Wednesday 30 September 2015

How should Greens ride the Corbyn 'elephant in the room'?

From the Elephant and the Bad Baby
Bright Greens LINK reviewing the Green Party Conference refers to the election of Corbyn as being the (rather over-worked) elephant in the room. I certainly had lots of informal conversations about the leftward move of Labour during the four days and its repercussions for the Green Party. It is clear that some of those who moved to us from Labour as part of the Green surge are now moving back as Corbyn pushes for some policies (railway nationalisation, bringing academies and free schools under local authority oversight etc) long advocated by our party.

Caroline Lucas in her Conference speech talked about the need for alliances:

The future we want for our children is not going to be created through the politics of the past. When everything has changed so much, and the threats we face as a society and a planet are so deep and complex, we need a new kind of political life.

From Obama’s first election, to the Arab Spring, from Spain to Greece, from Scotland to the Green surge, and now Corbynism – politics is increasingly defined by waves of energy that swell up – seemingly from nowhere – and coalesce around people, parties and decisions.

These waves are not, sadly, the monopoly of those who believe in a better world. The future can also be more brutish and authoritarian, if we let it. 

But by being open to doing politics differently, we can ensure the future is about change made by and for people, in places and ways that make sense for them.

Of course, we need an effective state to intervene on many issues such as the regulation of global financial markets. But more than anything, the politics of the future must be about the creation of platforms, spaces and spheres in which people can collectively change the world – from workplace democracy and self-management, to civic engagement and generating our own community renewable energy. 

But these efforts will be fatally undermined if the neoliberal deregulating zeal of the Tories remains the dominant force in British politics.

Slashing public services; stamping out trade union rights; and environmental vandalism on an epic scale – ripping up energy efficiency measures, privatising the Green Investment Bank, and taking a wrecking ball to what was once our thriving solar industry.

Conference, we say enough. We are working for something better.

And Conference, being in a position to actually deliver that vision of something better is what, I believe, makes it so imperative that we see a realignment of progressive votes to maximise electoral impact.

Finding and cooperating with others with whom we share a belief in a much more equal, democratic and sustainable world.

Of course we will have differences. But we also know that no one individual, no one party, has a monopoly on wisdom. Cancelling out each other's votes is bad enough, but fighting in essentially the same terrain for the same issues and fundamentally the same belief set is madness, when it simply lets the Tories in. 

We share a commitment to a much more equal, democratic and sustainable world.  It is beholden on us to find a way to make the desirable feasible. In a world as complex and rich as ours, we need an equally complex and rich political response. To create a different mood, culture and sentiment to our national politics – one where we see that our differences can become a source, not of division, but of strength.

Conference, the truth is, we need a progressive Labour Party – if that's what Jeremy Corbyn transforms it to be – to do well. Because, like you and me, it’s part of the movement for change.

Progressives are spread about the political battlefield – often more intent on fighting each other – and not the real enemy. But things are changing fast. Old tribal loyalties, that are blind to the good in others, are dying away. We can – we must – respond to that change.
Members of Green Left put forward an Emergency Motion that provided a practical framework for progressing some of the ideas. Unfortunately Conference ran out of time before it could be debated:

Preamble
The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party has struck a blow at the prevailing neo-liberal orthodoxy. Whilst welcoming this we call for a fundamental change in the political system through a Constitutional Convention and instruct GPEX to take a lead in encouraging other progressive parties to achieve this.

Motion:

Conference:

1.     Congratulates Jeremy Corbyn on his election as leader of the Labour Party.
2.     Welcomes the support this represents for many of the progressive policies of the Green Party.
3.     Looks for a more constructive relationship with the Labour Party in future.
4.     Calls on GPEX to approach other progressive parties to agree on a Constitutional Convention, which will examine and agree proposals for change at local, regional and national levels of government involving all sectors of society.

During the Conference weekend Red Pepper took an initiative to try and set up a network wider than the Labour Party to support the changers underway. Unfortunately it used Corbyn's name rather than something describing the wider movement but it was something I felt able to support while remaining, as an eco-socialist, a member of the Green Party. 

This is their statement now signed by many actvists:
As campaigners, grassroots activists, trade unionists and members of social movements, we believe the overwhelming election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader presents a great opportunity. Jeremy has campaigned tirelessly over decades for social justice, and we share his vision for rebuilding democracy, respect and community. This election means we can start building a better country and a better world.


Some of us are members of the Labour Party and others not. Jeremy’s victory was made possible by people inside and outside the Labour Party who share a common hope in the future. There is an alternative. Things can get better.

But there is a steep road ahead, during which the government and its allies will attempt to spread fear and division. Parts of the media will attack him because they do not like his agenda of hope and participation. Many MPs will try to limit and constrain the process of giving power back to the people. This will be resisted.


As Jeremy himself has said, rebuilding this country cannot depend on one person. It demands that all of us take our share of responsibility. We commit ourselves to supporting this attempt to rebuild democracy in Britain.


