Sunday, 31 October 2010

Tories put the working class on notice

Just listened to Brian Coleman phoning in to the 5live debate on the firefighters' strike tomorrow. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack did a good job, ably assisted by Jon Gaunt, who I suspect I wouldn't ordinarily like. Iain Dale sounded rather aristocratic and out of touch.

Coleman rang in sounding breathless. Matt Wrack asked him: will you withdraw the redundancy notices? If you do, we will call off our strikes and return to the negotiating table, to discuss the shift changes you want to bring in.

Coleman's answer was: no. Basically, he says that the FBU will not negotiate. I don't believe that. I believe that the FBU will negotiate. Will Brian Coleman negotiate? We know the answer already: no. He is ready to impose the shift changes. He is ready to sack 5,600 firefighters rather than back down. (He says he is. Perhaps he will blink.)

He defended the sacking tactic, it is within the law, we are acting legally, he said. Unfortunately, he is probably correct. Coleman told us about the other recent examples where workforces have been told to accept changes to contracts or face the sack, backed up with a 90-day redundancy notice. The list is growing: Birmingham City, Sheffield, Rhondda Cynon Taf...

It is the quickest and easiest way to slash working class wages and conditions of service and it is an increasingly common practice - no negotiations, like it or lump it.

Sooner or later, the unions have to say: we won't put up with this.

Wait a minute, that's exactly what the FBU is doing. For that reason alone, the unions and all public sector workers should get behind them. Otherwise this trickle of take it or leave it ultimatums will become a flood.

The adults strike back

Walking to the Tube this morning I saw this crazy doorway. Gosh, I thought, they must really dislike Jehovah's Witnesses, before remembering it is Hallowe'en.

A whole industry is developing to cater for the needs of adults who want to get back at trick-or-treating children. I wonder what the sweatshop labourers of China think of it all, as they churn out more and more baffling and decadent lines of plastic goods. If they organise trade unions perhaps, one day, they will be rich enough to indulge in such undignified behaviour themselves.

It's too early in the year for bah humbug, isn't it? I confess, this year I have created my own fright mask to scare away anyone who ventures up my garden path.

LFB plays tricks on FBU

The London Fire Brigade summoned the FBU to talks today, Sunday, to offer them... nothing new of substance. It's hard to know why they bothered.

So tomorrow's strike is still on, 10am-6pm. Please visit a fire station if you are able to go, and show your support for the firefighters, threatened with the sack a month from now if they don't agree to new contracts.

If you're not convinced of their case, go anyway and ask them all about it.

The Sundays have been full of the most lurid tales of firefighters working as models and so on and commuting from Spain, in a desperate attempt to get the British public to hate them as much as we hate Brian Coleman. It will take a lot more than that.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man

There is a fascinating post on the Tory blogsite Conservative Home urging Tories to get behind Brian Coleman in his dispute with the London Region of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU). The post is titled "A time to support Brian Coleman" and it starts
The Bible tells us:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven...
This tells you a lot about the low regard in which Coleman is held by even his own party members. The post is interesting; some of the comments are fascinating.
The problem is that Coleman has made so many other blunders that I cannot trust him. He simply should not be in charge of anything.
It might be easier to support Brian Coleman if he wasn't such a parasite himself.

Coming out with statements like "We can sack them all like Ronald Reagan did the Air Traffic Controllers" isn't exactly sensible.

Boris should sack him and get someone in who can do the job competently.
I sat and cringed as he was interviewed on last night's ITV "London Tonight"! In that loud pin-striped suit he comes across as an appalling caricature of a Tory!
With friends like these...

Friday, 29 October 2010

Welcome to Burnt Oak cafe-cum-library-cum-dole-office-cum-any other offers?

Barnet residents probably know by now that the council is carrying out a Strategic Libraries Review (SLR). Strategic. It sounds very high-powered. If you go onto the consultation website (closes 30 November) and take part in their survey you will discover that it isn't.

It is quite tricky trawling through the long list of questions without finally agreeing that yes, you think it's a good idea if libraries share facilities with benefits offices, Citizens Advice Bureaux, community centres, etc. But if you think that libraries should remain, pretty much, as libraries, stick to your guns. I'm sure that there will be some value in some of us who think like that taking part in this survey.

However, more important will be the other activities that people do, for example, signing the Save Barnet's libraries petition. For behind all this talk of strategy is the council's simple plan to - cut libraries, possibly closing some libraries altogether, or, at least, making them share space with many other council (and non-council) services.

For a warning of what this might mean, I invite you to visit Burnt Oak library. A lot of money has been spent doing up Burnt Oak library and putting in on the ground floor desks for benefits, HM Revenue and Customs, etc. The library is almost a token element there now, and I've heard that Nick Walkley is saying that the whole place is too crowded. Well, I don't know about that, but it is an echoing, rather cold and soulless place, with washable rubber floors - in case people disgrace themselves, I presume.

What else could they fit in there to make the place pay? Maybe some hairdressing chairs and a fruit and veg stall.

