Saturday, April 30, 2011

Barkingside Says NO

On the final weekend before the AV poll, we took our 'No' stall to Barkingside. In the hot sun we were joined by MP Lee Scott, prospective Assembly list candidate Nadia Sharif, and Cllr Keith Prince accompanied by members of his Redbridge group. Things were a lot slower than last week in Harold Hill, with people still getting over the Royal Wedding celebrations. Let's hope they are back in action for the big vote on Thursday!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Alternative Energy Debate

Yesterday afternoon I joined students at Oaks Park High School in Redbridge for a video conference debate with some of their counterparts from the United States. Over in New York State it was the morning session at Scotia Glenvile High school and everyone looked a lot fresher than I felt in the summer heat.

Oaks Park have used their video conferencing facility to link up with locations around the globe including China and Antarctica. They have used simulations to relive the evacuation of Montserrat during the volcanic eruption a few years ago. It is a fantastic tool for broadening experience and we could have done with it when I was growing up in the North East and anywhere over 50 miles away was regarded as a foreign land.

The Politicians

I was invited to give my views and to talk about the Mayor's energy strategy. Whilst I think there is a future for solar and wind power, I don't believe that it is sufficiently productive to cater for our power needs. Biomass is a more interesting option, particularly as it includes energy from waste and cleaner alternatives to straight incineration are being developed and trialled in London. But I felt that nuclear power was the only current option that provides enough energy to replace fossil fuels.

We shouldn't leave a damaged environment to our children but neither should we leave them an inadequate energy infrastructure. I grew up in the seventies during the miners strikes and I remember what it was like to be deprived of heat and light - you couldn't even get all the way through an episode of Thunderbirds without the comrades pulling the plug. My political education started early in life...

From the States Congressman Paul Tonko joined us for his contribution. As a member of the congressional budget committee he's a big fish and we were lucky to get him. He's also got considerable scientific experience in this field and he is chairing a congressional committee which plans to make recommendations about the design of wind farms and solar energy plants in future. He is a big fan of President Obama who seemed a popular figure with the students despite the bad press he gets over here on occasions.

The Alternatives

Students then took turns to present their research, looking at the up and down sides of nuclear, solar, wind and biomass generation.

With a much larger land mass and some very hot areas, the States clearly has more room for wind and solar generation, although they also have a greater demand for energy. They were very keen to move away from fossil fuels, not so much because of environmental concerns but because they were imported from countries that were not seen as America's friends. There was also a surprising degree of opposition to nuclear power amongst the New York students. There was much talk about changing behaviour to cut down on energy use - I wish Congressman Tonko the best of luck with that project...

The Redbridge students actually had a greater enthusiasm for nuclear and biomass generation and they recognised that our climate makes solar energy a non starter, at least until the technology becomes more efficient. There was much interest in wind power and a desire for neighbouring countries in Europe to pool their resources in the quest for clean energy.

There was also no clear winner from this debate. The sensible conclusion was that each option had a part to play and that the best idea was to use electricity generated by all these methods as necessary, with a greater emphasis on renewables as research made them more effective.

I thoroughly enjoyed taking part in this well informed and thoughtful debate and I hope that I will have the chance to participate again in future.

As I left I picked up an email from our new Group Leader - he's putting me back on the Transport Committee. Excellent news because I have missed being involved and now I will be able to write even more pieces about trains and buses for the blog...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Harold Hill Says NO

This morning I joined colleagues in the sun, manning our 'No To AV' stall in Harold Hill. We set up at the Hilldene shopping centre, an area that is reasonably busy with locals on a Saturday morning. In addition to the usual leaflets we had flags for St Georges Day and helium balloons which proved very popular.

Chris Philp who is coordinating the London campaign, joined us and we also had Angela Watkinson MP and local councillor Keith Wells in support. This is traditionally a Labour area but Keith is very popular, having ousted his opponent in 2006 and remarkably retained his seat against the trend last year.

