Tag Archives: Federation of Conservative Students

Weasel words from Phibbs

Foghorn Phibbs: apparently he never wore the T-shirt

This blog seems to have attracted a few views over the last several days. With Nelson Mandela close to death, perhaps it was inevitable. It was also inevitable that many people would remember the Tories’ attitude to Nelson Mandela and their support for South Africa’s apartheid regime during the 1980s. Many also recall that the Federation of Conservative Students (FCS) proudly wore ‘Hang Mandela’ T-shirts and referred to him as a ‘terrorist’ while they, not only supported the continuation of apartheid, but also gave their support to the Pinochet regime and the Nicaraguan Contras, a terrorist group that was financed by arms sales to Iran.

I was reading this article in The Independent when I spotted this:

Harry Phibbs, a Hammersmith councillor who was then prominent in the FCS, says: “A group of people at Warwick University made stickers that were a parody of the stickers people were wearing saying ‘Free Nelson Mandela and all ANC prisoners’, which said ‘Hang Nelson Mandela and all ANC terrorists’.

Foghorn continues:

“The motive was to disrupt the conference of the National Union of Students [NUS]. It was never proposed by the FCS officially. I suspect that it wasn’t even a view really held by the people who produced that sticker. It was a rather immature way to stir things up.”

A couple of things: first, he claims that the ‘Hang Mandela’ T-shirts were ‘parodies’. Now that the FCS is dead and has been reincarnated as the Young Britons’ Foundation (YBF), it was only inevitable that Phibbs would employ the ‘youthful hi-jinks’ get out clause. There was nothing parodic about these people wearing T-shirts that demanded Mandela be hanged. They meant every single word of it. Second, he claims that this view “wasn’t even a view really held by the people who produced that sticker. It was a rather immature way to stir things up”. This is what The Cat refers to as the ‘Jeremy Clarkson defence’. The “it was all just a joke, honest” line, cuts no ice.  We only have Phibbs’s word that the FCS were just being, er, playful and frankly his word is schmutz at Nowhere Towers.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council is now home to former FCSers, some of them have gone on to join the YBF, even though they are no longer young. Some, like Aidan Burley, have become MPs and achieved notoriety through their boorish, oafish right-wing predilections for a certain kind of attire and their hateful denunciations of tolerance and equality .

Here, Phibbs reminisces about the good old days of the FCS. Perhaps the strongest indication of the FCS’s support for authoritarian regimes comes from Foghorn himself, when he writes:

Under the new regime campaigns took place in solidarity with those fighting Communism around the world, whether Eastern European dissidents or groups fighting civil wars in Africa and Central America. A shocking policy was adopted in support of a students loans scheme. The battle of ideas was fought for freedom and the free market, against socialism and state control.

Remember, authoritarian regimes are fine as long as they’re ‘anti-communist’. Right-wing terrorists are transformed into ‘freedom fighters’ on account of their anti-communism, and Pinochet’s and Suharto’s atrocities are casually waved away as mere inconveniences. Sometimes right-wingers will try and engage in a pissing contest by claiming that the Left has been more responsible for the deaths of millions more and will even try and aggregate Hitler’s atrocities with that number. The groups the FCS supported on the African continent were UNITA in Angola and RENAMO in Mozambique. The latter organization was founded in Ian Smith’s Rhodesia and supported by South Africa.

At the end of the article, he signs off by telling us:

Harry Phibbs is a journalist.

I can think of loads of things to call him and ‘journalist’ isn’t one of them. Cabinet Member for Propaganda is probably closer to the mark. Oh hang on, he’s no longer in that position but he still churns out propaganda on the Council’s behalf on Conservative Home, where he is the “the local government editor”. It tells us:

While he is not an anarchist, Harry is strongly on the libertarian/ classical liberal wing of the Conservative Party.

No! Really? Remember what I said about ‘classical liberals’? He also writes propaganda for the local Tory blog; the deceptively titled ‘Residents First’.

Here’s an interesting article from Suzanne Moore in yesterday’s Guardian. Naturally, the article has attracted knuckledraggers repeating the usual mush but they never dare to mention the atrocious apartheid years.  I wonder why?

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Tory youth wing ‘Conservative Future’ still singing “Hang Nelson Mandela” at meetings

Conservative Future (who look to the past) are still singing “Hang Mandela”. It’s interesting how this particular comment appeared on Harry ‘Foghorn’ Phibbs’ blog on Conservative Home. Phibbs, as you may recall, was once a member of the Federation of Conservative Students, the former rabid right youth wing of the Tory Party. Their mantle has been recently assumed by the Young Britons Foundation.

Pride's Purge

(not satire – it’s the Tories!)

Well at least until 2006 they were.

Let’s remind ourselves what the Tories used to openly say about Nelson Mandela.

‘Hang Nelson Mandela’ – Federation of Conservative Students

‘Nelson Mandela should be shot’ – Tory MP Teddy Taylor

‘The ANC is a typical terrorist organisation’ – Margaret Thatcher

‘This hero worship is very much misplaced’- Tory MP John Carlisle

‘How much longer will the Prime Minister allow herself to be kicked in the face by this black terrorist?’ – Tory MP Terry Dicks

etc etc etc

OK – that was a long time ago. Most people would say the modern Conservative Party has completely changed now.

Well , maybe.

Strange then that over at the Conservative Home website – a Tory supporter calling him or herself ‘Thatcher’s Stormtrooper‘ – states that members of today’s Tory youth wing ‘Conservative Future’ were still…

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Beyond fetishes? Union-bashing, Tories, Nazis and Aidan Burley

When it comes to truly barking right wing politicians, Hammersmith & Fulham knows how to produce them. In recent years it has churned out quite a crop of nutty right wingers, whose ‘philosophies’  intersect rather neatly with those of the far right.  While making a casual online search for updates on Aidan Burley… you know, he of the embarrassing Nazi incident, I came across this website.

After last month’s massive strike, Burley got the notion into his wee noodle to set up his own think-tank dedicated to smearing the trade unions.  He’s done this with the apparent blessing of Lord Snooty. The site’s “About Us” page says,

We campaign for reform of the laws and funding arrangements relating to trade unions. We do not oppose trade unions right to exist and to campaign on issues which are important to them. However, we do not believe that the hard pressed tax payer should be forced to pay for their campaigns either directly or indirectly. Furthermore, we believe that when trade unions take action which affects the wider public it should have a greater element of democratic legitimacy.

Burley has deliberately failed to spot the glaringly obvious: his party is funded by unaccountable millionaires and billionaires, none of whom are elected or accountable to anyone but themselves. 22 millionaires currently sit at the cabinet table. On the other hand, union leaders are elected by their members  and are accountable to their electors. Naturally we cannot expect someone of Burley’s character to understand something so simple. Let’s read on,

We provide quality research into trade union related affairs which highlight these issues. We welcome engagement from trade unionists, taxpayers, users of public services and the media who wish to engage with us. We are happy to provide media spokesmen or speakers for debates and public fora on these issues.

So, this this is a think-tank that’s also a union-busting service? It sounds like it. I’m not taken in by this promise of “quality research” either but then, dear readers, you wouldn’t expect me to be.

This organisation is run on a voluntary basis by people who work in both the public and private sectors, outside of their normal work hours. Just as trade unions should be.

I wonder who these volunteers are? More importantly, his view of unions appears to be a little, er, lopsided. How many of his fellow MPs are engaged on private business when they should be working on Commons business? Hmmmm? What about those expenses? The moats, the duck houses?

Helping Burley in his quest to further smash what’s left of Britain’s trade union movement is Harry Cole, Guido’s ‘news editor’.

The Tories are often quick enough to tell us how they loathe Nazis and, more recently, have been equally as quick to claim that Nazis were “socialists” because the word “Socialist” forms part of their name. In their haste to rush to such an untidy conclusion, they have ignored one rather important fact: Germany’s conservative Centre Party handed Hitler power of their own volition. Indeed, the German conservatives had many things in common with the Nazis: nationalism, law and order, crushing workers movements. Far from being supportive of trade unions, the Nazis saw them as enemies and banned them. I would wager that if Burley and other Tories had their way, they would doubtlessly follow the same path. Of course I am not saying that the Conservative Party is a Nazi party or a Nazi sympathizing party. That would be puerile.  Eh, Dan? But clearly there are individual members of the party who venerate Hitler and his vile party and we shouldn’t ignore this. After all, how many Labourites fetishize Stalin or Ceaucescu?

So it comes as no surprise to me that a young Tory, who was once a H&F councillor, should be seen associating with Nazi fetishists. His predecessor at H&F Council, Donal Blaney, made clear his thoughts about access to social housing that could have, quite easily, been spoken by a Nazi.

