Both Greens and Labour should avoid internal divisions if they wish to win Hollingdan and Stanmer

At the last local elections Hollingdean and Stanmer was keenly fought between Labour and the Greens. I predicted, quite correctly, that two Greens, Sven Rufus and Christina Summers, would win, and that Jeane Lepper would hold her seat for Labour.
The Greens underestimated the personal popularity of Jeane Lepper who, in the ‘Kings House Bubble’, is something of a figure of hate for the Greens. Similarly, Labour overestimated the popularity of the former councillors, Pat Hawkes and Christine Simpson.
Most of my sympathy last year was with Luke Walter, the Green candidate who lost out to Jeane Lepper purely on the grounds that he appeared lower on the ballot paper than the names Rufus and Summers. He wold have made a first rate councillor and I hope that he will consider standing in the future.
The loss of Hollingdean and Stanmer hurt Labour. It was their last remaining stronghold in Brighton Pavilion and the base of the former Labour MP, David Lepper, husband of Jeane Lepper.
It is no wonder that Labour has it as its number one target seat. There are regular campaign mornings targeting the ward and Labour is to select its candidates for the 2015 elections this coming September, a full 30 months before the poll.
And while Labour has got its act together, the Greens have decided to carry out its ‘enquiry’ into the actions of Christina Summers at the Council meeting  on July 19h when she spoke and voted against equal marriage.
In my last post I said that the Greens would be judged by its handling of Summersgate. Depressingly, it is emulating Labour in the 1980’s and 1990’s by taking divisive action against one of its members, action that will have just one winner, Labour.
But Labour is a funny old party. It could yet allow its deep sectarian divisions to scupper its prospects. While the old right calls for tolerance towards Labour’s party-in-a-party, Progress, there is hostility towards the soft left LRC. Labour would be well-advised to put aside its divisions and focus on winning elections. For that matter, so too would the Greens.

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Students effect elections, housing and jobs

Since the local elections there has been much comment about the influence of students on the election. In wards like Hollingdean and Stanmer, the Greens were able to organise the student vote, winning two seats from Labour.

Some have commented that it isn’t right that students who are temporary residents in the City can vote in their home town and in Brighton and Hove. In particular some say that it is wrong that the student vote in 2011 will effect how the City is run well after this generation of students have moved on.

My view is that a lively student population enriches the City, and of course they should be allowed to vote. Part of the problem for the old parties is that they have neglected student voters for many years. Caroline Lucas (thanks to the efforts of Allie Cannell) was able to draw on the student vote, ensuring her election.

Nancy Platts, in an interesting post on the blog Southern Front, comments that it is Labour’s lack of vision damaged her electoral chances against Caroline Lucas: “Brighton is a university town with a history of political activism, especially at Sussex University. Student numbers can swing an election in Brighton and tuition fees were a gift to the Greens. How hard can it be to decide where to place your cross on election day when there are three political positions presented; higher tuition fees from the Tories, a free university education from the Greens or, well, er…a ‘review’ from Labour. Did we forget how to do politics – why would any student vote for a review? The Greens consistently targeted the student vote and increased turnout from the universities.” Her post is well worth a read.

Caroline Penn says that she has “nothing against students. I’m sure most of us here were students once. It’s wrong to blame them as you say for many of the issues that have arisen. While friends have had issues with student parties, a more responsible landlord (and better university liaison) should deal with that.”

Craig Turton comments on the impact of students on the local employment market: “Between Brighton and Sussex universities we have one of the largest rates of post graduate student settlement anywhere outside of London but in a relatively small geographical area. This can be beneficial for employers (ie; a virtually permanent pool of highly educated workers) but can equally create problems (ie; competition from graduates leaves local people with few or no educational qualifications at a disadvantage even for jobs not requiring a degree. Without wishing to appear facetious, we probably have the most over qualified call centre workers and bar staff in England).”

