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Elections to the City Council - 3rd. May 2007

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Labour Meltdown - Tory Knife Edge Victory - Green Surge - LibDem Stagnation: Grand Coalition or Tory Minority Regime?

Election Results

Tories 26 seats (19)

Labour 13 seats (23)

Greens 12 seats (6)

LibDems 2 seats (3)

Independent 1 seat (2)

28 seats needed for an overall majority; previous party strenght in brackets

The loss of ten seats in the 2007 local elections brought Labour's 21 year rule in Brighton (12 years in Hove) to a dramatic end. However, since the Tories won seven seats, taking them to 26 seats in the new council, and therefore two seats short of an overall majority, Brighton & Hove remains an NOC (a No Overall Control authority).

The city faces the prospect of either a minority Tory administration (as Labour were in the last council) or a grand coalition of the rest: Labour, Green, LibDem and Jayne Bennet, the re-elected Independent councillor. The latter seems very unlikely, given the fractious nature of politics in many local councils, including Brighton & Hove.

Yet, should it be? Both the Greens and LibDems are parties which officially support a PR electoral system. Those countries, which have proportional representional electoral systems, almost invariably have coalition governments. So why don't these parties practice what they preach? Of course, the rump of the Labour group on the new council would have to be in favour of a coalition too. But, if Labour and the Libdems can form a coalition in Scotland, why not in England? And in any case Labour and the LibDems ruled the old East Sussex County Council as a coalition with Labour as the junior partner.

Nonetheless, the political arithmetic of the new council is against it, and almost certainly the Tories will form a minority administration. So what can we expect?

Brian Oxley, the Conservative leader, is at times a somewhat lacklustre leader of his group. You could say that the local Tories have had victory thrust upon them by the national recovery of their party under David Cameron. So this is Councillor Oxley's opportunity to prove has critics wrong, and to shine. We shall have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, Labour has been decapitated, reduced in size from 23 to 13, losing its leader, Simon Burgess, one of its two deputy leaders, Sue John, and Ken Bodfish, the previous leader of the group. Councillor Gill Mitchel, the surviving deputy leader, will, I expect, act as group leader for now, but who will be elected at the group AGM? That should tell us something about the balance between right and left within the Labour group. Certainly Councillors Juliet McCaffrey and Kevin Allen, on the left of the group, can claim that only they in Preston Park ward successfully saw off the Green offensive on Labour seats.

It will be remembered that Juliet McCaffrey broke the Labour whip on the Children, Families and Schools Committee and voted against Labour's reforms to the secondary school admissions system. For that she was sacked by her leader, but cheered by her constituents.

The Green Party held on to its one seat in Preston Park ward and even topped the poll, admittedly by a mere 3 votes. They did much better elsewhere, sweeping the board in Queenspark and Regency wards, and defeating the last remaining Labour councillor in Hanover and Elm Grove ward, the veteran Joyce Edmond Smith.

The Greens easily retained their three seats in St Peter's and North Laine ward with more than a thousand vote majority over Labour, their nearest rival. But there has been a change of Green personnel with the return of Pete West to the council (the Green's first leader - sorry, convenor) and the arrival of Ian Davey, the city's Mr Bike.

The LibDems are left with the two-seater Brunswick and Adelaide ward, with the Greens in second place. Despite convincing majorities, I can see the LibDem toehold in the city being lost next time round.

Incidentally, the election results have created a mayoral vacancy. Ken Bodfish had been tipped to be the city's next mayor.


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