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Archive for April 21st, 2014

As promised, here’s Stephanie Eaton’s valedictory piece–a look back on her past eight years in Tower Hamlets as she prepares to stand down on May 22.

(For what it’s worth, my view is that apart from one or two slightly rose-tinted opinions on the current regime–at its outset, at least–she’s been the most reasoned councillor in that time. Like Peter Golds, she has also been the target of attacks from senior council officers and ruling Labour councillors after she dared to take them on. The below front page story we did for the East London Advertiser was particularly memorable; it came only a few months after she was elected. It was highly embarrassing for Labour at that time, so much so that the council’s communications department posted thousands of letters to nearby residents to say she and the ELA were scaremongering. We weren’t. Eight years on, that site at the Oval in Bethnal Green remains derelict. But that brush with the East End Life department certainly opened her eyes to the misinformation it can spread.)

Here’s her final fond farewell (she declined to offer any views on the calamitous Lutfur Rahman/Labour fallout, but she does share a quite pointed opinion on the system of directly elected mayors; perhaps there’s a hidden meaning, who knows…)

I was elected to Tower Hamlets Council on 4 May 2006. On July 7 that year, I attended a memorial service for the victims of the London bombings the previous year. The then Assistant Chief Executive, Sara Williams was there too and I asked her what she had been doing at the same time last year.

Her answer opened my eyes to the importance of the organisation I had just joined.

Sara told me that the Council had activated its emergency plans on that terrible day, to ensure that children who could not be collected from school were cared for until their parents arrived; that meals for vulnerable residents were still delivered; that Mosques and Muslim businesses in the community were supported and protected from any retaliatory actions; that resources were made available to help the hospitals and Police; and transport was arranged so that workers at Canary Wharf and around the Borough managed to get home, or to other accommodation for the night.

Sara had worked continuously for 18 hours even though she had lost contact with her own family members.

Recognising the importance of the Council to people’s daily lives, it was a steep learning curve for me to appreciate how all the different elements of the Council work in the Borough. It was an even more difficult task to understand the politics of the Council and how to get things done as an opposition councillor.

I may be unusual in not coming from a political family or from student politics, and some political experience would have helped. I was told that people considered me naïve – I’m sure they were right. But I did have a terrific mentor in Peter Truesdale from Lambeth, and Peter’s advice and encouragement proved invaluable.

He told me not to take criticism personally, to divide my time equally between managing my group of fellow Liberal Democrats, attending Council Committees, and spending time in my ward listening to residents and helping them deal with concerns.

I didn’t quite manage to split my time into thirds: in my first year I attended every committee I could so that I could get to grips with the business of the Council. It was useful and important. However, when the then Leader of the Conservative group Simon Rouse told me “You’re spending too much time in the Town Hall”, he was right and I changed the balance of my work to spend more time with businesses and residents.

Being in opposition is horrible.

I presume some people enjoy it, never having to take difficult decisions, but not me.

Nevertheless, being in opposition is important, and a lot can be achieved, but it’s not the same as having a chance to put your plans into action or working closely with officers to implement policy. But all councillors can do important work to represent their constituents.

One of the first and most important pieces of casework I did was for a man who lived in a two-up two-down maisonette. He was dying of emphysema and could barely walk. He had a choice of living upstairs with the bathroom or downstairs with the kitchen.

He came to me and asked for help because he had been sleeping on the sitting room couch, using a bucket for a toilet so that he could be close to the kitchen. I arranged for him to get a stairlift as an emergency, to enable him to sleep in a bed and use a bathroom for the last few months of his life.

It shook me that firstly, it was so easy for me to do this for him – Council staff were brilliant and immediately recognised the need and urgency of the case – and secondly, that I had the power or influence, whatever it should be called, to make this happen.

All Councillors will have stories about strange requests and unreasonable demands: mine is the man who called me and said he had an emergency and I needed to come to his house. I had to see the problem, he couldn’t describe it, and it had to be that day.

I reshuffled my life, rushed over there to be shown to the back patio area. “Look!” he said. I looked and then asked “What am I looking at?”. “The leaves” he replied. “They’re falling onto the ground”. “It’s autumn” I said, “That’s what leaves do…”. “The council must sweep them up” he said. I’m afraid I left a slightly disgruntled homeowner that evening – even though I had offered to sweep up the leaves myself!

I have loved (nearly) every minute of being a Councillor, but especially the first four years up to 2010. I opposed the directly elected mayoral system made possible by the Local Government Act 2000.

