Monday, 30 April 2007

Pelargoniums - that's the spirit

On Friday night water began leaking into my flat from the one above - not a good start to the weekend. At least the smell of wet ceiling plaster encouraged me to escape to Abbey Road for more leaflet-delivering.
St John's Wood was a wood a long time ago. Now it is housing, much of it large family houses but (typical of London) council estates are never far away. Many affluent households have concreted over their front gardens to park their cars on. Some council flat households green over the stained concrete approaches to their front doors with pelargoniums. I disapprove of the garden-wrecking and I like the pelargoniums. They prove that all the surrounding shabbiness cannot discourage the occupiers from trying to live.
One thing the inhabitants have in common is fear of crime. In the affluent places this manifests itself by sharp railings, locked gates, entryphones and, instead of doorbells, gatebells; but the Townshend Estate council tenants have only stickers announcing that the property within is security-marked and callers will be asked for identification. Westminster Council, despite requests, has failed to install security doors in the Townshend Estate. (When it comes to tackling crime, never mind what the ruling Tories say: look at what they do.) Our candidate has vowed to press for security improvements there.
Democracy is a great leveller. The council tenant's vote is worth as much as the mansion owner's. The Tory majority here in 2006 was achieved on a very low turnout. If only folk in places like this would start to use their own power to take control of their lives, the Tories would be out of power for good.
On Sunday evening some charming children patted the dog.

Friday, 27 April 2007

More treasured campaigning moments.

Yesterday was, shall we say, interesting. I was out delivering at what passes locally for the Final Frontier (the boundary between Westminster and Camden). You can tell a lot about a place by people's front doors. I feel particular sympathy with the elector who had put a notice above his doorbell stating simply: "This is not a brothel!"
Further up the same street a distinctly worse for wear and far from clean individual asked me whether there was an off licence down the road. I said I didn't know, but that there was a pub. This aggrieved him somewhat (perhaps he'd been evicted from it?) but he was persuaded that there might be an off licence in that direction, so off he went. With a sense of relief I managed to gain entry to a block of flats and was delivering my leaflets there, but my sense of security was shortlived. I inadvertently rattled someone's letter box, the door opened and the occupier emerged to ask whether I wanted to come in. That was fine in itself except that he was minus his trousers and underpants at the time. I told him no thank you, I was just delivering letters, and beat an orderly but fairly swift retreat.
Just as well that the dog and I are champion walkers, because the buses were at a standstill. The reason for this became clear when I spotted a pall of smoke above Oxford Circus and police cars blocking the road. We walked most of the way home.
A campaigning tip: wear comfortable shoes.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Never mind the snapshot, it's a video

Only a few days of campaigning to go in our two by-elections here in the City of Westminster. Three things to remember about campaigning. First, enjoy it. Second, enjoy it. And third - you guessed! From that flow good things: the team works well together, we keep going, and new helpers come forward. They can see we are effective and doing stuff that's worthwhile.
Out delivering in Marylebone again yesterday, how could I not enjoy it? Finding a quiet garden off Paddington Street. Meeting the kind people in the Blandford Cafe who gave my dog a treat. Seeing voters reading with genuine interest the leaflets I've just delivered. Knowing that democracy is always ready to flourish again given a little TLC, even in unpromising places, like the little streets that have been turned into oases overflowing with plants in containers.
Whatever the results on 3rd May,it's the starting point for future campaigns and future victories. Never mind the snapshot - it's the video that counts.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Labour gets desperate in City of Westminster

Labour fights dirty (so what's new?) - the smoking gun this time is a leaflet in Abbey Road Ward by-election. I've seen the evidence! It falsely claims that London Assembly Lib Dems want to abolish the Freedom Pass. Does this mean that Labour fears meltdown in Abbey Road on 3rd May? Mm, what a delicious thought. Labour can't win in Abbey Road and doesn't deserve to, especially when it stoops to "dodgy dossier" tactics like these.
It is so obvious that in the long run Labour will never get control of the City of Westminster. They practically bust a gut trying to win in 1986 - I was there in Victoria Ward, I witnessed it - and yet they still couldn't win, though they scared Shirley Porter enough to come up with her gerrymandering plan. (Now that was a humdinger of a dirty trick! It is a curious fact that the Tories have never suffered for it at the ballot box as they deserved.) Yes, dirty tricks go back a long way here.
If one glorious day the Tories lose control of Westminster City Hall, it won't be to Labour. In the long run, as in Richmond, the opposition will be Lib Dem - the sooner the better, in my opinion. The first thing I would do would be to sell the gas-guzzling Rolls Royce that the Mayor swooshes about in. Such a bad example to the hoi polloi! I travel by bus and feet mostly, myself.
Talking of feet, I was out and about yesterday in Marylebone High Street ward, delivering leaflets in our other by-election. Whilst there, I dropped in on my former flatmate in Dorset Street and quaffed a glass of wine or two before ambling home in the twilight.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

