Tag Archives: Streatham

The South London Line

Natalie Keeble reports on the possible closure of the South London train line, which runs between Victoria and London Bridge

Residents of Lambeth and Southwark are being urged to voice their opinions on the planned closure of a busy commuter train in a last ditch attempt to save it. The Labour Assembly member for the area sent out letters to show her ‘concern’ and to ask residents for their support. The inner ‘South London Line’ that runs between Victoria and London Bridge is set to be axed in 2012.

The current service, which runs twice an hour, allows residents to travel from Wandsworth Road or Clapham High Street to Victoria in just six minutes.

Valerie Shawcross has written to residents in the Clapham area to get a better picture of the extent to which withdrawing the line will affect them. She has asked how it will disrupt their work and leisure activities and whether they work in Victoria or the West End. This information will be compiled in order for Shawcross and her colleagues to “understand the need for services at the station, and, if necessary, press for improvements or changes.”

She has also set up an online petition for the cause, which already has 3,624 signatures, and a Facebook group with 1,507 members. Residents have been campaigning and protesting since word of the possible closure of the South London Line came about in October 2007.

The South London Line makes a U-shape, also providing a service for commuters in the north part of Lambeth and Southwark; including Denmark Hill, Peckham Rye, Queens Road Peckham and South Bermondsey.

It serves 3 of London’s major hospitals – Kings and the Maudsley at Denmark Hill and Guys at London Bridge. Shawcross is particularly interested to hear from residents who have regular hospital appointments.

Transport for London had been working with London Travelwatch to reduce the impact the closure will have on residents in Lambeth and Southwark. Findings from their initial study indicated that ‘in terms of affordability and value for money’ the most appropriate option was to address the gaps in the service by providing additional stops in long distance services at peak times. They identified the key areas needing services during peak times as Denmark Hill and Peckham Rye and those outside of peak times between Peckham Rye and Wandsworth Road. This would have acted as an appropriate part-replacement service, allowing commuters in Lambeth to travel from Wandsworth Road and Clapham High Street to Victoria.

But then TfL had to announce that due to a reduction in TfL’s transport grant and the Government’s wider cuts, the £900,000 per year funding that was needed for this service could not be put towards this interim solution.

In 2008, Boris Johnson tried to persuade the Government to find the funds to extend the East London line which would have provided an alternative route. At the time Johnson said: ‘I urge you to agree to this £15.5million contribution at the earliest opportunity’, but his pleas were not successful.

Their argument now is that when the London Overground East London Line extension opens next year, passengers will be able to take the train from Clapham High Street to Peckham, Surrey Quays, Hackney and Clapham Junction. They say that ‘commuters can then travel from Clapham Junction to Victoria.’ But the direct link from Clapham to the West End will be lost.

TfL said: “We recognise that this interim proposal does not address the gaps in service at Wandsworth Road and Clapham High Street stations as the trains on the Kent services are usually too long to call at these short platforms.

Unfortunately, we have been unable to find a solution which is affordable and value for money in the current financial climate.”

Southeastern, the train company that operates the current South London Line service, are in the process of carrying out their own assessment to determine if the proposed service changes could be incorporated within the current timetable and if there would be any associated costs.

If their analysis concludes that the proposal could be progressed, TfL have offered to work with them and Passenger Focus to ensure the views of passengers are considered when determining whether to take them forward in 2012. TfL have also pledged to address the situation in the longer term, by pressing for the full proposed service package to be specified in the next Southeastern franchise at the appropriate time.

With the forthcoming six-day tube strike approaching, the South London Line will be in demand more than ever. If the service is withdrawn in 2012, Clapham commuters won’t have this alternative means of transport when a tube strike next occurs. South London residents may have to ride the cycle highway instead.

Commuters from across Lambeth and Southwark have their say:

David Gordon: “As a frequent user of the 06:53 from Denmark Hill to Victoria, I’m most upset by the proposed closure. Once the train companies bring South London into the 21st century by accepting Oyster PAYG, there will be more, not fewer customers. And of course the Mayor’s cancellation of the Peckham to King’s Cross tram just makes us even more isolated. I’m fed up of being a transport Cinderella!”

Anthony Wright: “I can’t believe they are doing this. It’s mad. There aren’t enough trains as it is!”

Eva Szatmari: “What happens to those hundreds of pounds every single Londoner pays to TFL each month? Why do we have to commute in lesser conditions than animals are transported?”

Martina Van: “Why oh why, given that South London is already poorly served by the tube network, is not everything being done to enhance and increase train transport? It simply makes no sense. When we attempted to have Loughborough Junction included in development plans we were told “not enough foot fall”. I suggest they a) see the platform every morning – and the ensuing cattle carts we are forced to push onto and b) provide the trains and the people will use them! They’re so shortsighted. To regenerate an area, it is crucial to provide transport links. The area around Loughborough Junction, Herne Hill, Camberwell still has affordable housing close to central London for key workers and plenty of essential staff that don’t work in the city with the accompanying salaries. If they could have decent, reliable transport this area would be perfect for people to live in. The bus network is simply not good enough. For example – it takes 12 minutes to get from Loughborough Junction to Blackfriars by train and 40 minutes by bus.”


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Maundy misery for market traders

Stuart Horwood, Chair of the Brixton Market Traders

Joanna Hughes reports on more problems for the traders as the Pope’s Rd car park is demolished

Brixton market traders who lost their battle to regenerate the Pope’s Road car park for customer parking faced more misery today.

Traders and customers coughed and sneezed from sawdust created by trees being chopped down and compacted on the site of former multi-story car park.

Stuart Horwood, Chairman of the Brixton Market Traders’ Federation, says he phoned Lambeth Council to complain: “The whole area is covered in sawdust and it is affecting customers and traders. It has caused considerable disruption. I’m very disappointed that this has been done without any consideration as to what happens here.”

Unfortunately Lambeth Council was not available to comment on this particular incident.

Lambeth Council’s Master Plan for Brixton commits to parking space in any redevelopment. But in February the council made an exception for retail giant Tesco building a new store and mixed redevelopment on Streatham High Road.

Tesco originally agreed with the council that building work would be done in phases so that Streatham’s popular ice rink could remain open to the public throughout. But despite record pre tax profits of £3.4 billion, Tesco’s request to save time and money by erecting a temporary ice rink for three years on the Pope’s Road car park was approved by the planning committee.

John Gordon, Secretary of the Brixton Market Traders’ Federation said: “It’s an absolute disaster. My takings are down by forty per cent and I feel incredibly angry that this has been done to suit Tesco which has masses and masses of car parking.”

Mr Horwood said: “I am stunned that an agreement with such a major bearing can be amended. It wasn’t knocked together overnight.”

A spokesperson for Lambeth Council said: “Tesco will provide 600 new jobs, 250 new homes and a new leisure centre. 33 parking bays will be built at Buckner Road for market shoppers.”

The traders have endured two-and-a-half months of demolition noise from 8am until 5pm every day. The demolition contractors used water jets to dampen down dust. But traders will still be left with what Mr Horwood describes as a “logistical nightmare” when they have to quit their own parking, also on the Pope’s Road site, on 31 July.

Lambeth Council will reinstate some trader spaces on Pope’s Road. It is also providing overflow car parking for traders at a new car park on Porden Road – also the only planned customer car park – a five minute walk away from the market. Mr Horwood said: “We will have to move from a site on which we can comfortably fit forty-two vehicles with only three blocked in, to thirty-five nose-to-tail spaces where virtually everyone is blocked in.” Where the spaces will be depends on a proper survey of the site which will map it out inch by inch.

A first-in-last-out policy will, Mr Horwood said, “be an absolute nightmare”, as fruit and vegetable traders arrive at 6am and leave at 4pm, while other traders do not start work until 09:30 and leave at 6.30pm.

