Tuesday, 27 April 2010

No matter what happens, Brighton will have a woman MP on May 7, says Jill Stevens

No matter which way you look at it, news is being made down here in ‘London on Sea’ and not just because Green hearts are aflutter at the thought that Brighton Pavilion could provide Westminster with its first ever Green MP. 

No, what makes the contest here historic before any votes are cast at all is the fact that for the first time ever we have four major contenders – Labour, Conservative, LiberalDemocrat and Green – and they are all women.This is the first time that all four parties have fielded a woman candidate in the same constituency.
So whatever party – or combination of parties - gets to form the next government, the constituents of Brighton Pavilion will have a woman MP come 7th May. (I should perhaps acknowledge the existence of Nigel Carter, the male UKIP candidate – although his presence is not likely to affect the election outcome down here in any real way at all.)

The Green Party is represented by its leader, MEP Caroline Lucas. Trade unionist Nancy Platts has lived in the city since she was chosen three years ago to succeed the constituency’s popular and effective Labour MP since 1997 David Lepper. The Tories are fielding businesswomen Charlotte Vere, who lives in Kingston-upon-Thames but who is currently ensconced in a seafront flat she apparently calls her war room. Nurse Bernadette (Berni) Millam is the LibDem candidate.

Charlotte Vere claims the contest is between her and Caroline Lucas, despite the fact that Nancy Platts is defending David Lepper’s 5,030 majority. She’s wrong. It’s still a three-cornered fight. But she’s right to identify Lucas as the major threat. At the moment (13th April), the bookmakers’ odds put the Greens in front, with the Tories second and Labour third. But it’s close. The odds for Labour and Conservative are shortening, while those for the Greens are drifting. I’m not a betting person anyway, but this one looks to me to be too close to call at the moment.

So the Green leader is doing very well so far. Her policies unsurprisingly appeal to those who not only want to see positive action on all things ecological (that’s many if not most of us, of course) but who are also green in other ways (as in green = inexperienced) and want to believe that providing free stuff for everyone is possible if you tax high earners enough and impose enough sanctions on the eco-bullies. 

Okay, perhaps I’m over simplifying things. The Greens have many admirable aims. But admirable and achievable are two different things, unfortunately.

Of course, I think that the practical way to tackle the environmental challenges facing the world is to stick to (and, indeed, work to improve upon) those Labour policies which have so far seen us able to influence other countries and make some headway on global Climate Change, among many eco-issues.

But as a local I know that there are a significant number of people in Brighton who are desperate to believe that what the Greens promise can be done and who will vote for Ms Lucas because of firmly-held beliefs. Others will put aside their reservations about the feasibility of many other Green policies (e.g. the economy, Europe) and vote on eco-policy only. Their number will be swelled by those unsophisticated souls who find party politics distasteful and see the Greens as unpolitical. Then there are those who just fancy a change but don’t fancy Lab, Tory or LibDem – usually without knowing much, or bothering much, about the different policies on offer.

So, since Caroline Lucas is the threat, it might not be surprising to see all the candidates concentrating on environmental issues. (Despite the Greens’ insistence that they are an all-issues party now, the electorate overwhelmingly sees them as being ‘about the environment’.) I’m glad to see that isn’t the case.

Nancy Platts knows her area. And she knows that despite eco-concern, the electorate also wants to talk about money, jobs, hospital services, schools and, perhaps more than in some constituencies and because of the high number of LGBT votes, about equality and discrimination. She’s been out and about doing just that: most recently she has been vocal and active against Sussex University cuts and has found time to discuss the Digital Economy Bill – luckily with people who care about it – a group of freelance new media experts (very Brighton!).

But truthfully, I think we should be worried in Brighton Pavilion. One hope might be the mobilisation of the women’s vote – the one which we keep being told will win this election. Labour’s family friendly policies, our sensible and realisable plans to keep the economy on course, our policies on education and health – they should all be winners with women in this constituency.

So – four women, one seat. I’ve heard it said, by women, that ‘at least we’ll have a woman MP’. Well, let me remind you: It may go against the grain for many Labour supporters to see the Greens as ‘the enemy’. But on this occasion a win for a Green woman in Brighton will make a national Tory majority more likely. And anyone contemplating a Tory woman winner as tolerable should remember that Margaret Thatcher was a woman. Good luck Nancy.

1 comment:

  1. Whoever wins, I think Caroline Lucas has made best use of the Internet to excite and inspire people. As well as target the younger voter.

    You may be interested in a short blog post she supplied us with on how the greens have used the power of the Internet in their campaigning: http://www.siliconbeachtraining.co.uk/blog/brighton-green-party-caroline-lucas-on-internet/