New Media and Brighton and Hove City Councillors: Welcome to the 21st Century

Brighton and Hove City Council have finally arrived into the age of new media. Ignoring the debate about the new head of media relations, councillors are now allowed to tweet and send emails from the Council chamber as a way of encouraging greater interaction between politicians and the public.

(Incidently, my recent post on the proposed media relations post was criticised by Labour councillor Craig Turton who was quite right when he said “Frankly, BPB this is a lazy posting not worthy of your usual insight.”)

Central Services cabinet member Jason Kitcat has said that this innovation will bring the Council into the 21st century. He said: “Despite the current guidelines, there are members from all parties who are catching up on emails in the Chamber. At the moment live feedback is limited to the small number of people in the public gallery.”

Conservative councillor Mary Mears has long opposed the change. She was quoted by the Argus as saying: “I still do not support it. I believe we are there to represent the city and should be concentrating on what is going on rather than political backstabbing while the meeting is going on.”

Labour and Co-op councillor, active Twitter-user Warren Morgan responded by saying: “Councillors should be focused on the debate but most are quite capable of listening and at the same time tweeting or researching the issue under discussion via the web on their mobile.”

Warren’s statement begs the question: “If most councillors are capable of multi-tasking, who are those who are not capable …?”

So we can all expect more interaction from our politicians which is something I welcome. I personally may not need to attend future council meetings … !

Doorstep Brighton 12: Being Grizzly in Coldean, a Lib Dem in Hove, and Ice Cold is Alex

In Hollingdean and Stanmer,” lots of friendly Conservatives” have been out in Coldean, cross city support for Rachael ‘Momma Grizzly’ Bates and her anonymous fellow candidates.  What defines “lots” in this context? And was this endangered species spotted by any of my spies? Rachel reports on Twitter that there had been “a fantastic response on the doorstep in Coldean”. Does that translate to ‘unharmed’?

Momma Grizzly is faced with somewhat of a problem: loyalty to her employer, Hove MP Mike Weatherley or the residents of the Brighton ward she seeks to represent on the City Council. Campaigning Mike, who on and off describes himself as the MP for Portslade, wants to the Royal Mail to drop ‘Brighton’ from the postal address for Portslade.  A nice populist move, Mike, but what should Grizzly do: follow the Weatherley “we don’t like you and we don’t care” approach and offend her H&S voters, or recognising that Portslade (and Hove actually) are now part of Greater Brighton.

In Goldsmid, Alex Phillips and her Green colleagues have had a ‘bike action’ day around The Drive and Cromwell Road.  A hardy bunch are Goldsmid Greens, out “come rain or shine”. This commitment is a challenge to Rob Buckwell and the other Goldsmid Estate Agents who cannot think beyond council tax cuts.

Rebecca Taylor is a brave one, a candidate who has ‘come out’ as a Lib Dem. Rebecca Taylor says on Twitter that she is “running for a seat on Brighton and Hove Council In May 2011 (representing Hove)”. The whole of Hove? I think she means Central Hove. She has little chance of success if her Twitter account (@rtaylorhove) is anything to go by – she has just 9 followers!  Beccy, forget the Lib Dems, if you are serious about becoming a councillor, join the Greens.

And finally, in Regency, Jason Bull writes: “I received a handwritten Christmas card from the LibDem candidates. Nothing from them since. Nothing from Labour. Can’t find out the names of the Conservative candidates. A female representative of the Green Party buzzed my flat intercom and asked if she could come in. I am a gay man and I was engaged in a sexual encounter at the time. I said ‘no.’ She persisted. I said, very firmly ‘no’, turned off my intercom and got back down to business.” How very dare you, Jason.

The Mears Master Plan: More reaction

Jason Kitcat is not a happy bunny.  He is unhappy about the BBC coverage of the announcement of the Tory budget: He writes on Twitter “Couldn’t BBC News even get a single opposition quote? Weak reporting”.  He is, of course, right on that. 

