Category Archives: Parliamentary

Fair Pay For Public Sector Staff #ScrapTheCap

scrap_the_cap_blogpost_picIt is time to scrap the cap on public sector pay.

It’s time to do it because our public sector staff deserve it, because our public sector services cannot survive without it, and because we cannot afford not to.

According to the Royal College of Nursing, nurses have had a 14% pay cut in real terms since 2010.  The IPPR calculate that workers in the NHS have experienced a seven-year pay squeeze, with a two year pay freeze from 2011/12, followed by pay capped at 1 per cent for the following five years. This has significantly eroded the value of pay in the NHS; pay for a band 5 nurse is £3,214 or 10.1 per cent lower today than pay for the same role in 2010/11.

Up to a third of workers in some NHS trusts have quit in the past year. The number of full-time nurses and health visitors in England dropped by 469 between April 2016 and April 2017, according to a Health Foundation report. Staff retention is a huge issue with the leaver rate varying from under 10% in some trusts to more than 30% in some acute and mental trusts.

In May, the Royal College of Nursing got Freedom of Information responses showing one in nine posts are now unfilled – and about 40,000 nursing posts were vacant in England.

Frontline police officers are £6,000 a year worse off in real terms compared to 2010. In May the Argus reported Matt Webb, chairman of the Sussex Police Federation, saying it has helped several officers so far this year after they found their wages left them struggling to put food on the table.

The average rent for a one bedroom property in Brighton and Hove is currently £957 per calendar month, leaving officers just £463 to cover other household bills, food and fuel costs. A three bed house will set renters back £1,630 a month, or £19,560 for the year – £440 short of the average officer’s annual wage.

The former head of the armed services, writing in the Telegraph, said that soldiers deserve a pay rise. The starting salary of an army private has dropped by £1,000 in real terms since 2010, whilst rising rents in service accommodation and changes to tax credits have hit service personnel hard. We now have a real crisis in recruitment and retention across all three services.

A firefighter today is earning £2000 less in real terms than they were in 2010. A midwife has seen their pay cut in real terms by £3000. During this time the cost of living has risen 22%.

Ministers need to raise public sector pay to help retain skilled staff, the Institute for Fiscal Studies economic research group has said, especially in the south-east where living costs are highest. It says that more restraint “would take public pay to historically low levels relative to that in the private sector”, it says. Average weekly public sector pay has fallen by 4% in real terms in the past eight years, and “higher paid groups have fared least well.”

A modest pay rise is not unaffordable. If public sector workers saw their earnings rise by inflation over the next five years, it would add just 1% to annual departmental spending. And it would pay for itself through a local economic boost – not least in the UK’s poorest regions – and through a higher tax take.

Recent research by the GMB shows that while the government said that the pay cap would save £2.2bn this year, the bill for agency and temporary workers has risen by £2.5bn across the public sector.

Last year, a study found there had been a 61% rise in advertising spend since 2010 in secondary schools alone, costing £56m in 2015. Shortages in the health service mean NHS Trusts are paying millions every month to agency and bank nurses to ensure there are adequate levels of staff on wards.

An Age UK study estimated the NHS lost 2.4m bed days, costing it £669m over five years, as shortages of social care support means frail patients cannot be discharged.

According to a Unison study based on International Monetary Fund figures, every 1% increase in public sector pay would generate between £710m and £820m for the government in increased income tax.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said if public sector pay were to rise in line with inflation for the next three or four years it would cost the public purse £6 to £7 billion more than continuing with the cap.

The public sector pay cap is having a disastrous impact across the board in our public sector; schools, the NHS, our armed forces, social care, local government, the civil service, police, fire and more. Our economy is suffering because these public sector staff cannot spend in the economy, our nation is suffering because we are missing out on tax revenue, our services are suffering because they cannot pay the rates they need to attract new staff.

We need to scrap the cap, we can afford it, we cannot afford not to.

(Speech to full Council proposing the motion “Fair Pay For Public Sector Staff” 2/11/2017)

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A Dynamic And Ambitious City

My speech to the Centre for Cities reception at Labour Conference.

