The Brighton Politics Blogger’s Political Awards 2011

As the year draws to an end, it is time once again for the much sought after Brighton Politics Blogger’s Political Awards.

Team of the Year must go to the Green Party for becoming the first Green Administration in the UK. It was hard to see how that party could have followed up their achievement of having elected their first-ever Member of Parliament in 2010.

Campaigner of the Year goes to an Honorary Brightonian who was a leading campaigner in the ‘No’ campaign in the electoral reform referendum, Charlott Vere. She was hardly out of the news and made a barnstorming speech in Brighton during the referendum campaign. Chuck is much missed locally but will no doubt continue her inevitable journey into Parliament at the next election.

For his constant production of press releases, the His Master’s Voice Award goes to Michael Ireland, researcher for Hove MP, Mike Weatherley. Rarely a day goes by without another press release popping up in my inboThe most Inspired Campaign of the Year goes to the Labour Party for LOLA, the Leave Our Loos Alone campaign, to save public toilets from closure.

The Trend Setters Award goes to …. the Labour Party of the early 1990’s for starting the public toilet closure programme in Brighton.

The Hundred Year War Endurance Award goes to Steve Bassam and Jason Kitcat for their Twitter exchange on the Council Budget. It might not have gone on for a hundred years but sometimes it has felt that way to those of us who have read and reflected on each and every tweet!

The Individual Award for an Outstanding Election Result was closely fought. The panel of judges commended Sue Shanks for her victory in Withdene and Graham Cox for his Westbourne by-election result, but the award goes to Christopher Hawtree for his stunning individual performance in Central Hove.

The Dear Leader’s Award for Winding Up the Opposition (or on this occasion, winding up the Administration) goes to Tony Janio for wearing his Stars and Stripes tie at meetings of the Full Council.

And in spite of the judgement of the ridiculous ‘Standard’s Committee’, the Champagne Campaigning Moment goes to Dawn Barnett for her stunt in directing travellers in her ward to open spaces in Green-held wards.

The final award, the Who Got It Totally Wrong Award, goes to your Humble Blogger for getting the result of the Westbourne by-election totally wrong.

Congratulations to all award winners. Bask in the glory of your awards, and best wishes to all my readers (Momma Grizzly, Doris, and Biker Dave) for 2012.

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Reflecting of the reasons for the Conservative victory in the Westbourne by-election

First of all, congratulations to Graham Cox on his victory. Here is the full result:
Graham Cox (Conservative) 1027
Nigel Jenner (Labour) 826
Louisa Greenbaum (Green) 645
Gareth Jone (LibDem) 45
Paul Perrin (UKIP) 36
Pip Tindall (TUSC) 26
Susan Collard (European Citizens) 13

It was definitely a good night for the Tories made all that better by Labour beating the Greens into second place. I think there are three factors that resulted in this good result:

Graham Cox: Graham, as I have said since his selection, was an inspired choice. His appeal transcends traditional party loyalties and we can expect to see him rising very quickly into a leadership position within the Tory ranks.
The Legacy of The Bishop: Graham’s predecessor, Brian Oxley, was well-respected and some support for Graham will have been derived from Brian. Graham will no doubt convert those loyalty votes for Brian to his own.
Mike Weatherley: In spite of rumoured tensions between Graham and Mike, the current standing and high profile of the MP for Hove will have benefited Graham.

Labour’s performance will have brought some quiet satisfaction. While they did not win the seat, Labour achieved its primary objective of beating the Greens. It was noticeable that the tone of most of Labour’s message at present in Brighton and Hove is anti-Green. Perhaps now it will turn it’s focus on the Tories who are, after all, enforcing the cuts on Brighton and Hove. The unrelenting attacks on the Greens is somewhat disingenuous.

For the Greens, third place behind Labour in second is the second worst result possible. (The worst result would to have been beaten by UKIP). In May the Greens did little work in the ward. In this by-election they worked it to win but did not improve their position or share of the vote.

