Search This Blog

Monday, 31 December 2018

Sir Ivan Lewis on Brexit

Everything has been dominated by Brexit this year so perhaps it might be wise to mull over nine lessons offered by Sir Ivan Lewis at a recent talk in Liverpool.  Sir Ivan used to be our top diplomat in the European Union and he obviously knows what he is talking about. 

Sunday, 30 December 2018

What Does The Community Say?

One often finds campaigns of various kinds claiming to speak for "the community" as if it was monolithic.  Of course any given area of reasonable size will have a variety of opinion, especially in an area as diverse as Brent.  Here is some recent research on each ward in Brent

The surveys certainly threw up some surprises for me.

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Volunteer Libraries Get Another round of Cuts

Bexley is apparently cutting its grants to volunteer libraries.  This is not surprising. I have always been dubious as to whether such volunteer libraries actually give value for money.  It is hard to answer that since the value is seldom measured.  It is really just a way for councillors to attempt to deflect controversy.  The danger of course is that the groups will, having kicked up a fuss to get the grant before pursue the same tactic to defend more grants sucking more and more of the limited Council budget their own way, a danegeld arrangement in other words.

Friday, 28 December 2018

Types of Rent

One of the controversies about rents and planning in Brent is what is meant by such terms as "affordable", which can often mean the opposite.  Red Brick blog has a good analysis explaining the background of the policy.  It tries to explain Sadiq Khan's attempts to navigate what has become a seriously muddled system. 

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Designing Female Safety Into Cities

A long and interesting think piece on designing womens safety into urban space in the Guardian.  Many of the points made are already standard in the UK in urban design, but seldom specifically highlighted. 

Monday, 24 December 2018

The Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle

I was reading recently one of the most impressive science fiction books I have come across for a long time, although it actually dates from 1957.  It is the Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle, the noted cosmologist.  While not without flaws, it really impresses me in two ways.

The first is it is very successful in portraying working scientists, which is quite rare in film and fiction.  The only really successful portrayal I can recall in film is the old Dambusters film (I hope Peter Jackson's turns out as good).  Arthur C Clarke can also be convincing in the regard, and certainly was amazingly prescient.  Novels that tackle the interchange of ideas are quite difficult to pull off as Aldous Huxley.  I suppose my favourites in that line would be Thomas Love Peacock's, although some might find that too close to a set of caricatures. 

The second is its imagining of an alien life form, which I find convincing as something entirely different from us yet still conceivable as an intelligence.  The edition I have has an afterword by Richard Dawkins, who although a general admirer was a critic of the supposed origin of the creature.  Hoyle supposes it gradually forming out of a cloud, which does not strike me as absurd, and I think might be seen as a form of evolution.  However, I find it harder to imagine Hoyle's ideas of many such creatures roaming about and I am not sure that they would have any interest in procreation. 

Sunday, 23 December 2018

British Museum Under Threat

The British Museum seems to be increasingly under threat of gradual dismantlement as this or that group come along to claim that objects should be returned to their countries of origin.  I dislike this whole line of approach.

Firstly many objects do not have a single national origin.  Others such as the Gweagal shield are as much a part of one country's history as another's (In that case British history as well as Australian).  Still others, like the Parthenon marbles, were created by cultures that are now only tenuously related to the modern versions that now exist in the same place.  Of course, there is an important sense in which modern Greeks descend from fifth century Athens, but there is also an important sense that all Europeans descend from Fifth century Athens.  These factors make the whole concept of a simple "return" problematic.

There is also a more important sense in which dismantling the British Museum is a bad idea.  It is a museum of interconnectedness, not just a "national museum".  The interconnectedness is the subject matter.  Something important would be lost if that went.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

The Kiln Theatre Name Change

I understand that the Kiln Theatre board have now confirmed that they have no intention of reversing the name change.

As the campaign against the Kiln Theatre name change slowly peters out, the Guardian has a piece on artistic succession which is of interest.  As it points out, changing a theatre name is quite common.  It also contains the detail that White Teeth is apparently the Theatre fastest selling and highest grossing production, which is good news, although completely unsurprising.  A production based on a book by such a well known author and such a local setting was always likely to be a good drawer. 

