Sunday, 23 October 2016

Censored: Barnet Tories, gagging residents' views, once more ...

Updated Monday:

This morning, despite the best efforts of the Crapita switchboard operator who hotly denied, for twenty minutes, that there were any such posts, Mrs Angry contacted the acting Assurance Director and (interim) Monitoring Officer and pointed out that the council was acting unlawfully (again) by refusing to abide by its own Constitution, and by barring awkward questions to our beloved Tory councillors at our Residents Forums.

Guess what? Mrs Angry has now been uncensored, and will be disposing of her pieces of cardboard. Don't say you haven't been warned.

And if you have had questions banned, do get in touch with the officers, and insist yours are included too.
9th July 2013

"Mrs Angry pressed the Chair as to whether or not, in his view, the censorship and the repression of the freedom of speech was the mark of totalitarian regimes all around the world. Councillor Cohen seemed unhappy with this suggestion, and could think of no sensible response, but merely asserted, not once but twice, avoiding eye contact, but as if saying it aloud might make it true: There was no censorship. 

 Erm, yes: yes there was, replied Mrs Angry. But of course it makes no difference: Barnet's Tory councillors are simply unable to face reality, and merely repeat the same untruths over and over again, like obstinate children: we did consult, the Judge didn't find we had broken the law, we didn't censor the Forums, the moon is made of cheese, and we are going to win the next election ..."

Updated, 23rd October 2016:

(They did win the election. 

They are trying to censor the Forums again. 

The moon is not made of cheese).

It's hard to believe I'm having to write about this subject again: but then, in the rotten borough of Broken Barnet, it is inevitably going to be the case that the same sort of shabby behaviour recurs, with tedious frequency, and battles we thought we had already won must be fought anew. 

Three years ago, I wrote here about the decision by our shamefaced Tory councillors - after criticism in the High Court about the lack of consultation with residents over the mass outsourcing of council services - to remove the outrageous ban that they had introduced on free debate at local residents' forums, amending the constitution to forbid any questions about, or reference to, council 'policy', and restricting all discussion by residents at these meetings to matters of 'public works', things like potholes, and street lamps. 

They had introduced the new rules specifically to prevent discussion of the looming privatisation, and clearly had never imagined that they might end up explaining to a High Court judge why on earth they had done that, the very opposite to what they were expected to do, indeed required by law to do: to inform their residents, consult them on the proposals, listen to them, and consider their views. 

Consider the views of residents? Why would a Barnet Tory councillor do that? And a senior officer would never allow it: not when the mass privatisation of services must be pushed through, with such haste - and no opposition.

A typical Residents Forum: Tory councillors and officers lining up to face the enemy, and duck the questions they don't want to answer

With admirably McCarthyite zeal, Tory councillors and officers alike had scoured any questions put to residents' forums - put by the people who pay them to run the borough - for anything that might touch on 'policy', or present even the most oblique criticism of such policy, and pounced mercilessly on any attempt to exercise the right to free speech, or free debate. 

Each meeting was prefaced by a lecture read out by whichever po faced Tory councillor was chair, pompously reminding those attending of the new rules, and sternly lecturing them of the dire consequences, should they dare try to defy the authority of their elected representatives. 

This of course led to the most ridiculous confrontation at such meetings, created the most unwelcome publicity for the idiotic councillors and officers trying to wrap up the outsourcing without anyone noticing; and ended in court, with a legal challenge that won the argument, but lost the case - only because the application was deemed to be out of time.

Three years ago, then, the Tories were obliged to review their policy (if I may use the word) of censorship, and then dropped the draconian regulations which forbade residents to raise matters of heresy, that is to say political debate, or criticism of our council's performance, at their own Forums. 

The truth was that by then we were on the way to signing the whopping great contracts with Capita, and no one really had anything to lose. 

Or so they thought.

Censorship is the first and last resort of any desperate right wing regime, and will always be used as a weapon against those who pose a threat to the rule of those who wish to be unaccountable to the electorate. 

In the battle of Broken Barnet, as elsewhere, the first casualty of any new outbreak of war is the truth. And whenever the truth may look as if it may become an obstacle to their agenda, or to an opportunity for profit, there will be a new assault.

The story of our Tory councillors' attack on our public services is a long one, with many skirmishes along the roadside. This is not so much a battle, in fact, as a crusade: a holy war based on an uncompromising political ideology, but used as a pretext for empire building, and commercial exploitation: the latter day equivalent to the templars, perhaps - soldiers of profit masquerading as priests, conquering and plundering in the name of divine right.

If you watched the BBC documentary last week by Jacques Peretti - 'Who's Spending Britain's Billions', you will have some idea of what is happening not only in local government, but in central government, and the NHS. The conquest of the public sector, by private consultants - and by the outsourcing companies, like Capita, Serco etc.

Barnet has always prided itself on being the 'flagship' for a new model of administration, the hollowed out council, which hands over the delivery of services to such companies.  

Problem is that now the cracks are beginning to show in the new model: the so called savings that are meant to accrue from the contracts are revealed to be irrelevant, compared to the massive weight of extra charges demanded for all sorts of other things: all hidden away in the contract, almost entirely unscrutinised by your elected representatives, before signing.

This year saw the most catastrophic crash of the library IT system, and massive loss of data: a system which was meant to be maintained by contractual agreement with Capita. There was also the revelation - by local bloggers - that contractors had been given an extra £100,000 to renew travel passes for disabled residents - that were still valid until 2020 - and had been cancelling some of those passes unlawfully, and without warning, causing enormous distress, utterly unnecessarily. And now we learn, from Mr Reasonable, that the contracts have led, in the last year, to no less than £18 million spent on consultants and agency staff. 

Only now are even the most doltish Tory councillors beginning to realise that the contractual agreement they so easily and lazily endorsed is little more than a licence to print money, and will make them unpopular with voters, as standards decline. Oh dear: because they are committed to more and more outsourcing: and what cannot be outsourced, because there is no money in it - such as parks and - ah, libraries - must be dumped, and kicked over to 'the community' to run because they can't be bothered.

Hmm. Tricky, though, because ... parks and libraries are sensitive and inflammatory issues, politically. People care about them. Voters care about them: Tory voters. Hence the almighty fuss when we publicised what was happening with Victoria Park, here in Finchley, and what is going to happen to all parks, if we are not careful, with parts sold off for development, and responsibility for maintenance shrugged off by the council we already pay to look after them. 

And hence the fear, amongst our Tory councillors and their senior officers, about the shit about to hit the fan, as the library cuts begin to become a grim reality, and no longer an abstract proposal. 

Library staff are now going through the process, nicely timed for the run up to Christmas, of finding out which of them will be likely to lose their jobs, as a result of the cuts and the introduction of DIY, unstaffed libraries, from which children will be banned. And plans are in place to have a rota of library closures as 'modifications' are going to be made to existing library buildings, so that the buildings will become libraries in name only, with smaller space, fewer books - and half the staff missing, if present at all.

Clearly such moves are going to cause a huge reaction amongst residents, once in place, and there will much criticism of the council. What to do, to avert this? 

Stop people talking about it, of course. Gag the residents' forums again. If they don't talk about it, we can pretend it's not happening.

