Andrew Gilligan: Local News – The “Greenwich Time” Way
April 28, 2010 by Andrew Gilligan
THE DAY that Greenwich Council's propaganda newspaper, Greenwich Time, announced the BRILLIANT news that this is to become a royal borough, it seemed only right to put a picture of the monarch on the front page.
No, silly, not that absurd interloper, the Queen. She was rightly relegated to page 3. Page 1 was reserved for the traditional anvil-jawed photo of our very own age-old symbol of pomp and majesty, council leader Chris Roberts. "Residents, businesses and the millions of visitors to Greenwich will share in our delight at this wonderful news," said King Chris (note the use of the royal we.) That issue was billed as a "souvenir edition." But for Mr Roberts, every edition of Greenwich Time is a souvenir!
Inspired by a discussion this week on greenwich.co.uk, I went through some recent back numbers of South London's very own Court Circular, to see just how many times Mr Roberts and his Labour chums have been puffing themselves at our expense. And the results from the international jury are now in.
Total number of mentions of Labour politicians: 98.
Total number of mentions of non-Labour politicians: 0.
Total number of pictures of Labour politicians: 29.
Total number of pictures of non-Labour politicians: 0.
Mr Roberts, by the way, features on the front page in 8 out of the 12 issues I examined, often with a picture. And when, by some terrible oversight, he is left out of the front-page story, he nearly always gets a column and picture inside ("I was surprised to be told today that I will receive an award as the Greenest Leader in South London...")
Other very special Greenwich Time stars include Greenwich West's own Maureen O'Mara - who must, on this tally, be a bit worried about holding her seat - and John Fahy, never pictured without a shovel in his hand. And we mustn't forget Nick Raynsford MP. He might be hard to find on the streets of Greenwich, but he makes up for it in Greenwich Time. Lib Dems? Tories? Greens? You what?
There isn't space here for a full list of all the Pravda-esque inanities of "the newspaper campaigning for a greater Greenwich," but the one that made me laugh the loudest was the fearless scrutiny by one Nick Day of the council's response to this winter's snow.
"The extended spell of severe weather must have been testing the council's resources to breaking point," wrote Mr Day. "I've been frankly amazed at the impressive response...I've often been quick to hold the council to account, so I must be equally quick to praise the grit (sorry!) and determination that officers and workers have been applying to their immense task."
You certainly should be sorry, Nick. Actually, I seem to remember that there was relatively little snow in south-east London by comparison with the rest of the country, and what there was was not cleared conspicuously effectively in Greenwich.
Some stories have been so good that Greenwich Time did them twice - like the one on falling bus crime and burglary figures, front-paged on both the 5th and 19th January ("Making you much SAFER") and based on a possibly dodgy comparison. The shortage of space created by the repetition of such stories was no doubt why other news - like the excoriation of Greenwich's social services as "shocking," "arrogant" and "very poor" by a High Court judge - never made it into Greenwich Time.
My tally of councillor and MP mentions, by the way, covers less than three months' worth of Greenwich Time, between 5 Jan and 23 March. Some vestigial respect for democratic decencies (or more likely the fear of court action for breaking electoral law) has kept the politicians out of the paper over the last month.
But, even during the election campaign, Greenwich Time has found a sneaky way to push the Labour message. The front page of the April 13 edition ("Spring in our step... Local businesses crack on despite the credit crunch") told everyone that the "green shoots" of recovery were back: "Confidence [in Greenwich businesses] is growing by the day... There is a realisation that they have survived the abyss... Some businesses have sadly disappeared, but far fewer than may have been feared," wrote the chair of the local chamber of commerce.
In the 1950s, as part of some dastardly imperial plot against the French, civil servants of the Colonial Office successfully persuaded the people of the Pacific island of Tanna to worship Prince Philip as a god. Portraits of the deity still hang in many a grass hut. Mr Roberts is clearly trying the same trick with what he believes to be the simple, credulous people of Greenwich. In me and others, the sheer clumsiness of the operation has had the opposite effect - making me automatically mistrust everything the council does, even if it is worthwhile.
The Tories are promising, if elected to the council, to close down Greenwich Time, which sounds like a good idea. This ridiculous apology for a newspaper has become the prime symbol of a council that treats its citizens like idiots.