A spokesperson for Tesco, who are in charge of the new ice rink, said: “This is one of the most exciting regeneration projects in London. It will create hundreds of jobs and will see fantastic new leisure facilities built for the local community.”

But this concession may not be enough. Anxious traders are yet to be convinced that customers with heavy bags will go the distance.

Families come to Brixton market to buy large items such as drums of cooking oil and sacks of rice. With no parking nearby there has been a huge fall off in custom and the market is being subsidised by £50,000 of council funding. Mr Horwood said: “With the cut backs the chances are funding may not continue. Although no one has said to us it is all over.”

He added: “The reality is people don’t mix leisure and shopping. They may buy a banana after they skate for energy but they won’t be doing a weekly shop. We’re on a knife-edge and if we don’t remain commercially viable, we won’t survive.”

And that’s why Mr Horwood has become CEO of the new Community Interest Company under which the traders will be trading from the beginning of the next financial year.

Community Interest Companies were introduced by the Labour Government under the Companies Act 2004, to allow businesses which help the community to run themselves as companies. Registered now at Companies House, the traders are negotiating delegated powers from the council to run the market themselves.

Mr Horwood said: “We can run the market on a much leaner budget and we’ll be free to seek outside sponsorship, re-brand and publicise on websites, shopping bags and door-to-door flyers.”

The traders paid tribute in particular to Brixton Town Centre Director Steph Butcher and to the wider council who have supported the traders’ company.

Mr Horwood said: “It wasn’t a total loss. It raised the profile of Brixton Market Trader’s Federation and we have gained the respect of certain council departments. We fought a good fight based on facts and figures.”

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2010 – the year in Brixton

Kaye Wiggins reports on 2010 in Brixton – a year of elections, closed leisure centres, happy lido days, rising market rents and a jerk chicken festival.


2010 has been a year of change for Brixton. It has said hello to Windrush Square, Starbucks, Chuka Umunna and the co-op council. Here’s a quick round-up of the bigger stories of the year.

The renamed and re-landscaped Windrush Square opened in February. Lambeth Council said it would “create a safe, high-quality public space reflecting our unique and diverse community.” But critics questioned whether an “expanse of concrete” could really reflect Brixton’s character.

Also in February, the council announced its plans to “go co-op”. It has spent much of the year trying to explain to residents what this means, and gather our thoughts about it, sometimes in unorthodox ways. Asking us to put coloured balls in different bucket and stickers on bits of paper was a memorable example.

But what the council claims is a worse-than-expected budget settlement from central government, announced in October, has brought a sense of urgency to the plans. They are due to come into force from spring 2011.

Sticking with politics, the general election in May saw Labour hold its Streatham, Vauxhall and Dulwich and West Norwood seats. Chuka Umunna replaced Keith Hill in Streatham, Kate Hoey kept her Vauxhall seat and Tessa Jowell held onto Dulwich and West Norwood.

In the local elections, there was a strong showing for Labour, which gained seven seats. The Lib Dems and the Tories each lost three seats.

A plan to temporarily move Streatham’s ice skating rink to the site of the Pope’s Road car park in Brixton caused unrest this year. In October, more than 100 demonstrators marched to Lambeth town hall to protest about it.

The plan also angered traders on Brixton market, who said using the closed car park as an ice rink, rather than reopening it for parking, could cause them to lose more trade. They had been arguing since February that the closure of the car park in December 2009 had affected their trade, and a Freedom of Information request in October added weight to their argument.

Market traders have had a difficult year, warning in September that rent rises could force more of their shops to close. But there was good news in April, when Brixton’s indoor markets were given listed status.

Shopping in Brixton changed a lot in 2010. Whilst several market stalls have closed down, and independent shops like Lori’s Frothy Coffee have struggled, big brands including StarbucksH&MT-Mobile and, most recently, Holland and Barrett, have arrived in the town centre.

But Brixton’s local businesses have had some causes for celebration. The Brixton Pound marked its first birthday in September. And who could forget Charles and Camilla’s surprise visit to the market in July?