We experienced a very positive response. All morning I only met one person in favour of AV, and I also met someone who refused to take part because the country is run by 'Freemasons and Israelis', a state of affairs that he felt would remain the same regardless of the voting system.

The people here are sceptical of politicians, and with good reason. Traditional Labour supporters, they were abandoned by Tony Blair and feel betrayed, particularly over employment and immigration. They have a historical suspicion of Conservatives too. Many said that we were 'all as bad as each other' but when we explained that this was a vote about policy rather than electing individuals the most unlikely people became engaged. Often they were surprisingly well informed about the choices on offer and the political reasoning behind them.

And perhaps we have stumbled on something here in Harold Hill? Would more referendums encourage public involvement? Voting systems are not exactly riveting so how much more engaging could other subjects be? A vote on European membership would certainly turn them out. What about a vote on support for the banks? Or a vote on the content of a new British Human Rights Bill?

I think that when you give people real power they will take more notice. When they feel their votes matter they will consider their options, and quite possibly take unpopular decisions. Perhaps they will turn to the news pages when they pick up the paper in the morning, rather than celebrity trash and sports results.

Perhaps something valuable will come out of this unpromising exercise after all - whatever the ballot result.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Hornchurch Passion

I have just returned from tonight's performance of the Hornchurch Passion Play.

Performed on the village green, this free entry event celebrating the story of Easter, attracted many hundreds of people. Stages erected on scaffolding around the green provide locations for Jesus teaching in the temple, the Last Supper, the trial before Pilate and of course the crucifixion - which takes place on a grassy knoll.

The action is timed so that the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane takes place just as the sun sets. Romans are depicted in modern military dress, with Pilate resembling the Duce of World War II. As darkness falls spotlights follow the actors around the multiple sets. The spectacular piece concludes with the Resurrection and a message of hope for mankind.

A choir and small orchestra provide background music for the ninety minute production, which is well worth seeing. Congratulations to the churches of Hornchurch for this fantastic performance.

The play will be repeated on Saturday and Easter Sunday, starting at 7:30pm. More details can be found at .

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

City Hall Reshuffle

The sad death of Simon Milton meant that some restructuring would be needed - he occupied a position uniquely suited to his talents and it was unlikely that he could be replaced by one individual in the same role. The Mayor looks to have taken the opportunity to institute a wider reshuffle in preparation for the last year before the 2012 election.

Chief Of Staff and Deputy Mayor for Planning

This role is now taken on by Edward Lister, who has been leader of flagship Wandsworth council for almost 20 years, an impressive performance. I have known Eddie for a long time and this appointment recognises his considerable skills. He commands a great deal of respect amongst local government leaders, although he is less conciliatory than Simon and other political parties may be wary of him.

Deputy Mayor for Transport

Not before time, the upgrading of the transport advisor's post recognises the need to finally get a grip of TfL. Isabel Dedring will take on this role. She is an impressive American who came to London with Bob Kiley's team and moved to City Hall to serve as the environment advisor three years ago, following the Boris victory.

Daniel Moylan will also be doubling his time commitment as deputy chairman of TfL, so we can expect to see transport improvements take centre stage in 2011/12.

Economic Policy and Regeneration Advisor

This role will also be beefed up and taken on by Peter Rogers, the former chief executive of Westminster City Council, who has spent the last three years repairing and reorganising the LDA. With LDA functions being transferred to City Hall it makes sense to bring Peter across to oversee them. Peter's grasp of detail and unflappable performances at Assembly meetings have impressed members from all parties.


Anthony Browne moves to the Boris campaign team with the job of writing the 2012 manifesto. He is a very bright guy, fizzing with exciting new ideas - exactly the right person to be thinking big thoughts as the election approaches.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

South Woodford Says NO

This morning we set up our 'No to AV' stall in George Lane, South Woodford. I was joined by councillors Chris Cummins and Paul Canal. We also had the local MP Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work & Pensions and high profile hospital cuts protester, join us for an hour.

