London’s air is the worst in Europe while the Government delays action

Labour Party

London has the worst air of any European capital. Despite this, the Conservative-led Coalition doesn’t plan to comply with air quality standards in legislation since 1999, set to be met by 2010, until a staggering 2025, according to the BBC.

Something needs to be done urgently in London. Air pollution cuts life expectancy in Britain by a massive eight months. The main culprit is the pollutant N02 which comes mainly from vehicles.

The Government’s refusal to act is quite simply not acceptable. Ministers know that air pollution is the second biggest public health threat after smoking. It costs the UK an estimated £20 billion a year, more than twice the amount for obesity.

N02 affects long-term health. According to the BBC, experts giving evidence to the Environment Committee, EFRA, said the health of Olympic athletes visiting over the summer should not be harmed as long as the UK avoids a heat-induced smog episode.

I find it extraordinary that there is such a huge unwillingness to tackle pollution in London. The situation is obviously very bad indeed. There is even a chance that the showcase Olympics may suffer. Those of us who live in the capital are at serious risk.

What is more, the financial cost of pollution is huge. Cleaning up are act would not only save lives, it would also save money. Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman and London Mayor Boris Johnson will, I hope, take note, though the previous track record of both these Conservatives does not give us much cause for hope.

By coming down heavily on the UK Government’s inaction, the European Commission is doing us all a massive favour. Londoner’s should be thankful that there is at least one institution which is concerned about their health.

‘Reading Between the Lines’: Offical Launch of my Report

Labour Party

I’ve commissioned a report that explores the link between sex advertising in local papers and human trafficking. Today it launches.

The report has been sent to the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. I hope the Mayor addresses my concerns identified within the report that  vulnerable women are used to advertise services. Also the report found that charities use these adverts to identify vulnerable women and offer outreach work to them once they’ve been identified. The Mayor must ensure that proper resources are available to stakeholders so that they are not reliant on using such advertisements to identify victims.

Please read this important report by clicking the image above following the link here.

Ken for London

Labour Party

Once again Ken Livingstone is showing us just why he should beLondon’s next Mayor. Ken has plans to benefit the vast majority of Londoners after the 2012 mayoral elections. We know Ken will deliver, just as he did during his previous eight years as Mayor when his achievements included the congestion charge, vastly improved bus services and road improvements, including Trafalgar Square, to name but a few.

I really enjoyed listening to Ken address a fundraising dinner organised by Putney Labour Party last Thursday. Ken spoke about his fairer fares campaign which will be a key plank of the Labour campaign in the Londonelection next year.

New figures confirm the positive impact of Ken’s pledge to cut the fares. While Boris Johnson is committed to year on year fare increases at two per cent above inflation for 20 years, Ken has pledged to cut fares and keep them lower than Boris Johnson’s plan.  A comparison of the effects of the two policies after four years confirms Londoners would not pay any fares after 8th November compared to Boris Johnson’s ‘high fare’ policy which would see Londoners pay fares to the end of the year.

Ken’s Fare Deal will, in fact, see the average Londoner saving £800.

It was also good to have the opportunity to chat to Ken during the dinner. Livingstone conversations are always interesting and sometimes unexpected. I never thought that the Putney dinner would lead to an exponential increase in my knowledge of garden compost, worms and associated matters. Ken has seemingly moved on from small reptiles to small invertebrates, aiding the environment in the process.

A very pleasant evening ended on a high note when Rex Osborn arrived at the dinner late and sat next to me. Rex, now leader of the Labour Group on Wandsworth Council, is a very old friend. We once shared an office in County Hall when working on the campaign to save the GLC. I hadn’t seen Rex for a long time and it was great to meet up again.

I was also pleased to see Leonie Cooper, another person I have known for a long time. Leonie is the GLA candidate for Merton and Wandsworth who is fighting a cracking campaign. We all wish her the very best.

So all in all an excellent dinner. My thanks as ever to Putney Labour Party, Councillor Peter Carpenter, former Party Chair, Hans Pauley, the current Chair, Sean Lawless who organised the event, Tony Belton and Penny Corfield plus the seventy other guests who all contributed to making the evening such a resounding success.

Daniel Hannan thinks Greece should go the way of the last Russian Tsar

Labour Party

I blogged yesterday about Boris Johnson pontificating on the euro. Today it was the turn of fellow MEP, hard-line Tory Daniel Hannan, to wax intellectual on the Today programme.

