Forecasting the results of May’s local elections in Brighton and Hove – a dangerous activity

The local elections are just over two weeks away, and the outcome of these elections is the most difficult to predict in years.

The current state of the parties is:

  • Conservatives 21
  • Labour 19
  • Greens 11
  • Independents 2
  • Vacancy 1

All three parties have high hopes of increasing their representation, and all three have lesser or greater hopes of being the largest party. There is a slim, very slim, chance that there will be a majority administration for the first time in years.

Starting with the Conservatives, they have their eyes set on winning two seats snatched from them by Labour in 2015: Westbourne and Central Hove. They might also hope to hold on to one seat in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, that of Anne Meadows who recently defected from Labour. They would also hope to pick up both seats in North Portslade, although I can’t see them shifting Labour’s Peter Atkinson. My prediction is that they will see no net change and remain on 21, gaining one seat and losing one.

Labour has high hopes of increasing their reputation from the 23 they won in 2015. This number has decreased to 19 with the defection of Anne Meadows, the recent vacancy caused by the resignation of Caroline Penn, and two councillors becoming independents, former leader Warren Morgan and t, both who joined the Independent Group (although the latter resigned from that Group last week). Labour will be confident of regaining all four of these seats and will be targeting Green-held seats in Hanover (2), Goldsmid (2) and Preston Park (1). The Party is also eying up an additional seat in both Central Hove and Westbourne. In an exceptional year they might fancy their chances of winning back Hangleton and Knoll, but it would require a political earthquake to do so this time. My prediction is Labour will see a net increase of two seats, gaining four and losing two, leaving them equal with the Conservatives on 21.

The Greens lost a large number of seats to Labour last time, taking them from the largest to the smallest group on the City Council. They are hoping to regain many of these including in Hollingdean and Stanmer (3), Queens Park (3), Preston Park (2), and Hanover (1). They have also been active in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean (3), targeting the student vote. And then there is Westbourne where that electoral phenomenon, Christopher Hawtree, is standing. Only a foolish person would write off his chances of winning the Greens first ever seat in that ward. If the Greens were to be successful in all these contests, they would end up with 24 seats, relegating Labour to third place. However, I predict that they will hold their current seats and pick up just one additional one.

The Liberal Democrat’s don’t hold any seats, and I cannot see any area where they will make a breakthrough this time.

All in all, all four parties will be left disappointed. A extra seat here or there will decide whether Labour or the Conservatives are the largest party, with the balance of power being held, once again, by the Greens.

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The true identity of the Brighton Politics Blogger is finally revealed

Following a Freedom of Information request by various media outlets, fiercely resisted by Clarence House, it has today been revealed that the true identity of the Brighton Politics Blogger is, indeed, HRH The Prince of Wales.

Also Clarence House was further required to reveal this, the latest account of political events in Brighton and Hove by HRH BPB:

image“One is relieved that the Greens have been culled like a clan of mad badgers. There are times, not many, when One appreciates democracy. One was mightily gratified that Lady Everton, a fine looking filly, survived in Regency Ward along with Major Druitt, a nice lad but there is a whiff of vegetable oil about him.

“Our Loyal Labour Party, led by Commander Morgan, has now seized the reins of power in the City, with Sugar Puffs, instead of Kitcats, being served at all Council meetings.

“Our well-beloved distant relative, Geoffrey Theobald, remains Master of the Patcham Traveller Hunt.

“One is rather saddened that the duel between a local Smithy and Lord Hawtree of Bookend failed to materialise. Both have now retired. How One wishes that One’s Mother would follow their lead.

“We are sorry that the Mayor, Sir Brian Fitch, and his rather gorgeous potty-mouthed wife, Norah, (she reminds me so much of my own dear Camilla) will soon be driving off into the sunset, no doubt on the number 5 bus which he has heroically saved just before every election since 1947.”

