Monday, 31 January 2011

UPDATED Barnet council talking to private firm about running libraries

I've been tipped off about this story, "US firm ‘can save county’s libraries’", which has just been published in the Oxford Times.

Barnet council is mentioned as one of the authorities in talks with a private company, Library Systems & Services UK, about running the libraries service.

The article is about Oxfordshire libraries, but the story gives an idea of how, if at all, LSSI manages to keep costs down in privatised libraries:
Mr Fitzgerald [LSSI's vice president] said the firm would look at cutting staffing and management costs but could not be specific as it had not spoken with the council.

He said: “We would relish the opportunity to have a discussion. Some people perceive the involvement of the private sector means selling off the Crown Jewels. We would not own the libraries, the shelves or the books.

“We would simply manage the staff and service, under a five to 15-year contract.”

Mr Fitzgerald said talks with one South of England council looking to close 40 per cent of branches had led LSSI to propose keeping all open without cutting opening hours.

Only one of England’s 151 local authorities, the London Borough of Hounslow, has contracted out its libraries, to private firm John Laing.

But Mr Fitzgerald predicted up to 12 councils would follow by the end of this year and LSSI is working with authorities including Somerset and Barnet on future plans.
UPDATE: Barnet council is not talking to LSSI (not yet, anyway). The reporter mixed Barnet up with Brent. However, it's good that we have found out about LSSI, and I urge you to read the comments below: Mr Fitzgerald of LSSI has written a response to my original blogpost. The mix-up allows us to rehearse our arguments against privatising public services.

And, of course, I've tipped off Brent Fightback about what might be in store for their libraries.

You're only as good as your next campaign

The Barnet march against cuts and privatisation passed off peacefully on Sunday. (Honest, the broken window at the HQ of Finchley and Golders Green Conservatives was nothing to do with us.)

Estimates for the number of people on the march from Finchley Central tube to the Arts Depot in north Finchley range from 600 to 2,000. I don't know how many people were on it, but even the lower end of the range would please me.

It's been hard work, and the Barnet Alliance, the anti-cuts group that organised the march, will get together on Tuesday evening to analyse our achievement. I think the effort was worth it; it is clear, however, that at this stage, people mobilise who are most directly affected by the cuts.

It doesn't mean that there is not a wide belief that the cuts are bad, privatisation is bad. Because there is. It just means that people need persuading of the value of coming out on a cold morning to what for many will be an unfamiliar part of the borough - unless, that is, they are already at the very sharp end of the cuts. (Don't think I'm being negative, I'm not; I'm trying to be clear-headed.)

I am uploading a lot of photos to my Flickr site. More tomorrow, but here's a sample.

I hope that everyone who has worked on the march enjoyed the experience. I know you didn't do it to please me! But thanks anyway to: everyone who marched today; everyone who distributed Our Barnet or leaflets in the last few weeks, and Tweeted, Facebooked, and otherwise told other people about it; and Barnet Alliance stalwarts (have we existed long enough to have stalwarts?). Thanks to Helen who was the MC all day long, John and Kevin for pushing those bloomin' coffins, Maggi whose car boot is perpetually full of campaign paraphernalia, and all the young people involved who prove that political activism will be alive and well in Barnet for many years to come.

Thanks to Roger for putting together and putting on a great programme of music, and to the wonderful musicians who played for us. (Thanks, also, to Mike Gee for his own unique personal musical contribution to the day.)

Friday, 28 January 2011

This pledge has been successful! You can still add your name to it, because the deadline hasn't been reached yet

Yes, I will be going on the Barnet march against cuts and privatisation this Sunday, 30 January. My pledge on Real PledgeBank - not the bowdlerised Barnet council version where pledges are censored before publication - has reached the requisite 20 signatures, with days to spare.

OK, I had to nag a few friends to sign it to get the ball rolling, but I know they will be beside me there on the march. Half my fellow Barnet March pledgees are people I didn't know (although I've met a couple of them subsequently).

