Thursday, 29 April 2010

Show me a filthy pavement and I'll show you an easyCouncil

Professor Tony Travers, director of the London School of Economics' London group, on Barnet Tories' easyCouncil idea:

"It is difficult to see where this model can be run in any great detail.

"They give the example that people who want to make a planning application can pay to have it done more quickly.

"But if you try to apply that model to other council services it gets you into difficulties.

"How can you say you will sweep more carefully outside someone's house if they pay extra?"
Vicki Morris, Publicity Officer for Barnet trades council, comments:
"Who said anything about sweeping?! The logic of the easyCouncil idea is that you could end up with vast swathes of the borough never being swept at all."
More on the BBC news website here.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

A policeman killed Blair Peach

The Metropolitan Police have released documents admitting that one of their members killed New Zealand teacher Blair Peach at a demonstration in 1979 (Guardian report here). Will anyone notice or care, especially with most media attention on the election? Certainly Peach's family and friends will be relieved; the release of this material does not close the story.

The Met Police says it has changed but, if that's so, it hasn't changed enough. Their behaviour around the death of Ian Tomlinson last year shows they still have a culture of covering up wrongdoing by their own members.

It's ironic that Peach was killed on a demonstration against the National Front in the run-up to the 1979 general election. Anti-fascist demonstrators are still being pushed around by the police when we protest against the far-right. We will be pushed around by the police this Saturday 1 May in Aylesbury, no doubt, where the English Defence League are due to demonstrate and we would like to hold a counter-demonstration.

Back in 1979 my mum was a teacher; she was active in the National Union of Teachers. She wore a badge that said "Who killed Blair Peach?" Now we know the answer to that question, but we still have to conclude that "the police protect the fascists".

One for the electors of Totteridge ward

In his dreams...

Monday, 26 April 2010

Fiddling while Rome burns

A Channel 4 News report this evening pointed out that while we are all enjoying our election fun in the sun (we are, aren't we?) the serious politics of the next few years is actually being worked out in the back offices (ahem) of the Treasury.

Civil servants are preparing financial scenarios based on which party will be in charge after the election and any subsequent deal-making. These scenarios try to incorporate the parties' election pledges, although that will not be easy. All of the scenarios envisage far more pain for the country (or sections of it) than anyone on the stump is prepared to admit.

Below are some sobering comments taken from the news item (see the whole thing here).

Sir Richard Mottram, Work & Pensions permanent secretary 2002-5, told Channel 4 News that it was not true that things people cared about would not be hit by cutbacks after the election.

He noted that the chief executive of the National Health Service was looking at cuts, on an efficiency ticket, of £20bn. "What do people imagine," he asked, "is going to be the result of this?"

"You couldn't reorganise on that scale without fundamentally looking at everything the National Health Service does. This is not going to be painless."

The Institute of Personnel and Development's John Philpott said the risk to public sector jobs over the next five years was "in the order of half a million".

Recalling the forthcoming 90th anniversary of the 1926 general strike, He said: "It wouldn't surprise me if the kind of fiscal austerity we see in the next few years will generate something of the same kind before that 90th anniversary is met." And he suggested there could be "serious problems on the streets in the years to come".
I'm afraid John Philpott over-estimates the gumption of our current crop of trade union leaders who, I believe, are shockingly supine. Does that mean I salivate at the thought of massive industrial strife? No, not when I can imagine what might happen to cause it. Is there an alternative to massive blood-letting in public services? I do believe so, but it would entail very different political priorities than any of the main parties has.

Cappuccino sighted in Burnt Oak

Burnt Oak is not noted for its fine dining opportunities. The cafes on Watling Avenue and Burnt Oak Broadway are alright in their own way. (I will spare you the sordid details of every cup of tea I've ever drunk in one or other of them - since I am not standing for election there is no call for such shameless name-dropping.) But none of them provides the decent coffee and pastry that I have come to expect almost as a human right.

Imagine my delight, then, when as I bustled up the road to Edgware Hospital this morning for my free cholesterol check, I saw a new cafe called "Lalgerois". It boasted "pastries, paninis, coffee, wedding cakes". Behind that eccentric spelling - it should be "l'algerois", non? - I thought, might nestle a north African eatery. I was right!

After a 14-hour fast (I think, the longest I have ever gone without something passing my lips), my appointment with the phlebotomist over, I went in there and fell on a tasty apricot danish and very acceptable cup of strong coffee.

Just opposite Lloyds Motor Spares, Lalgerois has a pleasant salon with tables inside and outside, a really impressive display of cakes, a charming lady serving, and the sound of French hip-hop drifting not too obtrusively from the kitchen.

Added to the shisha garden that has rather incongruously opened in the car-park of the Lansdowne pub, perhaps the northern end of the Edgware Road like the southern will soon have its own "Arab quarter". (Apologies to any Iranians reading, who generally, not always for good reasons, hate for their culture to be mistaken for Arabic.)

I, for one, would be most happy for that.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

They publish lots of election

I've chanced on a great website called the Straight Choice.

They are enabling members of the public and political parties to scan and post all the election leaflets they can find. (I know the Barnet Bugle blog is doing this for Barnet, but this is on a bigger scale showing you stuff from around the country, plus you can search by tags/"which party is being attacked", etc).

The Barnet trades council leaflet that we gave out yesterday in East Barnet ward is on there already - this website is an easy way for me to show it to you! We weren't only trying to be negative (against the BNP) but to suggest to people a positive way to react to political and social worries. As it says on the leaflet: "Fight for public services, good jobs, and decent homes for everyone".

I hope more and more people will be doing that. Frankly, we don't have a better choice!

Dishing out leaflets in New Barnet - but in East Barnet ward!

