Friday, June 29, 2007

Security alert in London

The news today of two bombs in London shows what a delicate situation we are living in along with threat of terrorism to our way of life. If the bomb had gone off outside Tiger, Tiger in Haymarket it would've caused catastrophe on a huge scale with many causalities. Thankfully we were spared another outrage, next time we might not be so lucky. The bravery of the Police in defusing this bomb has to be commended along with the vigilance of the Ambulance Service.

London is a resilient city, some people maybe determined to cause mayhem but as a city we need to remain strong and united. Hopefully the perpetrators behind this act are caught and brought to justice.

Latest opinion polls

Both the latest ICM and You Gov polls make encouraging reading for Labour with ICM giving us a 4% lead and a 3% lead in You Gov. If repeated at the General Election we would easily be returned to Government. Of course like any poll it's a snapshot of opinion and it was inevitable that they would show a Labour lead given the favourable press coverage we've received this week and the undoubted honeymoon that any new leader has.

Of course I'm not jumping up and down thinking we're are certainties to win the next election, we have a long way to go and the only poll that counts is the General Election. The polls at this present team will be favourable to us, the picture after the Conference season when politics will have returned to normality will be interesting.

The two early tests of opinion in Ealing Southall and Sedgefield on July 19th will also be interesting, I've no doubt we should win both by-elections but we cannot be complacent and like any by-election they will be challenging.

Siobhain McDonagh MP appointed as an Assistant Whip

My congratulations goes to my local MP Siobhain McDonagh who has today been appointed as an Assistant Whip in Gordon Brown's Government. I have no doubt that Siobhain will be an excellent addition to his administration and her appointment is very welcome.

Cabinet reshuffle

The changes in Government made by Gordon Brown have brought a whole new generation of Labour ministers to the top table many of whom are likely to play a significant role in the years to come.

The appointment of David Milliband as Foreign Secretary was an inspired appointment and someone who has already proven in his previous job to be immensely talented. With many difficult issues to tackle in the Foreign Office, I've no doubt he will prove to be a first-class Foreign Secretary. Likewise Jacqui Smith in the Home Office is an excellent appointment and has proved to be extremely competent in previous positions, she has first-class communication skills and given the events in London earlier today she is in for many challenges ahead given the serious national security issues we face as a nation.

In terms of other new Cabinet Ministers the likes of Andy Burnham, Ed Milliband, Ed Balls and James Purnell takes the average age of the Cabinet down considerably and helps to revitalise the Government. With all the changes made it will hopefully assist in our renewal under Gordon Brown.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Tony Blair departure

After 10 years in Downing Street Tony Blair has departed and Gordon Brown formally takes over as Prime Minister. The performance of Tony Blair today at Prime Minister question time was nothing short of remarkable and great way to bow out of his career in the House of Commons. Seeing the standing ovation is a tribute to his record of public service over the last decade.

Unlike other Prime Minister who've resigned or have lost elections, he is immediately resigning his seat to take up the important position of Middle East envoy, one door closes and another opens. After helping to bring peace to Northern Ireland, he's now turning his attention to another troubled area of the world. Given that he could have picked an easy life(and who would've blamed him) he takes on a very demanding role and challenging role, however I cannot think of a better person for the position given his work in Northern Ireland.

Anyway the Blair era is over now it's the Brown era, we've had some great times over the last ten years and let's hope we've some great times ahead. Thanks for the memories Tony,I for one deeply appreciate what you've done to improve this country over the last ten years.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Henman exploits at Wimbledon

Although I said on this blog last year that Tim Henman should retire, I raise a glass at his triumph in the 1st round against Carolos Moya in what was an epic first round match. Now in the twilight of his career, over the years he has provided some great performances at Wimbledon and kept the people on Henman Hill entertained. Hopefully the success will last a few days longer and with Murray out through injury it provides an opportunity to roll back the times and keep British hopes going a few days longer.

