It’s three days before Christmas and tonight one of the three main political parties in Brighton and Hove will be celebrating. For the other two, seasonal goodwill will be tested.
Voters are going to the polls in the Westbourne by-election in Hove. It is the first electoral test of public opinion since the Greens won control of Brighton and Hove City Council in May.
The seat is one of two in Westbourne ward which have long been held by the Conservatives.
The by-election was called after former Tory council leader Brian Oxley stood down to move to Derby to be near his elderly father. Mr Oxley was widely respected across party lines and is to be made an honorary alderman in recognition of his long service.
But although it looks like a safe Tory seat on the surface, the Greens have a recent track record of by-election wins and incursions into Hove.
Alex Phillips won the party’s first seat in Hove a few years ago and, in May, Christopher Hawtree made a Green gain in Conservative Central Hove.
At the same elections Labour won a seat in true blue Wish ward. All three parties are in with a chance.
Among the issues are parking, public toilets and school places. Another hot topic is whether council tax should go up in the spring. The government has offered one-off funding for a council tax freeze which has been dismissed as a gimmick by the Greens.
The three main candidates are
- Graham Cox for the Conservatives
Retired police chief Graham Cox, 50, was renowned for the energetic way he led his officers as the Divisional Commander for Hove before Sussex Police merged Hove and Brighton.
It’s no surprise to learn that he has spoken out during his campaign about things like graffiti. He said that his experience as a senior police officer showed that the best results came from addressing things like graffiti and vandalism as soon as they happened.
He wouldn’t be the first retired policeman to be elected in Hove if he holds the seat for his party. Jim Marshall and Bob Allen both served on the old Hove Borough Coucnil for many years.
Mr Cox, like his two main rivals, he has also spoken with voters in Westbourne about the need for more school places. He praised the work done by his party colleagues to bring the Connaught site back into use. And he criticised the Greens for their opposition to academies and free schools.
He added: “I favour giving other people the opportunity to open academies and free schools. I’d pay tribute to my Labour opponents who seem to be reasonably in favour of academies. I’d rather see another school open in the Westbourne area than put more portakabins in schools.”
- Louisa Greenbaum for the Greens
The Green challenger has stood for election in Westbourne before. In May Louisa Greenbaum, 41, came within 250 votes of becoming a councillor, finishing fourth in a contest for two seats.
Mrs Greenbaum lives in the ward with her husband Ray and their two daughters, aged 6 and 8. She works as a sustainable events organiser and, part-time, as a national conference organiser for the Green Party.
Mrs Greenbaum, whose daughters go to West Hove Infant and Juniors, said: “Hove is affected by a rise in the number of pupils entering primary school at the moment which will go on to affect our secondary schools in years to come.
“It’s a crucial problem that the Green-led council inherited when it came to power in May. While the demand is at primary level, the answer has to be in expanding Hove’s excellent and fiercely sought-after infants and juniors as there’s no money to build a new primary school.”
Mrs Greenbaum said that traffic and road safety, particularly around school entrances, were also passions. She said: “I wish my daughters could walk or cycle to school on their own, as they get a bit older, but the roads around the schools are just too busy and plagued with illegally parked cars.
- Nigel Jenner for Labour
If any of the candidates understands the way the council works, Labour’s candidate Nigel Jenner does, having previously worked as youth services manager for the council.
Mr Jenner, 54, is passionate about opportunities for young people, about education and about Brighton and Hove Albion.
He has been talking to voters about the need for more school places in the area and is critical of the ruling Greens’ progress since May.
He has also highlighted concerns about the closure of public toilets as the council prepares to make savings or cuts in the budget for next year. Mr Jenner was recently joined by former cabinet minister Hilary Benn in Westbourne ward to launch a “Leave Our Loos Alone” campaign.
Mr Jenner is currently self-employed and works with community and voluntary groups across the city. He said: “Public services are being cut too far, too fast, while youth unemployment and the cost of living are rising sharply.”
Mr Jenner, who was born and bred in Brighton, added: “These are tough times and local people, such as my self, are growing increasingly concerned by the broken promises of this Tory-led government and the city’s Green council.”
Mr Jenner contested Goldsmid ward for Labour at the local elections in May.
The other candidates are
- Gareth Davies for the Liberal Democrats
- Paul Perrin for the UK Independence Party
- Pip Tindall for the Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts
- Susan Collard for the European Citizens Party