Monday 30 November 2015

Lucas: 'Burning desire to act' must not ignore consequences of recent interventions

Caroline Lucas has published a piece on Huffington Post stating that she will not vote for bombing Syria LINK.

This is a key extract:

It's critical that the burning desire to act, to stop terrorists and keep us all safe, doesn't result in an approach that ignores the evidence of our recent interventions in the region - or their consequences. The civilian death count from the Iraq war and its aftermath is at least 147,000 and, according to Barack Obama, the resulting instability laid the ground for the rise of Isis. Post-Gadaffi Libya, which also has British fingerprints all over it, is witnessing Isis forces gaining power too. Isis thrives in the chaos brought about by Western intervention, which is why the unintended consequences of the 'War on Terror' must serve as a stark warning to anyone thinking of supporting airstrikes in Syria.

But let's be clear: the choice we're facing is not between military intervention and inaction. The Government can and should play a role in brokering peace and stability in the region. The Prime Minister could start by redoubling his commendable efforts to find an urgent diplomatic solution. Given that Isis flourishes where chaos reigns, renewed effort needs to be made to end the Syrian civil war The talks in Vienna are a start, but the process must be accelerated and continue to involve all proxies to the war. That diplomatic effort must also extend to Iraq, where the Abadi Government must be encouraged to reach out to the neglected Sunni minority - especially in those parts of the country where Isis is recruiting.

The British Government should also immediately suspend British arms sales to the Middle East and commit to a foreign policy that is consistent as well as ethical, particularly when it comes to our relations with countries that undermine human rights.

Updated: No support for bombing Syria at Barry Gardiner's meeting with constituents

Barry Gardiner with Jeremy Corbyn on Saturday's Climate March
In a 20 minute cogent presentation in a North Wembley church hall last night, Barry Gardiner set out his thinking on the Syria air strikes issue. He said that he was not a pacifist and that sometimes military action was justified. He had voted for the Iraq war but later went on to criticise the lack of an exit strategy, was one of only 13 MPs who opposed the bombing of Libya, and had helped persuade a change of policy by Ed Miliband's Labour Shadow Cabinet on the earlier Syria intervention mandate.

Gardiner said that he had a duty to constituents to consider whether an extension of existing UK military intervention would be counterproductive.  He considered the legal basis for intervention on the basis of a request by a state to intervene in their defence. Assad had not made such a request. The British Government had recognised the opposition as the sole representative of the Syrian people.

He discussed whether the  'Self Defence' criterion under Section 51 of the UN Convention was met. Action has to be necessary and proportionate and demonstrated by the 'overwhelming  necessity' for force to be used.

Finally in discussing UN Security Council Resolution 2249 which states that ISIS 'a global and unprecedented threat' to global security' and calls on member states who have the capacity to take action against them, he concluded that it was not credible to argue that there is no legal basis for UK government action. However, the question was whether it was right to do so.

Countering David Cameron's argument that air strikes on Syria would add capacity to the campaign against ISIS , Gardiner said that the same amount of assets would be deployed but now deployed in Syria as well.  It would not amount to a 'significant' military contribution and according to experts was not a 'war winning campaign' by any stretch of the imagination.

British expansion of the existing intervention in the region may feed radicalisation and do more harm than good.

Explaining that he preferred to use the term Daesh LINK rather than Islamic State, as the latter gave the organisation credibility as a 'state' and illegitimately appropriated Islam as a whole, he suggested that bombing bombing might kill many innocent people without significantly harming Daesh.

A cartoon shared widely over the weekend
Gardiner argued that without ground forces the Government's position was one of 'more hope than intent'. Discussing the current forces on the ground in Syria he said that the US had given up trying to train them and were now concentrating on supplying weapons and ammunition. 'A foolish approach' considering the disparate forces involved.

Cameron's suggestion that there was a 'moderate opposition' numbering thousands was a 'falsification of facts'. There were thousands of fighting forces under arms with different aims and rapidly shifting
alliances.  According the the Select Committee Report  so called 'moderates' had been squeezed out.

 Gardiner suggested that British troops could join a multi-national ground force co-ordinated by thw UN but only in tandem with a diplomatic strategy.

Rather than extending existing action the Government should be contributing to a diplomatic resolution of the conflict through the Vienna Conference.

In discussion, although recognising the legacy of Colonialism and Imperialism, Gardiner denounced as 'infantalism' the argument that history justified Daesh's murderous actions.  Challenged on whether, if the Government came up with a more plausible strategy, he would come back to consult constituents in another meeting, Gardiner said that an MP was not a delegate, and a church hall of people was not necessarily representative of all constituents.  He would read all the reports that constituents were unlikely to have time to read, weight the evidence and reach a judgement which he felt was in all constituents best interests.

On the question of whipping Gardiner said that he would not deserve to be MP for Brent North if he did not follow his conscience on such an important issue rather than the party line.

