Saturday, 28 November 2009

Headless bear corpses discovered in Hackney

This comment stream on the Fortean Times message board mentioned the Hackney bear story as if it was common knowledge. All I could find were these 1981 reports from US-based newspapers - none from UK papers which may not have uploaded their archives from that far back. But reports - like this one - describe a hoax that went worldwide.

According to these old cuttings, the bodies of two headless bears were found in a Hackney canal and then a real live bear scared kids playing on Hackney Marshes.

The cuttings say that the search for the bear was called off after a guy called Ron told the The Sun that he was the bear. He said that the discovery of bears' bodies (it was later suggested that these may have been dumped in the canal by a travelling circus) inspired him to dress up as bear and roam about on Hackney Marshes. The result was an invasion of police and army marksmen and a helicopter. No bear was found although tracks were allegedly discovered. Ron, it seems, was never caught. Is any of this true?
The myth lives on: The Bear of Hackney

Friday, 27 November 2009

Abbott keeps show...

Not exactly surprising, but it looks like the story below was not exactly accurate...

"This Week, hosted by Andrew Neil, will be produced by Juniper TV from September 2010.

The contract will run for three years and Andrew Neil will continue to present the show with Diane Abbott and Michael Portillo on BBC One on Thursdays. For Juniper, the executive editor will be Samir Shah, the editor will be Vicky Flind."

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Abbott to lose seat and TV show say producers

The Mirror reports that documents "left in a London restaurant" show that TV producers hoping to run politics show "This Week" think Diane Abbott should be axed because she might lose her seat.

Has this got more to do with the fact that she's a regular thorn in the side of Blairites? She's enjoying the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq War (The Guardian: It was all about Blair) and she recently clashed with Alastair Campbell on "This Week" (footage still there!) So who would benefit most by shutting her up?

The Mirror story says the documents came from Flame TV: (which, according to its website has "produced hundreds of hours of original programming for the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, FIVE, UKTV, Living and Discovery.")

The Mirror said Flame "want sofa pundits Michael Portillo and Diane Abbott axed and suggest Lord Mandelson, Ken Livingstone or Alastair Campbell for the Labour side. From the Tories could come Edwina Currie, Boris Johnson or Sir Nicholas Soames. The papers say new blood is needed as ex-Tory cabinet minister Portillo could return to politics while Labour MP Abbott could lose her seat."

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Meg Hillier Vs Diane Abbott on unemployment

Earlier this month Diane Abbott wrote a comment piece for the Hackney Gazette, (Page 16, November 5)

She said: "We are going through tough economic times and unemployment rates have been rising all over the UK but this year Hackney North and Stoke Newington has seen one of the lowest rises in unemployment in the country."

I'm not sure where that figure comes from. As far as I can tell the Hackney North and Stoke Newington's JSA count has been at, or above, the London average. This month Hackney North and Stoke Newington was showing a 1.7% increase between October 2008 and October 2009. This was just above the London Average of 1.6%.

If Diane was looking at the previous month's figures she wouldn't have done much better. The increase was 1.7% (September 2008-September 2009) last month too, equal to the London average and in August it was 1.9% (August 2008-August 2009), well above the 1.7% London average.

However it is certainly lower than Hackney South and Shoreditch where the annual rates have been 2.3% (October 2008-October 2009), 2.4% (September 2008-September 2009) and 2.5% (August 2008-August 2009).

According to Diane, the low levels of unemployment in Hackney North are: "Thanks to a number of projects targeted at getting people back into work, including job fairs, pre-employment training and recruitment drives for big companies like Marks and Spencers and Sainsbury's.

"Employment is a key issue for me and a great deal more needs to be done, but when the Labour Party came into power in 1997 my constituency had the fourth highest level of unemployment in the country.

"Now we have the 66th highest level of unemployment. So nobody can say that we have not made progress."

