Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The campaigning year in pictures - and it's not over yet!

I decided to submit a picture to the labour photo of the year contest (strictly amateur!) organised by LabourStart. I thought I must have something from the Vestas dispute (see last pic) - when I looked through I remembered what a busy year it's been! I'm posting a few snaps here from the period from last December - the first Future Shape lobby of the council. If you like any of them, please let me know which because I can only submit one pic to the contest and need help choosing. Thank you.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Times readers think Brian Coleman should not be Barnet's mayor

The online poll being conducted by Times newspapers in the wake of Brian Coleman's standards sub-committee defeat shows readers overwhelmingly opposed to him continuing as Barnet's mayor. Among nearly 600 voters, 81% say he should not continue, 15% think he should, and 4% think he should but only if he apologises for his misdeed.

These results are more grist to the mill in which Coleman's political reputation, deservedly, is being ground to dust. And the poll is still open... vote here!

Is this the most patronising blogpost ever written?

Not this one. This one.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

In the full glare of... police, camera, action

Have just returned from the Isle of Wight where Vestas moved their blades. That wasn't supposed to happen! Well, you can't win them all.

I don't know how many police have filmed me today, too many. I also made the mistake of saying I am a journalist, so then they wanted my NUJ number and to know who I work for, whether I 'follow protests' (no, but I've organised a few in my time).

I don't do much in the NUJ, but I should do more. There is a whole debate there about what is a journalist. I do earn my living from journalism, and could earn a lot more if I did more of the lucrative stuff and less unpaid work covering protests. My aim is to get paid for this work, but that seldom comes off.

Proper journalists, as far as the police are concerned, stand only where the police tell them to stand, take their pictures with big, expensive company cameras, submit expense forms for all out-of-pocket expenses, rather than spending their own money, and, of course, are 'neutral', ie, not emotionally involved with what they are writing about/photographing.

No one is neutral! Worrying mainly about your career, and only writing about what is safe and respectable might keep the police happy but this is not being neutral, this is highly political. The difference is that it is in tune with the dominant political ideas in society.

I hope I can finally work out how to get pictures off my crappy camera phone because I have some great shots of the massive police operation it took to get Vestas blades out today, snapped from the shrubs on the shoreline, where I stood my ground, to the consternation of the Hampshire Constabulary, refusing to go and stand in the press pen.

They couldn't stop me, because I was on a public footpath, but they do have plenty of pictures of me to make sure I don't step out of line in the future.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Day of righteousness part 2: Save Vestas blog

Barnet's trade union bloggers can teach Barnet council a thing or two about using social media to get their message across and communicate with 'constituents'., the network for UK union blogs and bloggers, has announced its top 25 union blogs for 2009.

The site run by Barnet Unison is at number 24 and the SaveVestas blog which I have helped to run for the three months it has existed is at number 4.

There are two reasons why SaveVestas has done so well - (1) a lot of work has gone into it, and not just mine - there is a small team of us contributing in different ways; (2) it reflects an important campaign which has had a big impact on the labour and environmental movements, and certainly on the Isle of Wight.

In short, lessons for Mike Freer to help him with his lamentable 'Leader Listens' blog:
(1) blogs don't write themselves;
(2) blogs need a reason to exist beyond simply showing that the blogger - in this case, Barnet council's leader - has a blog.

The campaign on the Isle of Wight is not over yet. So I shall continue to be just part-time on this my own blog, but hopefully for not much longer!

Day of righteousness part 1: Yvonne Hossacks

Yvonne Hossacks, campaigning solicitor on behalf of sheltered housing residents fighting the threat to their wardens, has won her solicitors disciplinary tribunal.

No more detail on the case but the following website will show you how much Yvonne is appreciated by her clients:

Yah boo sucks to those local authorities who have tried to shut her up by taking out complaints against her and trying to end her career.

Gintare lives with Herkus and Marijus, OR The Lithuanian Section 28

Last year around this time I was handing in my Masters dissertation in European Politics. I'm still not sure how one settles on a dissertation project, but I wound up writing about EU anti-discrimination law with particular reference to LGBT discrimination. It was very interesting - the topic, possibly even the dissertation.

After spending a whole year immersed in the minutiae of this topic, however, I abandoned my involvement as soon as I could! But I still get email updates from various organisations on it, and see that the Lithuanian parliament has passed a law very like the UK's now, thankfully, repealed Section 28.

