Now is a time for reflection, as we consider the consequences of the fateful decision to go to war in Iraq.
Our first thoughts need to be with the families across the world who have grieved loved ones, experienced life-changing injuries, and witnessed destruction and despair often beyond description.
There is no justice that can compensate their loss, and today we have learned from the Chilcot Report what we all knew already in our hearts – it did not have to be this way.
For many members in Tower Hamlets, the Iraq war was a genuine turning point.
Many others chose to join the Liberal Democrats when they saw Charles Kennedy step up to the challenge, in difficult times, and provide the strong, principled leadership our country so desperately needed.
In 2003, every Liberal Democrat MP voted AGAINST going to war in Iraq.
It was the right thing to do, and that has been proven again today. Sir John Chilcot’s report has shown that this was a war of choice, that options for a peaceful resolution still existed, and that our Prime Minister wilfully mislead parliament and the British people to march us into a war he had already decided to launch.
We were proud to see our leader Charles Kennedy refuse to compromise, despite enormous pressure and abuse pouring in from all sides, on the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to internationalism and respect for international law.
You can see Charles’ speeches below, he was a real example of principled leadership in a time of crisis. It is not just Liberal Democrats who are missing Charles today. Our whole country is all the poorer without him.
Finally, while Chilcot gives us the chance to reflect on past mistakes, we still have a duty to oppose the mistakes that our leaders are making today!
Right now, Britain risks cutting herself off from our most valuable allies and trading partners, putting millions of jobs at risk and doing massive harm to our economy. We're proud of Tim Farron for showing equal determination and leadership to fight Brexit and put Britain back where we belong, at the heart of an open, tolerant, free, and prosperous Europe.
If you agreed with us in 2003, if you agree with us now in 2016 – it is time to join the party that is proudly and passionately fighting for the better future we all believe in.
P.S. You can see some great videos of Charles Kennedy’s speeches on Iraq in Parliament and at the anti-way rally in Hyde Park here (via Lib Dem Voice)
We read with horror of the attack at O’Kitchen Restaurant in Gulshan, Dhaka and the tragic loss of the twenty civilian hostages and two police officers killed during the shooting. Our deepest condolences are with the friends and family – particularly any here in Tower Hamlets – of Faraaz Ayaaz Hossain, Abinta Kabir and Ishrat Akhond and the victims from India, Italy, Japan and Sri Lanka killed or injured in the attack.
We condemn the cruel actions of the terrorists responsible for this and other recent attacks in the country, and call on the British government to stand firm with Bangladesh in preventing the spread of militant activity and restoring a peaceful and secular democracy where all citizens can live their lives without fear of violence.
We join in mourning with the Bangladeshi communities here in London and in Dhaka and hope fervently for a more tolerant and peaceful future.
King Edward Memorial Park is a beautiful space, and an integral part of Tower Hamlets’ riverfront. As part of the Tideway sewer expansion project, which will run under the park, its layout will be affected and thus the Council has gained £3 million in funding to redevelop the park.
While we support the expansion of London’s overstretched sewer capacity, any redevelopment to the park needs to be done sensitively, as it is such an important part of Tower Hamlets’ heritage. Having said that, the park has been grossly neglected over the last few years, and this project could provide a good opportunity for some well-needed maintenance.
Tower Hamlets Lib Dems attended a consultation at the park on Saturday 4 June, where the developers were canvassing suggestions for the redevelopment. Although they did not provide any firm plans at this stage, there were some key ideas that were being suggested. These included installing a café and toilet in the park, linking it with the proposed Wapping Lido, and increasing the capacity of the over-subscribed tennis courts.
These could help improve the park, but we have some remaining concerns:
- Any expansion would require the removal of the bowling green. Although this has fallen out of use in recent years, we would be interested to know if any local residents would prefer this space to be regenerated rather than removed.
- Incorporating the lido could have an impact on the residents of Glamis Road, who live in between this and the park.
- The Western end of the park is very unkempt, with little access between the park and the sports areas. This should be opened up and made more attractive and accessible.
