This is what democracy looks like

This is what democracy looks like


Congratulations to Peter Smorthit and his merry band of residents, who worked tirelessly over a very short space of time, and showed Hackney’s political establishment what genuine democracy looks like.

From a standing start – no money, no party organisation or resources, no brand recognition, infrastructure, advisors or team – in less than three weeks he managed to win 1,382 votes,  nearly four per cent of all cast.

Peter and pals had to raise more than £1000 in a few days, simply to enter the electoral campaign. They went out flyering, speaking to residents, shopkeepers and businesses. Peter spoke to local media, including BBC Radio and News. And they pulled off a hugely successful and sold-out candidates’ hustings the week of the election. The hustings – generously hosted by the Premises Studios on Hackney Road – was the third and only fully open discussion where residents were free to ask whatever was important to them.

Hackney Cycle Campaign, who were paid thousands of ££ in ‘consultancy fees’ by the last mayor and helped plan the borough’s LTN chaos, actually excluded Peter from their hustings. To her credit the Green Party candidate Zoë Garbett attended the Premesis hustings, and the socialist trade unionists sent along a deputy after their candidate fell ill.

This is what real democracy looks like. People disagreeing but discussing and debating their ideas and disagreements. This is how civil society is built. Neither the mainstream parties nor those well-funded campaign groups such as London Cycling Campaign seem to understand this. They can’t stomach genuine public involvement and self-organisation. They prefer back-door deals, well away from public scrutiny. But we, the public are not going away. Peter’s campaign has put down a marker for the future. Hackney deserves better! We deserve better.

The No-mandate Mayor

The No-mandate Mayor


A Labour councillor has been declared Mayor of Hackney, replacing the last one who was forced to resign, in shame.

In last week’s election, the councillor received just over 18,000 votes, a staggering 50 per cent drop in support for Labour from a year ago. Out of an electorate of around 180,000, almost 90% did not vote for her.

Some eighty per cent of electors in Hackney did not vote at all. In short, the new mayor has no mandate and no legitimacy. Still, this councillor holds executive power and plans to use it.

So what does this new mayor stand for, if anything?  She refused to attend all three of the election hustings debates so it’s safe to say she’s not interested in explaining or debating her ideas with the electors of Hackney.

In an interview conducted in the ‘presence of Labour press officer’, the councillor explained proudly to Hackney Citizen that she “learnt how to become a cabinet member” during Lockdown – i.e. when our democratic rights and freedoms were suspended. So, she has plenty of experience of riding roughshod over the views of the electorate.

She freely admitted also that the imposition of LTNs Hackney were “brutal”, but offered the explanation that “something had to be done”. Forget evidence, stats, congestion, air pollution, forget democracy, consultation and due process. Something had to be done!

She’s right about one thing, something does have to be done, that is something has to be done about the poor excuse for democracy and leadership in our town hall. A referendum on abolishing the post of Mayor would be a good start, but we need a revamp of how we run things and who is in control. At the moment it sure isn’t us and it doesn’t look much like a heathy democracy.

Come the next election we need to have figured out how to convince our fellow citizens that we can get rid of them and replace them with something better.

To borrow Peter Smorthit’s campaign slogan…


Fiery Clash at Hackney Town Council Meeting Over LTNs

Fiery Clash at Hackney Town Council Meeting Over LTNs

At the end of last month – Monday 26th of July – Hackney’s Labour-run Council finally did what they have been trying not to do for more than two years. That is, the simple act of discussing, at Full Council a petition by local residents calling for the removal of LTNs, meaningful public consultations and a proper Town Hall debate.

According to Hackney Council’s own constitution, if a residents’ petition “hit(s) the threshold of 750 signatures” that “triggers a right to be debated at Full Council”. The ‘Hackney Road Closures’ petition totalled nearly 17.5 thousand signatures and ran to some 600 pages. 

