Drawing up the battle lines in Brighton, Hove, Lewes, Ditchling, St John (Without) ……….

The lunatic redrawing of constituency boundaries has provoked much comment. Mike Weatherley has, not surprisingly, welcomed the new arrangements. He would, wouldn’t he, as the new Brighton and Hove North constituency is more winnable against a Green campaign that the current Hove constituency. Gone from Brighton and Hove North are the new Green wards of Goldsmid, Brunswick & Adelaide, and the half Green ward of Central Hove, and the arrival of Regency into the Hove constituency has been avoided.

Caroline Lucas will be laughing all the way to her landslide victory in 2015 with a constituency that currently has all Green councillors less Andrew Wealls in Central Hove.

It has been suggested that, contrary to what I said yesterday – that the new boundaries have been designed to contain the Greens – the new boundaries have been proposed in order to minimise the number of both Labour and Lib Dem MP’s. In Brighton and Hove the prospect of seeing a Labour MP elected for the next 25 years is near zero.

And on the matter of Labour, Simon Burgess has announced, through a comment on this blog, that he will not be seeking election in 2015. Perhaps with the proposed boundary changes he felt that he would be on a hiding to nothing. He would be right, but I personally hope that he seeks election, once again, to the City Council.

So who might Labour field in Brighton and Hove? The Brighton Kemp Town with Lewes and all stations to Ditchling constituency could be a fight between Stormin’ Norman (a Lib Dem enabler of the Tories) and Simon Kirby (occasional rebel Tory). What a choice! Could Labour secure enough votes to slip through the middle in a three way contest? Not if their performance in Lewes in recent years is anything to go by. The Greens? Not in 2015 but if they secure support from disillusioned Labour and, more to the point, mightily pissed off Lib Dem supporters, they could put up a challenge in 2015 and lay the foundations for 2020.

In Brighton Pavilion and Hove, Labour is likely to field someone who dances to the tune of Tom Lehrer’s Masochism Tango. Caroline Lucas is likely to be returned with one of the largest majorities in the Commons. Labour might struggle to hold its deposit.

In Brighton and Hove North, with Simon Burgess out of consideration in spite of a dedicated Facebook page and talk, as recently as Sunday, that the party machinery was lining him up for the candidacy, the way is left open for Dr Peter Kyle, a favourite of the national leadership and deputy chief executive of the chief executive’s organisation, Acevo. Dr Kyle has begun commenting on this blog which says he is either very discerning or perhaps a bit desperate!

I suspect that the candidate most likely to mount the most effective campaign against Mike Weatherley will be a Green. It will be less likely that this will be a Green gain than before, but after the High Noon Showdown between Kirby and Baker, it will be the most interesting fight in Sussex. Having been one of the most interesting elections in the country, the Brighton Pavilion election result in 2015 will be the most predictable in the country.

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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.

I’m hoping that the Greens have chosen their new Brighton and Hove Cabinet wisely

The new Green Cabinet in Brighton and Hove contained a number of surprises – the number of newly elected councillors who have Cabinet positions. Of course, with so many new councillors, and just nine re-elected ones, at least one newly elected Green member had to end up in the Cabinet of ten.

But the appointment of so many new councillors creates extra responsibility and increased demands on those without prior Council experience. Some, like the Sussex Square, Geoffrey Bowden, has taken to his new role like a duck to water. His prior experience in a government quango will have helped. Others, though, are having to make the adjustment to being an elected councillor, becoming a Cabinet member and learning a new brief, all at the same time. Most newly elected councillors, no matter how lowly they are in the pecking order, especially in an authority like Brighton and Hove, are overwhelmed by the demands placed one them. To become a Cabinet holder is a huge ask.

Those Green councillors who have taken on Cabinet experience have not been appointed based on experience or competence by the Leader of the Council. No, they have been elected into each position by the entire Group. While that may be good for democracy within the Group and the Green Party, it could have resulted in appointment being made that might not otherwise have been made, with others, currently more experienced and possible more able, remaining on the back benches. I am not thinking of any particular Cabinet member. But for the well being of Brighton and Hove, I hope the Greens have got ALL appointments right. There is no time to learn the job on the go. The City can’t afford mistakes.

