Polling day should not be on Yom Kippur

I cannot believe the intransigence of Haringey Council. There is a by-election to be held in Alexandra Ward (cause: Lib Dem Wayne Hoban moving to Worthing) and the Council have put polling day on Yom Kippur. This is the High Holy Day of the Jewish people. The have several alternative days they could choose within the allotted timescale laid down by law – but no – they have chosen Yom Kippur.

Liberal Democrat Leader Cllr Robert Gorrie has made strong representations (many) about this being unacceptable – but Haringey Council have completely refused to change the day! Disgraceful.

We (and I am sure the other political parties) will make every effort to ensure that Jewish residents can get a postal vote and also ask that they self-identify to stop activists knocking on doors inappropriately. But – Haringey Council should be ashamed. And the next time they bang on about inclusion – well, we will know how hollow their commitments really are!

(Meanwhile: glad to say that Nigel Scott is to be the Liberal Democrat candidate – more over on Neil Williams’s blog.)

Farewell Wayne

Wayne Hoban, councillor for Alexandra ward, has decided to stand down from Haringey Council after six years of working hard for local people.

I know this was a difficult decision for Wayne, but following a change of jobs he had to move out of London to be closer to his work.

He was a fantastic colleague and we will all miss him. I wish Wayne and his family all the best for the future.

UPDATE: The Ham & High has a piece this week about this.

Funding our health service: the future of St Ann's

Met with Carl Lammy – Chair of Haringey Mental Health Trust. The promised development of St Ann’s (and much needed and vital development – have you seen the antiquated mess of buildings that form St Ann’s?) has run into a storm of objections from local people concerned that what this really means is a sell-off of public land. Well – yes probably.

In this, yet again, we see this Labour government’s steam-roller approach to their avowed intent – which is to remodel the health service into specialist centres with local super health hubs within which 15% of the budget will be spent on private providers.

We didn’t ever get to vote on that. If such a switch to private providers had been from a Tory government it would have brought forth a howl of protest from Labour supporters – but this is from Labour itself. Put this together with the sell-off of public land assets to finance new builds – and you get protests.

Hence the problems St Ann’s renewal is encountering: they suffer the rage of those of us who never agreed to this program – but they have no real choice or voice in this. Local campaigners together with local politicians including my Liberal Democrat colleague Wayne Hoban and others campaigned against the closure of the X-ray service on the St Ann’s site – and that bit has had a reprieve, but it is only a reprieve. We need an X-ray department at St Ann’s. The very important eating disorder services that are there – and many others – that need frequent x-rays.

Anyway – the point is that the facilities at St Ann’s are ancient and failing. To change them to modern day standards and comfort needs money – and Labour will only make funds available on its own terms, making people jump through the hoops that it wants, regardless of local opinion. And that will see land sold, I am sure.

We have seen this happen in education and in housing and now it is health’s turn. Labour’s modernisation program means – do what we say, sell-off land and involve private companies. Now – selling off land and involving private companies can have their place on occasion – who would want to die the in ditch to say that every single last square millimetre of land owned by the NHS anywhere in the UK must be kept for all time? – but the problem with Labour is that they impose, top-down, a one-size fits all solution rather than taking individual cases on their merits and listening to what local people really want.

Selling assets and involving private firms through PFI, PPP, LIFT etc is a live now, pay later philosophy – where we getting new buildings for our aging hospitals and schools but then the pain comes down the line when we are still paying high costs year after year and all the family silver has gone.

Alexandra Palace update

On The future of the birthplace of regular TV at Alexandra Palace is under threatThursday it was the meeting with Cllr Charles Adje (Haringey Labour councillor and Chair of Alexandra Palace Board) and Mr Firoz Kassam (of Firoka Group – who are purchasing a 125 year lease on Ally Pally). Cllr Wayne Hoban (ex Ally Pally board, Lib Dem Deputy Leader of the Opposition and ward councillor for the Palace) came with me.

The meeting was not exactly a resounding success in terms of agreeing any changes ahead of the signing of the contracts on Tuesday to protect the historic TV studios. Being so close on the deadline for signing the contracts it was clear that the long delays over signing since last May had exasperated those involved in the process and so there was reluctance to make any more changes at the last moment.

In my view – in that case it should have been dealt with earlier and anyway it is important to get everything right if you are signing something over for 125 years! As to why it hadn’t been dealt with earlier – well, when the issue was originally raised and proposed by the two Liberal Democrat members on the Ally Pally board and minuted – it was voted down. So this was a last (and unsuccessful) pre-contract signing attempt to change things.

However, Mr Kassam recognises the importance of the history of the birthplace of television. The contract provides for a museum of television history and until the deal is signed and sealed this remains the state of play. As a businessman there is also no doubt that he recognises that the historic site is a unique selling point and that he will want to maximise that advantage.

