Over a hundred members of Streatham Labour Party took part in the TUC’s March for the Alternative on Saturday 26 March. Here is a video I made on the day.
Category Archives: Politics
Last night I was at Walkers, just off Whitehall, at retirement drinks for Paul Brown, who has been the guardian and guru of the government grid for the past 12 years.
I first met Paul in the smoking room at No 10, which was a dingy little room in the basement where the smokers in the building would come and go through the day. It doubled as the cleaners’ changing room. They also made their toast in there, which added to the unique aroma of ash and smoke, scorched bread and furniture polish.
There was a large table in the middle which smokers would sit around, shooting the acrid breeze before returning to their desks. At various times of day you’d see Jon Cruddas, then working in Tony Blair’s political office, drawing on a fag, thumb on cheek, brow furrowed, like he was playing a tricky poker hand. Or Anji Hunter, bustling in for a brisk, businesslike nicotine fix, aiming shrewd questions at members of the smokers’ focus group – ‘Mark, how would you describe the Third Way in one sentence?’. Er. Cigarette three quarters smoked, she’d rearrange whichever floaty scarf she was wearing, delve into her bag for her breath freshener, a quick spray, and off she went.
It was a democratic, gossipy gathering of people doing jobs at all levels. Detectives, Garden Room girls, messengers, IT, press officers, duty clerks, policy advisers. It was in the smoking room that a chat with the head of IT, when I mentioned that I was looking for a flat, led to me buying his place in Streatham. It’s the flat I still live in, twelve years on.
A not infrequent visitor to the smoking room was the cardiganed figure of Paul Brown. He rolled his own cigarettes in the very precise, meticulous way that characterises everything he does. He was always interesting to chat to, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of, amongst other things, civil war battlefields, a sphinx-like smile and an ability to calmly take everything in his stride. When you’re dealing with the competing and sometimes antithetical policy and media demands of ministers and their departments, that’s a required quality.
Paul is rightly highly regarded as the civil servant par excellence, totally professional, hard-working and completely without the vanity that sometimes infects people who are doing important jobs. Whatever you think about the management of communications, through his management of the grid of events and announcements, Paul has done an enormous amount to make government communications more strategic and effective, serving three prime ministers – Blair, Brown and Cameron.
So I think it was a measure of the respect and affection Paul has earned over the years that the bar at Walkers was a friendly crush of people from Downing Street and Whitehall, past and present. It was nice to catch up with some old colleagues, Labour and civil service, and chat to some of the current bunch of No 10 staffers.
Paul has been one of the back-room heroes, and I wish him well in his retirement from Downing Street, and all the things he does in the future. And it’s good to hear he has successfully given up smoking.
Would-be Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London Lembit Opik has been busy making a series of short videos for his campaign. The Lib Dems haven’t selected their London candidate yet, so maybe the former Newcastle city councillor and former MP for Montgomeryshire is in with a chance. Lib Dems do like their local candidates.
To be fair, Opik lives in Kennington, presumably still in the flat he claimed £68,031 towards as an MP whilst getting a summons for non-payment of council tax.
He has demonstrated the city-wide reach of his campaign by going nine stops down the Northern Line to Tooting Broadway. This video lavishly recreates the opening titles of the late-seventies sitcom Citizen Smith, complete with Red Flag soundtrack.
Clearly a serious politician of formidable substance. Next is Opik back in his local boozer in Kennington, not appearing to pay for his pint.
You’ll notice him, in this one, honing what I imagine for Liberal Democrats is an appealing political slogan – ‘if that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get’. Reminiscent of ‘change that works for you’.
And finally, this one has the former MP standing outside the Houses of Parliament. ‘I spent thirteen years in that building there’, he says, pointing at the House of Lords.
I’ve been asked to post the lead speeches from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats at the recent Full Council meeting to set Lambeth’s budget for 2011-12. The meeting was held in closed session after the council chamber was taken over by protesters.
Here is the speech from Cllr Julia Memery (Conservative, Clapham Common), who is deputy leader of the Tory group and finance spokesperson.
And here is the speech from the Liberal Democrat leader, Cllr Ashley Lumsden. Cllr Lumsden was lead councillor for finance during the Tory-Liberal administration of 2002-2006, when council tax was hiked by 40%, £3m was lost in fraud in the Housing service and the borough was left with next to nothing in reserves.
The speech from Labour leader Cllr Steve Reed has already been posted here.
It has been reported, and I have commented here, on the way Lambeth Council’s meeting to set a legal budget, faced with massive Tory Lib Dem government cuts, was disrupted by protesters. Council then met in closed session, in the Assembly Hall of Lambeth Town Hall. Five speeches of the planned 41 were made before the budget was voted on.
Contrary to claims made by Lib Dem leader Cllr Ashley Lumsden, and his heir abhorrent, Cllr Steve Bradley, Labour councillors did not laugh and clap as the budget was voted on. This recording made in the meeting of Labour leader Cllr Steve Reed’s speech gives an impression of the tone of the meeting.
In the words of W S Gilbert, now give three cheers and one cheer more – for Cllr Gavin Chambers. He’s a parish councillor on Buckhurst Hill Parish Council in Essex, the latest in a lengthening line of people who have decided the Lib Dems are no longer for them.
Cllr Chambers has given the forthcoming referendum on the Alternative Vote as his principal reason for doing so, saying: “I have decided to stand as an independent. I disagree with the party leadership over their support for the Alternative Voting (AV) system. I think that it would be very expensive, difficult to work out and is unnecessary as the system which we have works.”
He added, on the general direction of the Lib Dems in government: “We made promises that we did not keep. We betrayed the people who voted for us. When they voted for us we were a very different party.”
“Nick Clegg said there would be no raise in tuition fees and he has gone back on that. I think that as an independent I will be better able to stand up for the people on my ward and to provide a critical voice on the council.”
A courageous stand and well done.
Here’s the short compilation I made of the statements of councillors leaving the Lib Dems since the general election.