Saturday, 4 June 2011

Green opponents show their cards as Brighton issues take centre-stage

Forget the honeymoon period - Brighton's Green Council is already under sustained scrutiny and attack by the other political parties in the city. They haven't wasted time on such small formalities as an analysis of their own performance at the local elections, they have gone straight to attack mode.

Already, the fault lines are becoming apparent and there are both positive and troubling implications for us in them. The most damning argument is that as a Council, we are dangerously inexperienced and that by appointing new Councillors straight in the Cabinet, we are risking burn-out, or more worryingly, missing something serious in our duty of care to the city. It is worth being mindful of this view, even though I have every faith in our Cabinet. As a non-Councillor, I wasn't party to the decision-making process that appointed our Cabinet, but I would have made the case for inclusion of more existing Councillors with proven track records in this initial year. The workload and level of commitment expected from our elected representatives both inspires and intimidates in equal measure and the culture shock for our new representatives is not to be underestimated. As a local party, we should find more ways to support those colleagues taking the highest burden.

Where the other parties are letting themselves down is that by pushing this quite so gleefully, it comes across suspiciously like sour grapes and carping from the sidelines. This can only serve to paint them as career politicians, more concerned with position than putting misgivings aside and contributing for the good of the city. That said, we cannot rely upon the patience of the electorate indefinitely to cut us slack.

In the month since the Greens took office, two issues in particular have flared up with the potential to damage our reputation quite quickly. This has been our response to traveller encampments on the outskirts of the city and the establishment of a protest camp in the Old Steine, one of the most conspicuous locations in the city. In both instances, the Greens have worked hard with both the groups and the local authorities and behaved in an even-handed and responsible manner. The response from the Conservatives has been to scaremonger that we are making the city a "laboratory" for our social experiments and that we are not speaking up for the majority. Just reading Councillor Ben Duncan's statement on the subject gives the lie to that assertion.

However, they are succeeding to a degree in dragging us into the mire on two "minority" issues and keeping press attention away from the more sound policies, such as our commitment to increase house-building dramatically, review transport policies for the city and the agreement yesterday to install solar panels on all Council-owned buildings.

We need to ensure that we get a clear line on why we support right to protest and how we are approaching the policing of such protest in the city and hammer it home each time we speak to the press. The narrative we are beginning to hear is that our inexperience and focus on fringe issues will make the city less productive and attractive to live in. We need sharp headline retorts to these criticism that strike a moderate balance and stay true to our values of supporting free speech and movement. Wherever possible, we need to reiterate that important though these issues are, we are working to a bigger vision that will benefit and transform the whole city.


  1. Unless the headlines change quickly this is going to tarnish the Greens in Brighton. Their in-experience in power is really showing.

    The Old Steine looks like a Brazilain Favela. It certainly isn't a welcoming site for visitors.

    The electorate wont be giving them a second term if they carry on like this

  2. I walk past the Old Steine every morning to work after the gym and for the first few days it did worry me that it might scare off visitors - but twice on the way home I've seen groups of about 15 tourists chatting and laughing and asking questions of the protest camp.

    I don't buy your inexperience view - from my reading of the press, we are doing work on transport, solar panel investment and re-opening the budget to prevent front-line service cuts. These are the things that people in the city will view as important, to be honest.

    Thanks for commenting though! ;-)

  3. Great post Stephen, it's important to talk about difficult issues like this.

    I visited the Old Steine camp last week. I heard a lively debate about non-violence. An angry young Englishman from outside the camp argued for violent action against social injustice. An older Spanish man patiently repeated that violence cannot lead to a peaceful society. The young man eventually settled down to do draw a poster for the edge of the camp.

    A child ran past with flowers in her hair.

    The Old Steine camp is drug and alcohol free, and works with community police to deal with drunks. It is a place of optimism and laughter where people do acrobatics and art as well as debate politics.

    Greens are making a journey into a new world. It is good that they engage with peaceful protest, rather than try to repress it.