Index

NOW IT TURNS NASTY Waltham Forest Guardian April 10, 1987
Neil Gerrard memo to Labour Members May 12, 1987.
GETTING THE HELL OUT LA Week, January 11, 1990
Labour leader sets sights on commons Yellow Advertiser, February 9, 1990
Neil is keeping up the fight Waltham Forest Guardian May 11, 1990
EX-LEADER SETS SIGHTS ON COMMONS Yellow Advertiser, May 25, 1990
I could have died if I'd ignored symptoms Waltham Forest Guardian, May 15, 2008
Councillors with heart disease  
Neil Gerrard
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APRIL 17:Personal attacks on councillors were rife after the rates increase. Council leader Neil Gerrard's Walthamstow home was petrol-bombed. (727) (From Waltham Forest Guardian annual review of 1987)
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BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS

NEIL GERRARD

MP for Walthamstow since 1992

Former Lecturer in Computing at Hackney College (Further Education College)

POLITICAL BACKGROUND:

Member of Labour Party in Walthamstow over Z5 years.

Member of Waltham Forest Council 1973 to 1990 Deputy Leader of Labour Group 1979 to 1983 Leader of Labour Group 1983 to 1990 Deputy Leader of Council 1979 to 1982 Leader of Council 1986 to 1990

Labour Candidate in Chingford 1979

STATEMENT

Since being elected as MP for Walthamstow in 1992, I believe I have a good record of activity both in Walthamstow and in Parliament.

Through regular advice surgeries, letters, and having a contact telephone number for my office widely advertised, I have in three years dealt with over 2000 people from Walthamstow who needed assistance, plus as many again who have been in touch with me with on policy matters. I do regard this as an important part of the work of an MP, not just in helping people to obtain their rights on benefits,immigration, housing etc, but also in raising the profile of the Labour Party, as a Labour representative.

In Walthamstow the individual case with the greatest coverage in the media was that of Paul Ride, who was imprisoned in Iraq for about 18 months, having been abducted from the Iraqi border with Kuwait where he was working.

I have built up relationships with a wide range of local voluntary organisations, and worked with them on campaigns both locally and nationally. Most recently I worked with Leyton Orient Football Club and a professional theatre to develop a play on the issue of racism in football, which is now touring schools in several London Boroughs, and will hopefully soon go on a national tour.

In Parliament I have been on the Committees dealing with a number of important Bills, particularly the Asylum and Immigration Bill, the Criminal Justice Bill, and the Disability Discrimination Bill. I work

closely with a number of national organisations, particularly the Refugee Council, Shelter, and the Labour Middle East Council.

I was able to get a Private Members Bill into law, which altered the conditions for what is known as Section 11 Grant to Local Authorities, so that a wider range of ethnic minority communities, and particularly refugees, were able to benefit from the grant.

I am a member of the Campaign Group of Labour MP's, and also actively involved in back-bench Committees on Civil Liberties, Housing, Gas Safety, and HIV/Aids.

I am a member of the National Council of CND, the Executive Committee of the Labour Middle East Council, and a Vice-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on HIV/Aids.

I have always tried to keep in regular contact with the Constituency Labour Party. I rarely miss attending the General Committee, and then only when I have to be in Westminster for votes. I report back regularly to the GC on what I have been doing in Parliament. I am always ready to attend Branch meetings, whenever this can be fittedin with Parliamentary duties. I never miss votes in Parliament, except on rare occasions when I have paired in order to be able to attend a meeting outside Westminster.

OTHER ACTIVITIES

Member of Board, Theatre Royal (Stratford, East London)

Member of Board of Trustees, SHAC (Housing Aid Centre for London)


GETTING THE HELL OUT

LA Week 11 January 1990

After 17 years as a councillor three as leader Neil Gerrard of Waltham Forest is stepping down. Here he talks frankly to David Osler about his trials and tribulations

IT's Just the sheer strain of what local government involves now compared with a few years ago, coupled with all the problems forced on you by the government."

