My son picked up Zac Goldsmith’s latest leaflet from the doormat this morning and asked me what it was about. He wanted to know about the experiments.

I tried to explain, but he didn’t quite understand: “Aren’t experiments good, because you learn.”

And he was right. There’s a lot of negativity in this campaign (no side is innocent) but the Goldsmith attack is that Khan might try something different, he might innovate, and that would be bad.

I actually think Goldsmith is a good candidate—certainly better than Johnson—but can’t help finding the main attack, that trying anything new is bad, is inherently disappointing.

I’ve always been a fan of the laboratories of democracy concept and a recent Alliance for Useful Evidence and Institute for Government report highlighted the (under utilised) potential for Devolution as a Policy Laboratory in this country.

Sadly, whatever problems we might have (and the candidates often agree on those) when the mere implication someone might try something different to solve them is seen as a valid negative attack we have a long way to go.

Fortunately for my son, he’s only seven, so he’s got until the 2028 Mayoral election for things to change.

A model of Battersea Power Station in the Power Station's grounds
Battersea Power Stations

If you are at a loose end this weekend there are a plenty of Open House events in Battersea and Wandsworth.

One that is not listed on the Open House website (at least as far as I can see) is the Metropolitan Police’s event at Battersea Police Station on Battersea Bridge Road. It might not be the most interesting building in the world (although some might be curious to see how the Met is delivering a service despite a fairly poor building that isn’t really suited to a 21st century service) but the day offers an opportunity to see a little bit of what happens behind the scenes.

To my mind the real jewel in Wandsworth for the weekend is the opening up of Battersea Power Station. I’ve been lucky enough to visit the power station on numerous occasions over the years and it has never failed to take my breath away. If you have only ever seen it from a distance, perhaps across the river or from the railway or Battersea Park Road you have probably never appreciated the scale of the building since there is so little nearby to offer that perspective. It’s the last time the Power Station will be open before redevelopment, so it really is an opportunity worth taking.

If these aren’t your cup of tea there are plenty of other sites open across Wandsworth, including a rare opportunity to see the splendid interior of the Gala Bingo Hall in Tooting and not be shushed for breaking the intense concentration of dozens of bingo-players (bingoists, bingoers?) or the intriguingly bizarre Hanging Bathroom of Balham.

The Big Longon Energy SwitchEnergy switching seems to have become something of a local government vogue recently. Perhaps because there is not as much cash around any more and local authorities and councillors have to look at less traditional ways of supporting residents. In February I sat on the judging panel for the LGIU‘s Cllr Awards and (aside from my usual feeling of inadequacy reading the nominations) could not help but notice how many of the nominees were involved in some sort of switching campaign. Locally I’ve had very loose discussions with a local resident and business owner interested in the potential for a community energy fund that would reinvest profits in the borough.

However, rather late in the day I discovered that there is a London-wide scheme, The Big London Energy Switch. Although Wandsworth is not listed as a participating borough, anyone in London can register; it accepted my registration without complaint.

The concept is fairly simple; if you assume people are paying around £1,000 a year on energy at the moment, gather a group of them together in, say, a five-year deal and you create significant amount of purchasing power. I first heard the idea being promoted in Cornwall by the Eden Project’s Sir Tim Smit, but I know there are other examples and I’m sure many that I’ve not seen.

Having just switched I’m probably not going to be able to do anything with it (as an aside, my switch got me a free energy monitor, which has turned me into a monster constantly hunting down unnecessarily left on appliances when I see the energy consumption anything above normal) but given how many people pay over the odds because they are bewildered by the options, or never change because they can’t find the perfect deal, thought I would post the link for residents who might be interested in exploring the option.

The Big London Energy Switch obviously has more details. Although registration carries no commitment, the registration period closes this Monday evening.

A slightly modified version of the London Council's control map

When I wrote that I thought Wandsworth Labour must have been disappointed with their result I didn’t realise quite how disappointed until I looked at how their colleagues across London performed. Much as it pains me to say it, it was a good night for Labour in London.

After the 2006 elections 14 London councils were Conservative controlled, 8 controlled by Labour. Following last Thursday’s election the figures are now 11 and 17. A fairly drastic reversal of fortunes.

Looking at our immediate neighbours the story is fairly mixed. In Lambeth Labour solidified their grip on the borough at the expense of both the Conservatives and Lib Dems. Merton council remains in no overall control, but finely balanced – Labour now hold exactly half the seats, the same position the Conservatives had been in from 2006. Over to the west Richmond has become Conservative controlled, taking 12 seats from the Lib Dems in a two way fight.

