Tagged: heidi alexander

Six thoughts after June 2017’s general election in Greenwich borough

Polling station sign in a puddle in Westcombe Park Road

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”.

Actually, Matt Pennycook has been the most outspoken of all Labour MPs on the Silvertown Tunnel – despite this Lib Dem claim.

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…

Greenwich and Woolwich could get Luton Airport trains from 2018

Ryanair EI-DPC landing at Luton airport by David Precious, used under CC BY 2.0

Greenwich, Charlton and Woolwich could get direct trains to Luton Airport under plans that are about to go out to consultation.

The plans would see trains seven days a week from Luton to Rainham, Kent, via Blackfriars, London Bridge, Greenwich and Dartford.

More services through London Bridge to north London and beyond will be possible when the Thameslink works are completed in 2018.

It would give passengers at Deptford,  Greenwich, Maze Hill and Westcombe Park – who currently rely on trains to Cannon Street – a choice of London terminals after trains to Charing Cross permanently ended in January 2015.

The new lines through London Bridge to Blackfriars will run in between those to Charing Cross and Cannon Street, severing the old connection between Greenwich and the Charing Cross lines (although trains can still run in emergencies).

Trains would also stop at Charlton, Woolwich Arsenal, Plumstead, Abbey Wood and Dartford, but not at Woolwich Dockyard, Belvedere or Erith.

It’s not clear whether existing Southeastern services to Cannon Street will be altered to make room for the trains (there are currently six per hour, not four as stated in the document above).

As well as connections to Luton Airport, passengers would also have direct links to Eurostar at St Pancras and Crossrail at Abbey Wood, as well as north-west London destinations at West Hampstead.

The trains would be operated by Thameslink rather than Southeastern, and the consultation is now on its website.

Elsewhere in south east London, Govia Thameslink Railway’s proposals also include increasing the miserly train service through Crofton Park and Catford from two to four trains per hour.

Meanwhile, local MPs have been pressing goverment ministers on the state of Southeastern with little success. Transport minister Paul Maynard couldn’t be bothered to answer a question from Lewisham East’s Heidi Alexander on whether Southeastern would be given new rolling stock in a debate on Thursday morning, although he was more forthcoming when asked for a meeting about Southeastern by the Conservative MP for Bromley, Bob Neill. Pressed by Eltham’s MP Clive Efford, he confirmed all local MPs would be able to attend.

But asked by Greenwich and Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook if he backed plans to devolve SE London’s rail services to TfL, transport secretary Chris Grayling was non-committal, saying he wanted to see proposals from mayor Sadiq Khan first.

1.15pm update: What gets given can also be taken away, and buried away in the full proposals are plans to cut little-advertised direct trains from New Cross Gate to Gatwick Airport and other destinations in Surrey and Sussex, with passengers expected to take slow Overground trains and change at Norwood Junction.

There’s a huge consultation survey, which covers a vast number of changes and makes some peculiar assumptions, available to fill in. The new Greenwich line trains are covered by questions 15, 16 and 31, Catford line in questions 17, 29 and 30 and New Cross Gate cuts in questions 45 and 56.

Ryanair EI-DPC landing at Luton airport by David Precious, used under CC BY 2.0. Thanks to @politic_animal for the spot, and to commenters below for filling in some of the gaps in this story.

So, where to fire those Olympic missiles?

Plenty to talk about this week (cough) not much time to do it in, unfortunately.

But the most eye-catching, head-scratching story of the year so far has been the possibility of surface-to-air missiles appearing on Blackheath and in Oxleas Woods. Nope, it’s not to shore up an under-threat council leader’s position, but it’s part of London’s Olympics fortifications. Not exactly a triumph for government PR, that, but credit to Eltham MP Clive Efford for raising the issue and Lewisham East MP Heidi Alexander for explaining more about the Blackheath issue.

Some kind of military presence on Blackheath would make some kind of sense, mind, with Hollyhedge House a long-established Territorial Army base. Next to the cafe at Oxleas Meadow is an odder choice (they’d better stock up on ice creams) although I was once told Shooters Hill was earmarked to play a strategic role should the Germans have ever invaded in World War II.

These days, though a small installation of military hardware would certainly come as a shock to some of the nearby car park’s more adventurous nocturnal visitors. So I’m told. But there’ll be one small local group pleased to see the threat of terrorism taken seriously, anyway.

But if we must play host to some surface-to-air missiles, can’t we put them to good use and get a real Olympic legacy out of them?

How about aiming them at the crappy new buildings on Greenwich Pier? The Olympics are a divisive issue, but blitzing those would be something we can all get behind. What do you reckon?

Boundary changes could rip up SE London’s political map

The next MP for Greenwich could have to represent constituents from the fringes of Nunhead to parts of Charlton under projections drawn up by experts at Liverpool University.

With the coalition government aiming to reduce the number of MPs to 600 by the next election, the current Greenwich and Woolwich seat – held by Labour’s Nick Raynsford – could be split up if the predictions by Democratic Audit are correct.

A new Greenwich and Deptford seat would run from the Telegraph Hill ward in Lewisham borough across to Greenwich borough’s Peninsula ward. Essentially, it would mean the current Lewisham Deptford seat, held by Labour’s Joan Ruddock, expands east to take in Greenwich and Blackheath.

