Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Back from Bournemouth

Well I'm finally back from what has been one of the most exciting Labour party conferences that I've attended though very tiring in terms of late nights. The mood in Bournemouth throughout the week was excellent with nearly everyone in a very positive mood, this has been replicated on the conference floor where the leadership has suffered no defeats for the first time in years(and is unlikely too either).

When the news came out last night that we had an 11% lead it was the icing on the cake and beyond my wildest expectations, if replicated in an election it would lead to a huge Labour landslide. The poll however was taken straight after his speech on Monday and the weekend polls should provide a better picture though I would not be surprised if they again show large Labour leads.

Will we be poll bound soon? views were inevitably mixed at the conference with some favouring waiting and others wanting an election called soon. Clearly the general momentum is for an election now, from someone who dismissed an election in the autumn just a few weeks ago I now favour going sooner rather then later. This week we have some interesting local by-elections in Portsmouth, Dover, Corby and in Sunderland(a Tory/Labour marginal) which will no doubt provide some further information and will hopefully see the strong Labour performance of the past two weeks in local by-elections replicated. Likewise this weekend will no doubt see another batch of polls published along with more polls published after the Conservative conference next week.

The date of the election has also been raised, with October 25th in half-term week(many people away though it's before the clocks go back) we might be looking towards an election on November 1st or 8th. All the election talk is pretty fascinating and it will be a very difficult decision for Gordon to take and we'll know sooner or later whether Gordon takes the plunge and calls an election but whenever it's called we be ready for battle ahead in Mitcham and Morden. Elections are exhausting but they are also exciting if expectations are high, we cannot be complacent but it's certainly looking good for a Labour 4th term.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Gordon Brown's speech to conference

I thought that the speech Gordon Brown made today to Conference struck exactly the right note along with emphasising the way ahead with policies that will further improve education and health along with tough measures on gun crime. He was also right in ignoring the Conservatives and Liberals who were not mentioned once in his speech.

I thought the ending was very poignant especially about the part he has emphasised about how the NHS had saved his sight and the debt of gratitude he owed to the NHS. The speech was firmly aimed at middle England along with reaching out to people who did not vote Labour, clearly this is part of his approach to a new kind of politics. Will he go to the polls soon? that's the million dollar question that everyone is asking, personally I think he just might!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

In Bournemouth at Labour party conference

Down in Bournemouth at Labour party conference and already is it's been a busy day with may events and receptions, conference is a very tiring business!

Anyway the atomosphere down here is excellant, many delegates feel very optimisitic about the future and of course many are discussing whether an election will take place in October.

Tomorrow is Gordon Brown's first speech to Labour party conference.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Labour gains in local by-elections

Although the opinion polls are looking good, in local by-elections on Thursday No Labour gained the marginal Labour ward Brandwood in Birmingham on a swing from May 2007 of 6.7%. This ward elected Tory councillors in 2004,2005 and 2006, it's an historic marginal ward and the by-election has significance in terms of trends but also as a ward that swing between the parties generally only favouring Labour in good years.Birmingham is also a city where the Conservatives still have a significance presence unlike in many other big cities. The by-election also has had no Ming bounce from their conference and they polled only a dismal 6% of the vote.

The result was as follows
Lab 1998 42.74% +9.16%
Con 1663 35.57% -4.26%
BNP 290 6.2% -2.65%
Lib Dem 285 6.1% -4.89%
Green 193 4.13% -2.61%
Ind 157 3.36% N/A
UKIP 64 1.37% N/A
NNP 25 0.53% N/A

The Conservatives also lost a seat to Labour in Worcester with a swing of over 10%, they also lost overall control of the council. This is another marginal constituency where the Conservatives have made no progress. Labour also gained a seat in Nuneaton off the Liberal Democrats. In Southend the Conservatives also lost a seat in Shoeburyness to Independents and nearly lost 2nd place to Labour.

