Residents in Shooters Hill have been rather unlucky in their Councillors in recent years. In 2004 a by-election was caused when one of the incumbants was disqualified from office after failing to turn up to any meetings for six months. I remember this by-election well, as I was the Conservative candidate.
Despite a heroic effort by us, the Labour candidate - one Danny Thorpe - won the election. I had to wait until the following year before I won my own by-election in Eltham North and joined the Council. In one of my first meetings I remember Cllr Thorpe taunting me for "pretending to care about people in Shooters Hill last year before running off to Eltham North".
I was therefore intrigued when we learnt last year that he had himself "run off" - to Australia, leaving his electors far behind. It seemed history was about to repeat itself as the six month deadline loomed, and Cllr Thorpe looked set to go the way of his predecessor. At the last minute, however, a special Council meeting was called in September, for no apparently urgent reason except that it allowed the absentee to return briefly from his travels, sign the register, and keep his seat.
Cynical? You bet. A democratic outrage? Certainly. But the plot thickens. It was made clear at the time that he is not claiming his allowance during his absence, so his clinging to office is not benefitting him financially at the moment (of course, should he deign to return to these shores he could always start claiming again, so it's not that noble a sacrifice). And the subtext of all we were hearing was that this whole sorry saga was not Cllr. Thorpe's wish. He had wanted to do the decent thing and resign his seat, but had been begged to stay by his Party's leadership, who clearly fear losing a by-election in Shooters Hill.
Now we have confirmation. I have now seen the text of a letter in which Cllr. Chris Roberts, Labour Leader of the Council, admits that he asked Danny Thorpe not to resign, and takes responsibility for the fact that the errant Councillor caved in to his wishes.
I haven't blogged much about this (one recent comment criticized me for not doing so), mainly because it has been well covered in the local press. But this really is outrageous - Labour in Greenwich are so scared of losing one seat in a by-election that they are prepared to put pressure on a Councillor to stay in office against his own wishes, despite the fact he is on the other side of the world, leaving the people of Shooters Hill without a third of their political representation for nearly a year. They then have no problem with contriving a spurious Council Meeting to get round the very rules designed to prevent such neglect of public duty. Rotten Boroughs don't come much more rotten than this.