Category: politics

Lewisham helped Labour win Eltham – Greenwich should repay them by funding Blackheath fireworks properly


We’ve been here before, and I make no apology for raising it again. As this website’s long-suffering readers will be aware, Greenwich Council embarrassed its residents in 2010 by withdrawing funding from the long-running Blackheath fireworks display, claiming it couldn’t afford it because of Conservative government cuts. Greenwich and Lewisham used to fund the display jointly, then Greenwich left its neighbour in the lurch.

However, while Lewisham Council has struggled to raise the money to keep the display going, Greenwich has been freely spending on its own events – fireworks to mark becoming a royal borough, fireworks to impress Tall Ships Race chiefs, private mayoral inauguration ceremonies (at £20,000 a pop), and last year, a £17,000 Hollywood-themed parade to publicise the forthcoming cinema in Eltham.

Eltham cinema launch

Eltham MP Clive Efford, Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland, deputy Danny Thorpe and friends. Photo: Eltham Labour Party

A couple of years back, Greenwich started paying £10,000 towards the £87,000 display. Last year, it refused to increase that sum, despite pleas from Lewisham.

It’s created a lot of bad feeling, even at the highest levels in Lewisham Council.

When the general election was called, and help was needed to save Clive Efford’s seat in Eltham, Lewisham Labour could have told their colleagues in Greenwich to get stuffed, and gone to help colleagues in Bermondsey and Croydon instead.

But they didn’t. They crossed the border in force, marching past Leegate and into their neighbouring borough to help keep Eltham a Labour seat. And they won – handsomely.

How to pay them back? It should be a no-brainer. As Labour activists will have realised in the past few weeks, us south-east Londoners are better and stronger united rather than divided by boundary lines. It’s time for Greenwich Council to finally right a wrong committed in the bad old days of Chris Roberts – and pay its fair share towards Blackheath fireworks again.

Six thoughts after June 2017’s general election in Greenwich borough

Polling station sign in a puddle in Westcombe Park Road

The dust may never settle on the 2017 general election until the next one comes along. But the result was clear-cut in this part of south-east London – a big “up yours” to the woman currently barricading herself inside 10 Downing Street with the help of strange men in bowler hats.

So, only a few days late, and with the caveat that I spent the final week of the campaign sat reading Roger Moore’s autobiography in the Barcelona sunshine instead of attending hustings, here are a few observations on what election night meant for Greenwich, Woolwich, Eltham and beyond. (Declaration videos are from Sky News.)

1. Matthew Pennycook is now the King of Greenwich (and Woolwich)
Look at the size of that. 64.4% of the vote. Matt Pennycook scored Labour’s highest vote share since the Greenwich & Woolwich seat was created in 1997 (in Greenwich, you have to look to the 1971 by-election to see a higher share), beating anything his predecessor Nick Raynsford achieved. That’s a Lewisham-style share, for heaven’s sake. Voters evidently forgave his Brexit votes – or didn’t care that much anyway or prioritised other issues. Or maybe voters just hated the Tories.

His campaign saw him open up a little bit of space between him and his Labour colleagues – let’s call them the Berkeley Homes Party – running the council. His election literature referred to his anti-Silvertown Tunnel stance and his work in trying to amend the Berkeley Homes Party’s mistake of doing developers’ bidding at the Enderby Wharf cruise liner terminal, things Raynsford would never have done. Whatever, this win should silence his local critics and remind the Berkeley Homes Party what Labour should be about in this area.

2. Clive Efford’s return means little change at Greenwich Council… for now
The result in Eltham mattered almost as much in Greenwich & Woolwich (and Erith & Thamesmead) as it did south of the A207. Clive Efford’s stunning victory almost – but not quite – matched the levels of his first win in 1997, landing 54.4% of the vote, up from 42.6% last time. Labour didn’t just throw the kitchen sink at Eltham, it threw the cooker, fridge, microwave and cutlery to leave the local Tories badly wounded. It was aided by the Tories slashing local school budgets – sprinkling Matt Hartley’s faltering campaign with poison from the off – but most of all by hordes of activists, notably from Lewisham. (However to pay them back?)

