Monday, May 28, 2007

Rowan Road High School planning application

Although it's in the neighbouring ward of Longthornton(though near the border of my ward Pollards Hill) proposals have been made for the Rowan Road High School site. A public meeting has been organised by Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh and will take place on Saturday 9th June at St Olaves Church hall on Rowan Road starting at 10am.

Below is information from the Merton website and I enclose a link.

Proposals for the former Rowan High School, Rowan Road, Mitcham
The former Rowan High School site is being redeveloped as part of English Partnerships' Design for Manufacture initiative. The Council produced a planning brief for the site in November 2003 and since then we have worked closely with English Partnerships in developing a masterplan for the site and have selected Crest Nicholson as the preferred developers for the scheme.

A planning application for the site was received on 18th April 2007 and is currently being considered by the Council's Development Control Team.

The development will include;
2.6 Ha Landscaped Public Park (with new pedestrian and cycle access from Hoylake Gardens and Kingsmead Avenue)
New Scout Hall and Community Facility (390 m2)
New Medical Centre fronting Rowan Road (1985m2)
Restoration of the locally listed school building (converted into 27 flats)
217 residential units consisting of 131 family homes and 86 flats (including 27 flats in the converted school building)
(Building heights range from 2 storey, rising to 4 storeys at the centre of the site)
30% of the housing will be affordable (for rent and key worker / shared ownership)
278 car parking spaces
171 cycle parking spaces
Sustainable Development

Friday, May 25, 2007

Irish General Election & Bertie Ahern

For most of today, I've been following the Irish General Election with an Internet feed from the Irish state broadcaster RTE. From being down and out just a few weeks ago, Bertie Ahern seems to have risen in a Lazarus fashion and is set to be re-elected as the Taoiseach(Irish Prime Minister). In Ireland an STV system exists and the final result will be unclear until tomorrow. In winning a third consecutive term he becomes only the second ever leader to achieve this feat, a quite remarkable achievement given that he has been in office for 10 years.

Why did Bertie make such a comeback? Part of the reason has to be his charisma coupled with his ability to brush off problems and come out looking rosy. In Ireland, tribunals and investigations into politicians seem to be a way of life, indeed various allegations have been made about Bertie though nothing seems to stick or is referred to a tribunal, one of which has been in existence for ten years.

Also a major reason for his success, has to be the Irish economy which has grown significantly over the last ten years which has seen the country transformed. The economic performance has been nothing sort of phenomenal with the highest rates of growth in Western Europe and a huge fall in unemployment. Being a regular visitor to the country (both my parents come from Ireland), I've seen first hand the changes that have taken place and the increased prosperity. Indeed just a few years ago, migration of people abroad was a major problem with the population dropping as a result, now people especially from Eastern Europe flock to the country because of the economic opportunities available. Indeed my own parents and many of my parents generation left the country as there was simply a complete lack of opportunities in Ireland, this simply does not happen anymore.

However, the considerable economic success has not been without its downside, huge infrastructure problems exist and the huge growth population in parts of Ireland especially in Dublin (50% growth over four years in some areas) has seen the failure of infrastructure to cater for the growth. The health service is in complete crisis with strikes being a regular feature, money has gone in but it's in a much poorer state then in the UK and also charges on a whole range of services including going to the doctors and ANE (anyone who complains about the NHS should see the state of the Irish health service). In education, a complete lack of places exist for thousands of school children, it's all very well building houses but the infrastructure needs to be in place.

The campaign in Ireland shows the turn-around that can happen in the space of a few weeks, in a way it could be compared to the General Election here in 1992 with the main opposition Fine Gael making large gains but failing to breakthrough after many years in opposition.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Champions League Final & Liverpool

In terms of the result tonight with Liverpool losing in the Champions League Final I'm gutted and very dissapointed at losing to AC Milan. However, I'm proud of their performance throughout the tournament where they achieved some outstanding results. Although I missed the first half due to the Annual Council Meeting at Merton, I understand that Liverpool had their chances and were unlucky to go behind at the end of the half.

