Wednesday 31 August 2016

Biting the ballot: voting for leader, and the future of the Labour party

A souvenir of last year's Conference in Brighton

A few weeks ago there was a meeting of members of the Finchley and Golders Green constituency party, held in order to discuss the leadership vote. 

This meeting was organised with great trepidation by the local CLP, who wanted to hold a debate, but were determined to be very worried about it, and determined to look for reasons to be very worried about it, worrying about non members turning up, for example, and necessitating the reading of the Riot Act, amid scenes of anarchy and militant tendency tactics, like ... not keeping quiet, and tutting impatiently in their seats. 

As it turned out, no hordes of protesting members or non members showed up, no bricks were thrown, and everyone was impeccably well behaved. This is Finchley, after all.

True, the Chair appeared not to be able to see the raised arm of Mrs Angry, tutting impatiently in her seat, throughout the entire evening, so she was not able to speak, but really it did not matter, as the points she wanted to make were more or less put by others. 

Somewhat surprisingly, the discussion, which ended in a vote by GC members only, to support Owen Smith, was clearly representative of a fundamental split in the party between those who want Corbyn to continue as leader, and those who think Mr Smith will be the salvation of the party.

There was something, though, that Mrs Angry would have liked to say, an observation that needed to be made, and was only briefly touched upon by a young woman towards the end of the debate, who uttered the words 'working class" in passing.

This meeting was the perfect counter argument to those who are trying to caricature the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, or the more radical agenda he represents, as Trots, entryists, SWP, and all the other convenient stereotypical accusations annexed for the weaponry of an increasingly desperate party establishment. Perfect because the reasoned arguments given by the half of the room which wanted to retain the leader who was elected last year, by a landslide vote, were not those of extremists, or thugs, or any of the things some would have you believe, but ordinary people - yes, normal people, Mr Smith - but of a diverse background, many of them new members, or returning members.

Of course when we say diverse, there are limits to that diversity: the one common factor was the vast majority of those present were urban city dwellers, professional people, whose experience of life north of Watford, or within the context of working class politics was ... minimal.

And that explained the lack of insight shown by any of the speakers, on either side, in regard to anything but their own rather insular, metropolitan interests: the interests, almost exclusively, of a highly educated, middle class urban electorate, one which has intellectualised the arguments of principle in action, arguably , into a state of atrophy, and inertia. 

Those who are Corbyn supporters at least addressed the issue in abstraction, if not from experience, but forgot, somehow, to bring it into the conversation. For the other half: those discomfited by the very thought of radical politics, safe in the middle, easy prey for the covert proselytising of Progress cadres, within the local party, and elsewhere: the Fabians, the - oh, nearly said it: can we say it, now we have our ballot papers, and can assume we haven't been barred? The ... shhh ... Blairites ... oh, Mrs Angry, how could you?

It's ok: I've voted, and it's too late to stop me. Sorry, chaps.

No one, at this CLP meeting, stopped for one moment to consider the real reason for the loss of the last General Election: the failure to retain core Labour voters, in traditionally loyal areas, and to win support from the huge mass of voters who are indifferent to the regurgitated spin that has been passed off as policy, and who, under the terrible depredations of the Cameron government, have been denied any radical alternative, or hope of something better.

If allowed to speak, I would have alluded to this, and asked those present, those who are congregating behind the banner of the Owen Smith campaign to stop, and think, and go and talk to people who live in that other world they know so little about, who live in poverty, and despair, for whose interests the party was formed in the first place, to fight social injustice: to be difficult, and challenging, and strong - not to compromise the principles of socialism. 

After the CLP meeting, Mrs Angry, not entirely seriously, asked one of the Smithites if they actually knew any members of the working classes. Yes, was the considered reply. A member of their immediate family had married one. 

This is a true story, readers. 

If allowed to speak, I would have laid out my own views on the leadership choice, and the complex reasons that have brought me to the decision I have made. I would have refused to be pigeon holed, or caricatured, or dismissed as a 'Corbynista'. I would have explained some, at least, of the steps made on the way to my choice, a progression measured by my experience, over the last few years, of involvement with the party at local level, through close observation, and, in a different way, through the soundings taken at each party Conference.

Come then, with Mrs Angry, as we turn the pages of her own political scrapbook:

Starting in 2012, and Manchester,  a baptism not of fire, so much, as rain, constant rain, and a sense of deep dismay, at this first immersion: finding the gap between the way the party is run, the distance between its roots in the founding of the Labour movement, and the self congratulatory, self serving establishment, too much to bear. 

Here, on the sacred ground of St Peter's Fields, rising not like lions, but scuttling about like little grubby grey mice; running corporate sponsored events, not fighting the evils of capitalism, but welcoming it with open arms, even as the public schoolboys who run the party stood, with no interest in their surroundings, and no sense of historic irony, at a champagne reception at the Peoples History Museum: too absurd for words, try as one might to capture the scene. 

Look: here is David Miliband, sweeping through the perfumed foyers of the Grade 4* hotel that was once the Manchester Free Trade Hall, bristling with indignation at his failure to be elected leader, just before his brother steps onto the stage, and makes his first leader's speech, inspired by an idea not taken from the founding principles of the Labour movement, but from a Conservative Prime Minister - Disraeli and his One Nation, filtered through an appropriation of Attlee, to give it credibility. 

A speech intended to be an attempt at something new, something borrowed, something blue, for the happy coupling of a new leader with his party, and one which would charm the conservatively minded voters into thinking Miliband's leadership was something they need not find too frightening. 

They didn't. They just found it boring, and irrelevant.

In 2013, Conference went from the damp, gritty industrial city of Manchester to an unseasonably hot seaside venue - Brighton, in all its seedy, raffish charm, stuffed full of easy metaphors for the decline of the party, its state of torpor, marooned like the ruined West pier, unreachable, sliding slowly into the waters.

After listening to a speech by Ed Balls, (who could then only dream of a new career as a dancing clown on Strictly Come Dancing) and learning that it was a lie, that Britain was Broken, Mrs Angry sighed, left the hall, and queued for the ladies loo, behind a party of Glaswegian women, whose views of course are largely redundant within the consideration of the party elite, being women, from Glasgow, working class, and - older women at that. Their views, keenly expressed, were that Ed Balls had nothing to say to them. They don't speak my language, said one.