The Guardian said,

Conservative Central Office confirmed yesterday that it has opened an inquiry following a complaint from the Commission for Racial Equality about the Fulham Homes for Fulham People campaign led by Tory councillors Donal Blaney and Greg Hands.

One leaflet accused the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham of denying a council house to a “local mum” whose place had been taken by “asylum seekers”.

The name Greg Hands should be familiar to most readers, he is now the MP for the newly created constituency of Fulham and Chelsea. Hands is an arch-Thatcherite, who was once the leader of the opposition Tory group before he was selected to stand for the old Hammersmith & Fulham constituency. He has also recently addressed the Young Britons Foundation.

In the week before Christmas, Burley apologised and was then promptly sacked from his position as Justine Greening’s PPS. According to the Daily Mail, Burley had even hired an SS uniform,

This veneration of the Nazis and their iconography is nothing new. Other Tories have been there before. The most notable example was the racist boor and self-styled rake, Alan Clark who, according to Socialist Unity, took the BNP’s John Tyndall out to lunch. That’s the same BNP that Hannan claims is “left-wing”.

Socialist Unity quoted this from one of Clark’s diaries,

‘Lunched with Frank Johnson [parliamentary sketch writer on The Times]. Frank pretended he wanted to talk about the Tory Party, but he really prefers to talk about the Nazis, concerning whom he is curious, but not, of course, sympathetic. Yes, I told him, I was a Nazi, I really believed it to be the ideal system, and that it was a disaster for the Anglo-Saxon races and for the world that it was extinguished. He both gulped and grinned, ‘But surely, er, you mean ideally in terms of administrative and economic policy you cannot really, er …’ Oh yes, I told him, I was completely committed to the whole philosophy. The blood and the violence was an essential ingredient of its strength, the heroic tradition of cruelty every bit as powerful and a thousand times more ancient than the Judaeo-Christian ethic.

The disgraced former MP, Neil Hamilton once made a Nazi salute while on a trip to Berlin in 1983.

The buffoonish image cultivated by Mr Hamilton in public has managed to gloss over his extreme views. Born in 1947 in a small Welsh mining town, he was a leading light in the Federation of Conservative Students and the ultra right at the university of Aberystwyth. A 1979 election flyer in Bradford, where Mr Hamilton was standing as Conservative candidate, espoused “coloured” repatriation, as did a speech to the Tory selection committee at the same time.

Oh yes, the FCS, I remember them and so does Craig Murray. The FCS is the predecessor of the YBF. Hamilton has recently joined UKIP.

I have previously quoted this blog from Dissembling Dan Hannan in which he claims that the BNP are a party of the “far left”.  His thesis looks even shakier now.

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H&F Tories and the right-wing ‘madrasah’

It’s called the Tory “madrasah” and it resembles an updated version of the long-defunct Federation of Conservative Students. The Young Britons’ Foundation (YBF), who are no less right-wing than their recent ancestors, was formed in 2003 as sort of boot camp for young right-wing activists. We’ll return to them in a moment.

The use of the word “madrasah” to describe them is a bit weird. But first let’s have a look the word.  Madrasah, or madarasa, is the Arabic word for school; any school. Some are attached to mosques and exist to provide religious education.  Others, particularly those in Pakistan, have been cited as hothouses for suicide bombers. But this is a new connotation and the word, when it is uttered by a Rightist, tends to take on a universal character. The suggestion is “madrasahs are responsible for the inculcation of Islamist terror”.  Is the use of the word “madrasah” ironic in the context of the YBF? Who knows? It has probably been appropriated in much the same way as the word “Mecca” or perhaps the word, “Kosher”. No doubt these people believe that they are the ideologically pure shock troops of today’s Tory party.

The YBF were in the headlines last year. Before the general election, Cameron was urged to distance himself from them. The Guardian said,

Asked about his links to the group last month, Cameron said: “I don’t know anything about the Young Britons’ Foundation.” But Cameron had already contributed to a YBF-branded guide to essential reading for young Conservatives, according to the YBF’s chief executive, Donal Blaney, a Kent-based solicitor.

Hmmm, “He doesn’t know anything about “Young Britons’ Foundation”. I’m not so sure I believe Disco Dave.  The Guardian

…has also obtained photographs of him meeting the organisation’s director of strategy, vice-president, and then operations director before he denied knowledge of the group. Its director of research, Alex Deane, was formerly Cameron’s chief of staff.

