Election aftermath: What next for politics in Greenwich?

A selection of the leaflets to drop through the door at 853 Towers during the campaign.
A selection of the leaflets to drop through the door at 853 Towers during the campaign.
As the dust settles after the general election, Matt Hartley has landed his prize for boosting the Tory vote in Greenwich & Woolwich – he’s been named the new Conservative leader on Greenwich Council.

The 29-year-old succeeds Spencer Drury, whose dry barbs at the council’s Labour leadership have become a feature of life at Woolwich Town Hall. Drury remains a councillor and will no doubt be looking to shore up the Tories’ position in his home ward of Eltham North, where the party’s vote was shredded by a Ukip surge last year, handing two seats to Labour.

Being Tory leader in a London Labour borough when Iain Duncan Smith has just been reappointed social security secretary isn’t the easiest of jobs, but it’s a fair old progression from just missing out in a council election in Warwick in 2007.

Hartley’s comments suggest he’ll continue with Drury’s task of holding the council to account rather than simply making party political jabs.

“With the threat of a Lewisham-style one party state always hanging over us, being Leader of the Opposition in Greenwich means more than leading the Conservative council group – but rather giving all residents with a differing view the voice and the say that they are so often denied by this Labour council. That’s exactly what I plan to do.”

It’s worth noting one skill that Hartley can use to help the Tories punch above their weight – his day job is in communications for a personal finance charity, giving him an ability to spot stories that perhaps the local party has missed in the past.

Expect more campaigns along the lines of Sort It, Southeastern – I wonder if he’ll risk looking a big meanie and start a public drive against the costly tall ships festival?

Fair and balanced: Greenwich Time celebrates Labour's success
Fair and balanced: Greenwich Time celebrates Labour’s success
Labour’s big Ukip question

Labour’s satisfaction at seeing Matt Pennycook elected alongside Clive Efford and Teresa Pearce will have been tempered by the party’s failures nationally. It’ll be interesting to see where the battle over Greenwich Time goes now Greg Clark has replaced Eric Pickles as communities secretary. This week’s Greenwich Time might as well carry the headline “Up yours, Pickles”.

Humility in victory has never been the local party’s strong point – Clive Efford’s response to success was to criticise Conservative Spencer Drury for campaigning on the state of the borough’s war memorials. But there’s pause for thought if you look into the polling figures.

The strong votes for Ukip (8% in Greenwich & Woolwich, 15% in Eltham) should ring alarm bells – with the Tory votes up in both seats, it looks as if the hard right party has started to eat into the potential Labour vote.

Just as in the rest of England, how Labour communicates with white voters who feel left behind will be a question that needs addressing sooner rather than later. Engaging with campaigns such as the one for a memorial to Lee Rigby rather than simply ignoring them is key, I suspect.

(A few miles down the A2, it’s startling to discover from Alex Grant that Dartford, which tends to swing with the incoming government, was abandoned by the national party, which threw resources at ousting Lib Dems – potential coalition partners – instead. Madness.)

The Greenwich West ward by-election provides the strongest indication to the local party’s future – former Kirklees council leader Mehboob Khan topped the poll, and is strongly tipped as a future leader in Greenwich, too. Smart enough to steal the Greens’ clothes on the Divest Greenwich campaign, he was also generous enough to publicly commiserate with losing candidates – like I said, humilty’s rare in these parts. One to watch.

Abbey Akinoshun's deleted tweet and James Parker's election doubts
Abbey Akinoshun’s deleted tweet and James Parker’s election doubts
Green gaffes, but did anyone notice?

The Greens can feel pleased with themselves after getting well over double their 2010 vote in Greenwich & Woolwich. Could their candidates have done better? It’s hard to say, but they certainly were weak links in a strong local party operation. I dealt with Greenwich & Woolwich’s Abbey Akinoshun’s no-shows at hustings, but his worst moment was tweeting a photo of himself carrying a “vote Green” slogan next to an appeal for the victims of the Nepal earthquake. It was quickly deleted. While some Labour councillors’ messages about Nepal certainly had the whiff of opportunism, this was just crassly stupid.

Worse was to come on polling day itself, when Eltham candidate James Parker, a magician from Folkestone, told the Guardian voters should pick Labour instead – a warning sign that perhaps could have been picked up after a tweet a couple of days beforehand saying he was suffering from a “crisis of conscience”. (The party says he was misquoted.)

