News (and stuff) from London E3

Friday 22 October 2010

Mayoral Election Result

Lutfur Rahman (Independent) 23283 (51.8%, elected)
Helal Abbas (Labour) 11254 (25.0%, humiliated)
Neil King (Conservative) 5348 (11.9%)
John Griffiths (Lib Dem) 2800 (6.2%)
Alan Duffell (Green) 2300 (5.1%)
Turnout: 25.6%

So a petition from 8% of the electorate
triggered a referendum in which 30% of the electorate
triggered an election in which 13% of the electorate
voted in an independent Mayor for Tower Hamlets.

Yesterday Labour ruled Tower Hamlets, with 63% of the councillors.
Today they still have 63% of the councillors, but no power.

Rarely has a core vote been deployed quite so effectively in the face of an apathetic electorate.

Thursday 21 October 2010

Mayoral Election Day

Today is Mayoral election day in Tower Hamlets.
Alan or Helal or John or Lutfur or Neil.
Tough choice.

My polling card arrived several weeks ago along with an information pamphlet, and that was it. None of the candidates sent me anything else - not a leaflet, not a mailshot, not even a bar graph with arrows labelled "Cannot win here". There might have been some further background in Tower Hamlets' weekly council newspaper East End Life, but they don't bother sending me that any more. There was definitely some virulent propaganda in The London Bangla - a blatantly biased freesheet targeted on certain neighbourhoods in the borough. But I saw nothing targeted at me. It's a good job I remembered to vote anyway.

I normally vote on the way into work but this time I thought I'd vote on the way home. Rush hour, before it got dark, I emerged from Bow Road station to a barrage of leaflets. OK, so there were only two people handing out leaflets, but I made sure I took both. Only then did I discover I'd been given the same leaflet twice, once face up, once face down. Still, all credit to Labour for reminding homebound commuters that there was an election on, because I suspect most of them wouldn't have remembered otherwise.

My polling station's in a nearby school on Bow Road. Again there were canvassers outside, this time supporters of independent candidate Lutfur Rahman. But they were far too busy chatting to notice me wander up to the entrance, and completely failed to hand me one of their huge wodge of leaflets they had to give away. I picked one up out of the gutter on the way out, and saw that one side of the leaflet was an approximate copy of the ballot paper with a thumping big cross showing me precisely where to put my vote. A perfect pictorial representation for voters who don't follow written instructions, or spoken English, particularly well.

The polling station was not crowded. Indeed I was the only voter present, which I found surprising given the time of day. I was completely outnumbered by the five council scrutineers, two of whom dealt with me, and the rest of whom continued overseeing nothing. While they tried to cross my name off their list, I noted that only one other person on my sheet (out of about 50) had bothered voting during the previous 10 hours. Turnout up the slightly more affluent end of Bow looks likely to be rock bottom.

Not so nearby in Bromley-by-Bow. I passed the polling station in St Leonards Street at the end of the rush hour, after dark, and the pavement outside was seething. Canvassers, supporters, supporters of supporters, and a single policewoman keeping an eye on the lot. There was no unpleasant atmosphere and I was allowed to pass quite freely (indeed some of the folk with rosettes looked very disappointed when I didn't turn into the school playground as they'd hoped). But the contrast with my own polling station was stark. This was lively and animated, with the local Bangladeshi community considerably more engaged in the electoral process. Maybe that's because Helal Abbas lives just around the corner, but it wasn't only his followers massing outside.

I passed by one more time, half an hour before the polls closed. There were still umpteen political souls milling on the pavement outside the primary school, but now accompanied by two policemen. And a police van. And an unmarked police van. And even the Tower Hamlets CCTV van, parked up opposite to keep a recorded eye on proceedings. Did something kick off while I was away? Was there a big row between the Abbasers and the Rahmanites? No idea, but I've certainly never seen quite such a uniformed presence outside a polling station before.

Whatever the final Mayoral result, one thing seems clear. The final outcome will be decided by specific neighbourhoods that took great interest, and the apathetic will have do make do with whichever candidate those enthusiastic supporters select.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Three Mills

Britain's oldest, and largest, tidal mill is in Newham. But it's also in E3. It's the House Mill, at Three Mills. And it's open every Sunday afternoon if you fancy a look round.

Three MillsThere are only two mills at Three Mills, although there used to be eight in medieval times. One survivor is the Clock Mill, so called it has a clock on the tower [photo], and the other is the House Mill, so called because the miller's house used to be nextdoor. The House Mill's the bigger, and dates back to 1776 in approximately its current form [photo]. It was built to grind grain not for flour but for the distillation of alcohol, most notably gin. All that came to an end one incendiary night during the Blitz, and it took sixty years for the mill to be rebuilt and restored. A fine upstanding body of volunteers maintain the site and open it up once a week (once a month in the winter) so that visitors can take a look around. It's busier than it could be, but not perhaps as busy as it should be.