As I have argued before, the Theatre remake is actually a really fantastic achievement in a tough environment.  It was a brave step to take, and contrary to what has been said was widely consulted on before going ahead.


The Our Tricycle, Not Your Kiln group has posted that it has received a "national award" from The Stage Magazine.  The citation of this award reads:

"Among several genuinely concerning controversies this year, That Bloke Who Tried to Burn an EU Flag Award for Most Pointless Protest goes to those folk who resolutely stand outside Kilburn’s Kiln Theatre, making a fuss about its perfectly fine name change and completely missing the point that a) they are needlessly harassing one of theatre’s few female, BAME artistic directors, b) they look like complete tools, and c) there are far more important things to worry about."

Do people just not read what they post or what?

Friday, 21 December 2018

YouGov Surprise on UKIP

YouGov have a poll on dislike for political parties that shows that UKIP are the most disliked of the parties tested

UKIP come just ahead of Sinn Fein, which is a party widely associated with a thirty year terrorist campaign that murdered large numbers of people in the British Isles. 


In a separate poll Peter Kellner, formerly President of YouGov, is arguing that there is now a big majority for retaining EU membership in preference to Theresa May's deal. 

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Small Potatoes at Brent Council

Brent Council has been praising itself for funding small scale community projects through the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL).  In one sense that is all very well.  I am sure that these projects all do good things, but it does rather ignore the more important big spend stuff that only a Council can provide such as funding the big adult social care services, the child protection care, transport spending, the environmental services and so on.  These are where the vast majority of Council residents benefit from the Council, so why ignore them?

It also seem strange to single one particular tax, the Community Infrastructure Levy, out of all the ways the Council is funded.  It is all very well, but it does not compensate for the vast cuts the Council continues to suffer in terms of central government grant.  Is it because some people seem to feel that the CIL is in some sense not really taxpayers' money

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Avoiding Materialism at Christmas

If you are feeling anti-capitalist in the run up to Christmas, the Guardian has a helpful round up of ways to avoid too much materialism.  Although I am surprised to see the omission of the Coop from the ethical shopping options as well as other non-shareholder propositions such as the Nationwide.  Well done on the shout out for allotments and libraries though. 

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Active Borrowers and Brent Libraries

Surprisingly, given the damaging closure of Willesden Library Centre in July, the number of active borrowers seems quite close to target at 35, 176.  There were 36,421 active borrowers last year.  It remains to be seen whether the actual number of loans goes down, as I suspect it will. 

Monday, 17 December 2018

Brexit Dissolves the Government

Ministers appear to be simply ignoring the Prime Minister in her opposition to free votes.  They now want to involve MPs in the decision.  Of course plenty of people were telling them that right from the start, but they not only tried to ram everything through with a minimum of discussion, they even misled with false information.  Theresa May was complicit in all this.

Perhaps even more despicable are those like David Davis and Boris Johnson at the centre of the process who resigned late on and then pretend to have had no say.  At any rate we seem to have ended up with a mess that can only be really solved with a new General Election or a new Referendum.  I suspect the former is still unlikely, and only a new referendum offers the chance of getting out of this mad hall of mirrors. 

Until then I expect the government to stagger on a chaotic diodarchy without collective responsibility and ministers making random interventions in their departments while the real problems of the country are ignored.  Of course, if the voters voted to continue the Brexit process we will get more of the same for years and years and years. 

The Strange Fate of "The Establishment"

There was a time when "The Establishment" meant something as a term.  It was coined in the 1950s by Henry Fairlie to refer to a group of men generally Anglican and fairly wealthy who sat at the apex of traditional institutions such as the Law, the Church of England, Big Business, Politics and so on who shared a common upbringing through a small group of schools and universities and a fairly narrow bond of shared experience.

I am not sure that that kind of Establishment actually exists any more.

Not least it is hard to find anyone who admits to being part of it.  As Nick Cohen has pointed out, many of the right wingers who used to qualify actually see themselves as being in opposition to it.  Leftwing critics who also believe themselves critical outsiders seem to think it gangs up on people such a former Tory Chief Whip, who would have undoubtedly have been part of it in a past era.

I suspect what we have now are kind of "silo Establishments" where people within certain narrow groups form tightly knit groups, conspiracies against the public if you will, within sharply defined institutions such as the Police, Armed Forces etc.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Ethnic Minority Disadvantage

Ethnic minority candidates tend to get fewer votes than white candidates, according to Cowley and Kavanagh.  The article features among other Tulip Siddiq MP.

