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Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Cooperative Party Objectives

The Cooperative Party has come up with a list of points it wants Labour Leadership and Deputy Leadership candidates to agree to.  They are:

1) First among equals.
That as a sister party we stand united as equals with a shared commitment to engage and develop collectively, including on the development of policy.

2) No regression.
That the role of the Co-operative Party within the Labour Party and its governance structures are maintained, built upon and strengthened.
And that policy agreements reached – which include the commitment to double the size of the co-operative sector, to secure the right to food, and the establishment of co-operative development agencies – is held.

3) More ambition.
That we build on the unique relationships within and between each party, that we strive to be ambitious in expanding the co-operative economy, and that we go further into community empowerment and civic engagement to ensure that power is genuinely held by the many, and not the few.

Monday, 30 December 2019

Change Group Goes Through its Final Change

Little noticed, the Change Group is dissolving itself.  It is a reminder that a considerable degree of organisation and thought is needed to successfully found even a small party in the UK. Anna Soubry is quoted in various places complaining about moderate Labour MPs not joining her group because they lacked "courage".  Perhaps they simply had better judgement.

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Cronyism Under Boris Johnson

I have seen outrage expressed that Boris Johnson has quickly appointed obedient cronies Nicky Morgan and Zac Goldsmith to the Lords and government posts despite their either not facing the voters or being rejected by them.  He has also been very generous towards "special advisors".  No one should be shocked by this as it was his practice during his Mayoralty of London to hand over government money to people whose main claim to fame seemed to be his relationship with them, not least Ms Arcuri.

We know Zac Goldsmith's opinions of such behavior thank to Jim Pickford's diligence:

Indeed this pattern of patronage by Johnson even stretched to Brent's own disgraced Bertha Joseph.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Nick Cohen on the Labour Leadership Contest

Nick Cohen, who has often been a prescient commentator on Labour Party matters, has an interesting analysis of the forthcoming Labour Leadership contest.  Essentially he predicts a gloomy view of an inevitable stitch up.

Friday, 27 December 2019

The decline of Sqwawkbox

I suspect one of the developments we shall soon see is the decline of online actism on behalf of Jeremy Corbyn.  Not only will he no longer be driving stories as he continues his long good bye to the Labour leadership, but the strange ecology he built up around him will also face pressures.

This could be quite bloody in the case of Sqwawkbox, which recently lost a libel case against Anna Turley, the former Redcar MP.  That follows a promised investigation into it over antisemitism allegations.  I wonder whether it will have the financial resources to survive if the expenses and damages are upheld.  The same goes for other Corbyn outriders.  Although as I understand it, UNITE have chosen to pay for everything with its members money.  How exactly does that help its members?

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Remembering the Liberal Democrats

Looking at the Liberal Democrats, whose Leader Jo Swinson probably now holds the prize as the shortest serving Leader of a real political Party in decades, I wonder if they will survive or simply be swallowed up has almost happened to them before in their history?

Monday, 23 December 2019

Forgotten Already

Thinking about the year just gone, it is remarkable to think how forgotten James Allie already is.  His Alperton seat is still subject to a by election, he seems already forgotten.  I also quickly looked over his reasons for leaving the Liberal Democrats and joining Labour in July 2012.  I claim some prescience in suggesting that we should not have him, given his already known involvement in a dodgy wine company.  His stated reasons for joining Labour were put into an open letter at the time as follows: 

"It is with great sadness that after more than 10 years as a Liberal Democrat Councillor, this week I have resigned my membership of the party. I joined the Liberal Democrats because I wanted to help make Britain a fairer, greener and more equal country. I no longer believe that the Liberal Democrat Party can make this happen. They have betrayed the values that I once shared with them.

However, I do believe that the Labour Party, under their new Leader of Brent Council Muhammed Butt along with Ed Miliband in Westminster, shares my values and that I can as part of a Labour administration continue to work for the people of Brent.

I find that I am unable to lend my support to the devastating policies the Coalition is inflicting on Britain. In particular I have been sickened by the hypocritical things the Liberal Democrats do and say here in Brent.While my feelings about this have built up over the past two years, there are three issues that have finally pushed me to take this decision:

The people I represent in Alperton are struggling more than ever under this government, but the Liberal Democrat Leadership in Westminster is prioritising reform of the House of Lords instead of a plan for economic growth.

