A new dawn and the hand of history greets the new Labour Party in Brighton and Hove

The new Brighton and Hove Labour Party formally came into being this morning with an all-City AGM. New officers have been elected and my source at the centre of power believes the new line-up of officers makes “a strong team” and that there will be a new focus on campaigning as opposed to endless meetings.

Adrian Morris is the newly elected Chair. (I know it will upset my Labour friends when I remind them that Adrian stood down at the 11th hour as candidate in St Peters and North Laine in the 2011 elections. I hope he has greater staying power this time).

The two new vice-chairs are Nigel Jenner (who did well in the Westbourne by-election in December) and Christine Robinson (who I respect as a strong trade unionist who works for GMB). The new executive committee is made up of Juan Leahy, Tracey Hill, Caroline Penn, former councillor Kevin Allen & Chaun (I am sorry but I don’t know her surname, but
she impressed with what sounds what appeared to be a great speech).

I understand that this AGM marks a watershed for Labour in Brighton and Hove with a shift of focus away from the internal reviews to a new focus on taking on the Tories & campaigning on national issues. Mike Weatherley will be a main focus of some of the campaigning, but it remains to be seen whether the New New Labour in the City will be able to let go of their obsession with the She Devil and All Her Works (my regular readers, Momma Grizzly, Doris and Biker Dave know that that is a reference to Caroline Lucas – not my view but that of the likes of Harris Fitch).

It looks as though Labour will field a candidate for Police Commissioner, which is a shame since the Party has no chance of being successful, where as an independent might just spring a surprise.

The Greens could take a leaf or two out of Labour’s book when it comes to selecting candidates for the European elections. Labour’s selection will have gender balance so if (as expected) Peter Skinner is number 1 on the Labour list, number 2 will be a woman.

So we have a new dawn for Labour in Brighton and Hove which can be nothing but a good thing for the political process. It really isn’t a time for sound bites, but I sense the hand of history on my shoulder …..

(Update: Chaun’s surname is Wilson)
(Update 2: changed ‘sound items’ to ‘sound bites’)

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Who offers the better vision to inspire voters locally: Ed Miliband or Caroline Lucas?

Last week I wrote about Ed Miliband and his half-hearted support for the Occupy London camps, but at the same time distancing himself from some of their wider objectives. I concluded by saying that nationwide his feeble stance will make little distance because voters have few places to turn other than Labour. But in Brighton and Hove voters do have an alternative, the Greens.

As if to prove my point, Caroline Lucas has a letter published in today’s Observer that summarises the differences between Labour and the Greens far better than I could ever hope to do. She writes:

“Ed Miliband’s article was an object lesson in mealy-mouthed prevarication. On the one hand, he acknowledges that the protesters pose a challenge to politics to close the gap between their values and the way the country is run. On the other, he dismisses their “long list of diverse and often impractical proposals”.

“I should love to know which he finds most “impractical”: their call for an end to global tax injustice, or perhaps their proposal that our democratic system should be free of corporate influence? Or maybe it’s their support for the student demonstrations this week, or the strikes planned for 30 November?

“Until he can demonstrate which side Labour is on, Miliband’s assertion that “the Labour party speaks to that crisis and rises to the challenge” will remain hollow rhetoric.

“Indeed, the real challenge that the occupiers present to politicians like Miliband is that they are staging the debate that mainstream parties have been studiously avoiding since the economic crisis started – the question of how to completely refocus the values and goals of our economic system, rather than trying to get back to business as usual as fast as possible.

“I was proud to have been asked to address the Occupy rally in London last weekend, and proud to be able to say the Green party stands fully behind their goals. It’s a pity that Labour can’t do the same.”

Locally, I have never wanted to see Labour reduced to the rump in Brighton and Hove that they are today. I wood love to see the party challenging the Greens, testing their economic policies, and outflanking them from the left. The Greens have shown that they can win in Labour seats and May’s elections show that they have replaced the Lib Dems and are now picking up seats from the Tories.

