Brighton & Hove – the Big Green Letdown

Tracey Hill, Coordinator of Brighton & Hove SERA, writes about the divided and ineffective Green Party running the City Council. Brighton and Hove has just become the first city to sign up to One Planet Living status. This puts us on an ambitious path towards living within the available resources of the planet by 2050. It will require confidence-inspiring leadership and wide scale buy-in from a broad spectrum of political and community perspectives. It is a huge positive that the city has the will to aspire to such a goal. But can the Green Party deliver?

In just two years their approach has divided communities. Green Party initiatives, however well-intentioned, come across as worthy aims of an urban elite not necessarily in touch with the real pressures and concerns of ordinary people. The assumption that a car is a luxury almost all of us can do without is typical of a party dominated by urban professional elites who can afford to live within walking distance of transport hubs and have desk jobs that can be done from home. A suburban shift worker will be alienated by a far-reaching plan for the city that does not take the reality of their lives into account. While sounding good, the Greens’ evangelism and narrow perspective will severely limit their effectiveness, because they will be unable to maintain the broad base of support required to bring about long-term change.

These systemic problems are becoming apparent in schemes which have polarised opinion, such as a large-scale default 20mph zone covering much of the city centre including main roads. Improving cycle lanes is positive, but cutting bus services at the same time demonstrates a lack of interest in those living in more remote areas for whom cycling is not a realistic option.

In addition, two years into their first ever administration, the Green Party is deeply divided. Until recently, a strike by refuse workers, stunned at being asked to accept pay cuts of up to £4, 000 per year, left rubbish uncollected in the streets. An attempted coup by Green Party councillors narrowly failed to oust the council leader. The country’s only Green Party MP has spoken openly in criticism of her party’s only council. If they are unable to stay unified themselves, it seems unlikely they will be able to unify the city.

Brighton and Hove has a reputation for being quirky and alternative, but it is more diverse than that. Go north, east or west from the seafront more than a couple of miles and you are into south coast suburbs with a mix of Tory (increasingly UKIP) and Labour neighbourhoods. Two of our three MPs are Tories, and Labour came a close second in all three constituencies: the city is a genuine three-way marginal. Labour is much better placed than the Green Party to achieve the necessary broad base of support to move us forward, by employing a co-operative approach.

If we want broad agreement, we need to make sustainability a common objective by demonstrating real and practical benefits, and by enabling participation in decisions about what is actually done. If people can see how they and their local area will benefit, for example through rewards from reducing their waste, or via cheaper heating costs from a community energy scheme, that will make it much more real than simply a feeling that we should be doing the right thing. Labour Co-operative councils have used co-operative ownership structures to radically change the relationship between citizens and the local council, making local government a collaborative experience. That kind of approach is much more likely to lead us towards a sustainable future than ideologically-driven schemes imposed on a reluctant public by a party barely able to keep itself together.

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