With Liverpool being under new owners and extra investment in new players promised, next year promises to be an exciting year and hopefully we'll win the title for the first time in eighteen years. For Liverpool to reach two Champions League Finals over three seasons is a magnificent achievement and we can only go from strength to strength.

I have no doubt that the next few years will bring further success and trophies back to Liverpool to build on our record as the most successful English football club.

John Dehaney elected as Mayor of Merton

At the Merton Annual Council meeting on Wednesday night, John Dehaney a Labour councillor in Graveney and the Deputy Mayor for the last year was chosen to succeed Geraldine Stanford as Mayor of Merton. This is the first time in six years that a male mayor has been elected and John is only the third non-white mayor in Merton's history to be elected as mayor. Like last year, the status quo remains with the council at 30 all and a Conservative administration without a casting vote at full council.

With the current situation being like it is in Merton, all councillors were in attendance on Wednesday night, from the Labour side the last two councillors arrived at 7-14, a minute before the start of the Council meeting. This is always a nerve wracking experience especially as the Conservative would've moved a mayoral nominee if we did not have a full turnout of councillors.

John along with his wife and Mayoress Audrey will make a fantastic mayoral couple over the next year and I'm really pleased for both of them. I have known John as a colleague for the last five years and in that time I've found to be hard working, loyal and dedicated to his position as a councillor.

John Dehaney has chosen Philip Jones as his Deputy Mayor, Philip was first elected to the Council in 1971 and has undertaken a number of roles including being Leader of the Council, Chair of Planning and most recently Chief Whip to the Labour group. Philip has been an outstanding ambassador for the Council over a number of years and his new position his thoroughly deserved and recognition of his long service on the Council.

A tribute should also be paid to the outgoing Mayor Geralidne Stanford who done a fantastic job as a Mayor over the last year and raised a record £50,000 for her mayoral charities Faith in Action along with Merton and Morden Guild.

In terms of other business at the AGM, Corina Edge has left the Cabinet and it's been reduced to nine members, they've also appointed three Assistant Cabinet members in Henry Nelless, Krystal Miller and Linda Scott. Within the Merton constitution, they have no constitutional position or executive powers, the Labour group awaits with interest their exact role and any constitutional amendments that the Tories bring forward to legitimise their position. On the vote endorsing the Cabinet, both the Merton Park Residents and Labour abstained with just the Tories voting in favour.

I have been re-elected for a second year as chair of The Way We Work scrutiny panel, Rod Scott has also become Vice Chair in place of Henry Nelless, Rod is a colourful character on the Council and it should be fun working with him over the next year. The Council also appointed me as a representative to the LGA Urban Commission.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Gordon Brown's acceptance speech

Earlier today I was invited along to Gordon Brown's acceptance speech as Labour Party leader elect at Bloomberg in the City. The speech was a graceful acceptance of being elected unopposed(the first time this has happened in decades), but also clear statement towards what he sees as the future direction of the Labour Party.

In choosing Gordon Brown, it's clear that the party was pretty unified in nominating him and that's been shown in the wide cross-section of MP's from all parts of the country. From the nominations, it's clear that John McDonnell had little support within the Parliamentary Labour Party and that needs to be a pre-requisite for any candidate who seeks to be leader of the party. I've no doubt that Gordon will be an excellent Prime Minister and he's rightfully recognised that the next six weeks are an ideal opportunity to engage the public, but also set a vision for the way ahead.

In terms of the Deputy Leader, Hilary Benn was nominated as predicted on this blog. This contest will certainly be very interesting and from all accounts Hazel Blears was the top performer at the hustings last night and I was told this by people who are supporting rival candidates.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Gordon Brown to become Labour Party leader and Prime Minister elect tomorrow

On the latest tally, Gordon Brown has reached 307 nominations with John McDonnell stuck at 29, that leaves just 18 nominations outstanding and McDonnell would need to get 16 to even get on the ballot paper. What is important that while it will be confirmed tomorrow that Gordon Brown has been elected unopposed, we still need to continue the debate we've had about renewing ourselves in office after ten years. I welcome many of the initiatives that Gordon has annouced in the last week, including affordable housing which is one of the most important issues for my generation. Gordon Brown has a golden opportunity to promote the Labour Party over the next few weeks and this I believe will enhance his standing as people get a better picture of what a Brown government will do in office.

