‘Grave situation’ for London’s playing fields continues at Motspur Park

Newly-re-elected Labour London Assembly Member Murad Qureshi has expressed his literally grave concern over the future of London’s playing fields as a council proposes turning one field into a cemetery.

Murad, who is himself a keen sportsman, has joined campaigners in Kingston to call for the former BBC Sports Ground in Motspur Park to be saved from plans to turn them into gravespace.

‘I’ve been concerned about this issue for a long time’, Murad explains. ‘During the last administration, I undertook a rapporteurship as Deputy Chair of the London Assembly Environment Committee on this very subject. I found that there has been a significant loss of playing fields and outdoor recreation space over the past 15 years. Yet we all know how important it is for everyone to have access to leisure and sports facilities. The report contained a number of recommendations including the need to enshrine more protection for playing fields in the London Plan.’

He went on: ‘The situation at Motspur Park truly is a grave one. The site was well used by families and sports clubs before it was sold to a developer. As it’s Metropolitan Open Land, plans to develop the site fell, so it’s easier to sell off the land as a cemetery.

‘It seems that there is actually no need for a new cemetery in the area as there are two very large ones nearby in any case. But it’s easier and cheaper for developers to flog off the land than try to find creative ways of putting the site back into use for leisure activities.

‘This is why our playing fields need to have some sort of protected use status in planning regulations – clearly the Metropolitan Open Land rules are not always enough to prevent the loss of playing fields. I’ll be calling on Kingston Council not to dispose of this sports ground as well as lobbying the new Mayor for more protection for these vital venues.’ 

Lost the battle but not the war

It was a sad scene on the night of the 2nd of May, seeing Ken leaving the institution he did so much to give a profile and such energy too. For my generation of Londoners who grew up in London during the 1980s, he had been our political compass and thus gave us our bearings very often in all sorts of political matters beyond just local government as well.

Saying this, Ken and Labour at the GLA did much better in London then the party in the rest of the country on the 1st of May. Ken’s first preference total was 36 per cent and much the same as his percentage in 2004, that is 12 per cent higher then Labours national score and the Labour vote in Labour actually want up across the whole of London to 28 from 24 per cent, gaining an additional seat in the Assembly in Brent & Harrow to a total of 8, holding Enfield and Haringey and increasing the majorities in all our GLA constituencies and finally holding our 2 seats from the top-up lists. This reflects well on the progressive coalition and policies that Ken presented on transport, housing and privatisation and redistribution which was a good deal more popular than that been offered in other parts of the country throughout local and regional government by Labour.

It was just that Tory vote came out much more strongly then we anticipated both in the suburbs and in central London while the Lib Dem vote took a hammering both in the Mayoral and Assembly contest. Johnson got 42 per cent first preferences and when the second preferences were distributed it was 47 and 53 per cent to Johnson. In the meantime, there was a haemorrhaging of the Lib Dem vote where Paddick only polled 9.6 per cent and its vote on the London Assembly went down by 6.88 per cent compared to 2004, resulting in the loss of 2 Assembly seats. The best example of the suburban vote was the over 50 per cent turn out in Bexley and Bromley where more then 50 per cent voted Tory. While in the City and East London where we probably have the greatest concentration of Muslim communities, the turnout was in the region of 39 per cent. That is over 1 in 3 voted in the latter while in the former it was just over every other person. Its those margins which made the difference for the Tories.

Furthermore, the smaller parties like Respect and Christian Alliance did not fare well at all but for the BNP, who got their 5.3 per cent to get their first London Assembly member onto the London Assembly. From 2004, the far right party managed to get a further 40,000 votes added to their 90,000 then to critically get them over the 5 per cent threshold. This is a return to the peak of far right support in the 1970s at the GLC elections of May 1977 where the National Front polled 5.23 per cent but because of the first past the poll system did not get any representation in the GLC. After that a combination of the National Front disintergrating internally and Maggie Thatcher coming into power in 1979 stopped the move to the far right any further. Are we going to see something similiar will be very interesting in the next few years.

In West Central where l contested the election, we had a 48.5 per cent turnout and managed to increase the Labour vote just over 3 per cent from 2004 with a total of nearer to Ken’s total vote in 2004. At the same time we saw the Tory vote increase by a greater percentage, so it was not just ” outer London wot won it ” for Johnson and the Tories while Kens vote is still 12,000 votes higher then the Labour vote.

