Tagged: matt pennycook

Election aftermath: What next for politics in Greenwich?

A selection of the leaflets to drop through the door at 853 Towers during the campaign.

A selection of the leaflets to drop through the door at 853 Towers during the campaign.

As the dust settles after the general election, Matt Hartley has landed his prize for boosting the Tory vote in Greenwich & Woolwich – he’s been named the new Conservative leader on Greenwich Council.

The 29-year-old succeeds Spencer Drury, whose dry barbs at the council’s Labour leadership have become a feature of life at Woolwich Town Hall. Drury remains a councillor and will no doubt be looking to shore up the Tories’ position in his home ward of Eltham North, where the party’s vote was shredded by a Ukip surge last year, handing two seats to Labour.

Being Tory leader in a London Labour borough when Iain Duncan Smith has just been reappointed social security secretary isn’t the easiest of jobs, but it’s a fair old progression from just missing out in a council election in Warwick in 2007.

Hartley’s comments suggest he’ll continue with Drury’s task of holding the council to account rather than simply making party political jabs.

“With the threat of a Lewisham-style one party state always hanging over us, being Leader of the Opposition in Greenwich means more than leading the Conservative council group – but rather giving all residents with a differing view the voice and the say that they are so often denied by this Labour council. That’s exactly what I plan to do.”

It’s worth noting one skill that Hartley can use to help the Tories punch above their weight – his day job is in communications for a personal finance charity, giving him an ability to spot stories that perhaps the local party has missed in the past.

Expect more campaigns along the lines of Sort It, Southeastern – I wonder if he’ll risk looking a big meanie and start a public drive against the costly tall ships festival?

Fair and balanced: Greenwich Time celebrates Labour's success

Fair and balanced: Greenwich Time celebrates Labour’s success

Labour’s big Ukip question

Labour’s satisfaction at seeing Matt Pennycook elected alongside Clive Efford and Teresa Pearce will have been tempered by the party’s failures nationally. It’ll be interesting to see where the battle over Greenwich Time goes now Greg Clark has replaced Eric Pickles as communities secretary. This week’s Greenwich Time might as well carry the headline “Up yours, Pickles”.

Humility in victory has never been the local party’s strong point – Clive Efford’s response to success was to criticise Conservative Spencer Drury for campaigning on the state of the borough’s war memorials. But there’s pause for thought if you look into the polling figures.

The strong votes for Ukip (8% in Greenwich & Woolwich, 15% in Eltham) should ring alarm bells – with the Tory votes up in both seats, it looks as if the hard right party has started to eat into the potential Labour vote.

Just as in the rest of England, how Labour communicates with white voters who feel left behind will be a question that needs addressing sooner rather than later. Engaging with campaigns such as the one for a memorial to Lee Rigby rather than simply ignoring them is key, I suspect.

(A few miles down the A2, it’s startling to discover from Alex Grant that Dartford, which tends to swing with the incoming government, was abandoned by the national party, which threw resources at ousting Lib Dems – potential coalition partners – instead. Madness.)

The Greenwich West ward by-election provides the strongest indication to the local party’s future – former Kirklees council leader Mehboob Khan topped the poll, and is strongly tipped as a future leader in Greenwich, too. Smart enough to steal the Greens’ clothes on the Divest Greenwich campaign, he was also generous enough to publicly commiserate with losing candidates – like I said, humilty’s rare in these parts. One to watch.

Abbey Akinoshun's deleted tweet and James Parker's election doubts

Abbey Akinoshun’s deleted tweet and James Parker’s election doubts

Green gaffes, but did anyone notice?

The Greens can feel pleased with themselves after getting well over double their 2010 vote in Greenwich & Woolwich. Could their candidates have done better? It’s hard to say, but they certainly were weak links in a strong local party operation. I dealt with Greenwich & Woolwich’s Abbey Akinoshun’s no-shows at hustings, but his worst moment was tweeting a photo of himself carrying a “vote Green” slogan next to an appeal for the victims of the Nepal earthquake. It was quickly deleted. While some Labour councillors’ messages about Nepal certainly had the whiff of opportunism, this was just crassly stupid.

Worse was to come on polling day itself, when Eltham candidate James Parker, a magician from Folkestone, told the Guardian voters should pick Labour instead – a warning sign that perhaps could have been picked up after a tweet a couple of days beforehand saying he was suffering from a “crisis of conscience”. (The party says he was misquoted.)

