Breaking news: Greenwich West councillor Matt Pennycook has been selected as Labour’s candidate for Greenwich & Woolwich at the next general election, after a meeting of local members at the Woolwich Grand Theatre.
The vote followed a hustings featuring Pennycook and his five rivals for the position – Len Duvall, Annie Keys, Kathy Peach, David Prescott and Angela Cornforth.
Pennycook’s selection to succeed Nick Raynsford in the safe Labour seat is likely to have ramifications in Greenwich Council, where he had been tipped by some to be a future leader.
He may now choose to stand down from the council at May’s election, where he has already been re-selected as a candidate for Greenwich West. There’s nothing stopping him staying on for a year (or even being a councillor and an MP), although he may wish to avoid the cost of a council election to follow a general election.
This would open up another vacant Labour seat. With two of leader Chris Roberts’ allies having been forced out of their seats earlier this year, the stage is set for a battle between those who back the embattled leader and others who want to see the council take a new direction.
With Roberts widely thought to be reconsidering his decision to step down at the next election, who gets picked for these seats could be crucial for the future of the council.
Pat Boadu-Darko has stepped down in Eltham North for personal reasons, while it’s also believed there’s a space in Blackheath Westcombe after Simon Thomson was selected for Dartford at the general election.
Kidbrooke with Hornfair has selected Christine Grice to replace Hayley Fletcher, who resigned her nomination citing the “culture of bullying”.
2.30pm update: According to Labour’s council candidate for Shooters Hill, Chris Kirby, the 2015 general election has just been cancelled in Greenwich and Woolwich.
2.45pm update: And this bloke:
Heaven forbid that any of the rest of us get a say…
7.30pm update: And there’s not really else to add. A curious fact: Matt Pennycook was the first man to be selected for Labour for the next election in a seat where an MP is retiring – all the others have been all-female shortlists.
I’ve been told but can’t confirm that it was a closer battle than some expected, with the gap between Matt Pennycook and Len Duvall being as close as 30 votes (out of about 500), with David Prescott coming third.
Questions put to candidates included: “How would you reconcile the need for jobs and transport improvements locally with the global imperative to reduce carbon emissions?” Tellingly for Greenwich Council’s claims of mass support, when it came to the Silvertown Tunnel, only Angela Cornforth was outright in her support for it.
So now it’s all over. Congratulations to Matt Pennycook – hopefully he’ll both champion the people of Greenwich & Woolwich (and points around and in between) and be a much-needed force for good in his own party and beyond. Good luck to him.
And as for Labour party members…
Political Animal (@politic_animal) November 30, 2013
It’s the biggest political battle Greenwich or Woolwich has seen for a generation, and it ends tomorrow. The winner will get the keys to a safe seat in Parliament and the chance to develop a career which could peak in one of the nation’s highest offices. The others are already working out their excuses.
But only 700 or so people will get a say, while the other 66,000 haven’t even been told the identities of the six candidates battling it out. Those local Labour members have had their doors knocked upon, their phones rung and their emails clogged by candidates in a way that those of normal civilians who live in a rock-solid safe seat can only wonder at. Welcome to the contest to be Labour’s candidate for the Greenwich & Woolwich parliamentary constituency.
The six shortlisted candidates who want to succeed Nick Raynsford were decided nearly three weeks ago, but no public announcement was ever made. Labour Party modernisers use this as an example to talk about primaries involving the public – but this is a world away from all that.
The shortlist is current borough mayor Angela Cornforth, London Assembly member Len Duvall, former councillor Annie Keys, charity professional Kathy Peach, Greenwich West councillor Matt Pennycook and public relations director David Prescott.
Pennycook remains the man to beat, with a well-funded and carefully-orchestrated campaign, with Duvall supporters still hopeful their candidate can mount a late surge to success. Peach and Keys appear to be leading the outsiders and can’t be written off yet. Neither can David Prescott, with heavyweight backing.
It’s been a bitter campaign, too. It’s pitted Greenwich versus Woolwich and the young and ambitious against the party old guard. Most of the barbs seem to be flying towards Pennycook, a senior research and policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation think tank.
