Friday, 29 October 2010

Sorry I'm away for a week, see you in a month

Anybody who has ever been a councillor will tell you that the weeks roll very seamlessly into the months.

So Isleworth councillor Mindu Bains could be forgiven for leaving this rather confusing message for constituents who may have been trying to get hold of her between September 26th and October 26th (although this Out Of Office Auto-Reply came in response to an e-mail sent to her on October 28th).

Maybe they will have had better luck following the link to "Councillor Sue Smpson"? Or does this mean poor old Ed copped all the casework for a whole calendar month (click above image to enlarge)?

Friday, 22 October 2010

In Memory and Honour of Cameron Short - "A true inspiration to us all"

Please donate to Charlton Farm Children's Hospice in Cameron's memory

I have found myself strangely and deeply affected over the last two days by the very sad death of a young man whom I didn't know and never met.

Cameron Short was just ten years old when, in September 2009, doctors discovered a tumour in his brain. Sadly doctors who performed tests on the growth confirmed it was cancerous.

Cameron, or Cam, was treated and operated on at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol, where he lived. He battled on for a whole year and returned to school. In September this year he became a one year survivor. Those who knew him and cared for him were amazed by the courage that he consistently showed, never complaining about his ordeal, no tantrums or tears.

Regrettably it was recently discovered that another tumour had developed and he began undergoing treatment for this.

Cam passed away peacefully and painlessly in his sleep at Charlton Farm Hospice on 20th October 2010, a place where he had spent many happy hours during his last year and in his final days, making friends with the staff who cared diligently for his every need and even helping other children to cope with their illnesses. He appeared in a film helping children to come to terms with radiotherapy and not be daunted by it.

You can see his story at Cam's Place, a lasting tribute to the life and the extraordinary courage of this wonderful boy.

My only connection with Cam was that I attended primary school with his grandmother Sharon. I hope she'll forgive me for saying that was quite a long time ago. It was through Sharon's posts on Facebook that I followed his story, and was devastated when she posted recently that doctors had given his family the news that he had only days to live.

Sharon's brother David posted on Wednesday that Cam's courage had been "a true inspiration to us all". I wouldn't try to put it better myself.

Cameron's friends and family have launched an appeal to raise funds for Charlton Farm Hospice to help them with their work for children suffering with terminal illness. Please give generously in Cam's memory to help other children to enjoy their last days in an atmosphere of love and laughter.

Please click on the button below to make your donation through JustGiving. Your details are safe and secure,the process is simple and Gift Aid will be reclaimed on every eligible donation. Thank you.

The dark soul in our midst that cannot move on

I suggested a couple of days ago that I might try to get hold of the appalling Labour Party leaflet that is (very) slowly doing the rounds in Isleworth right now. However in the absence of half my family I have placed myself under virtual house arrest this week whilst trying to get things done, and so I still don't have a copy to hand. For those who await visual confirmation of this literary masterpiece with baited breath I urge patience. It is coming.

In the meantime I find myself reflecting with some amusement upon the various grumbles and allegations contained therein.

The main thrust of the attack was as follows:

1. When in office ICG councillors received the standard members' allowance, paid for from the local authority's budget. This included a Special Responsibilities Allowance (SRA) for those holding certain offices such as Executive members, Area Committee Chairs and so on.

2. I personally have become exceptionally wealthy as a consequence of having received these allowances, and simultaneously have been forced to enter into an Individual Voluntary Agreement (IVA) with my creditors following personal and business difficulties arising from the recession.

The indignation over ICG councillors receiving members' allowances tells us quite a lot about the mindset of those behind the leaflet. All councillors receive these allowances. The Labour councillors who succeeded us as representatives of Isleworth and Syon wards - and in whose name this leaflet was published - receive them. As Executive members Isleworth councillor Ed Mayne and Syon member Theo Dennison each receive around £22k per annum. Should they remain Executive members for the duration of their terms of office, both will have received more from the taxpayer than any ICG councillor did during the administration of 2006-2010.

Similarly, Isleworth councillor Mindu Bains draws nearly £16k each year when her SRA as Vice Chair of the Isleworth & Brentford Area Committee is factored into the equation.

So how then do the authors of the leaflet have the brass neck to complain about the fact that ICG councillors, like all other councillors the length and breadth of the country, received an annual allowance? The answer is simple - in the minds of these people Labour councillors are "real" councillors and are thus entitled to be remunerated for their time and effort, whilst non-Labour councillors are in some way unreasonably occupying seats which rightfully "belong" to them.

Worst of all ICG councillors are not even politicians, not members of any of the exclusive little clubs that by right of birth govern our localities and impose their ideologies and their expertise upon us lesser mortals. ICG councillors are mere residents, upstarts from amid the ranks of the hoi polloi. How dare we gatecrash their little set-up and claim for ourselves anything whatsoever that was really intended for them?

