Election Q&A

QUESTION AND ANSWER

You’ve asked me a few questions during the campaign which I’d like to offer my thoughts on.

Q             You are the only councillor we ever seem to hear of or hear from – are we missing something?

A             No. The Council has published the number of questions the 60 councillors raised on behalf of local residents between October 2015 and September 2017 – basically the middle half of the 2014-2018 Council. The two West Hill councillors between them raised 23 questions on behalf of local residents – and took home over £42,000 in allowances for their troubles. This works out at over £1,800 per resident they tried to help. Incidentally I gather they got no criticism for the party leadership for this. One of the candidates for another party who is currently a councillor in another Ward did fewer than one case per week. It is not as though there is nothing needs doing in West Hill – in the same period I did over 2,500 bits of local casework on matters raised with me by your good selves or which I have seen during my walkabouts or in response to my newsletters.

Q             Are Wandsworth services really as good as some people would have us believe – that is not what I see when I look at the potholes, the litter and so on?

A             Wandsworth is a ‘failing’ council. Fifteen years ago Wandsworth was one of the top councils in the country – judged 4* (‘excellent’) for education, for social services and for overall standard of services. But, using the same criteria as were applied in those days, Wandsworth is now a 1* council. For over two years Wandsworth Children’s Services have been failing to look after our most vulnerable youngsters and has needed outside intervention. We have the highest proportion of adult care homes requiring improvement of any SW London Borough – ranked 21st out of 32 in London. We are the sixth worst authority in the COUNTRY for recycling – a pathetic 21.9%. Of course like every council we do some things well too: our schools are excellent, for example. (I was at Southmead Primary last week talking about local history – I had the pleasure of doing the same at Ronald Ross and Our Lady Queen of Heaven recently. What a great bunch of kids and teachers we have!) But even here many schools have had to appeal to parents for extra funds while St Cecilia’s now only does sport once a fortnight because budget cuts mean they can’t afford the staff. Overall we are not meeting the standard set by our neighbouring councils.

Q             Do failing children’s services or relatively low-standard care homes really matter to this Council?

A             Apparently not – how often have you any reference to putting these matters right in the pile of literature coming through your letterboxes? I have been sitting on the Improvement Board that the government has imposed on Wandsworth until we start looking after our children properly for the last two years and have managed to improve the quality of information being used but the lack of resources being made available is very depressing. It is simply not a priority.

Q             Are you really ‘independent’?

A             Yes. Over the last years I have voted with Labour and Conservatives (most things that come before Council are agreed by all parties); with the Conservatives against Labour; with Labour against the Conservatives; and against both Conservative and Labour. The reason I am independent is that I want to vote in favour of what I believe is the right thing, not what the Party tells me I have to think. So for example I voted against turning Battersea Park into a racetrack (that has stopped) and was the only councillor against imposing sprinklers in all our 10+ storey blocks against the wishes of residents (not stopped yet but getting close, I believe). I also proposed the motion asking our MPs to press the government to give full rights to our European Union national friends when neither Party saw fit to do so (though they all supported it in the end).

Q             You are independent – what influence can you have as one voice among 60?

A             When I went Independent I did presume I would lose influence over Council policy. Actually the opposite has happened: I am finding that one independent voice arguing on the basis of evidence (I am one of the very few councillors who is a scientist and is used to interpreting numbers) is more effective for the Ward than finding ourselves lumbered with three councillors in a group of 30 or 40 others who just have to parrot the Party line on everything.

Q             Where do you stand on Council tax?

A             Although there has been a lot of talk about it, Council Tax is really a bit of a red herring. Labour and Conservative have both said they will freeze it for two years and by law they could only raise it by an extra 2% (about 27p a week at Band D) – any more would need a local referendum which no Council has ever tried. I don’t personally think Labour’s spending plans stack up but if they don’t they won’t be able to balance the books by CT rises, it would have to be by different service cuts. However, I have come to a view that we should be raising it by that 27p a week – it would raise nearly an extra £2 million a year, not enough to answer all our failing services by any means but a move in the right direction, in my view. If we want clean streets, reasonable roads and, most of all, safe vulnerable children and adults then we have to be prepared to pay a fair sum for it.

