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Posts Tagged ‘Question Time’

The next parliament “will be full of hacks, lobbyists and previously failed candidates”, or so said Tony McNulty at a political panel event last night.

In what one could interpret as a veiled reference to the Harrow East MP’s Conservative challenger Bob Blackman, who has run for parliament three times already without success, McNulty said we should be careful what we wish for.

Men in black: (from left) Brake, Pickles, Dale and McNulty

“I think accountability will be on May 6th,” he said, but added “the notion that there is going to be the city on the hill I don’t think is the case.”

He was speaking at a panel event featuring Conservative Party chairman Eric Pickles and Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake. At the Total Politics Question Time event, held near Westminster on Thursday evening, McNulty said he had some sympathy with the notion of Primaries as a way of electing parliamentary candidates, a sentiment supported by Pickles, the MP for Brentwood and Ongar.

Quizzed on everything from accountability to diversity, the topic on everyone’s mind seemed to be the allegations in Andrew Rawnsley’s book about bullying in Downing Street and tensions between Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling.

Pointing out that during the First World War, Asquith and Lloyd George were known to have had their share of arguments, McNulty did not seem overly concerned about the revelations.

“People lose their temper in high octane situations – shock horror,” he said. “You can’t have a convivial relationship between a prime minister and a chancellor all the time.”

“I’m sure it will be a very nice book but I don’t believe that it is gospel.”

The MP added that when he had worked closely with Brown over he 42 days detention issue, Brown had not raised his voice at him.

“I raised my voice, but that’s another story for Andrew Rawnsley’s next book!”

Responding to an audience-member who asked why Brown had not called an inquiry, McNulty said: “You cam’t rush out on every single story on 24 hour news and demand an inquiry.”

Saying Labour still had a long way to go in terms of diversity, McNulty applauded the Conservatives for their efforts .

“It’s fairly snide of some commentators to say ‘oh, this is just window dressing’. Everyone needs to start somewhere.

“I think that’s thrilling for British democracy. Anything that gets a much richer and more divisive House of Commons has got to be good.”

Although he said it would be “quite astonishing” if his Liberal Democrat opponent, Iranian-born Nahid Boethe won the election, he added:

“I have always said my successor should be Asian.”

And faced with the question about the Tory lead slipping in the polls, McNulty was clear on why.

“Cameron had a free ride unscrutinized in any sort of depth, but people are starting to look closer.

“It’s not enough to say ‘vote for me, I’m not them’.”

He said there was not the enthusiasm for change there had been in the lead up to the 1997 election. “They are not doing well because they haven’t got that much to offer.”

And despite the panel host Iain Dale reminding of how McNulty had been ‘slaughtered’ over expenses, the MP said he would still encourage his nieces and nephews to pursue a Westminster career.
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<!–[endif]–>“I’d say 100 per cent go into politics,” he said.

“There’s still some good and substance about it.”

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The outgoing conservative leader of Harrow council heaped praise on the turnaround in the borough over the past three years.

Councillor David Ashton, who is retiring before the next election, reminded residents at a public question time that the Conservative cabinet had overseen the first council tax freeze in 16 years.

 “In 2006 Harrow was the second worst council in London. We had a budget blackhole of and inadequate services,” he said at a public question time on Tuesday.

“We have greatly improved. We are a three star council with reserves of just under £7 million.”

 He said Harrow was entering a difficult period, and that they were expecting a real cash reduction in the coming years, because the council grant would effectively be £2 million less than in 2008/9.

But he was not completely negative about the future.

“We are not complacent but we are pleased. This year we have a balanced budget but in the future we are going to need some radical solutions.”

 One resident pointed out the convenience of a tax freeze during a council election year, and queried whether the money was needed for services like road repairs. But Councillor Ashton said “at some stage, enough is enough.”

 However he said a reduction is council tax was very unlikely.

“Reducing council tax is a very difficult thing to do unless it is a cosmetic reduction. Unless there is a massive change in the grant from central government this is highly unlikely.”

 At the event on Tuesday evening at Harrow Arts centre, deputy leader Councillor Susan Hall outlined plans to include provisions against dangerous dogs in tenancy agreements. She said that while people know the punishment for being caught with a knife, being caught keeping status dogs should carry more of a threat to owners.

Although she said that status dogs were not a problem in Harrow, she said they were consulting with the RSPCA on the matter.

During the evening, residents questioned planning portfolio-holder Councillor Marilyn Ashton about removing the parking charge for the first 20 minutes, in order to boost the trade of smaller shopkeepers.

“It’s so important to maintain the vitality of our local shops,” she said. “We would really love to be able to afford to have the first 20 minutes free. But if you allow just any parking on the road it gets parked up all day. If we could afford it I assure you we would.”

She said that the Sainsburys supermarket had been an asset to Stanmore. “Shopkeepers have benefited from having an anchor store. People park there a go to get their hair cut and do other things. It doesn’t take business away.”

Later, she added: “There is scope for very big improvement and regeneration in Stanmore”.

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It was an underwhelming turnout at a Harrow council question time tonight.

 Around 30 residents turned up to the public event at Harrow Arts Centre  to quiz cabinet members on everything from tax rates to parking restrictions and dangerous dogs.

 The council have put on some ten of the events in the past, where locals are invited to submit questions to cabinet members in advance and on the night.

 Council leader, outgoing Conservative Councillor David Ashton told Stanmore Politics that it was no bad sign turnout was so low.

 “We publicise this very heavily and it’s the right thing to do,” said David Ashton.

 “But if we’re doing things wrong people would be here. We take it as a positive sign.”

 However Akil Dhalla, Conservative candidate for Wealdstone, said there could have been more publicity. “The number of people coming to these events has gone down,” he said.

 “I want the public to be involved more. The more people here, the more legitimacy the council has.”

 “I think it’s very nice that they give residents the opportunity to meet them in a more informal way” said audience-member, pensioner Barry Harris.

 Michael Burton, editor of the MJ, the management journal for local authority business, hosted the evening. He praised the session, saying: “Not many authorities do bring the cabinet out to face the public.

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