Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Euro Christmas Squiggle

You have probably seen that the Conservatives have followed Prince in being represented by a squiggle. There are strict rules imposed centrally on the use of the new logo. Never sticklers for the rules, MEPs Chris Heaton-Harris and Roger Helmer have given us this Christmas wish. May I add mine and wish you a prosperous New Year when the squiggly tree might truly blossom!

(You need the sound turned on)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Where Your Taxes Go, Part 1

As the annual horse-trading starts, when the LibDems give us their list of proposed cuts, ready to come in claiming to save the day in March when the council tax increase in announced, here is the first in an occasional series where you can judge whether your taxes were used well or not.

An eagle-eyed constituent took a photo of this 55ft cycle lane. Not sure if Ken Livingstone had this in mind to encourage more cycling. The lane also seems to end just in time to bring cyclists back amongst the traffic on a blind bend.

Successful Call for Dispersal Orders

At the last full Council Meeting, I proposed the main Motion, seconded by Eric, looking to use all tools at the disposal of the Council to fight crime in the Borough.

Sutton has the lowest number of police officers of all London Boroughs. In the past six months, my 15 year old neighbour has been kicked unconscious in broad daylight, a 14 year old family friend was punched and mugged on a bus, a thrown firework narrowly missed my 8 year old daughter and my son had a stick pushed into the spokes on his bike sending him over the handlebars onto the busy Croydon Road. I am not interested in being safer than Hackney or Newham. I want the best policing for Sutton, not just to rely on demographics to keep us near the top of a league table.

My colleagues and I argued for the use of dispersal orders in certain troublespots in the Borough. Guy Road in Beddington and Fairlands Park in Cheam suffer from antisocial behaviour. Allowing police officers the ability to move crowds of youths on can help. Although it moves the problem on, when surrounding areas use such orders, the problem grinds to a halt in Sutton. It may be a short term fix but it disrupts behaviour in the meantime and is only a single weapon in the police armoury not the be all and end all.

We negotiated an amendment which included the line "This Council supports the use of dispersal orders if and when requested by the police." This is a clear reversal of policy by the LibDems so a very good result for residents around these trouble areas. Now it is up to you to ask the police for their use if you see such problems around your area.

Developers Win Appeal in Rotherfield Road

The second plan rejected by councillors to demolish four houses next to All Saints School in Rotherfield Road and replace them with nineteen flats for sheltered accommodation was allowed on appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.

I was a member of the committee that rejected this application. Four attractive houses are going to be torn down to be replaced by a soulless development in an area that suffers from parking and traffic problems with the school and High Street putting pressure on the surrounding roads. We have pushed to get Rotherfield Road included in the conservation area but to no avail and so the well organised residents' committee (CRAG) who have battled to protect their road have to suffer the thin end of the wedge as the first development of this kind comes to this part of the village. The residents are looking to fight on and I wish them the best. With a lack of support coming from planning policy in this council, from the Mayor and certainly from national government, it is up to local residents to stand up to these pressures and ensure that they can continue to live in the area that they want to live in rather than being dictated to from a distance.

Not-so-stealthy Taxman

The phrase "stealth tax" has become well-worn over the last few years. I really like the idea of a flat tax in principle where everyone is taxed just once on their money (rather than on income, then stamp duty and on savings when it is invested and then VAT when it is spent and finally inheritance tax.) However there are significant problems in trying to introduce such a system to a mature economy like the UK. In lieu of this, a flatter tax system will do. People have no idea how much tax they pay. Gordon Brown in particular has complicated matters beyond belief. Lord Saatchi has proposed a Bank Holiday on "Tax Freedom Day". This is a symbolic day calculated by the Adam Smith Institute to show what proportion of the year you are working for the Government to pay your taxes.

So in 2006 all of our income from New Year's Day until 3rd June went to cover our tax bill. The rest is ours to decide what we want to do with our own money. In 1997 it fell a week and a half earlier on the 25th May. The definitive tax guide Tolley's Yellow Tax Handbook has increased from 4555 pages in the 1996-7 edition to an accountant's shelf-breaking 9050 pages in the 2005-6 edition.

Anyway the video above is a Republican advert. Typically American but the point is clear.

The Future of the Carshalton War Memorial Hospital

The hospital opposite Carshalton Park has been closed for sometime now. I have been contacted by several constituents asking about what is planned for the site. We have all heard about the financial problems of the Primary Care Trust so residents are rightly worried about the prospect of the land being sold off for housing.

I have found it impossible in eight months to contact anyone in the PCT that can tell me anything so I was pleased when I saw that the Wallington Forum was being updated on the situation. I have to get what I can take as I couldn't fathom why it wasn't to the Carshalton Forum that they presented their report since the three ward councillors sit on this body and not the Wallington Forum.

I left the meeting with some optimism. The plan is to use the site as a "Post Acute Intermediate Care Unit". Essentially this is for people that still need a hospital bed but are going through physiotherapy or such like. Carshalton would provide the beds for recuperation but in very different surroundings to a typical hospital. This fits in with the "Better Healthcare, Closer To Home" government initiative. The PCT project manager is due to produce the business plan in order to get the funding within six months.

The building on the site will not be kept. They left the meeting fully versed with the fact that it was a Memorial Site and so should be treated sympathetically. There is a possibility that the facade of the building would be kept. To my mind, I would rather see it used as a small cottage hospital of any sort even with changes to the building, than an overdeveloped housing estate. Now I have made a contact at the PCT, I am keen to keep a close eye on this site.

Very Short Update on Ruskin Road

We had an update on what was happening to the buildings on Ruskin Road between Rotherfield Road and Acre Lane and the answer was ... not a lot.

The large house on the corner is locked up whereas the small bungalows are still being used as temporary accommodation. They are due to be redeveloped but their future is linked to the Durand Close regeneration project in the Wrythe. This is a massive project involving the controversial valuations of residents' flats in a Compulsory Purchase Order exercise and the relocation of several families, so little will be happening in the coming months. When it does, rest assured you'll hear it here first.

Brookfield Avenue Application

I have been contacted by constituents about the application to convert a house in Brookfield Avenue into a House of Multiple Occupancy (HMO) with staff quarters (Ref. C2006/56621).

There is no information in the application as to who might be living there. Staff accommodation suggests considerably more than simple bedsits.

I have been in contact with the planning department to clarify the position. The planning officer has requested further information from the applicant, specifically to find out more about who is to be living in the property. The applicant has 21 days to respond. If he does, the planning department will give neighbours another opportunity for consultation and to raise objections on the fuller facts. If he does not respond, the planning officer can judge the application on the information to hand. Commonsense would suggest that he would find it difficult to approve of the application if he does not have all of the information.

My usual "without prejudice" clause for talking about live planning applications applies (See Coleridge Avenue below).

Coleridge Avenue Application

Developers have returned to a site on the corner of Coleridge Avenue and Shirley Road in the Poets' Estate where a similar plan was rejected last year.

The planning application proposes the demolition of the corner house and the building of seven houses in its garden.

This application is as controversial as the first with several residents objecting on similar grounds to before, namely overdevelopment of the site which is prone to flooding from the culverts running alongside the garden and the danger posed from traffic going in and out of the narrow corner access. Despite our best efforts the Poets' Estate was not recommended to be designated as an Area of Special Local Character (ASLC), which would provide an extra hurdle for potential developers but we were promised that the Local Development Framework would provide a sensitive approach to this individual area. I suspect that this will be the first test of this promise.