The allegations of bullying in Greenwich Council’s leadership haven’t helped either. While council leader Chris Roberts is largely disliked within the wider Greenwich & Woolwich party, broaching the subject of his behaviour acknowledges there’s a problem. Particularly when the council your party runs refuses to investigate him, even though everyone else can smell the problem. Because ignoring it looks even worse.
Critics both outside and inside the party charge Pennycook with hypocrisy – and some claim he’s done a deal with Roberts, which he’s denied, although Roberts is believed to be backing him (some say to get a potential council leadership rival out of the race, with Roberts reconsidering his pledge to stand down). But any member of a group of Labour councillors which has failed to deal with bullying in its ranks will hit trouble on the subject.
Even a councillor outside Greenwich got into bother. Lewisham councillor Kevin Bonavia (pictured right), who didn’t make the shortlist but knows the toxic politics of Greenwich Labour well enough, tweeted that the “old-style culture in Greenwich must change”.
For his honesty, he found Greenwich councillors demanding he be disciplined by the Lewisham party for his comments. Lewisham Labour councillors, who worry about the stench coming from across this side of the border, quite rightly, told their embarrassing neighbours where to stick it.
Indeed, in this race, being a Greenwich councillor has been, unusally, a disadvantage. While Pennycook’s proud of his efforts to turn Greenwich into a living wage borough, the council’s PR department has been silent on the matter – allowing the local Tories to pitch to the left of Labour on the issue.
Kathy Peach, who’s run a lively and thought-provoking campaign, managed to get two birds with one stone when emailing local members about an event last week. First, she made a dig at an event Pennycook held with the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, then nailed the council’s lack of interest in the borough’s high streets.
Cosy chit-chats with Guardian contributors are pleasant enough, but won’t change anything in the real world.
For a glimpse of reality, head out from Woolwich Grand Theatre, look around General Gordon Square, and walk down Powis Street: once diverse community spaces that I remember from my childhood, but now lined with betting shops. Indeed Woolwich is home to 9 betting shops in total – nearly a third of the constituency’s 30 betting shops – all within a few hundred metres of each other.
Payday lenders, fast food takeaways and betting shops have proliferated all over our constituency. How did a council that won ‘council of the year’ for its regeneration efforts fail to stem this slow demise of our high streets – the social and commercial lifeblood of our constituency?
How, indeed. For the record, Polly Toynbee has told this website she is not endorsing any candidate in the selection.
But relentless campaigning – and funding from the Unite and GMB unions – has helped Matt. This week, rivals have been crying foul that he’s offering to buy breakfast for party members on Saturday morning, ahead of the final hustings and vote.
In a public election, “treating” – buying food, drink or entertainment to influence voters – is frowned upon, and can be illegal. But there isn’t the same provision in Labour’s rulebook, so members can dine out on Pennycook’s campaign on Saturday morning.
Supporters of rival candidates are seething – but there’s little they can do. As a current councillor yet still a relatively face, Pennycook can pitch himself as both an insurgent and a member of the establishment. Critics sneer that he’s an “empty suit” – but in an area when the party has struggled to adapt to 21st century communications, his promise of change has won people over.
He’ll be a loss to the council, where he could have proved himself as a leader and shaken up an ageing, out-of-touch authority. Perhaps if Nick Raynsford had held on for another term, this might have happened. But when you’ve the chance to appear on a bigger stage, why would you turn it down?
Len Duvall is pitching himself as the “unity” candidate, and his backers point to a track record of getting things done, including standing up to Roberts and the council he once led. This should have been his to lose. It could still be – he’s best placed to stop the Pennycook juggernaut.
He’s very much the favourite of the anti-Roberts councillors and activists in Greenwich – who remember a better-run council under his control – and is particularly strong in the Woolwich area.
