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).

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Coleman gets the nod

I hear that Brian Coleman got the nod as the Tories' Barnet and Camden candidate for the GLA election in 2012. (A lot could happen between now and then, of course.)

When I heard about the selection meeting, I wondered who the other candidates might be. Genghis Khan, Pol Pot and the Devil, one friend ventured.

I asked some people in the know how these elections are run and they explained that basically people are asked whether they are happy enough with the incumbent and only if they aren't is there a competition to see who will be the candidate.

So representatives from the Tory Party in constituencies currently represented by Coleman were happy enough with him. Blimey! I have observed that there are some people in local politics who, while you know that nominally they are on your own side, it is safest always to point in the direction of the enemy.

P.S. Please sign the petition calling on BoJo to remove BC as chair of the LFEPA:

Barnet libraries name checked on TV

The Barnet libraries campaign got a mention on the "Politics Show" on BBC1 on Sunday courtesy of bestselling author Kate Mosse. You can see the programme here for a few more days; the libraries element is 41 minutes in.

I don't agree with Kate that it might be possible to close some small branch libraries - of course! - but she's right that we should be fighting for our libraries.

Calling all authors

Are you a published author? Do you live in Barnet or have a connection with the borough? We need to hear from you what you think of the council's plan to cut the libraries service. Please email

Ça bouge en Angleterre... led by students

I went to Paris this weekend for a break and to find out how things stand there.

After mustering three million in the streets, and several weeks of strikes, the French "social movement" has gone rather quiet (by French standards). Nevertheless, I found a small demo on a street corner outside a Metro station (Pernety in the 14e arrondissement); it was a reunion of people who have been involved in the campaign to stop the pension age and contributions requirement being extended.

They made an inventory of all the big dates and important landmarks in the campaign and vowed that although the law has been passed it can still be abrogated. With 71% of people opposing the pensions changes, the French social movement still feels there is a lot to play for.

And how about this? Someone said, I heard them distinctly, "and now things are moving in the UK" (actually: "ça bouge en Angleterre"). Coming from a French socialist, this is really something to hear!

Let's be clear, things need to move an awful lot more in the UK in order to mitigate the horrors that are being prepared for us, but, yes, I do believe that things are moving.

For instance, tomorrow is the second national day of action by students and school pupils. I hope that they have thought of some more creative things to do to show their anger tomorrow than last week; I am not getting at them for jumping up and down on a conveniently placed police van. I'm just telling them to avoid getting "kettled" again: eight hours in temperatures such as are predicted tomorrow is going to be downright dangerous.

And if the police try that again, I hope parents and passers-by will intercede on the young people's behalf. They do have a right to protest against what is happening to them without being frozen half to death.

More details about the campaign at the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Coleman insults firefighters in the Ham and High

Brian Coleman has convinced himself that the Ham and High is a sympathetic journal while the more local papers, the Times series and Barnet Press, are unsympathetic to him. Perhaps the Ham and High journalists are just more skilled at giving him rope with which to hang himself.

He has given them an exclusive interview to vent his spleen against the London's firefighters union, the FBU. The union should demand an immediate right to reply to Coleman's raving and insults.

The interview is on page 4, which you can read online in the e-edition.

P.S. There's a rumour that today is the day BC tries to get reselected as Tory candidate for the GLA elections. I wonder in what universe BC could possibly expect such a splash to improve his chances of getting the nod? Oh, hang on, this one - it is the Tory party we're talking about, after all.

Update: Here is the FBU's measured response to Coleman's outburst.

Barnet councillor wants residents' money for legal fees

A request has been made to Barnet council to cover the legal fees of a councillor facing a standards committee hearing. The actual wording is:
That the Committee consider a request by a Member to be provided with an indemnity for costs incurred upon their own choice of legal representation in respect of dealing with a complaint concerning an alleged breach of the Members’ Code of Conduct.
The last time this happened, the council was asked to cover the high costs of a lawyer for Brian Coleman (reported in the Times series here). Coleman lost, by the way.

So, who is this councillor facing a standards committee hearing? Will they win? And how much will it cost us?

P.S. Some of the details of the request would be truly hilarious if they weren't so outrageous. How about this:

...Members and Officers who do not believe that they will be indemnified whilst performing their duties for the Council, may not be willing to undertake those duties, if they consider that they may be held personally liable for costs associated with proceedings lodged in connection with matters relating to their Council duties.