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Heaven, hell and the minimum wage (written in the style of Matthew Offord)

As part of Barnet trades council's election campaign without a candidate I am keen to get up early and get out onto the streets of Barnet. After a wholesome breakfast of a fruit salad and some oat cereal which should keep me going for a couple of hours, I gather up all the things I will need for today's stall.

My significant other is not likely any time soon to be my actual husband - it is too bad as I will miss out on that handsome £150 tax break that the Conservatives are offering for anyone prepared to tie the knot that couldn't see the point of it before. Nevertheless, he very kindly offers to give me a lift, but I turn him down because I want to get on public transport and see how it works.

I make my way up to the bus stop and wait in the unseasonally glorious sunshine for a 251 bus only pausing to exchange some bored looks with my fellow passengers. I do not have to wait long before [...oh, God, I'll skip this bit and get on to the more interesting part].

I am excited to see that there is a B&Q superstore at Whetstone. I can't wait to hurry inside and roam up and down the crowded aisles looking for a wallpaper pasting table. I hope no one thinks I am going to do some decorating! I want it for a quite different purpose altogether!

I exchange a couple of text messages on my mobile phone with someone that I am due to meet at my final destination of the morning. He tells me that he is very relieved to hear that I have bought a table and that he doesn't have to bring the picnic table I asked him to bring along in case after all. This means that he is now free to RIDE HIS BIKE! He's very pleased about this as am I.

Barnet trades council is very hot on the environment, unlike the Tories who are lashed up in Europe with a bunch of climate-change deniers. I would be please to elucidate to anyone that I could find that would stand there and listen to me long enough some of the highlights of Barnet trades council's proud record on the environment. It includes:
- we are signed up to the Coalition for a Sustainable Brent Cross Cricklewood Redevelopment;

- ummmm... er... that's it. (Note to self, must dig out some more environmental cred point scoring achievements.)
[skip to the good part where I finally get to name-drop a local eating establishment] I finally reach East Barnet after a rather bad-tempered bus journey completed with my wheeled case full of leaflets, a rucksack, my new wallpaper pasting table and a rather officious bus driver. Since I am early for my meeting with my fellow campaigners I am delighted to be able to pop into the Sunshine Cafe on East Barnet Road just opposite Sainsbury's and a few doors down from the Lord Kitchener public house, and have a delicious egg mayonnaise sandwich and a scalding cup of coffee. It's a real privilege to be able to eavesdrop on some old maids of the parish congratulating each other on still being alive. I think we can all relate to that!

P.S. How could I forget?! While I was on my 251 bus-ride through Mill Hill I saw that Roger Tichborne out campaigning in the blazing heat, him and a stout fellow. I'll bet Roger's sorry now that he succumbed to the inducements of the Lib Dems, and resisted the allure of joining instead my rather confusing election campaign without a candidate. Only time will tell. That and the good voters of Mill Hill!

[anyway, back to East Barnet, bloody hell, how much longer can this go on?] Where was I? Oh, yes, at East Barnet I finally got to set up my stall outside Sainsbury's. We got there just after the Labour Party canvassers left, that was a close shave. I managed to snatch a few words with one of them, who told me that the council is run by the Tories. It's interesting what you can learn from these political johnnies.

My stall was on a very serious matter, far too serious to parody in a blogpost like this. Hopefully, you'll all've given up reading by now and won't tick me off for that. Anyway, while we were campaigning in the glorious April sunshine, asking people to fight for jobs, homes and public services and not to vote for the racist, fascist BNP, a group of Christians stood next to us doing some open-air preaching. But not before one of them came over and introduced himself as a fellow trade unionist. Did you know that the Unite union organises a faithworkers branch? No, neither did I, but it does! And this chap is a member! After we had had a nice chat about why it is wrong to vote for the BNP, he went back to his preaching of the gospel telling people that they have a basic choice between Heaven and Hell. It looked like the good people of East Barnet knew exactly what he was going on about!

Anyway, over the next couple of hours we met a good many more very interesting people and I hope we managed to steer some of them away from evil and onto the righteous path of loving their neighbour as they would have others do unto them. That could be of any faith, of course. (I hope I haven't missed anyone out.)

There was just time on the way back to get a lift from one of my fellow campaigners who kindly drove me up to the High Barnet station passing a pub - I think it was called the Old Red Lion, Barnet - where a large number of men in football shirts stood drinking in the scorching heat of the unseasonably warm spring afternoon. I wonder what they were doing. I'll go back next week and find out.

I am pleased to say that I just had time to stop off for a revivifying fresh juice drink at the Blu Cherry juice bar on my way back through Whetstone, before catching the 251 bus back home to my home. Tired but revivified. And rather tired. It's these things that make being a non-candidate so rewarding.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Malcolm McLaren

I know sweet Fanny Adams about music but I do know that Malcolm McLaren was buried in Highgate Cemetery yesterday. News reports were reminding us that in addition to the Sex Pistols he was behind songs such as "Buffalo Girls".

I remember that, I thought. But it wasn't half as good as that other one, what was it, "Double Dutch". Turns out he was behind that as well. Here is Malcolm, about two minutes in, getting away with doing sweet Fanny Adams in the "Double Dutch" video.

Enter the dragon

As a proletarian internationalist the only flag I'll own to, naturally, is the red one. But I don't have a problem with other people waving theirs.

Obviously, today is St George's Day. The St George's flag has been hijacked of recent years by types who think loving their country means hating many of the people who live in it, and most of the people outside it. I'm talking far-right groups such as the English Defence League (EDL), BNP (though they still favour the Union Jack), etc.

Reclaiming St George and his cross from such people is a tricky task. My friends in Brighton seem to have the right approach. A St George's Day "March for England" has been organised for Sunday by groups unknown, but the EDL are urging their supporters to turn up to it.

