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Archive for May 21st, 2014

This is a guest post by TIM ARCHER, who is standing down as a Conservative councillor tomorrow after eight years in the job. He was elected in 2006 and formed part of an exceptionally strong trio at the top of the local Tory party, along with Peter Golds and Simon Rouse. I asked him to write a piece reflecting on his time at the town hall. He sent it to me last week; I should have published it then, but I was on holiday…

CON1223

They say a week is a long time in politics… I was elected to Tower Hamlets council 8 years ago but it seems like only yesterday!

I’m ‘retiring’ from being a local councillor in Tower Hamlets. We’ve recently moved house, I’ve got a busy day job and with a young family it’s time for someone else to have a go. But it’s with a mixture of pride and sorrow that I look back at my time on the council.

Pride at some of the things we’ve got done. In 2010, I led a scrutiny review into the causes of childhood obesity; the borough had one of the poorest records in the country on this measure. And why should we care? Well because it can lead to a myriad of other illnesses and complications and is one of the key determinants of success, opportunity and health in life. Our key recommendation from that review was the introduction of free school meals for all primary school children in the borough, something that all parties in the council (and the government) are now supporting.

To be frank, it’s not something that I ever thought 8 years ago that I’d be a supporter of. But having led the review and seen the facts, I know it’s something that stacks-up for Tower Hamlets and not just economically.

I worked with councillors from across the chamber to get agreement for the independent review of leaseholder charges. I got the future of the Council owned Henry Moore statue ‘Old Flo’ debated in the chamber and beyond. I’ve exposed waste and held the council to account, from eye-watering housing benefit payments to excessive use of consultants. And I got the council to put up a portrait of the Queen in the town hall, as virtually every other council does – a daily reminder of what good leadership looks like in a building where it is often lacking.

As a Conservative on the council I’m proud of the way that our small team has punched above its weight. It has shifted the debate budget after budget, and I’ve lost count of the number of our initiatives, which, at first were voted down to cries of indignation by the members of other parties, have then been quietly adopted. Examples range from the tens of thousands spent on pot plants in the town hall (scrapped this year), to saving millions from moving out of rented office blocks like Anchorage House (moved out of last year); alongside reductions in contractor spend, reductions in councillors’ allowances and the scrapping of free food for councillors to name but a few.

Sorrow too though. Sorrow at no longer having the privilege of representing Blackwall and Cubitt Town ward and, more widely, the residents of Tower Hamlets. Sorrow at the way certain aspects of politics work in Tower Hamlets. I’ve witnessed the unedifying sight of councillors, elected to represent people suffering some of the worst deprivation in our country, brawling in the council chamber.

Erroneous and unfounded accusations of racism being made – invariably when the debate gets too uncomfortable/accurate for some. And, sorrow that, despite all my, and my Conservative colleagues, hard work, so much more still needs to be done to make Tower Hamlets deliver the services, value for money and transparency deserved by its residents.

During my 8 years I’ve held many roles: deputy leader of the opposition; deputy group leader; chair of health scrutiny; and scrutiny lead for the chief executives department. I’ve also served on many committees and outside bodies. But being a councillor isn’t about collecting job titles. It’s what you get done that really makes a difference.

The things of which I am most proud are the cases where I’ve been able to help people – individuals – the unspoken achievements that make a real difference to people’s lives. Like the housing association who I convinced to let a family stay in their home when they were actually, needlessly in my view, taking them to court to turf them out. Or the lad who got into his first choice school after I pointed out that the council had incorrectly calculated how far he was from the school gate (they’d missed the small matter of a bridge over a dock that just ever so slightly changed the total distance to walk to the school). The alternative school being offered was 4 miles away…Or perhaps the saplings that I got planted on a street that did not have a single tree.

