Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Start of Better Healthcare in Wallington

Mint House is to be extended and improved following planning approval given on the 19th December. The office block on Stanley Park Road, Wallington is owned by one of the GP partnerships practising in Shotfield Health Centre.

The building is not exactly the apogee of good design. The proposal is to add extra floors and to improve the look of the building with new materials. It is an integral part of the "Better Healthcare Closer to Home" programme, whereby Shotfield will be redeveloped to offer better, more extensive healthcare to local residents (unsurprisingly, closer to home.)

The Doctors' practices will move into Mint House whilst Shotfield is rebuilt. At the end of the development, this building will revert to office use, housing the administrative support for the new clinic. Shotfield will provide consulting rooms to enable some outpatient procedures to be carried out on site saving journeys to St Helier and Sutton Hospital. Since my doctor is located here, I'm as keen as anyone to see the improvements over the coming years. The planning application for Shotfield itself is due to be submitted in January.

Councillor Disqualified by Adjudication Panel

Last Thursday saw a hearing by the Adjudication Panel investigating the case brought against Councillor Eleanor Pinfold by the Standards Board of England following a complaint by the Monitoring Officer of Sutton Council. Eleanor was disqualified for twelve months meaning that she has to relinquish her position as councillor for Cheam ward with immediate effect.

The findings of the Independent Adjudication Panel are a serious matter and we will carefully examine ways in which lessons need to be learned. It is appropriate to await Miss Pinfold’s announcement on her right of appeal, or alternatively her intention to accept the findings as they stand, with their attendant penalty.

Further comment, opinion or actions, pending an appeal, may be considered prejudicial at a time when due process is still underway. The Conservative Group adopts the Council’s Code of Conduct as its guide to acceptable behaviour by elected members.

Members of the Conservative Group are individually and collectively bound to obey the spirit and letter of the Code of Conduct. Breaches of the Code of Conduct by members, which result in sanctions against them, are mirrored by corresponding sanctions within the Conservative Group Rules which range from reprimand, suspension or expulsion.

The Conservative Group will make no further comment on this case until it has been fully discharged by either the Independent Adjudication Panel or by the Courts following an appeal.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Local Democracy Still Has A Faint Pulse In Sutton

Earlier this month, the latest Hamptons' development planning application in Worcester Park was unanimously rejected by Sutton Council’s Development Control Committee.

Although it only affects one corner of the Borough, albeit a large corner, it is illustrative of the pressures that we face right the way across Sutton. The Hamptons is a housing development based on a New England, clapperboard design; a cross between Salem's Lot and the play area for the Wall Street Masters of the Universe, that give the development its name. It has been built on an old sewage treatment plant. The developers used the space within the site well, though forgot that people need to get in and out and required other services. Green Lane is the only access road to the estate which feeds onto the main arterial road north of Worcester Park. In rush hour residents immediately join a queue which, although it is only some 300 metres long, takes 45 minutes to pass through.

The latest application received an unprecedented response following the Council’s consultation on the developer’s proposal for a massive increase of 184 homes on the Green Lane site. Councillor Richard Butt and several residents spoke passionately and effectively against the application citing:
· The effects on the local environment.
· The safety and effectiveness of the untested wind turbines proposed for the amenity area.
· The complete absence of a realistic travel plan to address the fact that the surrounding roads are already running at over capacity according to traffic surveys.
· The need for community services on the site, especially as no new GP surgery was proposed despite the dramatic population increase in the area, at a time when it is difficult to get onto a doctor’s list. A new secondary school in Worcester Park is also required.

This was the first time that I have seen a Development Control Committee for just one item. More than one hundred residents attended and forced the Council to listen to you at last. This was a real success for local democracy.

The developers will need to decide whether they want to take the application on appeal to a Planning Inspector or to modify their application and try again. Either way, it is important to defend Worcester Park and Sutton as a whole, against poorly thought-out developments which are likely to have a significantly adverse effect on the local community.

An Almighty QoQ Up

Much has been made of the woes at the Ministry of Defence occasionally run by part-timer Des Browne MP (he is also Minister for Scotland). At a time when our Armed Forces are spread very thinly, the top brass have made their feelings known about the lack of basic equipment for frontline troops.

The unit which came up with the MoD's more advanced weapon was sold in 2003 to US venture capitalists Carlyle, enriching some senior civil servants. Sir John Chisholm, Chief Executive of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) invested £100,000 in the buyout. The organisation was renamed QinetiQ, Sir John saw a profit of £25,000,000. Unsurprisingly, the Public Accounts Committee have been asking questions. This led to an amazing exchange as reported in Private Eye which says much about the current state of Defence spending in this country:-

Richard Bacon MP (Con, S. Norfolk): "Mr Wooley, are you a chartered accountant?"
Trevor Woolley (MoD): "I am not."
Bacon: "Are you a qualified financial person of any kind? Do you have any financial qualifications?"
Woolley: "I do not have financial qualifications."
Bacon: "What is your job?"
Woolley: "I am the finance director of the Ministry of Defence."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Boris is Appealing you to let us know how you would change the future of Sutton. Rather than having a load of Conservative politicians talk amongst ourselves, we thought that it might be a good idea to do what is increasingly a novel idea for politicians; listen to the residents that we are elected to serve. Come to and join us in shaping the future of Sutton.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Follow The Money

Shadow Finance Spokesman, Terry Faulds is leading a sixth group looking into Council finances and constitution. Imaginatively, I have entitled this the Finance and Constitutional Working Group.

This group stands outside the rest of the process insofar as there are no external members. However we still want to hear from you. The group will look at spending implications raised by the other groups. It will also look at ways of improving decision-making within the Local Authority ensuring that people have a real say in council business whilst reducing the red tape that often delays action.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Best Care: Our Quality of Life Policy Group

Continuing this series of introductions, I've turned to our group that will look at healthcare and social services in Sutton. The future of healthcare in the Borough is arguably the biggest political issue at the moment. Despite recent announcements from the PCT, we can be no more confident that we will have suitable facilities in St Helier in the coming years.

This 75 year old building is well past its useful date but is still seeing more facilities being jammed in as other hospitals shrink.The Royal Marsden is internationally renowned and wishes to expand, yet it is hesitant until the future of the Sutton Hospital site is known.

Our social services have been found wanting for a number of years. However, Dr Adi Cooper and her team of officers have brought in a welcome injection of new thought and enthusiasm, something we will be keen to continue to develop. The old idiom states that it is a measure of a civilised society, how they treat their elderly and infirm. We need to ensure that we have the skills to hand to offer the services that are required.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Planning, Transport and Housing

This Policy Group has the largest remit of all. It will also be looking at some of the most visible aspects of Council. Much of Sutton, especially in the smaller outlying villages has real individual character. We must protect this, reducing the number of back gardens lost to opportunistic development. We do have to balance this with meeting the demand for affordable housing. Whilst the building continues, so does the increase in traffic. People will not get out of their cars with no viable alternative. We will tackle transport to keep Sutton moving. Finally, Cllr. Barry Russell summarises the problems surrounding social housing perfectly. We need an inordinate amount of money to bring our housing stock up to anywhere near a decent standard. Whilst repairs are going on we also need to protect the people that have taken advantage of the Right to Buy from disproportionate maintenance charges.

This group seeks to find answers to some massive challenges that need a new approach. Everyone has a view on one or all of these issues. Go to to share yours.

