Local elections: Will the Green Party make a breakthrough?

12 Apr

Some opinion polls have the Green Party only a couple of points behind the Lib Dems. For example, there was one from Opinium for The Observer over the weekend that had the Green Party at seven per cent, with the Lib Dems on nine per cent. Others. using different methodologies, have the Greens a bit lower. At any rate, when it comes to councillors the Lib Dems are still way ahead of them. The latest tally has 2,478 councillors in Britain giving their allegiance to the Lib Dems – with just 476 for the Green Party.

Despite this, we do have a couple of councils run by the Green Party, albeit with minority administrations –  Lancaster and Brighton and Hove. Neither council is up for election this year. Cllr Steve Bell has chronicled for this site, the manifest failing and hypocrisies of the Green Party in Brighton and Hove. They will declare a “Climate Emergency” and hold debates on foreign policy. But when it comes to practical matters, such as recycling, their record is hopeless.

The Green Party nationally is extremely left wing. It wishes to overthrow the capitalist system and combines being “woke” with praise for Communist regimes with some decidedly non-woke policies. That should mean it is well placed to attract Corbynistas from the Labour Party disillusioned with Sir Keir Starmer. There will be an element of that. But the electoral impact is more complicated. Voters do not always behave in an ideologically coherent manner – hardly something politicians can complain about as they are scarcely impeccable in their consistency either. When the Green Party adopts a populist nimby stance it can win seats from the Conservatives.

Consider this account, last month, from the Rutland and Stamford Mercury:

“A new Green Party councillor who narrowly beat a Tory in a Rutland County Council by-election has spoken out against a proposed solar farm.

“Rick Wilson was announced as the winner of yesterday’s by-election for the Ryhall and Casterton ward and beat his Conservative opponent Richard Foster by just 13 votes. The seat was previously held by Tory Richard Coleman, who resigned in November.

“Coun Wilson said he was “shellshocked by the result” but believes his clear opposition to the proposed Mallard Pass solar farm development and to the proposal for 650 homes at Quarry Farm helped him to victory.”

With that sort of political dexterity they could go far.

The increase in energy bills will not have helped the Green Party though. Only last November, at COP 26 in Glasgow, climate alarmism was all the rage. The Prime Minister declared it was “one minute to midnight on that doomsday clock”. Now the mood is very different. So what could have been a chance for a dramatic breakthrough for the Green Party will probably just been solid but modest progress.

Sheffield will be an important set of results to look at. A third of the seats are being contested. Already the Green Party have 13 seats and are the junior partner in a coalition with the Labour Party. That does leave them vulnerable to anti-establishment attacks from the Lib Dems who declare they feel “protecting greenfield land in the Green Belt from development is very important. Unfortunately, the Green Party as part of the Labour/Green run Council disagree.”

Another important test for the Green Party will be the elections for the new unitary authority of Somerset. They have a smattering of representation on most of the existing councils.

Then we have London. Could Labour hegemony be challenged in some of the more hipster boroughs? I was surprised to see the Greens are only fielding a dozen candidates for the 53 seats on Camden Council. They have a couple of councillors there. Lambeth could be an opportunity for them. They already have five councillors, they are running a full slate of candidates and the Labour-run Council allows plenty of scope for complaint. There is a Green Party councillor in Islington and the Greens have a full slate of candidates. One can imagine there will be certain Labour divisions locally which might assist them in gaining a few more. They don’t have any councillors in Hackney but are running a full slate of candidates there.

But these are London boroughs with huge Labour majorities most unlikely to be overturned next month. The potential is for the Greens to build up opposition groups – half a dozen councillors here, a dozen there. They will be able to mount protests demanding vegan catering and fair trade coffee. That will suit them well to build up their electoral base. The difficulty they get into is when they find themselves in a position of power. That should not be too widespread a challenge for them just yet.

Alistair McNair: Our local council is indoctrinating primary schools with Critical Race Theory. We must be brave enough to resist.

3 Feb

Cllr Alistair McNair represents Patcham & Hollingbury Ward on Brighton and Hove Council.

The Green Party, who are trying to run Brighton & Hove City council, love to think they are also running the country, and never shy away from discussing national issues such as nuclear weapons. However, yet again the city council finds itself in the national news. Usually, it’s just because of incompetence – an inability to de-weed, collect the rubbish, or ensure our parks don’t become sinkholes. This time, it’s more sinister.

Brighton & Hove City Council have pledged to be an anti-racist city and they want to ensure children are anti-racist too. And it’s not just a pledge – it’s £100,000 over five years, and a Racism Adviser too. Racism is a problem, one that needs constant attention, and one that can affect all people – my wife is Ukrainian and has had verbal abuse in Hove in the past – but I didn’t realise our children are also racist. However, their school’s policy, and their thinking in general, adheres to Critical Race Theory (CRT). This is an American theory dating back to the 1970s which has come to espouse the idea that white people have privilege, should feel guilty for past racial crimes, and atone for them – by becoming less white. It believes race is a social construct and that society has been deliberately structured by white people along racist lines. It is overtly critical of colour blindness – that is, trying to treat people equally without reference to their race. It privileges the beliefs of individuals over reason and facts. Are children racist? We don’t need facts, they must be, and so are you!

