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 Permission to use the Civic Suite venue was also withdrawn, reportedly as no-one from the Labour Party would be present, and the event had to be cancelled.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.