My friend, with fellow liberal-minded Brightonians, plans on attending as well. She says:

It promises to be a great celebration of diversity... am suggesting cross dressing as a fitting theme for this Brighton based celebration of St George, a young Turk with a Palestinian mother and so loved by English patriots.

Hurrah for foreigners! We can march for that.

Please note it's a family event and children are taking part.
I hope it all goes off well, and that the "patriots" enter into the spirit of the thing.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Coleman in the soup again

Seeing the latest scrape that Brian Coleman has got himself into - questioned by the police over accusations that he intimidated another candidate in the council elections (Times series report here) - reminds me how irritated I am that he is standing again for election to the council.

Obviously, it's very irritating in itself, but it's particularly irritating to me because, for some reason, I had convinced myself that he wouldn't stand. Why on earth did I think that? Coleman is a relatively young man; whatever else happens in his political career (ahem), he needs a political base to strike out from, and where nicer than Totteridge and Whetstone to have a base?

And the reason that I'm so particularly galled is because I had thought if a trade-union minded independent should stand anywhere in Barnet it should be in Coleman's ward, explicitly against Coleman. We should have the courage of our convictions - he certainly does!

Monday, 19 April 2010

Does Barnet need a VentnorBlog?

I spent a lot of time last summer on the Isle of Wight, or blogging about it for the Save Vestas blog. I was involved in the campaign by sacked wind turbine workers to save their jobs and keep a blade factory open at Newport, IoW. I've applied a few tricks I learned from that experience to what I do with this blog.

But I could never touch, none of us Barnet bloggers could, the achievement of VentnorBlog, a so-called hyperlocal blog, as they say, "not just about Ventnor" but about the whole Isle of Wight.

VentnorBlog have several correspondents, lots of different strands to the blog (audio, video, etc), and fund it - though whether wholly, I don't know - through some advertising. It's a fantastic enterprise, and has just won richly deserved recognition at an awards ceremony for so-called "community bloggers", sponsored in part by the Guardian.

VentnorBlog were named overall winner, and also won "best hyperlocal story" for their Vestas coverage, and "best use of audio" for their Mr Caulkhead Isle of Wight colloquialisms (what would a Barnet equivalent be?!).

I had some dealings with the people who set up VentnorBlog. On the whole, they were supportive of the campaign we were running, for which some criticise them. I say, it makes a nice change for the media to champion the underdog!

The founders used to live in Finchley! I actually think that their talents could be used more profitably somewhere like Barnet - or even Westminster - as with the VentnorBlog approach, nothing goes unscrutinised. However, I don't think we will be able to entice them back to Barnet from the Isle of Wight.

But perhaps we Barnet bloggers should be aiming to set up something like VentnorBlog here in Barnet. I am due an anniversary visit to the Isle of Wight. When I go, I will try to meet up with the VentnorBloggers and ask them how it is done. If we got something half as good as VentnorBlog off the ground in Barnet, the establishment would have to be very afraid!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Evo Morales - Ritchie Valens - Eddie Cochran! Aaah...

Evo Morales, Bolivia's president, dismayed at the outcome of the Copenhagen Climate Summit last December, has called a "World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth" (something like that). It takes place in Cochabamba, Bolivia this coming week. I'm not a huge fan of Morales (it's complicated), but it's going to be an interesting event, no doubt about that!

Cochabamba, Cochabamba. Puts me in mind of "La Bamba", sung by Ritchie Valens (died, aged 17, in a plane crash alongside Buddy Holly and "Big Bopper" Jiles Richardson on 3 February 1959 - the day the music died). I go to YouTube and listen to the song. It puts me in mind of Eddie Cochran, a friend of Valens.

I'm a fan of Eddie Cochran. I go to Wikipedia to remind myself how he died - aged 21, 50 years ago yesterday, in a car crash in Wiltshire. C'mon everybody.

"Britain asked for cash and Iceland sent them ash"

Yes, well that's not so funny when you live in Barnet and know that the shortfall of £27.4m that the council has lost in Iceland will result in them cutting our council services...

I cheer myself up by joining this group on Facebook: "Let's offer Willie Walsh as a sacrifice to the volcano god". The description says:

All planes in British airspace have been grounded thanks to the erupting volcano in Iceland. One theory is that the volcano god is angry and needs to be appeased.

I propose that we throw in the union-buster Willie Walsh, CEO of British Airways, and see what happens. If that fails then there's always Peter Mandelson and Fred "the shred" Goodwin that the god may possibly enjoy more.

Even if it doesn't work, I'm sure that it'll at least be some entertainment for those stranded at airports, and the cabin crew that he stabbed in the back.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

We're not as bad as we paint ourselves

I just had a hollow laugh at a Reuters general election report. The latest opinion poll puts the Lib Dems in the lead. In itself, that's no laughing matter, but the statements below are. What a miserable impression our political leaders give of the state of British politics:

"What [the] last 24 hours has shown is there are a growing number of people who just desperately want something different, they want more of a choice than the old politics of the past," Clegg told Sky News.

...Cameron, addressing party activists in Gloucester in southwest England, said a weak government would be bad for Britain...

"A hung parliament would be a bunch of politicians haggling, not deciding. They would be fighting for their own interests, not fighting for your interests," he said.

"They would not be making long term decisions for the country's future. They would be making short term decisions for their own future."

...Cabinet minister Alan Johnson told the Times newspaper that politicians should stop scaremongering about a hung parliament.

"It wouldn't be as good as a Labour government but anything is better than the Tories," he said.
Are we feeling reassured?

Friday, 16 April 2010

BNP standing in Barnet - how worried should we be?

The BNP might not be able to grow very large at this stage in history, but it has grown in the last few years and continues to grow. It will use its election candidacies, council and general, to try and build a more permanent base to launch out from. For, as they themselves admit, their recruitment pool at the moment is mainly friends and relations of existing BNP members.

