"Never forget that compromise is not a dirty word. Life depends on compromise" so said Theresa May when she resigned today, quoting Sir Nicholas Winton who saved Jewish children in Germany.
Problem is that she did not compromise when she most needed to.
A 52:48 Brexit vote while clearly indicating Leave also clearly indicated that a compromise was required. And a compromise does not mean you abandon your principles but it does mean trying to find the right solution that works for as many people as possible.
Yesterday I only decided how to vote at the last minute after much thought. In the end I did vote for Syed Kamall, the lead Conservative candidate in London.
1. It would be good for the government of the UK if it had at least one experienced MEP in the European Parliament. Somebody who can report back to the UK government what is happening in Parliament and vice versa.
2. He is a hard-working and experienced MEP with many personal qualities so even though he did not want the job (he is a Leaver) I voted for him.
3. If I had voted Lib-Dem / or Change UK – both options I had considered I would have had to quit as a Conservative Councillor. I did consider it but in Tower Hamlets a political group needs two members, if I quit there would no longer be an opposition group to the overwhelming Labour dominance. That would not be good for TH.
But how could I vote for Remain parties while still believing we need to Leave? And no party offered what I prefer as a compromise, a soft Brexit.
With a leadership election, the long-term future of the party is up for debate. It will force many of us to think about what membership means, the role of the Conservative Party and how it evolves to meet future challenges. But there is also the risk that it goes off at a tangent. But the Conservative Party has a long history of pragmatism (aka a survival instinct) so I hope that kicks in now.
I am thinking about how to steer it in the right direction as the UK needs a sensible, pragmatic, centre right party especially when the Labour party is going left. But for now it is easier for me to define my own red lines at which point my membership of the Party would be in doubt. They are:
1. A ‘no deal’ WTO exit
2. An electoral pact with Farage and the Brexit Party
3. An end to incompetence – too many mistakes are being made both at CCHQ but also at a national policy level as well as in delivery (Home Office/DWP)
As for leaders I like Rory Stewart, Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt and have always respected Michael Gove (the only Leave leader that I do), I wish Ruth Davidson was running. But also interested in seeing what others like Raab have to say before making final judgment as perceptions may not match reality.
I am in an odd situation, London needs to build new homes and I agree that quite a few can be built on the Isle of Dogs but I have none the less spent a lot of time to write 10 pages of reasons as to why the Inspector should refuse the new planning application for Westferry Printworks. It is basically too tall for the area.
You can see the appeal information here.
You cannot just say that you do not like an application you have to provide planning reasons as to why it should be rejected. Which are in the attached file.
I started filling in the application form to be a Change UK (TIG) candidate for the European Parliamentary elections. I did not submit it, but I am glad that 3,700 other people did and that the Renew party folded into Change UK as well. Democracy requires choices.
I started filling in the form as a way for me to think about politics in the UK and my role in it. As I said before I got more involved when I realised that our political system was not as good as I thought it should be. Clearly, nothing has happened to change my views on that :)
I am fully aware of my limitations as a politician, but I know with certainty that I could a better job than some of our MP’s. It is not that I think they are bad people or corrupt or in politics for the wrong reasons, just that they lack the skills, knowledge, commitment or emotional intelligence required. A few should not be MP’s.
I do not know if the Conservative party will survive. It has many sensible, rational people but it has got itself into a terrible mess. The party as an institution has major problems and I think the differences between the ERG wing and the rest are too far now to be reconciled. Some have become fixated on leaving rather than on how we leave the EU in a way that does the least damage to our political and economic systems
All parties should be broad churches and the Conservatives have been a success for centuries by maintaining a level of discipline that allows at least a perception that we are one party. That has clearly broken down.
And I think the differences are so great as to be a form of dishonesty when you vote Conservative what will you get? A leaver like Steve Baker or a remainer like Ken Clark, a Jacob Rees Mogg or a John Major, a Mark Francois or a Rory Stewart (I am on the Clark, Major, Stewart side by the way). Both sides will argue that they are the true Conservative, but that is my point it is not clear which is which anymore, which is where the unintentional dishonesty now comes. But the country needs a sensible and pragmatic Conservative party if it is to work (and Conservatives have for almost two centuries been the natural party of government).
