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

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.

Excellence is Not Always Popular

When one looks back at the 20th century there are two governments which, for me, stand out above all the others.

The first was the wartime National Government of Winston Churchill. When it comes to achievements, winning a war in the face of what at first had seemed to be insurmountable odds certainly ranks up there amongst the best of them. Whatever his shortcomings were, and they were many, they are rightly considered inconsequential and even remembered with some affection as a result of what he pulled off as a wartime leader.

When Britain went to the polls in 1945 then, after the war had been won, one could have been forgiven for thinking he would be a shoe-in. Not only was he not a shoe-in, but he was kicked out of office as Labour under Clement Attlee romped home with a large majority.

The Attlee government was the other great government. Just as Churchill had delivered in wartime, so Attlee led a revolution in peacetime the likes of which has not been seen by any living person before or since. The introduction of the National Health Service, the creation of the welfare state, the National Insurance Act, meaningful powers of requisition for local authorities - Attlee enshrined in law the notion that we as a society have a collective responsibility towards those who through no fault of their own may have fallen upon difficult times. True it may be that the mindset created by the crisis of war allowed for radical measures in peace which may otherwise have been unthinkable, but the fact remains that Attlee's government not only achieved more than any other peacetime government of the 20th century, but arguably more than the rest of them put together.

There is one other thing that the war leader Churchill and the post-hostilities Prime Minister Attlee had in common. Both of them were booted out in short order once their fine achievements had been delivered. Yes I know that Attlee won the general election of 1950 - just - but he was a dead man walking and Churchill was restored to office in 1951 to lead one of the most unnoted and unspectacular governments of anybody's time, into and some would say well beyond his dotage.

Although the significance and scale is immensely different, there may be a message here for us locally. If the opportunity ever arises again for us to deliver significant change to the way local affairs are managed we should do so with regard to the result of the previous election, much more than to that of the next one.

Deja Vu as Labour's Attempt to Bully Tenants Backfires

Former councillor Paul Fisher
 with Linford Christie on Ivybridge
Back in the mid-1980s the Labour Party in what was then Isleworth South ward launched a sustained offensive to take control of the New Ivybridge Tenants’ Association (NITA). In line with its general policy towards residents’ associations at the time it sought to achieve this by ensuring that whichever members it had in the catchment area were active on the association, and these would then be sustained and promoted at every opportunity by the ward councillors, who would use any influence at their disposal to have them elevated to the most senior Committee posts.

On Ivybridge the Labour offensive was helped along by the fact that one of the people who had been elected to serve on the fledgling Committee was a member of the fascist National Front. Alan Minehan was himself an inoffensive and mild-mannered man, a fact conceded even by his critics, but nevertheless he was a member of an avowedly racist party serving on a tenants’ association on a multi-cultural estate. There were quite valid concerns about the message that his presence on the Committee would send out to estate residents.

Not that I accepted them as valid at the time. For in 1987, when it all began, I was still the NF organiser in the area. Taking its cue from Labour the local NF had also developed a strategy of attempting to infiltrate residents’ groups, and it was not unreasonably assumed that his presence on the NITA Committee had been part and parcel of that strategy.

As it happens though the assumption was incorrect. The first I knew of Alan Minehan’s involvement with the association was after he had been elected to the post. I distinctly recall my sense of surprise when he strolled into the Victoria Tavern in Isleworth that very evening, after the meeting, and told me all about it. He said they had asked him to be Treasurer - I advised him against it, counselling that the man holding the purse strings would be the easiest person for an adversary to set up once his presence on the Committee had become known to the local political establishment. But I told him also that he should hold firm and resist any attempts by anyone to boot him off on the grounds of his politics.

Sure enough, a storm blew up and the appointment made the headlines of the local newspapers. The councillors objected to his appointment and a number of his fellow Committee officials, most but not all of them Labour members, called upon him to stand down. Acting on my advice, he stayed put.

Looking at those events in retrospect I see them now in a very different light. Were a similar thing to occur today I would oppose the presence of a member of a racist political party at the top table of a local residents’ group with every fibre of my being.

However none of this detracts from the fact that Labour’s motivation in opposing Minehan, as both he and I suspected at the time, was primarily a cynical and self-serving one. This was borne out by subsequent events. Just as I had predicted, once he had been removed from the Committee a similar purge was conducted against other non-Labour members, none of whom had anything to do with the NF or held racist views of any kind. And the defection of one of the "approved" group's number to the cause of the purged residents confirmed the accuracy of our suspicions for once and for all.

