With the Chancellor about to start his budget speech unemployment continues to climb.  Nationally 2.1 million people are claiming Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) with nearly 6,000 of those in Wandsworth.

JSA claimants Mar 08 - Mar 09In total 5,889 people are claiming JSA, 2.9% of the Wandsworth population.  We continue to be in a better position than the national and London averages, which are at 4%.

The figure for March is an increase of 408 (7.4%) from February and 2,144 (57.2%) from the same time last year.

This does not reveal the full extent of unemployment, just those who have chosen to apply for JSA and are found to be eligible.  Figures for actual unemployment are produced much later, the most recent figures show that in August last year 20,700 people of working age were on benefits.  Even less recent were the figures for last June which showed 9,000 people were unemployed (the JSA claim at the same time was just 3,741).

I’m representing the council at the Balham and Tooting Community Association Open Forum tonight.

The meeting is being held at St Augustine’s Church Hall, Broadwater Road, SW17 0EF at 7.30pm and is scheduled to last for two hours.  It’s a large panel – along with me are Cheif Superintendant Stewart Low, the Wandsworth Borough Commander, Sadiq Khan the Labour MP for Tooting, Lucy Neal from Transition Town Tooting, Roger Reid from Street Pastors and Jabu Siphika a youth organiser.

As well as a Q&A I understand the session will involve some workshops, so you have the opportunity to feed back your concerns and ideas.

One of the books in me is The Aborted Politician, a look at those people who created an embryonic political career and contested a parliamentary seat and then – for whatever reason – did not pursue politics any further. Luckily for the book-buying public no publisher would touch me. My Comprehensive school education barely got beyond ‘doing words’ and ‘describing words’ and while I use semi-colons to appear clever; deep down I know I’m not using them properly.

Unfortunately the internet gives a forum to anyone dull enough, angry enough or self-obsessed enough to set up a blog.

So, prompted by ConservativeHome’s look at the 27 ‘A list’ candidates (from the original 100) who are no longer looking for a seat I started thinking about the issues around this again.  The article is interesting partly because a single internet page has probably ruined my book idea.  And interesting because I’m guessing this is about as close to an exit interview any of these people have got.

My interest in this is that I, too, am one of those aborted politicians.  When younger I was determined to become an MP and in 2001 found myself fighting my unwinnable, the apprenticeship seat, which I enjoyed enormously.  Obviously I lost (only 11,000 or so votes in it), but did a good enough job to get myself on the approved list of candidates for the 2005 election.

And that was it.  I never applied for another seat.

In the run up to the 2005 election I gave myself all sorts of excuses for not applying for seats.  No suitable vacancies…  I wanted to get more life experience…  My time was more valuably spent working in Battersea…  But deep down I think I knew that I just didn’t really want to be an MP anymore, even if I could not pin-point actually taking that decision.

Now I don’t think I’m typical.  And don’t think I’m a great loss to Parliament.  But looking through the list on ConservativeHome, and knowing others who were not even allowed on the list in the first place, I think Parliament and this country has missed out on some very able potential MPs.  And if we want to improve the government of this country we need to work out why those talented people get so close,  invest so much of their time, energy and money, and then walk away.

Maybe I fall into the self-obsessed category (I’m not angry about it, and hope I’m not dull) but I feel an examination of those abortive political careers would cast an interesting light on the political system.  While the Conservative and Labour Parties have fairly professional looking assessment procedures, the whole process is slightly odd.

For my assessment I had to go to Melton Mowbray, home of the pork pie and a rather nice conference hotel venue, where I sat psychometric tests, took part in role plays, did desk-top exercises and was interviewed but – very curiously – encouraged not to talk about politics.  The reasoning was that they were looking for people who could bring real life experience to the party.  But I couldn’t, and still can’t, help but think it’s a bit odd.  Would you want a doctor who has no curiosity about the human body?  A musician with no passion for music?

