Making a pig’s ear of it
We didn’t need the Omicron variant or Storm Arwen to remind us that there is likely a hard winter ahead.
After a tough couple of years of Covid and a tough decade of austerity, a lot of the services and people we rely on are running on empty. But it is also times like this that can bring out the best in people. Solidarity is important whether it is with NHS and care staff, those struggling to make ends meet or refugees risking their lives to find a safe and welcoming home.
It’s also a time we need government and politicians to step up. Can we have less performative politics and more delivery, I heard one commentator say today? What they meant was the present government is great at saying things but not doing them.
A lot of that is in the character of the Prime Minister and the people like him he has brought into government. They have a lot of energy and interest in showboating and not much inclination for graft (in the UK sense of the word rather than the US).
The Prime Minister’s Peppa Pig speech last week can be read either as his emperor’s new clothes moment or as his version of Trump saying ‘I could shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters’. Either way it’s not a good position for us to be in and though the Patterson affair and the social care crisis have provoked some resistance from government MPs it is not enough and not soon enough.
Over 5,000 people attended Imperial’s A&E departments last week. 13% up on two years ago – pre-pandemic. Ambulance ‘handovers’ below 30 minutes were at 86% (against a target of 95%). This is still better than much of the country. We live in a busy area with complex health needs. Thankfully we have world-class hospitals, but we have exhausted staff and there is still high Covid prevalence with over 80 cases in hospital locally. Nationally, the ever increasing number of people waiting for treatment will likely pass the six million mark, with some waiting for one or even two years. This is back to Thatcher/Major times.
I am hearing from constituents who find it difficult to get a GP appointment, especially face-to-face. At the same time, I have been in Parliament voting against the new Health & Social Care Bill which promises more bureaucracy and privatisation and nothing to help recruitment and retention of medical staff. This is the take on the Bill from H&F Save our NHS.
I have had my booster. Can I please ask anyone reading this to get up to date on their vaccines and persuade their families and friends to do likewise? It is really easy here with many pharmacies now enrolled to help. From this week there are some limited changes to the rules on testing and mask wearing. I am suspicious that this is more cosmetic – acknowledging the new variant without restricting pre-Xmas activities – than scientific. The full effect of Omicron is unlikely to be felt until January.
Hopefully it is less virulent than Delta, but I would rather play safe than be sorry.
The majority of people who claim asylum here are granted permission to stay despite the politically hostile environment created by successive Conservative governments. They usually have good reason for claiming asylum in the UK – family ties, qualifications, language or other links – and over time they are an economic as well as a personal asset to our society. We also take in far fewer refugees than most European countries and far fewer than we used to. So, the terrible death of 27 people in the channel last week, including young children, is inexplicable except as a total failure of politics and common humanity. I know that thousands have died in the Mediterranean and other routes, but the UK bears a special responsibility for these fatalities.
It’s easy to blame the worst villains, the people smugglers but there is game-playing here as well. The French government must bear some blame, especially for its brutal treatment of asylum seekers on the Channel coast that I have witnessed myself in visits to makeshift camps in Calais.
But the UK could stop this almost overnight by agreeing to consider applications without people risking their lives. Instead the government is forcing through the Nationality and Borders Bill that will undermine the rights of refugees under international conventions Britain helped to create. Meanwhile, the Afghan refugee scheme, promised at the fall of Kabul, is not even up and running.
Again, I marvel at the distance between the brutality of the legislation I am asked to vote on every week and the practical compassion I see in our community. I visited the new home for West London Welcome recently to see how volunteers and charities in H&F are giving support to recently-arrived refugees. This can be legal, emotional or just fulfilling basic needs for people who might have recently had stable productive lives and are now bereft.
If Cop26 achieved nothing else (I hope it did keep 1.5 alive but I am far from sure), it provoked massive interest in climate change across H&F. I did at least a dozen Q&As in schools as well as a public meeting in White City, organised by Our Lady of Fatima, and lots of talks to community groups. It is not a coincidence that much of the pressure to do something on the climate crisis – from cycling to carbon capture – comes from the under 18s and faith communities. The former will live with the consequences of our profligacy and the latter are often linked with developing world charities where the effects of global warming are being suffered now.
I am somewhat doubtful of the government’s commitment to even their own modest carbon emission reduction targets, given plans for new coal mines and oil fields but at least the danger of a third runway at Heathrow appears to be receding.
H&F 1 – pontoons, poo, post offices and the police
Or more prosaically how we cross the river, what we tip in it and where to find banking services and a police officer when you need one.
The announcement last week that the ferry alongside Hammersmith Bridge had been cancelled was good news – both because it was a poorly designed scheme inflicted on us by the Department for Transport and because it meant the reopening of the Bridge to foot and cycle traffic is now secure.
