Archive | May, 2014

Newham Hustings

13 May

A few images and a brief report from last night’s hustings at Brittania Village Hall.  You can read the live coverage of the event on Twitter.

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Labour’s only representative at the hustings was an empty chair.

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Chair John Stewart of HACAN East introduces the speakers – Lois Austin (TUSC), Caroline Allen (Green) and Stefen Mrozinski (Conservative). Out of shot next to Lois is Alex Ocan Latim of the Christian Peoples Alliance. Jonathan Fryer of the Liberal Democrats arrived late. The UKIP candidate for Mayor, David Mears, was unable to attend for personal reasons.

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TUSC’s Lois Austin says her party is the true inheritor of the East End’s Labour tradition; they are an alternative to the cuts and austerity policies that unite the established parties. On transport she calls for more investment in public transport, lower fares and the re-nationalisation of the trains and buses. She promises to be a workers’ mayor on a workers’ wage and accuses Newham Labour of turning its back on the poor, failing them on housing and local services. As there’s no Labour representative on the panel her charges go unanswered.

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Caroline Allen of the Green Party, number two on their London list for the European parliament, makes the case for a social Europe and a London that works for people, not just big business. Inequality is a massive issue for her party. She calls for rent controls and investment in cycling and walking, rather than building ever more roads, bridges and tunnels. There are huge public health benefits to be had, she says.

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Tory mayoral candidate Stefan Mrorzinski rejects expansion of City Airport and says the social costs – pollution and the impact on local businesses – are too high. He attacks Robin Wales’s record after 20 years in power: poor school results, no improvement in poverty, high crime levels and anti-social behaviour. There has been a huge waste of public money on the Newham Mag, Building 1000, London Pleasure Gardens etc. He says he opposes Boris Johnson on building more & more tower blocks & ‘buy to leave’ investment properties: “we need to build streets, not tower blocks.” He says the mayoral system has failed here as Labour’s 60 councillors are failing to hold Sir Robin to account: Newham needs an opposition.

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Alex Ocan Latim of the Christian Peoples Alliance wants to refurbish empty local houses and build new low cost homes for low earning families. Newham owns land, so it should build low cost housing on it. It seems even the Christians are to the left of Labour in Newham! Alex is also deeply concerned about creating local jobs and opportunities for young people.

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For the Liberal Democrats, European candidate Jonathan Fryer is forced to defend his party’s record in in the coalition government after attacks from TUSC and the Greens. He agrees on the need for more affordable public transport and improved rail use as an alternative to airport expansion. Oddly, he doesn’t mention the white elephant of Stratford International, but when it is raised he – and everyone else – agrees it is vital to get international services started as quickly as possible. As a European rather than local candidate he makes his pitch for a positive vision for the EU. “Don’t be sucked in by that funny Mr Farage. Vote for progress,” he says.

It was an entertaining evening and the debate was good-natured. There were no clear winners among the parties that attended, but one very obvious loser. And you don’t need me to tell you who that was – just look for the empty seat.

Never gonna be respectable

12 May

Respect Tory

There is an old saying that the older you get, the more right-wing your politics become.

If that’s true there’s a bunch of former Respect candidates on day release from the geriatric ward.

Having stood in 2010 for the George Galloway fan club Abdul Karim Sheikh (Green St West), Abul Mohshin Kazi (Plaistow North), Ashfaq Ahmed and Kamran Qureshi (both Green St East) are all now Conservative party candidates for Newham council.

I assume the Tories knew their political histories when they selected them. Which either tells you a lot about the state of Newham Conservative party and its desperate desire to run a full slate, or a lot about the ideological flexibility of the candidates.

Of course these four aren’t the only ones who have moved to the right in search of electoral success.

Former Respect councillor and 2008 London Assembly candidate Hanif Abdulmuhit (Green St West) is now wearing a Newham Labour rosette, along with Forhad Hussain (Plaistow North), who is a rising star in Sir Robin’s administration and has already ascended to cabinet rank.

Missing in action

12 May

Here’s ten words that you won’t find anywhere in Newham Labour’s “groundbreaking” manifesto:

  • Collaboration
  • Co-operation (nor cooperative)
  • Engagement
  • Transformation
  • Digital (nor even ‘online’)
  • Teachers
  • Workers (except in the guise of ‘hard-working families’)
  • Justice
  • Equality
  • Union
Also missing, though less of a surprise given Sir Robin’s True Blue politics, is Socialism.

Yellow

12 May

Garman Rd Yellow Lines

I thought no-one could beat Newham council for sheer stupidity in the name of parking enforcement, but here is a contender from Haringey: possibly the world’s shortest and most pointless double yellow lines.