A few comments from residents…

I am very grateful for the comments residents have been making about me. Below is a selection.

“Malcolm is consistently there when we need him, I strongly urge you to get up and be counted and support him before the big party machines cost us the most valuable councillor we have.” MT, Wimbledon Park Road

“It’s reassuring to have a councillor who will turn up at my front door (not just at elections) to sort out council issues or that I can email and my concerns will be investigated.” John Bunker, Beaumont Road

“Malcolm Grimston has long been respected as one of Wandsworth’s most effective councillors. Being an Independent gives him even greater opportunities to serve the community.” MS, Girdwood Road

“I always thought a councillor was just someone who voted in council. That was until the independent Malcolm Grimston came along. Here’s a man who brings the council to your door and makes it work for you!” Chris Ward, Windlesham Grove

“It is heartening to see someone actually doing something for and communicating with the electorate and not just turning up to vote at whipped Council meetings.” JH, Combemartin Road

“Malcolm Grimston has been our local Wandsworth Councillor for over 20 years and has been unfailing in his support during all that time, whether it has been prodding someone into action at the Town Hall or supporting the residents through a programme of major works. He will be getting my vote again in the forthcoming Council Elections in 2018.” SDS, Linstead Way

“I moved into the area a couple of years ago and was so pleased to find we have a hardworking, committed local councillor in Malcolm Grimston. Someone not bogged down in party politics but who genuinely cares about the ward, has our interests at heart and gets things done.” Richard Lamberth, Inner Park Road

“I am supporting Malcolm because of the genuine interest he takes in the residents of the Ward. He even welcomed us personally when we first moved here. He is a strong force in local community who goes above and beyond to support us.” Ella, Princes Way

“Malcolm Grimston is the real thing. Most of our local councillors are invisible until they want your vote. Malcolm is always around and will have knocked on your door some time.” Bryan Hubbard, Victoria Drive

“Malcolm Grimston is the David Attenborough of our local politics – a tireless independent, championing West Hill matters.” Sarah Pope, Fulwood Walk

“THANK YOU so much for your email updates, it is wonderful to be kept in the loop on what’s happening and can be done in Southfields and that you are fighting our corner and listen to what we all have to say.” Mrs R, Windlesham Grove

“Malcolm is truly independent – he represents OUR interests when we need his help.” Ms H & Mr L, Oak Park Gardens

“We fully support Malcolm’s active involvement in everyday matters affecting our community. He is easily approachable, highly engaged and effective in facilitating solutions.” Mr B, Belmont Mews

“I was at the ‘sprinkler’ meeting last year & was struck by the affection everyone seems to have for you. I for one was glad that you were there as you genuinely seemed the only person on the panel truly connected with the people in the room.” AB, Whitlock Drive

“The two of us appreciate you doing the rounds of the residents in your ward and taking soundings‎. You will most certainly get my vote in the next local election.” JB, Kingscliffe Gardens

“Thanks for all your work in ‘getting things done’, also for your wonderful publication that gave us an insight into the illustrious past of the area we live in. We look forward to supporting you in this year’s elections.” John Waller, IPR

“Malcolm is a great asset to our community. He is consistently present when others are not, he listens and works hard to make Southfields better.” MS, Albert Drive

“Thanks for your email updates. I’ve spoken to friends and no Councillors from their wards do anything like this.” Mr G, Wimbledon Park Side

“Thank you for your brilliant emails which make us feel involved in the community and keep us all well informed.” Mrs and Mrs T, Whitelands Park

“It is so great to see someone driving local problems to resolution.” Mike Robey, Chapman Square

“Cllr Grimston has worked tirelessly for his ward and we wish him every success.”  JB-A, Albert Drive

“Southfields Business Forum is encouraged by the involvement that Councillor Grimston shows to the Forum. He is reliable and gives us his support in many of our issues. We are grateful to him for his dedication and commitment to the Forum and especially for supporting us at our open meeting.”

The Council election – my ‘manifesto’

The Council election is on May 3 and I will be standing as an Independent candidate for West Hill Ward.