As mentioned above, the Greens have been subjected to unrelenting attacks from the Argus and by three individual Labour members, Lord Bassam, Caroline Penn, and councillor Warren Morgan. While Jason Kitcat has diligently responded in a statesmanlike manner, the attacks are what the Greens must expect for the next three and a half years leading up to May 2015.

Labour’s LOLA campaign (Leave Our Loos Alone) shows some imagination. I would be interested to know who came up with this idea. More of that kind of propaganda will serve Labour well.

The Tories have cause to celebrate, Labour too. The Greens need to lick their wounds, reflect on where they have arrive in the political cycle, and devise a strategy for recovery. I will return to this theme in the new year.

But there was one big loser in this by-election whose performance betrayed his previous unblemished record, and that was the prediction of your Humble Blogger. As my three regular readers (Doris, Biker Dave and Grizzly) will know, my forecasts are usually spot on. But this time, failure. In mitigation, I did recognise the personal strengths of Graham Cox from the moment he was first selected and thought that his selection made a Tory victory a real possibility.

By way of contrition, I will share something later this evening about councillor Cox and me. This revelation will not doubt be the talk around Christmas trees of Brighton and Hove this Festive Season.

Westbourne by-election, and the record of the Dear Leader

“I was sad to hear that Councillor Bill Randall has stepped down as Leader of Brighton and Hove City Council. I have never heard a bad word about him and I wish him well as Mayor.”

This is clearly the season of good will for these are not my words but those of the Deputy Chair (Political) of Brighton and Hove Conservatives, Robert Nemeth writing in today’s Brighton Argus.

But the Christmas spirit quickly evaporates and bad words are implied, if not said, against the Dear Leader (Randall, not Kim Jong-il). The “Greens did not hit the ground running”, decisions were taken “on the move rather than making the changes that were promised”, and that the situation has “no doubt been exacerbated by the internal squabbles”. He points to “chaos” on the issues of council tax, Falmer Stadium, and the Victoria Gardens campsite.

If that is not saying bad words against the Dear Leader, then I don’t know what is. And also, am right in thinking that history is being re-written? The Dear Leader hasn’t stood down after 6 months. He will remain the Dear Leader until the annual Council at which point he will become the Dear Mayor.

As for the Greens not hitting the ground running, my perception is that they did just that, and the approach to the budget has been quite extraordinary. By taking an open, inclusive approach to its preparation, and the invitation to Labour and Tory councillors, the opposition have been wrong footed, hence the all-out attack on the Greens by Labour’s Lord Bassam, Caroline Penn and Warren Morgan, and now Robert himself.

To suggest that there has been “chaos” is nonsense. These issues are the normal challenges that face a new (and yes, inexperienced) administration.

I don’t detect “internal squabbles”. There is debate and there are differences, but this has largely involved organisation and, to a lesser extent personalities. But such differences pale into insignificance when compared to the split between the the Hove and Pavilion Conservatives and the Kemptown Tories.

But enough of the Dear Leader, and enough of Mr Nemeth. All thoughts have turned to Christmas. Oh no they haven’t. Oh yes they have. OH NO THEY HAVEN’T!!! All thoughts are focused on Westbourne and tomorrow’s by-election.

I hear that both the Tories and Greens are pleased with their postal vote campaigns,I and that Labour and the Greens are pleased with their poster campaign. On postal votes, the Greens usually think they don’t do too well here, but they are quietly pleased with what they have achieved in Westbourne, and confidence levels are rising. But I hear from deep within the Labour camp that they are pleased with the number of promises they have secured for Nigel Jenner. The question is, how firm are these promises?

My prediction? I correctly ‘called’ the Goldsmid by-election, the Brighton Pavilion result (although I thought Chuck Vere would come second), and the number of seats the Greens would win in May (I said 22 or 23 – I didn’t see Chris Hawtree winning although he did). But this by-election is the most difficult ‘call’ because of the, likely, very low turnout. If this by-election was to take place in, say, May, I would think the Greens would win. They have the Big Mo, a candidate who lives in the ward, and in Luke Walter, the best election organiser in the City.