Stephen Curry, who has announced his candidacy in East Barnet for the council elections, is the BNP's deputy London organiser. He has stood before in Barnet, in the by-election in Hale ward in May 2008. He got 213 votes, which doesn't sound much, but was 3.8% of the total turnout. As well as standing for Barnet council, he will be one of the BNP's 32 London parliamentary candidates, standing in the Westminster North seat.

From comments he makes on the BNP's London website, we can't be sure whether he will concentrate his personal canvassing efforts in Barnet or in Westminster North. But I think it's clear that the BNP would like to use the council election to recruit in our area. What could make Curry think that East Barnet is a good option? Perhaps stories like this, reported in the Times series, indicate a seam of racism in the area that the BNP would hope to mine:

The teenage ringleader of a gang which terrorised traders on the Dollis Valley Estate has been jailed.

Phillip Joy-Friel, 18, of Dollis Valley Drive was jailed for 18 weeks after admitting a string of offences at Hendon Magistrates Court.

...Dee Rajhwani, who manages a shop in High Barnet lived close to the bully and said he suffered regular racist insults and threatening behaviour by him.
Standing in Hale ward in the past made a certain sort of sense as well, when you consider where Curry lives: Kingsbury Road. In Brent, a BNP candidate is standing in Fryent ward. This is right next door to the area Curry comes from. I imagine the BNP dreams of building a small base in this area, where Barnet, Brent and Harrow meet, which is pretty run-down.

I've spent the afternoon preparing a briefing for Barnet trades council on this. We will be campaigning against the BNP in the next few weeks, and also promoting our positive values of defending and extending public services, defending and creating jobs, and building homes. It is when services and jobs are under attack, and decent homes are scarce that the likes of the BNP hope to grow fastest, as they scapegoat immigrant populations for all our ills.

I was a Methodist, Or: The past is a foreign country

Snow at Christmas stopped me paying my annual visit to Wealden Kent to see my dad. I went yesterday instead, in glorious spring sunshine and enjoyed it all the more for that! It was lovely to see my folks, plus lambs in the fields, blossom in the hedgerows, etc, thrown in.

My dad picked me up at Marden station (57 minutes from Charing Cross) and drove me around a bit. We drove through Marden Beech, the hamlet where I lived for four years. My mum remarried when I was 15. Her new husband had a nice house in the countryside.

Now the little-used transport cafe and truck stop on the corner has been razed to the ground (dodgy insurance claim?) and five detached houses built on the site. Our house in Sheephurst (!) Lane is still there, though the hedges have grown much higher. The Methodist chapel nearby has been converted (rather badly) into a small house.

My mum's second husband was a Methodist, a lay preacher, forsooth! For the first two-three years of their marriage, until we led him astray, my mum and I joined him at the Sunday service at Marden Beech Methodist chapel.

This was a fascinating epidsode in my life, though it didn't always feel like it at the time. The congregation was tiny - 12? - mostly elderly, but it was a proper little church, with a small organ. A friendly, plump old woman called Jessie played this, she had to work extremely hard pumping wind into it.

They say the past is another country, and I agree with that. It is not as though one can test the hypothesis by visiting the past, but sometimes, very occasionally, by being with older people, and getting a glimpse into the way they have experienced the world that is different from how it is today, you can get a sense of just how foreign the past is.

I've only experienced that a couple of times. Once was around the 50th anniversary of V.E. day (the end of the Second World War). There was a massive commemoration event in Hyde Park, over a bank holiday weekend, and I got tickets for it. I found this a very strange event, but looking back felt it an enormous privilege to have been there.

This was not because of the usual reasons that people give on these occasions such as "past generations fought and died so that we could be free". But simply because there were a lot of people there who did experience the war, because they were remembering it on this weekend, and because they allowed a load of other younger people to hang around while they did it. I felt very keenly then how "the past is a foreign country".

And the other time? Once every year, the congregation at Marden Beech Methodist chapel swelled to several dozens, almost a hundred! The occasion was the harvest festival service, which we held in the evening. One of our congregation was Wilf C, an old ex-farm labourer. He wasn't very articulate most of the time, but around harvest festival was his time to shine.

He would vist the farms roundabout and elicit donations from them; on the evening of the service the chapel would be packed with produce. After the lusty singing of harvest hymns, accompanied by Jessie on her small organ, some prayers, and a sermon from the visiting minister from Maidstone, the real business of the evening began: bidding for the produce.

Wilf C took up his gavel and became a very efficient and vocal auctioneer to sell off all the produce to our new "Methodists for one night", and raise funds for the church. This was clearly a ritual that had been enacted many times over the years, and testified to a very different way of life, when the chapel had a decent sized congregation and when most people in the villages worked on the farms, and to a time when Wilf had been a lusty young man!

I feel privileged to have witnessed this, and enjoyed my visit on the shores of the past (no passport required, just some imagination and an open mind).

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Register to vote

Barnet has a high rate of voter registration, but 4 per cent of households are not yet on the register. There's still time to register to get your vote and have your say in how the local authority is run, and elect the person who will represent you in Parliament.

It's worth pointing out that citizens of other EU countries can register to vote in the council elections, even though they don't have a vote for the local MP.

The council has a hotline to help with registration. The deadline is Tuesday 20 April. From the council website:

People can phone 020 8359 4111 Monday-Friday, 9am until 5pm, and then from April 26, until 8pm, for assistance with voting issues.

Welcome to two-tier, pay-twice Barnet - it's orange, as well, by the way!

Most Barnet bloggers have concentrated on Lynne Hillan's fumbling 15 minutes of fame on BBC1's "Politics Show" last Sunday. But the whole segment on how London boroughs will cope with the looming cuts storm bears watching. You can see it here.

