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.