Greenwich Council’s Conservative group has asked Transport for London to halt the controversial Silvertown Tunnel scheme – so it can be assessed along with rejected plans for a Docklands Light Railway extension to Eltham.
The borough’s main opposition group has lined alongside the Labour council’s leadership in backing the new road “in principle”, despite widespread concerns it will increase rather than decrease pollution.
However, it wants the process – which is being rushed through so the planning process can begin before Boris Johnson leaves office – paused so proposals for a DLR link to Eltham can be included in the scheme.
Johnson’s successor can continue with, pause, or scrap the Silvertown Tunnel scheme after May’s mayoral election. A “final” consultation into the proposal ended at the end of November.
In their response to the scheme, the Tories say the tunnel – which relies on the same southern approach road as the Blackwall Tunnel – will be “a much-needed improvement to the resilience of our local transport network.
But the report – from local party leader Matt Hartley and transport spokesman Matt Clare – says that not including a DLR link to Eltham in the scheme is a “missed opportunity” that “would take a significant amount of traffic off the road network” as well as being “transformative for the South East London economy”.
“Our area of London is suffering from decades of under-investment in transport infrastructure because bold decisions were not taken in the past – and we fear that not including the DLR extension is a further example of this,” it adds.
For a scheme that has been flatly rejected by Transport for London, the mythical DLR extension to Eltham has an amazing hold over Greenwich borough politicians – with an ability, in their minds, to magic away the congestion and pollution new road schemes can bring.
The return of the DLR on stilts
So what went wrong? In 2011, Greenwich Council spent £75,000 commissioning two reports into a proposal to build a link from Canning Town to Falconwood, following the A102 and A2, providing a service to and from Stratford International.
Hyder Consulting’s first report, which outlined the idea and costed it at £1 billion, was never released publicly – despite being discussed in a cabinet meeting – until this website obtained it under the Freedom of Information Act. Here it is. It was submitted to TfL for comments.
But the follow-up – which aimed to answer TfL’s concerns – was suppressed by the council, hidden for nearly two years, with misleading answers given to anyone who asked about it. It was also never submitted to TfL. It finally emerged in April 2014 after a former Liberal Democrat councillor asked to see it. (Here it is.)
Why wasn’t the report submitted to TfL? Unfortunately for the council, Hyder report concluded that only an extension to Kidbrooke would be feasible – any further would face “disproportionately higher costs”. (It also said the Silvertown Tunnel itself would overwhelm local roads with traffic, expensive advice that Greenwich Council also chose to ignore.)
And TfL itself dismissed the scheme, pointing out that the Jubilee Line at North Greenwich may not be able to cope with interchanging passengers, and better capacity on the existing DLR services were coming.
But the report did contain some startling images of the DLR on stilts as it weaved its way above dual carriageways and homes. It’s worth a read just for those alone.
The Eltham DLR flame still burns for some…
Of course, councillors are paid to be parochial rather than strategic. Which is why Greenwich frets about north/south links within its own borough, and TfL isn’t so fussed. Although if Greenwich councillors were that bothered, you think they’d have pressed TfL on why travelling from Woolwich to Eltham by bus is so lousy.
But there are still keepers of the Eltham DLR flame. After all, Eltham is still a place that can change elections. Less cynically, one of the causes of the Blackwall Tunnel’s jams is the lack of orbital transport in this part of London. A scheme to Kidbrooke, as the report says, could be a goer. But both Tories and Labour want the full Eltham version of a scheme which TfL simply isn’t interested in.
In its 2014 Silvertown Tunnel consultation response, Greenwich Council placed the Eltham DLR as a condition of its continuing support for the scheme. TfL ignored this, Greenwich’s 2015 response still backs the Silvertown Tunnel. Treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen, eh?
The Tories have started banging on about the scheme too – which is how we’ve ended up where we are today, with the Tories backing a scheme which was discredited in a report commissioned by a Labour council which didn’t bother to submit it to a Tory-run transport authority. Phew.
The real shame is that while Greenwich was messing around with the DLR on stilts, Lewisham Council was pursuing a Bakerloo Line extension through Lewisham and Catford – a scheme that’s got every chance of becoming reality. Politicians in Greenwich have belatedly woken up to the benefits of this – but putting Eltham on the Tube would have been a big, big prize.
So what about Greenwich Labour? Don’t hold your breath…
Meanwhile, Greenwich Council’s response to the Silvertown consultation – in the name of regeneration councillor Danny Thorpe – might as well have been written by former Dear Leader Chris Roberts, whose Bridge The Gap campaign ushered in unconditional support for the tunnel. He’s now working for regeneration PR agency Cratus, which is fretting over whether the Tories will win the mayoral election.
The response, which uses the phrase “royal borough” 57 times, backs the tunnel without hesitation despite outlining a host of concerns, from inadequate air pollution monitoring to the effects on traffic through Greenwich town centre. This continued support suggests it may not be entirely sincere about these concerns, which have been repeated in every consultation since 2012.
It continues to demand that Greenwich borough residents get cheaper car trips through the tunnel while wanting express buses to North Greenwich with priority on the A102 as well – surely contradictory aims for a council that once wanted to persuade people to switch to public transport.
