Friday, June 15, 2007

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.

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