Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy new year, no, seriously!

What a busy time we've had of it in 2010 and there is a busier time ahead, in 2011. January 2011 for me will mainly be devoted to building the Barnet march on Sunday 30 January. Break open your new diaries and calendars and mark it there now! (I beg of you!)

Tell family, friends, neighbours, and workmates. If you need some leaflets to give out advertising it, drop me an email c/o

Happy new year! Check out my people of the year 2010: John Burgess and Maggi Myland of Barnet council Unison branch.

Monday, 27 December 2010


I thought I would share this crossword clue with you, from Gordius in the Guardian:

Politician is competent without Conservative leader (solution: able)
How did Barnet's Lib Dem councillors vote in the council meeting the other day? Was it for or against the cuts? That's me for a few days: back to the Baileys.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Merry Gritmas!

Gentle readers, I've made you a Christmas card, now the real ingenuity is how to get it onto the blog. If you click on fullscreen you can see it in all its splendour, I think.

Merry Gritmas!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Put the kettle on, mother, it's time for tears

There's a quite shocking picture in the Observer today, accompanying a report on the aftermath of the student demonstration against tuition fees on 9 December.
[An] anaesthetist from Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, who gave medical assistance to the protesters, said that officers forced demonstrators into such a tight "kettle" on Westminster Bridge that they were in danger of being seriously crushed or pushed into the freezing River Thames.

The 34-year-old doctor, who set up a field hospital in Parliament Square, said that people on the bridge suffered respiratory problems, chest pains and the symptoms of severe crushing.

"Police had us so closely packed, I couldn't move my feet or hands an inch. We were in that situation like that for hours. People in the middle were having real difficulty breathing."
Kettling is a relatively new weapon in the arsenal of the police, and they seem to be testing its limits. How far can they push it before someone dies? Obviously, someone dying would not look good for them but, then again, the police do seem to get away with killing people. It took 30 years for the truth to come out about Blair Peach - that he was killed by the police. The individual police officer responsible was never fingered.

Ian Tomlinson's family are still trying to get justice for their relative, who died after being hit with a baton and shoved over by a policeman during the G20 protests in 2009.

There is a new campaign to defend the "Right to Resist" and opposing tactics such as kettling; it has been initiated by activists around the student protests.

The local beat bobby

Before anyone protests that the local beat bobby (or the local Police Community Support Officer, for that matter) does a good job, up to a point I would agree. I have met some of the local police and liked some of them. (I was also struck in my dealings with them, how hierarchical the police force is.)

But that's the fluffy end of the police, if you like - and not always that fluffy, at that. The hard end is what we are seeing deployed around Westminster. And it could be coming soon to a borough near you, to judge by the recent mobilisation of riot police to deal with an anti-cuts protest at Lewisham Town Hall. Do we deserve that? I don't think so.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Talk, don't talk

Young people are getting mixed messages today from Barnet council, to judge by two reports in the Times series.

On the one hand they are being encouraged to stand for the Youth Parliament.
Youngsters can make their voices heard nationally as nominations open for the borough’s first ever representatives of the UK Youth Parliament.

...Councillor Andrew Harper, deputy leader of the council and cabinet member for education, children and families said: “The UK Youth Parliament gives young people an insight into how democracy works – hopefully we will see some of them become councillors or even MPs in the future.”
On the other hand they are being told to meekly acquiesce in the tuition fees rise and abolition of Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA).
THE council has been urged to give schools in Barnet a “directive” not to allow students to join in protests during school hours.

Tory Councillor Brian Gordon made the request at Tuesday's Full Council meeting after pupils from colleges across the borough joined thousands of others in the tuition fees protests in central London.

...The question was a follow-up after Cllr Harper had agreed “the sanctioning of such political activism in schools should be strongly discouraged”.
Meanwhile, staff and students of Middlesex University are saying that the forces of the state shouldn't be free to wallop young people over the head for going on a demonstration. They have published an open letter about the treatment of Alfie Meadows at the tuition fees demonstration in central London on 9 December. It is being carried on various blogs - because the Guardian and Times Higher Education supplement won't take it.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Save Barnet's libraries - sign the petition today (and tomorrow)!

The official consultation for the libraries strategic review closes on 17th December. Councillor Robert Rams who is coordinating the move to cut Barnet's library provision has rather hastily said that he hasn't received any petitions on the issue.

