Archive for Caroline Lucas

‘No’ to the “progressive majority”, ‘Yes’ to reform

At the moment, we are hearing talk from Labourites, social Liberal Democrats and even some Greens, about the potential for a “progressive majority” coalition or, as the right-wing press likes to call it, a “coalition of losers.”

Some debate is happening about the role of Brighton Pavilion’s new Green MP, Caroline Lucas, in such a coalition. This morning, on Radio 4’s ‘Today Show’, Caroline Lucas said the following:

“This has been getting called a progressive coalition, but I have to say from our perspective there isn’t very much that’s progressive about Labour or indeed, in many respects, the Liberal Democrats.

So this is hopefully a coalition of reform, but I think in order to earn that name, if you like, then thorough going electoral and political reform absolutely has to be at its heart.”

This couldn’t be more true. As Greens, we really have to question the “progressive” nature of both Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Just like the Conservatives, both parties propose cutbacks and further privatisation as a means of “economic recovery”, neither party wants to accept that what we really need is a massive Government investment package in jobs, the scrapping of our entire nuclear arsenal, the cutting off of tax loopholes and the raising of tax for the well-off and, the protection of every last public service that activists and campaigners have fought tooth and nail to see materialise over the last 50 plus years.

We can of course support any move closer to proportional representation and fundamental reform of our electoral and political systems. Our Parliamentary codes and practices have not undergone any radical change since the 19th-century and now, more than ever before, we have to look at fixing the broken system.

Whilst full and proper PR is desirable, it remains unlikely that we’ll see a voting system where every vote counts. The Alternative Vote (AV) isn’t good enough and is not nearly democratic enough, let alone being proportional. As a cynic, I think the best deal progressives could wrangle would probably be a referendum on AV+. Once again, not perfect, but it is considerably better than AV. If anything more proportional looked likely, I would argue for that but, this is significant, throughout the election the Lib Dems were not talking up the single transferable vote (STV), they’re not even discussing that now.

But, what should the Greens demand? We should demand for the most proportional offer that any party is talking about whilst pointing out the faults and deficits of AV and AV+. We should also be talking about how it is not only just Westminster elections that need reforming but local ones too. We need to be arguing for PR to be introduced for local elections right across the country, along with devolving more power and authority to local councils. We should not be forgetting about reform of the House of Lords. We need to remind the public that 2/3s of our democratic institutions are not elected by them, but are either hereditary or nominated by sitting MPs, usually from the Government benches.

However, and this is important, if in the event that the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party decided to enter upon any agreement, be it a “progressive” coalition or a “reform” agreement as Caroline has suggested, then it would be down to Caroline’s constituents, the voters of Brighton Pavilion, to have their say about what kind of role Caroline Lucas should have. It is not for us as a party to decide, it is for those people who did the bold, brave and brilliant thing of electing Caroline to be their MP. A public meeting, open to all shades of opinion from her constituents, would be the most open, honest and transparent way for Caroline to make her decision.

I say, let the voters of Brighton Pavilion be the Kingmakers, not us.

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Caroline Lucas: Our First Green MP

Sorry for my lack of posting anything for nearly a month. I have been absorbed in this election and my energies have been directed elsewhere. But, after a long, hard slog, she did it, Caroline Lucas is now Caroline Lucas MP!

This is a big first, this is massive for the Greens and even bigger for Brighton Pavilion. After seeing the Greens get squeezed in London where, unfortunately, we lost a number of council seats (well done to Darren Johnson holding on in Lewisham and Maya de Souza in Camden), we got the big one.

Caroline Lucas MP (I can’t stop adding MP) will raise the Greens national profile tremendously. It dispels all the old myths that the “Greens can’t win”, that “a vote for the Greens is a wasted one” or, my favourite one from Labour activists, “voting Green lets in the Tories.” Actually, a vote for the Greens lets the Greens in.

