Wednesday, 26 May 2010

New ROWE Committee will safeguard estate funding

Tonight I had the honour once again of chairing the Annual General Meeting of Residents of Worton Estate (ROWE).

Despite the fact that on the association so much work has throughout the ages tended to be done by so few, my frequent canvassing forays onto the estate suggest to me that it is well supported and respected amongst residents, and those who are able to lend it their time have always managed to do a darned good job.

At this evening's meeting Kim Dobson (above left), who took over recently as Chair, was re-elected to the post and will be ably supported at the top table by Anita Churchill (Secretary) and John Williams (Treasurer), as well as by several other volunteers who between them comprise the new team for the coming year.

One of the decisions that the new Committee will need to take is how to spend the £419,000 that was made available to the estate as part of the agreement to develop Worton Green some years back.

This money belongs to the residents and it is vitally important that it remains in their hands.

Monday, 24 May 2010

"We have assumed control..."

I have become an occasional visitor to Councillor Ruth Cadbury's new blog. Ruth, for those who don't know her, has been the Deputy Leader of the Labour Group for several years and is now Deputy Leader of the London Borough of Hounslow following her party's victory in the recent local elections. Indeed in her personal profile she reminds us that "Labour took back control of Hounslow on 6th May".

Some of the most recent entries make interesting reading. A letter allegedly from an enquirer called Kerry back in April asked: "I have been searching on the Internet to see who controlled Hounslow Council, and found out that it was controlled by Labour from 1971 to 2006, when labour lost control."

Fast forward to May 7th, and Ruth is pondering the outcome of the local elections, where the ballot papers are still being counted. She was "off to the Council count to see...whether we managed to...take back control of Hounslow".

Sure enough, a little while later she was able to announce: "Labour Takes Control of Hounslow, ICG out". Those who follow her on Twitter were similarly treated to the news: "Wow back in control of the council!"

Like the rest of us who had been engaged in a gruelling campaign she presumably took a well deserved rest for a few days, but Ruth was blogging once again on May 20th. Recalling the events of a couple of weeks previous she reminds us: "Friday 7th, we went to bed knowing we had gained control of Hounslow council".

Indeed, across London "we had taken control of 18 councils, up from 9".

I tried to leave a comment under one of Ruth's articles but regrettably she declined to publish it. I guess that is one's prerogative when one is in control.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Defying the nature of things?

Along the short walk home from Church a couple of hours ago I happened upon Jim, a member of our congregation who for whatever reason had been elsewhere this morning. We spoke about the weather, Jim's new suit...and the recent local election.

Jim is an affable, seventy-something West African chap who resides on Isleworth's Ivybridge estate. He was concerned about the fact that the ICG had lost its seats and that Labour councillors had been returned to office. "I voted for you all," he promised me. "I always do".

I see no reason to disbelieve Jim. What struck me was his eagerness to reassure me. It is something that I've encountered from many, many people during the last fortnight, this almost indecent haste on the part of local people to reassert their faith and support in the community movement.

For whatever reason I found myself pondering the words of the late Alan Clark, when describing the moment in late 1990 when power within the Conservative Party was first perceived to have shifted from Margaret Thatcher to John Major: "All too soon, though, Sir Tim Bell noticed that the crowd around her thinned, as people left her side and gravitated to Major. Truly recognition of the transfer of power is, at the epicentre of its vortex, instantaneous."

I confess that, whilst it would not have been quite instantaneous, I have been expecting for the last two weeks to witness the manifestation of at least some degree of fair-weather friendship. Of people who had professed their loyalty through perceived personal interest taking advantage of the changed situation to raise two fingers and tell us, or at least me, "I never liked you anyway".

That, surely, is the nature of things?

Not only has this not happened, but it is as though the mood amongst local people is to disassociate themselves, as swiftly and as unambiguously as possible, from the actions of The Invisible Ones, that mysterious but substantial group of people who don't involve themselves in community activities, shop at Tesco, drink in pubs, stand at bus stops nor even answer their doors to canvassers but who nevertheless emerge from the undergrowth and brave the daylight once every four or five years to cast their votes for Labour at general elections.