We call on like-minded people to join us, creating a democratic and diverse network through action across the country - we will support each other’s campaigns at a local level as well as support the development of progressive changes at a parliamentary and legislative level.

Jeremy Corbyn provides space to once more allow people to make their voices heard. We must take it.
The full statement and signatories can be seen here:LINK

Signatories include Amrit Wilson, Selma James, Zita Holbourne, Sujata Aurora, Shakira Martin,  George Moonbiot, Nick Dearden, Lee Jasper, Jeremy Hardy and Michael Rosen 

Clearly we are only at the beginning of what could be a major shake-up of the left but Greens need a strategy to guide them as the future unfolds.

An exhilerating ride ahead?



Tuesday 29 September 2015

'Are the kids alright?' Green Party Conference hears an emphatic 'NO!'

The current crisis in education, and in the nature of childhood itself, has been a recurrent themes at recent Green Party conferences. The Green Party education policy has won plaudits from many involved in challenging the Conservative's neoliberal agenda and the GERM (Global Education Reform Movement).

Greens challenge 'factory schooling', with its emphasis on high stakes testing and the grading of both children and their teachers, along with the associated narrowing of the curriculum and the undermining of teachers' professionalism.

In this we make common cause with teacher associations including the NUT and ATL, the Save Childhood Movement, the Too Much Too Soon campaign and the Anti academies Alliance and many others.  

The NUT-ATL fringe this year focused on the impact on children, especially early labelling as failures, stress and mental illness.

In my intervention I praisedthe many  teachers who despite all the pressures from the DfE, Ofsted and sometimes their own senior management, and the resulting heavy workload and exhaustion, still do their best to give children an enriching school experience with a broad and creative curriculum that fosters curiosity about the world and the joy of learning. I suggested parents and governors should go out of their way to encourage such teachers by praising the work that they do.

These are extracts from the three main presentations:

 


 

 

Monday 28 September 2015

Green Party welcomes suspension of Shell’s arctic oil and gas exploration




The Green Party has welcomed the suspension of Shell’s Arctic oil and gas exploration saying the decision was a “reaction to low oil prices” and illustrates the importance of “renewable energy sources”

Royal Dutch Shell announced that they’ve stopped plans to extract fossil fuels from the polar region citing difficulties in finding sufficient amounts of oil and gas.

To huge cheers from delegates Natalie Bennett brought today party’s conference in Bournemouth to a close giving the delegates the news and stating that world leaders must make a commitment to keeping oil and gas reserves “in the ground”.

Natalie Bennett said:
Campaigners against dirty energy will breathe a sigh of relief today. The decision was clearly a reaction to low oil prices and reflected the growing importance of renewable energy sources.

Shell and other oil and gas companies do not have a good track record when it comes to environmental safety. As we head to the Paris climate change talks later this year, global leaders must make a commitment to ensuring that fossil fuel reserves are kept in the ground, as the science dictates. We cannot allow Shell and others to return to the Arctic.

Friday 25 September 2015

HS2 propose moving ventilation shaft next to school on South Kilburn estate

A press release today reveals that HS2 plan to move the proposed ventilation shaft from the site next to Queens Park station to Canterbury Works on the South Kilburn Estate next to St Mary's Primary School. Local residents and parents opposed this proposal by Brent Council. LINK

The Press Release

HS2 is the new high speed railway for Britain. This event is an opportunity for you to find out more about the project and what it means for your local area.
This is a joint event between HS2 and Brent Borough Council about a change in the proposals for the HS2 railway, which would be in a tunnel under Kilburn.

We are proposing to move the site of one of the tunnel’s ventilation shafts from Salusbury Road to a site at Canterbury Works.

Date:

Thursday 8 October

Time:

3pm to 8pm

Location:

South Kilburn Studios,
2A Canterbury Rd,
London, NW6 5SW
View this location on a map
For further information on this event, please contact the HS2 helpdesk:

Public enquiries

'Independent person' to review alleged breaches of standards by Brent councillor

Philip Grant has sent the following update regarding his referral of a Brent councillor to the Standards Committee LINK:
UPDATE: Following correspondence between myself and the Monitoring Officer, copied to Brent's new Chief Executive, a way forward for dealing with this matter has been agreed. Although my allegations of breaches of the Members' Code of Conduct, by one of Brent's elected councillors, will not be referred to Standards Committee at their meeting on 1 October 2015, the matter will be reviewed by an independent person in early October. If that person advises that the actions by that councillor, which I have complained of, do represent potential breaches of Brent's Members' Code of Conduct, then my allegations will be referred to Standards Committee, probably at a specially arranged meeting.
There was an earlier case involving the then council leader Ann John in which she was exonerated which may be of interest in terms of procedures LINK

'Many hands build a house, but many hearts make a school' head reminds displaced pupils

I understand that temporary accommodation has been found for the children and teachers displaced by the fire at St Joseph's Primary School, Harlesden earlier this week.  As a former teacher I was touched by the letter sent to children by their headteacher:

This is the fire from which children were evacuated safely:

Thursday 24 September 2015

Standing room only to send a fond farewell to Shelia Robin


So many people attended the celebration of Sheila Robin's life at Golders Green Crematorium that many had to stand at the back and in the aisles. The ceremony 'chaired' by Sheila's friend Ian Saville reflected Sheila's many interests from book club to yachting, from comedy nights to folk clubs, from campaigning for justice for Palestinians to attending pop festivals.

