A year ago, I wrote how Peninsula Square, the open space between North Greenwich station and the Dome, planned as “a buzzing, exciting place to visit”, had become a sorely disappointing spot – simply nothing more than a glorified holding pen for O2 Arena customers.
Twelve months on, and here was the scene as the opening ceremony of the 2014 World Cup got under way in Brazil. Directly below, people were passing through North Greenwich to watch the opening ceremony and the first match on screens large and small. But on a balmy June evening, all the big screen in Peninsula Square could muster were the same old crappy promos for the O2 Arena. What a waste.
Even the unfortunate Frank Dekker (remember him?) managed better on Olympics opening night with his ill-fated Peninsula Festival big screen. Oh well. In the meantime, Woolwich’s big screen might just be the place to head to (particularly for Iran v Nigeria on Monday and Ghana v Germany on Saturday 21st.)
PS. There won’t be any football there, but one open space in Greenwich is open for the community this weekend – the riverside garden at Ballast Quay, by the Cutty Sark pub.
The other week I found myself in Woolwich’s Marks & Spencer. An underpant crisis does that to a gentleman, you see. I stood for a minute, and looked around me. The shelves looked tatty. Wires hung down from the wall. The decor had barely changed since I was a kid, making 2014 fashion displays look like something out of 1974.
There couldn’t be many stores left with that proud, golden “MARKS & SPENCER” lettering on the front, I mused. Yet the main entrances had been locked up for years, presumably a last-ditch move against shoplifters. While down the road, Woolwich was shiny and new, here was the Woolwich that was still in decline. I must write about this some day, I thought, before remembering I had undercrackers to purchase. That’s the good thing about an M&S outlet shop – cheap pants.
But I’m going to have to go somewhere else for my discount drawers now, because Woolwich’s century-old M&S is for the chop. And it’s the first big headache for Greenwich Council’s leader-elect Denise Hyland, deputy-elect John Fahy, and regeneration cabinet member-elect Danny Thorpe.
They aren’t alone. Down in Gravesend, the council’s furious at the loss of their M&S. Up, way up in Redcar, the council’s planning talks – as is Greenwich. And with good reason. In South Shields, they say even charity shops are being hit by the loss of their store.
“[They] clearly have a lack of commercial judgement,” fumed John Fahy. But let’s be honest here – that M&S has looked doomed since the day it became an outlet store over a decade ago, when the main doors were bolted shut and the wires started hanging down from the ceiling. And the steel frame of the new Charlton M&S has started to emerge in recent weeks, ahead of its opening late next year. Did the arrival of Tesco bang the final nail in the coffin of M&S Woolwich? It’s a moot point after decades of decline.
But just as the national economic recovery is only being felt in a few places, Woolwich’s own re-emergence isn’t all that clear to all either.
Yup, shiny new-ish Tesco (tick), some coffee bars (tick), nice square that everyone likes (tick), but then the rest of it’s all behind the brick walls of the Arsenal. While Wellington Street, between the town hall and the council HQ, is immaculate and bedecked in “ROYAL GREENWICH” propaganda banners; Powis Street and Hare Street look as miserable as ever. If you had a choice, why would you do your shopping there?
And frankly, who’s left to do their shopping there? Big employers have moved out of Woolwich in recent decades and haven’t been replaced. Right opposite M&S on Thomas Street is the Island Site, once home to Thames Polytechnic/Greenwich University, now let out to small colleges. Over the road was Morgan-Grampian Publishing, whose offices are now flats. In the 1960s, according to the Survey of London, Woolwich’s M&S carried lines you’d usually only find in the West End. Today, there aren’t enough people around during the day to even buy heavily-discounted pants.
What to do? A council can’t work miracles, and you can’t force a business to stay, particularly one with shareholders to please. But it’s clear M&S hasn’t got much confidence in a real upturn in Woolwich’s fortunes, and judging by the state of the store, it probably hasn’t done for years. There are no easy answers, but one sign of what’s going wrong in Woolwich was in Greenwich Council’s weekly newspaper last week…
The outgoing Dear Leader’s still in charge until Wednesday, so here’s Chris Roberts bigging up a plan for a “cultural quarter” behind the Royal Arsenal brick wall, without mentioning it’s an attempt to replace the ailing Firepower military museum.
Yet who’ll really benefit from this scheme? Roberts’ mates at Berkeley Homes, of course, who own the residential land surrounding the Firepower site. While Powis Street and Hare Street continue to decay, the council is still at Berkeley’s service.
Even more bafflingly, the “cultural quarter” plans seem at odds with the council’s own Woolwich masterplan, which envisage another cultural quarter, this time opposite the current M&S store.
Stroll along Polytechnic Street and you’ll find the neglected and empty-looking original Woolwich Polytechnic building, with intricate decorations around the windows; a mysterious “town hall annexe” which has seen better days, the original Woolwich swimming baths, and the crumbling first town hall from 1842. It’s a ghost street right in the heart of Woolwich.
