Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Brunswick Park by election Thursday: help Labour get their vote out

If you want to help the Labour Party get their vote out in Brunswick Park ward on Thursday (31st May), please see the notice from them below.

This work is quite easy and even enjoyable; you are basically chasing up people who have been canvassed and said they will vote Labour. You don't have to persuade anyone on the doorstep!

You do need to be mobile (able to walk about fairly quickly) for 'knocking up', as it's called. But if you can offer other help, I suggest you give them a call.
Tomorrow's Polling Day: We need you!  
Please come along and support Andreas Ioannidis in tomorrow's election.  
Brunswick Park was very close in the GLA election, with 51 votes keeping Labour from winning the list vote.  
Please come and support our effort tomorrow and make sure we turn out the votes. 
Election Day: 31st May 
9am till 10pm, Labour Party Office, 104 East Barnet Road, EN4 8RE 
Contact the Agent: Mark Ferguson: 07545 312 954 

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Who is right for Brunswick Park?

This Thursday, 31 May, the voters of Brunswick Park ward will choose a councillor to replace the late leader of the council Lynne Hillan.

Labour and Conservative are hotly contesting the seat. After the strong showing by Labour in the ward on 3 May (Labour's Andrew Dismore outpolled Conservative Brian Coleman), it looks as though the ward could begin to fall to Labour (the current 3 councillor places are held by the Conservatives).

But no one is taking anything for granted. It is all to play for!

The temptation for the broad coalition that defeated Brian Coleman is to think that they might steam into Brunswick Park as if it were just the next domino to topple. I hope we have not done that. We have done a lot, however!

The Barnet Alliance for Public Services (BAPS) discussed this election a few weeks ago, and we identified one key aim: to use the election as a chance to explain to one whole Barnet ward electorate something of what Barnet council is planning with its One Barnet mass outsourcing plan. That's more than the council has ever troubled to do!

We produced a rather professional looking leaflet (for which I wrote some of the copy). And BAPS volunteers have delivered it to every household - around 10,000 of them - in the ward over the last two weekends: a considerable achievement. More copies are being distributed at local stations and shops this week.

(The Barnet Bugle put the leaflet on his blog - which is more than I've had time to do! Please ignore his comment about BAPS being "unabashedly left wing" - we are unabashed, but we're not all particularly left-wing!)

BAPS volunteers have visited different parts of the ward; we organised a screening of the "A Tale of Two Barnets" film. (The film has now been shown in nearly 20 screenings around the borough; again, all organised by BAPS volunteers.)

I hope that the work we have done will have an echo in the vote on Thursday. How will we know? A lower relative score for the Conservatives would be the most obvious indicator, although the result will be the result of several factors, including how the voters judge the national political scene.

Other bloggers have talked about the candidates, Mrs Angry has the most detail. If one were only to judge on character, I think the Labour candidate Andreas Ioannidis would make a fine councillor.

But the election is also about local, Barnet policies. Every resident needs to know about the One Barnet plan and its likely impact on services and the quality of life here in the borough - things that will affect us all.

One Barnet is, quite simply, a huge gamble: two enormous contracts handed to two (potentially, just one) large multinational company, to run practically all of the services in the borough for the next 10 years.

If this outsourcing plan goes pear-shaped (and there are good reasons to fear it might), residents will pick up the tab. Whatever happens, in order to pay for a multinational's profits, and to make the meagre savings that One Barnet is supposed to deliver to Barnet, we will have to put up with worse, less accountable, and more remote services.

The vote on Thursday is, in part, a referendum on the current Conservative administration's One Barnet policy. Labour is pledged to stop the privatisation process, and seek savings from within the council, while working with staff and residents to improve efficiency.

Brunswick Park residents have an important choice this Thursday. For their own sake, I would urge them to vote Labour.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Barnet Alliance's first AGM, Tuesday 12 June

Coming up in the next few weeks, a lot of important dates for Barnet residents already persuaded of the need to resist the council's mass privatisation plan 'One Barnet' - and those who simply want to find out more about what it all means. I'll post some advertisements for these over the next couple of days.