But the win also consolidates Efford’s vice-like grip on the Eltham Labour Party, which in turn consolidates the Eltham Labour Party’s vice-like grip on the Greenwich Council Labour group. While Matt Pennycook will be much stronger as a result of last week, anyone hoping for power to drain from the stale leadership currently running the council may have to wait a little while longer.

3. Matt Hartley has himself to blame for losing Eltham
Did the Tories take Eltham for granted? It was their 29th target seat. Their candidate failed to show up at hustings, and failed to defend local schools from cuts. But perhaps the problems started a year ago, when Matt Hartley was putting leaflets through doors insisting Britain was about to be flooded with Syrian refugees via Turkey, and breezily insisting that the Vote Leave campaign wasn’t fronted left, right and centre by lies and liars.

The EU referendum ushered in a period of huge political turmoil, of which last week’s poll – “only Theresa May can make these Brexit negotiations a success” – was just a part. In the end, the chaos that Hartley helped unleash also consumed his parliamentary ambitions – in this area, at least – and it’s made the local Tories look rather silly.

Would his predecessor as council leader and candidate, Spencer Drury, have done better? Maybe not – Hartley still added 3,100 votes to the Tories’ share, while Drury saw a small fall in 2015. But for now, Eltham is Labour territory once again, and it’ll take an earthquake – or a boundary change – to shift them.

4. The Liberal Democrats blew it with bullshit
Pardon the language. In Greenwich and Woolwich, this wasn’t an election for great political literature. The Labour leaflet was too wordy, the Tory one vacuous, the Green one vague. But the Lib Dem took the biscuit for bullshit. It was unfortunate that candidate Chris Adams had to move home shortly before the poll – his old SE8 address (even if on the Lewisham side) would have looked better on the ballot paper than “address in the Dulwich and West Norwood consituency”.

Actually, Matt Pennycook has been the most outspoken of all Labour MPs on the Silvertown Tunnel – despite this Lib Dem claim.

However, his literature let him down. Even if Brexit turned out to be a bigger issue, most people who feel stronger about remaining in the EU tend to be a bit more engaged and would never have fallen for “Jeremy Corbyn and Matthew Pennycook back the Tories’ hard Brexit”. It even featured a dodgy graph. And while the Lib Dems’ opposition to the Silvertown Tunnel was welcome, them getting key facts about it wrong in two separate leaflets wasn’t. (As someone who’s campaigned against the tunnel, they’d have been very welcome to ask.) It was idiotic not to have featured their key electoral asset in this field – their excellent London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon, who has actually done things to help the anti-tunnel cause – and just  looked like a weird vendetta against Matt Pennycook. It backfired, and deservedly so.

5. The Greens actually need to tell people to vote for them
There’s no disguising that this was a terrible election for the Greens. It was always going to be tough. They were smart to stand down in Eltham, but the problem with pushing for a “progressive alliance” was identified by former London Assembly member Darren Johnson, who observed that if you keep standing down, that’s what all the headlines will be about, rather than your policies.

And so it proved, with the Greens getting terrible London results, even in their heartland constituencies. In Greenwich & Woolwich, the Berkeley Homes Party’s antics should have provided Dan Garrun with an open goal and a chance to hold Matt Pennycook’s feet to the fire. But their national problems were made worse by vague election literature (not living in the target Peninsula ward I didn’t see it all, but their website contained very little) and tweets that suggested they really weren’t bothered if people didn’t vote for them. So they didn’t – resulting in just 3% of the vote and a lost deposit. Pay attention next time, Greens.

6. In Greenwich borough, this was only the beginning
In inner London, Labour is an awesome, even fearsome machine. Their get-the-vote-out teams prowl the streets on election day, and the party’s stuffed full of old hands who know just how to run an election. You don’t know them, but they have a pretty good idea of just how you might vote. For them, much of this was a dry run for next May’s council election. Greenwich’s selections start now – always entertaining in a party where they largely hate each other, but with the added spice of Momentum-backed candidates ready to pounce. (There’s also the influence of the Pentecostal New Wine Church, but that’s for another time.) For Greenwich’s Labour (and Berkeley Homes Party) councillors, and those who want to replace them, the battle is only just beginning.