Yet nothing’s happening to bring this back to life – indeed, the Woolwich Grand Theatre looks set to be replaced by flats. Fill this block with creative businesses, as promised in the masterplan, and you’d at least generate some daytime trade in Woolwich that had some money to spend.
But instead, Greenwich Council remains focused on pleasing Berkeley Homes above any other business, and while that continues, it’s hard to see the rest of Woolwich really getting much of a look-in.
Once Chris Roberts leaves on Wednesday, maybe the new leadership might change tack and look at ways to make sure the effects of Woolwich’s revamp are felt more evenly. At a hustings event for Woolwich Riverside ward, Labour’s Jackie Smith even suggested the wall surrounding the Arsenal come down – “if it happened in Berlin, it can happen in Woolwich”. It’s time to talk and find new ideas for Woolwich, instead of the old approach of painting over locals’ views.
And maybe for that Arsenal “cultural quarter”… what about a nice new M&S outlet store? Otherwise, I’m going to have to start stocking up on cut-price undercrackers very soon…
8.05am update: John Fahy has written to M&S: “The alternative to this proposal should be to dispense with the Outlet brand,restore the M&S brand and extend the Simply Food floor space.”
Election counts are funny events. While the overall result was never in doubt, there were enough mini-dramas to make spending most of Friday in a hall at Woolwich’s Waterfront leisure centre a strangely compelling experience. Maybe it’s the hypnosis that kicks in after staring at ballot papers being counted.
Anyway, enough waffle. Here are the headlines:
- Labour tightened its grip on Greenwich Council after taking three seats from the Tories, giving them 43 councillors to the Conservatives’ eight.
- Tory deputy leader Nigel Fletcher was the night’s biggest scalp, losing his Eltham North seat to Labour along with fellow Conservative Adam Thomas. Their leader Spencer Drury clung on, but Labour’s Linda Bird and Wynn Davies surged ahead of their rivals, both finishing less than 30 votes behind Drury.
- Labour also nicked a seat from the Tories in Blackheath Westcombe ward, with Cherry Parker and Paul Morrissey topping the poll. Veteran Tory Geoff Brighty held on, edging out Labour rival Damien Welfare.
- But the Tories held off surging Labour and Ukip votes in Eltham South and Coldharbour & New Eltham to retain all their councillors there.
- Strong Ukip votes wrecked Tory polling in many wards in the south and east of the borough – coming second in five wards – but early fears that they would eat into Labour votes in Abbey Wood and Eltham West weren’t realised.
- But in the north and west, it was the Greens who picked up votes, notably in Greenwich West where Robin Stott polled a party record 1,108 votes. They also came second in five wards, beating the Liberal Democrats in all 17 wards, mostly comfortably.
- The Lib Dem vote collapsed completely, with their strongest vote being just 557 votes in Greenwich West, a target for them in 2010. Former councillor Paul Webbewood slumped to just 273 votes in Middle Park & Sutcliffe, behind the British National Party.
- Full results are on the Greenwich Council website.
For the next four years, all that really matters is the bit in bold. Labour won, eating away at traditionally Tory Eltham. The urban/suburban divide in Greenwich borough used to be expressed by where voted Labour and where voted Conservative. Now Labour have snuck deeper into Eltham, the great divide is now summed up by where the Greens came second, and where Ukip ended as runners-up.
The count took up two big sports halls at the Waterfront. The heroes were the counters, all given Royal Borough of Greenwich bags and sugary sweets to see them through the long day. Polling boss Stephen O’Hare prowled around with a smile on his face – his team toils for years building up to days like this. You have to admire the skills involved in putting all this together.
It was Christmas Day for polling geeks, and there were lots of presents to unwrap. The counters had to sort the yellow ballot papers out (did you spot the little Cutty Sark on them?) and flatten them – and make sure the white European ballots were packed away for their separate count on Sunday. This alone took two or three hours. Only then could the counting actually start.
And they did this while being watched by candidates and party helpers. Some sat back, relaxed and good-natured, like Labour’s Don Austen, poised as if he was soaking up summer sun. Some manage to do it in the creepiest possible fashion – like the one bent right over one desk, showing off rather too much of his backside. If he’d hung around, one of the Greens could have parked her bike there. (Lib Dem veteran Bonnie Soanes later told me he always wears braces to election counts to prevent this.)
There were more intriguing sights. The perfect Judas kiss, as one politician got a smacker on the cheek from a same-party rival suspected of a stitch-up operation. The grandest of Greenwich politics’ grand fromages, Nick Raynsford, greeting all with a statesman-like smile. Labour councillor Clive Mardner, also beaming away, brought his mum along to take a look.
And there was the camaraderie across party lines, as rivals talked, gossiped and joked after a stressful battle – a lot more unites than divides after the polls have shut, and after all, it’s the ones who wear the same rosette as you who are more likely to stab you in the back. There were two groups who weren’t really chatting, though – one was Ukip, the other the clique around outgoing leader Chris Roberts.
