Three years to the Olympics

So three years to go. I remember the day we won the bid. I was standing outside the back of the Chamber at the House of Commons – behind the Speaker’s Chair. There was that long hesitation in the announcement – as we strained to hear whether it would be a P for Paris or L for London. And when it was London – I heard a cheer go up from within the Chamber. It wasn’t dignified or Parliamentary – but totally appropriate.

I remember too – when the first inklings of our bid were swirling around the London Assembly. For it originally was Ken Livingstone, Richard Sumray and others who pushed and pushed and worked up a scheme – and who then bullied / persuaded the Government (Blair) into supporting it. Blair, once on board, played a blinder by turning up personally to the selection event.

Anyway here we are – three years away from the most exciting sporting event in this country since – well since we won the ’66 World Cup. And I know it’s expensive. And I don’t think they have made enough effort to ensure that we all benefit from the games in all our locals – whether by training facilities, grants to train kids up for the 2012 Olympics or whatever – but it will still be phenomenal for London.

The roles of Sharon Shoesmith and George Meehan

On Saturday went on Ken Livingstone’s LBC show.

Most of the time was spent on Baby P, not surprisingly. Just to break for a brief moment from Baby P – Ken said at the end that I could spend the last minute ranting about whatever I wanted. So I did. I made an appeal to Gordon Brown to re-open the sub-post offices in London that he has closed. Having decided to stop any further closures it seems to me that those of us who were unfortunate enough to have had the axe already fall should have the closures reversed.

Back to Baby P – Saturday was the day Sharon Shoesmith received some support in the form of a letter to the media from 61 head teachers in Haringey. Sharon is Director of Education here in Haringey. As Ken put it on air – she’s their boss.

But this isn’t about her competence or otherwise in education – it’s about her responsibility and accountability for the social services side of her brief – which includes having – under the Children’s Act of 2004 – the responsibility for child protection in Haringey. Under this legal framework her and the political leadership side of the equation have the ultimate responsibility.

Whilst she has – rightly – been in the firing line, thus far George Meehan, Labour Leader of Haringey Council, has not had the decency to step forward to take his share of the responsibility. He was leader too during the Victoria Climbie affair – and it is worth remembering some of the damning conclusions in Lord Laming’s report:

The manner in which a number of senior managers and elected councillors within Haringey discharged their statutory responsibilities to safeguard and protect the welfare of children living in the borough was an important contributory factor in the mishandling of Victoria’s case … I was left unimpressed by the manner in which a number of senior managers and councillors from Haringey sought to distance themselves from the poor practice apparent … [The report’s criticisms] are directed not just at the front line staff … but at senior managers and councillors.

Neither George nor any of the other councillors so criticised resigned their posts then.

What Sharon Shoesmith, Geroge Meehan and Liz Santry (the Haringey Council Cabinet member for this area) don’t seem to understand is the really, really deep sense of outrage amongst the public.

One illustration of the depth of public concern and anger over this issue is that in the last week my website has been read more heavily that at any time ever before. My office is inundated with phone calls and emails – all virtually of one voice – how could this happen again in Haringey and this time they must not be allowed to get away with it.

During the time of the Laming inquiry I wrote a newspaper column, quoting Ambrose Bierce – and the quote seems all too apposite once more: responsibility is “a detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of God, Fate, Fortune, Luck or one’s neighbour. In the days of astrology it was customary to unload it on a star”. If only it were not so.

The ghost at the feast

On Friday went to the ‘thank you’ party for all those who worked on the London elections for the Liberal Democrats. Nice to see Dee Doocey and Mike Tuffrey who are two of our ongoing LibDem members on the GLA and get all the gossip about who was doing what with whom – in the sense of chairing committees and so on. All change again apparently as Liberal Democrats, Labour and Greens combine to try to make the Assembly work and really hold the Mayor to account.

However, the rules are stacked in favour of the Mayor when it comes to the budget – as it requires a two-thirds majority to reject the Mayor’s budget. The Tories have over a third of the seats – so enough to rubber stamp whatever Boris wants. Nowhere else can a budget be passed on a minority vote. Ho hum!

What was either sad or sweet – depending how you look on it – was apparently Ken Livingstone was in the gallery watching the Assembly meeting as it made its first decisions after the elections – the ghost at the feast. I can’t imagine what that felt like – to see the how going on without you – when you have been the sole proprietor for so many years. Poignant – maybe?

I’ve noticed a bit of speculation in cyberworld as to whether Ken will seek a parliamentary seat – perhaps mine or his old stomping ground in Brent. Can’t imagine why he would want to go back into the Commons – as he is reputed to have hated it. Maybe he believes he is the Prime Minister Labour never had and wants to give them another chance. No – he’s not that stupid!

What will Boris Johnson be like as Mayor of London?

No prizes for guessing what my first newspaper column after the London elections is about…

This weekend eight years ago I was elected to the London Assembly – and Ken became London’s first Mayor. It was so exciting – a blank page on which to write the capital’s future. And now it’s Boris! Unbelievable…

What will Boris Johnson do to London? I have to ‘fess up immediately – I was upset by Boris even throwing his hat in the ring – let alone winning. To me he was not someone who had ever shown the slightest interest in London and its key issues prior to this opportunity knocking on his door.

Mind you – Ken had become arrogant from his years in office and really failed to tackle the issues of the sleaze and corruption allegations swirling around his advisers. Two of them had to quit in the end – but we are still left with a whole host of questions over what money went where and why, and Ken never looked like he was really interested in sorting out matters. The cheeky chappy of yesteryear had worn out our good will and we were clearly desperate for change. But will that change be for the better?