The crowd wore many colours in accordance with Sheila's wishes and as people arrived they had no difficulty at all in locating Sheila's friends and comrades.

A rendition of  Billy Bragg's version of the Internationale was led by Leon Rosselson on guitar. Ian urged everyone to join in, even if they had a problem fitting Bragg's words in with the music. After a spirited, if sometimes slightly out of sync rendition, Ian remarked that it was rather like the state of the left - not quite united but then drew laugher when he said that if Jeremy Corbyn had been leading the singing then everyone would have been singing together.

Ian Saville's eulogy and contributions from family and Sarah Cox of Brent Stop the War painted a picture of someone with a strong commitment to living life to the full as well as a commitment to fighting for social justice.

That will continue to inspire those who loved and respected Sheila.


Even more people joined the celebration at the Windmill in Cricklewood after the cremation and the Brent Stop the Wat banner had pride of place.

Kate Mclean, who was unable to make the funeral, contributed this tribute on the Brent Stop the War Facebook page: 

I first met Sheila on the Grunwick picket line nearly 40 years ago. Since then we have both joined very many campaigns in and around Brent. We worked together in the campaign against the bombing of Yugoslavia at the end of the 1990s. We leafleted and had street stalls in Kilburn High Rd, we arranged public meetings and organised a large benefit in the Library, with a great line-up of entertainers. When the ‘War on Terror’ was announced in 2001 there was a core of very experienced local activists from different groups who had worked together over a long period. Earlier campaigns from the days of the Miner’s Strike onwards had been marked by fierce divisions and bitter argument. Many of us, and Sheila in particular, saw that this was no way forward. Brent Stop the War set out to do things differently. We concentrated on what we had in common. I believe that this is why it has been so successful and has held together so long.

After 9/11, Sheila was instrumental in organising the first Brent Stop the War meeting. She contacted everyone she could. We were united by abhorrence to the response of Bush to the attack on the twin towers, and were watching in horror that Blair could so enthusiastically follow. I think ours may have been the first organised local Stop the War group in the whole country. The first meeting I went to was so full that we were only just able to get in. Right from the beginning Sheila struggled to make the group as inclusive as possible. She battled against any attempts of what she thought were moves by different factions to take over, and as a strong feminist she would get particularly angry if any of the men were over dominating. Very soon we had elected a committee and a strong team and Sheila and I took on much of the day-to-day organisation, assisted by so many others and later substantially by Sarah.

We organised regular monthly meetings (going continuously since 2001 to the present day) produced leaflets and newsletters, leafleted for national demonstrations and events, petitioned and held street stalls. From the start it was clear that we needed money. It was Sheila who got some badges made – these well before the national organisation were selling them. I don’t know who designed them, but they were lovely and went like hot cakes. She then got me to make a banner, the one here today. (Roughly made, we never thought we would still be using it 13 years later!) With her eye for detail she had discovered that if the poles were over a certain length they could stop you taking them on the tube. She warned me to make them short enough and she suggested it be light enough for people like her to carry - not be like those mighty trade union banners. 

Whoever was to take it back was sure to receive a warning from Sheila of dire consequences of failing to do so. She also took such delight when this and also our large puppets of Bush and Blair were photographed in the press.

Over the years there were very many different people and groups who we worked with including local union branches and Brent Trades Council who gave us considerable support. Others undoubtedly were given confidence to take action themselves because of the strength of our local group. Sheila was particularly keen that younger people would become involved, while recognising that they might want to do their own thing; she was really delighted when a group of 6th formers at Hampstead, friends of her niece Kara organised for hundreds of hand prints to be stuck in Parliament Square, and by the walk-outs of students from Hampstead and Wembley High when the bombing of Iraq started. She also stretched out to involve those from different ethnic groups, linking up with Jews for Justice of which she was a part, Palestine Solidarity, Greek Cypriots, with the Guantanamo Campaign who were particularly active locally, with the Pakistan Workers Association whose hall we often used for public meetings, with an Afghani women’s organisation and in later years with a Muslim group who ran Rumi’s cave where we held our meetings in recent years. This last change of venue suggested by Sheila meant that our meetings attracted many new people. 


Keen not to provoke disagreement within the group and, at the same time, wanting open discussions Sheila had an active part in deciding the content of the meetings and finding appropriate and invariably interesting speakers – speakers chosen were either campaigners, academics, journalists or those speaking from their own experiences – from reports from different countries in the Middle East to more analytical speakers, invariably telling of under-reported important events. The many large public meetings included speakers like Tony Benn, Mark Steel, George Galloway………..and the hustings meetings were very lively at election time.

