Two ways Greens lost the plot in Hanover and Elm Grove

Labour’s win in yesterday’s Hanover and Elm Grove by-election – capturing a seat in the Green Party’s central Brighton electoral stronghold – may have been unexpected but is not altogether surprising.  Its exposure of the deep malaise in Brighton Green politics has, within a couple of hours of the result, led for calls for the resignation of Jason Kitcat as Green Group convenor; but in my view those calls completely miss the point.  There is a much deeper, systemic failure that the Brighton Green Party needs to get to grips with.

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That failure is exemplified by a leaflet that the Green Party circulated ten days before the election.  It purported to be an information note about the background to the recent City Clean dispute, which saw the city’s refuse workers taking strike action over pay modernisation proposals that involve substantial cuts in their take-home pay.  I’ve blogged before here and here about the administration’s decision to devolve responsibility for the decision to officers and the subsequent divisions in the Brighton Green Party over that.  It’s important to remember that the Green candidate in Hanover and Elm Grove, David Gibson, had publicly backed the CityClean workers in their fight to avoid detriment.

The Green leaflet – curiously printed without any Green Party branding apart from the agent’s imprint – essentially rehearsed the officers’ case over the dispute, and crassly commented on aspects of the revised offer to workers which is still subject to a ballot.  In other words, a party that had chosen to walk away from a negotiation issued a leaflet defending officers and in the process not just traduced Green Party policy but undermined the political position of the local Green MP and the Green candidate.  Politics simply doesn’t come much crasser than that.  And the fact that this was dressed up as an information leaflet – rather like one of those disreputable Liberal Democrat fake local newspapers – compounds the political error.

My first reaction on reading the leaflet was that the authors had taken leave of their senses. On reflection, it speaks eloquently of the fundamental problem of the Green administration – that they appear no longer to be doing politics. And it played into the hands of those who claim that the Green administration is officer-led and not really up to the task.  It’s confused, defensive and ultimately bad politics. Who authorised this? What was the political rationale? Has the novel experience of being praised by Tories for “realism” gone to some Green councillors’ heads?

Moreover, the by-election will perhaps be remembered for the sordid sideshow of a local blogger and Green Party activist conducting a vicious and personal campaign of attack against the Labour candidate, Emma Daniel. I’m not going to dignify this particular individual’s efforts with links but, taken as a whole, the campaign was more than a piece of cyber-bullying (rationalised by its author as “scrutiny”); reading the blog posts and comments on social media as a whole, it is impossible to miss the stench of misogyny.  Now the Green Party famously claims to “do politics differently” and nobody is suggesting that it would be realistic (or desirable) to gag an individual blogger, however obnoxious his rambling.  The bigger political failure lies in the Party’s silence – not one councillor and only one party official (tweeting in a personal capacity) called the individual concerned.  In fact, as far as I’m aware only two Green Party members (of whom I am one) –  one male and one female - have used social media to call this individual – and the difference in the response to the two is instructive.

I’d argue that the failure of the Green Party collectively to dissociate itself from this campaign is a real problem.  Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for  Hanover and Elm Grove, has campaigned powerfully against the misogyny of Page Three; faced with similar attitudes within its own ranks, the Brighton and Hove Green Party collectively turns a blind eye.  It’s all the more extraordinary when one considers that part of the reason for the rise of the Brighton Green Party was the behaviour of Labour; one of the stranger paradoxes of this campaign was the participation of  former councillor Joyce Edmond-Smith, one of Brighton Labour’s Disappeared,  in support of the Green campaign.  I’m not going to pretend that in anything other than the imagination of the blogger concerned this issue affected the result; but if Green Politics is to mean anything at all, it means calling cyber-bullying and misogyny for what they are; and in Hanover and Elm Grove the Green Party collectively failed to do that.