Brighton has done something amazing. Voters in Pavilion ignored the politics of fear whipped up by the two parties that it is either going to be Labour or the Conservatives and instead voted for something they wanted. They have given the Greens a majority of 1200 on an 8.4% swing from Labour. A massive well done to Brighton Pavilion voters, you have done Britain proud.

A another big well done (and a massive thank you) needs to go to everyone in the Green campaign team, all the councillors, all the volunteers, even those who came from far away and abroad (yes, a couple of Canadians came over to help Caroline). Without the help of every last person, from the press office to those delivering leaflets, it could not have been achieved without the input of every last person who was involved in the campaign.

The hard work now begins. Caroline and the party have a lot of people to thank, a lot of people to see and a lot of people to work on behalf of. Caroline’s priority is to Brighton Pavilion and her constituents. Her record will be judged by Pavilion voters and Pavilion voters alone. I have no doubt that Caroline will be an excellent constituency MP. As an MEP she always put the South-East first, she put her constituents first, and she will do the same for the people of Brighton Pavilion.

Commiserations to Nancy Platts and Charlotte Vere. I know both put a lot of  time and energy into fighting the seat. But, at the end of the day, voters ignored the national polls, they ignored the national picture and they voted for what they wanted, a Green MP. That is what they got, they now have a local champion in Caroline Lucas MP.

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Does Labour really have a chance in Brighton and Hove?

There is little doubt that the race in Brighton Pavilion promises to be one of the most exciting in the forthcoming General Election. All three main candidates, Caroline Lucas (Green), Charlotte Vere (Conservative) and Nancy Platts (Labour) are giving it their all.

A little while back, in some discussions with friends, I predicted that the campaign in Brighton Pavilion would be a sour and bitter one. The threat posed by the Green Party is enough to undermine the status quo of the big three and to upset their predominance in UK politics. A Green win, even in one seat, is enough to challenge all presumptions and conceptions about the party and new forces breaking through at Westminster.

Some will argue that one Green MP won’t make any difference, however, they would only be lying to themselves if they didn’t believe the kind of impact it would have. A breakthrough for the Greens at Westminster would be significant, even if not immediately recognisable. The Greens are a national party with councillors up and down the country and with a policy manifesto that envisages the long-term. What has always been lacking up to this point is a real chance of making a breakthrough at a General Election

For far too long the party held onto a vague sense that Labour would deliver PR or a democratic crisis would become so apparent that changing the electoral system was the only hope of recovery. I am glad to see that the party has since shifted in its tactical and strategic thinking and recognised the necessity of employing a genuine target seat strategy.

This has led a large amount of resources, attention and focus going into Brighton Pavilion. The Green campaign in Brighton Pavilion certainly dwarfs both Labour and the Conservative campaigns. However, we must remember, nationally at least, Pavilion is not a top Tory target seat – it’s number 135 on their list; whereas Hove is 8 and Kemptown is 29.

Brighton Politics Blogger has reported on the shortfall in Nancy Platts election funds compared to those of Simon Burgess, the Labour candidate for Kemptown. Given that Simon has a higher profile in the Labour Party than Nancy (just take a peak at Simon’s record), it is no surprise that he has managed to wrestle more money for his campaign away from Nancy’s and Celia Barlow’s (the Labour MP for Hove).

Labour has a lot more to lose from a Green win in Brighton Pavilion than the Tories. If Caroline Lucas successfully takes the seat, then Labour would struggle to come back as the leading, left-of-centre force in Brighton politics.

There is a real possibility that next year, in the Brighton and Hove city council elections, that Labour could be reduced to having a core rump of councillors from East Brighton and Moulsecoomb and Bevendean. The Greens could certainly take Labour’s seat in Goldsmid, their two seats in Preston Park, the Lib Dem seats in Brunswick and Adelaide, as well as picking up one in Withdean, Hollingbury and Stanmer and maybe even a third in Goldsmid from the Tories.

This does of course have the potential of seeing the Tories return with an increased majority and overall control of the council, but Labour would of course be decimated, such would be the knock on effect of a Green victory in Pavilion.