There’s an old joke about weighing the Labour vote. But despite the thumping win, that wasn’t strictly true – it was all about the split votes. And there were a huge number of them – far higher than in previous elections, experienced campaigners told me. These told as much of a story as the big piles of Labour votes that emerged later.
You get three votes for council elections, but many Greenwich votes stubbornly decided to pick and choose rather than vote on party lines, or only voted for one or two candidates. Some splits were logical – Labour/Green, or Tory/Ukip. A telling number went for logic-defying protest split of Green/Ukip. Green candidate Dave Sharman, a peace-loving Quaker, wore a look of saintly bemusement after being told one voter had picked him, Ukip and the BNP. Another voter planted three Xs in the box for another Green candidate – a misunderstanding or a declaration of love?
While the splits tell a story, they can also be misleading – they have to be separately counted, which is painstakingly done by ticking off candidates’ names on a grid. A large number of Ukip ticks led to a small flurry of excitement over Abbey Wood ward. A larger number of ticks led to real worries in Eltham West – local MP Clive Efford watching with concern for chief whip Ray Walker, one of Roberts’ henchmen.
But in the end, Labour sailed through, although many in his party would have been quietly pleased to see the back of Walker, who once accused victims of bullying in the party of being bandwagon- jumpers. That said, when the Eltham West result was announced, it was like a fog had lifted from the hall. Another early panic saw Labour’s Chris Lloyd display a look of mild terror at a pile of Green votes. By the time the Greens turned up to take a look, though, Labour were comfortably ahead.
Then there were the spoiled ballots. “There’s a cock and balls on that one!,” giggled one Labour candidate. “There’s one in Charlton that just says ‘cunts’ all down the paper,” mused a Labour helper. I saw one where the voter put a cross next to everybody. We all agreed it was better that people spoiled their papers than stayed at home – but heaven knows what the counters made of the genitalia and profanities.
When counting got under way, the looks on candidates’ faces, lined up in front of the counters, seemed to resemble the old Fry’s “five boys” advertisement – anticipation, desperation, concern, despair and elation. “Someone needs to give Matt Clare a hug,” an observer said as the Eltham South Tory looked more and more concerned.
Outside the Waterfront, the smokers turned a stretch of pavement on Woolwich High Street into Greenwich borough’s premier political salon. “I’m staying detached,” said Nigel Fletcher, puffing away and reflecting on what was to come.
Back inside, Tory chief Spencer Drury looked increasingly like a man who’d been up all night playing poker and was left with only his car keys to throw onto the table. Around lunchtime, the rosette-wearing Tories had a little pow-wow under a tree in Powis Street. Heaven knows what Woolwich’s shoppers, swimmers and winos made of the sight.
The day went on. The process started at 9am, yet it was nearly 5pm before the first seats were announced. One Labour candidate’s mum kept texting her to ask if she’d won. Not yet, not yet… big crowds built up around the Eltham counting desks. Shooters Hill’s Lib Dem Stewart Christie gave up watching his results, laughing: “I’m going to finish a very strong 9th.”
But despite the curse of being saddled with the toxic Lib Dem badge, and a local party imploding after the resignation of its leader, he made an impact beyond the ballot box, and found himself in an animated chat with Labour’s Denise Hyland about the Gallions Reach Bridge. Stewart’s campaigning will certainly go on. His Charlton colleague Paul Chapman, a complete newcomer, looks set to stay active in some form or other. I couldn’t help wondering if the Charlton Labour party were eyeing him up as a possible recruit…
Someone else who seemed to have caught the campaigning bug was the Greens’ Jo Lawbuary, bouncing with excitement when she heard boyfriend Purnendu Roy came second in unfancied Woolwich Common. She didn’t do too badly herself, beating the Tories and Lib Dems in Plumstead.
But while the Greens were proud of their second-place finish in Peninsula, one experienced Labour figure suggested it was a bit of a damp squib – they were still a good 900-1,150 votes behind Labour (789, 757 and 665 to Labour’s 1,926, 1,771 and 1,614). The lesson for the Greens should be to kick on and just carry on campaigning locally. Perhaps with people like Jo on board and a general election next year, they might do that this time.
As the results went on, the emotional contrasts became sharper. Blackheath Westcombe Labour victor Cherry Parker‘s smile was matched by Tory opponent Thomas Turrell‘s resigned laugh. He’d had a rough day, but at least he played his part in the election.
And in a borough like Greenwich, taking part really is what counts. In next-door Charlton ward, the Tories seemed to conduct a fantasy campaign from behind a keyboard, meting out the odd tweet without even revealing who was behind the account, yet declining to even appear at a hustings or come along to the count. They rightly finished well down the ballot, and then quietly deleted their Twitter account.
