Another picture of Southwark

The Southwark borough Paul Barker describes in your profile (13 December) is not the borough this long-serving Southwark MP and resident recognises.

This month Southwark's education service - run by Labour ever since the Ilea was abolished - has been castigated more comprehensively by Ofsted than ever before. I recently showed the House of Commons that Southwark's housing benefit service, under new Blairite contracting-out arrangements, had seen the number of new claims processed within the required 14-day period drop in three years from about 90 per cent to an incredible 5 per cent; unprocessed claims that led to an 81-year-old resident threatened with court and eviction contemplating suicide. The council and its director of regeneration, who you say is much admired, are honestly despised by increasing numbers of residents who see their homes and communities threatened with demolition to achieve the desired new Labour form of social engineering - "Turn away the refugees", "Eliminate the poor", "Cut council housing".

Parts of Southwark's riverside may be what you call "Pushy Southwark". If this area is glitzy and booming now, it may be thanks to some of us who pushed for regeneration in the early eighties but who were told then by local Labour politicians, for example, that Sam Wanamaker's Globe Theatre was not a priority because "Shakespeare is greatly overrated". But most of my North Southwark and Bermondsey riverside constituency is poor Southwark, too. The tale of two Southwarks begun under the Tories is continuing under Labour.

Happily, rescue is at hand. Just as Islington may soon be rescued from decades of Labour incompetence, so Southwark is also likely to be rescued in the very near future. Labour holds the council only by the casting vote of the mayor. Liberal Democrats do not just understand local anxieties. We are prepared to represent people in a way that responds to them. Sustainable communities are not achieved by kicking out the poor and the vulnerable.

As the Prime Minister might say: we want development and investment for the many not just the few. If we had a government that was committed to real redistribution of opportunity, wealth and work, we might stand a chance of a borough and a country we could all be proud of.

Simon Hughes MP
Member for North Southwark & Bermondsey
House of Commons, London SW1

This article first appeared in the 20 December 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Now then, are we getting anywhere?