I went to see David Cameron when he came to speak to the electorate in LBH&F on the 5th of January. It was an interesting evening, he heaped praise on 'an excellent' local authority with a high resident satisfaction ratio - but strangely I heard mutterings of 'I've never been asked what I think about the council' from people sitting near to me who clearly were not satisfied residents. We were never given figures of how many had said they were satisfied or happy with the services and the plans this council has for its electorate.Thanks Janice. We appreciate the time you have taken to record your observations and your thoughts, as well as your good wishes.
However, it was soon evident that this was never going to be an evening of detailed thinking and precise plans; details, openness and transparency are not the qualities that David Cameron thinks are important. The experience is really a bit like being left on your own to draw up the dots, but you have no idea of what the picture is supposed to look like. During the evening, the issue of what plans the ruling Conservative administration have for estates such as Queen Caroline Estate and West Kensington came up repeatedly. David isn't one for detailed responses, but what was clear is that they want change and they want the change to directly affect people living on key estates.
He did not offer assurances that all social housing tenants would remain secure in their tenancies - in fact he said that things 'can't remain as they are'. As things are I understand that people have secure tenancies and permanence - from what he said this is clearly going to be something that they will look at with a view to change. There were no details given - only the recurring statement, 'things just can't stand still' . From this I took it to mean that he had no objection to what the council are planning; people could be moved away and merely offered unacceptable alternative accommodation on other estates or even in other areas.
Private leaseholders have been offered some money, but it will never be enough to compete on the private market in one of the most expensive boroughs in London, so they will have to look for homes in cheaper areas as even with a 'top up' it is unlikely to be enough to buy in LBH&F. The Conservatives are very keen to use social housing as a short term 'emergency' measure, so it is not beyond the realms of possibility that tenancies will be restricted to five years in order for tenants to move out into privately rented or into what the Conservatives clearly prefer to social housing - ' part private ownership'. He showed no interest in the sense of community or the need for community cohesion or how destructive this measure was for communities.
Difficult questions about the Queen Caroline Estate were asked by one resident and she was amazingly persistent in trying to get out of him what they were planning to do. She asked him for reassurances that if elected he would stop the council from taking homes and forcing the destruction of the local community. Four times she asked for clarification and each time David Cameron looked uneasy and offered empty phrases - eventually just stating that they wouldn't just 'knock the places down'. When the microphone was eventually wrestled from her hand it was clear to all that he hadn't done his homework; he didn't know that there had already been a number of meetings and discussions and little if any meaningful consultation with residents about what may happen in the future. He didn't deny that they were trying to sell the land to a developer - it would be the developer who knocks them down, so his reassurance was meaningless.
I think he was taken aback by the sheer number of dissatisfied members of the local electorate who had managed to gain entry into what was a tightly controlled political meeting. What was clearly established is that it is the disabled and the elderly who are paying the price of their 'no rise in council tax' .The charges for meals on wheels and social care have rocketed during this administration according to residents present.
The persistent questioning about plans for the estate and social housing caused considerable discomfort to him. It's up to you he said - you can vote them out if you don't like them.
When we left the hall, there was a small group of frozen protesters holding banners saying Save Our Homes. Sadly it's very clear from that meeting that Queen Caroline Estate is very vulnerable to development plans and that David Cameron doesn't really care - he relies on apathy - it's what will get him elected. What was cheering was to see so many people caring about what was happening to them, their families and communities. He may have come to LBH&F thinking it was a done deal, somehow I think that he may have miscalculated and underestimated local people, especially those fighting for the right to remain on Queen Caroline Estate.
Best of luck!
Friday, 15 January 2010
Monday, 11 January 2010
You can read accounts of events at Tuesday's meeting here and here and here.
Sadly, several of us were not admitted to the meeting, despite registering. Why? We don't know. We are trying to find out from Tory HQ what their selection and vetting process was. Surely they wouldn't deliberately exclude people just for being in dispute with the Council?
One of our group, Shirley Cupit, registered on December 23rd, as soon as she got news of the meeting. She genuinely wanted to find out whether David Cameron's so called 'compassionate conservatism' and espoused commitment to community empowerment would place him at odds with a Council inclined towards wholesale disempowerment of large sections of the community. She received the following email on December 31st:
Dear ms cupit
Thank you for registering an interest and attendance for the Cameron Direct event on Tuesday. Due to security reasons we will let you know the venue on Monday monring. The event will start at 6.00 pm promptly and be complete by 7.30 pm at the latest.If there are any other people you think may be interested please do ask them to register. We will be taking registrations on Monday and Tuesday as well.
Chairman, Hammersmith Conservative Association.
In other words: "You're in." Much pleased, as requested she encouraged others to register.
But nothing more arrived on the Monday. On January 5th (the day of the meeting) she received the following message:
"We’re sorry but due to an unprecedented level of applicants, unfortunately the Cameron Direct event on Tuesday is now full."
Nobody she spoke to on the day was able to give an explanation and they seemed rather vague about the general criteria for acceptance. Examples of conversations:
SC (on the phone to Young Man in local Tory office) "Can you tell me if you have me on your list to attend the meeting?"
YM "Hang on... let me see... (pause )... oh dear, unfortunately you are just below the bar. It's been very popular so there had to be a limit on participants and you are just below the bar."