First off, the inaugural meeting of the Barnet Alliance for Public Services (our first AGM). These details are from our website:
Barnet Alliance annual general, Tuesday 12 June

The first Annual General Meeting of the Barnet Alliance for Public Services will take place on Tuesday 12th June 2012, 7-9pm, at the Greek Cypriot Centre, Britannia Road, N12. All who support our aims or would like to find out more about the Alliance are welcome.

Our recently finalised constitution will be available with the agenda closer to the date. Please contact if you wish to be sent the agenda and constitution.

There will be an opportunity on the evening to join BAPS and gain voting rights. The amount of membership subscription will be decided during the AGM; the constitution allows for a reduced subscription for those on benefits or who are unemployed.

It is also possible for groups and campaigns to affiliate to BAPS. Again, please contact us for details or attend on the evening to discuss.

The guest speaker at the AGM will be Professor Dexter Whitfield, who will talk about the dangers of privatising council services, here in Barnet, through the One Barnet programme, and more widely.

Dexter Whitfield is Director of the European Services Strategy Unit and Adjunct Associate Professor, Australian Institute for Social Research, University of Adelaide. He has carried out extensive research and policy analysis of regional/city economies and public sector provision, jobs and employment strategies, marketisation and privatisation, modernisation and public management (European Services Strategy Unit website).

He has undertaken commissioned work for a wide range of public sector organisations, local authorities and agencies and worked extensively with trade unions in the UK at branch, regional and national levels, and internationally. He has advised many tenants and community organisations on housing, planning and regeneration policies.

Please join us! We have a very important year’s work ahead of us and we need the involvement of as many groups and campaigns as possible.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Alive and well in England's most rock 'n' roll hotel

I just thought I would let concerned readers know that I am alive and well and recovering in Brighton's most rock 'n' roll hotel from a sustained bout of online editing (well, a girl has to earn a living).

I found a room through one of those late booking websites. It was a good price and I was offered a pop culture/music themed room: could be Rough Trade (the mind boggles), the Lee 'Scratch' Perry dub reggae room...

In the event they took one look at me and put me in the lady's boudoir. Instead of ducks flying up the wall there are plaster casts of women's arses. Clad in black knickers.

Outside my window a seagull is nesting, and it resents intrusions, or else I would share with you a snapshot of the Brighton roofscape basking in the unseasonally warm weather. Makes a welcome break from the unseasonally cold and wet weather, non?

I am mixing politics with pleasure - as you would expect - on the fringes of the national conference of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS - Mark Serwotka's crowd.)

While I am here, I am collecting dirt on Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles. Yes, I know he is in some respects the scourge of Barnet Tories, but my enemy's enemy is certainly not, in this case, my friend. More soon. Well, a Citizen Barnet enjoying a short break sort of soon.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The best manure in Burnt Oak

The ward level detail of the voting in the elections on 3 May is available here (scroll down to Useful downloads).

The Barnet votes for the constituency member on the London Assembly, the contest in which Andrew Dismore beat Brian Coleman, are:

Remember, there is all sorts of other detail on the Excel sheet, eg, how Camden voted, the breakdown of ward votes for the mayoral election, etc. Hours of endless amusement and Excel practice, including basic arithmetic!

Here are the votes and percentages for the ward I live in, Burnt Oak:
Candidate           Vote              Percentage
Coleman CON      360               13.9
Corby UKIP         149                5.8
Dismore LAB       1885              72.9
Poppy GRN          95                 3.7
Richards LD         96                 3.7
TOTAL                2585             100
Obviously, this is one of Dismore's best wards!

I did something I haven't done in a long time before the election, and spent a couple of happy days canvassing and knocking up for the Labour Party. I live in Burnt Oak, but as with most people and the areas they live in, I really only knew the few roads I traverse on the way to the shops or the tube station. I finally got to go around my ward.

