My South London Press column, 25/09/2015

The image of the body of 3 year old Syrian refuge, Aylan Kurdi, touched people around the world and brought into sharp focus the ongoing tragedy resulting from the civil war in Syria.  Many Lewisham residents have acted to play their part and there are a number of local groups working to help refugees in different ways.

The Council has also been contacted by residents offering to help and urging the council to play a role.  We want to do this and are working with other councils and the Government to establish how we can assist with the resettlement of some the families that the Prime Minister has promised to bring to the UK shortly.   At the time of writing these discussions are still going on so it is not yet clear when any Syrian refugees will come to Lewisham but I know that they will be made welcome just as others have in past.

I have been contacted by a Lewisham resident, Julie Peakman, who was on the small Greek Island of Leros when refugees started arriving by boat.  One of those boats sank on 13 September resulting in 34 deaths including 15 children.  Julie and others have been doing a remarkable job helping the refugees there on an island which is being overwhelmed by the numbers arriving.  They are in need of resources to enable them to do more and their donations page is at https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/lerosrefugees

Labour’s contest to choose as the mayoral candidate was between two stalwart South London MPs, Sadiq Khan and Dame Tessa Jowell, and either would have been a strong candidate.  It was Sadiq who won and I look forward to working with him over the next 9 months as I know he is determined to address the issues that matter to us in Lewisham as well as across London.

Labour’s new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, quickly demonstrated that he recognises talent and rewards it by appointing our own Heidi Alexander as Shadow Minister for Health.  Heidi was my Deputy Mayor for four years and has been a really effective MP since being elected to parliament in 2010.  She already knows a great deal about the NHS having playing a vital role in our campaign to save Lewisham Hospital but will now be working to protect the whole NHS at a time when the continuing impact of the Government’s austerity policies is placing it under enormous pressure.  I can’t think of anyone who is better qualified to do that difficult job.  Well done Heidi!

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A New Start for Labour and London?

I offer my congratulations to three winning candidates in Labour’s  elections, Jeremy Corbyn, Tom Watson and Sadiq Khan.  I also offer my congratulation to Heidi Alexander whose talents have been recognised so quickly with her appointment as Shadow Health Secretary.  Defending the NHS in general and our local services in Lewisham is going to be a very tough job and I can’t think of anyone better equipped to do it (and also to make Jeremy Hunt’s life a nightmare) than Heidi.

Despite all the excitement of the last 72 hours for us at the Town Hall nothing has really changed.  We will have to go on trying to find ways to protect the services our fellow residents rely on while this thoroughly ideological Tory Government keeps cutting the resources available and introducing policies that make those least able to bear the greatest burdens. We will keep you informed of these difficult choices we face over the coming months.

One thing which has changed however is that we now know who Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London will be and in Sadiq Khan we have someone who really understands the challenges our city faces and is determined to do something about them.  The power of the mayor to make a difference is significant not least in leading the fight to build the homes that are needed to reverse the housing crisis.  The outgoing mayor chose to not to use that power to the full but Sadiq will be different.

With a reinvigorated Shadow team, a great mayoral candidate and of course our own GLA candidate, Len Duvall, we will be working together to elect Sadiq next May and take back City Hall back for Labour.