Over the last few weeks Green Party members in Brighton & Hove have been voting in the first round of the selection process to nominate their candidates for the city council elections in May next year. The vote closed last Saturday, and on Sunday I was told I’d been selected to stand in the city centre ward known as Regency, alongside my fiancée Alex who will be my wife next Saturday. This is the ward currently held by Council Leader Jason Kitcat and his wife Ania who are both stepping down next May. So weirdly voters will have the opportunity to elect another husband and wife team. But some may ask why would I want to stand for election to the City Council? And why for the Greens?
I have thought long and hard about these things and decided that I want to do my bit. Play a part. Take on a new challenge and enjoy a different life experience. I have worked with councillors of all parties in my role at The Big Lemon, and I have a huge respect for what they do. They are in the main very committed and dedicated people, who work very hard for very little reward, either financial or otherwise. Why do they do it? Because they want to do their bit for the community. Because they feel strongly about certain things and want to help change them for the better. It’ll come as no surprise to most readers that I’m also a pretty opinionated person who feels strongly about a number of issues, and I would like to do more to make a difference where it matters.
I’m not a very partisan kind of person however, and the decision to stand for election on behalf of a political party was not an easy decision to take. I have enjoyed working with a number of councillors and MPs from across the political spectrum, and have learned that although there are inevitably differences of opinion amongst them they share one thing in common – to make things better.
What kind of things, and how, depends on who they are and what their priorities are, and that’s why I joined the Greens. Obviously it is rare for anyone in politics to agree 100% with their party’s policies and that’s certainly true of me, but in general I find most of the things that I feel strongly about – protection of green spaces, renewable energy, sustainable transport, social enterprise, independent business and a fairer more equal society are things that fit most closely with the priorities of the Greens. A society where life chances are not simply decided by how much money you’ve got, what age or sex you are, or what your sexual orientation, religious beliefs or ethnic or social class is. We have some very serious issues to deal with as a society, and I believe we need a combination of solutions from the local community, from campaigners, the business community and across the political spectrum if we are to tackle these issues effectively. So why put myself forward for Regency?
For those who are wondering what part of town this is, the Regency electoral ward stretches along Brighton seafront between the Palace Pier and the Peace Statue and heads up as far as Seven Dials (where my favourite elm tree stands!) It it is the heart of the city and includes some of the city’s most beautiful period architecture, hence its name. When I moved to Brighton in the early noughties I first lived in Regency, and during the next few years I grew to love the neighbourhood, especially the atmosphere, the people, the cosmopolitan feel and the vibrant small business community. I bought a house there, and set up The Big Lemon from a desk in my bedroom. The Big Lemon’s first public meeting was held in the Cricketers’ pub in the Lanes, and it was also in Regency years later that I joined other local residents to save the much-loved Seven Dials elm from the chop. Although I live on the eastern edge of town now to be close to The Big Lemon’s depot, Regency is the area I feel most enthusiastic about representing and have most connections with.
I have also been thinking a great deal about what politics needs, and what kind of contribution I might make. I think politics is in a bad way at the moment, and our democracy is suffering because of it. This is largely as a result of those politicians (mainly national ones) who abuse the system, hide things from the public, do dodgy deals behind closed doors and so on. This not only detracts from those politicians who are doing good work for their communities, it has a hugely detrimental effect on society. We clearly need greater integrity in politics, but also greater transparency. This would help facilitate understanding, and trust. If elected I aim to work together with members of the local community, interest groups and the business community, build trust and be always open to challenge and scrutiny. That way better decisions are made, and our community will be the better for it.
The place for me to start is in being open about a matter I need to declare should I be elected as a councillor. This is my role as a shareholder and Managing Director in The Big Lemon, which runs a service (route 52) on contract to the City Council. This means I must declare an interest and must withdraw from the discussion and not take part in debates or votes, either in Council meetings or in Green Party meetings, which might affect the outcome of any tendering for bus routes. This is not an unusual situation as councillors often have business or employment interests that require them to declare and withdraw from discussions.
It also means that if elected I will not serve on the Environment and Transport Committee or take part in debates or votes directly affecting bus services or bus infrastructure more generally. I will still take part in debate and voting on the annual budget (unless advised not to for legal reasons) but only on the budget as a whole and details not connected to buses. I will also publish a record of debates I have taken part in and votes I have made, and allow comments and feedback which I will respond to. By making this clear now I hope this will give people confidence that things are being done properly, and that local democracy will be the better for it.
So I’m looking forward to the election campaign, and looking forward to the opportunity to do my bit on the City Council if the good people of Regency elect me as one of their representatives. If you live, work or play in Regency ward I’d be very interested to hear what you want me to do for you.