Friday, 9 June 2017

'They got their kippers back...': the GE2017 Eltham result

The Eltham constituency has been held by Labour's Clive Efford, with an increased majority of 6,296, on a 72% turnout.


The 2015 General Election results show the remarkable extent of the 2017 outcome:

Despite the numbers once it was known there would be no UKIP candidate, despite misgivings about an unconventional Labour leader and despite the area having a EU leave majority, the incumbent MP since 1997 nevertheless managed to win over Eltham's voters.

The local campaigns

The 'snap election' having been announced on 18 April, the Conservatives seemed bright-eyed and bushy tailed announcing Matt Hartley, a locally well-engaged Councillor for Eltham South, as their candidate. After the 2015 election, Hartley had replaced Cllr Spencer Drury (also the previous PCC) as Leader of the Conservative opposition on Greenwich Council. The numbers looked good. May was just setting out on her 'strong and stable' shtick. The polls favoured the Tories by a wide margin. Jeremy Corbyn was being trashed by the press, and few insiders, and Labour seemed the less polished and seasoned performers.

However, Efford's team were straight out of the block the morning after the election announcement, leafleting and talking to voters at Eltham Station. Some commented on the 'Labour machine' but the pic and leaflet above is from the week before the election announcement showing the incumbent MP's engagement with local issues. As it went on, the campaign was marked by upbeat numbers of volunteers turning out, many for the first time, including from neighbouring safer constituencies.

The local Conservatives frequently got in their big guns - Chris Grayling, Priti Patel, Boris Johnson - and seemed buoyed. The strapline 'Standing with Theresa May' featured heavily on local leaflets by the pro-Brexit candidate.

The tide turns

With the 'Maybot' theme ringing increasingly more true in the face of May's refusal to debate, the scripted repetitive answers and the various u-turns especially on social care, it was also the polls which slowly began to look 'weak and wobbly'. The focus and momentum of campaigning altered with each of the terrorist attacks, moving away from Brexit and on to security.

Locally, a hustings event took place in Eltham on 1 June without the Conservative candidate or a representative, leaving only the Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates, and the audience, to disagree amongst themselves with Tory policies and proposals without actually hearing from him. It all added to the growing impression, led from the top, that Tories were not willing to show up and debate.  At this meeting and elsewhere, Efford's messages on opposition to education funding cuts, local train service cuts and sale of NHS assets were striking home.

In his acceptance speech during the small hours - opening with, "Well, rumours of my demise were greatly exaggerated" - (well, surely he's allowed that...), he gave a coherent speech about why he thought the results went the way they did. Commenting on his view that the government had taken people for granted, "there is only one set of people who run this country and that is the British electorate." Acknowledging that he had had differences with his party leader, he said that the Labour Party had put forward a truly radical manifesto and set of policies and that people respected the decency that had been put at the heart of British politics.

Efford went on to say that respect was due to the Greens who had stood aside in this constituency and that he would honour that decision. On Brexit he was committed to ensuring that Parliament was sovereign and had a proper say in the final outcome. You can watch the results come in, and the speech here:


I'd ended my post on 30 May with Harold Wilson's oft-quoted observation that a week was a long time in politics. And so it has come to pass.


The national 'hung parliament' result has led, as of today, to May intending to form a government to lead the UK "at a critical time" working with "friends in the DUP." So, as numerous others have pointed out:

2015 election: don't give control to Scotland
2016 ref:         don't give control to Brussels
2017 election: control to...er..DUP?

Who would have guessed the ending of the 'third act' in our bizarre play?

(Thanks to for the 'kippers' line :) )

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Eltham hustings - General Election 2017



In the keenly-contested marginal Eltham constituency, you would think that the sole hustings would pack a crowd and that all the candidates would treat it as a prime opportunity to address potential voters and listen to their concerns.  Yet the key surprise take-away from the event last Thursday, 1 June, was the absence of Matt Hartley, the Conservative candidate seeking to oust Labour’s incumbent Clive Efford.
Despite the good intentions of the organisers,Keep Our NHS Public, and their organisation on the night, of the potential 63k electorate, a small-to-medium-sized group assembled in the Progress Community Hall, Admiral Seymour Rd, in Eltham's historic Progress Estate. As we sweltered in the small hall on that sunny, balmy evening (hard to believe 5 days later with rain and 40mph wind currently lashing outside) I learnt that flyers had been distributed wide and far but there appeared to be little general knowledge of the event. I was emailed a flyer by 'an informant' (ok, my mum-in law) on the Progress Estate before I shared it on Twitter.
The Labour candidate, Clive Efford (above, right), and the Liberal Democrat PCC David Hall-Matthews (above, centre), took their seats. Calling the assembly to order, the Chair (above, left) made the surprise announcement at the outset that the Tory PPC was unable to make the meeting due to a prior business meeting and that no response had been received to an invitation to send a representative. There were a few gasps, some further questioning about the absence and a couple of people (that I saw) got up and left. The absence was all the more significant because it chimed with observations over the previous few days about PM Theresa May’s reluctance to free debate. It was announced that the previous Green candidate, Ann Garrett, who had stood aside, would take the ‘empty chair’ for the evening.