Responding to a question on the funding and arming of Daesh, Barry Gardiner said that the UK's relationship with Saudi Arabia needed to be rethought in the context of its export of its philosophy throughout the region. He said that Britain's involvement in the arms trade was a continuing problem, complicated by the fact that many jobs depended on it, but also needing to be tackled.

When discussion turned to what happened in Brent, Gardiner said that many in the Muslim community felt threatened by media coverage of the conflict. Leading figures in that community who spoke out powerfully against Daesh should be supported. We were fortunate that Brent is such a mixed community that no one group feels they can dominate.  He said that Labour had been critical of the Government's Prevent programme. It was a top down model rather than the bottom up approach that could harness forces at a community level. The thought that adolescent youth, at a stage in life when they were searching for their own identity,  could be inculcated with 'British values' was laughable. He was unable to attend the December 10th Prevent: Protectng Our Liberty?  meeting at the Interfaith Centre in Queen's Park because he would still be in Paris for the climate talks, but he welcomed the initiative.

No one at the meeting spoke in favour of the Government policy, or the approach of some in the Shadow Cabinet.  One woman who had been worried about what the 'French and Belgians would think of us if we did not support them' said that she had changed her mind during the course of the discussion.

The most moving speech of the evening was from an 8 year old girl who spoke eloquently about the bombing killing innocent people: 'It isn't right that some innocent people will be killed because of some bad people.'

Radio 4 Today report on the meeting is at 1.50 here LINK

Full transcript of Barry Gardiner's presenattion at the meeting HERE

Sunday 29 November 2015

Oakington Manor proposal to become an academy - parents' view sought by teacher unions


The Governors of Furness and Oakington Manor are looking at becoming a multi academy trust. The Unions have sent in a response stating why there should not be an academy trust and asking for an extension to the consultation. We are particularly concerned about this as the Oakington Brent Audit Report of June 2015 said, ‘weaknesses in the system of internal controls’ … ‘put the client’s (school’s) objectives at risk’. It goes further; ‘The key areas of weaknesses related to high value expenditure, income administration, stock management and pension administration’.

Brent insisted on a proper bidding procedure and due diligence regarding ‘high value expenditure’. This is entirely proper. For the Governors to say this as a reason for NOT wanting to stay with the LA is entirely inappropriate. Staff in both schools have asked lots of questions and are waiting for answers. Oakington staff were told to be quiet by the Chair of Governors at their meeting to discuss the proposal. Parents were not happy with the proposal at the parents meeting. Will it help or hinder your child’s education? Analysis of primary school results indicates that academy conversion actually slows progress.                                 
Open Meeting for staff, parents, governors, councillors and community to discuss

What is going on and why?

Monday 7th December at 6.15 pm
Tokyngton Community Centre

St Michael’s Avenue, Wembley, Middlesex, HA9 6SA

Let parents and staff have their say on whether the school should become an academy. A full debate to hear both sides of the argument and then a secret ballot for staff and parents.

There should be an opportunity for a proper debate with both sides of the argument for and against an academy being equally presented to staff and parents. This should be followed by a properly conducted independently overseen secret ballot, with the same information included. This is the only way that parents and staff’ views can definitely be known.

All welcome. Bring other parents. Ask your councillors to come. You can bring your children

Hank Roberts, ATL National Past President and Brent Branch Secretary Email: Mobile for Jean: 07843282450
Lesley Gouldbourne, Brent Teachers Association (NUT) Secretary Email:


Huge turnout for Climate Change demonstration

A large contingent of London Green Party members joined thousands of climate change campaigners on today's demonstration in London.

Saturday 28 November 2015

The Green Party's Shahrar Ali calls on Labour MPs to support Corbyn and vote against bombing of Syria

Shahrar Ali spoke for the Green Party and thousands of others at Downing Street today when he called on Labour MP's to support Jermey Corbyn and vote against the Government's plans to bomb Syria.

On Thursday Hampstead and Kilburn Constuency Labour Party passed the following resolution:
“This meeting of Hampstead & Kilburn CLP opposes the move to authorise the bombing of Syria, gives its support to the Party leader in this and encourages our MP and the whole of the PLP to vote against should the Prime Minister bring the issue to a vote.”
There were 35 to 40 people present and the motion was passed with none against and 8 abstentions.

How to support the Junior Doctors' action



On Tuesday 1st December it is likely that Junior Doctors across the UK will commence industrial action against the Governments continued threat of imposition of an unsafe new Contract.

This industrial action is the last resort for junior doctors in an attempt to prevent the Imposition of a contract that we feel would jeopardize the profession, patient care and the NHS for a generation.

This is not a decision that has been taken lightly and Doctors have united in the hope that this action will protect the NHS for future generations.

Our ballot result of 98% for strike action means that Junior doctors in England have given the BMA a huge mandate to proceed.

Over the last few weeks I have met many of you as individuals or as members of your organisations and on occasion have had the opportunity to speak alongside you at events. As one of the co-ordinators for the imminent strike action in north London the last few days have been incredibly busy and are getting busier still.

