Going, going, … gone?

Listening to the news. Jacqui Smith gone. Hazel Blears gone. To live through and witness the end of the old order is a sombre experience – a necessary experience – but a sombre and sobering one.

As the government of this country goes into free fall – the shameful secrets of the establishment unmasked – the flawed character of a Prime Minister who doesn’t understand leadership in a modern age – the calculated death by a thousand knives as they plunge into Gordon Brown today – each one landing another death blow – as cabinet ministers murder the man who put them where they are. Et tu brute?

So – just coming up to PMQs. Cannot imagine at a human level how you get up and go out there to fight your corner when the pressure is so immense it must be hard even to breathe. Quite how Gordon Brown will be able to form a new administration as all these blows rain in, I don’t know. He should accept the inevitable and resign. Given his character he may not. But if he cannot form an administration – it might not be out of character for him to go to the Palace next week and let loose the dogs of war.

I never knew it would be like this.

Simon Mayo

Hazel Blears must have known what she was writing in that article. ‘Lamentable’ and ‘You Tube if you want to’ are hardly accidental insults.

At PMQs, David Cameron went for Gordon – sensing a weakened and beleaguered Prime Minister – somehow he managed to mess it up and come over like a bully-boy – unpleasant and over-political. Every one of his six supplementries was attacking Brown. So whilst Brown was wooden and unable to make quips – he didn’t suffer the way he ought to have given his fragile state and the week from hell just passed. He was desperately trying to be a serious man for serious times – coming back at Cameron for not asking a single question on policy or the economy. Underwhelming on both sides I thought.

Actually – the duel was deeply depressing. Red / blue, blue / red – same old same old. About time we had a different way of doing politics! Yes – us.

The only really decent questions (apart from Nick Clegg – obviously) was about the Gurkhas and the complete failure of Brown to understand the mood of the nation and somehow believe that rattling immigration bars (no doubt guided by focus group) would somehow trump the hearts and minds of British people. our souls are built on fair play! But Gordon doesn’t get it.

So – we ranged over this in Simon Mayo – and ID cards (waste of money and won’t work), swine flu (briefly thank goodness) and the Gurkhas again – and the demise of Gordon. Doom and Dust!

It’s a great program – and I note that Simon ‘I’m being made to tweet’ Mayo (last time I was on re twittering) now finds it irresistible!

Ming Campbell visits Haringey

Menzies Campbell MP launches Haringey local election campaign

Ming comes to launch our local election campaign in Haringey – where we have a real chance to take Haringey Council after 35 years of Labour rule. The Leader coming confirms this position!

I and Neil Williams (LibDem Council Group Leader) meet Ming at Harringay station. He arrives at 9.15am on the dot. I love people who are on time and organised. We go to the Tottenham side of the station – to Harringay ward – to photograph Ming with the Harringay candidates and then to the Hornsey & Wood Green side for photographs with the Stroud Green candidates. Both sides are to emphasize our campaign for CCTV on the scary entrances both sides of the bridge.

Ming (Sir Menzies Campbell to give him full title) is looking very dapper and smart. We proceed to the campaign HQ at The Three Compasses where Ming will launch our campaign, meet local members and activists (all stuffing envelopes – and boy there are a lot to stuff) and do one-to-one interviews with the journalists covering his visit.

One of the journos lets it be known that a hastily scrambled together ‘launch’ by Labour Minister Hazel Blears is now to take place at 11am same day having heard about Ming’s visit. I know Labour are terrified of losing the Council – but please!

If it’s true – then Hazel (who is my opposite number as I am her Shadow Minister) will do her duty and attack the LibDems and me as usual. It doesn’t matter which way we vote on anything – be it the police budget at the GLA or the Violent Crime Reduction Bill.

We supported the funding for the police and the Violent Crime Reduction Bill – but whatever we say or do – Labour’s mantra is always the same and always untrue. In politics, as opposed to pretty much every other walk of life, lying is just shrugged at and you are just meant to grin and put up with it – but I think that is why politics is in the state it is in – because people can’t be sure that what they read is the truth.

