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.
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.
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”.
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…
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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