Students are a fact of life, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. Where have I heard that before? They student body causes problems, enriches our community, puts huge pressure on housing, and creates unfair competition in the jobs market. But Brighton wouldn’t be Brighton without the students. If you don’t like them, move to Worthing!

Fall out from local elections continues

As you would expect, a very robust and coherent defence of Labour has been received from Warren Morgan in response to my post yesterday. Reglar readers will know that I am an admirer of Warren. He is a very able politician, and one who is able to organise well. However, before the election I repeatedly told him (when he was predicting greater success for Labour that materialised) that his views were influenced by the excellent organisation in East Brighton, something replicated in just a few wards elsewhere in Brighton and Hove. As the Greens have advanced, Labour has become more marginalised. ‘But we polled almost the same number of votes as the Green’s, I hear the Labour Deniers plea. But you didn’t win the seats. In the first year of a Tory-led government that is slashing public services across the board you should have been able to pick up more than a handful of seats from the Tories.

In fact Warren himself talks about how close it was: “Labour scored the same number of votes citywide as the Greens – a fact. It didn’t get those votes where they were needed to win the seats, admitted. Labour was 150 to 200 votes short of winning additional seats in seven wards. It didn’t, but had it done it it would have been the largest group, just. Labour finished a relatively close second in all three parliamentary seats in the city last year, and level with the winners in terms of votes this year. Labour’s vote went up in every ward, most by 350, some by 500, one by 700. That does not paint a picture of a Party in terminal decline.”

Warren does reveal something I have called for, that there will be a wide and open review of what went wrong: “Of course lessons need to be learned both in terms of policy, organisation and message, but any debate is painted as dissent and division. Over the coming weeks and months Labour will be consulting, meeting, listening and debating, not just within our membership but with voters, organisations and others to determine what we can do better.” I welcome that open debate although having seen some comments by various activists (for which I am criticised when quoting them on this blog) I am aware that there is a wish for greater control to be put in the hands of a smaller number of individuals at the expense of ward branch organisation. Very dangerous. But good luck in that debate, Warren, and if I can be of any assistance ……!

We get an interesting Green insight from Luke Walter, one of the most able campaigners in Brighton and Hove who was unlucky to have missed election in Hollingdean and Stanmer purely on the grounds of the alphabet (something he identified several weeks ago was likely): “We understood our demographic better than Labour, we understood the kind of people who vote in local elections, we even understood their motivation for voting. In nearly all of these, Labour and the Tories got it wrong. Labour were saying ‘if you vote Green you get the Tories.’ The Tories were saying ‘if you vote Green you get Labour.’ I think we were the only ones saying ‘if you vote Green you get Green.’ The truth is, Warren and his councillor colleagues in the Kemptown constituency need to try and understand why 1000 or so voters in EB and M&B voted Green in the locals with no obvious campaigning and with the continuous message ‘Greens can’t win’ or ‘voting Green only helps the Tories here.’ ”

What is impressive about Luke (something not that obvious in other parties) is his ability to be self-critical about the Greens own performance: “We Greens are also at fault. We greatly underestimated our vote in those wards, as well as Westbourne in Hove. This mistake won’t be repeated again. Reading the comments from Labour councillors and Labour supporters, it is clear the party is in a pickle, as I’m sure the Tories are as well. Weatherly should be sweating in Hove and Portslade losing six seats last Friday. The same for Kirby in Kemptown, who was beaten into third by the Greens in two sizeable wards in his constituency. If the Greens political opponents are waiting in the dark until we slip-up, they’ve got another thing coming. From now on, they can expect a more confident, more slicker and bolder Green machine in Brighton AND Hove.”

Dr Faust reprimands me, that I “need to develop a more even handed approach with your critisisms of parties.  You ask for an apology from Labour about ‘misleading’ material (which I would contest), but don’t ask for the same from the Green Party.  You say the same about claims made over recent elections, but again don’t expect any contrition from the Green Party who did exactly the same.  In both cases I consider the material put out to be par for the course tactics in trying to win votes and seats. Consistancy would be welcome.”