Much talk, at that Conference, of the 'conservatory test': some Labour shadow ministers were convinced that any Labour leader needed to understand the longing of the working classes, their aspiration, for 'a dream home with a conservatory' ... Jeremy Paxman thought it would be an awfully amusing conceit, to round up some Labour politicians in Brighton, and force them to sit sweating in a mocked up conservatory, and poke them with a stick. Look, there was Alastair Campbell, who - surprise - thought it was a jolly good measurement of electoral satisfaction. 

Oh, and then here was MP Jeremy Corbyn, (who?) who pointed out, rather tersely, that letters from his constituents indicated a rather greater concern about the impact of welfare cuts on their lives, than any interest in acquiring a conservatory. 

Miliband's speech? By the time Mrs Angry had left the hall, and wandered downstairs, and bumped into a friend who asked her what she had thought about it - she had already forgotten.

Back to Manchester, in 2014: Mrs Angry goes to the Labour Conference, and Is Disappointed. As usual. Lions did not rise, nor anything else, much. 

On the other hand, Mrs Angry had an exclusive and frankly unwelcome sight - A Dreadful Scene At Manchester - of a sweaty Ed Balls, dancing - no, gyrating - and singing, in a Cooperative party tent, (possibly something that Robert Owen and the Rochdale Pioneers would not have foreseen) and she thought even then that he had chosen the wrong career. Isn't it good to see him settling down, and doing something useful with his life?

Outside the the Conference centre, the usual number of protest groups, campaigners, and leafleters who had previously lined the entry to the Conference venue appeared to have dissipated, while the streets and shop doorways of Manchester at night, it was noticeable, were now occupied with ranks of homeless people. 

Inside the hall, Chair Keith Vaz listened with great pleasure to the sound of his own voice, addressing the members, apparently to his own surprise, as 'Comrades', rolling the word around his tongue, with care, and expressing himself generally in a manner perhaps more suited to the unctuous assurances of a superior clerk in a Dickensian counting house.

In the audience Mrs Angry spotted the faded, wraith like figure who had attended the previous conferences, slipping in late, dressed in a vintage suit and a hat from the 1940s, sitting still in the audience, at the back, silent, and disapproving, along with many more vocal and disapproving grassroots members, it should be said. 

Mrs Angry liked to imagine, in her whimsical way, when she first spotted this apparition, in Manchester, and the first Conference with Miliband as leader, that she was Mrs Attlee, brought back from the world of spirit, by the blasphemous  misappropriation of the name of her husband, and the betrayal of the founding principles of the Labour movement. 

And last year, back in Brighton, when Jeremy Corbyn had just been elected leader, and the party wrenched out of the hands of the One Nation, New Labour dominated establishment ... she did not appear. It seemed like a good sign.

There were other welcome signs of change, too. With great satisfaction, Mrs Angry enjoyed the clear discomfiture of the previous shadow ministers and their hangers on - those that weren't sulking and staying away - now that Jeremy Corbyn had won a massive mandate from the membership, and we were once again allowed to use the word 'socialism' in reference to the Labour movement. 

The most remarkable thing, however, was the sense of euphoria, and new energy, real optimism, amongst the larger part of the ordinary membership, and especially so, most notably, from the new members.

Much effort has been made by the enemies of Corbyn to demonise the new membership, to smear them as the militant fringe, as aggressive,and  cynically using the party for covert strategies, some of these theories tumbling over the edge of paranoia: Trots, entryists, SWP, bla bla bla. Total rubbish. Of course there are a few extremists among the influx of new members, but the vast majority of them are not: an inconvenient truth beaten out of shape by the bludgeoning press, egged on by those fretting for the return of control of the party, the return to business as usual, and the expedition of their brilliant careers.

Most of the new members I spoke to last year were middle aged women, or young people, the latter newly enthused, as my own student aged, debt ridden children have been, by the idea that politics is relevant to their lives, and can offer a real opportunity for change.

Members greeting John McDonnell at last year's Conference

When we returned from Conference, and the first local party meetings began, it was clear that the old guard were taken aback not just by the size of the new membership, but the disappointing failure to fit the demon stereotype: not entryist Trots, but ordinary local people guilty of the sin of innocence, and a hope for something better. Exactly, in other words, what Corbyn's first speech as leader had offered, to rapturous applause, for once, from the back of the hall.

“...  you don’t have to take what you’re given.
Labour says: “You may be born poor but you don’t have to stay poor. 
You don’t have to live without power and without hope.
You don’t have to set limits on your talent and your ambition - or those of your children. 
You don’t have to accept prejudice and discrimination, or sickness or poverty, or destruction and war. 
You don’t have to be grateful to survive in a world made by others. 
No, you set the terms for the people in power over you, and you dismiss them when they fail you.” 

This is what people want to hear: this is what they want to believe - as John McDonnell had said in his own speech - that another world is possible.

For too long the careerist MPs, councillors, party workers, all the Progress-led puppet masters, all the compromising centrists have failed to see, or care about, is the sense of betrayal that has been building up in traditional Labour electoral heartlands, over the past generation. If they would only step outside their safety zones, and venture into those areas, and talk to voters in the North East, for example, now flirting dangerously with UKIP, or not voting at all, and tried to understand that the legacy of New Labour, of their man Tony Blair, has been toxic, is still corroding the trust that remains between ordinary members and the Labour party.

Nationally, on a local level, in too many places, Labour councils have also failed to read the signals of an increasingly angry electorate. In some areas, this is a result of lack of any tradition of challenge by alternative parties, creating a lazy, and in some cases, arrogant approach to local government. In other areas, such as here in Broken Barnet, the Labour group has become too comfortable in opposition, failing effectively to challenge the Tory administration, and failing to see why that matters. Opposition is left to local campaigners, by default. The few Labour councillors who start with ambitions to present a more radical approach to their role soon lose heart, and give up. It is deeply depressing to watch.

The crisis in the party is the result of the most terrible act of political disloyalty ever seen, in my lifetime: a coup to oust a leader, timed to take place when the nation was at its most vulnerable, and in need of strong opposition. This is unforgiveable. And who are they, to dare to reject such a clear mandate from the party membership? 

