This is part two of Adam Bienkov's interview with Spencer Drury - Conservative candidate for the Greenwich & Woolwich parliamentary seat and leader of the Conservatives on Greenwich Council. Click here to read part one of the interview.
I meet Spencer Drury the day after the monthly full meeting of Greenwich Council. As usual the Conservative group raised a motion which was voted down by Labour, with Council leader Chris Roberts dismissing the debate as a “complete irrelevance.” Only a handful of voters were there to hear it.
And yet every week a newspaper promoting the Council's agenda and featuring exclusively Labour politicians is distributed to the entire borough. Many thousands of voters will go on to read it.
So how can an opposition party ever hope to counter this imbalance?
“There is a real problem in Greenwich. Labour have been in power for 40 years and as an opposition the changing system has made it hard to make any contribution at all. We’re marginalised on scrutiny panels which are 100% chaired by Labour members and we can bring motions to Council which obviously get voted down. So the council side of it is very hard to contribute to at all. And it is hard to break through what is essentially a taxpayer funded infrastructure in place to support the Labour Party."
So would the Conservatives close down Greenwich Time?
“Yes. Well I think that you would need some kind of communication, so I would look at the Bexley model where you have a quarterly magazine and it is a case of just what’s on in the borough. But this council spends a fortune on advertising itself and Greenwich Time has to go. It is wrong. It is morally wrong to be pumping out propaganda at the expense of the taxpayer”
But is it really just a political vehicle?
“I mean it went weekly the week after Boris was elected. Tell me that wasn’t a political decision. It was fortnightly before then and it went weekly genuinely the week afer he was elected.”
He tells me about the council’s campaign to bring the Oyster card to the Thames Clippers. For Drury this was little more than a show, with the aims of the campaign won long before the council even became involved:
“I asked for the background papers and the Council didn’t actually do anything. They just ran their campaign in Greenwich. They didn’t tell the Mayor they were running this campaign. The Mayor had already made the decision anyway and they delivered their petition to him I believe a week before the decision was announced publically. So all the decisions had been made and their influence was absolutely zero.”
So why bother to do it?
“They just wanted to stand around and pose with printed blue cards run in their own council paper saying how fabulous they are. And it’s just rotten. It’s just wasting time and money when they should be doing things that improve the lives of people in this borough.”
So what can the opposition do in these circumstances. Where can they be effective?
“Well what you can do is be a good ward member and make sure that your residents are represented. And I enjoy that and it is worth doing.”
But do the Council listen to those representations?
“To be honest we’re pretty much excluded. Chris Robert’s political approach is to make sure that the Labour party does what he wants them to and he’s got no interest in paying attention to any other views even those within the Labour party, let alone the opposition. And he will let us contribute occasionally on minor things so I’m hoping that he will be letting us contribute on the coat of arms for the Royal Borough for instance. But this is not something that is going to make much difference to many residents.”
What do you make of him personally?
“Well I think he is very divisive. With Chris you are either with him or against him. And that applies to opposition politicians but that also applies to people within the Labour party. You see very often the Labour group split over the hard line that he has taken over certain issues. And his relations with the Mayor of London are dreadful now and they were dreadful when there was a Labour Mayor of London. He just can’t seem to work with other people.”
I ask him about reports that Roberts is moving wards at the election. Is he running away from defeat?
“Well he had one of the lowest votes I believe of anyone on the council and he was comfortably lower than the other two Labour councillors in the peninsula. So there is certainly a negative attittude towards Chris and he is certainly the only person who I have spoken to people about on the doorstep and they have said “well I’m not a Conservative voter but I’m definitely not voting for Roberts”. So he definitely isn’t a popular figure”
In part three of the inteview, to be published tomorrow, Spencer Drury is asked about the 2012 Olympics, schooling in Greenwich and the forthcoming General Election campaign.