Labour’s Newham Showcase – ‘Mugabe without the bullets’: Part 1

Want to know what happens when a local political party, obsessed by power and control, is unrestrained by normal democratic checks-and-balances?

Here’s a small but illustrative story from the Labour one-party state of Newham in London’s East End which, when I was first elected a councillor in 2002, had – apart from myself – no-one but Labour politicians representing it at all levels; Newham Council, the GLA, Westminster and Europe. No political opposition anywhere – a situation that must be unique in the UK. And for the Labour Party as a whole it’s a showcase borough providing a convenient photo-op location for ministers to visit and promote their latest government initiative.

Since 2001 the Labour executive mayor Sir Robin Wales has planned and personally driven through a massive housing regeneration project in my ward of Canning Town South. Residents are currently being moved out, council flats demolished and new posh private apartment blocks are rising out of the rubble. Parts of the neighbourhood are more moonscape than local community. And at the heart of this neighbourhood is the gem of an educational establishment, Oasis Nursery School (see my post of 13 March).

Last May the head of the regeneration project (a council officer) attended the school governors meeting and slapped a regeneration map on the table that indicated a new east-west road was to be built exactly where the school stands. How do I know? My wife, Sally was a governor and present at the meeting. She asked incredulously, “How exactly are we to explain this to the parents?” A thumping great road was replacing the school! The governors were then promised a placatory consultation “to minimise any impact”. It was surreal and bizarre. It was as relevant as consultation with a condemned man about his method of execution.

Mind you, there was already concern about falling pupil numbers. So many families were being moved out of the area due to the regeneration that Oasis was failing in its struggle to maintain the school roll.

The school’s landlord is a church and community centre, the River Christian Centre (RCC), with which the school shares a large site in the centre of the regeneration area. In due course it became apparent that RCC wanted to follow the council’s lead, get on the regeneration bandwagon and redevelop the whole of its site too.

So there are three possible reasons why the school should close (the east-west road, the falling pupil numbers and the landlord’s development plans), all of which flow from the Mayor’s original decision to regenerate the area.

Oasis is very popular amongst local parents, so guess which the Labour-dominated council is promoting as the reason for the closure? Yes, you’re right. It’s RCC that is causing the school to shut and, by implication, it’s RCC that should be blamed by the local people. “Not our fault. It was them. Er… so don’t vote against us at the next election.”

RCC’s reputation is now being trashed amongst local people by Labour councillors and it dare not defend itself. Why? RCC needs to get its own redevelopment plans through the council’s planning committee, and guess who dominates the planning committee – like every other committee, board, body, agency, authority and working group at the council and in the borough? Ah yes, Newham Labour Party.

So, we are told triumphantly by our Labour masters, it’s RCC that has Oasis blood on its hands. Labour of course is blameless.

Welcome to the Alice-in-Wonderland management-by-mirrors world of Newham.

But the story doesn’t end there…

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