Cllr Alexander Stafford discusses latest political developments in Northern Ireland

Tags

, , , , , ,

As an advocate for the Union, Councillor Alexander Stafford recently wrote a piece for leading Conservative website, ConservativeHome, looking at the development that for the first time in decades Northern Ireland has an Official Opposition led by the Ulster Unionist Party.

Following on from the article, Councillor Stafford was asked by Northern Ireland’s leading political website, Slugger O’Toole, to write for them on this momentous occasion.

Both articles are reproduced below and can be found here and here.


Alexander Stafford: At long last, Northern Ireland has an opposition – and thank goodness for that

Northern Ireland featured widely in the UK news recently when the Home Secretary raised the threat level of dissident republican terrorists in Great Britain from moderate to substantial. Whilst this is a concern, there was a far more significant change coming from Northern Ireland which was not as widely publicised, but which will have a far greater effect on the peace process. This was the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) ruling themselves out of the Northern Ireland Executive and setting themselves up as the Official Opposition in Northern Ireland. To many in Britain, this would seem quite normal following an election; however, this is the first time the Assembly has ever had a real and meaningful Opposition to hold the government of Northern Ireland to account.

Under power-sharing agreements all the main parties represented in the Assembly, the DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP, Alliance Party, and the UUP, can take up positions in the Executive in relation to their vote share. This means that since the peace settlements, Northern Ireland has lacked any real opposition.

Some of the smaller parties in Northern Ireland have refused to take part, but their influence and support has been minimal. Now, with Northern Ireland’s third biggest party setting up a viable alternative system of government, there really is a chance to normalise politics, offering a choice of policy to vote for, rather than merely dividing people down sectarian lines.

This move is the logical continuation of the UUP/Conservative deal of 2009. Here, the idea was to normalise politics and give the people of Northern Ireland a real choice when it comes to policy and those governing them. Since the end of the deal, the Conservatives in Northern Ireland have been stepping up to the plate, fielding candidates and starting to get some cut through; however, whilst they grow, this move by the UUP must be welcomed to aid the normalisation process.

Since its nadir in the late 2000s, the UUP has had a renaissance over the past couple of years under their leader, Mike Nesbitt. Predictions that this, the original unionist party, would fold after the rapid success of the DUP, have come to naught. At last year’s General Election, the UUP won two seats, the highest number since the 2001 election. Whilst the winning of Fermanagh and South Tyrone was due to a deal with the DUP, they managed to wrest a seat off their unionist rivals in South Antrim, showing that they can go toe-to-toe with the DUP, and win. On top of this, the recent Assembly election showed that the UUP had stopped their seemingly perpetual decline by holding all their seats.

In the short-term, the move by the UUP to shun limited power may be seen as foolhardy, after all, fewer of their ideas will be implemented and they will get less prestige – and resources – from having a minister, but in the medium and long term this can only aid their chances of completing their revival. Now the UUP has made this courageous step, it is up to the other main parties, such as the SDLP and the Alliance, to decide whether they go into the status quo Executive or become opposition MLAs and join with the UUP to form the Official Opposition to help break down the traditional sectarian divides.

This cross-community formation is not as radical as it may first seem and, in fact, has worked in other post-conflict countries. Lebanon, which suffered a bloody sectarian 15-year civil war and years of disruption afterwards has managed to somewhat normalise its politics. The main parties from all communities (Maronite, Orthodox, Catholic, Druze, Sunni, Shia, Alawite) generally broadly fall under two grand coalitions – the March 8 or March 14, with both coalitions representing parties from all religions and communities. This enables voters, of all religions and communities, to have a real choice when it comes to election time.

As both grand coalitions are a mixture of all communities, the populace are able to feel part of politics as well as showing them that there is an alternative to the sectarian violence of conflict. Whatever their belief, whatever their community, politics can transcend these divides. After all there is no community or religion that has a monopoly on the right way to collect taxes or ensure the streets are swept.

Northern Ireland is still struggling with the ghosts of its past, and the terrorist threat is still real and murderous. Nevertheless, the political parties of all colours have made tremendous steps – what was unimaginable only a few years ago is now the norm. Now there needs to be a new norm, one which gives those living in Northern Ireland the promise of a better future. Whilst the mainland parties are starting to become a significant presence in Northern Ireland, in the meantime the creation of an Opposition in the Assembly is a much-needed and overdue measure. The last time the UUP made such a courageous decision for the people of Northern Ireland was signing up to the Good Friday Agreement (in contrast to the DUP who opposed it initially) and electorally they suffered heavily for this.