All in all a disastrous night for the Conservatives, they must be praying that Gordon does not call an election next week(I still think he won't though can understand the temptation given the encouraging results) all the signs are is that they are in deep trouble and support for Labour is been replicated now in real votes.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

September Merton Council meeting

The September Council meeting last night saw a number of issues being debated with the main topic of being health.

Following on from the recent announcement that the Better Healthcare Closer to Home proposals had been abandoned, the Tories on Merton Council tabled a motion basically condemning the new proposals along with calling for a delay. The new proposals for St Helier were condemned by the Tories and described as 'lick of paint’; this is despite the new proposals containing a substantial amount of re-build and the large scale modernisation of the hospital. In his speech to Council, David Williams the Tory leader condemned the decision of the then Labour controlled council for calling in the decision to locate the Critical Care Hospital at Sutton Hospital. According to David Williams this “had damaged the credibility of the whole programme”. An attack was also made on Siobhain McDonagh about her campaigning to save St Helier and opposing the Better Healthcare Closer to Home proposals.

The motion was quite frankly misleading, the Tories back in 2005 did not oppose the referral from Merton (well not publicly anyway!). If health chiefs had their way St Helier would now be well on the way to closure with service located to a new hospital miles away from the area of highest health inequality in the St Helier and Epsom Trust area. I have no doubt that if the Tories had been running Merton Council in 2005 very little opposition would've been voiced to the Sutton proposals, indeed they would probably have been sympathetic to their Tory colleague and ex Merton colleague Chris Grayling in ensuring that middle class area with least health needs benefited (which rules out Mitcham). Thanks to the work of Siobhain Mc Donagh, St Helier will be remaining on its present site and the Wilson in Mitcham should be re-opened as a local care hospital after being shut down under the Tories. The motion was passed by two votes against Labour opposition with the Labour motion welcoming the vote similarly defeated by two votes (Merton Park residents abstained).

In terms of the forthcoming budget it was announced that 'nothing is safe'. David Williams refused to withdraw his recent remarks about 'special interest groups holding council taxpayers to ransom' which seemed to be made in response to campaigners who want to save All Saints which is under threat from the Tories in the budget. Indeed my colleague Mark Allison was described as 'vindictive' by David Williams in calling for the remarks to be withdrawn. Many service users are rightfully concerned about this valuable service, if this had been a Labour administration it would not cut and would’ve have been ruled out by now. Under the Tories everything is up for grabs and with £14 million proposed savings they could be particularly savage. In a speech Cllr Margaret Brierly said 'the cost of running the All Saints centre is enormous and to a few people', not very encouraging though the old mantra 'no proposals at this moment'was wheeled out. Proposals on the budget are likely to be made next month and they are awaited with interest.

On one motion relating to the 'Merton Rule', the residents joined with the Labour group and an amendment to the Tory motion was passed on the casting vote of the Labour Mayor John Dehaney (the only time he voted). This was a motion about recent speculation that the Government was to drop the requirement contained in the Merton Rule (a policy pioneered by the then Labour council and continued under the Tories) which requires the use of renewable energy onsite to reduce annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the built environment.

On wheelie bins the Conservatives again gave a lukewarm response to their introduction claiming they 'had not been ruled out' and that it was under review, this is despite widespread support for their introduction in Merton. In the recently published 2007 Merton residents survey it shows a drop of 4% in refuse service satisfaction. Currently the recycling rates for the Council are also flat lining and if their failure to increase them will inevitably lead to higher charges for council taxpayers.

Finally, the member allowance scheme was extended to May 2008(it expired at the end of the month as it was a four year scheme). This is likely to be a contentious issue when it returns to Council and it's widely believed that the Tories want to implement recommendations that could see allowances for some councillors go up over 100%.

Mourinho departure from Chelsea

Much as I dislike Chelsea, Jose Mourniho has been Chelsea's must successful manager ever and brought success to the club on the back of Abramavoich money. Mourniho was arrogant and a bad loser but he knew how to bring the best out of the team and with so many superstars at Chelsea he got the results, never to lose a home fixture during your time as a manager is a pretty extraordinary achievement. What really finished him off was being beaten twice by Liverpool in the Champions League which was the trophy Chelsea craved.