In fact, the petition coordinated by Roger Tichborne of the Barnet Eye blog is still going strong. Like a snowball picking up speed as it rolls down a hill, it is gaining momentum till the last. You can still sign the petition online at

Roger has invited Robert Rams to meet him tomorrow evening (Thursday) to receive the petition at the Adam and Eve pub in Mill Hill at 10pm (sounds like a date!). I imagine anyone going into the pub on the night can also sign the paper version of the petition. So, there's just over 24 hours to spread the word!

The petition has several thousand signatures already: let's add to that with one last push! Save Barnet's libraries!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

He knows when you've been good or bad... Join our lobby of Barnet council tonight

In the last couple of years Barnet council has become notorious throughout the land, with splashes in most of the national papers regarding its misdoings. But there is something somehow epoch-defining about its new found notoriety in the theatrical world's journal The Stage.

The Stage is championing the cause of the Arts Depot, threatened with having its council funding removed. The Stage did a feature on this on 6 December. Now Barnet is quite simply, its codeword for bogeyman, stage villain... In an account published on 13 December of a visit made to the theatre, the Stage reports:
“Are you on the nice list or the naughty list?” asks one of Santa’s little helpers as we enter the auditorium.

No prizes for guessing which one Barnet Council heads at the moment after its cheery festive proposal to cut all core funding to the only professional arts venue in the borough.
If you, along with the Stage, abhor Barnet council's proposal to cut the Arts Depot's budget, plus a myriad other services that make living in Barnet tolerably pleasant, please come to the lobby outside Hendon Town Hall tonight from 6-7pm.

I must warn you: I very much doubt we will be allowed inside. There is only room for 25 of yer actual residents in the public gallery of the council chamber. I have emailed the council and asked for an overflow room to be opened but I have had no reply, which I shall take as a "no".

So from 7pm, while the Tory - and possibly the Lib Dem - councillors are voting through a cuts budget of £54 million over three years coupled with a half-baked and expensive scheme to privatise large chunks of our public services, we will be obliged to go the Claddagh Ring to eat, drink and listen to free musical entertainment.

We have some tough fights ahead. Let's have fun tonight!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Get well soon, Alfie

Alfie Meadows, a Middlesex student who helped to mobilise about 80 staff and students from the university to go to the tuition fees demonstration yesterday, has had a serious operation after being hit by a police truncheon. See the Independent report here.

I wish Alfie well. I was in touch with him when he was part of the campaign to keep the Middlesex philosophy department open, and more recently through Barnet trades council. I'm sure we all wish you a speedy recovery.

P.S. At least one more Barnet student fell foul of the police yesterday: Shayan Moghaddam, a pupil at Woodhouse College. There is a report in the Times series.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Hiding behind kids

Some friends and I have been discussing our plans to go on the student demonstration tomorrow. We support the students' demand for no rise in tuition fees (and how about getting rid of fees altogether and reinstating free education?). And against the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), which helps children from low-income families continue in education. And against the devastating cuts planned in funding to universities, particularly for arts, humanities and social sciences.

We are also buoyed up, as many socialists, trade unionists and campaigners have been, by the young people's courage and imagination.

But along with this goes a certain amount of shame. Feelings of shame that the labour movement has allowed things to get to this pass. We are cheering on children and young adults who simply have no choice but to revolt against a massive attack on their future. If we were them, we would do the same.

But we are not them, we are older, and we have had it easier. Yet we have allowed ourselves to be ground down, and infected by the political rot around us. Now we are facing devastating attacks on our jobs and on the services we rely on. Are we responding adequately? As individuals, some of us are. But as a movement?

A number of trade union big-wigs will speak tomorrow at a lobby organised by the National Union of Students as a "respectable" sideshow. Meanwhile, a few metres away, angry young people, braving the wrath of teachers and the educational establishment, parents, a sceptical media, and the fearsome sight of police lines, including riot police, will be throwing their bodies into a kind of battle. What will the trade union big-wigs say? I hope they will not condemn the young people but will find it in themselves to praise their courage. If nothing else, if it weren't for the students, these bureaucrats would not have a platform to appear on.

What about rank and file trade unionists? What are we doing? We should support the students, but we should do it responsibly, by which I mean that we should be prepared to join them in battle, to defend our jobs and services, and, ultimately, our young people. We can't hide behind kids; we have to start fighting too.

If only all protests were as successful as this

The cold, the prospect of listening to councillor Robert Rams, and the worry of an angry protest outside combined to keep Chipping Barnet Tories away from their own meeting this evening. Roger Tichborne tells the story over on his Barnet Eye blog.

