Campaigning for votes in local elections on 5 May, already well under way, will take a different form this month with a public event in Brixton’s Windrush Square to call for fundamental reform of the way Lambeth council operates.
A coalition of long-term and more recent critics of the council ruling Labour party will rally on Saturday 23 April to call for reform.
Groups involved are organising an online hustings later that day. They include the People’s Audit, Lambeth Referendum 2022, Save Cressingham, the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association, Save Central Hill, Friends of Clapham Common, ACORN Lambeth, the Advocacy Academy, and the Waterloo Community Development Group.
They say the council is failing to work with communities and that it should revert to a system of governance by committees, rather than the current “leader and cabinet” one.
However, Labour has pointed to the breadth and depth of community representation among its candidates.
It said its slate of candidates is its most diverse ever. The party is standing 63 candidates in all 25 of the new wards in Lambeth.
Of these, almost half are women (49%) and more than 40% are candidates from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.
The party said candidates standing for the first time include local community activists, small business owners, charity workers and campaigners “with a wealth of experience and knowledge about the issues that Lambeth residents care about”.
In 2018, Labour won seats in all but one ward in Lambeth.
Cllr Claire Holland, leader of Lambeth Labour group, said: “Lambeth’s diversity is its greatest strength.
“Lambeth Council must be led by people who are rooted in our communities and representative of them – and that is exactly what Lambeth Labour is offering.
“From experienced councillors who have been working hard on behalf of their residents for years, to new candidates who got involved in politics through local community groups – our candidates know the challenges facing Lambeth residents.
“We are standing in every corner of Lambeth, and we plan to win in every corner of Lambeth too – because we know that Labour councillors are the only ones who will deliver on what their residents need.”
With five current council seats to Labour’s 55, the Green party is the official opposition.
It recently proposed what it described as an “anti-austerity, green and progressive” set of proposals in an “alternative budget”, for Lambeth council.
- A four-day working week for council staff, while paying them for five
- A workplace parking levy generating nearly £1m to invest in “active” travel
- Change in the way parking permits are priced, so that larger, more polluting, vehicles pay more
- Move from a cabinet system to a committee-based model.
Green councillor Scott Ainslie (St Leonards) said: “The future of the planet, of the UK, and of Lambeth is green. Unlike that of Lambeth Labour, our budget takes us there faster, in a way that is both forward thinking and fair.
“Estate regeneration simply is not working, which is why we intend to bring it to an end and show that it’s possible to solve the housing crisis without destroying communities.”
Labour responded to the Greens’ proposals by saying they would represent an “illegal” budget.
The party said they had been assessed by the independent financial officer who said that it “cannot be confirmed to constitute a balanced budget “.
Councillor Andy Wilson, Lambeth cabinet member for finance, said Labour had managed to weather the storms of Covid-19 and Conservative austerity and produced “a balanced budget that protects council services with no cuts”.
If the Greens were in charge, “Lambeth would be at huge financial risk and Lambeth residents would have to pay the price for that.”
The organisers of the Windrush Square rally say backbench councillors have little or no say in the current system, with a “handful” of councillors and officers suffering from a “bunker mentality” driving major policies.
They also claim the council has a record of financial mismanagement and is selling off council homes.
Ahead of the rally and husting, the groups have launched a pledge for candidates.
Ben Rymer, organiser of the Lambeth Referendum 2022 campaign, said: “Lambeth’s outdated ‘leader/cabinet’ structure puts huge power into the hands of a small clique of councillors.
“It means the council can persist with policies opposed by residents, as we have seen with their efforts to demolish social housing or close libraries and parks for extended periods.
“We urgently need to move to an open, modern committee system at the town hall to put residents’ voices front-and-centre in council policies.”
Tom Keene of the Save Cressingham campaign said: “Our estate has fought the council’s efforts to demolish our homes for over a decade now, including four judicial reviews.
”This is exhausting, stressful and expensive, and is a total failure of representation. Lambeth’s whole estate regeneration programme – including Cressingham Gardens – shows how councils’ cabinets can run riot without adequate controls. It needs to stop.”
The organisers said yesterday (6 April) that Liberal Democrats, Greens and Conservatives had confirmed attendance t the planned hustings. They were still waiting to hear from the Labour party. Book for the hustings.