And then we were off. After opening statements from each of the two candidates, there were pre-written and moderated questions from the audience with free debate and follow-ups. Too long to write up properly now I’m afraid, here’s a snapshot of the topics which came up:
funding of the NHS; halting privatisation; mothballing of parts of the new Eltham Community Hospital;  sale of NHS assets under the Naylor Report; housing problems; alternatives to the first-past-the-post voting system; whether coalition govts work/are good; South Eastern Trains proposals and the current consultation; Schools and how they fared in Greenwich under the govt funding formula; all seemed opposed to proliferation of grammar schools at expense of others; ending of free school lunches; the rise and fall of the ‘Dementia’ tax; more resources to tracking tax evasion; need for improved social and elderly care; involving Parliament into the Brexit process; air quality.
There was a lot of agreement on the panel, and amongst the audience, with some differences of emphasis or method. The older age demographic of the audience led to detailed discussion about social and elderly care in particular and some nervous laughter at the grim suggestion that euthanasia be legalised to give people an alternative to the ‘dementia tax’….

Being the incumbent, Clive Efford spoke articulately about local issues and often passionately about how he would tackle the issues of concern. David Hall-Matthews seemed a fair and decent-minded opponent, though losing his way a little when it got too local ie. at one point referring to Eltham as ‘Remainers’ in the EU ref…  It all made for a pretty lop-sided debate. It often felt as though we were just talking amongst ourselves rather than questioning alternative choices.

 Since then Eltham has had a ‘battle of the blondes’ – the Tories had Boris high-fiving all comers in the high-street the day before while Labour did their rounds the next day with comedian Eddie Izzard.

Nationally this extraordinary general election took yet another unexpected and tragic turn – another horrific attack, this time in the London Bridge/Borough Market area on the evening of Saturday 3 June. I think we’ve all been through the whole of range of emotions since then – shock, disbelief, reflection and resolve - but now election has cranked up again in earnest. Until Thursday/Friday morning then.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Eltham and the 2017 General Election

Results in South East London’s Eltham constituency are being eagerly watched. 

Will the Tories succeed this time in picking the still ‘low-hanging fruit’ of Eltham’s Brexiteers from the long-standing Labour incumbent candidate or will Labour’s well-regarded Labour candidate manage to hold on to his narrow majority (and add a bit more) despite UKIP’s no-show plumping up the Tory Brexit vote?

Eltham’s candidates for the 2017 General Election are:


The publication of the candidates on 11 May revealed that UKIP would not be standing this time round - significant because its 6,481 votes will be hotly-contested over. As a reminder, here are the 2015 General Election results:
2015 General Election results

In a further twist, despite there being no formal ‘Progressive Alliance’, the Greenwich Green party announced it would be standing down to give Labour's Efford the best chance. 

The Conservatives have this time pitched Matt Hartley, Councillor for the Coldharbour & New Eltham ward and Leader of the Opposition on Greenwich Council. He had previously unsuccessfully contended the Greenwich & Woolwich seat.

Clive Efford, first voted in as part of the 1997 wave, continues to stand for the constituency in which he and his family have long lived. He and his campaign team kicked into action immediately and have been very active on the doorstep and with leafleting. The Conservatives followed suit with many Tory big guns visiting. The LibDems have brought in a university lecturer and charity consultant David Hall-Matthews. Here are the leaflets:

 
 

Eltham is 29th on the Tory hit list precisely because the incumbent Labour candidate is a) in a marginal constituency having narrowly won by 2,693 votes in 2015 and b) the Eltham constituency overall voted to leave theEU

There is some excellent analysis on the 853 blog and on Dave Hill’s new OnLondon website.
Both were written before Theresa May’s social care blunders and the horrific terrorist attack in Manchester on Monday 22 May after which campaigning was halted for a few days. 

What has emerged is a changed narrative. The ‘Brexit election’ has stepped back into the shadows giving way to a new emphasis on security and generally better poll ratings for Corbyn and Labour Party.