On the subject of my own personal finances and indeed of all aspects of my private life much angst apparently abounds in Local Labour Land. Wild and usually inaccurate speculation about my working arrangements, an unhealthy interest in my children and the educational provision we have made to protect them from the deranged attentions of the kind of scum who disseminate the bilious filth that pervades these leaflets, unashamed lies about properties that I am alleged to own in sundry far-off lands - all of this competes for valuable space on a newsletter that could otherwise have been devoted to the cause of explaining to us what positive things our newly-elected councillors plan to do for their constituents over the three and a half years between now and the next local elections.

Some might consider it odd that newly elected councillors, supported by an administration of their own colour with a clear majority, should have nothing better to offer than bitter, ranting and spluttering attacks upon those they defeated several months ago. Especially when the object of their vitriol has made clear its preference for reverting to a role within the community which does not entail involvement in the electoral fray.

Others might think it even more strange that the individual singled out for particularly personal abuse (moi) is one who has clearly expressed his desire not to stand for election again.

But in actual fact a very clear pattern is emerging wherein the level of abuse and harassment that local Labour tries to mete out stands in directly inverse proportion to the willingness of the ICG to involve itself in electoral politics. This is a point worth reminding ourselves of over and over again when considering the actions of those concerned, and what our response to it ought to be.

A recent very good example arrived in the form of a letter sent to all sixty elected members at the London Borough of Hounslow, the Chief Executive, the Borough Solicitor and the borough's two Members of Parliament. Ostensibly from an Ivybridge-based individual (actually a former member of the ICG whose estate-wide and thoroughly deserved reputation as a fantasist, an incontinent liar and a general loony prevented him from achieving the high office he clearly felt he deserved), the letter brought to the attention of its recipients my personal financial difficulties and, characteristically confusing an IVA with bankruptcy, demanded the "resignation" of a backbench opposition councillor on the grounds that he had apparently somehow been responsible for a non-existent "constitutional breach" on my part.

Nobody who received the letter will have been in any doubt as to its true origins. The reasons for using the Ivybridge Idiot as a patsy were twofold:

Firstly, apart from the well-known fact of my having entered into an IVA the majority of the content was self-evidently libellous, making all manner of allegations. Whilst my critics know I am not litigious, and in any case will for obvious reasons have taken it as read that I could not afford the legal costs usually involved with an action for defamation, its authors will also have known that in the most obvious and clear-cut instances of libel a successful action (on prima facie evidence) can potentially be mounted for as little as £300. There is also the small matter of probably libellous remarks about a current councillor (Peter Thompson) and a former councillor (Jon Hardy) contained in the document. Much better to get a stooge to sign the letter who can be left to take the rap if the smelly stuff hits the fan.

Secondly, and more significantly, the fact of my IVA does not run comfortably alongside the picture they prefer to paint - that of the good-living, property-owning, champagne-swilling man of permanent leisure, shanting it up on the proceeds of my £26k per year (£18k during the last year) as an elected member.

It takes some chutzpah, not to mention a little imagination and creativity, for the same people to run two mutually contradictory smear stories about the same person, at the same time and in the same neighbourhood. It will be interesting to see how long they can keep both balls in the air without the whole thing coming crashing down around them.

In the meantime those of us with constructive work to do in the community will continue to do it, whether our doing so "intimidates" our poor elected members or not.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Britain just became a colder, crueller country - and for nothing

By Johann Hari

Johann Hari is an award-winning journalist who writes twice-weekly for the Independent, one of Britain's leading newspapers, and the Huffington Post. He also writes for a wide range of other international newspapers and magazines. Publication of this article does not necessarily imply endorsement of every comment expressed therein.

Margaret Thatcher is lying sick in a private hospital bed in Belgravia – but her political children have just pushed her agenda further and harder and deeper than she ever dreamed of. When was the last time Britain’s public spending was slashed by more than 20 percent? Not in my mother’s lifetime. Not even in my grandmother’s lifetime. No: it was in 1918, when a Conservative-Liberal coalition said the best response to a global economic crisis was to rapidly pay off this country’s debts. The result? Unemployment soared from 6 percent to 19 percent, and the country’s economy collapsed so severely that they lost all ability to pay their bills and the debt actually rose from 114 percent to 180 percent. “History doesn’t repeat itself,” Mark Twain said, “but it does rhyme.”