Where do Chelsea go from here? The money taps seemed to have been switched off and Abramovich is showing signs of restlessness(or pulling out?). The last few years could end up being a flash in the pan with the club going into rapid decline, this could easily happen and I suspect would be the case if Abramovich left. Time will tell.

This whole incident is also not good for the team especially with Manchester United at the weekend and a team that has hit form as well.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

ICM Poll gives Labour an eight point lead

The ICM poll showing a lead of 8% in The Guardian is more good news going into conference week and the Brown bounce is clearly continuing and shows no sign of let up. The ICM poll that has traditionally been the most accurate opinion poll and the Labour party lead is the largest since October 2005. What is even more interesting is the personal approval ratings for the leaders, Brown +32%, Cameron -8%, this is awful news for Cameron who has seen his ratings have plummet in the past few months. Apparently there are also two further polls likely to be showing strong Labour leads. This will of course fuel speculation that Gordon Brown will call an October election, personally I think he won't and would be better to wait but it will no doubt fuel the story again ahead of what I believe will be a successful Labour party conference.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Rugby whitewash

A total and utter disaster, this will go down as one of England's all time great humiliations in rugby - the optimism of 2003 is now just a distant dream!

Hopefully the team will manage to somehow re-group but coming back from this will be near impossible, we have a lot of work to do if we are again to ever again reaching the dizzy heights of 2003 and have a decent rugby team that can perform at the highest level.

Local Council by-elections 13/9/2007

The local by-election results this week are some of the most encouraging for Labour in a number of months with gains being made off both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. The Liverpool result was particularly encouraging given that this was until recently a safe Lib Dem result, it also saw a Tory vote of 1.4% (40 votes).
Although some of the by-elections are in weak areas, judging by the results the Labour vote is holding firm and in Lewisham and Liverpool area where the Lib Dems have made advances in the past few years the seem to be in retreat. Although the Brent result showed a slight drop in the Labour vote, the Conservative vote fell by over 13% as they were squeezed by the Liberal. The next few weeks sees a few more interesting contests including a by-election in Birmingham(a marginal Tory ward) and a marginal Labour ward in Portsmouth,

Brent LBC, Stonebridge
Lab 1432 (51.9;-1.6), LD 864 (31.3;+16.2), Respect 237 (8.6;+8.6),
Con 177 (6.4;-13.3), Green 51 (1.8;-5.2)
[Ind (0.0 -4.7)]
Majority 568. Turnout 24.03. Lab hold. Last fought 2006.

Chelmsford BC, Broomfield and The Walthams
LD 1198 (56.3;+38.1), Con 742 (34.9;-20.8), Lab 76 (3.6 ;-4.2),
UKIP 57 (2.7;-5.7), Green 53 (2.5;-7.4)
Majority 456. Turnout 35. LD gain Con. Last fought 2007.

Conwy UA, Mochdre
Lab 303 (45.7;-6.2), PC 166 (25.0;-23.1), Con 159 (24.0;+24.0),
BNP 35 (5.3;+5.3)
Majority 137. Lab hold. Last fought 2004.

Lewisham LBC, Whitefoot
LD 986 (37.1;-3.0), Lab 901 (33.9;+7.2), Con 536 (20.2;+2.5),
Ind 95 (3.6;+3.6), UKIP 89, (3.3;-5.1), Green 52 (2.0;-5.2)
Majority 85. Turnout 28.2. LD hold. Last fought 2006.

Liverpool City MBC, Warbreck
Lab 1796 (55.2;+10.9), LD 1024 (31.4;-13.8), BNP 136 (4.2;+4.2),
Ind 131 (4.0;+4.0), UKIP 52 (1.6;+1.6), Green 45 (1.4;+1.4),
Con 40 (1.2;-3.2), Liverpool Lab Community Party 32 (1.0;+1.0),
[Liberal (0.0;-6.1)]
Majority 772. Turnout 29.41. Lab gain LD. Last fought 2006.

