Monday, 23 February 2009

An open letter to the dog owners of Brockley.

Dear Cananists (although an abusive term for Onanists may be more appropriate)

Is it beyond reason that you clean up after your dogs? In particular, what is it about the top end of Tresillian Road? Why do you insist on letting them crap there? Why do you leave it? Why do you have to let them go in the middle of the pavement?

You people are the scum of the earth. Do you know how unpleasant it is to clean it off the wheels of a buggy by hand?

Yours, ever


Thursday, 19 February 2009

Tory localism

The past couple of years have seen a near consensus amongst Tories and Labour on the rhetoric of local government. Localism and double devolution, community empowerment and negotiated priorities have dominated the discourse.

Rhetoric and reality remain largely disconnected. Labour's local government reforms have tended in the right direction, but, as Simon Jenkins pointed out in yesterday's Guardian, without devolution of financial responsibility (i.e. revenue raising powers) localism remains merely an aspiration.

For all their rhetoric, the same charge can be levelled at the Tories. Their recent Policy Green Paper, Control Shift. Returning Power to Local Communities, is a major disappointment. Its proposals are remarkably similar to the government's, and in many instances merely semantic differences. What is the tangible difference between the current duty to promote economic, environmental and social wellbeing, and the paper's proposed "power of competence"?

If the Tories really want to put clear blue water between them and Labour, they should have sought ways to devolve financial powers to local authorities. On this, the paper was silent.

Instead, the paper is a agglomeration of small scale initiatives and partisan appeals to those worried about development in their back yard (who simultaneously bemoan the lack of affordable housing) and those encouraged to fury by the Taxpayers Alliance over public sector pay. It's more partisan than might have been expected.

Tuesday saw the proposals defended by Caroline Spelman on the Today programme. She took the partisan defence of the Tory position to another level. She defended a Tory commitment to localism with the bizarre statement that as more councils were now Tory, then power could be devolved to them. In short, only Tory councils deserved more power. As well as being a strange basis for localism, this view is also profoundly undemocratic. That she made it openly begs into question her intelligence and competence (as did her assertion that Labour councils could not be trusted because of the council tax rises they posted in the 1970s - the council tax didn't exist in the 1970s).

The Tories may have begun with a meaningful commitment to localism, but it's been lost in an appeal to their core vote in the shires, a stance on devolution that flies in the face of democratic principles, and a staggering level of incompetence and ignorance on the part of the shadow secretary of state.

Control Shift is more than a missed opportunity. It's a damning indictment of Tory thinking on local government. This is perhaps one area where I genuinely thought the Conservatives might have something to offer. Sadly, it's better the devil you know.


Not sure I agree with his views, but there is another blogger on places in the West and matters Bristol Rugby.

Thursday, 5 February 2009


Added to the usual Monday stress was added snow. Snow stopped us getting to work, and snow shut the nursery. To the pressures of two of us sharing one computer, trying to deal with impending deadlines, we now had T to deal with.

After some sharp words we worked out a rota. I would take T out while my wife worked. So, with him in the backpack, we stepped outside into the heaviest snow I had seen for many years.

As we tramped up Ladywell Road I took several work calls, which did little to improve my mood, but all the time T shrieked excitedly and enthusiastically slapped the top of my head.

We stepped into the cemetery. I knew I could stand under the chapel and deal with the work calls sheltered from the thickly falling snow. A phone call or two later and it was clear that the truncated working day was going to bring irritation and frustration. I put the phone back into my pocket and looked out the snow falling across the graves.
Everything was quiet. Everything, apart from T screaming with excitement. No buses, no planes. It felt as if the snow had come down on the city as a blanket, covering the dirt, covering the litter. Above this, the snow allowed only the trees and the graves to stand, rendered somehow beautiful by the whiteness.

T and I left the cemetery and made our way up Ivy Road. It was like a country lane. On the left a high wall over which the wintry trees poked, and to our right the houses seemed somehow timeless. It was lonely, but the place felt calm and peaceful. We turned into St Cyprian's Passage and headed up to Hilly Fields.

Suddenly, the silence disappeared. Hilly Fields was crowded. Families, groups of kids, couples. Snow had kept them all from work or school, and now it was bringing them together.

The city looked different, and it was acting differently. People smiled at each other. T garnered grins and comments from passers by who would surely have put their heads down and walked by on any other day.

Sledgers clattered into each other but laughed in a way they wouldn't have done had they collided on a pavement. People stood next to the eight-foot snowman and asked strangers to take their photographs.

From the top of Hilly Fields you could see that all London was the same. You couldn't see where the city stopped and the Kent hills began. And all around you people were having fun and enjoying being with each other.
I forgot the problems at work, and walked T round the park. He laughed and shrieked all the way and cried so piteously when we get home that I took him out again after lunch, and once more before it got dark.
Sadly, he's too young to be able to remember this in years to come, but I hope it's not his last chance to be part of a day like this. I also hope that it happen for reasons other than snow.