I managed to lay my hands on a copy of Barnet First the other day and discovered the origins, perhaps, of councillor Robert Rams' suggestion that, once the SLR has been completed, library books might be issued from Starbucks rather than your traditional library. There is a report in there about a laudable library outreach scheme, "Bookstart", that enables parents to get together and read and borrow books for their children. The one featured is held in a Starbucks off the A5.

One user says:
"I think bringing the library service here is a really good idea as sometimes I can't make it up to the local library which is... quite a distance from me."
Fair enough. But what you'll notice she doesn't say is: I think we should close libraries and all meet up in coffee shops instead.

If Barnet does close libraries, everyone is going to have a longer journey to their local library.

I also think it's wrong to hold public events in private, commercial spaces. Why should Starbucks be making bucks out of our book borrowing?

Brian Coleman's fear of Facebook

During the fire dispute in 2002-3 a rank-and-file firefighters and supporters website, 30K, played a pivotal role in events. While the top leadership of the Fire Brigades Union buckled - surprisingly quickly, actually - under media and government pressure, 30K did its best to keep organising at the grassroots. The current leadership of the FBU is in large part a product of the experiences of that time; they will be a much harder nut to crack than Andy Gilchrist was, and I think the unity of the firefighters is stronger now.

30K became UK Fire, "The UK's No.1 Firefighters' Forum", still going strong after almost a decade (and various attempts to censor it).

So, how is social media being used in the current dispute? Well, now we have Facebook and, as you might expect, there is a Facebook group set up for firefighters and their supporters. Or there was.

The group, "I support London's firefighters", keeps being taken down and the individual Facebookers running it suspended, as the LFB applies for it to be investigated. Its current status is disappeared. Individual firefighters are being disciplined for comments they are supposed to have made on Facebook.

In the traditional media, there are all manner of shenanigans going on in an attempt to smear the firefighters; there are rumours that LFB has released details of individual firefighters to the Daily Mail so that they can run "exposés" of individuals earning London weighting and living in far-flung places like Tenerife - this can't be right when Brian Coleman himself has to live in Finchley! - and Stevenage. Wherever the papers are getting their information from, it is certainly very detailed.

Barnet council's Brent Cross plans condemned

I haven't time to comment, but below is the press release from the Brent Cross Coalition for a Sustainable Brent Cross Cricklewood Plan, on Barnet council's decision to pursue their unsustainable redevelopment plan. Contact the Coalition for more details.
Coalition Condemns Barnet’s Approval of Brent Cross Plans

The Coalition for a Sustainable Brent Cross Cricklewood Plan deplores yesterday’s decision by a single unelected official at Barnet Council to approve the fundamentally flawed planning application.

In terms of attracting private capital, this is an example of a "race to the bottom" by the Council - to get any sort of investment, come what may, and without serious consideration of the quality of the proposals.

Having lost £27 million in the Icelandic banks fiasco, and with its 'easyCouncil' approach failing to balance the books, it is not surprising that the Council have swallowed the developer’s claim it will “bring unprecedented investment into Barnet”. This controversial scheme is based on last century assumptions about housing, transport and mega shopping centres.

With capacity for additional retail space in London already under intense scrutiny, why double the Brent Cross shopping centre - causing further devastation of local high streets across North and West London?

The Coalition will continue to fight the plans building by building to ensure a sustainable scheme – one that the local community wants – is put in its place. If the developers truly wish for “meaningful engagement” with local residents, then it’s about time – it has been conspicuous by its total absence so far.

Lia Colacicco, Co-ordinator, Coalition for a Sustainable Brent Cross Cricklewood Plan

For further information/interviews contact:

David Howard, Coalition member and Chair Federation of Residents Associations in Barnet, tel 07958 509 787

Coalition for a Sustainable Brent Cross Cricklewood Plan –


(1) The “Coalition for a Sustainable Brent Cross Cricklewood Plan” comprises twelve residents’ associations plus the Federation of Residents’ Associations in Barnet (representing the 12 largest residents’ associations in Barnet), Brent Cyclists, the North West London Light Railway (NWLLR) group, Brent Friends of the Earth (FoE), Barnet & Enfield FoE, Camden FoE, Sarah Teather (MP for Brent Central), Dawn Butler, (former MP for Brent South), Labour and LibDem Councillors from Brent and Camden, Navin Shah (London Assembly Member for Brent and Harrow), Darren Johnson (London Assembly Member), Jean Lambert (London MEP), Brent Green Party, Barnet Green Party, Alexis Rowell, (former Chair of Camden Sustainability Taskforce), Brent and Barnet Trades Union Councils, and Bestway Group.

(2) The press have previously used a very glamorous artist’s impression of the development by night - in the interest of balance please consider using this graphic by the developers, it is from the planning application and shows the high-rise density of the scheme

Brian Coleman: the biggest, most useful idiot in Britain

I'm sure you don't believe everything you read in the papers, but some of the more lurid stories in the press today really take the biscuit. Articles such as this in the Sun: "Flaming cheek of fire strike boss", aimed against FBU general secretary Matt Wrack. This is not journalism, this is class warfare with the gloves off. And it's crap, of course.