We will all remember Sheila as an exceptional organiser. She would not rest until every detail was covered. Working with her was not only energising (even though she would wear herself out, and sometimes us as well!) hers was such a creative energy. She was rightly proud of what we achieved and generous in her praise for the efforts of others. Between us we organised so many different things. We mobilised many, many thousands of people to take part in national demonstrations and protests and lobbies. Sheila enjoyed it when we organised large numbers to get on the same trains often waiting with the banner unfurled on the platform at Kilburn tube. The street collections, collections at public meetings, benefits and garden parties at our house when added together raised tens of thousands of pounds. In the bi-election in Brent East in 2003 we had a double decker bus plastered with posters and loud speakers touring the constituency, and if candidates previously hadn’t thought their position on Iraq mattered they certainly discovered then that it did.

Sheila was also sure that it was in response to pressure from us that Sarah Teather, then M.P for Brent East went on a delegation to Gaza and the West Bank, and returned to campaign so strongly for the rights of Palestinians. Working with Sheila was always filled with new ideas – creative but intensely practical ones with impressive results.

When due to a previous serious illness Sheila stepped down from activity of course we understood. Although she told me she really needed to cut down, it wasn’t long before she was taking things on again, leafleting, street stalls, public meetings, sorting out the email lists whenever her RSI did not prevent her using the computer, contacting speakers and helping to decide the content of future meetings. Then when I left for Wales she was back as secretary. By this time most of the other local groups were inactive, but she and particularly Sarah ensured that our group, though now smaller, kept going. Parliament voting against bombing Syria was a great moment. We reckoned that though we had not stopped the war on Iraq, our years of activity had been crucial to this vote. However, Sheila knew as much as anyone that the threat of war had not gone.

Even though she was beginning to complain of feeling physically very tired she was still able to help organise a well-attended hustings meeting back in May this year. The Tory candidate did not appear, but ALL the other candidates stressed their opposition to the War on Terror, so again Sheila felt it was something Brent Stop the War could take credit for. 

At first Sheila felt she wasn’t up to organising yet another garden party this year because it had always been so much work and worry, but in fact in spite of her illness she was instrumental in organising the most successful garden party ever in June, with Julie Felix, her dear friend Socialist Magician Ian Saville, and Finisterre.

I mentioned that she would always go to great lengths to get our banner to appropriate demonstrations. In July, when she was already seriously ill and could hardly walk upstairs, she brought the banner down to the anti-austerity march, meeting us in the thick, jostling, crowd outside the tube, knowing that she was far too unwell to come on the march itself.

Sheila we join your family in missing you terribly. As a friend, as someone to bounce ideas off, as someone to laugh with, as someone so totally committed to building a better world, as someone so inspirational to work with. Our loss is not just a personal loss, it is a terrible loss to Brent Stop the War and to National Stop the War, and a loss to the movement as a whole.

Greens in legal challenge to Government's drone 'Kill policy'

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Washinton demonstration against drones


Members of the British Parliament are threatening legal action to force the UK Government to come clean over its ‘targeted killing’ of people in countries where Britain is not at war.

The challenge comes in response to the Prime Minister’s recent announcement of a US-style programme, in which covert strikes are carried out, commonly by drones, as part of the ‘War on Terror.’  A combination of faulty intelligence and a lack of safeguards has seen hundreds of civilians killed by the US drone programme in countries such as Pakistan and Yemen.

Members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, supported by human rights charity Reprieve and law firm Leigh Day, are today demanding answers on whether the Government has formulated a targeted policy, and if so what that policy it is, and whether it is legal.
A Letter Before Action (LBA) sent by Leigh Day on behalf of Caroline Lucas MP and Baroness (Jenny) Jones highlights the lack of Parliamentary approval for the UK’s adoption of the new targeted killing policy; a lack of consistency in the justifications provided by Government ministers; and an overall lack of transparency.

The Prime Minister described Britain’s adoption of the US-style programme as a “new departure” for the country, but has refused to disclose details on how such strikes are governed or justified.

The LBA states: “The Claimants condemn terrorism. The Government is right to dedicate resources to ensure the British public is protected. Yet those planning or involved in such acts must be dealt with in accordance with the law. If any pre-authorised and targeted killing can be lawful, they must be carried out under a formulated and published Targeted Killing Policy which ensures transparency, clarity and accountability for such use of lethal force.”
The same lack of transparency in the US has seen claims by the CIA that its drone progamme had resulted in zero civilian casualties go largely unchallenged, until investigation by Reprieve and other organisations showed that civilian casualties – including children – were in fact in the hundreds. 

Caroline Lucas MP said: “The Government appears to have adopted a ‘Kill Policy’ in secret –without Parliamentary debate or the prospect of proper independent scrutiny. Sanctioning lethal drone attacks on British citizens is a significant departure from previous policy, as well as potentially unlawful, and it’s deeply concerning that it has occurred without appropriate oversight.  By refusing to publish the legal basis for these attacks, the Government has created a legal and accountability vacuum. We need to be able to determine whether the attacks – and what they signify in terms of Government policy - meet the robust conditions set out in international and domestic law.

