Monday, April 27, 2009


Slightly belatedly, to Redbridge's newest councillor, Alex Wilson, who was returned at the by-election last Thursday. In a contest characterised by the youth of the candidates, Alex saw off a spirited challenge by the Lib Dems whilst Labour crashed into a poor third place, in a ward they once held. The BNP vote failed to materialise in territory that is unpromising for their approach. The result was:

Alex Wilson, Con, 1,300
Kete Garret, Lib Dem, 1030
Ross Hatfull, Lab, 694
Ashley Gunstock, Green, 256
John Evans, BNP, 171
Nick Jones, UKIP, 37

Hat tip to Barkingside 21, first with the result...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

St Georges Day Celebrations in Trafalgar Square

Yesterday's celebrations drew a crowd of Big Hearted Englanders and enthusiastic tourists. We enjoyed folk music, English food and a speech from deputy mayor, Richard Barnes, before concluding with a meal in nearby Chinatown. Only in London...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

St Georges Day Celebrations at Leadenhall Market in the City

Boris and Gary Rhodes toured businesses and met City workers. I was there too with Tony Arbour and Westminster Cllr JP Floru.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I Was Wrong - And I Apologise

Since the weekend, I have received a large number of comments taking me to task for my remarks on Sunday. Anne-Marie Griffin from Fight The Flights has also contacted me by email. Behind the anger were some shocking stories from people who had to live close to the airport for years. I see now that coming on top of everything they have endured, my infamous 'Taliban' comment must have seemed like the last straw.

It was a throwaway line, intended to liven up my report of Peoples' Question Time in March, but to some it looked unbelievably callous. I think I understand now, so:

I am very sorry for the hurt that my ill considered words caused to local residents, including the people who made official complaints. It was unintentional but I realise that is no excuse. I also deeply regret the time it has taken for me to grasp the reality of this situation. I was wrong and I hope they can accept my apology.

In 20 years of political experience I have never reached a view based on pique - despite my reactions on Sunday afternoon. By training I am a scientist and a lawyer, and I'm usually too dispassionate, if anything. Some comments suggested I am in the pocket of the airport, but that is not the case.

I have sought to keep my options open on this issue because I'm not sure if my constituents are winners or losers overall. There are those who work at the airport, rely on it for business, or use it to travel, and the view of economic development advisors is that it provides a boost for East London. I want to protect peoples' livelihoods particularly in a recession.

On the other hand, there are residents who are disturbed by noise and who have a right to a calm environment. So far the complaints in my postbag are few, but they have the potential to increase and I have noticed more overflying recently. It is a delicate balance to strike, with far reaching consequences.

So I have asked Anne-Marie if she would be willing to meet me to put her case and share her experiences. To ensure balance I will also be seeking a meeting with the airport management. And I would be interested in other views too - your comments are invited.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Return of The Queen

The Mayor has just unveiled a portrait of the Queen at City Hall.

Boris pointed out that it was seven years since Her Majesty opened the building and stated that the least we could do was acknowledge her role by displaying her official portrait. Most civic buildings boast a picture of the Head of State but so far she has been absent from the home of London government. Suspense built as the mayor made several attempts to draw back the curtain covering the picture. A good tug pulled it clear and Boris made a short speech whilst photographs were taken.

The chief executive, several deputy mayors and a cross section of staff from around the building were present for this brief event.

Friday, April 17, 2009

"Climate Change Taliban" Decision Notice

The GLA's assessment Sub Committee met on 1st April to consider six complaints relating to my reporting of the March Peoples' Question Time, specifically my use of the phrase Climate Change Taliban, which they alleged was offensive. The chair of the sub committee has now signed off the decision notice which concludes that NO FURTHER ACTION is to be taken.

The full notice contains details of the complainants and their statements, and quotes the relevant paragraphs of the code of conduct so I don't propose to reproduce it all here. Full copies are published by the GLA if needed.

I will, however, quote the section that gives reasons for their decision:

The Sub-Committee noted that the blog identified Mr Evans as an Assembly Member, but found as a matter of fact that the blog was not hosted by the GLA's website or server, and was not published by the GLA. There was no official GLA connection to the blog. It also found that, whilst the blog related to Peoples' Question Time (a GLA event which Mr Evans attended as an Assembly Member), it was a personal blog in which Mr Evans was commenting on Peoples' Question Time after the actual event. For these reasons, the Sub-Committee decided that, in producing and publishing the blog, Mr Evans was not conducting the business of the GLA, and nor was he acting, claiming to act or giving impression that he was acting as a representative of the GLA. He was not therefore acting in an official capacity and was not required to comply with, and could not have breached, paragraphs 3(1) - 3(2)(b) of the Code.

After having decided this, the Sub-Committee proceeded to consider whether Mr Evans' conduct was a breach of paragraph 5 of the Code of Conduct.

Paragraph 5 - "You must not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or the authority into disrepute."

The reason it considered this is because this paragraph of the Code applies to, and can be breached by, Members even when they are not acting in an official capacity. Accordingly, if the Sub-Committee considered that Mr Evans' blog had brought his office or the GLA into disrepute, it could have decided to take further action against him. The majority of the Sub-Committee did not find the phrase 'Climate Change Taliban' offensive, and the Sub-Committee decided unanimously that the blog did not breach paragraph 5 of the Code.

