Annie Keys

With a second councillor standing down over the bullying culture in Greenwich Council’s Labour group, the battle to be the party’s parliamentary candidate for Greenwich & Woolwich is, in truth, a bit of a sideshow.

But for those involved, the chance to succeed Nick Raynsford in what should be a safe seat for years to come means everything. Favours are being called, supporters marshalled, deals are being done and deals are being denied. If you could power the national grid with gripes, snipes and complaints, the Greenwich & Woolwich battle alone would make sure there’d be no blackouts this winter.

24 people threw their hats into the ring – mostly flotsam, jetsam, chancers and no-hopers. After pressing the flesh of ward parties and other groups, they’ve now been whittled down into a longlist consisting of most of those who were decent contenders in the first place.

  • Angela Cornforth, Plumstead councillor and current Greenwich Council mayor.
  • Len Duvall, Greenwich and Lewisham London Assembly member and former Greenwich Council leader.
  • Annie Keys, former Blackheath Westcombe councillor and community activist.
  • Matt Pennycook, Greenwich West councillor and analyst for the Resolution Foundation think-tank.
  • Kathy Peach, head of campaigns at charity Scope.
  • David Prescott, PR agency boss, former journalist and son of ex-deputy prime minister John.

This does mean the loss of Kevin Bonavia, the well-liked Lewisham councillor and solicitor who decided to throw his hat in the ring across the border. The Blackheath ward representative will live to fight another day. The other vanquished hopefuls, possibly not.

As party bigwigs drew up that longlist, a curious few paragraphs appeared in the Independent on Saturday, penned by veteran political correspondent Andy McSmith.

An email has gone to members of the Greenwich Labour Party, in south London, telling them that Polly Toynbee, queen of The Guardian commentariat, is heading their way to advise them to select Matt Pennycook, a promising young intellectual from the much respected Resolution Foundation, as their next Labour MP.

Polly Toynbee’s been involved in SE London politics before – campaigning against Labour in Lewisham East in 1983, when she stood for the SDP and came third. I’m told she also campaigned for Rosie Barnes in the 1987 Greenwich by-election.

And whoever is selected will be an MP because Greenwich is safely Labour. There are other contestants, including David Prescott, son of, and Kathy Peach, from Scope, but the word is that this is a two horse race.

A two-horse race? Really? One horse is Matt, says Andy, but the other is “the local candidate”, who is “exceptional”.

Len Duvall, who hails from a Woolwich council estate, entered politics via the 1970s Anti Nazi League, having had to cope with racist taunts because he is part Indian. He took a very hard line on the 2011 rioters, and paid the price when someone told the police that his son was out looting. This was untrue, but generated a lot of damaging publicity. In his long local government career, he has been hard on sleaze, which has left him with enduring enemies. If it were my choice, I would forego Ms Toynbee’s kind advice and back the guy with battle scars.

Both Matt and Len would make fine representatives. But take a look at the battle so far, and this certainly isn’t a two-horse race. Because if you look at who won the most ward nominations, it’s actually Annie Keys, as every bit as local as Len is, in front, after getting the backing of six out of the area’s seven ward parties. But Andy completely ignored her.

Matt’s on four, while Len ties with Kathy on three, with Angela on one – Glyndon, council leader Chris Roberts’ ward. Annie’s also the only candidate to win backing at the opposing Greenwich and Woolwich ends of the constituency – Andy McSmith neglected even to mention the latter place in its name.

In case you’re interested, here’s the breakdown.

  • Blackheath Westcombe: Annie Keys, Matt Pennycook, Kathy Peach
  • Charlton: Annie Keys, Matt Pennycook
  • Glyndon: Angela Cornforth, Len Duvall
  • Greenwich West: Annie Keys, Matt Pennycook, Kathy Peach
  • Peninsula: Annie Keys, Matt Pennycook, Kathy Peach
  • Woolwich Common: Annie Keys, Len Duvall
  • Woolwich Riverside: Annie Keys, Len Duvall

So why did Andy McSmith ignore Annie Keys’ chances? Matt Pennycook’s certainly the frontrunner, but Len Duvall’s no underdog. Both have heavy union backing – particularly Matt.

But while Matt is weaker in Woolwich and Len is weaker in Greenwich, there’s every chance Annie can come through the middle. Last week she challenged the council to withdraw its unpopular “pavement tax” on small businesses – something none of the other candidates have done yet. In case you’re wondering how David Prescott’s on the longlist, he’s also been nominated by unions, so he gets a place. A shortlist will be drawn up in a couple of weeks, with the final hustings and vote taking place on 30 November.