George Osborne has just gambled your future on an extreme economic theory that has failed whenever and wherever it has been tried. In the Great Depression, we learned some basic principles. When an economy falters, ordinary people – perfectly sensibly – cut back their spending and try to pay down their debts. This causes a further fall in demand, and makes the economy worse. If the government cuts back at the same time, then there is no demand at all, and the economy goes into freefall. That’s why virtually every country in the world reacted to the Great Crash of 2008 – caused entirely by deregulated bankers – by increasing spending, funded by temporary debt. Better a deficit we repay in the good times than an endless depression. The countries that stimulated hardest, like South Korea, came out of recession first.

David Cameron and George Osborne have ignored all this. They have ignored the warnings of the Financial Times, the newspaper most critical of their strategy. They have dismissed the warnings of Nobel Laureates for Economics like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, whose warnings have consistently been proven right in this crisis. They have refused to learn from the fact that the country they held up as a model for how to deal with a recession – “Look and learn from across the Irish Sea,” Osborne said – has suffered the worst collapse in the developed world. They have instead blindly obeyed the ideological precepts they learned as baby Thatcherites: slash the state, and make the poor pay most.

Osborne galloped through his Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) speech, failing to name almost any of the services that will be slashed or shut down. It’s revealing that he doesn’t want to publicly name them while the nation is watching.

But beneath the statistics, there was a swathe of human tragedies that will now unnecessarily unfold across Britain. PriceWaterhouseCooper – nobody’s idea of a Trotskyite cell – says that a million people will now lose their jobs as a direct result. My father lost his job at the height of the last Tory recession, and had to leave the country to get another one. I remember how that felt. I remember what that did to my family. Now it’s going to happen to a million more families – and probably more after that. For the private sector to get all these people into work, as Osborne claims, there would have to be the most rapid business growth in my lifetime. Does anyone think that will happen?

Osborne has chosen the weakest people to take the worst cuts. The poorest sixteen year olds were given £30 a week to stay on in education, so they could afford to study – until Osborne’s team dismissed it as a “bribe” and shut it down. The most frail old people depend on council services to wash them and feed them – yet Osborne just slashed their budget by 30 percent, which service providers say will mean more pensioners being left to die in their own filth. Every family living on benefits is set to lose an average of £1000 a year – which, as I’ve seen from living in the East End of London, will mean many poor kids across Britain never getting a birthday party, or a trip to the seaside, or a bed of their own, or a winter coat. This isn’t just On Yer Bike, it’s On Yer Own.

The irrationality of this approach is perhaps plainest when you look at housing. We badly need more affordable housing in Britain. Some 4.5 million people are stuck on waiting lists, and the average age of a home buyer is now 37. It’s a cause of constant stress to the real middle class and despair for the poor. By a happy coincidence, house-building is one of the best stimulators of the economy: it employs a lot of people on average wages, who then spend their money quickly in a “multiplier effect.”

Yet Osborne has chosen the opposite. There will be on average one new home built per week in the whole of London and the south-east. That’s one. Indeed, instead of building homes, he’s driving people out of them. By slashing housing benefit, London councils alone say 83,000 people here are going to be forced to leave their homes, with 1.3 million ending up in more debt. Cameron has revealed that his baby daughter sleeps in a cardboard box decorated for her by her big sister. Thanks to him, a lot more people are going to be sleeping in cardboard boxes soon.

It can’t be coincidental that this is being done to us by three men – Cameron, Osborne, and Nick Clegg – who have never worried about a bill in their lives. On a basic level, they do not understand the effects of these decisions on real people. Remember, Cameron said before the election: "The papers keep writing that [my wife, Samantha] comes from a very blue-blooded background", but "she is actually very unconventional. She went to a day school." Osborne lives in a £4m trust fund he did nothing whatsoever to earn, and which is stashed offshore to prevent it being taxed. Clegg actually thought the state pension was £30 a week, a level that would kill pensioners.

These attitudes have real consequences. We’re not in this together. Who isn’t in it with us? Them, their friends, and their families. They were asked to pay nothing more in this CSR. On the contrary: they are being let off left, right and centre. To pluck a random example, one of the richest corporations in Britain, Vodafone, had an outstanding tax bill of £6 billion – but Osborne simply cancelled it this year. If he had made them pay, he could have prevented nearly all the cuts to all the welfare recipients in Britain. You try refusing to pay your taxes next time, and see if George Osborne shows the same generosity to you as he does to the super-rich.

There is one stark symbol of how unjust the response to this economic disaster caused by bankers is. They have just paid themselves £7bn in bonuses – much of it our money – to reward themselves for failure. That’s the same sum Osborne took from the benefits of the British poor yesterday, who did nothing to cause this crash. And he has the chutzpah to brag about “fairness.”

Britain just became colder and crueler country. And for what? To pantingly follow a disproven ideology over a cliff. On the eve of the general election, Cameron told us: "There'll be no cuts to frontline services," "we're not talking about swingeing cuts,” and “all cuts will be fair.” Is it possible to call him anything but a liar and an ideologue today?

