Monday, June 25, 2007

Congratulations Harriet!

It is great news that Harriet Harman has been elected as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party! Over a year ago I spoke with Harriet and told her that she should stand and could win - so it was brilliant to see that hope come true. She has worked incredibly hard during this campaign, and articulated many of the views of Party members - so I also hope that her views will carry real weight with Gordon Brown as we prepare for the next General Election. My own view is that Gordon Brown should make Harriet Deputy Prime Minister - I think many Party members will be baffled if he promotes those deputy leadership candidates who came well below Harriet in the contest to significant positions above her. The whole deputy leadership debate has been about listening to the party membership - so Gordon can now take the opportunity to reflect the fact that he does value the views of the party membership by placing Harriet into a genuine position of authority.

In any event we know that Harriet will be back in the Cabinet after 9 years - and with her role of Deputy Leader and Labour Party Chair she will be in a superb position to champion the people of Camberwell and Peckham and Southwark.

The atmosphere in Manchester yesterday was electric. It was an election which was too close to call - but the common view seemed to be that Alan Johnson would win through. This seemed to be confirmed when the deputy leadership candidates came into the Hall, with Alan smiling broadly and the only one carrying any papers - surely this was his acceptance speech. Five minutes later mobile phones were buzzing with the news that the BBC and Sky were announcing that Harriet had won. Then the phones buzzed again with the news that the BBC had effectively 'un-announced' Harriet's victory!

So it was truly exciting as the results of the ballot were read out - and the computer graphics eventually pushed Harriet over the 50% mark. It is amazing that the result is almost identical to Denis Healey's winning margin over Tony Benn in 1981.

Harriet made a strong and thoughtful speech which was very well received. I do believe that she speaks for a section of the electorate who are too often taken for granted. Gordon Brown was also impressive as he began to lay out his vision for Britain under his premiership - I am confident that Labour can meet "the challenge of change"

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tony Blair Farewell Reception.

Yesterday evening I was lucky enough to see Tony Blair give his final speech as Labour Leader to a Labour Party meeting at West Ham Town Hall. It was fitting that the event organised by the London Labour Party was in Newham which has benefitted so much from the regeneration opportunities provided by the Labour Government, and which will be the principal host borough of the 2012 Olympic Games.

Electorally, Tony Blair has been Labour's most successful leader, and is the second longest serving Prime Minister of the last 100 years after Mrs Thatcher. Although it seems to be a popular pastime for those supposedly on the left of British politics to denegrate the achievements of Tony Blair and his Government, I have no doubt that the past ten years have shown that we can have economic stability and social justice at the same time, and banished forever the idea that Labour cannot be trusted to run the economy.

Throughout the 1970's, 1980's and early 1990's General Elections were determined laregly by economic considerations. Over the past ten years we have taken that economic prosperity for granted.

On any set of figures we do have record investment in our schools and health service. There may still be some work to do in ensuring that investment achieves real improvements, but let's not forget that we no longer talk about people waiting years for routine operations, and our schools are not in the state of physical disrepair which they were in 10 years ago. Looking around Southwark, every secondary school will have been completely renovated within the next 5 years.

Perhaps the biggest change over the past 10 years has been in our social attitudes - we are a more liberal and tolerant society. For this Tony Blair and the Labour Government must take real credit.

Faced with a Tory Party in disarray over its Grammar Schools policy, and which wants to re-introduce admission charges for our museums and galleries, I have no doubt that Tony Blair's legacy will continue to be built on for many years to come by Gordon Brown and future Labour Governments!

Friday, June 15, 2007


With only days to go until the deadline for voting in the Labour Deputy Leadership election, can I urge Labour Party members to vote for Harriet Harman as 1st choice. Harriet is a terrific MP for Camberwell and Peckham, and has shown throughout her political career that she is not afraid to speak up for issues which sometimes get overlooked in the mainstream of political activity - reminding us all of the importance of families and childrens rights.

I believe that Harriet would be a brilliant Deputy Leader of our party, and a perfect balance to Gordon Brown as Leader and Prime Minister.

