Thursday, 31 December 2009

People Getting Ready

The community movement in Hounslow received another significant boost last week with the emergence of a new popular movement - the Cranford Heston Alliance (CHA).

ICG councillors Paul and Shirley Fisher were the guest speakers at a very well-attended launch meeting which was supported by local residents, traders and even political figures and dignitaries from the Indian sub-continent.

The new organisation is spearheaded by former Labour councillors Sarbjit Gill and Parmod Kad MBE. Its aim is to sweep away the party political domination of community life in Cranford and Heston and to give the community a real voice in local affairs.

Resident Amar Singh Dhaliwal (front, right) said: "Local residents are fed up with not being able to get anything done around here and have even had to resort to contacting councillors from the opposite end of the borough with their complaints. What we need is real local representation which puts the people first".

The CHA has indicated its intention to field candidates in the 2010 local elections, and its campaign will receive active and practical support from the ICG.

Monday, 28 December 2009

The rise of the Indies?

I know from personal experience that independent candidates seldom perform well in general elections. The are of course exceptions - Dr. Richard Taylor in Wyre Forest defied the odds to be elected in 2001, and then again to hold onto his seat at the following election. Then there was Martin Bell, the man in the white suit. And in 2005 the late Peter Law took a seat in Wales, which was held by his agent Dai Davies at the subsequent by-election.

But in most of these cases there were exceptional circumstances. Dr. Taylor was elected on the back of a massive campaign to save Kidderminster Hospital. Martin Bell's election at the expense of former Conservative MP Neil Hamilton, who had been dogged by controversy, was assured when Labour and the Liberal Democrats agreed to step aside. And the Welsh situation came about following a reaction against the Labour Party's policy of all-women shortlists, in other words the split in the vote could be expected to reflect the split that existed locally within the then ruling party.

So some of the odds in the individual constituency betting list issued by the bookmaker Ladbrokes for the next general election make interesting reading. At Castle Point one Bob Spink is quoted at 11/4 to win the seat, behind the Conservative favourite but considerably ahead of Labour and the Liberal Democrats. In Dewsbury Khizar Iqbal is showing as a not impossible 12/1 underdog, well favoured over the Lib Dems at 100/1. An unnamed independent in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath is reckoned to be the most serious challenger at 16/1 in what would admittedly appear to be a very safe Labour seat. In Luton South TV celeb Esther Rantzen is quoted at 6/1 despite the intervention of at least two other independents. In another Labour stronghold in Mansfield the Mansfield Independent Forum are second favourites at 10/1, as is Steve Kidd - an improbable victor at 33/1 in Normanton Pontefract Castleford. Plus of course there is Dr. Richard Taylor, standing once more in Wyre Forest and reckoned to be a close second favourite to the Conservative candidate at 11/8, and Dai Davies who is 8/11 favourite to retain his seat in Blaenau Gwent. And that's just the independents that have declared so far.

There are a few other battles worthy of mention. In Bethnal Green & Bow Respect are not thought to be completely out of the picture as 11/4 second favourites in spite of all their problems, and they are also quoted at 7/1 in nearby Poplar & Limehouse. In Brighton Pavilion the Green Party are actually 6/4 favourites to win a three-way battle with Labour and the Conservatives (oh, if only they possessed the same political nous in this part of the world!), and are not entirely out of the frame in Lancaster & Fleetwood and Oxford East, in both of which they are showing at 25/1.

The final imponderable is in Buckingham, the seat of John Bercow. Traditionally the big parties do not field candidates against the Speaker, which does of course leave him vulnerable to the challenge of a smaller party, in this case UKIP who are quoted at just 3/1 to take his seat. Given his unpopularity amongst some of his Conservative colleagues he may ironically need to depend upon the votes of traditional Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters to see off the UKIP challenge.

So what does all this mean? How many independents will make it to Westminster?

Personally, I think no more than two or three. Dai Davies seems likely and if I were a betting man (!) I'd probably back Dr. Taylor ahead of the Conservative favourite in Wyre Forest. The ex-Conservative, ex-UKIP Bob Spink is clearly not without a chance. And Esther Rantzen?

It may not seem much, but when one considers that prior to Martin Bell in 1997 the last independents to be elected from England, Scotland or Wales were Dick Taverne and Eddie Milne in the first election of 1974 the Stone Table would certainly appear to be cracking, albeit frustratingly slowly. Bear in mind the massive advantage that the major political parties enjoy in terms of organisation, publicity and finance and the fact that independents would appear to be making some headway seems more remarkable still.

This trend is certainly reflected in our local politics. In 1998 Yours Truly was the first candidate ever to be elected to the London Borough of Hounslow on an independent ticket. In 2002 there were four - three ICG members and the excellent Luke Kirton from ABeeC. Last time it was eight, and currently there are nine (ten if you count the enforced whiplessness of Bedfont's Councillor Jiwan Virk).

I am aware of course that there is a feeling in some quarters that we are all about to be washed away come the next local elections. I wonder what odds Ladbrokes would like to offer me on there being more indies elected in 2010 than there were nearly four years ago?

Friday, 25 December 2009

Sunday, 20 December 2009

A cold weekend away

Actually it is coldish, as befits the time of year, but there is no snow and indeed not a little sunshine on the north coast of the Isle of Wight. We're staying at Gurnard Pines, for the first time, and I'm taking advantage of a rare moment of connectivity for my mobile broadband in this remote backwater of the world to deliver a brief update on my Whickeresque travels.

I've sustained a bit of criticism for my holidays of late. One or two people who themselves think nothing about boarding a 747 for Australia or the Far East or spending an all-inclusive week at the Hilton in some fashionable resort seem not to think twice before drawing the conclusion that my family and I have a mysterious cache of hidden wealth which enables us to set sail so frequently for the Island on a £9.50-a-head Sun holiday, or to make our almost-annual, one-week-only, off-season easyJet pilgrimage to Portugal.

No matter, I reassure myself that a little bitterness on the part of political opponents and failed (and in one case positively barking) ex-councillors is a small price to pay for having overseen another four years of relentless progress towards empowering our local community and I invariably return from these short breaks reinvigorated and generally up for it.

The ICG had a very interesting meeting last week at the Isleworth Royal British Legion at which plans were made for the forthcoming local elections. I won't go into too much detail but it was extremely well attended and there is a real feeling of enthusiasm, with several new faces on the team committing themselves to mucking in. That is probably why, much as I enjoy my short breaks, I find myself impatient to get back and get on with it.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

The girl upstairs

As I sit here in my kitchen, trying to get some work done, the girl upstairs is playing her "music". From where I am sitting it seems as though she only has the one record, which she puts on time and time again over a period of several hours. The record, as far as I can tell, consists of four consecutive beats, followed by a half-second pause, followed by the same four beats again. Right now I feel resigned to having to listen to it for the rest of my life.

My family and I live in a block of flats which was constructed in the mid 1990s, and is "managed" by Notting Hill Housing Trust (NHHT). Soundproofing is non-existent. The building certainly doesn't meet the minimum required standard of insulation that applies today. We believe it doesn't meet the standard that applied at the time of construction, we have the sound readings to prove it, and we intend to pursue action through the criminal court when we have the time to do so, having been told by Brentford County Court after a case which dragged on for nearly a year that there is no civil remedy. It is possible that our own local authority's Building Control section was negligent in approving it.