Out of the Shadows

I was pleased to be able to meet a group of residents who had participated in a new initiative started by Beau Fadahunsi of the Sutton Race Equality Council and encouraged by Dennis Bartholomew on behalf of Sutton Council. They had all shadowed a councillor over a few weeks, attending meetings both in Council and also with residents. This gave them a real sense of the role that councillors play in the community and the relevance of the Council in residents' everyday lives.

This meeting came at the end of the process when certificates were awarded to each participant. In our discussion, there was definitely a sense that they would take something away about politics. They were all more likely to vote as a result. Some were interested in becoming school governors, joining political parties and one may even stand as a councillor next time. All those meetings and we still didn't put her off. Must be doing something right I suppose.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Tackling Law & Order

Sutton is one of the safer boroughs in London. However, we are not content with being compared to Tower Hamlets and Croydon, we want to ensure that we are policed in the best way possible. There is a real fear of crime that needs to be addressed so that people can feel safe on the High Streets, in parks and whilst using public transport.

We are lucky to have two retired policemen helping us with our enquiries and a sitting magistrate. It is not enough to look at policing in isolation. This will not lead to a comprehensive approach. It is crucial that we investigate youth provision and education to see what part we can play in keeping young people away from crime and antisocial behaviour in the first place. Philippa Stroud will be sharing her considerable experience in this field to enable us to come up with some ideas that will capture the imagination of young people rather than ticking a box for a national government target.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Now That's What I Call A Cock-Up 25,000,000. Double-CD Set

It's been confirmed that my family's details are on the CDs that are sitting in a dank corner of the office in Newcastle or being used by Doctor Evil to fund his latest attack on civilisation as we know it, depending on who you listen to. I've removed any identifying data from the copy of the letter here but it doesn't make for comforting reading.
I've been the victim of identity theft before, when someone pinched my post from a flat that I was refurbishing, changed the utility bills into their name and obtained a credit card, taking £1000 from the card company. They were very good, speedily correcting the details on file and adding an extra level of security to my credit reference to avoid a repeat. The police, however, were not so helpful. I was told that despite the fact that I had a payslip and other evidence from the fraudster, they weren't interested in using it to investigate further. I hadn't lost out, so it was up to the card company. Remember that, if someone attempts to rob or murder you but doesn't succeed.
25m names in the wild and a jumpy government make for a very different response on this occasion. Police have finished poring over the HMRC offices in Newcastle and they are now appealing to staff to check "in case the package or discs have turned up." Other examples of data security lapses are coming out of the woodwork including details of Benefit claimants sent to the Dept. of Work & Pensions. Seven million of these letters have been sent out. Just look at the details that have been exposed. Our names and dates of birth, including those of the children, our address, NI numbers and bank details. It is unsurprising that there are thousands of people trying to change their bank accounts.

Mystic Miliband

Ten months ago, we all thought that David Miliband had made a massive Freudian slip when appearing on BBC Question Time. In fact, time has shown him to be the greatest crystal ball gazer since Mystic Meg.

He told the bemused audience "I predict that when I come back on this programme in six months or a year's time, people will be saying 'wouldn't it be great to have that Blair back because we can't stand that Gordon Brown'."

Having just received an apology from HM Revenue & Customs and watched the unedifying debacle of the Government trying to wriggle out of their latest donor scandal, I certainly agree with the second half of his quote.

(Click on the photo for the full effect.)

Environment & Community Sustainability

Sorry, the title of this policy group is a bit of a mouthful but it looks at two increasingly important areas of Sutton life. Whether you are an eco-warrior, a so-called "climate change denier" or somewhere in between, there can be little doubt that we have a fundamental responsibility to look after our Borough and thus contribute to the wider protection of the planet. We will look at ways to build on the work already in train here in Sutton.

The most pressing issue that this group will investigate is that of waste management. Recycling targets have been pushed for a number of years. Whitehall is now moving us to landfill targets, minimising the rubbish that is put in the ground. Incredibly stiff penalties are attached to this move with each local authority facing fines of up to £150 for every extra tonne buried, over and above the landfill tax that is rapidly increasing. So, apart from being the right thing to do, we are under massive financial pressure to tackle this problem as a matter of urgency. This will only work if residents continue to be happy to do their bit. We need to find ways that work that are not too onerous.

The second half of the title refers to communities in all of its senses. Whilst many concentrate on Sutton High Street, outlying areas such as Wallington High Street are allowed to become relative ghost towns. We need some joined up thinking to ensure that each geographic area serves its residents well. Also we will look to ensure that everyone can play their part in their community. We will offer fresh support to the voluntary sector to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society can become involved in community life and decision making.

As usual, have a look at for more details on this and all of the policy groups.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Introducing the Education & Training Policy Group

Cllr Peter Wallis points out some of the issues that we need to investigate over the coming year. Yes, we are a top performing education authority, but we have significant pressures that we need to deal with. The five selective schools (and the partially selective Greenshaw) provide the spine for some of the best results in the country. We need to ensure that every child has the opportunity for the very best education. We will look at the role of the Education Authority to ensure that it is performing the role that is required by schools and parents, whilst not involving itself in areas that are best dealt with elsewhere.

Special Educational Needs provision is a particularly acute problem with a major increase in the number of statements for Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). We need more provision within the Borough. At the moment, the Authority is spending a considerable amount of money for private school provision in Kent, Surrey and Hampshire and the budget for transporting children to these schools is overspent by hundreds of thousands of pounds.

This group will also seek innovative ways to protect and enhance our library services and adult learning. Education does not have to stop at 21. Whether you are a teacher, parent or student, let us have your views by going to

Monday, December 03, 2007

Join Us In Changing The Future Of Sutton

Sutton Conservatives have launched a new initiative on an unprecedented scale in local government, to help deliver real change in Sutton with your issues and concerns addressed as a priority. Councils can never stop listening, but all too often in Sutton consultation means an obscure questionnaire or a small advert in Sutton Scene, attracting a handful of responses.

We want to hear from you. We have set up five policy groups consisting of councillors and people from outside politics entirely who have been invited, not because of their political opinions, but because of their expertise and interest in a particular topic. Our Law & Order policy group has two retired policemen and a sitting Magistrate to help advise and lead the inquiry into the fear of crime in the Borough and how we can acheive the very best policing of our High Streets and parks.

You can get involved by post, email or phone through me or your Conservative ward councillor. The main place for discussion will be via our website, where you can see what we are doing and have your say.

Meanwhile, each group will be examining the main topics of discussion within their remit. They will speak to those people actually providing the service, look at initiatives in Councils and other organisations around London and the UK and see what innovation we can bring back to improve the lives of residents here in Sutton. The one thing that will be at the forefront of all of this is value for money. As we approach the annual round of cuts to be announced by the Council, we are only too aware of getting the most out of every pound of taxpayers' money spent.

The five groups are:-
Education & Training
Environment & Community Sustainability
Law & Order
Planning, Transport & Housing
Quality of Life
These are underpinned by a Finance & Constitution working group looking at acheiving real value for money and streamlining decision making in the Local Authority.

This project can only work with your involvement. I hope that you will feel able to give your positive alternatives to shape the Borough that you want to live in. It really doesn't matter what your politics are or if you are even vaguely interested in party politics. We all live in the same Borough, use the same services and pay the same Council Tax. We are all in this together, so please, go to and join us in changing the future of Sutton.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Smash But No Grab

In another of those "You couldn't make it up" events, Sutton Council refused to move this car saying that it wasn't parked dangerously.