5.1 The proposals in this report address an issue that potentially impedes Members from participating fully in public service within the wider community.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Barnet Alliance supports students' protest

We held a Barnet Alliance for Public Services organising meeting this evening. We mulled it over for a few seconds before approving the following statement supporting the students' day of action today (Wednesday 24 November):
Barnet Alliance for Public Services statement:
We support the students’ day of action on 24 November 2010

Pupils from Barnet schools and students at college and university in the borough will join a national day of action on 24 November.
They are protesting against attacks on their education and future livelihood including hikes in tuition fees and abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA).
The students’ action is courageous and we wholly support them in their decision not to take the government’s attacks lying down.
These young people are setting an example to all who do not accept the level of cuts that the government plans.
Public sector workers and users of public services should join our young people in protest. We should not and will not leave them to fight alone.
We also deplore any attempts to discipline them for fighting for their own future.
Let 24 November be just a start in the escalation of activity we need to defend our vital public services!

Barnet Alliance for Public Services, 23 November 2010


Barnet rally: there will be a rally at Hendon campus of Middlesex University at noon on 24 November 2010 in support of the national day of action.

For more information:

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Students' walkout on 24 November

One of the worst kept secrets must be the planned school students' walkout of education on Wednesday 24 November. This has been organised by grassroots student campaigns, including the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), and is in protest at the cuts in education; hikes in tuition fees; and abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance paid to over 16s in full-time education.

Some members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) executive have written a statement to support the action, and are urging their members to discuss how they can support pupils who support the walkout. (Students in Further Education and Higher Education are also due to join the protests.)

The NUT exec members' statement is below. More of them are expected to sign it before Wednesday.

Obviously, it's tricky how trade unionists relate to this. We can't just urge the kids to go and do reckless stuff because it gives us a filip, but if they do feel strongly - and they do - and they want to act, we must support them. And, in any case, education trade unionists should be taking action themselves: to defend their own jobs and to defend the quality of the service they provide.
Statement in support of the national day of action against fees and cuts on 24 November, from members of the National Union of Teachers executive

We, the undersigned members of the National Union of Teachers National Executive, wish to express our wholehearted support for, and solidarity with, the national day of protests and walkouts being organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts on November 24th.

The student demonstration against fees on November 10th has provided a huge boost to all those organising to fight cuts and defend public services. The turnout on that demonstration was the most effective response possible to all those who claimed that young people were apathetic and unwilling to fight. We hope that the day of action on the 24th will be a huge success and reinforce that message.

It is clear that many thousands of sixth formers and other school pupils are planning walkouts on November 24th. These young people will be the primary victims of the Coalition's proposal to raise the cap on fees and to savagely cut university funding. They are absolutely right to be angry about this and their keenness to be involved in the protest against fees and cuts is a tribute to them.

We stand wholly in support of those school students who take part in the NCAFC protests on November 24th.

We urge our members in schools to do what they can to support pupils who wish to protest and to avoid, as far as possible, any instruction to prevent walkouts or to retrospectively discipline pupils who take part.

We encourage NUT groups to meet and consider ways in which they can collectively support protesting pupils, protect them from any disciplinary action and send them messages of support to pupils taking part.

Gill Goodswen, National President
Nina Franklin, Senior Vice President
Patrick Murphy; Hazel Danson; Chris Blakey; Ian Leaver; Nick Wigmore; Dave Harvey; Pete Bevis; Simon Jones; Tony Tonks
(more names to come this week...)

Statement written and signed weekend 20-21 November 2010

Professional politician seeks flat-share in N3

Barnet folk have suspected for a while that councillor Brian Coleman lives in a rent-controlled flat owned by the Methodist Church. Blogger David Hencke has got sight of the bit of paper that proves it, and shared it here.

It shows Coleman paying £546 pcm for a two-bedroomed flat in pleasant Finchley N3.

I witnessed the recent Cabinet meeting where Brian Coleman railed against the "slums" that some Barnet residents live in: ie, Barnet council estates such as Grahame Park and West Hendon.

He supported the government's moves to let "social housing" rents rise closer to market values. In his diatribe against social housing, he bellowed: "the market will decide!"

Presuming that Coleman really believes that, and thinks controlled rents should be abolished, I have been looking at what he could get for his money if he wasn't prepared to pay above his current budget for rent. I have assumed that he also sets some store by location, location, location, ie, he wants to stay living in Finchley N3, and confined my search to that postcode.

A survey of estate agents' windows close to where Coleman lives reveals that the market rate for his current level of accommodation is actually £250 per week, twice what he is paying. On his budget of £546 pcm, he can only realistically aspire to finding a room in a shared house. Let the market decide!