Chaun Wilson wins the East Brighton by-election for Labour

Congratulations to Chaun Wilson on her victory in today’s East Brighton by-election. Several weeks ago, on 21st September, I described Chaun simply as ‘The Winner’. I wrote: “East Brighton is Labour’s strongest stronghold, thanks to the work of sitting councillors Gill Mitchell and Warren Morgan, and that of the recently resigned Craig Turton. The chances of Labour losing this seat is about as great as someone finding Nick Clegg’s backbone.”

I was wrong. She didn’t just win. It was a landslide:

Carlie Goldsmith (Green Party) 456
Joe Miller (Conservative) 531
Chaun Wilson (Labour) 1,596

Turnout was 26%.

The result will be more than pleasing for Labour as it rebuilds towards 2015. A defeat would have been a disaster. The challenge for Labour is to seek to regain some of the ground lost in 2011 to the Greens and, as important, to make inroads in Tory seats, particularly areas like Hangleton and Knoll. The size of their landslide will give them heart and is a sign that Labour is returning to its former strength in Brighton.

The Greens had hoped for a second place finish so the result will have been disappointing but not particularly relevant as East Brighton does not feature large in their plans. Not much should be read into the Greens third place. Had it been a by-election in a seat in Brighton Pavilion it would have been more worrying, a set back for their hopes of strengthening their position on the Council in 2015. (I will be writing more soon about the prospects for Caroline Lucas in 2015 – my belief that her prospects for re-election will not be dependant on the success or otherwise of the Green Council. Even with the boundary changes, Ms Lucas will win).

The Conservatives put up a brave fight in spite of the hopelessness of their cause in East Brighton. Joe Miller was an ‘interesting’ choice but not one that was likely to cause an upset. He is a nice enough young man but it takes an extraordinary young person to be elected. And Joe Miller is no Alex Phillips.

So in East Brighton, normal service is resumed. Welcome to councillor Chaun Wilson, and I look forward to seeing her in action in the Council Chamber.

East Brighton by-election candidates

The big beasts are lining up to contest the East Brighton by-election. First the Conservatives selected 18 year old Joe Miller, and now the Lib Dems have selected a relative veteran in Dominik Sokalski, a 20-year-old university student at Sussex University.

The Greens last nigh selected its candidate, Carlie Goldsmith, a fifth generation Brightonian who proudly grew up in Whitehawk, in the area, where she also brought up her own young family. She works as a criminologist specialising in youth crime and victimisation, community safety and the relationship between social inequalities and crime.

As yet, there is no news from UKIP, but in an attempt to cause a major upset, it might field the ever youthful, Paul Perrin who, rumour has it, is over 16 years old.

With the Lib Dems holding their conference in a telephone box on the sea front, and the Greens taking a daily pasting in the letters page of the Argus following their massive own-goal over Christina Summers, neither of these parties is likely to inconvenience the Returning Officer too much.

As for the Tories, they seem determined to insult even the police in this week of all weeks. One wonders how the two Posh Boys are being viewed by the Plebs of Whitehawk? (The one thing that amazes me about the Andrew Mitchell, with almost 80% of Telegraph readers thinking he should resign, is that he has survived this long).

And then there is the Labour candidate, Chaun Wilson, who we should refer to simply as ‘The Winner’. East Brighton is Labour’s strongest stronghold, thanks to the work of sitting councillors Gill Mitchell and Warren Morgan, and that of the recently resigned Craig Turton. The chances of Labour losing this seat is about as great as someone finding Nick Clegg’s backbone.

I look forward to seeing councillor Wilson in action. She will be a huge asset to Labour as it seeks to rebuild in time for the 2015 elections.

Are the Tories right to field an eleven year old in the East Brighton by-election?

A very interesting debate has been triggered by councillor Warren Morgan regarding the suitability of very young candidates in local elections. He has written in a personal capacity (and he emphasises not on behalf of the Labour Party) to Tory Kemptown MP, Simon Kirby, regarding the selection of an eleven year old (actually, he is 18) as the Tory candidate for the East Brighton by-election.

