Sunday 26 July 2009


The 'Tory Car' parked outside Ealing Road Library polling station

The many expressions of support on the street and the doorstep for our Green campaign in the Wembley Central by-election failed to be translated into actual votes at the polling booth and we came fifth in the poll.

During polling day supporters of the other parties had predicted we would do well and one said that their canvassers had indicated that when people said they were voting Green this support was firm and positive, rather than a protest vote.

We will be reflecting on lessons to be learnt over the next few days but it seems clear that many people saw this election as a fight between the three main parties, and especially between the Lib Dems and Labour. Although there was a low poll of 30%, almost one fifth of the votes cast were postal votes.

The Lib Dem campaign was intensive in terms of both person power and the amount of literature produced. I lost count of the number of leaflets they produced and these were supplemented by two personally addressed letters to each household. The first was delivered in a business type envelope and was a letter of support for the Lib Dem candidate from Sarah Teather MP. The second was a photocopied, apparently hand-written, letter from the candidate on pale blue paper delivered in a matching pale blue hand-addressed envelope.

Their actual literature was almost 'policy free' and concentrated on attacks on Labour with particular emphasis on Gordon Brown, local Labour MP's second homes and the threat of higher council taxes under Labour. Amazingly they were relatively untainted by the scandal of the jailing of their former Lib Dem colleague which gave rise to the vacancy. This was helped by the fact that the Lib Dem group ejected him when the charges of fraud were first raised and he subsequently sat as an Independent. It is interesting that the public seemed more tolerant of fraud against a private company than misuse of taxpayers' money by MPs. Although some voters complained to me that they they were fed up with receiving a Lib Dem leaflet every other day the sheer volume of material ensure a high profile for the Lib Dems and they were successful in getting posters displayed in many homes and gardens giving the impression of wide support.

The Labour campaign seemed to have fewer people involved and circulated less literature. One Lib Dem remarked that the party did not seem very committed to the campaign but that certainly wasn't true of their candidate who was keen and enthusiastic. An early Labour leaflet which included a mock-up of ex-Lib Dem councillor Vijay Shah behind bars, and listed other Lib Dem councillors who had resigned for various reasons, was rejected as distasteful by some voters. Labour leaflets accused the Lib Dems of reneging on their promise not to increase Council Tax.

The Conservatives were very active on polling day itself. They produced glossy full colour leaflets which had vague promises about 'improving Wembley' but were strong, as befits a family that employs 100 local drivers in their car firm, on the rights of motorists but also highlighted congestion on Ealing Road.

The garrulous Independent, who had previously stood for Motorists and Residents, used his long-established local contacts well and ran a populist campaign against tower blocks and council tax increases and for a shopping centre and the handing back of the Copland playing field to local people.

Our campaign focused on positive policies on climate change, housing, work, schools and consultation and eschewed attacks on the other parties. The ward is not 'natural' Green territory, which was brought home to be when I had to squeeze between several gas guzzlers park in paved over front garden to deliver leaflets, but I thought that the social justice aspects of our policies would resonate with voters in some economically disadvantaged areas of the ward. Unfortunately, living as they do in short-term privately rented accommodation, they were less likely to be registered voters. Although we have a solid campaigning record in Wembley this has concentrated on aspects of the Wembley Masterplan and the Wembley Academy which are both outside the ward.

There was camaraderie amongst tellers from the various parties and campaigns at polling stations in the face of public disenchantment with politics and absolutely horrible weather. However some issues did arise about a car festooned with Tory posters parked strategically outside Ealing Road Library and concern that some voters felt pressurised as they approached the polling portacabins. The latter was resolved by agreement that voters would only be approached for their polling card numbers after they had voted.

It would be helpful if guidelines were agreed about proper conduct of tellers and candidates at pollings stations and their environs and circulated and publicised before polling day to all involved. This would avoid any misunderstandings.

Wednesday 22 July 2009


Some of you may have seen the five page Wembley Regeneration Special in the Willesden and Brent Times. The 'Special' reminded me of the old Soviet Weekly which used to extol the shining achievements of the regime, complete with impressive pictures and the words of the Great Leader.