In fact, they have been winning seats from the Tories for several years, since Alex Phillips won the Goldsmid by-election. At the time and for a long time after, I did not appreciate the full significance of her victory. I saw it as a sign of momentum that would lead to the election of Caroline Lucas, even though Goldsmid is not in Brighton Pavilion. The real and longer-term significance is that it showed that the Greens could win Tory seats.

The Miliband approach to protest, and the contrasting approach of Lucas, will have a knock-on effect locally. Labour locally just isn’t doing it. There is some campaigning, and collecting signatures on a petition to protect the NHS is worthy, but opposing cuts to the NHS is like saying that you are against sin. Where is the energy, the doorstep presence offered by Nancy Platts, now returned to London, or the pre-election profile of a Fitch of a Brian or Harris variety. Is the number 5 bus route safe for another three and a half years?

In activists like Caroline Penn and Penny Gilbey, Labour have the potential to become a campaigning party once again. But the Party has spent the last three months looking at its organisation, and a new paid organiser locally is unlikely to inspire the troops unless they have something to be inspired by.

The Greens are still seen as the campaigning party (although the burdens of office are showing that they don’t have strength in depth in certain areas including their 3,000 majority stronghold of St Peters and North Laine where, I am told, their councillors have been invisible since the election). The Greens need to take stock to ensure that the hit they will take from next year’s budget is not exacerbated by a lack of campaigning on the ground. The Brighton Pavilion Greens should look to the Hove Greens, such as
Christopher Hawtree, Alex Phillips, Ollie Sykes, Phelim MacCafferty, etc. to remind themselves how politics should be done.

So as it stands, Labour remains in the Doldrums. The Green wind continues to blow through Brighton and Hove. It is likely that in 2015 Labour locally will disappear in a Green Bermuda Triangle comprising Lucas in Pavilion, a Green candidate winning in Hove, and a Green overall majority on Brighton and Hove City Council.

Focusing on the issues is so much better than personality politics …. sometimes

I agree with Craig (a variation of the theme ‘I agree with Nick’). Craig Turton, from time to time, criticises this blog for not dealing with the ‘isshoos’, as he says Tony Benn says it.

When, the other day, I posted on the protest camp in the Old Steine, I anticipated comment from the usual suspects, perhaps even from all four of my regular readers (Warren, Grizzly, Doris and Councillor Christopher), but there have been more comments than on any other post ever! Sadly, the tone of one or two comments reflect the intellectual calibre of those who leave comments on the Argus website (pond life). So I agree with Craig. This blog will focus more on issues (although I think many readers do enjoy the personality stuff as well!).

There are a number of pressing issues at the moment, many on a national scale. They are well covered elsewhere, although there is often a local dimension, such as the campaign to protect legal aid which is gathering pace. On the legal aid campaign, there is an excellent website and video and an online petition to sign.  I would encourage you to do so.  Even the Brighton Argus is taking up this issue, there is a strong editorial opposing the proposed cuts. Sometimes an issue such as this can gain momentum and could destabilise the reputations of MPs on the government benches, in our case, Simon Kirby and Mike Weatherley.

What are the other isshoos locally?  There is the Green Party agenda – housing, ‘ethical estate agents’, ‘Meat-free Mondays’, food recycling, ‘retrofitting’ homes (making them more environmentally sound, to you and me), the right to protest.  No doubt Paul Perrin of UKIP will find a reason to say these matters are a European/Green international conspiracy.  In all seriousness, having spoken to senior Greens, the economy of Brighton and Hove is an important issue, not least bringing in appropriate inward investment.  For too long, going back 20 years or more, the City has tried but failed to redevelop key sites in the City – Black Rock, Preston Barracks, the Municipal Market, the Open Market, etc.  There have been some successes, such as the New England Quarter, now in the heart of the Greens’ heartland of St Peters and North Laine.  But wouldn’t it be ironic if it was the Greens who achieved results on these long-neglected sites?