It conjures up frightening images, though, doesn't it? Coleman would be the flatmate from hell: can you imagine him buying his own food or sharing a meal? Padlocks on the fridge doors time, I think. What would he insist on watching on TV in the communal living room? Can you imagine him doing his stint of cleaning the shared facilities, ie, the bathroom and toilet? And would you want to go in there after him?

Friday, 19 November 2010

The Observer Book of Dogfights

American Cocker Spaniel - daft
When I was a girl I liked dogs. I even seriously planned to be a vet. Weird. One of my favourite reads was The Observer Book of Dogs. In there you saw big dogs, little dogs, terriers, spaniels, hounds, all sorts of weird and wonderful dogs.

My mum's friend bred American cocker spaniels. Bloody weird looking dogs.

Where are all those types of dogs in the streets these days? I hardly see anything but the pit bull type.

This evening I was attempting to get some work done when I heard a commotion outside the window. I looked out. One pit bull type dog had its jaws fastened around the throat of another pit bull type dog and the two owners were attempting to pull their dogs apart. This went on for several minutes.

The owner of the dog being attacked was shouting: "Why do you let a dog like that off the lead? Look at my dog; he's on a lead and he's got a muzzle. Why do you let a dog like that off the lead?"

He saw me hanging out of the window and asked me to get a pan of water to throw over the offending dog.

To be fair, the owner of the offending dog was apologetic. "Kick your dog!" the offended dog owner said. The offending dog owner half-heartedly booted his own dog in the ribs.

By the time I got outside with my pan of water (much of it slopped around the kitchen and down my leg as I blundered out into the cold in my slippers) the two dogs had been dragged apart. The offended owner, cursing, and the offending owner, apologising, moved off. The offending owner explained that it hadn't happened before; the offended owner said: "Your dog's chewed half my dog's face off. What if that was a kid?"

I don't think the pit bull featured in the Observer Book of Dogs when I was interested in dogs, but I imagine there are several pit bull types listed in there now. Under temperament, it probably refers to their friendliness to humans but "high prey drive", meaning, basically, if you're smaller or slower than one of these fuckers, don't turn your back on it.

Our society has changed. More and more people (mostly blokes) want to swank around with a nasty (or at least nasty looking) dog tugging them along on the end of a lead. It bothers me a lot.

Pit bull - dangerous

And not forgetting the libraries... protest tomorrow

I forgot (!) to include this event in my itinerary of important events this week. Yet it is possibly the most important... Please come if you can; well, at least sign the petition! Thanks.
Save our libraries
Saturday 20 November - 10.30-12 noon

Barnet Alliance for Public Services has organised a demonstration outside the surgery of Councillor Robert Rams. He is the architect of the Strategic Libraries Review that is likely to lead to cuts in the library service, and possible closure of libraries.

The demonstration is on Saturday 20 November from 10.30-12 noon at East Barnet library, 85 Brookhill Road, East Barnet, EN4. Please join us. The petition against library cuts has more than 3,000 signatures now. If you would like to sign online go to

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Barnet sixth formers' lively demo

Here's a fuzzy picture of Alexander Clayman, the organiser of this evening's sixth formers' march. He is the one with the megaphone, addressing some of the crowd of about 200 Barnet sixth formers outside the Arts Depot, North Finchley, before they marched to Finchley and Golders Green Conservative HQ to hand in a petition against tuition fee rises. (Thank you to the person who took and shared the pic!)

It was a great demo, a real achievement for a group of young people who only had a small amount of help and advice from a small number of adults. It was a privilege to help steward it.

There was a fair amount of snide comment before the demo from some quarters. These were the insulting suggestions made:
(1) Alex was merely put up to it by the local Labour Party. To which I say: Alex is a member of the LP but all that tells me is that he is interested in politics and he isn't a Conservative, neither of which is a crime. To disparage Alex is to disparage all the angry young people who responded to his initiative!

(2) The young people were going to stage a riot and smash up Finchley and Golders Green Tory party HQ. To which I say: they were never going to do that; the organiser was clear he didn't want any trouble and the young people didn't need to do that to make their political point.

(3) The young people were the dupes of the trades council. To which I say: we were approached to help organise some stewards and we were proud to do that. If we couldn't do that to help our young people, who are being dumped on massively, we wouldn't be worth much.
There is a national day of protest against the tuition fee rises and education cuts next week on Wednesday 24 November. There will be some sort of demonstration in central London; Trafalgar Square is given as a focus at noon. We might be about to see our own student uprising in Britain! Well, you never know... Some more lively protesting on tonight's model would be a good step in that direction.