If Labour were reduced to four, five or even six councillors, it could very well be the end of them in Brighton politics. If Labour fail to hold on to Hove (which they have next to no chance of doing so), or Kemptown (in which there is an outside chance they will hold on to) or in Pavilion (maybe no chance), then Labour, as a force in Brighton, will be no more. It would not be long before they are seceded by the Greens as the main progressive force in Brighton and Hove politics.

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New media in Brighton Pavilion

It is now established that if you’re a candidate standing for election you need a campaign website. For a lot of candidates this is the first thing they think of. Why? Because it is a cheap, resourceful tool in communicating your message to potential voters. It is also important for candidates to have the most attractive website they can get. Visitors to a site need to be taken on a journey, they need to find small pockets of interest that keep them coming back for more.

Nearly all candidates standing for election either maintain a blog or a news content page. This is true for all three main candidates in Brighton Pavilion, Caroline, Nancy, and Charlotte. Out of all of them it is Caroline who updates hers the most, either through her blog or through her campaign news. Both of these are similar but, at the same time, rather different. Caroline’s blog section discusses mainly the campaign trail, her meetings with local associations and the finer points of her agenda for the constituency. Her campaign news, which is updated less often than her blog, provides the press with details of Caroline’s positions and statements, as you would expect from a news section.

It should be noted that Charlotte and Nancy don’t separate the two. For Charlotte, her blog is also her news content page (she does have a ‘media’ page but that hasn’t been updated since January 16th- remember those snowy days?) Nancy, on the other hand, only has her news content, and this is updated a couple of times a week.

Nancy prefers to use twitter to keep her followers up to date with where she is and what she’s doing, using this to great effect. Charlotte, whilst using twitter in a similar vein to Nancy, is also much more personal, perhaps far too personal in her correspondence with her followers, particularly with her Green ones. Whilst Charlotte has a tendency to always ‘@’ Caroline (I think she may have given up by now), many of her tweets meet with immediate response from Greens, partly due to Charlotte’s antagonistic style. Yes, we know that twitter is a world mostly populated by people averse to the Conservatives, but there is something dogged in her chase for Caroline to reply to her tweets.

I think, and most certainly hope, that Charlotte has backed away from this style, especially for her own sake. We have not seen her update nearly as often, neither are her tweets focussed purely on Caroline. Whilst it is too early to say whether this is a tactical change in Charlotte’s social media strategy- perhaps someone has had a quiet word with her- it would be a welcome move if she would tone down on the ‘reply’s and ‘@’s to people who are clearly not going to agree with her.

Brighton Politics Blog, BPB for short, posted a similar article on Brighton Pavilion and new media back in January, go check it out.

By the way, does anybody know if CCHQ is still vetting PPC tweets?

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Charlotte Vere’s lack of respect

Today, Charlotte Vere, the Tory PPC for Brighton Pavilion, made a crass attack on Caroline Lucas by asserting it was shameful that Caroline Lucas could support both ex-service personnel and Cpl. Joe Glenton, the soldier who refused to serve in Afghanistan on the grounds that he believed the war was illegal.

On Twitter, Ms. Vere posted:

@garydunion If @carolinelucas is a pacifist and supports deserters, she has no place ‘supporting’ British Legion. Shame on her

Ms. Vere further added:

@garydunion And supporting desertion? Would an ex-serviceman/woman welcome @carolinelucas into their home if they knew that?

Not only was this a crass attack on Lucas, and one might add, a new low for Ms. Vere (who was previously criticised over a link on her blog to an article comparing the Greens to the BNP), but it is an attack on the courage of Cpl. Glenton who, despite the media backlash against his good name, was courageous enough to say ‘no’.

Rather than acknowledging courage, Ms. Vere was quite forthcoming in letting us know what kind of opinion she had of Cpl. Glenton. I wonder if Ms. Vere also holds Quakers and other conscientious objectors in such high esteem.

