Thursday, 27 May 2010

Save Middlesex Philosophy! Rally Thursday afternoon

Just time to post the text of a leaflet advertising a rally at the Hendon campus of Middlesex University on Thursday 27 May (today). Students and staff are campaigning to keep the highly regarded philosophy department open. I shall take the Barnet TUC banner - I hope to see some of you there!

save middlesex philosophy

Bullying managers at Middlesex University have suspended three philosophy staff and four philosophy students for the ‘crime’ of campaigning to save their own jobs and courses.

The Middlesex managers want to shut down the university’s world renowned philosophy centre. They say philosophy makes ‘no measurable contribution’ to their profits.

Students occupied the Mansion Building at Middlesex’s Trent Park campus for 12 days in protest at the closure decision. Management reacted by lashing out with suspensions against staff and students. They are threatening everyone involved in this peaceful protest.

We must not let them get away with trashing Middlesex’s academic reputation, shutting down successful departments and intimidating staff and students who stand up to them.

Come to our protest rally on Thursday 27 May, 4pm onwards, at Middlesex University’s Hendon campus, NW4 4BT.

Check for news and updates

Monday, 24 May 2010

Plus ça change...

Or not.

I had a très rapide jaunt to Paris this weekend to attend the annual fête of Lutte Ouvrière (LO - Workers' Fight). This is the jamboree of one of the longest established of the French Trotskyist groups. The other long established French Trotskyist group, the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire (LCR - Revolutionary Communist League), dissolved itself last year to form, with others, the non-Trotskyist Nouveau Parti Anti-Capitaliste (NPA - New Anti-capitalist Party). As far as I can tell, it is now suffering a massive crisis of identité and efficacité.

I have been to the LO fête for many years (though not every year). It's a lot of fun in the sun plus a chance to keep my rusty French going and meet up with some old friends. I can't actually remember how old I was when I first went but I must have been in my mid 20s. What a frightening thought.

Anyway, this weekend gave me, among other things, the chance to reflect on some of the things that have changed since I first attended. When I first went to LO fête the following were not ubiquitous and I at least could only have dreamed of them:

mobile phones
the internet
a tunnel under the Channel, and the Eurostar - it took practically all day to get to Paris.
We did, however, have a Tory government...

Political debate at a previous year's LO fete

Friday, 21 May 2010

They're just not having it! New occupation at Middlesex Uni

Students and staff at Middlesex University are refusing to accept the planned closure of the philosophy department. They left their occupation of the administration building at Trent Park last Saturday in some disarray, after the university obtained an injunction.

On Monday night Barnet trades council joined some of the students in a demonstration outside the Hendon campus and Hendon Town Hall. The students have been leafleting the university open days this week.

This evening I hear that around 50 students and staff have occupied the library at Trent Park. Some details here on their website.

Think what you like of occupation as a tactic, the campaigners' refusal to lie down and take what they regard as an unjustified hit certainly impresses me.

We are going to need more of that spirit in the months and years to come, when many services that people rely on will face the axe in the attempt to restore the national finances at our expense.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Vote for Paul Holmes - Unison general secretary election - to defend public services

Another important election is taking place. Voting has opened in the election for the general secretary of the bigggest public sector union Unison. This union represents many white collar (and some other) workers in local government, the NHS, schools, etc.

There is a battle between the incumbent general secretary Dave Prentis and two other candidates. I think people should vote for Paul Holmes. He has a great record of building his Unison branch in Kirklees, and is pledged to take an average worker's wage, not the £120,000 that Prentis takes home.

Holmes wants a union that will defend its members against the looming cuts, and to defend public services. He wants to use the link with the Labour Party to the benefit of public sector workers and users, not to the electoral advantage of the Labour Party solely! Barnet Unison branch is backing Paul Holmes.

If you would like some leaflets to distribute at your workplace, telephone 07817 595626. Only 16% of members vote in these elections, usually, so active campaigning can make a difference. Thanks.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Another Barnet council AGM, another protest

The timing was a coincidence, but this evening I helped to organise a Save Middlesex Philosophy protest outside the Middlesex University Hendon campus on the same night as Barnet council AGM at Hendon Town Hall. We took our banners along there as well.

