Archive for the ‘politics’ Category
Breaking news: Greenwich & Woolwich MP Nick Raynsford is to stand down at the next general election, he told Labour Party members at a meeting in Charlton tonight.
Raynsford, who will be 70 at the time of May 2015′s election, has represented the local area since 1992, when he was elected MP for the old Greenwich seat after beating incumbent Social Democrat Rosie Barnes by a slim majority. He also spent just over a year as MP for Fulham after winning a by-election there in 1986.
Since 1997 he has won Greenwich & Woolwich with comfortable five-figure majorities, and his decision is likely to spark a scramble among local Labour figures keen on almost-certain entry into parliament. The party may choose to go for an all-female shortlist, like neighbouring Lewisham Deptford.
Raynsford is known for his expertise in housing and construction – but criticised for his closeness to the construction industry, where he earns a sizeable income from other interests, including the chairmanship of Triathlon Homes, responsible for affordable housing in Stratford’s Olympic Park.
He has controversially backed the almost universally-unpopular Greenwich Market hotel development plans, since scrapped, as well as two schemes supported by Conservative mayor Boris Johnson: the Silvertown Tunnel and his idea for an airport in the Thames Estuary.
But he was also credited with helping bring Crossrail to Woolwich, as well as backing other regeneration schemes in the area. He’s recently laid into plans to downgrade Lewisham Hospital’s A&E, as well as cuts to police and fire services.
As minister for London under Tony Blair, Raynsford was also instrumental in the creation of the capital’s mayoralty, and even put himself forward to be Labour’s candidate in the 2000 election. Former mayor Ken Livingstone has credited him for his work in getting the GLA’s City Hall HQ built in time and on budget.
Livingstone said in 2010 that Raynsford would have been “a much more effective cabinet Minister than many of those who were [appointed]. There’s clearly something wrong about Tony Blair that he didn’t recognise that.”
11pm update: Expect a flood of applicants to replace Nick Raynsford, all-woman shortlist or not. All-female shortlists are decided beyond local level, although local activists will have a say.
Outgoing Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts will be many people’s favourite. But he said last year he’d be “bored” as an MP, is believed to want to remain in the council cabinet, and he’s also unpopular with local party members. David Prescott, son of former deputy prime minister John, will be a front-runner, as will Greenwich West councillor Matt Pennycook. I mentioned Greenwich cabinet member Jackie Smith for the council leadership – would she fancy Westminster rather than Woolwich?
Whatever’s decided, expect a wide open field – if you can design websites, get friendly with Labour party members now. Some of them might want you to do a bit of work for them…
Friday 8.40am update: I’ve been I reminded of one person I missed out above… Len Duvall, current Greenwich and Lewisham London Assembly member, ex-Greenwich Council leader and Jackie Smith’s husband. If Duvall was to get it, it may prompt a by-election for his seat on City Hall, which he has held since 2000.
Friday 12.20pm update: Len Duvall has confirmed on Twitter he would put his name forward if the party did not go for an all-woman shortlist.
A quick heads up – if you want to quiz Boris Johnson on why he wants to pollute half of Greenwich and beyond with his new Silvertown Tunnel, or why he’s refusing to support the campaign to save Lewisham Hospital’s accident and emergency service, then he’s doing a public Q&A at the Broadway Theatre in Catford (or “Catford, Lewisham” as City Hall calls it) a month today, on Thursday 7 March. Apply for a seat via the City Hall website.
It’s been the most dismal, depressing election campaign I can remember. If we’re voting, we’re voting for one man merely to stop the other bloke getting in. Something’s wrong with that.
For a campaign full of lies and smears, though, one of the final porkies took place above the skies of Greenwich. Wednesday’s Evening Standard devoted its page three to a big picture of the Greenwich cable car in operation, with words by City Hall reporter Peter Dominiczack, who’s seemingly spent the past few months simply taking dictation from the mayor’s team.
High above the Thames, London’s first cable car has its maiden flight.
