Tagged: matt pennycook

Huddersfield’s ‘Twitter king’ Khan set for Greenwich Council seat

Mehboob Khan's Twitter feed

A former leader of a Yorkshire council has been selected by Labour activists to fight a by-election caused by the resignation of Matt Pennycook, who left Greenwich Council last week to concentrate on the general election.

Mehboob Khan, who led Kirklees Council until last year, will contest Greenwich West on 7 May, the same day Pennycook hopes to be elected MP for Greenwich & Woolwich.

Khan quit his post as council leader last year when he moved to the capital to take up a job as political advisor at the Local Government Association.

But despite living in Deptford’s Millennium Quay, he remained a councillor for Huddersfield’s Greenhead ward. He revealed his decision to leave last Monday – the same day Pennycook announced his resignation.

Khan was lauded as the “Twitter king” of Yorkshire politics last year by the Huddersfield Daily Examiner for having more followers than other council leaders.

But his adventures on social media in London haven’t always been such a hit – getting criticised last year for amending someone’s tweet praising the Tall Ships Festival so it namechecked Greenwich leader Denise Hyland.

He may also want to amend his Twitter handle – while he is still listed as a Kirklees councillor, continuing to use @cllrMehboobKhan could get him in hot water in London. (9.55am update: After initially changing it to the arguably-presumptuous @MehboobKhanRBG, then @MehboobKhan99, it’s now @MKhanGreenwich.)  

Labour romped home at the last election and he’ll be the runaway favourite to win. But opponents eyeing an upset will include Conservative campaigner Thomas Turrell and Green Party stalwart Robin Stott.

It’s also understood that left-wing group People Before Profit, best-known for strong performances in Lewisham Council elections, are considering fielding a candidate, which would be their first on the Greenwich side of the border.

Friday update: The Liberal Democrats have chosen Sonia Dunlop to contest the seat.

Greenwich living wage: How did Tories outflank local Labour?

If you watch politics in Greenwich borough for a period of time, one of the most striking things you’ll notice is how local Conservatives occasionally take positions that put them to the left of the ruling Labour party.

Opposition leader Spencer Drury often points out the poor state of much council housing, for instance. Candidate Thomas Turrell might never have got elected, but he made former leader Chris Roberts look like a fool on TV over zero-hours contracts. Some of this is the proper scrutiny that an opposition party should be doing. And sometimes, it points to so much more. As it was yesterday, when Greenwich Council suddenly signed up to a scheme to nudge local businesses into supporting the living wage.

The story starts across the other side of London. Labour-run Brent Council has a scheme where firms get discounts on their business rates if they pay the living wage, which in London is £9.15 per hour.

It’s a corking idea. So corking, it’s being proposed at Greenwich’s next full council meeting tomorrow night. Council meeting motions are often an excuse for a bit of posturing and a barney. It’s often a good time to abandon the public gallery for the pub.

But who’s suggesting Greenwich take up this Labour scheme? The Tories.

Greenwich Council full meeting agenda, 28 January 2015

This is the brainchild of Matt Hartley, the Conservative candidate for Greenwich & Woolwich. He got a fair amount of local publicity for it.

Greenwich Mercury, 21 January 2015

Of course, Labour candidate Matt Pennycook knows a lot about the living wage – he’s been on the advisory board of the Living Wage Foundation, and to his enormous credit, managed to cajole former council leader Chris Roberts into making Greenwich into a living wage council; an accolade it can be proud of, but one it’s been shy about shouting from the rooftops.

You can say this is a non-partisan issue as long as you like – there’s an election on, and it’s a cheeky incursion by Matt H onto Matt P’s home turf. This isn’t cynicism. It’s good politics. If you’re in Greenwich & Woolwich, you’re lucky to have two very good candidates representing the main parties. It might actually be an interesting campaign here.

And then yesterday, the Guardian snuck out news that Greenwich was all set to follow Brent in adopting the scheme.

The news was then confirmed by council leader Denise Hyland.

And look! Here’s Labour’s shadow treasury secretary Rachel Reeves with Matt Pennycook!

Meanwhile, here’s Matt Hartley in the FT, talking about how non-partisan it all is. Is it the first time a Greenwich Council motion has made it into the pages of the Pink ‘Un, I wonder?

Opposing the Tory motion would have made Labour look like ogres – and rewriting it to slag off the government (which is what Chris Roberts would have done) would have made them look like fools.