Here's my pledge:
Pledge “Barnetmarch”

"I will march against cuts and privatisation in Barnet on 30 January but only if 20 other local people will do the same."
Yes, of course, it's daft, but so is the whole idea of Barnet forking out £140,000 to a company called MySociety for tat such as this:
Value for Money*

MySociety websites are seen as at the cutting edge of redefining the interface between government and citizens. Their expertise and experience will support the council to achieve its corporate aims of providing better services with less money (by supporting more interactions with the council to happen online), and enabling the public and council to jointly deliver services (for example through a local Pledgebank tool).
If, like me, you would rather your money were spent on frontline services than on gimmicks trying to persuade us that something called the Big Society can replace democratically accountable public services, please join me and my fellow pledgees on the march this Sunday. More details here.

* This is an extract from a document that blogger Mr Reasonable alerted us to in this blogpost.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

To annoy Brian Coleman, march on Sunday

Barnet councillor Brian Coleman was on top Coleman form at the council meeting on Tuesday night (25 January), by all accounts.

He managed to offend a far larger number of people than usual, since more of them than usual turned up to spectate the meeting. Many of those in the public gallery were "ordinary" Barnet residents who had come to have their say - they didn't get that - on the planned parking fee rises.

Mrs Angry has a full description of proceedings.

The Times series reports Coleman as saying:
“We are proposing to increase parking charges to less than £2 per week, less than the price of a cup of coffee. We will not entertain this type sort [sic] of nonsense from hysterical, over-the-top residents.”
A resident described their reaction:
David Berger, 32, has lived in Golders Green for five years and said he was “appalled” by the behaviour of Tory councillors.

He said: “They showed sheer arrogance and rudeness.

“One of the councillors got up and said we should leave Barnet if we can’t afford the parking charges – I was stunned silent.

“Councillor Brian Coleman doesn’t seem to understand what residents want and need."
According to the Times, Coleman topped off his bravura performance by flippantly dismissing people's concerns about the council cutting the budget for school crossing patrols:
“Ten schools are still funded centrally. Of those ten four wish to retire. It's open to schools to make their own crossing patrol arrangements, just as they make their own staffing arrangements.

“Simply, quite why we're funding ten patrols when the other 110 schools in the borough make their own arrangements no-one can remember.”
Coleman needs a kick up the backside, but he won't get one. For Barnet's Tories he is a useful sponge soaking up residents' growing rage.

But if Coleman angers you, you can come and join the march this Sunday, vent a bit, and join the increasingly united opposition to him.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Against the parking fee rises - sign the petition

I'm not a motorist but I can see what Barnet council are up to with their proposals to raise parking fees: plug the gap in their finances which results from a combination of the overall cuts to public services and their own incompetence. It's not on! The Barnet Press has an interview with an angry resident, Shaun Fabian, who lives in a Controlled Parking Zone. He will be charged £100 in future instead of £40, just for parking in front of his own home:
"All the bays are already paid for, there's no maintenance and the administration doesn't cost any more so I don't think the council could justify even a one pence rise. The money is obviously going to go towards something else.

"We already pay our council tax for services, so this is like an additional tax."
The Press outlines some of the other increased charges (they like to call it "optimising revenue income"), including a trebling of allotment fees and charging businesses more for trade refuse sacks.

Most upsetting, they also plan to charge users of social services for more services (they call this "fairer charging"). (This is not in the Press article, but as an issue deserves a whole campaign in its own right.)

The other scandalous element in all this is that councillors get a park-anywhere-you-like-for-free permit.

The Barnet Bugle blogger has started a petition, "We are not cash cows", on Barnet council's official petition site: spread the word. People should sign it for the name alone!

Drink to me only with thine eyes, and I will pledge with mine... but only if five other local people will do the same

John Dix (Mr Reasonable blog) has written about the cost of Barnet council's latest social media experiments. Local versions of PledgeBank, FixMyHole, sorry, FixMyStreet, etc. are to be supplied by a company called MySociety, up to a cost of £140,000.

There might even be a local version of TheyWorkForYou, the website where people can keep tabs on their MPs, only Barnet's version will be an attempt to make councillors more accountable (PMSL).

Mr Reasonable says:
Some of the cost is coming from grants, but the costs of the new Barnet Pledgebank website and the petitions website are coming out of council budgets. There still seems to be a culture of spending money on gimmicks while frontline service are being cut and frankly that offends me!
I'm with him on that.

