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Shirley, Lady Porter, DL, (born 29 November, 1930) is a former Conservative leader of Westminster City Councilmarker in London and a prominent philanthropist in Israelmarker and the UKmarker. She is the daughter and heir of Jack Cohen, the founder of Tescomarker supermarkets. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1991.

While leader of Westminster City Council she oversaw the "Building Stable Communities" policy, later described as "homes for votes" and was consequently accused of gerrymandering. The policy was judged illegal by the district auditor, and a surcharge of £27m levied on her in 1996. This was later raised to £42 million with interest and costs. She eventually settled in 2004, paying a full payment of £12.3 million. She moved to Israel in 1994 during the inquiry, and lived there until 2006.

Origins and political career

She was born in Clapton, London, and attended Warren School in Worthing and later finishing school in Lausanne. She married Sir Leslie Porter in 1949. She was a housewife taking care of the couple's son and daughter, John and Linda but she became a magistrate before entering local politics. In 1974, she was elected to Westminster City Councilmarker as a Conservative councillor for Hyde Park Ward. In the early 1980s, she chaired the Environment Committee, calling for strict enforcement of litter laws. In 1983, she was elected as Leader of the Council. Her initiatives and policies included the Say No to Drugs Campaign and the Plain English Campaign and she was also involved in the abolition of the Greater London Council. She became the Lord Mayor of Westminster in 1990 and later a governor of Tel Aviv Universitymarker.

Initiatives

Litter

Earlier in her career, Porter garnered national attention for her involvement and implementation of anti-litter campaigns in Westminster. She became determined to clean up the borough after visiting Leningradmarker and Moscowmarker in 1976, she told the Paddington Mercury of her distaste for the Sovietmarker regime but continued "But one thing they must be given credit for is the cleanliness you find everywhere," and adding "I should hate to think that we need such a repressive regime to get our cities cleaned to their standards."

She soon joined the "Clean Up London" campaign. She encouraged hoteliers to join forces to attack the squalor that was affecting their businesses. Her enthusiasm also aided her election as vice-chairman of Highways and Work on 28 June 1977. Her anti-litter activities within the CUL campaign continued. The Paddington Mercury described Porter as "fast winning a reputation as as Paddington's Mrs Mops". She also mobilised schoolchildren in her campaign, raising brooms over their shoulders like rifles at the Lord Mayor's Show and singing "Pick up your litter and put it in the bin". By 1978, Porter had been elected as Chairman of the Highways and Works Committee, in the same year she launched the "Mr Clean Up" anti-litter campaign.

In January 1979, a series of strikes began to unfold as part of the "Winter of Discontent". Westminster was struck by the striking rubbish collectors and mounting waste in the streets. As a result, Porter opened thirty-three emergency rubbish dumps across the borough. Porter told press reporters that they would privatise rubbish collection if the strikers did not return to work. This practice was installed later on.

Porter's successive litter campaigns included the "Cleaner London Campaign", followed by the "Cleaner City Initiative" in 1980. Activities included the deployment of additional street sweepers in particularly squalor-ridden areas of Westminster for a 2-3 week period. Porter also increased the regularity of rubbish collections and convinced local businesses to sponsor litter bins.

She threatened to resign in September 1980 when her department of Highways and Works faced a £1 million budget cut; "I will resign in the event that they cut our basic services and that means keeping our frontline services and a clean and litter-free city."

In 1981, Porter launched "Operation Spring Clean", a cleaning blitz of the West Endmarker.

Soho sex trade

In the late 1970s, Sohomarker residents were besieged by the growing sex industry. Between 1965 to 1982, the number of sex shops had doubled from thirty one to sixty five. In 1982 Porter became Chairman of the General Purposes Committee and set to work in alleviating the issue. Porter and her aides soon proceeded with a fact-finding mission. The Government Miscellaneous Provisions Act of 1983 stipulated that Westminister could shut down any pornographer that did not hold a license. Porter soon decided that the number of sex shops in Soho would be limited to twenty. The legislation also insured that any successful applicants would require a minimum of 6 months residency in the UK as well as a clean police record. It was also legislated that sex shops would have to conceal their practice with blinds. Other measures included the requirement of business owners to keep a register of their staff. By February 1983, just thirteen sex shops remained in Soho.