The next round of Forums are taking place this coming week. As part of their relentless drive to make these meetings as inaccessible as possible, incidentally, the Chipping Barnet meeting will be held in  ... Hendon.

I submitted a number of questions on a range of issues to my local Forum, Finchley and Golders Green.

Back came the response: 

... the Residents Forum has within its remit the responsibility to consider local matters for Finchley and Golders Green area and these matters fall outside the scope of the responsibility of the Residents Forum ...

Eh? The list of questions was already published, I was informed - with only two of mine allowed, one about a pothole, and another about parking. 

Public works, see? Vanilla. Nothing risky. Of course, plenty of scope for Mrs Angry to create opportunities, via the supplementary questions, for condemnation of privatised council services, but requiring a certain amount of effort. And besides, potholes in Finchley are the favourite subject of Labour councillor Arjun Mittra, and no one is allowed to talk about parking, ever, other than Mr Mustard.

The following questions, the really important issues, were forbidden: they would not be allowed to be referred to at the meeting, or discussed, but written queries would be forwarded to the relevant departments. 

Er: no, thank you - I want this debated with other residents, and councillors and senior officers held to account. 

Another female resident, prominent in the summer's campaign to stop the development in Victoria Park, had also had questions barred on the same pretext: perfectly sensible questions about matters such as on the placement of planning notices, pavements and driveways, the peculiarities of the Barnet Capita planning website, the FOI process. Nope. Banned.

These were mine:

Subject: Library staff
Submitted by: Mrs Angry

Tory councillors insist that the 60% cuts in library budget are necessary because of the demands of 'austerity', which means £2.85m will be culled from the Libraries service total of £4.8m, in itself a modest amount for a service that was already independently assessed as representing good value for money. Of course at the same time they are spending £6 million on gutting libraries, shrinking the space, and preparing them for a DIY, staffless service.

The impact on the well being of residents, especially children who will be barred from the new  unstaffed libraries, is incalculable and will affect the most disadvantaged residents.

At the same time as cutting this vital service, Tory councillors are happy to sanction the eye wateringly high level of expenditure -  of £18 million in the last year alone - on private consultants and agency fees. How is that morally or economically justifiable?

Subject: Budget
Submitted by: Mrs Angry

Half of the library staff who currently help members of the public when they visit their local libraries are about to lose their jobs, supposedly because of the need to save money.

Please explain, therefore, why those same Tory councillors have just handed half a million pounds, ie a substantial amount of the 'savings' they claim we need from the library budget, to the RAF Museum, a national and well funded museum - especially when they shut our own local museum, again on the pretext of economy. Also explain why another £800,000 has been spent on creating additional posts on the council's PR team, specifically to 'manage the council's reputation', as we head towards the next local elections. 

Subject: Library staff
Submitted by: Mrs Angry

Tory councillors believe that a professional library service can be run by unqualified volunteers. Are they willing to become unpaid volunteers, and carry out their civic roles without their allowances, and free parking permits?

Subject: Fees for renewal of travel passes
Submitted by: Mrs Angry

The council was recently exposed as allowing Capita to charge another £100,000 fee, on top of the normal massive contractual charges, to renew travel passes for disabled residents which did not need renewing, and in some cases were unlawfully cancelled, causing enormous distress to their users, often finding themselves stranded, unable to access public transport.

Why was Capita not asked to return this fee, and why was no one held accountable for this 'mistake'?

Now why on earth would our councillors not wish to discuss these issues in public with other residents, do you think? 

I objected to the banning of my questions, and asked for details of the section of the Constitution which authorises the censorship of questions by a resident to a residents' forum. No reply. 

 I wrote again: 

I'm afraid if you do not give a satisfactory response to this asap, I will be making a formal complaint about what is a breach of the Constitution, and yet another attempt to censor the views of residents and taxpayers, in defiance of the Nolan principles of openness and accountability.

Reply, which the officer had copied to the Tory chair, Cllr Shimon Ryde, so evidently he is well aware of the censorship, and indeed may be the one insisting upon it:

Can I just signpost you to Responsibility for Functions Annex A of the Constitution that explains that the forums are an opportunity for any resident to raise local matters. 

Hmm. Let's take a look. Ah.

My reply: 

May I just re-signpost you to the part of the Constitution to which you refer?

Local matters are any matters which are relevant to the Council except for matters relating to specific planning or licensing applications.

Just to repeat, with my emphasis: 

Any matters relevant to the Council. 

This is perfectly clear, and your refusal is therefore in breach of the Constitution. 

I realise that censorship is a necessary part of the Tory process of government, but even this administration is supposed to be compliant with the definitions of its own Constitution. 

Please confirm either that:

a. my questions will be included, or

b. you intend to act in defiance of the council's Constitution.

Many thanks

Mrs Angry 

They never learn, do they, our Tory councillors, and their senior management?

And they appear to have no respect for the process of democracy, resenting anyone who asks them to be accountable to the residents and tax payers of this borough, and as soon as they think they can get away with it, resort to their usual tactics of avoiding transparency, openness, debate or genuine consultation. No doubt even now they are plotting to rewrite the Constitution again.

Don't let them get away with it: please keep making life difficult for them, and insist on your right to take part in that process of democracy. Don't stop asking questions, and demanding answers.

The Forums are held on 26th October, at 6.30 pm (timed so as to deter as many residents attending as possible) - Finchley & Golders Green meeting at Avenue House, East End Road.

And if you are concerned about the library cuts, please look at the last post and see what you can do to voice your views on the subject, or attend a local 'information' session, and ask difficult questions. If you live in Finchley, there is one of these 'events on Tuesday morning, 10-12, at North Finchley library.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Black October: Barnet Tories sharpen the axe bringing devastating cuts to your library service; the Lodge, and Freedom Passes- the next step

Victoria Park Lodge, October 2016

Ah yes: autumn. Season of mists, and mellow fruitfulness: the time of harvest, where once we laid the altars with the bountiful goodness of our labour in the fields, but now, here in Broken Barnet, the product of all the furtive planning and toil of our Tory councillors, their contractors, and consultants, so lovingly tended over yet another summer of discontent, is put to one side, as they begin to feast on the profits of their work.

After the silly season of August, and the even sillier Conference season of September, we find ourselves in Black October, when nights draw in, and we must contemplate the dark winter to come. And this winter promises to be a very dark one, in Broken Barnet.

Look over there: half our library staff about to be packed off to the Job Centre. Goodbye, all: we don't need you anymore. We have thrown out half the books, shrunk the library spaces, and introduced staffless libraries, from which the borough's children will be banned. Unfortunately, not banned will be the individuals who are currently causing problems for staff and residents alike by their behaviour, who are reported all to have tickets, and will be able to hang out in these unsupervised libraries, terrorising any other users who dare to come in. 

Incidents in recent weeks reported to Mrs Angry include a member of staff sworn at when censuring a member of the public for racially abusing a disabled child; police called after a member of the public smashed a mirror, and then returned to the library, later in the day; a female member of the public so drunk, in the daytime, that an ambulance crew had trouble in persuading her to accompany them for treatment;  this is part of the everyday life of libraries, in a 21st century society.

Let us emphasise again, that the majority of these residents have library tickets, and will be able to access the new, DIY, unstaffed libraries, with no one there to intervene.

