Sunday, 24 May 2009

The BNP's rise is a fantasy created by anti-democrats

Acknowledgements to Nick Cohen, The Observer.

The real cause of our anxieties is not the potential of the far right. It's the emergence of people power.

Never underestimate how fast fear can swell in Britain. Sophisticated politicians and commentators analyse the "moral panics" of the masses about immigration and crime while remaining unaware of their own irrational prejudices. For in its nervous moments, polite society is just as panicky as the most hysterical tabloid reader. The veil of good manners slips and it describes its fellow citizens as tattooed and shaven-headed brutes who, given the right circumstances, would vote for the modern equivalent of the Nazi party.

The conditions ought to be right this summer. Indeed, I cannot imagine better conditions for a neo-fascist advance. Britain is coming to the end of the longest wave of immigration in her history. I argued when it was at its height that we could take a modest pride in the absence of rioting mobs and burning crosses, but I had to temper my patriotic sentiments with the admission that mass immigration came while the economy was booming and the public was more interested in shopping than taking to the streets. At the risk of stating the obvious, the boom is over. Unemployment is rising and anger at foreigners taking British jobs is rising with it.

To make matters worse - or better from the point of view of extremists - this parliament has disgraced itself. Its frauds turned Westminster into a tax haven and the House of Commons fees office into a cash machine that kept on giving. The electorate has gone from its normal state of surly acquiescence into a righteous fury.

Even before the scandal broke, no less an authority than the Archbishop of Canterbury warned that Britain needed to heed the lessons of Nazi Germany and accept "a very high risk of financial stringency leading to political extremes - anger finding its expression in xenophobia. The fact that the BNP can win a seat in Sevenoaks is a straw in the wind and we have to watch the horizon very, very carefully for the tempest that might be behind that".

I would mock him for imagining the leaders of the British National party crying: "Today Sevenoaks! Tomorrow the world!" But then it is just the kind of thing the leaders of the BNP would say and, in any case, the archbishop is hardly a lone voice. The combination of economic and political crises has led many politicians and journalists to predict sweeping BNP advances - five, six maybe seven European seats.

The party was hiding its roots in European fascism, they argued, and putting on respectable suits and friendly smiles to calm the electorate. It looked set to prosper.

I accept that it is foolish to call an election before a vote has been cast, and low turnouts can produce freak results, but the evidence that the BNP is surfing popular outrage is hard to find.

On Thursday, the voters of Salford's Irwell Riverside ward ought to have given the far right an easy victory. If Salford is no longer Friedrich Engels's classic slum of "dirt and poverty", most of the ward's white, working-class voters still live in run-down terraces. Hazel Blears, Salford's Labour MP, did not share their struggles. She claimed for three different properties in one year, along with assorted televisions, beds, mattresses, curtains, pots, pans and overnight stays at one of London's chicest hotels.

After journalists worked out that she had managed to avoid capital gains tax after selling one home she had done up at public expense, she waved a cheque for £13,000 on television and announced she would send it to HM Revenue. Her gesture would have been less tactless if the idea of ever being in a position to write a cheque for £13,000 were not beyond the dreams of many of her constituents.

Yet Blears stood at the count in Salford and saw Labour hold the seat. Its support was down, but despite the recession and the scandals, the BNP stayed stuck in third place, its share of the vote up a mere 3.8% on last year.

The anti-fascist campaigners, who gather around Searchlight magazine, were not surprised. They say that internal BNP documents show it to be a feeble organisation, running out of money and credible candidates.

They do not think its strategy of dressing thugs in suits is working and nor do I. Not the least of the BNP's problems is that Nick Griffin was caught on camera at a meeting with the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke explaining how he would seek to con the public by using warm words - freedom, security, identity, democracy.

"Perhaps one day, once by being rather more subtle we've got ourselves in a position where we control the British broadcasting media, the British people might change their mind and say, 'Yes, every last one must go.' But if you offer that as your sole aim to start with, you're gonna get absolutely nowhere. So, instead of talking about racial purity, we talk about identity."

Griffin has fooled the occasional journalist, but the regular convictions of BNP members for racial assaults, drug dealing and sex crimes leave most people in no doubt that the new BNP is no different from the old BNP: an alliance of criminals with criminal policies.