“I am part of bringing this case because if we want to be effective at countering terrorism then we must ensure we act lawfully. There are serious questions to be answered about the legality of the strikes, as well as the lack of robust oversight.  Given the evidence from the USA, where former heads of defence and others have called their secret use of drones a ‘failed strategy’, it’s crucial that the UK’s actions to date and moving forward are subject to proper debate and scrutiny, particularly as its apparent new ‘Kill Policy’ goes beyond even what the US has been doing.”

"An effective strategy to end terrorism must learn from US drone policy which former senior military and intelligence staff have said creates a 'tremendous amount of resentment inside populations' and is deeply counterproductive."

Kat Craig, legal director at international human rights charity Reprieve said: “The Government has said it has the power to kill anyone, anywhere in the world, without oversight or safeguards.  This is a huge step, and at the very least the Prime Minister should come clean about his new kill policy.  Instead, we are seeing the UK follow the US down the dangerous path of secret, unaccountable drone strikes – a policy which has led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians in Pakistan and Yemen, without making us any safer. Parliament and the public deserve to know what is being done in their name.  It is disappointing that MPs are having to turn to the courts to extract even the most basic information on a policy which the Prime Minister himself has described as a ‘new departure’ for the country.”

Baroness Jones said: “The Government can't argue that they are defending British values of democracy and the rule of law if they suddenly invent a new 'bomb to kill' policy which ignores all those democratic traditions and safeguards. If our Government is saying it will kill certain individuals,  outside of armed conflict, whenever the opportunity arises, then you have to ask several obvious questions.

“Which countries do we, and don't we, apply this to? Who decides that these people are guilty and how is that evidence challenged and proven without judicial oversight? If it is seen as likely that the individuals pose a direct and imminent threat to our safety, but remain at large for six months, or a year, when is the 'immediacy' reassessed? How many individuals are we targeting and why are we applying a death sentence to them rather than others? The Government need to not only answer these key questions, they need to be prepared to have their answers debated in public and challenged.


Brent Council Standards: After the 'Missing Minutes' the 'Missing Agenda Items'


The Agenda for the October 1st Meeting of Brent Standards Committee LINK  has now been published and surprisingly does not include any reference to the case of Dr Helen Carr, nor a referral made by Philip Grant.

On September 18th Philip Grant wrote to the chair of the Standards Committee:
Dear Councillor Dixon,

I am writing to you in your role of Chair of Standards Committee.

On 18 June 2015 I wrote to Brent's Monitoring Officer to complain of multiple breaches of the Members' Code of Conduct by one of Brent's elected councillors. I have since made further allegations of breaches, or potential breaches, of the general conduct principles in the Code by the same councillor.

I would be grateful if you would liaise with the Monitoring Officer, please, to ensure that this matter is referred to Standards Committee on 1 October 2015, so that your committee can decide whether the alleged breaches should be investigated. Thank you.Best wishes,

Philip Grant.
I expect we will hear more of this.


Previewing the Green Party Autumn Conference




The Green Party will be assembling for their Autumn Conference in Bournemouth tomorrow at a time when we need  to  come to terms with the Corbyn victory and what it means for the left in general and the Green Party in particular.

In the above interview Caroline Lucas sets out Green Party's positive welcome for a socialist led Labour Party, although that is a long way from the Labour Party itself democratically adopting socialist policies.

One key quote is her response to a question on whether the Green Party itself is a socialist party:
"...Sometimes words like socialist can be more problematic than they are worth in a sense because  people will bring different baggage to what the term means for them. If you're asking is the Green Party fundamentally committee to the redistribution of wealth, to equality and social justice, absolutely 'Yes' it is and I don't think there's any difference between any of us on that."
She indicates that the main difference with Corbyn is that for the Greens these policies are seen through the lens of challenging climate change, the biggest challenge facing human-kind, so that issues such as the nature of an ever expanding consumer led capitalist economy contributing to the depletion of world resources and the acceleration of global warming are paramount.

She is positive about the potential for progressive alliances which is ironic because Green Left, the Eco-socialist grouping within the Labour Party were not successful in their bid for an official  Fringe Meeting on  'A principled or pragmatic progressive alliance?'

However GL are going ahead anyway and holding the meeting outside the conference venue at  The Goat & Tricycle 27-29 W Hill Rd, Bournemouth, Dorset BH2 5PF 8-11pm on Saturday night.

An issue discussed in Lucas' interview which will loom large at the Conference is the Green Party's position on the EU Referendum.  There will be a panel on EU Referendum: the Green 'Yes' at 1pm on Saturday which Lucas will chair.

Basically the party position is Yes to a referendum but Yes to reform. This position is now under strain, not just because Cameron's negotiations may result in dilution of the progressive aspects of the Social Chapter, but the searing experience of Greece in trying to challenge neoliberalism and austerity, TTIP and the failure of the EU to deal humanely and effectively with the refugee crisis.  This means that somew on the left and some trade unions are now leaning towards a socialist 'No' on the basis that the potential for reform is so much pie in the sky.

