Politicians are people who resolve challenges and create compromises where none seem possible. They can make even those that have sacrificed the most, feel good. A statesman is a person who does all of this but in extreme situations. The most recent example was Tony Blair and the Northern Irish Good Friday Agreement,* which built on years of negotiations by both the Thatcher and Major governments. Damian White is moving towards being a politician.
The long standing dispute over the designation of New Zealand Way and Gooshays Green as housing opportunities has been withdrawn. This is notwithstanding the fact that it would be entirely within the legal rights of the council to build on both amenity areas. Campaigns led by local residents and councillors crystallised the principal areas of debate.
Although passions were raised, the campaign was remarkably civilised. Damian has had to consider a world where compromise is necessary. He’s become a politician because he’s mediated conflict. He’s as much a victor as the communities which have benefited. The issues were debated successfully and Havering is the better for it.
* 10th April 1998
Jason is cabinet member for Health and Adult Services. Havering councillors have unrelenting trust in officers and Jason is no exception. Indeed this trust amounts to a democratic deficit. Like other cabinet members, he receives an allowance which is roughly the median wage in Havering.1 He also works as a researcher2 in Bishop Stortford. So at the very best he’s a part-time politician. Is there any evidence that he doesn’t pull his weight as a cabinet member? Well, yes there is.
The Individuals Overview and Scrutiny committee decided to have a member ‘topic’ group (see addendum one) into Safeguarding Adults. This topic group was established at their meeting on 3rd September, 2019. The structure of the topic group is set out in agenda item 7.3 The group have a planned series of meetings which will take a few months to complete (see addendum two).
What’s interesting is that the list seems to be comprehensive. It isn’t. Jason hasn’t been scheduled to be interviewed. Has he nothing of interest to say? This is amazing. He’s the principal policy maker in the cabinet and yet is as useful as a cipher in the investigation of Safeguarding. This area is contentious and consumes vast amounts of resources. It’s very difficult to get ‘right’. Dealing with the most vulnerable people in Havering is a delicate balancing act and political support is essential to officers. Is Jason providing that support?
It’s incomprehensible that Jason could be merely a spokesperson for chief officers unless his principal virtue is being slavishly loyal to the Damian White.
Addendum One: What is meant by a topic group in Havering
Sub-Committees will often establish Topic Groups to examine specific areas in much greater detail. These groups consist of a number of Members and the review period can last for anything from a few weeks to a year or more to allow the Members to comprehensively examine an issue through interviewing expert witnesses, conducting research or undertaking site visits. Once the topic group has finished its work it will send a report to the Sub-Committee that created it and will often suggest recommendations for the Overview and Scrutiny Board to pass to the Council’s Executive.
Addendum Two: Witnesses to be called by Individuals topic group
Head of Integrated Services (responsible for safeguarding across adult social care)
Service Manager for Safeguarding Adults (specialist role)
2-3 service users (and carers/families) with lived experience of safeguarding intervention (where at least service user has reported their outcome has been met and where at least one service user has reported their outcome has not been met.
2-3 service users (and carers/families) who are currently subject to safeguarding (with consent) to observe safeguarding practice. This would be subject to client consent and Head of Integrated Services
Commissioners, including Quality Team.
2-3 providers of services (such as homecare and residential/nursing)
NELFT safeguarding lead
BHRUT safeguarding lead
1 For Havering’s allowances see http://democracy.havering.gov.uk/documents/s35795/190227%20minutes%20appx%201%20-%20members%20allowances%20scheme.pdf
Nigel Farage announced his party wont stand against Conservatives belonging to the extremist European Research Group (ERG)*. He also said he holds their future in his hands**. Johnson has denounced Farage’s offer of an electoral pact as unacceptable. This leaves Andrew and Julia in a difficult position. Farage’s Brexit policy is ‘No Deal’. This means breaking the law. Johnson has declared he wont break the law. So where’s the wriggle room for Andrew and Julia?
In February we discussed whether Andrew and Julia were real Conservatives***. Farage believes they aren’t. The challenge isn’t using Farage to make sure they are re-elected. The challenge is what happens if Johnson conjures a deal and demands support.
Johnson slung 21 senior MPs out of the party for voting against him. He added that what was ‘good for the goose was good for the gander’ when questioned about ERG members. Buying off Rees-Mogg with a cabinet position is one thing, but that leaves Andrew and Julia in the cold. Principles, or hold your nose and vote for a deal which must include a compromise on Northern Ireland? That’s the question.
* Both Andrew and Julia are in this group
This feeling is reflected in the analysis at a local level see https://havering.blog/2019/09/07/andrew-rosindells-nightmare/
and more generally https://oedeboyz.com/2019/09/12/boris-johnsons-nightmare-peterborough-2019/
After the crushing defeat in the Euro elections, Conservative central office realised how much trouble they were in. They ordered Damian to, ‘Do something!’ The something was the Conservative favourite, ‘Law and Order’. £900,000 was allocated to pay for a Rent-A-Cop scheme. This got a sergeant and four officers for three years. It’s an abysmal deal.
Damian and Viddy Persaud hadn’t read the small print. The deal didn’t include overtime, bank holidays or police cars. It did include the right of the Metropolitan police to withdraw any, or all, of the officers to fulfil duties in central London at any time without notice.
New PM Johnson is a showman who likes flamboyant speeches. He proposed 20,000 new police officers at a cost of £750 million. This trumped Damian’s five. The mature response would have been to withdraw the proposal because Johnson’s 20,000 additional officers meant 50 for Havering.