ELDR Council, Zagreb, Croatia

To Zagreb and back in less than three days for the ELDR Council to which I was elected last year (thank you, by the way, if you voted for me). Got up in the small hours, took the night bus to Heathrow, departed a little late due to fog, changed planes at Vienna. On the second plane I was given a traditional Croatian sweetmeat; the message on the wrapper conveyed a touch of Croatian self-satisfaction at having their country to themselves at last - a veiled triumphalism about the outcome of the vicious wars that convulsed this region only a few years ago?
Colleagues arrived on a slightly later plane and we all piled into taxis and away to the conference hotel - a glorious place, built in 1924 for travellers on the Orient Express and refurbished beautifully.
To work immediately: a pre-Council meeting over sandwiches on the sun-soaked terrace. Then off to the Council for the afternoon.
There was discussion of the worsening conditions for opposition parties in Russia, which include Yabloko, a member party of ELDR. Legislative changes raised the hurdles for opposition parties and restricted still further their already limited ability to criticise the regime. And Yabloko's candidates in St Petersburg were debarred by a dirty trick, as it seems to me, from standing in the recent local elections. This is an important straw in the wind, as this December there will be parliamentary elections in Russia and next year, presidential elections. The Russian people seem never to have had a chance for real democracy. The aims and objects of Yabloko, which I have read, are unthreatening: they want the things that are the fundamentals of a modern liberal and democratic state, and which I have no doubt that most ordinary Russian people would like; yet to judge by events in St Petersburg, corrupt electoral authorities are manipulating the system shamelessly to prevent the people from having that choice. Why? If President Putin is as popular as we are told, what has his regime to fear from free and fair elections? Are they not able to compete successfully in the marketplace of ideas? A mentality seems to pervade the ruling regime that manipulation and intimidation are preferable instruments to reasoned debate and discussion. Is their aim simply retention of power for its own sake? They can hardly seriously believe this results in good government. It is not a thing that thoughtful and reasonable people find easy to understand.
To friends and colleagues in Russia: I salute your courageous efforts. I hope you will overcome the obstacles to free and fair elections. I hope the people of Russia will, despite the regime's control of the media, find out the truth about these manipulations of the system and express their disapproval by voting for you.
After the item on Russia the ELDR Council discussed the proposed theme for the Autumn congress (to be held on 18th and 19th October in Germany). Then we voted for admission of a Moldovan party to the growing family of Lib Dem and Reform parties of Europe.
Then away to a dinner hosted by HNS, the Croatian liberal party. It was held in a sculpture gallery near the cathedral that dominates the city. (The cathedral, I found out, was once the easternmost outpost of Christianity and still has fortifications to show for it.) Then back to the hotel where some of us sampled the local plum brandy, sljivovica - powerful stuff. Slept very well.
Next morning a much reduced delegation attended a conference on the EU and Southeast Europe, in which Croatian political leaders shared their experiences of the process of accession negotiations. After that, a session on Serbia and the status of Kosovo, addressed by, among others, Ambassador Rohan, UN Deputy Special Envoy for Kosovo. This issue is extremely important for the stability of the region. I was impressed that despite the horrific events of the last decade or so there was some cause for hope that shared liberal democratic principles might enable political forces to emerge within and across the borders of Serbia and Kosovo that might end the cycle of confrontation and chaos in the area. In this regard ELDR is very clearly a force for good.
Than a few hours at leisure exploring Zagreb. I managed to see two museums and was almost the only visitor in each. Clearly the citizens had better things to do - it was glorious weather, and everyone seemed to be lounging about in cafes and bars, or buying and selling fruit and veg in the market, or at Mass in the cathedral.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Save Manor Garden from the Olympic quangos

