Archive | October, 2014

Another matter of interest

20 Oct

From the minutes of the standards advisory committee meeting held on October 6th, which considered a complaint that the Dear Leader had breached the code of conduct:

It was questioned whether, as a Mayoral Advisor Councillor Laguda should declare a pecuniary interest in item 6 (Investigation of complaint of breach of code of conduct by an elected member). Following advice from the Monitoring Officer Cllr Laguda decided that she need not declare an interest.

How jolly convenient. The special responsibility allowance she receives – which is entirely within the gift of the mayor and can be withdrawn by him at any time, for any reason – does not constitute a ‘pecuniary interest’!

Like so many politicians before her, Cllr Laguda has wrestled with her conscience and won.

Perhaps she should have thought a little harder about her decision, because the requirement to make a declaration also extends to non-pecuniary interests.

To quote from guidance issued to councillors (my emphasis added):

The Council’s Code of Conduct requires you to make a verbal declaration of the existence and nature of any … “Non-Pecuniary Interest”. Any Member who does not declare these interests in any matter when they apply may be in breach of the Code of Conduct.

You may have a … “Non-Pecuniary Interest” in an item of business where:

2.2.1 A decision in relation to that business might reasonably be regarded as affecting your well-being or financial standing, or a member of your family, or a person with whom you have a close association

2.3 A person with whom you have a close association is someone who is more than an acquaintance, and is someone you are in contact with over a period of time, whether regularly or not. It is someone that a reasonable member of the public might think you would be prepared to favour or disadvantage when discussing a matter which affects them.

All of the councillors on the hearing sub-committee should also consider section 5 of the guidance, on bias and pre-determination (again, emphasis added):

If in relation to any decision, your outside connections may make it appear to a reasonable person that there is a real danger of bias, or predetermination you should seek advice as to whether it is appropriate for you to participate in any discussion about the matter and in the decision, regardless of whether or not you consider that you should declare an interest as defined above.

Given that councillors Laguda, Scoresby, Collier and Amarjit Singh all campaigned alongside Sir Robin in May and were photographed with him on their leaflets, a reasonable person might very well think there is a danger of bias or pre-determination.

Steel, fibreglass & resin

16 Oct

via Instagram

Oh, Alan

14 Oct

Last week Alan Craig, the former leader of the Christian Peoples Alliance, declared he had applied to join UKIP. 

In my blog post I said it was a marriage made in heaven, but I now think I was wrong. Having read his party’s 2010 general election manifesto, Not by Bread Alone, it is clear that it is an extraordinary and almost inexplicable decision.

Amongst the bonkers stuff about the place of religion in civil society, the evils of gay marriage and abortion, and some unpleasant generalisations about muslims and jihad, there are some surprisingly liberal and genuinely progressive policies. Here are a few extracts:

A more equal society

Free market capitalism, if left to itself, does not produce a downward trickle from rich to poor. Over the past thirty years, under both Labour and the Conservatives, share of income and wealth has been transferred from the poor of Britain and the world, to the rich.

The experience of low status and low esteem that encourages violence, obesity, transient relationships or teenage pregnancy must also be approached by policies that go beyond forcing people into the workforce.

We will back measures to introduce a new 50p tax rates on earnings over £150,000.

A transaction tax, such as the proposed Robin Hood tax, will be introduced to generate funds for green and sustainable investment in both Britain and in the developing world.

Greening the global economy

The CPA seeks a global economy which operates within the ecological limits of the planet; eradicates poverty and tackles inequality; and ensures the human rights of all are met.

Carbon rationing is needed. We back an EU trading system which sets a control total for the industries within the regime and lets the market in carbon allocations chase down the most efficient ways of making cuts.

Unrestrained market forces are not compatible with care for the poor and stewardship of the earth.

Tackling the jobs crisis

The CPA will continue to act as the Champion of a Living Wage for all workers. We also want a better work and life balance for all, not just the well-off who can afford it.

The CPA will enforce the provisions of the Working Time Directive, which prevents working in excess of 48 hours per week. We will end the UK’s opt out option.

The CPA will also support a Living Wage for all workers of £7.40 an hour to ensure those on low incomes are not forced to work excessive hours to make ends meet.

