Blair – Progressive but authoritarian

Tony Blair is a man much disliked particularly within Labour Party circles but, without doubt, he has been the most progressive PM the UK has had in many generations. Yes, I know that’s not saying a great deal because all the other PM’s who have won General Elections, have been Conservatives.

The left and particularly those who are within Labour’s fold seem to hate Blair with about as much passion as they hate Thatcher. This has long intrigued me not least because all the other elected PM’s, as I said, in recent times have been Conservative and therefore regressive of political nature.

Why does the left despise Tony Blair so much?

Readers of this blog site will know that I’m no supporter of Blair or indeed Labour as both are generally too right-wing and authoritarian for me. As a Social Liberal, I certainly don’t see myself as a centrist or a moderate, more as someone who is of the left but not a socialist. Having said that, I am happy to acknowledge that Blair is the nearest thing we have had to a progressive winning elections and sitting in No.10 because for me it’s a statement of fact. Yes, he was too moderate, too centrist, too authoritarian and not progressive enough for my political taste and of course he fouled up hugely over Iraq but having said all that he is still the most progressive PM to win general elections in many a year.

Listening to Labour folk talk about Blair over the years I think the reason they dislike him is due to his perceived middle-classness. With Labour very much a class-based party being working class is very important to them. And how many times have I mentioned the Labour Group on Sefton Council launching into a chorus of ‘we are old Labour’ whenever Blair or New Labour came up in a council meeting whilst TB was PM; it must have meant a lot to them to need to be seen to distancing themselves from their own party in government. The odd part of all this is I’ve rarely if ever heard Labour members chuntering about Blair because of Iraq. You see to those of us lefties who are not within the Labour fold that was his greatest foul-up.

I’m also guessing that being anti-Blair is something those within the Labour Party have to be for them to have credibility, so there’s probably a fashion in Blair-slagging even from those Labour members who have a sneaking but unspoken liking for him and his governments.

Do I like Blair? No, not really, he often comes across to me as rather superior and irritating to listen to. Having said that he sometimes has well thought out progressive things to say and at times I’ll say Blair is right. Trouble is most Labour folks cover their eyes and put their figures in their ears whenever Blair appears on the TV.

Blair’s Government called it both right and wrong over Sefton’s Council Housing

One of his government’s unnecessarily authoritarian moves affected the Borough of Sefton and in particular its council housing stock and it shows how Blair could be good and bad at the same time. He was spot on when it came to realising that council/social housing across the UK was not up to standard so his government devised a policy called Decent Homes Standard. Sefton Council was in the frame for a big chunk of his government’s money to bring its council housing up to this new standard BUT, in a typically Labour move, they took the view that the council was not the appropriate body to get the work done. They demanded, as my friend and former Borough Councillor Geoff Howe recently pointed out, that the Council transfer its council housing stock over to a housing association or there’d be no money provided to bring Sefton’s council housing up to the new Decent Homes Standard. It sounded to me like blackmail then and it still does now. It led to Sefton having to ballot its council house tenants over such a transfer, which on the first ballot they refused but then agreed to via a 2nd ballot.

I never quite got why the council would not be an appropriate body to get the work done; did Blair’s government think Sefton would take the money and use it unwisely? It certainly showed a lack of trust in the council in my view yet there’d been no previous fall-outs with them before they took what I saw as an unnecessarily authoritarian position; a position which led directly to a new housing association having to be set up to deliver the Decent Homes Standard with both land and housing needing to be transferred to it. I still think the whole saga was a waste of time and resources because it also meant that Sefton Council no longer had control over its social housing stock. It was a ‘we in Westminster know what’s best for Sefton and if you don’t agree there’s no money to do up your council houses’ position and it was ridiculous authoritarian micro-management. I don’t have a problem with housing associations, I might add, it’s just that in Sefton’s case it was simply an unnecessary requirement to have to create one in my view.