As a member of the committee that may decide on this application, I will decide on the night if and how they have overcome the reasons for rejecting the original application. Comments on the application (ref. no. C2006/56847) should be sent to London Borough of Sutton, Environmental Services, 24 Denmark Road, Carshalton, Surrey, SM5 2JG.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Long Wet March for better healthcare

Ok. Not so long but quite definitely wet. A few hundred residents of the Borough joined together to brave the elements and campaign to end the cuts in the NHS and St Helier in particular. A new first for me is the video blog so have a look and see what you think of my Scorsese amateur production.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

An Extraordinary waste of our money

Last night, I spoke at an Extraordinary Council Meeting that was called by our Conservative Group. We discussed one issue; the handling of the management contract for the Borough's leisure centres.

Essentially, the existing contractor, Sutton Community Leisure (SCL), a non-profit making trust gave the required 3 month notice to quit, citing the fact that they either needed to put prices up or needed a further £129,000 to keep going for the next year. Because Sutton Council had agreed to a contract with such a short break clause, they felt bounced into ignoring standard procedure of competitive procedure and appointed Greenwich Leisure to take on the remainder of the contract which expires in February 2009.

Now you might say that "where needs must", we ought to do this but there was an alternative. This appointment will cost Sutton Council £372,000 over the 26 months. If we had paid SCL £129,000 and given them 12 months notice, we could have examined all of the options according to procedure, appointed a new contractor in 2008 and spent £243,000 less than has now been agreed. To cap it all, SCL are to be taken over by Greenwich Leisure anyway, meaning that the leisure centres are going to be managed by the same people who have now received £372k rather than the £129k that they originally asked for.

If your head isn't hurting at this point, indulge me for one moment more. Lord Tope, lead councillor for Leisure refused to explain this bungled bargaining, preferring to accuse us of wasting money in calling an additional meeting. The room was booked to be used by the LibDems anyway with lighting, microphones etc. and I don't think even they can run up a bill for £243k to host a council meeting so this argument is just a touch thin.

The Conservatives were not against the appointment of Greenwich Leisure, only the lack of forethought and the disdain for procedure. Even though the cost of the meeting pales into insignificance next to this waste of out money, the need to have a meeting at all must rest with the ruling group. We take our role of Opposition seriously, holding the LibDem group to account for their decisions through proper scrutiny. Changes made by the LibDems and further changes planned show that the ruling group are not as keen at being scrutinised.

(Photo: Phoenix Centre, Roundshaw)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

One Rule for them...Part 2

Today saw two announcements from City Hall. Mayor Livingstone explained that he would be increasing the Congestion Charge for 4x4s to a rip-roaring £25 per day. He is using the same banding that Gordon Brown devised for vehicle excise. If he applies the same lack of forethought as LibDem Richmond, then 1.6l cars will find that they are finally taxed off the roads of London.

Unfortunately, these taxes are a double-edged sword. I have written elsewhere that green taxes are worth further investigation but I suspect that such a scheme will mean lighter traffic for the rich that will be only too happy to pay an extorionate amount to remove others from the roads.

The Mayor, in the meantime thought nothing of spending £36,000 of our money and sending about 8 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere for a five day jolly to Cuba and a trip to Venezuela that was cancelled at the last minute because President Chavez was too busy to see him. The only official business was a 30 minute press conference at an Olympic conference in Havana.

Having said this, the Mayor is mindful of value for money when he tells us "The costs of my visit to Cuba are modest and in line with the costs incurred on other Mayoral trips." So remember that when you look at the Thomas Cook brochure. But what has he learnt from the trip? Apparently London has much to learn from Cuba about producing Olympic boxers. You couldn't make it up.

Monday, November 06, 2006

One rule for councillors...

I sit on the Development Control Committee deciding on planning applications. Rules introduced by this Government dictate that I would have to declare a personal or prejudicial interest if I knew the applicant and might have to leave the room unable even to contribute to the debate let alone vote.

Though commonsense needs to prevail in acheiving a balance to show transparency and fairness in decision making, current rules are far too dictatorial leading to instances where councillors that have been elected on the back of a particular issue have been unable to participate in the debate even though they represent the majority view and may have some specialist knowledge. I have seen one councillor leave the room whilst an application was heard about siting a mobile phone mast because he owned a phone from that network and so might benefit from improved coverage.

Imagine my surprise on Saturday when I opened the papers to see the Attorney General claiming that it was fine for him to have the final say as to whether Tony Blair should face prosecution over the "cash for peerages" scandal. As a friend of Tony Blair and a beneficiary of his patronage, this is the cherry on top of the Labour sleaze cake. For a man whose 'independant legal opinion' on the legitimacy of the invasion of Iraq changed depending on which day of the week it was, to claim that he is above such matters is staggering. Sir Ian Blair and the head of the CPS have already stepped aside of the investigation citing personal links. Lord Goldsmith must do the same and soon.

There are simple answers to both points. Change the rules so that councillors can do the job that they were elected for and find a new Attorney General.

Solving Wallace Crescent's Congestion

Eric and I met many of the residents of Wallace Crescent at their residents' association meeting last Tuesday. The three perennial issues came up and I hope that we can make some real progress on them in the coming weeks.

Building has started on a a Mother and Baby unit in the corner of the Crescent. Residents are naturally anxious about the effect that this will have. They have resolved to get to know the
management and build up a relationship to head off any problems. Eric and I will intervene if necessary.

Four years ago, I pledged to lobby TfL to get the Crescent closed off at the Pound Street end. Now I am elected, I will finally have a chance to fulfill this. Circumstances have changed that ought to make it easier for TfL to agree with the closure of the two shops that were reliant on that stretch of road for their deliveries. I am a self-confessed rat runner myself as I live in Salisbury Road so my acid test for any solution is one that stops me from using the road as a cut through.

The final problem is the garages in the corner and the number of cars left in the Crescent taking up space, sometimes with broken wings etc. leaving sharp edges. I have the details of the landlord and will be approaching him directly. I'll report back on all of these later.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Sutton Guardian's Guide to Political Blogging

Despite the photographers' best efforts, I wasn't able to exude for the lens and looked half asleep. Richard Lyon's sharp eye noticed a photo of my garden with the ladder that I had forgotten to put away. But hey, I'm being picky. I came home to an excellent article in today's Sutton Guardian about the rise of the political blogs in Sutton, which I have covered in an earlier post. Since it hasn't gone up on their webpage yet, I have copied the text here. To spare the public and avoid incurring the wrath of the Guardian lawyers, I have put one of my own photos alongside.

Blog standard
Richard Lyons

Posted on the internet is a photograph of Conservative councillor Paul Scully’s back garden.

It is a rich, green affair with a well kept lawn and borders of shrubs. On closer inspection you can clearly make out a yellow whirlygig clothes dryer and, at the bottom, a big black trampoline. Next to the photo, which also shows a white parasol and a discarded ladder, reads the words: “The picture shows the view from my bedroom window”.

As if to remind us the site is not some kind of councillors-homes-through-the-keyhole, the text goes on to discuss the issue of back garden development. OK, so we may still be in the realm of local politics, but it is not politics as we know it. Welcome to the brave new world of political blogs.

Taking the lead from national political blogs and the webcam diary of David Cameron, a growing number of local politicians are starting their own online diaries. Mayor of Sutton Richard Bailey gave out the web address of his blog at a meeting of the full council this month and councillor Cohn Ball and former councillor, Charlie Mansell are also established bloggers.

