Party Superstore: Just how Golfrate likes it.

Steve Jobs once expressed frustration that Barack Obama focused on the reasons why things can’t get done instead of just doing them. Part of the problem may be that he doesn’t have as much power as people think. And this is true of all politicians; right down to the humble councillor.

The idea that there is a political class with huge executive power is a myth. The best politicians realise that, and lead by persuasion, they have a vision and invite – hopefully successfully – people to join them in making it a reality. Wandsworth can clean the streets, but we need successful businesses and people to shop there to make a vibrant town centre; we also need successful businesses and happy shoppers.

Which is why, ultimately, politics is mostly about frustration. You often won’t succeed; there will be a snag, people disagree, time runs out. You accept it, learn the lessons and move on, because you know when it does work out the hard work and failures are worth it.

And rarely do you talk about it. Perhaps because politicians don’t like failure. Perhaps because discretion is sometimes the better path.

Then sometimes you are, frankly, so pissed off by something that you want to point fingers.

And this is one of those times.

The Party Superstore on Lavender Hill is a highly visible reminder of last year’s riots. A scar on Clapham Junction that, because of the scale of damage done, will take a long time to heal.

But we wanted to put a plaster on it. Something to make the area look a bit nicer. The idea was some artwork, a backdrop of lavender, with butterflies drawn by local children.

Twee, perhaps, but a lot nicer than the currently boarding.

The council was keen, and would fund it. A local business was going to provide the artwork and materials. The Party Shop owner, Duncan Mundell, was enthusiastic every step of the way.

Sadly, Golfrate, the building owner, was not so keen. They said no.

This was a bit surprising, since it would be at no cost to them. And would make their property a little more attractive while it was repaired. And since they’d initially proposed a large advertising hoarding they can hardly oppose a display on the shop frontage.

Those less charitable than I might wonder if the council’s rejection of their massive advertising hoarding and their rejection of the artwork are related. There is an appealing simplicity in that conclusion but I have no idea how true it might be.

What I do know is that this appears to have become another example of where the council tried to bring people together to make something positive happen, but just couldn’t quite get everyone to agree. It’s sad that Golfrate, for whatever reason, couldn’t bring themselves to let other people pay to make their property a little nicer, but that is their decision.

Golfrate have every right to say no, and we have to respect that right. But I certainly don’t respect the decision.

Neil Kinghan’s report in the looting at Clapham Junction (and elsewhere) was published today.

It is, by necessity, not an in-depth look into the riots, they causes and consequences, but instead a first look: trying to show what happened and draw out some key recommendations. And it is, by the nature of the process, a balanced report. Having undertaken similar sorts of work (although never into anything like August’s looting) I know exactly how hard it is to divine anything exhaustive or definitive when you are interviewing people on issues that will often are a matter of opinion and recollection and not hard fact.

Reading through the final report I can see where I probably complicated matters for Mr Kinghan, but, even so, other than small matters (for example, I recall seeing photos of a vandalised Starbucks fairly early on the evening of 8 August) there is nothing with which I particularly disagree and much with which I agree.

Communication comes across as one area that can be improved, in pretty much every direction. This even when Wandsworth, I think, has a pretty good track record in communication. The lesson, perhaps, is that it can always be improved.

One of the things that struck me soon after the 8 August, is how the public sector lagged far behind rioters and broom army when it came to communication. This is even despite similar tools already existing; I was Wandsworth’s sole Yammer (which is effectively a private Twitter) member for over two years until after the riots; since then membership has swollen to a mighty three users!

Business recovery is the area that most directly affects me, and we’re already looking at what we can do and the funds that are being made available. Here the trick is in successfully managing the transition from the immediate response – helping businesses recover from the aftermath – to a longer term plan that supports and develops local businesses.

It is very much a “watch this space” until plans are more fully developed.

