Meet Blackheath Westcombe ward’s new Labour councillors

CIMG2431Paul Morrissey and Cherry Parker were elected as Blackheath Westcombe ward’s Labour councillors at the Greenwich Council elections on May 22nd. A big thank you to all who voted for them.

As always, the council election in Blackheath Westcombe ward was a very close-run contest between Labour and the Conservatives. Labour’s Damien Welfare came within just 72 votes of winning the ward’s third council seat. Full election results can be found here.

Paul and Cherry want to work with and help all residents of Blackheath Westcombe ward, whoever they voted for. Their contact details are here.

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After 16 years as a Labour councillor in Blackheath and Westcombe Park, Alex Grant says thank you and goodbye

Out on the doorsteps on Kidbrooke Park Road. From left to right: Don Austen, Jackie Smith, Alex Grant, Cherry Parker, David Gardner, Damien Welfare and Paul Morrissey

Out on the doorsteps of Kidbrooke Park Road, May 2014. From left to right: Don Austen, Jackie Smith, Alex Grant, Cherry Parker, David Gardner, Damien Welfare and Paul Morrissey

At the local elections on Thursday I’m retiring after 16 years as a Labour councillor in Blackheath and Westcombe Park. I have mixed feelings about stepping down but having just turned 40, and with a young family, I feel it’s time to move on.

Farewell messages from retiring politicians can make turgid reading. Often they’re a final act of spin, trumpeting successes and making excuses for past mistakes. So rather than just go on about what I have done personally, I’ll reflect on how Blackheath Westcombe ward has changed since I was first elected in 1998, what it’s like to represent the area, and the future challenges it faces.

I was first elected for the old Vanbrugh ward in 1998, but in the 2002 boundary changes Vanbrugh was absorbed into the ultra-marginal Blackheath Westcombe ward. Since 2006 I have been the only Labour councillor for the ward (the other two seats are currently held by Conservatives). Blackheath Westcombe ward’s knife-edge election results reflect how mixed the area is, with wealth sitting alongside pockets of poverty. Since I was first elected in 1998, property prices have risen dramatically and it could be argued that the ward has got more gentrified. But as the 2011 census showed, these changes have not benefitted everyone: levels of home ownership have actually fallen, due to the rise of buy-to-let, and less than half of Blackheath Westcombe ward’s residents now live in homes that they own.

The stereotype of Blackheath and Westcombe Park residents as middle-class, white owner-occupiers in well-paid managerial or professional jobs and tuned permanently to Radio Four is, like most stereotypes, wide of the mark. This area is diverse: although 57% of Blackheath Westcombe ward’s adult residents have degrees, less than 70% define their ethnic background as “White UK” and more than a third of households do not own a car.  24% of the ward’s residents now live in private rented accommodation (up from just 16% in 2001) and another quarter – much more than many people think – rent their homes from the council or housing associations.

The Labour council, and the last Labour government, have done much to improve public services in the area over the last 16 years, much of which I can take little personal credit for. Public buildings that were crumbling in 1998 are now refurbished or rebuilt. John Roan and Thomas Tallis schools have flourished, with improving results and excellent headteachers. Both these secondary schools have been rebuilt and hopefully Invicta Primary will follow, though the budget that Michael Gove has allocated for its new building is tight. The council has done much to make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclistsBlackheath Library on Old Dover Road has been refurbished and a new library and leisure centre are now being built on the old hospital site at the bottom of Vanbrugh Hill. Blackheath Westcombe ward has a great community police team, based upstairs from Marks and Spencers at the Royal Standard. Having five or six police officers or PCSOs dedicated to the area has made a huge difference and I hope the team survives the Met police’s ongoing shake-up of neighbourhood policing: back in 1998 there was just one police officer dedicated to Blackheath, who in practice was often called away. Read more of this post

Four more years of Boris the Oxbridge underdog

Boris Johnson heads Tories' London Mayor shortlistThe most interesting thing about the London election result of May 3rd?

Not the huge difference between the vote for Labour Assembly members (who increased their numbers from eight to twelve) and the unsuccessful candidacy of Ken Livingstone in my view (though Labour clearly does have big lessons to learn from that: in Blackheath Westcombe ward, as in many other parts of London, Labour won the Assembly vote narrowly, but Boris out-polled Ken by 500 votes).

The real revelation came in the spin the Conservatives put on Boris’ re-election. They were careful not to put the boot into Ken (who Boris has magnanimously invited to the Olympic opening ceremony), and Boris himself was careful not to crow too much about how his success contrasted so markedly with the Conservatives’ failure in the local elections everywhere else in England, Wales and Scotland. Read more of this post

French lessons

IMG00419-20120412-1116It is a huge relief that Francois Hollande has won the French presidency. He has shown that a candidate of the left can win resoundingly in Europe, and there is a valid alternative to austerity. Although everyone predicts bruising clashes with German chancellor Angela Merkel, Franco-German relations (witness Kohl and Mitterrand) have often bridged the political divide between the Partie Socialiste and the German Christian Democrats.

