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

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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era