Of course tenants, when faced with the problem of poor soundproofing, can take one of two approaches. They can try their hardest to lead as quiet a life as possible, as we do - keeping our television low, not playing music and so on. Or else they can satisfy their conscience with the knowledge that the structural defects are no fault of theirs and adopt an "Up Yours!" attitude towards their neighbours and to the discomfort that they suffer. The girl upstairs is very much from the "Up Yours!" school of thought.

As a councillor, of course, my role is to try to tackle the problems of others, not whinge about my own. However noise nuisance is one of the issues that I most frequently encounter at my surgeries and in my casework. It is clear that many people suffer far worse abuse than we do. The girl upstairs is inconsiderate, but probably not in breach of her tenancy agreement. It is the management company, which could have called back the contractor that undertook the work on its behalf and got the defect remedied at no cost to itself had it been inclined to do so a few years back
(it was the contractor's obligation to repair any faults that were identified within ten years of construction) rather than needlessly and stupidly arguing with us, that is at fault. But its natural, corporate instinct was to argue with its tenants rather than to support them.

Witnessing these people in action, if action is the right word, provided me with a valuable insight in my former role as Lead Member for Housing, and continues to do so in my duties as a councillor today. The belief that the residents are a nuisance without which the council would run smoothly is undeniably present in some areas. The "say no" culture, in which a councillor or a member of the public will come up with an idea and the task of the officer to whom it is suggested is to find a reason why it cannot be done, is still with us.

The four-beat-and-a-pause song still plays on, and still disturbs me from my work. All because somebody at Notting Hill Housing Trust, several years back when we and other residents first complained, lacked the wit to pick up a telephone and the inclination to listen to his own tenants.

Friday, 11 December 2009

It's all fundamental

Over recent months it has become increasingly obvious to us as community councillors that we have not been enjoying the co-operation of some chief officers and other senior officials at the London Borough of Hounslow that we feel entitled to expect.

As is so often the case it begins with little more than a hunch, often tempered by a worry that one might be making too much of a casual remark, of an e-mail not responded to or a question not properly answered. We are all capable of letting people down on occasions and even the most competent local authority employee is not beyond the occasional lapse. For some reason whenever I protest about some or other failing within the organisation I find myself greeted with the "c" word. Not that "c" word, I hasten to add (none of our chief officers has become quite that brazen - yet!). But the word "conspiracy" has the potential to instantly transform a valid complaint into some psychological maladjustment on the part of the complainant, rubbishing both at a simple stroke. "It's not a conspiracy," goes the argument and, despite the fact that nobody had suggested it was, the substance of the complaint becomes lost in the fog.

The ongoing Mogden discussion is a very good case in point. E-mails will be sent in by community representatives asking legitimate questions about our monitoring operation. Then a reminder will be sent, then a reminder of the reminder. In one instance a senior officer had to be asked thirteen times for a substantive answer to a question. The officer complained that he was being harassed. I just didn't have the willpower or the energy to point out the obvious fact that, had he responded to the first e-mail, the twelve reminders would not have been necessary.

The passing of the Motion on Community Engagement by Borough Council on 21st July 2009 was in the view of us community councillors a milestone along the road to transforming our local authority from a perfunctory bureaucracy into an outward-looking, community-driven vehicle for positive change. Whether the other Groups on the local authority, all of whom supported the Motion, saw it in the same way is of course a matter for speculation. But for the corporate council it would have appear to have been received more as a challenge than as an opportunity.

One department in particular seems to be resisting the new mentality with gusto. Word coming across to us from frustrated subalterns, combined with the occasional (but by no means isolated) outburst of rudeness or sarcasm in correspondence with community leaders, suggests a view of the community activist's role in the process which is quite fundamentally at variance with our own. Getting something done about the mindset that seems to prevail is a little like extracting teeth, promises to try to do better without any attempt to drill down into the root of the problem and the occasional invitation to a private, unminuted, off-the-record chat as the days between now and the next local elections tick away being the favoured line of approach.

Last week a member of my Group received two items of correspondence from a senior officer for whom I have a lot of time and respect which rather summed up the standoff that seems to exist. I say two items, though in reality it was one and a half as the officer clearly thought twice about sending the e-mail and stopped in mid-sentence, although - it would appear inadvertently - he sent it anyway. In the first he protested that he didn't "take instructions from residents", and in the second he delivered himself of the view that "as a councillor you are a representative, not a delegate".

Assuming his view to be one that is shared by his colleagues, he would appear to have captured in two short sentences the essence of the corporate council's difficulty with us as a Group. Because it is fundamental to our outlook that we are - within reason - delegates rather than representatives. We were elected on the understanding that we would articulate the community's view and defend the community's interests, be it at Borough Council, at IBAC or at any other forum.

Our predecessors of course were of a different view. They clearly believed that they knew better than the "ordinary" people in the street and that their role was to pursue their party's interests rather than the community's - indeed on many occasions they seemed to take an almost revolting delight in "stitching up" the people who had elected them. They were voted out.

We were elected with a completely different mandate. A mandate to empower.

The words of the officer to whom I refer would seem to question the right of my electors to inform the work and deeds of their elected members. In so doing, they spell out the corporate council's actual rejection of the political programme of one of the parties to the coalition. It is little wonder that as the local elections approach and our time on office (they believe) draws rapidly to a close they should become more and more defiant, and obstructive, in their dealings with us.

With the rise of the Community Group, and even outside of our Group of a new way of thinking, the clash of the old fundamentalisms of free-market conservatism and dogmatic socialism, along with all the pragmatisms and compromises that exist between, pale into insignificance. The corporate council is able to adapt to either of these old systems because they both operate on common assumptions as to the role of the bureaucracy.

We, of course, are fundamentally different.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Out and about with our community

Well actually it was too cold to be out and about, but last night Councillor Paul Fisher, myself and some officers from Hounslow Homes hosted a very small but useful meeting of residents from Isleworth's Worple estate at the Bridge Link Centre on Ivybridge to discuss some ASB and other problems they've been experiencing on the estate.

One hears surprisingly little from the residents on the Worple. Percentage wise, little of our casework comes from there and attempts to form residents' groups amount to so much hard work. And yet at the 2006 local elections the polling district comprising the Worple estate was the most solidly pro-ICG in the whole of Isleworth ward, out-performing even the loyal Worton. One likes to think they are contented and that they trust us, but it is never wise to take people for granted and the estate needs and deserves the same TLC as anywhere else in the village.

Once that meeting was over we drove across to Boston Manor to join another gathering of residents. Boston Manor is in Brentford ward - not represented by ICG councillors - but Councillor Andrew Dakers, with whom we enjoy a good working relationship, was there are we are always happy to lend our support to Linda Massey from Friends of Boston Manor (FOBM), who does a fabulous job as a volunteer and is always so gracious and level-headed in her dealings with the local authority even when she is feeling let down. The meeting was chaired by John Bradley, of Green Party fame. I'd never seen him chair a meeting before and he is actually quite fearsome!