Yet for more than two years the council rejected, ignored or dismissed various attempts by residents and an opposition councillor to get them to fulfil their constitutional duty and debate the LTN petition. 

Crucially, during those two years of delay, Hackney Council’s Extinction Rebellion supporting Labour Mayor Phillip Glanville, made ‘permanent’ 19 LTNs, thus sidestepping public scrutiny, and ignoring the results of their online consultations, in which large majorities of residents still gave a resounding no to every LTN in Hackney. 

Just to recap – the origin of Hackney’s LTNs lay in central government’s unprecedented emergency Lockdown powers, introduced in response to Covid. With these powers, Hackney Council was able to impose its draconian road closure programme, without consulting residents or business owners in advance. 

From 2020 the council closed off some 55% of our roads, without public agreement or democratic mandate and without even consulting disability or age-concern groups (they claim they consulted these groups, but they evidently did not). 

The council even overturned previous consultation results from 2017 where the residents of London Fields had already said no to their roads being closed. Not surprising then that tens of thousands of residents signed the petition in an attempt to have their voices heard. 

 If not for the tireless efforts and persistence of retired Hackney teacher Ruth Parkinson, the Council might have succeeded in shelving the 17.5k strong petition altogether. It was fitting then that Ruth was finally invited to present the petition to Full Council on Monday. Ruth was joined in the council chamber by two other petition supporters, myself included, and many other supporters in the Public Gallery. 

Any hope of a proper democratic debate were quickly dashed when the council’s  Electoral Services Department set out the parameters for the discussion. 

“Timings are up to:

  • 5 mins – Lead Petitioner(s) introduction
  • 10 mins – Debate/Councillors consider the petition
  • 5 mins – Lead Cabinet Councillor  response”

Petitioners were given a total of five whole minutes to put our case to councillors, which really only allowed time for one of us to speak. And after our five minutes, that was it – were not allowed to respond to anything that was said or discussed by councillors following Ruth’s introduction. We were expected to sit in silence, no matter what was being said. Some public debate.

However it wasn’t just petitioners who were effectively gagged in this ‘debate’. “I’ve been whipped.” Confessed one apologetic Labour Councillor as she passed by to get to her seat. What she meant was that Hackney Labour had instructed its councillors they must toe the line and it forbade from speaking freely during the debate. Indeed, nearly all of the Labour councillors in the chamber sat twiddling their thumbs or looking bored, glum or down at their smartphones throughout the discussion. 

Undeterred, when her time came Ruth took to the floor and introduced the petition. And what an introduction! In just under five minutes, Ruth delivered a devastating attack on Hackney’s LTNs, highlighting how they clearly contradict many of the council’s existing policies, aims and values. Quoting council’s own policies and reports, Ruth showed how the imposition and enforcement of LTNs systematically contradict their own aims and recommendations on discrimination, pollution, schools, road safety, disability and age-discrimination.

“Hackney Council knew that pollution levels were met on side roads BUT NOT ON MAIN ROADS so this deliberate policy to force traffic onto already highly polluted roads is ignoring the effects it has on those living on main roads and using main roads to walk to shop and to go to school.” 

You can read the whole of Ruth’s introduction here. 

Hackney residents and business owners are well used to Transport Chief Mete Coban (Cllr for Stoke Newington) ducking questions, responding with platitudes, half-truths, dirty tricks and slurs, popularly known these days as ‘gaslighting’. Cllr Coban’s immediate response to Ruth and to the 17.5 thousand signatories was very much business as usual. Mete’s first response:

“the “horrific images” of wildfires in the Greek island of Rhodes showed how concerning the climate emergency is.” followed by “Every road is accessible.”

“Our direction of travel is bold,”

Quite how closing Middleton Road is supposed to help tackle seasonal fires in the Mediterranean wasn’t made clear, but this off-the-wall response was about as close as he got to actually answering any of our questions.  In truth, not once did Coban or anyone else on the Labour benches address a single concern or point raised in Ruth’s introduction.