In the Deputy Leader race, Hilary Benn edges towards getting on the ballot with just four more needed and I think he'll achieve that goal, 34 have not nominated, and he needs just four more.

At lunchtime tomorrow we'll know the full situation.

Comprehensive Schools

The announcement today by David Willets marks another u-turn in Conservative education in abandoning support for grammar schools. Only at the last election the Conservatives were planning to support the introduction of more grammar schools in England. I actually welcome their revised view on the issue though like most Conservative U-turns you do have to have to be slightly sceptical given their record and contradictory statements on the issue.

Although just over 160 grammar schools exist in England and over 40 of those are in the county of Kent, in certain areas clear evidence exists that they distort the results of neighbouring schools. While at one point, some children from lower socio-economic backgrounds got into grammar schools, in recent years they've become more and more middle class magnets, indeed I've heard of examples of pupils going to grammar schools who live over 20 miles away. In the ever more competitive environment in which we live, it's not enough to pass the 11-plus; it is those who score the highest marks who get a place regardless of where they live. Many students at grammar schools have parents who've paid for extra tuition to get them through the 11-plus or sent them to private schools, the present make up of grammar schools are not a wide cross-section of the community and are biased towards the middle class.

Although I recognise that comprehensive schools have not been complete successes in every part of the country but most especially in areas of deprivation, in most instances they've increased the opportunities available to children and the vast majority have been successful. What is crucially important is that standards are driven up in comprehensive schools that produce poor results and which ultimately will affect the life chances of many of the students who attend those schools.

This is why I believe the Labour Government was right to introduce the academy programme; I believe this will drive up attainment in those schools where results and standards are low. In my own area of Pollards Hill, I see the difference that the Harris Academy has made to the local area in bringing about a new ethos at the school, but also increasing the opportunities available to students in an area of low educational attainment. What is important is that students from all abilities are accepted and that everyone has the chance to achieve their full potential at school, selection has not and never will be the answer to achieving better overall results in our education system.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Labour leadership update

Looking at the nominations, it seems that Gordon Brown will be elected un-opposed on Thursday as the next Labour Party leader. Looking at the nominations, it's clear that John McDonnell is unlikely to get nominated barring some miracle. With only 45 MP's left to declare from the ranks of Labour MP’s, it's increasingly unlikely that he'll manage to find another 18 and considering that Meacher pulled out to help him shows how weak his support is within the PLP and some only nominated him to allow a contest. Still at least he had an opportunity to debate with Gordon on Sunday along with Meacher and his performance so far has shown that their is no appetite within he party to turn back the clock.

In terms of the Deputy Leader, four candidates have passed the threshold with Jon Cruddas needing only more (a far more serious left candidate then McDonnell). In terms of Hilary Benn, it's clear that he is struggling though another 55 Labour MP's have nominated no-one and he's still in with a chance, I think he'll just about reach 45. That will leave us with six candidates, a pretty remarkable figure given that you need to be nominated by 45 MP's. The Deputy Leadership is a pretty wide open race but hopefully Hazel Blears will win this intriguing contest. I have pledged my support on this blog to Hazel and I believe if elected she will prove to be an excellent Deputy Leader to Gordon. I also believe that her Deputy Leader statement 'Building on Success' recognises our achievements in office but also our need to renew ourselves in facing new challenges.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Lewis Hamilton

Although I missed the Spanish Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton he's had one of the most remarkable start ever to a rookie Grand Prix season and top after four races. This is a real talent who I've now doubt will enjoy a great future in the sport and could go on to be one of all time greats in Formula 1. If he wins the championship in his first season it will be one of the most remarkable starts ever to a sporting career.


While the end of the Premiership season has not been without controversy given the whole issue of West Ham and Tevez, I was glad that they stayed up and win against Manchester United today. Although Sheffield United are inevitably disappointed at their demise and are claiming foul play over Tevez and their failure to deduct points off West Ham, it was within the range of punishments available to the Premiership. With the financial cost now being so high, lawyers will no doubt be looking into the mater on behalf of Sheffield United, though I think the punishment will not be overturned.

