Darfur, doctors and debt

Hurrah! My glasses were found in the back of the car that brought me back from The Westminster Hour – thank goodness. Tuesday has been a busy, busy day and I hate it when there isn’t even breathing space between events.

To highlight the best of the bunch: met with an interesting organisation called Waging Peace about the ever-deteriorating situation in Darfur. My take is that the world is standing by and letting genocide take place. The Sudanese Government is playing us for fools and toying with us suggesting that they are on our side against Al Qaeda when really they are not. The Arab militias continue to kill rebels and the suffering is spreading into Chad and Central Africa. We need action from the EU and the UN. Sanctions, travel bans and arms embargos would be a start and for goodness sake – China is applying more pressure than we are.

I also met constituents about the mess that the changes to the way junior doctors are employed have caused. It’s a terrible tale of diving in without a clue where it will end up – and now peoples’ lives and careers are being ruined. And are they stopping it? No. This is a nightmare for those caught up in the changes. This should have been thought about, piloted and rolled out in a measured way rather than being steamrollered through across the board.

More Maxitech good works as they start teaming up with Age Concern to deliver free computers and training to our older citizens. The event to mark this is held in the Lords and really it is quite clear that Maxitech has solved the problem of big corporations like HSBC, John Lewis and British Airways (all in attendance) who want to be good and give their old computers for good causes – but need to know that the computers will be properly wiped clean and they won’t be caught by legal liability issues.

Then onto Spurs to see the launch of the Bounds Green United football team – set up and initiated by the (police) Bounds Green Safer Neighbourhood Team. Spurs are doing their community bit – hurrah – and some of the wards in the borough are getting teams together to compete. The first match will be on Tuesday. It’s a great project and I get to stand one inch from the pitch – the hallowed turf. It is a tremendous feeling. Thanks to the police Safer Neighbourhood Team – without whom this just would not have happened.

Then on to the CASCH AGM (a Crouch End residents’ association). Nice to be able to get here tonight – as Monday and Tuesday nights are usually impossible but I try to get to all local events that I can. The new Met volunteer organiser is there – and talks to the members about perhaps joining the team. It is so great to see what feels like my ‘baby’ growing up. The re-opening of the front counter at Muswell Hill police station was fantastic and the volunteers who run it are fantastic – and now it’s the second generation organiser is in place. Very rewarding. As they go on to the business of the Association, it is time for me to run as I have a radio car coming to my house at 10pm to interview me on vulture funds.

Vulture funds are these companies that feed off the debt of the third world. The High Court ruled today to cut Zambia’s debt repayments to them:

A “vulture” fund seeking more than $55m (£27.5bn) from Zambia had its wings clipped in the high court yesterday by the judge who limited its claim to $15.5m and cut its award of costs because of its “dishonesty”.

(From The Guardian)

Debt relief was a good move – and it is horrifying to think that anyone would prey on these countries and exploit a legal loophole. We need a government that takes action – not just wrings its hands ineffectually as this one is doing.

Then get a message that there is no radio car available to come to where I live – so go home to bed!

Relocating the police in Muswell Hill?

On Checking out possible new locations for the police in Muswell Hill with the local Safer Neighbourhood TeamThursday it was off with Sgt Paul Saunders, head of the Muswell Hill Safer Neighbourhood Team to look for suitable premises to re-house two of teams in the community. The Met Police are looking to put the community teams right in the heart of the community they serve – which is the right idea. The idea is to have four main central locations in Haringey for key functions: detention and custody; administration; response teams etc and then each neighbourhood to have its local team based at its heart.

Everyone loves their police station. It makes us feel safe, makes it easier to contact the police in non-emergencies and helps make the police part of the local community (rather than a distant impersonal force). With the reopening of the front counter at Muswell Hill Police Station – following a long campaign together with local police and residents – and with the arrival of the Safer Neighbourhood Teams, there has been a sense of vastly improving engagement between the police and the community. When I was on the London Assembly, along with my colleagues I supported full funding for the Safer Neighbourhood Teams, and I’ve had a few battles to ensure that parts of the borough don’t miss out on them – so it’s really good to see the reality and that it’s working!