My dear Doctor, I have never pretended to be consistent or even-handed. A hint of bias has occasionally come through in my writings on those two-faced, yellow-belly, snake-in-the-grass, rats sometimes known as the Lib Dems. I was SO sad to see them wiped off the face of the political map in Brighton and Hove on May 5th. As for being even handed in my criticism, I don’t dish it out for the sake of it. I am critical of Labour’s use of misleading graphs in two elections in a row and the poor organisation in the City and of party HQ. Last week I did criticise the Greens for their use of a graph but their use was less misleading because of a simple factor – they WON. Labour’s claims were misleading as they claimed that, in 2010, they were the only party who could beat the Tories in Brighton Pavilion (horribly misleading and unforgivable, as would the Greens claim had they not won) and, in 2011, that they were the only party that could form an administration. With just 13 seats out of 54 that is a big ask!

(In case there is any doubt amongst those other than my four regular readers – Warren, Christopher Hawtree, Momma Grizzly, and Doris Day – I am not anti-Labour. I voted Labour on May 5th. I just want to see Labour get its act together. I am also aware that there is a suggestion that there is a ‘snitch’ in Labour’s ranks, someone who is passing me information. In fact, there are almost a dozen Labour activists with whom I am either in regular contact with or who DM or email me regularly, along with several Tories and several Greens. No Lib Dems, alas).

Labour is no closer than ever to understanding how to respond to the Greens

The Labour Party in Brighton and Hove is in an unenviable position. Its group of councillors (now officially the Labour and Co-operative Group) has made a decision not to approach the Greens about a formal coalition.

Already some party activists and councillors are already making unrealistic predictions about 2015. Rob Macey has written: “we need to set a high bar for the greens. they have got what they have always wanted but I predict that this will lance the boil and give us the opportunity, if we sort ourselves out, to take full control back next time around.”

There is no way that Labour will come anywhere near taking control next time. The next locals are likely to take place on the same day as the general election in 2015. Caroline Lucas will be re-elected with a thumping majority, with Labour coming in a distant third. (It is not just me who thinks this, but one leading member of the local Laour Party has written “With the win in Withdean as well as those in Preston Park and Hollingdean & Stanmer Caroline Lucas is now well placed to achieve a five-figure majority in 2015.”)

Labour has misled the electorate in two elections running (that only Labour could beat the Tories in Brighton Pavilion in 2010, and that only Labour could form an administration in 2011 – has Laour sacked the genius who insisted on this tosh?).

Yet Labour activists are blinded to reality. Christine Simpson has asked: “I am still not sure why their (the Greens) message was more believable than ours to many people in different parts of the city, except that they can put themselves forward as the non political party with clean green hands.” It might be the freshness of the Greens but Labour’s obsessive attacks on Caroline Lucas make the party look like bad losers, and many people are delighted that the City has produced the first Green MP. Caroline Lucas certainly hasn’t betrayed the faith people had in her and her reputation goes from strength to strength.

Labour on the other hand remains tainted by the last government. I have posted recently about the Labour Party welcoming David Milliband to Brighton – a very big mistake which no one in Labour has yet defended. Compared to the Greens, Labour appears tainted by Iraq, privatisation, university fees, etc. And now Labour activists are getting excited about Blue Labour. The Greens in Brighton and Hove will be laughing all the way to the next elections and beyond.

Labour needs to wipe the slate clean. Perhaps Gill Mitchell could apologise for Labour’s misleading statements on its election material. That would be a start. At least Labour should say now it won’t mislead the electorate in future elections. Craig Turton is one of the few Labour politicians with the necessary understanding of the situation: “I’ve said before that criticising the Greens is the political equivalent of clubbing seals and our experience on the doorstep has proved this has been the case so far as voters simply don’t believe us.”

