Maryland Point

30 Oct

Map of proposed Maryland ward

The Local Government Boundary Commission for England has published its draft proposal for re-warding Newham and it represents a major victory for local campaigners in Maryland. They argued that their community deserved direct representation on the council and the Commission agreed.

When I wrote about the council’s own proposals I expected them to be accepted. I was mostly right – but also quite wrong.

The Boundary Commission has adopted the majority of Newham’s recommendations, but re-drawn the map in the north of the borough to accommodate a new Maryland ward, which extends from Leyton Road in the west to Field Road in the east and takes in the roads around UEL’s Stratford campus in the south. If adopted, it will elect three councillors.

As a result three other wards have significant changes. The proposed Stratford East Village ward is now smaller and renamed Olympic East Village; it will have two councillors. Forest Gate North is also smaller, having lost almost all of the streets off Forest Lane west of the community school. But it gains the parts of the Woodgrange Estate that currently sit in Forest Gate South. The redrawn FGN will elect two councillors. Forest Gate South, shorn of the Woodgrange Estate, the area around the UEL and streets west of Water Lane, is also reduced to two councillors.

Stratford Olympic Park ward will simply be known as Stratford.

For what it’s worth, I think the boundary between the proposed new ward and Forest Gate North is absurd. Even if you accept that Maryland is a distinct community (I am personally unconvinced) there is no way it extends almost the entire length of Forest Lane. A more sensible boundary would be the western edge of Forest Lane Park and the cemetery.

Policies for a Labour London

16 Oct

Lyn Borwn delivers the keynote address

Keynote speech by Lyn Brown MP at Newham Fabians’ conference, Policies for a Labour London, on Saturday 12 October 2019

I’d like to thank Anita and Newham Fabians for the invitation and everyone for coming to this event today. I’m so grateful to have an opportunity to take part in this discussion about how our Labour policies can help Londoners and our communities thrive.

As most of you will I hope know I work in the Shadow Treasury team with the fabulous John McDonnell. What I do is social justice and equality.

In London, we see the consequences of inequality and injustice every day. Newham has the worst homelessness in thecountry and shocking numbers of vulnerable people having to sleep rough.

The most vulnerable have been denied a home by the housing crisis. Denied the other support they deserve because of cuts to all of our services and ended up on our street where all their problems can only be exacerbated.

They shouldn’t have to rely on charity to get their lives back. We know only well-funded, totally focused Government action can do that. The kind of action that saw rough sleeping reduced by two-thirds under the last Labour Government[1].

Newham has the highest level of homelessness[2], and appallingly we have the second highest child poverty rate in the country as well. Half our Newham children lived in poverty last year[3]. Half. London as a whole has the highest child poverty rate of any region[4].

And we know what that means – debts and stress over bills that can’t be paid, and rocketing numbers of children homeless in dire temporary accommodation.

Because the rent simply isn’t affordable, social housing is almost non-existent after decades of unreplaced sell-offs, and after Tory cuts, housing benefit simply doesn’t fill the gap.

Dreams are stifled, enormous promise in our community goes unrecognised and unfulfilled, gaping inequalities of class, race, gender, and disability widen.

Worst of all, it means children destitute, going hungry. Last year, you might remember, the headteacher of a primary school in Maryland, just round the corner, she discovered a mum sleeping with her children, in the back alley, behind some bins.

Just a few months later at a visit to a local school, I stupidly remarked to a little girl whose plate was piled high with food ‘that’s a lot of food for such a small person’. She beamed at me and said ‘yes I know, it’s not my turn to eat tonight’.

It’s an utter disgrace that this ever happens in the fifth richest country in the world. But it was quite clear from that conversation that not being able to eat wasn’t a rare event for that little girl, and probably wasn’t a rare event for her friends either.

Because she said it to me, so easily to me, so casually. It had become her normal, and I suspect her friends’ normal as well.

As Labour members, we know poverty and inequality are linked. London doesn’t just have the highest poverty rates, we have the highest inequality as well. 50% of London’s wealth is owned by the richest 10%. The poorest half of us own just 5% of the wealth.[5]

We see this every day. The extraordinary luxury and privilege of a few in the City, sitting cheek by jowl with the deprivation and social exclusion of many in the East End.