I don't agree with Labour Lambeth's solution, making the residents run more things themselves, because I don't believe it is a solution. In any case, the politicians in Labour town halls advocating such measures are part of the governing party and should be pressuring the party in government NOT to make cuts!

But Lambeth council leader Steve Reed's criticisms of the easyCouncil model seem to me entirely just, when he calls it the "two-tier, pay-twice" model.

And why is Barnet orange, according to the programme? Because that's the easyJet colour.

Props to Barnet Unison

One blog - for blog it is - that I forgot to mention in yesterday's post on Barnet's bloggers is the Barnet Unison blog.

This is maintained by the Barnet Unison branch secretary John Burgess.

Not only does John run a good Unison branch in a very challenging borough, he is also a mainstay of Barnet trades council, and engages with the community, getting his branch to support the campaign by Barnet's sheltered housing residents to retain their wardens.

He does loads of work for charity - no, seriously, he does! And his blog is relevant and informative, and often has much better jokes than this blog. See here for the most recent example, which is inspired!

P.S. "Props" means "proper respect", a phrase I learned from Facebook.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Defend public services, defend sheltered housing

A couple of pics from the march on Saturday to defend public services. Barnet residents and unions had a good turnout.

Blogness abounds

In a generous spirit, I thought I'd direct you to some of Barnet's other bloggers. Some of them are very new, whether they will stay the course we shall see. Many are called but few can be arsed to churn out a daily blogpost (daily or thereabouts).

I don't think Mrs Angry of the Broken Barnet blog will have any trouble on that score. She blogs with the patience of the aggrieved. Her blog is mainly about her troubles with her antisocial neighbours and getting Barnet council or the police to help her deal with them. EasyCouncil is supposed to sort out forever "problem" families like the Smiths who live next door to Mrs Angry. But I feel that the horse has bolted, and that whatever Lynne Hillan and her friends can achieve in that direction, Mrs Angry will think it is too little too late.

I predict that Mrs Angry will come out for the Residents Association of Barnet (RAB) in the council elections.

Welcome too the Barnet Bugle who seems to have the inside dope on developments in local politics. He is so quick with the stories he puts us all to shame, and Twitters as well. (He? Why do I assume the Bugle is a he? Well, women never trumpet so loudly.)

There are two new blogs keeping an eye on development (not developments) in different parts of the borough: Colindale Renewal and Mill Hill East Development.

Never forget Not the Barnet Times by someone who doesn't want you to call him Dave. During this election period, he cannot resist breaking his vow of silence. Or the Barnet Eye by Roger Tichborne, who is standing for the council. His comments are almost as robust as ever, bearing in mind that he is now in the business of wooing voters.

P.S. I felt pretty smug coming up with the title of this blogpost, but websearch shows that it has occurred to many others.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Barnet residents and unions defend public services against Lynne Hillan

I'm getting my own pix developed (!) but can direct you to Barnet Unison website for a pic from the Defend Public Services march yesterday.

Barnet (and other) sheltered housing residents, deservedly, got quite a bit of attention from the press.

Meanwhile, Barnet council leader Lynne Hillan has been getting attention of her own, appearing this morning on BBC1's "Politics Show" and failing to make a convincing case for easyCouncil.

One of Barnet's new bloggers, the Barnet Bugle, has a snatch of the programme here.

Barnet's tiny flats to be outlawed?

Well, not quite, but there was an interesting article in the Evening Standard on Friday 9 April by someone visiting the Beaufort Park development in Colindale, being built by St George.

Apparently, many of the flats there would be "too small for human habitation", according to possible new guidelines of 500 sq ft per flat, to be set by the Homes and Communities Agency. This body is already subsidising 42% of the flats at Beaufort Park.

"We need to offer something starting at about £150,000," says St George managing director Tony Carey. "If we have to build a 500 sq ft flat the market value would be £250,000. That excludes those on a limited budget. The capital will simply get fewer new homes if these rules are brought in."
There must be a case for having big enough homes for everyone - it just might be that we cannot rely on the private sector to provide them. Bring back council housing!

Thanks to J for sending me the article (though he might not like the use I put it to!).

Friday, 9 April 2010

Random Walks©: Highbury Corner to St Pancras avoiding Angel

However long you live in London, you can find new walks and views to delight and interest (and, occasionally, appal) you. This is especially true since they keep knocking bits down and building anew!

This Random Walk© starts at the ABC Jewellers, 139 Holloway Road (all walks have to start somewhere), passes Highbury and Islington tube, and turns sharp right after the Cock Tavern onto Highbury Station Road (HSR). At the end of HSR turn left onto Liverpool Road and walk down it, admiring the many architectural sights, till you pass the back of the Business Design Centre (it's a former Royal Agricultural Hall and looks much different to the front).

Before you get anywhere near the back of the N1 shopping centre, with its hideous "angel of north London" sculpture, but when it is in sight, turn right into Ritchie Street. Walk through the tiny Culpepper Park. (Culpepper Community Garden is on the right-hand side of this park.)

Out the other side of the park, walk along Dewey Road, cross Barnsbury Road, walk along Maygood Street. At the end you come to a housing estate. Follow a footpath straight downwards through the estate; after a while, ahead you begin to see the Regent's Canal. Cross Muriel Street and go down the stairs to the canal. Now you can walk along as far as you like - westwards. To the east the canal goes underground, through the Islington Tunnel.

I left the canal at Camley Street. This area is secluded, and probably best avoided at night and/or alone if you are of a nervous disposition!

As you come up the steps, head right along Camley Street. A little further on from the junction with Granary Street you can see an old, red-brick wall. Around about here are steps up to the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church. I passed Saint Pancras Coroner's Court at this point! There's plenty to see in this area, especially if you are into architectural styles.

