Brighton has lost patience with the chaotic Greens

What worked in free-thinking opposition soon became unmanageable in government. Voters are looking to Labour for solutions.

There are probably three basic tests for any political party. The first, of course, is winning power. At the 2010 general election, Caroline Lucas won a narrow 1,200 vote victory over Labour in Brighton Pavilion, pulling together a coalition of the left, students, disaffected Labour voters, tactical Lib Dems, environmentalists and people from the city’s more radical subculture. A year later, 23 Green councillors were elected on a citywide vote share just 1% larger than Labour's, enabling them to form the first Green council administration, albeit a minority one. An efficient election machine, an appealing "anti-politics, anti-cuts" message and ruthless targeting enabled the party to score successive victories against the backdrop of Labour unpopularity, but only on the narrowest of majorities.

Some within Labour, admiring Lucas and the Greens' freedom to express more radical policies, have urged co-operation not competition. Yet the Green message has always been clear. Eighteen of the 23 seats they won were taken from Labour, and they have continued to take aim at Labour even after the Conservatives, who have 18 councillors and two MPs in the city, took office in Westminster. After the Greens' first 100 days in office, their leader said "if we get this right, it will make things very difficult for Labour in the city in 2015." Not better for the city, environment, businesses or residents. Not harder for the Tories. More difficult for Labour.

The second test of a political party is holding office, and what you do with power once elected. What worked in free-thinking opposition soon became unmanageable in government. Having no internal discipline or whip soon saw their election-winning leader replaced, and their new leader commanding a majority of just one over "re-open nominations" in successive internal elections. With no sanction, their councillors have been free to call publicly for their leader to quit. Early on, the "Green Left" started to peel away. A little over a year after standing as a Green council candidate, one member was running against them in a by-election under the TUSC banner.

One Green councillor joined street protests to save a city centre tree, just weeks after she herself voted to fell it to make way for a cycle lane. That same councillor, part of the rebel "watermelon" faction in the Green group, then sought the assistance of the Labour group in trying to oust the Green group leader from his post heading the council. This lead to a local newspaper billboard reading "council calls in counsellors to counsel councillors" as mediators tried to bring the warring factions, now unable to speak to each other, together.

An early and substantial increase in parking fees, one of several heavy-handed attempts to force people from their cars, severely dented residents’ goodwill. Policies widely accepted elsewhere have met fierce resistance in the city, most notably the introduction of 20mph limits as the Green administration has pushed through blanket, unenforced restrictions at a rapid pace. Instead of negotiating a difficult change of terms and conditions to the city’s refuse workforce, the Greens again forced the issue through, leading to a damaging confrontation with the unions and a strike which saw bins overflowing in the streets. Even before the strike, recycling rates, a key municipal environmental measure for any authority, let alone a Green one, were falling.

The public have seen the division among their members, heard controversial statements from their councillors, felt ignored in consultations and seen their flagship "Urban Biosphere" and "One Planet Living" projects as increasingly out of touch with the daily reality of stagnant wages and rising bills. A "no eviction" policy on the Bedroom Tax was widely seen as window dressing in comparison to Labour council policies elsewhere, such as room reclassification.

When one of their councillors quit after the attempted leadership coup this summer, Labour spectacularly defeated them in one of their stronghold wards, wiping out a majority of almost a thousand votes. Caroline Lucas saw her majority disappear in just one of the seven wards in her constituency, the eleven point swing to Labour some ten times that needed to take her seat.

Now a poll by ComRes for the BBC has shown that Green support has fallen by a third since its peak, with Labour opening up a lead of 17 per cent over the party that once vowed to replace them in Brighton and Hove. Damningly, one of the top two factors influencing voting intention was "getting the Greens out".

Perhaps the defining moment for me was speaking to one voter on the doorstep in the by-election this summer. He told me he’d been speaking to friends and neighbours at the local pub, where all agreed that "we gave the Greens a try; now we are coming home to a party we know and can trust." In the contest against a Conservative-led government imposing brutal austerity measures, those who flirted with the Greens are now choosing sides in a national battle where, electorally, the party is irrelevant.

The third and final test of a political party is how well it deals with defeat. Come 7 May 2015 it would appear, from the evidence thus far, that the Greens will face their sternest test yet.