I apologise profusely if I have not had the chance to return some of your calls or email in time. It is highly unlikely that I will be able to respond in the next few days either. We still have a logistical mountain to climb!

I am also aware that many of you have had some fruitful contact with other BMA junior doctor’s representatives and activists. This is excellent.

On behalf of the entire BMA we thank you all for your solidarity.

I write to inform you of a few details with regards to the planned action and to invite you to come out and display your support for us on the days of action.

The action will begin with an emergency care-only model, which would see junior doctors provide the same level of service that happens in their given specialty, hospital or GP practice on Christmas Day. It will then escalate to full walk-outs. The action as proposed is:

Emergency care only — from 8am, Tuesday 1 December to 8am Wednesday 2 December
Full withdrawal of junior doctors' labour — from 8am to 5pm, Tuesday 8 December
Full withdrawal of junior doctors' labour — from 8am to 5pm, Wednesday 16 December.

The aim is to picket all major hospitals in England on all three days of proposed action. This means that most major district general hospitals will be included. Pickets will be in the vicinity of the main entrances and will start at 8am, continuing until at least 12.30pm. However, many picket sites will continue into the evening, especially at the larger hospitals.

Please see below for a list of the major hospitals in London. I include the nearest Tube stop to each. Along with the pickets there will be parallel “Meet The Doctors” events at these tube stations as well as nearby public spaces. We will direct you to these public spaces from the picket.

You may have read recently of the ACAS conciliation process which has begun. Our key requirement for a return to negotiation is that Hunt must abandon “imposition”.

Please turn up on the days of action, and give us your support. We will then inform you if other local events are planned on the day. If you are an allied health worker, trade unionist, or campaigner please do consider bringing along the banner representing your organisation, your working uniform or similar. We would appreciate it however if banners in explicit endorsement of specific political parties are not displayed and that any selling of campaign literature such as newspapers is discreet.
On the days of action, please do debate us, educate us and invite us to address your colleagues in your workplace or trade union branch.

In London, Junior doctors will be striking at the following hospitals (as well as at other smaller hospitals within the capital). I list only the London hospitals as this is the geographical area of my involvement. As mentioned at the start of this email. Almost any hospital of any size in England will have a picket and a local event taking place.

St Bartholomew’s Hospital (St Pauls tube)
The Royal London Hospital (Whitechapel tube)
Homerton University Hospital (Homerton Overground)
Whipps Cross University Hospital (Walthamstow Central and Leytonstone
Newham University Hospital
Queen’s Hospital (Romford rail station)
King George (Ilford tube)
Great Ormond Street, (Russel Sq Tube and Holborn Tube)
St Marys, (Paddington Tube)
Northwick Park, (Northwick Park Met line)
North Middlesex (Silver St station)
Barnet, (High Barnet tube)
Royal Free, (Belsize Park tube, Hampstead Heath Overground)
UCH, (Euston Station/tube, Euston Square tube, Warren St tube)
Whittington (Archway tube)
St Georges (Tooting)
St Thomas' (Waterloo)
Guys (London Bridge)
Kings College Hospital (Denmark Hill)
kind regards and Solidarity,

Dr Yannis Gourtsoyannis, BMA Junior Doctors Committee

Friday 27 November 2015

Vote NO to British airstrikes in Syria - join the demonstration today


Next week MPs are likely to vote on whether the UK should carry out airstrikes on ISIS in Syria. The Green Party stands united on this issue – dropping bombs is not the answer.

Sign this petition urging MPs to vote against British bombing in Syria:

We cannot ignore recent history and the consequences of our previous military intervention in the Middle East. The government has not given clear answers to questions over how British airstrikes in Syria will increase our security here in Britain or help bring about peace in the region.

Instead of escalated military invention we need to step up our diplomatic efforts to choke off ISIS's finances, weapons, and recruitment. We should also suspend British arms sales to the Middle East and keep to our commitment on taking in Syrian refugees.

 If you'd like to know more about why we're against bombing Syria Caroline Lucas was on BBC PM yesterday explaining why she'll be voting no, you can listen to that here: (about 39 minutes in).

There is a protest tomorrow in London where Shahrar Ali Deputy Leader Green Party will be speaking. Details here, feel free to share details of local events also:

People's March for Climate, Justice and Jobs - Sunday

The Green Bloc will assemble for the march on the corner of Park Lane and Deanery Street (near the Dorchester Hotel, W1K 1QA). 11.30am Map here:

DON'T BOMB SYRIA Demo Saturday Noon-2pm Downing Street

Stop the War's case against bombing is HERE

Barry Gardiner to hold Sunday public meeting on Syria bombing proposal after claiming PM's position 'flawed'

The Brent and Kilburn Times LINK reports that Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for Brent North, has organised a meeting on Sunday to hear constituents' views on the Government's proposal on the bombing of Syria.