Mendip DC, Glastonbury St Edmunds
Con 432 (55.4;+10.8), LD 348 (44.6;-10.8)
Majority 84. Con gain LD. Last fought 2007.

Rossendale BC, Goodshaw
Lab 634 (59.5;+6.5), Con 300 (28.1;-18.9), BNP 80 (7.5;+7.5),
LD 52 (4.9;+4.9)
Majority 334. Turnout 33.77. Lab gain Con. Last fought 2006.

Rossendale BC, Irwell
Lab 379 (37.2;+5.2), Con 312 (30.6;-1.6), BNP 281 (27.5;+1.2),
LD 48 (4.7;-4.9)
Majority 67. Turnout 27.04. Lab gain Con. Last fought 2007.

Rossendale BC, Whitewell
LD 606 (48.6;+11.9), Lab 399 (32.0;-5.7), Con 152 (12.2;-13.5),
BNP 91 (7.3 +7.3). Majority 207. Turnout 28.83. LD gain Con.

Tunbridge Wells DC, Pantiles & St Marks
Con 788 (59.8;-4.3), LD 364 (27.6;+0.5), Lab 94 (7.1;+7.1),
UKIP 71 (5.4;-3.4)
Majority 424. Turnout 27.3. Con hold. Last fought 2007

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

England triumph over Russians

Another encouraging performance from England tonight and a convincing 3-0 win against Russia. Whilst the performance of the football team has generally been lamentable over the past year it has taken an injury crisis and a return to the past in Heskey and Barry to help bring some success. Hopefully the winning formula will last, a tough few fixtures lie ahead and it will still be no easy task qualifying for Euro 2008 but if the players plays as well as they did against Israel and Russia we have a very good chance of qualification.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Merton Council meeting motions

The Council meeting next week sees four motions on the agenda. The agenda contains two motion from the Tories, one is on St Helier and another on the Merton rule. Likewise the Labour group has put down two motions, one referring to the recent remarks of David Williams unfortunate use of language when he stated in The Post of 16th August that the users of All Saints were "holding council taxpayers to ransom," and calls on Councillor Williams to withdraw his remarks.The remarks have causes a furore in the local papers with many letters criticising the remarks from users of the centre, indeed a letter called on him to resign(and it was not from a person with a Labour party link)

The other Labour group motion refers to All Saints Day centre which is under threat of closure from the Tory Council.

Councillors Jeremy Bruce, Krystal Miller and Jonathan Warne
“Merton Council are shocked that the NHS Better Healthcare Closer to
Home programme is not commissioning further work on new build options
for a general hospital and that previously announced plans for a critical care
hospital have been abandoned.

The Council is also disappointed to note that St Helier may become nothing
more than a glorified local care hospital, albeit with Accident & Emergency
Services and Women’s and Children’s Services bolted on. This falls far
short of the expectations raised by the Government’s initial proposals and

represents a watered down future for St Helier.
Final decisions on hospital provision lie solely with the Department of Health
but, mindful of the Council’s role in reducing health inequalities across the
Borough, it resolves to advise the new Secretary of State for Health to
intervene with the Sutton & Merton Primary Care Trust and NHS London to
ensure that the right way forward for a modern health service includes:

1. St Helier Hospital. There is no further dilution at the services
provided at St Helier Hospital and that future provision should include,
as a minimum, a Local Care Hospital on the site.

2. Wilson Hospital. That the proposal for a Local Care Hospital
providing a whole range of services - including intermediate care
beds - is welcomed, as is the opportunity to support commissioning
with the PCT, which would benefit our residents in
areas where health inequalities are most significant.