Later on Saturday at 6.15pm Caroline Lucas will chair a Panel on "Climate Countdown to Paris" which will discuss strategies and alliances to bring pressure on the December talks so that they are more ambitions both in terms of eventual impact on global warming and in terms of speeding up the response.

On Sunday afternoon at 2.30pm following the General Election result there will be a panel on 'How to get PR: What needs to happen to ensure there is never again a repeat of the unfairnessof the 2015 General Election?' The panel includes Neal Lawson of Compass and Robin McAlpine of the Scottish referendum campaign and chair of Common Weal.

Alongside this in the plenary sessions members will be actively engaged in making policy. Members have prioritised a motion on housing into the No.1 slot.



Ark Elvin accused of Wembley 'land grab'

The site (Chetan Patel)
Local resident Chetan Patel has launched a campaign on what he sees as a 'land grab' from local people of the playing fields behind Ark Elvin Academy  (formerly Copland High School) in Wembley.

The school is due to be part of a large redevelopment LINK.

In a letter to Annabel Bates, the Ark Elvin Headteacher, Chetan Patel said:
With respect to ARK's planning application (ref 15/3161) for the school redevelopment, I believe your proposal breaches the community's 'Public Right Of Way' onto the existing fields in accordance to Highways Act 1980 Section 130A.

The community has had access to the existing park without any objections from ARK or from the previous management of Copland Community School for many decades now. The law assumes that if the public uses a path without interference for some period of time – set by statute at 20 years - then the owner (ARK) had intended to dedicate it as a right of way.

ARK's proposed development of the school can only be described as 'land-grab' with no consideration for the community users and the Law.

I ask ARK to respectfully withdraw its poorly conceived planning application before a decision is made by Brent Council.

If ARK still wishes to pursue the development, which displaces community access to the existing parks (see Appendix A), I will be forced to pursuing legal advice on this matter, at further expense to the tax payer.

I believe the general public has right to know how many hundreds of thousands pounds if not millions have been wastefully spent to date on this poorly conceived project.  Under the Freedom of information Act can you please confirm how much money has been spent in relation to the proposed re-development works of the school.

I had hoped to communicate the aforementioned to you at the recent 'exhibition' meeting held at the school on the 15th July 2015, but you had failed attend this key meeting. It's very disappointing that the school's own head teacher, a key stakeholder, could not be bothered to attend this key meeting.
Annabel Bates replied:
Thank you for your letter, dated 22nd September 2015, about the planning permission that has been submitted by Kier Construction to rebuild our school.  I was present at the consultation on 15th July so I am sorry I did not manage to speak to you in person.  I am of course happy to meet with you to discuss your concerns.

The land shown in the appendix to your letter has always been occupied by Copland, and now Ark Elvin, as it is school playing fields rather than a public park.

As you may be aware, since Ark took over the school we have been making a concerted effort to keep the school playing fields secure and stop the unauthorised access to this private land.  We have repaired the fence a number of times (despite it being repeatedly cut through), moved on any rough sleepers, cleared up the rubbish at the London Road end of the playing fields, engaged a landscaper to cut the grass and carried out regular litter picks so it can be used by pupils for sports.  I cannot comment on how this area was managed by Copland Community School as neither I nor my senior management team worked at Copland.

I am unable to respond to your Freedom of Information Act request as we are not party to that information.  This project is being funded by the Education Funding Authority so you will need to contact them with your request.
Wembley Matters covered the initial plans when they were first published and the article elicited many comments LINK

Chetan Patel is campaigning on several fronts including an official complaint about what he alleges are the failures of Brent's Planning Enforcement Team in the matter as well as a referral to the Local Government Ombudsman,

Time to ask if Butt is fit to hold office?

The Kilburn Times has published an article LINK on the out of court settlement by Brent Council in the Rosemarie Clarke racial discrimination casewhcih was reported on Wembley Matters last Friday. LINK

Deciding to challenge an employer on such issues is always stressful but Brent Council's stance on the matter has added to the stress as Nan Tewari pointed out in her statement to the Kilburn Times:

Rosemarie is relieved that the original employment tribunal case is over. Her priority now is to try to recover her health, which has hit rock bottom as a result of Brent’s ill-treatment of her throughout the period from her submitted resignation in 2013 right up until the 11th hour of the case being settled out of court. 

The tribunal went through everything in great detail. It went through all so-called disciplinary charges and it was very clear they were made up and supported by documents that weren’t accurate.”

Unfortunately this is not the end and Rosemarie’s recovery will inevitably be hampered by the council leader having effectively caused damage to her reputation by the imputation in a public statement, of a justified finding of gross misconduct against her by the council. She is worried about what the future holds for her and this will inevitably impact on her recovery.
The role of Muhammed Butt, the Brent Council leader in the case is deeply disturbing. He sought to undermine Philip Grant when he tried to raise this matter at Scrutiny LINK , heckled him at an earlier Council meeting and after the last Council meeting interupted me when I was speaking to Helen Carr about her disgraceful attack on Philip. Despite other Labour councillors being aghast at Carr's conduct, Butt gleefully congratulated her on her attack and asked for a copy of the statement she had read out. 