But it would see most of Charlton separated from Greenwich, forming part of a new Woolwich constituency which would reach out as far as Shooters Hill and Lee.

Other changes could see an Eltham and Welling seat stretching from Eltham High Street into Bexleyheath, while a Catford seat is projected to run from Lewisham town centre south to Downham.

The projected Greenwich and Deptford seat would include the Peninsula, Blackheath Westcombe and Greenwich West wards from Greenwich borough, and combine them with Lewisham’s New Cross, Evelyn, Telegraph Hill, Brockley and Blackheath wards. It would combine parts of the current Greenwich and Woolwich, Lewisham East and Lewisham Deptford seats.

It would unite the divided areas of Blackheath and Deptford under a single MP – the two areas have been split politically since Victorian times, although much more of Deptford came under Greenwich borough until the 1990s. But there are few transport links between the east and west of the predicted seat. Both Greenwich and Lewisham boroughs also have very different political cultures.

Splitting Brockley and Ladywell wards would probably kill off the Green Party’s long-held dreams of getting its first London MP in this area. Curiously, this seat would include Millwall Football Club, but stop just short of Charlton Athletic.

A Woolwich seat would be composed of Greenwich borough’s Charlton, Kidbrooke with Hornfair, Woolwich Dockyard, Woolwich Riverside, Glyndon, Eltham West and Middle Park and Sutcliffe wards. It would merge parts of Eltham constituency with what’s left of Greenwich and Woolwich.

The proposal would see most of Charlton separated from Greenwich for the first time since the Victorian era – but would unite most of SE7 under the same MP. But the Eltham area would be split between different constituencies in a seat stretching from the Blackheath Cator Estate to the edge of Thamesmead.

An Eltham and Welling seat would include Greenwich borough’s Eltham North, Eltham South and Coldharbour & New Eltham wards and combine them with Bexley’s East Wickham, St Michael’s, Danson Park, Blackfen & Lamborbey and Falconwood & Welling wards.

Voila – a marginal Eltham seat (currently held by Labour’s Clive Efford) becomes a safe Conservative constituency.

Democratic Audit predicts a Catford constituency consisting of Lewisham borough’s Lewisham Central, Ladywell, Rushey Green, Catford South, Lee Green, Grove Park, Downham and Whitefoot wards. Not much different from the current Lewisham East seat, held by Heidi Alexander.

The rest of Lewisham borough would form a Dulwich and Forest Hill seat, stretching from Dulwich Village to Crofton Park.

Please note: The colours on the maps date back to the 2006 council elections, so need more red and less blue, yellow and green. I couldn’t find a newer map to use…

The Guardian reported on the predictions earlier this week, calling them “the most detailed analysis yet of what those new seats might look like”. The new electoral map will be published by the Boundary Commission in September. You can find full details of these predictions at the Democratic Audit website.

UPDATE 1.15PM: I’ve also done a London-wide take on this for The Scoop.

Nationwide’s SE London closures debated in Parliament

Three Greenwich and Lewisham MPs joined forces this afternoon to condemn the Nationwide Building Society’s decision to close seven branches in south-east London from May.

(You can now watch the debate on the BBC’s Democracy Live website.)

Nick Raynsford secured a short debate on the organisation’s plans to close offices in Blackheath, Catford, Greenwich, Lewisham, Peckham, Walworth and Woolwich, a decision he branded “shocking”.

“A quick look at the map will reveal the scale and enormity of what Nationwide is doing,”
the Greenwich and Woolwich MP said.

“All 7 branches inside the South Circular Road will close, while all the branches outside will remain open. Leafy outer south-east London is favoured while inner south-east London is punished.”

Comparing the population of the areas affected with that of large cities outside London, he added: “Suggesting that an organisation the size of Nationwide would pull out of Manchester and Sheffield would be regarded as bizarre.”

He also spoke of the history of the Greenwich branch, which can trace its roots back to London’s first recorded building society in 1809.

Mr Raynsford said he had raised the issue with Nationwide executive Matthew Wyles, but found his response “shocking”, and that the mutual was unwilling to reconsider its decision.

Lewisham East MP Heidi Alexander admitted she had orginally given Nationwide “the benefit of the doubt”, believing the closures were part of a far larger programme. “My initial generosity of spitit turned into complete disbelief,” she continued.

“It seems to come down to transaction patterns. They aren’t as profitable in south-east London as they are elsewhere. Nationwide sees customers with a SE postcode as a drag on their business.”

Ms Alexander said she had put the possibility that the Lewisham branch could remain open to Matthew Wyles, but had been told it would “topple over” under the demand. “‘A vortex effect’ were the words he used,” she said.

“Ours are not the parts of London where people have easy access to the internet,”
she continued. “There is a reason why I have 40 people come to my advice surgery. They want to see a human being because it’s easier.”

Lewisham Deptford MP Joan Ruddock said Nationwide had behaved with “complete contempt” for local customers. On Nationwide’s claims that it could not find larger premises in Lewisham, she said: “They can’t have been looking very far, I found two eminently suitable premises close by.”

For the government, financial secretary to the Treasury Mark Hoban said Nationwide’s decions were a matter for the building society. But he added the government was committed to making sure all current accounts could be operated through post offices, and to introduce closer links between post offices and credit unions to make sure all people had easy access to financial services.