Locally, government proposals for South Eastern trains has played large with locals up in arms over the possible axing of the all local trains to Victoria and Charing Cross, routing them instead to Cannon Street. A consultation is under way about this here, and you can read more about it on the Murky Depths blog

A week is a still a long time in politics and so the results are not a forgone conclusion, either way...

Monday, 1 May 2017

“‘What, not another one!" GE2017

As the nation joins the newest viral superstar, Brenda, in her reaction to the election announcement, the marginal south east London Eltham constituency is being keenly watched by locals and national political pundits alike. 

Following the surprise announcement by PM Theresa May, all Brits are now in the midst of their second General Election in two years, not counting last year’s referendum on the EU. 

The announcement of the national election on 8 June 2017 heralds the third act in a bizarre play: 

First: the 2015 poll-defying election in which David Cameron was re-elected on 7 May 2015 with a small majority over Labour’s Ed Miliband, the ‘other’ brother who had himself snatched the Labour leadership from the more likely contender, David Miliband.


Second: the 11th hour surprise result of the divisive EU referendum. Having won the 2015 election with a manifesto promise of a referendum on the UK’s EU membership as a political manoeuvre to outflank UKIP and Tory Euro-sceptic right-wingers, the Referendum was held on 23 June 2016 with lively and sometimes controversial campaigning from the LEAVE and REMAIN camps with its sad denouement of the tragic death on MP Jo Cox at the final week.  Remainer Cameron resigned hours after the Leave result plunging the already bewildered country into a Tory leadership contest while it struggled to come to terms with ‘Brexit’. Former Remainer Theresa May was duly elected and tasked with being midwife for Brexit. After toting the mantra ‘Brexit means Brexit’ (which nobody could either explain or deny, clever), Article 50 was finally triggered on 29 March 2017, formally starting the two-year Brexit process.


Third: Despite the Fixed Term Parliament Act decreeing May 2020 as the next election date and firmly denying any contrary intentions, on 18 April 2017 the PM announced the ‘snap election’ for 8 June 2017. Widely believed to be taking advantage of the huge Tory lead in the polls with difficult times ahead and of the perceived weak opposition position, May’s fig leaf is that she is seeking a firm mandate for her Brexit negotiations. And so was born her next mantra: ‘Strong and Stable government’.

And so here we are, a few weeks away from our third national voting event.

Next, a focus on the Eltham constituency….

Monday, 3 April 2017

White lines: the Eltham road crossing debate

Southward view of road markings linking to Passey Place
Opinions in Eltham are divided over Eltham High Street's latest traffic crossings.

The debate has been a amusing diversion from the general works to improve the High Street running through the south-east London suburban town. The works are part of a £6.6m improvement scheme as part of Greenwich Council's regeneration masterplan for the town centre, a scheme primarily funded by Transport for London.

The stripes on the crossings, which started appearing this month, are either 'puzzling' and 'going the wrong way' or 'funky' and 'splendid' depending on your point of view. Some worried that absent-minded road-crossers might mistake this pelican crossing for a zebra crossing. There was also speculation about what the 'E' might mean - did it intend to pick up on Eltham Palace designs?

Others joked that the markings outside the library signaled free wi-fi:


However, Greenwich Council explained that the novel markings were intended to link the two sides of the High Street in a more user-friendly way and not merely be a 'corridor for motorists.'

Bizarrely, this hot topic even managed to feature in a Daily Fail piece:

Daily Mail article on Eltham High Street crossing stripes

Personally, I rather like the new crossings.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Read a book a month

'A Book A Month' - collected in a pile under bedside lamp

How many books a year do you read?

I must admit I go through spells - some devouring books, sometimes hitting a dry patch. The trouble is that if I read while I'm doing some creative writing:
a) I find myself fornesically examining what I'm reading rather than purely enjoying it and
b) I'll often find myself too influenced by that writer's style, like a cushion bearing the imprint of the last person who sat on it!
and c) I can't put a book down and find it consumes me, and my time!

Someone I know who doesn't have the chance to read much decided to make a determined effort and try to read book a month last year while taking in some classics he hadn't read. As he finished each one, he collected them in a pile under his bedside lamp (photo above). The books were:

1.  Enduring Love - Ian McEwan
2.  Orlando - Virginia Woolf
3.  The Girl With All The Gifts - M.R.Carey
4.  Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
5.  The Alchemist - Paul Coelho
6.  The Odyssey - Homer
7.  The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemmingway
8.  Brighton Rock - Graham Greene
9.  Tripwire - Lee Child
10. Brokeback Mountain - Annie Proulx
11. Animal Farm - George Orwell 
12. Middlemarch - George Eliot (couldn't fit this on the pile under the lamp!)