If it fails to break through even in these propitious circumstances, however, it will still have revealed a latent prejudice in the British elite.

Alongside honourable concerns lurks a suspicion of popular power. Listen carefully whenever proposals are discussed to improve local democracy by, say, electing chief constables and police authorities.

Eventually, an authoritative voice will tell you that the British cannot be trusted with more power because they may let the BNP take over the police forces.

Similarly with reforms to the national voting system. Once again, we are told that a fairer election system cannot be contemplated because it will let the BNP out of its cage.

The best reason for hoping that it is trounced is not that a vile party will have gone down to a deserved defeat, but because it will make it harder for the opponents of reform to argue that their fellow citizens are nasty children whose betters cannot allow them to run their own affairs.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

All change at the top

Annual Borough Council on Tuesday night saw some major changes - for us in the ICG anyway - in the team to be fielded by the administration for its final year in office before the 2010 local elections.

First and foremost came the change of Mayor. It doesn't seem like a month, let alone a year, since our own Councillor Dr. Genevieve Hibbs assumed the honour of becoming the borough's first citizen, but last night she was replaced by Conservative Chiswick Riverside councillor Paul Lynch. Likewise her Deputy Councillor Shirley Fisher was succeeded by Councillor Barbara Harris. Both will, I have no doubt, prove to be inspired appointments.

Both Genevieve and Shirley have done the ICG proud. The ICG duo imposed their own personalities on the office and enhanced the reputation of our Group throughout the borough and outside of it. Anybody who might have felt that their appointments last year were a less than serious sop to a needed coalition partner will have found themselves surprised. Genevieve held pride of place amongst the short but growing line of "characters" who have held the office of Mayor since the formation of the new administration in 2006.

More personal to me, of course, was my decision to stand down as Lead Member for Housing and Community Safety and as a member of the Executive.

In what has been almost three years of office I have done too much and made too many good friends to be able to do it all justice here. I can only say that I have worked with some first class officers and partners and that I wish every one of them all the very best of luck for the year ahead and for the future.

In Housing my first task when assuming my role in 2006 was the Hounslow Homes Management Review, which became a battleground for two conflicting sets of ideals. My mission, indeed it had been my only mission when the ICG was first launched in 1994, was a simple one - to create a level playing field on our estates which would enable all residents to become involved in the process of estate management if they so wished irrespective of their politics. That I managed to achieve this at the end of an almighty battle was due in no small part to the tenaciously loyal service that I received during that struggle in particular from Susanna White (now moved on to pastures new), Sue Witherspoon, Barbara Perry and Yvonne Birch, and from other officers who were part of their team.

In the field of Community Safety and in the associated areas of Equalities and Community Cohesion there are so many officers who have given me their total, and sometimes very vocal backing that I am frightened to try to list them in case I leave anybody out, but they all know who they are and I shall miss the terrible accents (Amolak) and the even more terrible haircuts (Emmanuel) that I encountered so frequently as I strolled through the pavilion.

It would be wrong not to give special mention to the Head of Community Safety, Kirti Sisodia, who manages the department so well, as well as Uttam Gujral, Joan Conlon, Celia Golden, Sabin Malik (cruelly taken from us by Whitehall), Kate Tomkinson, Kathy Riley, Permjit, Adrian, Moushami, Aine .... I thought I wasn't going to mention names! Seriously, every last one of them did me really, really proud.

The sense of sadness that comes with stepping down however is tempered by the knowledge that the Group will be represented on the Executive by two huge and growing talents in Councillor Paul Fisher (Isleworth) and Councillor Jon Hardy (Syon). Between the three of us we've enjoyed much debate over the last couple of years about who should play what role at the top table, but Paul had demonstrated such a command of his portfolio over the past year and Jon suggests so much promise that I'm not in the slightest doubt that me standing down was the right thing for me to do at this particular time.

Having shuffled the pack, Paul now passes Service Improvement to Jon who is also Lead Member for Housing. In turn Paul inherits Community Safety to add to his Community Engagement and (bizarrely) Parking portfolios. Paul will handle the Executive side of my responsibilities to Brentford Football Club, whilst to the likely delight of some Jon assumes responsibility for managing our relations with Thames Water over Mogden.