These policies don't seem to have been so effective for her fellow Hackney MP Meg Hillier. Hillier's constituency, Hackney South and Shoreditch, presumably with access to the same initiatives as Diane's, has seen a large increase in unemployment. This month the borough has the highest proportion of JSA claimants of all London boroughs.

Diane's claims could relate to the borough's worklessness problem which has improved but these figures are only available up to March 2009 and are still above the London average.
Or they could be in the same category as the unexplained drop in the borough's level of worklessness - unknown.

Links to Blood and Property stories on unemployment:
Hackney has joint highest job seeker count
42% of Hackney households on benefits
Job Centre reorganised: can it cope?
Hackney crime figures - the only way is up
Hackney women losing jobs faster than men
Hackney: a worklessness miracle
Don't look a gift horse in the mouth
Unemployed in Hackney: The lull before the storm
Will Hackney return to 17% on the dole?

Hackney has equal highest job seeker count

The number of people claiming Job Seeker's Allowance (JSA) in Hackney has fallen slightly to 9,827 according to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics: Regional Monthly Data - November 2009.

However, as a proportion of its working population (6.8%), Hackney now has the equal highest rate of JSA claimants of inner London boroughs - sharing the title with Tower Hamlets.

This 6.8% figure relates to a working population of about 140,000. It is down from 7% in September figures and 6.9% in August. It was 6.7% in July. While this shows unemployment down slightly, it is falling more slowly than in other boroughs.

The figures describe the employment situation in October.

October: 9,827 (6.8% of working population claiming JSA)
September: 9,884 (7%)
August 9,826 (6.9%)
July: 9550 (6.7%)

Divided into constituencies:

Hackney North and Stoke Newington's JSA claimant count for October 2009 was 4,365 up from 4,338 in September and up slightly from 4,331 in August (all around 6.3% of the working population).

Hackney South and Shoreditch's JSA claimant count for October was 5462 (7.6%) of the working population, down on the 5,546 figure in September (7.8% of working population) and also below the 5,495 (7.7%) figures for August.

Hackney North
May - 4,081
June - 4,118
July - 4206
August - 4,331
September - 4,338
October - 4365

Hackney South
May - 5,296
June - 5,190
July - 5,344
August - 5,495
September - 5,546
October - 5,462

Links to Blood and Property stories on unemployment:
Meg Hillier vs Diane Abbott on employment
42% of Hackney households on benefits
Job Centre reorganised: can it cope?
Hackney crime figures - the only way is up
Hackney women losing jobs faster than men
Hackney: a worklessness miracle
Don't look a gift horse in the mouth
Unemployed in Hackney: The lull before the storm
Will Hackney return to 17% on the dole?

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Did Hackney Council throw in the towel for £50m?

A couple of industry magazines report that Hackney Council could be investigated for pushing through Hammerson's updated plans for Bishopsgate Goods Yard - Bishops Place - too quickly.

Local architect Will Willingdale is quoted in Building Design and Construction News: “It was pushed through. Hammerson pretty much dictated how this planning application was going to be dealt with. I’ve never seen anything like it.I have spent 20 years submitting applications to Hackney Council and I have never been in a position to tell them when to deal with an application.”

The stories also said: "On behalf of several other architects — who don’t want to be named for fear of prejudicing future bids for work — Willingdale instructed solicitor Bill Parry-Davies to write to the mayor’s Greater London Authority."

According to the news stories Open Shoreditch claims that Hackney Council stands to make £50 million from the site, but only on condition of Hammerson securing planning permission, and that this constitutes a conflict of interests.

I might have got the wrong end of the stick but as far as I can tell Hackney's legal department is 25-30% understaffed and was, at one stage, farming out 50% of its work to private firms. This was while the council was dealing with Olympics related contracts. Also, for the last two years, the council's legal department has been looking for a new boss, only finding a new one in February 2009. (April 2007 The Lawyer reported the departure of Hackney's legal chief - has it really taken more than two years to find a new one? Apparently yes it has.)