At least Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston had the courage of their convictions and left. They knew it was probably the end of their political careers, but they did it anyway.
But what do I do?
Do I try and change the Conservatives from within? I have tried, I have twice applied to go onto the candidate's list, nothing has happened yet. I applied to be a GLA candidate on the London wide list and did not get beyond the 1st stage interview. The London wide list candidates were selected last month, and I have no idea who they are or what they have done yet although the whole point of picking them early was to get them active and known.
Perhaps I should change parties? I did that once before in the early 2000s when I joined the Liberal Democrats the last time the Conservatives went loopy over Europe. But it was a mistake then and my gut says it would be a mistake now. It is not that I dislike the Lib-Dems or think they are beyond the pale but like Stephen Lloyd MP who quit the Lib-Dems over Brexit, I do not agree that you can pretend that the Leave vote did not happen. I am not convinced they are the solution.
But there is so much work to do locally I suspect me talking about national politics is a distraction from the many local issues that need to be worked on.
But the European Parliamentary elections I think are an opportunity to test where we are as a nation almost 3 years after the Brexit vote so I do plan to do some work on this, to encourage people to vote, to make sure they understand the process (especially the D'Hondt method of counting the results) and to answer any questions you may have. But I hope people will look at the issues, the policies, the candidates before casting their vote.
After the garden bridge debacle cost £43 million of public money (£24 million by TfL) before collapsing in ignominy we would normally assume that politicians as well as TfL would learn from mistakes made.
But quietly another debacle is gathering pace, in October 2016 Mayor Sadiq Khan announced that a new cycling and pedestrian bridge would be built to connect Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf, he said ‘the new bridge could be open by as soon as 2020’. But the TfL team to deliver the project did not start work until early 2017. They knew they had to deliver a bridge and deliver it quickly before they had done any work looking at options.
The new bridge will be the largest pedestrian and cycling bridge in the world. It will also be the largest vertical lifting bridge in the world in order to allow ships through underneath. All to replace the existing pedestrian ferry which has never been full. One of the main justifications for the bridge is to relieve pressure on the Jubilee line between Canada Water and Canary Wharf after TfL decided not to buy ten extra Jubilee line trains because TfL did not think they were needed to relieve capacity.
In October 2016 I wrote to the then Deputy Mayor for London responsible for Transport suggesting that as an interim step that they make the existing ferry free to use. It would allow TfL to understand pedestrian demand from the existing population in Rotherhithe (the ferry has a very limited ability to carry bicycles but that could be expanded). TfL refused. This has been the fundamental problem all along with TfL. The refusal to consider alternatives which would contradict the Mayors publicly stated promise of a bridge. A promise made the same day he announced that the Silvertown road tunnel would go ahead (perhaps to appease the green lobby he felt he had to offer them a clean bridge?).
If you believe funds are unlimited then this bridge might make sense though it cannot be open 247 due to the need to open for ships passing by (up to 60 minutes for large ships). As of February 2019, TfL has already spent £9.9 million on the new bridge and the TfL budget suggests another £8 million to be spent this year before planning permission is even sought. But the cost of this bridge is becoming the critical issue.
TfL originally said it will cost between £120 and £180 million to build and £2.4 million a year to run each year (it will need to be staffed 247 like Tower Bridge). But other reports say it will cost £200 million to build and unofficially TfL do not dispute that the build cost may go to £400 million. We should get the next estimate of costs in late April but £300 million seem to be a fair assumption of the cost for now (the shorter and simpler garden bridge was originally estimated to cost £60 million and ended up being forecast to cost over £200 million).
TfL assume the equivalent of 3,333 pedestrians and 1,875 cyclists will use the bridge each day. Although with a 27-minute walk from Canary Wharf to the main area of new development at Canada Water across the 800-meter-long bridge (assuming not closed for ships) it is not clear how many people will make that walk on a dark winter’s night. If it did cost £300 million to build and £2.4 million a year to operate that is a capital cost of £57,604 to build per user and £461 a year to operate per user (the bridge would be free to use). The benefit/cost ratio for the proposed bridge suggest that it maybe negative with a value possibly as low as 0.7 (1 being value for money), the ferry benefit/cost ratio starts at 1.
