Thursday, 23 November 2017

Incidental and meanwhile uses: or - Barbarians at the gate - our library cutting Tory councillors discover the world of culture.


What remains of the former flagship children's library at Hendon: 'refurbished' by your Tory councillors ...

It becomes more and more difficult to write about the true state of things here in the London Borough of Broken Barnet. 

That is not just because the truth is so unpalatable: but because it has now moved beyond the scope of moral outrage, or even satire. 

What can you say, after a week where we have seen a fatally wounded Prime Minister arrive in the borough to admire the 'success' of Tory housing policy, avoiding the gaping wound of West Hendon, still in the process of social cleansing, and escorted instead to the  safety of the Stonegrove development, where ... oh, the deputy leader of the Tory group happens to live?



PM Theresa May on a visit to Edgware, to admire the sort of housing affordable to local Tory deputy council leaders like Daniel Thomas, (left). Pic credit Times group

In the week where our local authority, slated in a recent OFSTED report for its failings in regard to young children in care, so blithely announces a new 'partnership' with UNICEF .... 

Yes, UNICEF, whose role is to provide humanitarian and developmental support to children in ... developing countries, is now obliged to help the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet fulfil their duty of care to the borough's most vulnerable families.




Oh, and this was also the week where our local authority, as it slides further and further into the mire, at the same meeting where the catastrophic Tory library cuts were (yet again) challenged by local campaigners, debated a report declaring an ambition to become the London Borough of Culture ...  (In 2021, which is the equivalent to the Twelfth of Never, for Tories, in Broken Barnet, as by then the People's Revolution will have taken place - or failing that, Barnet Labour group will be running the council).

Would you like a taste of this breathtakingly stupid report? It proposes, and please excuse me: 

"the establishment of a time-limited council-funded resource to kick start the use of spaces for incidental and ‘meanwhile uses’ in the borough ..."

FFS.

Heavenly Father, please forgive the author of this report, because Mrs Angry cannot, and condemns him to the worst pit in corporate hell, surrounded and eternally tormented by outsourced imps with especially well sharpened easycouncil forks.

Meanwhile uses.

And who, Mrs Angry, I hear you ask, is going to help our culturally averse Tory councillors learn the ropes, when it comes to you know, art, and all that sort of thing? 

What sort of thing they have in mind is hard to tell, as the only example of cultural patronage they can come up with is a reference to 'supporting' a sculpture installation at Middlesex University. 

Barnet Tories are fond of sculpture, it must be said. 

Outside the Town Hall is a monstrous phallic object, a sort of giant bronze dildo, (batteries not included) foisted on them by some twin town municipality, which they have tried to hide in, ahem, a modest covering of bush: the effect is pretty startling. Art, see: all the same, good or bad: they haven't got a f*cking clue. Oh, hang on: see here - it was of course unveiled by Mrs Thatcher - apparently she was so taken by it, she kept a replica in the privacy of her Downing Street study. 

Goodness me.

And ha ha: here is what greeted Margaret, when they installed the monstrosity, according to the same account in the local Times paper, in 1981:

Among the crowds in The Burroughs waiting to see the Prime Minister and the unveiling were a handful of demonstrators with 12 posters on behalf of Nalgo and the TGWU protesting, among other things, at cuts in the library service.

Plus ça change ...




And yes, good news, our council will address the challenge of cultural promotion in time honoured tradition - no, not another nonsultation, but yes, a working group. Oh, hang on, they've already had some thoughts, this group, meeting with stakeholders. In secret, of course. No, not residents:

Arts and Culture is also one of the five themes agreed by the Barnet
Partnership, a partnership chaired by the Leader of the Council, comprising of
Barnet Clinical Commissioning Group, CommUNITY Barnet, Barnet and
Southgate College, Middlesex University, Brent Cross shopping centre,
Metropolitan Police, Job Centre Plus, Groundwork London, Federation of
Small Businesses, West London Business, Argent Related and Saracens

Yes. Arts and culture, as a 'theme' agreed with local bodies such as the police, and the CCG. Oh. As well as favoured Saracens rugby club (whose chairman Nigel Wray is a Totteridge constituent of Tory leader Richard Cornelius). Think that, on the whole, the CCG ought to try to do its own work better, that is to say, to provide a decent standard of healthcare to the residents of this borough - perhaps addressing the length of waiting lists, & lack of appointments, or the scandal of the still half empty Finchley Memorial Hospital, don't you? And the police probably have better things to do. But Brent Cross Shopping Centre? The foremost temple of culture, in Broken Barnet, of course.

This working group, though: the council, Middlesex Uni, and the Artsdepot. They held a workshop in July, apparently. Who was invited, asked Gerrard Roots, in a written question? (Gerrard is the former curator of the local Churchfarmhouse Museum - ransacked & shut by Tory councillors, not so long ago). Oh: they weren't going to say, as that would reveal 'personal information', and he would have to submit a Freedom of Information request for any reply. Eh? Mr Roots, with a masterly demonstration  of his usual lack of tolerance of fools, now pointed out, at some length, that he had already said that they could redact personal names, and that there was absolutely no justification of withholding the identities of groups and other bodies who may have attended. Labour's Pauline Coakley Webb also commented that there was no excuse for withholding such information from elected councillors. 

Fellow blogger Roger Tichborne, who is also a musician, runs a recording studio and a local music festival, had been so incensed by this report that he had made an address to the committee, rightly pointing out that 'culture' was created by the community, and not decided by working groups. The Tory members and their senior officers looked on in silence. 

But there were other public questions - all on the subject of libraries.

Hidden away in one of the reports was a brief but significant statement:

1.23 Libraries: Savings to the library service budget are being delivered
through the implementation of the library strategy, which was agreed
by Council in April 2016. The strategy to reduce the number of staffed
hours at each site alongside the offer of self-service technology
enabled opening is delivering savings in the library service operational
budget whilst maintaining all 14 library sites as well as the home and
mobile library services. The potential to further increase income-raising
opportunities within the library service operational budget has been
considered and are considered unachievable.

Savings to the library service budget are being delivered, are they?

Well, no: not on the level you claimed you needed, you fibbers.

Barnet's library campaigners, including Mrs Angry, submitted a number of questions intended to expose such a claim, and drawing attention to what is really happening. 

The written responses, frankly, were staggering - and elicited the information that Barnet Council was in such desperate straits, as a result of its reckless cuts programme, that it was now prepared to spend an incredible amount of money on security to guard Barnet's newly 'de-staffed',  so called 'self service' libraries. An incredible amount - to the tune of £1 million per annum. 

This would pay for around 40 library workers.

Yes: in the previous year, these responses revealed, only £20,000 had been spent on routine security needs in libraries. 

Yet since the new 'self entry' system has been introduced, (although not reaching the extended hours promised by our dear councillors) the monthly bill has been £70,000. We now learn this is about to be increased by another £25,000, each month.

So: to save £2.2 million per annum, Barnet is not only throwing £14 million of capital funds, but another £1 million too,  for security. Yep: this is verified, by their own admittance. 

It gets worse. 

If you use Barnet libraries, you will have noticed that although they pretend to have 'retained' all branches, in truth they have gutted those libraries, reducing the library function within each building to a nominal service, and in the process, shutting several children's libraries, and squeezing the size of others to a minimum. This was supposedly in order to create rentable 'office space', which would generate £500,000 in annual income.

Think again. 

One of Mrs Angry's supplementary questions was to enquire why Barnet council staff - or rather Capita staff - are said to be about to be placed in these spaces, rather than commercial tenants. Was this not, as we were warned, always the plan, and what exactly is the benefit to Capita? 

Will they profit from this arrangement, in terms of free accommodation, or gainshare payments? Guess what: they didn't want to say ... 

But what we do know now is this: of that £2.2 million per annum in budget savings, we must subtract £1 million for security, and £500,000 in income, and  ... we are left with a paltry £700,000. Which has cost the loss of a once magnificent, Beacon status, value for money library service: the loss of access for all unaccompanied children under 16, the loss of so much book stock, and study space, and the loss of half our library staff, to be replaced by ... security guards. 

As a way of making 'savings', with approximately 20 years ahead of using the £700,000 to pay back the £14 million used to assault our libraries ... erm: looks like, Tory councillors, you really have f*cked up, big time, once again, doesn't it? 



Heart warming smiles from local Tories - Finchley & Golders Green MP Mike Freer, Tory leader Richard Cornelius, & library cutter in chief Reuben Thompstone, all of whom now want you to believe they have invested £14 million in libraries, rather than spent this money slashing the service to shreds ...

Well: you may be surprised to hear that the Chair of this committee, Reuben Thompstone, was unmoved by, or, perhaps, bless him, uncomprehending of, the revelations of his party's failure to achieve the wonderful budget savings they thought justified the assault on our library service.  

Thompstone is one of those young Tories so who desperately crave the status of being appointed to the position of Chair of - well, something, anything - and rather than wait for gravitas to arrive after years of public service, apply a larding of pomposity, a good deal of shoutiness, and a novelty moustache, so as to enhance their position.

Increasingly red faced, and hiding behind said moustache, (he appears to be aiming for the full handlebar, but is apparently unable to reach a satisfactory length) he rudely dismissed all of Mrs Angry's supplementary  questions, speaking over her comments, either unable, or unwilling, to answer the questions. 

Rudeness is one thing, shouting down a female resident and refusing to acknowledge her constitutional right to have a response to a supplementary question ...  is something else. I think we know what it is, don't we?

Mrs Angry suggested to Cllr Thompstone that he should resign, a suggestion he appears to have found unwelcome, and then, when he refused to give any response at all to her last question, she declared she would remain seated at the table until he did, even if it took all evening, only giving way to Lisa Pate, who was presenting a petition about school budget cuts, ignored of course by Thompstone. Shame she was obliged to miss the opportunity to see Tombstone call for security guards to remove her, at which point Mrs Angry was planning to recommend that (providing he has a pin number, or indeed a ticket) he could go and visit a library to find one. 

Ah well.




Cllr Reuben Thompstone, pic credit Linkedin

Thompstone's other tactic was to deflect questions to a senior officer sitting nearby, who apparently is leaving now, anyway. The same officer who had, once upon a time, so happily explained to Mrs Angry, although she seemed not to enjoy being reminded of it at the table, that the revenue from income generation was anyway ... of little significance. 

Of course it wasn't: our Tory councillors never intended it to work out that way. The important thing was to decimate the service, hand the buildings over to Capita - and free up space for staff displaced by the move from North London Business Park to much smaller premises in Colindale.

In Thompstone's time as Chair of CELS, there has been a disastrous OFSTED report identifying 'serious failures' in children's services, an attempt to cut vital respite care for the families of children with profound and complex disabilities, and now the virtual destruction of a library service at breathtaking cost - and for no sensible reason. 

Not only has the library cuts programme been a financial disaster, even by its own terms of reference, it has been another Barnet Tory failure. 

Where are all the volunteers on which this cock eyed scheme was meant to depend? Why are the few surviving library workers being required to carry out their duties, as well as their own? As Barnet Unison has pointed out, it is insulting to expect staff members to cover for the failure of the council's own cuts programme:

It is unacceptable that the remaining staff be asked to plug the gaps left by the loss
of jobs of friends and colleagues. The Libraries in Self Service Opening (SSO) mode
are meant to be unstaffed, which is not something the staff or public wanted. But if
they are meant to be unstaffed it is ridiculous that staff should have to work in these
branches in replacement for deleted jobs.

In the end, the library cuts are not about saving money, but driven by the atavistic, neo-Thatcherite delusions of Barnet Tories, who maintain an implacable, irrational fear of the very principle of public service, and to the demands of culture, and the arts, and thinking, or creating, or honouring the artistic and historical heritage we have, or had, here in Broken Barnet. In fact, they have been complicit in a betrayal of Thatcher's own feelings about libraries: she recognised the role they play in education, and social mobility, and always fought to protect them. 

Slipping out of the Town Hall, Mrs Angry noticed, on the way to the bus stop, that, next door, the newly emasculated Hendon Library was still open. Impossible to pass by, without taking a look.

During the questions at the CELS meeting, she had commented that, on visiting  Golders Green Library, she had been moved to tears - tears of rage - seeing what the Tory cuts had done to the place where she had once worked. To see the former children's library destroyed, scoured out of existence, obliterated: this was a traumatic experience. For the local community, particularly the local Charedi Jewish community, this was, and is, a catastrophe. To see Hendon Library, once the borough's flagship library, reduced to the pathetic state it is now, is beyond description. 

Where there was once a large and well stocked adult library, a separate children's library, libraries for music, reference and archives - now there is nothing but a token service, in small, blocked off section of the ground floor. 

The former children's library has, as at Golders Green, and North Finchley, been thrown out of its purpose built room, and reduced to a pathetic installation in one corner. 

And the final insult: placing above the children's corner the old tribute to Eileen Colwell, the pioneering champion of children's librarianship. 



The ultimate act of blasphemy, in the new corner sized children's 'library', next to Hendon Town Hall: the now replaced tribute to pioneering librarian Eileen Colwell - which only serves to remind us of the irreplaceable legacy our Tory councillors have stolen from future generations of children in Barnet.
The library issue in Barnet has always been so much more than the story of one public service. 

It represents something far wider, and more profound, locally, and nationally. 

It is the last frontier of something we cannot quite yet see, but sense is slipping out of our grasp - part of the last vestiges of a society we thought we had built on foundations that would last forever, now hacked away, from under our feet.

As the Tory councillors here in Broken Barnet continue on their assault on public services, however, they fail to see that they are undermining not the foundations of our community spirit, so much as their own electoral future. 

So be it.




Friday, 3 November 2017

An Enemy of the People: or - Barnet's Tory councillors finally lose the plot



Former Barnet Mayor Councillor David Longstaff, who accuses the Mayor of London of being 'An Enemy of the People' ...




Mrs Angry tries her best to avoid Full Council meetings of the London Borough of Broken Barnet, for very good reason: an aversion to pantomime, long standing, which dates back, well ...  to childhood days, long ago, and unhappy memories of Christmas outings to the Golders Green Hippodrome. 

This annual visit involved a range of unforgettable theatrical moments, such as the deranged antics of an aged Arthur Askey, incongruously dressed as Buttons, leaping about the stage like a performing chimpanzee escaped from a tea party at London Zoo, menacing the boys and girls in the stalls with his manic grin, and air of desperation. And then there was the fear induced by the compulsory session of audience participation, in which hapless small children, still quaking with fear, would be hauled up from the stalls on to the stage to take part in the show. Horrible.

The combination of knockabout farce, grotesque plots, and wizened, grimacing old men frightening the audience means, therefore, that Full Council meetings that involve the grandstanding theatrical performance of Barnet Tory councillors hold little attraction: but Tuesday's agenda, and in particular some of the idiotic written questions put by administration members, proved more tempting than usual. 


The Hippodrome, of course, has been much in the news, recently, for all the wrong reasons. After many years as a traditional theatre, and then as a venue for the BBC, the listed building was taken over by a Christian church, but it has now changed hands once again, to a body that wishes to use the former theatre for a Muslim centre. Unfortunately, this proposal has met with a reaction of hostility from some local residents, and led to a barrage of offensive, racist comments left on the council's planning portal, which had to be removed. Worse still, the situation has been inflamed by other parties, such as those who organised a meeting at which further extreme views were expressed: a meeting attended by self styled 'Mosque buster' Gavin Boby.  

This meeting failed to ignite the level of outrage that its mysterious organisers (who didn't want to be identified) clearly wanted - and thankfully community leaders, and representatives, were outspoken in their support for the new owners, and condemned the racist comments expressed by a small minority of objectors.

By coincidence, the Golders Green Hippodrome, in the sixties, was owned by the family of another Barnet blogger, the father of all Barnet bloggers, formerly known as 'Don't Call me Dave': David Miller, son of Lady Doreen Miller, the Tory peer. He told Mrs Angry that his family were very sad to see the Hippodrome fall into such a state of disrepair, and they are pleased that the building is now going to be put to good use.

But then of course, as one might expect, came the uninvited intervention of pantomime villain Katie Hopkins.

'Hatey Katey' was thrilled to find what she clearly thought would be a situation she could exploit for her own purposes: and she issued a series of tweets, some of them aimed at local Labour councillors Adam Langleben, and Arjun Mittra.





Well, then. Adam and Arjun are two of Barnet's brightest, and most hardworking younger Labour members. Adam is a leading member of the Jewish Labour Movement, and has put an enormous amount of effort into addressing the issue of anti-semitism; Arjun is Hindu, and an experienced councillor involved in all forms of community related ventures. They represent and reflect the true face of what is one of the most ethnically diverse local authorities in the UK: a place where residents from a huge range of cultures and religions live in harmony: Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, evangelical Christians: eastern Europeans, Japanese, Italians, Cypriots - and many other communities - the range is too diverse to list.

If there is division, in Broken Barnet, in fact, it is one of class, not ethnicity: between those who have, and those who have not - the ever widening gulf between the affluent areas of the borough, and the less advantaged, mostly western side, whose problems are addressed seemingly only by the Tory policy of faux regeneration, and decantation of the poor.

This is not what Hopkins wanted to find, of course: clearly astonished by the fact that the Jewish community has so emphatically rejected the politics of hate, and condemned the racist targeting of the Hippodrome proposals, she is wrong footed, and at a loss as how to continue with her agenda of bigotry. 

Back to the pantomime, in Hendon Town Hall: a little premature, perhaps: being the eve of Halloween, where our Tory members gamely played along, in the night of the living dead, acting out the usual Zombie politics: party loyalty and blind obedience before truth, justice, and decency, as we shall see. 

Before the proceedings began, a woman representing the Hindu community gave a short talk about her faith, the rule of karma, the eternity of the soul - and offered a prayer for peace. 

Shantih, shantih, shantih.

The Tory members looked on, and smiled politely. 

Peace does not come dropping slow, in the council chamber of Broken Barnet, however. 

Next up was the usual preposterous question time, and hostilities resumed, even as the prayers for conciliation still echoed in the ears of onlookers, as Tory councillors acted out the usual farce of non questions designed to a. boast how wonderful they are and b. claim how terrible is the opposition. 

The issue of the Hippodrome arose during these questions: the contentious petition launched by some objectors would not be heard at council, said Cornelius, due to lack of numbers, and the matter would be considered purely on planning grounds (shortage of parking is a potential problem) - and local Tory councillor Peter Zinkin went on angrily to denounce the Islamophobic comments of some of those who are so virulently opposing the plans. Labour leader Barry Rawlings agreed and stated that we will not be 'letting hate crime rule' in this borough. 

So far so good: a moment of consensus. If only peace, love and understanding had prevailed for the rest of the evening.

Mrs Angry had already decided not to stay for the whole meeting, dismayed by the intensely stupid contents of much of the second half of the agenda: not by the sensible motions from Labour, and one from Tory Rohit Grover in regard to road safety in his ward - but by the ludicrous decision, blithely ignoring all the really serious issues facing residents in the borough, to use the time to 'debate' two other motions from the Tories. One of these was from Alison Cornelius, wife of the Tory leader, on the subject of ... 'controlling' dog walkers, and the other ... from the ineffable David Longstaff: 

Is Mayor Khan an enemy of the people of Barnet?

What was the point of such a motion? Why such hostility levelled at the Mayor of London? Apparently for daring to intervene in a couple of planning applications*, the Uber issue, etc (*nothing and no one must be allowed a moderating role in the arcane mysteries of Barnet planning, of course). 

An Enemy of the People.

There are so many perjorative allusions here. And the Tories must have been well aware of this, when they decided to submit this motion.

Such a phrase is the mark of the new idiocy in right wing politics that has taken hold in the lunatic fringe of the media, here and in the US. 




As you will read in this article from the Washington Post, it is a term that has the most dark and shameful historic associations: from the designation of 'ennemi du peuple' at the time of  the French revolution's Reign of Terror, its adoption by Goebbels as part of his demonisation and persecution of the Jewish people, and its usage by Stalin, signalling a death sentence for intellectuals, artists - or any other citizen who displeased him.

What on earth possessed the Conservative group in Barnet to allow a motion with such deeply offensive undertones to be put to debate? And let us remember that they all voted to support it.

Ignorance of the historical context is hard to believe - and no excuse. In these dangerous times, great care and sensitivity should be employed when elected representatives raise issues for debate - this motion, using these words, with clearly despotic connotations, as well as the nod towards contemporary alt-right lunacy, should never, never have been used.

Why employ such a phrase, even disregarding the historical context, in regard to a democratically elected politician, on such a feeble pretext as minor decisions on planning applications, and transport policy? 

Frankly it is absolutely clear, as the Labour group pointed out, that the deliberate use of such a repellent term is from the same bottom of the barrel scraping tactics as Zac Goldsmith's widely reviled election campaign. Not so much Lynton Crosby's dog whistle, as a total immersion in gutter politics.

Labour submitted an amendment which stated:

Council believes its elected members should be careful not to use coded language that portrays people of different backgrounds as "enemies" so that they are perceived as 'other' to everyone else.

And Cllr Arjun Mittra stood up to speak against the motion.

You can hear what happened next by listening to an audio recording here. Scroll down to Item 14.3.

From the very beginning, Cllr Longstaff launches into a frankly absurd and personally directed diatribe: he starts with a jibe at Cllr Mittra: 

'If he understood English, that would really help'. 

That was an utterly indefensible remark to make to anyone who happens to be of Asian heritage, but also ridiculous - Arjun Mittra is a highly intelligent, well educated, thoughtful and well spoken young man. David Longstaff, on the other hand, as you will hear, is unable even to pronounce the word 'redolent'.


Labour councillor for East Finchley, Arjun Mittra

Longstaff says that the form of criticism of his motion was disgusting and despicable. The phrase 'Enemy of the People', he claimed, was a play on the title of the work by Ibsen. Really? Then he should know that Ibsen's play is about the struggle to hold a morally bankrupt local authority to account (- over contaminated water in the municipal baths - something which could never happen in Broken Barnet, of course).

Longstaff continued: he denied any 'coded language' in regard to Sadiq Khan. He trotted out an arch routine claiming there were no differences between the two of them, both South London boys, working class fathers, both went to university. Of course the obvious difference of race and religion, an issue exploited by the vile Goldsmith campaign, was entirely omitted.

Cllr Mittra's turn. He made a passing, less than complimentary reference to his Tory opponent's former acting career, which infuriated Longstaff - but swiftly moved on to a rather more important point: in the aftermath of the murder of Jo Cox, and the alleged plot regarding another MP, we should be more conscious of the impact of inflammatory political speech. 

The noise in the chamber tells you how divisive and inflammatory this motion was, and is. The outrage, however, on the Tory side, is audibly from Cllr Longstaff, driven into a fury by the disparaging comments about his professional record as an actor.

Well. What can you say? Arjun Mittra's comments were arguably a little unfair. 


Councillor David Longstaff's calling as An Actor, stand up comedian, and model, has, in fact, been an honourable one: extensive, and ... varied in scope. 

We know this because when he first emerged from the wings, so to speak, on the stage at Hendon Town Hall, Mrs Angry came across his CV on the website of his casting agency, and was enormously thrilled to find the details of his illustrious career. 

Sadly, this website disappeared. Or so it seemed. But no! Good news: the agency has a new name and there, still, for all of us to enjoy, is the record of a life in the business that is show. There is a wonderful compilation of footage of some of the best performances. Do take a look.

You know, Mrs Angry, in her time, has been fortunate to see many theatrical legends in action. 

Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Gambon; yes, Arthur Askey, and Danny La Rue. 

But nothing they gave in their interpretations of Pinter, Chekov, Shakespeare - or Mother Goose, could measure up against say, Cllr Longstaff as 'Beige Man in Ikea', (ad) or Drunken Elf, in Holby City. 


Who could forget witnessing his small part in 'Mary Whitehouse', a stirring performance as Mr Smallwood? Not me.

Cllr Longstaff has also given a marvellous rendition of local Finchley benefactor Inky Stephens, as you can see in the listing's footage (scroll down to the bottom ... then fast forward to The Bottom). Yes, Inky Stephens, who gave us Victoria Park, part of which the Tories sold off, and which came perilously close to being developed, earlier this year:


"Come: I'll show you my tree ..." (Not Mr Smallwood, again: Inky Stephens. One of the more memorable lines in this epic production).

And yes: lest we forget, perhaps his most memorable and long term role, (other than his role play contract as Mayor of Broken Barnet, once upon a time): as an Oscar statuette, naked, and covered in gold body paint, like that poor dear girl in 'Goldfinger'.


But Longstaff has given up the stage - or the stage has given him up - and he now wants to be taken seriously in his role as an elected representative - and, oh dear, as Chair of the Community Leadership Committee ...

Fair enough: if you want to be taken seriously, Councillor Longstaff, probably don't put forward puerile motions insulting the most important politician in London, who has been placed in that position with the most resounding endorsement of the residents of our city. 

Something we most certainly should take seriously is the role played in this tawdry drama by the Tory leader, Richard Cornelius, and the chorus of disapproval extras sitting in the Conservative side of the chamber. They really should know better than to allow such a motion to go to debate. Why did they - especially at a time when at least some of them had shown such courage in speaking out in favour of the Muslim community centre?

Here is the reason. Because this council is run, as in Ibsen's play, by the masters of a morally bankrupt authority: Barnet Tories are desperate to avoid the looming defeat at next year's local elections, and to fend off the very real chance of losing three newly marginal Tory constituencies at the next General Election. Desperate because everything they have promoted, over the last few years, is falling apart, and being exposed as a total con - a betrayal of their electorate. This summer's external Audit report confirmed, in no uncertain terms, the perilous state of the authority's financial position, heading towards disaster, ransacking the reserves as the Capita contracts, rather than saving us bucketloads of money, and delivering better services, is proving nothing less than a cash cow for the contractors, while functions such as planning and enforcement are now so bad, even the most docile of conservative minded residents are questioning the wisdom of returning the current administration to power. 

Barnet Tories are now launched on a Trump style mission to distract, therefore. It is no coincidence that at the same time they were cutting public services, they spent nearly £1 million on new PR posts, to carry on up until the elections next May. 

Yep, they invented the term 'fake news', by the way. No one knows more about it than they do. 

These new PR lackeys are part of a propaganda machine that relentlessly churns out the most deathly council spin, and publishes (at our expense) the overtly party political council news 'Barnet First'. The same machine tries to convince residents that the hugely unpopular library cuts are not cuts, or even a'configuration', or a 'refurbishment', but an 'investment'; the same machine manufactures outrage over the closure of a police station in a Tory ward, and a perceived lack of policing, when they refused to tackle Boris Johnson's police cuts for Barnet, when he was Mayor. (In fact they blamed the police, not Boris, see here).

Last week some of us went to the latest in a series of 'question times' with the Tory leader, Richard Cornelius. Ill advertised, so as to minimise attendance, of course - but every resident present made it clear, to an increasingly flustered Cornelius, that there is no longer any chance of fooling the voters of this borough. 

They are now seeing the outcome of so many years' ideological obsession with privatisation, council tax freezes, faux regeneration, and the widening of the gap between those who have, and those who have not. 

They have lost patience with the trio of Tory MPs in Broken Barnet who support a merciless government, sit back, and do nothing to help those in their constituencies with desperate needs; and they have lost all faith in is the heartless, gutless, shameless Tory councillors who run this borough. 

They know who the enemy is, in short. 

And they know it is not the Mayor of London.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Labour Conference 2017: The beauty of our poetry, and the richness of our lives


Last year, the leaving of Liverpool was for me, I thought, the last Conference I would attend. The divisiveness within the party, and the sense of distance I felt from members who had not embraced the reality of change, either of leadership, or direction, made me feel irredeemably gloomy, and not inclined to re-visit the experience. But a week in politics, a month, a year: a long time, and so much has happened since then. After the spectacular performance of the party during the general election, Mrs Angry's boundless optimism reared its head once more, and here she was, back in Brighton.

Quite apart from the sense of excitement at the party's changing prospects ... Brighton is always the best venue for Conference, and an irresistible lure. See here and here. The unique character of the town, its faded, flaking Regency grandeur, the unbearably self-pleasing hipster culture, the juxtaposition of forced seaside jollity, and a sense of urban decay: all of it makes the perfect painted backdrop for a debate on the state of Britain, in the twenty first century. 

And the sea, the sea; always there like an eternal question, unanswered, crashing onto the pebbled beach, slapping up against the Palace pier, while the ruins of the West Pier, Mrs Angry's favourite Conference metaphor, sits forlornly out among the waves, disconnected from the shore, ravaged by fire: but still standing.



Listen! you hear the grating roar 
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling, 
At their return, up the high strand, 
Begin, and cease, and then again begin, 
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring 
The eternal note of sadness in.


Sitting on the damp shingle, 'the naked shingles of the world', in the rather melancholy early autumn sunlight, trying to remember those lines of Dover Beach, I realised I'd never seen the old pier this close before. Now it seemed much nearer to the shoreline than I had thought. (Small, and far away, Dougal).

The sea between seemed calm: until the waves met the pebbles, and suddenly jumped ashore with some force. A young couple lying together by one of the abandoned pier supports were caught out by this, were soaked in seawater, and ran up the beach, laughing, dripping from head to foot. Perhaps it was an omen, for #lab17. Prepare for the unexpected. Ignorant armies, clashing by day and by night.

Up to the Conference centre, which was surrounded by the heaviest security seen yet, with armed police in groups guarding the entrance, and stringent checking of those entering. Inside, all was as normal, the usual array of stalls and broadcast teams, and thousands of people thronging the different levels. Except: it was true to say that the crowds of people were more diverse than ever - a slow process, moving from the days of the boys in suits, to an attendance by a membership more representative of the population, but it is happening, at last.

In the hall, speakers from CLPs were taking turns to put questions from the stage. Several of them objected to the fact that Sadiq Khan was being given the chance to speak at Conference, but not other urban mayors. London-centric politics are so well embedded in all political parties that this sort of favouritism still surprises ... well, only those who live outside London. The rest take it for granted.

Time for a young man in a suit, next up, to try telling members that it was right to hear from Sadiq because he has the largest mandate. Well, yes: because London is so populous. But does that mean he must always take precedence? The people in the hall let it be known that they thought not. But this exchange was a healthy sign: challenge from the floor was strictly forbidden, in the bad old days, pre Corbyn. The balance of power is changing, and members increasingly are given their say.


Outside the centre, a noisy NHS march, led by drummers, moved along to Regency Square, where in fierce sunlight reflected from the sea, speakers like Jon Ashworth and John McDonnell addressed the crowd. Again, in the past these demos took place outside the fenced off Conference, exiled from Conference: now it is a matter of course that the shadow Chancellor and colleagues will take part too.


In the afternoon, Ian McNichol talked about the party's hugely impressive performance in the general election, and the spectacular gain in membership - now around 575,000. Even Canterbury had turned Labour, he remarked: a seat held by Tories since 1295. That was a result of what he called, with a commendable attempt at inclusive diplomacy, 'real Progress, and Real Momentum'.

The Tories, said McNichol, think they are born to rule. Who's going to stop them? WE ARE! shouted everybody. 

Ian Lavery spoke of the pride he had felt in Gateshead when such a massive crowd came to hear Jeremy Corbyn speak during the election campaign: he also poured scorn, to popular approval, on pantomime villains Theresa May, for her dismissal of the use of foodbanks as 'complex', and George Osborne, who had been 'kicked out of cabinet, like a dog in the night'. 

More speakers the next morning in plenary sessions continued to amuse the hall. Emily Thornberry referred mischievously to Jeremy Corbyn's election night 'high five' moment, (which they later re-enacted with rather more success) and then suggested Boris Johnson might be made to take a paternity test in regard to Brexit, with a consequent award of £350 million in maintenance payments.

Keir Starmer talked about the Tories' Brexit policy of 'constructive ambiguity', and their 'post imperial delusions'. Labour now, he said, are the 'grown ups in the room'. 

Union leaders addressed Conference. Unison's Dave Prentis is not the most eloquent of speakers, but appears now to have overcome any doubts about the leader, and was awfully keen to remind us of what he now called 'our magnificent manifesto'.  He said he wanted to see us all on picket lines. Not sure if that included the picket lines in Broken Barnet.

Aslef's Mick Whelan talked about the lie of trickle down economics, and the deception of the 'Northern Powerhouse'; the scandalous difference in levels of investment between north and south.

Funny to see Unite's Len McCluskey no longer the lone voice in the wilderness, addressing Conference with a plea for a return to socialist values. He clearly was almost at a loss to know what to say, this year, except to observe happily that at the election we had won not only the support of the young, the hearts and minds of voters, but that we had won back our dignity and pride, and he ended by quoting part of the chorus of 'The Red Flag'.

Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We'll keep the red flag flying here.

The flinching cowards and sneering traitors, at this Conference, were keeping a low profile, and indeed, there appear to have been some damascene conversions, since last year, as the reality of Corbyn's grip on the party, and the nation, made it obvious to some previously disaffected MPs that the advancement of their careers depends on a new found loyalty to the party leadership, and a hasty, if belated, conversion to the founding principles of the Labour movement. 