Middlesex University management, who have taken the short-sighted decision to close the university's very successful philosophy department, are part of the Local Strategic Partnership with Barnet council. There are some tensions with Middlesex University expanding its operations at Hendon; these can only increase if the university follows through on its plans to close the Trent Park campus (chasing those property speculation bucks) and move all courses to Hendon.

Does Barnet want to host a university that is solely focused on business and management students, packed in and taught as cheaply as possible, or can we see some value in having a balanced university that is as famed for its arts subjects as business, economics, etc? We are lucky to have a university in Barnet. Let's have one we can all be proud of. The Save Middlesex Philosophy campaign website is here - find out more and lend your support.

Last year, at this time, we were organising a Save Sheltered Housing Wardens demonstration outside Hendon Town Hall. I think, on balance, that protest caused the police more headaches than this evening's! Barnet sheltered housing features in tonight's (rescheduled) Panorama programme. (I'll have to watch it tomorrow on the internet as I'm finishing some work now.)

Pics from tonight's protest above. The man in the second picture is Middlesex University Vice-Chancellor Michael Driscoll. In the third picture, you can just see Barnet's chief exec Nick Walkley, coming out to check that we aren't about to storm the Town Hall and upset the mayor's canapes!

Which side are you on? Greeks or Germans?

Friday, 14 May 2010

Never mind the politics

I have read on some blog comments (eg, this one) that Malcolm McLaren was from Burnt Oak, at least, that he attended Orange Hill grammar school. Stone me! Can anyone confirm?

I'm off to Blackpool in a couple of hours for the trades councils conference. As to what is happening in the wider world of politics right now, my only comment is "what he said".

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Challenging times for the left and the unions

I'm racing to finish a piece of work and haven't time to say much about anything right now - and the world keeps on turning?! I'm posting here the comment I made to an article in the Times series. In it Lynne Hillan says that she would review the relationship of her Tory group with the local Lib Dem Group, in the light of the coalition at the top of their two parties.

Barnet Tories and Lib Dems work more closely together. Hollow laughter all round, I would think. Joking apart, it does raise interesting questions.

On a question like sheltered housing warden cuts, Labour nationally didn't have a line but said it was up to local councils to do what they liked on this, and they made it possible for the cuts to be made.

Locally, some Lib Dem and Tory councils have gone for axing the wardens - and some haven't. It seems to be up to local party groups what stance they take. So in Barnet Lib Dem group was against warden cuts.

I don't know about the inner workings of the Lib Dems - how much autonomy do local groups have? Will they be forced to work closer with Tory groups on councils? (Shudder!)

I agree that Lib Dems are to the left of Labour on some (too many!) policies, and they have forced some good concessions from the Tories in this coalition deal. But my basic take on this is that all 3 parties (their leaderships, at least) were promising massive public sector cuts, whereas I don't believe that public services should be forced to pay for a crisis we did not create.

And Lib Dems have talked about banning public sector strikes, which is something the Tories would like to do as well. Let's see whether that is something this strengthened centre-right brings forward quickly? Challenging times to say the least, for the left and the trade unions. Gulp!

Vicki from Barnet trades council

Monday, 10 May 2010

It's nice to have a nibble on it now and again

I know what I'm doing on Friday night. I'm representing Barnet TUC at the annual trades councils conference, which is held this (and possibly every) year in Blackpool.

Banish stereotypical images of the Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club from your thoughts (Vicki). We've deadly serious matters to discuss. Next week, I shall report back on the proceedings.

Alas, this absence means I shall miss Roger Tichborne's fundraising band night. The rest of you have no such excuse. Please support this event if you can - visit Roger's blog for details.

Meantime, I am getting in the mood for my trip oop north with this video of George Formby singing about his little stick of Blackpool rock. I used to find George a bit creepy but I am warming to him (his wife, apparently, felt the same). He was a good singer, his lyrics are funny, and I love the banjo/banjolele. There is also a story of him being booted out of South Africa in 1946 for playing to black audiences that endears him to the likes of me.

Go on, have a nibble!

Barnet almost on Panorama - transmission delayed by ongoing election coverage!

Tonight's "Panorama" programme was to have featured Barnet sheltered housing residents, as it is all about the looming council cuts, and people up and down the country already fighting back against various attacks on their services.

But transmission of the programme has been postponed due to ongoing coverage of the election fallout. Actually, it would have been most useful if this programme had gone out before the election, but that would have been too political for the statutorily neutral (yawn) Beeb.

