The aftermath of Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts’ bullying voicemail took a new twist over the weekend after hopefuls who want to be the next MP for Greenwich and Woolwich stepped in to demand a full investigation into the email.
But they only spoke up after a candidate for next year’s council elections said she felt “profoundly let down” by the affair, which saw Roberts threaten cabinet member John Fahy with the loss of his portfolio, instructing him to “get that through your fucking thick skull”.
Cherry Parker, who is standing in the marginal Blackheath Westcombe ward, wrote on her blog:
“It has become painfully clear that we aren’t doing enough to live up to our values.
“It is extraordinary that we have allowed things to get to a point where expletive-laden rows are splashed across the front of the local press.
“As a candidate in the borough’s most marginal ward, I feel profoundly let down. All of our work is now at risk. Next time our team is out on the doorstep, we will be asked to explain what is going in the Labour group and what we are doing to fix it. I don’t know what answer I can give, but I do know that silence is not an option for me, and it is no longer an option for my colleagues.”
After challenging those who want to be Labour’s candidate for the 2015 general election in Greenwich & Woolwich to speak up, a few used to Twitter to do just that. First up, Matt Pennycook:
.@CherryParker is right:while we can't pre-judge an ongoing investigation we're not doing enough to live up to our values as a party locally—
Matthew Pennycook (@mtpennycook) October 05, 2013
The decades-old culture of Greenwich politics must change. We need to kick machine politics out of the Labour Party—
Matthew Pennycook (@mtpennycook) October 05, 2013
There’s an obvious question here – why did it take the Greenwich West councillor three years to speak out against this form of behaviour? Nevertheless, his intervention is notable, and frankly, it’s important he’s said something.
Other wannabe MPs also spoke up, including Lewisham councillor Kevin Bonavia, who also fancies his chances.
Kevin Bonavia (@kevinbonavia) October 05, 2013
As did David Prescott:
Just read @CherryParker's piece. We really do need a completely fresh start—
David Prescott (@DavidPrescott) October 05, 2013
And “Woolwich girl” Kathy Peach:
@CherryParker many members have shared similar concerns with me over the last few weeks. We need a different political culture—
Kathy Peach (@KathyPeach) October 05, 2013
Last night, I thought I’d ask Len Duvall:
@darryl1974 I would not normally comment on a internal Labour Party matter, but this is a serious complaint that needs thorough investgation—
Len Duvall (@Len4GW) October 06, 2013
What’s certainly clear is that Cherry Parker deserves great credit for bursting a taboo and making the way Greenwich Council is run is an issue when Labour picks its candidate. If she hadn’t spoken out, would anyone else have done so?
But will there be a thorough investigation? So far, the signs aren’t looking good. Last Monday, I reported that Labour’s chief whip, Ray Walker, had not acted on a complaint about the voicemail to Fahy. This prompted complaints to Lewisham East MP Heidi Alexander, which she passed onto the London Labour Party.
On Friday, the News Shopper reported that the issue had been passed from the London Labour Party to… Ray Walker at Greenwich. Essentially, Greenwich Labour is investigating Greenwich Labour.
Ray Walker is a close ally of Chris Roberts. It’s worth remembering his comments when Blackheath Westcombe councillor Alex Grant spoke of the bullying culture in Greenwich Labour. He told the News Shopper in March: “I’m not aware of any of those descriptions that he puts on the Labour Group or the council.
“I don’t know why he’s had that impression. That wouldn’t be a good culture to work in. We wouldn’t allow a bullying culture. There’s no bullying culture.”
It’s likely Walker will be assisted by fellow Roberts allies Janet Gillman, Radia Rabadia, Mohammed Iqbal and Labour group chair Christine May. Is Greenwich Labour fit to investigate itself? Many are fearing a whitewash.
Incidentally, it is possible for members of the public to trigger an investigation by the council’s own standards committee by getting in touch with the chief executive. The old Standards Board for England was shut down last year by the coalition government, meaning councils effectively govern themselves.
Who wants to be a Greenwich & Woolwich MP? 24 candidates have put themselves forward to be Labour’s candidate for the Greenwich & Woolwich seat.
This list will be whittled down over time, and local members will choose on 30 November.
Links in bold are to personal websites, others are to other scraps of info I’ve found:
Adebayo Alaba, Waltham Forest councillor Liaquat Ali, Lewisham councillor Kevin Bonavia, current Greenwich mayor Angela Cornforth, London Assembly member Len Duvall, Jane East, Anthony Ethapemi, Barking & Dagenham councillor Sukhninder Gill, Mohammed-Abbas Hanif, Ashiq Hussain, Keran Kerai, former Greenwich councillor Annie Keys, Nizam Mamode, Ian Mason, Southwark councillor Abdul Mohamed, Martin Morris, Kusum Parashar, James Parker, Kathy Peach, Matthew Pennycook, Lambeth councillor and ex-Lib Dem Sally Prentice, David Prescott, Colin Uju, Damien Welfare.