This blog is back! And this for the reason that at the next elections I’ll be running for Council to represent Lewisham Central , the ward where I live.
I will run for the Liberal Democrats and this for a series of reasons, one of these reasons is that the Libdems have a real chance of electoral success and I want to help this change at Town Hall because I believe that this is in the public interest.
I remember very clearly the first time I thought that maybe I should run for Council, I was at Town Hall at an Overview and Scrutiny Business Panel committee meeting, it was 29th May 2007.
The issue was that the Mayor had taken a decision without giving a motivation, be it either officer’s advice or his personal take.
Some committee members wanted to ask the Mayor a written motivation, just so that we know why, fair enough one would think, after all he’s an elected representative with executive powers and that’s a scrutiny committee purposely set up by the Constitution to check on what he decides.
Only that the leading Labour member Cllr Alan Hall thought differently and there and then did something quite extraordinary.
He questioned a high ranking officer there present about the Mayor’s capability of understanding issues. Basically, he asked for a character reference. I could not believe what I was hearing and seeing.
The officer replied that the Mayor always showed a sharp mind and a clear capacity of understanding the subjects put in front of him (he could have said differently if he wanted to put his job on the line of course).
At that point Cllr Alan Hall asked the committee a vote to decide to move on to the next subject as the character reference they had just heard was enough to satisfy the necessities of Overview and Scrutiny over the Mayor’s decisions.
According to his reasoning the mere fact that the Mayor had taken a decision meant that a good decision had been taken.
Cllr Hall’s motion was seconded and all the Labour members voted in favour, they were the majority of the members present (the conservative member didn’t attend) and so the motion was approved. That decision of the Mayor remains unexplained.
(Here are the minutes of that meeting. The juicy detail of the character reference is missing but besides that the event is on record).
Can we have more of this? Can we have a Mayor taking decisions without explaining why and a Leader of the Labour group that thinks that it’s his job to protect the Mayor from scrutiny even at the cost of setting up undignified pantomimes like that of the character reference to ascertain the Mayor’s capacity to understand issues?
Of course we can’t. The way Lewisham Council is run is in many ways a farce, it wants to be unaccountable and so it’s secretive, this means that when it’s misguided it goes unchallenged. The result is that many times it spends much time and huge sums going back on bad decisions that lead nowhere.
Look at the new school, it’s seven years that they started building it and there still isn’t one brick over another.
If I had not experienced this and felt something needed to be done about it I would not run for Council. If I had confidence that the Labour group can deliver the goods in the future I would not run for Council. If I didn’t think that things can be changed through the democratic process I would not run for Council either.
If I knew of a better way to change things I would go for the better way but I am convinced that at this moment in time the most useful thing I can do for my community is to run for elections and help the Libdems to gain control.
At the 2006 elections with the Save Ladywell Pool campaign we moved public opinion to the point where the overwhelming Labour majority of 45 out of 54 Councillors was reduced to 26 out of 54, bringing for the first time in decades a degree of scrutiny and competition back to the Town Hall.
That time I was convinced that the best way I could serve my community was to clearly spell out my experience of the arrogance and incoherence of Lewisham Council. A leaflet with my personal appeal to Labour voters to switch to whoever they wanted but to stop voting Labour was delivered to 30,000 Lewisham homes in walking distance of the pool.
Many took my advice and the Council became a better Council, but the seeds of destructions are there. I have no confidence that Lewisham’s Labour leadership will behave democratically if they gained back full control of the Council. Look at what happened at that committee when Labour, by virtue of an absent Conservative Councillor, had the majority. They used it to keep a lid on the way they run things.
There are also good people in the Labour group of course, but by what I know and could observe they’re either not particularly influential within the Labour Group or on their way out altogether. In my experience those in charge today should not be Lewisham’s future.
I like the Libdem group. Cllr Andrew Milton was my first contact and I am very proud of being his friend, he’s the embodiment of British fairness and I always thought that he would be a great Mayor, unfortunately he really doesn’t want that job.
Cllr Chris Maines, the Libdem candidate for Mayor is also a very fair and highly intelligent man and one that is genuinely interested in the issues that affect people’s lives. He’s not a supporter of the Mayoral system as it is now and he would run the Borough with a very different style than Sir Bullock does.
This Mayoral system is in big need of reform and there could be constitutional changes to make it fairer and more efficient, where efficiency is not the measure of the speed of bad decisions as they flash in front of the Council the moment before they are approved by the Mayor, but a set up that allows the Council to effectively help the decision making process by reviewing the work of the officers.
In the meantime, waiting for Constitutional reform, we can have a different personality at the helm.
We need a Mayor that respects the Council to the point it actively seeks its collaboration and we also need a Council of quality to assist the Mayor.
We need a majority group at Council that debates openly and is not afraid of going off message if that’s what’s needed to take the best decision.
We need group dynamics that don’t make people afraid of being critical but that make different opinions accepted as positive elements of the debate.
We need a group that respects the community it serves, not one that promotes insulting bogus consultations that have no purpose other than pretending that the Council “listens”.
We’re so lucky we have a democracy, we need to use it and make it work to its full potential and on that front there’s a long way to go from where we are now.
There are big issues to decide on and we need a much more open way to run this Borough that what I think the current administration is capable of.
Today I was out leafleting with Cllr Duwaine Brooks, he’s got a big history and has also a history of high profile campaigning against violent crime. He was elected Councillor for Downham in a by-election in January and is now group leader at the Safer Communities Board of the Local Government Association.
You would think that he’d be seen as a great asset at Lewisham Council. The truth is that he has to ask repeatedly for the papers on community safety in order to know what’s going on.
He takes no nonsense and is not afraid of challenging officers and only because of this he is effective.
That’s what we need. A fresh start with a new attitude.
I want to see him and the rest of the group tested as leading group, running the Borough. And I want to be tested too.
That’s why I am running for Council.