One of the more baffling aspects of the response is a claim that the “opportunity should be taken to improve cross river cycling connections, particularly those between Greenwich Peninsula and the Isle of Dogs”. This is from a council which, when it considered the Greenwich Peninsula masterplan earlier this year, completely ignored a call for a fixed crossing between the peninsula and the Isle of Dogs, even though the cost of it could have been covered by the planning gain.
Instead, it appears to go touting for business for Thames Clippers, owned by O2 owner AEG, putting forward a proposal already included in the masterplan: “The Royal Borough [sic] asks that TfL agrees to explore opportunities to introduce a cross river vehicular or boat ‘cycle shuttle’, to address that demand, as part of ongoing work.”
The dear old Dangleway’s not forgotten, either: “Similarly, the Royal Borough [sic] would expect definitive proposals for a reduction in charges for cyclists using the Cable Car to be contained within the DCO submission.” It’s unclear why cyclists should get a discount ahead of pedestrians, but there you go.
Fiddling while London chokes
So while councils elsewhere pass motions against the Silvertown Tunnel and raise the alarm about the scheme, in Greenwich we have councillors who know full well the scheme will do harm, and are just content to fiddle around the edges rather than take a stand.
Essentially, Greenwich residents are having to rely on Lewisham councillors to defend their interests at the moment – a crazy situation.
We’ve got a mayoral election coming up where both main parties’ candidates will claim to be the “greenest mayor yet”. Their party colleagues in Greenwich seem to be doing their best to sabotage these claims – if they get their way, we’ll all pay for it in the end.
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.
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.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…
One thing’s clear about this Thursday’s council elections – Labour will gallop to victory again. It’s 50 years since the first elections for the London Borough of Greenwich, and Labour has won all but one poll, in 1968, when a stunning London-wide landslide saw it fall to the Conservatives. Business as usual resumed in 1971, and there’s no reason to expect Thursday’s 14th election to be any different.
Most of the action’s going to take place in wards in Eltham, New Eltham and Mottingham, away from this website’s usual north-of-the-borough focus.
One factor which could affect the result will be the European Parliament election taking place the same day, and the near-blanket coverage given to the UK Independence Party and its leader Nigel Farage.
To a smaller extent, the same could be said for the Greens, who should benefit from Euro coverage too. But with Farage barely off our screens for what’s felt like months, it’s Ukip who have the potential to wreak havoc at the local polls too – despite the unpleasant views of many of their candidates.
The London Communications Agency predicts the hard-right party will return up to 50 councillors across the capital – will any of them come in Greenwich?
Greenwich borough’s comprised of 17 wards, which elect three councillors each. Ukip is standing a single councillor in 13 wards – a 14th candidate, in Glyndon ward, failed to get enough nominations in time.
Standing a single candidate means the Faragists can quietly hoover up protest votes from across the political spectrum. So where in the borough is the party’s support strongest?
According to the breakdown of votes from 2012’s London mayoral and assembly elections, Eltham North is Ukip’s happiest hunting ground, scoring 279 votes in the poll for the London-wide member, against 1,385 for the Tories and 1,172 for Labour, and beating the Greens (261), BNP (172) and Lib Dems (159).
I’ve picked this vote as it’s a straight party poll, not distorted by mayoral personalities or Ukip’s accidental rebranding in the mayoral poll (due to a party cock-up) as “Fresh Choice for London”.
Eltham North is represented by Tory leader Spencer Drury and his deputy Nigel Fletcher. The Tories have a slim-ish majority over Labour of 379 – if they lose a chunk of their votes to Ukip, Labour could benefit.
Of course, this theory depends on you believing that Ukip will hoover up disgruntled Tory votes rather than Labour ones. Considering Ukip’s manifesto looks like a Sun editorial from 1983, I suspect they will pick up votes from the right rather than the centre – risking a high-profile scalp for the Labour party. The local Tories agree, and are worried about what the rise of Ukip will mean for their embattled Eltham enclaves.
Ukip are also strong in Coldharbour & New Eltham, in the far south of the borough, where Labour were 353 votes to claiming a scalp in 2010. In 2012, Ukip polled 248 votes here, coming third to the Tories on 1,104 and Labour on 794. Ex-Tory candidate Peter Whittle is standing for Ukip there.
But it’s Eltham South where the Tories could face a horrific squeeze, with similiar levels of Ukip support and rejected councillor Eileen Glover standing against her old party colleagues as an independent. 2012’s assembly vote had the Tories just 240 votes ahead of Labour, which could well come through the middle to seize power.
Greenwich borough’s other strong ward for Ukip, according to the 2012 data, is Abbey Wood, home seat of mayoral contender Denise Hyland.
Don’t be surprised if Ukip beat the Tories out in the east, while the party is also campaigning in the Labour stronghold of Eltham West – which could be vulnerable now the Ferrier Estate has gone.
Why does all this matter? Well, just what shape Greenwich’s next Labour council will take could well be determined by how big Labour’s majority is on the council. An increase in Labour’s 29-seat majority will be seen as vindication of how Chris Roberts did things – and will strengthen the hand of his preferred successor, Denise Hyland. A decrease will show discontent with the Dear Leader’s style – and will give strength to Jackie Smith’s case for taking over.
So it’s well worth keeping on eye on Eltham on Thursday. Of course, if Ukip can grab Labour votes as well, they could even take a seat or two – council elections can be prone to wild fluctuations, although Greenwich seats have been relatively stable. Whether Ukip really want a miserable life as a minor party in the Greenwich Council chamber, with one or two powerless councillors, is another matter, mind. But what of the others?
