In the past, there were Liberal Democrats in Brighton & Hove! Now this may seem hard to believe but careful digging reveals archeological remains which pretty much proves the case. There are references to them standing candidates in elections and there is the remnants of their website. Its homepage is dominated with a news feed which ended eight months ago and has a link to “Contact your councillor and candidates“, despite the Liberal Democrats having no councillors in Brighton or Hove and apparently only one candidate. There are four pages on the site: ‘Home’, ‘Information’, ‘Events’ and ‘Get Involved’. The Information page is a stripped down duplicate of the Home page, containing only the out of date news feed. The Events page contains no events at at all.
Brian Stone, the chair of the local party was very ready to answer a telephone call early in the morning. He was so keen to talk at 7:20am that he waited until the end of the call before finding out who he was talking to. He’s new in the job. At that time in the morning, he confused Brighton with Barnet, where he used to live. He joined the Social Democratic Party (SDP) on the day it was born in 1981. “Shirley Williams is my heroine“, he told me, “she’s the ultimate political figure.” In 1982 he was elected to Barnet Borough Council and by 1986 two others had joined him there in the Liberal/SDP Alliance.
When asked why there were no Liberal Democrat councillors in Brighton or Hove, Mr Stone’s response had an unexpected candour, “being in coalition with the Tories just wiped us out.” When asked about his local party’s website, he said, “I regard that as the last priority.” When asked about the lack of local events, he said, “watch this space“. When pressed on which space one could watch, he explained that there would be a “review” of the local party’s activities and that we would shortly see some “big changes“, although he refused to hint at what they were. Should we fear a Jurassic Park style experiment, resulting in an entire political species rising from extinction? I don’t know, even I’m too polite to ask a question like that. Even writing this blog post feels like kicking the crippled.
Mr Stone’s last priority ought to be his first. These days a website is the first port of call for anyone interested in anything. Although clearly abandoned, it contains public pages which are not linked to from the rest of the website. Notable amongst these are the pages about local members. Lawrence Eke seems to still think there is a Labour government:
Mr Stone cannot be criticised for putting a brave face on the disastrous electoral results his party has suffered locally but he is wrong to say that the fault lies with being in bed with the thieving Tory bastards. In 2007 only two Liberal Democrats were elected to Brighton & Hove City Council: Paul Elgood and David Watkins (who quit the party during his term of office and became an independent before losing his seat at the next election). Elgood lost his seat in 2011. Whether he is still active in politics must be doubted because his page on the local party website links to a blog which looks like it has been overrun by a spammer.
Billy Tipping’s page says that he left the Labour Party when it lurched to the extreme left and notes that it is now extremely right-wing.
Lisa Taylor seems very angry at the Green Party for refusing to support an environmental policy she wanted adopted, though her page doesn’t actually say what that policy was.
Steve Laing’s page appears to suggest that the Conservatives still hold power in the city.
Becky Taylor’s in the same boat: her page also talks about local politics as if the Tories were still in power.
Either there are two Paul Chandlers with the same face in the local LibDems or he’s got two membership numbers. This is his first page. The second one adds nothing.
That’s the end of the local membership. It’s obvious that most of the members have left the party because there are missing membership ID numbers from the website. Someone trying to look at these pages might expect to see a 404 – page not found error, with a friendly message to look elsewhere. Instead they get this:
Websites which are tweaked regularly often suffer this sort of embarassing presentational problem. This website is not being updated. Therefore, it was never coded properly. That means that there was no-one in the local Liberal Democrats who had a good grasp of web design. Whilst running a major city in the South-East takes a lot more brains than those required to build a website properly, voters do expect a political party to have members with basic skills. The site’s domain name was created only two years before the most recent local elections.
Back to the ‘review’, that should be more fertile ground for discussion. Stone happily declared that it was concerned with “refocusing” the local party, “as it’s said in business“. He seemed very positive about this prospect. “There’s going to be lots of internal work“, he opined. Sounds like code for no public events whatsoever. I asked him about recruitment. He didn’t like the word. The “young people” who had joined recently had, “not been recruited, they had joined on their own initiative“. How many members does his local party have? “I don’t know. Our national office will not reveal the figures.” How many young people have joined the local party recently? “Three young people have joined in the last two months!” Probably wishing that he hadn’t answered my call so early in the morning, he seemed tired. Suddenly he blurted out that, “the party is very much split between the Orange Book and the Non-Orange Book.” Finally he came to his senses, “Who am I talking to?“
Brighton & Hove was ahead of the political curve when it gave up on the Liberal Democrats. We’ve got a highly educated population, with a vibrant new media and digital economy. We weren’t impressed by a party which couldn’t manage these things properly. Politicians who don’t wake up, eat and breathe online connect with increasingly few people. They become irrelevant to the places where people increasingly hold their political discussions: social networks like Facebook and Twitter, backed up by properly functioning websites. They don’t know who they’re talking to. Neither do we.