Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Make Every Vote Count On Thursday

Some of the many supporters who turned up for our last mass leafleting
It was a tremendous honour to have so many fellow residents come out last Saturday to give the Make Willesden Green campaign a last push before Thursday’s election. With about two dozen supporters swarming across various parts of Willesden Green, we managed to leaflet the whole of the ward and still find time to speak to hundreds of residents outside the Sainsbury’s forecourt. Most people said they were disenchanted with the three mainstream parties, but were keen to hear about our electoral offer of an independent voice for Willesden residents.

These conversations, and the groundswell of support I have received over the past few months from a real cross-section of our community, has made me even more confident that we can make Willesden Green a thriving, clean, open, democratic and environmentally-balanced area in future if only we have better representation. People in Willesden Green have spent too much of the past four years fighting against developers and unelected bureaucrats for a neighbourhood with open spaces, secure community amenities, an improved High Road, more affordable housing and properly-funded public services. In the process, we have been ignored by our Councillors and dismissed by senior Local Authority officers. 

Watermelon Men: me with Shahrar Ali and Martin Francis, Green Party candidates for Willesden Green

In fact, when the Make Willesden Green campaign was taking shape one of the main drivers behind its formation was the general lack of accountability and unresponsiveness of our sitting councillors. Our current Labour councillor and one of the LibDem councillors were enthusiastic supporters of the Willesden Green Library project in the face of overwhelming resident opposition, while the second Lib Dem councillor has moved away from Brent, has barely been seen for a year and doesn't even respond to emails. Now of course, it's election time so we see both parties coming out of hiding to claim that they are listening and ‘on your side’, hoping that we will forget their past sins and misdemeanors.

We formulated a policy on the Right to Recall local councillors in between elections and I personally signed a pledge saying that as an elected councillor I would submit to to a by-election if enough residents demanded it. We challenged every candidate standing in the Willesden Green election to sign the same pledge – only the two Green Party candidates, Martin Francis and Shahrar Ali responded positively. Labour, LibDems and the Tories did not bother to respond at all.

However our attention was drawn to this rather mealy-mouthed blogpost from sitting councillor Lesley Jones who sets out a number of objections, all of which can be easily overcome. (‘Who will collect the petition signatures?’ Cllr Jones asks, ‘Well, how about the same people who collected 6,000 signatures against the Library development that you backed?’ would be an answer.)

All in all, the response to the recall pledge has shown that the main parties have learnt nothing from the anger, frustration and disenchantment of local residents. They want your vote on Thursday but they don't want to hear from you again after that. Do we really want to give a mandate to parties that are still scared of democracy, still afraid of participation and still reluctant to give us a real voice? 

I hope that I will get one of your votes this Thursday, but I hope you will also think about whether you want to give your second and third votes to parties who show such a fundamental disdain for the wishes of their electorate.

On Thursday we finally get a say: every vote sends a message, and by giving me one of your three votes, you’ll be making it clear the three main parties have failed our area. We need genuinely radical and grassroots Councillors to represent the interests of Willesden Green, and this Thursday is the time to vote us in. 

Monday, 12 May 2014

Where There's Muck, There's Brass

Despite the unenviable task of clearing up months of accumulated rubbish, the clean-up of the service road behind Walm Lane last Sunday was very much worthwhile. The pictures below show what a couple hours of bagging rubbish can do to the appearance of even the most neglected parts of our area (as well as revealing some decent compost, which large worms were getting stuck into). Most importantly, Sunday's modest clear-up was an opportunity for residents from the alleyway and adjacent streets to meet and exchange notes on how to find a permanent solution to that street's refuse problem. Our role in Make Willesden Green was to facilitate the process and encourage neighbours to continue pressuring  both private landlords and Brent Council to meet their responsibilities to alley residents and the wider community. Other similar initiatives are now being planned through the Willesden Green Town Team.  Hopefully this muck-raking has revealed a community that cares about its surrounding environment, and is willing to channel what have until now been individual efforts into a stronger collective voice.



Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Community Clean-Up on Walm Lane

Make Willesden Green has organised a community clean-up of the service road behind Walm Lane this coming Sunday. Residents have seen the alley become a dumping ground for all kinds of rubbish over the past few years, and  the problem has now gone beyond the merely unsightly to become a potential health hazard. The land is privately owned and so the Council has refused to clear it, allowing the problem to escalate. After many months and numerous complaints the Council has finally issued a small fine and a clear-up order to the landowners, to which they have not responded. The next step is for the Council to take legal action which is a frustratingly slow process. Meanwhile the tip continues to grow.
Accumulated Rubbish on the Alleyway
Sunday’s clean-up should not absolve either the land owners or Brent Council of their responsibilities. Make Willesden Green has taken this initiative to shame the land owners and pressure the Council into urgent action. Most importantly, we hope the clean up will bring together local residents and businesses to try to find a permanent solution to the unacceptable state of the alley. This ugly and increasingly unsafe service road severely affects adjacent businesses and residents, but it  also reflects poorly on the wider neighbourhood. Join us on Sunday, even if it’s only briefly, to show you want a cleaner, safer and greener Willesden.

Dumping Ground

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Less UKIP, More Democracy

Corrections to a UKIP poster in Swansea
Hope not Hate, a campaign group dedicated to exposing and combating far-right politics in Britain recently approached Make Willesden Green to help deliver a message against the politics of hate in Brent. I immediately agreed to distribute their ‘Let Hope Win Over Fear’ leaflet together with our own electoral material, as I think it’s important to challenge the mainstreaming of racist and xenophobic positions in the run-up to the local and European elections of May 22nd.

UKIP’s ascendancy is of course the immediate cause of concern here. Although they are only standing four candidates in the Brent local elections (happily none of them in Willesden Green; though there is one in neighbouring Dudden Hill), the European elections are offering Farage’s outfit an opportunity to spread their poisonous ideas across our Borough.
In fact, whilst canvassing, supporters of Make Willesden Green have come across the occasional resident who’s initially confused my standing as an independent with me being for UKIP. We’ve quickly disabused people of that connection, making it clear Make Willesden Green sits on the opposite end of the political spectrum to UKIP.

UKIP and other far-right parties play on people's genuine concerns about unemployment, housing, education and austerity, and simply blame them on foreigners. They encourage the most disadvantaged groups to take social inequality out on similarly vulnerable people from other nationalities, rather to focus on the gross disparity of wealth within the UK, and between different parts of Europe.

The likes of UKIP also make a lot of hay out of people’s disenchantment with mainstream politics. But the ‘free’ market they’re so fond of  (except for when it comes to freedom of movement) is a major cause behind the corruption of politics – either directly through corporate lobbyists or indirectly by handing over democratic control of public goods like education, health or transport to a private sector that’s only accountable to major shareholders. UKIP’s crude anti-politics stems from its extreme pro-market positions; and their free market dogmas simply exacerbate the economic inequalities they then accuse immigrants of causing.

Grassroots initiatives like Make Willesden Green are about the exact opposite. Our campaign has consistently been about involving people politically in the democratisation of our neighbourhood, and by defending those public spaces  and services that bring our area's rich mix of people together and protect the most vulnerable in our communities. Ordinary citizens can turn seemingly technical, non-partisan matters like the demolition of libraries or the academisation of schools into political issues -especially if it’s with a small ‘p’ that looks beyond narrow Party-political interests.