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’s Green Party has defended its Greenwich & Woolwich candidate Abbey Akinoshun after he missed a series of election hustings in the constituency.
Akinoshun was absent for the final four hustings of the campaign, with the party supplying substitute speakers or not represented.
The 50-year-old’s absence had sparked rumours the party was unhappy with its candidate’s performance.
But local party press officer Simon Edge dismissed the claims, saying Akinoshun – who runs a Woolwich-based business which helps people going through employment tribunals – had been too busy with work to attend all the hustings.
Akinoshun’s selection has been the subject of a campaign from former party member Trevor Allman, who walked out of the Greens earlier this year branding the candidate an “opportunist”.
“We had never heard of him, as he had never attended a branch meeting or participated in any Green Party activity, thus what credentials did he have to represent the Green Party as a parliamentary candidate?”, Allman said.
Allman – now in Left Unity – has seized on Akinoshun’s absence, criticising him in a series of tweets, calling him “not exactly committed”.
A former Labour member who lives in Abbey Wood, Akinoshun sought selection for that party in Erith & Thamesmead in 2009, losing out to Teresa Pearce. He then ran as an independent candidate in that constituency, winning 1% of votes – beating the Green candidate Marek Powley.
He told me on Twitter that he ran against the Greens before he “[knew] they stand as a party that wants to build a society that works for the common good”.
Allman – who has stood for the Greens in council elections, attracting over 1,000 votes in Blackheath Westcombe in the past two polls – tried to run as a rival candidate. But he was blocked because it was discovered he was not actually a member of the main Green Party of England & Wales.
Absence from hustings
Akinoshun’s absence was first noted on Saturday, when he dropped out of a hustings in Charlton at short notice. The event attracted 120 voters.
“He was very stressed, largely because of this work commitment, and we agreed it was better to let it go and give him a chance to recharge his batteries,” Edge says.
Charlton Society organisers Andrew Donkin and Helen Jakeways declined the Greens’ offer to send a substitute, as they felt it would be unfair on the other candidates.
Akinoshun also did not appear at a hustings held by another residents group in Charlton on Monday, the National Union of Teachers on Tuesday, and the Greenwich Association of Disabled People on Wednesday. Substitutes represented the Greens at the other two, while Edge said the party wasn’t aware of the Charlton Central Residents Association hustings.
“He has a busy day job where he has to commit to his clients, and his work diary has to come first because it’s his own business and he has a family to support,” Edge added.
“We’re a party that has always had a collegiate leadership structure, so we hope it’s not inappropriate to have other people step forward to help.”
‘Charisma and passion’
He dismissed suggestions party members were unhappy with their candidate, praising his “charisma” when speaking to individual members of the public and “his passion, particularly in reaching out to the parts of the electorate who are often taken for granted by the Labour Party”.
Greenwich & Woolwich is certainly unusual in hosting nine hustings – just one has been held in neighbouring Eltham – and Edge conceded that volunteers had been overwhelmed by the level of interest.
In common with the Greens nationwide, the local party membership has exploded in the past year, and is now at about 250 members. But elections will remain hard work for a small band of volunteers, especially without the well-funded party machines that their larger rivals enjoy.
Edge added: “Great as it is that hustings seems to have become really fashionable, they can be all-consuming. I do think candidates need room to go out on the knocker as well as addressing meetings.”
Labour advantage at disability hustings
Meanwhile, the Labour party enjoyed an advantage at the Greenwich Association of Disabled People’s hustings last night – having two candidates to address the audience while rivals only had one.
Both Greenwich & Woolwich’s Matt Pennycook and Eltham’s Clive Efford spoke and answered questions at east Greenwich’s Forum for the early part of the evening, while the Tories, Lib Dems and Greens only had one representative each.
I’m told GAD invited all candidates standing in Greenwich borough – although if all 18 had turned up to an event attended by about 30 people, it could have resembled more of a speed-dating night than a hustings.
I didn’t stay for the whole hustings, but it wasn’t an edifying event, with the chair trying to block follow-up questions from the audience because of “election rules” (this isn’t the case). After Efford had left for his own local hustings, Pennycook tried to inject a bit of life into it himself by quizzing Green substitute Phil Connolly on the party’s citizen income policy.
At one point, Connolly found himself howled down by the chair for talking through a process of being assessed for benefits – “they know, they’re disabled!,” she shouted.
Meanwhile, a member of the public was allowed to get away with the dog-whistle question of asking candidates where they were born. He huffed loudly when Conservative Matt Hartley, who was raised in Macclesfield, explained where he came from.
Greenwich & Woolwich candidates: Ryan Acty (Ukip), Abbey Akinoshun (Green), Lynne Chamberlain (Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition), Matt Pennycook (Labour), Tom Holder (Liberal Democrats), Matt Hartley (Conservative).
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.
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…
Political Animal (@politic_animal) November 30, 2013