I know I digress – but there is an absurd letter going out in Stroud Green. It purports to be from a Bernard E who lives in Stapleton Hall Road (curiously there’s no-one with the first name Bernard on the electoral register in that road). It basically attacks me for supposedly being a known right winger and supporter of the Orange Book. (A think tank book of essays and ideas by LibDems – one of which was a ‘right-wing’ suggestion about funding in the NHS – thrown out robustly by the party at the following conference).

This would make the party laugh – as that is hardly my reputation or position in the political spectrum. Anyway – there are two versions – one with a Labour imprint and one without (although election law requires all leaflets to have an imprint) – and the writer says he is an old friend of one of the Labour candidates, though doesn’t mention that said person is already a councillor in another ward but was deselected by the Labour party there and so has had to find another ward to stand in.

I mention all this because – whilst we are standing at Harringay Station with Ming – a man comes up to Lib Dem Cllr Laura Edge and me and asks if we have seen this anonymous (in the sense there is no surname and no address) letter going out and how awful it is and how obviously a Labour smear letter. I am heartened by the public’s ability to see through this type of rubbish.

What is odd about the attacks on me is that I am not even a candidate in the local elections as I am stepping down after eight years as a local councillor and five as Leader of the Opposition. But I know that for Labour (and the defunct Tories who have no seats on the council at all) I am a symbol of all of their troubles and political losses.

So at the Three Compasses and into the working room where the stuffing tables are. A big cheer from quite a crowd gathered there and Ming delivers a rallying speech to encourage the troops – as does Neil. Ming clearly thinks we can do it – if we do the work between now and polling day.

Then the series of one-to-ones with reporters. Ming is in fine form – and truly a professional. Interviews over – a couple of members take him for a short tour and then off to Euston to get a train to Manchester for the next big launch. The cry is that we will make great gains across the board – more votes, more councillors and more councils!

Straight back down to earth and surgery at Jacksons Lane Community Centre. Run into Melanie – the Director – who is in happy mode as Haringey ‘found’ the funding to save the centre. I knew they would. Having made it explicit that I would turn this into an election issue if they didn’t I think that may have played a part in focusing their attention on resolving the matter quickly and before the election got under way – although they will undoubtedly claim that had nothing to do with it. That’s where politics works! A situation where Haringey has ignored or not responded on such an important matter – and suddenly with a political spotlight about to shine and me poking my nose in – then things happen.

I remember a similar thing when Labour Haringey wanting to close Muswell Hill library. But the library campaigners, local residents and the LibDems turned it around – with the fortuitous advent of a local ward by-election at that very moment.

In the evening I go to meet Linda Alliston who leads the Coldfall Woods Group. There have been huge problems with gangs of youths on motor bikes ‘buzzing’ dogs and walkers and then burning their no doubt stolen bikes. There is raw sewage (long term problem) being fed into the stream.

The solution to the bikes is to make the woods and football pitches secured by ‘kissing’ gates so that motorbikes can’t enter. For this they need to access the Section 106 money (£500k) from the Lynx Depot development. Cllr Martin Newton (Lib Dem, Fortis Green) comes with me and he has already secured a promise that they would have no problem with a bid for the gates – so they need to write in and I will support that bid. Also – Martin has got the new Safer Neighbourhood police team (which is just in place) to agree that they will come and look at how they can tackle the youth/bike problem.

In the meantime however, Haringey needs to deal with the perennial dumping – and to notify the allotment owners and houses (whether Haringey or Barnet) that back onto Muswell Hill playing field that throwing their BBQ waste over into the fields is not acceptable behaviour. Sadly, there’s an anti-social minority who do this. The good folk who love the fields and the woods have two major clear-ups a year.

Anyway – it was nice to meet the group who look after and love the fields and the woods – a wonderful local amenity – and Martin will pursue the issues and I will also be writing to support the case.