But of more importance is his reaction to the draft budget itself: “Cynical, irresponsible, gimmicky – take your pick!”. He describes the budget as “breathtaking. It slices HUGE chunks of budgets for children’s services and social care. Almost £5.5m from Children’s & Families services, about £6.1m from Adult Social Care as well as smaller but harmful cuts from planning, licensing and central services including, for example, health & safety support work. Additionally the Tories propose to spend £1.1m capital funds removing cycle lanes from Grand Avenue & The Drove. Yes, that’s right, removing cycle lanes. They also wish to borrow just over £4.5m to refurbish car parks.”

Interestingly, Jason says that “My colleague Bill Randall and I have asked to meet Labour councillors to discuss any joint amendments we might be able to agree on.”  This could be the first real test of whyether Labour and the Greens can work together.  Some how, it is something I doubt.  The anamosity between Labour and Green hacks runs deep, particularly amongst Labour activists and several councillors.  Some long standing Labour councillors still believe that it is their right to control the Council and have the City’s MPs, and they cannot stand these Green upstarts!  Come the first Friday of May, there will remain just a small rump of Labour councillors.  The Greens, I believe, are willing to work with Labour.  They, of course have everything to gain, nothing to lose.

How do others see Mary Mears’ ‘Master Plan’?  Dr Faust doesn’t think its will wash with the public: “I would have thought it likely that any proposed cut from the Council could be more than wiped out by a rise in the police precept – so people might see an overall rise anyway. However the move does present a challange to other parties – how much will they propose to raise Council Tax in order to save jobs and services? The reduction from the Tories just makes the gap larger, and a harder sell. Arguing for a 1% difference is far easier than a 10% one.”

‘Clive’  thinks that the council tax cut is the equivalent of an irresponsible giveaway budget – “it is the kind of behaviour that the coalitionistas are trying to pin on the last government, with very little basis in fact.  It only has to be hoped that enough people see through it – fortunately B&H voters are pretty clued up, in my experience. One percent is not much, either, and it won’t be enough if the opposition parties remember that the Tories are in power here (barely) and it is their seats (the winnable ones) that ought to be targeted.”

Momma Grizzly (Rachael Bates) as you would expect, thinks the Tory plan is just grand: “I am indeed extremely pleased with the plans to reduce council tax. I join Rob Buckwell in saying that I hope that those in opposition don’t block this sensible plan which will help hard-working people to retain more of their own money.”

But ‘Steampunk’ disagrees with Grizzly and is united with Dan Wilson’s comment reported in my last post: “Dan exposes the cynicism of the 1% tax cut succinctly with the concrete example that for most ‘hard-working people’ this amounts to around £10 cash back per year (admittedly more for the better-off). To pretend that this is going to help families – or in more abstract terms help the local economy – when the reality is that you would be shutting services and making hundreds of people redundant is totally dishonest.”

More to follow …..

Nancy Platts is right to avoid the husting debates

There has been some debate on Twitter, on the blogs and in comments on this blog regarding the decision by Nancy Platts to miss hustings so that she can be on the doorstep.

I don’t agree with the criticism of her.  Husting debates have their place, but often they are attended by boring anoraks like me and those who tend to hold firm views.  Yes, there will be some present who are yet to make their decision as to where they will place their cross.  Nancy will have missed an opportunity with them but what she is doing is prioritising where she will be most effective.

While Nancy has debating strengths, it is not her strongest asset whereas Caroline Lucas is a star performer.  Charlotte Vere has struggled but is getting more competent.  Where Nancy excels is on the doorstep, in one to one situations.  Nothing phases her, she comes across as enthusiastic, and is very engaging.  She is more likely to pick up support on the oorstep, and she is highly energetic.

I do hope, however, that she won’t avoid all the hustings, but she is ight to be selective what she does and where she goes.

25 days to go and the Greens are everywhere

I tuned in to the Andrew Marr Show, and there was Caroline Lucas, impressive, charming and authoritative. Then there she was on Sky with Adam Boulton, surprisingly, impressive, charming and authoritative.  Later I turned on the Politics Show, and there was Caroline Lucas once again, surprisingly impressive, charming and authoritative.

This contrasted with the Tory Amanda Plattell who ‘contentedmummy’ described on Twitter as looking “as evil as she sounds”. Together with some non-descript journalist, they attempted to rubbish the Greens and their prospects, but came acros as bitter and sectarian.

