Monday, 31 August 2009

ICG in the news for all the right reasons

The most gratifying thing about being involved with the ICG is that while our opponents whinge about our success and bitch about things which may or may not have happened twenty or thirty years ago, we just get on with it, and get down to doing the things that really change peoples lives for the better.

As Lead Member for Housing Jon Hardy has barely been out of the news over the past few weeks. The New Build at Convent Way is progressing, with badly needed new homes for our tenants. Also on Jon's watch £1.3m of funding has been allocated to completely eradicate the shortfall in the Aids and Adaptations budget.

Syon councillor Shirley Fisher took pride of place in an excellent report in the Hounslow & Brentford Times featuring our very well-supported public consultation on how funding for St. John's Gardens should be spent. The community around St. John's is very well-organised and resourceful, and has been a great source of strength to us as set about developing a community-driven ethos throughout the two wards which are under our jurisdiction.

Meanwhile her husband, Isleworth councillor Paul Fisher paid a visit to Hounslow Toy Library in his capacity as Chair of the Community Investment Advisory Panel to deliver them a cheque for £14,500 (see above), which is additional to the £10,000 which they receive on an annual basis. Paul commented: "
I was kindly invited by Mrs. Matthews to see what they do and how they struggle each year to make ends meet. I was when I visited instantly struck by the love, care and total devotion shown by those to the disabled children in Hounslow and their parents who use this facility that I immediately made enquiries in how I could further fund them."

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Thought for the week

"In conditions where large sections of the electorate are abandoning all the mainstream parties, for anti-fascists not to be supporting or initiating local projects that are prepared to confront rather than support the Labour Party is to politically abandon those communities to the BNP."

Acknowledgements to Red Pepper.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Come to the Fayre in the Square - Sunday 30th August, 12pm

Well okay, it's on Isleworth Village Green, but that doesn't rhyme with "Fayre". For anybody new to the area that's off North Street, close to the junction with South Street.

There will be lots of stalls, refreshments, two tombolas, items on sale and information about local groups and societies. I believe we have a fire engine making an appearance, and if the police are able to excuse anybody from Carnival duties they will be along too. There'll be a tug-o-war, pool and darts tournament, music, and a dare-you-miss-it opportunity to soak your local councillor in the stocks (Hardy doesn't know it yet, but he's booked all day!).

In the evening there will be entertainment at the Isleworth Royal British Legion, to which everyone is invited.

The whole thing starts at noon. Hope to see you there.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Now Ann cuts Mogden community adrift

Sorry to keep banging on about the Keens, but an extraordinary development yesterday left me wondering just what kind of advice our Member of Parliament is receiving.

Users of the and community forums will be aware that a spokesperson for Ann Keen recently threatened that his party would "work around" the resident-led Mogden Residents' Action Group (MRAG), which for many years has served as the voice of the organised community living in the vicinity of the plant and whose authority to do so derives from public meetings attended by hundreds, a petition signed by several thousand and a group action involving some 1,400 litigants.

To understand the thinking behind this one has to look back into the history of the conflict in and around Isleworth between the residents' movement and New Labour. This conflict is essentially one between two broad schools of thought. One (theirs) has it that only a small, select group of people who are essentially "in the know" and have the requisite intelligence, guile and expertise (them) are truly capable of representing the people's interests and that the role of the wider community is to elect them to positions of office - not just strictly political office but also within residents' associations, amenity groups and suchlike - and then stand back and leave it to them to do what needs to be done on our behalf.

The other (ours) has it that the community itself should aspire to take the lead on local issues and that the role of their elected political leadership is simply to provide guidance, advice and assistance where asked for.

It would have been as a direct follow-up to her spokesperson's threat that, on August 22nd (a Saturday?), Mrs. Keen allegedly met privately with an unnamed Director of Thames Water without any prior consultation with the residents. The Director, we are told, regaled her with the usual empty spiel about how concerned the company is for the plight of long-suffering residents, advised her of a meeting of the Mogden Residents' Liaison Committee to take place in September of which the rest of us have already long been aware, and informed her (and from the wording of her Press Statement it came as news) that nearly six months ago the local authority had granted permission for a 40% expansion of the plant's capacity.

According to Mrs. Keen she was "delighted" by news of the plant's expansion, and following publication of the Press Statement her spokesperson raced onto the local internet forums to announce "Ann Keen Speaks Up For Local Residents"!