The pretext, that Corbyn is unelectable, is self evidently untrue, or he would not be leader: and the uncomfortable fact that his predecessor really was self evidently unelectable ... is ignored. 

We lost the general election because we failed to offer any real alternative to the Tory agenda. Why would anyone vote for a party that was a pale shadow of the real thing? Why would those living with the weight of poverty and social injustice pressing them into abject misery want to vote for more of the same, presented in a slightly less ugly packaging? Why would anyone living with the fear of more punitive welfare cuts vote for a party that agreed austerity was the only approach to the economy, and that welfare cuts were necessary? 

When the supporters of Owen Smith tell you they want only to be elected, to create a Labour government, they mean - they want to be elected, at any cost. They want power. But they want power more than they want what is right, and good. 

When the supporters of Owen Smith tell you, with a sneer, that there is no room for the 'purism' of Jeremy Corbyn, they mean that they do not believe in the principles of the Labour movement, and they prefer the tainted values of Blairism - 'social-ism', something that was provably electable, once, so they imagine it will be again. 

It won't. Things have changed, and people want, and deserve, something more radical, and brave.

The supporters of Owen Smith are supporting him whatever he is, or does, or says, or believes in, or says he believes in, simply because he is not Jeremy Corbyn. And whatever they say about why they want rid of Jeremy Corbyn, because of his perceived lack of leadership skills, or - or what, exactly, apart from being Jeremy Corbyn?- the truth is they want a return not to the politics of principle, but to the party in which they feel most comfortable.

I will not be voting for Owen Smith.

I don't know who Owen Smith is: in fact, I don't think the person offered as a candidate in this campaign is a real person. He is a work of fiction; a myth - a constantly metamorphosing creature, all things to all people, or at least to those who believe he will deliver the party back into their empty hands.

I find much of what he has to say objectionable: not just in what he says, or what he does not say, but how he says it. 

His language, the casual slippage, in his rhetoric, this 'normal' man - with all the charm of a petulant geography teacher, struggling to impress a class of recalcitrant secondary modern schoolboys - into the metaphoric use of terms of violence against women, smashing them off their heels, remarks about the Libdems  filing for divorce 'as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up': for any woman who has had experience of bullying, either physical, or emotional, this is utterly repugnant.

Not helped, Mr Smith, by telling Leanne Woods she was only invited to take part in a programme because of her 'gender', or references to 'lunatics', the comments about too much migration in some parts of Britain - the failure to do anything other than abstain on the welfare bill, the acceptance of the austerity agenda ... I could go on, but - why bother?

At the very least we need a leader who thinks, before he speaks. Smith often does the reverse, partly out of inexperience in the fact of so much media attention, but still: not good enough.

Equally objectionable, to me and many others, are the tactics employed by some of Smith's supporters within the party organisation: the mass suspensions of those who have dared express themselves on social media in ways alleged to be disloyal to the party. You may be disloyal to the leader, in parliament, if you are an MP: if you are a loyal member, you may not express your dissent with the same degree of freedom of twitter, of course.

No one wants to or should tolerate any form of real abuse, in any media or forum, but clearly this wholescale action, intended to disenfranchise such a huge number of members, is not a reasonable attempt to moderate such extremist and unacceptable behaviour - it has moved far beyond that point into something deeply disturbing, and utterly illiberal. 

There is a suspicion that the scale of this undertaking has been launched on the principle, if that is the right word, of trying it on, and gambling on a drawn out process of appeal for anyone falsely accused, way too late to take part in the vote, of course. 

The terms 'McCarthyism' and 'witchhunt' are overused, and debased: in this context, however, to me, it seems appropriate.

Now here is the point. Yes, there is one to all this: a long rambling explanation of why I will be voting for Jeremy Corbyn. 

Well, no: I am not voting for Jeremy Corbyn. 

I'm voting for a socialist leader, of a socialist party, and because I most certainly do not want the party to slide backwards to what it was, before his election last year: a haven for aspirational career politicians, determined to defend an emasculated party with no possibility of offering a radical alternative to the neo-liberal consensus that our political system has become. 

I voted last year for Corbyn because I felt his leadership represented a chance to initiate a process for change within the Labour party: to bring it back in line with the true values and tenets of the Labour movement, but in a way equipped to deal with the challenges of Britain today. I still believe that process is necessary, and only just begun.

Do I think Corbyn is the ideal leader? No. In fact, I think Corbyn has lost the ability to lead the party, now, as it is. But then again - how do you lead the unleadable? 

He has had that ability taken from him, by a cabal of disloyal, cowardly, and in terms of tactics, the most inept MPs, who put their own interests before that of the country, and the party - having accepted posts in the shadow cabinet when it suited them - and yet had no proposal for his replacement for leader: wreckers, with no long term strategy, or vision: vandals, with no sense of responsibility. 

And here we are, now, with a party torn apart, a leader elected with the biggest mandate ever seen, shown the most gross disrespect by the PLP - but offering no credible alternative. 

So, if his position has been made untenable, you may ask, why am I voting for Corbyn? 

What choice do I have? I could, like Owen Smith, faced with a decision on opposing welfare cuts, abstain. But that would be to stay silent on the principles in which I believe, and betray them.

I don't subscribe to the cult of Jeremy Corbyn, or any other politician, for that matter. I think he is an honourable man, and a man of integrity, but no leader should be beyond criticism. He is not infallible, he has weaknesses and blind spots: I understand, for example, why some of my Jewish friends are worried about his inability to deal with accusations of anti-semitism within the party. That said, it appalls me to see some of his enemies exploiting that subject for their own purposes, with such distasteful opportunism.

Corbyn is obstinate, and inflexible at times. Again, the counter argument to that is that in others that is seen as admirable, and a sign of strength. 

He shows a lack of judgement in the choice of some of the appointments he has made: and again, this is naivete, rather than deliberate.

And if there had been another strong left candidate, preferably a woman, I would have considered voting for her. And no, I don't mean Angela Eagle. 

The chances of a strong left leaning woman becoming leader, however, in the present Labour party are minimal: why? Because of the inflexibly male dominated culture that prevails, still, within the party structure - the party is run by (young/ish) men, for (young/ish) men, and women kept in their place, with only some lip service in favour of equal opportunities, to keep us happy.