In terms of Liverpool, I'm glad we held on to third place despite a faltering last few games, with the Champions League Final being the priority inevitably little would've been gained by risking players in what are effectively dead rubber matches. If we win the Champions League, we'll also avoid the two leg qualifier in August. Hopefully next season we'll win the Premiership and with the new investment we've got a good chance to progress further next season, this has to be our priority next year.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


I have watched Eurovision since I was a kid and it seems to get more farcical by the year. Since the increase in participants to include Eastern Europe, more and more regional block voting is taking place which makes the whole thing even more of a farce. While the scoring is undoubtedly the best part of the contest(it can hardly be the mainly hopeless contestants) it does provide a level of entertainment for one Saturday evening every year. At least the winning entry was slightly better then the dire song that won Finland the Eurovision last year

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Goodbye Tony Blair

Ok, it's been the worst kept secret for weeks that Tony Blair was going to announce his resignation this week, but what a way to bring the curtain down and his speech today was vintage Blair at his very best.

In terms of making the Labour party electable, Tony Blair was pretty revolutionary and made changes when he took over that made us electable, ok electorally we've not had the best results of late but this is still the longest ever Labour government and the first to win three terms in office. While many other Labour governments have had their achievements notably the Attlee government after the war, none lasted more then six years in office.

While some will no doubt be rejoicing at the news that he is going, the country will miss him when he is gone. In my mind, he's been an excellent Prime Minister and history I believe will be kind to him. When I compare this country to ten years ago, it's a more prosperous county, a more tolerant country and a fairer country. I look around the council ward I represent in Pollards Hill and see a community that is infinitely better off then ten years ago and a community that has benefited in terms of investment in the areas infrastructure including refurbished schools, better housing and a new health centre.

Whilst I recognise we have difficulties at the moment and the party does need to renew itself as it enters a second decade in office, I believe Tony Blair leaves behind a strong legacy. It will now be for his successor Gordon Brown to carry on that task and ensure we win a fourth term in office as we still have a great many things to do in office.

Monday, May 07, 2007

1997 General Election re-run

Although I’d many things I could’ve done on the May Day Bank Holiday, I ended up spending most of the day watching the 1997 General Election re-run on BBC Parliament. Having spent election night 97 at the Royal Festival Hall (including seeing myself on outside pictures when Blair arrived at dawn) it really was nostalgic and compulsive viewing along with being a trip back in time.

The best bit was of course Portillo getting defeated along with the reaction of surprise by Stephen Twigg, no one had really predicted his demise, and bearing in mind he was then the poster boy of the Tory right it was an exhilarating moment. Also the scene from Putney from supporters of Jimmy Goldsmith was pretty hilarious along with the comments made by David Mellor about Jimmy Goldsmith. Later on the part where Barbara Follet's campaign team in Stevenage could not open the champagne bottle provided some lightened up proceedings.

Labour gaining Mitcham and Morden and seeing it broadcast on TV was a great moment especially as I'd helped on the campaign and seeing the enormity of the swing along with Labour gaining Wimbledon was a particularly poignant moment. In the earlier part of the evening it also seemed that the BBC had been taken in by claims of a close result from supporters of Angela Rumbold, the result- a thumping 13,000 majority in Mitcham and Morden.

In terms of the interviews, James Callaghan commenting about No10 and about Blair's victory on the morning after was pretty revealing but also how politics had evolved over his lifetime and making comparisons to 1945.I also enjoyed the interview with Alan Duncan who was bold in predicting that Labour would be out after one term and lambasting the Labour women elected in a rather chauvinistic way. Likewise the speculation on William Hague going for the Tory leadership was interesting despite very few having named him as the next Tory leader.

I also thought that the way John Major left office was very dignified despite his party having constantly stabbed him in the back and plotted behind his back, the disunity of Tories in 97 was one of the main causes of the enormity of the defeat.

