Monday, 7 July 2014



"There will be no stone unturned",  declares David Cameron, but based on past experience it's not easy for the public to trust the government to deal transparently or honestly with the historic child abuse allegations that have struggled to be heard for some time to no avail.  After all the time and money that was spent on Leveson, all the evidence taken, the report written, Cameron pledged that he would implement the report if it was not "bonkers".  Who was going to make that judgement?  JK Rowling wrote that she gave evidence to the enquiry in good faith and felt "duped and angry" by the Prime Minister's response, and victims refused to meet the Culture Secretary, speaking of a sense of "betrayal".

Cameron has repeatedly evaded Chris Bryant's requests at PMQs  to produce email and text correspondence between himself and Rebekka Brooks & Andy Coulson getting away with contemptuous, petulant answers including the now famous: "I'm not going to answer his questions until he apologizes".  Here's the video 

As Chris Bryant asked in the House: "Is there one rule for the PM and one for the rest of us?"

The only way I can see that this matter has a chance of being dealt with openly and honestly is for the victims to have the courage - and it will take enormous courage - to come forward and speak to the police and we have to hope they will be heard after all these years. 
If there is a case to answer they deserve justice and closure and the protection of those responsible should not be the priority. 
Why have vital documents disappeared? Why was the whole matter brushed under the carpet at the time? Lord Tebbit has commented that things were different in the 80s but has anything really changed?  We must all have the truth whatever it is, however  shocking the fallout may turn out to be.  There must be a fair and just outcome.  I hope that won't be denied us.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

He who MUST be obeyed: A Hugh and Cry

He Who MUST Be Obeyed: A Hugh and Cry

The new Mayor of Barnet, Hugh Rayner, has a temper. It can accelerate uncontrollably from 0 to 120 in a matter of seconds as he demonstrated at the Annual Council meeting last Monday at Hendon Town Hall.  Veteran Councillors said they had never seen a meeting like it. As on St Crispin's Day, those who were not there shall think themselves accursed they missed it all.  It was the meeting at which Hugh became Mayor of Barnet. When Hugh threw a tantrum, demanding the respect that was being denied him, he did so like a power-crazed sergeant major on the parade field. Hugh is indeed an erstwhile military man who apparently served his country in the warehouse at RAF Hendon. 

Monday night was to be ceremonial, Hugh's night of mayoral triumph, charmingly hosting a lavish bash for Councillors and guests at the taxpayers' expense.  He took his seat for the first time as mayor as I took my seat for the first time in the Council Chamber, honoured that it was the seat previously occupied for eight years by Julie Johnson before she and her husband, Geoff, Councillor for Colindale, both stepped down from the Council in May. They have been outstanding, model Councillors and leading lights of the Hendon Labour Party, unstintingly hardworking and full of energy and vision and we're really going to miss them. They have certainly inspired me and I wish them a long future full of fabulousness and fulfilled dreams.    

Julie Johnson looking out over the Welsh Harp in West Hendon where she served as an outstanding Councillor for eight years and where she has lived all her life

I had supposed that joining the ranks of the Council would mean an end to my days of unseemly heckling from the public gallery. But Tory antics and Hugh's impotent, yet fascinatingly comic struggle to control the meeting ensured that my heckling days were far from over. Old habits die hard.  You'd heckle too if it happened to you.

Oh how the Tories had been plotting and planning.  Used to working with a substantial majority which now is expected to reduce to only one after the delayed election in Colindale on 26 June, they are running scared. And Barnet now has a newly-established Committee System which spreads power much wider and will allow the opposition more influence than the previous Cabinet system by which just ten members of the ruling party had all the power.  The Tories have never had it so bad. 

The fun began a few moments before kick-off when the Leader of the Labour Group, Alison Moore, came into the room to tell us that the Tories were going to stop our expenses if we didn't agree to pair with them.  Allow me to explain asap that this wasn't an improper suggestion - well actually it was, but political rather than sexual. Propositioned so charmingly how could we refuse? But we did - and ended up just a little bit poorer than when we'd arrived - at least financially but not where our integrity is concerned.

So the first skirmish was played out, and the two sides entered the Chamber at loggerheads. It was then that I had my first glimpse of the Tories preening themselves in their ceremonial robes.  How I did chuckle, but not for long

So back to Hugh trying out his throne for size all decked out in Mayoral splendour, fur-trimmed town cryer costume, (he'd definitely pass the audition) with white cravat frothing at his throat, Hugh almost frothing at the mouth.  The Chamber doors burst open to admit officers run ragged, distributing papers literally hot off the press, full of errors, omissions, not enough to go round initially, can we share one between two.  It has to be deduced that the Tories had submitted their information immediately prior to the meeting. The Tories demanded a division based on these papers to ratify the membership of Council committees. Labour objected, pointing out some of the errors that existed on the papers, but the Tories inevitably won a vote to proceed and the committees were agreed en bloc, mistakes and all.  The furious protest from the opposition and from the public gallery was ear-splitting and drove Hugh into a frenzied rant for silence. Was this the same Hugh who when merely in the ranks has never lost an opportunity to chatter and laugh with his neighbour and fellow-Councillor in Hale Ward, Tom Davey, while others were speaking in Council - in particular, the oppostion?

