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
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.
Some of Greenwich’s most high-profile development sites suffer from air pollution far in excess of European limits, research carried out for No to Silvertown Tunnel has revealed.
Volunteers, including myself, used tubes to record the pollution in the air at over 50 locations close to the A102, A2 and A206 for four weeks during June, using similar methods used by Greenwich Council for its own pollution records. Over half the tubes came back with readings over 40 μg/m3, the EU limit.
The Woolwich Road/ Blackwall Lane junction in Greenwich, outside where new homes are now being built by developer Galliford Try, recorded 70 micrograms per cubic metre. The site is opposite the flagship Greenwich Square development, which will include homes, shops and and a leisure centre.
With Greenwich Council and London mayor Boris Johnson backing a Silvertown Tunnel, which will attract more traffic to the area, the figures can only get worse.
The figures will be discussed at a public meeting at the Forum at Greenwich, Trafalgar Road, SE10 9EQ on Wednesday (tomorrow) at 7pm.
Further south, high readings were recorded in Eltham at Westhorne Avenue, Eltham station and Westmount Road, where the A2 forms a two-lane bottleneck. Local MP Clive Efford supports the Silvertown proposal, despite compelling evidence that it will make traffic in his constituency worse. So do local Conservatives – even though we recorded a big fat 50 μg/m3 outside their local HQ.
What’s more, when we contacted Greenwich Council to tell it we intended to place pollution tubes on its lamp posts, we discovered it had been collecting its own statistics since 2005.
But mystifyingly, no figures were published since 2010 – until now. We obtained the results through a Freedom of Information Act request, and have published a full archive on the No to Silvertown Tunnel website.
These borough-wide stats bear out our own research, revealing that the borough’s worst location is outside Plumstead station – possibly due to the bus garage being nearby, but also a regular scene for heavy tailbacks.
Despite the council also pressing for a road bridge at Gallions Reach, it appears to have made little serious attempt to record pollution levels in the Thamesmead and Abbey Wood areas, which would be affected by such a scheme as well as emissions from London City Airport.
The whole borough has been an air quality management zone for 12 years, which makes Greenwich Council’s position on road-building even more mystifying. Its decision to stop publishing air quality reports smacks of carelessness at the very least. Pollution has become the council’s dirty secret.
If you drill down into the statistics, you’ll actually find air quality gradually improving in some areas. But in places where traffic remains heavy, it’s stubbornly awful.
Incidentally, the tubes are very easy to install and relatively cheap – if local groups find Greenwich Council’s response to pollution wanting, it’s simple for them to carry out their own studies, just as we did. Indeed, we were inspired by a study done by the Putney Society – so it should be easy for groups in Greenwich, Blackheath, Eltham and Charlton, or elsewhere, to follow suit.
Greenwich Council continues to back new road schemes on the grounds that they will take traffic off existing roads – despite a heap of evidence that proves the opposite. Indeed, studies show new roads simply increase traffic by making road travel more attractive.
It also claims economic benefits for new schemes – but it hasn’t been able to produce a shred of evidence that this is the case. And will it take the health costs from the extra pollution caused by yet more traffic on local roads into account?
Even more perplexing is that neighbouring boroughs don’t want Silvertown – leaving Greenwich’s Labour council in a position where it’s just a figleaf for a Conservative mayor’s scheme. If Greenwich opposed it, would Boris really go ahead?
So how can we persuade local decision-makers to wake up and realise they’re backing a scheme would could be disastrous? Well, we thought we’d invite them to our meeting, where they can hear from experts and see what results we got.
Here’s the response from Don Austen, Labour councillor for Glyndon ward.
Incidentally, Don’s ward not only contains the borough’s filthiest air, his own home is very close to Charlton Village – where air quality also breaks EU rules. We had a few other responses that were nicer, but it’s hard to dispel the feeling that Greenwich’s councillors simply aren’t taking this seriously.
That said, some of the nominees to be Labour’s candidate for for Greenwich & Woolwich are alert to the dangers of blindly following a Conservative mayor’s policy. Lewisham councillor Kevin Bonavia (whose own council opposes Silvertown) voices his concern in his manifesto: “According to a recent GLA report, 150 deaths per year across the borough are caused by air pollution. We shouldn’t be encouraging more traffic in already concentrated areas.”
And yesterday, outsider Kathy Peach took aim not just at the proposal, but the way Greenwich Council has handled it:
I’m not convinced Boris Johnson’s Silvertown Tunnel is the answer. Nor do I believe there’s been an informed democratic debate about it.
I have heard from several quarters that Labour councillors who oppose the scheme have been banned from voicing their opposition in public… the fact that such stories gain traction points to something insular and complacent about our local political culture. We need a breath of fresh air. Let’s get rid of stale tactics and encourage a vigorous inclusive open debate. We need to bring the community along with us – otherwise other parties will jump into the gap.
Hopefully we’ll see Kathy, and Kevin, and others, and hopefully you, down at the Forum tomorrow night. If you’re sceptical, feel free to come along and lob some tough questions.
But if Greenwich councillors won’t listen, and Boris Johnson won’t listen, then we need to find our own way forward – because this is a battle that can be won.
And we might even have some fun on the way. If you want to help, come along tomorrow night.
No to Silvertown Tunnel public meeting: Wednesday 16 October, 7-9pm, Forum at Greenwich, Trafalgar Road, London SE10 9EQ. Speakers are transport consultant John Elliott, the Campaign for Better Transport’s Sian Berry, King’s College London air quality expert Dr Ian Mudway and Clean Air London’s Simon Birkett.
PS. If you have the time, it’s worth reading the 1994 Government report Trunk Roads and the Generation of Traffic. These studies are backed up by another report, published in 2006 for the Countryside Agency and Campaign to Protect Rural England.