Sunday, 4 January 2015

An Exclusive Interview With Shepherd's Bush MP Andy Slaughter

Andy Slaughter MP. Photo: Wikipedia
A General Election is looming in May, and the old certainties of Labour -v- Conservative no longer apply. Coalition politics, the steady rise of UKIP, and an almost-victory for the Scottish Nationalists in the recent referendum means that political power in the UK looks more unpredictable than ever. With that in mind, we are inviting our local political candidates to talk about what the future holds for Shepherd's Bush, and what our politicians can do to improve our neighbourhood for the benefit of all our citizens. First up is local MP Andy Slaughter, our incumbent Member of Parliament.

Hammersmith Hospital A&E was closed down in 2014. Image: Wikipedia
Elections tend to focus on national issues, but for many voters local problems can be much more pressing. What would you say are the big issues that will face our community over the next five years?

Andy: The number one issue – for me and in my inbox – is the NHS.  That may be because of the Government’s disastrous plans for Charing Cross which are still playing out, but I think the NHS would be number one anyway.  The closure of Hammersmith (and central Middlesex) A&Es in September has made this part of London one of the worst three performing regions in the NHS in terms of A&E waiting times.

But that is just part of a jigsaw of woes that includes difficulty getting to see GPs, ambulance response times, delays in both surgery and outpatient appointments and falling standards of care and safety mainly due to staff shortages.  The idea that we could lose the emergency services at Charing Cross on top of this – current plans are demolition with loss of 95% of inpatient beds, the A&E, stroke unit and intensive care – is absurd and I hope we will see this plan shelved in 2015.

London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham Town Hall. Photo: Wikipedia

The Conservatives lost the Council Elections earlier this year, despite being a "flagship" Tory Council, and apparently a favourite of David Cameron. What did they do wrong,  and was there anything they got right?

Andy:  They made the fatal political error of listening to themselves rather than the people they were elected to represent.  The Tories in Hammersmith are a  peculiar bunch, more like a sect within a Party than mainstream politicians. That doesn’t mean that some of them aren’t competent and can be decent councillors if they put their extreme views to one side, but power made them arrogant.

They supported the closure of A&Es and redevelopment of the Charing Cross site as luxury flats.  They sold off or demolished good quality affordable housing.  They allowed developers to build whatever they wanted irrespective of the impact on residents.  They were scornful of a lot of what people value about Shepherds Bush, its diversity, services for poorer people, children and the elderly.  They knew the price of everything and the value of nothing – just look at the sale of Hammersmith Park and Shepherds Bush Market.

Hammersmith Park - under threat

A big issue for people in Shepherd's Bush, especially families with young children, is the future of Hammersmith Park. Local opinion seems to be strongly against the Play Football development. Is there any realistic prospect of revisiting the planning permission and changing the outcome?

Andy:  This was one of the worst decisions by the previous council.  They virtually gave away almost half of a public park to a developer, along with planning consent to turn it into a money-making venture including car park and bar.  They even indemnified the developer against legal action by residents, using public money!

The open meeting two months ago left Play Football very clear about residents’ opposition to their scheme.  The problem is they already have most of what they need legally to go ahead.  A very delicate negotiation is in progress to try and recover the park for public use.  I am hopeful that Play Football will realise the damage to their reputation and a deal can be done, but we are not there yet.

Play Football Plans for Hammersmith Park

Voters can often feel disconnected from both national and local politics - what can be done to make residents of The Bush feel like their voice can actually make a difference?

Andy:  Shepherds Bush residents are not shrinking violets.  Hundreds write to me every week about every issue - energy bills to the Middle East.  I think Shepherds Bush was neglected under the previous council, so the election in May 2014 showed you can make politicians listen.  But other events, like the A&E closing at Hammersmith, make people cynical about how governments behave.

