Sometimes you attend a full @lambeth_council meeting full of pessimism and weary of the bun fight that is about to break out. An evening of verbal blows in a stuffy council chamber can’t really compare to an evening in the boozer.
But then on the rare occasions when you hit @lambeth_council gold, your previous failed attempts to uncover the holy grail of local politics is instantly justified.
And so on Wednesday evening, I cycled off to the Town Hall, sieve in hand, having been tipped off “there’s gold in them there SW9 hills.”
My evening of discovery was enlightened within the first five minutes of arrival. With this being the final full meeting of the Labour led administration (or is it…?) there were various civic procedures to attend to.
Forget all the political posturing of the past four years; the chamber was united in celebrating the citizens of the borough that actually achieve true greatness within Lambeth.
@mayoroflambeth was rightfully beaming as he introduced the winners and runners up in the Lambeth Young Debating competition. It’s probably got a fancy title that gives the accolade the gravitas that it deserves. But I was never much of a debater, and so Lambeth Young Debating Competition will do.
This was an incredibly proud moment for teachers, parents and yes, even politicians. St Martin’s in the Fields walked away with the top prize, with hopefully an even bigger prize of participation and improving local democracy in years to come. But for now, £200 worth of gift vouchers for a well-known High Street store (*not* John Lewis) will do nicely.
The Generation Game skipped a gap or three, and next up was the Lambeth Civic Awards. There is no working definition to quantify an award, which recognises dedication to improving a sense of community within the borough.
The recipients are obvious to all, and it would be rude not to honour the lifetime of work spent trying to make Lambeth a better place for all to live.
Representation came from all corners of the borough, including a Kennington Residents group, a Streatham lady who has dedicated her life to improving education and a true champion of Lambeth inter-faith.
The chamber was unanimous in praise and applause. @mayoroflambeth did his civic handshaking duty. We’re going to miss his smile, charm and endless enthusiasm when he’s gone. It seemed rightful then that one of Mr Mayor’s final duties in the chamber was to formally recognise civic achievement.
With the guests honoured, the chamber cleared, and then the local authority equivalent of the coconut shire commenced.
There was an end-of-term feel to the final sitting of the current administration. Councillors will be departing, some by choice, some by the strength of the ballot box.
Party lines remained drawn, albeit it with a rather blunt pencil, and not the big red marker that usually characterises the political divide at full council meetings.
But first, there was the bore fest of questions to the Transport Panel. It was unclear in the public gallery who was actually answering the questions on the panel. The crib sheet provided was woefully inaccurate, and the name cards faced the good Councillors, and not the public.
Questions came from all sides of the chamber. Labour’s Councillor Heywood asked about the lack of air quality in her Coldharbour ward. A TfL flunky responded by saying that six “hot spots” for air pollution have been identified in London. Not one is in Lambeth.
Councillor Prentice, also sitting on the Labour benches, asked about introducing a bus route from Clap’ham into the City. The TfL PR smoothie ruled out the route, stating that the current upgrades to the Misery Line makes this a non-starter.
With weekend Northern Line closures announced today until March 2011, Councillor Prentice had a valid point. Many Lambeth residents find bus travel the only affordable option, but Mr Smoothie didn’t seem too fussed.
LibDem Councillor Heather picked up on the fares issues, asking why Oyster cardholders on busses have suffered a 20% price hike. Mr Smoothie effectively killed the debate, with a lengthy ramble that would put most bit part local politicians to shame.
There was genuine head scratching all around the chamber. This had been a wasted session, serving little purpose to both local politicians and residents. Cycling was mentioned as an afterthought, forty-five minutes into the debate.
The Transport Panel left the chamber, hopefully to be in for a long wait for the hit and miss 37 bus along Acre Lane.
Councillor Questions were up next.
I reached for the tin hat and covered my eyes. With the ballot box looming, there was the potential for knockout blows to be delivered before the Councillors head back to their wards and prepare for
government the glamour of a Saturday morning drop in session.
Councillor Heather asked a half-decent question about residents having to pay to host their own street parties. Sounds bonkers, and being election time, it most definitely is. Oh yes.
The good Councillor highlighted the harshness in asking the organisers of Urban Art to stump up a four-figure amount for the privilege of transforming Josephine Avenue into a living, vibrant art fair on the same weekend as the Country Show.
Labour’s Councillor Prentice is a skilled politician, if not a lover of Urban Art. She shamefully dodged giving an answer, stating that Urban Art was asked as a third supplemental question, when only one supplemental was allowed from Councillor Heather.
The art lovers in Councillor Prentice’s Ferndale ward would also do well to remember how council democracy works come May 6th.
Happier times ahead though down in Streatham. A decade of dithering, but the gift for @LabourLambeth ahead of the local elections is the confirmation that Tesco is committed to building Streatham Hub.
With the announcement made just ahead of full council, the Labour members had good reason to look smug. We still need the finer details of the decision, such as the crucial guarantee of continuity of ice provision.
Councillor Peck, the Cabinet Member for Housing and Regeneration, confirmed that a temporary rink would be in place ahead of the Hub opening in December 2012.
“We think this is workable for Streatham. Continuity is integral to the deal, and we will cater for all groups. This is a good day for Streatham.”
I am in agreement, but I think it will be a better day on 29th March when cabinet confirm the finer details of the Hub scheme.
Righto, moving on, deep breath…
There is little I can say here legally about this.
Likewise in the council chamber, which was uncomfortably tense as Labour leader @cllrstevereed asked his Libdem rival, Councillor Lumsden, about his party’s support for putting statutory ads in a newspaper that gains financial support from the exploitation of women.
There are many longstanding political battles wrapped up in this question, including statements that Councillor Lumsden is alleged to have made previously.
“An absolute lie,” was the response from the LibDem leader. Councillor Lumsden confirmed that complaints to the standard committee would be made against any Councillors that repeat the allegations during the coming election campaign.
That is all I can say on the matter.
It all went slightly tipsy from there owards. I somehow found myself polishing off half a bottle of bolly in Mr Mayor’s parlour, making polite conversation and gurning like a local politician.
If you had a bun, I deserved for it to be thrown at me.