The Great Repeal Act

Yesterday was Nick Clegg’s big moment with his set piece speech (he’s my boss as our Shadow Home Secretary).

Targeting Labour’s favourite tendency – legislation – Nick went for the 3,000 new criminal offences created by Labour (1,300 under Blunkett alone) with the message ‘do less, but do it better’. I guess that’s something Labour just don’t understand. Less is more! Wave after wave of new laws that have broken the Home Office down into a gibbering form of incompetence as they fail to cope. John Reid blaming the civil service for what has been an intolerable torrent of ineffective law.

Far too often Labour goes for bringing in another law that does the same thing as an existing law which hasn’t actually been properly used – which is so often the case.

Nick also reeled off the list of illiberal laws that Labour has brought in taking away our freedoms and indeed, our British values. The right to protest, control orders, curfews, etc etc etc – the list is long, long, long. There is even a law against selling or buying grey squirrels.

So Nick’s big idea is the Great Repeal Act – an Act that will take away unnecessary laws and roll back all the illiberal infringements of our civil liberties. And he wants the public to send in the laws they believe should form part of this – so you can contact with your ideas.

The basic message is that ‘tough’ and ‘soft’ – the language of Labour and Tories on crime is yesterdays world. For LibDems it’s what is effective that matters.

In the afternoon it was Ming being interviewed by the Guardian’s Michael White (who was quite fabulous I thought). It was Ming in his best setting. He is comfortable and at home in this milieu and came over as relaxed and confident. He did make a mix up with Arctic Monkeys but suffice to say that even Olympic sprinters can occasional encounter a hurdle! But the over-riding impression I got – and indeed always get – is that Ming is a truly decent human being. And in this day and age of political volatility and shallowness – is a welcome change.

And today as I write (Tuesday) is a biggie. Usually they say only two things are certain in life – death and taxes. At the LibDem conference it’s Charlie and taxes!

Positive role models

Morning went to the start of an all day event / seminar by Friendship Global – titled ‘Peace, Friendship and the 2012 Olympics’. This is a group started in Haringey by the suggestion of two little girls who after 9/11 wanted to do something to stop such terrible things happening again. So their father started this peace group – where the basic idea is that through friendship we can stop wars.

From there I went straight to make a speech and give out awards at the Haringey African and Afro-Caribbean Awards for excellence. A huge hall full of children and their proud families thronging the Alexandra Palace. Now, as much as they all obviously loved me – I can’t help thinking that myself and George Meehan (Labour councillor) were not the main attractions. Kwame and Lemar (spelling of both iffy) were the main event. After my speech – Kwame and myself gave out the first batch of around 30 awards. I felt the kids would feel cheated if they came up on stage for their award and they just got it from me rather than him – so made sure they all got to shake hands and have a quick word with him.

I had to leave before Lemar did his bit – but the screams and clapping when he came in were pretty impressive. I thought the whole event was fantastic. So much negative stuff about black under-achievement – and so great to have an occasion celebrating the positive. I am absolutely committed to aspiration and inspiration. If you are treated like a failure – you will fail. It isn’t rocket science – and this was positivism in action.

The evening took me to Holborn & St Pancras where I was a panel guest on a Question Time format for the University of London with students from London’s universities come to grill us. Slightly to my surprise, they didn’t ask about ID cards or civil liberties. They did ask about taxation. They did ask about cannabis. They didn’t ask that much about the environment. They did ask about the Lid Dem leadership. They did ask about smoking bans. They did laugh when I told them that I once went barefoot and wore flowers in my hair! What’s so funny?! Anyway – I had good fun as I took a bit of license and went way off message. Well – a bit of blue skies thinking is always good for the soul.

17 seconds wait for a cab?

Digital Conference on Thursday. I am not sure how I got to be keynote speaker at this breakfast at the RSA – but here I am. The company that invited me – Panlogic – turns out to have come across me through one of their directors living in the constituency, reading my blog and visiting my website. As the research they are launching today is basically about e-marketing and demonstrates that the age group between 50 and 65 (us ex-hippies with conscience, peace and love man) are still desperately caring people who want to engage in issues and change things for the better. I think their research is spot on.

