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Monday, 30 April 2018

Carol Shaw's Personal Vote

Out on the doorstep in Brondesbury on Saturday, I saw that the Tory window poster literally reads "I'm backing Carol Shaw and her team for Brondesbury Park".  That is an extraordinary reliance on a personal vote in a local election, and quite possibly unique for a back bench councillor.  You can see why the Tories take this line if you look at the 2014 result

It does, however, lead them to be not so much the Conservative Party as the Carol Shaw party. 

Bombshell and Hedy Lamarr

Last weekend I watched a film, Bombshell, with one the most unlikely stories I can imagine. A 1940s film actress, Hedy Lamarr, invented a form of encrypted communication which now underlies GPS, Bluetooth and various other kinds of modern communications.  Very sadly, she never got paid or properly recognised, and her invention was not widely adopted until the late 1950s and sixties.

It reminds me of some of the stories in Paul Kennedy's Engineers of Victory.  Although he was following the stories of people who had seen their inventions go through and become effective.  Those who believe in historical determinism and inevitability would do well to ponder these stories.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Kiln Theatre Clickbait

The petition against changing the name of the Tricycle Theatre to the Kiln Theatre continues to rack up names at quite a rate.  I always think that there is a bit of a problem with petitions like this, which among other things are effectively a way of harvesting email addresses for the organiser of the technology ( through an effective piece of clickbait.

The problem is the sheer ease of the process.  The organiser can write a one sided account of why they don't like something, and then anyone coming across it can sign up at the touch of a button.  There is no real need to think through the issue or even consider why the Kiln Theatre might want to change its name.  It is a simple way to "virtue signal".

My point is strengthened by the way in which the Avaaz petition strongly against the Kiln name change was accompanied by a similar poll by the Stage showing a majority in favour.  What does any of that really tell you?

Meanwhile doing what the Theatre has done, raise millions for a capital fund, oversee a big building project, keep the organisation going despite the rebuild all takes a sustained effort before any benefit can be shown. I can certainly see why Indhu Rubasingham wants to emphasise how the new investment marks a fresh start.  She has been as far as I can see a very effective Artistic Director operating in a difficult environment for Arts organisations and I think she deserves support to pursue her agenda. 

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Will Amber Rudd Get to Monday as Home Secretary?

Amber Rudd's latest admission of sheer incompetence makes me wonder if she will actually get through to Monday as Home Secretary.  She seems to be taking a position that there were targets, but she knew nothing about them.  If so in what sense was she monitoring the activities of her own department?

Michael Gove's defence of her on the basis that the issue is supposedly being used as a distraction from other issues appears to be becoming the default excuse of choice in UK politics.  The line, not to be fair confined to the Tory party, appears to be "You are only pointing out how utterly awful we are in order to distract from how utterly awful you are."

We all seem to be getting a long way from any kind of message of hope or change which was allegedly what created the huge change in turnout at the 2017 General Election.  I find it hard to imagine the voters being massively enthused when they are asked to vote to Thursday by this sort of dialogue. 

Wembley Stadium Up for Sale But No Word from Brent Council

I am surprised not to see any comment from Brent Council on the proposed sale of Wembley Stadium.  Under previous Leaders close attention was paid to the Stadium and the business has a number of commitments as a result. Both the rebuilding of Wembley Park and the construction of the White Horse Bridge were among these and cost the developer in the region of £120 million.  The investment of a substantial amount in sports in Brent also came as a result of a planning condition.

With various commentators suggesting that conditions could be put on the sale, particularly in provision of grassroots support, I would have expected the Brent Council to be vocal in suggesting what it wants.  Making a pitch for the local area is after all the first step to getting it.  Back when the old Stadium was rebuilt there was quite a struggle between the Council under Paul Daisley's leadership and other parties (including government ministers) who saw local community demands as a nuisance.

Incidentally, it was wrongly stated in some papers yesterday that Barry Gardiner MP is the local MP for the Stadium.  It is of course, Dawn Butler MP, as Wembley Stadium is in Tokyngton ward in Brent Central constituency. 

Friday, 27 April 2018

Willesden Library Cafe Spreading its Wings

I understand that the Willesden Library Cafe will be upgrading its menu in a few days time, which should be good.  Having a cafe next to the library should be a great boon to both and a broader menu should help attract more users to the library as well as to the Cafe.