Yet, as Mrs Angry understands, we have yet to see the promised 'Safeguarding' policy that needs to be in place in order to address some of the many risks and unanswered concerns over the new unstaffed libraries - something which we must emphasis has never been attempted, on this scale, anywhere comparable.

Barnet and Capita have had two years in which to prepare for the programme of cuts, and to help staff at risk of redundancy prepare for their own futures, once they are sacked. 

There are 51.5 full time equivalent posts being slashed from your local branches - but the final number of people who will lose their jobs is yet to be determined.

Those members of staff getting the old heave ho, however - still waiting, many of them, for the information they are due, in regard to their financial futures. Pension seminars have been cancelled. Deadlines for competitive job selections were set, but are now being passed.

Six local organisations have been asked by Barnet Council to submit business plans to supplant our sacked library staff, and attempt to run what will be presented as a public library. These are:


Inclusion Barnet

Mind in Barnet


The Hope of Childs Hill

TES Youth

There were other bids, of course, including - and you may find this absolutely astonishing, as I did, when I heard about it - a bid from the Labour group's spokesperson for Libraries, who proposed running a sort of training hub, linked to her own company - properly declared in her interests, it must be said.  The proposal was rejected.

I am not entirely sure why I was astonished, to be frank. But the political ineptitude of such a move - or at least the extent of the group's naivete in allowing such a bid to go forward - is breathtaking.

Jenny and Siobhan O'Dowd, victims of the Freedom Pass 'renewal' scheme

Freedom Passes, next: one of those issues that the opposition group messed up on, leaving it to local bloggers to kick up about, and pursue. 

I didn't bother writing about the Policy and Resources meeting, some weeks ago now, at which this issue was the subject of questions to the committee - but where of course, as usual, the Tory leader shrugged his way through any suggestion of blame for what was by any standard an utterly scandalous matter: the demand by Capita for a further fee of £100,000 on the pretext of renewing something that did not renewing, ie the travel passes that disabled residents are entitled to, under statutory criteria. 

We found out that some of these most vulnerable pass holders were finding themselves stranded, their passes arbitrarily, and unlawfully, cancelled without warning, on spurious grounds. Labour did not understand the issue and kept banging on about criteria set by London Councils. They were still banging on about it at this meeting. And one councillor even thanked officers for their hard work on clearing up the mess created by this unlawful process. One officer at the table earns a six figure salary, and had previously admitted that he was responsible for the scheme which caused so much distress to so many vulnerable residents. Sorry, but I'm not sure he deserves anyone's thanks for having to put right what should never have been done in the first place. My sympathy is for the victims of this scheme, who are still contacting me, worried about the future of their travel passes.

Tory councillors now maintain the renewal process was and is still necessary, because 'people's circumstances change'. 

Reminding them, at the meeting, of the young man whose father was driven to write MY SON STILL HAS DOWN'S SYNDROME all over his form did nothing to pierce their impenetrable sense of self satisfaction. They are beyond shame, of course.

Let us say it one more time. The criteria, as explained in a letter before action from counsel representing one of the residents affected, are STATUTORY. They cannot be ignored, or changed. 

Barnet, and Capita, however, are now reviewing the Freedom Pass scheme. Rather like  WC Fields reading the bible, looking for loopholes, you might think. 

Please take part in the consultation process, and consider attending the drop in sessions to make your views known.

But the matter of the unlawful process that took place earlier this year will be left as it is: with no one in trouble for sanctioning an unlawful and deeply distressing process - and Capita facing no financial penalty at all for their actions. Indeed they continue to prosper from it. 

The reason I did not write about this before was because, frankly, I had felt so sickened by the failure of all concerned on the council to take ownership of this scandalous story, sort it out, admit it was just wrong, penalise those who were responsible, and make sure it will never happen again. 

It will happen again, of that you can be sure. Maybe not with the passes, but with other contractual profiteering schemes, other scandals, other injustices. And who will speak out about it, and do something about it? Only the 'usual suspects'.

Sitting in this meeting I had begun to feel a sense of total despair, and one which is hard to shake off: the Tories are utterly shameless, and would rather defend such a wretched scheme, than admit wrongdoing, and lose face, and have to admit that the contract with Capita, which they approved without thorough scrutiny of the detail, in which is hidden the devil's own work, making excess profit from payments beyond the core contract 'savings'.  

And the Labour opposition which should be jumping on the evidence which prove the diabolical nature of these schemes, and those that agree them, simply fail to do so. The fear of appearing too radical, or unkind to senior officers, leaves them in a state of inertia - and one in which too many of them are too comfortable. Too many of the longer serving and 'moderate' members don't really seem to  want to win control of the council: and they fail to understand that they never will, anyway, unless they convince voters that they offer a robust rejection of Tory policy, and a viable alternative to the current administration. It is a reflection of how things were, with the party nationally, until the arrival of a new leader.

As individuals, most Barnet Labour councillors are hard working, well meaning representatives: but the more important responsibilities need to be given to some of the younger, and frankly brighter members, so that collectively, as an opposition, they begin to - well, oppose. We expect nothing but the worst from the Tories: but we depend on something more, something better, from Labour.

Still, at the meeting we spent most of the time debating something much more important than the destruction of our library service, or the removal of travel passes for the borough's disabled residents. 

Diving facilities at Copthall: well - this is a matter about which a small number of parents who have children training in this sport care about very much, and although one has sympathy for them - the council has decided not to bother with such facilities, in the future, on the grounds of cost - it hardly necessitates a greater level of debate than other more subjects: but of course parents were sitting in the gallery, and had a very articulate representative making a strong case for the retention of diving. This always concentrates the minds of our councillors.

The Tory members, incidentally, claimed that the Labour opposition had already voted for the plans which included this proposal. Oops. Splash: quite a bellyflop, in fact. Yes, but now, said Labour, We Are Listening To Residents. 


At the P&R meeting, our Tory friends, who are always keen to lecture us on the need for cuts to public services, especially our libraries, due to the economic burden, and yet fresh from throwing £800,000 on the creation of more PR posts to 'manage the council's reputation' (To be fair, £8 million might be a more appropriate sum) - now decided to approve the gift of £500,000 of our money - that is to say the money of the hardworking tax payers of Broken Barnet - to the RAF Museum.

Why? F*ck knows. Because they could. Who needs libraries, or meals on wheels, when you can look awfully big giving money to a national museum?

What a shame our own local museum at Church Farmhouse was shut, its irreplaceable collection ransacked & flogged off, and the beautiful listed building put up for sale - unsuccessfully - by the same Tory councillors: on the usual excuse of lack of funds. 

The RAF Museum - which was host for BBC Question Time last night - has a perfectly sound system of fundraising, and is perfectly capable of managing without half a million quid from Barnet residents.

When heckled (by Mrs Angry) on the point about funding this museum, while depriving the borough's children of libraries, and our elderly residents of meals on wheels, Tory deputy leader and failed GLA candidate, Dan Thomas, remained unmoved, of course, staring straight ahead, with his usual cool, blue eyed indifference. 

They know, the Tories, that this sort of handout, and the money splurged on propping up their shabby reputation in the run up to the next local elections, is really proof of the lie of austerity, and indefensible, on any moral ground - but then they do not measure policy by moral standards. Or rather they see a higher purpose: loyalty to a ruthless ideology that despises the very idea of public services.