The biggest issue for the Greens, however, is how the cuts imposed by the Tory-led central government will be managed. What has impressed me (apart from Ben Duncan’s ill-advised comment on protests) has been the absence of big statements or initiatives that would be counter-productive.  The Greens would be wise if, as it appears, they are taking their time to set priorities and to come across as measured in how they are addressing the issues.  I hope that Craig agrees with me on this.

Labour faces meltdown on Thursday as it intends to put most eggs in few baskets

When the Labour Party was the dominant force in Brighton politics, it was able to sustain election campaigns in most, if not all, wards. Hove Labour Party was never as strong but it could put up a reasonable showing across the old Hove Borough.

But, ten years of steady decline has resulted in Labour resembling the Lib Dems – competing seriously in just a handful of wards. Here we are, two days out from polling, the Party hierarchy has already decided which wards to give up on and to which it will direct its limited resource of activists.

The good news for the Tories is that several seats in central Hove are being written off, with a focus on Hangleton and Knoll (where Labour are handing out window posters printed on green day-glo paper) and the two Portslades. In Brighton, there is some good news for the Greens as theformer safe seat of Hollingdean and Stanmer is being left to it’s own devices. Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, also, is not being prioritised. The powers that be a determined to devote a disproportionate amount of people on polling day to the one Brighton seat that Labour believes it can pick up seats from the Greens – Queens Park.

In H&S and M&B Labour currently has five councillors – all women. In Queens Park it has no councillors and Labour is fielding three young(ish) men. So obsessed is Labour that it appears to be willing to sacrifice councillors Jeane Lepper, Christine Simpson, Pat Hawkes, Ann Meadows and Mo Marsh just so that it can record that single victory over the Greens.

A few days ago I suggested that Labour should not have focused so much on Queens Park and should have had one of it’s action days in Hollingdean and Stanmer. The Tories seem to have devoted more time and effort into H&S than Labour, with Mary Mears, Simon Kirby and others turning out to support Rachael Bates who most observers will agree (though not Momma Grizzly herself) has little chance of success.

Hanover and Elm Grove has secured some additional attention frrom Labour, but it is being openly discussed in the Napier and elsewhere on Muesli Hill that ‘the call’ will come from Labour supremo, Keith Day, probably around 6pm, for activists in Hanover and Elm Grove to move into Queens Park.

It looks as though St Peters and North Laine, and Preston Park are regarded as already lost by Labour. That would see two Labour seats in Preston Park going Green. In Goldsmid, Labour will fight to defend its single seat.

But it is Queens Park that is the obsession of the Labour High Command. If Labour picks up a seat, even two, possibly all three seats in Queens Park, much will be made of it by the Labour Party. But if it is achieved it will be at the cost of other seats.

Labour will win in East Brighton. The is no suggestion that activists move out of that area, and quite right too. But it could find itself as influential in Brighton politics as the Lib Dems currently are in Brighton and Hove politics. Labour needs a good clear out and should start again, building from the bottom, and not from Party HQ which has presided over defeat, decline and now further defeat. These people have no idea how to organise a political party, no idea how to win, and Brighton and Hove politics is the worse for it.

The Good, the Bad and the Also Rans

Pete Gillman, one of Labour’s candidates in St Peters and North Laine, writes: “Anyone else got canvassing injuries ? Sunburn, sore heels , repetitive Q and A syndrome ? I have loved campaigning and the Queens Park blitz for Labour on Monday was fun and effective. It will feel strange when all this is over.”

Pete is a great example of a hardworking candidate who has little (although not no) chance of winning next Thursday. For Pete it will be strange when it is all over. For the rest of us it is a shame that he (and many like him) will no longer be active on the doorstep after next week. One of the down sides of our system of government is that there is no place for defeated candidates. For Pete is a man of integrity who is willing to work hard, but who gets little thanks and almost no recognition.