And yet, of course, what she has done is added her own name to the already long list of politicians who have consigned residents already suffering the excesses of Mogden to even more misery as Thames sets about making a case for reneging on its promise not to increase intake, which anybody who is familiar with its track record knows it inevitably will.

By her actions Mrs. Keen has without question kissed goodbye to almost any remaining support she might have had within a two-mile radius of Mogden. That they consider her betrayal something to gloat about would suggest that Camp Keen is either woefully ignorant of local issues and has given her the worst possible advice or, more likely, that they have already given up and that the remainder of her campaign is to be a mere "spoiling" exercise in which she intends to wreak as much "revenge" as possible upon her ungrateful constituents.

Whichever is the case she's bought it, but on a parliamentary level at least the question remains - who will speak up for the residents living around Mogden?

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Keens' continued boycott of Hounslow Council gives the lie to victim plea

I hit the headlines again this week, courtesy of the Hounslow & Brentford Times which carried an article about my relationship with the parasitic Keen duo and their lack of co-operation with the London Borough of Hounslow.

For the benefit of anyone who is unfamiliar with this particular story I will elucidate. In May 2006 I joined the local authority's Executive as Lead Member for Housing & Community Safety. Some time afterwards the his-and-hers MPs decided to make an issue of the fact, and they wrote a letter to Councillor Peter Thompson, Leader of Hounslow Council, "reserving the right to withhold our co-operation from your administration" for as long as I remained a member of the Executive. The reason given was my former membership of the National Front, an organisation whose views I had publicly renounced a decade and a half previously.

The letter itself was simply a "hook" for a much wider campaign against me and by association the Community Group, which involved briefing a number of sympathetic journalists from Tribune, the Daily Mirror, and of course the London Evening Standard where the Keens seem to enjoy a naturally cosy relationship with the odious and deceitful Andrew Gilligan. It also included a question in the House of Commons by Mrs. Keen to the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, which to his credit he brushed aside with barely concealed contempt.

The devil in the Keen's "non co-operation campaign" transpired over the coming months to be in the detail. Their principled stand did not, it seem, extend to boycotting publicity opportunities and photo calls organised by the local authority. The non co-operation was to be limited to issues which involved an element of hard work.

Unimpressed by the Keens' selective application of what was supposed after all to be a point of high principle, I put a Motion to Borough Council which had the effect of formalising the lack of a working relationship between the local authority and the MPs in a way which removed the potential for embarrassment to our officers, by declaring that henceforth the Keens would only be admitted to any activity organised by the local authority with the express permission of the administration. The Motion was passed with the full support of the Conservative, Liberal Democrat, ICG and other independent councillors, with only Labour voting against. No more unearned photo ops for the Keens.

Having been hoist by their own petard the Keens and their little band of followers and organised letter-writers squealed concertedly like stuck pigs, just as I had predicted they would. It wasn't fair. The local authority was cutting off relations with the Keens, who had done nothing wrong. They hadn't said they wouldn't co-operate with the council, only that they would reserve the right to do so. And so on. Henceforth the lie was promulgated that the severing of the relationship between the borough and its MPs was all at the behest of the administration, with the MPs being the innocent victims for simply having done the honourable, ethical thing by expressing real and valid concerns about the involvement of the neo-fascist ICG in the administration of a multi-cultural borough.

In order to be sustained the lie had to divest itself of some inconvenient truths. The first was that, in the many months which had passed between the sending of the letter to Councillor Thompson and the Motion to Borough Council the Keens had already withdrawn their co-operation from the local authority. Nobody can name one solitary instance of them having helped or co-operated with the new administration during that period in any way, shape or form.

The second was that, far from being motivated by ethical considerations, the Labour position was actually incredibly confused. My initial appointment to the Executive was made by Borough Council in May 2006 and was supported unanimously, that is by every member of the Council including all 24 members of the Labour Group. Then, in 2007, following the announcement of the Keens' "principled" stance against my appointment, the same Labour Group abstained on (not opposed) my appointment to the Executive on the grounds of my former NF membership (they also refused to support Caroline's appointment as Deputy Mayor, presumably in the belief that previously-held political associations are contagious and can be passed on to other members of the family). And in 2008, which was to be the last year I would stand for Executive, they approved my nomination unanimously once again!

The gist of the newspaper article was to point out that, now I am no longer a member of the Executive, there is not really any justification for the Keens' non co-operation continuing. Yet continue it does, with Mrs. Keen refusing to comment as to why (it also gave a very gratefully received plug to my new anti-fascist blog Walk Away, which is already beginning to attract a small trickle of new visitors).

