Monthly Archives: January 2014

Kitcat the Magician

MagicianMisdirection is a form of deception in which the attention of an audience is focused on one thing in order to distract its attention from another. Magicians use distraction techniques to draw the audience’s attention away from whichever hand is engaged in sleight of hand.

“Look over here”, the Greens say, “the budget is about cuts to social care services, not about making a political point to the Tory government.” “Look at that bold referendum proposal, the Budget shows how different we are from the Labour Party!”

What Brighton and Hove councillors will vote on at the end of February is a fine example of political conjuring, of deception and distraction to divert attention from what has really happened under the Green administration.

More divided than a magician’s assistant sawn in two, the Green councillors have avoided any major reviews or restructuring in the city council, busy chasing grants for transport schemes whilst being all too aware of the financial catastrophe heading towards them. Pledged to “resist all cuts” in their manifesto, they have become increasingly uncomfortable with year after year of salami-slicing departments, jobs and budgets, until faced with another they have finally said no. The illusion of not actually being sawn in half almost became real.

To accommodate their division and to try to make some political capital, their very own Dynamo Jason Kitcat has tried to ensure that the Greens look bold, fearless and original, whilst putting the opposition parties on the defensive.

A responsible administration, faced with no overall control and a tough budget, would have gone to one of the other Groups and said, “there are tough choices ahead, we need to find some agreement, lets work together to protect services.” It didn’t happen. Never ones to reveal their cards, the Greens chose to keep opposition parties in the dark whilst setting out their plans to the national and local media. Minimum political co-operation, maximum political benefit.

Except like all good tricks, this has a second act. Having published an initial budget, with a series of carefully constructed cuts contained within it, they now offer a means by which they appear to be the ones preventing those cuts by adding more to their council tax increase. Not only does this mean that the cuts focus on an area like social care (and who would support cuts to those services?) it distracts from protected Green priority spending elsewhere. The final Budget will be kept under wraps, like a Magic Circle secret, until just six days before it goes to committee.

Not only does it make them appear to be the saviours of those social care services, it means they can get the opposition parties to vote through the same mean spirited cuts that they themselves proposed, taking the blame that the Green councillors so desperately want to avoid, whilst hiding their own favoured projects up their sleeve. Cuts to playground and park cleaning? Unavoidable. Cuts to tree planting? Don’t even think about it.

Like a card trick where implausibly you are presented with the six of clubs you first picked out, after Budget Council they will almost certainly end up with the 2% council tax increase they planned all along, while the other parties take the blame for their cuts. It’s an illusion David Blaine would be proud of.

Except Jason Kitcat is now more like the Wizard of Oz in the Emerald City. The curtain has been pulled back and the illusion has been exposed. The public have had enough of being told one thing, whilst something else entirely is happening. The suspension of disbelief in the magic powers of the Green Party has gone. No more conjuring tricks, say Brighton and Hove residents, we just want the basics. It may not be exciting, but we are no longer entertained by your tricks. We just want to trust our council again and we want the city to win back some respect for real achievements, not spectacular illusions.

Come May 7th 2015, there will be just one more bit of Green magic to perform. A disappearing trick.

Are Brighton and Hove residents being asked to pay £6 more a month so the Green Leader can keep his job?

In happier times: Caroline Lucas with Jason Kitcat and rebel Green councillors Phelim McCafferty and Ruth Buckley. Their petition to No 11 Downing Street was ignored.
In happier times: Caroline Lucas with Jason Kitcat and rebel Green councillors Phelim McCafferty and Ruth Buckley. Their petition to No 11 Downing Street was ignored.

It’s been a dramatic week in Brighton and Hove politics. Whilst nationally the Liberal Democrats tear themselves apart over the Rennard scandal, and UKIP face mockery over yet more bizarre comments from one of their elected officials, here on the South Coast our own fringe party has been doing its best to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Faced with £23m of Conservative government cuts the Greens have avoided any of the tough decisions taken by Labour-led authorities elsewhere to ready their councils to weather the storm of Pickles’ cuts. Realising they have no way out, and wanting to put some political distance between themselves and a Labour Group that was going to support (again) their published budget proposals increasing council tax by the 2% allowed, they have opted for a 4.75% council tax increase that would have to be voted through in a referendum. Bold and brilliant, some Greens believe, taking the fight to the Tory government.