The problem is that parties only have a veneer of professionalism and, while it’s getting better, we still have amateurs running the country.  There isn’t an HR department identifying training needs, nor a proper disciplinary process to deal with problem members (you can’t pretend elections serve this purpose when the majority of seats never change hands).  The fact is that initiatives like the Conservative ‘A list’ are window dressing, the aims are noble, but they do not address the underlying issues that need tackling to improve female or ethnic minority representation in Parliament.  My suspicion is that despite all the initiatives on both sides of the political divide the basic profile of the MP hasn’t really changed all that much in the last 20 or 30 years.

Of course, I can imagine what the Daily Mail’s response would be if MPs were to vote themselves a decent training allowance, or Parliament were to start giving political parties money to develop talented grassroots activists who may have something to offer on a wider stage.  So, instead, we end up with the legislature and executive we deserve, just because that’s the way politics is done in this country.

Here’s the crime briefing for burglary and street crime reported in Wandsworth between 9-16 April, 2009.

It’s a relatively sparsely populated map, with only 56 flags. Although it looks a lot when zoomed out, it’s worth bearing in mind this covers a population similar in size to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a city in its own right.

If you have any information on any of these crimes you can get in touch with the local police on 020 7350 1122 or via Crimestoppers (anonymously, if you wish) on 0800 555 111.

The map is hosted by Google, who seem to provide a fairly unreliable service. If the map does not load, or will not load the flags, try refreshing the page or following the link directly under the map; I assure you the map is there! As usual there are some health warnings following the map.

You can click on the individual markers for more information.

  1. Yellow flags represent burglaries and red flags represent street crime reported between 9-16 April, 2009.
  2. The briefing only contains details of burglaries and robberies. Other crimes are not included.
  3. You can see more detail by following the link to the Google website.
  4. The flags are not placed precisely (it would be irresponsible to advertise victims of burglary) but instead are spaced roughly equally on the roads they took place. The idea is to give a visual representation of the spread and range of crime in Wandsworth, rather than pinpointing crime locations.
  5. While I try to ensure the data is accurate it is reliant on the information I receive, and I’m only human, so it may be mistakes have crept in. Please let me know if you think you’ve spotted one.

  • Just posted the latest crime briefing for Wandsworth http://tinyurl.com/c9ywa5 #
  • Recent tragic events make this more relevant than ever. http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/Photorestrict/ (via @appleblossombea) #
  • Seriously considering quitting Twitter. I feel compelled to Tweet about it first though. #
  • On hold with Thames Water. They are playing Peter Cetera. Now I ask, how does Tweeting this make anyone’s life any better? #
  • Apologies to those followers I’ve not reciprocated. I will try and find time to go through and return the favour to the non-spammers! #
  • More police for Battersea and a new team in Tooting http://tinyurl.com/dhsbw8 (via @wandbc) #

The council’s Community Safety Division, in partnership with the police Safer Neighbourhood Team, are running their crime prevention roadshow at Asda Clapham Junction tomorrow (Saturday 18th).

Staff from Community Safety and the police will both be on hand to offer assistance or advice on all matters relating to crime prevention.  There’s usually free balloons for children too, and often a councillor unable to resist playing with the helium!

No appointment is necessary, so just pop along to the main entrance to Asda between 11am and 3pm.

Clapham Junction
Clapham Junction

And after last week’s news that Tooting were getting their own town centre police team comes the news that Clapham Junction is getting one too.

I had known it was coming, but had understood it was some time away.  In fact, I’ve now been told the police team will be starting within the next month or so and will consist of 1 police sergeant, 2 constables and 8 Police Community Support Officers.

Like Tooting, Clapham Junction was an area we’d asked Labour’s Len Duvall to consider for a dedicated town centre team, but had been knocked back despite his positive statements in a public meeting held in Wandsworth.  But also like Tooting, things are thankfully different under a Boris mayorality.

