Stroud Green parking survey

My Lib Dem council colleagues from Stroud Green ward (Ed Butcher, Laura Edge and Richard Wilson) have launched their parking survey on the internet to gain further views from local residents.

They’d already begun a door-to-door survey in response to news that Haringey Council were delaying plans to review the Finsbury Park Controlled Parking Zone (CPZ) until at least 2010. Curses on the dreaded Haringey Council – can they do nothing right? When you go door-to-door, not everyone is in etc, so hopefully this online survey will reach out further

If you’d like to take part in the survey, go to http://survey.libdems.org.uk/take/611.

Now you see it, now you don't – Labour and allowances

Now you see it (Labour taking bigger allowances on Haringey Council) – now you don’t – because they’ve tried to hide it in extra Special Responsibility Allowances rather than an overall rise for all their councillors!

The reality though is that Labour have actually awarded themselves £44,751 in extra allowances – through the back door. What Labour have done is vote unanimously for the total of their Special Responsibility Allowances (SRA) to be increased from £676,533 last year to £721,284 this year. In contrast, the Liberal Democrat councillors on Haringey are committed to cutting the number of SRA positions altogether.

This news goes against Council Leader Cllr Claire Kober’s comments that Haringey Council should tighten its belt and “any savings can go straight into providing essential services for the people of Haringey.”

As my Lib Dem colleague Cllr Ed Butcher said: “The Labour leader has been quoted as saying councillors should tighten their belts too in this financial crisis. Well, this looks like they sadly added a few extra notches instead.”

(There’s more on this story on my website and on Liberal Democrat Voice.)

What happened at Haringey Council last night?

As I wasn’t actually at the Haringey Full Council last night – watching via webcast instead – I asked Ed Butcher, one of the local Liberal Democrat councillors and my Head of Office, if he would write a guest blog to cover the meeting properly. Here it is:

Opposition means lots of things, but one thing I hadn’t fully appreciated until last night’s council meeting is the physicality of being in opposition. As Labour councillor after Labour councillor voted in hollow and weak voices to keep George Meehan and Liz Santry in post, not one of them was able to look us in the eye. Their sorrow and weariness was apparent, but they defiantly limped on.

At times like this you have to ask what you would have done differently. I simply do not accept Haringey Labour’s excuses. After over 40 years of running the borough, I don’t think they fully appreciate the culture of silence, stonewalling and secrecy that exists. This is what we would change. But, the real story is that I don’t think they really know what’s going on themselves.

Haringey Labour councillors have become so trusting and reliant on the advice of their officers that they have become incapable questioning it. With governance should come a healthy scepticism about what you’re being told. Having seen the Director of Children Service speak after the verdict, the public can make up their own mind as to the quality of that advice.

The culture of secrecy pervades the organisation. People who worked in Haringey child protection services have come forward with alarming stories claiming that they were told to shut up when they tried to raise concerns. This goes right to the top, where I know there have been attempts to bully and threaten my council colleagues into silence rather than welcome our independent scrutiny.

Even in last night’s meeting, probably the most public meeting our council has ever had, the Labour whip could not help themselves from shutting down the debate. We tabled two important motions. One was a vote in no confidence in the leader and the executive member for children’s services. The second was a motion to stop any compromise deals. Haringey has a dark history in paying off its staff to silence them – most notably a former Chief Executive whose departure cost £1m. The purpose of this motion was clear. There should only be two ways for any officer to leave following this. Either they resign of their own accord or they are sacked for gross incompetence. Not a penny of council tax money should be used to buy their silence. So with only 15 minutes of the council meeting left, the Labour whip accused us of talking for too long and decided it was far more important to move on to other business, such as appointment to outside bodies, rather than use the remaining time to discuss compromise deals. Plus ça change…

At the council meeting we were told that we could be reassured because of a litany of actions since the death of Baby P. There have been reviews, training, external checks, and now a further inspection. None of this has been open to scrutiny, none of them public. Not much of an assurance.

I asked Councillor Santry what she had done to review matters. She seemed to think an intermittent committee reviewing targets was enough. It says it all really.

I have little doubt there will be a blood letting and they will resign following the inspection report. But I wasn’t voting for change of face at the top, I was voting for a change of culture. I only hope the process the Government have imposed can deliver this. My fear is a stage managed departure will leave much unchanged and our at risk children at even greater risk.

