In January, we local politicians are often asked for our New Year’s resolutions, and our hopes and predictions for the coming year.
But as a conservative I naturally look on the future with apprehension and so must first steel myself by dwelling on the glories of the past. That’s why I am starting this article with a few highlights of the year just gone.
In no particular order and by no means exhaustive, here’s a list of some of the many things I am proud of from 2015. Our A-level results were once again well above the national average and so were our GCSEs. Our Key Stage 2 results were the best in the country. All of our schools were rated good or outstanding by Ofsted. We opened a wonderful new leisure centre and a magnificent new secondary academy. And we moved forward on a huge programme of school building renewal.
And there’s more: our Planning Enforcement Team now has genuine claim to being the toughest in London and we fought successfully to retain our exemption from new planning rules allowing office space to become residential without planning permission. We committed to building a 100 new ‘extra care’ homes for our elderly residents and we were able to remain one of the handful of councils still meeting the ‘moderate needs’ of adults who need care support. We also began consulting on several schemes designed to provide a significant number of new homes, and Opera Holland Park became an independent company. What’s more our services overall remained pretty much intact despite a fifth year of austerity.
I could go on. And on. But I suppose I should say something about the coming year. As you all know, 2016 could well be the year of the European referendum. And even if the vote is delayed to 2017, the European question will this year increasingly come to dominate the political agenda.
The issue could hardly be more important but almost as important will be how the debate is conducted. Regular readers of this column will know that I am no fan of Twitter bullies and anonymous online trolls. I fear that some of their toxicity will soon enter the European debate, just as it did around the recent vote on Syria and just as it did on the Scottish referendum, in fact I fear that on the European issue, things could be far, far worse.
Personally, I think it is right that the British people are finally to have their say. I just hope that in doing so the two sides will listen to both sides of the argument, talk calmly to one another and respect each other’s perspectives. This will be one of the most important decisions our country has ever taken. Once it is made I hope that we will still be able to move forward together.