Bonus news from elsewhere: Millwall relegated at the polls
In 1990, Charlton Athletic fans who were enraged at Greenwich Council’s refusal to allow the club to return to The Valley formed their own political party to fight that year’s council elections. The Valley Party got 10.9% of the vote, unseated the chair of the planning committee, and forced the council to change its mind. This year, Millwall fans who were enraged at Lewisham Council’s plans to compulsorily-purchase part of the club’s land at The Den decided to follow suit.

But they cocked it up in fine style – standing in the general election (why?) in Lewisham East (some way from The Den, and – Downham/ Grove Park excepted – not really a heartland of Lions support) against Labour’s Heidi Alexander. But Alexander is a hugely popular figure locally, and has been effectively fire-proofed ever since her part in the campaign to save Lewisham Hospital from cuts. Candidate Willow Winston, an artist with a studio close to the Den, lost her deposit, netting a derisory 355 votes (0.75%) and showing that £500 is a big price to pay for securing some sympathetic Guardian coverage. Millwall may have been promoted back to the Championship last month, but their fans’ political nous remains in the relegation zone.

Your comments on the local issues raised here are welcome…

Election 2017: Three to challenge Pennycook in Greenwich & Woolwich

Matthew Pennycook

Our mate Matt: Labour’s Matt Pennycook meets some chums in Woolwich

Just three candidates are taking on Greenwich & Woolwich’s sitting MP Matt Pennycook at the coming general election – with the Liberal Democrats hoping his stance on Brexit will revive their local fortunes.

Realistically, the only real question is how big Pennycook’s majority will be – in 2015, the former councillor romped home with 52.2% of the vote. He came a thumping 11,946 ahead of Tory challenger Matt Hartley, who has now crossed the Shooters Hill Road to stand in the more promising territory of Eltham.

Caroline Attfield

Caroline Attfield stood in the European Parliament elections in 2014

Rather than field one of their better-known local names, the Tories have picked Lewisham-based banker and management consultant Caroline Attfield to run in an area that hasn’t seen a Conservative victory since the 1930s. Fun fact: A Greenwich-based company registered in the name of a Caroline Attfield, Clackers Ltd, used to trade under the name of Shut Up Blackheath Ltd – she’ll be hoping for the opposite on the doorstep over the coming weeks.

Dan Garrun

The Greens’ Dan Garrun during the junior doctors’ dispute

The Greens are fielding local party co-ordinator Dan Garrun, who lives in Woolwich. He’ll be hoping their campaigning on the Enderby Wharf cruise liner terminal and Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park will have kept them in the public’s mind.

But maybe the most intriguing question is whether the Liberal Democrats can improve on their  2015 result, where they got just 5.7% of the vote, leaving them in fifth. Candiate Chris Adams is making Brexit his main campaign theme – after Pennycook, Labour’s shadow minister for exiting the EU, supported triggering Article 50 back in February, in contrast to neighbouring Labour MPs Heidi Alexander and Vicky Foxcroft, who opposed it.

Chris Adams and Tim Farron

Smile if you’re a Lib Dem: Chris Adams with party leader Tim Farron

“Matthew Pennycook has given a green light to a hard Brexit, by voting for it despite the express will of his constituents in Greenwich and Woolwich who voted decisively to Remain in June last year,” Adams says.

“I will commit here and now to do everything in my power to keep Britain in Europe and in the Single Market.”

Pennycook set out his reasoning ahead of the vote: “To seek to nullify the referendum result by parliamentary means risks, in my view, creating further social division, fuelling the rise of the far-right, adding to the alienation already felt by a significant section of the electorate and perhaps even sparking civil unrest in some parts of the country.

“As such, I respectfully disagree with those who maintain that, whatever the potential negative social and political implications, MPs should seek to overturn the result.”

Pennycook is adamant he will fight for Britain’s interests – it’s a discussion that will surely continue at hustings planned for Mycenae House, Blackheath on 31 May and Charlton Assembly Rooms on 4 June.

Despite a healthy rise in local party membership, the Lib Dems have picked a candidate from outside the area – Adams’ address is given as being in the Dulwich and West Norwood constituency.

The Lib Dems’ vote will no doubt reflect how big an issue Brexit is for local people: but there are other issues, not least Labour’s own leader, with party volunteers reporting plenty of grumbling about Jeremy Corbyn on the doorstep.

