Embracing Life

My latest column in the EN4 and EN5 newsletter has been published (It’s a colour magazine, very long lead-times). It was written when I was grieving for Nick Goldberg, and failing to come to terms with my inability alone to save our democracy from the corporate takeover. I was in despair. I’m not fully recovered…

Here it is:

I learned last night of the sudden death of a young Barnet activist (for another political party). A warm, clever man, he and I would giggle together at council meetings, and he’d help me with my tweets from the public gallery. Now he’s gone, and I’m pained that I never gave Nick the big, loving hug he deserves.


I’m looking around – whom else do I need to hug before it’s too late? The list unfolds with the speed of a rock rolling down a cliff face. The people that make life worthwhile are legion. Other people are what makes me bother at all. So maybe I’ll start with the people I can see from here, and then go on…

The compassionate impulse tends to expand. How far to take this? Well, they say a measure of a civilisation is how it treats its most vulnerable members. I’m not suggesting I go and hug them all (haven’t they suffered enough?) But it hurts to observe them treated heartlessly.

In Barnet poor people are losing their homes and sometimes removed to squalid temporary blocks or offered places far outside London, through no fault other than being poor, inadequate to deal with the modern world, and dependent on public funds.

In the West Hendon estate, a private company (Barratts) is doing the redevelopment. The public land was given (“transferred”) to Barratts in a murky deal. The company is building private flats to sell to the well heeled. The number of units being built to rent to the current residents falls far short of the number of residents now living in the public blocks. Something not dissimilar is due to happen to our own, unlovely Dollis Valley estate.

While the richest individuals and corporations are getting richer and minimising their tax payments, the most vulnerable are being hammered. It is sickening. It’s also tangential to the main point: Caring for the weak, the damaged, and the disadvantaged* is an ethic to aspire to even if there isn’t huge wealth around. It’s a function of government –the expression of our democratic collective will– so that the poor don’t sleep on the streets and rely on the arbitrary help of philanthropy, isn’t it?

I do what I can to promote social justice in these callous times of austerity, but it seems I have a new personal mission. My huggathon. Take shelter everyone! (Erm, if you can find it.)


While you’re peeking round the door, let me whisper that I’m delivering on my call in these pages (and elsewhere) for a debate about our traffic problems. I’m starting that debate with a SUMMIT: How to Solve Barnet’s Car Crisis? at Friern Barnet Community Library 2-6pm on Sunday 8 March. Traffic engineers will be joining motorists and campaigners on parking, cycling, walking and public transport. You are welcome to come and discuss the issues (a hug for everyone who wants it). Find out more at the website: http://www.barnetcarcrisis.org.uk I’m really looking forward to learning a hug(e) amount. See you there.

* Zafar Senocak on Radio 4 recalls that this is what his scholar father found in the Quran. Reproduced without permission. So go on, sue me – I’ll hug you!


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