Then this afternoon it was back to the Bridge Link where Councillors Jon Hardy, Paul Fisher and Andrew Dakers joined officers from Housing and myself in a meeting with a large contingent of Somali residents. One can understand the frustration of families of six, seven and eight living in two-bedroom flats, but that is the reality of the housing crisis and they were surprisingly understanding under the circumstances.

On the whole I find meetings with residents more enjoyable and productive than meetings with politicians. If nothing else, it helps remind me why I am a councillor. Meetings of the Area Committee have become much more enjoyable and dynamic since the community began to play a bigger role, and this is a development that we want to encourage still further in the months ahead.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

A month flies by

I've done it again, haven't I?

This time virtually a month has flown by since I last got around to updating this blog. Again this has been purely down to pressures of work, not just in my councillor role but also the need to make a living and keep the kids in food, pocket money and everything else they seem to have become expert in demanding at strategic times when they know my resistance is not at its best.

Since I last posted I have had the honour of attending the annual Remembrance Day parade in Isleworth, which in terms of public support was certainly the most popular that I have ever witnessed. Councillor Paul Fisher laid the wreath at Isleworth War Memorial on behalf of the community of Isleworth whilst Councillor Shirley Fisher represented the Mayor in the absence of Councillor Dr. Genevieve Hibbs, who was unwell (Councillor Jon Hardy meanwhile laid the wreath on behalf of the Mayor at Brentford War Memorial). It is was a pleasure to see the Mayor, Councillor Paul Lynch, arrive at the Isleworth Royal British Legion after the event and spend some time speaking to ex-service people, councillors and other members of the public, and he made a return visit some days later to present the Poppy Organiser Ron Andrews ("Dad" to some!) with a badge of recognition for all his hard work at a special event for those of us who had assisted with poppy selling, which this year saw yet another record collection (an achievement repeated over the last several occasions), this time in excess of £21,000.

One activity which I took part in later in November and which is worth mentioning was a canvassing exercise on the Worton estate. Not canvassing for votes (this time), but calling on locals on behalf of the residents' association - Residents of Worton Estate (ROWE) - seeking their views on what improvements they would like to see at the Community Centre. I found people by and large surprisingly receptive and positive. Whilst as a seasoned canvasser the patter tends to come naturally in any event, I was ably assisted by the indefatigable Kim Dobson, who first asked if she could stick with me because she was nervous and then barely let me get a word in once the doors had been opened!

Kim is a truly dynamic example of the kind of community activist who has been let off the leash by the election of community councillors and the emergence of a local Area Committee dominated by a community leadership ethos. I'm biased of course, but I really do believe it would be a tragedy to throw all this energy and positivity away by reversing these exciting advancements when we go to the polls in May 2010.

On the 24th it was Borough Council, and I felt compelled to make what had probably been the most difficult speech that I'd ever given there when the time arrived to discuss a raft of budget proposals which had been submitted for consultation. It is to the credit of the Leader of the Council and the Lead Member of Finance that these proposals were being presented early in the process for consideration - under the old Labour administrations they usually came to us on the night in March that the decision was to be taken! Nonetheless due to a combination of what I believe to have been the understandable over-zealousness of our Conservative coalition partners in wanting to publicly promote their low-tax agenda in the run up to both the national and local elections and, I suspect, a certain amount of mischief-making on the part of some senior officers and chief officers of the council, the process had bypassed the Community Group entirely and thus I argued that, under the circumstances, it would be unreasonable to expect us to take joint ownership of it.

Bizarrely the opposition Labour Party would appear to have stepped up its attacks on us since I delivered my speech, suggesting that they would probably prefer the Conservative budget to pass through unhindered, I suspect both for propaganda purposes and also because they fear the challenge of having to present a credible alternative budget which somehow manages to reconcile their expressed concern for the well-being of our public services with their own new, imposed low-tax position. With the demographics at the council chamber being as they are it will be interesting to see how this all pans out.

At the Annual Meeting of my Church the following evening I was re-elected as a Deacon, for which I really am grateful as with my various duties I have not been as active with the Church in recent times as I would have liked to have been in. It truly was humbling to be reassured by my fellow members that they still considered my contribution to be worthy of acknowledgement in this very important way.

On Tuesday this week Councillor Paul Fisher and I were with a gathering of residents from Heron's Place as well as representatives of various local civic and amenity groups discussing the proposed extension of a footpath along the river with planning officers from the council. Many of the same residents and activists were also present at the meeting of the Isleworth & Brentford Area Committee (IBAC) two days later at which a frank and vigorous debate took place on the local authority's plans to move towards electronic-only access to planning documents, a laudable objective in an environmental sense but one which has sold residents short by being so clearly money-driven.

Last night a goodly number of us met at the recently reopened Magpie & Crown in Brentford to take stock of where we stand with friends and enemies, opponents and colleagues as we drift closer to the confused scramble that will be the May 2010 local elections. Judging from the mood of colleagues - old faces and new recruits, several of them former adversaries - I believe we will be ready for whatever is thrown at us and will emerge from the contest stronger, more knowledgeable, better organised and more streetwise than we have ever been before.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Getting down to business

On Friday evening several members and supporters of the ICG met at the Isleworth Royal British Legion for our monthly social get-together as we approach the 2010 local elections, which are now just six months away.

Despite several notable absences we had a good crowd gathered around the extended table. Four current councillors, a former councillor, two former Labour candidates and another disillusioned Labour stalwart discussed with other community activists from a position of some authority the demise of the Labour Party in the borough, the merits or otherwise of the coalition and the work that is still clearly to be done if our empowerment objectives are to be realised in full.

No less significant was the way in which the ICG crowd and the indigenous inhabitants of the Legion blended effortlessly. There was no sense of us being in any way a different or separate entity, we were instantly welcomed and treated all evening as though we were part of the community there (which of course some of us are).

With the greatest of respect intended to all those many good people who have served their community in the past, I cannot recall a time when the ICG as an aggregate included so many of such experience and quality as it would appear to today. In and around Isleworth it would be no exaggeration to say that the ICG has drawn the largest part of the community together under its banner almost like a magnet, including former politicians and even current ones from all across the so-called "political spectrum". Those who insist upon remaining outside of the community movement - aloof and superior, legends in their own lunchtime - choose to detach themselves not only from the progress of the locality itself but, increasingly, from the reality of the situation and of the age.

We select candidates for our local election campaign shortly and it's still not entirely clear whose names will be in the ring. Speaking personally, I told colleagues after the 2006 campaign that I felt I had done my bit and that I'd fought my last election, but I look around me and I see that there is still so much unfinished business. I've not decided yet but there is a fair chance I'll have another shot, possibly in a different role to hitherto. There is so much to do and, now, so many people offering to join us in doing it.

May 2010 will be unusual to say the least. For the first time we will be defending the council's record (In some areas of the operation anyway) rather that challenging it. In all likelihood the general election will be held on the same day, which must inevitably skew the result. There is increasing evidence - at the moment circumstantial, but growing by the day - that the old enemy, Labour, is placing so much strategic priority on stopping the ICG from completing its programme that it has begun to consider whether an outright Conservative victory might not be the best achievable result and that at least some consideration is being given to working towards that end. Little wonder that the rank and file are so disillusioned - the majority of them joined the Party to fight their traditional Conservative opponents, not the residents.