This was clearly evidenced walking around with Sgt Saunders, his colleague Pauline Hearfield and local councillor Martin Newton (Lib Dem, Fortis Green). It was crystal clear by the way everyone said hello to Pauline and Paul that community policing is certainly working well in this patch. In fact, everyone knew them and they knew everybody – not only creating good public/police relations but also the level of knowledge and contact that helps gather intelligence and evidence – and so stop crime and catch crooks.

When the first murmurs of reorganising where police were stationed hit the streets, I had met with local Commander Simon O’Brien. The old Victorian Police stations are not ‘fit for purpose’ and so long as what is offered to local people in exchange for moving from that police station is better or equal then I think the police can argue a good case for the change.

In this light I went round with the police to talk about potential new premises. Some potential premises have already been identified. We walked past a great shop on Fortis Green that they had just missed – and then proceeded to PiP, the printers at the top of Dukes Avenue. I have yet to clarify whether it is ground and basement or the flats above too. If it is the latter, then it has potential – although a lot of work will need to be done (and it begs the question how much will it cost – because at a certain level it might be more economic to modernise the existing premises). If it doesn’t have the extra space – then I am not sure that everything will fit comfortably. So I am writing to Chief Superintendent O’Brien to clarify the situation and to get cast-iron guarantees about the space and what is to go in there exactly. Moreover, Simon O’Brien has also said that he is committed to working with the community, local councillors etc on this and I am also writing to establish how this is going to happen in advance of decisions being taken.

Muswell Hill police station and the Wood Green kiosk

Had meeting with Sir Ian Blair to discuss a number of issues around policing. The number one for us is the possibility that our police stations in Haringey may be ‘reorganised’ as they are not ‘fit for purpose’.

So I use the opportunity to get assurances that nothing will close (having spent so many years campaigning to get the front counter open at Muswell Hill) before equal or better alternatives are put in place.

Sir Ian said he would like to know what people think – so I am doing my best to find out for him! I suggested a survey – and he immediately suggested a meeting between myself, himself, our local Commander Simon O’Brian and someone from Met Estates to establish their ‘vision’ first.

Of course “equal or better alternative” can mean a lot of different things to different people; for example, if someone believes in heavily centralised services a few super-police stations, they could say that means axing the local stations is ok as the alternative is – they would say – better. Now, that’s not a view I’d agree with – policing works best when it is based in the local community. So – we need to keep the pressure up despite this assurance. “Equal or better” must mean local policing, locally delivered. So – that means a petition amongst other things. (You can get a petition form from my main website).

I also tackled him about the police kiosk in Wood Green which was a great idea putting police on the street right at the crucial spot – but it was hardly ever open. And unless it was manned, and reliable – people would never feel confident to rely on it. Now it faces being demolished. It would be much better to keep it – and put it to full use. Sir Ian didn’t know about it but has promised to investigate. (More details on that on my main website too).

And some good news on another subject – I have been nominated for a New Statesman 2006 New Media Award in the “Elected representative” category.

Iraq, Iraq, Iraq

First panic of the day – the first batch of our election address needs to be bundled and got to Royal Mail. Neil (agent) phones around the ‘gang’ and we all flood in to finish off the last envelopes. All is well – except it takes Neil three and a half hours round trip to get it there.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (lot of western allusion today) I get my spurs on and go canvassing with Jonathan Marciano from the Ham & High. As ever, we are looking for Labour ‘switchers’ as I guess that will be the story of this seat. But it is hard to find anyone who is not out and out Lib Dem (of the very few people in that time of the morning).