There were big cheers for Labour’s win in Eltham North, but widespread sympathy for popular Nigel Fletcher. A genuinely nice guy who can do an unnervingly accurate impression of William Hague (his criticism of the Daily Mail’s campaign against Ed Miliband went viral last year), he’s a keen student of the way opposition politicians conduct themselves, but he’d had a harsh practical lesson. Even Chris Roberts popped by to pass on his condolences.
Nerves were fraying among the Tories, but in the cold light of day, perhaps they panicked a bit too much. John Hills, Mandy Brinkhurst and Matt Hartley held onto Coldharbour & New Eltham. This kind of working-class Tory vote could have been stolen by Labour or Ukip – and had been not so far away (Lewisham’s Grove Park ward falling to Labour, Bexley’s Blackfen & Lamorbey losing one to Ukip – the losing Tory there being Brinkhurst’s son, Chris Taylor). But the Conservatives dug in, and held on – in its own way, a stunning victory when judged against other London boroughs.
The clock ticked towards eight, and there was a delay as a few missing ballot papers for the final ward, Eltham South, were tracked down. A fog seemed to fall again as whispers indicated a three-way split between the Tories, Labour and Ukip. But again, the Tories held on, with both Labour and Ukip less than 100 behind, and despite disgrunted ex-Tory Eileen Glover scoring 440 votes.
Finally, Matt Clare could relax. And while it’s no comfort to Adam Thomas or Nigel Fletcher, the resillience of the Eltham Tories is striking. Stung by their losses, they could have turned on their leader Spencer Drury. Yet the Tories seem to have weathered the storm, and on Saturday they re-elected him as their leader.
More importantly for the borough’s immediate future, there’s an intriguing question over whether Labour should have gained more seats in Greenwich.
Would a Labour party that was more more willing to listen and more capable of dealing with criticism have done better? After all, the more open and consensual administration in Lewisham, with a track record of campaigning on local issues, even surged into suburban Grove Park on its way to a near-wipeout. Greenwich Labour, which had little local narrative beyond aping the Tories’ council tax freeze, couldn’t get past Eltham High Street.
One of the keenest criticisms of Chris Roberts’ administration was that it deliberately focused on the big three town centres and ignored smaller local centres. The Coldharbour & New Eltham Tory campaign focused on the state of The Mound, a small shopping parade off Mottingham’s William Barefoot Drive. If Chris Roberts’ administration had dealt with issues there earlier, could that have generated the extra votes to propel Labour’s Sandra Bauer or Rob Carr past Matt Hartley? But it didn’t, so the Tories won.
More pertinently, did Roberts and Maureen O’Mara’s pavement tax deny Simon Christie the 68 extra votes to nudge him ahead of Tories’ Nuala Geary in Eltham South, which includes part of the high street?
Labour across London had a superb night - but the Roberts regime’s chronic inability to listen to people acted as a brake on the party’s success in Greenwich.
But now Roberts has sailed off into the past on his royal barge. There are 13 shiny new Labour councillors, and one returning councillor (Woolwich Common’s David Gardner). Some elements of their jobs will be tough – such as dealing with the fallout from further Government cutbacks.
But hopefully they’ll be allowed to bring new ideas to the table – and most importantly, be allowed to express those new ideas. Can they deliver a fresh start? Good luck to them – I’ll be watching with fingers crossed.
The Government has stepped in to halt the outline planning permission for a new Ikea in east Greenwich after complaints from local protesters.
Greenwich Council gave outline permission for Ikea to build a store on the site of the “eco-friendly” Sainsbury’s store in Peartree Way earlier this year, with planning officers ignoring concerns about increased traffic and air pollution, a decision later backed by London mayor Boris Johnson.
The five Labour members on the planning board – including council leader Chris Roberts, chief whip Ray Walker and regeneration member Denise Hyland – backed the scheme, with two Conservatives voting against.
This was despite every speaker at the planning board meeting – including local outgoing Labour councillors Mary Mills and Alex Grant – voicing objections to the scheme.
Since then, a local campaign has sprung up, gathering cross-party support to call for the decision to be overturned and handed to a public inquiry.
Now Pickles has issued a directive telling Greenwich Council to put final approval on hold while he reviews Greenwich’s process.
Government policy is not to interfere on local matters, so for Pickles to overturn the decision, campaigners have to show that the Ikea decision is of more than local importance.
There’s no timescale for the decision, but those who want to make a representation to Pickles on the issue can email Muredach Diamond at the Department for Communities and Local Government: muredach.diamond[at]communities.gsi.gov.uk, quoting reference NPCU/RTI/E5330/73828.
Separately, English Heritage is considering an application to list the 1999 Sainsbury’s store that’s already on the site, which was lauded at the time for its ecologically-friendly innovations. Work has already started on a replacement store half a mile away in Charlton.
Update 9pm: I’m told by that an Ikea representative was meant to attend a meeting of residents in Greenwich Millennium Village on Wednesday evening, but failed to show.
His former colleagues may have been tramping the streets in search of votes in today’s poll, but Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts decided to end his 14 years in charge in lavish style on Tuesday – with a cruise along the Thames on a royal barge.
