Chiswick’s Polish Ant & Dec

Anyone who gets a morning train to Waterloo from Chiswick station cannot fail to have noticed Damian and Kris, who run a coffee cart at the station entrance, selling what might just be the best coffee in Chiswick (Italian blend Bristot, with beans from Brazil and Guatemala), and pastries from 6.30am – 12.00pm Monday to Friday.

It’s their unfailing cheerfulness and courtesy which make them stand out, as well as the quality of their coffee. Like a Polish Ant & Dec, they keep up a constant happy banter – “How was your weekend? What great weather. Have a good day …” Like the Geordie duo, their patter is professional but you also get the sense that they’re genuinely nice guys who like people and want to spread a little sunshine. Damian says: “We’re some of the first people that customers meet in the morning. If you’re going to be grumpy you will spoil their day”.

Talking politics is something they generally shy away from, but now that we know what Theresa May has in mind – that EU citizens who’ve been here five years should be able to stay – I asked them what they felt about the Brexit / EU migrant debate.

This is my home

Damian came here in 2006. He comes from Dabrowa Gornicza in Silesia, where there are plenty of jobs in mining and industry. Aged 24, he just wanted to experience life in a global city. The plan was to stay for six months, but he could see opportunities in London that he didn’t see at home, so instead of completing his degree in marketing he stayed here as a barista, working in Giraffe in Chiswick High Rd, which is where he met Kris. They got a flat together in Chiswick and decided to go in to business.

“After 11 years I feel safe” he says. “This is my home”. Despite the publicly optimistic face they have been worried. Like everyone else he didn’t expect the leave vote: “24 hours before nobody expected it. The next day you switched on the TV and it was a completely different reality”. In the days following the referendum they had abuse from passers-by, variations on “F off back to your own country”, but this was far outweighed by the outpouring of warmth from their customers.

Now we have some idea what the Government has in mind, he’s relieved. “It’s better than nothing”. As we talk we both realise that these negotiations have a long way to go and this is just the opening gambit, but the five year time period would put them both safely in the ‘stay’ category. Damian and Kris are both settled here, married to Polish women and have children whose English is better than their Polish. Damian and Jola have two boys, Bartus and Kacper; Kris and Kacia have baby Stanley. Damian raises issues that hadn’t even occurred to me – “We have mortgages, loans. What would happen to those if we got sent back?”

They consider themselves lucky to be in Chiswick; they realise that London is different to the rest of the country as it’s easy to get work and appreciate how in a small rural town people might feel threatened by migration. Even so, since the referendum they have seen an antagonism to foreigners which they hadn’t experienced before – a Polish grandmother talking to her grandchild in Polish in the primary school playground told to speak English for example – but on the whole they think Poles are hard-working, keep their heads down, don’t invite trouble and are accepted. The Polish economy has experienced an upturn, many Poles have returned and Damian thinks younger people are opting to stay in Poland now.

He wasn’t joking about the hard working bit. When they finish at the coffee cart they both head off to their full time jobs – Kris to Giraffe in Victoria, Damian to his job as a barista at Heathrow’s Terminal 2. A hundred hour week is not unusual, but they are steadily working their way towards their dream of opening their own café. Powodzenia! (Good luck)

Hounslow flats fail fire safety test

Hounslow is among the local authorities which have high rise flats which have failed fire safety tests in the wake of the Grenfell fire. Council leader Steve Curran published this statement on Friday concerning Clements Court tower in Hounslow West:

“Following the tragic events of Grenfell Tower, Hounslow Council immediately took steps to assure our tenants and leaseholders of the safety of our housing stock. “Following DCLG advice, we submitted a sample from Clements Court tower, which is the only cladded high-rise in the Borough that has used “Aluminium Composite Materials” [ACM]. “We were informed late last night by the DCLG that the sample of the outer ‘Aluminium Composite Material’ [ACM] cladding used on Clements Court tower has failed the Building Research Establishment [BRE] combustion test”.

The way the cladding was installed is different to the Grenfell tower in that the insulation between the building and the cladding is of ‘rockwool’ which is non – combustible and the windows weren’t moved outwards in the refit as they were at Grenfell. The council leader promised that the cladding would be removed as soon as practically possible.

Brentford Towers refurbishment on hold

Refurbishment of Brentford Towers, the six tower blocks near Brentford Football ground, has also been put on hold. While the basic structure of the blocks is sound, according to a report by Senior Housing Development Officer Sonny McCann in August 2015, the exterior concrete is deteriorating. The council had looked at demolishing the flats but as there are 88 flats in each tower, a total of 528, this was not considered feasible. They decided to install cladding instead.