Wandsworth Council is divided into 20 areas or Wards – ours is called West Hill and is home to about 16,000 people. Every four years eligible residents select three councillors for each of these wards. Presuming there are more than three candidates (many years ago the Putney ward of the old Wandsworth Metropolitan Council often used to be unopposed) you will have up to three votes to use. You can use one, two or all three and each vote is of equal value (i.e. no 1st, 2nd or 3rd preferences, unlike in the Mayor for London election). The three candidates who get the greatest number of crosses are elected. Many people, for example European Union nationals and people from most Commonwealth countries, who cannot vote in General Elections for parliament, can vote in Council elections. If you already registered in another part of the country you can still register in Wandsworth for local elections, but you can’t vote twice in the Council election if your other address is also in Wandsworth. If you think you are going to be away on May 3 please contact me and I will arrange a ‘proxy’ to vote on your behalf, or you can vote by post if you have applied to the Council to do so in time.

If you would like to help me to stay on as your local councillor, e.g. by delivering a few leaflets or showing a poster in your window, please let me know. (malcolmgrimston@btconnect.com)

London is traditionally heavily politicised so what can an Independent offer? I am standing on the following grounds.

1. HARD WORK – more individual cases handled (planning, Housing, social care, benefits, potholes, refuse collection, flytipping, education …) than any other Wandsworth Councillor. Between October 2015 and September 2017 I did 2491 pieces of casework. The other (Conservative) Councillors in West Hill Ward did 13 and 10 respectively.

2. VISIBILITY for four YEARS not four MONTHS – regular house calls, school visits, attending meetings of Residents’ Associations, estate visits and so on. Several residents have contacted me saying that the political parties, after disappearing for over three years, have suddenly started popping up and claiming credit for our work over the years in getting yellow lines in on Victoria Drive, challenging the Council for removing litter bins from bus stops, getting the jumps n Wimbledon Park Road seen to and so on. Jumping on other people’s bandwagons is all well and good – but there has to be someone there doing the work in the first place!

3. INDEPENDENCE – taking decisions in the interests of the Ward, not of the Party. I first became Independent to fight the Council’s suggestion of closing Southfield Library – now (I believe) perfectly safe – and have on several occasions voted against both political parties, notably in supporting the rights of residents in our council estates to have the final say on the imposition of sprinklers where it is against their will.

4. KEEPING IN TOUCH – a monthly email newsletter and frequent paper ones for those of you without Internet access, including the popular History Corner.

5. COUNCILLOR SURGERIES in the Ward every month.

6. GETS THINGS DONE – a record of achievement including sorting out traffic problems on Beaumont Road, Augustus Road, Victoria Drive etc.; new bus stop on Wimbledon Park Road; pavements renewed or repaired; flytippers prosecuted; Wimbledon Park stadium staying where it is; Community RoadWatch events; improved road humps on Wimbledon Park Road – as well as literally thousands of small improvements to individual lives or small communities.

7. STICKING AT IT – not giving up on long-term issues such as the Keevil Drive/Skeena Hill/ Girdwood Road ratrun; the removal of litter bins to save a few pence on the Council Tax; Sainsburys and the old petrol station; and so forth.

8. EXPERIENCE – 24 years as your Councillor.

9. MEMBER OF THE IMPROVEMENT BOARD set up by the Government when Wandsworth Council’s Children’s Services were judged to be failing our most vulnerable youngsters.

10. A STRONG INDEPENDENT VOICE FOR WEST HILL WARD

Rewriting history

There must be a Council election coming up, as a few politicians are starting to appear on the streets of West Hill Ward. As is traditional, they will seek to take credit for any positive developments over the last three and a bit years and doubtless people will make up their minds based on their engagement throughout that period.

One particular example of the rewriting of history is emerging. It is genuinely to Wandsworth’s great credit that the Borough is keeping its libraries open when so many other authorities are closing theirs. But the Conservatives in particular seem keen to obscure how we got here, sending round a tweet saying I had “told people they’d all be sold off”.