And for the next Tory move Cllr Anthony Finn requested that a future Council meeting be changed to a date that coincides with the Labour Party Conference in September. Pandemonium.  Shouts of "outrageous", "shameful" even from the most timid of those in attendance. 

There is a convention, an understanding, both in Parliament and local government that the diary is kept free during the three weeks of annual conference for the three major parties. But Hugh pushed ahead with determination:   "This has been moved. Agreed?" expecting to win on a nod.  Roars of protest rang out from the opposition and from the gallery while the buffet lay untouched in Committee Room 2.  Surely tonight was about fun and frolics.  Of course there was no thought that the food would be better taken to the local foodbank for those less fortunate, those who were paying for this feast. But the fun had to wait a while longer.

There was a vote: For, Against, Against, For, then the impeccably well-mannered Labour Cllr Arjun Mittra called out in disgust: "Against....against this farce".  Applause, cheers from ABTT (anyone but the Tories). Hugh went completely berserk. Cllr Mittra had overstepped the mark and he told him so.  Others followed suit. But I'll let you watch it all for yourself on this video  It's so much better when you can see it as it happened. But the Tories had the numbers and won the vote.  

We boycotted the reception. We left the web, we left the room and hurried down to Camelot, or rather the Greyhound and an honest pint and a packet of crisps - in my case, throwing caution to the wind, a double slim-line tonic with ice and lemon.  If I were a new Tory Councillor I'd seriously be considering the cross-benches.  The Battle of Barnet is in full swing and it's not pretty. All that time and effort wasted on political wrangling when we should be out there serving the people of Barnet. So my first Council meeting as a Councillor.  A baptism of fire. Ouch!  And Mr Mayor,  perhaps you should take the advice given to you from the public gallery amid the jeers on Monday night: Act as if you're in a democracy rather than a dictatorship".  And I believe there is a training course at the Town Hall in the next few days on "Chairing Skills". You may wish to enrol. Hale Caesar.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Barnet Council: It's a whole new ball game

Barnet Council: It's a whole new ball game 

It's an exciting new dawn for Barnet Council. Nothing will ever be the same.  Well, for one thing I am thrilled to be able to announce that I was elected Labour Councillor for West Hendon on 22 May, so I will no longer be sitting in the public gallery.  Thank you so much to everyone who made this possible. I'm very proud and intend to do my best to serve wherever I am needed, the job of every Councillor.  So for the very first time I'm going to be in the Council Chamber able to speak and take part.  I should explain by adding that I am able to speak and take part officially.  I never could keep quiet in the public gallery.  And the prospect of the next four years inspires and excites me because for all Councillors, from the newly elected to the veterans, it is going to be very different. 

Until now the Tories have run the Council with an unshakeable majority. Impassioned protests from the Labour opposition on issues such as housing , caring, schools, crime, hospitals, disability, parking, refuse, etc have been met with chatting and laughing throughout Labour speeches amongst the Tory ranks followed by the inevitable Tory win when the vote took place.  

Labour just failed to win the Council on the 22nd May in spite of substantial gains, but it is so close that the Tories are no longer going to have it all their way.  For those old enough to remember, Harold Wilson's first administration comes to mind when it was so close that an MP might be brought to vote into the House of Commons on a hospital bed still attached to a saline drip.  The Tories are going to have to have every one of their Councillors present every time.

Then the Council will be run in a different way moving from the Cabinet System where just ten Councillors from the ruling party made all the decisions.   That was true of the last Tory Council's decision to privatize Barnet services, signing us all up for 10 years. The Council is changing to a Committee System that is new to everyone and works in a more inclusive way. 

There is new technology, papers distributed electronically, a whole new system created by Capita, though not yet completed!  But don't get me started on the IT provision for Councillors by Capita. It is, shall we say, disappointing.

And there is the new balance of power.  The election in the safe Labour seat, Colindale, which will take place on 26 June, delayed due to the sad death of the Green candidate, is likely to result in a Council with only two seats between the two major parties.  It will be very different.

Tonight I will attend my first Council event since the election - the Annual meeting at which all the newly-elected Councillors gather and the Mayor is appointed for the year.  The Conservative Councillors choose to wear ceremonial robes.  Labour Councillors choose to sport a single red rose.  And so we run out of the tunnel in our own distinctive kits to begin a whole new ball game, from captain to rookie. Let the people of Barnet referee. 

Friday, 9 May 2014



For years I've considered removing my money from the bank and keeping it in a shoebox under the floorboards.  I've sat in my room looking around for a brilliantly original hiding place but always come to the conclusion that no such place exists.  But apart from the convenience of a card what do banks do for me?  Charges for everything, negligible interest, you lose anything over £85,000 if the bank suddenly collapses (I'm thinking of others here), and there are the constant mistakes. 

When I bought a car from a friend and transferred the money to her account, the bank decided to transfer the payment again and wiped out my account.  My panic was justified. It wasn't the bank's responsibility to get back the second payment it was mine and I was supposed to contact the recipient to ask them to return the money but it was up to them whether or not they gave it back! The bank could take no action. Fortunately it was a friend and she returned the money immediately, but this may not have been the case.  However, the bank very kindly said they would waive the charge for my going over my overdraft limit - due to their mistake!!  How much better to get the cash from under the floorboards, put it in an envelope and deliver it personally and safely to my friend.  Stress free. Easy.

