Wednesday 11 December 2019

A Walk in the Park: Ten Years of Broken Barnet

Labour's Parliamentary candidate for Finchley and Golders Green, and local councillor, Ross Houston: in the background the empty site of the former Park Keeper's Lodge in Victoria Park, soon to be a block of flats.

Late on Saturday afternoon, as the dark descended,  and the last joggers ran out through the gates, and the crows settled down for the night in the trees in Long Lane, I was standing by the former Lodge site in Victoria Park, with my local Labour councillor, Ross Houston,  talking about the state of things here, in Broken Barnet - in Finchley - and how it came to be this bad. 

We had both tried to save the old Park Keeper's Lodge from being demolished: but failed. Sold by Barnet Council, approved by our then council leader, then Tory MP Mike Freer, and Tory councillors and leaders Richard Cornelius, and Dan Thomas, even though the beautiful arts and crafts building and its garden was situated in a public park: it was sold, was demolished this summer and now the land is about to be developed with a block of flats, placed in the park, overlooking the children's playground. 

It seemed a suitable metaphor, the Lodge site, for everything that has happened to this area, to this constituency, in the last few years: public assets, common ground, open space - libraries - left to the people of Finchley, in perpetuity, by Victorian philanthropists - sold by Tory councillors, Tory MPs, to developers, for their profit, and as a statement of power: you have no rights, any more, to public spaces, or public services. Everything you thought was dedicated to the benefit of the greater good can now taken away from you.

A park is nothing if not the shared space of the local community: the heart and soul of the community: a meeting place, somewhere we go for our health and well being. You don't have to pay for it. You have a right to be there. Well: you did have the right, for a century or so. You had not realised, had you, that in Broken Barnet, an open space is now an open invitation to development, and capital gain?

Now demolished, but coming to you soon: flats in the park, courtesy of your local Tory politicians

It's more or less ten years now, since I began this blog. An entire decade has passed, chronicled in loving detail, in these posts: and as now, we stand on the brink of an election that will define the nation we are about to become, it is perhaps time to look back, and wonder how we got here. 

I got here by an unexpected route: my family's life destroyed after eighteenth months of vicious, non-stop antisocial behaviour from tenants placed next door by a Tory council with the longest housing list in the UK. They refused to build new social housing, so had resorted to placing priority families in private, often sub-standard accommodation, the landlords paid a premium to take them on: almost no questions asked about suitability of the property. The house next door was not fit for habitation - the garden six foot high with rubbish, plagued with rats: it made no difference to the council, simply offered a way of off loading one troublesome family.

These neighbours from hell were smoking crack in the garden, dealing, acting out stabbings in front of our window, constantly violent, abusing each other, threatening their children, spat at my then young daughter in the street: jumped into our front garden to menace us inside, constantly noisy, screaming - off their heads all night so that, for five months, I had to sleep on a camp bed on the kitchen floor to get any sleep. The council that had placed them there refused to move them, or interfere, and the then leader, now Finchley and Golders Green MP Mike Freer, would not intervene. 

Only the local police, with whom by then we were on first names basis, due to their constant visits, were any help. 

Oh: and our local councillors, who came round, and sat in our living room and listened, and did everything they could to help: local Labour councillors Jim Tierney, now retired - and Ross Houston: now standing as our Parliamentary candidate for Finchley and Golders Green. Their kindness, empathy and support were in stark contrast to the utter indifference of Freer and the Tory run council.

Someone said: start a blog, and write about what is happening. I did: and linked it to local papers and instantly had huge interest. Mrs Angry was born, and went into action. Within ten days, the council had found somewhere else for their 'troubled family' and the assortment of lodgers & dealers that lodged with them, to move to. But it was too late, in many respects. Our family life had fallen apart: our health and happiness - and never really recovered. 

Having acquired a new interest in the way the local Tory council was running things,  been horrified by the lack of scrutiny and opposition to their increasingly right wing agenda, and having discovered the power of social media as a tool for holding to account such breathless disregard for the public interest, I carried on. The MetPro scandal arrived then with all its revelations about a Tory party prepared to use unlicensed thugs in jackboots as a private security army, paid in some casual arrangement, with no contract, no tendering: who set this up? We never found out - but we did uncover the incredible, unregulated state of Barnet's anarchic financial system, with literally thousands of other non contractual relationships with suppliers and private companies. 

Before he left his position on the council, Freer had shown interest in what was sold as 'a new model of local government' and informed the world, as he stood for Parliament, of his masterly new plan, 'easycouncil', in which there would be more 'choice' for residents. In fact it wasn't his idea: it was a version of something being rolled out everywhere, in many public sector services: privatisation - the 'outsourcing' of those services. Embedded in the local Tory council, as he left, this intention was nurtured by various consultants from the private sector firms who came here and would later bid for the lucrative deal that became One Barnet.

Your local services that are in such a state now are directly because of that 'easycouncil' initiative. You were promised better services for less money. You didn't get it. You can see your local services failing at every point: and you are paying more and more for it. As fellow blogger Mr Reasonable, John Dix, pointed out recently, the running total for the Capita contract period is now at £445 million, £169 million above the contracted value.

Roads and pavements in a mess? Potholes everywhere? Ask the local Tories why their contractors don't do a better job. They won't be able to answer. Fed up with the lack of enforcement when some developer knocks down a house next door to you, or openly breaches the planning permission for three flats across the road which becomes five, or a house of multiple occupancy? Hard luck. Neighbour hosting a bed in a shed? You're on your own. 

Planning and enforcement are now run as a business by Capita Re, to milk as much income as possible from development, which is now rampant across the borough - especially in the more western, Labour held areas. Luxury development that does nothing to solve the chronic shortage of affordable housing, or social housing. They don't measure the housing waiting lists anymore: just as well, in this borough - but the crisis that drove Freer's council to dump people in substandard accommodation in the private sector has not abated: is likely to have become much worse.

Fees are generated through a range of 'services': pre-application 'advice', fast tracking, and oh: want to choose your own planning officer? Pay enough, and you can. Why you would want to, is another question. Another question still is why senior planning officers are allowed to work for Capita Re, then leave and immediately set up as private consultants, acting as agents for the same developers they dealt with in their former posts at Barnet. Yes, this is now happening, with several individuals. 

Enforcement is not effective as a process now, because: there are no income benefits for Capita, only costs. Planning and enforcement are now run for the benefit of developers, and Capita shareholders, not the best interests of residents and the community. What did you expect? This is how easycouncil works, in practice.

