Working for unity, cohesion and pride in a community where everybody belongs and in which everyone is free to participate

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Community Forum That Never Was

I had an interesting meeting last week with the pastor of a local church, who was keen to hear of any ideas that I and/or the ICG may have had with regard to the role that organisations such as his own could play in community-building.

It was a poignant reminder, if any were needed, of the sheer depth of involvement and potential participation that exists within our local environment. It is when we step into a church, a temple or a mosque - or indeed into a tenants' meeting or a social club, or see a self-help group or a local charity in action - that we come to really appreciate the strength in depth of what a real community actually has to offer.

Then we visit the local Area Forum and see half a dozen or so politicians, mostly from the same group, huddled together nodding sagely in recognition of perceived mutual wisdom, and we so naturally despair for what could be.

Amongst many other things I told the pastor that during the administration of 2006-2010 a serious proposal had been mooted, and discussed with a number of local residents' groups, to establish a local "community forum" to shadow the "official" Council body that was at the time called the Isleworth and Brentford Area Committee. It had been our intention to subordinate IBAC to the power of such a body, either by adapting the constitution of the Council to enable it to happen or, in the event of us being unable to do that, by the simple expedient of an Area Committee majority (which, with the support of the Lib Dem member, we had) voluntarily relinquishing its authority in recognition of the primacy of the community body.

The outcome of this would have been to transfer true decision-making powers to the real community rather than a bunch of politicians – albeit that that power may not have had any formal legal status.

As well as being morally the right thing to do, this would have had the added advantage of circumventing the numerical stalemate which would have existed on IBAC should our Lib Dem ally have lost his seat in 2010 and we been left with a 6-6 split between the ICG councillors of Isleworth and Syon and the Con-Lab establishment councillors of Osterley and Brentford, who throughout the 2006-2010 period had tended to band together to oppose most of our more ambitious projects.

For whatever reason, this project never came to fruition during the 2006-2010 administration and any idea of introducing it during the following one was dashed when we lost all six of our seats and IBAC was returned to a Labour majority. The rest, as they so often say, is history.

There is still, of course, a role for faith groups and for all other stakeholders and that role will be forever present. The pastor and I bounced some useful ideas around and hopefully one or two will be set in motion. But it was a spiritually useful, if practically pointless exercise considering for a moment how things might have developed had the maths been different.

The idea is out there in the ether, who knows it may happen someday somewhere?

Monday, 30 June 2014

That Election Result - One Month On

“What do you think you’ll do now?” asked Ruth Cadbury, long-time Brentford Labour councillor and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Brentford and Isleworth, at the local election count last month.

“That’s easy,” I replied. “I’m going for a beer”.

It would be an overstatement to say I’d sidestepped the question. As far as I was concerned a well-earned drink once the formal business of the day was finally done was as long ahead as I could be bothered to contemplate at that particular moment in time.

The ICG had just fought what had without doubt been its hardest, most high-intensity election campaign in its twenty-year history. More literature had gone out, more doors had been knocked, and more residents spoken to on the doorsteps than in 2002, 2006 or 2010. The outcome of it all had been a substantial defeat. We had held second place in both Syon and Isleworth, indeed widening the gap between ourselves and the third-placed Tories from the previous contest in 2010, to the obvious surprise and disappointment of the victorious Labour teams, but we were still a very long way behind Labour in both.

LABOUR GAMEPLAN

This, according to the script which had been written in earnest by Labour strategists in the immediate aftermath of 2010, was the contest following which the ICG would finally chuck in the towel and collectively take up fishing. That’s not going to happen, so in that much at least the Labour gameplan had failed to come to fruition notwithstanding the party’s decisive win at the polls.

But there was no hiding from the scoreline – the ICG’s vote had been pinned back to 1998 levels whilst Labour had chalked up tallies of 1500 to 2000 and beyond in every ward outside of Chiswick. The Tories were down to eleven seats (which came almost as a relief to them after persistent whispers of a total wipeout in Osterley and Spring Grove) and the spectacularly mismanaged UKIP adventure had predictably ended in tears.

As always many things were said on all sides during the course of the campaign, and one comment on a local Internet forum from a perennial Labour Party mouthpiece to the effect that “voters aren’t buying into ICG ideology” repeated on me in the light of the result. The lady in question, whilst no longer an activist nor even technically a party member, is nevertheless somebody who wields influence with Labour in Isleworth and who would have been relaying feedback from the stump rather than speculating.

Nevertheless I believe she is wrong. Or wrong at least if the point she was trying to make was that voters who had formerly supported the ICG are now consciously rebelling against attempts to involve them in decision-making and preferring instead the lazy option of deliberately electing politicians who will make decisions on their behalf based upon their own agendas rather than having consideration for the wishes of the wider public. The idea that electors who just a few years before had marched against library closures and embraced litigation against Thames Water over Mogden have suddenly decided to put their placards down and to collectively present their backsides to be kicked makes absolutely no sense at all.

In support of my view I would cite Labour’s own election material, excellent as it was in its layout and presentation, in which the party’s “community” credentials were given pride of place. From (definitely false) claims that Isleworth’s Labour councillors had fought to save Isleworth Public Hall for the community to (probably false) promises that no libraries or community centres will be closed during this administration, Labour outgunned the ICG not by trumping our ideology with its own, but by persuading a good many of our erstwhile voters that it now shared our primary concerns and could at last be trusted with the (our) family silver.

SUPERIOR

That Labour’s campaigning techniques are now immensely superior to those it had adopted during earlier contests was also a major factor. It is hard to credit that in 2006, when we won all six seats across Isleworth and Syon wards, Labour did not put out a solitary leaflet in the latter, far less knock on a single door. Instead its “campaign” during that year was apparently based entirely upon an assumption that the party would win simply because the locals had a duty to give it their support. Or that in those days ours were the only candidates who paid particular attention to wooing postal voters.