I anticipate that there will be one, if not two, resignations from the Cabinet within the first year as individuals realise what the brief entails and what time commitment is required. Whatever you may think of the last two administrations, individuals like Mary Mears, Maria Caulfield and Ayas Fallon-Khan (all Tories), and Simon Burgess and Sue John (Labour) worked every hour of the day and night fulfilling the demands of their portfolios. They may not always have got it right but nobody should negate their commitment and service to the City. I hope in a years time I can say the same thing for the ten Green Cabinet members who will need to make huge personal sacrifices while coming under close scrutiny and, in all likelihood, gleeful criticism. I wish each and everyone the best of luck. The City needs you to be successful.

Announcing the outstanding candidate, with youth and good looks, for Hove 2015

From the reaction to yesterday’s post, it appears that the campaign in Hove in 2015 is already capturing the imagination. There is speculation about the Labour candidate, the advantage of women candidates, and the merits of experience over youth.

Councillor Christopher Hawtree agrees that Hove is an interesting prospect: “The subject of the Hove constituency is certainly more galvanising than a gathering of the Strategic Partnership. A point not made by the blogger is that, very winnable, Hove could attract the attention of candidates from elsewhere. Meanwhile, in studying it, I think I have found the key factor in a close-run Election, but am hardly going to say so here.”

Clive agrees that Mike Weatherley could be vulnerable: “1800 majority and 37% of the vote does not equal hard to shift, unless Argentina invade the Falklands again. It is very easy to exaggarate the effect of an individual MP’s efforts at social work.” Perhaps so, Clive, but Mike has already impressed with his careful nurturing of the constituency and he has a populist appeal.

So what can councillor Chris have discovered? He is right that Hove, as a winnable seat could attract candidates from beyond the city. If Labour or the Greens did so, it would be a mistake. There is much speculation that Labour is looking to Simon Burgess.

Luke Walter (who rumour has it may have Green leanings), writes of the likely Labour candidate: “For once, I agree with Zombie, a female candidate would stand a much better chance for Labour. However, given that the Kemptown seat is an all-woman shortlist (AWS) and Hove isn’t, Burgess only has one option (unless he can persuade the NEC to keep Pavilion open to all, though, I doubt he wants to stand there). Therefore, Hove it will be for Mr. Burgess unless the local party opts for someone else. Given Warren Morgan’s own friendship with Burgess and the East Brighton grip over Labour’s constituency parties in the city, I imagine the local Labour selection for Hove will be without a credible challenge to Burgess.”

But some feel that a different brand of candidate should be chosen. I suggested female and young in the case of the Greens. Likewise, Zombie proposes female and young for Labour: “A Green candidate in place now (probably Alex Phillips) could start to build a challenge. This could become momentum given a fair wind from B & H council’s activities or the kiss of death. Labour can help the Greens by selecting someone mediocre from outside the area, or can select someone with potential like the Benn girl who stood in Shoreham in 2010 or perhaps Clare Calder. Leaving selection late will help the Green challenger. In any event the Green Alex Phillips lookalike will need to show she is best placed to challenge Weatherly well beforehand for the Lab vote to evaporate.”

Zombie urges Labour not to waste time: “Labour would do well to select their Alex Phillips now and establish their own campaigning radical credentials. They might then squash the Green Alex as the clear non-Tory alternative.”

Finally, it appears that I am getting under Clive’s skin. He writes: “I do find the blogger’s repetitive promotion of a select few annoying, because it seems to be based on so little in the way of substance.” But Clive, I am totally devoid of substance! But give me some credit – I say it as I see it, and I am not often wrong. I predicted Alex Phillips’ Goldsmid by-election victory when others did not, I called Brighton Pavilion correctly, and I was within a seat for both Labour and the Greens this May. I also said that my friend Warren Morgan would romp home and that Brian Fitch would regain his seat. You are right, Clive, I concentrate on the select few.

