The council have published the final list of candidates for the Battersea parliamentary seat.

I know I shouldn’t say this but I’m a little disappointed, the field has narrowed, and we are now down to seven candidates, the major parties are there, obviously, with the Conservatives Jane Ellison challenging Labour’s Martin Linton for the seat. They are joined by the Liberal Democrat, Greens and UKIP along with two independents: Tom Fox, who opposes corruption and Hugh Salmon who seems to share a lot of Conservative policy (although I confess I’ve not spent a lot of time studying his policies).

We’ve lost two candidates though. The Jury Team candidate, it seems, didn’t manage to get a nomination together and, sadly, the Monster Raving Loony Party didn’t stick to his promise to stand. Why am I disappointed? Because I occasionally enjoy politics and some of these candidates can bring some colour to the race. Sadly, they won’t be bringing it to Battersea.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect is the nomination of a BNP candidate in Putney. Given that they had managed to nominate a candidate in West Hill, they could clearly get the signatures for a parliamentary nomination (both only require ten people) and the only question remaining was whether they could afford the deposit. It seems they could.

I’m still slightly puzzled by their choice of constituency, as I mentioned with their West Hill nomination, they predominantly take votes from Labour so Putney is a surprising choice given that that the Labour vote there isn’t that high. There isn’t even the argument that there is a media focus on the seat – since most will be looking towards Battersea and Tooting where there are likely to be changes.

Whatever their logic, I hope they get a record low in the polls.

Battersea's next new school - but where would Labour cut to fund it?

Yesterday, I commented that the ‘free schools’ idea had cross party support. I was wrong and shouldn’t have said that.

The Conservatives, locally and nationally support the concept of free schools. Indeed, there have been a number of meetings between the local and national Conservative frontbenchers and the local campaign to set up a school on the Bolingbroke site. It may well be one of the pioneer schools under a Conservative government.

Unfortunately Labour have not been quite so warm to the idea. While Martin Linton has been trying to talk up what Labour will do he hasn’t been talking to Labour Secretary of State for Education, Ed Balls.

Ed Balls is perfectly willing to support the idea, but his solution? Slash planned investment in other schools.

In essence Balls is saying that he supports the idea, but that he wants us to cut funding already earmarked for seventeen other schools and educational facilities in the borough. Perhaps he or Martin Linton could indicate which schools they would propose to chop?

Canary Wharf from Westfield Stratford
Canary Wharf from top of the Westfield building site

I’m not sure why but it seems like campaigning seems to be taking up more and more time, although looking through the diary we’ve been keeping up a fairly stiff pace through the summer months. It is perhaps the onset of darker and considerably colder nights makes an evening on the doorstep seem a lot less appealing than it did in the summer months. Or it might be that the elections are starting to seem a little more real now that other candidates are falling into place – I’ve heard Martin Linton’s wife, Sara Apps-Linton, is standing as a council candidate in Shaftesbury – whether the story is accurate or not there is no doubt that we are definitely heading into election territory. If you don’t like elections and politics it might be an idea to book a long holiday!

SNT awards
Awards of one form or another have formed a large part of this week. I was one of the judging panel for the first Safer Neighbourhood Team awards this week, responsible for sifting through the hundreds of nominations made by members of the public, businesses, charities, pubs, councillors and children who all thought they had the borough’s best SNT.

At the risk of using cliché it was not an easy decision. I think the result changed several times during the discussions before the winner was finally decided. And while I’m not going to name the winner here, it says a lot that there is such support and recognition in the borough for the work of the SNTs.

CSD awards
I also attended a little session to recognise the awards that the council’s Community Safety Division have received over the past few weeks. I have often said how privileged I have been to work with some excellent council officers from all parts of my portfolio, but it’s always good to see their good work recognised externally. Since October Community Safety officers have been part of the team winning the London Region Tilley Award (a Home Office prize awarded annually) received a commendation from Ron Dobson, the London Fire Commissioner, (I understand this is the first time council staff have received such recognition) and also received commendations from Stewart Low, the Wandsworth police borough commander, for their community safety work.

That they are an award winning department is no surprise to me, and I’m incredibly proud of all that they have done for the borough.

Westfield Stratford City
While not directly related to the borough I took up an invitation to have a look around the Westfield Stratford City site this week. It is a truly massive project and (I am happy to admit) one that I hope I will never visit when finished! But however much I dislike shopping I cannot deny the regeneration benefits it will have for Newham, creating enormous employment opportunities for the area and fitting into the wider regeneration through the Olympics. Of course, a retail-led regeneration of that scale is not directly suitable for Wandsworth, not least because it would undermine the council’s five town centre strategy. But it is a example of what can be achieved between the private and public sector and while the parallels are not direct gives an indication of the sort of benefits might accrue to local residents as development begins in Nine Elms.