Find out more about student protest at the website of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Firefighters take to the streets of Westminster

A very good natured demonstration and lobby by firefighters in Westminster today, supporting the campaign of their union, the FBU, against cuts to the fire service - nationwide. I missed the early speeches at the rally at Westminster Central Hall, but managed to snap Finchley firefighters outside afterwards.

A highlight of the day was an inpromptu march to Downing Street. Ian Leahair, London representative on the FBU national executive, made a speech calling on the government to stop washing its hands of the treatment of London firefighters by mayor Boris Johnson, and fire minister Bob Neill.

I daresay the only image that the Daily Mail might deign to print of today's events was of the moment when a confused Prince Phillip found himself inside his car caught up in the demonstration. It was all very good natured, whatever you might read elsewhere, although I'm sure there will be some members of the police and special branch getting a bollocking this evening.

Some more pics here.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Important dates for your diary

Wednesday 17 November - 10am-1pm: FBU rally against cuts to the fire service, Methodist Central Hall, Westminster. Afternoon: lobbying MPs.

I am going to go along and ask to see Matthew Offord MP. As his constituent I want to know what he thinks about the planned cuts to the fire service, and ask whether he thinks Brian Coleman is playing a constructive role in the dispute with the FBU. I also want to know whether he agrees with me that it is dangerous taking 27 fire engines (16% of London's total) out of service with no assessment of the risks involved, as Brian Coleman has done.

Thursday 18 November - 4-6pm: Barnet sixth formers protest against tuition fees, assembling at the Arts Depot, North Finchley, marching to Finchley and Golders Green Conservative office to hand in a petition.

I am going to go along and show my support for the students. Can you imagine how you would feel if you had been slogging through your exams and coursework and were looking forward to going to university only to discover now that in order to do so you would need to take on £20-30,000 of debt before you're out of your early 20s? Gutted. No wonder they are angry. Forget all anxieties about young people rioting: they need to know we are on their side against the government's plans to raise tuition fees.

Tuesday 14 December - 6-7pm: union and community demonstration against Barnet's cuts budget, Hendon Town Hall. Later in the evening there will be a fundraising social event.

I am going to go along because I don't accept that the case has been made for massive cuts to public services. Barnet Tories plan to cut services by 25% over the next three years, and make 430 redundancies in the next year alone. The impact on vulnerable people will be enormous, and we will all pay the price in years to come. The cuts to the youth service are particularly alarming.

Sunday 30 January - all afternoon: Barnet march against cuts and privatisation - no to easyCouncil! Assembly point is yet to be decided but the march will wind up at the Arts Depot for an indoor rally with refreshments provided. Come and make a day of it!

I am going to go along to all these events, and I invite you, dear readers, to come as well. Please tell friends, relatives, colleagues and neighbours about them. Most of the cuts planned would be unnecessary, if only the goverment had different priorities; the overwhelming majority of them are dangerous and will leave us a more divided society!

More information on all of these events from

Thursday, 11 November 2010

All I want is a free education

Owing to the lateness of the hour, I can't write a long report of the student demonstration today (Wednesday). I went along to take pictures. I didn't manage to meet up with Middlesex University students - I wonder what they made of the mayhem at the end! I met one of their lecturers, though, who told me that there were about 50 Middlesex students and a dozen staff, which I would consider a good turnout.

On the violence front, I think there were a few unnecessarily violent acts - and some purely moronic, such as someone chucking a fire extinguisher off the roof of Millbank Tower. But, and it's a big but, I would not condemn the students for what they did. What, honestly, do people expect when students have been lied to by the Lib Dems, who told them they would get rid of tuition fees? And forced by the government to accept - if not for them, for their younger brothers and sisters, and for all our children - prohibitively high fees just to get an education?

The whole economy depends on having educated people, doesn't it? If we are going to start using the argument about personal benefit, why don't we start charging school children to go to school? After all, they'll benefit from it personally.

The police miscalculated today. Even I could have told them that the route to Tate Britain, passing Millbank Tower, was a recipe for trouble. That is where the Conservative Party (and Labour) have their offices. (If the students had found out where Lib Dem HQ is, just around the corner, I doubt it would still be standing now. I think they would have dismantled it brick by brick.)

In the evening, as a group of us peered at the debris and the rows of riot police protecting the lobby of Millbank Tower, a couple of lads passed me. "All I want is a free education," one of them said to his friend, with real sorrow in his voice. I don't believe he is asking for too much.