So, to Greenwich Labour’s credit, they took him up on it, and people from across the area will benefit from the scheme. It’s a funny case of non-vindictive politics in the borough of Greenwich. This rarely happens.

But it has touched some raw nerves. If I was a Labour member, I’d be asking a few awkward questions of my local councillors. Why didn’t they come up with this in the first place?

What Matt Hartley has managed to do – possibly unwittingly, possibly not – is show just how emasculated Greenwich Labour are as a force for getting things done locally. Not the council, but the Labour movement itself.

It’s very good at promoting national policies, but 14 years of bullying leadership have left it with nothing to say locally. Councillors spent so long taking their lead from Chris Roberts and chief executive Mary Ney that now they’ve gone, they don’t know what to do.

Despite Roberts and Ney’s departure, it’s still as if the council controls the councillors, not the other way around. So Labour councillors end up with nothing to say. Where are the blogs, local newsletters or social media accounts boasting of Greenwich Labour’s achievements? Or even just explaining what they’re up to?

Some of this can come down to the party’s struggles to overcome a bullying culture, while councillors at one stage were actually forbidden from having social media accounts. But that doesn’t explain everything. A few weeks back, I had some Labour leaflets through my door – all about national issues, nothing about what the council was doing locally. They went straight in the bin.

I’ve tried following my own local councillors, and those in neighbouring wards, on social media, and have ended up largely giving up and unfollowing them. I’m genuinely interested to see what the councillors are up to, what they think of local issues, and what Labour’s ambitions for the borough are. But if they have any views, they’re keeping them quiet. If I want to see endless retweets about how bad the coalition are, I’ll follow the national Labour Party account.

There are some exceptions, but on the whole, Greenwich’s Labour councillors are the Labour party’s worst salespeople.

Over in Lewisham, councillors and the Labour group proudly display their policies and decisions. You may agree with them, you may not. But they display their local decisions and policies with pride – something their counterparts in Greenwich simply don’t do.

The failure of the vast majority of Greenwich’s Labour councillors to communicate any kind of local vision to a wider public created the space for Matt Hartley to nip in and steal their clothes on the living wage.

That’s a big problem for us all. And it manifests itself in bad policy – think the pavement tax fiasco, or blindly backing new road crossings – as well as a thoroughly unhealthy local political atmosphere. Greenwich Labour knows it has a problem in engaging with the outside world. Maybe Matt Hartley’s motion will be the hint it needs to make it realise it must change.

Thousands of people will benefit from Greenwich supporting businesses who want to bring in a living wage. And while tomorrow night’s motion might well see the same tedious old barneys, hopefully it’ll be a spark for some more positive change on the council.

Greenwich Time, 27 January 2015

1pm update: The dishonest spin – this week’s council propaganda paper, Greenwich Time, claims all the credit for Denise Hyland. No mention of any non-cabinet councillors – whether Labour or Tory – having a role in this, even though they’re due to vote on this tomorrow night.

And when did Greenwich Council’s press office tell the local media about the scheme? Just this lunchtime, the day after Greenwich Time started hitting local doormats, and the day after deadline day at both the News Shopper and Mercury.

All in all, the whole episode demonstrates the cynical circle of how the council is run. Local councillors asleep on the job, their rivals embarrass them into doing something, then the council hierarchy wakes up, claims credit for it and uses its propaganda story to push the local media out of the story – a propaganda paper which means those councillors can stay asleep and not communicate with locals.

And they wonder why people are disillusioned and cynical. The Dear Leader might have vacated his office long ago, but the old key-thrower’s habits are still ingrained in a thoroughly dishonest administration.

(Stewart Christie has another take on this at Royal Greenwich Time.)

8 February update: This got overshadowed by other events, but here’s video of the debate in the council chamber on the issue, where Matt Hartley proposes his motion and Denise Hyland responds to it.

The second half of the debate kicks off with Labour’s Olu Babatola inviting Hartley to switch sides…

Southeastern shambles: Now it doesn’t know how long its trains are

On guard: Police and security officers watch Lewisham station at the end of last Tuesday's rush hour

On guard: Police and security officers watch Lewisham station at the end of last Tuesday’s rush hour

Does anyone know what’s going on at Southeastern? A little snapshot from Twitter from Sunday provided an insight into just what a mess the rail company’s communications are in.

As mentioned earlier this month, Greenwich & Woolwich parliamentary candidate Matt Pennycook’s been chasing the firm over the ongoing issues from the Thameslink programme – particularly as services on the Greenwich line have been subjected to big cuts. What happened to the promised 12-car trains that would help mop up displaced passengers? This is a vital question, not just because of the problems faced by passengers, but because public money’s gone into extending platforms so they can accommodate longer trains.

