Sorry seems to be the hardest word

4 Oct

Pro-social housing demonstrators outside the town hall on Monday (picture via South London RCG)

Last Monday night the world almost stopped turning on its axis. Pigs were seen flying over the Town Hall and dogs stood on their hind legs, walking like men.

For the first time anyone can remember, Sir Robin Wales said sorry.

It is clear to me that the issue of the moving on of residents from the Foyer – specifically in relation to the family groups who had their Supporting People funding removed – was initially handled badly – both by East Thames Housing as their landlord and by Newham Council1who accepted overall responsibility for almost every one of the family groups.

I am frustrated and disappointed that both organisations initially failed to put a tailored process in place for each family to sit down with them, explain the issues and provide them with support as they considered their options for the future. I believe both East Thames Housing and Newham Council should apologise to the former residents of the mother and baby unit for that collective failure and I make that apology this evening.

Of course, this being the mayor, the tone of contrition didn’t last long. He was soon back to blaming everyone else for the appalling mess he and his cronies have created. First, the Tories:

We are under attack from this Tory government. And that means we have to make difficult decisions.

Then the Focus E15 mums:

I am disappointed that the Group has deliberately misled residents, the media and others on the facts of the situation.

And their tactics:

On at least three occasions, the Group turned up at … coffee mornings with the clear intention of disrupting them to make a staged protest, to the detriment of other residents.

Wisely, as it’s the subject of a Standards Committee investigation, he didn’t mention the incident at the Newham Show.

Finally, he turned on those campaigning for more social housing:

The Group has undertaken a number of other direct actions, often with the support of hardened political activists.

Their decision to force the closure of our Housing Options office at Bridge House – our main centre for dealing with homeless residents and others in very vulnerable positions – by occupying the front office was despicable and inexcusable.

But the fact he prefaced this bluster with an apology, however half-hearted, is extraordinary. Something is going on.

First of all, there have been changes to the Labour Group on council. While the majority of councillors are still gutless, unprincipled creeps and money-grubbing careerists, there is now a group of councillors who are prepared to challenge Sir Robin. Perhaps not openly and in public – the façade of party unity must be preserved – but in one-to-one meetings and within Group questions are being asked. Hands are being raised to vote against Sir Robin’s latest wheeze. The strong-arm tactics to shut people up are no longer guaranteed to work. Sometimes Sir Robin will need to bend a little.

The more important factor though is his own political ambition. Newham is not enough: Sir Robin wants to be Mayor of London in 2016. And to be mayor he must first be Labour’s candidate.

The past few weeks have been deeply damaging to the carefully-cultivated Wales brand. Never mind the social media shitstorm the Focus E15 campaign has stirred up, it’s led to critical articles in the Guardian and the Independent – just the sorts of newspapers the London Labour ‘selectorate’ is likely to read. What they want is a candidate who will wage war on homelessness and poverty, not on the homeless and the poor. Right now, Sir Robin is being shown up as exactly what they don’t want: an arrogant, out-of-touch, middle-aged white man who’s more interested in what wealthy developers want than what ordinary Londoners need. And someone who’s happy to bully anyone that dares get in their way.

It might not come naturally to him, but Sir Robin might have to get used to saying sorry!

One Response to “Sorry seems to be the hardest word”

  1. law27 October 4, 2014 at 14:37 #

    I think you may be placing too much faith in Labour Group’s silent dissenters. I’ve seen Labour Councillors do all the things you list first hand (I was one of a few that voiced concerns back in 2002 to 2006). As noble as their actions may seem, it always stop at openly questioning Wales’ Tory agenda in a more public domain than Labour Group.

    This is understandable, as the Party machine is heavily biased in favour of those who have public office, and the more high profile that office (or the more high profile the incumbent makes it) the more the Labour Party will support the holder of the office; mere backbench councillors have little chance of being taken seriously.

    What is needed is for more Newham residents like yourself, spreading the word and highlighting Wales’ bizarre obsession with committing public funds to private ventures.

    Keep up the good work, but don’t be fooled by Labour cllrs’ “good intentions”

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