There can be no doubt that the coming months will be interesting. In the meanwhile though I am preparing for a second visitation to the IRBL later this morning to attend the annual Remembrance Day parade. More on that anon.

Monday, 2 November 2009

On Nick Griffin, Question Time and Political Soldiering

Last week I was the subject of a two-page feature in the Hounslow Chronicle about my former association with BNP Chairman Nick Griffin, back in the 1970s and 1980s. Those who are interested in these things can read all about it here.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Three weeks in the life of...

I can't believe it's over three weeks since I last updated this blog. A combination of cranking things up a gear as we begin to approach the local elections and trying to earn a crust at the same time tends to relegate otherwise important work. On such occasions the protocol is to summarise.

An interesting meeting took place a few weeks ago involving several elected members, the London Borough of Hounslow's Community Cohesion officer team and a wide range of people with a wide range of views comprising the Hounslow Muslim Forum. There had been expressions of regret that the local authority had not supported a recent HMF event but the meeting gave all those present the opportunity to get to understand each other's positions a bit better.

I was pleased to be a guest at three meals in quick succession - hosted by Hounslow Community Transport (HCT), Isleworth & Hounslow Charities and Hounslow Multi-Cultural Centre respectively. Prior to the Charities gig (held at Kneller Hall) a certain Syon councillor who had arranged my attendance had forgotten to inform them that I was a vegetarian. Worse, she had forgotten to inform them that I was a vegetarian who didn't like cauliflower or green beans. On the plus side, the boiled potatoes were delicious. However, dietary idiosyncrasies notwithstanding these three thoroughly enjoyable evenings gave me and other participants an opportunity to ponder the work of some of the real, if unsung heroes of the community.

Following the dinner at the Multi-Cultural Centre I made my way back to Lampton Road to conduct a pre-recorded interview with Paul Moss for BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight, which was putting together a feature about the Corporation's decision to invite BNP leader Nick Griffin onto its flagship Question Time programme. I'd never spoken to Paul before but what intrigued me about this particular interview was that, whilst we were arranging it, Paul actually told me quite a lot about himself. He is a West London
lad, a few years younger than myself, and had actually gone to school with one of the people I had been in the National Front with back in the early 1980s. Despite the fact that Paul was an anti-fascist, he had a genuine interest in his subject and clearly wanted to know more than time would permit.

Then, at the weekend, it was away to the Isle of Wight with Caroline and Joe (Rosie, despite being only twelve, already decides for herself when she will condescend to come away with us and when she will stay at home instead with her grandparents). This time we stayed at Fairway Holiday Park in Sandown and after a light shower on the first night enjoyed some excellent weather for the time of year.

Back home on Monday, 27th October and two hours or so at a Group Meeting, then Borough Council the following evening where, for once, we argued about very little and got away at a reasonable hour. One incident which could have been a little contentious was when I presented a petition to the Mayor from 250 residents of Waye Avenue, Cranford, calling for improved public safety in the local area. Although Cranford is nowhere near my ward the residents there asked me to present the petition as they lacked confidence in their own (Labour) councillors. Whether this dissatisfaction will express itself in any particular way at next year's local elections I obviously cannot say.

With all my various work I never seem to get enough sleep these days. A couple of weeks ago I turned up at the local petrol station to wash my car, only to realise that I hadn't brought my car with me. Very worrying.

Today I drove 32 miles to take Joe to a football match at Hatch End that was postponed a few minutes before we got there, then all the way across to SW1 and along the Chelsea Embankment to collect Rosie from a "sleepover" at the home of one of her schoolfriends. Luckily I remembered my car this time.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

The end of an era and a new beginning at Hounslow Homes

Thursday evening may have been the fourth time that I'd attended an Annual General Meeting of Hounslow Homes, the London Borough of Hounslow's Arms Length Management Organisation, but this one was a tad different. Not only was it the first time I'd sat it out whilst a new Lead Member did the necessary, but it was also a landmark meeting for another reason. Alf Chandler, who had chaired the ALMO since its inception, stepped down from the hot seat following the introduction of the new two-term rule, and was replaced at the immediately ensuing Board Meeting by former Vice Chair Mohammad Chaudhry (above left).

Alf has been a giant within Hounslow's housing movement for longer than most people can remember. When I first took on the role of Lead Member for Housing back in 2006 I had assumed that he and I would rapidly find ourselves on a collusion course. Whilst his renowned socialist views on housing and some other issues are not in themselves antithetical to my own, my fear was that they would lead him axiomatically to line up with the Old Guard, and its instinctively Stalinist resistance in the face of my unbashful programme for tenant emancipation.

As it happened though I soon discovered that Alf was very much his own man. Whilst there may at first have been an element of suspicion, as my true agenda became clear I feel he came to realise that my objectives in housing were not after all in conflict with his own, and over the course of my three year tenure I like to believe that a real sense of trust and deep respect developed between us both.

Mohammad, who was victorious in a contested election for the top spot, will undoubtedly bring a new style and perspective to the role. As President of the Pakistan Welfare Association and during his time as Chair of the Hounslow Borough Community Police Consultative Group he has established himself as a respected and authoritative presence in the Hounslow community, and ably assisted by his Vice Chairs Andy Lee, Paula Lewis and Councillor Gill Hutchinson he will put his own stamp on the organisation as it progresses over the months and years ahead.

The AGM itself, chaired by Alf, was addressed by the Hounslow Homes Chief Executive Bernadette O'Shea and the ICG's own Jon Hardy, the London Borough of Hounslow's Lead Member for Housing. Below are a few selected pics from the event:

Too far from (second) home? - photo

Last month I wrote briefly about a double 21st birthday celebration that I attended at the Laxami Narayan Hindu Temple in Hounslow. I've only just received the official photos, one of which I reproduce above.

From left to right: myself, Sukhi Maras (Cranford community activist), Bittu Kapoor (son of the late Balwant Kapoor), Dr. Phool, DL Kalhan (General Secretary Indian Overseas Congress UK and now President), Brahm Mohindra (MLA Punjab Government, former Health Minister, Punjab State), Councillor Gurcharan Singh (former Mayor of Ealing and Conservative PPC for Ealing Southall), Parmod Kad (former Labour Executive member, London Borough of Hounslow), Jassi Khangoora (MLA Punjab Government and entrepreneur), Pandit Ramesh Sharma (Hindu Priest), Sarbjit Singh Gill (President Indian Overseas Welfare Association UK and former Labour councillor, London Borough of Hounslow), Amarjit Singh Dhillon (former Vice President Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Southall), Karamjit Singh Kheha (businessman), Dalbir Cheema (former Labour Mayor of Hounslow), Councillor Manjit Singh (Conservative, London Borough of Ealing) and Mr. Tamna (businessman).

Monday, 5 October 2009

Sometimes it's not possible to repair the damage we cause

Being a technological caveman it took me a couple of years longer than most to discover the phenomenon that is Facebook.

But, prompted by my twelve-year-old twins who use it as a means through which to communicate with the world, I have finally activated the account that I'd forgotten I set up some time ago and I spent most of last night trawling through lists of friends of friends to see who was on there that I knew. Throughout the night I fired off a couple of dozen friend requests, and have received several returns, some from people with whom I'd lost contact years ago.

