Dog poo is inevitable, both for the dog and the councillor. Sooner or later it will be an issue. I was aware of this even as a school boy when having a history teacher who was also a local councillor could lighten even the darkest moments of world history. All it took was a reference to the latest leaflet in his crusade to (we paraphrased, chortle) ‘stamp out dog poo’. How we laughed.

But it is a quality of life issue. People rather like living in relatively clean streets. The fact it is becoming an issue again in the Shaftesbury Estate was highlighted to me as I checked email on my phone yesterday while doing a Poo-shoi Ballet impression around the post-digestive remnants of Pedigree Chum smeared over the Ashbury Road pavement by (I assume) an unlucky child on their way to the school. And what emails popped up? Another resident complaint about the issue and a response from the council to my attempt to get something done.

I’ve mused on dog turds before, sadly it’s not a terribly inspirational topic and it’s hard to come up anything new to say. The council have the same problem. It’s an issue of education and awareness, and they had a session on the Shaftesbury Park Estate last December talking to over 30 dog-owners about the issue.

The problem, it seems, is that it was the dog owners they didn’t meet that are causing the problems. It’s certainly my, and many other people’s, subjective opinion the issue has got worse. (I’m afraid I’ve not quite started keeping detailed statistics on the phenomenon, so objective proof is beyond me.)

Several have pointed the finger at the removal of the litter bins that were, until recently, on the estate and it’s hard not to think there is a correlation, if not causal, link. I did ask the council to consider reinstatement of these, or at possibly even the introduction of some dog fouling bins but the idea got short shrift.

To be fair I think the council’s argument that the bins created more problems (like fly-tipping) than they solved has some merit. Likewise, this has long been a problem on the Shaftesbury Estate, in my old campaigning days people coming to help from other parts of the borough, and even other boroughs, would comment negatively on how bad the problem was. One Westminster campaigner told me in no uncertain terms how bad it was before leaving me to clear up the dog turd he’d unknowingly smeared over the hall carpet.

Wandsworth is not the council it once was, street cleaning is one of those areas that have degraded and there has to be an adjustment of expectations from residents. But there are some standards that we should not see lowered. The daily game of Poo-ssian roulette (I have lots of these puns) is not one residents should be expected to endure.

Despite my sympathy for the ‘irresponsible owner’ argument I can’t help coming to the conclusion that the council should be doing a little more in the area to tackle the problem: they are, after all, the only ones with the authority to enforce the by-laws relating to dogs. So I’m asking them to undertake some more active work on the estate to tackle the problem in the hope it will see an improvement to the cleanliness of the pavement.

Eight years ago I wrote a short post about Barack Obama’s inauguration. It was a banal little thing, with the saving grace that I recognised in it no-one cared about my opinion. It did, however, somewhat foreshadow my growing faith in the institutions and machinery, rather than the personnel, of government.

I’m obviously a snowflake, one of those people with the temerity to believe the world would be a better place if the UK remained in the EU and Donald Trump weren’t inaugurated as President of the United States. Perhaps it’s my curse, but I’m a proud member of the metropolitan élite.

One cannot deny democracy though. 52% of voters disagreed with me on EU membership and the US electoral college took a different view on Donald Trump’s suitability. That is the way things are, however much I and others wish it were different.

Why institutions matter

The EU referendum was a rejection of a huge set of supra-national institutions. There is still a debate on what exactly was rejected. The referendum question was not specific on which institutions:

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Just as I voted remain in the knowledge the EU was not perfect, I felt on balance we were better off in. Should we be so naïve as to think that the 52% of leave voters all shared a common purpose of hard Brexit? Of course not. That 52% would have comprised everyone from isolationalists through to the people who were only 51:49 in favour of leaving.

But did anyone seriously think that voting to leave those supra-national institutions did so thinking it meant we were also rejecting national institutions? I suspect nobody thought their vote also meant the Supreme Court would lose jurisdiction? Or that Parliamentary sovereignty was somehow overturned?