Out the other side of the churchyard, I took a small detour in a rightwards direction up nearby Royal College Street to photograph the Royal Veterinary College, with its Beaumont Animals' Hospital - not free, alas, apart from a dog cardiac clinic and subsidised cat neutering, but probably shit hot! From here there's a short and interesting walk up toward Camden tube, passing the house where racy French poets Rimbaud and Verlaine lived.

From St Pancras Old Church, turning left will take you toward Midland Road and St Pancras station. It's only from this direction, looking at the back of the British Library, that I could appreciate how enormous St Pancras is and how many London taxis there are, as they queue to pick up fares. From here it's a short walk to the Euston Road.

Warning: the air here is very polluted with exhaust fumes, but the sights are interesting.

Disclaimer: This is my first attempt at describing a walk so please take an A to Z with you. I haven't attempted to tell you everything you can see (below are a few snaps), or where you should eat! I had my lunch at the White Swan Wetherspoons in Highbury before setting out.


Demonstration tomorrow - defend public services, defend sheltered housing!

The National Pensioners Convention (NPC) has organised a march on Saturday 10 April to defend public services. Elderly people are feeling the pain already, with attacks on sheltered housing. Barnet TUC and Barnet residents will be on the march. The sheltered housing campaign will have their own contingent and are due to be interviewed by "Panorama". Please come and join us!

Assemble at 12 at Temple tube, Victoria Embankment, for a march to Trafalgar Square. The march is backed by many national trade unions. Let's have a show of feeling before the election in which ALL parties are promising to cut public services. Yeah, like we caused the crisis!

The march is previewed in an article on the Times series website that includes an interview with David Young.

To the barricades

Fellow Barnet blogger Don't Call Me Dave has ended his self-imposed purdah in order to comment on the coming elections. Read his excoriation of the Barnet Tory hopefuls for Parliament and council here. He signs off:
We don’t need an election. We need a revolution.
Amen to that, but if there was one we'd proably be on opposite sides of the barricades.

I shall vote Labour, but I am resisting the temptation to make Andrew Dismore my friend on Facebook. When he sees who I am consorting with in cyberspace, he could have me witch-hunted out of the party. Politics is a funny old business, isn't it, when your worst enemies are on your own side?

A good day to trumpet bad news

The Register website, which reports on all things IT, says that Barnet council made the best of a bad PR job in the way it handled the news about its loss of 9,000 children's data.

The council could have slunk about till they were outed by the Information Commissioner's Office, but instead they managed the fallout by going public themselves and by judicious use of their website.

Adept at heading off deserved criticism - it's probably not the first thing that the council would like to be famous for. You can read the Register article here.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

A rude awakening

The first voice I heard this morning was Neil Kinnock's. What a nasty shock! It's only the first day of the election campaign. I shall be voting Labour, for some complex reasons related to it being the party founded by the trade unions, even though that relationship is in an advanced state of decomposition.

However, or perhaps because of that, I loathe New Labour, and people like Kinnock set us on the road of "reforming" the Labour Party and gutting it of its democratic structures.

John Humphrys gave Kinnock a deserved hard time on Radio 4's "Today" programme. You can hear it here. After five minutes and a lot of waffle about personalities (yawn) there is a priceless section on New Labour's approach to the economy. Kinnock blows a lot of hot air, but cannot avoid the accusation that Brown's slavish devotion to unregulated free markets has helped to lead us to the economic mess we are in now.

I've transcribed the exchange below:
John Humphrys: ...when a man says to the nation, there will be no boom and bust and then effectively denies that he actually said that, and that is precisely what we get, we get boom and a spectacular bust, people are entitled to say ‘hang on a minute’...

Neil Kinnock: Do you think it started here, John?

JH: Oh, yeah, let me tell you why it did. Because what Gordon Brown did was encourage the boom here, he encouraged unbridled lending and borrowing, didn’t he?

NK: I remember those years of what you call unbridled borrowing and lending and we all know the result.

JH: Yes, a boom, an unsustainable boom.

NK: Other than Vince Cable, can you name me one single politician that was warning that it was going to end in tears and that therefore governments should have been retrenching since the early years of this century? You cannot find one, and you know very well that the borrowing and the lending were part of the experience that this and several other countries had; in our case, in the longest sustained period of economic growth in the whole of British economic history.

JH: It was a long sustained period of economic growth because it was built in part on sand... he didn’t at any time worry about that. He didn’t even include the price of houses in inflation rates. House prices were raging away, he didn’t offer the mildest note of caution about that; he didn’t offer any caution when private debt passed a trillion pounds for the first time; he didn’t offer any note of caution to the City, he said ‘take more risks’.

NK: We know what happened, we can examine it in detail, it would be ridiculous to hold an individual, a Chancellor or Prime Minister, responsible for the collapse of global capitalism, which was based on an utter miscalculation and a great deal of hubris in the operation of the market economy.

Now, I’m sure Gordon Brown will take whatever share of responsibility that comes with that. But it is absurd to suggest that this monumental change in the whole context of global economics is related or attributable to the economic policies of Gordon Brown which did bring us those years, which brought sustained growth and will again restore sustained growth...

JH: So you are telling me that Gordon Brown’s unsustainable boom was not even related to where we find ourselves today?

NK: I didn’t say that. I said, first, he will take the share of responsibility properly due to him, not exaggerated. And, secondly, it would be utterly absurd to attribute all that has happened in the global economy in the last two years or so to the policies when Chancellor of the Exchequer or when Prime Minister.

JH: That’s a straw dog. I didn’t say that.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Barnet council fails to cost residents half a million

...on this occasion, but if they lose any more schoolchildren's data after 6 April they might be liable for a fine of up to £500,000. Currently, the maximum fine for a serious breach of the Data Protection Act is just £5,000 but it is going up from tomorrow. Phew! That was a close one.

