Newham has 54 Labour councillors and no Conservative ones. When it comes to drumming up canvassers for a byelection this presumably gave Labour something of an advantage. But in April in the Royal Docks Ward byelection the Conservative candidate lost by just 15 votes. I will be interested to see what happens in May when Labour have to spread themselves out rather more. It is not quite a one Party state – there are a couple of Christian Peoples Alliance councillors, one from Respect and a couple of independents. But this is certainly an arrogant Labour administration reflecting 42 years of control in the borough.
They are especially arrogant in regard to the amount they and the directly elected Labour Mayor Sir Robin Wales spend on allowances and expenses for themselves. The list even includes a Special Responsibility Allowance, to Cllr Singh of £14,345, for the "Trade Unions and Community Facilities" portfolio. There there is the money spent on £115.5 million plush new office space and the Town Hall's extravagant electricity bill. Sir Robin thinks bringing "2,000 key office staff" under one roof would be efficient. Wouldn't it be rather more efficient to manage with fewer staff requiring less space? Their propaganda magazine costs nearly £800,000 a year. Meanwhile money for faith based voluntary groups is cut.
Sir Robin has made some sensible comments about social housing and dependency. But while he talks about Value for Money this is not something he has any genuine grasp off. Yet for a poor borough like Newham getting the Council Tax down (which they collect in the customary caring Socialist manner) is even more important for residents. If Sir Robin is serious about keeping costs down why does he employ a £34,000 Young Mayor Co-ordinator?
WE have had some success in the borough in the past. There was a Conservative MP for Newham North East for about a year (when Reg Prentice defected in 1978.) There were also six Conservatives elected to Newham Council in 1968 when the Party had such tremendous results across London. But the efforts the Conservatives are making in the borough now represent the biggest challenge to Labour's monopoly on power for many years.
The excellent London Borough of Newhamgrad blog gives full details of what is happening. Most it chronicles that failings and duplicities of the Labour Council. But it also has several items on the Conservative fight back. Their fund raising events have raised £5,000 in three months. I'm pleased that prominent Party figures have visited, or will be soon, to help with this. The Party Chairman Eric Pickles came to their annual dinner (at the Yi-Ban Chinese restaurant. Did they not realise he prefers curry?) Michael Howard and Ann Widdecombe are other star names (on different nights.)
There have been defections to the Conservatives. Former Lib Dem council candidates in Plaistow. A former Labour councillor Mike Law, who has his own lively blog. A former Labour activist in Beckton is another recruit.
I'm sure we will have more news from Newham before May.