Deborah Orr: A small corner of south London that is for ever Labour - unfortunately

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The Independent Online

Few of us are so fabulously cosmopolitan that we don't feel a little frisson of pride when our own patch of planet achieves something unique. Even so, it's still hard to come to terms with the amazing fact that this week Lambeth, my own little scrap of London, became the only local council in all of England to have managed a Labour gain. Astounding.

I made no contribution to this awesome success myself. I've lived in Lambeth for 20 years now, and the obscene incompetence and corruption of local Labour councils in the recent past continue to blight and curse the area. Labour does not deserve the freak victory it notched up in south London on Thursday. But they crept back in, sadly, because the Lib Dem-Tory coalition that for a few years now has been trying to repair decades of damage has not been such great shakes either.

I'm sure I'm not the only person in Lambeth who registered a "protest vote". The result here, I'm afraid, is testament to the futility of such an act. Habitual tickers of the Labour box have won the day in Lambeth, while all those attempting to deliver a more nuanced message must dread today what awaits the local area.

I did vote Lib Dem, but because of their various gaffes, disappointments, let-downs and incompetencies, I gave a vote to only one Lib Dem candidate, Anthony Bottrall, who has served Lambeth tirelessly since 1994. My second I gave to Leap, an independent group made up of parents concerned about the woeful quality and quantity of education in the borough. The third, out of a general desire to register environmental concerns, I gave to the Greens, who made impressive gains.

Lambeth has a shortfall of many thousands of secondary school places, and many of the schools it does run are essentially secondary moderns rather than comprehensives. (Local Lib Dems are very fond of secondary schools that cater only for 11-16-year-olds because it keeps numbers of places up, keeps costs down, and alienates the middle classes, who can then be pilloried for dismissing local services and choosing schools outside the borough.)

The Lib Dems have had a little success in dealing with Lambeth's education problems, many of which date back to the old Labour days. But they are arrogant about the little headway they have made, and dismissive of parents' worries about the facilities available. Councillors boast that all of their schools are "out of special measures", as if no loftier ambition could possibly be dreamed of. Disgruntled parents like me clearly have cost the party many votes.

But there have been other dreadful mess-ups in Lambeth. My brother lives on a run-down council estate in the borough, and was delighted this cold winter when a guy turned up, measured his freezing studio flat, and told him that he was to be the lucky recipient of central heating. Months later, when he asked when this might happen, he was stonewalled by the council.

It turned out that the contractors had cashed more than £3m in cheques before anyone cottoned on to the fact that no systems were being installed. The council fanned the anger of local residents by first explaining that in terms of their budgets, £3m wasn't much, and second by announcing that they had purchased a brand new office block at the edge of the Thames in an ugly eyesore of a luxury development where penthouses go for many millions.

All this occurred in an area that can sometimes seem like a frontier town, because the law and order situation is so bizarre. It was not, of course, the fault of local councillors that Jean Charles de Menezes was stalked and killed by police officers in Lambeth. Nor could they be blamed for the awful firebombing this Easter of a local newsagent in which two men were killed.

Likewise, it was simple bad luck that saw the dumping of a smouldering female corpse in a little local park. But all this contributes to a general feeling that life is not so good in Lambeth.

The great irony, of course, is that the party whose policies might be considered most directly linked to these atrocities was the party that ended up benefiting from local unhappiness. The basic trouble, as my dad always says, is that no matter who you vote for, you still get the government.

Think your parents are embarrassing?

Whatever you might think of Dr Patricia Rashbrook's decision to undertake a Russian donor pregnancy at 62, it can't be denied that her wrinkles 'n' bump combo is an arresting sight.

So it was kind of her husband, John Farrant, to attempt in their press photocall to draw attention to his own abdominal area instead. He was wearing trousers so high-waisted that he made Simon Cowell - of Pop Idol fame - look like a belly dancer. Clearly, he doesn't know that look is so excruciatingly out that it's almost back in.

As a 43-year-old parent of children ranging from nearly 16 to four, I live in dread of one day becoming so embarrassing that the children simply can't survive it any more. But these guys - they liberate us all from such paralysing fears. Surely I can never be a more embarrassing parent than they're likely to be?

It's not much consolation in a truly alarming world, but it's something at least to cling on to.

I jest, of course. But as more and more people face difficulty in conception, it is important for society to support people who struggle to come to terms with childlessness.

Surely, the spectacle of people jumping through such elaborate hoops to simulate conception fosters an erroneous belief that in fertility anything is possible, when the truth is starkly different?

It is by no means Patricia Rashbrook's job to set a moral example to society. But it's a good thing that her choice is so widely considered to be an outlandish and undesirable one.

* I know that people can bear the pettiest grudges for quite some time. But I think the singer-songwriter Morrissey must be something of a world-beater. Singing before a crowd of many thousands of adoring fans this week, his UK tour sold out, his new album high in the charts, this millionaire pop star thrilled the crowd by singing one of his hits from the 1980s, when he was one half of sublime guitar band The Smiths.

On its release, he bitterly told the audience, the song he'd just performed to rapturous applause - "Girlfriend in a Coma" - got hardly any airplay at all on Radio 1. Amazing! Twenty years ago a socially conservative public service broadcaster was a bit chary about playing an upbeat singalong song in which a closeted gay man professed his mixed feelings about his girlfriend on a life-support system dying, even though he'd regularly considered murdering her via strangulation himself. What was their problem?

And what is his? The Smiths are now considered to have been one of the most influential bands of all time. Morrissey is a millionaire, and Douglas Coupland's wonderful novel Girlfriend in a Coma was titled in tribute to this dark, edgy, timeless ditty. What does Morrissey imagine? That he'd have enjoyed more mainstream success if only the BBC had given him more support? Perish the thought.

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