I will continue the fight in the GLA, remembering that the battle may of been lost but not the war, as much of what Johnson does over the next 4 years will be undertaken within an agenda and context set by the outgoing Mayor. So bring on 2012 election which will be just before the Olympics games in London and lets see how Johnson handles this and the other big projects like Crossrail, deliveries on his manifesto promises and promotes London as a global city. Rest assured that after the honey moon period over this summer, this is how he’ll be judged, as many will see the Johnson adminstration as giving us an insight into what a Cameron regime running the UK will be like.

It’s the Economy, Stupid

There is undoubtedly heightened tension about the state of the economy in London with the credit crunch as a result of sub-prime mortgage market collapse in the US, on the doorstep of the electorate for the 1st of May. So it will be interesting to see how they respond with these concerns with their ballot papers for the GLA election where we do not actually have control of the economy at local and regional level but its clearly their opportunity to tell national government their concerns.

This is all further compounded by raising energy and food costs both adding to inflationary pressure which will limit options of reducing interest rates by the Bank of England. Now in terms of public finances the GLA precept for this present financial year has only gone up by 2 per cent and is well inline with inflation targets. This all for additional policing, more public investment in transport and social housing. This while some councils like Hammersmith & Fulham are cutting services and the City of Westminster taking credit for government investment rather then anything they have done. So the public finances will not be contributing to inflationary pressures and more services thus giving value for money. At the same time, we have a serious of major capital investments that will help the London economy in the event of a serious down turn like the Olympics site; Cross rail projects involving and Thames tideway works involving 10’s of billions being spent in the real economy. This localised Keynesian demand management will be very useful particularly with our dependency of the financial services and our strong economic ties with the US, do make us very vulnerable to a recession. Furthermore the monies the Mayor has negotiated from central government for housing investment to the tune of £ 4 billion could be used to stabilize the housing market, if the monies are used to stabilise the housing market as had been down in the early 1990s. Housing in itself warrants separate coverage and will be the topic of my next blog entry but we are certainly in very choppy waters and which mayoral candidate can show how they will manage the London economy through them could well determine who is mayor on the 1st of May.

Ken, London’s champion

The GLA election period finally kicked off proper on Tuesday [18th March] with the formal launch of the Mayor’s re-election campaign at the Royal Festival Hall. As well as describing London’s achievements over the past eight years, Ken Livingstone set out new pledges for transport, housing, crime, the environment and community relations over the next four years. He also said the spirit of London was shown in the events of July 2005 when we won the Olympic Games bid, showing London’s ambition, youth and diversity. And we showed the world how to tackle with pride our worst moments, such as the way the city responded to the terrorist atrocity of 7th July 2005.

London’s opportunities were now greater than ever but he warned that the election would highlight clear choices for Londoners: this election is not Celebrity Big Brother; its about the most serious issues and the future of our city. On Crossrail, the biggest transport scheme in Europe, Ken Livingstone noted that it could transform London’s transport for the better or destroy the finances of the City for many years. However Boris Johnson could not even be bothered to vote on it in Parliament! The Tube refurbishment and the handling of the Metronet contracts can also transform our city’s biggest transport asset – but Boris’s Transport manifesto doesn’t mention what his plans for the Tube were going to be. On affordable homes for Londoners, we have seen the doubling of house building in London with an affordable element in the past 8 years, achieved through the 50 per cent policy which Boris Johnson wants to abolish. On crime and policing, Johnson calls for ‘big ticket savings’ in the Police budget – this when crime has been cut every year for the past five years. This has only been achieved because hard decisions have been taken to pay for increased police numbers. On good community relations we have seen racists attacks down by a half when in other regions in the country they are up. In contrast, Boris Johnson uses right wing dog whistle politics to attack “political correctness”. On road safety, he clearly does not like pedestrians as he wants to re-phase traffic lights to supposedly get traffic flowing. He recently told a Radio show that pedestrians ‘are the most dangerous thing on the roads’. And finally nothing shows the differences between Ken and Boris more than their stand on the environment. Boris Johnson’s anti-green stance led him to oppose the proposal to introduce a £25 charge on gas guzzlers.

Finally, Ken Livingstone quiped that ‘it was said by Dr Samuel Johnson in the 18th century that when you are tired of London you leave for Henley’. Lets certainly hope so for Boris Johnson on the 1st of May.

What do Londoners really care about?