The meeting is at 7.30pm on Sunday afternoon  at St Cuthbert's Church, Carlton Avenue West, North Wembley  Directions LINK

Barry Gardiner told the Kilburn Times:
I challenged [the Prime Minister] on his plans because I don’t believe he has yet justified them.

I still feel his position is flawed and don’t believe important questions have been adequately answered.

Any course of action must, in my view, improve the situation for people in Syria and protect Britain from the threat of terror.

I don’t believe anyone wants to see troops on the ground but air strikes alone will not be effective – and we have not been presented with a viable alternative.

So, as it stands, I am not prepared to support the prime minister’s proposals.

This is such a critical issue and decisions we make have the potential to impact so many lives – that I think it is only right to hold a public meeting to listen to the views of my constituents.

Standards at Brent Council - An open letter to Carolyn Downs

Regular readers will be aware of Wembley Matters' attempt to hold Brent Council and its leader Muhammed Butt to account. No one has been more consistent and persistent in this than Philip Grant who has written this Guest Blog. Philip is not affiliated to any political party but deeply committed to upholding standards in public life.

This post is much longer than I usually publish but I urge readers to read it and its attachments so that they are fully aware of the issues involved. The 'Challenge' document lists the full allegations against Muhammed Butt.

Standards at Brent Council – an open letter to Carolyn Downs

In a recent “blog” I referred to the “scales of justice”, which form part of Brent Council’s Coat of Arms LINK. Experience suggests that “scales of injustice” is now a more accurate symbol of the Council, where the interests of Cllr. Butt and his closest allies outweigh the rights of Brent’s citizens (and of its employees who were victims of the Cara Davani HR regime). The inscription that I visualise over the Civic Centre reads: ‘Punish the weak and protect the wrongdoer’. If you cannot see it too, perhaps that is because it has been covered up! I invite you to read this blog, and to add your views as comments. 
Question: When is a breach of Brent’s Members’ Code of Conduct ‘outside of the scope of the Code’?
Answer: When you are Cllr. Muhammed Butt.
Five months ago (on 18 June 2015) I made a complaint to Brent Council’s Monitoring Officer, Fiona Alderman, alleging a number of breaches of the Members’ Code of Conduct by the Leader of the Council. I added further allegations against him in emails of 21 July and 18 September. The breaches included failures to comply with all seven of the general conduct principles which Council members must comply with, under the Code, in order to maintain the high standard of conduct required of them: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.
These allegations should have been referred to the Council’s Standards Committee at its meeting on 1 October 2015. On the eve of the agenda for that meeting being published, I was told by the Monitoring Officer that she would not be referring them, as ‘these matters are beyond the scope of the actions or behaviours of an individual member and are therefore outside of the scope of the Code.’ I immediately wrote to Ms Alderman and to Brent’s new Chief Executive, Carolyn Downs, to challenge that decision, and it was agreed that they would review the case in discussion with ‘the Independent Person’.
After a further two months, I received the result of that review, which effectively restates the Monitoring Officer’s original view, as if it were fact, that the detailed allegations of breaches of Brent’s Members’ Code of Conduct which I made do not come within that Code of Conduct. When I read the absolute nonsense contained in Ms Downs email to me of 18 November, I knew that I had to reply, not only to show that it was wrong, but to set out in detail why it was wrong.
As well as being serious allegations which quite clearly related to breaches of the Code by Cllr. Butt in the performance of his role as a Council member, the Monitoring Officer’s failure to follow the rules in Brent’s Constitution and its adopted Standards procedure meant that the allegations could not be dealt with openly and transparently. My allegations against Cllr. Butt were being covered up, and the Standards Committee (the body which could be held publicly to account for its decisions) was being prevented from dealing with them. I was also concerned to find, when trying to discover who the ‘Independent Person’ was who had been consulted over my challenge, that Brent does not appear to have had a properly appointed ‘Independent Person’ for Standards purposes (under the Localism Act 2011) for the past 18 months!
I am setting out below, in the public interest, the text of my open letter to Carolyn Downs. The appendices to the letter are in a pdf document attached, as is the text of my “challenge” to the Monitoring Officer of 23 September. How Brent’s new Chief Executive and Brent’s Standards Committee (whose members have also been sent copies of these documents) deal with my letter will tell us much about their openness and integrity.

