Sunday, 2 October 2011

I Know It Sounds Absurd, Please Tell Me Who I Am

I don't know whether it is just my age, creeping dementia or a profound insightfulness that has caused me to be uncertain about the domestic political situation, but for the first time in my life I really do feel unsure about where we are all going, locally and indeed nationally.

For many, many years right up until about a year or so before the local elections of 2010 it was all very clear. As a champion of my community's rights of association, as an advocate of civic power and of a real and meaningful participative democracy the enemy sported a rose and a red rosette. Whilst I had long been aware that the gang in the blue corner cared little about the things that most inspired me and espoused an "I'm All Right Jack" philosophy that was in many ways antithetical to the mutuality of the communitarian ideal that remains close to my heart, I had felt reassured by the impression received that, as long as it didn't cost any money, there was no real hostility from this particular source to the aspirations that I and those around me held dear.

Then came the vicious rearguard action by the senior management team at the London Borough of Hounslow, and the lack of support that I and my fellow community councillors received from our coalition partners when it did come, and suddenly we were on the back foot. The jury remains out as to whether the officers were following a political agenda laid down by our partners, or whether it was an officer initiative to which our partners willingly turned a blind eye, but in not very much time at all some real lessons were being learned that I for one had hitherto had no inclination we were in need of learning.

At the general election that was held on the same day as the locals I voted for the Liberal Democrat candidate Andrew Dakers. Really it was something of a no-brainer. I had met the Conservative candidate Mary Macleod, who was subsequently elected, on several occasions and had found her to be affable, friendly and charming. Presumably she still is. But she was in my view surgically attached to her party in a way that could not be said of Andrew and this, coupled with his excellent performance as a quality local councillor over a sustained period of four years and my own natural progressive instincts, made him the absolutely obvious choice.

Then came the ConDem coalition government. To begin with it struck me as a reasonably good idea. Whilst I am not much interested in national politics I took the view that the previous one had not had very much going for it and that the LibDems would at least be involved. Progressive politics without the control freakery.

It would also have been churlish of me not to have given the new government a chance before criticising. I had, after all, been part of a group on the council that had gone into coalition with the Conservatives for four years on a local level. Sometimes one has to just go for it.

Meanwhile in Isleworth the victorious but still wet-behind-the-ears Labour team embarked upon a thoroughly bizarre, though as it quite turned out short-lived, leafleting campaign, attacking their defeated ICG opponents hysterically as though another election was to be held the very next week.

I was told the leaflets were withdrawn from circulation before very many actually went out. It was a sensible move, the ICG had indicated that it would not be taking an automatically adversarial position to the new councillors and the leaflets frankly just gave off an impression of stark fear, not to mention bad sportsmanship, when what the new councillor team should really have been doing was getting down to business and carving a niche for themselves within their new constituency.

A year on the picture looks so very different, from where I am standing, on both fronts. The arrogance of the Conservatives in their attacks upon ordinary working people ("We're all this together") does not sit well with their kid glove handling of the banks, whose responsibility the current economic crisis is. The free market, "sink or swim" mantra does not seem to apply in this case. When the bankers are needing a bail-out we are all good socialists after all.

And today came the news that working people will once again have to be employed at the same place of work for two years, rather than one, before having the right to seek protection from unfair dismissal at a tribunal. This may not be the most widely publicised or controversial piece of legislation to emerge from this government, but it is as clear a statement of intent as any. Why else would such a piece of legislation be introduced other than to send the message to employers that their rights to exploit and abuse are going to be upheld with a vengeance by this government?

The Lib Dems, it seems to me, are between a rock and a hard place. Despised by their coalition partners, whose instinct I know from first-hand experience is to betray (because they think it is just "politics" to behave like this and will for some reason be forgotten very quickly), they will be undermined all the way by the pro-Conservative media as the ICG was by the chief officers at LBH. The stitch-up over AV was a portent, if ever there was one, of things to come.

I have to say that I would still vote for Andrew if the general election were to be re-run tomorrow. First and foremost it is important to have the best possible constituency MP.

But - and here's the crunch - were anyone to ask me which of three main parties I would consider myself a supporter of I would have to, in truth, align myself to the ranks of the "Don't Knows". Indeed that was the answer I gave YouGov, for the very first time, when I encountered the question in a survey a week or two ago.

I actually find that I quite like Ed Miliband, and it doesn't surprise me too much that a significant section of his own party doesn't. Little things, like admitting that his party could "learn from" the wider public and speaking up for communities, not as a perceived adjunct of the Labour Party but in their very own right, is not language that I would ordinarily associate with Labour and must have some of his own supporters quietly seething. But either he understands or at least his advisers do, and if the latter one must be confident they will explain it to him.

He doesn't act, as some others do, as though he and his close colleagues were the custodians of some revealed truth that the wider populace lack the sophistication and wit to grasp for themselves. He seems to acknowledge that there is a world outside of the Labour Party which he and his cohorts might actually benefit from tapping into, hence his rather intelligent efforts to create a kind of "halfway house" between support and party membership.