And immediately after the Politics Show, as if by imaculate planning, there  was a knock on the door – a Green Party worker. Yesterday I bumped into several Green Party workers.  The mood of all is upbeat and positive.

By contrast, the mood amongst Labour supporters is one of demoralisation, in Brighton Pavilion, Brighton Kemptown, and in Hove.

As for the Conservatives, The SussexSquare (Geoffrey Bowden) tweeted to Charlotte Vere last night, “its amazing that the majority of your tweets are devoted to attacking Caroline Lucas. You must be scared of her!”.

So I looked at the previous 10 tweets posted by Ms Vere.  Seven related to Ms Lucas!  Ms Lucas is everywhere – even having the highest profile on the Twitter account of her Conservative opponent. 

And what about Ms Lucas herself?  How many of her tweets made reference to Ms Vere?  I looked at her tweets, not just the last 10, but every one over the last 10 weeks (I must get a life!).  How many referred to Ms Vere?  50%?  More?  Well, none actually.  Not a single one.  Zero.  It is as if Ms Lucas is not even aware of the existence of Charlotte Vere.

The amazing thing about Caroline Lucas is her energy, and how she remains pleasant and totally focused, no matter who she is talking to.  She has the rare talent to relate to ordinary people and make them feel special, while charming those beasts known as Marr, Boulton and Sopel.

Amy Kennedy, Charlotte Vere, Caroline Lucas and Nancy Platts – what have you been doing?

I was thrilled to discover three things on my return to Brighton this evening, while reflecting on why on continental Europe (or The Netherlands to be precise) is able to deliver cleaner streets, do road repairs in the evening, and (no surprise here) get so many people onto bicycles.

But the three delights.  First there was Green councillor Amy Kennedy appearing on Just a Minute with Paul Merton, Gyles Brandreth and Jenny Eclair.  Actually it wasn’t Amy but the equally admirable Pam Ayres.  I do confuse the two of them.

Then I read a press release from the Conservative candidate in Brighton Pavilion, Charlotte Vere, attacking Green candidate Caroline Lucas.  But the attack was by proxy, it was an attack on Green councillor Keith Taylor who was “representing Green Party leader Caroline Lucas”.

What amused me and anyone else who knows about the internal politics of the Green Party will know that Keith Taylor representing Caroline Lucas is a contradiction in terms.  Keith can’t stand Caroline: she defeated him to become the first Leader of the Green Party, then trounced him to become the candidate in Brighton Pavilion.  Keith has been absent from the campaign trail, not a bad thing in itself as he is hardly an electoral asset.

But what of Labour? The artist who drew the rather flattering image I use on my Twitter account (whose identity is yet to be revealed) sent me a link to a Sunday Times article which I had missed as I was away, and anyway I don’t read the gutter pres.  The article is about reds under the bed.  My contact said “It lacks any real political analysis – disappointing journalism, but names Nancy Platts as one of the ‘new awkward squad’ who will create a ‘lurch to the left’.”   Much more praise like that and Nancy will be back in poll position in Brighton Pavilion.

Nancy was unavailable for comment, she had a revolution to organise.  A great bit of publicity for her, but a pathetic piece of gutter journalism.  Have a read: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article7061145.ece

It’s great to be home.  I’ll be looking at who is contributing what to the various election campaigns next.

Marina Pepper: Latest on Brighton Pavilion

Marina Pepper has responded on Twitter to rumours that she might become the Lib Dem candidate for Brighton Pavilion.  She said: “Rumours flying around that I’m about to stand for Parliament in Pavilion. Lots of old buffers blogging their opinions on my chances. LOL”.

This old buffer did say she didn’t have a chance of success. But she didn’t say she wouldn’t stand – as a Lib Dem or for someone else.

In fact the Lib Dems have a candidate but they seem to have kept it a secret.  The candidate is Bernadette Millam.  She is listed on the excellent UK Polling Report site, but little, if anything, is known about her.

It is clear that the Lib Dems are not taking the seat seriously.  Why don’t they just nt stand so that Lib Dems can simply vote for Caroline Lucas.

Was Charlotte Vere’s apology empty words? It appears so.

