Thursday, 31 March 2011

Save our museums!

I've just returned from a protest at Church Farmhouse Museum, Hendon. It opened and closed its doors to the public for the last time today - at least, in the capacity of a free museum for Barnet residents and visitors.

Still, I say, save our museums!

It's not just about Church Farmhouse Museum. It's about the whole idea of having publicly funded archives and historical educational materials.

Barnet council is going to go through the motions of some negotiations with people who want to set up a trust and run CFM on volunteer labour. Hendon and District Archaeological Society might be interested in taking it on. All these schemes will come up against the fact that Barnet council wants to close the museums, yes, to save the small sum it costs the council to run them, but, mainly, in order to flog off the buildings, or let them out at commercial rents.

Barnet Museum volunteers are still in the thick of their fight to keep Barnet Museum in the building it is in, and propose to pay the council a peppercorn rent. We should throw our weight behind their campaign.

Barnet council's Tory group have little regard for history, and they don't believe residents have the capacity to appreciate it. In short, they take us to be philistines like them. We can, we must prove them wrong!

There are some more pictures here.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

A fly on the wall

It's too bad that I can't be at Barnet council's General Functions Committee meeting tomorrow night, since it will discuss extending to residents the right to blog, tweet and film from council meetings, a topic close to my heart.

Let's be clear, the council almost certainly wouldn't be discussing this at all if the blogging community and Barnet residents hadn't kicked up a stink at the fact that we had been stopped from filming and tweeting until now.

One new weapon in our armoury was the guidance issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government (itself, I suspect, promoted in part by the behaviour of Barnet council).

In fact, we made the council's rule a dead letter by filming and tweeting from the council meeting on 1 March. I understand Lynne Hillan told MetPro Security (where are they now?) shortly before the meeting itself not to stop us from filming (well, that's what I heard).

The choice before the committee tomorrow night is outlined as follows:
If the Committee agrees that the existing position on filming and recording should be re-considered, there are two main options (although there are, of course, variations on these options):
(i) Filming could be permitted by anyone in any Council or committee meeting, subject to it being non-disruptive; or
(ii) Webcasting of Council, Cabinet and other key committee meetings, with the public not permitted to film separately.
(Full paper available here.)

Unfortunately, the membership of the GFC does not include Daniel Seal, one of the Tory councillors for Hampstead Garden Suburb. He has been tweeting his support for the right to blog. But I don't suppose anyone in the inner circles of the council would listen to him anyway.

Garden Suburb residents have been cast into the outer darkness by the council lately: despised by Brian Coleman for their wealth - apparently, employing a nanny precludes you from being annoyed by the CPZ charge increases; and living in the only part of the borough that is clearly and unequivocally going to have its library closed.

On that topic, I'm glad to see that the Hampstead Garden Suburb Residents' Association has pledged to oppose the closure of the library.

Anyway, I can't get to the meeting tomorrow night but I'm still interested to see how the debate goes. Now, if we had filming of council meetings...

Monday, 28 March 2011

The TUC March for the Alternative - and some alternatives

Today, I've been mulling over the events of yesterday, the TUC March for the Alternative, doing some belated spring cleaning... and endlessly uploading photos to my Flickr site. I've got more pictures of the evening's events, in truth, because I had a rather odd march - not actually, erm, marching (though I walked blooming miles)!

I travelled down to the Strand early on with Barnet colleagues (comrades?!) on the tube, we met up and posed for some pics and got into our orange easyCouncil t-shirts. It was a very good turnout from Barnet.

I went off to try and find Middlesex University Students Union and staff who were supposed to be assembling in Trafalgar Square - I never found them!

Then I went and took photographs of the demonstration as it formed up. Since I walked the length of it and came out the far end, I got to see the people joining it from the back, coming over the bridges from the south and down from King's Cross and so on.

At that point I had to hop on a 63 bus to King's Cross myself, to pick up some materials for the No Sweat stall. (No Sweat, have I never mentioned that?) I'd taken on responsibility for getting it to Speaker's Corner so people could hand out leaflets.

At Speaker's Corner I hung up the No Sweat banner, had a wander, took more pictures of the crowds at the rally in Hyde Park. Deft mention by Ed Miliband of his belief in "the necessity of some cuts" - but so fast you might almost miss it. On the whole, his speech was well received by the crowd. Very little booing!