It’s the first time just four candidates have stood in Greenwich & Woolwich since the seat was created in 1997 – and it may be the last, as the constituency is due for the chop under a boundary review. Rumours that the Monster Raving Loony Party were to stand ex-Green activist Trevor Allman proved to be baseless – despite a posting from a Twitter account purporting to be from a local branch of the party.

Greenwich & Woolwich candidates: Chris Adams (Liberal Democrats), Caroline Attfield (Conservatives), Daniel Garrun (Green), Matthew Pennycook (Labour)

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Boundary review sees Greenwich & Woolwich MP’s seat set for chop

Polling station on Victoria Way, Charlton

South-east London’s political map faces being completely redrawn under proposals released today to cut the number of MPs in England.

A Boundary Commission report suggests splitting up the Greenwich & Woolwich seat – currently held by Matt Pennycook – along with neighbouring Lewisham Deptford and Erith & Thamesmead as part of a wholesale redrawing of the parliamentary map.

The proposals see Pennycook’s seat divided into Greenwich & Deptford (stretching from Brockley in the west to parts of Lee Green and Charlton in the east) and Woolwich (stretching from Charlton in the west to parts of Thamesmead and Bexleyheath in the east).

But Eltham MP Clive Efford is a big winner, seeing his constituency expand to take in the Woolwich Common ward, meaning Woolwich will be split between two seats. While there’s a precedent for this historically – in the past the Eltham seat has eaten into Woolwich (having evolved out of a seat called Woolwich West) – having Woolwich town centre split this way is bound to anger many.

Furthermore, Thamesmead is also split along the Greenwich/Bexley boundary, while Charlton could find itself having three MPs.

Boundary Commission proposals

The proposals effectively leave Pennycook, Lewisham Deptford’s Vicky Foxcroft and Erith & Thamesmead’s Teresa Pearce in electoral limbo – potentially pitching Pennycook and Pearce against each other. Pennycook could plump for Greenwich & Deptford, but his proportion of the new seat’s electorate falls just short of the 40% required by Labour to be entitled to seek selection – 39.7% of voters of potential Greenwich & Deptford voters currently have him as an MP – leaving Vicky Foxcroft in prime position to take over.

Pearce could switch to Erith & Crayford and contest that at the next election, but this contains just less than 40% of her old seat, making her position much less secure under Labour selection rules. Furthermore, this is likely to be a fight against sitting Conservative David Evenett.

But both Pearce and Pennycook could contest “Woolwich” – Pennycook just squeaking through with 40.02% of potential voters. Over the border, Heidi Alexander would be a shoo-in for a new Lewisham & Catford seat, one of the less odd proposals to come from the commission.

These are just rough calculations, but a hugely awkward situation for local Labour MPs is also complicated by the rise of Jeremy Corbyn-backed pressure group Momentum, who are agitating for existing MPs to face re-selection by their local parties anyway. With Momentum stronger in more suburban areas, even Clive Efford will be looking over his shoulder. But that’s another story…

This is just the beginning of the process – in the last coalition government, the Lib Dems withdrew support for boundary changes that would have divided east and west Greenwich, then created a barmy Eltham & Charlton seat instead.

There is also the further complication of council wards being redrawn (now in Bexley, after 2018 in Greenwich (definitely) and Lewisham (probably)) which could result in further tinkering.

You can see the proposals for yourself – and comment – at bce2018.org.uk. A word of warning – if you think these proposals are mad, someone can always come up with something madder.

1.45pm update: Try coming up with something madder yourself at boundaryassistant.org.

Divided borough: How Greenwich voted in the the EU referendum

imageResidents in Greenwich borough voted by 55% to 45% to remain in the European Union yesterday – but the rest of England didn’t follow its lead. The referendum result has set in play a tumultuous series of events that will eventually touch all our lives.

Too often, Londoners like to think that they’re above the provincial masses in terms of their political awareness. But one strong cue that the game was up for the Remain camp came between 1.30 and 2am with the turnout figures across Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley. 63% in Lewisham, 69% in Greenwich… and 75% in Bexley, which was always going to vote Leave.