To continue reading the piece, visit my website.

The London results

I woke up this morning hoping that Boris winning was just a bad dream – but sadly – it really happened. His acceptance speech though was very gracious – I would advise keeping that speechwriter standing just behind him at all times! Much as I have enjoyed Boris on TV shows I didn’t want him as Mayor of London. Didn’t want Ken either. However, the people have spoken and now the opportunity belongs to Boris and I hope desperately that he doesn’t bugger up all the good things that have happened in London since the GLA was created and that he does seek to re-unite this city.

Anyway – my poor Brian got hideously squeezed – and the knock on for my Assembly colleagues was a loss of two seats on the Assembly. As for the revolting result of a BNP member being elected despite a good turn out – that turns my stomach. Don’t know how colleagues will manage to deal with that every day!

We should get the ward results and therefore constituency results in due course – and I expect that in Hornsey & Wood Green the Lib Dem vote held up very well as overall Monica Whyte, our Enfield and Haringey candidate, polled more votes than last time and on percentage vote share changes had the best relative Liberal Democrat performance in London too (I think).

It was a huge surprise (seemingly to her as well) that Joanne McCartney held the Enfield and Haringey London Assembly seat for Labour. The Tories thought it was in the bag – but it wasn’t. Shades of the 2004 election where again Labour pulled off a surprise victory in the seat despite very high Conservative confidence that they would take it.

And together with the gain of the Tory seat of Brent and Harrow – the Labour Assembly members did not do as badly as expected on a night when Labour nationally had disastrous results in the local elections and when Ken lost. A bit of a silver lining for them there.

So – off we go – finding our way around a changed political map of London with a Mayor who may garner affection – but can he run London? We will see.

Ken Livingstone recycles his Alexandra Palace promises

Well, well – Ken Livingstone has been at it again – recycling old, broken promises just as election day nears. In this case – he’s making the same comments about Alexandra Palace that he made four years ago – and then didn’t act on in the four years since.

As the news release from my colleague Monica Whyte (candidate for the Enfield & Haringey London Assembly seat) says:

Local Liberal Democrats have exposed Ken Livingstone’s cynical bid for votes over Ally Pally, admidst Haringey Labour’s catastrophic mismanagement of the cherished building.

The Lib Dems are reminding local residents that his promises this week comes four years after Labour’s Mayor made a similar bid for votes at the last Mayoral election – since which he has done absolutely nothing to help as local Labour bosses have wasted further millions in a disastrous attempt to dispose of the site.

When the last Mayoral election was days away, Ken Livingstone told local newspaper the Hornsey Journal that the Ally Pally was a “regional resource” and a “huge financial burden” for the people of Haringey – and suggested that extra funding could be made available to it from the Mayor’s budget (Hornsey Journal, 3rd June 2004).

In the past four years however, he has done nothing to help, while the local Labour Council has orchestrated a disastrous attempt to flog the building to a developer through a failed lease that has been thrown out by the High Court – leaving local taxpayers with another multi-million pound bill on top of the £50 million already squandered.

Local GLA candidate and Haringey Lib Dem councillor Monica Whyte commented: “Ken Livingstone’s empty promises to save the Ally Pally from the clutches of Haringey Labour would be great if they were true – but this just shows that he will say anything for a few votes in this area.”

“He said he’d help save the Ally Pally last time and what did he do? Absolutely nothing. Instead, Lib Dems have had to battle another fiasco of mismanagement over the Firoka deal, which has cost local residents further millions.

“Local residents will not be fooled by Ken a second time round!”

Three great local organisations

On Friday, a woman came to my advice surgery. Odiri started and runs and inspires an organisation called Kori. Kori works with young people – mainly from ethnic minorities – to improve their skills, language, vocabulary and general education – but extending this help on through to their performance and artistic activities.

I was really impressed with the work they do – it is about creating leaders and inspiration and aspiration. But it is such a struggle for genuinely excellent groups like Kori to keep going and to get bits of funding. That’s what makes me mad about Ken Livingstone and the London Development Agency. All these excellent groups who could really benefit from assistance – and who would in return really benefit our communities – and yet the LDA has sloshed around so much money with so little control – and with Ken Livingstone repeated refusing to take seriously complaints about lack of control or wrong decisions being made.

Later in the day Marlon came to see me. Marlon has been running an outfit called Kush. It’s about getting young people involved in black film making and so on. Marlon wants also to get funding – but he said that ultimately he didn’t really believe funding was such a great thing as when it runs out – you are in trouble. He would rather make Kush self-sustaining – a small business really. He seemed to be fanatical about black film and about going into schools to inspire young people to get involved. So good luck to him too.

And then it was more inspiration. Off to give out the medals to the winners from Whizz Kids’ obstacle course races organised by Burk Gravis at White Hart Lane Community Sports Centre. Judging by the noise levels the kids certainly seemed to be having a fantastic time!

Great fun was had by all – but I was somewhat shocked to find that the Centre only gets £32,000 per year to develop sport for young people in Haringey. So it was a day of three organisations – all doing great work – and all on close to a shoestring budget. And yet you turn to other areas and there’s so much badly spent and wasted money. It’s not a matter of saying spend, spend, spend (though I’m happy to defend the need to have reasonable spending levels) – but rather saying we need to cut the waste, and remember the worthy causes that miss out because of waste and carelessness elsewhere.