On living in a one party state (Bob's UK Local Elections 2006 Special Report 3)
If you haven't voted yet today, read this!
The trouble with living in somewhere like Labour Lewisham - or Labour Greenwich, or Conservative Wandsworth - is that the ruling party is so embedded in power that the politics is very unhealthy. The solidity - up to now - of Labour voting in most of Lewisham is so strong that the leading group don't need to bother. Among councillors, this breeds ineffectiveness, cronyism, careerism, yes-men, lazyness and vanity. (For local examples of all of these features, cf Crada Onuegbu and Sam Owolabi-Oluyole, both Evelyn ward.) For the executive, it breeds arrogance and contempt for the citizenry. (Locally, cf the Ladywell pool, school closure and Convoys issues.)
In Southwark, by contrast, the council is contested, between the Liberal Democrats and Labour. As a working class person and lifelong Labour supporter, I don't like the growth of the Lib Dems - especially in light of the way they have, I believe, manipulated racism (and homophobia) in Downham, in Rotherhithe and Bermondsey and in Tower Hamlets. But Southwark, I think, has healthier politics than Lewisham or Greenwich because of the contest between parties. There have been openings for progressive politics and for the voluntary and community sector, for example.
The move of the Lib Dems up from the white suburbs of Southern Lewisham into more middle class central Lewisham, following the pattern set in the inner North London boroughs but locally fuelled by the Bullock regime's idiocy over the pool/school issue, is likely to be boosted with these elections. That is bad in some ways, but might make for healthier politics in the long run.
My advice is to vote for your Labour candidate if and only if you believe them to be independent-minded, have integrity, and care about their local constituents' local interests. (Examples in Lewisham include Heidi Alexander (Evelyn, Lewisham's most attractive female councillor), Andrew Brown (Blackheath, probably Lewisham's most attractive male councillor) and Rosie Fooks (Brockley candidate).
Otherwise, give the ruling party a challenge by voting for one of the left, Green or independent candidates. (Locally, the Greens are a viable option in Brockley and perhaps Ladywell. The Socialists are obviously a viable option in Telgraph Hill.)
Where you can't afford the luxury of doing this is where the fascist BNP or the fellow travelling Respect are strong. In Tower Hamlets, for example, Respect have carved up the wards between Bengali areas (Islamic Forum Europe candidates) and white working class areas (SWP candidates) and have been fighting hard - and dirty. Here, as in places like Barking where the BNP represent a serious challenge, a Labour vote is imperative.
[Nb: hyperlinks are Bob's. Opinions may or may not be.]
Keywords: local elections, council elections, local council, councillors, 4 May 2006, New Labour, Blair, fascists