In those days, as now, there were divisions within the ranks of the Labour Party locally. When a Feltham councillor by the name of David Archer, now sadly deceased, wrote to a local newspaper urging Alan Minehan to leave and denounce the National Front as a resolution to the estate’s sorry predicament I wrote back to attack him for his comments. It is only now that I understand his motive for making the suggestion, far from being hostile, was to offer us a way out of the impasse that had been created which would have well and truly scotched his party colleagues’ plans for the association. Through my own limitless arrogance and stupidity, a golden opportunity fell to waste.

Now let us fast forward 26 and a bit years, and to an incident which has truly demonstrated not only the paucity of Labour’s claim to have been acting out of the loftiest principle back in 1987, but that they have learned absolutely nothing from the emergence of the ICG and its not inconsiderable success, notwithstanding our election defeat in 2010, during the long intervening period.

A couple of months ago former ICG councillor and leading local activist Paul Fisher was co-opted to the Committee of the United Residents’ Association of Ivybridge (URA), the successor organisation to NITA. Unlike Alan Minehan, no claim of racism or fascism could conceivably be laid at Paul’s door. Nevertheless, prior to the URA’s last meeting its officers had been contacted by the local Labour group demanding that it reverses its decision to co-opt Paul.

Apparently Labour in Isleworth still operates under the peculiar misapprehension that it can decide who may or may not serve on the management committee of a local residents’ association. However, unlike in 1987 the association today is truly independent. Even the one high-profile member that Labour has on the Committee, who had been pressured by his party to lead the charge against Paul, told them to do one, and Paul’s continued presence on the Committee was reconfirmed by a unanimous show of hands.

Anybody who doubts that, even if the wake of 2010, the goalposts have moved significantly in the community’s favour in its dealings with the dictators should consider the experience of Paul and the URA and reflect upon it.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Fundamentalism and the New Atheism - a Marriage Made in Heaven

Although I am a Christian I have no problem whatsoever with atheists. Why should I have? In any tolerant society people are free to believe, or not believe, whatever they choose.

One cannot impose religious belief down the barrel of a gun. Neither can one do so by mocking and denigrating the sincerely-held opinions of those who believe differently. At best, all one can do is to argue one’s case and hope to plant a seed from which something in time will grow.

Atheists are just as capable of thinking good thoughts, and of doing good deeds, as people of faith. Indeed some atheists would argue that they are more capable of so doing because they do not require the promise of posthumous reward in order to do the right thing by their fellow human beings. Such an argument misunderstands some of the basic tenets of Christian belief, but if I may I shall bank that one for another day.

What I do find depressing is what appears to me to have been the recent emergence of a New Atheism, defined not so much by the fact that the practitioner does not believe in God as by the insistence that I mustn’t either. Without any hint of irony the New Atheist lambasts Christianity, along with other faiths, with charges of intolerance and bigotry.

Despite the apparent lack of a belief in God, the New Atheist seems to spend the largest part of his or her waking time thinking, speaking and writing of nothing else. Indeed it is both to their shame and to mine that God seems to feature more in the thoughts of New Atheists than at times He does in mine.

Now although I call myself a Christian there is a type of Christian that I don’t care very much for. We’ve all met them – the pious belief that they know something you don’t, the unwavering confidence they have in the rightness of their own lifestyle and in the error, by implication, of everybody else’s. Their propensity to view their own take on the meaning of life as though it were The Undeniable Truth and the lack of provision that follows from such a mindset for opinions others may have which may digress, even in some minor fleeting detail, from their own.

Consider the approach to the debate adopted by the New Atheist and tell me how it differs, in any significant way, from that of the closed-mind Christian fundamentalist, or indeed the fundamentalist of any religion. The arrogant smugness and inanely-grinning, head-wobbling, self-satisfied superiority of Those Who Know What’s Best For Us mirrors so perfectly the tiresome, unrelenting persistence of the fundamentalist in pursuing the belief system that he or she knows is the one and only true belief system, which casts the lie upon all others.

To paraphrase a poster much seen on the buses and the London Underground – some people are Christians, get over it. And for those who profess to be guided by the Bible, don’t be so impertinent as to assume that your interpretation of its teachings is any more valid than mine, or your understanding of them any greater.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Isleworth Girl Jo Raises £430 for Macmillan Cancer Support

Activism is at its finest when it is performed for the benefit of others and not in the cause of self-promotion.  This morning a local girl and good friend, Joanna Manwaring (pictured right), organised a superbly successful local event at the Isleworth Working Men's Club in support of Macmillan Cancer Support's "World's Biggest Coffee Morning", a spectacular nationwide fundraising initiative in aid of the popular cancer support charity.

Macmillan Cancer Support provides practical, medical and financial support and pushes for better care for cancer sufferers.  Nurses help patients through their treatment whilst volunteers give a hand with some of the everyday tasks which so many of us take for granted but which for those suffering the ravages of cancer can be so stressful and difficult.

