Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Conservative plans for more school places delayed by Labour

During the general election campaign, Labour politicians seriously misjudged the public mood locally and nationally.  At their peril, they talked down the economic recovery.  They attacked measures to help ordinary and aspirational families and failed to admit they spent too much in the Blair/Brown years.  They also failed to offer a credible alternative to a successful Conservative-led government.
 
Locally, Labour are still churning out the same views that lost them the election, as demonstrated at the town hall last night.
 
At the 'ARG' committee, we debated what sort of new homes we should be building in Barnet. Labour seemed obsessed with one tenure: social rented.  Affordable homes are crucial in helping to meet housing need and Barnet council has overseen a net increase of 1,400 such homes.  But to focus solely on social rented simply ignores the aspirations of many residents to own their home as expressed in numerous housing surveys.  Barnet Conservatives understand this. Instead of trapping people in a social rented tenure, our regeneration schemes are introducing an element of shared ownership.  It's always been a good way of helping people take the step from renting to owning and it's needed more than ever before.
 
Barnet Labour and their 'radical left' friends have accused us of 'social cleansing', however when I look out of my window over what used to be the Stonegrove Estate, I see mixed, good quality housing and a mixed community. The ghetto of deprivation and decaying, depressing, unattractive architectural mistakes of the past are almost gone.  Labour talk of social cleansing yet they're blind to the irony of their recent proposal for 100% affordable housing on one development.  Would that proposal have brought about a mixed community?  I doubt it very much. 
 
Londoners need homes and Barnet, at least, is building them.  Surely, it should naturally follow that we need to build new schools?  Barnet is also doing well on this; we've set aside tens of £millions to expand existing schools and supported the founding of free schools and academies. 
 
Labour, of course, aren't pleased with this.  They falsely claim we're not providing the necessary infrastructure to support regeneration while wilfully delaying the building of a badly needed primary school in a Labour ward.

Last night, Labour councillors used a loophole to defer a 'land decision' so far into the future that the start of the next academic year will be missed. Over forty local children due to attend the Watling Park Academy are now in limbo.  The decision to build the school was made two years ago after going through the democratic process.  It was on this technical committee report that Labour have based their strange and poorly timed attack on a new free school.

I say it's strange because their reasons stretched to unenforceable covenants, wanting more time for debate and that ward councillors weren't present.  The covenant issue has been dealt with and is not a risk to a new school, all councillors know there's less time for debate when decisions are referred and surely one of the three Burnt Oak councillors could have attended the committee last night, if they really wanted to? 
 
 
Watching the Labour councillors, I could see their hearts weren't in these straw clutching objections.  It seemed they were under orders from the main objector, Andrew Dismore, who has a second home in close vicinity to the new school site.  Dismore is a hypocrite.  He's complained about 'lack of infrastucture' in the past, but when it comes to having a new school in his back yard he's suddenly anti-infrastructure.
 
Barnet Labour are a strange, out-of-touch group.  They simply don't get the needs and aspirations of Barnet residents and democracy here is all the worse for it.  Not only are they content to lose elections as a result of their policies and campaigns, they're willing to see the education of 40 children disturbed for reasons not fully apparent. Fortunately, they only have the power to delay, and its debatable as to whether they deserve that. Thank goodness they don't have the power to actually make decisions.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Good luck to Mike, Theresa and Matthew!


As we approach the last day of the general election campaign, I feel for all the parliamentary candidates up and down the country, some of whom I know quite well.  They’ll be tired after a long campaign yet will need to dig deep for an energy boost to take them through an arduous 15 hour polling day, not to mention the count (which could mean a full 24 hours on their feet).  They’ll be wondering, many anxiously, what the voters verdict will be.  Some will be wishing it was all over, some wondering if they’ve spent enough time doing this or that. 

On polling day, a sense of control that comes from running a campaign; making decisions, planning the diary, sending resources here and there, debating whether to respond to something or not, it all melts away.  Apart from the simple but physically demanding task of encouraging all your supporters to vote, there are no decisions left to make: you simply have to wait for the collective decision of the people.

It’s a tiring and nerve-wracking time for candidates and, while I feel for them, I’m missing having my name on the ballot paper this time round.  That’s because, despite all the above, it’s an exciting time spent meeting hundreds if not thousands of people, promoting a message you believe in, fighting for an outcome you really want and doing so with amazing, dedicated people from all walks of life. 