- The main element of the Tideway project will be large towers that will be installed at the front of the park. The developers have given little indication of what these would look like and how they would be incorporated into the new look-and-feel of the park.
The consultation is continuing, with a meeting at Raine House, 16 Raine St, on 8 June at 6.30pm. Please let us know your views at firstname.lastname@example.org, or come along to the meeting on Wednesday.
So the Government thinks the solution to the crisis in our prisons is to give governors more power rather than have a more strategic sense of what the prison system is for and how best to lessen re-offending and properly rehabilitate offenders.
Liberal Democrat peer Jonathan Marks is unimpressed with the Government’s plans. He said:
It is a scary thought that the grand architect who oversaw the dismantling of the school system as we knew it is now getting his hands all over the nation’s prisons.
It is no secret that our prison system is in crisis. We lock up far too many people each year with inadequate facilities and staffing.
These reforms might tackle the problems at the surface but without root and branch reform of our criminal justice system the whole process will be built to fail.
The academy model for schools is falling apart as we speak so why the Government feels that this template is appropriate for prisons is incomprehensible.
Instead we should be focusing on ensuring that our criminal justice system is centred on rehabilitation and diverting people away from prisons wherever possible rather than this continued obsession with locking them up.
For those who do have to go to prison, we should be putting education at the heart of the prison system, to give prisoners the skills to lead a productive life on release; we should be helping prisoners deal with mental health issues and histories of drug and alcohol abuse; we should be focusing on offering them meaningful support in preparing for release. These things can only be achieved if we increase staffing in prisons, cut overcrowding, and give prisoners a proper amount of time out of their cells.
Just making some structural changes will be no more effective than rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic unless we provide the extra resources and the commitment to make prisons work as places of rehabilitation.
On 19 April 2016, we held the latest instalment of our round-table forums on policy priorities.
Following on from the highly successful "Pizza & Politics" night in February, The Tale of India restaurant hosted our "Poppadom & Politics" night, focusing on diversity within the local party. The importance of discussing this issue was apparent from the outset, given the composition of the attendees - 100% white and 90% male. But this certainly didn't preclude a lively and informed discussion on what our diversity priorities should be and how we should go about improving diversity within the local party.
York is a beautiful city, and with the mild weather and the daffodils coming into bloom along the city walls it was a beautiful time to be there… but with a packed agenda in only two-and-a-half days, there wasn't a lot of time for smelling the flowers!
The Liberal Democrats used the conference to set out some big, bold, new policy ideas – you may have seen the headlines about legalising cannabis or the broadcast with Norman Lamb.
Caroline Pidgeon, Lib Dem candidate for Mayor of London, put forward new policy on protections for private renting, and former London copper Brian Paddick made it clear that we would strongly oppose the Home Secretary's "Snoopers Charter" to let spies follow everything you do on the internet (even more important, now that Labour are going to give the government a free ride!).
And, as we had guessed at our Pre-Conference Pizza & Politics, the most hotly debated motions were a move to oppose fracking and another to make the Party's MPs more diverse and better reflect the people we want to represent.
Federal Conference is the place where the Party discusses and decides the headline policies that will lead our national and local campaigning. And when we discussed the conference agenda at our Pizza & Politics event, we found members in Tower Hamlets were very keen to have an input into the national policy debate.
We have taken the suggestions that people came up with there and drafted three amendments to submit. Please support our amendments, by clicking on the links below!
1. On the economy motion: add a bolder direction
We think that the economy motion is good, but it could be better and we would like to add to what is already there.
Our first suggestion is to add a "Conference Believes" section that more clearly differentiates Liberal Democrats from Labour and Tories and sets a direction of travel in line with some of the things that Tim has been saying about opportunity and small business.
Read the amendment here.
Support our amendment by entering this form!
2. Also on the economy motion: add policy on digital technologies.
Our second suggestion came from Ben Simms and is specific policy on supporting new digital technology, through infrastructure and apprenticeships and by inclusion in the government industrial strategy.
Read the second amendment here.
Support our amendment by entering this form!