There are many Pete Gillmans in all parties, working their socks off but won’t be amongst the 54 elected ones next Friday. Amongst their numbers I include Christopher Hawtree, Anthea Ballam, Rob Buckwell, Mohammed Asaduzzaman, Rebecca Taylor, Lis Telcs, Tracey Hill, and Momma Grizzly herself, Rachael Emma Bates. I realise that this is damning with faint praise, and will not be well received by the names Good ‘uns who will be fighting all the way hoping to pull off surprise victories next week.

Then there are the Bad. There are at least two candidates – I cannot say which party or which ward – who are on the unpleasant side of dodgy. Fortunately these two are unlikely to be elected, although their party holds out that they could yet be triumphant. If they were to be elected they would, in a short period of time, bring not just their party, but the City Council, into disrepute. All parties should look at the private business activities and vested interests of their potential candidates and councillors.

And finally, the Also Rans who count amongst their numbers David Watkins, the veteran Gerald O’Brien, and Harris Fitch (red rag to this bull – how long will it be before he comments that it’s still all to play for in Rottingdean Coastal?).

Other than ‘the Bad’, best wishes to all candidates. Even if you are a paper candidate, or someone who will be disappointed at the count, our collective thanks to all of you who are putting themselves out to make democracy work.

How Baron Pepperpot has fallen out of love with Labour, and now Valerie has fallen out of love with Donny Osmond

Baron Pepperpot’s hopes for a Labour wipeout in Hollingdean and Stanmer has attracted some response, forcing the Baron to explain himself: “I wouldn’t say there are divisions within Labour, but the party needs renewal if it is to survive locally-lest the Greens wipe it off the map. There you go, honesty about a real threat. The old order must go. Now to curtail speculation, I am not a sitting councillor or a candidate. Just a Labour member.”

Later he came back to say: “I must add that i have nothing against the sitting H&S councillors, I just feel that a heavy defeat in this ward would be a catalyst for change that Labour needs locally.”

The Ghost of Nobby Clarke takes up the story: “The Barons comments are interesting and I think his wish might just come true with 2 of the candidates being ousted, I also agree Labour is looking at national trends a little too much and not allowing for the Brighton Left Wing Trendy voters who like opting for supposed cuddly Greens (wolves and sheep’s clothing spring to mind), they’re also putting a tad too much effort in Queens Park where they will come unstuck once again, no mention of the collapse of the Green vote in the general election in Kemptown yet from Mr Morgan as another pointer to taking QP.”

As for predictions, Sugar Puff Eater, Warren Morgan, writes: “Well, 12 days to go and we will see who is right in Hollingdean & Stanmer, Regency, QP, Hanover & EG, PP, Brunswick and Goldsmid. Those wards will determine how many seats the Greens hold against the Labour challenge and win from the Lib Dems or Labour. I think at best they will have a net loss or gain of one.” A brave prediction, Warren, but one with red-tinted specs. I think it will be a net gain of eight. This is the core of the Green offensive and where most resources are being targeted.

Warren goes on: “Labour will certainly gains seats from the Tories in some or all the following wards: Hangleton, Wish, M&B, North Portslade and South Portslade.”

I have this picture – each morning Warren lines up his Sugar Puffs, grouping them into wards, candidates and likely victors, before gobbling them all up. How he loves his Sugar Puffs!

Marina72 helpfully provides an insight into Labour and the campaign in St Peters and North Laine: “I got a PDF of the Labour poster via email. Not quite the same, but nonetheless I’ve seen several in windows around 7 Dials/Prestonville (more than Greens, to my surprise.)”

And Momma Grizzly is annoyed with me for suggesting narrow campaign in Hollingdean and Stanmer: “The Conservative campaign in H&S is certainly not just focused on Coldean. We’re campaigning hard all over the ward, Baps! Tsk tsk.”. I apologise, Grizzly One, I know you’ve been to the Bates Estate (did you see me wave?) but I don’t think that Belushi’s Below is in the ward!