Go back to campaign HQ for a last hour of stuffing envelopes to sooth me down to sleep mode!

Clause 35 – common sense on hacking

Police and Justice Bill committee in the morning. Bill committee all afternoon. I tried to get some oversight (i.e. safeguards) into the latest extension of the surveillance society. The Bill would mean air flight passenger lists being given to the police even with no crime committed – but Hazel was stony ground as per usual. Ms Blears rarely gives an inch – and even when we score – the Government won’t admit it. They simply table their own version of our or the Tory amendments.

But a small victory. Clause 35 is about computer hacking. The way it was written, it would mean that IT companies couldn’t carry out their own hacking tests on their own computers, because that would be hacking. And other such silly things! (More details on The Register).

We’d tabled an amendment to deal with this. I now notice that we have a new Government amendment which does the same thing. Imitation is the best form of flattery!

The Education Bill

Being lobbied about ethical business behaviourLobbied today by Rozie and Sam – two 16-year-olds from Highgate Wood School. They are taking up the ActionAid campaign to make businesses behave more ethically – I agree! Will take further to ActionAid about what I can do in Parliament on the issue.

In committee today on the Police and Justice Bill. We fought hard to stop the Home Secretary being able to intervene directly on police forces or police authorities without so much as a by your leave or any objective criteria. But Ms Blears (Labour minister) batted all away. Labour want power for the Home Secretary to dive into anything that takes his fancy police wise regardless of anyone else. Hardly the new localism, saying all power to the Home Secretary!

When I dared to suggest that Labour didn’t like bad headlines about crime – and obviously wanted these powers so they could posture and claim they were acting swiftly when things went wrong – Ms Blears savaged me and the Lib Dems. Unwarranted attacks and untrue as usual – it’s a Labour mantra – but sadly for them we also support tackling anti-social behaviour despite their wish that we didn’t. Anyway – stung by the multi-attack aspersions on our record – I pointed out to Hazel that a recent example of Labour’s sensitivity to a bad headline was this very week when a bad headline about Labour sleazy loans had meant the very next day the Minister came to the House and said they were going to put through legislation in a current in process Electoral Bill to make loans declarable! Well – to a man and woman- they were audibly very cross. Their problem – probably one that comes with power – is they can dish it but they can’t take it

Stumble out of committee at 7pm and go straight into chairing an education debate on Labour’s Education Bill. There’s a lawyer from Matrix Chambers (yes – of Cherie Booth fame) who gives an absolutely riveting insight into what lies beneath many of the Academies that we are all having to have. It’s quite sinister really. They are exempt from virtually all the checks, criteria and balances applied to other schools. That is why you are seeing some being ‘bought’ for religious proletysing. Really, really scary.

Melian Mansfield, Chair of CASE and organiser of the event, also spoke. She was clearly absolutely resolute in her determination that we should understand why it was so important to try and defeat the Bill (not much hope with the Tories supporting it – but thank goodness am on the side of the angels in this one – the Bill stinks).

She put a good case and introduced seven people who all gave very short – but my goodness interesting and informed points of view – on the Bill. They ranged from the concerns over ‘sponsors’ such as Nestle – and how undue influence would inevitably be brought to bear – through to the lack of parent voice in the new structures and yet – from another contributor – how much was to be landed on parents’ shoulders in terms of responsibility and punishment. There was a wealth of ammunition here to fight the Bill and put amendments down at committee stage. So I invited them all to send short briefs and potential amendments to Sarah Teather who leads for us on education.

As far as my own views go – the Bill is all about structures and will do nothing to raise standards. When, when, when will the Government learn that resource needs to go into the processes to add quality? We still have 180 kids without a secondary place in Haringey. So much for choice. As for his Bill – it’s not a great reforming Bill as Blair would have it. It simply reforms ownership.