But the Joker in the Pack is the Tory candidate, Graham Cox. He is the equal to the Green’s Louisa Greenbaum, he is a first rate candidate. Without the other, either of these candidates would swing the result in an election as close as this.

If pushed, I would call it for Louisa Greenbaum, but it will be one of the closest results in years. I think that given the low turnout it could still go any one of three ways.

Best wishes to ALL candidates tomorrow. My respect for candidates remains, and I thank all seven of you for making democracy a reality.

(The original version of this post referred to Caroline Pegg. Her name has been corrected to Caroline Penn).

Strengthening the links between Labour and the Greens

A postscript to this morning’s post: I had intended to comment on the gender dynamic of the Bassam/Kitcat debate on Twitter, and to contrast it with the exchanges between Caroline Penn and Alex Phillips.

With Fassam and Bitcat, no quarter is offered, no quarter given. What would make this exchange better would be if Lord Bassam didn’t blame the Greens for the financial challenges in Brighton and Hove, rather he should blame the Tory-led Coalition for their obsession with cutting local government.

The contrast could not be greater in the Twitter exchanges between Ms Penn and councillor Phillips. These exchanges are robust and challenging, but they are done with respect and some affection. There are definite differences in their politics (Ms Penn is Labour, but with a tinge of Old Labour; Lady Everton is Green, but also with a tinge of Old Labour). Both fight firmly for their respective parties, yet both are respectful of the other, able to accept criticism and acknowledge positives in the views of others.

I think these two women personify what I like most about local politics. They represent what is positive about certain Green and Labour activists. I look to the day when they work together, in a Green-Socialist party. I don’t believe that they have yet met each other, but I suggest they meet for a skinny latte over the holiday period.

Where my gender theory is chalenged is the persons of Sven Rufus (Green), Pete Gillman (Labour) and Momma Grizzly herself (True Blue with as dash of Orange). Sven and Caroline Penn have agreed a Christmas truce (football and mince pies in No Man’s Land perhaps). Recent exchanges between the two of them have been warm and shows the way forward between Labour and the Greens. Pete Gillman, too, is a nice guy, but borders on being more focused on the Greens than the Tories. Should he see that Labour and the Greens have more to unite than divide them, he will be able to help bridge the divide between the two parties.

And then there is Rachael Bates. Momma Grizzly shows none of the sisterhood that exists between Lady Everton and Caroline Penn. And nor would she want to be part of such a sisterhood. While the Grizzly One will long remain in my affections, this season of peace and goodwill between humankind is not for her. But in spite of that, I wish her a happy Christmas.

Westbourne, Kitcat, Bassam and Randall: This is the week that was

And what a week it has been – the 100 Year War between Bassam and Kitcat, Bill Randall becoming Mayor-elect, and campaigning in the Westbourne by-election. Where to begin?

The Westbourne by-election takes place on Thursday and the main three parties have continued to campaign hard, in spite of the terrible weather. All parties seem to have become quietly pessimistic, although the Tories are perhaps the most confident. Some Labour activists are still displaying bravado, and I imagine that young Harris Fitch will respond with a forecast of a Labour landslide (similar to that he achieved in Rottingdean Coastal, no doubt).

I think it is still probably too close to call, but from the soundings I have taken, the Green vote is solid and not impacted by the debate regarding the budget. Electors know that it is the Tory-led Coalition that is imposing the cuts from on high, and Louisa Greenbaum has proven, once again to be a strong candidate who is capitalising on being the local candidate who stood in the ward in May.

Unhappiness with the Tories nationwide is offset by a strong candidate in Graham Cox. For someone with the quality of being absolutely singleminded and determined to achieve in whatever he does, Graham has remained relaxed and balanced, and has developed a personal vote beyond the Tory ranks.