So it doesn't sound too unrealistic that some things may have got less attention than they deserved.

Also I've been told by a former employee of a large architectural practice that these firms have a policy of challenging every single objection and to appeal every decision against them - however unrealistic their chances of success. This is done by better paid and more specialised lawyers and it is done in the knowledge that local authorities have limited legal budgets and are usually over-worked/understaffed.

This policy keeps local authorities on a permanent back foot and if any mistakes are made they will be in favour of the big companies.

A Google search for Will Willingden produced a less than rave review from Utility Week whose journalists were concerned when he proved difficult to contact. But Willingdale's claims sound believable.

(Gifty Edila, the new head of Hackney's legal department gets a mention in Andrew Boff's EastEight magazine over the council's long-running battle with Broadway Market shopkeeper Spirit.)

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Sinclair scorns councillor ghost stories

Hackney-based author Iain Sinclair made this comment about the views of Hackney councillors on the supernatural: "I was struck by the strangeness of this notion, of tapping Hackney Councillors for their views on the supernatural (given that, from the outside, their activities seem to be entirely guided by primitive belief systems, private rites and rituals, and a determination to occult any version of the real they stumble across). The answers of course are as dim as you'd expect from any set of bureaucrats: they can't decide whether to play safe and dodge the issue or to attempt charm by recounting some feeble anecdote. And always to signal their religious affiliations."
(Iain is not a big fan of Hackney Council after it banned the launch of his book from Stoke Newington Library - some details of the dispute on Tom Roper's blog).

Was it all a waste of everyone's time?

Psychology professor interprets Hackney politicians

Do Hackney politicians believe in ghosts?

Is the supernatural significant?

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Blood and property: Gangs, Hong Kong and Hackney house prices

Property: Evening Standard story claiming Hackney leading the comeback in house prices: "the firm's £160 million Dalston Square scheme in Hackney “is selling extremely well” with 232 homes sold since the launch in May last year. Only 12 are left."

But the reasons for the sales may not be related to anything going on in Hackney but sales pitches in Hong Kong. Investors Chronicle: "London properties are also proving popular with foreign purchasers. "We are doing a lot of off-plan sales to overseas purchasers," confirms Patrick Law, director of corporate affairs. Following presentations to investors in Hong Kong, sales of apartments in Hackney and Bow have picked up.

Blood: Also in the Evening Standard, Tottenham MP David Lammy says beware self appointed community leaders when trying to tackle Turkish and Kurdish gang problems:

Let us also be clear about the dangers of falling back on "community politics". Too many times in the past, we have worked with self-appointed community leaders because it was convenient to do so. Not only did many of these leaders lack legitimacy, they have sometimes been protagonists of the criminals. Today, "community engagement" must mean just that, reaching out to the community and understanding the concerns people face in their everyday lives.

November 18 - Evening Standard feature on Turkish gang problem.

Enfield is shooting hotspot - Enfield Independent

Paternity test keeps Hackney in DNA debate

Is there a storm brewing over Paternity test kits in Hackney?

BBC Story: Users of the £149 kits need to swab the cheek of both child and father. The swabs are then sent to a laboratory to determine fatherhood. Kits are on sale at a chain pharmacy in Hackney, having been introduced across the rest of the UK earlier this year. But public interest group Ethics of Reproduction said: "The result of a test is likely to be harmful."

And so Hackney remains at the cutting edge of DNA ethics debates.

Diane Abbott was the figurehead of a recent and successful campaign to prevent the DNA of innocent people being stored on a government database:

Stories below are from the Guardian.

July 2009: Where's the debate on the DNA database?
August 2009: Get the Innocent off the DNA database.
September 2009: Helping Children off the DNA database.