This petulance and deceit characterises completely the sheer unpleasantness of what New Labour has become today. I am looking forward to the electorate giving these two shameless self-seekers the boot at the next general election and replacing them with people who are prepared to put the welfare of their constituents before political point-scoring and work with the local authority, whatever its political complexion, for the greater good of the community we were all elected to serve.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Politicians in the schlaemmer?

An opinion poll conducted in advance of next month's parliamentary elections in Germany suggests that some 18% of voters would cast their votes for Horst Schlaemmer if he were to decide to run.

The problem for German politicians and those who would have us take them seriously is that, far from being a serious player on the electoral stage, Herr Schlaemmer doesn't
actually exist. He is a fictional character created by comedian Hape Kerkeling, apparently a kind of German Ali G, whose new Horst Schlaemmer Party campaigns under the slogan "Yes Weekend" and wishes to replace the country's eagle emblem with a bunny rabbit.

It would seem it is not only in the UK that the cosy charade which is party politics is in meltdown. For so many of these people the fear of electoral defeat, which they reassure themselves is merely cyclical, pales into insignificance by comparison with the fear of ridicule.

If only Screaming Lord Sutch were alive today to see this.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Joe and Ciaran lead out the Bees

Yesterday we spent a family afternoon at Griffin Park watching Brentford play their first home league game of the season against Brighton & Hove Albion in League One.

Whilst the game itself was a fairly uninspiring scoreless draw, with both sides making chances but unable to capitalise, for us the highlight of the day was watching Joe and his cousin Ciaran lead the teams out as the official mascots for the day.

Both lads got a pendant which they were able to take around the dressing room and get signed by all the players as well as by manager Andy Scott (the second time in a month that Joe had got to meet him), a small football and a match program in which they both received a mention and a small write-up. Then they went out onto the pitch and enjoyed a kickabout for some forty minutes before going into the tunnel to lead the teams out for the game. They also got to shake hands with all the players from the Brighton side.

It was a wonderful experience for both of them and below are just a few of the photos that I took:

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Getting ready for the big one

A dozen activists attended the ICG's first Elections Strategy sub-Committee meeting of the current campaign last night and it is clear that there is a real determination around the organisation to build on the successes of 2006.

Members agreed unanimously that the ICG should be involved again in the local elections of 2010. Whilst the increasing commitment of the main political parties to the Community Empowerment agenda introduced into our local politics by the ICG was noted, it was feared that any administration in which we were not involved would be sidetracked by other priorities and would therefore not be ruthless enough in driving the new culture through.

We in the Community Group believe there is every likelihood that the 2010 local elections will leave Hounslow once again in a state of No Overall Control. We intend to position ourselves so that we might take advantage of that situation to the benefit of our local residents.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

New blog targets far-right

Yesterday I launched a new blog called Walk Away, which I'm hoping will in time develop into a valuable resource for combating the far-right, not just in Hounslow but throughout the UK.

Having been a member of the National Front and another far-right group myself (1977-1991) and having had to overcome a number of obstacles - some of them understandable but others grotesquely opportunistic - as I have endeavoured to do my human duty to expose the far-right, I make no apology for using my unique knowledge and experience as a lever for trying to encourage others who might be tempted to abandon previously-held racist views and affiliations. I am aware that my efforts will be the subject of attack, both by racists and by so-called "anti-racists", but this project is one that I am determined will succeed.

If fighting racism and fascism is a subject that interests you, please do take a look and feel free to leave a comment. Better still, if you manage your own blog or website please link to it. I'd be happy to reciprocate if asked.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Working together on Worton

This afternoon I spent a very productive hour or two on a walkabout on Isleworth's Worton estate in the company of two new but very keen officers from Hounslow Homes, Residents of Worton Estate (ROWE) Chair George Langridge, the indefatigable young peoples' champion Kim Dobson, and fellow ward councillors Paul Fisher and Dr. Genevieve Hibbs.

One of the issues we were keen to resolve was the apparent lack of communication that persists between Community Payback and Hounslow Homes, which has resulted in young people gathering up waste and dumped material from the alleyways and storing it into piles, only for it to be redistributed about the place again when it goes uncollected. It isn't actually as straightforward as it sounds - Hounslow Homes not unreasonably require notice whilst the nature of Payback's activity can vary at short notice according to weather and other conditions. With goodwill and determination we will get there.