It would be interesting to learn whether particular ethnic minorities are affected more than others, and whether it is based solely on names or whether studies have been down that bring factors such as appearance into consideration. 

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Universal Credit in Islington

The New Statesman has a piece on the roll out of universal credit in Islington, where as elsewhere it appears to be inflicting real damage at the lowest income people.  Islington's approach is call for the system to be entirely scrapped, whereas Brent is implementing it, and seems to have offered no view as to whether it should be paused or scrapped.  Navin Shah is an exception to this since has called for universal credit to be paused.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Plastics Reduction in Wembley

There is an interesting example of plastics waste reduction underway in Wembley.  Waste reduction is really the next major step for waste handling in West London.  Landfill is now very limited thanks to the new power plant that takes most non-recycled waste.  Although West London Waste Authority (WLWA) has had a budget for waste reduction for several years progress in reducing food waste and textile waste has been limited.  Hopefully, this plastics scheme will help start the long shift away from waste generation

Thursday, 13 December 2018

The Spread of Racism in Britain

Those who deny the increasingly widespread and unchallenged nature of anti-Semitism might look at the response to Luciana Berger MP's position on another EU referendum.  She is posting a decision about something that has nothing to do with Israel but is a key issue for people in Liverpool and the UK.  She is in fact simply affirming the Co-operative Party's official position (She is a Labour and Co-operative MP) and she gets a mass of tweets with the standard racist tropes of dual loyalty, Israeli pay et c.

This is a disgusting way for any one to be treated, and the Labour Party should be clear that it condemns it.

National Decline of Libraries as Brent Libraries Grow.

The Guardian has noted again the sick state of public libraries in the UK.  It acknowledges that Wembley Library is the third most visited, although it fails to note the enormous growth this represents, and how it has been achieved over several years.  The contrast with the national picture of libraries now attaining 233 million visits (2017/18) compared to 276 million visits as recently as 2010 demonstrate the rapidity of decline.  A sector with a more than 18% decline in usage is in serious trouble.  The latest Guardian report also fails to not how Brent has bucked that trend as a result of the Libraries Transformation Project.

By the way, here is another reminder about the national petition against library cuts

Wednesday, 12 December 2018


There is a fundamentally accurate tweet thread about the undemocratic nature of the nature of tonight's confidence motion in the sitting Prime Minister.  Many of the points made are similar to the ones I made about the attempted changes to Labour Party arrangements

Harlesden Town Centre as a Centre of a Ward

Both the Labour Party and the Co-operative Party have suggested that Brent needs to change one of its wards to a new ward focused more on Harlesden as a Town Centre as part of the Borough's ongoing review of ward boundaries.  To quote from the Labour submission:

"Harlesden is an area with a strong sense of community that was formerly united but was split by the 2000 Boundary Review.  This strong identity focuses on the Town Centre and around the symbol of the recently refurbished Jubilee Clock which currently stands on the periphery of the existing Harlesden ward roughly opposite the junction between the High Street and Wendover Road.  Many of the Town Centre’s landmarks are actually in Kensal Green ward at the moment.

This includes almost all of Harlesden High Street, Harlesden Post Office, All Souls CofE Church Harlesden (the area’s only listed building), the Harlesden Salvation Army building on Manor Park Road, the Royal Oak, Willesden Junction station and the Convent of Jesus and Mary Girls School, Harlesden.  These markers would be re-united to the landmarks in the existing Harlesden ward including Harlesden Library and Harlesden Methodist Church (the longest established Church in the area)."

That list of landmarks is not exhaustive.  The area would also include Harlesden Police Station for instance.  However it makes a lot of sense in that an area with a great many problems of ASB, pollution, licensing and so would benefit from a more joined up approach.  Incidentally, I came across a report claiming Harlesden High Street is among London's least healthy here

I don't think it entirely fair in its negativity.  I think it is also worth pointing out the strengths of the area.  You can find a quite bewildering variety of foods on Harlesden High Street for example, and it is one of the few such streets left to have quite such a distinctive sense of place that I think is key to a shopping area's future success.  Yet I think uniting the area bureaucratically would help solve the problems in a way that is not really being done at present.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Income Raising at Brent Council

As well as a number of other things, the Brent Council Cabinet papers had a number related to income raising.  The most serious deficit was in raising more than £3 million in extra Council Tax, which the paper argues is not likely to happen (page 13, appendix A).  Registration and Nationality by contrast is ahead of target despite that entailing a quadrupling.  I take it that Brexit is terrifying people into getting their citizenship status sorted out. 