An analysis of the Newham Labour manifesto

9 May

I am grateful to a reader for providing the following analysis of Newham Labour’s priorities and comparing them to ideas sourced from across the community.

Priorities indicated by proportion of writing in the manifesto:

 Priority Pages of text   Number of promises  
Increasing personal resilience ½  9% 2 11%
Tackling crime and anti-social behaviour 1 18% 4 22%
Working for a cleaner, greener Newham ¼  5% 1 6%
Making Newham better through investment  2¾  50% 7 39%
Standing up for Newham 1 18% 4 22%
  5 ½    18  

Issues that could have been in the manifesto, based on suggestions from local Labour candidate websites, newspapers, community groups & charities and residents on social media:

Issue Mentioned? Policies/ principles Promises
Fairness and help for vulnerable people    

 

 
Children Yes, p4 Inclusive education  
Homeless No None  
Elderly Yes, p9 One promise 14: fully fund the Freedom Pass providing free travel on public transport including buses, Tube, train and Docklands Light Railway.
Black and Ethnic Minorities No None  
Disabled people No None  
Religious groups No None  
Mentally ill No None  
Women Yes, p6 Assess the approach to domestic and sexual violence   
LGBT No None  
Development of community cohesion No None  
Approach to dealing with the bedroom tax No None   
Crime    

 

 
Working with the MPS Yes, p5 Funded 46 police officers, 140 enforcement officers

will continue to work on initiatives with local police and other partners to support victims and reduce repeat crimes

promise 2: continue to fund and control police officers

promise 3: assess initiatives to reduce crime

Tackle anti-social behaviour Yes, p5 residents feel safer when CCTV cameras are used in areas where there are safety risks

 

promise 4: tackle crime and anti-social behaviour, 

promise 5: dedicated enforcement officer in each ward

promise 6: Invest £5million in 200 new CCTV cameras

Tackling hate crimes No None  
Support anti-burglary measures No None  
Educate and support tackling violent/knife crime No None  
Environment   In all our surveys residents say they want a cleaner, greener and safer Newham  
Street cleaning Yes, p4 £13.5million spent annually

Free bulky waste removal

 

promise 7: £4m to improve roads, pavement & lighting
Improve responsiveness to reports of dumped waste No None  
Parks and green spaces No None  
Green issues Yes None  
Increasing recycling No None  
Introduce car share schemes No None  
Resist expansion of City Airport No None  
Supporting more schools and markets achieving eco awards No None  
Tackling air pollution No None  
Education    

 

 
Free school meals Yes, p8 Free school meals for primary school children,  promise 9: continue free school meals for primary school children; 
Introducing Food for Life standards in schools No None  
Educational achievement Yes, p8 Every child a musical instrument & free tuition, free try of 20 sports, 1:1 reading tuition, every child a chess player

work with our schools to continue the excellent improvements in exam results

New 6th form college in East Ham

promise 9: continue with the Newham’s Every Child a Musician programme giving 3 years free tuition, continue with the Newham’s Every Child a Sports Person programme giving the opportunity to try 20 different sports 
Literacy Yes, p8   promise 9: Newham Reading Guarantee programme providing 1:1 tuition to younger children struggling to read.
Improving digital skills of all generations  No  None  
Skills for employment Yes, p9   promise 10: review skills training offered to adults and children
Improve adult education Yes, p9 Free English speaking classes promise 11: provide free English language tuition for all residents who want to learn English.
Ensuring teachers are qualified No None  
Resisting academies & free schools No None  
Tackling bulling and inequality in schools No None   
Summer schools No None   
Poverty    

 

 
Unemployment Yes, p7 Helped 20,000 into work including 3,500 young people  promise 8: continue to invest heavily in Workplace
Money Yes, p8 provide some finance options for responsible, hard working residents promise 12: set up a one stop shop – Money Works – which will provide a range of support to responsible residents
Council tax Yes, p4 Means to keep lowest council tax in outer London promise 1: has delivered the lowest Council Tax in Outer London and means to keep it.
Support refugees and asylum seekers No None  
Food banks, food cycling No None  
Supporting food planting on estates, in parks and in gardens No None  
Supporting living wage (council) Yes, p11 ensures that it pays all its directly employed staff the London Living Wage. As a Borough which has retained most of its services in-house this makes us a leader, if not the leader, in this battle promise 17: continue to pay the London Living Wage and review rates of pay offered by contractors.
Supporting living wage (local employers) No None  
Not use workfare or zero hours contracts (council)  No None  
Discourage use of workfare and zero hours contracts (local employers) No None  
Tackle fuel poverty, home insulation, excess winter deaths No None  
Reducing gambling Yes, p10 led the country in our opposition to betting shops. We are demanding the powers to limit the fixed odds betting terminals which have caused the explosion in betting shops. We are not opposed to gambling – people should be free to pursue those pastimes which they enjoy – but not at a cost to other people. These new betting shops attract crime and anti social behaviour. That is why we will fight to get them off our high streets.  
Supporting time banks No None  
Supporting good quality, affordable childcare No None  
Providing secure bike racks No None  
Health      
 
