Monday, 22 February 2010

David Miliband in Hammersmith: a Tale of Two Davids

Last Friday night David Miliband, Foreign Secretary, came to Hammersmith for a public meeting in St Paul's Church. Not surprising really, given that this is a marginal constituency.

What was surprising though was that he asked to come and meet us on Queen Caroline first. A group of residents met him in our local primary school, St Paul's, which draws a large proportion of its pupils from our estate.

Mr Miliband was well informed about our situation and seemed genuinely perturbed by the Council's demonisation of council estates and estate residents. He treated us as intelligent, valuable human beings, not the problematic, apathetic social deviants of the Council's caricature. He asked whether we have have been offered any opportunities to vote about the future of our estate - to which the answer is of course an emphatic 'no'. There is no way the Council will let this happen because they really don't want us to have a voice.

Another surprising and welcome factor was that Mr Miliband's public meeting was just that - an open meeting that anyone could attend on the night, including protesters. A far cry from the carefully orchestrated Cameron meeting, which was a 'ticket only' event from which most of our group was excluded. All supposedly in the name of security. So the safety of someone who is simply leader of the opposition is so precarious that he can't have an open meeting... yet the Foreign Secretary manages to stay safe and offer open access? Draw your own conclusions.

David Miliband and his staff actually walked to our estate. It was like a scene from West Wing! And then he sat with us on those little chairs you get in primary schools, asked questions, listened to what we had to say. He also spoke with the head teacher and was pleased to hear about the stability of the school - no staff turnover for three years and some teachers have been there for twenty years. Hardly a sign of a dysfunctional community.

We were heartened by the concern and encouragement David Miliband expressed, as much as we were saddened by David Cameron's unequivocal support for the Council and lack of care for our distress. Mr Miliband made the point in the later meeting that community involvement means not just devolution of power to local councils (David Cameron's model) but from Town Halls to local communities. We couldn't agree more.

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