Analysis: What next for politics in Brighton and Hove?

By Our Political Editor

Caroline Lucas’s election as Britain’s first ever Green Party MP has changed the national political landscape.

But what does it mean for Brighton and Hove, home of the constituency that she will now represent?

And how will it affect the next political contests looming on the horizon?

It may not be long before we find out.

Already there are rumours that the Conservatives, if they form a government as expected, will call another general election as soon as October to try to strengthen their mandate.

After that it will be the next full Brighton and Hove City Council elections in 2011.

And even before then there could be a by-election for the council seat held by Green Keith Taylor.

City council by-election

As the Green’s second pick in last year’s European elections, Taylor will shortly take over Lucas’s seat in the European Parliament when she makes the shift to Westminster.

He will have no legal obligation to stand down from the council but is understood to be unwilling to attempt to fulfil the role from Brussels.

He will be able to choose the timing of his council departure and the subsequent by-election for his “Green Party safe seat” in St Peter’s and North Laine.

His party should have no trouble holding the city centre ward, although some have speculated on an intriguing scenario in which Labour could pick Nancy Platts to contest the seat.

Platts, who was beaten by Caroline Lucas in the contest to become the MP for Brighton Pavilion, has achieved widespread popularity and become liked and respected even by many who voted against her.

However, if she does choose to stand for the council rather than making another attempt to become an MP, she may prefer to stand in one of Labour’s safer areas – or in Hanover where she lives and enjoys local support.

Another general election

If another general election is called this year it would present a big challenge for the jubilant Greens.

On one hand they have been buoyed by the credibility that Lucas’s win has given them, which could feasibly swing more Labour and Lib Dem voters to their side.

On the other hand, they have expended huge amounts of energy and resources to secure this win and may struggle to stage a repeat so soon.

They have enjoyed a surge in membership, and of enthusiastic members, but remain a small party with limits to their capabilities.

They could also be hit by voters moving, most likely to Labour, in an effort to change the national leadership now the overall picture is clearer.

A second general election could also be bad news for local Conservatives celebrating their victories in Hove and Brighton Kemptown.

Their margins of success were nowhere near as comprehensive as had been expected and Labour, despite being wiped out, surprised many with the strength of their showing.

Celia Barlow, the departing Hove Labour MP, had only 400 votes fewer than she did when she won in 2005, despite the seat being one of the Tories’ top ten national targets and her own campaign being relatively low-key.

In Kemptown Labour’s Simon Burgess was so surprised by the strength of his support on election day that he went into the count on Thursday night daring to hope for an upset despite having privately come close to writing off his chances six months ago.

In the end he fell more than 1,000 votes short but gave Tory rival Simon Kirby a serious scare.

While the Tories would be favourites to win again in a re-run general election in both Hove and Kemptown, they will know that it would certainly not be a formality.

Full city council election

If there is no re-run national election then the focus will turn to Brighton and Hove City Council and a near certain change of its current make up when all seats go up for grabs in May next year.

It currently stands at

  • Conservatives 25
  • Labour 13
  • Greens 13
  • Lib Dems 2
  • Independent 1

Few expect it to stay that way.

While you cannot simply transpose general election results on to local elections, which traditionally have lower turnouts and provoke different tactics from voters, there are several indications to be taken from the outcome of the general election on Thursday.

Greens

Of all the parties, the Greens are the most confident locally, and with good reason.

Lucas’s win follows successes in the last European election as well as two council by-election wins and steady gains on the council over a decade.

They have the “Big Mo” (mentum).

They expect to make gains next May, with some enthusiastically claiming 20 seats would be a reasonable target.

To achieve that they would need to break out from the areas and demographic, in the city centre, which has been their power base until now.

They say that the ballots on Thursday indicate that would be a real possibility.

The first seats they will be going after will be the two that they do not currently hold in Preston Park, although they will have to oust two locally popular Labour councillors Kevin Allen and Juliet McCaffery.

Then they will look to Goldsmid, stretching across from Seven Dials to central Hove, where they won a by-election last year and another two seats could be gained.

Again they would have to unseat a popular Labour councillor in Mel Davis and will be eyeing a “Portillo moment” to defeat Ayas Fallon-Khan, until last month one of the deputy leaders of the Conservative group on the city council.

Next is Brunswick and Adelaide, around the two famous seafront squares, which have been the city’s Liberal Democrat stronghold.

The ward has a transient population, making them vulnerable, but has two long established and popular councillors in David Watkins and Paul Elgood.

The latter polled more than 11,000 votes in his attempt to become the MP for Hove and has the Clegg surge on his side.

