About two weeks ago, we started an article about Lambeth’s control freakery and contempt for local residents. Quite honestly, we can’t keep up.
The library closures and the admirable Carnegie sit-in have been well-documented, so we won’t repeat the story too much, and perhaps we need only but mention the contemptuous attitudes to demonstrators show by the ruling group, typified by Cllr Alex Bigham and his yawning cat http://tinyurl.com/jbp2cqu and Cllr Matthew Bennett and his wine-based spin http://tinyurl.com/jbsjt9a
New Labour, New Lambeth (or the ‘Red Tories’ as they are known) are, with too few exceptions it would seem, an unpalatable bunch.
Allowing the David Bowie memorial in Brixton to remain is a rare exception to the council’s habitual contempt for social fabric. A fitting tribute, yes, but a token in comparison to the threat to various communities in the borough, including the nearby Brixton Arches – http://savebrixtonarches.com
Until the Carnegie sit-in, you’ll inevitably have heard much more about the memorial than the issues. It was, for example, very ‘convenient’ for Lambeth that the memorial was announced at the same time as their decision to demolish the beloved Ted Hollamby estate, Cressingham Gardens, an estate betrayed, and then some, by the council – http://cressinghampeoplesplan.org.uk
Mandelsonian spin and manipulation is alive and well in the borough where the dark lord himself was once a councillor.
Even before voters used the 2014 local elections as a national protest, returning 59 Labour councillors out of a possible 63 in Lambeth (despite 46% of the electorate voting for other parties and only 18% of those eligible voting Labour overall), Labour’s disciplined machine was at full throttle and unchallenged. For one who sought to question it, former councillor Kingsley Abrams, going independent was the only option.
Ex Lambeth Council leader Steve Reed (now Croydon North MP and the man who called libraries ‘a middle class obsession’) famously had Abram’s emails intercepted and enlisted the help of officers to arrange a ‘sting’ because Reed thought Abrams was leaking information.
Astonishing behaviour, and one of a number of examples where officers have stepped outside of their job descriptions (which is one of the reasons we have launched The Shambeth Walk – http://tinyurl.com/hkvwwg9).
Other dissenting councillors have faced similar ordeals. One only felt safe to find his voice after resigning, and former cabinet member Rachel Heywood, who broke ranks last weekend to support the Carnegie protest, risks losing the party whip for doing so. On a Tweet she assured an anti-Garden Bridge campaigner that ‘plenty’ of good Labour councillors exist, but that they are just ‘hiding’. None of us can afford for this to remain the case.
The fact that they hide doesn’t come as a surprise though, they are made to pay a price. Helen O’Malley, the only one of three Labour Councillors in Clapham Town to stick by a clear promise to defend long-term housing co-op residents, found herself deselected before the 2014 elections. She had previously reported that council officers told her they were making life deliberately hard for residents in order to make them leave.
The eviction of housing co-op residents exposed Lambeth on many levels. Residents questioned Lambeth’s self-styled, and ironically titled, ‘co-operative council’ and Lambeth really, really didn’t like it.
Lambeth’s clenching of its iron fist saw it deny a string of Freedom of Information requests; dispute the minutes of lobbying meetings (‘you can have your notes and we’ll have ours’ they said); ban a campaign email account after the eviction of a disabled woman was raised; and, among many other issues, misinform campaigners about their rights to stay in their houses.
In December 2014, Cllr Matthew Bennett misled the entire British media over a story that, astride a white charger, he and Lambeth had bust a rogue landlord who’d allowed people to live in a house with a tree growing through the living room. They hadn’t. The financial anomaly was reported by residents and ended in 2007. Meanwhile, they chose to continue living with the tree in their front room after that point. You would never have know that from the Daily Mail report, for example. That’s the demographic that Nu Lambeth Labour wish to court.
An enquiry to council leader Lib Peck about the facts used and their chronology led to Bennett taking down a Tweet that alleged it was co-op house involved, however the member who raised the query was subsequently banned from corresponding with Peck further.
One might suggest that Bennett should consider his position after such a brazen attempt to concoct a story using information that was 7 years old. Meanwhile Peck’s Orwellian response to scrutiny is equally shocking.
Indeed, the reaction of Lib Peck to opposition is quite something to behold. At last the cabinet meeting, just before the discussion on Cressingham Gardens, she was asked by a leading housing campaigner if she was going to address the gathered crowd. Peck declined to do so, but told the activist: “I know where you live” and underlined the sinister approach by adding “now that you’re a Southwark leaseholder.” Not a great tone-setter for what became a rowdy occasion.
When we enquired, in disbelief (almost), about this, we were told by another Lambeth activist that she was getting quite a reputation for low-level intimidation “she [Peck] took photographs of people at our Save Lambeth Libraries stall outside Brixton tube. We wrote two letters to her asking what she intended to do with the photos but never got any replies.”
Surveillance is something of an ever-present theme in Lambeth. We saw the installation of a security camera outside the Carnegie Library last week and we, as Lambeth United Members, have experienced a number of mysterious occurrences; unexplained damage to a house at the height of the evictions dispute, harassment from the planning department designed to hasten a resident’s move; then there was the local, anonymous, Twitter Troll, cheerleading the evictions, and whose only followers for some time were Steve Reed MP, and u-turning local Labour councillors Nigel Haselden and Christopher Wellbelove.
Officers who dealt with housing co-op residents had clearly been googling them before meetings and thought nothing of sizing up their houses at close range, while residents were still in occupation. One of them, an ex Labour councillor in a particularly flawed regime in Hackney, seemed to delight in overstepping the mark – for example, engaging residents in conversations that could have been legally prejudicial, unnecessarily involving Social Services and threatening the use of Adult Social Care.
Because of the activities of their officers and their councillors, be it regarding evictions, estate demolitions, library closures, the Garden Bridge fiasco (opposition to which was reportedly described as ‘noise’ by Lib Peck) – Lambeth cannot expect to enjoy too much sympathy when residents and activists disrupt their meetings or occupy buildings such as libraries.
This administration feels like it can get away with anything with its “mandate” and is the very antithesis to the idea of of encouraging people to get active in politics – because, in Lambeth, when they do and they find a voice, they get shut down at all costs.
After the 2014 local elections Lib Peck made a speech to the new council, as did the Tory leader. When the speeches finished, a visiting Labour councillor confided in me that he thought Peck to be needlessly partisan and point-scoring in front of a chamber that was 93.5% dominated by her own party. He added “even the Tory’s speech was more gracious then hers.”
Lambeth deserves better than the current administration. The next local elections are 2 years away – a very long time in politics. So have an equally long memory, a keen eye to the next scandal and a loud voice. In 2018 justice may yet be served.