3. Nelson Hospital. Plans for two local GP surgeries to join together on
site as part of a Local Care Hospital are welcomed, as is the
opportunity to provide a range of community services, outpatient and
mental health services, which would save many residents from the
need to travel to one of the larger hospitals

Motion 2 – Councillors David Williams, Samantha George and Debbie
“This Council notes recent reports suggesting that the ‘Merton Rule’, which
is named after the borough, is under threat from the government. It
expresses its concern that, as a result of intense lobbying from the House
Builders Federation, the new draft planning policy statement due to be
published shortly by the Department for Communities and Local
Government could pose a danger to the future of the Rule.
This Council pays tribute to the hard work and dedication of officers and
Members, both past and present, in contributing to the success of the
‘Merton Rule’. It is particularly pleased to note that the ‘Rule’, which requires
any new (commercial use) buildings to reduce carbon emissions by 10%
through the use of renewable energy sources, has:
 been one of the major drivers of renewable energy technologies in
 won Merton Council several national awards as well as widespread
plaudits since the policy was developed in 2003;
 been backed by many environmental and planning bodies, including
the Royal Town Planning Institute which presented Merton with the
Silver Jubilee Cup - its highest award – in February 2007;
 now been adopted or considered for adoption by 150 local authorities
across the country; and
 received support in the past from the Housing Minister, Yvette Cooper
MP, who called for all local authorities to adopt Merton's approach in
This Council takes particular note both of the government’s own Stern
Report which identified planning as one of the key methods of tackling
climate change, and of the Royal Institute of British Architects’ view that
councils can play a huge role in driving innovation. As such, this Council
urges the government to continue allowing councils to implement renewable
energy policy at a local level, whilst also noting that:
 scrapping the ‘Merton Rule’ would mean local authorities lost their
ability to influence developments at an early stage by working with
developers on the most appropriate type of renewable energy in the
pre-planning stage, and would be detrimental to the government's
goal of reducing carbon emissions from buildings
 replacement of the ‘Rule’ with a standard policy may deprive local
authorities, in locations where land value is high, of the chance to
obtain a greater environmental benefit for the community
This Council believes it is essential that local planning authorities should be
permitted to retain autonomy, both in determining the cost of planning
obligations and standards that they impose on local development, and the
balance to be struck between these and other objectives, and it calls on the
government to renew its previous support for the Merton Rule.”

Motion 3 (LABOUR MOTION) – Councillors Mark Allison, Dennis Pearce and Zenia
“That this Council regrets Councillor David Williams' unfortunate use of
language when he stated in The Post of 16th August that the users of All
Saints were "holding council taxpayers to ransom," and calls on Councillor
Williams to withdraw his remarks.”

Motion 4 (LABOUR MOTION) – Councillors Sheila Knight, Dennis Pearce and Zenia
“That this Council confirms its commitment to continue to provide the All
Saints Day Centre and the range of facilities that are available for people
with physical disabilities.
We also welcome the commitment to providing a Centre for Independent
Living but would point out that this is something to be provided in addition to
the Day Centre, as it would not in any way replace the Day Centre’s facilities
of physiotherapy, activities, the opportunity to get out of the house and meet
people, a break for Carers, and the trips out that people who use All Saints

Merton cabinet meeting

The Merton Cabinet meeting last night was generally a mundane affair with not too much political excitement to talk about. As part of the Neighbourhood Governance taskforce I presented the findinsg of our scrutiny report to Cabinet where the matter will be considered further, generally they seemed to be quite reciprocal to the report but time will tell what their response will be to the report.

In terms of the other matters discussed, the controversial area of selling of Housing land was on the agenda again, this include an authorisation to sell a site on Mitcham Park which had been earmarked for affordable housing for supported people. On taking office last year these plans were abandoned and following the failure of Merton Council to indicate what they wished to do with the site the Department of Communities and Local Government have ordered the Council to dispose of the site and sell it at auction. A number of other sites were also authorised for sale with the revenue used for housing and regeneration projects though judging by the plans to date very few affordable housing schemes are coming forward.

