The rollercoaster that's Brighton and Hove Green Party politics has taken another stomach-churning lurch.
Faced with cuts in government grants of up to £26m, the Green administration proposed a budget based on a 5.9% council tax increase, which would raise £4 million and would require approval in a referendum. Labour would support a 2% increase that councils may make without a referendum, while the Tories are simply split.
But now the Brighton and Hove Green Party has voted to set an unlawful budget – inevitably resulting in Eric Pickles taking over the council’s budget and ordering savage cuts. It also voted to request Jason Kitcat, the Green group convenor, to stand down.
The first motion exposes the Green Party’s aims and rationale with cruel clarity. Firstly, this is not about Brighton and Hove residents bearing the brunt of £100 million of cuts to the city budget that the election of a Green MP has done absolutely nothing to prevent - they’re not mentioned. This is about protecting the Green Party’s anti-austerity credentials and enabling the so-called “Green surge”. It begs the question of whether Greens see council services and staff as anything more than the collateral damage of Caroline Lucas’s re-election campaign.
Secondly, it is the decision of a party that is lacking in the will and inclination - and, I would argue, the moral courage - to carry out the job that the people of Brighton and Hove elected it to do in 2011. Then, the Green manifesto talked about resisting cuts. But, for all the fine words, this policy achieves precisely the opposite, inviting Pickles to send in his commissioners within weeks of an election that the Greens are universally expected to lose.
And all they offer by way of resistance is protests and street theatre. You don’t cure cancer by shouting slogans outside a hospital. The Greens remain an adolescent political movement because they won’t grasp this essential truth.
Thirdly, it overturns the policy that Caroline Lucas and Councillor Kitcat declared united their party – that of seeking an above-inflation council tax increase through a referendum. It actually endorses Labour’s rationale for opposing large council tax increases: that they are regressive and hit the poor hardest.
Finally, the motion’s whole rationale is that only a change of government can deliver a fairer settlement for local government. But, under our electoral system, the most likely outcome of a big Green surge would be to keep David Cameron in No10. Is that really what they want?
Most older politicians remember Neil Kinnock’s evisceration of Militant at the 1985 Labour Party conference, especially the phrases about a Labour council sending taxis scuttling around the city with redundancy notices for council staff.
What followed was a commitment that Labour will never play politics with council services and staff. Faced with government cuts, the only responsible solution is minimise their impact and campaign for a Government that can effect real and lasting change.
“Some of our colleagues, it seems to me, have become like latter-day public schoolboys – it’s not whether you won or lost, or how you played the game”.
Again Kinnock eerily anticipated Brighton’s Greens: protesting against academies, but failing to deliver the new secondary school they promised in 2011; talking about neoliberalism, but voting against council monitoring of food banks; and supporting vanity projects like i360, whose viability requires hundreds of thousand of car-borne visitors.
A party of privileged pound-shop Derek Hattons who, when challenged to defend their record on a council motion of no confidence, talk about the Iraq war. A party which - from top to bottom - prefers protest to serious political engagement and appear increasingly remote from the realities of a city of low and falling pay, soaring housing costs, and thousands using food banks.
And the Green Party, at all levels, has some serious questions to answer. Do its leaders - Ms Lucas above all - back the Brighton and Hove Green Party’s decision? How would Ms Lucas, as MP for Brighton Pavilion, represent the city in Whitehall and beyond when her party has voted to opt out of the political process? What has changed to make Lucas’s party abandon the policy she endorsed less than two years ago?
The votes at the general meeting were the votes of Caroline’s Militant Tendency. A party in a death spiral, incapable of looking beyond its own internal disagreements to the needs of the people it was elected to serve. A party of posturing and grandstanding, out of touch and scared to its core of exercising real responsibility. A party that will be rejected wholesale by the electors of Brighton and Hove in May.
Neil Schofield, a former member of the Green Party, is a Labour Party candidate for Preston Park in the city council elections on May 7.