You would hope that the Labour opposition thinks otherwise, and would seize this opportunity to lay bare, and then eviscerate, the damnable hypocrisy of the Tory expenditure. Not a bit of it. The leader waffled on about the Museum arguably being a good thing for the local community in terms of ... apprenticeships, maybe? Eh? And muttered that on the whole there probably were better things to spend the money on. But then - the Labour councillors abstained, did not oppose the RAF grant. This was infuriating.

A Labour councillor since explained to Mrs Angry the rationale was that if they had opposed it, the Tories would tell voters that Labour ... was showing a lack of respect for our armed forces.

Give. Me. Strength.

My father served in the RAF during the war, defending this country from fascism - although sometimes, these days, one might ask why he bothered. Before that, he served as a local Auxilliary Fireman, defending this area from fire, and explosions - including an incident at what was then Hendon Aerodrome, now the home of the museum.

Many of my Sunday afternoons as a child were spent being obliged - most reluctantly, it must be said, (and in revenge for which I would routinely sabotage my brother's squadron of airfix models ...)  - to wander around the wonderful collection of planes, and RAF memorabilia with my father and brother.

Saturday mornings, however, were always spent visiting the local library, in Edgware, which entirely supported the voracious reading requirements of all four of us, on a weekly basis. 

My father held a Barnet library ticket until his death, aged 95. 

He was thrilled that his grandchildren used their local library too. 

He was a dyed in the wool Tory, as it happens - but he would have been beside himself with fury at the thought of the current assault on our library service, by a Conservative council; depriving other children and elderly residents of easy access to books, and information, and support. 

He most certainly would not have wanted to see the profligate giveaway of half a million pounds to the RAF museum, whatever his own part, and sense of pride, in its history, while our libraries are destroyed on the pretext of shortage of funding. 

But then again, earlier in the year, lecturing the Tories about the proposed library cuts, and quoting Margaret Thatcher and her protection of libraries at them failed to do anything more than make the relentlessly prim, self confessed Thatcherite Cllr Helena Hart look as if she had a mild case of indigestion. One cannot expect any policy decision made on the basis of caring Conservatism, or even Thatcherism, in Broken Barnet.

The Barnet Tories, who claim to worship the memory of the Milk Snatcher, in fact are doing everything they can to undo the foundations of her legacy in one respect: her determination to give the feckless hoi-polloi a sense of aspiration, and a means to social mobility. Look what they have done to the council flat right to buyers in West Hendon: and now look at what they have done, or are about to do, to the local library service. 

Victoria Park Lodge, under new ownership

Another issue which reared its head during the summer, and continues still, is the interesting story of the park keeper's Lodge, in Victoria Park. (See previous posts in Juy and August). After a briefing by local campaigners, local councillor Ross Houston submitted questions to officers about the sale, which they would not answer at the meeting, but agreed to do so in writing within two weeks.

When the matter was discussed at committee, two Tory councillors declared interests, in that they had knowledge of parties related to the Lodge application, as you will note from the minutes. Only one left the room, when the item was discussed, although Mrs Angry can't recall whether or not he did when her questions on the matter were discussed. 

If you have followed this tale, you will probably know that despite the covenants which campaigners believe should protect the park from development, Barnet disposed of this property in a cash sale to - well to whom, exactly, is a very good question. No one is quite sure. 

The name of the purchaser on the contract has proved rather difficult to track: a man who apparently lives at the address of a property owned by the builder of the man who apparently is the developer of the Lodge. But who also gave the address of the developer - and whose signature was witnessed by someone with an overseas address - at the time of purchase. And had two different solicitors. Got that? 

The other odd thing is that a group of residents who went to pose for a group photograph outside the Lodge were told by someone claiming to represent the managers of the property that the company that owned it was another company altogether, whose director, it would seem, from checking it out at Companies House, is a Russian national. How curious. Perhaps there has been a misunderstanding, or something ... lost in translation. 

And now the Lodge ownership has changed hands again, on 16th August, according to Land Registry records: from the man whose name is on the contract - to the developer's company. That was a few days before the decision was made which refused the application to demolish the Lodge, and build a monstrous block of flats in the park. Curiouser and curiouser. 

An application to put in a loft conversion has now been made - why, when the developers wanted to demolish the property and build a block of flats is unclear. 

Of course, Barnet sold the Lodge knowing that the covenants appear to forbid the building on the site of anything other than a park keeper's Lodge, a cricket pavilion, or a bandstand - so it would seem to be a case of 'caveat emptor', and what one lawyer acting for Barnet suggested might well be 'a white elephant'. Oh dear. As I've said before: I'd as for my money back, if I were you, Mr - oh. Well, whoever's money it was - did you keep the receipt?

Mrs Angry's friend, the Park Lodge crow ...

In the meanwhile, the lovely garden of the Lodge has been the focus of attention: the hedging mercilessly cut back, and a delightful old yew tree cut down. The Lodge crow is pretty damned furious about it as you may imagine - or so he informed Mrs Angry this afternoon, as she passed by, admiring the trail of rubbish in the bushes, and bags of it dumped outside - but at least passers by may now admire the remaining stump of the Arts and Crafts chimney which was mysteriously cut in two, in the middle of the night.

The other yew remains,  being subjected to a preservation order, but an application was submitted to cut this back too. Latest news, we understand that details on this move has been updated as 'application invalid on receipt' - so who knows what is going on? 

Well, one person who may be able to tell us is the council's External Auditor, who is reviewing the circumstances of the sale, and whether Barnet did indeed have power in law to sell the Lodge, as part of his annual review of the accounts. The audit certificate has not yet been awarded, while objections to the sale, and those in regard to other matters, are still under investigation.

East Finchley library, pre cuts

Back to libraries, now: just received this copy of an email sent to Barnet councillors, regarding something the Tories are keeping awfully quiet about, of course.

Here is the beginning, then, of the end for Barnet Libraries - or it will be if you don't kick up about it:

1.       Proposals for resident, member and staff engagement on changes to library buildings - prior to submission of planning applications
2.       Submission of planning applications
3.       East Barnet Library – Public consultation on the proposed co-location with the new leisure centre
4.       Changes to library fees and charges.

1.    Resident, member and staff engagement on changes to library buildings

Resident engagement: Resident information sessions, led by officers, are being scheduled to take place at library sites from the end of October, two weeks prior to the submission of planning applications during November. The aim of each session is to engage and inform residents about key changes to their local libraries, with indicative timelines of building works and any temporary closures required. They also provide residents and library users with an opportunity to comment and ask questions about the proposals ahead of the final submission of the planning application. The same information will also be available to view on the Barnet website as the sessions begin. The sessions will be advertised at library sites, in the local press, and through use of social media.

At each session, proposed floor plans and indicative timescales for the building works will be shared together with any potential period of temporary library closure. Where it may prove necessary to temporarily close a library building to enable works to be completed, information about alternative library services and transport options will be provided. Following each public information session, display boards will remain at each site for ongoing information and updates on the changes taking place.