In the last year I’ve visited the sparkling new offices of the Financial Conduct Authority. I’ve been awed by some of the developments still going ahead in the Olympic Park, despite Brexit.

And I walk through the Stratford Centre so close by, where rough sleeping, gang exploitation, sexual violence and destitution are a daily reality. Where another young life was ended by violence on Thursday [10th October 2019].

I’ve visited our schools and colleges and been inspired again and again by the resilience and brilliance of our children, and I’ve held parents in my arms after their children have been violently taken from them.

I’ve heard the stories of so many families in my surgery –homeless, mistreated, denied the resources they need to live and the respect they deserve.

These social injustices aren’t equally distributed. Obviously in terms of class, and in terms of race as well. The in-work poverty rate for black British people is 27.5%, more than double that of the rest of the population. And black university graduates face an enormous pay gap because of discrimination and disadvantage: 23.1% less in earnings than their white fellow graduates.[6]

Racial wealth gaps are even wider. For every pound a white British family has in wealth on average, a Pakistani family has around 50p, a Black Caribbean family has around 20p, and Black African and Bangladeshi families both have around 10p.[7]

These social injustices are our challenge. We need to end them, and that’s what we’ll be fighting for in the coming election.

We desperately need to be rid of this Tory Government and keep City Hall Labour – we need Labour in Westminster, in our Councils and in every Combined Authority.

That way we can join up our work against social injustice and make it all the more powerful.

Not just the investment that Sadiq has put into youth services and community policing, but a nationwide youth service commitment and proper police funding across the country.

Because I want those bastards who run county lines and exploit our children caught, charged, and the key thrown away.

We can’t forget that the biggest impact of austerity is a failure to invest in our children and our future. It’s had very unequal, unfair impacts, and I’m afraid we won’t see the full damage for many years to come.

Towards the end of the last Labour Government, we were spending almost 6% of our GDP on publicly funded education and training. By last year, that had fallen to just over 4%—a cut of more than a quarter.

Given the challenges we face, we clearly need far more investment in skills and knowledge, to transform our economy with a green industrial revolution and make it more prosperous but also fairer.

Instead, as we know, during Tory rule school funding per pupil has fallen by 8% in real terms.

The consequences are glaringly obvious.

More than 1,000 schools nationally have had to rely on crowdfunding for basics such as pencils and textbooks.

At least 26 schools are closing their classrooms because they don’t have the money to keep teaching.

The proportion of pupils in supersized classes with more than 31 pupils to a single teacher is at its highest level for 36 years.

The number of pupils doing a GCSE in music has fallen by almost a quarter since 2010, just as industry is asking us for more creativity and collaboration in education, because those skills are needed.

Our further education providers have been cut even more: sixth forms by 21% and FE colleges by 8%.

The Social Mobility Commission found that 41% of FE providers had reduced their careers guidance and 48% their mental health support. I don’t think people get why that’s so important – for class equality, careers guidance is fundamental.

In its report, it also cited evidence that 51% of colleges had stopped teaching modern language courses. So much for a global Britain post-Brexit!

Some 38% of schools and colleges have dropped courses in science, technology, engineering and maths —the courses our economy needs to sustain our green industrial revolution. It’s jaw-dropping that schools and colleges have been forced into that.

We have a recruitment crisis in nursing after the Government scrapped bursaries, and frankly, because of Brexit.

We have a productivity crisis because the Government hasn’t invested in skills. People lucky enough to have a career are struggling to progress at work.

Adult education – so important now that people have to change careers —nobody goes into a job at 18 and stays till in it until they’re 67. But no: funding has been cut in adult education almost in half since 2009-10.  Apprenticeship spending has fallen by 44%.

The Open University, which has given a second chance to millions of people, is on its knees because of the Government’s tuition fees regime. Older and part-time learners are simply scared off by the level of debt they’re expected to take on if they want to improve their education or change their course in life.

That’s the situation across the board — cuts, cuts, cuts, and not investment.

What about early years? SureStart has been cut by two thirds since 2010. And 1,000 centres have closed. We know about the amazing benefits of Sure Start.

Just on one measure: Children are almost 20% less likely to be hospitalised by the age of 11 if their family has access to a Sure Start centre – that’s massive – and the most disadvantaged children benefit most.