Even though platforms up and down the line have been extended, there’s a problem with Woolwich Dockyard station, which lies in a brick cutting and can’t be extended. Even though this issue’s been known about for years, neither the Government nor Southeastern have fitted trains on the line with selective door opening (hop on the DLR at Cutty Sark to see this in action).

On Sunday morning, a despairing tweet from the Labour man:

Up popped the social media team at Southeastern…

Which prompted Pennycook to pull rank.

I’m sure Pennycook’s next exchange with Southeastern MD David Statham will be an interesting one.

So why did the Southeastern tweeter get it so wrong? Southeastern is strangely incapable of tailoring messages for different parts of its network – the same information that appears at Deptford also appears at Dover, even though services from those stations have nothing in common.

I took a day trip to Margate on Saturday and saw the same, rushed, generic poster about major engineering works there as I’d seen at Charlton – even though the two stations were affected in completely different ways. So if their communications department can’t tell Greenhithe from Greenwich or Westenhanger from Woolwich Arsenal, why would their Twitter team?

Ghost train: The new trains from Victoria Southeastern hasn't told you about

Ghost train: The new trains from Victoria Southeastern hasn’t told you about. Thursday’s 23.51 from Peckham Rye.

This lack of understanding of how different routes need different information also means Southeastern can’t even put across positive messages. Last week’s timetable change contains one big boon – late evening trains from Victoria to Dartford via Bexleyheath; providing an alternative West End terminal as well as help for anyone visiting King’s College Hospital.

These extra trains have had almost no publicity – just a single, tiny line in generic posters. People in Kidbrooke will be no more aware than their counterparts in Canterbury. So it wasn’t a surprise that when I took a late train back from Peckham Rye to Blackheath last Thursday, it was almost empty.

National politicians from both Labour and Conservative parties are as much to blame for Southeastern’s woes as the company’s dire management, as From The Murky Depths rightly points out. It’s laughable to see Bexleyheath’s Tory MP James Brokenshire threaten Southeastern with a “last chance” less than five months after his government colleagues rewarded the firm’s failure with a new franchise, rather than handing the metro routes to Transport for London.

If the capital had an effective political opposition, it’d be hammering the likes of Brokenshire on why London can’t run its own railway. It doesn’t, so they get away with this posturing.

But even if signals fail, points seize up and snow blocks the line, the one thing Southeastern has total control over is its communications – not just with passengers, but with local politicians. If it can’t even deal honestly with the latter, what hope has Southeastern got for dealing with the rest of us?

Southeastern shambles – Greenwich’s farewell to Charing Cross

Bye, then... no more Greenwich line trains from Charing Cross from this weekend.

Bye, then… no more Greenwich line trains from Charing Cross from this weekend.

It’s the biggest change to happen to south-east London’s railways for decades. Just before midnight tonight, the last train from Charing Cross to Deptford, Greenwich, Maze Hill and Westcombe Park will be just that. After 23.56, the direct connection from the West End to Greenwich will be no more.

This has been known about since March 2008, when Network Rail published its catchily-titled South London Route Utilisation Study. (See page 112 of this document.) 853 wasn’t running then, but it got a mention on this website six years ago. Here’s another reference from Greenwich.co.uk in December 2009. And look, here’s a “stay of execution” for Greenwich line trains from November 2010.

This isn’t to say “I told you so”. Back in 2008, I never really thought about diving headfirst into local news issues. I never really took much notice of what was in the local press because I never saw it. Then as this changed, and this website developed, it became old news – old news that was never talked about. And who wants to read about old news?

I thought there might be a decent-sized publicity campaign. Posters up and down the Greenwich line, months in advance, extolling the virtues of Cannon Street station, the new seven-day-a-week terminal. (It’s supposed to have a “fantastic new bar” soon, you know.)

But no. Instead, the news was bundled out as part of a mixed bag of information about the Thameslink Programme, the larger scheme which will see a rebuilt London Bridge station accommodate frequent trains to both north and south London. The prize of a decent station is a brilliant one – but the price is those trains to Charing Cross.

Instead of providing station-by-station information, or even details for each line, Southeastern has managed to baffle commuters, failing the challenge at the first hurdle. Many of them still think the change is only temporary. It’s not. Those trains aren’t coming back. And there are some very good reasons why.