The council document Mr R bases himself on is available here. Among the examples of things that MySociety might do for Barnet, I find something pretty ominous.
- The Democratic Services Team works hard to ensure that good quality agendas and minutes are made for each key committee or Cabinet meeting.

- Unfortunately... the core parts of committee activities – what they actually decide – is lost inside large PDF files, buried deep within part of the Barnet website.

- We propose to make it far easier to access the Decisions and Recommendations from committee and Cabinet and allow people to sign up for decision alerts based on keywords of interest.
What do you reckon? Do you think that the council is going to stop providing access to all their documents, such as the one that I found this proposal in? Are they going to dumb down "Governance and Democracy", and call it democratic?

P.S. Meanwhile, my own pledge on Real PledgeBank is going well.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Methodist questions Brian Coleman's cheap rent

A Methodist blogger, Mr John Cooper, is questioning why his church is renting out a cheap, rent-controlled flat to Barnet Conservative councillor Brian Coleman, who receives around £128,000 a year from his various political posts.

Read the blogpost here.

Coleman at a recent Barnet Cabinet meeting shouted "the market should decide!" during an item on Tory plans to end secure tenancies in social housing and let social housing rents rise closer to commercial market rents. I don't agree with the policy; but in Coleman's case, since he's so adamant, I think we would be prepared to make an exception.

As a side note, John Cooper heard about Coleman at the Netroots event recently hosted by the TUC, and I heard about him hearing about Coleman just now via Twitter. Viva social media!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Comrade Private Healthcare

I was knackered this morning - insufficient sleep. I put on the "Today" programme and heard a familiar, irritating, high-pitched voice. No, it wasn't Sarah Montague laughing; it was someone going on about private "healt'care". I recognised the voice. It was Comrade Ali Parsa, the founder of and managing partner in Circle Health, crowing at the prospect of the Tories' NHS revolution announced today.

(I think I wrote about him once before on the blog, but can't find the post now.)

Circle Health is a private company, small but getting bigger, taking over and running "failing" NHS facilities as well as buildings its own private hospitals. It will probably get the contract in February to run Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon. The picture at the top of this post is of the, alas unsuccessful, protest organised by Cambridgeshire Against the Cuts in the summer against the plan to get a private company to run Hinchingbrooke.

What particularly irks me about Ali's "success" is his cynicism. In a Times interview he gave last March, he joked about his career in student politics, first at UCL and then in the National Union of Students.
He was an independent, finding the Labour group too “Stalinist”.
What a laugh! Ali's hero was Gorbachev.

Circle Health make a big thing about how they value the input of all their staff. But half the company is owned by a fairly small number of private individuals, including Mr Parsa.
He recalls taking over a failing treatment centre in the north of England, after a coroner’s inquest. Circle’s strategy to galvanise the staff was to have meetings in which all of them, from consultants to cleaners, were asked a series of questions. What is wrong? Why is it wrong? What needs to be done to put it right?

“At the end of one of these sessions, a cleaner was almost in tears. I asked her what was the matter. She said: ‘I have been a cleaner in this hospital for 20 years. This is the first time I sat next to a consultant, working together.’ Think about it — this is hugely hierarchical.”
Correct, Ali. And I bet the consultant loved it... But tell me, Ali, when are you going to stop paying the cleaner peanuts? After all, that's how you'll make your money.

Top banker slags off Barnet Alliance - we must be doing something right!

Rog T has defended the honour of Barnet anti-cuts campaigners against a top banker. Colin Hewett sent an abusive email to the email address of the Barnet Alliance for Public Services.

You can read the correspondence on Rog's "Barnet Future Shape" blog.

Here's Hewett's Linked In information for you to judge the calibre of our critics:
Colin Hewett’s Experience
(Public Company; 10,001+ employees; NMR; Investment Banking industry)

Currently holds this position

Executive Director
Nomura International plc
(Banking industry)

1981 — Present (30 years)

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Would-be academies warned off negotiating with unions

Much of the rhetoric around the government's (thus far not tremendously successful) drive to get schools to opt out of local authority control and become academies, has been the new freedom schools will enjoy if they convert.

Just before Christmas one of the big teachers' unions, the NASUWT, was shown a letter sent by Lord Hill, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools in the Department for Education, that threatened would-be academies their application would be viewed unfavourably if they entered into any agreement with the NASUWT.

