Thursday, 5 August 2010

Maureen Middleton: true blue in red sea

Conservative councillor Maureen Middleton died of a heart attack last week aged 68. She was, I've been told, born and bred in Hackney and one of the borough's longest serving councillors having been elected in 1998.

Apparently her interests included health, social care and housing - particularly Woodberry Down which was mostly in her ward - and leaseholders' issues.

I never got to speak to her but I've been told she was a right-to-buy leaseholder herself and fought against leaseholders having to pay too much for repairs. As a leaseholder who has been overcharged by Hackney Homes for major works - the bill had to be corrected to the tune of thousands - I know where she was coming from.

With her seat in the New River ward Cllr Middleton represented a large ultra orthodox Jewish population - there was a brief tribute to her today in the Jewish Chronicle with a quote from former Hackney Mayor Joe Lobenstein who said she understood the Stamford Hill Jewish community.

Not surprisingly she was not a great fan of Jules Pipe, Hackney's Labour administration or the Blair/Brown government.

Here's a taste of the old days from N16 magazine circa 2002: When the council proposed taking rubbish collection back in house: "This enraged Tory Councillor Maureen Middleton and she threatened that 2,500 tenants from Woodberry Down estate would chain themselves to the railings of the Town Hall if their Sunday bin collection was stopped. She was denounced by Jules Pipe, the Council Leader, who is seeking voluntary redundancy from that job to run for the post of Mayor with its much better pay and prospects...."

Her belief in right-to-buy, people having to stand on their own feet, and in the ownership of property was classic Conservative territory. Apparently she was also a supporter of motorists' rights and there was standing joke that she didn't like cyclists.

Cllr Middleton's debating methods were seen by some as aggressive - she did not pull any punches - despite this there is a consensus that she was honest to her own beliefs and fought hard for the people she represented.

Labour Councillor Luke Akehurst said: "Despite some sometimes heated exchanges in the chamber I always found Maureen very easy to get on with when we met socially, and I know that she was always motivated as a councillor by wanting to fight for the best outcomes for the residents of her ward. Like all the members of the Tory group she treated me with great kindness during my recent illness. I had only just started to work more closely with her on the Health in Hackney Scrutiny Commission and had been looking forward to working with her. She will be greatly missed, particularly by residents of New River Ward."

Hackney Gazette reports 2 minute silence for Maureen
Council statement
Hackney Citizen reports Lib Dems joining the Maureen Middleton fan club
I asked for comments from here Conservative colleagues but have not yet received replies.

BY ELECTION: This is likely to be held at the beginning of October. Some believe that the most likely Conservative candidate will be Harvey Odze. Any ultra orthodox Jewish candidate is likely to do well - (the high voter turnout for the combined General, Mayoral and Council elections have been blamed for the Conservative failure in New River in the last election) - but there could be a back lash from the ultra orthodox Jewish community which will be hit hard by the coalition government's housing benefit caps.

New River is the worst affected ward with 239 housing benefit claimants currently paying rent that will be above the new caps (It used to be completely Conservative but Maureen Middleton just was the only Conservative councillor left after the last election)

Springfield: 227 affected (Now represented by two Conservative councillors and one Labour)
Cazenove: 210 affected (Now represented by three Lib Dems)
Lordship: 164 affected (Now represented by one Conservative and two Labour)

This means that the majority of the councillors representing these wards come from the parties which have imposed the cuts.

The Labour party will have to choose a candidate but the front runner is Yusuf Kilinc who fought in the May election and only narrowly lost, winning more votes than Harvey Odze.

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