Three gondolas were suspended in mid-air today after moving off just before 10am — the first test of the city’s newest river crossing.
The cars did not appear to be carrying any passengers, though they could transport athletes at the Olympics if they are completed in time and will eventually carry up to 10 people per trip.
Onlookers at North Greenwich, on the south side of the cable car run, were impressed by the project, despite its £60 million price tag, and said they hoped it would bring more people to the area.
Unfortunately for the Boris campaign rag, the gondolas have been under test for 10 days or so, as readers of greenwich.co.uk will know.
“The Emirates Airline cable car took a step closer to completion yesterday as moving cable car gondolas were sighted for the first time.”
All of which proves which news outfit you can trust in future, and which is only good for soaking up the cat litter. But what if Boris Johnson had done something more substantial with our local transport? How would we be feeling about him today? Here’s a blog post I could have written, if only he’d cared…
“Well if I can’t take London back to Victorian forms of transport, then what is the point of having a Conservative mayor?,” puffed Boris Johnson as he coasted over the Blackwall Tunnel approach and down the slope on his blue bicycle.
Ten minutes earlier, the mayor had cut the ribbon on something he could call his own. The New Tower Bridge, some critics were calling it. Tory-leaning bloggers were calling it the Boris Bridge. And that was the name that stuck.
But the sleek blue Diamond Jubilee Bridge, open only to pedestrians and cyclists, was the gamble upon which Boris Johnson was trying to win over the capital for a second term.
The project had its critics. Labour MPs called it a “vanity project”. The Evening Standard said “it is hard to see why the Mayor persists with this project when the hard-pressed motorists of Chelsea still have to pay an outrageous congestion charge,” referring to his controversial U-turn in 2011 on the charge’s western extension.
The £300m Diamond Jubilee Bridge, from the Isle of Dogs to North Greenwich, ended up having to be bailed out by Chancellor George Osborne when promised sponsorship money didn’t turn up. Could it be finished before campaigning begun in the mayoral election? Safety engineers had only cleared it the previous week, but as a the bridge’s arms lifted for a cruise liner to pass through with a lengthy toot of its horn, it was clear that this would be as important for the area as the Jubilee Line was thirteen years beforehand.
From a spiral ramp at Marsh Wall on the Isle of Dogs, the bridge crossed the Thames and the Blackwall Tunnel entrances, allowing passengers to walk or ride off in front of the O2 and the London Soccerdome.
Furthermore, the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme went live on the Greenwich Peninsula that morning, allowing residents in the new homes there to cycle to work instead of taking the Tube. A further extension into Greenwich itself, through Deptford and up into the Rotherhithe would go live after the Olympics.
When the mayor was brought over to the press by his ever-attentive PR handlers, he was in ebullient mood.
“These two parts of our great city are too important to be separated,” he said, fixing journalists in the eye one by one.
“Now, like Bonnie and Clyde or Antony and Cleopatra, they are joined together by this great monument to British engineering.
“The great joy of being a Londoner is that there is so much of this great city to explore,” he added, gesturing at the under-developed peninsula around him. “Now, thanks to this bridge, soon there will be so much more to explore here.”
But didn’t people want a road crossing, asked a reporter from a suburban freesheet.
“I think these people here are happy with this new bridge,” Boris said, gesturing to a crowd who obligingly cheered. Some carried blue balloons and leaflets, but there were also a large number of curious locals too.
He continued, fixing the reporter in the eye again.
“The real issue is that you’ll never get this area developed if it has another main road running through it. But if you make this an attractive place to walk around, have your lunch in, walk the dog in, then we’ll bring investment and prosperity to the Greenwich Peninsula.
“Now look, if we can build a matching bridge from Canary Wharf to Rotherhithe, then we’re linking up communities and bringing together more parts of this great city.
“This is why I can’t afford a cut in bus fares, I need to invest,” he added, itching to get back on the election trail.
