Sunday, 7 February 2010

Brighton: England's California..?

Marek Kohn is singing the praises of the Green Party in Brighton:
It was good to see some suburbs in John Harris's video report on the election campaign in Brighton Pavilion. Brighton's eccentricities are endlessly diverting, but it's worth remembering that most people here are like most people anywhere else in the towns of the south-east. At the last general election, 10,000 of them voted Conservative in the central Pavilion constituency.
Oh, shame. Maybe a civic bylaw that prohibits them from settling? Or just run them out of town on a rail? Would that help?
Nevertheless, there is something different about Brighton Pavilion's constituents, and over the past few years the Green party has shown an increasingly astute understanding of what that is.
Now, 'astute' and 'Green Party' aren't two words I'd ever seen together before in that context...
Brighton was always the kind of place where Greens could find a comfortable niche.
That sounds ominous. Is it planning to reinvent itself as England’s California; the land of fruits and nuts?
What makes Brighton Pavilion different is that it has accumulated an unusually high volume of green, red and pink sentiments. There are spiky anarchists who haunt the Cowley Club on run-down London Road, and former Marxists of a certain age comfortably ensconced on the Hanover hill. Many of the seeds from the radical flowers that once bloomed at Sussex University only drifted as far as the town; current students may also help to shift the constituency a few more votes to the left.
Ah. The answer’s ‘yes’, then…

And just like California, murky politics seems to be the name of the game. It appears there is a bit of a battle going on for Brighton's voters, and it isn't between the main parties - it's an internal one for the Greens:
But for the Greens, the real potential is in middle Brighton – middle-class people with liberal outlooks who live near the middle of town because they like its individuality and its bohemian fringe.
The Greens want to woo the well off 'liberal' elite, the ones who might actually turn up and vote, instead of the demographic that does all the shouting on demos, but when polling day rolls around is mainly to be found sleeping in, in a haze of pot and cookie crumbs.
Although local Green politics arose from local concerns, its current strength owes a great deal to local strength of feeling about developments in the wider world. At the last general election, the Greens presented themselves here as a leftwing party, embodying values discarded by Labour, and offered voters a chance to protest against the Iraq war.
The trendy protest vote, in other words; this was the ecofreak answer to the BNP...
It paid off handsomely. In the 2001 election, the Greens had won nearly 10% of the Pavilion vote. This time they got more than 20%, slashing Labour's majority and setting themselves up as serious contenders to win next time. If Caroline Lucas does get to make a victory speech after this year's poll, one of the people who will deserve a thank you is Tony Blair.
But there's trouble in this Green paradise, and the particular snake seems to be our old favourite - parachute candidacy:
The man who deserves her most effusive thanks, however, is Keith Taylor, who took her party to its two successive record parliamentary votes. He was set to push for victory on the third go, but was ousted as candidate in favour of Lucas. Taylor was Old Green, a local man who had been drawn into politics by local issues, passionate about his green beliefs but unpolished in his presentation. Lucas was New Green, radiating polish and charisma as well as passion. She had no discernible previous connection with Brighton, but the local party opted to act national, instead of thinking local.
Ahh, don't you just love that? That'd make me think kindly of a party, and encourage me to vote for it to represent my local interests.

With Lucas engaged on her duties as an MEP, her Labour rival Nancy Platts has emerged as the neighbourhood candidate. She shows up at the church hall for our community association events, and gives every sign that she has the makings of a good local MP who would earn many constituents' gratitude for her attention to their problems. But Caroline Lucas is offering middle Brighton the chance to do something different at the polls. The signals are softened this time round, and broadened: the pitch is epitomised by Lucas's call to nationalise the purgatory on wheels that is the First Capital Connect rail service. It plays to commuters' frustration while striking a gently leftwing chord.
Yes, ignore the chance to vote for a local MP who gets things done, and vote for the flibbertyigibbet parachuted in for a photoshoot with hand-picked constituents every month! That makes sense...if you're Green, I guess.
My own impression is that a combination of poll figures and Lucas's star quality is encouraging people to think about crossing the line that previously stopped them voting Green at a general election.
I expect anyone reading this article, or observing the way the Green party are treating the potential voters in Brighton, is thinking again...

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