The mysteries of the campaign to save the Number 2 bus, Labour’s “great guy” candidate in St Peters, and the UKIP announcement

“Switch to Fitch” has been ringing out in Rottingdean and Hangleton as the Fantastic Fitches aim to change the face of Brighton politics.  Young Harris has wasted no time in describing his priorities for Rottingdean Coastal although he has been reticent regarding his vote winning campaign to save the Number 2 bus. He writes: “You will have to stay tuned on the bus situation!  I can tell you that our campaign will be very community based, hoping to draw on where the Labour party has helped out before, and intend to help out in the future.  A personal point of mine would be to support the veterans of St Dunstan’s, having been in the Army myself.”

A greater mystery than Harris Fitch’s secret campaign to save the Number 2 is the situation in St Peters and North Laine.  I have asked several prominent Labour activists (including councillors) about the party’s SP&NL candidate Adrian Morris “a great guy and a real supporter of your community” as it says on the Labour website.  I have previously mentioned that ‘sources’ close to Adrian are whispering some interesting things about his candidature.  In fact it is not whispering.  Can someone in Labour come clean and confirm whether he has, in fact resigned just 50 days before the election.  He may be a great guy and a real supporter of your community, but is he a great guy in the eyes of his Labour colleagues and is he a real supporter of your Labour Party? Please will someone come clean.  If my ‘sources’ are wrong, I will gladly retract.

On the question of personal votes and the suggestion that a personal vote never exceeds 300 or so, ‘Clive’ writes: “300 votes out of 900-odd is the kind of personal vote that many councillors would give their eye teeth for, surely?  Picking up on Charlie’s point – it is noticeable that all the women councillors you mention with good personal votes have surnames that come from the early(ish) part of the alphabet. I think it is fairly well accepted that candidates do better the higher up the ballot paper they are.  So the key to the election is nothing to do with Billy Wilder, and everything to do with having a name like Amelia Aardvark.”

And finally, for this evening, tomorrow a big announcement is due from UKIP. On Twitter I asked what this news might be.  One or two people have been very unkind.  Someone said that Carol Vordeman had been chosen as their new leader. Not likely, you don’t need someone who is so good with numbers to count the UKIP vote.  Another suggestion was that they were forming a coalition with the BNP.  Even I don’t find that amusing. Calling for a Yes vote for further European integration? I like that one. “They are going to hell???!!!”  Maybe, but not because of their politics.

Watch out for the announcement due tomorrow.  My ‘source’ within UKIP has provided me with details of the announcement.  All I will say is “Watch out, Harris Fitch.  You may just be outflanked on the campaign to save the No 2.”

Brighton and Hove Labour’ website – no poll dancing clubs (thank goodness) but still frightening the children

A few weeks ago I blogged about the Labour Party’s new website. General I thought it was an impressive site even though it was clearly still under construction. I looked a it again this evening and can see a number of improvements since I last looked. But I offer the following observations.

I was pleased to see that Caroline Penn (with Celia Barlow) the Labour candidate in Central Hove, no longer appears to be posing in a poll dancing club. On the matter of photos, several candidates don’t have photographs. Do they think they might frighten the electorate? Actually, some of the photos that are there may well frighten the voters, children and family pets.

Back to Caroline, she has a decent write up of what she believes in and comments on what’s happening on the Council.

That’s a bit better than the write up of the three candidates in St Peter’s and North Laine. This is a seat where Labour is hoping to do a ‘Green’ by persuading the good voters of the ward to give them one vote with the other two votes going to the Greens. That way they might pinch a seat here or there.

I understand that Adrian Morris is the ‘lead candidate in St Peters and North Laine. Yet all it says about him is that “Adrian Morris is a great guy and a real supporter of your community.” It is hardly going to say “Adrian Morris is a miserable git and couldn’t care a stuff about your community.” Hardly a ringing endorsement.

The other two candidates fare equally poorly: “Pete Gillman lives and loves the St. Peter’s & North Laine ward of Brighton & Hove” – that’s it – while candidate number three, James Hallwood “has a great affinity with the St. Peter’s & North Laine ward of Brighton & Hove.”