Coleman's rudeness at meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority

Interesting news on Wednesday:

At a City Hall meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority this morning, Councillor Brian Coleman was threatened with expulsion by the chair of the meeting owing to his disruptive and aggressive behaviour.

Cllr Coleman had been questioning the Met commissioner on what he was doing to investigate claims of "intimidation" by FBU members on picket lines.

During the meeting, he lost his temper and launched a verbal attack on the female chair of the meeting.

It is as yet unclear whether Cllr Coleman was eventually expelled.
Information via London Region FBU

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Coleman's rudeness at firefighters medal ceremony

The Daily Mirror today has a story about Brian Coleman being forced to apologise for his behaviour at an event that took place earlier this year. I have learned a few more details.

The event was the London Fire Brigade's long service and good conduct medal ceremony. It took place on 7 April 2010, the day after two Southampton firefighters, Alan Bannon and James Shears, died fighting a fire in a block of flats.

A minute's silence was proposed to honour the dead firefighters. There was some confusion about who would announce the minute's silence - as if that mattered. Coleman interrupted the woman leading the ceremony and said "'I will announce the minute's silence when I'm good and ready". He then announced the minute's silence.

A number of firefighters were so annoyed by Coleman's insensitivity that they refused to shake hands with him later on.

Two people complained to Coleman at the event, and one was told "to leave if they didn't like it".

The incident was reported in a complaint to Barnet council but passed on by them to the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority which Coleman chairs. It is in this capacity that he took part in the ceremony.

When will the Conservatives - Barnet Conservatives, in the first instance - wake up to what a liability this man is?

Coleman comes clean on his fire cuts plan

The Evening Standard carries an astonishing new article about Coleman's policy-making-on-the-hoof. Their headline is "Tories propose 500 firefighter cuts after strike". And they said this dispute had nothing to do with cuts...

Here's part of the article:
Mr Coleman said the FBU action — during which the capital's emergency fire cover was provided by 700 private contractors using 27 fire engines — had highlighted an apparent surplus of equipment and firefighters.

The 27 engines remain “off the run” and are being held on stand-by at a depot in Ruislip in the event of future strikes. The brigade has also been operating with FBU staff refusing to work overtime as part of their action against proposed shift changes. London has about 5,500 frontline firefighters.

But Mr Coleman said: “We are really grateful to the FBU for showing us that there are possible efficiencies. The union has banned overtime for two to three months and London doesn't seem to have come to a halt.”

Brigade officers are due to report within a fortnight on the savings. The brigade is facing a 25 per cent cut in government funding — which makes up 60 per cent of its budget — over the next four years. It is understood that 260 firefighters are able to retire immediately, having completed 30 years' service. Other posts would be cut through two years of “natural wastage” and a continued recruitment freeze.
[An observation: AssetCo only deployed about 162 staff during the recent strikes, not 700 as the article implies.]

Barnet council's budget consultation meeting cancelled!

I can't quite believe this news, which I chanced upon on the Barnet council Facebook page (!). The actual text is from the associated press release:
Barnet budget event this Thursday cancelled

Barnet Council has cancelled a scheduled consultation event for the evening of Thursday, 11 November to discuss the 2010-11 Budget.

Only four people have expressed an interest in attending despite two weeks of advertising in the local press. We also personally invited those people who expressed an interest in budget consultation on our facebook site.

Councillor Daniel Thomas, Cabinet Member for Resources and Performance, says: “Interestingly we’ve had more responses online for the budget consultation than ever before. This has been though our Barnet Ideas website, which has had 4000 visits and over 1,000 votes for the 187 ideas suggested. This shouldn’t come as any surprise. I think people are much more engaged in talking about individual services and their experiences of the service than they are about talking about the council as a whole.

"The success of the ideas website shows that people are interested in discussing the specific council services they use and often have strong opinions about them. We have already had 400 responses to our Library Service consultation and have just completed our consultation on housing allocations. But there seems to be less interest about talking about the council in its entirety.

"We will continue to run a series of very specific consultations about services, including the library service and adult social care. But this says to me that we need to look at more imaginative ways to engage with residents than simply expecting them to come to a council building on a cold November evening.

“I will personally ring each of the residents who expressed interest in attending and discuss the budget with them. We have also now added to the site so residents can also comment on specific budget options.”

On Wednesday, 10 November over 70 local residents who make up Barnet’s Citizens Panel will be meeting to discuss the budget.
I'm sure what councillor Thomas says about the success of the Ideas website is a gross exaggeration (more on that will come out soon, I believe).