Elsewhere Labour took control of Brent, Camden, Ealing, Enfield, Harrow, Hounslow, Islington, Southwark and Waltham Forest. And in some of those the shifts were fairly dramatic, making double digit gains – which brings home Wandsworth Labour’s lack of progress.

It seems fairly clear that the increased turnout of a national election can have a dramatic effect on the a local election poll.

What gets me, though, is the irony that the party who have created a financial disaster nationally have been asked to fix it in so many places locally.

Almost five years ago the council launched its ten point plan for Clapham Junction. It was one of those things that was more aspiration than anything. The council had little control over the implementation of most of the ten points, but it did form a great basis for lobbying by creating a coherent vision of what Clapham Junction could be with the implementation of some small, and some not so small, changes; the council had a powerful voice because it was arguing not just for some ill-defined investment, but a series of deliverable improvements.

And the council has had some great successes:

  • Clapham Junction is on the extended Tube map (albeit as London Overground)
  • There are new routes, like the West London Line
  • The East London Line is scheduled to take passengers to and from Stratford in time for the Olympics
  • Lifts are being installed on all platforms
  • A new entrance is being built, with council investment, at Brighton Yard
  • Oyster is accepted at the station

It’s a superb example of how the council can still shape the area, even through is doesn’t necessary have total control over everything in its patch.

But despite all this the station was still named the country’s second worst. So now the council has published its new ten-point strategy:

  1. Complete the East London Line extension to Clapham Junction, to interchange with the West London Line, creating an orbital rail route around London.
  2. Connect Clapham Junction to the Underground by bringing forward the long delayed Crossrail 2 project and an extension to or connection with the Northern Line at Battersea Power Station.
  3. Open a new station entrance to St John’s Hill, in Brighton Yard, to reduce overcrowding and provide step-free access to the platforms.
  4. Improve the station environment and facilities.
  5. Provide new rail services to Heathrow and Gatwick Airports.
  6. Improve the routes between the town centre and the station, and declutter the areas outside the station.
  7. Improve interchange between rail and bus services, with taxis and for cyclists.
  8. Increase the capacity of the station by lengthening platforms and improving access routes.
  9. Improve train frequencies with more Metro-style ‘turn up and go’ services on local lines and all long-distance services calling at the station.
  10. Improve public transport information, convenient ticketing and signage.

It will be fascinating to see the results over the next few years.


View Larger Map

In previous posts on this blog I have made comparisons between the Oxford Circus diagonal crossing and the crossing installed some years ago at Balham. These suggested that Balham should have received more credit for installing such a crossing and being one of the first – if not the first – in the country.

I was wrong.

It has since been pointed out to me that such a comparison was foolish and misleading.

I want to say sorry to friends and family who must feel let down by my comments, and can only hope that – in time – I can make amends. I also want to apologise to Westminster Council, who clearly have the right to install crossings without anyone suggesting similar crossings had been installed elsewhere in the country. I regret reading too much into headlines like ‘Oxford Street opens first diagonal pedestrian system’. But most of all I want to apologise unreservedly to Oxford Circus, and hope my comments have not detracted from the enjoyment of the many thousands who will be using the crossing.

As part of making amends, I am pleased to be able to print a statement from Westminster City Council’s Press Office below.

Martin Low, City Commissioner for Transportation at Westminster City Council, said: “I’m extremely flattered that Wandsworth council is so impressed by our new Japanese-inspired diagonal crossing that its members now wish to draw parallels to a diagonal crossing in Balham built in 2005. But with all due respect, the Shibuya crossing in Tokyo has far similar challenges in terms of handling huge numbers of pedestrians to Oxford Circus, than Balham.

“The West End attracts 200 million visitors a year and the engineering involved in developing and building the Oxford Circus crossing, which handles 38,000 pedestrians an hour at its peak, is nothing like the relatively simple crossing suitable for an area like Balham. Also, we never claimed it was the first – the Japanese got there around two decades before us both.”

I hope that the Oxford Circus and Balham crossings can join me in putting this unfortunate incident behind us and concentrating on a future of pedestrian road safety.

The winner? The iconic Power Station building in Nine Elms
The winner? The iconic Power Station building in Nine Elms

This week was a story of two regenerations – with two very different results.

Recession kills off Roehampton regeneration
The bad news came for Roehampton. The Roehampton Regeneration had been moving slowly for several months while the planning application was developed and everyone was aware that the economic climate meant that rapid progress was unlikely. Unfortunately the recession has been record breaking – the longest this country has seen. And it is now apparent that even after the recession ends it will be some time until we would be able to find a developer who would make Roehampton a priority. It is a disappointing, but unavoidable, decision.

