25 Nov 2011

Letter in Brent Times: Political Accountability and Civic Centre Unaffordability

Letter by Shahrar Ali in Brent Times, "Downsize civic centre proposals", 24 November 2011.

Letter in Brent Times: 'Tory lead coalition is the real villain'

Letter by Martin Francis, Brent Times, 24 November 2011.

Wembley Central by-election: Statement of Persons Nominated

The duly nominated candidates for the Wembley Central by-election on 22 December 2011 are as follows:

Conservative Party: Madhuri Davda
GREEN PARTY: Martin Francis (pictured)
Lib Dems: Afifa Pervez
Labour Party: Krupa Sheth

from the Official Statement of Persons Nominated.

As is typical, at time of posting, information about the Wembley Central by-election is extremely difficult to find on the Council's website. You won't find it linked from Councillors Democracy and Elections or the Elections sub-page. You might just spot it on the home page if you happen to look at the busy banner at the right moment. Probably you will have to resort to a search, which assumes you already know what you are looking for, and that you will dismiss the first search result for 2009 as history.

The LibDems have been complaining about the timing of the by-election, saying it has been scheduled just before Christmas to make it harder to notice. I doubt they have any evidential basis for this claim. However, it would be good if Brent could make the political fixture easier to find on their own website, and not just by people who already know about it. It would also be good to get a clear public statement from Jayesh Mistry why he resigned, instead of second hand statements and rumours.

Brent Green Party is delighted with the nomination of Martin Francis, who represents the only credible challenge to the decimation of our front line services at the ballot box. Martin will be regularly blogging at Wembley Matters and further by-election updates will follow on both these sites.

24 Nov 2011

Video Clips of the Brent & Harrow Palestine Solidarity Campaign meeting 22/11/2011

Introduction by Martin Francis , Chair of B&H PSC and speech by Michael Deas Europe Coordinator of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC)

Questions and discussion 1

Simon Natas, Human Rights Lawyer (ITN Solicitors)

Questions and discussion 2

Salim Alam, West London Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Questions and discussion 3

22 Nov 2011

Veolia Violates Palestinian Land: Brent and Harrow Palestine Solidarity Campaign

On the evening of 22 November 2011, I attended an excellent public meeting in Willesden Green Library centre organised by the Brent and Harrow Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Michael Deas, Europe coordinator BDS national committee (pictured above, second from left) spoke first about the reasons for the strength of the boycott against Veolia nationally and internationally and key successes in some local boroughs already, notably Tower Hamlets. He outlined three key areas in which Veolia was complicit in the Israeli policy of illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories of Palestine - the construction and operation of a light railway transport system connecting West Jerusalem to illegal settlements; the disposal and dumping of toxic waste on Palestinian land; and the operation of bus routes along trunk roads to the exclusion of Palestinians (all illustrated below in poster).
Simon Natas, a leading human rights lawyer (pictured right), spoke next about the relationship between international human rights law, in particular, Israel's violations, and the moral basis for our intuitions about legal transgressions. He also identified legally analogous precedents, such as the concept of "aiding and abetting". In the discussion period, I put it to him that there was good moral basis for confronting companies whose actions actively facilitated the oppression of human beings, and violation of their basic rights, in spite of the fact that they were not primary authors of the policies they were acting under: "co-responsibility not diminished responsibility". Mr Natas agreed that Veolia should be held to account, particularly when they had made commitments to protect human rights under corportate social reponsibility (CSR) codes of conduct.

Finally, Salim Alam, a BDS campaigner from Ealing (pictured left, substituting for Rafeef Ziadah), spoke about how the aims of the boycott could be furthered by local residents writing to their local councillors and impressing upon other officials the need to get the West London Waste Authority (which includes Brent as one of six boroughs) to exclude Veolia from consideration for municipal waste contracts on grounds of "grave misconduct". The campaign had already met with the Authority to press its demands, armed with a letter countersigned by 576 residents of the catchment area already (example of the sample letter).

The meeting was diligently chaired by Martin Francis and everybody got a chance to ask questions and network after the meeting on a campaign of great importance to anybody determined to see an end to the injustice and indignity suffered by the Palestinian people. The speakers were dedicated to their cause and this showed in their words, their summary of past actions and declaration of future intentions.

12 Nov 2011

Brent Fightback, Brent Takeback: People's Assembly

Brent Fightback organised an excellent public meeting on 12 November 2011, pictured, at the Harlesden Methodist Church, Harlesden. Attendance picked up throughout the day, with elected representatives (ahem) the most patchy. We saw Cllr Butt and former MP Dawn Butler in the audience only at the beginning and Lee Jasper did not show for his billed contribution to the opening speeches.

The second hour was given over to a workshop, in which local people got a chance to introduce themselves to one another (split into two groups) and to voice their fears and (ocassionally) hopes. Alas mobilisation against savage cuts - whether the local libraries, forthcoming caps on housing benefit, the threat to local nurseries - were recurrent themes. In our workshop we had a good debate addressing questions such as 1. Were not the voters partly to blame for electing their councillors in the first place, even though they now felt betrayed by them? 2. Did local councillors really have their hands tied by the national coalition, as some councillors present were claiming? 3. What was the proper role of voluntary, grassroots-led initatives either as a means of redirecting political energy into something seemingly more fruitful or in its own right? Leroy Simpson, chair of Harlesden Town Team spoke eloquently about the need to engage youth, in particular, through a can-do attitude. Some voiced concerns about the danger of letting our elected off the hook by such means and I entered in a plea that the two approaches were not necessarily exclusive - and that we certainly must continue to challenge the politicians who failed us, and to mount political alternatives through that route. After all, we were being taxed, locally and nationally, not to have to pay for everything all over again, let alone to have our politicians frustrate our lifechances.

The closing session (pictured above) was a Question Time-style debate. The chair was flanked by two Labour councillors to one side, and two anti-cuts campaigners to the other. Janice Long (Harlesden), Jim Moher (Fryent) and Lesley Jones (substituting for Cllr Moher towards the end) were questioned on topics ranging from political accountability, libraries cuts, the unaffordability of the new civic centre, loss of a local community centre, loss of anticipated housing benefit leading to foricible eviction, and depletion of mental health services. Sarah Cox and Pete Firmin added their criticism, and sometimes disdain, to that of a well-informed audience.

To my own question, What is the cost of financing the debt on the £102.4m headquarters over 25 years?, Cllr Moher answered £25m. But how is that £25m going to be found, if not through cuts elsewhere, year on year? All this, in addition to the increased expenditure on a captial project, which could hardly be met by the savings of co-locating council buildings alone.

Cllr Long had a tough time persuading the masses that if they did not implement the cuts agenda (going so far as outlining the scenarios they were encouraged to plan for at away-days), then they would simply be imposed upon us by unelected bureaucrats. Was it as though the Labour administration had spent sleepness nights tormenting themselves over how they could not avoid axeing half of the borough's libraries? It didn't look like they could have acted any less responsibly, or done more to damage the lifechances of young and old of our community, had they tried.

Of course, one has to thank the councillors who did take the trouble to attempt to justify themselves. Yet the music that they faced was not as inveitable as they might like to suppose.

I was left reflecting on the concern of one delegate that the Brent anti-cuts campaign could have been called something more positive. Some already responded that nothing less affirmative than a fight was required, and that it was not of our choosing. I think this is right, but that does not mean that Brent Fightback is not other things besides. Brent Fightback is also: Brent Comeback. Brent Blowback. Brent Takeback. We need to take back what rightly belongs to us, including our local democracy. Take Ownership.

Other reports: Martin Francis on Wembley Matters.

10 Nov 2011

Brent Local Libraries: Coverage in Harrow Times

'Protestors 'defiant' at Library closure march', Harrow Times, 10 Nov 2011 edition, p. 8 (on-line version).

'We must fight this assault', Letters, Harrow Times, 3 Nov 2011.

Further on-line coverage: 'Brent Council Chief apologises over Library distance claims',, 9 Nov.

7 Nov 2011

Brent Council Barham Park Fireworks

It was great to see so many people at this display in Barham Park on 5 November 2011. This was a time for families and friends to forget about their economic woes, for half an hour if they could, but not necessarily to forgive the closure of Barham Park library - which was conspicuous at the entrance to the park. It isn't clear how the fireworks calendar next year is going to accommodate more than one festival, let alone complaints about the loss of Roundwood Park festivities - for further comments see.

Photo by S Ali.

Brent Library Campaigners March One Step Forward: Brent Council Two Steps Back

On Saturday 5 Nov 2011, I joined the library campaigners' march from South Kenton station to Preston library. This first pic shows us congregrating at the start.

Bringing up the rear along Carlton Avenue East.

Child donning placard "Labour isn't Learning".

"Los Indignados De Brent". Recognition of the movement in Spain before us.

Converging on Democracy Wall (as my colleague Martin Francis has dubbed it), or the Wall of Shame (as another has said), the march went on to Kingsbury library.

Still another 1.6 miles to the nearest local library (Kingsbury), says poster on Wall.

Brent Council is building a £102 million Civic Centre, £3m of which will go on a new library (below). Never mind the redundancies from six local libraries or the 25 years of debt this incurs.

Dr Shahrar Ali, Green Party GLA candidate for Brent and Harrow said: "Young and old, local and borough-wide, political and politicised came together this afternoon to march to Preston library and beyond. We were united in our abhorrence of these closures and defiant in our common goal to see them reinstated."

Further reporting on Wembley Matters.

6 Nov 2011

Food, Floods and Climate Change

Click on image to enlarge

White House Community Association Open Evening

I found it really inspiring to hear about the work of the White House Community Association at their open evening on 1 November 2011. Members of the volunteer team are pictured here.

Matilde Melo (pictured, left of centre) gave a terrific introduction to the work of the Centre. Their Wembley office is always open to callers. Their motto is never to turn anybody away who seeks help, if only by finding the right person or organisation to refer them to.

The main programmes of work involve offering a local support stucture, whether by offering help or counselling with financial or legal issues; English classes and translation services especially for Porugese-speaking newcomers to the UK; and helping to combat poverty around the world as part of a global network.

4 Nov 2011

Green MP to Speak at Occupy London Stock Exchange Rally on Saturday 5 Nov 2011

The UK's Green MP Caroline Lucas will speak out in support of the "real politics" of protest at the 'We are the 99%' rally taking place outside St Paul's Cathedral on Saturday 5 November.

The MP for Brighton Pavilion, who pressed David Cameron to support a 'Robin Hood Tax' on financial trading during Prime Minister's Questions earlier this week, will join with protesters to show support for the Occupy movement against economic injustice.

Saturday's rally, taking place from 2pm, will be followed by a march on Parliament from St Paul's.

Caroline Lucas, one of the few MPs to have visited the Occupy LSX encampment, said:

"As the public becomes more aware of the injustice and unsustainability of our economic system, more and more people are taking to the streets for a different kind of society - one which puts the interests of the many before those of a powerful minority. That the leaders of the mainstream political parties have completely failed to engage with what is happening down at St Paul's and at protests across the country shows just how painfully out of touch they are with the public mood for change."

Dr Lucas MP said: "This is real politics in action - and the voices of those ordinary and extraordinary people who want a fairer, greener system to replace the stocks-and-shares house of sand that sustains corporate capitalism must now be heard."

Dr Lucas said: "The global financial crisis and billion-pound bailouts have exposed the plain truth that the entire economic system is rigged against the hard working majority. As a first step towards mending the damage wreaked on our society by reckless financial gambling, the Government must back a Robin Hood Tax at the G20 Summit in Cannes - with the revenue ear-marked to address sustainable development and the growing climate crisis."

Dr Shahrar Ali, Green Party London Assembly candidate, said: "Globally, we face an economic, environmental and ecological crisis of an unprecedented order. Two coal-fired power stations are being built in China every week, largely to prop up the West's completely unsustainable lifestyle."

Dr Ali said: "The Occupy movement represents the need for a grassroots, sustainable solution to fix the system, not just by tinkering around the edges. We need to find an economic system which costs things according to the planet and to value people's labour according to what they actually put in. We must support those doing an honest day's work, instead of the unaccountable bankers and financial service industry."

Caroline Lucas website.

Link to Shahrar Ali interview on Occupy movement, 9 Oct 2011.