It may well be that the brand of Brexit being put forward by Theresa May is exactly what you want and you’d be happy to see it just happen. For the 48% who didn’t want to leave, and for the sizeable number who voted leave but had a different—or simply no—conception of what Brexit actually meant those institutions are there to make sure the decision is made properly and legally, not just on the meaningless soundbite of a prime minister

The best thing about a liberal democracy like ours is not the voting, it’s the rule of law: if you don’t have that, everything else is worthless.

The locker rooms of politics

One of the more depressing elements of the US election was the revelation of Donald Trump’s ‘locker room’ comments. His comments were reprehensible, but we should also fear that he’s entering a world of political locker rooms. Private spaces, defined by power, full of testosterone where everyone will be keen to show their strength and fit in.

To a degree, politics needs these locker rooms. It requires those private spaces in which policy can be safely discussed and ideas floated, and there needs to be a common bond, and sense of togetherness that binds the people in them into a team.

I know from my experience at Wandsworth—a pond of minnows on the world stage, to be sure—that those political locker rooms are full of pitfalls. The lure of groupthink is strong, the need to acknowledge power and define the in-group and the out-group irresistible. Lord Acton observed that power corrupts, he could have added that it doesn’t need that much power for the rot to set in.

I would sit in our private cabinet meetings while people guffawed at comments deriding the ability, intellect, motivations and on one rather shameful occasion the mental illness not just of opponents, but even those we should have called partners.1 The purpose was not (purely) to make derogatory comments, but instead to mituallt assert right and dominance. We do what we do because it is right and because we can.

I’m sure there were others around that table sharing my discomfort, maintaining a shameful silence for some personal reason. The locker room, or perhaps the power, or the secrecy, or the groupthink, changes people. Someone like Donald Trump might be odious anywhere, but that odium incubates and infects in those circumstances.

I worry there will be too many locker rooms in Washington, DC over the next 4 years.

What’s a snowflake to do?

We can, of course, write about our anguish. There have been plenty of blog posts and articles sharing the snowflake angst. Misery loves company so here’s another. You’re welcome.

Or we could retreat to our safe havens. Occasionally looking miserable while chewing a croissant or sipping a Pinot in an outward display of Weltschmerz, but generally taking comfort in being part of the metropolitan elite who probably won’t be the hardest hit by Brexit and knowing that geographical luck has put the whole Atlantic between us and DC. (Retreat is an option I have found very tempting, and still haven’t fully rejected.)

But perhaps the best option is to retain faith. Faith that the national institutions like the courts and parliament will long outlive governments, and throughout it all will make sure that even if we don’t always agree, at least things are done properly. Faith that a long history of judicial independence, but also judicial inventiveness, will always be on hand to ameliorate the most egregious excesses of populist governance.

And faith that continued scrutiny will make sure there are as few political locker rooms as possible. They will never be entirely eliminated, but the more scrutiny there is, the fewer the opportunities there are for terrible decisions to be made in the unquestioning arenas.

We may be humble snowflakes, but collectively there is so much we can do.

  1. To my shame I said nothing. I spent my last few years operating on the basis that it was better to be in and do a little good than out and do no good. I was wrong.

Welcome to the Heart of Battersea, Clapham Junction

The click-bait headline of a Metro article caught my eye over Christmas: 7 reasons why Wandsworth is the best place to live in London. I was lured in, knowing, even as I clicked, it would end badly.

It turns out that a big part of the attraction is that it's close to Clapham, that bit of London that sits firmly in Lambeth.

My first instinct was that a newspaper of record like Metro would never publish an article containing such factual inaccuracies as confusing Clapham and Battersea.

Indeed, Wandsworth's location within London is part of it's attraction. Having children of a certain age I love being within easy reach of the museums at South Kensington. Others might prefer the short jaunt to the King's Road or West End. In other parts of the borough you might value being close to Richmond Park or whatever attractions Merton might offer.

But when four of the seven reasons include Clapham as a positive, but nothing else outside of the borough the obvious explanation that the article is wrong is also, I daresay, the correct explanation.