The FBU have never demanded £10k in return for shift changes. And the strikes were not called over the substantive issue in their dispute with the London Fire Brigade - shift patterns - but against the sacking threat. From 26 November, all of London's 5,600 firemen and women could be sacked. We would have no fire service to speak of in London.

Where does the Sun get stories such as this? Who feeds them this crap? Who do you think?

The decision to take on the firefighters is a political one - the government wants to make an example of one of the strongest, best organised groups of workers, and batter them into submission. After that, what group of workers will have the courage to stand up to the government's cuts and job losses?

The man who is fronting this attack for the government is one of the most inept politicians ever - Brian Coleman. But he is also one of the thickest skinned and most arrogant men alive - he can take quite a lot of working class ire, he can take a lot of anyone's ire. So long as there is a London taxi for him to hop into and speed him to his next dinner engagement, and so long as there is an expense account to pay for it, Coleman will do anything to London's public services and anything to London's public servants that the government asks him to. I was going to call him a class warrior, but I think he is actually just the biggest, most useful idiot in Britain.

A leaflet outlining the main issues in the fire dispute, published by London region FBU, is available here. I urge Barnet residents to read it, and not to believe what they read in the Sun or the Evening Standard or Metro for that matter. As if you would.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Brian Coleman's inside leg measurement

With just days till the lobby of Barnet council on Tuesday 2 November (6pm, Hendon Town Hall), I am hard at work making props including a Brian Coleman guy. Someone quipped tonight that I might have trouble finding enough stuffing. Someone else suggested I shrink my ambitions and make a voodoo doll (apparently, she has one - something to do with Coleman trying to sack her pregnant sister and then run her over - I'll have to check that one: sounds a bit OTT, even for Brian Coleman).

Anyway, I think I have found the place to buy an outfit to dress my guy: Gold's Factory Outlet - "the Big Red Building on Golders Green Road (as advertised on LBC News)".

"BOGOF," the website proclaims (That's "Buy One, Get One Free", let me remind you - not Coleman's catchphrase).

"Gold's believe they can fit anyone." Not sure if they will find room for Coleman's ego, but with "a huge variety of sizes, up to 72 inch chest and 62 inch waist" they should, just about, be able to accommodate his girth.

As Barnet ephemera goes, the history of Gold's is pretty interesting too. Read about it here.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

FBU statement on Coleman's no-show; support rally tomorrow

The Fire Brigades Union has issued the statement below in response to today's much advertised but non-existent talks between the union and Brian Coleman:
Last night on national television, the leader of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA), Brian Coleman, invited us to conciliation talks at 9am this morning. It’s dreadfully disappointing that after four hours there was still no sign of him or the Chief Fire Officer, Ron Dobson. Regrettably, the brigade representatives in attendance had nothing new to say to us.

Where was Councillor Coleman at 9am, having said that he would be here in talks with us? He is not taking this issue with the seriousness that firefighters and Londoners expect of the leader of the LFEPA.

The LFEPA proposals on new working hours would seriously disrupt firefighters’ family lives and lead to cuts in fire cover. All the same, the LFEPA does not have to reach agreement with us on shifts to get us to call off the strikes. They just have to withdraw the sacking notices that were sent out on August 11th.

Our message is that we will cancel all planned strikes if the brigade agrees to lift the mass sackings. We can then negotiate a fair settlement as equal parties.

For further information please contact:-

Francis Beckett 020 8349 9194 07813 001372

Helen Hague 020 8340 75571 07889 792360
If anyone is in central London tomorrow evening, Thursday 28 October, from 6-8pm there is a rally and meeting in support of the FBU being held at Trades Union Congress House, Great Russell Street, WC1B 3LS. Come and hear the firefighters' side of the story.

Coleman won't get out of bed to avert fire strikes

I don't know if you saw Channel 4 News last night. Jon Snow forgot he was a journalist and played instead at being a tired parent knocking heads together. His two naughty children were Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), and Barnet's own Brian Coleman, chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority.

I did watch it, and I distinctly heard Brian Coleman saying he was ready for talks at any time. Matt Wrack offered to meet him after the show. Brian negotiated him down to 9am this morning. I suppose he had a dinner date to attend.

But at 9am this morning, while the FBU negotiating team, true to its word, turned up to negotiate, Coleman and the London Fire Brigade commissioner Ron Dobson did not.

Perhaps Coleman couldn't be arsed to get out of bed. Does anyone have any idea of where he was this morning?

The FBU have called strikes because they are not prepared to work with the threat of the sack hanging over their heads. As things stand, LFB could start laying off all of London's 5,600 firefighters in mid-November. The clock is ticking and Coleman is nowhere to be seen. Lazy and slippery.

P.S. This snub seems particularly insulting given that Wrack, on behalf of the FBU, recently made Coleman the gift of a book - Firefighters and the Blitz.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Guardian: easyCouncil costs more than it saves

Today's Guardian reports how easyCouncil has so far cost more than it has saved.
The Conservative-controlled north London council has committed to spending £1.5m this financial year on a much-hyped reform programme to help close a yawning budget gap, but it is on course to recoup just £1.4m in savings in the year.