Information sessions will take place at:

North Finchley

Tuesday 25 October

10:00 - 12:00


Tuesday 25 October

14:00 - 16:00

East Barnet

Wednesday 26 October

14:30 – 16:30

Chipping Barnet

Wednesday 26 October

18:00 – 20:00

Burnt Oak

Thursday 3 November

14:00 – 16:00


Thursday 3 November

18:00 – 20:00


Friday 4 November

11:00 – 13:00

Mill Hill

Friday 4 November

15:00 – 17:00

South Friern

Wednesday 9 November

11:00 - 13:00

East Finchley

Wednesday 9 November

18:00 – 20:00

Golders Green

Thursday 10 November

12:00 - 14:00

Childs Hill

Thursday 10 November

16:00 – 18:00

South Friern, Mill Hill and Childs Hill, and East Barnet Partnership libraries will be included, although it will be explained that any changes to the current library space are dependent upon the organisation(s) that are successful in their applications to run these Partnership libraries. At East Barnet however, we already know that building works to the toilet arrangements need immediate remedy.

Member engagement: Ahead of these resident engagement sessions, we have arranged for members to have early sight of the proposals. For members, some of you will have attended the briefings held over the summer period and therefore be aware of the outline proposals at particular sites. These have now been further developed, together with an indicative timetable, all of which will be available for members early in the week commencing 17 October, when we will send out another email.

Staff engagement: The design proposals and indicative timetable will also be shared with library staff in the week commencing 17 October.

2.    Submission of planning applications for changes to library buildings and for potential change of use (commercial letting)

Following the resident engagement sessions, planning applications will be submitted during November for each of the sites that require it.

3.    East Barnet Library proposed co-location with potential new leisure centre – public consultation

Through the consultation undertaken as part of the wider strategy for libraries, residents told us that co-location of services was a good way to tackle some of the financial challenges faced by the service. As you may recall from the committee report on the Library Strategy, there is a potential opportunity to re-locate the Partnership library at East Barnet to within the proposed new leisure facility at the Victoria Recreation Ground in New Barnet. Although the new leisure centre is not due for completion until 2019, in order to ensure the building provides new, fit for purpose library facilities we need to finalise the building design shortly.

Therefore we will be consulting with local residents around the current East Barnet Library site and the proposed re-location using an online and paper questionnaire starting at the end of October. The results will be collated and analysed, and a report of findings produced early in the new year to inform the final decision. In the meantime, the procurement of a partner organisation to run the East Barnet Partnership library continues and all applicants are aware of the potential future move.

4.    Changes to library fees and charges

From 1 December, a number of the library service fees and charges will be changing as outlined in the Library Strategy Committee report.  We will be introducing fines for the late return of child and teen items.  These will be charged at a rate of 5p per item per day.  Fines for adults will be increasing by 5p, however we will be removing the charge for reservations on items already in stock.

Nice touch at the end there: reminding us of the new income generating whizz by your Tory councillors - to make money from overdue books borrowed by those few children who manage to find a Barnet Library from which they are not barred, due to the staff having been sacked. And yes, the income from those children's fines are part of the budget calculation, so they are depending on this money ...

Now that the cuts are not just a matter of proposal, a vague threat hardly understood, but are about to be put into action: this is when the majority of residents will begin to find out what exactly their Tory councillors have decided to do to their local library. They will be shocked, once they understand exactly what it will mean - and this is when the terrible thing the Tories have done will begin to cause electoral trouble for them, especially amongst their own voters. Good.

But what can you do, if you are a Barnet library user who passionately objects to the destruction of your library service?

It is up to you, now: don't leave it to the politicians - lobby them, all of them, councillors, MPs, and insist they listen to your views. Look at what happened, this summer, with the Lodge: the weight of publicity, and the pressure from residents stopped that planning proposal in its tracks, and even had the local Tory MP trying to appear on the side of campaigners (including his favourite blogger) when - ahem - he was the guy in charge of the council when the property was put up for sale ... Grassroots campaigns can and do work - if you are prepared to get involved.

Visit your local libraries, before they disappear: borrow books, support staff - they need it, now, more than ever - go to the 'engagement' sessions, and give the people promoting this nefarious process a hard time, in defence of your library - demand answers to your questions, and tell them what you think of their wilful destruction of the service, on the spurious pretext of economic need. 

Tell them you want to spend your council tax on library staff in libraries, not on more spin doctors trying to mend the tattered reputation of this council, or to make a grandiose gesture to a national museum. 

And please consider joining the national demonstration, next month - remember, remember, the 5th November - in support of libraries, museums and galleries.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Conference 2016 - it's called Socialism, or: the Leaving of Liverpool

Sometimes people will tell you that they cannot remember anything of their early childhood: nothing before the age of six, or eight, or thereabouts ... 

I never believe these claims, and mistrust anyone who makes them. 

Someone who is reluctant to explore the vast landscape of memory rolling on behind the course of their unfolding life is hiding something - from themselves, and from you. 

Others, on the other hand, are still captivated by their past, and haunted by it: menaced by the recollection of a single moment, or a sequence of events, unable to come to terms with their own history.

My own relationship with memory - and the truth, as always - is ... more complex.

Hard to tell, in some cases, if things I think I remember really happened, or were dreams - or based on old photographs, or stories told to me, that my imagination has remodelled, and presented as a false memory: a rewriting of history.

Perhaps all of these configurations inhabit the same part of our subconscious, and it doesn't really matter, as by the time they reach that area, they are all fiction, of some sort.

I thought about this, quite a lot, in the last week, in Liverpool, returning there for the first time since my early childhood, and particularly one wet, grey morning, in which I wandered even further away from the conference centre than usual, keen to escape the ceaseless, pointless hostilities that have erupted within the Labour party, and reconnect in some way with some half remembered part of my own life.

The need to do this was made stronger by by the feeling I had, that in all the time I have been coming to the party conferences, I have never felt more disconnected with the event than I did this last week. 

This was partly because Liverpool itself is stretched out along the waterfront, the old docks, and the hotel I was staying in, booked with another friend from Broken Barnet, who had subsequently had to cancel her trip, was a long way from the centre, and every journey there seemed an effort. 

But then every journey everywhere seemed to be fraught with difficulties: maps that made no sense to my uncoordinated brain, streets without names, (the signs have probably been nicked, love, for the scrap metal, suggested one of the local taxi drivers whose forthright opinions were more interesting than any debate in the conference centre: in some cases,to finish the points they were making they insisted on keeping you in the cab for ten minutes after you reached your destination, so keen were they to discuss the treachery of the parliamentary Labour party, the failure by New Labour to engage in meaningful dialogue with the core working class voters, etc etc ... 

One driver told me with great pride about his great grandfather, who had taken part in one of the dockers' strike, a century ago - and seen two other strikers shot in the street by soldiers.

Another driver had had that Tristram Hunt in the back of his cab. How can you have a Labour MP called Tristram, he demanded? And if you see Jeremy, he added, with what was, in his considered view, clearly a commendation of the highest order, and one that would make up for a year of insults from his own MPs: tell him he's alright.

The other reason for a sense of isolation was not geographical, but political, and personal: the other party members from Barnet present at Conference having supported Owen Smith's leadership bid, most naturally perceive the wicked Mrs Angry as a swivel eyed, arm twisting Trot, trouble maker, and militant Corbynista. 