Cllr Tony Shields came across this car blocking the pavement near Devonshire Primary School when taking his son on Friday morning. He reported it immediately on his mobile phone. Later that afternoon when he saw that it was still there, he called again.

He was told that if it was still there in two weeks, it would be moved. When this was challenged by Tony, the response came, "how would you feel if your motor was towed away suddenly?"

Tony has challenged LibDem lead councillor Colin Hall over this saying, ""I thought it was outrageous enough that this crashed car was left for an entire working day - let alone two weeks! Primary school pupils had to walk around this wreck into the road, risking life and limb, in order to get to and from school.

"I demand this answer from Councillor Hall: how can this kind of base incompetence exist in a department under his watch? It is a fundamental duty of this Council. Failure to deliver is totally unacceptable."

Update (2nd December, 9.34pm): The Police stepped in and removed the vehicle after some pushing by Cllr Shields.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The LibDems Last Post

The final motion of the last full council meeting was one that we could all agree to. The LibDems sought to protect our post offices from the next round of closures due in 2008. After the next 2500 sites have closed, one-third of the entire network will have closed down in the last decade.

There are only two public "servants" that earn more than an eye-watering £900,000. Both work for Royal Mail. These are the people that have denied communities a vital lifeline in closing so many sub-post offices, they oversaw the ill-fated rebranding to "Consignia" increased the cost of stamps considerably and got rid of the second delivery of post.

I have written before about the politics of envy. I don't begrudge anyone earning a considerable amount of money if they can demonstrate their worth. The postal service has been decimated by the direction of the company under guidance from the government.

There was one main problem with the debate. Royal Mail is still losing money hand over fist. They will not change their minds just because politicians stamp their feet. Paul Burstow and Tom Brake have not stopped the closure of a single post office in Sutton over the last decade, in fact Paul Burstow has managed to lose the entire postal town of Cheam in that time. We need to push for alternatives that will allow the post office to be profitable whilst still remaining open for the vulnerable in our society. I suggested a few ideas including one that the Council can do now.

At a time when Sutton Council is cutting back on the opening hours of its Cash Hall, why not have a Council one-stop shop in some of the sub-post offices. This will enable people to access council services without having to travel to Sutton.

Anyway, the final result was a lot of wringing of hands. The motion was agreed as we all want to protect our services. However, there were no further ideas on what to do next apart from start another petition. I suspect the same methods may bring the same results.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Through Gritted Teeth

Full Council was somewhat unusual last week. If you looked at the headlines of the minutes, you would have thought everything was hunky dory, tickety-boo and the two main parties agreed on everything. This didn't cover the whole story.

After a mixed bag of questions, I proposed a motion, graciously seconded by Council Leader Sean Brennan, asking for the law to be strengthened, making the defacing of a war memorial a specific criminal offence. This follows the appalling theft of the yorkstones surrounding the Carshalton War Memorial just before Remembrance Sunday. A stonemason Samaritan stepped in to replace the stones allowing 250 people to commemorate the fallen. The police apprehended the thief. Anyway, the motion was passed and a clear signal was sent by the Council.

The second motion was moved by my colleague Barry Russell, asking for the Union flag to be flown daily above the Civic Offices and the Mayor to sit under the Borough Coat of Arms rather than the European Flag. An exchange of emails between Barry and Cllr. Tope raised the hoary issue of Health & Safety as the wall above the Mayor contains asbestos within the Artex. Despite this, since there seemed to be a willingness to get this change made, we amended the motion to allow further investigation of costs etc. Failing this, I'm sure one or two of our larger councillors can do the heavy lifting with the requsite safety equipment. I'll cover the LibDem motions in the next post which should have been straightforward but became flashpoints despite the fact that we all agreed in the end.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Meeting Carshalton College

Shortly before the full Council Meeting last Monday, I met some students from Carshalton College. The majority intended to follow their course in public services by joining the police.

They hadn't schlepped across Sutton just to see me. Sean Brennan, the Leader of the Council and Claire and Rachel from the Sutton Youth Parliament are pictured as well. They had also met our Chief Executive, Paul Martin, had a tour of the Civic Offices and watched part of the Council meeting (that's dedication for you!).

We told them a little about how we fitted into the structure of the Council and discussed some of the local political issues. It is good that they are able to take the opportunity to see what goes on in their name locally. Although national government grabs all the headlines, local government provides most of the very visible services that people use on a day to day basis. It is the council that empties the bins, maintains the pavements and roads, determines what the neighbourhood should look like through planning and, so often charges you through the nose for this with the annual Council Tax demand. It might not be the sexiest type of politics, but it's worth keeping an eye on. The enthusiasm of their tutor, Phillip Taylor was apparent and I am sure will give his students a grounding in the political basics which will remain with them for sometime to come.

Friday, November 16, 2007

MP Too Busy To Do Her Job?

There was a strange exchange in the House of Commons yesterday. A change to the format has allowed MPs to ask for a topical debate. This takes the form of a general debate about a current issue without a vote at the end. Yesterday's debate was on immigration.

Damian Green, Shadow Minister for Immigration, was rightly highlighting the latest scandal to hit the Home Office when Lyn Brown, Labour MP for West Ham said,

"Could the hon. Gentleman let me know whether he is going to debate immigration today? If he is, I am happy to stay and listen; if he is not, I have letters to sign."

Two things struck me. Firstly does she ever write any letters or merely sign off other people's work. Secondly have her constituents put her in Parliament to sign letters or to represent their views on the important matters of the day.

This was the news that up to 5000 people working in high-profile security positions may be illegal immigrants and the fact that Jacqui Smith, Secretary of State promptly ordered her civil servants to cover up the story.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Seb Coe Explodes at Cost of Olympics

This photo courtesy of the Press Association shows the fire near the Olympic site as shown from Westminster Bridge. With the 2012 stadium costing a cool £496,000,000 to build, no-one would have been surprised to hear "It costs how much?" echoing around Stratford as smoke poured from Seb's ears.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sutton Supporting Our Services

I met Peter Bruinvels at my second remembrance service today, who looks after the British Legion in Surrey and South London. He was pleased with the turnout at the Civic ceremony at the War Memorial in Cheam and the service in St Dunstan's Church. He informed me that the Borough of Sutton collected the second highest amount in his area, raising around £90,000 for our veterans.

This is a fantastic amount of money even if some of us do end up buying several poppies because we lose them or a BBC journalist forgets to return them:)

The Legion has run a very powerful campaign to push the government to honour the 'Military Covenant'. We ask the armed forces to protect our freedom and security by doing things that we just simply would never imagine doing. The government is being pressed to keep its end of the bargain by ensuring that they have the kit and manpower that they require, the family support and accommodation that they deserve, and the best medical care that we can give. This is something that I wholeheartedly back as I am sure that you do.

...And Tories Restore Tradition

BBC London picked up on the story about cutbacks in services ending the traditional marking of the 2 minute silence and put it as their main headline on Saturday evening. By the time ITV called the police whilst researching the story, they were told that the firing of two maroons at 11am and 11.02am would go ahead. Rumours that since they couldn't fire Sir Ian Blair, someone wanted to fire something were wide of the mark. Anyway, job done, sanity restored.