Quentin Davies defection

Well the wheels have well and truly come off for Project Cameron with the announcement of Quentin Davies defection to Labour. In defecting and in making such a devastating critique on David Cameron, it's an indictment on his whole leadership and his opportunistic tendencies. I believe that many of the British public will come to a similar conclusion about David Cameron in the months ahead.

With Gordon Brown taking over as Prime Minister tomorrow it's a great start to his Premiership as it shows we still have an ability to reach out and appeal to people across the political spectrum.

Flooding chaos

The floods chaos that has afflicted Sheffield and many surrounding areas will no doubt prove to be the first major challenge of Gordon Brown's Premiership. The huge damage it has caused to Sheffield will likely see a repair bill that's likely to run into hundreds of millions. From all accounts, many thousands are still stranded tonight and given the size of Sheffield it's a huge rescue operation.

Mother nature has its funny way with the weather, no doubt like previous natural disasters lessons will be learned including the robustness of flood defences(and they did not seem too great in Sheffield). In time recovery will come but it's no comfort to those who've lost their valuables or seen their homes or businesses destroyed by this deluge or rain which has caused chaos in so many parts of the country.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Wimbledon Tennis

With today being the first day of the Wimbledon tennis fortnight(or the All England Tennis Championship to give its official name), it brings with it a huge logistical operation for Merton Council with the many extra pressures associated with being the host authority. This is the biggest yearly sports tournament in Europe with a influx of an extra 30,000 people each day into the Borough, it does boost the local economy but also transforms Wimbledon Village from its usual quaint self into a completely different place over the fortnight.

This year at Wimbledon it's a great deal different, the huge building project sees a roofless centre court and another expansion that is on-going to increase capacity and erect a retractable roof over Centre Court, which should spell an end to many of the rainy interludes that so bedraggle Wimbledon.

Over the week we'll also see some great matches, Tim Henman V Carlos Moya which went onto 9-15 tonight hopefully being the first of many. Overall though I believe that Wimbledon tennis does benefit Merton Borough and the tournament provides a great spectacle and showcase for Merton.

2008 election???

A great deal of speculation today has been made in the newspapers about a possible general election in 2008 and that Gordon Brown will go to the polls in the next year. The whole matter is an interesting idea and one that has some logic, however Labour has to be in position to win that election given that only a very small swing away from us is needed to lose our overall majority given the new boundaries (which come into effect the day Gordon Brown takes over). At the moment the evidence is inconclusive and now is not the time to make judgements given that it's highly likely that Gordon Brown will have a honeymoon period and as already we've had an upswing in our ratings, though a poll tonight has us trailing the Tories by 5%.

The real position will come a few months down the line, if we are in a position to win a fourth term then I believe Gordon Brown will call an election, probably for Thursday 1st May which happens to be the anniversary of the 1997 election victory and is also the Local election day next year. With the budget likely to be in March this would be the most likely date if he does go the polls in 2008. I don't believe he'll wait till after the May Local elections and go in June as local elections are always a major challenge for Labour given differential turnout etc, though we're well placed to make gains given that we did very poorly in this election cycle last time in 2004.

In the event that we are to have an election next year, Labour will also have to raise desperately needed funds and select more candidates, which is currently running behind the Conservatives (who've selected nearly all their marginal seat candidates) and the Lib Dems. This can be done, but it's another challenge and potential hurdle.

If I was to predict an election date it's still most likely to be held on Thursday
11th June 2009(which also happens to be the same date as the 1987 election) this is the same date as the European elections and probably the Local elections. However, we could be in for interesting times ahead in the next year and nothing can be ruled out, watch this space.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Return of Wimbledon FC patrimony to Merton Council

On the agenda for this weeks General Purposes Committee is the return of the Wimbledon FC partimony to Merton Council from MK Dons. This will include all the memoribila from the former Wimbledon FC including the replica FA cup of 1988 which was Wimbledon's finest hour in football. The council I understand will display some of the memoribilia at a place to be determined but it is very sad that this has happened. Wimbledon had a proud history and achieved a great deal during its time in the Football League and Premiership, what happened with the establishment of MK Dons was nothing short of disgraceful. Thankfully AFC Wimbledon have had a remarkable rise through the divisions but have a very long way to go in order to emulate the success of Wimbledon FC.

