Ten most popular blog postings (4th quarter, 2008)

No real surprises here, with one story dominating your and my attention – the awful death of Baby P.

10. George Meehan and Liz Santry resign – the two key Labour councillors (council leader and lead member for children’s services) finally took responsibility for Haringey Council’s failings.
9. Baby P investigation update – thoughts following a meeting with Cabinet minister Ed Balls.
8. Panorama on Baby P – my advance thoughts, particularly on how the pressure to agree may result in people not sticking by their concerns.
7. Baby P at PMQs – a very brief post, but got lots of traffic due to the Brown-Cameron spat making that PMQs very high profile.
6. The departure of Sharon Shoesmith – my reaction to the (eventual) departure of the head of Haringey’s children’s services and education.
5. The roles of Sharon Shoesmith and George Meehan – in which I explain why I believed they should take responsibility for the errors and blunders exposed in the Baby P saga.
4. Brian Coleman and the Fire Brigade – see no.3.
3. Fire Brigade rushes to help – the Brian Coleman saga where, for latecomers, I feared for my and family’s safety, called the Fire Brigade – who said I did the right thing – but Brian Coleman (Conservative London Assembly member) took it upon himself to criticise. Cue numerous comments on my various blog postings and via my website from firemen agreeing with my actions.
2. Reading the Baby P Serious Case Review – after initially being kept secret, the review was shown to a small number of MPs, myself included
1. Baby P verdict – reaction to the trial verdict.

So – that was the last quarter. Let’s see what gets your attention in the next one…

The Fire Brigade Union and Brian Coleman

Well the Fire Brigade have come to my rescue for a second time. It’s not surprising that they are angry with Brian Coleman given he is supposed to set an example – not undermine all their good work on getting the message across that if you believe you are in danger get out the house:

London Fire Chief Under Fire for “Time Wasting” Jibe

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM–(Dec. 15, 2008) – Fire Brigades Union (FBU) leaders in London have called on the chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) to consider his position, after he labelled as “dizzy” and an “airhead” a woman MP who dialled 999 when sparks began to fly from her boiler.

Conservative councillor Brian Coleman’s remarks were branded “sexist” by Lynne Featherstone, Liberal Democrat member of parliament for Hornsey and Wood Green, who said she intends to protest to the London Fire Brigade commissioner, Ron Dobson.

Ms Featherstone was in her house late at night with her two daughters when the boiler began to violently shake and emit sparks. Fearing an explosion, she evacuated the house and called the fire brigade.

The incident came to light after Ms Featherstone wrote an entry on her website blog, in which she praised firefighters for their actions.

However, Cllr Coleman accused Ms Featherstone of wasting brigade time and said she should have called a plumber instead. “She has shown herself to be completely dizzy. Airheads and airlocks are obviously not unrelated. She can’t tell the difference between an airlock and a major catastrophe,” Coleman told the Daily Mail.

Cllr Coleman also suggested Ms Featherstone send a cheque to the London Fire Brigade in recompense for the incident, in what would be a break with centuries of tradition of the fire service being free at the point of use for members of the public.

However, the FBU has slammed Cllr Coleman for engaging in cheap political point-scoring and dispensing erroneous advice. The union warned that his comments may discourage other members of the public from dialling 999 for fear of being accused of wasting brigade time. A spokesman for the London Fire Brigade also contradicted Cllr Coleman’s comments by making clear that Ms Featherstone acted correctly.

The FBU’s regional secretary for London, Joe MacVeigh, said, “To put narrow political considerations before public safety, as Councillor Coleman has done, is unpardonable. Any firefighter will tell you that Ms Featherstone did absolutely the right thing, and, by publicly condemning her, Councillor Coleman has raised question marks about his own suitability for office.

“You cannot have the head of London’s fire authority blundering around instructing people not to call the fire brigade when they have perfectly good reason to. The huge amount of time that our members spend on educating the public about fire safety can turn to dust with crass remarks like these.”

Mr MacVeigh also condemned the sexist nature of Councillor Coleman’s comments. “As the head of LFEPA, Councillor Coleman has a duty to promote sound equalities and diversity policies. He even recently claimed that the London Fire Brigade was ‘taking the lead on equality issues’. If an ordinary firefighter had said such things to a female colleague, he would almost certainly have been facing disciplinary action. It seems to me that Councillor Coleman needs to decide whether he wants to be a serious politician or whether he wants to continue as City Hall’s resident joker.”

Brian Coleman in trouble again

I blogged before about Conservative GLA member Brian Coleman’s foolish and insulting comments about Haringey.

Although Brian gamely tried to defend his words in a comment on my earlier blog piece, the real sign of what happened is that even Boris Johnson – not exactly a stranger to the blundering insult of an area himself! – thinks our Brian went too far, as one of our local papers reports:

Boris Johnson MP (Conservative), who was campaigning in Wood Green last week as part of his bid to become the Mayor of London, distanced himself from Mr Coleman’s comments.