The whole report is publicly available via the council’s website. It is not – and openly admits it isn’t – a conclusive or definitive report on the disorder, and many questions remain unanswered, but a fascinating first look at the issues around 8 August.

Before yesterday I’d never been to a ground-breaking. And never really understood them, it seemed an attempt to attach symbolism to an other arbitrary part of a process. But yesterday’s was different.

The keys had been removed before he was allowed in!

For a start Boris Johnson was doing the ground-breaking, and it’s always worth listening to him speak: and he was as entertaining as it was educational. Starting by suggesting the souvenir paperweight he’d been given may also be useful in defending himself from rioters, he declared the ‘Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea’ designation unsuitable (and said he’d decided it should just be Battersea) went on to discuss the changing path of the Thames (which he congratulated on finally deciding to flow through the world’s greatest city) before finishing to “declare the ground shortly to be broken.”

The irony being that he didn’t actually break any ground; health and safety, you understand.

So it will fall to someone else to dig out that first patch of ground. But the symbolism is there nonetheless. After all these years, work is finally starting in Nine Elms. Riverlight is the first, and has moved from St James acquiring the site to work starting in under two years, but there is so much more to come: the US Embassy, Covent Garden Market and the Power Station itself.

Finally everyone will start seeing Nine Elms as more than sketches and computer-generated imagery, but a developing area and a new centre for Wandsworth and London.

SW11 Literary Festival launch
SW11 Literary Festival launch
The Mayor and Sponsors of the SW11 Literary Festival

This year’s SW11 Literary Festival launched at the Bellevue Pub on Battersea High Street earlier this week.

The theme for the year is Monsters: which might be offensive to some of the more genteel authors on the programme, but is all good fun. The festival runs from 17 September until 3 October (you can download a programme or get more information from the Clapham Junction town centre website).

Running throughout the festival is the SW11 Monster Hunt, where you can find various monsters hovering around the SW11 area. They are either in shop windows or found using an iPhone or Android app (I’m afraid I don’t have a link to the Android Marketplace version).

Rarrr, scary monster
Rarrr, scary monster

The launch event also created the opportunity to create your own monster – mine, of which you will see I’m very proud, is small but clearly that’s only so he can create terror in the most confined of spaces. You’ll also note that his wings are uneven. This is an evolutionary advantage, so he can fly in circles. Or something.

The festival always features a range events so there is something for everybody – and it provides a good excuse to get out and show support for your local town centre businesses.

Persian cooking at Tarragon

Going through Clapham Junction is surreal experience. I went along it early on Tuesday morning and for a large part of it you would be hard pressed to know anything had happened. The council, businesses and some fleet-of-foot glaziers had tidied up so well it was business as normal for most. Even the cordoned off area didn’t seem that bad, largely because the cordon kept you so far from the worst of the damage.

Now you can get to the central Clapham Junction area you can see more of the destruction. This morning it was a mix of boarded up shops, semi-permanent broadcast locations and a bit of traffic congestion caused by ranks of tradesmen’s vans supporting the repairs being carried out.

But the key thing is that Clapham Junction is open for business. Even the boarded up shops are open, serving customers while they wait for new windows.

And this is a key message: Clapham Junction is open, and we should be shopping there.

The response on Tuesday was fabulous and inspiring. But the damage is not just cosmetic; many businesses – especially the independent businesses – will be hurt by Monday’s vandalism and looting.

Many will be having long and difficult discussions with insurers, and many will find that they aren’t covered for riot.

Even those that escaped unscathed will have concerns that cash-flow, still recovering from the recession, will suffer if Clapham Junction’s reputation has suffered.

And, could anyone be blamed for wondering if it’s worth going on when some of the people you serve can suddenly decide they are entitled to come and help themselves to your stock, trashing the place while they are at it?

After the clean-up, the one thing that will really help, is that we all shop local.

That doesn’t mean we all have to spend every penny locally or close our Amazon accounts. But if we all decided to choose a local restaurant instead of heading into town or did our convenience shopping near home in SW11 and not near work in the West End or City. The cumulative difference would be enormous.