Interesting people in AV is challenging - they would much rather have a referendum on our membership of the EU, that would really get people involved. In this case, most are planning not to vote on May 5th and the turnout is likely to be low. A great pity as we could find ourselves facing a major constitutional change without great public enthusiasm.

Most of the people we met are going to vote 'no', but of course there were some 'Yes' enthusiasts as well. One man told me that he wanted to be able to vote Lib Dem but to have a Conservative second choice to keep Ken Livingstone out! Superficially attractive, but is it really such a good idea to enshrine negative voting in the system like that? Won't it encourage negative campaigning? Or the buying of minority votes?

When I got home I found my postal voting form lying on the mat. I could cast this vote without any meaningful precaution to ensure that I am the person entitled to it, and in urban areas there are often allegations of postal vote fraud - surely there are some aspects of our voting system that need reform more urgently than AV.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sir Simon Milton 1961 - 2011

A great many mourners attended Simon's funeral in Edgware yesterday. Of course there was a large City Hall contingent, but there were also a lot of present and former Westminster councillors, a number of government ministers and of course Simon's many friends and family. My first sight of Simon was when he took part in a television interview as a young councillor in Westminster. I was new to politics and quite ambitious and I remember thinking that if this was the standard of person I would be competing with, I would have my work cut out. At the time Westminster was going through the upheaval which followed the departure of Dame Shirley Porter. A succession of leaders passed through in quick succession, until Simon took the helm and brought things back under control. Simon was a man of great ability who vastly improved services in Westminster and went on to use his skills and experience leading the Local Government Association. He was good at bringing people together across the political divide and this is where his abilities transcended being merely intelligent or hard working - Simon understood people and could appreciate other points of view. I really only got to know Simon well in 2008 when he arrived at City Hall. The first few months of our administration had been difficult, with the loss of deputy mayor Ray Lewis, and once again Simon brought some much needed stability and hands on experience of local government. He quickly became very close to Boris, accompanying him on every important occasion, making his judgement available. I don't recall ever seeing him lose his temper, even in the most trying of circumstances. Simon helped me out on a number of occasions when things got difficult and I sought advice, which he gave generously, with no strings attached. I feel that I was enriched personally for knowing him. His loss is a great tragedy for our city, and no less a tragedy for his family and his partner Robert. My heart goes out to them in their grief.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Return to Redbridge Roundabout

This evening I joined representatives of TfL and Redbridge Council at a meeting with Clayhall Ward residents and their councillor, Gurdial Bhamra.

Arriving early I carried out a quick inspection of the subways, following up on my visit with Cranbrook Ward councillors several weeks ago. The subway flooding has been fixed, with repairs to the water pump. All the lighting is now working. Even the litter has been cleaned up, although it is still far from spotless and unlikely to remain clean for as long as thoughtless people dump their rubbish here.

The Problem

So far so good - now onto the meat of the evening. We gathered in the Red House pub on the north side of the roundabout to watch a very clear presentation outlining the traffic problems on the roundabout. The situation is particularly difficult and dangerous for cars entering the roundabout from Redbridge Lane East, the only road not regulated by traffic signals.

The lack of signals is aggravated by a poorly sited pedestrian crossing, a mini roundabout and buses entering the queue from Redbridge Station - some turning right across the traffic.

Throughout the day the situation is dire, with a delay of up to thirty minutes for vehicles approaching the roundabout. This was dramatically illustrated in a video produced by residents and available to view on their website .

The Solution

Ideally traffic signals were needed at the junction with the roundabout, but this would be expensive and cause delays in the rest of the roundabout. A cheaper and less disruptive approach would be to lengthen the red phase on the lights controlling access from the A406, to the right of Redbridge Lane East. TfL staff agreed to examine this option.

Meanwhile another option would be to reroute the buses to stop outside the underground station on the A12. TfL were reluctant to make such a change which would make the interchange with the tube more difficult.