Cllr Warren Morgan (@warrenmorgan) is leader of the Labour and Co-operative Group on Brighton and Hove City Council

The Green leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, Jason Kitcat.

Warren Morgan (@warrenmorgan) is leader of the Labour and Co-operative Group on Brighton and Hove City Council

John Moore
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The man who created the fake Tube sign explains why he did it

"We need to consider the fact that fake news isn't always fake news at the source," says John Moore.

"I wrote that at 8 o'clock on the evening and before midday the next day it had been read out in the Houses of Parliament."

John Moore, a 44-year-old doctor from Windsor, is describing the whirlwind process by which his social media response to Wednesday's Westminster attack became national news.

Moore used a Tube-sign generator on the evening after the attack to create a sign on a TfL Service Announcement board that read: "All terrorists are politely reminded that THIS IS LONDON and whatever you do to us we will drink tea and jolly well carry on thank you." Within three hours, it had just fifty shares. By the morning, it had accumulated 200. Yet by the afternoon, over 30,000 people had shared Moore's post, which was then read aloud on BBC Radio 4 and called a "wonderful tribute" by prime minister Theresa May, who at the time believed it was a genuine Underground sign. 

"I think you have to be very mindful of how powerful the internet is," says Moore, whose viral post was quickly debunked by social media users and then national newspapers such as the Guardian and the Sun. On Thursday, the online world split into two camps: those spreading the word that the sign was "fake news" and urging people not to share it, and those who said that it didn't matter that it was fake - the sentiment was what was important. 

Moore agrees with the latter camp. "I never claimed it was a real tube sign, I never claimed that at all," he says. "In my opinion the only fake news about that sign is that it has been reported as fake news. It was literally just how I was feeling at the time."

Moore was motivated to create and post the sign when he was struck by the "very British response" to the Westminster attack. "There was no sort of knee-jerk Islamaphobia, there was no dramatisation, it was all pretty much, I thought, very calm reporting," he says. "So my initial thought at the time was just a bit of pride in how London had reacted really." Though he saw other, real Tube signs online, he wanted to create his own in order to create a tribute that specifically epitomised the "very London" response. 

Yet though Moore insists he never claimed the sign was real, his caption on the image - which now has 100,800 shares - is arguably misleading. "Quintessentially British..." Moore wrote on his Facebook post, and agrees now that this was ambiguous. "It was meant to relate to the reaction that I saw in London in that day which I just thought was very calm and measured. What the sign was trying to do was capture the spirit I'd seen, so that's what I was actually talking about."

Not only did Moore not mean to mislead, he is actually shocked that anyone thought the sign was real. 

"I'm reasonably digitally savvy and I was extremely shocked that anyone thought it was real," he says, explaining that he thought everyone would be able to spot a fake after a "You ain't no muslim bruv" sign went viral after the Leytonstone Tube attack in 2015. "I thought this is an internet meme that people know isn't true and it's fine to do because this is a digital thing in a digital world."

Yet despite his intentions, Moore's sign has become the centre of debate about whether "nice" fake news is as problematic as that which was notoriously spread during the 2016 United States Presidential elections. Though Moore can understand this perspective, he ultimately feels as though the sentiment behind the sign makes it acceptable. 

"I use the word fake in inverted commas because I think fake implies the intention to deceive and there wasn't [any]... I think if the sentiment is ok then I think it is ok. I think if you were trying to be divisive and you were trying to stir up controversy or influence people's behaviour then perhaps I wouldn't have chosen that forum but I think when you're only expressing your own emotion, I think it's ok.

"The fact that it became so-called fake news was down to other people's interpretation and not down to the actual intention... So in many interesting ways you can see that fake news doesn't even have to originate from the source of the news."

Though Moore was initially "extremely shocked" at the reponse to his post, he says that on reflection he is "pretty proud". 

"I'm glad that other people, even the powers that be, found it an appropriate phrase to use," he says. "I also think social media is often denigrated as a source of evil and bad things in the world, but on occasion I think it can be used for very positive things. I think the vast majority of people who shared my post and liked my post have actually found the phrase and the sentiment useful to them, so I think we have to give social media a fair judgement at times and respect the fact it can be a source for good."

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.