LABOUR. Seats in 2010: 40/51. Current seats: 39/51. Candidates: 51/51 (See manifesto)
Nobody really knows what Labour party will take charge in Greenwich after 22 May. Will it be the Berkeley Homes Party, guided by the demands of developers, hammering home a heady mix of regeneration schemes, tall ships and road-building? Or will it be something closer to the community politics espoused by the likes of John Fahy and Blackheath Westcombe candidate Cherry Parker? Nobody knows.
Rivals complain that Labour is fighting on national policies rather than its local record. Indeed, my local Charlton Labour Twitter feed has told me nothing about the council’s record – although I now know Terry the local ward organiser’s phone number, should I fancy a spot of canvassing. (Hello, Terry.) That said, this election has seen the first manifesto emerge for eight years – the 2010 version was never published in public – but without the launches seen in other boroughs.
This poll has even seen Labour candidates disown the Labour council’s own policies – Woolwich Common candidate David Gardner claiming that building the Silvertown Tunnel was “not a Greenwich Labour policy”, despite three Labour councillors and a Labour MP launching a campaign to get it built.
The current manifesto position, which I understand was bitterly fought over, merely says “we will consider our position further based on our view of the economic and environmental impact assessments” – leaving plenty of wriggle room. Will a Greenwich Labour council trust a Tory mayor’s assessments, which has been the position so far? “Bridge The Gap is dead,” one Labour insider told me – but what if Denise Hyland takes over?
There are many good candidates standing for Labour – but will there be enough of them to force change? A vote for Labour on Thursday would certainly be a leap of faith.
Wards to watch: Blackheath Westcombe, the Eltham seats.
New candidates to watch: Peninsula ward candidates Stephen Brain and Chris Lloyd, telling voters they’ll fight Silvertown; ambitious Woolwich Common candidate and IT systems analyst Ambreen Hisbani, closely connected to the current leadership (oddly, her Portuguese husband Rui Dias lurks on Twitter watching critics from a locked account); heavyweight Blackheath Westcombe trio Paul Morrissey, Damien Welfare and Cherry Parker, locked in street-to-street combat with the Tories; Shooters Hill’s Chris Kirby and Sarah Merrill, involved in a bad-tempered fight with Lib Dems.
CONSERVATIVES. Seats in 2010: 11/51. Seats now: 10/51. Candidates: 51/51 (Read the manifesto.)
If Labour are riddled with splits and in-fighting, the Tories have their own problems too – the rejection of Eltham South councillor Eileen Glover by her local party triggered her to stand as an independent and colleague Neil Dickinson to quit. Marginal seats such as Kidbrooke with Hornfair lie neglected as the Tories fight to shore up what they’ve got, and possibly nick an extra seat in Blackheath Westcombe, where Labour won’t benefit from long-standing councillor Alex Grant’s personal vote. But their majority over Labour in Blackheath Westcombe is just 22 votes – so this could go any way.
As detailed above, there’s a real fear that Ukip could wreck the party’s Eltham heartland. Blackheath aside, the party’s long been a spent force north of the Shooters Hill Road, although judging by Peninsula ward candidate Harry Methley’s Twitter feed, the party’s giving east Greenwich another shot.
While Harry’s unlikely to be a councillor come Friday, the party’s results both here and in Woolwich Riverside will be interesting – will plush new riverside developments give the Tories a boost?
Wards to watch: Blackheath Westcombe, Eltham North, Eltham South, Coldharbour & New Eltham.
New candidates to watch: Blackheath Westcombe’s Thomas Turrell seems to have had an effect in winding up the local Labour establishment, while local credit union trustee Matt Hartley is bound to be a prominent figure if he is elected in Coldhardbour & New Eltham.
Ex-candidates to watch: Eileen Glover in Eltham South. Can she unseat her old colleagues?
LIBERAL DEMOCRATS. Seats in 2010: 0/51. Candidates: 40/51 (Read the manifesto.)
Currently ranked just below leprosy in the national polls, with every utterance from Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander making their lives harder, the local Lib Dems’ coalition pains were compounded when Greenwich party boss Chris Smith quit just weeks before the poll.
All this upheaval has seen the Lib Dems slip to just 40 candidates this time around, with Labour activists claiming that the party’s old power base in Middle Park & Sutcliffe lies neglected.
So all the action’s taking place up on Shooters Hill, where candidate Stewart Christie (who is also involved with No to Silvertown Tunnel, as are volunteers from Labour and the Greens) has mounted a campaign focusing squarely on Greenwich Council’s support for the Thames Gateway Bridge, which is likely to put Oxleas Woods and Woodlands Farm under threat once again as TfL seeks to link the bridge to the A2.
The result’s been a bad-tempered fight over the seat, best summed up by this Twitter exchange on Saturday, after Shooters Hill’s Labour candidates spotted Christie rummaging in his boot…
The “Undateables” tweet, probably the best gag of the election, was deleted by Charlton candidate Paul Chapman after one respondent complained it was cruel to use others’ physical appearance for humour.
Chapman’s online output’s been worth following, though – a change from the usual party tweets aimed solely at the already-converted. I hope he stays contributing to the local debate once the poll’s done and dusted.
Ward to watch: Shooters Hill.
