By Dan Jeffery, Lambeth Unison Labour Link Officer (pc)
Reading the tweets from Lambeth councillor Jennifer Brathwaite over the last few days and weeks, there can be no doubt that she is trying to push forward left-wing credentials. This might have something to do with it being the run up to the selection meeting in Streatham CLP to select the candidate to represent Labour in the upcoming general election. But does this self-presentation stand up to scrutiny?
One tweet boldly asserts that she is a supporter of the People’s Vote. But there is not mention of the fact that she voted for Brexit. Or for that matter why it is only in the last few weeks that her twitter account mentions her support for Remain. Surely if she has gone from voting and supporting Brexit to a supporter of the People’s Vote there should be some sort of explanation as to why she initially supported Brexit and what led her to change her mind? Without this there is no doubt that any electorate will think it could well be a cynical manoeuvre as Streatham CLP is one of the strongest Remain seats in the whole country.
Even more worryingly, in a tweet on 5 January 2017, Jennifer Brathwaite states that, “APPG social integration -great speech by @ChukaUmunna Majority wants managed immigration Leave is opportunity 2 reshape immigration policy.” This is shocking. Not only does it reinforce her support for Brexit over six months after the referendum result, it also feeds in to the idea that Brexit can be a benefit because it would lead to more “managed immigration”. This was one of the core underpinnings of the reactionary campaign around Brexit, which spread myths about immigration being a force for bad, and that it needed to be reined in. Any candidate fighting for equality and social justice should be tackling the anti-immigration sentiment of Brexit head on, not saying that Brexit is a good chance to reshape immigration policy and “manage” it better.
Brathwaite also states that she wants to end inequality and set a level playing field in education. This is an admirable ambition, but surely there should be some recognition of the fact that she has overseen and led the policy of shutting down and cutting back provision of children’s centres across Lambeth. Now without a doubt the people who should take the blame for austerity and cutbacks are the Tories. But that doesn’t mean that those administering the cuts can get a free pass. There was a large campaign of parents, trade unions and community groups against the children centre cuts and there was passionate representation to the councillors, including at the scrutiny committee, where Jennifer Brathwaite waived away those protests and passionately urged councillors not to “refer back” and to push through the cuts.
It was pointed out that it was a false saving and that for every £1 in cuts made to children’s centres, because of the devastating impact on families and children, it will lead to £6-7 more in costs picked up by social services, as families crumble and children suffer. No answer was ever given to this, and no answer was ever given to the plea to suspend the cuts to wait and see if a Corbyn-led government got in and would reverse the cuts. Streatham CLP also passed a motion to stop the children’s centre cuts, with a large majority in favour. Instead of dismissing the concerns of campaigners and her own CLP, and coming back again and again with the pessimistic and negative attitude that “there is nothing we can do”, why did Jennifer Brathwaite not lead residents and workers in Lambeth in protest and direct action against the government? Why not actually try and resist in a meaningful way?
The same goes for estate regeneration schemes. The council are trying to push through estate demolitions with huge resistance from tenants on estates such as Cressingham Gardens and Central Hill. The so-called consultations were tick box exercises which were then ignored. It is now national policy of the Labour Party to only allow such schemes if the majority of tenants vote for them, which makes the attitude of Jennifer Brathwaite and other councillors even more shameful in not allowing tenants a say in the future of estates that they actually live on. What possible excuse can they have for not doing so? How can you say you want to stand up for social housing when you are literally bulldozing over the views of council tenants?
The same goes too for the campaigners who fought to stop library closures, and led huge local demonstrations, occupied a library and called on councillors to listen to their ideas to save the libraries. Instead they were ignored and Lambeth Council went in partnership with a private company in order to turn libraries in to gyms and drove out the only councillor who stood with campaigners. This has been wholesale disaster, and once again rather than side with those who want to make a stand, there was the cry of there is nothing we can do. Well if you want to stand for social justice and equality that’s not good enough is it.
Jennifer Brathwaite also said she supports the living wage. Great. But again, where is the explanation for the fact that her and other councillors handed over public money to Picturehouse, a cinema chain that has sacked and victimised union reps in Lambeth and across the country, and who refuse to pay the living wage? The council didn’t even demand that they pay the living wage in the West Norwood cinema, the cinema that came about through the partnership between the Council and Picturehouse.
Again turning to youth services, Jennifer Brathwaite states that she will fight for investment in youth services. But where was the fight, a genuine fight, when the council was administrating swinging cuts to adventure playgrounds, youth centres, and youth services generally.
The list could go on and on. It is bad enough to have such a record, but at least there should be some honesty in justifying decisions that have been carried out.
I think that Streatham deserves a candidate who will link up with local unions and campaigners, and see them as allies in the fight against austerity. Who will honestly account for themselves whether on the issue of cuts or the issue of voting for and supporting Brexit. It has to be said that most of the record of Jennifer Brathwaite shows that she is not someone who does this.
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