The mayor’s Conservative colleagues weren’t wasting any time, handing out leaflets to cycle hire users at the new cycle stations in the Millennium Village and retail park. Not only were they confident of victory across London, but local activists say there are signs that the party could even land a councillor in the area for the first time in decades.
Indeed, the ‘Boris effect’ had reverberated across the borough of Greenwich as the local Labour party was forced to up its game. Concerned councillors held their first public meetings in years as they feared political rivals muscling in on their patch – and they didn’t like what they heard.
“He’s proved that he isn’t all about appealling to the outer suburbs. He could have taken the lazy option and wanted to build a third Blackwall Tunnel, and spent all his time pandering to people in Bexley, but he’s challenged us on our own doorstep instead,” one political rival said. “Ken Livingstone’s had to make more than a token appearance in Woolwich this time around.”
Local Conservatives were thrilled. “Now we can campaign across the borough, instead of hiding out in Eltham or at Abbey Wood station and leafleting people who live in Bexley, which is what we normally do,” one said.
“We can tell people that Boris hasn’t spent the past four years sucking up to the suburbs and the City – if he’d done that, it would have been a waste of four years, after all.”
After conquering Greenwich with his new bridge, Boris had one more revelation – that he’d been approached by the owners of the London Eye, who wanted to build a cable car between the O2 and the Royal Docks.
“We’ll have to see about that one,” he told reporters. “That’s for fun – nobody but a fool would take a cable car seriously,” he smiled, before turning and riding back to the Isle of Dogs, a crowd of cyclists following.
There’s information on the mayoral candidates and interviews with Greenwich & Lewisham’s London Assembly candidates at greenwich.co.uk. There’s more on the poll, and where to vote, at London Elects. Polling stations close at 10pm.
Local political and community activists are joining forces to push for a change in the way Greenwich Council is run, following last month’s failed attempt to oust Chris Roberts.
The Democracy Greenwich petition aims to curb Roberts’ power by triggering a referendum on how the council is set up.
Just 8,000 signatures are needed from Greenwich borough residents to force a poll on whether the council should replace its “leader and cabinet” system, from which Roberts derives his power, with a committee system which will enable closer scrutiny of new policies.
Membership of the committees is not just open to councillors – which the petition’s backers say will put the community at the heart of decision-making.
But for change to take effect quickly, the 8,000 signatures have to be found in just over two weeks – as the petition would have to be submitted by 2 May for it to be presented to the council’s annual general meeting.
A paper petition has already been doing the rounds, but now the campaign has launched online.
Roberts won a vote of his councillors by 24 votes to 15 when cabinet member John Fahy challenged him for the leadership, but has outraged ordinary Labour members with his cabinet reshuffle, which saw Fahy moved out of his culture portfolio and moved to a job looking after health and older people.
But the council leader is deeply unpopular with rank-and-file members, whose own representatives – the party’s “local government committee” – voted against Roberts staying in his post. However, councillors chose to ignore this when they decided to back Roberts.
While Fahy says he is comfortable with the move, what has really angered local party members is the replacement of one Asian councillor on the cabinet with another. Greener Greenwich cabinet member Rajwant Sidhu is due to trade places with Roberts loyalist Harry Singh, which fuming local activists have branded a token gesture. “It’s divide and rule politics at its worst,” one told me.
The push for the Democracy Greenwich campaign has come from members of the Greenwich & Woolwich and Eltham Labour Parties, rather than councillors, most of whom are unaware of the petition. However, one of the early signatories is David Gardner, chair of the Greenwich & Woolwich branch party.
Other senior party figures are also known to be supportive, but are wary of speaking out in public at the moment. Councillors can face sanctions from the London Labour Party for speaking against the party line, even on the most minor of disagreements. However, if the petition gathers strength, others may speak up.
Local Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green representatives have also been sounded out about the petition. Last month the Conservatives proposed a motion to switch to the committee system – to capitalise on their rivals’ leadership problems – but withdrew it so council officers could investigate the pros and cons of such a switch.
