Labour has tabled a motion of no confidence in the council’s ruling Green administration.
It will be debated tomorrow (Thursday 30 January) at a meeting of the full council held in public at Hove Town Hall.
The opposition Labour group leader Warren Morgan tabled the motion after the Greens proposed putting up council tax by 4.75 per cent and asking voters to back the rise in a referendum.
A similar vote in Bristol more than ten years ago rejected a council tax rise.
Councillor Morgan’s motion says: “This council resolves: In light of the administration’s behaviour with regards to the budget process, calls on the leader of the council and his administration to resign and for talks led by the chief executive to begin on forming a cross-party caretaker administration to run the council until the local elections in 2015.”
The Conservatives are expected to vote with Labour. The Conservative group leader Geoffrey Theobald said: “We will support it but it’s pretty meaningless. It’s not binding.”
It may be hard to imagine the Tories and Labour working together as part of a cross-party administration. But the reality of council politics – not just on Brighton and Hove City Council – is that politicians often have to work across party lines.
Councillor Theobald does not expect the Green council leader Jason Kitcat to quit. Nor does he expect to start working any more closely with his political rivals.
Councillor Theobald said: “If we got to that stage, obviously we would be campaigning for a freeze in council tax.”
Labour members want a rise of about 2 per cent – the figure that the Greens were working on until recently.
The Conservative leader said that there was no need for a rise if the council were to be run more efficiently.
If the council had any UKIP members, they might have claimed that the recent storms were portents. Although in Brighton and Hove, they would be less likely to blame it on gay marriage.
But as the howling gales have subsided, the political climate is warming. And the heat is on not just the Greens.
The decision to put up or freeze council tax will be taken at the end of February, with the three parties all adopting different positions.
It might be foolish to suggest that members don’t believe that their party’s view is justified. But, with the next local elections just over a year away, there looks to be a measure of positioning taking place.
Labour in particular may feel the need to put some clear blue water between the reds and the Greens.
While members of the GMB union, which represents the binmen and street cleaners, are hardly lining up to chair Councillor Kitcat’s fan club, the union is not uncritical of Labour.
Its sympathies are closer to those at the more left-wing end of the Green Party who oppose cuts to public services – and jobs – in principle.
The Conservatives want value for money and many Tories believe that this should mean a greater willingness to turn to the private or voluntary sector.
Labour may not talk about the third way so much these days but that is the path that their more pragmatic members would tread.
And they were upset that the Guardian newspaper knew about the Greens’ proposed 4.75 per cent council tax rise before they did.
They are keen to present their position as a moral challenge to the administration. A more modest rise, they argue, would balance the need to fund vital services while being mindful of the cost of living for what they call the squeezed middle.
Councillor Kitcat has previously pointed out that when Labour ran Brighton and Hove, council tax rises were higher than anything passed under the Greens.
His opponents say that he wanted the 2 per cent rise that he originally put forward. But his hand was forced by his party colleagues who threatened to oust him if he didn’t protect council services from cuts.
Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, has even started a campaign to bring privatised services such as the railways back under state control.
They say that Labour’s position is not so much nuanced but lacking in principle, fudged and unclear.
Councillor Morgan’s challenge is to shift from being an opposition critic to providing a clear, constructive and credible alternative.
His party leads in national and local opinion polls. But, if a week is a long time in politics, the year until the next local election campaign gets under way must seem more like a lifetime.
If the national economic recovery gains momentum, Labour may end up swimming against the political tide. And as William Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar, there is a tide in the affairs of men.
He gave the line to Brutus, one of Caesar’s assassins. This week Warren Morgan wants to take the current – and is grasping the dagger.
If he slays the Greens, will he, like another tragic Shakespeare protagonist, Macbeth, be handed a poisoned chalice?
It is not hard to suspect that the best outcome for the opposition parties – Labour and the Conservatives – would be to weaken the Greens’ moral authority, confidence and legitimacy.
And it is not hard to suspect that they would like to leave the poisoned chalice of making budget cuts in the hands of the Greens until May next year.
Some opponents want nothing more than to give the Greens enough rope in the hope that they will hang themselves.
But any old rope can trip up even those with the most cunning plan.
Few believe that the Greens are ready to walk away, tempted though some of them are. And they are tempted in part so that voters might begin to resent the traditional parties for unpopular local policies and the consequences of national budget decisions.
Beware the law of unintended consequences! The confidence vote may spur the more consensual Greens and their party may yet make up ground in the polls … if they survive a very Brighton coup.
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