I enclose the link below to the relevant report.

Assistant Cabinet members latest

Following the recent meeting of the Standards Commmittee when the proposals for Assistant Cabinet members was rejected, the Tories have committed a u-turn and decided that Assistant Cabinet members should not sit on scruitny. This will go before a special Standards Committee on Thursday followed by a General Purposes Committee meeting afterwards.

Merton Council & complaints

At the last meeting of The Way We Work Panel which I chair on Merton Council we received the Annual Complaints Report. While an item like this would not normally take up that much time, at the meeting we were shocked about the under-reporting of complaints in Environmental Services and that only 107 complaints having been made last year. Within the report, it also stated that a significant increase will take place last year in Environmental Services as an internal audit has discovered under registering of complaints.

The other matter that concerned the panel was that complaints from councillors and the local MP's were not recorded in the figures. I know from experience many incidences of complaints are made through councillors and the local MP's, surely this should be shown in the figures if they're to provide an accurate picture.
Apparently a new complaint registering system is to be introduced in relation to councillors and MP's, at the next meeting we've invited the Member Services Manager along to give details on the new system. The Director of Environmental Services will also be attending given the issues that exist.

In any report it's essential that the information provided is accurate, reports that don't provide the full picture should not be published, likewise the Council gains nothing from being inaccurate in providing the full picture in relation to complaints.

I enclose below the report in this weeks Wimbledon Guardian.

Councillors say waste report is total rubbish
By Diana Pilkington
Residents' complaints about issues such as rubbish collection were significantly under-reported by Merton Council last year, a report claims.

According to a report submitted to the Way We Work Overview and Scrutiny Panel, in the last financial year just 107 complaints to the environment and regeneration department were recorded.

This department deals with issues such as refuse collection, recycling, road safety, parking and planning.

If this were an accurate figure, it would mean just 0.14 per cent of the borough's 79,000 households had made a complaint.

The report states that several potential complaints were not classified as such, which "suggests a very significant amount of under-reporting."

It goes on to say: "It is anticipated that the number of complaints recorded by environment and regeneration will increase substantially as a result of improve recording."

At the panel's meeting last Thursday, Councillor Martin Whelton said: "We may have been under-reporting complaints, and reports are being presented to cabinet that don't show an accurate picture."

Councillors also raised concerns that the number of recorded complaints across the council as a whole were low - a total of 1014 - and that a member's objection on behalf of a resident does not officially count as a complaint, leading Councillor Sheila Knight to brand the report "a total whitewash".

Abdool Kara, assistant chief executive of Merton Council, said: "The problem of under-reporting has been solved.

"We can't capture all the things that haven't been recorded. It's impossible to do that.

"The data is as accurate as it can be, but the report acknowledges that it includes some under-reporting in environment and regeneration."

He added that a new system is being brought in to incorporate input from members on behalf of residents.

Have you made a complaint to Merton Council and felt it was not dealt with? Email

For more on the recycling issue, see Feedback, page 10

Congratulations Mark and Jenny

I would like to add my congratulations to my colleague on Merton Council Mark Allison who got married to Jenny Bisnouth yesterday. Having attended the wedding and reception yesterday, the wedding went perfectly with a moving church service and a lively reception. Enjoy married life Mark and hope you have a wonderful life together with Jenny.

Harriet Harman elected Labour Party Deputy Leader

I was very surprised to hear that Harriet Harman was elected as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, she was certainly not my first choice of even my second choice which was Alan Johnson. I was disapointed that Hazel went out first but I guess that's politics and it was a very packed field of candidates with no clear front runner.

