There is a publicity horror that pollutes community life in Newham. So watch and learn Kim Jong-Il, ‘Dear Leader’ and dictator of North Korea, you are about to receive a master-class in personality-cult politics courtesy of the Labour Mayor of London Borough of Newham – who of course is not to be confused with the Tory Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.
Supported and promoted by a bloated council PR department with its annual budget – last time I looked – of over £1m of taxpayers’ money, public life in Newham is dominated by one man, Newham’s elected executive Mayor, who preens, pouts and promotes himself at every photo opportunity. He never graces a function or event without the council cameraman in tow. On bus stops and billboards, in council offices and doctors’ surgeries, at train stations and community centres – the Mayor advances himself and his message at every opportunity.
Newham Council is currently installing a running track in a small park in my ward. So who takes the credit for the project? The residents who requested it? The taxpayers who fund it? The council officers who design and manage it? The contractors who undertake the work? No, a large notice by the park gate tells us that it’s “Brought to you by the Mayor of Newham” and that investing in Newham’s parks is the fulfilment of the Mayor’s (election) promise number 15.
Of course the notice itself (estimated all-in cost: £500) is also paid for by Joe Public.
Every fortnight the Council (aka ‘the Mayor’) distributes a free glossy ‘Newham Mag’ into every home in the borough – and guess who always features prominently in it? A cynical wager has developed amongst those who bother to open it; they bet on how many photos of himself the Mayor will publish in each edition. It’s never less than a narcissistic six.
So it was a breath of fresh air when recently I attended a meeting at neighbouring Redbridge Council. Newham Mayor’s publicity machine cannot bulldoze alternative viewpoints in Redbridge as it does here; Redbridge residents and councillors of all parties including Labour are up in arms about Newham’s decision to allow a 50% increase in flights at London City Airport, which has a direct impact on Redbridge people living under the flight path. I also joined a related demo in Redbridge organised by Fight The Flights campaign (here) .
There has been a similar response in Waltham Forest too. So I wrote the following letter to the main newspaper in our borough, the Newham Recorder:
The Mayor must be very frustrated.
Each year he spends a fortune of Newham taxpayers’ money on public relations promoting himself and his administration. In glossy magazines and newspaper adverts; on billboards and bus stops; at borough events and in the borough parks – all over Newham there are photos of the Mayor and messages telling us how much wonderful work he is doing in the borough.
But his story doesn’t seem to have seeped over Newham’s boundaries into neighbouring boroughs. I recently went to a Redbridge Council meeting at Ilford where councillors of all parties, including Labour, were unanimous in strongly condemning Newham for lack of consultation over the approved increase of flights at London City Airport. Redbridge residents live under the flight path too, yet like Newham residents they have been sidelined and stitched up. One Redbridge councillor said that the lack of dialogue from Newham “was politically insensitive and morally reprehensible”.
The previous month, Waltham Forest councillors from all parties including Labour unanimously agreed to make strong representation to Newham’s Mayor over the airport expansion. They are also considering legal action about the flight changes over their borough about which they were not consulted. Waltham Forest residents too have been sidelined and stitched up by Newham Council.
Clearly the Mayor’s public relations campaign hasn’t reached into these other boroughs. They can see his administration for what it really is.
Perhaps he ought to spend another fortune preening and promoting himself there. But this time, not at our expense.
So far the Newham Recorder has declined to publish my letter.
I wonder why?