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.

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.

 

Time for Labour and the Conservatives to stop personal attacks and to present their alternative budgets

I am back from my Rip van Winkle hibernation. Regarding the future of this blog, I have paused, listened, reflected and … You know the rest. I will continue for the time being. This decision is down primarily to the daily pleas for me to continue from my three regular readers, Grizzly, Doris and Biker Dave.

I think there has been enough now on this blog about Christopher Hawtree and libraries. As Geoffrey Bowden posted at 1.05 yesterday morning, everyone with views on libraries should contribute to the consultation by visiting the council’s consultation portal.

Moving on. Where are we at. Unlike me, Lord Bassam appears to have gone for at least 2 weeks without sleep as he attacks the Greens in Brighton and Hove for Tory imposed cuts from Westminster. It is a shames that Labour continues to see the Greens as the enemy. All I can think is that by attacking the Greens in such an unrelenting fashion Labour hopes to deflect attention from their absence of policies.

Ed Balls has made it clear what we can expect:

“My starting point is, I am afraid, we are going to have keep all these cuts. There is a big squeeze happening on budgets across the piece. The squeeze on defence spending, for instance, is £15bn by 2015. We are going to have to start from that being the baseline. At this stage, we can make no commitments to reverse any of that, on spending or on tax. So I am being absolutely clear about that.”

Look at Scotland, Labour hitched its wagon to the ill-thought through Tory referendum quicker than you can say Alex Salmond. Why didn’t Labour find a position somewhere between the Tories and the SNP? It is because Labour cannot see beyond trying to protect its own short term interests by attacking those to the left, be it the SNP in Scotland or the Greens in Brighton and Hove.

So why vote Labour …..? What does Labour offer that is different from the Tories? It no longer offers an alternative when it comes to pulic spending. If I want to vote for a party of austerity, I might as well vote for the one that is enthusiastic about cuts, about small government.

Locally, just Lord Bassam, There’s-only-one-Caroline-in-Hove, Warren Morgan and Craig Turton seem to be fighting for Labour, but their focus appears to be purely on the Greens. It must be difficult to be in the Labour Party when Ed Miliband is failing to make an impact, and Ed Balls is signing up to Tory cuts. I would appeal to Labour activists locally to say what there alternative is to the cuts imposed by the Westminster Tories. Please list what services you intend to put forward for cutting, how many jobs will go, and how you intend to make up for the shortfall in income resulting from buying into the Tories’ Council Tax freeze gimmick.

The Greens have published their draft budget, and are consulting on it. I do think their approach has been the most open, consultative approach to budget setting that I can recall. Credit to them there. I don’t agree with everything they are proposing to do, but anyone in control locally, Green, Labour or Tories, would have no choice but to cut.

So what is Labour’s alternative? Each time you oppose a Green cut, it is required of you to put forward an alternate cut. It is what you demanded when you were in control locally. Or are you saying you would not cut, that you would set a deficit/illegal budget? It is time Labour locallyshows it has an alternative (assuming it has one).

And the Tories, you too need to list your cuts. There are many who want to know how exactly you will obey your Westminster Masters and make the cuts required in Brighton and Hove.

One reason I considered closing down this blog was because politics locally is about to become very nasty indeed. I hate the prospect of the closure of services, making people redundant, new hardships.

So, Labour opponents of the Greens, please stop the attacks and let’s hear from you what you would do.

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.

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 …?