Some freedom that is! In fact, many of the existing academies have not, as the government would like, ended agreements with trade unions representing staff. There are clear advantages to schools' governing bodies in keeping to nationally agreements on matters such as pay, as well as to staff.

The NASUWT has written to Lord Hill pointing out the many inaccuracies in his letter to schools, as well as objecting to the political drift of the letter.

Friday, 14 January 2011

One Barnet: our Barnet

Barnet council's mass privatisation plan has had a couple of name changes. Starting out life as Future Shape, it soon became easyCouncil (though it was critics that liked to call it that, after then council leader Mike Freer said Barnet had a lot to learn from budget airlines). Trying to put this cheap and nasty association behind them, the Tory administration seems finally to have settled on "One Barnet".

It refers to the intention (far from being realised) of sharing back office and, to some extent, residents' personal information with other large organisations in the borough, including potentially the police, Middlesex University, the Department for Work and Pensions, and the NHS.

It also sounds friendly and we're all in this together-ish. We're not in it together, however, as the controversial attempt to raise senior cabinet members' allowances showed (and committee chairmen and women did get whopping great rises in the end).

The new Barnet Alliance for Public Services newspaper "Our Barnet" provides some details of the One Barnet that Lynne Hillan and her fellow Tories are trying to foist on us. It is a council with a £54.5 million financial hole to plug over the next three years. They say they will achieve this through a combination of:
- One Barnet £12.1m
- Efficiency projects £22.9m
- Increased income £4.2m
- Service reductions £15.2m
If One Barnet fails, ie, they don't save any money or, worse, wind up losing money, you can bet the "service reductions", eg, devastating the youth service, stopping the crossing patrols outside schools, cutting children's centres, axing the museums, abandoning the Arts Depot to an uncertain future and closing libraries, withdrawing EMA from sixth form students, and leaving school buildings dilapidated, will only increase.

And you can bet that "revenue income optimisation", eg, fleecing drivers, and charging social services users, will increase.

That's the Tories' One Barnet, for you. Our Barnet is about standing up to central government and challenging the cutting of Barnet's grant, defending vital public services, spending our taxes on services, not handing it over to large corporations for their profits, guaranteeing that working for Barnet means decent pay and conditions of service, libraries open for longer, school buildings are repaired, elderly people have the services they need to lead dignified lives, young people enjoy the meaningful activity they need to help them develop, and everyone has somewhere decent to live. I know where I'd rather live.

If you would be prepared to deliver some copies of the "Our Barnet" newspaper in your area, please email

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Consultation fatigue

The Barnet Press has an interesting story about the disability rights charity Disability Action in the Borough if Barnet (DABB). They are struggling to answer enquiries, as people seek advice before filling in the council's many budget consultation documents.

The council is publishing an unprecedented number of consultations as they seek people's views (yeah, right) on all the budget cuts, service changes, etc, they are trying to push through.

The Press reports:
Executive director Dexter Hanoomansingh told The Press the people who use his services are being asked to take part in four consultations which will affect their care in future years. The council is currently asking residents to respond to consultations on funding for the voluntary sector, a new charging policy for care services, the budget for adult social services and the future of sheltered housing wardens by January 27.

Bur Mr Hanoomansingh, who has attended consultation meetings with residents, says the number of consultations and language used is confusing for those most vulnerable.
Look here to see just how many consultations are live. I had worried about this as well, as I filled in the museums consultation last night. (I am saving the Arts Depot consultation for another day - although we only have till 17 January for it.) For people who are managing with a disability this could be an extremely worrying time - and at the least a tiring one. (Remember, too, that the government is changing the rules for people claiming benefits for disability, making it harder to claim.)

The council's comment, channeled via Sachin Rajput, cabinet member for adults, is:
“The timing of these consultations is inextricably linked to the finalisation of the budget for 2011/12.