Roberts and chums set off from St Katherine Docks on The Queen’s Row Barge Gloriana, which was the lead vessel in 2012’s diamond jubilee pageant.
The Gloriana’s Facebook page describes the event as “The Royal Borough of Greenwich Row”, and was crewed by rowers from the Curlew and Globe rowing clubs, both based in Greenwich.
“Crews from Globe RC & Curlew RC rowed QRB from St. Katherine Docks through central London with Cllr Roberts and his guests on board celebrating his 14 years as Leader of the Greenwich Council – a splendid evening on the River Thames,” the Facebook page reads.
It’s not known who paid for the send-off (the council didn’t) although the barge was built as a tribute to the monarch by Roberts’ friend, Conservative peer Lord Sterling, the former chair of Royal Museums Greenwich. Sterling played a major role in obtaining royal borough status for Greenwich, which took effect in 2012.
While Roberts found time to mess around on the river, he didn’t find time last week to attend his last public commitment as council leader – to explain why he stepped down as director of the council-run company Meridian Home Start, days before quitting as a councillor. He went onto appointing his own successors to Meridian Home Start, including cabinet member Steve Offord.
Labour councillors objected to plans which would have converted the company to an industrial and provident society – similar to Greenwich Leisure Limited – complaining the council would no longer be able to scrutinise its activities, and that it would have effectively provided Roberts or one of his associates with a job for life.
It was even mooted that MHS, originally designed to provide intermediate-level housing, could take on the council’s entire housing stock, and even take the tender for the council’s Cleansweep street cleaning service.
Conservative councillors Spencer Drury and Nigel Fletcher “called in” the decision to appoint the new directors, but Roberts failed to show, leaving chief executive Mary Ney to answer questions – or not answer them, as Fletcher tweeted:
So the Dear Leader has been rowed off into the sunset – and the polling stations have just opened for today’s council election. Will the new council be any more open than Roberts’ administration? Your vote will help decide – use it wisely.
Thursday 7.40pm update: A new picture has emerged on Twitter which (just about) shows Greenwich Council chief executive Mary Ney on the barge (see left), and Roberts’ deputy Peter Brooks (centre), parachuted into the outgoing leader’s Glyndon seat after his sudden decision to resign. Brooks is competing against John Fahy in the contest to be deputy leader in the new administration.
One thing’s clear about this Thursday’s council elections – Labour will gallop to victory again. It’s 50 years since the first elections for the London Borough of Greenwich, and Labour has won all but one poll, in 1968, when a stunning London-wide landslide saw it fall to the Conservatives. Business as usual resumed in 1971, and there’s no reason to expect Thursday’s 14th election to be any different.
Most of the action’s going to take place in wards in Eltham, New Eltham and Mottingham, away from this website’s usual north-of-the-borough focus.
One factor which could affect the result will be the European Parliament election taking place the same day, and the near-blanket coverage given to the UK Independence Party and its leader Nigel Farage.
To a smaller extent, the same could be said for the Greens, who should benefit from Euro coverage too. But with Farage barely off our screens for what’s felt like months, it’s Ukip who have the potential to wreak havoc at the local polls too – despite the unpleasant views of many of their candidates.
The London Communications Agency predicts the hard-right party will return up to 50 councillors across the capital – will any of them come in Greenwich?
Greenwich borough’s comprised of 17 wards, which elect three councillors each. Ukip is standing a single councillor in 13 wards – a 14th candidate, in Glyndon ward, failed to get enough nominations in time.
Standing a single candidate means the Faragists can quietly hoover up protest votes from across the political spectrum. So where in the borough is the party’s support strongest?
According to the breakdown of votes from 2012’s London mayoral and assembly elections, Eltham North is Ukip’s happiest hunting ground, scoring 279 votes in the poll for the London-wide member, against 1,385 for the Tories and 1,172 for Labour, and beating the Greens (261), BNP (172) and Lib Dems (159).
I’ve picked this vote as it’s a straight party poll, not distorted by mayoral personalities or Ukip’s accidental rebranding in the mayoral poll (due to a party cock-up) as “Fresh Choice for London”.
Eltham North is represented by Tory leader Spencer Drury and his deputy Nigel Fletcher. The Tories have a slim-ish majority over Labour of 379 – if they lose a chunk of their votes to Ukip, Labour could benefit.
Of course, this theory depends on you believing that Ukip will hoover up disgruntled Tory votes rather than Labour ones. Considering Ukip’s manifesto looks like a Sun editorial from 1983, I suspect they will pick up votes from the right rather than the centre – risking a high-profile scalp for the Labour party. The local Tories agree, and are worried about what the rise of Ukip will mean for their embattled Eltham enclaves.
Ukip are also strong in Coldharbour & New Eltham, in the far south of the borough, where Labour were 353 votes to claiming a scalp in 2010. In 2012, Ukip polled 248 votes here, coming third to the Tories on 1,104 and Labour on 794. Ex-Tory candidate Peter Whittle is standing for Ukip there.
