Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Travellers on Mitcham Common, week 4

Merton Council have now embarked on removing the travellers from Watneys Road on Mitcham Common after nearly four weeks of prevarication. The delay has been appalling given that legislation should have seen them removed from the highway swiftly many weeks ago. Residents' have every right to be annoyed about what has happened, the Council have agreed to but up concrete barriers to stop future incursions but it's an unacceptable state of affairs. From speaking to local residents' they certainly do not feel that Tory run Merton Council has been 'Putting You First'

Clegg V Huhne

Just two candidates have put their head above the parapet to lead the Lib Dems with the close of nominations today. Both candidates were only elected in 2005 which is pretty meteoric rise for a party of 62 MP's but then again it's probably a good indicator that the Liberals have a shortage of talent amongst their ranks.

I have already predicted that I think Nick Clegg will win, he is head and shoulders above his colleagues and is a vast improvement on Ming Campbell. The main problem they face is that whilst in the past the Liberal Democrats have been seen as a protest support dustbin(which was certainly the case in many places at the last election) this time round with Cameron staking out the centre ground and Gordon have taken over from Tony they'll have difficulty attracting support.

Time will tell with Clegg turns out to be a success or failure though they're likely to have severe problems at the next election holding on to their existing seats. No doubt they'll be plenty of Liberal opportunism along the way.

England bid to host 2018 World Cup

Great to hear that the FA is to make a bid for the 2018 World Cup in England. This will be a once in a lifetime opportunity to bring football home to its birthplace. We have some great stadiums topped by the magnificant new Wembley along with the Premiership which is the best league in the world even if my team Liverpool have not enjoyed success of late.

Bringing the World Cup back to England is long overdue, 2018 will be over 50 years from the World Cup in 1966 and the time has come for the World Cup to be hosted again by England. For a fantical football fan like me it would be fantastic if we had the World Cup again - we might even have a chance of winning it again!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Pollards Hill library Big Lottery grant bid successful

I heard late on today that the Merton Council bid to the Big Lottery under the Community Libraries stream has been successful.

The library will receive nearly a £1 million over 3 years to (a) redevelop the library, (b) create a learning space aimed at family learning, (c) develop learning activities in conjunction with partners, and (d) undertake a programme whereby the community actively participates in managing these services.

This is a very exciting initiative and I'm delighted that we'll get this funding, Pollards Hill library is one of the most successful libraries in the borough for engaging with the local community and this funding will allow the facilities to be improved further over the next few years.

Very good news indeed!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Raikkonen wins F1 World Championship

The sporting weekend which was meant to herald such success for English sportsmen has ended in failure with Lewis Hamilton failing to win the F1 World Championship.

For a driver in his rookie season it was a tremendous effort from Lewis Hamilton, but nonetheless it's a much disappointment given that just two races ago he had such a large lead before it all went wrong in China and now today with his car problems in Brazil.

I have no doubt that Lewis Hamilton will go on to win the World Championship, he may have failed this year but many more opportunities will come along and I've no doubt he will go on and win many F1 World Championships in this career.

The one thing I'm delighted about is that Fernando Alonso failed to win the World Championship, Kimi Raikkkonen deserves his success in the championship and it's been a great conclusion to the season.

Finally, ITV F1 coverage is really annoying with all the adverts and spoils the race, why can't it be like football and covered uninterrupted(or stick it on ITV4 the full race). I would even prefer it being on Sky if it meant races being run in full instead of stop-start coverage as it really spoils the enjoyment of the race.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

England lose to South Africa

The dream of a second Rugby World Cup success has come to an end but what a valiant effort and despite losing it was a tremendous performance by the England team. The match was tight throughout and if Cueto had scored that try the result could have been very different but it was not to be.

The team has exceeded all expectation in this World Cup, from being a laughing stock last year, their coach Brian Ashton took them to the brink of retaining the World Cup something that would've have been completely unimaginable just a few weeks ago.

In terms of the team, I would also like to pay tribute to the effort of Paul Sackey, an old boy of my secondary school John Fisher Purley(I actually knew his brother Eddy at school) for his tremendous performance throughout the tournament including tonight. He was a star amongst many and they've done England proud.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

In the lap of the Gods

Just when it looked like we might qulify for Euro 2008 we suffer a defeat in Russia which puts qualification for Euro 2008 very much in the balance. If Russia wins their remaining two games it will be all over for England barring some surprise slip up by Croatia in the next game against Macedonia. England may live to regret dropping points at home to Macedonia, drawing in Israel and losing against both Croatia and Russia. I also happen to think that playing matches on plastic pitches is appaling and the pitch in Moscow was of little help, all matches should be on grass which is the proper surface for football.