GREENS. Seats in 2010: 0/51. Candidates: 19/51 (Policy page / London council manifesto.)
I should, of course, state that I stood for the Greens in Peninsula ward in 2010. I’m no longer a member of the party, though the Greens are targeting Peninsula once again.
In March, five Labour councillors handed the Greenwich Greens a publicity gift by giving Ikea outline planning permission to build a store right in the heart of the ward – but have they been able to capitalise on this?
The Greens’ performance to beat came in 2006, when candidate Lucy Early came 250 votes behind Chris Roberts in the ward, terrifying the Dear Leader into creating a nonsense “Greener Greenwich” portfolio on his cabinet. Bad feeling over Ikea and Silvertown, plus an uplift from the European election, could give them every chance of matching that, despite limited resources.
Their biggest problem tends to be in communication – after I complained about their local tweets being full of waffle, I had the novel experience of being told by the Twitter feed that I set up that once I understood “economic story told by media is a fallacy… you may want to vote Green”. The Ikea issue seems to have given them some much-needed local focus – and they’re the only ones publicly raising it.
Peninsula was the Greens’ third-strongest performing seat in the 2012 assembly vote, after Blackheath Westcombe and Greenwich West, with Charlton coming fourth. They comfortably beat the Lib Dems in most Greenwich wards then – so this could be a pivotal election for them, if the Lib Dems really are on a death spiral.
Beyond Peninsula, the party’s fielding one candidate per ward – of these, Trevor Allman, a one-time Labour councillor from the 1980s, has a big personal following in Blackheath Westcombe. He’s cheerfully off-message, even admitting not voting for the Greens’ local London Assembly candidate two years ago.
Wards to watch: Peninsula, Blackheath Westcombe, Greenwich West.
And elsewhere… Greenwich’s neighbouring boroughs are also likely to also stay the same.
Over in Bexley – very much the Tory Shelbyville to Greenwich’s Springfield – the Tories are assured of victory, though Ukip will be a big threat and could gain seats. At least Labour here has a sense of humour, standing three candidates called O’Neill against council leader Teresa O’Neill in Bexleyheath’s Brampton ward. One to watch here will be three independent candidates standing under an anti-corruption banner in Blackfen and Lamorbey ward, next to the Greenwich boundary at Avery Hill. Despite candidate Michael Barnbrook’s past connections with the far right, the result here will be worth watching – not least because they’ve been pushing flyers for the Bexley Is Bonkers blog through local letter boxes.
In Lewisham, the big question is how many Lib Dem councillors will remain – Labour’s Sir Steve Bullock being set for an easy win in the mayoral poll. Campaign low-light so far has been People Before Profit (which abandoned plans to stand in Greenwich) appropriating the name “Save Lewisham Hospital” for one of its candidates, after trying to take over the campaign of the same name. Will Lewisham go 100% Labour on Thursday? Probably not, but it’ll be close. Bob from Brockley and Alternative SE4 have more Lewisham coverage.
If you’ve read this far down, head to the Charlton Champion for what happened in last week’s Charlton and Woolwich Riverside hustings. Polling stations are open from 7am-10pm on Thursday. See a full list of Greenwich candidates.
An anonymous hoax emailer has been posing as Greenwich councillor John Fahy in an attempt to get incriminating information about whether or not he leaked a bullying voicemail left by council leader Chris Roberts, this website can reveal.
Fahy was at the centre of controversy last year when Roberts left a foul-mouthed message on his phone threatening him with the removal of his cabinet position in a row over the Run to the Beat half-marathon.
The message was later published by the News Shopper, and featured in a BBC1 Sunday Politics London investigation into Roberts’ behaviour as council leader.
While Roberts was given a written warning over the incident, this website understands Fahy, the victim of Roberts’ threats, was punished twice over the incident. He was given a verbal warning over the leak of the email, but earlier this year he was given a written warning for not saying who the message had been leaked to.
Fahy has previously challenged Roberts for the position of council leader, which led to him being literally airbrushed out of an edition of the council’s weekly Greenwich Time newspaper.
But when the new council returns after the election, this website understands he will challenge Peter Brooks for the deputy leadership. Brooks is Roberts’ current deputy and was selected for the outgoing leader’s Glyndon seat at the last minute. (The leadership will be contested by Denise Hyland and Jackie Smith.)
Now somebody has taken it upon themselves to pose as Fahy, fishing for information about the leak of the voicemail.
On Easter Monday, I received an email from “John Fahy”, reading: “Darryl, they know it… I am not confortable with this situation. We should talk.
Did you keep the recording on your personal email?”
But the mail wasn’t from John Fahy. It came from someone aping his personal email address, using the letter “l” instead of the figure “1”.
And oddly, the IP address in the email header suggested it’d been sent from a computer connected to Portugal Telecom’s network. What was all that about?
Impersonating somebody online is potentially illegal under the Computer Misuse Act. So why would somebody go to the extent of risking breaking the law to try to con me into giving up information about a serving councillor’s personal issues within the Labour Party?
I sought some advice, and a few days later I responded asking “John” to look at a dummy post on this website. It was a crude method – those who read this site via an RSS feed may have seen something odd a couple of weeks ago, which was live temporarily before I changed the address.
None of these companies will be directly connected with this incident. The Facebook references indicate that the link has been shared on Facebook Messenger. Exponential-E provides IT services for small firms, so this could be one of its clients. It’s a sub-contractor to Focus Telecom, which provides IT services for the Labour Party.