I went to the ceremony at the war memorial on Carshalton ponds this morning and joined around 250 people in paying tribute to those who enable us to have the freedoms that we enjoy today. This blog is one such freedom. I'll finish with a passage that was read by Father John Thewlis of All Saints Church, Carshalton who lead the ceremony. It is the Kohima Epitaph on the World War II memorial for the Allied fallen at the battle of Kohima, a crucial battle in the Burma campaign.

"When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today."

Friday, November 09, 2007

Health & Safety ends Sutton Remembrance Tradition

The Evening Standard reported today of a sad end of a tradition in Sutton. In years past, Maroon rockets have been fired in local parks to signal the beginning and the end of the two minute silence on Rembrance Day. The loud fireworks were lit by members of the Sutton Parks Police, the unit that was axed earlier this year to cut Council costs. They have been replaced by a dedicated team from the Met Police who have claimed that they cannot use the maroons on Health & Safety grounds.

Coming a week after £20,000+ worth of fireworks were lit in Carshalton Park with hundreds of people watching close by, I am more than a little taken aback by this. You can see the whole article by clicking on the picture, but I'll just quote my colleague, Cllr. Barry Russell who said

"I don't know why we are pandering to the health and safety brigade on what is a very important day. The cost is absolutely negligible and I know of very few people who wouldn't say that this is the least we can do when you think about the price that our servicemen and women paid for us.

"I don't think the fact is widely known yet but when it is there are a lot of people who will be truly incensed. I can understand that the Met are concerned about health and safety at the moment but this is ridiculous."

Well, the fact is wider known now. Let me know how you feel.

I Couldn't Believe My Mince Pies

...when I read the list of most ridiculous laws as compiled by the Daily Mail. As we approach December, I'll have to remember to watch out for the Christmas sweetmeats police as I tuck into my dinner on the 25th.

Law abiding as I am, I do try to keep to the first law by not dying at work. This has its origins in the fact that Parliament is still classed as a royal palace. Anyone that is unfortunate enough to keel over in the Chamber or its environs will be reported as dying on the way to St Thomas' Hospital which is on the other side of Westminster Bridge.

Here's the list in full:-
  1. It is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament
  2. It is an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing the British monarch upside-down
  3. In Liverpool, it is illegal for a woman to be topless except as a clerk in a tropical fish store
  4. Mince pies cannot be eaten on Christmas Day
  5. In Scotland, if someone knocks on your door and requires the use of your toilet, you must let them enter
  6. A pregnant woman can legally relieve herself anywhere she wants, including in a policeman's helmet
  7. The head of any dead whale found on the British coast automatically becomes the property of the king, and the tail of the queen
  8. It is illegal to avoid telling the tax man anything you do not want him to know, but legal not to tell him information you do not mind him knowing
  9. It is illegal to enter the Houses of Parliament in a suit of armour
  10. In the city of York it is legal to murder a Scotsman within the ancient city walls, but only if he is carrying a bow and arrow

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Collateral Damage at the Home Office

I'm currently reading the Bumper Book of Government Waste 2008 by Matthew Elliot of the Taxpayers' Alliance and Dr Lee Rotherham. It's an excellent piece of research and amusing too (rare for a political tome) so forgive me if I quote a few sections over the next few days. Here's two about the Home Office:-

"Not that its job is always straightforward. It includes keeping a lookout for members of the 14th Waffen SS Division who are still knocking about, sixty years after the end of World War 2. Apparently, there are 1,450 former storm troopers on our streets. As a Home Office Minister explained, "The Metropolitan Police visited a sample of 13 former members in 2005 to ascertain any information about crimes against humanity but no such crimes were disclosed." You don't say."

"The Home Office is also, we understand, the lead department for tackling a number of designated gang units. However, due to Health and Safety risk assessments, members aren't allowed to actually go out and meet the gangs. They leave this to unpaid volunteers, who are deemed expendable."

No Deals in Smoke-Filled Rooms

The Libdems don't do deals in smoke-filled rooms. Mainly on the basis that the smoking ban ensures they have to think again. Last Monday, Sutton LibDems held a secretive group meeting to update their backbench councillors about the deep cuts to services that they
have planned. When we asked for a similar briefing, we were told that there was no such meeting. The master copy of the list of room bookings showed an entry to reserve the largest meeting room for a LibDem update with an additional instruction not to put this up on the screen by the front door of the Civic Offices with details of the other meetings of the day.
It is true that the Local Government Settlement given by the government, which makes up the largest portion of the Council's income is poor. The Chancellor announced a 1% real terms increase in an already low settlement and yet expected Council Tax increases to be minimal. With the spending restrictions that he places on the grants given, he is living on another planet if he truly believes that is feasible. This having been said, Sutton Council's budget has scope for restructuring to cut waste and inefficient spending before even looking at changes to primary services. Years of self-congratulation about how well the LibDems have managed the accounts in better times precludes them from admitting that they haven't got things right in those comparative years of plenty.
If there are to be significant cuts, we should all be told as soon as possible. We can't go on with the usual dance each year, when the LibDems drip feed a few dramatic figures at this of year only to "save the day" in the Spring. Last year we suffered the second highest Council Tax in London. The previous year, only a last minute climbdown by the ruling group avoided capping. What'll happen this year? Who knows? One thing for sure, it won't be pretty.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Staring At The Bottom Of A Bottle

This morning we have woken up to the news that Councils are calling for more cash from the Government because of immigration, Heather McCartney has had an outpouring of emotion on every television channel to explain that she doesn't like her media coverage and, stop the press, the breaking news by the BBC that Gerry McCann has returned to work.

It could have been different. Today is the day that I should have been up at some unearthly hour to remind a few thousand people of the Conservative message. Early tomorrow morning, Ken Andrew and Philippa Stroud would have been able to add the initials MP after their name. Yes, today the day for the Election that never was. The clunking fist has become the ham fist in the last few weeks, resulting in the polls showing a clear Conservative lead that would seriously have threatened Labour's majority.

We will just have to wait for another couple of years, whilst Gordon's vision pans out signing up to the European Constitution Treaty, introducing watered down policies from the Tories and Liberals, failing to tackle immigration and performing a few more u-turns when under pressure such as the reversals on the proposed cash grab on the budgets of prudent schools and the whopping 80% increase in Capital Gains Tax for small businesses.

Perhaps Gordon Brown's biggest mistake was to annoy the Press. His controversial statement in Basra of troop reductions was made to just two broadcast journalists and his announcement that he was not calling an election was made to his "pet broadcaster" as described by Daisy McAndrew, Chief Political Correspondent at ITN. They smell blood and will continue to harry him for sometime to come.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

An Almighty Clock-Up

Last Saturday the clocks went back...sorry, what did you say? It should have been Sunday? Well I know that, you know that. Unfortunately for some, Sutton Council's Parking Services didn't. Eighteen parking meters had their clocks turned back during Saturday resulting in at least one resident who had to spend extra on another ticket.

When the Lead Councillor for Parking Services , Colin Hall, was discussing the matter with two of our councillors on Tuesday in the Civic Offices, it had to be pointed out to him that the clock in the room had not been changed a full three days after British Summertime had finished.