Disappointing not to be able to live up to such an exciting, if one dimensional, stereotypical archetype, and to fail even to make it to the Momentum event, busy transforming the world: the shameful truth is I meant to go, but never quite worked out where it was, or how to get there, and took that as a sign, in the end, that I really didn't want to go enough to make the effort.

Feeling somewhat marginalised, therefore, and left to my own devices, I dutifully wandered about the Conference centre, looking in vain for much sign of life, or debate - but noting the slight change in emphasis in the stalls present in the hall: fewer corporate attendees, and more campaigning groups. 

Better pens, this year, mind you: always a bonus: a token handful for Cllr Devra Kay, stuck at home, who usually collects as many of these trophies as she can lay her hands on, and counts them gleefully on the train back. Thirty nine, last time. 

Mrs Angry's Conference 2016 award for Teachers' Union flashing light pen most likely to induce migraine/epilepsy goes to ... NASWUT

Some interesting books at Blackwell's stall: 

Corbyn sold out, and no one wanted the last Thatcher book ...

Outside the compound there was a lack of the usual protesters and leafleters: only a stalwart few, like former Barnet blogger Vicki Morris, bothered to show up: 

And on the Sunday morning it was good to see a number of some of the admirable teaching assistants from Durham, so viciously treated by the Labour county council - women forced to accept a massive cut in pay, here to publicise their case:

The Durham TAs come to Conference

The atmosphere everywhere, this year, however, was curiously muted: dull, in fact ... no doubt due to the absence of sulking MPs, and the more lively members being catered for over at the Black E. One theory, in fact, was that the leadership had encouraged the Momentum festival to take place in order to do exactly that, to run a sort of creche for the more hyperactive activists, and keep them safely distracted from the main event. 

In the hall, however, during the plenary indulgence sessions, things were slightly more lively - at times - for once there were even queues at the doors. This provoked some impatience amongst the party faithful wanting to get in. I'm sorry, said the conference volunteer, charged with limiting admission. It's not up to me: I'm only the last link in the chain. Workers of the world unite, suggested Mrs Angry, at the head of the queue: You have only your chains to lose. We're allowed to say that now, aren't we? she asked, looking around, slightly nervously, for members of the NEC, or their network of spies. We were waved through.

On another occasion as we waited there was an attempt to sell us copies of the agenda. I think, said one of the more right leaning members in the queue with whom I had been discussing the party's woes, looking in my direction, rather primly, some of us have our own agendas, don't you? ... 

Len Mc Cluskey, on Monday, put his opinions in his usual blunt style, which used to make those on stage during the Miliband era wince and struggle with their body language, seeking a way of communicating distance from his views. Miliband, in fact, would leave the stage rather than remain while he spoke.

We'd had a rough of couple of months, but we mustn't let that overshadow the fact that we were moving the political dial. Laissez faire economics have failed, and we need a new economic model ... and apart from being against anti-austerity, we must be for something too. He repeated what seems to be his favourite quote - and one of mine - from Harold Wilson: that Labour is nothing, if not a moral crusade. And to those who say that principles without power is pointless, we've seen what power without principles leads to ... 

 “So I say to the merchants of doom, in the words of Shakespeare's Henry V, 'if you have no stomach for this fight, depart the battlefields ...'

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell made a good speech, lambasting the Tory government failure to have any plan in place for Brexit, focusing on the impact of economic injustice, the 'casino economy' promoted by the Tories; the hidden cost of tax evasion and avoidance, quoting 'Christians on the Left' and reminding us that 'Patriots pay their taxes' ... He also announced, to great applause (from me, especially) that a Labour government would ban tax dodging companies from winning public sector contracts. He promised that within 110 days of gaining power, the Trade Union Act would be repealed, and to introduce a real living wage, that Labour would invest in science, renewable energy, and encourage the creation of an entrepreneurial state. Good business, he said, does not need no government: good business needs good government.

At the end of his speech, he mentioned his own association with Liverpool, where he was born, and to the era of his childhood, the sense of optimism and progress that was the mark of the sixties. 

Under Jeremy’s leadership, I believe that we can restore that optimism, people’s faith in the future. In the birthplace of John Lennon, it falls to us to inspire people to imagine.

Imagine the society that we can create. It’s a society that’s radically transformed, radically fairer, more equal and more democratic. Yes, based upon a prosperous economy but an economy that’s economically and environmentally sustainable and where that prosperity is shared by all.

That’s our vision to rebuild and transform Britain.

In this party you no longer have to whisper it, it’s called Socialism.

As I left the hall, two of the boys in suits, examples of the bag carriers, researchers, spads & party workers who still dominate the party structure pushed in front of me. Well, said one of them to the other, in a public school drawl, apropos of some debate about the local political scene: they're always on strike around here, aren't they? 

I had another encounter with one these empty headed creatures in the cafe area: desperate to sit down, as my back problem was playing up, I asked him politely, though somewhat pointlessly, if anyone was sitting on a chair next to him on which he had placed his jacket. No, he said, but someone was, erm, meeting him. At any moment. I leant against the wall, sipping my coffee for about twenty minutes, giving him the Mrs Angry death stare until he could take no more, grabbed his jacket and legged it, perhaps to meet his imaginary friend. 

Of course Mrs Angry had some sympathy: after all, most of us have imaginary friends who always let us down, don't we?

Someone for whom Mrs Angry has no sympathy at all, it must be said, is the deputy party leader Tom Watson, whose speech on Tuesday he clearly thought was a tribute to his wit, wisdom, and outstanding moral stance. I feel this may be something of a misrepresentation of the truth, if so.

There are some who see the current internal fight within the party as one between angels and demons, the definition of which varies according to your own interpretation. Tom Watson is on the side of neither. Tom Watson is on the side of Tom Watson. It seems he wants to be powerful, but popular, and admired, more than he wants anything else. This is a regrettable, but not unusual, motivation for any politician. 

A grandstanding performance, with which he was clearly very pleased, especially when he picked on a woman heckler who quite rightly stood to remind him of Chilcott during his Soapy Sam attack on those who won't leave off criticising the Blair administrations. In his one acknowledgement of the presence of the party leader, he turned to Corbyn and sneered that the woman had clearly not received the 'unity memo'. Corbyn sat still, with icy disapproval, and rightly so. If anyone has failed to take on board the plea for unity, as evidenced in his own speech, it was Watson, who failed to urge the party to unite behind the Leaders, just re-elected with an even more massive mandate. 

On Tuesday, my wanderings around Liverpool were timed in order to take a look at a rally in support of miners who have seen billions of pounds creamed off from their pension funds by the government. Here gathered a crowd of miners, many from the Yorkshire coalfield, looking like all the old miners I remember from my childhood visits to my mother's home town in Durham - tough, but ageing in poor health. 

As we waited for the speeches, one of these old boys nudged the other, and pointed to the edge of the crowd. Look over there, he said, with an expression of contempt: Kinnock's son

Blink, and you would have missed him: Stephen Kinnock, left, in the distance

Yes: there was 'Red Prince' Stephen Kinnock, MP for Aberavon, if you were quick enough to catch his flying visit, in his pristine suit and gleaming white shirt, standing for a brief moment at a safe distance from the crowd, posing for a photograph by someone who appeared to be an aide, with a tight smile, then shooting off, before the speeches began. Perhaps he was in a hurry: probably wanted to read through his notes for the event that was supposed to be chaired by former washing machine salesman Keith Vaz, on the subject of immigration, and how we needed to use the issue to win votes for Labour - a listing which one might hope never to see at any Labour conference.

Just as well he left then, probably. When I moved off, the voice of ASLEF's Tosh McDonald was reverberating around Derby Square, mentioning certain disaffected Labour MPs in terms of less than reverential observation. 

A government pension robber, and Tosh McDonald

Across the street, as I walked by, I noticed an old man with fading, curly red hair, with the sort of face you would have seen on the dockside arriving from Ireland, once upon a time, dressed in threadbare trousers and jacket, slowly bouncing a dayglo tennis ball against the walls of an alley, handling it with such care, it might have been the most precious object in his possession. 

Perhaps he had few other possessions, and it was exactly that: precious. He stopped, when stopped by another old man, asking him what he was doing, thereby interrupting the ritual - then he took out from his pocket a tiny pink hairbrush, the sort a little girl would buy from Claire's Accessories, with her pocket money - and brushed his hair with it, just as slowly, looking across the road at the miners, with an inscrutable expression.

That night was an event of no little significance to many of the members attending Conference from Broken Barnet: the Labour Friends of Israel reception, which I normally attend, but missed last year, due to a sequence of unfortunate events. This year I wanted to make the effort, as it could hardly be a more important time to show support.

Corbyn addresses the Labour Friends of Israel reception

The Labour leader traditionally attends this event: and Corbyn this time had had the sense to listen to well informed advice on what needed to be said - and he said it. In the circumstances, it is a tribute to the tolerance and good nature, and good manners of those present that he received nothing but a warm welcome, and generous applause. One report claims that there was some booing when he began to speak, but if so it must have been muted, as I didn't hear it - and after his speech there was nothing but a courteous, enthusiastic response.

Visibly nervous, he set out to declare his absolute condemnation of anti-semitism: referring to its 'vile and ugly head', and he stated in no uncertain terms that he would not allow the Labour party to be a home for anti-semitism. He could not have been clearer. He paid tribute to Shimon Peres, then in the last moments of his long life - and yes, he mentioned Israel, several times.

Predictably, of course, this speech and this condemnation was not widely reported. 

Hats off to the Jewish Chronicle, Morning Star, and Spectator: otherwise ... if it was reported elsewhere, I couldn't see any references. No doubt at all that this is because it does not fit the agenda of the elements of our revered media who prefer to deal in smears, and relentlessly negative stories about Corbyn. 

He repeated the same condemnation of anti-semitism the next day in the Leader speech, which was necessary, and welcome. And Barnet councillor Kath McGuirk spoke to Conference in the morning on the subject of combatting not just anti-semitism, but all forms of discrimination: let's hope the party now gets to grip with the issue with actions, and not just words.

At the LFI reception were some of our local councillors, (turning up late, for some reason ...) including one who told me he was staying at the Adelphi Hotel: not through choice, but because he could not find any other room. Bit grim, he said. And then I told him I had been there, earlier that day.

This was a diversion I was always going to make, and part of the reason I had made the journey to Liverpool: to revisit a place I often think about, being the scene of one of those moments in your early life which mark a point of significance you will struggle to understand, even a lifetime later; but a memory which recurs, as if asking a question. 

Before this week, I hadn't been here since I was around four years old. 

It was in the sixties: we were going to Ireland, for the first time, because my mother wanted to see the border country of Mayo and Sligo, where the family of her grandmother, who had helped bring her up, had come from. 

My father explained that the ship we would sail on would take our car on board, that the car would be driven onto a giant net, and be lifted on to the deck, from the dockside. He had forgotten to tell me that we would not be in the car when this happened, and all the way to Liverpool I worried about this terrible ordeal ahead, hanging up in the air, swinging above the perilous, watery gap between the ship and the quay.

When we got to Liverpool, we drove along the waterfront,  peering up to see the the Liver Birds, their wings outstretched in greeting - and then we went to visit some business colleagues of my father, who was a member of the Baltic Exchange, and worked in shipping, in the City of London: in some dark, dockside warehouse, a gloomy place inhabited by white bearded old men, like clerks out of a Dickensian counting house, who entertained us in some sort of wood panelled boardroom, before we left, probably at my mother's insistence, to have tea, at the Adelphi Hotel. 

We sat then at a table covered in starched white linen in what seemed to me to be the most enormous, cavernous room, attended by waitresses in aprons, pouring tea from silver teapots, as a Palm Court orchestra played across the room, old ladies in long skirts, playing cellos, conducted by a man with brilliantined hair, and a bristling moustache. My father sent him a note, via one of the waitresses, and then, to my horror, and pride, in equal measure, the conductor bowed in our direction, and announced he would play something especially for that little girl, over there. Me. 

The opening notes of 'Teddy Bears' Picnic' filled the room, as, it seemed, everyone turned round to stare at us, - and I slid off my chair, to hide under the protection of the starched linen walls of the tablecloth. Once there, however, as the music played on, it occurred to me that I ought to be revelling in the attention, and standing on the chair, if not the table, acknowledging the rare tribute, one which broke the rules in our family, that you must not ever 'show off'-  or expect any gesture of approval, or affection - for fear of becoming spoilt. 

I'd been warned, in advance, about the Adelphi, from a friend who often visits Liverpool, and yet my expectations were wrong-footed by the reality. 

Not so much modernised, and brash - (apart from the dreadful, mock leather sofas, looking like something bought on impulse from an Argos mass clearance sale) - as deeply, overwhelmingly sad; and something else, hard to put into words, something dark, and oppressive, bearing down on the room, present in the deep shadows, despite the incandescent, glittering, massive chandelier, and the dull light of the filtered glass panelled ceiling, through which you could see years of grime, moss, and old confetti, washed of its colour by seasons of rain.

I found the exact spot that I could still recall, fixed forever in my mind, where my four year old self once sat, and experienced one of those moments in life when you are confronted by the illusion of time standing still. At the table, still, my father, the man of business; my mother, distant, emotionally disconnected; my brother, behaving impeccably, as always, while his naughty sister sat under the table, in awful trouble. Across the tables by the brass railed alcove, the orchestra played on, regardless. And nothing will ever change what we were then, or what those of us who are still here are now. 

In side rooms off the vast, ornate elegance of the dining room, sullen staff sat in grubby overalls, listening to the radio. 

Most incongruously, the strains of music seeping into the room, I realised, were from 'I've got you under my skin', sung by Frank Sinatra ... someone who, as I discovered later, had stayed at the Adelphi, once upon a time.

I would sacrifice anything come what might
For the sake of having you near
In spite of the warning voice that comes in the night
And repeats, how it yells in my ear
Don't you know, little fool:
You never can win ...

Back home, looking up the history of the place, it hardly came as a surprise to read that the Adelphi is supposedly the UK's most haunted hotel. For me, it certainly was - haunted, and haunting. 