There remains at the heart of this result a huge paradox.  Austerity is the dominant issue in contemporary politics; in Parliament, the local Green MP, Caroline Lucas, remains perhaps its most consistent and eloquent opponent.  But it is the implicit backing of austerity, in the form of its abandonment of political decisions over the pay and conditions of Council staff, that appears to be the biggest single factor behind the Green defeat in Hanover and Elm Grove.  What this means for the vote in Brighton Pavilion at the next election is unclear; Caroline Lucas’ support extends a long way beyond the local election core Green vote.  But this result has energised Labour and, with a new Labour councillor with deep community and voluntary sector roots, allowed Labour – almost incapable of uttering a progressive thought at Westminster on the economy, or social security, or free schools – to look like the more naturally progressive party.  The question now, perhaps, is whether a divided and increasingly dysfunctional-looking Green party can recapture the political agenda in our city

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15 thoughts on “Two ways Greens lost the plot in Hanover and Elm Grove

  1. Sorry, just to be clear, the blogger you refer to is Scrapper Duncan, yes? I’m curious as to where the misogyny is to be found. I had a flick through his blog and there is a deeply personal and negative campaign there, characteristics I would be grossly hypocritical to object to, but I can’t see any misogyny.
    I was greatly entertained to find the term “meat eater” used as a pejorative, though.

    • Yes, it is about Scrapper Duncan. I think it is implicit in what he writes. This is about the way in which “alpha” males use language and sterotyping to marginalise women. I found myself wondering, time after time – if Labour had selected a male candidate, would Scrapper have used the same language? And – for me anyway – the answer is “no”.

  2. Given your solid defence of the trade union link, I’m a bit surprised that you aren’t a bit more concerned about Emma Daniels’ appalling attitude to trade unions than the alleged misogyny in the deep structure of Scrapper Duncan’s text. I only found out about this today, and the only source was Duncan’s blog. He’s performed a public service, and I’m more relieved than ever that I didn’t vote for her.

  3. What you have done there, is taken the ramblings of a nasty cyber bully and held them to be true and judged the victim on them. Emma doesn’t have an appalling attitude to trade unions. Ask yourself, why was the only source Duncan Roy’s blog?

    If you want to make a fair assessment of Emma, you could also look at her own blog. http://www.huxley06.wordpress.com.

    Look at #HEG13 today. People from all sectors and from all parties are congratulating Emma and saying what an excellent councillor she will make. I met Caroline Lucas yesterday and told her how much I love her being my MP and that, even so, I was off to vote labour and the candidate was a very good friend of mine and she said “She is a good woman. I would be conflicted”. (if she was me). Emma is really respected and well thought of, and deservedly so. This is how politics could and should be.

    Also it is easy for people to focus on whether the attacks were misogyny and miss the main point. Whether you decide it is gender based or not, it is bullying masked as political debate. It does not need to be like this, it is not par for the course and in any other area of life it would be called out for what it is – bullying. It isn’t scrutiny, it isn’t debate or campaigning, it is completely unacceptable antisocial behaviour. Plus it is not just the blog, it was the relentless attacks on twitter. At best they were unpleasant, at worst and in the majority they were personal, spiteful and vindictive. And false. There is just no need for it and it should not be tolerated.

    I am not writing this from some kind of labour biased viewpoint. I voted green in the local and general election last time. In fact I had never voted labour before in my whole life! I am not a member of any party. I know Emma personally. I met her through the voluntary project Coats for kids having connected with her via twitter. We have become great friends. So I have seen the sustained attacks on twitter right from the start of this campaign by Duncan Roy and been extremely proud of how she has dealt with them.

    There have been comments that this election was won by students not being there, by a great labour team getting out the vote, by the cityclean strike, by green apathy and I am sure that yes these may have been factors.
    There is also the fact that people met Emma on the doorstep, could see her vision, passion and commitment, warmed to her and decided to give labour a go. It was also won by her.

