, I am an admirer of him, as well as of  Tom French.  I am sorry that they are standing in Regency and Queen’s Park, not because they are standing against the Greens, but because neither are likely to be elected.  I would have preferred to see both these very able activists to stand where they will be elected.  Both have an outside chance of being elected, but the smart money is on the Greens in both wards.

Finally, AJM predicts the Greens will lose Queen’s Park, Preston Park, Hollingdean and Stanmer, and Goldsmid. These are four of the most interesting wards, it has to be said, but to point to the Green’s performance in Oldham and Saddleworth is not relevant.  Brighton (and Hove) is not Oldham.  Caroline Lucas’s election continues the momentum, the Big Mo, for the Greens locally.  The mobilisation last weekend shows the Greens still have it.  I am still of the view that the Greens will do best in May, but will not form a majority.  Labour is showing signs of life, but the question remains whether it can mobilise sufficient numbers and offer a credible vision for the City.  They might do better than I have previously predicted, but they will still be the big losers in May.

Why the Greens are likely to get the better of Labour in May’s local elections in Brighton and Hove

I’m always amused by the reaction some of my posts receive.  If I criticise the Greens, I can anticipate righteous indignation from Green activists from far and wide. If, as I did yesterday, criticise Labour (on this occasion for lacking a vision for Brighton) I am accused of being a Green supporter.

Anyone who regularly reads this blog will know I dish it out to both Labour and the Greens.  I accept that it is not necessarily in equal measure, and that I have been more critical of Labour than the Greens.  I do this because I think Labour deserves it more. But that doesn’t make me a Green.  I hope that I might be seen as a critical friend of both Labour and the Greens.

Many in Brighton and Hove who see themselves as being on the left of British politics, are in a privileged position of having choice when casting their vote.  In many parts of the City a Green vote is certainly not a wasted vote.  Neither is a Labour vote.  Labour activists are mistaken to point to Oldham East and Saddleworth as evidence of the Greens in decline.  They are equally wrong to say that the result across the City last May point to Labour coming fourth and therefore Labour is the challenger to the Tories in May.  In Brighton Kemptown and Hove, many Green supporters will have voted Labour (as I encouraged in this blog).  In local elections voters are more willing to vote for less traditional parties, such as the Greens.

In Brighton Pavilion, voters will have far greater confidence to vote Green given the result last May.  Labour did some damage to itself by saying that Caroline Lucas had no chance of winning.  Voters will be less inclined to believe scare tactics in future.

When I criticise Labour it is not because I am anti-Labour or pro-Green.  I offer constructive criticism.  Labour needs to articulate a vision for the City so that a floating voter of the left, like me, can decide how to vote.  I will cast my votes based on three considerations:

1. Which of Labour or the Greens is articulating the better vision for the City, and which party’s policies do I prefer. (In this regard, the Greens are winning.  Labour must get its act together to make the choice a bit tougher)

2. Which candidates (there will be two or three fielded by each party in each ward) are most likely to beat the Tories.  Both Labour and Greens should take care not to make unfounded claims (see my blog Labour more guilty than the Greens of misleading the voters of Brighton Pavilion of 9th May 2010).

3. How impressive the individual candidates are (rather there are certain individuals I would be reluctant to vote for as I wouldn’t want to see them elected as a councillor).

In some seats voters will have a proper choice between Labour and the Greens (Goldsmid, Preston Park, Queen’s Park, Hollingdean and Stanmer, possibly Regency although Jason Kitcat will poll very well). As things stand, the Greens don’t have the edge, they have a sizeable gap.  I’m not sure whether Labour is capable of bridging that gap at present.