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……….

Cycling – Nothing for Sefton’s East Parishes again

Me in my cycling gear looking grumpy over the lack of investment in Sefton’s cycling infrastructure.

Being a regular cyclist I often talk about the deficiencies in the cycling network in Sefton Borough’s East Parishes – Aintree Village, Melling, Lydiate, Maghull & Sefton/Lunt Villages – so when I came across the article linked below my eyes light up, if only just a little. And by just a little I mean that’s related to the the small amount of money on the table – £2m will fund very little in terms of safe cycling. Have a look at the article:-

lbndaily.co.uk/work-begins-mersey-pop-walking-cycling-routes/

Yes you’ve probably picked up on the very same issue that I did i.e. nothing for the East Parishes part of Sefton Borough what so ever! To save you going back to the article this is what it says will be done in Sefton Borough:-

Sefton: Cycle route through Southport town centre, segregated cycle route from Bootle town centre to Liverpool city centre.

And you know just relatively small investments in the cycling network in the East Parishes would bring some benefits. I blogged about a few of these not so long ago in the Maghull, Melling & Lydiate area:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/05/03/maghull-lydiate-melling-simple-cycling-fixes-for-sefton-council-to-undertake/

When will Sefton Council invest in the Cycling infrastructure of the East Parishes to sort out the simple missing links that are already sat there never mind getting down to serious cycle facility investment in the forgotten part of our Borough? Yes I know a new cycle path is being built from the M58 ‘Ashworth’ junction in Melling to Kirkby and there’s also been a recent ‘half hearted’ attempt to bring a cycle path into Maghull along the A59 from Switch Island but that’s about it for the East Parishes of the Borough.

Glad I got that off my chest…….

Liverpool – Factory of Dreams

Factory of Dreams – A history of Meccano Ltd – by Kenneth D. Brown is a book which was published in 2007

As a Trustee of the Maghull based Frank Hornby Trust (Hornby lived in Maghull for much of his adult life) I had been meaning to read this book for some time and lockdown gave me the perfect opportunity. The book runs to 230 pages of quite detailed information about the highs and lows of the company from start (1901) to finish (1979) and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about Hornby Railways, Dinky Toys, Meccano and indeed other products of the vast former Binns Road toy factory in Liverpool.

Many of the photographs displayed in the book are from my good friend and fellow Frank Hornby Trust Trustee Jim Gamble who has penned his own book – Frank Hornby Notes & Pictures the cover of which is displayed below (held by me) with Jim in Meadows Leisure Centre, Maghull.

For those of you reading this who don’t know, we have a permanent exhibition in Maghull celebrating the life, works & products of Frank Hornby. It’s called the Frank Hornby Experience and it’s a bespoke part of Meadows Leisure Centre which is run by Sefton Borough Council who are valued partners of the Frank Hornby Trust. Of course access to the exhibition has been curtailed during the pandemic lockdown but we hope to be able to reopen it soon and will publicise how it can be accessed.

Returning to the book which is the subject of this posting, what I liked about it is the very obvious attention to detail by the author who clearly put great effort into understanding how Meccano Ltd was run and indeed run down.

I suppose the sad part of the story is in many ways the most relevant, how the company went into decline over a long period of time. I certainly get the impression that it’s last 20 years were, with the benefit of hindsight, leading to just one outcome – closure. Indeed, when I got my Meccano set around 1966 the end of it being a Hornby family-controlled company had already happened (in 1964) and it was being run by Lines Brothers prior to Airfix taking over in 1971 with the end coming just 8 years later.

Despite the end being so sad the book is in fact a very good read indeed.

Click on the photos to enlarge them

Tony McCalmont-Woods RIP

Tony was a Conservative councillor in the Maghull area of Sefton Borough in the 1980’s and 1990’s. If memory serves he represented Park Ward for a number of years until the late 1980’s when a political power shift took place in the Maghull & Lydiate area and the Lib Dems came to the fore.

Tony was also a member of Maghull Town Council which is where I came to know him following my election to that Council in a by-election in 1985. Again, if memory serves, I think he continued to be a member of the Town Council until the late 1990’s.

My memories of him are of a chap who always wore a business suit and tie as was quite usual for gentlemen of his and my Dad’s generation. Indeed, my Dad (George Robertson) and Tony knew each other well as both were members of the former Conservative Club in Maghull – It became Kensington House Sports & Leisure Club.

In Town Council meetings Tony was always very business-like in his approach to matters and I, as a fresh faced young Liberal, looked upon him as a big beast in local politics. I was once told that Tony was expected to rise through the Conservative ranks on Sefton Council but this did not happen because of the change of political wind in Maghull & Lydiate towards the SDP/Liberal Alliance and then the Lib Dems.

I recall a conversation with him at some civic event when I asked him about his serious approach to pretty much all Council business and he laughed out loud taking me by surprise as a different side to his stern character surfaced. It wasn’t long after this that some new play equipment was being ordered by the Council and Tony was very keen that it should be galvanised to make it longer lasting. It then became a bit of regular political banter as some wag would add on to something Tony had said along the lines of ‘and get it galvanised’.

Tony also had his very own political opponent in the guise of Cllr. Audrey Beattie as every now and then they would have a reasonably ‘good natured’ set to over some matter or other much to the amusement of other members of the Town Council.

During my very last conversation with well known local journalist Jim Sharpe, a few weeks before he died a couple of months ago, he asked me whether I’d heard anything of Tony in recent times as he understood him to be quite unwell.

I did not serve on Sefton Council with Tony as he had left that Council before I was elected to it in 1999 I might add.

The last time I saw Tony was a few years back in Morrisons Maghull shop. We had a chat about the old days and he commented on how the political rug had been pulled from under his party’s feet by the Lib Dems and that Labour had now done the same to the Libs in Maghull. How true that comment was.

I was not close to Tony but I hope my recollections and memories of him, if only at the margins, illustrate the man, the politician and the local councillor.

Air quality in Sefton Borough

Air pollution has long been known to have a significant detrimental effect on all our lives, indeed it shortens lives.

I decided to have a look in more detail at this matter following Rebecca Hanson bringing the matter to my attention again recently. A good source of information is Sefton Council’s own website and in particular the page linked below:-

www.sefton.gov.uk/environmental-protection/air-quality.aspx

If you follow the links with the one above there’s a wealth of information and detail to plough through.

As a cyclist I probably notice and am more obviously impacted on by diesel particulates as I’m often sat within queuing traffic at junctions and traffic lights. Indeed, I often wonder how some diesel vehicles are still on the road based on what’s coming from their exhaust pipes!

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, why are Maghull’s circular buses not electric? And why for that matter aren’t the Royal Mail’s local delivery vans electric too? Both seem to be obvious, to me at least, for the ditching of diesel engines. I’m sure others could come up with additional examples where the routes are very local – maybe chemists prescription delivery vans, but you get my drift.

Not only is air pollution killing us it’s killing our planet!