Monday, July 30, 2007

Boris in a Nutshell

Boris Johnson's application for London Mayor was leaked to the Telegraph. Whilst I do not condone a leak that can undermine the process, since it is now in the public domain, it is worth seeing how it illustrates what Boris might bring to the role.

We all know the clown role that he plays on "Have I Got News For You." This is shown in his examples of challenges faced:-

1. Trying to help raise 4 children in inner London. Outcome too early to call, but looking promising.

2. Taking on Blair and Campbell in the battle of Black Rod's Memorandum on the Queen Mother's lying-in-state. Outcome: Total victory.

3. Negotiating Hyde Park Corner by bicycle. Outcome: survival.

But this image belies a razor sharp brain and a way with words that makes his Thursday Telegraph column compulsive reading. This is his view of the top challenges faced by London:-

"As a cyclist, I am daily exposed to the beauty and magic of London - but also the daily frustrations that erode the quality of our lives. I see the yellow billboards sprouting in the streets, pleading for information about the latest stabbing, reminding Londoners that street crime is worse here than New York. I see the hollow-eyed look of people emerging from the Tube after another miserable experience and the rage on the faces of drivers stuck behind a bendy-bus. I move in a trice from the stuccoed villas of the mega-rich to area of real poverty and deprivation, and I see families stuck in grossly overcrowded flats with no hope of a way out. The big challenges facing London are crime, transport and housing, and I will deal with them by keeping the Mayor's government simple, recruiting the ablest people across London - of whatever political affiliation - to formulate new policies for the core problems that affect our everyday lives."

Now I would have punctuated it somewhat better and divided it into paragraphs (that's what comes of having a Telegraph sub-editor to rely on), but as for content, I think it is as good a precis of London in 2007 as I have seen.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Well & Truly Fogled

Sutton hosted a festival called "Move it at the Manor" today. Helping to promote Smarter Travel Sutton, the project to encourage people out of their cars, the event had an impressive centre piece of town centre cycle races. Less impressive was the filler in the sandwich that was the Councillors' race. Four councillors and one guest celebrity, Castaway's Ben Fogle, cycled down St Nicholas Way and up the High Street which had been cordoned off.

It was only when I was in some discomfort chasing Ben Fogle up the hill that I remembered that he had recently rowed naked across the Atlantic. Therefore although fully clothed this time, he was very fit. It was little surprise that he won.

It was tremendous fun for a good cause although my daughter immediately commandered my medal when I got home. Unicyclists, plenty of stalls, treasure hunts and Caribbean food entertained the good turnout on one of the few sunny days of the summer. After we had departed the cycling course wheezing, the professionals showed the crowd how to do it with one of the Women's Road Race Series tearing up and down Sutton for a whole hour. I'm glad I managed to finish the one 5 minute lap.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Water Restrictions Lifted

I have just been informed that the Boil water notice has now been lifted.

From Sutton & East Surrey Water
Please be aware that Sutton and East Surrey Water has lifted its boil water notice with immediate effect, following consultation with the Health Protection Agency and other public health advisers.

The notice was issued yesterday as a result of the recent torrential rain and flooding, to all households and businesses within its Sutton supply area.

Sutton and East Surrey Water's Operations Director, said: "We are delighted that we have been able to lift the boil water notice. We always believed it was unlikely that there was anything wrong with the quality of the water supplied to these areas and all of our tests have proved that to be the case. However, whenever there is an incident that leads us to question water quality we always follow the precautionary principle. The Health Protection Agency has supported this.
We are sorry for the disruption this has caused and would like to thank everyone for their cooperation and patience during what has proved to be a difficult time."

Sunday, July 22, 2007

URGENT: Water Contamination Warning in Sutton

Following calls from residents today, I have spoken to a spokesman from Sutton & East Surrey Water about the possible contamination of our water supply. He has confirmed the details of the press release below and advises that although the potential risk is low, we should boil all water for drinking until further notice. A leaflet will be delivered with the post to all affected households tomorrow (Monday) morning.

From Sutton & East Surrey water website

Sutton and East Surrey Water will be issuing a boil notice to households and businesses within its Sutton supply area. Around 50,000 properties and approximately 125,000 people are affected

The decision to issue the boil notice is precautionary and follows close consultation with the Health Protection Agency and other public health advisers.

Anyone drawing water for consumption or the preparation of food in the affected area supplied by Sutton and East Surrey Water bounded by Morden, Worcester Park, Carshalton, Wallington, Ewell, Stoneleigh, Sutton and Cheam should boil the water before use. This follows an incident at the company's Cheam treatment works on Friday when the exceptional level of torrential rain that fell caused flooding at the works and a small quantity of rain water entered a tank used to treat water. Unfortunately this water went into supply before it was detected, when the works was immediately shut down.