But the immediate dilemma for Labour is how it responds to the Green administration. In private one former Labour councillor pleaded with her former colleagues regarding a coalition: “don’t take the LibDems’ role to the Green Party. Let them mess it up!” Now that sentiment is not something most people in Brighton want to hear. It is in the best interests of the City and its residents that the new administration is successful. And Labour needs to support the Greens to be successful.

This is the unenviable position for Labour councillors. If they vote against the administration (ie. with the Tories), their reputation will plunge further and they will rightly be criticised by many, including this Blogger. If they abstain on crucial votes the question will be asked “what is the point of Labour councillors” (abstaining on the budget did not help an already wounded party). And if they vote with the Greens, the Greens will get the credit because they and nor Labour are the administration.

The Labour Group “is in good heart” after it’s third thrashing in as many elections!

The Labour Party has been tearing itself apart over the weekend following its beating at the polls on Thursday. I don’t find it easy to intrude on private grief, but here is advice offered, once again in the spirit of comradeship (dismissed in the run-up to the election). I share the following insights, observations and suggestions:

Group leader Gill Mitchell has said: “The new Labour Group met this morning and is in good heart.” You cannot be serious. In good heart? After the third thrashing at the polls in as many elections? The Labour Group should be distraught, should be apologising to the Party and should be asking serious questions about why the Party leadership locally has failed time and time again.

Gill thanks activists for “running such good campaigns”. Gill, other than East Brighton and the Brian Fitch One Man Show in Hangleton and Knoll, the Labour campaigns were generally rubbish, and you know it. That is why you say: “There is now an urgent need to look at how we are organised across the city as a party and how this can be improved to enable us to become a genuine, citywide campaigning party that is regularly in touch with local people.” Gill, you are right but I understand that Labour was once a “citywide campaigning party” that was in touch with local people. So what happened?

Along came Kinnock, Blair and Mandelson who set up a highly centralised party machine and this was replicated at local level. In this election, Labour’s GMB HQ had to be consulted about all aspects of different campaigns. Labour’s Regional Office brought with it the dead hand of bureaucrats.

Nigel Jenner is right when he says: “The Blair factor and also the war etc is still on peoples minds and that is why many jumped to the Greens.” Absolutely right, Nigel. Labour’s recovery will not begin until Labour, locally and nationally, APOLOGISE for Iraq and distance themselves from Blair. But what happened locally just days before the election? David Milliband, a Blairite from the top of his head to the tip of his toes, comes to Brighton, is welcomed by Labour councillors and candidates – and another few hundred votes are lost. What genious thought David Milliband would do anything other than alienate voters? Another avoidable Labour own goal.

D Milliband said after his defeat by E Milliband that he was resigning from front line politics. This demonstrates a mindset that cabinet and shadow cabinet is the front line. And Labour in Brighton goes along with it. If you want to start afresh, perhaps Gill Mitchell could say “we have learned, and we are sorry. David Milliband, so closely identified with Blair and jointly responsible for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, is no longer welcome in Brighton and Hove”. Then, and only then, can you hope that the lost voters, the tens of thousands who have deserted Labour locally for the Greens, might just begin to think about voting for the Labour Party again.

Juliet McCaffery touches on something that I have warned Labour about in the run up to the elections – lying to the electorate. Labour did it in Brighton Pavilion in 2010: “only Labour can beat the Tories” and Caroline Lucas exposed the lie and Labour lost several hundred voters in future elections who had swallowed the lie. And then again in this election “Only Labour can form an administration” and the Greens exposed that lie. Why should the electorate believe Labour’s claims about electoral prospects when they have become serial liars.