Burnt Oak is, almost solidly, one working class estate. Dismore did well almost everywhere throughout his new constituency, Barnet and Camden, but it's no surprise he did particularly well here in Burnt Oak.

I walked around in a team with Dismore on the day of the election. Andrew was dog tired; I wish I had snapped him nodding off in a chair in the house offered by a Labour Party member to organise the day's activities. It would have made a nice foil to the famous picture of the man he defeated, Brian Coleman, sleeping off his lunch at work at the GLA.

As we went around, I gleaned that Andrew Dismore spent almost every Sunday of his time as MP for Hendon visiting his constituency. "It takes four years to knock on every door," he said. I believe he knows that from first-hand experience.

As we walked around, people in the street stopped to say hello. I hope it doesn't sound rude, but Andrew is not the most recognisable of politicians. If people knew him, it's because they knew him - not because of lurid headlines in a newspaper.

Wherever his main home is, Dismore had - mabye still has - a flat in Burnt Oak.

I don't agree with Dismore on all political questions, not at all, but I believe he was a good MP and will be a very good London Assembly member for Barnet and Camden. One thing we can say for sure is that he will in as short a time as feasible know every inch of his rather large estate.

There is an old saying that the best manure is the farmer's boots, which means, obviously, that the best farmer is the one who has inspected every inch of his land and knows what is going on there. I do believe that Dismore will be the best farmer for Barnet and Camden!

Friday, 11 May 2012

The Friday joke: an airport on the Thames

Medway marshes, February 2012 (© Prestolee / @NeilMackin)
It's not uppermost in our minds (though with this bizarre weather we're having, perhaps it should be) but global warming hasn't gone away, you know.

Yet the government is now looking more kindly on Boris Johnson's plan to build a new London airport - somewhere in the Thames Estuary, possibly even on the Thames.

I have to declare a personal interest: I grew up in north Kent and don't want to see the charmingly bleak landscape, and its wild birdlife, disappear under concrete and flashing lights. Yes, it turns out I'm a NIMBY, after all.

Today there was a protest against the "Boris airport" idea at City Hall. Too late to attend now, but If you are interested in hearing some of the arguments of the opponents of the estuary airport, check the links.

The lovely picture at the top is by Prestolee / @NeilMackin and was taken in February this year on the Medway marshes.
Demonstration against "Boris Island", proposed airport

More details at

Speakers include London Assembly members Jenny Jones (Green mayoral candidate ), Murad Qureshi (Labour - chair Environment Commitee), Caroline Pidgeon (Lib Dem - Chair London Transport Commitee))

Supported by: No Estuary Airport, AirportWatch, and Campaign against Climate Change

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Barnet bloggers' open letter to council leader Richard Cornelius: Sack Brian Coleman!

Dear Councillor Cornelius,

The people of Barnet have spoken. The London Assembly result on 3 May was a resounding rejection of the policies of your administration and of a prominent member of your leadership team.

As you were not leader at the time of the 2010 election, and most of your unpopular polices were not part of the manifesto, we ask you to consider the following proposals, with a view to changing the course of your administration.

1. Dismiss Brian Coleman from your Cabinet. Mr Coleman was decisively rejected by Barnet voters in the London Assembly election and to allow him to continue in post is an insult.

2. Reopen Friern Barnet Library immediately. This well-supported community asset cannot be replaced successfully at the Artsdepot.

3. With local traders, campaigns and stakeholders, create a parking regime that will enhance the environment and restore the fortunes of Barnet's high streets. Parking charges should manage traffic, not rake in cash. No more hikes in parking charges; reduce charges as necessary, including in CPZs.

4. Cut the rate paid to all freelance consultants employed by Barnet by 25%. Large city firms including JP Morgan and Lloyds TSB have instituted such a policy in response to the harsh economic times. Any consultant not prepared to take a cut would be terminated as per contract terms.

