Democracy, Hammersmith & Fulham style

In previous blogs, I’ve described Hammersmith & Fulham under the Tories as Pyongyang-on-Thames. I based this observation on the council’s now defunct propaganda rag, H&F News. Indeed, when I attended the open meeting in January in advance of the Council’s sell-off of community buildings, I became convinced that these Tories, who never tire of bleating about democracy when it comes to other countries, are an undemocratic bunch who are deeply affronted by the fact that they have to deal with an opposition.  In their ideal world, they would cast themselves as unopposed rulers and kill anyone who would dare to disagree with them.

The Cowan Report confirms my deepest suspicions,

Over the last year or so there has been a new approach at H&F Council’s Cabinet Meetings. The Opposition have been forbidden by Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh (Con) the Leader of the Council to ask questions and, at times, even speak.

The meetings can sometimes be over in just five minutes. Usually, Cllr. Greenhalgh shouts out a series of numbers relating to agenda items and his colleagues obediently respond with the words “Agreed!.” The real discussions have always taken place days before at a secret call-over meeting.
On the occasions that my Opposition colleagues and I have been able to garner some form of response it’s hardly been what one might expect from a government institution in the world’s oldest democracy. Consider the Cabinet Meetings on the 18th July 2011. Cllr. Greenhalgh refused to allow any of the Opposition to ask questions or even speak at the packed public meeting – I spoke anyway. Or take the one on 20th June 2011: My fellow Opposition Councillors wanted to ask about the tri-borough deal with K&C and Westminster councils. Cllr. Greenhalgh asked why we had “bothered to turn up”, forbade any questions or comments from my colleagues and said I could make a short statement. He then announced that if we wanted questions answered we should write to him or his officials (which we had done anyway). The meeting on 9th May 2011 was similar.
We did get to ask questions at the Cabinet Meeting on 18th April 2011. But when Cllr. Greg Smith (Con), H&F’s Cabinet Member for Residents’ Services, was asked about proposals to sell off homes on a Fulham estate because of his Administration’s self-confessed “failure to cut crime,” he responded with the words “You tw*t!” and followed that up with a tirade of other similar foul-mouthed abuse. The public have been met with similar condescension even when they turn up in their hundreds as they did over the sell off our local ‘Big Society’ voluntary clubs or the demolition of Shepherds Bush market.
So I was a touch surprised to return from summer holiday early Tuesday evening to be told that H&F Conservatives were crowing that Labour hadn’t turned up to last Monday’s Cabinet Meeting. Cllr. Harry Phibbs (Con) detailed the council allowances of each Labour councillor (odd given his dubious record on council pay) and told his readers that this meant that the Opposition had therefore failed to “hold [his] administration to account” or “to provide some [necessary] rigour in the decision making process.”
The Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle was even suckered into running Cllr. Phibbs’ spin on page two of their current edition. This being an apparent break in the Chronicle’s boycott, of sorts. Back on the 14th June 2011 one of their employees had told me they’d decided not to report anything about the activities of Labour Opposition Councillors – a strange decision for a self-proclaimed “proper paper.”
You can read the rest here.

On Residents First (I think we know which residents come first), Foghorn Phibbs says,

The local Labour Party blog HFConwatch urged local residents to “come and object” at last night’s Cabinet Meeting. None did so. Not even any of the 15 Labour councillors who are paid a total of £164,310 in allowances each year at the expense of the Council Taxpayer. Opposition leader Cllr Cowan paid £26,814. Absent. Deputy leader Cllr Cartwright paid £15,123? Absent. Cllr Aherne, Labour Group Chief Whip, paid £15,123? Absent. The other Labour councillors Brown, Campbell, Chumnery, Coleman, Harcourt, Homan, Jones, Murphy, Needham, Powell, Umeh, Vaughan? Each of them paid £8,940 a year of your money. No show.

Ah, the classic smear job. Let’s read on,

Of course the opposition aren’t expected to run anything. But their job is to hold the administration to account. To provide some rigour in the decision making process by challenging what is proposed. To offer serious, constructive alternatives. But instead of making the effort to be a credible opposition they don’t turn up – even when they themselves have called a protest.

Nor did there seem to be evidence of much thought having gone into the objections they would have raised had they turned up. They oppose the disposal of the empty Edith Summerskill House on the Clem Attlee Estate and claim it would mean a loss of affordable housing. Yet the decision approved was: “That 100% of the capital receipt ( after the deduction of appropriate costs) is used for future affordable housing and regeneration purposes.”

There are some untruths  here.  The biggest one is Edith Summerskill House. The council misled the tenants and decanted them, telling them that the block was going to be refurbished. Instead, the council sold it to a private developer. Phibbs is “Cabinet Member for Community Engagement”. That’s an awfully grand title for a glorified propagandist. Furthermore, how many communities has Cllr Phibbs engaged with? You know, real communities with real people. I doubt he’s met many people outside his own community of rentier capitalists, free-marketeers and assorted parasites… and it shows. Remember this is the man who coined the phrase “vertical slums” as a blanket term to describe council tower blocks.

Anything that Foghorn writes should always be taken with a pinch of salt. Especially as he doesn’t understand what the Latin phrase “sotto voce” means. Which is odd for someone who probably went to a public school.

UPDATE: 15/10/12 @ 1842

Phibbsy isn’t a former public schoolboy.

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Filed under Hammersmith & Fulham, London

One response to “Democracy, Hammersmith & Fulham style

  1. Pingback: Nightmare on King Street (Part 1) | Guy Debord's Cat

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