Making plans

THE scars of Camden Labour’s bloody annual general meeting earlier this year were beginning to heal when along came a little reminder over the weekend about all of that eye-poking. The scab was picked at an away-day on Saturday when the group, depleted by half term holidays, met to choose a new interim head of planning.

Comedian-turned-development control chairman Tom Neumark had by all accounts done a fine job in what I’ve always thought is a pretty tough role.

It’s tough because you have to look people in the eye and tell them that they can’t have the conservatory or dormer windows they really, really want – with the added risk of bumping into them in the street the next week. And it’s tough because you have to do your best to make sure the council plays a strong bat to developers and do so without being dragged into expensive legal appeals.

There are lots of friends to lose in the job, many potential enemies to gain.

Young Tom, with his stage experience, and his jokes, and his banter, and his funny comments, was considered to have chartered a careful course through these challenges… but a transatlantic lifestyle, with many visits to the United States due to another life, meant he could not continue as boss.

Ahead of the group decision over the weekend, former planning chairwoman Heather Johnson was generally expected to take on the role (for six months, until the next agm when she is due to become Mayor again). But not too long before Saturday’s get-together, she withdrew and suddenly Bloomsbury councillor Milena Nuti was in the frame for the job.

This may all sound like a simple switcharound, but in the eyes of Labour members close to it all, there was a bit more to it behind the scenes. If you look back to the lines the group was split down back in May, Heather, fairly or not, was sketched by the briefers as being on one side of the team, Milena on the other. Now that could be all wrong, all wrong – but minds certainly flashed back to the night Angela Mason was removed as deputy leader and other cabinet members were run within a couple of votes for their jobs.

Silly? If there was agitation among members and crossed words about who or who shouldn’t go for the vacant planning position, it is funny that it was over a role that isn’t as powerful as it might sound. You get all of the headaches as detailed above but in terms of really influencing what gets the go-ahead and what doesn’t, the chair often becomes an umpire in a boxing bout rather than anything else. They can decide a tied vote, but not do so much more. Some even say you can achieve more by being on the panel but not becoming the chair of it.

Nevertheless, messages have been sent through the Labour group. The members understand the code.

When a bedpan drops…

AS Tom Foot reports in this week’s New Journal, UCL provost Malcolm Grant had a testing session with a cross-party parliamentary health committee last week – as he tried to convince MPs he really was the best person for the job chairing the new NHS Commissioning Board.

The transcript shows some confusion as to where Nye Bevan’s famous bedpan dropped:

Professor Grant: That is the Commissioning Board. As I see it-and, please, I am in early days yet-it is going to be an immensely active process of consultation and discussion over the coming 12 months, up to September next year and then through to the formal process of authorisation, which goes from September through to the following April. We will all be struggling to get away from the old Nye Bevan aphorism that if a bed pan drops in St Thomas’ Hospital it reverberates down the corridors of Whitehall.

Grahame Morris: It is Tredegar actually.

Professor Grant: Thank you, but it is not the way for the future and it never has, realistically, been the way for the past. People who spend the money have to take the responsibility.

We thought everybody knew the Tredegar quote. It often pops up in these parliamentary transcripts – it came up four years ago in another Health Committee session when Alan Johnson, then the Health Secretary was asked whether the line from Bevan, the founder of the NHS, was still relevant. The bedpan drops are not as prevalent, it turns out, as they used to be.

Chairman: On that point, the founding father of the National Health Service, Nye Bevan, 60 years ago allegedly said that, if a bedpan is dropped on a ward in Tredegar, the noise of it should be heard in Westminster. Do you agree with that at the beginning of the 21st century?

Alan Johnson: I do not know whether bedpans are as prevalent now as they were back then. No, I do not agree with that because, if a bedpan is dropped on a ward in Tredegar, then the local trust and the strategic health authority should be knowing that there is a problem with dropped bedpans. I think the whole point, and this is David Nicholson’s point, and David cannot be here today because he is with Lord Darzi, but his constant message in the nine months he has been in office has been to the Health Service to look out to their patients, not up towards Whitehall. I think part of that bedpan-dropping in Tredegar is a kind of cultural thing, and I am not blaming anyone in the NHS for this, this is the way the system is run, that they are always looking up for the next directive that is coming down from Whitehall which is why I think probably, going back to the question about a new constitution, you could enshrine that probably as something that has changed over the last 60 years.


EARLIER in the week, I was wondering aloud as to why nobody – NOBODY! – has yet called for the return of the Primrose ‘victim of its own success’ Hill Fireworks Display this year. So this, which was just bleeped through to me, is definitely fax of the week…    ….even if I don’t get many faxes.

Carry on planting

KILBURN Grange Park has been given a makeover with the planting of some new Australian greenery. The new look includes some Kangaroo Paw plants, normally found down under. The council set up some photoshoot pictures of Labour councillors Mike Katz (at the back) and Tulip Siddiq (rubbing her hands?) joining the dig on Monday morning and sent them this way.

*Note to self: End post here before it turns into a caption competition…

The things that happen at bus stops

PANORAMA’S John Sweeney had an interesting investigation into the use of child beggars in London broadcast last week. He had popped in and out of Camden and Westminster as part of their inquiry. Watching it, however, I couldn’t help but be distracted by one of the bystanders in the background in the undercover footage. I’m sure I’ve seen him somewhere before…

Killer job

BIG, big revelation of the weekend: Seal – the singer man – used to serve Big Macs and fries in the Kentish Town branch of McDonalds. The one in Kentish Town Road! He told The Observer:

The worst job I ever had was in McDonald’s in Kentish Town. I was 16 and they gave me a brown uniform that was two sizes too small. I stayed two weeks, until I got my first paycheck, then I was outta there.

Seal is 48, so his time as a 16 year old behind the counter in Kentish Town must have been in 1979… yet it’s hard to believe from the telly adverts at that time that working in McDonalds wasn’t simply fun, fun and more fun. None of these guys below look like they want to be outta there.

Seven years earlier…

CAMDEN Council says sorry in today’s New Journal for the “length of time” it has taken officials to work out how toxic gardens in Kentish Town are, lawns and mudpatches around the old factory sites in Ascham Street. The sentiment is understandable given its taken, as our front pages show, SEVEN years to confirm the lead and cadmium which leaked into the soil is a ‘significant’ danger to human health.

October 2004

….and today’s CNJ

Tories want to annexe Somers Town

BOUNDARIES, boundaries: The Conservatives want Fortune Green back in the Hampstead and Kilburn parliamentary seat… and Somers Town annexed to Islington.


NAUGHTY Liberal Democrats have lifted a New Journal picture taken by Tom Foot last year without permission and posted it on their central blogging station, Lib Dem Voice, for a caption competition. Tom reported how Liam Fox and Chris Philp were on the campaign trail in Hampstead and Kilburn when a tired and emotional woman began badgering them during an interview with the paper.

The LDV suggestions so far range from the mild [Dealing with arms comes naturally to Liam’s mates] to the mean [That person grabbing your jacket? I don’t know them from Adam!].

Who fancies an ‘Islington North and Kentish Town’ constituency?

HERE’S some Lib Dem proposals for new parliamentary constituencies for Camden…  There is no call for Fortune Green to be brought back into Hampstead and Kilburn and the party wants to create an ‘Islington North and Kentish Town’ seat.