Tag Archives: Conservatives

The Tories are coming for Church End with lies and damn statistics

In my little corner of South Woodford in the borough of Redbridge you can always tell when there’s an election coming up. The Tories start taking an interest in Liberal Democrat-held Church End ward.

This time round they’ve begun campaigning a little earlier, with three candidates making more of an impression than their predecessors. Perhaps they scent weakness with the announcement that a long-serving LibDem councillor is standing down while another has been cast adrift over poor attendance.

So there have been more editions of In Touch, the Tory newsletter to rival the LibDems’ Focus. There was also a residents’ survey that asked a couple of soft questions about local affairs: what did you like or dislike about living in Redbridge?

Then it got down to the nitty-gritty with a selection of touchstone Tory national issues: getting the economy moving (scrap the deflationary policies sooner was my retort); reforming welfare so that working always pays more than a life on benefits (a nod to Iain Duncan Smith, Chingford and Woodford Green MP and architect of the bedroom tax, possible the worst policy since poll tax).

Then, in the battle for right-wing votes, controlling immigration to take the pressure
off public services (failing to notice the dependence of the NHS on migrant
doctors and nurses and cleaners and … you get the picture).

Oh, and another one for the Ukip tendency, a referendum on EU membership. I wonder how many local residents work in the City for banks that will up sticks to Frankfurt the moment we quit Europe? Step forward local Tory candidate Tom McLaren of Commerzbank’s ABS Management team. I think that’s something to do with packaging up debt and flogging it off. Really useful banking.

Other leaflets have sought to take credit for the campaign to strip Funkymojoes, the pub that thinks it’s a West End nightclub, of its late licence over the misery caused to elderly residents of neighbouring flats.

They’ve also tried to frighten local businesses into thinking that Church End is a hotbed of criminal activity. A bit rich, coming from the party that’s cut police numbers and closed police stations across the capital.

There was even a poor quality YouTube video of some drunken shouting that appeared to be an issue for Redbridge housing department. That would be Tory-controlled Redbridge housing department.

It all seems to be directed at obtaining a controlled drinking zone, as if the place was overrun with drunks.

Rogue statistic

One leaflet got very excited about 48 car crimes in three months that targeted £1m worth of cars. That would be at an average of £20,833 each, which seems a bit unlikely. I suspect a rogue statistic there.

Another seems to think we should cheer the Tories for not implementing further cuts at Redbridge Drama Centre, again after local uproar at a Conservative proposal.

Local economic policy seems to consist of 30 minutes of free parking in the George Lane shopping street, to which the council has been dragged kicking and screaming after Wanstead businesses demanded some respite from the parking attendants.

But it will make for yet another photo opportunity with IDS, perhaps orchestrated by Joel Herga, the young PR man who has worked for several Tory MPs and is another of the candidates. I’m sure local politics will be good for his CV until a safe seat comes along. The third candidate, Emma Best, appears to have little troubled the search engines.

Quite recently there’s been a letter to individual voters. I don’t think everyone got one. But I’ve seen a copy.

It certainly takes a spin doctor to suggest that the LibDems have ‘parachuted’ in replacement candidates. Richard Hoskins’ retirement after 24 years of service is also hardly evidence of the local party ‘imploding’, as the letter suggests.

The latest Focus reveals that the LibDems are putting up sitting councillor Hugh Cleaver, who was elected in 1990; a 35-year resident of the ward and former parliamentary candidate in Geoff Seeff; and a 25-year resident in Deborah Prince, legal director of the British Heart Foundation.

And it is stretching credulity to suggest that the temporary swimming pool in neighbouring Wanstead, installed as part of Boris Johnson’s Make a Splash programme, justifies the claim that ‘the swimming pool many of you asked for is now being built’. Or is that referring to plans for a permanent pool in the south of the borough for which no site has yet been agreed, according to local newspaper reports? It may be the next set of elections before we can take a dip there.

The local elections are on May 22. Please vote.

PS. While the LibDems have parted company with Nicola Sinclair, they have at least not had to apologise for claiming she failed to attend a licensing hearing about Funkymojoes. That has been left to the Tories, apparently ignorant that in Redbridge councillors do not sit on licensing hearings for their own ward.

 

PPS The latest, very glossy, Tory leaflet admits they have had little success with the farmers’ market for George Lane after eight months’ effort. This would of course compete with the excellent greengroceries at Fiori’s and the International  Supermarket as well as the national chains M&S, Sainsbury and Waitrose.  I am not surprised that Sainsbury’s are refusing to back this endeavour. I am just astonished that the Tories, of all people, appear surprised by this expression of capitalism. Perhaps they’ll learn to hang on to more municipally-owned land in future.