Day of two speeches really. In the evening I go to one of those wonderful old city halls as keynote speaker at the Worshipful Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers’ Dinner. To you and me – a black cab evening. I am hand-clapped in with the ‘Master’ and other honoured guests in time honoured tradition. I get a quick briefing on how I will address the company. Dinner is enjoyable and I am lucky in that the guest to my right, the Master and the Master Clock Maker (a woman on the other side of the Master) are all absolutely delightful company. In fact, Diana, turns out to have been a constituent but has moved away now. She is a wonderful example of the changing face of the city in that she is the first-ever female Master Clock Maker – and that spans about four centuries.

Anyway, I am there to give a speech after dinner. I have crafted it quite carefully as the LTDA (one of the representative groups for drivers) has previously attacked me for saying there are not enough cabs around due to a driver shortage. They counter-claimed saying that you never have to wait longer than 19 seconds to hail a taxi in central London. Tell that to poor Susan Kramer who waited 25 minutes outside Parliament only this last week! It was rubbish – but there is a kind of jobs for the boys section of the trade who do not actually want to reach the targets set by Transport for London. Last year when I annoyed them evidence had gone to the Transport for London Board showing that there was a shortage of 1,200 black cabs and 4,500 private hire cabs. The concern has to be that if there are not legitimate cabs to hand – people will use the touts with all the dangers that entails.

I wafted across the need to crack down on touts, the Olympics and told my David Blunkett joke. And then home. Or so I thought. Having come by Tube, I got on the Tube home. But – hey ho – it’s the Northern Line and the Barnet branch was suspended. So I got off at Camden and after half an hour waiting for my 19-second taxi I got back on the Tube and went to Golders Green. No 210 and no taxi. Dying of cold and now about quarter to one in the morning, I phoned a private hire company and eventually a mini-cab came for me.

Sports facilities for Haringey children

Rush up to New Scotland Yard for meeting with Sir Ian Blair. I accompany our Shadow Home Secretary – Mark Oaten – as I am Police Spokesperson for the Lib Dems and worked with Sir Ian for 5 years on the Metropolitan Police Authority. The meeting was private, not unnaturally, but it wouldn’t be talking out of school to say that it covered the ground you would expect in terms of the terror bill, Sir Ian’s ‘debate’ with the people over the future of policing; the shooting of Mr de Menezes and the proposal to merge police forces. (My latest newspaper column has more on all this).

Then literally dash back to the constituency to go to the opening of the new facilities at the New River Sports Centre. Barclays have put in £600,000 as part of their program for sports spaces right across the country. Although they will undoubtedly get great advertising out of it – you have to be impressed with the re-invented tennis and football and track facilities. I hope we get at least one kid who comes from Haringey through this system and into the Olympics in 2012!

60 kids from Broadwater Primary School are joining us for the cameras and events etc – but their coach has broken down and they are late and having to come on public transport the rest of the way. Luckily the day is gloriously sunny (though cold) and they eventually arrive and the ceremonies begin. I am there, as is Charles Adje, Council Leader, and we obligingly do as we are told for the photo ops. Two Tottenham Hotspurs players (both Michaels) are there as is a chap from GMTV. Celebs or what!

A great day and great hopes for the future.

Then – dash, dash, dash, via my HQ to do signing and reading back up to Westminster for debate, meetings and discussions. We vote at 7 and 10pm on climate change and then home.

Fairs and fetes

First event of the day – meeting with parents from Campsbourne Infants and Junior schools.

Second event of the day – Highgate Summer Fair in Pond Square.

Third event of the day – over to St Martin de Porres primary school in Bounds Green for to their Summer Fete. Introduce myself to head and agree to come back and do something with the children.

And last event of the day – opening the Inderwick Road street party. On what was a baking hot day, the fire-fighters from Hornsey Fire Station had come with an engine and were shooting a hose high into the air – with a herd of children running in and out of the spray with squeals of absolute delight.

One of the organisers, Maggie, pulls me into her house to meet 10 Chinese policemen and women who are over here from Beijing to learn about crowd control and public order in time for the Beijing Olympics. I am unclear why they have come to Inderwick Road Street Party to learn about public order and crowd control – unless there’s something about the denizens of Inderwick that the powers that be know and I don’t!

At around 4.15pm I am given the microphone to open the party – which I do. I warn the gathering hordes of the Chinese Police presence vis a vis crowd control – to hoots of laughter. And it’s on with the show – with fancy dress competitions, barbeques and bands until late in the evening.

I leave after about an hour and go home to enjoy a late bit of sunshine in my garden.