Ask  the Godfather of Barnet outsourcing, Freer, why  local services are in such a mess: he will blame the council, as if it had nothing to do with him. It is to do with him: it is his legacy. Remember that tomorrow, when you go to the polling station.

Election fever here in Broken Barnet has been overheated by an intensity of focus on the three marginal constituencies: Chipping Barnet, held by Theresa Villiers - by only 300 votes, last time; Hendon, the seat of the abrasive former deputy leader of Barnet Council, Matthew Offord - by only 1,072 votes - and Finchley and Golders Green, where Freer won last time by a margin of 1,657.

FGG has only three candidates at this election: and in every sense, despite the claims of certain parties, it is a three horse race, the very fact of which has local Tories besides themselves with fear. Freer is in a very difficult position. Having said he voted to Remain at the time of the Referendum, the political wind changed direction, and he changed with it, supporting government policy on Brexit, and then being appointed as a junior whip by Theresa May. 

Former Finchley and Golders Green Tory MP and junior whip, Freer, sitting beneath a portrait of Ken Clarke. Pic courtesy of the Ham & High

A lucky appointment for him, not being likely to forge a brilliant parliamentary career in any ministerial posts. May's government fell apart, and he remained a whip as Johnson took over, and throughout all the breathless defiance Johnson and his lackey Cummings showed for the Parliamentary process, the democratic process, including the prorogation, and then the 'de-whipping' of 21 Tory MPs, including the Father of the House, Ken Clarke, and Nicholas Soames. Rather amusingly, in a recent interview in the Ham & High, Freer chose to pose for a photograph under a portrait of ... Ken Clarke. Well, then, what do we make of all that? He could have resigned, rather than be associated with Johnson's actions in government. But he chose to stay. And what has he done in his own constituency, in the meanwhile? Erm. Nothing much, really. His election leaflets spoke for themselves - nothing to see.

At the last election the Labour candidate came a close second. This time round, there was clearly a huge issue that would have to be addressed by any Labour candidate: the issue of how the Labour party dealt with allegations of anti-semitism by members. For the first Labour selection, a woman who happened to be Jewish, the pressure proved too much to bear. 

Another candidate was chosen: a brilliant choice, in fact - local West Finchley councillor Ross Houston. Ross is that rare thing: a good man in politics, and respected not just across the range of the local party membership, but by all who know him. Will he win? I hope so: he is the candidate who is rooted in this community, cares passionately about those who are less advantaged, and will work on their behalf, if elected. He deserves to win.

Ok. Then we have the third candidate, for the Libdems. There was one, a local woman, duly chosen. But she was shoved aside, and sent to Hendon. Why? Because Luciana Berger had joined the Libdems - her third party in one year - and wanted to stand in Finchley and Golders Green. Not only wanted to stand, but right from the off, we were informed, by Libdem party, was going to win. Why? Well: mostly because - she wanted to win. 

A poll was published which appeared to show that - goodness me - she was going to win, and by a landslide! Incredible! Well, yes: in fact, it was literally incredible, and totally bogus, as the result was achieved by excluding the option of voting for a Labour candidate ...

Since then, the Libdem campaign has followed through on the spurious basis of claiming that only they can beat the Tories. Utterly untrue, but a commitment to the truth was abandoned very early on in this campaign. 

Residents in this constituency since then have been bombarded by an unceasing storm of Libdem propaganda, on a level unprecedented in any previous election: in our household alone we have received more than 27 mailshots, leaflets, fake newspapers, fake polls; letters from polling experts who turn out not to have seen the stuff sent in their name, and all of it at enormous expense. Such a deluge of stuff, in fact, that many residents have complained both to the Returning Officer here, and to the Electoral Commission, as so many feel that the expenditure budgets must have been exceeded.

A sample of just some of the Libdem campaign material received in our house over the last two weeks

In the meanwhile, the Libdem campaign in Finchley and Golders Green has consisted of Luciana Berger holding 'Luciana in Your Lounge' events (for those lucky enough to have a 'lounge' big enough to hold more than five people, and canvassing Hampstead Garden Suburb with a string of luvvy actors Hugh Grant (who clearly had misgivings afterwards) Jason Isaacs, - and Simon Schama. Phwoah: eh?

Why Garden Suburb? Well, because the 'leader' of the new Libdem group (of two Libdem councillors) on Barnet Council, Gabriel Rozenberg, is a councillor for that area. Elected as a Tory, and happy to remain a Tory until recently, Gabriel was Chair of the Housing Committee that did not meet for eight months, even though during that time the abysmal, squalid conditions in which residents of Marsh Drive, in West Hendon, were living, reached a point of crisis - and was featured on the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme, reported in the post previous to this one.

Can anyone take seriously a woman who joined a party she herself has said you cannot trust?

Preposterous, self indulgent, middle class political game playing by the Libdems does nothing to address the real issues of residents in the constituency, especially those in need, victims of the austerity policies supported by ... Libdems in coalition with the Tory government: bedroom tax, and Universal Credit. They have no local policies: no policies, other than a commitment to further, permanent cuts in spending, and continued austerity measures.

Most contemptible of all here in Finchley and Golders Green was the campaign's exploitation of the issue of mental health provision, which is abominable in all Barnet constituencies - second to bottom in national scores for access to support. Libdems will wave a magic wand, and make this disappear, apparently. Marvellous, if you overlook the role they played in approving the worst cuts in this service, including to children and young adults, in the early years of their coalition of shame with Cameron's Tory government. Don't fool yourself that they will not do the same, in another coalition.

Local Tory activists, now in short supply, have been terrified of the impact of Libdems with Luciana Berger as a candidate, and all the money thrown at this target ward. You might think it should be Labour who would be most worried - but no. Of course there are former Jewish Labour voters understandably upset and alienated by the anti-semitism debacle in the Labour party and choosing to support the Libdems here: it is fair to say that Muslim voters may have strong reserves about voting Tory after the incident last weekend involving a Muslim mother,  after which the Chair of Chipping Tories had to stand down. It is not the first time allegations of Islamophobia have been made against local Tories: a councillor was suspended last year, but reinstated in circumstances which were never clarified.

It is fair to say as well that there will probably be a fair number of disillusioned Tories defecting to the Libdems, hence a certain amount of panic in Finchley and Golders Green. Remain Tories have been strongly wooed in former stronghold areas like the Garden Suburb. 

It will not be enough for them to win - the truth is that the three parties are likely to be on a closer footing than any of them would like to admit, and the result - is unpredictable.

The Tories and Libdems have not bothered to explore beyond the areas where they feel safe, however. A foolish mistake: but typical of both parties, who feel no interest in the residents who are not middle class, and comfortably placed - who live in social housing, or rented temporary accommodation, just getting by: or not getting by at all.