However, what really astounds me is the lacksadaisical attitude to event planning. I have learned over the years that you do not cancel events because you suspect, without really knowing, that only a few people will show up. I am quite sure that many people will have noticed that this event is happening, put it in their diaries and plan to come - without realising that they are supposed to register for it first. That's the way things are.

Many people will have mentioned it to friends or neighbours, without mentioning that they must register first.

A discreet notice advising of the cancellation on Barnet council's Facebook page and a press release on its website will not reach all the people who might turn up. Please note councillor Daniel Thomas's words: "this says to me that we need to look at more imaginative ways to engage with residents than simply expecting them to come to a council building on a cold November evening".

Yes, but it's one way to engage, isn't it? And you've just cancelled it! One little bit less engagement, plus a handful of determined residents changing their plans and making their way to the town hall on a cold evening - only to find they have had a wasted journey. This all adds up to a complete shambles.

And who is it really that doesn't fancy a cold evening in the Town Hall meeting the public? Is it you, councillor Thomas?

Monday, 8 November 2010

Middlesex University students protest - more to come on Wednesday

I went in my capacity of Barnet TUC publicity officer to photograph the protest organised by the Middlesex University Students Union (MUSU) this afternoon. They gave out leaflets, made speeches and marched around the university's Hendon campus in order to promote the National Union of Students (NUS) demonstration in central London this coming Wednesday.

I might have been embarrassed to help with this sort of activity in the past, but now I see it in the nature of skills transfer. The students are revolting, but many students unions and the NUS itself have been rather, how shall I put it, supine in the recent period. The effect is that sometimes students need advice in banner-making and so on.

In the case of NUS, the lack of campaigning has been a deliberate strategy - Labour Students tamed and reformed NUS so that it could not cause the government too many headaches. A lot of sad schmucks got a career out of it as well. That was fine (by them) when Labour was the government, it's not so good for them now, and it's been lousy for students all along. Hence, NUS calls its first demonstration in five years.

If you want to join the demonstration in central London on Wednesday, it assembles at 11.30am at Horse Guards Avenue. Middlesex students and staff are leaving Hendon campus at 11am.

My set of pictures from the Middlesex protest is here.

Coleman makes it up as he goes along

Thanks for the tip-off, Mrs Angry. Tory Troll blogger (Adam Bienkov) has a story of Brian Coleman madly improvising and setting the cat among the pigeons again at a meeting of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority which he chairs.

People have been wondering what's to become of the 27 London fire engines that AssetCo were handed at the start of the FBU strikes, now that the union has called off its strikes and they and their members' employer the London Fire Brigade have gone to arbitration.

Well, says, Brian, maybe the fire brigade doesn't need those engines after all. Why not, he says, cut about 16% of the capacity at a stroke? What a chief! (That was slang for "fool" in the early 90s, it might still be.)

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Who's lost their engine?

A list of stations that fire engines were taken from before the first strike (23 September) by London Region FBU, to be given to the strike-breaking outfit AssetCo - and still not returned, in spite of the fact that the union and London Fire Brigade are going to arbitration:

North Kensington
Old Kent Road
West Hampstead

27 fire engines still in AssetCo hands

Despite the FBU calling off the 5-6 November strike and agreeing to go to a Resolution Advisory Panel (non-binding arbitration) the strike-breaking private company AssetCo still has hold of 27 of London's fire engines. These were taken from stations ahead of the FBU's earlier strikes.

London's firefighters are thus deprived of an important chunk of their equipment and the public must be being placed at risk. Over bonfire/Diwali weekend, the FBU commented:

London firefighters are facing bonfire night 27 fire engines short. The London Fire Brigade have left them in the hands of the private contractor AssetCo which attempted to run London fire services during the FBU strike.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said this afternoon: “Government ministers and the London Fire Brigade abused us for proposing a strike on bonfire night. We cancelled that strike, and now they are withholding 27 fire engines from London firefighters and the people of London. It’s disgraceful and hypocritical.”
On the "I support London's finest firefighters" Facebook page one wag goes by the pseudonym of "Brian Coleman's mum". She says:
Still looking for those 27 engines... they are a more elusive sight than my Brian getting his wallet out.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Another day, another trade union struggle

NUJ picket, Bush House (BBC World Service), 5 November 2010
Last night's post might have sounded like I was through with trade unions and all that mallarkey, going back to tending my... vegetable patch? I'm not. One very cheering thought last night was that at least the NUJ's 48-hour BBC strike is going ahead. People were walking out of work from midnight.