27 November 2015

Dear Ms Downs,
Failure by the Monitoring Officer to refer my allegations of breaches of Brent’s Members’ Code of Conduct to Standards Committee
I am writing in reply to your email to me of 18 November 2015. You will see that I am treating this as an open letter. I intend to copy it to the members of Brent’s Standards Committee, for reasons which I will explain below, and to make it publicly available, in the interests of openness and transparency.
I do not accept the justification(s) which you have given, on behalf of the Monitoring Officer and the ‘Independent Person’, for why the detailed allegations which I made to the Monitoring Officer on 18 June, 21 July and 18 September 2015 should not be referred to Brent Council’s Standards Committee. I will set out my reasons for this at 1. and Appendix A below. As some of my points refer to a document which I sent to you and Ms Alderman on the evening of 23 September, I am attaching a copy of that document, for ease of reference.
By not referring my allegations to Standards Committee, the Monitoring Officer has failed to abide by Brent’s Constitution, and the Standards procedures adopted by the Council. My reasons for this statement are given at 2. below.
There also appear to be irregularities, and a possible breach by Brent Council of the Localism Act 2011, over the ‘Independent Person’ who is said to have been consulted over my allegations, as set out in Appendix B below.
1.1  I believe I have shown, both in my “challenge” of 23 September and in Appendix A of this letter, that the statements made, as if they were facts, by or in support of the Monitoring Officer’s view, are arguments which are plainly incorrect. The serious allegations I have made, in good faith, are allegations of breaches of the Members’ Code of Conduct by Cllr. Muhammed Butt, and cannot be dismissed as if they were matters which do not fall within that Code.

To give one example, the serious nature of my complaint of 18 June can be seen by the fact that the allegations include improperly conferring an advantage on two senior Council officers. One of those officers (according to separate allegations which are in the public domain, and for which Ms Alderman’s department may hold at least circumstantial evidence) may have had a “hold” over Cllr. Butt, which in turn may have influenced his behaviour as a Council member. If the Council’s Leader is party to actions which do not serve the public interest, but instead serve the mutual self-interests of himself and one or two senior officers, that would be a very serious breach of the principle of selflessness, which the Code requires all members to follow.

2.1  As I pointed out to Ms Alderman, by reference to Part 5 of Brent’s Constitution, in my email of 24 July, and repeated on 23 September at paragraph 1.3 of my “challenge” (attached), the Monitoring Officer has a duty to refer those allegations to Standards Committee. It is that committee which then decides ‘whether to ask the Monitoring Officer to investigate allegations … or to take no further action.’
2.2  The position I have just set out is confirmed in Part 2 of the Constitution. Article 9.3 states:
‘the function of the Standards Committee is to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by councillors and co-opted members and hear allegations of misconduct against members.’
The functions of the Monitoring Officer, at Article 13.5, include:
‘© Supporting the Standards Committee:
The Monitoring Officer will contribute to the promotion and maintenance of high standards of conduct through the provision of support to the Standards Committee.’
By not referring my allegations of breaches of the Members’ Code of Conduct to Standards Committee, Ms Alderman is not supporting the functions of that committee, she is usurping them. The committee cannot carry out its function of hearing allegations of misconduct against members if those allegations are concealed from them by the Monitoring Officer.
2.3  Although Ms Alderman has not referred to it in her correspondence with me on this matter, I am aware that there is a “Procedure for dealing with complaints under the Members’ Code of Conduct”, which was adopted by the Council in July 2012. Section 4 of that procedure (“Will the complaint be investigated?”) does give the Monitoring Officer the right to review every complaint made, and to decide, in some cases, to take no further action over the complaint. However, that is not a power which she can use at her own discretion - she can only do so within the detailed rules set out in Section 4.
There are three possible outcomes for complaints which are allegations of breaches of the Members’ Code of Conduct. The first two are:
(i)             ‘No formal investigation and no further action paragraph (4.6) below;
(ii)           No formal investigation and local resolution paragraph (4.8) below.’
The nature of my allegations does not fall within those listed at 4.6, and they are not matters which could be dealt with by local action under 4.8 (and have not been dealt with as such).
The third outcome is that the allegation will be dealt with under Section 5, which begins:
‘5.1 Where a complaint does not fall within paragraph 4.6 or 4.8 the case shall be referred to the Standards Committee for a decision as to whether the complaint merits formal investigation.’
If the Monitoring Officer had been following the proper procedure set out by the Council for dealing with Members’ Code of Conduct complaints, 5.1 would have been the outcome.
2.4 The failure by the Monitoring Officer to refer my allegations to Scrutiny Committee also goes against the principles of openness and accountability (which are supposed to be enshrined in Brent’s Constitution, through the purposes set out at Article 1.4). In order for Brent’s residents to have confidence that high standards of conduct are being promoted and maintained in the borough, it must be seen that Standards Committee is considering allegations made by citizens (or by other Council members). The committee needs to carry out its role openly, rather than the matter being secretly covered-up by a Council Officer, so that there is an effective means of holding those who make decisions on such allegations to public account.
2.5  It appears that the Monitoring Officer’s treatment of my allegations against Cllr. Butt may not be an isolated case. I am aware of a complaint made on behalf of a residents’ association in February 2015, against another Cabinet member. The Monitoring Officer’s reply, received more than two months later, was that ‘the complaint does not fall within the Brent Code of Conduct.’ When the complainant challenged this, on the grounds that the member had failed to comply with the Code’s principles of accountability and openness, the reply remained:
‘I do not accept that this falls within the Members’ Code of Conduct …’
3.1 Throughout this matter, I have put my points to the Monitoring Officer, and since 23 September to you also, in a reasoned and reasonable way. In response, I feel that I have been “fobbed-off”. That is why I am making this letter publicly available, and copying it to the members of Standards Committee. I hope that the committee will be able to persuade the Monitoring Officer to properly refer all of my allegations to them, where I have failed to persuade her. I do not personally expect to receive a reply to this letter from you, other than an acknowledgement that you have received it. You may, however, need to reply to any points arising from this letter raised by others who may be concerned by its contents.
3.2  I hope that you will treat this letter as a complaint, although it is not a complaint to which I require a formal answer. I do not wish this complaint to be directed at a single individual, but I would like the various errors I have highlighted to be properly considered, and lessons learned from them. I realise that you have been Brent’s Chief Executive for less than three months, but (as I tried to say in the Deputation to Full Council, which I was not permitted to present on 7 September) I believe there are problems with the “culture” which Senior Officers and members have allowed to develop at Brent Council in recent years.
3.3  Here are some quotations, which I am sure you will recognise from your former role at the Local Government Association:
·      ‘a council in denial’;
·      ‘a culture of covering up uncomfortable truths’;
·      ‘some members have not set and modelled the high standards expected of those in public life’;
·      the council ‘has a culture of suppressing bad news and ignoring difficult issues’;
·      the council ‘goes to some length to cover up information and to silence whistle-blowers.’
Although not in the same context, I believe (from my own experience) that these criticisms are as applicable to Brent Council as Louise Casey found them to be in her “Report of Inspection of Rotherham Borough Council”, published in February 2015. 

