Famous by-election opponents Simon Hughes MP and Peter Tatchell praised each other for achievements over three decades as they faced each other before an audience at Sands Films.

Rotherhithe & Bermondsey Local History Group staged the discussion last Wednesday to mark the 30th anniversary of the Bermondsey by-election which attracted 15 contestants. After a turbulant campaign, during which the Labour’s Peter Tatchell was briefly disowned by the party leader and then suffered serious homophobic attacks, a safe Labour seat went Liberal in the biggest by-election swing in British political history.

“I hope in the years from then I have tried to heal some of the wounds,” said Liberal winner Simon Hughes who still holds the seat. “Peter has been very generous to me over the years. I pay tribute to him again as I have done privately and publicly. I apologise to him privately and publicly for what happened. Many of the things which happened to him were completely unacceptable.”

He added: “I pay tribute above all to your human rights campaigning abroad as well as at home.” In his main address Peter Tatchell, turning to Simon Hughes, said: “I don’t personally blame him. I don’t frankly know what he knew and didn’t know. I suspect he did not know. But undoubtedly some members of the Liberal Party did pitch for the homophobic vote.”

Investigations into who or which party published the most notorious ‘Which Queen will you vote for?’ leaflet had, he said, never been conclusive.

Tatchell praised Simon Hughes for support he had received from him shortly after the election when organising the world’s first Aids and Human Rights Conference.

Student journalist Fern Tomlinson, chairing the discussion, first recalled the “turbulent” political state of Britain in the early 1980s. She recalled that the Labour Party was at a low ebb and about to lose the post Falklands general election. But first there was the historic Bermondsey by-election on 24 February 1983.

Ms Tomlinson said that the two guests were the key players but council leader John O’Grady, standing as Real Bermondsey Labour and backed by Bermondsey’s former MP Bob Mellish, was also a significant candidate. O’Grady had been considered a possible winner until the last few days when anti-Tatchell support switched to the Liberal candidate.

Simon Hughes said that he joined Bermondsey Liberal Party as member number six at the invitation of Stan Hardy who heard that the recently graduated Liberal student had not, after several letters, had a reply from Peckham Liberals. Mr Hughes was soon the failed GLC candidate for Bermondsey.

He described the local Labour Party run by O’Grady in the 1970s as an ‘Irish mafia’. Peter Tatchell recalled it as a ‘corrupt and moribund party’. Change came when he and friends managed to recruit 800 new members in one year.

“I stood on policies I still stand by today which now of course are the mainstream although at the time I was vilified as an extremist,” said Peter who listed the minimum wage, equality laws and a negotiated settlement in Ireland.

He detailed verbal attacks, street incidents and death threats which led to his home having to be boarded up. He admitted he was terrified. He had support but was refused police protection. He confessed to one of the darkest periods of this life as he suffered post traumatic stress after the contest.

He claimed that the public revulsion afterwards quickly led to gay and lesbian candidates being able to fight elections without suffering attacks.

Both ex-candidates spoke candidly when asked by today’s Bermondsey Labour Party secretary Sheila Taylor what they regretted most.

“I wish I had been brave enough to say ‘can we call a halt to personal abuse?’,” reflected Simon Hughes. “Sometimes people have to step out of their political corner.” He explained that as a young candidate he was on the campaign trail not always knowing what was happening in the HQ.

Peter Tatchell also spoke of a sense of powerlessness and wished he had been able to persuade MPs to come and help him. Labour’s stars failed to make the short journey from Westminster to join in the campaign.

The two rivals, who had operated without modern speedy communication, were asked to provide a Tweet for Thursday 24 February 1983. “My policies are motivated by love and not hate” said Peter who explained he wanted to be positive.

Simon said: “Tomorrow first vote. If you want someone to take on Mrs Thatcher and the failing Labour Council…” Both ran out of characters for their imaginary tweets but agreed that housing was a central issue in 1973 just as in 2013.

Local history group chairman Michael Daniels said: “The evening was a sell-out and had become the ‘talk of the Blue’, as well as the local pubs!

“I found it both enlightening and humbling to hear Simon and Peter give such honest and open accounts, and fascinating to witness the degree to which many of their views converge.”

The group’s next meeting is on Wednesday 27 February when the speaker will be transport writer Christian Wolmar.