When I walked into the hall at the IWMC I was pleasantly surprised to see just how many people had turned up to offer their support to this project.  Every table was taken, and locals enjoyed a chat over a cup of coffee and a bite to eat whilst volunteers sold raffle tickets for prizes which had been donated by local individuals and small businesses.

A food stall was well laden with a great variety of offerings that members of the community had prepared and donated, from tasty jam scones (diabetes be damned, they were lovely) to onion bhajis and some truly succulent mini samosas which I was just too polite to eat in the quantities that I would truly have liked, donation notwithstanding.

When the raffle was called out I had a dread feeling that I was soon to become the proud owner of my very own eyebrow threading kit but luckily that was not to be, although neither did I win the Swedish massage (not sure how that would have gone down at home anyway), the meal voucher or the microwave oven - nor indeed anything at all.  It happens, to paraphrase Forrest Gump.

Aside from the charitable side of the event, it was great to reconnect with several people whom I used to see far more frequently when I was a more regular user of the IWMC.  I had a number of interesting conversations in which all the old issues and concerns, as well as a few new ones, were discussed and pondered upon.

Our community is a lot richer for people like Jo, her partner Kevin and her helpers who gave up their time to make today's coffee morning a great success.  A total of £430 was made for Macmillan Cancer Support, and a great community event was enjoyed by a whole lot of people, brought together in support of a worthwhile cause.  Let's hope this catches on.

Isleworth Public Hall - Hounslow Council Feels the Pressure

The London Borough of Hounslow has made its first concession, albeit superficial, in the face of unexpected levels of pressure from the community over its plans to farm out Isleworth Public Hall to a commercial bidder.

Its deadline for submissions of management proposals, originally set at October 4th, has been extended to October 14th, and various questions from residents have been responded to (I hesitate to say answered) following criticisms that the original invitation for bids from LBH was too obviously geared towards commercial organisations in preference to community groups.

In a hilarious e-mail response to a local community activist one Isleworth ward councillor wrote (or more precisely cut-and-pasted): "The exercise is open to, and invites proposals from, all interested parties, particularly those from the local community. The process of the offer and application form is not presented in the usual procurement style or with the same complexities, but has been tailored as far as possible to make it simpler and accessible to wider groups and interests"

This "particular" interest in "proposals from the local community" is clearly demonstrated in the procurement document, which lists the following criteria:

Schedule 1 COMMERCIAL QUESTIONNAIRE (criteria pass/fail)

  1. Business Name 
  2. Registered or trading name. 
  3. Type of organisation (e.g. private limited organisation, partnership, sole trader) 
  4. Registered address
Nobody who is active in the Isleworth community is under any illusions at all about the direction of the Council's plans for Isleworth Public Hall, but we will continue to resist this assault on our community by every means possible.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

I've not long returned from a meeting of the Isleworth Public Hall Users' Group and it appears the London Borough of Hounslow is determined to wash its hands of the property - a day after Labour councillors in Isleworth circulated a leaflet claiming to have "saved" it.

I know these politicians are supposed to be clever, but just how is it possible for the same people to sell off a facility and to save it from being sold off all at the same time?

Monday, 9 September 2013

On Turkeys and Tents

Just as I predicted, it would appear the Lead Member and his administration at LBH have instigated a coup against the leadership of the Hounslow Federation of Tenants' and Residents' Associations (HFTRA). When the next meeting takes place they will be replaced with a compliant leadership comprised exclusively of turkeys eagerly looking forward to the coming of the Christmas season, and HFTRA will be safely back where it was when I was Lead Member - in the pockets of the local Labour Party. However with the current HFTRA leadership having vacated the tent, I do hope the Lead Member and his new "tenant leaders" have remembered to pack their umbrella.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Honest Politics and the Common Good

If we have lost trust in our politicians and political parties, how are we going to govern ourselves? What might reform and rejuvenate our politics?

Recently I went to a talk in London by veteran American campaigner Jim Wallis, and I think his proposal of a return to the old concept of ‘the Common Good’ could be the fifth thread of possibility for a faster revival of Independents in local and national politics.

Independents are able to speak out, but have often not been listened to because people do not know what they believe or what they stand for. Independents are not a political party, they do not have policies.

But over the last few years, as the Independent Network has discussed and experimented, four threads of possibility have emerged:

Honest Politics – we have set the Bell Principles as the standard by which we believe Independents should act in local and national politics.

It’s the Person not the Party – we encourage candidates to promote their campaign by getting prominent local people to endorse them, write about them, commend them: in this way, rather than the Independent Candidate asking to be believed and trusted on their own assessment of their own competence, the Candidate is calling on independent evidence from known trusted sources.

