Cllr Samer Bagaeen is a councillor for Hove Park Ward on Brighton and Hove City Council.
The news that the Labour Party’s selections for the Brighton & Hove City Council elections next May have been taken away from the local party over anti-semitism and lack of diversity comes as no surprise.
It follows years of dysfunction in the Brighton and Hove Labour party since the last council elections in 2019, which have seen the party lose control of the Council to the Greens after three of its councillors were suspended for alleged anti-semitism.
The Labour Group itself has proven unable to resolve this situation by itself and move on, going round in circles. This year, it readmitted one councillor, who was then promptly suspended by the national party again, in the process causing a fourth councillor to go Independent in protest.
Explaining the root cause of the difficulties, one former Labour candidate is quoted by Brighton and Hove News as saying that the local party has been effectively taken over by Momentum, a pro-Corbyn group within the party. This might explain why at the Council, the Labour party has struggled to have an independent voice, with it signing up to a coalition-style arrangement with the Greens the run the city. As you can imagine, Brighton and Hove has suffered enormously from this extreme Greens-Momentum Labour alliance, and many Labour voters have been left disillusioned as they have seen their party become ‘yes-women and men’ to the Greens’ every wish, from not weeding pavements to introducing extreme education policies.
For these reasons a takeover of Brighton & Hove Labour by the national party is not unexpected at all for what must be the most dysfunctional of Labour Party branches in the country.
However there is another aspect to this takeover that needs attention, which shines a light on a further major deficiency of the Labour/Green collective in Brighton and Hove. The article about the Labour Party’s selections states that while the takeover was mostly driven by the anti-semistim problems, it was also partly driven by concerns in Labour that black and ethnic candidates were not selected for winnable seats, instead being shunted to safe Green and Conservative wards.
The outcome of the last Brighton & Hove City council elections in 2019 election (and the subsequent by-elections) has proven this to be the case again and again, not only for Labour but also for the Greens. Of the 54 member Brighton and Hove City Council, Labour and the Greens have zero ethnic minority councillors.
In fact, the only ethnic minority representative on the council is yours truly, a Conservative. I was elected in 2019 and am a current recipient of the Conservative Councillor Association Bursary Scheme (2021-2), which encourages applications from under-represented groups such as those from ethnic minorities, to assist their re-election.
The lack of ethnic minority representatives is obviously embarrassing for a Green/Labour Council that styles itself as the capital of woke and likes to lecture residents and spend its time virtue signalling and making policies on ethnic minority matters. The Green/Labour Council has devoted much of its time over the past three years to introducing a controversial anti-racist council policy, which has included a contentious education policy in Brighton & Hove schools for young children based on US critical race theory, as explained in a previous contribution by my colleague Alistair McNair. The more and more that the council dictates these policies, the more it jars that there are no ethnic minority councillors in the Labour and Green groups.
To save face the Greens and Labour have improvised. Over the last few years they have introduced ‘co-optees’ on some of the council’s powerful decision-making committees – unelected activists who are supposed to speak for and represent ethnic minority interests. Appointed by the Greens and Labour, these co-optees do not have voting rights, but are committee members in their own right. We have found that cooptees selected by Labour and the Greens can be highly political activists. A Labour-appointed cooptee on the council’s most important committee, for example, has a history of campaigning against the Conservatives, including tweeting about wanting to see Conservatives become extinct. The irony of course being, that if Conservatives became extinct at Brighton and Hove City Council, there would be no ethnic minority Councillor representation at all.
These unelected cooptees may provide a fig leaf to Labour and the Greens’ ethnic minority selection problems, but they are ultimately distorting democracy at Brighton and Hove City Council by changing the composition of elected committees. Decisions should be made first and foremost by elected Councillors. Cooptees can sway the debate by interjecting – and often do to support the Labour/Green alliance and this is undemocratic. Ideological activists selected by Labour and the Greens are also by no means representative of ethnic minority communities in Brighton & Hove or their concerns. If anything, this is a clear indication that the city and its political leadership needs to take a hard look at how it addresses ethnic minority representation, from participation in public consultation processes on coastal redevelopments to the city downland estate management plan which should belong to every resident in the city of Brighton and Hove. Under the Labour and Green administrations, this representation and participation by the city’s ethnic minority communities has eroded.
The City and its ethnic minority communities would be better served if Labour and the Greens instead looked to diversify its candidates and stopped shunting ethnic minority candidates off to unwinnable seats. Then after the next election there may be a more representative council.
For now, Britain’s capital council of woke at Brighton & Hove continues to be its least diverse – and that is not good for our local residents.