Friday, 28 November 2008

The art of hedging

As one who has been known to take the occasional flutter I am probably more familiar than most with the concept of hedging one's bets. Many a time I have backed a soccer team or a horse with one book and then laid it off with another at a favourable price, locking in a guaranteed profit.

Sadly Hounslow New Labour's latest act of hedging,
taking an anti "cuts" stance whilst simultaneously demanding even bigger reductions to our borough's spending than we have currently managed is not likely to reap dividends. Those whose loyalty is not to New Labour are unlikely to be taken in, whilst traditional Labour supporters whose instinct it is, like mine, to protect services first and foremost will in all likelihood be confused and demoralised by this latest volte face.

Thus the debate at this week's Borough Council meeting at which the first tranche of proposed savings was introduced saw New Labour in mid fluster. As soon as Labour Deputy Leader Councillor Ruth Cadbury began to issue forth in a schoolteacher-like tone, voice filled with an absurdly exaggerated indignation that was so clearly contrived, it was obvious to me that the party had not been briefed as to whether it was required to support the proposals and demand that they should be taken further, or oppose them with a flourish of socialistic ardour.

My suspicions were confirmed when the Labour Group proposed that the report be deferred, ostensibly on the grounds that they had not had enough time to consider it.

One cannot but admire the lengths that the depleted ranks of Hounslow New Labour are prepared to go to in their efforts to try to keep their alleged Members of Parliament in office and in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed. Their willingness to sacrifice their credibility and if needs be to allow themselves to become a borough-wide laughing stock in the name of that quest is certainly to be respected.

The whole glorious farce was beautifully epitomised by Councillor Mohinder Gill, a likeable chap, when he raised his hand to oppose the recommendations, then quickly dropped it again after looking around and seeing that his colleagues had been instructed to abstain.

One is almost tempted to hope that the sacrifice turns out to be worth it. Almost.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

A firm foundation?

Yesterday I drove to Penge, a place in South London that I'd heard of but had never before had cause to visit, to sit the first day of my Congregational Federation foundation course for which I have been sponsored by my local Church.

For those who feel it is their calling the course can be the first small step towards becoming a preacher, providing the grounding in theology that is of course an essential prerequisite for such a commitment. For others it is simply an opportunity to broaden one's knowledge base and sometimes to exchange ideas with members from other congregations.

I'm not in any way sure that I'd be cut out to deliver sermons from the pulpit. Public speaking I am accustomed to, but whether I am the right person to be setting myself up as an example for others to aspire to is another matter entirely.

Time will tell. For the time being the plan is to quietly complete the course and consider my options.

The Lead Member presents...

One of the most enjoyable tasks that I find myself undertaking in my capacity as a local councillor and Lead Member is making presentations to various members of the community who have in some way or another contributed towards improving our society and the lives of those around them.

Some weeks ago I attended a function at the Master Robert Hotel at which I was called upon to present awards to members of the community who had engaged in anti-crime work on their respective estates, helping the police and the local authority to tackle anti-social activity. It was a sobering reminder that whatever platitudes we as politicians or public figures may give voice to, it is always the community itself which is in the frontline of having to deal with the effects of crime.

Then shortly before the recent Remembrance Day parade Councillor Paul Fisher and I had the pleasure of handing a framed certificate to Ralph Clifton, landlord of the popular Griffin public house in Brentford, in recognition of his extraordinary success each year in raising funds for the Poppy Appeal. Just a few days later he once again amazed us by announcing that he had generated a further £1,100 this year.

And last Wednesday I ventured along the road to the Green School after having been consigned to my flat for nearly two weeks by illness (Caroline's illness, not mine, but someone has to feed the kids) to present Bronze Awards to dozens of local schoolchildren for their work on the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme. They, together with the Silver and Gold Award winners who regaled us with tales of their sometimes extraordinary adventures, presented a face of today's youth that is sometimes overlooked amid the media stories of knives, drugs and criminality which seem to dominate every issue of our national newspapers.

At the conclusion of the Duke of Edinburgh event due tribute was rightly paid to the amazing Dot Hasler, who has co-ordinated the scheme in the London Borough of Hounslow for many, many years, and who will be retiring from her role in a few weeks' time. Her tireless efforts will be sorely missed by the local authority, and by the youth of the Borough.

Events such as these serve as a useful and in some ways humbling reminder of what community empowerment is actually about in practice. Real people, working selflessly, to make a local environment a better place and to improve quality of life for those around them, often without the recognition which we as elected officials seem to expect for ourselves.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

The Parade in Pictures

Scenes from the Isleworth Remembrance Day Parade -
Sunday, 9th November 2008

A section of the parade in North Street shortly after march-off. Behind Councillor Paul Fisher and myself are Mary Macleod, the Conservative Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Brentford and Isleworth and (partially obscured) Councillor Barbara Reid.

Residents of Isleworth pay their solemn respects to those local servicemen who gave their lives in two World Wars and other conflicts.

Local Church leaders conduct a non-denominational Service of Remembrance. My Pastor, the Reverend Antony W. Ball, is third from the left in the front row.

Councillor Paul Fisher lays a wreath on behalf of the community of Isleworth.

The Mayor, Isleworth councillor Dr. Genevieve Hibbs, represents the London Borough of Hounslow.

Nick Buss pays his respects on behalf of Isleworth Congregational Church.

The Pride of Murray Pipe Band leads the column along Twickenham Road after the Service.