Today we find ourselves up against campaigns in which canvassing data provided by ward activists is processed and responded to by a central, computerised and often salaried party machine, in which individual letters tailored as “responses” to individual concerns can be mailed to individual voters without any extra effort having to be expended by the local teams, which themselves are fortified by squads of activists drafted in from other areas. Tens of thousands of voters throughout the borough were known to have been contacted by telephone canvassers, and none of this takes into account the additional ballast of Labour election material coming through the letterboxes in support of the party’s European election efforts, which would have had some kind of positive spin-off for the local teams however unintended.

But then again all the same things can be said about the Conservatives, who had some very impressive candidates in the field (Fadi Farhat in Isleworth and Ron Mushiso in Syon spring immediately to mind) as well as some less inspiring ones . They too (absurdly) channeled most of their efforts into wards such as Isleworth and Syon, leaving themselves more vulnerable than they needed to have done in marginal areas such as Hounslow South (which they lost) and Osterley & Spring Grove (where they dropped a seat). They too contacted thousands of voters by telephone, and drafted in outside help on the stump, not least from their sitting Member of Parliament. They too produced a dazzling portfolio of glossy, money-no-object leaflets. Even so they once again came in in third place in both wards, just proving the old adage that one cannot make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.

COVERGENCE

Labour’s victory in the ICG’s target wards, thus, was not down primarily in my opinion to the vastly superior resources that it was able to call upon, although that undoubtedly was a big factor, but to the (for us) unhappy convergence of an unpopular Tory-led government with a feeling amongst residents that the time had come to trust a local Labour Party which at last was proclaiming the virtues of community engagement, even if (as some old cynics believe) it did so with fingers firmly crossed.

It is worth relating that having spent several months on the doorsteps speaking, and listening, to many thousands of local voters, I didn’t encounter any hostility whatsoever towards the ICG – other than, of course, from one or two who had been hostile to us to begin with, whom I had called upon partly in the forlorn hope that they might have had a change of heart and partly out of devilment. Nobody had “turned” on us per se. But what I did to be honest witness, and almost exclusively from those whose “traditional” sympathies had been with Labour before they had turned to the ICG in the first place, was a tangible dilution of their enthusiasm towards us. Many who had told us in previous contests that they would “definitely” be voting for us were telling us this time that we could “probably” count on them (which as any experienced canvasser will confirm translates into “probably not”).

In the event it was our trusted core support – those who have become almost “traditional ICG supporters” now that our participation has extended over several contests – who stuck with us. In a conversation with a Labour councillor recently I joked that I could almost name the people who voted for us this time around – an exaggeration, but not a ludicrous one. This was particularly so in those areas where one would expect the Tories to perform relatively well. In the owner-occupied areas of Isleworth ward, off the Worple Road and around Old Isleworth (ironically the areas targeted by the “UKIP” candidates, presumably at Labour’s suggestion) we outperformed Labour, whilst the Tories received proportionately fewer votes, considerably fewer, than they did on Ivybridge. It would appear that the votes we had previously taken from the Conservatives remained with us, whilst those we had taken from Labour on the whole drifted back. This is worth bearing in mind because it means that, for the short term at least, Labour clearly now has a psephological as well as an ideological interest in us continuing to take part in elections.

WHERE TO FROM HERE?

Which brings me nicely to the question of where the ICG goes from here because it is clear that, more than ever before, any decision on our part to abandon the electoral path (a logical decision on account of the growing disparity in resources between community-based candidates and national political parties) is unlikely to meet with the approval of our erstwhile Labour opponents. It was, in my view, our biggest mistake of the 2010-2014 period that our decision as to whether or not to stand this time around was permitted to hang so much on us receiving that approval. We should never again, in my opinion, allow our critics to set the agenda for us in such a way – our strategy henceforth must be determined solely by what suits us and our community best.

Labour’s victory, both in our target wards and across the borough, was massive, but perhaps ironically the local party is now inevitably a prisoner of its own success. With an “official” Conservative opposition which is not only small in number but also weak, demoralised and stale (the “newest” amongst them – Sam Hearn – having been first elected to the Council at a by-election in 2008) the temptation for local Labour to revive its proud tradition of factional infighting will be tremendous. Amid all this, those Isleworth and Syon voters who “returned” to Labour from the ICG on account of its commitments to community-building are unlikely to respond favourably to any reversion to the bad old ways. Having made the commitment, Labour is now obligated to deliver.

Will it do so? The signals, as is so often the case, are mixed and in some respects conflicting. Our aforementioned Labour forum correspondent has delivered herself of the interesting view that with the Conservatives in such utter disarray, Labour’s likely “opposition” will for the purposes of this administration be the ICG and the G15+ group of residents’ associations. Flattered though I was, being an active member of both, it ill portends that a political administration charged with the task of governing in the best interests of a whole community should instinctively consider organised groups of residents to be its opposition.

But can the views of one party spokesperson be accepted as those of an entire organisation? Particularly one that has historically been so fractious and factional?

Appointments to the new Cabinet may offer us some clue. The new Leader of the Council is Syon’s Steve Curran, who as an officer of the Griffin Park Residents’ Association a decade or so ago impressed me a great deal but who since, having been transformed from poacher into gamekeeper in his role as a senior councillor, has worried me in equal measure. On his watch Councillor Curran has overseen the demise of HFTRA (the Hounslow Federation of Tenants’ and Residents’ Associations) and the attempted marginalisation of G15+, but as Leader he may have fresh ideas (at the election count he assured me that he was in favour of a “HFTRA Mark 2” to give the tenants back their voice – I told him we would see soon enough whether this was so).

