Wednesday 27 November 2019

Eltham's General Election 2019 Hustings

Brexit and the NHS dominated the debate at the election hustings which took place last night with all five candidates for the Eltham constituency in the 12 December General Election. 

One of Greater London's 73 constituencies, Eltham has been tipped as one to watch because Labour's Clive Efford has managed to survive various challenges since first being elected in 1997 despite often tipping into marginal territory. This time he's defending a 6,296 majority but in a 'full-fat' constituency - ie. all variables are present: we have a Labour Remain-supporter in a just-about-Leave-voting constituency with all five top English parties standing.

(The Chair pointed out the few typos in candidate names...)

It was a packed audience for the 7.30pm start at St Mary’s Community Centre, Eltham High Street where the temperature rose - both literally and metaphorically - as the evening wore on. The event was organised and chaired by volunteers at Keep our NHS Public Greenwich (KONP).

Each candidate was firstly invited to make a short opening statement. Then three questions at a time were invited from the audience which each candidate addressed, before we heard the next three questions, and so on. It was a good structure for the evening despite the occasional audience member wanting to butt into the structure. However, despite the feisty and engaged audience and thanks to the chairing and candidates, it was a generally even-tempered event.

Left to right: 
Panel Chair from KONP (standing). 
Seated Candidates: Conservative - Louie French;  Brexit Party - Steve Kelleher; Greens - Matt Stratford; Lib Dem - Charley Hasted; Labour - Clive Efford

Here’s my take-aways from the opening statements, in the order delivered – I’ve also included mine and my daughter’s ‘Clapometer’ rating ‘out of 5’ for each statement (of course totally subjective), though this may more accurately be a measure of whose supporters had the largest/loudest/clappiest hands:

Lib Dem - Charley Hasted: An ambulance worker and carer (who hot-footed off to a shift towards the evening’s end). Spoke about policies to improve the NHS e.g. extending prescriptions for chronic conditions and also the Lib Dem policy of 1p on income tax ring-fenced for the NHS.
Clapometer: 2/5 (to be fair, I think the audience were still deciding whether they were going to clap everyone…)

Greens - Matt Stratford: Works in publishing. Spoke about improving pay and retention in the NHS, repealing the 2012 Health and Social Care Act and the need to improve society holistically.
Clapometer: 4/5  (yes, let’s clap everyone)

Brexit Party - Steve Kelleher: A headhunter in recruitment. Opened with leaving the EU and then on to the NHS – supported no more privatisation, having a vocational route into nursing and keeping politics out of the NHS.
Clapometer: 5/5  (oh, we’re really going to clap now) 

Conservative- Louie French: Works in finance in the City. Spoke about transport and commuting out of Eltham, keeping Eltham police station and stopping crime. He wanted to “get Brexit done” of course and wanted to “dethrone Clive” (the incumbent MP) addressing him directly about the Labour party leadership.
Clapometer: 4.5/5 (well, compared to the previous enthusiastic clapping)

Labour - Clive Efford:  Unless there is fundamental change we cannot address cuts in public services, social care, police and improve the environment. Understand the anger and inequality which led to the Brexit result, need fundamental change to address this. Years of austerity need to be reversed e.g. in health, infrastructure etc. to catch up with other countries.
Clapometer: 5/5  (evenly spread, and strong)

Question/topics from the audience included:
-        - Addressing hardship arising from the 2017 Loan Charge Act.
-        - How can the EU Ref result can be valid when voters didn’t have enough/the right info?
-        - Should MPs vote according to their party, their constituents or their own conscience?
-        - Proportional Representation was needed for ‘real democracy’
-        - Priorities for the Eltham constituency?
-        - How to address the NHS funding crisis
-        - Lamented the NHS and Community Care Act 1990 which introduced an internal market to the NHS and pitted providers against purchasers.
-        - Which parts of your party manifesto are you willing to oppose?
-        - Improvements to services for young people

There was some touching on local issues e.g. on improving transports links, but Brexit and the NHS dominated.  There was vocal audience support for major improvements needed in the NHS but also for each side of the argument in the big debates – e.g. for Brexit vs. for another referendum, reflecting the split in the constituency.  On party attacks, the Tory candidate goaded Labour over its leader, while the Brexit Party candidate pointed to neither major party really wanting to getting Brexit done.

I’m not sure anyone changed their mind as a result of the evening but they got a good measure of the candidates.  

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Splitters, Remainers, Leavers and Brexit fatigue: All eyes on Eltham

A confluence of unique events has brought us a snap winter election to take place on 12 December 2019. Since the 2019 election was declared at the end of October political parties have been going hard promising to fix health, education and social care, amongst other things, but in truth for many the election is all about the very issue which bought us to this point: Brexit.

The maelstrom of Brexit has been driving us out of our minds since the EU Referendum result on 23 June 2016 (Leave 17,410,742 (51.89%); Remain 16,141,241 (48.11%). We’re now coming up to our second general election and we’re on our third PM and Tory leader.  We’ve also seen the effective demise of UKIP, many Tory and Labour MPs either leave politics or switch parties and the formation of two new parties, the Brexit Party and Change UK.

