Sunday, September 17, 2006

Interesting Times for Southwark Labour Members

On Friday Harriet Harman confirmed that she will be a candidate for the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party when a vacancy arises. Harriet has been the MP for Camberwell and Peckham since 1982 and has been instrumental in raising the number of Labour's women MPs from 17 to 97 and modernising the Labour Party during the 'wilderness years'. At the next General Election parliamentary boundaries will be re-drawn and South Camberwell will become part of Camberwell & Peckham after many years as part of the Dulwich and West Norwood constituency. So we have an interest in Harriet's progress.

Of course, if today's newspapers are to be believed it seems likely that the current MP for South Camberwell, Tessa Jowell, may also be throwing her hat into the Deputy Leadership ring later this week. I have not spoken to Tessa so don't know yet whether there is any truth in this report. However, it is really exciting for Southwark Labour Party members to know that we have such prominent government figures locally who will be helping to shape the next decade of Labour politics.

I agree with Harriet's comments today that the Party should use the forthcoming leadership contest to debate policy and renewal, and should not be afraid of that debate. I hope that members will become engaged with this process. And if you're not a Labour Party member but would like to be involved in that debate - why not join us?

Good Sense on Downtown

Last Wednesday we held our September Council Assembly and debated a number of issues concerning the borough generally - including proposed cuts of up to £20 million to the local Primary Care Trust budget. Southwark has an extremely good record of delivering services on budget, and the Council was united in calling upon Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, to review her decision on this issue. Harriet Harman and Tessa Jowell will be leading a delegation of Southwark and Lambeth MPs to meet the Health Secretary on the 21st of September, so I hope they will have good news to report following that meeting.

Council Assembly also heard from a deputation from the Downtown Defence Campaign. Downtown is an area in Rotherhithe which has a long-established community and relatively low density housing. However, the Liberal Democrat administration in Southwark took the decision to sell land at Downtown to Barratts the builders who submitted an application to build on that land. The DDC was formed to oppose that application and the development of the land and they were delighted when the Council's Planning Committee and the Planning Inspector refused the application. However, our very own Ruth Kelly, Local Government Secretary, overturned the Planning Inspector's decision and gave the 'go-ahead' for building on the land up to 6 storeys high.

The DDC's deputation was supported by a motion from local Rotherhithe councillor Lisa Rajan. During the course of the debate on the motion it became clear that the Council's deadline for challenging Ruth Kelly's decision by judicial review proceedings has to be submitted by this Tuesday, 19th September. The decision on whether to issue proceedings lay with Paul Evans, the Director of Regeneration.
As the debate had centred on the erosion of local democracy the Labour Group decided to propose an amendment calling on the LibDem Tory Executive to hold a special meeting in order to consider taking the decision-making power back from Mr Evans so that the decision to issue judicial review proceedings would lie with the elected representatives of the borough.

I have to say that the LibDems and Tories were caught completely off-guard by our amendment - which was merely reflecting the debate and the legal advice which we had received - and reacted with incomprehensible anger. Cllrs Humphries and Thomas descended into incredibly pompous and partisan attacks on the Labour Group which must have left the Downtown campaigners utterly bewildered.

Although our amendment was rejected good sense has now prevailed - and amazingly, the LibDem Tory Executive will be meeting tomorrow (Monday) to decide whether to issue judicial review proceedings! Had Cllr Humphries taken a few moments to think on Wednesday rather than react in a knee-jerk way, our amendment may have passed. However, at least our objective has been achieved, and I hope that proceedings will be issued.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Dr Ola and the Labour Party

Last Wednesday I was telephoned by our local newspaper, Southwark News, and asked to comment on the news that former LibDem and Labour Councillor Dr Ola had rejoined the Labour Party and was ready to pose for photos with his letter from Tony Blair welcoming him.
A couple of phone calls later, but sadly after the newspaper had gone to print, I was delighted to be able to confirm that Dr Ola would NOT be joining the party. In fact his application for membership had been rejected after representations were made by the local Camberwell and Peckham party. Dr Ola should now have received a letter informing him that his application had been rejected.
Dr Ola had lost any chance of joining the Party after he stood against Labour candidates in the local elections this year - and may well have cost us a seat in Chaucer ward where we came within 8 votes of winning.
But Dr Ola's ill-judged homophobic comments before the local elections also raised a serious question mark over whether he could truly be a member of the modern Labour Party. Whatever one may think of Tony Blair's government, I believe that its radical policies on equalities will be seen as one of its truly lasting legacies - and Dr Ola's comments before the local elections were clearly incompatible with the government's approach.
So I'm pleased to report that Labour remains a consistent and progressive party. I do get concerned that with the rantings of some local bloggers, residents might think that politics is only about personality. It is not and should not be. It's about policy and how policy can change people's lives.
Yesterday I was really inspired by Tony Blair's speech to the Progress conference. His analysis of Labour's need to identify the priorities for the next decade and offer policy positions to deal with those priorities is fundamental. I still think that the main opposition parties struggle to deal with the fact that we are approaching 2007 and not fighting the same battles as 1997. The Tories under David Cameron are working to identify the issues - but seem bereft of any policy response which takes heed of the fact that modern politics should be underpinned by social justice. And I simply do not know where the LibDems are. There seems to be some thinking about progressive taxation but they certainly do not seem to have identifed their political priorities or what they hope to achieve in response to those priorities.
Security and migration; pensions; democratic reform and the fact that everything we do in Britain is affected by and has repurcussions for our near and distant neighbours are some of the real challenges we face. I'm looking forward to the debate within Labour on these and many other policy issues in the months ahead!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A bit more about those ASBOs

Last night I chaired our local Neighbourhood Police Panel. The agenda covered a review of the priorities which the Panel had set for our local Safer Neighbourhood Team in July and which included tackling the continued anti-social behaviour on the East Dulwich Estate. The Police reported that since the identities of the four young men subject to ASBOs on the Estate had been revealed in the South London Press together with their photos and the terms of their ASBOs, a number of residents on the Estate had come forward to inform the Police of other breaches. These residents - who had been unaware of the ASBOs before the SLP published the details - were now willing to give statements to the Police.
I will resist the temptation to say "I told you so", but it does appear clear that the public response to so-called 'naming and shaming' has been positive and resulted in an increase in community involvement in enforcing the ASBOs on the Estate.
What was equally interesting was the reaction of the other local residents on the Panel last night to this news. Put simply they wanted to know why the Council was not telling the community when ASBOs had been obtained and what the terms of those ASBOs are?
I cannot offer any rational answer as the benefits of giving the public this information seem overwhelming. So perhaps it is time that the LibDem / Tory coalition in charge of Southwark sorted out its muddled thinking on this matter, stopped posturing and started valuing our residents more than their failed political dogma. Come on Cllr Stanton - you've lost the argument on this one!