The council's funding shortfall is set to hit £15m next year, and the borough has tried to innovate through its "One Barnet" programme. This includes paying to develop a system of "life coaches" to persuade residents to reduce dependence on the state, appointing business consultants to help town hall officials and even opening a library in a branch of Starbucks in a pilot which could result in the closure of some library buildings.

The programme is budgeted to deliver savings of £13m a year by 2014, about a third of the total cuts planned by the council. It had been projected to save £3m by the end of the financial year, but Lynne Hillan, council leader, has now admitted the savings will be less than half of that.
Read it all here.

Barnet council: making it cheaper to sack people

Often the most interesting business in the council goes through at meetings that don't draw public attention. Last night at the General Functions Committee, among other things, Barnet council decided to cut the amount it will pay to staff it makes redundant.

The work of a few minutes. The council unions were there to observe, of course. They have known that this is coming. Bizarrely, during the period of consultation, the council said to the unions: what can you offer us? No answer came the stern reply. What are unions? Turkeys voting for Christmas? Why would they help the council to make it cheaper to sack staff? It's clear why the council wants to do this: they want to sack staff. Why would any union help with that?

So there is some waffle in the document presented last night which says:
The Trade Unions were invited to work with the Council to draw up a new Policy and to present this to General Functions Commitee as a joint report. Whilst the Council recognised that this was a different approach it was hoped that the Trade Unions would embrace this way of working, in particular so that they could have a meaningful contribution, by for example introducing innovative ideas aligned to their members interests. Unfortunately the Council has had to revert to a traditional negotiation model, rather than the partnership working which had been offered.
So, the traditional negotiation model being employed, the council has decided to: make it cheaper to sack people. About half what it would have been (which was not all that expensive), the statutory minimum.

Since the rough figures presented to the Cabinet last week showed that they plan to sack 430 people next year, we know why they have done this.

The unions had held a consultative ballot which showed overwhelmingly that Barnet council employees did not agree with the policy of making it cheaper to sack people.

I will find out later today how the council unions will respond to this attack. Barnet residents who value their council services and the people that work in them should be ready to back the unions in any action they take. No to sackings! No to the cuts!
Barnet Alliance for Public Services planning meeting tonight
6-8pm, Greek Cypriot Community Centre, 2 Britannia Rd, London N12 9RU

Monday, 25 October 2010

Brian Coleman: the grinch that stole bonfire night

Brian Coleman's intransigence in his dealings with London's 5,600 firefighters, threatened with the sack if they do not accept new contracts, has meant that bonfire night will be cancelled this year. And Diwali too.

The firefighters' union, London region FBU, has quite reasonably told Coleman and the London Fire Brigade that they are not prepared to work over two of the busiest days of the year with such a threat hanging over their heads.

Thus, they will not be at work from 10am on Friday 5 November until 9am on Sunday 7 November.

Obviously this will be a sore disappointment to people who have been piling up old wood for a bonfire and buying fireworks. Myself, I was very much looking forward to sending my guy up in flames.

However, there is still time to save bonfire night. Email Brian Coleman to express your disappointment and urge him to withdraw the sacking threat to London's firefighters:

How to make a guy

Good old (!?) internet. There I was looking at doing something elaborate with a pillow when I found this advice for how to make a guy:
just stuff old clothes with dry straw and make a paper mache balloon head and put a mask on
(Just be careful you don't get it mixed up with advice on 'how to make a guy like you'.)
Now, all I need is the mask, oh, and an old pushchair to put my guy in and a bunch of kids to push it around. "Penny for the guy" - or should that be, Harvey Nichols hamper? Any money raised goes to the London region FBU strike fund.

Coleman relaxes as London burns

Brian Coleman's powers of relaxation are world-renowned. In the picture above we can see him relaxing at work.

In the last few days he has pronounced himself relaxed at the prospect of Barnet residents getting the keys to council grit bins this winter (no issue is beneath his consideration), but also, alarmingly, about the idea of sacking all of London's 5,600 firefighters.

He says he can replace the trained and experienced workforce quickly.

Presumably he is also fairly relaxed about the money he has thrown away on the AssetCo contract: £12 million. (It's not his money, after all.) I say thrown away, because this private company, given 27 of Londoners' fire engines to run during the FBU strike on Saturday, in no way rose to the challenge. Only about 11 of the alloted stations were covered; crews crashed engines; fires went out of control. Because of Coleman's gung-ho attitude to industrial relations, and intense relaxation at the thought of exposing others to risk, London was left without fire cover for eight hours.

Another eight-hour strike is scheduled for Monday 1 November. If Coleman cannot stop relaxing and start showing some responsibility, hopefully the people around him can. Coleman will not move out of his complacency until someone sticks a firework up his arse and lights it. Until that happens, London will burn.