Now, if only we can repeat this next Tuesday when the Tory-run council plans to vote through cuts of £54 million over the next three years. It would be wonderful if the Tory councillors were too nervous about a lobby or cosy by their fires to turn up, or suddenly had an attack of self-loathing at what they were about to do.

(And what about Barnet's three Lib Dem councillors? What are they saying about the budget, and will they come down with abstainitis on the night? If they've any sense, they'll vote, like Labour, against.)

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

A cultural desert cannot be a successful suburb

Barnet council makes a big deal of Barnet being a "successful suburb". But a successful suburb, in the Tories' book, doesn't need museums, an arts centre, or very many libraries. If the budget cuts they plan go through, that will be the situation in the borough.

The Evening Standard has picked up on the story of the council cutting funding to the Artsdepot. Read the article by their Chief Arts Correspondent Louise Jury here.

Here's an extract:
Barnet councillor Robert Rams defended the decision by stressing how many arts were available half an hour away on the Tube.
Can I just remind people about the demonstration outside Chipping Barnet Conservatives' meeting tonight, where councillor Rams is the guest speaker? 7.30pm, Chipping Barnet Conservative Office, 163 High Street, Barnet EN5 5SU.

Library protest tonight - take the fight to Rams!

Councillor Robert Rams, architect of Barnet council’s library cuts, will be the guest speaker at Chipping Barnet Conservatives' meeting tonight, Wednesday 8 December.

There will be a protest against library cuts outside the venue. Please spread the word and come along if you can. (And, needless to say, wrap up warm.)
Protest against library cuts – Wednesday 8th December at 7.30pm at Chipping Barnet Conservative Office, 163 High Street, Barnet EN5 5SU

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Museum brings Christmas past to life... for the last time?

In the spirit of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, Barnet council is proudly advertising the festive programme at the Church Farmhouse Museum in Hendon. Good, people should go - it's a lovely building with interesting exhibitions, a fine view down Greyhound Hill, and that little corner is a reminder of what Hendon and other hamlets looked like in centuries past.

What the press release doesn't tell you is that the Museum will close if the council's cuts budget goes through. So it is, possibly, for the last time that the Church Farmhouse Museum "brings Christmas past to life". What a cruel - and avoidable - irony.

Barnet council press release here. Church Farmhouse Museum website here.

Current programme (from the website):


(2 October 2010- 3 January 2011)

The Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley is arguably the oldest surviving purpose-built cinema in London. This exhibition celebrates the Phoenix’s centenary, placing it in the context of the history of cinemas in Barnet and Haringey boroughs, and using material from its own archives and from the Cinema Museum.

Children visiting the exhibition are invited to create their own ideas of what the cinema of the future might look like, either in drawings or in Lego models.

The exhibition is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Film London and the UK Film Council’s Digital Archive Fund, supported by the National Lottery.


(9 October 2010- 9 January 2011)

Church Farm is celebrating its 350th anniversary, as it was built in 1660, the year of the restoration of Charles II. This exhibition looks at the trial and brutal executions in 1660 of many of those who signed the death warrant of Charles I in 1649. This is the first time that the exhibition, which is on loan from the Cromwell Museum at Huntingdon, has been shown in London.

The Moving Toyshop

Church Farm’s continuing exhibition of 20th Century toys and games is based on the extensive private collections of Friends of the Museum Irene & Mark Cornelius and Brenda Faris. It will feature new displays of teddy bears, dolls and dolls’ houses this Summer, and there is now a Teddy Bear Trail for children to follow through the Museum’s Victorian kitchen, laundry room and dining room.

As well as toys and games for the very young to play with, the exhibition now gives an opportunity for older children to make their own models out of Lego or Lott’s Bricks. (Lott’s Bricks were made nearby in Bushey, Hertfordshire, and were one of the most popular construction toys of the 1930s.)

Monday, 6 December 2010

Dressing-up box

It was fun stepping back in time and seeing old Ebenezer Scrooge (right) and Mr Bumble the Beadle (left) at the Barnet Fair on Sunday.

Those recalcitrant proletarians the Trades Council had a stall, with Tiny Tim putting in an appearance to remind us all what happens when the rich grind the faces of the poor.

But who's this Artful Codger, and has she been on the mulled wine? Someone has, to judge by the lack of focus. (That's what everything looks like when I can't find my glasses.)

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Christmas is coming and the Tories are getting fat

Unfazed by the devastation they are wreaking in Barnet's council services, and unconcerned for the 800 staff with the threat of redundancy hanging over them this Christmas, Chipping Barnet Tories are marking the season in the best way they know: dinners, dinners, dinners.