The closure of the A&E at Central Middlesex Hospital under this government is an astonishing betrayal. Sarah Teather campaigned to keep the A&E when it was not under threat of closure. Now she is in government closing it. I am only sorry that I trusted her back then and I am sure that a number of her constituents feel the same way.

Paul Lorber also knows very well that had the Lib Dems won the Local Election in 2010 they would have faced the same pressure to close the six libraries in Brent. It is the Coalition cuts to local government that are causing this problem and Cllr. Lorber’s posturing on the issue is just an insult to the library campaigners and the people of Brent.

I recognise that some of my constituents in Alperton will feel let down by my decision. I apologise to them if they feel I ought to have nailed my colours to the mast more firmly before the election. Equally I trust that many of them voted for me because they knew of the hard work that I have done as a councillor over the years. I pledge to them that I will work harder than ever to improve the lives of everyone who lives in Alperton. I know that there are many people who voted Lib Dem at the last election and indeed many Lib Dem members who feel as betrayed as I do by the party’s record in the coalition. I urge them to join me and to join the Labour Party.


Councillor James Allie"

A more cynical view might be that he was just jumping a sinking ship but perhaps he really was motivated by these three things as well as Cllr Muhammed Butt's and Ed Miliband's charisma. 

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Use of the Commons for Opposition

I haven't decided who to vote for in the forthcoming Labour Leadership contest, but I must say I am impressed by how Lisa Nandy is using the House of Commons to oppose Johnson.  She obviously used her speech for the Speaker as a kind of pitch, but she has now added a detailed critique Johnson's withdrawal agreement.  I know some people are skeptical of how effective Parliamentary opposition can be given that Johnson can now simply outvote everyone, but this seems to me a model use of one of the platforms and Opposition Leader can actually use.

Of course, other potential contenders such as Yvette Cooper or Keir Starmer have also been effective.

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Labour Women MPs

One reflection that has nothing to do with factionalism in the Labour Party relates to the number of women MPs.  For the first time this election has led to more female than male MPs in the Parliamentary Labour Party, which is a triumph for a cause particularly championed by Harriet Harman MP.

This might cause the Party to reflect on the use of All Women shortlists.  These were first used in the run up to the 1997 election until they were successfully challenged in an employment tribunal.  The law was changed after the election, and the practice was resumed as the only way to substantially increase female representation among MPs.  Now that more than half the PLP is female, should the policy be rethought?

Friday, 20 December 2019

The Voters Are Always Right

Laura Pidcock is still in blame the media mode.  Labour needs to get out of this mode quickly if we want to learn the lessons of defeat.  The media are there and will continue to be.  We need to think about how we need to change to change the results next time.

In any democracy, the voters are like umpires in a cricket match.  They are always right even when they are wrong.

Thursday, 19 December 2019

CarGiant Compulsory Purchase Order Abandoned

Car Giant has succeeded in getting the OPDC to withdraw its plans for development on their land.  The move for a compulsory purchase order is withdrawn, and the OPDC has said it will work on other sites instead.   These may include sites around Willesden Junction, which could be of considerable concern to Harlesden and Kensal Green residents.

Cargiant apparently will be seeking to expand, including an electric vehicle centre.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Free Parking or the Environment?

Climate campaigners are pointing out that Brent Council's policy to offer free parking at some town centres in the run up to Christmas sits uneasily with its declaration on climate emergency, and I agree with them.  I agree for the same reasons I gave previously:

  • When I was looking at changes to Harlesden Town Centre, I was assured that only about 15% of shoppers to an average London Town Centre came by car.  Most travel on foot or by public transport.
  • To some extent, the free parking policy will encourage negative factors such as poor air quality and traffic congestion that make the centres less attractive to shop in.
  •  Thirdly, the free parking only forms an attraction where there are Council parks that are part of the scheme.  Places like Kilburn High Road lose out from any supposed benefit because it has no Council owned park.
The policy was always a bad one that was inconsistent with Brent Council's generally environmentalist approach to transport.  It was only forced through during the early period of Cllr Butt's Council leadership.  In fact I continue to believe that some charging needs to remain for both environmentalist and congestion reasons

Monday, 16 December 2019

Brent Council Housing

Little noticed in the General Election campaign was a Brent Council report on how the authority intends to meet its 4,000 homes over five years target that appeared in the December Cabinet meeting.  The report usefully lists the possible sites, many of which are very small, but unfortunately gives little idea of the housing mix in terms of affordability, tenure and so on.