Here in Finchley and Golders Green, however, we have 48 per cent of children living in poverty. 

We have areas of social deprivation, only a short walk from the ward of Hampstead Garden Suburb: itself an area of exclusive affluence,  populated by an assortment of overseas dictators living in exile, arms dealers, porn merchants, and anyone who can afford a house in a listed conservation area, safe from development, and worth millions of pounds.

Back in the real world, and the less privileged areas of Finchley and Golders Green, we have a section of our local community dependent on foodbanks. 

We have hostels for homeless people, and women fleeing domestic abuse. 

We have a generation of children now doomed to grow up without easy access to libraries, or study space. 

We have elderly citizens and disabled residents unable to visit those libraries in the hope of feeling less lonely.

We have parents of children with profound disabilities whose respite care has been snatched away by local Tories, without a thought for the impact on them: we have disabled residents whose travel passes have been snatched away by the Tory council's contractors, to earn an extra fee. 

We have local healthcare struggling to provide a decent level of support, with record waiting times for GP appointments, or access to consultants.

We have a local hospital here in Finchley half empty, while residents wait for treatment, and while local health authorities plot with developers and the council to build housing on the site.

We have people sleeping in the doorways and alleys of our high street in Finchley, in the bitter cold of a winter's night. 

Who will speak for them? 

It won't be Mike Freer. 

It won't be Luciana Berger. 

It can only be someone who is rooted in this community, and has spoken out, for years, on their behalf: who has marched with campaigners against the local cuts to public services, to libraries, listened to local police, and local charities, and local residents, trying to put back together the broken pieces of our fractured lives. That person is Ross Houston.

We stood talking, on Saturday night, in the dark, in Victoria Park, by the fences surrounding the demolished Lodge. The metaphorical message stood clear, and shining, in the gloom. Our history, and our heritage, our community, put up for sale by Tory politicians, part of the campaign of war on that sense of community, and our common history: a denial of the past, for the sake of present profit. We deserve better. 

In the ten years I have been writing this blog, I have been privileged to meet some extraordinary people, from a diverse range of communities, struggling to cope in the most extreme circumstances: in poverty, with disability, in terrible housing, in isolation, and in fear. I see no hope whatsoever for them or any of us from the political agendas set by Tory politicians in this borough, and these constituencies, only indifference, lack of compassion - and financial incompetence. 

When you vote tomorrow, please don't support Tories, or yellow Tories: vote for your Labour candidates: for a Labour manifesto, for hope for a better future for you, your families, and your community. Yes, Barnet is still broken: time to start picking up the pieces, and building something new.

Friday 1 November 2019

West Hendon: they call this 'Regeneration' - and: 'Relative Poverty', the Barnet Tory definition

Victoria Derbyshire,  Brian Coleman, West Hendon tenant Annie, and director Ken Loach. Pics courtesy BBC.

Poverty, explained Tory Councillor David Longstaff, the diminutive former Actor, (Beige man in Ikea ad, drunken elf in Eastenders, Maniac in Accidental Death of an Anarchist) now appearing in the eternal pantomime role of Deputy Leader of the London Borough of Broken Barnet,  is always relative

The council chamber, full for the Full Council meeting earlier this week, fell silent.

Longstaff shrugged. He repeated himself. Poverty ... is relative.

The public gallery looked on, speechless. 

But he was right, of course. 

Yes, it is true that according to recent studies, children in Barnet are living in utterly unacceptably high levels of poverty. (Here in Finchley and Golders Green, for example, 'End Child Poverty' estimates children are living in poverty at the astonishingly high rate of 34%. In Hendon, the figure is 41.4 %. Other analyses put the rates even higher).

But being poor, as Longstaff explained, just means not having as much as the rich, and as the rich get richer, being poor isn't so bad, see?

Deputy Leader of the Barnet Tory group, Cllr David Longstaff. 

He's got a point, hasn't he? Children aren't employed down the mines anymore, or shoved up chimneys, so they shouldn't whinge, when say, they are housed in a slum property for ten years, on a week to week, non secure tenancy, for anything up to ten years, ready to be evicted on four weeks notice. 

When the rat infested building in which they live is deliberately neglected, pending demolition; when that building is plagued by flooding, and damp so bad the wallpaper in their bedrooms peels away from the walls, and is covered in black mould. 

Or when they wake up, bitten by cockroaches, and have to tell their mums not to cry, every time they see another of these tormentors scuttling across the floor, in the cupboards, or over their food. 

Ah, but that couldn't happen, though, could it? The local council would take these families out of the hands of slum landlords, away from such appalling conditions, and rehouse them.

Well: they might. Anywhere other than in Tory Barnet.

Because here in Tory Barnet: the slum landlords ARE the council.

That morning, on the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme, Barnet Council were shamed in a special investigative report as having left vulnerable families in exactly these conditions, knowingly, for years, in Marsh Drive, on the West Hendon estate. 

Watch from about 22 minutes in.
Barnet Tory spokesperson Brian Coleman, and West Hendon tenant Annie

I've written a lot about this estate, over nearly ten years of this blog's history, too many posts to list. * See below for a few links.

And it wasn't the first time the BBC have reported the appalling story of the forgotten residents of West Hendon. Three years ago, a remarkable documentary, sensitively directed by Fran Roberts, was made about the development, the destruction of a community - and the impact on families who had lived there: 'The Estate We're In'.

Dorothy, one of the tenants featured in 'The Estate We're In', a young mother summarily evicted by Barnet Council, with her nine year old daughter, sent to a damp, rat infested bedsit - and only allowed back after three weeks to collect her belongings.

As the shameful tale has unfolded, it has come to represent something much larger, the true story of something some right wing commentators would have us believe does not exist: the idea of social cleansing. A policy of removal of the poor (because even if they do not exist, they must 'not exist' somewhere else) and replacement by the well off. And it is removal: they can at best expect only to be 'decanted' from sub standard housing on one 'regeneration' estate to sub standard housing on another regeneration estate - or forced to accept accommodation perhaps many miles away, in Peterborough, perhaps: or even further, away from family, employment, schools and support networks.

Here in Barnet, there is no denial of the truth of this, even by the Tories. A former lead on housing, Tom Davey, actually boasted about this policy, saying that in this borough 'we' want only people who do not need 'affordable' housing.

The most recent Tory lead on housing, the Chair of the Housing Committee, Gabriel Rozenberg, when I asked him earlier this year why his committee would not be meeting for seven months, replied eventually that it was because there were no 'urgent' matters. 

