Why the caged bird sings in Colindale

Leafletting the flats above the shops on the main drag in Colindale, along one of those unloved back alley roads that requires constant effort to stop it becoming a casual land fill site; unsurfaced, pitted with puddles, cars randomly parked amidst the mud under the shadow of what used to be a small local cinema, but is now graffitied across its redbrick hulk round the back and fitfully used as a snooker hall round the front.

A small rat darts between rubbish bins – a quick, furtive shadow of movement. The flats have to be approached across the back ends of the shops through swinging gates mostly worn right away like ghosts of themselves, along improvised systems of steps and that look temporary, but have nevertheless survived far longer than is fair on them. No one approaches these places by chance.

A youth, sitting at the top of the stairs having a cigarette thanks me for the leaflet and immediately starts canvassing on our behalf to whoever he is talking to on his hands free phone. He gives me a grin and a thumbs up when I pass him on the way down.

People have responded to the public neglect either by making extreme efforts to smarten up with little fragments of care or gentility – flower planters, blue pottery nameplates, engraved, patterned glass in front doors – or gave up on all that years ago – leaving piles of leaves choking the pathways, crumbling sheds – one with a sleepy tabby cat in full possession – jumbles of dead plant pots and rubbish that hasn’t quite been thrown away.

One patriotic soul – apparently immune to the ambiguity of the symbolism – has displayed his loyal pride by sticking an England flag on his wheely bin.

On the opposite side of the alley is a row of garages. As I pass one of them is open showing fat comfortable leather sofas in a clean spare space; a man startled by my glance, standing alone in front of a back wall full of caged birds; all singing wildly in their tiny wire prisons. There are no windows.

The things you see while leafleting.

It is very apparent, when you spend any time pounding the pavements with leaflets or canvas sheets, that the 1980’s Conservative dream of home ownership in “invincible suburbs” is turning a bit sour even for many of the people who bought into it and into one of them.

Flaking paint, sagging roofs, crumbling garden walls, paved over forecourts sprouting half sprayed weeds, discarded and broken furniture stacked outside the front door for now (in one case a toilet) are all signs of people with neither the income nor the capital to do serious repairs, nor even freshen the place up a bit. Thereby the home becomes a burden and a worry.

Ten years of austerity and fewer people can afford to “keep up appearances.”  A row of homes like this and there’s a slum like appearance to the street. Renting from Councils with a proper maintenance department would collectivise the cost of maintenance, not to mention the essential retrofits that we need to hold back climate change.

On one estate I carefully close all the gates that had been left open. Which was almost all of them. The sign of people in a hurry, the casually swinging gates indicating precariousness and vulnerability: lives lived faster than they should be because there’s no time to take care. One swings back a bit hard and the woman comes out to complain that I have slammed her gate. As I apologise she notices the leaflet, beams and says -“Oh. Your from the Labour. Have a good day” and smiles again because the leaflet gives her hope.

When you are leafleting and a householder comes out and puts your leaflet straight into recycling while giving you a hard stare- as happened to me a couple of weeks ago -it can be a bit of a downer. When they come out and avidly read the leaflet as they walk down the street it makes you feel worthwhile.

In the flats, a letterbox with a No Junk Mail sticker is full of junk mail.

Some houses are not very welcoming. Some park cars across their forecourt in a way that makes it almost impossible to get to the front door. Some threaten with dogs. One house had a discarded mattress across the path, that looked as though it had been there for some time. Some take the opposite tack. A doormat reads “We welcome everyone with Proseco.” It is unclear whether this means that to be sure of a welcome you need to bring some, or, my assumption at the time, that everyone who turns up is welcomed with a glass. I was tempted to knock.

Seen in the downpour.

On the road between Drummond Street and Euston Road a youth is walking on the pavement so engrossed in reading his book that he is paying  attention neither to where he is going nor the heavy raindrops that are turning his pages into papier mache.

Outside Paddington, sleek modern trains, all ready for Crossrail with “Elizabeth Line” painted on their side, sit in the rain waiting patiently for 2021.

Lighting a candle in the darkness

Down outside Wembley Central on that strangely soulless piazza with the station at one end and “Brighthouse” at the other launching Brent North’s election campaign.

Passers by stop off for a handshake, photo and chat with Barry Gardiner, who lives round the corner and is one of those MPs that really works his constituency and is available to everyone in it for a helping hand.

Most people are friendly – or at least relaxed about taking a leaflet.

Some stop for a chat. One elderly Indian bloke tells me he’s voted for every Labour Prime Minister since “that man with the cigars”. “Harold Wilson?” “That’s him.”

A few are hostile. It is only a few, but there’s more of an edge to it than previously.

Another guy says that Wembley High Street has gone “downhill under Labour – not like Harrow.” “Harrow is Labour too.” “Ah.” The same guy sees climate change as the end of days. “Its all in the book” (of Revelations) so he is not convinced that doing anything about it is worthwhile; a betrayal of posterity wrapped up in religious fatalism.

As we are packing up a muscly bald guy leans out of a powerful motor stuck in traffic and yells “scum!”

I know I shouldn’t react to things like that but I’ve always had a barely suppressed death wish and call back, arms outstretched, questioning look,  “That was articulate. Could we have a sentence please?”

Him going a bit red “Scum!”

Me, arching eyebrows a bit more. “Sentence?”

Him, looking around to see if he can jump out of the car and run across and start belting us. “Absolute scum!”

Me, cocked head, smile, hands open. “Two words! Sentence?”