As an aside, it also offered an excellent view of the Olympic venues. Several are visible from the upper areas of the Westfield building site, and while the media (I think) tends to portray a negative image but when you see them you realise that they are very close to completion and that the Olympics are not very far away at all.

Housing ASB conference
Finally, I spent his morning at a conference on Anti-Social Behaviour organised by the council’s housing department. Wandsworth’s housing department is very strong when it comes to dealing with ASB from its tenants, but it is something that continues to blight many people’s lives. One aspect is understanding, a resident in a working group I took part in commented that, very often, people felt intimidated when there was no ill-will meant and sometimes a group of teenagers is just a group of teenages and not a knife-weilding gang!

It is a point we often lose sight of and I was talking to a Shaftesbury resident this afternoon about much the same subject. While the council and partners need to be (and are) tough on crime and anti-social behaviour we need to ensure that in doing so we do not criminalise and marginalise a generation just for doing what teenagers have always done – meet friends and hang about.

For those that like symbolism today is just 164 days until the (or a) likely date of the general election.

While Brown could wait until 3 June next year – and there have been rumours that 25 March might be the date – for a long time the main betting seems to have been on a combined poll with the local elections on 6 May 2010.

So why do I think the 164 days are significant?

Well, here in Battersea Labour’s Martin Linton has a majority of just 163 votes. In the incredibly unlikely event that the electorate in Battersea remained the same between 2005 and 2010 the Conservatives would need to find just one vote per day between now and the election to gain the seat from Labour. An easy task? I don’t know. It’s certainly not one that is taken for granted, and the weekend’s poll showing Labour “slashing” the Conservative lead shows exactly why the election isn’t a foregone conclusion.

The poll has certainly created jubilation among Labour supporters who now feel there is still a chance they can win next year. And in response a degree of denial from Conservatives. Personally, I’m sitting on the fence. I remember being one of the underdogs in 1997, 2001 and 2005. And I remember how tempting it is to jump on any poll that gives you hope.

I also remember how depressing it is when the next lot of polls all show that it was just a rogue.

But what the poll does show, however, is exactly how hard the battle will be for the Conservatives. If you pop over to the Electoral Calculus website you can play with percentages and see how they would play out. In this case the 6% lead to the Conservatives makes them the bigger party (with no overall majority) by just 18 seats with 296 MPs to Labour’s 278.

If we look at previous elections you can see that the electoral system is skewed in Labour’s favour. In the 2005 election Labour won just a 3% bigger share of the vote than the Conservatives, but this netted them 158 more MPs. In 2001 a 9% lead gained them 227 more MPs. And both elections produced substantial Labour majorities.

However if you go back to the last election the Conservatives won, in 1992, their 7.5% lead represented the most votes ever cast for a single party in the UK but garnered them just 65 more MPs than Labour and an overall majority of just 21 that had eroded to nothing by the time of the 1997 election.

I should be clear this isn’t a complaint about the electoral system, which I like and greatly prefer to any system of ‘proportional’ voting – but an observation current distribution of constituency boundaries means, overall, the electoral system heavily favours the Labour Party. And that means the Conservatives have an almighty task ahead of them. They need to lead by around 8% before they have an overall majority.

But while the overall figures may suggest a there’s a huge mountain to climb, that’s not the case in individual seats. In Battersea it might ‘only’ be 164 votes needed, but they will only be won with hard work on the ground. Exactly the same as all the other majorities that will be over-turned next year when each seat will makes its contribution to an historic election.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) sees an opposition day debate on ‘local spending reports’. These were introduced by the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 and were intended to detail all the public spending in a borough.

You might think that already exists. For example it’s easy to identify what the council is spending in Wandsworth, everything the council spends is (pretty much) in Wandsworth. But there are complications. How do you account for children educated in a neighbouring borough, or children from neighbouring boroughs educated here?

And then there are a whole range of other agencies who work in Wandsworth but do not publish their spending, so, for example obviously Job Centre Plus work in the borough, but we don’t know their borough spend. Likewise, we’ve no idea of the ‘share’ of NHS spend Wandsworth. Nor do we know how much of the central spend of the police goes to Wandsworth. The list goes on.

The fact is that no-one really has a good idea of how public money is being spent in their area. And because no-one really has that idea can anyone really say that public money is being spent effectively? It was a core part of the Sustainable Communities Act that local spending reports would support informed localism by allowing us to ‘bid’ to take the funding to provide a service locally.

