26 Dec 2011

Calling Planet Earth on Boxing Day: So Many Beautiful Things So Little Time!

Shop till you cash-or-credit-card-accepted-at-this-till drop on Boxing Day: "So many beautiful things, so little time."
So many beautiful things. So little time.
Boxed in on Boxing Day: "I didn't find it. It found me." Honest. Wow, all that lovely green foliage on the side of the building!
BBC interviewing shopaholics on Oxford Street. Camera later trains in on their shopping bags, "Wow!" says interviewer. "Hope you get some time to do some shopping later!" couple tells film crew as they leave. So little time!

24 Dec 2011

New Year Message from Brent Greens

Brent Greens would like to wish the People of Brent a peaceful and productive New Year. The following is an address by Martin Francis, originally commissioned by Brent Times (22 Dec 2011 edition, p. 2):

"I hope that readers will have some quiet time to reflect over the holiday on what has been tumultuous year. The way the community has rallied in defence of libraries and other local services has been magnificent but more difficulties will face us next year. There is likely to be a big rise in evictions and subsequent homelessness in the new year which will impact on young families - they will need all the support we can give them."

"At a broader level we need to rethink the way our economy works so that basic needs of work, warmth, food and shelter are provided for all and the wants of rampant consumerism and greed are challenged. Meanwhile extreme weather events in many parts of the world remind us that Climate Change is an ever-present threat which needs unprecedented international action to ensure our children have a future."

Picture: Martin Francis in polar bear suit at Willesden Green, ahead of climate change march, Nov 2011.

23 Dec 2011

Wembley Central By-election 2011: Labour Hold No Cause for Celebration

The results for the Wembley Central by-election held on 22 December 2011 are as follows:

Krupa Sheth - Labour Party - Elected with 1402 votes 48.1%
Afifa Pervez - Liberal Democrats - 1022 votes 35.0%
Madhuri Davda - Conservative Party - 349 votes 12.0%
Martin Francis (pictured) - Green Party - 130 votes 4.5%
A total of 13 votes were rejected with a turnout of 27.58% (2,916 papers).

Source: Brent Council with vote share percentages calculated by me.

The group picture shows the Labour team in jubilant spirit at the delcaration. Libdems looked particularly dejected (identifiable in foreground for that reason alone) and had clearly cottoned onto the fact, fairly early in the count, that it wasn't going to be as close as they expected. In the event the margin was quite large.

I had spent some hours on polling day on a walkabout with the Green candidate, Martin Francis. We canvassed two streets until all the leaflets were gone, visited polling stations, shared friendly discourse with tellers from opposition parties, and solicited latest polling figures. By late afternoon we were predicting a very low turnout. In the event, turnout must have picked up in the evening rush hour better than we expected. After taking postal votes into account, I estimate that each of the four polling station venues (serving 7 polling districts between them) must have seen on average around one voter per minute pass through their entrances in the last six hours of polling. I should imagine that Labour's knocking up operation was particularly good - and we passed Cllr James Powney twice during the day.

Although Councillor Sheth and Brent Labour are to be congratulated on their win - only as a matter of electioneering - local and vocal opponents of the cuts agenda will be left wondering how they managed it - more important, politically - or what it would have taken for Labour to have lost this byelection, given how much discontent has already been caused by the local library closures, with the threat of yet more pain to come; in particular, when housing benefit caps come into force in the new year with little prospect of a fight by the Labour administration. The result is little cause for celebration but rather greater cause for trepidation that Labour might feel emboldened in its current course.

The LibDems will also be left worried about their prospects in Brent, given that they had already taken this ward at the byelection in 2009 and weren't short of leaflets this time round either.

The Greens have much to proud of in their campaign. Our aim was modest, in a part of Brent where we have not been active in the past, and we managed to increase our vote share on both the 2009 byelection (3.5%) and the 2010 local elections. We canvassed only a part of the ward, with a small team, and could see the fruit of this labour when one of the ballot boxes in particular was sorted. Martin Francis served us proud!

A word about Brent's statistical analysis. The following shows percentages rounded to the nearest integer. However, such rounding is neither de rigeur nor, in my opinion, advisable. Figures should be expressed to at least one decimal place (Brent is already calculating the turnout to 2 decimals so why the discrepancy?). Firstly, one could then distinguish between candidates getting 0.3% and 0.7%, for example, and one would hardly want to round 0.3% downwards. Secondly, totals would then come to 100%, even after taking any spoilt papers into account. Therefore, I have expressed percentages at the top of this post to one decimal place. The Greens vote share went up 1.0% in this election from 2009.

Let me take the opportunity, on behalf of Brent Greens, to thank our voters at this byelection. We will be back for your vote in the May 2012 GLA elections, and then some!

First thoughts on result on Wembley Matters by the candidate Martin Francis.

Weekly press: Brent Times edition 22 Dec 2011, reflection on the year by Martin Francis (page 2) and letters (page 14) by Shahrar Ali (on HS2) and Martin Francis (on Willesden bookshop).

19 Dec 2011

Brent Libraries Decimation Smokescreen: The Fight Continues

On 19 December 2011, the People of Brent lost their Appeal in the High Court against Brent Council in their determination to see half of the borough's libraries returned to use (previous postings).

The Judge almost whisphered his verdict. Public speaking training may be required, or maybe this is the accepted technique for swallowing words for conclusions which don't follow from the arguments presented? I collected a copy of the Judgment (since available on-line) so I could convince myself that he hadn't misread the conclusion. Indeed, two of the three judges say in the report that they "would dismiss this appeal" and the third says he agreed for reasons given by the first two. However, as an example of the kind of bizarre logic presented in the Judgment:

"So that is the real question: whether the council did have due regard. This has to be decided as a matter of substance, not form. Thus in any particular case it is not necessarily fatal if there is no EIA [equalities impact assessment]; and likewise it is not necessarily conclusive if there is an EIA." (LJ Davis, para 92)

But this is to set out, in form [sic.], that an insubstantial EIA - ie. none - will not count against a consideration of whether due regard has been taken with respect to section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 (in particular, as this relates to indirect racial discrimination of a community disproportionately affected by the closures). Doesn't deployment of this bizarre substance/form distinction beg the question about what weight is to be given to such an EIA, particularly when the Appelants have contended that the Council has paid insufficient regard to its duties under the Equality Act?

The library campaigners congregated in the corridor outside to hear from their solicitor, John Halford of Bindmans LLP (pictured, with papers). He gave an account of what happened and articulated options for the campaigners to consider. An emergency motion was moved by the campaigners to continue the fight in the Supreme court and to instruct their solicitors, in the first instance, to prepare a petition to have the case heard there. I also felt as though our solicitors had public interest in their sights and the requisite, and reassuring, level of impassioned commitment to the cause - without this clouding their judgment.

The campaigners' solicitor, John Halford, of Bindmans LLP said today:

"Today's Court of Appeal ruling is very difficult to reconcile with what Parliament intended when it enacted the equality duty that obliges Brent, and all other local authorities, to properly grapple with the impact withdrawal of local services of this kind has on communities. The Court of Appeal appears to accept that there is a risk of indirect discrimination against significant numbers of people in Brent resulting from its plans to impose devastating cuts on local library services, but it has excused the Council from properly taking that risk into account before deciding to make those cuts. Our position is that this is simply wrong in principle. If the Supreme Court is willing to hear this case, we anticipate the outcome being very different."

Dr Shahrar Ali, Green Party London Assembly candidate for Brent and Harrow said:

"This is another sad day for the People of Brent in their collective aim to get the Libraries' Decimation Smokescreen exposed for what it is. In an unconscionable raid on some of our few remaining community spaces, the Council would deprive its people of the best part of their educational resources and have the audacity to pretend that we simply don't understand that this is really for our own good! The People of Brent will not stand for it; we will prevail in the Courts the third time!"

My colleague Martin Francis is posting at Wembley Matters.

Harlesden Gallery Artist Group Exhibition @ The Tricycle - Kilburn

Harlesden Gallery Artist Group Exhibition @ The Tricycle - Kilburn

January 9th – February 4th 2012 | Private View – 12th January 2012 - 6.30 - 9pm

Harlesden Gallery presents: A Graphically Illustrative Concept…

The Harlesden Gallery artists are back at the Tricycle with an exhibition of digital, illustrative and graphic art.  This exciting exhibition will feature works ranging from the conceptual and iconic to the ironic and bizarre. The show combines the dreamlike illustrations of Alex Stewart, Cos Ahmet and Stuart Alexander with the iconic imagery of Ben Oakley and the digital composites of urban artist ‘PIKY’. Meanwhile the humorous subtlety of Gabriel Parfitt and Will Parker’s pieces are a non-confrontational poke at the ordinary and everyday.

Harlesden gallery was borne out of a project called the Harlesden Town Charter, compiled by local residents as a means to deliver regeneration of the area with funding from various sources. The charter identifies the absence of cultural space. So, as there is no actual gallery, we've created a virtual one instead, resulting in the recruitment of a group of talented artists that wish to promote Harlesden and the NW10 area. Harlesden Gallery represents a talented mix of artists, both from NW10 and elsewhere, creating a fascinating network of talented individuals, and providing a comprehensive artist resource, using the combined knowledge, links and contacts of those featured to promote the group under the 'Harlesden Gallery' banner.

Our aim is to exhibit all over the London area and beyond, creating a commercially successful art group while also being a great benefit for the Harlesden locality and community. Harlesden Gallery serves the purpose of creating an interest and awareness of the area, and our aim is to secure the funding for a cultural space that arlesden so desperately needs and deserves.

Gabriel Parfitt: Gallery creator and coordinator

Featured Harlesden Gallery Artists:

Cos Ahmet: | Stuart Alexander: |
Alex Stewart: | Will Parker: | Piky: |Ben Oakley: | Gabriel Parfitt (Curator):

Contacts and Links:
Curator: Gabriel Parfitt | | 077 8686 5356
Venue: The Tricycle Theatre | 269 Kilburn High Road | London NW6 7JR | 020 7372 6611 |

13 Dec 2011

North West London and Ealing NHS Hospital Trusts Selling you More for Less

This picture shows notes from a break-out group discussion (with advocates of merger plans in the background), taken towards the end of a public consultation meeting on 12 December 2011 at the Sattavis Centre in Brent. The meeting was hosted by Brent LINk on behalf of the Ealing Hospital Trust and North West London Hospitals NHS Trust. A full report of the meeting is given by my colleague Martin Francis here and a previous posting describes the running down of the Central Middlesex Hospital's A&E department.

Due to a speaking engagement, I was not able to hear the presentation but residents will be able to attend another consultation meeting in Harrow on 12 January 2012 at Premier House Banqueting, Canning Road, Harrow, HA3 7TS (5.30-8pm).

Unforunately, judging from the discussion I did witness, there is some cause for alarm. Martin Francis asked, "Won't you have a problem if there was a major incident? How would you cope?" He was not satisfactorily answered. A woman, waving a merger plan, asked why the motivation to cut costs was not made transparent in their proposals. Reading the briefing document, "Stronger together", I can attest to the fact that this motivation is not made properly explicit. The obvious question then arises whether core and specialist services won't suffer, if the main driver is cost savings. Under "financial drivers" the merger proposal states:

"While the key driver for merging our organisations is to improve clinical quality, we also have to consider what financial benefits merger will bring. Our services need to be affordable, as we know there will be a reduction in hospital income when resources shift to the community. We need to match our services to this change in funding."

This is a very odd way of expressing cost-cutting as a driver and it's certainly difficult to decipher cause and effect from this statement. Instead it sounds like the decision to "shift resources" has already been made. If the merger advocates had said, "Sorry, we need to run these services for less therefore we can't maintain the level of health provision across the board. Sorry for any inconvenience or damage to health caused," we might all know where we stood.

But to pretend that 800,000 residents can receive more for less seems to rely on some perverse logic. Perhaps, instead, the status of this "consultation" is revealed on the penultimate page:

"Whilst we do not have to formally consult with the public about the merger, we would still like to hear your views.."

So much for the patient-centred care ethic, even if the Trusts were right about their interpretation of their duties to consult.

Notice of refusal to collect refuse in Wembley Central ward

This picture was taken in Wembley Central ward on 10 December 2001, whilst out canvassing. Clearly not all residents are favourably adjusting to the new waste disposal regime (previous posting). The notice of refusal to collect this waste states:

"Today you left extra waste next to your landfill waste bin. We only collect waste that is inside the bin. Put it in your landfill waste bin next time. We will not empty your landfill waste bin if it is too full and cannot be shut."

Unfortuantely, that means that this particular resident could be facing a catch-22 situation. They cannot put the waste inside the bin, since it is full and will not be emptied if overfull. But they cannot leave the waste outside the bin either, since it will not be collected. Presumably they should be collecting their waste indoors until or unless they have spare capacity in the grey bin every fortnightly collection?

Is this rule being sensibly applied in this case? The bearer of the notice (Brent's subcontractor) is acknowledging that this waste is meant for landfill but it is being left to stand on the street exposed to the elements and interference from foxes, with the inevitable result that dispersal will result.

Clean Air for Brent and Harrow: Neasden Goods Yard

On 1 December 2011, Shahrar Ali, Green Party London Assembly candidate for Brent and Harrow was joined by Jenny Jones, Green Party Mayoral candidate outside the Neasden Lane goods yards (pictured) in a call for action over air pollution in the constituency. Neasden Goods Yard has been the focal point of the local party’s campaigns to improve air quality locally.

Dr Ali and Jones met with local shopkeepers and residents to discuss how dust from the bay affects their quality of life and business in their community. Recent research has suggested that more than 4,000 people a year die in London prematurely as a result of poor air quality—and the Green Party have discovered that pollution is often are often twice as bad at child height.

This week Green Party activists across London joined their colleagues in Brent and Harrow in collecting signatures for a petition calling on the Mayor of London to urgently reduce air pollution on main roads near schools to protect the health of children in London.

There are 1,148 schools in London within 150 metres of roads that carry 10,000 or more vehicles per day.

Shahrar Ali, Green Party London Assembly candidate said: "Clean air is a basic necessity of life. The particulate matter generated by the goods yards along Neasden Lane is a serious health hazard for the neighbourhood, made worse by the proximity to the North Circular Road. In this campaign I shall be exposing the harm visited upon residents and local traders by unsafe environmental practices. Only the Greens offer the long-term sustainable solutions to improve air quality and quality of life at the same time."

Jenny Jones said: “Shahrar’s experience as an activist committed to improving the lives of those in the communities of Brent and Harrow make him an ideal candidate to represent the boroughs on the London Assembly. Because we are rooted in the community the Green Party is able to make the links between the issues that affect ordinary Londoners and the policies of those in power at City Hall. This air pollution campaign is a perfect example of joining the dots and working together to create a healthier, cleaner, greener London.”

1. Statistics on air pollution deaths can be found here.
2. Statistics on schools near major roads can be found here.

Report from Jenny Jones at Jenny for London: "Brent and Harrow candidate demands Clean Air Now!"

Polar Bear sighted at Willesden Green

Representatives of Brent Green Party, Brent Friends of Earth and Brent Campaign against Climate Change leafleting outside Willesden Green Tube on 28 November, building for the Climate Change march on 3 December 2011.
L - r: Tim Danby, Viv Stein, Shahrar Ali, Martin Francis (suited), Brian Orr and Ken Montague. Photo by Jonathan Goldberg.

8 Dec 2011

4 Dec 2011

Wembley Central By-Election: Canvassing in the Cold with Warm Reception

Brent Greens were out in force in Wembley Central ward this morning. Our candidate, Martin Francis, is seen here canvassing a resident (with fellow Green Laura maintaining head gear in the foreground, against a sometimes biting wind).

Residents were keen to hear Martin's pitch for a strong and independent Green voice in the Council chamber. We learned that many residents were disgruntled at the loss of their local library in Barham Park. We explained that we were fighting alongside other campaigners to see this situation reversed. The increase in incidence of fly tipping in the neighbourhood was also complained about. We explained how the Council had recently reduced street sweeping frequency.

The by-election takes place on 22 December 2011. One resident told me that we should instead be thanking the creator at that time for all that he had bestowed upon the earth. For sure, he had one of the finest front gardens, without excess paving.

3 Dec 2011

Bus 302: Destination Unknown

The Destination of this Bus has been Changed: Please listen for further announcements? But the destination of this bus no longer exists. Neasden Library was boarded up by Brent Council on 13 Oct 2011. The Green Party continues to fight alongside local campaigners to have this situation reversed, and for the change of destination of this bus thereby rendered meaningful.

Kensal Triangle Residents Association Against HS2

On Tuesday 29 November 2011, I attended a public meeting (pictured) in Kensal Rise about HS2 (high speed rail network project No. 2) organised by the Kensal Triangle Residents Assocation. Nobody had a good word to say about the project.

Joe Rukin of the Stop HS2 national campaign told us first about the history of the proposal - the brainchild of Lord Adonis, appointee of the previous new Labour administration - then the likely impact on residents of Kensal Rise if the proposed route went ahead. On one scenario, from Euston to just north of Sheffield by way of Old Oak Common, construction would last from 2017 to 2026, with a track tunnel normally at 50m below ground rising to as little as 15m below housing in Kensal Rise (only 10-12m if tunnel height is taken into account). This would likely cause significant vibration disturbance and noise to residents when in use (18 trains per hour each way). Moreover, we were told about the massive expense at a time of putative austerity - £32bn on 2009 figures, which did not include interest on the loans nor inflation nor train carriages themselves.

The speaker was continually interrupted by residents from the floor, concerned about the impact it would have on their lives, wanting to find out what they could do to stop it, or simply trying to clarify what was being said, because incredulous that any of this could be true. For example, why would it be proposed not to connect HS2 with HS1 (the channel tunnel rail link)? But true.

The most memorable line, I think, was Mr Rukin's assertion that neither this nor the previous govenment had worked out the question to which this proposal was the answer. That's why it made such little sense, on grounds of feasibility, presumed economic impact, or environmental impact (next to none of which had been assessed).

Residents were left in no doubt about the need to remain vigilant about developments and to step up their campaigning and lobbying of politicians at all levels, with a decision on the public consultation expected from Transport Minister Justine Greening shortly.

The Green Party voted at its conference in Sepember 2011 against the HS2 proposal because, amongst other things, we say that long-distance service provision should not concentrate on high speeds where this will affect local service provision or take up and excessive amount of limited resources.

Recent statement from Green Party of England and Wales. My colleague, Martin Francis, was also at the meeting and has posted here.

Update: on 3 December, the government announced a postponement of their decision to January 2012, pending a review of the Chiltern hills leg of the route, but this contains no review of the London tunnel section.

Occupy Finsbury Square: My day at Tent City University

On Saturday 26 November 2011, I spoke to the occupation at Finsbury Square. Here is a picture of some of the people at "Tent City University". I was set up with a good PA system and, as we were right up against the pavement, several passersby were also attracted to the meeting. First, I expressed London Green Party's solidarity with the Occupy movement and said why the occupiers' physical presence was such an important expression of resistance to the economic system, both in symbol and in fact. I said we were 100% in solidarity with them. Then I delivered a critique of the current economic system by describing virtual and fradulent economic measures which failed to represent true value, either as equal to the labour or value put in or by failing to factor in the true cost to the planet of our consumption activities, whether for human beings or ecosytems. I attempted to describe a localised, meaningful economic system that could ensure that everybody's basic needs were met, such as shelter, food and health, that could safeguard resources for global populations today and tomorrow, and that did not try to commidify everything, whilst still recognising the preciousness of such things as clean air and rich ecosystems. (The second picture is of a great sign made out of coloured bottle tops.)

I found it invigorating to deliver the talk and engage in discussion with the people. Questions were far-reaching, whether about the credibility of conferring international rights to natural systems upon which humans and other species depended; the identification of an alternative currency, whether through valuing things by consensus, or protecting basic goods from commidification and monopolisation; or about the manner in which social and political change could be effected, by transition to grassroots-led participation and representation instead of submission to heirarchy.
Finsbury Square and tents.
Finsbury Square and Democracy as a Work in Progress.