The September story showed how this issue affected people in Hackney:

On the same day Liberty held our
first DNA clinic with Diane Abbott MP. From the moment the clinic was advertised we were overwhelmed by inquiries from people seeking help with destruction of their DNA. In 2007, Lady Scotland confirmed that three-quarters of the young black male population would soon be on the DNA database, so it was no surprise that we had a clinic full of young black men and boys, smart in their school blazers and flanked by worried parents.

Their accounts were depressingly similar. They had generally been arrested because they fit the physical description of a suspect – the suspect being described as a young black man. After interview they were released without charge, but their DNA and other records are held, currently until they die or reach 100. Despite their youth most had already been stopped and searched by police at least 10 times. The fact that the police searches found nothing means little. Each time they are subsequently stopped and searched they come under additional suspicion because they have been arrested in the past. It is a vicious and self-perpetuating cycle of suspicion, and it amazes me that despite the damning figures – published year after year under section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 – these practices continue.

Then the government U-turned.
But according to a Guardian commentator:
This is no innocent U-turn on DNA database

A twist in the tale being that residents of Hackney South and Shoreditch have an MP who is actually in charge of the DNA database. Here are some of Meg Hillier's views on the database:

It is worth stressing that a person's DNA being on the database does not suggest guilt; it is simply a registration of their DNA and basic biographical information. It is also worth asking which of the crimes solved thanks to the DNA database—the 452 homicides, the 644 rapes and the more than 8,000 domestic burglaries—the hon. Gentleman wishes had not been resolved as a result.

Now Hackney residents should be wondering if, as parents - or non parents - they have a right to inspect a child's DNA. Should a child in Hackney have the same rights to keep its DNA to itself as Hackney adults?

Monday, 16 November 2009

Diane Abbott vs Alastair Campbell

Diane Abbott Vs Alastair Campbell on the BBC's This Week.

I didn't see this myself but saw it highlighted on Andrew Gilligan's blog. I suspect the tension between them isn't just ideological (Diane probably gets on well with lots of people who supported the Iraq war) - it's just that Diane and Alastair don't like each other as people.

Although Abbott and Portillo challenge Campbell about him bullying journalists, judging by Oona King's autobiography (House Music) - and no doubt lots of other evidence - it was Labour MPs who were most at Campbell's mercy. I don't know if the press manager in the movie In the Loop is based on Campbell. If it is, he must have been impressively horrible!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Hackney's legal team - 25% under-staffed 50% outsourced?

It's great that Hackney's new (Feb 2009) head of legal services Gifty Edila has gone public with the changes she's making to the department. But the numbers thrown around in a recent article published in the The Lawyer suggest that the borough's legal services might have been in an odd state before she arrived.

But anything that draws attention to Hackney's legal services could be a good thing. In April 2007 The Lawyer reported the departure of Hackney's legal chief - has it really taken more than two years to find a new one? Apparently yes it has.

In a recent article about Edila The Lawyer said her department was "60-strong" but also said that it had "20 vacancies looking to be filled". I don't know if this means that Hackney's legal department is supposed to be 60-strong or 80-strong but, in either case, the department is 25-33% under-staffed.

The same article in the Lawyer said: "With a legal budget of £6m there is plenty of work to be done, although Edila is keen to farm a slightly higher level of work out to external law firms and chambers.

“We’re now about 90 per cent internal,” she says. “We were out with quite a significant volume previously – about 50 per cent. That started coming in-house before I joined. Big projects do demand support from outside and I’m reviewing our external panel of barristers and the solicitors we use. The balance should be about 80:20.”

So it is possible that the legal department was 25% under-staffed and farming out 50% of its work to an expensive panel of private firms?

Hopefully all this was part of clever plan to hire the best/most expensive lawyers so that Hackney didn't lose out in any of its Olympic related contracts. Or was the department suffering during this important time?