“I can appreciate that there is a lot for people to comment on, but we have to have the budget in place by next [this] April and need to allow enough time to gather as much feedback on proposals from residents and users as we can. It’s also crucial that people are given the opportunity to make their opinions known. All those comments then need to be evaluated so we can devise a budget which addresses the enormous financial challenges facing the council.”
I think it is more a case of the council ticking the boxes - Consultation? Check. Equalities Impact Assessment? Check. - before they go ahead and do what they have decided to do in any case. But under the table they must have fingers and a lot more besides crossed hoping they do not get a number of legal challenges to their plans.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

A small crumb of comfort in the otherwise empty hamper of life the news that Barnet councillor Brian Coleman, chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA), has withdrawn his proposal to stop other members of the authority scrutinising his decisions.

Tory Troll blogger Adam Bienkov has the story.

The Fire Brigade is still trying to scare the firefighters' union, the FBU, with threats to sack all London firefighters if they do not agree to... what they have voted to agreed to: a change in their shift patterns to 10.5 hours day shift, 13.5 hours night shift. The FBU is doing its best not to over-react to the provocative talk.

There is an emergency meeting of LFEPA tomorrow (Thursday 13 January) to consider such matters, where a dyspeptic Brian Coleman will keep everyone on their toes. What curveballs can he pitch them next?

Dustcart offered, now all we need is a driver!

Barnet council's very own take on Pledge Bank, Barnet Pledgebank, is up and running. They have learned some lessons from their mixed experience with the Barnet Ideas website: they make it very clear from the outset that they will vet all suggestions. (With real Pledge Bank you can suggest anything you like.) Therefore, any offers to flay the councillors alive if half a dozen other Barnet residents will join in and help are not likely to see the light of day, alas.

As will all their forays into harnessing the power of social media, Barnet show the usual degree of completely missing the point of it all, by starting residents off with a pseudo-pledge that reveals the true purpose of the exercise for them:
Barnet Council will provide 6 computers with internet access and a training room at Hendon Library but only if 2 local residents will volunteer to provide an hour's I.T. training a week.
What are they going to do with those facilities otherwise? Barnet Council will provide residents with... things that belong to us already?

This could be taken to absurd lengths.
Barnet Council wil provide a fleet of dustcarts and a crash course in rudimentary health and safety but only if 12 local residents will volunteer to collect their own rubbish.
Of course, Barnet Pledgebank is mainly propaganda for the Big Society idea and to grind in the message that the council is going belly up financially. There can't really come any coherent or useful outcome from this exercise.

I think, most of all, I resent the expensive advertisements going up all over the borough for this, when they could have been advertising something genuinely useful, such as how people can claim benefits they are entitled to but don't know about.

Arts and museum cuts - a suitable response?

On the day the bankers stuck two fingers up to the nation there was a good post on the Guardian culture blog about Barnet council locking Arts Depot protesters out of the North London Business Park on Monday.

Journalist Charlotte Higgins contrasts the dismal fate of the arts in Barnet and the UK with the feteing of Damien Hirst's latest abomination:
a human baby skull cast in platinum and encrusted with 8,128 pavé-set perfect diamonds, 7,105 natural fancy pink diamonds and 1,023 white diamonds.
Meanwhile, back on planet hoi polloi, Higgins tells us that as well as potentially losing its £194,000 Barnet council funding, the Arts Depot could lose grants worth £130,000 from London Councils. Arts Depot director Nigel Cutting is reported saying:
"If [the cut] goes through, Barnet will be one of the largest councils in the country to spend nothing on the arts. A local authority area with twice the population of Oxford at least deserves a degree of arts provision."
View the consultation document that outlines the Arts Depot cut here. You have until 17 January to let Barnet know what you think of it via the survey.

The consultation on the proposal, effectively, to close Barnet Museum and Church Farmhouse Museum is also running till 17 January. Access it here. Again there is a survey to complete.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Pledge Bank? Two can play at that game...

Barnet Tories have been getting all excited about Pledge Bank. Leader Lynne Hillan wants to use it to promote Big Society. I am using it to promote the march against her administration on 30 January.

Barnet march - I'll do it, but only if you help.

Flash communities good, flash mobs bad

Rumour reaches us (an email, actually) that the planned Arts Depot flash mob was shut out of North London Business Park this afternoon. Nope, they couldn't even get near the Barnet council offices to demonstrate their opposition to proposed cuts in their council grant.

Barnet council, who have recently embraced a new adventure in social media called the Pledge Bank (PledgeBank, probably) went all humourless on the artistic types from the Arts Depot. That, I suspect, is only going to make them more determined - and Barnet Council more ridiculous.