Canada Water Library may have been a critical and popular success, but plans to recoup some of the running costs from hiring out meeting rooms and the culture space have run into trouble.

This is from the council’s budget papers for next year:

There is pressure on income achievement at Canada Water Library. Whilst the income target for the library is £160k, the forecast after 9 months of the year is for actual annual income achievement to be only about £85k.

Last month Southwark Council’s cabinet agreed to the next stage of work towards the rejuvenation of Albion Street.

The council says it will work with local residents on the Albion Street Regeneration Framework which will have four main strands.

The next stages include proposals to expand Albion Primary School, further consultation with residents on the Albion Estate to see how they can benefit from wider regeneration, ensuring that the redevelopment of the former Rotherhithe Library on Albion Street supports the hopes of local people and enhancing public spaces in the area.

Cllr Fiona Colley, cabinet member for regeneration and corporate strategy said: “Albion Street was once a lively and successful area – home to a popular street market and at the heart of the Rotherhithe community.

“Despite the tremendous changes we have seen in the Rotherhithe and Canada Water area, Albion Street area has not really felt the benefits.

“We are fortunate that there is a lot of enthusiasm and many great ideas coming forward from local tenants, residents, councillors, businesses and groups such as the Scandinavian churches. We want to make sure that there is a role for all local representatives to get involved in improving the area.”

Three mature plane trees on Rotherhithe New Road are likely to be felled, says Southwark Council.

The trees, which the council says are encroaching on the pedestrian space on the public highway, could be felled after adjacent landowners refused to sell the council a small plot of land to enable the pavement to be widened.

“I am extremely disappointed that the only course of action available to the council is to remove these trees from the local community,” said Cllr Peter John, leader of the council.

“Not only are they great for the environment but they add a unique vibrancy.  We would not normally fell healthy trees of this age but in this case we have no option. Sadly the landowners have refused to cooperate in helping us to resolve the situation so our hands are tied.”

Whilst the council has pointed the finger at the Residential Management Group, the firm has responded on Twitter:

Three replacement new trees will be planted in a nearby location.

Lib Dem councillor Graham Neale said: “I have suggested that the pavement is built out into the road to make room for the trees rather than removing the wall, which could save the trees from the chop and improve the road at the same time.

“The pavement opposite is more than wide enough to provide a ‘chicane’ traffic calming system. This is a chance to start managing roads in a way that puts pedestrians and cyclists at the front of road management in our borough.

“Instead of listening to alternatives, Labour have decided to chainsaw the trees which date back to Dr Salter. After all the warm words and phoney consultation we’re back to Plan A, which is to take the easy option and get rid of the trees. How many times must we listen to hollow promises?

“Residents and campaigners have spent a lot of time and effort trying to save these trees. It’s a waste of our time, and a waste of a great opportunity, but I’m afraid that’s the way Labour are running Southwark.”


The new ‘My Southwark’ office has opened in the Market Place at the Blue, replacing the former Bermondsey One Stop Shop in Spa Road.

“It is our mission statement as a council to treat every resident as if they were a member of our own family, and that starts with the council’s customer service, which has needed improving,” said council leader Cllr Peter John.

“The new customer service point at The Blue is great because it is right in the heart of Bermondsey and provides a focal point for local residents to come and carry out a whole range of services – from paying council tax to dealing with rent account queries.

“It will give people the freedom to choose when they access a particular service and will let them choose between talking to an advisor and accessing their own online account.

“I want this to be the blue print for the delivery of much improved customer services from the council across the whole of Southwark.”

For further information visit: www.southwark.gov.uk/servicepoints

Simon Hughes MP has written to the Mayor of London to raise residents’ concerns about slow broadband speeds in Rotherhithe and Surrey Docks.

The Mayor of London is responsible for distributing the government’s £25 million Urban Broadband Fund.

Following several complaints from residents in Rotherhithe and Surrey Docks, earlier this year Simon Hughes MP raised the issue with BT, internet service providers and the culture secretary Maria Miller MP.

Despite Ofcom’s recent report that the average broadband speed in the UK is 9Mbps, with some internet service providers advertising considerably higher speeds, Rotherhithe residents have reported speeds which struggle to reach 2Mbps.

“I am very concerned that people in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe are experiencing unacceptably low broadband speeds,” said Simon Hughes.