Standing there, I felt myself succumbing to the atmosphere of the place, and an inexplicable sense of grief: for the past, and maybe for the future, too - and left before the only other occupants of this vast stateroom, an elderly couple sitting hidden on one of the sofas, waiting obediently for the coffee which had never arrived, wondered why I had tears in my eyes. I knew why I had tears in my ears, that some of the questions I never want to ask myself were answered anyway, in that room.

One night, staring out of my hotel window across Prince's Dock, and another melancholy sunset over the river Mersey, it occurred to me that this place was not only one from which we had left for holidays in Ireland, reconnecting with my mother's family roots, but also the place of arrival of most of those Irish forebears, a century earlier. And a place of departure, for some of them, eventually, on to America, like the ones who were supposed to sail on Titanic, but arrived too late - and whose descendants still possess the unused tickets.

Farewell to Princes' landing stage; River Mersey fare thee well

Liverpool is a place of transition: a point of arrival, and a point of departure. It is also a city whose earliest prosperity was based on the most heinous form of trade: slavery - the commodification of human life; the ultimate, most explicit expression of capitalism.

There is a sense of corporate authority, and a sense of entitlement, written into the architecture and public monuments of this city that is belied, and defied, by its latter history: this is now a city of the people, glorying in its working class heroes, musicians, poets, writers, films: their names written in pride all over the place, in its museums, its streets: a place of rebellion, politically, and culturally.

A fitting venue, then, you would expect, for a conference for the party founded on the principles of attaining social justice for all, to be a voice for working people. But the Labour party, over the last few years, has cut its ties with those founding principles, ashamed of its own history, and only now is the struggle beginning to realign the party with those values. Corbyn's leadership is not an end in itself, and those who fail to see beyond the process of change that leadership has kickstarted are missing the point: wilfully, in some cases.

The Leader's speech has been moved to the end of Conference, and this year tickets were not given to all those attending but distributed according to some sort of system of vetting, unspecified. Mrs Angry managed to pass muster, somehow, and gained entrance to the hall, with a well placed seat. 

This year Corbyn spoke with new confidence, fluency - and passion. It was exactly what the ordinary members in the hall wanted to hear: standing ovations were continuous. Some have reported, presumably from the comfort and distance of the press room, that 'a few' people walked out, when Iraq was mentioned. Being in a position to see anyone leaving, I must say that I saw no one leave - and quite to the contrary, most present stood at this point in absolute agreement with his comments. Makes a better story, of course, the alternative version.

Another myth created by the press was that there were many vacant seats in the auditorium, before the speech began, and that these had to be packed with 'Corbynistas'. Not true. A handful of seats were filled with those at the back of the queue, in the last few minutes - but only a few, and these members were most certainly not Momentum fanatics, but looked more like retired dentists from Scarborough, or library assistants from Cheltenham. (If they still have libraries in Cheltenham?) 

It should also be noted that there was a huge overflow of members without seats, that had to be accommodated in a nearby cinema, so many were there - and who were immediately visited by Corbyn after his hour long speech, and addressed for another ten minutes.

The speech itself followed a short but powerful film reminding us of all the achievements of Labour governments, over the course of decades: the NHS, Human Rights Act, equal pay, minimum wage, and so on: we saw footage of the fight for women's suffrage, the anti-apartheid movement, and each new image was greeted with enthusiasm of course, and it was good to remember this history, these keystone markers of every inch of social progress, stretching back to the very beginning of the Labour movement, all too often forgotten, or seen as history, a sentimental scrapbook of no relevance to a twenty first century party., or worse, a distraction from the progression of brilliant careers.

Of the five leader's speeches I have heard, the one that followed was by far the most impressive: well judged, well delivered, a delightful contrast to the manufactured pap of the Miliband era, speaking straight to the issues rooted, as he said, 'in traditional Labour values' - which ordinary members want addressed: austerity, social justice, the NHS, housing, employment rights, education; an end to tax dodging.

Running like a golden thread through Labour’s vision for today as throughout our history is the struggle for equality.

Rampant inequality has become the great scandal of our time, sapping the potential of our society, and tearing at its fabric.

Labour’s goal isn’t just greater equality of wealth and income but also of power.

Our aim could not be more ambitious. We want a new settlement for the 21st century, in politics, business, our communities with the environment, and in our relations with the rest of the world.

Every one of us in the Labour party is motivated by the gap between what our country is and what it could be.

We know that in the sixth largest economy in the world the foodbanks, stunted life chances and growing poverty alongside wealth on an undreamed of scale are a mark of shameful and unnecessary failure.

We know how great this country could be, for all its people, with a new political and economic settlement.

With new forms of democratic public ownership, driven by investment in the technology and industries of the future, with decent jobs, education and housing for all with local services run by and for people not outsourced to faceless corporations.

That’s not backward-looking, it’s the very opposite.

It’s the socialism of the 21st century.
Who could argue with that? Only those whose interests lie in a different sort of Labour party - one that wants power more than principle, for all the wrong reasons, and projects their own selfishness on to an electorate they think so little of, that they imagine can only be tricked into voting for a Labour government if it clothes itself in the borrowed policies of the Tory party. Those who want to forget the history of the Labour movement, to rewrite it, and the values on which it is rooted.

The speech received a storm of acclamation from everyone around me in the auditorium:  it was a moment of triumph - one that clearly infuriated Corbyn's enemies. We stood to sing the Red Flag, and Jerusalem - and here Mrs Angry can exclusively reveal she was asked to be one of those on the stage behind Jeremy - presumably because she was the only Barnet representative at Conference who hadn't backed the very normal Owen Smith (remember him?) for leader - an invitation which immediately sent her back to that hiding place under the tablecloth in the Adelphi Hotel (although for one brief, reckless moment she did entertain the idea, calculating the degree of embarrassment she could cause her children, on a national scale ...

Outside the exit from the speech, as members left in a mood of exultation, cameras focused on a pair of MPs whose expressions and body language suggested a sense of slight disappointment that the speech had gone so well: yes, Stephen Kinnock, again, and the ubiquitous Chuka Umunna, representing everything, in my view, that we must never return to, in the Labour party.

In front of them another interview was taking place with Angela Rayner, whose contribution at Conference had been impressive, and warmly received. She was speaking from the heart, of the need for unity, as the two sulking representatives of the disengaged side of the PLP attempted to make themselves more relevant than they really are to the movement of the party. 

I thought Liverpool would be a good place to come to, for a wake: for the death of the Labour party. In fact, reports of the death were greatly exaggerated: the movement and the party continue, wounded, but in recovery, just about - just so long as the wreckers who want their way, or no way, for the direction of the party to follow are prepared to unite, and work together to reach some possible point of common interest - and compromise. They've tried using force to get their way: now they need to put their weapons down, and listen to the voice of the ordinary party members who have said, quite clearly, that they want a new kind of politics, one which enfranchises them, empowers them - and no longer excludes or marginalises them. 

Another departure, then, rather than a death, in Liverpool this last week: destination unknown. But the lesson for us all is that a party, or an individual, that ignores their history, and tries to disconnect themselves from the past, cannot move on to a better future. You must confront the past, and the questions it raises, with honesty, honour the good things that we find, and cast aside the bad, to resolve the conflicts that lie in the present. Maybe then we can move on, move forward. Just maybe.

Mrs Angry, eternal optimist, Liverpool, September 2016