Anyway, you can still see a lovely pic of Barnet campaigners on the programme website here.

Letter to the future

With the news this week that governments are failing to stem the extinction of species (one report here) we cast about for an answer. Showing politicians that we give a damn is a start.

If you have time, please sign up to the RSPB's "Letter to the future" campaign. You can find details here. The spiel is overly saccharine for my tastes, but its heart is in the right place!

Meanwhile, I am thinking of adding to the biodiversity of my garden by digging a pond. One never knows what one might attract!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Farzad Kamangar executed

I signed into my blog this morning and thought of removing the "I'm supporting the Socialist Campaign to Stop the Tories and Fascists" logo, which has been there throughout the election campaign. Nah, I thought, leave it for a few days more, people might find it interesting, and the site it links to has analysis of the election results.

I looked at the picture of Farzard Kamangar, a Kurdish Iranian teacher, imprisoned and sentenced to death, allegedly for terrorist offences, but actually because he was a fighter for Kurdish rights and, for a while, a militant teacher trade unionist. There was no question of me removing that!

I thought about Pauline Levis, who lives in Barnet, who has waged a long, dogged and ultimately successful battle for the right of Behnam Askari and his family to stay in the UK and not be deported back to Iran where he faced likely persecution. She stuck at it for years. Whatever else Pauline did, Behnam's campaign was there for people to sign up to.

I hoped in a small way to do that with the Kamangar logo at the top of my blog. Whoever visited, I thought, might take the time to click through and send a message to the evil Ahmedinejad.

Pauline's Facebook page this morning conveys the news that it's too late. Farzad Kamangar, along with four other Kurdish political prisoners, Ali Heydarian, Farhad Vakili, Shirin Alam-Huee and Mehdi Eslamian, has been executed.

I went to an inspiring talk yesterday up at the occupied Middlesex Uni admin building, where students and staff are battling to save their philosophy department from the axe. The talk was by Ali Alizadeh, a veteran of the student battles in Iran around 1999. He spoke about the 2009 protests against the stolen election.

We had a bit of a debate about the meaning of elections in Iran and in the UK. To my mind, he implied that in the UK we have become complacent about our democratic freedoms. Whether he's right or wrong about that, this depressing news about Kamangar reminds us of how people around the world are dying to win the sort of democratic rights that we enjoy.

Read more about Kamangar and the circumstances of his death here. Then enjoy this poem, which the poet dedicated to Iranians' fight against repression:

Cut the rope

Cut the rope I

cut the rope from
the neck of the convicted
and bind the judge

Cut the rope II

put the judges to court
and give them a fair trial
for their death sentences

Cut the rope III

life is sacred
no one may steal the right
to breathe freely

Bjarne Kim Pedersen

Where's MY Labour council?!

I've been too electioned out to pay enough attention to what happened in the local elections past the borders of Barnet, but news is slowly filtering through to me that Barnet council is almost unique (slight exaggeration) in not having fallen to Labour on 6 May.

Barnet Tory Don't Call Me Dave sportingly lists all the councils that have changed on his blog:

In neighbouring Enfield, Labour won 9 seats to take control from the Conservatives. In Harrow, Labour added 10 seats to oust the Tories. Labour also won control of nearby Brent, Camden and Ealing.
Frankly, looking at this list, I'm starting to feel cheated! Why, especially given the particularly arrogant attitude of Barnet's Tory administration, did our Labour group only manage to hold its own on Thursday and not sweep all before them?

I did think, when I read it, that Labour group leader Alison Moore's comment to the Times series reporter was strange:

“This is a dismal result for the Barnet Conservatives, and their leader Lynne Hillan, who talked of 'turning Barnet blue' in this election.

“I am delighted that we have kept all our hard working Labour councillors and increased the size of the Labour Group as well.”
In fact, the Labour group went from 20 councillors to 21. So, why did Barnet's Labour group not do better? It's certainly something to ponder - and rue.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Tories 39, Labour 21, Lib Dems 3 - let the nastiness commence!

The Times series reports rather a bollocks (it's a day for intemperate language in Barnet blogland) overall picture in the Barnet council elections:

Conservatives 39
Labour 21
Lib Dems 3
Lib Dem leader Jack Cohen comments on his party's poor showing:
It's disappointing. I think we were always up against it because the General Election was on the same day.