The one bonus with Harriet is that she gained the most votes in the constituency section, personally I think that the electoral college is a pretty archaic system and that we should either reform or abolish the college and move to one member, one vote. In this election I had a vote in both the constituency and union section and given the turnout in the union section was a dismal 10%, questions really have to be asked about how representative this part of the college actually is, while I support the Labour party link with the trade unions should not all votes for leader and deputy be an OMOV system? Alternatively consideration should be given to weighting the votes 50% for members, 25% for MP's/MEP's and 25% for trade unions though getting constitutional change within the party is never easy especially as it will need the consent of unions at party conference(which I cannot see happening)

With the team now in place, it's now time to build for the future. I thought Gordon Brown made a visionary speech today and given the latest poll result we need to build on that and go forward united as a party. Certainly politics should be very interesting over the next few months.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Website to report environmental issues

A website has recently been set up to report various environmental issues such as graffiti, litter, fly tipping. Hopefully this will prove to be a useful tool for local residents in the reporting off issues from the general public and in Merton alone 17 logs have already been made by residents. The link is below and all you need to input is your postcode.

Piara Khabra and Ealing Southall

Very sad news that Piara Khabra has passed away. With him already having announced that he was standing down at the next election, Ealing Southall had already started the process to select his replacement and had opted for an all woman shortlist. This will inevitably now be a truncated process with the by-election pending.

Hopefully the Tories and Lib Dems will respect the convention that campaigning does not start until after the funeral, this will be a hard fought by-election but now is not the time for speculation on electoral fortunes in this seat.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

New Parliametary Boundaries

The change of Prime Minister from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown on June 27th will also see the implementation of the new parliamentary boundaries. On the new boundaries will also see an increase in seats from the existing 646 to 650. Within Merton, we'll only see minor boundary changes affecting roughly 1000 people who'll shift between both constituencies as a result of the re-alignment of boundaries with wards(mainly in the Colliers Wood area where the Savacentre and Merton Abbey Mills will move from Wimbledon to Mitcham and Morden). This will have a relatively minor impact, though it will make Mitcham and Morden a slightly safer Labour seat by a few hundred votes and Wimbledon slightly more difficult for Labour.

Overall the boundaries will result in a slight decrease in the notional Labour majority when we fight the next election, it's estimated that Labour would've had a majority of 46 if the new boundaries had been fought at the last election.

The main problem with the new boundaries is that they're based on 2000 electorates and are already seven years out of date(and likely to be 9-10 years when the next election is fought. In London, some electorates on the new boundaries have nearly 90,000 electors and if it the seats were reviewed now we would see an increase in seats for London as significant population growth has taken place since 2000 especially in East London. The next review will not report until between 2015-2019 and the disparities are likely to grow significantly worse along with under-representation in London, personally the whole boundary review process does need looking at again with faster reviews and predicted population growth taken into account.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Merton Council & Assistant Cabinet members

The last week a debate has been going on in Merton Council about appointing Assistant Cabinet members. Behind this was the announcement at the May Annual Council meeting from Tory leader David Williams proposing to reduce the number of Cabinet members by one and proposing to appoint three Assistant Cabinet members to Sam George, Tariq Ahmad and Diane Neil-Mills.

Anyway, although a proposal was made to appoint three Assistant Cabinet members(and constitutional amendments were needed before it could be enacted) they were also appointed to scrutiny panels at the AGM so whilst assisting in the decision-making process they also happened to be scrutinising the decisions of the Cabinet. On the vote to appoint the Cabinet the Labour group abstained.

At the meeting of the Regeneration and Public Realm Panel last Wednesday a motion was passed with cross-party support from Labour and Merton Park Independents excluding substitute member Henry Nelless(who it was proposed to appoint as an Assistant Cabinet Member), at the time the Chair Chris Edge was on his way back from Heathrow Airport and it was chaired by Mark Allison who is Vice chair of the panel(in Merton if the Chair is from the administration, the Vice Chair is from the opposition and vice-versa). The reason the motion was passed was nothing to do with the capabilities of Henry Nelless(he was my Vice Chair to me on The Way We Work panel last year and worked hard) but the concern that justifiably exists between the executive and scrutiny over the role of Assistant Cabinet members in being part of that decision making process.