The line was very similar; Greece should withdraw from the euro, default on the debts, or vice versa.  Mr. Hannan used the snappy little phrase “default and decouple”, making it sound rather like an acrimonious divorce as opposed to the possible start of the second global financial meltdown in three years.

Mr. Hannan has a good knack for sounding rather reasonable, but if we examine what he says closely it becomes apparent that his views veer towards the extreme.  He would like us to believe that there is an agency at work that is willing to sacrifice Greece on the alter of a single European currency.  This is of course ridiculous; there are number of governments and supra-national institutions working hard to ameliorate a situation that is one of the biggest threats to European and global financial stability.

The problem is that Mr. Hannan seems to judge other by his own low standards.  It is hard not to feel that his entrenched ideological scepticism towards the all things EU is the motivating factor behind his comments.  Mr Hannan’s likening of the situation to the Bolshevik execution of the Tsar betrays his somewhat jaundiced view of European politics and verges on the territory of the conspiracy theorists.  This is one of the biggest issues facing the U.K, Europe and the world.  If there is a time where we need to be pragmatic it is right now.  If the right solution isn’t found, it will have dire consequences for us all.

Boris Johnson talks Nonsense on Greece

Labour Party

Boris Johnson is, as ever, talking utter nonsense out of a part of his anatomy I would rather not mention. He writes in today’s Daily Telegraph: “For years, European governments have been saying that it would be insane and inconceivable for a country to leave the euro. But this second option is all but inevitable and the sooner it happens the better.” Boris, just hang on a minute and think about this one.

For starters, it’s profoundly shocking that people in Greece feel the need to protest so vehemently in such large numbers. Deflationary austerity measures, still seen by the world’s financial authorities as the way to deal with economic crises, always impact on those who had nothing at all to do with creating the crisis in question. It’s Greece’s men and women in the street, now in protesting in large numbers in Syntagma Square, who are really suffering.

The citizens of Greece are going through this because of a massive failure of the international banking and financial system. This was not originally a crisis the euro but a crisis caused by transnational banks with a global reach. As Richard Woods and Philip Pangalos put it in the Sunday Times yesterday: “Three years ago after Lehman’s fall, governments bailed out other banks: now nations are teetering on the brink.” “Greece borrowed far too much, particularly from French and German banks…”

True, the low interest rates in the eurozone facilitated this borrowing. However, non-eurozone countries such as the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and, of course, Japan, also had, and still have, low interest rates. The current severe difficulties facing the eurozone are not, as Boris Johnson and his cronies would have us believe, purely a result of inherent problems with the single currency, but more to do with the global financial and economic situation.

True, as a member of the eurozone Greece cannot devalue its currency to make its exports more competitive. However, this strategy only works when a country has something worth exporting. Greece, as we all know, has few manufactured goods and its main exports – olive oil, marble and aluminium – are not exactly going to make the big time. Moreover, no-one would dispute that Greece’s economy is in a very bad way; it contracted by 4.5% last year and the official unemployment rate of 16% is probably a gross underestimate. However, most of this is not down to the euro and would not be solved if Greece were to leave the single currency.

Boris, a weak Greece with massive economic problems would impact on all of us whether not Greece was in the euro. The United States has sold credit default swaps, a form of insurance, on the Greek debts held by European banks which European banks facing losses may try to claim back from the American banks. This is surely a global issue if ever there was one.    

Having underwritten any subsequent bail-outs for Greece, it is hard to argue anything other than that Britain was at the heart of the one we saw recently. More significantly, the UK has contributed £19.7 billion to the International Monetary Fund, which could well be used for another such bail-out. Given that half of Britain’s exports go to the EU, we obviously nave a huge interest in keeping the pan-European economy in reasonable working order.

The thing is, Boris, all those people in Greece who are unemployed, fear being unemployed or simply cannot make ends meet, do matter to us for our own reasons. They would buy our goods if they could afford it. They are therefore important for our own well-being. When they are poor, we become poorer, whether or not Greece, or indeed the UK, is or is not in the European single currency.

My heart bleeds for Olympian Boris minus tickets

Labour Party

While I hold no candle for Boris Johnson or for those who can gain free entry to sporting events, I do find it faintly bizarre that the Mayor of London failed to secure any tickets to the 2012 Olympic Games from his personal application.