So yes I have big issues with Blair both nationally and locally but whichever way you cut it he is still the most progressive politician to win the PM’s seat in General Elections for far too many years. On that basis can I suggest that hounding Blair for his failures whilst not being willing to acknowledge his generally progressive position on a number of important social issues is counter-productive as the alternative has always been a Tory one!

A woodland without a forester? – Part 1

A friend of mine recently mentioned an issue with regard to an area of woodland to the west of the River Alt within Sefton Borough in the Civil Parish of Sefton. The issue is about a carved wooden owl which had, I think, been provided/erected as a piece of public artwork (on a concrete base) probably when the woodland was laid out/created around 2002. The owl has keeled over or even been pulled over as this photo illustrates:-

The area concerened is the green shaded one with the location of the carved owl where the red circle is drawn.

My first thought was, oh that will be a matter to be raised with what was the Forestry Commission, now rebranded as Forestry England. After further thought, other organisations came to mind who had or may have had a hand in the laying out of the various pieces of woodland in this part of Sefton Borough back in the early 2000s, or who hold ongoing maintenance responsibilities. Those other organisations are The Woodland Trust (I think they just coordinated the early 2000s work), Groundwork Trust, Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority (MWDA) and possibly Sefton Council. I mention MWDA because quite a bit of the land over which the woodland planting was done had previously been used as landfill sites.

A walk in the woods (nothing to do with Bill Bryson’s excellent book I might add) was required to orientate myself and my friend acted as my guide. As we entered the relevant section of woodland this sign came into view:-

Clearly, it has the logos on it of two of the organisations I mention above.

So I fired off an email to pretty much all of the organisations I’ve listed and replies started to roll in. MWDA told me that their responsibilities are only associated with the landfill under the woodland. They thought the relevant part of Groundwork Trust had gone bust around 2005 and that it was possible that Sefton Council had taken on the land. Forestry England confirmed it was not one of their sites and they said they thought it may have passed through the hands of more than one organisation finally indicating that they felt the site was likely to the responsibility of MWDA. They also sent me this updated site plan:-

The area we are looking at above is the green one without a red line around it.

And then yet then another organisation came to mind called Mersey Forest so I emailed them too.

In words used to title the Isaac Hayes album – To be Continued – Keep an eye out for posting two……….

Dogs – Love them or dislike them these are the Sefton rules

Here’s a link to the updated rules for dogs on public land and highways:-

www.sefton.gov.uk/dogs

I’ve not had a dog since I was 14 but I do occasionally look after this lovely old chap called Chester:-

I’ve said it before but I really do wonder how one person can look after 6 dogs. Frankly, keeping Chester out of mischief is a big enough job when he comes to stay with us, another 5 Chesters is utterly mind-boggling to me.

Anyway, as Sefton Council has updated its rules which I might add will apply to all parks and gardens in the Borough (including those run by Maghull Town Council, Aintree Village Parish Council & Lydiate Parish Council) I thought I’d put the new rules out there.

A tribute to ‘Pat from Lydiate’

For the last 5 years, one of my Borough councillors for Park Ward of Sefton Council has been Independent Pat O’Hanlon. She effectively took up as a Borough councillor as I bowed out of being one in 2016.

I got to know Pat as she was one of quite a few environmental campaigners who came together from across the political spectrum to oppose high-grade agricultural land being taken out of the Green Belt in Sefton Borough for development via the Sefton Local Plan; a fight I had long been involved with myself as regular readers of this blog site will be aware. Pat came from a Labour/socialist background but had left the Labour Party due to its stance on this hugely controversial issue. Indeed, she didn’t just leave Labour she stood against them and took a Sefton Council seat off them in Park Ward.

I liked working with Pat as she reminded me of another previous councillor for Park Ward – Lib Dem Robbie Fenton – who was tenacious and very determined to pursue any and every issue brought to her attention. Like Robbie, Pat did not seek the limelight as a councillor, she just got on with the job and she did it very well.