“Since I last welcomed you to the Centre for Cities reception here in the kitchens of the Royal Pavilion two years ago, much has changed in Brighton and Hove. The i360 now towers over Brighton and Hove seafront, a 21st Century version of the Victorian piers, bandstands, aquarium and promenades built to draw tourists to our seafront.

The city voted overwhelmingly – 70% – to remain in the European Union, to stay a European city that is outward facing and Open For Business. I will fight to the last to see the will of the people in Brighton and Hove made a political reality.

Brighton and Hove Albion were promoted to the Premier League, bringing in tens of millions into the local and city region economy.

The EON Rampion wind farm has sprung up off our coast, representing a period of new technologies, new energy and new transport, heralding a changing economy with new ways of working. All this offering challenges and opportunities in the modern economy which we are not yet coming to terms with, but which we must if we are both to compete and protect the rights of people working in it.

The General Election saw Peter Kyle increase his majority by a record breaking figure in Hove, and Lloyd Russell Moyle take the last remaining Conservative seat in the city with a comfortable win in Kemptown. As much as in London, Bristol and the cities of the north west, Brighton and Hove has moved to Labour.

Our Labour-led administration on the City Council has pressed ahead with innovative new schemes to improve daily life, build new homes and grow our economy. New ways to run services, grow our income and meet the challenges of social care. Our mission is to get the basics right, protect the vulnerable and grow an economy for the many and not the few.

We do so against a combined opposition that can outvote us in the last remaining committee run council, under funding and service pressures that would have made my predecessors weep, and in a political environment more unstable and uncertain than at any time in living memory.

The next two years will see the pace of change accelerate, and the challenges we face grow. The Greater Brighton city region is expanding to include the thriving economy of Crawley, led by the excellent Cllr Peter Lamb who is here tonight, and the global transport hub of Gatwick Airport. Together we will be stronger in facing those challenges and ready to exploit the opportunities of the industrial strategy and devolution to city regions.

Greater Brighton will become the heart of the Southern Accelerator, a rival to the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine, driving research and innovation in our universities, investment and growth in our digital and creative economies, a sustainable future for our financial services, tourism and visitor economy as Brexit draws closer.

We cannot rely on our proximity to the capital, as a region we must compete nationally, in Europe and across the globe in Japan and China, India and South America, Australasia and Africa, the Middle East and beyond for tourism, students, trade, investment and conventions. Through our strong partnership with Standard Life we will in the coming decade replace the Brighton Centre with a new conference and event arena at Black Rock, one which will secure our future just as the Brighton Centre did 40 years ago.

The challenge for Brighton and Hove, as the Centre for Cities has pointed out, is as great as for any city region in Britain as we sever our bonds with the EU. We will not allow this self created hurricane, born in the turbulent waters of Tory division, to lay waste to our economy. We will turn our faces to the coming storm. We will cast no one out; we will leave no one behind.

In the coming two years we will push ahead with ground-breaking health integration to ensure all our residents have access to GPs, screening and treatment. Our innovative new joint venture to deliver 1000 new homes affordable at under 40% of national living wage household income, will be given the go-ahead on Monday, and – I am announcing here for the first time tonight, we will forge a new relationship with businesses in Brighton and Hove and across the city region, starting with the Leaders Business Summit which I will convene in the new year.

Whilst we press ahead with building a new future for Brighton and Hove, we will continue to value and restore and preserve the heritage that made us what we are today; that made Brighton and Hove the unique place that it is, through work to restore our seafront and preserve our Royal Pavilion in trust for future generations.

That involves finding innovative new funding solutions and campaigns. Postcards and posters are around the tables promoting our Save Madeira Terraces crowdfunding campaign in association with Spacehive. Please donate pledge a donation if you can at www.savemadeiraterrace.org

We are a thriving, dynamic and ambitious city, a young city with a proud heritage, a great place to live and work, a city with a bold and ambitious future ahead of us. Brighton and Hove is the city I’m proud to lead, and pleased to welcome you to tonight. Thank you.”

http://www.CentreForCities.org

Photo credit: @CoopInnovation

What We Were Told, And What Is The Truth

We were told that leaving Europe would mean £350 million extra a week for the NHS. We now know that this won’t happen.