Mr Kassam seemed open to discussions on the museum post-contract signing. One point made during the public kafuffle over the last couple of weeks was the issue around the BBC expecting the Firoka Group to put up the funds to preserve the artefacts and create the television museum and the BBC not being able to put money in itself. I am hopeful that given Mr Kassam’s willingness to look at these issues with interested parties that the BBC and Mr Kassam will be able to talk the issues over.

So, we’re back to where we were a few days ago before this meeting was arranged – that is, the Charity Commission consultation that will run for one month – and remains tremendously important in terms of any issues anyone wishes to raise. Therefore, I would encourage everyone to put in their views during the consultation period by emailing the Charity Commission at enquiries@charitycommission.gsi.gov.uk

As always the emails that work best with this sort of lobbying are short, temperate but clear messages that include your full name and postal address. It would be handy if you could also copy your email to me at lynne@lynnefeatherstone.org

Hornsey Hospital – watch my film

The future of the Hornsey Central Hospital site has been a long-running campaign of mine. I’ve just released a little online film about the campaign which you can watch:


It also features Wayne Hoban, who is the Deputy Leader of the Lib Dems in Haringey and our resident expert in many health matters. Thanks to Sheila Rainger (Muswell Hill councillor) for putting it together.

The Spinney

Meet to discuss drugs policy. Clearly the Government’s prohibition strategy isn’t working – indeed it could be argued somewhat well that prohibition (much like drink in the most famous prohibition of them all) is making it worse in some ways. Addiction is flourishing in many places and the countries where the raw materials are grown have often seen drugs become industries that dominate and ruin large parts of those very countries. Much to be thought about.

In afternoon I visit The Spinney. The Spinney is just that – a little wooded spinney that adjoins on one side Rhodes Avenue Primary School and on the other Alexandra Recreation Ground. The school has got six months use of The Spinney. To date it has been a dumping ground and little used – but local volunteers have helped clear it up, the school has laid a nature trail and when I visited classes were busy studying nature for real. Absolutely fabulous. The Council have said in principle they are happy for the school to have some use of it in future – but that they will not be responsible for cleaning, health and safety or opening and locking the gates. And the local community also – understandably – wants to have access to the site too.

So – could I help? Well, after the meeting I spoke with my colleague Wayne Hoban (one of the Lib Dem councillors representing the area) about setting in motion a meeting of the key local interest groups – school, community, Friends of the Park and the Council to see where the land lies. You can perhaps see a solution where the children from the school have exclusive access during the school hours – but outside of school hours on a weekday, on weekends and during the holidays it is available for everyone. But would that be acceptable to all parties? And how would the practicalities of maintenance, care and safety be addressed? None of this insurmountable – and I have to say – it is a little magical space that would be wonderful for the Rhodes Avenue children and the local community to enjoy!

Haringey Council results

Well – it was very close! Massive Lib Dem gains, but not quite enough to take control of Haringey Council – Labour majority cut to just three (30-27 – no other parties have any councillors) with Lib Dems making 11 gains.

We also topped the vote across the borough – adding up the top votes in each ward – and actually now have councillors in a majority of the wards in Haringey. So – very close! Best every Lib Dem result, including our first councillors in Tottenham, many in Wood Green etc.

Lib Dem highlights:

Alexandra – 3 Lib Dem holds – Dave Beacham, Wayne Hoban and Susan Oatway re-elected

Bounds Green – 2 Lib Dem gains – Ali Demirci and John Oakes

Crouch End – 3 Lib Dem holds – Ron Aitken and David Winskill re-elected, joined by Lyn Weber

Fortis Green – 3 Lib Dem holds – Matt Davies and Martin Newton re-elected, joined by Sara Beynon

Harringay – 2 Lib Dem gains – Karen Alexander and Carolyn Baker

Highgate – 3 Lib Dem holds – Bob Hare and Neil Williams re-elected, joined by Justin Portess

Hornsey – 3 Lib Dem gains – Robert Gorrie, Errol Reid and Monica Whyte elected

Muswell Hill – 3 Lib Dem holds – Jonathan Bloch and Gail Engert re-elected, joined by Sheila Rainger (who has taken over my old council seat)

Noel Park – 2 Lib Dem gains – Catherine Harris and Fiyaz Mughal elected

Stroud Green – 1 Lib Dem hold and 2 Lib Dem gains – Laura Edge re-elected and Ed Butcher and Richard Wilson elected

Congratulations and commiseration to all candidates and helpers – both those who made it and those who didn’t, in all parties.

UPDATE: There are now further election result details on Haringey Council’s website.