I think that's quite an eclectic choice, a good trot through some different literary styles and of different ages. Some he thoroughly enjoyed, other less so.

How did he decide what to read? A combination of personal curiosity, 'best reads' lists, other people's recommendations and what he had at home already.

It would be interesting to see other people's 'book a month' choices....

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year for 2017!

Let's face it 2016 has been a bit traumatic on many fronts. Here's hoping the coming year brings happiness, tolerance and peace.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Eltham Lights Up 2016 and celebrates Roald Dahl this time

Willy Wonka and his Oompa Loompas come to Eltham!
Central London may have had its switching on of the Christmas lights last Thursday but for many families and residents in a certain south-east London suburb, the annual Eltham Lights Up event was the place to be.

Organised by Royal Greenwich Borough, this much loved Lantern Parade in Eltham High Street and the switching on of its own Christmas lights is well attended by locals. In the weeks leading up to it, local primary school children make illuminated lanterns which are proudly paraded behind their school banner. The event was also part of the Eltham Arts Winter Festival 2016 which ran from 29 October to 20 November and showcased over 150 arts events in Eltham this year. In fact, Eltham Arts's own Festival Finale takes place today, 20 Nov, at the White Hart.

This year's Lights Up theme was Roald Dahl on the occasion of what would have been his 100th birthday. Emergency Exit Arts, an arts organisation based in nearby Greenwich, which specialises in using visual performance, processions, puppetry and pyrotechnics, brought alive characters from Dahl's enduring children's books. They joined lots of gleeful lantern-toting children (and parents!) to celebrate this annual festive occasion now in its 17th year.

Here's my short film of this year's Eltham Lights Up thrown together from my footage:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5MNQOKvsxY
I remember first attending this event when our two children were pre-school aged and were beside themselves with excitement waving glow sticks, watching the colourful parade and then the finale fireworks from the top of the M&S building. In subsequent years they've paraded with the Gordon Primary School, arriving early to assemble in what was then the playground of the nearby Church of England School in Roper Street, now the subject of scaffolding and the erection of a new building on this historic site just behind the High Street.

Now young teens, our children are naturally more concerned to 'hang out' with their friends wandering around trying to buy the best hot chocolate, leaving me to enjoy the parade from a different perspective.

Despite concerns about the effect on this event of the current improvements being made to Eltham High Street, the Council rushed to have it ready to host the Lights Up event and luckily succeeded. However, after some previous cases of hot falling debris, the fireworks have for the last couple of years been replaced by other finales, this year some fiery shooting musical flames. There was also musical entertainment laid on across three stages - on Passey Place, next to St Mary's and in the Eltham Leisure Centre - this years' acts included the Pytchwood folk duo, the band Little Beach, the teen boy band Decks and Quatrz, the Eltham hill School Choir and the Rock Choir. Welcome though this was, it made it difficult to get round and see them all!

People persevered through the early heavy rain and were rewarded with dry, crisp weather in time for the switching on and the parade itself. And so another Eltham Lights Up comes to an end marking the start of Christmas.

Other local lighting up events include:

Woolwich Winter Warmer
Saturday 26 November, 1pm to 5.30pm - General Gordon Square and Powis Street, SE18

Greenwich Christmas Festival
Saturday 3 December 12pm to 6pm - Cutty Sark Gardens, SE1

My posts on previous Eltham Lights Up events:
Eltham Lights Up 2012
Eltham Lights Up 2011
Eltham Lights Up 2010
Eltham Lights Up 2009

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Viceroy's House: film about India-Pakistan 1947 partition

Really looking forward to 'Bend It Like Beckham' director Gurinder Chadha's next film, Viceroy's House, due out next year. It certainly has a cracking cast in Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Simon Callow, Om Puri and Huma Qureshi :
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/16/gurinder-chadha-on-viceroys-house-why-i-had-to-make-a-film-about-partition?CMP=share_btn_tw

Gurinder Chadha's films are always a treat especially to second-gen onwards Brit-Asians such as myself though they certainly have a wider appeal.  I also happen to hail from the director's same West London suburb and from a Sikh-Punjabi background so her material particularly resonates with me and it's always interesting to see what she's homing in on. Every Punjabi family has a partition story - I'm curious to see how she handles hers and how she mediates it within the grammar of film-making and the demands of commercial cinema.

In a more recent interview from this month, this time an event at America's Clark University, we learn that:

"Chadha is currently in the post-production phase of her film, “Viceroy’s House,” which will be released in 2017. The film chronicles the British partition of India and Pakistan, and the intertwining of many cultural perspectives during a controversial time in South Asian history. “I was very clear that this is a film made by a British Punjabi; it’s very much that perspective,” said Chadha. “No Indian could have made it, and no Pakistani could have made it, and no white British could have made it.”