We were told that 100,000 overseas students outstayed their visas. We now know this wasn’t true.

We were told that non-UK EU residents needed to run our agriculture and public services would stay. Tens of thousands are leaving.

We were told that London’s place as a world financial centre was secure. Now we know tens of thousands of jobs will move to Frankfurt.

We were told that cut loose from Brussels, our economy would flourish. It is already stagnating.

We were told families would not be split up. Now people are being told to go, then told it was a mistake.

We were told that anyone asking for the “divorce payment” of £60-£100 billion to leave the EU could “go whistle”. Now we are told we will have to pay up.

We’ve been misled. We’ve been fooled. We’ve been conned. We have been lied to. I’m sick of it.

We shouldn’t be spending up to £100 billion to leave the EU, meaning jobs are lost, industry suffers, skilled staff disappear, families are broken up.

If there is £60 to £100 billion available in the Treasury for that, I want it spent instead on proper funding for local council services, replacing the £100 million a year my council will have lost by the end of the decade.

I want it spent on a proper system of social care for our ageing population, on not just adequate but world-class mental health care. I want that £350 million extra a week for the NHS.

I want money spent on decent and affordable new homes so that people have somewhere to live and businesses can get the staff they need, where they need them.

I want investment in our universities, to promote research and development into the medical, biomedical and technological steps forward that contribute to science and learning, innovation and healthcare, local and national economic wellbeing.

I want the machinery of government focused on making this country a better place to live and do business, not on disentangling 40 years of international co-operation.

We are going ahead with an extraordinary act of national self-harm, costing us tens of billions in the short term, hundreds of billions in the long term. It will put our social and economic future at grave risk. We are not “taking back control”, we’re taking our hands off the wheel and closing our eyes to what’s ahead. It is the most important and urgent issue of our time.

We should at the very least have a second referendum based on the facts, and on the deal struck with the EU, if one is at all.

Better still, our leaders should admit we were misled, and abandon Brexit before further irreparable damage to Britain is done.

Councils cannot take another five years of Conservative Government

Town HallMuch will be written about this coming General Election, with Theresa May keen to make it as much about Brexit as possible. Whatever the outcome, she won’t get it all her own way; most people vote in General Elections on issues much closer to home, on prospects for them, their family and community.

It is perhaps a paradox that many local elections become a verdict on national government, whilst many of the factors that can determine peoples votes in a General Election are in fact controlled by councils. Local services and their future could, indeed should, be a major factor in this election.

Council and mayoral elections in May should not just be a warm-up act for the main attraction in June. Those who run town halls, city halls and devolved authorities still wield much more power than individual MPs, despite the enormous cuts and additional pressure they face.

Since the Conservatives first took power in 2010, alongside the Liberal Democrats (who should hang their heads in shame for their betrayal of local government), councils have faced cuts of between 30-40% in their funding, as the Revenue Support Grant has been steadily reduced. For my own council this will mean around a hundred million pounds a year less in 2020 that we had in 2010. Meanwhile the range of costs and responsibilities we have has been steadily added to by central Government, for example free bus travel for older people which costs us £10 million a year.

Schools funding is also being cut, with the Government hoping that blame will fall on councils, through whom the money is passported, rather than Whitehall. Housing for many councils is another challenge, but again any extra cash is funneled through developers not councils who can target need, not maximize profit.

Planning decisions, whilst nominally left in the hands of quasi-judicial planning committees, are now effectively in the hands of central Government through planning inspectors and the National Planning Policy Framework. Decisions are made in favour of the developers, but councils get the blame when new housing overtakes green fields.

Meanwhile the costs of social care are increasing rapidly, with an ageing population living longer with acute health needs. The Conservatives will talk of the billions more they have put into care, but in truth this is money generated by giving councils no option but to increase council tax bills by up to 5% a year. Here in Brighton and Hove, with a younger than average population, our social care bill far outstrips what we raise through council tax. Once again, the blame falls on town halls not Whitehall, as taxes go up but services shrink.

I fear that another five years of Government will be bleak for local Government. Increasingly the ability of local people to influence decisions will reduce further, away from the supposed ideal of “localism” championed by David Cameron (remember him). If Brexit does immense damage to the national economy, the impacts will be felt locally, and costs will be passed down. We could see a drift to the American model, where small councils meet infrequently to hand out private sector contracts where accountability is far removed from the resident.

The people responsible for making sure the bins are emptied and streets cleaned, for making sure restaurants don’t poison you and that buildings are safe, for running the mortuary and the registry office, should not be forgotten in this election. If your local council services are not on your mind when you vote in May and again in June, then they should be.

The Conservative Government’s Budget will not help Brighton and Hove

BudgetThe Conservative Government’s national insurance increase on the self-employed will hit up to 20% of the city’s workforce, many of whom are already affected by benefit reductions.

The money for social care is nowhere near enough to address the crisis, and as yet we don’t know where it is coming from. On past experience it will be from the budgets of local councils already slashed by 20% in a year, or already announced money brought forward.

After big cuts to our state schools, new free schools and grammars got hundreds of millions. There was nothing for housing, nothing for rail infrastructure, nothing substantial for the NHS and nothing on the impact of Brexit. This Budget won’t help our council, our small businesses or our public services in Brighton and Hove.

Europe: It isn’t too late to think again

21505_EU-flag-missing-starIt is becoming abundantly clear in my view that leaving the European Union will be a disaster for Britain, and bad for Brighton and Hove.

As a city, we voted overwhelmingly to remain. That view now seems to be shared by many other cities and regions who voted to leave. I choose to represent the majority of voters in Brighton and Hove who voted to remain. I absolutely respect the views of those who believe otherwise and who will reject the arguments I set out here.

Opinion has been moving against “Leave” for months. A poll of nearly 5000 voters in August found overwhelming support for Britain staying in the EU, reflecting a growing belief that we we misled and that there is no plan on how to make it happen.

There is a strong argument that we should not ignore the democratically expressed will of the people. However I believe that the reasons for the outcome were based for many on misleading information, and many would now not make the same choice in the polling station.

The idea that Brexit would reverse immigration was never realistic and controls on the free movement of labour will be catastrophic for many sectors of the economy. Migration was one of the key myths on which many based their vote, but myths are easily busted, and the impact on business through much greater regulatory burdens could be severe.

The promise of an extra £350 million for the NHS has been shown to be a false one. It was a betrayal of voters and their trust. Acknowledging a decision was wrong should mean we review it, not plough on regardless.

The referendum was not binding. The result was close, so close that Leave campaigners said quite clearly before the vote that should the result go against them by a similar margin they would contest the outcome.

Brexit will have a “catastrophic” effect on higher education, a vital sector in our local economy. Analysis by national law firm Irwin Mitchell and the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) found Brighton’s economy is expected to see a significant slowdown in economic growth following the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

The idea that Brexit will boost the economy and create jobs is another myth. Open Britain argue that the UK will have to borrow an additional £58 billion to deal with the consequences. Over a quarter of a million was racked up in legal fees in the first two months following the referendum, and costs of negotiating our departure over a decade are estimated at £65 million a year, at a time when social care is in crisis, the NHS is being run into the ground, local government is being starved of funds and rough sleeping is rocketing.

The respected Brookings Institute in Washington DC warned that Brexit could be “the greatest catastrophe of the 21st Century” leading to the breakup of the UK. The Peterson Institute for Economics called it a “disastrous experiment in deglobalisation.” Richard Branson said “there’s been very, very little to be gained from it and there’s been an awful lot to lose from it.”

Many claim that Brexit has had no impact on the economy, or indeed a positive impact on the economy. Of course we haven’t yet left the European Union, the worlds largest trading bloc, and predictions remain gloomy. In May of 2016 the UK was the world’s 5th largest economy. Just eight months later we have slipped behind France and India to 7th.

The resignation of the UK’s Ambassador to the EU lays bare the stark reality that the Government has no plan for exiting the EU that in any way benefits the country. The Government never had a plan because it never expected to lose the referendum. The pledge to put EU membership to the vote was entirely designed to stop the hemorrhage of Tory votes to UKIP at the 2015 General Election and secure a Tory majority.

The involvement of figures like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove in the Leave campaign was clearly more about their ambitions to succeed David Cameron than what was right for the country.