Building Stable Communities

The Conservatives were narrowly re-elected in Westminster in the 1986 local council elections. Fearing that they would eventually lose control unless there was a permanent change in the social composition of the borough, Porter instituted a secret policy known as 'Building Stable Communities'.

Eight wards were selected as 'key wards' - in public it was claimed that these wards were subject to particular 'stress factors' leading to a decline in the population of Westminster. In reality, secret documents showed that the wards most subject to these stress factors were rather different, and that the eight wards chosen had been the most marginal in the City Council elections of 1986. Three - Bayswater, Maida Vale and Millbank, had been narrowly won by Labour, a further three, St. James's, Victoria and Cavendish had been narrowly lost by them, in West End ward an Independent had split the two seats with the Conservatives while in Hamilton Terrace the Conservatives were threatened by the SDP.

An important part of this policy was the designation of much of Westminster's welfare housing (council housing) for commercial sale, rather than re-letting when the properties became vacant. The designated housing was concentrated in those wards most likely to change hands to Labour in the elections. Much of this designated housing lay vacant for months or even years before it could be sold. To prevent its occupation by squatters or drug dealers, these flats were fitted with security doors provided by the company Sitex at a cost to local tax payers of £50 per week per door.

Other council services were subverted to ensure the re-election of the majority party in the 1990 elections. In services as disparate as street cleaning, pavement repair and environmental improvements, marginal wards were given priority while safely Labour and safely Conservative parts of the City were neglected.

Another vital part of 'Building Stable Communities' was the removal of homeless voters and others who lived in hostels and were perceived less likely to vote Conservative, such as students and nurses, from the City of Westminster. While this initially proved successful, other Councils in London and the Home Counties soon became aware of homeless individuals and families from Westminster, many with complex mental health and addiction problems, being dumped in their area.

As the City Council found it more and more difficult to move homeless people outside Westminster, increasingly the logic of 'Building Stable Communities' required the concentration of homeless people within safe wards in the City. The most morally disturbing aspect of Building Stable Communities occurred in 1989 when over 100 homeless families were removed from hostels in marginal wards and placed in the Hermes and Chantry Point tower blocks in the safe Labour ward of Harrow Road. These blocks were riddled with the most dangerous form of asbestos, and should have either been cleaned up or demolished a decade before, but had somehow remained in place due to funding disputes between the City Council and the by now abolished Greater London Council. Many of the flats had had their heating and sanitation systems destroyed by the council to prevent their use as drug dens, others had indeed been taken over by heroin users and still others had pigeons making nests out of asbestos, with the level of asbestos in flats in Hermes and Chantry Points well above safe norms.

Labour councillors and members of the public referred this policy to the District Auditor to check on its legality, and as a result it was ordered to be halted in 1989 whilst investigations continued. Nevetheless the plan had already done its work and, in 1990, the Conservatives were re-elected in Westminster in a landslide election victory in which they won all but one of the wards targeted by Building Stable Communities.

Porter stood down as Leader of the Council in 1991, and served as Lord Mayor of Westminster in 1991-2. She resigned from the council in 1993, and retired to live in Israelmarker with her husband.

Court cases

In 1996, after much complicated legal investigation work, the District Auditor finally concluded that the 'Building Stable Communities' policy had been illegal, and ordered Porter and five others to pay the cost of the illegal policy, which were calculated as £27,000,000. This judgement was upheld by the High Court in 1997 with liability reduced solely to Porter and her Deputy Leader, David Weeks.

The Court of Appealmarker overturned the judgement in 1999, but the House of Lords reinstated it in 2001 (see Porter v Magill [2001] UKHL 67, [2002] 2 AC 357). In Israel, Porter transferred substantial parts of her great wealth to other members of her family and into secret trusts in an effort to avoid the charge, and subsequently claimed assets of only £300,000.

Final agreement

On 24 April, 2004, Westminster City Council and the Audit Commission announced that an agreement had been reached for a payment of £12.3 million in settlement of the debt. The council declared that the cost of legal action would be far greater than the amount to be recovered, while Porter still maintained her innocence. The decision was appealed by Labour members on the Council and the District Auditor began another investigation. The ensuing report, issued on 15 March 2007, accepted the position of the council that further action would not be cost effective. The Auditor further stated that Westminster had recovered substantially all of Dame Shirley's personal wealth and had acted at all times in the best interests of the tax payers of the City.

