Now that the dust has settled after the local elections and Labour groups are settling down to make good use of their hard-won political victories, it is time for reflection on the results and what they tell us about the future of centre-left politics.
From among all Labour wins, one stands out in particular: Labour winning a landslide victory against the Greens in Brighton and Hove.
For 20 years, the council has been hung, with a succession of minority-led council administrations. This “gridlock” has been the product of a split in the overwhelmingly progressive Brighton and Hove vote.
Across the city, more than 75 per cent of voters plump for parties who identify as being centre-left – Labour and Green. If you included the Lib Dems and TUSC, the figure would be closer to 80 per cent.
This month, it was different, and by a landslide, Labour took control of the city, winning 38 out of 54 seats with more than 47 per cent of the vote.
Elsewhere across the country, Greens were picking up seats, winning outright one council, Mid Suffolk, and emerging as the largest party in seven others – Babergh, East Hertfordshire, East Suffolk, Folkestone and Hythe, Forest of Dean, Warwick and Lewes.
In several others, they are the official opposition – Norwich, Lancaster, Solihull and Wealden. Next year, they have their eyes on winning control of Bristol. In the current round of elections, they doubled their number of seats to more than 400.
There emerges from this two questions for Labour strategists. First, should Labour be worried by the growth in Green Party councillors and councils? Second, if the answer to the first question is yes, how does the party counter the Green Party’s appeal?
The Greens’ advance should worry Labour
Labour should be concerned at the growth of the Greens. Their ability to secure seats in urban councils by posing as the “only” party concerned by climate change and the environment is now established.
That they have been steadily building up a commanding presence in Bristol, Sheffield, Norwich, Oxford and, until last week, Brighton and Hove is now very noticeable. They have also had some successes in what we now see as “Red Wall” towns.
They have been nibbling away at Labour’s vote and actively frustrating the party’s ability to take control of a number of councils. Their strategists see this as a precursor to winning parliamentary seats – as they did in Brighton with Caroline Lucas.
Their impact on general elections has to date been limited but they may have prevented Labour winning up to 10 seats in past elections by taking sufficient votes away from Labour candidates to enable a Tory win. In a tight election, this could be critical.
In the most recent set of elections, liberal sentiment has been pleased to see Greens taking seats off the Tory Party. However, in some of those areas, Labour should be the main challenger – places like Lowestoft, a former Labour seat, and Lancaster too.
Labour should not be conceding ground politically in smaller rural towns and coastal communities. We have a strong policy offer for those places, many of which have been left out of the national political conversation, have poor services and are seriously disconnected socially and economically.
They deserve good local Labour governance as much as anywhere else and we are after all a national party.
Greens “an unmitigated disaster”
Labour’s new leader in Brighton and Hove, Bella Sankey, was blunt in her assessment of the Greens’ running of the city council. She said on Twitter they were “a disaster for our city. An unmitigated disaster. And they needed to be kindly shown the door”.
For more than 20 years, they have acted as a brake on forward-looking progressive policy-making in the city. During that time, they have hidden behind the Green brand, telling local people that only they can harness local government to combat climate change and champion the environment.
The Green Party style is also an issue: they are very much “do as we say not as we do”. Their local leader was featured in the local press for flying to COP26. Not a good look, which struck residents as hypocritical.
Thanks for the congratulations. But your Party has been a disaster for our City. An unmitigated disaster. And they needed to be kindly shown the door. A relief for us all. https://t.co/kbPQWxEZ4a
— Bella Sankey (@BellaSankey) May 6, 2023
How Labour won
In this year’s election campaign, Labour locally did two things to challenge the Green Party narrative.
First, it offered a compelling, radical alternative set of policies that had local environmental concerns at its heart. Labour also made a strong pitch to get basic services – recycling, refuse, street cleaning, weed removal and traffic management – right again.
Second, it made a powerful attack on the Green Party’s record running the council. In the two periods that the Greens have run the city, their record has been appalling.
Basically, they are just not very good at taking responsible decisions or indeed any decisions. In their time, they managed to alienate the Cityclean workforce and produced two long refuse disputes, leaving the city looking a mess as the rubbish built up.
The city’s recycling level at around 30 per cent has been left unimproved at 303rd in the league table of council collection rates, right near the bottom.
Labour’s local election campaign was pitch-perfect and relentless in its messaging both on the doorstep and in the material it produced. Green Party activists were slow to respond and seemed offended that their record was being called out for its incompetence and failure.
By the end of the campaign, Labour’s messages were being played back to its activists, a sure sign of campaign success. Labour’s messaging allowed us to appeal to both Green-Labour progressive switchers and working-class suburban Labour-Tory floating voters.
We must show voters nationally what the Greens are like in power
It shouldn’t have taken us 20 years in Brighton and Hove to work out that the Green Party is incompetent.