Just as well that I took time off this Easter to plant things on my allotment, because there was an official Inspection on Sunday afternoon, shock horror! Bad marks get you a notice to quit. My patch had just enough signs of being tended to be acceptable: phew. My neighbour Ron generously shared a bottle of cider, quaffed from enamel mugs in the late afternoon sunshine - very nice too.
The friendship, gentle humour and community spirit among allotment gardeners has to be experienced to be properly appreciated.
Which is one reason why I am saddened, angered and bewildered by the Olympic Games quangos' efforts to evict all the tenants from the 80 allotments at the Manor Garden site in the Lea Valley, East London (featured in the Observer on 9th April; see to read more). I may be wrong, but I thought the whole point of the Olympic project was urban regeneration. As far as I am concerned the Manor Garden is the only place in the area that doesn't need regenerating: it is already regenerated. An oasis of peace, growth, beneficial activity and community - what more could anyone ask?
The other reason for my sadness and concern is that allotments are a refuge where beleaguered wildlife can flourish. We won't know what we've got till it's gone, as the song goes.
I am also cross because taking the land is a breach of the trust created by the benefactor who originally bequeathed the land for use as gardens by locals, over a century ago.
80 allotments are quite a lot of land, and I am mystified why it should all be needed for a pedestrian walkway, as the Olympic quangos claim. That must be a heck of a lot of pedestrians! In fact, I don't believe it. As the whole Olympic circus will be a nine days' wonder, I would have thought that a temporary raised walkway, like the ones that cross the railway lines at stations, would be perfectly adequate; and I'm sure the allotment holders would be pleased to grant a temporary licence across their gardens for the purpose. They could provide local interest, and perhaps wave to passers-by. They might even promise to be tidy! So everyone could be happy.
Unless, of course, the hidden agenda is to get rid of those tiresome little people with their quaint ways and ramshackle garden sheds so that all evidence of real local life as it is lived are removed and nothing mars the razmatazz and glitz that will be put on for the international media?
Seb, Ken and the rest of you, you clearly can't do arithmetic but I hope you can read this. I am very, very annoyed.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

More excitement in City of Westminster

The council is the Tories' flagship, the ward is Marylebone High Street, the cause is resignation, the circumstances are intriguing (allegedly missing cash) and there's another council by-election in my patch. To lose one councillor is unfortunate but to lose two...? The story made it into the Evening Standard yesterday. Apparently the police have been called in.
We have had our work cut out to select our candidate and collect the nomination signatures. Nominations close tomorrow at noon. Fingers crossed, despite the extremely short notice we will have made it just in time.

Monday, 2 April 2007

Abbey Road campaign under way

On Sunday morning the Force was with local party colleague Albert Kemp and me in Abbey Road: tradesmen's bells worked, friendly residents let us in, we got almost all our Focuses delivered in record time and the weather was almost perfect. Delighted to learn that illustrious colleagues from other parts of London had come to help the previous day, including Jonathan Fryer and Monica Whyte. Thank you! Please come again.
Beforehand, I took a walk with the dog in Regent's Park. Politics extend there too - the Royal Parks have applied for planning permission to bulldoze an area of semi-wild vegetation and build five-a-side football pitches covered in artificial turf and enclosed with wire netting. This strikes me as odd when Regent's Park already has a large area of very nice real grass football pitches open to the public. I am not convinced that that there is a shortage of five-a-side football pitches, especially ones made of rubber crumb. In fact the only person I have so far come across who claims there is a demand for them is the company which plans to lease the area from the Royal Parks and hire out the pitches privately. And even if there is demand, I don't see why the pitches have to be in one of our precious Parks.
It's the rubber crumb that really puts me off. There is little enough space with living vegetation in the concrete desert of London as it is. Not only does vegetation produce oxygen to breathe, but also in hot weather it is cooler than elsewhere and at all times of year it soothes the soul. None of these are true of rubber crumb.
Albert and I adjourned to a pub for refreshments and got talking about science fiction. Turns out that we are both keen Philip K. Dick fans. A particularly good read is The World Jones Made, in which liberal values are taken to their logical extreme. Then someone leads a backlash. He is a precog, but the trouble is that he can't see far enough ahead. Bizarre, astonishing - the author was a genius.