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Archive for September, 2009

Friday
Sep 25,2009

Last night I went to my local Labour Party branch meeting to vote on who will be the Labour Party’s council candidates in my ward in the elections next May.  The ward I live in is now held by the Liberal Democrats with a substantial majority (although twenty years ago, it was one of the safest Labour areas in the Borough).  As a result, my branch is timetabled to select towards the end of the selection process, giving Labour-held wards and those which are more marginal than mine an opportunity to choose their candidates from the panel of approved candidates earlier.

I therefore approached the meeting with some trepidation, as in previous selection rounds those branches selecting at the end of the cycle have often had a less than impressive range of people to consider.  I was therefore pleasantly surprised with the potential candidates we interviewed last night.  All of them would have made extremely good election candidates and – even more importantly – would have made excellent councillors.  Indeed, trying to decide between them was difficult – I would happily have supported any of them.

Anyway, at the end of the meeting the members present voted and three successful candidates emerged and it is without reservations that I wish Ali, Joanne and John every success in their campaign over the next eight months.

Thursday
Sep 24,2009

A survey of councillors – most of whom were Conservatives who hold the leading positions in local government – has identified that museums, galleries and leisure are emerging as the top targets for local government cutbacks.  This is all about the quality of life and, in particular, the quality of the cultural life available in the wider community, especially those not able to afford expensive admission fees.

Whilst Mayor Boris Johnson has not gone as far as his local government colleagues, he has recently called for more “voluntary” admission charges and has said that people should feel more obliged to pay (or should that be shamed into paying?).

These are all straws in the wind, but they start to give some idea as to where Tory cuts might fall ….

Thursday
Sep 24,2009

Apparently, computer hackers are human beings too.

A new survey of computer hackers has found that hackers like to go on holiday during the summer months, but warns that they will be particularly active over Christmas and New Year.  Apparently, even though company IT security managers are likely to be on holiday during the summer months, hackers also like to go away then.  And for them the best time to target companies is over the winter holidays.  Of the hackers surveyed 56% said that Christmas was the best time to do some serious hacking into corporate systems, while 25% favoured New Year’s Eve.

Thursday
Sep 24,2009

There is a high state of alert at the Metropolitan Police Authority meeting that is now in session.  Mayor Boris Johnson is in the Chair with the Uber Vice Chairman Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM at his side and two seats away from Sir Paul Stephenson, the Met Commissioner.

And everyone is on their best behaviour: no inadvertent body language to suggest anything other than perfect harmony between them all.

Everyone is also being careful to minimise references to ships, tillers, captains on the bridge, or anything remotely nautical.

The result is that there is even more of a degree of formality about the Commissioner’s report than usual.  However, the Commissioner has clearly been working on his hand gestures while speaking.  The preferred style is now: left hand placed on hip; right elbow on table; and the right hand used to emphasise points with small karate-style chops.  The UVCDMKMAM – whilst avoiding eye contact with the Commissioner – tried to coordinate his nods with the Commissioner’s chops.  However, his hands remained clasped firmly across his stomach throughout, unless he and the Mayor were exchanging terse written notes. 

An hour and a half into the meeting – still on questions to the Commissioner slightly to the irritation of some members who were waiting to get on to the rest of the agenda – the elephant in the room was finally mentioned.  The member who raised it (which apparently meant that the UVCDMKMAM had won the Mayoral Office sweepstake on who would do it) was – of course (so perhaps it was a rigged sweepstake) – John Biggs AM, who elegantly said he welcomed these question and answer sessions as it demonstrated to the public who was in operational control of the Metropolitan Police and how the MPA’s role was to ensure that the Commissioner was accountable and to set the overall priorities for London’s police. 

Tuesday
Sep 22,2009

Mayor Boris Johnson has taken to quipping that – as a sign of Conservative economy – he has cut the number of Deputy Mayors from six to three since taking office.  This neatly glosses over some inconvenient facts: first, that one of the first acts of Mayor Johnson was to INCREASE the number of Deputy Mayors (adding five personal appointees to the statutory position held by Richard Barnes AM, who was given the substantive position of being responsible for opening garden fetes and the like); and second, that three of those appointees have had to resign in somewhat embarrassing circumstances.

However, how many of his diminished top team will still be there by this time next year?  Rumour has it that the answer is “not many”.

According to Paul Waugh in the Evening Standard, Anthony Browne, the Mayor’s Policy Director, is about to resign to concentrate on becoming MP for Devizes.