The consultation period over the proposed refurbishment has only just been completed. Katherine Dunne, councillor for Syon ward and Lead Member for Housing has sent out a letter to tenants saying: “As you know, we are at an advanced stage with our plans to re-clad the Brentford Towers. However, we will be reviewing whatever recommendations the London Fire Brigade make in relation to the Grenfell fire, including those relating to insulated cladding system”.

Ruth Cadbury lays in to Queen’s Speech

As one might expect, Labour’s MP for Brentford & Isleworth was less than impressed with the Queen’s Speech. Speaking in Parliament in response to the Queen’s speech Ruth Cadbury laid in to Government policy or lack of policy on a range of issues: Brexit, Heathrow expansion, the impact of austerity on education, the NHS, social care, public sector workers, housing, welfare and policing. Along with many of her Labour colleagues, she pointed out that the programme outlined in the speech was more notable for what wasn’t mentioned in it, rather than for what it did contain.

Brentford & Isleworth voted against a hard Brexit

“During the election campaign, the voters of Chiswick, Brentford, Isleworth, Osterley and Hounslow made it clear to me that they were voting for hope and for change. Many people voted Labour for the first time, and my majority increased from 465 two years ago to 12,148” she said. “They voted against a hard Brexit and against the ongoing austerity policies of the Government.

“Many people in my constituency work in London’s enormous finance and services sector. Many of my constituents are EU citizens, or are married to EU citizens, or work alongside EU citizens, or live near EU citizens, so they know directly and personally what leaving the single market will mean. They know that the single market is important to retain their jobs; to be assured that their employers can remain in London; to protect and build the UK economy; and to ensure that their EU spouses, neighbours and work colleagues have some security and the promise of a future. There is nothing in the Queen’s Speech that gives comfort on those issues”.

We need to end austerity

She went on to criticise continuing austerity, particularly its effects on young people and quoted my story of two weeks ago, also reported in the Economist, that young people in Brentford & Isleworth were ‘not part of the data set’ considered important by Conservative Party Central Office as potential supporters during the election campaign. She was also scathing about the Government’s commitment to mental health: “Now we know that ‘parity of esteem’ for mental and physical health actually means equality of austerity for all”.

“Many of my constituents told me that they wanted an end to austerity, because the NHS is going backwards, and there are still plans to cut major services at Charing Cross hospital. They can see how local services provided by Hounslow Council and the local voluntary sector have been devastated in the past seven years of cuts, so that Hounslow council has lost 40% of its income in that period.

“They see how cuts to community policing have decimated the neighbourhood police teams that make them feel safe in these challenging times.

“They have been denied adequate care services for themselves or for a loved one because of these cuts.

“People still working in the public sector want an end to austerity because after endless rounds of job cuts they are failing to do properly the work of the three or four posts that they are trying to cover.

“We need an end to austerity, which is a discredited ideology in all equivalent countries that not only decimates the public sector but exacerbates inequality and, incidentally, weakens the economy.

Nothing for young people

“During the election, young people told me that they wanted an end to tuition fees that are saddling them with massive debts at the start of their working lives. They also said they wanted an end to exploitative zero-hours contracts, which are usually the only jobs they can get for years, whether they are graduates or not. It is not surprising that there is nothing in the Queen’s Speech for young people, given that we know from an article in The Economist that Conservative party central office apparently told local campaigners in my constituency, and presumably most others, not to worry about seeking young people’s votes because ‘They are not on the data set’.

“Parents and sixth formers told me that they wanted their good and excellent schools to continue to thrive, so mention of fair funding in the Queen’s Speech gives them no comfort that the planned future cuts, entitled “fairer funding”, are not going to go ahead.

Nothing for people who need truly affordable housing

“Those on average and low incomes told me about their problems in trying to find a home that they could afford to rent, let alone buy. There is nothing in the Queen’s Speech for people who need truly affordable housing. Those living or walking near our busy roads told me that they want robust legislation that addresses our appalling air quality that is so damaging to their health and that of their children—nothing about that in the Queen’s Speech either.

Silence on Heathrow

“People who will live under the inevitable approach path to Heathrow’s runway 3 and those living under the approach paths to existing runways, where respite periods will be cut, are all hoping that runway 3 will not go ahead, but the Queen’s Speech was surprisingly silent on Heathrow.

Reliance on food banks increasing

“There is nothing for the escalating number of people forced to rely on food banks caused by the cuts to the housing allowance and by housing benefit cuts and sanctions. In the last year, the number of users at Hounslow Community Food Box has tripled as a result of the roll-out of universal credit by the Department for Work and Pensions across the borough of Hounslow. In my view, that is a legalised form of enforced destitution.

