Frustrated by a Labour/Tory alliance? No, the failure of the Greens is entirely of their own doing

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.
Between two factions: Caroline Lucas with Jason Kitcat and Lizzie Deane on the left, and rebel Green councillors Phelim McCafferty and Ruth Buckley on the right.

As the Greens launch an election manifesto they know they won’t be in a position to deliver, they are at the same time busy spinning their own political obituary.

Greens supporters in Brighton and up and down the country are dismissing the appalling failure of the Green council in Brighton and Hove by saying “well of course, they didn’t have a majority”, implying that they would now be headed to a triumphant re-election had they not been cruelly frustrated by opposition councillors. It’s a line being pushed by the Green Party itself at every opportunity in an attempt to limit the damage to the re-election hopes of their only MP.

Let’s look at the facts. The Greens are a minority administration, as were the minority Conservative and Labour administrations before them, from 2003-07 (Labour, with 24 cllrs) and 2007-11 (Conservatives, with 26). There were never any discussions around a coalition or deal with Labour; they won the elections and were free to take all ten Cabinet posts vacated by the Conservatives. They held the two previous administrations to account, sometimes fairly but often unfairly, and never once said “but of course they didn’t have a majority.”

They were elected with 23 councillors (on 33% of the vote compared to 32% for Labour) and then had a year of unfettered power under a Cabinet system, which they surrendered entirely voluntarily. They lost two councillors through expulsion, and a third when one resigned and Labour won the seat in the subsequent by-election. Their leader Jason Kitcat has faced a knife-edge leadership vote every year, and been unable to unite his group around any of his administration’s Budgets. His leadership was fatally undermined when Caroline Lucas led protests against the actions of the Green council she helped elect and which he led. No wonder he is stepping down.

The facts are that the Green administration promised a thousand new homes, but failed to deliver with less than 150 being built. They pledged a “zero-waste” city, but have presided over a fall in recycling that has seen Brighton and Hove drop to the bottom of the table of local authorities. They pledged a new secondary school, but it was only this week, just 45 days before the election, that they reluctantly endorsed plans for a new free school. There were no grand plans or proposals from the Greens on any of these that were voted down by a combination of Labour and Conservative councillors.

It is true that Labour and the Conservatives did not support their Budget proposals to put up council tax by a referendum-triggering above-inflation sum last year and this, but that was no alliance – the Tory plans for a tax freeze were blocked as much by Labour and the Greens as vice-versa. Never, at any point in the past four years, has there been any arrangement, alliance or pact between the Labour and Conservative groups.

The idea that Labour and the Tories have ganged up on the Greens to frustrate them at every turn simply isn’t borne out by the facts – it was the Greens and Tories that voted through the i360 loan, the Greens and the Tories that voted through Valley Gardens, and the Greens and the Tories who took us to the brink of handing control of our city to Eric Pickles last month.

As we did during the Tory administration, we have backed measures that benefit the city put forward under the Greens. There has been cross-party consensus on many issues that never make the press. Where we have disagreed or thought the Green Party proposals are financially risky we have said so.

The Greens can’t rewrite the history of the last four years now. Their failure as an administration lies at their own hands; in the bitter division within their Group under the gravitational pull of Caroline Lucas, the “we know best” attitude that has seen them impose their schemes and views on the city, their city-centre focus that has alienated the estates and suburbs. The Greens have proven themselves masters of spin, but this is one disaster they won’t be able to spin their way out of.

As the winner of four elections in Brighton and Hove since the Greens came to power, the first to publish its manifesto and the party in second place in almost every Green-held seat, it is Labour who are best placed to defeat the leaderless Greens in May, though many might say they have already defeated themselves.

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