There’s lots of things I miss about the 1980s but right-wing Conservative governments with large majorities isn’t one of them. It is true that the last ten years have not been a good advertisement for coalitions, minority governments and government by plebiscite, but those wishing for a return to ‘normal’ politics may be disappointed. Butskellism is long gone, and populism is the new path to power.
By campaigning on vacuous slogans (is Brexit ‘done’?) and blaming bogeypersons (the EU, immigrants) for their own failings of the past decade, Boris Johnson has succeeded in winning power with a manifesto that will harm the interests of most voters. That’s quite an achievement.
I worry about both the opinions and actions of our new masters. The current home secretary was sacked for holding secret meetings with a foreign government; the education secretary for leaking defence secrets. The transport secretary had a fake identity.
The leader of the House of Commons thinks people died in Grenfell Tower because they weren’t as clever as him. The PM’s most senior adviser entertains advocates of eugenics at the heart of government and open racism. The attorney general thinks judges need to be brought to heel.
It’s no coincidence that people like this this sit round the cabinet table. They were appointed by a PM who beats them all for dishonesty, defamation of minorities and contempt for the rules. The fish rots from its head.
Most of the moderate voices have been expelled or retired from the Conservative Party. This is peak Thatcher, vilifying the enemies within and without, but from day one. Where will they go from here?
Anyway, you know all this. The question is what to do about it. Well, it is important to mobilise all tolerant and mitigating forces our constitution provides before it too is swept away. Opposition in Parliament, from other layers of government, from the courts and civil society.
I am doing my bit by trying to ensure the re-election of Sadiq Khan as London Mayor and Keir Starmer as leader of the Labour Party. Sadiq has an excellent record on the environment and on keeping transport in London both reliable and affordable. He is building more affordable homes than previous Mayors and putting as much money as he can into youth services and police to combat the rise in violent crime.
Keir is an exceptional candidate for Leader of the Opposition and future Prime Minister – which is tough on ex-Hammersmith councillor Lisa Nandy, who has shown herself to be highly competent and persuasive.
I have confidence the country will survive, hopefully intact as a United Kingdom. Previous generations have been through a lot worse. Though the first test of compassion for the Johnson government was set by Hammersmith resident Lord Dubs: would they extend the same welcome to refugee children today as he received in 1939 as a child of the Kindertransport. It was a test they failed.
What is troubling me more at the moment is the collapse of a lot of our public services and support networks especially for the old and the young. This is not a surprise. Ten years of austerity has undermined everything from the NHS and schools to the benefit and justice systems.
I’m not being alarmist here and only incidentally party political. It is the lived daily experience of my constituents that services we have taken for granted for a very long time either don’t exist or are so hollowed out they operate in a state of perpetual crisis.
This week earnings recovered their 2008 value. That is shocking enough – the opportunities of millions for a more comfortable life have been denied. But for the organisations we rely on to support our everyday lives, things are still going backwards, with a further 5% cuts required from departments that have already lost up to 60% of their funding.
There comes a point when you can’t keep running on empty. The NHS is a case in point. There is no sign of the promised funds to scope the repairs needed to Charing Cross and Hammersmith hospitals, let alone the actual money for the works, estimated at £400 million. The local NHS is preparing to make another £18 million of cuts for the coming year, a number of GP practices are in special measures and palliative care services are under threat.
There is a consultation on this last issue to which you may wish to respond. Our local hospice has for many years been the Pembridge just over the border in North Ken. In later 2018 it shut its inpatient beds ‘temporarily’ for recruitment reasons. Now it may never re-open. For those who know the Pembridge, it has provided wonderful care to people at the end of their lives.
The reason for its closure is said to be the increasing demand for support to the terminally ill in their own homes. This is undoubtedly needed but I don’t think it should be an either/or decision. Both are essential in any civilised society. I suspect the Pembridge is targeted because it is an NHS facility and therefore easier to close than one run by a charity or private provider.