The local elections are about candidates who work and have a strong personal vote, but in General Elections many people don't take that into account.
Barnet blogger Roger Tichborne is one that has lost out. He would have made a great councillor. Don't bow out now, mate! With this crew in charge, we're going to need your wit and wisdom more than ever.

Barnet Tories will be feeling massively vindicated and will be rolling up their sleeves ready to inflict their wretched plans on Barnet: cuts to sheltered housing wardens (and it won't end there), easyCouncil... Just as soon as they have got over their champagne hangovers, that is. (I know, I'm just rubbing salt into the wound now.)

The more I see of them, the more I understand that Tories are hardnosed characters. Let Nick Clegg bear that in mind if he wants to go into coalition with them.

Barnet council elections microsite is hopelessly slow!

Update: don't bother with the website I link to below! Like everything else Barnet council comes up with in the new social media line, it's useless - hopelessly slow!

The blanks are slowly being filled in here, on the council's local elections microsite which I have belatedly discovered.

I note that Daniel Webb, Barnet council cabinet member for policy and performance, has lost his seat in Underhill to Labour.

Council leader Lynne Hillan has been re-elected in Brunswick Park, with slightly fewer votes than her fellow Conservative candidates.

The choices we make - why Dismore has lost Hendon

Andrew Dismore very narrowly losing Hendon is depressing news. Three Tory MPs in Barnet - argh! They'll be cock-a-hoop.

I don't think if I'd stayed in the constituency and knocked up for Dismore yesterday I could have won him the seat! But if I'd known it would be so close, I might well have stayed and tried... We choose what to do based on assessments we make and we sure as hell don't have perfect knowledge.

I said I would go to Hayes and Harlington to knock up for John McDonnell MP. The local Labour Party was nervous that he might lose; the Tories were suggesting they might win.

In addition to the general disillusionment among previous Labour voters (not, as it turns out, as deep as we all predicted), McDonnell had particular pressures on him.

With the Labour government proposing the third runway at Heathrow, a significant chunk of the constituency was in danger of being literally obliterated. The Tories were oppposing the runway. And there are two immigration detention centres close to the airport, so the anti-im/migration rhetoric in the election has had particular resonance there.

John McDonnell opposed the third runway - from conviction, not just professional self-interest! - and is not anti-im/migrant. In the event, he has won with a stonking majority, his share of the vote only slightly down.

So, I wasn't needed there at all!

However, as miserable as I am about Matthew Offord's wafer-thin win, I don't feel too guilty personally about Dismore. I did things in his favour which in their very small way might have helped to make the vote close.

The local Labour Party should reflect hard on whether it is doing enough to engage local members and residents. Do Labour voters feel any ownership over the party? I certainly don't. Not so long ago, trade unionists would almost automatically have turned out to canvass for Labour. Trade union branches would have sent delegates to the Constituency Labour Party meetings. Those days are passed - can we get them back?

Dismore is reported by the Times series as saying:
“I don't think there was anything me or my team could have done. If we had had more support in door knocking I think we could have won.

“The Conservatives had the Ashcroft funded billboards all over the borough and we just couldn't compete with that sort of money.”
Dismore and Labour politicians like him need not just to seek scapegoats and apportion blame, but to think about what they can do to revive active support for Labour at the grassroots.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Barnet Tories' three big ideas examined, Or: How big is your bin?

The Barnet Tories' manifesto is basically what they put in their recent full-page newspaper ad:
1. Barnet's first Council Tax freeze in the borough's 45-year history

2. Conservatives will never allow development on the Green Belt

3. Conservatives will continue to collect rubbish on a weekly basis

On 1, please see my post below.

On 2, please read what Roger Tichborne has written about Belmont Children's Farm and what David Miller has written about council leader Lynne Hillan's election material for Brunswick Park ward. Hillan says:
We have seen what overdevelopment has done in many areas of London. High-rise blocks of flats, over crowded estates and the demolishing of our family houses is not allowed in Brunswick Park.
Whereas, it's perfectly alright for wards such as Colindale.

On 3, this really doesn't sound like much to boast about. We have a weekly rubbish collection at the moment. Around the country, we hear, some councils have tried to bring in fortnightly collections and often backed down due to their unpopularity.

But this guarantee is not very reassuring to Barnet residents and voters. Much more to the point is what Barnet Tories' easyCouncil idea will mean for rubbish collection.

