Thursday, November 22, 2007

Labour Group Event!

Last Saturday night 230 Labour members and supporters attended a fund-raising event in Camberwell for the Damilola Taylor Trust. We were honoured to be joined by Damilola's parents, Richard and Gloria Taylor. Richard gave a very gracious speech and spoke of his commitment to continue the work of the Trust in Southwark. The event was also attended by Harriet Harman MP and Val Shawcross, GLA member for Lambeth & Southwark.

A great deal of work had been put into organising the event by my colleagues Althea Smith, Dora Dixon-Fyle, Mary Foulkes and Martin Seaton. Many other colleagues worked hard on the day and night to make it a success.

As well as raising funds for the Damilola Taylor Trust we were also marking the bi-centenary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.

The excellent news was that we raised £5,000 for the Damilola Taylor Trust.

Another Council Assembly!

Last night saw the final Council Assembly of 2007. As a meeting it has ceased to be of any real significance since the Constitutional changes introduced by the Tory/LibDem Executive last May meant that local people could no longer bring deputations to Council Assembly. But last night was reduced to a near farce as the LibDems sought to prevent Labour councillors asking questions of Executive members. A series of questions from LibDem councillors to Jeff Hook, Executive member for Community Safety, were met with lenghty replies which he read out from his pre-prepared script. At one stage he was falling about laughing as he read yet another answer to a planted question. Personally I don't think it is a laughing matter that 29 Labour Councillors are prevented from questioning the Tory/LibDem Executive. It is certainly not a proper way to be conducting the business we were elected to do.

As to the remainder of the meeting, the Council adopted the first resolution which is necessary to revise our local bye-laws, and debated Government funding to Southwark; transport links in South London and the regeneration of the Elephant and Castle. It was interesting that Cllr Stanton spoke of the need for us to argue on behalf of Southwark as a whole in securing additonal funding from the Government; citing Camberwell & Peckham as the 6th most deprived constituency in the UK; at the same time as the LibDems are distributing leaflets in the Riverside by-election which seek to pit Bermondsey against Peckham. A real inconsistency which needs some explanation! When he tried to give examples of his Executive's support for Camberwell & Peckham he could only mainly point to projects which had received non-Council funding - the Peckham City Academy (DfES funding) and Burgess Park football pitches (Sport England). The Labour Group will always support any argument which is intended to secure fair funding for Southwark, but we do need to see that fairness practiced across Southwark as well.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Remembrance Sunday and the Riverside By-Election

Yesterday I was honoured to lay a wreath at Southwark's War Memorial on the Walworth Road on behalf of the Labour Group. It was a slightly odd service, with wreath-layers called forward in a fairly random order, and far too many people carrying on with their usual business on the Walworth Road during the two minute silence. I know that people have other things to do in their lives, but standing still for two minutes as a mark of respect for all those who have given their lives in order that we can lives ours in the way we wish to today does not seem to be too much to ask.

Harriet Harman attended for what was her 25th Remembrance Day ceremony at Southwark's War Memorial - she had been pressed to attend at the Cenotaph in Whitehall but instead chose to come to the Walworth Road.

I am told that the Leader of the Council attended the West Lane ceremony. West Lane is on one of the boundaries of Riverside Ward where campaigning really got going this weekend. All of the major parties have now selected their candidates. Cormac Hollingsworth is, as predicted, Labour's candidate. He is the only truly local candidate of all those put forward by the main parties. He is a committed community activist and will make a superb councillor. Anood Al-Samerai, rejected by voters in Brunswick Park last year and most recently part of the LibDems action team in East Walworth, has dusted off her carpetbag and been selected for the Libs. Anood is clearly really desperate to be a councillor and, surprise surprise, works in Simon Hughes's office - so presumably has his blessing in the same way as Paul Baichoo did! And look what happened to Paul Baichoo!!

The Libs have already started publishing material full of half-truths. They just don't seem to care about the facts! Their latest leaflet contains pure scare stories about Labour wanting to use Bermondsey's money in Camberwell and Peckham; and our 'secret plans' for all sorts of nonsense! So secret that none of us in Labour know about them!! There is a nasty angle to these stories though - as they are designed to pit one part of our borough against another. As the Libs have been running Southwark for 5 1/2 years I would have hoped they would have got over this nasty approach and appreciate that they SHOULD be serving all of the people of the borough and not just those in the areas where they have their support.

