In recent months the Brighton & Hove Conservative Party has devoted much time to criticising some local peace campaigners. That the Tories would disagree with such people is hardly surprising. The long standing mutual aid relationship between the Tories and the arms traders, whose business is dependent on peace not breaking out too often, is plain to see. David Cameron visiting Egypt soon after the success of their revolution to promote British arms sales was just the last stark example of this. The surprising thing is the amount of time and effort that the Tories have devoted to their attack on key peace campaigners in Brighton.
Although a tweet is easy to fire off, professional tweeting and becoming embroiled in conversations on twitter can require quite a bit of effort. It’s too easy to say something stupid due to failing to properly follow all the links out of the conversation, or even all the relevant dialogue itself. It seems that no amount of effort is too small for the Tories, when they can bait some of Brighton’s peace campaigners.
Normally, the peace movement is the political constituency making all the effort in this argument. To the casual observer, this odd role reversal seems to suggest that the Tories have become rattled somehow by the peaceniks and are fighting back. We’d expect politicians sure of their ground ignore people like this. Perhaps the campaigners have begun to worry EDO, the Brighton arms factory they campaign against? Were that the case, we could expect EDO to lean on the Tories for some tactical support and the Tories to respond by launching a diversionary assault, to distract the focus of the attack on their important political supporters and funders. This analysis not only makes sense, it also flatters the campaigners with a previously unacknowledged strength, such as may beguile them and their potential recruits into thinking that they are close to victory. If only it were so simple.
Whilst there can be little doubt that the Conservative Party would prefer the peace campaigners to give up altogether, in Brighton & Hove they’ve chosen a novel ideological battleground. They’ve played the race card but not in the conventional way. We’re well used to the Tories’ racist campaign against the Travellers’ community and their complete silence when the EDL marched “for England” in the City centre. Ever since Peter Griffiths’ shock victory against the national trend in 1964 (he campaigned on the slogan, “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour“), the Tories have carefully cultivated the bigots in our communities, to win their votes. A few years later, Enoch Powell made his infamously inflammatory speech. Insisting that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist was the public face of their active support for apartheid – they consistently worked against the anti-apartheid movement. These days, a new generation of Tories may lack the deep seated fear of difference that their elders had but they still want those votes. Rather than lead on the issue, they are generally led, regarding the immigration issue as home territory. Despite all that history and tradition, the Brighton & Hove Conservative Party now make the startling claim that it is the peace campaigners who are racist. Specifically, they allege that the peace campaigners are antisemitic.
Until recently, this allegation has been fostered by certain Conservative Party activists, notably Robert Németh and Linda Freedman. Németh The Unelectable (so-called for his habit of losing very winnable elections) is the Deputy Political Chairman of the local Tory Party. Plenty of other Tory activists have joined the charge led by Németh:
There are dozens and dozens of tweets like this. For the record, here’s a whole bunch of them from Németh:
A recent political stunt by some activists, upset by Mike Weatherley Tory MP for Hove and Portslade) championing a new law to criminalise squatting, involved Németh being showered with pink glitter. The local Tories regard the squatters’ movement and the peace movement as being only populated by the same people. Of course, that’s a simplistic view which overlooks the number of perfectly respectable property owners who distrust the radical left but would still like to see the EDO factory closed. Brighton & Hove is stuffed with people like that. The City Council’s official statistics reveal we’ve got more graduates than anywhere else in the country. There’s plenty of psephological evidence to suggest that the more highly educated a population is, the more likely it is to vote for progressive candidates, which goes a long way to explain the number of Green voters here. Here’s how Németh described the glitterer:
Personally, I dislike glitter very much. My wife sometimes goes to parties where it gets spread around. Several times, when I was a practising barrister, I found myself on the receiving end of odd judicial glances and later discovered that it had transferred itself to me, doubtless in our affectionate moments. The three piece black suit look is somewhat undermined by a dusting of shiny metal particles. Clearly, this was stunt was designed to grab the headlines rather than intimidate anyone. It is on a par with cream pie throwing. Describing the glitter merchant as a thug is ridiculous. Describing them as insane is risible. The day after his glittering, Németh publicly associated the incident with SmashEDO, the campaign against the arms factory:
Presumably, in his mind there cannot be a separation between the two completely separate issues of housing and war. Having persistently characterised SmashEDO as an antis-emitic campaign, this rather looks like Németh attempting to tar all his political opponents with the brush of anti-semiticism. Reading through Tory activists’ public pronouncements on the SmashEDO campaign, you’d believe this was a brutal underground front organisation for the Iranian mullahs, hell bent on the genocide of the Jewish people. They’ve propagated unsubstantiated claims that SmashEDO has driven out Jewish members. At best that allegation reveals a chronic lack of attention to detail. At worst, it amounts to a smear campaign. Incidentally, I’ve been reliably informed that the glitter wielding thug, Alex Cline, is Jewish himself.