Further along Twickenham Road. The blonde on my left arm is my daughter - honest!

Into Brantwood Avenue. The flag-bearer leading the parade is Vic London, active ICG member and one-time local election candidate (Osterley & Spring Grove, 2002).

On to the home straits, the marchers are led back to base by the Mayor and the Borough Commander of the Metropolitan Police, David Bilson.

Lest we forget. Wreaths at the Cenotaph pay tribute to Isleworth's fallen.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Lest we forget

Just as we do every year, myself and several ICG colleagues have been helping the Isleworth Royal British Legion to sell poppies at a number of local outlets including the large Tesco stores at Isleworth and Osterley.

The Poppy Organiser at IRBL is my father, Ronald Andrews, and it is probably fair to say that other ICG members make up the larger part of the selling team that has seen collections increase steadily each year for the last several years.

In Isleworth the parade itself, which takes place this Sunday, has also been growing. At first this may seem odd, with the number of ex-servicemen ever decreasing for obvious reasons, but Isleworth of course is a community in which civic participation is now actively encouraged across the board. Whilst a dozen or so years ago the parades would be attended only by ex-service people, a few Legion members and a small gaggle of local dignitaries, it is now possible to count in the hundreds the number of ordinary, everyday members of the community who come along to honour those who gave their lives for us all. I believe this is a welcome development.

It is a fitting tribute to the gallantry and valour of these brave people that their memory should not only be being kept alive, but that awareness of their sacrifice should actually be increasing.

If you are reading this article before November 9th and haven't yet bought a poppy, please pop along to Tesco or another local vendor and do so now.

A chilling memory at the birthday celebration of Jalaram Bapa

On Wednesday I joined the Hounslow Borough Commander of the Metropolitan Police David Bilson, Superintendent Clive Chalk and the London Borough of Hounslow's Head of Equality and Human Rights Celia Golden for a celebration of the birthday of the Hindu saint Jalaram Bapa at the ShriJalaram Seva Trust in Barrack Road, Hounslow.

Mindful as ever of the the challenge involved in celebrating a minority culture in our borough whilst at the same time taking care to stress the need for divisions within the community to be broken down and a new unity to be built on the greater values which are common to us all as human beings, I had the benefit of a long and extremely interesting conversation with Amina, the President of the Trust, who explained some of the work that his organisation had been doing within the wider community in the immediate surrounding area. Celia and I resolved that we should help and encourage him in this kind of barrier-breaking activity in any reasonable way that we could.

After our chat and some food, we guests were invited to take part in what it is probably fair to say was the longest introduction to the cutting of a birthday cake that I have ever witnessed, with over two hours of singing and dancing as well as some seriously funny banter between the talented Master of Ceremonies (or, as she was female, should that be the Mistress of Ceremonies?) and the 250-strong crowd. I also delivered what I believe to have been the first public speech I have ever made without my shoes on.

An area of the hall behind the five-foot long birthday cake was sectioned off in dedication to the great saint, and confetti and colour and decoration abounded. Also in evidence were several painted swastikas, which left me with a chilling and sobering thought as I monetarily recollected a function of a substantially different kind, of which I was once a guest of honour in that very same hall when it had been an annexe of the Hussar public house, which for a time was populated by the local skinhead and general right-wing youth fraternity a little under twenty years ago.

The swastika is, of course, a sacred symbol in Hinduism. Nevertheless I was left wondering just how many people of my acquaintance from those bad old days would ever be blessed with the opportunity to come back in shoes (well, socks) similar to mine and take part in such an infinitely more constructive and gratifying event.

Pride in our borough

When we as an administration speak of pride in our borough, we refer of course to our facilities, our services, the unique character of our towns and villages and most importantly of all, of course, our people.

However on Monday, in the company of the Leader of the Council Peter Thompson who also leads for the borough on Community Cohesion, I took part in a presentation which left me immensely proud of our officer team of specialists in Equalities, Community Cohesion and Community Safety which is quite possibly second to none in the entire country.

The occasion was a presentation to the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) in support of Hounslow's application as a borough for Beacon status in Community Cohesion.

So often these events become exercises in box-ticking, with wearisome speeches about performance indicators and targets which leave one with an impression of subject matter that has been thoroughly digested but not quite really understood.

When it comes to our Community Cohesion work there is not a question of any lack of understanding, nor of clarity of vision as to where we want to be headed. For us it is not about getting a financial reward or a star in our merit book, but about eradicating genuine disadvantage and disengagement and building a complete sense of unity and togetherness in a borough where Everybody Matters.

As well as the Liberal Democrat Leader Andrew Dakers, who has always been supportive, I was grateful to Labour councillor Nisar Malik, who led for his party in the absence of his Group Leader Jagdish Sharma and who very graciously paid tribute to the work of the new administration in building Community Cohesion, as well as to the previous administration of course for the work that it too did in the field. Newly elected in 2006, Councillor Malik has sometimes had a rough time of it in the Council Chamber as a result of one or two comments made which could perhaps have been better worded, but I've long believed him to be one of the stars amongst the current crop of Labour councillors as well as himself being a very likable and decent guy.

Obviously one of the factors that will determine the success or otherwise of our Beacon status application will be the calibre of the opposition, and that is something over which we clearly have no control. Nonetheless I am happy that, even if in the event we are not successful, we have assembled a team in Hounslow that really is going to do the business in building cohesion in our borough in the coming months and years.