Monday, 10 December 2012

UPDATE: Planning Committee Confirms Endorsement of Residents' Proposals

Further to my recent article on the London Borough of Hounslow's Statement of Community Invovlement and the radical amendments submitted to it by an emergent residents' umbrella organisation known as the Group of 15, the council's Planning Committee has now formally confirmed that it has adopted the residents' proposals in full and unabridged.

The Decision Notice, published in amended form earlier today, now reads: "The Committee endorsed and adopted the Group 15 resident’s groups (sic) amendments to the SCI as its own and it was agreed that comments would go forward as part of the response to the consultation."

This unambiguous declaration of support for a community-led approach to planning in the borough stands the amendment in good stead for when the matter goes to Cabinet later this month, and to Borough Council in January or February next year.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

LATEST: Planning Committee Adopts Community Involvement Agenda...Or Does It?

I am now free to reveal that a crucial amendment to the London Borough of Hounslow's Statement of Community Involvement, submitted by a powerful and expanding bloc of residents' groups from across the borough, has been formally endorsed by the borough's Planning Committee.

The Group of 15 residents' alliance, which includes the Independent Community Group (ICG), took the view that the original Statement was effectively a box-ticking response to the requirement laid down by central government for local authorities to adopt a formal process of community involvement in decision-making. Focusing to begin with on the important area of planning, the Group (which actually now comprises more than fifteen individual organisations) thus resolved to redress this deficiency by offering the following amendments:

1. The Statement of Community Involvement is a contract between the community and the Council with the purpose of encouraging the involvement of the public in all aspects of the planning process.

2. The SCI should be reviewed annually alongside the Council’s Annual Monitoring Report.

3. The SCI should enable and encourage the public to offer their views on planning policies and applications at Planning Committee and Area Forums where applications are called in for Members and the public to comment in a consultation capacity.

4. Registered amenity groups should be able to exercise a “community call in” where they believe a planning application would have a serious and adverse impact on their local community.

5. The draft SCI should be reviewed to remove ambiguous wording ensuring clear commitments are made that the public can have confidence the Council mean to deliver.

The document was submitted by:

Bedford Park Society, Brentford Community Council, Chiswick Protection Group, The Grove Park Group, Heston Residents’ Association, Hounslow & District History Society, Friends of Hounslow Heath, Independent Community Group, The Isleworth Society, The Old Isleworth Four Roads Residents’ Association, St John’s Residents’ Association, St. Stephen’s Residents’ Association, Strand on the Green Association, Thornton-Mayfield Residents’ Association, West Chiswick & Gunnersbury Society, The West London River Group

The residents' case was ably presented to the Planning Committee by Andy Murray from the Grove Park Group and Councillor Sheila O'Reilly (Conservative, Osterley & Spring Grove) proposed that the Committee endorse it in its entirety, commenting that if anything the residents' amendments erred on the side of timidity in their approach. The Chair, Councillor Theo Dennison (Labour, Syon) was clearly enthusiastic and supportive and reassured residents that whatever choice of wording was adopted there would be no room for ambiguity. The amendment was adopted unanimously by the Committee.

So far so good, however it did not go unnoticed by residents that some members of the Committee, most notably Councillor Steve Curran (Labour, Syon), seemed to be keen to stress the view that the Planning Committee was forwarding a residents' consultation document to Borough Council for discussion rather than endorsing it in its own capacity. And, sure enough, when the minutes of the discussion were published this interpretation was indeed the one that was contained therein!

It was also noted that the Lead Member for Planning - Councillor Ruth Cadbury (Labour, Brentford) - did not attend this part of the meeting, choosing instead to turn up shortly after the item had concluded, and didn't seem that eager to discuss it with residents after the meeting.

The discrepancy in the record of the meeting was swiftly reported to the Chair via Twitter as soon as the erroneous minutes were published and his response was clear: "I have read decision notice now and agree it's not what PC agreed: G15 amendment was endorsed and goes forward as PC's view."

The community now has a clear commitment from the Planning Committee that it wholeheartedly endorses a resident-led approach to community involvement in the planning process, and that endorsement must inevitably carry a huge amount of weight when the matter comes to Borough Council (we believe) for decision.

I hope to be able to bring more news on this historic and far-reaching local development in due course.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Bus 267 Summer Sunday Extension to Hampton Court to Cease

I am grateful to forum user Adam O'Neill for posting the following message on the BrentfordTW8.com Community Forum:

"TfL are currently consulting on a proposal to cease operating the Summer Sunday extension of bus route 267 from Fulwell Garage to Hampton Court Palace. If you would be affected or would like to comment please find the link below:

"https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/buses/route-267"


Some respondents have suggested that the service may have been poorly used, although Mr. O'Neill would appear to be of the view that this may have been a marketing issue.

If you would like to help keep this service open, please click the link and give TfL your views.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Community - Just How Far Has Hounslow Moved?


Today I was asked by two very prominent and influential members of the active community in Isleworth whether the Independent Community Group (ICG) would once again be fielding candidates at the next local elections in May 2014.

It’s not the first time that I have been asked this question in recent weeks, but the answer I gave them was the same as I have given to others who have inquired from a less favourable perspective. That answer is that it is not my decision to make and, to the best of my knowledge, those whose decision it will be have yet to make it. And that it is the very truth.

It was a useful and constructive meeting over coffee and cakes. For the most part we discussed the wider question of community involvement, the differing attitudes towards it between various individual councillors, and between councillors in general and officers. I would like to stress that it was noted in particular that one councillor – Theo Dennison (Syon) – has quite consistently demonstrated what we all believe to be a really sincere commitment to the cause of our community’s emancipation and would appear to have paid the price within his own party for doing so.

Theo was one of three local councillors whom I got the opportunity to speak to last Sunday after the fantastically well-supported Remembrance Day Parade in Isleworth. The others were Ed Mayne and, more briefly, Sue Sampson. Both Ed and Sue have been very supportive of the Isleworth Royal British Legion and of the efforts of the local Branch to raise funds for the Poppy Appeal each year. I understand that the third Isleworth ward councillor, Mindu Bains, was representing the Mayor at another parade on the same day.

I have been disappointed that in spite of the obvious goodwill that exists amongst all concerned our efforts to heal old wounds and eradicate any lingering divisions remain hampered by the self-centred activities of an outsider to the ward (and to the borough) about whom I have written previously. In spite of Theo’s optimistic pleas to the contrary, this man retains the ear of some of our elected members, and has clearly been the driving force behind some of the negative activity, at least in Isleworth ward, which has taken place since the 2010 local elections and which is quite obviously designed to scupper any attempt by us to try to find an honourable consensus with our current elected members. In the words of one councillor with whom I spoke a few weeks back, “we can’t let him go”.

As I have said before, it is not this ridiculous man that is important but the relationship and the reaction of others to him. Isleworth councillors may have binned a particularly poisonous and defamatory post-election leaflet after having second thoughts once a relatively small number had gone out, but by whose authority is an outsider producing such material in the name of our local Labour Party and what were councillors thinking of by even venturing to deliver them in the first place? How can the strategic direction of a group of intelligent and enthusiastic new councillors reasonably be influenced, in whole or even in part, by the consistently ill-informed and irrational prejudices of an unelected individual from another borough who shows serious signs of mental and emotional imbalance?

But when all is said and done it would be wrong to base our whole approach on the self-serving activities of one obscure individual. We need to take a wider view. We need, above everything else, to consider how the current administration at the London Borough of Hounslow is dealing with the question of Community Engagement, and to do so in recognition of the fact that past election defeats at the hands of the organised community and the “threat” of an ICG electoral resurgence is likely if anything to artificially distort the Labour regime’s current approach to the subject in a more pro-community direction than might otherwise have been the case.

Or to put it another way – if they are not “doing it” now, what chance is there that they will be doing it when and if, to adopt an Irish analogy, the ICG has decommissioned its electoral weapons?

I have already related how long-time Brentford councillor Ruth Cadbury, still a hugely influential figure within the Labour Group, quite shamelessly attempted to take the credit for her party for a commitment of funds to the St. John’s Community Centre in Isleworth which had been made by the ICG when we were in office and which she and her party had actually voted against.

This morning (Tuesday) I am advised that Councillor Colin Ellar, now once again Deputy Leader of Hounslow Council, regaled amused residents’ leaders at a community event with his account of how the current council leadership is supporting them (whilst trying to corral them under his party’s strategic leadership of course) and the previous administration wasn’t. There can surely be nothing more perverse than a Hounslow Labour politician pleading that an administration in which the ICG took the lead on Communities was less of a friend to organised residents than one in which he and the likes of Councillor Cadbury are involved!