It is very reassuring to know that, amongst "real" people, the feeling is very much one of business as usual.

Friday, 21 May 2010

How to download The Ruskins' new single

Here are the links to download the new single "Old Isleworth" from local band The Ruskins:


iTunes - limited edition Acoustic and Remix - £1.29




You can use your mobile to buy the single by texting
TRACK RUSKINS to 80818 (£1)

Massive thanks to everyone who pre-ordered or bought the single already! The band really appreciates the support. If you get your friends/family/pets to do the same, they would absolutely LOVE you all :)

Old Isleworth Music Video

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Please sponsor Chris on HIV/AIDS Walk For Life

Isleworth resident Chris Boucher will be taking part in a 10km sponsored walk on June 6th to raise funds for Crusaid, an international charity supporting people affected by the HIV/AIDS virus.

Crusaid has been running as a charity for 21 years supporting people around the world with HIV and AIDS. Since 1986 Crusaid has distributed more than 47,500 hardship grants to sufferers in the United Kingdom. Globally it has funded projects as diverse as medical centres in Israel and soup kitchens in Africa, and operates four "Points of Light" community centres in South Africa.

Chris hopes to raise as much money as he can, firstly because he has seen so many friends struck by this terrible illness, and secondly to try to raise awareness that HIV/AIDS does not discriminate.

To sponsor Chris please visit and follow the links to sponsor. His team name is Outwest, and his registered walker number is 1101346.

Who gets shafted in coalition - David or Goliath?

I have read some interesting articles and discussions around the place following the emergence of the Cameron-Clegg coalition from the recent general election.

On Facebook and the local Internet community forums much complaining has taken place, a lot of it to the effect that any agreement would be Conservative dominated and that the Liberal Democrats would end up playing patsy to their larger partner. Understandably a lot of this has emanated from members or supporters of the Labour Party, who could be assumed to be unhappy with the coalition if for no other reason than that it replaced their own regime and that they are not part of it.

Reading the News at the BBC and elsewhere it seems there are rumblings of discontent from some on the right wing of the Conservative Party, who seem surprised and upset that a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition appears unlikely to pursue a purebred Conservative agenda.

An uneasy sense of deja vu overcame me when I read the particular concerns of Lord Tebbit. The reason for this was that I had beheld similar outbreaks of incredulity on occasions as a member of the previous administration at the London Borough of Hounslow, in which the Community Group had itself been a junior partner to the Conservatives, when it had been explained to those concerned that as a coalition the administration would be taking some aspects of the Community Group's programme on board as part of its overall policy portfolio.

What sometimes gets overlooked during the debate as to whether it is the senior or the junior partner that is calling the tune is that political parties and groups are themselves often coalitions of a kind, and the larger the party or group in question the more of a coalition it presumably is. The Leader of Hounslow Council under the coalition administration was a moderate and pragmatic man. It would be fair to say (although usually disputed by Labour for tactical reasons) that on the mundane issues of policy the Community Group on the council had more in common with the "moderate" wing of the Conservative Group - for want of a better term - than with its right wing. And, more significantly, the moderate wing of the Conservative Group had more in common with us.

If I can put that another way, it wasn't always with regret that the Conservative leadership would abandon proposals from its right wing "because the Community Group won't accept them". The Prime Minister would appear to be using his being in coalition with the Liberal Democrats as an opportunity to shape his own policy programme in much the same way, to the evident annoyance of the headbangers.

Of course where the Community Group was more "extreme" than its Conservative partners of both left and right, in the areas of culture change and democratisation, we met a lot more resistance and eventually, in my view, failed to break down the establishment sufficiently in a way that would have prevented the Old Order from being rebuilt, as it is now likely to be.

The Liberal Democrats in government will similarly find their partners to be less co-operative in areas where there are real differences between themselves and the Prime Minister's team.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of the mix. For the moment I am just pleased that Clegg would appear to be holding his ground in the face of what must have been some quite formidable pressure.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

New Isleworth and Syon councillors "at the top table"

If I have read this article correctly it would appear that new Labour councillors Theo Dennison and Ed Mayne, who represent Syon and Isleworth wards respectively, have been appointed to serve on the London Borough of Hounslow's new Executive.