It's not exactly retirement, alas. As well as remaining Leader of the Community Group on the local authority I have also been nominated to the Board of Hounslow Homes, an interesting progression from having been Lead Member. Last night (Wednesday), less than 24 hours after having been confirmed as a Board Member, I sat at St. Catherine's House in the company of Alf, Mohammed, Gillian, Bernadette, David and Jill - all people I had worked with so closely (and I like to think so well) in my previous incarnation - making decisions as part of the management team that will have to be considered by the new Lead Member.

Looking at one or two comments on other threads it would appear that there is already some speculation as to the reasons behind my decision. Nobody suspects altruism in the world of politics. But, like a successful football manager, my brief is to play the right players in the right positions during the right match.

I believe I have got that decision right.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Modest meeting, big plans

Tonight the Green Room at Hounslow's Treaty Centre was filled to the rafters as I explained to my audience the mechanics of Project Empower.

Now a confession - that is not quite the achievement that it might at first have sounded. The Green Room is a small committee room on the periphery of the much larger Paul Robeson Theatre, and there were enough seats - and food - to provide for the thirty or so people in attendance.

Nevertheless, it was a slightly larger attendance than we'd anticipated from this first of three "satellite" meetings which had been arranged to compliment the launch of the Project at last weekend's HFTRA Conference and, more importantly still, those assembled were uniformly enthusiastic about the Project and what it is already being understood to symbolise.

Some great ideas were forthcoming, not least from a large contingent of tenants from Heston, and a real sense of purpose pervaded the short meeting as it broke up into discussions between small groups of residents and officers who, along with myself, were engaging with the residents at close quarters.

This is the environment in which I feel most at home, meeting new people and interacting with the community which it is my privilege to represent. With the greatest of respect both to senior officers of the council and to my Executive colleagues, meetings such as this are, to me, worth a hundred sittings of the Executive or one-to-ones in a remote office discussing the latest Report. This is what it is truly about.

What I also picked up was the real warmth and passion with which officers, in this case from Hounslow Homes, were embracing this work. I know that at least some of the people involved not very long ago were less enthusiastic about my management of the portfolio area. I don't think I'm being naive when I say I sensed something very, very different this evening as Project Empower was being rolled out before another group of residents.

Tomorrow is Annual Borough Council and as always, if the voting goes right, there is likely to be a slight shuffling of the pack. It provides a stark reminder of the speed with which a term of office comes and goes and, this being the last such meeting before the next local elections, heralds an urgency about work still to be done.

Empowerment or mere service?

Being mindful of the fact that I am a notorious repeater of myself, I spent part of my weekend reflecting on what I should report about this year's HFTRA (Hounslow Federation of Tenants' and Residents' Associations) Conference that I didn't say last year. Only then did it occur to me that this blog is now actually over a year old! Doesn't time fly?

Well, this year I had the pleasure of both opening the Conference and giving the closing speech. Following hot on the heels of my introduction was a workshop, attended by all delegates, at which a Panel of senior Hounslow Homes officers took questions on the subject of Service Charges.

And many questions there were too. Some of them could easily have been predicted, whilst others called for quick thinking on the part of the Panel.

I think most if not all officers accept my view that the implementation of the second tranche of Service Charges this year could have better handled. I believe strongly that residents have a right to know why they are being asked to pay for a service, even if they don't agree that they should be paying it. And if a charge is patently unfair - as is the charge for communal electricity, even though we can do nothing about it - then the easiest and most honest thing is simply to say so.

It is because we didn't do this from the outset that we received a large volume of enquiries when the bills first went out, most of them from tenants demanding to know why they should pay for street columns on estates managed by Hounslow Homes, when they also pay for street lighting throughout the borough through their Council Tax. Or why they are paying for grounds maintenance when they cut their own grass. Or for Neighbourhood Wardens whose services they have thus far never needed.