The trades council and Barnet Alliance for Public Services has called a lobby of the council -Tuesday 2 November, 6-7pm, at Hendon Town Hall. Hopefully the dispute with the Fire Brigades Union will be resolved by then. If not, make this the night that you come and tell Coleman to stop playing with our lives.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Barnet firefighters: solid strike - public support needed

I went round to Hendon fire station this morning to say hello to the firefighters due to go out on strike. The shift had turned up for work at 9am; at 9.45am one engine "got a shout" and left the station. Their colleagues, including firefighters from other stations in Barnet, heeded the strike call (after all, 79% of them voted for it) and prepared for an eight-hour picket. At around 10.30 they were joined by their colleagues back from their shout.

AssetCo had been due to run an engine from Hendon. No one knew quite where they were; the engine did not arrive while I was there. There were rumours that the 27 engines, taken in the past few days from fire stations around London, had been stationed at Southwark overnight.

The firefighters told me that six people were needed to crew each engine. That means that AssetCo's workforce must be about 162 people. 100 stations will have been without cover today. It's doubtful whether even the AssetCo crewed engines were fully operational.

Morale was high on the picket line but it's true to say, I think, that the firefighters are bemused by what is happening to them. Their union is prepared to negotiate over possible changes to shift patterns; but they cannot do anything when the whole workforce of 5,600 firefighters is threatened with the sack. The 90-day notice that London Fire Brigade, and the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority with its chair Brian Coleman behind it, has issued to firefighters runs out in mid-November. What will happen next depends to a large extent on what ordinary Londoners do in the next few days and weeks.

There is a lot that we can do to support the firefighters. Email a message of support to Visit the fire stations on the next strike day - this is scheduled for Monday 1 November, between 10am and 6pm. You could visit your local station from 9am when crews are likely to be getting ready for the strike. Write a letter to your councillor, MP or GLA member. Yes, even if that happens to be Brian Coleman. He needs to know that he does not have the support of Londoners for his attacks on the FBU.

Keep up to date with the London FBU website.

There are a few of my pictures here of Hendon fire station, and also of the march against cuts in central London today which, naturally, featured the FBU.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Support London's firefighters tomorrow!

London's firefighters will hold an eight-hour strike tomorrow, Saturday 23rd October, from 10am, in protest at the plan to sack them all if they do not accept new contracts. They are inviting Londoners to visit them at fire stations when they walk out at 10am. A fair number of firefighters will also go on the march against cuts organised by the RMT and the firefighters' own union, the FBU.

The march assembles at 11am at the RMT's head office, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, NW1 1JD, which is close to Euston and St Pancras stations. Map here. It is marching to a rally at TUC Congress House in Great Russell Street.

Greg Edwards, the FBU rep for Barnet, says:
Please feel free to visit the fire stations. Strike is due to start at 10.00hrs on Saturday and there will be a main picket at Hendon Fire Station where we are expecting an AssetCo run private fire engine to be based.
AssetCo is the private company given a £12 million contract and 27 of our fire engines in order to try and break the strike. The chief executive, John Shannon, wines and dines Brian Coleman and gave him a £350 Harvey Nichols hamper. We are so blessed in Barnet that everyone wants to shower gifts on our councillors - and they never expect anything in return.

A list of the 27 stations where it is expected that AssetCo will be operating, and which will, therefore, have pickets tomorrow is available on the London FBU website.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Warden cuts: you think you're going to save money?

At a particularly vile Barnet council cabinet meeting tonight (apt, given what happened at Westminster this afternoon), the Tory administration decided to have another go at axing the sheltered housing residential wardens.

Of course, they say, the decision is not prejudged and they are going to consult widely - having full regard to all the relevant disability discrimination legislation that they fell foul of when they tried to make the cuts last year.

The funny thing is, the council sees this as a way to save money when the wardens are, in fact, a pretty cost-effective way to help elderly people to live independent lives. Many more elderly people than do could, if they felt bloody minded enough, ask to be assessed for care packages that would cost the council far more money than the £300,000 per year it expects to save by cutting the wardens.

This evening I found out that sheltered housing residents' lawyer Yvonne Hossacks is looking into doing just that: putting in for full care assessments for the residents who will be deprived of their warden if the cuts go ahead.

Here's what she has told the council: "we will be sending you the first tranche of requests for community care assessments and look for your confirmation that these will be carried out as part of your Equality Impact Assessment. Please note that we consider your estimate of community care needs if the warden service is reduced to be wildly underestimated."

P.S. Tories lie about their recommendations.

A small, cross-party team of councillors had been tasked to look into the different options for "remodelling" sheltered housing. At the Cabinet meeting tonight the Tories told us that the group's final recommendations were unanimous. I spoke to Labour councillor Claire Farrier afterwards, who told me that the report was passed "unanimously" only because the meeting that did it was deliberately organised at a time that she and the other Labour councillor, Gill Sergeant, could not make.

Brian Coleman, slum landlord

At tonight's Barnet council cabinet meeting Brian Coleman called Grahame Park, Stonegrove Park and West Hendon Estates "disgusting slums". Since he is a prominent member of the Cabinet with responsibility over these neglected parts of the borough, that makes him a self-confessed slum landlord.

These places are in need of regeneration, but the briefest acquaintance with them will tell you that they are full of decent people leading perfectly respectable lives; and they really aren't that bad places, either!

