As someone who has been on Greenwich Council now for a long time now (13 years since you ask) the meeting of Full Council on Wednesday was an interesting experience. The agenda was thin with only two real items of business apart from the questions, motions and petitions which are a feature of every meeting. In itself this lack of content is a concern as the last Council meeting was in July, so such a limited range of decisions suggests that Council is almost irrelevant. Don’t get me wrong, this has been a problem for a while but when discussing it with Chris Roberts we agreed that a few more reports from Officers or outside agencies like the NHS or police where they were going to affect all wards might be useful and provide a more meaningful/informed discussion. Given the poor standard of debate on Wednesday I think a little more information would be a good thing, although I doubt this will change the views of the student debaters on Labour’s backbenches.
What is going on in the Labour Party?
Which brings me quite nicely to the main topic of debate on Wednesday night – a motion on the introduction of a Fairness Commission in Greenwich. At least the Fairness Commission was superficially what it was about, but the language of the motion and in the chamber betrayed the fact that this was really an opportunity to attack ‘vindictive Tory policies’ as the proposer of the motion said.
The Leader of the Conservative Group (Cllr Matt Hartley) reasonably suggested that while a Fairness Commission might be a good idea, reviews from Boroughs like Islington suggested that they really needed cross party support to be successful and the wording of the motion was unlikely to achieve that. His amendment removed the attacks on the Conservatives but retained the basic idea of the Commission. How did Labour respond to this? Sadly with yet more vitriol, including the suggestion that George Osborne was a character from the Omen and attacks on the selfishness of anyone who voted Conservative (although I think this Labour Councillor lives in a big house in Eltham Park). The only exception to this was Cllr David Gardener who I thought engaged with our amendment reasonably suggesting that the lack of budget was a problem for him – a reasonable point which I’m sure could have addressed had this been a genuine attempt to find common ground in the setting up of a Fairness Commission.
But what was most notable here was the silence of large parts of the Labour Party, most notably their Leader. Not a word did Cllr Hyland utter on this subject and although the Deputy Leader signed the motion, I didn’t hear him join in with the entirely political attacks. I think I saw some of them wince as Cllr Wynn Davies boasted about being a ‘Councillor for Corbyn’. As a Kremlinogist with many years standing, it was hard to say whether the Leadership approved of this motion or not and I got the feeling that more moderate, long-serving Councillors weren’t altogether comfortable with the tone either.
Of course the truth is that these vicious attacks on a moderate party like the Conservatives make it difficult to become more outraged if genuine extremists come along. I question how much Labour Councillors can up their level of rhetoric and outrage if they think this level of vitriol is appropriate over a Fairness Commission, which the Greenwich Conservative Leader says he agrees with but would like to clarify it’s remit. Given that they seemed to suggest at the end of the debate that we would all need to work together for this Commission to be effective, they set it up in a way which was aimed at stopping any Conservative from taking part – where is the sense in that I wonder?