Despite silence from DfT, the council is proceeding with plans to stabilise the Bridge at current loading and drawing up a scheme for a rebuild to take buses and motor vehicles. But even the cheapest rebuild is beyond the means of any party save central government to afford and there is no sign of government funding anytime soon.
Thames Water has published the terms of reference for its inquiry into the appalling flood of last July. An independent panel will look at what happened, how the existing sewer network performed and what is needed to prevent a repetition. Having been caught be their promises following the last major floods in 2007, I am determined we get a properly functioning sewer system now. It is intolerable that thousands of homes in the borough face the prospect of sewer flooding in extreme weather conditions. The Thames Tunnel will give protection to the river and homes nearby. It is just as vital that all properties are secure from flooding, whether that means more investment in local drainage and pumping schemes or bigger and better sewers.
Nat West are closing their Shepherds Bush branch in March next year. With HSBC, Barclays and Santander also having closed in the past five years, this leaves one of our town centres – and a busy and expanding one at that – with no banking facilities. The loss of Nat West is particularly annoying given we persuaded them to stay open three years ago. There are banks in Westfield and of course in Hammersmith Broadway but that’s hardly the point. I know a lot more banking is done online but about half Nat West’s customers aren’t digital and I think this is short sighted and definitely not customer focused.
Whenever I argue with the banks about lack of branches, they point to the banking facilities they share with post offices. You know what is coming. As I described in a recent Commons debate we are waiting for six post offices to open locally after ‘temporary’ closures, which must be a national record. These range from the main Hammersmith branch that used to be in WH Smith to the sub offices in White City, St Ann’s Road, Stamford Brook and Fulham Palace Road to the new branch promised for Shepherds Bush Green when they moved the main office into Westfield.
Last week I joined our neighbourhood police officers and Coop staff at the Goldhawk Road store for Respect for Shopworkers week. Assaults and abuse towards shop staff, who have served us throughout the pandemic at personal risk, is unacceptably high. But I am also getting more complaints of anti-social behaviour, drug dealing and theft especially from the Uxbridge and Goldhawk Road areas. The police are under a lot of scrutiny as well as pressure at present and are still recovering from the huge cuts in officer numbers that happened after 2010. Now they want to hear from us what their priorities should be.
H&F 2 – getting back to normal
The past few weeks have seen a real post-covid reopening, I just hope it can continue.
- I gave out medals to the riders at Wormwood Scrubs Pony Centre, alongside Anneka Rice who built the riding school there 20 years ago. The Centre is a hidden treasure of our borough, please give it your support.
- This weekend I heard the brilliant Addison Singers perform Faure’s Requiem, their first concert in two years. Their next appearance is at St Saviour’s Wendell Park on 7 December in support of the Upper Room charity, who I often plug as their patron and will do so again. If you can’t attend, consider donating to this wonderful local charity – and if you do so between now and 7 December your donation will be doubled, thanks to the Big Give.
- I was able to visit Wormwood Scrubs prison again and did so twice. First, the official opening of the Escape restaurant by Mayor Sadiq Khan who has funded it to train prisoners as chefs so they can find a job on release. Second, with the shadow prisons minister to look at conditions after 18 months of Covid.
- Hammersmith now boasts the London MindSports Centre, a great new local facility for the whole community. Created from the old Salvation Army Hall in Dalling Road, the centre has been newly refurbished. It hosts a bridge club, go centre, various chess clubs and is keen to increase its games offerings. It also has rooms available for hire to other local groups in the daytime and evenings. You can contact the centre on 07713 322420 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- I stopped by the Happiness Roundel on Hammersmith station with its creator Dan Vo – part of the TfL’s celebration of London’s LGBT+ community.
- It was good to have a full service of Remembrance at Shepherds Bush and Fulham this month after last year’s constrictions. I have never seen so many people lining the route and attending the ceremony in 35 years. We also welcomed some of the troops from Operation Pitting to the Commons last week. These were the UK forces who helped 15,000 Afghans out of Kabul as the Taliban took control, including some families with relatives in H&F.
Two events will stick in my memory from the last few weeks. The first is the death of David Amess, murdered as he went about his job as an MP helping constituents. I knew David quite well through the group on fire safety he chaired and which had both highlighted the risks and pursued the culprits of Grenfell and other tragedies. We agreed on little in politics but rather than dispute found something we both cared about and could work together to achieve. I will miss his energy and positivity and genuine affection for people.
I will also miss Melanie Whitlock who was a lynchpin of the Hammersmith Society for 40 years but has just moved to Edinburgh to be near her family. Melanie was a brilliant advocate for the borough and a charming but forceful advocate for our heritage, community and environment. At her farewell party I looked around the room and saw people I have known for several decades, whose interests and politics differ hugely but who have all given their time and skills to improve the quality of life in Hammersmith. Melanie epitomised the tradition of civic service and good neighbourliness that thrives here and in much of the country. She will be missed for the work she did and the example she set.