Friday, 25 February 2011

H&F politicians debate my definition of "chutzpah" - what's your view?

Councillor Cowan - does he do chutzpah?
The Great Debate has started, it seems, and I appear to have unwittingly started it. In my report on the rumbustious debate which took place in Hammersmith Town Hall on wednesday evening, and which resulted in the voting through of swingeing cuts to services, I made the throwaway comment that Councillor Stephen Cowan, the Leader of the Labour Opposition didn't "do chutzpah".

I was comparing him to the chutzpah of Council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh, who very much does do chutzpah, in my humble opinion, by reading out this quote in support of the cuts which he said he'd received from a local resident:
I've often wondered what David Cameron means by the Big Society – but if this is it I'd like to see more of it”.
But my conclusion that by comparison his Labour counterpart didn't "do" chutzpah has provoked an angry reaction from Conservative Councillor Harry Phibbs. Cllr Phibbs is in the Boris Johnson mould of Tory politicos as you'll see from what he said in a minute, but it's also worth pointing out that he has brought about some welcome changes in W12, such as the transforming of derelict houses that were blighting our streets - a Top Tory.

Anyway, back to chutzpah - Cllr Phibbs rages thus:

"Shepherd's Bush blogger Chris Underwood makes the extraordinary comment on his blog last night that Cllr Stephen Cowan, the Labour Group leader on Hammersmith and Fulham Council, "doesn't really do chutzpah."

Chris, chutzpah is in Cllr Cowan's DNA. It's his middle name. His irreducible essence. He is the physical manifestation. The embodiment of chutzpah. Cllr Cowan is chutzpah made flesh.

Cllr Cowan's speech last night was pretty typical. He complained that the Council employed too many HR managers. When the Conservative administration took over from Labour there was a total HR headcount of 100 posts at a cost of £4,612.834. HR headcount has been cut over time and today it is down to 47 posts (a total reduction of 53 posts) costing £2,816.300. This has resulted in a total saving of £1,796.534.

He complained too much was spent on communications.

Yet under Labour Communications spending was £1.14 million. We are halving that cost. According to an Evening Standard survey our total spending on publicity at £669,000 is the second lowest of the 32 London boroughs. Only Bexley spends less. Southwark spends over £5 million. We have slashed spending on spin and cut the number of Communications staff from 13 under Labour to seven. The cost of h&f news is much lower than the previous Council publication HM Magazine which cost £400,000 a year".
Phew. Looks like I'm off Cllr Phibbs' Christmas card list, but there's more:
"The greatest chutzpah was voting against the budget without offering an alternative budget. The only saving he came up with was fixing the lights in the Town Hall extension saving £250,000. Yet the saving is £20,000 and has been accomplished. It is true that the building is energy inefficient - which is one reason why it should be knocked down and the site redeveloped. Yet he is fighting to save the Town Hall extension.
Requests to substantiate his claims, for instance on police cuts, were met with bluster.

So Chris I'm afraid I would have to conclude that Cllr Cowan does do chutzpah
Well, that's me tellt.

So what do you think? Who in our local political class does the best chutzpah? To get you started here is the definition of "chutzpah":

–noun Slang .
1. unmitigated effrontery or impudence; gall.
2. audacity; nerve.


  1. What born-to-rule Harry Phibbs is really saying is that he finds it impudent to point out this council's many failings. Chutzpah can also be used, of course, to "express admiration for nonconformist but gutsy audacity" (Wikipedia).

    I know which definition I'd apply to Hammersmith Tories' claim not to be damaging the Sure Start early learning service when they are taking £3.4m from the budget and cutting funding by 95% in nine out of sixteen centres.

  2. I respectfully have a different take on H&F Conservatives' budget - as did all the residents who turned up to protest on Wednesday night. My full report can be viewed by following this link:

    All the best

    Cllr. Stephen Cowan
    Leader of the Opposition
    The London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham