Sunday, 31 March 2013

Eggcentric socialists no. 3 - Albert Einstein

In 2010 I began an occasional series called 'Unlikely socialists', featuring famous people that others might be surprised to find out are socialists. It has turned out to be very occasional, I've only written two posts!

I am reviving the strand now but rebranding it 'Eccentric socialists', in tongue-in-cheek tribute to Richard Cornelius, Tory Leader of Barnet Council. Cornelius thinks that opposition to his wacky One Barnet policies in Barnet is confined to 'eccentric socialists, American exiles and a coffee shop owner'. (He could do worse!)

Since it is Easter Sunday, I've included a little pun in this entry. I think that the revolutionary scientist Albert Einstein is someone deserving of the 'eccentric' title - showing that 'eccentricity' is a virtue, someone that stands up to the mainstream, and challenges ideas that deserve to be debunked.

Here's what he wrote about his socialist beliefs in "Why socialism?", an article for the US magazine Monthly Review in May 1949. (Read the whole article here.)
The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.
The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor—not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules. In this respect, it is important to realize that the means of production—that is to say, the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods—may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals. ...
Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers’ goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilization of capital which leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals which I mentioned before.
This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.
I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.
Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?
Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Join the Barnet Spring march, Saturday 23 March, Finchley

I've little time to write my own blogpost this evening so I'll just shamelessly re-publish this week's Barnet Alliance newsletter - which has itself shamelessly stolen Mrs Angry's excellent headline from her blogpost reporting on the final day of Maria Nash's application for Judicial Review of Barnet Council's 'One Barnet' outsourcing programme.

Of course, we have been at the High Court this week finding out just how little regard the Council has for our intelligence or our right to be consulted over what happens to the public services we all rely on and pay for. Mr Justice Underhill's verdict is due after Easter.

Tomorrow, Saturday 23 March, we will be marching, possibly through snow, from Finchley Central station to Friern Barnet Community Library on the 'Barnet Spring' march. There is a bus for those who don't want to walk.

P.S. I can at least contribute to the commonweal some photos from outside the High Court.

Nothing About Us Without Us!

This term communicates the idea that no policy should be made without the full and direct participation of the people concerned. It has a long history within the disabilities rights campaigns, and was adopted by DPAC, Disabled People Against Cuts, as their battle cry.
This term concerns us in many ways. There is, for example, the lack of consultation about the One Barnet Programme, which the council, on the one hand, tried to deny in the High Court; while claiming, on the other hand, that residents are “not capable” of understanding the complexity of the programme, so consultation is pointless. There’s also the failure of Your Choice Barnet, which will cause suffering and distress to parents, carers, service users and staff, and demonstrates the council’s inability to manage and to understand the complexity of its own programmes. And, finally, there is the contempt with which the council has dismissed and insulted concerned residents. 
If you haven't heard yet, the High Court judgment regarding Maria Nash’s challenge will be delivered after Easter. You can find a summary of the deliberations on our website, and also reports (better then ours) by the local bloggers: Barnet Eye, Broken Barnet and Mr Reasonable.
Tomorrow, Saturday, is Barnet Spring. Although spring is not an accurate term for the weather that has been forecast, it might not be that bad. Anyway,we have braved bad weather conditions in the past, so let’s all dress warmly and remember: battling against the weather will make good photo ops and is nothing like as hard as battling against government. Even if the weather is as miserable as the council, the government and austerity, let's make the Barnet Spring March BIG, big and angry: Nothing About Us Without Us!

The rally will start at 11am near Finchley Central Tube Station. We will begin to march to Friern Barnet Community Library at midday, accompanied by a double decker bus for people who have difficulty walking that far. Please note that the bus has no ramp. Wheelchair users will be buddied up with supporters and there will be stewards to assist with this at the assembly point.
The second part of the rally will be held at Friern Barnet, with music and food courtesy of the Friern Barnet Library Campaign. 
There will be speakers from all over the country: MPs, councillors, LGA members, trade unionists, and campaigners, including Tony Benn. The list of speakers, delegations and messages of support is here.
  • Please help us make this march a success: join us from 9am to prepare. We need stewards and help with:
  • fund-raising collection
  • distributing leaflets
  • decorating the bus
  • putting up posters along the march route.
If you can help, please just turn up at 9am outside Finchley Central tube station or call 07534 407703.