I was disappointed when it became apparent that Pat would not be contesting her Park Ward seat this May as politics needs the Pat’s and Robbie’s of this world who don’t give a damn who they take on.

Before Pat was elected she gained the nickname ‘Pat from Lydiate’ as a consequence, I think, of an interview on Radio Merseyside. She was also a very significant campaigner against asbestos pollution and I think it fair to say she gave both Sefton Council and the Health and Safety Executive a real run for their money over it.

Well done Pat, I’d be surprised if anyone who’d approached you during your term of office as a borough councillor had anything but good things to say about you. You more than did your bit for Lydiate, Maghull and the local environment; enjoy your retirement.

Cycling and crossing Maghull’s ‘Berlin Wall’

The new (ish) cyclist unfriendly Alt Junction in Maghull

Maghull is very flat so you’d expect it to be perfect to cycle around and yet the busy A59/Northway cuts Maghull in half. I’ve always said it’s akin to the Town’s own Berlin Wall when it comes to cycling and even to some extent walking. I have of course blogged about this matter many times before and called upon Sefton Council to improve the lot of cyclists wanting to cross and cycle safely along Maghull’s great divide. Here’s a link to a previous posting of mine on this matter:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/09/03/maghull-lydiates-berlin-wall-the-bible-of-cycling-infrastructure/

I was and for that matter still am unimpressed with the new(ish) Alt junction as, in my opinion, it’s not cyclist-friendly. Expecting cyclists to dismount and then follow the same circuitous route that pedestrians have been landed with at this junction is not encouraging folks to leave their cars behind, in fact, it probably has just the opposite effect!

So, why do I return to this subject now? Well, improvements are afoot as shared-space cycle/pedestrian routes are being constructed on either side of the A59 between the Town Hall/Hall Lane and Damfield Lane junctions. The Damfield Lane/A59 junction, which has a poor accident record, is also being turned into a traffic-lighted one.

So the lot of cyclists is being improved although clearly, an A59 safe cycle route needs to pass through all of Maghull and indeed Lydiate to reach the cycle tracks along the A59 to the north of Robins Island in West Lancs. But don’t be churlish Robertson progress is being made which should be welcomed, and I do indeed welcome the progress.

Here are some shots of the work presently being undertaken at Damfield Lane and along the A59 to the Hall Lane junction:-

Looking towards the Town Hall/Hall Lane junction with the new and widened shared space path.

Elevated view of new Damfield Lane junction layout.

Damfield Lane junction looking north

It will be interesting to see how cyclist-friendly the Damfield Lane junction is when works are completed because from my perspective cyclists should not have to dismount to travel through a junction as seems to be the highway engineer’s want at the Alt junction. Junctions should be designed so that cyclists can go through them safely whilst pedalling not via having to walk.

I’m sure there’ll be much more to comment on as our presently very limited local cycling network is painfully slowly expanded.

Lydiate – Football changing room transformation

I’ve blogged a number of times previously about how Lydiate Parish Council is upgrading its sports/fitness/football facilities at Sandy Lane Playing Field. The works include new additional changing rooms (which should be put in place towards the end of May) and a big refurb’ of the existing changing rooms. Additionally, outdoor fitness equipment has been relocated from LPCs Village Centre Site in Lambshear Lane and land drainage under the football pitches is actively under investigation with a view to resolving water-logging issues as far as possible.

The project is complex and is being supported financially by the Football Assn. One of the significant aims is to get to a position where women’s football is properly catered for. And there’s still another big issue which we need to find a way forward for; turning the tennis courts into a multi-sports area (MUGA) with a much-improved surface, but not everything can be tackled at once.

These two photos show some remarkable progress with regard to the old changing rooms which are being transformed as I type this blog-piece:-

A disability toilet has already been installed and there’s a bespoke fitted out area in the present building for the making of refreshments/a community cafe.