Juliet is absolutely right when she says: “Several people in Withdean who voted Labour were thinking of voting Green but thought (prompted by me) that Greens had no chance – the danger is that now they will.” The fact is, Labour is finished (in local and general elections) for the next two elections at least in Withdean, Hollingdean and Stanmer, Patcham and, of course, the town centre wards in Brighton Pavilion. In several Hove wards the Greens will, this very evening, be casting their eyes for further gains in 2015. And there will be some idiot in Labour’s ranks drafting a leaflet saying “Only Labour can beat the Tories in Hove”. Stop them now. It’s not true. The Greens are already the main challengers for the Tories in Hove.

Labour should not have lied. Apologise, come clean, and sack whoever was responsible for the lies in 2010 and 2011.

And turning to the Party hierarchy, Kevin Allen, a decent, hard-working, now ex-councillor, is unforgiving: “Regarding Withdean, people have forgotten that local elections are not just about bums on council seats; they are also about keeping people in the habit of voting Labour.  We had three fine candidates who were given absolutely no encouragement by party headquarters.  That’s a disgrace.  Rather than being told to abandon their own ward they should have been advised to canvass hard in order to help rebuild the Labour vote in preparation for the next general election.  What we have now is a Green councillor in Withdean, an entirely avoidable result had our candidates been allowed to campaign properly.”

Get used to it, Kevin. It is going to get worse for Labour before it begins to get better. Labour is offering nothing new. It parades David Milliband, an apologist for war, as the hope for the future. Its party machinery is broken.

I hope to hear something substantial from Labour in the next few days, but I doubt it. And that is a shame for this Blogger who voted Labour last Thursday.

The Greens are yet to reach their peak – next stop Hove and Portslade

I thought that the Greens would do well in Thursday’s elections, and they did. But I had doubts where that Party goes next. I felt that there were certain limitations to their reach. I was sure that the Geens would extend their reach to the maximum at this election, and then the challenge would be to hold that position at the next general election (no difficulty there) but defending their council seats might be a challenge. I have changed my mind because of the results on Thursday.

In Brighon Pavilion, the Greens are now challenging in the Tory heartlands. The Normans, Anne and Ken, will not stand again in Withdene and the Greens, having won one seat and having come close in a second, will have high hopes of winning all 3 seats in May 2015. In Hollingdean and Stanmer, Jeane Lepper, now the sole Labour councillor in Brighton Pavilion, will not stand again, leaving the way open for Luke Walter to join Sven Rufus and Christina Summers on the Council.

And there is the final frontier, Pacham. The Theobald Machine held firm once more, but with a local council election being held on the same day as a probable general election, everything is up for grabs. And will any of the current three councillors stand again? Brian Pidgeon will retire, and Carol and Geoffrey Theobald must be considering when it will be the right time to call time.

Three years and 363 days out I am making this prediction – the Greens will win EVERY seat in Brighton Pavilion in 2015.

I will comment on Brighton Kemptown at a later date, but I think that, for the Greens, Hove and Portslade is where their future lies. After Thursday, the Greens have 6 seats, Labour have 6, and the Tories 8 seats. The Greens have consolidated its first and only seat in Goldsmid where Alex Phillips led a strong campaign to win a seat off the Tories and to defeat Melanie Davis who was a strong candidate and respected councillor.

But it is Christopher Hawtree’s breakthrough in Central Hove that changes everything. That single gain shows what is possible, and the Greens must already have begun to eye Westbourne, Wish, and the other seat in Central Hove. The Portslades, North and South, have similar demographics to Hollingdean and Stanmer, and both will become vulnerable should (as is likely) both Bob Carden and Les Hamilton stand down in 2015.

And then there is Hangleton and Knoll, a large ward which, again, like Hollingdean and Stanmer, is an area where the Greens could thrive. Dawn Barnett and Brian Fitch are no longer spring chickens, and won’t go on and on and on. Does Brian have another campaign in him (probably) but will he want to be a councillor, should he be re-elected in 2015, will be approaching 80 at the end of that term in office.