Two of these were brothers who attended my primary school. For the purposes of this article I'll call them Jimmy and Robert. I remember both of them well, Jimmy being about my own age and Robert a couple of years older. There were both really nice lads, well liked by everyone. I can't remember either of them ever getting into an altercation with a fellow pupil - not even me, and as a kid I made it my business to upset most of the other kids at some point or another.

Jimmy's and Robert's roots are in the Caribbean. They hail from a very famous sporting family in the West Indies. My recollection of Jimmy was that he could throw a cricket ball seemingly for miles. He also went on to become a very good boxer, although his progress was hampered by a nose which gushed with blood whenever you called it a name.

I had seen Jimmy more recently than Robert. He provided the disco at mine and Caroline's wedding back in 1995 (I do hope I haven't got the date wrong!). Although he himself had moved out of the area some of his folks still resided locally and I was able to make contact with him.

Well last night I came across them both and I sent off a request to them both to become my Facebook friends. A few hours passed before Jimmy responded, accepting my request and joining my thus far embarrassingly small but thankfully growing list. But this afternoon I received a message from Robert informing me that he had no wish to have anything to do with me on account of my political history.

I have to say I was quite hurt when I read Robert's response. Their different ethnicity hadn't even registered when I had sent off the request, just as it had seldom registered at primary school. It just simply wasn't an issue. I had almost forgotten that for so many years I had been an active member and organiser of the National Front. Robert's reply to me provided a disarming reminder of that dark period of my life.

The sense of hurt which I felt upon reading his words was not directed at Robert himself, but was more a reflection of my own feeling of shame at the unhappiness that I must clearly have caused to such a decent man to inspire him to react in that way. During the course of my political work as an independent community councillor I come across politicians all the time who speak to me and even drink with me privately one evening and then announce publicly the next day that they would never have anything to do with me because of my past political activities. This is tacky politicking at its worst and I really couldn't give a toss for the feelings of such people. But Robert's comments provided me with a sobering reminder that it is sometimes wrong to assume that any damage caused by our actions can always later be repaired.

If my experience today strikes a cord with anybody who is still labouring under the illusion that they can reconcile their far-right activity with a "normal" life outside of extremist politics then they should think again, and think carefully. The deeper you sink, the more difficult it is to get back to where you need to be should you ever wish to reconnect with the real world.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

The Revd. Dr. Edgar Dowse

I was saddened this morning to learn of the death of the Revd. Dr. Edgar Dowse (right), a regular preacher at my Church, at the age of 99.

Dr. Dowse was an amazing fellow. The depth of his theological knowledge was astounding, and despite having long retired from vicarial duties at his own (Anglican) Church he would preach every month to our congregation right up until very recently. Although it had become increasingly obvious that his physical strength was failing, mentally he remained as sharp as ever and each sermon was delivered with as much passion and gusto as the last.

His Anglican background notwithstanding, Dr. Dowse was always comfortable at our (Nonconformist) Church. He always made it clear that he would preach "wherever I am invited".

In 2004, at the young age of 93, he entered the Guinness Book of Records after having become the oldest person in the world to gain a PhD. It was his seventh degree. When I asked him why he had done it he joked that it would be "good for my career".

Dr. Dowse lived in College Road, Isleworth, almost directly opposite the house of my birth. His interests were trains, and reading Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Once more into the breach

I'm genuinely very proud of the way the Independent Community Group's six councillors have performed over the past three and a half years, both as ward councillors and as a small but essential partner in the coalition which has managed the London Borough of Hounslow.

Like every other organisation we have our moments of introspection. We have our tactical disagreements. We have times when one member believes that another member is not pulling his or her weight, or that a colleague hasn't kept us properly informed of something that he or she has done. We are only human.

However - and I've said it before - when I think back to the humble roots of the ICG, and indeed the humble objectives that it set out to achieve, I find myself actually shaking with awe and even a little apprehension as to how far it can all go.

What began as a cry in the wilderness over the sheer unfairness of the way in which the residents' movement in our little Isleworth backwater had been stitched up by a very small but ruthless and unscrupulous political clique has developed over the space of a decade and a half into a huge, sophisticated and omnipotent community campaigning machine, practically guaranteeing that the voice of the people is heard whenever news of any local development, real or metaphorical, breaks out into the ether.

On Tuesday, when I visit the ROWE Community Centre for our monthly Worton surgery, I will be greeted by residents' leaders who have overseen the first estate-based Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme in the UK, who have successfully applied for local authority funding to extend their community centre and develop it into an educational resource, and who run a successful young people's project which is the envy of the borough. On Ivybridge I am still reeling from the Anuual General Meeting, held in July, where over 100 people crammed into the hall and at least a third of them volunteered for committee duty.

I and my ward colleagues liaise with The Isleworth Society (TIS) on an almost daily basis about local issues and problems that they have identified. Where their observations are met with negativity or indifference we are usually able to grind out a result by working together and battling away until the residents' concerns are addressed. The tenacity and expertise of groups like the Four Roads Residents' Association (in Isleworth) and the St. John's Residents' Association (almost wholly in Syon), which often include people who themselves serve or have served as officers on other local authorities, ensures that the community is not short-changed.

The Mogden Residents' Action Group (MRAG), despite the fact that its concerns remain unresolved, can at least instruct elected members in the knowledge that it is our master rather than our servant, a relationship which most certainly did not exist with our predecessors. And it does so safe in the knowledge that as councillors we fight their corner every inch of the way.

In just over seven months the good people of Isleworth and Syon wards will have the opportunity to decide whether they wish this relationship to continue, or whether they aspire once again to be "represented" by people whose first loyalty is to a large political organisation whose policy programme is decided at a national level, and defined by a rigid and inflexible dogma. Aware as we are of the complications which the likely occurance of a general election on the same day will undoubtedly bring about, we will stand proudly on our record and take on all comers.

Last night several of us met at the Inverness Club in Brentford for our monthly social gathering. From the political conversation that developed over a few pints against some agreeable background music it was clear that next May will open up some very interesting and potentially exciting opportunities to advance our position and to shape a local authority which will help to develop further our community agenda. Mindful of events and developments in and around our wards, we will enter the fray better organised, better supported and with far more experience and knowledge than we have ever done previously.

This will be the fifth local election campaign to be contested by the ICG. As Shakespeare's King Henry V put it, it's once more into the breach dear friends. This coming contest should hold no fears for us in the ICG. Let battle commence.

Friday, 2 October 2009


"BNP will not be back!" says pub landlord

The landlord of an Isleworth pub which unwittingly played host to a meeting of the far-right British National Party (BNP) on Wednesday evening will not be re-admitting his unwanted guests after the ICG exposed their true identity.

The "Hounslow" BNP (in reality a motley collection of activists from all across West London and beyond) had used the venue to discuss plans for its forthcoming general election campaign in the Feltham & Heston constituency, as well as its proposed participation in the local elections. Although it aspires to contest all sixty council seats, it currently admits to having only four volunteers, at least one of whom is believed to live in Brentford.

ICG councillors have worked hard to promote unity and cohesion in their wards and believe the BNP strategy was to destabilise these communities and to divide residents on the basis of their ethnicity. The landlord of the pub, which has a multi-cultural clientele, was grateful for our intervention.

Our work against the BNP is actively supported by council colleagues from all the major political groups and we would like to acknowledge and thank them for their help in achieving this result.