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Brixton – the ‘clone’ town

'Re-imagining the high street' - the report released today

On the eve of Brixton Pound’s first birthday, Brixton has become a ‘clone town’, according to a survey released today by the new economics foundation. It studied the number of chain stores in towns and boroughs across Britain to highlight the importance of a diverse high street.

Despite its endorsement of the alternative currency, Brixton moved from ‘border’ status in 2005 to ‘clone’ status this year. The survey was conducted in 2009, before the additions of H&M, Starbucks and T-Mobile. It found that over half of Brixton’s high street shops are now chains. Nef created a scoring system which gave Brixton 50.5 points out of 100, with twons scoring over 65 classified as ‘home’ towns.

The report cites Philippe Castaing, owner of Opus and founder of Brixton Green, who has said that “Brixton is one of the most expensive high streets in London in terms of commercial rent, a major barrier for independent businesses.”

Nef first conducted the Clone Town survey in 2005, when Exeter came in as Britain’s blandest high street. This time, Cambridge took the bottom spot. But it wasn’t all bad news for South London – Streatham scored highly, with 76 on nef’s scale of 100, and was classed a ‘home’ town.

The survey is slightly skewed, however, because it only looks at the high street, not taking into account the number of independent shops elsewhere in the area. In Brixton, of course, many independent businesses have opened in the past year in the market, so it’s unclear whether it would remain a ‘clone’ town were the survey to be extended.

What do you think? Is Brixton ‘clone’ or ‘home’?

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Clegg’s Battle Bus comes to Streatham

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, Nick Clegg and Chris Nicholson

Nick Clegg and his Battle Bus lent support to the Nicholson campaign in Streatham today, visiting the Palace Road Community Centre in Coburg Rd as part of Clegg’s final campaign push. The visit has been interpreted in the national press as an attempt to undermine Labour heartlands. A Liberal Democrat victory in Streatham would be a remarkable steal, but it’s certainly looking closer in the constituency than it has done for years. Labour faithfuls turned up to protest against Nicholson and, not to be outdone, the Conservatives blocked the road with their campaign truck, beeping their horn on repeat until they were stopped by the police. Yes, politicians behave like children sometimes.

In the community centre itself, we were entertained by a gospel-reggae band singing songs about victory and God as we waited for Clegg to arrive. With lyrics such as “Jesus is a winner man” and “we’re on the winning side”, it wasn’t quite clear where Nick was supposed to fit in. Our favourite guest blogger, Ian Duncan, thinks he’s more of a Moses for the Lib Dems than a Jesus

Clegg’s speech was standard fare – suffice to say that ‘choice’ and ‘fairness’ made the starring appearances.  He made a little dig at Cameron having already measured his curtains for No.10, but he’d already done that earlier in the day at Blackheath. And then he disappeared under a maelstrom of reporters, photographers, newsreaders and campaign managers, reappearing only to make his way back to the Battle Bus and onto the next stop…

Here’s a clip from the start of his speech:

And some photos from the day:

In tune with the religious theme - praying for a win?

Floella Benjamin, the children's TV presenter, has endorsed the Lib Dems and introduced Nick Clegg to the crowd

Cute kid holding a big Lib Dem placard got a lot of attention from the press photographers

Wolfgang Moneypenny of Free South London caught the imagination of the national press

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South London Democracy Club questions answered (only by some)

The Streatham page on TheyWorkForYou.com

All that time ago in February (remember the snow?), South London Democracy Club put ten questions to local candidates on issues ranging from stop and search to a South London tram network. The answers from candidates on these issues have now been uploaded onto TheyWorkForYou.com so that voters can hold MPs to their word after the election. Upsettingly only the Green candidate has completed it for Dulwich & West Norwood. Things are better in Streatham, although Labour candidate Chuka Umunna has not answered there. Why have some PPCs not answered, I wonder?  By collecting the data, the South London Democracy Club wants to ensure transparency in the future, but it can only work if the PPCs open themselves up to that scrutiny too.

Find out what your local candidates have answered (or if they have) here.

