It was a bit like the proverbial last day of school term when Lambeth council held what is planned as their final meeting before May’s council elections.
At such meetings – and not just in Lambeth – councillors in the majority party waffle on about all their wonderful achievements ‘so vote for us’ while opposition councilors waffle on about all the bad things the ruling party have done and how they would change things – so ‘vote for us’.
This final meeting was the council’s budget meeting. Cllr Imogen Walker, joint deputy leader, said: “Anyone who doesn’t think our Labour backbenchers don’t question us doesn’t know our backbenchers.”
But as News From Crystal Palace has previously reported: “LABOUR COUNCILLORS ‘WHIPPED’ SO HARD THEY DARE NOT SPEAK OUT” – Bullying allegations in Lambeth finally made public – April 4, 2017.
At the People’s Audit Lambeth meeting on the following night Vauxhall Labour MP Kate Hoey said: “You’re hardly allowed to speak unless you put it in advance.”
And then this week the Momentum and left grouping in Lambeth Labour party issued their manifesto – which is worth reading whatever you think of the Corbyn wing of the Labour party – and worth reading just as much as the Conservative and Green party opposition budgets.
The manifesto says of Lambeth council’s Labour group: “Despite this massive majority, it would seem democracy and criticism are often unwelcome in the Labour group, with dissident voices quickly stifled and removed.”
During the meeting Conservative opposition leader Cllr Tim Briggs reiterated many of the points already reported by News From Crystal Palace* while Green party Cllr Scott Ainslie** came up with some fresh points.
“The true cost of PFI (Private Finance Initiative) has left the United Kingdom with mounting debt” he declared.
“It’s not that there’s enough money to go round but it’s concentrated in the hands of a few. “Successive governments have failed to address the gap between the rich and the poor.
“A truly co-operative council would talk the talk and save libraries. “Lambeth Labour would do better to trust its own residents.
“You can’t get straight answers to questions. “You can’t tell from their budget what they’re going to spend.
“Their policies are opposed by the majority of the people. “Lambeth people want properly staffed libraries not bookish gyms. “The closure of the libraries was, and is unnecessary. “£2 million to convert the basement of Carnegie library into a gym, a £7 million subsidy – and no rent. “The true cost is hidden from the public.
“£90 million from the sale of short life housing has not been used for new homes. “Residents in one block on Central Hill estate, Crystal Palace recently spent four days without power. (City Prospect – Ed.) “You can find £40 million to refurbish Phoenix House.*** “What are you putting in there – gold taps?.
“We support the residents. “You stand against them.
“Who do you actually represent rather than your own narrow interests and the ill-fated course you have set yourself on?”
From the Labour side the buzzword – obviously in advance of May’s council elections – was ‘austerity’.
There were the usual bits about 10 libraries; 23,000 people still on the housing waiting list, and how they had also kept 23 children’s centre’s open (no full details given so they may just have a couple of staff there two hours each day and a phone line to ring if they need further advice).
And the phrase ‘sticking plaster’ got used at least twice by different Labour councillors.
Then Labour’s chief whip Cllr Paul Gadsby (Vassall) weighed in. “This is a totally historic moment” he declared. “The Green party submitting a budget”. (laughter)
This was the “bombastic pantomime drivel” we have to put up with in this council chamber declared Cllr Gadsby.
Labour councilors might be bullied but Cllr Ainslie was having none of it. “These personal attacks have got to such a point they are unacceptable. “It’s in the spirit of this council chamber I’ve endured these remarks for four years.
“These are attacks on a fellow member of this chamber that’s democratically-elected. “It’s insulting.” (Applause from the gallery).
Members were asked to refrain from personal comment.
Cllr Gadsby wasn’t done: “They farcically protested against the closure of a library that was re-opening before their very eyes. “They ‘ve opposed all the schemes for the 23,000 on the housing waiting list…..”
Lambeth’s other joint deputy leader Cllr Paul McGlone (Ferndale) recalled the days when Lambeth was one of the worst councils.
“I’m truly confident in the leadership of this Labour council and in May it will take the council to new heights.” It was all so riveting one Labour councillor appeared to be playing some sort of Solitaire-type game on his laptop.
Cllr Gym Dickson (Herne Hill) said the list of achievements that had been read out during the evening was a fraction of what they had done. After making references to the damage done to the council by Ted Knight, Joan Twelves and “Cllr Tim Briggs’ predecessors” he said the Conservative and Green budgets both showed a complete disregard for financial stability which we’ve seen with both Northamptonshire and Surrey.
He referred to the recent demonstration at the re-opening of the Carnegie library as “one of the silliest demos I’ve seen in my 25 years on the council.”
“You weren’t there” said someone in the gallery.
“Just to finish….”
“You are” said someone from the gallery. (The Mayor, Cllr Marcia Cameron, had been having problems all night with councilors going over their allotted time.)
Cllr Bernard Gentry (Cons. Clapham Common) also recalled the days of Ted Knight and Joan Twelves. “When we fought elections we did fight physically. “Hopefully those days are in the past.”
Cllr Alex ‘Catman’ Bigham (Stockwell) recalled that when he made his first speech there were just two people in the gallery – his wife and Brixton Buzz reporter Jason Cobb. “I’m pleased to say one of them is still there.” (He didn’t say who this was – Ed.)
So it was farewell to Imogen Walker (Stockwell)and her fellow deputy leader Cllr Paul McGlone; to Conservative Cllr Bernard Gentry (Clapham Common) who was applauded by what seemed to be the entire Labour side – and farewell to Cllr Alex ‘Catman’ Bigham.
Unless of course, as Cllr Gentry said: “32 years in Lambeth politics has taught me never to assume there won’t be another meeting.” Currently the next full council meeting is scheduled for June 6th.
*LAMBETH TORIES PLAN TO HALT ALL ESTATE DEMOLITIONS – BRING IN NOT-FOR-PROFIT PROVIDER FOR LIBRARIES – Engage properly with residents – and end the spin – February 20, 2018
**GREEN PARTY CALLS FOR BALLOT ON ESTATES IN ITS BUDGET FOR LAMBETH – February 20, 2018
*** Wandsworth Road SW8 – used by the planning department and adults’ services.