ICG deplores recent activity of the BNP

From the Independent Community Group website today:

"ICG Councillors were disturbed to discover that BNP supporters from outside the Borough were congregating last Wednesday at a local pub in a private meeting. The ICG deplore any activity by the BNP and are particularly concerned that they are once again targeting this Borough for their brand of slick-racism especially at a time when people are feeling vulnerable.

"We believe that the landlord in question took the booking in all innocence and will be approaching him with an open mind: nevertheless it is important that he is aware of the dangers to the Borough of hosting this organisation not to mention (his establishment) being known as a BNP hangout."

Since the above was written I know that the landlord, who is currently unavailable, has been contacted by e-mail and we are awaiting a response. We are not presently of the view that the booking was taken in the knowledge that it was being made by the BNP, however we will be in a position to confirm or deny this shortly.

Whatever the circumstances of the booking, we will not accept BNP activity on our watch.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Serves you right, Miss...

I've just got back indoors after seeing my 12-year-old daughter Rosie off on her bus to school this morning (Caroline's turn tomorrow, hooray!).

At the bus stop with us was a girl of about eighteen. Suddenly, without warning and seemingly with total indifference to the fact that we were standing beside her, said girl proceeded to spit on the ground in front of her. I'll refrain from being too descriptive as we approach breakfast time, but it was no small spit. In fact it was a real gozza.

There then followed one of those "should I or shouldn't I?" moments. My public duty was to remonstrate with her over her disgustingly anti-social act. But in a short while my daughter would be on the bus with her and I'd not be there to protect her should the girl decide to take it out on her. My concern for my daughter's safety won the day, and I bit my tongue.

A minute or two later the girl produced a cereal bar from her bag. As she went to open it she dropped it on the ground. Right slap bang in her own spit!

The look on her face as her predicament dawned on her was a picture to behold. She shuddered and grimaced as she proceeded to wipe the wrapper clean (yes, she was that hungry) and she couldn't help but notice Rosie and I chuckling as she did so.

It's moments like that that make it almost worth getting up early for.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

It's a fair cop guv!

I've got the hump with my Community Group colleague Councillor Paul Fisher at the moment.

It was Paul who, acting in his capacity as Lead Member for Parking at the London Borough of Hounslow, introduced free parking for the first hour to the new car park in Brentford High Street. In doing so he made struggling businesses along the High Street more attractive to passing trade, a particularly needed boost during a time of economic hardship. Now drivers can stop to buy a newspaper, eat at a café, or even get their hair cut or do a bit of shopping without having to factor in the additional cost of parking their car in order to do so.

The problem for me yesterday morning was that, in a senior moment amid my eagerness to cross the road and distribute some leaflets to residents at Brentford Lock, I forgot to get a ticket from the machine which would have told the attendant at what time my free hour had commenced. As a consequence I returned to a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN), leaving me a cool thirty quid lighter for my empty-headedness.

Yesterday was only the third time that I'd ever received one of these damned violation things. On the first occasion an over-eager attendant ticketed me in a council car park which I was entitled to be in. On the second (in neighbouring Richmond) I entered a bus lane ever so slightly sooner than I ought to have done in order to effect a left turn. Both times I appealed to the Parking & Traffic Appeals Service (PTAS) and won my case. This time though it is different. It's a fair cop guv.

Under recent government legislation we as councillors are not permitted to interfere in the issuing and progress of PCNs to our constituents, much to the chagrin of many of them. Most weeks we are contacted by somebody or other who wasn't aware of the regulations, their ticket fell off the windscreen or whatever. Sometimes their challenges are clearly frivolous, at other times they appear on the surface to have some kind of case. All we are able to do is explain the appeals process to them.

I shouldn't be ungenerous. In Paul's hands the parking regime has become much more customer-focussed, more flexible and responsive to particular local needs, and less profit-driven. This is how it should be.

I hope the residents of Brentford Lock enjoyed our latest leaflet and, if any of them are reading this, please be impressed by the sacrifices we make to get news and information to your letterbox.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Thames Water tells councillors: "We won't speak to residents until we get our way over Section 106!"

Wednesday, 23rd September 2009 is a date that will be remembered for a long time to come in Isleworth activist circles. It was the date on which local politicians of varying hues, as well as not a few officers from the London Borough of Hounslow, were finally able to see for themselves what we in Isleworth have had to put up with for years in our dealings with the unrepentant pollutant that is Thames Water. Those who may have laboured under the polite misapprehension that we are perhaps a tad too militant, and distrusting, in our dealings with our neighbour from hell were at last given cause to understand it is why we and our residents adopt the stance we do.

Councillors Andrew Dakers, Ruth Cadbury, Barbara Reid and Brad Fisher joined their ICG counterparts Jon Hardy, Paul Fisher and myself at a meeting of the Thames-led Mogden Residents' Liaison Committee (the holding of which is a legal requirement under the terms of the Legal Agreement between Thames and the local authority following earlier court action) and witnessed for themselves the spin, the persistent sleight of hand manoeuvring and obfuscation of this wealthy public utility which prefers to fight its neighbours in court than dip even furtively into its own rather vast pockets to honour its legal and moral obligations.

Sadly Ruth and Andrew had moved on to other engagements before the piece de la resistance was delivered shortly before the close of the meeting. The Section 106 terms which were laid out by the council's Sustainable Development Committee on that night of shame in March have yet to be agreed to by Thames, and yet astounded members and officers heard Thames deliver its ultimatum - that until we signed off the agreement, on its terms rather than the ones approved by SDC, they would not send out any information to residents about what was happening at the site.

Meanwhile members of the press who had been asked by the Mogden Residents' Action Group (MRAG) to attend the meeting and witness events were refused entrance at the gate.

Despite the tight grip which Thames maintained over the conduct of the meeting, the councillors and members of MRAG were able to ask probing questions about the management of the site. As is so often the case, "new guy" was in the hot seat and his response to most questions, as was doubtless his brief, was that he couldn't answer them because they referred to matters and incidents which predated his arrival at the plant.

One could be ungracious and point out, as is certainly true, that some of the councillors who quite clearly took the residents' part at the MRLC meeting would have served those residents a whole lot better by not having capitulated to Thames at SDC in the first place. Nonetheless there was a definite sense about the place that the game was finally up. No amount of private briefing of senior figures on the council, as one member of the Thames party let slip at the meeting had taken place very recently, will change the fact that the residents are increasingly in control of the situation, and that in the long term resistance is futile.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Mogden - at last a politician speaks out!

Liberal Democrat councillor and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Andrew Dakers (left), backed by the respected Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham Dr. Vince Cable, has come out openly in support of local residents suffering the blight of Mogden Sewage Treatment Works.

Acknowledging the misery that has been ignored by politicians of many political persuasions and timeserving chief officers at the local authority, Andrew has called publicly for the covering by Thames Water of the six remaining storm tanks at Mogden by the end of 2010 irrespective of whether the wealthy utility company is permitted by OFWAT to raise the money from its own long-suffering victims as opposed to committing a tiny proportion of its vast profits towards discharging its legal responsibilities to its neighbours.