I can't find PledgeBank on the web yet, but there is an interesting article on Conservative Home quoting council leader Lynne Hillan on how the PledgeBank fits with promoting the Big Society (BigSociety, surely). The comments are entertaining, as you might expect.

Hillan says:
Increasingly local government will be a deal: “We will provide a half a ton of grit if you agree to spread it”. There is a real engagement challenge here - often these groups will not be the usual suspects. They will be “flash communities” of short duration, forming to complete an activity - such as clearing snow or tackling local environmental damage.
Flash communities good, flash mobs bad. You read it here first.

Brian Coleman's gagging antics

Tory Troll blog reports on Brian Coleman, chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA), moving to stop scrutiny at meetings of the authority.

An emergency meeting this Thursday will vote on
"a proposal from Chairman and Leader [Coleman] to revise the Standing Orders of the Authority in order to cease the practice of Members of the Authority putting questions to the Chairman and Leader of the Authority."
The "reasoning" from Coleman is that
"LFEPA is an executive board, not a scrutiny body"
"There is no statutory requirement for question time. The Authority may therefore decide to remove Standing Order 21 [allowing questions to the Chairman]."
He must sit at home working on these ploys. Coleman, new year, still a schlemiel.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Arts Depot flashmob this Monday - tweet that, Barnet!

The way they go on about the joys of social media, you would think that the Tory administration at Barnet council had invented Facebook. In fact, as most residents know to their cost, most Barnet Tories would have trouble tying their own shoelaces.

The Arts Depot, whose grant the council is threatening to cut, leaving the only professional arts venue in Barnet with 11% less funding, are hoisting Barnet Tories with their own petard (historical term, which someone at Barnet or Church Farmhouse Museums could explain to us). They have organised a flash mob at North London Business Park, where the council has most of its offices, this coming Monday 10 January.

I thought a flash mob was supposed to be a surprise event, sprung on the unwary, but never mind. It's such a schlepp to NLBP you do need to give people plenty of notice to get there. Just so long as they don't expect council leader Lynne Hillan to stick around to see it. Here are some more details:
Sssshhhh - FLASHMOB on Monday!

Monday 10 January, 4.30pm, meet outside Building 4 entrance at North London Business Park N11 1NP. Help artsdepot respond to the proposed cut of all core funding with effect from April with a silent vigil. You don’t need to bring anything with you but YOU. Any questions on Monday, call 07952 048574.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Taking the frills out of Barnet: the case of the artsdepot, Or: Give us bread, but give us roses

In December Barnet council announced that it wants to cut all the funding it gives to the artsdepot in north Finchley, the only professional arts venue in the borough.

The artsdepot commented:
In the past financial year, artsdepot received £194,000 from Barnet Borough Council, amounting to 11% of its overall turnover. Comparable arts venues in six other London boroughs received local authority support amounting to between £226,000 and £650,000, which made up between 18% and 68% of their overall turnover. artsdepot has always strived not to be dependent on one core funder, earning around half of its income itself through, amongst other things, box office sales and hires. Around a further 25% of funding comes from private trusts and foundations who value its work. However, the late notice of this announcement makes it incredibly difficult for the venue to plan for the consequences of the proposed cuts.
The blog for Barnet Alliance for Public Services has a piece written by Tanya Novick, the convenor of the Jasmine women's group, a community group for refugee women, which meets at the artsdepot. It illustrates why cuts to the artsdepot will harm the wider community. Arts funding is not all about subsidised opera tickets and bewildering installations, far from it.

The socialist movement has a saying "give us bread, but give us roses" which seems fitting here. The saying comes from a poem which became the anthem of a strike of immigrant workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912.

Bread and Roses
by James Oppenheim

As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing: “Bread and roses! Bread and roses!”

As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women’s children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!

As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for — but we fight for roses, too!

As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler — ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!

Barnet Tories: taking the frills out of Barnet

Congratulations to the "Don't Call Me Dave" blogger David Miller (can I mention his name?) for spotting the mention of easyCouncil on the Mock the Week programme. I tend to agree with the comedienne, Holly Walsh, I think it is, who says
If you're going to do a no-frills government at least do it somewhere that had frills in the first place. Taking the frills out of Barnet is like taking the charisma out of Milton Keynes.
I know both places fairly well and, though it might sound disloyal, from where I sit she makes a strong point.