I asked if Chairs of committees that did not meet for so long continued to receive their extra allowances (more than £15,000 a year, in addition to the standard rate for members). 

No reply. 

He is now a Libdem councillor: leader of the new Libdem group of two.

Pic courtesy Association of Marsh Drive Residents

The residents of the West Hendon council estate were fooled by Barnet Tories, some years ago, into thinking their homes would be renovated, for their benefit. They agreed to support this: why wouldn't they? The Tory councillors, in secret, then sold the publicly owned land where the estate is located  - worth upwards of £12 million (a very low estimate) for ... £3.00 (no, not a typo) to Barratts, who wanted to demolish the buildings, get rid of the tenants and leaseholders, and build luxury housing. 

They call this 'regeneration'.

The £3.00 deal only became public knowledge once the council was obliged to make disclosures for the Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) Inquiry, that residents hoped would obstruct the development: or at least result in better outcomes for residents.

Better outcomes were needed, because those who had followed the route mapped out for them by Margaret Thatcher, and aspired to become property owners, buying the leasehold of their flats, were now being betrayed by the neo-Thatcherites in the Town Hall, whose private contractors Capita were, in the usual knotted mass of conflicts of interest tied between Barnet Council and their outsourcerers, in charge of regeneration, in charge of planning - and in charge of property valuation, which had led to undervaluation of their properties, only 'adjusted' after the Inquiry began. 

Very few were able to find the money to buy into shared ownership on the new estate. One elderly woman I met, I last heard, could find not even the smallest flat affordable for her within any reasonable distance of her family. She was sleeping on her grandson's bunk bed.

For the social tenants, their futures were even more bleak.

Any with secure tenancies, in West Hendon, were supposed to be rehoused there. Clearly developers did not want 'ordinary' families, social tenants, in their luxury development. Their plans therefore were to build a grim looking block - Bullfinch House - for any that remained, safely outside the footprint of the proper scheme, overlooking not the beautiful views of the waterside of the Welsh Harp, but the spray-paint garages and grimy takeaway backyards of the Edgware Road. 

Pic courtesy BBC/Two Step Productions/The Estate We're In

The moral message inherent in the new Poor Law of Tory Britain, of Broken Barnet, is clear: the undeserving poor, the 'relative' poor, are an underclass, whose transgressions and lack of 'aspiration' must condemn them to the punishment of second class housing - or worse. 

The beauty of landscape, in Tory Britain, in Broken Barnet, is only available to those who can pay a premium rate for it. 

Worse was to befall those who had not been granted a secure tenancy: for years any families or individuals rehoused by Barnet Homes, the 'At Arms Length Organisation' created to ... keep their housing policy at arms' length, and out of sight ... were put there on non secure contracts that meant they had almost no rights to protect them when the development began, and they were in the way of profit. They were disposable: only a few secure tenants were given places in Bullfinch House, inevitably known as Bullshit House. As soon as they moved in, there was an infestation of rodents.

Their less 'advantaged' neighbours were offered one choice of alternative accommodation. No matter how dire it was, or how far away, if they refused it, they were considered to have made themselves homeless, and could be evicted. Residents were wrongly informed that they need not turn up to court to fight these orders: and then discovered failure to do so meant they would now be thrown out. 

In Marsh Drive, part of the last stages of the scheme, tenants were left in rapidly deteriorating flats, with damp, infestations, mould, and antisocial behaviour, including heroin addicts injecting themselves on their doorsteps, encouraged by open access, unsecured doors - and lack of intervention. 

What did the Tory council do? Turn its back. Now it is daring, outrageously, to try to put the blame on anyone else: the residents themselves, even Labour councillors, in a desperate attempt to deny responsibility for the current slum standards. They have three Tory councillors now, in West Hendon: two of them are in the picture below, with Tory MP Matthew Offord, grinning like fools in front of the new luxury development. What have they done for the residents of Marsh Drive?

What did the local Tory MP Matthew Offord do? 

When tenants tried in the past to come and see him about their plight: he hid from them in a church hall, and escaped in a police van.

He went on the BBC Sunday Politics Show, three years ago, Offord, and talked about West Hendon and Grahame Park not as communities, of course, but as 'sink estates', no go areas at night, where the police find it 'very difficult there to maintain and enforce the law'. I checked with local police to see if this was indeed their view. It wasn't. 

West Hendon, he claimed, and still claims, was 'a success story in itself'. 

More recently Offord has made a couple of visits to West Hendon. To see the 'success story' that is the luxury development, with Housing Minister Esther McVey, and an assortment of Tory councillors. The ones who were not available this week, to explain the reason they had left the tenants of Marsh Drive, across the way, in such vile accommodation.

Visiting the luxury housing at West Hendon which is displacing social tenants, including those now living in squalor in Marsh Drive, which was not visited.

West Hendon Tory councillor Saira Don, Tory Vice Chair, Regeneration Sara Wardle, Housing Minister Esther McVey, Tory MP Offord, Tory councillor & GLA candidate Roberto Weedon-Sanz, West Hendon Tory councillor Helene Richman. 

The residents of Marsh Drive do not matter, to our local Tory politicians. They are invisible: they do not exist, they are merely in a state of stasis, non citizens, with no rights, before they are moved to a new place of non-existence, beyond the boundaries of Broken Barnet. 

Victoria Derbyshire informed viewers that no Barnet Tory would come to defend their own failings as landlords in West Hendon. Not one. Why would they? The Tory Leader Dan Thomas had made clear his position, to tenants, only recently: he did not wish to intervene.

Kind regards from the new Tory leader.

In the absence of any of those currently serving as councillors, or the local Tory MP, they had resorted to inviting Brian Coleman to speak on behalf of Barnet Tories. Really? 

Coleman, whose inglorious career came to an end on the High Street in North Finchley, on the day he attacked a woman who had spotted him parking in breach of his own much hated regulations, and had dared to take a photograph of him? Who had admitted - eventually common assault by beating at Uxbridge Magistrates' Court, and was then thrown out of the party by CCHQ, as his gutless colleagues in Barnet had failed to do it? Who then joined the party again, was found out, again, and - thrown out again? 

Also on the show was director Ken Loach, foremost of British film makers, whose 'Cathy Come Home' film of 1966, on the desperate plight of those falling into the spiral of homelessness and family breakdown, and whose 'I Daniel Blake', fifty years later, speaks for a new generation of those trapped by a systemic oppression of the most vulnerable victims of austerity.