The parking mistake is not the first. Fifty three parking tickets were issued on New Year's Day after Councillor Hall had assured residents that parking charges would not be levied on public holidays.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Salisbury Road Orchard Reprieve

As many residents in the Salisbury Road and Carshalton Park Road area will know, the site of 32a Salisbury Road was an orchard. I have written before how the open green space created by the layout of neighbouring gardens has maintained this heritage. The recent application to build four houses on it has been rejected. Although I wrote to neighbours a little while ago, it is worth detailing the reasons for refusal in order to combat similar inappropriate developments:-

(1) The proposals by reason of plot size, scale and building form would be out of keeping with the prevailing character of the surrounding residential area, and be harmful to its character and appearance. The application is therefore contrary to Policies BE1, and HSG1 of the Sutton Unitary Development Plan.
(2) The proposed development by reason of its scale and backland siting, would have an adverse effect on the amenities and outlook currently enjoyed by neighbouring residents contrary to policies BE14, BE18 and HSG1 of the Sutton Unitary Development Plan.
(3) The drawing no(s). relating to this decision is/are LBS01, SR-1-102, SR-1-103, SR-1-104, Design and Access Statement.
(4) The proposed development would provide a poor standard of accommodation for future occupiers through the likely substandard size of proposed bedrooms, bathrooms, and living/dining/kitchen areas, contrary to Supplementary Planning Guidance 7 - Internal Housing Standards.
(5) The proposed development would lead to an increase in traffic movements to and from the existing rear access with substandard width, inadequate geometry and layout, which would cause danger and inconvenience to all users of the proposed access. The application is therefore contrary to policies TR21 and TR29 of the Sutton Unitary Development Plan, and Supplementary Planning Guidance 12 - Design for the Layout of New Streets.

The applicants are able to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol so the battle is not yet over. Thanks to everyone who sent their objections to the Council.

Monday, October 15, 2007

BBC Should Have Gone To Specsavers

In the week that Political Correctness came to Sutton, the BBC showed that they still had what it takes. The newspapers have been covering the story of the sacking of Peter Fincham, the BBC Executive who has been made scapegoat for the dodgy editing of the documentary about the Queen. Speculation suggestst that he has taken the rap for the most senior woman at the BBC, Jana Bennett, Director of Vision.

Why has no-one asked the obvious question which is what on earth is a Director of Vision? Since the BBC is still largely a television company, I would have thought the vision thing would have been a given. Oh well, someone ask the monkey.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Keynote Speaker at UKIP Conference

Whilst I'm enjoying some partisan party politics, someone sent me this clip from last week's UKIP party conference. Not sure about the bit when he claims that UKIP MEP, Godfrey Bloom stood on his head but at least he was allowed to say his bit. Hurrah for freedom of speech.

Save Our Seats

This table appeared on Electoral Calculus yesterday. This is a website that averages out recent polls to make a prediction on how many seats would be won at a General Election.

Maybe it was the dismal news for the LibDems that led to this
call for reinforcements?

Surely, I'm allowed a political free hit every now and again?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Totem Pole Caption Competition

You may have seen this competition featured on the front page of last week's Sutton Guardian or in my last ward newsletter.
Regular readers will know that the totem poles are my pet subject with £23,000 of taxpayers' money (via landfill tax credits not council tax, but taxpayers' money nonetheless) wasted on public art looking out of place opposite a hospital that is in danger of closure through a lack of cash. At the last council meeting we were told that we shouldn't refer to them as Totem Poles for fear of offending Indigenous North American natives.
Imaginary offence to North American Indians is not a reason to rename them. Maybe the fact that they haven't got a series of heads sitting on top of each other is reason enough. Let me know what they should be called. The best entry as judged by me wins a bottle of House of Commons Whisky signed by David Cameron. Send your entries to (substitute the AT for the usual sign, I don't want a whole load of spam in the meantime.) Leave a suggestion or two in the comments section as well.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Burma Updated

On the day that people marched through Westminster to continue the protests against the atrocities against peaceful demonstrators in Burma, an article went up on the Sutton Guardian website about my experience at the Burmese Embassy at the end of September. I am very grateful to journalist Heather Darlington and the Sutton Guardian to diverting from their normal diet of local news to highlight such an event. You can read the article here.

I edited my previous video in a hurry before rushing to Blackpool so I have re-edited it with better sound. You can watch it here. Finally whilst I'm linking to everyone, have a quick scoot around the Burma Campaign UK website to see how you can add your voice.

Farage Joins Cameron's Conservatives?

Iain Dale reports that Sam Farage, son of UKIP leader and MEP Nigel, has joined Exeter University branch of Conservative Future. One sensible chap in the family then.

One Brown Bottler Sitting On The Wall

Gordon Brown hasn't exactly covered himself in glory this week. Having just published a book called "Courage", he chooses not to show any himself in ducking an election.

It has been an unedifying sight to see the Prime Minister allow election fever to continue in the media and in Westminster when he could have snuffed it out weeks ago. His trip to Iraq during the Tory Party Conference was nothing but electioneering as illustrated by the announcement that he was bringing 1000 soldiers home, depite the fact that 500 of these had already been announced and 270 were already home. The following day he "opened" a new medical centre in Basildon that had, in fact, opened three months earlier.

He has now alienated many journalists as evidenced by ITN's Daisy McAndrew telling viewers that GB had called his "pet interviewer" (Andrew Marr) into No. 10 to tell him that there would be no election. In this interview he assures us that he never meant to have an election all along and that the polls showing a 7% swing in a single week, had no bearing on his decision. These polls included one for the News of the World showing the Conservatives ahead in the marginal seats that will swing an election. He has spent the first 100 days trying to show himself as a Statesman, dealing with admittedly difficult situations such as the terror attacks, the floods and foot and mouth. However he has undone this work in a few crazy days, when he has shown that when push comes to shove, he is just another politico that wants to play party politics. Unlike the previous situations, his love of party politics meant that he found himself like a child in a sweet shop unable to resist the temptation.

Two things shine out from this debacle. Firstly, if the PM can treat the truth and therefore the public with such disdain and condescension what will he be doing when it comes to other serious state affairs. Secondly, he has confirmed what those in Westminster knew, that he is cautious to the point of losing his best opportunity to win. This happened in 1994 when he did not contest the Labour leadership after the untimely death on John Smith and haunted him through the Blair years. The Conservative Party now has plenty of time to complete its policy review and come up with a comprehensive plan for change over and above the excellent proposals for cutting Inheritance Tax and Stamp Duty. Things won't be getting any better for Gordon.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Resignation Is In The Post

So, the postal strike by the Communication Workers Union (CWU) began today against modernisation of the postal service. The Royal Mail loses 5p per letter delivered but the unions want to keep their heads in the sand. Instead of efficiency savings, the net result is further cuts in Post Offices hitting the elderly and those in rural areas hardest.

I daresay, the same people will be selling copies of the Socialist Worker that I saw at the protest outside the Burmese Embassy. It was indicative of their headstrong failure to keep a sense of reality that they failed to see the irony of the fact that we were protesting against a socialist dictatorship.

Meanwhile Bob Crow is still flexing his muscles with his London Underground colleagues and the Local Government Pay award has not been agreed. Should be an interesting winter.

Picture: Beau Bo D'Or

Monday, October 01, 2007

Business Questions

Last Monday, I sat on a panel for a Business Question Time session organised by Sutton Council and Sutton Business Forum. The other panellists were local MPs Paul Burstow and Tom Brake, council leader Sean Brennan and Roger Mills, MD of Newsquest, the publishers of the Sutton Guardian.

