Monthly Archives: July 2014

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

imagesCAFKVZVMThe Green candidates for the city council elections in Brighton and Hove next May have been leaked to the press, and as expected, there is an exodus of experienced and senior Green Party councillors ahead of what they fully expect to be a heavy defeat at the polls.

Following the announcement that Jason Kitcat, the Green Council Leader, would not be standing for re-election along with his wife Cllr Ania Kitcat, half of the Green councillors elected in 2011 now say they will not be on the ballot paper next time.

They include former Council Leader Bill Randall, his former Deputy Amy Kennedy, Chair of Culture Geoffrey Bowden, and Transport lead Ian Davey. Also not seeking another term are Christopher Hawtree, Mike Jones, Sven Rufus and the disgraced Ben Duncan.

It is not unusual for the Green Party to see half of it’s councillors stand down – the same happened in 2011. Rather than long-serving councillors with experience, voters in Green-held wards can expect a revolving door approach to those representing them. Say hello to your new local councillor, but don’t expect them to stick around.

Meanwhile in a move reminiscent of the famous “chicken run” of Tory MPs prior to their 1997 wipeout, Alex Phillips is abandoning the Goldsmid seat she won in a by-election in 2009 for the place vacated by the man she tried to topple in a coup, Jason Kitcat.

Despite listing the same names for multiple wards, the Greens have just 18 candidates for the 54 seats up for election, and only 7 new names to replace the 10 who are walking away. Despite new local Party rules trying to change the woeful gender imbalance in the Green Party, just 6 of the 18 candidates are women.  Only one continuing candidate has two full terms on the council behind him (Pete West) and only three have more than one term’s experience.

The message a panicking Green Party are trying to give to voters - but will voters have Green candidates to vote for?
The message a panicking Green Party are trying to give to voters – but will voters have Green candidates to vote for?

Tellingly, they have only 5 candidates in Hove and Portslade, and just one in Brighton Kemptown, both areas seemingly abandoned in favour of shoring up the Green vote in Caroline Lucas’s Pavilion seat. If you live in one of the two Tory-held constituencies in the city, you can wave goodbye to the Greens.

In contrast Labour have thirty candidates in place with more selections due in September, and another 10 candidates on the waiting list. Labour will have a mix of new talent and experience, with five returning councillors having more than a decade’s local government experience each and almost 100 years between them.

 

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The priorities on our doorstep

food bankAt the final Brighton and Hove City Council meeting before the summer break, the Green Party brought a motion to council on the TTIP Trade Tariffs deal between the EU and the US. Now it is no doubt an important issue, and one that Labour MEPs are campaigning on in the European Parliament to ensure the deal does not inadvertently pave the way for further NHS privatisation. I’d argue that the European Parliament, not our city council chamber, is the place to debate international trade deals.

It is an incident which goes to the heart of the Green agenda and their priorities. They are always the first to pick up on the latest campaign, trending on the blogs and campaign group websites, or taking up column inches in The Guardian. It’s work that is admirable for a protest organisation, but not for a political party serving all residents and every neighbourhood in the city of Brighton and Hove.

Collecting donations for food banks in the city with Cllr Emma Daniel and Brighton Kemptown Parliamentary Candidate Nancy Platts.
Collecting donations for food banks in the city with Cllr Emma Daniel and Brighton Kemptown Parliamentary Candidate Nancy Platts.

Our priorities as Labour lie closer to home. As Fiona Twycross writes, we want to eliminate hunger in our city, a relatively prosperous one in the seventh richest nation in the world, yet it is a city where eleven thousand people live in poverty, where three and a half thousand people are using one of 22 food banks in a city of 270,000 people. Appallingly, 20% of children in the city are judged to be living in poverty, in my ward that figure rises to 45%, and as a city council we regard that as “on target”. I don’t. Our target must be zero.

Our Fairness Commission won’t just look at enforcing the Minimum Wage, promoting the Living Wage, ending youth unemployment, creating new jobs and reducing the housing waiting list. It will seek to create good, secure and well paid careers to ensure everyone reaches their maximum potential, it will seek to ensure access to affordable decent housing, it will seek to eliminate poverty and hunger in every estate, every high rise and every family in Brighton and Hove.

I’ve said I won’t make promises I can’t keep as Leader of a Group aiming to take control of the council next May, but I will set out bold and ambitious goals for a Labour council to strive for. The Greens can campaign on their transatlantic trade tariff deals, Labour priorities are here in the city, on our doorstep, with our neighbours who need our help.

 

Towards a Co-operative Council In Brighton and Hove

logoIn May the Labour Group on Brighton and Hove reaffirmed its formal status as a “Labour and Co-operative Group”, and to building in to our manifesto for next May the co-operative principles of self-help, social responsibility and equality.