I wish you luck in your efforts to turn Brent Council around. Promoting high standards of conduct, and dealing properly with breaches of those standards, must be a key part of the necessary improvements.

Yours sincerely,
Philip Grant

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Green candidate Jafar Hassan offers a posiitve choice in Kensal Green By-election

Brent Green Party has selected 28 year old Jafar Hassan, a strategic consultant, as its candidate for the December 17th Kensal Green by-election. Jafar has lived in Brent for 25 years.

Jafar said:
The Green Party came second to Labour in Kensal Green at the last council election so it's vital that everyone in the area goes out to the polls on 17 December to make their vote count. Brent Council needs change and I believe I'm the right person to do that. Whether in Parliament, the GLA or on London councils such as Islington, the Green Party has proved that though few in number we can make a huge difference.

Brent Council is dominated by weak Labour councillors, a divided Conservative opposition, and a single ineffectual Liberal Democrat. The Green Party can win in Kensal Green so I hope that the people here will vote for me  on 17 December.  I will hold the Council to account and put forward positive ideas to fix Brent’s lack of affordable housing, shortage of school places, poor handling of regeneration projects and the cluelessness when it comes to tackling fuel poverty and making homes energy efficient.
The Green Party beat both Liberal Democrats and Tories to come second behind Labour in the  May 2014 local elections.

Green Party stands up for Further Education ahead of Spending Review

The Chancellor's Autumn Spending Review is predicted to include cuts in Further Education, an area of education which is already the Cinderella of the education sector suffering from poor funding and cuts in vital ESOL courses, as well as the casualisation of its teaching force.  The College of Northwest London and Harrow College do an excellent job in the face of these problems.

In a posting on Left Foot Forward today LINK , Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party said:
Unlike the chancellor, the Green Party knows the importance of further education. Colleges educate and train 2.9 million people in England, they train half of all construction, engineering and manufacturing apprentices and 71,000 16 to 18-year-olds undertake an apprenticeship through colleges.

We want George Osborne to adopt the Green Party’s policy in restoring the Education Maintenance Allowance for 16 and 17-year-olds and we would prioritise training in the skills needed to build a low-carbon economy.

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Strike threat at Sudbury Primary School

Staff at Sudbury Primary School in Brent passed a vote of no confidence in the headteacher and governance of the school by 43 votes to 3 last night. The headteacher is currently suspended, which is deemed a 'neutral act', while allegations are investigated.

Staff from NASUWT, ATL, GMB and NUT approved the following resolution after a lengthy discussion about events at the school:
This meeting expresses no confidence in the headteacher and governance of Sudbury Primary and calls for the immediate removal of the headteacher from her post.

If this demand is not agreed we call on our unions to ballot us for sustained strike action.
Union sources said that they were concerned that an attempt is being made to undermine the independent investigation report that led to the suspension of the headteacher and the sequence of events that should flow from the report.

Sudbury Primary is the only Brent primary school to voluntarily convert to academy status. It became an Academy in September 2012. Academy status means that the local education authority has limited intervention powers.

Staff unions are currently challenging moves by Oakington Manor and Furness Primary schools to convert to academy status.

Tulip Siddiq outlines her concerns on Syria bombing

Tulip Siddiq, Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn has set out her views on Syria in a detailed letter to a constituent. I reproduce it below. I have offered, via Twitter, Barry Gardiner MP Labour, Brent North, an opportunity to put his views but have heard nothing back so far:

I am writing in response to your email about the ongoing conflict in Syria, and in particular whether the UK should extend its air strikes against ISIL into the region. I appreciate the gravity of this issue, not least given Britains history of military conflict in the Middle East, so I hope you will forgive a substantive response reflecting the broad concerns you have raised.