What we really want to hear from Barnet Tories is: what sort of rubbish collection service will we get for our council tax and what will we have to pay extra for?

You might not think there is any wiggle room here for the Tories, a weekly collection is a weekly collection, no? Yes, but how big is your bin? Seriously. Tories say they might offer discounts for people who only put out small amounts of rubbish. They might offer smaller bins for people interested in this. It would not be difficult for them, inverting the principle, to start charging people more for using the standard sized bin.

This would penalise the worse-off and people who, for reasons beyond their control, create more rubbish. I help to look after an ill, elderly woman and providing for her needs produces much more waste than the average.

Perhaps easyCouncil will actually end up being more like Starbucks, with bins coming in tall, grande and venti sizes, according to your taste and pocket.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Why I vote Labour

Working-class people are more likely to vote Labour, posh people are more likely to vote Tory. The Lib Dems draw their support from people in the middle. Well, that's a very short-hand exposition of what political scientists (pah!) call 'party identification'.

There is a huge percentage of 'mavericks' in all classes, of course. However, I think the general pattern holds.

I grew up in a poor, white-collar family. My parents were from working-class families but grammar educated. My mum became a teacher; my dad a structural engineer (I'm still not sure what that is). I always thought of myself as working-class. My mum asked me, aged 13, what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said "middle class". I wonder if I'm there yet.

So, that's one reason I vote Labour! But then 'party identification' has been weakening for decades, people are 'dealigning'. Shocks, such as the Iraq war, can break affiliations. And we all know that Labour has been moving to the right and becoming more and more of a pro-business party.

I hated the war; I hate the drift to the right; I oppose the Labour Party leadership and establishment. But I am still voting Labour. Why?

A friend asks on Facebook:

If a new party started up tomorrow and said it were going to invade foreign countries, torture prisoners, set up detention centres for refugees, privatise the Underground, and give the banks billions, renew Trident, and bring in id cards, would you vote for them? Probably not...
No, probably not, but the whole point is that the Labour Party isn't being set up tomorrow, and it wasn't set up yesterday, but a hundred years ago. For a hundred years, the Labour Party has, totally inadequately, but it has, represented the working class in politics. You don't easily find a replacement for that.

My friend goes on to say:

...but now you find out that they're funded by trade unions, so that's alright then?
I believe in trade unions having a voice in politics. I don't agree with Nick Clegg in state funding for parties. I do believe in capping expenditure in elections, so that richer people and groups cannot just buy votes by out-advertising their opponents (the largesse of Lord Ashcroft disbursed in the direction of the Hendon voter in the last few weeks has been truly humbling - but if he paid tax on all his earnings, we could decide how to spend it, and it wouldn't be on cheesy Tory leaflets). But I do believe in trade unions funding a political party.

What's wrong with British politics now, from my point of view, is that the trade unions that fund the Labour Party do not call the tune. Unite holding Gordon Brown to ransom? If only! Unions represent the interests of thousands, sometimes tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of people. It adds to democracy if they can fund a body to represent them politically.

When I say 'trade unions', of course, my interest is with the ordinary members, not the overpaid bureaucrats at the top. So that's another fight to wage: democratise the unions!

I'll go and vote for Andrew Dismore tomorrow (not a personal but a political vote) against ghastly Matthew Offord (personal and political). Then I'm going over to Hayes and Harlington to knock my guts out campaigning for John McDonnell, just the sort of Labour MP we need more of.

And, of course, in the council elections, I will be following the good advice of David Young and voting Labour, to help save the sheltered housing wardens in Barnet, and puncture the easyCouncil balloon.

Not that you asked. See you on the other side...

David Young says vote Labour or RAB in Barnet to save sheltered housing wardens

David Young has today issued a new press release on behalf of UK Pensioners Strategy Committee, the campaign he heads that is defending the sheltered housing wardens, in Barnet and nationally. I'll post the whole text below. David comes out for Labour on Barnet council. But he also says, if you can't bring yourself to vote Labour, vote for the Residents' Association of Barnet (RAB) candidates. (I've had a little debate with a RAB candidate on an earlier post about this.)

(I don't think David has anything particular against the Lib Dems...! Though I could be wrong!)

Roger Tichborne has commented that all the groups opposing the sheltered housing cuts perhaps haven't acted strategically enough during the election on this issue. He has a point.

