Terrorism, CPZs and getting people back to work

Not a whole lot to report as largely confined to sick bed, with much time spent watching the news. I observed Hazel Blears, whom I shadow in Parliament – she was starting a round of visits to hard to reach Muslims (as opposed to the usual spokespersons) in towns across the country. Good idea – but why have we waited so long? So much air time has been given to the extremist views of groups that most Muslims have scant regard for. This emphasis has contributed to the fevered atmosphere and probably encouraged them even more. I get into trouble with our press office as I couldn’t go to do interviews on the weekend and missed calls to do the Today program – separated from my phone which unhelpfully was set on silent downstairs in the kitchen – where I wasn’t.

Terrorism on the TV news is interwoven with man floating around the heavens with DIY tools trying to repair a spaceship. I so wouldn’t like to be one of those astronauts. I would be convinced I was going to die on re-entry and even more shaky about making makeshift repairs on the hoof. I wish them well on their return. I know it’s expensive – but I love space exploration. It’s a frontier – and we don’t have that many – and it’s so good to lift your eyes above the daily grind – and the horrors of how to deal with terror in our midst.

Al Qaeda’s No 2 appears in a video broadcast by Al Jazeera saying basically that we in London are targets because Tony went to war in Iraq. Well – there are many reasons I believe Tony should go – and indeed Iraq is one of them. However, it cannot come at the behest of an enemy. And – he has just been re-elected to government by the people of this country (a democracy, however flawed the voting system). Opportunism by Al Qaeda is no way to decide our country’s governance.

I am more concerned by the proposals Tony came forward with yesterday – the new terror laws are draconian but more importantly may be unworkable. We British (and that includes everyone!) pride ourselves on our tolerance and fair play and many feel that our tolerance has spawned monsters – or allowed them to spawn.

And so we face one of the greatest challenges of our time – how can we tolerate the intolerant? We clearly feel our good nature has been abused – so the conundrum: how do we retain our essence of free speech and fair play when others don’t abide by the rules of that particular game?

I am not automatically against any new laws on terror – but I do feel we generally have enough laws.

On incitement to terrorism – define terrorism. On deportation – Charles Clarke to be the deciding factor? Arbiter of who stays and who goes? And let us assume we currently (for the most part and giving them the benefit of the doubt) have a benign government – but… And what are the criteria? And why should we ban those who are banned in the US? We are a different country and what the US finds unacceptable we should examine very carefully – not automatically jump to their tune.

And as for our ‘arrangements’ with countries where human rights are an issue – and so raising problems with us deporting people to those countries – who will monitor those ‘agreements’? Countries with poor records on human rights are not going to change because of a piece of paper.

One break from this issue – on Thursday evening I leapt from my sick-bed to go to a CPZ (controlled parking zone) meeting. This one came off the back of a petition from residents asking for one in three or four roads in the very west of Haringey, affected significantly by the introduction of a CPZ on the Barnet side of the border in East Finchley.

The Labour Executive member is there and the senior council officer. Everyone has their say. There are the usual rants about Haringey Council using CPZs as a milch cow. Not often I stand up for the council – but Haringey’s charges at GBP25 per annum for a resident permit are the cheapest in London. But overall the meeting is very positive – and the outcome is an agreement to proceed next year to a two-zone consultation.

There was a huge area consulted on in 2003 – and as with all large CPZ consultations, those few with the existing problem wanted one but the vast tract of people in the rest of the consultation who did not have a problem did not. Anyway – a successful meeting and we will see how that one proceeds.

One bloke raised the issue of roads where lots of people have off-street parking and therefore not needing to park would vote ‘no’ to a proposal and therefore unbalance the result unfairly. I used a – what I believe (!) – is a really good example of how they might approach such an issue.

I have just had the consultation on the proposed extension to the Highgate Village CPZ. Most of our road (including me) has off-street parking – and there are only very limited on-street parking available for those residents without anyway. One resident of the street called meeting to discuss the consultation. I couldn’t go – but he posted the minutes. Firstly – they agreed to get the council officer down to see if the on-street parking spaces could be increased by slightly altering the design etc – and that could happen. Secondly – those residents in the street who were desperate for the extension (because everyone parks in our road) made their case to us, their neighbours, to all vote for the CPZ as their lives would be impossible without a CPZ as they were not luck (as the rest of us were) to have off-street parking. As good neighbours – we all supported those in need. Good community spirit and lack of selfishness!

On Friday I did my surgery at Wood Green library until lunchtime as usual – and then went off to meet Haringey Alzheimer’s Society who wanted to introduce themselves to me. Strangely – Haringey Council and Haringey Primary Care Trust don’t fund them – whereas that is how most local branches are funded and needless to say they need funding after next year.

Then I meet Bob Cottingham of the Highgate and Muswell Hill pensioners group. I think Bob is fantastic and whilst he himself says that age is slowing him down (I was too polite to ask his!), his mind is still as sharp as a razor. Apart from discussing the new Pensioners’ Charter (which he will send to me) we have an intense discussion about the Middle East, Jenny Tonge and terrorism.

As ever with the Middle East – my view has always been right down the middle – a homeland for Palestine and security and safety for Israel. My views generally make me no friends with either lobby as both have strangely enough a kind of Bush approach – that you’re with ’em or against ’em. I will continue to listen to all arguments – but to date remain convinced that the rights and wrongs of history deliver us nowhere – and any solution will have to deliver enough of what each side wants to have a flying chance of success.

I then dash off to ‘Working Links’, an organisation involved in helping the long-term unemployed back into work. I have to say – fabulous organisation. This one is a private/public partnership – I know, wash my mouth out with soap given my past comments about other private/public partnerships. But if it works – use it. I am not ideologically committed to absolutes – except in the case of particular public services – but this seems a good place to bring in private expertise.

As you walk through the door – the environment sings optimism and enthusiasm – upbeat, modern, clean and bright. But as in all things (at least that’s my view) the success of such projects rests entirely with the staff. It’s people – it’s always people. And the young consultants’ who ran each section were all absolute stars. Their two directors were equally enthusiastic and had clearly been responsible for creating this beneficial atmosphere.

They basically take people from a number of sources and spend 26 weeks supporting a tailor made individual package to help them back to work. Hurrah! Ten out of ten to them. I cannot bear seeing people who hav
just become so dependent on the state to sort their life that they no longer even think of doing things for themselves or getting out of the forlorn situations that have become their lives.