Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/518/3695
Tales from the council chamber
Labour councillors anger parents and tenants
"CALLING THE Socialist Party motions 'far-left extremism' shows that New Labour can't answer what you're saying." That was the response of one of the 50 or so parents and council tenants who watched Lewisham council's most recent meeting on 23 January.
This was the council's first meeting since tenants in the New Cross Gate area of Lewisham voted to reject the ruling councillors' homes privatisation plans (see The Socialist 515).
Ian Page and Chris Flood, the Socialist Party councillors for Telegraph Hill ward in New Cross Gate, had put two resolutions on the council's agenda.
The first motion called for a ballot of local primary school parents on New Labour's plan to hand over Monson primary school in New Cross to Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College secondary Academy.
Aske's has a separate admissions policy that is used to unfairly select 'higher band' pupils who live a long way from the school gates.
While Monson would become a primary 'feeder school' for Aske's, pupils from other local primaries would have even less chance of getting into what should be their local secondary school.
The plan will divide local parents and schools and bring 'selection disputes' into primary admissions.
Chris and Ian's motion didn't actually ask the other councillors to oppose the plan - it just called for a ballot of parents in the eleven Lewisham primary schools that are as near to Aske's as Monson is.
After all, the establishment parties all speak of 'parents' choice' - now was their chance!
New Labour councillor Robert Massey, however, denounced the ballot idea as 'typical far-left extremism' and the Liberal Democrat group sided with him.
One Green councillor pointed out that two 'public consultations' had opposed the Aske's Monson takeover plan but then abstained with the rest of the Greens! Just one Lib Dem 'rebel' voted with Chris and Ian.
The Socialist Party's second motion called for a 100-day repairs 'catch-up' programme for New Cross Gate homes, now that tenants had voted to stay with the council.
With the council expecting the transfer of homes to Hyde Housing Association to go ahead, a backlog of repairs had built up over the last 18 months. A 'catch-up' programme would have been only the first step to decent homes but it would have made a real difference for tenants.
This should have been harder for New Labour to defeat as all the opposition parties - with a combined majority of one in a 'hung council' - had indicated before the meeting that they would support the plan.
The Tories even submitted a 'sympathetic amendment', complaining about repairs problems in other areas of Lewisham.
But two opposition councillors were absent ill - so New Labour seized their chance and used their temporary majority to inflict another attack on council tenants.
In The Socialist 30 January 2008:
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Debt and Housing Feature
Marxist analysis: history
Socialist Party workplace news