The Thick of It


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Wifi Islington

I read with interest that Islington Council has extended their free wifi zone to include Ashby House on Essex Road and the rest of the New River (Marquess) Estate. I was a candidate there in last year's council elections. While I don't doubt that with around 500 regular users of the network at any time it has benefits - I'd certainly love a free Internet connection - my experience of the estate is that many residents would be better off with council money spent elsewhere. Since the re-design of the estate now includes a circular "racetrack" popular with young scooter riders and is still home to much anti-social behaviour, installing CCTV and looking at tackling the regular individuals committing ASB might be better placed.

Black trying to pick his prison

I'm still unable to find out why Conrad Black isn't in prison. Someone please explain this to me. Even though he is appealing the judgement, most felons still have to go to jail despite an appeal pending. Right now he is trying to cherry pick the most convenient and lowest security facility for himself. I can't quite believe this, surely he should go where he is told?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Highbury Garage to re-open on March 2008

Rumour has it that the Highbury Garage gig venue is to open again on March 14th 2008 after a year of nothingness. This is good news and follows news in August that new owners had bought it.

Harriet Harman makes me cringe

During a particular party political spat of the sort that turns non-politicos off politics and makes me cringe, Harriet Harman gave Theresa May a wonderfully childish riposte recently. When defending her decision to take money from Janet Kidd (on behalf of Bob Abrahams) in Parliament she gave everyone confidence that she will remain in post by stating that "The honourable lady (May) can huff and puff but she will not blow this leader of the house down." Stirring stuff indeed.

Winning back the agenda

Listening to PMQs today, Brown is obviously trying to pain his government one one of substance over Cameron's focus on style. This has long been the big contrast between the two leaders but I worry that Cameron's lack of rigour isn't concerning the electorate while Brown is constantly reacting to negative events. These events are nothing like the cash for questions or arms to Iraq scandals of the mid 1990s Major government, yet they are not helping.

Labour is offering policies for positive change in Britain, like yesterday's announcement of the Childrens' Plan. This seeks to tackle the root causes of anti-social behaviour, crime (and the causes of crime?)and obesity and builds on the positive contribution of Sure Start.

Opinion polls have been better but they are sitting in the mid 30s and according to the Electoral Calculus (an amalgamation of all recent polls) the Tories are looking at a majority of 8 at present. There isn't an impossible mountain to climb, but we need to win back control of the political agenda otherwise nobody will be interested in our achievements.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Abrahams affair

Like Luke Akehurst, I've not had a single voter mention the Abrahams affair to me when canvassing in Highbury recently. Not one. My feeling is that most people don't really care too much for the Westminster Village's in fighting, though continued coverage of such events does help the drip, drip, drip effect of massaging and latent cynicism.


Conrad Black gets convicted of fraud, but somehow isn't in jail even though he has been sentenced. How has that happened? The judge, St. Eve told Black that the law applied to him "no matter how high your social status, how powerful you are, how wealthy you are, how successful you are, how intelligent you are, what your title is or how you educated you are." I'm quite sure that in the USA most convicted felons are "taken down" on sentencing.

I can't quite understand how Black is still getting away with it.

I'm also shocked though not suprised that high profile Tories like William Hague actually appealed to the judge on Black's behalf for clemency. This must be the same Hague who also recommended the thief for a peerage. Also the same Hague who claimed that Michael Ashcroft would be paying millions in taxes to the Treasury if he was also given a peerage.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Orient - Millwall and Anderlecht - Spurs

Anyone reading about the missiles thrown at the Spurs team at Thursday's UEFA cup tie in Brussels against Anderlecht might be forgiven for thinking that here is yet another example of continental hooliganism, contrasting with the clean behaviour of fans at home.

On Tuesday I witnessed more of the same as Millwall followers showered the Brisbane Road pitch with bottles, ripped seats, wood and coins. One coin only missed the referee's head by a few centimetres. We can't be so smug here in England, football disturbances still take place regularly, but with much less media appetite for reporting them than before.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Manchester Victoria

Being a fan of stations in general, I was always saddened by the seemingly forgotten plight of Manchester's Victoria station. However, it appears that Network Rail are keen to upgrade it, which is good news. Duoble however thuogh is that no specific plans have actually been relaesed yet.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What is going on?

I've not blogged as I managed to break a bone in my hand playing football recently and am only just now getting back up to speed with typing properly. The plaster cast means I'm continually hitting space bar.

I've also been away, to Zurich, which seems like the Swiss party town. I saw Interpol and Klaxons play live. Interpol were excellent, Klaxons fun though I'm not sure they meet their top billing yet.

The Labour Party seems to be in a mess too. The government seems as if events control it rather than the other way around. Hmmm...

I went canvassing at the weekend in Highbury with Jeremy Corbyn MP, Islington's Labour Group Leader Cllr Catherine West and Cllr Richard Watts. A highlight included speaking to a real man called George W Bush, who was undecided about which party to support. I suppose that happens when one is about to leave office, the desire goes.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Compass, Cruddas and Trickett

Using the Compass banner, Jons Cruddas and Trickett have fired a "friendly" warning shot at Gordon Brown. They seem to be suggesting that by going for a "big tent" approach and appealing to those traditionally outside the party, Brown has blurred the party divide. I find this sort of rhetoric unhelpful at best and damaging at worst. By adding to the cynical view that all politicians are the same this argument ends up turning people away from politics and away from the Labour Party. I'm inclined to follow Martin Kettle's argument here.

I'm not really sure what they are trying to achieve. what has been achieved is a set of negative headlines criticising Brown for poor leadership. This just plays into the Tories' hands. I'd like to see an internal discussion from Compass where they actually present some more robust ideas to the party than this.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

European Treaty

The whole hoo-ha about the is it a constitution or not with the EU treaty seems a little over the top to me. Clearly most of those who are shouting against are probably against the EU full stop. I am not one of those people.

The treaty brings in more Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) for an EU of 25 states to replace the single state power of veto which applied in more areas when there were just 15. This is a sensible move because nothing would ever get done if one state could block Justice and Home Affairs (JHA). QMV is weighted to population so large nations like the UK, Germany and France have more votes than smaller ones. Obviously this means that some countries might have to accept EU legislation that they don't like. This isn't idea but it the concept that a union is based on.

However, the UK has secured the right to opt out of specific legislation so I really don't see what the problem is.

Ming off!

I find it quite useful that just when the heat seemed to be on Gordon Brown for the election that never was, the Liberal Democrats self combust. Ming quits. Thanks!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Question time, Chuka Umunna and Kelvin McKenzie

I was delighted to see my good friend Chuka Umunna giving a great account of himself on last night's BBC1 Question Time. I was also sickened by the vile vitriol coming from Kelvin McKenzie's mouth. He seems to hate the fact that Gordon Brown is Scottish. Perhaps he needs to be reminded that we live in a United Kingdom. What I thought was interesting was his praise of George Osbourne for asserting "traditional" Tory polices. So The Sun might well support the Tories for going back into their core ground. However, this didn't work in any of the last three elections.

What was notable last night was that Chuka was the only panelist who dared speak out against McKenzie's racist drivel. The panel included Caroline Spellman and Harriet Harman.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Conference notes

Having finally got myself back together after spending several days in Bournemouth for Labour Party Conference 2007, I feel able to write about it. Before going off again. In the morning I'm off to Cyprus for 11 days. They have lots of sun there.

The late accreditation office was better than last year in that it was actually possible to get a pass this time. I'm still a little stumped as to why it takes them so long to print a pass that is ready. One still gets different answers every time you ask a different member of staff. For a party that lectures the public sector so much in how to administer itself, the Labour Party clearly has a great deal yet to learn. But I got in.

The general feeling this year was very positive and united. All of the fringe meetings and discussions I took part in and attended were all focused on making sure Labour won and put forward progressive policies. I was impressed by David Blunkett's relaxed and comedic performances. I was impressed again by James Purnell.