Of course, the green-led council insists it is not using CRT – but it is. It uses all the language of Critical Race Theory – the terms ‘white privilege’ and ‘structural racism’ can easily be found on its website. Even the word ‘anti-racist’ is troubling. If you don’t declare yourself an anti-racist, you must be racist – yet this word, to my mind at least, only seems to have started to be used with the rise of CRT.

Recently at Children, Young People & Skills committee, a committee on which I sit, Adrian Hart, an indefatigable campaigner on this issue, asked for a moratorium on the Council’s Anti-Racist Schools’ Strategy, which aims to provide racial literacy training, so that councillors could evaluate its appropriacy. Councillors also asked to see anti-racist training material being given to teachers. Conservative and Labour councillors supported Mr Hart, and his request to see teacher training material, only to be told by the Green Party Chair of the Committee, Cllr Hannah Clare, that the material was owned by a private education provider and we couldn’t see it. Quite ironic for a Green councillor to support a private sector education company. We voted, along with Labour councillors, to see this material and have only just received some of it – redacted. Rather, we have received two PowerPoints which refer to white supremacy, very specific newspaper headlines, and spurious research with no citations. The reading list is full of books related to CRT such as White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. We now look forward to a proper debate about it.

It would be quite right to teach Critical Race Theory in schools in a genuinely critical fashion, at least at secondary school level. What is it? Where did it come from? What are its strengths and weaknesses? Why are we learning about it? Children should be debating contemporary issues such as CRT, and they do, but learning to question rather than accept. It’s quite another thing for there to be racial literacy training. Training means ensuring people think the same – in this case that you have white privilege – tell that to parents in my ward of Patcham & Hollingbury. Training is not proper education. The Green-led Council only wishes children, teachers and residents to accept their beliefs – that racism is structural, that white people have white privilege, (that global warming is leading us to imminent catastrophe) – without question, and they want to start by telling children they should feel guilt over their race.

One criticism university lecturers sometimes have, and I work in the tertiary sector, is that students lack practice in critique. What trouble are we in, as a society,2 if councils themselves actively encourage group-think and the use of racist theories such as CRT? We need to be brave – like Adrian Hart who managed to garner 4,000 signatures for his petition. We live in a diverse and tolerant society and must stand up for it. We should strongly contest the use of terms such as systemic racism, white privilege, and white supremacy. We should defend liberal values, try to bring people together, and point out that pernicious use of language such as white privilege might seem worthy at face-value, but actually presents a grave danger to our multicultural, liberal, reason-based society. Unfortunately we might need to focus on fighting this danger in our councils rather than spending time tackling failure to collect the rubbish.

Georgia L. Gilholy: Imagine the effect on a child who’s told that he’s not “racially innocent”

1 Feb

Georgia L. Gilholy is a Young Voices UK contributor.

Over 4000 parents have now signed a petition in protest of Brighton and Hove City Council’s five-year “anti-racist” education plan.

The petition, launched last June, disputes the council’s “racial literacy training” that 300 teachers have now undertaken. Although Freedom of Information requests to view its materials have been refused, the local authority is reportedly instructing teachers to inform children as young as seven that they are not “racially innocent” as white people are “at the top of the hierarchy”.

John Hayes, a former Education Minister, has vowed to urgently raise the controversy in the Commons, and will ask Nadhim Zahawi issue legal guidance to prevent “ideological race materials” being rolled out in schools.

Both the outrage of Sir John and thousands of local people is understandable.

As Kemi Badenoch has previously argued, it is inappropriate and illegal to teach the concept of ‘white privilege’ as fact given that it is a highly contested political concept. While the growing popularity of the idea in certain circles suggests that it must be confronted and dissected, there is no reason it ought to be spoon-fed to children whose brains are not equipped to process it critically.

Besides, the notion of white privilege fails to reflect the reality of modern Britain. Economically deprived white teenagers in England’s postindustrial and coastal towns are one of the least likely groups to progress to higher education.

Last year, just 13 per cent of white boys on free school meals went to university compared to 57 per cent of Indian, 59 per cent of black African and 32 per cent of black Caribbean youngsters on the scheme. The idea of whites consistently resting at the “top” of a pyramid of privilege has never been a more inept analogy.

Sadly, racial bullying remains a problem in many schools. A 2020 poll showed that one-third of British children reported hearing “racist comments at school”. However perpetuating the idea that white children are uniquely culpable is not only racially bigoted in and of itself, but it risks inflaming rather than harmonising racial divisions.