James Cleverly AM, the amiable Assembly Member for Bexley and Bromley, clearly has his eye on the Parliamentary seat of Beckenham that is about to be vacated by Jacqui Lait – look at the picture on his blog post).

Likewise, the UVCDMKMAM, Kit Malthouse AM, is – I am reliably informed – letting it be known that he is available for a Parliamentary seat.

And the by-now-indispensible Deputy Mayor and Chief of Staff, Sir Simon Milton, is widely tipped to be made a Life Peer by David Cameron and appointed as a Minister in the Lords, in the obviously inconceivable circumstance of a Tory election win next year.

So who will that leave to mind the shop for Mayor Johnson?

Step forward that safe pair of hands Brian Coleman AM ….. your time will come!

Monday
Sep 21,2009

One reaction I got to yesterday’s post on the Cypriot Community Centre in Haringey was the email below:

“In your piece on Haringay (sic – it is either the Borough of Haringey or the area within the Borough known as Harringay) you talk about the communities and seem to focus on
only the Turkish and Greek communities . There is of course another community ,
the English one . ie  the people whe lived in Haringay before the influx of
immigrants (I was brought up in Haringay ) . They have had to cope and adapt to
radical changes in the nature and culture of the area in which they live and not
all those changes have been for the better (drug dealing for example ) . In your
enthusiasm for ‘bridging the cultural gap’ you seem to have no thought for these
people .”

Apart from the gross stereo-typing (eg the references to drug dealing), what my correspondent fails to recognise is that Haringey – particularly in those neighbourhoods around Green Lanes – has always been an area in which communities new to London and England have settled.  What has frequently happened is that such new communities over time have drifted northwards towards Barnet and Enfield and have in turn been replaced by communities even newer to London and England.  That is why the Borough’s population is such a diverse mix and therein lies its attraction for many residents.  Of course, there have been radical changes to the nature and the culture of the area over time, but that is the nature of London itself.

The diversity and mix of cultures is one of London’s many strengths.  The fact is that the different cultures within the Capital by and large coexist readily together and by doing so strengthen and complement each other.

Sunday
Sep 20,2009

I have just returned from the celebrations marking the thirtieth anniversary of the Haringey Cypriot Community Centre with which I have been closely associated throughout its history.

The Centre was conceived by a dozen local Cypriot groups in 1977 in the aftermath of the 1974 invasion which had seen the existing Cypriot communities in Haringey (already numbering between 40,000 and 50,000) augmented by some 11,000 refugees.  The concept was a Centre that would bridge the communal divide (there were both substantial Greek speaking and Turkish speaking communities in the Borough) and provide support structures within the communities themselves.

Thirty years on, the Centre still flourishes, continues to act as a bridge between the different sections of the Cypriot community, and provides a range of valued services (including a luncheon club for elders and a meals-on-wheels service, classes and training, advice services etc).

Guest of honour today was the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Demetris Christofias – quite something for a local centre to be singled out in this way by a Head of State (although he and his wife have visited the Centre in the past before he was President).

The significance, of course, is that President Christofias is now engaged in face-to-face talks with Mr Talat, the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community on the island – talks which may lead to a settlement of the divisions on Cyprus.

The Haringey Cypriot Centre, where the leadership of the Centre (both Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking) cooperate together to deliver services that meet the needs of all sections of the community, is a living model of what a future united Cyprus might be.

In his speech, however, the President did not minimise the difficulties that remain.  Although it is ground-breaking that 35 years after the invasion direct face-to-face talks are happening, there remain substantial issues: not least over the objective of a unified Cyprus as a bizonal, bicommunal federation with a single citizenship and undivided sovereignty (as specified in successive UN resolutions) versus the concept of a confederation of two equal states tacitly favoured by the Turkish government.

The people of Cyprus – of all communities – deserve a successful outcome to the talks.  The Community Centre in Haringey demonstrates that collaboration and cooperation between the communities can work.  And in that vein, I wished the President well in his negotiations.

Thursday
Sep 17,2009

Andy Burnham is announcing plans to scrap geographical catchment areas for GPs.  This is a sensible proposal that reflects the complexity of modern living and gives patients more choice.  It means that commuters could register with a GP near their workplace or that people could stay with a particular GP even if they move away.

Inevitably, the British Medical Association have expressed reservations, saying “it’s going to be very complicated”.  This sounds like the usual BMA code for “give us more money”.  Earlier this week GPs finally agreed that they were prepared to vaccinate their patients against swine flu (isn’t that what being a doctor is all about) provided they were paid £5.25 a shot.  So I predict that dealing with a non-local patient (even if they are exempted from ever having to do home visits and such patients will often be younger, more mobile and fitter) will require still more payment.