    I too have been around Emma’s kitchen table. She said that for her it is all about genuine democracy. She would rather not have any nasty tricks or underhand tactics, she would rather a person got to compare what other candidates would offer with what she would offer, and if they preferred the other one then they should vote for them. The important thing is that they vote and that people feel engaged with local democracy. (see her blog post “kitchen cabinet”)

    This is why this sustained campaign of underhand divisive personal attack is so particularly hideous. But it would be nasty and unnecessary whether or not that was the case. I hope this style of “politics” is increasingly consigned to history.

    • I’ve looked at Emma Daniels’ blog. There is no denial of what Duncan said about her attitude to trade unions there, and only one non-committal mention of unions at all. Just to make it clear, Duncan (I’m so far out of the loop that I don’t know if that’s a surname or given name) reported Daniels as saying that she hadn’t joined a union because her employer might not like it. Now, it’s a very long time since I was a member of the Labour Party, and I thought I had no illusions about them, but that a Labour Party member, let alone a Labour councillor, could say such a thing was genuinely shocking. If she didn’t say it, and she is a member of a trade union, let her say so.

      This is not a personal attack; it’s a question of adherence to the principles of the labour movement. By contrast, Daniels’ managerial competence and concern for others, manifested in a record of charitable work, which I’ve no reason to doubt, are personal attributes. They’re not irrelevant; no-one wants an incompetent or heartless councillor. But the social democratic values embodied by the best of the Labour Party imply that the representatives of the organised working class act to reduce the necessity for charity. Failing to recognise the importance of trade union organisation, even when, as now, it’s weak and often moribund, means that Daniels has no connection with that tradition. Voting in elections should be about politics, not a version of the X-Factor.

  4. The Green Party appear to me to be dead keen on Scrapper Duncan and he often gives the impression he is an unofficial, privileged, mouthpiece. You are quite right to draw attention to Green Party silence over his ugly antics. And today Caroline Penn tweeted her thanks to him for the Labour victory.

    Someday perhaps there will be a truthful explanation for his wife’s sudden resignation as a councillor so soon after election a few years back. In the by-election that followed, Jason Kitcat was elected to replace her. We can at least chuckle at the irony there.

    Great dismay about the Greens set in very, very damagingly when they so viciously attacked and expelled Christina Summers – and Scrapper Duncan was leading the push and publishing panel findings provided to him. More recently the pack animal attacks on Jason Kitcat have seemed to indicate a behavioural pattern for the Greens setting in that feels scary.

    Meanwhile the officers get on with doing what they do in EVERY Administration of whatever hue: run the city. The Greens took to officer-think like ducks to water, but both the Conservatives and Labour before them quite meekly fell in line and gratefully accepted whatever was provided for Cabinets and Committees too.

    Calling officers to account is the single biggest problem showing up political party democracy for the sham it is. Politicians don’t bring particular expertise of any kind to the job. Mostly they are about party political gamesmanship and joustings with one another across party lines as officers look on.

    Some just hide it from the electorate better than others and so it all goes on.

  5. I am not sure what is “strange” or paradoxical about Joyce Edmond-Smith, a hugely respected environmentalist and former Hanover city councillor backing the Greens’ excellent candidate? David Gibson only just lost by hand full of votes so we need to keep this in perspective.

    • The Greens have lost elections before in seats not held. But this is the first time a seat they hold has suffered a defeat. Not just by a handful of votes either. They lost their previous huge majority plus those 38 votes.

      If you really care about the Greens you should not whitewash and blindly support their all. Something terrible is forming which could wipe that party out completely in 2015 unless they isolate their troublemakers.

      The contents of the spice box should not be offered up as the main meal.

      And Duncan Roy has written of “mass resignations” if Jason Kitcat does not resign immediately. The Greens at large have been whipped into a frenzy of total misunderstanding of reality and pulled into a crowd frenzy state of malevolence. Worse, the attempt to scapegoat Jason is like some kind of bizarre human sacrifice in an ancient tribal village that hasn’t seen rain for awhile! Perhaps those seeking Jason’s head are the “mass resignations” (10) that Duncan Roy uses to try to spook the rest of the party and its cllrs.