Racial hatred is a social contagion, and teaching children that their white classmates are inherently morally inferior can only provoke bullying and heighten prejudice where they may have been little prior. Incidents of racial abuse must be dealt with seriously, but not at the expense of encouraging the stereotyping of white children.

Many critical race theory advocates defend their ideology by arguing that while whites may not always be entirely ‘privileged’, they will never suffer race-based discrimination.

This is plainly false. Only a few days ago, two Orthodox Jewish men were viciously attacked by a black teenager in North London. Anyone with an ounce of common sense can see that all groups are capable of racialised prejudice.

While Brighton Council claims their plans will counterbalance the flawed eurocentrism of previous curricula, the notion of white privilege will do precisely the contrary. The concept robs young people of the chance to understand the complexities of contemporary and historical discrimination in Britain and across the world.

Under this training, children are to be taught that Christianity is linked to the slave trade. While it is true that many Christians have been involved in the crime of slavery, Christianity has also proved one of the world’s most powerful ideological antidotes to the practice.

It was evangelical groups who spearheaded abolitionism in the British Empire, and medieval clergy who near-eliminated slavery in Western Europe prior to the conquest of the Americas. Moreover, the 40 million people currently enslaved in 2022, chiefly across Asia and the Middle East, is a testament to the fact that the crime of slavery has persisted across most civilisations in various forms, and is not solely a white versus black phenomenon.

Like all conspiracy theories, white privilege is dangerously one-dimensional, and it does not deserve to be ushered into any educational setting as objective truth. Teachers must encourage learning and spark debate, not accuse pupils of immutable defects.

One Minister has already admitted that presenting white privilege as non-negotiable to students is against the law. It is time the Government took swift action to root out schemes such as Brighton’s from our schooling. It is not enough to occasionally complain about the folly of “wokeness” while doing little to stop it in its tracks.

Harry Fone: My Christmas Awards to local authorities this year

27 Dec

Harry Fone is the Grassroots Campaign Manager for the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

As it’s Christmas I thought now would be the perfect time to look at the performance of local authorities over the last twelve months and see which are on the TaxPayers’ Alliance naughty or nice list. It may be the season of goodwill but many councils deserve a lump of coal after their misuse of public money. They could certainly learn a thing or two from those that have made it into our good books.

Naughty list

Slough – It’s been an utterly miserable year for Slough council after racking up debts of £760 million and going bankrupt. Years of questionable spending decisions have led to this point. Who could forget council bosses splashing millions of pounds on an office building complete with bean bags and artificial grass for staff to sprawl out on after a hard day of frittering away taxpayers’ cash.

Nottingham City Council’s fortunes perfectly summed up why local authorities investing in energy companies is a terrible idea. At the start of the year, Robin Hood Energy went into administration leaving taxpayers on the hook for £31.6 million of losses. It’s no wonder that bankruptcy could still befall the council after years of questionable financial decisions. A rocky road lies ahead for 2022.

Things weren’t much better on Merseyside at Liverpool City Council. Not only was the mayor Joe Anderson arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation but the authority was put into special measures following a damning report that revealed staff were frightened to speak out. As things stand Liverpool has the highest Band D council tax bills in the North West at £2,129 and thirteenth overall in England.

In Brighton, the i360 tourist attraction continues to be a totem of mediocrity. Yet again the owners of the tower have failed to repay a loan instalment to the council. The money now owed has risen from £33 million to £45 million. Covid obviously hasn’t helped matters but the project was underperforming long before the start of 2020. Perhaps not surprising then that local residents saw their tax bills hiked by 5.1 per cent and the council has resorted to desperate measures to boost revenue.

Nice

Unlike Nottingham, Portsmouth council sensibly decided the best thing to do was to jettison its energy company as soon as possible. After being elected as council leader, Gerald Vernon-Jackson bit the bullet and scrapped Victory Energy, reversing the decision of the previous administration. While there was a loss to the taxpayer of £3.2 million, things could have been much worse as research by the TaxPayers’ Alliance made clear. It’s not just Nottingham that lost millions. Between them, Warrington and Bristol councils have seen £68 million go down the drain.

It was another year of inflation-busting council tax rises. Not a single council in England implemented a freeze or a reduction in tax. Only one council kept its tax hike to less than one per cent. Hartlepool increased bills by a mere 0.3 per cent which equals just £6.91 for a Band D property. Let’s hope they can keep bills to an absolute minimum in 2022 as well.

Despite everything the pandemic has thrown at the country there have been one or two upsides from a taxpayer point of view. Cornwall, Chorley and East Riding councils all made huge savings on their printing costs. Overall across the whole of the UK, printing costs declined by £31.9 million. Local authorities should look to keep this trend going in the coming years.