Although it wasn't the bearpit of television's Question Time, there were clear differences in our approach to Sutton High Street. Tom Brake advocated taxing the pubs on the High Street. Whereas I believe that it is a good idea for the businesses to take on more responsibility in keeping their neighbourhood safe and tidy, simply taxing them smacks of the politics of envy. He explained weakly that the large pub chains make a massive profit, they could afford it. This fails to take into account that such a move only perpetuates these faceless corporations making our town centres identikit High Streets. How would a single landlord survive such a move? Back to the drawing board for that policy, Tom.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Shoulder to Shoulder with Burma

On Friday I went to the Burmese Embassy in London to stand alongside exiles and ex-pat Burmese to protest at the brutal treatment of those protestors in Rangoon, the Burmese capital. I have never been to a demo before. Despite the many campaigns that I feel passionate about that have held demonstrations, I have never got up off my comfy chair to join them. Regular readers will remember that one of my first articles was about Burma. As the son of a man who came to this country from Rangoon to make a future for himself, I simply must do everything and anything that I can to support the people that have helped shape who I am.

From the days when my grandfather was in charge of the "scorch and burn" policy on Rangoon docks, destroying the ships and infrastructure that he had worked on for so many years to keep them from Japanese control in the Second World War to the detention of a family friend in Insein jail for four years with no charge or offence committed, the stories that I have been brought up with would make some reading. This having been said, all of my uncles and aunts are united about one thing; their childhood was an incredibly happy one. The memories of the excitement of childhood in a pleasant and prosperous city just make the pictures of the destruction of their birthplace all the more distressing. Just remember that this has been going on for over forty years. Whilst most people only know Burma from war films, a country that is rich in resources previously with one of the most educated populations in South East Asia has been reduced to penury, declared as the least developed country in the world and suffers systematic genocide. Still the United Nations remains impotent and useless thanks to the Chinese and Russians who sell weapons to the regime and other countries like South Africa who voted against a UN resolution earlier this year. This cynical move was to push a point home about the United Nations in general rather than anything about Burma. Yet it condemned thousands of people to further torture, imprisonment and death. If only the South Africans could see the people from Chin State that have been repeatedly stabbed before being thrown into salt water or the Karen people that have been gang-raped in front of their families before the men were killed and their villages razed to the ground.

Please spend a few minutes to watch the video. YouTube, blogging and mobile phones have made possible the pictures that we see on the news. I have had contact from someone in Thailand about my previous article. This blog was started and the prime purpose remains to make Carshalton central but we cannot underestimate the power of communication reaching across the world from our small part of South London. Several of the people that I spoke to had heard from people in Rangoon over the last few days including one man featured on the film who could hear the shots of automatic weapons over the phone as he spoke. I am so pleased that I went. The impact that it made on me was enormous, witnessing at first hand the passion and solidarity of the campaigners there and the calm of the Buddhist monks who led prayers shook me to the core.

Go to the Burma Campaign website and see what you can do. A little time from you will make an enormous contribution to the people of this country that is so often forgotten. If you have a profile on Facebook you can offer your support here. I dearly want to visit Rangoon, there are still members of my extended family there. But I cannot until the military dictatorship is removed and Burma is reclaimed from the tyrants.

Blogging Award

Iain Dale has published a guide to political blogging. Thanks to your votes, I am featured as the 155th best political blog in the UK. Never have I been so chuffed at being 155th at anything. I'll keep on working at it and, who knows, might reach the dizzy heights of 154th next year.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Brown...

The Sun reacted to Gordon Brown's speech in their usual unmatched style and wit. This "Dad's Army" graphic says it all.

In case you can't read it, the "What They Said" section reads:-

'The substance of the Constitution is preserved. That is a fact.' Angela Merkel, German Chancellor.

'We have not let a single substantial point of the Constitutional Treaty go. This is a project of foundational character, a treaty for a new Europe.' Jose Zapatero, Spanish PM.

'90 per cent of it is still there. These changes haven't made any dramatic changes to the substance of what was agreed back in 2004.' Bertie Ahern, Irish Taoiseach.

'Only cosmetic changes were made and the basic document remains the same.' Vaclav Klaus, Czech President.

'There's nothing from the original institutional package that has been changed.' Astrid Thars, Finnish Europe Minister.

'The good thing is...that all of the symbolic elements have gone, and that which really matters - the core - is left.' Anders Fogh Rassmusen, Danish PM.

'The original treaty for a Constitution was maintained in substance.' Austrian Government website.

'The new treaty takes up the most important elements of the constitutional project.'
Guy Verhofstadt, Belgian PM.

Despite this, Gordon Brown insists that the treaty is very different and is prepared to break his manifesto commitment by denying the British people a chance to have their say in a referendum. He insists that his red herrings lines were met. These happen to be the same red lines that were drawn in the original constitutional negotiations.

At the time of writing, 99,332 people have signed up to the Daily Telegraph petition demanding a referendum on the EU Constitution Treaty. You can join them here.

7,683 have joined in with the Sun's version here.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

No New Hospital for Sutton

Recently, councillors and MPs received a letter from the NHS explaining the fact that having spent millions on deciding where to build a new hospital, we wouldn't get one after all. Instead St Helier will see more buildings crammed on the fast disintegrating site. It looks as though maternity will move wholesale to St Helier with improved women's and children's services. A redesigned A&E is far too vague for my liking.

Conservative Parliamentary Candidates, Ken Andrew (Carshalton & Wallington) and Philippa Stroud (Sutton & Cheam) have called for:-

  • Clarity in stating when the Trust will be free of its current crippling debt, so that it can concentrate on having a new hospital built in St Helier.
  • An absolute commitment that Sutton Hospital will continue to provide community healthcare.
  • Support for the Royal Marsden to develop their site and enable them to continue to be respected as world leaders in the care and cure of cancer patients.
Here's the letter in full.

Dear Colleague,
We are shortly to begin the next round of stakeholder briefings on the progress the programme has made over the summer and what the next steps will be. I wanted to give you advance notice of the position we shall be setting out to stakeholders, and Mark Easton, the Better Healthcare Programme Director, will
be following up this letter with telephone calls to your offices to book a conversation with you.

As far as the development of the general hospital is concerned, we have received a report demonstrating that a totally new built hospital on either the Sutton or St Helier sites now looks to be unaffordable under the NHS capital regime. The margin of unaffordability is such that there is no prospect of bridging
the gap.

We have also looked at a mixed new build and refurbishment option at St Helier, moving most bed and outpatient facilities into a new building replacing Fergusson House, and upgrading the main building. The cost of this option would be less than new build, and while there is still an affordability gap, it is much less than other options we have looked at.

All these options have been modelled on the assumption that Epsom hospital becomes a large local care centre as previously envisaged by the programme. However, Surrey Primary Care Trust has confirmed its intention to go to public consultation on its Fit for the Future programme in late September, subject to
South East Coast Strategic Health Authority's quality assurance. As a result of the Fit for the Future acute commissioning intentions, Surrey PCT will not be formally consulting, at this point, on any changes at Epsom hospital.

In addition, at its recent board meeting, the PCT took the decision to join the forthcoming London-wide consultation on Professor Sir Ara Darzi's report Healthcare for London: A Framework for Action which is expected to begin this November. The board took that decision to ensure that the views of Surrey
residents, in particular those around the Epsom area, are heard in regard to
London's healthcare services.

