Steve Mama, who died in January 2017, served as a Labour councillor between 1964 and 2010. His service was not continuous: like many Labour councillors, he fell victim to national trends in the rightwards-leaning years of 1968, 1982, and 2010. Nonetheless, he was a councillor for over 38 years and was probably the longest serving councillor on Kingston council after its formation in 1965.
He was first elected in the then Park ward. After boundary changes, he was a councillor for many years in Canbury ward and finally in Norbiton.
In 2010 on stepping down from the Council, Steve, in his 70s, refused the offer of being installed as an alderman, saying that he was “too young to quit local politics”. Indeed, he remained politically active and stood for the final time in his home ward, Grove, in the 2014 elections.
Steve was a master of the council’s processes, and read the agenda papers for council meetings with keen attention to detail. While he could sometimes appear to be difficult, he was, of course, at his most challenging with those he judged to be the enemies of Labour values, usually the councillors who led either the Tory or Liberal Democrat council administrations, and sometimes senior council officers as well.
As a councillor, he was assiduous in his casework and held regular surgeries. He knew well the difference that councillors can make to residents’ lives through individual casework, and pursued with determination and persistence any worthwhile case that came his way. As a result, he built up a personal vote over and above the party vote.
He liked the fun side of life as well and instigated a Canbury Christmas pensioners’ party, which continued until just a few years ago.
He was Deputy Mayor for the 2001–2002 administrative year, serving beside the Labour Mayor, Jeremy Thorn.
He was something of a local pioneer in understanding the need to get one’s political message across: hardly a week went by without a press release to the local media.
In the culture of unnecessary secrecy that preceded Freedom of Information legislation, local journalists found he was a useful, and often only, source to find out what was really going on behind the scenes on the council. When there was a Council proposal to build a cycle path across the Fairfield, it was Steve who was able to dig into his files and point out the scheme was not feasible because the Fairfield was shared between three different holders.
Possibly his biggest political platform was the 1970 General Election where he stood in Taunton against Edward Du Cann, gaining a 36% share of the vote.
Born in on one of the many Greek islands close to the Turkish coast, Steve’s Greek family came to the UK when he was young: his English was masterful but an occasional eccentric mispronunciation hinted at his origins.
Steve worked as an education officer for Surrey County Council and was a shop steward for the NALGO union. He was active in the local Trades Council and the Co-operative Party and was also a founding director of Kingston Race Equality Council.
Steve’s persistent and combative style often got results for Kingston’s residents but could also prevent him from forming wider alliances, both with his political opponents and with his comrades. Outside of the political maelstrom, he was sociable, fun-loving, and witty, and could be a loyal and valued friend.
After a serious heart attack, he had to give up smoking. With the zeal of the convert, he became virulently opposed to smoking. Notoriously, he had a spat on this topic with Liberal Democrat councillor Chrissie Hitchcock. The wounds healed over time: when Chrissie died in 2015, Steve was proud to be among the many mourners at her funeral service.
In his last years, he still retained an interest in council matters, turning up at council meetings and speaking as a member of the public. He became a daily visitor to the Greek centre based at the Community of Saint George Greek Orthodox Church and Greek School in Borough Road.
Despite being stooped with age, Steve eschewed the convenience of a bus and would walk slowly and determinedly to the centre from his house near The Fairfield, stopping to chat with his numerous friends and acquaintances on the way. He was doing this daily walk just a couple of days before he died.
Councillor Linsey Cottington, current Labour Leader on Kinston Council said “Although I came onto the Council after Steve was no longer a councillor I know that he worked tirelessly for many, many years in the best interests of Kingston and Norbiton residents and for the socialist principles of the Labour Party”
Steve has been a major contributor to the political life of Kingston: his comrades, fellow trade-unionists, and fellow residents will miss him.