It is all change once again at Brighton and Hove City Council but Ivor Gaber says it’s not entirely the politicians to blame on this occasion

IT IS very tempting to look at the comings and goings at Brighton and Hove council and sigh before adding “why can’t they stop squabbling and just do what’s best for the city”?

But believe me, it’s not that simple and – shock horror – it’s not even the politicians’ fault, or not entirely.

To understand why the council has lurched from control by one party and then another we

need to do a little historical digging.

Brighton and Hove councils were merged into a single authority in 1996 with Labour holding a stonking majority over the Conservatives of 54 seats to 22, a lead that Labour retained at the first elections of the new council in 1999.

That was the last time that any party ever had an overall majority.

Following a boundary review the council was reduced in size to 54 seats, which meant that a party needed to win 28 seats to have an absolute majority – but to date no party has achieved that.

So throughout this century the council has been run either by a Labour, Conservative or Green minority administration and that has forced all three, when governing, to be been dependent on the votes, or abstentions, of the two other parties in order to get, at least, some of their programmes through.


At least year’s election Labour hung on to power but with

just a one seat majority over the Greens.

But following the resignations and suspensions of three Labour councillors over allegations of anti-Semitism they lost their slim lead and had to allow the Greens back in the driving seat.

So although it’s nobody’s fault, Brighton and Hove was, is, and perhaps always will be, a hung council.

But the odd thing is that compared to other councils which have faced similar situations, the council has never been run by a coalition of two or even three parties.

And here’s a thing.

There could have been a coalition formed just a week or so ago.

For since the election last year, the Labour-led council had been working closely with the Greens; so when the party lost its lead, why wasn’t a Labour/Green coalition formed?

It was the obvious way forward and would have given the council stability and a leadership that could be guaranteed to get its programme through.

In the short term the answer is that not sufficient numbers of Labour and Green councillors were willing to agree to this.

But the longer-term answer is that this just represents a continuation of the tribal politics that have blighted Brighton and Hove politics for so long, particularly between Labour and the Greens... two parties that, based on their core beliefs, should be working closely together.

But maybe that’s slowly changing.

A recent campaign has been launched under the less-than-catchy title “Build, Back Better in Brighton and Hove”

But what the campaigners stand for might just catch on.

It’s trying to bring together people from across the city who have long been campaigning for equality and social justice.


They say that now the experience of living through the pandemic has given us all an insight into what life in a less polluted, more socially responsible city can feel like.

They talk about a “green recovery”.

In particular, they are calling on Green and Labour councillors to put aside old tribal loyalties and work together for the benefit of the city as a whole.

It’s a theme that seemed to be echoed by Labour’s outgoing council leader Nancy Platts

who, when she lost her majority last week, could have tried to

hang on to power but instead

said she was stepping down

for the good of the city and would work constructively with the Greens.

It was a sentiment that could also be seen in the remarks made to The Argus earlier this week by the new Green leader of the council Phelim Mac Cafferty and his deputy Hannah Clare.

So maybe, just maybe, after years of political paralysis we

could be seeing the

beginnings of a new spirit of co-operation in the city and on the council.

And if that’s the case, all of us in Brighton and Hove will be the winners.

Ivor Gaber is professor of political journalism at the University of Sussex and a former political correspondent at Westminster.