Was my response to the fake Fahy seen on a Labour Party computer?
Then I had another go, again asking “John” to have a look at a document (“roberts_email.pdf”) supposedly hosted on another website. The document didn’t exist, but the error logs would show if the address was requested. On May Day bank holiday, it sprang into life.
Someone had clearly wised up to the fact they were being watched. Now, the IP addresses were designed to obscure the sender’s real location, although it appears the same brower was used each time.
But someone had added the words “we know everything” to the address I’d supplied. Hmmm.
A response email came with a small graphics file, too, presumably designed to track me opening the email.
It’s hosted on a free hosting service and difficult to track.
It appears to have been sent from Portugal again, too. Strange.
So for people who claim “we know everything”, why were they doing this? But there was one extra bit of the jigsaw to fall into place.
Back on Easter Monday, Rob Powell, who runs Greenwich.co.uk, received this odd email:
But I never heard anything from “Yasmin” at “Local Health Service”. Guess where the email appears to have been sent from?
Another Portugal Telecom connection. Does this mean the emails were sent from there? Not necessarily – one IT expert I’ve spoken to says some web traffic is sent via there to obscure the sender’s true location.
But this common link between all three emails indicates somebody’s gone to great lengths to try to trick me, and stitch up John Fahy. But why?
Of course, this could have nothing to do with rivalries in the Greenwich Council Labour group, the Greenwich & Woolwich Labour Party or the Eltham Labour Party. But frankly, it’s highly unlikely – somebody seems to know what they’re doing.
Considering Fahy has already been disciplined twice for being the victim of an abusive phone call, it looks like someone decided to break the law to go for a hat-trick.
I wish I’d been able to investigate some more, but I was doing what Labour Party members should have been doing instead of fighting each other – helping with a campaign against the Tory mayor’s Silvertown Tunnel.
The real John Fahy declined to comment when asked.
I’ve sent Labour’s minister for London Sadiq Khan – who last year promised to investigate bullying accusations in Greenwich – general secretary Iain McNicol and London regional director Alan Olive details of what happened.
Khan, McNicol and Olive have been happy to continue to let the Greenwich Council Labour group police itself – despite its witch hunts against whistle-blowers.
Local MP Nick Raynsford, along with Greenwich and Woolwich candidate Matt Pennycook have also been informed. I’ve said I’ll be willing to help with any investigation.
Neither of these five individuals have yet responded.
I’ve also passed on details of this incident to Ray Walker, the Greenwich Labour group chief whip in charge of party discipline under Chris Roberts, and Eltham party secretary, who worked as an IT analyst for the Labour Party for nearly 20 years. He has also not responded.
It’s the biggest political battle Greenwich or Woolwich has seen for a generation, and it ends tomorrow. The winner will get the keys to a safe seat in Parliament and the chance to develop a career which could peak in one of the nation’s highest offices. The others are already working out their excuses.
But only 700 or so people will get a say, while the other 66,000 haven’t even been told the identities of the six candidates battling it out. Those local Labour members have had their doors knocked upon, their phones rung and their emails clogged by candidates in a way that those of normal civilians who live in a rock-solid safe seat can only wonder at. Welcome to the contest to be Labour’s candidate for the Greenwich & Woolwich parliamentary constituency.
The six shortlisted candidates who want to succeed Nick Raynsford were decided nearly three weeks ago, but no public announcement was ever made. Labour Party modernisers use this as an example to talk about primaries involving the public – but this is a world away from all that.
The shortlist is current borough mayor Angela Cornforth, London Assembly member Len Duvall, former councillor Annie Keys, charity professional Kathy Peach, Greenwich West councillor Matt Pennycook and public relations director David Prescott.
Pennycook remains the man to beat, with a well-funded and carefully-orchestrated campaign, with Duvall supporters still hopeful their candidate can mount a late surge to success. Peach and Keys appear to be leading the outsiders and can’t be written off yet. Neither can David Prescott, with heavyweight backing.
It’s been a bitter campaign, too. It’s pitted Greenwich versus Woolwich and the young and ambitious against the party old guard. Most of the barbs seem to be flying towards Pennycook, a senior research and policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation think tank.
The allegations of bullying in Greenwich Council’s leadership haven’t helped either. While council leader Chris Roberts is largely disliked within the wider Greenwich & Woolwich party, broaching the subject of his behaviour acknowledges there’s a problem. Particularly when the council your party runs refuses to investigate him, even though everyone else can smell the problem. Because ignoring it looks even worse.
Critics both outside and inside the party charge Pennycook with hypocrisy – and some claim he’s done a deal with Roberts, which he’s denied, although Roberts is believed to be backing him (some say to get a potential council leadership rival out of the race, with Roberts reconsidering his pledge to stand down). But any member of a group of Labour councillors which has failed to deal with bullying in its ranks will hit trouble on the subject.
Even a councillor outside Greenwich got into bother. Lewisham councillor Kevin Bonavia (pictured right), who didn’t make the shortlist but knows the toxic politics of Greenwich Labour well enough, tweeted that the “old-style culture in Greenwich must change”.
For his honesty, he found Greenwich councillors demanding he be disciplined by the Lewisham party for his comments. Lewisham Labour councillors, who worry about the stench coming from across this side of the border, quite rightly, told their embarrassing neighbours where to stick it.