Even senior Tories now warn that “this is grown-up stuff, with consequences”. If we trigger Article 50 in March, we have just two years to successfully conclude negotiations or leave with nothing. Today the Prime Minister said she would present a plan “within weeks“, denying thinking in Government is “muddled”. I do not have faith in this Government to deliver.

Sir Keir Starmer is right that we should find bold and progressive solutions to the issues that underpinned the narrow vote to leave, but I disagree with the view that the outcome of the referendum cannot be challenged. 70% of Labour voters now believe we are wrong to leave the EU, many of them now looking to the Liberal Democrats to represent their views. I believe Labour should speak for a pro-European Britain.

We have not yet triggered Article 50. The Supreme Court may yet rule that Parliament must have the final say. There are various legal options the Court could give Parliament to consider. MPs need to think about their responsibility to all of the people, the national interest and the future before deciding to carry on with what is at best a high risk leap into the unknown.

Brighton and Hove can and should remain oriented towards Europe, with 50% of our tourism coming from the EU. We are the home of the European headquarters of American Express, and other financial services groups like Legal and General. Our creative arts and digital sectors, our hotel and conference industry, our universities and language schools cannot afford barriers to trade with Europe. We can and shall remain open for business. 

I believe we should think again before it is too late, and remain members of the European Union for the benefit of our city and our country.

The progressive alliance is a chimera

Split ticketLocal MP Caroline Lucas has called this week for a “progressive alliance” of centre-left parties ahead of the next General Election to ensure the defeat of the Conservatives. For many of us, particularly those in constituencies where the Tory majority was narrow and far less than the sum of the Labour and Green votes, it is an enticing proposition. But ultimately, like the notion that there is a silent majority of progressive voters just waiting for an electoral vehicle to give them voice, it is a false one.

I find it increasingly hard to believe there is a substantial bloc of several million left or progressive voters who, when faced with a choice between an increasingly right-wing Tory Party and a Labour Party they don’t think is quite good enough to spend ten minutes going out to vote for, opt to stay at home. For them, it’s not even worth going to the bother of voting Green or TUSC. The thing about non-voters is that they don’t vote. The thing about the numbers of people who voted Labour, Green, SNP, TUSC or anyone else is that more people voted Conservative. In any case, to combine the numbers who voted Green and Labour is simplistic. Any pact would inevitably put off many who voted for either from backing such an alliance.

The Fabian Society has made it devastatingly clear that for Labour to win again, it has to win over a significant proportion of those voters who backed the Tories in May. The idea that we simply need to harness the left, motivate the young or hope that older voters who turnout in huge numbers have a Damascene conversion to socialism in the next five years is hopelessly optimistic and probably naive.

The progressive alliance is a chimera, a myth. Increasingly people don’t identify with the political labels we do. Left or right, progressive or socialist, these are terms which rarely come up on the doorstep. We can retreat to the comfort of our banners and our badges, or we can use our values to reach out to those who somewhere lost faith in our ability to deliver for them with an offer that is new, a vision that connects and a plan that delivers for them.

What did come up on the doorstep, again and again across Brighton and Hove before the local and General elections in May, was the message “get the Greens out”. Whilst for some in the city centre this meant a Labour vote in the city council elections and a vote for Caroline Lucas in the Parliamentary election, for the majority there was little sympathy for the Greens and a good deal of hostility for their record.

In the local elections Labour fought and won a bitter battle with the Greens, taking half of the party’s seats on the city council and winning 33,000 more votes.  The majority of those Green council seats fell in Caroline Lucas’s constituency, where Labour candidates regularly faced hostility from Green supporters for daring to challenge them in elections. Just one seat changed hands between the Greens and Tories.

Where we did not win this time around we came second. Labour was first or second in all 21 wards in the city. At the next local elections in 2019 we will seek to take more seats from the Greens, just as we will seek to win seats from the Conservatives. That is how elections work. Voters expect a choice, not a pre-determined pact between parties they may not see as part of the same “grouping”.

For Labour to now enter into some kind of electoral pact or alliance with the Greens would be an utter betrayal of those voters who wanted the Greens out, and those Labour campaigners who suffered so much abuse and hostility from Greens who felt they were entitled to a free run at holding seats taken from Labour.

