How Wandsworth turns outsiders into leaders

Councillor Wendy Speck, Wandsworth's new Deputy Mayor

Councillor Wendy Speck, Wandsworth’s new Deputy Mayor

Speech from Mayor Making ceremony, Wandsworth Town Hall, May 18, 2016.

Listen to a recording of the speech

Ladies and gentlemen, councillors – thank you for the chance to speak. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Simon Hogg, the new leader of the Wandsworth Labour Group.

Tonight’s event is all about selecting and welcoming a new Mayor as well as saying thank you to our outgoing Mayor for the work they’ve done over the last 12 months.

I’ve been to many Mayor Makings over the past few years and when deciding what to say to you tonight, I was advised that I can either use my speech to strike a sincere note, or as an opportunity to really roast the outgoing mayor.

I’ve not made up my mind which it’s going to be yet, so bear with me…

I’d like to start by saying a few words about the role of the Mayor – and it’s significance, particularly in Wandsworth.

Democratic leadership is for all the people. The Mayor – the ‘first citizen of Wandsworth’ – is a powerful symbol of that.

I want to reflect briefly on some of the people this community had in the past trusted with the job of acting on their behalf. Some of our local heroes.

A group of outsiders who helped to create the world we live in today.

A century ago Wandsworth gave Britain:

  • John Archer, a local photographer, who became London’s first black mayor in 1913.
  • John Burns, the 16th son of a washerwoman rose from Battersea’s slums to become an MP and Britain’s first working class cabinet member.
  • Sharpurji Saklatvala, Britain’s first Asian Communist MP in the 1920s.
  • Charlotte Despard, an fiery aristocratic Irish nationalist suffragette

A group of people like this had never been in power anywhere in the world before. They were outsiders, who our community had welcomed, absorbed – and in the end chose to elevate and celebrate.

This month, we’re celebrating a modern day story of similar significance – as local boy Sadiq Khan has been elected to be Mayor of London. Sadiq, who grew up on the Henry Prince estate in Earlsfield, started his political career serving 12 years as a Wandsworth councillor, followed by 11 years as Tooting’s MP.

His father, I understand, was a bus driver.

His victory is important. There are children growing up on council estates – in Wandsworth and across Britain – who may feel like outsiders, because of where they come from.

A child being called names because they look different and their parents don’t have as much money as some other families at school. But now that child will know the Mayor of London has been in their shoes. And that in Wandsworth there’s no ceiling for achievement for anyone.

Like the pioneering men and women I mentioned earlier, Sadiq’s service will set and break down barriers. In particular fighting that prejudice which says a man holds violent or extremist views just because of the religion he follows.

And it’s in this unifying role that our Mayor is at their most powerful. Wandsworth’s Mayor is central to the Borough’s cohesion. They organise and attend events that bring people together from all backgrounds and faiths. They also swear in hundreds of new British Citizens each year in the council chamber.

And so on to the outgoing Mayor, cllr Nardelli.

I’ve asked many colleagues what they made of your year in office.

Disappointingly, there was very little dirt.

Few people are aware that the Mayor of Wandsworth has a fully stocked bar at their disposal. I’m told that one of our previous mayors started every pre-council meeting with a triple gin.

But as a teetotaller, our mayor did not oblige us with any stories about getting carried away with the free bar.

Our whip – who has most to do with the mayor in her capacity as chair of our Council meetings – said she’d been one of the fairest he’d worked with. She put down her politics and went out of her way to treat all three political parties on the Council with an even hand.

So this may turn out to be the most generous roast in history!

I can say one colleague nominated cllr Nardelli for the award for “most original outfit with Mayoral chain” for the boots, Union Jack pullover and jaunty sailor hat worn with Mayoral chain at the Boat race party.

Her choice of charities was praised as bold and worthwhile: rehabilitation of addicted prisoners and Dyslexia.

She was able to acknowledge the success of colleagues from opposition – she said how pleased she was for Leonie Cooper after she was elected to the London Assembly and said how hard Leonie had worked.

The Roehampton cllrs are grateful she visited the Alton Activity Centre five separate times. This among hundreds of community engagements.

Cllr Nardelli had some difficult personal times during her mayoralty but she continued in her duties and that grit and dignity was appreciated by councillors on all sides. Councillors also mentioned the sterling work of cllr McDonnell the Deputy Mayor in taking on a wide range of engagements with grace and good humour.

Perhaps the strongest testament was from councillors who said the Mayor did the council proud in Ypres, where councillors visited to remember those of this borough who gave their lives in the service of their country.

As the Mayor said in her Civic Service reflections: “Ypres where we left so many souls in such frightful conditions, those who gave their lives that we can live free today.  I read the citation at Ypres at the Last Post… a most moving experience while looking at the names of 52,000 men whose bodies were never found.  I feel and think……. how proud some of those Wandsworth men would be if they were able to see the borough today.”

I think that’s an important point – the work we do today builds on the efforts of so many who’ve come before us. Building the good life here in Wandsworth is a shared project and a long-term project. We should care for each other, while we still can.

We should preserve our traditions, and ways of life. Wandsworth and its Mayoralty have a proud history and I’d like to thank cllr Nardelli for working so hard and staying the course. For being another link in the chain of Wandsworth Mayors stretching back into the past and hopefully far into the future.

 

One final note. – I can’t contain my excitement that Wendy Speck is to be the deputy Mayor for the year ahead.

I love Wendy. She’s served with me in Latchmere ward for the last six years and is a fantastic woman. Councillor Field, if you start to see science fiction DVDs appearing in the Mayor’s parlour – that’s Wendy. Watch out for Ewoks…

No one works harder than Wendy Speck. She’s an absolute dynamo and will be a great addition to the team next year.

So thank you to cllr Nadelli for your service this year, and best wishes to cllr Field and cllr Speck for what lies ahead. Wandsworth has a habit of making history and leading the way – and I know it will be no different over the next 12 months.

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