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!