Who are the 100 most influential Brightonians?

Open data guru and all-round geek good guy, Greg Hadfield, has come up with the idea of compiling a list of the top 100 most influential people in Brighton. The idea is based on a similar list of the top 1,000 most influential people in London.

Immediately someone suggested that Greg himself should be on the list. “In my dreams; in my nightmares :-)” was his almost immediate response. Putting modesty aside, Greg is increasingly influential, not least for the drive he gives to the open data initiative and most things digital. He should be on the list.

But such a list needs some qualification. Is it a list of those who are currently the most influential? If that is the case (false modesty put aside) your humble blogger will not doubt be in the top 3. If it is the most influential in the last 25 years, then (being serious for once) Steve Bassam and David Lepper would be up there as they dominated local politics and helped shape the City we live in.

Dick Knight, former Chairman and now Life President of the Albion, was instrumental in saving the local football team and creating the reality that is the Amex Community Stadium. Mushtaq Ahmed, no longer a Brightonian, helped the local cricket team win the Championship and other honours.

So far all men. Here are a few great women. Selma Montford has been the conscience of the City’s architectural heritage. Mary Mears brought about a new style of leadership to the Council, and ranks amongst the most influential politicians in local politics. Caroline Lucas has changed the face of Brighton politics, and has provided inspiration nationwide to a new style of parliamentarian. Jean Calder helped slow the slide in the Argus with her original and challenging column. The Sage of Sussex (not a woman) Adam Trimingham, has for more than 100 years graced the pages of the Argus.

Please post your suggestions here or tweet the using the hashtag #btn100

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.

Defending the Greens Record of Campaigning

I have received a robust defence from Green Amy Kennedy of the Green Party’s record in campaigning against the closure of post offices. (see “Greens have been conspicuous by their absence in any campaign to save any single [Post Office)”. She writes:

“When the Brighton & Hove PO closures were announced in October 2007, Greens cllrs were appalled to find that no less than four of the six doomed B&H sub-POs were located in our wards (Trafalgar Street in St Peter’s & North Laine, Elm Grove in Hanover & Elm Grove, and Preston Circus and Preston Road in Preston Park).

“Subsequently, Brighton & Hove Greens were the only political party locally to call a public meeting to try and hold Post Office Ltd to account (http://www.carolinelucasmep.org.uk/2007/11/28/greens-fight-post-office-closures/), which was held on 6th December 2007 at the Friends Meeting House.

“The meeting was Chaired by Peter Crowhurst (North Laine Community Association), and the panel consisted of Caroline Lucas, Selma Montford MBE, David Bull (then Conservative PPC for Brighton Pavilion) Gary Herbert (Post Office Ltd), Malcolm Butler (Postwatch – consumer watchdog), and a CWU rep (sorry, name escapes me). Invitations were also issued to local Labour MPs, but in the event this offer was not taken up.

“Green councillors also organised petitions in all the condemned B&H POs (including the two in Hove), amassing several thousand signatures, in addition to supplying free template letters for customers to send to Post Office Ltd, Postwatch, and their respective MPs. We sent the original petitions to Hazel Blears MP (then CLG minister), and forwarded copies to PO Ltd and Postwatch.

“Needless to say, the axe fell regardless, thanks to the Labour government’s relentless drive to introduce “efficiency” into public services, regardless of the (not necessarily intangible) cost to communities. I have to say it was pretty ironic watching Nancy Platts running around trying to “save the Post Offices” when (if I recall correctly) both David Lepper and Des Turner voted for the proposals to close the B&H sub-POs, and hundreds like them across the country.

“We are still working to try and progress an “Essex model” at local authority level, so watch this space. And we have and will continue to picket with the CWU. So it’s not fair really to suggest that Greens aren’t doing anything to protect post offices and public mail services”.

Thanks, Green Amy. I stand corrected regarding the campaigning of the Greens.

She is right about the role of the Labour government in driving through post office closures. It truly is the Labour version of the Poll Tax. And given reference to the Poll Tax, now that was a real campaign. Not only did we ultimately get the Poll Tax thrown out, we brought down Margaret Thatcher.

Notwithstanding the activities of the Greens, Nancy Platts and others, post offices closed, remain closed and is unlikely to be a massive part of the general election. The campaign has not been successful.