The impact on the NHS alone of fewer children being hospitalised, is enough by itself to pay for 6% of Sure Start’s costs, and that’s just one impact among many.

The story is the same with youth centres, cut by 40% on average across the country and by as much as 91% in some places.

When investment in youth services is taken away, young people are far more likely to have their lives blighted and their potential wasted by becoming victims of exploitation.

Here in Newham, we know that only too well. Youth centres and youth workers provide young people with spaces away from the county lines groomers on our streets.

Places where young people know they can find an adult to talk to – somebody who can listen to their problems, offer them real resilience against the troubles on our streets and point them towards opportunity.

What is so essential is not the bat and ball and the table tennis in the youth club, but the adult standing on the other side of that table an adult they can trust who can give them different ways of dealing with the so-called ‘elder’ on the street, who grooms that child by offering them chicken to be a lookout for while he sells his drugs.

Good youth work stops children being groomed, stops children’s potential being wasted. We know it’s often the brightest most articulate children they pick on.

And we know those older teenagers seem to offer an alternative economic model.

I can see why that might be appealing, because those teenagers are watching their parents go to work for all the hours God sends and still unable to afford basics let alone luxuries.

The lower quartile rent on a two bed flat in Newham is dearer than the lower quartile earnings for Newham residents. Your whole pay packet in the lower quartile doesn’t cover the lower quartile of rent.

Our children know this is the reality for their parents – low wages, high rents. They live with the stress of poverty and their parents struggling to pay bills day in and day out. They are looking for alternatives.

But a good youth worker can help our young people understand the very dark places that the offer of food and friendship and that alternative economic model can lead to.

If we’d invested earlier, how many of the lives that’ve been blighted by county lines exploitation could have been saved?

We know investment in social infrastructure benefits not only the economy but our society in so many ways for decades into the future.

We don’t just need billions of pounds more investment in social infrastructure, but also to change the way Government works, at every level, so the investment we put in is focused on tackling social injustices, and is there for the long term.

It’s about making sure there are good Labour people in Downing Street AND in City Hall. It’s about giving Boroughs, Cities and towns the space to step up their work against social injustice by restoring and targeting central government funding. But it’s also about joining up our work – national, regional and local. That’s something I’m working on in John’s team.

We’re going to replace the Social Mobility Commission with a Social Justice Commission to investigate the fairness of our society across every policy area, and every kind of injustice: class, race, gender, disability, sexuality.

It has to be about creating fair opportunities for all. We don’t want a grammar school society where some get on and are lauded and applauded. But they have often got on because of luck – being in the right place at the right time. Tokenistic social mobility policies just aren’t enough.

We’ll match our new Commission with co-ordination on social justice across a Labour Government. We’ll have a Minister for Social Justice in our Treasury to drive forward our agenda. And we’ll ensure it’s matched with the levels of investment our communities need.

Cutting poverty and increasing life chances will be core goals. We’ll assess every policy to make sure it plays a part in cutting child poverty and creating a fairer society. We’ll look at new ways of tackling class discrimination and all other forms of inequality.

I believe the first step should be bringing the Socioeconomic Duty from the Equality Act into force. That would mean that every different part of Government – not just Whitehall Departments but councils, health authorities, schools, and the police. All of them will have a duty to consider the impact of their strategic decisions on working class people, and try to reduce socioeconomic inequality.

I’m also looking at the idea of class audits for large companies as well as the gender and race audits we’re already committed to. And we’re considering building protection against class discrimination into the Equality Act as well.

And finally, when it comes to social justice, we won’t mark our own homework; our policies and our statistics will be trustworthy because they’ll be checked from the outside. Part of this is the Social Justice Commission, but another bit could be the Office for Budget Responsibility.

The Tories have used the OBR to turn their budgets into carnivals of cuts. Every time there’s a Budget, the size of the public debt is all the media and unfortunately a lot of the public have talked about. Not the consequences of austerity plans for public services, for our community, for poverty and inequality.

But wouldn’t it be amazing if budgets weren’t just about the numbers – how much spending, how much growth, how much debt. But about how much poverty is being reduced, and how much fairer our society is becoming. 