Unlike most modern visitor attractions, the café and gift shop are located on the way in. You can have a sandwich or a toasted teacake while your tour guide gets ready, and maybe watch the introductory video (if you can hear the commentary above the hubbub of raucous diners). It's all endearingly amateur, even the unlikely second hand book stall in the corner, and all the better for it. Eventually you'll be heading off up the metal staircase which links together the old and the new parts of the mill. The miller's house turns out to be the wholly new part [photo], containing offices and a penthouse conference room, although from out the front it's a terribly convincing fake. Up top there's a fine view of the tidal river, and how it splits in half to feed the two different mills on the site. You also get some idea of the grand scale of the Three Mills film studios nextdoor, once all part of the same refinery complex, and apparently a former distribution centre for Bacardi.

But it's the old mill you'll be wanting to explore. This is a splendid building, on several storeys, lovingly assembled from pine beams beneath a steeply pitched roof. Some of those beams are English Heritage replacements, but others (the chunkier, woodwormier ones) date back over 200 years. Health and Safety dictates you can't climb right to the top, but you can look up to see the wheel which hoisted sacks of grain to the high level bins. A series of hoppers and chutes directed the grain back down, ensuring it ended up between the right millstones at the right time, ready for the clunking machinery to whirr into action and get grinding. You have to watch your head lest you hit some wooden or metal protuberance, and watch your step in case you dislodge some trapdoor and open up a direct route to the floor below.

Eventually the tour reaches ground level, which is where the milled grain ended up and where the four waterwheels are. They're in two pairs, and also from completely different generations. The largest is a metal Victorian contraption, while the oldest is wooden and so fragile that the trustees daren't even touch it. All are controlled by their own sluice gate, and exist in a dark netherworld of decay and pigeon feathers. If there's ever any money going for further restoration, it's hoped that at least one of these wheels might turn again, powered as before by the ebbing tide. Alas, given that Newham can no longer spare any money even for local schoolchildren to come visiting, further regeneration may be several years off.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

CS2 - Bow to Aldgate

A month after dropping an introductory leaflet though our letterboxes, TfL have finally got round to publishing a map showing the route of Cycle Superhighway 2 - Bow to Aldgate. It's not a very detailed map, indeed we could all have guessed it would follow the A11 from along Whitechapel Hight Street, Whitechapel Road, Mile End Road and Bow Road. No surprise either that it'll link to the Regent's Canal towpath (or "cana towpath" as the key has it). Apparently there's going to be the provision of cycle parking at Bow Church DLR station. That must be new, surely, because I don't ever remember seeing any bikes padlocked up outside. And the Superhighway will terminate at the Bow Roundabout, rather than attempting to lure cyclists across several lanes of traffic and over the Bow Flyover. That elevated crossing may come later, once the Olympics are over, because nobody dares paint Stratford's roads blue before 2012. Expect to see roadworks and junction realignments along the A11 between now and next summer... but you'll have to wait to see precisely where that might be.

Saturday 2 October 2010

E3 travel update

Run: The Olympic Marathon really isn't coming our way, is it? Not because we're ugly, nor because we're boring, but because we'd disrupt the special lanes of 2012 delegate traffic. Athletes and sponsors have to be able to get around town or else the Games seize up, so apparently it's for the greater good that 100-or-so athletes go running somewhere else. Personally, I don't get it. The road from Aldgate to Bow isn't part of the main Olympic Route Network - all the big limousines are to be directed down round via Poplar instead. There's a half mile overlap close to the stadium, between Bow and Stratford, but this is all dual carriageway and flyover so it'd be piss-easy to separate runners and vehicles. There'd be much more of a gridlock issue at the Tower Bridge end, Lord Coe has hinted, and that's the dealbreaker. But the road to Stratford doesn't start at Tower Bridge, so an eastbound marathon still ought to be perfectly possible. Most bastardly of all, the revised marathon route is then likely to head along Upper Thames Street and the Embankment ("heavily used every day of the Games with most extensive traffic management measures"). If the marathon can still shut three miles of Olympic Core Route in central London, what's the problem with a fraction of a mile further east? Dear Seb, if an announcement on the amputation of the East End's marathon is imminent, you'd better come up with a better excuse than this. A gold-medal-winning PR disaster awaits.

Rail: Good news, travellers. Crossrail looks likely to survive the upcoming slash'n'burn cuts, and will go ahead with all its stations and spurs intact. Which is great if you live in Maidenhead or Romford or Abbey Wood. But still of no use in E3. Ours is the only postcode along the entire route which Crossrail will tunnel under, but within which it won't stop. W1 and W2 get stations, and EC1 and E1, even E16, but not E3. Our nearest stations will be at least a mile away. None of the convenience, but of all the hassle of shaft-building and boring machines for several years. But you're right, who'd want to stop here anyway?

Walk: Boris's Story of London Festival started yesterday, and runs for ten days. There's only one event scheduled for E3, and even then only just. Blue Badge guides are leading £8 walking tours towards the Olympic Park, and they'll be setting off from Bromley-by-Bow station next weekend at 11am. Sounds great, except that these are pretty much the same £8 walking tours which set off from Bromley-by-Bow station every single day of every week. They're pretty popular, it has to be said, but they're by no means a special event put on for the Mayor's festival. If it's a unique local walk you want, I'd recommend the 14th Floor Project's free guided tours round nearby housing estates (being held in E2 and E14 next week) instead.