We have pledged to establish, as one of the first acts of a newly elected Labour and Co-operative Council, a Fairness Commission to tackle poverty and financial exclusion, boost opportunity and equality, and bring together the work that is being done across the city to improve the life chances of over eleven thousand of our neighbours in the city.

We will seek to win back the trust of voters lost by the Greens, ensure our basic services are delivered well, and face up to the huge challenges they have put off in their attempts to hold their fractious Party together.

Our greatest challenge comes from the cuts to the city council’s funding; over £100 million across a four year period. Those are not one-off cuts that can be met from reserves, but year-on-year reductions in our budget for local services. These are cuts on an unprecedented scale, ones that cannot be offset by increases in fees and charges, new business rates or increases in council tax.

Such significant cuts to the city council’s funding will demand, unavoidably, a radical rethink of what the council does and how it does it. There is no doubt the decisions we will have to make – the Greens having deferred them – will be hard. The council will increasingly be a partner in the delivery of services, a regulator, a connector more than a provider.

The work of Labour councils in the Co-operative Councils Innovation Network mean we are not alone in meeting these challenges, and we are not starting from scratch. Drawing from their examples we are well advanced with our manifesto process, but welcome submissions via ourcity@brightonhovelabour.com or the form below. In the coming week I will be writing to 50 key organisations across the city asking them what they would like to see from a Labour and Co-operative council.

We are also  well advanced in selecting candidates across the city, and their campaigning has already seen results in the May elections where Labour beat the Greens convincingly, coming from 10,000 votes behind to 2,000 votes ahead. We should not be complacent, and we will work to ensure that voters unhappy with the dismal performance of the Greens (recycling continues to fall in figures published this week) choose Labour as the team capable of delivering the progress this city needs.

With positive policies and a forward looking co-operative agenda, we will seek to devolve power to local people, creating fair, collaborative, resilient and democratic communities, where responsibilities and benefits are shared.

Through those positive campaigns and with those strong candidates in our communities we will, by this time next year, make our goal of a co-operative council a reality.

 

Are residents being asked to pay £100 more a month to save Caroline Lucas’s job?

Caroline Lucas and two of the Green councillors backing the tax increase
Caroline Lucas and two of the Green councillors backing the tax increase

Last year’s city council Budget was all about Jason Kitcat keeping his Green group of councillors together and hanging on to his job. In the end the Green councillors voted for, against and abstained on their own Budget, and Jason Kitcat is on the way out.

So we now seem to be headed into the same farce we all went through in February, with the Greens proposing a 6% increase that would add almost £100 a year to most council tax bills.

Council tax is a regressive tax, meaning it hurts most those who can least afford to pay. For Green voters living in the city centre in comfortable jobs on above average wages, it’s not a problem. For those on the outskirts who have seen their incomes fall, their pay frozen and their debts increase, it will be a real worry. More than 11,000 people in the city, most of them in work, are now in poverty. Over 3,000 are using food banks to put food on the dinner table.

For the Green-leaning voters in the centre of Caroline Lucas’s Brighton Pavilion constituency this tax increase will be portrayed as another bold challenge to the austerity agenda. Ms Lucas and her Green council colleagues know it will never happen, being voted down at Budget Council by Labour, or by the public at a referendum costing hundreds of thousands of pounds. The benefit to Caroline Lucas is that when the cuts happen, as they will with or without a tax increase, they can wash their hands of responsibility and blame Labour for the Tory Governments actions.

Last February I said that residents were being asked to pay more in council tax to keep Jason Kitcat in his job. This time, it seems the Greens want to hit the poorest in the city with a huge tax rise just so Caroline Lucas can keep hers.

Could the Green Party collapse in Brighton and Hove lead to a new coalition?

lameduck
A “lame duck” administration in Brighton and Hove is riven with splits, led by a councillor who has said he won’t fight the next election, and which can’t face up to difficult decisions.

With ten months to go until the local and General Election, things are beginning to look very bad indeed for the Green Party in Brighton and Hove.

In the past few weeks their Leader – the only Green council leader in the UK – has announced he will stand down next May, leaving him and his colleagues open to the accusation of being a US-style “lame duck” administration. This follows three years of attempted coups and public divisions in the Green Group that led to the billboard headline “counsellors being brought in to counsel the councillors”.

With 300 days to go until the end of their term, their major manifesto pledges to recycle 70% of the city’s waste (rates have actually dropped to nearer 25%) and provide 1000 new homes (struggling to deliver even half that total) are looking undeliverable. Crises over school places, house building, social care provision and infrastructure are being put off until after the election.

