Lewisham Elects: The Hopey Changey Stuff

On May 22nd, Lewisham will elect its Mayor and local councillors based on a set of manifestos that could have been scribbled on a napkin - a huge missed opportunity.

If Lewisham borough (pop 275,800) was a city in its own right, it would be bigger than Newcastle, putting it comfortably in the top 20 British cities. Its future deserves proper consideration.

Lewisham has lush green spaces from Blackheath to Ladywell Fields, first class institutions like Goldsmiths, Lewisham Hospital, Laban and the Horniman, fast-improving primary schools and excellent transport links to four of the most important business hubs in the country - the City, Canary Wharf, London Bridge and Shoreditch / Tech City.

Lewisham is blessed with diversity - both of its people and its streets - from Deptford's creative cluster to Bellingham's suburbia. It has fine residential areas with handsome houses in areas like Sydenham, Forest Hill, Hither Green, Honor Oak, Catford, Lee, Blackheath and Telegraph Hill. Having scoured London in search of a new home before retaking our Brockley vows last year, we can say with absolute confidence that Lewisham boasts the greatest of all neighbourhoods.

Every time someone takes a chance on our borough, it surprises on the up-side: Brockley Market became one of the country's best food markets; Apartments at Lewisham Renaissance are selling as fast as Barratt can build them; When Holly Walsh decides to put on a show at The Amersham Arms, she can tempt the best comedians in the country to perform at £5 a ticket and whenever The Rivoli opens its doors The Avengers or Damon Albarn rush in.

The borough is benefiting from a general resurgence in the popularity of in inner-city living, bringing with it new people, energy, ambition and spending power. Successful entrepreneurs like Street Feast and Sodo are beginning to discover the area. More will follow.

Lewisham-ites are infused with this sense of the possible, but when our local politicians talk, you don't hear it. There are platitudes for our people, nods towards our communities and a few vague pledges about local infrastructure, but little about what kind of Lewisham they want to cultivate.

Cycling utopia or free-enterprise zone, BC cares less about the particulars of our politicians' vision than whether they have any vision at all. Labour often seems content to use Lewisham elections to fight a proxy war for the general election and field candidates who are passing through on their way to bigger and better things - particularly troubling, given that they have the borough locked-down for the foreseeable future.

The political discourse here is about defending Lewisham from the cold, rapacious right or the inept, complacent left. It portrays our people as perennial victims and Lewisham as the unloved, forgotten quarter and it panders to South East Londoners' hard-won chippiness. From poverty to homelessness, there are huge social challenges this borough faces, but they should not overshadow the positive or stop us from talking about what is achievable for a borough the size of Oxford and Cambridge combined, which sits at the heart of the greatest city on earth.

Having said all that, policies do matter of course. Tomorrow, we'll list the policy areas that we think should and shouldn't define this election. Please let us know what you think here and at #Lewisham2014.

23 comments:

BrockleyRog said...

What a fantastically uplifting read. It's just a shame that very soon I won't be able to afford to live here.

Ali said...

BrockleyRog, you said exactly what I was thinking! Try renting in Lewisham and some of the above really doesn't seem a blessing any more...

anonymous said...

Whenever I hear about the good things that happen in Lewisham, they are never associated with anything to do with the current Labour party and our ageing Mayor. Unbelievable to think he is about to win again which will make him mayor for 15 years. How is that even allowed? Surely it's time for some fresh ideas. Also, the fact that Labour winning this next election is such a given, it makes you think whether Labour have become complacent. Without any real competition what incentive do they really have to make a real impact?
Lewisham has improved a great deal in the last 5 years but how much of those improvements are actually down to the current ruling Labour party?

Brockley Nick said...

I would say they deserve some credit for the new pools at Lewisham and Forest Hill (I know both were rather contentious), the lovely new Deptford square and Library and the important role they played in the defence of Lewisham Hospital.

SG said...

I think Labour in Lewisham have done a decent job in parts as you say, but it can't be healthy to have such a one party dominated borough for years on end. 15 years with one leader - non wonder so many just switch off. Reform of the voting system is needed for all English elections (The Scots and Welsh have more representative elections).


The greens, UKIP or whoever could get 20% this Thursday spread across wards and likely not get a single seat, thus no representation. Whether or not you agree with any of those party's, it's supposed to be a democracy and denying so many a voice is no good for society in the long term.


It would also keep Labour on their toes and responsive if they had to fight. As it is some councillors will work their hardest but others may take it easy, or be lackeys, and there's not much chance they will be held accountable for it. In an idealistic world it would happen but we've seen many times in a 'first past the post' system that it doesn't happen. Particularly as more and more switch off as there vote never counts.

Red and Dead said...

Very well said.
Labour are too focused on blame and have a negative, defeatist attitude. They seem to hold back Lewisham, make a general mess of the country and moan when the following government act responsibly and mop up the mess.

How do people ignore and forget so easily?
http://www.opendemocracy.net/ournhs/max-davie/lewisham-scandal-market-failure-and-nhs

Complacency does not inspire and should not be voted in again.

The area of the council buildings is run down and miserable, a reflection of labour perhaps. It seems the further you get from their hub and closer you get to neighbouring boroughs, the more Lewisham thrives.

Time for a change, yes please!

Anon said...