But the St Peters and North Laine coverage is better than the Hove Park ward where all we are told about Bernie Katz and John Cooper is that their names are Bernie Katz and John Cooper – hardly a winning formula to inspire the electorate.

But at least Labour has candidates in place in every ward, well not quite every ward – no candidates yet in Rottingdean Coastal or Woodingdean (a surprising situation in a ward which had a Labour councillor – Joan Moorhouse – as recently as the 1990’s). If Labour is to challenge again in Brighton Kemptown, it needs to get it’s act together.

And finally, I am pleased that Brian Fitch is still campaigning on buses. He has not been put off by the totally unfair aspersions regarding him having saved, singlehandedly, the number 81 bus and is due to save the number 5 to Hangleton in time for the eve of poll leaflet.

Political Awards 2010: New-Comer of the Year

In a year dominated by the general election, it is quite hard for a new-comer to make his or her mark.  There have been very few individuals who, newly arrived on the Brighton and Hove political scene,  have made their mark. In fact, there is just one nominee for this category, and therefore is the winner.

As a result of the election of Caroline Lucas to Westminster, her European seat became vacant and was duly filled by the second person on the Green Party list from the last European elections, Keith Taylor.  Keith had been a long-standing, if uninspiring councillor for St Peter’s and North Laine.  Keith resigned from the City Council to take up the European seat.  The by-election was keenly fought by Labour and the Greens.  While the seat was won by the Green’s Lizzie Deane (who has disappeared without trace since her election), it was Tom French, the Labour candidate, who stood out as the outstanding candidate.

Tom was hard-working, charming, energetic, and won plaudits from all parties.  At a time where charismatic individuals are largely absent from the ranks of Labour, Tom was a breath of fresh air.  He is my New-Comer of the Year.  Labour needs to find another dozen or so candidates with similar qualities if it is to avoid a heavy defeat in May, although it is probably too late.

Just one word of warning to Tom.  Being the latest ‘bright young thing’ is great while it lasts.  But no matter how well you perform, time will mean that you will not always be young, and you rapidly lose the image of being the new kid on the block.  My advice is to remember your roots, the people who supported you when you set out on your exciting journey. Neglect your core base at your peril.  For the local elections, you have chosen to abandon (as some see it) St Peter’s and North Laine, as well as Hanover and Elm Grove,  in favour of Queen’s Park .   Take some time to mend fences.  You will never be bigger than the Party.  The Labour Party needs you to succeed and I wish you well.

St Peters and North Laine – vote with your conscience

St Peters and North Laine was the birthplace of the Greens in Brighton and Hove when Pete West won their first-ever seat in the city.  This once Tory seat (there have been some boundary changes), became safe Labour in the 1980s and early 1990s.  But Blair’s New Labour saw to that with members of the left and right leaving in droves.

Now it is the safest Green seat.  In May 2007 Pete West, Keith Taylor and Ian Davey all polled over 2,000 votes with the best placed Labour candidate, Sarah Ogden, polling just 979 votes. 

In a recent by-election, caused by Keith Taylor succeeding to the European Parliament seat vacated by Caroline Lucas on her election to Westminster, the Green Lizzie Dean was the comfortable winner. The energetic campaign run by Labour’s Tom French, hardly dented the Green majority.

St Peters and North Laine will return 3 Green councillors in May.  It is an area where there is no danger of the Tories benefiting from a split Labour / Green vote.  Therefore, I don’t need to advocate tactical voting and suggest anti-Tory (and former Lib Dem voters) to vote according to their conscience.

Reflections on the St Peter’s and North Laine by-election

The by-election result contains two important messages.  First, the Greens are the party with momentum.  With ten months to go, the Greens need to decide just what its ambitions are.  Does the party wish to take control of the City Council next May? 

An overall majority will be a poison chalice given that the worst of the cuts will be implemented in the three years from April 2011, and the Greens will have little room for manoeuvre unless its councillors are willing to be the local authority that defies the Coalition Government.  The price to be paid by individual councillors might be enormous.  But given the momentum of the Greens, any ambition short of overall control will not look good and will portray the Greens as a party purely for opposition. 

