Thursday, 5 June 2008

On rosebuds and other thorny issues

The letters' page in the local Times, once notoriously suggestive of the view that nothing worth writing about ever happened north of the Thames, has enjoyed something of a renaissance since the newspaper finally succumbed to the logic of the tabloid format.

In opposition I was an avid correspondent, never slow to put digit to keyboard in the cause of exposing some wrongdoing on the part of our local elected representatives. So perhaps
it was only to be expected that one of those former elected members, dumped so unceremoniously by the electors of Isleworth in 2002 in favour of three candidates from the community, would find the urge to offer some mealy-mouthed invective in response to Councillor Dr. Genevieve Hibbs' elevation to the role of Mayor too powerful to resist.

The prompt for this thankfully concise outpouring of bile and bitterness ("Gather ye rosebuds!" - Times, 30th May 2008) was the fact that, shortly following her election in 2002, Councillor Hibbs - an Isleworth resident for 22 years - moved a few miles down the road to Hayes in order to be closer to her Church community. Naturally absent was any reference to the fact that in spite of her new residential status Councillor Hibbs has consistently managed, year after year, to attend more council meetings than any of New Labour's Hounslow-based councillors. Also missing, perhaps unsurprisingly, was any suggestion that we might wish to minimise Councillor Hibbs' inconvenience by buying her, at the taxpayer's expense, a second home within easier reach of her place of work - a facility which our hard-working New Labour MPs Alan and Ann Keen (a.k.a. Mr. & Mrs. Expenses) have had no hesitation availing themselves of.

Genevieve thoroughly deserves to be the Mayor of the London Borough of Hounslow. Since the day she was first elected to the council her workrate has been simply astounding. Councillor Andrew Morgan-Watts will, of course, be a very hard act to follow. But Genevieve will not let the people of Hounslow down.

However the meat of the letter consisted not of an attack on Genevieve, but of an insinuation that the decision of the Community Group to enter into coalition with the Conservative Group was motivated by nothing more than a desire to share the trimmings and trappings of office.

Leaving aside for one moment the inconvenient fact that the present coalition was the only option available to us (New Labour having found our sole objective of wanting to empower the community so difficult to bear that the prospect of opposition was considered a more attractive one), is it really the view of our opponents that members of the Community Group are this shallow?

This organisation, which New Labour has gone to such extraordinary lengths to demonise, portraying us in leaflets (of which they have denied, then later admitted authorship) and on the doorsteps (which they now deny and possibly, in at least one case, can't remember) as a band of marauding thugs prepared to beat and burn our way to transforming Isleworth into something resembling the Fourth Reich?

Don't get me wrong, it is insulting
indeed to be depicted as somebody who has tricked his way into public office with a view to unveiling a political agenda directly at odds with that which inspired the electorate to place their trust in me. But the suggestion that I would give up fourteen years of my life, and almost certainly a six-figure sum in terms of sacrificed income, just so that a good friend could don a red gown and open jumble sales for a year is bizarre (or should I say bazaar?) beyond comprehension, and gives a much better insight into the kind of things which impress the author of the letter than into what drives me.

But it was the parting shot that was the most interesting of all. A former New Labour councillor salivating joyously - almost deleriously - at the prospect of the Conservatives sweeping the board at the next local elections in 2010 and by implication the Community Group finding itself either back in opposition, or in electoral terms wiped out completely.

Of course neither the author of the letter nor I can predict what will happen two years from now, but if the best that the leadership of the local New Labour Party past and present can hope for is an outright Conservative victory in 2010, in a borough which prior to 2006 they had controlled uninterrupted for 35 years, then that is a party in big trouble.

And let me reassure the good lady scribe that by the time we come to face the electorate again in 2010 - if indeed we do - then a large part of our work will already have been done. The self-serving structures which we pledged to dismantle will be all but gone, not only within the infrastructure of the local authority but also within our community organisations and residents' groups. If we are involved in that election, winning another four years in office will be mere icing on the cake.

Your resentment is entirely justified
, my dear, because for you the battle is already lost.

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