5. Cut the pay of all Barnet Council staff earning more than £150,000 p.a. by 20% and staff on £100,000 - £150,000 p.a. by 10%. The savings in 4. and 5. would generate far more than the sum lost through the parking changes above.

6. Immediately halt the One Barnet outsourcing programme. Dismiss all consultants engaged on the programme.

7. Invite the council trade unions to identify savings and efficiencies within Barnet Council, at the same time protecting services, jobs, and pay and conditions. This exercise should also be opened up to Councillors and members of the public.

8. Invite members of the public to form an oversight panel, to scrutinise contracts and accounts with suppliers. Give the panel access to all council contract information, subject to signing of confidentiality agreements. The panel would report directly to the chair of the audit committee.

9. Cut all councillor allowances by 10%, to show that we really are "all in this together", and review the excessive allowances paid to Cabinet members and Committee chairs. Learn the lessons of the upset caused to voters by the "Allowancegate" scandal.

10. Stop harassing members of the public involved in protests against discredited council policies. Work with residents, not against them, to improve Barnet. Embrace democracy!

In the year of the 100th anniversary of the Titanic, we ask: do you want to be the political equivalent of the captain who hit the iceberg?

Barnet Council has had two years of unremitting bad press as a result of policies that were not declared to the public during the 2010 election. Now the people have spoken, and we the undersigned believe that you have no choice but to listen and to change course.

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Monday, 7 May 2012

Save our school railings! N2 protest tomorrow

You want hyperlocal, you got it, albeit with a personal connection...

Walking from Islington and Camden cemetery last Wednesday, I passed Martin Primary School.

Hang on a moment, I thought, didn't I used to go to that school? And so I did!

Between the ages of 4-5 I lived with my parents in two damp rooms in a house on Long Lane. I attended Martin School for a term. Then we moved to the Medway Towns. But my first memories are of Finchley! Crikey!

Ever watchful for a campaign to support, on Wednesday I read a notice telling how a group calling themselves WALKSAFE N2 are holding a protest tomorrow, Tuesday 8 May, over the issue of road safety around the school.

Here's the notice:
WALKSAFE N2 is calling on concerned members of the East Finchley local community to attend a protest outside Martin Primary School, Plane Tree Walk on Tuesday 8 May at 3:30pm.

We are protesting the imminent removal of the remaining guardrails on the School’s pedestrian crossing.

Barnet removed the first set without letting the school or WALKSAFE N2 know in advance. They say that the railings cannot be considered to be “outside a school”!

We are using this occasion to show our support for the WALKSAFE N2 proposals – including a 3 way traffic light at the junction of Church Lane and High Road N2 (A1000), a 20mph speed limit on Church Lane, a pedestrian crossing on Creighton Ave and additional school signs for Martin School.

Please come to show your support.

They also have a petition on the Barnet council website. Text:
Happy to help my alma mater!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Coleman: the dragons yet to be slain

One paradoxical effect (in political science speak, "unintended consequence") of the electors of Barnet and Camden - well, Barnet mainly - sacking Brian Coleman from his post as their representative on the London Assembly, is that he could be spending more time on his own and our doorstep. We could be seeing more of him, not less.

He is still a councillor for Totteridge ward, and he is still Barnet Council Cabinet member for environment.

So how's that going? Not so well, either, actually. On several counts.

On Tuesday we will get the ward breakdown for the voting in last Thursday's election. We will be able to see whether Coleman can continue to rely on the electors of his own ward to keep him in his councillor post come the next local government elections in 2014.

At a recent Barnet Alliance meeting, when we were talking about the wards where Conservative councillors might be vulnerable, I made some scathing remarks about Totteridge.

"We don't want to bother campaigning there," I said. "It takes half an hour to walk up someone's drive!"

Some residents of Totteridge who were at the meeting exchanged a weary glance.

"You don't know Totteridge," they said. "It's quite mixed." A Labour Party friend concurs. He says that it's just that not enough anti-Tory campaigning has been done there in recent times.

