Cllr Steve Bell is Leader of the Conservative Group on Brighton and Hove Council.
In July, Labour’s minority administration at Brighton and Hove City Council collapsed – just a little over a year after the 2019 May local elections.
When Labour lost two councillors over alleged anti-Semitic racism and had a third councillor suspended pending an investigation, the Greens seized power and have now taken over minority control.
The collapse was a shameful end for a Momentum-backed Labour Administration that destabilised the city, brought Brighton & Hove into disrepute, and consistently let its residents down.
Labour ultimately fell after failing to live up to its promise to be an anti-racist council.
This tumultuous administration, which lasted little more than a year after the local elections on 2nd May 2019, was characterised by resignations, apologies, broken promises, financial mismanagement, and weak leadership from start to finish.
Labour repeatedly broke its trust with the people of this City who elected it, with its broken promises hurting our most vulnerable, time and again.
Its decisions led to a collapse of the Home to School Transport Scheme, putting children with a disability at risk, and culminating in Labour facing an independent investigation from the Local Government Association.
Another such investigation may well be on the cards after it was recently reported that disabled groups were not adequately consulted by Labour on the discriminatory road and cycle lane changes recently introduced that reduced disability access to the beach front. And in the process, while Labour said in its manifesto it would ‘protect and support the many small businesses that ensure the strength of our city during times of economic uncertainty’ Labour instead left traders on Brighton’s famous seafront strip struggling to pay their council tax and make ends meet after closing the road – and left office with Brighton & Hove languishing as a ‘below average resort’ according to a tourism survey of Britain’s seaside towns.
Labour let down council house tenants by rediverting millions of pounds in the Housing Repairs Budget on administrative changes to bring the service in house, and then added insult to injury by abandoning its promise to build 500 council houses.
While Labour promised voters in its Manifesto that it would provide more public open space in the City for residents, including those without gardens, it instead pushed through plans to build on 16 ecological sites in the urban fringe despite there being no need, with the Council Leader breaking her own promise to her constituents to oppose any proposals for the development of urban fringe land at Whitehawk Hill in her East Brighton ward along the way.
Most damagingly for our City, while Labour claimed to have sustained a reputation for Brighton & Hove as being the most inclusive city in the world, it left having unforgivably failed on its pledge to be an anti-racist council. Labour’s Council Leader did not properly stand up to antisemitism when it occurred in her administration, appearing to put power before anti-racism, with councillors suspended and under investigation for antisemitism remaining in her group. In doing so, the Council Leader failed to back up her own words at the Budget that Brighton & Hove is a City that is ‘inclusive and welcoming to all’.
Politically, the Council Leader failed to provide leadership in her own party, not commenting or providing clarification when the local Argus newspaper reported on a document outlining infighting and bullying in the Labour Party in which she was mentioned many times and attracting anger for apparently not listening to democratic motions of over 50 per cent of Labour branches opposing the development of local green space at Whitehawk Hill.
The fact that Labour collapsed over racism and ended with the shame of the Leader of our City Council being called upon to resign by a spokesman for Labour Against Antisemitism is a stain on our city. It has attracted national attention and damaged the reputation of Brighton & Hove to an extent that will be hard to recover from.
Labour’s constant failure to deliver for our City resulted in eight public apologies in a little over 12 months, culminating in Labour’s Finance spokesman saying he was ashamed of being a Labour councillor.
In the end, seven Labour councillors rebelled when the Council Leader tried to desperately hold onto power by arranging a power-sharing agreement with the Greens. These councillors knew the game was up and the dysfunction for our city had to come to an end.
This Council needs a Leader and councillors with the strength and integrity to stand up to racism of all kinds.
Corbynism failed spectacularly in Brighton and Hove and it will be a long time before the people of this City put their trust in Labour to run their City Council again.