Last week we held the first full council meeting since July – in theory, the council’s main decision-making body made up of all 51 councillors in Greenwich.
This particular meeting lasted four hours and saw the continuation of a concerning trend – with Labour councillors using their position of power to force through changes to the council’s constitution, limit opportunities for scrutiny and oppose greater engagement with residents.
In May’s local elections, the Labour Party tried and failed to win all 51 seats on Greenwich council, turning our borough into a one party state
– with no opposition councillors left to represent residents who disagree with what the council does.
Conservative councillors went to the electorate with a clear message – that Greenwich needs an opposition to scrutinise Labour’s decisions, hold them to account and bring about positive change for residents, too.
As a result, we actually won nine seats – one more seat than in the last local elections four years ago, bucking the trend across London.
This was a huge blow to Greenwich Labour, and as leader of the opposition it was my hope that they would act on the message that residents had sent – to open up council decision-making, engage more pro-actively with residents on local issues and show that things really were changing.
Instead, despite a lot of talk about doing things differently, the new Labour council leader, Danny Thorpe, is taking an approach that is worsening local democracy, not fixing it.
In one of his first acts in the job he forced through changes that limited our opportunity, as opposition councillors, to ask questions to hold him and his cabinet members to account.
Next followed a decision to vote down measures to strengthen scrutiny of the council’s decisions, open up more meetings to webstreaming and end the ‘closed shop’ that sees the supposedly non-partisan role of Mayor of Greenwich restricted to Labour Party members.
Last week, Cllr Thorpe continued this trend by ordering Labour councillors to vote against improving the way that the council engages with residents – and criticising his own Labour colleagues in Lewisham, whose approach we would like to see emulated in Greenwich.
Even worse, however, was the spectacle of the Labour leadership forcing through a deeply questionable mid-year increase to three Labour councillors’ allowances – despite both parties agreeing a freeze just a few months ago.
This will cost taxpayers an additional £15,000, with no consultation or justification.
These are the actions of an embattled leader of a divided Labour group shoring up his own position – and our local democracy, and the Greenwich taxpayer, is paying the price.
Many Labour councillors complain bitterly in private about the direction the council is going. Let’s hope they can do something about it.