It is perfectly clear what Ms. Vere thinks of pacifists and, as a pacifist myself, I’m insulted by Ms. Vere’s use of the term as a political insult.

I have family members currently serving in the armed forces in Afghanistan, I also stand firmly behind Joe Glenton’s conscientious objection to serving in an illegal war with no possible end. I am proud of both, why would I not be? Both the step-cousin, currently serving in Afghanistan, and Joe Glenton, who refused to participate in an illegal war, have acted upon principle and conviction. My uncle, step-aunt and step-cousins are all fully aware of my politics and convictions, I’ve never once, ever, been refused entry into their home.

Just because Caroline Lucas- like myself and many others- opposed the Iraqi and Afghanistani conflict, it does not mean she lacks respect for those men and women serving in the country. Ms. Vere’s lack of respect for her fellow candidate, and her improper and nasty smear of Joe Glenton, should not be forgotten too quickly.

If Charlotte Vere wants to be the representative for the people of Brighton Pavilion she has to focus her election campaign around policy, ideas and vision,  not the cheap nonsense like this afternoon’s Twitter outburst.

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Clean your own house first, please

Because Charlotte Vere has a reluctance to publish any of my comments, I figured I would publish my most recent one in response to her blogpost, ‘Publication of Legg report increases pressure on Ms. Lucas to publish her expenses:’

“I’d be interested to know if you’ve contacted any of your Conservative colleagues over their European Parliamentary allowances?

I think it should be a case that you saw your party clean its own house (or moats) before hounding someone who was given a high approval rating from the independent think-tank, Open Europe, for her transparency on allowances.”

Update: Charlotte Vere has said  the report never covered allowances. In fact, the Open Europe report covered the issue of allowances because it included criteria on how MEPs voted in regards to making the allowance system clearer and more transparent to voters. It’s not Caroline Lucas’ fault that some of Charlotte Vere’s Tory colleagues in the European Parliament failed to back modest measures on transparency.

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Will Patcham and Withdean lend their vote to the Greens?

This has been a long time coming, but I’ve only just had the chance to look at the breakdown from the Green/ICM poll for Brighton Pavilion.

Going through the breakdowns, I was surprised to see in Table 2 (the ward by ward breakdown), the voting intentions of constituents in the Patcham and Withdean wards.

The voting intentions in Patcham read:

Conservative- 26%
Labour- 14%
Lib Dem- 2%
Greens- 25%

This is a 13% swing towards the Greens from the 2007 City Council elections. However, 22% of respondents in Patcham, when asked whom they would vote for replied, ‘Don’t know.’ This creates what could be an interesting scenario in a solid Tory ward.

The breakdown in Withdean, another Tory stronghold, where the three councillors enjoy a majority of well over a thousand, reads:

Conservative- 19%
Labour- 16%
Lib Dem- 4%
Green- 23%

This is very atypical behaviour from voters who would not normally be considered Greens. Yet again, the ‘Don’t knows’ are remarkably high, 29% of correspondents said they did not know who they would vote for.

This is an opportunity for the Greens and a major threat to the Tories. If the Cameron message is not sticking in their strongholds, how does this really fare elsewhere across Pavilion?

It wouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that the Tories were least popular in Hanover and Elm Grove (only 9% of correspondents said they would be voting for the Conservatives), St. Peter’s and North Laine (10%) and Preston Park (16%).

Perhaps the most suprising figure to come from the poll was the Tories strong support in Hollingbury and Stamner where 34% of correspondents said they would be giving them their vote, only 19% said they would be backing Labour on polling day and 20% said ‘Don’t know.’

 The number of ‘Don’t knows’ in the poll was rather high, 19% of the total number of people asked said they did not know who to vote for, meaning that this election is far from over and, particularly in Patcham and Withdean, there is all to play for. If the Conservatives can’t get the vote out in their strong holds, it will become very difficult for them to push the vote in other wards in the constituency.