Neil Gerrard, Labour leader of London's Waltham Forest borough council, is explaining why he is getting out of local government after 17 years in the council chamber.

"The Local Government and Housing Act is the 50th Tory act that impacts on local government. When you've got that pressure cutting money you've got to spend, forcing you to do things you don't want to do it grinds people down, makes a lot of people very disillusioned. They're working damn hard and facing this tide of legislation that's stopping them doing things."

He lights another cigarette and adds: "I think there's a limit to how long you want to go on doing that sort of job." He looks tired.

Gerrard first became a councillor in 1973. Six years later he was appointed deputy leader of Waltham Forest Labour group, becoming leader in 1983. When Labour took power in the borough in 1986, he became council leader, with all the commitments the post entails.

Not least among these is time currently Gerrard puts in three to four evenings a week and two full days, "and that's not enough". Fortunately his job as computer lecturer at a technical college in nearby Hackney allows him to work part time, but the financial sacrifice is proving too much of a burden.

"I just can't carry on working part time," he says. "I can't afford it." And on top of lost pay. Gerrard claims councillors are finding that local authority service "screws their career, screws their job. They can't get promotion, they can't get new jobs."

After 17 years at the council, Gerrard now finds it difficult to remember how- or why- he started. "I don't know. I find it difficult to think back. I really do.

"If you are politically active it's one way-- not the only way-- of putting your ideas into practice. People use phrases like 'serving the community'. I actually see serving the public as very important. You will hear Tories say they are in local government because they want to serve the community," he says. From the tone of his voice it is impossible to tell whether or not this comment is intended to be politically malicious.

"After all the pressures and frustrations, you still get something out of it. When you see something positive happening, that's very satisfying. You can often help people with any problems. I have done a fair share of that." But then the disillusionment returns.

"After a time, inevitably you get stale. There comes a point when you need a change." The experience of pushing through a 62% rate rise in 1987 and taking much of the resulting local flack has taken a considerable toll.

"I expected that some people would be angry; you don't do something like that without getting opposition." Gerrard says that he anticipated "all the normal political responses". But instead of irate blue rinse grannies griping at his ward surgery, what he got was a nightmare.

"That was incredible. I've never seen anything like it. I don't think anybody else has. The level of abuse! It wasn't just people turning up at meetings and shouting, that can happen any time."

"I had a petrol bomb thrown at my front door, I had a coffin delivered ... wreaths delivered for me, people phoning up all the time, anonymously, threatening ... hate mail.

"People 'phoning up the Town Hall, 'phoning up my work someone on the switchboard was terrified! I had threats to my kids, being followed. One person had a letter bomb sent to them which would have gone off if it had been opened.

"The other thing that went on for months was people filling in my name in magazines and newspapers. You'd applied for loans, you'd applied for mortgages. You'd got the problem of' having to write to them and explain you didn't want a loan. Some people it really got to.

"After the actual shock of all this happening you didn't anticipate it -it just made you more determined they weren't going to grind you down. In an odd sort of way it brought people in the Labour group together."

After mass protests from a local ratepayers action group and extensive legal action, the council put the rate rise through. Three years on, is he still confident it was a smart move?

"Yes, I still think it was the right thing to do. That was the first budget we made after the 1986 election. We were faced with the position of putting the rates up 40% to do nothing, just to stand still on a previous Tory budget. If we'd started off saying we were satisfied with the Tory budget, we'd never have achieved anything.

"When we were ratecapped the year after, we had the problem of coping with that. There was a hell of a lot of work in putting the budget together that year. We really didn't get into closing services, the sort of thing that some boroughs that were ratecapped were forced into.

"We found a lot of money through creative accounting. It was a survival job."

Having come through that somewhat fraught period, Waltham Forest proceeded to pursue some innovative policies. Lately it has been garnering national attention with a scheme to sell off four of the borough's worst sink estates to tenant-owned companies at a negative value and use receipts from sales of council houses and land to pay off the 'debt'.

