Tag Archives: lewisham

Does anyone love the London Lib Dems?

Back from my local party AGM. When I say “local” I mean of course Lewisham and North Beckenham whereas I live in Barnet. I switched my membership just over a year ago partly out of loyalty to my friends in Lewisham and partly because, as someone who is used to upping sticks every couple of years, I simply don’t feel invested locally (although I do deliver leaflets for them).

Aaaanyway, the thing I wanted to write about was the London Lib Dems. I stood as a representative for both the Federal Conference and the London Region Conference. While the places for the former was contested/all the places were filled (delete according to taste), of the ten places available for the latter, just three were filled.

So why the indifference? I would expect such ambivalence towards the London party in a place like Bromley which prides itself on its contempt of London (believe me on this; I grew up there), but Lewisham is verging on inner city. And this is a particular problem because, frankly, the last two Lib Dem campaigns for the Greater London Assembly and Mayor have been frankly lacklustre.

The London Region needs Lewisham a whole lot more than Lewisham needs London Region. Lewisham is a real up and coming area for the Lib Dems, with two constituencies a viability and a real shot at the Lewisham Mayor. If the party is serious about ever having a significant level of representation on the council, it has to integrate its London-wide work with areas like Lewisham. The London exec ought to consider this a real problem (I’m talking to you Jonathan).

Why the lack of interest? I can only speak for myself: charging £20 to attend a regional conference twice a year is ridiculous given the fact that this is on top of being expected to shell out literally hundreds of pounds each year to attend Federal Conference. And for what? As I’m now an elected rep, I may well schlep up next year, but I wouldn’t even consider it otherwise.

And yet, London is a fairly unique place precisely because it contains in it people like me who might feel they have roots in the city yet feel indifferent to the borough they live in. The London region has a real role here in mobilising a relatively youthful, footloose and fancy-free activist base which has little desire (or financial ability) to settle down into one particular area.

My advice to the London region would be to axe the conference fees – consider it an investment – and take a leading role in things like policy development and socialising. No other region has such geographical advantages and it seems criminal not to manipulate them. If in twelve months time you can’t persuade 10 Lewisham and Beckenham North members to be interested enough in London Region to attend a one-day conference twice a year, then you will have failed at a pretty basic level.

Stoke dumps mayor

Stoke on Trent has voted to get rid of its directly elected mayor, something which a large number of Lewisham residents have been trying to do for years. Can anyone explain to me why the former referendum was allowed but not the latter?

Part of the explanation may be the comparative strength of the BNP in Stoke – Labour might be able to live with the odd Tory or Lib Dem mayor, but a BNP mayor – whose decisions could only be overturned by a two thirds majority in council – is not a prospect they were prepared to face. It’s okay to have elective dictatorships, just not if the people are in danger of electing the wrong elective dictatorship.

Glancing at their council’s political makeup, the politics of the place are a little idiosyncratic, with a large grouping of “City Independents,” a “Conservative and Independents Alliance”, a “Potteries Alliance” a smattering in non-aligned councillors and of course the blogosphere’s own cause celebre Gavin Webb. I remember campaigning in Stoke in a by-election during an LDYS conference back in 1998 (someone will have to remind me – was Gavin the candidate?). At the time, I seem to recall the Lib Dem success meant that there was a non-Labour councillor on the council for the first time in years. I appreciate I’m biased, but I do get the distinct impression that all these “independents” are an illustration of a system collapsing following years of hegemonic control. Only when they finally get some proper party politics back into the area will they finally begin to inject a bit of vision back into the city.

Labour’s answer to one-party strongholds was directly elected mayors, yet they have spectacularly failed to set the world on fire. Watford Mayor Dorothy Thornhill wrote an article in Lib Dem Voice a few months ago in defence of the policy, but failed to cite how they had made a difference in any tangible way. And while I have no love of Ian Blair, his single-handed dismissal by Boris Johnson easlier this month chilled me to the bone. A single person should not be able to effectively sack a police chief like that. No-one politicised the role of Metropolitan Commissioner more than Ian Blair himself, but the answer was less politicisation not more.

So well done Stoke for making a good decision. And here’s hoping the rest of us will get a similar opportunity.