TfL did model the cost of up to three electric roll on roll off electric ferries and new pontoons at £30 million + £2.4 million a year to run (same as the bridge). But thereafter they have actively discounted it as an option even though we know it would cost less, be more comfortable in winter and would often be quicker to cross for pedestrians.
But the main cost is the opportunity cost. £300 million on a bridge is about 21% of the total Healthy Streets capital programme between 2019-2024. If we build a bridge what projects won’t now take place elsewhere? The main justification for the bridge is to encourage more cycling and walking, but perhaps smaller projects will deliver more benefits?
TfL will say that the last consultation showed that 93% supported the bridge but only 37% of respondents said they would use the bridge to commute, 56% would use for leisure use. But that consultation never mentioned the ferry as an option, nor the cost of the bridge!
A ferry does not mean you cannot later build a bridge later if the ferries are packed each day (you can move the ferries and their pontoons easily to other locations). But the reverse is not true, if you build a bridge which is then under-used it is too late.
The Mayor of London should first test demand for this new bridge by making the existing ferry free to use. Then when more user data is available re-consult people offering two choices: an expensive but permanent bridge and a cheaper roll on roll off electric ferry. Failure to do so means that the Transport and Works Order which would give the bridge permission to go ahead would fail as TfL won’t be able to prove that they properly considered alternatives. But it is possible that is the intention. The bridge is now financially unviable, and it would be politically less embarrassing if the Mayor could blame the government for its rejection rather than his own failure in announcing a solution before properly looking at the options (a similar mistake to those made by Boris Johnson).
Picture below of a vertical lifting bridge in France so that you can see how it works
I had hoped that 2019 was to be a year without elections but we now face the possibility of three more: general election, EU Parliament & EU referendum: the Council is preparing for all three just in case. You may wish to register to vote :)
I have not supported a Peoples Vote until now but if Parliament cannot resolve issues this week then we need some dramatic solution to cut the Gordian knot. I had hoped that Parliament would do its job, but they only have days left to do so. A referendum would do that, but what should the question be?
I am surprised that the government did not consider earlier a referendum between different forms of Leave. A Canada or Norway model could have been put to the vote to resolve this quagmire. It would have offered both Remainer’s and Leavers something to fight for. Perhaps now the argument not to include a Remain option in a referendum is weaker but I still hesitate at including it.
The argument to 17.4 million leave voters that you cannot have what you voted for because our politicians, parties and leaders are not up to it is not a good one even if true. We did vote to leave despite lies on both sides, leaves were worse but remember Obama's back of the queue comment requested by Cameron, despite Remain outspending Leave once you include government spending, despite Project Fear promising economic disaster if we left.
I have not changed my mind on supporting Remain in 2016, I fear long term relative economic decline, that the Union will disintegrate, that we are stronger in the EU and that it is good for the EU that we are in. But we lost the argument and as somebody who believes that democracy is more important than our relationship with the EU, I really struggle with any option that says we can ignore the result.
And if Remainer’s are truly convinced that leaving would be a disaster perhaps they should be pushing for a managed no deal exit as that would most quickly lead to the economic damage they claim and the support of the British people to then return to the EU. After 2016 I realised that perhaps you cannot be members of a club if the majority of the country do not understand how the club operates. Perhaps we need to leave in order to better understand the rules?
I always thought that being outside the EU could work in theory, but it would require a revolution, we are not ready for the revolution and the leaders of that revolution do not inspire confidence. A Norway like exit would give us a smoother exit in the meantime.
I am not sure what a general election now would resolve. What would the parties offer be? The Conservatives are struggling to coalesce around the Withdrawal agreement, we have not even worked out yet where we see the UK in the global economy. Labour will offer a softer form of Brexit, or will they? But I think one is inevitable before 2022.