The reason they wait so long for regeneration is because Barnet council - like most councils in the land, and like the government - is wedded to the idea that regeneration can only happen when a private developer sees sufficient of a buck can be made there.

In his diatribe against "social housing", Coleman said "the market will decide". This is the same Coleman who lives in a low-rent house courtesy of the Methodist Church. Meanwhile, Barnet residents fester on the housing waiting list or make the best of living in rundown conditions.

The Labour Group was attempting tonight to get the Tory administration to agree to a review into the potential harmful effects of the recently announced cap on housing benefit, and other measures against social housing declared today as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review.

Barnet will lose money and Barnet residents could be made homeless by the new measures, some of which even Tory London mayor Boris Johnson opposes. Lynne Hillan has already written a few lines to Eric Pickles on this issue, but in public, tonight, she couldn't resist being partisan, and rejected the chance to do something manifestly sensible and in the council's interest. She wouldn't commit to a review at this stage. What's she waiting for? More shit to hit the fan?

Friday, 15 October 2010

Seconds out, round two, Or: The sheltered housing wardens battle rejoined

There's a great article in the Barnet Press today, "Residents promise to do battle once more to save homes wardens". It features David Young of the UK Pensioners Strategy Committee, based here in Barnet.

Dave says:
“Barnet Council, under the leadership of Lynne Hillan, is putting sheltered homes – and not only in Barnet – at high risk.

“It is going ahead with its plans to remove wardens from sheltered homes, and councils across the UK will be watching Barnet closely.

“If, God forbid, Barnet succeeds, other councils will follow and it could mean the demise of sheltered homes along with the wardens throughout the UK.

“We will not weaken. Everyone here is getting nervous, but we won’t roll over – our solicitor will be challenging this.”
Sachin Rajput, cabinet member for adult services, says:
“We need to look at the ways in which we are providing services and ensure we are providing them in a fair way – it will be extremely challenging.

“...My personal view is that we should spend the money that we do have on the people with the greatest need.”
What, such as elderly people, do you mean, Mr Rajput?

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Firefighters vote for strike to resist mass sacking

Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary, FBU London region rally, 16 September (Picture: V. Morris)
Below is a press release from the firefighters' union, the FBU. They have voted by a big margin to strike unless a mass sacking notice is withdrawn. The London Fire Brigade issued the notice as a threat to force the FBU to accept changes to shift patterns.

Brian Coleman is the chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. He almost certainly supported the mass sacking notice ploy, and he now has the opportunity to use his influence to have it withdrawn. Does he have the good sense to do that?

London firefighters today voted by 3482 to 943 to take strike action unless London Fire Brigade Commissioner Ron Dobson withdraws his letter of 11 August which began the legal process of sacking the capital’s 5557 uniformed and 41 non-operational firefighters. The majority was 79% and the turnout was 79%.

Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack said: “This is a huge vote for strike action. Firefighters hate going on strike – but they hate being bullied even more. This vote demonstrates that London firefighters will fight these mass sackings every step of the way. The London Fire Brigade now needs to lift the sacking notices and start negotiating properly. I hope that even at this late stage, Ron Dobson will do the sensible thing, so that we can get round a table with him and sort out our differences over shift patterns without a gun being held to our heads.”

Strike dates will not be announced today. “We are holding off announcing strike dates for 24 hours in order to give the London Fire Brigade a last chance to do the sensible thing and withdraw the letters of dismissal so we can return to negotiating on the question of shift patterns” says FBU executive member for London Ian Leahair.

If there is no word from the London Fire Brigade, the regional committee will meet with Matt Wrack on Friday to discuss setting dates for strikes.

London firefighters have been taking action short of a strike, including an overtime ban and a ban on “acting up”, since Friday 24 September.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Once more unto the breach, Or: Barnet comes after sheltered housing again

We held the sheltered housing warden cuts back for a year, through a combination of legal and political challenges. Let that be a lesson to all! Give up without a fight and you lose. Fight and you win... time, at least!

Barnet council's plan to axe residential wardens in sheltered housing schemes was ruled illegal at the High Court last December - it fell foul of disability discrimination legislation. Now they think they have it sussed, and will bring new proposals before the cabinet meeting on Wednesday 20 October.

David Young, the chair of the UK Pensioners' Strategy Committee, says about Barnet's latest plans:
“Barnet has seemingly learned nothing about the hurt and fear they are causing the older people that trusted them and gave up their homes to have the support of a resident warden.”
Now, I would have liked to go down and join the demonstration shouting - perhaps impotently - at Westminster or Downing Street next Wednesday. It is the day of the Comprehensive Spending Review when we all learn just how bad our fate is going to be in the next period. But this is a better use of my time and possibly yours:
Lobby of Barnet council cabinet meeting
Wednesday 20 October
6pm-6.45pm, Hendon Town Hall, The Burroughs, London NW4 4BG
Please come and join the lobby next Wednesday. If you would like more details email or

Monday, 11 October 2010

Don't sign the BNP petition!