Cathy Come Home

Ken Loach looked on, as Coleman attempted to bluster his way through some sort of counter argument to the injustice being served by his former colleagues to Annie, her children, and the families of Marsh Drive. He talked absolute nonsense about why 'we' are 'regenerating' the estate, claiming utterly wrongly that the '18 story' blocks overlooking the Welsh Harp contained private and social tenants, and said of tenants like Annie and her children that 'the council owes them nothing at all'. 

Loach was clearly appalled. He said that such an attitude 'shows contempt for people ... I could weep ... to be told you don't deserve anything, the council owes you nothing, is disgusting, Brian Coleman, it's disgusting ...' 

He pointed out that like Grenfell, West Hendon demonstrates 'a contempt for people who are seen to have no power ... (even) if they live in the most squalid conditions - that's Tory Britain.

'You've got a political agenda, Mr Loach, ' was all Coleman could offer in response.

'Are you a member of the Conservative Party? Were you readmitted after the attack?' asked Loach.

Coleman asserted that he was, 'funnily enough' - and it is funny, isn't it, in the most darkly humorous sense of the word? Thrown out twice: has he been allowed back in, for a third time, and if so, why, and by whom? If not, why would he say so?

Coleman insisted he was a Conservative member, and 'proud to be so'. 

Victoria Derbyshire had heard enough. She asked him why he was so unsympathetic: 'are you a human being?' She remarked on his lack of empathy, and compassion.

In fact, these are the very reasons he was the right spokesman for Barnet Tories, as they are now, whether or not he is a member. He embodies their true spirit: their lurch even further to the hard right, to the soulless party of those who feel no compassion for those in need, who are vulnerable and in need of support; they cannot empathise with others, or feel remorse at the shameful outcomes of their own heartless policies. They do not wish to engage with their constituents, or to be held accountable for their policies. Silence, and evasion, is their tactic now: putting up a decoy, a stuffed toy mascot like Coleman, ripped at the seams: a perfectly logical way of avoiding dialogue.

The gothic horror of Hendon Town Hall

In the council chamber of Hendon Town Hall, on the evening of the same day the West Hendon film was shown, despite the usual pointless plea from the Mayor's chaplain to have 'no space for vainglory and arrogance', and to think only of 'the good of their fellow human beings', not one Barnet Tory showed any real sympathy for, or even interest in, the squalor that the fellow human beings who were their own tenants were forced to endure. 

In response to a question from Labour's Anne Clarke, the Tory Leader Dan Thomas could only emit his usual emotionless blather, wittering on about having delivered a newsletter to residents, only two weeks ago, as proof of his commitment to resolving the situation in which he had told them he did not wish to 'intervene': families living in slum conditions, infested by vermin and insects, living in flooded buildings, conditions that would have been condemned in 1919, let alone a century later.

New Libdem leader, and former Tory Housing Chair Gabriel Rozenberg is only interested in opposing Brexit. The Tory leader Dan Thomas is looking forward to it. 

Neither of them will ever have to worry about living in slum standard accommodation, or see their children bitten by cockroaches, or struggle with asthma from the damp, or worry about where they are going to live, when the ground beneath their feet is taken from them, so as to multiply the profits of a developer selling a fantasy of life on the waterside, for the new tenants of overseas landlords who bought the properties off plan, in cash.

Development and the provision of housing in Broken Barnet is driven entirely by the needs of profit, overseen by a privatised planning service that is rotten to the core, utterly out of control, out of the hands of local democratic oversight - and simply not fit for purpose. The poor are being excluded from the borough through a deliberate strategy of displacement, hidden under the guise of 'regeneration'. 

This inability to care, or even to imagine how life is for those living in the always ignored areas of social deprivation in this borough is a pattern replicated not just in the council, but by the local MPs, who ignore the issues that affect the less advantaged residents of Hendon, Finchley and Golders Green, and Chipping Barnet constituencies.

If you were shocked by the exposure of Tory policy in action revealed by the story of West Hendon, you have an opportunity, and a duty, now, in a few weeks, to do something about it. 

Do something about it: vote these MPs out, and replace them with Labour representatives - not covert Tories in yellow jumpers - who do care about the well being of their fellow residents, and will work to make their lives better. 

The story of West Hendon is not the story of regeneration. It is the story of a war on the poor, and the destruction of a community. It is the story of public land given away for private profit. Don't be fooled. And please: don't vote for Barnet Tories, as MPs, or councillors, ever again.


Sunday 29 September 2019

Conference, "Common Sense", and a return to Broken Barnet

I didn't go to Conference last year. Not altogether a bad thing: rather like Glastonbury, having a year off gives the opportunity of a time of peace, and calm, and a chance for the grass to go back/arguments to die down ... or so one might hope ...

As it was in Brighton, this time, it seemed like a good idea to attend. A few days at the seaside: a non-naughty, non-weekend in Brighton, full of factionalism, argument, and over heated debate - what's not to like? Better than staying in Broken Barnet, with the familiar factionalism, argument and heated debate of one's own household.

Booking so late meant difficulty in finding a hotel room for three nights, so it meant another stay, for the first night, in nearby Lewes: avoiding the haunted hotel rumoured to be owned by a local 'businessman' of interesting character, which local cab drivers will tell you all about, at some length: (all the way to Brighton, if you don't change the subject). First cab driver was easily distracted with his own Lewes tales, however: explaining how he takes the mickey out of  American visitors about Lewes's most famous son, Tom Paine, radical thinker, father of revolutions - of their revolution. 

It was Tom Paine, of course, who wrote, in his pamphlet 'Common Sense':

Men who look upon themselves born to reign, and others to obey, soon grow insolent; selected from the rest of mankind their minds are early poisoned by importance; and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large, that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interests, and when they succeed to the government are frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions ...

Not hard to find any contemporary examples of such men, and women, and such insolence, is it? And not hard to wish for another revolution, in order to remove them.

The Tom Paine Printing Press, Lewes

Two right wing extremist attacks took part in Lewes the other night, by 'pro Brexit' thugs: a brick thrown through the front door of an anti Brexit campaigner, Jim Cornelius, with the word 'traitor' written on it - and, around the same time, in another part of the town, vile antisemitic graffiti aimed at 'whores and traitors' daubed on the front fence of another resident. This can only be directly the consequence of the forces unleashed by the Tory leader the day before, in his shameless, smiling and deliberate repetition of the term 'Surrender Act', and his deeply offensive, pejorative dismissal of the fears of female MPs over the incitement it represents to those minded to follow the violence that led to the murder of Jo Cox.