People were still arriving in the park in the early evening, long after the TUC had begun to dismantle its stage.

I stopped by the Libyan embassy to support the protest there.

The rest of the evening I spent making my way to the Tube station... via Piccadilly, with scenes of anarchist mayhem, Piccadilly Circus, and Trafalgar Square.

I'm not a photographer, or even a straight reporter, but I think I have the instincts of a newshound. I got some hairy pictures, including of two injured policemen in Trafalgar Square.

My overall view of the violence yesterday is:

1. The TUC march of around half a million people was peaceful and sent a clear message against cuts. That is the main story.

2. Different fringe groups organised different protests: I don't have any objection to UK Uncut "fluffy" stunts inside big stores that don't pay enough tax and exploit workers in the UK and, more particularly, overseas (here my No Sweat training kicks in). I understand UK Uncut were behind the non-violent occupation at Fortnum and Mason - someone else put the windows in.

There were other groups making "spikier" protests, I don't know much about them. Personally, I wouldn't smash windows in and I certainly wouldn't throw stuff at police - unless, perish the thought, in self-defence. I don't like seeing people injured. But I don't think that exhausts the topic of whether kicking in windows or throwing paint at capitalist icons is ever a useful political tactic... we could discuss that at length some time!

3. The scene in Trafalgar Square in the evening was mixed. It boiled down to a messy party. I actually think there is a case to be made for having messy parties everywhere so long as it is not too often, and that includes Trafalgar Square. It actually belongs to hoi polloi as well. Mostly people were getting drunk and listening to sound systems. The hostage to fortune was that bloody Olympic clock - just as at Christmas the hostage to fortune had been the Norwegian Christmas tree.

It provided a focus for people who did want to make trouble and start some argy-bargy with the police. (Laurie Penny in the Guardian says this was not how the trouble started, but the myth of the Olympic clock serves as a reasonable proxy for what happened, I think.) The policing up to that point had been minimal and light-touch. See my pic of four bobbies beneath the lamplight. Thereafter, it wasn't. I think it was over the top compared to the extent of the risk. Some people want to have a go at the police, the overwhelming majority of people there didn't, and they certainly weren't dressed for it. But the police are semi-militarised. Their reaction yesterday will only increase what is becoming a cycle of violence. I think they need new tactics.

4. My final reflection on "violence", or rather "aggro", is that if the labour movement were responding anything like adequately to the attacks on the welfare state, the anarchists would be pulled along in the slipstream of the larger movement. And the police and other forces of "law and order", courts, etc, would be having to decide what to do about more widespread "disorder" in the form of industrial action and occupations to defend services.

You can call that my alternative.

My Flickr pictures are here.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Jolly boating weather?! TUC demonstration, 26 March

What a long day (yesterday now!) and what a lot of pictures to process! Here is the snap of the day for me, taken at 10.30 on the Strand. Here are some of the people who made it from Barnet to march together, I'm sure there were more later on and elsewhere in the very big crowd.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The week at Middlesex...

I thought I'd paste edited highlights from an email by a friend at Middlesex University to let you know about important anti-cuts events there this week!
The lecturers' union UCU will be taking strike action on Thursday 24th March. Middlesex University Students Union (MUSU) in solidarity with the staff are asking students not to cross the picket line, and to stage a walkout. In the next week, you'll be seeing more materials around the campuses from Monday onwards. I have a feeling this could be a big day, the word is spreading quick amongst students and staff.

On Friday 25th March the Rave against the cuts festival will be held in Hendon - during the day we'll have stalls including the Barnet TUC, as well as Defend education society stall. In the evening, there will be a live event night, and tickets are now on sale for the great price of £3. I would urge you all to spread the word and let's make this a great event.

Last but not least is the 26th March National Demonstration in central London organised by the TUC. This will be one of the biggest so far, with numbers expecting to be around a million strong. The Middlesex block will meet at the National Gallery in Trafalgar square (nearest tube Charing Cross), please remember to wear red to signify we're all from Middlesex.

However it is important to remember the 26th is not the end, but the beginning of resistance in this country.
Here's hoping!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Next Saturday... at long last

With all that's being thrown at us by the current government, socialists and trade unionists despaired that it took the TUC so long to organise, well, anything in response.