This is not a criticism of Edila who does seem to be aiming to cut costs (from The Lawyer: "Edila is looking to get better value for money from the barristers she uses and is looking to revamp a panel that was put in place at the authority in 2006). Edila has a history of aiming for an 80:20% split in work (or is that the budget?) - as per this 2005 article in The Lawyer: "Traditionally, the borough (Kensington and Chelsea, where she was head of legal services) would have simply recruited more staff to manage the project, but, says Edila, this would be squeezing the seams. So she persuaded the council that it was more efficient in the long run to turn to external advisers. Berwin Leighton Paisner picked up the mandate for Exhibition Road. DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary and Herbert Smith are also currently engaged on K&C projects: the former has picked up the mandate for the redevelopment of Holland Park School, while the latter is advising on the development of Ellesmere, a new residential home.

"Going to external solicitors for those three projects is a new thing here," says Edila, "but I'd say that about 80 per cent of work remains in-house."

Hackney legal teams merged into two sections:

In April 2007 The Lawyer reported the departure of Hackney's legal chief - has it really taken more than two years to find a new one? Apparently yes it has.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Seray-Wurie document reveals council incompetence

The story of Dr Seray-Wurie and £600k of missing charity cash generated a lot of interest. In an editorial on 3 September 2009 the Hackney Gazette said there was "an overpowering whiff of scandal" (page 16) about the £600k of tax-payer's cash paid into Seray-Wurie's personal bank account.

It published two letters under the banner: "What happened to missing charity money?" The letters can be seen here. Seray-Wurie replied in a letter claiming that he was the victim (page 18) of a witch-hunt. A further letter called "Teamwork is far from very good" said: "Dr Seray-Wurie's account of what happened to the money in question is variously unconvincing or demonstrably wrong."

The Mirror also took a look at the story: So Dr Seray-Wurie of African Development Agencies: Where's the money?

The fuss followed a report by the Charity Commission earlier this year which investigated what Seray-Wurie had done with the money.


One document that looked like it might help explain why Seray-Wurie and his charities were ever entitled to the cash was the 2000 judgement which ordered Hackney Council to pay him the money.

Hackney Council was not helpful in providing this document - in fact it didn't provide this document. At first the press office said that the relevant person who would know where the document might be found was in court. Then I was told that this person was on holiday, then that the document in question was probably at the bottom of a pile of paperwork in some distant storage facility.

Luckily the Charity Commission provided a copy.

Hackney Council has said that the money was not its responsibility once it had been ordered to pay it by the court. It said that the 600k then became the responsibility of the court. It also suggested that it might not be fair to hold the current administration responsible for anything that took place during this dark period in the council's history.

According to the documents, it seems to be a matter of luck that the 600k claim (which was for grants which Hackney Council had promised to pay but then didn't) wasn't a lot higher. The extraordinary thing about it is that most of this claim was based on Dr Seray-Wurie's memory - not paperwork.

As Judge Thornton said in his judgement most of the documentation was missing: "This was because both parties had lost, mislaid, destroyed, or parted with possession of, all these documents. Indeed, apart from some incomplete correspondence and minutes of meetings of some of the relevant subcommittees of the LBH, the evidence of these matters came almost entirely from Dr Seray-Wurie, based on his memory, which was refreshed by his earlier formulation of the claims in 1992."

Judge Thornton said: "Dr Seray-Wurie gave three reasons for this remarkable absence of documentation. These were, firstly, that all relevant documents in the HAO's possession that were then in existence were stolen from Africa House, the principal offices of the HAO, in two burglaries that occurred in 1988. Those documents that were not stolen were lost or damaged irretrievably by builders and the movement of documents during the refurbishment work - 6 Dalston Lane that was carried out in between 1985 and 1987. The second reason was that, subsequently, in 1989, the HAO was put under review followed by a financial review by the LBH and the LBH took possession of all its relevant documents still in its possession, including its accounts, and never returned them. The third reason was that such documents as could have been obtained from third parties, particularly the HAO's bank, such as bank statements and other bank records, were no longer available, even on microfiche. These had not been obtained before they were disposed of by the bank since the HAO had changed its bank in 1992 on account of the declining turnover passing through its bank account and the consequent high overdraft interest charges being incurred. There were never, evidently, any documents that were retained by the HAO's accountants once they had prepared its annual accounts.