Sunday, 15 December 2019

The Spread of Hatred Online

This is a very useful piece on the use of online media to amplify and spread racial hatred.  Although the specific reference is to anti Jewish hatred, the technique applies more generally.

Saturday, 14 December 2019

2019 General Election

The Tories are now congratulating themselves on their biggest win since 1987, and Labour is facing the fact that the Labour result is the worst since 1935.  Arguably, Labour's position is worse since it is going backward whereas 1935 was an advance on the 1931 disaster.

Looking at Labour's weaknesses should be a chastening exercise for those in control of the Party for the past four years.  Labour lost support in every region of the UK, and missed almost all of the seats that is was supposed to be targeting.  The record low ratings of the Leader were obviously one key reason for this, as well as the mixed message on Brexit, which no one could understand.  I would argue unease over how to pay for the policies, and concern that some of the policies were unwelcome must also have been part of the problem.

There are, however, some bright points in this story.  If the Leader was a key vote loser, replacing him offers the chance of an improvement almost immediately.  None of the other parties have come close to replacing Labour with the apparent promise of the Liberal Democrat recovery ending in tears with them getting fewer seats than in 2017.  Hence Labour remains the alternative to the Conservatives.

The Tory victory is itself precarious.  Boris Johnson would do well to recall that Thatcher's biggest victory in 1987 was followed by being ousted as Prime Minister three years later and John Major just scrapping into office in 1992.  Her agenda seemed a lot more coherent than his does.  He has promised to "Get Brexit Done" but has doomed the UK to years more of Brexit negotiations with an ever weaker hand.  The economy will be hit, meaning less spending power.  This will be on top of his promises in any case being unaffordable and mutually contradictory.  His startling reversals on long held Tory positions to support more competition in markets and to "review" major features of the Constitution such as the Judiciary could lead into all sorts of pitfalls.  Johnson's own frankly unsuitable character as Prime Minister will further undermine him.  Finally a resurgent SNP will be constantly trying to break up the UK.

Everything seems set for the next Tory government to be a failure, and if Labour manage to construct a reasonable alternative, it could make gains at an unprecedented rate.

Friday, 13 December 2019

CIPFA Figures on Public Library Usage

The closing stages of the General Election campaign saw the annual CIPFA figures on public library usage published.  As usual the headline figure was the number of libraries closed, but what I found more noteworthy was the huge decline in budgets, down by almost 30%.  The number of paid staff has collapsed alongside this (from 24,000 to 15,300 since 2010).  In most of the country this has been accompanied by a hefty cut in the number of library visits, which have fallen from 315 million in 2009/10 to 226 million last year, roughly a third.

This is where Brent bucks the trend.  Brent libraries grew enormously following the decision to go with the Libraries Transformation Project in 2011.  While there was a slight dip in visits from 2018 to 2019, the number of visits is roughly a million up on where it was when the Transformation Project started.  

As Laura Swaffield of The Library Campaign, points outs the government appears to be making no effort to examine authorities like Brent where the usage has gone up.  One would think the the way that Wembley Library has jumped from a mediocre Town Hall library to one of the top three libraries in the UK might be of interest to anyone who really cares about libraries.  

Thursday, 12 December 2019

UK Carbon Emissions 2017

Following on from the arguments over trees in Furness Road, I thought it a good idea to quantify from figures around UK carbon emissions.  According to the ONS, the UK greenhouse gas emissions for 2017 are 460 MtCO2e, and carbon dioxide emissions are 373 MtCO2e.

The emissions are divided into:

2017 UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions                                     As %

Transport                                                                                     27%

Generation                                                                                  24%
Business                                                                                       17%
Domestic                                                                                      15%
Agriculture                                                                                   10%
Waste Management                                                                    4%
Other                                                                                               3%

Total                                                                                             100%

Making serious reductions in UK emissions quickly therefore means tackling the transport and generation aspects first.  Reducing the amounts being pumped into the atmosphere reduces the need for carbon capture later on, and it is worth considering that carbon capture technologies are still in their infancy.  