Finally a day was set for a demonstration... 26 March. Too late! many of us cried, too little too late. That's as maybe now. The fact is that the TUC's "March for the alternative (jobs, growth, justice)" is finally upon us. Let's make it a good one.

Here's Barnet Unison's advice on where Barnet folks can meet up to march as a block - if they like:
Public Services...Don’t wait until they’re gone to defend them!

Trade Union members, friends, work colleagues, families, community groups and residents from Barnet are going to march together as a community.

Join us on Saturday 26th March 2011 and say NO to unfair and unnecessary spending cuts!

Meeting places in Barnet:

Finchley Central Tube Station: 9-9:15am (sharp)

Brent Cross Tube station: 9-9:15am (sharp)

Final rendezvous is outside the Savoy Hotel*, Strand, London, WC2R 0EU from 9:30am till 11am, nearest Tube Leicester Square.

March starts from 11am at the Embankment and marches to Hyde Park for a rally from 1.30pm.

* = Scene of Peasants Revolt 1381.
For a more modern take on the peasants revolt by the volunteers campaigning to save Barnet Museum, see here.

Friday, 18 March 2011

When is a pledge "not a pledge"?

Up to today, only five pledges have appeared on Barnet council's social media site Barnet Pledgebank. The first, asking for volunteers to provide some IT training if the council "provides" some training space at Hendon library, was planted - seeded, if you like - by the council to get things going.

To date, that is the only pledge to be fulfilled, in the sense that it has received the target number of signatories.

For only three of the 18 proposed sites for Royal Wedding street parties, has the target number of people come forward. Is this how a borough shows its loyalty? Poor councillor Rams has been pressed into writing "his own" blog so as to compete with the independent Barnet bloggers. At this rate, I can see councillors Coleman, etc, being goaded into the streets to put up the bunting and dish up the jelly themselves on 29 April.

OK, so what are the hard facts on Barnet Pledgebank? I can now reveal to you what my team of dedicated volunteer researchers has found out:

Up to 16 March (I can't remember when it started: around Christmas?) this public engagement tool had elicited the staggeringly small number of 37 suggestions from residents.

4 of these have gone up on the website; they could be joined soon by StreamLaneLitter. The time has passed for GrangeAvenueSnowClearing.

Of the rest of the suggestions a few are simply requests for information.

All the suggestions have been sorted using the following criterion: "Is it a pledge?"

The big majority, 24, are deemed to be "not a pledge" - even though some of them are. For example, these most definitely are pledges or are in the spirit of pledges (the authors might recognise their work):
"As long as my fellow bloggers do the same, I will continue faithfully to monitor the activities of Barnet Council, and report them as fully and as accurately as possible to the residents of this borough, hopefully in a manner that is both entertaining and informative. I will not expect any allowance or payment for this civic service."

"The Valley Centre is a Church Run, non profit community Centre on the Dollis Valley Estate. We plan to run a Community Fun Day to celebrate our 20th anniversary on Saturday 25th June 2011 on the Dollis Valley Estate. We would appreciate the support of local people to make this a huge success. Help could include: delivering leaflets, providing prizes for a tombola, erecting gazebos etc on the day. Any other ideas welcome."

"I pledge to help make Barnet allotments part of a thriving community for healthy eating and activity by encouraging all Barnet Councillors to join in my vision."

"I will receive a polite letter from Brian Coleman if it kills me. If everyone else writes a letter to him to maybe just one of us will succeed."
Most of the suggestions deemed to be "not a pledge" are, to be fair, not pledges but angry expostulations about the plans of Barnet council to cut services or introduce easyCouncil ideas. (In fact, I think I wrote a few of them - it was so long ago now, I forget.) For example, "I will fight tooth and nail to stop the council raising allotment rents by 200% even if no one else writes to their councillor" and "Please keep our North Finchley sure start children's centre open".


Would it have killed the council to publish the critical comments and all the "non pledges" on their website? No, it wouldn't if, and it is a big and unfulfilled if, they could be diluted by the masses of genuine pledge ideas submitted by residents.

The fact is, those ideas have not come flooding in. Like me, I suspect that most residents find the whole idea of Pledgebank bewildering if not insulting.

