Saturday, June 23, 2007

Inside Labour's big tent? Not us.

As Gordon Brown recovers from his clumsy failed attempt to get the Lib Dems and others to join his new government, his colleagues in the Labour leadership of Greenwich have been making a more literal but equally cynical attempt at "big tent politics".

Having opposed the Council's decision to spend £95,000 of taxpayers' money on a corporate box at the O2, I was more than a little surprised on Wednesday, when at the community preview event first a senior council officer, then the Leader Chris Roberts himself sidled up and mentioned an invitation I should have received to an event in the controversial box on the opening night on Sunday. I joked that I hoped it wasn't an attempt to buy our silence on the issue.

I duly received an email inviting me and a guest to a reception hosted by the Mayor in the Council's box prior to the Bon Jovi performance, to mark the venue's official first night. My initial instinct was to turn it down flat, but having been told the box would host 'community groups' for such events, I decided to take a slightly different approach and go along to see at first hand who these groups were. In my email I replied that I would attend, adding "However in view of my own and my Group's public opposition to the decision to hire the suite, I will also be making a donation to a local charity for an appropriate amount." The council officer who responded called this a 'lovely idea' and even suggested a suitable charity.

This morning, the Daily Mail ran a story on the decision to hire the suite, in which our Conservative Leader, Spencer Drury, repeated our opposition to the decision. This sparked a heated debate on Vanessa Feltz's phone-in show on BBC London radio, in which many people expressed their disgust at the expenditure. During the course of the programme, Labour leader Chris Roberts gave a very unconvincing performance attempting to justify the decision, and claimed it was hypocritical of Cllr. Drury to criticise it as "his culture spokesman will be there tomorrow and I won't".

I try to avoid getting drawn into attacks on the character of a political opponent, but I am provoked in this case to call Cllr. Roberts thoroughly dishonourable in his behaviour. Having been caught out making a politically disasterous and indefensible decision, he has sought, like a drowning man, to pull others down with him. To call it a cheap stunt does not do it justice. He knows, as I do, that the invitation list of those due to attend includes not only Cllr John Fahy, the Cabinet Member for Culture, but also "Cllr Roberts and Cllr Peter Brookes as guest". I won't (yet) name the other guests, but some might be tempted to call them Council cronies. None of them, as far as I am aware, made the offer I did to pay the cost of their hospitality to a local charity.

I will still pay that donation, and I challenge all the other guests tomorrow night to do the same, but I won't be joining in Labour's big tent, and they are welcome to party away to Jon Bon Jovi without me. Next time I attend the 02 arena will be for the Scissor Sisters' concert, for which I have bought my own tickets. I am sure the venue will be a huge success and a great resource for our Borough, and I would recommend it to anyone. But beware ticket touts - particularly those from Greenwich Council.

1 comment: said...

Oh dear oh dear oh dear.