Over time, that should also help develop the areas outside the Library.  As soon as the weather became reasonably sunny, I started to notice that these areas were being used more informally (which is very much what they were designed for).  In particular, it should benefit the walk way behind that the opponents of Willesden Library thought might end up as a "Mugger's Alley".  None of them have ever come back to me with what they think of the Library now.  With a little bit of addition and some good weather, I can see these areas becoming really active community spaces in a way that the "Town Green" was not. 

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Independence in Kilburn

Cllr John Duffy is standing as an independent in Kilburn apparently out of frustration with the local Labour Party.  I think he will discover, as Bertha Joseph did before him, and indeed Alex Colas in 2014, that Independent candidates do not fare well.

I note that he is now claiming to have resigned from the Labour Party in 2003 because of the Iraq War.  My memory is a little different.  I understood that he resigned in 2003 because the Labour Party did not shortlist him in the Parliamentary By election held in Brent East that year.  A case of pique rather than principle. 

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

The Spread of a Hostile Environment

The ongoing controversy about the Windrush generation is having continuing echoes.  These have been implicit in Home Office policy for years as is hinted at by this letter from MPs.  As Amber Rudd has partically acknowledged the system has been designed to deny humanity to the people on the recieveing end but that is not just true about the Windrush generation, but also many DWP claimants, and people dealing with Councils over housing claims.  All these people have been subjected to a "hostile environment" policy.

The idea is to make their lives so difficult that they just give up on making claims and is really about budget control. 

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

The Kiln Theatre and Children

Just returning to the Kiln Theatre theme.  Above is a poster for an event trying to engage children with theatre at the Willesden Library Centre.  I don't know why the cast have quite such a military look, but leaving that to one side, is this not the kind of imaginative exercise to spread the joy of theatre to new audiences that something like the Kiln Theatre should be doing? And is it not a rather more important thing the exact name of the Theatre?

Monday, 23 April 2018

The Limits of Library Litigation

It may well be that the recently launched case against Northamptonshire Council for failing in its library duty is successful in the Courts.  It certainly sounds as if the library cuts were examined, rejected and then reintroduced simply to meet the budget emergency.  It certainly does not sound as if they have gone through the kind of careful and thorough assessment of need that Brent did in implementing the Libraries Transformation Project.

The problem is more one of the real world.  If Northants now loses, it just doesn't have the money any more.  The litigants can win technically, but the entire organisation is about to be abolished. 

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Brent Green Party Manifesto 2018

Wembley Matters (i.e. Martin Francis) has published the Green Party Manifesto for Brent in the 2018 local elections.  The manifesto explicitly references the Wembley Matters blog as a campaigning tool so I suppose I am justified in regarding it as at least a semi-official Green Party platform.  It argues that Brent Council needs an "effective opposition" and that the Green Party is best placed to provide this.

I would question the second half of that statement.  Let's go through the record and compare it the manifesto's statements with the reality.

A lot of the manifesto is vague, uncosted and committed to "reviewing" things rather than actually doing stuff, but let us look at specifics.

Affordable Housing

The document complains in very vague terms about the term "affordable housing."  It is nice to start on a note of some sort of agreement.  Central government policies have over years minimised affordable housing as I have often pointed out.  However, the Greens have not really engaged with the key mechanisms for this minimisation, the biggest of which is the "viability assessment" which looks like it is finally getting close to being changed.  Other than a vague generalised complaint the Greens don't really seem to be pursuing the details of the trade offs necessary in making housing schemes happen, and their London spokeswoman appears to have embarked on a blanket blocking of new housing across London.  The Greens also state that their approach to Planning will be more rigourous, but they don't give any details on how this would be done, and the previous absence of detailed critiques of either planning policy or of individual schemes does not give me confidence.