But I do agree with Clive on his final point: “There is a wider, national malaise in our politics too, in the elevation of (relative) youth and (relative) good looks above substance.”

So to add to this national malaise, there is just one person who has the youth and good looks necessary to beat Mike Weatherley. Yes, it is your ever so humble Blogger.

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.

Jeane Lepper and Dawn Barnett, two councillors who will stick in there like chewing gum on you shoe

Councillor Sven Rufus is normally a wise owl. As a seasoned campaigner he downplays the prospects of his party, the Greens, doing particularly well in Hollingdean and Stanmer where he is a candidate. But he just doesn’t get the Jeane Effect!  He writes: “I’m ever grateful for your certainty it will be a good result for the Greens – but I do disagree with you about why we won’t/can’t take the third seat. You constantly tell us that there is a strong personal vote for Jeane Lepper, and that will carry her across the line. I wonder what you base that on?”  The Ghost of Nobby Clarke plays down the importance of a personal vote: “Personal votes didn’t help Messrs Bodfish & Burgess 4 years ago did it in Queens Park?”.

Tonight I will explore the concept of a personal vote.  Where you have a councillor who is diligent in their case work, and who has been around for many years, as in the case of Jeane Lepper, constituents will vote for the person rather than the party.  Jeane will have helped many hundreds of residents of Hollingdean and Stanmer with what some activists might dismiss as pavement politics. Where there has been a noisy neighbour, Jeane will have intervened.  When someone’s son or daughter, or grandson or granddaughter, has not got into the school of their choice, Jeane will have written a letter, even represented them at an appeal. She will have lobbied on planning applications, helped with housing applications, even raised issues about dog shit and bent lamp posts.  For individual residents, these issues matter, and as an effective councillor (as opposed to high profile) she will have made a difference to the lives on several hundred individual households. 

It is that history and record, to answer the Wise Owl’s question, is what I base my forecast on. The Lepper name, too, will help enormously, since David Lepper was an exceptionally diligent constituency MP.  He may not have set Westminster alight, unlike his successor, Caroline Lucas, but he was (is) well known and highly respected by ordinary constituents.

So what about Queens Park? Why did the personal vote not save Ken Bodfish and Simon Burgess.  The answer is simple.  They represented an administration that had become arrogant and detached from the lives of ordinary people.  They were seen to have been associated with, even responsible for, many ill-fated initiatives from the mayoral campaign, schools admissions, and the Council house debacle. Their prominence as the successive leaders of the Council over-shadowed anything they may have done as ward councillors.  Other leading politicians have not neglected their own constituents (I don’t think Simon did).  Other good examples are Mary Mears, Maria Caulfield and Bill Randall who work conscientiously on case work and who come across with humility and not the arrogance that characterised (perhaps unfairly some might say) the Queens Park Mafia.

Steve Bassam was another who knew where his base lay.  An exceptional case worker, he may have become a very divisive figure in the town and within Labour, but he never came anywhere near losing his power base in Tenantry Ward even though it was, I understand, the heartland of Militant.  If  Hangleton and Knoll returns to Labour, it won’t be a clean sweep.  Dawn Barnett, who knows every household down to the name of their late and much missed pet dog, will stick in there like chewing gum on your shoe.  Labour will just not be able to get rid of her, and the Greens will not be able to get rid of Jeane Lepper.

Who else, current or former councillors, would you say is/was a great ward councillor whose personal votes would see them through, thick or thin?

You think Moulsecoomb and Bevendean could go Tory, or Labour, even Green, in May’s local elections

Last night’s prediction that the Conservatives may win all three seats in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean has prompted an interesting response. No surprise that Peter Booth, Tory candidate in East Brighton agrees with my prediction: “Completely agree with your assessment in Moulsecoomb & Bevendean. Maria is a hard-working and popular Councillor and is joined in this campaign by Ayas Fallon-Khan who has gained a solid reputation on Council – and predict all 3 Conservatives will win through.”  Baron Pepperpot (flattery will get you nowhere with me!) couldn’t disagree more: “three Tories in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean? At a time when the cuts will start to bite?”

