08 November 2006

Big Day for the Mayor (and me)

Yesterday I was the last speaker at a conference on local democracy at Goldsmiths College and I am pleased to say that I received a grand applause for my cynical (but I think realistic) views on the relationship between authorities and residents.
Another speaker was Steve bullock, our local Mayor, I wasn't there to hear what he had to say but I've been told that his message was quite different from my one.

For the past two years I've been campaigning relentlessly trying to change my local Council's decision to close the local swimming pool and although at start I didn't know anything about how to change a Council's decision I discovered that I have quite a touch for local politics and campaigning.
When I started campaigning I would have never thought that this fight would have become the 2 and 1/2 years long saga of twists and turns that it came to be.
Eventually I made a marked contribution to my local political life culminating in last May's election where my electoral appeal that was distributed in 30,000 copies was a determining factor in the loss of overall control of the Council that the Labour group suffered after 35 years of uninterrupted overwhelming majority.
The Mayor retained his seat but ended up presiding over a minority group at Council.
The new Council honored the electoral promise and voted to keep the pool open.
Unfortunately here in Lewisham we have a"directly elected executive Mayor" arrangement that means that the Mayor takes all decisions apart from the budget. In reality, for reasons of political opportunity, he cannot disregard the Council entirely and had to start looking around for a way out.
Tonight at 6 pm he might decide to keep the pool open.

This is a quick sketch of the Mayor that I did the first time I met him just after we spoke. It was at a public meeting and I introduced myself and asked him a question about the pool. He already knew my name and knew of the campaign so when he heard what I had to say he also knew that there were troubles straight in front of him.
As it happens he went through the challenge. Politicians have personalities too and - like me - he's got a particularly stubborn one.

As I said, tonight he takes his final decision. It could swing both ways, whatever happens I know that I put up my best fight.
I have been criticizing him mercilessly for over two years, that's the nature of a political fight, it's a messy job, there's no way to do it nicely but somebody has to do it.
Now that it is all about to end I want to say that I think that in reality he's probably quite a nice chap that lives under a lot of pressure all the time and that probably he did what he could under the circumstances.
I thought that I have to state this now before his decision tonight because if he decides to listen to me and keep the pool open then one wouldn't really believe that I mean it and if he decides to go ahead with the closure then I might be tempted to write nasty things in anger and I shouldn't really do that.


Jens Winton said...


You've done sterling work here, and I really hope you get the result that many in Lewisham have been looking for. If it doesn't go your way, don't give up: There are many ways to get results even if certain doors close as others can surely open.

Best of luck in all you do and I hope my next note to you is one of congrats!

max said...

Hi Jens, thanks for the supporting words. Keep your fingers crossed.

Andrew Brown said...

Now you've said it you can't take it back Max!

I too hope that there's a way of delivering the school without closing the pool. I've never wanted to close the pool and nor has Steve. But while I was involved in decision making in the borough the alternatives never looked good.

I'm pleased there seems to have been a change in the advice that officers have provided and we'll see what Steve does with the new situation.

max said...

Hi Andrew, I won't take it back!
I'm just back from the Council and... the pool will stay open! I'm just soooo glad that Steve took this brave and highly democratic step. As I said I was prepared for any decision and to get a full result is fantastic.
I'm over the moon.

Jens Winton said...

Well done Max! Great result and you deserve every praise going! You have steered the project very well and long will your name be remembered for what you have pulled off! I know there were lots of other people involved as well but you have been so intensely involved with this that you can justifiably take the credit! Your work should be an inspiration to those who are outside of typical politics and feel daunted by the system. Congrats man!

max said...

Thanks Jens, a great result indeed and I'm still in a state of quiet disbelief.
As you said there is a long list of people that helped in and I'm thinking it through now.

Vince M said...

Congratulations Max.
I've been following this issue on your blog.
Glad it worked out well.

Are we witnessing the birth of a politician?

max said...

Thanks Vince, it's tempting, I now know what's the buzz they get from politics but I think that I rather be an artist.
This campaign has been incredibly rewarding but very demanding, I'm glad I saw it through but I was really looking forward to see the end of it and be able to concentrate on artistic creation again.
Maybe a bit of politics though...

Elliot said...

Go, democracy, go!

max said...

Hi Elliot, that's really one of those cases where it works. But man, you have to work hard to make it work.

Jens Winton said...

So what happens now, Max?

If Ladywell is now saved, what impact does that make on the new Loampit Vale development due in 2010? Two large swimming pools in a mile or so radius of each other? A fresh drive to close Ladywell down four years from now? Or another use for the Loampit Vale space where a pool would now be redundant?

You're an artist, how about campaigning for a new cinema in Loampit Vale?

max said...

Hi Jens, of course two pools so close to each other are financially unsustainable and if a new one opens at Loampit Vale then Ladywell would close.
This plan is not set in stone though, changes can happen.
I personally hope that it does happen if the new pool is larger and of higher specifications than Ladywell and this is a sentiment shared by a lot of users of Ladywell and we put this point across very clearly at the recent consultation. I wouldn't support a rebuilding of much the same provision when a refurbishment of Ladywell could deliver a better centre for a lot less leaving a capital available for other uses (like the provision of substantial dry sport facilities for the new school and public use out of school time at Loampit Vale).

The cinema is a matter of private financial investment and there's not much scope for campaigning.
A couple of years ago Bridget Prentice MP collected signatures asking for a cinema. I found that quite funny. Who was she asking for it? To herself maybe.
More seriously, it's been announced repeatedly that, subject to interest from the operators, one could be part of the Lewisham Gateway development.