But Duvall does represent the party’s old guard – this campaign should have been his to lose – indeed, his campaign is being run by Quentin Marsh, who ran Greenwich Council 25 years ago. In 2010, former councillor Marsh posed as an ordinary voter on a Labour leaflet imploring electors to back the party’s candidates in Charlton in Charlton. This isn’t forward to a shiny new future.
All this said though, Duvall’s well liked and much respected, can still definitely mount a late surge. Don’t write him off yet. As his supporters say, at least the old guard knew how to get things done.
Annie Keys and Kathy Peach will be pinning their hopes on squeezing through on second choices. Both mounted community-focused campaigns, with Keys coming out against the Silvertown Tunnel and Peach declaring herself sceptical. (Duvall is believed to be for the crossing, while Pennycook has not stated a view either way.)
Charlton-based Keys is popular in both the Greenwich and Woolwich parts of the constituency, while Peach has played up her Woolwich roots. There are many who wish this had been an all-woman selection to force a clean break from the area’s political past of bickering blokes not achieving very much – for generally, when Labour members get a choice of both genders, they tend to go for the man.
They’ll be competing for the votes of those who wish for a Stella Creasy or Heidi Alexander-style MP. Both have worked to emulate those community-rooted values. Neither can be written off just yet – those second choices could see either of them go well, particularly Keys, who has a strong network of local contacts. (Declaration of interest: I’m a trustee of a charity Annie set up to run an under-fives’ club in Charlton.)
David Prescott has homed in on problems with property developers in the area – the kind of issue you won’t read in Greenwich Time, and a brave one to raise when your own Labour council is in bed with those same developers. He’s also been talking up renationalising the railways – more radical than his dad, former deputy prime minister John – managed in office. He’s got heavyweight national Labour backing – notably shadow health secretary Andy Burnham and likely London mayoral hopeful Lord Adonis – and union backing too. Will this be enough to see him through?
Finally, the most perplexing candidate is Angela Cornforth – a Roberts ally said to be in the race solely to draw votes away from Keys and Peach. Earlier this year she stood for an area committee on the Co-op, claiming that “Greenwich councillors are taking the first steps to prepare for co-operative council status“ – which brought hollow laughter from those connected with the council that I’ve asked.
Most recently, Cornforth has been the subject of controversy for twice intervening in council meetings on matters that would embarrass Chris Roberts – even writing to the News Shopper to defend herself. Indeed, Greenwich Council’s weekly propaganda newspaper even misled the public about her inauguration, pretending it was at Woolwich Town Hall and not at a lavish ceremony at the old Royal Naval College. She’s as much chance of being the next MP as I have of scoring the winner at The Valley on Saturday.
So those are the candidates, and if you live in the Greenwich & Woolwich constituency, one of the six above is almost certain to be your next MP after 2015. There have been concerns raised about the amount of union money sloshing around the campaign – the days when a bright young upstart could reach the top through grit and hard work alone have gone. Such is modern politics.
Will this bad feeling be forgotten after Saturday’s selection? The winning candidate will need a lot of support in the months ahead if he or she is to take a leading role cleaning up the practices and reputation of the Labour party in Greenwich.
But with victory in the bag, will the winner really want to? We shall wait and see.
With a second councillor standing down over the bullying culture in Greenwich Council’s Labour group, the battle to be the party’s parliamentary candidate for Greenwich & Woolwich is, in truth, a bit of a sideshow.
But for those involved, the chance to succeed Nick Raynsford in what should be a safe seat for years to come means everything. Favours are being called, supporters marshalled, deals are being done and deals are being denied. If you could power the national grid with gripes, snipes and complaints, the Greenwich & Woolwich battle alone would make sure there’d be no blackouts this winter.
24 people threw their hats into the ring – mostly flotsam, jetsam, chancers and no-hopers. After pressing the flesh of ward parties and other groups, they’ve now been whittled down into a longlist consisting of most of those who were decent contenders in the first place.
- Angela Cornforth, Plumstead councillor and current Greenwich Council mayor.
- Len Duvall, Greenwich and Lewisham London Assembly member and former Greenwich Council leader.
- Annie Keys, former Blackheath Westcombe councillor and community activist.