The crumb of comfort I draw from the fact that the BNP is still running stalls in Barnet is that they do it somewhere different each time, and they avoid being in the same place as the stalls the trades council runs.

To that extent we have them on the run. But one could say, equally, that they are giving us the runaround.

What I have been able to deduce is that the three stalls so far have been staffed mainly by BNP members from Enfield.

Here's my take on it all.

The BNP is collecting signatures on a petition that calls for immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. If you want troops out of Afghanistan and you like the BNP, sign the petition - although you probably won't need to as you are probably in touch with the BNP already.

If you want troops out of Afghanistan and you are interested in finding out more about the BNP, sign the petition - because its primary use is as a recruiting tool and a means to identify potential postal voters for the mayoral and GLA elections. If you don't believe me, I can direct you to the radio interview where Nick Griffin explains this.

If you want troops out of Afghanistan and you don't like the BNP or you don't want your details stored on their database, please don't sign the petition. I think that a lot of people will fall into this category; some of them are signing the petition because, frankly, it's not obvious who the organisation is that is running these stalls.

The banner along the front reads “Support our troops, bring our boys home”. The BNP logo is small, although it is clearer on the sides of their table.

I've met people who thought these stalls are run by Hope For Heroes. I've also met people who, when they realised they were BNP stalls, regretted signing.

The thing that sickens me most about this current BNP campaign is the cynical and patronising attitude they are taking toward black people who sign their petition. This is from a report of a stall they ran recently:
“The one interesting aspect of the day’s outing was the large number of ethnics who agreed completely with the opposition to the war and willingly signed up." ...there was a “high level of awareness” amongst ethnics of the BNP’s new constitutional membership requirements.
That's how the BNP refers to non-white people: "ethnics". I can report now how the BNP regards "ethnics", since I had an extended verbal exchange with one of these BNP goons recently.

Gesturing to a black man standing nearby, who - alas - had just signed the petition, Mr BNP said: "He's got more brains than you and he's from Uganda!"

You see, they just can't help themselves. Even though they are now legally obliged to admit non-white members (you can be sure they wouldn't do it unless they were forced), the BNP is deeply racist. Their entire politics is based on racism.

Barnet trades council has produced a leaflet for the public explaining more about how the BNP intends to use their petition, and more about the BNP's real politics: the ones they won't tell you about on their stall. If you would like a copy or if you want to help us in our campaign to stop the BNP plying their trade on Barnet's streets, please email

Allez les bleus!

I am hors de combat, on account of having the flu. But I have enough strength to think about the French strikes tomorrow. They are having a day of strikes, nationally, and after that "greves reconductibles" in many sectors.

That means that each day the workers turn up (yes, they have to go to their workplace to do it: very particpatory) and take a vote on whether their strike continues that day.

I was "speaking" via the magic of Facebook last night to someone I know who is a white collar worker in Paris. He says that while the protests are about the pension "reform" (raising the retirement age from 60 to 62, and the age for full pension entitlement from 65 to 67) and people are angry enough about that, they also know that if they lose this fight, they will face many attacks after that: on benefits, on trade union rights, etc.

This battle is something like the French equivalent of our miners' strike, when the Tories took on and defeated the strongest group of workers, the difference being that in France the government is taking on almost the whole society at once. I have a trip to Paris booked at the end of November, by which time I think it will be clear who has won.

Allez mes braves!

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Barnet Anti Academies Alliance meeting this Monday

Barnet Anti Academies Alliance organising meeting on Monday 11th October from 6pm to 7pm at St Pauls Church, Long Lane, Finchley. Email for more details.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Automne chaud in Barnet

It is a so-called "hot autumn" in France, where their battle to stop the government increasing the retirement age from 60 to 62 (retiring at 62? Luxury!) is attaining general strike proportions. We do our best in little old Barnet, as well, though.

Here are some dates for your diary. I'm sure more will be added later! Look out for an extra special date at the end. Who knows what ampleur (as the French say) our own fightback might have reached by the new year! We might be giving the French lessons (ho, ho).

Saturday 9 October
Street stalls for the library campaign: 10.30am-12.30pm outside Poundland, North Finchley and outside Sainsbury, New Barnet.

Sunday 10 October
Street stall for the library campaign: 2.30-4.30pm outside Golders Green library.

Wednesday 13 October
6-8pm, organising meeting for Barnet Alliance for Public Services. Greek Cypriot Community Centre, 2 Britannia Road, London N12 9RU.

Monday 18 October
10am, deadline for public questions to the cabinet meeting (20 Oct). Email public questions to - questions must be on a topic that will be discussed at the cabinet meeting. The agenda for the meeting should be available from Tuesday 12 October here.

Wednesday 20 October
Barnet council cabinet meeting, Hendon Town Hall. There will be a lobby from 6pm outside, particularly highlighting the sheltered housing wardens campaign. The cabinet meeting starts at 7pm; the public may attend and there will be public questions.

Saturday 23 October
March against cuts, assemble: 11am, RMT HQ, 39 Chalton Street, London NW1 1JD. March to Congress House, Great Russell Street. Organised by RMT, FBU, CWU, NUT.