Nine Elms planning framework discussion starts
And as if to balance the bad news from Roehampton the other side of the borough saw the launch of the Mayor’s consultation on the Opportunity Area Planning Framework. It was a real boost for the area and represents huge ambition for Nine Elms. Perhaps best (and I failed to mention this in my original post) was the exemption of the area from the Crossrail level to enable investment in transport – especially a Northern Line extension.

Of course, as much of the work of the council will be about making sure the whole borough – including Roehampton – benefits from the good news in coming years.

Last week I touched on the Labour gimmick of freezing council tax in the eight London boroughs they control and suggested that, actually, if you wanted value and quality services you were better sticking with Conservative authorities that already had a track record.

I failed to mention yesterday the Boris Johnson has again frozen the GLA’s budget. The second year he’s done it and, no coincidence, the second year he’s controlled the budget!

Compare this with Labour’s Ken Livingstone, who managed to double what he took from you over his eight years in office.

Today’s news that all the Labour councils in London are to freeze council tax next year (I say all, they only have eight) came as something of a shock.

First of all, I don’t think London Labour have a particularly good track record of keeping council tax low. If you take the inner London Labour boroughs at band D they charge an average of £1,276. Conservative authorities charge an average of just £899. And those bald figures hide other facts. The most expensive Conservative borough, Hammersmith and Fulham has only been Conservative controlled since 2006, and in each year since then has actually reduced the council tax. And I would hope I don’t need to point out that Wandsworth has the lowest council tax in the country.

But what really gets me is that all eight find themselves in a position to declare no increase, when a year ago almost to the day they all rejected exactly that suggestion.

Conservative policy is to freeze council tax for the first two years of an administration. A popular policy you might think… but not, unfortunately, with London’s Labour councils who all declared they would not participate.

Apparently when the Conservatives suggested it (along with extra funding to help councils manage the freeze) such a freeze would result in “years of misery” as Labour leader’s across the capital second guessed what funding they would get from central government. This year, however, at exactly the same place in the budget setting process, with no promise of cash from the government they can all announce a freeze as a celebration of Labour efficiency.

The only conclusion you can draw is that when it comes to using council tax to buy a few votes for the beleaguered Prime Minister different rules apply.

I live life on the edge. I’m the type of guy you see in a L’Oreal advert, perhaps running along the Thames, then doing something manly, like chopping down a tree or at least doing something wearing a tool-belt.

And I use Facebook (you can even be my friend), which includes applications like ‘How Sexy Am I?’.

Actually, I generally avoid applications on Facebook, largely because I’m averse to clicking OK when asked to approve access to virtually all my information. But I did try with this particular application out of solidarity with Cllr Geoff Courtenay from Uxbridge. The Uxbridge Gazette reports that Cllr Courtenay, a fellow Conservative, has been de-selected by Hillingdon Conservatives after putting the app on his Facebook page. Apparently he displayed “a lack of judgement over inappropriate material being placed [on the] social networking site Facebook.” If there is any good news for Cllr Courtenay it’s that the paper later reveals that, in true Facebook style, there is a group demanding he be un-de-selected.

Despite my general cynicism about the role sites like Facebook and Twitter play in politics and local government stories like this depress me. I know the articles in the might not tell the whole story. And I know there may well be an unwritten subtext to the de-selection. But it looks bad for two reasons.

First, if you take it at face value we are saying that we, as a party, don’t really understand sites like Facebook, where applications like this are not that unusual and not meant to be taken seriously. If you have a Facebook account you understand that, and to see the ‘inappropriate material’ you not only need to have an account but be Cllr Courtenay’s friend. Taking it further, we are saying that we don’t expect our candidates to be human. We expect them to operate in a humourless void, in which defects like personality or character should be stamped out.

Second, if you view it as a smoke screen, then it gives the appearance that we are unprofessional. We’re using an excuse (and I think a fairly flimsy one) as cover for a decision we want to take for other reasons. Candidate selections and de-selections are a fact of life for anyone involved in politics – in just the same was as we win or lose elections, we need to convince our party that we’re fit for the job. There is nothing wrong with de-selections, just as there’s nothing wrong in people losing jobs or failing at job interviews. But if we are to be a professional party (and generally, we are) we need to act in a professional manner – and that includes honesty in the feedback rather than using convenient smokescreens.

And if you were wondering how sexy I am, I’m afraid you will be disappointed. I tried installing the application but just get a message that “there are still a few bugs on Facebook and the makers of How Sexy Am I? are trying to sort them out.” But every cloud has a silver lining, because while my sexiness will – tragically – remain a mystery, at least I don’t have to fear a de-selection.