Archive for June, 2010

Levallois-Perret – 31st May

June 20, 2010

Paris is made up of 20 numbered Arrondissements, each with its own town hall and post office. They are enclosed in the Boulevard Peripherique. Surrounding that are further suburbs, of which Levallois-Perret is to the north-west between the Peripherique and river Seine. We went there to visit my nephew and his wife and baby, who live there, not far from my nephew’s wife’s family.

According to my nephew, Levallois-Perret is the most densely populated town in France. (Wikipedia says that it is one of the most densely populated towns in Europe.) To most people in Harold Wood, that makes it sound like a nightmare, but it’s not like that at all. It was developed quite quickly in the second half of the nineteenth century, on a grid plan like an American city. Even then, buildings of four and five stories were the rule. Many streets have shops on the ground floor and flats above. Land values are high and there is re-development going on in parts of the town, to build even higher, perhaps up to eight stories. New blocks of flats have balconies and roof gardens with plants and the general green impression is enhanced by many parks, which are stocked with more plants and are much more cared for than we are used to in Havering. The sense of community is reinforced by public buildings, such as Catholic and Protestant churches and a spectacular town hall surrounded by gardens. The opulent feel is added to by the presence of dealerships for several luxury car brands

So how can Levallois-Perret afford these things when Havering can not? One factor is that the town has access to property taxes from commercial premises – something that the Thatcher government took away from British towns. Some household names, such as Carrefour and Alstrom have their HQs in Levallois-Perret, which must help.

If those are not enough reasons for you to have heard of Levallois-Perret, there is another – for some decades the Citroen 2CV was made there – so I have a picture of one, taken in the lobby of the Hotel de Ville!


Liberal Democrats special conference, NEC Birmingham. – Sunday 16th May

June 20, 2010

After the General Election, the country fell into a period of uncertainty, when it became clear that no one party could command a majority in the House of Commons. This was the “hung parliament” which so exercised journalists in the election period, so they always asked what would the LibDems do. They avoided asking the question of the other two parties – in spite of the example of Grand Coalitions of left and right in Germany (or more extremely Sinn Fein and DUP in Northern Ireland). In fact, many people had got into the way of assuming that the LibDems, would, in some way support Labour, as people tend to think that they have more in common. This is in spite of many of the Labour government’s policies in recent years being seen as illiberal and too centralising and hence condemned by the LibDems.

Over the weekend after the election, it was clear that both Conservatives and Labour wanted to talk to the LibDems, but it soon emerged that the talks with Conservatives were much more fruitful and an agreement was announced.

The LibDems have a constitution, so the decision had to be ratified. Firstly ratified by the Parliamentary Party and then by the Federal Executive. Because both those bodies had approved it, the third and more difficult step was not really necessary – of getting it approved by a full conference. LibDem conference delegates listen to speeches and think for themselves. Sometimes they then vote in ways that the leadership didn’t want, but we are a democratic party. (The Tory leadership doesn’t have these restraints.) In 4 days the conference was set up; the Agenda and Directory was available over the internet, containing the resolution that would be debated from 1 pm to 5 pm on Sunday. Followed shortly after by a supplement containing 9 amendments to tie our parliamentarians even more closely to LibDem policies within the coalition.

So on the Sunday morning, I was on Harold Wood station Platform 1 waiting for the 7.35 train. I reckoned I wanted to be at the NEC with plenty of time to spare before the 1 pm start and had booked my tickets and collected them in Harold Wood in advance.

In standard class on the train from Euston, I found myself sitting two rows away from two designated members of the new government – Danny Alexander (Secretary of State for Scotland) and Alistair Carmichael (Deputy Chief Whip). Nice to see members of the government travelling like normal people!

LibDem conferences usually have an exhibition and fringe meetings, but obviously these were absent at the special conference. However, there was, as always, the chance to meet up with old friends in the party from elsewhere in country, and somewhere to lunch and have the inevitable coffee.

In an early speech, the local MP, Lorely Burt, welcomed us to Solihull. About 30 years before she won it for the LibDems in 2005, Solihull was the second safest Tory seat in the country, just like Romford is today.

During the afternoon, a consistent theme emerged across the speeches:
The Conservatives had been serious in their desire for a coalition and had been prepared to make policy concessions to get it. Labour, on the other hand, were in the position that a coalition with the LibDems alone would not give them a majority, and seemed to already have resigned themselves to opposition; this also meant that there were less flexible on policies. The country desperately needs a period of stable government to tackle the money problems. Any serious political party which is put in the position of a chance of a place in government can not turn it down out of hand. The coalition agreement gave us a chance of seeing many cherished LibDem policies into law.

There were a number of dissenting voices, mostly based on the unpleasant experiences that those speakers had with Conservatives in their own localities. In spite of this, some such speakers were generous, including Sal Brinton, the candidate in Watford, who had been subjected to a campaign of harassment by a Tory. It is clear, however that a Coalition at Westminster does not mean that our party policies change or that we cannot oppose Conservatives in Town and County Halls. (Or, for that matter make coalitions with Tory or Labour, if that seems best for the people in a particular place.)

