One of the many striking things about the account of the Grenfell fire by Andrew O’Hagan in the London Review of Books (which is given over entirely to the disaster) is how bad Kensington and Chelsea were at relations with the press. And how they were thrown to the wolves by the government which was in a state of panic after the general election.
O’Hagan describes council officers going above and beyond to help local residents after the fire, finding people hotels, providing social workers in support families and making sure everyone was getting to school and could get their prescriptions – and yet being vilified in the press and by residents for doing nothing.
The chief executive of the council and the leader also seem to have been mashed up in the ensuing flap and forced to resign. O’Hagan remarks that the only fault of the council leader Nick Paget-Brown and his cabinet member for housing Rock Feilding-Mellon was “being Tory”.
Sajid Javid, the local government minister comes off particularly badly also forcing the resignation of the CEO. “‘But he was the opposite of helpful.” one Tory councillor. “He might have said: ‘Here’s my team of civil servants. We need to get the London mayor involved in this. London Resilience needs to be activated.’ He was just in and out talking about how we should buy more properties off rightmove.'”
It’s a frustrating business being a local councillor.
In part because it is full of activity, but you lack power.
And you lack power, because councils today rely mostly on government grants and are stopped from raising their own money through a web of laws. Now the government has cut that grant most councils are hamstrung with no flexibility. The least competent councils are beginning to go bankrupt and others will follow.
A short speech I gave to the Fabian Society AGM in 2014
The biggest threat to all of us is those people who feel they are not included. That’s led to the disillusionment in Scotland, it’s led to rise in UKIP and on a more extreme level it led to the London riots.
This is about ordinary people who feel they have no power and politicians still wanting to pedal the illusion that they can do it all when they can’t. Politician’s can inspire and enable but they can’t provide everything.
I spent Friday at the Regent’s Park Children’s Centre with the leader of Camden Council Sarah Hayward talking to mothers about their difficulties getting back into work. For many it was childcare costs which can be as much as £800 a month for a small baby. One mother told us that she may not be able to go back to work as a bio-chemist after maternity leave because she cannot afford the nursery costs for her baby and toddler. For other women there were barriers like self confidence, their partners’ disapproval, poor language skills and the fact that JobCentrePlus will not help anyone get qualifications beyond a level two – something which strikes me as scandalous and has to be changed.
Roger Liddle sees himself as an evangelist for Europe. This book’s target reader, he says at the beginning, is ‘the genuine sceptic, in the true meaning of the Oxford Dictionary of English – “a person inclined to question or doubt accepted opinions”’. But, however much Liddle tries to cast himself as an outsider, this is essentially an establishment book, albeit an old pro-European Foreign Office establishment, as the accolades from Stephen Wall, Peter Riddell and Julian Priestley at its front tell you.
Nevertheless, the book is written against a backdrop of increasing anti-European rhetoric from the Tories, the rise of the United Kingdom Independence party and David Cameron’s promise of a referendum in 2017.
Liddle left Labour in 1981 to join the Social Democratic party and came to be a huge fan of Roy Jenkins. He returned to Labour in 1994 under Tony Blair, who, Liddle relates, tried to persuade him to stay with the Liberal Democrats. And he describes himself now as a ‘committed New Labourist’.
British Eurosceptics have never understood the Germans. David Cameron and the Conservative Eurosceptics are deluding themselves if they think Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, will help them in Europe.
There will be warm words today as the two leaders meet in London, and reports say the government is going to treat her like the Queen, which I suppose is better than being taken down the pub à la François Hollande.
But to believe Germany is really coming round to Tory Britain’s point of view on the European Union, and would support a radical renegotiation of the treaties, would be a total misunderstanding of what is going on.
It is true that Germany is becoming impatient with the Brussels command and control style. It is wrangling with the commission at the moment over competition law in particular.
This is the full quote I gave to the Camden New Journal last week, and was very pleased to see the article reflecting the strong views of people who are most likely to be affected if the ponds overtop and the water comes pouring down the hill.
“I am very supportive of improving and raising the dams on Hampstead Heath. Many of my constituents in Dartmouth Park have been flooded in the past. Brookfield mansions and houses in Swains Lane would be devastated if the Highgate ponds overtopped because they are in the direct line of fire. There would be a danger to human life if tonnes of water came down the hill. The higher dams and proposed water storage will help contain the water in the event of a large quantity of rain falling in a short period. Even if there is flooding caused by ground water the fact that water is contained within the ponds will help mitigate this. If we were talking about a nuclear power station we would not be arguing about whether we had done everything possible to make it safe. I am sorry that the Heath and Hampstead Society are so implacable in their opposition but they are gravely mistaken and I have every confidence that after the works are done the landscape on the Heath will actually be improved. There are after all large dams around the ponds already. No public money is being spent on this that could be spent on other things in Camden. And the only concern that many of my constituents have is that the works are managed sensitively and there is minimum disruption.”