Monday, 19 March 2018

Why on earth would anyone want to be a councillor?

By Lib Dem Candidate Roger Tichborne,

Why on Earth would anyone want to be a Councillor? I stood for the Lib Dems in Mill Hill in 2010. After we lost, I came to realise that I'd probably dodged a bullet. Did I really want to give up my evenings, have to deal with problems friends and neighbours were having with the council, making tough decisions about finances and cutting services. The central government is brutally chopping council funding as it imposes an austerity program. The only alternative to cuts are hikes in Council taxes, as no one likes paying more money, it is Hobsons choice. After the bruising defeat, I vowed that I'd been there, got the tee-shirt and moved on.

I thought that chapter was closed. I thought writing this blog was quite enough of a turn for the community. When I lost, I vowed to spend the time I would have spent on council business doing work for the community. I volunteered for a homeless charity. I started organising more gigs and music festival work locally. 

The Mill Hill flytipping epidemic
As eight years since 2010 unfolded, the local and national political scene became ever more toxic. When we were campaigning in 2010, we'd often bump into John Hart, Sury Khatri and Brian Schama on the campaign trail. We'd have a laugh and a joke with them. People were friendly on the doorstep. Even the Tories were polite. The only person who wasn't was a BNP supporter. He fired off a volley of insults about my parentage. I was quite taken aback. I said "Hang on a second. My Father was a bomber pilot for the RAF. He flew 40 missions for Bomber Command and was shot down and held prisoner of war in Romania. He escaped and served as an accident investigation officer for the RAF until 1946. What right have you to insult him". The chap was completely taken aback. He then said "How do I know you are not making it up?", to which I replied "Google L.F Tichborne war record on the Australian War Memorial website, oh yeah, he was an immigrant who volunteered for this country as well". The chap slunk off looking deflated. I though at the time "Why do I need this sort of S**T" at the time, but it was rare. 

So fast forward to the Summer last year. We were doing the Mill Hill Music Festival. Our banners
Smashed windows
were vandalised by thugs with blades in Mill Hill Broadway. Thugs with blades on the Broadway cannot be a good thing. We reported it to the police, thinking that they could work with the Council to catch the thugs. I accept that vandalising banners is not crime of the century, but the fact people had blades was pretty scary. There was also a spate of broken shop windows. As a business owner, I know just how expensive and disruptive this is. I spoke to the owner of the Creamery, which was a particular target. She had the same tale as with our banners. The Council were completely unhelpful. I'd thought that there would be seamless coordination, however anything but was the case. Councillor Joan Scannell, who is on the festival organising committee took up the cudgels, but we never got a satisfactory answer. 

As a regular dog walker, I saw ever more flytipping on our regular walks. As a car driver, I play "dodge the pothole" on my journeys around the Borough. The convenience store in Mill Hill, where I often buy provisions and who fix my iPhone when I drop it, saw a tragic event when Vijay Patel was killed. I've lived in Mill Hill all of my life. I love this area. My parents are buried in Hendon Cemetery, my children attended local schools. This brings me back to the question I asked. Why would anyone want to be a councillor? I'm an engineer by trade. An engineer's job is to improve things. To make things better. An engineer hates things that are broken. We cannot help ourselves but to try and make them work again, work better and last longer. It is becoming ever clearer that something serious is broken locally. 

What could be more important than our community? Back in November I was asked if I'd consider standing for the Lib Dems in Mill Hill. I was reluctant. There are two reasons. The first was I really wasn't sure if the Lib Dems could win. The second was that I wasn't sure if there was any prospect of actually fixing the council if we won in Mill Hill. It is a huge commitment and if all you do is spend hours being ignored by the ruling party, is there any point?

Flytipping in Wills Grove
I discussed this with my fellow prospective candidates, Richard Logue and Donna Pickup. We agreed to do a street stall in the Broadway to gauge local feeling. If there was a hostile response or no one was interested, then it would be pointless. The response was overwhelmingly positive. That answered the first question. But the second question was a harder one. The existing Tory Councillors, Val Duschinsky, Sury Khatri and John Hart have always struck me as decent people. The conundrum was that if they couldn't get anything done and they belong to the party in power, what chance have the Lib Dems got to achieve anything at all? 

This was answered last year, in a most unexpected way. The Mill Hill Neighbourhood Forum published a brochure to promote Mill Hill. In it there was an article penned by Mill Hill Councillor Val Duschinsky. It mentioned the stirling work done by her and her fellow Tory Councillor John Hart. The Barnet Eye was puzzled to note that this flagrant plug for the local Tories omitted any mention of Councillor Sury Khatri, the other Mill Hill Councillor. We made some discreet enquiries. We were told that the Mill Hill councillors did not get on. There is an old adage "United we stand, divided we fall". If local councillors can't work together, then they will get nothing done. We were told that there had been an almighty bust up in the local Tories concerning the opening of the new Mill Hill Town Square, which the neighbourhood forum has been working to promote for several years. It seems that this squabbling lead to the delay of the opening of the Town Square. There is an old adage that there is no "i" in team, yet the local Tory team of councillors clearly were putting their own personal feelings above getting things done for Mill Hill. 

The only conclusion that we can draw is that we need a team of councillors who can work together for Mill Hill. If we have a team that wants the best for Mill Hill, rather than settling scores with each other, then maybe we can get some really good things done for Mill Hill in the Council chamber. 

There are several things which are no brainers. The Mayor of London has offered to fund extra beat officers. The Mill Hill Conservatives voted against this with the Barnet Tory group. They even voted for a motion labelling the Mayor an "Enemy of the People". There is no way that I would ever adopt such a stupid and divisive motion. We'd work with the Mayor and get the bobbies on the street, we'd also bring back the local street skips scheme, where the council had "skip events" where residents could bring large items out to be disposed of. This was popular and all fly tipping virtually stopped. We'd also get pro-active action to stop fly tippers. As to potholes, we'd like to see engineers from the Council inspect the work of contractors before they pay their bills. If they do a sub standard repair, then they don't get paid. 

There are many reasons people might want to be a councillor. Some do it to improve their CV. Some do it because they want the prestige of being recognised in their community. As for me? The answer is simple. I live in Mill Hill and I want my home town to be the best place to bring up children, bury your parents, walk your children and live your life. 

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Time for Mill Hill to come together