Overall, Councillor Dennison excepted, I have to say I do not see an administration champing at the bit to relinquish its power to the residents’ associations and amenity groups, to the voluntary organisations and the civic societies. Its continued coolness towards the ICG even after we had offered the hand of friendship is in itself testimony to this. I don’t think I am assuming too much of a sense of our own importance when I aver that an administration that truly wanted to embrace the community ideal would have reacted to the new reality that followed the 2010 local elections by seeking to incorporate our knowledge and experience – if only to neutralise a potential rival – rather than by circulating scurrilous leaflets commenting on the private financial affairs of individual ICG members and making wholly false claims about alleged holiday homes. By these actions they simply made it clear that it was the whole community concept, rather than just our organisation, with which they felt they had an issue.

I must confess I feel my scepticism became apparent to the two community champions as I sipped my medium Americano with a small dash of milk. We regretted the abolition of the Area Committees and the reclamation of planning powers by officers. We shared a sense of dismay over the loss of the Brentford Festival to the borough, and over the administration’s instinctive response to the news by trying to blame their predecessors rather than dedicating their efforts towards reversing this sorry and quite unacceptable situation.

This evening I received a document from a community leader in another part of the borough referring to the local authority’s “Statement of Community Exclusion” (it is supposed to read “Involvement”). I know what he meant.

I recognise, of course, that if the ICG is involved in the 2014 local elections it is compelled to contest those areas in which it has a reasonable chance of success, and that in so doing the councillors we will be trying to knock out will not necessarily be those with whom we have much of a quarrel. This is regrettable, even a tad ironic, but sadly unavoidable. With a bit of luck they will be able to find safer seats elsewhere, as others have done rather than face us in the past.

Nevertheless I feel that unless an unambiguous sign is forthcoming shortly from Labour (and it has to be Labour, as they are in office) that real Community Empowerment and not more inane political gamesmanship is on the agenda the ICG’s committee should take the plunge and commit to continued involvement in the electoral process in a once and for all conclusion of sadly unfinished business.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Why?

"Master," said John, "we saw a man driving out devils in your name, but as he is not one of us we tried to stop him." Jesus said to him, "Do not stop him, for he who is not against you is on your side." (Luke 9:49)

It's okay, relax. You know that I am a Christian and that I go to church, but I am no theologian and neither am I anything like good enough as a person to even begin to presume to sit in judgement upon others.

But whether you are a Christian, a follower of another religion or indeed of none, it is evident to most people that there are teachings contained in the Holy Book that serve as a useful guide to us in the conduct of our everyday lives. The above quote, delivered to us at our Church this morning by the Revd. John Kafwanka (an Isleworthian!) set me thinking about why it was that, nearly nineteen years ago, I helped found the ICG (then known as the Isleworth Community Group) and why now, in 2012, I continue to give it my support.

Let me approach where I am going from a slightly more contemporary angle. I don't think this will be the first time on this blog that I will have quoted the chorus of the rock epic 2112:

"We are the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx
Our great computers fill Our hallowed halls
We are the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx
All the gifts of life are held within Our walls".

For the disciples, they were the few who had been chosen from amongst the many to answer a special calling, and it must have been galling for them that somebody who was not one of their number was performing successful healing work in the name of Jesus. So they tried to stop him, without any thought of course for the beneficiary of the stranger's good deed.

In the fictitious 2112 the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx were the custodians of all knowledge and happiness, having defeated the Elder Race in a battle for control of the Planets of the Solar Federation. When the boy found the guitar by the waterfall and presented it to them they crushed it nervously underfoot, for it was a relic of a bygone age which had not been under their dominion.

Seasoned local community watchers will know where this article is heading. Whether it is the St. John's residents and their successful campaign to save their community centre, or the organisers of the Brentford Festival, or for that matter the ICG and its many works on behalf of the community of which it is an integral part, any positive acts which have been brought about independently by the community (I believe they call us "plebs") must either be denied or destroyed.

I have reflected recently upon how this mentality continues to prevail in the highest echelons of the local authority in Hounslow. Those who trouble to browse Facebook or the local community forums will have seen how those of us who consider it our mission to empower the grass roots have continued to be abused and vilified, even in our attempted "post political" incarnation.

Demonstrably it is not because we stand, but because of what we stand for.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Does it Matter Whose Idea it Was?

The recent news that the highly successful Rainbow Project had been nominated for a national award in recognition of its partnership work between the local authority and tenants across the borough was truly fantastic.

The Community Impact Award, made by the National Housing Federation, recognises work undertaken in neighbourhoods by active residents. As I write there is no news as to whether the Project won the award last night in the face of some stiff competition from other projects in other boroughs.

Under the circumstances it may appear churlish for me or anybody else to be concerned about wherein lies the "credit" for the Rainbow Project initiative. On a local community internet forum myself and one or two others have been jokingly anticipating the announcement by the present administration at the London Borough of Hounslow, probably through Ruth Cadbury's blog (to which I have referred rather too much recently already), that this was an initiative devised and managed by the Hounslow Labour Party and by her in particular. This would follow a long-established pattern of behaviour, seen most recently in an attempt to steal the plaudits for the success of the resident-led campaign for funding for the repair of the roof at the St. John's Community Centre in Isleworth (which Labour had originally opposed!).

No such claim has yet appeared on the blog - presumably she, like me, has been awaiting the final outcome of the award, and in the event this article may indeed pre-empt such a move.

The Rainbow Project was, as most people who take an interest in these things are aware, first mooted in 2008 under the previous council administration and formally launched following the HRA (Housing Revenue Account) Budget meeting of 2009. This of course happened on the watch of an ICG Lead Member for Housing (myself as it happens), against a certain amount of protest from some individual Labour councillors who felt we were committing too much of residents' money to causes identified by residents. There was an attempt by them to amend the motion introducing the Project so as to bring the management of funding bids under their own control via the Hounslow Homes Board, over which despite being in opposition they still wielded a disproportionate amount of influence. This attempt to subvert the spirit of the Project was thwarted by a majority on Borough Council.

A clue to the importance of correctly identifying the source of this initiative lies in the terms attached to the award, notably that its purpose is to "recognise the vast range of work being done in neighbourhoods by active residents".

In other words it is the success of the community itself, not the political stewardship of the Rainbow Project, which is being considered for recognition.

Any attempt at "ownership" by a political party or administration would be in direct contravention of the whole spirit of the award, and indeed of the Rainbow Project itself.

The Rainbow Project was inspired by tenants themselves, whose idea it was from the outset. We as a Community Group serving as part of a coalition administration merely put the meat onto the bones of the idea and presented it - first to Hounslow Homes and then to Borough Council - on the community's behalf.

Let us hope that this important fact, as well as the Project itself, can for once at last be recognised.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Hounslow Labour Group - No Change, No Quarter

I commented in a previous thread about Syon Labour Councillor Theo Dennison and his noble sentiments about engaging with the community, albeit from the perspective of a Labour administration.

In that article I noted that Theo had been demoted from the Council Cabinet, and expressed the view that this did not send a good signal to those of us who might be looking for some way in which to try to subsume the now borough-wide movement for a community role in decision-making into the existing political structure so as to negate the need for perpetual electoral challenge, and all the hassle that that entails.

There have been some further developments since I wrote that article, regrettably none of them good.

An intervention on the Comments section of prominent Labour councillor Ruth Cadbury's blog by a well-known Labour supporter from Southall, whose membership status is unclear but who nonetheless involves himself heavily in Hounslow politics, prompted me to comment on the Brentford TW8 community forum.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given his positive approach to local political engagement, Councillor Dennison made it clear that he had no respect for the Southall interloper. In response the latter not only made some unflattering remarks about Councillor Dennison but presumed to do so - interestingly - in the name of the Hounslow Labour Group. In particular, he announced that Councillor Dennison had been demoted due to his colleagues having a low opinion of him as a person.

I enquired as to whether any of Theo's colleagues would be offering any words in his defence, bearing in mind that he is a colleague, anytime soon. In particular they might wish to reassure us that the interloper was not in a position to speak for the Hounslow Labour Group, bearing in mind his status as a non-councillor, non-Hounslow resident and possibly even non-party member.

In reply Theo very honourably attempted to mitigate their apparent lack of support by pointing out that no other member of the Labour Group (other than Councillor Cadbury, a now self-declared mate of the interloper despite having previously told us that she didn't know him!) ever posts on the forum.

No sooner had he done this than another member of the Hounslow Labour Group, a Cabinet member no less, further undermined Theo by herself entering the debate on the forum, not to defend her colleague but to speak out in support of the interloper!

To date neither the Hounslow Labour Group nor any member thereof has seen fit to speak up for Councillor Dennison, despite the fact that he regularly makes it his business to defend them whenever any of them come in for any criticism, even when it is sometimes well-deserved. It would appear that in the Hounslow Labour Group loyalty is very much a one-way street.

One is, very reluctantly, forced to conclude that it is very much the Taylor/Cadbury approach to local engagement, rather than the approach clearly preferred by Theo Dennison, which is in the ascendancy at Lampton Road, and that the show is being run by outside forces with their own agenda rather than by elected members in Hounslow.