Until a decade ago, all councils made their decisions through committees, but rules brought in by Tony Blair’s government forced them to choose between a “leader and cabinet” model or a “mayor and cabinet” model, which put more power into the hands of a smaller group of individuals. Neighbouring Lewisham went for the elected mayor system, but Greenwich plumped for a leader and cabinet, the system which remains today.
It’s pretty obvious that major decisions in Greenwich borough aren’t beings scrutinised properly – such as the switch to being a royal borough, the decision to close Blackheath Bluecoat school, giving £3m to the Shooters Hill equestrian centre, the funding of festivals around the Olympics and the decision to continue publishing propaganda weekly Greenwich Time. The main check at present is an “overview and scrutiny panel” which can “call-in” issues – but for its Labour members to defy the leader is unheard of.
The coalition government’s new Localism Act enables councils to switch back to a committee system. Sutton Council has decided to make the change, prompting its leader to retire.
Campaigners hope a strong showing in the petition will persuade Greenwich to change without the cost and hassle of a referendum – and usher in a new style of leadership.
If you’re unhappy with the way the council’s run – sign the petition and pass it around. The more who sign, the more chance of forcing a change.
(Full disclosure: I’ve signed the petition and have done some of the legwork in getting in touch with people. Can’t really stay on the fence on this one…)
11pm update: Greenwich.co.uk has spotted that the democracygreenwich.co.uk domain name is registered to the home address of Cllr Rajwant Sidhu. Blimey.
Well, some people in Lee Green have had a busy Easter….
Supporters of Greenwich People Before Profit have occupied a huge house that has been left empty and neglected by Greenwich Council for two years.
All the families living in the house – at 88 Eltham Road near the western border of the borough – were evicted by the council. As far as we know, the evictions took place after the leaseholder couldn’t afford to renew or extend the lease.
The building had been half-heartedly secured, so it was not difficult for campaigners to gain access. We found that the overall condition of the house was good – although there is work to do, with wires and copper piping severed, floorboards lifted and a section of ceiling down.
Previously the house was divided into seven flats and we will try to make as much of it as possible habitable.
If anyone would like to help work at the house, or give support in other ways, please come to our next meeting on Saturday 14 April at 2.00 p.m., at 88 Eltham Road, or email email@example.com.
Greenwich People Before Profit is following the example of our counterparts in Lewisham, who occupied five long-term empty council houses in February. They are refurbishing them for homeless families to live in.
A spokesperson for Greenwich PBP said: “Given the need for social housing in the borough, and the particularly serious housing problems for young people, it is scandalous that this property has been empty for two years. We want to make it habitable.
“Homelessness is rising again. Government figures show that in the last quarter of 2011, homeless applications were up by 18% across England and 36% in London. London rents are unaffordable. We hope everyone in Greenwich, including the council, will support our action.”
The formation of Greenwich People Before Profit was discussed here earlier this year – although over in New Cross, their cafe has closed in curious circumstances. One to watch, anyhow.
Over on guardian.co.uk, you can find me and other London scribes discussing the effects Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone have had on their areas.
My bit is illustrated by a picture of Charlton’s glitzy Victoria Way, but really it’s on about the scene if you walk down to the bottom of the road. The land in the picture above was originally earmarked for the Ken-era Greenwich Waterfront Transit scheme, canned by Boris a few years back. The GWT had been watered down from a tram to a bus by the time it was scrapped (and, indeed, would have run via Bugsbys Way instead of the planned dedicated road through the retail parks). But it was still a commitment to improving transport in the area, and it’s something that should have been up and running by now.
Instead, we got the cable car, which is very nice, but largely useless as a form of public transport. From the hill on Victoria Way, you get a lovely view of both the GWT wasteland (now due to be turned into a Travelodge) and the cable car – a quick summary of the past decade of London transport politics all in one glance.
With the campaign in full flow, you probably won’t find much mayoral stuff here unless it directly relates to south-east London, but I’ll be contributing to Snipe’s The Scoop.
