Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Camberwell Grove Part 2

Quite a few people have been in touch with me about the continued closure of Camberwell Grove. I am afraid that despite repeated calls by both Veronica Ward and myself to the Council and Network Rail I have received no update on when the bridge repairs will be carried out and the road re-opened. So the news is there is no news!
Veronica and I are continuing to chase this matter and I will post further news, if and when I get any!

Monday, July 24, 2006

A Comment on the Lebanon

It will be extremely rare for me to use this blog to comment on international events, but together with so many others, I have been deeply moved by the tragic conflict which is once again befalling Lebanon. Although I do not think that all of the World's ills will be solved by achieving peace in this part of the Middle East, it would certainly remove many of the causes of grievance which fuel the terrorism and strife which have blighted this area for more than 50 years.
Some people argue that on too many occasions powerful Western governments have turned a blind eye to the problems of southern Lebanon, and this has been the case once again over the past two weeks. After 10 years of careful and tentative physical and political reconstruction the Lebanon is once again thrown back into a state of near-chaos. Friends who have visited Beirut over the past couple of years have commented on the vibrancy and excitement of this international city - regaining the reputation and infrastructure it had previously enjoyed.
There is a view that the recent Israeli action was disproportionate. Hezbollah have no doubt been a cause of provocation and danger to northern Israel, the long term interests of the Israeli people cannot have been well served by destabilising the Lebanese Government and strengthening the hands of Syria and Iran in the region. The loss of innocent life on all sides cannot be written off as just another one of those things that happens in the Middle East. It has been deliberate and painful, and utterly unnecessary.
Perhaps this crisis simply highlights the perceived failure of the United Nations to be regarded as having any real significance over the past fortnight. Strong and early intervention by the United Nations may have averted this crisis - but as an international body it currently lacks real credibility and will only ever be regarded as the World's policeman in future if ALL member countries support it at ALL times. The UN should not be used time and again simply to pick up the pieces after one country has acted unilaterally against another. We are constantly being told that we live in an increasingly inter-dependent World, yet at the same time some nations continue to act alone and without regard to their neighbours or to the wider effects which their actions will have. So now more than ever there must be a strategic role for the UN to play in averting conflict and crisis; to ensure that governments do not go to war without first using every possible opportunity for finding a peaceful solution.
Maybe it is also time for the US government to show some greater leadership on foreign affairs. Even the most objective assessment of recent performance would suggest that the Bush Administration does not have all the answers to some of the World's more intractable problems. So at the start of this crisis the US should have given the UN its full support in brokering a ceasefire and a resolution of this conflict. Unless the US government does begin to act in this way there will be no incentive for other nations to treat the UN or its edicts seriously.
If the Lebanese Government is unable to regulate the actions of Hezbollah they should be offered help to do so. If the Israeli Government is concerned that its northern borders are not secure, they should be offered help to strengthen those borders. But neither Hezbollah nor Israel should think that they can obliterate the other. I just hope that it does not take the loss of many more lives for that lesson to be learned.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Train Route Saved!

Great news for residents of South Camberwell who use Denmark Hill station! Word reaches me that our campaign to save the London Bridge to Victoria route has been succesful and plans to divert the trains to Clapham Junction or Battersea Park have been dropped by Network Rail. This was an issue which was picked up by former councillor Patrick Kelly who alerted Veronica and I to these proposals when he was reading a railway trade journal. Once we were alerted Veronica and I launched a petition and enlisted the support of Val Shawcross and Harriet Harman MP.
Although some other political parties joined in the campaign I can genuinely say that this was a Labour campaign!. Of course, we share the credit for its success with the hundreds of people who signed our petition and e-mailed Network Rail during the consultation period.
The formal announcement about this will not be made until August, but I have it on very good authority that the line has been saved and that it was due to our campaign! Who says you can't achieve anything in politics!

Southwark Race Equalities Council

After the local elections my main concern was that a LibDem Tory coalition would have little regard for the centre of the borough - where they have no councillors and little electoral support. Of course it is also right that Camberwell and Peckham has the highest concentration of black and minority ethnic ('BME') residents in the borough, and it is often difficult for their voice to be heard - as we have seen over the past 4 years. So I was truly amazed to find that the Tory/LibDem Executive in Southwark had failed to nominate Labour's Cllr Tayo Situ onto the board of Southwark Race Equalities Council, but had instead nominated two LibDems from Bermondsey and a Tory from Dulwich. In their amazing defence of this decision, the LibDems claim their discrimination is justified on the basis of Cllr Situ's record of attendance at SREC meetings over the past 12 months. Forget the fact that Labour polled the highest number of votes in the local elections, has the highest proportion of BME councillors, and represents the greatest number of BME voters in the borough or that Cllr Situ is an influential voice in the BME community.
I think what shocks me most about this sort of decision is the arrogance and lack of sensitivity it demonstrates. Cllr Stanton could not be bothered to attend a public meeting organised by Operation Black Vote before the elections because he had another important appointment - canvassing in Brunswick Park ward! So the LibDems have a record on this sort of insensitive behaviour.
I am relieved that the Tories have seen sense and offered their place to Cllr Situ. But the shameful decision to exclude Labour's representatives from SREC should never have been taken in the first place.
The message really needs to sink in to the current administration - no one voted for a Tory / LibDem coalition and you have no mandate to do as you please. And the borough of Southwark certainly cannot afford a further deterioration in relations between the council and the BME community which we witnessed under the last 4 years of LibDem rule.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Local Government Association Conference

This week I have been beside the seaside in Bournemouth at the Local Government Association ('LGA') conference. The LGA is the voice of all councillors in local government and is currently chaired by a Conservative, Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, as the Conservatives have the greatest number of councillors in England and Wales. I suppose that the theme of the week has been climate change, as it featured heavily in speeches by David Milliband - the Environment Secretary, and David "Dave" Cameron.
There really is a momentum behind this issue now, and after several years of rising to the top of political debate and then falling to one side I do believe that it will be an issue right through until the next general election. It is encouraging that so many politicians across the political spectrum are talking about this issue, and largely with a united voice on how urgent the need is to tackle climate change.
As was stressed at last week's Southwark Climate Change conference organised by Harriet Harman, every year which passes without radical action being taken makes the remedial action even harder. So I do hope that the political words will result in real political action in the near future.