And now we are told the taxman can take money out of your account, your ISA, whatever he chooses without notice, without asking your permission, if you owe him more than £1,000.  And if the taxman makes a mistake he is never responsible so anything could happen and my money would not be safe.

So what am I waiting for? Floorboards seem to be the best option.  And if the burglars are clever enough, then I'd rather they had the money than the bankers (rhyming slang).

Having your money safely locked away in bank vaults is a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fantasy.  Today cyber crime rules.  Your money can be stolen on line and although in many circumstances the bank may make good the loss, the thieves are not even pursued.  I've always mistrusted virtual money.  I want to sit and count those notes occasionally whenever I feel like it like the king in his counting house before I have my bread and honey.  After all you can't pay notes into a bank or withdraw them via the internet.

Perhaps one concession: a small bank account for buying things on line.   Not being able to send a late birthday card or order a next-day delivery of food supplies in the middle of a sleepless night would be difficult to give up.

So I conclude that the well-hidden shoebox or secret drawer is today's best method of storing my money. The lure of interest is virtually non-existent. If your money isn't cleaned out by cyber crime or wiped out by the sudden collapse of the bank if you have too much, then the taxman will be looting your account without your knowledge or the bank will be making mistakes in your name but never having to say it's sorry.

Friday, 6 December 2013

It seems I'm not the Messiah after all


It seems I'm not the Messiah after all. I'm just a very naughty girl. Today I chose the path of denial by pretending I wasn't moving home next week. Problem is, I am. Head-in-the-sand syndrome is futile, but while it lasts it's bliss. Today it did the trick. I turned my back on the overwhelming pile of cardboard boxes aching to be filled with glassware and china and tucked in with bubble wrap and soothing tissue paper and I simply ran off.  

Instead I turned to M&S where I assuaged my guilt by buying my mother a feast of cakes, confectionary and flowers and spending a couple of hours with her. This was a holding exercise so I don't have to visit again until after the move which is, by the way, on Friday, 13th.  But why should the number of people at the Last Supper bother me? If I'm not the Messiah I can snap my fingers and laugh in the face of the curse of Friday, 13th. Yet already its influence is in evidence. Steve, the wonderful, tried-and-tested removal man who was going to move me and take care of other plats du jour such as taking unwanted stuff to the tip and reliably rushing hither and thither providing anything I desire, had a car accident on Tuesday and is laid up with broken bones and worse until the new year.  Yet Friday, 13th has also proven to be lucky, though not for poor Steve.  As no-one is keen to move home on that inauspicious day I managed to get a last minute booking with a firm who are highly-recommended, helpful and lovely, but they are not Steve and never could be.

When I left my mother today, I somehow found myself in a shop trying on a glam furry leopard coat.  Reader, I bought it and it felt good.  But now I'm home and facing the music, but it's not "So here it is, Merry Christmas, everybody's having fun" quite yet.  Everything is just as I left it - chaos. I've packed most of the good stuff and feel so disengaged that if I were to leave everything else behind or dump it at the local tip it would make little difference to my life. Tempting.  Walk away and start again might be the way forward.  I swear that is not an avoidance tactic. Neither is this blog.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

There is still such a thing as a real bookshop


There is still such a thing as a real bookshop

Soaked in the rain we, noted bell-ringing cousin Jenny from the Isles of Scilly, and I, dived for cover into a bookshop on Curzon Street. What an utter delight. A real bookshop with an irresistible selection of old and new books and a real expert to consult. 

As I'm wondering where all my books will go in the new flat (do I really dare to hope it will exchange next week?) I have no wish to increase my already ridiculously large library. My intention was merely to dry off and enjoy browsing. But all the kidding myself that these days we have kindle and ipad so who needs books was forgotten. There is no substitute. 
My choice was rather contradictory though. The Macclesfield Psalter, a Christmas anthology and a hardback of Christopher Hitchins' "Mortality". All intended presents of course, but I don't think I can let them go. Then I had to leave. More cousins waiting for us further up the street for lunch.  On the way out I spotted the blue plaque on the wall revealing that Nancy Mitford had worked in the building for the last three years of World War II. I shall definitely return to that wonderful shop before long. 
PS  Since writing the above in a spontaneous outburst of excitement without my usual research I now know that Heywood Hill has been delighting book lovers since 1936 but I'm happy to have discovered it late rather than never.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Brighton Rocked


Last week in Brighton everything changed.  I was there & saw it happen.  Last week in Brighton, I watched Ed Miliband emerge from his chrysalis, open his wings and fly in glorious colour.  Those present were energised with a new optimism.  At last we were off.  It was its own St Crispin's Day and those that were not there will forever "think themselves accurs'd".  

Until then the Tories were busy regarding the lure of UKIP as their main worry. It was Where are the Labour policies? Guffaw, guffaw.  Ed Miliband as PM? No way, snort, snort.  But Labour has been through a serious and thorough period of consultation and discussion on policy and in this megafast-changing world, Labour has moved on from the past and has sprung into action for the future while the Tories are left jaw-dropped. They sense the danger. The hatchets are out.
The opening of the Tory conference in Manchester this week clearly revealed where they are in their own ideology and aspirations: groundhog day. There were extravagant eulogies to Margaret Thatcher repeated today in Cameron's leadership speech which was pretty much last year's speech.  Maggie's ashes may have been buried but the heritage of her ruinous reign lingers on in her Party as does their firm belief in restoring the good old days before Labour and unions ever existed, those days of guaranteed struggle and hardship without rights for all but the rich.  
Some Tories might well derive pleasure from flogging dead horses. The words "socialists" and "lefties" and "unions" are still regarded as enough to terrify the electorate into voting anything but Labour, but while they may continue to make Tories and Daily Mail readers see red there are many in the UK who are disgusted by such Tory terminology as "scroungers" and "strivers" and "ATOS" and "bedroom tax".  The Tory Daily Mail incites hatred and mistrust every day against pensioners, the disabled, the unemployed, the poor, the non-British and others while promoting the "me, me me" values of Thatcher.   Since events last week in Brighton, its 'journalism' has sunk from the gutter to the sewers with its spiteful, deliberately misleading character assassination of Ralph Miliband. But perhaps this will at last bring the Daily Mail to account.  Today with the Tories it is divide and rule. Cameron began his conference speech approving "hard-working people", "married couples".  Perhaps he should consider emulating his heroine's meaningless famous election victory pledge: "Where there is discord, may we bring harmony".  But harmony is not in David Cameron's manifesto. 
While Labour listen, the Tories charge ruthlessly, arrogantly on, ignoring the opinions and advice of the experts, the experienced, of teachers on education, doctors and nurses on health, medical experts and social workers on the fitness to work of the severely disabled and profoundly ill, anyone who might give them sound advice. They either ignore or misjudge the opinion of a large part of the electorate who they seem to think just don't count. And most disturbing is their insidious social engineering, bedroom tax evictions leading to bed and breakfasts with no permanent address from which to vote, or moving people to homes out of a target constituency to improve the odds of electoral victory. And now Cameron proposes to axe housing benefit from the young unemployed. "Hurrah", crow the Daily Mail readers, but the political implications are sinister.

Only Labour is now fit for purpose.  Labour's USP is that they genuinely see themselves as the people's party, the only party that can deliver a fair society, with hope and opportunity for all.  They are there for the many not for the few.  And Labour is listening and learning. They don't want to repeat the mistakes of the past because they believe in the future. There were many in Brighton returning to the fold, seeing the current Labour Party as their only hope, their only home. They were not disappointed.

The Tories should have won the 2010 elections with a landslide. Cameron ran the length and breadth of the country through the night like a headless chicken in shirtsleeves  desperate to make everyone like him. He would be Prime Minister. If it didn't work then, how will it work now, especially with the Tories having to appeal to their own hard right who are doing more than flirting with UKIP.  The Tories might rubbish Ed Miliband, but David Cameron has never had popular appeal. 

It can no longer be said there's little difference between Labour and the Tories. They're now miles apart. The vulnerable are under attack from both Tory local and national government, portrayed as scroungers, suffering from cruel, ideology-led policies. We live with food banks and children going to school hungry, with a government that doesn't care.  Labour is needed now more than I can ever remember.  Last week Brighton rocked with Ed Miliband's repeated cry: "Britain can do better than this", and under his leadership we can and we will.  

Monday, 30 September 2013

NSL Eat Your Heart Out!

NSL Eat Your Heart Out 

I've been thinking of living without a car for quite a while, but today I made it happen. 

It was the last day of my tax and MOT. I cancelled my insurance. I drove my lovely, aging convertible with its soft black leather seats into the breakers yard and took their cheque for £50. 

One last lingering look, a loving pat of the bonnet, a whispered thank you for all the pleasure and faithful service it had given me, and I walked away without regret. 

Yet more change and it feels good - until I need to get somewhere in a hurry in the rain!!

Thursday, 19 September 2013

I'm not afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens (Woody Allen)

“I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens” (Woody Allen)

I haven't blogged lately.  I haven't been up to it.  Ideas flew in and out of my head.  I wanted to blog them but it didn't happen. Instead a brief tweet or Facebook update here and there which got the idea over but didn't take much application or concentration. That's because my Dad died four weeks ago.

He was 92 and ill for months with so many serious conditions that he was too old and frail to keep fighting and winning.  He developed pneumonia, didn't respond to the anti-biotics and died peacefully and painlessly after a good and happy life.  I spent much of the past few months in hospital with him because he needed nursing and company.  Whatever they say about the NHS not caring about the elderly was just not true in the case of my Dad. They couldn't have done more for him but they are pitifully short-staffed.   

I sat with him the night he died.  Earlier in the day I was led into a nearby storeroom by one of the doctors to guarantee our privacy. She was a young, glamorous blonde and when he first met her my father was certain she couldn't possibly be a doctor. Then one day she appeared in a red dress. My father, cracking jokes to the end, told her that he had recently read a novel about a girl in a red dress who turned out to be a murderer. The doctor cracked back that she was not a murderer but on the contrary she was there to save people's lives.  When she and I were alone in the storeroom she pointedly closed the door and having seen many episodes of "House" I guessed that the news wasn't going to be great.  There was nothing more that could be done for him and I should expect the worst.  

In tears I went back into his room and really didn't know what to do. He was a jazz pianist as well as an academic and I sat beside him and decided I'd sing to him.  We are very von Trapp as a family - singing at every opportunity, lots of harmony and uncontained enthusiasm.  So very quietly I began to sing the songs that had been significant to him: his parents' favourites: Alice Blue Gown and If you were the only girl in the world and I were the only boy".  Then other family favourites.  He was in the Air Force during the war, though he was transferred to ENSA because of his musical talents and less than perfect eyesight, and when we went on family car journeys we always started by singing The Wizard of Oz, because he told us that was the song they sang when flying off on a mission to guarantee their safe return.  So that was part of my death-bed repertoire. Then jazz songs, songs from the Great American Songbook, songs he had played at his gigs well into his 80s: Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, Lullaby of birdland, My one and only love, Around midnight, which it was.  Suddenly his right hand moved very slowly, unexpectedly, on the sheet and he started very gently fingering as if he were playing the piano.  He could hear me.  I thought perhaps I was imagining it, but it was happening. I was told later that hearing is the last sense to go, and at that moment I am sure he could hear me.  After that I held his hand and spoke to him saying silly things like: "I'm still here Dad. You can't get rid of me that easily". And although I am a non-believer, I said prayers and sang hymns that I knew he would like.  In that extra time, after I thought communication had ended for ever, I was elated, thrilled, full of spiritual delight and gratitude. It gave me some sort of closure, allowed me to say "goodbye".  I miss him very much.  He was a majorly lovely man. 

And today I feel the urge to blog again, though instead of the blog I had in mind, the above popped out.  It doesn't have to be read but I think it probably did have to be written.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

For Sale: The Judiciary. Only one previous owner.

For Sale: The Judiciary. Only one previous owner

Every day there is another surreal, yet all too real, front-page headline that makes you despair before the back of your teaspoon has even begun to crack open your boiled egg.

Today it is the proposed privatization of the Law Courts, the running of part of our Constitution for profit by some inept, money-grabbing private company. It becomes increasingly apparent that we are being governed by a bunch of second-hand car dealers.  Am I being picky when I find Grayling's rhetoric abhorrent? Is he really talking about our Justice System?

"As in other areas we need to look at the way we deliver our services to provide a more efficient service that delivers access to justice quickly and effectively, while delivering value for money for the taxpayer. At the same time, we must preserve the independence of the judiciary which lies at the heart of our constitutional arrangements."

It's Tony Blackburn speak: constitutional arrangement type things.

Perhaps the whole of our Constitution should be privatized, especially Parliament. MPs could pay for tabling questions. The wonderful Parliamentary subsidised food and drink could be hiked up to real-life prices.  Offices and work stations might be rented along with the TVs in Members' rooms like those that patients pay through the nose for in hospitals.  And how about subscriptions for access to Hansard and Erskine May and an annual membership subscription for Strangers Bar, the Tea Room, Pugin Room, Members' Dining Room and access to the Terrace?  Savings could certainly be made if MPs received a pro rata salary taking into account almost a third of a year they have off in recess. And of course, who could do a better job of cocking it up than Capita?  Call them in immediately.  

The solution offered by problem pages in popular magazines seems as good as any here. Write down the pros and cons in two columns and see what evolves.  The pro seems to be a saving of £1 billion a year.  Such forecasted savings promised by profit hungry private companies can never be guaranteed.  Neither can the quality of the services which inevitably fall short of expectations though little remedy can be sought from watertight contracts.  And what a piffling amount of silver the government is talking about to put our fine, independent Justice system in jeopardy.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

'Flat-rate' pension that is not for everyone


'Flat-rate' pension that is not for everyone

Following yesterday's Queen's Speech, I couldn't find any details about the proposed flat-rate pension on the DWP website today so I rang them.  I was told that until it becomes Law, it is still a proposal, hence the reason for no details, even about the exact amount.

From advance publicity it might be assumed that everyone reaching pensionable age from 2016 will receive around £140, but this isn't the case.  And this new innovation is meant to simplify the pension system making individual assessment unnecessary.  This isn't the case either.

Those with 35 qualifying years will get the full flat rate.  Others will get a percentage.  The example I was given was that 26 qualifying years will yield a pension of 26 x 3/55ths.  So it isn't a simple flat rate across the board for all new pensioners, it is still based on what you've put in, or rather what you haven't put in.

I have never seen it stated that the new pension would go up each year at the lower rate of inflation, but I was told that this will be the case.

So now we can watch the proposed flat-rate pension make its way through Parliament.  Shouldn't 'flat rate' mean that the rate applies to everyone? Well in this case the term is misleading and many pensioners, who will in any case be waiting longer for their pensions,  will be getting less than others.  The "flat rate" will still have to be assessed for each individual. Most existing pensioners will be getting substantially less than the flat-rate and will never catch up.  Since April 2013 the current basic state pension is £110.15 after a rise this year of 2.5% which equals £2.70.

Government simplification of the system? Government sorting things out? Government fairness? But why should it be any different from anything else they do?

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Why did it take so long to bring Brian Coleman to justice?

Six Months On: Why did it take so long to bring Brian Coleman to justice?

Six months ago, on 5 November, Brian Coleman was due in court to face the criminal charge of which he was found guilty this week on 3 May.  Revisiting the blog  below from last November reminds me of how things were back then. I remember the reluctance of Richard Cornelius, Tory Leader of Barnet Council, fellow Councillor in Totteridge, to suspend Coleman even though he had a criminal charge against him, and it may never have happened if the national Conservative party had not gone over Cornelius's head and done the job for him. 

On 8 November at the Greek Cypriot Centre in North Finchley there was a public meeting at which Cornelius faced an angry crowd of Barnet residents and traders protesting against the One Barnet privatization programme. I was one of the first to arrive and stood outside in the street with another two or three early arrivals. Then Councillor Cornelius arrived and we walked over to him. He was all smiles and charm. With the charges against Coleman in mind, I asked Cornelius if he thought Coleman had a political future. He smiled and shrugged and gestured with his hands as if he were getting up close and confidential with the three of us and said that he knew Coleman well and that he was a gentle man whom he couldn't believe could be capable of violence.  Cornelius is not known for good judgement. On the contrary.  Did he really believe what he said or was he protecting a colleague, or as the cowardly man he has shown himself to be, was he afraid of Coleman? Whatever the case, Cornelius, as Leader of the Council and of the Barnet Conservative Group dealt badly with the matter.

But all this has now been superceded by Coleman's conviction on Friday.  The CCTV film drew sharp intakes of breath in the courtroom at the ferocity of Coleman's attack. He, of course, had denied it, even attempting to turn the situation around by claiming Helen Michael had assaulted him. But on film was all the evidence needed to convict him, and he was forced to change his plea to guilty.  The courtroom in Uxbridge, a long, long way from Barnet, was packed to over-capacity. The journey had been worth it for so many who have suffered at Coleman's hands or have witnessed the suffering of others. They saw justice done at last.

No Party, No One Barnet, No Shame, November 

La Bloggeuse, 3 November 2012

A week is a long time in politics for former Mayor of Barnet, Brian Coleman 

Former Mayor of Barnet and ex-Chair of the London Fire Authority, Brian Coleman, has weathered many storms in his political career. He is a survivor. But an incident on 20 September may prove to be one storm too many. He is charged with the criminal offence of “assault by beating” which has a maximum custodial sentence of 6 months. Coleman is the architect of the draconian parking regime inflicted on Barnet residents and businesses. So when Helen Michael, the owner of Café Buzz in Finchley High Road spotted Coleman parking in a loading bay she used her phone to photograph him. He allegedly tried to get hold of the phone and allegedly assaulted her in the process. When he attempted to drive off, Ms Michael tried to prevent him by jumping into the passenger seat of his car, but he allegedly drove off wildly with the car door open and is also charged with “driving a mechanically propelled vehicle on a public place without reasonable consideration”. 

Fast forward a month to last Tuesday evening, 30 October. The Barnet Conservative group were getting ready to vote on whether or not to suspend Coleman. The leader of the Council, fellow Tory Richard Cornelius, a weak man, had been dithering. He admitted to finding the whole situation "very difficult to deal with because I know and like Brian". But an hour before the group meeting, Cornelius was informed that Conservative head office had taken matters into their own hands and suspended the disgraced Coleman from the Conservative Party over Cornelius's head. 

On the same day, local residents Mr Ron Cohen and Dr Charlotte Jago received apology letters from Coleman ordered by the Standards Board because of offensive emails sent by him. Cohen and Jago objected to Veolia Water's involvement in the Pinkham Way waste plant bid. Coleman accused Mr Cohen, who is Jewish, of being a disloyal Israeli and told Dr Jago “70 years ago you would have been in the blackshirts [Nazi movement]”.  He sent the following pathetic excuse for an apology, 7 weeks past the deadine, complete with spelling mistakes:
 “In line with the recent standards board rulling (sic). I hereby apologies (sic) for any offence caused by the emails in question.”

Mr Cohen was not impressed.
No-one could have expected Coleman's next move. On Thursday, in an article in the Barnet & Whetstone Press, Coleman ditched his loyal Tory colleagues to go it alone. He had nothing to lose. Suspended from the Tory Party he was still a Councillor but free of the party whip. Unlike his poorly-written apology letters, he is now able to write articulately that One Barnet, the highly controversial £1billion, ten-year outsourcing plan championed by the Tory council, which is due to come into force on 6 December in spite of public opposition, "should be scrapped". This is the first time he had expressed this view. headline=BrianColeman:%27OneBarnetshouldbescrapped%27  

"The time has come to dump One Barnet and return to core local government    values and make sure this particular turkey does not see Christmas!"

Adding disloyalty to his other attributes he seems to be making a last-ditch attempt to redeem himself in the eyes of the people.

