Blog

TTIP will create a dystopian future in which corporations call the shots instead of democracies

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) was condemned by a senior UN official who highlighted potential human rights abuses and the way in which TTIP could over-ride democratic decisions made by elected governments.  He is not alone. The following from a respected think tank made the case in detail  (see http://www.atlantic-community.org/-/ttip-top-5-concerns-and-criticism.) American companies have sued South American countries for greater amounts than their GDP through the same kind of secret courts proposed in TTIP.

In June 2015 the European Parliament will be voting on TTIP. Certainly this CLP has discussed the issue and has  been in touch with its MEPs to urge them to oppose TTIP.

Below a letter from Professor Liz Meerabeau, a Kingston & Surbiton CLP member and Lee Godfrey’s agent in the 2015 General Election, highlighting the potential impact of TTIP on the NHS. This letter was published in the Surrey Comet in April 2015.

Letter published in the Surrey Comet April 16, 2015

As a retired nurse and member of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), can I urge fellow residents attending election hustings to ask each candidate about their party’s position on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated in almost total secrecy between the European Union and the United States.

While there is no set date for any agreement to be concluded, it is expected that if a deal is to be reached it will need to be in place before the end of 2015.

Supporters of TTIP argue it will have great economic benefit to the UK, although the economic modelling for this depends on a wide range of assumptions and is therefore not robust.

Whatever its merits for various commercial sectors, if implemented, it will have a great impact on our public services.

As part of TTIP, public service standards will be harmonised with a lowest common denominator approach and RCN is concerned this will adversely affect patient care.

TTIP could also open up the NHS to American private business, which could be able to sue if future governments decided to change existing legislation and policy in relation to health care or other public services.

Another area of concern is the proposed Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) process which would use unelected tribunals and has already been used in other treaties to mount expensive challenges to public health policy, most notoriously by a tobacco firm to challenge the plain cigarette packaging in Australia.

Although some UK MEPs have dismissed these concerns as “scaremongering”, the British Medical Association commissioned a QC to examine a similar treaty with Canada: the QC concluded that the lack of definition and case law in relation to NHS resulted in real risks.

The RCN and the British Medical Association, two of the key professional organisations representing health care staff, are lobbying for TTIP to explicitly exclude the NHS, and to exclude the ISDS mechanism entirely.

TTIP may seem like a technical issue, but it is not.

While we debate the influence of the EU in national life, there is a much greater risk that our government policy may become skewed by the risk of legal challenge from large US business with very deep pockets

Professor Liz Meerabeau

TOWARDS A BETTER, MORE SUCCESSFUL PROCESS FOR TOWN CENTRE DEVELOPMENT

A guide to what is happening in Kingston Town Centre and a proposal to ensure we have the Kingston present and future Kingston residents want. The local Labour Party is happy to hear your views. Please e-mail laurie@kingstonlabour.com

Town Centre development is a hot issue in Kingston, and rightly so. While development and change is inevitable, it is always threatening. The decisions of today will be the inheritance of our children: the buildings we create now will be the architectural legacy that will shape Kingston throughout this century and possibly the next. The future impact of development is too big and important to be used by political parties for short-term points scoring. However things seem to be moving at a pace which, despite social media and modern technology, is leaving residents behind, both factually, conceptually and emotionally.

One problem is there are four different policy areas being discussed and which are often confounded:

(i)            The Eden Quarter Development Plan (EQDP)

(ii)          The Post Office site proposals

(iii)         The Opportunity Area proposal

(iv)         Planning law and appeal which can overturn a council’s rejection of a proposal made by a developer

These plans, structures and proposals overlap but have different purposes and objectives.

Labour has already commented on the EQDP (see blog 10th December 2015). EQDP is a framework for development in the Kingston town centre to help potential developers gain a handle on what might or might not be acceptable and a framework for the council itself to promote and measure progress. This framework does not, of course, commit the Council to any particular proposal made by a developer.

The Post Office development is a specific proposal from a developer which was given an option on the old Post Office site – i.e. the area in the South East of the town centre, currently used for car parking and hemmed in by Wheatfield Way.

The Opportunity Area is a structure for aligning development in an area with brownfield sites with Greater London developments which include infra-structure initiatives (e.g. Crossrail 2). The purpose is to integrate borough and Greater London development plans and help push forward potential housing and business sites at a quicker pace. The proposed area is bigger than the area covered by EQDP, spreading into north Kingston.Again it does not appear that an Opportunity Area can circumvent local planning processes.

Finally the development appeals process is based on the presumption that councils have a proclivity to conservatism and maintaining the world as it is. Appeals against planning and development, therefore, have an in-built bias in favour of the developer, and have too often over-turned planning decisions made by a council, especially when there are similar developments elsewhere in the council.