The best party of the week was surely the New Statesman champagne reception. Highlights of this included John Spellar sweating profusely, people talking over Geoffrey Robinson and Jeremy Paxman refusing to allow me to have my picture taken with him after someone else just had. "I think one is quite enough. Don't you?" he questioned. I disagreed but he walked off with his blonde. To get my rudeness back for the weekend I saw Ian Paisley and called him something extremely rude, to glares from his bodyguards. However, I did get several supportive cheers and claps from some Geordie members for that. I definitely would do it again.

Congratulations to Alon Or Bach for his election to the NPF. Well done to him and I'm looking forward to more of his excellent reports back.

Let's get ready for an election...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Bournemouth 2007

Off to BOurnemouth for conference this afternoon. My entrance assumes that there isn't a fiasco like last year with late accreditation at both Labour and Tory conferences.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Harman update

It appears that the police have tracked Harriet Harman down, after she admitted a speeding charge in Suffolk by post today. Hopefully now this is behind her she can set about filling whatever role the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party should be.

Laura Willoughby

Having a scout around for information on my local Highbury East councillor Laura Willoughby, I noted that her website still isn't working. Neither is her "PPC page" at the Lib Dem site. I wonder if she is working hard for me?

When things go wrong don't apologise, just look to the future

I've been slack since my trip to Holland. Naughty me. I'm off again in ten days time to Cyprus, so I promise to get a little more in between now and then.

I seldom manager to make it all the way through a newspaper, especially on Sundays, but last weekend I managed to get as far as Armando Ianucci's Observer column on the back page of the news section. I loved his description of a conversation with a former Bush aide:

I'm so glad you asked
Talking of doubt, last week I had a conversation with a genuine neo-con who didn't have any. He was one of George Bush's former speechwriters and I asked him how he responded to the never-answered complaint from most of us that invading Iraq was senseless, because all the terrorists were in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. His only response was: 'That was then. The question is, what do we do now?' I kept telling him that where we were now was a result of what he did then, but he kept saying: 'No, but what's important is what we do now.' Which is a bit like saying: 'I know I set fire to your house, but can we draw a line under that? What's important now is that I've got a charred hand, so where's the medical care?'

Drawing a line, redefining the issue, re-evaluating the situation in the light of a fresh context; these are all highly sophisticated reverbalisations of: 'I don't know; can we start again?' George W Bush declares progress, even though his definition of progress is to get unbearable violence back to the level it was a year-and-a-half ago. If he goes on redefining phrases to mean around 96 per cent of their opposite, it won't be long before he manages to persuade Americans to think that a 'debacle' is a good thing. Especially if it's an improvement on an outright disaster. Expect soon to have American families celebrate Debacle Day, host Fiasco Barbecues and organise Shambles Carnivals.

If only it were that easy.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Where is Harriet Harman?

Fair enough, it has been the summer, BUT! When there was no contest for the Labour leadership, a great deal of media attention focused instead on the Deputy Leadership elections. When Harman was elected there seemed to be much speculation as to what she would actually do and whether Brown would pay any attention to the position. So far I have to say I've seen nothing. Does anyone know any better than I do?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Ayre fish curry - Kanye West and me

I tried out a Bangladeshi fishmongers in Stoke Newington yesterday and brought home some Ayre. I made a curry, it was very good, however I was unable to find any specific recipes online. Searching for "Ayre fish curry" just brings up news hits for when Kanye West ordered that same dish to be taken out to him in New york from a
Welsh curry house for £2000. Mine took me about an hour and to serve four, the whole meal cost about £10.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I've been away on my holidays having been to Amsterdam and the Lowlands festival. Having previously been to Benicassim in Spain (just four times) I was interested to see what the Dutch would make of the music festival. It had no beach but it had real toilets, free saunas, showers and no mud. And the Dutch who are the most easy going people I've ever seen at a festival. No pushing or shoving, fantastic - unlike Benicassim which has now been taken over by us Brits.

Is Lowlands the world’s most easy going festival? Dubbed “A camping flight to Lowlands paradise” and with a line up to match any UK festival it is hard to disagree. In it’s 15th year, Lowlands attracted top billing from The Killers, Kaiser Chiefs, Arcade Fire, Interpol, Editors, Motorhead and Tool. The 55000 sell out crowd were treated to superb acts at a festival so well organised it puts the British mud-baths to shame.

Substitute portaloos with real toilets, mud with proper drainage, poor sound with fantastic sound, dirt with real showers and queues with the easy going Dutch. Lowlands is a music lovers’ paradise.

All the things that annoy me about festivals don’t apply here. Did I mention free laundry and saunas and that returning ten beer cups gets you a free drink?

The Killers rocked Friday to the rafters of the vast Alpha tent with a superb hit-laden set. Pure energy from start to finish, revellers were treated to Brandon Flowers at his best, stomping across the stage in a silver suit and pumping his arms to tune.

Calvin Harris played his first overseas festival date and proved that he has what it takes to continue exciting fans with his 80s fun pop. Fans packed in to see West Londoner Jamie T though I left feeling a little short changed from his set.

Saturday saw a fine display of powerful post-punk from moody New Yorker’s Interpol who delivered the good for me as a big fan. They had a great light show and played all their best songs, which helps. Kaiser Chiefs naturally lived up to expectations and had the whole festival pogoing away on Saturday night. They really do sound more and more like Blur.

With the sun blazing down on the lakeside site, on Sunday Kings of Leon finally lived up to their hype - the fourth time I've seen them now - and delivered the perfect prelude to godfathers of grunge, Sonic Youth.

I signed off the weekend with Canadian art-rockers Arcade Fire, ten on stage and I was in thrall thrall as the festival drew to a close, with a string of storming tracks from recent album Neon Bible and against a stunning backdrop including a church organ, screens and all sorts.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Happy holidays

This blogger goes to the Lowlands festival tomorrow morning so nothing will be written for a week. I'm going to see Sonic Youth, Arcade Fire, CSS, Interpol, Motorhead and more. Report to follow.

Lib Dem councillor and a stripper rolls on

The Bideford councillors who resigned from the Lib Dems after discovering that a fellow representative was a stripper have written to their local rag the North Devon Gazette to put their side of the story. Now that the tabloids have moved on, the three councillors claim they quit because Cllr Myrna Bushell's extra curricular work could be distressing to some. Perhaps this is a fair point, but I'm keen to know the Lib Dem Party line on this as they clearly sided with the stripper not the Bideford Three.

Did somebody ask how Mark Oaten is?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Oi Redwood! No!

Just a quick message to John Redwood and Cameron: I'd like to keep my guaranteed four weeks of holiday. So I really don't think reducing people's holiday entitlement will really be that popular, especially when we already work the longest hours in Europe. This is another challenge to Cameron to show if the Tories want to stay camped firmly on the right or if they are prepared to compromise and move to the centre ground. He has so far failed to align too closely with Redwood's review, but if he doesn't back it why set it up in the first place? My suspicion is that Cameron does back most of these proposals. We'll see very shortly.

Highbury Garage could re-open

According the Graun, the Highbury Garage has been sold along with several other London music venues. The venue was an important part in growing up in London as a music loving teenager and walking past it every day since it closed last year has always saddened me. I had assumed that it would be sold for housing but it looks like it will remain a music venue. The staff at the Garage had all been told it was closing for "refurbishment" but the venue closed and has stood empty since. To upgrade it will require a lot of work as it was quite run down, but I hope this will happen now it has been bought by entertainment group Mama.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Too much red tape for employers?

John Redwood seems to have devoted his career to reducing government's influence and cutting red tape. He must have been like a kid in a sweet shop when Cameron offered him the chance to prepare a policy paper for the Conservative Party on economic competitiveness.

However, the widely reported recommendations look to be ill thought out, such as opting out from the working time directive - which isn't possible - or just unnecessary, like making it easier to make staff redundant. Britain currently has one of the most successful labour markets in the EU so why change? Especially when employers aren't even asking for change.

I was heartened to read in Personnel Today that employers' lobbyist David Yeandle of the EEF (representative body for manufacturers) said "there is no great demand to get rid of existing employment legislation."

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Britain backing Brown

So the polls show Labour still in the lead and the public backing Brown as the best leader by far. This makes great Saturday morning reading.