The Labour Party in London has continued its pursuit of Porter and following the settlement, Porter has returned to Westminster to live, buying a £1.5m flat with family money (her husband and son are independently wealthy) The former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, subsequently requested that Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, commence an investigation into Shirley Porter to determine if she committed perjury, or other offences, during the conduct of the 'homes for votes' case.

It is also in question whether Porter is now a full-time resident in the United Kingdom, considering her commitments to the Porter Foundation and the trust's various Israel-based projects. In November 2007, The Jerusalem Post cited her as a "permanent fixture" at the annual Balfour Dinner hosted by the Israel Britain and Commonwealth Association as she does "reside in Israel". Along with her London home, she has property in the resort of Herzilya Pituach, north of Tel Avivmarker.

Philanthropy

The Porter Foundation

The Porter Foundation is a UK-registered charitable trust established in 1970. In particular, Shirley Porter and her late husband have donated funds to Zionist causes such as Tel Aviv University, where the latter became chancellor. The foundation has given several naming donations to the university: the Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics, the Cohen-Porter Family Swimming Pool, the Shirley and Leslie Porter School of Cultural Studies, the Cohen-Porter United Kingdom Building of Life Sciences, the Porter Super Centre for Environmental and Ecological Research. The foundation also provides scholarships and has paid for equipment and books. A special project is the Porter Senior Citizen Centre in Jaffamarker, a facility for elderly and poor Jews in the area (mostly Sephardic Bulgarians). It provides legal advice and companionship. The family charity also developed the Daniel Marcus Nautical Centre, in memory of Shirley's grandson, killed in a car crash in Israel in 1993 while he was on military service. Other causes include endowing galleries in Britain's National Portrait Gallerymarker, where The Porter Gallery exists on the ground floor ; the Royal Academymarker and the V&Amarker.

An upcoming philanthropic project that Porter is involved in is the construction of a new building for the Porter School of Environmental Studies on the TAU campus. According to Tel Aviv University, the building which is expected to be completed by November 2010, will be built according to principles of green design with technologies and materials that will reduce the building's impact on the environment. It will also be the university's first "green building", and one of the first of its kind in Israel. The purpose of the new development will be as a "living laboratory" for teaching and research on green architecture, both within the University and outside. On 23 April 2009, Porter, the founder of PSES was awarded a "Green Globe" for her significant contribution to the environmental movement in Israel.The Porter School of Environmental studies website has a video clip showing Dame Shirley Porter describing the new project.

Biography

In a review of the biography of Dame Shirley Porter by Andrew Hosken (see: Further reading) Nicholas Lezard in The Guardian described her as "...the most corrupt British political figure in living memory, with the possible exception of Robert Maxwell". In a London Review of Books review of the same book by writer Jenny Diski, she accused the author Hosken amongst others of anti-semitism. She cited the "echo of something more than simple class snobbery in the judgments made of her voice and decor". In particular she felt the front cover of the publication was inappropriate, branding the image of Porter as a "racial caricature" .

References

  1. Law Lords order Dame Shirley to pay £27 million Daily Mail. 14 December 2001
  2. Porter pays £12.3m in homes for votes case The Telegraph. 6 July 2004
  3. Dame Shirley Porter back in Westminster The Guardian. 7 August 2009
  4. All facts below are taken from the description of facts as printed in the decision of the Judicial Appealate Committee of the House of Lords of the Westminster Parliament in Porter v Magill [2002] 2 AC 357, and are repeated here under absolute privilege
  5. Porter's son in US loan row – The Observer, Sunday February 18, 2007
  6. Evening Standard. August 7, 2006.
  7. Guardian August 7, 2006
  8. Letter from Mayor Livingstone to Lord Goldsmith, August 18, 2006
  9. Dame Shirley Porter (Founding Director) Tel Aviv University
  10. Review: Nothing Like a Dame: The Scandals of Shirley Porter by Andrew Hosken | Books | The Guardian


See also






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