I must acknowledge that we are told more about Emma Best in the latest leaflet. She went to school in Wanstead and is working for Crossrail while studying for a degree. Don’t know if she lives in the ward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The planners, HS2 and the bonfire of red tape

High speed Javelin train on the HS1 track above Rainham Marshes bird sanctuary in Essex

High speed Javelin train on the HS1 track above Rainham Marshes bird sanctuary in Essex. Photograph: Paul Nettleton

There must have been disappointment at the BBC2 when the first programme in its documentary series The Planners drew only 1.3 million viewers, some 5.5m fewer than would be expected for the peak time slot.

 

Days after the controversial announcement of the northern extension route for the HS2 railway, this portrayal of how developers, local authorities and the public are reacting to the government’s stripping away of planning controls  to encourage construction with the aim of kickstarting the economy is both timely and engaging.

 

Who cannot have felt sympathy with householders faced with losing their views of farmland on the edge of Winsford in Cheshire. They even pursued a fruitless hunt for great crested newts, a protected species, in their attempt to bock the building of 540 houses, with all that entails in disruption during construction work, additional traffic and the loss of an open aspect for which they’d doubtless paid a premium in house prices?

 

You might have wondered why a human resources company boss could not have a dropped kerb to facilitate parking in the front garden of her Regency house in Pittville, Cheltenham, “just like her neighbours”, instead of having to manoeuvre round the back as if her car was a horse being led to stables?

 

Solar panels

 

At least Basil and Rachel Thompson, retired GPs nurturing a beautiful garden in a grade two listed house in the shade of Chester’s historic city walls, were allowed to put 17 solar panels on the slate roof of their garage.

 

Conservation officer John Healey objected to concealing wall walking tourists’ views of the slates with large modular reflective panels. Basil pointed out that the office block looming above the far side of the wall looked “just like a panel”.

 

Indeed, redbrick Centurion House, boasted slate grey window frames and acres of glass arranged as if to resemble a fortress – lacking only Roman soldiers peering over the top.

 

Healey said he could not “answer for the sins of those who were here in the 70s”. This failed to answer the Thompsons’ point that solar panels are a response to 21st century needs for sustainable energy.

 

After the elected councillors voted through the installation, Healey was interviewed while looking down from the walls, oblivious to the blooms most tourists would have admired and with his back to the office block monstrosity rising behind him. It even had me jumping from my seat and prodding at the screen in astonishment.

 

Appeal costs

 

Still, even as the nimbys brief their lawyers in attempts to derail HS2 that are likely to delay its construction for years – not in my leafy acreage, please – you have to wonder if the balance has swung too far in favour of private developers.

 

Planning officers and councillors alike must now calculate the likely costs of losing an appeal to the planning inspectors if they reject any application. That’s not treating an application on its merits.

 

Developers who secure outline permission can return time and again, asking for more blocks and more flats. They can build closer to the neighbours than agreed drawings showed, yet not be forced to tear down the timber frames and start again. Both are examples close to my home in South Woodford, north-east London.

 

And while the predicted benefits of HS2 for the North and Midlands are now being questioned by academics and rail experts, such as Christian Wolmar, it is becoming all but impossible to stop a railway or a Thames bridge or a housing estate on a flood plain, all in the name of economic recovery.

 

Dither over HS2

 

The Chinese, we are told to wonder as we were once told to work more like the Japanese, will have built thousands of miles of high speed railway while we dither over HS2. But in the bonfire of red tape, so beloved of Tory politicians at their annual conference, are we ignoring the growing clamour in China for controls to avoid preventable deaths in the breakneck race for growth?

 

Would we accept the pollution-laden air of Beijing, where CNN last month reported an air quality index reading of 700? The World Health Organization regards 25 micrograms as healthy.

 

There’s a telling quote in a People’s Daily Online article after fire killed 53 people in a 28-storey building in Shanghai in 2010. It raised concerns at the lack of fire safety measures and facilities in China’s biggest metropolises. “The drive for modernisation should also include the quest for a greater peace of mind,” the article said.

 

It’s a lesson lost on British politicians engaged in dismantling protections for the public won at Westminster over many years, or seeking in Brussels to negotiate away workers’ rights in some à la carte European Union.

 

The Planners is on BBC2 at 8pm on Tuesday

 

Michael Gove’s solution to political meddling in A-levels? More political meddling

The Conservative party is continuing in its crusade to make Britain a place safe for Daily Express readers in the hope that turning the clock back will win David Cameron an overall majority at the next general election.