Since the election there has been little in the way of any “progressive alliance” from the Greens towards Labour. They joined with the Tories to block Labour having the casting vote on the council’s two most powerful committees, and pledged to “create havoc” for the newly-elected Labour administration. They have already signalled their intent to vote with the Conservative Group to frustrate Labour’s intent, as they did on a number of key issues during their period in office.

The sudden conversion to co-operative politics from Caroline Lucas understandably grates with those of us who have spent nearly two decades locked in a battle with the Green Party, a Green Party who’s stated aim throughout has been to replace Labour as the party of opposition to the Tories in the city. Labour has been the focus of the majority of Green Party attacks over the past decade, and frequently Green activists have stated that in their view Labour and the Tories are no different. If that is your belief, then surely there are no grounds for an alliance.

Rejecting the idea of a progressive alliance does not mean we adopt the Conservative agenda. I’ve made it very clear that my administration on the city council will set out to tackle poverty and inequality in the city, to eliminate street homelessness and long term youth unemployment. We will have to work differently, build new partnerships and innovate, as others have done. We will have to move beyond the false choices of council-run services and privatisation. Our aim is to ensure everyone shares in the city’s prosperity, not just the few clustered around the centre or the wealthy suburbs.

We are a Labour and Co-operative Administration. I state here again my intent to find common ground in the interests of the city with councillors of either party. We are as far from major elections in Brighton and Hove now as we will ever be, and the public want us to get on with the job and make their lives and the place where they live better. That, and not discussions around electoral alliances, is where I intend to put my efforts now and in the future.

Why Brighton and Hove needs a Labour Council and three Labour MPs

10401556_922575384454226_2322285707133409745_nOn May 7th Brighton and Hove, the city I have called home all my life and one of the most unique places in the country, faces a choice. The city centre can continue to indulge in being different by having the UKs only Green MP, while the outskirts can quietly forget that they have two Conservative MPs propping up a government that has done so much harm to so many people in the last five years, or it can vote for change.

Brighton and Hove, and Portslade, Saltdean, Hangleton, Patcham, Woodingdean and all the other neighbourhoods that make up our city, have the opportunity on the same day to say goodbye to the Greens running the council and once again elect three Labour MPs as they did between 1997 and 2010. The three seats here are critical in deciding whether David Cameron remains in 10 Downing Street, or if Ed Miliband is elected our next Prime Minister.

Working together, our Labour MPs Purna Sen, Peter Kyle and Nancy Platts, along with a Labour council led by me, will do all we can to build a better Brighton and Hove, better for those currently on low incomes, those struggling to afford a home, those who have to use the foodbank rather than the supermarket.

We will eliminate youth unemployment and create more apprenticeships. We will wipe out street homelessness and build at least 500 new council homes. We will set up a Fairness Commission to ensure every possible step is taken to tackle poverty and inequality that blight the lives and restrict the opportunities of over twelve thousand of our city’s residents.

We will end the chaos on on our city’s roads and focus what funding we can draw in on securing and improving our city’s shop window and major transport artery, the seafront. We will get the basics right by ensuring that bins are collected, streets are kept clean and that more, not less, of our city’s waste is recycled. We will ensure that major projects like the King Alfred leisure centre and the Waterfront shopping centre and arena are delivered on time and in budget, with affordable homes secured for local residents as part of the deal. We will strive to create a local economy that benefits everyone, not just the few.

We won’t promise populist and unaffordable pledges like parking and council tax freezes like the Tories have done, and we won’t continue with the indulgent, unending and financially irresponsible schemes that the Greens, with Tory support, have pursued. We will be realistic in what we promise, responsible in how we manage the city’s finances, determined in what we do to deliver for all residents, but particularly those who need our help most.

Brighton and Hove is a fantastic place to live, and despite all the challenges we face, people who live here are proud of it. Labour wants to make it better, we want to restore it to the city it was a decade ago, provide strong leadership for the future and unlock the potential of every young person who wants to live and work here. Help us win on May 7th, and we will deliver a council that works for you, a city that has a past to be proud of and a future with of hope and opportunity for all.