Even if there had been something wrong with the claims made by Seray-Wurie, we'll never know now: "Since the LBH made no attempt to sub poena third parties, including the HAO's then bank, had not sought verifying affidavits from Dr Seray-Wurie during the discovery process which might have elaborated on these reasons and did not seriously seek to challenge this explanation for the absence of documents, the trial proceeded on the basis that there was no suspicious reason why these HAO documents were not available.

The reason for the laxity is partially explained by this: "It is clear that, at that stage, the LBH regarded the HAO's claims as spurious and incapable of proof and that it would be an unnecessary waste of resources to undertake internal searches to obtain its computerised records and the potentially relevant documents which it felt were scattered through many files and buildings. Thus, no further searches for documents were carried out."

But this defence can only be taken so far because when Hackney Council did manage to find the required documents, it then lost them again: "Ms Cox instructed an Accountancy Assistant member of her team, Ms Julia Udennis, to undertake the task of searching through the microfiches stored in the payment section of the Finance Directorate. Ms Udennis found a large number of relevant microfiches which appeared to show payments by the LBH to the HAO and she printed out the relevant pages. She handed these copies to Ms Cox who put them into an envelope and sent them through the LBH's internal mail system to Mr Evans. The envelope containing these copies of the microfiches also contained a compliments slip dated 14 November 1997.

"What happened to this envelope from 14 November 1997 until 17 March 2000 is a mystery but, on that later date, Mr Lomas, the lawyer in the LBH's Legal Services Unit currently in charge of the case, came across the envelope by chance whilst clearing out dead files in his department for transfer to some newly acquired storage space. I am satisfied that this discovery was genuine and occurred by coincidence, being unrelated to the fact that the hearings in this case had been concluded and judgment was awaited. However, it is this discovery, and the documents it threw up, that has led to the application with which I am now concerned."

This is just a tiny part of an enormous document. If anyone wants to see a copy of this document please email bloodandproperty at live dot com.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

42% of Hackney households on Housing Benefit - and rising

Hackney has the highest rate of households claiming Housing Benefit in the UK - 41.9%. This is nearly four percentage points higher than the next highest London Borough - Tower Hamlets 38.1%.

In 2007 DWP figures for Hackney showed 38.9% of households claiming, in Tower Hamlets the figure was the same as now, 38.1% (The previous DWP figures for Housing Benefit were for 2007 and All tables in Microsoft Excel format)

The Department for Work and Pensions said that the recent nationwide increase in working age claimants was "consistent with the increase in the number of working-age people claiming key out-of-work benefits."

Could this be bad news for the miraculous "worklessness" figures in the Hackney? (Don't look a gift horse in the mouth and Hackney: A worklessness miracle).

In August the Office of National Statistics figures for Hackney showed that the population of economically inactive residents shrank. It fell by about 2,900 people (from 28.7% of the working population to 26.6%). The figures are more dramatic over a longer period. The level of long-term unemployment in Hackney fell from 47,100 in 2005 to 26,900 in 2007 - a fall of 43%. A much faster rate than neighbouring boroughs.

The Housing Benefit figures come from the Department for Work and Pensions - Click here to access the complete set of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit Tables or for the general release click here.

Hackney is the worst in the UK - well above the UK average, 17% and the London average, 23%.

It also appears to be getting worse:

Housing Benefit claimants in Hackney: (Nov,08) 35,540 (Dec,08) 35,600 (Jan09) 35,830 (Feb,09) 36,050 (March,09) 36,320 (April,09) 36,620 (May,09) 36,860 -

From November 2008 to May 2009 the number of claimants has risen by 3.7% in Hackney.