Supporting Small Businesses and "Eco-business"

Again, we seem quite short on detail here.  Anyone can claim to support small business but the Greens don't seem to give any themes.  They express distaste for the area around Wembley Stadium, where I have expressed doubts of my own, but not made any positive suggestions in (say) how to regenerate high streets.  The Kilburn Times report seems to quote a Green candidate claiming that Brent Council has "brought in" big chains to replace small shops, although I can't imagine how he thinks it has done this.    Again, there does not appear to be much awareness of modern ideas of the importance of maintaining diversity in planning, or using transport policy productively.  I take the "Tech Hub" rhetoric as really just being lip service given the previous opposition to innovations such as Brent Civic Centre or Willesden Library.  Some of the things a Council might usefully do in this area I have suggested here.  

Waste and Street Cleaning

The pledge of value for money in waste and street cleaning I have to see as something of a joke.  Brent went through a lengthy process to negotiate a value for money public realm contract, which delivered substantial changes in both lower costs and improved outcomes.  Far from offering "real opposition", Brent Greens seem to have had nothing to say on this other than attempt to turn the whole thing into a Boycott movement against Israel.  The Greens also make no comment on either the previous improvements to front end recycling or the significant shift away from landfill. 


The manifesto mentions two parks specifically (King Eddy's (Wembley, I think) and Gladstone Park without acknowledging any of the work of the past few years or again engaging in the details of parks policy.  To give that some perspective Brent has a total of 85 parks and green spaces of varying sizes.  The pledge on restarting a swimming pool in Gladstone Park appears to have no engagement with the climate change problems, planning issues, practical management issues or acknowledgement of the work completed or underway at Willesden Sports Centre, Vale Farm, Moberley Sports Centre or in the Wembley Master Plan.

Air Quality

Here at last we find some detailed suggestions, although they seem rather deficient in awareness of previous policy.  For instance, they don't seem pay attention to planning policy's current emphasis on discouraging car use, the switch to emissions based parking or alterations in street design to shift to more horizontal measures

Schools and Youth Services

The Green manifesto is firmly against academisation, but provides little detail on how the Greens would support schools under current central government policies.  Perhaps wisely, there is no mention of Brent Greens' previous fierce opposition to new school places.  Again, there seems no awareness of the detailed policy context in which Roundwood Youth Centre got built in 2010/11 or why it is preserved.

Public Libraries

There is lip service paid to Brent's public library service although no acknowledgement that Brent can probably claim to have one of the most successful library services in the UK.  There seems to be reluctance to admit that Brent Greens have supported a privatisation model instead (although there is an uncosted pledge to introduce a privatised library in Neasden).  There is no mention of their fierce opposition to the whole Brent Libraries Transformation or apparent awareness of way in which the continued pressure to support privatised libraries undermines public provision.  There is also no mention of the arts or of the universal offer in libraries

Disability Access

Finally there is some detail given on disability access, although no acknowledgement of how previous Green opposition to new buildings has impeded disabled access to public services.  The disability comments seem to mainly see disability access as a role for TfL, which is of course a quite separate body to Brent Council.

Altogether, I would be sceptical of Brent Green's claims to believe in "effective opposition" since that requires scrutiny of the detailed policy whereas their record is one of broad brush campaigning, ignoring detail and seeming to want to score debating points rather than achieve substantive change.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Grenfell Continues to Ripple Out

The knock on effects of Grenfell continue to ripple out.  As I expected the Enquiry is indicating a number of flaws not just with the cladding but also with other aspects of the compartmentalisation.  In particular many aspects of the window insulation left gaps through which the fire could spread either outward or inward.  Secondly, many of the doors did not close automatically in the way they were supposed to, helping the fire to spread.

I hope that Brent is going to take these factors into account when repairing its own buildings.  I think more than ever the Council was premature in committing to the spend it did.

Meanwhile, there is a massive shock in store for leaseholders who may find themselves unable to move and the value of their investment essentially destroyed.  The second aspect of the Guardian piece is that it indicates that the government's Help to Buy scheme may leave the Treasury massively out of pocket if it has lent to some of the properties affected.  Yet another indication of George Osborne's folly with finance.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Surestart and Libraries

Up to 1,000 Surestart Centres have been closed down, but estimates vary between that upper number and as low as 500.  That illustrates just how hard it is to work out the implications of the huge assault on Council finances of the past few years.  Journalists and "campaigners" sometimes portray this as a deliberate effort to obscure the truth, but in fact it is a natural result of trying to cope with the problems.