I was in southern France over Easter and the friends I spoke to predicted Hollande would win, although neither of them had a great deal of enthusiasm. One of them, normally a Green voter, was uninspired by the Green Presidential candidate, an MEP and former magistrate called Eva Joly  (a Jenny Jones lookalike with zany green glasses), and was not much more inspired by Hollande either, but she was definitely voting for him, in the second round at least.

Three things are surprising about French Presidential elections, aside from the fact that they are fought over two rounds: firstly the very high turnout by UK standards  (more than 80% in 2012: the last time that number went to the polls in the UK was 1951). Read more of this post

1992 and all that

_56628427_labour_party_poster_-_it's_time_for_labour_1992_electionThe spring of 2012 has so far seen the British media dominated by the anniversaries of two shocking historic events: the invasion of the Falklands (30 years ago) and the sinking of the Titanic (a century ago).

In the Labour blogosphere, a third disastrous event worthy of commemoration and reminiscence has emerged: the General Election of 1992, whose 20th anniversary fell on April 9th (midway between the Falklands anniversary on April 2nd, and the Titanic’s on April 15th). Read more of this post

David says thanks

DavidAnd now it’s all over! Life returns to normal.

Alex Grant back at top of the poll but I missed out by 22 votes after the Friday afternoon recount. 2197 votes was a good tally, but 22 votes from the winning line and you think what more could have been done.

So Blackheath Westcombe again has one superb Labour councillor and two Tories. A swing to Labour but not the same swing we enjoyed in the other marginals with large council estates. There, the general election turnout made a real difference. In BW, the 72% turnout brought out many who take little interest in local politics generally but obviously wanted to vote nationally.

And many people shopped around with their votes. All a big argument for Alternative Vote as there was a very big majority for progressive candidates from Labour, Lib Dems and Greens but this vote was fragmented letting the Tories into two seats.

But it has been a great campaign and I have really enjoyed meeting so many thousands of people from Tom Smith Close to Blackheath Park. And to understand people’s concerns about childcare, local schools, transport, parks and so many more issues. There was a general level of satisfaction with local services especially recycling but that is not to be complacent. The new Labour council can do better and improve community engagement. I will carry on my work at John Roan and stay in touch with local issues.

On a national scale, Nick Raynsford retained Labour’s 10000 majority in Greenwich. The Tories took second place from the Lib Dems and we held next-door Eltham against all predictions. But it was not good for Labour nationally overall and we have lessons to learn about staying in touch more with people’s views, listening and showing less arrogance and better judgement.

But it is easy to be harsh and forget our great achievements in public services, economic prosperity, leadership on combating climate change and poverty. We are a more tolerant and civilised society than in 1997.

All more the shame as I write that Labour and the Lib Dems do not appear to have agreed a progressive partnership to continue this and protect the most vulnerable while securing the recovery and reducing the deficit.

Finally to thank everyone for their votes and support, and if you supported an opponent, thanks for being so polite on the doorstep and listening. And thanks to Alex and Pat for being such tremendous fellow candidates and the great Labour team in Blackheath Westcombe.

Election day

Today, May 6th, is the day we have all been waiting for – and seems to have suddenly crept up on us all.

After weeks of seven days a week work, I managed to take the day off on Sunday – in fact between Saturday afternoon and Monday morning managed to avoid any political activity whatsoever, apart from a few phone calls. I felt the much better for it when I arrived at the campaign office at 32 Woolwich Rod at 8.30am on Monday morning!

Spent Saturday night at my Mum and Dad’s House on Glenluce Road for Mum’s birthday – rare occasion that all the family – my sister Tara, her partner Catherine, our brother Tom and his wife Hester, and their three children, got together with my partner Liz and our four-year-old Alice. And Mum and Dad of course. Now our generation of the family are all in our thirties (or forties in Tom’s case) it is rare for us all to get together as even at Christmas we are dragged off in different directions by in-laws.

The evening made me realise that there is more to life than politics, important though that all is – and also how complicated family life is, with work, childcare and all the responsibilities they entail. If nothing else, Labour is the party of families, in al their forms, and recognises that an active state needs to help when it is needed and also respect lifestyle choices. Labour wants to support children out of poverty and into a good education whatever their parents’ circumstances, go into adulthood with access to education, training and dignity in the workplace, able to live sustainably in a safe and clean environment, with healthcare free a the point of delivery and improving schools for the next generation, and into a n old age with dignity and independence.

This is a message Pat, David and I have been putting across as much as we can on the doorstep, at the railway stations and on the school gate in the last few weeks. Many readers may have met us – and for those who have not – we want o continue working with local people on the problems that matter to them, and hope we can count on your support today.