It's not looking good.

That'll Be The Day



I have just had my first opportunity to see my old mate and fellow Congregationalist Nick Buss' recent performance on X-Factor, where he sadly didn't manage to progress in spite of having won the support of panelist Louis Walsh. He didn't seem very pleased with the verdict.

Nick is proud of his Buddy Holly tributes and he performs them at a lot of talent shows. I'm not sure whether he has actually won any, but he is a determined man.

Here he performs the 1957 hit Maybe Baby. I make no judgement, but the guy has got more guts than I have.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Yes, We Call it Dishonesty!

I've just read the following on the blog of Councillor Ruth Cadbury, former Deputy Leader of Hounslow Council and still obsessive partyist:

"Before I left the Civic Centre on Tuesday I signed the order to repair the roof at St John’s Community Centre in Isleworth...the issue was in my In-tray when I took over Cabinet responsibility for Assets in May this year, and as soon as committee members showed me round the centre, I ensured we had funds in the capital budget to cover the repair costs and instructed officers to go out to tender."

It would have been too much to have expected Ruth to acknowledge that this money was made available to the St. John's Centre by community councillors at the request of residents at the Borough Council Budget Meeting in April 2010, and was opposed by her and her colleagues, but for her to now effectively try to take the credit for the allocation really does take the biscuit, notwithstanding the fact that the current administration has added a small amount to the kitty presumably in order to provide a hook for such a claim.

Ruth once infamously justified the practice of telling lies during election campaigns at a Borough Council meeting with the immortal words: "You call it dishonesty, we call it politics".

Despite the noble sentiments of Councillor Theo Dennison when trying to convince us otherwise it is clear to me that Labour in Hounslow has not changed one iota.

Councillor Cadbury's article has inclined me towards the view that the ICG should involve itself once more in the 2014 local elections.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Get Well Soon Tony

Tomorrow my sister had planned to take me to an event hosted by Tony Benn, the former Labour Member of Parliament and one of the most popular and inspirational political thinkers of modern times.

I had been quite looking forward to going. In my less serious moments it has occurred to me that my sister might be trying to recruit me to the Labour Party, at least as a follower or voter. Personally I don't think I could have anything but contempt for a party that could marginalise a man of the calibre of Tony Benn whilst choosing Tony Blair as its Leader.

As well as his own qualities as a principled politician, there is another connection that draws me to Tony Benn. His mother, Margaret Wedgwood Benn, was one of the founders of the Congregational Federation, to which my own Church is affiliated, and served as its first President. Her son claims she taught him to support the prophets and not the kings, a wonderful piece of advice for everybody to heed in my book.

Sadly it would appear that Mr. Benn has had a fall, and the event has had to be cancelled. At the age of 86 caution has to be the order of the day, and this unfortunate occurrence reminds us that even high-profile "celebs" face the same inconveniences and pitfalls in life that befall the rest of us.

I hope Tony Benn makes a full and speedy recovery, and I wish him all the very best.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Hounslow Community Groups Organise for Democracy

There is a fascinating debate going on over at the ChiswickW4 community forum about a Controlled Parking Zone (CPZ) which it appears the Labour council is preparing to foist upon a large chunk of the town in spite of what would seem to be massive opposition from most of the residents who are likely to be affected.

I'll not rehearse the details here. Suffice it to say that the Chiswick councillors are broadly supporting the residents (except that is for the one who got confused at a Scrutiny call-in meeting and voted the wrong way!), but as they are from the minority Conservative Group they are powerless to alter council policy - a situation which, of course, they have visited entirely upon themselves although they seem strangely reluctant to remind their constituents of this fact.

People in my part of the world have little personal interest in whether a CPZ goes ahead in Chiswick or not, but the wider principle of whether it is democratic or in any way desirable for a Lead Member who represents a completely different area to impose his will over that of the locals without reference either to them or to their councillors is of course one on which we might be expected to take a view.

As it is in Parking so it is in Planning, and there is widespread concern over the actions of the local authority in abolishing the Area Committees, overriding major requirements contained in the Statement of Community Involvement and the lack of resources being allocated to Planning Enforcement.

I am now able to reveal some information which until now has been subject to something of a voluntary embargo. As I write no fewer than 15 of the most influential community groups from across the borough (the ICG being one of them) have banded together to provide a co-ordinated community response to the steady erosion of our hard-fought democratic freedoms, most particularly in the area of Planning. As a result of persistent lobbying this group has already established a positive and useful ongoing dialogue with the Borough's Chief Executive Mary Harpley.

Naturally it's early days, but I would hope and expect that this huge new borough-wide movement might become the basis of an organised and organic community-based power borough-wide to hold the political groups to account and eventually, through one means or another, to wrest control of the council bureaucracy from the politicos and timeservers and to hand it back to the local people where it truly belongs.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Will the Real Hounslow Labour Party Please Stand Up (and other associated questions)?

“To get the message across that Hounslow falls too far short of what we all expect as councillors and residents the whole organisation is being reshaped from the top downwards - slimming down the lardy top tiers and testing Directors and Assistant Directors against their peers through competitive interviews with external as well as internal candidates. There's a new Chief Executive, one Department and three chief officers have already gone and the rest including the much mentioned Director of Environment will be leaving within a couple of months. Understanding that Hounslow has to listen to local residents, respond to the needs of the community and pull its proverbial socks up is a key requirement in every one of those interviews - hence the changing personnel…

“None of the above should dissuade residents from continuing to press for change and faster improvement - external pressure is essential. Just don't assume Hounslow is inert and unredeemable. I don't think anyone has a lower opinion of what Hounslow became, but that doesn't mean it can't be fixed…

“I think the overwhelming majority of councillors and residents are now agreed that Hounslow needed fixing and are keen to support meaningful steps to open up the council - the days for one party states and arrogant bureaucracies are gone.

“Being beaten in 2006 helped remind Labour members that most of them came into politics to make their communities stronger and better - hence a little more modesty, the willingness to work a little harder, focus on a limited number of practical priorities and to slim down, open up and transform the council. Self interest will continue to help – because doing nothing promises to see 2006 repeated.

“I recognise that Labour were appalling (it kept me out of local politics for two decades) and we are yet to be coherent on community engagement, but I don't think a bold new statement would be worth anything at the moment because there’s nothing for anyone to trust yet until we see something tangible delivered – I think Labour and the Council need to pay a lot more forward not make promises. And at the moment let's be frank, it is a struggle every day to get good stuff delivered by the Council – but perhaps surprisingly it is a challenge Labour members are now very much up for.”


These words from Theo Dennison, Labour ward councillor for Syon and former London Borough of Hounslow Cabinet member, certainly leave no room for charges of ambiguity. Even if, taking the unkindest and most cynical view, one was to dismiss his words as lacking sincerity, they still tell us that at least one person within the local Labour camp recognises the concerns felt by large sections of the community and understands that ignoring them is the surest and fastest route back to political Boot Hill.

This in itself, small and inconsequential though it may appear in isolation, is the local community equivalent of One Giant Step for Mankind. Councillor Dennison has already gone where no Labour councillor, in these parts at least, has gone before.

Difficult decision

I keep being asked whether or not the Independent Community Group (ICG) will be fielding candidates again at the local elections in 2014. The honest truth is that this will not be my decision to make, and to be equally honest I am really pleased that that is the case. It truly is an extremely difficult decision to make, and there are so many imponderables involved that those who will be entrusted with making it will not be able to do right for doing wrong.

Of course, as the party in power, the attitude of the local Labour Party is always a massive consideration. Councillor Dennison’s comments are very much noted. So too is the fact that none of his colleagues seem in any rush to endorse them, as indeed is that, coincidentally or otherwise, they would appear to have coincided with his demotion from the Council’s Cabinet.

It is difficult to see certain long-standing councillors not a million miles from Syon embracing the idea of the primacy of community, primacy that is over the diktats of a political party to which blind and unquestioning allegiance is for some almost a religious matter.

There are also pernicious outside influences that need to be factored into the equation. Perusing his Facebook page, far too much influence would still appear to be wielded over the politics of the Hounslow party by the peculiar and obsessive man-child of Southall. I’ll not massage his ego by mentioning his name – it is not him that is important, but the way in which others relate to him and, more significantly still, to his method. His ethics are the antithesis of everything Councillor Dennison would appear to stand for, and a cursory stroll around the Web would seem to indicate that his gutter politics approach is still very much more widely favoured by Labour decision-makers in Hounslow than that of the Syon councillor.

The old ways have in any event continued to manifest themselves on occasions. Just recently the Lead Member for Environment declined to meet the Mogden Residents’ Action Group (MRAG), a community group representing many thousands of victims of Thames Water’s neglect of its legal and moral obligations over the odour emanating from its Mogden plant, unless the residents agree to meet on his terms (that is in the presence of officers who have long demonstrated their lack of support for the community’s aspirations). This “we are in charge, not you” message is wholly inconsistent and incompatible with the resident-driven model that we desire to see.