Indeed, in this race, being a Greenwich councillor has been, unusally, a disadvantage. While Pennycook’s proud of his efforts to turn Greenwich into a living wage borough, the council’s PR department has been silent on the matter – allowing the local Tories to pitch to the left of Labour on the issue.
Kathy Peach, who’s run a lively and thought-provoking campaign, managed to get two birds with one stone when emailing local members about an event last week. First, she made a dig at an event Pennycook held with the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, then nailed the council’s lack of interest in the borough’s high streets.
Cosy chit-chats with Guardian contributors are pleasant enough, but won’t change anything in the real world.
For a glimpse of reality, head out from Woolwich Grand Theatre, look around General Gordon Square, and walk down Powis Street: once diverse community spaces that I remember from my childhood, but now lined with betting shops. Indeed Woolwich is home to 9 betting shops in total – nearly a third of the constituency’s 30 betting shops – all within a few hundred metres of each other.
Payday lenders, fast food takeaways and betting shops have proliferated all over our constituency. How did a council that won ‘council of the year’ for its regeneration efforts fail to stem this slow demise of our high streets – the social and commercial lifeblood of our constituency?
How, indeed. For the record, Polly Toynbee has told this website she is not endorsing any candidate in the selection.
But relentless campaigning – and funding from the Unite and GMB unions – has helped Matt. This week, rivals have been crying foul that he’s offering to buy breakfast for party members on Saturday morning, ahead of the final hustings and vote.
In a public election, “treating” – buying food, drink or entertainment to influence voters – is frowned upon, and can be illegal. But there isn’t the same provision in Labour’s rulebook, so members can dine out on Pennycook’s campaign on Saturday morning.
Supporters of rival candidates are seething – but there’s little they can do. As a current councillor yet still a relatively face, Pennycook can pitch himself as both an insurgent and a member of the establishment. Critics sneer that he’s an “empty suit” – but in an area when the party has struggled to adapt to 21st century communications, his promise of change has won people over.
He’ll be a loss to the council, where he could have proved himself as a leader and shaken up an ageing, out-of-touch authority. Perhaps if Nick Raynsford had held on for another term, this might have happened. But when you’ve the chance to appear on a bigger stage, why would you turn it down?
Len Duvall is pitching himself as the “unity” candidate, and his backers point to a track record of getting things done, including standing up to Roberts and the council he once led. This should have been his to lose. It could still be – he’s best placed to stop the Pennycook juggernaut.
He’s very much the favourite of the anti-Roberts councillors and activists in Greenwich – who remember a better-run council under his control – and is particularly strong in the Woolwich area.
But Duvall does represent the party’s old guard – this campaign should have been his to lose – indeed, his campaign is being run by Quentin Marsh, who ran Greenwich Council 25 years ago. In 2010, former councillor Marsh posed as an ordinary voter on a Labour leaflet imploring electors to back the party’s candidates in Charlton in Charlton. This isn’t forward to a shiny new future.
All this said though, Duvall’s well liked and much respected, can still definitely mount a late surge. Don’t write him off yet. As his supporters say, at least the old guard knew how to get things done.
Annie Keys and Kathy Peach will be pinning their hopes on squeezing through on second choices. Both mounted community-focused campaigns, with Keys coming out against the Silvertown Tunnel and Peach declaring herself sceptical. (Duvall is believed to be for the crossing, while Pennycook has not stated a view either way.)
Charlton-based Keys is popular in both the Greenwich and Woolwich parts of the constituency, while Peach has played up her Woolwich roots. There are many who wish this had been an all-woman selection to force a clean break from the area’s political past of bickering blokes not achieving very much – for generally, when Labour members get a choice of both genders, they tend to go for the man.
They’ll be competing for the votes of those who wish for a Stella Creasy or Heidi Alexander-style MP. Both have worked to emulate those community-rooted values. Neither can be written off just yet – those second choices could see either of them go well, particularly Keys, who has a strong network of local contacts. (Declaration of interest: I’m a trustee of a charity Annie set up to run an under-fives’ club in Charlton.)
David Prescott has homed in on problems with property developers in the area – the kind of issue you won’t read in Greenwich Time, and a brave one to raise when your own Labour council is in bed with those same developers. He’s also been talking up renationalising the railways – more radical than his dad, former deputy prime minister John – managed in office. He’s got heavyweight national Labour backing – notably shadow health secretary Andy Burnham and likely London mayoral hopeful Lord Adonis – and union backing too. Will this be enough to see him through?
Finally, the most perplexing candidate is Angela Cornforth – a Roberts ally said to be in the race solely to draw votes away from Keys and Peach. Earlier this year she stood for an area committee on the Co-op, claiming that “Greenwich councillors are taking the first steps to prepare for co-operative council status“ – which brought hollow laughter from those connected with the council that I’ve asked.
Most recently, Cornforth has been the subject of controversy for twice intervening in council meetings on matters that would embarrass Chris Roberts – even writing to the News Shopper to defend herself. Indeed, Greenwich Council’s weekly propaganda newspaper even misled the public about her inauguration, pretending it was at Woolwich Town Hall and not at a lavish ceremony at the old Royal Naval College. She’s as much chance of being the next MP as I have of scoring the winner at The Valley on Saturday.