Of course, my 8 year stint is very much a tale of two halves, with the introduction of a directly elected Mayor in 2010. It was a move I was sceptical of at the time, but having been introduced we’ve all had to try to adapt to the new reality. Sadly, the council’s wider structure hasn’t really changed, when it must – full council must now be more about holding the mayor to account, and in that sense needs to work more like the GLA. The reduction in the number of councillors is a step in the right direction and recognises that councillors have less responsibility under a mayoral system but what is the point of Overview and Scrutiny when the Mayor decides he can simply not bother attending?

On a personal note, knowing that I was elected as a Conservative, in an area where it was said for decades that it couldn’t be done, it is with a heavy heart I step aside. I won’t miss the late night meetings and I will enjoy having more time to spend with my family. But I will miss my constituents, the many local community activists I have had the pleasure of working with, and the strong team spirit of my Conservative council colleagues, led by Peter Golds.

Finally, in an era where trust in politicians seems to be at an all time low, it is important to remember that most councillors are there for the right reasons; they work hard and are trying to build a better future. A few are not and they should be exposed but not used to dismiss the positive contributions of the rest. I maybe saying farewell to Tower Hamlets politics, but not to Tower Hamlets. I still work in the borough and after 8 years of being a councillor and many more campaigning in the area, I am sure I’ll be keeping an eye on things for a while to come (and I’ll certainly be following Ted’s blog….).

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Booking a holiday a week before election day was a bit silly. So what did I miss while I was away?

1. Death of Hifzur Rahman, Tower Hamlets First candidate in Blackwall and Cubitt Town

Mr Rahman’s death was announced this morning and it must be awful for his family. My condolences.

Under electoral law, this means the election for the three council candidates there has been countermanded, ie anulled. A separate by-election will be held there within 35 days. Lutfur’s aides claim some residents in the ward have been told the entire election there is off. That’s not the case: residents in that ward on the Isle of Dogs will still be able to vote in the mayoral and European Parliament polls tomorrow.

2. Labour’s Cllr Shiria Khatun cleared of electoral fraud

As I blogged here 10 days ago, she had been accused by an elderly couple in Rifle Street (in the Lansbury ward) of an offence under electoral law. The couple claimed Shiria’s husband (whose name is Lutfur Rahman) had pretended to be the mayor and taken away their blank postal vote. This account was relayed with great fanfare on Lutfur-supportinmg Bengali TV stations.

The police told me last week they’d be interviewing Shiria. It was also my understanding they’d also be examining the CCTV footage of the block where the couple live to see if Shiria or her husband had been there. I was also told the couple had been warned that any false statement could lead to their own prosecution for perverting the course of justice.

Having been in the air while today’s events unfolded, I haven’t yet got the full picture. However, Tower Hamlets Labour have issued this statement:

Police say no case to answer in allegations against Labour Councillor
– Labour call for investigation false allegations

Police in Tower Hamlets have today dismissed all allegations against Labour councillor Shiria Khatun after concluding there was no case to answer.

Labour have called upon the police to investigate public comments made by Tower Hamlets First candidates and campaigners amid concerns they had publicly made false statements about Cllr Khatun to damage her electoral chances.

Last week Cllr Khatun was falsely accused of interfering with a postal vote ballot by a supporter of Mayor Lutfur Rahman in what has been labelled by Labour as a ‘disgraceful dirty tricks’ campaign from Tower Hamlets First.

Speaking after the news came through, Cllr Shiria Khatun said: “The last week has been a living nightmare for me and my family. I cannot believe that someone would be willing to lie like this just to try and smear me ahead of the elections. Despite all this I am totally focused on fighting for every vote in tomorrow’s election so we can consign this kind of dirty politics to the past.”

A Labour Party Spokesperson, said: “We’ve got used to these kind of disgraceful dirty tricks from Lutfur Rahman’s team but this is a new low. With momentum building behind John Biggs and Labour’s campaign Rahman’s candidates are getting increasingly desperate. This kind of behaviour from Rahman’s camp gives yet another reason for people to come out and vote for Labour’s John Biggs tomorrow.”