In the run up to the creation of the National Health Service in 1948, to buy the doctors’ support  Nye Bevan “stuffed their mouths with gold“.  Ever since then, the doctors have expected the same treatment any time there is a change in the way the NHS is run.  This will be another example.

Whilst Andy Burnham’s changes are desirable, what will make the biggest difference will be to allow patients to switch from one GP practice to another simply and without penalty.  At present, anyone who wants to join a GP practice by switching from another local practice without having moved home is treated with suspicion and distrust – the assumption is that they must be a trouble-maker who has dared to question the infallibility of their existing GP (and therefore are not the sort of patient any other GP would want on their books).

Thursday
Sep 17,2009

Dominic Grieve has published a Conservative Party policy paper that promises to “reverse the rise of the surveillance state.”  Much of it is inevitably about ID Cards, DNA samples and the like.

There is also the usual stuff about repealing the Human Rights Act.  This, of course, is the Act that has given the citizen all sorts of legally-enshrined rights to protect him or herself against the power of the State – notably that any action by the Government which impacts adversely on an individual has to pass a proportionality test in relation to the supposed benefits that are intended to flow from it.  This can be tested in the Courts – as successive Home Secretaries have discovered to their cost in respect of Control Orders etc.  So why the repeal of the Human Rights Act is going to protect the public is not clear.

And then there is the strange (if you are Tory who normally fulminates against such politically-correct notions) proposal that a Privacy Impact Assessment must be prepared for new laws and regulations.  This is no doubt modelled on the requirement for Equality Impact Assessments – a requirement that as far as I am aware has not received universal approval from most Conservatives.

However, tucked away in the paper are a number of proposals on improving information security that I have to acknowledge are eminently sensible.  I have to acknowledge it because they are things for which I have been calling for years.

So I welcome proposals to strengthen the role of the Information Commissioner.  Not only have I been saying this for the last six years or so, but it also formed part of the report of the House of Lords Select Committee (I happened to be a member of it) on Personal Internet Security published in August 2007.

Likewise, I welcome the proposal for industry-wide kitemarks on data security best practice – another recommendation of the Select Committee.

And the proposal that a Minister and a senior civil servant in each Government Department should be designated as having personal responsibility for data security in that Department is also welcome (and again has a familiar ring to it).

I have long argued that requiring individual Ministers to champion information security and senior Whitehall mandarins to certify that they are personally satisfied with the information assurance processes in place would concentrate their minds wonderfully and lead to a real improvement in security.  (In a similar way, I am introducing – through the Committee I chair on the Metropolitan Police Authority, a system whereby senior officers sign off the health and safety arrangements in their commands.)

Dominic Grieve’s paper sets out an eleven-point plan.  I am happy to say that I can give three of the points my whole-hearted support.  It  would be churlish of me not to do so.  They were my ideas first.  (I’d accuse the Tories of pinching them from me, but I suspect it would be fairer – although why I should be fair, I don’t know – to accuse them of pinching them from the same person I did, if I could remember who it was.)

I do, however, have one concern about their/my proposal on Ministerial responsibility.  The difficulty is that most Ministers stay in particular jobs for too short a time for that responsibility really to mean anything.  Most Ministers are reshuffled every year – often far too short a time for them to make a real difference to anything.  Perhaps the answer would be for legislation saying that once appointed Ministers would have to stay in the same job for at least three years (unless sacked, in which case they would be banned from taking another Ministerial position until the original three years was over).  That would be good for the quality of administration in general.  I offer this to the Conservatives (or indeed anyone else) free, gratis and for nothing ….

Wednesday
Sep 16,2009

Mayor Boris Johnson has been in New York on an arduous fact-finding mission meeting his counterpart Mayor Bloomberg.  I hope he took the opportunity to discuss the proposal that New York’s smoking ban inside buildings should be extended outside as well – with a view to adopting a similar approach in London.

There is no doubt that the ban on smoking in workplaces, restaurants, bars and inside places of entertainment has been hugely beneficial to the health of both smokers and non-smokers alike.

However, the cloud of toxic smoke outside buildings, on pavements and in the so-called open air, as unreformed addicts puff away is now more and more noticeable as one becomes increasingly used to the relative purity of the air inside buildings.

It would be deeply unfortunate if New York succeeds in making its city more attractive by extending the smoking ban as envisaged.  London cannot be allowed to lag behind on this.  I trust that Mayor Johnson will not allow London’s competitive position to be eroded.  Do your duty Boris.