Warning bells rang for others much earlier – I met Parker in the bar of Mycenae House, Blackheath after he was selected in January – the No to Silvertown Tunnel AGM coincided with a Green meeting upstairs.

I mentioned how pleased we were at our turnout, but he became very dismissive and suggested we should be addressing a meeting of thousands and the campaign should be linked to corporate greed, etc, etc. He later seemed to understand, but things got more awkward later when he was involved in an angry confrontation with former Green party member Trevor Allman.

But these incidents were only seen by a handful of obsessives who know the party too well, like me. Most people would have entered the polling booth blissfully unaware. Hopefully the recent surge in local Green membership will mean the Greenwich party will be able to grow and nurture its own candidates for future polls. Getting more actively involved in local grassroots campaigns will serve the party well as it looks to next year’s mayoral poll and beyond.

Is the worst over for the Lib Dems?

As for the Lib Dems, the national party didn’t even bother supplying the Greenwich & Woolwich candidate with a freepost leaflet to send out. That said, though, if you compare their result in the constituency (5.6%) with last year’s average council election score (6%), it’s arguable that they’ve bottomed out already, although whether they’ve the capability, capacity or desire to bounce back is another question. A period of national soul-searching will surely come first.

So, that’s the 2015 election done with. We’re next at the polls on 5 May 2016 to decide on Boris Johnson’s successor as mayor and London’s assembly members. I suspect it’ll be a tough year ahead…

12 comments

  1. The Greenwich Time headline is beyond puerile and unprofessional, especially given the national result. The idiotic council has now handed the government their legal victory.

  2. As an occasional Labour canvasser in Eltham (eg Coldharbour Estate), it is true to say there were a few ex-Labour people who went UKIP. Very rare to meet any ex-Lab saying they were going Tory. I can’t quantify this and given the inaccuracy of the polling I wonder if an accurate estimate can be made.. However, it is a real issue and the recent Mandelson talk about Labour not going for middle-class voters doesn’t take this into account. Turnout is low (66% nationally) and turnout is lowest in working-class areas.

    As for Dartford, again I have no inside info but Dartford was well down on the list of target seats. It didn’t appear on the 106 battleground list. Labour hasn’t got that much money to throw out willy-nilly. Trade unions were alienated by New Labour and so cut their affiliation fees (some even disaffiliated). Most party members will only occasionally leave their own area to canvass in others. People from places like Bromley have done canvassing for Clive Efford in the past but these tend to be by the car-load not the bus load. I wonder if they had any instructions this time. The Tories had a 40/40 strategy – defend their most marginal 40 and attack the most marginal 40 held by Labour or Liberals. I doubt that Dartford had that much help from Tory HQ either.

    I can understand your criticism that Tory targets are more important than Liberal ones but if it is “madness” for Labour to try to win seats like Bermondsey isn’t it madness for The Greens to stand in marginal seats thereby taking potential votes away from ousting the Tory MP?

  3. You’d have to ask the Greens, Matty. But Labour’s presumption that they are entitled to all left-leaning votes, regardless of their policy platform, is deeply offputting (and in itself, a real problem).

  4. Great article.

    I have to agree with Darryl on the UKIP – Labour question and Nick Cohens excellent article. I have 12 years of political-Greenwich-street-tramping behind me as an ex-Lib Dem, and I noticed a definite move towards UKIP over those years from what I would have regarded as hard core Labour voters. This seemed to be especially true in the south of the borough, for the reasons rehearsed above, and was reflected in the Eltham result. I wasn’t involved in the last election, and this is only my personal experience (though given the performance of polling science last week I predict the rise of the “hunch” method from now on!) but one of the main things holding back UKIP in Eltham seemed to be their lack of party structure, rather than any lack of support (true for them across London I suspect). If this is being addressed then Labour will face further electoral headwinds with this community unless they address their needs and concerns.

    With regard to my old party, if anyone is interested, I found David Steels view the most compelling and one that chimed with my own http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/11/nick-clegg-liberal-democrats-disaster-coalition

    I have huge admiration for everyone who puts themselves up for election in Greenwich, especially those who know they are going to lose (and I should know!) – it is hard work and fairly thankless but such a service to democracy. In my humble opinion the future of politics in Greenwich would be best served by the introduction of some form of proportional representation in local elections, though I suspect that the liklihood of that has reduced since last Thursday quite significantly.