The strike is effective. Radio 4 were reduced to repeating rather patriotic programmes about Kitchener, Churchill and birdwatching on the Wash this morning instead of the Today programme.

The strike is about pensions; BBC management are exaggerating the extent of the pensions "black hole" and using it as an excuse to reduce pensions - including the ones that people have already paid into. They don't mention, either, that they took a "pensions holiday" and didn't pay in for several years. Meanwhile, senior executives personally are raking it in.

BECTU, NUJ and Unite unions had voted to strike during Tory party conference: it would have affected coverage of David Cameron's speech. And George Osborne's presentation of the Comprehensive Spending Review. Those strikes were called off, partly under political pressure but also because the management had made an improved (or a less bad) offer on pensions.

Lesson: industrial action can help win concessions.The unions asked their members what they thought of the new offer; BECTU and Unite accepted it (although I think their leaderships didn't give them much of a choice). NUJ rejected, with 70% against, hence today's strikes.

The BBC is under political pressure and has had its budget cut. But that doesn't excuse a raid on people's pensions. Good luck to fellow NUJ members striking today and tomorrow!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The FBU blinks

What do you think? I reckon Brian Coleman has cracked open a bottle of champagne this evening. Brian Coleman probably cracks open a bottle of champagne most evenings, but he's probably chosen a rare vintage this evening, perhaps something he's been saving up for a special occasion. The sort of bottle he might have got in a hamper, a special gift from someone like AssetCo.

I heard the news that the FBU has called off its 47-hour strike due to start tomorrow at 10am while I was in a meeting about the recent strike wave in France (!). A friend sent me a text. And I still don't know much more about it than that. I had a lonely journey home feeling dejected, then something to eat and now here I am.

I thought I'd record my initial feelings of deflation, because initial feelings can often be quite instructive. Why am I depressed about it? Because the FBU said they wouldn't negotiate with a gun to their heads, but now, it seems, they have agreed to do just that. Because I suspect the leadership lost their nerve, worried that the ordinary membership weren't up for it. I think they almost certainly were up for it, but will feel less like that in the weeks to come, now they have seen their leadership hesitating.

And what will change in the next few weeks? Will it be possible to ramp up the confidence of members and send the management cowering back into their shells? Well, if that isn't possible now, I only think it's going to be harder in the coming period. The union has blinked, as far as I can tell. Coleman and the London mayor and the Tories and London Fire Brigade will be cock-a-hoop tonight, and so will the weasels - they are only a handful of people, let's be clear - who were crewing the AssetCo engines. And so will John Shannon, AssetCo CEO, who will now make a profit on his contract with LFB. And so will all the egits who think that firefighters - and other public servants - shouldn't have the right to strike. And so will all the journalists who researched and wrote snide little smear stories about firefighters.

Right, perhaps these initial reactions are just a sign of my ultra-leftism (increasing with age and the frustrations that go with it). I'm going off to read up on the web now and see if I'm wrong.

Typical students...?

I can remember a TV advert of yesteryear; in it someone says "typical student, always protesting". I can't remember what it advertised; a rather sensible looking young man rolls his eyes heavenward at the stereotypical (wishful) thinking of an older woman - his grandmother?

My friend, whose employer is one of those public bodies about to be axed in government cuts, said a few months ago that the cuts are inevitable. "Even students aren't bothered; if even students aren't protesting, then you really are stuffed", she said, or words to that effect.

Well, since then, there have been some fairly radical protests against cuts; the odd blip here and there. Students and staff at Barnet and Enfield's own Middlesex University demonstrated and occupied against the axing of the philosophy department. Students occupied part of Goldsmiths today and they are sitting in now. With the scale of the cuts proposed to Higher Education, we will see much more of that, I'm sure.

Wednesday's announcement that universities will be free to charge undergraduates up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees (and they have to borrow more money to pay for their living expenses), means students will also need to step up their campaign around student finance.

The National Union of Students (NUS) has, for the first time in many years, called a demonstration against HE cuts and around student finance (although it's not clear what their actual demands are). I have been asking trade unionist friends to take some annual leave and go on the demonstration next Wednesday 10 November (assemble from 11.30am at Horse Guards Avenue).

Once upon a time, student demos were ten a penny; now they are rare and precious. It's not because students don't care any more; it's because they are worried about what their education is costing them and their parents and are scared to miss a lecture. And because, frankly, they are out of practice.

I'm happy to share the news that Middlesex University management have agreed to students and lecturers at the university postponing lectures next Wednesday to enable them to go on the NUS demo. Middlesex University Students' Union (MUSU) has organised a warm-up demonstration next Monday 8 November from 4-6pm at the Hendon campus on the Burroughs. If you are in the area, drop by! And, of course, a number of them will be on the national demonstration. Watch out for the banners and placards.