There is an argument for revocation of Article 50 to restart the process from scratch, but it has to be on the basis that we have another referendum in a year or two and a clear process as to how to conduct that referendum so that it sticks and is not advisory. If we hold EU Parliamentary elections in May they could be used to judge the countries mood on the subject if parties offered clear alternatives. A general election result would provide less clarity on what the country wanted as regards Brexit.
Had I been an MP I would have voted for the Withdrawal agreement at the 2ndand 3rdgoes but not the first one, last night I would have voted for Common Market 2.0. But I would not have voted for Theresa May as leader of the Conservative party last December. I do not support No Deal.
I think the last four years have been a failure of government process on a monumental scale. I got actively involved in politics in my 40’s when I realised that our political systems, processes and some politicians were not that good, it is worse than I thought.
I think it would be more honest if the Conservative party split, the question is which side leaves first. And almost every day I think about my position in all of us but in the meantime, I only have time to focus on local issues. It is not as if Tower Hamlets is a beacon of excellent government either!
My article in Conservative Home about Tower Hamlets Council providing property and buildings for faith groups
We sent the attached report to the government, Tower Hamlets Council and the Police last year as a lessons to learn report last June. But we never quite finished the public version of the report and then got distracted by other events. But here is a copy of the report we submitted (but with names of some contributors removed).
Below and in attached link here
Teaching unions and the Labour Party routinely claim that school budgets are being cut. It is true that many schools are going through difficult times especially if they have declining pupil numbers. But the complexity of school funding has allowed an overly simplistic narrative to emerge, that all or most school budgets are being cut. This is not true and can be contradicted if detailed analysis is available per school, unfortunately that information is not easily accessible, the point of this article.
Rising pension costs, higher national minimum wages, staff wage increases, changes in pupil numbers and general inflation are all factors making budgeting for headteachers and school governors more difficult and understandably they want more cash. But to understand changes in school finances we need to do it a school level as that is what local parents are concerned about.
But with major changes coming in school funding across England due to the National Funding Formula this subject is going to get more complex rather than less and will result in good news in a number of areas but in those areas like mine with high levels of pupil funding it will be easy to present national changes as rich areas benefiting at the expense of the poor (which is incorrect).
But in the meantime, the complexity has made it easier for misleading information to circulate.
James Cleverly MP has already got Sir David Norgrove, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority to look at national claims made by the School Cuts campaign website, Sir David said “We believe the headline statement that “91% of schools face funding cuts” risks giving a misleading impression of future changes in school budgets. The method of calculation may also give a misleading impression of the scale of change for some particular schools.” He also said, “It was not however possible to reproduce the exact figures published on the website, as the underlying data are not publicly available and the methodology is not wholly clear.”
But when it is possible to look at detailed local school data, we can also find stories giving a misleading impression.
For example, in Tower Hamlets the Labour group issued a press release recently which said, “New analysis from the National Education Union (NEU) of schools funding allocations show the Government has broken its promise that there would be “a cash increase for every school in every region” – with 31 schools in Tower Hamlets alone having seen their funding cut in 2018/19.”
I looked at the claim in detail as they related to Schools block funding allocations (the data from which the NEU made their claim) and found that of the 31 schools listed:
Twenty-nine schools had a reduction in pupil numbers year on year, as schools are funded on a per pupil basis this means their budgets are reduced (as the budget moves with the child) but their budgets fell by less than the % fall in pupil numbers.
Labour by saying they should not have budget cuts are in effect saying children cannot move schools or if they do, they cannot take their budget with them, hardly fair. We also have an issue with declining birth rates in Tower Hamlets meaning fewer children entering school.
One school had converted into an Academy school and how it was compensated for business rates changed - Labour presented this as a budget cut, it was not. And another did see its budget fall by 0.1% more than its fall in pupil numbers, due to a big fall in the number of pupils learning English as an additional language.
Separately in a recent by-election leaflet Labour claimed that seven local schools were suffering from ‘deep Tory cuts’, in fact only one had a budget reduction last year, caused entirely by fewer school pupils. Their press release actually contradicted their own election leaflets as six of the schools they claimed suffered from budget cuts were not in their press release as suffering from budget cuts!