But it’s Eltham South where the Tories could face a horrific squeeze, with similiar levels of Ukip support and rejected councillor Eileen Glover standing against her old party colleagues as an independent. 2012’s assembly vote had the Tories just 240 votes ahead of Labour, which could well come through the middle to seize power.
Greenwich borough’s other strong ward for Ukip, according to the 2012 data, is Abbey Wood, home seat of mayoral contender Denise Hyland.
Don’t be surprised if Ukip beat the Tories out in the east, while the party is also campaigning in the Labour stronghold of Eltham West – which could be vulnerable now the Ferrier Estate has gone.
Why does all this matter? Well, just what shape Greenwich’s next Labour council will take could well be determined by how big Labour’s majority is on the council. An increase in Labour’s 29-seat majority will be seen as vindication of how Chris Roberts did things – and will strengthen the hand of his preferred successor, Denise Hyland. A decrease will show discontent with the Dear Leader’s style – and will give strength to Jackie Smith’s case for taking over.
So it’s well worth keeping on eye on Eltham on Thursday. Of course, if Ukip can grab Labour votes as well, they could even take a seat or two – council elections can be prone to wild fluctuations, although Greenwich seats have been relatively stable. Whether Ukip really want a miserable life as a minor party in the Greenwich Council chamber, with one or two powerless councillors, is another matter, mind. But what of the others?
LABOUR. Seats in 2010: 40/51. Current seats: 39/51. Candidates: 51/51 (See manifesto)
Nobody really knows what Labour party will take charge in Greenwich after 22 May. Will it be the Berkeley Homes Party, guided by the demands of developers, hammering home a heady mix of regeneration schemes, tall ships and road-building? Or will it be something closer to the community politics espoused by the likes of John Fahy and Blackheath Westcombe candidate Cherry Parker? Nobody knows.
Rivals complain that Labour is fighting on national policies rather than its local record. Indeed, my local Charlton Labour Twitter feed has told me nothing about the council’s record – although I now know Terry the local ward organiser’s phone number, should I fancy a spot of canvassing. (Hello, Terry.) That said, this election has seen the first manifesto emerge for eight years – the 2010 version was never published in public – but without the launches seen in other boroughs.
This poll has even seen Labour candidates disown the Labour council’s own policies – Woolwich Common candidate David Gardner claiming that building the Silvertown Tunnel was “not a Greenwich Labour policy”, despite three Labour councillors and a Labour MP launching a campaign to get it built.
The current manifesto position, which I understand was bitterly fought over, merely says “we will consider our position further based on our view of the economic and environmental impact assessments” – leaving plenty of wriggle room. Will a Greenwich Labour council trust a Tory mayor’s assessments, which has been the position so far? “Bridge The Gap is dead,” one Labour insider told me – but what if Denise Hyland takes over?
There are many good candidates standing for Labour – but will there be enough of them to force change? A vote for Labour on Thursday would certainly be a leap of faith.
Wards to watch: Blackheath Westcombe, the Eltham seats.
New candidates to watch: Peninsula ward candidates Stephen Brain and Chris Lloyd, telling voters they’ll fight Silvertown; ambitious Woolwich Common candidate and IT systems analyst Ambreen Hisbani, closely connected to the current leadership (oddly, her Portuguese husband Rui Dias lurks on Twitter watching critics from a locked account); heavyweight Blackheath Westcombe trio Paul Morrissey, Damien Welfare and Cherry Parker, locked in street-to-street combat with the Tories; Shooters Hill’s Chris Kirby and Sarah Merrill, involved in a bad-tempered fight with Lib Dems.
CONSERVATIVES. Seats in 2010: 11/51. Seats now: 10/51. Candidates: 51/51 (Read the manifesto.)
If Labour are riddled with splits and in-fighting, the Tories have their own problems too – the rejection of Eltham South councillor Eileen Glover by her local party triggered her to stand as an independent and colleague Neil Dickinson to quit. Marginal seats such as Kidbrooke with Hornfair lie neglected as the Tories fight to shore up what they’ve got, and possibly nick an extra seat in Blackheath Westcombe, where Labour won’t benefit from long-standing councillor Alex Grant’s personal vote. But their majority over Labour in Blackheath Westcombe is just 22 votes – so this could go any way.
As detailed above, there’s a real fear that Ukip could wreck the party’s Eltham heartland. Blackheath aside, the party’s long been a spent force north of the Shooters Hill Road, although judging by Peninsula ward candidate Harry Methley’s Twitter feed, the party’s giving east Greenwich another shot.
While Harry’s unlikely to be a councillor come Friday, the party’s results both here and in Woolwich Riverside will be interesting – will plush new riverside developments give the Tories a boost?
Wards to watch: Blackheath Westcombe, Eltham North, Eltham South, Coldharbour & New Eltham.
