Why elections matter – for good…
Elections are about practical things, and also about values. So, I was pleased that when Sadiq Khan visited H&F on his 32-borough tour this week he stopped off at the Baron’s Court Project.
I was first elected as a councillor for Baron’s Court 35 years ago this week, the same year the Project started its ground-breaking work with people who are homeless and living with mental health issues. And I like to see BCP, and the fantastic Michael Angus who runs it, getting the recognition they deserve.
It is such a relaxed and friendly environment that many of the guests have been coming there for ten years or more, accessing homes and jobs, developing skills and finding a family. And they continue to come back when they have moved away and their lives have moved on.
During the years the Conservatives won control in H&F they sold off as many community buildings as they could (and hundreds of council homes), often at auction for way below market value. The Baron’s Court Project survived and when Labour regained control they gave away the freeholds of this and other buildings. This not only gave security, it enabled charities and community groups to fund improvements and repairs. Michael pointed out the new windows and shower room to the Mayor.
This is what politics should be about. Pragmatic help to enable good things to happen. From working with Sadiq for 16 years now I know that is the type of person he is. Not flashy, just dedicated to this city and the people who live in it. I hope you will vote for him on Thursday, and also for our candidate for the London Assembly, Rita Begum, who has been a revelation to me in this campaign for her hard work and commitment.
The Johnson era is not just about bad policies, it is about the betrayal of fundamental values. It was summed up by an incautious BBC journalist who posited ‘do people care’ if the Prime Minister lies? The debate, we are told, is now not about whether the Government is honest but whether we want them to be.
Johnson has surrounded himself with characters as dishonest as he is – Patel, Shapps, Williamson – like him previously sacked for duplicity. This infects not just the Tory Party and the Government but the laws we pass and the way the state intrudes on our lives.
Many of my interventions in Parliament now are to try and challenge this debasement of standards by the present regime: breaking humanitarian law on asylum, claiming institutional racism doesn’t exist, criminalising trespass, undermining freedom of information, handing out millions to consultants without scrutiny.
Last week I introduced a Bill to improve fire safety in high-rise housing. It is shocking, not only that little has been done to address this issue four years after Grenfell but that thousands of residents are now trapped in unsafe building unable to move and facing bills that will bankrupt them.
Even on Hammersmith Bridge the deception continues. Last month I and three of my west London colleagues held a Commons debate again calling for action. Read it and decide if our approach was reasonable – and read the Minister’s response which was partisan, disingenuous and disrespectful of all those left in limbo by the two-year closure.
The Conservative candidate for Mayor said last year that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had promised to fund the full cost of repair. To date not a penny has been allocated by Government to repairing the main structure. So now he says he will fund it through a non-existent bank or money legally reserved for running tubes and buses, and that he will build a temporary bridge (vetoed by his own Government) for good measure. We deserve better than this fantasy.
Meanwhile, the only decision the Government has taken is that we should have an expensive and elaborate ferry installed while the Bridge is left to rot. Last week the Times suggested we demolish the Bridge and build a new one named after Prince Philip.
I hope the late Prince will be memorialised across the country, but Hammersmith Bridge is Hammersmith, and the finest of the Thames bridges. Not to mention that we would still need to find £150m, that demolishing the current listed structure would face years of resistance in the courts and that if a new bridge were finally built it would permit 44 tonne trucks to thunder through Hammersmith and Barnes.
A deal has to be done, and perhaps with the election out of the way that is possible. The Mayor and the Transport Secretary meet on 17 May to thrash out the next phase of funding for TfL. That is the opportunity to decide on the future of the Bridge. All options should be on the table as to ownership, funding streams and methods of repair. What can’t continue is the current brinkmanship from Whitehall.
A return to health
Having shivered outside a couple of pubs over the weekend to help restart the local economy, I am like everyone keeping my fingers crossed that the current out-of-lockdown plan works. Vaccination has slowed again, but the basics – inoculating those most at risk and most likely to fill up hospital beds – have been done, thanks to the stamina and skill of NHS staff.
Big problems remain. We still have to negotiate our way through the most tricky phases of reopening the economy without tearing the pants out of it as the deputy chief medical officer memorably said a year ago.
I think, with a few exceptions, the public have behaved really well under huge stress. Bigger challenges will be responding to developments like new strains, vaccine shortage and hesitancy and opening borders too quickly. This requires the leadership we sadly lack from a Prime Minister who puts his own comfort, finances and personal needs before his duty to the country. He was prepared to – and did – sacrifice lives because he felt under pressure from Covid-deniers. That alone should see him out of office.
But whoever is in charge, the crisis in the NHS needs addressing. Staff are exhausted, investment is poor, the backlog of treatment is longer than ever and privatisers and consultants are leeching off it once again. Two surgeries in the Borough are among a total of 70 now owned by the subsidiary of Centene, a US company with a terrible record of profit-stripping and poor service. I am pleased to see H&F Save our NHS back in action to fight this, with the backing of similar movements and councils across the country.
Helping the helpers
In addition to my regular reminder of the organisations in the borough who have done so much to help people through the pandemic and encourage support for them, I have a request. Both H&F Foodbank and H&F Mencap are looking for new premises to allow them to continue their essential work without eating into their limited funds. If you know of any spaces locally they might use, let me know and I will pass the message on.
United in Hammersmith, which has raised the funds for many of these organisations is looking for a new Chair to replace the excellent Kevin McGrath who is standing down. If you might be the person to fill this vital role or know someone who could, contact United directly.
And finally, Tina Mayers and her team at Shepherds Bush Families Project is looking for new trustees, including a new treasurer and someone with company fundraising experience. SBFP has cared for some of the poorest children in the borough for over 30 years and working with them is so rewarding. Further details can be found here.
If you haven’t heard of Mike Cartwright, he would have been quietly pleased by that. Mike died last month after 18 years as a councillor, latterly as deputy leader of the council then Mayor, and also as Presiding Justice of the local Magistrates’ Bench. But when I met him in 1990 he had already held senior positions on Ipswich and Suffolk councils before moving to Hammersmith.
In a word, his was a life devoted to public service. He was a person of absolute probity and integrity, a highly intelligent and cultured man, a chartered surveyor by profession, undertaking so many of the unsung but essential roles in civil society.
He had a passion for social justice and for the power of the state to do good (and the need to keep an eye of it lest it did not). He was always on the side of the least advantaged in society. He was unambiguously Labour but, as the tributes to him last week at full Council showed, everyone held him in equal respect whatever their politics. Two years ago, in a rare honour, the Council unanimously awarded him the Freedom of the Borough and made him an Alderman.
I will miss Mike as a friend and as a good steward. Many people owe him a debt of thanks, some of whom will have never met him or realised the work he did. That epitomises his sense of duty and service.