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Financial Details of a Library in Camden

I have often tried to get hold of more details about the financial background of volunteer libraries.  They are far less transparent than public libraries are required to be.

A recent CNJ article has shed some light on Belsize Library in Camden.  The building ceased to be a public library back in 2012, and was taken over by a voluntary group called "The Winch".  It appears that Camden Council remains entangled in the finances in some way but is looking to remove itself. The original parting saw Camden leaving the books behind.  By now they probably make a somewhat aged collection.

The CNJ article claims that Belsize is open from Monday to Wednesday and has running costs of about £60,000 per year.  It says it has about 100 people visit each day (which would be about 15,000 visits a year).  That suggests the cost per visit is about £4. This is substantially higher than the figure for Brent's public library service.

It is something worth considering by those people in Brent who want to run volunteer libraries.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Housing Budget Problems

Brent Council's housing budget problems have attracted little attention during the General Election campaign, understandably no doubt.  Extant Cabinet papers show that there are now severe problems to be dealt with from what is an entirely ringfenced budget.

The Tories forced through a cut in rents back in 2016.  That means that the Council income has gone down.  The one off costs of bringing the ALMO back in house were met by reserves, which were also used to effect a number of repairs.  The major works reserve is apparently now depleted.  The Council now wants to raise rents to top them up again.

The extra rent will also be used for at least part of the costs of the extra fire safety works that Brent is already committed to.

Personally, I wish central government had never interfered in the first place.

Monday, 9 December 2019

Clllr James Allie Resigns

Not often that I suggest people should read the Daily Mail, but here it is.  I understand that Cllr Allie has now resigned.

DesignWorks in Harlesden Town Centre

As far as I can see the plans for DesignWorks published by Brent Council are far vaguer than those for the Harlesden Methodist Church, the Picture Palace or the Harlesden Hub.  The sketch in the Brent Cabinet documents merely indicates a rather massy building taking up the full footprint of the current site.

Possibly this could be clarified once the fate of the Picture Palace and the Methodist Church becomes clearer.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

More on the Picture Palace in Harlesden Town Centre

The Picture Palace has not been operating as a pub since 2017. Myself I rather doubt whether the pub market is changing in such a way that pubs like that are becoming increasing unviable.  The Elmwood closed and was redeveloped some years ago;  the Royal Oak has struggled a bit but hopefully will work better as a gastropub.  It is interesting that Wetherspoons are offering to send the Council information about how their efforts to run the Picture Palace just didn't work.  I also have the sense that the Green Man rather struggled. 

Perhaps the market has just shifted towards pubs like the Royal Oak and restaurants like the Park restaurant.

The Council officers in their report suggest using the Picture Palace as a design/work space for some kind of technology centre, which certainly an interesting idea. 

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Brent Green Party and Recycling

Brent Green Party are raising objections to Brent's recycling policy.  Fair enough you might think ... if you didn't the history of recycling in Brent over the past few years.

The Tory/Lib Dem coalition that governed Brent Council in 2006 to 2010 made no great changes to recycling and were apparently content to just drift.  The Labour administration that came to power in 2010 decided that wasn't good enough and introduced a new model model based on alternate weekly collections

The Tories opposed this outright.  The Liberal Democrats and the Greens sniped at it hoping it would fail.  Surprisingly, Brent Friends of the Earth did the same thing

The new system launched in October 2011 and was an immediate success.  The success continued and underlies the improved position today.  As well as this, there were a number of other successes with the waste strategy.

Figures in the Green Party also continued to opposed the new Public Realm Contract that underpins that continuing performance, largely because they are more interested in what they imagine the politics of the Middle East to be. 

Friday, 6 December 2019

Further Developments in Harlesden Town Centre

Although they get relatively little attention, there are quite a few potential developments available in Harlesden Town Centre, and Brent Council (to its credit) is starting to pay attention to them.  They are recorded in the papers of the November Cabinet meeting (item nine).

