“We need to fight for every vote” – An interview with the Labour Party
The local elections are just one day away and the Labour Party, who currently run the council, are hoping to win another four years in office and obtain a majority on the city council.
At the last election, the party was only five seats short of this and Daniel Yates, leader of the party in Brighton and current leader of the council, believes there is a real chance they can achieve this milestone.
“Labour is the only party across the city that’s standing a slate of candidates who actually stand a chance of taking majority control of the council and actually deliver on the manifesto,” he said.
“We have already close to a majority at the last election, so we only need to take a few seats. Over the course of the change from Miliband to Corbyn, we’ve seen a three-fold increase in our membership in the city, so we should reasonably be expecting that we have the opportunity to, if not a definite ability to, deliver on a majority council.”
Yates said that the Labour-led council has had a good track record in office, including increasing the recycling rate, building 200 new council homes and launching a bike share scheme, and the party wants the opportunity to achieve even more for the city in the next administration.
“I don’t think there will be a bin strike”
Labour during the campaign has highlighted its record on recycling, in particular in comparison with the previous Green administration, but acknowledges that more needs to be done.
“Labour has already shown itself to be the real ‘green party’. Under Labour, the recycling rate has gone up and it’s reached record levels, but record levels at 30 percent, nowhere near enough,” he said.
“So we’ve said we’ll introduce a food waste recycling scheme, increase the number of people that have been making the use of our green waste recycling scheme that we introduced, and also increase the number of recycling bins.”
He also praised the recycling service, saying that it has dealt well in the face of pressure during peak tourism times.
“For too long, people have complained about CityClean and said that the service is poor. Actually, it’s an incredibly reliable service, but at times it gets overwhelmed by the number of people and by the amount of rubbish and refuse.
“When you get 300,000 visitors turn up over the Easter bank holiday weekend, all wanting to leave kilos and kilos of additional rubbish in a tiny narrow strip right by the seafront, it is inevitable that services are going to be put under enormous pressure.
“However, I went for a walk along the prom on Bank Holiday Monday and I was shocked at how clean it was. The CityClean staff had been out working extra long hours doing extra deliveries, extra pick-ups to keep those bins empty, so that people didn’t have an excuse for throwing their rubbish all over the place.”
Although there is a threat of industrial action among workers, Yates thinks that a bin strike in the city will be avoided.
“I don’t think there will be a bin strike. I don’t think there will because I think, at the end of the day, the council has a commitment to working well with its trade unions. I think they [the workers] are incredibly frustrated at the moment with how things are working at CityClean. I think we can get through that.”
‘Right to buy back’
On affordable housing, Yates said there has been a more than ten-fold increase in the number of council homes delivered compared with the Green administration, and that Labour want to deliver a further 800 by 2023.
“That’s 800 families who can have somewhere to live. That’s 800 people who are sofa-surfing. That’s 800 people who are living on the streets that are unable to access any form of housing service who can start to get that step on the ladder,” he explained.
He added that, with the housing revenue cap being lifted by the government, allowing local councils to borrow to build new homes, he sees a big opportunity to build council homes to scale. However, the question, he says, is where.
“We don’t live in a post-industrial town with massive empty brownfield development sites all over the place, although there are some. Because land prices are high and property values are high, we face a fight with private developers to get access to some of those sites.”
He said that the Labour has been better at making use of surplus public land the council owns and making better use of the council’s investment properties, as well as introducing the ‘right to buy back’ for council homes – a policy that allows the council to buy back homes advertised for sale lost under Right to Buy.
Yates explained: “That’s the easiest way to get a council house again, to buy it back. They are council homes we know, we know the quality of their construction, we know the nature of how to run them well and usually they’re built on a council estate where we’re running lots of other houses in that area too, so they’re absolutely the right sort of houses for us to access.”
“People are living on a knife-edge”
Labour acknowledge that homelessness is one of the biggest issues facing the city and say that government policies on welfare and austerity have resulted in more people losing their properties and becoming homeless.
Yates said that, in the last four years, the party has been the first administration to have a lead councillor for homelessness, set up a strategy for homelessness and rough sleeping, and introduced the winter night shelter, which is soon to be rolled out year-wide.
However, he said that, to address the problem, more housing is needed.
“If there was enough housing out there, then we could really start to target the most difficult and most complex people who have the most complex needs around rough sleeping and be able to do that really successfully, but we’re facing this barrage of additional people who are being forced into homelessness as a result of seeing less security in their employment, less security through and changes in their welfare payments, and then the impact of landlords,” he explained.
“People are living on a knife edge and it only takes one bad thing to happen to cause them to tumble into homelessness and rough sleeping. It’s being caused by Tory austerity, it’s being caused by unscrupulous landlords, and it’s being caused by job insecurity, so it’s part of the economic uncertainty around Brexit.”
Establishing a fund to help community policing
Although many decisions for tackling crime are made by Sussex Police, Yates wants to see a Labour administration take more responsibility for protecting local communities.
“We can’t just stand back and allow Katy Bourne [Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex Police] to take all of the decisions about what happens and what affects our communities and their safety.”
He said that he believes that disinvestment in community policing by Bourne has had an impact on how safe and secure people feel in parts of the city.
“We’re going to establish a fund that helps support community policing and helps support community and neighbourhood safety around the city, completely outside the Sussex Police precept. We want to make sure we’ve got the right services being delivered for the people of Brighton and Hove.”
“There’s no place for hate speech in politics”
Last month, one of Labour’s candidates for Wish ward, was suspended from the party for making several tweets about conspiracy theories involving Israel and the Rothschilds, a family infamous for being the scapegoats of anti-semites and the far-right. Yates made it clear that there should be no tolerance for such views in political discourse.
“There’s no place for hate speech in politics, regardless of party. In the same way we need to address anti-semitism, we need to get rid of all forms of hate speech, because it’s not an intelligent or reasonable way to behave,” he said.
“Anti-semitism isn’t an acceptable form of discourse and what we need to do is we need to make sure that politicians are demonstrating the highest possible level of ethics and behaviours.”
“We need to fight for every vote”
Despite Yates’ belief that Labour can remain the largest party, he admits he is unsure what the result will be in most areas across the city.
“This is the most unpredictable set of local elections I’ve been involved in in 25 years in the Labour Party. I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen in 90 percent of the wards in the city.
“People’s confidence and engagement with politics on a national and local level is at an all-time low, so they’re not enthused. That means, with less people voting, smaller numbers of people changing their minds slightly makes a much bigger difference.”
Yates added: “I’m not at all ignorant of the fact that we need to fight for every vote. Just as easily as I might want Labour to be the largest party, the Tories and the Greens are both vying to be the largest party as well. I don’t think that’s likely but those are possibilities.
“The key thing is for everyone to get out and vote, however they vote. I would rather see 70 percent turnout than seven percent.”