A particularly inspiring speech in support of the motion was made by Simon Hughes, not in the government, and definitely a radical figure in the party. This received a standing ovation. Other senior figures, which in the past have been quite ready to oppose the leadership, such as Tony Greaves and Evan Harris, also supported the motion.
By about 5 p.m., the debate was concluded and votes were taken on those nine amendments, intended to keep the leadership on the true LibDem path, and the motion itself. All were passed overwhelmingly.

Then it was time for speech by the senior LibDem figure who had so far not made an appearance – the Leader, Nick Clegg.

Many others have reported on this conference, so I will add one reference – to Jonathan Fryer, Chair of London Region Liberal Democrats and an experienced radio and print journalist.
Article in Jonathan Fryer’s blog

The Havering Borough election in Harold Wood – 11th May 2010

June 19, 2010

The Party with the largest number of votes was the Residents’ – a tribute to the formidable Political campaigning skills and persistent leafleting of Ron Ower and former Labour Mayor Brian Eagling. The first-three-past-the-post electoral system used in London boroughs rewarded them with a single seat for Brian Eagling alone.

The Conservatives came second in terms of votes, but outgoing councillors Lesley Kelly and Pam Light got more votes than the next highest placed Residents’ party candidates and so retained their seats.

The Liberal Democrats came third in terms of votes, so Jonathan Coles, who had been a councillor for the last 4 years (and for 12 out of the last 16 years), was defeated.

As a party, Labour came fourth, followed by the sole UKIP candidate.

Congratulations to the three successful candidates: Brian Eagling(RA) and Lesley Kelly (Con.) and Pam Light (Con.)

The members of the Liberal Democrat Focus Team all live within the ward and will continue to play their part in local affairs.

Havering Election Count 6th – 10th May

June 13, 2010

New Constituencies

This years election was much more complex than usual because two elections were taking place on the same day – for the Westminster Parliament and for the whole of Havering Council. This had never happened before since Havering Council was founded in the 1960s. Havering is divided into 18 wards, each electing three councillors. Up to 2005, these were divided into 3 Westminster constituencies, but boundary revisions have reduced Havering to two and a bit constituencies.

The new Hornchurch & Upminster takes all of the former Upminster constituency and some wards from the former Hornchurch.

The new Romford takes in some other parts of the former Hornchurch.

The rest of the old Hornchurch (3 wards) makes up the new Dagenham & Rainham constituency together with 6 wards in the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham.

There were three problems:
1) Each elector could complete two ballot papers.
2) More people go out to vote in general elections than in local elections, so there would be more votes to count in the local election too.
3) For the three Havering wards in Dagenham & Rainham, the local elections would be counted in Havering and the general election in Barking.

The Plan

Havering would use different coloured ballot papers for the two elections and separate ballot boxes. (Good idea – some councils didn’t do this.)
All boxes would be validated first – this would also deal with the problem of a few electors putting their ballot paper in the wrong box. (After validation papers from the three Havering wards for Dagenham & Rainham would have to be transported to the correct count location.)
The general election counts would then be done first, followed by Borough ward counts.
At 4 a.m. the situation would be re-assessed. (Normally, a general election count, OR a local election count would be done by then, unless there were recounts. In this situation this was hard to predict.)

The count starts at 10 p.m. in Hornchurch Sports Centre – it’s the biggest hall in the Borough. Boxes are brought from polling stations under police escort and validation of some starts as soon as possible. Validation is to ensure that the number of votes in a ballot box matches the number recorded as having been cast in the polling station. This is vital to detect certain types of electoral fraud. When validation is complete for a ward (or constituency) all the votes for that area are brought together and votes are counted and bundled into 50s for each party. At least, that’s how it works for the general election. It’s more complex, for the local election, when a paper can contain up to three votes. If they’re all for the same party, they can be bundled in 50s, but where there is “cross-voting” the votes are recorded on a special form, one by one, to work out how many votes each candidate got. Party hacks usually think that cross-voting is a bit odd. I think each voter will have his/her own reasons for doing it, and it is an elector’s right.
All this is done under the eagle eyes of party officials, who will speak up if their party is being short-changed.

The validation, with twice as many papers as a general election, obviously took longer. In the small hours the general election count was completed and some wards were being counted. After a few wards were finished, the count would be adjourned until 10 a.m. (Friday). It was also clear the approximate order in which wards were being counted. As I was most interested in Harold Wood ward (as a candidate), and it was a long way down the list, I decided that I needed my sleep in bed! I was told later that the count had continued until 6 a.m.

The counting of the rest of the wards continued from 10 a.m Friday to about 6 p.m. By then, it was clear that the Tories had a clear majority in the council – they had won 2 seats from the RAs and lost 2 to Labour. Labour could also be happier as they had won three seats (from Tories and BNP) to go with the two they had held previously.

However, but by this time, two wards – Harold Wood and St. Andrews – were still unfinished. The third place in both wards was close between the Conservatives and the RAs and this led to demands for several recounts. It was clear to the council officers that everyone was very tired and they decided that the recounts should take place on Monday in the Town Hall. I personally thought twice about whether or not I was too tired to drive myself home. I did decide that I was too tired to Chair a meeting at 7.30 p.m on Friday evening!

Conclusions on the Count.

Though Havering made a reasonable job of organising the elections, I say NEVER AGAIN should we try to elect a full council and MPs on the same day. It has attractions – schools and other polling stations are only taken out for one day. But the marathon count did deprive the council of many staff on Friday and exhaust both staff and party officials.