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.