Thursday, January 31, 2008

Derek Conway

The recent scandal of Derek Conway and his expenses is an absolute disgrace and undermines our whole political system. If as a councillor I'd done anything remotely similar, I would probably now by looking at criminal charges for fraud and would be thrown off the council.

Standards in public life in this country are generally very high especially compared to countries like Italy where corruption is endemic. If they're are to remain high, then instances like Derek Conway should result in harsher punishment and a great deal more then a 10 day suspension from the Commons. Although he has now belatedly announced he's standing down - he should given the serious nature of his offences be facing expulsion and being ordered to pay back the money.

Jeremy Beadle

Sadly the death of Jeremy Beadle is not a wind up and he has sadly departed this world at just 59. Back in the eighties and nineties, he was livened up many Saturday nights thorough programmes like Beadles About(a particular favourite) and You've Been Framed. I was a great fan of his - although he's been pretty much off the screens for a number of years he created some great TV moments and some of the Beadles About wind-ups made hilarious viewing.

The race for the White House narrows

With the withdrawal of John Edwards from the Democrat race and Rudi Gulliani from the Republican race, the race has narrowed as we move on to what is likely to be the pivotal showdown of Super Tuesday. The decision of Rudi Gulliani to endorse Mc Cain puts him in an even stronger position after his success in Flordia last night. However, Romney is a strong candidate and should not be ruled out as he has deep pockets and is seen by many in the Republican faithful to be more trustworthy then John McCain who has upset many Republicans through his policy stances on issues like immigration and taxation. Mitt Romney has been playing the conservative card of late and had 're-invented' himself from his time as Governor of Massachusetts. Mike Huckabee is still around and will pick up a few states in the south next week but for all intense purposes his campaign is over, the impact of his staying in is not helpful to Mitt Romney's campaign.

In terms of the Democrat, it's still hard to predict - the win for Hillary Clinton in Florida was pretty meaningless given that its been stripped of any delegates for defying the Democrat National Committee. Barack Obama will have been boosted by the endorsement of Ted Kennedy earlier this week and his resounding win in South Carolina. However, much as I'd like to see Barack win, the odds have got to favour Hillary Clinton coming out on top after Super Tuesday given that she leads in most state polls and is polling very well with the Hispanic, women and older demographic(and more likely to vote as well); for Barack he is of course doing very well with the African-American population but he has an uphill task winning the other groups over in large numbers. The race is sill open and the proportional system should continue to keep the race alive after next Tuesday.

Everything is still very open in this race even as we head to Super Tuesday.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

One year to go untill the end of Dubya!

On this date next year we'll have a new US president and hopefully a Democrat in the White House as well. The end of Dubya cannot come soon enough and with the 2008 election now in full swing it promises to be an exciting year ahead.

From the Nevada caucuses at the weekend - the results on the Democrat side saw another win for Hillary in her quest for the nomination. Although she won, Barack Obama actually won the most delegates. What was more interesting was the breakdown, Barack was well ahead in terms of African-Americans but Hillary has a lead a large lead in terms of Hispanic votes which made up nearly a third of caucus attending and is pivotal in many US states. John Edwards is also effectively finished after his dismal showing in Nevada and South Carolina should be the spell the end for his campaign.

The next battle is South Carolina - if Hillary can win this primary she'll effectively be set for the nomination given the demographics of the state(50% of primary voters are likely to be African-American). I want Obama to win, but he has to win this state and it's a crucial battle in the race for the nomination and also the first in the south. A debate for Democrat candidates' is tomorrow in South Carolina and could also play an important role in the race.

On the Republican side, I think the battle now is between John Mc Cain and Mitt Romney. Mike Huckabee needed a win here and he failed, give the states demographics he really had to win in order to stand a chance of winning the nomination. Rudy Gulliani first and only chance will be Florida, anything less then victory or a very close second will probably mean that he'll be out of the race, he has played a very risky strategy in sitting out the first few races and his campaign seems to lack any momentum. With it being politics, things can change and never rule out the unexpected.

The next few days sees a lull in contests, but with super-duper Tuesday only two weeks away we could soon know the two candidates are for president. However, if it's still deadlocked in two weeks time, it will make the campaign that much more interesting.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Latest from the race for the White House

Since last my last update on the blog, Hillary Clinton against all predictions won New Hampshire and now the race between Hillary and Obama has got more exciting. Everything is geared up toward the South Carolina primary on Saturday week which will be a major test for both candidates. For Barack, it's a must win given that 50% of the Democrat registered voters are black, if he fails to win here it will be deeply damaging to his campaign and he may have difficulty recovering. For Hillary she needs the momentum, but can survive a loss in South Carolina. A poor showing for John Edwards who was born in the state will probably spell the end of his campaign.