The water tank involved holds heavily chlorinated water as part of the final treatment process. As such it is designed to automatically eliminate most organisms which may affect water quality. The rain water would also have been heavily diluted.

Mike Hegarty, Sutton and East Surrey Water's Operations Director, said: We have reason to believe that some of the water which went into supply may not have met our quality standards and, as a precaution, we are asking everyone in the affected area to boil their water before consuming it until further notice.

The water is perfectly safe to use for other purposes including washing, bathing and toilet flushing.

We believe that all the water which may have contained some of the rain water has already passed through our supply system, but we are following the precautionary principal. Some of the water may still be in people's supply pipes or, if they have one, their water tank in the roof.

Boil notices are being printed and will be delivered, as soon as possible, to every property within the affected area. Sutton and East Surrey Water is also sending vans with loud hailers into the area to warn customers to boil their water.

All this takes time, said Mike Hegarty. We are hoping that our customers will hear about the notice through the media. We have alerted hospitals in the area, GPs and other health officials and are endeavouring to contact everyone in the area who is registered with us who may be vulnerable.

Public health consultant of the south west London Health Protection Unit, Doctor Paul Crook, said: The Health Protection Agency has advised that people need take no further action apart from ensuring their water is boiled before drinking, as described above. The HPA considers the risk to people's health to be low. If anyone were to be taken ill they should seek medical advice as normal, via NHS Direct or their local doctor.

If customers have any health concerns regarding this advice or require any further medical advice then they should call NHS Direct on 0845 4647.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

There's a Stir in Prison

News headlines after Prime Minister's Questions concentrated on the fact that 344 prisoners convicted of violent offences were amongst the 1700 released early to prevent overcrowding. Gordon Brown attempted to squirm out of the situation by claiming that none had been convicted of serious violent offences.

Another statistic unearthed in a written Parliamentary Question by Edward Garnier MP got less attention. 951 out of 1390 (68%) released over two days earlier this month had previously been refused release on Home Detention Curfew.

These 951 prisoners were not seen as suitable for releasing into the community with a tag on so that they can be found. What do they then do? Release them into the community with no tag on.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Can't Prove a Thing Guv

Just watching the 10 o'clock news. We were told that crime is at a record low by the government just having learnt that no-one is to be prosecuted over the cash for honours scandal. Hmm.

(Hat Tip for the picture, the excellent Beau Bo D'Or)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

My New Career in Not Rearing Pigs

I saw a copy of this letter which was supposedly sent to David Miliband whilst he was still at DEFRA. If it's true, where do I sign up?


Rt Hon David Miliband MP
Secretary of State,
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
Nobel House
17 Smith Square

16 May 2007

Dear Secretary of State,

My friend, who is in farming at the moment, recently received a cheque for £3,000 from the Rural Payments Agency for not rearing pigs. I would now like to join the “not rearing pigs” business.

In your opinion what is the best kind of farm not to rear pigs on, and which is the best breed of pigs not to rear? I want to be sure I approach this endeavour in keeping with all government policies, as dictated by the EU under the Common Agricultural Policy. I would prefer not to rear bacon pigs. But if this is not the type you want not rearing, I will just as gladly not rear porkers. Are there any advantages in not rearing rare breeds such as Saddlebacks or Gloucester Old Spots, or are there too many people already not rearing these?

As I see it, the hardest part of this programme will be keeping and accurate record of how many pigs I haven’t reared. Are there any Government or Local Authority courses on this?

My friend is very satisfied with this business. He has been rearing pigs for forty years or so, and the best he ever made on them was £1,422 in 1968. That is – until this year, when he received a cheque for not rearing any.

If I get £3,000 for not rearing 50 pigs, will I get £6,000 for not rearing 100?

I plan to operate on a small scale at first, holding myself down to about 4,000 pigs not raised, which will mean about £240,000 for the first year. As I become more expert in not rearing pigs, I plan to be more ambitious, perhaps increasing to, say, 40,000 pigs not reared in my second year, for which I should expect about £2.4 million from your department. Incidentally, I wonder if I would be eligible to receive tradable carbon credits for all those pigs not producing harmful and polluting methane gases?

Another point: these pigs that I plan not to rear will not eat 2,000 tonnes of cereals. I understand that you also pay farmers for not growing crops. Will I qualify for payments for not growing cereals to not feed the pigs I don’t rear?

I am also considering the “not milking cows” business, so please send any information you have on that too. Please could you also include the current DEFRA advice on set aside fields? Can this be done on an e-commerce basis with virtual fields (of which I seem to have several thousand hectares)?