Continuing the theme of cost-cutting, Stoke City Council deserves praise after it announced plans to reduce the number of senior staff. By doing so it is estimated that taxpayers will save £360,000 a year. As this year’s edition of the Town Hall Rich List revealed, 2,802 council staff received remuneration in excess of £100,000 in 2019-20. Cutting the number of town hall fats will always be popular with voters.

Let’s hope councils learn from their mistakes, focus on their statutory duties and stay off the naughty list next year.

Harry Fone: Brighton and Hove City Council raked in £1.8 million from just four bus lane cameras in a little over a year

30 Nov

Harry Fone is the Grassroots Campaign Manager for the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

During my time at the TaxPayers’ Alliance we’ve experienced a notable rise in what are commonly referred to as stealth taxes. A number of cities have introduced innocuous-sounding schemes from Clean Air Zones to Workplace Parking Levies. These are sold on the premise that they will improve pollution and congestion but in reality they are nothing more than a desperate tax grab to boost councils’ coffers at the expense of local residents.

Authorities have also become increasingly aggressive at using motorists as cash cows. Last year alone they raked in £1.76 billion in fines and fees, just in England. So with this in mind maybe I shouldn’t have been as shocked as I was to learn that Brighton and Hove City Council managed to rake in £1.8 million from just four bus lane cameras in a little over a year.

What angers me most though, about this particular example is the unsporting tactics employed by the council. Yes, motorists should be fined if they flout traffic and parking regulations. However, councils also have a duty to ensure that any vehicle restrictions are clearly signposted and quickly intelligible. As you’ll gather from this article it’s not hard to see why Brighton council fined 310 cars per day at its peak in October.

It’s not cricket and speaks to a worrying attitude I think we’re seeing more of from councils. Many would rather drum up ways to hoover up cash from already over-taxed motorists rather than putting greater effort into eradicating wasteful spending and operating more efficiently.

Winchester’s woeful welcome

In a similar vein, the Welcome Back Fund continues to irritate me as, yet again, a local authority’s use of the cash is questionable to say the least. Winchester City Council is currently tendering a contract worth between £5,000 to £7,000 for an “artist or design agency to design and install artwork / imagery on the vacant shop window of the former Debenhams building.” According to the council the building has been vacant for some months and an “artistic window wrap” is needed to dress up the high street.

Several questions immediately spring to mind. Who in their right mind approves this nonsense? How did they come up with the value for the contract? And is this really the best use of taxpayers’ cash at a time like this?

Yet again this shows what I believe is the poor mindset of many people in local government and how they deem it appropriate to allocate public money. Fair enough that the council seeks to improve the appearance of the high street, no one likes to see empty dilapidated shops. But why not contact the local university and ask if any art students would be willing to showcase their works or perhaps create something?

I suspect many students would be happy to do it for free to gain experience and for a bit of self-promotion. Consequently, thousands of pounds could be put towards more pressing matters. Perhaps new outdoor seating, cleaning graffiti or helping to attract businesses to take on the shop lease and start paying business rates again?

Simple savings make a big difference

It’s not all bad news though. I can report that at least one council seems to have the right attitude to taxpayers’ money. Test Valley Borough Council in Hampshire has managed to cut its stationery costs by £55,000 over the last five years. Pens and paper may not be the most interesting or glamorous items of spending but it’s a real world example of simple savings that local authorities can make.

In this case, the savings are enough to cover around thirty Band D Council Tax bills. That’s really important to consider when the economy and people’s finances are in dire straits – every penny matters. Like we saw with council printing costs during the pandemic, millions of pounds can be saved.

If every local authority in the United Kingdom made on average £50,000 of stationery savings that would add up to approximately £20 million. This is the mentality that councils need to have – making spending cuts that benefit taxpayers and don’t result in cuts to frontline services.

Steve Bell: Brighton and Hove’s council, run by the Green Party, stinks of hypocrisy

15 Nov

Cllr Steve Bell is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Brighton and Hove Council

Cllr Phelim MacCafferty, the Green Party councillor and Leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, has been charged with hypocrisy by the national media after deciding to take a jet plane to Glasgow for the UN Climate Change Conference. He travelled to Glasgow to give a speech to delegates and attend Greta Thunberg’s protest, but copped a backlash after not practicing what he was preaching.

As our Brighton & Hove Conservative Group Environment Spokesperson, Cllr Robert Nemeth, said in response, while we can’t all be perfect environmentalists, issues certainly arise when somebody takes extreme positions on environmental matters, which involves criticising others, and then does not live by those same rules. The council leader has been the first to lecture others on climate change (including residents of Brighton and Hove who organise the city’s historic motoring events), and therefore cannot be surprised at the public reaction to his choice of transport.  Such hypocrisy is not lost on the public at large and ultimately damages environmental causes.