In parallel with the work being taken forward on A Framework for Action Surrey PCT, Sutton and Merton PCT and Epsom and St Helier NHS Trust have agreed to work together to develop options for changes to maternity and paediatrics on both sites, in an open and transparent way with staff, patients, members of the
public and yourselves.

While questions remain about patient flows from Epsom the final size and content of both sites will remain uncertain. We are therefore following the principle of moving forward as quickly as we can on the elements of the Better Healthcare Programme that we can progress.

We are not commissioning further work on the new build options for the general hospital and we are concentrating on coming up with the right solution for improving St Helier hospital. This would need to be phased and have a number of elements: a short term investment of £1.45m to upgrade women and children's services; the development of a local care centre on the site (which would include outpatient services and a re-designed A&E department); and a new ward block within the affordability envelope we have established, subject to confirmation of its feasibility.

We have also established there is sufficient space to develop a new inpatient mental health facility on the site. This is an option which forms part of a wider assessment being undertaken by SWL & St George's Mental Health Trust for the location of mental health services in Sutton and Merton.

Regarding the four local care centres proposed at St Helier, Nelson, Wilson and Wallington, we will now finalise the business case for them so that we can move as quickly as possible to the next phase. We also want to explore the feasibility of developing new community and primary care services on the Sutton site, in
conjunction with the Royal Marsden Hospital.

These developments will be subject to NHS business case requirements. We do not believe that anything we are currently proposing will require formal consultation as it builds on earlier proposals that had already been subject to consultation, but we will discuss this further with the JOSC. Meanwhile, we are keen to continue to engage with all stakeholders in the development of our plans.

I hope this has made the position clear. Mark Easton, Programme Director, will
in any event be contacting your office to arrange a time to speak to you.

Yours sincerely,
Caroline Taylor
Programme Sponsor
Better Healthcare Closer to Home

Part of the Union

An excellent video, highlighting a ridiculous imbalanced embodied by a Scottish Prime Minister who cannot affect Healthcare or Education in his own constituency but deigns to tell us what we can have. I fear that the English Parliament that the campaign calls for will be an extra layer of bureaucracy, but we must have at the very least a situation when English laws are voted on by English MPs.

BBC Socksgate

The Sunday Telegraph has a feature article about the latest phone-in 'scandal' at the BBC. Is it me or are they acting like rabbits in the proverbial headlights? With the recent editing problems, they seem to be taking reality television to new levels by beating themselves up about the fact that not everything in TV is exactly as in real life.

People have lost their jobs because they ignored the winning entry in a competition to name the new Blue Peter cat and called it "Socks" instead of "Cookie". Management have been quoted as saying that it is unfair on youngsters to ignore their wishes. Further examination suggests that it is because there was a suspicious late surge for Cookie and that this might have lewd connotations for some youngsters. Sounds like a biscuit to me, but then I haven't been a child for a while. Nonetheless, I would have thought that this would be easy to investigate. In 1962 Blue Peter introduced a dog called Petra. The dog that eventually died in 1970 was not Petra as the original had died soon after its first appearance and was replaced by a near-identical dog. The BBC did not see fit to sack Peter Purves or anyone else at this time.

What is more of a issue to be clamped down on is why children were still able to telephone and be charged after the decision was made. Surely it is not beyond the wit of the production team to close the line, making it impossible for people to get through. This is incompetence that simply plays on the latest craze of phoning into every television show possible, thus enriching the telecoms companies that handle the calls.

Now, unless the BBC can tell me how they got those hippos to swim in a circle, I want a refund on my telly licence!

Boris Johnson in Sutton

Boris Johnson came to Sutton this week as part of his continuing campaign to become the Conservative candidate for the London Mayoral elections to be held next year.

I have never seen such a warm welcome for any politician to Sutton. People were thrilled to meet a man who is so familiar to many that his campaign logo is his distinct silhouette and needs no surname. Ken Livingstone has visited Sutton once since he was elected last. He did not speak to a single resident, instead choosing to surround himself with journalists and lackeys. In stark contrast, Boris ensured that everyone that wanted to meet him aired their views thoroughly. Camera phones were the order of the day as people of all ages wanted a photo to show their friends. He visited Pearsons cycle shop and discussed bike theft and then willingly allowed himself to be pulled into Sussex Stationers to sign their entire collection of Boris books.

After the speech that you can see in the video below, two members of the Sutton North Safer Neighbourhood Team kindly took Boris and a small army around Manor Park discussing anti-social behaviour and policing methods. The visit showed Boris at his best, his jokes and bumbling image balanced with a sharp mind and an openness to listen rather than pontificate in an uninformed manner like too many other poiticians.

There are four candidates for the nominations, Boris, Andrew Boff, Victoria Borwick, Warwick Lightfoot. The result will be announced on Thursday.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Tea Ban in Manchester

Mums visiting a council-run nursery in Manchester have been told that they cannot
have a cuppa due to Health and Safety fears.
Alexandra Park Community Centre will continue to serve juice and water but will not make hot drinks in case children are scalded. In reality, the Labour-run Manchester City Council are worried about being sued.
For goodness sake, the nanny state seems to move ever closer to running every aspect of our lives, taking away all decisions that we might make for ourselves. Will there be nurseries across the City with mothers huddled up outside with flasks, in much the same way as we see smokers outside pubs?
A council spokesman said: “Like all other children’s centres across the city, it is considered good practice not to have hot drinks in areas where children are playing in terms of health and safety and the potential for accidents. Parents are very welcome to make a hot drink in kitchen areas as long as they drink it either in the kitchen or in another appropriate designated area away from the children in order to eliminate any risk to children or indeed other adults.” I'm glad that cleared that up then. As a parent of two, I'm not sure that I needed a jobsworth being paid by the taxpayer to tell me that I shouldn't spill tea on my children. Full story on the Daily Express website here.
Have you seen any political correctness closer to home? Let me know in the comments section.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Eurosceptic Barroso?

Jose Manuel Barroso addressed the LibDem conference in Brighton this week. His English is excellent, though I did have to listen again when he concluded by saying that "The more the UK lead the debate, the more they will get out of Europe."

Isn't that what the Better Off Out campaign have been saying for a while now!

Hammer Time with Ming

No, he isn't rapping in baggy trousers. In between dodging the leadership questions coming in from all directions, Ming the Merciless has decided that the rich have done "too well" under this government and so has decided to "hammer the rich" with his proposed tax changes.

Conveniently, he has pitched his definition of rich at those earning £70,000 pa, just above an MP's salary, but including a household containing two policemen, junior doctors or some teachers.

The politics of envy makes for bad legislation. Political parties must exist to help everyone, not just pitch in the middle of a modern class warfare based on income levels. Tax levels need to be fair to everybody, sharing the burden and protecting the vulnerable.

Have you done too well under this government? Answers on a post-it note please...

Friday, September 14, 2007

How to Reduce Crime Figures in Hammersmith

Sam Mc Alister was distracted whilst getting a coffee in Starbucks. She then discovered that her bag had been taken off the back of her pushchair. The 34 year old ran out of the cafe and challenged the woman that had accompanied the man who had pushed in front of her, thus taking her attention away from her bag. After a struggle, she managed to recover her bag which contained her purse, house keys and other essentials.

Ms McAlister went with a PCSO to the police station to report the crime. The shock that she already felt was multiplied when the desk officer told her that no crime had been committed since she got the bag back!