I’ll obviously provide more details on both as I get them.

I just do not understand why it has taken so long.

One of my recurrent themes is ‘being human’.  For some reason politicians often seem to equate signs of humanity as signs of weakness.  So when the Prime Minister’s staff were planning smear campaigns it took him days to do what any decent human being would do, and say sorry.

As a total aside I did a little spot on engagement for the Improvement and Development Agency in which I suggested the Muppet-Superman continuum on which politicians are judged (the description comes in at 2:05):

This video is also available on YouTube.

This whole episode reminded me of Margaret Thatcher’s household budgeting analogy, and for some reason I couldn’t help but bring it down to a household level. If your children had accidentally damaged your neighbour’s property, say a football through a window, the first thing you would do is march them round, apologise and make the child apologise and offer to make amends.

So it wasn’t actually that much of a surprise to come across Matthew Parris’ column in today’s Times. Her approach, when an aide had offended a member of the public, was to demand an apology immediately. Obviously, politics played their part, but behind it is a realisation that sometimes saying sorry is both appropriate and necessary.

Unfortunately it’s not something the Prime Minister has worked out and he, instead, behaves like a petulant child refusing to accept that something is very wrong in his government. I can’t believe I’m saying it, but I find myself wishing we had Blair back.

And this is where the Muppet-Superman continuum comes in. Brown has spent years portraying himself as the ‘Iron Chancellor’, a son of the manse, straightforward and honest. A sort of super politician who would provide competent, unshowy, government with principle after the years of Blair/Campbell spin.

And instead we have a muppet, a Prime Minister who sort of co-ordinates the show, but without the hilarity and, most definitely, without Kermit’s charm.

One of my colleagues, Piers McCausland, has written a little piece over on ConservativeHome about the lack of local control of business rates.  Assuming many readers of this blog do not read ConservativeHome’s local government pages I have copied the article below.

It raises an interesting point.  Part of what makes a successful community are the businesses that settle there, and, therefore, surely the local government should have more control over what they are taxed.  Of course, it was a previous Conservative government that centralised control of business rates, partly because they were being abused by some short-sighted councils who saw business rates as an easy and relatively painless source of extra revenue, resulting in excessive rate rises for the area’s businesses.

However, we’re now seeing those very businesses we want to encourage being hammered by central government’s failure to appreciate the impact of the end of transitional relief.  The council is doing all it can to help businesses in the recession, but in some cases businesses faced bills that had quadrupled in size before the government belatedly stepped in.  Piers raises the case of a launderette on St John’s Hill that faces closure because it just cannot afford the rates bill.  I am sure it’s not the only business in a similar situation.

Piers’ article:

Business rates must return to local control or the Government will tax successful enterprises out of business

Cllr Piers McCausland is a member of Wandsworth Council and argues that the setting of business rates must return to local control.

Small businesses have financed the Government and have helped local councils pull up many rundown areas by their bootstraps.  But precisely where these partners have succeeded, they are being pilloried by this Government.

Instead of fiscal sympathy in an economic downturn for those who have successfully regenerated their areas, they have bitten the hand that feeds them.  Business rates have climbed into the stratosphere with retailers the hardest hit.

Soon the prosperous tomorrow will be replaced by rows of steel shuttered parades in your ward and wards across the country. For in truth there is precious little many local councils can do, though Wandsworth is proposing a hardship contribution for the hardest hit.

This blight is largely made at the centre with its demand for uniformity in business rates throughout England and Wales.

Businesses with a potentially prosperous tomorrow and “indigenous” businesses alike within these areas are hit.

In my ward, a launderette on St John’s Hill has seen its net business rate skyrocket.  Its proprietor for 30-odd years says his margins are so tight it will have to close.  The clientele is mainly working class. Where will these people go then?

The answer must be local accountability.  The setting of local business rates must return to local control. The quality of local council policy and administration has improved since the early 1980s.  It must be given a chance to shine here.