Oh, and that bent-up “Woolwich Road SE7″ street sign in the photo? It’s been left like that by Greenwich Council – sorry, Royal Greenwich – for 10 years after a car smashed into it, despite complaints from local residents who want to see it removed or replaced. Despite the splashing out on new signs in more high-profile areas, it shows just how Greenwich is happy to leave much of its patch looking anything but regal.
Tonight, Greenwich Council’s cabinet will vote to hive off its library service to Greenwich Leisure Limited. If you’ve no Valentine’s Day date, you could always pop along to watch proceedings (7pm, Woolwich Town Hall). Don’t go expecting heated debate or considered arguments, though – this is a decision that Greenwich resolved to come to long ago.
The Unite union, which represents library staff who face being transfered to GLL, is furious, accusing the council of a “sham consultation” and will be lobbying councillors from 6pm. (See its lengthy response to the council’s proposals here.)
Indeed, whether or not the decision is a wise one is not for this blog to determine. What can be said, though, is that once again a big decision is being forced through without much in the way of input from the public or, indeed, other councillors. Not, of course, that the Tories would object or that any Labour members would even mutter a murmur of dissent in public. Apparently there were some public meetings about this – well, I didn’t see anything, but one kind correspondent did get in touch at the weekend…
Around 25 people attended a “public information” meeting about the proposed transfer of Greenwich Libraries to Greenwich Leisure Ltd last night at West Greenwich Library. Surprising there were so many as it was barely advertised – a line or 2 in “Greenwich Time” (sorry “Royal Greenwich Time”) this week and a notice in the library a few days earlier. Apparently as there will be “no material change” in the library service, no public consultation is required. Apart from 2 “Friends” meetings, other library users have had no information. The audience were generally angry and suspicious at the lack of consultation.
It’s fair to say we have a problem in Greenwich. Sorry, “Royal Greenwich”. The council can force through more or less what it likes with only the slightest veneer of any scrutiny. Even if the Tories were to refer the decision through a formal scrutiny process, it’d get rejected by a Labour-dominated panel anyway. All the Tories can do is slightly embarrass the leadership in meetings that are barely reported outside. They don’t say prayers at Woolwich Town Hall – but we all know they’re on their knees to the Labour leadership, anyway.
Any opposition or scrutiny, therefore, has to come from outside the council. But even that’s faltered.
Councillors merrily shut down meetings to go and toast themselves, ignoring demonstrators and pressing local issues. Local newspapers ignore council meetings, while even pain-in-the-arse bloggers can’t spend all week sat in the town hall without earning a crust.
Last year’s council cuts passed without a murmur of protest, while trade union demos tend to appear motivated more by self-interest (which, of course is their job, to represent members) than by a desire to see the borough’s people served well.
Which is why I’m finding the establishment of Greenwich People Before Profit an interesting development. PBP’s long had a fairly high profile in Lewisham borough politics, including standing candidates in elections.
It even runs a cafe, Come The Revolution, at the Deptford end of New Cross Road.
Now it’s moving east, with a meeting tomorrow at Rose’s pub on Hare Street, Woolwich (7.30pm). It is “dedicated to combatting the privatisation of public services through actively involving people in opposing the Con-Dem coalition’s policies and the Labour lackeys in the council chamber who implement them in Greenwich”. Ouch.
In 2010, when I was involved in the Green Party, I did a bit of delivering around the Telegraph Hill/ Nunhead boundary and was struck by the number of PBP posters in windows. It’s fair to say the other parties aren’t particularly fond of them, and there was a bit of a squabble between them and the Greens for the lefty-we-don’t-really-like-Labour vote.
Indeed, PBP’s best known as a thorn in the side of established parties, and particularly Lewisham’s elected mayor Sir Steve Bullock. Last year I went to a Ken Livingstone campaign event in Deptford, and watched a PBP representative take great pleasure in asking wannabe London mayor Ken questions that would compliment him but condemn Lewisham mayor Steve, who was sat right in front of me. The mostly-Labour audience shuffled uncomfortably in their seats as housing sales and library closures were criticised from the floor.
