Monday, 21 April 2008

Gordon Brown plagued by UFOs

Unforeseen Financial Occurrences, that is.

Which way was Gordon Brown looking last spring? I knew a year ago that the smart money was getting out of banking shares. A commentator on one financial messageboard described Northern Rock as “slipperier than a bucket of eels” because of its questionable business model and socially irresponsible lending practices. (Back then, the term “credit crunch” was not in widespread use, but there were warnings of a thing called “payment shock.” This referred to difficulties for overstretched borrowers faced with an abrupt hike in interest rates.) Yet Northern Rock’s problems seemed to catch the Government itself by surprise, later on in 2007.

Also last spring, Brown appeared to be living for the political moment when he announced his Budget, the consequences of which are only just taking effect. What was he thinking: that by spring 2008 we’d all have forgotten about his decision to abolish the 10p tax band? That a single person with no children, earning less than £18,500 would not miss that £232 per year?

I know people personally who have been dreading the arrival of these changes. The Lib Dems responded straight away that the tax changes would lead to the poor subsidising the rich. But the current outcry at the abolition of the 10p rate has still left the Government blinking in surprise, and Alistair Darling scrambling around, looking for some sort of patch for the problem.

A very small child once explained to me that there are two types of “Sorry”: the first means, “I don’t like being told off” and the second, more genuine one, means, “I don’t like what I did.”

Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling obviously don’t like being “told off” by members of their own Government, the media and the general public, but are still unrepentant. It seems that they liked what they did, but, like very small children, did not think ahead.

They’re left gazing skyward, blaming events outside their control.

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Wednesday, 16 April 2008

"Box" our Boxes!

Redbridge Council do not provide door-to-door collection of card and cardboard for recycling (eg cereal packets, greetings cards, toilet roll tubes, corrugated cardboard boxes).

Many other councils do provide this, but Redbridge say their central Recycling site is not big enough for another cardboard baler.

I am calling on Redbridge Council to:

· Provide regular doorstep collection of card and cardboard, via the existing recycling box system.

· Obtain an additional processing unit to separate and bale cardboard.

· Expand or add to the Ilford Recycling Centre, to accommodate the above unit.

· Give recycling in Redbridge a higher priority and budget.

Card and cardboard may be taken to Chigwell Road Recycling and Reuse Centre, but this is not practicable for people without cars. Even for those with cars, it is inconvenient to travel to Chigwell Road, and to store cardboard in the home between trips.
Door-to-door collection by the Council would reduce the amount of cardboard being thrown away with household rubbish and adding to landfill.
I am taking this issue up with Redbridge Council, and urging Redbridge residents to sign the petition.

Let’s prove to them that there is a high demand for cardboard recycling in the Borough!

Redbridge residents, please sign the online petition.
(There's also a Facebook group called "Box" our Boxes, for all those who are interested.)

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

The Cost Of Voting

From personal finance website The Motley Fool.

It's really about the financial pros and cons of being on the electoral roll.

Voting is still free, at point of use, anyway!

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Let's get physical

Or: It's not a sprint; it's a marathon.

It's not just Brian Paddick pounding the streets today. For all those campaigners, delivering and canvassing in the run-up to elections on May 1st: You may be considering whether to take your tired limbs on the campaign trail again today. You've already put in a lot of miles, countless doorsteps, and met the odd dog.
(I met a very odd dog while delivering in Camden yesterday. A fox was being kept in a tiny cage in someone's front garden, with no water and a couple of half-eaten birds for company. It just stared at me, motionless, resigned, even. I reported it.)
No doubt you've seen more surprising things than this, while on delivery rounds. "Election tourism" is certainly a great way to get to know an area.

Apparently the phrase is “surface language”. (– Pretentious, moi?!)

To understand the “surface language” of an object: Not just to know about something, but to experience it, touch it, have a muscle memory of it. It’s what we do in the areas which we champion. Our opponents may think it’s unnecessary to visit actual voters, even though (without irony) they claim to be “In Touch”.

It’s why the bloke across the road from me was washing his new car yesterday, even though it was already clean.

It’s why mothers instinctively unwrap their newborn babies, if they are handed them in a blanket, to check out all those lovely fingers and toes.

It’s why Lib Dems yearn to get out into the fresh air (elections or not) to get up close and personal with every street and block in every ward.

