Fear of a blue planet
As it turned out, my political pipedream was extinguished like the first canary down a particularly noxious mine. With it becoming clear at 8am that the Labour Party had tightened its hold on Greenwich, as the day and the following evening wore on, it emerged that Labour had also secured majorities on Lewisham and Southwark councils, and retained control in Lambeth. The great south London quartet, reunited under Labour once again.
All of this, of course, in sharp contrast to the national picture, with Gordon Brown delaying putting that call to the removal men as long as he possibly can. Well, actually, not that sharp a contrast – the clue came a few hundreds yard up the road from here, where Eltham constituency starts (how the hell did parts of Charlton become “Eltham”?). Labour’s Clive Efford fought off the challenge from David Gold, a Tory A-lister who looked like he’d just walked in off the telly, thanks to his reputation as a committed local MP, and a determined fight from local Labour activists which also saw the party take all three council seats in Kidbrooke with Hornfair. It was seats like Eltham which David Cameron needed to win to secure an outright majority, and it was seats like Eltham which mean he’s now having to do deals with the Liberal Democrats.
Gold blamed scaremongering from Labour, but he wasn’t above peddling his own kind of filth. If David Gold thinks this kind of crap is worthy of an election campaign in an area notorious for racial tension, then I hope he won’t ever be seen in Eltham again:
Across London, the fear of a blue planet was evident. I was sorry to see the five out of six Greens ousted in Lewisham – particularly Sue Luxton and Ute Michel in Ladywell, whose blog and work there inspired me to go on my own little journey to see if I could serve my own neighbours. Their Labour successors have a lot to live up to. It was an awful night for local Lib Dems too, who were wiped out in Greenwich and saw their dreams of taking over Lewisham council shattered. Last Monday, Nick Clegg addressed a healthy crowd on Blackheath and local Liberal Democrats were buzzing with excitement. That must feel like seven years ago now, never mind seven days ago, and I’m sorry for Max Calo, who I chatted with on the heath last week and I’m sure would have been an excellent councillor for Lewisham Central.
In all, Labour now controls 17 London boroughs – up from eight after 2006’s elections. The most brutal power surge was in Newham, where Labour won all 60 seats on the council. Bet their meetings must be lively. How much was down to the less-successful than anticipated Cameron campaign, how much was down to two years of a shambolic mayoral administration, and how much was down to Labour campaigning is something many will be chewing over.
The blue menace was used against our Green campaign in Peninsula ward, Labour knocked up some made-up graph which implied that a vote for any other party would let the Tories in. This was, let’s be honest here, a load of crap – the last Tory councillors in the east Greenwich/Charlton area were elected in 1968; the last Tory MP for Greenwich was returned to office in 1935.
Actually, Labour’s publicity in the council election was pretty shameless in its cynicism. The north end of Victoria Way, in Peninsula ward, was treated to this endorsement of the current council from a resident of a street in Charlton:
Indeed, Andrew Blundy knows a lot about Greenwich Labour’s achievements – he’s a senior figure in the party.
The southern end of Victoria Way, in Charlton ward, was lucky enough to get this view on Labour’s achievements in SE7:
A strange sense of deja vu here, don’t you think? Longstanding residents may even find Mr Marsh’s name rings a bell too – a Quentin Marsh was leader of Greenwich Council in 1990. How many people called Quentin Marsh can there be in one borough, eh? Serving councillors posed as “residents” in cheesy photos elsewhere. I understand some Greenwich Labour figures were upset when Adam Bienkov took them to task for their dodgy literature last year – not upset enough, however, to stop doing it.
One thing I did notice was that both Peninsula and Blackheath Westcombe wards received Labour literature with both dodgy graphs and maps detailing Labour “achievements” in the area. Charlton ward voters had neither a graph, nor a map of any achievements – because the party has achieved nothing there.
None of which, of course, changes the fact that Labour now has a tighter grip on Greenwich borough thanks to their general election windfall. But it illustrates the cynicism with which it treats the people it claims to serve, and the sense of entitlement which permeates the party. Being jeered by the council leader on Friday morning wasn’t exactly proof of a Labour group which is comfortable with the idea of being challenged. This doesn’t apply to them all, of course – standing against the hard-working and genuinely popular Mary Mills was an education for me, and made me feel a little like Mr Mean. But seeing the cynicism with which it approached the campaign, and hearing later of some of the worries the party had, made me realise it was worth the effort. I know there are people in Greenwich Labour who are uncomfortable with the approach it takes. Labour’s increased majority on the council now gives these decent people a bigger responsibility to speak up, and make their party act in a less oafish fashion.
There’s lots of people in Greenwich – and Lewisham, too – who will be completely baffled by the election result. On first sight, Greenwich council is denied new ideas and different thinking – the loss of Liberal Democrat councillors will be a blow – and looks set to continue in its directionless “shut up and be grateful” manner. But the election gives us a chance to scrutinise our elected representatives afresh. There’s a whole four years now for us to test their efforts in looking after our neighbourhoods, and to try to ensure they’re open about what they’re doing. And hopefully, contribute something to our local areas.
So, how about dropping your new councillors a line? Congratulate them on getting in, and ask them just what they’re going to do to improve your area. Once the dust has settled, I’m going to drop my Labour trio a line and ask what their plans are for the next year or so to make sure my neighbourhood is kept clean and safe. Because it’s anything but that at the moment. If we all do the same, perhaps some attention might be forced away from grand projects and onto the smaller things that Greenwich Council neglects.
After all, we’re all meant to be on the same side in wanting the best for our area, aren’t we?