4 April 2010

Southwark Lib Dems - Is it ever their fault?

Southwark Liberal Democrats have a habit of talking about council services as if they have no control over them. Their approach to the crises or policy failures for which they have responsibility almost always involves one or more of the following:

1. Blaming the government
2. Pretending they don't run the council
3. Blaming the residents of Southwark

However, up until now, the Lib Dems have refrained from pointing the finger at their partners in power at the Town Hall - the Conservatives.

Short of an overall majority after the 2006 elections, the Lib Dems asked the Conservatives to form a coalition with them to run Southwark. So far, they haven't been bare-faced enough to blame the very people that they installed in power. In fact, almost the only successfully implemented policy from the Lib Dems over the last eight years has been ensuring that a tiny group of Tory councillors have a role in running our council. Not very liberal and not very democratic.

But guess what? Now even that is changing. At their recent election campaign launch, Southwark Lib Dem councillor (and GLA member) Caroline Pidgeon made a remarkable statement. She said "I'm fed up of having a Tory running housing in this borough."

I'm sure that every single council tenant and council leaseholder would agree. Southwark officially has the worst council housing in London, but only the Lib Dems can be blamed for this. They chose the give the executive housing position to a Tory councillor - clearly not interested in the huge challenge of renewing our existing council homes and ensuring that we build the new homes needed. At any point over the last four long years, as our homes were neglected, as the hole in the housing budget ballooned to £700million and as leaseholders were saddled with crippling charges for poorly done maintenance, the Lib Dems could have taken this role off the Tories.

However, even taking all this into account, no one councillor can take responsibility for housing failure in Southwark. The entire ruling coalition discusses and agrees policies and votes through decisions and budgets. Councillor Pidgeon might be "fed up" but not so fed up she actually spoke up about it until five weeks before an election.

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