In view of the above you will realise that I will be totally unemployed, and will therefore qualify for unemployment benefits.

I shall of course be voting for your party at the next general election.

Yours faithfully,

Nigel Johnson-Hill

Monday, July 16, 2007

Backing Boris

After much speculation on our part and deliberation on his, Boris Johnson has confirmed that he is entering the race to become Mayor of London. He will now become hot favourite to be announced as the Conservative candidate at the Blackpool conference in October with the election against Ken Livingstone next May.

This will kick-start the campaign with the Conservatives finally finding a candidate with a very high profile and experience in the media. We have several others that are more than capable of running London better than Livingstone, but Boris does have a considerable advantage in the campaign with his high name recognition.

I'm just waiting for the Boris v Ken debate with grand inquisitors Paul Merton and Ian Hislop.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Ruskin Road Update 2

The site on the corner of Ruskin Road and Park Lane has been empty for sometime. Eric and I met with Council Officers this week to see the proposed development that is set to replace the buildings. In place of the bungalows, it is proposed to build six semi-detached affordable houses and a block of twelve flats would replace the house.

The height of the development would step up from the existing bungalow on the corner of Rotherfield Road to the flats which look as though they will be a similar height to the neighbouring house in Park Lane.

Eric and I will try to get around as many neighbouring houses as possible to find out what you think. In the meantime (or if you don't live in the immediate vicinity), you can look at the plans here. Let us know what you think in the comments below or email where you can leave your contact details to get direct updates from us on this development.

Sporting Personalities

Last night I attended Stanley Park High School's first "Sports Personality of the Year Awards". I enjoyed myself too much to take photos so you'll have to make do with one cobbled together from the internet. Robbie Earle was the special guest presenting awards to the many children who had excelled over the last year at everything from football to table tennis. They took pride in getting their medals, trophies and certificates from the former Wimbledon football player. A member of the nineties team known as the "Crazy Gang", he went on to represent Jamaica at the World Cup scoring their first ever goal against Croatia. He now writes for the Evening Standard and is a pundit on ITV's Champions League programme. That's quite a list of accomplishments for the kids to look up to.

The event was really well attended by proud parents and children. We saw displays from trampolinists, gymnasts and dancers. Interestingly gymnastics is the fastest growing sport at the school, helped along by a £10,000 award which bought plenty of equipment. If the new school is built on the Orchard Hill site, more playing fields and better facilities will encourage even more children to take part and acheive great things or at least keep healthy and have fun.

The Hostess with the Mostest

I helped conduct a Citizenship Ceremony on Wednesday. Eight people pledged their allegiance to the Queen and their new country as they formalised their decision to make Britain their home.

I enjoyed speaking to the people from all parts of the globe who were brimming with pride and had a real enthusiasm. Previously, applicants had to swear an oath of allegiance in front of a solicitor and had their certificate sent in the post. Apart from the fact that I wouldn't trust the new Border and Immigration Agency to post me anything, this ceremony does instil a degree of civic pride. Marion, (photo, left) hosted the ceremony with a mix of professionalism and genial host.

Immigration is one of the very biggest political issues of our time.It is a real problem that the government have absolutely no control of. However, this doesn't mean that we need to lose all perspective at every mention of the word. Some will baulk at the very thought of such a ceremony. We rightly hope and expect people settling in this country to assimilate and adopt our culture and society. This will never happen by putting our head in the sand hoping everyone will go away. By giving the warmest welcome to those who can make a contribution to the UK and toughening up our border controls against those who have no such intentions, we can maintain our historical position of adopting the very best of the world whilst not being a soft option for those only seeking a better life to be funded from the State.

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Despite the photo, I really hope that one day we can take the issue of payments for councillors outside the political arena. I find it faintly ridiculous that we have to vote on our own salaries.

An independent panel looking at London-wide allowances recommended a new allowance structure for London Councils. Implementing this in full here in Sutton would have cost over £200,000. Sensibly, this was not recommended. Instead various changes were put before the Executive for approval that would bring the pattern of allowances in line with the rest of London, if not the amounts with everyone getting a minimum of 50% of the recommended allowance.

However I have two main issues with the amounts approved. Firstly the new Local Committee chairs will receive £9,762 the same as at present. However, there are going to be two extra Local Committees, thus increasing the overall budget by £19,524. Far better to divide the existing budget for the current four chairmen between the six. This would avoid the anomaly of the Local Committee chairmen receiving a whopping 185% of the Independent Panel's recommendation. The LibDems are pushed into a corner by their own backbenchers as they are not prepared to take a pay cut. To my mind, the allowance is recompense for time spent on the job, not a salary to maintain a particular lifestyle or top-up a pension.

