I love community driven media, the locally produced and focused content gives a level of detail that could never be covered by the mainstream print and broadcast media. The fall in prices for digital film equipment and the internet make both production and distribution possible for people who could never have hoped to be involved in film making a decade ago.
www.aroundbromley.tv is a fairly new experiment in community journalism and Jon Cheetham came to the Outer London Regeneration fund launch and recorded Boris, Stephen Carr and I for the site. You can follow aroundbromley.tv on Twitter and facebook as well as visiting the site directly.
Regular readers will have noticed that over the last few months there has been a large number of comments about facilities being closed at Queen Mary's Hospital Sidcup, these comments have been left on a posts about a wide range of subjects. It has become obvious that this makes it very difficult for people, other than the questioner and I, to follow the discussion, so I have decided to take the questions put to me and answer them in a dedicated post.
I'm sure that a discussion will follow and hopefully having it all in one place will enable other readers to keep track. Here are the questions and my answers:
Q. Why did you 'campaign' against the Labour government's cuts at Queen Mary's before the election?
A. Because it was an important local issue and I wanted to support the thousands of local people who wanted to send a message to government that they weren't happy with the A Picture of Health (APOH) proposals and the sham consultation that went with it. I was particularly angry because, as this report highlights, I believe that services in Conservative areas were being targeted for service reductions by the Labour government.
Q. Why did you not only accept the subsequent Conservative cuts at Queen Mary's but make up a feeble excuse about this occurring because of the Trust 'not being able to find staff?'
A. They are not Conservative cuts. Andrew Lansley has made it clear that under the Conservatives there would be no closures forced on hospitals from central government, once this top down pressure was released it became clear that government pressure was a smoke screen for the trust management who clearly wanted to press on with the APOH proposals regardless.
While there was a question mark over the future of the hospital it became difficult to recruit and retain medical staff, once the SE London trusts merged there should have been possible to redeploy staff between hospitals to ensure that key services were maintained. This was not done and I feel that this is a failure of the trust management.
Q. Why were the cuts 'Labour's cuts' pre-election yet, according to you, the Trust's fault after the election?
A. As I said in the answer above, before the election the closure plans at QMH were driven by the hospital reorganisation proposed in the Darzi plan, which in SE London was the basis for the APOH proposals. After the election the Darzi plan was scrapped by Andrew Lansley and the central government drive to hospital closures and reorganisations was removed, the trust management are clearly looking to implement the APOH changes despite the central government requirement to do so being lifted.
Q. Why did you and Boris encourage people to show 'relentless displays of public displeasure' to stop the cuts pre-election, yet when the Conservatives followed up with the cuts you ridiculed those who asked you about them as 'obsessive'.
A. I'm happy for people to protest and complain, which is why I have a comment facility on my blog. What I'm not happy about is for other people who wish to comment being intimidated off my site by the constant haranguing of one or two people.
Q. Why did you take great pains to say that hundreds of people joined the protest against Labour cuts pre-election, yet you are still claiming that only one person is badgering you about the A&E facility now? What happened to those hundreds of people and who are those writing comments on your blog?
A. Hundreds of people joined the marches, easily verifiable by anyone who was there. With regard to the number of people posting comments, my web traffic analysis software gives me a very good indication when the same visitor goes to the same page a number of times. Also the automated spam filter often stops posts with different author names but from the same IP address, a number of comments claiming to be from different people were initially stopped by the spam filter. This is why I'm confident that many of the comments purporting to be from different people are from one person, it is also telling that of the many ways that I am contactable e.g. email, telephone, letter, facebook, twitter, linked-in, etc. the alleged multitude of people that are angry with me about QMH all choose to use anonymous comments on my blog as their contact method of choice.
Q. Why did you turn off the anonymous facility on your blog when the public showed relentless displeasure at the fact that you would not answer questions about Queen Mary's? The result of this was that you had no comments at all - apart from a Mr or Mrs 'Excalibur' who said that it was a marvellous policy!
A. Because I strongly believe, and still do, that the bulk of the comments posted about QMH were from one individual.
Q. Did you use local people, passionate about Queen Mary's, in order to gain votes?
Having answered the question put forward I will, once again, ask of the anonymous questioner to address the allegations against me put forward in the comments section of other posts.
What did I say I would do that I didn't do? What have I pretended happened that didn't happen? And I'd especially like you to detail how I took away services at QMH.
Bob Neill MP, Boris Johnson,
Cllr Stephen Carr (Leader of Bromley Council)
and I at today's launch
Councils across the city have been making plans to reinvigorate their town centres, many of these plans have had to be put on hold because of the economic downturn, but the new fund provides an opportunity for some of those plans to come to fruition. There is a huge opportunity for sustained economic growth in outer London town centres, the small and medium sized businesses which form the backbone of our high streets have a huge potential for employment growth which could be unlocked by this money.