So those are the candidates, and if you live in the Greenwich & Woolwich constituency, one of the six above is almost certain to be your next MP after 2015. There have been concerns raised about the amount of union money sloshing around the campaign – the days when a bright young upstart could reach the top through grit and hard work alone have gone. Such is modern politics.
Will this bad feeling be forgotten after Saturday’s selection? The winning candidate will need a lot of support in the months ahead if he or she is to take a leading role cleaning up the practices and reputation of the Labour party in Greenwich.
But with victory in the bag, will the winner really want to? We shall wait and see.
With a second councillor standing down over the bullying culture in Greenwich Council’s Labour group, the battle to be the party’s parliamentary candidate for Greenwich & Woolwich is, in truth, a bit of a sideshow.
But for those involved, the chance to succeed Nick Raynsford in what should be a safe seat for years to come means everything. Favours are being called, supporters marshalled, deals are being done and deals are being denied. If you could power the national grid with gripes, snipes and complaints, the Greenwich & Woolwich battle alone would make sure there’d be no blackouts this winter.
24 people threw their hats into the ring – mostly flotsam, jetsam, chancers and no-hopers. After pressing the flesh of ward parties and other groups, they’ve now been whittled down into a longlist consisting of most of those who were decent contenders in the first place.
- Angela Cornforth, Plumstead councillor and current Greenwich Council mayor.
- Len Duvall, Greenwich and Lewisham London Assembly member and former Greenwich Council leader.
- Annie Keys, former Blackheath Westcombe councillor and community activist.
- Matt Pennycook, Greenwich West councillor and analyst for the Resolution Foundation think-tank.
- Kathy Peach, head of campaigns at charity Scope.
- David Prescott, PR agency boss, former journalist and son of ex-deputy prime minister John.
This does mean the loss of Kevin Bonavia, the well-liked Lewisham councillor and solicitor who decided to throw his hat in the ring across the border. The Blackheath ward representative will live to fight another day. The other vanquished hopefuls, possibly not.
As party bigwigs drew up that longlist, a curious few paragraphs appeared in the Independent on Saturday, penned by veteran political correspondent Andy McSmith.
An email has gone to members of the Greenwich Labour Party, in south London, telling them that Polly Toynbee, queen of The Guardian commentariat, is heading their way to advise them to select Matt Pennycook, a promising young intellectual from the much respected Resolution Foundation, as their next Labour MP.
Polly Toynbee’s been involved in SE London politics before – campaigning against Labour in Lewisham East in 1983, when she stood for the SDP and came third. I’m told she also campaigned for Rosie Barnes in the 1987 Greenwich by-election.
And whoever is selected will be an MP because Greenwich is safely Labour. There are other contestants, including David Prescott, son of, and Kathy Peach, from Scope, but the word is that this is a two horse race.
A two-horse race? Really? One horse is Matt, says Andy, but the other is “the local candidate”, who is “exceptional”.
Len Duvall, who hails from a Woolwich council estate, entered politics via the 1970s Anti Nazi League, having had to cope with racist taunts because he is part Indian. He took a very hard line on the 2011 rioters, and paid the price when someone told the police that his son was out looting. This was untrue, but generated a lot of damaging publicity. In his long local government career, he has been hard on sleaze, which has left him with enduring enemies. If it were my choice, I would forego Ms Toynbee’s kind advice and back the guy with battle scars.
Both Matt and Len would make fine representatives. But take a look at the battle so far, and this certainly isn’t a two-horse race. Because if you look at who won the most ward nominations, it’s actually Annie Keys, as every bit as local as Len is, in front, after getting the backing of six out of the area’s seven ward parties. But Andy completely ignored her.
Matt’s on four, while Len ties with Kathy on three, with Angela on one – Glyndon, council leader Chris Roberts’ ward. Annie’s also the only candidate to win backing at the opposing Greenwich and Woolwich ends of the constituency – Andy McSmith neglected even to mention the latter place in its name.
In case you’re interested, here’s the breakdown.
- Blackheath Westcombe: Annie Keys, Matt Pennycook, Kathy Peach
- Charlton: Annie Keys, Matt Pennycook
- Glyndon: Angela Cornforth, Len Duvall
- Greenwich West: Annie Keys, Matt Pennycook, Kathy Peach
- Peninsula: Annie Keys, Matt Pennycook, Kathy Peach
- Woolwich Common: Annie Keys, Len Duvall
- Woolwich Riverside: Annie Keys, Len Duvall
So why did Andy McSmith ignore Annie Keys’ chances? Matt Pennycook’s certainly the frontrunner, but Len Duvall’s no underdog. Both have heavy union backing – particularly Matt.
But while Matt is weaker in Woolwich and Len is weaker in Greenwich, there’s every chance Annie can come through the middle. Last week she challenged the council to withdraw its unpopular “pavement tax” on small businesses – something none of the other candidates have done yet. In case you’re wondering how David Prescott’s on the longlist, he’s also been nominated by unions, so he gets a place. A shortlist will be drawn up in a couple of weeks, with the final hustings and vote taking place on 30 November.
I should point out I’ve known Annie since we were at school together, and I’m a trustee of the Mulberry True Children’s Trust, which she set up to manage the Big Red Bus Club play centre in Charlton. In fact, I’ve just found an invite to a party she threw 20 years ago. Maybe I’ll publish it in the next few weeks…
But what I would like to publish are your questions to the candidates. Once the shortlist’s drawn up, I’d like to pose some questions to them. So if there’s anything you’d like to know, leave it in the comments box below.