P.S. On a personal note, I almost certainly would not have gone to University College London as an undergraduate if I'd had to pay £9,000 a year and living expenses. My enemies might say that's no loss! But my friends know different.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

A sparkling protest at Hendon Town Hall

We had a good lobby of Barnet council last night. Reflecting the times we are living in, there was even a police van parked nearby in case things got out of hand and we stormed Hendon Town Hall. I think those days are a little way off. Barnet chief exec Nick Walkley did his usual walkabout to check the size of the crowd - he always tries to do it surreptitiously. He is a queer cove. On this occasion he strode to the police van, to discuss operational tactics with them, I suppose, and then strode back, to cries of "We don't agree with Nick!" from local Labour Party activists.

I will reflect at more length soon on the relationship between anti-cuts campaigners, Barnet trades unions and the Labour Party. It's a complex and, alas, somewhat vexed one. However, it was good to see activists on the lobby last night, the leader of Barnet council Labour group Alison Moore ready to mount the step ladder and shout encouragement through the loud-hailer, and former Hendon MP Andrew Dismore speaking as well.

There were more than a hundred people, I would say, reflecting trade unions and residents. Speakers included a representative of the FBU from Finchley fire station. By agreement, they made off with the Brian Coleman guy at the end of the lobby. I expect he will be appearing on their picket line on Friday-Saturday. We rounded off with a display of sparklers. The next town hall protest is on 14 December, when the council discusses its cuts budget. The theme will probably be seasonal though hardly festive.

You can see some pictures of last night's protest on my Flickr site.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Coleman versus the FBU: which side are Barnet Tories on?

It's not explicit, but the coverage by the news blog London Daily News is broadly sympathetic to the FBU as it reports yesterday's picket line incidents of violence: violence against striking firefighters, that is, with two men being knocked over and another one run into by vehicles driven by people breaking the strike. A police officer was also knocked over.

London Daily News is associated with Barnet Tory councillor Andreas Tambourides. Is a section of Barnet's Tories distancing itself from Brian Coleman and his pivotal role in the battle against London's firefighters?

Can these people exert pressure in the Tory Party to get them to get Coleman to withdraw the absurd threat to sack all of London's firefighters? If they can, they should. This industrial battle is starting to look bad for them.

Update: actually, the reason this press coverage is so fair towards the FBU is because it reprints an FBU press release! "Barnet Tory blog parrots FBU" is not such an interesting headline, but it seems to be true. Why is that, then?

Monday, 1 November 2010

Hendon firefighters: we won't let the bad press get us down

I went up to the picket line at Hendon fire station today, for the start of the firefighters' eight-hour strike (10am to 6pm). There seemed to be more people attending than last time, probably a mark of how much the bad press they have been getting has increased their determination.

One woman firefighter told me: "You just can't let it get to you."

The turnout was particularly impressive given that this was mostly of people from Hendon, whereas for the strike on Saturday 23 October, firefighters had attended from all over Barnet in the expectation that an AssetCo crewed fire engine would be based at Hendon.

In the event, on 23 October, a fire engine had driven four times past the station, but evidently thought better of trying to operate from there, and drove off. Today the rumour was that an engine was headed for Barnet fire station. I wonder if it ever arrived.

The firefighters were getting a good reception from passers-by. There was very little hostility, and most people - many of them students heading into lectures at Middlesex University - were happy to take a leaflet to find out more about the dispute, if they weren't already declaring their support.

There should be a good presence of firefighters at the lobby outside Hendon Town Hall tomorrow night, Tuesday 2 November, from 6pm, for the council meeting which starts at 7pm. Please come and join us if you can.

Press coverage

As it happens, the Times series has given the Hendon firefighters some fairly good - at least, fair - press. Article here.

And here is an earlier item about the trades council's support for the FBU.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Tories put the working class on notice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The adults strike back

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

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

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

LFB plays tricks on FBU

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

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

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

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

Cometh the hour, cometh the man

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

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

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

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

Friday, 29 October 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Coleman's fear of Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

Barnet council's Brent Cross plans condemned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For further information/interviews contact:

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

Coalition for a Sustainable Brent Cross Cricklewood Plan –


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

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

Brian Coleman: the biggest, most useful idiot in Britain

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Brian Coleman's inside leg measurement

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

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

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

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

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

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

For further information please contact:-

Francis Beckett 020 8349 9194 07813 001372

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