Greens in turmoil

With just only nine months to go until the local elections things are beginning to look very bad indeed for the Green party’s minority administration in Brighton and Hove.

Its leader Jason Kitcat – the only Green council leader in the UK – has announced he will stand down next May, leaving him and his colleagues open to the accusation of being a US-style ‘lame duck’ administration. This follows three years of attempted coups and public divisions in the Green group that led to the billboard headline ‘counsellors being brought in to council to counsel the councillors’.

In total half of the remaining 20 Green councillors are not seeking re-election, with two others having gone independent over equal marriage and tweets about ‘hired killers’ in the armed forces. They seem to be struggling to find candidates to replace them, and those they do have are being pushed towards the wards in Brighton Pavilion where Green MP Caroline Lucas is fighting to hold her seat.

With under 250 days to go until the end of their term, their major manifesto pledges to recycle 70 per cent of the city’s waste (rates have actually dropped to nearer 25 per cent) and provide 1,000 new homes (they are struggling to deliver even half that total) are looking undeliverable. Crises over secondary school places, housebuilding, social care provision and infrastructure are being put off until after the election, as is any attempt to reconfigure services in the face of more than £100m in central government cuts. Streets are littered with waste as missed refuse collections have doubled.

Three local opinion polls, one commissioned by the Greens themselves, have put them behind Labour both in terms of the city council and voting in Caroline Lucas’s Brighton Pavilion seat. Given the visceral unpopularity of the Green council, Lucas now takes the ‘independent hard-working local MP’ line more familiar to Tories in marginal seats.

The European elections in May saw the Greens pushed into second by Labour, who the Greens beat by a clear 10,000 votes in the previous European elections in 2009, with the Labour vote more than doubling. Last year the Greens lost a council seat for the first time to Labour, in a ward they had thought was safe.

They are falling back on old habits, hammering Labour for being no different to the Tories on austerity, rehearsing old lines about Iraq and trying to draw the focus away from local issues to international ones, from immediate crises like the lack of secondary places to more ideological debates over academies. Having won national publicity for their referendum-triggering 4.75 per cent council tax increase last year, they are proposing a six per cent one this year, only to again try to force Labour to side with the Tories.

Few expect them to win, and they will leave behind a legacy of cycle lanes, a resented citywide 20mph zone, and a £36m seafront viewing tower that has not won public support. Action to tackle poverty and the effects of austerity on the city’s estates has been worthy but limited. An experiment in government by and on behalf of a largely middle-class, Guardianista, university graduate assortment of anti-establishment and in some cases eccentric activists is coming to an end, but at what cost to Brighton and Hove?

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Warren Morgan is leader of the Labour group on Brighton and Hove council. He tweets @warrenmorgan

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