People leaving Clapham Junction station, Battersea
As anyone heading through Clapham Junction knows, it’s in Battersea.
It's quite clear they've fallen into the trap of thinking Clapham stretches from Clapham Junction station, in Battersea, all the way to Stockwell and Balham. It's disappointing, but it's not the first time and it won't be the last. But what was really disappointing are the people who leapt on it.

It includes several Wandsworth Councillors (admittedly none of whom represent the Battersea area, so I suppose they can be excused) who "couldn't agree more" the Wandsworth Conservative party who also agree and add "Wandsworth is an amazing place", sadly unable to similarly praise Lambeth because of Twitter's character limit.

Most saddening of all was the council itself. Despite having formally supported the Love Battersea campaign they rewrote the Metro tweet (no lazy re-tweets) to share in the glory.

I suppose I shouldn't be disappointed. This is a post-truth age. Once politicians, parties and councils may have been authoritative voices, opinionated voices perhaps, which were concerned with factual accuracy. Now the priority is the positive spin.

And that is fine. But it's sad that those who should be allies in the campaign against Claphamisation abandon it so quickly for the 20 or so minutes of life of a flattering tweet. Even if they don't, I think Battersea is worth more than that.

I was at my petty worst when I received a copy of Battersea MP Jane Ellison’s reporting back leaflet talking about her Shine a Light campaign and featuring a photo of her by the newly installed light in Dorothy Gardens. Falling into that very 21st century frailty of passive aggressively tweeting in haste and repenting, or ruminating, at leisure.

Of course, the bigger part of me knows that I should consider my fondness for the (attributed) Truman quote: “It’s amazing what you can achieve when you don’t care who takes credit.” The petty part wasn’t listening.

Ten years of struggle

I struggled with this one. I’d been trying, on and off, to get a light installed there for over ten years. The most recent attempt, which was ultimately successful, was prompted by yet another resident contacting me about it. Together, and later joined by another nearby resident, we spent dark winter evenings collecting petition signatures from local residents and people using the passageway.

The call for a light was rejected by Cllr Jonathan Cook when it went to his council committee, despite the report not being entirely accurate. But another opportunity was on the horizon and I submitted a bid to the Wandsworth Local Fund to get a light installed. This gained the support of Tony Belton, Simon Hogg (Labour councillors from the neighbouring Latchmere ward) and, somewhat ironically, Jonathan Cook and was successful in getting funding. Hence the light that is there today.

It was surprisingly easy in the end. Almost disappointingly so. After ten years it almost felt like the end should have been harder than filling out a relatively short form. But equally, it took ten years (that I spent most of them on the council’s Leader’s Group speaks either to my staggering incompetence or just how very hard it is to get the council to say ‘yes’ to something) and it was a project to which I had become attached.

All the other lights

Why Jane Ellison chose to feature the site so prominently on her leaflet did puzzle me though. My first instinct was, uncharitably, that perhaps there were no lights that had been installed as a consequence of her Shine a Light campaign. I then wondered if it was just a useful proxy, a photogenic and recognisable location that would represent the issue, since other places might be less than pleasant alleys and tunnels.

So I contacted Jane Ellison asking for details of her other successes. Below I present a complete list of all the lights installed as a result of her campaign.

Full list of lights installed:

— End of list —

To be fair, she just didn’t bother responding. And frankly, why should she? She’s an MP and minister and has better things to do than respond to the tantrums of a slightly petulant independent councillor, however politely written those tantrums may be.

Justifying my petulance

Of course, I know my attitude is deeply unappealing. It’s exactly the sort of behaviour I know I wouldn’t want my children to see and certainly not to exhibit. (Although I suppose I do like them taking pride in their own work and wouldn’t want them seeking credit for the work of others.) In this case, though, I’ll live with my hypocrisy.

I was upset that Jane was pushing a leaflet through doors effectively taking credit for the light I felt I had been responsible for delivering: it may not be much, but it’s one of the few things I feel I have to my name. While I’ve had more than enough exposure to politics and politicians to have realistically low expectations of them, that still doesn’t stop me feeling aggrieved.

