Last night Brighton & Hove Green Party convened to discuss whether their councillors were right to vote for the City budget after it had between amended by the Labour Party. It was a thoughtful and good hearted debate on high principle, home truths and hard strategy. The issues were thoroughly canvassed. Certain themes emerged. There were those who believed that the party’s councillors should have refused to vote their support for the amended budget on the grounds that it was no longer a ‘Green’ budget. They argued that future campaigning would be complicated by political opponents being able to point to the Green Party voting for a cuts budget. The other side of the debate pointed to our councillors taking a stand by voting against the amendments but facing down the hard truth that had they voted against the budget as a whole, there would be a substantial risk of a Labour/Tory pact taking over the administration completely on the grounds that the Greens had refused to support a proper financial strategy.
No-one argued that the Greens should have resigned office voluntarily. The meeting was divided into two sections. Firstly we established the factual matrix upon which the political debate stood. Councillors and party officials on both sides of the debate put their serious differences to one side and worked to clarify anything and everything which anyone held in doubt. After a couple of prefatory speeches, this objective exercise was disposed of by way of a question and answer session. When that process was completed, we debated the issues free from what could have otherwise been the mud of technical confusion. This proved to be a calm and efficient approach.
It’s fair to say that although there were strong opinions on both sides of the debate, various points emerged that might have been lost in a less analytical approach. In particular, it was noted that although the Green councillors had launched a lengthy consultation period (thought to be unprecedented in England), there had been no mechanism to oblige the other parties to announce their amendments in time for a thorough debate. The amendments had been published at the very last minute, with the result that neither the public at large nor the political activists had any time to make sensible decisions or offer to negotiate over stated positions. The deadline for declaring amendment motions is contained in the City Council’s constitution. The Green councillors will now investigate whether this can be changed. All parties would benefit from an earlier deadline. The current arrangements entrench the tribal mentalities of the party system. An earlier deadline would avoid the impossibly tight time frame currently afforded for inter-party negotiation. More importantly, the public would benefit too because any cooperation between the majority of the council and a minority administration is bound to save money and build consensus.
Beyond this demonstration that our party remains united and focussed on the complexities of managing the City, I don’t wish to share any more of what truly was a private meeting. It was well attended, with all the main activists in Brighton & Hove in attendance and people from further afield too. I’ll end with some personal observations. I find public references to the budget being a ‘cuts budget’ disingenuous because even with a council tax hike there will have to be cuts; these cuts have been imposed by central government. Had there been a campaign across the entire country for an illegal budget I might have been in favour of that but there wasn’t one. Even had we Greens in Brighton & Hove decided, for some reason, to go it alone, all that would have happened is that our best people would be prosecuted and suffer great financial loss, our City would suffer a loss of revenues and the Greens would be humiliated, setting back their electoral chances for a generation. A curious feature of the final budget vote was that all parties voted for it, with the result that neither Labour nor the Tories can substantially complain about it. Everything Labour wanted changed, has been changed. Aside from an absurd campaign to keep hold of a vehicle licence plate, the Tories brought forward no other substantive amendments. Therefore, the budget has been agreed. Although it is not what we wanted in its entirety, the manner in which our people have declared they will discharge their statutory obligations has been agreed. Even within these obligations there are considerable degrees of discretion. It will be the generous Green heart being employed for the benefit of the City’s poor and vulnerable, rather than dead hand of local Conservative Party. The local Tories are now on record for regarding immigrants to Brighton & Hove as being unwelcome. Imagine a City run along their preferred lines? We don’t need to, we need only remember. It was dilapidated.