Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for May 22nd, 2007

Camden One Year On

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 22nd May, 2007

ben-rawlings.jpgjanet-grauberg.jpgjill-fraser.jpgAnne Sofer — who represented St Pancras North on the old GLC, first for Labour, and then for the SDP — hosted a feedback and feed-the-troops event at her home in Primrose Hill this evening, to celebrate one year of LibDem-led control of Camden Council — perhaps the greatest shock of the 2006 London local elections, as least as far as the media were concerned. A trio of leading figures from the new administration gave presentations and answered questions: Jill Fraser (who has just finished her term as the first LibDem Mayor in the Borough’s history), Janet Grauberg (Executive Member for Resources — i.e. setting Council Tax inter alia), and Ben Rawlings (Executive Member for Community Safety).

They’re amongst the most high profile portfolios in local government and not surprisingly have attracted a lot of media attention over the past 12 months — in which the LibDems have had to make the transition from favoured opposition to the people now in control — and therefore under close scrutiny, and occasionally attack. This sort of situation often comes as something of a shock to parties which have enjoyed years of sniping at those in power, often with a supportive press, only to find themselves suddenly on the other side of the fence. Anyway, the Camden LibDems stuck to their guns, and with their Conservative junior partners honoured their manifesto commitment not to increase the local element of council tax (there was nothing they could do about Ken Livingstone’s increased London precept). Accordingly, some cuts have been made, which inevitably has raised hackles in some quarters. What the electorate thinks of all this should be clearer after the 12 July Haverstock ward by-election, caused by the resignation of a veteran Labour councillor. Jill Fraser herself was elected in a by-election in Haverstock, so the local party will be pulling out all the stops to repeat that success.

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Applying the Brake to Ken

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 22nd May, 2007

ken-livingstone-1.jpgtom-brake.jpgThe Liberal Democrat spokesman for London, Tom Brake, MP, was the guest speaker last  night at Westminster LibDems’ Paella and Politics (they do things differently in Bayswater).  His theme was standing up to Ken Livingstone in the GLA and London Mayoral elections next year. Tom cut his political teeth as a councillor in Hackney, where squatters once abseiled into the council chamber in the town hall, and Paddy Ashdown tackled a mob of poll-tax protestors. Tom then headed for a tamer milieu: Sutton, first as a councillor once more, then as MP for Carshalton and Wallington. As the LibDems have been in power in Sutton since 1986, they must be doing something right — not least with the environment, according to pundits.

Would that the same could be said for Mayor Ken. Council tax bills in London have gone up sharply thanks largely to his inflated precept. But what do we have to show for it? Tom highlighted three areas of special concern for LibDems next year: housing, transport and crime. I shall focus on transport. As someone who relies entirely on public transport, I pay over £160 a month (yes, £40 a week), for my Oyster card, to get me round the city. It’s true that there are far more buses than there used to be — sometimes too many in Oxford Street! — but the rest of the network is, frankly, crap. Anyone who commutes to work by rail or by underground will know what I mean.

We have the most expensive and the worst metro system in Europe. Take this evening, for example. To get to La Maya restaurant in Porchester Road from the National Liberal Club should have been a quick and simple ride on the Circle Line from Embankment to Bayswater. But it took nearly an hour. I was stuck for 20 minutes on Embankment station before the tannoy announced that there were no clockwise Circle Line trains running. And that there were serious delays on the District Line, the Metropolitan and City Line, and the Piccadilly Line, necessitating a radical and roundabout change of route. The journey home was even worse. The ‘easy run’ on the Central Line from Queensway to Mile End turned into a one-and-a-half hour odyssey by tube and bus, as all underground trains (when one came, it was packed to the gills) were terminating at Liverpool Street, ‘because of a defective train at Woodford’ (excuse me?). I rant on about this, not because I am having a premature Victor Meldrew moment, but because this is the sort of thing Londoners are meant to put up with, day in day out. And pay through the nose for.

In a comment at the dinner, I suggested that what the LibDems need for 2008 is a narrative, and a clear slogan, such as ‘Giving Londoners a city they can be proud of’. That is something over the past seven years that Ken, for all his flair for personal publicity, has singularly failed to deliver.


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