Wow! I want to see these photos. But I can’t. I presume they’re in the Guardian’s image vault underneath Farringdon Station. No matter, we can see this screen grab of Cameron meeting someone called Conor Burns. From the Gaurdian,

Ah, doesn’t that look cosy? Burns is now the MP for Bournemouth West but last year he was the YBF’s vice president.

Back in 2003, when the YBF was formed, Tom Happold of the Guardian wrote this about them

A new right-wing youth organisation – the Young Britons’ Foundation – has been accused of plotting a “Militant-style” take-over of the party’s youth wing, Conservative Future, by senior Tories.Disquiet about the group is such that the Conservative’s chief whip, David Maclean, recently told its chairman, former Tory MP Patrick Nicholls, to rein in its activities, Guardian Unlimited has learned.

The foundation’s website claims it exists to “help develop the talents of the young conservative-inclined political activists”, but senior Tories say it has been infiltrating Conservative Future, and even running a slate in its recent elections.

Further down the article we come to this,

The founder of the Young Britons’ Foundation, Donal Blaney, is also a controversial figure in the Tory party – he faced accusations of racism, and a complaint by the Commission for Racial Equality, when he ran a Fulham Homes for Fulham People campaign while a councillor in the borough. But Mr Blaney does have some influential friends; the foundation’s parliamentary counsel contains the former Conservative party chairman, Cecil Parkinson, Tory MP Gerald Howarth and shadow deputy prime minister, and likely future leadership contender, David Davis.

Yes, Donal Blaney was a Hammersmith & Fulham councillor. These days he’s described as a “Kent-based solicitor”.  Here’s some more,

Mr Blaney told Guardian Unlimited that it is compiling a dossier cataloguing examples of “socialist PC” bias on every course on every campus in the country. And he insisted that “all the stuff that gets fed back to us shows that the bias on campus is getting worse”.

The foundation’s website also says: “Leftists and their failed socialist ideology have run riot, in some cases literally, at campuses up and down the land for over 30 years.

“As a result non-political students or students who are conservative in outlook have been discriminated against in their grades and in their treatment by the authorities.”

They get this idea from an American neo-con site called Campus Watch, which claims that it is “monitoring Middle East studies on campus”. Long before it narrowed its remit it was involved in “exposing left-wing bias on campus”. My, how times have changed. The site is connected to the notorious Daniel Pipes, who runs the Middle East Forum.

Back to Blaney. It would seem that even some  Tories don’t like him. This blogger writes,

I guess Donal is the epitomy of all the negative coverage that political blogs have been receiving recently. Rejected by the higher echelons of the Conservative party, this sad time-wasting individual has risen to the delusional ‘heights’ he has by who he knows, not what he knows. ‘Fulham Homes for Fulham People’ is not a message that Cameron wants his conservatives spreading. Then again, perhaps his reluctance to get involved more practically and constructively with the Conservative party  is because Blaney might have certain individuals on his YBF Advisory Panel with an ever so slightly more colourful past that he’d hoped for. Who’s to say though; we wouldn’t want a mere student at the University of York becoming embroiled in a legal battle with blogging’s biggest bumbling bully, Donal Blaney, would we?

He was apparently threatened with legal action by Blaney. Unfortunately for this blogger, the YBF is now firmly entrenched in Hammersmith & Fulham.  More on that later. Blaney had this slogan “Fulham Homes for Fulham People”. His supporters have tried in vain to defend Blaney, but somehow it all looks futile and any attempt to explain it away looks pathetic and feeble.

The comments on Iain Dale’s blog from last February are particularly interesting,

At February 09, 2010 9:29 AM , Blogger DespairingLiberal said…Quite funny that if you Google Donal Blaney, the first image that comes up is him standing in front of a swastika flag.

I can’t help but wonder Iain why you are so drawn to Blaney, who seems to be a sort of neo-BNP’er inside the ranks of the tory party. I thought you yourself were a bit more centrist than that?

Dale replies,

That image of Blaney was photoshopped by a Labour blogger.

Donal is a good friend of mine. There’s nothing BNP about him at all.

Dale is not only a good friend of Blaney, he’s a supporter of the YBF too.

Blaney makes a few comments below.  Here he says,

Despairing Liberal – thanks for putting your head above the parapet. Anonymous abuse on the internet is easy to defeat now thanks to the case of Blaney v Person(s) Unknown in which I obtained a world first order allowing for such cyberbullies to be unmasked and served via Twitter (giving rise to what is known as a Blaney’s Blarney Order). Oh look, another victory.

He’s a card. Isn’t he? A tussle develops between “Despairing Liberal” and Blaney and ends with Blaney threatening legal action. This isn’t the first time that Blaney’s resorted to this tactic. Remember that article that I linked to at the beginning of this blog? Well, it has this at the top of it

The following note was added on Tuesday 9 March 2010

This article is the subject of a legal complaint made on behalf of Donal Blaney.

I guess being a solicitor has its advantages. No?

Blaney divides his time between his practice in Kent and Florida where he is a member of FABB (geddit?), the Florida Association of British Business. He is described as a “British Attorney”.

Last year, James Delingpole penned this tribute to Blaney and the YBF,

I’ve noticed this same technique much in use in the student-rag left-liberal blogosphere, of late, over the small matter of the Young Britons Foundation. Because  the YBF’s splendid, funny and ideologically sound chairman Donal Blaney has called his organisation a “madrassa” for young conservatives,

He misspelled “madrasah”. It was actually Dale who described the YBF as a “madrassa” by the way. More drivel from Delingtroll,

I addressed the YBF in the Commons last week, and extremist is the very last word I’d use to describe them. “Not nearly extremist enough” would be my preferred definition of these pallid young politicos. These kids have been so effectively brainwashed by the propaganda of socialists like Ken Livingstone, Tony Benn, Ken Clarke, Dave Cameron et al, they actually think “progressive” means something worthwhile and that “investment” is what you do when you squander money you haven’t got on the least efficient healthcare system in the known universe.

I’m rolling my eyes here.

Here is the “About Us” page of the YBF’s website,

The Young Britons’ Foundation was co-founded in July 2003 by Donal Blaney, Greg Smith and Ben Pickering

Is that the same Greg Smith who’s a H&F councillor? It certainly is. Smith is the “Cabinet Member for Residents Services”. Cllr Smith is also the YBF’s “Director of Campaigns”. The blurb also tells us that he’s on the executive of the Thatcherite Conservative Way Forward. Though the site doesn’t list him as a member of the executive. Confused? So am I.

On the Advisory Board’s page we find Cllr. Mark Loveday,

Mark Loveday is a barrister specialising in property, local government and professional negligence law in London. A graduate of the University of Kent at Canterbury, Mark is a former intern at the Leadership Institute and a former White House staffer. He is a member of the Cabinet in the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham – where he has helped oversee two successive cuts in council tax since the Conservatives regained control of the Town Hall in 2006.

He’s “former White House staffer”. Fine. He’s also the “Chief Whip and Cabinet Member for Strategy” for the Tory group on the council. Like some of the others, I suspect he has his eye on a safe seat. He’s in good company. If you look down the list, you can see many other well-connected names like Matthew Elliot of the “non-partisan” Taxpayers Alliance and Thatcherite economist, Patrick Minford.

Not only is Hammersmith & Fulham a test bed for awful ideas, it is also a training ground for kamikaze Tories.

Back to the Staff page and we see that our old friend, Dan Hannan is the President.  It says,

Daniel Hannan is the President of the Young Britons’ Foundation and has recently been ranked tenth by The Daily Telegraph in its annual poll of most influential centre-right figures in Britain.

Like all those other members of the YBF that we’ve encountered, Hannan does not qualify as a youth. He’s is no spring chicken. In fact, he’s pushing 40. He’s more of a middle-aged man trying to relive his youth.

Here’s the YBF’s Speakers Panel. Do you  recognize any names? I do. Author, old duffer and ardent Europhobe, Frederick Forsyth is a keynote speaker. Previous speakers have included new peer and former MP, Howard Flight, who infamously claimed that the government’s benefit cuts would “encourage poor people to breed more”.  Douglas Carswell and Andrew Rosindell, who was once a member of the notorious Monday Club before IDS forced him  to resign, are also speakers. Carswell is a notorious Randist, like his friend Dan Hannan.Others on the speakers panel include the ever-shrill Douglas Murray and Anthony Worrall-Thompson. Nowhere Towers is baffled by the latter’s inclusion. We knew he was a Tory but is he a policy-former? No.

I expect the YBF to be at the Rally Against Debt next month along with the usual suspects.

For a more complete list of who is involved in the YBF, look at this page.

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Phibbs puts his foot in it

Harry Phibbs. What’s he like? It would seem that he has trouble with reading and comprehension.  An odd thing for a journalist as I’m sure you will agree. He put his foot in it yesterday when he left a comment on my blog about Hammersmith & Fulham Council selling off 8 community buildings.

Here’s his comment,

What I thought was interesting was what was supposed to be a protest against the sale of the buildings actually saw community groups pitching to buy them. They had a more constructive approach than the Marxist alternative comedian element shouting that I supported hanging Nelson Mandela – which is a complete lie.

It’s a crap effort at a smear. It’s like being mugged by a dead cat. Here is what I actually wrote,

Phibbs asks one woman from the Shepherds Bush Village Hall about timescales, there’s a brief exchange and then Phibbs says “this is not the ideal forum”. Er, come again? The audience are angry and upset at his shocking arrogance. Phibbs, you will recall, was once a leading member of the Federation of Conservative Students in the 1980′s. I make a not-so sotto voce comment about  ”Hang Mandela” T-Shirts.

Now where do I accuse Cllr Phibbs of “supporting the hanging of Nelson Mandela”? Furthermore, where do I even say anyone shouted anything? He mistakes the phase sotto voce for something else and for a journalist who is supposed to be educated, he comes across as remarkably thick. But then he writes for the Daily Mail, so maybe that’s his excuse. The Daily Mail, you will recall, published the infamous “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” headline in 1934. The readership has changed little in that time. Just have a look at some of the comments!

Here’s an image of the FCS poster, which also found its way on to T-shirts.

Now then, Phibbs may be able to claim that he “never supported the hanging of Nelson Mandela” but it is clear that the FCS, the student body that he belonged to, did. I remember this well because I was an undergraduate in the 1980’s. I also had a couple of encounters with this mob as well as the right-wing Marxist Revolutionary Communist Party (sic).

As for my “Marxism”, I don’t mind being called a Marxist anymore than I mind being called a socialist, a left-winger, a Situationist (I’d prefer that, please) or a cyclist. I wear all of those labels well. Maybe Phibbs thinks that by using the phrase “Marxist alternative comedian element”, I’m going to deny it or retreat. I have no intention of doing either.

Perhaps Cllr Phibbs could tell us why he felt the need to misrepresent my words in the way that he did. Oh, sorry, that’s what you people at the Mail do all the time. How silly of me!

I will leave by saying this: if you read something, make sure you understand what it is you’ve just read. Otherwise you end up looking like a complete prat. Just like Harry Phibbs.

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H&F Council votes to sell off community buildings after a lively meeting

The people of Hammersmith rally to tell the council to think again

I arrive half an hour late to the protest outside Hammersmith Town Hall after hot-footing it from Docklands. There’s a pretty big crowd here. I’d say there’s easily around a hundred, maybe more.  It’s a very well-mannered protest. There are a quite a few children and young people, reminding one of the fact that these cuts will affect everyone – young and old. I can see local MP Andy Slaughter giving an interview to a radio journalist and Cllr Stephen Cowan is being interviewed by another journalist. I have a quick chat with one of the tenants of Palingswick House who mistakes me for a journalist.  I tell him that I’m just a blogger and a resident. He tells me that there are actually 33 charities in Palingswick House. I’m surprised.

It’s about 7:45pm when they let us into the Town Hall. I go up some steps to the left hand side of the entrance. We’re ushered into the auditorium. There are minutes of the last cabinet meeting placed on every other chair. I guess we’re supposed share with our neighbour. The minutes talk predictably about “consultation”. It’s a funny word, because it often implies that the public have been consulted but, more often than not, the body that does the consulting has no intention of heeding the public’s advice. Strangely enough, I don’t recall being consulted on any of these proposals.  According to the figures, few people want to see these community buildings closed. Just taking the Irish Cultural Centre for example, I can see that 79% are against and only 4% are in favour of ‘disposal’. The Council apparently received 497 responses. I also notice that Hammersmith Library has also been threatened with closure. This comes as news to me, because I thought it had been reprieved.