This would allow the companies, with the aid of private sector capital, to demolish the estates step-by-step and build new houses with gardens on the land. The. Prince of Wales singled out the scheme for special praise in his "Visions of Britain" exhibition. But the DoE isn't having it.

Marsham Street initially ruled that no public money-- what the borough sees as its money-- should go towards helping the estates. Then it changed its mind providing Waltham Forest would accept a housing action trust.

Gerrard feels that his team has secured an offer significantly better than the original HAT package, including security of tenure and the right to return to council control after an initial period. Now it's up to the residents to say yes or no. But he is wary of buying a Patten pig in a poke.

"We're not putting it forward, we're talking to tenants about what it would mean. I don't live on the estates, I don't have to live in those conditions. We can't just say to the tenants 'forget it', we have to talk to them. But I think we'd want a lot of guarantees before we'd go along with it."

Nevertheless, he is regretful that the original plans never came off. "We came up with some ideas that were really new. I don't know any other housing authority that has got plans like that.

"And what's happened is that each time we thought we'd come up with a way of paying for it, it was just cut off. I don't think anybody argued about the plans themselves. There might have been arguments about how to pay for them, what the organisation should have been-- but all we needed was for them to allow us to spend our own money."

Another factor in Gerrard's decision to quit is poll tax. Its implementation will cut Waltham Forest's mainstream municipal Labourism to the quick. Interestingly, he doesn't see the rates system as all bad.

"By and large it's the people who can afford most who are paying most. Then what you do through service delivery is target the people who need it most. You have got some element of redistribution.

"That's going to disappear. That's going to have a terrific impact on the way you justify service delivery. How do you justify high poll tax figures when you know that's going to hit those who can't afford to pay it?"

And to add to the problem, Gerrard fears that relations between officers and elected members are going to be disrupted as officers are obliged to carry out their statutory duties.

"You are going to be in a position where you are legally obliged to chase nonpayers. A lot of it won't be in your hands to decide, It's not even that you've got directors of finance that are going to enjoy using those powers.

"We've never ever had things like monitoring officers before, it's symptomatic of what a lot of government legislation has done in taking power away from people who have been elected. Things work much better if you have got a good working relationship between officers and members." These developments, he says, "are not going to do anybody any good."

So after 17 years Gerrard is stepping down, and he counsels realism for those about to step in councillors' shoes. "I think people have got to come in with their eyes open. There's no point people thinking that they're going to change the world.

"You are doing the best you can to stop some of the worst of the government legislation. That's important, that needs doing."


EX-LEADER
SETS
SIGHTS ON COMMONS
Report: ANDY COMBER

NEIL Gerrard, ex-leader of Waltham Forest Council, has been chosen as Labour's prospective candidate for Walthamstow at the next general election.

Mr Gerrard won the chance to challenge sitting Hugo Summerson at a tense and close-run five hour-long selection meeting on Sunday.

Walthamstow is a key marginal constituency and with Labour riding high in the polls, many supporters see regaining the seat as almost a forgone conclusion.

But Mr Summerson, defending a majority of 1,512, won at the 1987 election, defiantly told the Yellow Advertiser he expects to retain the seat for the Tories.

Mr Gerrard had to beat four other people to the chance of taking on Mr Summerson in an election which may come as soon as Autumn of next year.

The strongest challenge came from Valerie Wise, once a councillor and chairwoman of the women's committee on the Greater London Council, which was abolished in 1986.

Many party members had considered her to be favourite to win because of a strong women's lobby in the Walthamstow party and a desire to boost the number of women MPs.

Also in the running were: Elaine Carter, from Camden, a consultant paediatrician at Whipps Cross Hospital; Ann Pettifer, a well known women's rights campaigner and Richard Nicholls, a leading trade unionist who lives in Westminster.