I think England will probably scrape through as Russia have a tricky tie in Israel though it could be a football free Summer next year and if we fail to qulify serious questions will need to be asked about the team, while we've had a good a good run of late it may be a question of too little too late.

Travellers on Mitcham Common

Over the last few days I along with my Pollards Hill colleagues Richard Williams and Zenia Jamison have been dealing with the issue of travellers who decided on Sunday night to set up an encampment on Watneys Road. Normally it would be fairly easy to move them on but regretfully Merton Council have been legalistic to put it mildly and have come up with all kids of reasons not to move them on some of which I have my severe doubts about their reasoning.

The local councillors have worked closely with the local neighbourhood police who've been fantastic about the matter(though their hands are slightly tied because of the Council) along with the Mitcham Common Conservators who run the common(though the highway is under the control of Merton Council). Whilst initially we were lead to believe that the issue would be resolved within 24 hours, we've now been given a whole list of reasons why their removal cannot take place quickly. Currently Watneys Road is closed off to traffic at both ends and a barrier exists at both ends(regretfully one of the barriers was broken to get access to the road on the night the travellers accessed the site, no prizes for guessing who did this act). Effectively it's a closed road though it is still the public highway as emergency vehicles have full access.

The main reason given for not removing them is that the Council must at all times take into consideration the education and health and welfare needs of the families on site. Fair enough I say, but surely if they believe children are at risk then they should take action, indeed some of these travellers have been on other sites where the assessments have taken place. If any child was in danger, I hope the council would act promptly rather then prevaricating. We have also been told this may take 3-4 days before any decision can be taken and whether legal powers can be used or not. If a child is in danger it should not be a question of waiting, the council should be acting promptly on the matter.

We then get on to their removal, we've now be informed that it could take up to two weeks to remove them form the site, this is despite them causing an obstruction on the highway. The following has been given as a reason by our legal department
"There is section 137 of the Highways Act 1980 where it is an offence to obstruct the highway and of course the police can commence proceedings for obstruction. But unless their presence is causing a danger you will need to take into account all the issues raised in the statement of policy I sent you i.e. can they be tolerated and the decision to use this power should only be taken after the Travellers' Human Rights have been taken in to account. Assessments would have to be carried out by Housing, children's services, adult services if there are elderly or vulnerable adults and education."

Let me comment on the human rights; they've been obstructing the highway, they've been lighting bonfires on the common and residents have told us that they've been intimidating people walking from the bus stop. The Council may have concerns about their rights but what about the human rights of local residents? Lawyers will have varied interpretations of the law but if this was true then effectively it would be a free for all for travellers in this area as Merton Council would hide behind the Human Rights Act when other legislation can ensure they're removed promptly. Indeed on this advice, travellers are free to set up shop where they like in Merton Council because the Council won't act for weeks.

This calls for commonsense and I hope Merton Council do something soon instead of hiding behind bureaucracy and inertia as the current situation is intolerable for local residents'. Indeed I do wonder whether the Council would've have acted differently if they'd turned up on Wimbledon Common instead of Mitcham Common.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sir Ming resigns

I am not surprised Sir Ming has resigned; this is something I predicted would happen earlier this year, though the timing did take me by surprise. Like Iain Duncan-Smith he was the wrong choice from day one and like him never will never get the opportunity to fight an election.

Sir Ming is a fundamentally decent guy but was never cut out for leadership; it was always likely to be an interim arrangement. He also lacked charisma and failed to inspire, in this day and age image does count and he simply did not cut the mustard. Some have put it down to age, but I personally believe that if he had been ten years younger he would still have been dumped/resigned and that ageism is a convenient excuse. The perfomance in the last two local elections was very poor and the poll ratings were dire. Whilist I don't believe they would have been wiped out in an autumn election they would certainly have lost seats to the Conservatives and Labour, whatever way you look at it the end game was near either way.