I try to engage on as many levels as possible – by knocking on doors every weekend, through email and social media and by attending residents’ meetings.  I think the councillors do likewise but other organisations are not so good.  Cuts in policing mean we no longer have neighbourhood teams, the NHS locally clearly isn’t listening and the big developers are completely irresponsible in the way they dump unaffordable blocks of flats everywhere. The latest example, Boris’ development corporation at Old Oak, may end up ruining the Scrubs as well as taking the last big brownfield site out of public hands.

The answer is to fight back.  And I’m pleased to say we have a huge number of excellent civil society organisations locally doing just that from single issue groups like Save our Hospitals to long-established amenity groups like the Hammersmith Society.

Charing Cross Hospital A&E - under threat of closure
Now that we have a Labour Council in charge in Hammersmith, what sort of changes will we see in the way local services are being delivered?

Andy:  I think the Labour Party in opposition locally watched in horror not just what the Tories did but how they did it – with little consultation or regard to residents’ wishes.  That made them want to do things differently.  Consulting before they make decisions and giving residents a real voice in the outcome.

I think we have seen positive steps already: re-letting vacant council homes rather than selling them off, ending charging for home care and council tax for foster carers, saving Sulivan school, stopping the hike in parking charges.

They are funding more beat police officers to compensate for the cuts in Safer Neighbourhood Teams, have set up an independent inquiry into the future of the local NHS and negotiated more affordable homes on existing developments. They are trying to prioritise the needs of the vulnerable, help those who contribute to the community and provide a high level of local public services.

Shops along the Goldhawk Rd awaiting demolition
Why do you oppose the redevelopment of Shepherd's Bush Market? Should we not welcome such a big new investment in our community?

Andy: The Market needed improvement because London Underground had taken the traders’ rents for years without maintaining it.  But the council used this as an excuse to encourage a developer to turn the area into luxury flats.

Few of the traders or shopkeepers doubt that if the Orion scheme goes ahead there will be no market in 5-10 years’ time, save a few novelty stalls.  This is a crude piece of social engineering – the market didn’t fit the brave new world the Conservatives saw for Shepherds Bush.  The investment is in building 200 luxury flats that will probably be sold abroad to people who never live in them.

Not only the stalls but the Goldhawk Road shops and the housing for vulnerable people on the site would go.  The Government’s own inspector agreed after a long public inquiry that the scheme would destroy the essence of the Market, but the Minister sided with the developer. Now we are back with the lawyers, seeing if the Government’s decision can be further challenged. 

Westminster - could it work better? Image: Wikipedia

If you could change one thing about the way politics works at Westminster - what would it be?

Andy:  I’d like to change the whole way Westminster works.  Most people think politicians fail to connect with their voters and yet many MPs do work hard on individual issues and cases in their own constituencies.  The problem is with Westminster – MPs are supposed to be representatives of their electorate but too many of them get lost in the cliquey, outdated world, and quite a few like the gentleman’s club atmosphere.

That in turns puts off a lot of people who should be MPs – people from normal backgrounds, women, ethnic minorities and younger people. I’m always happier and more comfortable working in Hammersmith than in Parliament, but leaving the House of Commons to the same people who have dominated it for centuries is self-defeating and abdicates our role as lawmakers 

In the wake of the Scottish referendum we have an opportunity fundamentally to reform the way our constitution works.  More devolution, not just to England, Wales, Scotland and N Ireland but to cities like London. Replacing the House of Lords with a representative chamber as well as making the Commons reflect the country.  Ed Miliband’s proposal for a constitutional convention is gaining support with only the Tories openly opposed.  2015 may be the last election fought on the old rules.

The Bush Telegraph offers a personal view on life in Shepherd's Bush. Read about the Campaign to Save Hammersmith Park, find out about our new Farmer's Market, see what's on at The Bush Theatre,  find out the latest news on the future of Shepherd's Bush Market,  and the Council's plans to upgrade the Goldhawk Road and the Uxbridge Road. If you would like to contribute a story about our neighbourhood, email us at

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