Tuesday 26 October
6-8pm, organising meeting for Barnet Alliance for Public Services. Greek Cypriot Community Centre, 2 Britannia Road, London N12 9RU.

Tuesday 2 November
Barnet council full meeting, Hendon Town Hall. There will be a lobby from 6pm outside. Meeting starts at 7pm.

Sunday 30 January 2011
Barnet march against cuts and privatisation - no to easyCouncil!

Monday, 4 October 2010

Barnet goes missing at Tory party conference

A great post on the Barnet Bugle blog (written by an actual, genuine Tory, Daniel Hope).

Apparently, from being the council that everyone wanted to emulate, Barnet is now the council that no one wants to mention. It goes to show what happens when the light of scrutiny is thrown into dark places: or when people bother to read a few council documents and ask, "hang on a minute, what's going on here?"

Viva local democracy!

Tali's Israel blog

A friend/fellow campaigner from Barnet, Tali Janner-Klausner, is spending a couple of months in Israel before she goes to university, and has started a blog about her experiences. Tali was born in Jerusalem and was moved to the UK when she was eight.

The title of the blog - "Tali's back in the nuthouse" - comes from a comment made by a fellow passenger as their plane touched down in Israel!

I grew up in an Israelophile household and worked on a kibbutz for a few months before I went to university. I had some of the best and worst experiences of my life in Israel, but at that age you will have some of the best and worst experiences of your life wherever you are! At least it was always warm!

Some more of my friends are visiting Israel around November. Like me, they are convinced "two-staters", but, as for myself, I have to say I begin to despair that two states is possible. However, one thing we can say about Israel/Palestine: it will always be warm.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Libraries campaign grows apace

I don't think there has ever been an easier sell on a public stall than persuading people to campaign to save Barnet's libraries. People were queuing in Mill Hill Broadway today to sign Rog T's petition. (If you would like a paper version, visit his blog and follow the instructions.)

A few people wanted to know which libraries will close: the thing is, we don't know. It's for us to show that our libraries are so popular, that none of them should close. As far as I know, Barnet council's Strategic Library Review is underway already, so it is very important that people make their views known early on.

You can find out your councillors' details here to send them an email. You might spare one also for Robert Rams, the architect of Barnet's library review. He looks forward (or so he says) to a day when there are "pop-up libraries" in locations all across the borough. These might include in Starbucks or Tesco.

Perhaps there is an argument for that as a supplement to actual, bricks and mortar libraries, but it should only be a supplement, not a substitute.

Friday, 1 October 2010

70s dreamboats

And, continuing the dream theme, I thought I would share some of my childhood pin-ups with you. Growing up in the 1970s, it was quite difficult to avoid falling in love with weird looking people. I did my best, but even my sporting heroes were a long way from enjoying model good looks.
Emlyn Hughes - Liverpool and England
Elton John - oops!
Derek Randall - Nottinghamshire and England
Roy Wood - oh f**k!

In your dreams

The week I've just had, I need a laugh. I'm not sure this topic qualifies, but at least it's something approaching fun.

I had some strange dreams recently, and I resorted to a dream dictionary I bought a few years ago. I suspect that the same dream dictionary has been handed from one small publisher of esoterica to another over the decades (if not centuries), appearing in various editions with more up-to-date cover illustrations, but still, basically, containing the same text, the same dreams. Hopelessly old-fashioned when I bought it 20 years ago, imagine it now.

Hoping for something more up-to-date, I looked on the internet, and, lo and behold, here is that same dictionary again, republished for an electronic age, but the same text, the same dreams: Dream Dictionary (10,000 Dreams Interpreted) by Gustavus Hindman Miller.

If you want to know the meaning of your recent dream of geese, as a sample, you are in luck, for Herr Miller can tell you:
Geese: To dream that you are annoyed by the quacking of geese, denotes a death in your family. To see them swimming, denotes that your fortune is gradually increasing. To see them in grassy places, denotes assured success. If you see them dead, you will suffer loss and displeasure. For a lover, geese denotes the worthiness of his affianced. If you are picking them, you will come into an estate. To eat them, denotes that your possessions are disputed.
If, however, you want to know the meaning of your recent dream of meerkats, I'm afraid you are on your own. Herr Miller has no entry for such a modern cultural phenomenon as a meerkat, unless you want to look for a near equivalent. Meerkat = otter?
Otter: To see otters diving and sporting in limpid streams is certain to bring the dreamer waking happiness and good fortune. You will find ideal enjoyment in an early marriage, if you are single; wives may expect unusual tenderness from their spouses after this dream.
Perhaps not.

The world Herr Miller inhabited certainly seems to have been more poetic than the world we inhabit (same world, but different time, obviously). But it makes for a very frustrating read today!

I made a short list of things that I have dreamed of recently, that clearly require interpreting, but that did not exist (or were not widely known about) in Herr Miller's time:
- Japanese knotweed
- rapidly ascending elevators
- running in the Olympic Games
- finding myself backstage at Glastonbury with a man who wants to swap passes with me
I did hint that I had had a difficult week. What troublesome symbols do you need interpreting?