Seeing things again ten years on, does provide a good historical perspective on the events of 1997. With Tony Blair about to leave office, it also provided a useful insight into politics from that period and how times have changed. For me, election night 97 was one of the best nights of my life and a once in a generation political sea-change which brought in a Labour Government that went on to achieve a great many things in the decade that followed.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sarkozy is the new French President

The exit polls in France are clearly pointing towards a Sarkozy victory and by a clear margin. France has clearly voted for change and by voting for Sarkozy it will certainly get a President who wants to implement change and regonises the need to change. Whether he succeeds remains to be seen, France as a country has been resistant in the past to change and attempts have foundered. However, the record of Sarkozy is of someone who's not afraid to be confrontational, time will tell whether he succeeds but interesting times lie ahead for France.

Friday, May 04, 2007

May Elections

Last nights result was not our best performance and I've great sympathy for the many hard working Labour councillors across the country who've lost their seats. Last night I attended the election count at Epsom and Ewell where Labour lost all three seats on the Council. Epsom last two very hard working Labour councillors in Vince Romagnuolo and Sheila Carlsen along with Jamie Milne who would've been a fantastic councillor. Epsom will be a great deal poorer without their presence on the Council though I've no doubt they'll return in time.

At the election count, I also happened to bump into the Tory Leader of Merton Council David Williams and Samantha George his Deputy Leader. The Merton Tories had in recent weeks been assisting in Ruxley ward in Epsom, despite their efforts only one Conservative councillor out of three was returned. Indeed in Epsom and Ewell they only managed to get two councillors elected in the whole borough, a pretty dismal performance in what is a Residents Association dominated borough and should be true blue teritory.

In terms of overall performance for Labour, some comfort can be drawn from the fact that we improved on last years performance and made gains in a number of areas were Labour were in opposition and some where Labour ran the administration.

In terms of Scotland, we did significantly better then what the polls were forecasting just a few weeks ago and may even up as the largest party. The downside was the huge number of spoilt ballot papers estimated at 100,000, clearly mixing up electoral system has caused great confusion and produced many problems. With the election being so close, some result may be subjected to a court challenge.

Although the Conservatives did do well, the share of the vote is only a percent higher then last year and only a few percent above the totals they were polling in 2000 and 2004. While 40% is the amount they need to poll to stand any chance of success, every opposition party has done well in the mid-term of the parliament, however before in 1995/96 Labour were polling figures over 45% and the Tories were even polling those figures back in previous elections when the were in opposition in the sixties and seventies.

The biggest losers from last night had to be the Liberals, to lose nearly 300 seats is a pretty dismal performance in the mid-term of a 3rd term Labour government. In many areas where they'd gained councils from Labour they lost seats and other places like Waverley, Bournemouth, Torbay they suffered what can only be described as electoral meltdown. Whenever they gain a council either from Labour or Conservatives they seem to have difficuties in retaining control, although they gained some councils last night it is very likely that they'll end up losing them again after a few years. If I was a Liberal, they should really question the long-term future of Ming Campbell, while they're very good at pushing out their leaflets when they are in oppostion, if they gain power they are very poor at holding except in a few specific examples. The Liberals really have to decide soon whether Ming Campbell is the right person to lead them into the next election otherwise they could be faced with electoral meltdown at the next election.

While the election produced many interesting results, the whole political landscape will shortly be changed by the change in Labour leader, the electorate is also extremely volatile and public opinion can change very rapidly over a short period of time. Clearly a message has been given by the people and it's important that we listen to their views.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Full Council meeting

The last full Council of the Council year(we've got the Council AGM in three weeks along with a new mayor) was a pretty mundane affair and I've certainly attended more lively meetings in my time as a councillor. The main issue under discussion was climate change and the environment. Whilst the issue produced a consensus in many areas(which is welcome), nevertheless key differences emerged over the introduction of wheelie bins which the Tories refuse to do despite 80% support and clear evidence that they boost recycling. The amendments moved by the Tories to the Labour Group motion deleted references on giving clear commitments in many environmental areas, it's all very well being aspirational but clear commitments are required.

The other issues discussed was the Housing Stock Options and agreement to undertake a consultation with residents. After the initial problems with the Conservatives on the issue, they've agreed to also consult on the Community Gateway option which the Labour group moved to be included. This will be a big issue over the next year and any decision taken needs to be in the best interest of tenants and allow the necessary investment which is required in the housing stock. However, for any stock options to be successful it does require a degree of consensus and as a Labour group we'll be closely monitoring the issue.