The bigger question here, however, is not the method of travel, but why he was in Glasgow in the first place, given his Green Council’s terrible performance on climate change.

Brighton & Hove City Council has just been given the lowest possible score for its performance on climate change by the Carbon Disclosure Project, an outcome that the Council tried to keep secret and which was only exposed after questioning from Conservative councillors. Friends of the Earth has delivered a similar verdict, ranking Brighton and Hove firmly in the bottom quarter of councils in England and Wales for climate change performance.

Brighton and Hove has one of the worst recycling rates in the country – almost half that of neighbouring Conservative-run West Sussex – and the third most polluted street in England running through its centre, a product of poorly thought through transport policies at the Council level.

The Greens have attracted international condemnation for accidentally chopping down a section of what had been Europe’s longest ‘green wall’ in its rush to install a cycle lane – it had previously been untouched since Victorian times. Then it has recently attracted the ire of the Sussex Wildlife Trust in its decision to build housing on 16 urban fringe sites adjoining the South Downs, with the conservation charity correctly pointing out there was no need to do so given the brownfield sites available.

After two stints in office over the course of the past 10 years, the evidence does not present a pretty picture for the Green-led Council.

So why are the Green party failing so badly at a council level when it comes to climate change?

The crux of the problem is that they are unable to focus on managing the local issues they are responsible for, continually stuck in a pattern of protest politics. At Brighton and Hove City Council the Greens have spent over 76 per cent of their council debating time raising international and national matters which have absolutely nothing to do with the functions of a City Council.

In the past year alone, the council has sat through two debates on nuclear weapons, but none on the recycling rates in the city.

It really is no wonder that the rubbish is not being properly collected and the pavements are not being weeded when the administration is focused on something different altogether.

Secondly, the actions that the Greens do take at Council level tend to be merely symbolic – for example, rushing to become the country’s first council to declare a ‘climate emergency’ or hold a citizens climate assembly – without ever following up. These gestures of virtue signalling achieve little by themselves and as Conservatives Councillors know across the country, it is only by fully engaging in the day-to-day hard work of running a council that incremental progress can be made. The protest politics of the Greens (and increasing the Labour Party as well) does not deliver anything.

The Leader of the Council has a responsibility to run the city, not attend UN climate conferences. He is certainly in no position to lecture the world when his Council’s performance is so poor. He needs to come back to Brighton and Hove and do the job he is paid to do, where he has power to make a difference.  Before you can change the world, make sure your own house is in order.

Samer Bagaeen: The Green Party should be challenged for the poor vaccine take-up rate in Brighton and Hove

8 Jul

Cllr Samer Bagaeen represents Hove Park on Brighton and Hove Council. He is a Visiting Professor of Planning at the Institute of Urban Economy, Universidad Esan, in Lima, Peru.

When I raised the issue of low uptake of COVID vaccination in the Green Party wards in the city of Brighton and Hove, Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, hit back with lightning speed stating:

“It is highly irresponsible to politicise such an important public health issue as vaccine take-up.”

The Greens have, through their leadership of the Council, consistently blamed the Conservative Government every time the pandemic data has taken a turn for the worse. Lucas is, of course, herself on record doing so many, many times. All of a sudden the shoe is on the other foot – and the Greens in Brighton and Hove cannot explain the low take-up of vaccines in their heartland, blaming instead a “young and transient population”.

In my last piece I noted how Lucas, played her latest hand of pandemic politics. In a recent Parliamentary question after the G7 Summit, Lucas attacked the Government over vaccines, referring to the efforts of the minister as “shameful, incompetent, a failure and disaster”. She said the Government’s pledge to donate 100 million doses of vaccine to the international effort was ‘too little too late’ and spoke of her ‘moral imperative’ to do more.

With the Green Leader of the Council never missing an opportunity to cast blame on the Government in his regular column for Brighton and Hove News, I asked a very legitimate question: are the Greens performing well enough in their own back yard to justify this brazen approach?

Publicly available data published online from Brighton and Hove City Council suggested that Lucas and the Leader of the Council should focus their efforts much closer to home. The data showed vaccine take-up problems in the city’s Green heartland. Published statistics from Brighton and Hove City Council on vaccine take-up among the over-50s suggested that certain areas of the City were not performing well at all and lagging badly behind the rest of England.

As all over 50s have now been offered two doses of the vaccine, it was possible to look at the picture in this demographic to provide an take-up percentage. The breakdown showed a wide divergence of take-up across Brighton and Hove, with several regions of concern. While outer suburbs such as Patcham, Woodingdean, and Rottingdean and Hangleton had vaccine take-up rates of well above 90 per cent for its population of over 50s; the inner city areas of Brighton and Hove had worryingly low take-up rates in the low 70s. Brunswick, an area represented by the Green Leader and the Deputy Leader of the Council, had the worst vaccine take-up rate for over 50s, of just 72 per cent. There were similarly low take-up rates for over-50s in St Peters’ and North Laine and Hannover.

