Tag Archives: politics

Beckton Green

28 Aug

The London Green Party has put out a press statement about its candidate for the Beckton by-election:

Long-term Newham resident, Jane Lithgow, has been named as the Green Party candidate standing for the Beckton by-election which takes place on 11th September.

Jean Lambert, Green Party MEP for London said:

“Jane Lithgow, a Beckton resident, will bring a strong Green voice and fresh thinking to challenge Newham’s one-party council.

“When Greens are elected, we make a difference: pushing for energy-efficient homes to cut bills and climate emissions, persuading councils to become Living Wage employers, making streets safer by reducing local speed limits.

“Even one Green makes a difference!”

Ms Lithgow commented:

“If elected as councilor I will make housing a top priority. It has been saddening having to watch Newham’s Labour Council forge ahead with huge property developments which have only served to benefit big businesses and investors, rather than Newham’s residents and the people who need housing the most.

“Many people living in Newham have been unfairly affected by reductions in housing benefit and I see daily the toll that this takes on families and individuals. I would fight for affordable housing in the area and stand-up to developers whose sky-rise developments continue to push-up the price of properties in Newham, forcing residents out of the borough they call home.” 

I am told that Jane Lithgow isn’t going to be just a paper candidate and that the Greens will run an active campaign in Beckton. A local candidate with strong messages on housing and on the local impact of London City Airport will hopefully grab the attention of voters. 

Something to hide?

20 Aug

Back in June local resident Alan Combe submitted a Freedom of Information request asking about deductions made from elected councillors’ allowances and paid to the Labour party. He had two questions:

Between 6 April 2010 and 5 April 2014, how much, in total, has been deducted (by the Council) from the Basic Allowances paid to elected members of Newham Council and passed to funds/ accounts controlled by the Labour Group or the Labour Party?

Between 6 April 2010 and 5 April 2014, how much, in total, has been deducted (by the Council) from the Special Responsibility Allowances paid to elected members of Newham Council and passed to funds/ accounts controlled by the Mayor, the Labour Group or the Labour Party?

The request was due to be answered by 23rd July but the council didn’t get round to dealing with it until yesterday, when they informed Mr Combe that they were refusing to give the information:

Under the Freedom of Information Act we have the right to refuse a request for information held if an exemption applies. We believe in this case such an exemption applies and have decided to refuse your request.

We believe that disclosing even the total figure of deductions from the allowances of any Councillors over a specified period would contravene the first data protection principle, which requires that personal data shall be processed fairly and lawfully by the London Borough of Newham.

The council has deliberately misconstrued the request in order to find an excuse to say no. Any reasonable person reading Alan Combe’s questions would understand them as a request for the aggregate total of deductions from all councillors, not a list of councillors and the money deducted from each of them.

It is common practice in local government for elected members to hand over part of their allowance to their party. It is an important source of funding and all parties do it. It’s not a secret. Newham is exceptional only in that all 60 councillors, plus the mayor, belong to the same party and therefore all the money goes to Labour. 

The amount is actually fairly easy to estimate. We know that the total amount paid to councillors (including the mayor) is a touch over £1.2 million a year. If the party takes 10% – which is a number I’ve heard mentioned – that’s £120,000 a year; a total of £480,000 over the four year period.

I’m not sure who decided to try and dodge the question or whether it was down to an order from on high, but all they’ve succeeded in doing is making it look like there’s something to hide.

Beckton candidates

18 Aug

Nominations have closed for the Beckton by-election and seven candidates will contest the vacant seat:

  • AHMED, Syed Hussain – Conservative Party Candidate
  • DUNNE, Mark – Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
  • LITHGOW, Jane Alison – Green Party
  • MEARS, David – UK Independence Party (UKIP)
  • SHEDOWO, Kayode – Christian Peoples Alliance
  • THORPE, David – Liberal Democrat
  • WILSON, Tonii – Labour Party Candidate

It is a small irony that local voters will have a wider choice in the by-election than they had at the full council election back in May. Then there were only three options: Labour, the Tories and the Christians.

With two new alternatives on the left and UKIP sniping from the right, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Could David Mears effectively help Labour hold a seat the Tories might otherwise have had an outside chance of winning?

The poll will take place on Thursday 11 September 2014 between the hours of 7:00 am and 10:00 pm.

Forest Gate North Blog

18 Aug

Our councillors in Forest Gate North have set up a blog to keep residents in touch with what they’re up to.

It’s early days and it will be interesting to see how it develops – if it’s going to be meaningful it needs to be honest about the feedback they get from residents, even when that’s hard or uncomfortable – but I think it’s A Good Thing and hope other wards follow suit. 

Councillor Seyi Akiwowo also has a Facebook page dedicated to her council activities.

Newham aggro

28 Jul

Newham aggro

The phantom leafleter of Forest Gate has struck again!

This came through my door late on Friday night and I gather several other residents on my road got a copy too.

I have no idea who’s behind them, but this is the best of the bunch so far (the others are here and here).

Beckton by-election

23 Jul

Following the death of Councillor Alec Kellaway in June there will have to be a by-election in Beckton to replace him.

No date has yet been set, but the Notice of Vacancy has very quietly been published on the council website. 

The notice is dated 21st July and the election will have to be held within 35 working days of 2 local electors writing to the returning office to request it. Assuming this has been carefully choreographed and they do that this week, Thursday 4th September is the most likely date.