Cameron needs to respond and offer leadership and an eye catching policy that will attract voters. I'm still not convinced he has what it takes to haul the Tories out of their malaise. Tax cuts? Give me a break. Not a tax one though. Though this seems to be what he thinks will get Britain back on the Tories' side. I'm just waiting for a backlash in the Tory Party about Europe then the set will be complete, tax cuts and Europe. Will they ever learn that repeatedly beating the same drum in 1997, 2001, 2005 and now 2007 might not work?

£21bn of public service cuts would be a disaster at a time when investment is finally bringing services up to scratch. John Redwood's policy review claims that together with tax and regulation, poor infrastructure is a problem in the UK. How does he propose that we invest in new infrastructure with less tax revenue when what we have isn't enough?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Labour gears up for election

Following my last post, there just seems to be more and more coverage pointing to Labour getting ready for a general election fight. We appointed a new election chief yesterday and are now choosing our ad agency. Appointing Experian to manage the voter database, hopefully this means that a significant upgrade to will have a real effect.

The only counter to all this is Labour's financial position. We are in massive debt and the Tories seem to be on a decent financial footing. The longer we wait the better our finances will be but by then the Tories will probably have raised more so the gap will be the same - unless of course even more of their recent donors give them up.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Highbury, Corbyn and the general election date

I spent the morning canvassing with Jeremy Corbyn under a blazing sun. Our discussions turned to whether Labour will hold an election in May and we thought yes - Gordon Brown hasn't dampened the speculation which he would have done had May 2008 not been the plan. This will also be a problem for the Tories as it doesn't give them much time to actually come up with some proper policies. The next few months could be very interesting indeed.

It being Highbury, we also bumped into Nigel Slater. Awesome.


Cracking interview with Denis Healy in today's Graun. I always sigh with despair when I think back to what might have been had he become leader of the Labour Party and what was instead.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Spoof party political broadcasts

I've updated my links on here and while having a think about what I read online, I found the link to some spoof party poltical broadcasts from 2005. They are made to be what the two main partys and the Liberal Democrats would have made had there been no restrictions.

The Labour one shows a woman waking up with a posh Tory after a one night stand, but she can't get rid of him. He suggests going to Heathrow to 'test all the foreigners for AIDs.' Priceless.

The Tory advert shows a dirty Britian of anti-social behaviour and vandalism. It doens't seem very spoof, it is alarmingly realistic.

The Lib Dems 'portray' themselves as the caring independent arbiter for those sick of Labour and the Tories bickering. Of course, us Islington residents know that they are far from caring.

Am I really that good?

Yesterday I got a real boost as this blog was listed as one of the top 20 political blogs by highly rated sjhoward. Top Tory blogger Iain Dale has requested that people submit their top 20 and mine got submitted. I encourage you to submit your own list and please put me on there too!

I'm having a think about mine and will be posting it soon.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Lord Baden-Powell arrested!

On this centenary celebration day for the Scouting movement, I thought it pertinent to raise the thought of what might have been. I can recall reading in William L Shirer's excellent The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich as a youngster that had Operation Sealion been successful, Lord Baden Powell would have been arrested. Did the Nazis really think that the scout movement was a threat?

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The challenge for Cameron

With criticism of his 'new' direction from the Tories ringing in from all directions, the real challenge for David Cameron is whether he can ride the challenge and see off the threat from his critics. He failed to do so on grammar schools, can he now see off Saatchi, Miraj et al?

Tubelines not keen on Metronet contracts

Reading about Tubeline's apprehension in taking on Metronet's failed Tube PPP contracts one thing seemed remarkable to me. It appears that much of th eprescribed work laid out in the PPP contracts omitted some crucial details. Terry Morgan of Tubelines cites the upgrading of Arsenal station, my nearest station:

"He cites an upgrade at Arsenal station as an example of the complexity of deciding the scope of work. Tube Lines undertook to put "a new cover on the station", but found it could not build on the existing roof. "So we had to strip the existing roof," he said - at Tube Lines' own cost."

It is remarkable that despite £500m of public money spent on drawing up these contracts that 'unforseen' situations like this could occur.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Hornsey and Wood Green - just two years out of date

I stumbled upon the Hornsey and Wood Green Labour Party website a few moments ago. I clicked on the "your MP" option, a little unsure as to what I'd find. Of course Barbara Roche lost in 2005 to Lynne Featherstone, but according to this site she is still running surgeries...Someone take it down please!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Metronet to become next Network Rail?

I read the headline "London mayor's transport team in talks to take charge of failed tube contractor" and so into the article where it was mooted that Metronet's contract will be taken over by TfL. However, half way through one notes that this story was driven by (my own) trade union Unite's statement that the Mayor had proposed to "limit the period that Metronet remains in administration and instead bring the operation under the control of TfL." This was withdrawn after Livingstone said it didn't reflect reality. I can't see Prime Minister Brown yielding to this either after the PPP was pushed through at his behest.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Lib Dem cllr and stripper

I picked this up from the Mail today: The woman who is a stripogram, kissogram and a Lib Dem councillor. Three Devon cllr colleagues of Cllr Myrna Bushell have resigned in protest that Bushell is running a sex phone line from her home in addition to appearing on Escort Magazine.

According to the Mail: "beneath several saucy photographs a price list says a kissogram is £85, stripogram (lingerie and strip) £95, topless strip stripogram £110, stripogram (full or g-string strip £125 or Strip Show (2x strips with a change of costume) £160."

Langham trial

Chris Langham, on trial for sex offences, has had four charges dropped against him today and told the Court he had been sexually abused as a child. It looks like this case will continue to unfold.

Black still set for life in jail?

According to legal experts quoted his old stable Telegraph, convicted fraudster and former Lord Crossharbour Conrad Black could still be sentenced to over 20 years inside. At least food and shelter is free in jail, as I was saddened to read that he also faces losing his Florida mansion - not that he'll be needing it - after failing to pay the $5m mortgage on it.

Of course it is worth noting that Black was nominated for his peerage by then Tory leafed and now Shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Twenty years of Tory mess

I'm not actually talking about their often ruinous tenure in power from the year of my birth until the moment when our Tony stated "a new dawn has broken has it not?" to the Royal Festival hall in the early hours of 2 May 1997. No, actually about the turmoil that followed the ousting of Maggie and what followed.

Edward Pearce is a prolific writer and journalist. His comment is free column today is well worth a read. He makes some wonderful historical and slightly tongue in cheek comparisons between Tories and historical figures. Thatcher as Pope Pius IX the infallible. Good to look back on what theyhave been up to while all us Labour folk think about ourselves all the time.

Metronet: Atkins and Balfour Beatty keen to keep on

Reading statements from Metronet partners Atkins and Balfour Beatty recently suggesting that they take part in a new PPP contract surprised me somewhat. Especially the quote from the BB spokesperson that "we have all the staff, equipment and know-how there already." Is this the same know-how that led to £2bn of cost over runs and repeatedly missed deadlines for engineering work blighting Monday morning commutes?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The next 50 years of Tory mishaps?

I was mildly amused to read this about the Tories future incompetance - and be reminded of the potential for the future. I'm not getting carried away but it would be nice...

The future for the Tories

As I stated last week, yesterday's Housing Green Paper is a good start towards sorting out Britain's property crisis. Politically it creates a critical juncture at which the Tories must decide whether they believe in social mobility or protecting the interests of those who have wealth.

