Wine and 4x4s: Greenwich Time and its Tory soulmate

Thanks to all those who commented on my Greenwich Time musings – and apologies to those who got caught in an over-eager spam filter. As a follow-up, head on over to David Higgerson‘s blog for proof that an arrogant Conservative council can do things just as badly as an arrogant Labour council – and the reason why the councillor who proposed the motion criticising Greenwich Time offered a charity donation if the word “Hammersmith” wasn’t mentioned.

A flagship Tory council this week took a brave new step into a hitherto area of life uninfluenced by the public sector – how taxpayers choose their wine.

Really.

Tucked away in the what’s on section of Hammersmith and Fulham council’s fortnightly propaganda round-up, H&F News, is a three-page guide to picking the best wines for the summer, complete with ‘top tipples’ column written by someone from a firm which had also taken out advertising in the supplement.

Up until now, the only time I’d seen councils talking about alcohol was when they’d strayed into public health territory and talked about the dangers of booze. Of course, there’s a big difference between binge drinking and buying a bottle of plonk, as I’m sure the council would point out.

But since when did helping people buy a bottle of wine fall within the remit of the local council? How can publishing three pages, supported by advertising, be anything other than trying to raise income to support the delivery of propaganda through every door in the borough once a fortnight?

There’s more where that came from, too. Of course, Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts admitted at last week’s council meeting that GT’s lifestyle guff – which last week included a review of Prince’s new album – was to help the paper become self-sustaining.

There’s differences between GT and H&F News – the latter is fortnightly, but even more brazen at disguising itself as a real local paper than its south-east London soulmate, and is competing against a livelier local media scene than exists here. But they’re both evidence of local councils trying to get around being properly scrutinised by competing with local media, rather than dealing honestly with it.

As for this week’s Greenwich Time, it gives uncritical coverage to Greenwich borough police centralising its operations at a depot in Warspite Road, Woolwich (or, as GT calls it, “Charlton”), while the council’s environmental policies take a surprising turn when someone goes and roadtests some 4x4s… lucky old Ossie Mustafa, getting to race around in some big motors on our money, eh?

Enchantingly, one car is described in a mis-spelled caption as “fugly”, which older readers will be delighted to hear is short for “fucking ugly”. Got to get down with the kids, eh? “No point talking about 0-60 speeds or emissions as these cars score pretty badly,” Ossie cheers, having just pocketed some cash off a council which is forever banging on about its environmental credentials. Oops.

“Greenwich Council takes a firm stand against air pollution,” it states on its website, although clearly that stance is a little less firm when it comes to encouraging advertising in its propaganda rag.

All of which goes to prove that council-run papers make hypocrites of everyone. Firstly, those politicians who criticise them, but are undermined by people in their own party who are up to the same tricks. And secondly, the council which is happy to sell its (supposed) principles to whore itself out for a bit of advertising.

If anyone’s reading this in other parts of London (Tower Hamlets’ East End Life is another offender, Lambeth Life is yet another) and fancies teaming up to scrutinise these things on a more regular basis, I’d be interested to hear from them. These papers aren’t an indictment of one party or another, but a whole system which has gone badly wrong – and has got so arrogant, it’s confident enough to shove its free wine and big cars in our faces in the belief that it’s untouchable. Hopefully, some day, it’ll be proved wrong.

8 comments

  1. Greenwich council might also try and work out where their boundary is. We live in Lewisham but get GT every week (though we don’t get anything from Lewisham).

    I used to live in Southwark where their magazine was monthly and much more about information and the local area and much less about pretending to be a local newspaper…

  2. I must take issue with the suggestion that those who oppose these propaganda rags are hypocrites because their own parties do the same. I absolutely agree with all your points above- this isn’t a party issue, and this type of activity by Councils of whatever colour is wrong.

    The reason I made the reference to Hammersmith in my speech was to acknowlege that they are indeed another conspicuous offender on this score. But that doesn’t excuse Greenwich, and certainly doesn’t make it right. Eric Pickes is quite right to tackle the issue because of the very serious issues you highlight.

  3. Richard – that’s funny. Maybe there’s a Greenwich resident who gets Lewisham Life who could do a swap?

    Nigel – the point I made was more to underline how Hammersmith undermines your position, rather than name-calling. Which is why I’d be interested to team up with people in other London boroughs, of all stripes, to investigate this further.

  4. When I receive the paper, I scan through it, look at the letters to the editor page (where actual negative criticism comes in, albeit brief), then I recycle it. I don’t use it as a main source of news, since a lot of it is positve spin. I suspect a lot of people tend to feel the same way and mainly ignore the paper, and I think this trend is the same for other council papers as well. Thankfully, one can get much better news from blogs (like this one) and sites such as greenwich.co.uk.

  5. To add to that, Nigel, I’d add the same of the Labour councillors in H&F who are upset about H&F News – for it’d be all to easy for H&F’s Tory administration to point at Greenwich Time and say “well, at least we’re not like…”

  6. I’m not sure you saying Hammersmith’s Labour Councillors are hypocrites as well makes me feel any better. They’re not – they should no more be blamed for GT than we in Greenwich should be blamed for H&F News. Both are wrong, and my fraternal, municipal brethren on the opposition benches in H&F are right to oppose it.

  7. It’s a pity that Big Eric’s press release on 28th June fingered only Greenwich & Tower Hamlets, both Labour controlled.

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