Finally, can I remind people once more that we are paying for this crap. Pledgebank is a fraud.

P.S. Blogger Mr Reasonable's suggestion is still "under consideration":
“I will pledge to give up 4 hours of my time every month to scrutinise and challenge all invoices over £10,000 to help the Council reduce unnecessary spending so long as five other people will make a similar time commitment to sit on the panel and that Barnet Council will genuinely participate in the process and listen to the advice and opinions given.”
This suggestion - I forget whose - is not only "not a pledge" but it is deemed "against council policy" - for the time being:
"If the Council will follow Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Communities instruction and welcome journalists and citizen journalists to film and record meetings of the Council, I will form a rota of people to ensure that every meeting is filmed and broadcast online at no cost to the public purse."

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Me and the Irish

It's hard to avoid Irish people if you're English. I imagine the Irish feel the same way about us.

I don't know if I've any Irish "blood" in me, but since my dad's dad was baptised a Catholic I would say there's a fair chance that I do.

If I ever have some spare time and cash, I'll go on a road trip around Ireland. So many Irish people have made the opposite journey, I think it's a shame that more English people don't return the compliment. Our two countries' histories are so intertwined, vexatiously on the whole, we should all take time to learn more about the effects each has had on the other.

And, of course, the big historical picture has affected personal life. There can hardly be an English person that hasn't had their life shaped in some way or other by an Irish person (and vice versa).

Before I mangled my brain studying for a masters about the European Union, I thought of mangling my brain studying for a masters about the sectarian nature of the UK education system. (I can't believe David Coleman's diatribe against multiculturalism, by the way, since his whole free school idea will encourage it in the form of more religious and sectarian education.)

I remember being educated in C of E junior schools, and seeing neighbours going to RC junior schools. Later on these two streams joined together in the secondary schools (well, for some they did). Catholic kids always seemed to have had more fun than we did, but that might have been a misperception. What effect did this "going to different schools" have on all of us?

I had some good friends from an Irish Catholic background when I was growing up.

My friend Theresa's dad was Irish. He worked for British Rail. He had a thick accent, and an unkempt appearance. When I was about 9 years old I waited outside the electricity showroom in Rochester for a bus after school. Theresa's dad coming from work would pass me on the other side of the road.

"It's Vicki da witch!" he would shout across the road at me, while I pretended not to know him. Of course, this attention was embarassing but also profoundly flattering. He was probably the first grown-up man I ever fancied.

Our next door neighbours were Irish. Actually, they weren't; I realise now that the lady of the house had a Birmingham accent, but her parents had come from Ireland.

For a few difficult years in my early teens an Irish boyfriend of my mother lived with us. He was a moody character, but I do remember some good times with him, when he would tell me about his childhood in Ireland - donkeys, nuns and rhubarb jam sandwiches featured heavily, I recall.

Now, was he moody because he was Irish, or was he just moody? If he was just moody, did his moodiness take a peculiarly Irish character?

Of course, all these things are mixed up: where we come from and who we are, and what we do with it. I've known as many very positive Irish people as negative.

A good friend of mine is of Irish descent; I'm somehow inexplicably proud that she's recently married an Englishman. If we can put all the shit of the past behind us, here's two peoples that can work their relationship out, surely.

To all the nice Irish people I've met, "Happy Saint Patrick's Day"; to all the horrible ones, "Póg mo thóin." (I'm grateful to Mrs Angry for doubling my Gaelic vocabulary with this last phrase.)

We ask, you say, we do what the f*** we like

My Twitter correspondence with Barnet council's "engagement" wonk has led me to the discovery that Barnet's new Engage website is based on a product called "Citizen Space".

Check out Citizen Space here. On the features page you can see features familiar from the engage.Barnet website, most provocatively the "We asked, you said, we did" tab.

Mr Engage.Barnet tells me that the product will need tweaking for Barnet. Can he tweak that tab? Should say: "we proposed, you said, we went ahead and did it anyway".

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Spot the difference, or: Finally, a use for another rubbish Barnet social media site

Barnet council has found a use for the latest in its long line of social media sites, this one called engage.barnet/Citizen Space/Consultation Hub (if only they would settle on a name, perhaps some of these projects might actually achieve some longevity).