By breakfast time, Lewisham was 70% Remain, Greenwich 55%, Bexley just 37%.

The closeness of the vote should have come as no surprise – remember, Greenwich voters narrowly backed Boris Johnson for mayor in 2008.

Officially, that’s as detailed as it gets. But thanks to Lib Dem campaigner Stewart Christie, who was at the count in Woolwich, for posting this ward-by-ward Greenwich breakdown on Twitter…

These are the 17 Greenwich wards in alphabetical order. A health warning – postal ballots were thrown into the mix, so they may not provide the full picture.  But nonethless, the results provide an interesting insight into the communities that make up the borough.

  • Abbey Wood (3 Lab): Remain 45.70%, LEAVE 54.23%
  • Blackheath Westcombe (2 Lab, 1 Con): REMAIN 70.47%, Leave 29.45%
  • Charlton (3 Lab): REMAIN 58.53%, Leave 41.41%
  • Coldharbour/ New Eltham (3 Con): Remain 42.04%, LEAVE 57.91%
  • Eltham North (2 Lab, 1 Con): Remain 48.21%, LEAVE 51.74%
  • Eltham South (3 Con): Remain 44.29%, LEAVE 55.69%
  • Eltham West (3 Lab): Remain 43.96%, LEAVE 56.00%
  • Glyndon (3 Lab): REMAIN 54.02%, Leave 45.94%
  • Greenwich West (3 Lab): REMAIN 76.31%, Leave 23.65%
  • Kidbrooke with Hornfair (3 Lab): REMAIN 51.85%, Leave 48.11%
  • Middle Park & Sutcliffe (3 Lab): REMAIN 50.73%, Leave 49.23%
  • Peninsula (3 Lab): REMAIN 69.06%, Leave 30.90%
  • Plumstead (3 Lab): Remain 49.30%, LEAVE 50.63%
  • Shooters Hill (3 Lab): REMAIN 55.86%, Leave 44.11%
  • Thamesmead Moorings (3 Lab): REMAIN 55.36%, Leave 44.59%
  • Woolwich Common (3 Lab): REMAIN 61.05%, Leave 38.92%
  • Woolwich Riverside (3 Lab): REMAIN 59.40%, Leave 40.51%

No surprise to see the (mostly) more prosperous Greenwich West and Blackheath Westcombe wards leading the remain vote, along with Peninsula ward, which has changed utterly in the past two decades.  Strong votes around Woolwich and Thamesmead will be testament to strong Labour “get the vote out” operations – opponents mess with the Labour machine at their peril.

But it’s also telling to see the four Eltham wards voting out. Eltham’s always voted more like the rest of England than London.

Coldharbour & New Eltham, Eltham North and Eltham South bucked the trend and backed Zac Goldsmith rather than Sadiq Khan in May – it’s arguable that these areas have more in common, politically, with Bexley and Bromley than the rest of Greenwich borough – while Eltham North and Eltham West (which also includes a chunk of Kidbrooke) polled strongly for Ukip.

None of this should have been a surprise. But it will cause unease for those in charge of – or with great influence over – Greenwich Council,  who mostly live in this area, even if they don’t represent it.

Leader Denise Hyland, deputy Danny Thorpe, recently-deposed deputy John Fahy – all SE9 residents – will be shifting a little more uncomfortably today in the knowledge that a campaign based – despite Greenwich Tory leader Matt Hartley’s good intentions – mainly around immigration fears and false claims on NHS funding can sway a majority of their immediate neighbours.

Should the UK’s instability lead to an early general election, MP Clive Efford – who only last week helped mastermind Labour’s victory in the Tooting by-election – will be looking anxiously over his shoulder. The council project to rejuvenate Eltham High Street may suddenly have rather a lot riding on it.

It won’t come as much comfort for them that the areas that backed “remain” most strongly are in the north-west of the borough, the area that pushes back most strongly against council-backed development schemes such as the Enderby Wharf cruise liner terminal. Still, on that and the Silvertown Tunnel, who needed European laws on air pollution anyway?

But the strongest “leave” votes came in Labour strongholds – Eltham West, which has seen the Ferrier Estate demolished and replaced with a largely private development; and Abbey Wood, Denise Hyland’s ward, utterly neglected until the arrival of Crossrail, and now also seeing the arrival of the developers building as fast as they can until the bubble bursts.