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Interview: Chris Nicholson

Chris Nicholson with Sarah Ludford MEP and a market trader (from right)

Chris Nicholson doesn’t live up to expectations. Or mine at least. The day before we meet, The Independent published accusations from Keith Hill that Nicholson, who is a partner at KPMG, had ‘bought his seat’. I had also heard a fantastic story put about by Labour about him mistakenly buying his house in Wandsworth instead of Streatham. Turns out it wasn’t so much a fantastic story as a fantasy. Instead of the business-like and rather clueless fat-cat I had expected, I got a softly spoken and articulate candidate sitting in a shabby suit and a messy campaign office. Serves me right.

Chris Nicholson is leading the Liberal Democrat bid to steal the Streatham seat from Labour.  This a Lib-Lab race. In the 2005 election, the Liberal Democrats managed to almost halve the Labour lead from 14,270 to just 7,466 votes.  Nicholson thinks it will come down to a thousand votes either way this time around. “We need less of a swing to take the seat than we got last time and we’ve been working very hard! It is eminently achievable.”

It is certainly true that Nicholson has been working hard. He may not be a lifelong resident like Chuka Umunna, but he speaks with clarity on local issues. “I grew up in Moss Side, Manchester, which was a similar sort of area to this. In that sense, this area feels like coming home.” He also feels that his life experience has enriched the way he approaches politics in the area. He was Head of Public Policy at KPMG and, long before that in the 1980s,  Liberal Democrat council leader in Kingston.  “People are cynical of the concept of a career politician. My experience outside of politics and of bringing up a family is something that we’re finding people respond to.”

Nicholson’s biggest bug bear is the way that Lambeth Labour have dealt with housing, especially the transfer of power to the outside organisation Lambeth Living. “The vote on Lambeth Living was something like 42% in favour and 41% against, yet that was taken as being a mandate for change. The new body didn’t have democratic accountability. Senior management had also taken their eye off the ball while trying to get tenants to vote in favour, so there were more empty properties. Rental income dropped and that meant that rents went up and there has been less money for repairs.” Nicholson is especially critical of the fact that Keith Hill MP is now chair of Lambeth Living, despite promises that it would be chaired by a tenant or leaseholder.

So what would the Lib Dems do differently? Nicholson cops out of a straight answer at first. “I know it’s easy to say we wouldn’t have got in that position to start with, but we genuinly wouldn’t have done.” That is easy to say. He goes on, however, to point to the success of resident management groups in Blenheim Gardens Estate and Roupell Park. Later, he emphasises that “as a Non-Conformist, I very much believe in bottom-up politics”. In his view, the Labour Party is inherently “very top-down, centralising and fairly authoritarian.” He applies the criticism to point out, correctly I believe, potential weaknesses in the John Lewis Council.  “In principle, it’s very good. However, the principle and the practice, particularly in Lambeth, would be rather different.  There’s a real problem that democractic accountability is just not seen as important.”

Of course, the Lib Dems when they led Lambeth council didn’t exactly have a good reputation either. They have been accused by many of being inexperienced and difficult to work with. As a parliamentary candidate in 2010, Nicholson can’t be held fully accountable for the Lib Dems’ actions as council leaders in 2006, when council tax rose by 40%, but he defends his colleagues. “There were clearly some things which didn’t go well. What we succeeded in doing was getting three departments out of special measures, getting Lambeth up to being a two star authority.”

For now, however, it is more constructive to focus on the future – if still with half an eye in the back of our heads to remind us of the past. The Lib Dems have launched their ‘four steps to fairness’. They would raise the personal tax allowance to £10,000 “removing four million people out of tax”; put more money into early years education and scrap tuition fees; support green jobs; and create a fairer voting system with an elected House of Lords.  All of this needs money, of which there will be little after the election. Nicholson’s approach to public spending cuts is half-good, half-unrealistic. When it comes to Streatham, he claims that no cuts should be made. We’d be fools to believe they won’t be. But Nicholson prefers to focus on cuts to national schemes – ID cards,  the Trident Nuclear Missiles system, Eurofighters, and Child Trust Funds.