Anyway, a while back, the London mayor's office granted Barnet some money to do up Dollis Valley Green Walk.

Your opinion is now sought on what should be the logo for the new walk. Click here to be offered a choice of wildly differing logos.

Now, don't say that Barnet council doesn't value your opinion!

Dollis Valley Green Walk logos - how many differences can you spot?

A box of chocolates

I seem to have had a box of chocolates perpetually on the go since Christmas. People bring them as gifts for a certain member of the household, who doesn't keep up, and I'm forced to eat them.

In this one, I'm finally down to the caramels and the hazelnuts (every other chocolate in a box of Milk Tray is a caramel or a hazelnut or, worst of all, a hazelnut in caramel).

Thankfully, this is only my penultimate box of chocolates - there is still a box of All Gold in the fridge waiting to be opened. Not bad going for mid-March.

Tonight I glance over to the right-hand side of my blog, at the appetisingly named blogroll, where I see that Mrs Angry is offering me "St Patrick's Day in Broken Barnet", and the Barnet Eye, Rog T, is offering me "Ed Miliband". Obviously, these are more delectable prospects than either a caramel or a hazelnut. Which shall I taste first?

My own humble offering this evening, as you can see, is merely a hazelnut in caramel. Ugh! Still, if you just shut your eyes and pop it in, it's gone quickly enough.

Lorraine on the bus - About 26 March

Feeling shy? A secretary from south London does a spot of old-fashioned agitation on her bus journey, telling people why they should come on the 26 March TUC 'march for the alternative'.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Footage of residents barred from Hendon town hall

Rog T of the Barnet Eye blog has some footage of late-arriving residents being told they can't go in to watch the Barnet council meeting on 1 March - even though there are spare seats in the public gallery.

They're told this by a policeman and two security guards (no badges).

Roger's blogpost here.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Topple the Toads

I joined the parade of journalists visiting Saif Gaddafi's occupied Hampstead Garden Suburb house today.

The occupiers had had quite enough of visitors by the time I arrived, and promised me through a half-opened window that they would be answering press questions tomorrow (Friday) between 12 noon and 5pm. Inside I could see a lot of earnest young men lined up on the dictator's sofas, watching the rape of their country's hopes for freedom on Al Jazeera on the dictator's flatscreen TV. I hope things start going their way soon.

Like many people, I'm stunned by the response of Brian Coleman today who, according to the Times series, has called on Foreign Secretary William Hague (!) to "intervene" in Barnet and kick out the "squatters". Quite apart from the glaring inhumanity of his statements, isn't this a bit extreme?

The SAS on the lawns of Garden Suburb? I know Coleman's lost his patience with the residents lately, since they've been complaining about him putting up the CPZ fees, but really!

I read the remarks of the occupiers (originally dubbed "Topple the Tyrants") in the local press:
“Some people from Libya don’t have somewhere to live. A house worth this much could make a lot of homes for a lot of people."
Now I'm wondering whether anyone has the courage to set up a Topple the Toads group. On a smaller scale, surely Mr Coleman, on well over £100,000 a year plus expenses, doesn't need to live in a rent-controlled flat that could be used for people in genuine housing need.

Strike against easyCouncil - planning and regulatory services

Press release today from national Unison HQ


UNISON, the UK’s largest union, announced today that more than 140 staff at Barnet Council’s Regulatory Service’s Department*, are to take industrial action, in a bid to remain directly employed by the council**.

Barnet council is a flagship for the Tory’s small-state vision of outsourced public service delivery. Instead of directly providing services, the council plans to shrink the workforce down to a small core of a few hundred staff, who will commission services from outside providers – the current workforce is 3,500.

The Regulatory Services Department is first in line for sell off, which includes Trading Standards and Licensing, Land Charges, Environmental Health, Planning and Development, Highways, Cemeteries, Registrars, Building Control. The programme of action is designed to cause maximum disruption to councillors and to their plans, but very little inconvenience to local residents.

Vicky Easton, UNISON head of local government in London, said:

“Barnet’s easyCouncil project should not be allowed to get off the runway. From the start it’s been poorly run, it’s bad for democracy and it’s not what local people want. We know the council failed to do a proper business plan, and so far they’ve spent more money trying to generate efficiencies than they’ve saved.