Claiming to be the first however, is Coun Scully who is aware of the medium’s ability to let the public know what councillors are doing almost as soon as they’ve done it. And what is more he adds, blogs can break down barriers between politicians and their constituents, allowing them to get to know the person in a way never quite achieved before. “I think blogs give an immediacy and an intimacy,” he says. “When people vote for you they generally vote for the party and few people know the individual. I think it’s important they get to know the individual because you may have particular political issues and problems and if they know you have a similar outlook as them they may be able to trust you more.” Coun Scully’s first posting was on May 29, 2006— just three weeks after being elected and bore the title ‘Does cyberspace need another blog?’ Since then he has written a total of 37 entries covering everything from the future of Westcroft Leisure Centre to whether classroom assistants should wear veils.

Much less prolific, by his own admission, is deputy leader of the council Cohn Hall, who left a month between his last posting and the previous one dated September 27. But despite this under-use of his cyberspace presence, he remains extremely enthusiastic about what blogs can achieve - particularly in terms of connecting with the community. “I have had more response from doing more things on a blog than I’ve had from all the leaflets I’ve done in all the years I’ve been councillor” he says. “If I put something up on the blog I might get half a dozen emails about it which is great. The more I can engage with the residents, the better.”

There is also a suggestion the more successful blogs could start to challenge newspapers by breaking stories before journalists. Fortunately for the Sutton Guardian, there is little chance of that happening in this borough. What the blogs of our councillors do seem to demonstrate though is that the internet can bring people closer together — even the public and politicians. “I think it has the potential to change politics and make politicians more human because we do seem a very strange breed,” Coun Hall says. “The potential is there but we need to take it up a level. More councillors should start blogs.”

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Taxes to turn Mini owners green

Richmond council are seeking to introduce new payment scales for their controlled parking zones. The headline is that it will cost £300pa to park a 4x4. With the current trend for green taxes, many people will find this attractive.

As usual, the devil is in the detail. There are 7 categories A-G. 4x4s, Porsches, Ferraris etc. will come under category G. Half of the Minis sold in the UK will come under the second most expensive category, F. There are very few cars that are actually on the market in the UK that will come into category A.

With a basic 1.6 litre saloon being so penalised, it is hard to see this being more than a money-making exercise rather than a green initiative. Four years ago, I was at the forefront of the campaign to reject a proposed CPZ in Wallington that would have affected 20,000 people. Although an intial low charge was proposed, I worried about the future as the council became more dependent on this revenue. History has shown the 3000 people who objected to be right.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Protection from Garden Grabs

My second speech at last night's council meeting was a successful attempt to strengthen our policies on development on back garden land. The picture shows the view from my bedroom window. My house is not extraordinary being located in the middle of Carshalton but it is tranquil.

I sit on the Development Committee that decides on planning applications and I always take each application on its merits. However from a policy point of view we need to take advantage of the fact that we are considering our latest overarching policy document for planning in the borough, the Local Development Framework. My amendment that was agreed at the meeting called upon the council to strengthen our policies for gardens in this paper.

Conservatives have taken a lead on this issue nationally over the last year. Newly elected MP, Greg Clark put forward a bill in Parliament to remove back gardens from the definition of brownfield sites. Yesterday David Cameron called for "fewer houses designed for young, single people and more designed for life." It is ridiculous that whole streets of houses are being demolished in the north whilst infrastructure is squeezed in the south. The Southeast of England has less rainfall per head of population than the Sudan. The day I see a rush to buy holiday homes in Khartoum is the day that I will accept such high housing targets without policies seeking to encourage people to relocate to other parts of the country.

What future for Westcroft?

I spoke twice at last night's Council meeting. The first was to raise the issue of the management of Sutton's Leisure Centres. The non-profit making organisation, SCL that manages the four sites have given notice that they intend to walk away from their contract as they cannot raise the funds necessary either through charging or Council funding. Though they are an organisation specifically created to manage, Westcroft, Cheam, Phoenix Centre and Sutton Arena they have also won the contract to manage a leisure facility in Reading. Negotiations are continuing.

We were given clear assurances that all four centres would remain open. Less assured was the response when asked if entrance fees would be increased or which budget would be raided to provide the money to fund the centres.

We must commit to sport. Many people cannot belong to private clubs. There is £35k budgeted to bring the tennis courts up to scratch in Carshalton Park. This has not been spent and so the summer has been missed. We are told that we are the most obese nation in Europe. When we tell our children that it is healthy to do something that makes them out of breath a few times a week, we mean more that smoking a pack of 20 fags.

Eric and Cllr John Kennedy will be monitoring the negotiations to ensure that we keep and maintain leisure facilities that we can be proud of.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


Eric and I joined other councillors and our parliamentary candidate, Ken Andrew to collect signatures for a petition to be presented to Gordon Brown. It calls for him to stop his mismanagement of the NHS which has resulted in more than 18,000 jobs going and deficits approaching £1,277,000,000.

We see the net result in Sutton. The Primary Care Trust is in financial difficulties. Sutton Council are having to bear the financial burden of care for an ever increasing number of autistic children diagnosed by the PCT. There is doubt as to whether the new critical care hospital will be built at all rather than just the preferred location. In the ward (Council, not hospital), no-one is sure of the PCT's intentions for the War Memorial Hospital.

The petition attracted a lot of interest and support. You can sign the e-petition here. After such matters of State, I went to a fundraising coffee morning and then back home to remind myself what my family looked like.

Canon sent back to the drawing board

Conservatives on the Development Control Committee were instrumental in rejecting the application to convert Canon House into 174 flats. One Liberal Democrat councillor voted with the four Conservative members of the committee to turn the proposal down. By no coincidence, that councillor lives within a few yards of the development and commutes from Wallington Railway Station so would have to live with the consequences of any decision.

Several residents have opposed the scale of the application which proposed adding extra floors to an already dominant building. I am extremely concerned about the proliferation of back-garden development so this building presents an opportunity to meet the increasing housing needs of the area but it must surely be kept in a sensible proportion. Amenity space for the proposal was only around 25% of that required by the Council and the number of affordable housing units fell short. Both of these were to be partly offset with money paid to the council. I'm glad that the committee took their decision based on the development itself rather than allowing their minds being diverted to the short term benefits of this extra Section 106 money.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Eyes Have It

Today, a teaching assistant in Dewsbury lost her tribunal case having claimed religious discrimination. She was sacked for refusing to remove her veil during lessons. However she won £1100 for a separate 'victimisation' claim.

Several politicians have followed Jack Straw by wading into the debate on veils. Now my opinion is hardly as newsworthy as theirs but I do believe that there are obvious fundamental problems in trying to communicate with children whilst wearing a Niqab, the full-face veil. Of course there should be the freedom to wear what you want in your own time but such fundamental barriers need to be recognised and dealt with without the easy charge of religious discrimination being pushed, taking advantage of the current twin fears of Islamaphobia and compensation lawyers.

Dewsbury MP Shahid Malik has supported the suspension of the teacher as have other leading Muslims explaining that there is no requirement for a woman to cover up in front of pre-adolescent children.

Light at the end of the Tunnel?

Sorry it's a purple logo again. Maybe the Robins should consider a change of kit to fit in with my technological difficulties of putting the photo on the site.

Last night saw a long Development Committee meeting mainly due to the proposed Canon House development in Wallington. I spoke as Ward Councillor on the application to allow CAFC's floodlights to be kept on for an extended time after Cup matches.

There has been strained relations between the residents and the club for a number of years. Though I hope and believe that the club are trying to improve relations and reposition themself as a family club, some residents are still concerned with levels of noise etc.

The club have had permission for the extension of floodlighting requiring annual renewal. They sought the permanent right. I suggested a compromise of two year permission allowing the new ward councillors time to work with both parties. This was agreed by the committee. Eric has organised a meeting between representatives from the club and residents tomorrow night. Though the first meeting will be a fun one to chair, I hope that this is the start of a beautiful relationship with the beautiful game.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

It's raining cats and blogs

I started my blog, three weeks after I was elected in May as another way to communicate with residents and let them send me comments. We need to keep looking at fresh ways to have such a dialogue. As the comedian Armando Ianucci put it we are still doing gramaphone politics in an ipod age.