Housing Benefit claimants in Tower Hamlets: (Nov,08) 32,210 (Dec,08)32,500 (Jan09)32,940 (Feb,09)32,760 (March,09) 33,010 (April,09) 33,480 (May,09) 33,490.

From November 2008 to May 2009 the number of claimants has risen by 3.97% in Tower Hamlets.

In a statement the DWP said: "There is wide Local Authority variation in both Housing Benefit recipients and Council Tax Benefit recipients as a proportion of Households, ranging from 5.9 per cent to 41.9 per cent for Housing Benefit, and 7.8 per cent to 39.9 per cent for Council Tax Benefit."

Both of the extreme limits are in Hackney.

The proportion of the population claiming Housing Benefit in Hackney:

LONDON 23.2%

Inner London
Camden 26.1%
City of London 22.6%
Hackney 41.9%
Hammersmith and Fulham 26.9%
Haringey 33.9%
Islington 33.5%
Kensington and Chelsea 19.0%
Lambeth 30.4%
Lewisham 27.7%
Newham 36.9%
Southwark 30.1%
Tower Hamlets 38.1%
Wandsworth 19.6%
Westminster 22.1%

In terms of Council Tax benefit claimants the percentage falls - down to 39.9% and the gap with the next highest claiming borough, Tower Hamlets (37.1) is narrower, but Hackney still has the highest proportion of its population making claims.

LONDON 23.6%

Inner London
Camden 24.1%
City of London 8.0%
Hackney 39.9%
Hammersmith and Fulham 24.7%
Haringey 32.6%
Islington 32.3%
Kensington and Chelsea 16.9%
Lambeth 27.2%
Lewisham 26.8%
Newham 35.8%
Southwark 28.3%
Tower Hamlets 37.1%
Wandsworth 17.1%
Westminster 18.5%

The previous DWP figures for Housing Benefit were for 2007 (All tables in Microsoft Excel format )

Inner London - East
Hackney 38.9
Haringey 32.3
Islington 35.2
Lambeth 27.4
Lewisham 26.0
Newham 35.7
Southwark 30.3
Tower Hamlets 38.1

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Did Diane read the Lisbon treaty before voting?

Comments on the Spectator website suggest that Diane Abbott's failure to say whether or not she read the Lisbon Treaty before voting on it means that she didn't.

Rhoda Klapp said: "If your MP is no more than lobby fodder and an untrained social worker, and furthermore there are plenty of volunteers to be candidates, then why do they deserve more than somebody who does a proper job? When I last posted here a similar rant, I was answered by no less a person than Diane Abbott. I asked whether she had read the Lisbon treaty before voting for it. No reply."

In the original comment stream Diane Abbott replied to a couple of Rhoda Klapp's questions.

In one reply she said that she defended her constituents from the "overwheening" state: "I do not see any dichotomy between very close to what is happening here on the ground in Hackney and holding my government to account. It is precisely because I know my constituents reality and how vulnerable they are to the overwheening state, that I have argued and voted against ID cards and ninety days detention without my trial." (Meanwhile Meg Hillier the other Labour MP in Hackney is/was in charge of implementing ID cards.)

Rhoda Klapp's point seems to be that MPs can't defend their constituents from an overwheening state if they don't understand what the state is doing. And in an attempt to make this point clear she said: "So I've decided on one question to highlight a democratic problem. It may be answered yes or no. Did you read the EU constitution and its successor Lisbon treaty, yourself, before you voted on the treaty?"

There has been no reply.

In the more recent exchange on the Spectator website one commentator defended Diane Abbott saying: "The idea that legislators actually read the text of bills is utterly ludicrous. Bills are drafted with a specific intent and that is to provide clarity to lawyers and those who must implement them."

But Rhoda Klapp said: "If Ms. Abbot saw my question, and did not answer because the answer may have been embarrassing, that's one thing. At least she was embarrassed. Not to read bills as a matter of course, when it is your job to vote on them, makes your MP even less than the lobby fodder I thought they were."