"In for a penny, in for a pound," goes the old saying. The concept is that if one has decided to commit to a particular outcome in any given situation then one should focus entirely and unrelentingly upon that outcome and not dither along the way.
Hounslow's ruling Labour Group would appear to be embracing this concept with gusto as we approach the local elections of 2014. Not unreasonably confident of a rout in its traditional quarrel with the Tories, Labour has quite clearly decided that the time is right to try to face down what it considers to be its real enemies - the organised community and residents' groups around the borough amongst which the Independent Community Group (ICG) almost certainly enjoys pride of place at the very summit of the hate list.
I have related elsewhere how Hounslow Council's Planning Committee, now safely returned in one piece to the Stone Age under the stewardship of Councillor Ruth Cadbury, eagerly endorsed the decision of the former Lead Member (Councillor Ruth Cadbury) to reject a series of amendments to the statutory Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) which had been drawn up by residents under the auspices of the expanding Group of 15+ and which would have given the SCI real meaning. The amendments had previously been adopted by the Planning Committee when it operated under the leadership of the unusually forward-thinking Labour councillor Theo Dennison.
Following on from this decision we have news that the current Lead Member for Planning, Regeneration, Housing, Celebrity Come Dancing and Virtually Everything Else is seeking to put an end to all formal contact between officers of the Council and G15+ and to replace it with a "forum", chaired by and with terms of reference drawn up by the local authority as opposed to the residents themselves as is presently the case. In other words a classic manifestation of the old "control or destroy" approach that has informed local Labour's relationship with community groups for at least a quarter of a century.
Meanwhile here in Isleworth the message we in the ICG are picking up amounts, essentially, to the old football supporters' invocation to "come and have a go if you think you're hard enough". In particular the threat to Isleworth Public Hall has begun once again to loom large, with sham consultations announced to coincide with the busy holiday period and timed to conclude after a decision has already been taken.
Council turns its guns on tenants
One area in which the gauntlet really has been thrown down is in respect of the 24,000 rented and leasehold properties which are owned by the local authority and managed by Hounslow Homes. Here the various resident groups come together under the umbrella of the Hounslow Federation of Tenants' and Residents' Associations (HFTRA), which has historically received and is entitled to expect funding from within the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) - the account to which rents and leaseholder charges are paid.
It was recently announced by the seemingly all-powerful Lead Member that funding to HFTRA had been withdrawn under what would appear, at least from the outside, to be highly dubious circumstances. A proposed meeting between HFTRA and the Lead Member to discuss the matter was cancelled by the latter as a punishment for HFTRA having the audacity to speak to the local press, although this publicity-shyness did not prevent the Lead Member from exploiting his advantage of office by widely circulating a £12,000+ propaganda mailout attacking HFTRA at the expense of the very tenants it represents.
Shocked and angered though we as a community may be we should at least be grateful that this most authoritarian of Labour administrations is setting out its stall in a more or less honest fashion, leaving absolutely no room for doubt as to where it stands on the question of community empowerment and in so doing clearly defining the battle lines for the forthcoming local elections in those areas in which the community is sufficiently well-organised to be able to make a challenge.
Activists should not fear a "trap" as such, this is simply about Labour trying to deal with its potentially more dangerous enemies in the organised community at a time when its conventional adversaries are at their weakest.
From their perspective it makes sense, but that does not mean it is a challenge we should walk away from. A handful of community, other independent and small party councillors, even operating in opposition to a large Labour majority administration, would set us up nicely for the much more favourable situation that 2018 is likely to present.