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.

Doddington Estate 1971: “They’re building flats where the houses used to be”

Screen shot 2016-03-22 at 00.12.48

I came across this amazing documentary about the Doddington Estate from 1971 in the BFI archives: “They’re building flats where the houses used to be”.

It features interviews with the first families to move into the Doddington Estate. Perhaps you recognise some faces?

The British Film Institute (BFI) says: “Refreshingly, the commentary comes entirely from the mouths of the residents themselves: young mothers, working fathers, elderly women, teenagers and children, who discuss their experiences, particularly the issue of loneliness and isolation.

“The film was made in 1971 when the estate was still being developed. Just one year later, the tenants’ association complained that Doddington was rapidly deteriorating. As one young female resident puts it: “I don’t think I’d give these places 20 or 30 years before they become slums. I think I’d give it two or three years, the way they’re going at the moment.”

Where the houses used to be is a sad film. Shows how Battersea’s tight-knit working class communities found it hard to switch to tower block life. Continue reading

Worth an Oscar: Wandsworth on film

To celebrate the Oscars tonight, here’s a quick run-down of films shot in Wandsworth’s Town Hall, parks and estates

Golden Globe winner Chiwetel Ejiofor shot Dirty Pretty Things (2002) in Wandsworth Town Hall


That wrong ‘un Lucas from Spooks blew up Wandsworth Town Hall in 2010 (was doubling as an embassy in Senegal). Proof:


Common People, a film shot entirely on Tooting Common, had successful cinema release last year


Brilliant short film: history of Winstanley Estate told through movies, interviews & photos


To mark Battersea Labour Party’s centenary, volunteers – including Timothy West & Prunella Scales – made this film:

Other films shot in Wandsworth include Love Actually, 101 Dalmations, Snatch & V for Vendetta. Full list from Wandsworth council here.



Lily Harrison (1924-2015)

Lily HarrisonObituary by Penny Corfield

Lily Harrison had a strong, feisty, ‘giving’ personality, with an intense civic commitment to the Shaftesbury Estate community in particular and to Battersea in general. In another generation, when opportunities for working-class women were greater, she would have taken a front-seat role. But she did more as a grass-root, throughout a long and non-stop life, than many front-benchers. Her award of an MBE in 2008 was a justified honour.

For Battersea Labour Party, Lily was not only the longest lived of a post-war generation of committed working-class activists who ran Labour in its unchallenged prime – but she was also a personal link between three generations of truly remarkable women in Battersea left-wing politics.

Lily worked closely with Caroline Ganley (1879-1966), who was Labour MP for Battersea South (1945-51) and a long-standing Battersea Councillor (1919-25, 1953-65). And in turn Caroline Ganley had worked closely with Charlotte Despard (1844-1939), the pioneering suffragette and left-winger, who lived in working-class Nine Elms and stood (alas, unsuccessfully) for Labour in Battersea in the 1919 general election. It was Charlotte Despard who purchased 177 Lavender Hill as BLP’s headquarters; and it was Lily Harrison who for many years ran 177 as its guardian figure.

Lily was born in Canning Town, East London, into a family of working-class Tories. After a sickly childhood, she grew into a wiry and indefatigable adult. She left school at 14, working as a sewing machinist. In 1941 she joined the WAAF and had a ‘good’ war, proud of her contribution to London’s home defence. At one stage, she was in charge of a team of women operating the huge barrage balloons on Sydenham Hill in south London, which were used to disrupt the flight of enemy bombers as they tried to blitz Battersea’s industries and rail networks.

It was a challenging task, Lily told me, not just technically but also because she had to manage a team of ‘flighty’ young women who were not used to physical labour and were all too keen on enjoying wartime London’s night-life. Later, she was in charge of a similar team operating barrage balloons on the cliffs of Dover at the time of D-Day.

When stationed on war duties in Cambridge in 1944, Lily met her Herbert (Bert) Harrison, nicknamed ‘Ginger’ for his red locks. Married in 1947, they were devoted to one another and to their growing family: two surviving sons, Edward and Derek, and a daughter Joan, who had Down’s Syndrome and died from pneumonia at the age of two. At that time, many parents used to put Down’s children into institutional care. But, as her son, Derek, recalled: ‘Not Lily! She dressed Joan in a red coat and displayed her to the world, lovingly declaring “That’s my daughter”.’ The little coat was kept as a treasured family memento, and was buried with Lily.

Bert Harrison came from a politically committed Labour family. His own father, another Herbert Harrison, had been a Labour Councillor and Mayor of Battersea (1953); and Bert followed in his footsteps, representing Shaftesbury Ward on Battersea Borough Council. For Lily, joining the Harrison clan meant that her leftish sympathies were suddenly jolted into non-stop activism. ‘It was a steep learning curve’, she admitted, but one that she thoroughly enjoyed.