The Mayor remained silent throughout the LTN discussion, which was unfortunate, given that he, along with Jon Burke, was a principal architect of this insane social experiment inflicted on the public. Maybe the Mayor had been whipped into silence along with most of our Labour councillors? Or maybe he had other things on his mind? 

And throughout this farcical excuse for a debate we the public, and those presenting the petition were expected to sit and listen in silence. 

The only opposing voice from an elected representative came from Cllr Steinberger, Conservative representative Springfield Ward, who has been a consistent and staunch critic of the council’s war on driving. It was he and former colleague Harvey Odze who had helped try to get the petition onto the Full Council agenda a year earlier.  “These LTNs are a load of rubbish. Listen to the people…” demanded Cllr Steinberger, but as ever, Glanville’s administration are not interested in listening to anyone, unless their name begins with Hackney Cycling Campaign.

The remainder of Coban’s response was not aimed not at addressing any of the public’s concerns or Ruth’s points and questions, but in party point-scoring against the two Green councillors in the chamber. Did they not support the council’s road closure programme? 

Green Cllr Alastair Binnie-Lubbock sprang to his feet to claim that of course Hackney Greens supported LTNs. Further, the Greens wanted to get fat people out of their gas-guzzling 4x4s and he personally was in favour of ‘people’s assemblies’ to help them do that. Presumably the only people he wants in his ‘people’s assemblies’ are the ones who agree with him? 

For many of us this was our first time in the council chamber. Call this writer naive, but it ought to be the beating heart of our local democracy. But really it’s an empty shell, ruled by remote career-bureaucrats. They pay lip service to democracy and public engagement, but really the hold the public in contempt and use every trick in the book to keep us at arms length. 

They have reduced politics and democracy to unfathomably tedious and obscure procedure in an attempt to bore us all to death. And when that doesn’t work they attempt to slur and gaslight the public and anyone who opposes them. But the public is made of sterner and smarter stuff and we will not go away and we will not be dismissed and pushed around. Watch this space. 

Hackney resident Ruth Parkinson’s address to the Full Council on LTNs.

Hackney resident Ruth Parkinson’s address to the Full Council on LTNs.

Ruth Parkinson’s address to the Full Council meeting on Monday 24th July 2023. 5 mins – Ruth was allowed five minutes to speak and present the residents petition to councillors. A further 10 minutes was ‘allocated’ for councillors to speak and respond. Neither Ruth as the lead petitioner, nor any accompanying petitioners in the chamber were allowed speak again or take part in the discussion. This is her presentation.

“The current LTNs were introduced during the Covid19 emergency under ETOs which were temporary measures to help social distancing. They seem now to have taken on a different purpose to address three major concerns:

  1. Pollution
  2. Road Safety
  3. Physical inactivity

So I’d like to address each one in turn:

1 Pollution According to Hackney Council’s “AIR QUALITY ACTION PLAN 2015-2019” 

“pollution levels are highest in the most densely built up areas…. along the borough’s busiest roads. Away from the busy main roads, air quality objectives tend to be met”

“increasing road congestion contributes to worsening air pollution, delays in vital bus services and freight and makes many streets unpleasant places to walk and cycle”

“schools on main roads in the borough are exposed to higher levels of pollution”

Hackeny Council knew that pollution wasn’t an issue in side streets where LTNs are focused BUT MAIN ROADS

Hackney Council knew that pollution levels were met on side roads BUT NOT ON MAIN ROADS so this deliberate policy to force traffic onto already highly polluted roads is ignoring the effects it has on those living on main roads and using main roads to walk to shop and to go to school.