Strangers into citizens

We would tackle discrimination and embrace the talents of asylum seekers, as many successful asylum applicants are highly trained and dedicated individuals. It makes no sense to leave them on the scrapheap, unable to use their professional skills to provide for themselves, their families, or contribute to the British economy.

[Asylum] applicants will be treated as if they were British citizens with full access to state support and the right to work.

We will tackle the problem of illegal immigration by an amnesty that brings irregular workers into mainstream society, paying taxes.

A time of jubilee for the world

Aid will be given in grants and not loans and not tied to poor countries opening up their markets to powerful multinationals from rich countries.

We want the unpayable debts of the world’s poorest countries to be cancelled in full without strings attached.

Alan Craig signature

I find it hard to comprehend how someone who led his party and signed that manifesto, made those promises, just four years ago can now find a home in UKIP. Because not one of the things I’ve quoted above would find favour with the Faragists.

If Alan Craig has really changed his mind so completely that he now rejects everything the CPA ever stood for and embraces the climate change-denying, isolationist, hard right turbo-Toryism of UKIP, he might as well announce his conversion to Satanism: it would be less of a surprise.

A matter of interest

13 Oct

Despite only being in office for a month councillor Tonii Wilson has wasted no time in settling into the Newham way of doing things.

In the register of interests she declares that she has no ‘employment, office, trade, profession or vocation carried on for profit or gain’:

Tonii Wilson Interests

Yet, according to Companies House, she is director of a company called Virgen Limited:

Tonii Wilson directorship

The utter disregard shown by councillorsand the mayor – for openness, honesty and just straightforward accuracy in recording their interests is shocking. But it is still disappointing to see a new councillor treat their obligation for transparency with such contempt.

Thought for the day

10 Oct

Louloudillon 2014 Oct 10

via @louloudillon

Alan Craig gets kippered

9 Oct

Alan Craig

The purple rosette should have been a giveaway

Alan Craig, one-time leader of the Christian Peoples Alliance, two-time Newham councillor and serial mayoral candidate, has had an epiphany:

Gay marriage illustrated it; Brendon O’Neill exposed it; and more recently the #YesScotland campaign highlighted and traded upon it: the UK’s political class is a corrupt, elitist, irresponsible, disingenuous, patronising, self-serving cartel. It must be urgently broken up and closed down.

After berating mild-mannered Times columnist Matthew Parris for his condescending attitude to the people of Clacton and raging about gay marriage (he is a teeny-tiny bit obsessed with gay people) he informs us that

Two weeks ago I spent my first day campaigning for UKIP in Clacton.

Last week I applied to join the party.

Alan Craig’s always been a bit mad, but if he thinks a party led by a multi-millionaire, public school-educated ex-city trader who has spent the past ten years living high on the hog in Brussels at the taxpayers’ expense is going to smash the Establishment and bring down the metropolitan political elite he is utterly delusional.

And I wonder how he squares his ‘Christianity’ with being a member of a party that wants to cut taxes for the very rich, while increasing taxes on the poor; destroy human rights protections by leaving the ECHR and repealing the Human Rights Act; and for us to turn our backs on the poorest, most vulnerable and most needy by rejecting asylum seekers and axing foreign aid?

But maybe Alan’s not really that much of a Christian at all. Just as Nigel Farage is a bigot who dresses his nasty prejudices up as ‘common sense’, Craig dresses his up in scripture and calls them religious convictions.

He and UKIP are a marriage made in heaven – but not a gay marriage. Obviously.

Council houses not councillors’ houses

7 Oct

Campaigners leaving the Carpenters Estate

Campaigners leave the Carpenters Estate with their heads held high (pic via @hackofalltrades)

Under increasing pressure from a flood of bad press and a Standards Committee investigation that won’t go away, Sir Robin has re-tooled his half-hearted apology to the Focus E15 mums into a column for the Guardian

After a bit of grandstanding about his ‘victory’ in winning back possession of the four perfectly habitable flats he’d left empty for years, the mayor turns his attention to the causes of the housing crisis:

The lack of housing supply, the Conservative government’s barbaric benefit bashing and the private rented sector’s spiralling rents and declining standards are a triple whammy.

Of course, he doesn’t mention his own personal contributions: NewShare, his partnership with Countrywide PLC that will flog off council homes in a ‘shared equity’ scheme; Red Doors Ventures, a council-owned development company that will build 3,500 home for private rent – the majority of them at full market rates; the repeated failure of planners to require developers to deliver social housing; the consistent commuting of section 106 obligations into cash payments that vanish into the general budget instead of being spent on housing; the intentional running down of the Carpenters Estate, leaving hundreds of serviceable homes sitting empty. This list goes on and on.