Except there are some cracks in their argument. Just six months ago the Green council leader Jason Kitcat called holding a referendum on a council tax increase “mad” and “unworkable”. Swiftly deleted evidence from a blog run by leading Green Derek Wall suggests he and his fellow “mango” councillors were forced into this position by the Green Left “watermelon” faction of members and councillors. The statement, signed by five sitting Green councillors, said: “the current Green Group leadership was becoming divorced from ordinary members and was in danger of damaging the reputation of the Green Party both locally and nationally.” Oddly, for a Party with no whip, an awful amount of control appears to have been used to bring the Green “convenor” into line. So are council tax-paying residents in Brighton and Hove being asked to pay £6 a month more just so Jason Kitcat can stay in his job?

While Green Party members and local/national media were given plenty of notice, opposition councillors were given no notice at all, being called to a meeting just 30 minutes before the media embargo was lifted. The Greens went on the attack (in many cases proving that members of the “nice” party can chuck insults as nasty as anyone else), saying they won’t vote for cuts and that any opposition to their plans means “disaster for council-backed charities and social care services to the vulnerable”. Pretty appalling stuff, ignoring the fact that even with their 4.75% council tax increase, some cuts to social care services would be unavoidable. The council has called in Ernst & Young to see where other savings can be made, but the Greens won’t wait for that report, commissioned by Jason Kitcat at a cost of £70,000. Too late they say. So why not commission it sooner, knowing these cuts were coming?

As the local press pointed out at the weekend, the move is aimed more at laying a political blow on Labour, and grandstanding in the national press, than defending local services. There is much more that could be done to save money and defend essential services. We will set that out in the weeks to come, but it is not for an opposition party to do an administration party’s job for it when it can’t agree on a realistic and workable budget.

We believe they – and I include Caroline Lucas who has backed her Green colleagues on the council to the hilt – have badly misjudged the public mood across Brighton and Hove, despite evidence their support is collapsing. On the doorstep, hostility toward the Greens is breathtaking. Those who have come to campaign for Labour in the city can’t quite believe how visceral it is. Outside of the Green-voting city centre, people are struggling to meet rising costs of fuel, travel and utilities.

Another £6 a month on top of an already overstretched budget and rising debt will be too much for too many city residents. Already hit by Tory austerity, residents should not have to pay for Green political gestures. Jason Kitcat might be able to afford it, Caroline Lucas might be able to afford it, but many residents can’t.

The referendum itself, even if held on the same day as the European elections three months after council tax bills go out, would still cost around £230,000. No-one believes that the public will vote for a rise in their taxes, and the Greens have no Plan B for how then to implement a 2% increase budget based on 4.75% income. The council would be rudderless and adrift.

Rather unfortunately, plans for the Green-led council to lend £36m to build a viewing tower on the seafront were splashed over the press just a day after the proposed tax rise was announced, adding to the view that they are keen to fund their own favoured projects whilst scoring political points over the heads of the vulnerable and low paid. All the while bins go uncollected and recycling rates fall.

Rather than take responsibility for decisions they were elected to make, they have resorted to headline-grabbing gestures and tactics designed to provide Labour-bashing lines in their election leaflets. Residents have had enough. That’s why we have tabled a no-confidence motion calling on the minority Green group leaders to quit in favour of a cross-party caretaker administration of senior councillors to serve until the elections in May next year. It’s a move that has been backed by our three Parliamentary candidates Purna Sen, Nancy Platts and Peter Kyle in a strong statement.

It’s time to call a halt to the embarrassing Green Party sideshow in Brighton and Hove, restore some credibility to our city and look to the main event; defeating the Conservative-led Government in 2015 so that the decimation of local councils can be ended.