Perhaps worst of all, though, is the sense of disappointment I felt. Elsewhere in the leaflet, as she always does, Jane listed the important meetings and events she had attended. And she is, as I’ve noted, the local MP and a government minister. She has clout—a lot of clout—with the council, with public services and private companies in the constituency. That she is using her leaflet to take credit for something a non-entity councillor took ten years to deliver was a disappointment. Instead it should be full of what she’s done to make Battersea better.

The entrance to Queenstown Road station

I cried after the Queenstown election result.

Not last week's by-election, but the 2014 council election. I had, as I always did, become absorbed by the election, throwing myself into a hard fight believing that what I was doing on the doorstep affected the final result.

But after several weeks of missing my kids' bedtimes six nights a week it wasn't enough: we got two of the three seats. Whatever people said, that there was nothing more I could have done, that two of three ain't bad, I couldn't help feeling I'd let that third candidate down. I'd put my heart into the campaign, losing that one seat was one too many.

Now I'm happily detached from party I enjoy elections purely on their own merit: it may lack the highs but it's blissfully free from lows. The most intense emotion I experienced during the Queenstown by-election was the gratitude I was no longer at risk of being sucked into spending every free night and weekend knocking on doors in bitterly cold weather.

Why would the Conservatives have expected to win?

I won't deny that I felt the Tories should do badly. I have written several times about Formula E and why I felt it was wrong for Battersea Park and, yes, I thought there should be some electoral consequences for it. My expectation, though, was still a Conservative gain.

First, national polls have moved in the Conservative's favour since the seat was last fought in 2014. At the local elections in May 2014 the two parties were about level, with Labour, if anyone, tending to be the one that would take a small lead. Currently there is a clear lead for the Conservatives of around 8%. Even taking the least favourable numbers for the Conservatives it still equates to an 8% swing to them.

Second, the demographics should have moved in the Conservatives' favour. While the developments at Nine Elms are far from fully occupied, some people have moved in and I would expect those living there to be more likely Conservative than Labour voters.

Third, the local Conservatives have been better campaigners than Labour. When turnout is low (and who really gets excited about local elections?) a good local campaign that mobilises its vote can make the difference between winning and losing.

Guessing a turnout around 20% (it was actually a bit higher), I'd have bet a Conservative gain with a majority of 150-200. But they lost by over five hundred.

Why did the Conservatives lose?

So, what went wrong? There were a number of factors, some of which I should have included in my initial thinking.

National swing isn't always relevant in a local by-election. London has exists in a bit of a political bubble and, at the moment, there's still something of a Sadiq Khan honeymoon for Labour that you might speculate was boosted by Tuesday's US Presidential election.

While the demographics might have shifted, I know from experience that people who live behind entry-phones are incredibly difficult to get out to vote. Living behind secure entry and concierges creates a different mindset: you pay a service charge to put a barrier between you and the rest of the world. Civic duty and democracy might be important, but it's hard to persuade people to leave their enclave to vote. And to offset any gain there, Formula E remained a bigger issue than I would have expected. Formula E might not be coming back, but a lot of people are still sore about it.

Perhaps most of all I failed to appreciate that while the Conservatives are great campaigners at the big elections (the Parliamentary fights or the whole council elections) they don't always scale down that well. Faced with the prospect of a cold, wet November by-election it's very easy for councillors—the backbone of the campaign machine—to find themselves having to attend to important business in a warm, dry Town Hall.

But why the Conservatives won't worry

The result will be a disappointment, especially to a council that doesn't like failure. But they know they don't need Queenstown and it's much better to learn the campaigning lessons with a single seat, than when all sixty are up for grabs.

And when all sixty are up for grabs it is a different contest. The Conservatives are better at those campaigns, they know their numbers, decide their strategy and move their troops. Plus they have the much easier job of defending a few key seats to retain control than having to win lots of them to take control.

Time is on their side too. Looking to the future, by the 2018 election Formula E will be a distant memory with voters thinking more about who runs (and sets the bills for) council services than exercising a protest vote. Looking to the past Conservative control is the default. It's over 40 years since Labour won control of the council, and over twenty since the Conservatives won anything less than two-thirds of the seats.

