A great many homes and cafes in Central London have been buzzing with political excitement this spring, but this buzz has owed less to a clamour for debate about the merits of reform to our own electoral system than to the close interest London's Arab diasporas have taken in the event of the ‘Arab spring'. It is not only the internet and Twitter which have globalised even the smallest stirrings of protests in universities, refugee camps and city squares across the Middle East- it is also this extended community of exiles, drinking coffee in the shisha cafes on the Edgware Road.
The extraordinary courage that has been demonstrated daily in towns and cities across North Africa and the Middle East since the start of the year gives the emphatic lie to those who see those regions in monolithic terms. All too frequently, we have noticed and reported on only the brutal despotism of so many of the governments concerned, or the passionate demonstration of anti-Western sentiment (particularly in the context of Western foreign policy), when in fact the citizens of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere have the same desires for freedom, peace and justice as we do in Europe and in the US. And there are many thousands of men and women, often now British citizens of long-standing, who were originally refugees from the vicious regimes now toppled or under pressure, who are either celebrating, engaging in the new political environment emerging in countries like Egypt, or anxiously surveying the situation in Libya where they may have friends and family.
The potential transformation of the region, faltering and incomplete though it is currently is, has massive implications for the world. We were right to intervene to prevent a massacre of the Libyans in Benghazi, as the experience of inaction in the Balkans wars during the 1990s should have taught us, but whilst slaughter has been averted, we are now in something of a stalemate. That is not a sustainable position in the long run. The US would be right to inject investment in the economies of those countries emerging from the shadows, but we know that while ‘soft power' has advantages that military power does not, even this form of involvement is not risk free. It seems as though one of the consequences of the protest movements across the Arab world has been steps towards greater unity between Fatah and Hamas- an essential preliminary if the Palestinians are to make their presence felt in any effort to re-energise the Middle East peace process, but such unity (coupled with uncertainty over what happens next in Egypt and elsewhere) is also greatly increasing Israeli fears about what changes will mean for their security as a nation. Israel has the right to security behind secure borders. Yet the rights of the Palestinian people to a viable state of their own must be recognised. and in that context, last week's killing by Israeli forces of 13 demonstrators at the Qalandiya crossing, together with the continuation of settlement building, are deeply disturbing.
It is much too early to do more than hope that the promises of the Arab spring will be realised - we certainly can't yet count on sustained progress in every country where the young have made such sacrifices for freedom - but that hope mustn't be just empty sentiment. For far too long, the West gave every impression of preferring the stability of the status quo in over the uncertainty of democracy across large swathes of the Middle East, Asia and Africa, but such security was always likely to be an illusion. So it has proved. Now is an opportunity to respond with more imagination and humility than we have managed in the past.
A great many homes and cafes in Central London have been buzzing with political excitement this spring, but this buzz has owed less to a clamour for debate about the...
Although there is a cross-party agreement in principle about the importance of early intervention measures - support for Labour's Sure Start programme, Children's Centres, and childcare is high - it is now clear that that agreement is more rhetorical than substantial.
In a Parliamentary vote last week, both Conservative and Liberal MPs opposed a motion seeking to protect Children's centres from central Government cuts. Sure Start services across the country are being taken away from communities who rely on them.
A year ago, David Cameron said he would protect and improve Sure Start Children's Centres, yet despite this promise to voters, the budget for children's centres has not been protected. The Early Intervention Grant (EIG) through which these services are provided has been cut, in real terms, by about a quarter.
Sure Start children centres, widely recognised as groundbreaking and highly effective, provide a crucial service for communities. Yet, at a time when families are already being hardest hit by this, the loss of these services will make life event more difficult.
To compound this criticism, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in a report last week warned that child poverty reduction in the UK has stalled. The report called on the Government to protect family services and welfare, echoing the Institute of Fiscal Studies.
Locally, government cuts to the Early Intervention grant have hit Westminster harder than in most other areas. The Council has lost the equivalent of £80 for every child, despite having greater challenges - including higher child poverty - than almost anywhere else. Extraordinarily, places like Wiltshire, rural Hampshire and South Gloucestershire have lost far less, at £30 a week!
Partly as a consequence of this funding withdrawal, Westminster council is now cutting services for families and children operating out of Children's Centres, with outreach services being particularly hard hit. The network of Children's Centres, including brand new building such as the Bayswater centre in Westbourne Park Road, will continue to exist but with far less funding to make sure that they are able to contact and support isolated and vulnerable families.