Having decided not to stand in this election, I’m still enjoying the buzz of the campaign but it’s different not fighting it as a candidate.  My experience as a PPC in 2010 was a positive one. I obviously wasn’t elected, I stood knowing what the odds of a Conservative winning in Islwyn were.  But it was a good campaign, achieving a respectable 9% swing to the Conservatives and improving our position from last to second place (despite Plaid Cymru spending a lot more money and having more activists).  It was an amazing experience and I learned a lot, but what struck me was the enormous pressure I felt as a candidate to ‘do well’ even when the odds were so stacked against me.  Volunteers were spending their free time to help in any way they could and I couldn’t let them down.  If I felt like that as a candidate, and one who had a low chance of winning, how do successful candidates feel when their constituents have sent them to the commons?  As it happens, I know someone who was in that position. 

In 2010, I also spent a lot of time helping Mike Freer in Finchley and Golders Green, then one of the most, if not the most, marginal seats in the country.  Mike had worked extremely hard, not just on the campaign, but during his time as a local councillor and council leader.  He was my ward colleague for four years and I saw up close how committed he was to get things done for Finchley and the borough.   Nothing changed when he was elected to Parliament, endorsed with a majority larger than Labour had ever achieved. 

Mike hasn’t let down his constituents and certainly deserves his reputation for being a hard working constituency MP.  Most people will have seen his mobile surgery on weekend mornings and he’s invited whole streets to meet him at Westminster to discuss any topic and have a look around Parliament.  Mike’s not afraid of meeting the public.  He’s approachable and has been a sensible, principled voice for Finchley and Golders Green on countless issues. 
 
Mike, Cllr Cornelius, Cllr Old, my wife and I painting at Norwood on Mitzvah Day
 
Mike’s an excellent MP but he’s also a down to earth, decent person.  His humble start in life has kept his feet on the ground and is probably why he relates so well to people of all backgrounds.  He’s worked hard to be an MP and works even harder for the people of Finchley and Golders Green. He’s lived up to the expectations of those who voted for him and those who campaigned for him. That, when added to the fact he’s supported a successful coalition government which turned the country around, means he deserves to be re-elected and continue the good work.

Of the three Barnet MPs, I’ve worked much more closely with Mike given the Finchley connection.  But I’ll also be thinking of Theresa Villiers and Matthew Offord over the next 48 hours and will be doing much more than just wishing them success. They’ve all done a cracking job for their constituents and I look forward to seeing them serve another term.  As for all the other candidates, soon it’ll be over and they’ll have their lives back.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Labour in disarray at the town hall

This statement from the Barnet Conservative Group demonstrates how Labour aren't able to conduct themselves properly at a council meeting, yet alone run the council:
 
Labour’s failed stunt leads them to storm out of Council meeting:
Labour councillors created chaos at last night’s council meeting, even temporarily storming out of the chamber, following their misunderstanding of the constitution and a failed attempt to force a snap vote on the future delivery model of Education and Skills services.
 
Shortly after Children’s Committee Chairman Cllr Reuben Thompstone rose to speak on the item, Labour realised that two Conservative members were not present in the chamber. At this point they interrupted the speech and attempted to move that the report – referred up to Full Council by Labour to allow for a ‘full debate’ – be put straight to the vote.
 
This was in breach of the council’s constitution, which does not allow such a request to be put during a speech. However, Labour members seized on the momentary delay as the Mayor sought advice from the Monitoring Officer and began to make all sorts of accusations of impropriety and partiality, working themselves up into a rage that led to them storming out of the chamber. Some members then entered the public gallery to continue to abuse the Mayor, who had acted in full accordance with the rules.
 
In the meantime the motion was passed.
 
Labour members did return to the meeting and, following a discussion with the Monitoring Officer during the break, Cllr Alison Moore issued a half-hearted apology, admitting that her Group had got it wrong.
 
Leader of the Council, Cllr Richard Cornelius, later said:
“This really was a childish episode from the Labour Group. They tried to be opportunistic, but showed that they do not understand the constitution.
 
“Is this how they think education policy should be decided – on the basis of who has nipped to the loo? I don’t think parents would be too pleased with their approach.
 
“They referred the item to Full Council, supposedly, to enable a full debate, but then tried to shut this debate down after a matter of seconds. Clearly they are referring items in the hope of pulling off the kind of stunt they attempted last night.
 
“The important thing is that the paper was passed. The recommendations were based on strong evidence and it is a shame that we didn’t have the opportunity to explain again in public why it is the right thing to do for young people in the borough.”
 
The report recommends that a full business case be produced for two joint-venture models for the Education and Skills Service. Work completed to date shows that these options are the only ones which ensure excellence in the service, a continued strong relationship between schools and the council, and can achieve the necessary savings targets. The models also received public support from a representative of primary school head teachers at the committee meeting earlier in the month.