Wednesday 23 April 2014

Whatever Happened to the 'Newham Revolution'?

At a local event last week, I found myself making small talk with one of Newham Labour's candidates for councillor positions at this May's elections. I've never been very good at small talk, especially with someone I know only vaguely, which is why the conversation started with the inevitable:“so how are things?” The candidate, who I shan't name, explained how busy everyone was canvassing their wards. As this is Newham, where 60 out of 60 councillors are Labour, I jokingly said, “surely you don't have to worry? I mean, you guaranteed to win, right?”

“Well as Sir Robin says,” came the reply. “We're really fighting the election after next. The cuts that are coming are that bad.” Incredible.

Labour candidates in this borough effectively become councillors-elect as soon as they are selected: the lack of any credible opposition makes victory a certainty. They also know that between their election and May 2018, they are expected to provide unquestioning support to cuts of £41million in 2015/16 and another £53million in 2016/17 – and evidently Mayor Sir Robin Wales isn't terribly confident his own party nationally will reverse the cuts if it wins the General Election next year.

So is Newham Labour really worried that the devastating impact of cuts could trigger a change in local politics? Casting an eye over Labour's current opponents, it would represent less a shift and more a major seismic event. What's really noticeable is just how barren and marginal municipal activism has become in the borough, after years of control by a single party dominated by a powerful Mayor.

At one time Newham had the Respect Party, which was relaunched at the end of December 2012 by its divisive, opportunist leader, the MP George Galloway. It has since vanished without trace: Galloway's pledge to field a Mayoral and councillor candidates in 2014 has failed to emerge. He was back in February 2013 in support of the woefully misnamed Newham People's Alliance (NPA), essentially an attempt to organise a distinct Muslim voting block. “This is the beginning of the Newham revolution,” blustered Galloway. The following month, the NPA announced its intention to trigger a referendum on Newham's mayoral system. That failed to emerge too. It hasn't updated its website since August 2013.

Meanwhile, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (essentially the Socialist Party) became the latest in a long line of far-left groups to parachute in, launch themselves on the electorate six weeks before the election and hope for the best. Around the country, the TUSC has barely attracted more than 5% of the vote (you can look here for their own analysis if you're so minded). Even though I personally quite like their Mayoral candidate Lois Austin, who I'm working with on a campaign concerned with police surveillance of activists, the stubborn perseverance involved in repeating the same failed tactic over and over again frankly amazes me.

As for the Greens, Newham is one of the few London boroughs that has no local party. Its Mayoral candidate Jane Lithgow, who seems like a nice person and encouragingly describes herself as a Green Socialist, stood in the General Elections of 2005 and 2010 in West Ham but saw her vote drop to just 1.4% - coming in eighth place behind both UKIP and the National Front (quite an achievement in multicultural Newham). This May, she will count herself lucky not to lose her deposit.

What does this tell us? Perhaps that the opposition to cuts in Newham, if it emerges at all, will not happen through the ballot box but through dozens of small acts of resistance. I hope so. But it also suggests that Sir Robin's rhetoric about “fighting the election after next” is really about scaring some discipline into future councillors for when the cuts start to bite hard, as well as encouraging some of the more complacent candidates to turn up for door-knocking now there's an election approaching.

And given the calibre of most of them, it will probably work too. No wonder local politics is so depleted and dysfunctional.


birdman said...

You have hit the nail on the head. Opposition to the current candidates will only be effective if the other candidates campaign all the year around and establish a local presence. There has been no attempt at this in my lifetime other than the Christian Peoples Alliance in the south of the borough who effectively relied on a clique vote and a hatred amongst the electorate for the muppets that Labour foisted on them. Unfortunately the ideas of that party were repugnant and they have not lasted the course. The tories are not likely to mount an effective challenge as the Mayor is more right wing than they are and doing their job for them. The only hope in the short to medium term is that some of the current crop of Labour councillors figure out a way to challenge the Mayor, but with the majority of them being bought off with extravagant special responsibility allowances for non jobs, there is little hope of that.

Anonymous said...

Newham finally has a credible opposition..... The efforts of The Newham Peoples alliance have not gone to waste...
Be prepared for a historic defeat to Robin wales.... The online Newham recorder poll alongside the NPA
Mayoral poll are both indicative
Of the climax Of the newham spring

Anonymous said...

I am disappointed Sir Robin Wales has been re-elected. He has not been sympathetic to those residents both in Newham and neighbouring boroughs who suffer from aircraft noise from London City Airport.

Newham Council keep giving them planning permission to expand, without much consideration to people.

London City Airport has put in another planning application for expansion. How long are people going to be tortured by this airport?. When the airport opened in 1987, people were told a maximum of 30,000 flight would be allowed to serve an exclusive VIP business community. So why have the politicians allowed them to expand to 120,000 flights? (that is one flight every 90 seconds). The new routes are to places like Ibiza and Mallorca. How is this for the benefit of the UK economy?

The airport is an unethical business, every penny it makes, comes at a high personal cost of those whose quality of life is damaged by the airport. The airport is in denial about noise disturbance it causes and does not want to face it. People cannot open windows. Even with windows shut there is a constant noise. We can't enjoy the local park and people cannot sit in their gardens. People cannot dry their clothes outdoors, due to the awful smell of aviation fuel.

Why should the noise from their operations be allowed to tresspass into my home?. The airport does not own my home, they have no right.

The airport has outgrown the site and should re-locate. We need to have Stratford International open, so we can have an alternative to air travel.

The airport has put in a new planning application, they want to build more aircraft stands, which means more ground noise. They want to deck over King George V dock for more runway space. They don't want to do this construction work during the day, but at night when the airport is supposed to be shut. So we can expect noise 24 hours a day.

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