You can enjoy a long rest, Baroness Thatcher – your successors have embarked on a Mephedrone-charged imitation that exceeds your most fantastical dreams.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

While the cat's away...

My son Joe and I have recently returned from a brief weekend stay at Gurnard Pines, on the Isle of Wight. I am a little envious of Caroline and my daughter Rosie who will still be there until Friday afternoon.

I've mislaid the mobile phone cable again so I'll post up a few photos if and when I manage to locate it.

While I was away I received a message from one of our Worton members advising me of what would appear to be a spectacularly appalling Labour leaflet, even by the standard of its authors, which has evidently been distributed on part of the Worton estate (they appear to lack either the manpower or the stamina to be able to circulate all 500 doors on the estate in one day as we frequently do).

I don't have a hard copy to hand, but by all accounts it consists solely or at least mainly of a bilious attack on the ICG in spite of the fact that we no longer have any councillors and have stated publicly that we would prefer henceforth to pursue our community objectives in a non-political way and outside of the electoral process. For those inclined to wonder why this statement of intent would appear to have especially irked them, a clue lies in the word "community" - it can reasonably be deduced that the scum element remains in control of the party in Isleworth at the time of writing.

When I take physical possession of the item I'll scan it and post it up. Presumably its originators will snigger that we will have given them free publicity, whilst the grown-ups amongst my readership will have the opportunity to behold precisely what it is we are dealing with today in local Labour.

For now, for me, it is on to more pressing things, such as the need to earn a living. So with the promise of more soon, I will away.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Isleworth councillor meets US anti-graffiti campaigner

What a splendid initiative by Isleworth councillor Ed Mayne (left), taking advantage of a private visit to New York to meet up with a well-known US anti-graffiti campaigner to pick up some advice on fighting crime at no cost at all to the Hounslow taxpayer.

Councillor Mayne, who is Lead Member for Community Safety (a post I held between 2006 and 2009), met with Council Member Peter F. Vallone Junior (!) during his trip to the States and was also able to discuss issues surrounding possession of firearms and relationship between civic leaders and police.

Speaking to the Hounslow Chronicle (click here for full story), Cllr. Mayne commented: "It was enlightening to meet such a high profile councillor who was happy to engage and share ideas. Councillor Vallone has been a major part of New York's drive for public safety and decreased levels of crime. It was exciting to have him agree with many of the ideas I was proposing and share some of the ways he has made his city significantly safer for residents".

Let's hope that some of the lessons learned by Cllr. Mayne during his visit can be put to good use for the benefit of Hounslow residents.

Photograph reproduced with acknowledgements to the Hounslow Chronicle.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Hounslow conference offers young people a fresh start

Reproduced with acknowledgements to the London Borough of Hounslow.

Over 200 young people in Hounslow this week attended i-Connect, a convention offering advice and support to enable them to build a better future.

Organised by Hounslow Council’s Integrated Youth Support Service, unemployed 16-19 year olds were invited to the event at the Paul Robeson Theatre in Hounslow. Training Providers were on hand to offer apprenticeships, with Foundation Learning courses and volunteering agencies also present to guide visitors through the steps required to apply for the many vacancies available. Connexions and Youth Worker staff were also on hand to offer advice and support throughout the day.

Representatives of West Thames College, based in Isleworth and Feltham, were also in attendance to talk about courses with vacancies for young people.

Cllr Lily Bath, Hounslow’s lead Member for children, youth and families attended the event, saying:

“It was great to see so many young people in attendance here today planning the next stage of their lives.

“We work hard throughout the year to monitor the progress of young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) to ensure they have the best possible chance to make the best of their situation.

“This event is just one way in which we offer young people access to the many career opportunities available in the borough; through our work conducted by the Integrated Youth Support Services and the Hounslow Education Business Partnership, we offer targeted support to ensure our young people get the step up they need to succeed.”

Cllr Sachin Gupta, Hounslow’s lead member for education was also in attendance, adding:

“This event offered those young people still unemployed after all the sixth forms, colleges and universities had enrolled their students for the academic year a chance to see the many options still available to them across the borough.

“Young people are the future, key to the success of our area for years to come. It was great to meet many who had come away from the event feeling positive and upbeat about where they wanted to go next in their careers.

“We are doing all we can to make sure not one young person is excluded from reaching their potential.”

Anthony Mulligan, 17, from Hounslow West who attended i-Connect said of the event:

“There were plenty of options to choose from and I got a real buzz going round and seeing what was available.

I’m off next week to an open day at the Xenos Academy as ICT has always interested me, with interviews for the courses the following week. Today has been really eye opening and hopefully I’ll start the course as soon as possible.”