To give some important background, the humanitarian impact of the ongoing conflict in Syria has been catastrophic. Various estimates suggest that since the civil war began in 2011, some 210,000-320,000 people have been killed, some 7.6 million have been internally displaced within Syria, and a further 3.9 million have fled the country as refugees. This is the worst humanitarian crisis in decades, and it is clear that many factions in this conflict,  not least the Assad regime, are guilty of war crimes.

This is now a complex and fast-developing conflict involving a range of internal factions, each of which have support from various external actors. At present, reports suggest that Assads grip on the country is weakening. He has lost control of half his territory, having ceded lands in the west to Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups; in the north to more moderate opposition groups; and in the east to ISIL, who declared a Caliphate stretching from Syria to Iraq in June 2014. No longer able to draw revenues from Syrian oil fields, his regime has become dependent on financial support from Iran and Russia; and Shiite Hezbollah militant groups and Iranian Revolutionary Guards appear to be becoming increasingly influential in his army. Regrettably, the recent involvement of Russia, who are now launching air strikes against all of Assads enemies, even moderate rebels, looks set to bolster his regime, increase the death toll and, ultimately, prolong this bloody conflict even further.

As you will know, in August 2013, following the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, there was a push on the part of the British Prime Minister and the US to launch air strikes to support rebel groups in the country. There were two important Commons votes on military intervention in Syria. Although I was not an MP at the time, I would have voted against these two motions. Whilst the US did ultimately initiate a programme of air strikes in Syria, I was glad when Labour MPs joined with backbench Conservatives and Lib Dems to ensure, against the wishes of the then-Coalition Government, that the UK did not participate in these operations. Incidentally, I also personally marched against the Iraq War back in 2003. I remain mindful to this day of the tragic effects that this war has had on the people in the region.

Since the vote in 2013, the situation has developed even further. ISIL has emerged as a formidable and dangerous force in both Syria and Iraq, and indeed in September 2014, Parliament voted in support of a targeted international bombing campaign in Iraq to fight ISIL forces, in support of Kurdish forces and the incumbent Iraqi government. Reports from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) also suggest that the Assad regime has continued its use of chemical weapons, launching chlorine attacks in Syrian villages; and has also withheld a portion of its chemical weapons stockpile, failing to report it to the OPCW. Efforts to broker a peaceful settlement at the Geneva II peace conference in February last year have also failed, in no small part because of al-Assads intransigence.

In the House of Commons in July 2015, in light of the continued conflict, the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon MP suggested that Britain might consider extending its air strikes against ISIS to Syria, joining the existing US operation there. Thankfully, the Defence Secretary has confirmed that should the Government decide to push for military action again, there would have to be another Parliamentary vote. Although the Prime Minister went back on this plan some months afterwards, with the recent tragic terrorist attacks in Paris, it looks like there may soon be another vote on this matter.

Were a Parliamentary vote indeed to take place, I appreciate that I would have a very significant decision to make as your MP, and I thank you for taking the effort to raise your concerns with me ahead of this. Personally, I am concerned about some of the rhetoric people have been using in support of intervention, and I will be pressing the Government to explain more clearly their rationale for further military action. I have four main concerns, which I have outlined below.

Firstly, I feel that neither the Government nor some in the press quite appreciate the complexity of this conflict, and how the situation has changed since the Parliamentary vote of August 2013. Indeed, in my view, subsequent events have entirely vindicated the cautious, multi-lateral approach of Parliamentarians during the vote in 2013. MPs at the time highlighted the difficulty in distinguishing between moderate and extremist rebel groups, and warned that bombing strikes could intensify the conflict, the later emergence of ISIL as a key force in the region only confirms this. Indeed, it is curious that the renewed calls for air strikes are being justified on the basis of a need to combat ISIL even though, in 2013, the target was the Assad regime, the Government have refused to acknowledge this, and many Ministers are conducting themselves as if we are to simply repeat the vote of two years ago.

Secondly, and linked with this, I disagree with the attempts of some Ministers and others to conflate this issue with the ongoing refugee crisis. Military intervention against ISIL would not solve the refugee crisis, if it could, it would have do already, as the US and others have been bombing Syria since August 2014. Furthermore, the bulk of the displaced people in Syria are the result of Assads attacks and not those of ISIL bombing ISIL forces will do little to address this problem. Regrettably, scant regard is also being given to the fact that as significant as Syrian refugees are in the ongoing refugee crisis, they are not the only source of refugees: last year, Britain accepted more asylum applications from Eritrea and Pakistan than it did from Syria.