But on this slow day for electioneering, I bring you some news from two of our esteemed Returning Officers. Brighton and Hove City Council Chief Executive, John Barradell, has been identified as the 17th most influential person in local government. The citation reads: “John Barradell is one of a growing band of chiefs who are using technology to drive the redesign of services. For example, he held a ‘city camp’ at which citizens could design smartphone applications to measure local congestion or air quality, or show how to access services.”

John, however, is 941st most influential Tweeter in Brighton and Hove, according to updood.com’s 1,000 top twitter users in Brighton and Hove. He is just one place above Eternal Tattoo, but well ahead of Tom French who is at 964. Sadly this Blogger fails to make the top 1,000, leaving him …. or her …. feeling neglected and unloved.

And on the subject of love …. Valerie Pearce at Brighton and Hove City Council says she is not in love with Donny Osmond …. “any more”. When did this end, and does Donny know? Clearly upset, all Valerie is eating is comfort food: chocolate and sausages. Updates on this developing situation as we receive it!

Greens and Labour should prioritise its candidates in key marginals to maximise representation

In this local elections, which is likely to be decided by the smallest majorities, it is not too late for the Greens and Labour to prioritise some of its candidates to increase the chances of having councillors elected. The Greens have prioritised candidates in the seats where they have little or no chance of being elected, but inexplicably in some marginals they have not. I have said before that this decision demonstrates a fundamental lack of judgement and political instinct.

Take Preston Park and Goldsmid wards. The Greens have one sitting councillor in each ward, and they have a reasonable chance of winning all three seats in both wards. Nevertheless, the result will be close and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that both Amy Kennedy and Alex Phillips could be defeated. Both are excellent councillors and their experience will be necessary for the Greens should they be the largest party on May 6th.

Alex Phillips, in particular, could be vulnerable as she is second from the bottom, eleventh of twelve, on the ballot paper. Her Green colleagues are second and fifth. It would be a major set back for the Greens in the City, and for the City itself, if councillor Phillips was to lose. While there are a large number of young and very young candidates standing for the first time in May, none other than Robert Nemeth has much hope of winning. As someone who is well past my ‘sell by’ date, I am all for a wide range of ages of councillors on the Council. Alex and Robert are likely to be the only two councillors below the age of 30. (A little aside regarding the lovely Luke Walter – should Jeane Lepper retain her seat, as I think she will, Luke will be the one most likely to lose out purely because he is bottom of the ballot paper).

That is one reason I hope that Alex Phillips will be re-elected. Another reason is she is more likely than most to be able to work with Labour, a quality that will be needed post May. The Greens should have prioritised (and still could) its candidates in Goldsmid, with Alex Phillips as the First Choice Green Candidate. It is foolish to jeopardise he prospects of one of your key assets. If you live in Goldsmid and are not a Green supporter, I would encourage that you loan one of your votes to Alex Phillips.

Similarly in Preston Park, Amy Kennedy should be the First Choice Green Candidate. It is less of an issue in Preston Park as the three Green candidates are grouped sixth, seventh and eight, with Stassi Amy at seventh. Like Alex, Amy is a formidable councillor, and a strong feminist. If she was to lose her seat it too would be a great loss to the Greens and the City.

There are few obvious Labour seats where prioritisation should take place, but that shouldn’t stop the party. In Goldsmid, sitting councillor Melanie Davies is the highest Labour candidate on the ballot paper, as is Brian Fitch in Hangleton and Knoll. Other areas where Labour is defending a seat, the sitting councillors is the highest Labour candidate on the ballot paper. That leaves longshot seats for Labour, such as Queens Park, Hanover and Elm Grove, and even St Peters and North Laine. Targeting, say, the top candidate on the ballot paper could see some interesting developments. Just a thought.