Tooting’s diversity is inspiring and liberating

image-11Councillor Paul White’s maiden speech to Wandsworth Council, October 2016

Thank you Mayor for allowing me to make my maiden speech during this debate around aspiration.

It is a topic I can speak on and it is with regret that I do so without my inspiration and the man who made me what I am today, as my father passed away 13 years ago.

He would be over joyed and not a little surprised, to see me as an elected Labour councillor, as he was an active trade unionist and Labour Party member in Merton and helped Siobhain McDonagh finally get elected, but it only took her 3 attempts and not four, like me!

My parents, were Irish immigrants to this country and were eager for their sons to do well and make our mark, a typical immigrant’s aspirational attitude to the opportunities offered here, but maybe not available at home.

I was brought up in social housing in Brixton and I have indeed been lucky enough to remain in social housing areas for all of my life.

It provided the platform for me and now one of my sons who is in university in America, having been inspired by the mixed area he grew up in and it’s this REALLY affordable environment that is important to maintain and continue to build, with every opportunity we have, including the Nine Elms development of which we now speak.

I notice in this motion, we ask for the London Mayor Sadiq Khan to do the right thing, well I can assure you as someone who is proud to call the London Mayor my good friend, inspiration and now joined by Ben Johnson and Nick Bowes, my predecessors in Tooting ward; he cannot fail but, to do the right thing!

I am also daily inspired by my colleague; the newly elected Tooting MP; Rosena Allin-Khan, only one of our brilliant female team, and I cannot mention our female group, without again remembering the wonderful Cllr. Sally-Ann Ephson, who I was lucky enough to call a friend and reminds us; on both sides of this chamber, as I look around, that we must do much more to find the men and women from our different communities to step forward to serve, as these people I have mentioned did and give representation and inspiration, to those from their backgrounds.

So I know a bit about aspiration, I also know about my patch; Tooting ward. An area I am proud to represent and I have grown to love since moving to the area 26 years ago. I find my time spent almost exclusively now in and around my ward.

It is a very unique place, with thriving new businesses and a succession of migrants living peacefully side by side with the indigenous. The new Shoreditch, apparently, but with that comes dangers which can destroy the very nature of a place that once attracted us. Diversity means Tooting is not stultifying and limiting, but is liberating and indeed inspires the aspirational.

Like Nine Elms and the social housing that surrounds it, particular emphasis must be placed, I believe, on allowing people who now call it home, their sons and daughters and future generations of the aspiring, but finance poor, to stake their claim there.

There are many challenges for Tooting ward; housing staff for St Georges Hospital, ensuring new developments are harmonious with this wonderful area, a cleaner environment, through sustainable and green solutions, easing out the dirty, the noxious and unsustainable. My younger son has asthma, so I know how important this is.

I will also look for help to make Tooting safer, smarter and litter free and hope to work closely in the next two years with the majority group in this chamber, as co-operation can bring big rewards and I promise to be just as magnanimous with that group, when they become the minority in 2018!

I hope to be wise and dispassionate in my time as a councillor and derive stimulus from advice given by a noted pre-Christian Irish chieftain; Cormac mac Airt to his son about the administration of power:

“Do not deride the old, though you are young;

Nor the poor, though you are wealthy,

Nor the lame, though you are swift,

Nor the blind, though you are given sight,

Nor the sick, though you are strong,

Nor the dull, though you are clever,

Nor the foolish, though you are wise”

It’s good to see the emphasis on; empathy and a lack of arrogance, were considered watch words for good governance almost 2,000 years ago and they continue to be. I will aspire, to use these words to guide me in this chamber, but please, do tell me if I fall short!

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