Warning bells rang for others much earlier – I met Parker in the bar of Mycenae House, Blackheath after he was selected in January – the No to Silvertown Tunnel AGM coincided with a Green meeting upstairs.

I mentioned how pleased we were at our turnout, but he became very dismissive and suggested we should be addressing a meeting of thousands and the campaign should be linked to corporate greed, etc, etc. He later seemed to understand, but things got more awkward later when he was involved in an angry confrontation with former Green party member Trevor Allman.

But these incidents were only seen by a handful of obsessives who know the party too well, like me. Most people would have entered the polling booth blissfully unaware. Hopefully the recent surge in local Green membership will mean the Greenwich party will be able to grow and nurture its own candidates for future polls. Getting more actively involved in local grassroots campaigns will serve the party well as it looks to next year’s mayoral poll and beyond.

Is the worst over for the Lib Dems?

As for the Lib Dems, the national party didn’t even bother supplying the Greenwich & Woolwich candidate with a freepost leaflet to send out. That said, though, if you compare their result in the constituency (5.6%) with last year’s average council election score (6%), it’s arguable that they’ve bottomed out already, although whether they’ve the capability, capacity or desire to bounce back is another question. A period of national soul-searching will surely come first.

So, that’s the 2015 election done with. We’re next at the polls on 5 May 2016 to decide on Boris Johnson’s successor as mayor and London’s assembly members. I suspect it’ll be a tough year ahead…

Will Matt Pennycook be the last MP for Greenwich and Woolwich?


It’s just like 1992 all over again, with a Tory victory nationally and a shiny new Labour MP locally in Greenwich & Woolwich.

So it’s congratulations to Matt Pennycook, who scored 24,384 votes – 52.2% of all cast, a little up on predecessor Nick Raynsford five years back. Pennycook was by far the most impressive candidate, neatly placing distance between the records of both Raynsford and the council of which he was a part. Good luck to him, and I’m looking forward to following his progress.

Congratulations too to Matt Hartley, who scored a very impressive 12,438 – at 26.6%, a record for the Tories since the seat was created in 1997. He also campaigned smartly – raising the state of Southeastern trains, for one. I suspect he’ll be feeling the happiest out of all the candidates today…

Ukip’s success will have raised eyebrows – Ryan Acty came third with 3,888 (8.3%), a similar result to other seats in south-east London.

If the Greens are downhearted at coming fourth, they really shouldn’t be. Abbey Akinoshun more than doubled their vote as they notched up 2,991 votes, a deposit-saving 6.4% – pretty good by London standards.

The Lib Dems performed in line with their council election results last year, with Tom Holder picking up 2,645 votes (5.7%) – just enough to hang onto his deposit.

TUSC’s Lynne Chamberlain rounded off the poll with just 370 votes – but will no doubt be pleased with having given her anti-austerity message a wide airing.


Sitting up all night watching the results doesn’t lead to wise and sharp analysis the following afternoon, but one very local issue deserves an airing.

One of the big jibes aimed at Matt Pennycook is that by being selected he was effectively getting himself a safe seat for life. Now the Conservatives have an overally majority, they’re in prime position to implement a bit of unfinished business from coalition days – boundary changes.

The Tories wanted to cut parliament down to 600 seats – in a proposal that would have given their chances a boost – and that meant London’s constitency map would have to be redrawn. This website featured the first proposals back in 2011.

There was an inquiry after that, but the final recommendations received little attention at the time, because by then the Liberal Democrats and Labour had joined forces to shoot down the proposals.

Now there’s nothing stopping the Tories taking those revised plans out of the drawer – and they’re an odd bunch to say the least.

Pennycook’s hard-fought prize of Greenwich & Woolwich would vanish – leaving him to challenge Lewisham East’s Heidi Alexander (and maybe Lewisham Deptford’s Vicky Foxcroft) for a new seat of Greenwich & Lewisham Central, which would stretch from Greenwich to Catford.

Or he could have to lock horns with Clive Efford for the oddly-shaped Eltham & Charlton seat, which curves round from New Eltham, through most of Charlton to Woolwich town centre.

Don’t be surprised if this issue comes up in the coming months – especially with electoral reform a hot topic once again. See a full map of the proposed constituencies for more.

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:


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…