Archive for the ‘Election Year – 2010’ Category

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.

LibDem conference in Birmingham

May 15, 2010

The Liberal Democrats have done what is necessary constitutionally to ratify the coalition, but have decided to go the extra mile by calling a conference on Sunday 16th May, to consult and communicate with the membership.

As I am a conference representative for my local party, I feel that I must take part in this historic event, so I will be there.

Gordon Brown’s gaffe

May 15, 2010

Thursday. Rochdale. A marginal Liberal Democrat seat regained in 2005 after 8 years of Labour. (It was Liberal from 1974-1997.) Just the sort of seat that Labour needs to win.
A Prime Minister anxious to put off his aloof and superior image. A woman – Gillian Duffy – shouting a question to him from the crowd. A golden opportunity to engage with a typical voter.
He did it quite well, but then he blew it as the tension was released as he got it to his car, and made a hasty remark, forgetting that he was “miked-up”.
I have some sympathy. Early in my career, I was part of a team building recording studios. I found out quickly how easy it was for words spoken in a soundproof studio to be be picked up by an open microphone and relayed over loudspeakers in the control and recording rooms. I also heard performers say things in the release of tension that they would have not wanted broadcast – just like Gordon Brown.
Three things have happened since then:
The first is that technology then available to only a few is now available to many. Anyone can buy for less than a hundred pounds something to make video and sound recordings that are quite usable and recognizable. Anyone with access to the internet can upload it there for anyone to view.
Secondly, just as anyone can record, anyone can be filmed. We have no privacy laws in the UK. Occasionally police try to stop people taking photographs on the grounds of security. Often this is done on doubtful legal grounds; sometimes even, the suspicion lingers that it is done because the authorities are doing things they want to keep hidden.
Thirdly, we have accepted something called “reality” television, where invasion of personal privacy is the whole point and people abandon privacy for fame. Often ordinary people are suckered into this, without understanding the implications. They become media victims.

Gordon Brown, of course, is not of course an innocent in communication or media. We already knew that he could be an impatient and abrasive man, so a slightly despairing and pessimistic comment was in character. What distinguished him from other many other people is that this off the cuff comment, perhaps harsh on Mrs. Duffy, contained neither obscenity or blasphemy – a real tribute to an upbringing in the Manse.

On the whole, I think we could forgive him, and wonder whether the time the media spent analysing the incident was all well spent.

Being rude about the Pope

April 30, 2010

Until I was 22 I lived in Northern Ireland, and it was almost obligatory there and then for protestant politicians to be critical (to put it it mildly) about the Pope. People here on the mainland got a glimpse of that sort of rhetoric when Ian Paisley heckled John Paul II in the European parliament in 1988. (The sort of stunt which was repeated by Nigel Farage’s attack on Herman Van Rompuy in February.)

Back in those days “Pope” was not a word used by most devout Catholics. “The Holy Father” was the term that was Politically Correct, before Political Correctness was invented.

Fast forward to 2010 and some wits in the Foreign Office circulating a spoof itinerary for Pope Benedict’s visit, involving him in events promoting things that were certain to be most repugnant to him. I could see the point that many of the Pope’s doctrinal pronouncements make a a great gulf between him and much of western society. They also make a gulf between his church and many other Christian churches. A background in Ireland makes one very sensitive to the pretensions of the Roman Catholic Church to speak for Christianity as a whole, as it often comes over as arrogant.

However, the job of the Foreign Office is to keep a channel of communication open, even when we don’t much like what we see at the other end. This means Politeness and Consideration (also PC) and this document falls well short of it. The Pope has a dual role – as a Head of State and as head of one christian denomination; as such he needs to be treated with respect. Circulating the spoof shows that the respect was lacking. Even if it was private, things can Come Out in our surveillance and freedom of information society. We all need to think about the things that amuse us, but could hurt others, then, from time to time “button our lip”. It wasn’t kind.