Securicor and crime

Early email from colleague to let me know that I appear sixth on Adam Boulton of Sky TV’s list of the ten most fanciable MPs. Flattered – I log onto the website and see who the others are in the list. It is a mixed gender list. How Adam reached his conclusions is a mystery. The comment by my photo brings me down to earth pretty swiftly! I just assume Adam has made a mathematical error! (I wished). Better to be talked about than not talked about – I guess!

I go to Millbank to film a package for a two minute intro to the Politics Show to air on Sunday as a pre-cursor to an interview they are doing with Chris Huhne re LibDem leadership. Dirt has been (attempted to be) dished recently with Michael Crick trying to find fault with Chris’s expenses when he was an MEP (report on Newsnight). It’s interesting that the diggers can come up with so little. The man must be a saint. I heard information too that Labour were looking at his expenses during the leadership election to see whether they could pin anything on him. I guess you know you’re doing a good job when your enemies are so desperate to do you down. You go boy! I knew I was getting there in Hornsey & Wood Green by the number of personal attacks on me by opponents.

I meet with Securicor Group 4 at 11.30am. There’s an interesting conundrum. Their proposition, which they are putting to the Minister (Hazel Blears), myself and the Tory police spokesperson. is to reclassify attacks on Securicor vans. The current situation is that if is when you attack a Securicor van carrying cash it is rated as a business crime – and therefore the attention and response of the police is not as high as for a public crime. Their argument is that they perform a public service – carrying cash to ATMs etc so that we, the public, can get our cash out whenever and virtually wherever we want. They are not allowed to be armed (quite rightly). However, covering the pavement between the highly fortified vehicle and the bank is a hazardous task.

In fact, 72% of all attacks on ‘cash in transit’ in Europe occur in Britain. Other countries have a range of defences, from armed guards to police coverage – and useful planning like the back of vehicles being able to dock directly into the building being delivered to. Coverage of more delivery points by CCTV would be good too.

So they presented their case to Hazel Blears – who I understand is sympathetic. I am sympathetic to a point – but would want partnership working as I don’t think police can be diverted to protect every delivery (for what is still a profit-making – and good luck to them – company). It’s an interesting question as to what the right balance is between them making reasonable efforts to look after themselves and them getting extra help from the police. Think about your own home. We think it’s reasonable for people to take some steps to protect their own property (locking doors, having decent locks etc) but also for the police to respond quickly when needed.

So – certainly worth thinking about reclassifying their status in terms of police response – but first need to know what relationship is to other businesses who might feel they too have this requirement, like banks. Very interested in more CCTV coverage of delivery points – as this might act as powerful deterrent. Though that depends on the CCTV working – unlike most of the CCTV coverage in my own high streets of Muswell Hill and Crouch End. I gather resources (or lack of them) mean that only 1 in 5 of the cameras is in operation. Absolutely bloody useless if they are not in operation and not monitored. That’s the challenge there. Anyway – food for thought.

Parliament is winding down today – as we go into recess tomorrow for a week – and I am having a week’s holiday. I know – shock horror!

Airsoft guns

Three sessions (extended) of the Violent Crime Reduction Bill in committee – non-stop pleasure today! Broken only by lunch with ITV execs who are trying to get to know me. It was very pleasant and spent some time discussing the X factor – which I have to say is fabulous!

In committee we ranged through imitation guns, air weapons, knives, searching pupils and so on. I thought I did quite well during what was a long day. Even Hazel Blears looked bleary at the end of the last session, which terminated at 9 at night – as did I probably.

In terms of imitation guns, I think the show-stopper was around airsoft. For those who haven’t a clue what this is – as I didn’t only a short time ago – it is a game played with pellets by adults who shoot each other with imitation weapons. The speed or power is measured in ‘joules’. As I understood it, one joule is regarded as lethal. The Tories put down an amendment suggested that up to 4 joules should be allowed. The logic of which I still don’t understand.

However, the show-stopper was that I had asked my researcher to phone AirSoft and see if they minded if their weapons were painted with a day-glow orange ring around the muzzle so that they would be obviously not for real. They said no probs – basically. Hazel thought that was extremely helpful – and I surmised that – despite the mountain of lobbying mail we had all received from airsoft players – no one from Government had talked direct to the relevant organisations.