Amusing to see critics of the new leadership, and new direction, suddenly so keen to fall in line, now that it is clear the change is here to stay.

But hurrah: here on the stage now was Dennis Skinner, who was greeted, as ever, with huge applause, good humour and affection. He talked about his life as a miner, working with men of a range of nationalities, all brought together by their working lives, comradeship, and union membership. He compared the way things were then to the experience of those living in a world of zero contract jobs. But he was thrilled at the high turnout at Conference, the surge in membership, and the clear proof that the party was 'alive and kicking'.


Skinner, of course, was acting as 'John McDonnell's warm up act' - and here now was the Shadow Chancellor himself. His speech was prefaced by a short film by Ken Loach, sitting in the hall, as Mc Donnell pointed out. Loach, whose 'I Daniel Blake' so perfectly expresses the extent of injustice and sense of anger that fuels so much of the newly energised party, stood up and punched the air with his fist, in a gesture of solidarity.

Mc Donnell spoke about his own family's history, and the course of the Labour movement moving in parallel with that history; one that rebuilt the nation from the ruins of war and enabled his generation to move forwards to a better future. This is a message that speaks to so many of us whose own families were enabled to move from an expectation of nothing but poverty and injustice to a point of opportunity and achievement: whose families would not have believed that we have returned, in the age of Daniel Blake, to a state of inequality reinforced by the removal, or destruction, of so many of the hard won rights they had secured.

The years that followed the path of progress, that led us into an era of materialism and a culture of exploitation are, surely, now at an end, and we need to reassert control of the process that gave us the things we, in my generation, took for granted: the foundations of a civilised society - the NHS, free education, a welfare state. 

When Mc Donnell announced a Labour government would be taking back control of the utilities that once were nationalised, in the interests of that better society: rail, water, energy, Conference was thunderous in applause. It was time to remember that such a proposal, only three years ago, was unthinkable. Now it is fundamental to the party's agenda. And hugely popular.

The shadow chancellor also summarised the ways in which recent Tory governments have become recklessly indifferent to the impact of their policies on ordinary families. The end of his speech spoke to me, and seemingly everyone else in the hall:

The Tories have tried to change people’s view of what is normal and acceptable in our society. They want us to accept that in the fifth richest country in the world it’s normal and acceptable for people to be saddled with debt; for people to have to work long, often insecure, hours, stressed out, struggling to find time with their family; for people not to have a pay rise for years no matter how dedicated you are or how hard you work; for young people to have no prospect of owning their own home; for disabled people to be pushed to the edge by the benefits system; or for carers to be struggling without support or recognition.

Let’s make it clear – we will never accept that this is normal or acceptable.

Yes, we will increase GDP, close the current account deficit and increase productivity. But life is not just about statistics. As Bobby Kennedy said almost 50 years ago:

  “The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry.”  (18 March 1968)

The performance of our Government will be measured by the care we show to all our people and the richness of their lives.   

We proved in the election, and we will now go on to prove in Government, our belief that:

Hope will always overcome fear.

Kindness and generosity will always overcome greedy self-interest.

And that the flame of solidarity in our society will never be extinguished.

For years we have proclaimed that “Another World is Possible.”

I tell you now, that world is not just possible, it is in sight.

Let’s create it together.

This is what people want to hear: not the politics of division and despair, of self interest and self satisfaction.

Interesting, and pleasing, that the Shadow Chancellor, and then on the last day, the Leader, both referred to poetry in their speeches: not Dover Beach, but Ben Okri, on Grenfell, by Corbyn. 

Leave a post Brexit Tory to a choice of verse & they resort to Kipling, of course - as we saw this week.


Satisfaction of another kind was on offer later that day, at the Labour Party Irish Society do. From the moment of arrival, the reception was warm, welcoming, and for perhaps the first time at any Conference event, it was a feeling of being at home: the craic, the laughter, a roomful of other people carrying a burden of inherited Catholic guilt; the good humour of the hosts, and guests. Well: perhaps all but one of the guests. Read on.

The leader of the Irish Labour party addressed the gathering, suggesting that the speeches should not get in the way of our drinking, which was clearly good advice, faithfully adhered to by all, including Himself.

As to Brexit: the prospect of a hard border was simply unthinkable, he said. It would not happen. Could not happen.

Standing next to me was a familiar figure. Ah yes, to be sure: it was Your Man - (not mine) - Owen Smith, who in June was appointed by Corbyn as shadow Northern Ireland secretary. He stood there with a glass of beer in his hand, as if he did not quite know what to do with it (everyone else was drinking Guinness from a bottle) and listened more carefully than needed to the speeches. At one point he said to the speaker (who ignored him): you said that last year. I turned to him and suggested, perhaps unwisely, that if he could remember what was said last year, he clearly had not had enough to drink, either then, or now. Nothing. Nope. Not the slightest hint of amusement. He pursed his lips, like a Sunday school teacher. 

Off then to another Irish event: 'Labour for a United Ireland - in a small room over a gentrified pub called the Pump House. A modest gathering, fewer than thirty, but the place was packed - and Ken Loach was due to come. 



In fact this was the sort of meeting that makes Conference so worthwhile: real debate, thought provoking - provocative, even, as we shall see. The panel consisted of people like the Sinn Féin MP for West Belfast, Paul Maskey, and writer Geoff Bell.

Interesting to be reminded by Maskey of the previous times in history that English MPs have played 'the Orange card' to get what they want: Theresa May is following in a time honoured tradition by retaining power only by bartering with the DUP. And yet again, the fate of the Irish people is left in the balance while British interests come first: the continuation of an imperialist policy. Here is the island of Ireland, he said, administered by two states, and three governments: time it was understood you cannot tell the Irish people what to do anymore, and let them decide their own future, in or out of Europe.

Loach arrived, and sat down. He apologised for being late, having been at a discussion about Israel and Palestine. He then said, in passing, that he had never heard a word of antisemitism in the Labour movement. 

Who could have anything but but admiration for Ken Loach as an artist, and film maker? I'm proud to have been in a short film made in Barnet for which he recorded an introduction; 'I Daniel Blake', is an outstandingly moving and important work, and The Wind that Shakes the Barley, about the fight for Irish independence, is a masterpiece. However ... he was incredibly naive to make such a statement. He does not see the contradiction in telling us, as he did at this meeting, that he remembers the overt racism expressed towards Irish people,"no Irish, no blacks, no dogs", and the injustice of telling the Irish how to run their own country, while at the same time claiming the right to tell Jewish people that they are wrong to feel they are the target of racism too, or denying the experiences they have. 


On the other hand, the thought occurred more than once during Conference, that the absence of a safe forum in which constructive political criticism of Israeli government policy towards the Palestinian people can be raised, respectfully, and without causing offence, has a dangerous consequence: a small minority of those who become interested in these issues, purely from a political perspective, sometimes end up adopting, intentionally or not, language and attitudes that are antisemitic, often from ignorance, and lack of challenge at an early point. 

It is unfair to portray Labour members as a whole as holding or tolerating such views, however, as some political enemies like to do: almost all of the offensive material is from people who are mindless, anonymous trolls, or attach themselves to the fringes of extremist groups, not party members. Anyone within the party who resorts to such vile behaviour, should be dealt with as a matter of urgency, and kicked out - and hopefully will be, from now on.

Next morning I wandered into the hall just as a member of the 'Jewish Voice for Labour' movement was launching into a speech accusing the party of creating an amendment (supported by Barnet councillor Phil Cohen) targeting 'thought crime' - in a way that could only offend those who within the Jewish Labour Movement - such as former Labour candidate for Finchley and Golders Green, Jeremy Newmark - have worked to create the new party rule change that will deal with antisemitism - a change backed by Jeremy Corbyn. It was an ugly moment, and I left again, as soon as possible.


Later that day, I was chatting outside the Grand Hotel with one of the Labour councillors from Barnet, when another member of  'Jewish Voice for Labour', who knew the member, although this councillor strongly disagreed with her views, engaged us in an unsolicited argument. She felt aggrieved, stating that the Jewish Labour Movement should not, could not, represent her or the community. JLM, in fact, has a long and distinguished history of representation, founded as 'Poale Zion', at the beginning of the 20th century, and affiliated to the Labour party in 1920. Who or what are JVL? Not sure. 

The amendment is passed, anyway - and now the party can move on: we hope. Yes: Mrs Angry, eternal optimist, again.

One of the most noticeable changes in Brighton, to me, since the last Conference here, is the increase in the number of homeless people on the streets: not just at night time, in shop doorways, but in the day, lying on mattresses and makeshift beds in the shopping areas and elsewhere. Not an unusual sight anywhere, sadly, now: but within the Conference zone, it was a timely reminder of the real extent of social deprivation happening now, worsening now. 

Back at home, some people not at Conference, not party members, or activists, were busy tweeting their disapproval that Labour were apparently not debating Brexit. How dare the party to which they do not belong allow the Leader of the Labour party to cunningly manipulate them into a democratic vote choosing the issues to be debated?

Well,  this was nonsense: members were balloted, and gave priority to other issues for those selected items. Elsewhere, everywhere, the subject of Brexit was very definitely given plenty of discussion. 


Momentum's 'The World Transformed' - next to a bar named 'Revolution' ... and on the site of a house where Dr Johnson and Fanny Burney used to visit their friend, the writer and diarist Hester Thrale ...

But standing in the street one day, observing a homeless man huddled in a corner of a doorway,  wrapped in a blanket, looking across the road in detached curiosity at the passing delegates and members and the queues of people waiting to enter Momentum's 'World Transformed, suddenly things seemed to fall into place: a moment of epiphany.

Arguing about the finer points of Brexit and nothing else is a middle class luxury: an indulgence. Someone in a shop doorway in Brighton, or a single mum in a hostel in Margate: they aren't worrying about their right to go and live in Berlin, or Barcelona, or anything much more than how they can afford the bus fare to the GP, or feed themselves, and keep some sort of life going in the next few days and weeks. While we allow ourselves to become fixated on one issue, and a problem which is never going to be resolved while the current government is in place, people are taking their own lives, driven to despair by the loss of benefits; our NHS is being torn up and thrown to the dogs of privatisation; thousands of people are being forced to depend on the handouts from their local foodbank. Only a change of government can help them - and only a change of government can do anything to reclaim anything positive from the consequences of Brexit.

 That and nothing else should be our priority. No one has a coherent strategy for Brexit, nor for preventing it: there is no way of preventing it as things stand - and the nation the Tories want to build in its place is a terrifying prospect. Only a Labour government can create something that protects most, if not all, of the benefits we now have as part of the EU: but maybe, just maybe - if we are stuck with Brexit - it would be possible to create something even better.


Labour has to address the urgent needs of ordinary people, and our most vulnerable citizens, and offer the hope of a society where they will be safe, supported, respected and empowered. 

We've seen that trickle down economics don't work - now we have to work from the other end of the social scale. 

In or out of the EU, we have to have a change of government to protect the most vulnerable of our citizens.

A fringe meeting on Tuesday night posed an interesting question: was Labour still the party of workers? 

The panel, hosted by the Resolution Foundation, a think-tank that works to improve the living standards of those in Britain on low to middle incomes, was going to include Frances O'Grady, Kevin Maguire, and was chaired by Torsten Bell.

It was held in the Hilton Metropole: an ageing venue of unique ugliness - aptly referred to in Eliot's Wasteland, in one of many literary allusions that associate Brighton with the reputation of a place of unsavoury assignations. Once a grand Victorian hotel, now in a state of barely controlled decline, with many of the Conference events, such as this one, taking place in a massive room, emptied of all human context: a vast space, windowless, grey: oppressive - deeply depressing. Unreal city.

Deborah Mattinson from 'Britain Thinks'  gave a statistical analysis of voters in the last election. How many workers had actually voted for Labour? She gave a breakdown of statistics, and indicated a problem with engaging working class voters. 

Now it was time for Lucy Powell, MP, to speak.

She was well aware of the need to listen to the working classes, she said, smiling. In her constituency she had run a series of meetings with them, to encourage them to express their concerns. The older white working classes, she said, once they got over being -ha ha -#angryaboutbins (copyright Mrs Angry, 2016) revealed that they no longer felt they had 'purchase' over their communities. Oh. Did they use that term, wondered Mrs Angry, or are you putting words in their older white working class mouths?

It was good that Jeremy Corbyn seemed to give hope to some of these people, she admitted - but then contradicted herself somewhat by claiming many voters on the doorstep had been 'angry' - not about bins, but about him. Clearly not to the extent of failing to vote for a Labour MP, thought Mrs Angry, who was beginning to feel rather irritated by her (not helped by the fact that Powell was wearing the same green Boden dress Mrs Angry had worn the day before, unintentionally appropriate for two Irish events: a fact which obliged her to wonder, rather abashed, as to why she was choosing the same clothes as a shadow cabinet mutineer).

Kevin Maguire struck a somewhat different tone: rather less condescending, and more pragmatic - from a north eastern mining background, clearly he felt he might have a rather more informed view of what the working class, in 2017, was, and what they wanted to see from Labour. No sentimentality: listen, but challenge racism, promote Labour values.

Time for questions. Up shot Mrs Angry's hand. A BBC cameraman, who had been filming the discussion, appeared suddenly, too late to have any moderating effect on what now came out. 

Did Lucy Powell not think she ought to reconsider the vocabulary she was using? Talking about the 'working classes' as 'they' and 'them': rather patronising, as if they were some sort of rare species, that needs protecting, when in fact the Labour movement is rooted in working class history ... People in the audience mumbled agreement: a few applauded.

By this time, Powell had realised her gaffe, and was flustered, muttering of course, of course ... Mrs Angry pointed out that like Maguire, she had family background in the former mining areas of the north east, (ironically we were sitting in the Durham room) and she knew that a whole generation of Labour voters had been lost (over the Blair, Brown & Miliband years), that Corbyn couldn't win them back overnight, it was going to take time - but clearly it was happening.

Of course, of course, she hadn't meant to be patronising. Her credentials: well, said the ex Somerville College, Oxford graduate, who comes from a family of teachers: she was a Mancunian. (Yes, thought Mrs Angry, not necessarily a term that is exclusively interchangeable with working class). She could remember visiting her grandparents, in their home, you know, and the pride they felt in their community - their privet hedge - Eh? 

Privet hedge? asked Mrs Angry, thinking of the squalid slum terrace where her own grandparents had lived in Durham, and as Frances O'Grady and Deborah Mattinson tried to hide their laughter. Luxury!

The mood of the meeting changed then: Powell's anodyne politics were clearly not delivering the message most people wanted to hear. Before the end, one woman explained this was her first conference. The thing that had struck her, she said, was that the party seemed to consist of too many over educated young men in suits. Ha! I hear you, sister - Yes, said Mrs Angry, as the other women on the panel nodded: but this is better than it was, believe me. Although, she almost added, looking guiltily at herself, and Lucy Powell, the place is now full of middle class women dressed in Boden. 

A brief escape from the vast, airless, gloomy rooms of the Metropole, but then back again, to a slightly less awful venue in the same hotel for the annual Labour Friends of Israel reception. Outside the entrance there was a noisy demonstration with people relentlessly chanting 'Israel is a terrorist state'. Mrs Angry's heart sank. Once inside, the reception was packed, and speeches were made by a young female MP from the Knesset, the Israeli ambassador, and Emily Thornberry, shadow Foreign Secretary, in place of Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn had come last year, courageously, although visibly nervous, and used his speech to condemn antisemitism - almost exclusively unreported by the mainstream media. This year, after so much controversy over this issue, it was clearly decided the better course of action was not to go at all.


Emily Thornberry and Ian McNichol listen to the Israeli ambassador

Waking up the next morning to another beautiful day in Brighton, Mrs Angry stumbled out of bed to peer out of the window at a stunning view of the sea, and the old pier, from the viewpoint of her hotel in the perfectly preserved Regency Square: a vista spoiled only by being bisected by the sky high column of the new observation tower. 

Up then and off to the centre, even though this year, thanks to the mess up over her pass, she had no ticket for the Leader's speech: in the end it didn't matter, as, thanks to a kind steward, she found herself somehow sitting in the front section, in a better seat than ever. 

And of all the speeches seen at the last few Conferences, this was one to be at: the hall was galvanised with a massive wave of energy, excitement, and enthusiasm. The contrast with the Miliband years, when he lumbered around the stage like a puppet, and the speech seemed to go on forever without making any point, or offering any hope, and the best reception he could expect was some dutiful applause, was striking. 

This year Ed was spotted by a friend in the cheap seats, way behind Mrs Angry, looking on thoughtfully. 


Down in the mosh pit, surrounded by a group of very excited Glaswegians, and a few seats along from a curiously subdued Owen Jones, the crowd's mood was exultant. The event was brilliantly presented: the right choice of music, timing, footage, graphics: very effective, and the perfect backdrop to the simplistic style of the leader himself. 

No need to repeat the speech. There was not a single policy in it which you could not applaud: a range of courageous, practical ideas that meet the needs of all those who have been waiting for a fundamental change in the party, and in the political system. The part which was the most resonant for me was this:

The Tory approach to the economy isn’t entrepreneurial. It’s extractive. They’re not focused on long-term investment and wealth creation. When you look at what they do rather than what they say it’s all about driving down wages, services and standards … to make as much money as quickly as possible with government not as the servant of the people but of global corporations.

And their disregard for rampant inequality, the hollowing out of our public services, the disdain for the powerless and the poor have made our society more brutal and less caring.

Now that degraded regime has a tragic monument the chilling wreckage of Grenfell Tower. A horrifying fire in which dozens perished an entirely avoidable human disaster. One which is an indictment not just of decades of failed housing policies and privatisation and the yawning inequality in one of the wealthiest boroughs and cities in the world, it is also a damning indictment of a whole outlook which values council tax refunds for the wealthy above decent provision for all and which has contempt for working class communities.

Before the fire, a tenants’ group of Grenfell residents had warned … and I quote words that should haunt all politicians “the Grenfell Action Group firmly believes that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord”. Grenfell is not just the result of bad political decisions It stands for a failed and broken system which Labour must and will replace.

A broken system: nationally, and here, in easycouncil Barnet, freefalling into the abyss created by the hollowing out of every local service; a place where avarice and a merciless ideology drives an agenda of privatisation beyond the point of any effective restraint - or justification. 

The tragedy of Grenfell has come to signify so much more than the terror and loss of that terrible night: it marks a moment in history from which we can never return, or look back, but only resolve to make the most radical changes to a society that can allow such a thing to happen. There is an appetite, a hunger for change now, that I don't remember seeing before, in my lifetime. 

To see such widespread support expressed for example, for the re-nationalisation of our utilities, is quite something. The centre has shifted: years of Tory government and a lukewarm Labour opposition has created a more radical, reformist minded electorate, waiting for the opportunity offered by Corbyn to re-write the rule book, and make the impossible possible. As the Tories tear themselves apart, and face an existential crisis within their own party, the nation is looking elsewhere for leadership, new ideas - and hope.






Wandering back to the hotel, along the pebble beach, and then circling round the base of the new tower, Mrs Angry looked about, at the sea, and the old town. 

Our Victorian forebears, terrified by Darwin, and the idea of a world without God, used to build piers, to annex the waves, if not Arnold's sea of faith, in the spirit of imperialism: now we construct towers to give us ascendance into heaven, and enable us to look down from a clearer perspective, one previously the privilege of that Victorian God: with a cool eye, and the authority of our own grasp on power.

Standing in the present, looking back to the historic square, or the old pier, still defying the motion of time and waves, maybe isn't such a bad thing, after all. 

Change is difficult, for some more than others, within the party and without; but an acceptance that things cannot continue the way they are, and a willingness to consider more radical and challenging approaches to the issues that face us, is what we need. The message is clear for all of us - adapt, or die: embrace the cold reality of the new, or lose the achievements of the past, as well as the possibilities of the future.

Brighton September 2017