One of the most ridiculous stories is about our 'secret plans' to raise councillors allowances as colleagues in Lambeth have done. This is plain nonsense. Firstly, we have a stated manifesto commitment to cut councillor's allowances; secondly, the LibDems are the ones who have consistently raised their own allowances year after year since taking office in 2002 and thirdly, even if we took Southwark allowances to the same level as those in Lambeth they would be far LOWER than those paid in Southwark. In short, there is not a grain of truth in their 'story'.

One issue likely to be of importance in this by-election is the future of the site adjacent to Tower Bridge, where Berkeley Homes have planning permission for a major housing development. The Town Hall is clearly getting worked up over a story which appeared in last week's Southwark News, which discussed the possibility that Southwark residents may have lost up to £50 million as a result of a decision forced through by the LibDems two years ago to transfer ownership of Potters Field Park from the Council to a separate Trust. If the story is true it is an example of shocking incompetence and huge loss to the public purse - and if I was the LibDems I would want to bury it too!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Camberwell Grove Bridge Meeting

Last night 300 residents came to Grove Chapel on Camberwell Grove for a meeting to discuss the future of the Camberwell Grove Railway Bridge. It was a superb public meeting with many thoughtful and relevant contributions - and a fair bit of applause and barracking! The meeting came about after Cllr Sandra Rhule, Chair of Camberwell Community Council, together with myself and Cllr Ian Wingfield proposed it at a recent Community Council meeting.

I had the job of trying to summarise some of the main points of the evening - not an easy task as there were some fairly polarised views! My own views are that Network Rail must bear significant responsibility for the failure to repair the bridge speedily. Readers of this blog will know that we have been promised a number of different dates for the bridge to re-open, but these have constantly slipped. We were told last night that March 2008 is now the likely time to re-open; although I wouldn't bet any money on that! Traffic signals remain an unpopular solution to the problem of how to manage traffic on a re-opened bridge. Despite some hostile views being expressed, the vast majority of residents present at the meeting and directly affected by a traffic signal solution were against them. This accords with my recent survey. I can understand the frustration of people who want to see the bridge re-opened, but I don't understand why they are angry that traffic signals are unpopular - perhaps a reader can enlighten me!?

Issues on which everyone seemed to be in agreement were - 1. the need to properly stop HGVs and lorries using Camberwell Grove; 2. the need for a sympathetic solution to managing the traffic - there is no reason why a solution needs to look like roadworks on the M6; 3. a proper traffic survey across Camberwell and Peckham in order to try and limit the number of rat-runs; 4. the need for a permanent and long-term solution to the problem. Ultimately the railway bridge needs to be replaced, and the sooner this can be done, the better.

Cllr Paul Noblet, the LibDem Executive member for transport put in a fairly woeful performance. Although he has not been in the job long he did not appear to have briefed himself on the issues and received a fairly angry reception from the residents present.

Cllr Mark Glover, my colleague from the Lane Ward, chaired the meeting excellently, and every view was fairly heard. Andrew Downes, the Council's traffic officer coped very well with some tough questions and gave a thorough presentation.

I hope that the meeting served to underline the strength of feeling which exists on this issue, and this helps guide Cllr Noblet and Andrew Downes to make the right decisions for the future of Camberwell Grove.

Riverside Ward By-election

After a very poor attendance record at Council meetings over the past six months (he attended one Community Council meeting for 10 minutes in October) Paul Baichoo has resigned as a LibDem councillor in Riverside Ward. Paul has cited health reasons for his decision to quit, although according to local newspaper Southwark News, this appears to be at odds with other reports of his attending nightclubs and partying in Ibiza. I hope that Paul's current health worries are unfounded. Paul was clearly not comfortable with his council membership, and for some time had appeared to be disillusioned with the LibDem/Tory Executive - he voted against his party at a Council Assembly meeting at the start of the year. However, he has not worked hard for his constituents for some time and he has done the right thing in resigning.

This means a by-election in Riverside Ward on December 13th. Labour's candidate is likely to be Cormac Hollingsworth. Cormac lives in the ward and has been working tirelessly for people living there for a number of years. Issues concerning anti-social behaviour on the Four Squares Estate and the prospect of lap-dancing clubs on Tooley Street have only been brought to public attention through the work which Cormac has put in. If the people of Riverside Ward want a councillor who will actually represent them, they need look no further than Cormac! They certainly deserve some full-time representation.

I have no doubt that Simon Hughes and Nick Stanton will try and parachute in some other acolyte of theirs, but the Paul Baichoo experience will surely leave Riverside Ward residents wondering whether another Hughes/Stanton stooge is the best they can do.

A Labour win on December 13th will seriously undermine the ruling Tory/LibDem coalition and put a question mark over whether the they can continue in office all the way to 2010.