In terms of other issues, the Local Development Framework - draft core strategy was approved along with the Merton's Local Development Scheme.

The meeting concluded 30 minutes earlier then scheduled and that was the first time that's happened in a long time.

The re-match, 2005 all over again

I was disapointed that Machester United did not win tonight as I would've loved to have seen an all England Champions League final but it was not to be. Instead we have a re-match with AC Milan and a chance to repeat the success of 2005. Hopefully Liverpool will repeat the form of two years ago and triumph again, they'll be out for revenge but Liverpool and hopefully win the re-matrch. This time the team is also far superior to the 2005 team.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

10 years of a Labour Government

How the last ten years have gone by in a flash, but May 1st 1997 certainly a day to remebmer. While the last ten years have certainly had its good and bad moments, Britain is an immeasurably better place then it was ten years ago and our unparalleled economic success has benefited this country enormously.

Until 1997, I'd never remembered a Labour Government, most of my life had been spent under the Tories and indeed I was only four when Margaret Thatcher came to power. Indeed to me, May 1st 1997 was indeed a red revolution, having been lucky enough to get a ticket for the election night event at the Royal Festival Hall, the night was pretty amazing and moments like Wimbledon going Labour along with a host of the then impregnable Tory strongholds like Hove and Crosby was an unforgettable experience. Seeing Tony Blair arrive as dawn was breaking(along with being hideously drunk when he arrived) and hearing the crowd sing Portillo's on the dole to the tune of Three Lions was a surreal experience and for me it was a very sentimental moment and one I'll never forget.

The next day I was also lucky enough to get a ticket to see him arrive at Downing Street and the first Labour government elected at a General Election in my lifetime.

Have things got better ten years on?

In my view they have and we've a record to be proud of in whole range of different areas. The economy has expanded continuously over the last 10 years, the country has never been wealthier. The level of interest rates and unemployment are far lower then back in 1997, the sense of hopelessness that many people faced backed then have been replaced by increased opportunities. Both schools and hospitals have received massive investment and results have shown a significant improvement with schools results improved significantly and school buildings modernised. A health service in decline ten years ago under the Tories, now see waiting lists that have fallen dramatically and improved survival rates from diseases. Likewise our constitutional changes have allowed Scotland and Wales to have their own devolved governments along with restoring democratic government to London. These are just a few examples of our time in office and I could write a great deal more.

In facing the future, issues like the environment and global terrorism are promient in a way they were not ten years ago. The events of 911 and subsequent events have inevitably had an effect on world politics and global security.

Finally, a tremendous debt of gratitude is owed to Tony Blair for leading Labour to three General Election successes all with comfortable majorities and for being a great Prime Minister. History will be kind to Tony Blair, while mistakes have been made like any government, this country has changed for the better and that is due in large part to Tony Blair along with his Chancellor Gordon Brown.

Roll on the next ten years. A great deal has been done but we still have a great deal more to do under Gordon Brown.

Liverpool into another Champions League Final

Words cannot tell how ecstatic I am following Liverpool's success tonight over Chelsea in the Champions League Semi-Final. The match was nerve wrecking to say the least and after the ruled out goal in extra time(which I believed to be onside) I just though that it might not be our night. The tremendous support at Anfield was as usual a major contribution to our victory and of course Pepe Reina was fantastic in saving those penalties.

Poor old Muriniho, first the Premiership(barring miracles) now the Champions League have gone down the pan, all that investment from Abramvoich has still failed to produce success in the Champions League. With Liverpool having spent a fraction what Chelsea spent we're in our second Champions League Final in three years and this time we go into the final with a far superior team that won us the Champions League two years ago.

Although I normally cannot stand Manchester United, I hope that they do win tomorrow as it will be a dream final and one to savour. The only downside is that I'll be at the Merton Council AGM on final night so no trip to Athens for me. Thankfully he AGM is usally pretty short so I'll hopefully be able to watch most of the final.