If we made those changes we might find we don’t just have a better policy. We might have a better conversation where it’s easier to win over the people who matter as well: our voters, those people who are going to be determining our marginal seats.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they wanted to talk to us about progress on poverty, rather than repeating the kinds of lines that have come out of Tory Governments to shamelessly justify their fiscally failed and socially unjust austerity.

So, comrades, let’s been clear. Our economy does not work for the many in London. I often have to remind colleagues and activists from other places about the huge poverty and social problems we see here every day.

Because London and the South-East are always seen to be receiving more than our fair share from the public purse. And it’s true, we do get a lot of infrastructure investment.

There is regional inequality, and there is also enormous inequality and poverty within our big cities. Labour has to tackle both these problems, and we absolutely can if we work together across the country, and across every level of Government, for the many not the few. Solidarity. 

Footnotes & references:
[1] https://www.crisis.org.uk/media/239453/everybody_in_how_to_end_homelessness_in_great_britain_short_edition_2018.pdf
[2] https://www.newhamrecorder.co.uk/news/newham-has-the-highest-number-of-homeless-people-in-england-1-5791719
[3] http://www.endchildpoverty.org.uk/poverty-in-your-area-2019/
[4] https://cpag.org.uk/child-poverty-london-facts
[5] https://www.trustforlondon.org.uk/data/wealth-distribution/
[6] https://www.jrf.org.uk/blog/we-must-turn-tide-inequality-all-our-children
[7] https://www.friendsprovidentfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Runnymede-report.pdf

23 and me

16 Oct

In my previous post I provided an overview of the council’s proposal for redrawing ward boundaries and distributing council seats ahead of the 2022 election.

If the council’s scheme is approved there will be 66 councillors representing 23 wards – 20 of which will elect three councillors each and 3 will elect two.

Let’s take a look at the 23 wards in turn, starting with the new Stratford wards:

Stratford East Village

This is basically the northern half of the current Stratford and New Town ward, covering the East Village development, Westfield shopping centre, the International station and a chunk of older housing on the streets between Leyton Road and Leytonstone Road. It is projected to have an electorate of around 11,500 and will return three councillors. The preponderance of new, more affluent voters living in the apartment buildings of the East Village will make this a tempting target for both the Liberal Democrats and Greens. Indeed, the Lib Dems have submitted their own proposal for an ‘Olympic ward’ covering the East Village, but excluding the older ‘New Town’ area east of Leyton Road.

Stratford Olympic Park

The southern part of the current Stratford and New Town ward, including the London Stadium and the shopping centre, stretching south to Three Mills. It will also take in streets south of Forest Lane and west of Water Lane that are currently in Forest Gate South. The new ward will have 12,600 electors represented by three councillors.

Canning Town

Such has been the pace of development south of the Canning Town flyover that a new three-member ward can be created from the small area bounded by Newham Way, the Jubilee Line, Victoria Dock Road, Munday Road and Radland Road. This compact ward will hold 11,300 voters. As with the East Village, this ward may be an opportunity for someone to break Labour’s complete stranglehold on the council. 

Canning Town North

Slightly reduced version of the current ward, but retaining three councillors. Bounded to the north by the District line/C2C railway and to the south by the A13, it takes in West Ham station, the Memorial Ground, Eastlea and Rokeby schools and Rathbone Market. 12,500 voters.

Victoria Dock

This new ward is made up of the western half of the current Royal Docks ward, plus a bit of the old Canning Town South. It will include the whole of the community in Silvertown and Britannia Village on the south of the Royal Victoria Dock. Its northern boundary captures the new developments around the DLR line. Victoria Dock will have 8,500 voters and elect two councillors.

Albert Dock

The other, eastern half of the current Royal Docks, taking in City Airport, the North Woolwich community and the developments around Gallions Reach. The council notes that the boundary between this and Beckton could be problematic due to future developments. It suggests the Boundary Commission may want to take a further look, so this ward may yet change. As currently proposed, its 8266 electors will be represented by two councillors.

Plaistow West

That the council has suggested Canning Town East as an alternative name for this ward tells you a lot about where it is. This new ward is bounded by the A13 to the south and the District line the north, with Plaistow High Street/Greengate Street to the east. Hermit Road and the East London cemetery mark the western edge. The Greenway slices through the ward from east to north-west. 11,673 voters will elect three councillors.