If the Greens are the largest party but fall short of a majority, there will be an expectation that they try to form a coalition of its own, probably with the rump of Labour councillors who survive the cull next May.  A minority administration is probably the best option for the Greens since they will be able to oppose the cuts only to be voted down time and again by the Conservatives and Labour.

It is exciting times to be a Green, but the prospects of power are not that attractive.  It will require the Greens to be disciplined, and they may have to adapt their cultural stance regarding a single leader and group discipline – they will need both!

What of Labour?  Labour needs the tide to turn, but in Brighton and Hove the tide is flowing with the Greens and the unpopularity of the Coalition Government will benefit them rather than Labour. 

What Labour needs is two things: a break-through candidate and a break-through issue.  In Caroline Lucas the Greens had a break-through candidate.  Without Lucas, the Greens may not have achieved its historic win in Brighton Pavilion.  While Labour has some first-rate candidates, Tom French being one, there is no sign of any break-through candidates for the Council election or next general election.  It needs to be someone truly outstanding.

There is also no obvious break-through issue.  Opposing the cuts will be popular, but the Greens, again, will likely reap the benefit given the high profile enjoyed by Caroline Lucas and her sheer competence.

Labour’s best bet is Caroline Lucas standing down after one term (unthinkable) and the Greens forming the administration on the City Council and then doing a Steve Bassam by implementing the cuts programme as Lord Bassam did by implementing the Poll Tax.  This scenario is equally unthinkable.

Labour can expect to lose heavily to the Greens next May, and the Greens should now be looking to take seats from the Tories.  The Greens will retain its dominant position in the following local elections (2014?) before Caroline Lucas massively increases her majority in May 2015.  Labour could win Brighton Kemptown in 2015, though it is unlikely to unseat Mike Weatherly.  If Labour forms the government in 2015, it will not recover to do well in the 2017 locals. 

So Labour cannot expect to recover its position on Brighton and Hove City Council until at least 2020.  This is not an encouraging outlook for the likes of Tom French and the other young, enthusiastic activists.  By 2020 they will not be as young and one has to question whether they will retain their enthusiasm.

St Peter’s and North Laine by-election: vote for Tom French

Good luck to both Tom French and Lizzie Deane in tomorrow’s St Peter’s and North Laine by-election.  It is good that those of you with a vote in the election can expres your choice without having to consider voting tactically.  It is a two horse race, and you can express your preference without worrying about letting the Tories or their feeble baby brother, the Lib Dems, through the middle.

As I have oftn stated in this blog, I hope that the Greens win next year’s local elections in Brighton and Hove, that they will be the largest party even if they don’t achieve a majority.  Winning the by-election is important to the Greens but not essential.  Losing the seat will be a set back, but not a disaster. 

Bearing this in mind, and having considered the merits of Tom and Lizzie, I am urging that people vote for Tom French.  With dynamic candidates like Tom, and with the prospect of Labour becoming renewed, it will be an interesting time for politics in Brighton and Hove over the next 12 months for those of us who are non-aligned on the left.

My hope is that next May the Greens are the largest party, followed by Labour, with the Tories down to single figures on the Council.  As for the Lib Dems, much deserved oblivion awaits in Brighton and Hove.

Jean Calder – hedging her bets by supporting both candidates in St Peter’s and North Laine by-election

Two days to go before the St Peter’s and North Laine by-election and there is an oddity in the leaflets of both the Labour candidate, Tom French, and the Green candidate, Lizzie Deane.  Both are claiming to have been endorsed by former Labour councillor, Jean Calder. 

In the Green leaflet, Ms Calder applauds the support given by the Green Party in the campaign to save St Peter’s Church.  Jean Calder is the Convenor (a very Green concept) of the Friends of  St Peter’s Church.

Then tonight a leaflet is being distributed in St Peter’s and North Laine and there, again, is Ms Calder praising Tom French and saying that the Greens should have recruited him. 

Democracy is usually about deciding which candidate you wish to vote for.  Jean Calder seems to have taken it one step further – wanting to support the two leading candidates.  At least she is hedging her bets and will be able to claim she supported the winning candidate!  Now that’s what I call tactical voting.