Into the EU wilderness

The prime minister’s promise on Wednesday of on in-or-out referendum threatened to make the recession permanent by leading the country out of the EU and into the economic wilderness.

The poor are fat

Then Anna Soubry, allegedly a health minister, claimed to be able to spot poor people because they tend to be overweight. But she still blamed the parents for filling up their children with bad food, while relying on voluntarism to achieve reductions in the fat, salt and sugar content of products made by members of the Food and Drink Federation.

Education policy based on prejudice

And Michael Gove announced that the solution to political meddling with A-level exams was more political meddling with A-level exams.

The education secretary never makes policy based on evidence when he can make it based on prejudice against the state system. He must believe in six impossible things before breakfast each day, and instruct his civil servants to implement them in our schools before the consequences have been considered. Of which just the latest is that headteachers and their staffs will be managing the introduction of the Ebacc for 16-year-olds at the same time as ripping up modular A-levels for a return to the memory test of exams at the end of two years and stand-alone AS-levels.

Full square behind him are the Russell Group of elite universities, fighting the corner for the traditional subjects they champion: mathematics and further mathematics, English literature, physics, biology, chemistry, geography, history and modern and classical languages.

His critics for this latest initiative to stifle creativity in our young people included the University of Cambridge, industrialists, the Association of School and College Leaders (who must clearly be worried about how schools and colleges will be able to find leaders in the future given their workload and burnout rates) and Labour – accused by Gove of the meddling that he cannot resist every hour he remains in office.

By the end of the day, Gove’s latest wheeze for a winning policy (to get him into No 10 in Cameron’s stead?) had slipped off the Daily Mail online front page, and was receiving a far from universal welcome from readers. Sadly, it was still carrying the mistyped headline: University chiefs will vet tougher new A-level that aims to end ‘resist culture’ that has led to dumbing down of qualification.

I couldn’t resist a smile at the error, but it’s a tragedy for sixth formers that their efforts are still being belittled by this government’s every pronouncement.

 

 

 

David Cameron and the Costas question

Is Britain sleepwalking towards the exit door from the European Union under David Cameron, as Ed Miliband fears, or will the prime minister wake up and smell the coffee before making his on-again speech about Europe?

As a country we’ve never really got Europe since belatedly arriving at the party. We demand always to be treated as a special case, like the spoiled brat at a sleepover. Westminster politicians bewail their loss of influence while blocking efforts to improve direct EU democracy.

Press coverage driven by owners who prefer to turn nation against nation – usually England v Germany, but any Johnny Foreigner will do for the likes of Simon Heffer – has been another obstacle to understanding that the EU was always about greater economic and political integration for the benefit of its people, not just a free-for-all for big business and the hated Eurocrats.

People are entitled to ask what Brussels has done for us. One answer is that it would have been a lot more without opt-outs from the employment directives intended to give workers some protections in a single market of 500 million, or the Schengen agreement on open borders that enshrines freedom of movement within Europe – giving true meaning to the exhortation to get on your bike to look for work while giving labour the power to seek the highest wages.

There is loose talk of Europeans from poorer countries swamping the nation from Boston to Bognor, as if nary a Brit ever decamped for the Costas or Corfu. No mention of the businesses young Poles and Portugese are setting up in otherwise empty shops on our high streets? They’re hardly a drain on the benefits system – more a reminder to the supermarkets to boost the choice of continental foods on their shelves.

The growing number of UK students taking degrees on the European mainland, to escape ever increasing tuition fees, find their horizons expand beyond the passport control queues at our borders.

Business doesn’t entirely get it, with some in the City backing an in or out referendum, apparently oblivious that quitting the EU will hasten takeover deals that relocate the financial capital of Europe to anywhere but this island Square Mile. But they’re the bankers, the forex and futures dealers with only tougher regulation to anticipate as the Eurozone tries to head off another mauling by speculators and ratings agencies accountable to no-one.

In the real economy should the UK step outside the single market, with no special deals likely, watch the Chinese, Japanese and Indian owners of manufacturing businesses in the Midlands or the North start to shut their factories here and shift across the channel.

The EU is far from perfect but you can’t change the rules of a club from outside. When Tories and Ukip talk about diluting Britain’s membership and repatriating powers, or quitting the EU altogether, they’re proposing to surrender influence over the people with whom we do at least half of our business. That’s not a recipe for the job creation and living wages the UK’s young people need, but for a perpetual cycle of decline in a low-wage economy with a shrinking role on the world stage.

Is that the legacy David Cameron wants? This week we will have part of the answer.