Viceroy’s House” tells Chadha’s family history. “When I was growing up I had come to understand that partition happened because it was our fault — that we Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims couldn’t get on with each other,” Chadha recalled. “There was violence and the British had no option but to divide the country. … As a result I had somehow felt that the loss of a homeland was a result of my ancestors’ fault.” Chadha said that when archived historical documents eventually became public, she and her family learned the partition was a political act."

Read more from this event here.

Friday, 11 November 2016

38* votes wins it: Eltham North by-election

Photo: Charlie Davis (right) just declared winner; Simon Peirce, on left with Eltham's Clive Efford MP
So following a hard-fought by-election in this very marginal ward, Charlie Davis has been elected the third Councillor in the Eltham North Ward to join existing Councillors Linda Bird (Labour) and Spencer Drury (Conservative). Congratulations.

The Eltham North (Greenwich) results:

Browne (Green) - 110.      3.5% (-6.0)
Davis (Con) - 1335.         42.2% (+10.6)   1st
Macaulay (LD) - 279.        8.8% (+5.5)
Peirce (Lab) - 1279 1297  40.4% (+9.3)     2nd
Ray (UKIP) - 160.               5.1% (-14.5)
Spoilt: 5

Reflecting the previous ward election results, the 1st and 2nd candidates came nail-bitingly close with only 56 38 votes separating them. Typically of by-elections, the turnout was low at 31.33% (it was 50.26% in 2014) with total votes cast 3,185 from a total electorate of 10,167.

Notably, the UKIP vote collapsed from 1,221 in 2014 to 160 this time and the Lib Dems show no sign of a come back. (see Comments below)

Cllr Davis will have his hands full with the current list of issues being raised by Eltham residents.

We can all now get back to being aghast at the American election results or starting Christmas shopping...

My posts on the lead up to this by-election here:
"Let's make Westmount Rd great again" or the Eltham North by-election

Eltham North by-election 2016: candidates declared

Who will 'Wynn' it? Eltham North by-election coming up 

*NEXT DAY UPDATE:
This post originally published at 11/11/16 12.45am had the first candidate winning by 56 votes.
I took the figures from the Royal Greenwich twitter feed (as did a number of media outlets I see). But different and, as it turned out, correct figures were posted later on the Council website – the Labour candidate had in fact won 1,297 votes therefore the difference between 1st and 2nd candidates was even closer at 38. So there you have it. Thanks to 'Anonymous' in the comments.

Here’s the confirmation from Twitter:


and the website:

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

“Let’s make Westmount Rd great again” or the Eltham North by-election


Never mind the end of times in the USA where a divisive, sexist, xenophobic celebrity billionaire has just been elected to represent ‘ordinary people’. All eyes, well local if not quite international, now turn to the by-election due to held tomorrow in the very marginal Eltham North ward in the Royal Greenwich Borough.

No fears here, I assume, of vote-rigging, grabbing furry feline animals or calls for hanging your opponent. At least, none that we know of.

It all seems a rather more sedate affair with some thoroughly nice chaps, and one rather quiet chap-ess.
 
I’ve blogged previously on the list of candidates and the recent electoral history of the ward. By now you’ve read their leaflets promising motherhood and apple pie. Issues currently exercising locals include developments in Eltham High Street including the new Cinema and the old favourite, parking restrictions. The Conservatives have the extra field to play in – criticism of the Labour-run home Council while Labour has additionally played to its NHS strengths and being able to work with the Labour Mayor on transport. Other issues include ‘better sports facilities’, more ‘starter homes’, ‘safety on our local roads’ and ‘new [outdoor] play equipment’ (Time, being totally distracted by a certain Festival and the USA result has meant no time for fuller analysis here…)

Meanwhile social media has meant that the citizens of Eltham have been able to quiz candidates directly. A recent entry to the lists of issues has been the discovery of an early morning licencing application by Vue Cinema with various candidates responding on Twitter to residents’ fears of a ‘Nightmare on Eltham High Street’, promising to listen to their concerns.
Candidates have also been asked by community group Eltham Arts how they would support the arts in Eltham – those that replied were positive, of course.

So who will replace Labour's Wynn Davies? Will it be Labour’s Simon Peirce, the Tory’s Charlie Davis or the Lib Dem Sam Macaulay? Vote tomorrow, 10 Nov.

*With thanks to Patrick Kidd for this great slogan for the Eltham North by-election which I spotted on his twitter feed: