Monday, 30 September 2013

Brighton Beach Memoirs, or: Mrs Angry goes to the Labour Conference

A moveable feast, of course, the Labour Party conference, so last year we had Manchester in the rain, and this year Brighton, in the unnatural blaze of a late September heatwave. 

From gritty northern metropolis to seedy seaside resort - a boon to the blogging commentator, in fact: Brighton is replete with easy metaphors for political life, and the state of the Labour Party - too easy:like over ripe fruit falling from the tree. 

Don't say I didn't warn you. 

From the early decadence of regency Brighton, and the folly of a terminally bored prince of Wales, to the era of the naughty weekend by the seaside, venue for the production of criminal evidence for a thousand and one divorces, to the morality play of Brighton Rock, and the eternal catholic themes of damnation and salvation explored by Graham Greene, this town has followed the path of temptation, sin, and redemption. 

It has witnessed the attempted assassination of a prime minister, and the ending of a political age of innocence. And in the September sunshine of an Indian summer, in 2013, it was the scene of another act of redemption, of someone from Broken Barnet, who came to sell his story, which was a story no one in the Labour leadership wanted to hear. 

Yes: Damian Mc Bride, brought to Brighton to face his own last punishment, like Pinkie Brown, facing up to divine judgement for his sins, and the loss of his soul. But more of that later ...

Suffice it to say, then, that the painted backdrop of the Brighton seascape and town was the perfect setting for this year's panto: an end of the pier show, playing on, while down below, the sea continued in its relentless rolling onto the pebbled beach, with infinite indifference, and the pier jutting out over the waves, offering trippers a pointless journey to nowhere very far, and back again. 

And in the distance, the burnt out carcass of the abandoned West Pier, disconnected from the shore, standing forlornly, waiting only, yes,  for Mrs Angry's use as a convenient metaphor for the state of things, in the midst of conference.

Mrs Angry fetched up early on Monday morning and went straight to the conference centre, courtesy of a taxi ride with a driver keen to share with her his UKIP centred view of the world. He was looking forward to getting a Labour MP in the back of his cab, he said, to give them the benefit of his considered opinion. Mrs Angry prayed it would be Ed Miliband, or Ed Balls. Or Liam Byrne, or Doug Alexander, or: well, any of the shadow cabinet, and serve them right.

Within seconds of stepping through the entrance, oops: there was our AM, Andrew Dismore, wandering about at a loose end. Cheering words from Mrs Angry about his forthcoming defeat of Matthew Offord, in 2015. Andrew almost cracked a smile. Up the stairs, past the plaque commemorating the last public performance in this venue by Bing Crosby, into a world more familiar to Lynton Crosby, the show that never ends - the political circus.  

Performing in the arena as Mrs Angry arrived was Ivan Lewis, lulling everyone to sleep with a spectatular act of mesmerism, trying to lead us into a false sense of security with something about the 'interdependency and interconnectivity of the world'. Only connect, see: but he didn't; not really. 

Mrs Angry sat in her seat on high, like Her Majesty at the Royal Variety Performance, wishing perhaps for Bing Crosby, rather than Cliff Richard, or even a troupe of performing monkeys - and sighed. 

Next up, Doug Alexander, terse and uninspiring. Then the ubiquitous Chuka Ummana, as smooth as silk, and entirely unmemorable, both of them clocking up their expected One Nation references. Yawn.

Hooray: here now was Unite's Len McCluskey. 

He woke everyone up from their One Nation reverie: he quoted Harold Wilson - if Labour is not a moral crusade, then we are nothing - if our party is to have a future, he warned, it must speak for ordinary workers, and it must represent the voice of organised labour. A radical message, which appears to have been blocked by the filtered in box of the Labour leadership's thought process.

This party, he admonished, should be proud of the link with the trade unions. He quoted George Bernard Shaw: I dream things that never were, and I ask: why not?

Indeed, thought Mrs Angry: why not?

He received a standing ovation.

Here is the significant missing detail: just before he came to speak to conference, Ed Miliband temporarily absented himself from the stage.

The standing ovation should serve as a lesson to Miliband, and the shadow cabinet. The ovation was to mark the feeling that is deeply held within the ranks of the Labour membership that it is moving too far away from the roots of the Labour movement, and the needs of ordinary working people. 

At last year's conference, this fatal disconnection was the theme of Mrs Angry's musings: the control of the party by a class of (mostly) male public schoolboys, careerist would be politicians: and of course again this year there they were, the same suits, wandering about, a marked absence of ethnic minorities, a predominance of men - the shame of so many fringe events featuring panels without even a token woman only partially redeemed by the news that the Tory conference is four times worse. 

One well known young commentator (and you know who you are, boy, and wait til I catch up with you) tweeted last Sunday, after Andrew Marr, with relief, that at last the conference proper could begin. Saturday, of course, was the Women's Conference, but that doesn't count, as - to be fair - women are not real people, and they probably spent their time talking about shoes and make up, rather than the fact that the impact of the Condem policies falls heaviest on them, and you know, everyday sexism and boring stuff like that.

So: no need to listen to women, no need to listen to the unions. Even if, as is the case, union membership itself is now dominated by ... low paid women.

At this year's Gala in Durham, the atmosphere of antagonism, post Falkirk, from those attending, and no, not just the speakers, towards what is perceived as a betrayal by the Labour leadership was overt, and a very dangerous sign, which the party leadership seems intent on ignoring. A theme which nibbled away at Mrs Angry's anxiety throughout the conference, and completely unravelled after the leader's speech. But back to Monday's speeches.

A blast from the past, next: Margaret Beckett, in a 1980s outfit and hairdo, all shawl collars and satin jacket, and political views to match, spoke to us rather primly like a retiring headmistress, or a slightly disapproving maiden aunt. Then it was time for - oh dear - Ed Balls.

Balls spoke excitedly, in full flow, watched by an increasingly uneasy Ed Miliband, sitting sideways on, perhaps noting with envy his ability to speak in a blokeish, relaxed manner: he spoke of 'the lie that Britain is broken'. 

Mmm, thought Mrs Angry: not sure if that is a lie, Mr Balls - or if it is the right thing to say, to people struggling with welfare cuts, and bedroom taxes, who may well feel entitled to feel that something has indeed been broken, and taken out of their reach. But then: you are not really talking to those people, are you?

After the speeches ended, Mrs Angry joined the queue in the ladies loo, by the bar. Two women from Glasgow in front of her had been deeply unimpressed by the speeches from the shadow ministers. 

They don't speak my language, said one to the other.

Leaving the loo, Mrs Angry found her way out of the centre blocked by one Alastair Campbell, venting his spleen to a cameraman on some unspecified subject. He was outraged. He also gave Mrs Angry an interesting look, as she walked by, amused, and wondering why he was so cross. 

Later on it emerged that the unspecified subject was that of Mr Damian McBride, whose book, 'Power Trip', published on the eve of conference, was causing such upset. Alastair 'Dodgy Dossier' Campbell's outrage was the natural reaction of a man of great sensitivity and moral judgement who has no tolerance for the manipulation of truth, or the degradation of standards of probity in high office.

Mrs Angry wandered next door to the Grand Hotel, and, at the top of the steps bumped into the lovely Gerald Shamash, the Labour party solicitor who valiantly led the Judicial Review of the One Barnet programme of service privatisation. Gerald introduced Mrs Angry to a once very influential Blairite peer, who proceeded, upon being informed that Damian McBride was present in Brighton, to fume with anger. 

Mrs Angry mentioned that Mc Bride had turned up, after his downfall, in a post at her son's school, seemingly in an act of penance. Anyone who has a child at the redoubtable Finchley Catholic High will understand that working there must necessarily knock off a few years at least of any sinner's future time in purgatory, if not the other place, but the Blairite peer was not convinced of the sincerity of McBride's bid for salvation, expressing - no, spitting out over the marble steps of the Grand Hotel, her considered view that his interpretation of christianity was not one she recognised from her knowledge of the bible.

Mrs Angry began to feel a sense of tribal sympathy for Damian McBride, one that was reinforced by that evening's Newsnight, in which the man was rounded up, held captive in a conservatory with Jeremy Paxman, and paraded before a selected audience of sceptics, who also felt his act of contrition was not entirely sincere.

Perhaps only another sin-laiden catholic can witness the fall of Brown's spin doctor, and feel some understanding of the process of losing your soul, and the sense of remorse which follows, or ought to follow. 

McBride talks in his book about becoming 'some diabolical inversion of a priest in the confessional box: told about other peoples' sins precisely in the hope that you'll expose them to the world ...' 

The first thing they teach you, before you make your first holy confession, is that indeed you may not confess other peoples' sins, a spoilsporting commandment which gravely disappointed the six year old Mrs Angry, sitting quivering with fear during instruction from the St Vincent school chaplain Father Kavanagh, and keen to grass up his loathsome ally,the abusive class teacher Miss O'Donovan to him, and to the Almighty. The resultant sense of  injustice, as explained elsewhere , finds its outlet in later life.

Fittingly, perhaps, our Damian's downfall was engineered by another North London catholic boy, ie blogger Paul Staines, Guido Fawkes, who also makes a living out of exposing and exploiting the venial sins of political life, with all the zeal and relish of a Vatican inquisitor. And perhaps only another cultural catholic can recognise the distorted sense of moral outrage which is the product of such an upbringing: the perfect breeding ground for political bloggery - or expertise in spin. 

McBride is trying to reclaim his sense of conscience, his soul, the only way he can. What a shame that Alastair Campbell, Blair, and all the other Iraq war apologists, who ought to have on their consciences so much worse than the malicious smearing of individual politicians, have apparently no similar promptings, in the long dark night of whatever passes for their souls.

That night, on Newsnight, Paxman sat gingerly amidst the vulgar, nightmarish lighting of the BBC's idea of a conservatory: in fact rather more of a Conservatory, being a swanky Palm House, the sort of necessary installation we used to pay for at the behest of swindling Tory MPs not yet reduced to yearning for a duckhouse - and tried without much enthusiasm to encourage a verbal lynching of Mc Bride from the stern faced audience, sat stiffly like a roomful of disappointed relatives forced to attend a family function with a blacksheep nephew.

Much talk of the conservatory test, of course. Alastair Campbell liked it. Well, he would, wouldn't he, being as about as much in touch with the hearts and minds of ordinary voters as, say, the Prince of Wales; either the one who potters about in his own state subsidised glasshouse in Gloucestershire, or the bloated regency version sat in his oriental retreat up the road in Brighton a couple of hundred years ago?

MP Jeremy Corbyn didn't like it, pointing out the letters he receives from constituents are more concerned with the effects of welfare cuts, rather than expressing the aspiration to aquire a conservatory. Indeed, as one commenter pointed out, most ordinary people are more distracted by the worry that they may not have a job next month, or somewhere to live. Aspirations, conservatory based or otherwise, are the luxury of those who already have the basic needs of life guaranteed, aren't they?

And this is where the real danger lies. The leadership of the party is obsessed with the idea of Middle England, and rounding up the Daily Mail voter. While they are busy worrying about how to do this, and trying to make all the right soothing sounds that will encourage such voters into Labour territory, they are risking the alienation of those who are becoming further and further estranged from the political system: the working classes, the poor, the dispossessed, the disenfranchised: women, union members, our friends in the north. Don't take them for granted: because they are increasingly looking elsewhere, whether in the direction of UKIP, or in the direction of a complete withdrawal from the democratic process.

A journalist from the Times speaking on Newsnight, compared the Labour leadership to 'a rock in the sea'. Or, thought Mrs Angry, gratefully seizing the opportunity: like a burnt out pier, stranded from the shore? 

Yes! In the sea of life enisled ...

Thanks. Tick.

The next day was Tuesday, and all about the Leader's speech. Mrs Angry took her place in the endless queue, and ended up in a seat in the balcony, to the side of the stage: an interesting perspective, poised above a row of bewildered diplomats, including the Israeli ambassador, accompanied by discreet but watchful security. Also seated in front were guests like Owen Jones. (Not going to make any more jokes about him bunking off school, as he may well have been given the day off by the head of sixth form). Down below, various shadow ministers took their places, and graciously posed for photographers. 

Mrs Angry found herself fantasising about Ed Balls. No, eww ... not in an unwholesome, salacious, Mumsnet sort of way, but a pleasant enough daydream involving a peashooter, a sharp aim, and running like hell down the stairs before anyone could catch her.

We waited and waited, forced to watch a short film filled with Alan Partridge type images of our Leader, and to listen to a curious mix of music, including a lot of Florence and the Machine, which was then turned right up, as if a rebellious teenager was in charge of the sound system, seemingly to work us up into a right old frenzy of adoration for when himself, Ed Miliband, walked onto the stage. 

Ed Miliband, himself, walked onto the stage. Mrs Angry successfully tried to quash the rising tide of hysteria at this sight, and applauded politely, like all the rest. But her heart wasn't in it.

Wandering about the stage like Max Miller, It's all clever stuff, no rubbish ... I don't care what I say, do I? ... joking about his geekiness, and repeating catchphrases, does nothing to disguise the lack of gravitas which Ed carries with him. And whereas his speech last year was thoughtful, intellectual, philosophical, this one was rambling, written to a formula, carefully framed around a few policy features, but curiously lacking in any real, focused, passionate feeling. Endlessly spouting a litany of key phrases: We're Britain - we're better than this, Race to the bottom, Not under my government ... it was music hall stuff, for sure: and it wasn't great oratory.

Leaving the speech, passing by a gaggle of bored journalists huddled around the door to the stage, Mrs Angry bumped into a friend, who asked her what she thought of the speech. She had to think again, very hard. In the time between leaving her seat, and walking the few yards down the stairs, she had already forgotten. 

It was not that there was anything much that Miliband said that you could disagree with: it was the way he said it, and what was not said - sins of omission, you might say, if we revert once more to the catholic scale of misdeeds: what we have done, and what we have failed to do.

And what was omitted was part of the same failing, the lack of connection with the mood of fear and anger that prevails amongst the most disadvantaged sections of our society, those without aspirations for conservatories, or Conservative governments, but hope only to have enough money not to depend on foodbanks, or to have a home where their children do not sleep and study in cramped conditions because of the bedroom tax, or to find a job that pays a fair wage, without a zero hour contract, and all the uncertainty and anxiety that such insecurity presents. What was missing was the sense of outrage that people have at what is happening to their NHS, their local hospitals closing or withdrawing vital services while private companies move in and grab their share of the new opportunities for profit, at our expense.

Miliband is a clever man and a shrewd enough politician: but he is also deeply unsexy, physically, politically; and in the shallow world we live in his public image is what the majority voters who have a minimal interest in political debate will judge him by. If he fails to engage them, then we will lose the next election.

In a more intimate environment, of course, he is more confident - too confident, perhaps. Mrs Angry observed him again at close quarters at the Labour Friends of Israel reception: articulate and intelligent, and speaking touchingly about his own family's experience of the Holocaust, but when back on more mundane political territory... rather smug, surprisingly. Such an attitude is misplaced. 

Something is not right: perhaps we need someone who communicates more easily with a wider audience: Andy Burnham, maybe? Don't know. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, or, and here is a revolutionary thought, comrades: maybe a woman?

On Wednesday morning, Mrs Angry decided to bunk off and look around Brighton, visiting the museum, and musing about life in general, down by the sea. 

Surrounded by the peculiar desolation of the English seaside, and with the slightly choppier waves now crashing in on the shingle, in the distance the metaphorically obedient West Pier slipped away into the mist, and the lines of another Arnold poem came to mind: Dover Beach

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar

In a cynical world, we - or maybe I - no longer believe so easily in solutions to problems, whether religious, social, or political. We have to make the best of things as they are, and not as we would like them to be. The Labour party, under Miliband, is not ideal: nothing is or ever will be, but - dear God - it is better than the alternative, isn't it?

Brighton September 2013

Friday, 27 September 2013

Antic Bohemia: occupied and ... about to re-open

Meet the new landlords: yep, it's a free house ...

Yes: here we go again. 

Back to the fabled fault line of North Finchley high road, the place that acts as a powerhouse of rebellion, here in Broken Barnet. And back to one particular form of rebellion that has worked so successfully here - the occupation and reclamation of a much loved community asset.

The Antic Bohemia is, or was, and hopefully will be again, an indy pub in the centre of North Finchley, a fabulous venue, dark and cavernous, furnished in idiosyncratic shabby chic style, with mismatched furniture, long wooden trestle tables, old school chairs, scruffy sofas with sagging upholstery, lit by vintage chandeliers and 1930s lampshades. It had a unique atmosphere, and had become established as not just another pub, more of a meeting place for friends and local groups, and a venue for the odd performance and musical events. 

One day this summer, with no prior warning, the doors of the Bohemia were shut, and a notice informed customers that the business was closed. There was an immediate reaction of universal dismay, leading to a well supported campaign, supported by a petition of nearly a thousand signatures, easily collected in a short time. The landlords took no notice, however, and the premises remained firmly shut, a horrible reminder, in the middle of the high road, of the continuing threat to the survival of our local town centres. Rumours abounded that the site was to be sold to developers, or reopened as a Tesco Express, or Harvester. This infuriated local residents who simply wanted their local pub returned, a place for the community to meet.

This morning, to everyone's surprise news broke that the Bohemia had been occupied, by squatters/activists associated with the People's Library in Friern Barnet. Mrs Angry received an invitation from Phoenix, veteran occupier and community activist, to visit the new enterprise: so off she went. I suppose I have to do the dishwasher then, said Miss Angry, primly, by now used to her feckless mother rushing off, at the drop of a hat, to join dreadlocked activists in community squats. If it's not too much trouble, Miss A, agreed her embarrassing mum.

Mrs Angry was greeted by Phoenix, Mordechai, Daniel and Petra, ushered in through the back doors - and was very happy to sign the first name in their visitors' book.

The first reaction was one of the enormous size of the vacant property, and the sheer brutality of the clean out operation of the departed tenants: fittings ripped from the walls, chipping plaster, debris and discarded items left everywhere: glasses with the dregs of drinks left in the summer. Ironically, it will be the conscientious occupiers who will dutifully tidy all this up, with help from supporters in the community, who are already offering food and other essentials to the new residents.

Plans for the reborn pub include a wide range of activities, from live music, theatre, cabaret, open mike evenings, stand up - and karaoke. The accoustics of the place are perfect for live music and performance,  in fact. Two of the occupiers, Mordechai and Daniel, have a background in performance and theatre: Mordechai (making a silly face, below) is the former director of the Budapest Jewish Theatre. 

Local groups will be welcome to meet there, as they used to - and new ventures offered a new home. It might even be, Mrs Angry suggested, the perfect opportunity to provide a genuine home for community arts, in contrast to the introspective activities of the local Artsdepot, whose management seems to prefer to exist at one remove from the surrounding area.
On behalf of the occupiers Phoenix said that their intention was to help restore the Bohemia as a community centre, as well as mark their protest about the new proposals to criminalise squatting in commercial properties. The government will not risk consultation over the latest proposed legislation, of course, as the feedback from the earlier preparation for the recent criminalisation of squatting in residential properties represented a massive objection to the move, with representatives as wide ranging as the police and legal aid representatives expressing their concerns. 

The scandalous truth is that while so many people face another winter of homelessness, countless vacant properties stand empty and unused, left to deriorate and provide speculative investment for developers, while our city centres, at night, are populated by desperate human beings sleeping in the street, or in shop doorways. 

Only this summer, after late night shopping, waiting for a bus just around the corner from the luxury retail heaven of Selfridges, I watched an old man, dressed in the worn but clearly once elegant clothing he had brought with him from a better time in his life, slowly, with great dignity and precision, deconstruct a number of large cardboard boxes, and carefully realign them into a makeshift shelter in the dubious sanctuary of the marble pillared portico of a Victorian townhouse. The contrast between west end affluence and night time poverty was as extreme as you could imagine. It was a shameful, and deeply poignant sight, and I felt compelled to sneak a photograph, whilst trying to preserve his anonymity.

And this, Mr Freer, and Mr Weatherley and all your Tory chums who think squatting is so morally repugnant, is where the focus of your outrage should properly belong.

But it is not just for the purpose of housing that we need to reclaim the vast numbers of empty properties: when our communities are under threat from development, and the places where we meet to reinforce that sort of community, we need to take a stand against such exploitation, and fight back. 

This is the new Bohemia, then: occupied, soon to re-open: a community fighting back.


Thursday, 26 September 2013

Privatisation of the NHS? Still tosh, says Mike Freer ...

Mrs Angry has been distracted from the onerous task of recording her Brighton conference memoirs by a feeling of outrage on reading this article in today's Mirror, here , with the headline: 

'NHS Reforms Scandal: Hospitals charging patients for treatment that used to be free' ... 

As this extract makes clear, the NHS as we understood is already a thing of the past, and the principle of free healthcare for all is dead, killed by Coalition policy, and lying on the ground, waiting for predatory private healthcare companies to step over the corpse of our welfare state, so as to avail themselves of the profits to be had at our expense, and the expense of our health and quality of life. Forget the post code lottery: you'll be lucky to find any tickets to the new 'NHS', unless you can afford to pay now.

"Hospitals are abusing David Cameron’s NHS reforms to charge patients for treatment which used to be free, Labour has revealed.

Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham said the secret development was the “next scandal” to hit the NHS.

He revealed under the Government’s reforms, the NHS had started rationing healthcare to save cash - while at the same time offering patients the chance to “self fund” their treatment to jump the queue.

Warrington and Halton Hospitals in the North West have admitted that “some treatments provided in the past may no longer be accessible through local NHS funding”.
But the hospitals add patients can “pay to have these procedures with us at the standard NHS price” instead.

Chelsea and Westminster, Southampton, Great Yarmouth and James Paget University Hospitals Trust all offer similar deals, Freedom of Information requests released by Labour showed.

In total, NHS hospitals have increased their private work by almost £100million since Mr Cameron opened up the health service to profit-making firms.

In October 2012, the Government gave hospitals the freedom to generate up to 49% of their income from private patients.

Over the following year, hospitals raked in £434 million from private treatment - a boost of some £47 million on 2010/11 when the Tories took power.

This will increase by a further £45 million to £479 million by next year, according to projections.

The boost in paid-for treatment has coincided with an increase in rationing brought in under the government’s reforms."

Not so long ago, Mike Freer, the Tory MP for Finchley and Golders Green, poured scorn on the idea that the NHS was being privatised ... He of course had been a staunch defender of the withholding of the Risk Register, standing up in parliament and accusing those who wanted transparency on the issue of the 'reforms' of being 'shroud wavers'. 

Unfortunately, it seems horribly likely that our newly privatised easycouncil cemetery here in Capitaville will soon be filling up with shrouded residents, hastened to their demise by the inevitable decline in reasonable and fair access to a good standard of healthcare, as the Coalition assault on our National Health Service continues.

Mrs Angry decided to tackle her MP on this subject. Here is the correspondence - to be updated, if he replies to the last response.

Dear Mr Freer

Earlier this year you replied to a tweet by one of your constituents that the idea our NHS was being privatised was 'tosh'.
May I refer you to this article in today's Mirror -

-  and ask you please to explain why NHS hospitals are now charging patients for certain procedures and operations, and if this is not indeed proof that privatisation is happening now, and is creating a two tier society where the rich can secure a better standard of healthcare, while those who cannot afford to pay must go the back of the queue.

I think this is utterly shameful, and the worst indictment yet of a government administration directed by a privileged elite that has never understood the needs of ordinary people, and cares even less.

The destruction of the NHS is the issue which is going to lose the next election, and, I think, is very likely to remove you from your seat in Finchley and Golders Green.

I look forward to hearing your views.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Angry

He replied:

Dear Mrs Angry  

Thank you for providing a link to a newspaper report. I look forward to Mr Burnham raising this in Parliament so the facts ca be established rather than his assertions. At the same time he may wish to apologise for all of the scandals in the NHS Labour were responsible for. 

Mike Freer MP Conservative Member of Parliament for Finchley & Golders Green 

Mmm. Response from Mrs Angry: 

Dear Mr Freer,

Thank you for your prompt reply, but you are conflating two separate issues; the privatisation of the NHS, and whatever you mean by 'all of the scandals' allegedly the responsibility of the former administration, which is a matter of scrutiny, and enforcement. 

I would also remind you that under Labour, waiting lists were reduced to a reasonable minimum: as I can tell you from personal experience, waiting lists are now, since the Coalition government took over, increased to an intolerable level and are set to lengthen even further as pressure is brought to bear on GPs to minimise referrals. 

Again this is a practice my family has had experience of, in your constituency, and it is one that is putting lives at risk, and causing severe distress to those with serious illness or injuries who are in need of fast and effective treatment.

The closure of vital services at Chase Farm, and the removal of others from Finchley Memorial Hospital, and other local hospitals, will have the greatest impact on those who cannot afford to buy faster access to healthcare, whether from establised private enterprises or those now to be offered by the newly privatised, profiteering ventures, using resources stolen from our NHS hospitals.

Mrs Angry 

Are you happy to see our NHS, and the right to free healthcare for all, a right so hard won, taken from you, by profiteering private companies? If not, time to stand and fight for it.

If you are also a consituent of Mr Freer, and you care about the future of the NHS, you may also wish to let him know what you think of the matter: his email address is -

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Growing old in Broken Barnet: a sequel

Ramesh Sachdev, Chief Executive and founder of Life Style Care Plc nursing homes

After writing about the death of Yuk Kiu Lee, and reading about other issues raised in relation to Fremantle homes in this borough, I read this story in yesterday's Telegraph:

Whilst not implying that the homes run by Fremantle are in any way comparable to the , appalling examples shown here, this article serves to underline the urgent need to make inspection of residential homes more stringent, and to ensure full compliance with agreed standards of care.  

Local authorities have a legal and moral duty to require homes that care for residents are continually monitored and held to account if they show failings that will have an impact on the well being of elderly and vulnerable residents.

My personal experience has been that a local authority - Barnet, in our case - may disregard the poor standards of care highlighted by CQC inspections simply because of a chronic lack of shortage of available placements. 

And the CQC itself appears to tolerate extended and continual breaches of even statutory standards, as did the former inspection body: indeed, to my utter horror I note that the home where my own father received such appalling, inhumane treatment is still being assessed as presenting the same failures that were evident at the time of his death nearly nine years ago - a care home in Edgware, called Knights Court: I wrote about this in several posts, including:

At the time I did not name the home, in order to prevent any further indignity to those who might still be resident. I doubt very much that any of those residents are still there, or indeed, are still alive.

Now here is an extract of an inspection report regarding this home from this year: the full report is simply shameful - read it here (extract of the summary reproduced below, as found):

"Most of the people we spoke said that there were fewer activities in the home because the activities co-ordinator had left the home. Two visiting relatives did not wish to speak with us, and one told us that they ?did not have anything nice to say about the home?. 

One visiting relative told us that they were generally satisfied with the care their relative received. They said that the staff looked after their relative well, but they ?could smile more often?. Another person, whose relative had Alzheimer?s disease, said that the staff did not understand their relative?s needs. People with dementia did not experience care, treatment and support that met their needs and protected their rights. 

Nursing and care staff did not have sufficient skills and training in dementia care to ensure that they could understand and meet the needs of people with dementia. 

People were not supported to be able to eat and drink sufficient amounts to meet their needs. We saw evidence that the risks of malnutrition were not monitored and recorded affectively. 

The provider had not dealt with instances of possible abuse appropriately, to protect and safeguard people in the home. 

Medicines were not administered safely. 

Arrangements for the recording of medicine did not ensure that prescribed medicines were given to people appropriately."

Similar failings, such as in regard to medicine allocation, and the lack of activities, and worse, have been reported at this home time and time again over the years. If even breaches of statutory requirements were allowed to continue with no real penality, however, as a result of the watchdog's failure to act, what chance was there that the quality of life for residents in more general terms would ever improve?

That this can happen and go unsanctioned for so long is is simply intolerable: and now residents with possible malnutrition, and failures to deal with alleged abuse? Horrifyingly, there is another reference to the use of restraint, similiar to the appalling treatment suffered by my father, a resident with unexplained bruises and scratches, falls incorrectly recorded, and a number of  further safeguarding concerns which had gone unreported by the home.

In the years since my father died, the only real action that has taken place in relation to this home, as far as I am aware, is that after concerns were raised with Harrow Council, a safeguarding adults investigation was instigated, and for a year no new residents were accepted, although the home continued to 'care' for those in place. 

After a while business was resumed as normal. The inspectors continued visiting, as normal.

After this summer's inspection, and the findings detailed above, a follow up visit has noted 'improvements', and so, yes, the home continues as it always has and always does, in the same cycle of repeated failures, with no fear of real censure - or loss of custom.

I note also that Life Style Care plc, the company that now runs this place again (it was in the control of the infamous Southern Cross company for a while) has two warnings from the CQC in regard to two of its other homes:

One was issued in August, one in February. There would appear to be no follow up report published on the earlier inspection. Another home received a warning in December 2011.

I wonder if Mr Ramesh Sachdev, and his wife Pratibha, who, the company website tells us, set up this company in 1987, would leave their own elderly parents into such places?

According to a Telegraph article in 2006,

Mr Sachdev had amassed a fortune of £280 million from his nursing home businesses. Or to put it another way, from the hard earned life savings and pensions of people like my ninety five year old father.

How many elderly people, in the grip of dementia, have ended their lives in such misery, in such indignity, and in such distress, in homes like these? 

And how many more will face the same fate, if these abuses, this defiance of the law, and such disregard for their human rights, are allowed to continue unpunished? 

My father, your mother, your wife. Me: or you.

I really cannot bear to think about it. 

Can you?


Please read the comment from Mr Reasonable, below. He tells us that  last year Barnet Council paid Lifestyle Care plc £492,000 and in July alone, paid them £80,913. Now ask yourself if, in the light of the Fremantle lapses, and the evidence of this post, our council is really putting the wellbeing of vulnerable residents in need of care, and the need to protect them from risk of harm before the 'relentless drive for efficiency' of their own heartless, mercenary agenda.