They did not mention the other fifty-eight local schools with funding increases.
Between 2017/18 and 2018/19 total block funding for all primary and secondary schools in Tower Hamlets had increased by 2.4%. Total pupil numbers were up 1.3%. In this one year funding increased in line with inflation and by more than pupil numbers. Most people would not call this a cut. And as long as increased pupil numbers do not create the need for extra staff, they do not have a major financial impact.
But schools with declining pupil numbers do suffer as it is not always easy to reduce staffing & overhead costs in proportion to reductions in pupil numbers.
The Tower Hamlets Labour group also claimed that the National Funding Formula changes would result in a £24 million cut to Tower Hamlets schools over the next 10 years. They supplied no backup to this claim.
They also did not mention that Tower Hamlets, my Borough gets £5,893 per year per primary school pupil, the highest rate in the country. York by contrast only gets £3,548 per pupil, the lowest in the country. That is a 66% gap but the gap between teacher’s pay in Inner London and outside London is 21%. London is an expensive city, but it is not clear that it is 66% more expensive then York.
And these numbers do not include Pupil Premium which is worth an extra £1,320 for primary school pupils in receipt of free school meals. It is how the government ensures poorer pupils get extra funding.
But doing the detailed analysis to refute the Labour claims required a knowledge of school funding, downloading lots of spreadsheets and scarce time which not everybody will have. It is time that somebody centralised this kind of analysis down to an individual school level, making it easy to access and comprehend, it should not be done by the unions themselves for obvious reasons.
The Department of Education should produce some kind of analysis of the information it already holds using data tools like Tableau especially while we transition to the National Funding Formula. Until this is done it will allow special interest groups to distort the reality of school funding, school budgets have got more difficult to manage and some areas have seen real terms cuts, but I suspect that the reality is not as bad as people’s perceptions. It is then possible to have an adult discussion about what to do about it.
Lies, dammed lies and statistics - an example from Tower hamlets Labour plus how to ignore the real issues facing local schools
The Tower Hamlets Labour Group sent a press release last week saying Broken promises from Government on school funding which said “31 schools in Tower Hamlets have had budgets cut in real-terms, despite Government promise that every school would see an increase in funding.”
It was widely reported including by the East London Advertiser here
Very simply of the 31 schools they allege had budget cuts:
1 school - changed from being a local authority school to Academy and how it was compensated for business rates changed - Labour presented this as a budget cut, it was not, it is that their budget was compiled differently this year
29 schools - saw a reduction in pupil numbers year on year, as schools are funded on a per pupil basis this means their budgets are reduced (as the budget moves with the child) but their budgets fell by less then the fall in pupil numbers
Labour by saying they should not have budget cuts are in effect saying children cannot move schools or if they do they cannot take their budget with them (we also have dropping school enrollments as fewer babies born in TH)
1 school - saw a reduction in pupil numbers but its budget fell by 0.1% more than its fall in pupil numbers, I think because of a big fall in pupils learning English as an additional language.
58 schools saw budget increases year on year (including the first school)
I supplied this quote to newspapers
"In the middle of two by-election campaigns the Tower Hamlets Labour party supply misleading statistics to local newspapers. Either the Mayor and the lead Cabinet member do not understand how schools are funded or else they decided to mislead people during an election campaign. School financing is a complex area and it is true school budgets are under pressure due to cost pressures and increasing pupil numbers, but funding has increased year on year (above inflation) and we still receive the highest funding per pupil in the country. Parents should not be scared away from Tower Hamlets by this propaganda as it is pupils leaving schools which cause the greatest financial problems which this inaccurate press release may unfortunately encourage.
Our workings are attached so that they can be checked and we will ask that Tower Hamlets Council support organisations like www.fullfact.org to correct these kinds of errors”
The attached press release has more information and sources (plus at the very end the original Labour press release)
All of the information & backup is in the Excel file link here. I have not named schools in the word document as do not want to make life more difficult for schools already facing budget problems but the information is in the Excel file.
The saga of Raines House shows us everything that is wrong with Tower Hamlets Council. We spend our Council meetings either agreeing a substantial increase in some Councillors pay or discussing issues over which we have no direct responsibility. Anything other than discussing what we are directly responsible for.