Quote from Hackney Council’s “Hackney Emergency transport Plan 2020:

“Public Health and Safety Implications will be profound for those groups already disproportionately impacted upon by secondary effects of motor vehicle use, including those on low income, people of minority ethnic background the elderly and children”

Hackney Council knew increasing congestion on main roads would lead to higher pollution levels for people living on these roads, for children going to school on these roads, for people wallking and working on these roads. THIS IS CALLED SOCIAL INJUSTICE. Any reduction in Nitrous Oxide in LtNs is minimal whereas main roads and boundary roads suffered disproportionately. In fact by forcing people to drive more miles to get to their destination both inside and outside LTNs it actually contributes to pollution. More miles are driven not less MORE CONGESTION IS CREATED NOT LESS.

2. Road Safety: From 2 different sources of data as well as Hackney’s own data side roads are not as unsafe as the council implies:

Accidents mainly happen on main roads and at junctions with main roads, NOT SIDE ROADS. In fact data suggests that closing side roads is actually making main roads more unsafe adding to the number of accidents recorded.

Hackney Council collected accident data showing an increase in accidents on surrounding main roads. Clearly the majority of accidents happen on main roads NOT SIDE ROADS. Hackney’s Policy of closing roads makes main roads more “unsafe” not less. KINGSLAND ROAD, MARE STREET, DALSTON LANE, GRAHAM ROAD AND QUEENSBRIDGE ROAD ALL REPORT INCREASED LEVELS OF ACCIDENTS.

3. Physical Inactivity: 

A seemingly “noble” cause but the council’s policy seems to ignore that 14% of the UK population have mobility issues. In the 2021 Hackney census 2021. 1/5th of people living in Hackeny have a disability. That’s 37,020. 16,622 or 9.6% said their disability impacted “a lot” on daily activities. 1/5th of them reported having difficulties accessing public transport. Many of them rely on vehicles through the mobility car scheme or “BLUE BADGE” or rely on buses to go to appointments, shop and live their lives. Hackney Council decided to “clamp down” on Blue Badge holders by failing to immediately give universal exemption to them.

The council knows who they are because the council have records of all Blue Badges issued by the council.

The council has chosen to discriminate against them,to make their lives more difficult through this ableist policy.

The council has a duty of care in law to protect the disabled. LTNs do not help the elderly or disabled (discriminates against them) Why does the council make the disabled suffer to make already “able bodied” walk and cycle a bit more, this is an ableist policy.

As a life long Labour supporter and voter I am shocked that the council discriminates in this way. The Council’s Equality Assessments were woefully inadequate and were excused by the Judge as being done in an “emergency” Well ETOs are over and yet you are still carrying on making them permanent with still no proper in depth EQ assessments.

17,000 people signed this petition so far just to get it discussed (for five minutes). It’s taken over 2 years to get here.

In the online consultations 58% of people in the London Fields LTN said they were against it being made permanent, 64% in Hoxton were against, 64% were against in Homerton… but the Council has continued anyway. The Council is not even addressing the issues created by LTNs.

We appeal to you to give immediate universal exemption to all Blue Badge Holders (not just companies) and to STOP using the party whip to squash debate. We appeal to all council member to listen to us! Stop obstructing debate, take our evidence seriously and take ACTION to ease the pain you are inflicting on our desabled to our elderly to our children and our honest hackney residents who deserve our consideratoin and care.”

Are councils and political leaders ignoring consultation results? 

Are councils and political leaders ignoring consultation results? 

The short answer is yes. Councils like Hackney in East London are overriding clear majority verdicts and making permanent a raft of road closures introduced as emergency temporary measures during Lockdown. Hackney alone has imposed 19 LTNs using Lockdown measures, and to date every single consultation has shown majorities of more than 60% of respondents want them removed. So far the council has ignored every result and made each LTN permanent. 

In 2021, the Telegraph pointed out that “in the consultations made public so far, 18,314 people have expressed a negative view of the active travel schemes, vastly outnumbering the 7,020 residents who expressed their support.” Since then the pattern has continued – the public says no but councils push on regardless. 