At the weekend, we also see the Nevada caucus which is the first test of opinion in the west. The polls are looking very even but the caucus system can be very unpredictable.

The Republican side remains deadlocked - three different winners to date and Gulliani might make it four if he wins Florida later this month which is his make or break state. South Carolina is interesting as it looks like a battle between McCain and Huckabee, if McCain can win here he'll be very well placed to win the nomination and going into Florida it will be a considerable boost. For Huckabee, a failure in South Carolina will probably spell the end of his hopes in winning the nomination - if he can't win here he'll have extreme difficulty succeeding elsewhere.

The race for the White House goes on and it's proving for me to be very addictive and very unpredictable!

Heathrow Airport plane crash & expansion of airport

Seeing the pictures this evening on the news of the BA aircraft crash landing at Heathrow, it's a miracle that no-one was killed or seriously injured in the accident. The investigation into the incident will no doubt shed further light on what happened, but many people had a a very luck escape.

This of course will raise questions about the future expansion of Heathrow Airport and a third runway. With the matter about to go out for consultation, the accident has certainly not helped the case for a third runway.

I personally do not support a third runway at Heathrow given its location and the fact that a large part of London suffers greatly from aircraft noise. In areas like Mitcham and Pollards Hill which at present do not suffer from aircraft noise, if a third runway is built we are likely to see aircraft noise increase as flight paths are changed and capacity expanded. Indeed, noise contour diagrams have shown that Mitcham will suffer if flights into Heathrow expand.

Unlike many other airports in major cities, the flightpath is directly over the city which increase the number of people impacted byt the noise. Given that Heathrow is surrounded on all sides by residential area's the aiport is located in a densly poulated surrounding area , the environmental impact is huge.

However, while I might be opposed to Heathrow expansion, I believe that aviation is of enormous importance to this country and the economy of both London and the UK. We need extra capacity and that fact is rightly recognised, whilst it would no doubt not be universally popular, given that both Gatwick and Stanstead have flight paths away from urban areas and are single runway airports, this an option that should be pursued even though a planning agreement exists at Gatwick until 2020 that a second runway is not built. Over the next decade aviation will grow further and decisions need to be taken - it is right that we are having this debate even if I disagree with the present conclusions. Heathrow contributes enormously to our economy, but it's time to face facts that given its location it's not suitable for further expansion.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Harris Academy Merton has over 700 applications!

The Harris Academy in my council ward Pollards Hill, has this year seen over 700 applications expressing a preference to be admitted to the school from September 2008 and 231 were first preference applications. This is the second highest of any school in Merton and just behind the Ursuline catholic school for girls in Wimbledon. The intake for the school is just 180. This is an amazing transformation from the former Tamworth Manor High School which saw less then 80 first preference applications just two years ago - now it's oversubscribed. It is clear that the transformation that has taken place within the school has had an impact in the local area and I've no doubt that the school will continue to go from strength to strength over the next year. A great deal of credit also need to be given to the Head Andy Halpin.

With a new sixth form about to be built, it has also created enormous opportunities for post-16 education in the area. Parents now want to send their kids to the school instead of doing everything in the power not to send them to the local school which was previously the case. With A-C GCSE's increasing by 11% to 40% the school is certianly changing things for the better locally.

Cllr Angela Caldara removed from the Standards Committee

The issues of the proposed allowances increase rumbles on in Merton Council. At a meeting of the Standards Committee last week, Conservative councillor Angela Caladara again took a principled and courageous stand in opposing the proposed increase of 25& in allowances for the Cabinet and an allowance increase of nearly 10%on the basic allowance for councillors.

When it came to a vote on the allowances, the proposed increase was defeated with the independent members of Standards also opposing the increase(these are non-councillors and not Merton Park Independents). On increasing the basic allowance for councillors, only one Tory member of the committee, cabinet member Cllr David Simpson voted for the increase, two other Tory councillors abstained, Cllr Brian Lewis-Lavendar and Cllr Corinna Edge. Cllr Angela Caldara again opposed.