Public health   Yes, p9  Support into employment, primary school meals, personal resilience, reviewing the spend on public health, developing personal budgets for individuals so they can have greater control of the services they consume, payments scheme which will financially reward service providers where users show high satisfaction with their services. promise 13: continue to support the development of personal resilience; will develop a model where payment is linked to satisfaction for those who use our caring services. 
Hospitals Yes, p10 ensure our hospital stays open and that the facilities there are the right ones for our people. 

ensure that the full range of quality health services are available to our residents and, in particular, that they have easy access to an effective and comprehensive screening programme.

promise 18: stand up proudly for our residents against Tory attacks, fighting for the things that matter to them while also delivering services which make a difference.
GPs No None  
Tackle high rates of TB and deaths from cancer No None  
Free fitness classes and equipment in parks No None  
Introduce a responsible licensing scheme No None  
Introduce a take away food licensing scheme No None  
Regeneration & Enterprise Yes, p10 continue to invest secure funding and help to deliver the physical infrastructure of the borough such as:

Redeveloping Canning Town and Custom House

created nearly 9,000 new school places and invested £127 million into our schools

Buying 35% of the Olympic Stadium to ensure that it works for local people in the future (and generates a profit)

Assisted securing cycle superhighway extensions, Greenway investment and new quiet routes making Newham a much better place to cycle

Rebuilding the Atherton Leisure Centre

Created a brand new library and local service centre in East Ham

Started on the development of a new 6th form college at East Ham in partnership with our schools

Secure Westfield, the largest urban shopping centre in Western Europe

 
Regeneration of Queen’s market No    
Regeneration of Forest Gate No    
Support for street markets No    
Housing    

 

 
Private renters Yes, p11   promise 15: continue to reduce anti-social behaviour and improve accommodation in the private rented sector by licensing all privately rented property.
Implementing a good letting agent scheme No None  
Support for home owners/ leaseholders No None  
House building Yes, p10   promise 16: within the next ten years, build 3,000 new homes and buy a further 500 which will be made available for local people to rent at a range of rents that suit their income.
Tackling overcrowding No None  
Tackling homelessness and supporting homeless people No None  
Social homes for rent (council or housing association) No None  
Responsive to local needs Yes, p5 we have increased spend on the things that matter most to our residents.  
Reducing complaints No None  
Involving residents in designing services Yes, p4 where there really is a caring task we will develop new

small-scale mutuals to offer a much better, person focussed

offer through greater clarity of purpose.

 
Involving residents in working together with the council to provide services No None  
Transport    

 

 
Tackling congestion on buses and trains No None  
Improving cycling safety No None  
Managing parking and drop off points at stations No None  
Creating safe passing places for cars on small roads  No None  
River Crossing consultation No None  
Managing budget cuts Yes, p4   promise 2: will protect the services residents value in the face of the most savage cuts ever to local government in general and Newham in particular.
Management/ consultation on cuts of £41m (2015/16) and £53m (2015/16) No None  
Reducing council spending on councillors, offices, events, communications No None  
Tackling duplication, corruption, fraud and waste No None  
Arts and events Yes, p9 We invested heavily to encourage local celebration and activity from street parties to torch relay. 

Buying 35% of the Olympic Stadium to ensure that it works for local people in the future (and generates a profit)

 
 Arts, festivals, events No None  

Verging on the ridiculous

9 May

The late Guardian journalist Simon Hoggart coined the phrase “the law of the ridiculous reverse”, which states that if the opposite of a statement is plainly absurd, it was not worth making in the first place.

It is entertaining to apply this to some of the statements in Newham Labour’s election manifesto. For example:

Labour will do the best we can to protect the services residents value

Would any party promise the opposite? They might win points for honesty but not many votes.

Or how about this:

Labour will continue to fully assess the effectiveness of all initiatives designed to reduce crime and will act appropriately to make them more effective.

