“Green surge”? Not in Brighton and Hove – it’s a meltdown

Caroline Lucas and a current and former Green councillor in 2010. Cllr Ben Duncan was expeled for calling armed forces "hired killers" and a number of other comments.
Caroline Lucas and a current and former Green councillor in 2010. Cllr Ben Duncan was expelled for calling armed forces “hired killers” and a number of other comments. Ms Lucas now distances herself from the Green council she helped elect.

With Green Party poll ratings going from 3 or 4% to the dizzy heights of 8 or 9%, the election story nationally is of a “Green surge”. So I have found myself in the national media as journalists are tasked with finding out exactly what has happened in the only place where the Greens have held real power. It even made the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 today where residents expressed some very hostile views.

I won’t rehearse what I’ve blogged about them in detail over the past two years (just click on the “Green Party” tag to read more) but for new readers I want to highlight where we are now as a city, where they have failed to deliver on their promises and why they are showing now that they are unfit for office.

The Green Party nationally promises a lot of appealing things, like rail nationalisation, set against a backdrop of permanent recession and reducing growth. However you only have to look at some of their key pledges on which they won power in 2011, with the backing of Caroline Lucas, to see why easy promises are soon scuppered by the realities of office.

The Greens promised a “zero waste city”, yet they took their eye off the ball, residents lost confidence in the service and Brighton and Hove is now 302nd out of 326 councils for recycling. The Greens blame Labour for not supporting a food waste pilot, when in fact they failed to secure funding, or Labour’s incinerator, which their own councillors have been keen to show off on guided tours.

The Greens promised a new secondary school, yet with just 100 days left to go there are no classrooms being built, no plans on the table, no site identified for a new school. A third of our city’s secondary schools are over capacity, and by 2017 we will have run out of places altogether. Results are suffering. The Greens can’t build a new school because under Tory rules it woud have to be a free school or an academy. Rather than compromise their politics they have allowed pupils to suffer.

The Greens promised to cut pollution, with a target of 4% reductions in co2. It is up 2.3%. A low emissions zone took four years to introduce, yet some of the worst polluting vehicles are excempt.

The Greens said they would build at least a thousand affordable homes in the city. The real figure with just 100 days to go is 147.

The Greens promised “to resist all cuts”, knowing that in the real world that isn’t possible. Now with the elections just week’s away, a Green Party meeting where Caroline Lucas was present has told Green councillors to vote down the Green Administration’s own 6% council tax increase Budget, or resign their seats. The lead councillor for finance, who’s job it is to propose the Budget, has said today he will vote against it. He has effectively thrown his hat in the ring to succeed Jason Kitcat as Green Group Convenor (they don’t have leaders) when Jason steps down as Leader and as a councillor in 100 days time.

No whip, no discipline in the face of difficult decisions, no coherent way of setting and seeing through policy. Utterly divided, and in the view of many in the city, utterly incompetent. It’s no wonder Caroline Lucas has distanced herself from the unpopular Green council and now campaigns as “an independent voice” in the face of a strong challenge from Labour’s Purna Sen.

A Militant-style refusal to set a lawful Budget will send a grand political gesture to Westminster, but the result will be the appointment of a set of Whitehall bureaucrats by Eric Pickles to come down and set the council Budget themselves, with awful consequences for residents and services. But it’s all about the politics, all about the elections, all about the “Green surge”, not about the poor folk who made the mistake of voting for them.

Ask yourself this, given how they have performed as a Party here, do you really want Caroline Lucas and one or two more Green MPs holding the balance of power at Westminster?

UPDATE: Seven Green councillors voted against their own Administration’s Budget proposals, ensuring they fell, and voted with the Tories not to set a Budget. It was left to Labour – again – to set the Budget at an affordable 1.9% increase, saving grants to voluntary sector groups, children’s centres and domestic violence refuge funding at the same time, using £1.2 million the Greens had set aside for the council tax referendum.

The local Green Party, and one of their local Parliamentary candidates have, meanwhile, proposed that the council funding gap of over £100m is filled using the income from selling cannabis. This is despite replacing their cannabis-advocating councillor with a candidate who said that the Brighton bombing was a “justified political act.”