Perhaps more enlightening – or alternatively perhaps not – are the appointments of the community-minded Syon Councillor Theo Dennison as Lead Member for “Citizen Engagement”, and of Isleworth’s Sue Sampson for “Communities”, a role which includes as a subheader “Community Engagement”. There are all manner of permutations to be read into this one. Do they represent two factions, each appointed to a near-identical role by two different power blocs within the Labour Group? Has the Leader appointed both in the hope that they will counter-balance, maybe even neutralise, one another? Or are they to be two distinct roles in spite of the apparent similarities? It is known that Sue fought hard within the Labour Group to have this particular job appended to her portfolio – is it, for her, just about having the capacity to pour funding into pro-Labour community projects on her own patch (before anybody mentions it I have never suggested that Labour in Isleworth is anti-community per se, just that it has historically been highly selective about which community projects it embraces and which it opposes, invariably depending upon where said projects are perceived to stand politically)?

CHANCE ENCOUNTER

I have made it my business to try to find out more about where the administration is likely to be heading with all this. I have already had the benefit of long discussions with two prominent local Labour Party members, one following a chance encounter and the other by appointment. I am optimistic that at least some elements within the new administration, particularly much of the new intake, are serious about wanting to take a new and more enlightened approach to community engagement and I think that they at least should be supported by those of us within the community whose causes are likely to benefit from any success they might enjoy.

I also think we should be prepared, both as a community and (for the ICG) as an organisation, to be open-minded about whether local Labour as a whole is prepared, and indeed structured, to deliver on its promises. Those who are keen to may need our support or even our help in their struggles with those who are perhaps less so. It is my hope that, in such an event, the ICG’s support or help will be readily forthcoming.

Above all we need to remember why it is that we have fought elections in the first place – not through force of habit or because we as individuals desire to be councillors but because we want to realise specific objectives for our community. If those objectives can be realised in spite of our electoral defeat then there can be no valid argument for not recognising the fact and no justification for regarding the political powers that be as our adversaries any longer. No reason to fight against them.

There is an awful lot that we can achieve whilst free of the organisational straitjacket that being committed to fighting elections has consigned us to. It is a fresh new approach which I sincerely believe has, for us, come of age.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Setting the Record Straight on the Isleworth Labour/UKIP Tie-Up

As I've said elsewhere I am keen to move on from the confrontational politics which have occupied me up until now. Nonetheless after careful consideration I do feel it is necessary to provide the update on the Isleworth Labour/UKIP saga that I had hoped to include during the last days of the campaign, had time permitted me to do so.

I do this not to provoke further conflict, but to consign these events to record in case either they continue to be disputed, or the quarrel should be continued by those involved in them in spite of my desire for them to be laid to rest.  It was, after all, part of both UKIP's and Labour's strategy during the last few weeks of the campaign to simply deny the existence of this shoddy arrangement in the hope that by saying it isn't happening enough times it could somehow just be magically wished away.

Shortly after my original article on the subject appeared on this blog one of the three Isleworth UKIP candidates, Kelly Adams (formerly Males), posted an item on the BrentfordTW8.com community forum in which she claimed to have been provoked into standing as a candidate for UKIP after having acquired documentary proof of two Freedom of Information requests that I had made involving the property in which she resides.  I reproduce a copy of the post in question below:


The sequence of events as claimed by Kelly is clearly nonsense.  The UKIP "colleague" of hers whom I rang was the then Hanworth Park councillor Rebecca Stewart, and this conversation took place on the very evening that I had encountered Kelly and local UKIP leader Colin Botterill out collecting nomination signatures for her endorsement as a candidate - in other words after the event.  Why else would I have 'phoned a member of UKIP to discuss Kelly who, prior to this encounter, I had never associated with UKIP and whom I would never in a million years have expected Ms. Stewart to have even heard of?

That Kelly was given the information about my FoI requests at all, information which was supposed to have been confidential, would appear to provide evidence of dodgy practice by somebody at the London Borough of Hounslow which in itself vindicated my decision to investigate the local authority's conduct over this whole matter.  But LBH misconduct aside, it takes a number of weeks to acquire information via FoI.  Had Kelly made her request, as claimed, as a consequence of my conversation with Ms. Stewart she would barely have received the information she had asked for by polling day.

So, self-evidently, any information Kelly had received in respect of my FoI requests did not come into her possession as a consequence of my call to Ms. Stewart, but rather would have reached her some considerable time beforehand.  How?  Your guess is as good as mine, unless that is she had a close contact who was an officer at the council - or a councillor!

Then we have Mr. Botterill's account of events.  In an interview conducted with the Hounslow Chronicle (online version) he related how Kelly was originally to have been the only UKIP candidate in Isleworth ward, but that her two colleagues were recruited by her after I had apparently behaved badly towards her on the night when I had met her and Mr. Botterill out collecting nominations.  Here is the appropriate excerpt from the article in question:

 

I have already noted, in my previous article, how when I encountered Mr. Botterill in Worple Avenue he was in the company of three girls - Kelly and two others.  I also gave an account of how on that occasion he had glad-handed me and told me, even there and then, how his party would only be fielding one candidate in Isleworth.

Below is the list of nominations which was later published in respect of Kelly Adams:


It is necessary to note at this point that nominations are published in the sequence in which they are collected.  At the time of our encounter, Kelly's nomination paper (which I saw) was already almost full.

Now here are the nominations published in respect of her two fellow candidates (who, we are told, were recruited by Kelly on a later occasion):



We are being asked to believe that, on the later occasion when the other candidates collected their nominations (Kelly already having gathered hers), not only did they find all the same residents at home but that they all signed in exactly the same sequence!

That Colin Botterill is a bare-faced liar is thus a demonstrable fact that I would be prepared to stand by before any judge in the land.  But the question is why did he lie?  What had he done that he felt he had to hide and, more importantly, why did he do it?  And how precisely did he envisage that his bizarre actions would benefit UKIP?