PBP’s also involved in direct action – yesterday squatting five Lewisham Council houses in Deptford and Lee Green that were due to be sold at auction – and offering to do them up themselves, using local labour to provide homes for local people.
Lewisham’s long had a tradition of more diverse politics than Greenwich, and spikier protests – although that doesn’t always go down too well, as the activist who took over a public meeting at Blackheath Bluecoat school last autumn found.
But the boroughs are largely similar in nature (Greenwich is a tad more suburban) and while Lewisham has an all-powerful elected mayor in Steve Bullock, I don’t think anyone would dispute that Chris Roberts holds at least as much power as his neighbour.
Can PBP make an impact in Greenwich, where others have failed? It’ll be interesting to watch. If they get their way, though, local politics could become a bit more interesting. Whether or not you agree with them, something that whips up a bit of debate might not be such a bad thing.
Hopefully this’ll be the last time I write a post about the meeting where Greenwich councillors ignored pupils from a school set for closure, as well as a heap of other matters, and hurried up a meeting so they could go over the road and drink some wine. You know, this meeting…
The reason I’m dredging this up again? In their haste for wine, Greenwich’s councillors forgot something rather important, I’m told. The boundary changes, which will see south-east London’s constituencies torn up and replaced with new ones. The deadline for responses to the Boundary Commission’s plans, which (among other things) will see Greenwich itself split between two new seats is 5 December.
The next council meeting was due to be some time after that. So, because Greenwich’s councillors were too thirsty to remember to do the job at the end of October, they’ve moved the next meeting forward to 1 December to make sure they get it on time. That meeting is likely to involve endorsing a Labour Party proposal which will, among other things, keep SE10 with just one MP.
Some eyeballs have rolled at this. “Other boroughs have managed to pass motions on this without moving a meeting,” grumps my agenda-thumbing informant, who adds the last time Greenwich played around with meeting dates, it was when one Labour councillor returned from Australia after nearly six months away, before flying off again. Cynics – oh, nasty cynics – maintained it was to avoid a difficult by-election.
That said, I reckon the good councillors will be right to reject a daft plan which will split SE10 up and endorse something a bit more sensible. I wrote about the Boundary Commission’s plans when they were revealed, which include a Greenwich and Deptford seat slicing right through SE10 but uniting Deptford, a Woolwich seat stretching up to the Royal Naval College, and an Eltham constituency probing deep into Sidcup.
Labour’s alternative includes keeping the current Greenwich and Woolwich seat, and adding Kidbrooke with Hornfair and Lewisham’s Blackheath wards – which has the happy spin-off of uniting all of Greenwich, all of Charlton and most of Blackheath under a single MP. Makes sense to me. It also includes a new Eltham and Plumstead seat which Conservatives say is there just to make sure Eltham keeps a Labour MP – but that feels no more dodgy than an Eltham seat which has some Tory wards in Bexley bunged on the end. Thamesmead would also keep one MP under the plan, which retains Erith & Thamesmead, while there would also be seats for Deptford & Nunhead, Lewisham & Catford and Chislehurst & Sidcup under Labour’s ideas. Unfortunately, I don’t have a publicly-available list I can give you, but that’s what they’re suggesting.
It’s not just councils and political parties that can take part in the consultation – you can too, by getting in touch with the Boundary Commission by 5 December. Just like the council has to. I just hope they remember this time, instead of being distracted by a booze-up.
If you want some other views on this, here’s what current Greenwich & Woolwich MP Nick Raynsford thinks, and here’s the thoughts of the local Conservatives.