The alleyways behind the houses have long been a bone of contention. Flytippers routinely use them as a venue for dumping their wares. Gating them off and issuing keys to neighbouring residents does not seem to stop them - at least one household would appear to be making its key available to the tippers. Closure could be an option but residents who have bought their homes also purchased the right of access from the rear and for us to remove that could lead to a compensation claim.

Some highways matters were also discussed at some length, with problems still following on from the introduction a few years back of the one-way system.

On my way around I picked up two items of casework from residents - one of them, by a curious coincidence, by telephone from somebody on that very estate.

The ROWE Community Centre itself is starting to look good. The toilets, which had been in such a state of disrepair that the Association has had to turn down potentially lucrative hall bookings, had now been brought up to spec thanks to some grant funding from the Isleworth & Brentford Area Committee (IBAC). More money is expected from the Rainbow Project to renovate the building still further.

It is in everybody's interests for residents, councillors and officers to pool their thoughts and ideas and to work together to improve the living environment on our estates. Things seem to be really looking up in places.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Doth the Keen Machine protest too much?

My article on Friday in which the possibility of an ethical revolt wihin the ranks of the Labour Party in Hounslow following the party's announcement that it was sticking by Ann Keen seems to have ruffled some feathers.

Over at the community forum long-time Keen bag carrier Robin Taylor responded to the article in the conventional fashion, "revealing" to bored forum users for the umpteenth time that I had been a National Front member back in the 1980s.

Meanwhile on its sister site at one David McLaughlin, who would seem to be a party hack and possibly a rising star in an increasingly empty galaxy, makes much of the fact that I have not been unreservedly critical of the plucky young men and women who briefly occupied the Keens' Brentford home to highlight the fact that the his-and-hers MPs had been conning us all by claiming it to have been their primary abode while accepting handouts from the taxpayer for the purchase of their alleged "second" home, a luxury pad in Waterloo.

Mr. McLaughlin, I am guessing, is gathering quotation material for a pre-election smear leaflet in the mistaken view that the general public actually give a toss about the Keens or their long-abandoned hovel in Brook Road South. Most of people living in the immediate vicinity seem to be missing the squatters, who proved to be helpful, generous and courteous neighbours during their short tenure.

But let's get back to the substantive issue here - good people who had once given their loyalty and support to the Labour Party for the most noble of reasons. People who believe passionately in Social Justice and Equality but who do not subscribe to the smug, arrogant, unjustified assumption of social and intellectual superiority, and indifference to the inevitable reaction against the same even by so many of their own, which seems to predominate what remains of this once proud party today.

The ICG believes there must be a home, even if it is to be a temporary one, for the many sincere people who can no longer abide the company of the types who reign amid the ruins of the house of New Labour. Such people deserve better than to be consigned, fuming but powerless, to the sidelines of local politics.

We are now talking to several of such people. I repeat my appeal to those who still haven't to get in touch and to work in an organised way, if separately, with others who similarly aspire to restore some decency and honour to our local political debate.

Friday, 7 August 2009

New Labour - has the grass-roots finally had enough?

I had an interesting conversation over a pint yesterday with somebody who has been active in the local Labour Party for some time.

Nothing particularly spectacular or out of the ordinary about that, but what was out of the ordinary was that he asked me a question. The reason that was out of the ordinary was that it was the third time that particular question - unthinkable from anybody involved with the Labour Party until very recently - had been asked of me by a party member in recent weeks. And all three were from different wards, making the prospect of collusion a bit less likely.

I won't divulge what the question was, far less the answer that I gave, but what it suggested to me was that some sections of the party are beginning to think outside the box in a quite radical way. I have always believed that there are some good people involved with the Labour Party in this borough whose creativity, independence of thought and genuine concern for the welfare of the community has been stifled for so many years. It was inevitable that, one day, a straw would break the proverbial camel's back and all that goodwill would come rushing to the surface.

It may well be that the straw in this instance was the local party's reassertion of its support for the candidacy of the awful Ann Keen at the forthcoming general election in the face of all the revelations about her expense claims, her taxpayer-funded second home, the mysteries surrounding the fact that neither she nor her husband would seem to have been anywhere near their "first" home for over a year, and the controversy around her claim for private medical treatment.

