Conservative Michael Levy has won the Springfield ward seat vacated by Eric Ollerenshaw, retaining it for his party by a large margin. The votes cast for each candidate - as announced officially here - were:
Monty Goldman, Communist Party 37
Maxine Hargreaves, Christian Party 40
Gordon Hodgson, Green Party 85
Michael Levy, Conservative Party 1,244
Brian Stone, Liberal Democrats 113
Mohamed Munaf Zina, Labour Party 590
That's a total of 2,112 votes altogether, representing a turnout of 33%. The outcome must surely be portrayed as a disappointment or Labour, which campaigned hard with a strong candidate yet finished much further behind the Tories than at the 2006 Council election when their best-supported candidate got within 200 votes of being returned. Labour's one crumb of comfort is that the Liberal Democrats' claim that the election was a "two-horse race" between them and the Conservatives was proven totally false. There was no sign of any "Clegg bounce." But the result will surely be seen by many as further confirmation, were any required, that the "Brown bounce" is well and truly over and as scant reward for the Council's improved performance under Mayor Pipe.
With polling stations about to open, here's a little info about the two candidates I didn't catch up with. Conservative Michael Levy returned my phone call with apologies and explained that he hadn't time to meet me. Never mind. We know from the Gazette that he is 57, was born in Upper Clapton, now lives in Craven Walk and is an investment analyst. He told me that he hasn't been in involved in politics before but had put his name forward due to what is described in the Gazette as his concern at "the deterioration in civic pride as has been demonstrated by the increasing neglect of Clapton Common and Springfield Park." Christian Party candidate the Reverend Maxine Hargreaves is a former pupil of Millfields School (hurrah!) has lived on the Wren's Park estate since 1981 and in Hackney for nearly 40 years. Her face will be familiar from the many advertisements around the place - billboards, front page of the Gazette - inviting you to hear her preach. She is founder of the Hephzibah Christian Centre in Dalston and the East London Christian Choir School, which the Guardian has reported on. I was unable to establish contact with Maxine. Some other time, maybe. Happy voting, y'all.
The Labour candidate, 43, was born in Batley, Yorkshire and moved to Hackney with his family in 1976. His mother had relatives here and thought London offered her children more opportunities. His father came to Britain from Gujerat in the 1950s to work in textiles and later ran a shop. Munaf has been a housing advisor for Shelter and for the Council. After that he went into property, the private rental market, for ten years before setting up Foster Care Link, an adoption agency based in Stoke Newington that helps to place children from ethnic minorities, in particular Muslims, with suitable foster parents. He's been a Labour Party member for twelve years, co-chairs the local Muslim-Jewish Forum and is taking a degree in International Politics.
"The key is for Springfield to have a representative who can connect with its very diverse community and bring it together more. It is vitally important that neighbours have mutual respect and recognise underlying common interests. The lack of a Labour councillor has meant that side of things has suffered." Unless every group within the community feels represented, he says, a "democratic deficit" is created. I asked Munaf which groups he felt had been neglected. He emphasised that he wasn't speaking only of Muslims. "I'm talking about the community in general."
VISION FOR HACKNEY
Unsurprisingly Munaf speaks highly of Labour's achievement over the past eight years or so since it re-established overall control of the Council. He mentions the Decent Homes programme and says that "basic services are now generally good," although there is still room for improvement. He says that if elected he would seek to add to Labour's achievements by being a local representative "who goes round the streets identifying needs," especially in relation to crime and the fear of it. He also stresses the need to find out why some children are still not doing well at school. "If I get elected I'd like to work with people in the borough on one to one basis and see that there are opportunities for them, including jobs."
Does Munaf accept that politics in Hackney might benefit if there was more and better opposition to Labour? "It doesn't work like that," he replies. "I think the Conservatives are a party that represents the richer classes and are neglectful of the poorer sections. This creates alienation, isolation and innumerable social problems. Go back eight years and look at crisis the borough was in. People gave Labour power again and just look at the improvements that have been made. From a zero stars to a two-star authority - it's a big shift in a short time."
Someone I know tells me that someone he knows who might know - still with me, are you? - that the Pond is leaking. I asked Cllr Rathbone who, of course, chairs the Clapton Pond Neighbourhood Action Group if this was true. He replied that, "The manager is looking at the levels of the pond and checking the lining at the moment as part of spending the rest of the money we were given to spend on the Pond's refurb." I also asked him about a rumour that plants bedded in during the refurbishment are being removed. "It's the complete opposite," says Cllr Rathbone. "Working with the manager, we are planning to upgrade areas of the pond with fresh planting."
I met and photographed Brian at his home in Isabella Road.
The Liberal Democrat candidate is 52 years old and has lived in Hackney for seven years. He was born and grew up in Cricklewood. A founder member of the Social Democratic Party, he was elected to Barnet Council on the SDP-Liberal Alliance ticket during the 1980s before the two parties merged. He is a qualified social worker but his present job with Tower Hamlets council is to promote good quality social service delivery.
"It's an area that lacks a sense of overall cohesion," he says. "In the past, politicians have looked after only certain bits of it. What I want to do as a councillor is create a bigger sense of community." Brian stresses that he grew up in a working-class community and says that grassroots activism is what has always inspired him. "Liberalism is about empowering people," he says. "That's what drives me and brings out the best in people. Too many people in Springfield feel forgotten and disconnected." He talks about Tower Court, a local authority housing block from which most residents have been rehoused but where those still remaining are in, he says, "appalling conditions. People there don't feel that Hackney council is their council, and that's what I would want to change."
VISION FOR HACKNEY
"My problem with Hackney is that it's a place where local government is dumped on people. It's a case of 'this is what we're giving you, we know best' rather there being planning and consultation with local people about what they need. I'd really like to see governance opened up, with much more input from people. I've been to council meetings but there's nobody there from the public. In Tower Hamlets, which is an excellent council, they create strategies based on talking to people, involvement with consultation groups and so on." Brian says he think Hackney Council lacks a sense of where it wants the borough to go. "There's a sense in which Hackney doesn't really believe in itself. You need to create heart in this borough, and that takes more than producing stickers and T-shirts saying 'I love Hackney'."
On his blog Labour councillor Luke Akehurst has criticised one of the Liberal Democrat campaign leaflets for claiming that Springfield is "a two-horse race in Stamford Hill" between the Liberal Democrat and the Conservative candidate. At the 2006 Council election, Labour candidates came far closer than Lib Dem ones to defeating the three successful Conservatives. So is Brian Stone's campaign in Springfield dishonest? He says no, and produces a copy of the leaflet in question. "All we're saying is that none of the three wards covering the Stamford Hill area is represented by a Labour councillor. Of the nine councillors, six are Tory and three are Lib Dem, so it's a Labour-free zone."
[Profiles of other candidates here and here. More to come.]