These projects to some extent overlap, and the format of them may still be quite fluid, but the Harlesden Neighbourhood Plan may well be a useful framework for approaching them.

The Cabinet documents themselves provide all sorts of useful information and suggestions on the possible uses of the Picture Palace (formerly a Wetherspoons pub), DesignWorks, Harlesden Methodist Church and the Harlesden Hub currently in Harlesden Library. 

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Pavement Surfaces and an Asphalt Exception

I gather that the Mapesbury area is getting an exemption from the asphalting approach that Brent has generally adopted since 2016.  As I noted previously, there are alternatives to asphalting, but they tend to be more expensive.  This is important in the Furness Road context since I suspect that is the asphalting rather than the trees which is causing the controversy.

I suspect residents in Kensal Green will not be terribly pleased to be told that they are getting the cheaper option when Mapesbury can still get the superior approach. 

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Another Brent Councillor Gone

I learn that Cllr Luke Paterson of Wembley Central ward in Brent has resigned.  He is already marked as an ex-councillor.  I am told the required by election will probably be in the second half of January. 

UKIP Disaster

Probably the worst political interview I have seen given by current UKIP Leader who is "too busy" to know where her own party's key seats are.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Uninsurable Coal

Coal becoming uninsurable reports the Guardian.  That is a natural and obvious effect of the increasing pressure to reduce carbon use, and will apply to other parts of the fossil fuel economy.  It also part of the explanation why I think the energy being put into the divest movement is misdirected.  Divestment should happen at a snowballing rate anyway as the increasing unacceptability of greenhouse gases becomes more and more obvious.  Smart money managers will work this out anyway and slide out of the market.

The same will apply to countries such as Australia and Poland that have economies that depend very strongly on fossil fuels.  The clever thing for their governments to do now would be to try to pivot their economies away from fossil fuel use rather than risk a sudden collapse and possible pariah status as the countries still producing climate change pollution when everyone else trying to get out.

As a final thought, I ccan't help that this kind of activism that relies on consumer pressure to achieve these changes rather than social action is itself misplaced, and a piece of misdirection by the vested interests of the carbon economy which would rather deal with individual consumer purchases than large scale government action.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Indian Art Exhibition

The Wallace Collection will shortly be opening an exhibition of eighteenth century Indian art connected to the East India Company.  This is another take on the Orientalism theme that suggests the whole thing is rather more complex and interesting that the standard Edward Said "colonial mastery" thing allows for.  Despite being notoriously exploitative even by eighteenth century standards, the EIC was a vehicle for creating a different style of art by Indian artists.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

RAF Intercept

Anyone woken by a loud noise at 4.20am this morning (as I was) should know that it was RAF fighters granted permission to break the Sound limit to intercept an aircraft they were worried about.  It seems that they eventually conclued that there was no danger.

I don't whether to find that reassuring or not.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Kilburn District Heating Scheme

A commentator asks whether the district heating scheme in South Kilburn is proceeding.  To the best of my knowledge, it is.  I imagine that there was a delay for the ballot on whether the entire South Kilburn area was still being redeveloped.  It is also usual for these schemes only to go ahead once a critical mass has been put into place, so it may well be a while before it is fully operational.

Friday, 29 November 2019

Two Brent Council By Elections in Barnhill

The resignation of Cllr Mike Pavey in Barnhill which was announced shortly before the similar resignation of Cllr Sarah Marquis for the same ward is likely to lead to two Brent Council by elections, probably in January next year. 

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Pavement Surfaces and Trees

Following on from the burgeoning controversy over street trees in Furness Road, I thought I should add in something about what I know about their effect on pavement surfaces.  During the Harlesden Town Centre redevelopment, the group agreed that wanted standard paving and that trees should either have hoggin around them (which is a kind of sterile soil piled up) or resin coated gravel (as in the photo of Wembley Market Square below).  The advantage of this is that they still let the water in to feed the tree (and of course help its survival).

Examples of resin costed gravel are plentiful around Harlesden Town Centre, and tend to be favoured in the more urban sites.  These sites tend to be replaced by smaller trees because the bigger trees (e.g. London Plan) tend to undermine peoples' houses which can lead to successful insurance claims and if taken that far, a court order to remove tree.