Election night

Well – the must have invite of the year – to the American Embassy on election night! I got there about 10.30pm – which is a really late start for an early to bed early to rise sort of a geek like me. However – the general excitement of the potential of the night worked its magic and I managed to stay there until around 2am.

So – what’s it like? Incredibly well organised – as American official entertaining always is. Obviously disappointed to find that there were around 1,499 other invitees – but hey. Amongst said invitees the celebs I noticed (or rather my escort for the evening Ed Butcher – local Liberal Democrat councillor for Stroud Green and my Head of Office pointed out) were: Matt Damon (except I think later this proved to be someone else famous who I had never heard of; Janet Street-Porter, Alistair Campbell, lots of MPs and ministers etc, broadcasters like Jonathan Dimbleby (brother David obviously busy on air) and Nick Robinson, Andrew Rawnsley and lots and lots of others I am sure.

Peter Lord, who had kindly invited me (he is the American officer designated with attending to Liberal Democrats politically speaking) said that Madonna and Gwyneth had been invited – but declined. Their loss, our gain!

Anyway – as I said – Americans do these things well. There were flashing lit American flag badges for the Embassy staff so you knew who to approach to ask any questions. There were stars and stripes hats and tiaras – which I didn’t manage to get hold of. There was a Burger King serving hamburgers, fries and a vegetarian option, a Subway – and loads of drinks bars as well as circulating, fill your glass sir waiters and canapes continually appearing. Well done for hospitality. And there were bands like part of Squeeze and others – not to mention on arrival, cheerleaders outside doing pretty stunning acrobatics!

Then, of course, there were screens everywhere and a big armchaired film theatre where you could go and watch coverage in seated comfort. It was quite difficult to follow what was happening as sound (or rather lack of it) was an issue. However, having studied various screens, I was able to follow what was happening – and it was pretty amazing as it became clear pretty early on that it was going Obama’s way and that the ‘Bradley effect‘ was nowhere to be seen.

So – all great fun – and even I enjoyed it and actually talked to people. I am not a party person to be honest. Give me one to one over dinner – that’s the conversation I am best at. However, I did alright. At 2am I decided that it was time to go home and watch the rest on telly with my daughters – which is what I did.

I must have drifted off at about 3.30am – but my older daughter this morning said something very interesting – and she is extremely perceptive and analytical. She ended up watching ITV’s coverage until 6am this morning because she said it was excellent. She said it was direct, unembellished, used eloquent and knowledgeable presenters, didn’t dress it up with lots of irrelevant stuff and was intelligible and intelligent. She said BBC was overdone and confusing – and CNN was nothing but adverts. Broadcast companies take note.

As for the result! It would have been deadly to wake up and find McCain as President Elect – that much I know. As a Hillary supporter – I moved my allegiance to Obama – with qualifications. He certainly inspires and I don’t think I have ever heard a politician with that level of ability in terms of oratory. So it was good to wake up to a new era – but proof and pudding will be the real test – and that is yet to come.

How to cut your fuel bills and help the environment

Real pleasure last week to visit Camden with my colleague Cllr Ed Butcher to meet their green champion – Alexis Rowell – and see the eco-house they’ve put together.

It is a five bedroom council property refurbished to the highest energy saving specification, including wall insulation on exposed walls, double-glazed sash windows and solar heated water and electricity.

The Camden refurbishment was wholly funded by grants and sponsorship. It is envisaged that Haringey’s eco-house would follow the same model and act as a demonstration home on the possibility of the high standard energy saving in older properties.

The measures have achieved an 80% reduction of carbon emissions and energy bills and have raised the official energy saving rating of the property from G to B, a significant accomplishment for a Victorian property. The photovoltaic solar panels are expected to produce twice as much electricity as the house will need giving the owner the opportunity make money from selling the excess electricity.

What the Liberal Democrats have accomplished in Camden is pretty impressive. It is about practical solutions that people can implement.

When it comes to climate change a council has to do more than just council meetings and print glossy brochures. We need to help people make greener choices.