A further mystery developed with the arrival of Isleworth UKIP's long-awaited leaflet, two days before May 22nd.  I'll not comment on its content as to do so would be superfluous, but I reproduce it below:


What really was interesting about this leaflet was the name of the election agent.  All published material produced in support of an election campaign is required by law to carry the name and contact address of the validly nominated election agent.  All other UKIP candidates throughout the borough were represented in this capacity by Mr. Botterill but the three Isleworth candidates - uniquely - were represented by Kelly:


Why should this be?  One can only hazard a guess, but it would be a good one.  In all likelihood Mr. Botterill knew that the Isleworth leaflet would be not only an exclusively anti-ICG tract but a defamatory one at that and, demonstrating some rare good judgement, decided he did not want to put his name to it.  Kelly's financial assets are widely known to be significantly less than zero and thus any action for libel, even if I could afford it myself, would be a non-starter.

And yet Mr. Botterill, as UKIP leader, was clearly happy for a highly defamatory anti-ICG campaign to be conducted in his party's name.  Why?

One rather telling aside was a little, abortive and frankly rather daft smear campaign which appeared a week or so before polling day and fizzled out very shortly afterwards.  In essence the rumour was put about that I was in some way in league with David W. Griffiths, the original and rather eccentric UKIP candidate who remained in the fray as an independent after being dropped by his party and who circulated leaflets claiming that he was still the "leading UKIP candidate", urging Isleworth residents to vote for him as their first choice and thereafter for two of the three "official" candidates.

Quite why I would encourage anybody to vote for any UKIP candidate, Official or Provisional, as opposed to the three ICG candidates who were in the field, was not explained, but the groundless rumour (originated by Labour) was dutifully carried by Mr. Botterill to the Hounslow Chronicle, who repeated it along with my firm denial.  Shortly afterwards Labour's Sue Sampson saw fit to bring the article to the attention of the UKIP candidate Kelly Adams (supposedly a political rival) via Facebook, where they are friends, as is shown below (the "Isleworth British Legion Legion" account is maintained by Kelly):




Those who attended the Verification of Votes on the evening of Thursday 22nd May and the Counting of Votes on Friday 23rd May could not have helped but have noticed that Kelly (the only Isleworth UKIP candidate who bothered to attend either) spent the entire duration of both in the company of her Isleworth Labour friends.  True she sported the purple rosette and went through the motions of "sampling" (the practice engaged in by anoraks of trying to record the numbers of votes achieved by each slate of candidates as they fall out of the ballot box onto the counting table) - on a sheet identical to those being used by the Labour counting agents and probably provided to her by same - but, absurdly, she only recorded the votes cast for UKIP and in so doing entirely defeated the object of the exercise.  When the result of the contest in Isleworth ward was announced, her delight was evident, which some may have considered strange bearing in mind that the party she apparently represented had come fourth.

Like I said at the beginning, I have no heart to continue the squabbles which occupied me for far too long prior to May 22nd.  I certainly have no hard feelings towards Kelly Adams, who is herself a nice person and whom I feel was exploited during the campaign as a vehicle through which other people's battles were being fought.  But it is important that these deeply cynical events are recorded, should they need to be revisited for any purpose in the future.

As for the mysterious Colin Botterill, he lost his seat and it really couldn't have happened to a nicer person.  Why he did what he did I still have no idea, but unlike most captains whose duty it is to go down with their ship, Mr. Botterill made sure his ship went down with him.  His genuine candidates, some of whom were noticeably of good quality, deserved much better.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

A New Direction?

It's taken me until a fortnight after the local elections to update this blog again and there has been a simple reason for that - I wanted to get away and spend a couple of weeks doing the things that normal people do who are not involved in local politics and election campaigning.

The results of the local elections in Hounslow can be found here. It was a Labour landslide, with the party winning 49 seats on the local authority to the Conservatives' 11.

The Labour bandwagon proved far too much for the ICG on this occasion. We maintained our status as the second "party" in both Isleworth and Syon wards and beat two Liberal Democrat candidates in Brentford at the first time of asking (astounding when one considers that the Lib Dems actually held a seat in the ward until just over four years ago), however we were a long way behind all round. A simple analysis of the voting patterns tells us that we held onto the votes that we had won from the Conservatives over recent elections but that those traditional Labour voters who had also flocked to the ICG in recent contests largely returned "home". There are a number of likely reasons for this, and I will rehearse some of them at a slightly later stage.

For the ICG for now it remains only to take stock, and perhaps to consider more seriously the option of adopting a new approach on a non-electoral model. There is no reason for us to wait around pining for the approval of our hitherto political "opponents" - if it suits us we should just do it, unilaterally, and see where it leads us.

On a personal note I want to get away from the quarrels and bickerings of the past, but before I can even try to do this there are some matters arising from the election which need to be consigned to record just in case they ever need to be revisited and there will be more of that anon.

Please watch this site for further details, as well as for some post-election analysis and general soul searching.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Isleworth Labour and UKIP Together in Big Local Election Con-Trick


Labour in Isleworth fields slate of “UKIP” candidates in bid to split protest vote

The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) is standing three candidates in Isleworth ward in the London Borough of Hounslow at the local government elections on May 22nd – the only full slate being fielded by UKIP anywhere in the borough other than in its target ward of Hanworth Park, where it currently holds two seats.

But these are UKIP candidates with a difference.  That is because they are not UKIP candidates at all, but rather are “Labour” candidates who have been “loaned” to UKIP by Labour, or at least by one of its ward councillors, to the right-wing party in an attempt to split the protest vote which is likely to go to Labour’s main rival in the ward, the politically centrist and non-racist Independent Community Group (ICG).

That is not to say they are, necessarily, Labour Party members.  But their friendship with a serving ward councillor has led to them agreeing to participate in a con-trick being performed by the local Labour Group on the voters of Isleworth ward.

Even more astonishing is that UKIP’s local leadership is fully aware of the bogus nature of its candidates, but has proceeded to use them anyway, one can only presume so as not to lose face after having failed to meet its promises in respect of the number of candidates it would stand.