The Tories will either opt for nimbyism as illustrated by Grant Schapps or will they embrace the spirit of Thatcherism and support plans to extend property ownership to those who can't afford it any more with spiralling prices, like myself? Not that I'd ever vote Tory anyway. Remember that they sold all the social housing off in the first place.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Tebbit test

I was fortunate enough to be given a free ticket to yesterday's play at Lord's for the First Test between England and India. I went with some Asian friends who were supporting England and India. I had a great day and saw some great cricket, Pietersen's 134, RP Singh's five wickets and then some great early bowling from England. It was disappointing that Sachin Tendulkar didn't make a big score though I was delighted with Panesar's wicket and subsequent celebration. Unfortunately some of the British Asians in the crowd seemed to take offence to Luton born Panesar playing for England. There were some racial taunts aimed at him in Punjab when he fielded near the Mound Stand which my friends objected to. Some unsightly scenes followed but without any major incident ocurring.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Ruth Turner

I just have to say how pleased I am that no charges will be made against anyone involved in the cash for honours (or not as it turned out) case. I'm absolutely delighted for Ruth Turner. I have worked for her, taken her advice and found her to be a generally inspiring, honest and super person.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Metronet: taypayer pays again

The taxpayer paid £500m for Metronet and Tubelines respective PPP contracts to be set up. Now Metronet are unable to manage their finances properly, the taxpayers pay again. It appears to me that this stems from Metronet's greed in attempting to award all contracts to their constituent companies thereby keeping all money within the cycle. However they couldn't even make this work when they were running it all themselves. So we'll probably have Tubelines running the whole PPP.

One night, two Labour meetings

Last night I went to two Labour Party meetings. The first was the Progress debate in Parliament: How can Labour Win. The second was Islington North CLP's monthly General Committee.

Progress: How can Labour Win was invigorating and motivating. Speaking were Roger Mortimer from MORI, Chris Leslie from NLGN, Polly Toynbee, Yvette Cooper and personal favourite, James Purnell. The "usual" topics were covered. Mortimer stated that there is a gap between voters' local experiences of public services (very good) and their views of the national picture (less so good). Importantly though he stated that for Labour to win, we need middle class votes. To win in the coming years around two thirds of Labours voters need to be from the middle classes. We can no longer rely on C2DEs. This is why James Purnell is right that the only way Labour can be successful is by staying loyal to New Labour.

The main out-take from this event is that Labour has a good story to tell - and we need to go out there, campaign hard and ensure that everyone knows about it.

Housing repeatedly arose as an issue. Here we have a real opportunity. In the 1980s the Tories were the party of the home owning masses. Today Labour has the chance to seize that territory. More social housing but more shared ownership schemes are needed. I await the Housing Green Paper on Monday with baited breath. This is also something that has been consistently debates at Islington North's GC.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tube bans Gay Times ad

I was disappointed to read that the Tube had rejected a Gay Times advert (shown here)celebrating 40 years since being homosexual ceased to be a criminal offence. It will be interesting to see what the London Paper and Gay Times poll finds. Do people still think this sort of image inappropriate? I hope not, I hope we've moved on and that the Tube can be shamed into their backward thinking of this. We should be celebrating 40 years of a progressive law change under a Labour Government and this sort of petty behaviour really doesn't help.

Black versus Maxwell

So today The Guardian's Michael White wrote a thought provoking article touching on some of the same points I raised no Friday following Conrad Black's conviction for fraud. Read it.

Metronet going bust

Yesterday's post about the Tube PPP Arbiter's decision not to cave in to Metronet's demands for more Government hand outs attracted attention to this blog from both PPP contractors, Metronet themselves and Tubelines. It is of course interesting to note that Tubelines hasn't faced the same problems as Metronet.

Metronet failed to competitively tender work, preferring to offer it to it's member companies, including Balfour Beatty, WS Atkins and Bombardier. They obviously saw this as a way to make more money at the public expense from themselves by running a closed shop. Tubelines have offered contracts competitively.

More seriously though the public purse looks likely to pick up th ebill from Metronet's chronic failure to deliver. The transfer of risk from public to private sector was one of the strongest arguments made at the time the PPP was being proposed. At the time I thought the cost of drawing up the PPP high. The vast sums, around £500m, spent on lawyers and management consultants to draw up these contracts failed to envisage this. This money could have been invested in the system directly. However, I was happy to see the PPP go through if it was going to deliver real investment into the network at effectively a fixed price to the public purse.

Now it is likely that Transport for London will have to arrange a re-financing package. This isn't how it was meant to work. Something was clearly lost between the Government's argument at the time and what was put into place. I'm sorry to my Dad as I remember saying to him at the time that the PPP was nothing to worry about when clearly this is proving a big waste of time and money.

The National Audit Office's 2003 report into the PPP "London Underground PPP: Were they good deals?" will make for more interesting reading now.

Monday, July 16, 2007


So Metronet look like going bust. The only people who seem to have benefited from the PPP on London Underground are management consultants and lawyers who drew up the preoposterous idea in the first place. The whole point of the PPP was to transfer the financial risk away from the public sector. Yet when things go wrong, Metronet simply hold out a begging bowl to the public purse. Asking TfL for £551m to cover extra costs wasn't on and I'm pleased that Chris Bolt, the PPP Arbiter, only offered them £121m.

I'm not sure what this means for the future upgrading of the tube but what it says about poor decisions made in the past is stark. Transferring risk to the private sctor doesn't always work - just look at the rest of the railways. Metronet have shown little regard for the public purse and I'm pleased that they are being stood up to. London Underground's MD, Tim O-Toole, said “I’m determined to make the case that the public should not be forced to pay a penny for Metronet’s inefficiencies.”

Friday, July 13, 2007

Conrad Black guilty of fraud

I was pleased to read that Conrad Black, made Lord Black at the request of WIlliam Hague, has been found guilty of fraud. He is looking at 15-20 years inside for plundering $6m from Hollinger's funds, including the pension fund. Sometimes I feel that the USA for all its unbounded corporatism gets it right where the UK seems toothless. Shame he couldn't quite manage to take the Daily Telegraph down with him...Chicago remains my favourite US city. This case shows that sometimes, if you really are very guilty, it doesn't matter how much you spend on the best lawyers.

You can't polish a turd.

I wonder how William Rees-Mogg of The Times now feels after he wrote of his support for fraudster Black a few months ago? Rees-Mogg talked of the lavish parties, which were at the expense of Hollinger which Black did not own, and not of the charges against him. He said "risk-taking entrepreneurs are essential to the development of the economy." I suppose Robert Maxwell was a "risk taker" as were those in charge of Enron.

Arizona State Government

I've had several hits from Arizona's State Government since my blog about their Department of Corrections selling prisoners uniforms. Good to see they care about their image.

Grange Grove's finest to run for Mayor?

Accoding to this, Boris Johnson now seems likely to run for Mayor. About a week ago he said he wasn't interested. Next time I pass his house on my way home from work I'll have to knock and ask him.

Hanworth Park by-election

I noted that last night Labour's vote increased slightly in the Hanworth Park by-election, Hounslow, next to where I grew up. I hope to see a similar boost in Ealing Southall shortly.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Alistair Campbell at Foyles

Next Thursday at Foyles on Charing Cross Road Alistair Campbell is giving a talk promoting his book. Right now watching his diaries on BBC2 I'm looking forward to hearing him speak again, getting a signed copy and reading it. On Tuesday I was talking to a close friend, a former City Editor of The Observer and Sunday Times and he said to me: "Am I the only person who really likes Alistair Campbell?" I replied, not at all, perhaps it is just the both of us. Next Thursday I look forward to finding out if there are others.

2020 Vision

After all the furore over Charles Clarke and Alan Milburn's website launch a couple of months ago, little else seems to have happened. Perhaps they have got out of their respective prams and are crawling around on the floor looking for their toys?

The Thick of It

Armando Ianucci's The Thick of It is my favourite comedy of many a year. It annoys me that many of my politico friends haven't seen it. Shame on them. The last two episodes have not featured Chris Langham's character, Minister for Social Affairs Hugh Abbott after Langham is now on trial for child porn and abuse allegations. The trial is now underway and Ianucci said he didn't want to make another series without Langham. We'll see what happens.

Labour Watch - Lib Dem candidate for Sedgefield

I have to say, good spot to Suz Lamido. I've been a regular reader of Labour Watch for a long time. I'm a Labour loyalist but the gossip on his blog and some of the mishaps made me laugh - and he was always very close to much that was going on. So like many others I noticed that invited readers only can now access this. Good spot to Islington Lib Dem blogger Suz that Greg Stone, the author, is the Lib Dem candidate for Sedgefield.