Monday, 10 December 2018

EU Vote Delay

The government appears to have delayed Parliament's "meaningful vote" yet again.  If the Government were deliberately trying make this process a complete mess they really would not have to change their behaviour at all. 

It also humiliates the new Brexit Secretary who only yesterday told Andrew Marr that the government would go ahead with the vote.

New Secondary School in Brent

A new secondary school is planned for the Chancel House site in Church End, which is also an area where the Council has for years identified as an area of population growth.  Indeed I remember suggesting this site in the past, only to be told it was too expensive.

It will be interesting to see if this gives rise to the kind of controversy we saw over the ARK Academy.  That led to a very odd set of people combine to try to stop the scheme going forward, a reversal of policy by the then Liberal Democrat coalition at the time and all sorts of conspiracy theories that happily did not spill out so much as social media was less developed. 

I shall also be interested to if any of Brent's ten principles for new schools survives in Council policy. 

Sunday, 9 December 2018

The Left and Leaving the European Union

Tom Kibasi has a good piece on the fallacies of "leftist" thinking that welcomes leaving the European Union on the basis that it is a "neoliberal" project.  I put "neoliberal" in inverted commas since those who use it seem to have no idea what it means.  Rather like the word "Zionist".

A word that puts together Thatcher, Cameron, Gordon Brown and Blair just doesn't really make sense.  In particular, to suggest that the last Labour government was keen on reducing the size of the state (as Cameron and Thatcher certainly were) ignores that Labour under Blair persistently increased spending.  This spectacularly applies to the NHS where Blair's 6% growth per year in budget was the highest level the NHS has ever had.  Labour's fetishization of better management, strong commitment to equalities and faith in constitutional reform also don't really sit well in right wing traditions.

Kibasi's points can be summarised as:
  • The EU is dominated by a distinctively Social Democrat/Christian Democrat ethos that tends to value social bonds and demonstrably has greater social equality than the Anglo-Saxon model.  The whole Brexit project is predicated on the idea that stripping away government is the real way to thrive.
  • The "Left's" view of a sudden transformation completely changing society in a few years is historically unrealistic.  Certainly if one takes the Attlee government which is the most plausible model I can think of (although many leftists at the time denounced it and many are hostile to its achievements even now), it was the product of literally decades of work and reform as well as years of preparation through the war years.
  • A belief that rules against "state aid" preclude "left wing solutions such as nationalisation, which flies in the face of the widespread nationalisation and use of subsidy that is easily observable across the EU.
  • A failure to understand the value of the rule of law.  
  • An apparent lingering view in parts of the Left that nationalisation without compensation is either possible or desirable.
  • The belief that the UK is inevitably sidelined in Europe whereas it is precisely the influence of London which often makes for some of the "rightwing" approaches that the "Left" decry.
  • The blaming of the EU for migrants coming in to undercut local wages which is actually a feature of our own Anglo-Saxon approach rather than the EU.  
  • The belief that the EU is a protectionist entity that keeps non-European people out, whereas by defintiion the EU is not an ethno-centralist form of government and leaving it would (and I would argue demonstrably is) leading to a particularly small minded ethno-polity that values keeping out the other and sidelining ethnic minorities.
  • A failure to understand the importance of international co-operation in the modern world.

Saturday, 8 December 2018


A Brent4Europe group was formed as part of the European Movement earlier today.  It is campaigning for a People's Vote on the terms of the final deal. 

District Heating in South Kilburn (Again)

The next Brent Council Cabinet will be discussing a District Heating scheme for South Kilburn.  This was originally mooted many years ago.  It is only now being actually implemented, which shows how long the lead times on these things can be.  The report also explains some of the pitfalls of different kinds of procurement, and the approaches of other Councils around the UK.