Following on from the meeting a barrage of e-mails followed on the matter including one from Tory Leader Cllr David Williams calling into question the actions of 'a posse of opposition councillors' and accusing Cllr Mark Allison of 'political opportunism and intimidation', harsh words but completely untrue. The motion was passed following legal advice that it was a matter for the Panel to decide. In considering these matters the panel raise legitimate concerns and I believe it was correct in the course of action undertaken. If faith is to exist in the scrutiny process it needs to be fully transparent and separate from the executive.

Tonight, the matter was considered by the Standards Committee of the Council and following debate decided not to recommend the constitutional amendment recommending Assistant Cabinet Members. The Standards Committee is chaired by Simon Sapper a non-councillor and also includes other independent members not on the Council. An amendment was proposed seeking to exclude Assistant Cabinet Members from sitting on scrutiny panels but this was withdrawn following debate. The Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Commission Cllr Peter Southgate I also understand raised legitimate issues about the role of Assistant Cabinet Members and presented evidence that in many councils where Assistant Cabinet Members existed that they were excluded from scrutiny.

The matter is also due to be presented General Purposes Committee, whether it now proceeds remains to be seen but we've probably not heard the last of this debate.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Labour Deputy Leader race observations

Labour Deputy Leader race observations
The last few days I've been flooded with e-mail messages along with post from all the aspiring Labour Party Deputy Leader candidates(most of which is now lying in my recycling bin) having long made up my mind.

My observations of the campaign so far is that some of the candidates (especially Peter Hain and Harriet Harman) have been busy playing the opportunism card and I ask myself if they felt so strongly about many of these matters why did the stay in government in the first place? It's all very well being critical but you've been part of this government and still are, if they felt so badly then maybe they should have considered their positions. And the position of Jon Cruddas whilst not in the government is also very interesting, his record has shown that until quite recently he was very supportive of the government on issues like Iraq and foundation hospitals (some of his leftie friends seem not to have realised this), it's all very well criticising but does it have a slight whiff of bandwagon jumping and adopting policies of convenience.

Anyway, after getting my ballot paper I've cast my vote for Hazel Blears and given my second preference to Alan Johnson. In this blog previously I've stated my support for Hazel and nothing that has happened in the past few weeks has changed my mind. In debates she has shown consistently to be a candidate that speaks realism not opportunism. I hope that she does get elected as she will make a fantastic deputy to Gordon and her energy, enthusiasm and campaigning skills is what the party needs from a deputy leader. I also believe she is far more on the pulse of public opinion then many of the other candidates and realises that we've a record to be proud of in government. This is not the time for wholesale u-turns to appease a few in the party some of whom hark back to bygone days when we used to be a party with many well-meaning policies but always ended up losing elections and spending 18 years in the wilderness.

Only two weeks now to go before we know the outcome.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Lewis Hamilton triumph in Canadian Grand Prix

The achievement of Lewis Hamilton in his first season in formula 1 is nothing short of extraordinary and his maiden triumph in Canada today was great to watch. Still only 22 and top of the drivers championship with a podium finish in every race is a remarkable start. While the drivers championship still has many races to go, if he does win the F1 Championship this year it will one of the most spectacular starts to a sporting career. Whilst British sporting success has been a bit thin of late, in Lewis Hamilton we may be looking at a future superstar and someone who may go on to dominate formula 1 like Michael Schumacher.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Rowan school public meeting

This morning I attended a public meeting organised by Siobhain McDonagh MP into the proposal for the Rowan school on Rowan Road in Mitcham. The meeting was lively to say the least with over 150 in attendance and many with some very forthright views on the proposals. One of the issues was access from Hoylake Gardens and Rosemead Avenue to the site and the residents opinion was overwhelmingly against the proposal for access.

Overall, I believe that the proposals will benefit the area and I say that as a local resident, while the design many not be altogether to my taste the area will benefit from having new open space along with community facilities including a new GP surgery. Hopefully the developers will also listen to some of the residents views from the meeting and if necessary amend their proposal, they have so far shown a willingness for listening to residents views unlike at the Windmill Trading Estate where the developers took the opposite approach.