It’s been an eventful week again. After months of allegations which have distracted everyone from the real issues facing London this May, Lee Jasper, the Mayor’s race and equalities adviser resigned. While the London media and politicos have been feverishly following the saga, bread and butter issues like Post Office closures and the launch of the mayoral candidates’ transport manifestos are higher on most people’s agenda.

The Assembly has spent an exorbitant amount of time looking into and discussing the allegations against Lee Jasper, at the expense of further scrutiny of the Olympics and other crucial issues facing capital. Important scheduled meetings have had to make way as opponents of the Mayor have exploited the Evening Standard’s allegations against Lee Jasper to the full.

Out canvassing in the real world, I have yet to hear anyone raise the issue on the doorstep. So while the capital’s political and media classes have been totally consumed by the controversy, it has not arisen on the doorstep. If anything, people are struggling to get to the facts and understand what it is Lee is actually supposed to have done. Now he has stood down we can hopefully get back to addressing the real election issues – improving public transport, tackling climate change, keeping London safe, providing affordable housing, preparing for the Olympics and ensuring the continued success of our economy.

From the macro to the micro, the proposal to close Post Offices in West London has aroused strong feeling in all the neighbourhoods affected. In my home-postal district, W9, we will have no Post Offices if the plans go ahead as written. So a residential population of 32,300 including many elderly people and young families will be expected to travel over a mile to St John’s Wood or Bayswater.

Hopefully the Mayor’s legal challenge will put a stop to these unfair closures on the grounds of the disproportionate effect it will have on London and the short length of the consultation process itself.

And finally, the launch of the Mayor’s transport manifesto saw him promise 24-hour freedom passes; mobile phone oyster card payment; 500 CO2 cutting hybrid buses; automatic congestion charge payment; a central London bike hire scheme; the taking over of the Croydon tram link and free travel for veterans. All this whilst Boris Johnson struggles to budget his bus plans properly and has under-costed to the tune of £100 million! With the £16 billion Crossrail project now in the hands of the mayoralty and about to get underway, who would you entrust to run London?

From fascists in Chelsea to Heathrow activists

On the campaign trail this last week I saw the dark ugly face of British facism alive and well; going to the main rally of the ‘Stop the Heathrow expansion’ and working with Trade Unions for the ‘London Living Wage’ campaign.

On Sunday afternoon during the League Cup final between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspurs, l saw firsthand British fascism in a long while. Not since my schooldays had l seen Chelsea fans chanting anti-semitic comments at Spurs with real intent and venom. It shocked me to the bone.

The ignorance of the Chelsea fascists could not be more pronounced. The irony being that their team is now managed by an Israeli and owned by a Russia Jewish billionaire. So while it has become a slur to be labelled as a Muslim in the US – see the leaking of a photograph of Senator Barak Obama in traditional Muslim dress – and Islamophobic headlines are a daily occurrence in the UK, we should not lose sight of the fact that anti-semitism is alive and well on our doorsteps in London at the beginning of the 21st century.

The rally on Monday night at Westminster Central Hall highlighted well the deep concerns that many west and south-west Londoners have over the proposed expansion of Heathrow. At times it felt like a rally for the Lib Dems and Tories but thankfully Labour MP John McDonnell stole the show with a brilliant speech. That’s not surprising. The issue is dear to his heart as the expansion of Heathrow would destroy his constituency of Hayes & Harlington.

One of the best things the present government has done was to introduce the minimum wage. But the figure of £3.60 was never enough for London’s workers when it was brought in, and the £5.35 currently paid is not enough now.

Because of the additional housing and living costs in the capital, the London Living Wage campaign has argued for a rate of £7.20 per hour. This would particularly benefit low paid employees such as cleaners. l was delighted to be joined by the trade unions on Saturday lunchtime as we discussed their consultation with central London cleaners from all over the globe.

The meeting took place during the lunch break at a Unite Against Fascism conference – a brilliant event. l was grateful to end the week contributing to two positive campaigns after my depressing brush with the far-right.

Murad launches survey on Post Office Closures in West Central London

Post Office Limited are currently consulting on proposals to close 12 post offices in Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham. There is a six week consultation period ending on 2 April 2008. I want to know your views on these proposals so I can take them up with Post Office Ltd.

I recognise the vital role that Post Offices plays in the social and economic life of local communities. I am very worried that, at a time when we are seeking to regenerate poorer areas of London, local shopping parades will be hit by the loss of an important local service which attracts shoppers to local shops and facilities. I am particularly concerned that the criteria for access to Post Offices has been downgraded in London – previously deprived communities in London had to be within a half mile of a post office. Now this has been reduced to 1 mile.