Whilst I criticised the last Labour administration for nominating first-time councillors with no experience to the local authority's most senior committee, responsible as it is for most of its decision making, the selection of two local members will at least hopefully ensure that our wards are not forgotten. I believe both of them have what it takes to stand up to their colleagues where necessary and to ensure that Syon and Isleworth receive their fair share of services and resources. I was particularly impressed by Ed's intelligence, humility and enthusiasm when I chatted with him at the election count last week. He is a decent young man and deserves the chance that he has been given.

It is also good to see that Councillor Jagdish Sharma has been given the opportunity to lead the Labour Group and the Council after having been in a position of responsibility for such a very long time. With the re-election of John Chatt and Colin Ellar many feared there would be an unseemly scramble for the top job, which doesn't appear to have materialised.

In the Tory camp Councillor Peter Thompson has "retired from frontline politics" and has stood down as Leader of the Conservative Group. I like to believe I enjoyed a good relationship with Peter based both on personal chemistry and mutual respect and I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for his support during the last administration and for the frank and honest discussions and also one or two laughs that we had along the way. He is replaced by Councillor Mark Bowen, who was sadly unsuccessful in his efforts to topple Alan Keen in Feltham & Heston at the general election and whom I consider a good friend.

If I haven't found myself a proper job by then I might look in from time to time when all the new and not so new players are exchanging banter across the floor of the Council Chamber.

Some further thoughts from last Thursday

Trying though I honestly am to get a real life, I have to admit that I still find myself dissecting last week's local election results and looking for pointers to where the borough might be heading when "real" voting conditions are restored in 2014.

One interesting number that keeps coming back to me is 8816. This is the minimum number of voters who opted for independent candidates in preference to any of the established parties. This figure was reached by taking the highest independent vote in each ward in which non-aligned candidates were standing. In practice of course, because not everybody votes in blocs, it is likely that at least 10,000 voters in Hounslow placed at least one cross beside the name of an independent candidate. I would venture that is the most ever.

Then there was a minimum of 8336 voters who supported Green Party candidates. And if we want to think outside the "big two" as opposed to the "big three", there is the small matter of at least 11,824 voters backing the Liberal Democrats in spite of the fact that they were not contesting every ward.

As "third forces" go, the support of 30,000 - 35,000 voters in the London Borough of Hounslow is not a bad base to be starting from. But of course it should not just be assumed that every Green voter would have supported ICG candidates in the absence of a Green, nor that every ICG voter would have opted for a Lib Dem, and so on. If we are to think in terms of a third power in Hounslow politics to challenge the sterile hegemony of the tired old parties (and I should stress it is no more than a thought at the moment, I still believe the new administration should be given an opportunity to prove itself), we must explore what unites those of us who choose to think outside the establishment box and who consciously take the more difficult path towards realising our aspirations.

This is something I intend to research over the coming months, if only to keep a promise to those caring souls in my community whose new-found freedoms were so prematurely dashed, at least for the time being, by the "Gumby" vote herded out last week by the media circus that was the general election.

For the benefit of younger voters (and councillors) who are too young to remember the Gumbies, the following amusing little clip pertains:

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

"Old Isleworth" now available on iTunes

"Old Isleworth" by local stars The Ruskins is now available on iTunes (and most online stores such as Amazon,, Tesco).

The Ruskins are a superb local band who are on their way up and well worth supporting.

Please click here for more details.

Monday, 10 May 2010

"It's ironic that the outcome of a local election should be determined by a group of voters with no interest in local elections"

That was my soundbite when I sent off a press statement earlier trying to explain how the ICG came to lose all six of its council seats in Isleworth and Syon wards at last week's local elections.

It wasn't, in my view, an unreasonable thing to say. In 2006 I had topped the poll in Isleworth with 1240 votes, this year in the same ward 1741 votes was not enough to get me onto the scorescheet. The general election increased the turnout in Isleworth from 37% to over 62%, and in Syon from 36% to over 58%. Obviously an increase in turnout is good for democracy inasfar as it goes, but if the cause of the extra numbers is that the additional voters are in attendance for a reason other than to vote in a local election it does mean that the local election result is essentially being decided by those who don't really give much of a toss about local community business. That most of those fitting this description would appear to have been Labour voters could be argued to vindicate the ICG's whole raison d'etre.

