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: http://www.gopetition.com/petition/40626/sign.html

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 info@barnettuc.org.uk.

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 http://www.gopetition.com/petition/39319/sign.html

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 info@barnettuc.org.uk

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.