Read a Tech Watch website report about the change here.
This is what Barnet council is saying on its website about its recent data loss.

Miss Andry says...

frankly, I think you're all a bunch of Gene Hunts.

P.S. In case your irony antenna is set on low this morning, I should explain that this is my take on the "Ashes to Ashes" poster tit for tat between Labour and the Tories. Even Conservative A-Listers like Harrow West PPC Rachel Joyce seem to think this macho willy-waving dignifies politics. How low we have sunk.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Support Abdul Omer, busworker trade unionist

An important message via a busworker friend about a busworker who seems to have been sacked for being an effective trade unionist. The busdrivers working from Harrow and Edgware bus garages were among the lowest paid in London until Abdul became active on their behalf. Now he has lost his job because of it.

Bosses at Sovereign Bus Company have sacked Abdul Omer, the Unite convenor for their two garages in Harrow and Edgware. It is a clear attempt to break union organisation. Everybody knows that drivers at Sovereign had the worst pay and conditions in London. That has changed, and the bosses hate it. Management have accused Omer of intimidating a witness during a disciplinary hearing.

None of the witnesses have made a complaint. His real crime is robustly defending a worker against a charge. Action in defence of Omer can get results. Sovereign is a bully. Like all bullies they will back down when faced with a strong response rather than running away from them.

The Unite branch at Harrow passed a motion calling on the union to hold a ballot for action to reinstate Omer. It was also signed by all the reps at both Sovereign garages. Omer’s record strengthened union organisation at Sovereign’s two garages, backed up by strikes and has resulted in serious gains for drivers.

These include: Pay will be brought into line with Sovereign’s sister company, London United. This will increase Sovereign drivers pay by around £4,000 a year within an agreed timetable. New drivers at Sovereign were paid 14 percent less than at London United. Half this gap has been closed this year. The other half will be closed in July this year. New drivers had to wait two years before being entitled to sick pay. They will now be entitled to receive it after 12 months — the same as the drivers at London United.

Don't let Sovereign break the union! Sovereign workers will receive a 2 percent pay increase as part of a deal to align the hours they work with London United. This is over and above normal pay bargaining. London United workers are entitled to an annual performance related bonus, paid at Christmas and usually worth around £400. Sovereign has now agreed to negotiate on introducing this at its garages. Sovereign in the past has offered no bonus for length of service.

Drivers will now receive a £10 a week bonus after five years employment. This July that will drop to four years, and in 2011 it will be paid after three years employment. And they won a 3.5 percent pay rise this year! Omer, as convenor, has been central to all this. And Sovereign bosses know Omer has support. That’s why they have rushed to have extra managers working over the Easter weekend to stop and halt any walkouts. Our reps must be free to effectively defend members at disciplinary hearings without facing management threats to suspend or sack them.

If Sovereign can get away with sacking the union convenor it will encourage other companies to attempt to weaken union organisation elsewhere. Every garage should call on the union to act on the Harrow Unite branch demand for an official ballot.

Send messages of support to

In BNP world, truth stranger than fiction

This is an April Fool's joke:

The Sun published a story today about BNP leader Nick Griffin being stripped of his degree – a spoof from a Cambridge student magazine

(Guardian newsblog, Saturday 3 April 2010)
This isn't:
BNP official Mark Collett questioned over alleged threat to kill Nick Griffin... Police arrest publicity director accused by BNP leadership of plotting 'palace coup'

(Guardian, Sunday 4 April 2010)
Hopefully, the latest shenanigans will, if nothing else does, put the final boot into Griffin's parliamentary ambitions.

David Cameron breastfeeds

Oh, not really, but you know what I mean. The attempts to portray David Cameron as a loving father are becoming nothing short of nauseating, as this picture taken from the cover of Peopletalk magazine, which the Tories have seen fit to send me, shows.

David Cameron is a loving father, but that's not enough. Cameron must be seen to be a loving father.

I wouldn't mind this so much if it didn't go alongside the Tories' half-baked draft manifesto proposal to "recognise marriage and civil partnerships in the tax system in the next Parliament". At least they don't propose to discriminate against gay "married" couples, only unmarried couples... and single parents.

Privileging married couples over other people cannot turn back the tide on the massive social upheavals that the decline of marriage represents. It cannot help end child poverty. All it can do is penalise and stigmatise the parents and the children who do not fit this pattern.

My parents divorced when I was young. Perhaps they should never have married! They did, though, and they tried to make their marriage work, but they couldn't. They rowed a lot when I was growing up, and I can't say that I minded very much when that was taken out of my life. I was sad they split up, but perhaps I wouldn't have minded at all if the rowing had gone on.

Once they split, the weirdest suggestion you might make to me would be that they would get back together!

What did I mind about growing up in a single-parent household?

(1) the poverty
(2) the stigma.

It seems to me that the Tories' "family-friendly" proposal can only reinforce these - poverty, stigma - for children from single-parent or unmarried couple households when, for decades, we have been moving away from them.

One of my best friends was a "little bastuard" - a term I learned from my grandmother who learned it at the music hall! We have long, long, I hope, ceased despising children whose parents aren't married.

Two lesbian friends of mine have just had a baby. They are not married. Society changes, for the better, when it frees up people from age-old social prejudice and expectation. Let who will marry, but leave the rest of us alone!

Friday, 2 April 2010

Barnet council shuts its parks for Easter

Londonist blog has picked up on Barnet council's decision to close its big parks this weekend - see here. The move is taken to prevent Iranians (and Kurds and Afghanis) from celebrating Sizdah Bedar, the 13th day of their new year.