“In Margaret Thatcher’s old constituency, council bosses should have learnt the lessons from the doomed 1980’s mass privatisations. Once big companies come in, they trim services back to the bare bones - regardless of local people - happily creaming off profits. By contrast, in-house bids mean that cash-savings can be re-invested into giving the public better services.

“Many council workers are Barnet residents too – they wont just stand aside and watch the council take a wreaking ball to local services. This department is well run and staff want to remain directly employed by the council. We’ve tried to negotiate, we’ve presented the council with alternative proposals, but they stubbornly refuse to listen. Staff do not take action lightly, but they’ve tried everything else – they have no other choice.

“The action starting next week will cause maximum disruption for councillors and for their agenda, but have a minimum impact on the public. We remind the employers they could avoid action by getting into talks.”

Action will begin on Wednesday 16 March. Staff will stop answering calls, attending meetings and other support work.

Information to editors:

*Full list of departments

Trading Standards and Licensing
Land Charges
Planning and Development
Building Control and Structure
Registration (births, deaths and marriages)
Environmental Health
Highways Strategy
Highways Network and Management
Highways Traffic and Development
Highways Transport and Regeneration
Strategic Planning and Regeneration
Cemeteries and Crematoria

**The trade dispute is over identity of employer – the workers want to remain directly employed by the council.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Barnet PledgeBank: Kate and Wills to the rescue

So, you thought Barnet PledgeBank, which cost around £30k (some of us bloggers think), and which has been going since about Christmas yet has so far attracted only five pledges (that the council is prepared to publish - I know there have been others, and there is a FOI request in to find out how many pledge suggestions there have been in total).

You thought it was a big, fat waste of money. No, not a bit of it, you old cynic! The canny staff in Barnet council's unit for Engaging Citizens A Little Bit But Not Too Much (made-up name) - Anything Like Actual Enthusiasm or Critical Interest is to be Treated with Suspicion have found a use for Barnet PledgeBank after all.

Gosh, it's so apt you might almost think that the impending nuptials of Kate Middleton and William Windsor had been invented to save the blushes of whichever fools decided to hire MySociety at some considerable cost to produce a bespoke version just for Barnet of the usually free PledgeBank.

What is it, then, this turned cuff, this patched elbow, this darned sock of a social media site? I can reveal that Barnet PledgeBank will now be given over almost exclusively (probably), for the next couple of months, to providing a chance for Barnet residents to coordinate their royal wedding street party plans.

Frankly, don't you think that it would be easier for them just to go around and knock on a few doors, or lean across the garden fence, say?

Are people that afraid of speaking to each other these days, that they need to "find" each other through the medium of the Barnet council website? Oh, well, maybe. Never mind, read on...
The Royal Wedding of HRH Prince William and Kate Middleton will take place on 29 April this year. It’s a wonderful excuse for a street party — not only is a street party a fun way for residents to celebrate the event, it's also a great way to get to know your neighbours better.

Get involved!

Start or join a pledge to organise a street party in your road. Ideally, you'll need to get a minimum of 3 households involved. If you don't meet your target you don't have to act, but if you do then . . . party on!
Then it all gets a bit technical - bureaucratic even - with people having to fill in a royal wedding street party application form - if they want to close their street - and get some public liability insurance cover, etc.

Takes some of the romance out of it, doesn't it? No? Oh, OK.

Hurrah! A Royal Wedding! Hurrah! A new lease of life for Barnet PledgeBank! Hurrah! It's enough to make me into a royal-loving, social media-brain-addled Tory!

Monday, 7 March 2011

Barnet bag of shite: closing Barnet Museum (no.2 in an all-too-frequent series)

The other thing that really got my goat at the Barnet council meeting on 1 March was when Barnet Tories cynically turned the whole Big Society idea inside out in order to justify their planned closure of Barnet Museum.

Robert Rams repeated the slander (that's what I think it is) that Barnet Museum doesn't deserve to remain in its current building (or exist at all, in effect) because it has only temporary opening hours.


When I heard him saying this I leapt to my feet and let rip. What is the whole Big Society mantra about? People providing services for themselves, and, even better, the whole society for free! How has Barnet Museum managed to survive and grow over the past however many decades? Through voluntary labour!