Labour has campaigned hard but (and this isn’t an anti-Labour position although I will no doubt be accused of this) this is not the right moment for a Labour revival to begin. Nigel Jenner, while competent and hard working, is not the stand out candidate. That is shared between Louisa and Graham. The Labour Group on the Council remains, largely, invisible, in the eyes of the general public, and the Labour campaign has not set the by-election campaign on fire.

Which brings me on to Higgs bosom, or know locally as the Kitcat Bassam Particle. Never before in the field of Twitter conflict, have so many tweets been sent so often, by so few. For days now this (yawn) fascinating debate raged. It has been hard to follow, on occasions even by Jason Kitcat and Steve Bassam themselves. Bassam has shown all his qualities as a street fighter, making it tough for the Greens by throwing accusation after accusation, challenge after challenge. Meanwhile, Kitcat has patiently answered all, well almost all, of the points raised by Lord Bassam. Jason Kitcat continues to impress in his role as the Cabinet Member for Finance.

I have to say that I don’t think that Twitter is the right forum for such an in-depth and ongoing debate. I will offer the services of this blog, once again, for the different budget positions to be set out.

I have just two further points on this debate. Firstly, other than Warren Morgan and to a lesser extent, Craig Turton, Labour councillors remain invisible which is a shame. A strong opposition from the left to the Greens would add to the political discourse locally. The second point is that Lord Bassam has been allowed to get off with the most remarkable rewriting of history. Under Labour, including under his leadership, the Council made huge cuts, closed more toilets and put up rates/council tax far higher than the Greens are proposing, but no one refers to this record.

And finally for today, leadership. The Leader of the Council, the much admired Bill Randall, is to stand down in May to become the Mayor. This is a largely ceremonial role and carries nowhere near the power he now enjoys. Some has suggested he is being ousted. Nonsense. Others say he is jumping to avoid difficult times. Even more nonsense. I understand that he never intended to serve a full term as Leader. Perhaps he didn’t believe this humble blogger who predicted before May’s elections that the Greens would win 23 seats and be the largest party. Forming the first Green administration and coping with the level of cuts imposed by government will have taken its toll. But Bill has managed the process with competence, charm, and good humour. There will have been a cost and he is looking older than his 36 years (that’s a joke, Momma Grizzly. He is too old for you).

As for his successor? I’ll return to that after Thursday’s by-election.

Mischievous Geoffrey Bowden, fighting Steve Bassam, and bullish Jason Kitcat

Do you have 3G? I don’t mean the Internet access on your phone or laptop, but Three Geoffrey’s? In the Bible the Three Wise Men travelled from the east to worship the Child God, or something like that. In Brighton and Hove, the Three Wise Men travelled to the west to King’s House. They are the Three G’s – Geoffreys Theobald, Wells and Bowden.

And rumour has it that each of the Three G’s is pulling in a different direction: Geoffrey W to the right, Geoffrey T straight ahead, while Geoffrey B pulling to the hard left (well just left of centre, really). And how do we know this? Well GB has tweeted that “Rumour has it that the Tory’s 2 Geoffreys – Wells & Theobald r @ war with Wells threatening 2 resign Tory whip @ full council on 15th”.

I know little more than what GB has tweeted, but hopefully one of my dear friends in the Tory Party will enlighten me further. Is this further evidence of the split between the Hove and Pavilion Tories on one hand, and the Kemptown Tories on the other?

But Geoffrey Bowden has been stirring it elsewhere. In another tweet, designed to get Warren Morgan spluttering, once again, over hi Sugar Puffs, he wrote: “Rallying Lab troops 2 help in Westbourne Warren Morgan reveals his fears Greens will look @ seat in E.Brighton if not stopped in bi-election.” Naughty, Geoffrey.