I should point out I’ve known Annie since we were at school together, and I’m a trustee of the Mulberry True Children’s Trust, which she set up to manage the Big Red Bus Club play centre in Charlton. In fact, I’ve just found an invite to a party she threw 20 years ago. Maybe I’ll publish it in the next few weeks…

But what I would like to publish are your questions to the candidates. Once the shortlist’s drawn up, I’d like to pose some questions to them. So if there’s anything you’d like to know, leave it in the comments box below.

Of course, the battle for Greenwich & Woolwich comes at an awkward time for the Labour Party, as the Labour council remains mired in bullying accusations – a real story which Andy McSmith somehow managed to miss.

This Wednesday’s council meeting will see two motions put forward by Conservative councillors in an attempt to go for the jugular on the issue – although whether they’ll actually be heard is another matter, with competing anti-Tory motions being pushed onto the agenda by leader Chris Roberts without consulting his Labour colleagues. It remains to be seen how the mayor – one Angela Cornforth – will treat them.

Hayley Fletcher

Now a second councillor, Kidbrooke with Hornfair’s Hayley Fletcher, has decided to step down, as the News Shopper’s Mark Chandler reported on Friday. Her decision to go follows that of Alex Grant earlier this year.

Regular readers will be familiar with Hayley’s contributions to this website’s comments, and the loss of a promising councillor in her 20s will be a deep blow to a council already desperately short of younger members.

Her resignation email, as seen by this website, refers to her beginning a new job and a masters’ degree. Then there’s the sad conclusion:

As you’re all too acutely aware, Labour group is a toxic and unhealthy environment to be in. The bullying culture is rife and I see little prospect of that changing anytime soon.

I simply cannot sustain my own wellbeing in this environment and, for my own mental health if nothing else, have decided that walking away from it is the healthiest thing for me right now.

To lose one councillor to bullying accusations should be a wake-up call. Losing two should, in any normal organisation, demand a full investigation.

But the local Labour party remains in denial. This website understands that it’s more likely that Greenwich’s Labour group will pursue and punish any whistleblowers, particularly in regard to the leaked “thick skull” voicemail in which Chris Roberts threatened cabinet member John Fahy, rather than take action against the party hierarchy, or the clear conflict of interest over the Run to the Beat half-marathon which the Dear Leader’s voicemail reveals.

35 replies on “Why did the Independent’s Andy ignore Labour’s Annie?”

  1. I’d like to know why Annie Keys appeared to have backed down somewhat from her original position re the RTTB route. Having started a good campaign to get the route changed, she appeared to cave in and agree to the only slightly modified route – which still caused massive inconvenience for residents.

  2. Annie Keys is the Woolwich & Greenwich answer to Lewisham’s Heidi Alexandra, Time For Big Change. If it’s not Annie Keys my vote will GO elsewhere.

  3. I’m surprised you’re taking the Indie’s piece seriously in terms of it’s omission of Annie. But it’s a good peg to get stuck into the state of affairs of the selection of who will probably be our new MP though, so thanks.
    What is the thrust of the e-mail to GLP members? Is the e-mail in the form of a warning — “Head for hills, the insufferable Toynbee is coming!” Or is it a diktat that they must listen and obey her? Or is it purely advisory in nature?

    Anyone GLP member care to let us know?

  4. Polly Toynbee was advising Guardian readers to vote LibDem at the last general election, so anything she says should be ignored completely.

    I’m not sure Heidi Alexander counts as big change, but she’s an excellent local MP for sure.

    “a toxic and unhealthy environment” is a damning indictment on Greenwich labour and something that needs to be tackled urgently I’d say, for what my “over the fence” view is worth.

  5. Thank’s Darryl for a comprehensive intro to the party politic’s of wannabee Labour leader’s/local MP’s. We need more of this type of analysis if locals are to get more of an understanding/involvement in local issues and be able to make an ‘informed’ judgement come decision time. Keep ’em coming (which i have no doubt you will!)

  6. Great piece on the story so far! A question for Kathy Peach – if she is voted in as Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Greenwich & Woolwich, is she prepared to move south of the river?

  7. Ask them where they stand on integrity and if they’ve got the energy and courage to follow it through in what could be a difficult period of change. Heidi Alexander deserves better than faint praise. We’re really lucky to have her in Lewisham.

  8. Heidi is great, but she’s not some kind of god, or indeed “big change”. And Lewisham council aren’t saints either. Just being better than RBG is hardly a great achievement.