BACKGROUND

After years of enjoying only a nominal presence in the London Borough of Hounslow, UKIP exploded onto the local scene at the end of May 2013 when four sitting Conservative councillors – Colin Botterill, Rebecca Stewart, Beverley Williams and Gill Hutchison – resigned their party whip and formed a UKIP group on the Council.  The new group announced its intentions to contest the 2014 local elections with a view to increasing its representation in Hounslow by taking advantage of the wave of popularity presently being enjoyed by leader Nigel Farage and his party.

        
UKIP AND THE ICG

Within days the ICG was accused by Labour critics of having met with UKIP councillors to try to persuade them not to stand in the wards which we would be targeting if we decided to contest the local elections.  As it happened we hadn’t – we had had no contact at all with them at that time – but we decided that we would anyway.  Although most if not all of our key people did not share UKIP’s main policy positions – on Europe and immigration – we were supportive of the party’s plans for local referenda and for recall of under-performing MPs (and by implication councillors) and, besides, saw nothing sinister or wrong about trying to talk a right-wing but democratic party out of contesting elections on our home turf.  We had two meetings, the first with Councillors Stewart and Williams and the second with all four.

During those meetings UKIP attempted to talk us into agreeing a two-and-one arrangement in which we would field two candidates each in Syon and Isleworth wards and UKIP would field one, with a tacit agreement in place for each of the two groups to big up the other, in effect a joint slate.  We declined on the grounds that we did not want to be associated with their – or indeed any – party political cause, as that would be contrary to everything we stood for.  Some time later UKIP advised us that they would be standing one candidate in each of the wards, and this remained their position thereafter.

In fact, it even remained their position earlier this month when by pure fluke I “caught” Councillor Botterill (pictured above) in Worple Avenue - I think with his three candidates - collecting nominations, and he glad-handed me and told me even then that UKIP was only fielding one candidate (“You know Kelly, don’t you?” he asked sheepishly) in the ward.

Not recognising the other two girls, I assumed at that point that they were just hangers-on of some sort.  But yes, I did know Kelly.  Kelly, I told him, was a very close friend of Isleworth Labour councillor Sue Sampson and was certainly no UKIPer.  She owed an awful lot to Councillor Sampson (of which more below) and no way would she be standing against her in an election without her blessing.  I expected Councillor Botterill to be surprised by this news, but he wasn’t.  He just looked at his shoes (fortunately for him he was also wearing dark glasses) and walked away.

Kelly Males/Root/Adams - Isleworth "UKIP" candidate - hosts the Mayor of Hounslow at a community event fronted by Isleworth Labour councillor Sue Sampson (below)





Immediately I telephoned Councillor Stewart, and during the course of that evening we had a couple of conversations about Kelly.  But I have to say she seemed more concerned by some of my other information (of which more later in the campaign) than she did about the fact that Kelly was a Labour “ringer”.  But still, she reassured me, at least UKIP were only fielding one candidate!

I’m getting ahead of myself here though, so once again more of this anon.


      UKIP AND THE “ANTICHRIST”

I should mention in the meantime that Kelly was not, in fact, UKIP’s preferred candidate in Isleworth.  This was a chap called David W. Griffiths, a name with which I was vaguely familiar although he and I have never actually met.

Mr. Griffiths, for all I know, may be a very nice bloke, but I was aware that he had some “form” when it came to political controversy.  Nothing wrong with that necessarily, as a repentant ex-member of the National Front I have plenty of form myself on that front.  But some comments he had made recently – and openly, as a UKIP member – had been reported in the national press and so I thought it was strange that Councillor Botterill and his colleagues had selected a man to be a candidate who had delivered himself of the view, in the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death, that some people were “born to be slaves”.


And so I contacted Councillor Stewart, to alert her to her colleague’s faux pas.  For good measure I sent her a copy of an old article from the local Chronicle in which Mr. Griffiths had claimed during an interview to have been the Antichrist, chosen by persons unknown to bring an end to Christianity on Earth and also taking the slightly controversial view that homeless people should be shot in the streets and homosexuals should be banished to an island.



WAS COUNCILLOR RUTH CADBURY INVOLVED?

Mr. Griffiths’ past activities, or his views on slavery, were not the only thing Councillor Botterill needed to be concerned about.  He had, after all, already circulated his own election leaflet to most of Isleworth ward, apparently without the party’s approval, in which he had declared his “two big things” to have been “old people” and “breastfeeding”.  The leaflet was, shall we say, a tad unconventional.



But at the same time that I had contacted UKIP in a genuine attempt to be helpful (and also, I freely admit, in the hope of knocking out a rival candidate who would have attracted some protest votes otherwise destined for the ICG no matter how eccentric his views), Brentford Labour councillor and parliamentary hopeful Ruth Cadbury was tweeting a copy of the leaflet, presumably provided to her by her Labour colleagues in Isleworth, to her many followers – including, of course, the local press.

Some might consider it odd that Councillor Cadbury, whose political savvy is acknowledged by friend and foe alike, should have done a thing that must inevitably have had the effect of removing a UKIP candidate from the field who would have served a useful purpose in drawing protest votes from ICG candidates without there being any danger of himself being elected.  Unless, of course, she knew that her Isleworth colleagues were waiting impatiently in the wings for the opportunity to offer the hapless Councillor Botterill a helping hand?

Was our prospective MP involved in the deception and confidence trick that was about to be pulled on the voters of Isleworth by her fellow Labour candidates?  The jury remains out as I write.  But her tweet was indeed featured in the Chronicle and the local UKIP leader, who must surely have already known from the national publicity it had generated that his first-choice candidate had made such appalling statements about slavery, now had no option but to withdraw him.