Hypocritical on mental health

Commenting on the Prime Minister’s commitment outlined in the speech to end the “burning injustice’ of the treatment of people with mental health conditions, Ms Cadbury lauded this as a worthy aim, but she went on to say that it is completely worthless if no additional funding is available in the NHS.

“It is hypocritical to promise specialist staff support in schools when this year, heads have had to cut welfare support, counselling services and teaching assistants—the very people who were providing essential support to troubled children in our schools but whose posts are currently being whittled away under the current funding cuts.

“Concern for mental health in the Queen’s Speech, and from the Prime Minister, is worse than useless given that we read that the Department for Work and Pensions has been forced to reveal today that 200,000 people with chronic mental health conditions are set to lose their employment support allowance.

“Now we know that “parity of esteem” for mental and physical health actually means equality of austerity for all.

“Although my constituents will be pleased that there is no further mention of means-testing winter fuel payments, of boosting fracking, of reviving foxhunting, of the ending of infants’ free school meals or of the roll-out of grammar schools, there is much that they would like to have seen. The Prime Minister said today that she has put fairness at the heart of the Government’s programme, but the Queen’s Speech has done nothing of the sort. Today, the pageantry was scaled down, and so was the Queen’s Speech. I now hope, for the sake of my constituents, that the five-year term of this Government is also scaled right back.”

Chiswick fire station crew rescued 14 people from Grenfell tower block

A crew from Chiswick was one of the first on the scene when the Grenfell tower block caught fire in the early hours of last Wednesday morning. Crews from all over London attended, but as Chiswick is near, when the call came in at 1.00am it only took the team on duty at the time 15 minutes to get there.

Alan Moore, the watch manager, told me that initially the order was ‘make 10 pumps’ – ie. 10 fire engines needed. That had changed to 20 before they left the station and 25 before they got to the end of the road, indicating the severity of the fire and how quickly it escalated. In the end there were 40 crews in attendance from all over London.

When they got there their first job was to bring up the hoses and breathing equipment to a combined equipment dump and to secure water for the ariel platform. Then almost immediately on arrival they went in. He described the one staircase as ‘not wide, full of smoke and pitch black.’ He came across three children on the second floor, a boy and two girls around seven or eight, on their own and crying too hard to be able to give him their names, let alone answer questions like where their parents were. He led them down to the bottom of the building and handed them over to others. His team also brought four women down from the second floor.

Nine hours of dodging burning debris

Alan was then made safety officer for sector one, the main door, the one way in and out. His job was to man the covered walkway, check for falling debris and tell firemen when it was relatively safe to go in and out. He did that for nine hours and manged to dodge the burning debris all except for one bit of hot glass which got in the back of his collar and gave him a ‘slight burn’. He was coughing periodically as we were talking, five days on from the fire and admitted that he might have inhaled a bit of smoke and probably should get it checked out.

Four rescued from the 20th floor

The rest of his crew – two pairs of two – made it to the 9th and 20th floors respectively. The way the Fire Brigade operates, Fire Survival Guidance give individual crews specific details of where people are trapped and they go to find them. The first team were headed for the 11th floor but met a family of three on the 9th floor who they brought down to safety while the crew coming up behind them went on to the 11th floor.

I wondered why they don’t have crews on each landing and pass people from one to another down the chain. Alan explained that people are so terrified that once you establish a rapport with someone and gain their trust you have to stay with them and guide them all the way down. You can’t pass them around. Red Watch pair one then went back up the building but ran out of air on the 7th floor and had to come back down. The second team made it all the way to the 20th floor and brought down four people from there.

I bombarded him with questions. Do you know the names of the people you rescued? Were they injured? Were they missing family members? What happened to them? He didn’t know. He says it is slightly odd that you don’t know anything about the people you’re rescuing, but you’re just totally focused on getting them out and going back for more. When you’re doing the job you switch off emotions. You only let them in after. He has had flashbacks. He’s not been sleeping well. They do get excellent counselling, both straight after and on a continuing basis if you want to. He has seen a counsellor himself and encourages his men to as well. His team are all men, aged from their 20s to their 40s. He’s not permitted to name them but that doesn’t stop us being proud of our local firemen, whoever they are.