      • Hi Julian, you put something to the effect that if what Duncan Roy is saying is wrong about Emma she should say so. Guess you would need to have seen all the tweets to put into context why his claims have been unanswered. Not dignifying a cyber bully with a response. Replying to any of the ridiculous questions or refuting some ridiculous allegations might have legitimised them and allowed a bully to dictate the agenda. I meant that you could get a feel for the person she is by looking at her blog rather than get details specifically about unions. You can always just ask her directly about the unions. She does belong to one by the way. Best wishes.

      • It’s true that I haven’t seen much of the twitter exchange, but some of the points raised on the blog are serious and questions of fact, particularly this question of attitude to unions. Some of the other material on the blog is irrelevant, such as Emma’s alleged problem with (other) “powerful” women – whether there is any truth in the claim or not, amateur psychological analysis of political opponents is generally pointless and misleading. In this restricted sense, I agree with you that personal attacks on politicians are unhelpful and unpleasant.

        Anyhow, I’ve done what you suggested, and asked Emma on Twitter if her comments about joining a union were correctly reported and when and if she joined a union. Just to expand briefly on my previous post, this is important because it gives some minimal sense that Labour candidates belong to a wider labour movement, and aren’t just seeking a mechanism to propel them into office, with whatever good and altruistic intentions. Even Tony Blair joined the old T&G – OK, not the best example of how the wider movement can restrain someone’s vainglory and imbue a liberal with social democratic traditions. As I’ve said, I’ve no illusions in Labour, but I’d still prefer to be represented by a social democrat rather than a rootless liberal, even if the latter would confirm my view about what’s become of Labour.

        An advantage of me rambling on is that I can now acknowledge an answer from Emma, in which she flatly denies saying any such thing. Of course I accept this, and I notice that in another tweet she has said Duncan has lied about her; writing this about a barrister indicates she thinks she’s on pretty strong ground. She also says that she joined Unite, albeit after selection for HEG. Not the strongest sign of a long-standing commitment to the labour movement, but definitely better late than never. Apologies for misspelling her surname in my previous post by the way.

  6. Being a ranty person myself I think Scrapper’s choice of language is quite appropriate. This is politics. The man has taken it upon himself to reveal everything he can about this candidate in a transparent fashion, which I respect. His analysis is obviously vitriolic because he perceives the Labour candidate to be a sociopath and an unprincipled climber. I think he’s provided good evidence that she is. Such people are toxic to democracy and I praise his publicly spirited attempts to reveal her as such. I doubt that such campaigning contributed significantly to the loss. I think the fault lies with Kitcat and the grossly unprofessional mess the Greens are making of being in power. Who could blame voters for being turned off.

    On a broader note I happen to think the election was a sham. A 29% turnout is democratically illegitimate. To tolerate such a process empowers its benefitors and detracts from those who desire legitimate representation.

  7. Just an observation on the above comment. 29% is indeed dismal but I would be interested to know how many students (who are absent) are registered to vote in the area. Apart from University Halls of Residence I would suggest a good 30% of my own streets accommodation is in the hands of letting agents and the student numbers are large. My niece who was living with me whilst a student is on the electoral role yet left Brighton in June following the completion of her course. There is no process that I have seen to have somebody removed from the electoral role until the next annual registration ‘census’ is released (usually October time?)

    One more point. I am pleased the local election took place outside of students being in residence. Tricky I know, but I would rather the votes came from the locals with a vested interest in the longer term issues of the area than it be swayed by what I can only describe as a ‘transient’ voting pool of students, especially if that voting block is significant in number. Anyone have an idea of the numbers ?

  8. Pingback: Brighton and Hove: the choices before its political parties | Notes from a Broken Society

  9. Pingback: Top posts of 2013 | Notes from a Broken Society

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