Fewer places are being provided for vulnerable children in council run nurseries, down over the last few years from 130 full-time equivalent places in 2006 to 20 by later this year, and the number of parents being able to afford holiday provision for their children at the Council's play centres has already tumbled by 40% since higher charges were introduced last month. Meanwhile early intervention projects such as Newpin, and childcare organisations like the Westminster Pre-School Learning Alliance are in limbo waiting to hear if, now grant funding has vanished, Westminster will commission any services from them in future and if so, at what level.
So much of what has been painstakingly built up for families and children in recent years is fast disappearing. And the consequence? Less affordable childcare to enable parents to take up work. Fewer resources to contact and draw in vulnerable parents who may need help with parenting. Less support for children in need.
Yet we know that what we invest in early intervention and support for children in the early years pays off in multiples later in a child's life - in better educational outcomes, better behavioural outcomes and more. How short-sighted to slash at the roots of the next generation. How hypocritical to mouth support for early intervention whilst actually removing the means to make it possible.
Although there is a cross-party agreement in principle about the importance of early intervention measures - support for Labour's Sure Start programme, Children's Centres, and childcare is high - it...
Westminster Conservatives want to raise the rents of people for council tenants who they consider to be earning too much and has asked the Government to give the Council the power to set its own rent levels.
Speaking at a Council meeting last week, the Council's Cabinet member for Housing, Philippa Roe, claimed that there are more than 2,200 Council tenants earning more than £50,000 a year and that the Council should have the power to increase their rents in order to raise more revenue to pay for Council services.
Quite where she got this information is unclear but it is clearly an attack on Westminster's middle-income earners. It will drive many hard working families out of Westminster.
Many Council tenants earning good wages have done so by working hard. To increase their rents for being successful at work would be similar to increasing their taxes. Many Council tenants earning good wages save as much as they can so that they can eventually put down a deposit on a flat or house in Westminster or elsewhere. Increasing rents on those who do well would act as a disincentive to other tenants to build a career and get on in life.
It appears that Westminster Conservatives are more concerned with increasing the Council's revenues than building successful and thriving local communities.
The Conservative's clearly believe that social housing should only be a tenure of last resort, given only to the very poor. This merely reinforces the old stereotypes of ‘sink estates' where few people worked and where ambition was dirty word. Instead of attacking hard-working families they should be glad that so many tenants are in good jobs, helping to make their estates lively and mixed. Why should people now be punished by increased rents because of the financial mistakes made by the Conservatives?
Westminster Conservatives want to raise the rents of people for council tenants who they consider to be earning too much and has asked the Government to give the Council the...
On Thursday 28th April Queen's Park and Harrow Road Labour Councillors were joined by over 60 residents at a public meeting at St Luke's Church.
They were joined by Graham King of Westminster City Council's Planning Department and Lizzie Williams representing the Campaign opposed to HS2.
Graham King made the following observations and comments:
•That the Queens Park Estate has two levels of Heritage status - Heritage protection of some properties in Fifth Avenue and Conservation Area Status elsewhere.
•That many properties in other parts of Westminster also lie above underground lines and have similar poor foundations to those in Queen's Park (e.g. Mayfair and Victoria). He commented that the London Clay under Queen's Park was very suitable for tunnelling.
•That new trains need 400m of straight line to accommodate High Speed trains
•That trains could not run on the existing mainline tracks as High Speed Trains require a safety area around the train not just the rails
•That Westminster City Council is unable to influence the national compensation scheme.
•That implementation requires an Act of Parliament and could take much longer than people think. As it would probably be a Hybrid Bill to approve the scheme it would not be subject to any Public Inquiry (this could also be a strength to objectors)
•That the route of tunnel could alter (investigations conducted by Westminster already shows that rerouting along the line of railway to cemetery would only alter journey time by 15secs)
•That HS2 will be discussed by the Council's Built Environment Scrutiny Committee in June as a result of requests made by local Councillors following which the Council will be making a submission to the HS2 Consultation.
Lizzie Williams of the Campaign opposed to HS2 also took part and made the following comments and observations:
•That residents should be objecting to the principle of HS2 at this stage, rather than focussing on the detail. She let residents know that they could submit their comments on line at https://highspeedrail.dft.gov.uk/have-your-say or you can phone HS2 on 020 7944 4908 for more details.