These allegations are simplistic in the extreme. The debate about the behaviour of Israel towards territories it has illegally occupied was for many years dominated by overly simplistic analysis like this. However, in recent years the issues have broadened out in mainstream debate. Clearly, the fault lines are complex. One thing is clear though: criticising a country for bombing innocent civilians does not amount to a racist campaign against the dominant demographic inside that country. Scrutiny and objective investigative enquiry are hallmarks of our democratic values. Refusing to acknowledge the merits of critical dissent is not. Despite wanting the votes of our highly educated population, the local Tories’ obsession about this one small apolitical peace group has become a long running theme in their local profile. Yesterday, they issued the following statement on their website:
This statement completely ignores the fact that there has been a rise in hate crimes since the recession began. There have been attacks against the disabled. The Tories are not particularly bothered about organisations which explicitly promoted racial hatred – if they were, they would have made a public statement condemning the EDL’s parade around Brighton on St George’s Day.
All of this amounts to a deliberate smear campaign. The question is why are the Tories doing this? If they carried on like this elsewhere in the country, they would risk alienating loyal voters. The sort of people who swung from Labour to them in Griffiths’ consituency. The sort of people who still praise Enoch Powell. These people regularly turn out for the Tories, although in recent years some of them have gone over to UKIP instead.
The answer lies in Brighton’s unusual demographic. SmashEDO’s analysis of the smearing rests on the fact that the Tories no longer regard the Green Party as purely Labour’s problem. Certainly, the Greens have been winning votes in areas normally associated with the Tories. Doutbless, this unexpected development has rattled them. SmashEDO argues that the Tories are seeking to scare voters away from the Greens. The idea here is that the Greens support for the SmashEDO campaign will prove that they are extremists too. In other words, not the sort of people the peace loving population of Brighton & Hove can afford to love.
There’s a lot of truth in this analysis but it’s only part of the picture. The bigger part relates to the fact that Brighton & Hove has an unusually large community comprised of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gender people. The Tories are desperate to win these votes. With them onside they believe that they can eradicate both Labour and the Greens from local politics. It’s worth remembering that Brighton had a Tory council for 154 years before the graduates of Red Sussex (the University of Sussex’s nickname of old) changed the political map. They know that this community is well aware of the persecution that they would face in places like Iran, Zimbabwe & Syria. Therefore, it is convenient to the Tories to establish a link between the peace campaigners and the ‘mad mullahs’ of Iran, by means of the anti-semitic slur. Similarly, they relentlessly criticise SmashEDO for failing to oppose tyrannical regimes like Mugabe’s and the current Syrian dictatorship.
That last point is absurd. SmashEDO are a single issue campaign. They want to close down a factory which makes parts for weapons systems which are used to commit crimes against humanity. That’s it. That’s all the campaign is interested in – that one factory. In fact, last night I tried to persuade one of the campaign’s founders to join the Green Party but he point blank refused. He believes that his campaign would be weakened if he was involved in any political party. The EDO factory does not supply Syria, Zimbabwe or Iran. Why should SmashEDO launch campaigns against these regimes? There’s plenty of other campaigns tackling those tasks. Though you’ll not find the Tories championing them.
The whole thing is a sign of the Tories’ political desperation. They can no longer described as the natural party of government. They failed to win the last general election and look unlikely to win the next. Our local Tories have failed to win power in Brighton & Hove. The average age of the Tory associations is said to be 68 years old and rising. Without so many young recruits, it is increasingly hard for them to manage elections. Although their traditional canvassing methods focuses on mail shots, which they can easily afford, they lack the bodies on the ground who actually get the walking (as opposed to the postal) vote out. This is a long term problem for them, with no easy solution in sight. In times like these, people are not flocking to join them. Our local Tories know that if they don’t recruit a new generation, they will be doomed. This problem has become so acute for them that in March of this year, they publicly announced that they would accept non-party members to stand as candidates for them!
For years there’s been a power struggle inside the Brighton & Hove Conservative Party. There are two camps. On one side there is the older generation, which would prefer that the internet would somehow just go away and the old ways will come back. The younger generation recognise the futility of this way of thinking. Németh The Unelectable leads the youthful upstarts. Determined to live down his nickname, it is he who makes most use of social media and other modern communication strategies. It is he who realises which parts of the local community the Tories must convert to their cause. The trouble is, he’s got less experience of community life than he does of policy wonkdom. Knowing where he wants his party to go, he’s adopted ruthless tactics to get there. Free from attention to awkward details, he’s able to adopt any means necessary to achieve that ambition, including a smear campaigns.