Archive for November, 2010

by Natalie Bennett

Excellent news that the Strand Union Workhouse might get a reprieve. London needs to preserve its history, and the residents of central London need to be reassured that their very presence and history is understood and accepted as an integral part of the area’s future.

This is home, and community to a great many, and should not be regarded as simply new ground for chain store retailers, expansionar institutions and expensive pied-a-terres.

Sensitively developed into affordable (preferably council) housing, the sad early history of the site could be both acknowledged and transcended.


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I spent this evening at a quiet but moving protest outside parliament. It was called by Climate Rush, to commemorate the centenary of the suffragettes’ “Black Friday”, when a delegation of some 300 women went to parliament to demand a debate on the Conciliation Bill, which would have given a limited number of women the vote.

Two hundred of them were arrested, by a regiment of 6,000 police, and as we heard in some of the contemporary accounts last night, they were handled violently and abusively. Two died soon after, deaths that were attributed at least in part to their treatment on that day.*

We assembled on College Green, some 300-strong (the police contingent was much in evidence – must have been at least 150-strong), heard accounts from suffragettes of Black Friday, and a speech from Caroline Lucas MP, the Green Party leader. She told us that today there’d been a hearing on climate change attended by 12 – TWELVE – MPs, illustrating the importance of climate campaigning, given the urgency of the issue.

Wearing sashes reading “Well behaved women rarely make history”, carrying candles, we processed around Parliament Square. I walked with Clementine, aged three-AND-three-quarters, almost certainly the youngest protester – there were women (and a few men) of all ages.

Stopping to chant “Deeds not words” at the parliament’s gates (the WSPU slogan that on climate change – and indeed the position of women – still has powerful resonance), we finished by laying a wreath in memory of the women who suffered and died as a result of Black Friday.

I’ve posted on YouTube a short recording of part of Caroline Lucas’s speech (no, the evening wasn’t really this psychedelic – something went a little wrong with the video technology).

* The two women who died soon after the protest, having been mistreated physically on it, were Mary Clarke and Henria Williams.

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Enjoyed a lively and passionate “Question Time-style” debate at lunchtime today attended by some 160 students at Westminster Kingsway College. It left me feeling very positive about the likelihood of younger people really stepping up into politics and fighting for their generation’s future. (Hopefully we’ll see a great turnout at the NUS march tomorrow.)

One of the issues I highlighted was the ending of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) – the £30 a week that is paid to 16-18-year-olds remaining in education. It got a strong reaction – not surprising when a teacher noted that about half of students at the college currently receive it.

Another was the fact that under the former Labour government FE colleges were getting £1,000 of funding less per pupil studying A levels than were schools (and school pupils get free school meals while FE students don’t), and the Condem coalition is planning to cut this by a further 25%.

Tuition fees at university were also unsurprisingly the subject of strong reactions (particularly for the Lib Dem councillor in the debate). And there was a lot of interest in my explanation of the fact that the Green Party would abolish tuition fees. (As Caroline Lucas recently highlighted, an alternative to tuition fees would be a business education tax levied on the top 4% of UK companies.)

But the interests in the debate weren’t narrowly focused on the practical interests of students.

There was a strong feeling in the room that the current economic system is fundamentally and hopelessly broken, that markets don’t have the answers, and an entirely understandably angry focus on executive pay (and that of top level civil servants).

And I was pleased with the anger and compassion in the question (and the audience response to it) about the fate of Mit Singh Chopra, an Afghan student of the college who was deported in the middle of his studies.

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The local community organisation SPA (St Pancras and Somers Town Planning Action) has a petition here.

Caroline Lucas MP has expressed her opposition to the proposed medical research lab being put in this location, where the land is desperately needed by the disadvantaged local community.

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