The more suburban sites are more likely to have grass verges and wider front gardens are less likely to be affected by insurance wrangles as the distances from the housing is sufficient to avoid subsidence. 

Paving with gravel and paving stones in my opinion looks much nicer, but it can be hard to reconcile with bigger trees as the stones immediately around the tree tend to get lifted up.  A combination of paving and asphalt can be tried, but also looks somewhat unsightly (see the photo below), and can become cracked creating tripping hazards.  Of course that also applies if the paving is replaced entirely by asphalt.  There are alternatives to asphalt, such as the granite materials used in Hazel Road, although I believe that is more expensive. 

When Brent Council decided to move away from paving stones in 2016, I believe it was fundamentally a cost based decision, and I think the councillors should be more frank in acknowledging that. 

Monday, 25 November 2019

Harlesden Neighbourhood Plan and Trees

Following yesterday's post, I thought it would be worth adding the tree guidance that appears in the Harlesden Neighbourhood Plan passed at the end of May.  This says:

“8.27. It is realistic to provide new areas of public open space only on development or redevelopment of large sites. Given the lack of breaks in the urban environment, and of opportunities to provide new ones, greening of streets through tree planting is a way of improving the environment of the area. As well as improving the visual attractiveness of streets, trees help to mitigate the effects of climate change. Trees also reduce pollution and the impacts of pollution on health. Trees can act as both a visual and an acoustic barrier, softening the hard edges of the built form, screening residential properties from road traffic and absorbing traffic noise. It is also accepted that it is important to continue removing and replacing existing trees where these may be causing a nuisance or result in excessive maintenance.

8.28. London Plan policy for development is that existing trees of value should be retained and any loss as the result of development should be replaced following the principle of ‘right place, right tree’.”

The wording of the policy is:

Policy E8 – Tree provision
There should be appropriate mitigation for the loss of trees on development, including a contribution towards the planting of new street trees locally if new trees cannot be provided on site.
One of the priorities for any CIL funding in the Neighbourhood Plan area will be for the provision of new street trees.

These policies cover the current controversy over trees in Furness Road, which is a road that has also been subject to concern over the quality of its pavements and "walkability" 

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Green Party Claims on Street Trees in Brent

The Green candidate in Brent Central is trying to stir up controversy around street trees in Brent.  Frankly he seems to me to be coming quite late to the issue, and from a narrow point of view.

Firstly he is talking about a handful of trees when the Borough has many thousands.  Each year a few hundred are lost to disease, age, storm damage, accidents and building works.  Where they are lost to building works, Brent has a policy of always replacing them as closely near by as possible.

There are a number of schemes to pay for replacement plantings, as well as in new developments such as the redevelopment of Harlesden Town Centre.  Nonetheless, they sometimes need to be replaced for safety or insurance reasons.  The Greens talk simply of trees as a kind of carbon capture, which they are.  Yet it would be nice if their role in flood control, air quality, mitigation against rising temperatures and enhancing the "livability" of streets was also acknowledged.

As always the value of the trees has to be considered along side other needs such as ensuring that the pavements are walkable.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Alex Salmond in Government

By now it is well known that Alex Salmond has been charged with a number of sexual assaults on women (claims that he denies).  These offences are alleged to have taken place when he was First Minister.  Is it not cause for reflection in Scotland and elsewhere that such serious charges can be brought about a time when he was such a senior politician?

Friday, 22 November 2019

Labour's Manifesto Doesn't say Enough on Libraries

I notice that yesterday's Labour manifesto included a pledge to "preserve libraries" and reintroduce national standards.  I welcome the second part of that promise, but I am always rather disappointed that library debates all seem to be somewhat conservative in talking about preserving the past rather than developing the future.  Libraries should be reacting to changes in their communities and in society.  The obvious example is digitalisation, although one could also pick other such as increasing demand for social space and interaction.

I always feel that these debates tend to be intellectually thin.

Thursday, 21 November 2019

The Queensbury Redevelopment

The redevelopment of the Queensbury pub in Willesden has finally gone ahead after a long saga of different applications.  The final scheme is substantively different from the one I voted against in 2014.  In that sense long standing opponents can claim a kind of victory, but the idea that you can just block redevelopments forever is not realistic.