Locally, too, I am not discouraged. Library cutbacks presented in council propaganda magazines as good news stories and whispers of community halls being closed down on the quiet do leave a bad taste, but councillors do at least seem to be engaging insofar as the rigid party structures will allow. They are never going to wield an effective power of veto, as we community councillors did, but they are at least interacting with local people.

What I guess I'm saying then is that it has taken me two decades of mature, rational analysis, and sustained personal involvement, to reach the point where, for the first time in my adult life, I really don't have any long-term vision or idea of where it is all taking us. I'll continue to fight for libraries and community halls, you can be assured, but for the time being at least I feel I am very much a spectator of the political game.


Ode to Mogden (revisited) said...

Mogden dear Mogden
Turds still magnificent
Now more powerful and popular than ever
People always talking about you
Some always moaning about you
Unrivalled wealth generation
Unprecedented stink generation
Shareholders jumping with joy
Residents jumping with rage

LBH sit in judgement and do nothing
Our councillors sit and do nothing
All must be well
All must be fair
When poo has to be processed
And money has to be made
Accountability is such an ugly word
Sustainability is another ugly word

Should we just mind our own business ?
What do we know about sewage farming ?
Some of us don't know the difference between councillors and 'the council'
Three cheers for Thames Water
Expansion equals more jobs for Peruvian lavatory attendants
Three jeers for the SDC
Mogdengate was it's Waterloo
Surely no longer fit for purpose

Dishonesty/Politics ? said...

Appearing at a library near you now: "Consultation Questionnaire - Closure of Local Offices and Relocation of Services"

Question 1
Do you understand that the sale or rental of local care offices is necessary to achieve savings and minimise cuts to essential council services ?

Assuming that this is supposed to lead people into answering "yes" (and before 26th October mind), it's game, set & match to LBH without the need for any further questions.

Full steam ahead for maximum closures !

Phil Andrews said...

Are you serious?

Anonymous said...

The questionnaires DO exist Phil.

I picked one up from Isleworth library on Saturday and I've just seen them at Hounslow.

Not got your copy yet then ?

Dishonesty/Politics ? said...

A four page questionnaire.

Three questions about the threatened changes on page one and then three pages of "Monitoring Information"/Big Brother interrogation.

Nice to see LBH getting their priorities right !

Phil Andrews said...

"Do you understand that the sale or rental of local care offices is necessary to achieve savings and minimise cuts to essential council services ?"

If I had wanted to write black propaganda for the local council it would read something like that.

Nothing better illustrates the condescending arrogance of those who consider themselves to be our betters and us to be the brainless consumers, to be humoured and patronised.

Anonymous said...

Just seen the threads you started about this on TW8 & W4, Phil.

It would seem ALL the libraries in the borough have agreed to peddle this rubbish.

Brentford, Isleworth & Hounslow all have piles of questionnaires neatly arranged underneath the 'official' LBH mauve and white poster !

Anonymous said...

Assuming you haven't actually seen the questionnaire for yourself yet Phil, it's worse than you think.

Preceeding question one are the words:
"Name of team you receive services from"

To me this quite clearly implies that this shambolic consultation is only aimed at the very vunerable people currently using the various care services.

Dishonesty/Politics ? said...

Now we know that the questionnaire is aimed at people with long-standing illnesses, mental health problems, learning difficulties etc. "Do you understand......." takes on a much more sinister tone, don't you think ?


An amended Mk 2 version has just appeared.While question one remains unaltered, questions two and three asking about how the proposed closures would affect "You and your family" have been re-worded to read "You and your carer".


You would have thought that given the opportunity to produce another version, the "Wellbeing & Involvement Team" at LBH should have completely re-written question one.
Obviously THEY see nothing wrong with it.

Incidently, two of the services under threat are based at 78-80 St Johns Road Isleworth, namely the Hounslow Youth Counselling Service and the Community Mental Health Team.

And finally, determined to really get my full money's worth, what about that decidedly anti-Thames Water piece about Mogden in this weeks Chronicle ?
Why I've never heard Cllrs Smart & Payne(sic) use such emotive language.
Won't make any difference though, LBH waved the white flag when they approved expansion.

Anonymous said...

Well, what a spooky treat Thames Water served up for Halloween.

An unworldly ghostly-looking Dukes River, complete with foul smelling milky-brown water and dead fish everywhere.

But Halloween's been and gone guys, can we have it back to normal now ?

Dishonesty/Politics ? said...

Not just the Dukes River in Isleworth, anonymous.

The whole Crane/Dukes river system below the airport has been hit.

Some 'good' shocking pictures on the website:
(click on the "River Crane devasted by raw sewage" link)

Anonymous said...

The river doesn't smell of stale p*ss anymore.

It smells of rotting fish instead.

To be fair though, plenty of evidence to suggest that the Environment Agency have been out in force on a 'clean-up' operation.

I hope the bill ends up on Mr Aylard's desk !

Dishonesty/Politics ? said...

There is a God after all !
(and he probably looks just like Phil Andrews)

Kind & benevolent Thames Water have actually accepted responsibility for letting their turds take a swim down the Crane and Dukes River and wiping out everything in their path.

See it for yourself on the Chronicle website.