AFTER enduring an attempted coup, facing the controversies of a prolonged bin strike and the constant debate over travellers, council leader Jason Kitcat has announced he will be stepping down. HENRY HOLLOWAY reports on the reaction to the surprise announcement and the history of Coun Kitcat’s tumultuous seven year tenure.
ON Thursday evening the leader of Brighton and Hove City Council Jason Kitcat revealed he will not stand for re-election.
The Green councillor for the Regency ward said his decision was motivated by his desire for a “new challenge” and said he will quit active politics in its entirety.
He said it had always been his intention to step down following the 2011 council elections and said he had made the decision with his family.
The unexpected announcement has sparked rumours that other party members could also be ready to throw their hats in the ring ahead of the local and general elections next year.
In an exclusive interview with The Argus on Tuesday, when asked about the Green’s plan for the next four years he said he wanted to see “greater self discipline” and “unity” within the party, which has been plagued by division and controversy.
Councillor Kitcat went on to say he believes the public perception of the Green party is very different now compare to when the party first came to power.
He said: “First of all we were untested in power back then. We had balance of power in London but we had not been an administration.
“People have seen us in a different light. It has been testing, but they have seen we have delivered.
“People are coming up to me unprompted and thanking me for various things that have been done.“But if you are going to do things that make a difference, something worthwhile, then you are going to have a split of opinions.
“If no one had any opinion at all that would mean things are far worse, as it would mean they did not care.”
In a statement on his blog about his resignation, Councillor Kitcat said: “In 2010 as a family we agreed that, if re-selected for the 2011 council elections, this would be my last term on the council, and so it will be.
“It has been a huge honour and privilege to serve the residents of Regency ward since 2007. It’s a wonderful area to represent.
“To have been able to serve my second term as a councillor in administration, leading our city, has also been an immense honour.
“In dealing with the challenges we’ve faced, I’ve done all I can to contribute positively to our city for the benefit of all who live, work and visit here.
“I’m proud of what we’ve been able to achieve as a Green administration that I have led since 2012.
“However at this stage in my life I am ready for a new challenge.
“I won’t be pursuing active politics any longer but do want to continue public service in some way.
“I have no firm plans as yet and intend to continue in my current role until the council term ends as there is a lot still to do.
“This has been my decision, taken with my family.
“My passion for our city is undiminished and I wish all those involved with continuing to support our city’s wellbeing the very best.
“You have my support and admiration.”
When contacted by The Argus he declined to comment further.
The 35-year-old father of two will serve out his term as leader and ward councillor until the local and general elections on May 7 next year, when he will not run for re-election.The Green Party has praised Coun Kitcat’s tenure as leader saying he served with “determination over an extremely challenging period” and that the decision was a “private” one.
He was also called a “great leader” and the party wished him all the best.
Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion, said: “Jason has served Brighton and Hove’s council with great determination over an extremely challenging period.
“He has always sought the best for our city and worked extremely hard to that end. I wish him and his family well.”
Geoffrey Bowden, who represents the Queen’s Park ward, said: “I had not seen it coming but he is a very young man with a very young family – he has his whole life ahead of him.“Green members were informed of his decision before it was released to the media.
“It is obviously a very private decision to make. He is a very bright man and he ran a successful business which he put on hold before entering into public service.
“He has built up vast experience over the years as a ward councillor and I imagine it will serve him in good stead.
“He has made a tremendous contribution but the party carries on.
“He has been a great leader in very difficult times. If we had chosen to become the first green administration we would not have done it at a time when we inherited problems from the previous administrations and austerity measures from the coalition.
“He steered the party forward in these circumstances.“When people look back on the circumstances of his leadership they see what a good job he did.”
Pete West, St Peter's and North Laine ward, said: “Jason has offered his reasons and I think we should respect those.“His contribution to the council and the city has been magnificent and he will be sorely missed.”
Coun Kitcat faced a difficult time as convenor racked with controversies, strikes and even an attempted coup by his own party members.He survived an attempt by disgruntled Green party members to unseat him in May 2013.
The members failed to get the support to pass a motion to place Phelim Mac Cafferty, councillor for Brunswick and Adelaide, as the new leader.
