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!

More leadership and drugs on the street

It was back to Parliament on Monday! Of course – the whole place is a tinderbox of gossip. My own colleagues taking comfort from being back together again – and Labour and Tory colleagues privately very sympathetic on the whole about the hideous situation that everyone has been dealing with. The House of Commons is surprisingly kind in many ways when there is real tragedy. Not replicated on the floor of the chamber, however, whenever a LibDem spoke at Work and Pensions questions. Cat calls and jeers – so much for the ‘new’ politics.

I do one radio interview, for the World at One. It doesn’t air Monday for reasons I don’t understand, though goes out Tuesday instead. Needless to say – out of the questions up on my blog to potential candidates – the one the World at One focuses in on – is the one about what part each candidate played in the Kennedy downfall and what they had done during the previous five years to tackle the problem? I thought I was pretty balanced – as there are two key angles: was it bungled plotting, or was Charles impossible to deal with?

I have various phone calls and meetings with would-be candidates or potential but non-declared candidates and so on and then rush back to Hornsey & Wood Green for a meeting with the Chief Exec of Jacksons Lane Community Centre. The building needs major repairs and renovations due to nothing much being done on maintenance over the years (as I understand it Haringey Council are the landlord). So – in essence – it’s about how to get the work done and funded.

Following that I rush to Haringey Civic Center for a full council meeting and then I rush back to Parliament for a vote at 10pm. Following close of play – talk to more MPs and then get home after midnight.

Which is unfortunate – as I have to be up around 5am to study my brief as the Prime Minister is launching his Respect Action Plan in the morning and I have to cover all the media bids because Mark Oaten is going to announce his candidacy.

So, this morning (Tuesday) it was up at crack of dawn. Media bids from BBC, News 24 and Sky – and various radio. So head straight for Millbank. Tony Blair always seems so enthusiastic when he launches new projects or initiatives – which is a real art when so much of what gets announced is just recycled and repackaged!

It is definitely right to tackle the falling standard of behaviour, but – as ever – Labour’s good intentions boil down to more summary justice – a sort of ‘move ’em out’ attitude. The problem with ASBOs and Banning Orders and Dispersal Zones etc is they don’t do enough to actually change behaviour.

Just in the middle of all the interviews I get a call from Ed at my constituency office. He says I have to come home immediately because my next-door neighbour but one’s builders have found two black binbags in the road outside my house filled with cannabis!

We’ve had a number of strange things left outside my little drive – but never anything this extraordinary. Funnily enough I had noticed the bags last night when I came home but assumed they were just dumped rubbish and this morning reversing out of my drive I had run over one of them.

Anyway – first, I ask my daughter (who is at home) and Ed to check this out as far as they can – and then ring the police. Ed rings me later to say that he went up to my house, rang the police who came (three cars apparently!) and who confirmed it was indeed cannabis leaves. Apparently the male part of the plant. (I confess to not knowing there were gender bits). And they took the bags away. End of episode!

Back to anti-social behaviour. I recently had to submit a piece to the HeadsUp ASBO Forum as I had not been able to attend in person which touches, albeit very briefly, on the issues around anti-social behaviour.

The only really new bit is the idea of a parenting academy. It’s not a college for parents to attend – it’s a college where social workers etc can get special training to work with parents who need support and skills. I am all for real support as societal breakdown is seemingly having a knock-on effect and creating an ‘anything goes’ and ‘no one cares’ society.

I remain convinced that the answer is sustained interest and attention on the child with lots of alternative occupations to keep them busy and aspirations and pathways to enable real behaviour change. Labour’s problem is all headlines – but little follow through. For example, if a kid breaches an ASBO s/he can go to jail – where they will undoubtedly learn more handy criminal tricks to perpetrate on release. Hardly the sort of change of behaviour that is going to bring about respect!

So – I do my stuff and then hurry back to meet a few colleagues about the leadership. Then as I drift through Portcullis House – I am tackled by Mark Oaten’s camp and then Ming goes by and says he will see me at 5pm to answer my questions. So at 5pm I go to his office. What passed between us is confidential – but what I will say is that Ming was very good and very forthright.

Read the day’s letters and sign them, make some more phone calls and then the Whip comes through as unlikely to be any vote tonight. So can head off. Message from Simon Hughes that he will see me to answer my questions tomorrow.

Alexandra Park School

As ever – nearly four hours of surgery at Wood Green library. It never ceases to amaze me how much of a mess the benefits system is.

I rush out at the end to get to Alexandra Park School where I am addressing and taking questions from their school Parliament.