Plaistow North

This ward most obviously breaks the council’s own rules about ‘impermeable boundaries’. The District line splits it in two and there is only one crossing point to move from the southern to the northern half. The southern part sits between Plaistow High Street/Greengate Street and Green Street (up to and including Queens Market), north of Barking Road. The northern portion is south of Plashet Road, to either side of Stopford Road. The three councillor ward holds 11,300 voters.

Plaistow South

A rejigged version of the current ward, taking in part of the old Canning Town South ward, so that its western boundary is now New Barn Street. It takes in the area between Barking Road and the A13, with Prince Regent Lane running more or less through the middle. The south east quarter of the ward covers Newham University Hospital, Cumberland School and Newham Leisure Centre. It’s 11,300 electors will be represented by three councillors.

Custom House

Although there is an existing Custom House ward, it is quite different to the one proposed by the council. It takes in the eastern half of the Old Canning Town South and the western half of the current Custom House. The A13 provides the northern boundary and the Excel Centre sits to the south. To the north east the council has opted not to use Beckton District Park as a boundary and therefore residents around Sheerwater Road and Fulmer Road will find themselves in Beckton ward rather than Custom House. This 12,600 voter ward will return three councillors.

Beckton

The geographically largest ward in the borough is mostly unaltered, bar the changes with Custom House mentioned above and a small number of properties going into the new Albert Dock ward. With 12,729 voters returning three councillors, Beckton is at the outer edge of acceptable electoral variance (+9%).

Boleyn

This densely populated ward covers the area north and south of the old West Ham football ground – now a new housing development. There are some small boundary changes from the existing ward, which ‘improve electoral equality’. Just over 11,000 electors and three councillors.

West Ham

No changes from the current boundaries. 10,800 voters, electing three councillors.

Forest Gate South

Apart from the loss of a few streets west of Water Lane to the new Stratford Olympic Park ward, Forest Gate South remains unchanged. Water Lane now forms a distinct boundary between Forest Gate and Stratford. FGS retains three councillors, who will be elected by around 11,500 voters.

Forest Gate North

No changes to this three councillor ward, which is home to 11,329 electors.

Green Street West

Another ward with no changes. With just 10,600 voters and three councillors it is at the margin of acceptable electoral variation (10%). The council says it is difficult to identify changes that would improve this.

Green Street East

Remains within unchanged boundaries. It’s electoral variance is -9% (10,695 voters and three councillors) 

Manor Park

Popcorn time for Labour watchers. This ward is reduced in size with properties furthest from the centre moving to Little Ilford and Plashet wards, leaving just 8,300 electors. As a result, it will only have two councillors and one of the current three will have to look elsewhere for a seat. 

Little Ilford

Unchanged, bar the addition of First Avenue and streets to the east, and a section of Romford Road from Manor Park. The reconfigured three-councillor ward will have 12,200 voters.

Plashet

The ward previously known as East Ham North gains a few properties from Manor Park (Monega Road and parts of Shrewsbury Road and High Street North), but is otherwise unchanged. 12,150 voters with three councillors.

East Ham

The new name for East Ham Central. This ward covers the area either side of the High Street, south of the District line and encompasses the main shopping area, the old Town Hall and Central Park. To improve ‘electoral equality’ there are some minor changes to the boundary with Burges ward (or Wall End, as it is currently known). East Ham ward will have 11,770 voters and three councillors.

East Ham South

The ward takes in a few streets on its western boundary from Boleyn, but is otherwise unchanged. It covers the residential areas either side of High Street South down to the A13. It is projected to contain 11,791 voters and will be represented by three councillors.

And finally…

Burges

The current Wall End ward, with the addition of Keppel Road, Streatfield Road, Latimer Road and Altmore, plus properties on the north side of Barking Road east of Keppel Road (all from East Ham Central). I have no idea why Burges is a better name than Wall End for this ward – does it have some local significance? 11,500 Burges-ites will have three councillors representing them.

View from the Boundary

10 Oct

The current structure of Newham council – a directly elected mayor and 60 councillors representing 20 wards – has been in place since 2002.

The mayoral system was put in place after a referendum 17 years ago and its future will be decided in another vote, probably 18 months from now. In the meantime, the Local Government Boundary Commission for England is taking a look at the rest of the council. How many councillors do we need and how should the wards they represent by drawn up?

