Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts to quit

Breaking news: Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts is to stand down at next year’s election, he has told the borough’s councillors by email.

The leader will have been in the job for 14 years by the time of next May’s poll.

Roberts’ announcement, 15 months ahead of the election, will now spark a battle to succeed him among a Labour group certain to stay in power.

A controversial figure who acquired the nickname “Dear Leader” for his management style, Roberts saw the council through 2012’s Olympic year and has been closely associated with the borough’s major regeneration projects.

But projects like the ill-fated bid for a casino at the O2, and the current campaign to build a Silvertown Tunnel, also caused fury in the borough, with the latter being rejected by the Greenwich & Woolwich Labour Party.

Last year he survived a leadership challenge from cabinet member John Fahy.

4.30pm: Staggeringly pompous press announcement from the council, and his email to “partners”.

4.50pm: Roberts’ cabinet colleague Maureen O’Mara refuses to give a quote to the News Shopper, neatly illustrating the wide gulf between council and community that has built up under Roberts.

9.00pm: Curiously, none of the borough’s tweeting Labour councillors have said a word on Twitter about Roberts’ departure – again, a reminder of the “keep your heads down” culture within the group. One councillor has paid tribute, though – Tower Hamlets’ Labour group leader Joshua Peck says Roberts’ departure will be a “sad loss for Greenwich”.

But what will the leader’s next move be? It’s possible he could run for Parliament at the 2015 election – and his decision comes the week after the Tories’ attempt to redraw constituency boundaries failed. There’s a nearby vacancy already, as Lewisham Deptford MP Dame Joan Ruddock is already standing down, although frosty cross-borough relationships would make that unlikely. But is Roberts eyeing up Nick Raynsford’s Greenwich & Woolwich seat? Of course, there’s no suggestion that Raynsford, who’ll have had the seat for 23 years by then, is standing down. More pertinently, Greenwich.co.uk asked him about his ambitions in December. “It was suggested to me before the last election and I looked at it and I thought in all honesty I’d be bored,” he said.

Maybe a position with one of the firms which Roberts has worked closely with over the years might follow – but for a really off the wall idea, this tweet intrigued me…

Chris Roberts for London mayor in 2016? Stranger things have happened. Feel free to add your thoughts on today’s news below, tomorrow there’ll be some thoughts on life after the Dear Leader.

29 comments

  1. Steve

    This guys management style, IMHO, doesn’t seem to fit with the role- to lead a council into making sound decision in the interests of Greenwich tax payers.
    That said, I’m not going to list perceived failures/successes, but would hope that the new broom will make things right. We can but hope but its time for a change.

  2. Stewart

    I’m not that surprised and I expect we’ll have an announcement from Raynsford soon.

    When is the Greenwich & Woolwich selection due to start? I wonder if it will prove to have been a bad idea to get your local Labour Parties angry over the last few weeks.

  3. Boneyboy

    Large crowds are now gathering in General Gordon Sq for planned mass outpouring of sadness and grief.

  4. Paul Webbewood

    Well he’s done a Harold Wilson and taken everyone by surprise. The first thing to say is to wish him all the best for the future. He doesn’t explicitly say that he’s going to be standing down as a councillor but I presume the timing of the announcement means that he’s not putting his name forward to be a Labour candidate next year. I hope the longish period with a lame duck leader doesn’t cause problems for the Council.

    He’s announced his departure in a remarkably arrogant and preening way. Ironically some of his claims are quite right – the sound financial management and the improvement in school results in recent years – but why does he need to tell us that he intended to stand down in 2010? Is he implying that nobody else in the Labour Group was fit to lead the Council during 2012 or does he want us to think that he no longer enjoyed the job but sacrificed himself in the public interest a la Alistair Campbell? Pass the sick bag Maureen.

    My main criticism of his leadership is that he was always happier mixing with the high and mighty and talking about big projects,rather than listening to,local residents and getting the nuts and bolts of running the Council right. He once claimed to have been pivotal in bringing the Olympics to London and this head in the clouds mentality seems to have stopped him noticing the state of the Borough’s streets. His apparent wish to increase the Borough’s population by the maximum amount possible may be storing up problems for the future. He hasn’t always been a friend to Eltham when needed,. And the abuse of the Council’s newspaper leaves a sour taste. Indeed I rather think that today’s announcement should have come via the Labour Party rather than using Council resources But perhaps Chris thinks that they are one and the same thing.