He wrote: “It is an immensely good thing that young people take an interest in politics, and feel able to get involved and stand for election; it’s something I actively encourage. Labour has a number of councillors who are in their late teens or early twenties, often in university towns where they have studied.

“However you have chosen an 18 year old who left sixth form only this summer to contest an election to represent one of the most deprived and difficult wards in the South East. As you will know from your casework, although crime has reduced and the vast majority of the eleven thousand East Brighton residents lead stable lives with steady jobs, there are unfortunately some people in East Brighton who are dealing with the consequences of domestic violence, alcohol or drug abuse, and homelessness. They often lead what are termed “chaotic lives” and have complex needs.

“Despite working for the police for four years prior to becoming a councillor, I have encountered many disturbing cases in my decade as a local representative. I’ve met a young girl whose mother was brutally murdered by her father. I’ve been to John Street police station in the middle of the night to address the potential community consequences of a fatal car accident in the ward. I’ve been briefed this week about a violent and unstable resident who has been threatening to his neighbours, council staff and police.

“Next May the changes to welfare support initiated by your government will have a severe financial impact on many vulnerable people in my ward; both of our casework loads are likely to rise as a result. Some people will face desperate financial hardship. Their cases can be distressing. They need to have councillors whose judgement and support they can rely upon and trust.

“I am sure the candidate you have chosen has many positive qualities, though his decision to use a photo of himself in fancy dress to launch his campaign does not bode well. However I would question your judgement in allowing someone so young and with such little life experience to run and potentially deal with the workload East Brighton councillors face. Of course we will be campaigning hard to elect our own, very well qualified candidate to the post, but I would urge you, before nominations close, to reconsider your choice.”

Interesting stuff, Warren. The are a couple of things I would ask you to ponder over your Sugar Puffs in the morning. You appear to say that there is something inherently different regarding East Brighton, the area you represent on the Counci, compared to, say, St Peter’s and North Laine or Rottingdean Coastal (wards where Labour themselves fielded teenage candidates Claire Calder and Harris Fitch at the last local elections). All wards have pockets of deprivation and challenging issues. I am not sure whether East Brighton is that different other than, perhaps, the scale of deprivation.

And secondly, are you saying that an 18 year old is not capable of making the judgements required of councillors? If that is the case, I think Labour needs to change its policies towards the armed forces where, under Labour and Conservative governments, 18 year olds are expected to make far more significant judgements – whether to take the life of another human being on the battlefield.

My Pal Paul Perrin has commented: “I think an 18 year old is almost certainly too inexperienced (in life) to be a good councillor, but the law is laid down by government and the selection rules by each party. There are also plenty of older people who would make lousy councillors.”

I say “Good luck” to Joe Miller. Enjoy the experience of being a candidate but don’t be too disappointed when either Chaun Wilson or Tracey Hill beats you on polling day. Your day will come, but probably not until you can grow a moustache of your own.

Craig Turton: sadness at his resignation as a councillor due to health problems

It was with great sadness that I heard this evening that councillor Craig Turton has been forced to sign his council seat due to ill health. Councillor Turton has been one third of the most formidable team of Labour ward councillors, serving the East Brighton ward with colleagues Gill Mitchell and Warren Morgan.

In a statement, Craig said: “It has been a privilege to have represented the East Brighton ward since 2003 and to have served the people of the Bristol Estate, Craven Vale, Kemp Town, Manor Farm and Whitehawk alongside my dedicated Labour colleagues, Councillors Gill Mitchell and Warren Morgan.

“I have been particularly proud to have served as the chair of the Royal Sussex County Hospital Liaison Group and to have played a part in working with the trust and local residents to see the 3Ts planning application approved.

“I would like to thank all my colleagues, officers at the council, but most importantly the residents of my ward for their continued support during this difficult time.”