- Matt Pennycook, Greenwich West councillor and analyst for the Resolution Foundation think-tank.
- Kathy Peach, head of campaigns at charity Scope.
- David Prescott, PR agency boss, former journalist and son of ex-deputy prime minister John.
This does mean the loss of Kevin Bonavia, the well-liked Lewisham councillor and solicitor who decided to throw his hat in the ring across the border. The Blackheath ward representative will live to fight another day. The other vanquished hopefuls, possibly not.
As party bigwigs drew up that longlist, a curious few paragraphs appeared in the Independent on Saturday, penned by veteran political correspondent Andy McSmith.
An email has gone to members of the Greenwich Labour Party, in south London, telling them that Polly Toynbee, queen of The Guardian commentariat, is heading their way to advise them to select Matt Pennycook, a promising young intellectual from the much respected Resolution Foundation, as their next Labour MP.
Polly Toynbee’s been involved in SE London politics before – campaigning against Labour in Lewisham East in 1983, when she stood for the SDP and came third. I’m told she also campaigned for Rosie Barnes in the 1987 Greenwich by-election.
And whoever is selected will be an MP because Greenwich is safely Labour. There are other contestants, including David Prescott, son of, and Kathy Peach, from Scope, but the word is that this is a two horse race.
A two-horse race? Really? One horse is Matt, says Andy, but the other is “the local candidate”, who is “exceptional”.
Len Duvall, who hails from a Woolwich council estate, entered politics via the 1970s Anti Nazi League, having had to cope with racist taunts because he is part Indian. He took a very hard line on the 2011 rioters, and paid the price when someone told the police that his son was out looting. This was untrue, but generated a lot of damaging publicity. In his long local government career, he has been hard on sleaze, which has left him with enduring enemies. If it were my choice, I would forego Ms Toynbee’s kind advice and back the guy with battle scars.
Both Matt and Len would make fine representatives. But take a look at the battle so far, and this certainly isn’t a two-horse race. Because if you look at who won the most ward nominations, it’s actually Annie Keys, as every bit as local as Len is, in front, after getting the backing of six out of the area’s seven ward parties. But Andy completely ignored her.
Matt’s on four, while Len ties with Kathy on three, with Angela on one – Glyndon, council leader Chris Roberts’ ward. Annie’s also the only candidate to win backing at the opposing Greenwich and Woolwich ends of the constituency – Andy McSmith neglected even to mention the latter place in its name.
In case you’re interested, here’s the breakdown.
- Blackheath Westcombe: Annie Keys, Matt Pennycook, Kathy Peach
- Charlton: Annie Keys, Matt Pennycook
- Glyndon: Angela Cornforth, Len Duvall
- Greenwich West: Annie Keys, Matt Pennycook, Kathy Peach
- Peninsula: Annie Keys, Matt Pennycook, Kathy Peach
- Woolwich Common: Annie Keys, Len Duvall
- Woolwich Riverside: Annie Keys, Len Duvall
So why did Andy McSmith ignore Annie Keys’ chances? Matt Pennycook’s certainly the frontrunner, but Len Duvall’s no underdog. Both have heavy union backing – particularly Matt.
But while Matt is weaker in Woolwich and Len is weaker in Greenwich, there’s every chance Annie can come through the middle. Last week she challenged the council to withdraw its unpopular “pavement tax” on small businesses – something none of the other candidates have done yet. In case you’re wondering how David Prescott’s on the longlist, he’s also been nominated by unions, so he gets a place. A shortlist will be drawn up in a couple of weeks, with the final hustings and vote taking place on 30 November.
I should point out I’ve known Annie since we were at school together, and I’m a trustee of the Mulberry True Children’s Trust, which she set up to manage the Big Red Bus Club play centre in Charlton. In fact, I’ve just found an invite to a party she threw 20 years ago. Maybe I’ll publish it in the next few weeks…
But what I would like to publish are your questions to the candidates. Once the shortlist’s drawn up, I’d like to pose some questions to them. So if there’s anything you’d like to know, leave it in the comments box below.
