‘Summersgate’ is simply poor politics

I think I have upset some of my Green friends over ‘Summersgate’. Last night I was challenged by Rob Jarrett to say what my views are on equal marriage. I responded to @RobHove as follows: “100% in favour of equal marriage, 100% disagree with Christina Summers, 100% think Greens have made massive error expelling her”.

Equal marriage isn’t the issue here. In fact it is not something that the Council has any power over. The issue is making an issue of an issue vaguely related to that issue, if you follow me. No? I’ve commented on the politics, not the equal marriage issue. The fact that we are still discussing the expulsion of Christina Summers from the Green Group is an indication, not of a very wide consensus in favour of equal marriage, but of poor politics.

Politicians must be on their guard to avoid simple traps that can destroy reputations, personally or for the party as a whole. Often it is down to arrogance or immaturity, and often a fatal combination of both. Look at the Conservatives. They are falling over backward to assert their support for the police following Andrew Mitchell and ‘Gategate’. It detracts from their message and has become something far more damaging than the incident itself warranted.

The Lib Dems, bless, carry many burdens: Nick Clegg, Tuition Fees, being Lib Dems. How impressed we all were with ‘I’m Sorry’, now gone viral on YouTube. ‘Sorrygate‘ has had more than a million hits in just four days. I prefer the ‘gate’ associated with the Lib Dems to be known simply as ‘lackinganymoralfibregate’ but then I am just plain mean.

Labour is burdened, and will be for a generation, with something far more serious, Iraq. No matter how reformed they become, even if Ed Miliband was to do his own version of ‘I’m Sorry’ it is still going to take a lot more before Labour will be trusted again on foreign policy. Coming into Government, Labour’s ethical foreign policy promised so much …..!

But back to the Greens on the City Council. Overall I think they are doing well but losing the PR war quite badly. They are not unique. All incoming administrations struggle after their initial honeymoon. How the Greens respond over the next 12 to 18 months will be critical. They need to focus on what they were elected to do. Local councillors, when all is said and done, are elected to ensure they deliver good local services. Are bins being emptied and the streets cleaned? Can their children get into the school of their choice? What do people think of library services? Where will their children and grandchildren live? Is there visible homelessness on the streets? How good is the bus service? Is there traffic congestion? What is the economic outlook for the area? And so on.

Of course much is beyond the control of local government with spending constraints being imposed on an unparalleled level, the banks refusing mortgages, the overall economy.

So, how do I think the Green Administration is doing. Overall, very well. There is a good feeling around Brighton. The streets are clean, the bins are emptied, sensible decisions have been made about safeguarding services to the most vulnerable. The attacks of Labour and Tory activists are predictable, and are not any more representative of the views of the general public than, say, the views of this humble blogger.

The Greens have won praise and respect for their approach to budget setting which is more open than anything that has gone before. Jason Kitcat and, before him, Bill Randall, are both well respected, as are many leading members of the administration. They haven’t been assisted by the turmoil, not of their making, within the officer class at the Council.

My advice to the Greens is to carry on as you have begun, engage more with people outside the Council (council officers are not your electorate), and please avoid any future silly own goals such as Summersgate.

I am sure that there are other issues that are bubbling away in the background. I am advised that a few Green councillors are exercised about prayers at council meetings. Nobody cares about prayers before meetings other than a few councillors. It doesn’t impact on the lives of ordinary people. If you are tempted to try to do something about them you will become a laughing stock rather than the serious political force that you have become through many years of diligent building and for which you have my respect.

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Stormin’ Norman and the Curse of the Coalition Government

I’m not one for making predictions, as my regular readers (Warren, Momma Grizzly, Councillor Christopher, and Biker Dave) will testify, but I have a premonition about the future fortunes of the Lib Dem Member of Parliament for Lewes, Norman Baker. I can feel it it my waters that his time on the Green Benches (the colour, not the party) may be limited.

Actually, there is speculation about his future in several quarters, not least in the pages of Latest 7 magazine and in Brighton and Hove News in articles written by one of the nicest and most principled journalists around, Frank le Duc.

So why should Stormin’ Norman’s future look so uncertain? Well, for a start, he is a Lib Dem, and as my regular readers (the said WM, MG, CH & BD) will know, I have had my doubts about the Lib Dems. Apart from being untrustworthy, lacking backbone, two-faced, unprincipled, deserving to be confined to the dustbin of history, I think they are rather a decent bunch.

The Lib Dems are facing meltdown at the next general election for several reasons:

For helping to create the Coalition Government and thereby allow the Tories to run the country without a mandate;

For betraying their pledge on tuition fees;

For standing by while the privatisation of the NHS has begun;

etc. etc. etc.

And Stormin’ Norman’s part in this is not great. He betrayed his own written pledge on tuition fees, he agreed to become a Minister in this government that is implementing policies that were not in either party’s manifesto nor in the Coalition Agreement, and his government is bumping up rail fares (something that will not go unpunished by commuters in the Lewes constituency). On the issue of rail fares, Stormin’ Norman not only remained silent, he is the Transport Minister responsible for rail!

But it isn’t all bleak for him, as Frank le Duc has suggested, Lord Baker of Lewes is a likely reward for his loyal service to the Coalition. However, that would be a sorry end for someone who inspired so much hope as an anti-establishment MP in his early career.

Ed Miliband gets it so wrong on his ‘Big Idea’

Labour leader Ed Miliband has come up with a brilliant ‘Big Idea’ for the Labour Party – under Labour you won’t be better off than under the Tories, you will just be less worse off.

What is this Big Idea? It is his announcement to lower the cap on student tuition fees to £6,000 a year, down from the current £9,000 cap. It would be partly funded by higher interest on student loans for graduates earning more than £65,000 a year.