Dichotomy

One thing the ICG needs to accept is that if it abstains from the fray in 2014, it will find it much harder to come back in 2018 if that is what needs to be done. The effective Lab/ICG dichotomy which exists at present in both Isleworth and Syon wards will have been replaced once again by a Lab/Con dichotomy, and the organised community will have an uphill struggle trying to re-establish itself as the natural opposition to Labour. New residents will have moved in, old supporters will have moved out or passed away, and we will be back to where we were prior to 1998.

Thus if we are to place our trust in Labour we would need very good reason – with all due respect, far more than just Councillor Dennison’s rather optimistic word – to believe that the local party had taken real community empowerment to the heart of its politics rather than appending it to its schedule as some reluctant afterthought which itself would appear to be hotly disputed. To put it quite simply, if they are not going for it with enthusiasm now when the spectre of the ICG returning to the electoral fold is looming, why should they do so four years hence when that “threat” is less pressing?

I find myself wondering just to what extent Councillor Dennison actually believes that his local party is embracing the spirit of community empowerment. He must, after all, know his colleagues better than I do, and I know them well enough to know just how affronted some of them will be by the very thought of being led, as opposed to followed, by the massed ranks of the unenlightened.

His protestations could be indicative of his fierce loyalty to his colleagues. My feeling is that he is in fact, rather cleverly, leading them to a place where they will be left with no option other than to declare either for or against this new and, perhaps unsurprisingly in my view, better approach to engagement. Quite where he proposes to go should they cling obstinately to type remains anyone’s guess.

Of course it is not just Labour’s position that will inform the ICG’s decision. The Community Group needs to understand just what it is that it would be returning to. For councillors who have only experienced power and not opposition a rude awakening could be in store.

The fact is that even with six ICG councillors returned in Syon and Isleworth it is highly likely that Labour will hold an overall majority at the London Borough of Hounslow post-2014. With the coalition government out of favour and the local Conservative Party showing no obvious signs of ever being capable of differentiating between wishful thinking and cold reality it is easy to see several Tory seats in the west of the borough falling to Labour. Even traditional “strongholds” such as Hounslow South and Osterley & Spring Grove do not look particularly safe. A couple of bad weeks in the opinion polls and an unspectacular local election campaign could conceivably see them eliminated outside of their W4 comfort zone. Perhaps only then will the consequences of their idiotic behaviour during the later months of the Conservative/ICG coalition become fully apparent to all their own members and supporters.

Opposition

Opposition is a place that bears no comparison with office, especially when you are a community councillor. It means going through the motions at Council meetings before inevitably being voted down. It means chief executives cutting you off after three minutes of your allotted five minute speech in the Chamber. It means officers passing you in the corridors of the Civic Centre and not daring to venture a smile or often even so much as an acknowledgement lest it be spotted by an eagle-eyed politico and held against them when the next round of redundancies comes around. It means any committees or panels that by accident of circumstance your group may dominate being closed down or “reorganised” in such a way that your influence is removed. I had eight years of it before 2006, I’m not persuaded that I would want to put myself through it again.

And then of course there is the question of our relationship with other opposition parties and groups. When I was first elected as an independent in 1998 I rather enjoyed my status as a lone wolf, loathed equally by both the major parties which competed with one another to be seen as the ones who could shun me the most publicly. Politically it couldn’t have worked better if I had written the script myself – voters everywhere were able to contrast the essential sameness of both sides of the political establishment with the new, fresh and vibrant approach to local politics that the ICG represented.

Then of course came 2006, and the discovery when totting up the scores on the doors following the local election of that year that we were really not so bad after all. We entered into coalition eager to run our programme for community empowerment alongside the political programme of our Conservative partners, believing them to be at least neutral if not particularly sympathetic towards the things we wished to achieve.

Later of course we were to be disappointed, finding ourselves frustrated by chief officers while our partners either stood back and watched or actively collaborated with them behind the scenes (perm one from two), with both establishment parties meanwhile openly making common cause against us at Area Committee meetings. Then followed the debilitating news that our partners were hoping to divide the Community Group following the local elections of 2010 in the event of the numbers making it feasible to offer coalition terms only to certain of our councillors (variously considered – wrongly in my view - to be either mercenary, or easy to flatter or manipulate), and all remaining trust was lost.

Pincer movement

Ultimately we were to be fatally caught in a pincer movement between the two major parties at those elections and none of us were returned to office in any case.

In the unlikely event of any community councillors from Isleworth and Syon holding the balance of power again following the 2014 elections we would of course find ourselves in a wholly different position to that of 2006. In such circumstances we may be reduced to playing the role of an outspoken but very small opposition to an effective two party dictatorship, just as was the case in fact on the Isleworth & Brentford Area Committee between 2002 and 2005.

When one considers the complexity of the decisions that we will be faced with in the very near future it is hopefully easy to understand why I am relieved that these decisions will be for others to take. What the ICG should be doing right now is canvassing the views of the active community and finding out precisely what it is that they want us to do.

Lee Lynch

It was with sadness that I received news of the death of the singer Lee Lynch, who passed away on July 22nd.

There was a connection. My sister Ruth was formerly married to Lee’s son Phil, and it was through this link that I came to meet Lee and became familiar with his music. As well as being my brother-in-law, I always considered Phil a good friend and hopefully that remains the case. Back in 1993, when Phil was experiencing some personal difficulties, I spent a short time living with him at his flat in Feltham (and thereby probably made his difficulties worse, but I digress).

Lee Lynch was born in Ballinasloe, Co. Galway, in 1937. Wikipedia describes him as “an Irish singer”. When I once described him thus Phil corrected me, insisting Lee was “a singer who is Irish”.

Phil was right. Despite having written and recorded several memorable Irish songs most of his work was actually mainstream, and he wrote many of his own numbers as well as performing several popular cover versions.

Lee’s first big performance was in 1960 at the Morecambe Winter Gardens, where he supported Emile Ford and The Checkmates, having been discovered shortly beforehand by Vince Hill. In 1963 he joined The Tropical Showband and two years later formed his own group, The Blue Angels, who released a cover of the Beatles song You Won’t See Me on Decca. In 1971 he joined The Royal Showband as lead singer.



Although on the few occasions when I saw him perform his gigs were very well-supported, I was nonetheless surprised when on a trip to Belgium in the early 1980s I spotted one of his records on the juke box at a bar that I happened to be visiting. I shouldn’t have been, he had actually represented Great Britain in a song contest in Belgium in 1969 with a song called Stay Awhile, which had topped the Belgian charts, and his popularity in that country as well as in many other parts of Europe had well survived the passing of time.





He represented Ireland in another contest, in Bulgaria, in 1973, with his own song The Love in My Woman’s Eyes.

In September 1974 he made the first of two appearances at the Royal Albert Hall. Following a period of serious illness he returned to the venue again in 1980. In the same year he was voted London’s favourite Irish vocalist. Between that time and 1982 he released what are probably his two best known Irish songs, Paddy’s on the Move Again and Famous Shamus. I remain astounded by the number of Irish people I meet all these years later who knew and still recall these songs – some can remember them verbatim.



Lee continued to write and record, and perform live, until open heart surgery compelled him to retire to the English countryside in 1994. His quality as a performer can be gauged by the calibre of the artists with whom he appeared – Tom Jones, Van Morrison and Jim Reeves, to name a few.

As well as Phil, Lee leaves a wife, Ruby, and daughter Debbie. He survived another daughter, Susan, who sadly passed away aged 17 in 1979.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Mo's Victory is a Victory for Us All

They painted this post box gold in Isleworthian Mo Farah's honour today.  See Walk Away for more thoughts on what this means for us as a community.

Lib Dems MUST Punish this Betrayal, for the Sake of Decency in Politics

If all the rumours are true, as all those we assume to be in the know would appear to accept they are, the Conservatives are about to stab their Liberal Democrat partners in the back and betray their promise, enshrined within the terms of the Coalition Agreement, to support reform of the House of Lords.

Forget all the dishonest spin and weasel words about the Agreement making no reference to specific detail that is contained in the proposals that are now being made. If Conservative backbench unease was about detail it would have been possible for the two parties of government to have amended the proposals between them in such a way as to address any legitimate concerns. The bottom line is that a substantial body of opinion within the parliamentary Conservative Party is wedded to the whole notion of inequality and privilege in politics as are, to their eternal disgrace, most of the so-called "progressives" of the Labour Party. Not for nothing did Labour's Peter Hain describe the current Lib Dem-inspired attempt to reform the second chamber as a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The argument that now is the "wrong time" due to there being "other priorities" is also a cop out. There will always be economic issues to address. There will never be a time when there will not be one national or international concern or another which can be given priority over constitutional reform if we look hard enough for an excuse to place the issue onto the back burner for another hundred years. The bottom line is that we cannot claim as a society to be committed to fairness and equality of opportunity for as long as our institutions themselves are based upon patronage and favour.

