Monday, March 14, 2011

Meanwhile in To(r)y Town BRIAN COLEMAN calls for action!

AS NATO leaders dithered over what to do about Libya, one man had no hesitation in calling for action when he heard that the revolution had spilled over into his territory

A group of young people calling themselves "Topple the Tyrants" had moved into the £11 million, 8-bedroom house in Hampstead Garden Suburb which Colonel Gaddafi's son Saif bought himself in 2009.

Promising to look after the place for the Libyan people, they said this mansion with its private swimming pool would be open to refugees from the Libyan conflict, or anywhere else.

Barnet Tory councillor Brian Coleman, who doubles as Barnet and Camden's member in the London Assembly, and chair of the capital's Fire Authority, called on William Hague to act:
“The Foreign Secretary should take action immediately to seize Gaddafi’s son's house in Hampstead Garden Suburb in my constituency".

My blogging colleague Vicky Morris, who lives in Barnet and is on the local trades union council, was first to comment, thinking this was "a bit extreme", even for the Tory whose dashing driving skills earned him the title "Mr.Toad" from some people.

"The SAS on the lawns of Garden Suburb? I know Coleman's lost his patience with the residents lately, since they've been complaining about him putting up the CPZ fees, but really! "

"Good to see Brian Coleman standing up for the rights of dictators everywhere, " said another local, Rog T,,
thinking perhaps of Cllr.Coleman's lack of patience with those who challenge him, on the council or in the fire service.

To be fair, the Toad made clear his concern was for local interests. “The squatters, who are a blight to the area, should be evicted and moved-on to protect the nearby residents.”
Even if he was concerned with a problem they hadn't raised, rather than those they have. As reporter Alex Hayes noted, "In January Cllr Coleman described some residents from the area, who emailed him angry at huge increases in parking charges, as 'hysterical' and 'over the top' in a council meeting.

I imagine the councillor's prompt Pavlov's dog reaction (did Pavlov ever experiment with toads?) came from hearing the words "squatters" and "property" mentioned, rather than specific Middle Eastern or Maghrebi considerations (though he did once display his diplomatic flair by describing Middlesex University as a "crap" place which could "only attract foreign students". Middlesex rewarded him with an honorary degree). He is a former chair of Finchley Conservative Friends of Israel.

But the worthy councillor and London Assembly member could be treading on thin ice when he starts talking about people occupying homes they shouldn't and recommends eviction. I hear some Methodists in Barnet are asking whether a bachelor like Coleman on more than £100,000 a year plus generous expenses should really be living in a rent-controlled flat provided by their church.

If that seems mean, remember that Coleman's party is dedicated to raising council rents to something like "market" prices - absurdly high as these can be in London -and simultaneously putting a ceiling on housing benefits. Some local authorities have reportedly pre-booked south coast boarding houses for displaced families whom they will be obliged to re-house.

As for Brian Coleman, at a council meeting last year he called Grahame Park, Stonegrove Park and West Hendon estates "disgusting slums" - apparently oblivious that it was the Tories who'd built them, and await an interested private developer to regenerate them. Attacking "social housing", Coleman said "the market will decide".

The issue of Brian's flat also brings to mind the successful campaign which the London Evening Standard ran against Ken Livingstone's mayoralty, and a two-page spread "investigation" by Andrew Gilligan, attacking the mayor's senior Equality adviser Lee Jasper, under the heading "Ken's £117,000 aide lives in £90pw council house". That was a Victorian terraced house in Clapham owned by a housing association, where Jasper lived with his family.

If that was an issue, then I think Brian Coleman's low rent pad will be another.

Or maybe I am assuming too much consistency from the media.

Mayoral Marathon

I'VE received two different leaflets for the TUC march against the cuts, and for an alternative, on March 26. Besides the standard TUC one, which I hear is in short supply because so many are being distributed by activists, there's another focussing on the cuts in London and featuring a photo of Ken Livingstone, captioned "Join me on 26 March and let's tell Cameron, Osborne and Boris Johnson there is an alternative".

Inviting me to "Register your support for Ken", it bears the logos of several trade unions, including mine, and a web address

For a moment I wondered why trade unions or anyone else should imagine that their members, or anyone concerned and angry over bankers' bonuses and council cuts, should need to know the former London mayor would be there on March 26 before deciding to join the demonstration.

Then I realised the campaign for next year's mayoral election has begun early, like a marathon starting for the Olympics. And (don't yawn) once again the front-runners are Ken, chosen by Labour, versus incumbent Boris Johnson. This event is more likely to test the endurance of the spectators than that of the participants.

Giving a flavour, the Tories have put out a picture of Ken's running mate Val Shawcross on what they claimed was an RMT picket line, supposedly conveying that Livingstone would take his orders from that nasty red Bob Crow and his union henchpersons. Not that Ken Livingstone who once said if he was a tube worker he would cross picket lines? Anyway, Labour supporters have established that the "picket line" in the picture was not outside a station and in support of a strike, but a protest outside City Hall against the closure of ticket offices. And to complete the picture they have produced a photograph of one Boris Johnson, before he was mayor, signing a petition on the same issue.

A case of the political adage that
"Those who are in forget what they said when they were out. And those who are out forget what they did when they were in".

Maybe it is not polite to remember some things.
And maybe it is mere co-incidence that the RMT is not one of the unions whose logo appears on that leaflet.

Talking of the tubes, a poster on the London Underground advertising the Iranian state-linked Press TV has led to controversy about politicians George Galloway and Ken Livingstone being on its payroll. Galloway we know about. He has disgraced Stop the War platforms by defending the Iranian regime. I can understand some friends agreeing to appear on Press TV because it gave them and their causes space which they weren't afforded by the BBC and other 'respectable' media. But Livingstone?

In the 1970s when Libyan money was channeled to Labour Herald, it might have been possible to plead ignorance or even argue it was going to a good cause, and for good motives. But now? Does Livingstone need the money or the exposure? And how can he or anyone else ignore the calls from left-wing Iranians and trade unionists to break the link, which they say assists the regime responsible for their oppression and exile?

I don't accept the crude abuse from Tory twits like Toby Young in the Telegraph who demands that Ed Milliband sack Livingstone for being "the spokesman of a fascist regime". And I like the counter-attack some have launched against Boris Johnson for accepting Press TV money for advertising on the London Underground (though I would not like to give Johnson or other Tories the precedent for deciding what ads are acceptable, being old enough to remember when I first came to London and a poster advertising the Labour Sunday Citizen was banned from the tube stations as too 'political').

I would hope the Standard's Andrew Gilligan does not get dragged into this criticism of Livingstone, as he happens to moonlight for Press TV among other things.

All the same, though I see Livingstone has said he won't have time to work for Press TV as the mayoral election draws nearer, I can't see this issue dying down, and nor should it be allowed to. I'm not satisfied with the explanation Ken Livingstone has offered so far, in which he claims Press TV is just a British company and independent of the Iranian regime. Perhaps he and other MPs could prove their integrity by making a statement in support of Iranian political prisoners and trade unionists. He could even read it on Press TV if he likes.

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