If anyone wants a reminder of what actually did happen they can see a very accurate account on mumsnet (https://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/local_wandsworth/2193134-Southfields-Library-at-risk-of-closure). Basically, the Conservative Group on June 23 2014 was told that a ‘major decision’ would involve ‘consideration of closure of non-town centre libraries’, which have left the Borough with five (Battersea, Tooting, Wandsworth, Balham and Putney) and closed the others including Southfields. I sat on it for a couple of months as quite often these things disappear of their own accord but my discussions with the Leader, Cabinet Member responsible and Group Chairman made it clear that this was a real proposal. I could not just sit on my hands but it was made obvious to me that I could not speak freely and stay in the Conservatives. It was an extremely difficult decision after over 20 years but at the end of the day I could not sit back and take it so I did as I was told and resigned from the Group. I was very careful to say that I did not believe a decision on the libraries had yet been taken but that it would be more difficult to fight it if and when one was.

The Council – foolishly given the documentary evidence (which of course I still have) – went down the time-dishonoured route of saying there were ‘no plans’ for closure (politics-speak for ‘there are plans for closure’). Then a member of their own group – to this day I don’t know who – leaked the whole Group document to mumsnet. There was a powerful local campaign and sure enough the idea to shut the libraries was quietly dropped, unlike the other ‘major decisions’ in the June 1914 paper.

Frankly I don’t care who takes the credit for keeping the libraries going and as I say a lot of it of course belongs to the council. But I do hope that the election campaign doesn’t get bogged down in invented personal attacks, as even those which can be easily disproved become wearisome. Last week we saw some bizarre attacks on my Independent colleague Councillor James Cousins in his Shaftesbury Ward feedback meeting which again were demonstrably untrue. Let’s campaign on our tracks records and ideas.

War and Peace

I went to the service at St Paul’s in my Ward yesterday afternoon commemorating the UK’s entry into the First World War, alongside a goodly crowd including the Mayor, Justine Greening and Councillor Sue McKinney.  It was a wonderful event, a moving mixture of readings, hymns, addresses and as the tailpiece a gathering by the war memorial, where a rose was left for each of the 35 men from the parish who died during the conflict.  Four members of the Chandler family perished, which brought home for me the enormity of the suffering.  The Bishop of Southwark told us about his grandfather, who committed suicide during the Second World War having never recovered from his experiences during the First.

The rose I lay was for Second Lieutenant Leopold Marlow of the King’s Royal Rifle Regiment, who died in 1917 aged 21.  All I can find about him was that he was promoted in 1916 to acting Lieutenant.  So I have no idea what he was like, what his dreams and hopes were, what he found funny or touching, or whether anyone still mourns him.  Yet for a brief moment I felt a contact with this stranger who gave his life for something he believed in (or did he believe in it?).

I suspect that it is very rare in war for one side to be the ‘goodies’ and one the ‘baddies’.  Maybe World War II was the closest to an exception that we have seen, though fighting alongside Stalin must have been difficult.  But the rights and wrongs of a particular conflict do not detract from the bravery shown by those who fight for a belief.

Glory be to God for dappled things …

I love the ‘dappled days’ where the various strands of life weave in and around each other.

So yesterday started with my usual swim and a tutorial from my good friend and fellow councillor James Cousins on how to set up a blog.  (So any merit of these pages is mine but any faults are down to him!)  Off to West Hill Ward to look in on an open door session for residents of Florys Court and Augustus Road about their forthcoming repairs and decorations programme, then to the Town Hall for a leaving do for Russell King, a former Wandsworth councillor who is upping sticks and heading down under – a shame, as he was a rare example of clear new thinking and I think he’ll be missed.

After a Group meeting – usual mix of good contributions from good people and petulant shouting down of dissenting ideas – I ended up at New Broadcasting House.  I’ve become a great fan of the media, including the BBC.  The final product looks effortless but the amount of work that goes into it is extraordinary.  I got the call late afternoon from one of my usual contacts there, spent 40 minutes driving in, 30 minutes sitting and waiting, then got 3 minutes on The World Tonight with Caroline Quinn talking about Russia energy sanctions, and 40 minutes to get home.  Odd business when you think about it but it gave the day an interesting end.  Carlos looked hot and bothered when I got in – how a Cuban can struggle with English summers mystifies me – but we relaxed in front of “Graceland” (an American televisual play, your Honour) and all was well.

My main aim for the day – to plough on with this book on energy that I have to get done by February and which I suspect will be something of a theme of these posts in coming months – got pretty much ignored, perhaps because I had so much opportunity for displacement activity.  As I am doubtless doing now.  So cheerio, I have a mercifully empty diary for August so no excuses.