Now is the perfect time for the UUP to once more show their political leadership in Northern Ireland. The peace has been secured so now it is time to focus on the proper and accountable functioning of the political institutions. The UUP have taken a brave and bold step – and should be lauded for this courageous decision.


Northern Ireland has started its first steps into a brave new political world

It is said a week is a long time in politics, and this has definitely been true in Northern Ireland. Just over a week ago the UUP made the decision to reject taking a Ministry and have instead decided to form an Opposition. The SDLP has now also decided to pull away from government and join them on the opposite side of the chamber.

Elsewhere I’ve commented that the UUP had made a “brave and bold step – and should be lauded for this courageous decision” of launching what will become the Assembly’s first ever real Opposition.

It is both the right thing for their party, by giving them a platform and a raison d’être, as well the right thing for Northern Ireland by giving choice to voters over policy and outlook, rather than dividing them along traditional lines.

Therefore, it is pleasing to see that the SDLP has broken with its fellow nationalists and will join the UUP in Opposition. These voices will significantly strengthen the Opposition and allow for a more diverse, wide-ranging and cross-community representation, giving the Opposition credibility across the country.

Nevertheless, once again the SDLP has found itself playing catch-up with the rest of the mainstream parties. The UUP’s decision made waves, and all credit to the media-savvy Mike Nesbitt on being able to grab the momentum for these changes; however, the SDLP’s hand has been forced.

The UUP manoeuvre put the SDLP between a rock and a hard place.

By sticking with the status quo, when there is an Opposition they would struggle to make their voice heard in the Assembly, and their raison d’être would continue to be questioned; if they moved in with the UUP they would be seen as reacting to events, merely copying a group who has already made a brave decision.

Rather than creating a new movement and be seen to drive forward a new type of politics, the SDLP is running the risk of constantly chasing the latest fad, rather than displaying in-depth thought leadership.

The differing approaches, and timings, from the UUP and SDLP belie their different prospects. The SDLP continues to struggle to elucidate its relevance in an already crowded field, which is having an effect on its vote share. The UUP, however, is at last starting to turn the corner electorally.

Gaining two seats at the Westminster election and maintaining the number of seats at the Assembly, demonstrates that the worst is over for the UUP and it is possible for things to get better.

With the Opposition move, Mike Nesbitt has clearly seen a gap in the market, one that the previous UUP/Conservative deal aimed for, and is trying to use it as a springboard for the future of Northern Ireland politics.

These changes have caught off-guard the DUP and Sinn Fein. The SDLP decision to move should be of serious concern to Sinn Fein. The Shinners have recently been feeling the squeeze across several arenas in Northern Ireland and this pronouncement by the SDLP will only add to this pressure on an unexpected front.

Whilst it remains to be seen if any of the nationalist vote will now return to the SDLP, the Shinners will have to take the potential threat seriously, and no amount of bluster from them hides the fact that they have been wrong-footed and made to look weak.

Between the options of Opposition and joining the Executive, is it only right that the SDLP has moved in with the UUP. It will help to normalise politics in Northern Ireland, giving all members of the community a genuine choice of policies and ideas.

Whilst this move is not going to completely break down the traditional divides, it does start to fragment the lines, which eventually will aid the realignment and normalisation of politics.

Whether the SDLP and UUP stick to Opposition when the reality of losing power and prestige hits them is yet to be seen, but for now, Northern Ireland has started its first steps into a brave new political world.

Advertisements

Councillor Stafford promoted to the Shadow Cabinet with responsibility for business and communities

Tags

, , , , , ,

Councillor Alexander Stafford has been promoted to the Shadow Cabinet of Ealing Council with responsibility for business and communities. The following policy areas fall under Councillor Stafford’s remit:

  • Community safety (including anti-social behaviour, drugs action and crime
  • prevention)
  • Police liaison (including Safer Neighbourhood Teams and PCSOs)
  • CCTV
  • Youth offending
  • Regulatory Services (Environmental Health, Trading Standards, Licensing and
  • Community Health and Safety)
  • Community cohesion
  • Disabilities
  • Equality and diversity
  • Refugees and asylum seekers
  • Emergency services
  • Civil protection
  • Pitzhanger Manor
  • Volunteering and community sector (including corporate voluntary sector grants)
  • Halls and community centres
  • Arts and museums
  • Town twinning
  • Neighbourhood governance
  • Employment Services
  • Business and Enterprise
  • Economic development
  • Tourism

Commenting on his promotion to the Conservative frontbench, Councillor Stafford said:

“It is a privilege to be given responsibility for business and community representation, helping shape conservative policy. The two are closely linked. A thriving community helps to create markets for good business, and good business helps to build a strong local community. I am looking forward to working with all the businesses and community organisations throughout Ealing, to make the Borough a better place.

I have already held several meetings on behalf of my new portfolio, including discussing issues from crime prevention to broadband speeds in the Borough. This new role will build on my work over the past years in building up local businesses and supporting communities.”

The promotion was reported by the Ealing Gazette and  Ealing Today.

Councillor Alexander Stafford supports apprentices

Tags

, , , ,

Councillor Alexander Stafford has recently raised the issue of equal pay for apprentices employed by Ealing Council.

Ealing Council is a certified London Living Wage Employer, but Councillor Stafford uncovered reports that apprentices employed by the Council are only paid the National Minimum Wage, rather than the higher London Living Wage.

Councillor Stafford commented: “The council boasts that it is a Living Wage Employer;  however, it hypocritically does not pay all of its employees equally. Apprentices are not only key workers, but they are the future and lifeblood of the council. We need to be encouraging the best to apply and lead by best example. The council should be sending out a strong message of support and encouragement to these hardworking men and women. The council currently has £18 million in reserves, yet will not pay wages equally. It should always be equal pay for equal work.”

This was reported in the Ealing Gazette with the article found here.

Living Wage

Councillor Alexander Stafford supports the Easter Passion Play in Ealing

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

On Good Friday, Councillor Alexander Stafford supported the 2nd annual Passion Play in Ealing Broadway by volunteering to be an usher, aiding the procession and ensuring a fun and informative morning was had by all.

The Passion Play was part of a Churches Together in Ealing initiative, which saw all the Ealing churches work together to put on the performance. The Play started off in Haven Green, led by Steve Newbold, the Vicar of St Stephen’s Church, with songs and readings, before the procession made its way past Ealing Broadway Station and along the Uxbridge Road, before ending up in the churchyard of Christ the Saviour, where the reenactment of the Crucifixion took place.

Councillor Stafford commented:

“It was an honour and a privilege to help out with this year’s Passion Play. Hundreds of people attended what was a very moving occasion, celebrating the death of Jesus Christ. I know for many people this was the highlight of their Good Friday celebrations, allowing them to publicly worship together. It was a pleasure to see all the churches of Ealing, regardless of denomination, working together to put on this great community event, and I do hope and pray that it will continue next year.”

Councillor Stafford meets with representatives from Puntland

Tags

, , , , ,

Following the launch of Conservative Friends of Somalia, Councillor Alexander Stafford was invited to meet with representatives from Puntland, the semi-autonomous region of Somalia, to discuss issues affecting the Puntland community.

Dr Deeq Sulaiman Yusuf, the Chief of Staff to the President of Puntland, was on an official visit to the UK and had visited the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where he met senior officials. Also at the meeting, which took place in the Houses of Parliament, was Mohamud Jama, Chairman of the Puntland Diaspora Forum, Andrew Rosindell, Member of Parliament for Romford, and Daniel Kawczynski, Member of Parliament for Shrewsbury & Atcham, both of whom are members of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

At the meeting, Puntland and the issues affecting the Puntland diaspora living in the UK were discussed. It focused on Puntland’s battle with the al-Shabaab terrorist group, countering the growth of extremism and radicalisation, and getting the Puntland diaspora more involved in UK communities.

Commenting on the meeting, Councillor Alexander Stafford said, “It was a pleasure meeting Dr Yusuf, representing the Puntland Government, as well Mr Jama, who represented the Puntland diaspora. We had a very productive meeting, learning a lot about the issues affecting Puntland and the Puntland diaspora. The talks focused on supporting the Puntland community in the UK, increasing their engagement with the political process, as well as the risks young people face from radicalisation. We agreed to work further on these points to fully support the Puntland diaspora in their wish to continue to play an active and strong part of the community.”

