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.