Fortunately Ms McAlister is a former criminal barrister and explained the law, which doesn't actually require several years at University and being called to the Bar to appreciate, i.e. if someone deliberately takes your bag away from you in a cafe, Starbucks or not, a crime has quite definitely been committed. An hour later, the officer made the concession that it was attempted theft.

I can only imagine that the ever-increasing bureaucracy that the police face, drove the officer to make this clearly erroneous decision. Either that or she is a close relative of Jacqui Smith, the new Home Secretary.

Queen's English 'innit

Interesting statistic in Private Eye this week. The government are proposing that all migrant workers should be able to speak English to a standard of GCSE grade C or above. They estimate that 36.8% of immigrants would fail this.

Compare this to the 47.8% of students in the UK who did not pass GCSE English at grade C or above.

Maybe we need a little less headline-grabbing and a little more joined up thinking when tackling both immigration and education?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Canine Guy Fawkes

I was somewhat concerned when I arrived for work at the Houses of Parliament this morning when I walked passed a police van with a sign saying "Explosive Search Dogs."

Makes you wonder what they're feeding them.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Strictly Come Politics

What did Eric and I do over the weekend? Soak an ex-LibDem councillor and discover that we won't be expecting a 10 from Bruno Tonioli and the other judges. Still it was great fun and it was rewarding to meet a good few residents that spent a Saturday morning supporting a local initiative to benefit Carshalton.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Local Committee Launch

Last night saw the first of the new Local Committees, which are set to be the main conduit for dialogue between residents, councillors and officers dealing with issues in specific neighbourhoods. I sit on the Carshalton and Clockhouse committee which covers two wards stretching from the Poets Estate and Carshalton Village through Beeches to Clockhouse which adjoins Coulsdon.

The success of these committees will be driven by the Chairman and Lead Council Officer who need to make sure that residents are aware of matters arising, that they have an opportunity to be involved in discussions and that action is taken. Cllr John Kennedy and Isabel New started really well. We got through a long agenda in an introductory meeting finishing on the dot of 10.45pm. A roving mike allowed far more people to participate than before.

This was the last Local Committee that we will have in Sutton as we move between venues in Beeches and Carshalton enabling more people to come along. Now we need to introduce real communication in between meetings rather than a small entry on an obscure website or a tiny corner of the Guardian and help this grow. The new structure comes with a £200,000 budget for us to spend on capital projects in Carshalton so it is crucial that residents feel able to contact us with their concerns rather than being presented with a shopping list.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Boycott Bob Crow

The Tube strike has inconvenienced thousands of people, cost an estimated £50m per day and for what? After the collapse of Metronet, London Underground assured ex-employees that their jobs and pensions would be Bob Crow, General Secretary of the RMT takes them out on strike in order to get assurances that their salaries and pensions would be secure. This strike has been called off without gaining any extra concessions. The RMT are yet to decide whether to go ahead with another strike starting on Monday.

LBC presenter, James O'Brien has used the power of the new media to get his own back for the hassle. He has set up a group on Facebook called "Boycott Bob Crow" where 236 people have pledged not to serve Bob Crow in response to his refusal to serve them after they have paid their fare. Woe betide Bob if he wants a curry in Southall or a haircut in Tooting.

Well, small acorns and all. Two local businesses deserve mention; Clive from Aldridge Printing in Sutton refuses to do Bob's printing and Gus from Labels Direct in Carshalton will simply not supply labels or till rolls. No, I don't know how Bob is going to survive either. Maybe if Mayor Livingstone hadn't offered Crow some legitimacy in the past by making him a Board Member of TfL, he wouldn't be such a thorn in the side of ordinary Londoners now.

Zero Tolerance or Soft Touch?

A story caught my eye this morning about Merseyrail taking a young cub scout leader to court for putting her feet on a seat whilst on the train.

Although she pleaded guilty in court, 19-year old Kathleen Jennings was given an absolute discharge by the Magistrate who took the rail company to task for wasting the court's time with such trivialities. Miss Jennings faced a £1000 fine and a permanent record which may have affected her work with children.

I don't like people putting their feet up on the train, not even the ex-MP and captain of industry that I happened to share a carriage with to Mitcham Junction on Monday, but it does appear jobsworthy when she put her feet down as soon as the rail enforcement officer pointed out her transgression.

Merseyrail are the only rail company to prosecute such hardened criminals. I support a zero tolerance to anti-social behaviour but only if this is not in practice a putsch on soft targets to raise easy money. I'm sure a few anti speed camera and parking campaigners will have a view here. I don't know what Merseyrail are like at following up on more serious crimes so it is difficult to have a view with only half the picture. Interesting that they have enforcement officers. I can't remember seeing any on the London-Sutton trains over the years when I have seen school children beating each other up, trains with graffiti etched into the windows, free newspapers shredded and seats broken.

Now, a £1000 fine for people sitting next to me on a train, telling their friend that they are going to see in 20 minutes what they did last night whilst not realising that the beauty of this modern gadget is that the telephone does all of the work for you rather than having to bellow to be heard the other side of London; That's my kind of zero tolerance.

BTW. The photo is not of my feet and yes, I do realise that it looks like two feet coming out of one trouser leg!

Boris Launches Mayoral Bid

Back Boris for a Greater London

Back from hols and ready to go again. I went along to County Hall on Monday to see Boris Johnson's campaign launch to become the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London. Not for nothing is he the runaway favourite. The campaign logo on the right capitalises on the fact that he is such a recognisable figure that you only need to see his silhouette.

The excitement caused by his bid is fascinating to watch. His supporters (of which I am one) feel that his instantly recognisable character give him a massive boost and adds genuine interest into a contest that was looking like a simple run-in for Livingstone's third term. He is also frighteningly intelligent and incisive, which is oft-forgotten behind the cultivated shuffling haystack image. His detractors from the Left have started an extraordinary character assassination campaign, attempting to brand him a right-wing extremist, a racist and various other terms ending in -ist. He dismisses this by explaining that his genes are more diverse than the components of a modern motorcar and the ethnic background of his family is wider than a UN peacekeeping force.

This moves us nicely onto the charge of whether we should take him seriously. Boris stated that he reserves the right to make jokes in his campaign, but make no mistake that he is serious about acheiving a greater london. I totally agree with this. There are far too many politicians that appear as though they have trodden in something foul when having to "deal" with people that aren't members of the Westminster political club, ie most voters. Boris is a breathe of fresh air in showing that although the issues are crucial to the future and quality of life of millions of Londoners, politicians don't need to believe that they deserve high office just because of their own inflated self-regard.

Candidate Boris would be a risk, but politics is all about managing risk. Show me someone who has not stuck their neck out and I will show you someone who has acheived nothing. The media will be looking for anything that they can report as a gaffe. If Boris surrounds himself with the right people, he has shown that he has a passion for London and a vision to further improve the city that 8m people call home. Couple this with an ability to get a wide-range of people to listen to him, Boris is already making Ken Livingstone nervous.

Don't take my word for it. Have a look at his site, Back Boris, for his message. Then have a look at his immediate challengers, Andrew Boff, Victoria Borwick and Warwick Lightfoot and you will appreciate that any of the four challengers will deliver a better London than the current Mayor.

Finally, you can have your say. The Conservative candidate for London Mayor is being chosen by an open Primary. This means that any London voter that registers with the Party can have a vote. You do not need to be a member or join the party to participate, just go to the Conservative website and follow the instructions. It does involve a premium rate telephone line but this is not television; we haven't already declared a winner before you call.