Arriving at the Conference centre in Brighton, greeting the sight of our perennial favourite Labour Party metaphor, the ruined West pier stranded out among the crashing waves - arson, claimed the cab driver, hinting at dark financial motives, midnight torchings and speedboats heading off across a moonlit sea - the last day of summer gave a misleadingly sunny background to the usual frantic leafleting and drifts of stop me and take one campaigners lining the path to the turnstiles. 

A bunch of Remain protestors in their EU/Brit fusion themed cloaks and hats stood together clutching their flags, possibly slightly disappointed by the lack of disagreement from any bunch of Leavers. Protest without someone to shout at is always disheartening.

In the hall, Diane Abbott had just started speaking, slowly - very, very slowly, and very, very carefully, as if worried she would accidentally say the wrong thing. Constant hate channelled at women like her in public life takes its effect: for the first black woman MP, pioneering a path now followed by so many other strong women in Parliament, respect is due, but rarely given. "Haters gonna hate ...", she remarked, ruefully, with a slow shrug, with a hat tip to that other great radical political thinker, Taylor Swift.

Women were the focus of the debate that followed later in the afternoon: a motion from the women's conference about the rights - or rather lack of rights - of migrant women was deeply upsetting, and perfectly illustrated not only the execrable impact of the 'Hostile Environment', but also the utter lack of humanity at the heart of Tory Britain, demonising the most vulnerable residents, withholding access to basic rights of healthcare, or access to legal protection as victims of domestic violence or trafficking.

Militant Brexiteers and xenophobes fondly imagine hordes of migrants flocking here to take advantage of our NHS. The truth is, we heard, that migrant women who give birth are being handed hospital bills of £7,000: bills too for those who suffer the trauma of miscarriage. This means many women are avoiding medical care when giving birth, with all the risks and distress that creates.

Women like this who have been the victims of domestic violence have been handed bills for the treatment of their injuries. They are often denied access to justice, because of lack of legal aid, or fear of being exposed without proper documentation should they go to the police. Trafficked women forced into sex work often face the choice of continuing to be exploited and abused, or returned to the country where they were first enslaved. 

One brave woman spoke to Conference about her own experience of escaping years of violence: of having watched another Conference from her kitchen table and thinking it was nothing to do with her, to becoming strong enough to address this Conference from the stage. The power of politics - radical politics - to change lives for the better is sometimes too easily dismissed. For some women, taking the first step to freedom may only come from such a route - and may inspire others to do the same.

Two other women speakers gave a frightening insight into the progress, or rather lack of progress, over the last twenty years in terms of provision for abused women. Both speakers had worked in domestic violence support in Tower Hamlets more than twenty years ago: and both said that the situation had not improved at all. In some ways, for some women, it has become worse.

Listening to all these testimonies, many of them harrowing, one after another, was a sharp  lesson in reality, and a useful reminder of the founding principles of the Labour movement, as relevant today as it was a century ago, with still the driving need of a party that stands up for the disadvantaged, those in poverty, distress, and want. 

This point was driven home again at a fringe meeting later that evening organised by Unite: the problems of social inequality, created entirely by year upon year of Tory policies of 'austerity', are greater than ever. 

As we heard from speakers like Diane Abbott, and the Mayor of Newham, austerity might be over as a useful term for Conservative propaganda: but a huge section of society is still caught fast in the consequences of these merciless creations: Bedroom Tax, Universal Credit, sanctions, humiliating assessments, inexplicable decisions to withhold support from terminally ill people, or with life long conditions: a war on the poor and disabled. 

Leaving Lewes the next day meant another cab driver, this time not a Tom Paine enthusiast, but a man whose family has lived in Brighton for many generations: the 3x great grandson of Martha Gunn, the famous 'dipper' who had attended the bathing machines that first made Brighton a fashionable place for aristocratic visitors in Georgian times. Stuck in traffic jams, we inched along the narrow roads of Brighton, most of them lined with Georgian houses in a state of raffish decay, many unoccupied, even in the midst of the area closest to the seafront. We sat outside the old Hippodrome, covered in the Brighton vernacular style of graffiti, too clever by half, school of Banksy, without the skill of Banksy. Saw the Beatles there, said Mr Gunn. And the Stones. We stared up at the derelict building. Someone had left a couple of canvasses propped up against the entrance, untouched. Art for arts sake: unwanted.

Tom Paine, in 'Common Sense', had attacked the King, George III, whom he saw as a tyrant, 'the Royal Brute', in league with Parliament, intent on depriving the nation - and its American colony - of their rights. The law, he said should be King.

Curious to think that we are now in the hands still of another Hanoverian  - Boris Johnson, direct descendent of George's father - intent on defying Parliament itself, for the same purpose.

Martha Gunn supposedly 'dipped' the baby son of George III, later to become the Prince Regent, and then George IV, in the chilly saltwater at Brighthelmstone, and thereby turned the quiet seaside village into a metropolitan retreat: London by the sea, centred around the oriental fantasy Pavilion, now visibly crumbling, in a suitably Brighton shabby genteel way, mistaken from time to time, by intellectually challenged EDL supporters, for a mosque. 

Fashions and prosperity come and go: Queen Victoria hated the Pavilion and the town fell into a slow decline; by the twentieth century it was a seedy place, famous for furtive assignations, and the production of evidence for divorce, conveniently witnessed by accommodating hotel staff. 

Brighton today, as well as accommodating a large student population, and the influx of an array of hipster faux bohemians, now depends on a different sort of visitor, and the annual return of Conferences. Still plenty of furtive assignations (if you are lucky), betrayals (if you are not), and deceit, but largely - although not entirely - political in nature.

Last time I was in Brighton for Conference, two years ago, the number of homeless people living on the streets around the seafront was horrifying: nothing has changed for the better, other than some of the luckier ones now have pop up tents to shelter them at night. 

The weather on Monday changed dramatically for the worse, as if in synchronisation with the political mood; the sky darkening, the sea increasingly rough and crashing hard onto the pebbled beach. Gusts of wind blew along the front, rapidly building in strength. 

Outside the secure zone, another homeless man sat uncovered, stoned, completely still in the driving rain, staring unblinkingly across the pavement. Conference goers rushed passed him, unnoticing.

In the hall, John Mc Donnell was giving his Shadow Chancellor speech. 

Here at least, was some hope of something better: to aspire not just to survive, but to live a 'rich and full life'. 

He wanted to end the 'modern evil of in work poverty', to build a million new affordable homes; to see freedom from drudgery, workers having a stake in the future of their employment, to work to live, not live to work.

A reduction in the hours of the working week, a ban on zero hours contracts, the provision of public services free at the point of use, free personal care: and all funded by a fairer tax system.