Overall, Brighton and Hove City Council is performing below the national average for vaccine take-up. The city’s rate of vaccine take-up among adults is 68.3 per cent (29 June 2021), below the UK average of 84.6 per cent.

For the past few days, Brighton and Hove has had Covid-19 rates above the national average as the far more transmissible Delta variant takes hold here. As is the case with many other metrics, such as recycling rates or performance on climate change, the Green Council is lagging badly behind the national picture.

More work clearly needs to be done – by the Green Party – to improve this vaccination rate among the over 50s in Brighton and Hove.

Steve Bell: A tribute to Mike Weatherley

11 Jun

Cllr Steve Bell is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Brighton and Hove Council.

Mike Weatherley, the Conservative MP for Hove from 2010-2015 has sadly passed away before his time.

I had the honour to know Mike both politically, and also outside of politics, where our friendship began. He loved Hove and was so proud to represent the residents as their MP. He enjoyed his dream job in the City he loved – until illness made him stand down.

I will remember Mike as my best friend and he will leave a void in my life that I don’t think will be filled by anyone else. Since his passing I have been overwhelmed by the number of responses from people who had so much affection for Mike. I think his children never knew how well liked and respected he was until now as he kept his personal life separate from his political life.

Mike stood for the seat of Brighton Pavilion at the 2005 general election and then for Hove in 2010, where he won the seat for the Conservatives. I can remember after the count in 2010 he became emotional over his journey and how he never ever dreamed he would be representing Hove and Portslade as the member of Parliament. He recognised the importance of the moment when he reflected on that journey. He was a man who worked hard, played hard, and laughed hard.  He had a passion for rock music and motor bikes. He made a big impact as the MP for Hove and Portslade in those five years before he had to stand down after one term due to his ill health.

Music was a big part of Mike’s life.  He was a qualified accountant by trade in the music industry, working for the famous record producer, Pete Waterman. As an MP, Mike was very effective and put his specialist knowledge and skills to the good of the nation.  He had expertise in intellectual property and in the end he became the first ever Intellectual Property advisor to the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and made a lot of changes which are now law. He also championed changes to squatting legislation which still stand today.

Locally, Mike gave more prominence to Portslade and actually tried to get the Electoral Commission to change the name of the constituency from Hove to Hove and Portslade to reflect this. Residents are still benefitting from Mike’s local work and many credit him with getting West Hove Infant School opened in Connaught Road.  He was also a great friend of the local media and local television – and Hove’s tourism and hospitality sector, which he promoted in Parliament. His charitable work will also live on – Mike helped raised £230,000 for charity by participating in a 100-mile charity bike ride.

Mike has been remembered by many – including our Brighton & Hove City Council Conservative Councillors and by the Prime Minister – as a dedicated parliamentarian and a fantastic servant to the people of Hove and Portslade.

Cllr Robert Nemeth, who was Mike’s Office Manager during his Parliamentary term, shared his memories:

“I helped Mike with his Maiden Speech that he was always proud of which mentioned numerous causes that were close to his heart. He loved being an MP and was ever so proud to show his elderly parents around the Palace of Westminster on one occasion.

“He famously wore an Iron Maiden T-shirt in the House of Commons to reflect his love of the genre. Alice Cooper once turned up for lunch.

“I felt that his greatest success was battling dark forces to get squatting in residential buildings criminalised. Getting legislation through Parliament as a back-bencher is no mean feat and this change helped tackle a crazy quirk in the law that was bringing misery to many. These battles took their toll though.

“He was a liberal in the real sense and embraced others’ interests and passions. People really warmed to him and he made people feel special in a quite magical way.”

Cllr Nick Lewry remembered how Mike reached out to him when he learned of his his wife’s cancer diagnosis:

“Mike told me to make some tea and they sat for about an hour together speaking about their illnesses. He spoke with passion about being an MP and his family and the support he got which was so important.  He gave both me and my late wife Judy a real lift in spirits and new hope that day. May he Rest in Peace.”

Mike Weatherley 1957-2021 – a wonderful man who will be very much missed.

Sam Hall: Conservative lessons from Houchen and Street about how to respond the Greens

11 May

Sam Hall is the Director of the Conservative Environment Network

The dominant stories from last week’s elections were the Conservatives’ hat-trick of English triumphs in Hartlepool, Tees Valley, and the West Midlands, and the SNP falling short of a majority in Scotland. But amid these headline-grabbing results, a new trend emerged: the quiet rise of the Green Party.

The Greens won 88 new council seats across England, including from Conservatives. Yes, they did well in their traditional strongholds, such as Bristol, Sheffield, and around Liverpool, where their main competitor is Labour.