Unfortunately the Government seem to be watering down the commitment to public local spending reports. Instead they are proposing to only publish the easily available information from councils, the police, fire brigade and primary care trusts. This means that the bulk of public spending by central government will go unreported, and spending will lack transparency.

The debate is allied with Early Day Motion 1064 which has cross-party support (in Wandsworth it’s been signed by Labour’s Martin Linton and Conservative Justine Greening) and is part of the Local Works campaign.

I’d encourage anyone to follow the Local Works advice of taking a few moments and calling or emailing their MP and asking them to “Please vote in support of Early Day Motion 1064 on Local Spending Reports at the substantive debate in Parliament this Wednesday.” You can find our who your MP is from

First of all I must congratulate Chloe Smith everyone involved in the Norwich North by-election on their victory. It is no mean achievement to see a 16.5% swing, which would be more than enough, if repeated across the country to see a Conservative government.

The numbers geek in me wondered what this would mean for Wandsworth.

This needs prefacing with lots of caveats. Swing is a very imperfect measure. It is never uniform and local issues and campaigns mean it’s dangerous to draw conclusions from it. The method I’m using (the Butler Swing) only takes account of the top two parties, so it also ignores the impact of a strong campaign from minor parties. However, since Norwich North and all the Wandsworth seats are fairly straightforward Labour/Conservative fights, it’s not entirely unreasonable to put the numbers in and see what happens.

The Butler Swing basically takes the average of the change in vote share for the top two parties. So in Norwich North the Conservative vote share increased by 6.29% and the Labour vote share dropped by 26.70% – an average swing of 16.49% from Labour to Conservative.

In Wandsworth this would mean, very simply, all three seats would be Conservative – a 16.49% swing from the 2005 result would see:

  • In Battersea Martin Linton’s 163 majority would easily be overturned, becoming a 13,374 vote majority for Jane Ellison.
  • In Putney Justine Greening would see her 1,766 majority increase to a 13,828 majority over Labour’s Stuart King.
  • Even in the ‘safe’ Labour seat of Tooting, Sadiq Khan would see his 5,381 majority turn into a Conservative majority of 8,328 for Mark Clarke.

Even at half the swing, 8.25% from Labour to the Conservatives, all three seats would return Conservatives (majorities of 6,610, 7,801 and 1,477 in Battersea, Putney and Tooting respectively).

I’ve compared the current situation to 1997, which I saw from the losing side. Twelve years later the Norwich North result is almost a mirror image of the Wirral South by-election in 1997, which saw a 17% swing from the Conservatives to Labour and preceded the landslide Labour victory in the general election when they got a national swing of over 10%.

There’s no doubt that the Labour candidates in all three seats will be looking at the results and making the same comparisons. There’s going to be some fierce campaigning over the next year.

If I have wittered on enough about surgeries the South London Press have prompted me to witter on even more by publishing a story sparked off from the original blog post.

They don’t seem to have it on their website, but it essentially restates my belief that they are a waste of time – under a picture of the library, me, Labour leader Tony Belton and Samuel L. Jackson (yes, Samuel L. Jackson, I’d told the journalist I whiled away a few minutes reading a children’s biography of him).

Cllr Belton was on there as they approached him for a quote – and I think there’s some movement here – he admitted that few people attended, but continued, “I wouldn’t say to scrap them as it’s only right that people who feel strongly about something can come and lobby their councillor. The trouble is, they don’t.”

Argh. So close. That’s the crucial point. I’m not suggesting for a second that we remove the opportunities for people to see their councillors, but I just don’t see any point providing opportunities that people aren’t taking. It is that adherence to a system that was put in place for good reasons, but has stopped working, of which I want to be rid.

Meanwhile, another blog I read The Local Government Officer posted some of their thoughts on what have killed off surgeries.

I need to respond properly, because there are some interesting points raised in the post. But one I would pick up on is the idea, put forward by Tony Banks, that social workers are MPs. I know from my experience in Wandsworth that MPs do get people along to their surgeries. I also know that a lot of their casework revolves around council issues; housing, social services and education are probably the big ones. In Wandsworth the best elected representative to take up those sorts of issues are councillors (indeed on occasion Martin Linton has even forwarded casework to me) but people – for whatever reason – choose to visit their MP, I assume mainly because MPs have a far higher profile than most councillors.

And maybe I’m taking the wrong angle on it. It isn’t a case of changing the way we provide a service, but instead trying to educate residents on where responsibility for particular services lie – so they know exactly who to approach when they have a problem.

As ever, I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback.

Later today Battersea will be blessed with not one, but two, ministerial visits.