Of course, the battle for Greenwich & Woolwich comes at an awkward time for the Labour Party, as the Labour council remains mired in bullying accusations – a real story which Andy McSmith somehow managed to miss.
This Wednesday’s council meeting will see two motions put forward by Conservative councillors in an attempt to go for the jugular on the issue – although whether they’ll actually be heard is another matter, with competing anti-Tory motions being pushed onto the agenda by leader Chris Roberts without consulting his Labour colleagues. It remains to be seen how the mayor – one Angela Cornforth – will treat them.
Now a second councillor, Kidbrooke with Hornfair’s Hayley Fletcher, has decided to step down, as the News Shopper’s Mark Chandler reported on Friday. Her decision to go follows that of Alex Grant earlier this year.
Regular readers will be familiar with Hayley’s contributions to this website’s comments, and the loss of a promising councillor in her 20s will be a deep blow to a council already desperately short of younger members.
Her resignation email, as seen by this website, refers to her beginning a new job and a masters’ degree. Then there’s the sad conclusion:
As you’re all too acutely aware, Labour group is a toxic and unhealthy environment to be in. The bullying culture is rife and I see little prospect of that changing anytime soon.
I simply cannot sustain my own wellbeing in this environment and, for my own mental health if nothing else, have decided that walking away from it is the healthiest thing for me right now.
To lose one councillor to bullying accusations should be a wake-up call. Losing two should, in any normal organisation, demand a full investigation.
But the local Labour party remains in denial. This website understands that it’s more likely that Greenwich’s Labour group will pursue and punish any whistleblowers, particularly in regard to the leaked “thick skull” voicemail in which Chris Roberts threatened cabinet member John Fahy, rather than take action against the party hierarchy, or the clear conflict of interest over the Run to the Beat half-marathon which the Dear Leader’s voicemail reveals.
Several of the candidates for Greenwich & Woolwich have connections with Greenwich Council, with two going back decades. Hopefully local Labour members will ask the right questions to ensure they select a potential MP who will be part of the solution, and not part of the problem in a self-lacerating local party.
Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts verbally abused one of his cabinet members by voicemail and threatened to strip the councillor of their job in a row over the Run To The Beat half-marathon – yet the council’s Labour group is yet to take action against him, this website understands.
Roberts left the four-letter verbal barrage on the voicemail of the cabinet member after the councillor raised concerns over this year’s race, which the council leadership pushed through without promised consultation with local residents.
The cabinet member suggested in an email to Labour councillors that any decision over the 2014 Run to the Beat event would be left to whoever was in power after May’s elections – after which Roberts has said he would stand down as leader.
But Roberts responded by leaving a message on the senior councillor’s voicemail threatening the removal of their portfolio, adding that the representative should “get it through your fucking thick skull”.
The voicemail has been widely shared both within the local Labour party, and outside of it. But over two weeks after first being made aware of the voicemail, Greenwich Council’s Labour group chief whip Ray Walker – an ally of Roberts – has so far declined to investigate the incident.
Verbal abuse of a fellow councillor is against both Greenwich Council’s rules, plus Labour Party regulations.
But the voicemail’s existence being widespread knowledge – this website has had this confirmed by multiple sources – the cabinet member concerned is reluctant to take the matter to the London regional Labour party, for fear news would leak and cause embarrassment to the wider party.
While this website is not naming the councillor involved, it is surely in the public interest – and the Labour Party’s wider interest – that Chris Roberts’ bullying of his fellow councillors is discussed openly.
Roberts is notorious for threatening councillors who step out of line. Earlier this year, Blackheath Westcombe councillor Alex Grant declined to stand again over the “culture of bullying” and “sinister threats” within Greenwich Council’s Labour group.
But the existence of the voicemail is, for the first time, tangible proof of how Roberts bullies and abuses Labour councillors – who have no effective way of blowing the whistle on such behaviour. Roberts is widely believed to be reconsidering his earlier plans to stand down as council leader next year.
The voicemail furore comes as Roberts seeks to crack down on any form of dissent from his councillors ahead of May 2014’s election. Multiple sources have told this website that Labour councillors have been treated to a tirade against the evils of social media, while a clampdown is planned on Labour councillors emailing officers to investigate issues without first going through cabinet members.
What’s not widely understood is why Chris Roberts, who steered the council through last year’s Olympics, is so anxious over the relatively trivial matter of the staging of a half-marathon, run by international events conglomerate IMG.
The fear of doing damage to the wider Labour Party permeates the council’s Labour group – many of whom have spent their lives in the party, and socialise within the party and related groups such as the Co-operative party. This situation has enabled the leader to get away with his harsh treatment of those who question him.
Publishing details of this voicemail will almost certainly have consequences. But to stay quiet about this bullying is to be complicit in it, especially when details of this voicemail are so widely known. Some will see this an example of anti-Labour bias – yet it is in the public interest that the dominant party in Greenwich borough treats its public representatives fairly.
Perhaps now others will speak out and take action – and those higher up in the Labour Party will get it into their “thick skulls” that they have a problem in Greenwich which needs fixing.
1.50pm update: It’s been suggested to me that concerned readers may like to contact the Labour Party directly to ask what it is doing about bullying in Greenwich Council’s Labour group.