So why all this speculation about 2015? If the Greens begin building in Hove, establishing a local organisation in each of these wards (don’t fall for Labour’s mistake and run everything from a High Command), and get a dynamic parliamentary candidate in place sooner rather than later, who can support, motivate, encourage, nurture the party in Hove, then there will be a further Caroline Effect, although it could come to be known as the Alex Effect …..

Congratulations to the Greens for making history in Brighton and Hove

I must first of all start by congratulating the Greens on a result that exceeded just about everyone’s expectations. It exceeded mine. I thought the Greens would end up with 21 or 22 seats. I didn’t expect the two amazing results in Withdene where Sue Shanks topped the poll, nor Christopher Hawtree’s sensational efforts in Central Hove. I suspect that Green High Command had some doubts, but one man did not share them – Chris Hawtree himself.

The Greens have emerged from this election with 23 councillors (including 6 in Hove, up from 1), the Tories are down to 18 and Labour have remained static with 13. The Lib Dems have been wiped out as predicted, hoped for and encouraged by this Blogger. Labour now has just one councillor in Brighton Pavilion where the Greens are now winning in Tory strongholds.

Before touching on other results, can I mention those sitting councillors who have lost their seats. Politics can be cruel, and election losses for sitting politicians offers no hiding place. Focus is on those who have been victorious, but this evening we should pause to thank the following for their service to the City, often at a cost that ordinary citizens, even party activists, don’t see and can’t always appreciate: Paul Elgood, David Watkins, Jan Young, Melanie Davis, Ayas Fallon-Khan, Pat Hawkes, Christine Simpson, Maria Caulfield, Trevor Alford, Kevin Allen, Juliet McCaffery, Steve Harmer-Strange, Ted Kemble.

I got one result hopelessly wrong – Moulsecoomb and Bevendean – where I felt that Maria Caulfield would win and, on her coat tails, Ayas Fallon-Khan (moving from Goldsmid) and Cath Slater (well known locally) would cause an upset in Labour’s back yard. I was wrong. And so I eat Humble Pie (though I do prefer Sugar Puffs). And congratulations to Labour’s team in M&B, Leigh Farrow, Mo Marsh and mayor-elect, Anne Meadows. This result, along with the return of the Legend that is Brian Fitch in Hangleton and Knoll, the anticipated gains by Penny Gilbey in North Portslade and Alan Robins in South Portslade, and the unexpected election of Anne Pissaridou in Wish, were the few positives on a day when it seemed the Greens were conquering everything before it.

A bitter-sweet result, and one predicted in this blog, was Jeane Lepper successfully defending her seat in Hollingdean and Stanmer. A combination of the Lepper name and Jeane’s own reputation as a hard-working and effective caseworker saw her survive. One of the few errors the Greens made this year was to underestimate Jeane Lepper.

A quick word on the one Green who was not successful in H&S, Luke Walter. Luke must be incredibly disappointed tonight, but he should be proud of his achievements. He probably worked harder than any candidate in H&S, but electoral politics can be unfair, especially when your surname begins with a W or a Y (ask Jan Young). Luke has the advantage of age on his side, and his time will come before long. (I will be blogging on the fortunes of all the young candidates in the near future. None of them, other than sitting councillor, Alex Phillips, who I heard described as the “Baby of the Chamber” today, was elected.

But the day belonged to the Greens who, I understand, were in celebratory mood when they retired to the Cricketers Pub for an orange juice after the count. Never before in the United Kingdom have the Greens become the largest group on a Council, and this is the largest group of Greens ever elected (what do you think of that, Norwich?). So congratulations to all newly and re-elected Greens throughout Brighton AND HOVE. I will blog more on the Greens remarkable achievements and the challenges that lie ahead in the next few days. But for now, enjoy the night, encourage Bill Randall to go wild and have another lemonade, return to your constituencies and prepare for ….. I’m not sure. A coalition? A minority administration? Definitely Christopher Hawtree to be Lead Councillor for Libraries! Congratulations, All.