Wednesday, 16 December 2009

A 'Rainbow Coalition' to run Brighton Council? No Chance!

For once I find myself in complete agreement with Brighton Council's Tory leader Mary Mears: at last week's Council meeting she said 'The voters of this city didn't vote for a rainbow coalition to run the city' - and she's absolutely right.

But they didn't vote for the Tories to run the city either - the Conservatives hold just 25 of the 54 seats on the council, three less than they'd need for an overall majority. Most of these councillors are from Hove - the people of Brighton overwhelmingly chose Green or Labour councillors instead.

For the last two-and-a-half years though, they've had to put up with a minority Tory administration, limping along with the votes of a Hove independent councillor and the mayor's second casting vote. Democracy in action? Hardly!

But something changed at last week's council meeting. For the first time the Green and Labour councillors joined forces to reject some of the more extreme ideas, and to put some common sense back into a long-term planning document we were considering.

This has received lots of media interest, and generated even more hot air in the blogosphere - with everyone and his dog speculating that this will pave the way for a 'Rainbow Coalition' of non-Tories running the council.

But this won't happen: when voters chose to elect Green Alex Philips to represent them in the Goldsmid by-election in July they chose a great candidate, but also a party manifesto based on promoting social and environmental justice and creating a fairer city for all of us - policies the Labour Party has long since abandoned in favour of chasing votes.

Remember, Labour is the party that has presided over the fastest widening of the gap between rich and poor for about a century, that has taken us to war in Iraq and Afganistan (the body bags, and the bills, are still piling up) - and has used taxpayers' cash to bail out the richest bankers while hundreds are joining the dole queues - here in Brighton alone almost 1,000 redundancies have been announced in the last month.

After the Goldsmid by-election, we decided it wouldn't be fair on voters to form a governing coalition with either Labour or the Liberal Democrats. In the final analysis both simply have too many policies that voters have rejected: Labour must bear responsibility for the failings of the Government, and the disastrous policies of the last council administration here in Brighton, and the Liberal Democrats are a spent force here in Brighton. They haven't got a single councillor (they do have two in Hove, to be fair) - or policy, as far as I can tell. We agreed to work with them on an issue-by-issue basis to try and get the best deal for the people of this city, and to vote together on those matters we can agree on - and that's exactly what happened on Thursday.

I hope voters will switch to the Green Party in sufficient numbers at the 2011 council elections to allow us to form a Green administration that won't require us to sacrifice the very principles and policies that the electorate are increasingly telling us they like. 

So what next? In February next year we'll have to vote on a budget for 2010/11. The Tories' plans - for 160 redundancies and cuts in services, pretty much  across the board, are completely unacceptable. They'll make the city a cold and hard place - for all but the richest, those who live in the most expensive houses but use few public services.

So I hope we can work together again to protect the city from the worst impacts of the Tory administration's plans, but we won't be submitting a joint replacement budget. It's yet to be decided finally, but I imagine we'll be proposing a 'recession rescue package' for the least well off - and working together to save the public services earmarked for the biggest job cuts by the administration. Of course, that'll cost some money, and that means we'll have to look carefully at all of our revenue raising tools, including Council Tax. 

Watch this space.

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