It is a party like all others and so will have good and bad individual councillors and good and bad council groups. But one thing stands out from the Green years and that is poor leadership, with a lack of a strategic vision for the city.
This enabled Labour to argue against what we dubbed “spread bet” split party voting that had led to the succession of hung councils, with politically gridlocked decision-making holding the city back.
Voters responded positively to this clear message because they could see and feel services visibly falling apart.
What we need to do now nationally is show electors what a failing council looks like and why it happens. Voting Green might sound nice, it might seem like you care about the most precious of things – our environment and our natural resources.
The reality is somewhat different because, despite all the Green rhetoric about environmental action, 20 years of Green councillors and a Green council in Brighton and Hove shows the reality – an ideologically driven council, riven by factions that, despite warm words, wastes public money and fails to deliver essential frontline basic services.
Steve Bassam is a Labour peer, Lord Bassam of Brighton, and former leader of Brighton and Hove Council.
This article was first published by Labourlist.
The reason the Greens were voted out in the safest seat in the City was not because we want progressive ideas. It is because we were fed up with the status quo and voting for more Greens could only be expected to lead to the same results. We want to council to start doing their job properly. This means clean streets, graffiti removed, the town centre cleared up so there are not beggars and junkies everywhere putting people off from going into the town centre. We want a properly managed parks department so residents are not expected to have gardens that look like they are derelict wasteland. We want council workers to start doing their job properly and to be accountable to residents and we want a council to listen to residents. We don’t want ULEZ zones or any city of sanctuary rubbish we want a pleasant, clean and thriving city that is a highly desirable and pleasurable place to live in and raise families. We had this once and other councils manage it so now this council has been given the mandate for change so they need to grasp it. If they keep on making excuses and we keep on getting the same decline and they cannot even run a city why should we trust them to run the country in 12 months time when the elections come up.
@Sarah the Starfish
Labour won because they offered basic services back to the residents of Brighton and Hove.
That’s all it is.
Labour have not won the majority for anything less nor more.
Personally, I haven’t voted for Labour since they took us into an unwarranted war, but I do look forward to having basic services restored like your party promised us Lord Bassam.
As far as the NHS Brighton hospital sending out advice for males to breastfeed newborn babies from their chests is concerned, nah, i’m not with you. The majority of us aren’t.
Your party is detrimental to humanity itself.
Now that Labour have nobody to hide behind their incompetence and dishonesty will become clear as day, I wouldn’t expect them to do well come the next election.
The conservatives want net zero, Labour the same, the Green party want it equally and the Lib dems are no different.
The Green Party are pro transgenderism, Labour believe that 99.9 % of women and girls don’t have a penis. The Conservatives allowed transgenderism to flourish and Ferring Pharmaceuticals have brought back into relevance and power the Lib Dems via their funding.
It no longer matters what political party are in power because you all believe and push the same detrimental ideas on society.
At some point, the people will decide what they can and cannot put up with from the political and corporate establishment.
I look forward to that day.
I couldn’t have said it better.
To Truth : )
In this latest iteration of Lord Bassam’s obsession with the Greens confounding the Divine Right of Labour, two key points are overlooked. Soon after being elected in 2019, the Labour Party was so riven that it had to stand down and leave the Greens to cope with that mess. What’s more, as did Tony Blair (and now Starmer), he fails to recognise that aspirations to true democracy are undermined by a refusal to brook proportional representation. That there is a public taste for this can be seen by those who vote for two, or more, Parties in a local election. If His Lordship were to acknowledge this, his lamenting of seats Labour failed to win might bring him greater credence than one can accord this splenetic offering.
Labour’s true exoertise is black propaganda: slur, innuendo, mud. The Greens failed to explain the financial reality or engage with accusations and slurs – loftily above such squalor.
Lord Bassam hurls general ‘disgrace!’ Opinion without example or evidence. Political parties just yammer and bore and obsess about one another.
Lets watch the Independents shall we?
I don’t know why Lord Bassam is getting such a huge exposure on this site. He may have been big back in the day (don’t remember him and I’ve been here over 20 years, but back then what the council was up to wasn’t the massive issue it has since become). Shall we just all take a very deep breath, ignore Bassam, who has suddenly waded in for some reason, and see what today’s Labour councillors come up with when they formally take over after Thursday’s council meeting. They haven’t got long to walk the talk before the outrage and criticism hits the fan again.
Greens and Labour are like two twins fighting over a cake. Labour fought a very negative campaign constantly saying they will make better committee decisions yet their councillors have similar backgrounds and experience and will be whipped by a party aiming for a general election ie they will not be making decisions based on local need but national party need.
Basic comparison are the greens were a bunch of do gooders, but had no leadership and had some weird fascination with banning cars. Labour were only a more credible alternative after booting out the Corbyn crowd.
Personally I’d love to see the greens loose their MP as she is fairly useless and probably one of the biggest hypocrites, but for that to happen labour would have to put forward a credible candidate, not a 20 year old student like last time.