The forthcoming budget was also discussed at the meeting with Merton Council with them aiming for savings of £14million on a worst-case scenario. This will be if grant-formula is frozen(ie no increase from the government) and a zero per cent council tax. This level of council savings is likely to have a huge impact on Council Services and it was stated at the meeting by Council leader David Williams "That we need to look at whether the Council provides certain services that are not statutory". The first figures for the Budget will be presented next month and will then go into the scrutiny process. David Williams also stated "that money was being sent up north because it's where all their backbenchers are", this is trying to assume that the Government is bankrolling the north instead of London, the issue of local government funding is a difficult one and it's important that London's case is put on a bi-partisan basis to Government(which has happened through the umbrella body London Councils). The forthcoming spending round will be probably be challenging for Government but the issue of local government finance is extremely complex but cheap jibes like this from David Williams do not help.

Another of their latest campaigns is also the forthcoming launch of 'Mission for Merton', this is an initiative they have decided to embark on 18 months after taking over the running of Merton Council. This is meant to involve all ward councillors, cabinet members, senior offices and is a listening exercise to hear the views of local people on the role of the Council along with tailoring services to users needs. Whilst I personally welcome engagement, I question whether anything meaningful will come out of the exercise or it's just another PR stunt. Certainly whilst their Tories may have some understanding of the west of the Borough (ie Wimbledon) given their complete lack of representation in the east (ie Mitcham area)
it's hardly surprising that they want to build up links. Time will tell whether anything useful comes out of the initiative or is another PR gimmick.

Finally, the Cabinet agreed to set up a Joint Waste disposal committee with Kingston, Croydon and Sutton. With issues like landfill being an issue this is something we welcome though the Council's failure to increase re-cycling rates over the last year will inevitably lead to increased costs for the Council given the forthcoming rise in landfill tax. Also, the other three authorities do have wheelie bins whilst Merton does not, while I believe the joint waste committee will produce savings if we are looking at close working with other councils inevitably the Council should be considering wheelie bins as it's something the public support in Merton and this has been demonstrated by surveys.

Trust U-turn on St Helier and Sutton Hospital

After millions of pounds wasted planning for a new hospital on the Sutton Hospital site(which was only stopped by the then Secretary of State Patricia Hewitt in December 2005) the Epsom and St Helier NHS trust have finally abandoned any plans they seemed to have had for the site. They now seem to be looking at a refurbishment option for St Helier, it is clear that even the re-build of St Helier is off the agenda. I enclose details below from the latest newsletter of Better health care closer to home.

We have received a report demonstrating that a totally new built hospital on
either the Sutton or St Helier sites now looks to be unaffordable under the NHS
capital regime. The margin of unaffordability is such that there is no prospect of
bridging the gap.

We have also looked at a mixed new build and refurbishment option at St
Helier, moving most bed and outpatient facilities into a new building replacing
Fergusson House, and upgrading the main building. The cost of this option
would be less than new build, and while there is still an affordability gap, it is
much less than other options we have looked at.

We are not commissioning further work on the new build options for the general
hospital and we are concentrating on coming up with the right solution for
improving St Helier hospital. This would need to be phased and have a number
of elements: a short term investment of £1.45m to upgrade women and
children’s services; the development of a local care centre on the site (which
would include outpatient services and a re-designed A&E department); and a
new ward block within the affordability envelope we have established, subject to
confirmation of its feasibility.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


Pavarotti was truly one of the greats tenors of all time. Back in August 1991 on what has to be one of the wettest August nights I can remember I was in Hyde Park for his free concert in the park, a memorable occasion though the view was terrible and the weather did not help. He helped spread opera to the masses and his death is a great loss to the world of music.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Jane Tomlinson

I was very sad to hear about the death of Jane Tomlinson who had fought a brave battle against cancer and last year completed a charity bike ride across America which I wrote about at the time on my blog. Jane Tomlinson had achieved a great deal in her life and her charity exploits were pretty remarkable given her health. My deepest condolences go to all her family at their loss..