Imitation arms are a menace – and whilst you don’t want to catch out re-enactment societies, plays etc – I totally support the increased penalties and crack down on the sale and manufacturer of such arms.

[UPDATE: Thanks for all various feedback on this topic; see my latter blog posting.]

Another really good amendment of ours (if I say so myself) was about the searching of pupils for knives. The Bill will allow supervised and senior teachers, never alone, to search a pupil for knives. This is now prevalent in our schools and much preferable in my view to having a metal detector as you walk into school. However, the Government had completely left out Further Education colleges where lots and lots of youngsters under 18 now attend for a variety of courses. So they graciously acknowledged that this was the case – and hopefully will come back with their version of our amendment at Report Stage. Report Stage is when the same, but reduced process we have just been through in Committee comes to the floor of the Commons for all to have their say. It then goes straight into 3rd Reading – and either it passes or not.

So we finished around 9pm at the end of three sessions today. Glad to be to it and through it. The first is the worst. It wasn’t bad – but being the first time I had led a Bill through a committee it was very challenging as I was unfamiliar with the processes – which in Parliament are bizarre – as well as concerned to make sure that I got all the right amendments down and argued them properly. One thing I don’t yet understand – and maybe never will – is why the Tories write out speeches on every point and burble on for very long periods adding nothing whatever to the point. Perhaps it is because they were all lawyers and are used to charging by the hour!

Violent Crime Reduction Bill – first committee stage

I left at the crack of dawn on Thursday to get to Commons at least an hour before having to go into committee for the first session on the Violent Crime Reduction Bill. I drive in today – thank goodness – as the radio gradually makes North London aware that the Northern Line is completely closed today.

Preparatory work done, I go to the committee and introduce myself to the Minister (Hazel Blears), who I shadow for the Lib Dems, and the chair – Eric Forth MP. And then we are off. Having had the sense to look how others have started off the sessions, at least I know that I have to stand – or rather indicate that I want to speak after the current speaker by half-shifting out of a sitting position so that the Chair will call me next.

The Minister moves the Programming Motion – which in fact we have agreed anyway the night before – but this is an opportunity to talk about absolutely nothing important for as long as the Chair will tolerate. At least that was my reading of it. The Minister was brief and to the point. The lead Tory was rather more fulsome – and to my surprise made an unprovoked attack on the Liberal Democrats referring to something a colleague had said some time back in another debate on another bill. Aha – I thought – so much for scrutiny of the Bill without the usual political nonsense. But it was just a tiny swipe – not worth worrying about really in the scale of attacks unleashed on us – the increasing scale of which I put down to our increasing success. Then I rise to do my bit – and welcome the Chair, look forward to a rigorous debate, express some concerns about the timing though welcome the Minister’s indication that she will be flexible about it.

Into the debate – and I am moving the first two amendments. In the section of the Bill on Drink Banning Orders (DBO) – which would mean an individual can be banned from a locality for between two months and two years – is to make sure that DBOs are not served on people such as those with mental health issues that mean they are not able to understand the orders and so would be liable to break them because they’re not able to understand them.

I suggest that the court should receive a report on the individual in question’s state of health – so that they can assess whether this falls into extremely vulnerable category. The Conservatives were supportive – though wanted more discretion for the court. My concern was that more discretion would result in the power not being used when it should. The Minister’s argument against us both was basically that it was too much paperwork and bureaucracy. What I hope – and what the Minister promised – is that this element will now be included in the guidance to the legislation when passed. And this is quite common in committee – you put down an amendment to prod the Government, the Government responds (hopefully sensibly!) and then you “ask leave to withdraw the amendment”. This means you don’t have a vote on the amendment itself, but you can submit it again at a latter stage – which is useful if, say, the Government says it will go away and think about an issue so that you know you can return to it latter.