Of course, the battle for Greenwich & Woolwich comes at an awkward time for the Labour Party, as the Labour council remains mired in bullying accusations – a real story which Andy McSmith somehow managed to miss.
This Wednesday’s council meeting will see two motions put forward by Conservative councillors in an attempt to go for the jugular on the issue – although whether they’ll actually be heard is another matter, with competing anti-Tory motions being pushed onto the agenda by leader Chris Roberts without consulting his Labour colleagues. It remains to be seen how the mayor – one Angela Cornforth – will treat them.
Now a second councillor, Kidbrooke with Hornfair’s Hayley Fletcher, has decided to step down, as the News Shopper’s Mark Chandler reported on Friday. Her decision to go follows that of Alex Grant earlier this year.
Regular readers will be familiar with Hayley’s contributions to this website’s comments, and the loss of a promising councillor in her 20s will be a deep blow to a council already desperately short of younger members.
Her resignation email, as seen by this website, refers to her beginning a new job and a masters’ degree. Then there’s the sad conclusion:
As you’re all too acutely aware, Labour group is a toxic and unhealthy environment to be in. The bullying culture is rife and I see little prospect of that changing anytime soon.
I simply cannot sustain my own wellbeing in this environment and, for my own mental health if nothing else, have decided that walking away from it is the healthiest thing for me right now.
To lose one councillor to bullying accusations should be a wake-up call. Losing two should, in any normal organisation, demand a full investigation.
But the local Labour party remains in denial. This website understands that it’s more likely that Greenwich’s Labour group will pursue and punish any whistleblowers, particularly in regard to the leaked “thick skull” voicemail in which Chris Roberts threatened cabinet member John Fahy, rather than take action against the party hierarchy, or the clear conflict of interest over the Run to the Beat half-marathon which the Dear Leader’s voicemail reveals.
Several of the candidates for Greenwich & Woolwich have connections with Greenwich Council, with two going back decades. Hopefully local Labour members will ask the right questions to ensure they select a potential MP who will be part of the solution, and not part of the problem in a self-lacerating local party.
“It’s been a long haul,” trilled an email which dropped into local Labour party members’ inboxes on Friday, “but the Royal Borough of Greenwich has just signed an agreement with the Living Wage Foundation to become an accredited living wage employer.”
“The news will become public soon but I wanted members to be the first to know.”
And of course members should be the first to know, because the email was sent by Matt Pennycook, wannabe MP for Greenwich & Woolwich – he wants those members to be voting for him when they decide who their Westminster candidate will be on 30 November. (More on that particular sideshow to come once nominations close on Monday.)
To be fair on Pennycook, the living wage – which in London, is £8.55/hour – is something he’s big on, as a member of the Living Wage Foundation’s advisory board. But his own council hasn’t exactly helped him – as he constantly tweeted and wrote about the issue, Greenwich lagged behind even Tory City Hall.
That said, though, some local Labour members are narked, to put it mildly, to see the Greenwich West councillor taking the credit for something they say they’ve been pressuring the Roberts regime about for years. Indeed, it wasn’t well-known outside the town hall that he’d been “given special responsibility to take the council’s accreditation process forward” – especially considering backbench councillors are barely trusted to even operate a hot tap.
But ambitious people do end up treading on toes from time to time. And any sign of non-parochial ambition from the snoozing Labour benches will put noses out of joint.
This isn’t, however, about intra-party squabbles – this is about people finally being nudged out of poverty pay, and being paid a decent wage for a decent day’s work. But how many people will benefit? According to council documents… nobody. Well, not immediately, anyway.
The LLW accreditation initially covers those directly employed by Greenwich. In particular, that covers services such as street-sweeping and refuse collection, which are contracted out in other boroughs. But according to a council document on the decision to go for the accreditation…
“As RBG is already committed to paying the LLW for all directly employed staff and agency staff there are no immediate financial implications to this decision.”
So, in effect, all this is about, so far, is the £400 it costs Greenwich to make use of the Living Wage logo. Why didn’t it go for it sooner, then?