This was on Thursday, April 10th.  Two days later Councillor Stewart surprised me by advising me that UKIP had “possibly” found a replacement for Mr. Griffiths.  Apparently it was a lady who had long been interested in being an Isleworth candidate but whose “papers” had spent “a long time coming through the system” as UKIP had a strict candidate vetting process (I promise I am not making this up) which took about six weeks to complete.  But I shouldn’t worry, at worst there would only be one UKIP candidate in Isleworth ward!


LABOUR LENDS A HAND

Nominations closed on Thursday, April 24th and the full candidate lists were published the morning after.  UKIP had put up a full slate of three candidates in Isleworth – Kelly (whose surname is Males and her maiden name is Root but had listed herself as Adams, one assumes to have her name listed at the top of the ballot paper), Melanie Flynn and Sharon Smith.  It would seem the two new candidates had somehow found their way around UKIP’s foolproof six-week vetting process.

Melanie Flynn we had never heard of, although she seems to have arrived on Councillor Botterill’s doorstep at the same time as the others and must be assumed by her continued participation to be happy in the company she is keeping.  I’ll add more information on her if and when any comes to me.

But if Kelly Males/Root/Adams is not an obvious enough “plant” by Councillor Sue Sampson there should be no doubts at all when it comes to Sharon Smith.  Here’s a few little screenshots from the Brentford TW8.com and Chiswick W4.com community forums to be getting along with.
 


A Labour voter, a “socialist”, a staunch defender of former MP Ann Keen’s infamous expense claims and an opponent of fox-hunting – perfect UKIP material if I must say so myself!

I have been promised some further damning evidence, as if any was needed, that Sharon is contesting this election as a “UKIP” candidate for no other reason than to “do Sue a favour”.  When I get it I shall post it onto this blog.

Kelly and Cllr. Sampson, Dec. 2013
But let us go back in the meantime to Kelly Males/Root/Adams.  As I wrote earlier Adams is not her current married name.  Neither is it her maiden name.  It is not even the name of the father of her first children.  She may for all I know have a legitimate reason for having suddenly acquired the name “Adams”, other than to put herself at the top of the ballot paper where, traditionally, there are a few more votes to be had.  She has, I am assured, presented “evidence” of her name change to the elections department at the London Borough of Hounslow, and she will be aware that it is a criminal offence to falsify such evidence and must know I will be having this looked into.  But is it just me who thinks it strange that somebody who is in the business of trying to win votes should suddenly change her name to one by which none of her own friends and contacts knows her?

Under her own name Kelly is an active kind of girl, often to be found supporting good causes.  One cause that she supports is called Middlesex Anti-Racist Action (MARA).  In the screenshot reproduced below you can see her name on its list of followers:



Nothing wrong with that.  Only as you can see here MARA is not particularly fond of UKIP:



Another contradiction.  But nothing is so much a contradiction as Kelly’s apparent ingratitude, by standing against her, to Councillor Sampson.  It was following Councillor Sampson’s intervention that Kelly and her family were able to move into the large council dwelling in which she currently lives, with tens of thousands of pounds and hundreds of hours of work spent on it, without having to go through the Locata system which ordinary mortals are required to negotiate before being rehoused.  

One way in which Kelly was able to repay Councillor Sampson was by writing a letter to the Chronicle in October 2013 taking a pop at various local community organisations, such as The Isleworth Society, the Isleworth Public Hall Users Group and the Friends of Isleworth Public Hall.  Generally the Labour Party in Isleworth has been reluctant to go onto the offensive against community groups, other than the ICG, because their avowedly non-political nature would make them unreasonable targets in the eyes of decent local people and the party has always been at pains to hide its essentially anti-community instincts, by which I mean its opposition to any form of community organisation operating outside of its own discipline.  Kelly's was one of a series of letters written by various of Councillor Sampson's personal friends which basically took on this dirty work.  As recently as six months ago Kelly's affinity with the Labour administration in Hounslow was there for all to see:



  
A CONFIDENCE TRICK ON ISLEWORTH’S VOTERS

As I explained earlier there is a very good reason why Labour feel they would benefit from having a slate of UKIP candidates in the field during this local election campaign.  Although the ICG and UKIP are two very different organisations both would be likely to benefit from any “protest vote”.  With one UKIP candidate standing people who had voted for that party in the European election which is being held on the same day might have been inclined to give their other two votes to the ICG.  That won’t happen, Labour figure, if UKIP has three candidates.

As for UKIP, their motives for entering into this sordid alliance are less clear as only humiliation and embarrassment await them even if these candidates were to win the election in Isleworth.  One can only speculate, but it is likely that their actions were motivated by nothing more than the desire to maximise the number of candidates they could boast they were standing.  But in doing so they have demonstrated that they are utterly untrustworthy, duplicitous, cynical, and by no means least desperate.  How could anybody in this borough take such a shoddy and amateurish outfit seriously?

By their actions both Labour and UKIP are quite consciously playing a confidence trick on local voters.  If the Isleworth UKIP candidates are elected – not unthinkable in the current climate – they will, I’m sure, “convert” to Labour on the very day of the election count, giving Isleworth electors three Labour councillors they didn’t vote for and the local UKIP unit a credibility problem to die for.  But in achieving that Labour will have helped to raise UKIP’s profile in the borough and beyond.  Remember this the next time your local Labour representative pontificates to you about UKIP, racism and xenophobia.

UKIP voters, of course, have the opportunity to support their party by giving them their vote at the European election on the same day.  Like them or loathe them, the names on the (white) Euro ballot paper are at least those of genuine UKIP candidates. 

But it is difficult to see how anybody with any integrity or respect for the democratic process can vote for either Labour or UKIP in Isleworth, or in UKIP’s case anywhere in the borough.  What a big price they are doomed to pay for three extra names on the published list of candidates.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Watch this Space



Well it's been over two months, but there is a good reason for that. The ICG will be contesting seven seats - three each in Syon and Isleworth and one in Brentford - at the local elections on May 22nd and the logistical work involved in making all that happen is horrendous for a small group such as ours without the backing of a sleek national organisation that candidates representing the big parties can depend upon.