The last review, which produced the 20 wards we have today, was in the late 1990s and a lot has changed since then! The population has grown substantially and that has resulted in considerable ‘electoral inequality’ between wards. Stratford and New Town has more than 18,000 electors, while Royal Docks has just 8,600. Yet both elect the same number of councillors.

Newham has argued – apparently successfully – that the total number of councillors should increase from 60 to 66, to take account of the growth in population and the large amount of casework (especially around housing issues) that has resulted. It has also put forward its own proposal on how the borough should be divided up into wards.

The council claims its proposal reflects existing local communities and the few ‘natural’ boundaries in the borough – the A13, the District line and the Docks. 

The new map, if agreed, would result in 23 wards, 20 of which would elect 3 councillors and three that would elect only two. The council rejected the option of creating single-member micro-wards. 

Of the 23 wards, nine are completely new, three have significant changes and 11 are either unchanged or have minor adjustments. All of the wards are within 10% (plus or minus) of ‘electoral equality’.

The biggest changes are in Stratford & New Town, where the existing mega-ward is split into two new – East Village and Olympic Park – and Royal Docks, which is also split in two, with each of them represented by two councillors. Canning Town South disappears; its western half becomes a more ‘electorally equal’ Canning Town ward while the eastern parts go into the new Plaistow West and a substantially redrawn Custom House.

Keen observers of local Labour politics will want to get the popcorn in for the reselection meeting in Manor Park, which will go from three councillors to two.

The full list is:

Ward name Forecast voters (2025) Councillors Electoral Equality
Beckton 12729 3 9
Boleyn 11067 3 -6
Burges* 11481 3 -2
Canning Town 11363 3 -3
Canning Town North 12425 3 6
Custom House 12594 3 7
East Ham South 11791 3 1
East Ham 11771 3 0
Forest Gate North 11329 3
Forest Gate South 11477 -2
Green St East 10692 3 -9
Green St West 10607 3 -10
Little Ilford 12185 3 4
Plaistow North 11321 3 -3
Plaistow South 11297 3 -4
Plaistow West 11673 3 0
Plashet** 12157 3 4
Stratford East Village 11522 3 -2
Stratford Olympic Park 12620 3 8
West Ham 10825 3 -8
Manor Park 8334 2 7
Albert Dock 8266 2 5
Victoria Dock 8530 2 9
Totals: 258056 66  
  • Burges is the current Wall End (with some small additions).

** Plashet is the current East Ham North ward (again, with small additions) renamed.

In the next post I’ll look at the make up of each of the 23 new wards.

Pass Notes: the ‘People’s Petition’

8 Oct

Tahir Mirza

East Ham CLP chair Tahir Mirza is the public face of the ‘people’s petition’

What’s the story?

A “people’s petition” has been launched to force a referendum next year after councillors voted to push the date back of a public vote on how the borough is governed, according to the Newham Recorder.

Whose bright idea is that?

The petition is the ‘brain child’ of a group calling themselves Newham Democracy, though in reality this is a small group of ‘left’ Labour activists led by East Ham CLP chair Tahir Mirza. Others involved are West Ham vice chair Mehmood Mirza (no relation), former councillor Obaid Khan and Councillor Suga Thekkeppurayil. 

Didn’t the mayor already promise to have a referendum?

Yes, it was a key part of her manifesto in the Labour candidate selection and it was in her election manifesto for mayor in 2018. She pledged to

Hold a referendum on having a Directly Elected Mayor by 2021 and change the way the Council works so that we build a culture of trust and openness that involves our residents in our decision making.

That sounds unequivocal. Has she broken her promise?

No. Council recently voted to to hold the Governance Referendum on a date between June 2020 and May 2021, with an indicative date for 1st April 2021.

Didn’t the council vote before to have it in May 2020, on the same day as the London elections?

Sort of. In November 2018 it voted to hold a binding referendum by May 2020, on a change of governance from a directly elected Mayoral model to a Leader and Cabinet model. 

So the date has slipped then?

Yes, but council agreed to that in April 2019. A report from the chief legal officer pointed out that

the motion was not sufficient to be taken as part of the statutory process to commence a referendum. In short this is because, as a motion, it did not comply with the statutory requirements for such a Council resolution and did not provide a rationale for holding a referendum, that would comply with the legal principles for making a council decision, which in turn would place the referendum process at risk of legal challenge had it been commenced.