I’ll try and find out whether there is a further police investigation into any possible false statement. I suspect there’ll be more to come on this.

3. One of Lutfur’s favourite journalists, Dave Hill of the Guardian, today wrote he would vote for John Biggs if he lived in Tower Hamlets. Dave gives his reasons here.

4. After spending some time talking to people on the doorstep on the Isle of Dogs a couple of weeks ago, it was clear very few people understood the second preference voting system used for the mayoral election. I contacted the East London Advertiser to see if they’d be explaining it and offered to write a guest column. They asked me to write it as a letter for publication instead. So this in the current issue of the ELA (how I miss my former paper!)

Letter Te

5. John Biggs yesterday issued a campaign video It’s not the most exciting and I don’t think it’ll ever set the world on fire. But it’s solid and honest. It fits in well with the theme of his campaign, that it’s time Tower Hamlets stopped making the wrong kind of headlines. It’s here:

It compares to Lutfur’s latest campaign video here (much slicker, less personal, and no words from the man himself, which is a theme of his campaign). Watch it here:

6. John Biggs has issued an eve of poll rallying call by email to the Labour database.

Dear Resident,

One day to go until Tower Hamlets votes for a better future

This has been an incredible campaign thus far with tens of thousands of people telling us they are ready for a change to how our borough is run.

For too long Tower Hamlets has drifted, missing golden opportunities and leaving the borough in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

As we build up to polling day tomorrow (Thursday 22nd) I want to thank you for all your support and to make one last ask. Any time you can give, however small, to help on polling day would make all the difference. Please let us know by replying to this email.

You will know as well as I do how important this election is. It’s going to be close but together we can do this.

– John Biggs, Labour’s Candidate for Mayor of Tower Hamlets

Our manifesto: Building a better future

I am really proud of our plan for the borough. Clean streets, cleaner politics, cutting crime, tackling the housing crisis and help with the cost of living.

Here are some of our key pledges: 

* Greater transparency and accountability – We will restore trust in Tower Hamlets by being accountable to residents in public meetings, answerable in the Council Chamber and showing respect for scrutiny.
* Free school meals for every child – Labour has drawn up a fully funded and sustainable plan to fund free school meals for all primary school pupils in the borough, to help hard pressed families and allow well-nourished kids to focus on learning.
* A 24hr noise and ASB hotline to help tackle rising crime – Nuisance noise doesn’t sleep, that’s why Labour will introduce a 24h hotline to report noise and anti-social behaviour at weekends to ensure people’s complaints are addressed.
* A council-run lettings agency – Labour will establish a council-run lettings agency to help people in private rented homes to get the best deals, cut their costs and clamp down on rogue landlords.
* Clamp down on missed bin collections and scrap bulk waste charges – Over 25,000 bins have gone uncollected under the current mayor. We pledge to get a grip on missed bin collections as well as scrapping the current bulk waste charges which have led to more mattresses and junk being dumped on our streets.

I hope you will agree these are the kind of ideas which will help get Tower Hamlets back on track, improving the things that matter most to local people.

Only one vote to beat Lutfur Rahman

For four years now the current mayor Lutfur Rahman has left the borough in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Whether scandals, investigations or sleaze its bringing our community down and we believe Tower Hamlets deserves better.

The election for Mayor will be a two horse race:

LUTFUR RAHMAN or JOHN BIGGS

You may not normally be a Labour voter but the only person who can beat Lutfur Rahman is Labour’s John Biggs.

Make sure your vote counts, vote Labour’s John Biggs on 22nd May. #BackingBiggs

“You may not normally be a Labour voter but the only person who can beat Lutfur Rahman is Labour’s John Biggs.”

That’s the paragraph that stands out. The message is clear and simple. Labour should have used it publicly earlier. Whether it’s too late or not, we’ll find out on Friday night.

 

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