Since then, ex-Labour Councillor Charlie Mansell has started two blogs both of which are in my links list. Sutton Council Observer records Charlie's thoughts on a wide range of local issues, concentrating mainly on Council committees and local healthcare, an issue that I know he feels passionately about having represented the ward of St Helier for a number of years. His other blog, Policy4Sutton is Charlie's good attempt at a one man think tank. Though he is not from the same party, both blogs are welcome approaching the task as a concerned resident wanting the best for the Borough. We'll see how party political we all get when we get closer to an election.

More recently LibDem Deputy Leader, Colin Hall has made a stuttering start in the world of blog, not least because of the extra "blogspot" in the title - I did promise to leave him a comment but unfortunately there is no capability for doing so. I could make a cheap joke about lack of consultation etc. but I'll..OK, I just did.

Still any attempt to widen the political debate is welcome and I wish them well.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Red Rose not Redcoat

Update: Labour MP Siôn Simon has opted to concentrate on his Parliamentary career rather than taking his comedy satire to Channel 4 and/or the Edinburgh Fringe.

The Comedy Store's loss Tony Blair's loss.

Compare and contrast

Siôn Simon, Labour MP for Birmingham Erdington made a bit of a prat of himself in this video on You Tube and then later on Sky News. Whereas I thought David Cameron's WebCameron blog is a good attempt at bringing a fresh approach to communicating with electors (as are Labour MP Tom Watson's videos, also on You Tube ), Siôn Simon does not seem to have left student politics behind. Some Conservatives have got hot under the collar. David Cameron's website has reported a massive increase in traffic since the news story was reported.

Personally, I enjoy satire about any party including my own. I just prefer it to be funny.

Inside Prime Minister's Questions

This is an interesting insight into the weekly tribal ritual of PMQs. David Cameron reflects on events after Tony Blair refused to support Gordon Brown again and even threatened to deport Margaret Beckett in a slip of the tongue talking about deporting Foreign Secretaries instead of foreign prisoners. I can't imagine a Home Office caravan removing dangerous government ministers from the UK.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Politics for the New Age

10th October will see the launch of Britain’s first political Internet TV Channel.

18DoughtyStreet Talk TV will broadcast for four hours a night, Mondays to Thursdays, from studios in London’s Bloomsbury with a mix of live and pre-recorded programmes. It aims to break the mould of current affairs television with a mix of opinionated and controversial programming.

The channel’s founders, Iain Dale (Ian Dale's Diary) and Tim Montgomery (Conservative Home) believe that conventional political TV has let down its audience by dumbing down political debate to the lowest common denominator. It believes that no political party truly understands the electorate’s disappointment with the current state of politics. It aims to be an anti-establishment channel – championing rebel opinions in all of the mainstream parties and constantly questioning authority.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Home Office Ministers - 'Not Fit for Purpose'

The Home Office manage to dig a deeper and deeper hole. As revealed in the Yorkshire Post, in a parliamentary written answer given to Conservative MP Shailesh Vara, the Home Office have confirmed that they have arrested nearly 1000 people over the last 5 years under anti-terrorism legislation, released over half of them without charge and actually charged only 154 with terrorism-related offences.

They explained that they did not keep records of how long these people were detained. In the light of their attempt to introduce 90-day detention, this really is damning. Throughout the debate, the government insisted that current legislation was not effective despite already having the longest detention period in the western world. How on earth can you know what is or is not effective when you do not know what is happening at the moment?

Some may consider me too liberal, but let me ask you this. Would you trust John Reid or indeed any government minister with your personal freedom if you were wrongly imprisoned? When I see the mistakes that are made in the Home Office, I would trust Homer Simpson over them.

There's No Smoke Without Fire.

Most people have got used to a smoking ban at work. Many are getting ready for a ban in the pub. Sutton Council are now aiming at people's cars and homes.

A proposal came to a Council-Employee meeting last Monday (2nd Oct) banning smoking in and around council buildings, but going further to ban employees smoking when travelling to and from work in their uniforms. The piéce de resistance was the requirement that 'Employees making home visits must be provided with a smoke free environment.’

Essentially this means that if you are at home and have, say meal-on-wheels, the council employee is not allowed to help you whilst you are smoking in your own home. Conversely when the bailiffs come round, puffing cigar smoke through the letterbox seems a good defence.

A New Direction

The weather was foreboding, thousands of people were left stranded without a pass, but despite this most people left with a confident air. David Cameron's speech on Wednesday was a major landmark. It didn't reach the high benchmark that Blair had set the previous week for rhetoric but it resonated for a very different reason. Cameron received applause for saying things that you could never imagine a Conservative leader saying maybe even two or three years ago.

There is plenty more to do. The shakes of the head by some when he addressed civil partnerships show that not everyone is going in the same direction or at the same speed. However the NHS is the subject that stands out. For too long this has been the sole reserve of the Labour party. Remember "24 hours to save the NHS" in 1997. Cameron spoke of the man that he met that had worked in his job in the NHS for the past 12 years. In that time, there had been so many reforms and adjustments that he had to reapply for his job a ridiculous 7 times. Just one example of the waste in the Health Service. Yes, funding has increased but the amount going to frontline services has not gone up in anywhere near the same proportion.

Policies will come after the various commissions have reported back but it is important nationally as it is here in Sutton, that we show that we are ready to confront the challenges that we face today, not revisit those of twenty years ago.

Monday, October 02, 2006

And Now...Live from Bournemouth

I've joined the annual seaside jaunt that is the Conservative Party Conference. I'm currently sitting on "bloggers row" which is a new area for the party. We are giving advice for new bloggers, reflecting our thoughts on conference as it happens. More and more people appreciate the fact that the Internet can be a tool for real communication between politicians and constituents. Though I was the first in Sutton, I hope that I won't be the last.

Anyway, this week will be an interesting one. It is "One year on" for David Cameron. Delegates are debating how much progress we are making, what they think of the new party logo (which looks suspiciously like the Sutton Council tree.) and asking the question "Where's the beef?" in terms of policy.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Protecting the character of the Poets' Estate

Despite only having had one day's notice of the event, I attend the Strategic Planning Advisory Group meeting as they considered whether to make the Poet's Estate an Area of Special Local Character (ASLC). Planning officers were not keen as they claimed that there was no prevalent architectural style.

Pointing out the pressure that the area is under, in the light of the Coleridge Avenue planning application, I was able to repeat the prayer to the petition signed by 298 local residents last year which stated that Sutton Council themselves had claimed the area as "part of the borough's heritage heartland" in the Sutton Scene magazine. There are three main considerations, the townscape, architecture and landscape. I believe that the Estate clearly demonstrates that it meets all three.

The result was a partial success. The planning officers are not keen to add any more ASLCs as this weakens the protection for the existing ones. A new policy to be included in the Local Development Framework will act as an overarching policy to protect particular suburban character in areas such as the Poets'. The decision has been deferred for six months whilst this new policy is implemented. If the committee do not feel that this is robust enough, they can reconsider the merits of the case and we shall start over again. At least I have six months' notice this time.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

K Club brings out best of Europe

Although there was a little council business to do over the weekend, the majority of Saturday and Sunday were blocked out to watch the Ryder Cup on TV. What a fantastic competition played in such a fantastic spirit. The way the crowd and players from both sides supported Darren Clarke after the recent loss of his wife, his perfect response in the quality of his play and the sportsmanship of Padriag Harrington in allowing JJ Henry to tie their final match after the overall result had been decided was uplifting.

