Sunday, 30 January 2011

Build a bonfire: the march against the cuts

Just back from the Barnet Alliance anti-cuts march. According to the BBC, an extraordinary number of around 2,000 people joined the protest against the cuts. Yes: 2,000. This was far more than anyone could have predicted, and it tells you everything you need to know about the state of political unrest in our borough.

Meeting up in Finchley Central, the march was joined by residents of all ages, abled and diasabled, angry about he cuts to so many vital services, council workers facing the loss of their jobs, others there to protest about the threats to our libraries and museums, and the cuts in grants to voluntary groups - and of course to the Arts Depot, where the march was heading for a rally.

One family walking behind us had some young children who had evidently already formed sound political judgement: as they marched along they merrily sang: 'Build a bonfire, build a bonfire, put the Tories on the top, put the Libdems in the middle, and you can burn the bloomin' lot ...' Out of the mouths of babes, thought Mrs Angry.

In contrast to the recent sixth form protest, which for some reason was accompanied by bus loads of police and stacks of barriers, this march had noticeably low key policing - and no kettling, sadly - and of course very well behaved marchers. How amusing it was to Mrs Angry to note that whereas the Tory party HQ had a token two police officers outside, (and a broken window, we noticed - nothing to do with the march, but interesting all the same) when we passed the end of the road adjacent to the home of our beloved councillor Brian Coleman, for some reason the road was actually blocked off by no less than FOUR police officers. No other side road en route was blocked, by the way. Mrs Angry cast a glance at the windows of the flat where Mr Toad lives: look - did she see a slightly gothic Bates Motel type silhouette twitching the blinds? Perhaps it was her over active imagination.

It's been a long, long time since I went on a march, and how strange it felt to be taking part in such activities again, dragged back to the bad old days of Thatcherism and Maggie Maggie Maggie, out out out. Walking along I fell into conversation with a former union activist colleague and we mused on the strange cyclical nature of political movements.

This weirdness was reinforced by some of the speakers at the rally, when we reached the Arts Depot. Up stood veteran revolutionary Tariq Ali, who made a great speech, condemning what he saw as a tri-lateral consensus between the political parties in parliament. He castigated the adherence by all parties to the idea of the market as a solution to all problems, and the failure of the Labour party, claiming that half of the current Labour MPs in parliament could be members of the Coalition government. Oops. That didn't go down awfully well with some of the Labour councillors sitting in the audience. 'Rubbish!' shouted a couple of them.

Next up was Frances O'Grady, the deputy general secretary of the TUC. Barnet, she told us, was a window on Cameron's Britain. Hmm, thought Mrs Angry, remembering the broken window in the Tory HQ. Finchley, as Frances reminded us, was the birthplace of Thatcherism: now it's time to make it the graveyard of Thatcherism ... She remarked on the fact that we are blessed in Barnet with some particularly 'colourful' characters. Brian Coleman , for example. As one the auditorium erupted in an almighty BOO and derisory laughter. To further jeers she described the uncrowned king of expenses, the wining and dining from Assetco, and his insulting description of firefighters as 'thick' and thugs'. Oh, and Bob Diamond and his plea to 'stop bashing bankers' was mentioned, and the fact that one third of all Tory MPs come from banking backgrounds.

Musical entertainment came from the Foundations, their last song in the set reminding us of the 'Bad, bad old days that used to be', and which seem to have returned, don't they,big time. The next speaker was Unison's Linda Perks, who denounced the idiotic easycouncil model which this council are grimly determined to foist on us: three years old and still having millions of pounds of our money spent on it, with not a single penny made in any savings, funnily enough. Like Ali, she talked of the politics of greed, where private profit is put before public benefit.

Robert Johnson from Barnet Voice for Mental Health spoke next, and pointed out how the slash in funding to his organisation, was, in terms of percentage, so much bigger than the percentage of savings that Barnet Council says it has to make: why? His organisation is one that takes vital preventative action and the logic of cutting a grant to such a body defies comprehension. Big Society, anyone?

Alex Clayman, the Finchley Catholic High school boy who organised the recent sixth form protest made a good speech. He is a brilliant example of what student protest really is about, rather than the headline grabbing stupidity of a minority of troublemakers, so easily seized on by the press.

Labour leader Alison Moore spoke of the dilemma we faced, caught between the grip of both local and national Tories, the broken promises of the Coalition government, the cynical use by our own home grown Tories of government policy for cover of their own agenda, the One Barnet con: call it what you like, changing the name of a toxic brand fools no one, and no one will forget the historical incompetence of the millions of residents: money lost in Iceland, the bridge overspend, the 2 million lost in education fees, etc etc etc.

Last but not least came a speech by Yvonne Hossacks, the solicitor who has done so much outstanding work to fight against Barnet's shameless attempts to remove wardens from sheltered housing. She said how pleased she was to attend the rally. She talked about right and wrong, about the price of love and the importance of honour, and the shameful deed of stealing from the poor, the weak and the sick.

Other musical interludes included a brilliant appearance by Boz Boorer, Morrissey's guitarist, who grew up in Barnet and wanted to do what he could to contribute to today's event. He remarked on the sad fact that the Torrington, where many of used to go to see bands, is now a Costa: soon, no doubt, to be a substitute library. Oh, no sorry, that's Starbucks. On the subject of libraries, we had a set from Barnet Eye blogger Mr Roger Tichborne, and his band the False Dots, who were terrific, and he also reminded us about the Library campaign, to which he has given a huge amount of effort, with all the passion he shows for the issues he writes about. It is a great shame that he failed to be elected to the council: he would have made a huge contribution, and who knows: perhaps he still will, bearing in mind certain recent events?

On the way home Mrs Angry thought about the rally, and the speakers, and in particular the remark by Yvonne Hossacks: stealing from the poor, the weak and the sick: the One Barnet mission statement, in other words. This is how it is, and how it is going to be, for the foreseeable future, here in Broken Barnet. If you don't like the thought of that, and you want to see a different future for your family, it's time to stand up and be counted, and so something about it. Today a couple of thousand Barnet residents did something about it -tomorrow: it's your turn.

1 comment:

Mrs Angry said...

baarnett: I stand corrected ...!