Fancy an Orange jumpsuit for your birthday?

USA's penal system frequently sickens me. They have harsh penalties, high crime rates and a racially unbalanced prison population. Since reading Jon's Jail Journal for the last few years, I've become particularly interested in Arizona's system and the harsh system of remand in Maricopa county under Sheriff Joe Arpaio. I discovered the Arizona Department of Corrections website and didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I saw that it is possible to buy the full range of prisoner uniforms.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Some interesting under-hand activity from the Tories in Ealing-Southall it seems. I first read Tom Watson's blog about underdog parties betting on their candidate to shorten the odds on them, then release campaign material saying "it is neck and neck here." Then I read the Lib Dems response. They must be furious that it appears that E-S Tory campaign head is posting YouTube videos claiming to be from the Lib Dems. I'm not convinced but I'll keep an eye out if the truth is unravelled.

London Oratory School and Alistair Campbell

I was interested to read in Alistair Campbell's diary that Neil Kinnock dubbed the London Oratory School a "waffen SS academy" whileCampbell himself held strong reservations about the school. I have a number of friends who went there and I could never get over the ridiculous rules and discipline of the place. It always reminded me of a private boarding school, without the fees, though pupils are expected to pay for lunch there, by the school magazine, pay for school events and buy an extensive uniform...Saturday detentions for 6th formers etc.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Come back to Labour

I know that many of my contemporaries who wold naturally support Labour have been put off voting for the Party because of student tuition fees. I wonder whether any of these might consider the Party again in the light of today's announcement that two thirds of all undergraduates will now qualify for a grant?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A few snippets

I was trying to see whether Cuddly Dave's Tories actually had any published policies on their website and perhaps they are starting to get there. I thought I'd see what they were proposing in 1997 and a few of that manifesto's promises made me chuckle. Were they never to be, well actually, though Labour has been in power, I found one that definitely has.

In 1997 John Major's Tories wanted to:

"Over the next parliament, our aim will be to achieve our target of a 20p basic rate of income tax, while maintaining a maximum tax rate of no more than 40p."

This was a feature of Brown's last budget as Chancellor.

Further, from this year on Corporation Tax Major's mob proposed:

"We will cut the small companies rate of corporation tax in line with personal taxation as we move towards a 20p basic rate."

This was enacted this year too.

But of course, I don't want to be doing the Tories' job for them, they are bad enough at that already. There is much they opposed in 1997 and after that I wanted Tony Blair's government to do and they did.

Major proposed that:

"No Conservative government will sign up to the Social Chapter or introduce a national minimum wage We will insist at the Intergovernmental Conference in Amsterdam that our opt-out is honoured and that Britain is exempted from the Working Time Directive: if old agreements are broken, we do not see how new ones can be made."

Of course, we signed the Social Chapter and this has made drastic improvements to the quality of life of millions with more holiday, better paternity and maternity rights and an end to poverty pay with the National Minimum Wage.

Sunday, June 24, 2007


Listening to Gordon Brown's leadership speech is getting me excited about the next couple of years in this country. The biggest issue facing the country is the lack of affordable housing. That Gordon prioritised this as the first policy area in his speech shows how important he sees it. I hope that involving the private sector, housing associations and local authorities can bring about the sea change we need. It is a matter of supply and the supply must increase for the price to drop and it remains to be seen who will be building these new eco towns. I'm not sure how building new towns will really help people like me though. I was born in London. I work in London and I don't want to live anywhere else. In London there has to be smart development, making the best use of land and it means increased density.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Tony Benn and Lynne Featherstone

Normally one would be shocked to find a member of your own Party supporting the opposition, that is true of course except when it is Tony Benn. It just sickens me. I picked this up from Adrian McMenamin's blog. A high profile Labour member appearing on Lib Dem literature supporting them and not us.

I can't understand why someone should be allowed to be in the Party when they are campaigning against it. Surely that is why one joins a different party? This is even more shocking for those of us living in North East London, especially as a local friend and colleague, Catherine West (Leader of Islington Labour Group) could well be fighting a Parliamentary election against Lynne.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Labour and the media

Tony Blair's speech yesterday where ghe dubbed the media a "feral beast" has gained plenty of coverage. His point that the media no longer reports news, instead comments (and passes judgement on it) struck me because about five years ago I went to a Camden Labour Party meeting at which Alistair Campbell made the same point.

Isn't this because newspapers specifically are always behind the 24 news agenda, they are no longer in real time and are never informing their readers of events for the first time. Campbell gave this response to my question in Camden when I asked why Labour, a government meant to be obsessed with spin, is so poor at getting it's message across.

I do feel that Blair's analysis of the present situation of the media - politics relationship is correct. However, I feel it is much more a chicken and egg situation as to who is to blame. I do feel though that Labour's paranoia was inevitable after 18 years of opposition and unfavourable media coverage. The easy answer is that the media despite claiming to have been pro-Labour at least in the immedate post 1997 years, is naturally anti-Labour.

Many have commented that Blair is feeling sour grapes as the tide as turned against him and while there is truth in that, I think he has prompted a worthwhile debate about our political media. Michael White states that his analysis is "hard to dispute" and I was interested to note his comment that Blair downgraded Parliament, but so did newspapers in stoppoing Parliamentary reports in the early 1990s.

London Lidos

When it is the weekend and the sun shines I head for a lido. I am lucky that I grew up near Hampton Pool and now have both Parliament Hill Lido and the newly rebuilt London Fields Lido close by. On a warm afternoon a trip to a lido is a holiday at home, I can't recommend it enough. London Fields Lido has just been rebuilt and after opening rather late is probably the owner of the best facilities of London's lidos.

My South London friends are always going on about Brockwell Park Lido so I was pleased to read that this is going to get a facelift.

Friday, June 08, 2007

You should look like the people you represent

I've always believed that the people's representatives should look like the people they represent. That is one of the reasons I stood as a young man in last year's local elections and support measures to increase the numbers of BME and female representatives, like Labour's all women shortlists for winnable seats. It is a shame the Tories and LiB Dems are not so interested.

For Dave's Tories, his famed A-List of candidates has struggled to make the changes to how they look that were originally vaunted. The Lib Dems don't look like they've even tried if a look at their candidates for next year's GLA elections is anything to go by.

Indeed, this has caused quite some controversy within the party, including Islington Mildmay councillor Meral Ece and local blogger Suzanne Lamido. This also got a short piece in the Islington Gazette. For me this shows that while many political tourists see the Lib Dems as to the left of Labour, this is another example of what they really stand for - as Meral says, a "white" party. It certainly isn't the behaviour of a party committed to equality.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The leftist CLP in the country?

According to one scribe, my CLP is "arguably a contender for the leftist CLP in the UK." Of course, this blogger is part of the Socialist Youth Network, to which I have never been interested in being a member of. It was interesting to read the thoughts of other readers who were surprised that INCLP voted for Gordon Brown (when he was the only candidate) and Harriet Harman for deputy. Perhaps this shows that the Labour Party remains pluralist but perhaps not in the manner that some who might like INCLP to be the leftist in the country want it to be. My CLP has always been comprised of a number of different political affiliations, far beyond the McDonnell and Campaign Group supporters.

Hornsey and Wood Green

I came across an interesting discussion about Labour's chances in Hornsey today...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Hornsey and Wood Green

Islington Labour Group Leader Catherine West has been shortlisted as a candidate for the Hornsey and Wood Green constituency and the next general election. Good luck to her.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Michael Howard

Something of the night was at the European Cup final last night and was interviewed by Nicky Campbell on Five Live this morning about the poor organisation of the crowd control. He said he didn't think the game should be held there. William Gaillard, UEFA's rent-a-quote who I normally think of as a vacuous man of words and no action came back with a tremendous riposte:

"It is very easy to say it is not a suitable stadium, coming from the man that invented the poll tax."

Well said.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

South West Trains

I've been meaning to write something about this for some time. The publishing of the Local Transport Bill and the proposal to allow local authorities to introduce pay-as-you-drive charging reminded me of the 20% increase in off peak fares for those travelling from outside of the Travelcard zones area. SWT are trying to price people out of travelling in busy periods, though this now stretches until midday.