6 minutes to go till the start of the meeting. There’s no sign of The Dear Leader or Harry Phibbs. Some Tories have arrived: Botterill, Smith, Carlebatch, Binmore. Their Labour opposites are taking their seats. Then Greenhalgh and Phibbs  arrive – though not together. The Dear Leader takes his seat and the lights go up.  I saw the Bunteresque One on the Politics Show on Sunday doing his best impression of a brick wall while  Cllr Cowan asked him questions. He looked uncomfortable and shifty. He looked like a man who was trying to hide something. He looked like a man who doesn’t take too kindly to questions or contradiction. He looked like a man who’d had too many big lunches. He looked sweaty.

“This is the largest cabinet meeting I’ve ever seen” declares the Leader. Is this supposed to be some kind of ice-breaker? It sounds so insincere. He tells us to turn our phones off.  The woman journo behind me isn’t listening and is tapping text into her Blackberry. The well-suited male journo looks as though he writes for the Torygraph or one of the Rothermere papers. He’s not taking many notes. I’m scratching away like fury.

Presentations are invited from the groups threatened with eviction. The first up to speak is Gordon Smith of Shepherds Bush Village Hall. He speaks passionately in its defence. He talks of its value as a community resource and how it is fully accessible. Another speaks in defence of the Hall and raises a good point about its use as a polling station. She reminds the Tories of Harold MacMillan’s warning to Thatcher about “selling off the family silver”. She gets a standing ovation. Greenhalgh looks bored. Like he wants to get this over with and head across the road to The Salutation.

Hilda McCafferty of the Irish Cultural Centre reminds the cabinet that they’ve “heard these points before” and reminds them of the extension on the lease for the building on which they have performed a volte face. She also said how the ICC had had its own valuation conducted, while the Council had yet to conduct one of their own. What was taking them so long?

At this point, I must describe the acoustics of this hall: it’s large with a lot of dead space – the sound gets lost in the ceiling. The floor is bare, polished parquet; the kind that you always find in town halls. They’re great for dances and so on but as meeting places, they’re crap. The sound from the PA system feeds back quite a bit too. The microphones look as though they’ve been taken from the council chamber. Some of the Tories don’t realise that they’re either speaking away from these very directional mics or they’re speaking too softly. It’s often difficult to hear the names of those being called to defend their buildings.

A man got up to speak about the Sands End Centre, he spoke about how it was set up by the council in 1978 and how, in those days, they “knew the meaning of localism”. The “council” he said “was a mere custodian of this building”. The Leader then asked for questions from the floor. One made a point about the council’s hypocrisy, another wondered what sort of spaces they would be forced to relocate. One man reminded them of the contribution the Irish had made, not only to Hammersmith, but in the rest of the country. Andy Slaughter asked how much the Council would get from the sale of Palingswick House. He asked him to “stop misrepresenting the condition of the buildings”.

Cllr Cowan tries to pose his questions but the Leader seems tetchy and irritable. There’s a heated exchange between them. Greenhalgh stonewalls. These Tories have made up their minds; they’re going to sell these buildings whether we like it or not. It’s all in their body language and their attitude to this meeting.

Cllr Cowan finally gets to ask his questions without the Leader raising his voice at him.  “Can you give us an audit of which services will be lost”? ” How are you going to make sure those services aren’t lost”? And “Why didn’t you tell people that SureStart would be cancelled”? Finally, Cowan asks him to delay the moves. There’s no answer. The Dear Leader asks the cabinet to make its points. Phibbs asks one woman from the Shepherds Bush Village Hall about timescales, there’s a brief exchange and then Phibbs says “this is not the ideal forum”. Er, come again? The audience are angry and upset at his shocking arrogance. Phibbs, you will recall, was once a leading member of the Federation of Conservative Students in the 1980’s. I make a not-so sotto voce comment about  “Hang Mandela” T-Shirts.

Greenhalgh says that “there’s no fire sale”. Cowan urges him to “work with the community”. Greenhalgh, “We inherited this deficit from blah, blah, blah”. Phibbs, “this meeting is getting noisy”. That’s the first time I’ve agreed with him. Then he throws wobbly “We’ll just have to end the meeting”! Cllr Cowan reminds Greenhalgh that he didn’t answer his questions. The audience are getting agitated, a slow handclap begins.

The Dear Leader announces a 5 minute break.

At that point I decide to leave. I’m tired and hungry. I say hello to Cllr Cowan on the way out.

I had Newsnight on in the background as I typed this. I heard that the Council had voted to sell off the buildings.

Now all I can think about is Toby Fucking Young.

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Filed under Big Society, Cuts, Government & politics, Hammersmith & Fulham, London