Other than for the aforementioned injustice - forced upon us by government policy - of the charge for street lighting, there are reasonable explanations for all of the other charges. If one considers that all residents of the borough pay - through their Council Tax - for the upkeep of parks and open spaces irrespective of whether they use them, for the police service irrespective of whether they have been victims of crime, or for cemeteries irrespective of whether they wish to be cremated, charges for the maintenance of grassed verges on an estate whether or not they are immediately outside one's home do not seem so unreasonable after all. But if we do not explain it, we cannot expect tenants to understand it. Let alone accept it.

The good news is that this truism now seems to be accepted by all, and the Panel responded skillfully to the questions with humility and authority in equal measure. Most importantly of all, they acknowledged old mistakes and pledged to make good.

At the closing end of what turned out to be a very useful and enjoyable day, I was called upon once again to pick up the (very temperamental) microphone, this time to explain the rationale behind Project Empower, the name now given to the scheme, backed by Borough Council in January in the face of depressingly predictable opposition, to release £4 million of HRA (Housing Revenue Account) funds for service improvements to be identified by tenants.

The response from the floor to this talk provided for an interesting socio-analytical study. From those whom I've come to know as firm advocates of tenant participation there was tangible enthusiasm. Particularly supportive of my empowerment initiatives, for which I'm truly very grateful but the reasons for which I've yet to fully appreciate, have been the rapidly growing number of Somali ladies (it's nearly always ladies for some reason) who now attend HFTRA activites. Conversely, the questioning from those whom I've learned to associate with the "old guard" focused entirely on service issues and then with a primarily economic emphasis, much of it as it happened completely unrelated to the theme of the speech that I'd made.

Herein lies the essential difference between the two mindsets that have been doing battle in the field of community activity since the ICG arrived at the heart of local politics. For some the passion for involvement, engagement, participation - for others the dreary belief that all residents want in life is to be provided by their political masters with good service, in exchange for which comes their silence and acquiescence. Whilst the latter is a view that I and some of my colleagues tend to associate mostly with New Labour, I don't think any of us are oblivious to the fact that our ideology, if that is the correct term to use, is considered an eccentric enthusiasm by many on all sides of the traditional political divide. That for which our opponents despise us, many of our allies merely tolerate us. We know that.

Nonetheless when I think back to the battles of 2006 I am proud that we have placed tenant engagement into the forefront of everything we do, and I look forward to the coming year with excitement and some impatience when considering the work still to be done before we next go the polls.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

If you don't hate, don't vote for my old mate

If you are like me you will be underwhelmed by the imminence of the European Elections which are to take place on June 4th. I haven't even thought about who I might be voting for yet, and if one considers that I'm actually involved in politics on a day to day basis then what does that say for the sense of excitement that the contest must have induced in most other people?

With the recent revelations about MPs' expense claims, the public can be forgiven for being unenthusiastic about any of the main parties. To paraphrase the old poster slogan, wouldn't it be funny if they called an election and nobody turned up?

Sadly, uninspiring though the established politicans may seem or indeed be, not turning out to vote may have far graver consequences than electing some undeserving bounty hunter of whatever political hue. Under the d'Hondt system of Proportional Representation that is to be used for the purpose of allocating seats, any party that achieves more than a stated minimum percentage of votes in any given region will have at least one member elected to the European Parliament.

Even in less cynical times, British voters on the whole never cared have too much who is elected to Brussels. At the previous two Euro Elections, also conducted under PR, a large protest vote went respectively to the Green Party and to the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). What is significant is that neither party was particularly in the ascendancy at the time when they achieved their success. They were just in the right place at the right time when the British voter had the opportunity to register a protest.

The party which finds itself in a similar position today is the British National Party (BNP). As an ex-member of the National Front myself (a party in which many of the current BNP leaders, including the Chairman Nick Griffin, cut their political teeth) I have been studying the BNP's recent fortunes at close quarters. Having exploded onto the scene from relative obscurity a few years ago, the BNP has hovered steadily at around its current level for the last few years. Whilst is hasn't imploded in the sensational manner of the National Front at the 1979 General Election, it has flatlined somewhat, with the odd victory being celebrated but at least as many losses being quietly recorded.