While studying economics at university our tutor explained how pricing can be used to control market behaviour and cited British Rail as an example. SWT are now doing this because people travelled at the end of the peak period to avoid high prices and overcrowding. This smacks to me of operators promising the Treasury big payments to secure franchises, money that has to be recouped. In the past it was directly from tax payers, now indirectly from sales taxes and service users.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Brent: Dudden Hill by-election

Just thought I would mention that a good friend of mine is running the campaign in Brent for Thursday's Dudden Hill by-election. A Lib Dem councillor with a majority of only 32 was disqualified for being a council employee and elected at the same time. Funny how nobody told her? Anyway, Camden and Islington Lib Dem blogger Suz Lamido reckons the Lib Dems might lose. Fingers crossed...

Islington South

Islington South CLP has a place in my heart - it being where I stood in the local elections last year, but also a constituency that is warm, welcoming and hard working. This goes right down from MP Emily Thornberry herself (the boss), to the staff and activists.

So it is with pleasure that I can point your gleeful eyes to her new website, it is well worth a look. I like the fact that it includes examples of her campaigning on issues in each ward. It has been very well thought out and shows a real local campaigner with evidence of activity across the constituency - not just a "working hard for you" slogan done in that handwriting font in the top corner of a leaflet. Go on, have a look.

I live in Islington North, home of Jeremy Corbyn, who we all know to be a great constituency MP. I'm a governor at Highbury Fields School where the Head Bernard McWilliams has achieved fantastic results in recent years (despite Islington's poor reputation for education). We discussed a planning issue for which the Head had written to Jeremy and he said that "as always" he had received a prompt and detailed response. Good to see both Islington MPs working hard for us.

Islington Lib Dems at it again

The Islington Fire Sale continues to generate interest, with today's Guardian diary featuring a snippet on yesterday's post about the Islington Lib Dems protesting against their own post office closure at 238 Essex Road. I got there first, but I suppose I don't have to go to print...

Monday, May 21, 2007

Sustainable Ming, part 2

I recently derided Lib Dem leader Ming Campbell for his pledged support for the Sustainable Communities Bill - seeking to preserve high streets - while also supporting his party's administration of Islington. Islington Lib Dems as we know is in the process of selling off more than two hundred properties across the borough.

It has been widely stated that the sale of these properties will drive rents up for local shopkeepers and threatens to turn Amwell Street and Essex Road into big brand chain store clones. So it was with interest that I heard about Ming visiting Essex Road post office today to campaign against it's closure by the government. Funny that, when this property is actually one of those to be sold under council leader James Kempton's Islington Fire Sale. The sale brochure states that the buyer of the post office site could increase the rent by 85%, from about £15000 a year, to around £28000.

Is Ming finally losing it? Has he gone senile? Campaigning against the closure of a post office that your party itself wants to close? Or perhaps he has decided to carry on where Charles Kennedy and Boris Yeltsin left off and he has hit the bottle...

This is yet another example of Islington Lib Dems claiming that they are listening - having "learnt" the error of their ways having received less votes than Labour in last years local elections - and instead continuing to ignore the wishes of the community. It is so absurd it would be funny if it wasn't true.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Deputy Leader Hustings

Last night's Fabian - Progress Deputy Leadership hustings certainly helped me decide between the six candidates. When the carousel started I didn't see much between the candidates, though I thought that a Brown premiership should be balanced by a female deputy. My favoured female candidate was Harriet Harman, though I felt her performance was woeful.

When Harman spoke I switched off, she didn't show any passion, rambled and didn't grab my attention.

Blears = passion.
Hain = polished though not engaging.
Johnson = relaxed.
Benn = kept talking about international development. Not enough Party talk for me.
Cruddas = looked out of his depth.

You could tell it was a Fabian audience, I felt there was too much talk about education, though there was an interesting discussion about the 11+. Peter Hain said selection is not a socialist issue, Alan Johnson thought it electoral suicide to scrap the existing grammar schools and I agree. I'd like to see an end to selection, however Labour's electoral position makes that impossible at the moment.

Michael Crick thought Hazel Blears the winner of the night. I agree. She showed passion, desire and enthusiasm, exactly what the Labour Party needs to reinvigorate itself and campaign to win. At university I used to go to Salford Labour Party to phone canvass every week and she was infectious one on one as she was last ngiht in front of an audience.

Peter Hain came across as slick and polished, every bit the professional politician. However I didn't get the feeling from him that he was "one of us" - a party member in cabinet. I feel he wants the job for status, not for what Blears would do, to motivate the Party.

Alan Johnson, up to now, my choice, came across as relaxed and natural. I think he would make a very strong Deputy Leader. He had all the best quips and reminded those present that Labour needs to win elections to do anything, which is why some compromises have to be made.

I'm now undecided between Blears and Johnson, though I'm tipping in favour of Johnson. I do so because I think he comes across better in public. Blears can often come across as "media trained" and like a bit of a Blairite robot. That is harsh I know and she really isn't like that, but on TV it sometimes looks like it.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Dirty Leeds

I can't help but think that Leeds United have cheated their way out of debt by going into administration then having the adminsitrator KPMG agree to sell the club to a new company comprised of the same people who were in charge before. Nevertheless, it is still great to see them fall.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Have they no dignity?

Islington Lib Dems are up to it again - voting themselves through a 5.5% pay rise while offering their staff a below inflation 2%. Already the highest paid councillors in the country this is another slap in the face for Islington's council tax payers.

Council leader James Kempton called the Labour Group's decision not to take up the increae in allowances and to donate it to charity a "cheap shot." I can't believe he has the cheek to say this when he is feathering his own nest quite comfortably while letting down those who work for him and pay his wages. Even Islington Lib Dem blogger Suzanne Lamido agrees with Labour's stance. What exactly has Kempton done to deserve such a hefty hike just a year on from the local elections which saw his ruling party cling on to power by the Mayor's casting vote, despite polling fewer votes than Labour. At least Ming is still their national leader, so they'll keep missing open goals on that front whilst creating them for their opponents in Islington.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

How many more?

So even Patricia Hewitt has admitted to smoking pot. Does anyone really care about this any longer?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Numbers game

Just a thought, but while people were being unecessarily shot in Virginia -according to the editor of a gun magazine in the US on Radio Five Live - because the other students didn't have guns to "protect themselves" - 140 people died in a market bombing in Baghdad.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Swim across the Atlantic Ocean

A bit of fun, go to and click "directions". Enter New York as your starting point and Paris as your destination. It tells you it takes 29 days and instructs you to "Swim across the Atlantic Ocean." Genius.

Re-nationalise the railways?

This morning's Times carried claims that Labour want to join track and trains and re-nationalise the railways, with Scotland a test case. The Government via Network Rail or a publicly owned not for profit operator would take over the Scotrail franchise and operate under a unified management system with track and train reunited. I have long since thought this to be a good idea (taking over the franchises). One could argue that a trick was missed when Connex were stripped of the South Eastern franchsie for poor performance and Department for Transport took it over. South Eastern went from the pooerst poerfoming franchise to the best.

However, the South East isn't really the place to start messing with the structure of the railways. Scotland provides a good test case because the network there is self-contained. I'm interested to see what industry expert Christian Wolmar has to say about this.

One of the stated aims of privatisation was to releive the burden on the Treasury, however, with rail now receiving far more subsidy than under the British Rail days, that aim has clearly failed. With this level of subsidy and strong element of public control already it would make sense to make the railways less bureaucratic, confusing and wasteful.

Alan Milburn

So Alan Milburn says he "won't be seduced" into standing for the Labour leadership. Don't flatter yourself Alan. I'd like to know who exactly it is that is trying to encourage him other than his own ego.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bloggers4Labour's dead socialist watch

I noted from the excellent though slightly morbid feature on Bloggers4Labour of "Dead Socialists Watch." For those of us who like to read leftie British political history and biography (or Goldsmiths students and alumni),historian Ben Pimlott passed away three years ago yesterday. His work guided me through much of my "Labour education" with excellent biographies of Hugh Dalton and Harold Wilson. I heartily recommend it to you, especially the Wilson book.