New candidates to watch: Blackheath Westcombe’s Thomas Turrell seems to have had an effect in winding up the local Labour establishment, while local credit union trustee Matt Hartley is bound to be a prominent figure if he is elected in Coldhardbour & New Eltham.
Ex-candidates to watch: Eileen Glover in Eltham South. Can she unseat her old colleagues?
LIBERAL DEMOCRATS. Seats in 2010: 0/51. Candidates: 40/51 (Read the manifesto.)
Currently ranked just below leprosy in the national polls, with every utterance from Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander making their lives harder, the local Lib Dems’ coalition pains were compounded when Greenwich party boss Chris Smith quit just weeks before the poll.
All this upheaval has seen the Lib Dems slip to just 40 candidates this time around, with Labour activists claiming that the party’s old power base in Middle Park & Sutcliffe lies neglected.
So all the action’s taking place up on Shooters Hill, where candidate Stewart Christie (who is also involved with No to Silvertown Tunnel, as are volunteers from Labour and the Greens) has mounted a campaign focusing squarely on Greenwich Council’s support for the Thames Gateway Bridge, which is likely to put Oxleas Woods and Woodlands Farm under threat once again as TfL seeks to link the bridge to the A2.
The result’s been a bad-tempered fight over the seat, best summed up by this Twitter exchange on Saturday, after Shooters Hill’s Labour candidates spotted Christie rummaging in his boot…
The “Undateables” tweet, probably the best gag of the election, was deleted by Charlton candidate Paul Chapman after one respondent complained it was cruel to use others’ physical appearance for humour.
Chapman’s online output’s been worth following, though – a change from the usual party tweets aimed solely at the already-converted. I hope he stays contributing to the local debate once the poll’s done and dusted.
Ward to watch: Shooters Hill.
GREENS. Seats in 2010: 0/51. Candidates: 19/51 (Policy page / London council manifesto.)
I should, of course, state that I stood for the Greens in Peninsula ward in 2010. I’m no longer a member of the party, though the Greens are targeting Peninsula once again.
In March, five Labour councillors handed the Greenwich Greens a publicity gift by giving Ikea outline planning permission to build a store right in the heart of the ward – but have they been able to capitalise on this?
The Greens’ performance to beat came in 2006, when candidate Lucy Early came 250 votes behind Chris Roberts in the ward, terrifying the Dear Leader into creating a nonsense “Greener Greenwich” portfolio on his cabinet. Bad feeling over Ikea and Silvertown, plus an uplift from the European election, could give them every chance of matching that, despite limited resources.
Their biggest problem tends to be in communication – after I complained about their local tweets being full of waffle, I had the novel experience of being told by the Twitter feed that I set up that once I understood “economic story told by media is a fallacy… you may want to vote Green”. The Ikea issue seems to have given them some much-needed local focus – and they’re the only ones publicly raising it.
Peninsula was the Greens’ third-strongest performing seat in the 2012 assembly vote, after Blackheath Westcombe and Greenwich West, with Charlton coming fourth. They comfortably beat the Lib Dems in most Greenwich wards then – so this could be a pivotal election for them, if the Lib Dems really are on a death spiral.
Beyond Peninsula, the party’s fielding one candidate per ward – of these, Trevor Allman, a one-time Labour councillor from the 1980s, has a big personal following in Blackheath Westcombe. He’s cheerfully off-message, even admitting not voting for the Greens’ local London Assembly candidate two years ago.
Wards to watch: Peninsula, Blackheath Westcombe, Greenwich West.
And elsewhere… Greenwich’s neighbouring boroughs are also likely to also stay the same.
Over in Bexley - very much the Tory Shelbyville to Greenwich’s Springfield – the Tories are assured of victory, though Ukip will be a big threat and could gain seats. At least Labour here has a sense of humour, standing three candidates called O’Neill against council leader Teresa O’Neill in Bexleyheath’s Brampton ward. One to watch here will be three independent candidates standing under an anti-corruption banner in Blackfen and Lamorbey ward, next to the Greenwich boundary at Avery Hill. Despite candidate Michael Barnbrook’s past connections with the far right, the result here will be worth watching – not least because they’ve been pushing flyers for the Bexley Is Bonkers blog through local letter boxes.
In Lewisham, the big question is how many Lib Dem councillors will remain – Labour’s Sir Steve Bullock being set for an easy win in the mayoral poll. Campaign low-light so far has been People Before Profit (which abandoned plans to stand in Greenwich) appropriating the name “Save Lewisham Hospital” for one of its candidates, after trying to take over the campaign of the same name. Will Lewisham go 100% Labour on Thursday? Probably not, but it’ll be close. Bob from Brockley and Alternative SE4 have more Lewisham coverage.
If you’ve read this far down, head to the Charlton Champion for what happened in last week’s Charlton and Woolwich Riverside hustings. Polling stations are open from 7am-10pm on Thursday. See a full list of Greenwich candidates.