Anybody who takes reassurance from this that the BNP will not present a major threat on June 4th, as some anti-racists seem to have done, is a fool. The general public do not know about the internal issues that trouble the BNP, nor will they have a sophisticated handle on its recent election results. The simple fact is that the BNP, like the Greens and UKIP before them, are the ones who are strategically poised to take advantage of the low voter turnout and the wave of quite understandable disillusionment that is sweeping the country at the moment.

In a certain respect as observers go I am in a unique position. It may be nearly twenty years since I abandoned the ideology (or more precisely the ideologies, for they changed like the wind) that I had pursued along with my former NF comrades back in the 1980s, but I have seen many of the current BNP leaders and their methods at close quarters. Along with one or two others I actually pioneered the electoral strategy that much later brought the BNP its limited successes.

Although he is older, bigger and has one eye fewer than he did when I knew him, the Nick Griffin I see on Newsnight and the equally slick performer who graces our various news bulletins is the same guy that I have enjoyed many a curry and a beer with, visited at his home, been entertained by his family (and he by mine) and talked politics and strategy with on countless occasions. Because I believe I always got along well with Nick Griffin and because our parting was political rather than personal, I have difficulty seeing in him the swivel-eyed monster of traditional anti-fascist folklore. Nonetheless, I firmly believe that the election of BNP MEPs on June 4th would be an unmitigated disaster for our community.

As an NF activist in the 1980s one of my pet hates was the media. No matter what the NF did any coverage received, as I saw it then, was hostile and inaccurate. It was so unfair. Worse than that, it was a plot. A Jewish plot. The possiblity that the complexities of the obscure and irrational ideology that I followed in those days might have been innocently misunderstood was not to be contemplated in the black and white world of the fanatic. The whole world was against us. They were wrong, and we alone were right.

And so it is that, rather than rely upon media interpretation to inform my opinion of the BNP today, my instinct is to look at the publications and the public pronouncements of the BNP itself. In recent years the BNP has gone to a lot of trouble trying to remodel itself as a legitimate and mainstream, if still very right wing, political party. It has dropped its lunatic commitment to "the compulsory repatriation of all non-white immigrants along with their dependents and descendants" and has instead adopted an ostensibly more reasonable policy of "voluntary repatriation". It isn't about race any more guv, it's only about numbers.

I giggle slightly wickedly when I read about all this, because having been there amongst the people involved I know the perpetual juggling act that Nick Griffin will have been forced by his own "conversion" to the BNP's new "Civic Nationalist" values to perform, reassuring his own loyal followers that he remains privately "of the faith" whilst simultaneously trying to impress the wider world that he is a changed man. It isn't easy, and the reason it isn't easy is because it isn't honest.

I believe it was this dichotomy which backed Nick Griffin recently to into an ideological corner, compelling him to spell out the old racist values that still underpin the "new" BNP. Speaking to the BBC, he declared that Asian Britons and black Britons "do not exist" and that people from African-Caribbean backgrounds and Asian backgrounds should be regarded as "racial foreigners", irrespective of whether they arrived yesterday or whether their ancestors have lived in the UK for generations. Somehow Nick Griffin and the BNP still insist on trying to square this with their protestation that they are not a racist party.

It is vital that voters who may be disillusioned with the mainstream understand that the BNP are not a benign protest party. People have every right to be discontented in the current climate. It is perfectly legitimate to question the size of the population and the various social consequences of excessive immigration. But the BNP's concerns, as evidenced by Nick Griffin's comments, are not about numbers, nor for that matter about jobs, housing, education nor anything else of that kind. They are about race. Just as they were when I was involved with the far right. All that has changed, essentially, is the packaging.

So if you are of the belief that the hard-working, friendly and decent family living next door to you, born in the UK of Asian parents or decended from Asian grandparents but thoroughly Anglicised, cannot be British due to an accident of birth - or If you believe that the black guy who drinks in your pub and speaks with a London accent and goes to watch football is not as good as you, or the same as you, because his grandfather came to England on a boat from Trinidad to work on the London buses - then the British National Party is maybe the party you should be voting for.