The estimate above refers to "hollowing out" which given the budget losses was pretty inevitable.  The NAO estimated that Councils had been forced to cut the overall budget by about half.  The main alternatives are (as with libraries) all out closure or restriction of access, for example by means testing.

The picture is also made harder to follow by co-location.  It is interesting to see in the Guardian piece that some of the early years demand appears to have shifted in the direction of libraries, which certainly seems likely to be true.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Labour on Housing

Lots of sensible stuff on housing to be found in John Healey's piece for the Guardian, quite apart from the eye catching stuff about abolishing the affordable rent definition.  


Red Brick has its analysis here.  

How Not to Privatise

I have heard back from Brent Council regarding the meetings Cllr Muhammed Butt and the Preston Community Library group.  He has had a number of meetings with them.  No records have been kept of the content of those meetings, and where staff were present they have all now left the Council, so Brent Council can only know the nature of those discussions via the recollection of Cllr Butt or of the Preston Library Group.

Cllr Butt is now pushing for the Preston Library group to be given significant amounts of taxpayers money and possibly effective ownership of a building for a "peppercorn rent".

This is, to put it mildly, not a transparent way of doing business.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Theresa May's Hostile Environment and the Blame Game

As I suggested the other day, Theresa May's "hostile environment" policy appears to be unravelling.  I suspect both that the Windrush issue is still being underplayed and that the blame game will deepen.

The numbers cited by the Home Office appear to be very low.  I have personally met people with this kind of problem _ that they came to the UK as children without official documentation at a time when that that was deemed not necessary and they are only now finding out the problems.  I find it hard to believe that there are not more than the forty odd cases cited.  The problem in the cases I have personally encountered related to people from what were then UK colonies in the West Indies.  This goes well beyond 1948. 

I didn't realise Sarah Teather's personal involvement in creating the policy as reported by the Guardian today.  Given she was representing an area with so many West Indians and other immigrant groups I am surprised she was not more vocal in trying to get the policy changed at least once she had been removed from office.  It is, after all, a policy of institutionalised harassment of ethnic minorities.  The sheer incompetence with which it has been and is being implemented come on top of that. 

Apprenticeships: Some Flaws

There have been recent media stories reminding us all about the importance of looking at policy detail, this time on apprenticeships.

This policy has faded from view after the outrage when the current wave of apprenticeships were voted through.  I think people genuinely just forgot about such matters once they go out the headlines, which is why it is important for some one to keep track.

The outrage was generated when George Osborne set an obvious elephant trap for Labour when he included a scheme for three million apprenticeships in the 2015 government's new welfare bill imposing deep cuts.  The trap was to get Labour to vote against the cuts, and then portray Labour as being against training people for jobs.  Acting Labour Leader Harriet Harman sought to sidestep the trap by abstaining at Second Reading and moving reasoned amendments later.  Anyone familiar with Parliamentary protocols would know that Second Reading is for the principle of the Bill, and detailed criticisms are made in amendments.  Some Jeremy Corbyn supporters (it was during the Labour Leadership race tried to portray this as just failing to oppose the government.

The Bill is designed to charge an apprenticeship levy on all larger employers and then to allow them to claim some of the money back if they take on apprenticeships.

We now have more detail on how the policy is working in practice:
  • Some "apprenticeships" are actually just low paid work that does not actually rain people.
  • Some apprenticeships are things like MBAs that employers are claiming for that they would almost certainly support anyway.
  • Some school are paying the levy but can't claim monetary support because there are no recognised apprenticeships in the teaching profession.
In other words, these are all means to claim the money for work that isn't justified or in the case of schools a financial hit without the ability to get the money back.

That is why you need continuous scrutiny of policies not just relying on the headlines.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Immigration and Its Discontents

The Government's retreat over the "Windrush Generation" is merited by the spectacle of people through no fault of their own being penalised for not having suitable documents.  I hope it also helps the government to understand that there are many other immigrants who do not have relevant documentation.  Indeed Theresa May's entire "hostile environment" policy may unravel as it demands incredibly onerous documentation from people who have often been extremely ill placed to keep it. 

