21 February 2015

My Predictions For The Brighton & Hove Council Elections 2015

In 2011, I underestimated how many seats the Greens would gain. In particular I didn't foresee the Green gains from the Tories in Withdean and Central Hove.

I also underestimated how badly the Tories would do. They lost 8 seats when I thought they might only lose 3. And May 2011 was not a bad time nationally for the Tories. They were riding high with decent poll leads over Labour and the coalition was in a honeymoon period (difficult to imagine this, I know).

There are some strange demographics going on in Brighton and Hove. There is a huge churn of voters in the central wards. As much as 50% turnover in some wards where there are some of the highest number of renters in the country. This is bringing a younger, more cosmopolitan sort of voter that doesn't particular favour the Tories. I expect this has continued since 2011. For these reasons I expect the Tory vote to drop overall (assuming the new registration rules haven't decimated the electoral roll).

I also think 2011 might have seen a temporary high water mark for the Green vote. The voter churn I have mentioned is a huge help to the Greens but locally they have had many difficulties running a minority administration. So first a necessary diversion.

The big turning point was the Cityclean bin strike in 2013. I wrote about this at the time and I don't want to go into too much detail again. But just to say, that although I will be voting Green, I have realised the Greens will not be as radical as I want them to be. The Greens will comfort themselves that the dispute was about "equal pay", but as I wrote at the time, that may have been the intention of the national legislation, but there are also some perverse side effects.

In this case it meant that the lowest scales of pay had to also have the lowest allowances for weekend and anti-social hours. This meant that those on higher pay would see increases while some of the lowest paid faced cuts. "Delineating pay differentials" was how I phrased it at the time.

The Equality Act and "single status" agreement between local authorities and unions requires an assessment to be made to align pay of "similar jobs" within an organisation. But the indirect effect of this is to set differentials between each scale.

The problem was, the lower scaled Cityclean jobs did not have the lowest allowances. Either higher grades had to see increased allowances or the lower scales had to see allowances cut to be "proportional" to their basic pay. Increasing higher scale allowances was deemed too expensive, so that left cuts to lower scale allowances as the "obvious" option.

Jason Kitcat could see no way around this "legal imperative". Caroline Lucas instinctively knew cutting low pay was wrong, whatever the reason and joined workers on the picket line.

The alternative radical solution, to cap top pay at say £50,000 p.a. and use the proceeds to raise pay across the board at all other grades was too radical even for the Greens. It was surreal to see some Green councillors justifying gigantic salaries of £80,000-£150,000 on the grounds that they had to pay the "market rate" to get the "right" people. They didn't get my argument that perhaps people who demanded such huge salaries weren't "right" for public service anyway. The shrugged councillor shoulders brought the image of the pigs from animal farm into view.

The damaged morale of workers at Cityclean has led to a deterioration of the service and further disputes. The public just see a poorer service and not the mitigating circumstances (excuses) of a nationally imposed Equality Act, 20 year PFI contracts signed by previous administrations and the current 55% cuts in government central grants. The Greens have seen their brand damaged.

Back in 2011, the Greens had very wide appeal. They could appeal across the political spectrum. But the surburban residents who drive into the city centre were never going to be impressed by the 20mph zones, bus & cycle lanes and higher parking charges. Coupled with the desperately overdue regeneration of many road junctions caused by a previous 30 years of neglect.

Put all the inevitable road delays and Cityclean problems together and a narrative of Green chaos has been created. Nevermind the overdue improvements to some of the most neglected parts of town, the regenerated parks, roads and markets.

Central city residents mostly welcome the reduction of speeding cars, increased cycling and more pedestrian friendly environments.

Personally I would have liked to see much more of this, but of course we have to remember the Greens are a minority administration who need Labour or Tory support for these nationally funded schemes.

Nobody could say the Greens have entered council politics in auspicious times. Considering the challenges of the budget cuts, the Greens have managed services incredibly efficiently and managed to attract national grants for parks and roads on an unprecedented basis.

But back to the point of this post.

My gut feeling this time is that Labour are going to do well in 2015. I expect Labour to retake the parliamentary seats in Hove and also Kemptown (although the excellent Nancy Platts will need a few Greens to lend her their votes to triumph). Caroline Lucas should hold on in Pavilion but not by the sort of margin suggested as possible by the 2011 council results.

The evidence we have to go on are recent Lord Ashcroft polls in Pavilion, Hove and Kemptown, a citywide Euro result and a couple of byelections in Westbourne and Hanover/Elm Grove wards.

The Ashcroft polls in Pavilion shows Lucas 7 points up on 2010 but around 8 points down on the 2011 Green results. There is similar movement in Hove and Kemptown. Greens down, Labour up a couple of points and the Tories a point down. We can project these results across the council as follows.

First the "clean sweep" wards.

For the Greens I expect them to hold St Peters & North Laine, Regency, Brunswick & Adelaide, and to retake the lost seat to Labour in Hanover & Elm Grove.

For the Tories, Hove Park, Woodingdean, Rottingdean Coastal, Patcham and Westbourne will be held. With them regaining seats from the Greens in Withdean and Central Hove.

Labour will hold in North and South Portslade wards and East Brighton. And retake seats in Hollingdean & Stanmer from the Greens & Independent. They will gain a seat from the Tories in Wish and see off the Ukip defector in Moulsecomb & Bevendean.

Now to the "split wards".

Labour will gain a seat from the Tories in Hangleton & Knoll giving them a 2 to 1 split.

Labour will gain 2 seats in Queens Park, so a 2-1 over the Greens. And Labour will also gain a seat each in Preston Park & Goldsmid, leaving them trailing the Greens 2-1 in each of those wards.

Overall I predict the following totals (with changes from current position).

LAB 21 (+8) CON 18(-) GRN 15 (-5)

I expect the independents and Ukip defector to all lose their seats.

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