Last week’s announcement that the London congestion charge is to be extended westwards despite two public consultations indicating public opposition to such a move came as little surprise. The mayor Ken Livingstone apparently commented that the consultations, which his office had organised were in some way not representative and, that they had conducted other surveys which showed far less opposition to the increase in the zone.
As a non car owning public transport using Londoner I am generally sympathetic to the congestion charge but this lack of public accountability, indeed outright refusal to take into account the public’s wishes is very much indicative of the way Labour (new or in Ken’s case old) operates. In Hastings last year the council backed regeneration quango came up with a proposal to build a hotel on the seafront completely blocking the view of one of Hastings’ most prestigious Georgian crescents. There was wide spread opposition to the plan to ruin Pelham crescent but the council went ahead and commissioned a number of major architectural firms to produce proposals fro the hotel. These were then exhibited as part of a public consultation process.
Those attending the exhibition were guided round the display by representatives of the quango, eager to answer questions on the various schemes. Before leaving the exhibition punters were given a card on which they were asked to indicate which of the schemes they preferred. When I asked why there was a “none of the above” box I was told that this was not an option. The former architect in charge of the regeneration team (seconded of course from the council) said that they would be building one of the projects whatever the opposition. This before of course any of the schemes had been granted planning permission.
The full charm of Hastings council’s consultative process was shown when a peaceful protestor who had the temerity to hand out leaflets against the project outside the exhibition was arrested and charged with a number of offences. Only after the incident was reported in private eye and the national press where the charges dropped.
Back in London at the Elephant, Southwark council is no better. Some five years ago they announced in a blaze of publicity that the Elephant & Castle regeneration would adopt a unique tri-partite approach involving the council the developer, and a community forum. This was to be one step on from consultation, the community actively involved in every stage of the process.
However its soon became clear that the council were not really expecting that the community would have any real say in what went on but just be kept” in the loop”. Within a short space of time community forum and council were at loggerheads. The council continually starved the forum of funds and vital information. At the last moment without consulting anyone the council got cold feet and dumped the developer and closed down the forum. A new regeneration scheme is now on the way with of course no mention of the tri-partite arrangement.
As with all things these local lags get their lead from the top, and Tony Blair has established himself as the master of the lip service consultancy process. Time and time again Blair asks the public what they think and then does what he was planning to do all along. No one but Blair could have failed to notice that the public were deeply hostile to war in/on Iraq but several marches and a bruising round of TV studio appearances later he could only say that well whilst he respected that people might not agree with him someone (I.E. him) had to take the tough decisions.
In many ways it is as if Thatcher was still in power but without an opposition. In most key areas Blair’s politics are unashamedly Thatcherite, often going even further than the Iron Lady. But whereas Thatcher at least had the then Labour party to call her to account Blair has no one. The Tory party who have been sans culottes since Tony took theirs have little to say on most issues and just waste time electing a new fall guy, meanwhile the Liberals are so ineffective as to be all but invisible. Brown bites his tongue, ever more bitter but still not wishing to publicly upsetting the apple cart. Cherie Blair’s letterbox smile at last week’s party conference said it all, we are untouchable.
So it is time for a new charity single. Not a further extension of the gobshite Geldof’self aggrandisement project but a coming together of singers of a all persuasions in a rousing rendition of the Moody Blues sixties song Go Now. For those to young to recall the lyrics…
said you gotta go, oh you had better
Go now go now, go now
(Go now) Before you see me cry
This should be chanted everywhere from terraces to supermarket aisles, school assemblies to choral evensong. Whistled by milkmen and streamed over the Internet, till Tony himself finds he is picking out the notes out on his ukulele. Go Now!