The main requirement for being a Chipping Barnet Tory, it seems, is the possession of a presentable home to host fundraising dinners and teas in, and a sufficiently empty social diary to allow you to attend everyone else's fundraising dinner or tea.

Here is where Chipping Barnet Tories will be dining this month:
There are tickets left for the Old Fold Christmas Tea Party on Tuesday 7th December if you would like to come? Tickets are £10 each.

Coming up shortly is the East Barnet Christmas Dinner on Saturday 18th December at 7.15pm at the Conservative Office. Tickets are £15 each and include soup, followed by turkey with all the trimmings, Christmas pudding or mince pies, tea and coffee. A glass of wine and all soft drinks included.

Also the Osidge Christmas Dinner on Saturday 11th December is now fully booked, although there is a waiting list if you would like to put your name down.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Risk of redundancy: Unison advice

In the event it is 'only' 800 Barnet council staff who have been sent 'at risk of redundancy' letters today. That's about two members of staff for each likely eventual redundancy.

This is the advice that Unison are giving council staff if they receive a letter (which is quaintly called a protective redundancy notice):
Today the Trade Unions were informed that 800 protective redundancy notices were issued.

“What does this mean?”

It means that everyone who receives a letter is at risk of redundancy however it does not mean that everyone receiving a letter will be made redundant.

E.g. In a team of 10 the Budget proposal may say that 2 posts need to be cut. This means all 10 staff are at risk but 2 staff will be made redundant.

“How do they select who can go?”

The Council will be selecting staff for redundancy using the Managing Change Policy. This is a new Policy which was passed by councillors without the agreement of the Trade Unions. You should be able to view the Policy on the Council intranet.


If you are a UNISON member and have received a protective redundancy letter please contact the UNISON office on 0208 359 2088 or email and we will arrange for a rep to make contact with you.

“What happens next?”

Consultation begins as from 3 December. Over the next few weeks new structures /job descriptions will be circulated to staff and trade unions. It is important that all members take part in the process.

In the week commencing 3 January a number of 1:1 meetings will be taking place for staff at risk. If you require UNISON representation please contact the UNISON office ASAP.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

1,000 at risk of redundancy - Barnet easyCouncil ceases to be a joke

Around 1,000 Barnet council staff will get an at-risk-of-redundancy notice tomorrow; this opens a period laughingly known as 'consultation', 90 days where the council actually works out who it wants to keep and who to sack.

The council unions expect that ultimately about 430 staff will lose their jobs in this round of redundancies. And a further 600 people, plus their families, will have had their Christmas and New Year ruined by totally unnecessary worry that they might lose their job.

And then there are the privatisations. At the Cabinet meeting on 29 November the following services were agreed for privatisation (and the Tories would like more to follow):
* Planning
* Building Control
* Environmental Health
* Hendon Cemetery and Crematoria Services
* Highways
* Registrars
* Adult Social Care
* Parking
* Trading Standards and Licensing
* Passenger Travel
There is a lot more detail about this on the Barnet Unison website; I recommend you have a look to get a sense of what is planned and what these services mean.

We are not talking about the frills, the sorts of "Politically Correct" jobs that the Daily Mail gets its knickers in a twist about. We are talking about services that we all rely on, that make life, well, civilised. Jobs such as these are being cut or being outsourced to be delivered on the cheap, cutting corners so that private companies can make profits.

We have fun in Barnet, ridiculing our politicians, laughing at their hare-brained schemes for saving money that always seem to wind up doing the opposite. Unfortunately, Barnet easyCouncil ceases to be a joke tomorrow. It becomes something real with the power to blight lives - and for no good reason.

The choice to cut at least 25% from every area of public services is a political choice; it will have casualties, and it will, rightly, be resisted.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Barnet and Camden

I just finally noticed that the initials B.C. stand both for Brian Coleman and for Barnet and Camden - the GLA constituency for which Coleman is the elected member (argh!).

I am henceforth going to refer to Coleman as Barnet and Camden. I hope he will be voted out in 2012, but I still think it is a good name for B.C., because it has a Cockney rhyming slang ring to it and that would infuriate him. It sums up the not-so-poshness of B.C.

It also reminds me of a sketch by the Two Ronnies, where two cleaning women play tunes on buckets and mops and so on. Half way in is a song called "Camden Town", based on an earlier, much more offensive song called "Chinatown". I love this sketch (and I'm also quite fond of... Camden Town).