I am very keen on engaging young people in the political process – and so keen to not come over as too boring! There is a terrific turnout – and I whip through the ‘my day’ and ‘why we are the main opposition’ points that they have asked me to address in my speech and then take half an hour of questions.

I was much encouraged by their enthusiasm and intelligence. There is a clear ‘Stop the War’ influence in the hall – alongside a very knowledgeable body on the terror laws and ID cards. Several of the students and teachers come afterwards to ask questions that the debate runs out of time for – and I really enjoy staying and talking more directly. I think there are several would-be politicians in the making there!

Onward to a meeting with someone who doesn’t turn up – and then onward again to my last meeting with Chief Superintendent Bloomfield – the local police commander who is leaving next week to go to New Scotland Yard to head up the London-wide Safer Neighbourhoods Team.

I am very sad to see him go – as I think he has been a really successful and much respected local commander who has achieved real results, knows all the communities and is a very wise man! I also meet his successor who moves to us from Enfield – and who I am sure will continue the good work as he was previously on the borough and knows it well. I run through a raft of small issues brought to me by constituents from pavement cycling to ‘yobs hanging around’ to policing in Highgate.

We also discuss the recent police car accident which was fatal for a pedestrian, tragically, and is now the subject of a full investigation. We range over the use (ever increasing and successful) of volunteers in the borough and the 90 days terror suspect detention – now 28 days. I am sad to see him go – but wish him well!

Last call of the day is to Jacksons Lane Community Centre – who are celebrating their 30th anniversary. It is unimaginable now that Jacksons Lane didn’t always exist – but I am old enough to remember the early campaign and set up that created it – and all credit to those like Melian Mansfield, Chris Hindley, Nicky Gavron and others who made it happen. Tonight’s celebration is champagne, speeches and then watching a production called ‘Motions in Time’ by Daryl Beeton – an actor with a disability – and Jacksons Lane has led the way in its work making disabled actors a parity in the profession.

I meet the relatively new Director of Jacksons Lane and suggest that we set up a meeting for a more appropriate time to discuss how I can best support them in the coming times when they will undoubtedly need to raise funding to repair and renew the fabric of the old church. The production is great fun – very enjoyable – and then it is home.

Highgate tube fence update

At Jacksons Lane Centre for the third meeting of the newly formed Archway Road Residents’ Association. At last we seem to be getting somewhere with the dispute over the fence outside Highgate Station. My colleague Cllr Bob Hare (Highgate) and the chair of the association have been discussing the options with the key protagonists from the three key groups who have a vibrant interest in the fence.

We now have a new option to consider which – whilst it won’t give everyone exactly what they want – might be acceptable enough to everyone to be a runner. It’s a specially absorbent acoustic fence that would be a metre high with the rest of the security needs met by green mesh.

So, everyone agrees to consult with the key protagonists to see if this would be acceptable. If it might be, a deputation will go to Tim O’Toole’s office to run through the option to check it is viable and to see if London Underground would be happy with it. And then will go and do a door to door consultation on the semi-agreed compromise option and the other options to see if there’s general public backing for it.

I agree to contact Tim O’Toole the next day to confirm this is alright – which I do.

Hopefully this iterative process will lead to a viable solution that everyone can live with.

Highgate Tube Works

I chair a meeting at Jacksons Lane Community Centre, Highgate on the furore around the solid wooden fence that is proposed to run along the Tube cutting by Highgate Tube station.

Although I’d previously persuaded London Underground to take part in two consultative meetings with people in the area, more information has come to light – particularly about the possible acoustic impact of the fence they are planning to put in. The proposed fence would deliver 5 decibels of improvement to those living in the dip behind the cutting but up to 1 decibel of worsening noise to those on the Archway Road. This meeting in particular gave a chance for Archway Road residents who either didn’t attend or did not get invited to the first meeting to have their say.

The meeting put forward three alternative proposals to London Underground. The key issue is that we need a balance of the noise advantage from whatever fence is built – but one that ensures that the people in the dip end up no worse off than they were before the original fence was removed. Also, people on Archway Road want sight of the greenery – which would be lost with the proposed solid fence. A solid fence might also lock the pollution from the road into the road area. I hope London Underground will amend their plans to be as fair to everyone as possible.

Meeting my old doctor

Rare excursion to Highgate Art Gallery for ‘drinks’. Two of our local Lib Dem members whose daughter has had an exhibition on had invited me.

I used to love art galleries and art when I had time to go – so I made effort to turn up. Really glad I did. Reminded me of life gone by and I met Chris Hindley who was my doctor through my childhood into twenties. He was instrumental in getting Jacksons Lane Community Centre going and still practises, but now works in the borough of Hackney.