“Not only is this incredibly frustrating for people using internet in their homes, it is also harmful for businesses in the area. It is unbelievable that people living and working in between the major hubs of London Bridge and Docklands have such poor download speeds.

“Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of passing the buck on this issue between BT, internet service providers and the government. I am urging the Mayor of London to use the extra government funding to improve broadband connections for residents and businesses in Rotherhithe and I will continue to do all I can to make sure my constituents enjoy broadband speeds which you would expect from a global city in the 21st century.”

However, according to a recent written answer to Lib Dem London Assembly member Stephen Knight, there is little hope of the £25 million allocated by the Mayor being used to help SE16 residents and businesses.

Boris Johnson says that the cash will be spent on four projects including fibre broadband in ‘Tech City’, wireless provision along the Docklands Light Railway, gigabit internet for the Royal Docks area and ultrafast broadband for high-density social housing estates.

Simon Hughes MP yesterday asked this question of the culture secretary:

There is often lots of conversation about the difficulties of broadband access in rural areas. What can Ministers do to help people in urban areas such as mine, where in Rotherhithe, for example, people are not near the telephone exchange and broadband is therefore very poor indeed?

Maria Miller replied:

The right hon. Gentleman raises an issue with which many people in the Chamber will identify. Urban areas by no means always receive the sort of connectivity that our constituents want. That is why it is important that we have put in place not only the rural broadband programme to deliver better connectivity in rural areas but the urban broadband fund for our urban areas, which will ensure that London has some £25 million to achieve the improvements that he talks about.

An education minister has confirmed that the Government is still committed to the stalled plan to create a university technical college on the Southwark College campus in Bermondsey.

This exchange took place at education questions in the Commons on Monday.

Simon Hughes:

Will Ministers confirm that the Government will do everything they can to ensure that the Southwark and Lewisham college campus site in Bermondsey gets not only a continuing further education college but a university technical college and, if space permits, a secondary school, too?

Matthew Hancock (education minister):

Yes, I can. I know that my right hon. Friend has met colleagues in the other place, and my colleagues in this place and I are happy to meet him too to ensure that we can sort this problem out.

The Boundary Commission for England has announced its revised proposals for new parliamentary constituencies.

The current Bermondsey & Old Southwark constituency would be dismantled with Rotherhithe, Surrey Docks and South Bermondsey wards forming part of a new Rotherhithe & Deptford constituency spanning the Lewisham-Southwark border.

However – due to tensions within the coalition government over House of Lords reform – the proposals stand very little chance of being implemented.

More than 100 visitors attended the inclusive sports day held at Surrey Docks Watersports Centre on 1 August to celebrate the Paralympic Games..The day was filled with fun activities including sailing, wheelchair basketball, adaptive cycling, Boccia, indoor rowing and boxing.

The council-run event was delivered in partnership with various sport groups including Tideway Sailability, Wheels for Wellbeing, London Youth Rowing, British Wheelchair Basketball and Fight for Change.

“It was very exciting to have had Boundless Sports in Southwark for the first time,” said Cllr Veronica Ward, cabinet member for culture, leisure, sport and the Olympics.

“It was a great way to celebrate the Paralympic Games and our continued commitment to development sports opportunities for all.

“The event was a real success with families and community groups all showing their support for this fantastic event.”

Andre Ferguson, director of Meakabears Deaf Support, who attended the event with his two daughters, said:  “I have attended such an event before and I must say it was simply amazing.

“I took part in all the events with my two girls and they loved it so much they didn’t even want to leave! We had so much fun playing wheelchair basketball as a team and now the respect and admiration I have for people in wheelchairs have rocketed! They are true heroes. Thank you to the team at Southwark, we really appreciate you.”

The event coincided with the announcement of the winners of the newly launched Southwark Sportability Grant set up to help support local clubs and organisations to better meet the needs of disabled audiences.


Successful applicants include Bredinghurst School, Contact a Family, Carl Campbell Dance Company, Meakabears, Tuke School, Sunshine House, Millwall Community Scheme, King’s College and 2020 Archery.

Winners were selected by Southwark Council, a representative from Pro-Active Central London and Interactive. Each organisation will be awarded up to £2,000 to deliver inclusive activity within the borough.