Spring. The buds are appearing on the bushes and shrubs, the first daffodils are out in Brighton’s splendid parks and the annual coup against Jason Kitcat’s convenorship of the Green Group on the city Council is apparently under way.
To be fair, the exclusive report in the Brighton magazine The Latest – soon to launch the city’s local TV station – is notably thin on detail. It reports that a group of rebels – including Cllrs Alex Phillips, a veteran of previous coup attempts, and Mike Jones – are looking to change internal Green Party rules to prevent Cllr Kitcat from being elected to serve a third term as Group convenor. A motion will be debated at an Extraordinary General Meeting of the local party on 25 February.
The most important omission is what the current row is about. Previous attempts to unseat Cllr Kitcat have been based on policy questions – like the decision to relinquish political leadership and leave conduct of last year’s City Clean pay modernisation to officers. Greens consistently complained that Kitcat’s leadership of the Green Group ignored Party policy as agreed by the membership; and there were complaints from within the Group that some Councillors were marginalised and ignored.
But this time it’s different. For the past several weeks – since the Green Party announced its proposal for a 4.75% Council Tax increase backed by a referendum – we have been told that the Party was now united – Council Group, MP and national Leadership making common cause in a fight against austerity. No more handing out of KitKats on picket lines.
So it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that this is really no longer about politics at all; that it’s now personal.
There has been some speculation on social media this evening that this is about the revenge of Caroline Lucas’ supporters – Alex Phillips worked for Lucas in Brussels and Mike Jones stood alongside her when she addressed meetings of City Clean workers during last year’s dispute. But I think it’s much simpler than that; a party that, in the absence of discipline and political method, has turned on itself in a kind of brutal political endgame. The experience of office in Brighton and Hove has exposed the uneasy coalition that constitutes the Green Party, the so-called Watermelon and Mango factions. What remains now looks like a dysfunctional, failing marriage; the idealism and political will are spent and only the urge to fight remains. At the moment when the Green Party appeared finally to have found a cause to unite around – the council tax rise, the referendum and the myth of letting the people choose – its inherent instability, its essential inability to conduct politics, gives every appearance of having blown it apart again.