We can be clear now, though: if you vote in a Tory council tomorrow, they will come back again to axe the sheltered housing wardens. They might not be able to push it through... but they will try to. If you want to save wardens in sheltering housing (and that's what the residents want), don't vote Tory tomorrow! David Young's press release:

UK pensioners back the Residents Association of Barnet to save wardens and public services

Don’t waste your vote - give it to RAB.

We warned the Barnet Council cabinet, they ignored us. They should have listened when we told them.

No Wardens, No Vote!

David Young, Chair of the UK Pensioners Strategy Committee, said:

“I’m advising all to vote Labour in the Barnet local elections to stop the Conservatives from running the council. If you can’t bring yourself to vote Labour then vote R.A.B., the Residents' Association of Barnet. At least this way we will have some candidates in the council who will genuinely endeavour to save Resident Sheltered Housing Wardens, and our public services.

"RAB are fielding independent candidates at the local election and we are supporting them.”

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Sheltered housing campaigner says don't vote Tory in Barnet

David Young, the Barnet-based organiser of many of the protests against sheltered housing warden cuts, campaigned under the slogan "No wardens, no votes".

He and I and a lot of elderly sheltered housing residents and their supporters have delivered letters to the three main party leaders twice. The response has been feeble, with no one bothering to give a simple answer to a straight question: "Will you commit to take action to stop Councils removing Resident Sheltered Housing Wardens and where the Wardens service has been cut ensure it is reinstated?"

Councils around the country began to raid sheltered housing budgets once the government removed the ring fence from the Supporting People budget. The culprits include Lib Dem and Tory councils. I have not heard yet of a Labour council doing this, but I wouldn't rule it out! In any case, it was the Labour government that has made these cuts possible.

The Labour government's response to the question has come via the Department for Communities and Local Government:
The removal of the ring fence from the Supporting People grant, on 1 April 2009 supports the Government’s clear commitment to provide authorities with greater flexibility over their funding. However, we would expect local authorities to consult on and communicate any changes they were considering making to the support services in their area.
Since no party leader has committed to stopping or reversing the warden cuts, David Young has concluded:
We went to Clegg, Brown and Cameron on our walking sticks, Zimmer frames and wheelchairs, and the doors were slammed in our face. We urge all the righteous to support us by voting against the party in their area whose council has hurt us. We warned you, and we keep our promises. No wardens, no vote!
I happen to know that David Young is not a Labour supporter. (I don't know about the Lib Dems!) But he has concluded that people should not vote for the Conservatives in Barnet.

Let's be clear, only the Labour and Lib Dem groups on Barnet council are committed to defending the resident sheltered housing wardens. Barnet Tories are committed to axing them. If this issue is important to you, weigh it in the balance when you are deciding how to vote on Thursday.

The Barnet Press carries the story in more detail.

Defend philosophy at Middlesex University! Defend Barnet College jobs! Fight for education!

Middlesex University decided recently to axe its philosophy department. I don't know the ins and outs, but I understand it is a highly regarded department. The reasons for axing it probably boil down to cost-cutting. There will be a lot more of this in the coming months.

Some of the students had arranged this morning to meet the Dean to discuss this, but he did not turn up! They are "waiting for him" in his office at the Trent Park campus right now.

Visit the campaign website:

The students have also planned a demonstration tomorrow, Wednesday 5 May, at the Hendon campus. They are meeting at 9.30am at Hendon Central tube and demonstrating at the campus from 9.45am. It is an essay handing in day so there should be plenty of students about. If you are able to get along, please go.

And tomorrow, Wednesday 5 May, 11 London FE colleges - Barnet College among them - and four universities have strikes organised by the University and College Union, against cuts that could result in thousands of lecturers' jobs being cut and mean tens of thousands fewer college places for students.

Please support these strikes. There will be a central London UCU demonstration on Wednesday, assembling at 1pm at King's College on the Strand and marching to Parliament Square for 2.30pm.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Promoting independence? Barnet fails the frail elderly

In July 2009, around the time that they were defending their plan to cut the resident wardens from sheltered housing, Barnet's Tory administration decided
to replace the ‘Supporting the Vulnerable’ corporate priority with the more suitably titled ‘Promoting independence’.
Lynne Hillan, then Cabinet Member for Community Services, announced the change at a Cabinet meeting, saying that "Supporting the vulnerable" sounded patronising. All the user groups she had consulted agreed, she said, and were happy with the change. Given Hillan holds the purse strings, that's probably not a surprise.