In this case the words of the Great Leader are those of Cllr. Paul Lorber with contributions from the Quintain and St. Modwen developers all under the imprint of Brent Council, The Big Lunch and the Times. The headlines give a flavour: THE REGENERATION GAME, BOLD VISION FOR FUTURE (The Wembley Masterplan), SCORING GOALS FOR RESIDENTS AS DEVELOPMENT SPREADS WINGS (Wembley Masterplan), A NEW LANDMARK EVERYONE CAN BE PROUD OF (proposed Civic Centre), ACTION STATIONS AT WEMBLEY CENTRAL (the St.Modwen development at Central Square). Anyone reading this would not realise that every one of these developments has been contested by residents, the Green Party and in the case of the Wembley Masterplan, the Labour Party.

Publication in the middle of the Wembley by-election, when these issues are being hotly debated, is questionable to say the least.

The Willesden and Brent Times stable has always had my respect for being fiercely independent of the council. It is unclear whether this is 'paid for content' and thus not under the paper's editorial control or actually reflects the paper's views.

However, it is clear that we need to look again at the plans for Wembley High Road in the light of the recession, the changes in the Copland proposals following the dropping of plans for a tower block, and the impact of the Civic Centre.

Many Brent council buildings will be replaced by the Civic Centre including Elizabeth House, Brent House, Brent House Annex, Mahatma Gandhi House and Chesterfield House. There is already much vacant office accommodation to let in Wembley High Road and nearby streets, including Lanmor House, Dorland House, 390-400 High Road, Valliant House and some of Madison House. Empty office accommodation, like Unisys House at Stonebridge, will lead to neglect and dereliction with an adverse effect on the High Road.

We need to re-open consultation on the future of the High Road and its vicinity and address the controversial issue of high rise developments in the area. Future plans should have the support and consent of local people and actually improve the area in which they live.

The above is based on a 'Soapbox' I gave at Wembley Area Consultative Forum on July 21st.


North Brent MP, Barry Gardiner, may need to rethink his support for academies and other forms of privatisation after his experience with St. Christopher's School, a private school in Wembley.

St. Christopher's, which is run by Happy Child, told Year 5 parents in May that they would not run a Year 6 class in September, leaving them only two months to find a new school for their children. Ms Tracey Story, managing director of Happy Child, told Gardiner, who was seeking help for the parents concerned, that she was not prepared to discuss 'Happy Child's decision to ensure the viability of our business'.

Gardiner lamented in the Royal Assent Adjournment debate on Tuesday that, 'There was not one mention of regret or the effect on the children and their lives, or the breach of contract with parents'. He urged the deputy Leader of the House of Commons to take the issue up with the appropriate minister in the Department for Children.

Unfortunately this take it or leave it mentality is symptomatic of the private sector. Perhaps Gardiner will now put his weight behind publicly accountable and democratically managed local services.

Tuesday 21 July 2009


I fully endorse the following statement from the Green Party Trade Union Group:

Workers at the Vestas wind turbine blade plant on the Isle of Wight have occupied their factory in Newport in an attempt to prevent its closure, which was scheduled for the end of this month. The Green Party Trade Union Group sends its full support to them.

Job losses in a recession are tragic and counterproductive, serving only to worsen it by throwing people out of work.

This particular closure would be doubly damaging because it would remove one of the few capacities Britain has to build the new, environmentally friendly technologies urgently needed to construct the infrastructure that could help to counteract the effects of climate change.

Importing turbine blades is a false solution because their transport would increase the environmental cost of wind turbines. Furthermore the skills and knowledge of the Vestas workers could be dispersed and lost just when we need them most.

If the government allows this closure, its commitment to dealing with climate change will seem a total sham.

How can it let Vestas close when it can afford;

¤ The Afghan war effort
¤ The bail out of banks including continuing taxpayers’ support for excessive fatcat salaries..
¤ The renewal of the trident missile system
¤ New nuclear power stations
¤ And a ridiculous scheme of paying MP’s expenses ?