So what happened? Damian runs Havering’s communications department as a personal PR machine, never missing a photo opportunity. Where is his front page photo in the Romford Recorder as he champions the fight against the forces of evil? Or, has the Rent-A-Cop scheme been quietly dropped? The protesters against increased car parking charges need to be told.
Reversing that policy could finance a restoration of 30 minutes free car parking.
In 1997 Michael Neubert, Romford’s MP, had a job for life,* until he was hit by a shift in the tectonic plates of politics. Tony Blair’s charisma, John Major’s haplessness and Sir James Goldsmith’s Referendum party** finished his political career. Goldsmith’s party destroyed Neubert much to the delight of the young Andrew (see table one). Neubert’s political demise freed up Romford for Andrew. Sure enough in 2001 normal service was resumed and he’s been MP ever since.
Like all MPs, Andrew believes he’s loved. In all due fairness, he’s got better claims than most and definitely ranks above Neubert. Being loved isn’t, however, enough in politics.
Andrew’s 2019 tectonic shift is Boris ‘Genius’ Johnson and Nigel Farage’s bombastic simplicities. Johnson’s pre-election strategy appears to be to split the Conservative party. His negative charisma is such that he’s united the warring opposition in parliament into a coherent force, which given his minority government is a disaster. Farage has some very good lines provided you don’t analyse them too much. Andrew’s in peril but isn’t doomed.
Neubert faced a well-known and experienced campaigner unlike Andrew. Andrew is very well-known with a supportive Conservative council. He’s in peril because of Brexit. This was demonstrated in the 2019 Euro elections (see table two). Rock solid Conservative Havering was crushed into 4th place and Andrew’s ‘Genius’ leader has just added to the chaos.
Table One: Romford Election 1997
Table Two: Euro Election 2019
Meanwhile Damian White is licking his lips and wondering if 1997 will be repeated.
* Young Conservatives referred to MPs like Neubert as ‘bed-blockers’ a peculiarly offensive epithet expressing their right-wing arrogance.
** Their radical programme stated they wanted to stay in the free market but not be involved in the political side of the EU. This was revolutionary stuff in 1997
[Sub-committees should develop] mechanisms for addressing cross-cutting issues and for preventing duplication of work. Where matters fall within the remit of more than one O&S sub-committee, to determine which of them will assume responsibility or set up a joint ad-hoc body;* para 2:4
There’s confusion amongst Havering’s Overview and Scrutiny committees. Where does this come from? Is it Damian White’s desire to have additional committees so he can pay allowances to Conservative colleagues? Or, maybe a lack of critical thought?
The paradigm example of confusion is the Crime and Disorder and the Children and Learning committees. Earlier this year, 2019, there was a fatal stabbing in Harold Hill. Jodie Chesney, was murdered in a gratuitous act of violence.** Havering’s weak Overview and Scrutiny committee understanding of their responsibilities was revealed.
On the 14th February 2019, Children and Learning committee received a report on knife crime.*** This report wasn’t shared with the Crime and Disorder committee. Viddy Persaud, the cabinet member, wasn’t brought to committee to explain Havering’s position on this vital issue. Neither Judith Holt or Bob Perry, the relevant chairs, understood their responsibilities though they are crystal clear,
sub-committees consider issues by receiving information from, and questioning, Cabinet Members, officers and external partners to develop an understanding of proposals, policy and practices (my emphasis)****
Was Bob Perry’s chair of Crime a douceur keeping Damian’s administration afloat? Committee secretaries should run training programmes explaining to chairs their responsibilities. Not a single chair has asked for a formal committee meeting with a cabinet member in 18 months of this administration. These meeting should be bi-annual at the least. Damian White hasn’t been in front of the Board on a single occasion. This is a massive democratic deficit.
*** http://democracy.havering.gov.uk/documents/g5962/Agenda%20frontsheet%2014th-Feb-2019%2019.00%20Children%20Learning%20Overview%20Scrutiny%20Sub-Committee.pdf?T=0 Knife Crime and Children pp33-124 The Havering strategy was due to go to cabinet in March 2019.
Although Brexit currently, 2016-9, dominates British political life, the climate emergency is more important. The climate emergency is a consequence of independent actions and therefore we’re all implicated. We’re all in the front line of a climate emergency solution, as it were.
Havering isn’t paralysed into inaction. The administration’s street lighting initiative is a fine example of acting local. Sodium lights are being replaced with LED, which will, in turn, be improved upon. There’s currently, August 2019, a six month assessment* period related to street light dimming. Finally, work is being done to identify unnecessary street lighting, called trimming(information from Cllr. Osman Dervish**).
Havering’s policy is the London Plan. This has been adopted by the administration as it’s off-the-shelf and robust. Osman’s approach is ‘light touch’ for ‘signposting of efficiency and cost savings’. This is synonymous with tokenism.
Astonishingly Osman doesn’t mention Havering’s fleet of vehicles. Investment decision-making for the climate emergency is critical in relation to fleet management. Havering’s procurement power should exert opportunities for technology upgrades. Havering’s partnership with ELWA, of which he is chair, is a very powerful weapon. This should be used to incentivise manufacturers.
The default management system should be that which has been adopted in relation to street lighting. Introduce new technologies in phases, assess and then roll-out borough-wide. Councillor scrutiny is vital to this as shoddy short-term investment decision-making destroys long term objectives.
*I’m looking forward to a report in the autumn from the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
** Email 15th January2019