What does Ed think the reaction will be. It was Labour who brought us tuition fees, it was Labour who originally increased them to £3,000, and now he thinks people will flock back if Labour are regressive but just not as regressive as the Tories!

Of course a £3,000 reduction will help those with children at university, but it is hardly the promise of a radical government. The debate in Labour and in the media is still focused on which Miliband is right for Labour. How about a debate on the right policies?

Lib Dem betrayal and police heavy-handedness is seeing the politicisation and radicalisation of a generation

It was a successful policing operation, according to the Metropolitan Police.  No students died! 

We are entering a fascinating period in the political life of the UK.  The Government have lost control of the streets.  Tens of thousands of students up and down the country are being politicised by the Lib Dems collusion with the Tories and radicalised by the heavy-handed policing tactics being deployed against them.

It is like the poll tax protests all over again and very different from the inner city riots of the early 1980s.  In the 1980s it was alienated youths, often black youths, who had no hope for the future and who were being treated heavy-handedly by the police. In 1990 it was working and middle classes uniting against the unjust Poll Tax.

As now, a popular cause was targeted by a political elite, fortified by their deluded self-belief and secure in their Westminster Palace, that made an enemy of the country as a whole.  The sight of police horses charging young people on the streets of London will have appalled many people, not least middle class parents whose children were the targets of the horses and the victims of police batons.  The students are being politicised, and so too are their parents.

The Met Police appear to have just one tactic – kettle to contain.  Not only is it not working, it has already undermined public confidence in th police.  There is anger at the increase in tuition fees, and it is right that it is aimed largely at the Lib Dems.  If the Coalition Government had hoped that that level of anger  would now receded, they are to be disappointed.  The betrayal of the pledge by Lib Dems, including Norman Baker, coupled with the treatment of student protesters (the majority of whom were non-violent and law abiding) will see this run and run.

General Election 2015: Vote Labour or Tory in Lewes. Anything is better than the Dishonourable Norman Baker

Role of Honour: Caroline Lucas (Green; Brighton Pavilion) and Stephen Lloyd (Liberal Democrat; Eastbourne).

Role of Dishonour: Norman Baker (Liberal Democrat; Lewes).

And then you have your traditional Tories supporting cuts cuts cuts.  At least they are consistent and behaving true to form.

But Norman Baker has sold his principles to retain the trappings of office.  “I took what was probably the most difficult decision I ever had to take in my political career”, he moans.  He is referring, of course, to his vote in support of an increase in tuition fees.

During the general election campaign Norman signed a pledge that he would vote against any increase in tuition fees.

Norman said today that “the easiest option for me would have been to vote against”.  No, Norman, it would have been the principled option.  You gave us your word.  Your word is now worth nothing. 

This was not just one unfortunate comprise necessary in order to form the Coalition Agreement.  This was the one and only pledge that every single Lib Dem candidate, including Norman Baker, signed.  It was the very reason why many students voted Lib Dem.

There was a choice, and fellow Lib Dem Stephen Lloyd made that choice.  Norman has chosen his Ministerial career above his principles.  It is a shame that the recall of MP’s is not yet in place.  Nevermind.  His time will come.  My first recommendation for the next General Election is for voters in Lewes to vote either Labour or Conservative.  Vote Labour for an anti-Tory vote; vote  Conservative for a vote against a dishonourable Lib Dem.

A day of shame for democracy

Shame on the Conservatives for piling debt on students and families, cutting funding for education and investment in our future.

Shame on those Liberal Democrats who voted with the Tories and betrayed their pledge to their electorate.

Shame on Simon Hughes and other Lib Dems for betraying their pledge to vote against any increase in tuition fees.

Shame on the Metropolitan Police for using police horses against children.

Truly a day of shame for democracy and a day that will damage Britain’s reputation throughout the world.

The right and wrong way to demonstrate

Today we saw the best and worst aspects of protest.  Students from around the country descended on Westminster to protest against the decision to raise tuition fees, with particular anger focused on the Lib Dems, all of whose MPs pledged to oppose such an increase. 

It is many years since students were mobilised in such numbers, and a great deal of credit should go to the National Union of Students.  They had a serious, important point to make, and they were making it well until …..

….. an ill-disciplined group including non-student anarchists, occupied Millbank towers, which includes the offices of the Conservative Party.  One idiot, who I hope is identified and prosecuted, threw a fire extinguisher off the roof, missing a police officer by a matter of feet.  Swept up in this group were many very young protesters, probably school children who had joined the demonstration to protest against the cut to Education Maintenance Allowance.

Sadly, the demonstration will be characterised and remembered for the violent episode at Millbank.  One reassuring aspect, though, was the restraint demonstrated by the Metropolitan Police.  Of course they, too, are facing cuts.  They have also been stung by criticism of their handling of previous climate change demonstrations.

I would propose a demonstrators charter that protesters are required by organisers of demonstration to abide by otherwise they should be excluded from the demonstrations.  The charter could include:

  • No taunting of the police (some people come to demonstrations to have a pop at the police; the police are not the target of most protests)
  • No break-away groups (it allows the police to justify kettling)
  • No alcohol and drugs (protests need to be focused and disciplined)
  • Normally have live music (it raises spirits and sets a certain tone)
  • Walk in ordered rows and columns (a protest should not resemble an amble in the park)
  • Everyone should wear a common colour (green, red, black, etc.)
  • Protests should be safe for children and older citizens, so language should be appropriate.

In response, the police should be required to respect a disciplined protest and ensure that its command and conduct does not provoke or exacerbate the situation.

I imagine many people will think I’m barking, but if you have ever been on, or witnessed, serious and disciplined demonstrations (for example, republican demonstrations in Belfast or protests under Apartheid in South Africa), you will appreciate the importance of discipline and the power of such a protest.