Following the vote and after Cllr David Williams the Tory leader and Cllr Rod Scott had left the room, a statement was read out by Angela Caldara. In the statement she announced 'that she'd been removed from the Standards Committee for refusing to vote for the allowance increase.' This was after the Leader David Williams had stated in the meeting 'that Tory members were not whipped on Standards'. Apparently only full council and the Chief Executive can remove members from committee, it remains to be seen whether she stays on Standards.

Of course, this left the Standards Committee in shock, no doubt we've not heard the last of this but it's clear that that the Tories are determined to get the allowance increase through despite disquiet within the ranks. Angela Caldara is a principled councillor, it's a shame a few more in the Tory group did not share her views as it's quite clear from statement she has made about the matter that they're determined to railroad the allowances through despite opposition from amongst their own ranks. The phrase 'Putting Themselves First' springs to mind for some Tory councillors.

It will be interesting to see what happens when it comes to Council. If they do not obtain the support from the Merton Park Independents, it will not pass through council and with Angela Caldara like to oppose the increase we could be in for another interesting meeting. With the tight numbers on the Council, if they abstain and another Tory councillor joins Angela Caldara it will not go through council.

Merton council tax set to rise by 3.9%

Over the past few months the budget has been the major issue of discussion within Merton Council. Recently in the local newspapers, the Tories on Merton Council have been complaining about a poor budget settlement from the Government and having to put up Council Tax by 3.9% to make up for the shortfall. Yet if were to look behind the propaganda put out by Tory-run Merton Council, it seems that they've also managed to accumulate over £10 million pounds of taxpayers' money and this is set to rise even further next year to over 8% of council income. This is the equivalent of £89 for every household paying the full council tax. This is public money and belongs with the public, when Labour left office in 2006 we had over £5 million in reserves and managed to keep council tax down, at the time it was judged acceptable by the Audit Commission.

Last year the Tories raised council tax by 3.6% way above the 2.5% the outgoing Labour administration had promised. Due to the success of the former Labour administration in achieving targets - the Council also benefited from a reward grant from the government of £2 million pounds. This money should have been used to support services and reduce the council tax, instead it is lying fallow in a bank account.

This year’s proposed council tax increase is even worse at 3.9% or about £41 on Band D and way above the nationally approved CPI inflation rate of 2.1%. With the money currently available this should be significantly reduced, it's quite clear that the Tories are putting council tax up now to freeze or cut tax before the next election.
This money should be used now and belongs with the public.

The Council is also proposing unnecessary cuts to vital services for disabled and elderly people and to street cleaning, gully cleansing, fly tip removal, graffiti enforcement, street lighting, the removal of untaxed vehicles as well as charging for library internet use and disabled parking bays. Clearly 'Putting You First' has turned into 'Putting You Last'.

At the same time, the Tory administration are pushing for a 25% rise in cabinet members and other senior Tory councillors. While they plead poverty - allowances seem to be exempted at the expense of services. The Labour group on Merton Council are opposing these excessive and unjustified rises.

Over the next week scrutiny will be looking over the budget, but it's quite clear that Merton Council is not in the perilous financial position that they claim to be in. The final budget will be decided at a council meeting on 5th March.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Barack Obama wins in Iowa

The result in Iowa for Barack Obama is absolutely fantastic news given the nature of the state and the importance it has in the nominating process for the Democrats. This is a state that is 97% white and is a fairly rural sparsely populated state, it is not a state that is not in the 'liberal belt' in the US or even the most 'progressive state' in the country. To achieve a result like Barack Obama did last night was a pretty remarkable achievement.

The huge increase in turnout also indicated the enthusiasm that existed for Barack Obama, along with the attitude of change in America which Barack Obama reflects. In winning the caucus, he also motivated and persuaded large number of people to back him in his campaign. This has given momentum to his campaign which now moves onto New Hampshire next week for the first primary.

Essentially the race for the Democratic nomination is a battle between Hillary and Barack. John Edwards needed to win in Iowa to give his campaign traction - his result whilst not bad was a long way behind Barack and given that he'd been working the state for the last four years the result has probably meant the end of his campaign. I personally thought he may have won in New Hampshire, but I was proven wrong in my prediction.

New Hampshire has now become a must win for Hillary Clinton. While she is still ahead of Barack Obama in polls - the momentum is not with her. Her campaign will be in deep trouble if she does not win in New Hampshire given that Super Tuesday is barely a month away.

Everything about this race has suddenly become very exciting and I hope that Barack now goes on and wins the nomination as he represents a real opportunity to make a real difference in the US.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year

I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year. What a remarkable fireworks display in London as well - the best display in the world in my view. 2008 will hopefully be a great year as well!