  9. Darryl, glad you’re now on the committee of the Charlton Society, I’m sure you will make a difference. I remain though, deeply sceptical of the local Labour Party to investigate itself over what is widely acknowledged, to be a long standing personal fiefdom on Greenwich Council. Having always supported Labour in the past, until this is resolved, my vote will be going elsewhere.

  10. Polly Toynbee?! She used to rant on about how Blair must give way to Gordon Brown, who’d be the best PM this country had ever had etc etc. Does anyone still listen to her?!
    What’s her connection with SE London as that’s not clear?
    I hate not voting, as others fought so hard for my right to vote, and I’m a long standing (albeit disgruntled) Labour voter, but this sorry lot make abstention feel like a duty.

  11. Kate, I urge you to do what my dad used to do (WW2 vet, medals et al) when he didn’t like any of the candidates.

    Exercise your democratic right to spoil your vote. You have got off your bum and made a point and will be included in the final count.

    If I talk politics with someone I like to know if they have at least bothered to go to the polling station. They have no moral right to talk/argue politics if they can’t at least turn up at a booth just a few times in their lifetime.

    So toddle along and scribble something like ‘none of the above, they are all w@nkers’ and you have voted.

  12. Chris, that’s what I may well do. I did read about someone being refused permission to change his name by Deed Poll to “none of the above” – for electoral purposes!

  13. @ Chris

    I think it’s better to leave the ballot blank rather than write on it. From

    “Some people like to write ‘None of them’ or a comment on the ballot paper. However, in the 2008 London elections these marked papers were classified as ‘rejected votes’, not blank votes, because it could be argued that the vote was unclear or that the handwriting could make the voter identifiable. So to vote blank, the ballot paper needs to be left completely BLANK.”

  14. I find it interesting when people say to me (as they do all the time) “You are all the same – what’s the point of voting”. I can see why people say that theoretically, but both at national and local level I have found people in politics to be very different indeed. My main experience is within the Lib Dems but it strikes me that there are very different people both across party divides and within parties. This list, for example, gives Labour members a real choice of different types of candidates.

    As a fellow ex SDP member I am glad to see Polly Toynbee return to the scene of one of our greatest triumphs and her view is certainly of interest. It all brings back memories – I do not blame the local SDP for going it alone and eventually re-joining Labour (largely) in the 90’s, but the implications of the decision not to join the Lib Dems still resonate in our local politics many years down the line. It secured the future of the one party state that is Greenwich.

  15. Haven’t had time to write further, but after an email from a reader, I’ve been in touch with Polly Toynbee.

    She’s appearing at a Q&A session Matt’s holding for local Labour members – which is what the email Andy McSmith refers to is about – but she’s made clear she isn’t endorsing anyone.

  16. Just out of curiosity – why did some wards choose two candidates while other chose three? Anyone?

  17. Franklin, each ward could select a man, a women and if they wish a candidate who is from a black or ethnic minority background. I was at the peninsula meeting and we selected Kathy Peach as a the female candidate (who is top class I think) Matthew P as the male choice and Annie Keys on the final vote.

  18. Franklin – Labour Party rules are that each ward has to nominate one male and one female candidate. If neither of those is a BAME candidate, the branch has the option to nominate a third, from the BAME list if it wishes, hence the variable numbers.

  19. I was always sceptical that the next lot of local elections would usher in a brave new world at Greenwich Council. For my pains I have been called pessimisitc and defeatist at times. But with the likes of the excellent Alex Grant and Hayley Fletcher (how we grieve to see her go) standing down and Mary Mills de-selected I see straws in the wind that there will be little change for the better. If the sitting tenants had been that good in the first place then the current situation would never have arisen. I hope against hope that I an wrong and that there will be new brooms and all that, but I wouldn’t bet the rent money on it. And yes I will be voting even if I have to spoil the ballot paper.

  20. Joe. Last nights council meeting will, I am sure, have re-assured you. The great leader assured the chamber and the packed public gallery that there will be a whole raft of new young Labour councillors post next May. He said that the development of younger members and their elevation to elected posts was critically important….

    One of his adoring Labour group then assured the masses that there was unlikely to be any places for talents from other parties (thank God) as that doesn’t happen in Greenwich, and just in case there was an electoral anomaly and a non-Labour candidate got elected, to Greenwich Council next May, committee chair positions would be banned from anyone but Labour members. The safety of existing Labour backbench members was ensured by their almost total silence throughout, apart from the regular arm twitching at voting times. Mary Mills did herself no favours by submitting a petition against the Pavement Tax on behalf of traders in E Greenwich and then, (horror) speaking about it..then again she has been airbrushed out of the future so that’s ok.