After those three wards the Greens would need to venture into uncharted territory in the north of the city or an unlikely smash and grab in Westbourne, which includes Poets Corner.

Patcham and Withdean have been Tory wards for decades but the Greens believe that they could make a grab for at least one of the three seats available in each, especially after Lucas received support from the areas.

They may have an easier opening in Withdean, where long-serving Conservative councillor Pat Drake is rumoured to be planning to retire.

There may also be a chance in Hollingdean and Stanmer, a Labour stronghold, where long-serving Pat Hawkes has announced that she will be stepping down – although some believe that she may reconsider.

One possibility for the Greens would be for their councillor Sven Rufus, who lives in Hollingdean but represents the city centre Regency ward, to stand in the area and draw on local support.

Twenty seats may be over-ambitious but it seems almost certain that the Greens will make some gains and establish themselves as the council’s official opposition.

Conservatives

Despite their national triumph and the victories in Hove and Kemptown, an increased share for the Conservatives is far from certain – and indeed they may see their seats cut.

Many of their votes in the Kemptown constituency will have come from the parts outside of the city and will not translate to council gains while their success in Hove has been centred in traditional areas of support.

The party’s rejuvenation nationally has not, yet, been replicated locally and they remain reliant on older members.

Of the younger faces who were elected in 2007, Paul Lainchbury was forced to step down for absenteeism and Maria Caulfield has recently concentrated her efforts on an unsuccessful attempt to become an MP in Caerphilly.

Only one younger hopeful has come to the forefront in Robert Nemeth, a property developer and writer who stood unsuccessfully in the 2007 Regency ward by-election but will be back again.

The local party has also had to suffer the inevitable bad press associated with being in power, which could take a toll.

The Tories face an almost impossible task in making inroads into the Green seats in the city centre but are unlikely to lose many, if any councillors, in their strongholds in Hove, north Brighton and Rottingdean.

For them the key battlegrounds will be in the seats traditionally associated with Labour, in Portslade, East Brighton and Moulsecoomb, where they could potentially grab one or two seats, but could equally lose the three that they gained in those areas in 2007.

The most likely outcome for the Tories will be the loss of a couple of seats but continuing as the largest party on the council.

Liberal Democrats

Before the Clegg surge the Lib Dems looked as though they were about to be wiped from the map in Brighton and Hove.

Their traditional support had been seized by the Greens and they were clinging to just two seats in Brunswick and Adelaide.

Their membership in the city had become almost non-existent.

Then last week, helped by their national leader, they received more than 25,000 votes across the city, including 11,000 in Hove.

They face a tough battle to stave off the Greens but will feel more confident than they did two months ago.

Labour

Labour faces the toughest challenge of all to reverse its steady decline in the city.

The party has lost all three MPs. And at the last council elections in 2007 it was forced out of the city centre by the Greens while it lost seats in the housing estates to the Tories.

Yet despite the depressing results for Labour on Friday morning the party has good reasons to be hopeful.

In all three seats Labour candidates came within a thousand votes of the totals which had won them in 2005 at a time when their party is in a desperate state nationally.

In fact, across the three constituencies Labour received a total of 46,301 votes, which was within 500 of the Tories’ total of 46,786.

If that support translates to the council election, although there is a good chance that it might not, Labour could be hopeful of winning back at least some of the seats that were lost to the Conservatives in North Portslade, South Portslade, Hangleton and Moulsecoomb and Bevendean – and to the Greens in the city centre.

Some interesting candidates are emerging.

Defeated parliamentary hopefuls Nancy Platts and Simon Burgess could both run, although it is unclear whether they would consider it too much of a step down – or backwards in Burgess’s case.

Popular community campaigner Chris Cooke will stand for the party in Queen’s Park, while eBay expert and blogger Dan Wilson is rumoured to be standing in the Regency ward, another area with a transient population.

Both could help Labour with the tough task of turning itself around but it seems inevitable that the party will fall behind the Greens for the time being.

Whichever election comes next and however the votes are cast, one things is for sure – it promises to be an interesting year for Brighton and Hove.

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  1. Luke Walter Reply

    I believe there is every chance for the Greens to hold a total of 28 seats and be running the council this time next year.

    I believe the Greens will be able to push Labour in almost every part of the constituency (with the exception of the Lab/Con marginals in Portslade). The Greens can also mount a serious challenge against the Tories in Central Hove, Withdean, Patcham and, to the surprise of some, Rottingdean.

    The Greens can rely on the student vote to turn out in force in Hollingdean and Stanmer and could probably take the two seats on student votes alone but, the Greens have the potential to bring over numerous Labour voters at next year’s locals.

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