Thirdly, any action that is taken in Syria must be multi-lateral, and pursued at a UN Level. I agree with Labour Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn MPs calls for a UN Security Council resolution on Syria. He is also right, inclusive in this resolution, to push for the referral of suspected war crimes to the International Criminal Court,  this should include Assad. As a way of resolving this bloody conflict, I support the formation of a unity Government in Syria comprising more moderate factions in the country.  It is clear from their gruesome conduct that neither ISIL nor Assad himself can play a part in this negotiated solution. But the only way to secure this is if we work with our UN partners to achieve it, and Hilary Benn was right to call on the Prime Minister to push for this at the recent UN General Assembly meeting in New York.

Finally, there is an important humanitarian element to the conflict in Syria, and I do not feel that enough is being done to help those who should be the key focus of our concern: the innocent Syrian civilians themselves. Whether they are still in Syria, have been forced to neighbouring states by war or have made the treacherous journey into Europe, they are deserving our help. I disagree with the Prime Ministers decision to opt-out of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees programme to help the refugees in Syria, and also his decision to deny help to those refugees already in Europe. I have written him a letter calling on him to reverse his position on these twin issues. Hillary Benn MP was also right to call, as part of the UN resolution, for the establishment of Safe Zones within Syria to shelter those displaced by war and relieve the pressures on refugees.

Please be assured, therefore, that I will continue to monitor this situation closely and update you on future developments. I will press the Government on the need for humanitarian aid and a negotiated, multi-lateral solution to the conflict in Syria, and challenge Ministers and others on some of the points they have made in justifying military action. I also remain ever mindful both of the consequences of the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, and also the points raised by Parliamentarians at the important vote in August 2013.

Thank you again for contacting me regarding this issue, and do not hesitate to get in touch should you have any further queries or issues.

Best wishes,

Tulip Siddiq MP

Don't bomb Syria - weaken ISIS by cutting off its funds and arms supplies

I am publishing this letter to Dawn Butler from local activist Sarah Cox as a Guest Blog in the light of Dawn Butler's call for constituents to give her their views on the bombing of Syria. Butler's poll is HERE

 I have just sent this email to Dawn Butler. Please email her too. You can do it through the Stop the War Coalition website Home or write your own email LINK
Dear Dawn Butler,

Thank you for your very thoughtful reply to my previous email to you about the possibility of Britain joining in the bombing of Syria. I would like to ask you to consider again how dangerous and indeed counterproductive such a course of action would be.

I am sure you agree that policy decisions should be evidence based, not the result of knee jerk reactions or simply about this country's position in the world, so I am asking you to consider the following facts:

The US has been bombing ISIS positions for a year now and far from reducing the number of ISIS fighters or the area of land they control, both have increased. In fact it has been argued by some Middle East experts that US bombs act as recruiting agents for ISIS.

The bombing and invasion of Iraq did not bring peace and stability to that country, in fact ISIS was born out of the divisions in Iraqi society introduced by the US sponsored Iraqi government.
The bombing and occupation of Afghanistan have not brought peace or stability to that country, nor did NATO forces succeed in their stated aim of eliminating the Taliban, which still controls large parts of the country.

Allied bombing of Libya has not brought peace or stability to that country, in fact it has resulted in the creation of a chaotic failed state in which ISIS is able to recruit and organise.

Only today we learn that Turkish forces have shot down a Russian plane, claiming it was over Turkish airspace, while Russia insists it had not left Syrian airspace. How sensible is it to send more planes into the already crowded airspace over ISIS positions in Syria?

There are up to six million civilians living in the areas under ISIS control. Do you seriously believe that US, French, Australian, Jordanian, Russian and, if this country joins in, British bombs can distinguish between innocent civilians and ISIS supporters any more than the bombs dropped on Dresden (arguably a war crime by today's standards) did between Nazis and ordinary people suffering under Nazi rule?

Can there be any justification for dropping bombs on ISIS because they behead and inflict other barbarous punishments on the people in the areas they control, while continuing to supply arms to Saudi Arabia and other states which also behead and inflict barbarous punishments on people living in their countries? Saudi Arabia does behead people publicly, contrary to what David Cameron says, earlier this year they advertised for eight more executioners and recently sentenced a Sri Lankan woman domestic worker to be stoned to death, yet Britain regards Saudi Arabia, which arms and supports ISIS as a friend and ally.

Surely Jeremy Corbyn is right to say that the priority must be to cut off funding, support and arms supplies to ISIS and to seek a political solution to the immensely complex situation in Syria?

As for the threat of terrorist attacks in this country, I believe that indiscriminate bombing and increasing Western intervention in the Middle East make these more likely and that cuts to police funding will make us less safe. At the same time, a climate of rising Islamophobia, cuts to youth services and policies like the Prevent strategy that seek to silence debate about foreign policy or issues like Palestine could increase disaffection among young Muslims.

Thank you for taking the time  to read this. Please vote against further bombing of Syria and support policies that weaken ISIS by decreasing or stopping its funding and its arms supplies.

Yours sincerely,
Sarah Cox