Whilst the margin of error for the poll is high, especially with a sample size of 533, it’s clear that the battle in Pavilion will be a straight fight between the Tories’ Charlotte Vere and the Greens’ Caroline Lucas. If the Greens can draw a line in Withdean (and I certainly believe there is every chance that the Greens can poll very highly in the ward), they will force the Tory campaign to concentrate more of their efforts (and far more of their resources) trying to shore up their vote.

But this is a General Election and parties need to get every vote they can, regardless of where it is. The Greens greatest strength in Withdean and Patcham is the fact they’re not Labour. The Greens need to cultivate that potential, to target swing voters in  parts of those wards (the roads and streets most likely to nod in tune with the Green message) and to convince the ‘Don’t knows’ to look at the math, to be bold and to commit.

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Brighton Pavilion: The Student Vote

I think it would be fair to say that I’m not a fan of the NUS. I consider NUS a talking shop for bureaucrats who have been party hacks since their late teens (I’ve been a hack since my early teens). That said, I’m chuffed to see Vote For Students. It seems that for the first time in a long while there will be a systematic effort to register students to vote however, I still have my doubts.

The burden of registering students to vote will fall to full-time officers in student unions around the country, some of whom will work harder than others at getting out the student vote. I for one have little faith in the current full-time office team at my former university who, if I’m being honest, would struggle to organise a piss up in a bar (but that’s probably more to do with financial mismanagement anything else). What really worries me though is the loss of an activist culture on many university campuses. Student unions have conceded this ground to the far-left (which the organised bureaucracy has continued to marginalised as much as they can) who act as the unofficial spokespeople of student activism on campuses, often shouting about one thing or another which gets ignored by most students.

The truth is that students don’t really care about Iraq or Afghanistan, many of them don’t really give a toss about Palestine and, what may surprise some, students would probably stick two fingers up at climate change and say “bring it on!” I don’t want to sound defeatist, but it’s pretty much the truth, most students don’t care about the ‘big picture.’

However, what they do care about are immediate and personal issues. Issues such as fees, students can’t stand them, most don’t want to pay them, and many of them would rather they had free university education. Yet, how many of the mainstream parties recognise this desire? Well, certainly not Labour (not even the student wing), definitely not the Tories (who haven’t really said anything particular on higher education besides cuts and an emphasis on ‘business models’) and the Lib Dems have thrown away free education and rank it as an ‘aspiration’ to be implemented some way down the line (although who can really trust a politician’s timescale?).

In Brighton Pavilion students have the opportunity to vote for a candidate that stands resolutely against fees, I am of course talking about the Greens’ very own Caroline Lucas. I admit that the existing Green policy is not perfect, and could certainly do with a re-vamp e.g. making it clear who would cover the cost, I for one believe the majority of it should come from a progressive tax on the private sector, after all, they’re the ones who’re going to benefit from a constant stream of well-trained graduates. But it is certain that the Greens will be the only party in Brighton Pavilion with a clear policy opposing fees.

But fees aren’t the only issue that plague students, accommodation costs, greedy landlords upping rent prices despite a drop in mortgage rates, a living wage for student workers and a guarantee of university accommodation for first year and returning students, are some of the many issues that affect students at a local level. All candidates in Brighton Pavilion should address these concerns and offering solutions. If they want students to vote for them, then they need to make overtures to the student community. They need to engage with students as often as they can, they need to make the effort to visit the Sussex and Brighton campuses, as well as Brighton College and other sixth forms. Not all students will live in Brighton Pavilion, but a strong voice that speaks for all of Brighton and Hove’s students would have a profound affect on the kind of services students receive, whether they’re getting a fair deal from landlords or letting agencies and whether or not going to uni would be worth it, by that I mean setting out a coherent vision on creating  modern jobs for Brighton’s graduates by attracting the right kind of investment in Brighton, either from the Government or from honourable sections of the private sector.

A candidate that can promise a fair deal for students on the issues above deserves the student vote.

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