New procedure

An estimated 120 Walthamstow party members turned up to question each candidate and then cast their votes.

They used, for the first time, a complex new selection procedure which gives individual party members 75 per cent of the votes and affiliated union branches 25 per cent.

Afterwards an elated Mr Gerrard admitted the vote had been close, but said: "I think people were looking for someone who was local and who understood local issues.

"As a Labour councillor in Walthamstow for 17 years and council leader for four years, I suppose I fitted that bill."

He said his chances may well have been improved by Labour's victory in this month's council elections, at which he stepped down as a councillor.

He fully expected to win back Walthamstow for Labour. "If our share of the vote in the local elections is anything to go by a win looks likely, but we have to work at it."

However, Mr Summerson said he does not fear being a Labour 'target' and was actually looking forward to sharply increasing his majority.

He immediately dubbed Mr Gerrard as "Mr 62 per cent" after the notorious rate rise imposed months before the election, and which helped him unseat Labour's Eric Deakins.

He added: "I want to call him that to remind people he represents the modern Labour Party, which says it will not raise taxes but is responsible for huge rate increases and huge poll taxes."

Yellow Advertiser, May 25, 1990

Neil is keeping up the fight

IF Neil Gerrard, former council leader, thought easy times were on the way when he decided not to stand for election, he was soon to be mistaken.

As agent for Labour, his calm was tested to the limit by the knife-edge battle for Forest ward. "It's almost worse than being a candidate," he was heard to murmur as the count dragged on.

By this week his cares had fallen away. "I'm so relaxed I could fall over.

But in a little over a fortnight he faces a fresh challenge. He is one of those hoping to be chosen as Labour prospective parliamentary candidate for Walthamstow.

Waltham Forest Guardian May 11, 1990


Labour leader sets sights on commons
But national figures show an interest in 'winnable' seat
Report: ANDY COMBER

WALTHAM Forest council leader Neil Gerrard wants to challenge Walthamstow's Tory MP Hugo Summerson at the next general election. He is one of the front-runners in a selection battle to decide Labour's candidate which begins in earnest this month.

Councillor Gerrard, leader of the Labour administration since the party won power in 1986, steps down after 17 years on the council at local elections in May.

He confirmed to the Yellow Advertiser that he has put his name forward for selection. He said rules governing the selection process prevented him from commenting further.

Ability

Despite Mr GerrardÂ’s close connections with Labour's 62 per cent rate rise in 1987, his experience and tested political ability make him favourite to win the nomination.

He is said to think the Government's present policies, most notably the poll tax, NHS reforms and high interest rates, will overshadow what happened in the past.

Even so, if nominated, it will be an irony thai he will attempt to regain a seat many consider Labour's John Deakin (Eric Deakins?) lost on a wave of outrage generated by the rates centroversy.

Mr Gerrard will not, however, get a clear run. Many others-- some leading national figures-- are interested in contesting what the party considers a very winable seat.

These include Valeric Wise, daughter of Labour MP Audrey Wise, and once chairwoman of the GLC's women's committee. Also Ann Pettifer, another leading women's rights campaigner.

One other definite challenger is West Indian-born Leyton Labour Party member Crispin St Hill. He stood for Labour in Mid-Staffordshire at the last election, in 1987,

Mr Hill, a councillor in Islington for 11 years, has already been selected as a candidate in the Walthamstow Hoe Street ward for the May local elections.

A second possible black candidate is senior local party official Mr Aktar Beg. With Labour's desire to see more black MPs, either might have a good chance of selection.

Chairman

Councillor Eddie Playfair, chairman of the borough's education authority, confirmed that he too is considering putting his name forward.

He stood for Labour in South West Hertford, a Tory stronghold, at the last election and also steps down from the council in May.

Selection is expected to last until May. Candidates must meet with constituency party and union branches, who will decide the candidate with a final vote.

Yellow Advertiser, February 9, 1990