No matter, we have six new Labour councillors on the manor - Mindu Bains, Ed Mayne and Sue Sampson in Isleworth and Steve Curran, Theo Dennison and Jason Ellar in Syon, and I wish them every success in their new roles over the next four years. They are all new councillors which hopefully means they will bring fresh enthusiasm to the job, and in the case of two of them at least they bring extreme youth as well. Jason is, I believe, the youngest councillor ever to be elected to the London Borough of Hounslow, and I'm just too kind to ask how he intends to juggle his casework with his homework, or whether he'll have to be home from meetings by nine o'clock!

All joking aside, I am naturally being asked where the ICG intends to go from here, and whether we'll be looking to try to recapture the seats in 2014. The simple truth is that I don't know, and much is likely to depend on how the new councillors engage with the population that we as a local community group still serve and the approach the new administration in general takes to the whole area of Community Empowerment. If they take advantage of our contacts, our insight and the relationship that we enjoy with residents active in the community to try to create their own bond of a kind that is beneficial to the community they will have our support and assistance. If, on the other hand, their approach will be to treat local residents and their organisations as conquered serfs they will find in us a formidable adversary.

The is little doubt in my mind that, but for the extraordinary conditions created by the holding of the general election on the same day as the local elections, we would have comfortably held all our seats in both Syon and Isleworth. Good sitting councillors of the caliber of John Connelly, Peter Hills and Linda Nakamura were absolutely annihilated in their respective wards, coming in fourth behind the three major parties, each of them coincidentally taking about 14% of the poll. Even the excellent Andrew Dakers, standing for the Liberal Democrats in Brentford as well as representing his party in the parliamentary contest, was beaten down into third place.

The ICG, by contrast, were still knocking at the door in defiance of the artificial turnout, and of all logic. We came second in both Syon and Isleworth, in the latter failing to hold a seat by just 78 votes. In Isleworth we took over 29% of the vote, in Syon nearly 25% in spite of the unhelpful and pointless intervention of a full slate of Green Party candidates and one from UKIP. Our percentage of the vote in Hounslow South, where we have never held a seat, was roughly equal to those of the defeated independent councillors in Hounslow Heath, Bedfont and Hanworth.

The ICG's Committee will be getting together shortly to assess the situation. I cannot second guess the outcome of that meeting, but the mood is not one of defeat but of acceptance of the freak conditions which fired this eccentric result, coupled with a cool determination to defend everything we have built in our community, to ride the storm if a storm is to be, and to mobilise residents to resist any attempt to dismantle what they have built should such an attempt be forthcoming. Colleagues also however seem to have a genuine desire to give the new regime a chance before jumping to any conclusions and, if needs be, to redeploy the organisation into a supporting role outside of the electoral arena.

Meanwhile it feels odd not being an elected member after twelve years of continued service. I was going to go to the office today to do some constituency work, then realised that I no longer have any constituents nor for that matter an office! I'll get used to it, and four years will pass like it is no time at all.

It has been suggested elsewhere that the ICG "paid the price" for having entered into coalition with the Conservatives. The election results don't support this theory. Neither John Connelly nor Andrew Dakers had ever been in coalition with the Tories, whilst Peter Hills and Linda Nakamura severed their connection some time ago. Yet all of them were defeated more heavily than we were.

Do I have any regrets about the coalition? Well, I don't regret entering into it. Having been elected to office to make a difference I feel we had a duty to place ourselves into a position that enabled us to do that. My one regret is that, once it had become obvious to us that chief officers were prioritising Conservative objectives over ours, we didn't - I didn't - do enough to rectify the situation. Vague promises that our complaints would be "looked into" as they stalled for time (as we knew they were doing) stretched things out until they were effectively timed out and we comforted ourselves with the knowledge that we would deal with it all after the election as a condition of any new coalition agreement. Which would have been fine had we had the opportunity.

Lots of questions will be asked, and answered, over the weeks and months ahead. As long as we remain solid, as we intend to, the long-term future of our community will remain entirely in its own hands.