Allie Cannell makes a prediction that I don’t see as likely: “I’m predicting the Greens will get a seat in M&S. There are over 2,000 students just living in University residences there.   Thats not even counting all the students living in private accomodation.”  The problem with that view is that students are not that likely to turn out in large volumes in a Kemptown seat, even for Green candidates in a local election.  If I am wrong, then all bets are off regarding the final make-up of the Council.  3 Green candidates in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean would suggest major gains by the Greens across the city.  Allie is not alone, Christopher Hawtree is predicting that “the Greens could do well in Moulescoomb.”

Kelvin Poplett, another East Brighton Conservative, says: “Surprisingly- I wholeheartedly agree with Peter Booth. From our time spent knocking on the doors in traditional Labour areas, we are finding Conservatives everywhere. Through sheer hard work we may just surprise you.”  You would surprise me if you found enough Tory votes to unseat Mitchell, Turton and Morgan. Peter Booth says that the Tories in East Brighton “are David against Goliath – Yes we oppose your particular favourite (and that favouritism does shine through in your blog) but do not under-estimate the campaign of East Brighton Conservatives – who are all in this campaign – fighting for every vote until 10pm on 5th May, and who may just surprise you and your friend Mr Morgan. There are no no-go areas in East Brighton for EB Conservatives!”  I have no favourites (other than Green Amy but she never writes, never calls – thanks to Dan Wilson for that line).

The Ghost of Nobby Clarke asks: “Is Mr Morgan rattled I wonder!, This ward has never been worked by the tories has it Peter?”.  Actually, that’s not true and it did go Tory in the early 1990s when it was Marine Ward.

My “favourite” Warren Morgan, draws attention to the fall-out in 2007 from the stock transfer issue that so damaged Labour: “Woodingdean looks pretty safe for the Tories based on the 2007 results, but interestingly the ward was split three ways at the GE count with the Lib Dem matching Simons Burgess and Kirby.  The traditionally strong Labour vote in Woodingdean (we did win a seat there in the 90s) was artificially depressed there in 2007 by the stock transfer vote fallout, as it was in Portslade, Moulsecoomb and Queens Park. Geoff is busy being mayor and Dee is busy with Cabinet duties which may explain DAPs comment above. We’ve selected some keen, new candidates both there and in Rottingdean Coastal, all hopeful of putting up a good campaign and earning safer seats next time (as BPB said in an earlier post). And complacency is a stealthy enemy in politics, as some of my colleagues found out last time.  Don’t forget in Moulsecoomb & Bevendean that the Respect candidate Dave Bangs scored over 300 votes last time (equivalent to a constituency wide Respect/Socialist vote at a GE) capitalising on the stock transfer issue, and with what he portrayed as the endorsement of two retiring councillors. And yes, the students will be a factor, particularly if they vote tactically for Labour rather than the Greens who are not in contention in M&B.”

Clive points to another issue that damaged Labour in 2007: “Another elephant that is no longer in the room is the King Alfred. Last time, this surely helped the Tories in Westbourne, Central Hove and (to a lesser extent) Goldsmid.”  He also points out the state of the parties in national polls: “the national opinion polls in April 2007 – just before the last local elections – were, taking a rough average of all taken: Conservative 37, Labour 31, LD 19. Therefore it’s hard not to conceive of Labour enjoying some kind of general uplift given that they are now polling around ten points ahead of that.”  The counter argument to that, Clive, at least in Brighton Pavilion, is the Caroline Effect and how that constituency should be seen apart from the national position.

The good Baron agrees with my assessment for Queens Park where he lives, that “it’s too close to call, but I’m not sure you’re right about which Labour candidate would be returned in the event of a split vote.”

Finally, a couple of comments have been left on this blog earlier today which are not in the spirit of debate and friendly provocation.  I haven’t approved one as it may contain a libel or two, and I have removed another offending reference in another.  Please keep to the spirit of the blog.  I really don’t want to have to moderate comments left.