In the end Jonathan decides he will have to make do with a photo of me on the doorstep of a Lib Dem supporter. So we talk on the step and as we are talking it turns out that he did indeed used to be a Labour supporter. It was the LibDem work locally that first brought us into the frame (cracked pavements and rubbish collection etc) – and combined with Iraq … If you can’t keep a street clean – how can you run the country – I always say!

We do bits of interviews as we go. My successful campaigns for the 603 bus route and the police front counter reopening at Muswell Hill police station are touched upon but the main issue coming up on the doorsteps is Iraq. Crime, education (particularly school places) and health also feature.

When people start talking about why they are voting and switching it is about the sort of world people want. It matters how you behave. It matters if you wage an illegal war. It matters if your civil liberties are taken away. It matters if what makes our society decent and caring is trashed.

Whew – glad to get that off my chest.

Rush home to try and get my emails done. It is absolute mayhem trying to deal with everything that is coming in. I am glad that the volume of stuff has exploded in size – I think. Rush back to HQ after a few hours of inbox control and to help get our next leaflet our to deliverers in Hornsey and then off canvassing again with Alexis.

Very good canvassing here and more posters. People are very interested in talking – which means I cover less ground – but it I feel an important part of the democratic process for candidates to have to meet and talk to the public.

Actually go home quite early at around 8pm to read the Liberal Democrat manifesto properly and start to think about the hustings the first one of which is to be Churches of Muswell Hill on Sunday afternoon.

Muswell Hill police station

I go to visit the volunteers at Muswell Hill Police station. I cannot explain how fantastic it feels to have worked with local people to make this happen – to get the front counter open again. It’s what we all wanted – but the amount of effort, campaigning, arguments it took …

But now, it is open four days a week and rising. I met three of the volunteers. Diane Dodd (the volunteer director) and the volunteers themselves are doing such a fantastic job. There is a good turnout of members of the public coming to make use of the service. And the best thing is the re-engagement of community and the force that polices it.

Power from sugar

Mayor’s Question Time. I lead the charge today on fare evasion in London. 150 million fares have been dodged since Ken took office. Millions of pounds lost – with revenue inspectors only catching 1 in around 800 dodgers and us honest citizens having our fares banged up above inflation to help the Mayor out of his dodgy financial situation.

As ever, Ken gets annoyed about my inquisition and says you have to expect to lose some money. Only gets really cross when I point out to him that his new bendy buses are getting known as the ‘free bus’ because it is so easy to jump on and off without paying.

At this point came an unexpected endorsement from the Mayor – who said: “Hopefully you are going to Parliament so I will not have to put up with your questions much longer.”

He loves me really…

Later in the day, had an interesting meeting with British Sugar. I know. When I saw it in my diary I thought why am I having a meeting about sugar. But did you know – you can turn it into a bio-fuel? Perhaps the way forward for energy renewables?

Clearly hitting a brick wall of ‘can’t do’ at Transport for London who though interested appear immobilised on the issue, British Sugar have turned to us to help. I am intrigued as to what the obstacles really are as it seemed a pretty good thing for the Mayor to be seen to be getting involved in. Oh well – a bit of publicity and pressure and who knows?

Then a rush round meetings in the event. First, Hornsey Housing Forum as I want to add my two penny’s worth on the future of council housing in Haringey. The recommendation to Haringey Council’s Executive will be to transfer the housing to an ALMO (Arms Length Management Organisation). Of course it will be sold in the ballot that this is the only option viable if Haringey wants the money the government is offering. (It’s really a form of blackmail as the government will only hand over the money if people chose one of its preferred options for the future of council housing). But the small print will say – yes – but you have to gain two star status for the housing service to be eligible for the dosh anyway. There’s always a sting!

Then a Muswell Hill and Fortis Green Residents’ Association meeting. Diane Dodd – who heads the volunteer operation for Muswell Hill Police Station – is there to update everyone on how the newly reopened front counter is doing and how she is working to extend the hours.