And for a last-minute push:
  1. Forward this newsletter to friends and family.
  2. Make sure that everyone you know knows about it!
  3. Tweet mercilessly with the hashtag #BarnetSpring and the link

Monday, 18 March 2013

One Barnet on trial - join us at the High Court

Barnet resident Maria Nash has applied for a Judicial Review of Barnet Council's One Barnet outsourcing programme, and the application will be heard in the High Court from tomorrow, Tuesday 19 March. The case will probably continue on Wednesday and might run to Thursday.

Barnet Alliance for Public Services is supporting Maria in her application. With Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), we have organised a support demonstration outside the Royal Court of Justice, The Strand tomorrow (Tuesday) from 9.30am to 1.30pm.

Please join us if you can, and follow proceedings on Twitter. Follow @BarnetAlliance, hashtags: #OneBarnet #BarnetSpring.

It is a shame that it has come to this: a legal challenge to Barnet Tories' privatisation plan, but for more than four years we have been arguing, debating, challenging in every way that we can politically. I think we honestly believed that they would see sense or at least calculate that the political price they would pay for One Barnet would be so high they would not want to pay it.

We were wrong.

Maria is not a member of BAPS but we are supporting her. Of course, the political campaign WILL continue and Barnet Tories WILL pay a high political price for persisting with One Barnet. They are likely to lose control of Barnet Council to Labour in the local government elections in 2014. I for one will certainly be campaigning to make sure that they do - and to pressure Labour to make sure that what we get instead will be better!

But it is a tragedy that so much damage has already been done. 

It is a shame that it has come to a legal challenge, but we will all learn interesting and useful things through this process (we already have).

There will be high public interest in the court case. The arguments aired will be mulled over and used by other local authorities contemplating mass outourcing, and by those challenging them.

Maria has a right to insist on her her day in court. Her case is that she is worried what will happen to her when services are outsourced - she is disabled - particularly if the outsourcing goes wrong, the contracts fail, and Barnet ends up losing not saving money. She is right to worry! The cuts to our vital public services - already severe - will be far worse the more money that Barnet loses.

The problems with 'Your Choice Barnet', the arms-length company set up by Barnet Council to deliver care and support services to disabled adults show the dangers of moving to a commercial model for vital public services. The Council is being called on to bail out Your Choice, which was supposed to make a surplus.

Now that it is losing money, the management are making plans to cut staff pay and conditions and reduce the standard of the service.

Please sign the petition here calling on Barnet Council to bring 'Your Choice Barnet' back in-house. And you can end an email to Barnet Council's Cabinet members using the link here on the Barnet Alliance website.

Friday, 15 March 2013

2e2 - When Outsourcing Goes Wrong

Barnet Council have been having trouble with their IT infrastructure for some time. Back in 2011 an internal report identified that the Council was having difficulties with their IT Infrastructure Supplier, 2e2. The report stated that:

2e2 contract was put in place to transfer the operational management and risk of core infrastructure to a private provider. 2e2 no longer feel responsible for this and have passed all risks back to the council, on the basis that all equipment has reached EOL (End Of Life)”.
The report identified that a key risk was that,  “2e2 will pass all risk back onto the council and not deliver to their contractual arrangements” and that to mitigate that risk the council should, “Improve the relationship with 2e2 and look into terminating the 2e2 contract early and bringing services and staff, under TUPE, in‐house, if necessary”.
Unfortunately, Barnet ignored its own advice and continued to engage 2e2 at a cost of over £1 million a year, including an annual up-front payment of £400,000. In January 2013 2e2 went into administration and withdrew its services. This leaves Barnet £220,000 out of pocket for the unused up-front fees and scrabbling around to find someone else to run the IT infrastructure, without which the council would struggle to function.

To get themselves out of a hole quickly, Barnet Council have appointed Capita, without any form of tender, on the basis that it was an emergency and they had already had discussions with Capita to take over the running of this service. This new contract will cost £72,595 per month. 