Incidentally, if this sort of thing excites you, or you just like brain-bendingly tough puzzles, take a look at Boundary Assistant – you can build your own constituencies and see if you can do a better job than the Boundary Commission or the Labour Party. It’s a little difficult to fathom out. But after a while, it feels less like an exercise in democracy, and more like a strangely-addictive game…
London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone says he wants to see south east London’s rail network run by Transport for London – and says he’d agreed a deal to do just that before he was voted out of office in 2008.
Speaking to local residents and activists in Deptford last night, he said all London’s mainline rail services should be run along the lines of London Overground, the network he created in 2007 to take over run-down services in north London.
At present, Southeastern, along with other privately-run services, is free to set fares, acquire trains and decides on the level of service it wants to provide.
But under the model used for London Overground, TfL decides which services, trains and fares to offer – and keeps 90% of the revenue, leaving operator LOROL with the rest. Trains, stations and track have been upgraded, and the service linked with the old East London Tube line – and punctuality has shot up, along with passenger numbers.
Mr Livingstone told the audience:
If people can remember how bad the North London Line was – it was absolutely the worst railway line. We took it over, merged it with the East London Line, and it’s now Britain’s best railway. That cost one and a quarter billion pounds. It’s a lot of money, but it’s peanuts in terms of most major public investment projects.
If we ran all overland trains in London on that basis – if we can run a service that’s as reliable on our overground, why can’t South East Trains? [sic] They don’t give a damn. They’ve got a monopoly, they run a minimum service at the maximum fare.
One of the tragedies about my losing last time was that the Labour government had agreed to start transferring control of London’s overland train franchising to the mayor. They passed a law that allowed two people from outside London to on the TfL board to oversee it, and I was in negotiations with [transport secretary] Ruth Kelly to just take them over and run them like we do the Overground. And [Boris] Johnson just dropped all of that.
That’s something I want to come back to. It’s a power I want from the government, to become the franchising authority and set the same standard for south east trains as you’d expect from the London Overground. There’s absolutely no reason why it couldn’t be done.
With both the main challengers for next May’s election backing TfL taking over the rest of the capital’s mainline trains, and with TfL having commissioned a report into how this might work, it looks as if time could well be running out for the likes of Southeastern, whose franchise expires in March 2014.
It’s fair to say Southeastern won’t be missed, after recent fiascos with snow, the current saga of trains being mysteriously short of coaches and a continuing inability to communicate with passengers. Furthermore, recently-submitted planning documents show the company still plans to cut train services at many Greenwich line stations during next summer’s Olympics.
While some aspects of Southeastern’s service could be fixed relatively easily – such as staffing and customer service – it’s not clear where the sums needed to transform the train service would come from. On the down side, it could see the withdrawal of rail-only tickets in favour of travelcards and the more expensive, but more flexible fares that Tube and DLR users pay. But would this be a small price to pay for a much-improved service?
One thing is for sure – the political will is there, from both Ken and Boris. If you’re a hacked-off Southeastern commuter, it’s worth making sure both men – and their parties, the ones that created this mess in the first place – are well aware you want to see change.
With the coalition government considering longer train franchises for the rest of the country, we in south-east London might not get this chance again for many years.
8pm update: If you use Lewisham station, and find the locked exit on platform 4 (the one towards Blackheath) as annoying as I do, this petition may be right up your street…
Greenwich faces being represented by two different MPs if new constituencies proposed by the Boundary Commission get the final go-ahead.
Seats across London will be shaken up, with most constituencies crossing borough boundaries. But the most dramatic local changes will be felt in SE10, where west Greenwich and the town centre will join a new “Deptford and Greenwich” seat, along with all of Blackheath, and stretching as far west as Millwall FC’s ground in Bermondsey.
East Greenwich – Peninsula ward – will remain with most parts of Charlton in a new Woolwich seat, extending from the Royal Naval College to the Greenwich borough boundary at Thamesmead.
Southern parts of Charlton remain in Eltham constituency, which expands to take in parts of Sidcup and Welling.
None of this affects the boroughs themselves – just the MPs. The full details follow – maps are courtesy of the Greater London Authority and represent who sits in each council ward.