Do you remember Section 28? It was the Tories' homophobic injunction that a local authority "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship". It was enacted in 1988. The Labour government got around to repealing it in 2000 in Scotland and 2003 in the rest of the UK.

Section 28 was an attempt to prevent school libraries stocking books such as Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin which, shock-horror, portrayed homosexuals as normal people leading normal family lives. It didn't occur to the Tories then that books like this only reflected what has gone on, when not suppressed, for the whole of human history: there have been and always will be gay parents.

Hasn't a lot changed in 20 years? I remember, as an undergraduate student, demonstrating outside town halls with administrations that were going down the Section 28 route - Haringey, Rugby - while all around the country, other local authorities were pioneering positive images of gay people.

Not enough has changed though. Homophobia is still rampant today, even in the UK. School children now use 'gay' in a pejorative sense to mean 'not much cop/wimpy'.

In Lithuania, the "Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information" (!) "classifies public information about homosexuality and bisexuality with other prohibited material that portrays physical or psychological violence and the display of dead bodies", according to Amnesty International.

We still have a very long way to go before human sexuality is free.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Stay of execution for Barnet's sheltered housing wardens

Barnet council's plans to remove the wardens from sheltered housing schemes in the borough are on hold as campaigners have won an injunction. Read all about it here in the Guardian.

Congratulations to Yvonne Hossacks' team and the indomitable sheltered housing residents of Barnet who are not giving in easily.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Nudge me, shape me, anyway you want me... now, how about YOU collecting my rubbish, educating my children, and getting off my back?

Some of you will remember that instantly forgettable song 'Bend me, shape me' by Amen Corner. Even I remember it!

Barnet council leader Mike Freer, in his endless quest for publicity, and not satisfied with merely being notorious for Future Shape and easyCouncil, has got yet another media outlet interested in another piece of gimmickry, this time, the council's experiements in nudge (using social psychology techniques to get Barnet residents to change their behaviour) and 'place-shaping' (I still need that explaining to me).

The BBC news website today has a piece called 'Can politicians shape our behaviour?' to introduce a programme at 8pm on Radio 4 - "Persuading us to be good" (repeated on Sunday at 5pm - I'll catch it then).

I'm not much given to quoting from scripture, but the phrase 'physician, heal thyself' springs to mind whenever I hear Freer starting to talk about other people's behaviour. Read the trailer article here.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Stick up for thorns in the side of the establishment!

Congratulations to Roger Tichborne for his victory against Barnet mayor Brian Coleman. I haven't done justice to Roger's triumph because I've been having a difficult time at home, too dreary to detail. But it really cheered me up this evening to read all about Roger's victory on his blog (look for the other posts on this as well).

Another thorn in the side of the complacent Tory councillors of Barnet (and other local authorities and parties) is Yvonne Hossacks, who has won a stay of execution for Barnet's sheltered housing wardens. She faces a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal next week, following complaints made against her by various councils. Sheltered housing residents in Barnet who have benefited from Yvonne's support in their campaign to save their wardens have written this letter asking for people to go and support her:

Solicitor Yvonne Hossacks needs your help at Court Tribunal


Dear Tenants,

Solicitor Yvonne Hossacks is being taken to court by several councils who want her struck off for trying to save the wardens. The reasons are

1) Improperly encouraging clients to court politicians and media
2) Not acting in the client’s best interests
3) Making too many time consuming and costly applications to the councils

All ridiculous, I hope you agree!

The Tribunal is on the 14th, 15th and 16th September at 3rd Floor, Gate House, 1 Farringdon Street EC4M 7NS.

There will be a protest at the court to support Yvonne each morning from 9-9.30am to let the court know how much we appreciate what she is doing for us. We cannot provide transport, but hope you will be able to attend the protest.

Yours Sincerely,

Mrs Betty Martin,
Co Chairperson,
UK Pensioners Strategy Committee,

Sunday, 6 September 2009

"The budget airline model won't work for councils" - John Burgess

John Burgess, secretary of Barnet Unison, has had his response to the 'easyCouncil' Guardian articles published online here.

I wish I could draw. I have a picture of Barnet council leader Mike Freer in my head, wearing an air steward's uniform: "I'm Mikey, fly me". Oh, and there is endless fun to be had with the concept of Brianair. But life is too short, and I'm in an internet cafe on the Isle of Wight.