Of course it is tragic that any councillor has to stand down in such circumstances, and I am sure all readers will join with me in wishing Craig all the best for the future and hopefully a return to full health.

For Labour, the by-election that will follow Craig’s resignation is the one silver lining on an otherwise cloudy horizon. Labour will comfortably hold the seat. This is down to three factors:

1. Craig’s personal popularity and the circumstances leading to the by-election.

2. The excellent reputation of the other ward councillors in East Brighton.

3. Where we are in the political cycle. Labour is best placed to capitalise on the mid-term unpopularity of the Coalition government and the Green city council.

Few will have much appetite for this by-election so turn out is likely to be low.
Hopefully Labour will select a candidate who will add quality to the Labour Group, as Graham Cox has done for the Tories. The Labour Group is not blessed by an abundance of talent. It needs to select a candidate who can do justice to Craig’s legacy and who can make an impact on the Council.

But this evening, our thoughts and best wishes should be with Craig, a well respected and popular councillor across the Council Chamber.

How the Greens respond to Christina Summers will will show how mature and measured it is as a party

The Green Party does not have a whip on Brighton and Hove City Council, and while it seeks to achieve a consensus on issues coming before the Council, members of the Green Group are permitted to vote according to their conscience.

The decision of Hollingdean and Stanmer councillor, Christina Summers, to vote against same sex marriages at Thursday’s Full Council meeting on a notice of motion put forward by Labour councillor Warren Morgan. Councillor Summers told the Argus that it was a conscious decision and not made “off the cuff.” she said: “I could have abstained but I needed to qualify that I could not. The problem here is the understanding of equality. I do not agree that disagreeing with same sex marriage is disagreeing with equality at all. I feel that marriage is about a relationship between a man and a woman together in a relationship and about procreation and family.”

Now some Green Party members have begun discussions about whether councillor Summers should be expelled from the Green Party.

I fundamentally disagree with the position that councillor Summers takes on the issue. At the same time I think that should any action be taken against her would be wrong, even discriminatory on the grounds of religion and gender.

When selected to stand in Hollingdean and Stanmer, Christina Summers made no secret of her religious affiliations. At the time she was a member of the Calvary Church in Viaduct Road, a church with a social conscience but with clear views regarding homosexuality, abortion and the headship of men (views which I find repugnant). While I don’t know whether and how much councillor Summers subscribes to these views, it should come as no surprise to anyone if she did. In a political party like the Greens, it is rather perverse to now say she now cannot obey her conscience.   To take action against her now would alienate the Greens from many Christians.

Regarding sexual discrimination, no action was taken against councillor Ben Duncan when he made a ‘joke’ about only smoking weed when he was raping and pillaging, or something similarly distasteful. Ben Duncan has a leading role on policing. I doubt it was well known at the time of his selection that he felt it was acceptable to make ‘jokes’ about rape. He has subsequently apologised for the wide offence he caused.

So no action was taken against a male councillor for a grossly sexist action that was not based, I am happy to accept, on conscience, but consideration is being given to taking action against a female councillor for an action based on her conscience. That would smack of gender discrimination and might suggest that there are elements of misogyny within the Green Group. I don’t believe that this is the case.

The Deputy Leader of the Council and the Green’s spokesperson on LGBT issues, Phelim MacCafferty, told the Argus that the Greens “believe she is entitled to hold her view but this does not reflect the position, spirit and track record of the green Party in extending human and civil rights for all social groups irrespective of sexual orientation or on other grounds.”

Well said, Phelim. That is a mature and measured response. It is a shame he went on to say: “Green councillors will be meeting to discuss this issue soon.”

Can I suggest that when this item is reached, someone proposes, in a mature and measured way, “Next business”. If the Greens really think that spending time debating the views and voting of just one of its members on this issue deserves time and attention, then the Group will become a laughing stock. It will take more than Christina Summers voting as she did to cause the slightest damage to the Green Party’s excellent record on LGBT issues.