Presently Thames Water is quite brazen about its unwillingness to honour its obligations either to the surrounding community or to the environment in general by dipping into its own resources to enable it to function responsibly and within the law. Sadly it has fallen upon residents themselves to bring them to book, and at present 1,400 local people are party to a Group Litigation which seeks to compel Thames to comply with environmental legislation.

Andrew announced last week:
“I welcome the initiative led by Cllr Jon Hardy to establish a 24hr telephone line and mobile odour recording facility in the past few weeks.

“If the Council is to take further action to halt the odour problem it is now vitally important that residents report instances of odour to the hotline: 020 8583 5555 during office hours (Monday – Friday 8.45am to 5pm) and 020 8583 2222 out of hours (5pm – 8.45am Weekdays / all weekend).

“Residents should also ensure that all complaints are emailed to MRAG ( for logging and investigation.

“Given the continued impact of Mogden odour on the local community, I support (ICG) Cllr Hardy’s endeavour to serve an abatement notice on Thames Water.

“It would be great to see Thames Water take the lead in ending the odour blighting residents lives and bring this costly debate to an end, rather than leaving residents suffering for what could be at least five years.

“Only two of eight storm tanks are currently covered. Waiting another four or five years until the current expansion programme is completed to discover whether use of the storm tanks has lessened and the odour abated is not good enough. If your child can not concentrate on their homework because of the odour, as many residents have complained to me, then you have good reason for continued concern.

“Thames Water management should begin planning the investment immediately to cover the remaining storm tanks. This should no longer be considered dependent on a contribution by OFWAT but good management of the plant.

“My suggestion is that Thames Water focus on covering an additional three storm tanks by the end of March 2010 and, if the odour has not reduced substantially during next summer, the final three by the end of next year.

“We must not lose sight of the fact that relative to expanding the sewage works, covering the storm tanks should neither be considered prohibitively expensive nor a particularly lengthy build.”

Hopefully other politicians will now finally realise that there is a huge constituency of residents living around the Mogden plant who have been sold short and will be forthcoming with their own offers of support. Thames Water has lived for too long off the passivity and lack of respect for our community that has been demonstrated hitherto by so many who ought to know better. Let's hope Andrew's support will turn the tide in our community's favour.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Sri Lankan community united in Hounslow

Later on Saturday morning I joined my colleagues Councillor Paul Fisher (Lead Member for Communities - Engagement & Safety), Councillor Shirley Fisher (Chair of IBAC) and Councillor Andrew Dakers (Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group) as guests at the Inaugural Ceremony of the Sri Lankan Community Centre. Paul had been instrumental in working with organisers prior to the event on behalf of the local authority to ensure that it all ran smoothly.

The event, addressed by the Mayor of Hounslow Councillor Paul Lynch, heralded the opening of the first registered centre of its kind for the Sri Lankan community, in Hanworth, following the cessation of hostilities in the mother country. Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims participated in this enjoyable, entertaining and well-attended celebration of unity and peace. Speeches by the Mayor and the Sri Lankan High Commissioner were followed by dancing and an impromptu chat session hosted by a local Sri Lankan resident who entertained those present whilst the finishing touches were applied to the sumptuous feast.

For a useful pictoral record of the event please see below. Most of the photos are supplied courtesy of

Councillor Shirley Fisher is greeted with leaves by a young host...

...and lights a candle to mark the launching of the event.

The Assistant High Commissioner does likewise.

Andrew Dakers and Yours Truly listen attentively to the Mayor's speech. The High Commissioner is far right of the photo.

Paul and Shirley show their appreciation for the local impromptu entertainer.

A colourful display of dancing...

...from the youngsters too.

Together after the event.

Brentford Rededication Parade, Saturday 19th September

On Saturday morning I attended the parade along Brentford High Street to mark the Rededication of the Brentford First World War Memorial, which has been transferred from the churchyard of St. Lawrence Church to Brentford Library.

The project was made possible through the hard work and dedication of residents and traders led by local estate agent Julia Quillam, the Brentford High Street Steering Group, and the Isleworth & Brentford Area Committee (IBAC) which gave a capital grant of £25,432 to enable the relocation and restoration work to take place.

At the library the Mayor led a moving service which was well attended by local people, and by ward councillors from the two wards, Brentford and Syon, which the project involved.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Too far from (second) home?

I spent a very fulfulling afternoon today in Hounslow attending a birthday celebration of the twin sons of a good friend.

There were many people there with whom I was acquainted, including...the Indian Minister for Health!

And in his company, and doing the rounds, was no less than a copy of my blog article from yesterday morning!

No sign of Ann Keen though. Possibly a bit too far from home?

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Cast your vote and help rebuild ROSE Community Centre!

The London Borough of Hounslow has had a bid accepted for funding by the Criminal Justice Board for five community projects, rebuilding and redecoration of the ROSE Community Centre on the Syon estate which was hit by an arson attack last year.

The £4 million booty is being made available from recovered criminal assets.

We need your vote to ensure our local schemes go ahead. Go to Community Cashback, scroll down to Community Involvement Days, click on it to select, scroll down to the bottom of the page, enter your email address (optional), and then click on the 'Have Your Say' button. It isn't the simplest of pages, but your vote must be registered by Friday, 18th September.

This afternoon the ICG leafleted the estate to alert residents to the opportunity. Please give a few minutes of your time to cast your vote and bring this much needed-funding to Hounslow and to Syon.

It's a funny old world - Part three

To be honest there's not much funny about a funeral, but something that happened over lunch at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha following yesterday's service certainly gave me cause for reflection.

My guide introduced me to the Indian Minister for Health, who was eating beside me. "This is Councillor Phil Andrews, from Isleworth" he said.

To my surprise the Minister replied, smiling: "I know, we have already met".

We had been introduced at a function in a popular Hounslow restaurant nearly two years ago, organised by the Indian Overseas Welfare Association. To my absolute astonishment, he had remembered me from that event.

Anyway yesterday he, I and a couple of others had a brief chat before we shook hands and he went off to speak to some other attendees. And I was left marvelling over the fact that I would appear to have a more cordial and regular relationship with the Indian Minister for Health than with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the same portfolio area in the UK who is allegedly my own constituency MP.

You couldn't make it up, could you?

Balwant Kapoor

Yesterday (Friday) afternoon I attended the funeral of Balwant Kapoor, who sadly passed away following a heart attack on September 7th, aged 81.

President of the Indian Overseas Congress in Britain, Mr. Kapoor was remembered by many as a veteran freedom fighter, patriot and journalist.

He was awarded the Tamra Patra, and had lived in the UK for 45 years after having worked as a personal assistant to Rajumari Amrit Kaur, health minister in the Jawaharlal Nehru cabinet. He is survived by a son and four daughters.

Whilst I don't claim to have known him, it seemed a natural thing to honour somebody who meant so much to so many members of my community and to share in their grief on such a sad and moving occasion. A number of speeches were made by friends, dignitaries and members of his family at the well-attended service at Hanworth Crematorium.

Genevieve's support for accused student demonstrates compassion and courage

I have to admit I was quite scared when I learned that my colleague, Isleworth councillor and former Mayor Dr. Genevieve Hibbs, had put up a five-figure surety to support the bail application of a 19-year-old local lad who had been charged with the murder of his sister's tenant.

