Monday, 9 May 2011

The poison’d chalice

Here, Green Party activist Andy Player discusses the lessons of the Green victory in Brighton and Hove.  Since this was written it has emerged that the Greens will form a minority administration, Labour having come out against a coalition.

After defending 13 seats and winning 10 new ones, the Green party now has the largest group on Brighton & Hove city council. The Tories dropped from 26 to 18, Labour remained on 13 and the Lib Dems were wiped off the map.

Following on from the remarkable victory in Pavilion a year ago to the day, the Greens have made astonishing progress at a time when votes for smaller parties seems to be diminishing.

In many central Brighton seats the Greens had already replaced Labour as the progressive choice. The results in these wards were cemented by campaigning last year and large majorities increased on Thursday.

The push continued into the Labour suburbs with one seat being turned into three in Preston Park and two seats out of three taken in Hollingdean and Stanmer - with Labour deputy leader Pat Hawkes ousted.

Seats were taken from the Tories in previous Tory / Labour marginals like Goldsmid, but the shock results were in two ‘safe’ Tory wards – Central Hove and Withdean – where a Green candidate came from nowhere to top the poll.

The Greens’ relentless progress in Brighton & Hove should be of enormous interest to those on the left who believe that electoral politics play a part in the fight for a better world.

The Green party won their first council seat in 1996, adding two, then another three, and then another six at subsequent elections, plus a first Hove councillor in a by-election the year before Caroline Lucas won in Brighton Pavilion.

One lesson for the left is that the Greens in Brighton & Hove have achieved electoral success through consistent hard work. They have also built a significant layer of support amongst trade unionists and campaigners with their swift and unambiguous backing of the right causes.

The Greens in Brighton & Hove have a reputation for being honest, active and progressive. That is a breath of fresh air for many voters in this city.

Hard work and the right principles are one thing, but the crucial factor in surviving the current electoral squeeze of smaller parties is that voters believe the Greens can win. After last year’s result, that belief has mushroomed.

The Green party have now replaced Labour in most of their traditional areas and have become the opposition party in most Tory wards. Are we seeing the crumbling of Labourism - the Holy Grail for left-of-Labour electoral parties?

Some big challenges face the Brighton & Hove Green party councillors and the local party membership. The Green platform in these elections was to oppose cuts to services and to protect jobs. Taking over the council purse-strings in a time of savage cuts is not good timing for a progressive party, yet it is what the electorate demanded.

Tories, Labour and many on the left will be rubbing their hands and waiting for the new Green administration to ‘sell out’. To deliver on the local party’s manifesto is not going to be easy. But the local Green party has not got to where it is by being strategically naïve, vain or politically cowardly. We may have been handed the poisoned chalice, but no-one is forcing us to drink it.

“Vade retro Satana! Nunquam suade mihi vana! Sunt mala quae libas. Ipse venena bibas!” as Saint Benedict of Nursia once said.

Andy Player

6 May 2011.

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