Today’s Brighton and Hove Independent carries a full description of the Greens’ proposed City budget for 2015-16 – leaked in apparent breach of Council rules. Green finance lead Ollie Sykes seeks to justify his Party’s proposed 5.9% Council Tax increase in terms of staving off the threat to services for adults with learning difficulties, voluntary sector grants, homecare for adults and children’s centres and services. His message – vote for the Council Tax increase to protect these services. And the implication – accept Labour’s proposed 2% increase and these vulnerable people will be hit hard. It’s a mantra we’ll hear time and again: the Green comfort zone, as ever, is to attack Labour rather the Tories.
But in all this, bear this in mind: This is the Green administration’s budget, and expresses their political choices. The reason why these services are under threat is because the Green Party has chosen to use them as collateral damage in its campaign for a Council Tax increase that would raise no more than £3m to offset cuts of nearly £30m – and ultimately to shore up Caroline Lucas’ anti-austerity credentials in an election year. It’s the final throw of the dice for a Green Party that, divided and unerringly preferring grandstanding and protest to the serious business of Government, is united only in its determination to get Lucas re-elected as MP for Brighton Pavilion – using money and support from outside the city because its organisation and reputation are shot to pieces here. They are seeking to walk away from responsibility for their own choices, in order to re-elect an MP who may talk a fine talk about austerity, but whose election has not prevented a single penny of Government grant being taken away from our city.
Caroline Lucas has sought to distance herself from her party – and it’s not difficult to see why. Looking at the Green Group of Councillors, it must be a bit like having 21 Mrs Rochesters squabbling in the attic, each oblivious to the guttering candle. But this ramshackle assemblage is Caroline Lucas’ party, shot through with Caroline Lucas’ political method. It is not enough to take part in high-profile protests, or to talk a good talk about austerity, or to appear regularly on BBC Question Time: an MP must ultimately take political responsibility. It is not good enough for my MP to run away from questions about her party’s record in office in the city.
Lucas needs to tell us where she stands. Does she stand with those who support the 5.9% Council Tax increase? Does she support her Council’s funding decisions, to place the most vulnerable in the firing line? Does she side with her local party, who voted for an illegal budget while accepting that Council Tax increases are regressive and a footling response to the scale of Tory cuts? What difference can she personally make, as a Parliamentary party of one, as distinct from a principled MP from a party of Government?
Perhaps, though, reading the Green administration’s apologia for – yet again – using the most vulnerable in the city as its political shield, the finest service she could perform for the city would be to dip into her reportedly generous election campaign fund and arrange a training and counselling session for her Councillors on the meaning of the word “integrity”.