Remember, remember the 5th of November. I'm sure Brian Coleman will do just that. Next Monday is the day on which a criminal conviction could consign his political career to the bonfire. A legal expert says that if found guilty, as a first offender and having caused no permanent injury, Coleman would most likely be facing a community order. The case begins at 10 am at Uxbridge Magistrates' Court, Harefield Road. Will he survive to fight another day?
Perhaps things have gone too far this time. The week will end with a full council meeting on Tuesday at which the Barnet Conservative group is to propose Coleman be stripped of his chairship of the Budget Overview and Scrutiny Committee. For Cllr Brian Coleman this could be the last time, I don't know. A week is a very long time in politics.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Andrew Harrop, Farage of the Fabians, on Pensioners

Andrew Harrop, Farage of the Fabians, on Pensioners

Andrew Harrop, General Secretary of The Fabians, has thrown his hat into the ring with his report: "Ageing in the Middle" and a related article in The Times: "Pensioners too must take a share of the pain" in which he offers solutions to ensure that the "retired equivalent" of the working "squeezed middle" are suffering enough in this time of recession. As far as Harrop is concerned pensioners are getting off far too lightly in a bad case of what he calls "intergenerational unfairness".  His ideas make me wonder if he has been sitting in the When-Harry-met-Sally diner ordering whatever Ian Duncan Smith had and his language is straight out of the scaremongering, divisive mouth of Nigel Farage. It's not only what he says but it's the way he says it.

 Harrop thinks pensioners' properties should be taxed "more heavily" because of the unfairness of them owning homes when working people under 45 can't afford them.  " Little wonder", he rants "when the average first home now costs four times the typical salary."  "Replace council tax with an annual property tax", he urges. Isn't that going back to the old rates system?  But he fails to mention that the culture was different when today's pensioners were buying houses. It was possible to borrow three or four times your salary, often unsecured without a deposit, and to top up with second and third mortgages. Many pensioners have retired in debt because of it.  It is difficult to secure any sort of mortgage today and a hefty deposit is usually required. According to Rosie Murray-West in The Telegraph of 26 January 2013, one in five pensioners retire in debt from credit cards, bank loans, overdrafts and mortgages that they will never be able to repay. Many owe hundreds of thousands of pounds on interest-only mortgages, caught between endowments that failed to deliver and lenders demanding repayment. 

Intergenerational parity is not easy to assess. Every generation has its own needs and things to offer which are not addressed by Harrop's simplistic arguments. Pensioners pay tax at the same rate as everyone else. They pay tax on their pensions and are only exempt if they are below the tax threshold like those who work. So as Harrop is writing about the "middle" he does not include the poorest in his conclusions. He doesn't seem to find it unfair that pensioners, having paid tax all their working lives, continue to contribute towards education, benefits for the young unemployed, etc.  But then Harrop's view of society is divisive; one group pitted against another, rather than a mutually supportive whole.

He also thinks pensioners should pay National Insurance after retirement, lose the winter fuel allowance and bus pass, and have the "triple lock" removed from the state pension that guarantees an annual rise linked to the lower rate of inflation. And he thinks that certain services and benefits should start not at state pension age, but at, "say, 80".  Last year, Age UK gave the average male lifespan as 78, so this could be a couple of years too late for some pensioners, but yes, definitely a saving. 

Harrop compares the difference in standard of living between the retired and the working population past and present. "Thirty years ago old age too often meant a mean life of scraping by, shivering in a house warmed by a one-bar electric fire. The majority of retired households lived on or near the official poverty measure. Not any more".  That seems to annoy him, but it's hard to see anything wrong with a majority of older people no longer living in abject poverty.  He goes on to say that around thirty years ago in 1979, "the incomes of households of working age" in the "middle-income bracket" was 93% higher than those of "middling retired households" (a newly-introduced group who are not the majority of pensioners sitting by their one-bar fires). But what seems to bother Harrop is that today "that advantage has shrunk" and today, the middle-income working households have only 37% more to spend than their retired equivalents. 

The way his mind works is revealed in how he expresses himself Farage-style. He could have equally said that thirty years later middle range pensioners are still poorer than workers by 37%.  And he Farages that "since the financial crisis this effect has become starker still" with a further worsening of 5%.  Does he mean 37% now or 32% now? I expect he means that things have changed since the data on which he bases his report stopped in June 2011. A lot has happened since then. But if "middle-income" pensioners are, by his reckoning still about a third worse off than those on working income why does he think it a good idea to tax pensioners more and make them even poorer?  How will this help the economy?
Harrop isn't without some understanding of the plight of the elderly. He understands that "no one likes to be taxed or have their pensions taken away". And his observation that "many older people are parents or grandparents" shows that he has some grip on reality.  But what does having "less to spend" mean?  What is his typical "middle-income working household" and its interchangeable  "middle-earning working-age family"? How many earners are there in such a household?  If working people of 45 and under cannot afford their own home, then they may well be part of that household as may be unemployed young people on benefits, as may be granny, a pensioner living in a working household. And what does Harrop mean by  "their retired equivalents?  Does he mean a household of one pensioner, a couple?   Comparing undefined "households" is far too vague. Without defined statistics and parameters no useful comparisons can be made. 

