Organisers criticise “shocking” cancellation and “high handed” London Labour Party
The London Labour Party abruptly cancelled an event organised by a local education network this week, depriving parents from hearing the views of nine mayoral hopefuls.
The event, a panel focussed solely on education, was due to take place tonight in Lewisham Town Hall. More than 100 parents were expected to attend the discussion, organised by Parent ENGage Lewisham, to exchange views about the future of the area’s schools. While the borough has some of the most highly ranked primary schools in the country, a number of its secondary schools are at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Nine local politicians, most hoping to be on the ballot for the Lewisham mayoral elections, had confirmed their attendance, including two from the Liberal Democrat Party, the official Conservative Party mayoral candidate, a Green Party representative, and the five councillors shortlisted to be the Labour Party’s official candidate (unless voting patterns shift dramatically, the next Lewisham Mayor will almost certainly come from these five).
On Wednesday, however, the London Labour Party told organisers that no Labour candidate could attend. Permission to use the Civic Suite venue was also withdrawn, reportedly as no-one from the Labour Party would be present, and the event had to be cancelled. No Labour candidate had requested the cancellation, according to Ali Craft of the Labour Party, who contacted organisers to inform them of the decision.
Nicky Dixon, a parent of two Lewisham schoolchildren and one of the education campaigners behind the event, said: “We weren’t given a reason. Just informed, out of the blue. It was quite shocking that Labour London felt it appropriate to do so, in such a high handed way, without discussion, when it was a public parent meeting.”
“Many parents thought that it was an extremely important meeting, especially as it would have given them the opportunity to hear from all candidates.”
Matthew Thomas, a Lewisham resident, father of three children, as well as a secondary school teacher in Bexley, had agreed to chair the event and told Lewisham Lately that the cancellation came as “a huge disappointment”.
“I think we are owed a clear explanation,” he wrote in an email.
Ross Archer, announced as the official Conservative mayoral candidate in March, was due to attend. He described the cancellation as “shameless behaviour from a complacent and arrogant Labour Party. It shows they hold the residents of Lewisham in contempt.”
He added: “Lewisham’s secondary schools are rated among the worst in London… We need to have an open and honest discussion about how we can turn this around.”
The Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Lewisham Deptford, Bobby Dean, was also scheduled to take part. He told Lewisham Lately:
“It’s shocking that Labour have pulled the plug on this event at the very last moment. This was a community-driven democratic forum put together by hardworking and caring parents, who are rightly concerned about their children’s education in Lewisham.
“Our borough has been rated the worst in London for GCSE results. It seems that Labour are taking Lewisham for granted and it’s about time they are properly held to account.”
Paul Maslin, one of the five shortlisted Labour Party mayoral candidates, and the council’s current Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, said on Twitter: “We were all prepared to go. But I understand and support the Party’s decision.”
Lewisham Lately contacted the London Labour Party for an explanation of the decision to cancel the event but did not receive a response.
“You might as well have spoken to people at the bus stop”
The London School of Economics held an event earlier this week exploring the shape of the city’s development.
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan attended the “Good Growth by Design” evening as a speaker, before a panel discussion and question and answer session.
Topics ranged widely, from issues such as diversity within architecture firms (limited), to London’s rising skyline, the stretched resources of council planning departments and the crucial topic of affordable housing.
There was also an interesting insight into the planning process in Lewisham and the expertise of council members.
More detail emerges on how Lewisham’s Evelyn ward representative Jamie Milne earns his allowance
Earlier this week, we reported on serial skiver Jamie Milne, a Labour councillor for Evelyn whose increasingly rare appearances are but the latest in the ward’s strange pattern of absenteeism and scandal.
That byelection itself was called following the resignation of another councillor, Joseph Folorunso, who hadn’t turned up to any meetings for almost six months.
He quit a week before he would have been forced out, stating he was going to run an orphanage in Togo.
His replacement didn’t fare much better. Olufunke Abidoye was deselected just a few months after her election when it was discovered she faced disciplinary proceedings by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
Then Jamie Milne stepped in. He had tried previously to serve on the council as a Labour candidate in the 2010 local elections when he was only just kept out of Lee Green ward by a Liberal Democrat incumbent (remember when there was an opposition in Lewisham?).
Once he gained the nomination for Evelyn, he was duly elected in the die-hard Labour ward, along with two other councillors from the same party.
The early signs were positive in 2014 and then into 2015 (when Milne received £13,499.27 for his councillor duties). Milne’s attendance record was strong. He sat on various committees, including one of the three planning groups, as well as scrutiny and public accounts. In short, he seemed to be balancing his responsibilities as a councillor with his official job as the head of the constituency office of Heidi Alexander, the MP for Lewisham East.
Had the Evelyn effect lifted?
In 2016 things changed, official attendance figures show. Of the 50 meetings from January to early November where Milne’s presence was expected, he showed up to just 29.
In fact if Mr Milne was due at a council meeting, the chances of actually seeing him there were only slightly higher than one in two (58 per cent to be precise).
And of the 21 meetings he didn’t go to, he sent his apologies to only nine.
It’s not quite the staggering seven per cent attendance rate of Mr Folorunso – but engaged local residents were perhaps hoping for a higher bar.
Lewisham Lately didn’t wish to highlight this if there were extenuating circumstances so we emailed Milne (no response) then contacted him at Heidi’s Alexander’s office to check.
There was no particular reason for his absences, he said – just “work and family commitments”. He confirmed he wouldn’t be standing for reelection in 2018.
Until then, Evelyn residents may feel more inclined to direct queries to the two other councillors, Joyce Jacca and David Michael. And what of Jamie Milne’s successor? Will the mysterious absentee blight of Evelyn strike again?
Archer has been highly critical of the Lewisham/ Renewal/ New Bermondsey deal, and is also campaigning for better allocation of funds for schools and primary school places (although his pronouncements so far have notably glossed over the chronic problems with some of our secondary schools).
Here is his bio:
Ross has been Chairman of Lewisham Deptford Conservatives since March 2016 having previously been Chairman of Lewisham West & Penge Conservatives between 2012 and 2013. Ross has twice stood for election in Lewisham contesting Sydenham ward in 2010 and Grove Park ward in 2014. Ross has lived in Lewisham most of his life and has been a school governor in the borough. He works for a not for profit organisation in London and has previously worked in the Housing and Transport sectors.
Firstly, parents with children are due to start their secondary education in September found out their school allocation. Many did not get what they wanted (42.2 per cent to be precise). Some were distraught.
Then last weekend, a new network for parents of the borough had its first meeting. Speakers included Heidi Alexander, MP, and Nicky Dixon, a member of the Campaign for State Education for South-East London. Nicky is a parent of a pupil at Sedgehill School, a local secondary rated “inadequate” by Ofsted and subsequently forced to become an academy – yet still waiting for a sponsor.
Nicky reports on the meeting as below:
There was lots of interest in creating a Working Group and working together to support each other, the schools and create a much needed parent education voice within Lewisham.
Parents have lost consultation rights by the Education & Adoption Act for schools rated Inadequate, Causing Concern or Coasting, and Lewisham does not consider parents as part of the Education equation (we are not involved in the Secondary Challenge, were not invited to share our views on Transition (transitioning between primary and secondary)).
This is the start of a new journey for Lewisham parents, and we need to spread the word to create a truly borough-wide parent network.
The park needs TLC. Lewisham Council propose to re-landscape using Heritage Lottery Fund grant. Completely OTT, all that is required is upgrading of what is there already and maintenance. The Mansion House, on the other hand, is a whole new ball game.