This is what people want, what they want to hear: it is not an unattainable fantasy, but a necessity for any society intending to meet the needs of - well - the many, not the few. Anathema, of course, to the Tories now wrecking the foundations that lie beneath every public institution that supports the things we once took for granted, created in the post war reforms of a Labour government. 

Later that day I slipped into a fringe meeting organised by Finchley's own Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League, on the issues facing women in the justice system. A well meaning senior police officer talked about the idea of supporting female offenders - or, as he put it, women who presented non typical behaviour - rather than banging them up in jail for short sentences, traumatising their children, and breaking up their families. 

'Non typical behaviour' by Prime Ministers and their supporters in Parliament is perfectly acceptable, of course: defying the law is your prerogative, when in a place of power. 

If you are a woman struggling to survive, battling all the challenges of social exclusion, and make the mistake of committing petty crime, however, you must be be punished, and put in prison.

Again we heard about the impact of domestic violence - criminal assault - on women at risk of offending. An astonishing number of women in prison have at some time experienced a brain injury as a result of such violence: estimated to be two thirds of all female prisoners. These are traumatised women, whose imprisonment will achieve nothing, except further damage to their families. 

Universal credit, and all the other punishments created by the new age Poor Law, the policy of 'austerity', are forcing women into crime - 'untypical behaviour', call it what you like, the outcome is the same. Sex work, addiction, poverty: where is the way out, when the support that should be there is cut by government? When women are too scared to speak out, or ask for help?

I asked the police chief about the claims made the day before about migrant women, trafficked women, too frightened to go to the police when exploited or assaulted, in case of the police informing the government about their status, leading to their deportation. I didn't receive any clear response, other than that he hoped that didn't happen.

Off to the Irish Labour party reception then. This was not as easy as it might have been, despite being only a short distance away from my hotel. As soon as you stepped into the street, a gale force wind swept over the sea and along the front: it almost impossible to walk into, once in, sucked into a vacuum, and spat out, with difficulty, and if you managed to escape, into hotel foyers hosting a myriad fringe events.

As usual the analysis of the speakers from Ireland was pithy, apt and to the point. This may not have entirely been the main attraction of the evening, however, due to the generous supply of a free bar at the back of the room. 

Childs Hill councillor, and councillor for Co Cricklewood, Anne Clarke

Among the speakers was the TUC's Frances O'Grady, who spoke of the pride those of us who come from migrant Irish families have in our roots. Here we are, so many generations later, having to defend the rights of newer migrants, in our turn.

Frances O'Grady, and in the foreground, a feast of Taytos

The next morning, while wandering in to the Conference centre, news of the Supreme Court decision had just emerged. The stunning outcome, unanimous as it was, had news teams and reporters rushing about, grabbing anyone who looked vaguely like an MP, or with an opinion, and interviewing them. 

Hilary Benn was mobbed: a crowd formed around the live news screen. 

As I entered the hall, Corbyn was angrily informing members of what had just happened: the government found to have acted unlawfully in shutting down Parliament, purely for its own political purposes. It was one of those moments you know you will never forget, although - you can hardly believe it is happening.

Unexpectedly at a loose end, and the Conference agenda all in disarray, the best option was to return to the hall, and bag a seat before the newly re-arranged Leader's speech. 

We listened to more motions, and more speakers: for example, a strikingly beautiful woman from Western Sahara, dressed in red hijab, spoke eloquently of the strife in her country: a crisis I had no knowledge of, but learned a lot about from her impassioned speech. 

Another speaker reminded us all of the emergency in Kashmir. 

A woman with a three year old child with a chronic, life long health condition spoke about her appalling experience of eviction and eventual placement in private housing fifty miles away from her support network: a former council house, of course, for which the rent represented two thirds of their income.

It was then time for the Leader's speech. He had clearly re-written it in the light of the Supreme Court decision. The PM, he said, as a giant moth flew on a kamikaze mission, straight into the lights above the stage, with his government of the entitled, had acted illegally: but he had failed. 

The democracy that Boris Johnson describes as a “rigmarole” will not be stifled and the people will have their say.

Corbyn then outlined an alternative route for the nation, addressing not just Brexit, but the issues that some of us seem to have forgotten about - that are keeping so many people in this country in the hellish trap set for them by Cameron, May and Johnson, as the gap between those with means and those without gapes ever larger and larger.

Proposals then on giving workers a stake in their own futures; a ban on zero hours contracts, a shorter working week, bringing back public services under the control of those who use them: 

we'll bring rail, mail, water and the national grid into public ownership so the essential services that we all rely on are run by and for the public not for profit.

He announced plans for a new publicly owned generic drugs manufacturer to supply cheaper medicines to the NHS, free prescriptions, free personal care, free childcare, a new Sure Start system - no more student loan fees. 

All of this to be paid for by a fairer tax system, taking the greatest burden from where it is now, balanced on the backs of the lowest paid, and forcing the top 5% and corporate tax dodgers to pay their share.

These are the changes that people so desperately need, and the truth is that only Labour is offering this as a manifesto, as well as choice on Brexit to voters. 

Later that night, at the reception given annually by the Labour Friends of Israel, the manifesto, and all the policies outlined in the speech faded away. The feeling of anger, and distress, over the failure of the party properly to acknowledge the fears of the Jewish community were palpable. There were no obvious answers. It was a depressing evening. 

Since Conference ended, further plans, much welcomed, were announced to abolish the much feared tool of state punishment, Universal Credit, directed at the most vulnerable members of our society, with its careful, detailed construct of moral judgement, and a regime of humiliation, meant to starve and humiliate its recipients into a state of abject obedience.

Which brings us neatly to a return to Broken Barnet, of course, and the state of flux in our current local political parties, poised as we are on the brink of a general election.

Over the summer break there have been no meetings, so no chance to test the new gagging laws voted in by our shameless Tory councillors, so frightened of challenge and scrutiny from their own electors that they have resorted to effectively preventing them from taking any significant part in the decision making process. No more questions - other than two token ones in total, no matter how many residents submit them, no matter how complex and serious the issue, no right to speak to your elected representatives. 

The signs of the same disease that has eaten its way through the Tory party in Parliament are erupting now in our local Tory Council, here in the rotten borough of Broken Barnet: if you don't like what people say - shut them up. The reaction, in short, of every partner in an abusive relationship: first coercive control: the removal, by stealth, of choice, and then, wham: the hand over the mouth.

At the moment, on stage in the theatre of the absurd at the heart of the political scene in Broken Barnet, there is currently a frenetic game of musical chairs, in which members of all parties are swopping places, or standing down, and frankly, it is quite hard to keep up with it all.