SC "Can you tell me how people were selected?"
YM "Sorry, I don't know."
SC "Can you get someone who does know to give me a call please to discuss it? I'm very disappointed that I was told I could attend and now I'm not allowed to." YM "Yes of course, give me your number...". Five hours later...
SC "I've been waiting all day for that call."
YM "Aah yes, sorry, haven't been able to find anyone to call you."
SC "Out of interest, you said I was just below the bar. How far below was I?"
SC "When we talked before you looked at a list and said I was just below the bar. How far below? Am I on some sort of reserve list?"
YM "Oh no, I didn't actually look at a list. I just meant you hadn't been successful."
Later that evening...
SC (to a Tory Organiser outside the church) "Good evening. I live a hundred yards away and I registered on December 23rd. Can you tell me why I was excluded from this meeting?"
TO "Well it's been very popular. Even members of the party haven't been able to come, and it's only open to people from the constituency."
SC "Really, are you sure?"
TO "Yes. Only people with addresses in the constituency were allowed to attend."
SC "But we weren't asked for our addresses when we registered."
TO "Oh. Right. Hmmm. But it's definitely only people from the constituency in there."
SC "Really, are you sure?"
TO "Yes, absolutely."
SC "But there are people from Chiswick in there."
TO "Aaaah. Yes. There are people from Chiswick in there."
SC "I don't understand. Why did you lie to me?"
TO "I didn't lie. I made a mistake."
SC "Will you tell me your name?"
TO "No, I won't, because you've been rude."
SC (surprised) "No I haven't."
TO "Well, no you haven't, but they have." (pointing to two people nearby - who, incidentally hadn't been rude at all)
SC "Well as you know I've been very polite. Please tell me your name."
At this point it turned into that episode of Dad's Army where the foolish Private Pike gives away Captain Mainwairing's name to the dastardly Germans. One of the other Tory Organisers came along and and said "Alan, they need you inside..."
And later still ....
SC (To a second Tory Organiser outside the church) "Can you tell me how people were selected to attend this meeting?"
TO2 "Well, I think it was literally names in a hat."
SC (startled) "Really? Literally names in a hat?"
SC "So they actually put the names in a hat?"
TO2 "Oh no, I don't think they actually did that..."
Young Tory whippersnappers tried to move us on, insisting they had the right, but we politely declined. Two police officers present didn't share their concern and simply watched from a distance with an amiable air. We thank them for their common sense.
But we are pleased to report that just one of us, Maxine Bayliss, managed to gain admission to the meeting and questioned Mr Cameron closely to find out his position on the Council's plans for our homes. You can listen to that interchange by going to the Tories' own video of the event, which unfortunately only shows their leader on camera and not the audience. Observers have suggested that one of the reasons for this is to prevent viewers from seeing how microphones were snatched from questioners to stop them from following up on their points. Maxine, however, is a determined woman, and hung on to her microphone long enough to pose some difficult questions to a man who was clearly somewhat hazy and misinformed on detail. Listen to the exchange (and watch his performance) here . [The clock runs backwards (a sign of the times?) so although it's about 14 minutes in you need to go to the 45.24 minute point.]
The gist of his response is threefold:
1. He repeatedly declares himself proud of this council and what it is doing. [This is a significant moment as this is the first time he has made his position clear]. What is notable is his lack of concern for the real fear and anxiety that is being expressed right in front of him.
2. When unable to wriggle out of tight corners he falls back on the line that all this nonsense is just 'black propaganda' by the Labour Party (yes he really said that).
3. His two-part 'get out' clause to anything unpopular: I believe in devolution of power to local councils [not local people you'll note]. What they do is nothing to do with me. If you don't like it either vote them out or stand for election yourself.
So... if you are just too darn lazy to stand for election yourself it's your own fault if you are mistreated by local governments that abuse their power. It's not the responsibility of national government to protect the rights and well-being of its citizens. And if you belong to a minority that simply cannot hope to take power from the over-powerful - well you're on your own. Not my problem guvnor!
It's worth listening to the question posed after Maxine's, where the questioner outlines with great care the increases in meals on wheels charges and introduction of £12.40 per hour home care charges by the Council (breaking their election pledge - be warned!), plus the disqualification of 1300 people from receiving support. In other words, the most vulnerable people in the borough have subsidised the much vaunted council tax cuts, paying hundreds of pounds for services so that the average person can save just £25 per year. Mr Cameron says he doesn't agree with the questioner. On what? The facts? They are well established. His response simply doesn't make sense.
You may also like to see an excerpt from Prime Minister's Question Time the following day, when Gordon Brown highlighted Cameron's extraordinary fudge at the Hammersmith meeting over Educational Maintenance Allowances (EMAs). Go to this link and watch at the 45.22 mark. Note Mr Cameron's expression - he really does look as if he's sucked a lemon.
So... H&F Council really is the darling of the Tory party and we anticipate the worst should they come to power in the national elections. It's quite clear that not only will we receive no protection of our homes but in all likelihood Mr Cameron will do everything he can to increase the power the Council has over our lives. Have a read of this article from the Independent if you need any convincing that far from having no policies David Cameron has many. And we live in fear of what they will mean for us all. Let us know if you were at the meeting and have a view on what you witnessed.