Fifteen years ago my surgeries were busy, often with administrative problems: roof repairs not done, visas not processed, benefits wrongly assessed or not paid. Today it is families being evicted for the third or fourth time because the landlord wants to re-let the property for rent above the benefit cap, family members refused entry to the country after years of hassle free travel or people with no recourse to public funds relying on charity or foodbanks to feed their children.
In some cases people wait in pain for months for medical procedures or even opinions. Too often I am meeting the families of children who have died as a result of crime or neglect. So forgive me for losing patience when I see the Cabinet chanting about ’40 new hospitals’ which are neither planned nor funded, let alone being built.
What’s going up and what’s coming down?
By which I mean the news about how the shape of the borough is being changed by developments good and bad. There is a lot going on so this is only an outline and I recommend joining the Hammersmith and/or Fulham Societies and the Hammersmith and Fulham Historic Buildings Group if you want a comprehensive and professional guide.
The Bridge: there is a plan, there is a timetable, there is a bill. What there isn’t is the money to pay for it. Despite Transport for London putting up the first £25 million which has ensured planning and some structural works have proceeded to date, the bulk of the funds are lacking. The government has a fund for exactly this type of project and there is money in it. I suspect they are delaying for political reasons. We had arranged to see the minster then he was sacked last week. We will try again.
This is a unique and difficult project but it is doable and it is frankly ridiculous that the Department for Transport has been playing games. Where they have been helpful however is in confirming what the engineers at TfL and H&F have said: that there is no possible way a temporary bridge for motor traffic can be built alongside. What there will be later this year is a temporary foot and cycle bridge to allow work to proceed quickly and safely on the main bridge.
HS2: The government can find the rather larger budget for this it seems. I continue to support HS2 though my loyalty has been severely tested by the cavalier way it has behaved to those affected by the route thus far. However, there was one nasty surprise in the announcement that it would proceed. For three years after it opens, Old Oak with be the terminus rather than an interchange en route to Euston. This is likely to swamp Crossrail and the whole area and I am going to meet HS2, TfL and the minister (though this one’s also been sacked) to express my alarm.
OPDC: the green light to HS2 should give some much-needed certainty to the Old Oak development corporation which has been beset by problems. First most of the area south of the Grand Union Canal was ruled out for development because of bad decisions made about how HS2 and Crossrail would be constructed. Now Car Giant on a 40-acre site north of the Canal is not to move to a new location taking that area out of the equation. There is still a lot of underused land in the area that can be used for residential and commercial development over the next 20 years but this is not the new Manhattan or even Canary Wharf (both © Boris Johnson). Perhaps that is a relief in some ways.
R3: On 27 February the Court of Appeal will give judgement on the case brought by H&F and other councils against Heathrow’s plans for a third runway, which will blight much of west London. The Prime Minister has gone a little quiet on his opposition, though I reminded him that now HS2 is going ahead Birmingham will be our nearest airport, making R3 even more of a toxic white elephant.
White City: is booming. Novartis, the world’s second biggest drug company opened their new HQ there last week. OneWeb, a global satellite company that is trying to improvise connectivity across the whole planet, invited me to their James Bond-style operations room this month. Imperial continues to expand, bringing the best medical research and biotech companies into the area. What we need on the back of all this welcome investment is more funding for affordable living and existing communities.
King St: is also undergoing a revival. The Town Hall project is underway and will massively improve the western end, while Ikea has bought King’s Mall and will open a town centre store there next year. Last week (see above) I went to the opening of the new Metrobank – a welcome change from the bank closures we have seen for past few years.
To be decided: there are some controversial schemes yet to come to fruition. The Linford Christie Stadium on the Scrubs and the familiar red-brick Hammersmith & Fulham College building in Gliddon Road are both subject to controversial redevelopment proposals. I will be sticking my oar in as usual.
Knowing your boundaries: and finally, all this building and changing population means we have to redo the map in terms of electoral districts. Who knows what new gerrymandering scheme Mr Johnson has in mind for my seat, but the review of council ward boundaries is well underway. Here is the proposal and here is my response. Whould you wish to show off your own local knowledge, you can make your comments here.