It is obvious to me that decent members were hanging on to the slender hope that the party would replace her with an electable candidate. Their hopes were cruelly dashed by the news, which for some peculiar reason the local party deemed worthy of a big publicity splash when, in strategic terms, it was about as deserving of announcement as an outbreak of flatulence in a crowded lift. The question is, now the deed has been done, do they stand and watch as what is left of the local party kisses its ass goodbye, or do they search for a radical solution to the party's predicament?

We are always willing to speak, with strictest confidence assured, with any well-meaning member of the local Labour Party who is concerned for its future. We believe that the existence of a Labour Party, in some form or another, is not only desirable but essential to our local politics. With those party members who desire to see a stronger, more vibrant and engaged community - and there are certainly some - we have a commonality of interest.

As Bob Hoskins will tell you, it's good to talk.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Thames Water and its not-quite-so-urgent planning application - five months on

Those who are familiar with the workings of council planning committees - and I speak as Chair of the local one in Isleworth and Brentford - will know pretty much how they work.

An application is made, consultation takes place amongst those concerned and an officer will produce a report which will conclude with a recommendation either for Approval or Refusal depending on his or her expert opinion based upon the available facts.

At the planning meeting elected members will discuss the report and form their own opinions on the strength of the information presented to them on the night. In doing so they will place much import on the expert opinion of the officer but will, on occasions, see things differently and vote accordingly.

I would like people reading this article, particularly those familiar with the planning process, to consider a completely fictitious scenario. Mr. Bloggs wishes to build an extension to the rear of his house. The proposed extension is hideous, too tall, out of sync with the street scene and will block out all of his neighbour's sunlight. He discusses his application with officers who feel that stringent conditions should be imposed before approval can be recommended. But Mr. Bloggs doesn't accept any of the conditions. He is in a hurry to build his extension because he wants to sell his house.

So when the application comes to Area Committee officers inform members that they should approve this clearly inappropriate development subject to the few conditions that Mr. Bloggs is prepared to accept. They acknowledge that the proposed extension will be the cause of great anxiety to his neighbours, but urge members to approve it and approve it quickly all the same because Mr. Bloggs wants to sell his house. He needs the money.

Anybody who has witnessed a debate at IBAC or any other Area Committee will know that such a conversation would never take place. Our officers, professionals to their fingertips, would urge the Committee to reject the application on the grounds that it was inappropriate, and that the actions of the applicant in refusing to accept conditions were unreasonable. The importance of the development to the applicant would not be a consideration. It would be a dereliction of duty to the neighbouring community were the officers or the members to proceed in any other way under such circumstances.

Now, imagine the applicant is called Thames Water. The date is 4th March 2009. The planning body is the Sustainable Development Committee. The full debate can be witnessed on the webcast by clicking here (you will need to download Real Player from the site if you don't already have it). The applicant, Thames Water, has refused to accept conditions suggested by our officers to protect the quality of life of those residents who will be affected by the proposed expansion of Mogden Sewage Treatment Works. And yet those same officers plead with elected members to approve the application and to do it now on the grounds that the applicant needs to get on with it "urgently".

As we know, after a few fine words had been uttered the majority on SDC cravenly kowtowed to Thames Water and to the officer recommendation to approve. The applicant, uniquely, had been allowed to dictate its own conditions and could now progress with its "urgent" expansion project and make lots more money for its shareholders at the expense of long-suffering residents of Isleworth and Hounslow South.

Odd then that, more than five months down the line, the same applicant has yet to put pen to paper and agree terms!

The reason? Because, emboldened by the unconditional co-operation of the local bureaucracy and the cowardice/gross stupidity of most of the members who took the decision to approve, it now feels confident enough to challenge even the feeble conditions which it had earlier condescended to accept. Comfortable in the belief that the officers will bend over backwards not to bring the application back to SDC for a third time, and that even if they do the members will gratefully adopt doormat status again, Thames is quite shamelessly trying to extract every last buck from a situation in which it probably still can't quite believe its luck.

So it would appear the "urgent" decision taken in March was not really quite so urgent after all. Culture change? Oh yes - believe me - it's coming!

Good luck Simon and Athena

Yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon I had the pleasure of attending the wedding reception of Simon Anderson (see slightly dated picture, left) and his lovely bride Athena at the Isleworth Royal British Legion.

Anybody who is anybody in Isleworth knows Simon as a formidable local activist - dedicated, passionate, honest - on occasions difficult - but always keen to promote the interests of the community selflessly and effectively.

I would like to wish Simon and Athena all the very best for the future.