What were the problems with the motion?

Well, first of all it didn’t specify a date but, more importantly, it didn’t take account of the variety of alternative governance models that might replace the directly elected mayor. These should be consulted on rather than councillors simply saying what they want. And there’s a detailed process to be gone through before the referendum can happen.

But it could still be held in May 2020, right?

In theory, yes. But in practice there are big disadvantages to holding it on the same day as the London elections. There are already three different ballot papers (mayor, City & East assembly member and London-wide assembly members). This is confusing for a number of voters and adding a fourth ballot risks making it worse. London elections already have a high rate of rejected ballots and City & East has one of the highest rates. 

That might be a problem for Sadiq Khan…

Quite. From a purely partisan Labour point of view, confusing voters with both an election for one mayor and a referendum to abolish a different mayor on the same day is not a great idea. And more spoiled ballots in a solid Labour area in a potentially tight election is not a genius tactic. In fact, Sadiq Khan and the London Labour Party have been pretty clear they doesn’t want to take the risk.

Even so, holding to on the same day would save the council money…

Yes, but not much in grand scheme of things. The report estimated savings compared to a standalone vote at just £40,000.

Okay, so what happens now?

A democracy and civic participation commission has been set up and part of its remit is to propose different models of governance for Newham. These might include leader and cabinet; council and committees; or even delegating powers down to a new tier of ‘community (parish) councils’. Council will consider the commission’s recommendations before deciding which alternative model to put on the ballot paper against the current one. 

The commission will be chaired by Professor Nick Pearce. Professor Pearce is Director of the Institute for Policy Research (IPR) and Professor of Public Policy at the University of Bath.  He has previously worked as Head of the No 10 Downing Street Policy Unit.

Yawn. That’s going to takes ages, isn’t it?

Not really. The Commission will hand down their final report with findings and recommendations in March 2020.

I’ve seen people on Twitter say that the sooner we have the vote, the sooner we can get rid of the directly elected mayor.

They’re wrong. Even if we had a vote tomorrow the change couldn’t take place until the next local election in 2022. That’s the law and there’s no getting round it.

Newham Democracy says that holding the vote in 2021 means there won’t be enough time to put the change into effect before 2022 and we’ll have to have an elected mayor for another four years. Is that true?

No, it’s horse shit. In 2002 there was a referendum to change from being a ‘normal council’ to having a directly elected mayor. That was at the end of January. The first mayoral election was at the start of May, just over 3 months later. A year is plenty of time to change to reverse the change.

So, the mayor and council have already agreed to have a referendum in 2021; there’s no financial or legal advantage to having it earlier; and the Labour Party doesn’t want it at the same time as the London elections. Why are these Labour members organising a petition?

Now, there you’ve got me… 

Do say:

“The directly elected mayoral model places too much power in one person’s hands and, as we have seen in Newham, leads to cronyism and poor decision-making. We will be well rid of it in 2022.”

Don’t say:

“That Rokhsana Fiaz needs to be shown who’s boss.”

(apologies to the Guardian for ripping off their format)

Just vague enough not to cause trouble

26 Jul

West Ham MP Lyn Brown spoke in yesterday’s Summer adjournment debate in the House of Commons, accusing the government of Brexit-induced cowardice in the face of human rights abuses around the world:

I usually use this debate to talk about very local issues. Today I want to deviate a little, because many of my constituents have written to me about their concerns for people who live elsewhere in the world and their fear that our voice might be silenced or muted because of Brexit and our pursuit of trade deals.

My constituents have pointed out Trump’s obsession with walls and putting children in cages, and his insidious support for the damaging and highly dangerous great replacement conspiracy theory. They asked, “What did we do in response?” Well, we gave him a state visit.

There are concerns about other powerful countries too, like China. As we know, more than a million men, women and children are in detention camps, based on their ethnicity and their Muslim faith. Families have been torn apart by the state, children from their parents. Credible reports say that detainees are forced to swear oaths of allegiance, renounce their religion and learn Mandarin in place of their mother tongue. Some reports even talk of summary execution and the harvesting of organs.