Labour’s candidate selection process is already well advanced. The final meeting will be tomorrow.

Local members are not being trusted to make their choice unaided, so two of Sir Robin’s close lieutenants, councillors Unmesh Desai and Ken Clark, have been placed on the panel. We can therefore be confident that whoever wins will have the mayoral seal of approval.

In May the leading Tory candidate, Syed Ahmed, finished 700 votes adrift of Alec Kellaway, but Labour can’t be too complacent.

At the last council by-election in Royal Docks in 2009, Steve Brayshaw only narrowly beat off the Tory challenger. His 15 vote majority was uncomfortably narrow. And those with longer memories will recall by-elections in Bemersyde in 1991 and Greatfield in 1992 that Labour actually lost. 

Sitting Beckton councillors Chowdhury and Christie would be advised to cancel any holiday plans and buy some comfortable shoes. They’ll be pounding the streets for the rest of the summer.

Disappearing act

17 Jun

Photo by Karls Kamera

According to Wikipedia, the oozlum bird is a legendary creature found in folk tales that, when startled, will take off and fly around in ever-decreasing circles until it manages to fly up itself, disappearing completely.

After reading this account of goings-on within Left Unity and this piece on relations between them and TUSC I am pretty sure the definition applies equally to the hard Left.

30 years ago, when I was briefly a student member of the now utterly discredited and irrelevant SWP, it was much the same. Then it was ‘us’ versus the WRP, Militant, RCP, IMG and a whole alphabet soup of teeny-tiny groups, all arguing over paper-thin differences of interpretation of what Trotsky said at some conference in 1937. Like anyone cared

Now it’s LU versus TUSC. And even worse, within LU itself, the ‘Socialist Platform’ versus the ‘Communist Platform’. The party is less than a year old and already it has a disputes committee. Does anyone think this sort of thing is remotely appealing to the rest of the world?

In the recent mayoral election TUSC got less than 2% of the vote, despite standing against a Labour incumbent with a depressingly right-wing record. 

Unless and until the non-Labour Left gets its collective head out of its arse and focuses its energies on engaging real people in the real world about the real problems they face it’s doomed to decades more of irrelevance. 


Oh, Ed

12 Jun

Facepalm sandwich

Words fail me.

Missing in action

12 May

Here’s ten words that you won’t find anywhere in Newham Labour’s “groundbreaking” manifesto:

  • Collaboration
  • Co-operation (nor cooperative)
  • Engagement
  • Transformation
  • Digital (nor even ‘online’)
  • Teachers
  • Workers (except in the guise of ‘hard-working families’)
  • Justice
  • Equality
  • Union
Also missing, though less of a surprise given Sir Robin’s True Blue politics, is Socialism.

The winner takes it all

6 May

Agnetha is sad

Agnetha is sad because her vote in the Newham council election will be wasted

If history is any guide, on 22 May the Labour party in Newham will win about 65% of the vote and 100% of the seats on the council.

Sir Robin and his band of merry men (and those closest to him are all men) will celebrate a great victory and carry on exactly as before.

The 35% who didn’t vote Labour will again have no voice and no representation. Sir Robin will face no tough questions, no challenge and no scrutiny from anyone who doesn’t already agree with him.

Does it really have to be this way?

As long ago as 1913 the Independent Labour Party, forerunner of today’s Labour party, argued that

“No system of election can be satisfactory which does not give opportunity to all parties to obtain representation in proportion to their strength.”

In January the Electoral Reform Society published Towards One Nation – the Labour Case for Electoral Reform [link downloads a PDF]. The report argues that by tolerating electoral deserts – places like Newham where there are no Tories, Lib Dems or Greens; as well as places where Labour itself has no voice – the party “is colluding in alienating people from political activity.”

Parties only have limited resources of finance and activism, and people understandably grow tired of throwing their money, time and effort at a hopeless cause. The more committed activists may be willing to travel to campaign in a marginal seat, but most people prefer to be active in their own community. 

In Newham, I doubt this argument holds much sway. Who cares if the opposition are demoralised and frustrated? All the better for us! 

But Sir Robin should beware.

Effectively locking a proportion of voters out of representation is bad not only on democratic grounds, but because the withering of opposition does not produce more wholesome politics.

Although Newham has so far been resistant to the far-right, you only need to look to what happened in Barking and Dagenham in 2006 to see the consequences of a complacent and neglectful Labour party with no traditional opposition voices: the election of 12 BNP councillors.

There is also the matter of good governance. As executive mayor Sir Robin has free rein over almost every significant area of policy. All that keeps him in check is oversight and scrutiny from councillors. But where all of those councillors come from the same party, what hope is there for genuine accountability? We know from experience the answer is ‘none.’ 

For 2014 we are stuck with ‘first past the post’ and the continuation of a one-party state. But a Labour government elected in 2015 could change things. And there is hopeful precedent:

Whenever the opportunity has arisen, Labour has recognised the importance of choosing fairer voting systems over First Past the Post. The first Blair government made a positive choice to endow new democratic institutions – both the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly – with electoral systems considerably fairer than Westminster’s. And in 2007 a Labour-led coalition introduced the Single Transferable Vote (STV) for local elections in Scotland.

Local government in England struggles with a huge democratic deficit: fewer than half the electorate bothers to vote;  councils that should be the closest to and most engaged political institution with their communities seem remote; and there is little space for new and interesting voices.

The system is ripe for democratic reform and in Newham the need is urgent.