It is becoming increasingly clear that all parties and the majority of residents want to see the following

(i)            Scale – low-rise buildings providing human scale not high-rise sky-lines:

(ii)          Inclusiveness -50 per cent affordable housing in the development of homes so that development is for all:

(iii)         Quality – iconic architecture in which residents can take pride:

(iv)         Openness – transparent and open discussion of options in which residents and stake-holders can have confidence

(v)          Coherence – unity, integration  and consistency in the different plans and proposals

Kingston Labour believes that the first thing that is needed is for all parties to acknowledge jointly that this is what they agree on. This does not preclude differences of view on matters of detail but it does mean that all parties can start to work together on town centre planning in a way that creates a Kingston that residents want. Kingston Labour is quite convinced that failure to work together will all too easily result in appeals which developers will win and Kingston residents will lose.

Kingston Labour would then propose a need to over-haul our committees, communication and consultation structures. At the moment few residents understand which committee of the council does what and find it very difficult to access information. As for speaking at committees or consultations, it is made as daunting as possible for the ordinary resident. Very few people understand how to get their views heard. Ward councillors have an important contribution to make here. The voice of residents will be vitally important in persuading developers and in winning in any planning appeals.

Labour wants to see political parties communicating sensibly with each other. It is unacceptable to have papers or motions tabled at the last minute. This precludes councillors both discussing issues with stake-holders in the wards they represent and considered democratic debate and decision making. The Opportunity Area proposal exhibited a communication blackout with residents in the area covered. Proposals and motions can be bettered, with flaws and omissions removed, if there is proper inter-party inter-stakeholder discussion.

If committees are the preserve of one party suspicion is bred. For example the Opportunity Area Strategic Growth Board has two members from the majority party and no other democratic representation from the area. Stakeholder consultation is mentioned but no structures are adumbrated. Kingston Labour suggests that at the very minimum there should be an observer from a different party but it is preferable, for the sake of the democratic process, not to establish closed committees of this kind.

To move forward requires the political parties to abandon the silly “blame blame” game, inject a bit more team spirit into the development and planning challenges Kingston faces, and hold talks without each party trying to isolate a quote to spin for electoral leverage. Political discourse should be about values not petty point scoring. It will take bravery by councillors to drop the established pattern of yah-boo political behaviour.

But with the end of the General Election period, surely this should be possible.

 

 

Liberal Democrats claim Tory leader has conflict of interest: yet another tedious smear?

The Kingston & Surbiton Labour Party is critical of the way the Tory administration is rushing ahead with developments without consulting or listening to residents. We are particularly critical of any proposals that will allow Kingston to become a town of sky-scrapers – a Gotham City lacking human scale. However attempts by the Liberal Democrats to suggest that Kevin Davis, leader of the Council, is in secret cahoots with developers need to be examined rationally. Here we suggest a sensible way forward. The Liberal Democrats should lodge a complaint under the Code of Conduct for Councillors. That is the only proper way forward. 

Kevin Davis, now the Tory leader of Kingston Council, is a director of Cratus, a communications / PR group operating in the local government / private sector interface. He is certainly working flat out as leader to develop Kingston town centre. Inevitably there are complaints and suggestions by some that there must be a conflict of interest. These criticisms are either carefully positioned or megaphoned by those with a political agenda, who fear defeat in the general election and the two Council by-elections.

It is hardly a matter of contention that some of Leader Davis’s public pronouncements have left a lot to be desired on the diplomatic front. Let’s just say he is hardly likely to win a communications contract from the local Labour Party any time soon based on this performance.

The Liberal Democrats on Kingston Council put forward a motion for Council ending:

This Council believes:

Local people are now raising these same concerns regarding the Leader being a lobbyist for developers, their perception being that he is not working for the best interests of the borough.

This Council resolves:

It’s now time to choose! Councillor Kevin Davis should resign either as Leader of the Council or as Chief Operating Officer of Cratus Communications and sever all links, particularly financial, with them”

This motion was withdrawn by officers of the council, doubtless after legal advice, on the grounds that it could expose the Council to a claim for defamation from Cratus. Of course the Liberal Democrats are whingeing, but let us look at the facts.

Firstly it is a criminal offence, punishable by a fine of up to £5,000 and disbarment from public office for up to 5 years, for a councillor to deliberately withhold or misrepresent a personal interest. Leader Davis has formally declared his interest and has stated that Cratus will not deal with any contract involving Kingston Council. For him to act as a covert lobbyist for developers in Kingston would hardly prove a prudent career move. Nevertheless the perception can always remain.

A motion debated in Council is not necessarily the best way of bottoming out this issue. It is what it says, a very public debate where there are rules about how long and how many times someone can speak: where witnesses cannot be called let alone cross-examined: and where no concrete evidence has to be produced. The terms in which the motion was couched meant that it had not a snowball’s sojourn in the most fiery ovens of Hades chance of being voted through. The debate had all the potential of a kangaroo court capable of spawning a whole mass of “joey” leaflets all making spurious claims and accusations based on a careful selection from the debate and citing unnamed but furious residents. Any Liberal Democrats who could possibly support a populist kangaroo court process should hang their heads in shame.

There is a better, sensible, more rational and measured course of action. If the Liberal Democrats have any evidence they should make a complaint under the Councillor Code of Conduct Complaints Procedure . (http://www.kingston.gov.uk/info/200267/councillors/673/councillor_conduct_interests_allowances_and_complaints/4). The officers of the Council would then have to hold a proper non-partisan hearing more appropriate to an accusation of this sort, with evidence, witnesses and cross-examination, isolated from political considerations, and with time to sift out findings. If leader Davis has withheld a conflict of interest, the hearing would be obliged to forward the evidence to the public prosecutor. If no evidence is found, the hearing would have to make this clear to the electorate.