Read his Wikipedia entry.

The feature gives a few good reminders of former greats in the Labour Movement. The zealots among us can slave over this sort of thing for hours...

No go areas for Lib Dems?

According to Kerron Cross, "Labour's number one blogger" - we should all be putting his "No Lib Dems" logo in our windows. This is exactly what Islington needs. However, my own personal preference is to ensure that Labour activists waste as much of their resources as possible. That means making sure we always take up our opponents' time and material wherever possible.

In the local elections last year I always used to put my campaign literature through the door of my known opponents once I had finished a round of campaigning. Or even if I hadn't. Just so that they would think I'd done more than I had. I'd be interested in more seasoned campaigners views on this strategy as it has pitfalls - namely in giving the oppo the incentive to campaign more. Do we opt for secrecy or tomfoolery?

As an aside, my recent post about Lib Dem Ming claiming to be in favour of sustainable communities was published in the Islington Tribune just over a week ago.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Is London the best city in the world?

I sometimes think so, having spent virtually my whole life here. I love it here.

However, the overcrowding, cost of living and disparity of wealth mean that it doesn't offer the highest quality of life. For that one would have to look to Switzerland, with Zurich and Geneva topping the charts. Mercer have just published their latest survey, ranking world cities for overall quality of life against 39 different criteria. London languishes in 39th place, six behind Paris, but nine ahead of New York. Baghdad comes bottom.

The measurement was against the following criteria:

Political: political stability, leadership, crime
Economic: currency, banking
Socio cultural: censorship, limits to personal freedom
Health and sanitation
Schools and education
Public services and transport: provision of services and congestion
Recreation: restaurants, theatres, cinemas, sport
Availability of consumer goods
Natural environment: climate, record of natural disasters

London rates only 63rd for health and sanitation, however, I don't think this survey takes into account that here one doesn't have to pay to see a doctor, but you do everywhere else. I like reading these surveys but I did note that the "fun" factor wasn't taken into account. Geneva is lovely but is it as fun to live there as it is in London, Paris or Chicago?

The top 50:

2007 Rank City
1 Zurich
2 Geneva
3 Vancouver
3 Vienna
5 Auckland
5 Düsseldorf
7 Frankfurt
8 Munich
9 Bern
9 Sydney
11 Copenhagen
12 Wellington
13 Amsterdam
14 Brussels
15 Toronto
16 Berlin
17 Melbourne
18 Luxembourg
18 Ottawa
20 Stockholm
21 Perth
22 Montreal
23 Nürnberg
24 Calgary
24 Hamburg
26 Oslo
27 Dublin
27 Honolulu
29 San Francisco
30 Adelaide
30 Helsinki
32 Brisbane
33 Paris
34 Singapore
35 Tokyo
36 Lyon
36 Boston
38 Yokohama
39 London
40 Kobe
41 Barcelona
42 Madrid
42 Osaka
44 Washington DC
44 Chicago
46 Portland
47 Lisbon
48 New York City
49 Milan
49 Seattle

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Sustainable Ming?

After the Lib Dem leadership awarded Lib Dem run Islington Council several awards last year, one would think that the council was in step with their thinking. However, we all know that the Lib Dems say whatever is necessary to get elected even if it contradicts national policy. In Islington we know that the Lib Dems have govenred without consultation or in step with local needs or desires. Sometimes this is called "arrogance."

With this in mind I was interested to read yesterday that nationally Ming Campbell is supporting the Sustainable Communities Bill in Parliament, while locally the Islington Lib Dems are forcing local shopkeepers out of their properties, many after more than 25 years. Essex Road and Amwell Street are great local high streets with independent butchers, cafes and other shops. They make the area local and unique.

Ming has been calling for local high streets to keep their character. I'd like to know why this doesn't apply in "flagship" Islington?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Racist Tories again...

This will be in The Sun in the morning I have been reliably informed - but unless you live in Barnet - you read it here first.

This seems to happen periodically, a Tory comes out with a racist comment or similar and doesn't understand what is wrong with it. In this case this stupid Tory cllr from Barnet, Cllr Brian Gordon blacked himself up as a minstrel for a fancy dress party. Hilarious. He actually submitted the picture to the Barnet Times thinking it would be a good thing.

Cllr Gordon said "I am amazed that one or two people are becoming so worked up over a fancy dress outfit that was no more than a piece of harmless fun."

Oh dear oh dear. The leader of Barnet Council went even further:

Councillor Mike Freer, leader of the council, said: "Councillor Gordon is a well-respected councillor who has represented his constituents regardless of their colour or religion. Are we now saying that white people cannot dress up as black people? I do not see how people can find it offensive. Just to categorise Nelson Mandela on the basis of his colour is demeaning to him."

They just don't get it, these are the same old Tories.

Friday, March 23, 2007


It has been quite a week. A former top civil servant breaks the code of anonymity and confidentiality between government and official to criticise Gordon Brown. Labour was criticised when it came to power for bringing in Special Advisors by politicising the civil service - quite a detailed account can be found here. It seems that now civil servants themselves have no problem with acting political. Anyway, it created opportunities for cartoonists and Tory speech writers to make their Stalin jokes.

The 2% cut in the basic rate of income tax at the expense of the 10% starting rate "simplifies" our tax structure to one where we only have two rates. This gives Britain a proportional tax burden rather than a progressive one. This means that someone on £20000 pays about the same proportion of their salary in tax as someone on £30000 or £40000. Income Tax is clearly a political "sacred cow" and Brown clearly wanted to cramp to Tories for space. For that I think the 2% cut was a good move.

Budgets over recent years have been labelled dull - I think that is testament to Brown's succefful stewardship of the economy. This is something all Labour activists nned to remind people of. When I was growing up under Thatcher and Major from bust to boom to bust the economy wasn't stable and was a serious political issue. Today it seems that the substantive part of economic policy isn't an issue. We have to ensure people don't take it for granted because economic stability isn't guaranteed.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

No policy?

Nationally the Tories can continue to be all mouth and no trousers - criticising and politicking without having to take responsiblity or argue for any specific policy. Locally though the Tories are in power across the country in many local authorities. Here they cut services and spending across the board.

It has long been my view that the new Tories are just like new Labour in the way they behave, though not in policy. This is where many people get it wrong, the Tories claim to be accepting of many new Labour policies when in fact they are not. Reality is really that they say they believe in social justice but will really behave like they always did once in power. Inversely, new Labour sound like they are very "soft" and allow themselves to be likened to the Tories. The reality has been far from it.

Polly Toynbee brings it all together very nicely. Beyond the Hammersmith and Fulham examples already given here, she adds in today's Society Guardian:

"In Croydon, the Tories set a zero tax rise for next year - and they have just cut 10% from the voluntary sector despite Cameron's promises to charity. With £6m cut from social services, a family centre on the New Addington estate is to shut: what happened to Cameron's family concern? In Harrow, the Tories have put a £12 daily charge on their day centres for the frail. In Havering, they have just stopped school uniform payments for poor children. In Westminster, they are shutting sheltered housing."

This is worrying as most people won't see past this. It takes a political zealot to get under the skin of this PR battle. Most people don't have the time or desire to do this, that means those who get it need to be telling our friends and family and spreading the word...

Thursday, March 15, 2007


I started all this once upon a time with a word about a dream. Last night Slobodan Milosevic and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were shooting people on Highbury Fields, including me. Was this alluding to a possible return to the Islington International Festival of a few years ago?

Tories back in action

For younger readers who think Labour and Tories are just the same, a word of warning from West London where Tory cuts have been making deep cuts into services. This reminds me of Islington with the administration (Tory in Hammersmith and Fulham, Lib Dem in Islington) voting themselves massive pay increases at the expense of those who can least afford it. I hope the school meals in H&F have improved like school meals to justify the extra £50k.

