If it’s the evening of the best football match of the season, then it must mean that I draw the short straw and cycle off for a Full Council Meeting at Lambeth Town Hall. An own goal, a possible red card and even the suggestion of a streaker – and that was just in the Council chamber.
You need the patience of a Saint to sit through all the twaddle and posturing that takes place within local government. The good @mayoroflambeth fortunately has this attribute. His charisma alone chaired the meeting. How else to make the voting of twenty-one motions at the close seem worth sitting through?
The main thrust midweek in Lambeth was a themed debate on the current state of Health Inequalities in Lambeth. A serious subject that requires serious debate and commentary. I think we just about got there.
Lambeth Primary Care Trust (it use to be called the NHS back in the day) was represented by its Chief Executive Kevin Barton and a selection of his colleagues. I bumped into one of the PCT representatives as I stalked a backroom corridor before the meeting.
“Do you know where the main chamber is?” I politely enquired.
“What on earth would you want to go in there for?,” came the reply.
Being quizzed by our democratically elected representatives from the
Left Right and the further Right was obviously not on the radar for the fine PCT representative. I had her down as a closet Villa fan.
I soon settled with the rest of the Little People, looking down on the great den of democracy. Actually there was around a dozen or so of us in the public gallery. It wasn’t exactly standing room only down in the chamber either, with a number of empty seats from our fine upstanding councillors.
Down to business, and actually a half-decent debate. The Green Party’s Councillor Thackray made an important point about the provision for HIV prevention and care in Lambeth. Yer man Mr Barton gave the chamber a cold reality check with talk of “smarter, more imaginative ways to meet the expected deficit.” I think he was talking about allowing the free market into the Rotten Borough.
“Resources will be squeezed” over the next decade, with even talk of a “financial tsunami.” Blimey. I bet some knobber mentions the ‘elephant in the room’ next, I pondered, as I flicked around my iPhone for the latest football score.
“Can we talk about the elephant in the room?” enquired a Labour member. She wasn’t referring to leisure, either.
Ah, leisure in the Rotten Borough. My leisure, other people’s pleasure. Labour’s @cllr_robbins made the connection between increased leisure provision and preventative health care. He didn’t mention that his administration has just shut all three swimming pools in the Rotten Borough.
The Love Me I’m a Liberal lot took issue with some of the figures contained within the health report. One in five people in Lambeth live in Sunny Stockwell, apparently. Sunny side of the street, ‘n all that.
“Stockwell is a beautiful place,” observed the good Labour Councillor @imogenwalker. It most certainly is, but now is not the time to be complacent.
There was also the observation by Labour’s @CllrMarkBennett that residents in his St Reatham South ward live longer than the average national age. Woh. Way to go St Reatham South.
This is genuinely encouraging and positive news. I just can’t help but think that the blue rinse brigade down in SW16 are getting a little bored of Countdown, what with no leisure centre or library in their patch to help pass away the afternoon.
Exit stage left of our friends from Lambeth PCT, enter stage right Punch ‘n Judy. The second half of the session was put aside for Q & A’s. This is where the local politicians like to rehearse their skills at being the big boys as they plot their political careers towards Westminster.
Ambition is a wonderful trait. It needs to be focussed however, and not played out at the detriment for local people living in one of the most deprived boroughs in the country.
My plague on both houses moment came when it came down to a bloody Tory to defend leisure in Lambeth. Has it really come to this? A right wing Labour administration that is being made to look foolish by the party of privatisation?
What followed was an astonishing speech from Labour councillor Rachel Heywood, the Cabinet Member for Culture and Communities. It was a red rag moment that Wayne Rooney would have been proud of – if he could find a leisure centre in Lambeth that is still open, that is.
Councillor Heywood stated that she was “not embarrassed” about the abject failure of Lambeth Labour’s leisure policy. It was a very different approach from the good Councillor, compared to the touchy, feely ‘concern’ that was shown when I spoke with her about leisure from a user’s perspective, some forty-eight hours earlier.
A murmur of “Keep Clap’ham Swimming” came from the opposition benches. I wasn’t quite sure of Council chamber protocol, but I missed the moment to throw down from the public gallery my goggles in disgust.
Hey hoe. All was not lost. I was inspired by Labour councillor @QueenFlo, who praised the work of Space Makers and #brixvill down in SW9 over the past few weeks. Fellow Labour Councillor @jkazantzis confirmed that Space Makers have been invited back to Lambeth, with talk of St Reatham and Norwood benefiting from use of empty commercial space. They should have a field day in St Reatham.
Sticking with St Reatham and Labour’s Lib Peck, Cabinet Member for Housing and Regeneration, was asked by the LibDems about the failed St Reatham Hub project. Two very precise and very worthwhile questions were raised:
(i) Can the Councillor give assurances that all existing leisure facilities in Streatham will have a home once [if?] the hub project is complete, and
(ii) Can the Councillor confirm that St Reatham Ice Rink will remain open until a new facility is built?
Councillor Lib Peck answered the questions by hiding behind the lame protection of “commercial confidentiality.” Looks like Tesco’s has got Labour Lambeth right by the balls. Assuming there are any left, that is.
And that was just about yer lot. All that remained was the voting on twenty-one motions. Not everyone sat through the entire debate, but the boys seemed to know which buttons to press anyway.
Long live democracy. Only in the Rotten Borough.