Could this be Bonkers Boris claiming to be one of us, the “people’s” mayor who, despite his position and his wealth, suffers the same strains and stresses as the rest of us? Or is it one of the world’s most shameless posers claiming his life is no different from other Londoner’s?

I simply cannot believe the Mayor of London will be ignored by all those corporate and other interests who will make it their business to invite their favourite movers and shakers to the Games. I would be very surprised indeed if the Mayor and Members of the GLA did not receive tickets from some source or other for some of the best Olympic events.

Come off it Boris. Your pseudo-upset “I’m a victim too” just isn’t working.

And while we’re on the subject of the Olympics, you will remember that those who were lucky enough to be able to buy a ticket to the Olympic Games had to  use a Visa debit, credit or pre paid card for their purchases. And that the only card the retail outlets at the Games will be allowed to use is Visa. Visa does, of course, have a complete monopoly, which is surely wrong for any organisation, even if it is a major sponsor.

Sadly the European Commission, charged with monitoring the EU’s strict competition rules who claimed to be concerned about the Visa monopoly at the 2012 Olympics, have done nothing to resolve the situation. I blogged earlier that I had put down a Question in the European Parliament on this issue. Obviously no luck this time, though I do not intend to give up on this one just yet.

Boris Bankrupting Workers’ Pensions

Labour Party

Like me, you may have seen on BBC London News last night that Boris Johnson is denying that the Greater London Authority (GLA) agreed to repay the now-defunct Visit London’s £2.1m staff pension scheme deficit. I have had a look into this and  it appears that Boris Johnson and London Conservatives have deliberately bankrupted Visit London. Visit London was the tourism promotion organisation for London until 31st March 2011. As the greatest city in the world tourism is a major part of the London economy. This has now been transferred to a new organisation London and Partners.

It appears that Boris has again been spending too much time listening to his City of London chums. There is a sad record of private sector organisations where a few rich individuals walked away very comfortably after bankrupting their employees’ pension schemes. London Labour Assembly member Len Duvall who is Chair of the Economic Development, Culture, Sport and Tourism Committee has written a letter asking a number of pertinent questions. It appears that with Visit London and its pension scheme in deficit Boris Johnson has allowed Visit London to go into administration.

Visit London was a participatory partner to a special pension scheme run by the British Tourist Board, which it is understood Boris initially said the GLA would continue to fund once London & Partners was up and running. However Boris, has done a U-turn. He revealed this week that individuals who were employed at Visit London will no longer be able to benefit from the British Tourist Board pension scheme. It looks like those affected will lose 10% of their pension entitlement.

This is a dangerous precedent. Many Conservatives would love to bankrupt the pension schemes for teachers, nurses, firefighters and other public sector workers. This would allow them to cut the public sector pensions which they see as part of state spending to be cut on ideological grounds. There is no ‘we are all in it together’. People dependent on pensions they have paid into and worked for find they no longer are secure. I think Boris Johnson should make former Visit London’s future pension entitlements as secure as his own generous pension provision as mayor of London. Or can we bankrupt his personal pension pot to help make some cuts? 

You can watch Tim Donovan’s report by clicking the link here.  Scroll to 6 minutes 30 seconds and the piece is 3 minutes long.

Addressing Fulbright Scholars

Labour Party

I was delighted to have the opportunity to address the American academics and scholars of the US-UK Fulbright Commission at the House of Commons. I followed Liam Byrne MP who gave a strong defence of Labour’s economic record.

Some parts of my work in the European Parliament can be difficult to explain. As a London representative with very few farms in my constituency, it is even harder to explain why 40% of the Budget still goes on agriculture. The Common Agricultural Policy still requires reform, and a reduction of the amount of money that is spent on it.

I talked about matters that regular readers of this blog will be familiar with women, culture and also how the European Parliament relates to the European Commission and the Council of Ministers. Somewhat different to the American system the audience were familiar with.

I was followed by Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon. Caroline commented about how Mayor of London Boris Johnson was inattentive at times in Mayor’s Question Time, noting that at over 2 hours long this gave an opportunity for a detailed examination of the work of the Mayor. She detailed the work of her colleagues on transport and how this had helped keep buses going through the recent bad weather.

The group were due to undertake a study visit to Cornwall, so I asked them to look out for Blue Flag beaches to observe an example of European environmental legislation in action. To provide an introduction Conservative Cornish MP for St Austell and Newquay Stephen Gilbert came to address the meeting. He talked about the weather, explaining how important this was to the British people as a conversational topic. He got the groups attention by revealing he had dated a Fulbright scholar.