The mayor also glosses over the contribution of many of his Labour colleagues on council who are active in the private rented sector as landlords. They are getting fat from those spiralling market rents and ever-ballooning London property values.

Ayesha Chowdhury, community lead councillor for Beckton, has a portfolio of 18 properties in Newham, 17 of which are rented out. Ahmed Noor (Plaistow S) lists 6 properties in the register of interests; Unmesh Desai, Cabinet Member for Crime and Anti Social Behaviour, owns 5 properties; Mukesh Patel (Green St E) also has 5, as does Anthony McAlmont, chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee; Rohima Rahman, Forest Gate’s lead councillor, scrapes by with a mere 3 – two she owns and one leased from the council. There are many others who have a couple of properties listed.

As social housing is shut down or sold off and the private sector booms these rentier capitalists are quids in.

Poor Sir Robin: with just one home to his name, must feel a bit left out.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

4 Oct

Pro-social housing demonstrators outside the town hall on Monday (picture via South London RCG)

Last Monday night the world almost stopped turning on its axis. Pigs were seen flying over the Town Hall and dogs stood on their hind legs, walking like men.

For the first time anyone can remember, Sir Robin Wales said sorry.

It is clear to me that the issue of the moving on of residents from the Foyer – specifically in relation to the family groups who had their Supporting People funding removed – was initially handled badly – both by East Thames Housing as their landlord and by Newham Council1who accepted overall responsibility for almost every one of the family groups.

I am frustrated and disappointed that both organisations initially failed to put a tailored process in place for each family to sit down with them, explain the issues and provide them with support as they considered their options for the future. I believe both East Thames Housing and Newham Council should apologise to the former residents of the mother and baby unit for that collective failure and I make that apology this evening.

Of course, this being the mayor, the tone of contrition didn’t last long. He was soon back to blaming everyone else for the appalling mess he and his cronies have created. First, the Tories:

We are under attack from this Tory government. And that means we have to make difficult decisions.

Then the Focus E15 mums:

I am disappointed that the Group has deliberately misled residents, the media and others on the facts of the situation.

And their tactics:

On at least three occasions, the Group turned up at … coffee mornings with the clear intention of disrupting them to make a staged protest, to the detriment of other residents.

Wisely, as it’s the subject of a Standards Committee investigation, he didn’t mention the incident at the Newham Show.

Finally, he turned on those campaigning for more social housing:

The Group has undertaken a number of other direct actions, often with the support of hardened political activists.

Their decision to force the closure of our Housing Options office at Bridge House – our main centre for dealing with homeless residents and others in very vulnerable positions – by occupying the front office was despicable and inexcusable.

But the fact he prefaced this bluster with an apology, however half-hearted, is extraordinary. Something is going on.

First of all, there have been changes to the Labour Group on council. While the majority of councillors are still gutless, unprincipled creeps and money-grubbing careerists, there is now a group of councillors who are prepared to challenge Sir Robin. Perhaps not openly and in public – the façade of party unity must be preserved – but in one-to-one meetings and within Group questions are being asked. Hands are being raised to vote against Sir Robin’s latest wheeze. The strong-arm tactics to shut people up are no longer guaranteed to work. Sometimes Sir Robin will need to bend a little.

The more important factor though is his own political ambition. Newham is not enough: Sir Robin wants to be Mayor of London in 2016. And to be mayor he must first be Labour’s candidate.

The past few weeks have been deeply damaging to the carefully-cultivated Wales brand. Never mind the social media shitstorm the Focus E15 campaign has stirred up, it’s led to critical articles in the Guardian and the Independent – just the sorts of newspapers the London Labour ‘selectorate’ is likely to read. What they want is a candidate who will wage war on homelessness and poverty, not on the homeless and the poor. Right now, Sir Robin is being shown up as exactly what they don’t want: an arrogant, out-of-touch, middle-aged white man who’s more interested in what wealthy developers want than what ordinary Londoners need. And someone who’s happy to bully anyone that dares get in their way.

It might not come naturally to him, but Sir Robin might have to get used to saying sorry!