For these reasons, the Assessment Sub-Committee decided that no further action should be taken on the complaints.

The first section of this judgement is particularly interesting as it accepts that unofficial blogs which are not subsidised by public funds enjoy considerable latitude when it comes to reporting official occasions. Thus reassured that the Standards Committee are not seeking to censor output, other elected representatives might care to grasp the opportunity to communicate afforded by blogs and other online media.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Essex Institute of Advanced Motorists

I spent yesterday evening with the Essex Institute of Advanced Motorists, a group of around fifty people from different walks of life, meeting at the Chigwell Police Social Club. Generally, they were happy to see the change of mayor although they did praise Ken for introducing the Oystercard.

Like the mayor, they are enthusiastic about improving traffic flows in London, with a lot of support for removing unnecessary pedestrian phases and shortening the time that traffic lights spend on red. They were not keen on road humps and speed tables, which punish good and bad drivers, preferring speed cameras and police patrols to target the truly dangerous individuals. Public policies which led to the needless removal of road space were condemned.

The audience also felt that driving tests should be tightened up to ensure that all the rules of the road were obeyed. There was an interesting suggestion that drivers should be retested at regular intervals if they wished to retain their licences. Lack of courtesy to other drivers - dipping headlights at night for example - was seen as an increasing problem. Although I have not driven for nearly two years I can see what they mean, with examples of inconsiderate and aggressive driving becoming all too common.

There was considerable irritation with local councils who did not do enough to maintain the roads and clear the drains but were all too enthusiastic when it came to road markings, humps and excess signage. The exception was the recent space sharing work done in High Street Kensington, and they awaited the similar proposals for Exhibition Road with interest. Daniel Moylan should be pleased that his fame has spread this far east. They were also pleased to see the back of junction blocking bendy buses.

And they had plenty of ideas for improvement of traffic management, including more use of flashing amber phases, visible countdowns to traffic signal changes (used in Romania) and allowing left turns during red phases - as discussed in the previous post.

All in all it was an enjoyable evening with a well informed group of enthusiasts, including many women. Some of them want to see Mayor's Question Time and I look forward to welcoming them to City Hall.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Turning Left on Red

During the election last year one idea which received some attention was allowing traffic to turn left at junctions even when the lights were red. I had some sympathy for the suggestion but felt that the change - if implemented - should be nationwide, so that drivers didn't have to remember a different set of rules when in the capital.

Today we see this proposal resurfacing in the Evening Standard. Boris has suggested that it should be implemented but only for cyclists. The mayor hopes that cyclists would then be able to get a head start on the heavy vehicles that have claimed 13 lives this year.

Kulveer Ranger, director of transport policy, states "We have written to the Department for Transport asking to run a trial on this. It is a practical proposal which would help improve the relationship between cyclists and other road users." I'm not convinced about that last bit...

The DfT spokesman confirms my original view that "To allow for cyclists to be exempted from red lights a change to the current legislation would be required. This would need to go through the appropriate parliamentary processes before it could take effect."

Monday, April 13, 2009

Recession in Romford

This is - or was - the newsagent downstairs from my flat. They opened a couple of years ago but always struggled to get a large number of customers. Opposite is T K Max, still open but nowhere near as busy as it once was. The Romford Recorder also reports the failure of Giorgio's restaurant, on of the town's smartest venues.

In contrast, nearby Primark was packed over the Easter weekend and Marks & Spencer attracts a lot of older shoppers who are in there every day, although the luxury sandwich range disappeared back in March.

This mixed picture of the recession - some losers, some winners - is repeated elsewhere in business as I discovered last week when I spent a morning with the Academy of Chief Executives. the dozen or so businesses represented around the table were mostly keeping their heads above water, although two manufacturers were pessimistic and one service organisation was actually launching a new product online.

One thing that had changed was their enthusiasm for taking contracts from the public sector. In the past many companies haven't bothered and one of my previous employers had a policy of not taking part - you have to draft bureaucratic equal opportunities, health & safety and environment strategies, then complete some lengthy and confusing tender documents before you can even bid, then the work still goes to the same old people - one of the directors claimed. Now, with reducing opportunities and profits cut to the bone, they can no longer afford to be choosy.

They were also sceptical of the LDA's ability - and the Government's - to actually improve conditions for business. Much of the activity that politicians pride themselves upon was seen as well meaning but ineffective and the credibility of Business Link, which is supposed to be helping, was seen to be low. Recovery, when it comes, will be driven by hard working, risk taking individuals and not by The State.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Wanstead By Election

Out this morning campaigning in Wanstead for a council by election caused by the sad death of Cllr Allan Burgess.

Our candidate is Alex Wilson, pictured along with MEP Charles Tannock and Cllr Edwin Northover, who will be fighting for Leyton & Wanstead at the General Election, when it finally comes along.

We found a lot of support in a seat which is also being contested by Labour, Lib Dems, Greens and UKIP, as well as the BNP who bizarrely quoted Cicero in their latest leaflet.

Meanwhile, we are campaigning for a conservation area to protect the character of the New Counties Estate and to reopen the Corner House lunch club. Alex is also supporting plans for a new science block at Wanstead High School.

The election takes place on 23rd April.