Brilliant publicity at London Bridge station, November 2014

Brilliant publicity at London Bridge station, November 2014

What’s happening – the long-term plan

The connection between the Greenwich line and the Charing Cross lines is being severed to accommodate a new set of tracks that will head north from London Bridge to Blackfriars, Farringdon, and north London.

It won’t physically be possible for trains from Westcombe Park, Maze Hill, Greenwich or Deptford to reach them any more. And because of the way services are arranged, trains from Woolwich Dockyard, Plumstead, Erith, Belvedere and Slade Green will rarely reach Charing Cross. (Trains from New Cross and St John’s are also affected by these changes.)

Instead, there’ll be a direct service to Cannon Street, seven days a week. From 2018, you’ll have a brand new London Bridge station to change trains in. The crappy old footbridge is going, and you’ll have escalators, lifts, and a spacious new concourse beneath the platforms. Think the new King’s Cross, but bigger.

There’ll be no more sitting on the viaduct over Deptford waiting to get access to the Charing Cross lines – in theory, you’ll be able to rattle straight up to Cannon Street, and make a simpler change at a much more pleasant London Bridge if you need to get to Waterloo East or Charing Cross.

What you need to know - how Southeastern trains will run until August 2016

What you need to know – how Southeastern trains will run until August 2016

What’s happening – the short term pain

Charing Cross trains will sail through London Bridge from Monday until August 2016. You’ll have to make your change by Tube or bus. And then from 2016, the position will reverse, and Cannon Street trains will glide through without stopping. Interchange will be terrible, and for three years, London Bridge station won’t just be a dump – it’ll be a building site.

There’s also likely to be a series of major weekend closures. The first – happening this weekend and kept very quiet by Southeastern – sees ALL trains routed to Victoria, Blackfriars or New Cross, and all lines through London Bridge completely closed. (There is also no service at all through Deptford, Greenwich, Maze Hill or Westcombe Park – have a play with Real Time Trains to see how it affects you, or check out the situation at Charlton or Lewisham).

Even Charlton Athletic seemed in the dark about the plan, and they’re only playing host to 15,000 football fans on Saturday. Charing Cross will also be closed on Sundays through to at least May.

In English: "Some trains will be longer. Trains may also run to different terminals."

In English: “Some trains will be longer. Trains may also run to different terminals.”

The secret cut in capacity

There’ll also be fewer rush hour trains through Greenwich from Monday. From The Murky Depths has the full details – four evening peak trains are cut, with three going during the critical 1730-1830 hour. One morning peak train goes. Meanwhile, extra capacity has gone to trains serving destinations in distant Kent, if you believe the Southeastern publicity above.

Despite the fact that money has been blown over the years on extending platforms to take 12-car trains – once in the 1990s, and again in the 2010s – there won’t be longer trains to make up for the cut. Woolwich Dockyard station, built in a brick cutting, can’t be extended, and despite these works having been planned for years, neither the Department for Transport nor Southeastern has fitted trains to work with selective door opening which would enable longer trains to stop there.

To make matters worse, Southeastern is pretty much using every train it can get its hands on – and is having to borrow more to satisfy demand.

It’s a mess, frankly.

There now appears to be work happening to fit out the "fantastic new bar"

There now appears to be work happening to fit out the “fantastic new bar”

Send your regards to Cannon Street

“But Cannon Street’s in the middle of nowhere!”, you cry. Cobblers. One of the main gripes is that a lack of trains from Charing Cross makes it harder for tourists to get to Greenwich. Yet Cannon Street is 10 minutes’ walk from St Paul’s Cathedral and the Museum of London, and five minutes from the Monument.

And it’s a fine station for onward travel connections – on the District and Circle lines, with Bank station just a couple of minutes’ walk up Walbrook. (In a few years, a new Bank station entrance will appear opposite Cannon Street, just to really baffle everyone.)

Sure, it’s a bit quiet at the weekends, but there’s that fantastic new bar coming soon…

Matt Hartley's website

The political battle

With an election coming up, both Labour and Conservative candidates for Greenwich & Woolwich have thrown themselves into the debate. Incumbent Labour MP Nick Raynsford has a decent record on fighting for rail passengers – one of his first wins as an MP in the 1990s was to persuade British Rail to stop Gillingham trains at Charlton. His hopeful successor, Matt Pennycook, has been busying himself writing to and meeting Southeastern bosses and tweeting about it.

In the blue corner, Conservative candidate Matt Hartley has launched the Sort it, Southeastern campaign, pledging to hold the rail company’s “feet to the fire” over its performance.