The referendum in 2010 that brought an executive mayor to Tower Hamlets was shrewd politics for the Respect party – because it means that only one elected position really matters any more – that of the Mayor, as that person can administer the borough without the input of any councillors.

Having power vested in one individual is potentially risky, and for me, the model of collective decision-making by a leader and cabinet elected from among the Councillors provides a more representative way to take decisions on behalf of our community.

On a personal note, having been a councillor for eight years, I now understand much better how the world works, from getting the rubbish collected, to the development of multi-million pound contracts for new homes.

I have been warmly welcomed by many people into their homes and lives. I have made an astonishing range of friends across the political boundaries: of course my partner is a Labour councillor and our home has been visited by people from all parties.

Other political party activists canvassing in our area know they are always welcome to use the loo! On one memorable occasion – Liberal Democrats, Labour, and Conservatives met in our house on the same evening – but that’s a story for another generation.

My best wishes go to all new and continuing Councillors taking office on May 23.

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As a little bank holiday break from the Panorama fall out, I’m publishing two less controversial pieces today. The first is by Chris Wilford, the Conservatives’ candidate for Tower Hamlets Mayor, Chris Wilford (I asked him to write about who is and why he’s standing).

The second will be by Cllr Stephanie Eaton, the lone Lib Dem and for the most part the lone voice of reason. She’s standing down as a councillor in May, having been first elected in 2006 when the Lib Dems were initially routed. I’ve asked her to look back at the last eight years (although disappointingly she doesn’t want to dwell much on the Lutfur/Labour fray; interestingly, she’s been more sympathetic towards Lutfur than most but even she never took a seat in his all-Bengali cabinet).

Anyway, here’s Chris Wilford (he’s the chap in the chinos):

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Time for a fresh start for Tower Hamlets

It has certainly been a frenetic few weeks in what some in the national media term the brutal politics of our borough. On the doorstep, many have asked me why I want to become the youngest directly elected Mayor in Europe and what I have to offer as the Conservative candidate.

Well, despite not being a former Labour leader of the council nor having a famous cousin, I put myself forward quite simply because I passionately believe it is time for a fresh start for Tower Hamlets and I want to work with residents to build a better borough.

I’m 28 years old and first moved to the borough five years ago. After living in a bedsit near Brick Lane with people from all over the world for three years, I now live in Bow.

Like many others I moved to the borough for study and work. I have made it my home and its energy quickly took a hold of me. I have known times of unemployment and uncertainty here but the variety and dynamism of Tower Hamlets has always got me through.

Born in Merseyside, I moved to Kent when I was 10 and was educated at state grammar schools before coming to London for University. I now work in communications after a time as a recruitment consultant and working for the government’s British Council on educational projects.

I believe the individual is the central force for change in modern Britain. I believe aspiration and innovation should be the central drivers of British society. I believe in the freedom of responsibility.

I joined the Conservative Party because of these values and got my first proper taste of Tower Hamlets politics as a Conservative candidate for the then St Dunstan’s and Stepney Green ward. Memories of the vicious tussle betweenLabour and Respect for control will stay with me for a long time to come.

Tower Hamlets is famous for its history, its diversity, and its politics. After decades of neglect, residents feel shut out of local decision-making, and are fed up by the squabbling of the local political class as we face up to some of the most serious challenges in the country in areas such as child poverty and unemployment.

I want to reopen the channels of communication between the people and those in power, I want to implement a long term plan to tackle issues such as unsustainable development, and I want to clean up the borough ….. literally.

My detractors have had a go at my willingness to discuss issues that matter to local people such as potholes and rubbish. The fact is Tower Hamlets is dirty and its roads need sorting out. Time and time again residents have described to me in vivid detail the potholes that disrupt their daily life.

Whilst some candidates wish to talk about the availability of Class A drugs on the NHS, I want to sort out the problems that have a direct impact on our quality of life. I want to give our Estates a fresh lick of paint, I want to fix up our roads and I want to get rubbish under control once and for all.

My long term plan for Tower Hamlets is based on sustainable housing, strong schools, safer streets and stable finances. I want to rewrite the local development framework following consultation with residents, I want to cut Town Hall waste, I want to launch an enterprise fund for local pubs (including real ale apprenticeships for those who want to go into the pub trade), I want to work with employers in the borough to deliver jobs for residents of all ages, and I want to deliver a 5.7% council tax cut for residents (worth £50 to each household).

Like many people from around the world I have made Tower Hamlets my home. The record of our Councillors in delivering for residents is testament to what the Conservatives can achieve in our borough. This election people are waking up. The vote is split and every vote will count – make sure you vote for a fresh start.

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