Caroline Andrews, Shirley Fisher and Ian Speed standing in Syon. Phil Andrews, Patricia Doran and Paul Fisher are our candidates in Isleworth. And our lone candidate in Brentford ward, where we are standing for the first time, is Dave Cox (pictured), formerly the Chair of the now-defunct Hounslow Federation of Tenants' and Residents' Associations (HFTRA), which provided a voice for 24,000 tenants and leaseholders in local authority dwellings throughout the borough before being killed off in a council-sponsored coup.

For the next few weeks this blog will be used to update its readers on the progress of the campaign, and to focus on some of the issues deriving from it. To begin this process we will have a real blockbuster going up later, either this evening or tomorrow. So as they say, watch this space.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Some Reflections on a Probably Impending Battle

It's February 2014, and all the serious players in our little part of the world would appear already to be well into our respective election campaigns. For the benefit of that 99% of the population who aren't as obsessed, or obsessive, about these things as we all are, this year's local elections will take place on Thursday 22nd May - three weeks later than originally planned so as to enable them to run alongside the five-yearly elections to the European Parliament.

We in the ICG just seem to have drifted into election mode. Our position for the best part of this outgoing council term has been that we would have preferred to have taken on the role of "critical friend" to the current ward councillors and to the administration they serve in our community. Whether due to some personal intolerance on their part of all things community-led or whether, as is more likely, the rigid party system of which they are a part leaves no option for co-operation outside of that system, that co-operation has not been allowed to happen. And so, as they say, we are where we are.

There are many imponderables which make the outcome of any ICG election campaign difficult to predict. We have had four years out of office – some of the friends we made in the community as elected members will have moved away or passed away. One or two more feeble-minded souls, dazzled either by the promise or the reality of special favour, have notably jumped ship. Labour, at least, give an impression of being better organised in the wards that they were in the mid-noughties – better able to drag out their existing voter base, that is, as opposed to being more persuasive or more attractive as an electoral option.

We have a Conservative-led government, as ruthlessly austere and lacking in compassion as any pure-bred Tory regime before it. This in turn creates an instinctive counter-reaction from Labour, inspiring it to strike definable, if unconvincing, socialistic poses.

The local Tories themselves, the sole ambition of whom would appear to be to maintain two-party hegemony even if it means opposition but lacking the courage to admit that to their own members and voters, may nonetheless have been buoyed by the fact that, under the exceptional conditions caused by the event of a general election occurring on the same day as the locals in 2010, they managed an unusually respectable third place.

Then there is the UKIP factor, and how voters’ inclination to cast a protest vote at the Euro elections might impact on their choice in the local poll.

Even if community candidates were to be elected, it is clear that Labour would continue to wield an overall majority on the London Borough of Hounslow post-May 22nd. The inevitable anti-government protest coupled with the shambles that is the local Conservative opposition renders that a racing certainty.

In the light of all these considerations it would be foolhardy indeed for the ICG to do expect to do anything beyond positioning itself for the following local elections – in 2018. Then the fact that the council elections will be stand-alone and not coincide with any other contest, coupled with the likelihood of a Labour or Labour-led government and the inevitable mid-term protest against it, will set up any organised community-based alternative rather nicely. A rejuvenated Conservative (and possibly Liberal Democrat) opposition and a demoralised and tired local Labour Party could just conceivably see a return to No Overall Control, with the community this time (I would hope) holding the balance of power from without rather than being tied to a coalition in which we can have no trust. In a scenario such as this we could have lots and lots of fun.

On the doorstep it is clear that we remain strong and well-supported. Those who have admitted to not voting in 2010 in anticipation of an easy victory are resolved not to make the same mistake twice. We are older, and wiser, and fortified with new blood. We are ready for the fray, and philosophical about the fact that events have denied us the option of taking a different route towards a achieving our goal of an organised and empowered local community.

Assuming we stand for election in May, my sense is that we will give a good account of ourselves, and the knowledge that our strategy revolves around a “five year plan” rather than being dependent upon victory at the first time of asking takes the pressure off just nicely.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

New Group Inspires Us to Fight On

Last week saw one of the most spectacular events ever to take place in Isleworth, certainly within my living memory. An idea which had taken shape amongst a group of local people – initially, it would seem, young mothers focused around a popular local street-corner cafĂ© – bloomed into a massive public display of initiative and community spirit under the banner of Inspiring Isleworth of a kind which I and my colleagues in the Independent Community Group always knew lay latent within the soul of our village. A Christmas Market, stalls, an ice rink, children's rides, a land train and much more besides turned a cold December day into a wonderful celebration of unity and togetherness. By all accounts police estimates placed the total number of people in attendance at a staggering 2,500.

The ICG as an organisation played no part in this superbly successful day, although many of our members were involved, either in a personal capacity or, in some cases, as representatives of other organisations which were involved. Had we been asked we would, of course, have been happy to have played our part, although I doubt there would have been much we could have added that the organisers did not already have firmly in hand. It was enough for us to marvel at the achievements of others, who did Isleworth so proud.

In saying all this I am not oblivious to the fact that, for a very small number of people, the object of the whole exercise appeared to be to use the event to try to raise the profile of and to promote one of the Isleworth Labour ward councillors, whose name was surreptitiously added to the event’s promotional posters against the will of many of its participants and bandied around Facebook and in letters to local newspapers. I am aware also that this councillor, to her credit, certainly did contribute a great deal to the event, if not to the extent that her small but apparently well-disciplined group of supporters would like us to believe.

But notwithstanding these strictly limited attempts to politicise and otherwise distract the occasion from its primary function, nothing must be allowed to detract from the magnitude of last week’s success. In the struggles that lie ahead for us as a community, anything which brings people out into the streets in such a spirit of harmony and mutual endeavour is something to be nurtured, and I dearly hope that this celebration will be repeated in future years.