Easter Sunday

April 24, 2010

On Easter Sunday morning I went to church, like a lot of people do. But I went to church by tram, which means it clearly wasn’t in Harold Wood! Actually I went to church in Brno,where I was visiting family for a couple of days. The church was the Bethlehem Church of the Czech Brethern, who are a protestant denomination with Lutheran and Presbyterian/Reformed anticedents.

Thine be the Glory

What I want to talk about is the hymn which started and ended the service. In English it is called “Thine be the Glory”. When we sing it in church in England, the tune seems strangely familiar – it is from Handel’s oratorio “Judas Maccabeus”, and dates from the 1740s. The words of the hymn were written, in French, by a Swiss pastor in the 1890s. I got home on Easter Sunday evening to Harold Wood.
I was next able to go to my home church in Emerson Park two weeks later. There was a question of substituting one of the hymns on the order of service. The organist said “Please not ‘Thine be the Glory'” It had been sung both on Easter Sunday and the following Sunday!
I like the idea of singing that hymn a thousand miles away, at almost the same time as my home church was singing it. It is a metaphor for how European history and culture are intertwined, that I should be singing, in Czech, a hymn written in French, with a tune by a German long domiciled in England.

Harold Wood Hospital

April 24, 2010

As our Focus readers know, we have long opposed first the closure of the hospital and then subsequent proposals to overdevelop the site.

Harold Wood Hospital Closure announced.

When Labour Minister Frank Dobson first announced the closure of the hospital we collected and submitted a residents’ petition against it. We felt that that it was a great pity that a series of piecemeal short-term decisions had strangled proper progress of the hospital. The closure had wasted a lot of public money invested in the hospital over the years.

480 rejected than appealed. Council gives permission for 423.

During 2006, the year the hospital closed, it submitted an application for 480 dwellings on part of the site; this was turned down by the council and went to appeal. The hospital authority then sold the site to a developer.

Representatives of your FOCUS team attended the appeal in 2007 against these plans. They were withdrawn because outline plans for 423 dwellings on part of the site had already been approved by the council.

After this the unused part of the site became derelict and the Focus Team had cause to complain about vandalism and theft and this resulted in a little improvement in security.

2009 – Only LibDem Councillor Jonathan Coles speaks against over 800 dwellings

Cllr Jonathan Coles attended the planning meeting on 12th November 2009 and spoke against the proposals for 874 dwellings on the whole site including conversion of the Grange. The committee had a Conservative majority, but also included representatives of Residents’ groups and Labour. Jonathan urged the committee to reject the plans but sadly no councillor proposed a motion to do this. Eventually the committee decided to defer the decision, largely because they found the tower block was too tall and they felt that the proportion of flats to houses was too high. There were 5 other issues. This means that developer is expected to enter discussions with the council to address the seven points.

Councillor Jonathan Coles was the only councillor who spoke at the meeting who challenged the substance of the plan and the overall number of dwellings in it.

Havering Council Tax 2010

March 8, 2010

Last week, I got a Tory leaflet through my door boasting that there were reducing the council tax by 0.5%. I worked this out – it would benefit me by £9 for the whole year. That would just about buy me one pensioner’s lunch at my favourite country pub – but it wouldn’t leave anything over for my wife’s lunch, for the drinks, or for the transport to get us there!

In the event, the Tories had overstated their case and the amount later approved in full council is nearer £7.

Then I started to think. £7 or £9 to me for a whole year is vanishingly small, but represents around half a million pounds over the whole of the borough. I’m sure many of my fellow citizens could think of excellent uses to which this money could be put, just as I could. (As a governor of two schools, I am only too aware of how tight money is in council projects.)  If they couldn’t have found a good use for it, they could have put it in reserves, or against the money that is still lost in the Icelandic banking system.

Of course, it’s an election year and this was Tory spin at its  most blatant. They hope that we will see only the word reduction. They hope that we won’t work out how tiny it is for a household. Above all, they hope we won’t wonder how much this reduction cost them in terms of computer time and communicating with council taxpayers and banks.

Ian Sanderson