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.

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