Less edifying on Twitter has been the ongoing obsession that Chuck Vere has about where Caroline Lucas lives. Most activists have long accepted that Ms Lucas has her only home in the Brighton Pavilion constituency, and Lady Everton, Alex Phillips, unambiguously made that clear on Twitter. Ms Lucas’s two main opponents at the general election, Chuck herself and Nancy Platts, both wasted little time returning to London after the election. Caroline Lucas is well and truly settled in Brighton Pavilion, and can expect a long incumbency as its Member of Parliament.

But what has been more interesting this week than the split between the two Blue Geoffreys, Labour’s fears for East Brighton, and Chuck Vere’s obsession as to where Caroline Lucas leaves her toothbrush, has been the role of Twitter in the debate on the City Council’s first Green budget. There have been two primary protagonists: in the red corner, Lord Bassam (the former Labour leader of Brighton and Hove City Council); in the green corner, the Green Administrations Cabinet Member for Finance, Jason Kitcat.

Steve Bassam has peppered Jason Kitcat with questions and comments, which councillor Kitcat has patiently answered over several days. This debate has shown two things: the tribal, street fighting, campaigning instincts of Steve Bassam, and the competence in financial matters of Jason Kitcat. For a new comer to Brighton politics, one would never have believed that, as councillor Bassam, Lord Bassam was responsible for cuts of an equal scale (including the closure of more public toilets than is currently proposed) and rate/council tax rises that makes councillor Kitcat look as though he is the true-born Son of Eric Pickles.

Finally, last week I invited supporters of Labour, the Tories, UKIP and the Lib Dems (if there are any of the latter group left) to send me their alternate budgets, saying I would post them on my blog for my three regular readers to review. But to date Momma Grizzly, Doris and Biker Dave have been disappointed. The offer still stands. Perhaps Lord Bassam might oblige …?

The Green budget is politically astute; what alternatives are there from Labour and the Tories?

I have really lost the plot. You shouldn’t read this blog. There are so many reasons not to. The latest reason is my praise for the Green budget. I seem to have lost any sense of balance. Well, that is how some people, including Valerie Paynter, Linda F, and some others see it.

If you were to look at my post about the Green budget, I hardly mentioned anything about the content, what is being protected, what is being cut. I rather looked at the politics, and I stand by what I said. The Greens, and Jason Kitcat in particular, have produced something exceptional and done so in an exceptional way.

Let’s face it, under the Tory-led Coalition, ably assisted by their lapdogs in the Lib Dems, no budget set at this time would be anything but incredibly difficult to set, and cuts are inevitable.

Over the last ten years, the budgets set by previous Labour and Tory administrations would have looked not too dissimilar had they been set by the other party, with marginal changes in emphasis, and the addition or removal of a cycle lane or two.

So, too, it is with this budget. I doubt whether either Labour or the Tories will come up with anything really substantive by way of an alternative. I hope they do, but many of the cost cutting measures, perhaps with the addition or removal of a Super Director or two, would be the same.

The Greens have said that they want to protect the young, the elderly, and the very vulnerable. It appears that, largely, they have achieved this. But the content of the Budget is not my area of expertise and I have left it to Jason Kitcat and Steve Bassam to joust through Twitter on the merits or otherwise of the budget itself. How Labour in Brighton and Hove need someone like Lord Bassam to lead their recovery.

But back to the politics. The approach taken by the Greens, the inclusive approach adopted by councillor Kitcat, the assertive way in which the budget-setting process has been led, is an example of a genuine wish to involve those from other parties and from none. And an unintentional consequence (probably a very intentional consequence, come to think about it) has been to neuter the opposition.

The approach has, genuinely, been an open one. Opposition councillors have been invited and welcomed into the ‘star chamber’. There is an ‘open book’ approach. This approach, politically, puts opposition groups on the back foot. They cannot make complain about the process, and it forces them to focus on the issues.

The challenge for the opposition is to come up with an alternate budget. For the Tories it won’t be enough to harp on about a Council Tax freeze. They are the party of cuts and austerity. Let’s hear something positive from them now.