But if your concerns are merely those that we all share, especially at a time of economic privation, or if you are simply angry that so many of our "leaders" seem to more content with filling their faces and living like kings while the rest of us struggle to make ends meet, then there are easier ways of making your protest than by voting for a supposedly "non-racist" party that by its own admission judges people's Britishness according to skin pigmentation.

The beauty of the d'Honst system is that, just as it makes it easier for extremist parties to gain a foothold in our political institutions, so it also provides us with an easy means of keeping them out. Just vote for someone else. Anyone else. If none of the big parties float your boat at the moment there will be plenty of green parties, yellow parties, purple parties, rainbow alliances and Baron Bucketheads putting their fortunes to the test. A vote for one of them will do just as nicely to keep the BNP out.

If you vote for the BNP and it gains seats at Brussels on June 4th you will have done more than register a protest. You will have handed an openly racist party hundreds of thousands of pounds in funding which effectively comes with every Euro seat. The knot you tied in the establishment's shoelaces as a lesson may prove very difficult indeed to undo.

Even if you are as uninterested in the Euro elections as I am, and as uninspired by the large majority of the people who inhabit or seek to inhabit the European Parliament on our behalf, it is in the interests of our strong and united local community that you go out and vote. The Sunday Sport Party might yet see power.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Brave Alison reminds us all, it's People who are the real celebrities

There have been a few events over the last week or so that ordinarily I would have blogged about. The superb and well-attended event hosted at All Saints' Church by The Isleworth Society (TIS) to launch a new panoramic web feature about the Isleworth riverside. A council Executive meeting on Tuesday at which, amongst other things, Councillor Paul Fisher was able to bring some long awaited relief to some of our small traders who are suffering the effects of recession by reducing parking charges on vulnerable shopping parades. Some ongoing issues surrounding Mogden, including the provision of funding by the Executive for 24-hour monitoring and confirmation by the Leader of the Council that the residents have his full support in their battles with Thames Water and the reverberations that that unambiguous announcement undoubtedly had in the corridors and offices of Hounslow Civic Centre, where unhelpful power games have been played out in recent weeks.

For whatever reason none of these events, although milestones in their own right, made it to these pages. This was very possibly a consequence of me being emotionally distracted by the untimely passing of my friend and former next-door neighbour Alison Cole (above) at the tragically young age of 39.

Alison was the youngest daughter of Pat Cole, who as a child was my mother's closest friend and who many years later, until very recently, held the post of Deputy Chair of the ICG for some years. In recent months Pat and the leadership of the Group had become slightly estranged, a thing which was entirely our fault but never intentional as we all wrestled with the incredible demands on our time and energy of being so few involved closely - and disproportionately - in the everyday business of running a local authority, but she has remained a friend and colleague and we are all passionately determined to make up for past omissions.

When Alison was born in 1969 her family lived next door to us in Chestnut Grove, where they stayed for many years before moving to a slightly larger property around the corner in Worple Road. Even as a very small child she exhibited that lovable cheekiness which was to stay with her and become her trademark in later life. I recall one evening enjoying a pint at the Victoria Tavern with her older brother Ian and a few other local guys when Alison, then probably about fifteen, came into the pub and stood defiantly with us. Ian, very much a youngster himself at the time, did not want his kid sister with him, cramping his style. "I know you want me to leave," announced Alison, sensing his discomfort. "It's going to cost you a pound."

Alison left the pub very shortly afterwards, a pound richer.

Despite knowing of her illness (she was diagnosed in her twenties with cardiomyopathy - an enlarged heart), Alison was always chirpy and invariably raised the spirits of all those in her company. She could be as blunt and impudent as she liked without any fear that anybody would take offence. The style of delivery was perfected in such a way that anything she said was accepted with good humour, and raised a laugh.

It is always, naturally, done to say nice things about somebody who has passed and to comment upon how unique and special they were. This to some extent makes it more difficult for me stress convincingly how unique and special Alison really was. And yet, reflecting upon those all around who are still with us (as one invariably does at such times), I can think of nobody around me who replicates or replaces Alison's own unique qualities.

