John Biggs is a partisan and often disruptive figure at Mayor’s Question Time, but at Catford, I found myself longing for his impartial chairmanship as demonstrated at a recent Peoples’ Question Time. Mr. Biggs then set the marker early. No heckling or interruptions, and if you persist, you will be thrown out. No such fairness was demonstrated by Labour Chairman Len Duvall at Peoples’ Question Time last night.
The deep and genuine concern of residents over the downgrading of the Lewisham A & E and maternity units was undeniable, and that came over loud and clear as residents quite rightly were allowed to air their concerns. What was not right was the alteration of the usual structure of such meetings: normally hecklers are restrained and anyone who is disruptive is removed. Hecklers were allowed to abuse the Mayor and the Tories uninterrupted, and Labour, Green and Lib Dem Assembly members were allowed to whip up public feeling and whinge and moan about the Tories in a manner which turned the entire event into a glorified, Tory bashing promo.
In such circumstances, this was one of Boris Johnson’s finest hours. Imperturbable under the sort of fire which would have daunted a lesser politician, he made his arguments with an honesty and sincerity that at times changed the mood of the crowd. The BBC reported today “Last month, the government announced that Lewisham Hospital’s A&E would be downgraded and made smaller and the maternity unit would be replaced with a midwife-led facility to help tackle debts of £150m at the neighbouring South London Healthcare NHS Trust.”
Conversations between the Mayor and, amongst others, Jeremy Hunt, have resulted in the government’s plans being modified, but this is not enough to satisfy the residents of Catford. However, they need to bear in mind that the Mayor is not responsible for hospitals or the NHS and he has done all he can.
Roger Evans talked about the dire financial situation, saying truthfully “The days of plenty are over” but how many people took this on board, it was hard to say. In the whipped up fury against nasty Tories, the responsibility of Labour for the mess we are in was too painful a leap for most protesters to handle. Outside a lady was shouting about posh Tory millionaires, although when I told her the entire Labour front bench were equally rich and posh, she said blithely, “Oh we know that!”
After the London riots, Boris was the only politician to tour every riot area and face the anger and outrage of frightened voters who needed to offload their feelings. He showed a lot of guts doing the same thing at Catford. The way many Assembly members seized on the situation to whip up anti-Tory feeling and play politics did not reflect well on the opposition parties last night.