When interviewed for the making of BLP’s DVD Red Battersea (2008), Lily said of her role in Battersea Labour: ‘After Bert was elected for Shaftesbury ward, I attended every Council meeting for fifteen years. I became a dedicated Party nut! I lost half a stone in weight during my first General Election campaign, in 1964 – but it was worth it because we got Ernie Perry in [as MP for Battersea South] with a big majority. Later, I ran the BLP Afternoon Section for older ladies: we had jumble sales, garden parties, raffles, knit-ins, and dinner parties, the annual Bazaar. You name it, I’ve organised it. It’s been my life.’

Lily and Bert, who lived on the Shaftesbury Estate, were also part of the strong community life of the Estate; as well as busy in many other local projects. After Bert’s death in 1990, Lily continued her civic involvement, being active on: Battersea Arts Centre Board (founder member from 1971 and later Trustee); Battersea United Charities (Trustee from 1960 and chair 1990-2006); Bolingbroke Hospital Friends; St George’s Hospital Friends; Tooting & Balham Carnival Committee (member from 1971; secretary 1984-94); and SHARE Community (Self-Help Association for Rehabilitation & Employment), of which she became Life Vice President. She wound down only when halted by illness, late in life.

As that account indicates, Lily had the gift of working well with others. She always did what she’d promised to do, with efficiency and good humour. She got on well with most people, and faced the twists and turns of politics with a certain stoicism. In personal terms, her greatest regret was that Bert did not become Mayor of Battersea, as his father had done before him, or of Wandsworth, which merged with Battersea Borough Council in 1965. And there’s no doubt that Lily would have made a great Mayoress.

Yet her tireless activism showed that civic individuals don’t need an official position to get involved. By the end of her long life, Lily had friends across the political spectrum. That’s because, unofficially, she was for many years the equivalent of an uncrowned Lady Mayor of Battersea. But she was no mere ceremonial figure. Lily was nothing if not hands-on. It’s how she lived her life.

Renters don’t get a fair deal in Wandsworth

Speech to Wandsworth Council, December 9, 2015

Wandsworth council is not working hard enough to get a fair deal for renters.

It doesn’t seem to understand renters’ lives. And it is not willing to inspect, to investigate, to level the playing field for renters.

This was shown most recently in the Investing Solutions scandal.

This is the Wandsworth-based letting agency that took £5.5million in housing benefit from a charity which housed the homeless. £2.1m of that was paid by Wandsworth council. Crisis, the housing charity, described the arrangement as “a new low”.

Several of their properties – used to house vulnerable people – were unsuitable, due to lack of heating and hot water, rats and damp.  The BBC reports the company earned £11,568 profit per year from one property alone. Continue reading

2015: My political year in 15 photos

1. More than 100 volunteers join Steve Coogan at an election rally in Clapham Junction for Will Martindale, who ran an inspiring campaign in Battersea



2. ‘Walking Tall’ by Bert Hardy is my favourite Battersea photo.

I only found out the moving true story behind it this year. Getty Images says the photo is from 1956 and shows: “Sean, a child who was given away by his natural mother because he had a hare lip, goes walking with his adoptive mother, Mrs Wiseman, in Battersea”



3. Playing in the ‘Community Kick About’ organised by Battersea Labour Party as part of the campaign to save Battersea Sports Centre (February)

photo 5


4. Listening to voters with friends from Battersea, Putney and Tooting Labour parties (March)

09Sept - camps


5. Interviewed as part of the campaign against Wandsworth’s plans to pay council tenants to move to Birmingham to rent privately (April)



6. Volunteering on Jess Phillips’s Birmingham Yardley campaign. Jess was elected as an MP and has made quite a splash. This blog about how she first got involved in politics was one of the most popular on my website in 2015. (April)



7. Labour councillors Fleur and Rosenna at Wandsworth’s annual Mayor-making ceremony. Last year they overturned a Tory majority of 1,000 to be elected in Bedford ward. (May)



8. Tooting MP and next Mayor of London Sadiq Khan checks a young activist’s homework with the help of Wandsworth Labour leader Rex Osborn. (June)



9. I wrote an article in support of Tessa Jowell’s campaign to end the ‘transfer tax’ on money sent home to family overseas. This featured the story of Joseph, a security guard who lives in Latchmere and sends money home to Ghana. It was a pleasure to later introduce Joseph to Tessa at a Battersea Labour Party fundraiser



10. The sad end of an era for Balham as My Back Pages bookshop turns into Jackson’s estate agent. Wandsworth has 153 estate agent shops (July)



11. Corridors of power: councillors Sally-Ann Ephson and Candida Jones prepare for a committee meeting in Wandsworth Town Hall



12. A rare photo of Speke Road, Clapham Junction, shortly before it was demolished to make way for the Winstanley Estate. Posted as part of ‘Why was the Winstanley Estate built?‘ the most-read article on my blog in 2015.

Old Winstanley


13. With fellow Latchmere ward councillors Tony Belton and Wendy Speck after a canvass session listening to local people. (September)

Simon Hogg, Wendy Speck and Tony Belton, Latchmere's Labour councillors


14. More than 1,000 homeless local families with children spent Christmas Day in Wandsworth council temporary accommodation



15. In Wandsworth Town Hall’s council chamber as best man at at friend’s wedding. A bit surreal after so many council meetings in this room! (November)