Moving the pedestrian crossing further from the roundabout would also smooth traffic flow. TfL and the council were examining proposals to remove the mini roundabout junction immediately before the crossing, replacing it with traffic lights. A crossing could be incorporated into the new junction. Further study - and money - was needed.

Air Quality

Speeding up the traffic flow would reduce emissions in Redbridge Lane East, a very laudable aim. However the proximity of the A406, A12 and the roundabout itself is likely to be so harmful to air quality that minor changes to traffic speed would make little difference. Cleaner engines and less polluting fuels are the only long term solution in this location.


The infamous Olympic Route Network, already a bone of contention between myself and the Mayor, will mean changes here during the games. At least we will be spared the orange painted 'zil lanes', but there are plans to clear traffic on the roundabout by preventing access to Redbridge Lane East from noon to midnight during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

We agreed that we couldn't see how such a change would actually improve speeds for traffic heading to Stratford, which would be on the inside of the roundabout at this point. TfL representatives agreed to consider the proposals in the light of local objections.

We concluded on this high note. Residents were pleased by TfL's constructive and sympathetic approach, and for their part, I felt the residents had done a good job of demonstrating the problems and devising realistic solutions. We will all be in contact for an update in a few weeks.

Brentwood Mutual Aid

There are no elections in London this year so we are taking the opportunity to help neighbouring boroughs with their campaigns. This evening we were leafleting in Brentwood, with a sizeable contingent of Havering councillors and the leader of Brentwood Louise McKinlay, standing out in red.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Hospital Protest

A fantastic protest in support of the campaign to keep King George Hospital yesterday. The sun shone as we gathered outside Queen's Hospital in Romford, banners and yellow T shirts much in evidence. I wore my cream summer suit for the first time this year - The Man From Del Monte says No to KGH closures...

After a morale boosting speech from local MP Andrew Rosindell, we were marshalled into some sort of order by Cllr Andy Walker who has done so much to coordinate the campaign. Councillors from all parties featured in the march, including Havering's official residents and even the independent residents. Cllr Jeff Tucker had brought his own megaphone to encourage us every step of the way.

We set off in beating sunshine, along Crow Lane to Chadwell Heath. All the way passing cars were hooting their support and the locals cheered us on. Just as well, as it was a lot further than had been envisaged and some of the older marchers had started to flag. At this point I made the ultimate sacrifice, taking some of the slower protestors on the number 86 bus, which followed the route of the march, on through Goodmayes and Seven Kings. Along the way we picked up stragglers - good for them for making the effort - until we virtually filled the bus. We considered flying banners out of the top deck but decided that TfL would be unhappy - perhaps hiring an open topped bus for future marches would be a good idea. Or even a bendy, there will be plenty going spare now...

As Ilford came in sight we alighted to complete the final stage on foot. Jeff was still straining the megaphone and there was yet more applause from the people we passed - this is the area that stands to lose most from the closure. An attractive girl dashed over and embraced me spontaneously - is this what it is like to be a socialist? Maybe it has its attractions after all.

At the Town Hall we met local MPs, Lee Scott, Mike Gapes and Margaret Hodge. Pictures were taken on the steps and there was much chanting and arm waving. As a Tory, I don't do this very often and it felt a bit awkward, but it was in a good cause.

The Town Hall itself was packed with over 600 people attending to show their support. The meeting was ably chaired by veteran trade unionist Bob Archer. We heard speeches from all the MPs, but also some really moving contributions from local people. One man told how King George Hospital had saved his son's life after he had a seizure. Support came from Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus and Christians - this campaign is cross community as well as cross party.

As each guest spoke, the faults in the health service proposals were laid bare. The Independent Reconfiguration Panel is now considering the plans and will report to the Secretary of State later this year. They will be visiting the hospitals affected, interviewing MPs and councillors, and most importantly taking evidence of personal experience from the residents. Contributions to this review are vital and can be sent to:

The Independent Review Panel

6th Floor,

157-197 Buckingham Palace Road



020 7389 8046

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Lobbying the PM

I have just got back from Downing Street where I joined a delegation from Havering, Redbridge, Barking & Dagenham and Waltham Forest, to present a letter asking the Prime Minister to reject the flawed plans to close the A & E and maternity units at King George Hospital.