Just as in the deindustrialised towns of northern England and south Wales, you can’t help feeling chickens have come home to roost for complacent local establishments – however much this may feel like turkeys voting for Christmas.

Was there a positive EU story to tell the people of Eltham West and Abbey Wood, or anywhere else in Greenwich borough? If there was, it wasn’t forthcoming. It wasn’t coming from their councillors, and it wasn’t coming from the local Stronger In campaign.

Actually, Greenwich University benefits from EU funding for small businesses;  as have arts projects such as Greenwich Dance and Greenwich & Docklands International Festival.

The Woolwich Arsenal DLR extension had £100m in European Investment Bank loans, while EU projects part-funded the Emirates Air Line (will they want their money back?) and the driverless cars project in Greenwich Peninsula. There must be more (here’s a list of small projects in Lewisham),  but information on them isn’t easy to find.

The failure of the Remain campaign wasn’t just at a national level, but at a local one too, with local councillors and campaigners unable or simply unwilling to communicate local benefits of EU membership that will now be lost forever.

Whether they, in time,  will be replaced with new opportunities remains to be seen. This wasn’t a regional vote, and pointing fingers at council wards, boroughs, regions or countries is futile.

But this disastrously divisive referendum has reminded us that politics is much more complicated than simple questions of left and right. It’s shown there are areas of Greenwich borough that don’t understand each other, never mind London’s relationship with England or how England can look Scotland in the eye again.

Whatever the future brings, the fiercely tribal establishment in charge of Greenwich borough will do well to remember this. Whether they will or not is another story altogether.

Former Civil Service boss to lead Greenwich fairness commission

Connaught Estate, Woolwich, August 2015

Woolwich’s Connaught Estate comes down… but many residents are being left behind by the pace of change in the area

Greenwich Council has drafted in the UK’s former top civil servant to lead a commission to recommend policies to help it combat poverty in the borough.

Lord Kerslake, who as Sir Bob Kerslake was the head of the Home Civil Service for five years until 2015, will chair the Greenwich Fairness Commission, which will have “a particular focus on tackling child poverty and making Greenwich a fairer place for our residents”.

The council’s decision to launch the commission is an acknowledgement that developers’ investment in the area isn’t trickling down to those who need help – or in Woolwich’s case, across the A206. While unaffordable residential towers sprout up by the Thames, the council report announcing Kerslake’s appointment notes “a sharp increase over the past two years in the number of people presenting to the council as homeless”.

Five other London boroughs – Islington, Camden, Tower Hamlets, Croydon and Redbridge – have already set up commissions, making recommendations aimed at making sure disadvantaged residents have the best chance of improving their lives and getting out of poverty.

For example, Islington’s recommendations aimed to tackle issues such as childcare, literacy, poor health, use of community space, and public safety.

The appointment of Kerslake, who was also the permanent secretary to the Department of Communities and Local Government under Sir Eric Pickles, will no doubt be aimed at hushing grumbles from local Tories that the commission will simply be a stick to beat the government with. One council cabinet member – likely to be community wellbeing member Denise Scott-McDonald – is likely to sit on what is otherwise billed as an independent panel “drawn from the local private, voluntary and further/higher education sectors”.

That said, Kerslake is not an entirely disinterested party – these days, he is chair of Peabody, the housing association which is now redeveloping much of Thamesmead, on the borough’s eastern boundary.

The commission will hold four or five meetings to gather evidence and is expected to cost £20,000. It will report back to the council by the end of the year.

In a separate development, a vital stage in attempting to rejuvenate Woolwich’s fortunes has been reached, with Greenwich Council’s cabinet set to ratify a decision to sell the crumbling block containing Woolwich’s covered market to developers St Modwen and Notting Hill Housing Association to build 650 homes, a cinema and a new public square.

How did Sadiq Khan get caught by the cable car’s finances?

Happy new year. Sorry, back to the cable car again.