I’ve been trying to make my difference over the past few nights. On Tuesday I had a fantastic meal at the relatively new Tarragon. Last night I went along, with some visiting American friends, to the excellent Donna Margherita – one of London’s best pizzas. I’m not sure where tonight’s meal will be, but it’s not like Lavender Hill doesn’t offer plenty of choice.

Of course, that isn’t sustainable. I’m just too old for so many nights out and am already feeling the pace. But from now on whenever I reach for my wallet outside of Battersea I’m going to ask myself a simple question: “Could I buy this in SW11?”

I’d like to challenge everyone to do that too.

Philip Beddows and Jenny Browne at the Clapham Junction clean-up this morning

Like every other decent person I was following what was happening in Clapham Junction and elsewhere last night with horror.

But while there has been and will be plenty written about last night (including, I suspect by me) I know that what is really important is not what happened in Clapham Junction last night – but what is happening in Clapham Junction now, and what will happen tomorrow and then every day after that.

Last night I started organising a #riotcleanup with people I know. It was quickly apparent this morning that pretty much everything that could be cleaned had been cleaned, but passing through Clapham Junction this morning on my way to a meeting with Wandsworth businesses and the police I was astounded at the volume of people still there, happily waiting for a chance to help clean up.

And in the meeting with businesses they were impressively focused not on recrimination, but on the future. Not on bemoaning the wanton destruction, but on how we quickly get back on our feet and then improve even further.

And later, returning through Clapham Junction, who couldn’t help but be uplifted seeing the numbers of helpers had grown massively. The team of brush-wielding Junctionites had become an army.

This is one of those days when you stop believing that London is the world’s greatest city because you KNOW London is the world’s greatest city.

We are not a city of a few mindless thugs and their vacant followers.

We are, instead, a city of magnificent people – both new and old – who collectively stand for something that is worth far more than an entire store of sports fashion or flat-screen TVs.

We should never lose sight that whatever shame can be attached to the riots it is as nothing compared to the pride we can all feel in our response today, tomorrow and every day after.

Although nothing like as closely involved in the developments in Nine Elms as I was (and even then it was such a big project I was only tangentially involved) the development continues apace: the Tideway site was recently given planning permission and the Secretary of State recently approved the plans for Battersea Power Station.

One of the next big developments is the New Covent Garden Market site. This is the biggest single site in the Nine Elms area, pretty much stretching from one end to the other – so what happens there is going to have a major impact on how the opportunity zone looks and feels when completed.

They are about to start their third public consultation, before submitting their formal planning application. If you are interested then you can visit their exhibition about their plans at the Yvonne Carr Community Centre on Thessaly Road later this week. The exhibition will be open on 4.00-8.00pm on Thursday, 3 Mar and Friday, 4 March and from 10.00am-5.00pm on Saturday, 5 March.

Almost no change in Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) claims in the borough for November! In October there were 6,056 claims, in November 6,055 (a change of just -0.02%). The year-on-year change is a little happier, it’s a drop of 586 (-8.82%) from this time in 2009.

The longer term impact of the recession is clear, the graph of JSA claims since the recession started gives a clear picture of the long-term impact, a rapid increase as jobs were lost, but a slow recovery afterwards. And, of course, some of those jobs will never return: for example, many public sector jobs, unsustainably funded by massive borrowing are probably gone forever.

Another small drop in JSA claims in Wandsworth, and couldn’t be much smaller. Just 14 (0.23%) fewer claims than the previous month bring the total to 6,056. But still a decent drop over the course of a year, 757 (11.11%) fewer than this time in 2009.

During the week I heard a few people downplaying the impact of the recession, but I still think this graph tells a tale of the huge damage that the tale end of the Brown-Blair years unleashed.

With the eurozone in turmoil and the necessary effect of tackling the deficit still to come it might be some time before this is undone.