But they also defeated incumbent Conservative councillors across England in places as diverse as Surrey, Sussex, Derbyshire, Stroud, and Northumberland. They won an additional two seats in the Scottish Parliament and an extra member of the London Assembly, recording their highest ever vote share in both contests.

Despite two brief surges around the 2015 general election and the 2019 local elections, the Greens have for decades struggled to break past five per cent of the national vote. But the signs from Thursday are that they are on the rise, and could become an electoral threat not just to Labour, but to the Conservatives too.

The reasons for the Greens’ recent electoral success are varied. Public concern about the environment is at historically high levels, with media and government focus on the issue growing, and climate change impacts becoming more visible. It’s understandable that, as the environment becomes more salient, more voters turn to the party whose defining mission is to save the planet.

Factionalism on the left is undoubtedly boosting the Greens, too. As Keir Starmer repudiates Corbynism, he is pushing some of the party’s more left-wing supporters towards the Greens, who have long supported some of the more radical ideas of John McDonnell, such as a universal basic income. The Liberal Democrats remain toxic to many on the left for going into coalition with the Conservatives. And in Scotland, the Greens provide a more environmentally-conscious alternative to the SNP.

Greens across Europe have benefited from a similar trend. Just a few months out from federal elections, the Greens are currently the highest polling party in Germany, two points ahead of the CDU. Greens are part of the coalition government in Austria, after securing 14 per cent of the vote in the last year’s elections. There was also a green surge in the 2019 elections for the European Parliament, with the green bloc growing from 50 seats to 74.

However, this phenomenon isn’t simply about splintering on the left. Nor is it the case that the Greens are just taking votes off Labour and allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle. As Thursday’s results show, the rise of the Greens threatens both the main parties.

That said, the threat shouldn’t be overstated at this stage: the Greens only control one council, Brighton and Hove (where they are a minority administration), and they still only have one MP. But a response will be needed nonetheless.

First, here’s what to avoid. Counteracting the Greens doesn’t entail copying their policies, which are a bad combination of the unfeasible (net zero by 2030), the unpopular (a meat tax), and the economically damaging (a four day week). But neither should they Conservatives shouldn’t become hostile to the entire green agenda, which is popular with a majority of voters. Nor should they ignore other policy priorities in favour of an exclusive focus on the environment. As James Frayne has argued convincingly on this site, this approach wouldn’t keep the party’s voter coalition together.

Instead, Conservatives should unite behind the strategy that the Prime Minister articulated in his ten point plan for a green industrial revolution, linking net zero to people’s immediate economic concerns. This prospectus has the best chance of binding together the Conservatives’ diverse supporter base and stalling the rise of the Greens.

This strategy has worked well for Ben Houchen, whose tireless advocacy for Teesside is helping to attract many of the UK’s leading net zero investments to his area, from GE’s new turbine manufacturing factory and BP’s blue hydrogen plant, to one of the first carbon capture projects and a hydrogen transport hub. He has been one of the biggest advocates for the PM’s green industrial revolution, including on this site, and was re-elected by a landslide.

The Government should copy this formula in other parts of the country. It should invest in enabling infrastructure, fund large-scale green demonstration projects, and put in place market frameworks to attract private investment in new clean industries, such as battery manufacturing, floating offshore wind, heat pumps, and green steel production.

But while it can unite Conservatives, this approach to net zero is divisive on the left. The red-greens can’t decide if they support ‘degrowth’ as a route to tackling climate change. They debate whether people’s lifestyles must be drastically curtailed, or whether to focus on clean technology. And they are divided over whether to attach radical cultural policies on race and gender to their environmental agenda.

The other main element of the Conservatives’ response should be to implement ambitious but practical environmental policies that improve people’s communities and their quality of life. Here, the Conservatives’ other great election-winner from Thursday, Andy Street, provides a blueprint.

He has overseen major improvements in public and active transport in the West Midlands, reopening rail stations, extending metro lines, putting in segregated cycle lanes, and freezing bus fares. He is showing how mayors can connect up their region, reduce the cost of living, and improve the local environment at the same time.

National government should enable more pragmatic local environmental leadership like this. Ministers could give councils the powers and funding to create and safeguard a new network of wild green spaces (a ‘wilbelt’) around towns and cities. They could devolve more funding to metro mayors to insulate social and fuel poor homes in their regions. And they could fund transport authorities to replace old diesel buses with electric or hydrogen ones, and to install electric charge points along the strategic road network.

The Greens, by contrast, have a poor record of delivery on the few occasions when they’ve been entrusted with office. Remember their failure in Brighton and Hove to arrange the bin collections, which lead to strikes and images of rubbish piled up on street corners. There is a political opportunity here for Conservative environmentalism that sets ambitious targets, actually delivers them, and does so in a way that benefits the economy and people’s standard of living.