The Council states that they did undertake a risk analysis of 2e2 in January “using Experian reports” and that “the report stated the company was satisfactory”. However a quick check on the internet would have shown that suppliers have not been able to get credit insurance on goods supplied to 2e2 for some time and that 2e2 were handed a number of County Court Judgements in 2012. 

If Barnet had simply followed its own risk register advice back in 2011 and brought the service back in house, we would not be in this position. It also shows the massive risk that comes with outsourcing key services and that even large companies can go bust. 

Barnet need to stop taking risks with our services and abandon One Barnet now. 


Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Thursday, 7 March 2013

The Friday joke on a Thursday

Tomorrow, 8 March, is International Women's Day. The origins of the day are, believe it or not, in the socialist and trade union movement, and it used to be called International Working Women's Day.

Most, almost all, women work in some capacity or other, but it is still useful to remember the origins. All appearances to the contrary, it is not, or shouldn't be, International Careerist Women's Day, International Bourgeois Feminist Women's Day or even, shudder, International Radical Feminist Women's Day.

As I might be running around tomorrow taking photos at various events marking IWD, I thought I would post my Friday joke (a rare event) a day early. It isn't about feminism, but if you have been following Barnet local politics lately you will know what it is about.

(Mystified? This article will explain.)

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Eccentric, socialist bloggers of Barnet, unite!

Barnet Council's Tory leader Richard Cornelius has made some choice remarks about the residents opposing his bonkers One Barnet privatisation plan.

At the Council meeting on 5 March, that passed an insane and vicious cuts budget, Cornelius said of his critics:
“(They are) just a group of eccentric socialists, American exiles, bloggers and a coffee shop owner.” 
I wasn't at the meeting, detained as I was on family business. But read the report by the Times series here. Mrs Angry who writes the Broken Barnet blog says Cornelius actually said "esoteric" socialists, which sounds far more intriguing.

I think I know who he means by "American exiles", but that's just two people and they are very respectable - formidable, even. Then there are bloggers - but they have their uses, don't they? And coffee shop owners! So sneeringly dismissed.

If he means Helen Michael, who owns Cafe Buzz in North Finchley, well, you could see what good work she does for the community as she helped produce a lively celebration of one of Barnet's beleaguered high streets last Saturday. Read about it here.

I am definitely a socialist, and possibly eccentric, but there are worse things one might be.

A complacent Tory, for example, who blandly complies with his party's decimation of public services, and denigrates those Barnet residents who won't just sit back and let them do it.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Dismore 4 Hendon! And a proper fire service for London!

Andrew Dismore, the former Labour MP for Hendon, lost his seat narrowly to Conservative Matthew Offord in 2010. Dismore has now told Labour Party members in Hendon that he will put his name forward in the selection procedure to be Labour's candidate at the next election.

Dismore is currently the representative for Barnet and Camden on the Greater London Assembly (GLA). Dismore won all seven Hendon wards in the GLA election 2012 and almost 60% of the constituency vote. This was a better vote than he achieved in 1997, when he first won the seat.

Obviously, a big factor in Dismore's great GLA score was the Conservative candidate he unseated: Brian Coleman. To some extent it was an Anyone But Coleman vote. But it was not just that. Dismore's personal reputation was good (not spotless but good). Dismore's defeat in Hendon was a shock; part of the reason he lost was a vicious campaign waged against him during the election period by an Islamist organisation called the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPACUK).

In the next election his likely opponent, the incumbent Matthew Offord, while not as notorious and unpopular as Brian Coleman, is certainly not Mr Charisma or Mr Industry. (Take a look at Offord's website, for example. It doesn't bowl you over, does it?) Whereas Dismore has always been very active, and, moreover, seen to be very active.

He has just helped to achieve the staving off of Boris Johnson's planned cuts to fire stations and personnel in London for a year, in order for a proper public consultation to go ahead. Dismore's very busy website brings this excellent piece of news.
Today Boris Johnson’s plans to close 12 fire stations and axe 18 fire engines [and 520 firefighters] were set back. The move came after members of the London Fire Authority accepted that the 2013/14 budget will not include cuts to frontline services. A motion proposed by Labour Assembly Member Andrew Dismore, and passed by today’s London Fire Authority meeting, asked that no frontline cuts are in the 2013/14 budget. There will now be time for a full and wide ranging consultation with Londoners.