3. On the Diverse MPs motion: make it more outward looking
Diverse MPs is sure to be the hot topic of the conference, and we're sure that in particular All Women Shortlists will be hotly debated. But we want the Party to look outside itself for ideas on how to do better, and how to get more people of different backgrounds to join us. Elaine particularly championed the idea of unconscious bias training as a must have way to tackle our problem with diversity.
Read our diversity amendment here.
Support our amendment by entering this form!
Frustrated residents of the Isle of Dogs will already be painfully aware that the level of un-coordinated construction work in the area has led to a high amount of traffic disruption in recent weeks. We have now been warned to beware further disruption this weekend (5-6 March), due to continuing works around Westferry Road and Marsh Wall.
Although this primarily affects residents on the Island, the gridlock is expected to disrupt traffic across the (already congested) East India Dock Road and beyond, so all residents in the south of Tower Hamlets should beware continuing disruption.
This has already caused a great deal of discontent in the area, with some residents creating an 'Isle of Clogs' on Marsh Wall - hanging shoes along the road to protest against the disruption. Elaine Bagshaw, GLA candidate for City & East, said “The lack of planning around these developments has caused unnecessary disruption and frustration for local people, who won’t even benefit from these works. I and the team will be taking this up with the local council to see how we can stop this from happening in the future”.
For more updates, follow us on Twitter at @THLDs, or visit our stall at Chrisp Street Market this Saturday at 10.00-13.00.
Pizza and politics was the name of the game as Tower Hamlets Lib Dems gathered in a packed top room of the Bow Bells pub in Bow, to discuss some of the motions soon to be discussed at the upcoming Spring Conference.
Diversity, fracking and the economy where all debated with a steady flow of pizza aiding the conversations.
We discussed an amendment to the motion for ensuring diversity in MP selection (all-women shortlists): this would involve extending the remit of the 2020 diversity task force, to try and address some of the infrastructural challenges that affect the ability of candidates from under-represented groups to stand for Parliament.
The motion on fracking received a more mixed reception. Although there were concerns raised about the Tories taking money away from the green economy to subsidise another carbon industry, it was also felt that the motion was not in keeping with either our evidence-based or liberal anti-banning philosophies. It was suggested that the motion be amended to delete all after line 11.
Finally, we talked about the economy, with the suggestion of two amendments brought forward. One to give the motion more of a positive direction of travel for the Party and another to add a digital dimension to the policy proposals, possibly as a foretaste of Tower Hamlets submitting a full motion of our own to Autumn conference.
These amendments were agreed by the group, and will be sent to Conference for consideration.
The Bow Bells pub is an East End boozer in the heart of Tower Hamlets with the great bell of Bow Church just over the road. It's an area rich in political history with the likes of Sylvia Pankhurst setting up the East London suffragettes nearby and old Poplar Town hall just opposite.
The debate on all the issues was strong and fair, representing the diversity of views from around the room, and in the tradition of the activists of the East End gone by.
With house prices in Tower Hamlets growing at between 10% and 20% over the last two years, we should all be concerned about building more housing to stem the upward flow of prices. However, given the range of historic housing stock that still remains in parts of the borough, building new residential accommodation in densely populated areas was at some point bound to clash with the need to preserve old buildings.
As the Standard has reported last week, Sainsbury’s is proposing to build a large residential block in Whitechapel, near to the Crossrail station. This block is going to be built very close to the historic Trinity Green almshouses and the residents are upset that the views from their homes are going to be obscured by the new Sainsbury’s building.
It is fair that the residents are upset the views will be obscured – the views from their property are part of their value and this is going to be eroded by construction of the new building. If the proposal were such that the fabric of this historic landmark was to be jeopardised, then clearly there would be an overriding argument for changing the design of the new building.
However, with just the views being affected, the need for more housing must be prioritised in this instance. We support the right of the Trinity Green residents to oppose this development, but we believe that Christopher Wren, the commissioner of the buildings in the 17th Century, would be the first person to argue that a city needs to flex and change to meet the needs of its citizens.
We also hope that both Sainsbury's and the Tower Hamlets planning committee support our proposal to make all new developments include 50% social housing and truly affordable homes for East Londoners to live in, not "safe investments" for foreign investors.