With the demonstration and march tomorrow, the campaign is attracting strong cross party support from all four boroughs, including Redbridge's leader Cllr Keith Prince and deputy leader Cllr Ian Bond. The MPs in attendance were Labour's John Cryer, Mike Gapes and Margaret Hodge, and Conservatives Lee Scott, Andrew Rosindell and Angela Watkinson. When we arrived on the doorstep of Number Ten, Iain Duncan Smith came out of the building to join us - perhaps he had taken the opportunity to brief David Cameron personally.

When we handed our letter over we had coverage from the Ilford Recorder, BBC London and London Tonight's Simon Harris, so we can expect to see our efforts on the news tonight and perhaps on Sunday's Politics Show.

A big crowd turned out to show the strength of feeling and there were plenty of bright yellow campaign T shirts in evidence. We can only hope that the government takes note at the highest level and reverses the damaging closure plan.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

A Day in 'The Bricks'

The fifth stage of the Capital Ring leaves behind the parkland of south London and wends a tortuous route through the built up area around Wandsworth Common and Balham. Last week wasn't too much for Pauline who chose to join me once again on this five and a half mile foot bruising trek over level concrete and tarmac. It being Sunday the rail operators were conspiring to keep people out of London with closure of the lines out of Liverpool Street and between London Bridge and Streatham Common, nevertheless we persevered and eventually found ourselves standing where we left off last week - with one important difference, the sun was shining. After a complicated encounter with the main line to Brighton, the walk emerged from a maze of bridges and subways next to the distinctive Thames Water pumping station. Some brisk road walking through Streatham followed, leading to Tooting Bec Common and the large lido. Across the common, the bricks formed a solid barrier and the way threaded around the back streets of Balham. My sister lived here briefly in the eighties before deciding that commuting wasn't for her and returning Up North. Most of the Guisborians came to London at some time and most left before long.

Meanwhile, the route emerged onto busy Balham High Street opposite the rather grand Du Cane Court. A late start meant that it was time for lunch so we took a break at the Nightingale and I had an excellent chargrilled chicken wrap. The service - a friendly French waitress - and the food were excellent and the place was unsurprisingly busy. Across the road we encountered the church of St Mary and John the Divine, an interesting building fronted by a domed baptistry, then it was back into the streets again. The population seem quite young and we encountered a lot of joggers and families. Crossing Wandsworth Common alongside the railway, we came to a series of lakes populated by ducks, cootes and moorhens. No bread so we gave up trying to attract the swans and carried on swiftly past the grim environs of Wandsworth Prison. Oscar Wilde was imprisoned here in 1898 for being gay - what a long way we have come since then. Ronnie Biggs also spent time here in 1963 until he went over the wall. I risked an encounter with the authorities by taking a quick picture of the front gate. The walk down Magdalen Road past the cemetery seemed to go on forever before the watering holes of Earlsfield came in sight. Under the railway bridges, we crossed the River Wandle and I made a silent wish and chucked a coin in. This area was an industrial heartland and is still very built up. Beyond a small park, we passed the Wimbledon Mosque and climbed the only hill of the day to Wimbledon Park Station. London Underground were more cooperative than the main line operators and the District Line carried us effortlessly back to town. All that tarmac and brickwork was quite overwhelming. We are longing for some green space and luckily the next stage crosses the wilds of Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park, in my opinion the best part of the Ring. I can't wait!

Capital Ring Day Five - Photographs

Day five traversed the built up area around Wandswoth Common and the Wandle Valley. Pictures feature the Moorish style Streatham Pumping Station, Art Deco Du Cane Court, the Church of St Mary and John the Divine, and the forbidding gates of Wandsworth Prison.