Our Government has recognised that human rights abuses are happening today on a huge, almost unimaginable scale. Uyghur Muslims fear a genocide. Why have we not taken targeted steps? Frankly, we do not need more words. It is clearly a business. We could identify those who develop racist software to identify the targets. We could identify those who are building the camps. We could refuse them contracts with the UK, couldn’t we? We could speak up much more strongly about Hong Kong as well, couldn’t we? We could address the increasing fear of Hong Kongers that their free society is just slipping away. We could help—but we have not, and I fear that we will not because China might move away from freer trade, and we need that free trade now as a substitute for what we are losing.

I fear that it is the same with Modi’s Government.

On 17 June, when the new Indian Parliament was being sworn in, members of the ruling party chanted the Hindu nationalist slogan “Jai Sri Ram” whenever a Muslim representative stood up to take their oath. It was an attempt to intimidate and delegitimise those elected representatives based on their religion. Those words could simply be an expression of faith, but they have been twisted into something horrifying.

Since then, there have been repeated Islamophobic attacks, accompanied by that same chant. On 22 June, Tabrez Ansari was tied to a pole, beaten and abused by a crowd in the open. He cried and begged for mercy. After the crowd were done with Tabrez—after they had forced him to repeat their slogan and taken yet another step to erase his difference—the police took him into custody. Reportedly, he was refused medical help. His family members were threatened with similar beatings and not permitted even to see him until, four days later, he died of his injuries.

There have been many further attacks. A Hindu video is being shared, with the lyric:

“Whoever doesn’t say Jai Sri Ram, send him to the graveyard.”

Frankly, that is the language of genocide.

As hon. Members will know, I could go on. I wanted to talk about Bolsonaro’s Brazil, Saudi Arabia and our arms deals as well. To be entirely honest, it seems to me that FCO Ministers, many of whom I deeply respect, have raised human rights issues in terms just vague enough not to cause trouble.

What is our role in this new world if we swallow our words and turn away when we see persecution escalating, risk to lives and liberty, and possible genocide on the horizon? How will this new Government show us that they are not cowards, they are not distracted and they are not restricted because of Brexit?

Councillors for Corbyn

22 Jul

Labour councillors across the country have responded to “continuing right-wing attacks” on Jeremy Corbyn by signing an open letter expressing their unwavering support for the leader:

We are elected councillors who are proud to publicly represent the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. We feel compelled to write this letter to express our support for Jeremy Corbyn whilst he is personally subjected to accusations of racism and antisemitism. He is a decent man who has fought hate and fascism throughout his life. It is unjust to witness such a personal attack on a man, who was twice democratically elected because of such principles.

We owe it to ourselves to fight the scourge of antisemitism, and all other forms of hate and racism both within our party and society. We believe that a vast majority of Labour members are good, honest people who wish to create a society free from bigotry and discrimination. If there are incidents of racism, antisemitism or any forms of hate we all demand action is taken.

We strongly believe there is now a rigorous effort to reform and improve the inadequate disciplinary processes that our current General Secretary, Jennie Formby, inherited when she took over the role last year. There is still more work to be done, but we have every confidence that Jennie Formby can do this whilst protecting members’ rights to natural justice and due process.

The targeting of Jeremy Corbyn – who has a lifelong record of opposition to all forms of antisemitism, racism and hate, even when this has meant him speaking as a minority – undermines all of our efforts to achieve a fair and just society free from all forms of hate. We have no doubt in his integrity and sincerity in fighting discrimination, and we are proud to give Jeremy Corbyn the full support he deserves.

So far the letter has been signed by “over 600 councillors,” which is not quite as impressive as it sounds when you consider the party has more than 6,300 councillors (it used to be more, but the last couple of election cycles haven’t worked out that well).

Of the 60 Newham councillors, nine have so far added their names:

  • Cllr Daniel Blaney
  • Cllr John Whitworth
  • Cllr Moniba Khan
  • Cllr Sasha Das Gupta
  • Cllr Aisha Siddiqah
  • Cllr Anamul Islam
  • Cllr Mas Patel
  • Cllr Susan Masters
  • Cllr Hanif Abdulmuhit

With both East Ham and West Ham CLPs in the borough now firmly in the hands of ‘Corbynistas’ (as their private WhatsApp group is called), how long before the other 51 are questioned about their lack of loyalty?