He said the four watches at the station were all involved. They were the first. They started their shift at 8pm on Tuesday 13th June and arrived back at the station at 7.40 pm on Wednesday 14th. He usually calls his partner at 7.30 in the morning to check in and say how the night has gone. He didn’t get a chance to ring her until mid-afternoon, when she was immensely relieved to hear from him. Alan is 58 and in all his 30 years of service he says he’s never seen anything like it in terms of the severity, the ferocity and the speed with which the fire took hold. He’s attended fires in tower blocks before but says they’ve all been confined to one room or flat. He couldn’t of course speculate on the reasons for that.

The Fire Brigades’ Union are able to speak more freely. They want the public inquiry to be broad enough to address the immediate causes of and response to the disaster, as well as the wider context. Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, has today written to Theresa May calling for the victims’ families and survivors to be full participants in the inquiry and for other key agents, including the FBU, to be fully consulted on the terms of reference before the inquiry is finalised.

He said: “This inquiry needs to look not just at the immediate causes of the fire and the response to it, but also at who was responsible for the building and for any alterations made to it. But it also needs to look much wider at the regulations and the regime that now operates in building control, planning and fire safety. All of these have seen significant changes in the recent past as part of an agenda of de-regulation and cutting so-called ‘red tape’. Those who took those decisions are going to have to start facing the consequences”.

Rupa Huq says ‘Theresa May’s power grab has spectacularly backfired’

Ruqa Huq, MP for Ealing Central and Acton, says ‘not in her wildest dreams’ did she expect to win with such a large majority (13,807 – up from 274 in the last election).

Talking to Bridget Osborne at the opening of this year’s Bedford Park Festival, she says ‘Theresa May’s power grab spectacularly backfired’ and she says the Prime Minister is now so desperate that she’s reliant on the DUP.

Also at Green Days was Ruth Cadbury, MP for Brentford & Isleworth, who attributes her majority of 12,182 to a variety of causes , including Labour’s manifesto for social justice and their ability to get out the youth vote as well as the Conservatives’ focus on Theresa May to the exclusion of local issues and the introduction of the ‘dementia tax’ in their manifesto.

The ‘arrogance’ of Conservative Campaign Headquarters lost the Tories one of the most marginal and most winnable seats, says local activist.

A Conservative Party activist in Brentford & Isleworth has spoken of their anger in the way Mary Macleod, a strong candidate with deep local knowledge and experience was ‘diminished’ by Conservative Campaign Headquarters.

At the beginning of the campaign Mary Macleod, MP for Brentford & Isleworth in 2010 – 2015, was expected to win back the seat, having lost it by 465 votes in the last election. In one of the most marginal seats in the country, when the Conservatives were 20 points ahead in the polls, the only discussion in the local party was whether her majority would be in hundreds or thousands.

She lost it because she was ‘completely constrained’ and ‘not allowed to talk about local issues’ by Conservative Party Central Office, according to the activist who does not want to be named in case of repercussions.

What particularly annoyed local activists was that they were told not to hold community events, not to talk about local issues and not to canvass their own supporters, but instead to focus on ’10,000 conversations’ with individuals identified by the party’s data analysts as swing voters.

An email from Conservative Party Campaign Headquarters was sent to the local party after the late May Bank Holiday weekend. It says:
1. ‘New script and data. Last night I provided … new script and data for the next five days of canvassing.

2. ‘Message has to be national. Research has shown that in this seat any mention of local issues will push voters to Labour. I know it is tempting to discuss local issues as this is Labour’s approach, but we must not be tempted. If we once discuss local issues on literature, social media or the doorsteps, we risk losing this seat.

‘It is critical that we now push on with what is advised in this email, this has come from the top following this 72 hour review, and it has been made clear that if we deviate from these plans we will lose the seat. I have also been asked to pass on that if these points are not followed then the DM support from CCHQ for this seat will be pulled’.

Speaking about the mismanagement of the campaign, the local activist says what rankled more than anything was the arrogance and complete dismissal of local knowledge and expertise. Particularly costly was the decision not to target the youth vote. When asked what they were doing to attract the 18 – 24 demographic which turned out to be so significant in this election, the answer from Tory party Campaign Headquarters was – nothing. ‘They are not part of our data set’ was the response.

The emphasis on targeting ‘swing voters’ was based on ‘poor data from Central Office’ according to the local activist and it flew in the face of the experience of a committed team of campaigners, whose deep local knowledge should have made the election of an excellent candidate a sure thing. They felt that the dismissal of whole demographic groups – not just young people but their own core supporters – was a huge mistake.

The result was that Mary Macleod fought this election campaign ‘completely constrained’ and ‘with a noose around her neck’ unable to capitalise on the local goodwill and the strong relationships she had formed as a former MP and local resident. Instead she was ‘made to appear as a mouthpiece for Theresa May’.