But the telling point in all the conflict that has erupted since the PLP launched their post Brexit coup is this: they cannot tell us, with any conviction, what it is about the the policies Corbyn supports that they disagree with. They do disagree with them, in private, but dare not say so openly, as they do not wish to reveal themselves in all their naked reality, displaying their support for an agenda of austerity measures, a green light for more welfare cuts, and a portfolio of policies calculated to appeal to the Daily Mail readers they think they need to become elected.

The result of the leadership vote will be announced just before the start of this year's Conference, in Liverpool. This year's Conference will probably be the last one I attend, for a number of reasons: most of all because I expect to be witnessing the death of the Labour party, in one way of another. 

Liverpool is the place to hold a wake, if anywhere, I suppose, and it won't be the first time that the mourners come to blows over their inheritance. 

Whose Labour party is it, anyway? 

We shall see, in September, shan't we?

Wednesday 24 August 2016

The Park Keeper's Lodge: your last chance to object ...

The story of the sale of the Park Keeper's Lodge, in Victoria Park, the subject of the last three posts, is of course about so much more than the sorry tale of the fate of one historic building, in one corner of Broken Barnet. 

It is the perfect metaphor, a symbol in a landscape, yes, a corporate 'landscape', readers, on which we now make our life's 'journey', all of us who live here, in our own way - the perfect metaphor for the state of our borough, and our nation.

That little Lodge, in the corner of a park, nestling in a high hedged garden, like a sweetly illustrated cottage in some long forgotten book of our childhood reading, surely represents something innately English, a pastoral idyll that was never true, perhaps, but sits in our cultural subconscious, a symbol of something we all long for still, a romantic vision just out of reach.

And now someone wants to knock it down.

But of course. No room for sentiment, in Broken Barnet. Why waste valuable publicly owned assets on the public, when they offer an opportunity for private profit?

In some boroughs, heritage, built or otherwise, is valued, not according to the rule of commerce but for itself, for what it is, and what we were, and what we are today. But not here, or in too many other parts of the country, where property developers circle over every last inch of space, aided by privateering companies and consultants ready, for a price, to help them on their way to more and more new developments.

For every other building under threat, then, let our Lodge, in Victoria Park, serve as test of who may win the battle, in the end, between history and profit: the communities in whose names these buildings are in trust, or the vandals who want to smash them to pieces, and stake their future empires on a foundation of our past.

In case you have not seen it, the story of the assault on Victoria Park is the leading story in the Rotten Boroughs column of the current Private Eye:

Today, Wednesday 24th August, will be the last day that you may object online. Some late written objections that arrive before the final decision is made may be taken into account but to be safe, if you want to object, do it today, up until midnight - no, Mrs Angry, exaggerating as usual - up until 11.59.59 pm. 

Of course you may wish to support the proposal. Do take a look at some of the supporting comments that have been unmasked, since we complained to the CEO about the curious trick which meant that all objections were published with names and addresses, but all supporting comments automatically anonymised. This is believed never to have been a feature of any previous planning consultation, which is why we are able now to spot certain names recurring in these supporting comments, that have popped up on other applications.

Heartening, for example to see the developer, Mr Friedman  (or is he? No one is quite sure)  - supporting his own development.


Ah yes: criminal activity. We can certainly agree that we frown upon that sort of thing, can't we, readers? 

Of course the Lodge, although deliberately neglected by the council since it decided to sell the site circa 2010, has most certainly not been, as some other interesting 'supporting' comments assert, an eyesore for 20 years, and it is not an eyesore now. 

And if there is any criminal activity in the environs of the Lodge, or drug use, that would be because the council has wilfully left it unattended, with the gate open, an open invitation to visitors and trespassers alike, despite constant requests, at Residents Forums, to secure the site and lock it up.

We use the word supporting in quotation marks because many of these, now stripped of the convenient anonymity, are revealed to be members of Mr Friedman's family, including his children, relatives of the architect, of his builder Mr Novruzaj, who actually owns the house given as the address of the purchaser on the contract of sale - various business associates, etcetera etcetera. 

Frankly, these comments, most in areas nowhere near Finchley, let alone the par, in the same rather ungrammatical style - like the proposed block of flats, according to the would be developers, 'very unique', you might say - and with postcodes written, rather curiously, in lower case letters, make for comical reading, especially when you remember that they clearly thought their identities would not be apparent.

Oh ... but hang on. Here is one, from a local doctor. 

Dr Brian Coleman, who lives just over the road, you know. 

39. Dr Brian Coleman  (Supports)

Comment submitted date: Fri 19 Aug 2016

The demolition of this derelict building an eyesore on Long Lane for nearly 20 years is long overdue. The proposed development will provide much needed housing for local people and the underground car parking will insure there are no parking and car issues, if only all local developers adopted this attitude. This modern low key development will enhance the street scene and compliment the neighbouring park as similar but much larger blocks do in neighbouring appears to me this development fullfills the criteria of the Borough's adopted UDP and is bringing a brownfield site back into residential use which it has been for 110 years 

Surely not ... not THAT Brian Coleman? Remember him? Yes. Now he is no longer a councillor, or GLA member, he has become a doctor, see? Like Tory MP Dr Offord, I suppose. Must make an appointment to come and see him about my back problem. And the migraines, brought on by all this campaigning.

Unfortunate that he is a medical man, of course, rather than having, say, a doctorate in environmental studies, or perhaps he would know that his assertion that the Lodge is a 'brownfield site' is bullshit.

As one objector points out:

"The Department for Community and Local Government issued a white paper on this very issue in January 2015. which contains some exclusions relevant to the redevelopment of The Lodge that he seems to be unaware of:

Defining brownfield land suitable for new housing

13.'Brownfield' (previously developed) land is defined in Annex 2 of the National Planning Policy Framework as: Land which is or was occupied by a permanent structure, including the curtilage of the developed land (although it should not be assumed that the whole of the curtilage should be developed) and any associated fixed surface infrastructure.

This excludes:

- land in built-up areas such as private residential gardens, parks, recreation grounds and

And, btw: not housing for local people - will be marketed to Chinese investors, according to the representative who spoke to residents a couple of weeks ago. 

There are, at the time of writing, no less than 412 objections, and only 45 in support. 

Of those 45, you may discount those having an association with the developers and other interested parties, and see that almost no one - especially in Finchley - really wants this hideous development, and that people passionately oppose it - and deeply object in principle to the notion that any part of a public park should be used for commercial development. 

There are too many well reasoned and well expressed objections to list here, and clearly genuine comments from residents who live near the park, and are regular users - for example, a typical response from this resident:

Miss Jayshree Balchandani  (Objects)

Comment submitted date: Sun 21 Aug 2016

The safety and privacy of park users will be seriously affected, which is used by young children and elderly. The proposed building would cause intrusion on the community's recreational experience which is strongly unacceptable. The proposed building is overwhelming and intrusive and out of harmony with the surrounding areas; the under ground parking exit proposed is unacceptable on to the road which is already a high congestion road and would cause further congestion and cause for accidents, and further restricting public right of way. Victoria park is a public amenity and must be preserved as such. It is our and council's responsibility to retain and protect the park as is for our community's well being and health.

I chose to buy my home close to the Victoria park for this very reason. If the planning permission were to be granted it would ruin the faith and the trust we place in our council.

The trust we place in our council.


This from local Rabbi Jeffrey Newman: 


Comment submitted date: Tue 23 Aug 2016

I am shocked that I have only just learnt about this planning application which
effects so many park users from many areas of the Borough, not merely those living
in the immediate area but also especially those throughout Finchley Central, West
and North Finchley.

The proposed application would severely change the character of the Park - but it
also sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of the Borough where similar open
spaces which are of outstanding importance for the health and well-being of us all
could easily become dominated by inappropriate developments of this sort.
The neglect and now proposed demolition of the heritage keeper's cottage has long
been unacceptable. We need to ensure that the Park maintains its historic character
and the lodge is particularly charming. There is absolutely no reason why it should
not be renovated and form the basis for the café as, for example, in Highgate

Instead the Planning Application proposes to transformed it into another
characterless, bland twentieth century (sic) block of flats. Nothing could be further
from the proper maintenance and development of this valuable open recreational
space than this proposal.

Most of all, the ground area for the new development is an unimaginable increase
on that of the Keeper's Cottage. I do not understand how such a proposal has
reached this apparently advanced stage.

At the very least, I do ask that it be opened for wider consultation over an extended

Mrs Angry notes there is also an objection from the former curator of the listed Church Farmhouse Museum, which, like the Lodge was on the list of targets for sale by Barnet's Tory councillors, was closed, stripped of its collection, and left to rot while failed attempts were made to sell it. Not enough profit in the commercial exploitation of our heritage, after all, it seems.

Local Labour councillors will be raising many serious concerns about the background to the sale and proposed development of the Park Keeper's Lodge at next week's Policy and Resources meeting. Agenda and item available here. (There will also, incidentally, be an item outlining Barnet's belated compliance with the proper criteria for issuing travel passes to disabled residents).

Here is the member's item, from Cllr Ross Houston, who is a Labour member for West Finchley, the ward which includes Victoria Park:

1.1 Councillor Ross Houston has requested that a Member’s item be considered
on the following matter:

‘The sale of the former park keeper's lodge in Victoria Park, and the plan to
demolish it and build a block of eight flats in its place - none of which will be
‘affordable housing’ - is now being investigated by the external auditors.

Labour councillors voted against the sale at the time, and have been liaising
with local residents on this issue – over 500 of whom are opposed to this plan
and made their feelings clear in the 'consultation' on the plan.

I have some questions relating to the sale and the plans, and am particularly
concerned with whether or not the sale and future plans represent value for
money for both the Victoria Park Charitable Trust and the council tax
payer, and whether the future plans for the Park meet strategic Corporate
Plan and Local Development Plan policies:

- The Lodge was sold for £623,000 - could P&R be provided with
whatever valuations the council has for the Lodge?

- Of the £623,000 purchase price, how much is to be deducted for legal
fees, the cost of a Project Manager for the park, and the creation of a
car park?

- Why was the Lodge sold by 'informal tender' and to a cash buyer only?

- Please explain why it was decided to sell the freehold rather than
granting a long lease, and why that represented better value for money
for the Trust and the Park?

- There are covenants and restrictions on the land – please detail what
they are and whether they permit it to be developed for housing? If not
why was the site sold for that purpose?

- In particular please explain why it was decided to sell the freehold to a
developer for housing when the 4 November Full Council report states

“1.4 The building needs an estimated £100,000 expenditure to bring it to
decent homes standard which would be required to be able to use it as
housing. However, housing accommodation, other than that of a park keeper,
is not permitted within the requirements of the Trust and the lodge should not
have been used as temporary accommodation in the past.”

- The Lodge was being used as emergency accommodation for about 20
years - did the Park Charitable Trust benefit from income from the
Council for this purpose?

- The 4 November Full Council report states that consideration was
given by Barnet Homes to acquire the land to use for affordable or
temporary accommodation, but it was found that paying market value
for the land plus refurbishment costs would make this not viable. 

Did Barnet Homes or the Council give any consideration to acquiring the
land and developing it for market sale or private rent? If that is a viable
proposition for a small developer, why wouldn’t it be for Barnet Homes
or a Council Wholly Owned Company?

- At the 4th Nov 2014 Council meeting £100,000 was stated to be
necessary to bring The Lodge to 'decent homes standard'. Please
provide the evidence on which this claim was based, and a copy of the
report in which it was made.

- The planning application for the flats seems to be incomplete - preapplication
advice for example has not been provided - was there any
and what was it?

- Please confirm why the decision to sell was made by councillors at a
Full Council meeting, rather than by a separate body of trustees? The 4
November Full Council report mentions that this could not be delegated
to a council committee – please elaborate further.

- Why were the many objections raised by residents to the sale not
appended to nor mentioned in the Full Council report recommending
that the site was sold? Were the Trustees required to consider that
information before agreeing to sell the site?

- How many residents were formally consulted on these plans and
involved in discussions on the plans before the application was

- What is the precise role of the Etchingham Friends in the sale of the
Lodge and planning application, when were they first involved and

- Please confirm whether the same officers who have given the preapplication
advice, overseen the consultation and worked with the
applicant on the application will also be making the recommendations
on the application to the Planning Committee? 

- Please advise if this is the normal process for planning applications and whether there is any
oversight in the normal planning process by a supervisor/manager to ensure transparency and probity?