Of course, it goes without saying that both their parties’ administrations also share blame for this – Labour re-privatised Southeastern in 2006, and must share some responsibility for poor Department for Transport planning before 2010. The Tories renewed Southeastern’s franchise in 2014, with the Department for Transport still failing to provide enough rolling stock for the area. Both Labour and Conservative governments have also blocked moves by Transport for London to take over the Southeastern franchise – decisions that will stick in the craw when TfL takes on services from Liverpool Street this May.

Matt Hartley’s campaign aim to secure longer trains throughout the “borough of Greenwich” seems peculiarly parochial – didn’t Conservative candidates elsewhere in SE London want to join in? And as for wanting Greenwich-Charing Cross services restored after 2018, he might as well demand the return of steam – it’d be cheaper and more efficient to run at least six trains an hour to Cannon Street, first train to last, seven days a week. It’s better than hankering for a crappy two trains per hour service to Charing Cross that wasn’t much cop anyway.

But it’s a good thing that both main candidates are getting their teeth into the issue. Frankly, it’s about time Southeastern became a political football – and it certainly deserves the kicking.

Hopeless: How Southeastern announced the most disruptive weekend works in decades

Hopeless: How Southeastern announced the most disruptive weekend works in decades

Will it be enough?

After 2018, we’re promised good things. An all-new London Bridge station that’ll be a pleasure to use. You’ll be able to change for trains that head across North London, to Finsbury Park and beyond, as well as frequent services to Blackfriars, Farringdon and St Pancras. And Charing Cross and Cannon Street services should be more reliable, as a 40-year-old pattern of tracks is ripped up and rebuilt.

And don’t forget that Crossrail will come from 2019, giving passengers at Abbey Wood and Woolwich an alternative that’ll whisk them to Canary Wharf, the City, West End and West London. It’ll relieve some crowding from the Greenwich line – for a short time, at least.

You’d also hope that knackered communications systems would be fixed – systems that stop staff and drivers giving proper information, and systems that have mysteriously started showing Kent-bound trains on London-bound platforms (and vice versa). There’s a lot of work to do.

But an increased population in an overheating city brings increasing pressures. Huge developments are rising by Deptford, Greenwich, Lewisham, Woolwich Arsenal and Abbey Wood stations. Long-term development plans will see the Charlton riverside given over to residential uses. And 10,000 new homes on the Greenwich Peninsula, with no further plans to improve public transport connections there, will squeeze North Greenwich tube station – sending some passengers back to the mainline. On other lines, developments are also taking place at Kidbrooke Village and the old Catford dog track.

Even at the end of the line, developers have their eyes on Dartford. With a population that’s getting priced out of zones 2 and 3, pressures on outer stations will grow.

Yet the political will in this area is for more roadbuilding – a policy that’d be laughed out of town in other parts of London. Vague promises of a Bakerloo Line extension to Hayes, or London Overground to Thamesmead, will need to be brought into reality before we’re clutching our Freedom Passes.

Change here for the future

Cities aren’t fixed in stone – they’re always evolving. The last train from Charing Cross to Greenwich tonight will be a little symbol of how our capital city is changing before our eyes.

40 years ago, London Bridge station went through similar convulsions as the old station was torn down and the tracks relaid. Would the fag-puffing, hi-viz avoiding engineers in the Operation London Bridge video above have known their work would be ripped up just four decades later?

It’s going to be a tricky few years ahead. But once the Thameslink Programme is finished, where will the next big change come from? At present, nobody seems to know. And that’s a bigger worry than whether or not you’ll have to change trains next week.

Matt’s the man: Pennycook picked by Greenwich Labour

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.

Chris Kirby's tweet

2.45pm update: And this bloke:

oo

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…

Will breakfast boy Matt rise and shine as Labour’s winner?

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.

Labour's candidates for Greenwich and Woolwich

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.

Candidates and supporters were told to keep their rows off the internet after pointed criticisms of Matt Pennycook were made in the comments section of this website.

This was followed by a minor Twitter spat over his refusal to discuss in a council meeting comments he’d made about “the decades-old culture of machine politics in Greenwich”.

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.

Kevin BonaviaEven 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.

Matt Pennycook campaign website

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.

Quentin Marsh and Debbie Smith, Labour leaflet 2010But 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.

Why did the Independent’s Andy ignore Labour’s Annie?

Annie Keys

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.

Hayley FletcherNow 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.