At their citywide selection meeting last weekend, the Green Party were only able to find enough candidates to fill just under a half of the 54 seats up for grabs at the local elections. Sources close to the Green Party say their members now believe they are only likely to hold between three to eight council seats, down from the 23 they won in 2011. Almost all of the dozen or more seats they could lose would fall to Labour.

Three local opinion polls, one commissioned by the Greens themselves, have put them behind Labour both in terms of the city council and voting in Caroline Lucas’s Brighton Pavilion seat. Bookmakers Ladbrokes now make Labour’s Purna Sen the favorite to take the seat.

The European elections in May saw the Greens pushed into second by Labour, who the Greens beat by a clear ten thousand votes in the previous European elections in 2009. Despite some Labour voters staying at home or voting for the Greens or UKIP, the Labour vote more than doubled. Last July the Greens lost a council seat for the first time to Labour, in a ward they had thought was safe.

Now the Greens have been dealt a serious blow by the furore over one of their councillors calling members of the armed forces “hired killers” on Armed Forces Day, a controversy that has again split the Party, and drawn national media and public condemnation. A petition calling on him to resign has been signed by over two thousand people.

With many now calling for a removal of the “numpties” running the council, it is odd to find that the Greens have friends in the most unexpected of places; the Conservative Party.

When Labour moved a motion of no confidence in the Green Administration, it was Tory councillors who led the attack – on Labour. When Jason Kitcat announced his resignation, it was a Tory councillor who jumped to the letters page to praise him. When the Greens proposed a £36 million taxpayer guaranteed loan to fund a seafront viewing tower, it was the Tories who lined up to support it against huge public opposition. While our seafront needs tens of millions of pounds in urgent repairs, it is the Tories who vote through more vague Green traffic improvement schemes like the £8m one for Valley Gardens approved this week.

The Conservative vote in the city is in decline, as the two published polls have shown (Tory vote down 4-6%). They have no hope of winning control of the council next May, and face an uphill struggle to retain their two highly marginal parliamentary seats where their MPs have under 2% majorities.

What do they gain from any alliance with a Green party in meltdown? With political philosophies poles apart, is the principle that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” what is driving this cosying up between previously sworn enemies? Could we see a Green/Blue “stop Labour” coalition emerge next Spring? A case of vote Green, get Blue, or vice-versa.

Whatever happens with the opposition parties, Labour has a strong team in place, and is putting forward policies to tackle poverty, support tenants in the private rented sector and meet the challenges in housing so that residents of Brighton and Hove have a positive choice next May.

 

Labour is putting in place a strong team to lead the city next May

imagesI agree with Mike Holland on at least one point: there is no room for “numpties” at the council.

With a budget reducing by more than £100 million and enormous challenges facing the city in terms of housing, schools, development and poverty, we need people leading the council who are up to the task.

That’s why Labour has brought in people with vast experience in tackling big issues and major projects to run as candidates next May. People like: Martin Perry, who won a decade-long battle to deliver the American Express Community Stadium; Neil Schofield, someone with experience at the highest levels of government; and Tom Bewick, head of an international skills organisation.

Alongside them we have people with vast experience at management level in the third sector, like Karen Barford; in urban planning, with Julie Cattell; and running council services, with Gill Mitchell.

These are people who can identify issues and deliver solutions on time and in budget, and would be part of a Labour council administration getting to grips with the basics like cleaning our streets, and with getting our economy working for everyone.

Our Fairness Commission, announced last week, is about tackling inequality and poverty – not by condemning people to a life on benefits, but getting them into secure, well-paid jobs so they can contribute to a vibrant economy as both employees and consumers.

Along with Labour’s shadow business minister and our three parliamentary candidates, I met recently with local business owners at the Amex to see what Labour can do to help small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) in the city. What I heard was a sector keen to grow, but which is restricted, one that sees time as its most vital resource. A Labour council would help them find the space and time to prosper.

I pass along our seafront every day. There is not just a need to clean it up and get the traffic flowing again, but vast potential to unlock – as Andy Parsons correctly identifies. Major projects need to happen – not to satisfy the vanity of politicians, but to deliver the jobs, apprenticeships, tourism, homes and leisure facilities this city desperately needs. A stronger economy delivers more income for the city to support services like social care, stretched by an ageing population.

I don’t agree with reducing the council down to a small board which simply commissions services from the private sector as in cities in the United States.

There is a role for local councillors as community champions, and we need a diverse mix in the council chamber to ensure all parts of our city are represented and heard. No system of government is perfect and an elected mayor is not necessarily an improvement on what we have now.

Whoever runs the city needs to reconnect with residents, with neighbourhoods, and with business, and win back the trust of a population so badly let down by the current incumbents. I’ll make no promises beyond assembling the best team of people I can and doing my very best to restore that trust and engagement if Labour are elected next May.

This article first appeared in the Brighton and Hove Independent.