- What due diligence has been undertaken in relation to the
application/applicants to ascertain if they are appropriate people to
carry out this development?

- Why were all "supporting' comments in regard to the planning
application anonymised, while all objections were published with full
details of names and addresses, until complaints were made to the
Chief Executive?

- Please confirm that the names and addresses of those leaving
comments about the application online – whether in support or against
– will be published?

- Please advise why local councillors for the ward have not been fully
consulted on discussions relating to future plans for the park?

- For future consultation with local residents and users of the park can
the council confirm what arrangements will be put in place and how will
a more representative range of local residents, and ward
councillors, be involved?

- Public concerns have been expressed about plans for car parking at
the park. Can P&R be provided with details of any plans for car parking
within or on the boundary of the park?

- Please advise what corporate or planning policies are either met or
contravened by cementing over part of the Park and erecting a car

As you will note from the Labour item, Barnet Council's External Auditor is currently investigating the circumstances of the sale of the Lodge. 

It might be better if the current application was suspended until his investigation is complete, however: as things stand,you have until 11.59pm tonight, Wednesday 24th August, to make an objection to the proposal to build flats in Victoria Park. 

If you care about the future of your local parks, and your community, and have not already registered your views, I would urge you to do so here:

Thank you.

Monday 15 August 2016

Another Blot on the Landscape: the threat to Victoria Park, and what you can do to fight it ...

Residents fighting the development of the Park Keeper's Lodge, in Victoria Park

Update: the Lodge is the subject of the leading story in Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs, in the new edition, out now, available at all good newsagents. And WH Smith. Do run off and buy a copy. Look: all those new PR people in Barnet's Comms Team (costing us £800,000 over 2 years) are huddled over their desks, weeping ...

The infant Mrs Angry, you may be surprised to hear, was quite often in trouble, as a young child, with her sternly disciplinarian parents, for all sorts of perceived misdemeanours, all the more unwelcome due to the impeccable behaviour of her older brother, who was never naughty, of course, and indeed, whose early life bore more than a passing resemblance to one of the infuriatingly wholesome early lives of the Catholic martyrs and saints, as described in a set of green covered volumes on this subject given to our mother, for some reason, at the time of her marriage. 

Well, in fact the reason may have been that she was marrying a non Catholic, and some of her pious relatives thought her soul was in danger of corruption by Protestant heresy. The books remained in a cupboard, unread by all, except me, on rainy days, when I had read all my library books, and had nothing else to distract me.

But there was one notable lapse in my brother's otherwise unblemished childhood, an indelible memory, you might say (and one which aged 63, he still denies, readers, the big fibber, and yes I will keep repeating this story until you do) when he got hold of Mrs Angry's toy post office, and deliberately smashed the little bottle of Stephen's ink, which she had thought was a thing of great curiosity, and never opened, leaving the tiny cork stopper intact,until the dreadful deed was done, and it was too late.

Ink was important, in my childhood. Ink for the John Bull Printing Press, which I suppose you could say saw the first attempts at Mrs Angry's non digital blogging, perhaps an expose of in house miniature post office break ins - but was too laborious a process to pursue. And then there was the matter of writing, in ink, with a pen.

You were only allowed a fountain pen, once you reached the age of reason, in time for your eleven plus, and, hopefully, for all children of working class parents whose eyes were set on an upward tangent of social aspiration, a smooth transition to grammar school, where the desks, as I recall, still had ceramic pots for inkwells, in honour of dipping pens that we only used for geography, and drawing maps.

Ink is still important, to me, in my middle age, as I still can't write legibly with a biro, or anything else, and I still love the feeling of ink flowing from my broad nibbed pen, shaped and bent as it is now to the mad, angled flow of writing from my dyspraxic hand, the right hand which I was forced to write with, even though, as I discovered rather too late in life, I should have been left handed. 

Stephens' Ink was for fountain pens: a blue-black colour, created by an experimental Victorian 'colour manufacturer', whose guarantee of 'permanence' appealed to the sense of entitlement that our nineteenth century forebears carried, as a natural part of their psyche, a duty and a privilege, a role of colonialism, and empire: making your mark, and asserting your authority, on the ledgers of commerce - and governance.

The 'uncrowned King of Finchley' - Inky Stephens, the son of the colour manufacturer - lived at Avenue House, now rebranded as 'Stephens House' - from 1873, to his death in 1918, at the end of a war which saw the house and grounds he had created turned into a hospital for soldiers wounded in the trenches. In the nineteen twenties his former home was given to the local council, a gift in perpetuity, for the benefit of the people of Finchley.

The people of Finchley still very much enjoy their use of the grounds and house that Stephens left for them. 

Avenue House, now Stephens' House, and the gardens, landscaped with earth excavated as a result of the new railway cuttings, for the GNER railway that employed the first occupant of my house, just along the road, a railway clerk called Nathaniel Corbett, whose dutifully neat census entry, in his own handwriting, may well have been written in that same Stephens ink. 

Famous for its durability, that ink; that permanence - to the extent that it was used not only by Scott, in his ill fated exploration to the South Pole, but in the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, that saw the end of the terrible first World War, that left so many men, so many of my own great uncles, injured, or in need of the rest and recuperation that places like Avenue House were used to provide.

But in an age of paternalistic politics, and philanthropy, Stephens' benevolence saw an earlier act of patronage, one whose motivation, to celebrate the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria, was really a pretext for the creation of an amenity to benefit the people of Finchley, in fields that he knew as a boy, and a young man, living just a short distance away, across the other side of Ballards Lane.

I thought about Inky Stephens, and his legacy, the other day, wandering about Avenue House, and the grounds he left to us, an estate now run by trustees, and a central part of our community, in this part of Church End, Finchley. 

During the second World War, it became the council's headquarters, and the coat of arms above the doors of some of our soon to be closed libraries is still evident, there, on the side of Inky Stephens' house, still bearing a corporate motto of suitably ambiguous interpretation:

Regnant Quis Serviunt  

Which one might like to think means: They serve, who rule, but might arguably be translated as May they rule, who serve. 

The Tory councillors, senior officers, and private contractors of the London Borough of Broken Barnet, however, not schooled in Latin, or the concept of public service, would seem have chosen to interpret this phrase as We pretend to serve, but are accountable to no one, and are laughing up our sleeves at you, the innocent taxpayers, you great eejits - whilst adding to the range of corporate claptrappery a new motto of gut wrenching hypocrisy: 

'Putting the Community  First' ...