Any who would challenge this only have to consider the size of the crowd that turned out at Mortlake Crematorium for Alison's funeral. Several hundred people lined the route to the chapel. Only the lucky ones actually got in, many more took part in the proceedings as best they could from outside. Friends from around Isleworth, people I knew but had no idea that Alison was close to also, people from my old primary school and elsewhere from my dim and distant past, old neighbours and current neighbours, even one of my cousins - from Hanworth - was there. It seems that Alison was a part of almost everybody's life in this community.

I doubt whether there is a single politician or "face" who graces the pages of our local newspapers from one week to the next whose passing would be marked by so many people. We will always remember Alison with fondness, but beyond that it would pay us to remember that this world is made what is by people, often unsung, and not just those of us more given to singing our own praises.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Can you believe THIS?????

It just HAD to happen, didn't it? Ann K££n, alleged Member of Parliament for Brentford & Isleworth and her Hounslow Labour Party are now the champions of the residents who are suffering the effects of the Mogden Pong!

On her website, Ann calls upon Thames Water "to look again at the possibility of covering the controversial Mogden storm tanks as the Brentford sewer treatment works looks set to expand."

It would seem almost churlish under the circumstances to point out to her and her colleagues that the Mogden plant is actually in Isleworth!

She continues: "A lot of people are very unhappy about the plans to expand Mogden but, by increasing capacity, this might be one way to help reduce the smells." Which she HAS to say really, considering it was her New Labour colleagues who drove the expansion proposal through the meeting of the Sustainable Development Committee at which it was passed!

Also interesting is her inference that she persuaded OFWAT to release "£60m" for works already undertaken. Which begs me to ask, as only £40m was ever spent, what happened to the rest?

People in my part of the world are used to this shameless, breathtaking opportunism as it has manifested itself so many times before in the run-up to elections, but how must those other, non-Labour members on SDC who allowed themselves to be talked around by Councillors Cadbury and Cooper in concert with officers from the Environment Department be feeling after reading this?

Yet another lesson in New Labour political chicanery ("We apply our own ethics") learned the hard way!

How's this for a decision?

Tomorrow morning when I wake up I must come to terms with an utterly life-changing decision that I have been compelled to take.

Tomorrow I, an avowed carnivore throughout my life, will be going vegetarian, possibly for as long as nine or ten years without cessation.

Make no mistake, there is nothing I like more than a Lamb Jalfrezi, a Shish Kebab with chilli peppers or Chicken Piri-Piri by the pool in my Portugese bolthole. Like most people I dislike animal cruelty and have been known to boycott the odd product that had its origins in some barbaric practice. But I've always reassured myself with the thought that if God didn't want us to eat animals He wouldn't have made them out of meat.

But with my daughter Rosie having spent the last two years of her life as a vegan who doesn't eat vegetables, life has been a constant battle for Caroline and I trying to ensure that she gets all her nutrients and calories. Somehow, and I don't know how, she has managed to maintain an "average" weight for her height and has all the outward signs of being a healthy girl. However, when yesterday she relented whilst contemplating a plate of baked beans and told me that she would renounce veganism for vegetarianism if I agreed to go veggie too I had no option but to agree.

On the surface of it it seems very easy to be a vegetarian these days. Virtually every restaurant has vegetarian dishes and the days of having to survive on a diet of lettuce leaves and carrots are long gone. No so veganism - even today few eating establishments seem to acknowledge its existence and Rosie has often been stuck with a plate of chips while the rest of us tucked in to a juicy steak.

I've not the foggiest how I am going to cope with it, but I'll revisit it here for posterity sometime soon. Watch this space, and have pity.

Out and about with the RSLs - Part Two

If it seems like quite a long time ago that is probably because it was, but on Monday evening the Borough held its first ever RSL Tenants' Conference at Hounslow Civic Centre. In fact, neither the Chair of the event Paul Doe nor I are aware of anything of the kind ever happening in any other borough either.

About eighty delegates from seven leading RSLs attended, and following an interesting presentation from the Tenant Services Authority and a short Question and Answer session the meeting divided into several groups to attend workshops on various aspects of an RSLs work.

All in all a very fulfilling and useful event, and already looking forward to building on this pioneering work next year.

A big well done to all concerned, and particularly to Paul for having the courage to believe in his tenants and to spread his belief amongst the others he represents.