If Barnet Tories are so keen on promoting independence what's this then? Barnet blogger the Barnet Bugle has drawn his readers' attention to a report in the Daily Telegraph today. It says that frail and elderly people waiting for adaptations to their homes to help them live independent lives could wait longer than six years for the change they need. Guess which council took longer than six years to make adaptations in at least one case? Which council headed the list of shame?
The average lag between an assessment of a request for help, and an adaptation taking place, was 15 months.

There were hold-ups of more than six years in the London borough of Barnet, and at least five years in Oldham, Coventry, Wolverhampton, East Sussex, Cheshire, Warwickshire and Salford.
It would be good to see more detail on this case. When someone close to me needed adaptations made they were done quite quickly, but perhaps that was because they were simple things - some rails - and because the person in question has articulate people lobbying on her behalf. Nevertheless, Barnet has a case to answer. It appears that they are falling down in their aim of promoting independence.

The phrase was always, I believe, partly simply rhetoric used to cover cost-cutting measures.

The Tories justified their plan to cut sheltered housing wardens on the grounds that the money saved would be redistributed to people choosing to stay in their own homes. Sheltered housing was disparaged as an institutional way of life that didn't suit today's modern elderly!

In fact, sheltered housing, with a resident warden, is an excellent way for people to remain independent; and sheltered housing schemes are often pleasant, sociable communities. I can't see how being isolated in your own home, with only an occasional visit from a social worker or mobile warden, is necessarily more dignified.

Barnet had better have a good story to explain away this latest embarassment. The Tories' shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley tries to put the blame on the Labour government for the failings overall, but this example has happened in our Tory-run council.

P.S. Now would be a good time to mention that the Tories, standing in the council elections, will press ahead with their plan to axe the sheltered housing wardens if they win the council. Labour and Lib Dems are committed to halting the plan. I don't know the positions of the other parties (and in the case of the BNP I don't want to know).

Barnet Tories' election claims examined no.1: that council tax freeze

Barnet Tories have taken out a full page ad in the Times series listing their candidates for the council elections, and the reasons why they think residents should vote for them.

They keep it simple. I can imagine the strategists now: let's come up with three big claims that the punters can remember (and swallow). Here are those three claims:
1. Barnet's first Council Tax freeze in the borough's 45-year history
2. Conservatives will never allow development on the Green Belt
3. Conservatives will continue to collect rubbish on a weekly basis
Are you sold? I offer this comment on the first of the claims. It makes Barnet Tories look less impressive.

At the same time as Barnet Tories passed their 2010/11 budget, including the council tax freeze, Labour and Liberal Democrat groups on the council presented alternative budgets. Labour's budget included a 1% cut in council tax; Lib Dems also proposed to freeze council tax. All parties did this in recognition of the financial squeeze on residents; but only the Tories can hope to benefit electorally from their action. It's hard to imagine that they could resist the temptation, when drawing up their budget at the start of the year, to find a way, whatever it took, to promise a council tax freeze.

But there's no such thing as a free lunch. Tax freezes come at a price - this budget entailed around £12 million in cuts. The 2010/11 budget includes around £3.1 million "efficiencies" in adult social services - including the £400,000 cut to sheltered housing wardens which has been so unpopular (and, so far, legally unenforceable). The budget includes £1.8 million "efficiencies" and £0.9 million "service reductions" in the children's service.

All parties' budgets reflect their political priorities. Are residents sufficiently aware of what has been cut to deliver the freeze? Would they be happy with the choices made? Barnet council's public consultation over the budget was tokenistic, and the participation was lamentably small. The main component was an "Online Budget Simulator" which a mere 575 people tried out. Several commented on the fact that they were only allowed to approve or deepen proposed cuts; there was no option for actually increasing expenditure anywhere.

A council report on the consultation says:
Respondents broadly agreed that the Budget Headlines had identified the right level of savings and that council tax should be frozen next year. Of those who disagreed with the freeze, respondents wanted to see increased expenditure in Adult Social Services and Children’s Services. In terms of the council introducing charges for services they don’t currently charge for, respondents tended to disagree with this concept or say they ‘did not know’.
Given the low number of respondents, all the findings are statistically insignificant.