We trudged on for a while longer working through the amendments – and then the time beat us and we had to adjourn until the next session next Tuesday. I know it may not be riveting stuff – but this is how legislation is made. There had been quite a few attacks on the Lib Dems from the Labour back benchers and the Minister during the arguments – mostly trying to suggest that only Labour have drunks lying in their streets and want them cleaned up. Of course – we have lots of problems here in Hornsey & Wood Green that we want cleared up – so that is completely ludicrous. I would have thought the purpose of all this arguing line by line was exactly that – to make sure the legislation is totally effective in targeting those who should be removed from an area – and leaving along and supporting those who might inadvertently be swept up by poorly written laws.

And that’s kind of how it works.

As I went out of Committee Room 12 to make my way to the Commons chamber I looked at my phone to find masses of missed calls. So I sit down outside the room to work through them. Many from TV stations asking me to come and discuss the issues around getting more women into politics. Not surprisingly, this is because of yesterday’s kafuffle. Finish round of calls and go to numerous other meetings including briefing for Any Questions the following night.

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.

Muswell Hill crime meeting

7am start on emails having done fifty sit ups. Given the amount of exercise I get during and election delivering leaflets and the amount of weight I lose from being on the run – I have decided that I might as well have a flat stomach by May 5!

Inevitably during a campaign the blog content of my daily efforts will be repetitive in terms of 1) delivering leaflets 2) canvassing 3) stuffing envelopes and 4) answering emails, letters and the phone.

The interest I guess will come from the twists and the turns, the media and the national campaign.

So today was unremitting emails and paperwork all morning. Then for light relief three hours of leaflet delivery midst beautiful sunshine – interspersed with hail, lightening and thunder. We (Monica and I) were leafleting a really up-market part of the constituency – with mega houses and tree-lined drives. Only issue with long drives is that it takes twice as long to deliver as normal roads.

At 7.30pm arrive at the British Legion in Muswell Hill Road for the consultation with key stakeholders in Muswell Hill. I am the lead councillor on the roll out of the police’s Safer Neighbourhoods Scheme in Muswell Hill. This is what we have all been waiting for – 6 police personnel, ring-fenced for Muswell Hill on a permanent basis. Hurrah!

This is a real ‘good news’ story – and tonight is about asking the chairs of residents’ associations and neighbourhood watches what they believe are the priorities for the area.

I have raised already one of the key problems for residents of St James’s Lane and Connaught Gardens – which is kids hanging around – and in the case of St James’s Lane acting quite aggressively to passers by.

I have been in email correspondence with Stephen Bloomfield, the local Commander and suggested to him that we try Acceptable Behaviour Contracts (ABCs). Yes – we can have patrols (if we are lucky) and that will move them on – temporarily. But I am for long term resolution – not just pushing a problem into someone else’s back yard.

ABCs were pioneered in Lib Dem run Islington with the Met and involve the police, the parents, the children, and other partners from education, social services, housing – whatever the problems need. Parents and children sign up to an agreed way forward for behaviour and have regular meetings to discuss any difficulties etc. These have worked stunningly well – so much so that Labour Ministers Charles Clarks and Hazel Blears are now advocating this as best practise across the land.

Stephen Bloomfield emails back that this seems just the right sort of case to be taken forward with ABCs but he isn’t promising anything until he knows more.

So at the meeting, the team are there and the issue is raised and we will see what path they take.

One of the most positive and optimistic evenings in my memory in terms of policing (outside of the re-opening of Muswell Hill Police front counter).

Come home to find phone message from Andrew Gilligan – so call him back. Piece in Standard will come out on Monday. He asks how I am getting on – and I say well. Lots of emails from Labour supporters telling me not only that they are going switch from Labour for the first time in their lives and vote for me – but why.

Interestingly – the reasons are not just the war. Iraq certainly leads the field – but the disappointments with Labour are many. It’s feeling very good on the doorsteps – especially as former Tory and Green supporters are getting the tactical voting message that to beat Blair’s candidate they need to vote Lib Dem in Hornsey and Wood Green.