My own ward of Shaftesbury will be blessed by the Home Secretary visiting Battersea Arts Centre to give a keynote speech on crime and anti-social behaviour – so look forward to the latest government initiative there – and just down the road the Parliamentary Undersecretary for Health Services will be at the St John’s Therapy Centre.

Now there is a long tradition of high profile visits by ministers and shadow ministers to marginal seats – back in 1997 John Bowis received many ministers in his unsuccessful bid to retain Battersea for the Conservatives. This time it seems Martin Linton may well be benefiting as he bids to defend his 163 vote majority for the Labour Party.

These events allow the local MP to welcome the dignitary, be seen with the great and the good, and with a bit of luck feature in some of the media coverage. All valuable when you are trying to raise your profile with the local electorate. Especially when the events are on key concerns, crime and health.

What makes the St John’s Therapy Centre visit even more special is that it will be officially opened by the minister, Ann Keen. Who wouldn’t want to be associated with a new NHS facility?

Well, new-ish. While it might not have been officially opened yet, the patients who have been using it for two years since it actually opened probably haven’t noticed. But why should two years ruin a great photo op?

The April edition of Martin Linton’s Bugle dropped through my door this morning.  The newsletter, funded by his Parliamentary communications allowance always makes interesting reading.

One of the stories is on his successful campaigning against the third runway, to which he is “opposed… on environmental grounds.”  Apparently he “has voted against the third runway twice and will continue to campaign against it.”

Hold it though, that’s not quite right is it? In January he voted with the Government in support of the third runway.  He claimed afterwards that he was confused and tried to blame the Conservatives.  It was all fine though, because “sometimes funny things happen in Parliament.”  Yes, indeed.

I’m glad that, as a taxpayer, he gets some of our money to tell me what he’s up to, it helps transparent government.  I’m not so happy that when he decided to support his beleagured government on Heathrow than stand up for his constituents, but that’s the nature of representative government.  What I am unhappy about is that he’s using our money to pretend he’s always been on our side.  Would it have been to much for him to have taken the opportunity to say sorry?

We all make mistakes. It is human nature. But I cannot help but wonder what Battersea’s MP is up to when he posts his explanation for his Heathrow vote on his website.*

Apparently he voted FOR the third runway because he was trying to vote AGAINST it.  Got that?  The reason he made that mistake?  Well, it was all the Tories fault.  In his own words:

 I was expecting two votes and instead of voting for an Opposition motion on the first vote I was going to vote against a Government motion for a third runway on the second vote. But the Opposition decided not to call the second vote.

So that’s all right then.  He’s only been in Parliament since 1997, and it’s not as if the issue was getting major news coverage or anything – so it’s all perfectly understandable.

Yes, we all make mistakes, and, to be honest, I am sure that plenty of votes in the Commons are cast the wrong way. But when it’s on one of the biggest issues facing his constituency (and he doesn’t live too far from me, so  know he suffers from Heathrow noise too) you would rather hope your representative in Parliament would do his job and take the time to check especially when he’s defending a wafer thin majority.

Either way you look at it, he’s either not representing his constituents, or he’s not up to his job.  He needs to go.


* UPDATE Martin Linton’s website seems to have lost the page explaining his vote.  Fortunately ConservativeHome had a copy which I’ve pasted below.  It is an interesting read, but I just cannot understand how someone with over 10 years experience of Parliament, and who has worked so hard to fight the 3rd runway which (after the recession, surely the biggest issue facing his constituents) can get this utterly wrong.

This is a mix-up for which I am entirely responsible. I was expecting two votes and instead of voting for an Opposition motion on the first vote I was going to vote against a Government motion for a third runway on the second vote. But the Opposition decided not to call the second vote.

I now wish I had taken my opportunity of voting against the runway on the first vote and I feel not a little embarrassed at the confusion this has caused, but I can only say that I remain against a third runway and I shall not miss an opportunity to vote against if one comes up.

I lobbied the Aviation Minister and the Transport Minister and went with a group of London MPs to see the Prime Minister twice to try to persuade them against any increase in flights into Heathrow and we were successful in persuading them to drop the idea of all-day flights. This would have meant an increase in flights over Battersea and an end to the system of runway alternation, which gives people under each flightpath a break of eight hours each day without aircraft landing overhead.

I think there is still a chance of persuading the Government to drop the third runway and I shall certainly keep trying. It is not due to be started until 2015 and it has to go through a long planning inquiry first, and then it has to meet noise and pollution targets that are so high that some people think they may never be met.

The first vote was on a Conservative motion to ask the Government to ‘think again’ and the second vote would have been on a Government amendment supporting the third runway, which I would have opposed.  Only the first was put to the vote and was defeated by 19 votes.