20160324_144800

Mohamud Jama, Cllr Alexander Stafford, Dr Deeq Yusuf

20160324_144651

Cllr Alexander Stafford, Mohamud Jama, Andrew Rosindell MP, Dr Deeq Yusuf, Daniel Kawczynski MP

Councillor Stafford supports the London National Park City campaign

Tags

, , , ,

Councillor Alexander Stafford has met with Daniel Raven-Ellison, who is leading the London National Park City campaign, to discuss the benefits of designating London as a National Park City. Councillor Stafford wanted to find out first-hand about this campaign and the benefits it could bring to the whole of London, as well as locally in Ealing.

London is one of the world’s most distinctive cities. Thousands of years of human activity is visible – but London is shaped by its hills, valleys and rivers, too. Boasting four World Heritage Sites, London’s urban and built heritage sits alongside its conserved natural landscape. It is home to 8.6 million people as well as more than 8.3 million trees and 13,000 species of wildlife.

Part of the proposal is to form a Greater London National Park City Partnership. It will uphold the purposes of the National Park City and work towards realising its true potential. It will not have any formal planning powers, but will seek to influence the everyday decisions that people make. This new organisation will add a new layer of opportunity – not bureaucracy – to the capital.

A defining quality of the Greater London National Park City will be to stimulate an atmosphere in which millions of people take everyday actions to improve the quality of their lives and enhance the city itself.

Initial aims of the Greater London National Park City Partnership will be to work with others to:

  • Ensure 100% of Londoners have free and easy access to high-quality green space
  • Connect 100% of London’s children to nature
  • Make the majority of London physically green
  • Improve London’s air and water quality, year on year
  • Improve the richness, connectivity and biodiversity of London’s habitats
  • Inspire the building of affordable green homes
  • Inspire new business activities
  • Promote London as a Green World City
  • Nurture a shared National Park City identity for Londoners

 The full proposal can be read here.

Councillor Alexander Stafford commented “It was great meeting fellow Ealing resident Daniel to discuss his plans to turn London into the first National Park City. I am fully supportive of these wonderful ideas and I know my residents want to do what they can to make London both a greener city, but also a more prosperous one. By pledging the support of Ealing Broadway we give a clear and firm commitment to improve the quality of life for all Londoners.”

National Park

Cllr Stafford supports the Ealing Churches Winter Night Shelter at Ealing Abbey

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Councillor Alexander Stafford recently visited the Ealing Churches Winter Night Shelter, when it was based at Ealing Abbey in the heart of Ealing, meeting with the volunteers and guests throughout the night.

The Ealing Churches Winter Night Shelter provides emergency dormitory style accommodation for up to 14 guests for those who are sleeping on the streets, are at immediate risk of rough sleeping locally and the ‘hidden homeless’. The shelter is open during the winter months from late November to the end of March.

On each night of the week a different church opens its doors to guests, providing a hot meal, somewhere to sleep, breakfast and, above all else, companionship and friendship. On average, guests stay with the shelter for about 4 weeks before moving on, usually to more permanent housing.

Councillor Stafford said “It is an inspiration to see firsthand all the amazing work that Alison and her team do at the Ealing Churches Winter Night Shelter in supporting the homeless in Ealing. It was a refreshing approach of love, help and support. I had the privilege of speaking to several of the guests, as well as all the volunteers who make the service possible. It is a great organisation and I would like to encourage as many people as possible to get involved and make a difference to the homeless throughout these cold months.”

To make a donation please visit here.

Ealing Chruches Winter Night Shelter

Cllr Stafford speaking to Steven, one of the guests at the night shelter

Success for Suicide Prevention Campaign

Tags

, , , ,

Following on from the launch of his suicide prevention campaign, Councillor Alexander Stafford was pleased to receive encouraging news from Great Western Railway, who have agreed to look into the issues raised and take action accordingly.

In response to Councillor Stafford’s letter, Mark Hopwood, Managing Director of GWR, said they will install a new retractable safety fence to limit access to some of the platforms and will consider placing suicide prevention phones at Ealing Broadway station when they remodel the platforms this year in advance of Crossrail. Mr Hopwood added:

“Ealing Broadway station is currently undergoing major rebuilding work associated with CrossRail and as such we are mindful that on completion of the building work there will be new customer areas in which a Samaritans phone could be installed. We will work with the developers and CrossRail to find a suitable location to install a Samaritans phone on completion of the building works.”