How many hours a day should "volunteers" be expected to provide a service?

In any case, Rams et al also know full well, because Dr Gear of the museum explained it to them at the cabinet meeting on 14 February (in front of a hundred witnesses), that as well as the open "drop-in" hours the musuem is available to other visitors by appointment.

Plus, without question, the volunteers are doing other administrative and research work on the collection in their own time when the museum is not open.

Robert Rams reassured his audience on 1 March that once they have booted Barnet Museum out of the building that was given to it expressly for the purpose of housing a museum, they would sell the building for top dollar.

To my mind, the proposed closure of the borough's two museums, Barnet Museum and Church Farmhouse Museum, proves the utter philistinism of Barnet Tories.

I would recommend to them an enjoyable and accessible book called A Brief History of the Human Race by Michael Cook. This explains such things as why all human groups have had the capacity to develop civilisation but only some have achieved it; what would South America look like if Columbus hadn't invaded (left to their own devices, would the "Americans" have developed such things as writing, for example); and what are the things that mark civilisations as civilisations? The answer to the last question is, crucially, things such as the effort to preserve and understand their own history.

I would recommend this book to them, but I doubt any of them have any use for reading. They're too busy dragging their knuckles on the floor.

Barnet bag of shite: Barnet PledgeBank (no.1 in an all-too-frequent series)

It's a relief to learn from Rog T's correspondence with a top local police officer that my heckling at the council meeting on 1 March did not constitute a breach of the peace. I didn't risk arrest then. However, one of the MetPro security goons did offer me outside - I'm glad I resisted the temptation, as fisticuffs would have been bang out of order.

I certainly didn't go to the meeting with the intention of heckling - well, not much. A few mutters, I suppose, in unison with others. And, of course, the dignified, silent "right to film" protest.

But when you hear people spouting utter shite, it's simply dishonourable to sit there in silence.

So when, in her summing up speech on the budget, Lynne Hillan spoke warmly of Barnet PledgeBank I simply had to shout across the hallowed assembly:
Five pledges! There are five pledges on PledgeBank. It's a load of rubbish - and we're paying for it!
At that I sat down again. This seems fair comment, and I'm not at all ashamed of having interjected at this point. As far as I'm concerned, Barnet PledgeBank is a fraud being perpetrated on the residents of Barnet. That's it really.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Guest blog: The Spin Speech

By Ron Cohen

The wavering was between "The King's Speech" and "Black Swan". Not much of a choice, is it? But thinking of Natalie Portman again, that whatever part she plays reminds me of a doughnut wheeled over the big screen. So it was the King.

And we have a king, entangled in anxieties, his upbringing and stutter, but convinced that the faith of a nation depends on a thread of saliva hanging from the tip of his tongue.

All his efforts are concentrated on bringing himself to make this fateful speech. We watched these herculean efforts of a man convinced in his destiny but we can't avoid thinking of the Spin Speech.

David Cameron, facing the spring of nations in the Middle East. David Cameron standing like Ali Baba in front of the Kuwaiti Parliament, preaching democracy and human rights, that the people of the Middle East are “hungry for political and economic freedom”, and that "violence is never an answer to people's legitimate aspirations,” while behind him standing the 40 arms dealers he brought with him, waiting for the chit chat to finish so they can go to their business – selling arms to the most oppressive regimes in the region. His audience can hardly hide the smiles and Cameron can hardly hide the winks.

In his deepest of his heart he's sure he can do much better. Just given the chance he would deliver a Churchillian speech. Facing the overwhelmed nation he would say “We will cut them on the forests, we will cut them on the benefits, we will cut their social housing, and we will cut their elderlies and youngsters.” But all he is facing is Ed Miliband. Not very inspirational challenge for the Big One. And, anyway, all Ed would say is OK, but later.

But Cameron's poverty of speech is inspirational for his lessers in Barnet. Obviously, they don't understand the subtleties of his speech, and like the 40 dealers are waiting to go straight to the business.

Democracy? According to Hillan: “Democratic services and the monitoring officer employed the security for the meeting.” So now we know. The role of the democratic services is to prevent the residents from participating in the democratic process. And it makes perfect sense; after all, if cabinet meetings are “not a place for discussion” so why should the full council be bothered with that?