The stark fact of the matter is that the Conservatives, having wrested Lib Dem support for their unpopular and ideologically driven austerity programme, given in good faith, are now preparing to renege on their promise to their partners to honour their side of the bargain. It is a thing that the big parties do. As somebody who was Leader of a minority group at the London Borough of Hounslow in coalition with the Conservatives from 2006 to 2010 the pattern of behaviour is instantly familiar to me.

I have only bad news for Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats. The situation will get worse. As the next general election begins to approach their partners will figure that it will become increasingly difficult for them to cut and run. Throw a few spanners into the works, employ a few delaying tactics to stretch things out for a year or two, and suddenly it will have become nigh on impossible for the Lib Dems to abandon the coalition without being accused of extreme cynicism in the run-up to an election.

The fear of heavy electoral losses, itself a consequence of Lib Dem participation in the coalition, will also play heavily on the minds of the party's elected members when it comes to contemplating taking the very drastic step of forcing an early election by walking away from a one-sided coalition. Self-interest will almost inevitably win the day and so the coalition will limp on grumpily until 2015 at which time the Lib Dems will lose most of their seats, dispense with their leader and set about the long, painstaking but at some point probably successful task of placing some distance between themselves and this whole regrettable episode and eventually regaining lost ground.

What seems clear to me is that the big parties attract and encourage a mentality in which intrigue, behind-the-scenes plotting and betrayal are considered a necessary and inevitable feature of political discourse and one which some of those involved actually find quite exciting. Just behold for a moment the smug, fatuous grin on the face of the career politician on Question Time or Newsnight as he or she smarmily avoids answering a question and you will clearly see for yourself what I mean - these people actually believe that by the practice of spin and deceit they are in some way being clever rather than just deceitful.

In the course of its betrayal the senior partner will have powerful allies. In Hounslow it was senior officers of the Council, not necessarily supportive of the Conservatives but wedded to the old establishment practices to which they had become accustomed under Labour and fearful of the radical agenda promoted by the Community Group on the Council which I led. In the case of the government it will be the largely Conservative press, and we can be sure that between now and 2015 the Daily Mail and other such esteemed organs of the establishment will be drip-feeding us juicy titbits of information, and non-information, about the junior coalition partner for our edification.

Meanwhile another plank of the Coalition Agreement concerns proposed electoral boundary changes, due to be introduced before the next election, which will favour the Conservatives at the expense of the Lib Dems and the Labour Party. The rationale of the changes is that they will bring more integrity to the process of government by rectifying inequalities that have developed within the present alignment of constituency seats.

Through their betrayal over Lords reform the Conservatives will have demonstrated that they have no interest in bringing more integrity to government, nor in rectifying inequality. As such the Liberal Democrats will no longer have any moral obligation to support the proposed changes.

Furthermore, the Conservatives will already have set the precedent that coalition promises need not be honoured.

It is almost certainly too late for the Lib Dems to reverse the hemorrhaging of their own support that their participation in the coalition government has brought about. Nevertheless it is essential that that loss of support is not exacerbated by the complete loss of credibility that will ensue should they roll over and simply accept the bad faith shown to them by their untrustworthy partners.

In my view it is of critical importance that the Lib Dems punish the impending betrayal by withdrawing their support for boundary changes and making it crystal clear why they have done so. Their partners will whine like stuck pigs and no doubt some of them will genuinely be too stupid to understand why it has happened, in the same way as some of the Conservatives on Hounslow Council were shocked when we failed to support their 2010 budget following the Mogden debacle, when our partners refused to back us in our quarrel with chief officers over the nuisance caused to residents by a local sewage plant "managed" by Thames Water (which has donated money to the Conservative Party).

Not only will such a response be crucial if the Liberal Democrats are to maintain any dignity and self-respect at all, but I also truly believe that punishing underhandedness and betrayal will send precisely the right message to the spinners and backstabbers who seem to dominate modern party politics that their way doesn't actually pay.

In other words it will, in the long run, be beneficial not only to the Lib Dems but indeed to all those politicians, including those within the Conservative and Labour parties, of which I have no doubt there are many, who do actually appreciate the importance of good faith and integrity in our politics.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Council Watchdog Must Raise its Game, MPs Warn

The body which decides whether council services are up to standard should "raise its own game significantly", a report by MPs suggests.

The Local Government Ombudsman takes too long to deal with some cases and has to prove its value to the taxpayer, the Local Government Committee says.

Otherwise it will "undermine its own role and credibility", it adds.

The LGO, which is funded by the government but is an independent body, handled 21,840 complaints in 2010/11.

'Satisfaction'

The committee's chairman, Labour MP Clive Betts, said: "LGO has been taking far too long to determine some cases. One of the ombudsmen conceded that the delay in determining some cases was itself likely to amount to maladministration.

"This must raise questions about the LGO's authority and credibility. The organisation needs to apply strict deadlines to all the cases that it handles."

The committee found the LGO needed to provide a "clear methodology to measure levels of customer satisfaction and publish the results".

It added: "It must also put in place arrangements to ensure there is an annual evaluation of its own activities and decision-making by an independent external reviewer, to ensure the LGO is itself fair, effective, open, transparent and accountable."

This reviewer should be appointed by the end of this year and report for the first time no later than Easter 2013, it added.

The cross-party committee said: "An organisation whose primary job is investigating and determining whether maladministration by others has taken place must itself take care to avoid maladministration by delaying justice. If it does not, it will undermine its own role and credibility."


Reproduced with acknowledgements to BBC News.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Only Cameron Can Rescue the Coalition. But Does He Want To?

By Andrew Rawnsley

In the honeymoon days, when the atmosphere within the coalition was so light and breezy that David Cameron and Nick Clegg could be amused by the differences between their parties, they shared a private joke. The Lib Dems' attachment to elaborate consultation and exhaustive internal democracy was like "a kibbutz". In contrast, the Tories were "Napoleonic" in their apparent willingness to follow unquestioningly orders handed down from above.

As it has turned out, they have both been proved wrong. So has everyone else who started off with the assumption that there would be a big strain on the coalition from the contrast between obedient, realistic Tories who understood that power involves compromises and difficult, naive Lib Dems who would insist on putting their precious principles ahead of the deals necessary to make coalition government work. Sure, there has been that contrast – but, by and large, it is the Lib Dems who have been the grownups of the coalition and the Tories who have been the juveniles.

The Lib Dems have understood the fundamental premise of coalition: that a marriage between two parties can be sustained only if both partners are prepared to sacrifice their own preferences for the greater cause. Mr Clegg's party has been astonishingly disciplined over the past two years. To a fault, they have often put aside their own desires and interests for the sake of coalition unity. They have held their noses and voted through welfare cuts, immigration caps, tuition fees and a health plan which was not even in the coalition agreement. With one or two exceptions, their ministers have been stalwart defenders of the coalition and their backbenchers have refrained from badmouthing it.

For this, they have paid a punishing price. At local elections, Lib Dem councillors have been slaughtered. On their current opinion poll rating, they have lost more than half of the support they received at the last general election. They have virtually no friends in the press. Their leader has been flayed to within an inch of his political life.

Coalition has generally been much easier for the Conservatives. As the bigger party, they have been asked to make far fewer compromises. It is the snarl of the rancorous tendency on the Tory backbenches that David Cameron has allowed the yellow tail to wag the blue dog, but there is scant evidence to support their cries of betrayal.

Sayeeda Warsi, the Tory party co-chairman, can cheerfully, and pretty much accurately, boast that the government is implementing 80% of the Conservative manifesto. Where the coalition has pursued Lib Dem ideas, such as tax cuts directed at those on low incomes or the pupil premium for schools in deprived areas, Tories have not had to grit their teeth. They have taken up these policies because they liked them. Yet a significant section of the Conservative party was never happy with coalition from the off and these rejectionists have been growing in noise and numbers as time has gone on. Unlike the Lib Dems, they refuse to accept the fundamental basis of coalition: that of give and take on both sides.

This contrast came to a vivid head last week when the government had to beat its humiliating retreat over Lords reform – legislation shaped by a Tory minister and approved by the whole cabinet – because almost 100 Tory MPs defied their whips. This is a debacle with several consequences, none of them good for the health of the coalition. Tory MPs now think they know that when they see the whites of the prime minister's eyes, they can make him blink. The Lib Dems now know that when David Cameron promises he can deliver the Conservative party, his word cannot be relied on.

"Cameron didn't work anything like hard enough," says one senior Lib Dem. "He's had two years to think about how he was going to do this and failed." Mr Clegg felt obliged to accede to the prime minister's plea to be given more time to work on the Tory rebels, but there is little confidence among senior Lib Dems that Mr Cameron will be able win over enough of the dissenters to secure a timetable for the legislation when parliament returns in the autumn.