Greenwich cable car, 18 June 2012

If you use public transport in London, 2016 opened with a fare rise – and that included the Emirates Air Line, which slapped 10p on an adult single trip. The annual round of fare rises also kicked off campaigning for May’s mayoral election, with the Greens’ Sian Berry demanding London’s fare zones be axed (Woolwich residents fuming at being stuck in zone 4 take note) and Labour’s Sadiq Khan pushing his plan to freeze fares.

Khan told the Evening Standard he would fund the £450m freeze by scrapping Boris Johnson’s “vanity projects”, with our very own cable car in the firing line.

“I’ll start by ending any further public funding for the Emirates cable car as soon as the contract allows — if that means it closes, then so be it,” he said. “It has been a disastrous waste of money and costs more than £5 million a year to run.”

This is cobblers. The cable car’s operating costs are certainly about £5m – but its popularity as a tourist attraction means it’s making a sum quite near that back in fares. This is a bit like Khan demanding the 177 bus is scrapped because it costs £4.6m each year to run – he’s ignoring what it makes back in revenue.

Indeed, I’m indebted to Mayorwatch’s Martin Hoscik for chasing up the figures with TfL – the accounts show it makes a surplus.

An analysis of Transport for London’s audited accounts show that, instead of receiving a “subsidy”, the scheme’s fare revenue met or exceeded operating costs in each of the last three financial years.

In its first nine months of operation, the period covered by TfL’s 2012/13 accounts, just under two million passengers were carried, generating fares revenue of £6m.

During 2013/14 passengers numbers, which were boosted the previous year by the scheme’s novelty and London’s hosting of the Olympics, fell to 1.5 million passengers with fare revenue of £5m.

Passenger numbers remained flat in 2014/15 at 1.5 million but revenue increased from £5 million to £6 million.

We know that operating costs have fallen – which is why a story last summer that the cable car was losing money fell apart. Transport Commissioner Mike Brown’s most recent report to the TfL board said the Emirates Air Line has made a £1m surplus since it opened.

Boris Johnson launching the cable car in 2011

Boris Johnson launching the cable car in 2011

This doesn’t suddenly make the cable car a brilliant idea – user numbers have pretty much flatlined, and Boris Johnson’s stated aim of it paying its build costs (£16m (£60m minus £36m from Emirates and £8m from the EU)) looks like a tricky proposition.

It’s also certainly so far failed as both a commuter link and a generator of significant extra employment, both justifications used for building it.

But Khan was wrong to have highlighted the operating costs.

The big flaw in the cable car is that £16m that could have gone into, say, improving the botched bus infrastructure on the Greenwich Peninsula (where a pedestrian died yesterday morning) has instead gone into a tourist attraction that sits apart from the public transport system with incompatible fares.

Indeed, as Mayorwatch points out, the Emirates sponsorship contract ties TfL into operating it until 2021, by which time London could be on its fourth mayor. There is a break clause in 2017, but it’d be costly for TfL to break the contract and it would lose a big chunk of the Emirates sponsorship cash.

So the mayoral candidates are stuck with a tourist attraction that seems to just about tick over financially. It’s one to watch – maybe tinkering with fares could boost weekday usage – but with TfL losing all its government grant by 2019, there are bigger things to worry about, like protecting bus services.

Asked to comment on the scheme’s published finances, a spokesman for Mr Khan’s campaign said: “We’ll review it… and the likeliest option is it closing in 2021”.

But Sadiq Khan doesn’t know what the Royal Docks and Greenwich Peninsula will be like in 2021, when the Emirates contract ends. Nor do any of us. I’m not sure whether there’ll be a significant commuter traffic (you’d need a lot of people living on the peninsula and working in the Royals, or vice versa) but there’s clear evidence of plenty of leisure traffic. Closing it would leave London one river crossing down – however flawed it may be, and may leave TfL recording an overall loss.

The mayor in 2021 could sell the cable car, which could guarantee an instant return); could cut opening hours (the current contract mandates opening up by 7am, when hardly anybody uses it); or could go the other way and integrate it into the public transport system (which could cost a bit but most public transport costs a bit).

Or the 2021 mayor could carry on as now, with a new sponsor contract, maybe wiping the build costs once and for all, and leave the issue for few years in the future.

The cable car is an intriguing problem for the next mayor – and how they react to it will tell you a lot about them. What we’ve learned about Sadiq Khan is that he needs some new advisors – fast.