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.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. 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.“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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Greenwich borough’s Green Party has withdrawn plans to stand candidate against Labour’s Clive Efford in Eltham at the general election “to protect a marginal seat from falling into Conservative hands”.
Efford is defending a slim 2,693 majority in the highly marginal constituency, which is 29th on the Tories’ national target list. Council opposition leader Matt Hartley is hoping to take the seat back for the Conservatives, 20 years after Efford first won Eltham.
The Labour win in 2015 was aided by Ukip scoring 6,481, denying Conservative candidate Spencer Drury victory.
Ukip is not standing here, so now the battle is on to secure those votes – and those of any other party. Labour volunteers have been flooding over the border from Lewisham and elsewhere to help Efford, while Hartley has been tapping up top Tories such as Liz Truss and Priti Patel along with neighbouring MPs David Evenett and Jo Johnson.
Now the Greens have made a last-minute move to drop their candidate, Bromley-based campaigner Ann Garratt, to try to stop Eltham being part of any Tory advance. This follows the example of Green parties in other London marginal seats such as Ealing Central & Acton, Brentford & Isleworth and Ilford North, where Green candidates have also been stood down. Party co-leader Caroline Lucas has been actively encouraging local parties to come to deals.
The move comes after talks with local Labour representatives, although no deal was made and the Greens say the decision was theirs alone. Last week, local party co-ordinator Dan Garrun cited Labour’s poor local elections showing in saying: “It’s essential we give people the opportunity to vote for a genuinely progressive party.”
But a party statement released half an hour after nominations closed said: “Members of the Greenwich Green Party have voted to stand aside their candidate in Eltham and will not contest the constituency in the General Election to be held on June 8th.
“The decision was not made as part of a so-called electoral alliance but to protect a marginal seat from falling into Conservative hands.
“In our discussion with the local Labour Party, we were pleased to elicit a promise that they will push for a better electoral system based on proportional representation. Clive Efford MP has also assured us of his intentions to stand up for the environment, protect the NHS and oppose a harmful Brexit. We will hold Labour to it.
“The decision was not an easy one and we urge our supporters in Eltham to rally around our candidates in Greenwich & Woolwich and Erith & Thamesmead. We look forward to campaigning as usual after the election and in the run up to the 2018 council elections.”
The Greens scored 1,275 votes in 2015, so a close Tory win this time around would have left the party in line for criticism. Since the party also lost its Eltham deposit in 2015, it also rather handily saves them £500 – an important consideration for a smaller party.
It remains to be seen whether the Greens’ move sweetens relations in a borough with a remarkably sour political atmosphere. The departure of ex-council leader Chris Roberts has left Efford in a hugely influential position over the way the area’s Labour politicians conduct themselves. Indeed, he’s credited with getting current council leader Denise Hyland involved in politics.
Efford’s slim majority – and a recent council by-election defeat in Eltham North – goes some way to explaining why those around him can often seem to be in fight mode, which can look out of place from over the fence in Greenwich & Woolwich, where the Tories ceased to be a threat three decades ago. So this could be a bitter battle.
On paper, this should be Matt Hartley’s to lose. Some simple analysis – taken together, the wards that make up the Eltham seat recorded more votes to leave the EU than remain in last year’s referendum, with Hartley an enthusiastic leave campaigner. (Efford abstained in February’s vote to trigger Article 50.) So you might expect him to be the rightful inheritor of the 6,481 votes Ukip got in 2015, which would take him to victory.
But there’s more to it than that. The Eltham constituency narrowly awarded more first choice votes to Sadiq Khan than Zac Goldsmith in the mayoral election.
Drilling down to ward level, you can see the divide. Coldharbour & New Eltham, Eltham North and Eltham South plumped for Goldsmith, the remaining wards – Eltham West, Middle Park & Sutcliffe, Kidbrooke with Hornfair and Shooters Hill – preferred the Labour man. Expect a huge Labour “get the vote out” operation in those four Khan-backing seats as polling day approaches.
Clapham-based academic David Hall-Matthews, a former senior lecturer in international development at the University of Leeds, is representing the Liberal Democrats this time around after previously standing for seats in Leeds and Bradford.
John Clarke is standing for the British National Party with the slogan “Local People First”, despite having a Croydon address.
7.45pm update: While the Greens have given Clive Efford a hand, Jeremy Corbyn-backing group Momentum doesn’t seem to be doing the same. A new website, My Nearest Marginal, directs keen activists to their nearest marginal seat. But if you enter an Eltham address, it sends you to… Croydon.
Eltham consituency candidates: John Clarke (BNP), Clive Efford (Labour), Ann Garratt (Green), David Hall-Matthews (Liberal Democrats), Matt Hartley (Conservative).
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