Sunday, 2 November 2014

Reasons why Labour are failing Tooting residents

Nothing is possible without total control

When I'm being critical of Labour whose councillors have been elected in Tooting (Graveney and Tooting wards since 2010), some people object and suggest that in order for the Labour team to effect change they need total control of the council.

The underlying premise is that without total control nothing can happen.

It's an absolutist approach, and one that resonates with the Tory/Labour members that hark back to a time (which never really existed) when there were only two parties in town. It fails to acknowledge that coalition has worked nationally, and that coalitions have been working for years in town halls up and down the country. To be clear by 'coalition working', from a Lib Dem perspective, the party has delivered a lot of our 2010 manifesto pledges. Granted not all, but we are the smaller party in the coalition, and there is an illiberal coalition of sorts between many in Labour and the Tories who would prefer to go back to the days when it was just a fight between the Red & Blue teams. Interesting to hear today that Labour are now claiming to support reform for the House of Lords whilst they abstained or voted against a bill that would have delivered substantial reform when they had the opportunity only a couple of years ago.

Back to Tooting

Flytipping, abandoned bikes, the pedestrian crossing next to Fircroft School (safer streets), and preventing 'shop stall creep' on Upper Tooting Road are the examples of why I think that Labour are failing local residents that I'll use in this post. I'm pretty sure that similar examples could be used against parties of other political colours, but in Tooting, of late we have Labour politicians.


Back in 2008 our Graveney ward councillor and our MP were 'campaigning' on the issue. To give credit where credit is due, the approach covered in the story by the Wandsworth Guardian is laudable.

Fast forward to 2014, and thanks to local resident Tom Quaye badgering our council the Wandsworth Guardian has run a new story flagging the issue again. Labour use the fact that they don't run the whole council as a reason for why this is still a problem.

As Tomma (maybe Tom Quaye) from the article highlights in the tweet above, where can the local Labour team point to proposals they have put forward to improve things? We have the same council officers managing the street cleaning contract for us in Tooting as in Putney. Officers will prioritise their efforts where issues have been flagged. If our councillors don't raise it then it is less of a priority.

Abandoned bikes:

Around Tooting Bec and Tooting Broadway tube there are a bunch of bikes that are locked to the stands that have been vandalised and parts stolen from them. For whatever reason their owners have left the rest of their bike attached to the stands.

Concerted action by local councillors could ensure that these are dealt with.

Can you imagine an abandoned, burnt out car being left in the town centre?

On an aside, cars/vans are being left to rust away on our residential streets as you can see in this post.

Pedestrian crossing next to Fircroft School:

Labour's failure to understand the process is the underlying reason why this call for action was rejected at the committee. You can view the decision on the committee papers (14 - 492) here.

If Labour were running the council they would need to change all the policies in place in order for their approach to be adopted. Instead of engaging with officers at the outset, or having a good understanding of process from their years of having elected councillors, the petition was drawn up, they gathered support and end result no action.

Compare and contrast what I did for the Fishponds campaign.

I checked in advance with officers what number of signatures would be needed, then went and gathered them all, and finally the consultation happened. Leaving aside the detailed points of the Fishponds scheme, if I, without being elected, can campaign and get a consultation to happen for street change it begs the question why are the Labour team unable to do so?

However, what is clear from Fishponds, is that neither Labour or the Conservatives are even prepared to try to fix an acknowledged problem. Little wonder problems last for years in Tooting as the consensus between the Red & Blue teams is to do nothing.

'Shop stall creep' on Upper Tooting Road:

In the local elections this was flagged as an issue, and I checked with the Town Centre Manager to see what had been done. She told me that a few years ago the issue had been raised. As the road is a TfL managed road the council had come to an agreement with TfL to pass over responsibility for a trial period to the council. Monitoring and enforcement was then carried out by the council contracted enforcement officers that work in the rest of the town centre.

Lo and behold this approach worked, result you may think. However, as our councillors didn't keep on top of it, when the trial period lapsed it wasn't renewed.

Fast forward a few years on and the same problem has returned. Another opportunity for another politician to be seeing to do something. Dan Watkins the conservative PPC to his credit has been out with officers. Again, if either the Red/Blue political representatives in Wandsworth were keen on really fixing problems then this one should have been in the bag years ago when the trial solution worked!

Empowerment & plurality of views

Being a Lib Dem my approach is one of empowerment, looking to fix problems so that where possible we don't need to re-visit the same ground time and time again.

I welcome plurality of views, and recognise that often in complex issues there is more than one solution and that within my party we don't always have the solution. But, as a party we are open to listening to experts, looking at the evidence, and want to fix issues so that we can move onto the next ones. We want to genuinely engage with people from across the community, not just 'our supporters'.

Engaging with people 'whatever your politics' is a hollow claim from our Labour councillors.

Regular followers of my blog will know that I petitioned for changes to Mitcham Lane last year. This has gone before the committee and officers are now working on proposals which is a real result that I'm immensely proud of.

At around the same time that I was petitioning, local Labour councillor Mark Thomas did a survey with businesses on the parade at the Thrale Road end of Mitcham Lane. At the notes from the last committee meeting Cllr Cooper passed comments from the people that her team had been in touch with to the committee. None of the councillors contacted me in advance of the committee meeting to seek my views, or represent me and the 550 people that had supported my petition.

The first time the paper went before the committee, the Labour councillors, whilst having invited a deputation from the people they had surveyed, instead of welcoming my views voted for me not to speak. Cllr Jones has informed me that it was because I didn't turn up with 3-4 other people and it was because of process.

Fortunately the Conservative majority on the committee didn't take that view.

I celebrate diversity in all guises, and try to understand differing points of view whilst not always agreeing with them. I think we should support people holding varying political affiliations working to better the community. It is sad that the local Labour team seem so partisan in their approach.

Any party unchallenged is at risk of complacency and 'listening to their own'. Labour dominate in terms of elected representatives in Tooting, and in my view our community is the poorer for it.

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