However the political anorak in me and subsequent press coverage got me thinking. Lord Patten has written about how the European team spirit shows that closer integration in the EU can be a good thing. In response, I'll just point out two things. The three Irish players (from both sides of the border) showed enormous national pride as did the Irish crowd and rightly so. Secondly, the campaign to have only one European Parliament building based in Brussels has reached one million petitioners, demanding that the monthly 500 mile round trip to Strasbourg just to pacify the French is ended. Can you imagine the Ryder Cup being held in Belgium with the Saturday afternoon foursomes being held in France, only for the players, entourage and supporters to return to Belgium for the Sunday singles? (For the non-golfing readers, I'm already stretching the point with the metaphor but just trust me it would be tedious.)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Development is like red rag to a bull for residents

I have just returned from a press photoshoot in Rotherfield Road with the Rotherfield Road Action Group (RAG). Since the third application for sheltered flats in the road has been rejected, the focus of the Post has turned to the wider issue of development in the village, something that I concentrated on in my election campaign.

In May, I drew together residents in pockets of the ward and brought their attention to each development. It is vital to see the wider picture, that it is not just the odd application taken in isolation, but a systematic change that will alter the character of Carshalton and indeed the Borough forever.

There are two things that we can do. Locally we need the very strongest protection. We have an opportunity to acheive this in a document called the Local Development Framework which is being compiled now. This replaces the UDP and will dictate planning policy in the Borough for the next three years. It is important that Rotherfield Road is brought into the conservation area and that places like the Poets' Estate are given special status.

Secondly we can rip up central government's housing targets for the South-East. It is madness to increase London to the size of Mexico City whilst housing is being torn down in Manchester and Liverpool. We do not have the infrastructure to cope.

I'll leave you with one fact to consider. The South-East of England has less rainfall per head of population than the Sudan. Go figure.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Ah, those Salad Days.

In a change to my normal lunch routine in the office canteen, I joined pupils from Muschamp Primary for a meal having watched three of them and three adults preparing salads, Ready Steady Cook style in their assembly with headteacher, Helen Underwood playing the role of Ainsley Harriott.

We were all there to launch National School Meals Week. This is a subject that has attracted a large amount of media coverage, mainly thanks to Jamie Oliver. The children seemed to respond well to the display and the addition of a salad bar to their lunchtime options.

Muschamp is close to Durand Close and the St Helier Estate and, is therefore a school that needs to take particular care over the diet and nutrition of their pupils. We discussed the fact that for many children, school lunch may be their main meal and so the choices of the Borough as central catering supplier were vital. I was really pleased to see that Muschamp had its own kitchen, enabling a wider range of options to be made available to the children. Not all schools have the room to do this. Many of the Jamie Oliver initiatives had already been introduced, but the extra priority brought to this matter by the Naked Chef's efforts bring extra funding and resources which are always welcomed.

There were no major incidents. The food stayed in the correct receptacles despite vigorous mixing by one young contestant. Tom Brake MP fought back the urge to give a sabre dance as his chef's hat came undone to make him more Cossack than Cook and I even got a sticker for eating all of my vegetables. I'm looking forward to a return visit to a school with a special atmosphere.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Whilst we are talking about fairs...

I forgot to post a quick mention of the Environmental Fair held in Carshalton Park last week. Contrast the coat in this photo with the short sleeve t-shirt in the last article. Well what do you expect? The children were still off school then, hence the rain. Back to School, back to sun. Hey ho!

Several bands in the Hog Pit entertained plenty of punters. I'm afraid I only dashed around the fair in between showers. I don't consider myself a fair weather environmentalist, only a fair weather fair-goer. (yes, I did pick up the cup in the photo and throw it away.)

Carshalton Charter Fair

Eric & I spent the morning in the crush of people beating a path to our door for our Councillors' Surgery. OK, maybe a slight exaggeration as no-one actually turned up. Either we have 7500 happy campers or we're not advertising it widely enough. I'll try harder.

After this I wandered home via the Carshalton Charter Fair in the Square. This is an event promoted by the Carshalton Society. The first fair dates back to 1259 in "Kersaulton" as it was then known. The Society has resurrected the idea and held successful events since 1983.

Stalls selling jam, bric-a-brac and books raised money for a varierty of organisations, music and facepainting entertained young and old. Some stallholders expressed the concern that the event was not as well attended as previous events, commenting that more advertising along the High Street may have helped. It certainly was perfect weather for such an event. I will endeavour to do what I can next year to give the event a little more publicity, so I hope that you will join me in putting this weekend in your diary for next year.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

3rd Rotherfield Road application rejected

Just got back from a long planning meeting. Several residents turned up to object to this application. Eric spoke well about the level of local discontent. As a committee member I treat each application very seriously retaining an open mind as is expected of me. I voted against the application for the same reason that I did the last. It is too big, does nothing for the streetscape and will affect an already busy road. I felt that the developers had barely moved from their last rejected application. The second application is currently on appeal.

Two other planning matters. I joined the other councillors in rejecting the proposed flats on the Texaco site, mainly because of the oddity of retaining half a house, perfectly bisected with a false chimney added looking down West Street. This doesn't sit well in a conservation area. Not a bad application but more work needed.

Finally I have just read the Guardian where an article says that another application is coming for the Wentworth Hall mosque on Woodstock Road. Watch out for developments.

Friday, August 11, 2006

'Nuff No Respect for Galloway

George Galloway has made an extraordinary outburst on Sky News defending Hizbollah in a ten minute rant. He tears a strip off the Sky News reporter, Anna Botting, accusing the Murdoch-owned channel of pro-Israeli bias.

I am saddened that this man can use his position as an MP to posture in such a way, inflaming a tinderbox issue. Taking his £59k salary and using his £20k office expenses and £84k secretarial salary to spread his brand of hatred is one thing. Supplementing this with income from Celebrity Big Brother and his one man show to the detriment of his work for residents of Bethnal Green & Bow is another. Last November the Government won a crucial vote on the very Terror Bill that he had railed against to his constituents. The vote was won by a solitary vote. George Galloway was performing in his one man show and so did not go through the lobby.

In his interview, he calls for the release of several prisoners including Samir Kuntar. Read the following extract from an account written by an Israeli social worker, Smadar Haran, of the time her family encountered Kuntar in 1979 with fatal consequences. Then decide if you agree with Galloway.

"It had been a peaceful Sabbath day. My husband Danny and I had picnicked with our little girls, Einat, 4, and Yael, 2, on the beach not far from our home in Naharyia, a city on the northern coast of Israel. Around midnight, we were asleep in our apartment when four terrorists from Lebanon landed in a rubber boat on the beach two blocks away.

"Gunfire and exploding grenades awakened us. Desperately we sought to hide. Danny helped our neighbour climb into a crawl space above our bedroom. I went in behind her with Yael in my arms. Then Danny grabbed Einat and was dashing out of the front door when the terrorists came crashing in. They held Danny and Einat while they searched for me and Yael.

"I will never forget the joy and the hatred in their voices as they swaggered about hunting for us, firing their guns and throwing grenades. I knew that if Yael cried out, the terrorists would toss a grenade into the crawl space, so I kept my hand over her mouth. As I lay there, I remembered my mother telling me how she had hidden from the Nazis during the Holocaust."