Monday, 18 November 2019

Sunday, 17 November 2019

What is the UK Library Sector Like?

This is a handy summary of where public libraries in the UK are and how they match up to other parts of Europe.  Despite central government cuts, still fairly high.  Other countries are also available

Saturday, 16 November 2019

The Wife of Willesden

The Kiln Theatre is staging an updated version of the Wife of Bath's Tale by Zadie Smith who likes using Brent as a location.  It will be interesting to compare it to Wife, which was staged earlier in the year.

The latter was a play set in 1959, 1989 and 2019 with three different scenarios taking Ibsen's A Doll's House as a starting point.  Indhu Rubasingham record includes directing a production of a Doll's House in the past.  The Chaucer tale is a reminder that depictions of assertive women are nothing new.

It is being produced as part of the wider Borough of Culture programme.  

Friday, 15 November 2019

Frank Dobson's Death

Sadly, Frank Dobson has died.  Frank was the long serving MP for Holborn and St Pancras, Health Secretary in Tony Blair's first Cabinet, a Leader of Camden Council and Labour's first London Mayoral candidate in 2000. 

I was his election agent in 2005 and his reputation across the constituency was extraordinary.  He had served there from 1979, and by the time I got there he was extraordinarily well known for all the work he had done as a constituency MP.  People would thank him for things he had done from them twenty years before, and that was no part of the community that he hadn't touched in some way.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Brexit Climbdown

What bemuses me about Nigel Farage's standing down of more than 300 of his candidates for the Brexit Party is that none of them get any say in the matter.  He just announces it and none of them are quoted as saying anything.  This is almost as odd as their original launch when their names were not announced.  To add to it all Arron Banks is apparently instructing Farage to remove even more of their "candidates".

It is almost as if they were not a real party, and Farage was a Leader in name only.

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Oliver Sacks and Links to Brent

It may not be widely known that the noted neurologist grew up in Brent.  His home was the now non-residential 37 Mapesbury Road.  In his works he makes occasional references to Brent.  His father was a member of a sailing club on the Welsh Harp.  He enjoyed frequenting Willesden Library, which would have been the original 1894 building. He worshipped at the now defunct Cricklewood Synagogue in Walm Lane.

I hope some day he gets a blue plaque recognising his links to the area

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Brent Local Plan Review

Brent is now (until 5 December) reviewing its Local Plan.  This is an important document that underpins all the Borough's Planning Application decisions.

Monday, 11 November 2019

Fanny Mendelson at Willesden Library

Willesden Library is hosting an unusual event about Fanny Mendelsohn on 21 November, whose more widely known brother was Felix Mendelsohn (and both of them grandchildren of Moses Mendelsohn).  Among other things it is an interesting example of how Herstory aproaches can provide a new angle to familiar stories.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Optimism on Climate Change

Away from the rhetoric of gestures such as having a climate assembly, there is actually good news coming on carbon emissions.  Advances in wind technology should lead to a huge rise in production, and if the battery problem can be solved, this could contribute to baseload production.  Even aviation appears to be making progress with possible small electric only aircraft.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Reconfiguring Willesden Library

I suggested a little while ago reconfiguring Willesden Library to create a cafe directly on Willesden High Road in the "Reading Room".

The next question would be what to do with the current cafe space.  One option might be to see if some one else wants to rent it.  A second might be to see if the library wants to use it?  For instance, it might make a good semi-detached space for the Council advice services currently towards the back of the library.  It could also be used for the childrens sessions, which (because of the noise) can sometimes irritate other users.  It could be used as exhibition space by the Brent Museum.  It might have some entirely new use as a maker space for example.  It could also be used as a hiring space for events in general, including live music.

I see no inherent barrier to any of these purposes.

Friday, 8 November 2019

Orientalism at the British Museum

It is worth trying the new Orientalist painting exhibition at the British Museum, although the items are restricted to those of the Museum itself and some items from Malaysia.  Orientalism as an idea really needs updating from the Edward Said perception.

The exhibition and its aims are described in a blog by its curator

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Tory Cock Ups

The line on the Tory launch appeared to be that someone had just "cocked things up".  It is come to something when you think that the best line of defence for your Party is that you are the Party that cocks stuff up.