We received a challenging set of questions about tiers of government, how coalition partners worked at different levels of government and the success of the congestion charge and how this could be applied to American cities.

My thanks to Penny Egan and her team, for all their work in putting the event together.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round Up – Housing special

Labour Party

 I was concerned to learn today from reports in the Observer that London is set to become ‘unaffordable’, forcing people to move out of their homes not only in parts of central London but in the suburbs too.

Last week’s Observer revealed that inner London Councils are so fearful that they were block booking bed and breakfasts outside the capital to house thousands of poor families who could be forced to move out of their homes.

I am concerned that the government has failed to acknowledge the problem or give any indication that it has a plan in place – I am keen to hear what the Mayor will do to address this imminent problem if the plans go ahead. I expect as the highest representative of Londoners he will oppose these plans and tackle his government in the strongest terms.

Vince Cable rather smartly placed the ball firmly in the Mayors court and applied pressure to Boris Johnson to address the underlying problem of why there are escalating rental prices in London.

But this is not a party political issue to gain points over and even Boris said that he will not accept any kind of social cleansing of London – and I should hope not. Thousands of families have put down roots in London. What is he prepared to do though?

Are we going to see a ‘social cleansing’ of the capital? – Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter who commissioned the research undertaking by Cambridge University, said that the governments proposed reforms of housing benefit would change the makeup of London with no-go areas for those on local housing allowance, and if there is little opposition to these proposals I fear this is exactly what we will see.

The actual number of households which will be effected by the proposals varies and remains vague, with analysis by the mayor’s housing experts claiming it to be in the region of 9000 households and Grant Shapps (the housing minister) suggesting that just 17000 people in London will be affected by the cap.

A social cleansing of the capital would have disastrous consequences, not least because it creates a false economy and therefore any cost savings would be marginal because, as Ed Milliband pointed out, if you drive up homelessness families end up in bed and breakfasts and that costs more not less.

David Cameron is sinking in a Sea of Troubles

Labour Party

If you were so inclined, you could almost feel sorry for David Cameron.

Yesterday Boris took to the airwaves being utterly Borisly bonkers talking about “Kosovo style social cleansing” in relation to the coalition’s housing benefit proposals while pole cat Tebbit regaled us with “Vichy style betrayal” on the EU budget. Wow, it’s not exactly cricket is it?

Some us thought any tensions within the coalition would be between the two parties, Liberal-Democrat against Conservative. Instead we have Tory against Tory, and it’s stratospheric. The London Mayor goes leftie in a big way and a high-profile grandee delivers a devastating right-wing one liner.

One, of course, one is right while the other is wrong.

I never thought I would say that Boris Johnson is right, but he is on the proposed housing benefit cuts. There is general agreement that a cap on housing benefit will drive people out of high rent properties in central London. Local authorities in the capital have already block-booked bed and breakfast accommodation out of London, as reported in my blog post on Monday. Mark Field, Conservative MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, said the same on the Today programme this morning.

As for Lord Tebbit, he is one of a number of Eurosceptics spitting blood at what they perceive as David Cameron’s failure. Daniel Hannan MEP on Channel 4 News yesterday evening and Roger Helmer MEP on the Today programme this morning were not at all shy in coming forward. Their message was simple and direct: Cameron should have stood firm and not agreed to any increase in the EU budget.

Roger Helmer’s argument is interesting if completely unrealistic. He thinks that Cameron should have held out against the treaty change Angela Merkel is demanding to improve the stability of the Euro, in return for a freeze in the EU budget.

In the event Cameron has gone with the European Council’s 2.9% with hardly a murmur. The claim by William Hague that Cameron has achieved some kind of consensus with other EU leaders that the next EU financial perspectives from 2014 to 2020 will take account of member states’ efforts to move their deficits on to a more realistic path will, I am sure, be seen as the political spin it obviously is. 2014 is a long time away and 2020 even further. Agreement on an unpredictable future which starts four years hence is really not difficult to find. We can all coalesce around a fantasy.

So the Tories are splitting, and the government has very little in the way of either a defence or constructive forward thinking.

We may well be seeing the beginning of Europe emerging in reality, as well as speculation, as the coalition’s fault line.       

PS  Just to give you further evidence that David Cameron was completely wrong to accuse Labour MEPs of voting in favour the EU budget last week, you may like to click on this link to the Channel 4 News blog fact checker.