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.

Doorstep Brighton 13: Ghosts, Spectres and the Grudges of Christopher Hawtree

Christopher Hawtree has raised the spectre of the ‘Simon Fanshawe Problem’, as he describes it. He asks what happens if there is a hung Council after the local elections. Would Simon become the King, or Queen, Maker?

‘Steampunk’ asks whether the “trepidation of Fanshawe’s ‘domineering approach’ imply that, given a close result in May, there will need to be some rough and tumble between the sheets (besides behind smoke filled doors) to determine who comes out on top? How much slack does Mr Big need exactly? I can’t speak for Simon Fanshawe but I can’t imagine Bill Randall will be thrilled at this prospect.”

If this was to happen there are many elder statesmen and women locally who could be an honest broker if talks were collapsing, although I think that Mary Mears and Bill Randall could work it out together. It wouldn’t be pretty, but they both have the best interest of Brighton at heart in spite of their obvious political differences.

The Ghost of Nobby Clarke suggests that Celia Barlow might be standing in Central Hove. Chris Hawtree says that this “must surely stem from her being seen by the Brighton Political Satellite’s cameras as she waited on Church Road to go into the selection meeting the other Saturday.”

Chris Hawtree suggests that “the LibDems are so desperate that Paul Elgood is trying to lead Argus readers into thinking that Brian Stone is already a Councillor. Beneath the letter in which he tries to get in on the great border/North Dakota debate, he puts ‘Couns Paul Elgood and Brian Stone’.” He says that the campaign in Brunswick and Adelaide is “getting dirty”, but ‘Andy’ says that “if politics is getting dirty it is only because Hawtree makes it so. His grudges are legendary – Sue John, Ken Bodfish, Mary Mears and most famously his duel with the clown David Smith.” Not so, says Hawtree: “I do not have grudges. Life is too short to waste on such things. Banter is another matter. Sue John and Ken Bodfish came to dinner, and it was a jolly time.”

Luke Walter says that the Green slate was completed in January, “probably the first and only party in the city to do so”. I have been quite critical of Labour for not having candidates in all seats in place months ago. I reserve the same judgement for the Greens. This election has been known about for ever. Candidates should have been identified months and months ago. Immediately after the general election the Greens should have selected all it’s candidates as well as having a recruitment drive on an unprecedented proportion. I realise everyone must have ben exhausted after getting Caroline elected, but a superhuman effort continues to be required if the Greens are to make the breakthrough elsewhere.

Warren Morgan says that “most Labour candidates in our target seats have been in place for over six months – many were selected before the General Election. What’s the point of the Greens selecting candidates but keeping them under wraps? Surely the whole point is for them to be out there campaigning and making themselves known? If I don’t know the Green candidates running in my ward, the public are hardly likely to have registered them.” Luke responds, jokingly, that the Greens “just like to keep the opposition in suspense.”

As for the Greens and the 2015 general election (assuming the Coalition lasts that long), I think that the Green candidates for Brighton Kemptown and for Hove should be selected by the autumn. There are one or two individual who would make outstanding candidates. I will return to this theme after May.

Rob Buckwell, leader of the Estate Agents Tendency of the Tory Party, and candidate in Goldsmid, says that I am “right to point out that bringing council tax down is important to us. However, you are wrong to say that I “cannot think beyond council tax cuts”. We have many other important issues which we are campaigning on. If you are lucky enough to live in Goldsmid, you will have received or soon receive our leaflet outling some of these. Of course, if you don’t…”

Showing more imagination in Goldsmid is councillor Alex Phillips who with St Peters and North Laine Green councillor Ian Davey organised a very effective demonstration on Saturday in The Drive against the ludicrous decision of the Tories to remove the cycle lane. If you haven’t watched the video, do so by clicking this link.

A word of apology to Ms Phillips. The title in a post yesterday referred to ‘Ice Cold is Alex’, a feeble play on words referring to that great movie ‘Ice Cold in Alex’, trying to reflect it was very cold on Saturday morning.  A resident of Goldsmid ward questioned me about this. I apologise to councillor Phillips who is anything but cold. She is one of the most able politicians locally, hard-working and who the Greens should consider for to be a candidate in a national election in the not too distant future. Perhaps I will return to this theme after May….