The terrorists took Danny and Einat down to the beach. There, one of them shot Danny in front of Einat so that his death would be the last sight she would ever see. Then he smashed my little girl's skull in against a rocket with his rifle butt. That terrorist was Samir Kuntar. By the time we were rescued from the crawl space hours later, Yael, too, was dead. In trying to save all our lives I had smothered her"

A Tear came to my eye when I read this excerpt from Guido Fawkes blog as they do now as I write. (Hat-tip also to Iain Dale for the video link.)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

A Shy & Retiring Councillor

Cllr Geiringer sat down at today's Civic Service on his reserved seat. It took a few seconds to take in that the piece of paper saying "Reserved" wasn't an instruction as the words "reserved" and "Geiringer" don't often feature in the same sentence. Long may this be.

The Civic Service was held at the Salvation Army Church Hall in Sutton. The service was led by some extremely talented singers and dancers and enthusiastic leaders. Nice to see a good turn out from both parties.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Sporting Chic

Last weekend, Crystal Palace hosted the London Youth games. Our very own Eric (on the right), in his role as Group spokesman for Sport took Cllrs. Tim Crowley and Moira Butt along to support the Sutton contingent and a good time was had by all. Eric spent the entire two days chatting to the kids, helping with the organisation and watching some great performances.

Whilst other councillors from a Party which might better suit the orange T-shirts arrived for lunch and left shortly afterwards it was good to see some real participation by our guys which seemed to be really appreciated by the children and parents. Eric's age belies the number of hours of tennis that he plays to an incredible standard each week. His enthusiasm for all sports was apparent for all to see. Too many councillors see some of their civic duties as a chore. Looking at Eric's beaming face the next day and hearing of his pride for the competitors, I am not sure who got most out of the weekend, the children or Eric. Well done to all three.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

How to keep everyone happy

Sorry, don't read any further if you actually think the answer will be contained within. You will be surely disappointed. I had my first Council surgery yesterday with one taker which was a bonus since it hadn't been advertised. The issue raised was the long awaited 20mph zone in West Street, Carshalton. This has been on the agenda for a number of years but has failed to materialise. I noticed that on the list of items that Sutton Council produce each year to bid for funding, the 20mph zone had disappeared. It was confirmed that this was because the funding was there so no more excuses.

The existing plan, however contains speed bumps to help slow the traffic. These are all situated outside houses that are very close to the road so you can imagine those residents are not happy. There has been one fatal accident and one near-fatal accident in the last few years so something needs to be done. There is agreement in this but not in the method.

West Street is very narrow but is nonetheless an arterial road out of Carshalton. The £150k disaster of the speed bumps in Woodmansterne Road should teach us something. There are alternatives. Flashing signs, speed cameras, signals, something but let's not just get the navvies in to dump their excess tarmac without giving it just a little thought and, surprise us, just a little consultation. I shall certainly be asking everyone what they want. (Feel free to leave a comment here, though it would help to state if you were a resident or not.) Anyway, I have started you off with alternatives in my suggested sign above.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

LibDems redistributing to the rich?

At last night's Area Committee I ventured outside the comfort zone of Carshalton Central to vent my spleen on the Council's cack-handed approach to Section 106 money (sometimes called planning gain, other times called a legal bribe.) Bellway Homes built a development on Rosehill Triangle (next to the St Helier roundabout) and paid £180,000 as a sweetener for the privilege. This was meant for employment opportunities and other items within the Rosehill district. Instead some £27k was used to help fund a Borough-wide employment study. The sole benefit to Rosehill from this study was to say that St Helier hospital was a large and important employer. Now, people would be queuing up at the opportunity to state the obvious on behalf of the Council for a fraction of this cost.

The previous Area Committee demanded the money back for Rosehill. However, the report prepared for the LibDem Strategy Committee airbrushed this demand out. I'm pleased that the Carshalton LibDems agreed with me, though I don't hold out much hope for the panjandrums at Strategy to agree. Though Sutton is one of the most prosperous Boroughs in London, it is often forgotten that St Helier is one of the most deprived wards in the capital. As a result of its location, it often misses out on grants and funding that are available to wider areas of need.

As a free-marketeer supporter of a smaller government I am not keen on much redistribution of wealth at the best of times but redistributing money from St Helier to the richer areas is crazy. I hope that they pay the money back.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Knife Amnesty – Stunt or Solution?

Article written for "The House" Magazine,

This summer’s knife amnesty, the first in over ten years has polarised opinion about its efficacy. Will it have any lasting effect on violent crime? Or is it just a knee-jerk reaction to a few tragic examples highlighted by the media? Home Office figures show that the use of knives in assaults and robberies have reduced by 26% since the last amnesty. Still, knives are the weapon of choice for assailants and robbers and were used in around a third of unlawful killings in 2004-5.

The murders of Thomas ap Rhys Pryce on his doorstep, Thomas Grant and Kiyan Prince killed attempting to stop fights and fifteen year old Alex Mulumba Kamondo have shocked a nation, but who will be the people turning up to dump their weapons in an amnesty? The last exercise in 1995 yielded 40,000 weapons. In the year after the 1993 month-long Scottish amnesty, murders were down by 26%, attempted murders down 19% and weapon possession down by 23%. So we can conclude from this exercise that it had an effect, with increased publicity brought awareness and higher priority from the police brought the realisation that the criminals were taking a risk in carrying weapons.

An amnesty, however, is not enough on its own. Local and national initiatives are required to hammer home the point that if you carry a knife you are likely to be arrested and charged or even have it turned on yourself. In Croydon, a group of actors visited 14 schools including pupil referral units performing a hard-hitting drama entitled “It’s no joke.” Pupils then talked through the consequences of carrying a knife with teachers and police officers. One local Police Inspector organised a crime prevention poster competition in conjunction with Crystal Palace Football Club. The winning design will be displayed throughout Croydon during the summer.

Education and awareness needs to be backed up. Apart from the risk of becoming the victim there must be a strong deterrent and punishment for possession. Conservatives proposed changes to the Violent Crime Reduction Bill designed to raise the sentence for possession of a knife from 2 years to 5. This was opposed by Ministers.

The News of the World printed photos of Alex Mulumba Kamondo posing with gun-carrying gang members. Life on the streets is a balance of risk. Alex and his friends felt as most 15 year old boys feel: invincible. The macho act of carrying a weapon and feeling cool outweighed the risk that they felt from getting hurt or caught.

Government must give the police the tools and support that they need to do the job that is asked of them - enabling them to arrest offenders with a commonsense minimum of bureaucracy and backing it up with a sentence that resonates with offenders.

Yes, promote the amnesty. Some of those 40,000 knives could have ended up at a crime scene. But send the message loud and clear through decisive action - carrying a knife is not a way of making you feel safer and the consequences of arrest are severe.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Company Law Reform

Article written for Chartered Management Institute "Professional Manager" magazine.
The Company Law Reform Bill that was introduced in the House of Lords has since morphed into the Companies Bill as it progressed through the House of Commons committee stage. This reflected the interest and debate on the level of regulation imposed on business within the UK. What started as a reforming Bill ended up as the longest Bill ever to pass through Parliament with more than 1400 amendments. Ironic, really, for a measure designed to slash bureaucracy.

There has been a continuous battle between those who want everything corporate to be tightly regulated leash by Whitehall and laissez-faire free marketeers. But, as usual, the majority seek to find equilibrium in the middle. Business regulations have undoubtedly increased in the last nine years and business taxes are on the march as the Chancellor steers clear of overturning Middle England’s applecart.

I agree with the general thrust of the Bill in reducing red tape but have some concerns with three areas in particular. One clause lays down in some detail the duties expected of a company director. A definitive list of duties runs the real risk of being too proscriptive and inappropriate. How does the role of a director differ from a corner shop owner to that of a multinational executive? Though I do not in any way begrudge accountants and lawyers their living, I would prefer them to be able to earn this in wealth creation for their clients rather than protection from the creeping clutches of the State.