For the 2019 GE various alliances have been formed and ‘step-asides’ declared – for example the ‘Remain Alliance’ and the Brexit Party not opposing Tory seats.

Despite all this there seems little enthusiasm for this election. Only 74 per cent of those aged 25-34 are correctly registered, falling to 68 per cent among those aged 20-24 and 66 per cent among those aged 18-19. Meanwhile, registration rates are significantly higher for those aged 65 and over, at 94 per cent, according to the Electoral Commission this week. It urges young people to sign up before the registration deadline on 26 November.

Last week candidates for the general election on 12 December 2019 for the Eltham constituency were declared by Royal Greenwich as follows:

Eltham is going to be one to watch because it’s a Leave-voting London constituency (est. Leave 51.8%; Remain 48.2%), with a Labour Remain-supporting MP, but one with no alliances and no ‘stepping aside’.  This means that the Labour candidate, local man Clive Efford, returned as MP each election since 1997, is having to defend his 6,296 majority from 2017 in the face of potential right/left and Remain/Leave splits.

There is also that worn-out group of voters now suffering from total Brexit fatigue, whatever their starting position – they may just want to ‘get it done’ (though, of course, continuing negotiations/arrangements mean it will be far from over…).

The 2017 Eltham general election had only four candidates with the following result:

Variations for Eltham between the 2017 GE and the 2019 GE choices include:

● No UKIP candidate in 2017 (when Labour appeared to mop up those votes) but for 2019 we have a Brexit Party candidate. In the 2015 GE, UKIP managed to attract a whopping 6,481 votes. Will the Brexit Party attract these votes and how many will they take-away from the Tories, or other parties?

● The Greens had stepped aside in 2017 (in the 2015 GE they won 1,275 votes). It is expected this time they will attract more of the centre-left/Remain vote  – where will their votes take-away from?

● the BNP managed to attract 738 votes in 2017 – absent this time, their small deposit-losing number but could be useful, presumably to the Brexit Party.

Only two candidates (Labour’s Clive Efford and the Green’s Matt Stratford) live in the Eltham constituency, the former for decades. The Tory’s Louie French has been a local councillor in neighbouring Bexley while the Brexit Party’s Steve Kelleher and the Lib Dem’s Charley Hasted hail from other parts of London.

Find out more about Eltham’s candidates:

Labour - Clive Efford:            Website  Twitter
Conservative- Louie French:  Website  Twitter
Lib Dem - Charley Hasted:     Website  Twitter
Brexit Party - Steve Kelleher: Website  Twitter
Greens - Matt Stratford:          Website  Twitter

If you want to vote in the general election on 12 December you need to register before midnight on Tuesday 26 November.  Find out how to register to vote.

Tuesday 1 October 2019

A Doll's House: triumphant journey from Denmark to Calcutta

What could a 19th century Norwegian man have to say about the life of a married Bengali woman during the British Raj?

It turns out that playwright Henrik Ibsen's universal themes questioning the traditional roles of men and women provide the opportunity for examining not only gender politics but British colonialism too.

Modern day British-Asian playwright Tanika Gupta's adaptation of Ibsen's 'A Doll's House' is a triumph. Together with the Lyric Theatre's new Artistic Director, Rachel O'Riordan, they re-locate Ibsen's play from a 1879 Norwegian town to Calcutta in the same year, then the capital of the British India.

Ibsen's Nora (wife of Torvald, mother of three, living out the ideal of the 19th-century wife) becomes Niru, a chirpy, husband-pleasing young Bengali wife married to English bureaucrat Tom. The play sees the unravelling of their lives leading Niru to question her situation and her own identity.

The whole cast shines - with Niru played by the dazzling actor Anjana Vasan who has many theatre, television and film credits (from Brexit: The Uncivil War (Channel 4) to Black Mirror (Netflix) and Disney's Cinderella too) and the towering Elliot Cowan as Tom also has a long list of previews credits including the current top BBC hit Peaky Blinders.

The stunning single-scene new setting is the internal courtyard of an Indian town house, complete with tree sprouting up through it's centre. It gave the sense of Niru's claustrophobic and enveloping world, trapped in her own doll's house. It was beautifully lit with the various doors off the courtyard providing useful entry and exit points.

The award-winning multi-instrumentalist composer was Arun Ghosh, who himself hovered above the action on a mezzanine verandah surrounded by the instruments which he delicately played, creating a tense backdrop at apt moments in the psychodrama.

Gupta chose to stick mostly to Ibsen's original script, making only a few alterations for the adaption. It's seems astonishing that in 1879 Ibsen portrayed such scandalous-for-the-time feminist sentiments.

In 2006, the centenary of Ibsen's death, A Doll's House held the distinction of being the world's most performed play that year showing - perhaps sadly, and inevitably - the enduring nature of the play's themes.

The Lyric provide a very useful 'education pack' (pdf) about the play and its adaptation.

A Doll's House, a new adaptation by Tanika Gupta, at the Lyric Theatre, London W6 0QL.