Videos on a raft of local issues produced and published on social media by Mary’s campaign team were taken down to accommodate Central Office’s requests. Her campaign leaflet could only feature her picture if it also showed Theresa May’s. She was told to repeat the ‘strong and stable’ mantra, stick exclusively to national issues and repeat the message ‘I’m working with Theresa May’.

Ruth Cadbury by contrast, the incumbent Labour MP and a local councillor of 25 years standing before that, pushed home her advantage in hustings after hustings and on the doorsteps talking about education, social care and the NHS while Mary was left looking as if she didn’t care about local issues and was only serving as a channel for the Prime Minister’s messages.

Ruth Cadbury’s majority was 12,182 on a turnout of 72.55%.

Joe Bourke says a vote for the Lib Dems is not a wasted vote

Joe Bourke, Liberal Democrat candidate for Brentford & Isleworth maintains that the only solution is to vote Lib Dem on Thursday: “Perhaps your choice might be add one more MP to the government’s majority. An MP that has never voted against a Conservative party intent on forcing through the most economically damaging exit from the European Union conceivable; and a third runway at Heathrow that may well face legal challenges for years to come.”

“You may choose instead a labour MP at odds with the leadership of a Labour party that has proved to be an ineffective opposition for two years now? An MP that has failed to challenge a Labour dominated local council that simply ignores the views of residents clearly expressed in consultations; and rides roughshod over its own local area plan to ram though planning consents for wholly inappropriate developments.”

“Alternatively, you may wish to make your vote count for something by returning a Liberal Democrat that will stand up to both an arrogant Labour council and an increasingly dangerous and extreme Conservative government.”

What are the odds?

Ladbrokes have reported that Brentford & Isleworth is the most bet on constituency in the UK general election. They have Conservative candidate Mary MacLeod as 4/7 to regain the seat with Ruth Cadbury priced at 5/4 and Lib Dem Joe Bourke 100/1 to win.

Betting organisations may be more likely to be right than pollsters. There is after all serious money riding on their predictions, but even so there are some differences between their predictions. To see the full spread check out Oddschecker.

As we go into election week, Paddy Power is fairly typical, rating Brentford & Isleworth as: Conservatives 4/6, Labour evens, Lib Dems 100 – 1. In Ealing Central & Acton their odds are: Labour 8/13, Conservatives 6/5 and the Lib Dems 66/1.

According to Paul Krishnamurty, who runs the Political Gambler website: “For all Labour’s progress, they are still highly unlikely to win more seats than, or even prevent the Conservatives winning a majority. Corbyn still has a mountain to climb. To become PM, he needs a polling and geographical miracle. To gain seats rather than lose them, as every indicator suggests Labour will, in the wake of UKIP’s demise”.

Montagu – a donkey’s view of the nature of political leadership

Was ever a play more timely? Montagu, which runs until 17 June at the Tabard, is a play about political leadership performed during an election campaign almost entirely focused on the nature of political leadership. If you have any interest in politics and like satire, go and see it. It’s a treatise on the subject, as seen through the eyes of a herd of donkeys and is extremely apposite and very witty.

Playwright Greg Freeman had no idea there would be an election so soon when he wrote it. He told me it was his response to the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump. He’s fascinated with the way leadership appears to bestow such importance while at the same time entailing so little power.

Montague, the chief character, is played by Christien Anholt, seen most recently at the Tabard in Dog Ends. He starts the play as an unassuming donkey, merely interested in eating thistles and walking in circles. He’s almost allergic to the idea of taking any kind of public role or responsibility, but leadership is thrust upon him.

He takes to it with alarming speed and follows a trajectory from initial panic to ruthlessness and ultimately statesmanship, sidestepping the manipulative overtures of Cupcake and her ‘stalking donkey’ Shadow, seeking to use him to persuade the herd of her ‘vision’. This entails jumping off a cliff to the promised land she can see below – a Brexit allegory if ever there was one. If I weren’t already cynical about the political process, I think this play might do the trick.

‘Theatre that from concept to execution is utterly bonkers but quite brilliant’ – Timeout. ‘The theatre company excels itself with the premiere of its latest show, Montagu’ – Stage Review. It’s great to see the Tabard putting on such good theatre in our very own thistle patch. Watch our interview with Christien and a couple of clips from the play.

Mary Macleod says Conservative manifesto will provide “safe and thriving communities”

Mary Macleod, the Conservative candidate for Brentford & Isleworth says the Conservative manifesto provides “a national plan for a stronger economy, better services and safe and thriving communities.” Commenting on […]