The Greens had a good night on Thursday. But by uniting behind Boris Johnson’s green industrial revolution, and replicating the approach of Ben Houchen and Andy Street, the Conservatives can prevent them rising further and can make the environment a winning, unifying issue for the party.

Harry Fone: £255 million a year is spent on councillor allowances. That is where the economy drive should begin.

30 Dec

Harry Fone is the Grassroots Campaign Manager for the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance is well-known for scrutinising the pay of council bosses but our latest research has focused attention on allowances for elected representatives. In 2018-19 alone, the cost of councillors was at least £255 million. As witnessed across numerous local authorities, members vote through an increase in their allowances whilst often claiming they don’t have enough money for statutory services.

There was little surprise when an opposition councillor at West Sussex County Council (WSCC) met with fierce resistance after suggesting that cabinet members have their special responsibility allowances (SRAs) cut by 25 per cent. SRAs are typically paid to chairs of committees, cabinet members, and opposition leaders in addition to a basic allowance.

At the heart of the dispute were plans to cut the SRAs of the opposition leaders whilst cabinet members and committee chairs saw no decrease. It’s always welcome when councils make savings but some will question why the cuts fell almost solely on the opposition.

This spurred one opposition leader to propose an amendment calling for a cut in all SRAs. Even if this was an act of retribution, savings of around £90,000 a year would no doubt be well received by ratepayers. Councillors should be compensated for their efforts but the role should not be treated as a full-time job with a decent salary. Civic duty should be put above all else.

Given WSCC’s recent poor performance – notably “systemic and prolonged” failures in children’s services and the £265,000 golden goodbye to controversial former chief executive Nathan Elvery – you would think councillors would want to do everything possible to make amends with constituents.

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Across the border in East Sussex, Brighton and Hove City Council is forecasting a budget shortfall of around £15 million next year. With residents facing a rate rise of five per cent, it has to be asked if better decision-making might have mitigated such a large increase.

The ongoing saga that is the i360 observation tower is failing to deliver on its promises. Funded by £36.2 million of council loans (via the Public Works Loan Board) to a private management company, the 530 feet “doughnut on a stick” has never really got off the ground. Even before the pandemic, it was plagued with low passenger numbers and frequent breakdowns.

Adding insult to injury, loan repayments have regularly been deferred due to financial difficulties. To date, only £5.9 million has been repaid, with £33 million now outstanding.

One of the key players behind the project, former leader of Brighton council, Jason Kitcat, claimed back in 2014:

 “The project will provide a new source of income to help shore up vital frontline services.”

It seems there’s a long way to go before the council will see the estimated “£1 million a year” profit from its investment.

While residents are still shouldering the burden of this white elephant, Kitcat, a self-described “recovering politician” has fared rather better financially. After being asked to stand down as council leader by his own party, he became the Executive Director of Corporate Development at Essex County Council. A role that remunerated him to the tune of £190,000 in 2018-19 and gifted him a payout of nearly £164,000 when he left shortly after.

Let’s hope for a change in the i360’s fortunes so that local ratepayers see a ‘recovery’ in the council’s balance sheet.

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Following a recent government review, fears are mounting that Nottingham City Council (NCC) could fall foul of bankruptcy. As residents of Croydon and Northamptonshire know all too well, a Section 114 notice is far from desirable.

The similarities between Croydon and Nottingham are disconcerting. Both authorities engaged in ambitious commercial investments with well paid council employees lacking the necessary financial expertise, as borrowing exceeded £1 billion – Nottingham has the third highest debt to net budget of all the core cities.

Over recent years, NCC has seen its reserves dwindle mostly due to the collapse of its ill-judged energy company. Formed in 2015, Robin Hood Energy (RHE) tried and failed to compete in the highly competitive and regulated energy sector. Financed with £43 million of public money, RHE failed to make a profit in every single year of operation. Total losses are estimated at £38 million.

The government’s report is particularly scathing of RHE’s directors who are described as “unable to critically appraise the trading position and a forecast profit [£202,000] outturned as a significant loss [£1.6 million]”. Another damning report by auditors Grant Thornton went further saying there was “institutional blindness within the Council.”

Despite warnings from NCC’s Section 151 officer about RHE’s worsening finances, the authority failed to take action. The report doesn’t specifically blame then chief executive, Ian Curryer, for failing to act but does state, “The Council does not appear to have a mechanism for setting targets and goals for its Chief Executive and holding the postholder to account for it.” Local residents may be irked to learn that between 2012 and 2020 Mr Curryer received total taxpayer-funded remuneration of over £1.3 million.

As Robert Jenrick, the Local Government Secretary, put it:

“Taxpayers and residents have been let down by years of disgraceful mismanagement and inept ventures”.

A series of recommendations have been put in place to turn the ship around but councils all across the country must learn from Nottingham’s mistakes.