He said: “Like everywhere it has its problems. There are lots of lovely bits and lots of lovely people here. I think generalisations are not particularly helpful.”

Brian Coleman puts his foot in it

I see one of my erstwhile colleagues (loose description) at the London Assembly – Tory Brian Coleman – has employed his usual tact and sensitivity to my own local.

Brian, a Conservative London Assembly member, has described Haringey as “ghastly” writing in his blog on the New Statesman website – describing (wrongly!) Haringey as a place “where decent folk lock their car doors as they drive through”.

All one can conclude is that Brian is snobbish, rude, and ill-informed as his remarks show. He is often billed as ‘controversial’ – presumably on account of such insults – but there is a great difference between controversial and ignorant.

My Lib Dem colleague and Leader of the Haringey Liberal Democrat Council group, Neil Williams, put it very well:

“This is exactly why the Tories are so unelectable in our borough. Haringey is a great place and a vibrant and cosmopolitan community – and that is exactly the way we locals like it.

“It’s the same old nasty Tories. They have no idea what Haringey is like and should be ashamed of their comments.”

Of course – the good news – is that there are no Tories at all on Haringey Council – and indeed – Tories came fourth at the last local elections and a very distant third at the General Election of 2005. Cause and effect!

Holocaust Memorial Day

I go into the London Assembly chamber for our Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony, organised and staged by the Chair of the Assembly, Brian Coleman.

A gay male voice choir opened the ceremony with a beautiful haunting song. Then Brian said a few, very well chosen words. But then we heard from Trudi, a Holocaust survivor. Her story moved me to tears. She told of her inhumane experiences on the Death March and then her experience when she finally came to England. A policeman went up to her on arrival to ask where she was going and she told him. He then advised her how to get there, where to get a taxi and to negotiate with the driver for a pre-fixed price as he didn’t want her to pay over the odds. She said it was the first time in her life that someone in uniform meant her no harm – and even was trying to help her.

She was followed by a rabbi, with some very moving words, and then a beautiful song in Hebrew. There is something very haunting about this music.

We then heard from the Rwandan Ambassador. In a very quiet and thoughtful way she extended our thinking to other genocides – and finally a poem from Ken. Ken was in tears too. We then lined up to sign the book of commitment.

That’s why it is so important to remember. That’s why children need educating as to man’s inhumanity to man. That’s why we need the annual commemoration of the Holocaust to remain a memory of the worst we know in ‘civilised’ society.

I have never been under any illusion that civilisation as we know it here is still only skin deep. It only takes a mix of poverty and a political move to use immigrants as the scapegoat for the horrors to rise again. I still believe though, in this country, there are enough right-minded people to stop it happening – but I was underwhelmed by Michael Howard’s use of words like ‘millions who want to come here’ in the Tories’ desperate attempts to win favour. Yes – we have to have a working system and stem illegal immigration – but when the Tories use those sorts of words I know who they are calling to.

Fare dodging

A day of interviewing applicants who have been shortlisted to become members of the London Transport Users Committee (LTUC) – who are accountable to the GLA. The quality of candidates is very high this time – and I am hopeful that when we make our decisions we will achieve a very capable body to represent London’s Transport Users.

Later in the day Peter Hendy (Director of Surface Transport at Transport for London) came with entourage to see me in my office to brief me fully on what TfL are doing about fare dodgers.

They had been a bit put out by my recent exposure of just how many folk are nipping on our buses free of charge and seemingly, with just 1 in 700 being caught, pretty much total impunity.

Post briefing, I have some confidence that TfL are making strenuous efforts to deter the dishonest from taking free rides and that they do actually pursue to prosecution those who evade fares – particularly when persistent offenders.

I am reassured that the health and safety issues raised with me by a serving revenue protection inspector are being properly dealt with – and actually – when I think about it, there is no-one more keenly aware of the dangers faced by bus drivers and inspectors than Peter Hendy – who was practically born and raised on a bus!

I still think they have a job on their hands with the bendy buses and I will continue to monitor their efforts, because I get very cross when Ken breaks his pledges and puts up fares above inflation and hits the honest citizen when apparently doing relatively little about the dishonest fare dodger.

TfL say they are willing to look at the Lib Dem suggestion that the penalty be raised to GBP20 and then doubled and doubled if not paid. So we will see what the dodging rate is in a year’s time … Meanwhile I will move my current attention to fare dodging to the tubes!

Then up to London’s Living room for drinks with the Chair of the Assembly (Brian – I like regalia – Coleman) and Assembly Members and guests. It is such a beautiful venue – situated on top of City Hall with an almost 360 degrees view of London. Tower Bridge, which stands next to our building, the Tower of London, the Glass Gherkin and the lights of London are just a fabulous setting for any function.