The new Woolwich seat is the simplest one to describe – it’s most of the riverside parts of Greenwich borough, apart from from the centre of Greenwich itself. Got that?
In council ward terms, that’s Peninsula, Charlton, Woolwich Riverside, Woolwich Common, Plumstead, Glyndon, Abbey Wood and Thamesmead Moorings. From west to east, that’s the side fence of the Royal Naval College down to the borough boundary at Thamesmead.
What’s missing? Half of Greenwich. Blackheath also sailes off into the sunset.
Good for: Labour politicians looking for a super-safe seat.
Bad for: Greenwich borough politicians wondering where the best-known “royal” bit of the borough has gone, anyone who thinks Thamesmead should have a single MP like it does now.
See that Eltham seat? It gets bigger, stretching into Bexley borough to take in bits of Welling, Blackfen and Sidcup. These are true-blue Tory strongholds – one of the Bexley wards used to be in ex-PM Edward Heath’s seat – so what’s a marginal Labour seat now suddenly swings quite a bit the other way.
Or, in council speak, Kidbrooke with Hornfair, Eltham North, Eltham South, Eltham West, Middle Park & Sutcliffe, Coldharbour & New Eltham and Shooters Hill from Greenwich, and Falconwood & Welling and Blackfen & Lamorbey from Bexley. It now stretches awkwardly from the Blackheath Cator estate in the west right across to Welling High Street in the east, as well as from parts of Charlton in the north to the tip of Chislehurst in the south.
What’s perplexing? Just why on earth are bits of Charlton still in a seat called “Eltham”?
Good for: Tories.
Bad for: Bexley council tax payers who hoped they could ignore the lot over the border.
Which leaves us with Deptford and Greenwich – although there’s not very much of the latter in this new concoction. This is basically the current Lewisham Deptford seat, minus some of the Lewisham bit and plus some of Greenwich. But while Greenwich is split between two seats, Deptford will have one MP for the first time in the modern era, and most of Blackheath – save for a chunk of the Cator Estate – will also be united.
In council wards, that’s New Cross, Telegraph Hill, Evelyn, Ladywell, Brockley and Blackheath from Lewisham and Blackheath Westcombe and Greenwich West from Greenwich. Or Millwall FC’s The Den over to Blackheath Standard, heading south almost as far as Nunhead Cemetery and Ladywell Fields.
What’s missing? Half of Greenwich, Lewisham town centre, any connection between the east and west of the seat. Try getting from Brockley to Greenwich or Blackheath by bus.
Good for: Lewisham Labour types, who are probably wetting themselves laughing. Lib Dems and Greens will perk up a bit – there’s votes for them around these parts.
Bad for: Tories – even slimmer pickings here – and Greenwich Labour types, who’ll have to align themselves with a very different local party in Lewisham.
The bulk of the rest of Lewisham borough goes into a new Lewisham & Catford seat, while the area around Forest Hill and Sydenham is packed off to Dulwich & Sydenham. There are also new seats of Erith and Bexleyheath & Sidcup to get your head around.
If the new parliamentary seats look weird – well, that’s because most of them are. But they’re lines on a map – and however you draw it, there’ll always be something odd, mainly because they’re built out of council wards which reflect a need for tidy election planning instead of living, breathing communities. That Deptford and Greenwich seat would look less weird if it included the centre of Lewisham (Lewisham Central) in it, but then something else would have to go and then we’d all be wondering what Hither Green was doing there.
The new divide would mean every time I cycle to the shops at Blackheath Standard, which is less than a mile away, I’ll pass through three constituencies. Dividing Greenwich sounds daft – but in the long term, will Deptford, with the massive Convoys Wharf controversy right on a borough border, benefit from a single MP?
What really matters is who represents you, and if they can do a good job – and once the seats are finalised, those personalities will settle into place in the months and years ahead. Where boundaries really count, though, are in the boroughs – and it makes me wonder what ruthless changes could be unleashed if a change were to come in the future…