An anonymous hoax emailer has been posing as Greenwich councillor John Fahy in an attempt to get incriminating information about whether or not he leaked a bullying voicemail left by council leader Chris Roberts, this website can reveal.
Fahy was at the centre of controversy last year when Roberts left a foul-mouthed message on his phone threatening him with the removal of his cabinet position in a row over the Run to the Beat half-marathon.
The message was later published by the News Shopper, and featured in a BBC1 Sunday Politics London investigation into Roberts’ behaviour as council leader.
While Roberts was given a written warning over the incident, this website understands Fahy, the victim of Roberts’ threats, was punished twice over the incident. He was given a verbal warning over the leak of the email, but earlier this year he was given a written warning for not saying who the message had been leaked to.
Fahy has previously challenged Roberts for the position of council leader, which led to him being literally airbrushed out of an edition of the council’s weekly Greenwich Time newspaper.
But when the new council returns after the election, this website understands he will challenge Peter Brooks for the deputy leadership. Brooks is Roberts’ current deputy and was selected for the outgoing leader’s Glyndon seat at the last minute. (The leadership will be contested by Denise Hyland and Jackie Smith.)
Now somebody has taken it upon themselves to pose as Fahy, fishing for information about the leak of the voicemail.
On Easter Monday, I received an email from “John Fahy”, reading: “Darryl, they know it… I am not confortable with this situation. We should talk.
Did you keep the recording on your personal email?”
But the mail wasn’t from John Fahy. It came from someone aping his personal email address, using the letter “l” instead of the figure “1”.
And oddly, the IP address in the email header suggested it’d been sent from a computer connected to Portugal Telecom’s network. What was all that about?
Impersonating somebody online is potentially illegal under the Computer Misuse Act. So why would somebody go to the extent of risking breaking the law to try to con me into giving up information about a serving councillor’s personal issues within the Labour Party?
I sought some advice, and a few days later I responded asking “John” to look at a dummy post on this website. It was a crude method – those who read this site via an RSS feed may have seen something odd a couple of weeks ago, which was live temporarily before I changed the address.
None of these companies will be directly connected with this incident. The Facebook references indicate that the link has been shared on Facebook Messenger. Exponential-E provides IT services for small firms, so this could be one of its clients. It’s a sub-contractor to Focus Telecom, which provides IT services for the Labour Party.
Was my response to the fake Fahy seen on a Labour Party computer?
Then I had another go, again asking “John” to have a look at a document (“roberts_email.pdf”) supposedly hosted on another website. The document didn’t exist, but the error logs would show if the address was requested. On May Day bank holiday, it sprang into life.
Someone had clearly wised up to the fact they were being watched. Now, the IP addresses were designed to obscure the sender’s real location, although it appears the same brower was used each time.
But someone had added the words “we know everything” to the address I’d supplied. Hmmm.
A response email came with a small graphics file, too, presumably designed to track me opening the email.
It’s hosted on a free hosting service and difficult to track.
It appears to have been sent from Portugal again, too. Strange.
So for people who claim “we know everything”, why were they doing this? But there was one extra bit of the jigsaw to fall into place.
Back on Easter Monday, Rob Powell, who runs Greenwich.co.uk, received this odd email:
But I never heard anything from “Yasmin” at “Local Health Service”. Guess where the email appears to have been sent from?
Another Portugal Telecom connection. Does this mean the emails were sent from there? Not necessarily – one IT expert I’ve spoken to says some web traffic is sent via there to obscure the sender’s true location.
But this common link between all three emails indicates somebody’s gone to great lengths to try to trick me, and stitch up John Fahy. But why?
Of course, this could have nothing to do with rivalries in the Greenwich Council Labour group, the Greenwich & Woolwich Labour Party or the Eltham Labour Party. But frankly, it’s highly unlikely – somebody seems to know what they’re doing.
Considering Fahy has already been disciplined twice for being the victim of an abusive phone call, it looks like someone decided to break the law to go for a hat-trick.
I wish I’d been able to investigate some more, but I was doing what Labour Party members should have been doing instead of fighting each other – helping with a campaign against the Tory mayor’s Silvertown Tunnel.
The real John Fahy declined to comment when asked.
I’ve sent Labour’s minister for London Sadiq Khan – who last year promised to investigate bullying accusations in Greenwich – general secretary Iain McNicol and London regional director Alan Olive details of what happened.
Khan, McNicol and Olive have been happy to continue to let the Greenwich Council Labour group police itself – despite its witch hunts against whistle-blowers.
Local MP Nick Raynsford, along with Greenwich and Woolwich candidate Matt Pennycook have also been informed. I’ve said I’ll be willing to help with any investigation.
Neither of these five individuals have yet responded.
I’ve also passed on details of this incident to Ray Walker, the Greenwich Labour group chief whip in charge of party discipline under Chris Roberts, and Eltham party secretary, who worked as an IT analyst for the Labour Party for nearly 20 years. He has also not responded.