Whatever you may think of these proposals for the Lords, the Lib Dems burn with an entirely understandable resentment that they have repeatedly done their duty by the coalition by swallowing a lot of things they don't like, but a blocking minority of Conservative MPs simply will not reciprocate when it comes to something that Lib Dems care about. From my conversations with very senior Lib Dems I have absolutely no doubt of this: if Lords reform does not progress in September, the Lib Dems will respond by killing the redrawing of constituency boundaries which are estimated to be worth an extra dozen to 20 seats to the Tories at the next general election. Moreover, they will veto the boundary changes as an explicit act of payback for Tory sabotage of Lords reform. It won't be a case of Nick Clegg quietly licensing his backbenchers and peers to work with Labour to vote down the boundary changes. All Lib Dems, ministers included, will vote against.

More than once, and in terms no one could misunderstand, Mr Clegg has warned Mr Cameron that the Lib Dems cannot go into the next election having delivered all the constitutional changes which suit the Tories and not secure a single reform hoped for by the Lib Dems. As one Lib Dem minister puts it: "What will it say about the whole idea of coalition government if the junior partner always gets the shit end of the bargain?"

The Conservatives attach enormous importance to the small haul of extra seats they expect to gain from these boundary changes – a sign of their lack of confidence that they can win the next election. If the Lib Dems vote down the boundary changes, some Conservatives predict that the anger among Tories will be so intense that it will be the death knell of this government. So it is possible that the coalition will collapse in poisonous acrimony and Ed Miliband will be prime minister by Christmas.

On the spectrum of probabilities, this remains an unlikely scenario. Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg have a mutual interest in keeping the show on the road if only for fear of what would happen to their parties at an early election triggered by a squabble over the constitution which would look arcane and self-indulgent to the vast majority of the public. Both men would have a hard time explaining to voters why Lords reform and bagging a few extra seats in the Commons for the Tories were more important to them than sticking to their original promise to work together for a full parliament to fix the economy.

So the coalition will probably endure. The question is in what sort of state. Tomorrow Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg will try to reinvest their partnership with some dignity by making one of their joint appearances, on this occasion to launch their latest ideas for trying to stimulate the economy through housing and other infrastructure projects.

They will never recapture the early romance of coalition when their claimed willingness to put aside party differences to tackle a national economic emergency captivated many voters and deeply alarmed senior people in the Labour party. The sweet scent of the rose garden has evaporated for good. The best they can probably now aim for is to demonstrate that there is still some residual shared purpose to this endeavour.

For Mr Clegg and his party, the long-term point of being in coalition was to prove to Britain that it could be a stable, effective and attractive form of government. A descent into a permanent condition of seething acrimony, punctuated by furious shouting matches and parliamentary defeats, will discredit the very idea of coalition government. Voters will not be minded to repeat the experience, which won't be good for Lib Dem hopes of being in office again.

Quite a lot of the Tory party would be secretly – and not so secretly – delighted if this coalition gave a bad name to the whole notion of coalitions. David Cameron has a decision to make: is he one of them? It was his initiative which led to the formation of the coalition. When he made his bold offer to the Lib Dems on the morning after the last election, it was the most creative gambit of his political career, the best response to the circumstances and highly popular with much of the electorate. Failure to make it work will not say good things about his judgment or abilities.

So the prime minister has some hard thinking to do over the summer. Is he ready to take ownership of the coalition? Can he confront those in his party who want to wreck the government with the determination now necessary to save it? Will he tell the hard truths to the Conservative party about the necessary compromises of sharing power?

If he is not able or willing to do that, then no one else can rescue the coalition.



Reproduced with acknowledgements to The Observer.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Public Meeting to Discuss River Crane Pollution - Twickenham Library, July 11th

Whilst we're on the subject of Thames Water, a Public Meeting is to be held at Twickenham Library on Wednesday 11th June, starting at 7.30pm, to discuss the recent sewage spill and its devastating effects on the River Crane.

Representatives from Thames Water, which is being prosecuted by the Environment Agency for the sewage release, will be present at the meeting to answer questions. Friends of the River Crane Environment (FORCE), who have organised the meeting, are hoping for big public support. Please come along if you are able.

I Won't Say I Told You So

That's how the song goes anyway.

It could, of course, have been written by the ICG for those mugs who voted in support of an application by Thames Water to expand its stinky Mogden operation back in 2009 on the grounds that (a) it would "reduce smell" and that (b) the London Borough of Hounslow would be able to exercise "more control" over the selfish, relentlessly profit-driven activities of the water utlity through the watered-down and thoroughly useless Section 106 agreement that Thames condescended to sign as part of the approval process.

The ICG told the sorry shower that comprised the Sustainable Development Committee that the grounds were flawed on two counts. Namely (a) it wouldn't reduce the smell but would increase it, and (b) the London Borough of Hounslow has never had any intention of exercising any kind of control or restraint whatsoever over Thames Water, which imposes its odours on the surrounding community with absolute impunity.

Guess what happened?

The following is an excerpt from a letter written by the resident-led Mogden Residents' Action Group (MRAG) to Isleworth councillor Ed Mayne on June 10th:

"Residents are thus astounded to learn that, without any consultation with MRAG or community groups, the Council elected of its own volition, to remove the out of hours call centre for victims to ring so that Environment Officers can take 24/7 H2S readings and thus build a case to enforce Abatement Notices. Residents were led to believe that this call centre and the associated costs for Council Officers to investigate complaints is funded 100% by Thames Water as a pre-condition of the S106 agreement and it was agreed that this would remain in place until 2013 when the upgrade of Mogden is completed. Why then, and on whose authority was this vital function removed just before the summer months when odour escaping the Mogden premises is at its most severe?

"You will also be aware that residents requested, and were granted GBP 150,000, within the S106 agreement to enhance and beautify the environment around Mogden in residential areas most affected by Mogden's mismanagement and negligence over the last 14 years. We have repeatedly requested information on when consultation with residents will commence in order to define how the £150K will be spent, but we have received no response."


So there you have it, so supportive is the Head of Environment at LBH of the residents who pay his not unsubstantial salary that he has withdrawn an important facility that was provided as a condition of acceptance for the expansion project at no cost at all to the borough!

And what have the elected members, who are supposed to be running the council, done about it?

Well, Councillor Mayne has offered to facilitate a meeting between residents and the new Lead Member for Environment, Councillor Colin Ellar, and this offer is in the process of being responded to.

We can only hope that Councillor Ellar and his administration will take the necessary measures that we would have taken had our coalition partners backed us post-2009 to sort out the utter disgrace that is Hounslow's Environment department for once and for all.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Cameron's Big Cut "Idea" Will Only Backfire on the Tories

By Polly Toynbee

Attacking the under-25s might help poll ratings for now, but the real causes of high housing benefit costs lie elsewhere

Behind in the polls, David Cameron cleaves to his one truly popular policy: cutting welfare. Pollsters say people want it cut even more. His speech hits every button, stirring up those on quite low incomes against those on very low incomes, dividing and ruling, distracting from the lifestyle of the rulers. With the rottweiler tendency on his backbenches growing restless, he throws them the vulnerable to chew on – all those luxuriating in the "culture of entitlement" on £71 a week unemployment pay. Politically, it works well – for now.

A red mist of despair poured from children's and disability charities, stunned at yet another assault on those they try to defend. Already the £18bn benefit cut is "without historical or international precedent," according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Cameron's 17 "ideas" may not all see the light of day, but another £10bn will be cut: housing benefit and US-style benefit time limits yield the big money.

Few people realise that 88% of benefit cuts are still to come, with two thirds of disabled children to lose large sums. Housing benefit cuts, driving thousands of families miles from their homes and children from their schools, have only just begun. Without yet knowing the perverse effects of these cuts, with chaos about to engulf the Department for Work and Pensions on the work programme and universal credit, Cameron shoots from the hip.

He sounded plausible, and his sweeping tour of benefits seeming common sense to many. Every system since the Poor Law faces the same dilemma – how to help the needy without weakening work incentives, how to tell a "sturdy beggar" from a hard-luck case and give them enough to live but less than a low-paid job. There are no satisfactory answers – but Cameron's "ideas" are the harshest ever proposed. How knowingly he misled in almost every example he gave, as he pitted "those who work hard and do the right thing" against those on benefits, deliberately disguising that these are mainly the same people. Most of the poor drawing benefits are cleaners, carers, caterers – the 62% living below the poverty line, working hard yet needing benefits to survive.