I'm particularly pleased that Boris chose to launch this fund in Bromley as there are a number of very exciting proposals that the council have been working on to regenerate the town centre.
No one relishes making cuts or redundancies, despite the caricature created by the Labour party and unions, but recent levels of public spending are unsustainable. No one underestimates the worry felt by people in the public sector, they fear for their jobs and the services they value. Miliband undermines and makes a mockery of these concerns by equating them to the world's great freedom struggles.
I won't be marching against the cuts today, I'll be out campaigning against AV. I hope the march goes well, I suspect that the TUC will be better organised and more sensible than the NUS when it comes to police liaison and marshaling.
Labour will be pushing their fantasy of a painless way to sort out the economy. They say that they would only reduce the deficit by half over the same time period that the Government is planning to clear it, this implies that they would be able to bring in cuts at only half the current level. This is of course rubbish. Getting back into financial balance slowly will mean that much more national debt interest will need to be paid, doubling the payback period doesn't half the monthly repayment, try it out in any loan calculator.
It will be interesting to see what alternatives the speakers at the event put forward, the Labour mantra of "too deep, too quick" is a snappy but meaningless soundbite, they concede that cuts have to be made but refuse to say where they would cut. Labour and the TUC are trying to pretend that there is an alternative but as Greece and Portugal show failing to balance the books at a national level has dire consequences, far more painful than anything the Government is putting forward.
There is a great section which shows what we have achieved in the three years sinse the elections in May 2008, broken down by borough. Amongst the improvements for Bexley are an extra 42 polices officers and 20 Special Constables on to the beat and crime down by 14.4%, including reducing robberies by a massive 27.8%.
Bromley enjoys an extra 21 police officers, 7 PCSOs and 49 Special Constables helping Bromley see London’s 7th biggest drop in crime and an extra 415 street trees in Bromley paid for by getting rid of Ken Livingstone’s propaganda sheet The Londoner.
I like Jenny Jones and I'm pleased that her years of commitment to the Green Party have been recognised in her selection as their candidate for Mayor of London. Having said I like her I would also like to make it clear that I disagree with her on almost every political issue, you would hardly expect anything else considering her party is on the far left of the political spectrum.
It's Jenny's anti-motorist policies that worry me the most, although she has no real chance of becoming Mayor she was instrumental in promoting the original congestion charge as Deputy Mayor in Livingstone's first term and the Western Extension Zone in his second term. On transport issues it is clear that Jenny has Livingstone's ear. This should worry every car owner in London because Jenny's latest idea is a £50 per day congestion charge stretching right out to the M25.
If Livingstone gets back in he will need the votes of the Greens to get his budgets through, just like he did in his first two terms. Jenny has presented us all with her bargaining position for that electoral support.
Karen Buck, MP for Westminster North, said at a public meeting "They (the Government) do not want lower-income women, families, children and, above all, let us be very clear – because we also know where the impact is hitting – they don't want black women, they don't want ethnic minority women and they don't want Muslim women living in central London."
So, Creasy claimed that bringing charitable and community organisations into public service delivery was basically the same a burning crosses and now Buck implies that hard working families in Crayford no longer paying the rent of families in Chelsea is the somehow the same as the Lašva Valley. I'm not sure whether I'm meant to laugh or be disgusted.
At the 6 minute 30 second point Livingstone states that he will announce his plans for London AFTER the election. Just in case you miss it, he says it again at the 6 minute 40 second point. He justifies this by saying that there wouldn't be much money available to him under a Conservative government and therefore he is unwilling to make any public plans.
Firstly this shows a huge level of contempt for the voters of London, the man believes that he should be voted in even though he won't share his plans with Londoners. Secondly it shows what a one trick pony he is, if he can't throw huge amounts of public money at a problem he can't see how it can be solved. And finally he concedes that Boris will have a much more financially productive relationship with the government than he could.
If this was an exercise in talking yourself out of a job he would get top prize.
There was a bit of a debate at the Assembly's Transport Committee on Wednesday about the nature of congestion charging. I made the point that, because the Congestion Charge exists to stimulate behavioural change it should ultimately trend to zero in its projected revenue. What struck me was that neither Val Shawcross or Jenny Jones could grasp this as a concept, which is illuminating as they are two of the most influential people on Livingstone's transport thinking.
There is an old saying which states "one should never wear brown in town" meaning brown shoes are inappropriate business wear in the Square Mile.
Never wear brown in town
Imagine I wanted to enforce that tradition by creating a Brown Shoe Charge in The City, people wearing brown shoes would be charged every day that they entered, just like the Congestion Charge. Just like the congestion charge, this would be about stimulating behavioural change rather than a form of taxation.