Monday 23 September 2019

Muse at O2 London

Lots of ear-throbbing fun watching Muse this month. The alt-rock trio from Devon are on a world tour following the release of their latest album, 'Simulation Theory' (2018). Dedicated 'Musers' at the sold out North Greenwich gig enjoyed every minute of the music and trademark excessive style of the band who have been going since the nineties.

Unashamed of seeking mega success – perhaps unlike some of their post-Brit pop contemporaries Radiohead (who reject it) and Coldplay (who affect a modesty about it) – Muse manage to sing about conspiracies, resistance and the second law of thermodynamics complete with balloon drops and ribbon showers.  My short film of some concert concert highlights can be seen here.

Read my review at Greenwich Visitor of Muse's 15 September 2019 gig:

Friday 12 July 2019

Jealousy, separation and reunion - The Winter's Tale, Changeling Theatre, Woolwich

"On a glorious summer’s evening Changeling Theatre used a stunning outdoor setting in Woolwich  for a production of The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare’s tale of jealously, grace, reunion and reconciliation.

The evocative bombed-out ruin of St George's Garrison Church and an introductory soundtrack of German electronica set the militaristic tone of the first half of the play as Leontes (Scott Ellis), the jealous king of Sicilia, accuses his loyal pregnant wife Hermione (Jess Nesling) of infidelity with his best friend Polixenes (Nicholas Masters-Waage), king of Bohemia. ..."

Read the rest of my review at The Greenwich Visitor of this 2 July 2019 performance:

A Winter’s Tale by the Changeling Theatre Company went on to be performed at various venues throughout the summer.

See my review of the 2018 outdoor staging of Hamlet at nearby Severndroog Castle in Oxleas Wood, London SE18.

Thursday 7 March 2019

Age Exchange: Blackheath’s community space for a coffee, a read and an activity

Where can you find a library, a café, a bijou shabby-chic garden, enjoy arts and fitness classes and take part in supporting older carers and people with dementia?  The answer is the Age Exchange in Blackheath.

Invited to have a look around, I visited on the last of this February’s ‘mini-Spring’ days, with my long-time friend, Maureen (yes, I’ve known her since I was 19 – she knows things…)

Entering Age Exchange, in Blackheath village’s high street opposite the train station, is like going into a tardis. The outside of the small shop front belies the range of varied well-arranged spaces and activities which open out inside, making the most of the space.

You can browse the community-run library in the basement, jump on the internet, have a coffee and a bite in the not-for-profit café (from a lovely choice – where else on Blackheath can you get a green tea for £1.50?), join one of the many activities on offer from yoga, to stitching to creative caring.

Age Exchange’s mission is to change lives through reminiscence, improving health and wellbeing. The patrons of this community-run charity include Roy Hudd OBE, Glenda Jackson MP, Rt. Hon. Nick Raynsford, Sir Sigmund Sternberg KCSG and JP Baroness Greengross OBE. The Exchange aims to reduce isolation and loneliness, promote intergenerational understanding, improve the quality of life and care for older people and those with dementia and to support carers to maintain their own health and wellbeing.


The inspirational Gemma, volunteer and Community Hub Manager, showed us around some of the centre’s other spaces including The Bakehouse Theatre (beyond the café garden) which is available to hire for meetings, training events, presentations, talks, rehearsals, and small-scale performances.

Clearly enthused by their work, Gemma also told us about the wonderful art displayed which produced by people with dementia.

‘Tree of Love’ created by Wednesday Artful Caring participants.
Age Exchange is a real gem of a place; it’s heartfelt and real - a great find in high streets too often dominated by sterile chains– I think we’ll be back soon.

Sunday 1 October 2017

Mr Cinders: Gender-role reversal fairytale comes to Eltham

You might think that a telling of the story of Cinderella with its gender roles reversed was a thoroughly modern invention. Not so.
The Sidcup Operatic Society's latest production, Mr Cinders, was first performed in the late 1920s and is said to reflect the dying gasps of the 'roaring twenties' before the Great Depression set in. There may be a connection too with the fact that the Representation of the People Act 1928 had just extended the voting franchise in  the UK  to all women over the age of 21, granting women the vote on the same terms as men for the first time.

Yet despite the influence of social change, the show is a fairytale comedy musical and aims to entertain. The story is an inversion of the Cinderella fairy tale with the gender roles reversed - the Prince Charming character has become a modern (1928) young and forceful woman, and Mr. Cinders is a menial.

See the story of Cinderella turned on its head set in the 1920s on 12-14 October at the Bob Hope Theatre, Eltham in south-east London at 7:30pm with Saturday matinee at 2:30pm. Tickets are £13.50 (£11.50 concessions Thurs/ Sat matinee) and are available by calling 020 8301 2681, the web via the Bob Hope Theatre or visiting the White Hart pub in Eltham. If you call the above number, kids can come to the matinee for just £5 and group discounts are available. 

While almost a hundred years later, housework is still overwhelmingly done by women, it will be interesting to see the role reversal re-imagined in those early years of female emancipation. The Sidcup Operatic Society claim to be the only society to perform this show in the entire country in 2017 so it’s an opportunity not to be missed.