Some councils are withholding consultations results altogether, and residents are having to resort to Freedom of Information Requests (FOIs) to obtain information. In the London borough of Brent, for example, resident Sarah Rollinson, forced her council to disclose consultation results for two LTN areas. She found that in Olive Road Area 787 to 198 majority against the road closures. And for the Dollis Hills Area 41 respondents were in favour and 287 were against. 

However, online consultations are increasingly designed to avoid altogether questions that show clear majorities or give clear answers. London Cycling Campaign (LCC) which has played a large part in lobbying for, and designing LTNs, advises councils to “avoid questions that elicit yes/no answers”. Instead, they suggest using “sliding scales of approval” and other methods that help to diffuse and deflect public responses. Little wonder that councils like the London Borough of Hackney have paid these cycling campaigners thousands of Pounds in ‘consultancy fees’. 

With many LTN consultation results reports, you might be forgiven for wondering if the aim appears to be to deflect and confuse the public with mountains of information. Multipage documents for each individual LTN, present responses to a myriad of micro-questions. ‘Do you spend more time in the area?’ ‘Is it easier to cross the street?’, ‘Does the street look nice?’ ‘How many people run or jog?’, ‘Is there more space for cycling?’, ‘Are car trips inconvenienced?’ And so on.

This wealth of information is then usefully broken down by religion, ethnicity, gender – ‘2% of respondents describe themselves as ‘non-binary’ – reports one of Islington Council’s Amwell People Friendly Streets report – sexual orientation, age, cyclist, single car-owner, multiple car-owner, car passenger and so on. Information is broken down again and again until it’s nearly impossible to make sense of. No wonder Islington’s Amwell report-back comes with some 17 accompanying documents. 

Of course, informations can be a good thing, and we might want to know what kind of people are responding. But with so many of these consultation exercises, they are designed deliberately so as to find it almost impossible to find clear yes or no as to whether residents want LTN barriers to be retained or removed from their streets. 

And so, instead of consultations being a process whereby the public gets to decide on projects and proposals, they become one great big ‘conversation’. “We host open digital conversations that are easy to participate  in and representative of the whole community.” Says Commonplace, the pro-LTN organisation behind many of today’s online consultancy programmes. The impression given in these reports is that the public is a diffuse mass of people, all talking at cross-purposes with one another. Everyone has an opinion. All of them, and consequently, none of them are valid. And so the councils, officers and their experts get to decide everything on our behalf. 

Another interesting shift is that councils are moving away from using professional market research companies to conduct quality, in-depth consultations, in favour of activist-organisations such as Steer, Commonplace, Sustrans, and Systra who publicly advocate and campaign around issues like cycling, ’active travel’, Green issue and ‘sustainable cities’. 

In 2016 Hackney Council engaged market research company BDRC to design and manage a consultation on proposals to close or restrict car access to the London Fields area of the borough. Residents and business owners were presented with a set of clear proposals and alternatives. 

After more than a year of real-world community consultations,  a clear majority overwhelmingly rejected LTN-style road closures. However, many did opt for less drastic proposals some of the traffic issues of the area. It was a good piece of research carried out over a period of more than a year. 

As a result of the consultation, Hackney Council dropped plans to close off roads in the area. That was until Lockdown measures allowed them to disregard the views of residents and close their roads anyway. 

Government ‘guidance’ under Lockdown severely restricted the public’s democratic say in local and national affairs. Councils were now allowed to implement a project without any prior consultation or notification, and the public were then allowed to express an opinion on what had already been done to them. This meant that councils like London Borough of Hackney could revive projects already rejected by residents, such as the London Fields closures, and simply impose them. 

It is debatable as to whether pre-Lockdown style consultations were really a satisfactory way of conducting local democracy and taking major decisions. Today’s post-Lockdown ‘digital conversations’ masquerading as democratic participation are really a wake-up call. Our democratic voice is being seriously eroded and it is time for citizens to return to the real public square and take back our democracy.