I expect my plan to be 95% successful in changing people's brown shoe wearing habits over a 5 year period. So if I get £1,000,000 of charge revenue in the first year I would expect only £50,000 of revenue by the end of year 5 and only £2,500 after another 5 years. My budget would trend towards zero.
If my revenue doesn't fall it could only because my scheme isn't working and I would need to think of a different way of getting people to wear black shoes to work.
Why is it those on the left struggle to understand this concept when I talk about vehicles rather than shoes?
Last December there were a number of strikes on the Underground that I described at the time as blatantly political, I said that they were almost nothing to do with ticket offices and a great deal to do with the reelection campaign of Ken Livngstone. A number of people told me that I was being either cynical or mildly paranoid (or a bit of both).
Livingstone's running mate Val Shawcross (far left) with
protesting RMT and TSSA union members last December
The increase in delays we have to hold our hands up to, they were caused by the major program of upgrade work on a number of lines. The 1200% increase in station closures, the figure that really grabbed the attention of the news editors, was caused by strikes called by the very unions which Livingstone and Shawcross champion and who bankroll their campaign. The strikes were called in order to create this very story.
The people who need to "get a grip" are Livingstone and Shawcross, a grip on reality.
Not much really. We had a great candidate in James Hockney but Labour had a former Para with service in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps not a perfect candidate but probably not far off.
Labour created a commanding lead and with the turnout so low the results for the other parties was always going to be unpredictable. The precise order is relatively unimportant when the gap between the second and sixth candidates was less than 2,000 votes and the winner was over 11,00 votes ahead
A fiercely loyal, almost tribal, Labour vote and a poster-boy candidate is the story of last night, with over four years until the next General Election any other interpretation is pretty meaningless.
At yesterday's PMQs Bromley Council was specifically mentioned by the Ed Miliband, he claimed that the council was closing 13 of its 16 children's centres. The trouble is, from Miliband's point of view, is that Bromley aren't closing any children's centres.
Stella Creasy is becoming a bit of a joke, she is joining the ranks of Labour politicians and activists whose claims about the Conservatives are increasingly "over the top" and out of touch with reality.
"By not setting out the purpose of the Big Society, the government leave themselves open to acknowledging a whole range of volunteering activities that they may not want to support.
"Taken to extremes, for example, the Ku Klux Klan and the English Defence League would be seen as wanting to bring people together for a particular purpose in their local community, but I am sure none of us would want to promote such organisations and their values."
So there you have it, in Stellaworld, greater civic participation without the throttling grip of the State means that the Ku Klux Klan will run amok. Really?
I love the insertion of the phrase "taken to extremes" in that quote, it opens the doors to almost anything. The last government increased the levels of State control, snooping and intervention in people's lives to an unprecedented level, taken to extremes that could mean that Labour is in fact a totalitarian, fascist regime.
I need to lose a bit of weight, so I'm going to eat a little less. Taken to extremes I will have starved to death by early next week. Funnily enough people and governments tend not to take things to extremes.
It genuinely saddens me to say this, but standard of behaviour in the chamber of the London Assembly is embarrassingly poor. At last week's budget debate Labour Deputy Leader John Biggs made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
There was a spat between Boris and John Biggs over police numbers, which I've written about here, but the the cause of the disagreement isn't as important as the behaviour of the people involved. Both Boris and John Biggs were talking over each other, Biggs was refusing to listen to the answers that Boris was giving and Boris was clearly getting very frustrated in being constantly heckled by John Biggs. It came to a head when Biggs accused Boris of being a "disgraceful, lazy, liar" which forced the Chair of the Assembly, Dee Doocey, to call a vote to "silence" Biggs, is one step down from expelling him from the chamber. The exchange can be viewed below:
If you look at the history of our debates on Mayorwatch.co.uk you'll see that bad tempered exchanges and poor behaviour are nothing new.
I believe that the attempt to have a "modern" chamber is largely the cause of this problem. The Assembly is very informal, the Mayor and members are regularly addressed by their first names and most of the questions and answers are given while seated, this leads to an atmosphere more akin to a pub argument than a seat of government.
In parliament MPs are addressed as "the Honorable Member for....." as a reminder that you are addressing the representative of an electorate rather than an individual who you might dislike, their questions are asked through the Speaker and are in the third person. It is much harder for people to talk over each other if they have to stand to speak and sit down to listen to the answers to their questions. All these things are designed to move what can often be heated debate away from the personal.
It is easy to assume that the formality associated with political meetings is unnecessary and old fashioned but it has become clear to me that it is a important tool in keeping highly charged political discussions civil and manageable. I will be writing to the Chair of the Assembly to request that the Assembly move to a more traditional and formal way of doing businesses as it is clear that the casual approach has failed.