Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Southwark Labour Conference 2008

Another really successful day on Saturday at the Southwark Borough Labour Conference. This is the second year we have run the event, and we were really fortunate to be joined by two Cabinet members and a rising star of the Party. Harriet Harman, James Purnell and Chuka Umunna spoke during the day, and we had two Working Group sessions to discuss policy as we move towards the next local elections in 2010.

Harriet obviously had to deal with some fairly difficult questions about the state of the national party, but as ever she really connected with her audience of about 90 members. James Purnell, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has been spoken of as a possible future Party Leader, and after listening to his speech on Saturday I can certainly see why. He set out a 'narrative' and vision for Labour over the next ten years which, if we heard more like it, would surely see our position in the opinion polls improve! My own view is that the press has its own narrative of 'Labour in crisis' at the moment, and we do need to do something urgently to overcome that. We do look like a Government which is purely reactive and the victim of events, so we do need to start taking the initiative and demonstrating that Labour does have a positive agenda which it still needs to deliver on.

Chuka Umunna is the PPC in Streatham, and a leading member of the Compass Group within the Party. He spoke eloquently about what he hopes that a Fourth Term Labour Government should deliver - and how we might get to the stage of having a Fourth Term Labour Government!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Rotherhithe By-election

I have really been hopeless at posting over the past couple of months! But the prospect of a by-election in Rotherhithe deserves a mention. Firstly, I should note that it has only been caused as a result of the untimely death of Cllr Anne Yates, a former Mayor of Southwark between 2004-2005. I liked Anne very much. She approached politics on the basis of what she thought was best for the community and the people she represented, and did not mind upsetting party political colleagues if it meant she was not towing the line! Sitting on the other side of the Chamber it could be fascinating speculating about how Anne might react to a particular vote. But it was this independence of spirit which brought her so much respect. A true community champion who will be missed. A great line from Gary Magold, her friend and fellow community campaigner who described her as "a flower of Scotland who bloomed in Bermondsey."

Labour has selected Kath Whittam to fight the by-election. Kath is the manager of the Surrey Docks Farm and has been involved in numerous campaigns up on the Rotherhithe peninsula over the years. She is a great candidate and will make a superb councillor if elected. Rotherhithe should be a safe LibDem seat, and the national picture does not help Labour at the moment, but I think it will be difficult for anyone to find a better candidate than Kath. I hope that the by-election will be fought on the issues facing Rotherhithe, which is at the centre of some of the biggest regeneration in Southwark with the development of Canada Water. The by-election will take place on October 9th.

Camberwell Leisure Centre

Last night we held a meeting at St Giles Hall to hear presentations from the three shortlisted bidders to run the Camberwell Leisure Centre in the future. The meeting was extremely well attended, which is hardly surprising given the genuine community support that exists for a secure future for the Centre.

It was great that all three bidders attended the meeting, but if I am honest I was not that impressed with any of the presentations. Fusion/PETA's solution involves building 64 flats on the site and the loss of the sports hall at the rear of the centre. Although they are able to point to a recent success with the redevelopment of the Brockwell Lido, Camberwell seems to be a very different proposition. It was also a pity that their presentation boards were so small, which meant that many of those attending the meeting simply couldn't see!

Ash Sakula sounded sympathetic and portrayed themselves as the only partners for the Council who would preserve the heritage and facilities at the Centre. However, their proposal also involved the loss of the sports hall, and I am always slightly sceptical when a property developer is also involved in any supposed community scheme.

The English National Ballet's proposal is perhaps the most unlikely, as it involves the loss of the swimming baths at the Centre. Craig Hassall and his team from the ENB gave by far the most enthusiastic presentation of the evening, and but for the loss of the swimming pool, I can see that their proposal would probably bring greater community regeneration to the centre of Camberwell than either of the other proposals.

Of course, the ideal solution would be for the Council to find the capital which is needed to renovate the Centre - or even a solution which involved some capital from the Council and the ENB but maintained the swimming baths.

The Executive is due to take an "in principle" decision in October. It will not be easy, as it strikes me that the community loses out to some greater or lesser extent under all of the current proposals. If I were taking the decision it would probably be "back to the drawing board" time.