Steve Bell: Corbynism achieved power in Brighton and Hove. It failed spectacularly.

28 Sep

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

In July, Labour’s minority administration at Brighton and Hove City Council collapsed – just a little over a year after the 2019 May local elections.

When Labour lost two councillors over alleged anti-Semitic racism and had a third councillor suspended pending an investigation, the Greens seized power and have now taken over minority control.

The collapse was a shameful end for a Momentum-backed Labour Administration that destabilised the city, brought Brighton & Hove into disrepute, and consistently let its residents down.

Labour ultimately fell after failing to live up to its promise to be an anti-racist council.

This tumultuous administration, which lasted little more than a year after the local elections on 2nd May 2019, was characterised by resignations, apologies, broken promises, financial mismanagement, and weak leadership from start to finish.

Labour repeatedly broke its trust with the people of this City who elected it, with its broken promises hurting our most vulnerable, time and again.

Its decisions led to a collapse of the Home to School Transport Scheme, putting children with a disability at risk, and culminating in Labour facing an independent investigation from the Local Government Association.

Another such investigation may well be on the cards after it was recently reported that disabled groups were not adequately consulted by Labour on the discriminatory road and cycle lane changes recently introduced that reduced disability access to the beach front.  And in the process, while Labour said in its manifesto it would ‘protect and support the many small businesses that ensure the strength of our city during times of economic uncertainty’ Labour instead left traders on Brighton’s famous seafront strip struggling to pay their council tax and make ends meet after closing the road – and left office with Brighton & Hove languishing as a ‘below average resort’ according to a tourism survey of Britain’s seaside towns.

Labour let down council house tenants by rediverting millions of pounds in the Housing Repairs Budget on administrative changes to bring the service in house, and then added insult to injury by abandoning its promise to build 500 council houses.

While Labour promised voters in its Manifesto that it would provide more public open space in the City for residents, including those without gardens, it instead pushed through plans to build on 16 ecological sites in the urban fringe despite there being no need, with the Council Leader breaking her own promise to her constituents to oppose any proposals for the development of urban fringe land at Whitehawk Hill in her East Brighton ward along the way.

Most damagingly for our City, while Labour claimed to have sustained a reputation for Brighton & Hove as being the most inclusive city in the world, it left having unforgivably failed on its pledge to be an anti-racist council. Labour’s Council Leader did not properly stand up to antisemitism when it occurred in her administration, appearing to put power before anti-racism, with councillors suspended and under investigation for antisemitism remaining in her group. In doing so, the Council Leader failed to back up her own words at the Budget that Brighton & Hove is a City that is ‘inclusive and welcoming to all’.

Politically, the Council Leader failed to provide leadership in her own party, not commenting or providing clarification when the local Argus newspaper reported on a document outlining infighting and bullying in the Labour Party in which she was mentioned many times and attracting anger for apparently not listening to democratic motions of over 50 per cent of Labour branches opposing the development of local green space at Whitehawk Hill.

The fact that Labour collapsed over racism and ended with the shame of the Leader of our City Council being called upon to resign by a spokesman for Labour Against Antisemitism is a stain on our city. It has attracted national attention and damaged the reputation of Brighton & Hove to an extent that will be hard to recover from.

Labour’s constant failure to deliver for our City resulted in eight public apologies in a little over 12 months, culminating in Labour’s Finance spokesman saying he was ashamed of being a Labour councillor.

In the end, seven Labour councillors rebelled when the Council Leader tried to desperately hold onto power by arranging a power-sharing agreement with the Greens. These councillors knew the game was up and the dysfunction for our city had to come to an end.

This Council needs a Leader and councillors with the strength and integrity to stand up to racism of all kinds.

Corbynism failed spectacularly in Brighton and Hove and it will be a long time before the people of this City put their trust in Labour to run their City Council again.

Alliance for Unity, the new movement which could give Galloway his next political life

26 Sep

Next year’s Holyrood elections are shaping up to potentially make-or-break clash between unionists and separatists. If the SNP (plus their pro-independence foederati, the Greens) win a majority, the Government will come under increasing pressure to grant a second referendum on Scottish independence.

This fact has produced not one but two new parties, one on each side of the debate, which aim to skew the next Scottish Parliament towards their chosen position.

First out of the traps was the Alliance for Independence. Their plan is quite straightforward: to run candidates only in the regional list constituencies at the election, and encourage as many pro-independence voters as possible to back them after voting SNP at the constituency level. Whilst list SNP votes might get discounted if the Nationalists win a lot of FPTP constituencies, this new party would get the full entitlement and thus maximise the separatist caucus.

There are questions to be asked about this plan. Will the A4I really contribute much that the Scottish Greens (whose MPs are all elected on the lists already) don’t? Is it legitimate to so obviously game what is meant to be a proportional system? Is it all just a front for a controversial far-left politician?

In fact, that last point is one that might also be asked of the pro-UK counter to A4I: the Alliance4Unity, a new non-partisan unionist initiative being headed up by none other than George Galloway.

Galloway has form on this. He represents a quite old-school strain of left-wing unionism which backs Irish republicanism but is sternly opposed to separatism on the British mainland, which was traditionally viewed as antithetical to solidarity or, for the true believers, a distraction from the class struggle. (And after two decades of devocrats hiding behind the flag rather than defend their poor records, maybe they have a point?) During the 2014 referendum, Galloway conducted an independent town-hall speaking tour which offered many people who are usually bitterly opposed to his politics an opportunity to see how electrifying his oratory can be when he’s on your side.

Nonetheless, A4U represents a sharp break in his career. Whilst he has not previously been shy about falling in with the religious right when seeking sectarian votes for Respect, this looks like the first time he has openly collaborated with Tories. Their initial tranche of candidates includes not only Gorgeous George himself but Alan Sked, the founder of UKIP, as well as a GP, an ex-soldier, and a barrister, and the group is calling for a broader pact between the unionist parties.

Whether or not explicitly modelled on A4I, the A4U has adopted a very similar strategy of standing only in the regional lists in an effort to maximise the pro-UK vote. According to their website, any MSPs elected under the Alliance’s banner will sit as Independents and support any anti-independence administration. This will not only make it easier to run an ideologically heterogeneous slate, but may help to remove any barriers to cooperation between them and the mainstream pro-UK parties, who might balk (quite understandably) at collaborating with an organised party commanded by Galloway.

Yet its road to Holyrood won’t be easy. Some of its output on social media has been crank-ish, and there will inevitably be tension between the loose ‘alliance’ model and the professionalism expected of a modern political campaign. It also faces the task of trying to woo list votes from people who have voted for three different parties at the constituency level, a much tougher ask than the A4I’s bid for SNP switches, and it is harder to argue to the most committed unionist voters that a list vote for the Tories is a wasted vote.

For all that it at aspires to breadth and an electoral pact, the A4U’s future in Scottish politics will probably hinge on whether Galloway himself can identify and energise a section of the pro-UK electorate that is left cold by the major parties – perhaps in the left-unionist space vacated by a moribund and swithering Labour Party.