As you may have read in the previous two posts ...

... the fate of Stephens' other gift to the people of Finchley, that is to say the creation of Victoria Park, is left in the hands of the heirs to the borough council that once based itself in Avenue House. The councillors of Barnet Council - the Conservative administration - claim to be the trustees of Victoria Park, and acting as such approved the sale of part of it this year, to a private developer, despite the Covenant that Inky Stephens, and Henry Brooks, and all the local worthy figures put in place to protect their legacy for future generations of the people of Finchley clearly stating that the piece of land which has been sold may not have any building erected on it other than accommodation for the Park Keeper, a cricket pavilion, or bandstand.

In other words, the council has sold this land to a developer, despite the fact that - even if they had power in law to sell it, and that is debatable, and being challenged - the land ... may not be developed. 

If I were you, Mr Friedman, I'd ask for my money back. Nothing can undo the terms of that covenant: and just to be clear, just in case something should happen to the building, the land without the Lodge will be even more worthless.

And something could happen to the building, as someone last week slapped a demolition notice on this historic building.* We must repeat: this plot of land cannot be developed, and is worthless without the current building; and if the Lodge were damaged, while the circumstances of the sale are under scrutiny, this would seem likely to result in serious legal - and possibly financial - repercussions. 

*Update: this notice, to which no one know how to object, or if they could object, disappeared today, Monday 15th of August. Mrs Angry has asked the case officer for an explanation. He has replied: 

I do not know why the site notice may have been removed and I do not wish to make any presumption as to how, or who removed it. The legislation relevant to the demolition process states as follows:

"where the site notice is, without any fault or intention of the applicant, removed, obscured or defaced before the period of 21 days referred to in paragraph (b)(iv) has elapsed, the applicant is treated as having complied with the requirements of that paragraph if the applicant has taken reasonable steps for protection of the notice and, if need be, its replacement;"

Very kind of the officer not to make any presumption as to who removed it, isn't it? And all he has to do, as Mrs Angry has suggested, is to ask Mr Friedman, or Mr Gruber, or whoever owns the Lodge and put the notice up, to ... put it up again.

Another issue under debate with the case officer.

The applicants for the current development of the Lodge may have been misled, or simply misunderstood the restrictions on the use of the site. We do not know, as the application, which is online, has been accepted by the Capita planners with the section in which details of the advice given to them in February left mysteriously empty. When the case officer was asked why that was, the response was:

The applicant sought pre-application advice from the local authority earlier this year. That advice was provided. The applicant has stated that that has been received, but has not indicated what that advice was. Clearly it would have been better if that box had been filled in. However, it is not a reason to invalidate the application or the decision. It is not a legal requirement to fill in that box.

Mrs Angry was not satisfied with that reply: why, in the interests of transparency, could the missing information not be supplied now, during the period of consultation? He did not reply until asked again: then responded that he disagreed that this meant the process has been 'less than transparent'. Mrs Angry is not satisfied with this reply, either.

Now here are more curious developments, in regard to this very curious development application.

The proposed development of flats on the site of the historic Park Keeper's Lodge - overlooking a children's playground, which does not appear in this image

Last week a number of residents were asked to go up to the Lodge for a photograph for a local newspaper. While we were being photographed, a young man turned up who claimed he was 'in charge' of the property. Whilst chewing his way through a packet of bread rolls, he regarded us with a fair amount of suspicion, but assumed that we were interested in renting - or even buying - the property.

The Lodge, we learned, could be rented, although some work still needed doing on it. They had only spent a minimal amount on renovating the property.  How very odd: when the sale of the Lodge was approved by councillors, they had been told by officers that it was necessary because it would cost £100,000 to bring the property to a decent standard of accommodation. 

Now then: Mrs Angry has asked for the report which proves this claim, as part of the audit trail - but it has not been supplied. It would seem reasonable to assume that that is, therefore, because it never existed. And if such a high level of cost was necessary to make the property suitable for tenants, why now is the Lodge being advertised to let, when only a fraction of that cost has been spent on it?  

More information was forthcoming from our new friend. Who did he work for? Eddy. Or Adi. That would be Mr Friedman. Oh: any news of Mr Gruber, who bought the property? Nope. Or why had they put the demolition notice up?

Demolition notice? Nothing to do with them, apparently. Goodness me. Then, a little later, when we were allowed into the garden: ah, the demolition notice was for a very small shed, the size of a kindergarten wendy house, that might accommodate one particularly anti social two year old. Hmm. No. No, it's not. And then, after we left, it transpired our friend had admitted the demolition notice (which has now disappeared) was from them, after all. Oh.

We also were told we could buy the Lodge for £1.5 million: a nice little earner from an outlay of £623,000 in cash, and a lick of paint, you might think. Or rent it, maybe as bedsits. Or, when they had knocked down the building they also wanted to let, and built twelve flats, these would be available, but we apparently will have to compete with the marketing of these highly desirable properties to investment buyers from China, who are awfully keen to buy a flat in Victoria Park, you know.

But the planning application, we said, is for only eight flats. Are you sure you are going to have twelve? Apparently so, which is interesting, isn't it, readers?

Victoria Park, 1930s,  Bandstand in the distance

This weekend a number of residents spent time in the park and elsewhere giving out leaflets urging others to object to this most objectionable of planning applications. Mrs Angry would urge you, dear reader, to do the same, by the 23rd of this month. You may do so online - where there are already many sensible objections, from local residents and park users, and - most curiously - a number of very suspicious, anonymous comments in favour of the application, a large number of which arrived, as if by magic, as predicted, yesterday, Sunday.

And here is a very peculiar thing, readers, and one which would appear to have no reasonable explanation. 

Online objections on this application appear to end up as documents, with the names and addresses of objectors clearly shown.

Online supporting comments appear to be automatically anonymised.

This curious phenomenon was tested at the weekend by someone who made an objection, but clicked the box on the webform which asks if you are supporting. Instead of ending up in the document section, this comment was automatically anonymised. How could that happen, do you suppose, and why would there be a difference? Why is it allowable for supporting comments for this application to remain anonymous, but not those who object? 

