I have just moved back to Brighton, and I am happy to report that it remains as shambolic as ever. The estate agent said before opening the door to a prospective flat, ‘I’m obliged by law to tell you that the previous tenant was an alcoholic and died here.’ I replied, ‘I am not surprised and that is not a problem.’ No one who knows Brighton expects puritanism.
Unfortunately, we have grown to expect dreadful politics. Since 2010, both the MP and the council have gone Green, turning the town into a laboratory for their kooky ideas. Given that they are being called the Ukip of the left — an outsider party on the verge of an electoral breakthrough that could make them bigger than the Lib Dems — the Green experiment in Brighton ought to serve as a warning to the entire country.
There have been some silly gimmicks reminiscent of the 1980s loony left: a proposed ‘meat-free Monday’ in council-run staff canteens (reversed when the bin men demanded their bacon back), gender-neutral toilets, and allowing people to identify as Mr, Mrs or Mx on council forms (Mx means Mixter, meaning someone who doesn’t define as male or female — not to be confused with the MX, which was a nuclear missile in the Cold War). Many of their mistakes are due to naivety. Faced with cuts, council leader Jason Kitcat proposed a 4.75 per cent tax increase to be endorsed in a referendum. Labour called it a silly political stunt, as the cost of the vote — estimated at £900,000 — would itself plug many of the gaps. The idea was quashed.
Such is their incompetence that the Greens often hurt the very causes they push. While I was staggered to find that I might face a £50,000 fine if I put something plastic in the paper-only recycling bin outside my house, I was amused to discover that most people just ignore the warnings and dump away — with the result that Green Brighton now ranks 302nd out of 326 councils for its recycling record. The problem is a mix of poor information, a strange recycling collection programme open to abuse, and ceaseless disruptions to the service that mean people have given up trying to do ‘the right thing’.
Last year, the Greens failed to prevent a strike among bin men, with the result that Brighton underwent its very own winter of discontent. Gulls feasted amid the piled-high rubbish. Inevitably, some of the Greens sympathised with the oppressed refuse collectors and joined them on the picket line. There’s an intra-party split every 30 seconds among the eco-comrades.
This year the Greens worked in concert with the Conservatives to secure funding for an architectural monstrosity: a 574ft tower to be erected on the beach opposite Brighton’s burnt-out West Pier. It will be hideous. A giant up-yours to the landscape that would look audaciously phallic in Tokyo, it is totally out of place in a town where the buildings are no more than three storeys high. This particular act of cultural sabotage says a lot about the Green agenda. They aren’t interested in conserving what they inherit so much as transforming it to reflect their progressive ideology. Not for them the countryside of traditional farming and hunting, nor the ramshackle urbanity of Georgian Brighton. No — they dream of an integrated eco/bio/renewable future of steel and glass that will render the inefficient past obsolete. Why else have they welcomed the construction of a huge windfarm off the Sussex coast? Covering more than 60 square miles, the forest of offshore turbines will number over 100 and stand 700ft tall. The only upside is that they might kill all the gulls — leaving any uncollected rubbish to rot unmolested.
How did the Greens, with no real experience of governing, get the votes to do all this? It’s down partly to the collapse in traditional support for Labour post-Blair. But it’s also due to the migration of middle-class London liberals to the south coast, with its cheap houses and easy rail access. And in this regard, the Greens are indeed the inverted image of Ukip — and not only in the sense of being philosophical opposites. Where Ukip represents a revolt of natives against newcomers, the Greens represent a revolt of newcomers against natives. Old Brighton was a working-class seat that voted Conservative until 1997. The new Brighton is becoming a colony of Islington: it’s what the entire country would turn into if it were run by the people who bought Russell Brand’s new booky-wook. Trendy, yes. But they are impractical and very irritating.
This is an extract from this week’s magazine. Subscribe here.