Councillor Kitcat also endured calls made by political rivals for his resignation over the council tax rise referendum which would have cost £230,000, after the failed party proposal to increase rates by 4.75%, and over the summer bin strikes last year.
He was first elected as leader of the council in May 2012 - previously holding the position of Cabinet Member for Finance and Central Services.
He is the former chairman of the Brighton and Hove Green Party and was first elected to the city council in December 2007 – claiming victory in the Regency ward by-election.
Coun Kitcat, who is half French-Canadian, is a graduate of the University of Warwick in Computer Science and Management Science and he holds masters in Technology and Innovation Management.
He is married to fellow councillor Ania Kitcat and together they have a daughter and son.In reaction to Coun Kitcat’s announcement the Labour group has slammed the council as “paralysed by division”.
Warren Morgan, leader of the Labour and Co-operative Group on Brighton and Hove City Council, accused the council of no longer being able to face tough decisions and claimed other Greens will also follow Coun Kitcat in stepping down.
He said: “Whilst personally I wish Jason Kitcat well in whatever he does next, I would remind everyone that he is remaining in office for another ten months, with another budget and many more vital decisions to make.“We have a Green council paralysed by division, unable to face tough decisions and to do what's needed to protect essential services in the face of Conservative cuts.“I know that many other Green councillors are not seeking re-election, so their days as a political force in the city are numbered.“Labour will make a major policy announcement next week and over the coming months will set out why residents should look to us to restore trust in the council, get the basics right and focus on jobs, homes, schools and inequality in the city.
“The Greens will now head into next May's local elections without a leader, having been abandoned by most of their senior councillors and with their last remaining activists focussed on trying to save their only parliamentary seat.
“They have yet to select any council candidates – in contrast Labour has selected well over half, including both local community activists and respected city figures such as Martin Perry.
“Anyone who voted Green four years ago needs to look at the state of the party, their defeat in last year's by-election and their defeat in the recent European elections, and decide who it is they want to take on the Tories locally.
“The Greens are in meltdown and anyone who doesn't want to see a Tory victory locally or nationally next May should back their local Labour parliamentary and council candidates.
“Under Labour the streets were kept clean, homes were built and award winning projects like the Jubilee Library, now the second most popular in the country, got done.
“We will return some respect to the council and focus on what matters to residents.”
Geoffrey Theobald, leader of the Conservative group on Brighton and Hove City Council, said he was “not surprised” by the announcement and questioned whether he believed he would hold the Regency ward.
In a statement on his blog Graham Cox, conservative councillor for Westbourne ward, said: “On the whole I have found Jason good to work with. Maybe his inexperience meant he was too ready to be led by senior council officers on occasions.
“But he always gave me the impression of trying to do what he was right for the City – including over reforms to Cityclean, the i360, working with the Government on the City Deal and securing funds from the coalition for improvements to our transport infrastructure.“I suspect it was problems within his own Party that got to him in the end. He was always on the more sensible wing of the Green Party, and he was undermined from the beginning by a substantial minority in that Party who prefer revolution, protest and anarchy to working within the system to make things better.
“Jason recognised more than most that if the Green Party needed to move from being just a protest movement, but too many of his colleagues found themselves unable to cope with the responsibility of choosing between competing demands which inevitably comes with power.
“Whilst we will continue to call Jason Kitcat and his administration to account during their last year in office, the Conservative Group on the city council will also remain a responsible opposition - in stark contrast to the local Labour Party.
“Where we judge the minority Green Administration to be acting in the long term interests of the city, then they will have our support.”
Conservative Councillor Dawn Barnett said: “I am not particularly surprised.
“There had been rumours he was going and there could be as many as ten Green councillors going before the next election.
“I think it might be a case of them going before they are pushed at the polls.
“I think Jason has become badly disillusioned following the two attempts to remove him as leader.
“It makes me wonder whether they will be able to get all their candidates to stand in all the wards.
“The question now is whether Jason will have the energy, the drive and the motivation to lead over the next 11 months, will he push his party all the way through to the next election if he won’t be standing himself?”