I wasn't that I at all doubted the correctness of her belief that he had acted in self-defence and was therefore innocent. It was simply the thought that any young man of his age, faced with the horrendous prospect of a hefty, even possibly life sentence if members of the jury were to be unconvinced by his evidence, must inevitably consider at some point the appeal of jumping onto an aeroplane destined for someplace else.

In the event I needn't have worried. The young man in question, Jahangir Hussain, honoured the terms of his bail as Genevieve had always insisted he would, and was duly acquitted of all charges at the Old Bailey where it was ruled that he had acted in lawful self-defence. The young man can now hopefully put his ordeal behind him and is free to get on with the rest of his life.

In my view Genevieve displayed extraordinary Christian faith and courage in supporting Jahangir throughout the time he was awaiting trial. I believe that as a friend, a colleague and a fellow human being she has done us all proud.

An ICG perspective on THAT article

It is not under normal circumstances the done thing to be discussing in public the internal business of the coalition which manages the London Borough of Hounslow. However when a magazine arrives through the letter-boxes of scores of thousands of residents that contains a story of major import with which this coalition partner would take fundamental issue it is rather too late to be having the discussion behind closed doors.

The article to which I refer was, of course, the full-page apologia in the local authority's house magazine Hounslow Matters for the policy of our coalition partners towards the proposed expansion by Thames Water of Mogden Sewage Works in Isleworth. That policy, as we know, is to give Thames Water carte blanche to turn an already mismanaged site into a larger mismanaged site, with all the potential for increased mismanagement which that must inevitably entail. Despite a lot of unconvincing and frankly half-hearted twaddle about the approval giving the local authority "more control" over Thames Water's activities (control which it already had, but has hitherto declined to use), the primary rationale for permission being granted was clearly a cost-driven reluctance to take on Thames Water at any possible appeal hearing. Having been unprepared to incur the displeasure of Thames Water, the resultant displeasure of the residents who are to be the victims of the decision then had also to be addressed. Hence the article.

As Leader of the Community Group, the problem with the article for me is that attempting to sell residents our partners' side of the story can only possibly be done by implying that our own take on the subject, which is completely different, must ipso facto be in some way or another erroneous. That the local authority's Communications team was willing to do this has effectively served notice on us that it considers itself to be working for one party to the coalition only.

Worse still, the article quite deviously attempted to associate the Community Group itself with the decision to grant approval to the expansion plans by only quoting the (ICG) Lead Member, and in such a way as to imply that he supported this quite appalling decision.

As a consequence of this latest development Community Group postholders will henceforth increasingly be liaising with the local media through our own channels of communication. And on the particular subject of Mogden we will be liaising with residents in the way that we have always done best.

It is my personal view that we in the Community Group have enjoyed a good relationship with our coalition partners and one which has flourished in an atmosphere of goodwill and trust. I see no reason why this should not continue. However we are increasingly of the view that there are some within the organisation who are taking us for fools and who feel they are doing our partners some kind of service by provoking us in an ever more brazen and obvious way as we head towards next year's local elections. Like everyone who has crossed our paths over the years, they will have cause to reconsider.

ICG raises the game on Community Engagement

A lot has been happening politically in the ten days or so since I last blogged, but probably nothing so significant as the Report carried through Executive by Councillor Paul Fisher on Tuesday which put the meat on the bones of the successful Motion on Community Empowerment put to Borough Council by the Community Group back in July.

The Report introduced the findings of the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) who had been commissioned towards the end of 2008 to look into Hounslow's general approach to the subject of Community Engagement. Engagement is, of course, one of those all-embracing buzz words that is used by councils of all political complexions but actually understood in its proper sense by few. To many it is an unnecessary and unwelcome distraction in which boxes have to be ticked before a piece of work can be done. What it actually is in its true sense however is a recognition that as members and officers our role is to offer the services to local people that they actually require from us.

Not wishing to cramp Paul's style I watched the meeting at home on the webcast and was amused by the tempered protests of one Executive member who complained that the Report had undertones of New Labour. Those of us who came together in an Isleworth pub in 1994 and who have been fighting ever since for our community to be elevated to its rightful place in the collective mindset of the local authority machine would not associate this project with New Labour, of all people, in a million years. Empowerment is about taking elitism and control-freakery out of our local politics.

There is a discussion still to be had about the developing role of Area Committees, which was lifted from the Report as it was felt it was a subject deserving of a separate discussion in its own right, however with this Report having been given the nod the dynamic is clearly for more local democracy, not less.

Paul's excellent Report was just the lastest manifestation of the Community Group's determination to have all the most significant aspects of its political programme incorporated into the process before the May 2010 local elections. Its passing was a massive development in the relentless onward march towards a people-focused council in Hounslow.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

And a great time was had by all...

The first resident-organised Isleworth Fayre (or Fair, if you prefer) passed off very successfully on Sunday afternoon, with groups and agencies from all over Isleworth and beyond mucking in to do their bit.

Local historian Eddie Menday served as Master of Ceremonies with backing from Radio West Middlesex, who provided the music. Isleworth Safer Neighbourhood Team and the fire brigade were there to answer questions and meet local people, a few fairground-type stalls, face-painting and rides were there for the kids, and tables were manned by the Isleworth Royal British Legion, the ICG, Delicacies Deli, LA Fitness, Hounslow Animal Welfare Society, the Mulberry Centre, Friends of Isleworth Public Hall, Brentford FC, the Cathja Project and The Isleworth Society (apologies if I've left anybody out). Former record-breaking cyclist and Isleworth resident Eileen Sheridan sold signed copies of her autobiography and Jon Hardy and myself endured several soakings in the stocks as residents were able to Soak a Councillor with wet sponges for a small consideration.

In the afternoon the Deputy Mayor, Councillor Barbara Harris, arrived and made a speech, then spent a whole couple of hours chatting to residents, enjoying the atmosphere and - finally - judging the tug o'war final in which the Isleworth RBL were defeated by a team from the Swan, cheered on by what had by that time become quite a crowd. It was also a pleasure to be joined in the afternoon by the Revd. Anna Brooker.

In the evening the IRBL laid on a disco and raffles, and the dancing went on till the end of the evening. A really fun time was had by all.

That this event was a great success was down to the fact that it was a real community event in which so many people pitched in, but special mention must go to our own Andy Sibley and to Linda Green from the IRBL. I would also like to thank Kate Manikon of Fusion for arranging the loan of the tables from Isleworth Public Hall.

Below are a few photos from the event:

Brentford mascot Buzz Bee arrives at the Fayre.

Isleworth's Safer Neighbourhood Team look on as Councillor Dr. Genevieve Hibbs holds court.

The ICG raffle and tombola raised over £100 for our election fighting fund.

The vegetable samosas from the Delicacies stall were amongst the best I have ever tasted. Not too keen on lollipops though.

Our own Iona London leads for the Isleworth Royal British Legion.

The Isleworth Society (TIS) signed up several new members.

Diving enthusiast Councillor Jon Hardy's wetsuit comes in handy.

Some of the bigger children at the Fayre. Linda Green (far right) takes a well deserved break from organising.

Historian Eddie Menday looks on as Deputy Mayor Councillor Barbara Harris makes a speech.

The Legion's tug o'war team takes the strain...

...but it's the Swan who eventually triumph. Councillor Harris holds the "cup" aloft.