Helen Carr has been made to apologise to Philip Grant and other councillors.

Muhammed Butt has not.

It is surely time for Labour Party Region, the Labour Group and Labour Party members to ask if Muhammed Butt is fit to hold his current office.

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Urgent action needed to prevent a fatality in Forty Lane corridor Wembley


In a much wider discussion about transport improvements in Brent the Cabinet last night discussed the problems in the Forty Lane corridor (Forty Lane/Forty Avenue is the main road going across the centre of the map above). You can see my video of the problem at the Kings Drive/Asda junction HERE.

Cllr Pavey, speaking in his Barn Hill ward councillor role, acknowledged that the issue was dealt with as a long-term objective through a preliminary design process in the ILP but was concerned that given the number of accidents recorded it had not been addressed much earlier.

Cllr Southwood, the Lead Member for the Environment, said that this a TfL responsibility but that a shorter term alleviation may be possible - there may be other ways of looking at the problem. She went on to say:
The safety of people on our roads is an absolute priority for the Council.
Sandoor Fazekas, Project Development Manager Brent Transportation last week acknowledged the need for...
...immediate action to discourage motorists contravening the traffic regulations at the junction of  Kings Drive and Forty Lane. we shall therefore review the existing signage and road markings to improve compliance and this will include the introduction of camera enforcement signs along with increased enforcement during peak hours to target habitual offenders.
Meanwhile earlier yesterday a resident emailed me to say that what was recorded on the video was an example of what she was seeing daily. She went on:
This morning – I’m sorry, I know this is probably getting boring but I’m so frustrated – many people, including students from Preston Manor, got off the bus at the stop outside Asda on Forty Lane.  They then continued their journey across the junction by the Torch towards Forty Avenue – this involves crossing against traffic in two lanes from Forty Avenue on a left turn only down Bridge Road to the first pedestrian island, then across one lane for traffic turning right from Forty Avenue or straight across Barn Hill, and then across two lanes of traffic from Bridge Road turning right into Forty Lane, and then across one lane of traffic turning left from Bridge Road into Forty Avenue.  As I stood to cross over Forty Avenue towards Wembley Park station at 08.10 two cars from Forty Avenue jumped the red lights, blocked the box junction, and then continued on down Bridge Road against the green man pedestrian light with people trying to cross.

Again, there are students, school age children, using these crossings where I, with 50+ years of experience as a pedestrian and 30+ years as a car and motorcycle user, have trouble crossing.
In an email to Cllr Pavey ahead of the Cabinet Meeting I wrote that there was a real possibility of a fatality if the problems were not addressed. He agreed.





Cllr Helen Carr apologises for her conduct at September 7th Council Meeting

This was published as a comment on an earlier posting LINK on September 20th. I publish it here for readers' information.

On 16 September, I received a written apology from Cllr. Helen Carr, addressed both to me and to her colleagues on the Council, for her conduct at the Full Council meeting on 7 September 2015. I have accepted that apology, and as far as I am concerned that is the end of the matter (in as much as it involves Cllr. Carr).

Philip Grant

Possible collobaration to ensure survival of Welsh Harp Environmental Education Centre

1980s campaign by children to keep the Centre open
More recent visitors
The Brent Cabinet confirmed its first Community Asset Transfer at yesterday's Cabinet Meeting. Thames21 is the preferred bidder but Cllr Margaret McLennan said that Thames21 and Careys, the other bidder, both had strengths, and the Council was working towards a collaboration between the two in background talks. What they had to offer was complementary and would strengthen the Centre's offer.

Cllr Mashari expressed concern at the lack of detail in the officers' report over the long-term viability of the transfer and requested further information to come back to Cabinet.

Cllr Michael Pavey praised the Chalkhill Primary School children who had written to him calling for the Centre to be saved and apologised that their letters had initially been mislaid at the Civic Centre.


Brent Council: Mystery of the missing minutes

From Brent Council website this morning
The missing minutes of the Planning Committee came up at Brent Cabinet last night in relation to the Council's proposed Pub Protection Policy.  The July 23rd Planning Committee was unusual in that it did not discuss individual planning applications but the principles behind council policies including the Development Management Plan and issues such as the amount of affordable housing and how to manage the process by which developers try to reduce the amount of affordable housing through viability assessments.

The Committee's views (which are statutorily independent of the Council itself) are clearly vital in informing the fraemwork within which planning decisions are made. An accurate record of the Planning Committee's discussions are absolutely essential.

However two months later the minutes have not been published and my questions about non-publication have not been answered. I suspect that they may have been lost - although there is probably a form of newspeak that would be used instead of that simple word.

The consequence was that when the Cabinet discussed the Development Management Plan yesterday even the documentation did not reflect what the Planning Committee had said. This was evident when the Pub Protection policy was discussed. The Council had been forwarded the model polict prdiced by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and the Council was supposed to discuss amendments to the Brent policy in the light of CAMRA's recommendations.