Oyster card capping

Mayor’s Press Conference at City Hall, with his tirade at an Evening Standard journalist still fresh in everyone’s minds. This was a Ken masterclass in how to try and front down the massed ranks of the media and win the day. He didn’t quite make it – not because it wasn’t a masterclass in political dodging and weaving – but because his fundamental, stubborn refusal to at least ‘regret any upset he had caused’ just came over as a spoiled child.

What did astonish me was the depth of vituperative attacks on the media and particular individuals. Even if warranted (and Ken’s version of history is not always correct) it was wrong for him to have let rip in such crass style. Ken said, in response to the almost astonished gasp at his outbursts, that that is why the public love him – ‘cos he says what he thinks.

What a shame that someone who is in a way so talented is also so flawed.

The Olympics were rather shoved into the background and the only other ‘announcement’ was about the capping of Oyster Card. Hurrah! Let’s be clear (because I have been lectured very soundly by Jay Walder – finance head for TfL) on promoting the wonders of Oyster card and not being a mean, nasty critical politician. So hats off to Oyster. I do believe it’s the future – but capping has been a long time overdue.

Up until now people making lots of journeys have gone on being charged so that their daily tally could add up to lots more than the most expensive travel card. This ‘capping’ will now mean that you will never pay more than the cheapest way of making your journeys. So – at last – well done.

Olympic bid

Haringey Full Council meeting. For me the big issue of the night was skateboarding. Children from the borough were in the gallery to hear a motion on skateboarding provision debated.

The motion had the support of both parties but there was a bit of friction in that it was a Labour motion about all they intended to do on skateboarding (for which facilities are currently poor) – lots of promises of jam tomorrow. But to date, Labour’s much vaunted scheme had produced two days of a mobile skateboarding facility.

Now this dovetailed nicely with a presentation on the Olympic bid by Richard Sumray who is a man of many hats: Olympics, Met Police Authority, magistrate and Chair of Haringey Primary Care Trust (PCT). Busy man. He only had five minutes to present the bid – which must be the shortest presentation on the Olympics on record – in fact a world record in its own right. The general sentiment from across the chamber was ‘ what’s in it for Haringey?’ Yes – of course we all support the bid – but its a bit rough for the boroughs who will have the pain and no gain.

Who knows, perhaps we should make skateboarding an Olympic sport. Perhaps that’s quicker than waiting for Labour to fund a skate park?

A typical day at the GLA

Committee Chairs meeting at the GLA. This is the first of this term of office and is an opportunity for the chairs of the various Assembly committees to meet to discuss budget items for scrutiny work and other matters. There is pretty consensual agreement that money spent on occasional consultants, polling on issues as they affect Londoners, London-wide expert seminars etc is money generally well spent, Actually, the Assembly spends a very small amount on anything. However, if you look at the Mayor’s expenditure…!

I raise the issue of a looming constitutional crisis if the Parking Enforcement investigation falls as a consequence of pressure from the boroughs. I believe we will be able to come to agreement at the meeting later this afternoon – but want to raise the issue in the generic rather than the specific. ie If the boroughs don’t like what the Assembly is doing and effectively veto it thus making the scrutiny work untenable – what is the legal position and more importantly, what is the constitutional position. I leave that hanging in the air as we all rush off for Assembly Plenary Session.

This session of the London Assembly is on the Olympics. Seb Coe is the star turn – but we get a message just before commencement that his father has been taken ill and he cannot therefore attend. We plough on with the Mayor and reps from the Olympic Bid committee. No news really. We all support the bid. The Tories then undermine their support by being over negative about the bid. Not the most scintillating of sessions.

Informal meeting of the Transport Committee to look at the first draft of our response to the consultation on the West London tram. My mission here is to try and get the five political parties to agree that this response should reflect the evidence we received rather than be just an opportunity for us all to restate our party positions on the tram. A consensual report raising the concerns we genuinely have will be far more useful and effective than a political rant. We can all do that in our separate party responses to the consultation.

Anyway – so far so good. The draft is well written – and when chapter 5 is concluded (at this point unwritten and about traffic displacement) we will meet again to see if we have enough common ground for a unified response. Otherwise it will have to be the majority think x and the minority think y – which is OK – but I think loses its punch.

High noon at the London Assembly. The three political party leaders (or their reps) came with officers to meet myself, and the Labour and Tory transport leads from the Transport Committee to see if there was a way forward on the parking scrutiny – with ALG/borough cooperation.