He drives on with his jaw working…This is not a characteristic response. Most people were friendly, but this is a dark election in more ways than one.

Climate crisis -The stakes in the UK election.

The key task for the climate change movement in the UK between now and the end of the year is to get rid of Boris Johnson’s government.

Movements like XR argue that they are “above politics” and its quite right to aim to mobilise everyone regardless of existing affiliations or leanings. However this election offers a stark choice that can’t be ducked because the resulting government will either be one that will push ahead with the most ambitious green investment strategy in any developed country, or be one that will be trailing in the wake of Donald Trump’s denialist international.

The movement will either have a government it can work with – or one that it will have to keep mobilising against.

And we don’t have a lot of time.

Boris Johnson himself has not voted for any practical measure to reduce carbon emissions since he has been in parliament. By contrast Jeremy Corbyn and Caroline Lucas have voted for 92% of them. Conservative MPs have on average voted for less than half of these measures; Labour for more than half. The Guardian has a useful graph on this which shows the 50% mark mostly red above and blue below (1). Jo Swinson is on 50% and the Lib Dem record is wildly inconsistent.

Johnson is in an explicit alignment with Donald Trump.

If elected we can be sure that he would move Conservative government rhetoric away from current greenwash into line with his voting record.

The Conservative manifesto is being written by a lobbyist for a fracking company (2).

By contrast Labour’s Green Industrial Revolution pledges the following; and its worth reading all of this. What follows is a lightly updated and edited version of the full document from earlier in the year to take account of conference decisions. If there are significant alterations in the Manifesto I will update this blog accordingly.


 Decarbonise the energy grid by the 2030s. Fracking banned.
 Support the development of tidal lagoons,
 Upgrade and invest in flexible energy networks capable of supporting a transition to decentralised renewable energy
 Remove the barriers to onshore wind put in place by the Conservative government…invest in wind, solar and other renewable projects. Five times as much offshore and three times as much onshore wind.
 Work closely with energy unions to support energy workers and communities through transition

 Upgrade 4 million homes to Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) band C in five years, investing £2.3bn per year to provide financial support for households to insulate their homes, with a zero carbon standard for new-build homes introduced as soon as possible.
 Insulation schemes to be done by local authorities working street to street to save at least £275 per year for affected households, improve the health and well being of families, reduce costs to the NHS and create thousands of new skilled jobs.

 Prioritise affordable homes in the new zero carbon homes programme,  provide funding to support councils and housing associations to build new homes to Passivhaus standards
 Tighten regulation of privately rented homes, blocking poorly insulated homes
from being rented out
 Introduce new legal minimum standards to ensure properties are fit for human habitation and empower tenants to take action if their rented homes are sub-standard

 Introduce a new Clean Air Act.
 Expand public transport, bring our railways back into public ownership, cap fares, and support the creation of municipal bus companies run for passengers not profit.

 Expand and electrify the railway network across the whole country, including in Wales and the South West and build Crossrail for the North linked to HS2
 Encourage greater use of public transport, introducing free bus travel for under
25s where local authorities regulate or own local bus services – paid
for with money ring-fenced from Vehicle Excise Duty

 Position the UK at the forefront of the development, manufacture and use of ultra-low emission vehicles
 Retrofit thousands of diesel buses in areas with the most severe air quality problems to
Euro 6 standards
 Airport expansion must adhere to our tests  to address, noise levels, air quality and the UK’s climate change obligations.

 Establish new democratic public water companies which will be mandated by
DEFRA to meet environmental and social objectives

 Funds for farming and fishing to support sustainable practices,
 Embed and enhance in policy the responsibility for farmers to conserve, enhance and create safe habitats for birds, insects and other wild animals, and encourage the growth of wildflowers.

 New guidance to end the use of antibiotics for routine, preventative purposes with farm animals.
 A science innovation fund to promote the most sustainable forms of farming and fishing, with support earmarked for our small-scale fishing fleet
 Review the allocation of UK fishing quota to promote the most sustainable fishing
 Protect habitats and species in the ‘blue belts’ of the seas and oceans surrounding
the United Kingdom and its overseas territories,
 Set targets for plastic bottle deposit schemes,
 Strengthen the Hunting Act, end the badger cull, make illegal hunting and all wildlife crime a reportable offence,
 Initiate a large tree planting programme, working with farmers and foresters to
promote biodiversity and better flood prevention
 End rotational heather burning and launch a review into the economic, environmental and wildlife impacts of grouse shooting
 Ban wild animals in circuses

 Put the environment and human rights at the heart of our foreign policy,  drive forward new multilateral environmental agreements,  direct our armed forces to devote more resources to tackle humanitarian emergencies
 Negotiate a future relationship with the EU that maintains and extends all environmental rights, standards and protections as a baseline, while introducing more ambitious domestic environmental policy than that guaranteed at the European level
 Develop a cross-government strategy to ensure UN Sustainable Development
Goals are implemented and reported on annually to Parliament
 Commit to supporting climate mitigation and adaptation in the Global South, and to support countries severely affected
 Oppose investor-state dispute systems in international trade and investment agreements, and other trade rules that can be used to undermine domestic or international environmental protections
 Ensure UK aid does not support fossil fuel projects, divesting DFID away from fossil
fuels towards renewable energy sources
 Promote UK Export Finance support for the energy sector towards low-carbon projects
in place of its overwhelming support for fossil fuel projects in previous years

This programme cannot be left to government ministers to get on with. Its not a matter of voting for it and sitting back. It will only happen if the whole movement engages with it and mobilises support for it and works on its implementation at every level and through every lever available to us.