The Green Administration, in it’s dying days, has committed the city council to a five year, £20m scheme to create a huge urban park, removing two lanes of the already congested road to the seafront. 25% of the money will have to be found from a vanishing council budget, at a time when the main seafront road is at risk of crumbling onto the beach.


A Change Of Tone

argumentIn the final 100 days before the local elections and the General Election, during which time the most difficult Budget in council history has to be nogotiated, things are likely to get somewhat heated.

In some respects, they should. Faced with another £23 million in cuts to local council services, people should be angry. With thousands of families relying on food banks and people in work being kept afloat by benefits, we should be speaking up. There are those who say there should be much more passion in our arguments, not less.

For many though, the conflict of ideas and confrontational debate that is a feature of our democracy is a real turn-off. Bickering, blaming and sound bites are not what people want to hear. They want answers to the challenges they face every day. They want hope that, despite everything, the future might be a little better for them and their families.

In the next four months there will be plenty of this kind of thing in Brighton and Hove: “We have seen time and time again in recent years that, in their desperation to seek petty party political advantage over the Green Party, Labour are willing to put much needed investment in the city’s infrastructure at risk.”  (from a Tory cllr). Yet time and again in the Council Chamber the Tories accuse Labour and the Greens of being in cahoots. As well as in competition.

Of course the Greens never waste an opportunity to portray Labour as being equally in cahoots with the Conservatives, part of the “austerity alliance”, something it is hard to get across to Labour colleagues from elsewhere who believe Labour and the Greens should be natural allies, not rivals.

So expect a hundred days of “Labour is just like..” with Greens and Tories alike blaming us for the cuts. That they choose to attack Labour, rather than each other, indicates who they think are the favourites to win. Last May’s election results in the city would certainly back that idea up, though of course we are not complacent.

I’m going to try to stick to my New Year’s Resolution to do far less of the “yah boo” politics and much more of the “this is what we want to do for you and our city” kind of politics.

We have already begun that, with our ten point Contract With Brighton and Hove, pledges on safety and tackling violence against women, ending youth unemployment,  improving tenant’s rights and doing more to help local small businesses. There will be much, much more in the weeks to come on a range of policy areas.

I will continue to highlight where I think the Greens have got it wrong and why I don’t believe the Conservative alternative is the right choice for the city, and I will be forthright about the challenges and difficult choices facing the city, but I will be positive about the opportunities ahead and the aims and goals we are putting on offer to Brighton and Hove at the local elections in May.

I believe the public do want to see some passion from their politicians about the failings and inequalities we see around us, but they want that passion directed into positive solutions, not negativity and blame. And one more pledge, if elected in May there will be a change of tone at the top.

Labour’s Contract With Small Businesses

With Chris Leslie MP, Shadow Chief Secretary To The Treasury, launching the pledges.
With Chris Leslie MP, Shadow Chief Secretary To The Treasury, launching the pledges.

We are comitting a Labour administration to supporting local small businesses succeed if elected in May.

Launching the pledges alongside Chris Leslie MP, Labour’s Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and Peter Kyle, Hove and Portslade Labour Parliamentary candidate, I said: “We want to help local small and medium sized businesses succeed. They are the lifeblood of our local economy and vital to the city’s prosperity.”

“We listened to local businesses at an event last summer when they said that their time was precious, and dealing with council bureaucracy was costly. We are now pledging to increase the support local businesses can get from the council by providing a dedicated team to help them get their transactions with the council completed swiftly.”

“We know small businesses and traders find the cost of parking in the city a big problem, so we are saying that if businesses invest in low emission vehicles, we will give them a discount on their trader parking permits. This will also be a positive step to tackle air pollution in the city centre, something the Greens have clearly failed to do.”

“To help young people get a good start to their careers and tackle local youth unemployment, we want to make a similar offer to any small business that takes on additional apprentices.”

Peter Kyle, Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Hove and Portslade, said: “Let’s get Hove and Portslade open for business again. Entrepreneurs are the driving force of our local economy and I want to help them succeed.”

“I set-up a small business in the city myself, so I understand the challenges and barriers to growth – as well as how it is our entrepreneurial spirit which will help create more jobs and provide the apprenticeships we need.”