Latest News in Brief

It's been a while since I have posted so I thought I should update on a few of the political stories in Southwark.

Despite our best efforts Cllr Bob Skelly won the vote at Southwark's Mayor-Making meeing on the 16th of May. Much has been made since then of the apologies he made for his insensitive and crass comments when he was forced to resign in disgrace as Executive member for Education in December 2004, and that he has chosen the Damilola Taylor Trust as his Charity for the year. All worthy sentiments and actions I am sure - any sensible person would applaud additional fundraising and publicity for the work of the Trust. However, I still do not understand why the LibDems and the Tories had to choose such a controversial figure as Cllr Skelly in the first place. He is the only one of Southwark's 63 councillors who has had to resign from an Executive, or any post, for making perceived racist comments. Was there really no-one else suitable to be First Citizen of our borough? Could the Lib Dems and Tories not recognise the attributes of Labour's Cllr Situ? I think this whole sorry episode says a great deal about the poor political judgment of the Lib Dem and Tory groups on the Council.

Caroline Pidgeon, the sometime Executive member for Education and Childrens Services, just keeps adding to her sparkling CV and list of positions! Not content with being a local councillor, and Executive member, and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Vauxhall; she has now been placed in 3rd position on the Liberals list for next year's GLA elections. Barring political earthquakes Caroline should be elected to the GLA, which I am sure will provide her with another terrific stepping-stone to yet higher office. But two things concern me. With such a portfolio of positions has Caroline really got the time to devote to Southwark's schools? And in any of her new positions, will she be prepared to actually take decisions - in contrast to her real timidity as Executive member?

At the last Council Assembly meeting the Lib Dems and Tories voted through a change to the Constitution which effectively meant that nobody would be entitled to bring a Deputation to full meetings of the Council if they could take their Deputation somewhere else first - such as the Executive or a Community Council. One of the major supporters of this proposal was Cllr Humphreys, who seems astonished that we are not all clamouring to listen to him give Fidel Castro-length speeches and presentations on his wondrous handling of housing affairs! Labour opposed the proposal on the grounds that we argued that it would simply be used by the ruling groups to keep deputations away from Council Assembly meetings. There can sometimes be real advantages to bringing deputations to the full Council, as solutions to previously intractable problems can often be found, and a wider group of councillors made aware of the Deputation's grievances. Sadly our arguments did not win through. So I was not surprised that of the three groups who had applied to bring Deputations to Council Assembly on the 27th of June, all three had been refused! Democracy Southwark-style - you can say whatever you like, but only so long as it isn't going to embarrass the Libs and Tories!

And finally, political credibility is at last mine! In a recent and rather odd interview in Southwark News, Tory Leader Cllr Humphreys condemned me as "not fit to lead" Southwark Council! Just putting to one side the fact that he was prepared to talk to me last May after the elections about a possible coalition, and had previously invited offers from me on a Labour / Tory pact in the last Council between 2004 and 2006, I take it as truly positive that a Thatcherite Tory no longer wants to do business with me! Just in case anyone was in any doubt there are real and genuine political differences between the Labour and Conservative parties; our political philosophies are different; our core constituents are different. I make no apologies for standing up for those in our borough who are the worst off and most in need of support from the Council and other authorities; and for those who look to the Council for leadership, setting an example on how we can best live and work together in our diverse borough.

Dog Walking Chaos!

At the start of the week I couldn't understand why I was suddenly getting calls and e-mails about Southwark's dog-walking policy - until I was told that signs had gone up all over the borough instructing people to keep their dogs on leads.

A little investigation revealed that the Council, in fact, had no powers to erect the signs or require owners to keep their dogs on leads at all times! An embarrassed statement from Cllr Lisa Rajan, who is responsible for the Council's policy in this area, seems to suggest that the signs were erected in advance of a public consultation on the subject. Erm - so I wonder what the Council's views may be given that the signs have already gone up?!

In short, the episode has caused a lot of anger amongst responsible dog owners, and left the Council and Executive looking far from competent. The Executive are to consider the issue at its meeting on Tuesday 19th June - it might be one that dog owners may want to attend!