If we strip away their party affiliations, it is difficult to find much of a difference between Chuka and Chris. Nationally, they are both for scrapping Trident, stopping tuition fees, and focusing on early years education. Locally, both promise a regeneration of Streatham High Rd, improved public transport links in Streatham and better leisure centres (arf arf).   “Chuka expresses a lot of views which are Liberal Democrat views, but I am in a party which supports those views and he is in a party which doesn’t.  He also says that he would vote for party policy and what was in the manifesto. To me, that must mean that he’s going to vote for some of those things which he disagrees with.” It is true that Chuka and the Compass group are not a majority voice in their party, although Umunna was adament when I interviewed him about his belief that MPs should not always toe the party line.  It is also true that the Lib Dems are much freer to talk about what they truly believe in as long as they remain the third party in Britain.

Perhaps it is because the election is so close between Umunna and Nicholson that the rumour mill has been racked up a notch. The house-buying story was published by the website Lambeth Liberal Democrat Watch – which I will not link to here – in 2008, but it is still in circulation now. It is, says Nicholson, a “complete fabrication”. “It was my partner’s house, which she’d bought years before, and I lived there for some time before we bought a house together in the constiuency. Of course I knew it was in Wandsworth and not Streatham, but it was where Trisha lived!”

The funding question is rather more complicated. Last week, Keith Hill stood up in parliament and accused Nicholson of buying his seat, because he has donated almost £300,000 to the party in the last three years, much of which has gone directly to his own campaign in Streatham. The figures are all correct – they have been declared in line with the law and are published on the Electoral Commission website. That does not, however, necessarily mean that he has ‘bought his seat’.  Nicholson denies that vehemently.  “It is outrageous that Hill sheltered behind parliamentary privilege to make those accusations. I’m sure that was done quite deliberately, because there were things in what he said which are completely untrue. The figures about my donations are correct, but he then also quoted what had been spent by our Streatham local party, implying that it was all on electioneering and comparing it with his communications allowance. In fact, a lot of the money spent by the Streatham party goes on premises and staff. If you compare how much the Streatham local party spent compared to how much Keith Hill spent, using public and union funds, we spent less. On top of that, the Council produces Lambeth Life every fortnight at huge cost. Chuka has until recently had office accomodation provided by the union UCATT. In fact, we are outspent by some margin by the Labor party.”

It is undoubtedly hard to square the huge amounts of money Nicholson has donated with his views on “bottom-up politics” and desire to reform the political system. Yet he readily gives his support for capping funding. “I would be the first to vote for changes in party funding rules. But we need to have a level playing field and the fact is that at the moment we don’t.” There is a strong, and I don’t think naive, case for arguing that Nicholson, as a rich man and in the knowledge that his party has much less money than its two competitors, has donated to a cause he believes in deeply.  It seems immensely hypocritical of Keith Hill, whose party received £4,962,886 in donations last quarter compared to the Lib Dem £1,055, 717. It is also another example of the unpleasant negative campaigning we have seen of late from Lambeth Labour, a tactic the Liberal Democrats do not seem to have engaged in to the same level.

In the media-obsessed world in which we live, it is hard to avoid the fact that Nicholson doesn’t have the cache or youth of Chuka Umunna. It might too have made the election excitingly scandalous if Nicholson really had been a fat cat parachuted into the constituency, but superficialities aside, we are lucky in this consituency to have two such strong candidates and the neck-and-neck race that will result from that is going to be just as intriguing.


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Interview: Chuka Umunna

Chuka Umunna on the campaign trail

Chuka Umunna arrives at Perfect Blend on Streatham High Street, slumps down in the chair and exclaims, “Oh God, I’m so tired!”  It is one of the only moments in the next 45 minutes when he reveals something more than just ‘Chuka , the up- and-coming new Labour candidate’.  He has just been at an estate in the Streatham constituency (which includes Brixton Hill ward) where he is hoping to become MP, meeting with residents and listening to their stories. As well as holding a part-time job as an employment lawyer at Rochman Landau, he attends tenants’ meetings, party strategy meetings, is a governor at Sunnyhill Primary School, sits on the boards of Sunnyhill Children’s Centre and Generation Next, twitters incessantly and, of course, goes doorstepping every week. He has a right to be tired.