OK, so Brian Coleman might be vulnerable there. And, of course, his Cabinet post might also not be his for much longer - it shouldn't be.

If Council leader Richard Cornelius uses his nous he will find a way to build bridges with the Barnet electorate. One way to do this might be to have a Cabinet reshuffle.

The reminders why this would be a good idea are coming thick and fast. Coleman is facing at least one Standards Committee hearing - lest we forget, this will be his third - over his rude remarks to a resident at a recent meeting.

And the legal challenge to one of Coleman's hated parking policies continues:
The legal action to overturn Barnet's outrageous CPZ charges is back on track after the Court of Appeal overturned a deputy judge's earlier dismissal of the claim. According to Lord Justice Richards's ruling, the case warrants "fuller consideration of the factual and legal issues" at a trial to take place later in the year.  
The case has, therefore, taken a vital and big step forwards. Barnet Council now know that their actions will be scrutinised in Court after all. Are they confident of success? Well, documents disclosed last year under the Freedom of Information Act suggest that Barnet considered it "likely" that they would lose the case. Yet they chose to fight it, exposing David Attfield to enormous financial risk were he to lose.
Read more about this here.

Coleman and his policies are still very much with us. The dragon is yet to be slain. But we have begun our work.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Take me out and shoot me... Or: Brian Coleman: My Part in His Downfall

North Finchley traders representative, Helen Michael
It's a funny thing but, for all all the excitement of yesterday, what is exercising me most this morning is the fact that I missed the chance to take a great picture.

At 6pm I was standing with a friend outside the entrance to Alexandra Palace, at the count for the Barnet and Camden London Assembly member election, when Brian Coleman arrived, with his mother.

It was clear by then that he had lost his London Assembly seat to Andrew Dismore, and people had been speculating on whether or not Coleman would show his face.

Now, here he was, against a spectacular backdrop of all of London, walking towards me. What did I do?

I'll tell you what I did. I failed to take a picture. And I have the audacity to call myself a journalist!

On reflection, it's lucky I didn't. Lucky for me, lucky for Coleman, lucky for everyone. His miserable face was a picture of studied light-heartedness; he was clearly utterly miserable. He lost by 21,000 votes, after all. (Full result here.)

He went into the big hall where the counting took place for the very end of the count; then he stood in the Palm Court while a knackered Nick Walkley, Chief Executive of Barnet Council and its returning officer, read out the result, and then, I understand, sloped off while a justifiably delighted Andrew Dismore made his victory speech. No speech from Coleman. No chance for the rest of us to practise our agreed upon dignified applause.

Yesterday was a great day for me and lots of other Barnet campaigners, trade unionists, anti-cuts activists, and residents who are simply browned off with Coleman. All of these 'constituencies' were represented up at Ally Pally. It was also a great day for the local Labour Party.

After such a day, month, year it would be tempting to write a blogpost along the lines of "Brian Coleman: My Part in His Downfall", casting oneself as Spike Milligan (although much less funny, of course).

If I'd got That Picture yesterday I could have stuck it at the top of this blogpost and written: "Errr, look at me! If nothing else, I'm the one with the camera who whips it out at the right moment." Instead, I'm the one with the camera who forgets all about it at the crucial moment and rather too compassionately steps aside to let a wounded man, not to mention his mother, pass unhassled.

I'm too soft, that's my trouble; it's why I'll never make it in politics. Or journalism.

I'll write some more analysis of the election result soon, and say What I Think Should Happen Next. In the meantime, I hope you like the picture I did put at the top of this blogpost. (I hope Helen Michael doesn't mind it.) It's a hommage to a rather famous picture of Brian Coleman, celebrating his councillor's code of conduct hearing - which he lost, by the way! - against "Barnet Eye" blogger Roger Tichborne.