Councillor Stafford praised the response as a positive step forward and he is now seeking to liaise with all relevant parties to look into further improvements. He added: “This is very good news for Ealing. I will continue to liaise with all the local residents and key stakeholder to make further positive changes to the stations in Ealing.

This success was reported in the Ealing Gazette and on Ealing Today. It was also reported on Health Watch Ealing’s site.

For confidential support on mental health call the Samaritans on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org 

20160212_160819-1

Cllr Stafford fights to preserve Ealing’s Victorian heritage

Tags

, , , , ,

Cllr Alexander Stafford has been fighting to prevent the demolition of some of Ealing’s much loved Victorian and Edwardian heritage. The plans for developing the Arcadia 9-42 The Broadway site were revealed last January and at the time Cllr Stafford had strong reservations, especially in regards to the proposed 18 storey tower block on the development.

Whilst the developers did make some minor changes to improve the plans, Cllr Stafford is aghast that the 18 storey tower is still going ahead, as well as plans to demolish the corner of the site, taking with it a much-loved Victoria building.

The plans are opposed by Historic England, the Victorian Society, the Ealing Civic Society and many other local groups. Historic England notes that the development will result in the loss of 11 buildings described as “a major part of Ealing’s Edwardian and Victorian built heritage”.

Senior Victorian Society Conservation Adviser, James Hughes, said:

“Ealing Council should sit up and take notice when Historic England says that a scheme is so harmful it would undermine an entire conservation area. The amount of destruction this scheme requires would have an irrevocable and negative impact on central Ealing’s fundamental character and appearance. A total rethink is needed to redevelop the site sensitively so that these buildings, their character and that of the wider area is preserved”.

Speaking at the committee Tony Palmer, on behalf of Save Ealing Centre, said he was passionate about Ealing, it’s present and it’s future. He quoted Christopher Wren, arguing that “architecture defines community”, and pointed out that residents he represents were furious about the plans, saying “don’t consign Ealing to a Legoland dump of bits and pieces…this Queen of the Suburbs needs to stay proud”.

Unfortunately, the planning committee voted 8-5 to allow the controversial decision to go ahead. Following on from the decision, Cllr Stafford commented:

“I am very disappointed with this damaging decision that will rip the heart out of Ealing Broadway. Buildings that have stood for over a century are being destroyed to be replaced by identikit units that neither preserve the past nor usher in a future suitable for the local community. On top of this, Haven Green, the lungs of the Broadway, will be in a 18 storey shadow, damaging the flora and fauna, and dwarfing the area for miles around. This sets a worrying precedent for developers to ignore Ealing’s much loved and needed conservation area.”

Cllr Stafford’s objections were highlighted on the front page of the Ealing Gazette for two consecutive weeks, as well as in subsequent issues and featured in the Evening Standard and Ealing Today.

Cllr Stafford supports #VisitMyMosque day in Ealing

Tags

, , ,

Cllr Alexander Stafford supported the #VisitMyMosque day on Sunday, visiting the West London Islamic Centre (WLIC) in Ealing. This is a national event organised across the UK by the Muslim Council of Britain and in Ealing the WLIC put on a sumptuous afternoon tea with exotic cakes and good conversation.

It was a chance for the whole community to come together and for people to learn and be informed about the mosque’s place in society.

The aim of the day was to make local communities more familiar with Islam, sharing experiences, raising questions and discussing issues and challenges, all within a friendly environment. It was an opportunity to learn and create better understandings between people of different faiths and none.

Cllr Stafford comments “This was a wonderful day of community engagement where we were warmly received, discovering a lot about Islam, the mosque and the good work which it carries out. The day attracted dozens of people from all faiths and communities and I came away with a far better understanding of the mosque’s place in our society, as well as a deeper understanding of the issues which affect the Muslim community.

I hope that the West London Islamic Centre continues to host such events as a pillar of the West Ealing community and I would encourage all residents to take the time to visit the West London Islamic Centre to see first hand the work which it does. My special thanks to Imran and Ayesha who made me most welcome at this informative event.”

20160207_152815

Cllr Alexander Stafford supporting #VisitMyMosque