  5. I’m not a political type just someone who keeps a close interest in current affairs. I would suggest the UKIP vote is not entirely made up of ‘white working class’ demographic, even here in SE London. It takes a lot more than ‘disaffected white people’ to break through 13% of vote share and a few million votes, though it may still well be a protest vote (Lib Dems?).

    Also, reading the brockley.blogspot and media analysis, the London BME vote may be high in certain areas but there is a pattern of change, even as seen increasing Conservative and UKIP votes in Greenwich. Hendon and Harrow East may be suburban but hardly high wealth and very multicultural, as is every ward in Greenwich nowadays (as a Councillor told me) and areas like Croydon South. Labour’s increase in parts of urban London is no surprise given the rent controls policy, which was only really relevant to London. However, overall there still weren’t many gains, surprising given a Tory mayor etc.

    Perhaps to most people, aspiration just simply means optimism and self-determination – look at Scotland. Perhaps class politics is slowly going out of fashion, and people don’t want to be bound by class or tribal left/right allegiances? Anyhow, It is certainly clear that political preference/voting is becoming a private matter and traditional ways of political analysis is blunt and outdated.

  6. Darryl
    I’m not sure why you say that Labour presumes it is entitled to all left-leaning votes. Of course, parties aren’t entitled to anybody’s vote. They have to earn people’s respect and confidence to vote for them. I can’t blame The Greens for wanting to stand in marginal seats, it is their democractic right. However, under First Past The Post, splits among left-wing leaning voters can be problemactic to say the least. The 80’s when the SDP split away from Labour was a boost to the Tories.

    I was no fan of “New Labour” and understand very welll why many would not vote for them. I am massively critical of New Labour. Blair took over a Labour Party already on the up with John Smith, against a Tory Party holed by the ERM debacle. Blair won handsome victories but also sold Labour’s soul (almost). The decline in turnout is not down to laziness but down to lack of inspiration. Given the right-wing shifts by Labour it is not surprising that people prefer the Greens and of course, in Scotland, Labour was smashed by a party with an anti-austerity message and better policies IMO on nuclear weapons.

  7. Interesting analysis.

    Just to say, I wasn’t angry when I had a dig at James Parker on 29.1.2015. I was just very bemused at the naked opportunism of the bloke, re-appearing just to grab the Eltham candidacy. Anyone who did a bit of research on Parker would have found he’s stood for numerous parties previously, and been in even more political parties. Not bad for one so young.
    I was also bemused to see Parker, as the last time I’d seen him (in Oliver’s bar in Greenwich on 2.1.2013), I’d asked him why he’d ended his involvement with Greenwich Green Party after four branch meetings (though that was four more than Abbey Akinoshun had ever attended prior to handing in his candidacy nomination). Parker said he believed the time of party politics was dead. That was what I challenged him about in Mycenae House.

    As for the Green Party’s claim that Parker was misquoted by The Guardian, Parker said nothing about that in a tweet to me on 8.5.2015. In reply to my tweet about his call for people to vote Labour, he stated he was merely a paper candidate and that people should grow up. No denial that he’d called for people to vote Labour (the party he’d left after failing to gain selection for a parliamentary candidacy apparently, and then joined the Green Party, obviously in search of a candidacy, which he achieved).

    As stated by Darryl, let’s hope (for their sake) that Greenwich Green Party exercise a little more care about their next candidate selections. It’s not a good idea to select people you know next to nothing about and have shown no commitment to your party.

  8. The Labour party I used to love must find its soul, or as Rod Liddle writes today ” …otherwise Labour will be left as a party of the affluent, secular, achingly liberal London middle classes — plus all those minorities (ethnic, gender, transgendered and so on) who have not yet decided to vote Green. Deconstruct last Thursday’s poll and you see a party that does very well in the capital, but has a rapidly diminishing appeal elsewhere.”

    UKIP support is 61% working class. The Labour Party has become the home of those working in the public sector and middle class metropolitan bien-pensants who can justify scrawling filth on war memorials and screeching insults at grass roots England for voting the wrong way. If it continues on its present path it will become a London rump, a memory, of a once great popular movement of deep dignity and great rectitude.

  9. “UKIP support is 61% working class”
    I’d love to see a source for this claim though I guess it depends on how you define working class. Rod Liddle is a nasty piece of work. He got caught out pretending to slum it on football message boards where he used the n word.

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