Helen, a representative of the North Finchley traders who have suffered so much as a result of Barnet council's - in the first place, Brian Coleman's - parking policies, has borne the brunt of Coleman's legendary rudeness recently. She is one of the people who has helped to defeat him in this election and deserves a place of honour.

UPDATE: A few pics from yesterday taken with my crappy compact camera, none of Brian... oh, I told you that already:

Thursday, 3 May 2012

To sack Brian, elect Andrew - today's the day!

Today, if they want to take it, the electors of Barnet and Camden have a chance to remove from one of his paid political posts one of the rudest, most arrogant and personally grasping politicians in the UK today - I'm speaking, of course, of Brian Coleman.

There is, in fact, only one way to sack Brian Coleman from the post of London Assembly member for these two boroughs, and that is to elect Andrew Dismore in his place.

Andrew Dismore deserves the job. He was a good constituency MP for Hendon. He will work hard, and he will be on top of his brief.

That he is the Labour candidate might put some people off, but if you lean to the right in politics - how shall I put this? - Andrew is a fairly safe pair of hands! As safe as you are likely to get in the Labour Party (pretty safe, I would say, pretty safe).

Dismore deserves the job, Brian Coleman doesn't deserve the job. This evening the Barnet Press published their interviews with four of the candidates for the post. One candiate was missing. Guess who wouldn't answer the Press's questions? That's right, the incumbent, Brian Coleman.

How predictable, how totally Brian, how completely unacceptable.

Coleman is assuming that he will get a victory, because Labour does need a big swing to take the seat. But it is do-able. If enough people go out and vote.

If you want to do right by Barnet and Camden, if you want to restore some sanity to Barnet and Camden politics, please go and vote for Andrew Dismore today. And, for the love of all that is sane and good, don't vote for Brian Coleman.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Conrad Price

I went to a funeral this morning for someone I'd met just a couple of times: Conrad Price. He was the friend of two friends of mine who are currently in Australia; I attended Conrad's funeral on their behalf.

Conrad lived near King's Cross; he had problems with alcoholism and had been more or less rescued, it seems, from insecure housing where he had sustained a head injury, to go and live with the housing association Family Mosaic. My friends met Conrad when they were working around King's Cross; Conrad used to sell The Big Issue outside Caledonian Road Tesco. They invited him to attend fundraising gigs for the campaign we are all involved in: No Sweat. That's where I met Conrad.

Conrad's funeral was at Islington and Camden Cemetery, a large, tranquil and green cemetery in East Finchley. Conrad's was a "local authority funeral": a funeral whose cost is borne by the local authority, because there is no one else in a position to organise one. These take place first thing in the morning, at 9.30am: the least desired slot for a funeral, it seems.

I wasn't sure who else would be attending, was feeling self-conscious, and throughout the journey half had it in mind to go back home. But when I reached the entrance to the cemetery and read the 'order of the day', with Conrad's funeral at the top, I felt a pang of generational solidarity with the man who has just died: Conrad was just 49. I am 47.

In the event, I'm very glad I went. Four key workers from Family Mosaic attended, including Ramona who knew Conrad best, and there was another friend there from No Sweat who had known Conrad fairly well.

I got to play a role in the proceedings, reading out the remembrances that my friends had sent from Australia, which included stories that Conrad had told them about his life, and that the Family Mosaic people had not known.

The vicar seemed a nice bloke; he was the same age as Conrad and it turned out that he, like Conrad, had been a 'scooter boy' (mod) in his youth. I don't think he was just saying it either: he demonstrated a detailed knowledge of the sort of 'uniform' that scooter boys wore!

The vicar said it was common for there to be no real mourners at a local authority funeral. Often there is just him and the undertaker there, the undertaker sitting in the front row to witness the vicar going through the proper protocol. Today the vicar took the time to say a prayer for the housing workers - they don't have enough appreciation for the sort of work they do, he said.

All in all, I can only describe this morning as a thoroughly humane encounter, the sort of pause in a fairly mad life that just might keep you sane.