Improve the Election Process – Political Parties have the benefit of members who can deliver leaflets, so the election process is weighted against the small parties and Independents. Very often people will vote by post without seeing many of the candidate manifestos. Independents can set better standards by setting up a website and posting up all the candidates’ manifestos, by working with other candidates to share deliveries, by persuading more voters to vote by post only after looking at all the candidates, and to campaign for manifestos to be included with postal voting forms.

The Party Party – a Political Party is also a social network, where people enjoy working together on a shared interest. Many enjoy talking about politics, but do not like the idea of commitment to any one political party. ‘Politics for All’ meetings are a way of inviting anybody (including members of all the political parties) to a social event that will include wide ranging debates on local and national issues. Through such meetings, people with an interest but no commitment can find out how to get involved.

None of these four threads address the issue: but what do Independents stand for or believe?

Perhaps Wallis’ revisiting of the Common Good as a rallying point for political activism is a possible fifth thread that would make up a platform for Independents under the banner of Honest Politics and the Common Good. Wallis does not advocate utilitarianism, the greatest happiness of the greatest number, as Bentham put it. The Common Good has to take into account individual rights and the rights of minorities, so for an Independent Politician there will need to be constant listening and negotiation.

The Independent politician will need to be a leader and an advocate, a person willing and able to argue the case for a minority against vested interests and big business, a person able to persuade and inspire. Politics is not a clean game. It is messy and by its very nature requires compromise and fudge. Maintaining personal integrity is a major challenge for an Independent politician, and so having an over-arching vision of the Common Good will help set a framework and a compass when in situations with conflicting demands.

So how do these Five Threads of Possibility sound to you?

• Honest PoliticsPerson not Party • Improve the Election Process • Politics for all, we know how to Party • Our Policy is the Common Good of our nation and community

All of this works best at a local level – Parish, Town and District Council. When it gets to County, National and European levels, there is a need for political parties that are shorthand for a specific type of policies. However, as coalition becomes more likely, the Independent or group of Independents all focused on the over-arching Common Good can have great influence, out of all proportion to their numbers.

Reproduced with acknowledgements to Independent Network

Thursday, 5 September 2013

On Honour - With a Little Knowledge, Trust and Respect

I was fascinated to read the story about Captain Robert Campbell, a World War One British Army officer who was captured by the Germans and sent to a prisoner of war camp in Magdeburg.

Whilst he was in captivity he received the sad news that his mother back home was dying of cancer. Desperate to be at her side for her final hours, Captain Campbell wrote a personal appeal to the Kaiser asking that he be allowed to go home. His request was granted - on the condition that he returned once his business back in England was done.

Having spent a week with his mother in Gravesend before she sadly passed away, Captain Campbell dutifully returned to Germany to hand himself over once again to his captors. As soon as he was safely under lock and key he set about trying to escape once more, as indeed is the patriotic duty of any prisoner of war.

What strikes one immediately is the incredible sense of honour that led Captain Campbell to keep to his word. He could quite easily have reneged on his promise. This was war, after all. However he had given his word to the Kaiser and he felt bound to stick to it.

It wasn't only about honouring a promise, of course. What Captain Campbell knew was that if he had broken his word, the next British prisoner who had found himself in a similar position would not have been granted the same favour. Having experienced the sense of helplessness and despair that came with the news that his mother was ill when he was locked away as a captive in a foreign land, he could not bear the thought of putting somebody else through that same heartbreak. By sticking to his word, just possibly if the situation were to arise again somebody else might be granted the same favour.

I could not help when reading this story but to compare the supremely noble and selfless actions of Captain Campbell with the perennially unscrupulous and self-serving ways of the modern politician. When the then Deputy Leader of the Hounslow Labour Group, Councillor Ruth Cadbury, told a Borough Council meeting back in 2007 that lying to electors in the course of trying to win their votes was perfectly acceptable and simply "politics", it would not have occurred to her that anybody listening to her words would have felt unable to trust the word of any member of her Group again.

Ruth now, of course, has her eyes on a bigger prize - the Labour nomination for the Brentford & Isleworth constituency at the General Election which is likely to take place in 2015. Yesterday one of our members received through the post her "election address". Entitled "Ruth2Win", Ruth describes herself as the candidate who is "Well Known, Well Trusted, Well Respected", and appeals to fellow Labour members to support her on the basis of her not unimpressive track record in representing her party in the area since the early 1980s.

Although I have a lot of time for her as an individual and recognise and respect her commitment to the cause of her Party, if she was selected as a parliamentary candidate I would not feel able to vote for Ruth on account of her attitude towards political campaigning. I am one of those sad people who thinks there is still a need for honesty and integrity in our politics.

Nevertheless it is nice to see more openness and less secrecy in the candidate selection process, to the point where even spectators such as myself feel moved to take an interest. May the best man (or woman) win.