Some politicians have a ‘line’ for the public; others are more honest  but subject to making life tricky for themselves by saying something out of ‘line’. Peter Mandelson might be said to emulate the first type; Ken Livingstone the second. Chuka Umunna is neither a Peter Mandelson nor a Ken Livingstone. “I don’t want to be one of those android politicians. I never have a ‘line’”, he says. Indeed, he is outspoken and, for many, even inspirational. But he is also a totally polished package. I’ve never met a smoother person. Even saying that he doesn’t want to be an ‘android’ – something he has repeated in other interviews – fits perfectly into the reputation he has built as a star of a new Labour generation offering something different in a climate of scandal and spin.

Chuka Umunna  grew up in Streatham and, if he is elected, he will be the first MP in the constituency to actually come from the constituency.  “I just love Streatham”, he enthuses.  It’s the second time he really breaks out of polished campaign mode and speaks with real gusto.  You can tell that he really cares about the people here – he has known many of them since childhood, he loves meeting new constituents and he embraces being out and about in his ‘patch’. What he loves most about Streatham, he says, is its diversity. “Not just the ethnic diversity, which is what everyone thinks of first, but the amount of different types of people from different backgrounds. Lots of people see Streatham Hill as just a road to go from A to B, but there is a lot going on here.”

Umunna is  taking over from Keith Hill, who retires this May after 18 years as Streatham MP. He and Hill come from very different Labour traditions. Hill’s voting record is overwhelmingly New Labour – he voted for the Iraq war, anti-terrorism laws and replacing Trident; he voted against an Iraq investigation. In an interview with the Guardian, Umunna claimed that 1997 was like a ‘birthday’. Now, 13 years later, he is vehemently anti-New Labour. “I’m just plain Labour”, he says.  How has he been able to stay Labour faithful at all? “There was a lot of soul-searching after the invasion of Iraq. I would never vote for an illegal war”. Yet he insists that Labour is not a one-trick pony and has members of many different persuasions. Umunna is part of what he calls the ‘soft’ left of Labour, a rising star in the leftwing pressure group Compass.

His policy ideas are certainly more progressive than we’ve come to expect from Brown and Co. He suggests that Trident should be the first to go in the round of public spending cuts to come after the general election, he is a fervent supporter of proportional representation and he has campaigned against higher student ‘top up’ fees. He cites flexible working times for parents of teenage children to encourage a more family-orientated community and prevent kids from areas like Lambeth finding a family-replacement in gang life.  For Chuka, we need to listen more to what young people say and he is critical of an approach – taking place under the Labour government of course – which has painted urban boys as hoodie-wearing thugs.

More specific to Streatham itself, Umunna has campaigned hard against Tesco’s provarications over the ‘Streatham Hub Project’. He is hazier about what exactly he has been doing in Brixton Hill, but cites his support for Philippe Castaing’s ‘Brixton Green’ project and the Q&A session on climate change he organised with Ed Miliband in Brixton Town Hall.

Is he worried about not being able to fulfil his promises to the Streatham voter? “No, not really. If I win, I am making a contract with the voter.” He stresses that even with a Conservative majority, he would work with his opponents as much as possible to get the things he has promised into law. He adds the obligatory qualification – “obviously I don’t think the Conservatives are going to do a good job”.

A week after the interview, I realise what has confused me about Chuka – he’s outspoken, he’s progressive, but he’s not angry. That’s why he can be so smooth. He’s wearing red-for-Labour tie and cufflinks, for goodness sake. For some people the fact that he’s a positive politician is a fantastic thing, but what if it is anger that ultimately creates real change?


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