Monday, 9 April 2012

The Liberal Democrats' collapse in Brighton and Hove - another example of our seaside town setting the trend?

In 2005, when I was selected as a Green Party council candidate here in Brighton, there were three Lib-Dems on the city council - and, propping up a minority Labour Party administration, they held (some) real power here at a local level.

In 2007, when I was elected, three were reduced to two - the Greens, meanwhile, won 12 seats, up from six. By the time of the next election, there had been a few by-elections and defections and the tally stood at 13 Greens and just one Lib-Dem.

In 2011, 23 Greens were elected - and no Lib-Dems at all.

Of course, the two facts aren't entirely unrelated: the Green Party is, of course, not only about environmentalism (though it certainly is about that!)

No, it's also about liberalism and democracy, and anyone turned off by the tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee politics of the Tory and Labour parties, both of whom have amply demonstrated time and time again that they don't care much for either liberalism or democracy, will naturally be drawn to other parties. The key factor in deciding which one will often be credibility, and in much of the country the Lib-Dems offered a far more credible alternative to the bigger two parties than the Greens.

Crucially, here in Brighton and Hove that situation was reversed: and the city has elected the first Green Party council in the country. The thing is, that has just been seen by many political commentators as an anomoly, unlikely to be repeated elsewhere.

But the repeated betrayals of the Lib-Dems in the coalition (it all started with their voting to triple tuition fees despite a clear pre-election pledge to do the exact opposite and it hasn't really stopped since) have opened up such divisions in the party that they seem to be braced to start letting the Greens into town halls - at their expense - in this may's local elections.

Though we don't have any here, May 3rd sees 1,000s of council seats up and the down the country up for grabs, and according to my dispatches from election barricades around the land, the Lib-Dems are giving up even before the campaign in many places.

Take Maidstone, for example. Four years ago, the Lid-Dems controlled the council. Now they are standing just 11 candidates in the 18 wards up for grabs: the Greens are standing 12.

In Oxford, I'm told, the Lid-Dems have been twisting the arms of dormant members, ex-councillors and current members who had planned on retiring to ensure they can stand a 'full slate' of 24. The Greens, by contrast, have had to turn credible candidates away, and at least one Lib-Dem candidate has promised to vote Green in the ward in which they live!

In Nuneaton, the Greens are standing six candidates; the Lib-Dems none at all.

I could go on.

Brighton and Hove has played a key role in the development of so many trends: non-conformist churches, sea swimming, mods fighting rockers, cinema - again, I could go on.

Of course it won't happen on May 3rd - and we're not likely to see a repeat of the Brighton and Hove result anywhere else (except maybe Norwich) any time soon, but I wonder if, one day, the replacement of the Lib-Dems by the Greens as the third party of local government in the UK be the next trend to come out of our city?

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