•That the economic case for HS2 is to be questioned by a parliamentary Select Committee
•That the building of the HS2 would be funded by direct taxation
•That the route is 138 miles long and trains are intended to run at 225 mph
•That the route would carry 36 trains an hour with capacity for 1100 people per train
•That the exceptional Hardship scheme only relates to people in critical conditions
•She recommended that everyone should take pictures of the condition of their house and keep these as a record
•That the argument for transferring airplane passengers was, in her opinion, linked to the loss of the 4th runway at Heathrow and the potential of moving extra capacity to Birmingham
•She also made the point that much of the support for the project was from international construction and industrial companies (e.g. Chinese Steel producers)
Questions were then raised by residents about the shallowness of foundations on the Queen's Park Estate, the impact on house insurance and potential for selling houses during this period.
Queen's Park Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg confirmed that Councillors would give residents all the assistance needed to enable residents to set up an Action Group to safeguard their interests, and to provide the information necessary to make representations to the Department for Transport.
A further meeting to discuss the formation of a potential Action Group is on Wednesday 11th May at St Luke's Church at 7.00pm.
On Thursday 28th April Queen's Park and Harrow Road Labour Councillors were joined by over 60 residents at a public meeting at St Luke's Church. They were joined by Graham...
The revised route for the planned High Speed Rail link has caused concern amongst some residents in Queen's Park, with worries being expressed about the deep tunnelling under the Queen's Park estate.
I will be joining Queen's Park ward councillors at a meeting to discuss these concerns and try and get answers to resident's questions. The meeting will be held at:
St Luke's Church (at the top end of Fernhead Road by the junction with Kilburn Lane)
Thursday April 28th
The revised route for the planned High Speed Rail link has caused concern amongst some residents in Queen's Park, with worries being expressed about the deep tunnelling under the Queen's...
Launching the rally against youth violence in the Harrow Road on Saturday March 5th , Karen welcomed the parents and voluntary groups coming together under the banner ‘It takes a whole community to raise a child'.
Postcode-related gang violence has been worsening in the last two years, and it was especially heartbreaking to hear the plea for help from the mother of murdered local 22 year old Daniel Smith, who it is thought died as a result of mistaken identity. Too man y of our young people are living in fear, too many are being hurt and some are dying because we have not broken the spiral of anger and violence on the streets. We need a united community, and a strong youth service to turn this around".
Launching the rally against youth violence in the Harrow Road on Saturday March 5th , Karen welcomed the parents and voluntary groups coming together under the banner ‘It takes a...
40 students from the City of Westminster College joined Karen for a discussion about the impact of the abolition of the Educational Maintenance Allowance. Top of their list of concerns was how they would be able to afford to travel to college in future. Many chose City of Westminster because it offers specialist courses not available elsewhere, which would prepare them for university. Others said they made a deliberate decision to break away from schoolfriends who were not supporting their efforts to get on in education.
40 students from the City of Westminster College joined Karen for a discussion about the impact of the abolition of the Educational Maintenance Allowance. Top of their list of concerns...
Karen criticised the failure to consult and engage with parents using Westminster Children's Centres at a packed meeting at the Stowe club last week. Around a 100 parents attended, only to find no Majority Councillors there to explain their planned cuts, no figures and no hard information about what Westminster Council is planning. Parents told powerful stories about how the outreach, drop-in and other services at the network of Children's Centres had changed their own and their children's family lives. What kind of false economy is it to cut these services and leave parents adrift?
Karen criticised the failure to consult and engage with parents using Westminster Children's Centres at a packed meeting at the Stowe club last week. Around a 100 parents attended, only...
Westminster's Commander of Police has assured Karen that there will be no ‘major changes' to Safer Neighbourhood Police Teams, after several months in which the vision of the Met police service for SNTs has been unclear. Karen questioned plans to merge wards under a reduced number of sergeants, arguing that this would risk losing the unique local knowledge and leadership which has helped make Safer Neighbourhood Teams successful. However, new information indicating an overall loss of 28,000 staff from the police service could mean throwing everything back in the air.
Westminster's Commander of Police has assured Karen that there will be no ‘major changes' to Safer Neighbourhood Police Teams, after several months in which the vision of the Met police...