The consultation with residents shows anything but a ringing endorsement of Barnet Tories' 2010/11 budget or their easyCouncil plans. Do Barnet Tories care? Almost certainly not. All they want residents to see is the headline boast "Conservatives freeze council tax". Whatever will get them past the election...

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Happy May Day to workers everywhere

I almost forgot, and I'm not sure I'm all that happy, but Happy May Day! It is by tradition a day that workers and trade unions celebrate around the globe.

I was going to Aylesbury to face down the EDL but the arrangements for that are a bit skewiff and I'm taking myself to Clerkenwell Green instead, for the demonstration organised by Greater London Association of TUCs. This occasion is always somewhat marred by the enormous Stalin posters carried by some of the communist organisations that pitch up. Really, where do you start with this?

Anyway, undaunted, I'm sharing a poem with you called "Workers' Anthem". The intro is written by my friend. I have only a vague idea of what the poem says (I do have "house Persian" - so long as people are asking what is for lunch or whether I've washed their blue towel yet, I'm fine). But I wanted to remember the trade unionists in Iran on this day, facing a very hard slog against their government and against their employers.

Posting a Persian script poem into a Blogger post is a challenge - the exclamation marks have ended up at the wrong ends of the line. Oh, where do you start with this?

Dedicated to workers on the occasion of "May Day"
The poet is not after supporting any particular political ideology or system. He has tried to portray a small part of the abilities, agonies, deprivations and creativity of workers worldwide. He has also made extensive and tangible use of industrial, technical and work related terms in its poetic images and concepts in a surprisingly poetic way. This has gone some way to demonstrate the high potential of Persian language in poetry. The poem was written around 1981.

The poet is Hadi Momeni, former Iranian chess champion and the coach of many of the junior chess champions from Iran (boys and, especially, girls).
"سرود همبستگي"
با چه توان كوه كند
ارتش جوشان كار
باچه توان پل كشيد
برقلل كوهسار؟
اتحاد ، اتحاد، كارگران اتحاد!

تيشهء دستان ما
بر لب شط سدكشيد
تيشهء دستان ما
در همه جا سد شكست
بهر چه برخاك ريخت
حلقهء زنجيرها
اتحاد، اتحاد، كارگران اتحاد!

 ازتپش صبح دم
تادل شب كار وكار
يك نفس وبي امان
پاي دَكَل هاي تار...
همدم ما دود وباد
همدم ما خشت وخاك
همدم ما زوزه ها....
اتحاد، اتحاد، كارگران اتحاد!

منگنهء چرخ ها
تيغهء دندانه ها
نيشتر شعله ها
تسمهء پروانه ها
ازتن ماساختند
اسكلتي سيم پيچ؛
بركف ما دوختند
اسلحه اي آتشين:
اتحاد، اتحاد، كارگران اتحاد!

پرشده در جام ها
شيروعسل، شهد وگل
خم شده بردوش ما
دودكش كوره ها....
قسمت ما بوي روي
قسمت ما زنگ مس
قسمت ما سرب داغ!
اتحاد، اتحاد، كارگران اتحاد!

يخ زده در قوس برق
گم شده در خاك پوك
دوخته بر مته ها
غلطك هرانقلاب!
ما همه يك پيكريم
قامت ما شير كوه
جوشش ما زنده رود
برلب ما يك سرود:
اتحاد،اتحاد، كارگران اتحاد!

خون رگِ سرخ ما
غنچهء قاليچه ها
جنگل فولاد ونور
گلشن بازوي ما؛
مرمر يك معدنيم
خالق گنجينه ها
شمش نَََوَرديده ايم
مالك زنجيرها
عزم خدا در زمين
باچَكُشي آهنين!
اتحاد، اتحاد، كارگران اتحاد!

همدل وهمسوشديم
ازشرر نقطه جوش
درگذراز بوته ها
جوشن رويينه پوش
مژده رسان آمديم
باگل ورنگين كمان
در كف ما پينه و
نيشكر وارغوان
زيرقدم هاي ما....
بيرق سوداگران!
اتحاد،اتحاد، كار گران اتحاد!

 با چه توان كوه كند
ارتش زحمتكشان
با چه توا ن ره كشيد
يكسره تا كهكشان؟
اتحاد، اتحاد، كارگران اتحاد!

 "هادي مومني" "1360"