Cameron's focus on the ever-rising housing benefit bill omitted key facts. The Smith Institute reports that 95% of the £1bn rise in housing benefit this year is paid to people in work. Only one in eight people drawing the benefit is out of work; the rest are low earners. The cost is not about feckless people but the housing crisis, the failure to build social, rented or private housing over the last three decades. Shortage makes rents rise faster than earnings, and faster than price inflation. Cameron's plan to peg housing benefit to prices, not to inflation, will be devastating. Shelter reports that if prices rose as fast as rents since 1971, a chicken would now cost £47.51. Nor is there any sign housing benefit cuts will cause rents to fall: rents are still rising as landlords turn away benefit tenants, easily finding others in this starved market.

 "Labour spokesmen's lack of visceral indignation on this was dispiriting. Confronting popular prejudice with facts is politically dangerous, but bravery wins plaudits too."

In a familiar litany of charges against the workless, single mothers, drug addicts (only 4%), he summons up a familiar portrait of the multi-child household, beloved of television documentaries, seeking worst cases to be entertainingly put right by Ann Widdecombe. Every society will always have enough of those to keep the cameras happy. But the dull lives of cleaners juggling childcare and jobs make bad TV, as do dull statistics that give the lie to the idea that moral turpitude drives the escalating benefits bill.

Low wages and lack of housing are the root cause. A living wage would lift the burden off taxpayers and put it on to employers. Regulated rents and a great housebuilding programme are the way to cut the housing benefit bill. The government prefers mass removal of the workless to low-rent areas with no jobs.
 
Cameron's plan for the under-25s to stay at home springs from his own social milieu, where empty nesters rattle around in echoing home counties mansions, easy for returning children to commute to first jobs. But take housing benefit from 380,000 young people, and what does the student from Middlesbrough College do at the end of their course if they can't move to where the jobs are, get a room, get started? Stay at home and be unemployed for ever. Even in work, the 205,000 under-25s with a child will have to separate, each to move back to their parents. With benefits as well as wages cut in depressed areas, the north-south divide will gape yet wider, with no chance of moving.

Let's hear no more from Cameron about social mobility. If this proceeds, Alan Milburn should resign as social mobility tsar, since nobody will be going anywhere. Bright but poor graduates will be sent home and everyone will stay where they were born. Labour spokesmen's lack of visceral indignation on this was dispiriting. Confronting popular prejudice with facts is politically dangerous, but bravery wins plaudits too.

The dumbfounding spectacle of this wealthy prime minister kicking away slender supports of the weak will be an abiding image of the man and his party. In the longest recession, with 2.6 million out of work and 1.4 million part-timers desperately seeking full-time jobs, the sheer effrontery of suggesting over-generous benefits keep them out work is beyond belief.

Cameron may saw with the grain of public opinion now, but by the next election, enough of those now clamouring for cuts will have seen their effects at first hand. The British Social Attitudes Survey records how public sympathy for underdogs ebbs after Labour benefit increases – but soon rekindles under Tory harshness.

Reproduced with acknowledgements to The Guardian on Facebook.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

A Celebration of Community

As I think I said in a previous post I am not a flag-waving type nor a particularly fervent monarchist.

Nevertheless I did venture out to the Jubilee celebration party in Isleworth's Chestnut Grove, partly I guess to support my father who had been involved in helping to organise it and partly because it was the road I grew up in.

I'm glad I went along. For a little street of some 40 or so dwellings the turnout was incredible, fortified as it was by the participation of some neighbours from Cleveland Road and Twickenham Road and some moved-out former dwellers.

Back in the 1960s and early 1970s Chestnut Grove had been a typical suburban, owner-occupied, semi-detatched residential neighbourhood. Typical at that time, of course, meant Sunday roast-eating, Crossroads-watching, "respectable" - and white. It won't have been the only street in England, nor even in Isleworth, in which the news that an Asian family would be moving in was met with a certain amount of fear and trepidation. Not hatred nor even hostility per se, but an intangible feeling that this development would be in some indefinable way "bad" for the neighbourhood and that things would somehow never quite be the same again.

Fast forward to 2012 and the moral triumph of the integrated society was as evident in Chestnut Grove as it could ever possibly be. The well-intentioned but ignorant fears of yesteryear had well and truly given way to a new, inclusive sense of community, the bonds that join it every bit as united and as powerful as they had been back in the sixties and seventies but with the old concerns - what I have called "the fear of difference" - replaced by a new and very real sense of togetherness.

This was not "tolerance", a word that suggests putting up reluctantly with others for the sake of a quiet life, but a real unity that pervaded the whole street. I chuckled inwardly as I watched some quite elderly people, those very residents who had been so concerned by the prospect of demographic change all those years ago, dancing to the bhangra bearing expressions of real celebration and joy.

The other emotion induced within me by the occasion, and not a little by the sangria, was one of real anger at the knowledge that communities such as this are still not trusted to determine their own destinies. Still considered in constant need of steering and guidance by self-appointed political elites who for some undefined reason believe that only they know what is best for them.

Those local politicos would have been welcome at the Chestnut Grove street party, but as individuals wanting to join us not as politicians wanting to direct us.

I recall a street party in Orchard Road, Brentford back in 2006, shortly after the local elections of that year which had seen six ICG councillors elected. If I recall correctly we all attended, but as members of the public going along to support an initiative by fellow residents. We didn't have our impending presence announced with a fanfare of trumpets. It was their activity - the residents'. Not ours.

Whatever the occasion may have been about officially I like to think the Chestnut Grove street party was above all a celebration of community. An audacious flaunting of our unbroken and unbreakable spirit. Communities such as Chestnut Grove need no controlling or directing. We are free spirits, and that is the way it will always remain.









Monday, 28 May 2012

What If...?

Brentford Labour Councillor and former Deputy Leader Ruth Cadbury has an interesting item on her blog on the recent elections to the Greater London Authority (GLA), with a useful breakdown of voting patterns in the London Borough of Hounslow on a ward by ward basis. You can read the whole article by clicking here.

Whilst I don't believe the results from a London-wide election can be accurately projected onto the local elections to be held in 2014, they do give us some indication of how the ICG could expect to fare if, hypotheically, we were to contest them (the figures given are the "Party List" votes which probably give us a more accurate picture for the purposes of analysis, certainly more so than the beauty contest that was the Mayoral election itself).

On a similar turnout to that that we are likely to witness in 2014 Labour achieved 1094 votes in Isleworth and 1088 in Syon, the two wards which returned community councillors in 2006. These figures exclude the postal votes, which were counted separately. Allocating those postal votes proportionately from the overall total the Labour vote increases to around 1470 in Isleworth, and 1460 in Syon.

The Conservative vote is especially interesting. Just 653 people voted Conservative in Isleworth and 777 in Syon. Adding the postal votes calculated in the same manner as with Labour those figures increase to 916 in Isleworth and 1089 in Syon.

Both Labour and Conservative totals are those achieved in what was more or less a straight fight between the two (the minor parties, including the Lib Dems, shared a fairly small proportion of the overall votes cast). In other words, it is the vote the two big parties can reasonably expect in the absence of a challenge from within the community.

In both 2002 and 2006 votes for ICG candidates in Isleworth ranged between 1065 and 1266. In Syon in 2006 they ranged between 1329 and 1417. I have deliberately ignored the 2010 totals, which were higher, as the turnout was distorted by the fact of the general election being held on the same day.

Bearing in mind that the turnout in 2014 is likely to be similar to that of the GLA election, the suggestion is that any community candidates would take their votes largely from the political candidates, and proportionately this would mean for the most part from Labour and the Conservatives.

Could the ICG expect a similar vote to that which it achieved in 2002 and 2006? The feedback and general support that we are picking up from across the community leaves me in no doubt at all that we could. So what does this all mean?

Well first of all it means that, with or without a community intervention, the Conservatives have no realistic chance of making any headway in either Isleworth or Syon in spite of their bizarre bragging on Internet forums in the immediate wake of their defeat in 2010. If the ICG doesn't contest, Labour wins.

Secondly, it suggests that the ICG would, if it were to involve itself, probably be the bookie's favourite to win all six seats back. 1400-odd votes less a good few hundred lost to the ICG equals something decidedly short of the likely ICG total.

Possibly though this wouldn't be enough to seize the balance of power on the Council, as was the case last time. In the west of the borough there are a number of seats in which representation is "mixed" and current trends, coupled with the Conservatives' general lack of a gameplan other than a pie-in-the-sky aspiration for achieving an overall majority which would appear to be based solely on wishful thinking rather than any form of strategic planning, would seem to point to Labour gains in 2014, especially with the Conservatives being the major party of government. Even without Isleworth and Syon Labour currently holds 29 of the Council's 60 seats. A couple of gains in the west would secure them overall control in any event. But with a majority of, say, three seats the party would be extremely vulnerable to any eccentricites and deviations on the part of any of its own people. Party loyalty and organisational obedience would be put to the test like never before.