Encouraging practical alternatives to car ownership

Met Lynne Featherstone MP seeing how the Islington Streetcar street club workswith Streetcar. This is a car club. For those who don’t know – car clubs are just that. You become a member of the club and you can ‘buy’ access to a car, which will be stationed relatively near to you for an hourly, or 24 hour fee. It’s secured with a sort of version of the Oyster Card that unlocks the door – and then you have a pin number to feed into a gismo that removes the immobiliser and releases you the key to start it up.

There was one (well two actually) parked on the special on-street spaces reserved by the council in Islington (Lib Dem run of course!) for the car club – which is being enthusiastically backed by the council. Car clubs typically remove 20 private cars for each one of their cars. It is economic to the club member (only pay for a car when you need it), great for reducing congestion and car parking stress – and research amongst members demonstrates that people drive less miles per annum than they did when they owned their own car.

So – Cllr Ed Butcher (Lib Dem, Stroud Green) and I were meeting with Streetcar to see how they were progressing with breaking into the Haringey market. Opening gambits have been made – but I am sure Ed will be seeking to help them on their way. Transport for London gives funding to boroughs to promote the introduction of car clubs – so where there is money Haringey can be directed!

How Labour tries to cling on to power

It was Haringey’s Mayor making last night. As ever – a travesty of democracy with Labour refusing to have a Lib Dem Deputy Mayor or even letting Lib Dem councillor Ed Butcher be the council rep on one of the council bodies dealing with Finsbury Park. Yet five of the six Haringey councillors for the areas right next to the park are Lib Dem; but in Labour Haringey that means the rep has to be Labour! Just like almost every single one of the placements on outside bodies (and there are dozens and dozens) – Labour give places to Labour. Clearly they are clinging desperately to power and running scared of any other voices.

It’s such a shame; it’s not the proper way to conduct democratic processes – and an appalling example of standards in public life. An example of typical Labour behaviour towards me (and there are dozens of examples) would be when I went over to the new Sixth Form College when Labour Minister Jim Knight came to visit. I wasn’t allowed in the photos, near the platform, not allowed to speak – and no one even said the usual ‘we are pleased to have local MP Lynne Featherstone here’ today. It was shabby – and of course it was different when it was a Labour MP here! I’ve even been told of schools being instructed to take down my surgery notice and so on and so on.

Litter spotting in Highgate

First Lynne Featherstone MP spotting litter in Highgate Wood with the children from Avenue Nursery, Highgatething visited Avenue Nursery in Highgate. Definitely the Rolls Royce of nurseries – and in fact, not just a nursery, but going up to 6/7 year olds now. Beautiful premises (good design) and facilities (amazingly huge garden)! I am there to accompany a class on a litter observation outing. So eight youngsters, their two teachers and myself and Ed Butcher (councillor and my Head of Office) headed for Highgate Woods.

The children had clipboards with a sheet where they would mark up and tally how many pieces of litter they found. Cans, cigarette butts, plastic bits, sweet wrappers and so on. One sheet was for Highgate Wood – and the other sheet was for Highgate Station car park and then the Archway Road up to Highgate Wood.

Well – the car park and the walk up Archway gave the children a feast of possible litter. We examined cigarette butt after cigarette butt – and whilst in the Highgate tube station car park they wanted to know what an MP was. So I was explaining that the House of Commons was where laws were made and that recently we made a law which will stop people smoking in doors etc.

I congratulated them on their environmental work. They were bright as buttons – and they said why weren’t there any bins? So we decided that they are going to write to me (or email me officially as constituents) and I will then take it up with the relevant authorities and try and get more bins. I did explain that station bins had virtually disappeared for security reasons – but there’s plenty more places they could be put.

Then we arrived at Highgate Wood. What a contrast. Whereas the children were excited every two seconds by various horrible bits of litter before we got to the woods – in the woods we were hard put to find anything. So huge congratulations to the woods keepers for a fantastic job – and to those who use the woods who clearly respect their absolutely beautiful surroundings.

So – definitely one of my pleasantest duties this week – and fun too. And very heart warming to see how dead keen the kids were and how much they learned from this practical action. I am sure they will get another environmental award to add to the two they already have. If only all nurseries could be this good!

Haringey Council results

Well – it was very close! Massive Lib Dem gains, but not quite enough to take control of Haringey Council – Labour majority cut to just three (30-27 – no other parties have any councillors) with Lib Dems making 11 gains.