I support Shareholders’ Rights Alliance’s campaign to ensure that shareholders within a nominee account have the same rights as those with a physical share certificate. As well as righting a blatant inequality, this will help deal with my third concern: corporate social responsibility.

More and more individuals are investing in, and doing business with, companies that have a stated social and environmental policy. Ethical trusts, green fuel and Fairtrade products are becoming mainstream choices, not just expensive options attractive only to wealthier “early adopters”. This move benefits both our surroundings and neighbours, encouraging other organisations to look beyond traditional business models and appreciating that a social conscience is not mutually exclusive to profit.

Gordon Brown removed the requirement of companies to produce an operating and financial review on the grounds of cost savings. It is vital that provision is made in the bill for customers and shareholders to have access to substantive, accurate information on a company’s activities. David Cameron has set up an expert working group on corporate social responsibility to examine the ways in which this balance can be achieved. One area of interest is the introduction of lighter regulation for companies with formal responsible business practices. Over-regulation will force larger companies to relocate, leaving smaller businesses, less-able to cope with regulatory burdens. The problem will just move on, with the issue still remaining to be dealt with. Relocation of such companies can also decimate communities leaving a void behind, which can take years to fill. The near-destruction of the British motor industry has given rise to a series of smaller hi-tech companies to absorb much of the workforce but this did not happen overnight and it did not happen everywhere. Foreign companies will be unaffected by this legislation, so it will never transform the area of corporate social responsibility. Government must not be a regulator but a catalyst. It is the responsibility of legislators to protect the environment and our communities but, equally it is our responsibility to know when to stop tinkering.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Five Ways to contact Eric & Paul

We are always keen to hear from our neighbours. In order to make it as easy as possible, there are five ways to contact us.

1. Write to us at Members’ Room, London Borough of Sutton, Civic Offices, St. Nicholas Way, Sutton, Surrey, SM1 1EA

2. Call Paul on 020 8770 5416

3. Email p.scully at

4. Log onto to see what we’re up to and let them know what you think they ought to be up to.

5.Visit us at our surgery held at the Ecology Centre, Festival Walk, Carshalton (north west of the ponds, next to Honeywood Lodge (see picture)) on the 2nd Saturday of the month between 10am and 12pm.

Action on lorries in the Grove

Paul Scully and the Conservatives voted to approve the planning application to convert Paul’s Cash & Carry into residential use at Wednesday’s Development Control meeting bringing an end to the perennial problem of large lorries parking in Carshalton Grove.

Eric Howell said “In the lead up to the election, several residents in Carshalton Grove complained about the lorries and wondered why a previous application had been refused. I am pleased that the road can return to a peaceful state.”

Paul said “I first became aware of the problem whilst speaking to residents back in 2002. Having heard the submissions and examined the plan it was apparent that this helped both the owner of the business and the residents. I asked for assurances that there would be no site fires during construction and checked that a condition would be imposed restricting the hours that the builders could work as it would be jumping out of the frying pan into the fire with food lorries being replaced by night time building trucks."

Let us know what you think.

Tight Squeeze in Bromley

I was up at 4am yesterday to help my friend Bob Neill in Bromley. In the couple of days that I spent there late in the campaign, I could see that it would not be a walkover. Any campaigner will tell you that a message only resonates with the public once you have got bored of repeating it. The two comments that I heard most frequently were "I have never seen so much paperwork and interest in an election here" and "I'm not happy to have an MP that does not live locally."

Bob has pledged to move into the constituency but has represented Bromley for six years now as a London Assembly Member. Local connections are important but these will count for nothing if an MP is not effective. I was appalled by the negative campaigning of the LibDems, who always take a holier-than-thou attitude whilst laying the boot in. The defeated candidate doesn't live in the constituency either, published a photo of him cleaning graffiti only for someone else to notice that the same graffiti was there the day after and claimed to have worked in an orphanage that he, in fact visited for a couple of hours.

None of this would matter if it was part of a wider campaign showing positive messages as to how the lives of Bromley residents would improve by putting their cross next to that candidate's name. Whereas Bob campaigned on crime and back garden development, there wasn't a sniff of a policy in the LibDem literature. It just means that in Carshalton & Wallington we will have to take note and redouble our efforts to explain what differences we can make for all of us.

Finally looking at the wider picture, much of the LibDem gain from a much-reduced turnout was from a squeezed Labour vote which plummeted by over 15% to put Labour in fourth place behind UKIP.

(Photo: Guido Fawkes)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Anne Frank & Me

Last night, my 8 year old daughter and I attended the opening of the "Anne Frank & You" exhibition in Sutton Library. The exhibition was a major coup for the Borough and a testament to the retiring Head of Library Services Trevor Knight OBE, as it is in great demand and so only makes it to a few UK cities each year.

It is aimed at teenagers, though Josie punched the air when her older brother was too ill to accompany me as she had studied Anne Frank at school. Anne's story is familiar to many of us and has been an inspiration to generations following the Holocaust. The exhibition breathes new life into the memories of a teenager balancing a normal teenage life with friends and boyfriends with the horrors of the age, hiding for two years in an annexe in the house in Amsterdam. Photos taken by her father and stepsister provide a remarkable archive, something taken for granted today but a rare view of those years.

Eva Schloss, Anne's stepsister opened the exhibition adding a further insight into the desperation and anguish suffered by so many Jews, though the exhibition itself moves further in drawing parallels with modern-day conflicts such as Ireland and Darfur.

The exhibition is free and in Sutton for a month. If you have the opportunity, take it, enjoy it. You cannot fail to be moved.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Imagine having to go to Blackpool for Council Meetings

Indulge me for a few minutes; you certainly have been indulging the French for sometime now. Strasbourg has hosted a few EU meetings for decades now, but in 1992 member states decided to introduce a system whereby all MEPs decamp to Strasbourg from Brussels for one week a month, 12 times a year. This farcical trip entails hundreds of boxes of MEPs' papers being loaded up and taken the 260 miles from Brussels to Strasbourg. All 732 MEPs have offices in both buildings. Coincidentally (!) this was agreed at the same time that the French were objecting to John Major's attempts to negotiate an opt-out of the social chapter.

Whatever the politics then, this costs us £120m each and every year. The MEPs hate it, the staff hate it. Nobody seems to remember who actually likes it. Several MEPs from all political persuasions have got together in an attempt to compile a 1,000,000 petition across Europe pushing for one single seat of Parliament. They are over halfway to this goal. Help them acheive it by registering your support here.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Messing about on the River

Well in it, actually. As I sit in my relatively comfortable office, it is difficult not to have a pang of guilt when thinking of my fellow ward councillor, Eric Howell (centre, standing) getting his hands dirty whilst cleaning up the River Wandle that runs through our ward. This was one of the events in Sutton's "Take Part, Take Pride" series. We've spent the last few months telling everyone how we wanted to look after the place and so it is good to spend a couple of hours (oh yes, not just a photocall,) keeping it clean.

LibDems in Sutton, as they do across the country, speak as though they have cornered the market in green issues. Although some wrote of David Cameron's "Vote Blue, Go Green" message as touchy-feely spin, the facts do bear out this message. Sutton is feted as a good Council for recycling. They are 36th in the country. Out of the 35 that recycle more than Sutton, 23 are Conservative controlled.

To my mind, one of the most fundamental differences between the Conservatives and the other two parties is that where Labour and LibDem legislate for a world that they would like to see, Conservatives deal with the world as it is, bringing real-world solutions to real-world problems rather than hoping that everyone will fall into their way of thinking and making assumptions in the meantime that rely on everyone falling into line. Tax is an obvious example but we are talking here about the environment so I shall keep off that other thorny subject.