Read our manifesto here.

Volunteer to help here.

Postscript: I’ve been challenged on promising to “wipe out” street homelessness whilst at the same time saying that our promises are realistic and deliverable. It is a fair point. Our manifesto says we will “reduce” street homelessness. Since then all parties in the city have been challenged by Andy Winter of BHT to go further. I want to take up that challenge, I want to do more than reduce street homelessness, I want to see it eliminated. No-one should have to sleep rough on the streets. Yes, it might be an undeliverable pledge, but I am not in politics to do what is easy, I’m in it to attempt what is hard. On this I would rather try but fail than not try at all.

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Promoted by W.Morgan on behalf of Brighton and Hove Labour Party, all of 99 Church Road, Hove BN3 2BE

Reasons To Be Cheerful

imagesThe Tory press’s favourite “Labour supporter” Dan Hodges wrote this week that the Conservatives had achieved “crossover”, a point where they had a consistent lead over Labour in the polls, from which point they were on course for victory in May.

These Tory leads lasted for three polls with one pollster, never amounted to more than a lead of one point, and were all well within the margin of error of plus or minus three points. A range of other polls still had Labour in the lead by one point or a dead heat, and then in the YouGov poll for the Sunday Times this week Labour led by three points, 35% to 32%, their highest share this year. For those with long memories, that was the national share of the vote in 2005, when Labour won a third term with an overall majority of 66 seats. Overall the broad trend in the polls hasn’t moved since September.

Let’s say though, for arguments sake, that the two main parties are tied on polling day, at 34%. On a uniform national swing that would result in Labour being just 3 seats short of a majority. To achieve an overall majority over Labour, something which has eluded them for almost a quarter of a century, the Tories need to be some 7% ahead. A range of election predictions put the race too close to call, with many saying that both main parties will emerge with around 280-285 seats.

Of course we are no longer in the days of uniform national swing, and there are a number of individual regional and local battles involving the Lib Dems, UKIP and Greens that will to some extent affect the result. The biggest factor will, as we all know, be Scotland, where many of Labour’s 41 seats are at risk from an SNP lead in the polls that currently stands at around 20%.  How that plays out on May 7th will be key to the UK wide result.

Keen to make the General Election far more interesting than 2005, and with the Tories doing badly, the media have talked up the Labour collapse to the SNP, the threat to Labour from UKIP particularly in the North and the East Coast, and most recently the “Green surge”.

UKIP may well have peaked. Their highs of polling regularly in the low twenties and upper teens seem to have gone, though they are likely to score well above the tiny percentage they got in 2010 come polling day. They will hold or gain less than five seats, but of course could influence the result in several more constituencies.

The “Green surge”, which has seen them rise from their base of 2% up to at points 10% also seems to have peaked in the glare of media scrutiny over some of their policies, as well as wider publicity around their appalling record in Brighton and Hove. They have dropped back to six per cent and are likely to be competitive in only one or two constituencies at most. There is every chance they may emerge with no seats at all.

Let’s look at some other pointers. Recent polling in London has shown Labour ten points clear of the Tories, and on course to make significant gains in the capital on an 8% swing since 2010. In Wales Labour are marginally ahead of where they were four years ago, and set to make modest gains, leading the Tories by around 16%.

In England overall, Labour were eleven per cent adrift of the Tories in 2010, but are now level-pegging or at best 4% ahead. In 2005 that gave Labour 92 more seats. Even 4% ahead, they would lose 43 seats to Labour. Unless the Tories can make gains from Labour in England, they can’t win, and the UKIP factor makes it even harder for them to add the votes needed.

Despite some 2010 Lib Dem support leeching to the Greens rather than Labour, Labour remain likely to win most of their Lib Dem targets, whilst the Tories will struggle to take many of theirs. Amongst first-time voters Labour have a massive 15% lead, which if turnout can be maximised, would boost chances of an overall majority considerably. Significantly, the NHS now tops the list of voter concerns, an issue on which Labour has a considerable lead.

So, for any Labour supporters gloomy at recent polling, some reasons to be cheerful. Still on course to be the largest party, and if a recovery in Scotland can be achieved, on course for a majority of 25 seats or more.

“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.