The main issues seemed to be that the ALG (the Association of London Government) felt that the Assembly should not examine areas where the boroughs had been democratically elected to operate in an area. Whilst I understand the sensitivities, the remit of the London Assembly is to raise issues of importance to Londoners as well as scrutinise the Mayor and TfL. This scrutiny had passed through all the appropriate and public stages to reach this stage and had been unanimously approved. And parking is unquestioningly of importance as an issue for London.

The second area where they were unhappy was because of remarks I had made in the media which to them seemed to indicate I might have made up my mind in advance of the scrutiny. All I can say about that is that the boroughs didn’t like the bits about my suggesting if they didn’t want to comply with the scrutiny they may have something to hide – but as I pointed out – equally, motorists who thought they had a hard deal might interpret the fact that I am on record as saying I support restriction, penalty and fine as biased against them. Both are wrong.

I believe I assuaged their concerns and both my Labour and Tory colleagues backed me up as being a fair and scrupulous chair.

We then moved onto business – and we were quite happy with the ALG’s suggestions for amended terms of reference. All parties will now go back to their groups for agreement and hopefully that will go through the next Transport Committee and finally get the show on the road.

Day ends off with stuffing envelopes for our council by-election in Haringey. The fun never ends…

Muswell Hill by-election

Leap out of bed at 4am and into strange clothing appropriate for delivering leaflets in Muswell Hill ward for polling day. “Good Morning” the leaflets say – bright and cheery on doormats for when people awake.

As dawn breaks over Muswell Hill, I race a milkman down Park Avenue North – he delivering milk, me Good Mornings. He wins. Back home at 7am to do a couple of hours of emails and then off to City Hall for the first of the Olympics Forum.

This is the bid team, led by Barbara Cassani, trying to engage with the key stakeholders in London to build the support needed for a successful bid. Although a PR exercise – I am still very impressed with her and indeed the thinking behind our Olympics bid. Will have my full support and effort. It would be tremendous if we won.

Then back to Muswell Hill LibDem committee room to start the knocking up. Knocking up, for the uninitiated, is when poor activists like me hound local residents who have said when previously canvassed that they will vote for us. So I go round for seven hours or so knocking on their doors to drive them out to the polls and to do their democratic duty.

Polls close at 9pm and its off to Haringey Civic Centre for the count. I am up in the public gallery with the team, whilst our counting agents and candidate Gail Engert is downstairs in the count itself. Craning necks to see where the crosses are on the first ballot papers to emerge, my eyesight fails and I haven’t a clue what is on them. But it doesn’t take long to know that we have a landslide victory.

What a fabulous result for us. This is my ward where I am a sitting councillor too – so extra pleasure in a result that delivers Gail a 57% majority.

The result is:

Gail Engert (Lib Dem) 1,739 (70%, +8%)

Labour 321 (13%, -6%)

Tories 278 (11%, +2%)

Greens 164 (7%, -3%)

Majority: 1,418

Turnout: 32%

Swing: 7% Lab to Lib Dem

Then everyone back to my house for champagne! I clearly drank too much of it as I am sitting typing this with what must be a hangover. I don’t drink very much and two glasses is usually more than enough – but on a night like this, I guess I must have let my hair down and had at least four.

A lost rower

Big transport day for me. Apart from informal meeting of Transport Committee in the morning – at which I was trying to get my colleagues to sign off a variety of issues – I was chairing a tram seminar from 1pm to 7pm and then hosting a reception.

The transport community of London was invited (and came) and the speakers covered many of the issues around trying to fund, obtain patronage, obtain local consensus and deliver these major infrastructure projects in our capital city. Absolutely fascinating stuff.

This seminar is a way of really raising issues for debate. Trams or other modal choices like guided busways or trolley buses are causing absolute havoc where proposed – like the West London Tram. The Assembly Transport Committee holds these seminars to try and take the debate out of the political fire and look at the complexity of trying to get transport choices right and supported for major new projects.

At the end – rushed to the reception. Guess what? Matthew Pincent (of gold rowing fame) was wandering around. He was about a foot taller than anyone else in the room, and dressed in regulation sports blazer with well groomed hair. I went across to him:

“Matthew – welcome! But are you here for the Olympic Bid reception?”

“Yes – thank you – it’s very nice.”

“It’s very nice – but this is the tram reception. Olympics is on the 9th floor.”

He beat a graceful retreat. Shame – but there you are.