Is this is another apparent breach in the principle of transparency, in the course of this consultation process?

One example of this sort of comment, from an unknown source, is as follows:

Comment submitted date: Sun 14 Aug 2016
I support the development!!!
I have just graduated from my masters degree and would love to move into one of these beautiful apartments. 
I have been searching for ages for a flat in Barnet and everything is old and worn out. My parents told me about this new development which straight away appealed to me as I visit the park 5 times a week. 
In addition, I have heard of many rape and sexual harassment incidents and I believe that renovating the lodge could eliminate these problems. 

Being AGAINST this development is being FOR rape!

We love the idea, of course, that someone just finishing a master's degree could afford to buy a flat in Finchley. Or a flat anywhere in London ... but in truth, the offensive nature of this particular comment fits horribly the equally inappropriate suggestion in the application itself, in the Design and Access document, funnily enough, that building a block of flats in a public park should be allowed because of some magic power to prevent incidents of rape, claimed here as an argument put by a senior Barnet officer, who, they state:

... also highlighted the serious issues of vandalism and serious crimes including cases of rape affecting Victoria Park, mainly during night time. She was of the opinion that the constant presence of residents in the proposed flats will help reduce this problem. 

In recent years, there has been one incident of rape in the park, and another rape recently in Long Lane. What would reduce the risk to women in this area, and the perception of risk, would be better lighting - something the council has refused to consider only weeks ago - and the return of proper council park keepers to reassure residents and help maintain the park as a safe, pleasant and tidy environment. What will not help is using the issue of rape, and violence against women, in an insensitive and cynical attempt to support a proposal for commercial development within the footprint of a public park.

Parents worrying about the possibility of risk from predatory paedophile activity through their children being observed from the balconies of anonymous residents of this block do not have their concerns addressed by the applicants, of course. And the mitigation for this will be, predictably, look: we will move the playground for you.

Well, no: we don't want our playground moved, for the convenience of profiteering developers. 

We  don't want a block of flats in the park, thank you very much. 

We don't want you to pretend that this is all for the benefit of the park, because - oh, yes, we will move your playground, and it will be a wonderful new playground, and we'll do up the tennis courts, & do the maintenance and improvements you already pay for through your council tax. 

We don't want you to take money from the sale of the Lodge for 'legal fees', and use some of it to build a car park, in our park, to make money for the council from the flats planned for the old police station, across the road.

We don't want you to take money from the sale of the Lodge: we want you to give it back, as you may well have to, if it turns out you had no right to flog it off in the first place.

The response from residents in the park who were told about the development proposals was one of disbelief. Then outrage. If the Lodge is developed, the fury of park users will be uncontainable, and will reverberate in political impact for years to come, in this largely middle class, conservative minded area. Some residents were going to write to their MP. Ha. Good luck with that one: remember he was Leader of the Council, in 2009, when the decision was first made.

Some of the older residents we met in the park while out leafleting were of course particularly upset by the proposals. Many commented that they had seen the park decline, in recent years, almost as if by deliberate policy.

It's Your Park: Keep it Green - (while we sell it off), say Barnet Council

They are right: cutting the maintenance of parks is all part of a strategy, to encourage people to believe the only way of preserving their local open spaces is by 'self funding', commercial exploitation ... and development. Our Tory councillors are ideologically opposed to what they see as the subsidisation of public services, and public amenities. It is a political choice, not as they pretend, driven by austerity, and budget restraint. 

Only weeks ago, for example, they approved a whopping £800,000 splurge on six new PR posts, in order to 'manage' the reputation of the council, just in time for the run up to the next local elections. And handed £500,000 to a nationally funded body, the RAF museum. All while slashing our local public library service, and demanding our parks find new sources of funding, and approving the sale of our Lodge.

Peter (not his real name) - one of the older residents who spoke to me so on Saturday, in the cafe by the Bowling club, which is threatened by the new plans for a car park, had been visiting the park, he said, for seventy seven years. He is in frail health, and his memories seemed particularly poignant, slipping out of the reach of living memory, and at such a sad point in the history of our park.

Perhaps Peter was one of those naughty boys who used to so torment the then park keeper, and former occupant of the Lodge, old 'treacle feet'. He could remember the pond down by the lower Etchingham Park Road entrance, and the boating lake, and thought he knew where there were still stones from the old fountain. Best of all, he knew the identity of the many unusual trees in Victoria Park: the tree from Africa, by the cafe, which smells of chocolate, in summer; the strawberry tree which flowers and bears fruits at the same time; the mulberry trees, and so many others.

It's not really a surprise that the Park should have these exotic examples planted around the park. And it is shocking that no one has done an ecological and botanical survey of what is there, and the impact any development would have on the immediate environment.

Inky Stephens would have chosen the trees for Victoria Park with great care. In the grounds of his home at Avenue House you can still the range of magnificent examples he planted in his own arboretum, specimens from countries all over the world. 

Stephens lived in the age of the great botanical explorers, and an era of gardening innovation, enriched by discoveries from the far corners of every continent. But it was also, of course, the age of Victorian philanthropy, led by men and women like him who wanted to share his good fortune with others, and enrich their lives, in the process. 

He would have been horrified at the assault on his creation, and the betrayal of the principles in which he believed which the current proposals represent. 

As part of his legacy, he left something precious, now under threat in a way which he foresaw, hence the care he took to protect that legacy by legal restrictions, rights for the people of future generations to enjoy Victoria Park,  in a way which he would have thought was binding, in perpetuity, and as permanent as the very words they are written in, in unfading ink, on that Covenant. 

If you walk about your local park, in this borough, you will notice that the local council has tied laminated notices everywhere, informing you, with no sense of irony, as of course a sense of irony is in short supply, in the corporate offices of Broken Barnet, that 'It's your park: keep it green'.

Well, yes: it is your park, and not theirs. 

Time to remind your councillors, then - and their lackeys in Capita planning -  just whose park it is.

Act now, while there is time - before August 23rd, if possible -  to protect it from the hands of developers, and the ruthless ideological tactics of your local council: please object, either online, via email to -
or in writing, to:

Assistant Director of Development Management and Building Control, 
London Borough of Barnet,
1255 High Road
N20 0EJ

Thank you.

All postcard views of Victoria Park from a private collection.