People appreciate your contact with their street, and you will improve your knowledge of the neighbourhood. So be encouraged, as you juggle sunglasses, salopettes and sou’wester this April.

We're the ones who are "In Touch".

Monday, 7 April 2008

Olympic flame ignites protest

Outside City Hall in London yesterday, I stood with fellow Liberal Democrats as the Olympic Torch passed by. We were standing in protest against the Chinese Government’s repression and human rights abuses in Tibet.

As we waited behind metal crowd barriers, alongside vociferous groups with opposing opinions, I wondered who the barriers were there to protect. By far the biggest crowd I witnessed was the one escorting the torch. In fact it was very difficult to see, surrounded as it was by a phalanx of running policemen wearing cycle helmets. Sort of like outriders, but not riding anything.

Shortly before the procession reached us, stewards asked us to step back a couple of metres. This was so that the barriers could be moved to widen the route. When the scrum jostled past, I realised that it wouldn’t have been able to fit otherwise.

The Olympic Torch was quite literally the focus of all the security, protection and passionate protest by everyone present.

Would that the Chinese Government showed the lives of Tibetans the same high level of respect.
Photos: Andy Mayer

Friday, 4 April 2008

Talk to the hand, ‘cause the Council ain’t listening

For months now, I’ve been asking Redbridge Council to start listening to residents’ concerns about the way our Borough is developing. I have spoken with Councillors and Officers about giving Redbridge residents a genuine say. In particular, I am interested in the ideas behind Participatory Budgeting, hugely successful in Brazil, and also trialled in the London Borough of Harrow.

Here in Redbridge, some unpopular ideas appeared in the recent Capital Programme. These, coupled with a hasty scheme of Land Sales, led to the following scenes last year:

  • Council officers and councillors were summoned to Redbridge allotments to meet outraged plotholders and see their breathtaking displays of lovingly-grown produce. At one allotment site in an area of the Borough which has a thriving multicultural community, proud tenants gave away samosas and other delicious foods which they had prepared for their visitors. As they showcased the dishes made from vegetables they had grown themselves, one member of the Cabinet was heard saying to an Indian tenant, “Oh you didn’t make this, you got it from the restaurant around the corner.”

  • A Local Area Meeting took place in a building next to a small and well-used public car park, which was also being considered for the Council sell-off. Another Cabinet Member was at the meeting where Tory councillors argued that the car park was not needed. They said that people ought to use public transport to come into the area. After the meeting, I watched that Councillor return to his enormous car, parked in the aforementioned car park, and drive off at speed.

  • Even my local Conservative MP asked me to come and see him to discuss my requests for proper consultation, saying, “I think you raise some interesting issues.” Sadly, at our meeting, he did nearly all the talking.

  • The lack of attunement displayed by the Conservative Councillors led to fury in the local newspapers and placards in the Council Chamber.

Liberal Democrat Councillors put forward a Requisition Amendment at a Council Meeting last May which read as follows:

"Council request the Cabinet to re-consider its decision in respect of Land Sales, in particular with regard to the previously agreed disposals. Where these relate to operational assets of the Council they should be subject to review on the same basis as future decisions. In addition, opportunity should be given to objectors, including members of the public, to make their case as to why the assets should not be sold. Proposals to dispose of any operational asset of the Council should include an assessment of the impact of the disposal and this should be subject to public consultation before the final decision is made."

Now, the Council have at last announced their plan for public consultation on their spending plans. I’d like to think that my repeated badgering helped, but suspect it’s because the Tories have woken up to the fact that they’re heading for huge losses at the next local election. They have buried news of “The Redbridge Conversation” in their costly monthly newsletter, “delivered to 100,000 homes in the Borough” (though, curiously, not mine).

The article says that “ sell off some of the property and land that the Council owns in the Borough...would generate much of the money we need.” More anger in the local paper’s letters page: one resident states, “The Council own nothing – they are custodians.”

The Tory Councillors have made it clear that their Capital Programme still stands, and that the “Redbridge Conversation” is simply a chance for the residents to say which assets they would like to see sold to pay for the projects they don’t want. Even if they ask questions, the answer appears already decided.

Surely a Conversation entails both sides asking questions, as well as listening and taking on board each other’s views?

The residents of Redbridge will struggle to get a word in edgeways.

But they will speak with one voice next Polling Day.

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