Because it’s not that simple. Firstly, there’s agency staff, who are technically employed by Manpower – this is where the zero hours furore came from – who are said to be on LLW anyway. A new contract next year will have the LLW written into it.
Then it gets difficult. Many of the people carrying out work for Greenwich Council are employed by a firm called GS Plus. If you use the toilet in Woolwich Town Hall, you might bump into a GS Plus cleaner. It also deals with school catering. When the council gave its staff a day off for being named “council of the year”, GS Plus staff didn’t get one. GS Plus staff also don’t get the London Living Wage.
This is particularly awkward because GS Plus is owned by Greenwich Council, and has deputy leader Peter Brooks as its chair. Indeed, it was Brooks who signed off the decision to have Living Wage accreditation for the council – yet the company of which he is chair isn’t paying its staff that sum.
Greenwich’s Living Wage licence says it’ll “enter into negotiations” with GS Plus, with a target date of March 2015 to achieve a living wage for staff. This’ll be one to watch.
GS Plus’s sister firm, Greenwich Service Solutions, which also has Peter Brooks on its board, doesn’t even feature in the Living Wage agreement, despite also being owned by the council.
Next up is an even trickier case – Greenwich Leisure Limited, which recently put its foot in it by trying to rename Charlton Lido as “Royal Greenwich Lido”.
While it’s a co-operative (and recently launched a bond issue with ethical bank Triodos), it certainly isn’t a living wage employer…
Nowhere near living wage. But if Greenwich was serious about a living wage, why wasn’t this enshrined into last year’s contract?
Another London borough got a better deal out of GLL – Islington Council made sure staff at Ironmonger Row Baths, near Old Street, were paid the living wage by GLL (Islington’s other leisure contractor, Aquaterra, also pays LLW.) Hopefully it won’t take another 14 years for GLL to fall into line in its home borough. Perhaps GLL trustee Peter Brooks can do some work there.
There’s other issues, of course – will the council’s own employment agency, Greenwich Local Labour and Business, commit to not advertising sub-LLW jobs? There’s nothing in the agreement that says it will, while we know it still advertises “zero hours” jobs. It’s a knottier issue, but one that’s caused controversy in Hackney.
It’s easy to be cynical, and the announcement’s handily-timed for at least one election coming up. Let’s be clear, though – while it’s largely symbolic, Greenwich getting living wage status is certainly a good thing. But with those GS Plus and GLL deals to be looked at, Matt Pennycook’s “long haul” may have only just begun.
Skint? Need a few quid for the week’s shopping? Why not send a missive to the council’s propaganda weekly, Greenwich Time, opining on how great it is? Note the voucher can only be spent in Sainsbury’s in Woolwich – mustn’t been seen to be crawling too much to Tesco – so if you were hoping to use the stores in Greenwich, Eltham or Lee Green, then tough.
There are those who think that the council could be doing more to promote small businesses. West Greenwich hardware shop Bert & Betty will be shutting its doors next month, longstanding Greenwich Market games store Compedia packed it in last month, and nearby clothes shop Belle shut on Christmas Eve.
Local councillor Matt Pennycook responded with a typically thoughtful tweet.
He’s right, they do. Unfortunately, the council doesn’t seem to be listening. Here’s the front page of this week’s Greenwich Time.
Indeed, the council helped whip up a retail frenzy by plugging the opening on its Twitter feed. Such a shame it doesn’t do this for non-multinationals, except when the council needs to promote itself. It neatly sums up the gulf between many in the local Labour party and the council leadership which supposedly represents them.
Of course, it hasn’t always been this way – the admirable Greenwich Card scheme was launched in the 1990s and helped pushed trade towards local businesses who were prepared to offer a small discount. So it’s not as if the tools aren’t there. But under the Chris Roberts regime, though, it’s been largely forgotten about.
Under the current leadership, the will just isn’t there. But will the next leader listen? There’ll be scores of small businesses across Greenwich borough who’ll be hoping so.