In fact, it is much worse.  Aside from the Keir Starmer film being not just a mistake as James Cleverly appeared to be trying to argue it was a deliberately false piece of footage.  It was not just "shortened" but edited in a way that was manifestly false. 

When your Party is led by a man who has repeatedly been associated with lying to everyone including his employers, the voters and even the Queen, the circulation of deceptive videos is really not good.  The resignation of the Welsh Secretary and the prior endorsement of Donald Trump risks this current Tory campaign in danger of making Theresa May's 2017 effort look like a triumph.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

New Referendum on Brexit

I am surprised by those politicians who have been telling us for ages that a new referendum might lead civil unrest seem to have no such worries about a new General Election just over two years into a five year Parliament.  Why one but not the other?

Perhaps they have been influenced by the expected riots by people after the delay of 31 October were apparently limited to somewhat diminutive rioters going from door to door.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

The Kiln and Community Engagement Again

Following my praising the Kiln Theatre's efforts at community involvement, I note that it is now being subjected to criticism on the grounds that the people in the production were not paid.

I think this is to misunderstand the long tradition of community engagement that is being invoked here.  This production is more in the tradition of Noye's Fludde and other "Peoples' Theatre".  Complaining about it is a bit like complaining about Amateur Dramatics, or amateur musicians giving recitals, or Brent Dance Month.  It ignores part of the country's long tradition of occasional arts participation.

The principle of paying people who doing a professional job is an important one, and one that undermined many of the pitches for "Big Society" volunteer libraries.  Although I had to examine these during the Libraries Transformation Project, it was never satisfactorily resolved as to when being a volunteer passed into effective employment and therefore demanded things like minimum wage employment, insurance and so on.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Kensal Rise Library Opening Hours

Kensal Rise Library is now operating.  Its opening hours are for three and a half days a week starting 10am, ending at 8pm on Wednesdays; 5pm on Thursdays and Fridays and 1pm on Saturday.  One of the big problems with running a volunteer service is that it will be difficult to keep this up on a long term basis, as the mix of volunteers will change. 

At the time of writing, there appear to be no events planned.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Climate Assembly

A group of elect Committee chairs have decided to invite people to a Climate Assembly.  I don't know how effective this will be although I have been told the Irish experience over their abortion referendum was positive using similar techniques. 

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Kingsbury Library Temporary Closure

Kingsbury Library will be closed for refurbishment between 11 November and 15 December before reopening.  The refurbishment is somewhat overdue, and decided back in early October.  I recall that with previous refurbishments, some "campaigners" made great play of the need for interim measures, but I haven't heard anyone argue that here.  I wonder why that is.

Friday, 1 November 2019

When the Crows Visit at the Kiln Theatre

I saw when the When the Crows Visit at the Kiln Theatre this week.  Reviews are now out and they rightly point out that it is much tougher going than more feelgood shows such as White Teeth.  Given the subject matter of extreme violence against women, that is not a surprise.  Nonetheless it is an extremely powerful piece of drama and well worth a visit. 

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Council Officers in Libraries

I saw this tweet from my home County of Essex, which currently has a major controversy going on about public libraries and whether they should be closed (i.e. handed over to "volunteers" in the standard euphemism).  It does something that "campaigners" like to do, but which I consider is quite misleading.

The writer refers to the Cabinet and the CC officers as if the library staff were not Council officers.  Of course they are Council officers as they are employed by the Council.  That is actually one of the points of the Essex campaign, that libraries should continue to be staffed by paid properly trained staff.  I suspect the reason that "campaigners" seek to engage in this kind of sleight of hand is that they like to pretend that all the decisions are being made by some shadowy group of malignant people who know nothing of the services that the Council provides.  Actually admitting that the staff recommending the details of the Essex budget are not in a continuum with the same staff that meet on entering the library cuts across that idea.

It is a dishonest tactic in my view.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Disabled Access to Libraries

Despite being a Scots MP, Ian Murray (MP for Edinburgh South) has asked a question about access to digital technology in libraries.  Too often people think in terms of libraries being accessed as simply one of physical transport, whereas of course it is important the materials are accessible as well.  However it is disappointing that the question did not elicit the statistics that were being sought.