My second issue is the retrospective payments proposed to be made to the two Deputy Leaders. We were lectured about the fact that the LibDems had a group meeting to appoint people within two days of the election. The one problem with this has come home to roost. There were several new councillors who had to vote for a Deputy Leader from a slate of people that they didn't know very well. It ended in a dead-heat and rather than Scissors, Paper, Stone or even an arm wrestle, they decided to have two deputies. This year they have formalised the two roles and divided up the allowances such that it has no effect on the budget. However, they are due to be paid nearly £6000 each in a one-off payment to cover last year. Nice work if you can get it!

In a year where £5m of cuts fell on Council services, £12,000 payment paid out a whole year sends a dreadful message to taxpayers.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Five Go Mad In Ealing

On the day that Alistair Campbell revealed that Tony Blair had to rescue Gordon Brown from inside a locked toilet, our new PM may be looking for another quick intervention.

There is only just over a week to go in the Ealing Southall by-election caused by the death of 82 year old MP, Piara Khabra. He had a majority of 11,440. Surely a comfortable election hold for the government?

The first barometer test for Gordon will be far closer than imagined for two reasons. The Conservative have chosen a local candidate, Tony Lit, who is proving popular in the constituency. Labour on the other hand, have had an almighty squabble over their candidate . Having seen a Hindi candidate imposed on the constituency, five Sikh councillors defected to the Conservatives praising Tony Lit and the Council that returned to Conservative control in 2006.

Whatever the result, it just goes to prove not to bet on by-elections. They invariably take on a life of their own despite the best intentions of seasoned campaigners trying to run the show. I'm sure there will be more fun and frolics before polling day.

How Not to Encourage Cycling

An engineering company called Jacobs Babtie has told staff they must drive or use public transport during the working day.

Unremarkable, though somewhat dictatorial until you discover that Jacobs Babtie is paid by Transport for London to advise them how to encourage people to abandon their cars and travel by bike.

The memo from their Health & Safety manager explained "The reason is to protect our employees from other vehicles on the road."

Friday, July 06, 2007

Kennedy Caught by the Smoking Police

Former LibDem leader Charles Kennedy got into another spot of bother on Friday. Travelling on the train to Plymouth, he took umbrage at being told to put out his cigarette by the Train Manager. We don't know much about the exchange of words although it was enough for the rail employee to call the police who duly met him at Plymouth Station.

Most trains have been smoke-free for years. I can't remember the last time I saw someone with a cigarette on the train. However, Kennedy thought it was okay to smoke on trains if you puffed out of the window! Yes, but he should be liberal on such matters, shouldn't he? You would have thought so, but he voted in Parliament for the smoking ban.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Rise of the Political Machines

"The future has not been written. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves. I wish I could believe that. My name is Hilary Benn, they tried to murder me before I was born, when I was 13 they tried again. Machines from the future. Terminators. All my life my father told me the storm was coming..."

What's the point of fiction anyway. Just wait long enough and the real thing will turn up. The Terminator films were enjoyable romps around the edge of nuclear oblivion but then the story turns up in reality.

Just as Arnie returns to his Gubernatorial duties in California having finally ensured that Tony Blair's Premiership was terminated, I read that the UK has co-developed unmanned gunships called Reapers to be controlled by a satellite network called Skynet.

The Skynet system in the film was also an IT system that was turned on and then controlled machines for battle. This led to the near destruction of the human race. The UK Skynet is a £3.6bn PFI project. Lord Drayson (not pictured, but a director of Powderject Ltd who donated £100k to Labour whilst succesfully bidding for a government vaccination project), the MoD Procurement Minister said "This important milestone is very good news for the Armed Forces."

If fact continues to reflect fiction, it'll make Blair's legacy look appealing.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Bishop Solves Global Warming?

There's a new truth in town. Whilst a whole generation of scientists blaming climate change on everything from industrial pollution to the gassy emanations of cattle, the Bishop of Carlisle has given us his own insight striking a blow at the very heart of academia.

The Rt. Rev. Graham Dow blames this week's flooding on the introduction of pro-gay legislation. According to the Sunday Telegraph, he goes on to say "This is a strong and definite judgement because the world has been arrogant in going its own way. We are reaping the consequences of our moral degradation, as well as environmental damage."

He doesn't seem to continue his ridiculous thesis to surmise that if all homosexuals squeeze back into their closet, we might be able to squeeze back into our gas guzzlers. I don't remember this being covered as a possible solution in the Kyoto Protocol. Faith is important to many people in an increasingly secular country. The Bishop does his Church no favours at all with such postulations.