A member of the Queensbury campaign pointed out the the Cabinet that the policy brought to the Cabinet remained unchanged. I found out later that by noon yesterday CAMRA had received no communication from Brent Council. The dialogue with CAMRA seemed not to have taken place in the two months between the Planning Committee and the Cabinet.

However, Andy Donald, Director of  Rgeneration and Major Projects told the Cabinet that there were 'ongoing discussions' with CAMRA, which must have taken place between noon yesterday and 7pm! He said that there was space to add further to the policy in the future. Michael Pavey, deputy leader, commented that CAMRA was a reputable organisation  and that there would need to be good reasons given for any departure from their recoemmndations.

The issue of affordable housing and viability assessments is clearly extremely important during the current housing crisis and was discussed in some depth at the Planning Committee on July 23rd. Donald commented last night that there was no reason why developers' viability assessments should not be made publicly available, although they were technically complex, but warends that publication was likely to be opposed by developers. The aim of the Council was that their view on what constituted a legitimate viability assessment would be clear and consistent.

Some of the main issues that were discussed at the July 23rd Planning Committee were covered on Wembley Matters at the time. The report can be found HERE.

Monday 21 September 2015

Forty Lane/Asda traffic contraventions and dangers



Local residents have writtent to Brent Council expressing concern about the dangers of the Asda/Forty Lane junction and the nearby Bridge Road/Forty Avenue/Barnhill junction. Pedestrian traffic has increased at both due to new schools and the expansion of existing ones. Vehicle traffic has also increased.

I made the vide above this morning to illustrate the dangers at the Asda junction.

Residents argue that dealing with this issue should be given priority,

Sunday 20 September 2015

Colourful farewell to Sheila Robin

Local activist Sheila Robin’s LINK funeral will be taking place at 4pm on Thursday the 24th of September at Golders Green Crematorium.

This will be a celebration of Sheila’s life and, following her instructions, there is to be ‘No Black!’, so please wear your most outrageously bright and colourful clothing.

Following the service attendees will be going to The Windmill in Cricklewood to have a drink and a chat.


Instead of flowers, if you want to give something, please donate to Brent Stop the War or Shelter in memory of Sheila Robin.

Saturday 19 September 2015

Community rallies to Edible Garden cause on St Raphs


Delicious veggie food proved popular
It was a beautiful early Autumn afternoon for the Edible Garden event on St Raphael's estate this afternoon. The initiative by Sufra NW London Foodbank and Well London involves the creation of fruit and vegetable growing beds in a space previously used as an engineering yard. The soil is contaminated so everything has to be grown in imported soil in high containers.

The initiative involves a Food Growing Group and a Cooking Group. Plans for the space include a polytunnel and a pond (frogs are great for snaffling up slug and snail eggs).

Children planted some broad bean seeds and onion sets
Face painting was as popular as ever
Work continued on lining the pond with sand while children enjoyed playing

Plans for the site
'Give Together - Eat Together'

A salute to Philip Grant for his work on the Davani case

Nan Tewari, who first raised the issue of the behaviour of Brent Council Human Resources on this blog LINK wrote the following comment on the post below about Brent Council settling the Rosemarie Clarke case 'out of court'. I think her comment deserves more prominence.

What stands out in this sorry saga is the power of one individual's tenacious struggle to expose the truth and how that struggle carried out in the public domain, i.e. Wembley Matters, bolstered its effects to ensure a massive degree of success.

Philip Grant's relentless pursuit of matters of fact in this case, together with Martin Francis shining a light on that pursuit, has had the powerful effect of seeing off Cara Davani, Andrew Potts and Christine Gilbert.

After stringing out the Chief Exective 'interim' role for 3 years, Brent Council and Gilbert would have been quite comfortable for her to throw her hat into the ring for the permanent position and for her to have been appointed based on her sterling record of failure to follow basic procedures and nurturing conflicts of interest.

Andrew Potts, business and personal partner of Davani, emerged as a beneficiary of the legal department restructure that had been conducted by Davani and signed (nodded?) off by Gilbert.

Davani herself was secure enough to work on adding such unlikely strings to her bow as taking on responsibility for equality and diversity as well as wanting the acclaim of a Business in the Community award to trumpet the Council's equality achievements as a means of countering the public disgrace at the Watford Tribunal and the public disrepute she brought the council into, for blatant race discrimination.

And Philip's efforts have also exposed for all to see (the video of the council meeting would probably warrant an 18 certificate in the scheme of these things!!) the underlying ill manners and discourtesy of Cllr Butt and Cllr Dr Helen Carr BA (Hons); M Phil (Oxon); Cert TEFL; Dip; DPil who appear singularly unable to understand the balanced deportment required of public figures.

So at a time when it appears that we the public are powerless against those in power, Philip Grant has led the way in showing that we can put the frighteners on public institutions whatever they may choose to admit or however much they may attempt to conceal.

Philip, we salute you.