Finding examples of councils where control has changed after four decades is very difficult1. The electoral maths and demographics are such that if one party exercises such dominance for such a long time it's more than earned the right to be deemed 'safe'.

Most reassuring of all to the Conservatives will be that this is a seat they wouldn't even be competitive in anywhere else. (Queenstown is not alone but helps show how Wandsworth has defined and re-defines inner city Conservativism2.) The fact that it only has a single Labour councillor after twenty-four years highlights just how dominant the Conservatives have been and how the 'Wandsworth effect'—where voters who would ordinarily be Labour vote Conservative—has come to define local Wandsworth politics.

Were any tears shed after the by-election result was declared? I have no idea. If they were, though, I suspect not by those with wiser and cooler heads than I ever had. The Conservative leadership has a clear vision and a strong sense of purpose; it will not be too worried about one anomalous result.

  1. Well, perhaps not that difficult. The Conservatives lost lots of councils in the 1993 elections but this was in the unprecedented circumstances following Black Wednesday the previous year and many of those councils had been altered less than twenty years before by the Local Government Act 1972.
  2. For interest I did a quick look to see whether the proportion of social renting and Labour voting correlated in Wandsworth, Lambeth, Merton and Richmond. While it didn't produce a nice straight-line the relationship is there. Interestingly, in those boroughs only nine wards with a higher than average proportion of socially rented housing elected Conservative councillors. Six of those were in Wandsworth. You can download the data I used (which I got from the London Datastore) and the graph.

I've long seen council meetings as pointless.

When I was part of majority group and on the executive I shared the view with most colleagues that council meetings were necessary formalities: set-pieces we had to put on to show democracy being served knowing that the decisions had all been taken in the Leader's office, before being ratified in a private group meeting and then whipped through a public committee meeting.

Now I'm just an independent councillor I think the same way. I just don't like it anywhere as much as before.

Having gone down to four meetings a year makes them even less relevant, too infrequent to be meaningfully effective at anything. But, occasionally, timings help. And so it was at this week's meeting when almost all the evening was given over to a debate surrounding the EU referendum and the Brexit decision.

The role of local government may seem unconnected with our membership of the EU, but like every other part of the country Wandsworth benefits from EU funding. Perhaps more importantly local government has its role in providing community leadership and after the worrying increase in hate crime since the referendum I'm pleased the opportunity was there last night.

The basis of the evening was a motion moved by the Conservative and Labour party leaders. Perhaps inevitably for a bipartisan motion it became something of a mishmash to satisfy everyone, but it contained what I think were key clauses to:

ensure that all voices and points of view are listened to, and in particular that all Wandsworth residents and employees continue to enjoy the respectful, inclusive and cosmopolitan quality of life which makes this such an attractive part of inner London;

and to

condemn racist language and behaviour in all its forms.

I was particularly pleased to see those elements. Following the referendum the failure of the council and its leadership to use its voice to condemn the increase in hate crime (and Wandsworth has not been immune from this) concerned me.

But while a bit late (and taking a bit of prompting from the independent's statement and motion) it became an evening of optimism and unity. While I suspect from many of the majority group speeches that their membership, from top to bottom, is far from representative of the 75% remain vote in Wandsworth, there was a unanimity among councillors to make the most of the situation and most importantly to condemn hate crime and racism.

There were two attempts to amend the motion, both from the Labour side. One sought to strengthen the commitment to fight hate crime by declaring Wandsworth a zero-tolerance zone and working with other agencies, like the police, use their combined resources to identify and tackle hate crime. The Conservative group defeated this.

The other was related to the refugee crisis, and sought to commit the council to signing up the government commitment and house 10 Syrian families. Again, the Conservative group voted against this. However, one Conservative councillor tweeted afterwards that it was because they felt it should be more than ten families. I can only assume that position had been agreed at the Conservative group meeting, so have written to the council leader asking for clarification to see exactly what number they are committing to accept.