Charlotte Vere has made a point of apologising for the “snowstorm in a teacup” yesterday for re-Tweeting a link to a blog that likened the policies of the Greens to those of the BNP.   The blog she thought worthy of promoting was headed “Vote Green – Go Blackshirt”.  Disgusting and outrageous.  Yesterday she has said in her blog  “As I have explained in a subsequent letter to The Argus, retweeting or RT on Twitter is rather like nudging someone on a train and muttering “have you seen what this says about …”. And that is all I did. I retweeted a message, which was originally sent to Caroline Lucas, which linked to an old blog post about the respective policies of the Green Party and the BNP by someone I have never heard of. If I have caused offence, I apologise – it was certainly not intended”.

So should we leave it at that? Actually, no.  In her ‘apology’ Ms Vere once again provides a link to the offending blog.  She should remove the link and make a clear statement that she does not in any way subscrive to the view that the poolicies of the Greens in any way resemble those of the BNP, and she should remove the link to the website.

Already a Facebook site has been created calling for her resignation as candidate.  I think that that call is premature, but she must take this matter seriously.  It is more than a snowstorm in a teacup.

How effective are Nancy, Caroline and Chuck in using new technology in Brighton Pavilion?

The “snowstorm in a teacup” incident where Charlotte Vere re-tweeted a link to an outrageous blog that likened the policies of the Green Party to those of the BNP (for which Charlotte apologised), raises the two edged sword that is the mighty Twitter.  It is so easy to Tweet or re-Tweet something and for it then to get ‘legs’.  It has caused me to think about how the three candidates for Brighton Pavilion are using Twitter and other new media.

Nancy Platts has for some considerable time made very effective, and at times, humourous use of new technologies.  Her style is warm and engaged with a strong focus on local issues and what she is doing.  Anyone following her will have no doubt about her commitment to Brighton Pavilion and be impressed by her personal campaign.  A great example of her blogging can be found on “Tory stories, Tory cuts, my thoughts on what it’s meant leaving social care in Tory hands in Brighton” . Nancy has had a very high profile regarding the campaign to save the Preston Circus Fire Station, just one example of street-level activity for which she is know and respected.  Nancy has 693 Twitter followers.

Caroline Lucas, as the national leader of the Greens, has a different focus – more on national issues and events.  Even though this blog has called for a Green tactical vote in Brighton Pavilion, there remain concerns about Caroline as a local candidate.  Her Tweets refect this, although there is an increased focus on local issues, such as the campaign to save the Brighton History Museum.  That campaign has a high Twitter profile and can easily be supporter from Brussels.  What Caroline needs to do is to raise some original, local issues that are original to her, and not issues fed by her campaign team or joined online.  Her new website is impressive, but again the local issues are all those championed by Green councillors locally.  Caroline has 978 Twitter followers.  As yet she has chosen not to follow @BrightonPolitic, the rather wonderful Twitter of the Brighton Politics Blogger which this blog highly and without reservations recommends!

Chuck Vere (you notice that, following her apology, it is back to the rather familiar and intimate ‘Chuck’ as opposed to the sterner Ms Vere) has, as previously stated on this blog, hit the ground running with her website although she is yet to define herself as either local or London.  A lot of her Tweeting and blogging is on issues such as Gordon Brown’s leadership.  She doesn’t need to do that since it does not add to the overall debate and makes her come across as a party political hack, and being a cheerleader for David Cameron is not going to be a big vote winner, even if she thinks it will.  She also adds to an image as a hack by making direct and rather shallow jibes at Caroline over her expenses as an MEP.  Chuck has 190 Twitter followers.

Where Caroline has done well is to avoid responding directly to the jibes from Chuck Vere.  She addresses the issues but gives no name-check to Chuck.  She knows the number 1 rule of local political campaigning.  The electorate don’t respond positively to name-calling by candidates against their opponents.  To quote that great political strategist, Thumper, from the Disney film Bambi: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”.

BPB Joins Twitterati

Yes, folks. Have to admit it. I have joined the Twitter generation. But I am appalled at the rubbish so many people post. I am amazed at how shallow so many of my fellow human beings are. So many need to get a life.

But Twitter is a way of sharing basic concepts on the move (reactions to news stories, for example). You won’t find me Tweeting “Walking down the road picking my nose”. Give it a go. More to the point, give me a go. You can find me, and follow me, at @BrightonPolitic