The Green Party Trade Union Group urges everyone who can to support the Vestas occupation and put pressure on government to actually enact a strategy of creating an environmentally friendly infrastructure for Britain and new jobs for its peoples.

P.Murry GPTU secretary

Wednesday 15 July 2009


The Wembley Park playing fields disappear under rubble as building begins

Brent Council and ARK lost no time in securing the Wembley playing fields site and moving the builders in after the London Mayor and Government Office for London decided not to intervene in the academy dispute. However works could still be affected by the possibility of an application for judicial review.

Meanwhile The Policy Exchange has published a critical report on Partnership for Schools (PfS) the quango responsible for running the £55bn Building Schools for the Future programme. The report, Building Blocks, gives accounts from LEAs, local officers, academy sponsors and others about their experience with PfS.

PfS is accused of forcing local authorities to opt for academies or trust schools if they want funding to rebuild schools or build new ones. The programme to improve school buildings has thus been 'contaminated' by government pressure on LEAs to adopt the academy model and all the baggage that goes along with it. This mixing of the two separate issues and the extension of the academies programme via the funding bribe has been condemned by teacher unions.

The Policy Exchange itself favours Conservative and Liberal Democratic policies for 'free schools' - schools with less local authority control, and so sees the PfS's action as a form of increased centralisation. They cite requirements for school ICT systems, where LEAs are pressurised into awarding lucrative contracts to just one supplier across schools, as an example of control and micromanagement.

From this perspective we are left with unpalatable policies from all three parties: Labour continues to push academies on to often reluctant local councils and communities while finding more ways to control them, while the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in 'freeing' the schools will actually limit the role of Local Education Authorities with voters no longer having a direct say in the way their local schools are run.

A worrying developement when local communities have been angered by moves to convert or amalgamate schools is high-lighted by the report. In Stoke the BNP has opposed local reorganisation plans on the basis that they 'foster racial integration against local wishes' and they made opposition to Building Schools for the Future a central plank in their June election camapign.

Saturday 11 July 2009


I've been away from the computer for a while as I have been immersed in the Wembley by-election campaign, but here's a quick update. We have had a warm reception from many voters and the Greens clearly have a higher profile locally than last time we stood. We are serious contenders in this by-election.

There have two incidents recently that have stood out. One was a conversation with a fairly prominent member of the local Labour party who stopped me in the High Road to tell me that the people of Wembley weren't ready to receive the 'environmental message'. I pointed out that the environmental message in my campaign was linked with social justice policies that would make absolute sense to local people. He ended up taking leaflets from me and pressing one into the hands of an acquaintance who happened to be passing.

The other was someone who said he had supported the Labour Party all his life but was now totally disenchanted. He said he had been following what Greens had been saying and that he was impressed by the cool commonsense of Caroline Lucas. He now intended to switch to the Greens in the by-election.

We still have a long way to go of course but we are fighting the by-election on positive policies that will make a difference to people's lives:

1. OUR PLANET Climate Change is a huge threat to human life. We will work to strengthen Brent’s Policy.
We will press for a Schools and Climate Change Conference to explain the issues and take action
Free insulation for all homes that need it, reducing heating bills AND Co2 emissions.
Reduce housing lists by building affordable homes and taking over abandoned empty houses.
Encourage green industries into the regeneration areas to create green jobs.
London is too expensive for many people. We want a London Living Wage of £7.45 minimum for all Council employees. We will persuade other employers to take similar action.
Half of our children who live in poverty don’t qualify for a free school meal. Every child should get a free hot and healthy school meal every day.
We are against giving away schools that WE pay for to private sponsors and have fought against the ARK Academy. Existing academies should be returned to the community sector where voters have a say in running them.
We support the building of a new community secondary school in South Brent.
Council consultations on the ARK Academy, Wembley Masterplan and care charges have left people feeling ignored. We are not asked about major projects such as the Civic Centre which will replace Brent Town Hall.
We will fight for open and honest consultation and policies.