The planning application is likely to be considered by the Planning Committee later this year.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

20 mph speedlimits in residential areas??

In my ward of Pollards Hill speeding cars are huge menace to both pedestrians and cyclist. Although we have traffic calming in a great deal of my area Pollards Hill, motorists still speed down those roads and locally a number of people have been injured over the past year due to speeding cars.

The scheme in Portsmouth of introducing a 20 mph speed limit is an interesting idea and although it has been introduced on some roads in Merton, I would like to see 20 moh introduced on some roads locally in Pollards Hill. The chance of a fatality at 20 mph and serious injury is much reduced at that level, anything that also cuts down on potentially dangerous driving and speeding has to be welcome.

Of course, enforcement is an issue, speed cameras are everywhere though we've yet to get one in Pollards Hill and speed limits need to be coupled with sensible traffic calming measures to ensure they are not flouted. Many road humps are pretty ineffective(along with creating vibrations) and in recent years many alternatives other then road humps have been developed that does slow traffic down. Bring a councillor anything which involves street management gets a wide variety of views with many for and against but at the end of the day public safety has to be paramount.

2012 London Olympic logo

A great deal has been written in the past few days about the 2012 olympic logo, while I'm sceptical the amount spent on a fairly mediocre logo, it's given the critics of the London Olympics a field day and another opportunity to bash the whole Olympic project. Like any new logo, it will have its fair share of critics and the film blunder with flashing lights has been a massive PR disaster.

Personally, I would've liked to have seen a competition for the logo, it would have been a brilliant way of engaging people with thousands of entries being made to the competition. Much as I'm a huge supporter of the London Olympics, public engagement does need improvement and this would've been an ideal opportunity.

Still we now have a logo and at the end of the day far more important things exist in the overall Olympic project.

England win in Estonia

An encouraging performance tonight and a convincing win in Estonia. In the past I've knocked David Beckham but I do take my hat off to him in proving his critics wrong with another convincing performance. Whether this was his last performance for England remain to be seen, though it will be tough holding down a place in the England team when he is busy earning megabucks in LA.

The hard games though are yet to come for England, a double header against Russia along with playing Israel and Croatia will be tough, with four out of the last five at Wembley though it should be in England's favour.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Windmill Trading Estate given the go ahead by planning inspector

This afternoon, I received the news that the Planning Inspector had given the go-ahead for 212 residential units on the Windmill Trading Estate site in my ward Pollards Hill.

This is an issue that has been on-going in my ward for the past four years with the first plans submitted back in 2003. The current planning application went to an appeal that lasted eight days in total, it was one of the longest appeals in Merton for a long-time and the application generated near universal opposition on the proposals from over 200 residents. Over the time I've been a councillor, five public meetings with local residents have taken place many of which have been heated, the developers have unfortunately shyed away from meeting residents, only just before the inquiry did they decide to consult again with local residents, listening to local residents had been near to non-existent.

In terms of the whole report, I'm still reading through the document but from an initial read, Merton Council's case for refusal has been comprehensively rejected. Planning inquiries can go either was and unfortunately the outcome was not favourable to local residents. In terms of the outcome, the report also strikes a blow at the protection of employment land which was one of the key parts of the Merton UDP and part of the reason used for rejecting the application, likewise the new development will have a huge environmental impact on the local area both visually and in terms of the extra car journeys that will be produced by a development of this size. The development is also an eye-sore and will certainly not win design awards.

Naturally at this time I do feel upset at Merton not winning the inquiry, with residents I've fought this application and unfortunately we've been unsuccessful. One of those days, but I'll certainly be keeping a close watch on the developers that they comply with the conditions in the report.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Dan Lodge selected as the Labour parliamentary candidate for Wimbledon

My congratulations go to Dan Lodge who was this afternoon selected as Labour parliamentary candidate for Wimbledon. In a well attended hustings, he was overwhelmingly the choice of the party members who attended the selection.

The battle is now to re-gain Wimbledon at the next General Election and I've no doubt that Dan will make a superb candidate for Wimbledon in our battle to win this seat off Stephen Hammond.