There is, then, every good reason why the Liberal Democrats should take their responsibilities as an opposition seriously, and submit a complaint immediately. Failure to do would expose their motion as a manoeuvre to smear an individual through a shameful evidence-free process of political nodding and winking in a kangaroo court.

Edward Davey showing disdain for electorate of Kingston

This letter was published in the Surrey Comet 6 February 2015. 

In politics there should be debates over values and priorities. Unfortunately Edward Davey prefers to lob falsehoods in our letterboxes, as we see from his glossy and expensive leaflet in which he claims personal responsibility for “saving” Kingston Hospital’s Maternity and Accident and Emergency Departments from closure by a Labour government.

Those with long memories will recall that Edward Davey pulled this self-same rabbit out of his campaign hat in 2010. Even the most credulous realised it was a complete fiction when his spin doctor was overheard by a journalist bragging about his ability to fool the Kingston electorate. To repeat the same discredited propaganda five years later shows a total disdain for the electorate of Kingston.

Edward Davey voted with the Tories, his coalition partners, for their NHS privatisation bill. When asked to vote for Clive Efford’s private member’s bill by hundreds of Kingston electors in November 2014, Edward Davey refused to give an answer. If Parliament had passed the bill, it would have stopped the creeping privatisation of the NHS in its tracks. Edward Davey just did not turn up for work in Parliament on the day on which the vote was taken on the bill.

Untruths and distortions are the refuge of desperate people and Edward Davey is clearly desperate. He has good cause. Lord Ashcroft sponsored a private poll on general election intentions in Kingston (as he did in many constituencies) and found the Liberal Democrats lying third.

Edward Davey’s entries in the Parliamentary register of interests show he has collected a considerable war chest of donations, many, it would seem, from a trail of inter-locking companies. So doubtless we can anticipate further Davey pamphlets coated in more make-up than a pantomime dame.

Waste Collection: the tortured arguments from the Liberal Democrats

This letter from the Chair of Kingston & Surbiton CLP was published by the Surrey Comet on 30th January 2015. It follows a series of flyers and letters from the Liberal Democrats claiming that the Conservative council’s policy of changing to a new cycle of waste collection would result in chaos and loss of money as people would not sort their rubbish. It follows from a previous blog on waste collection.

The Council decision on the introduction of a new system of waste collection in Kingston (15th January 2015) was taken behind closed doors, so the full financial details are deemed too secret for us, a mere electorate. What we do know, however, is that when the Liberal Democrats are on shaky ground, they repeat their nostrums ad nauseam in the hope that a distortion will transmogrify into a truth if repeated with sufficient frequency. So it is with waste disposal. Recycling bins overflow with soggy Liberal Democrat pamphlets maintaining that the Tories are axing recycling (although Edward Davey did concede in a letter to St James ward electors that they would still be able to put their vegetables in a weekly collection: presumably the Liberal Democrats had identified an excess of carnivorous electors). Even the Comet’s New Year letters page was bursting with misplaced political indignation.

Edward Davey claimed on your pages that the current system could be retained and money could still be saved, so I wrote to him asking him to e-mail me the costings that lay behind his assertion before the Council meeting. Needless to say a reply was received well after the meeting claiming that he believed money could be saved by introducing a container for paper and keeping weekly collection and that the Tories should have costed this option. As an opposition, the Liberal Democrats had not seen fit to ask about this. Surely this is their role as opposition. A question is certainly cheaper than flooding our letter-boxes.

The motion put forward by the Liberal Democrats at the Council meeting did not mention any alternative costing. I can only assume that there has been no alternative financial modelling by the Liberal Democrats, and the claim that the present system can continue as it is and save money is nothing more the usual Liberal Democrat political fiction.

Anyone who reads the Council papers on waste disposal will have realised that changes have to take place because the bespoke lorries are reaching the end of their life and have to be replaced. The lorries are unique because they have to house someone who sorts out the materials to be recycled for us.

Are the Liberal Democrats really saying we are so stupid we cannot discern what is glass and tin and what is paper, and put them in separate boxes?  Will Edward Davey’s breakfast be spoilt by anxiety over whether his cereals are in a tin or a cardboard container? Please!

Yes, there may be some places where an extra container for paper might present a difficulty but I do not recognise a Kingston where the majority of houses have no space outside the front door, as was suggested by Liberal Democrats. Any problems arising could be looked at and dealt with sensibly and sensitively.

The proposals suggest £600,000 saving a year. That would more than pay for our Labour councillor’s proposal for a living wage for 539 Council employees who are currently paid less than a living wage in a Borough with the highest council tax in London, and where there are far too few affordable houses and flats after 12 years of Liberal Democrat control. Or do the Liberal Democrats think the right NOT to sort our rubbish and have a full weekly collection is more important than paying the people our Council employs a living wage?