Nominated for Channel 4 'rising stars' award

Visit the Scout Park in Alexandra Ward with my colleague councillor Wayne Hoban and Ken (scout master) and John (architect adviser). What a fantastic site – like being in the wilds but in the middle of the constituency. Seriously in need of renovation to the buildings (scout hall, sleeping accommodation and various other buildings). Some have been condemned by Health and Safety – but no successful funding bids despite trying for several years – each year. And yet – here in our own territory is the answer to meeting the needs of not only the scouts – but outdoor activities for all the youngsters in the borough. Why, why, why has the Council not stepped into help fund and attract funding for this?

Of course, the probable cry is why not sell off a bit of the eight acres of prime development land. Well the answer is – NO! This is land paid for by the scout movement so that through generations to come this would be preserved so that youngsters would be able to learn about working together, fighting the elements, and community – and with councils everywhere selling off every bit of land and sports fields they can – more vital than ever to preserve this.

I am amazed that it has remained almost a secret – given its location. I will take this on. Who knows – just putting it in my blog will undoubtedly wake up various opponents to my intentions and hopefully they will be goaded into helping fund the necessary work! If they don’t – then if we take over Haringey Council in the May elections – I will be nagging my own side. I will also approach a couple of the funding agencies to see why the previous bids have failed. What an opportunity for the whole of Haringey – right under our noses and virtually untapped.

On the way into Parliament I slip in some shopping. I know – what am I doing Christmas shopping during the week? How dare I abscond for a couple of hours? Well – it’s in my diary. As I have no days, evenings or weekends free – I have to diarise Christmas shopping – as there is no normal time to do it. Looking at Christmas decorations, my pager goes off to inform me that Cameron has won the Tory leadership by two to one – no surprises there then!

Then I go on to my Parliamentary Office where a letter has arrived from Channel 4 saying I am one of 4 nominees for the Channel 4 Political Awards. I have been nominated as a ‘rising star’ along with two Labour and one Tory new kid! Nice to know you can be a rising star at my age! I am pleased – as this is one of the more serious political awards of the year.

Watch the news when I get home. Cameron anointed king of the Tories. Their faith in the newly anointed smacks of desperation – and they are right to be desperate because if they cannot change their fortunes – they are doomed. So in the Notting Hill Prince – are placed all their hopes and dreams. I guess his ‘overnight’ rise to fame and fortune is a measure of the Tory desire, not only to get their hands on power again – but to wash away their ‘nasty’ past. I am not sure this will do it but it will be interesting to watch. You can never tell whether when greatness is thrust upon someone whether they will rise to the occasion – and quite frankly the glare of leadership is harsh and unforgiving. Cameron will have his honeymoon – but then – his metal will be sorely tested and I think there is a 60% chance he will be found wanting! I think the problem is the Tory creed itself – and that’s much harder to change than the leader.

Trouble in Albert Road Park

Surgery all Friday morning and then rush to meeting in the Pavilion in the Albert Road Recreation Ground where yobbery is ruining peoples’ pleasure and intimidating adults and children alike.

I brought this up a while back and wrote to the police along with my Lib Dem councillor colleague for Alexandra ward – Wayne Hoban. At the time the Chair of the Friends of Albert Road Park led a blistering attack on us in the press for so doing saying there was no yobbery and that I was scaremongering. Perhaps the fact that Wayne had taken the seat off him in the previous council elections clouded his judgement?

Anyway, the views of residents are very clear – there’s a problem. A key local group like the Friends can’t ignore this – so the chair has now done the right thing and gathered all the partners needed to sort out what is turning into a serious problem.

Around 30 youths are terrorising the users of the recreation grounds and the surrounding area. There are two ring leaders who according to the police are actually setting fire to things and carrying out criminal activities. Although they are in the system of criminal justice, they are currently on bail and out on the streets.

Local residents describe the muggings and the threats and the thefts and it is clear that this is a case where they need to gather evidence to issue an ASBO on the ring leaders so that a clear message goes out that unacceptable behaviour will not be tolerated. There is also a clear need for engagement by the partners with the youths in the wider groups in terms of activity and possible Acceptable Behaviour Contracts (a much better and broader approach to problems than ASBOs).

I leave the meeting with some confidence that appropriate action will now be swiftly taken.

Run to Haringey Civic Centre to sign book of condolences there – and then go down for meeting with Labour’s Leader on the Council. He seems keen to form a good working relationship with me – which is a sensible approach. After all – I am a resource for the constituency and he would be stupid to ignore the benefits of a lobbying voice at parliamentary level albeit from someone of a different party.

Last act of the day is to take my daughters and a friend to Hampstead to Waterstones at about 11.10pm and to queue along with other insane Harry Potter fans for the shop to open at midnight to purchase the sixth in the series.

Whilst in the queue the photographer from the Ham & High came past and much to the childrens’ embarrassment thought finding the MP in the queue with them was too good an opportunity to pass up. Happily, one of the members of Boyzone (apparently) was also in the queue and I dare say the Ham & High will use the celeb and my kids’ blushes will be spared.