The thought of the mayor promising to abandon assessment, act inappropriately and deliberately make crime reduction initiatives less effective is amusing but absurd. 

Labour will … ensure that our young people and adults are provided with greater and better choice.

As opposed to offering lesser and worse choices perhaps?

There are many others to choose from, but this one is my favourite:

we are reviewing the spend on public health to make sure that the money is targeted effectively on programmes which actually make a difference

And there I was expecting a promise to throw public money around like a drunk sailor on shore leave without regard to the consequences!

Talking of promises…

8 May

Vote Green 2014

The London Green Party is launching its campaign for the European and local elections today. 

You can read their manifesto for Europe and find out more about their local candidate for mayor, Jane Lithgow.

It is inconceivable that Jane will beat Sir Robin, but a vote for her would not be a waste. Every vote for another candidate is a vote for a different kind of politics in Newham; a vote that says there are other voices that deserve to be heard.

The European election is, unlike the local vote, proportional. Whoever you vote for, your vote will count towards electing an MEP that speaks for you.

Promises, promises

8 May

2014 manifesto cover

With just a couple of weeks to go until the election Newham Labour party has finally – after much prompting on social media – put its manifesto on its website.

It contains 18 “promises” of things Sir Robin will do over the next four years.

Download a copy so you can keep a careful eye out and see what he actually achieves. 

Mapping the candidates

7 May

Where the candidates live

Where do the candidates for mayor and council live?

You can see the whole map, including the colour key for the pins, on Batchgeo

Eight stages of loss

7 May

Yesterday I blogged about the need for electoral reform in local government and mentioned an Electoral Reform Society paper, Towards One Nation: the Labour Case for Electoral Reform.

That features a chapter called ‘Too much of a good thing’ which looks at how ‘safe’ councils with overwhelming majorities for one party are eventually lost. It is worth quoting the section on the process of degeneration at length: long-term residents of Newham will be struck by a sense of familiarity:

1. Taking voters for granted. In an environment where 40% of the vote on a 30% turnout is enough to win a ward, and usually a substantial council majority, a dominant party does not have to be particularly good at contacting the voters in its core areas. Turnout in those areas will tend to fall and the party’s efforts will concentrate on squeezing the other parties out of their remaining footholds.

2. Autocratic style of government. The internal processes of debate and scrutiny on the council start to fail. When opposition parties become too small they will often fall short of the minimum size required to constitute a Group, and therefore lose administrative back-up for their activities. Small opposition parties will find it difficult to look beyond parochial ward issues and mount a full critique of the council administration. Official council business becomes formal, with decisions being taken at best at the majority Group level and often by a Cabinet or just a Leader, with the Group also acting as a rubber stamp.

3. Bad decisions. Concentration of power and a lack of scrutiny lead to bad decisions being taken, and an arrogant attitude towards people who question those bad decisions – be they from the small number of opposition councillors, the local media, independent local bloggers or from within the majority Group.

4. Splits in the ruling party. Factional differences within the majority Group become more common and more divisive, sometimes leading to formal splits with some members going Independent. Nature abhors a vacuum, and a party with a local monopoly on power will often end up manufacturing its own opposition.

5. Hidden electoral weakness. The lack of connection between the leadership of the council, and the lack of effort put into elections, leaves the council majority strong but brittle. Any crisis could trigger the coalescence of a local opposition movement and the lack of engagement with the electorate means that just by going out and listening to voters the new rivals will look good.

6. Electoral collapse. The result will tend to be a sudden and indiscriminate collapse of the previous majority party, and the replacement political force may not be a constructive alternative.

7. Incompetent local government. Electoral collapse will usually be followed by a chaotic period of poor local governance by inexperienced councillors.

8. Recrimination and scandal. Skeletons start falling out of the cupboard about prior errors and scandals during the period of complacency.

This pattern of events, even if not every step of the process takes place, is recognisable in several authorities where Labour had previously held overwhelming majorities on the council including Doncaster, Hull, Stoke-on-Trent, Burnley and Slough.

Newham is obviously now at stage 3. From what I hear, stage 4 may be imminent. Disaffected Labour councillors may not formally split off into an independent group, but Sir Robin is not universally loved even within his own party and infighting within the Labour group could lead to significant ructions.

What happens then is anyone’s guess. But it won’t be pretty.

Labour’s interests as a party – and our interests as residents – would be better served by this not happening.

As uncomfortable as it may be for Sir Robin, a democratic opposition exercising its proper function of scrutiny would help his administration deliver honest, efficient local government in our interests – particularly those most in need of high quality public services.