Some arrangement of this kind is also part of the Wembley Masterplan

UPDATE from 2019

I have responded to the comment below here.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Harlesden Post Office Under Threat

Having downgraded Willesden Post Office several years ago, the government is now seeking to further downgrade 74 more Post Offices across the Country.  One of these is Harlesden Post Office in Wendover Road.  The Communication Workers Union (CWU) has started a petition against this.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Bridge Park in Stonebridge

Brent Council may be the subject of another judicial review soon, if a community group in Stonebridge has its way.  At issue is the Bridge Park complex.  The group appears to have decided Brent's plans are awful, whereas I think they might be or they might not.  It all depends on how the Centre is redeveloped and for what purposes.

The long history of the centre is actually part of the current exhibition at the Brent Museum.  

Here is an opportunity for Brent Council to genuinely engage with the community in designing a neighbourhood.  Obviously, confidence will have been dented by the way in which the Stonebridge Adventure Playground came to be demolished without any effort at replacement.  I hope that ends up as the route taken rather than a legal action which even if it succeeds will not improve the area. 

UPDATE 10.12.18

A video of the 9 December community meeting on this issue can be found on Youtube

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Government Micromanagement

The campaign against the Kiln Theatre's new name appears to be still staggering on.  It seems to be attempting to drag in various outside bodies on its behalf. The DCMS is mentioned.  This is another case where people seem to be making representations in inappropriate quarters, which I just find odd. 

I don't whether the DCMS has any actual powers in this case.  I suspect not, but I really don't think the government should be encouraged to go round micro-managing everyone else as I suspect they wouldn't be any good at it.

UPDATE 09.12.18

I gather that the Kiln Theatre apparently decided to terminate the dialogue shortly after 23 November.  I can't say I blame them as the issue seems to me to a entirely dead one.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Campos Sánchez-Bordona Says UK can withdraw the Article 50 Declaration

Campos Sánchez-Bordona, the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice issued a legal opinion this morning that the UK can unilaterally withdraw its Article 50 declaration.  He also recommends that the ECJ can consider the matter (contrary to the UK government's argument).  His opinion states:

"Article 50 TEU allows the unilateral revocation of the notification of the intention to withdraw from the EU, until such time as the withdrawal agreement is formally concluded, provided that the revocation has been decided upon in accordance with the Member State’s constitutional requirements, is formally notified to the European Council and does not involve an abusive practice."
That makes a delay while the government either seeks further renegotiation or for Parliament to legislate for a referendum on the final terms much more likely. 

The Guardian covers the story here.  Jolyon Maugham QC has also commented.  On a separate point, what is going on with the peculiar gurning of Nigel Evans MP in this clip?

Tory Government Killing Local Services

Richard Vize has a Cri de Coeur on the demise of local government as a result of government stupidity. As he points out, stripping funding from local government forces Councils more and more into the role of simple crisis management which leads to more problems later on. 

The problem I think it that Whitehall has lost its own sense of deliverability.  Ministers seem to think that the effective implementation of a policy ends with the press release.  They also seem to have no real sense of the agenda that supposedly should shape services, that users and practitioners (i.e. a local community) should help shape the policy.  This is despite the well known failures of trying to govern everything from the centre. 

Monday, 3 December 2018

Disability and Services

Well done the Kilburn Times on picking up on the denial of services to disabled people.  This still happens too often despite repeated legislation.  Service providers need to work out solutions, not try to block people out.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Rough Sleeping Initiative

I am glad to see that Brent Council have been given funding to tackle rough sleeping in Willesden.  The sad thing is that this was something that the previous Labour Government massively reduced, but which has now returned on a massive scale, beyond even what I can recall under Thatcher.  Universal Credit is almost certainly making it far, far worse.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Abject Failure in Northamptonshire

Northamptonshire County Council has been given a bailout through the mechanism of using the capital from the sale of its newly built Town Hall to fund the gap in its services until it is formally abolished.  That is quite contrary to normal practice, but I suppose that now the County is no longer going to exist, there is no point having a Town Hall.  This all follows its effective declaration of bankruptcy earlier in the year. 

I am still surprised by the way in which some people don't understand why using capital receipts to prop up your revenue spending is a bad idea.  It is because although they plug the gap next year, unless they cut their budget more the next year they will face the same problem and their capital receipt will have been used up.