    And he signs off with a false claim. It’s not right in any meaningful way to say that Greenwich Labour has outshone the London average in the last three elections.

    Labour % of vote

    1998 London 40.5 Greenwich 55.5
    2002 London 33.8 Greenwich 46.1
    2006 London 27.6 Greenwich 37.7
    2010 London 32.6 Greenwich 41.1

    http://data.london.gov.uk/documents/London-Borough-Council-Elections-2010.pdf

    So the first two times Chris Roberts led Labour into a council election the party’s share of the vote fell both locally and London-wide but the Greenwich performance was pretty close to the London average. In 2010 however the Labour vote share rose in both Greenwich and across London but in Greenwich the improvement was less marked elsewhere. In 1998, 2002 & 2006 the ratio of Labour % vote Greenwich: London was about 1.37:1 but in 2010 it fell to 1.26:1. So Labour members will hope that his departure stops the rot.

    I believe that long-serving Chief Executive Mary Ney will be 65 round about the time of the 2014 elections. The first job of a new Leader may be to find a new Chief Executive.

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  6. carolmbrown

    He should go. Greenwich need to be vocal about Lewisham Hospital A&E & ICU etc. It is the least we can expect. If he’s not well enough to speak up, I’m sorry. But he or someone else should. Resign now!

  7. Roy Tindle

    Creekside Forum, in Deptford, was one of the last vestiges of cooperation between Greenwich and Lewisham. A few years ago, a charrette was established along Deptford Creek and, as well as brining community groups and developers together, it was designed to bring in the two authorities.. During the early stages, Greenwich officers were involved but Chris Roberts instructed them to stop. The excuse given was that talking about planning matters to ordinary people only confuses them – a Roberts gem!

    Before the Olympics, I understand that there were internal rumours of an honour being awarded to our Dear Leader: for whatever reason this didn’t happen. Before him, Len Duval was elected to the Greater London Assembly and, before that, an earlier leader of the council, John Austin, was elected an MP. The opportunities and honours have not come. I don’t believe this has anything to do with health but a lot to do with resigning after the imagined boost to his name brought about by the Olympics. Add recent potential challenges to the leadership and he’s leaving on a high, imagined or not.

    So, what comes next? The same undemocratic style, I imagine: we elect councillors who, with no role in cabinet, take little part in policy making. The fury of Occupy, in it’s fight against the Corporation of the City of London is laughable when east on south east London have a chain of authorities controlled, to all intent and in each case, by a single person. Democracy? It evaporated years ago.

    Do we need a ‘No more Great Leaders campaign’ and, if so, how could it work?

  8. carolmbrown

    I have suggested (not asserted) that illness, a state with which I am unfortunately all too familiar, is the only possible reason for not speaking out. It probably is not the case her.e. In any event someone else should do it.

  9. Darryl

    Roy – interesting insights, thank you. I guess that explains why the Greenwich borough bit of Deptford has largely been surrendered to some rotten developments.

  10. Roy Tindle

    Deptford isn’t really owned by either borough, it’s out of sight of Woolwich and Catford. But, forgive me, what other kind of developments are there in the Royal Borough? A group of us are currently fighting the take over of Charlton Riverside, an area of Strategic Industrial Land, by, I imagine, Berkeley Homes.

    Prior to the cabinet meeting that approved the Master Plans, John Fahy emailed me to support the retention of local industry – and the employment of local people. I hadn’t contacted him. When he arrived at the open cabinet meeting, he failed to recognise me though we have known each other for years. When the vote, came he supported His Master’s Voice without question. That is the nature of the current system.

  11. John Fahy

    It is important to remember that a lot of discussion,debate and arguements ake lace in advance of public agendas beng published. Apologies to Roy for not engaging in a conversation,very remiss of me. The Asterpkans provide a direction of travel to enable the Council to meet its key objectives . I do recognise. And support the principle of retaining local companies in The Charlton Riverside area. However there are others who should not be there because they add limited value to the area. As one of the Councillors for the area I am happy to engage with those interested in the area as we do through other a forums in the area. Difficult times,difficult decisions.

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