There was one more motion, it came at the end of the night, despite being the first submitted and, arguably, the one that started it all. The motion was moved by Malcolm Grimston and me to allow the council to make a statement following the Brexit vote. Bizarrely the Conservatives amended this to something that meant almost exactly the same.

No-one could explain why, the closest we got to an answer was from Cllr Cook, who told Malcolm Grimston the amendment meant the same thing, but was different. In a rare night of a council meeting showing leadership, I suppose it had to have a little bit of what usually passes for leadership in Wandsworth too.

The courtyard entrance to Wandsworth Town Hall

However much I may be disappointed in the referendum result, it is now time to move on and make sure the country and the borough are as successful as it can be. It is, therefore, saddening to see reports of racist incidents that appear to be related to the referendum result.

While I do not believe for a second the result has somehow created racism, it may well have emboldened those who hold those racist views.

We should be unequivocal in saying that such views are as reprehensible now as they were before the votes had been counted.

As independent councillors Malcolm Grimston and I circulated the following statement among fellow councillors at the weekend inviting them all to endorse it:

As councillors we are all proud of Wandsworth’s diversity and cohesion. We are confident Wandsworth will remain a great place to live for everyone. However, we are aware that there have been examples across the country of people interpreting the vote to leave the European Union as an excuse for racism and other divisive behaviour, not just aimed at our good friends from the European Union.

We want to stress that we fully support the comments of Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, and our three local MPs, Jane Ellison, Justine Greening and Rosena Allin-Khan: to everyone who has chosen to make Wandsworth their home wherever they may hail from we reiterate you remain warmly welcome in the Brighter Borough.

Wandsworth is all the stronger for its diversity and the different contributions made by all our residents and we as Councillors will do everything we can to make sure that you continue to enjoy the inclusive and peaceful life which characterises our Borough

The Labour Group on Wandsworth have endorsed the statement and I will update this post as others join.

Update: In response council leader Ravi Govindia has put out his own statement part of which touches on this issue alongside broader issues like Nine Elms and low council tax.

Cllr Marie Hanson (Con) has retweeted the initial statement.

Ever since I’ve been politically aware I’ve been a eurosceptic. If I’m honest, I don’t know why. There were probably childish elements, as a young Conservative (though not, I stress, a Young Conservative) it was probably as much feeling a need to fit in at a time euroscepticism was de rigueur than any intellectual concerns about the EU project.

That euroscepticism remained with me for years. Again, possibly a consequence of the company I kept: you tend to be an average of the people with whom you spend most time and in any case the possibility of Brexit was only ever theoretical.

Somewhere though, something has changed and during the campaign I have never seriously considered voting anything but remain. I am instinctively ‘in’ just as I would have been instinctively ‘out’ only a few years ago.

The referendum will never be considered British democracy’s finest hour whatever the result. From its conception to the final debates it has been defined more by the negative. This was perhaps inevitable when the referendum had no real purpose other than helping a party leader keep his party together.

That’s a shame, because the referendum should inherently be about positive, but competing, visions: whether we’d be more successful as a part of Europe or as an independent nation outside. Instead the campaign’s negative tone has created a corrosive political environment which will continue to take its toll on democracy, and society, for years to come.

Even knowing that, when I try to rationalise my decision I find I’m drawn to the negatives: put off by Boris Johnson’s opportunism, offended by what might be racist undertones, or just Nigel Farage being Nigel Farage.

Trying to look at things more objectively, I can start to feel more positive about ‘remain’. I believe my family would be financially worse off out of Europe. Likewise, I am concerned that Brexit puts many workers’ rights we take for granted at risk. And while the leave campaign highlights all the trade agreements we could enter if we left the EU, it seems a trifle bizarre to leave the one we are already in with 27 other nations.

But these are hypothetical. I know and respect many people who would take the opposite view, that we’d be better off out. It’s impossible to prove one way or the other.

Ultimately, I wonder if it’s just a question of faith. Do I just believe we are better off in than out?

