The Thick of It


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.