In terms of the next leader, I would be prepared to bet it would be Nick Clegg who'll be far more formidable then Sir Ming. Whether it will have a long-tem impact for the Liberals remains to be seen but he is bound to give them a poll boost and is much more in the style of Charles Kennedy and Paddy Ashdown.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

C'est Magnifique

After having being written off as has been's by myself and many others just a few weeks ago, the turn-arond in England's fortunes at the Rugby World Cup is nothing short of amazing. They have of course been helped along by the amazing feet of Jonny Wilkinson(even though he missed a few) but England are in the World Cup final something I thought would've been unimaginable just a few short weeks ago.

The performance of the team tonight was excellent, Jason Robinson was superb and Joe Worsley making that magnificent which could would've have put France in a commanding position if had gone over.

No matter what the result next week, the team have done superbly given that our form has been awful before the World Cup and that as a team we were in the process of re-building for the future. The country did not have the high expectations that we had back in 2003 and this team have proven the critics wrong including myself.Credit also has to be paid to Brian Ashton who has proved to be a far superior coach to Andy Robinson and has paid a large part in the success of the English side.

Next week we'll have the opportunity of becoming the first team to retain the World Cup and with a little luck we might just achieve that feat and if it's South Africa gain revenge for that 35-0 drubbing. Anyone who put money on after that would've got 66-1, the odds tonight are a lot less and if we do win it will possibly be one of the biggest turnaround in sporting history and up there with the Headingley Ashes test of 1981 and Liverpool winning the Champions League in 2005 after being 3-0 down.

Merton Council announces budget cuts of £9 million

On Friday the Tory administration at Merton Council finally published their budget papers just one working day before the Cabinet meeting which is scheduled for Monday.
The budget proposes cuts of nearly £9 million to the Council's budget including nearly £3 million pounds in Environment and Regeneration and £3 million in Community and Housing. This will apparently be the first set of cuts to be announced and a further £3 million are likely to be announced in December.

Among the cuts that stand out is a £78,000 cut to Lavendar Early Years daycare centre; cutting over £600,000 from the the transport budget which will affect those with disabilities, special needs and the elderly hardest; removing one of two gully lorries in the borough(after the floods in July is this really a wise move?); cutting the graffiti budget by 90k and slashing highway maintenance by £1/2 million(over 50% of the budget). They also propose yo stop the removal of untaxed vehicles. The voluntary sector will also take its share of the cuts, grants will be frozen and a the voluntary sector budget to older people will be slashed by nearly 40%(again hitting the elderly and vulnerable)

While the budget proposes a number of cuts it also includes some very large increases in fees most of which are proposed to be increased by 5% which is way above inflation levels. They are also proposing to introduce a fee for the use of the internet in libraries which will of course most of course hit the most disadvantaged areas in the Borough hardest(Pollards Hill being a good example), this will raise a grant total of £20,000, a tiny sum in Council terms but one which will of course hit the poorest hardest especially those who do not have access to computers. They are also proposing a large increase in parking income, which will mean parking and residents' permits will rise next year along with the introduction of a new charge for new disabled parking bay spaces.

The Council despite all the cuts have proposed some growth, they are proposing to spend an extra £40,000 on the post room and reverse the cuts of last year which saw internal postal delivery cut to just one a day(obviously things have gone wrong); an extra £32,000 on hanging baskets on entry points into the borough and in town centres(sounds very nice but is this really a priority??). Member allowances might be another growth proposal though of course this would be kept quiet at this stage.

In terms of All Saints, they have not announced closure yet, though a review is on-going which will report to Cabinet in December.

After Cabinet on Monday the proposals will then go to scrutiny within the Council for further consideration. I have attached the link to the relevant papers.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Election off

In life you get some predictions wrong and this was one of them, at the end of the day the Prime Minster Gordon Brown took the decision not to call an election using all the evidence he had before. He will of course be accused of being a bottler, coward and all the names under the sun from the opposition, but I happen to believe he is a man of stature and when the time comes to call an election he will win the election.

Politics is all about choices and get an election decision wrong it may have been disastrous for the party, it happened in 1970 when we had large leads in the polls and the Tories won against all predictions. Cameron may have had a bounce in the polls, but give it a few months and this story will have long died the death.

At least it avoids traipsing the streets during the dark nights of October!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Conservative candidate for Mitcham and Morden??