Of course, once the party is over and the inevitable debris is cleared away, the questions which taxed us as a community before the event remain to be answered. The ongoing farce of the London Borough of Hounslow’s increasingly desperate – and, it would appear, unsuccessful – attempts to give away our Public Hall is still in full flow. The fear of library closures and “disposal” of our community buildings still returns with the approach of every new budget meeting. Traffic engineers still wreak havoc on our highways and our residents’ and tenants’ groups remain under sustained attack. The threat of aesthetically poor and unsustainable development still looms large over Brentford like a great dark cloud. Mogden still smells.

The challenge for us as community activists is to ensure that projects such as Inspiring Isleworth not only continue to be successful, but also that they serve as a compliment to our less pretty but frankly more essential campaigning work rather than being allowed, as some of our political leaders would prefer, to become a distraction from the everyday problems that affect us as a community, and a panem et circenses replacement for the struggles in which we are engaged.

After all a celebration, even a superbly crafted one of the kind we saw last week, becomes singularly redundant when there is nothing left to celebrate.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Complete Control

The late Celtic football manager Jock Stein was reportedly once asked whether, faced with the opportunity to sign either a Catholic player or a Protestant player who were of exactly equal talent and were both available for the same price, which would he sign?

He replied that he would sign the Protestant.

His reasoning was simple. If he signed the Catholic then the Protestant would probably sign for Rangers. But if he signed the Protestant then Rangers would not want the Catholic, so he could have him too.

I once heard an allegation, completely unproven but from a source that I consider honest and who would know, that in the dim and distant past a local developer offered a substantial pecuniary inducement to councillors on the London Borough of Hounslow in return for planning consent for a major project. What is interesting however is that the inducement was allegedly offered not only to members of the ruling Labour Group, but also to members of the opposition Conservative Group. He was unable to say whether or not the offer was taken up and I cannot vouch for the veracity or otherwise of the story, but if it were true it would make good sense. Grease the palms of the ruling group and the opposition will scream, no matter how small their number. Include them in the deal and there is nobody left to protest.

In business success is about more than just having a good product to sell. If somebody else is selling an equally good product then that guy will be taking a share of the market that could otherwise be yours. You can of course improve the quality of your product, but then so can your competitors. You can cut the price, but your competitors can cut their prices too. But what if you get the opportunity to buy your competitors’ businesses? You can carry on using their brand names, does it really matter if you now own the brand?

To prevent this kind of thing from happening the then government in 1949 set up the Monopolies Commission, now known as the Competition Commission. But of course there is only one of them!

In the world of politics the West is run in practice by a financial elite rather than by sovereign governments or heads of state. Its model is capitalism and its instinct is to grow. It knows no national boundaries, and precious few ethical ones either. Whether it is selling long-range bombers or air-raid shelters, fast food or drugs to combat obesity, the name of the game is to make a fast buck. If there was a financial benefit to be had for Coca Cola to set up a drinks stall at an anti-globalisation protest rally they would do it with neither a pang of conscience nor a hint of irony.

International capitalists control the news media which reports to us on the big political issues of the day. We have seen at election after election how the press can make or break a politician, or a political party, more or less at will. It is completely within their power to talk down good news, talk up bad news, destroy the reputation of one individual or promote another. We have seen time and again how all the major parties court the press, especially in the run-up to an election, because they understand its power. The “free press” is free only to those rich and powerful enough to own it.

So on what basis, and for what reason, will media barons woo politicians, and political parties? Why, for instance, did Rupert Murdoch court New Labour? Was there some deep-felt, fundamental change involved in his political conviction (which he later reversed)? Or did he just recognise a winner when he saw one?

The answer of course is that the relationship between the media barons and politicians is a symbiotic one. Just as political parties need the co-operation of the media to show them in a favourable light before the voters, so the press bosses seek the favour of whichever government is in office, or is about to assume office – for reasons too obvious to be worth stating here.

This doesn’t only apply to capitalists in the media, of course. The list of business luminaries who threw their lot in with Tony Blair and New Labour in preference to their traditional friends in the Tory Party is impressive and the reasons are simple and twofold – first they wanted the favour of the incoming government at a time when the Tories looked destined to be washed up for a generation, and second it was not good for their respective brands to be associated in the public mind with losers.

The powerful financial interests that control the West wield clout not because of their support for the parties of government but due to their willingness and ability to offer support, at whatever level is deemed to be appropriate at the time, to the parties of opposition. Nobody, surely, can seriously believe that when one government leaves office and another steps forward the giant corporations and press magnates and oil barons lose all their power over nations just because their party of preference has lost its majority?

Incredibly some do. I despair of otherwise intelligent people who, whilst recognising the power that big business interests clearly wield over the current government, pine for the election of Labour who, they honestly believe, will (this time) put the interests of the workers and the unemployed, the dispossessed and the underprivileged to the fore and fight the good fight in the cause of fairness of justice.

As for the Labour Party itself, it has played its part well. It denounces Tory attacks on benefit claimants whilst muttering quietly that it doesn’t actually intend to do anything to reverse them. Its members pass resolutions to renationalise the Royal Mail which it publicises loudly before its leaders quietly drop them. In fact beyond a pledge to increase the minimum wage by some negligible amount there is nothing at all of substance for the bosses who currently pull the strings of the Conservative Party to worry about.

What irritates and annoys me most of all is that those hundreds and thousands of basically good people throughout the world of social media who faithfully publicise and expose every Tory sleight of hand and every Labour condemnation thereof are destined, in the event of a Labour government after 2015, either to sit in embarrassed silence for five years or to switch hats and try to defend the kind of shocking abuses of which they are rightly so critical now.

It has long been my belief that the explosive growth of Internet technology and social media, and of the awareness that it generates, must inevitably do for the rotten two-party charade that is our party politics. But I fear we still have a while to wait before that finally happens.