And after finishing with the niceties of the speeches they went straight to the business. Never mind the public, it's only an ornament and, anyway, no one is listening.

And while the residents were manhandled all over the place, pushed and shoved, the Labour councillors remain seated, chained and locked to their seats. Isn't it really a source of inspiration? Of a successful direct action? An heroic resistance to the Tories' intimidations? Next time we must imitate them. We'll come with our own chains and locks.

By the way, one of the hooligans in black appeared to be an Israeli. Makes one wonder then, if all this emigration thing was worth the trouble.

Barnet council relents over union AGM - and it's today!

A story that deserved more attention earlier. Breaking with the tradition of countless decades, Barnet council had decided that this year it would not give Unison members permission to attend their union AGM in worktime.

This snub came in the context of the One Barnet privatisation programme starting to be implemented, with several council staff being "bundled up" for sale to the highest bidder. And in the context of 350 redundancies being announced.

So it really was quite a big two-fingers up to this union, and, by extension, all the unions, and, indeed, all the workforce.

Unison changed the time of the meeting to the end of the day, making it easier for people to attend. In a bit of a coup, they also managed to get the Unison general secretary Dave Prentis to come and speak at the meeting to show his solidarity with the branch. If you know anything about Dave Prentis's politics or how he runs the union, you will appreciate how significant it was that he is coming to speak.

Anyway, some part of the council has seen enough sense to reverse the decision, to revert to tradition and allow Unison members time off to attend their branch AGM.

Here's the word from the union:
Council agree time off for members to attend our AGM

Barnet UNISON AGM Thurs 3rd March 3.30 pm

These are indeed very different times. The rules of engagement are shifting and we need to be prepared. Our branch has with the support of Professor Dexter Whitfield produced over 25 detailed reports [on the] One Barnet programme. It is clear that our members are facing the most difficult time of their lives so it is important the union is able to be there for its members.

I am pleased to report the Council have relented and time off has been agreed for members to attend the AGM.

Dave Prentis UNISON General Secretary is coming down to speak at our AGM to offer his backing to our branch and our members.

Please make every effort to come.
So Barnet council Unison - I wish you good deliberations!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Transparency Barnet council style

Barnet council leader Lynne Hillan has budged. She has. I'm sure she'd deny it, but I will say it. After telling the Times series on Monday that there'd be no filming, blogging or tweeting in the public gallery while she is Leader (are you sure you want to bring that up, Lynne?), this morning she had made some attempt to appear reasonable. She told the Times that, although residents still would not be allowed to film the council meeting:
“I think the world has moved on since we last debated this. Frankly we all expect to be able to find the whole world on YouTube now.

"My own view is that the public would be best served by us live streaming council over the web, but this is a matter for the whole of council to debate. I am happy to have that debate at full council in the near future.”
Well, that's it then, she's budged, and we'll hold her to it. She takes some shifting, does Lynne Hillan, but a good fortnight of harrying, and judicious use of the pronouncements in favour of transparency from her own government, plus one manic afternoon on phone and email to Bindmans, human rights lawyers (I have to thank them a lot for their work) have resulted in this grudging half-promise to bring Barnet into the 21st century.

Unlike some more frugally-minded bloggers, I think that the council should spend some money on getting the job done properly and having professional filming, as Haringey does, for example. And then, in addition to that, allowing blogging, filming and tweeting in the public gallery.

My own experience of filming in the public gallery was that it is pretty tedious, but then my equipment was a bit clapped out (and, to be frank, so was I). But AL managed to get some nice clips. See them here.

The interest with these clips is less the content - it's a council meeting, fer chrissakes! - than the fact that AL got these bits of film at all. Because AL and me, in my own feeble way, and Mrs A, all had to do our filming with the threat of being booted out hanging over us.

In the event, we were not booted out (I came close, for a bout of sustained heckling, but I won't bore you with the details of that now). Whatever the "legality" (huh!) of Barnet council's filming ban, at least among some parts of the council apparatus - some of the Tory group, some of the council officers: it's not clear who - there isn't the appetite to enforce it.

That's great news. It means the ban is a dead letter.

P.S. Oh, yeah, the g*ts passed their £54.4 million cuts and privatisation budget, but let's celebrate our tiny victories. On those, we build.