We are though responsible for one of the oldest buildings in Tower Hamlets, the Grade I listed Raines House built in 1719, it will celebrate its 300th anniversary next May. For three centuries it has served the community since it was built as a school and we all agree that it needs some work to protect it from the damp and rain.
Nearby is a much more modern building, 15 Chandler street used by a number of local community groups. The two buildings are a real asset for the Wapping community, but they are owned by Tower Hamlets Council, managed by people who sit far away.
On the ground floor of Raines House, a long-standing group of elderly residents meet daily, they have a bar, kitchen and comfy seats. On the first floor is Pollyanna theatre school, where a generation of Wapping children have learnt to dance and sing. On the 1st floor of Chandler street different community groups including an NHS funded mindfulness workshop and a rape crisis group use the space to meet vulnerable residents.
But the Council has a plan to improve your access to community space. They want to build four new community hubs across Tower Hamlets and with £513 million in reserves they have the cash to do it. They also have a problem with the group of elderly residents who run the club in Raines House. They have been using the club for so many years that perhaps the management arrangements no longer match the needs of a 21stcentury bureaucracy. And despite the formation of a new management group the Council seems determined to strip them of any control over the space. They just do not fit the profile that the Council wants.
So, the Council decided with no consultation to put a new community hub into the ground floor of Raines House removing the elderly resident’s access, but they would get in return a brand-new community hub, all modern and gleaming with charges of £30 per hour for a small room, £40 per hour for a multi-purpose space, and £40 for the kitchen. But the ladies of the bingo club just want to make a cup of tea and have a natter, they do not have deep pockets.
To do the work though the Council needed planning permission especially for a Grade 1 listed building. So, they went through the full consultation process on the new interior design. But when the application first came to planning committee Councillors asked for a site visit. Then at the 2ndcommittee meeting on the 27thSeptember when residents asked to speak, the Council refused disagreeing with the definition of the words “new full report” and whether a new report was ‘full’ or not. But Councillors left berefit of information voted to reject the application. There is now no planning permission to change the building.
Residents thought they had won a reprieve, time to come up with a better plan, to celebrate Christmas at Raines House perhaps even the 300thbirthday of the building.
Unfortunately, the Council it would appear had already agreed with contractors to do the work. So, this Friday groups using Chandler street need to move out so that Pollyanna can move in while work is done on Raines House. The elderly group last week thought they had to move out this week but now have a few weeks delay. They are supposed to move to Glamis Hall in Shadwell ward even though it does not appear to be immediately available. How long will it take a 90-year-old woman to walk a kilometre and cross a major road to get from the old to their new temporary space? Is there nowhere closer they can move to?
And where do the NHS funded wellness group and the rape crisis counselling service move to? Nobody knows.
What is worse is that the Council are directly ignoring the decisions of elected Councillors who on the 27thSeptember said this in the Development Committee.
That planning permission be refused.
Members voted to refuse the application on the grounds that the internal specifications of the application would not preserve or enhance the appearance of the building and that the proposed internal alterations would have an adverse impact on the special architectural and historic character of the listed building.”
But the Council officers chose to ignore Councillors, the internal work is going ahead. The Council are saying they are removing more modern alterations, but they are rebuilding the interior of the building and not repairing the external damage which is what Raines House really needs.
So, in creating a new community hub the Council is damaging the existing community in Wapping. There is no plan, no engagement just a need to prove that something is being done. And if anybody gets in the way, too bad they can pay £40 an hour to move back in.
Raines House exemplifies the weaknesses of the Council. Doing things to the community rather than with them, not listening, a lack of joined up thinking, a lack of local knowledge exemplified by the number of Council staff who do not live locally, substituting action for vision, community hubs rather than a community vision.
The Council really need to stop, re-engage and re-think what they are doing. Do the work required to protect the building but not the internal changes until they have a plan for all of the groups both in the short term and long term.
And a last thought what do the two local Wapping Councillors elected in May think about this situation? if you see them please ask them, I have no idea what they think about all of this.