We also topped the vote across the borough – adding up the top votes in each ward – and actually now have councillors in a majority of the wards in Haringey. So – very close! Best every Lib Dem result, including our first councillors in Tottenham, many in Wood Green etc.

Lib Dem highlights:

Alexandra – 3 Lib Dem holds – Dave Beacham, Wayne Hoban and Susan Oatway re-elected

Bounds Green – 2 Lib Dem gains – Ali Demirci and John Oakes

Crouch End – 3 Lib Dem holds – Ron Aitken and David Winskill re-elected, joined by Lyn Weber

Fortis Green – 3 Lib Dem holds – Matt Davies and Martin Newton re-elected, joined by Sara Beynon

Harringay – 2 Lib Dem gains – Karen Alexander and Carolyn Baker

Highgate – 3 Lib Dem holds – Bob Hare and Neil Williams re-elected, joined by Justin Portess

Hornsey – 3 Lib Dem gains – Robert Gorrie, Errol Reid and Monica Whyte elected

Muswell Hill – 3 Lib Dem holds – Jonathan Bloch and Gail Engert re-elected, joined by Sheila Rainger (who has taken over my old council seat)

Noel Park – 2 Lib Dem gains – Catherine Harris and Fiyaz Mughal elected

Stroud Green – 1 Lib Dem hold and 2 Lib Dem gains – Laura Edge re-elected and Ed Butcher and Richard Wilson elected

Congratulations and commiseration to all candidates and helpers – both those who made it and those who didn’t, in all parties.

UPDATE: There are now further election result details on Haringey Council’s website.

Thank you party

Love Friday the 13th! Used to live at number 13 Woodstock Road – was a really happy house – so a good day for my ‘thank you’ party for all those who helped in the election.

Over a thousand people were sent invites – yes – that’s how many people helped with delivering, stuffing, addressing, donating, poster sites, printing, etc, etc, etc. If they had all turned up – we would have been in big trouble!

I arrived at Hornsey Community Centre about 7.40pm and it was already packed – and everyone, all evening, came up to wish me well. It was absolutely fantastic – such a genuine grass roots campaign. Heart warming!

Monica (Hornsey organiser) and Ed (Stroud Green ward) stood on chairs to address everyone and say special thank yous to those who had done above the call of duty – particularly Mark (my campaign manager) and Neil (my agent and Leader of the Lib Dems on Haringey Council).

Now Mark usually checks my blog writings for legal matters – i.e. I don’t want to get sued. And no doubt he will try and remove this posting as it mentions him by name – but I will be checking!

Both Neil and Mark are remarkable – both in ability and commitment. We have all been together in this for about eight years – and what happened on polling day wasn’t just the four week campaign, wasn’t just the war – but was the sum of years of work by a fantastic team of about thirty key activists who have worked unstintingly over these years.

Apart from Mark and Neil – each ward had its own team who soldiered on delivering the campaign in their area. Harold was in charge of printing; David in charge of telephone canvassing; Justin in charge of stakeboards – with great help from Alan and Dave, and so on and so on. The ward teams – Stroud Green (Laura, Richard and Ed), Crouch End (Ron, Peter and David), Alexandra/Bounds Green (Susan, Wayne and Dave), Muswell Hill / Fortis Green (Gail, Martin, Steve and Matt), Highgate (Neil, Bob and Melanie), Woodside (Nigel and Shantanu), Hornsey (Monica), Noel Park (Neil and Fiyaz). And the team who ran HQ – Valerie, Susanne and Monica. My sister – who organised my diary, visits to sheltered housing, leaflets at stations and telling for three wards. Duncan, Mette and Thuranie were my home team helping deal with election enquiries, sending out posters, etc. The Rea family and Bjorn were at HQ constantly and were the backbone of the stuffing operation. Wayne – who did such a great job as our Tottenham candidate (moving up into second with a big swing from Labour). And of course, my daughters, Jenna and Cady. Plus many, many, more!

I just wanted to publicly acknowledge the key team and the hundreds of others who were so generous with time, effort and money.

And the buggers – they presented me with a framed poster of the Hornsey Journal’s paper that they put outside newsagents. It reads in HUGE writing ‘I’ve nagged my way to victory – New MP’.

It’s so true – whenever people ask how I have got so far so fast – I always put it down to my ability to nag (politer term – lobby persistently). After all – it is a middle-aged woman’s life skill!