I always take my children with me to vote. While I know, logically, my single vote makes no difference, I feel it’s important they grow up seeing democracy up close. Because while we might just cast one vote, it represents a core truth that we are part of something much bigger and much more important.

The EU may be far from perfect (our own democratic system is far from perfect too, that’s the way these things are), and sometimes it means we have to accept things we might not like. That’s part of life for nation states as much as it is for people. And like anything in life, you don’t get better by walking away from challenges.

I want my children to continue growing up in a world that’s increasingly connected, not a country that’s isolated; a world where they see other nations as friends and neighbours, not a country that just sees foreigners we should fear or suspect; in a world where their potential is limited by their imagination, not by the the arbitrary borders of a nation state.

I’m voting to remain in the EU not just because I know it isn’t just me that will be better off in, my children are better off in.

I was not party to the now-withdrawn legal action brought by the Battersea Park Action Group to stop Formula E racing so can only speculate on the full contents of the agreement. (In doing so I can’t help but note the irony that one of the big complaints about the council’s handling of Formula E has been the use of ‘confidentiality’ as an excuse not to release details.)

However, it’s hard not to look on this as a major victory for the campaigners.

The public statement in itself is a pretty big win. The park will be reinstated to its previous condition and Formula E will pay costs. In return the protesters will not campaign against the 2016 event. Separately, but with interesting timing, both Formula E and the council announce that this will be Formula E’s last hurrah in Battersea Park.

How much difference the campaign made is anyone’s guess. It may well be that Formula E was looking to go elsewhere, many Formula E fans expressing disappointment appended the observation that Battersea Park was a poor venue. But even if that was the case, it’s clear that opposition to the event was getting far more attention from Formula E than it ever did in the council chamber.

Sometimes though, you don’t need to know the precise cause and effect, you can just celebrate.

I’m not even that sure the news will be taken that badly in the council. It was truly an example of Cllr Cook’s forceful leadership to get Formula E in there but I suspect he will be one of the few genuinely sorry to see it go. Despite the public face of unity in support of Formula E I know many councillors and officers were privately unhappy with the event.

For everyone else, whether their concern was instinctive or came more thoughtfully, it seems like there’s finally good news. Well done to the residents, park users and campaigners who have done so much to make sure Battersea Park can continue to be a vital asset for everyone, every day.

The new signs advertising the protected space (click for a larger version)
The new signs advertising the protected space (click for a larger version)
A Public Space Protection Order is coming to a large part of the area around Lavender Hill. The order is aimed at dealing with street drinking in the area by the cut-through from Queenstown Road to Ashley Crescent covers all the Shaftesbury Park Estate, many of the roads to the south of Lavender Hill and to the north on both sides of Queenstown Road.

I did a lot of work representing local residents in getting this even though, I have to confess, I am not a supporter of such moves. It is one of those peculiarities of representative democracy that occasionally you have to represent views you don’t share. However, having implemented several council policies with which I disagreed (although several of which have subsequently been reversed—one of the reasons I rate Ravi Govindia as a leader is his willingness to reconsider policy when he gets things wrong) I really can’t complain about this.

I do have several issues with such zones. One is that I do find it rather hard to believe that extra powers are needed, is there really a need to regulate defecation in public? Another is that if the resources aren’t there to deal with it at present, from where will they come now? My biggest issue is the concern that it doesn’t really solve problems, it changes them or shifts them.

A zone doesn’t cure alcoholism so the drinkers go elsewhere. When a similar zone was implemented in Roehampton one of my former colleagues commented that they didn’t care if the drinkers “went off and drank themselves to death, as long as they did it in their own home.” Perhaps I’m too much of a bleeding heart.

However, my views are academic and I have the luxury of not living near the affected area (although I do live in the zone). While I think there were faults with the consultation (I know very few people who received it, including the people most affected, I certainly did not get one) it seems to have resulted in a positive response: I was told that there had been about 30 responses in favour with only one objection which officers believed had misunderstood the question.

The street drinkers are being given leaflets to make them aware of the zone and signs are being erected to highlight the behaviours prohibited by the order. Once finally in place it will hopefully improve things for the local residents.