On the 20th of this month,Tory councillor Gabriel Rozenberg resigned from the Conservative party, and joined the Libdems: as a fervent opponent of Brexit, and appalled by Boris Johnson's attempt to prorogue Parliament, he could take no more, and bailed out of the party to which he had belonged for twenty years. 

He remains a councillor for Hampstead Garden Suburb: whether or not the Suburbanistas will return him to his seat at the next local elections remains to be seen. 

Rumour has it, from various sources, that certain other Barnet Tory members are now urgently 'considering their position'. The split in the group over Brexit, Capita, the gagging of residents, and other major disagreements, is taking its toll. Unity under the new right wing Leader is breaking down. There may be (more) trouble ahead ... no: Mrs Angry predicts: there will be trouble ahead. 

Trouble too for Labour.

Sara Conway, Labour's candidate for the constituency of Finchley and Golders Green, stood down, citing personal and family reasons, and amid controversy over an interview in Jewish News. She remains a Labour councillor: but we still have no idea who the new candidate will be. This appears to be a decision in the hands of the NEC: but no one seems to know for sure.

A startling announcement next from the Libdems:

Former Libdem parliamentary candidate for Hendon,  Alasdair Hill, who stood in two elections against Tory MP Offord, announced that he has left the Libdems. 

He could no longer remain in a party whose Brexit position is now one of Revoke, and has other differences with current Libdem policies. Alasdair is a really decent guy, very bright and politically astute - and will be a serious loss for local Libdems.

And then: as expected, the local Libdem candidate in Finchley and Golders Green has been shoved aside, and we are told that Luciana Berger, ex Labour, ex Independent Group, who joined the Libdems three weeks ago, is standing in her place. 

After the abuse and lack of support shown to her by the Labour party over the antisemitism issue, one can hardly blame her for wanting to leave: but to end up as a Libdem is a curious choice, in the light of her former views on the party.

The decision to stand Luciana in this constituency runs the risk of opening up the most painful and distressing conflict here, unfortunately. One hopes those who encouraged her to stand know exactly what they are doing. Or, perhaps, you might argue, it is offering a positive alternative choice. You would hope, then, that the election period will be conducted with respect, and an absence of aggressive tactics.

Having just been the target of smear attempts and attacks by one or two local Libdems on twitter - usually the tactic of local Tories - frankly I now despair of anything but the worst sort of campaigning from them, if this is an indication of things to come. 

It seems any Labour member is now fair game: simply for being a Labour member. 

The slur that all members are by default now all antisemites is vile, and indefensible. Abusing in this way the vast majority of members who are decent people, committed to Labour values, working hard to speak out, and fight for those suffering antisemitism, is utterly wrong. For Labour councillors and candidates who happen to be Jewish, such treatment is even more to be deplored, especially in the current climate. 

Luciana will undoubtedly gain votes from disaffected Labour voters, especially, and understandably, within the Jewish community - and from those who want a Revoke solution to the Brexit crisis. For the many voters who might have doubts about the wisdom of an outright Revoke policy, or still harbour fury over the student loan U turn, and indeed the years of a Libdem party supporting the punitive austerity policies of the Tories, support might still remain out of the questions.

The Libdems will also, of course, take votes from the incumbent MP Freer, who is already in a perilous situation: a Brexit backing Tory in a Remain voting constituency, and one who, by an unfortunate sequence of events, is a junior whip central to the imposition of party discipline demanded by the government led by world class fool Boris Johnson. 

Many moderate Tory voters are already horrified by the spectacle of a Conservative PM attempting to defy the law, defy Parliamentary convention, and shut down the central function of our democratic process, simply out of party political expediency. Many moderate Tory voters in Finchley and Golders Green will simply not understand why their MP continues to support Johnson, and his behaviour, not least the expulsion of the 21 MPs, including such stalwarts as Ken Clarke, and Nicholas Soames. 

The outcome of all this, I would therefore predict - will be impossible to call. Splitting the opposition vote might well seem likely to return Freer, with a narrow margin: but then - he already had a narrow margin. His electoral support will be now be further damaged  by his loyalty to Brexit, and to Johnson; his low profile locally, and his close relationship with the hopelessly incompetent local Tory council, will not help at all. 

Tory voters are now furious with the debacle over local issues like waste collection, litter in the streets, pot holes, rampant development - including a block of flats in his local park - facilitated by a privatised easycouncil planning service, which depends for its income from fee based activities that have disadvantaged the ordinary resident in favour of developers, large and small.

And then we have the forgotten voters, who never vote Tory, and would never see any point in voting Libdem: those living in disadvantaged circumstances, with the worst healthcare, the worst schools, support services cut, GPs overstretched, waiting lists for hospital appointment, or mental health support so long they have to hide them in a (privatised) system of re-referral. Families dependent on our local food banks, families whose children go to school hungry: which party gives them a hope of something better? 

The young men sleeping in the shop doorways of Finchley, begging at the tube station, or sleeping in the bushes in the park: who will offer them hope of something better? The Tories, still so proud of their Universal Credit? The Libdems, who were complicit in voting through this iniquitous policy, and Bedroom Tax?

As many of the debates at Conference so painfully and acutely reminded us, the continuing deployment of austerity measures, and the newest rolling out of the  'Hostile Environment' bears most heavily down on women, the elderly, the disabled, minorities - and most of all, children.

When the Labour party fails swiftly and fully to deal with complaints of antisemitism, when it fails to give a clear lead on Brexit - when it indulges in factionalism, accusations, counter accusations, the price of disunity is paid by those least able to afford it. 

But whatever the failings in leadership, the underlying truth remains: only Labour's manifesto and policies can offer hope to those whose lives depend on support, on care, on better access to education, medicine, jobs - and justice. 

Returning a Tory government led by Johnson returns the reality not just of a leader prepared to align itself with the most right wing agenda we have ever seen in government in modern times, but one flirting with the base tactics of populism, fake news, and blatant lies, a new political philosophy sanctioned by Trump, Bannon, and in tune with the rising tide of alt right lunacy, and dangerous nationalism in Europe. 

We all have reason to fear a future ordained by Johnson and his backers: it is unthinkable. And the way forward is unclear. 

Government, according to Tom Paine, is a necessary evil: and - as we know only too well - politics present always only a choice of evils, or as he put it, in 'Common Sense', our duty is, 'out of two evils to choose the least'. Each of us must make their own choice now, but our duty demands that we do what is best not just for ourselves - but for those least able to face the worst consequences of our decision.