Category: politics

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 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

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.

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.

Safe seats and social media – Greenwich’s election car crash

Tweet from Cllr Stephen Brain
I had some thoughts about how some Labour councillors are doing their best to torpedo Matt Pennycook’s otherwise highly-impressive election campaign by acting like idiots on social media. I was going to save those thoughts – and plenty of others about the election – until tomorrow night, once the polls had closed.

Then one of them had a go at me. All I’d done was grumble about the bins.

Because this website shouldn’t be about me and who I’m voting for, you can find out why safe seats and social media lead to an election car crash over on Medium.