If you live in Westminster, K&C or H&F please spare some of your time to fill in the survey on:


Murad calls on Local Youth Groups to bid for Ken’s £5million

Murad Qureshi, Labour London Wide Assembly Member, is urging local voluntary and community groups working with young people to bid for a share of £5million of new funding for young Londoners announced today by Mayor Ken Livingstone.

£73million has already been pledged to the London boroughs to support projects offering young people positive activities and alternatives to getting involved in gang culture. The £5million announced today, called the “˜Young Londoners’ Fund’ is ring fenced specifically for voluntary and community groups who work with young people.

Murad said “˜This new money recognises the vital role local groups provide to our young people, providing activities, sport and education alongside those provided by statutory agencies. I hope that as many groups as possible will apply for funding to enable them to carry on their excellent work’.

Decades of under investment have led to a decline in the levels and quality of services for young people and I’m delighted that the Mayor is now taking huge steps to rectify this. If young people have more safe and fun activities to take part in they are less likely to end up hanging around on the streets causing trouble at best and at worst getting involved with the guns and knives of gang culture which as we unfortunately know, leads to tragic consequences.

Murad added: ‘This investment would provide groups like the All Stars Boxing and Youth Club on Harrow Road (W9) with alternative means of funding to that from local councils such as the City of Westminster. I hope all voluntary and community groups working with young people will apply with the LDA or their share of the youth offer by the Mayor.’

Defending livelihoods & chilling out at Paddington Rec

The big issue last week came from the hugely disappointing announcement from the Post Office proposing to close up to 1 in 5 of London’s local branches. Clearly this will affect the elderly, young families and those on benefits disproportionately more then anyone else in our communities.

One group who would be be effected by the proposals are the many small Asian family businesses, many of whom stand to lose their livelihoods. Those running post offices and those benefitting from the trade the post office attracts to the typical high street could be decimated if the proposals go ahead.

I will be raising these and other issues with Post Office Ltd, urging them to reconsider. I encourage anyone worried about the impact of losing these vital local services to do the same.

On a more cheery note, it was heartening to see the potential impact that the Mayor and government’s joint investment in London’s youth provision could have. Last week l visited one of the training sessions of the London Tigers at Paddington Rec – where l once played sport and stayed out of trouble after school.

l bumped into Muhammad, who now goes to my old school. He told me proudly that the school had won the schools’ football championship last year and that he was a member of the winning team.

It was much the same in my time when my year’s team won the championship several years running and it was all down to the dedication of our PE teachers giving boys like me their time and energy. The £80 million now going to youth services will keep more young people like Muhammed off the streets and away from the lure of gangs.

Facing issues at the doorstep, but sharing joys on Edgware Road

Knocking on doors around London it is quiet clear what the issues are for Londoners: crime, transport and housing – but not necessarily in that order. Added to this, particularly in West London, is the expansion of Heathrow Airport proposals which has been attracting huge public meetings in a lot of town halls. Amidst all these meetings and door knocking, I managed to see the African Nations Cup final with an excited Egyptian audience!

It is clear that the fear of crime is the issue when discussing it with folk on their doorsteps, and while it can be shown clearly that crime rates are going down, it is fear of it which is driving most people, particularly when we have young people hanging around. So in this respect the Youth Offer made by Mayor Ken Livingstone appears to going down well.

Public transport can clearly be better but its also clear people have noticed the difference public investment is making on our buses, tube and rail service. And finally the issue which has been too often been ignored but the Mayor intends to make a huge impact on during a third term – the availability of affordable housing. Too often I hear on the doorstep stories of overcrowding and the inability of young adults to leave home and set up another home nearby. So not surprisingly the investment programme of 50,000 homes over next 4 years goes down well.

And then we have the proposed expansion of Heathrow. This is clearly causing alarm and the business and environmental arguments of the Government aren’t getting through to residents who feel they will suffer a reduction in their quality of life. Let’s hope the Environment Committee report from the London Assembly can contribute to the debate when it is launched next week.

And finally it’s not all door knocking and meetings! I managed to switch off while watching the African Nations Cup final in the Nile Cafe in the company of Egyptians while smoking a shisha. The Egyptians were clearly the better team against the Cameroon and it was a deserved win for them. So I went to bed with the Edgware Road in my neighbourhood celebrating well into the night. Let’s just hope the six times winners of the Cup fare much better in the World Cup in South Africa in 2010.