Most of us have an understanding of the need to protect our environment, recycle more and pollute less. Sutton Council have adopted every prototype and pet project that has passed their desk. They ordered several gas-powered refuse trucks at £400k eack. They sat idle as they didn't work. They started a Car share pool called "Urbigo". This ended up as Urbi-won't go as only 14 people or so signed up to the scheme within the first few years. The list is endless. The Council Tax payer is entitled to worry about where his or her money is going when they hear about such waste. Our waste management contract costs around £2m per year more than it should. This equates to the total Council Tax bill for the 1500 houses in the polling district centred on Carshalton Village. Each and every year.

Our spokesman, John Kennedy and his team are always looking at ways that we would use basic commonsense management to reduce this cost substantially. Renegotiating the contract would be a start. Any money saved could be used to cut Council Tax and/or improve our services such as rolling out doorstep glass collection.

Anyway, the Wandle's looking nice. (photo: Sutton Guardian)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Burma. The forgotten country.

My father was born in Burma and came to England when he was 18. My grandparents, uncles and aunts came some years later. Though I have never been, I am immensely proud of my heritage and family history and would dearly love to travel to Rangoon to see the docks where my grandfather worked for the Port Commissioners, the Strand Hotel where my gran collared various government dignitaries whilst working on the reception to persuade them to let my father take a little money with him on his journey to England and the surrounding streets that I have heard so much about. Unfortunately this just cannot happen whilst it is in the grip of one of the most closed, oppressive dictatorships in the world.

For the past few decades Burma has been controlled by military dictatorship. It has sunk from one of the most educated nations in South East Asia to one of the least with its wealth of natural resources being plundered. The last democratically elected leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has spent the last 3 years under house arrest. Minority Ethnic groups are being killed and displaced from their homes.

What is being done? Well, Burma is not as strategic to western nations as it was when Alec Guinness was busy saving the day. The Middle East occupies the minds and the column inches of the West. China have no great desire to involve themselves and ASEAN, the South East Asian group of countries stand by watching. There is an ineffectual Common European Policy which will never have any teeth as long as TOTAL Oil are pumping their £400m investment into the country to pump their oil out. (The French, you might remember, were fuelling the spin that the Iraq invasion was all about American oil interests. Easy to say whilst you are benefitting from child labour, and a dictatorship that pays many of its manual workers in heroin.) The British having left in haste take the view that it is not worth raising the issue as they will not get agreement at the UN Security Council. This is an interesting take on the situation. If that argument was extended to this country, the Conservatives and LibDems would not raise any issue for fear of losing and the Burmese would not be the only ones with a dictatorship. Whilst being demonised elsewhere, it is the US that are the heroes of this piece. They brought the issue of Burma to the Security Council for the first time in years primarily on the basis of a report written by Jared Genser.

Working in the House of Commons, I get the opportunity to go to some very interesting meetings (and many dull ones), none more so than the All Party Parliamentary Group for Burma, chaired by John Bercow MP. At one such meeting last year, we heard from Jared who showed us his report written as part of probono work carried out by Jared and his law firm on behalf of Vaclav Havel and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He examined all past Security Council resolutions and found that there were five precedents for action. They are the overthrow of a democratically-elected goverment, conflict between central government and ethnic factions, widespread internal humanitarian/human rights violations, outflow of refugees and other factors including the spread of HIV/AIDS and drug trafficking. It was shown that out of all of the world's hotspots including Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Rwanda, only Burma satisfied all of these conditions.

This is only the first step in a very long journey. Only yesterday I met a refugee from the Karen who live in the jungle in the East of Burma. She fled the country 10 years ago. At the same time, the British were attending a trade fair in Rangoon. 16,000 of the Karen have been slaughtered or displaced with rape used systematically as a weapon by the military. I can go on, I should go on, but I am late for work and there are others who are more knowledgeable that can tell you more. Please if you do nothing else, get out a map and find out where Burma is. Tell others and collar any decision maker that you come across. Let us shame France and others if need be but we must act and we must act now.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Residents v CAFC - Everyone’s a winner.

Not sure why the photo has purple writing. It didn't when it left my PC. Maybe it's the away logo. Anyway, Eric and I had a meeting last night with the board of directors of Carshalton Athletic and we were both impressed by the positive message that we were given. Relations between the club and its neighbours have been strained to say the least over the last few years. This boiled over when the last chairman submitted plans for a £12m redevelopment of the ground driving a road through a park next to a girls' school, opening out onto a dangerous road and covering allotments with astroturf for floodlit pitches. Suffice to say, the Conservatives sided with the residents. The development never happened and the chairman at the time threatened to liquidate the club's assets. Shortly after this, a new board was formed made up primarily of genuine local Robins fans. I went to the meeting when it was announced that the last chairman was off and I was optimistic about what I heard from the supporters and their intentions to bring the club back to being a local team rather than a rich man's plaything. Their actions since have borne out this optimism. Regular meetings with residents have kept them in the loop and dealt with any complaints and misgivings quickly. There will always be a divergence of opinions between what is good for residents living on the club's doorstep and the club itself but it is a matter of give and take. As the club has been on this ground since 1926, there can't be too many residents that didn't know that it was there. On the other hand, the residents should be able to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the Poet's Estate and expect the club and supporters to respect this. It seems that this difficult balance has now been reached and long may it remain. Eric will be in regular contact with the club as Conservative Spokesman for Sport as well as ward councillor and we are often in touch with the residents in Brookfield Avenue, Mead Crescent and Shirley Avenue. Do let us know if any problems arise or if you have any questions. The chairman, Harry Driver, has offered to meet residents at anytime to tackle issues as they arise.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Is Carshalton really Central?

I used the slightly cheesy slogan "Making Carshalton Central" in my election campaign. I never said I was a Saatchi. It was actually a hand-me-down from Andrew Pelling MP, my boss. He is the MP for Croydon Central - slogan "Putting Croydon First". He had rejected the idea of Making Croydon Central so in this enlightened age of recycling, I pinched it.

Having ridiculed my own slogan, it does sum up nicely what I want to acheive. Carshalton has been my home for 17 years. It is the only place that my children have called home and I still enjoy living there.

The village seems to be unique in South London still retaining a village atmosphere despite the volume of traffic rolling between Croydon and Sutton. I'm sure that I'll come back to this in a future post as it is a perennial problem exacerbated by the narrow parts of the road by the church and the Greyhound pub both overlooking the ponds.

The ward takes in the conservation area of the village, where the idea of the Derby was conceived over a bet at the Greyhound between the Earl of Derby and Lord Bunbury. I'm not sure that the Epsom Bunbury race would have had such a lasting legacy. Carshalton Park hosts a popular summer carnival and one of the largest firework displays in London each year. Stretching over to the west, it takes in a large residential area including the Poets' Estate, a peaceful, pleasant corner of Sutton that has fought off many attempts by developers to change its nature. Long may that last.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Does cyberspace need yet another blog?

Well, no actually. I'm not here to clutter up the web with an ego trip and any old ranting but who knows what'll happen when I stare at the screen for too long and start believing that millions of people worldwide have a rapacious appetite for Carshalton and Scully news.

A blog seems as good a place as any to let people know what I'm up to as Councillor for Carshalton Central. I've been in my role as councillor for a mere 3 weeks. So the more I do for the ward, the more prolific this blog will become. On the other hand, I'll be chuntering on about other things too, so I'll see how it goes. Whether you live in Carshalton, Timbuktu or even Sidcup, let me know what you think.