Muddled thinking

Having read much about the Government's plan to acquire 1000 extra carriages to operate on our increasingly overcrowded railways yesterday, I have to look back into the past with a wry smirk and a shake of the head.

London's railways (and I'm sure those of other cities too) have needed extra capacity for at least a decade. There have been many plans focused on specific London rail operator routes for some time, notably Thameslink and South West Trains. Thameslink 2000 has hit the planning buffers as the name suggests largely because the route runs over Borough Market. I'm certain that scheme will eventually get the go-ahead in some form. South West Trains did have plans in around 2000 to extend suburban platforms and run longer trains. However these plans were rejected as part of the Transport 10 year plan, whatever became of that?

Now that the Government has changed it's mind and come around to the idea that extending platforms and running longer trains is the easiest and cheapest means to increase capacity I get rather angry. This could have been put in place years ago, now the problem is far worse and the extra capacity won't come on stream until 2014. At first these ideas were shelved, now suddenly they seem back in vogue.

Despite many of the great achievments of this Government I do feel let down by the lack of progress in transport policy. Scrapping Railtrack was a great start and many of the operators have brought in new trains, but the over-riding problem of capacity hasn't been addressed. The roads face a similar problem and it doesn't look likely that any national government will take the unpopular decision to bring in the necessary road pricing. We'll see.


Kudos today for and from my good friend Omar Salem after he linked to me. Apparently I'm "more Luke Akehurst than the Socialist Youth Network. He is of course right. So perhaps next badge of "honour" will be to get listed on their "Righty" links, alongside such illustrious company as Luke himself and Tom Watson MP. And Iain Dale. Hmmm...Now, if I could get Dale to link to me that really would be something!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Neil Kinnock - legend

I went to the Fabian's event with Neil Kinnock in conversation with The Guardian's Michael White last night. The Fabians have led their press release stating that Kinnock opposed Trident replacement last night. From my recollection he said so because he didn't support the Government's reasoning and that they haven't asserted a full and proper case for spending billions of pounds. He has a point though I'm not sure that the UK should be scrapping their weapons when others are not.

Like many, Kinnock also said that he regretted Tony Blair's statement that he would not serve a fourth term. I agree, as I stated recently, that you neuter yourself as soon as you say you are going to quit.

However, Kinnock disagreed with those who think Blair obsessed with creating a legacy or himself. He said that Blair is more likely to carry on working after he quits as PM, perhaps seeking a solution to the conflict in the Middle East. He said that Blair would do this even if it could damage his reputation. We shall see, as Blair's reputation is obviously already damaged. This is a tremendous shame I think, because the country is an immeasurably better place now than it was a decade ago. For evidence of this we need look no further than Northern Ireland, though of course we could look at all the new schools and hospitals...

Kinnock came across as a man of tremendous passion, wit and charisma, he always does.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Lack of policy

Today I was awoken to more vacuous nonsense from Cuddly Dave on the radio. He was trying to boost their green credentials and once again I thought about the lack of substance to him and the Tory party. It reminded me of a couple of weeks ago when I was conducting some research into alternative (to Labour) environmental policies. I checked the Tory website and tried to find some policy or definitive statement. On anything. something. Whatever. There is nothing there. Have a look for yourself. How far can the Tories get without having to commit to anything?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

London rises to fourth in world's most expensive cities league

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU)today announced the results of it's ‘Worldwide cost of living survey’ which placed London fourth in the list of most expensive cities in the world to live. The top ten is below, with last year's position in brackets:

Rank City
1 (1) Oslo
2 (4) Paris
3 (6) Copenhagen
4 (7) London
5 (2) Tokyo
=6 (3) Reykjavik
=6 (8) Zurich
8 (4) Osaka
=9 (-) Frankfurt
=9 (10) Helsinki

However, according to UBS, London is the most expensive city.

These surveys take into account wages and cost of living, so while London has been found to offer high wages, these only matter if they translate into meaningful spending power. I find these surveys tremendously interesting because while London clearly is a very expensive place to live, the cost of many goods and services here are comparable to the rest of the EU.

The 1986 Single European Act was intended to achieve a level economic playing field across the EU. In terms of price this is starting to happen. Obviously, the Euro has played a major role in this. Market integration is highest in the Eurozone, though UBS reports that the price spread has fallen by a third in EU cities since 1985, a year before the SEA.

London undoubtedly earns well comparatively, but Labour's role is to ensure that all Londoners can share this prosperity. Does Valencia have an answer to keep the cost of city living and pollution down? They are investigating the possibility of producing ethanol from citrus peel as a fuel substitute for oil and petrol. I'm going to be watching this with interest as though London doesn't have the ability to grow citrus (yet), large parts of the EU does. This is something we could benefit from. Brazil already uses ethanol to run cars and reduce energy cost, so this could work.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Labour's future

Does it matter whether Labour's next leader is put in place through coronation or contested election? A contested election between feasible candidates, not John McDonnell or Michael Meacher from the left of the Party.

Yesterday's 2020 Vision "announcement" from Milburn and Clarke adds a further to the debate. The main problem is not whether or how Gordon Brown should take over the leadership. The problem is that Blair rather stupidly stated that he was going to stand down at a point in the future.

I've always been a far stauncher Blair supporter than most, but when he said that he was going to stand down it would have been better for the Party if he did so sooner. Dragging the whole process on for months has left Labour with an "empty chair" crisis.

That aside, we have a leader to elect. In 1992 John Smith was always going to win the leadership election (beating Brian Gould) and in 1994 Tony Blair was always going to beat John Prescott. I don't recall there being any problem with that. If there is one candidate clearly stronger than anyone else what is the problem with that?

Perhaps much of the discussion has been caused by scepticism of Brown. Those who don't want him as leader say there is a need to debate. By debating you can then propose someone else. Those who support Brown don't see a need for a debate when in their minds the choice of next leader is already obvious. David Milliband has been suggested and I'm keen for himn to be a future Labour leader but I think we should leave it there. In a few years his profile will be higher and the time will be right then.

One thing is for certain, I'm not going to be voting for McDonnell or Meacher.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

London Labour - leading the march to a sustainable future

Ever since working at Defra after graduation a few years ago I've taken a keen interest in London's environmental sustainability. My focus then was waste management and London's problem then was, and remains, how to look after it's own problems. Traditionally London has used Kent and Essex to dump most waste in landfills. Since becoming Mayor Ken Livingstone has proactively sought to tackle this problem, publishing his London Waste Strategy in 2003. since we have seen a Green Procurement Code rolled out to local authorities and many companies while recycling has increased greatly.

However, yesterday's announcement of the Climate Change Action Plan for London took Mayor Livingstone's commitment to a sustainable future for London a way ahead of anything suggested by anyone else in the UK to date, including cuddly Dave.

Central to the Plan is the thesis that using fewer resources can be economically beneficial rather than damaging. This makes sense, use less to be more efficient and lower your bills. The Mayor has set out plans for reducing carbon emissions for all key sectors excepting aviation, which is another special and hard to tackle case needing international action. The plan aims to cut CO2 emissions to 60% of 1990 levels by 2025, way ahead of Kyoto targets.

It is also encouraging that Ken is supported by both Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. I know from my time at Defra that government environmental claims were often slammed by campaign groups as being insufficient or wrong. If they support the London plan it must be robust.

What this plan also says to me is that Labour can be at the vanguard of tackling climate change, far ahead of the Tories and Lib Dems. Nationally actual progress might be slower than the promising rhetoric from David Milliband, but in London Livingstone has shown that Labour has answers tour generations’ biggest challenge.

The only similar commitment that springs to mind is Sweden’s aim for an oil free economy by 2020.
I find City Mayors a great resource for tracking what other cities are up to and what London can learn from elsewhere. At the moment I think everyone else can learn from London's lead on sustaianbility if Ken's plan is implemented. However, he will need to be re-elected for at least a third term to see this through. I see that Richard M Daley has won a fifth term as Chicago's Mayor having ruled the Windy City since 1989 - this following his father Richard J Daley's mayorship of the same city from 1955 to 1976. If Ken can't make it that far himself, I think Labour needs to.