Another "glaring example of intergenerational inequality" is, according to Harrop, that pensioners don't pay National Insurance. He thinks they should.  Here his statistics are deliberately misleading rather than the usual muddle. He claims "middle-income older people pay 27% of their total income in tax, while working-age families on the same income pay 33 per cent." He finds it "hard to think of a reasonable justification for this".  But what is rarely pointed out is that pensioners pay tax at the same rate as everyone else and the 6% difference of which Harrop writes is not tax but national insuranc, paid by those who work, but he doesn't say so. Pensioners have paid into the NI all their working lives in the understanding that this tax is earmarked for their state pension.  But Harrop makes it appear that pensioners have an unfair tax concession. 
Then Harrop goes for the jugular. He advises that the 'triple lock' protection of the annual pension rise in line with inflation should be scrapped. The 'triple lock' commitment was made by this government in 2010 as compensation for switching annual state pension rises from the retail prices index (RPI) to the consumer prices index (CPI) which has historically risen at a slower pace. It guarantees that there will be an annual rise for existing pensioners.  This year state pensions rose by 2.5 per cent - or £2.70 per week on the basic pension.  Harrop wants the guarantee of an annual inflation rise to be removed to avoid "intergenerational unfairness", insisting pensioners' "special treatment must end". Special treatment?  We're talking £2.70 per week and a rise of 2.5% on any occupational pension. I, too think this annual rise is unfair, but not for the same reasons. But then I'm a socialist, and in fact, a Fabian. 

As people get older, it becomes increasingly likely they will need care and less likely that they will have the ability or opportunity to earn extra money. That part of the aging population which might be cash poor but asset rich because of their homes,  the "middle" to whom Harrop is referring, fear that even if they sell their major asset, their home, they may be unable to cover their long-term care costs. The government's new care-capping scheme will hit these people most because they will be caught by the assets means test. If they don't have a stash of £75,000 lying around they will need to sell their homes to raise it. Private care would eat up the price of a house in a frighteningly short time.  So Harrop's recommendation in his report that retired people should be encouraged to spend more of their money, while they watch their savings dwindling away, rather than rely on their pension, and that they should realize the value of their homes, ignores the particular needs and circumstances of the elderly. 

Harrop ploughs on in the same autocratic vein that begins to sound like a Dalek: "The older generation has been protected from the worst of the austerity measures. That special treatment must end."  But pensioners have been and will continue to be affected by the recession.  Any savings they may have are dwindling away with negligible interest.  Energy, utilities, fuel, VAT, food are all going up by leaps and bounds to unaffordable for all ages. Every pensioner whatever their financial situation was targeted in the 2011 Budget, when George Osborne decided to cut the winter fuel allowance without notice from £250 to £200 for those aged 60-79, and from £400 to £300 for those 80 and over, cuts of a fifth and a third. The cuts did not appear in the 100+ page Budget document and came as a shock to pensioners, especially as it happened weeks after the big six power firms hiked the price of gas and electricity and have continued to do so. The so called "granny tax" this year has ended the small amount of tax relief at 65. 

The proposed introduction in 2016 of a flat rate pension of around £140 for all new pensioners will disadvantage all existing pensioners whose basic pension of £110.15 will fall substantially short even with the expected annual increments. But this will not even be 'flat rate'. Only those who have paid in for 32 years will receive the full amount. Others will get a proportion based on their contributions. So this will not be a simplified system as the government claims, but will still need to be assessed for each individual.

As well as hitting current pensioners with cuts, government savings are already in place for the future. By raising penisonable age incrementally from 60 and 65 for women and men respectively, to 67 for everyone (and it has been suggested that this could rise further), the government's future commitment to pensioners has been massively reduced.

And there is the wider picture. It shouldn't be overlooked that younger pensioners support the economy by giving free care to grandchildren to enable their children to work and pay tax and free care for very elderly parents whose community care has been withdrawn or become unaffordable. And many have the true "big society" ethic giving their time to charities and communal projects.

As society grows older and incomes in retirement rise..." continues Harrop.  A snap shot today might reveal that middle range pensioners are getting poorer as he writes.  Harrop's future means older people will continue paying tax just like the younger working population but won't get their pensions until later, and if he has his way pensioners will be taxed on their homes, have to pay NI for ever, be subject to the granny tax, have to pay tax on the lump sums in their pension payout, receive no fuel allowance, no bus passes, not even have the guarantee of a £2.75 annual rise on their pension and receive no interest on their savings. And being 37% worse off is just not enough. My gosh, how those pensioners are spoilt. How the working population must envy them.  

Everyone is seeking a sustainable solution to tackling the needs of a growing aging population but this isn't it. Harrop is condemning "middle" range pensioners to the kind of poverty he describes in the 1930s. The one-bar electric fire market may benefit because after a lifetime of paying their dues pensioners are going to be shivering all over again in Harrop's fair new world. 

Harrops is promoting suspicion and resentment between generations where there is already an awkwardness in communication. Yesterday this damaging style of rhetoric reached a new, unacceptable level when Angus Hanton of the Intergenerational Foundation said on the news that "the old are feeding off the young". I find this deeply offensive and think it should be regarded as a hate crime and legally challenged. It is an example of verbal abuse and incitement to hatred against a social group. It also indicates the disturbing attitude present in the field of intergenerational studies that is echoed by Harrop. 

Surely the Fabians isn't the right home for Mr Harrop. His ideas could never become Labour Party policy. The Labour Party is pushing for growth in the economy.  Build affordable homes to boost the house market and provide employment; get the young into work and get tax flowing back into the Treasury's coffers instead of paying out benefits; get the banks to lend money to small businesses. Stop the stagnation and the slide into triple recession.  Squeezing money out of pensioners is not Labour ideology.  I see Harrop fitting in more with our coalition government supporting IDS's workhouse culture while he talks the inflammatory talk of UKIP.