Whilst an election may be called in the next week, the Tories have still failed to select their candidate in Mitcham and Morden. This is a seat that they held until 1997, but like their failure to select a candidate it also seems that their absence has been widespread throughout Mitcham and Morden since the local elections in May 2006 when they failed to make any gains in the seat and saw Labour win 27 out of 30 council seats.

No doubt if an election is called they'll appoint a candidate and run some kind of campaign but with their failure to select they seem to no longer view this seat as a serious prospect. Now it will be interesting to see whether any Merton Tory councillor puts their head above the parapet and becomes the candidate. Anyway for Labour it will be full steam ahead in the seat as were never complacent about the seat and with Siobhian McDonagh we have a first class Member of Parliament. Whenever the election is called Labour will be ready for the battle ahead, the question is will the Conservatives be?

November election still on?

Although the latest polls have narrowed this was to be expected and the reduced Labour lead is no surprise. With the positive coverage the Tories have been having this week it was always likely to be the case. Like our conference last week the initial leads for Labour were 11% and narrowed as the euphoria died down Will it stop Gordon calling an election? personally I think it won't and that he'll announce an election for Novemeber 8th next week. I think it would be a wise decesion.

The tory tax plans don't seem to add up and the figures they've come up with for their domicile tax of £25,000 already seem wildly optimistic and are unlikely to unravel over the campaign. They will no doubt also be publishing other proposals aimed at enticing the voters once an election is called which probably accounts for the lack of firm proposals in David Cameron's speech on Wednesday. The announcements in the Comprehensive Spending Review and pre-Budget report next Tuesday should also bring some positive news for the Government.

With an election campaign likely to be underway in the next week we could be in for some very exciting times over the next month.

Crossrail gets the go-ahead

The news that Crossrail is to get the go-ahead is very welcome news. This is a project that has been desperately needed for years and hopefully will relieve some of the chronic congestion currently experienced on the tube and rail system. The work of the Mayor Ken Livingstone needs to be commended for pushing this project forward and getting business to contribute, thanks to his leadership London will benefit massively from its construction and will be a significant boost to the capital's infrastructure.

With the go-ahead of Thameslink 2000, London in ten years time will have proper cross-town rail links and with both lines connecting at Farringdon it will make travelling around London a great deal easier. Of course the construction period for both will cause some inconvenience but it is price worth paying for the development of the transport network in London and for easing overcrowding.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Review of Tory party conference

Presentation wise David Cameron's speech was pretty impressive especially given his ability to speak without notes for 70 minutes. Content wise it offered nothing new, indeed like many other speeches of Cameron it was full of soundbites but little in the way of substance. Still the Tory party have come up with some new policies this week(or been forced to with an election seemingly on the horizon). The policy about inheritance tax seems to me more about shoring up the Tory vote then reaching out to middle England, large windfalls will benefit some but I happen to believe there are better ways to spend the money. Over the term of the Labour government the inheritance tax levels have been raised far above inflation. The other proposal in relation to stamp duty to me is relatively minor, I would have much preferred the Tories to have committed themselves to providing more affordable housing including shared ownership. In the scheme of things stamp duty is relatively minor and no doubt house prices would go up as a result wiping out any saving. The high price is of much more concern to my generation as the rate of stamp duty. Certainly the level of stamp duty was of relatively minor concern when I bought my house a few years.

The conference did go relatively well for the Tories, even they would not embark on a kamikaze mission with an election seemingly about to be called, it would no doubt have been a very different story if this had been a normal conference year. The Tories will inevitably get some boost in the polls from the conference but it will be a relatively minor one at that. Unless the polls are disastrous after conference then it's very likely an election will be called next week.

The other point that has been a talking point was Gordon Brown's visit to Iraq. I happen to believe that it was right given that many of our troops are serving out there and that as a government we give them our full support. Clearly once an election was called a visit would be out of the question, indeed as Prime Minister he still has duties to perform and supporting our soldiers is one of them. The remarks of Dr Liam Fox yesterday were nothing sort of disgraceful in condemning the Prime Minister for saying so few words last week and for visiting Iraq, I'm sure the visit would have received a lot less coverage if had not been for those remarks from Dr Liam Fox and the return of Sir John Major.

Still we may soon be off to the polls and if it turns out to be a good night for Gordon Brown it could be the last conference speech from David Cameron though reading through various remarks on other blogs the likely survival threshold for Cameron surviving has been set very low. The truth is that they have relatively few alternatives as leader.