    Seriously though, I know people in Greenwich seem to loathe other parties even more than the Labour party but what about giving someone else a chance just once? Independent, Lib Dem, Tory? However good you are – and of course a lot of talent in Greenwich goes to the Labour party because that is where you will win – the Labour Party locally seem to control councillors with an iron rod.

    The BBC were refused permission to film last nights Greenwich Council proceedings. I understand it was for a political programme. Actually they should have stuck it out late on BBC2 in the “weird reality show” slot.

  21. If last night’s meeting was supposed to be fiery, it’s impossible to imagine a quiet one. And a Toynbee/Pennycook double act after the latter’s non-performance in the council chamber must be someone’s idea of a spoof.

  22. I do worry that Labour members are sleeping walking into Matt Pennycook being the candidate, and unless the Labour vote collapses, he’s got a job for life.

    His performance last night shows the type of MP he’ll be, very subservient to the leadership to make sure he keeps his job or to carry favour, will be more interested in think tank wonkery then representing the people in the area and will be a MP for a small minority of Guardian readers off Royal Hill. When since being elected to the council has he ever stood up against the leadership? or done something more then get a road sign installed in Greenwich.

    At least, Len, Annie, Kathy to a certain extent and David have significant experience of standing up to power and achieving something.

  23. Last night was the first time I’d attended a council meeting and I was shocked at the poor calibre of the Labour benches, compared with the eloquence of the Tories. No wonder Labour don’t want it filmed. Greenwich Labour are rubbish – Maureen O’Mara (whose idea the pavement tax was – couldn’t even be arsed to turn up.

  24. Entirely agree with Sacha’s comments. I’m not entirely familiar with the local politics, but Matt Pennycook’s website demonstrates his agenda to become a wannabe policy wonk Minister (whether this decade or next). His website just screams Westminster luvvie who will toe the line with the (weak) labour leader and the media chatterati who have no interest in South London. These thinktank policy wonks are actually ‘dangerous’ for ‘representing people’ as they are led solely by ideology and ambition for power and have no understanding of how academic ideas translate into real life. They are thinkers, certainly not ‘doers’ and have no concept of the word ‘delivery.’ This is exactly what turns people off politics!

    I don’t want a campaigner as a local MP – I want a ‘doer’ or even ‘lobbyist’ that will promote the area in terms of investment and job creation, skills and education, transport and infrastructure – such as tube and crossrail stations; as well as safeguarding hospitals, services and facilities and so on. Pennycook’s priorities give it it away in where his focus lies.

    Not sure if the council realises it but Greenwich faces very stiff competition from across the river for allocation of London/Central Gov. Sounds as though Len Duvall is the only ‘big hitter’ who actually has vision and nouse to make things happen? Especially with a Tory mayor and Tory Ministers (as highly likely in 2015).

    Sorry for the rant, but just hope someone in Greenwich Labour reads this. I’m a local (new) resident who is hoping to settle here. Professionally, I am very familiar with the inner workings of national politics – and really am concerned that any legacy from previous efforts will be squandered by ‘campaigners.’

  25. Sorry to say it, but Doomsday people like me really have a point. Greenwich is in a helluva mess and change hard to believe in. I can remember the T Dan Smith era and that took a full blown scandal to put it right. With all that comes to light about the doings of Greenwich Council I puzzle why some big hitting national newspaper or similar has not picked up on this up to look at.

  26. T Dan Smith did not live round here I am glad to say. He ruled with a rod of iron way up in Geordie land and the consequences were dreadful. Not suggesting anything like that in the way of total impropriety here, but the whole episode showed what the worst case scenario is when one person or one party has too much power and has been in power too long.

  27. Councils and governments that have outstayed their useful life do come in all political shades as you say. Have you ever noticed that the only party talking sense is always in opposition!

  28. Getting back to the MP candidates.Genuine questions here. Is Len Duvall married to someone on the council? Would this be a conflict of interest? Would it matter?

  29. Len’s partner is Greenwich Council cabinet member Jackie Smith. Not 100% sure if they’re married or not, but that’s their business.

    But it is possible that Greenwich could effectively have, in a couple of years, an MP and council leader who are husband and wife.

  30. Good question. Interesting answer. Would there be any rule against it? And would this possibility be good for Greenwich?

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