Having an elected Mayor is supposed to remove politics from local government with all councillors holding the Mayor to account for his decisions but that does not happen. When the ruling party had the overwhelming majority from 2002 to 2006 large swathes of Lewisham did not have a voice within the council over very contentious issues.
The failure by councillors to question 'their man' meant that a number of flawed decisions were taken by the elected mayor 2002 that reverberated through the borough causing a domino affect. One example was the expensive decision to create Crossway's College which lasted less than 10 years.
When in 2006 the majority party had the number of councillors significantly reduced then some decisions were reversed by the Mayor and even the decision process was reviewed. At a committee meeting a Labour councillor actually questioned the Mayor's decision over an education matter.
But in 2010 with 41 of the 54 councillors of the same party as the Mayor the council went back to the 2002 model, where silence is golden.
Has an elected Mayor led to quicker and better decisions I don't see any difference and when challenged by the public forcing matters be on the Mayor's agenda the politicians changed the rules in favour of the politicians.
When Jeremy Hunt was challenged and lost regarding Lewisham Hospital he went and changed the law.
Then politicians wonder why the public become frustrated and lose interest.

Anon said...

Past Ladywell Fields there are no more open green spaces such as Mountsfield Park or Beckenham Place?

AliAfro said...

Good post Nick.
Everyone (politicians and media) has so much to say about why one way is the best and another is misguided - it becomes increasingly difficult for a floating voter to cut through the noise and make any kind of informed decision.

AliAfro said...

Will be interesting to see if the changing demographic of Lewisham has any effect on voting? Could even reinforce the status quo?

Anon said...

That was a party political broadcast brought to you by Nick-aloe Ceausescu Barron ;) with a clenched red right hand and two finger gesturing green left hand.

Sunny side up said...

Very good post Nick. I'd add Ladywell to "fine residential areas with handsome houses" . Agree with people that Labour have become totally complacent, fresh ideas are needed and people who are truly passionate about the borough. I'm most disappointed with Labour on renewing Conway's contract for 5 - 7 years after their disastrous work on the Ladywell Village improvement scheme. However, I am pleased they took on the government on the closure of a and e and the maternity unit at Lewisham hospital. I'll be voting green because of my environmental beliefs and also because the greens cruelly lost the Ladywell ward in 2010 after they had done so much good work for the ward.

Brockley Nick said...

Yes, Ladywell fits that bill. Apologies for the oversight. I'm sure there are others I should have name checked also.

gurney said...

"important role they played in the defence of Lewisham Hospital" - not forgetting their vital role in setting up the ruinous PFI agreement for the south london hospitals that led to the situation in the first place!

Monkeyboy said...

The housing market in London is nuts but that's london wide and seemingly blind to who runs the council. Prices could be kept lower if we closed all the pools, didn't improve the schools etc. people want to live here, prices go up

Brockley Nick said...

Did Lewisham Council have anything to do with the PFI agreement that covered non-Lewisham hospital?

Peter Tooke said...

We just need hardworking Councillors who represent local people and take up the issues important to them. In Ladywell we were spoilt 2006-10 when our three Green Councillors worked ceaselessly for the Ward. The 2010 local elections coincided with a General Election so these three were cruelly ejected and the last four years have seen largely poor representation by their Labour replacements. Two of the Labour candidates elected in 2010 clearly did not intend/want to be elected - one resigned almost immediately, the other limped on rarely reading her emails (her Council mailbox was full so never accepted new mail!). So, politics aside, let's hope for some better representation over the next four years. The decision is in your hands!

twotone said...

better stop now Nick, you're showing how little you know

Brockley Nick said...

Or... you could answer the question.

corrections and clarifications said...

It's possible that 'gurney' may have misworded the comment and left out the word 'Labour (in the shape of Gordon Brown)' from the PFI part, however, Lewisham Council is Labour dominated and still pursues many goals in the borough based on PFI agreements. Not that the judicial 'victory' for Lewisham Hospital was down to an argument about the PFI agreement, but the legality of the Trust Special Advisor in acting outside his remit.
The irony is that if a Labour (government) is elected at some point it would almost certainly continue the asset stripping of the NHS in favour of privatisation.
There is also speculation within the Lewisham Labour group that Bullock didn't in fact want to stand for a further spell as mayor. He noticeably held back his application for mayor until he'd discovered whether he'd been elevated to the House of Lords - if he had he'd have been off like shot.

Brockley Nick said...

Yes, it's democracy of a certain sort. That doesn't automatically make it healthy. It's not healthy to have one party of any sort completely dominate - it breeds complacency, poor decision making and discourages new ideas.


Not Labour's fault of course, it's due to the voting system and the level of engagement of the local populace.

Brockley Nick said...

Yes, but we were talking about Lewisham Council, not national government. Completely different and conflating the two things is precisely why we end up having tribal battles rather than discussing local issues in any depth.

NewXBwoy said...

Interesting point about 'SE London chippiness' the thing is Lewisham is an very unusual position of almost being a desirable place to live and to anyone who's lived here all their lives (like me) it's never been a concern it's just been their home and what they know. Millwalls motto 'no one likes us and we don't care' is no coincidence and working all over London over the years there's numerous occasions where I've had defend living in this SE London backwater (which pretty much explains the chippiness!) The influx of new residents in recent years with a different vision of the place hasn't really been embraced by the council who's mindset is very much in line with more established Lewishamites, this does need to change because alongside all the ingrained positives this boro' has so much untapped potential, the council is very much more comfortable fighting very worthy battles to protect services such as saving Lewisham Hospital and less about accepting that the boro' has changed and the what people want is changing too, so the big challenge is to create a plan that respects Lewisham's past but embraces the future for lifers & newbies alike, whether Big Steve's the man to do this is another question!

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