Another political resignation this time my own:
• I am resigning as a member of the Conservative & Unionist Party
• Therefore I quit as leader of the Conservative group on Tower Hamlets Council
• I become an independent Councillor, a member of no political party, I am not joining another existing political party
• But to ensure that there continues to be an opposition locally I will stay as one of two members of the opposition Conservative group on Tower Hamlets Council (if I quit this group there would no longer be any formal opposition group as a group needs a minimum of 2 members)
• So the nature of my work will barely change except that it will be Peter Golds rather than I that lead the group (which will mainly affect who speaks at Cabinet / Council meetings).
My reasons for leaving are mainly because I have lost confidence in the ability of the Conservative Party as an institution to make good use of the power it now has.
While it has an extraordinary ability to win elections (and is even luckier in its opponents) it is weaker on what to do with that power. I disagree with too many Conservative policies/decisions to stay in not just because I think some are wrong but that I also think too many policies are inadequate given the challenges AND opportunities we now face. I have been publicly very critical of aspects of what Tower Hamlets Council does but in truth I am almost as critical of recent decisions made by the government. Three Conservative Prime Ministers have made a series of strategic errors and I worry things are getting worse, not better so it must be systemic to the party despite the presence in it of a number of capable people.
I also support a relationship with Europe based on an EEA/EFTA economic model. The party has chosen a different harder model and like the Peelites in 1846 I think it is more honest to split then pretend that I support the proposed trade policy. I cannot support a trade border in the Irish sea nor increasing trade friction and am concerned about the lack of debate about the impact on our services industry of a Canada/WTO relationship. The modern Conservative party has ignored why Margaret Thatcher pushed so hard for the Single Market with its four freedoms and Customs Union within the EU.
And it would be dishonest of me to stay in and to stay quiet (although as one of my reasons for quitting is to focus more on local issues I may not have much time to say much about national stuff). Being an independent will allow me to focus on local issues and to support politicians who I think are doing a good job including Liberal Democrats and yes some Labour politicians. The tribal nature of British politics is one of its greatest weaknesses.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has had an extraordinary history, we have achieved extraordinary things for such a small group of islands and had a greater impact on the modern world than almost any other country. I think that contribution has not ended and I think that we could continue to have an outsize influence on how the world develops. Brexit now forces us to ask new questions about ourselves and our place in the world. What will we do with those new freedoms? What is the balance of risk and opportunities? Is the nation-state the only model or should we work collaboratively with other nations in a structured manner and how do we do that? I am not sure that we have even asked these questions properly let alone got answers yet. That is almost entirely due to failings within the Conservative party.
In 2016 I applied to become a Parliamentary candidate for the Conservative party to try and influence the Party from the inside. I have twice been rejected (ironically the 2nd rejection arrived just before I posted this) although I know many other people in Tower Hamlets who were made candidates. Three of them are now MPs.
But the final nail in the coffin for me was Robert Jenrick’s decision to approve Westferry Printworks against the advice of his own planning inspector. There was a solid argument for staying in and fighting on behalf of my residents with the government (as I fear our local MP’s will be ineffective at doing that). But that decision was so shocking I knew immediately that I had to resign.
I need to have a think about what to do next as I have effectively ended my political career.
But my main focus this year will be on local issues as I plan to do a lot of work on;
• Youth centers on the Isle of Dogs, we only have one small one, that is not sustainable
• New playgrounds in Sir John McDougall Gardens and Millwall Park, better than those to be found in neighbouring Boroughs, we have more £ then them
• Increasing school capacity on the IoD, getting Westferry Printworks secondary school built + rebuilding George Greens + improving school buildings and working out how many schools we actually need
• Transport issues on the Isle of Dogs from Jubilee line to new river crossings
• Plus continue to support the work of the Isle of Dogs Neighbourhood Planning Forum
• Lastly asking whether we should we explore setting up a Town Council for the area to give us more power and resources locally
But I have a question for you. Should I resign now and hold a by-election? Should I stand for re-election? I got elected in May 2018 as a Conservative, does leaving the Party but staying in the Conservative group work or not? I think for most residents the work I do won’t change (many do not even know I am a Cllr) but many people vote for parties not individuals, so can I still represent you until May 2022, the next scheduled election? Let me know.
On Thursday I was asked to give a presentation about Urban Densification to the London Irish Town Planners Association, the audience was half Irish based and half London based. The Irish are looking at densifying new developments so Irelands Government Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government visited the IoD Thursday with Irish planning colleagues to learn some lessons from us.
I had to do the attached quite quickly although I re-used some slides from the IoD Neighbourhood Planning Forum presentations (but the comments are all mine)
Thought you might find interesting and I do plan to do more work on it for future presentations so comments etc welcome
"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.