There was a fashion - and almost certainly still is - for companies, NGOs, boroughs, etc, to give themselves, alongside a logo designed at absurd expense, a tagline consisting of the present participle of a verb (grammar is not my strong point, I should say) and some sort of positive sentiment. I can't off the top of my head think of any examples (although I used to collect particularly absurd ones) and I could never work out what one would call what I'm talking about so I can't even Google it, but if I say that Barnet Tories could henceforth call themselves (though they wouldn't) "Barnet Tories - taking the frills out of Barnet", you would know what I mean.

(Too much caffeine, I think. Can I go back to bed now?)

Monday, 3 January 2011

A better use for 62p, Or: A Royal wedding? That's all we f***ing need

What would you do with 62p? It's not a lot, is it, but off the top of my head, I could spend it on a small bottle of water - although what's wrong with water from the tap? This is probably not the best way to draw your attention to the fact that in 2009
The Queen and the Royal Family cost the taxpayer 62p per person - a drop of 7p...
I gleaned this information from a report in the Daily Telegraph. I don't know why the Royal Family costs us anything. It's not like they need 62p more than I do. I can only guess at how rich the Queen is, but I think with some judicious sales of assets and better investment advice she could probably plug the £7.9 million gap in funding which British taxpayers provide for the Civil List. In any case, do we agree that we need everything that is paid for from the Civil List? Wikipedia says it covers
some expenses associated with the Sovereign performing his or her state duties, including those for staffing, state visits, public engagements, ceremonial functions and the upkeep of the Royal Households.
And, besides the Civil List, the Royal Family get further money from the state:
The cost of transport and security for the Royal Family, together with property maintenance and other sundry expenses, are covered by separate grants from individual Government Departments.
With everything else I do, I don't have time to be a boned-up republican, but I shall certainly spend time this year paying more attention to this area of national life.

It's not the angle I would choose to moan about, but the Daily Telegraph today has a story about business worries that the Royal wedding on Friday 29 April will cost the country £6 billion in lost productivity, as workers enjoy extra holidays. Only £1 billion will be generated by additional tourism and sales of commemorative knick-knacks.

And then we have to go through the whole rigmarole again, to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, in 2012. David Cameron couldn't ask for a more timely gift.

I remember the Golden Jubilee in 2002. People made a great fuss of the Queen allowing pop stars to posture on the roof of Buckingham Palace and the projection of pictures onto the front of the building. The whole thing was really tacky and didn't cost her a thing, except in lost dignity - which mostly went years ago. In return, she and her brood get to live the life they love and play a murky constitutional role upholding the power of the super-rich in this country and around the world.

Oh, yes, and hold a cherished place in the hearts of most of the citizens of the UK and many further afield.

For years, naturally, I was one of those loyal subjects. The first thing I saw on television (the set belonged to a woman my mother cleaned for in Finchley) was the investiture of Prince Charles in 1969.

When they got married in 1973 I had a poster of Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips on my bedroom wall.

In 1977 a friend and I celebrated the Queen's Silver Jubilee with a tea party for our toys.

In 1981, when Diana and Charles wed, I was on an archaeological dig in Gloucestershire run by republicans. My friends and I smuggled a radio in to listen to the wedding in secret. I was in London on the day in 1986 when Fergie and Andrew married and I actually waved at her carriage - shameful!

And, the thing I feel most ambivalent about, I was sad when Diana died in 1997, and went for a morose walk around Peckham Rye to share in the general mourning. (A dark period in my life in many respects.)

And now? I still feel that tug on my emotions; I still worry that there is something puritanical and miserabilist about thinking that I'd rather my 62p a year were spent on maintaining our public services. Or that the relationship of Wills and Kate ought to affect me not at all. Or that the Queen and her family should give up all their wealth in order to live like normal folk. They could donate it all to meeting some of the needs of the desperately poor around the world, like the people of Togo being treated by the Africa Mercy medical ship I saw on a television programme the other night.

It's shaping up to be a year for resisting those sort of sentimental pressures and cleaving to what you think is right.