Newham Mayoral election: Standing up to the one-party borough

By Rob Virtue on May 8, 2014 11:13 AM |

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If the problem with Tower Hamlets politics is the deep and toxic divisions, for Newham it's the opposite.

The council is 100% Labour and Mayor Sir Robin Wales won with a whopping 68% of the vote in 2010.

So confidence is high in the Labour camp. However, one man believes a revolution is nigh. Stefan Mrozinski, Conservative candidate for the mayoralship is hoping he can cause an upset on May 22.

"You have a Labour mayor and 60 Labour councillors, as well as two Labour MPs," said Mr Mrozinski.

"More than half of the councillors are paid very large salaries to do certain executive jobs and that means the mayor has effectively bought their loyalty.

"He can do whatever he chooses to do with no real accountability, transparency or questioning."

His criticisms of the current administration are broad but all come back to the same issue - accountability.

"Full council meetings can last half an hour because all the decisions are made behind closed doors," he told The Wharf at an interview in The Crystal at the Royal Docks.

"You've got [council office] Building 1000, which cost over £100million, with no proper questioning of the decision and now they're talking about going back to the old buildings.

"Paying 500k for the Newham mag and the fiasco of the Pleasure Gardens ; a £40millon loan to West Ham United.

"Where's the person saying 'what's going on here?' At least in a place like Tower Hamlets you have Conservatives putting in these questions."

Born in Hampshire and state school educated, Stefan gets his east European surname from his grandfather who was captured while fighting for the Polish army in the '40s.

He was then held in a concentration camp, before escaping by train and ending up in Scotland.

Lawyer Mr Mrozinski, 28, lives in the Royal Docks and has been a Newham resident for five years.

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He admits it's "difficult" convincing voters that change is possible but believes he's making inroads.

He said: "We started this campaign in earnest six months ago. We had a situation then with people saying 'why should we vote, there's no opposition?' But now we're in a position where we've got solicitors, doctors, professionals who are credible people standing as candidates giving people options they didn't have six months ago. Frankly, options they've not had in 20 years.

"Knocking on doors I've not come across a single person who has said anything more positive about Sir Robin Wales than 'he's doing all right'."

Ironically, his two key policies - free school meals and a 24-hour Asbo phone line - are also the backbone of the campaign for the Labour candidate for Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs.

Mr Mrozinski said this was evidence that local, not party, politics were at the forefront.

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"What we offer is sensible, pragmatic governance," he said. "We're not driven by any kind of dogma. We believe in keeping council tax low, a mentoring programme in schools, all these things that the man on the street have no problem with."

If elected, Mr Mrozinski promises to cut the mayoral salary by £20,000, cut the cost of the cabinet in half and encourage tough questions from the council.

He sees the vote as crucial as Newham looks to exploit developments the next few years around the Royal Docks such as the Asian business park - which could bring in 20,000 jobs - new housing developments and the brand pavilions - projects he is at pains to point out that have, in the main, been led by a Conservative.

"This has come from Boris Johnson," said Mr Mrozinski.

"And the cable car and the Crystal - this was given to us by Boris Johnson and not Sir Robin.

"It's taken a Conservative mayor to bring these changes. Sir Robin Wales sat around for 15 years and didn't do a great deal then the Olympics came and regenerated the Royal Docks."

On City Airport...

"It's a well run business. I use it and I know a lot of people in the City who use it. But there are a lot of people living around here who feel their concerns about large expansion are being ignored.

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"We're prepared to listen to them to make sure concerns are being addressed. That's not happening with Sir Robin Wales. His councillors are afraid to speak up."

On river crossings...

"I need to see further hard evidence to reach a decision. I'm in favour of opening transport links and linking people up. You can see changes which have come from increasing the DLR and developing Stratford station - hubs develop.

"But the air quality down at Beckton is among the worst in London. Silvertown Way is stuffed full of traffic which huge pollution coming in. City Airport is causing fumes, there's heavy industry and we need to watch what this will do with the quality of our air."

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