Like I say, this is all strictly hypothetical. The ICG doesn't have to contest elections. There is more than one way to skin a cat - if my very vegetarian daughter would forgive me such an expression. What it does mean however is that we remain in a position to use our clout within the community to wrest concessions at a time when some cutbacks are inevitable and when decisions will have to be taken between dependent and non-dependent services by an administration which institutionally feels more kindly disposed towards people and organisations that are dependent upon them. The hugely successful demos around Isleworth Library and St. John's Community Centre, coupled with our continuing active support for Isleworth Public Hall, are cases in point.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Another Isleworth Councillor on the LBH Executive

At the Annual Meeting of Borough Council on Tuesday (it's to all intents and purposes a kind of AGM but doesn't appear to have an official title) another Isleworth councillor was promoted to the Council Executive.

Councillor Sue Sampson is now the Council's Lead Member for Performance and Customer Care, joining fellow Isleworth member Ed Mayne who remains Lead Member for Community Safety and Regulatory Services (the former half of that portfolio having been held by yours truly between 2006 and 2009).

Meanwhile Syon councillor Steve Curran holds what appears to be a rather large portfolio as Lead Member for Education, Housing and Human Resources and his ward colleague Theo Dennison has the influential task of chairing the Sustainable Development Committee (with Councillor Curran as his Vice Chair).

It is pleasing to see our own local representatives having such an input and playing such an important role. I am particularly pleased for Sue as I feel she is suited by temperament for the post for which she has been chosen, and I say this notwithstanding some of the disagreements we've had over the negative electioneering methods with which she has been associated in the past, a thing which to be fair was to some extent a cultural trait inherited from some of her predecessors.

I am sure she will make a success of her new appointment and I wish her all the very best.

The full list of appointments can be viewed at the London Borough of Hounslow website.

Lance Newbigging

I was sad to learn at the weekend that my good friend and former work and ICG colleague Lance Newbigging passed away last Friday.

Lance and I were colleagues at Skycaps at London Heathrow Airport between 1989 and 1991. He would have been around 62 at the time and was regarded by many of the younger porters with affection as a kind of father figure, often bestowing the benefit of his advice based upon the legal training that he had received as a younger man in his native India.

When I lost my job there in 1991 as a inevitable consequence of an ongoing conflict with the appalling management at the company Lance took my part, which led to his own arbitrary dismissal not very long afterwards. Skycaps, run at the time by a company called Valet Services Limited, was a flawless example of the kind of "hire 'em, fire 'em" set-up that the present government is keen to reintroduce under the guise of "competitiveness". Lance and I spend many a happy afternoon together at the Industrial Tribunals, then based at London's Russell Square.

When the ICG was set up a little while later Lance liked what we were doing and joined up. Prior to that he had briefly been a member of the now-defunct Hounslow Residents' Group (HRG) but preferred the ICG model. As a passionate union man its more socially progressive outlook was more to his taste. Lance stood as a candidate for the ICG in 1998 in the old Spring Grove ward.

I had not seen Lance for some time prior to his passing, although we had spoken a few times on the telephone. I would have dearly loved to have visited him and naturally regret not having done so, however with five jobs and counting it was a physical impossibility (I did not see my own parents for six months from November last year and they live less than a mile along the road!). It is sad, but I guess inevitable, that there are some who are retired and lead a sedentary lifestyle who simply (and rather stupidly) just assume that everybody else is in the same position as themselves.

Lance, I know, understood this. He was a very intelligent man. Our friendship was one that went back a lot longer than some others and when we spoke recently we spent a good deal of time reminiscing about our times at Skycaps and about the extraordinary events of 1998 which set the wheels of a whole era in motion.

Lance was very well known, and respected, in his locality. One particularly powerful recollection I have is of boarding a 116 bus in Bedfont after having spent a good few hours at his home, working no doubt on some tribunal case and being sustained with tea and curry by him and his late partner Daphne. Lance had walked me to the bus stop to see me off (and, I'm sure, to have a crafty ciggie). As I paid my fare the driver looked to the stop behind me and asked me "Is that Lance?".

I responded in the affirmative, and for much of the journey back to Hounslow he explained to me how Lance had helped him to save his job when he had fallen foul of his own employers.

It will probably never have occurred to Lance how widely missed he will be. My heartfelt condolences go out to his family and loved ones.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Greece is the Word

I admit to some amusement over the current situation in Greece.

I am not anti-EU. I am, however, deeply opposed to the way in which faceless bankers and unelected powers behind the scenes appear to be pulling the strings ever more openly on the world scene, and am a tad frightened by the fact that they no longer seem to feel the need to even try to hide the fact. We have whole countries now being governed by "technocrats", completely bypassing the whole democratic process with barely so much as a murmur being heard in protest.

The faceless ones are demanding that Greece implements an austerity package to comply with the terms of their bailout. In other words, despite not being answerable to the Greek electorate nor even Greek they assume for themselves the right to determine Greek political and social policy.

But there was one very small impediment to their plans that appears to have seemed to them so irrelevant that it may have been entirely overlooked, and that was that the Greek electorate didn't actually want the austerity programme imposed on them. That electorate took a savage revenge on the international financial establishment by massively rejecting Pasok, the party that had dominated Greek politics for most of the past four decades, leaving it with just 41 seats in a parliament of 300.

Now the financial powers that be are left scratching their heads wondering what went wrong, and in the absence of a coalition with a working majority Greece may be heading back to the polls to see whether it can get it right the second time around.

Sadly voters in the UK are unable to exercise a similar power of veto as the faceless ones have effective control of all the major political parties, as well as the mainstream media which is able to downplay or to rubbish any attempt from beyond the approved parties to challenge their hegemony.

And so, whilst we enjoy a veneer of democracy and indeed even retain the right to bomb and invade other countries which may feel inclined to do things differently, in truth the international financial establishment enjoys a stranglehold which it doesn't yet have over the good people of Greece.

No doubt they will think of something to avert their Greek tragedy, but it has been fascinating to watch all the same. Interesting times.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Isleworth and Syon Conservation Action Group

Yet another new community-based organisation has sprung up in the locality. It is called the Isleworth and Syon Conservation Action Group (ISCAG), and the clue to its programme is very much in the title.

Tomorrow (Sunday 29th April) ISCAG will be holding a Grand Sale to raise funds at the Park Road Allotments behind All Saints' Church, from 1.30 till 4.30 pm.

There will be children's activities, homemade goodies, bric-a-brac, a book sale, a plant sale, Temptation Alley dog competition and a raffle.

If you are available please pop along and support this worthy activity.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Isleworth: Remembering our History, Defending our Future

Christine Diwell and ICG Chair Ian Speed lead a 
massive residents' campaign to save Isleworth Library
I spent an interesting few hours last week attending the Annual General Meeting of The Isleworth Society (TIS) at Isleworth Public Hall. Although I have been a member for many years it was the first AGM that I had been to for quite a while as it almost invariably seems to clash with something else in my chaotic life schedule.

AGMs in general are, as a rule of thumb, fairly mundane affairs in which the business of electing a Committee and of hearing last year's minutes is conducted to the exclusion of anything remotely interesting to any but the anoraks. TIS AGMs, however, do not follow this rule. Instead once the routine business is done there are tea and snacks, a raffle, and then a "Part Two" which is an integral feature of the meeting.

The elections to the Committee confirmed the current incumbents in situ, which now includes Paul Fisher who was co-opted a few months back and whose continued membership of the Committee was unanimously supported. Although he is not the first ICG member to take up office in TIS he is undoubtedly the most high profile, and his welcome elevation would appear to endorse the ever closer working relationship that the two groups enjoy. A relationship which one must say is something of a "no brainer" when one considers the convergence of interests that exists between us.

On this occasion "Part Two" comprised a fascinating talk by TIS Secretary Christine Diwell, whose great talent for holding an audience seems to grow with every presentation she makes. Even though I had heard much of the talk on a previous occasion my attention was as undivided as it had ever been.

I could not help but be struck by the sheer size of the meeting and the support that it drew from around the Isleworth community. Although the ICG is the larger of the two groups in terms of core membership we could only dream of bringing out half the number for one of our AGMs that TIS achieved last week. That TIS was also able to use the event to generate probably a three figure sum for its funds only served to underline the professionalism of the whole enterprise.

It would also be fair comment to say that the attendance was from the senior end of the age scale, and whilst both TIS and the ICG aspire to recruit more active young people I feel it would be wrong to underestimate the power of the grey activist base - retired, affluent by comparison and, in this day and age, still surprisingly capable when it comes to pushing out leaflets and participating in such things as community clean-ups as well as relentless lobbying.

It occurs to me that the ICG would appear to have morphed organically into an "action arm" of a wider movement, a movement that is given depth and meaning by the activities and the powerful presence of civic organisations such as TIS. It provides a potent combination, and in my view is a model that communities around the borough that find their independence and their unique character under threat from the soulless and unrelenting attentions of the planners and the politicians should seek with some urgency to replicate.