I am particularly thinking of the EU migrants who I have spoken to about the demands the Home Office makes on them, but I suppose it applies lots of people.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Intensity of Library Lending

Using some data from the March Cabinet papers, I find that Brent library users who are "active borrowers" seem to borrow about thirty items each over the course of a year.  That really seems quite a lot.  It is based on an estimate that the loans this year will eventually be about 1.1 million, and the number of borrowers something like 37,000.

Of course it is not a full reflection of the value of the service since that would also include the use of IT, shared social space, periodicals and so on.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Tricycle Theatre Renamed the Kiln Theatre

The former Tricycle Theatre has renamed itself as the Kiln Theatre, on the principle that it will become a crucible for new plays presumably.  The occasion also marks the unveiling of a new season of plays at the venue starting in September.

The rebranding is in a number of newspapers, often illustrated with pictures with Indhu Rubasingham standing in front of the old building with the words "Tricycle Theatre" still on prominent display, but still. The re-opening should add to the health of the local economy.

UPDATE 20.04.18

I see that a number of people have started a petition to decry the new name and demand it go back to the old.  The best coverage of this is in the Camden New Journal.  Why is it that all advances in community facilities seem to attract this kind of negativity?

Saturday, 14 April 2018

In Praise of Library Workers

Dawn Finch has a short blog praising library workers and all the stuff they do.  She rightly identifies this as the heart that makes the libraries beat. 

It was not something that engaged much attention during Brent's Libraries Transformation debate.  Indeed, the general confusion of that debate with some of the litigants apparently not understanding that their case  (at least by appeal stage) had boiled down to a demand for privatisation

At an earlier stage (in fact the very first consultation meeting which took place at the old Willesden Library Centre) a subsequently prominent "campaigner" argued for a 40% cut in funding for libraries across the board.  In other words to make the same financial saving by getting rid of as many staff as possible.  I am not sure that Brent Unison ever really cottoned on to that being one of the likely outcomes if the litigation had been successful.  The same campaigner also suggested "mothballing" the buildings i.e. not opening them at all but have them simply stand empty until at some unspecified time people could be employed to open them.

I don't think that the litigants and their associates ever really understood what it takes to run a proper library service in terms of training, management or investment.  This makes me worry still more about Brent Council's new found enthusiasm for shovelling money at these groups including £18,000 for a "reception desk".

Friday, 13 April 2018

Forming the Brent Borough of Culture

Brent Libraries are once again proving their value by acting as venues for drop in sessions regarding the content of the Borough's successful Borough of Culture bid.  The first of these was in Harlesden Library yesterday and there are two more sessions planned for Willesden and for Wembley.  Of course this also applies to a lot of other initiatives in areas such as planning, homelessness, public health, modern literacy and so on. 

Such work deserves to be better known and would not have been possible if Brent Council had gone down the privatisation route. 

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Positive News on New Housing and Affordability?

One of the most common complaints around new housing in Brent and elsewhere is the price.  The state of the London housing market is such that vast numbers of people are being priced out their communities, and outsiders often can't move in to take advantage of London's status as the UK's number one job generator.  That has still wider implications in terms, for example, of forcing very long commuting times on many people.

Property developers, of course, would be happy not have affordable housing at all since it lowers their profits.  LocalGovernmentlawyer has a good update on this subject covering the viability loophole, which I reported was being reviewed a while ago.  This covers the ability of the developer to reduce their affordable home proportion by arguing that National Planning Policy entitles them to a certain level of profit and that means reducing the "affordable" share of the development.

Brent and London have both routinely approved schemes at less than 50% (the recommended level in guidance) and some cities have no affordable housing at all in many of their schemes.

Changes to government guidance now raise the possibility of a reduction in the margin from the current expectation of 20%.  The current drafting makes it sound more like any profit level is acceptable.  It also suggests that viability assessments need not be routine, and that where they are made they should be publicly available (and therefore more easily challenged).

If that change becomes part of the guidance it should open the way for local authorities to become far more aggressive in terms of affordable housing. 

This would be a rare example of the government actually helping to turn the UK's dysfunctional housing market around. 

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Brent Council Election Candidates 2018

As I remarked a few days ago, the current round of local elections in Brent is an extremely low key affair.  The Council have now published the candidates

The Tory Party

Aside from Labour, the Tory Party are the only Party with a full line up although I suspect many of these are token candidates.

The Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have failed to fill every place this time, a sign of their drastic weakening since Sarah Teather's high tide.

The Green Party

The Green Party have listed their full line up on their own site.  Unlike previous years it does not include every ward.  This year they have at least been honest enough to describe their three candidates in Willesden as "Green" rather than "independent".  They are also fielding three in Mapesbury and Queens Park.  Elsewhere there seems to be a token presence.

This time round veteran Green Shahrar Ali appears to be missing.


The main other Party is Polish Pride (Duma Polska) in Dollis Hill and Dudden Hill.  I doubt whether the are enough Polish voters there to allow them to win a seat.  Cllr John Duffy has opted to stand against his former Labour colleagues in Kilburn.   There is also a UKIP candidate in Kensal Green. 

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Northamptonshire Commissioners

I notice that the two Northamptonshire Commissioners are both to be paid by Northants itself, thus adding to the County's woes.  Sajid Javid writes as if they will automatically be more effective in their use of taxpayer money, although I can see no reason why they should be.  It seems to be a deeply entrenched prejudice in central government that it knows how to spend money better than local government does, although I can see no evidence of this. 

Monday, 9 April 2018

Labour Party Membership Numbers

One of the curiosities of the antisemitism and Jeremy Corbyn affair is the focus on party membership numbers of which Huffington Post gives an example.  The great gap in the story is that we have no idea why these people are joining or leaving the Labour Party and thus the effect it is likely to have.

It seems likely that many of the leavers are "last straw" leavers who are fed up with recent scandals.  The effect of these people leaving is actually to shore up the status quo within the party since they only people who are able to influence things like rule changes in the Party are the paid up members.  With the NEC now firmly in Corbynista hands, it is entirely possible that the NEC might impose a freeze date for any new votes on the leadership or anything else (a new clause IV, a plebiscite on some policy or other, a really radical manifesto) which did not allow new members voices to count until they had been members for (say) six months).  That would virtually ensure that the Leadership's grip on existing members became baked in.

Of course, that would be quite different to what Jeremy Corbyn has said through most of his career, but equally this was a man who wanted regular annual leadership elections until he became leader when they suddenly became evidence of a coup

Values vs Instrumentality

The big change is that joining the Labour Party is an instrumental act to influence who holds significant posts of power (e.g. MPs) rather than a statement about your own values.  The leavers who resign in disgust are in the "values" or identity camp.  Many of the people who joined just prior to Jeremy Corbyn's election appear to be more in the instrumental camp.  Joining gives them a right to vote, which they exercise however they like.

Movement vs Consumer

Where I suspect Jeremy Corbyn is going to find this disappointing is in building a movement.  A membership of instrumentalists is unlikely to see any connection between a desire to win internal elections and getting their favoured candidates in place and a wider movement.  Going to meetings, supporting the wider activities to build party capacity as a whole don't really give you direct payback as a consumer.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Momentum, But in the Right Direction?

Brent Momentum apparently decided to join a number of other groups outside Ten Downing Street to protest about the Israeli response to the demonstrations on the border of the Gaza Strip. Once again, I am struck by the choice of venue.  Why outside Downing Street?  If it is a protest against the Israeli government, why isn't it outside the Israeli Embassy?  It so happens that the current ambassador, Mark Regev, is a former spokesman for Netanyahu so he might be expected to have even closer than usual links to the Israeli Prime Minister.  The UK government by contrast really has very little influence over what happens in the Gaza Strip. 

Again, one might question why Momentum are organising specifically about Israel so shortly after chemical weapons have been used in Syria.  By any reasonable measure _ number of deaths, use of illegal weapons, sheer brutality and the undemocratic nature of the regime _ the Syrian violence seems far worse than the violence on the border of the Gaza Strip.

Quamari Serunkuma-Barnes Dance Event

A dance event is taking part today in Willesden in memory of Quamari Serunkuma-Barnes.  It has been postponed from March, and is particularly relevant as knife crime has surged recently.

Disputes at the Disputes Panel

The latest leak to the Guardian goes some way to explain why Labour is having such problems over antisemitism.

From the report it would seem that the Disputes Panel has now become factionally politicised, with members voting not so much on the merits of the case as on the perceived allegiance of the people under discussion.  If some one is felt to be in the "correct" faction it doesn't appear to matter whether they are actually breaking the rules.  They just get backed by a proportion of the Panel anyway.