Of course, the parks cannot be kept open for other people, because the police and council officials could hardly be expected to stop people entering "on suspicion of being Iranian".

I think Londonist strikes the correct tone:
It is true that Iranians don't have a very good grasp of the Keep Britain Tidy business, but this really is quite Scrooge-like on the part of Barnet.
The Iranian community has tried to negotiate with the council and police to facilitate this festival but the council just appears not to have the patience to find a way through. Much simpler just to piss on everyone's parade.

The Barnet Press reports the decision as well - see here. They get it slightly wrong, though, in that most of those wanting to picnic this weekend are no longer Iranian but British nationals.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Broken Record #1: "Single parent families on benefits can cost state more than £5million, says new report"

This is the first in a series of blogposts on moral scares by Tory-supporting newspapers, and the crackpot schemes they come up with to "fix" what David Cameron is calling "broken Britain". I agree that Britain is broken, but I see the faultlines in different places to where the Tories see them, and attribute many of the problems to Tory policies, pursued by Tory and New Labour governments. The solutions I advocate are rather different from those put forward by Cameron, the Evening Standard, the Daily Telegraph, etc.

Today's broken record, "Single parent families on benefits can cost state more than £5million, says new report", from the Daily Telegraph, originates in a story from our own borough of Barnet, with the case study - there has only been one - done for the most recent Barnet council Future Shape report.

One wouldn't mind so much about this story, if the subject were at all representative, but as you will quickly deduce from reading the first and second paragraphs, the scare has been concocted from the experience of one family with a pretty unique set of "challenges":

According to an extreme case study put together by Barnet Council in North London - which focuses on an abused single mother brought up in care who has three children - the cost can be counted at £5,782,894.

It assumes that neither the mother or any of the children ever do any paid work and that the children, like the mother, spend extended periods in state care.
The Telegraph scare story is actually based on a longer story in the Daily Mail which, while reactionary, remarkably for the Mail, manages to be less alarming.

Expect more stories like this in the run-up to the election. Actually, that being so very soon, this sort of thing is designed more for the post-election slash-and-burn season coming our way, if we cannot successfully resist all parties' cuts plans.

Journalism and local democracy

I'm on strike. No joke. There's an unofficial freelance journalists' strike today, and an interesting article about this on the Guardian website.

Unfortunately, since paid work is so hard to come by these days, I wonder whether anyone will notice that we are working or not. However, the intention is good. Freelance rates are dropping - I haven't had a pay increase for three years and inflation hasn't been zero. (They can't pull the wool over my eyes.)

We are one among many sections of the industry getting done over. I was speaking to a local newspaper journalist recently, he testified to the fact that fewer and fewer staff are having to cover a wider area; why, Barnet used to have one journalist just to cover council news! We could sorely do with that now, as it is almost impossible for the layperson to follow each new twist in the saga of Barnet easyCouncil.

New technology has increased the pressure too, as journalists now have to feed the maw of the company website as well as get out an issue of the paper.

There was an NUJ meeting recently about the importance of local newspapers for democracy, the meeting was titled "Democracy without journalism: the crisis in local news". For anyone that is interested in this topic, photographer Jonathan Warren has posted full audio of the meeting on his blog: journalists, what would we do without them?

April fools - remembering the poll tax

It's April Fools' Day. How apt, then, to remember the 20-years anniversary, erm, yesterday of the big anti-poll tax demonstration in London. The one that's sometimes, with the benefit of distance, fondly referred to as the poll tax riot.

This was a massive demonstration in London on 31 March 1990 of 200,000 people, the police said, but probably more, against the Conservatives' poll tax. The poll tax, boys and girls, was a plan to make people pay the same amount of local tax - nowadays it's called council tax - regardless of their income. The Duke of Westminster would only have to pay the same amount of tax as his cleaner, even though he was infinitely better-off. (We were fond of illustrations like that, we who campaigned against the tax.)

In a truly idiotic stroke, that succeeded in alienating almost the entire population of Scotland, the tax was introduced there a year earlier than in the rest of the UK.

This gave the far-left Militant Tendency (a grouping inside the Labour Party) a new lease of life, a whole new raison d'etre, as they threw themselves into organising resistance to the tax and recruiting to their organisation.

I was living in Islington at the time. I helped to organise a small anti-poll tax campaign, learning some of the lessons from the Scottish campaign, which had been going for longer, obviously.

At some point early in 1989 my friend D and I bombed up the motorway - several motorways, possibly, I don't know, I wasn't driving - to take part in a conference in Strathclyde where strategy was debated. We passed through eerie Lockerbie on the way there, where a plane had recently been brought down by a terrorist bomb. We stayed the night in Edinburgh at D's friend's house.

We spent the next day in this conference somewhere west of Edinburgh, where the star turn was one very young man named Tommy Sheridan.

The big debate was whether opponents of the poll tax should organise a campaign of non-registration for the tax, which could stop it before it began and entailed defying the government. We also wanted non-implementation, which would involve mobilising the civil service trade unions. The other approach was to organise a campaign of non-payment once the tax had been brought in. This was likely to involve more people in the campaign, but at a later stage. Militant favoured the latter option, which undoubtedly bore fruit - especially for them in the way of recruits! My group favoured the non-registration and non-implementation strategy, which was a much harder nut to crack, as it involved persuading a significant part of the labour movement to defy the government.

Militant were simply more numerous than the small assortment of other groups there - which included more hardnosed Trots than Militant were, and some anarchisty types from north London - and they had the prestige from being on the campaign trail already. We lost the vote, got back into D's car and bombed back down the motorway the way we had come.

Ultimately, the poll tax was scrapped but not before it had boosted Scottish nationalism, and made and unmade a number of reputations - Tommy Sheridan became a somebody and Margaret Thatcher's reputation was ruined. After the poll tax her days were numbered.