That is not going to be a way to reassure anyone that antisemitisim or any other disciplinary matter is going to be handled fairly.

More surprising perhaps is the sloppiness with which members of the Panel appear to approach their quasi-judicial responsibilities.  Quasi-judicial judgements are quite common in all kinds of contexts such as staff tribunals, local government committees, even ministerial judgements yet some politicians seem to have real trouble adjusting their thinking to them.

Essentially you are supposed to come to a decision with an open mind and base it upon the evidence in front of you.

That wasn't too difficult was it?

Yet Christine Shawcroft appears to have decided her view in advance based on her general knowledge of the circumstances.  Worse she then claimed she had not looked at the details of the case in the Alan Ball "hoax" case.  All this she wrote down and circulated to a number of colleagues in an email that was then leaked.

Aside from the political embarrassment of all that, it provides ample ammunition to any one who wants to challenge the Disputes Panel decision as legally invalid if one or more members of the Panel appear to have decided the case in advance (known as "predetermination") or with reference to matters outside the evidence (non-material considerations).

The comments attributed to Darren Williams in a post-hearing facebook post seem to show a similar misunderstanding.

The Panel had better be given training in these pretty straightforward issues before they land the Labour Party with hefty legal bills and a series of legal challenges.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Queens Parade Coming Back to Willesden

The Queens Parade application is coming back to the Planning Committee on 11 April  with a recommendation in favour despite the rather frosty response it got last time.  This is another example where Brent's planning processes appear to have become rather odd.  In the past Brent has decided on fully worked out schemes, whereas this seems to be more of a work in process.  It really seems quite premature for the Committee to be discussing this again.

Even odder is that there is only one other application to discuss so I am wondering why the Committee is going ahead with this meeting at all.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Brexit Slide Continues

It is good to see that the Brexit Committee continues to try to get the government to be a bit more realistic about what the "end state" might look like.  So far, David Davis appears to have gone through various stages of bluff before finally admitting that he is really just going to cave in to EU demands.  I still have to see any point at which leaving the EU actually advantages the UK.

The biggest danger at the moment is that we leave the EU with no final deal in place and then negotiate the end state from a position of maximum weakness outside the European Union.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Jacob Rees Mogg and the Beano

Jacob Rees Mogg has incurred the wrath of the Beano.  It argues that the member for North West Somerset is an obvious (if less rounded and plausible) rip off of one of their own characters.  Judge for yourself about this ridiculous two dimensional character below:

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Lack of Political Activism

Out door knocking at the weekend, I couldn't help but be struck at how very low key the elections appear this time round.  There seem to be no burning issues and very little activism by any of the parties.  This certainly isn't because there aren't potential issues out there either locally or nationally.  Is there perhaps a sense that the issues are just beyond current mechanisms to address them?

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Brexit Control

In a little noticed post Chris Leslie MP has suggested that the draft EU/UK agreement for Brexit will establish a committee with powers to bypass Parliament altogether.  As he says: "Far from restoring power to a sovereign legislature as promised, it looks like ministers are trying to roll back on the three-hundred-year-old constitutional principle that the Crown governs through parliament."

Such an agreement would, for the first time, put a huge range of powers totally beyond any Parliamentary scrutiny whatever and therefore entirely out of the hands of the voters.

Monday, 2 April 2018

The Slow Death of Northamptonshire Council

Northants Council is going through its death throes, spending the last of its reserves on plugging the holes in its budget.  That will either leave it this year to implement further cuts during the course of the year to make it balance for next year or, more likely the SoS will abolish it in this financial year.

Either way it is a dreadful warning against the consequences of setting illegal budgets, needs based budgets and all the rest of such nonsense.

Sadly, it will not put Northants out of its misery.  Whatever the new replacement body(bodies) are will then be faced with the same financial problems, and will other Councils some time soon.  

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Registering to Vote

The local elections are on there way so it is timely to register to vote.  As we currently remain in the EU, EU citizens are eligible to vote in UK local elections alongside UK citizens, Commonwealth citizens and citizens of the Irish Republic.  The deadline is 17 April 2018.