Update 28 September 2014
There is another meeting of Newham council on Monday 29 September 2014 in the council chamber at Newham Town Hall at 8pm. Details here.
Below is a report of an amazing Newham council meeting earlier this year when Newham councillors got up and legged it past a Focus E15 protest in the council chambers. There was a hell of a uproar about all of this and my report of it. Members of the public – including the mothers – were denied access to the council chamber, supposedly because the public gallery was being rebuilt, or under construction. Right. Those of us who were either at or filming the protest outside the chamber were allowed to view the meeting on a rubbish TV monitor in a side room. We could see quite clearly that the noise coming from the FE15 protest was causing some consternation in the chamber. I wanted to find out what was going on inside the chamber, so went to security with my press pass and asked them to let me in. They refused, on the grounds that I even though I was accredited, I hadn’t been formally approved by the council. You can hear my exchange with the security guards in the audio below. I couldn’t believe it. Then suddenly, the council chamber doors burst open and Robin Wales and others came hurtling out and hurried past the protest. Some of the Focus E15 mothers chased him and asked him to talk to them. He got very angry, as you’ll see in the video below. The other councillors filed out and left the scene as quickly as they could. The council insisted later that hadn’t run and left the meeting unfinished – that it reached the end of the agenda and left in usual time. I still say that the council got to the end of that agenda real fast and then split. I also say that if a council must accept a variety of interpretations of proceedings if it refuses people access to a public council meeting, won’t allow journalists in to see what is happening and forces anyone who is interested in the meeting to watch proceedings on a monitor. If a council won’t let people into a meeting to see things first-hand, it’ll have to accept that they will interpret things in whatever way they do. Otherwise, we’ll fast reach a point where the only way to find out what went on at your local council meeting will be to ring your council up and ask. You won’t be able to see for yourself.
I got the NUJ to make a complaint about my barring from that meeting as an accredited journalist. The council wrote back to say that I was foul-mouthed and aggressive. Which was an outrage. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – that council really doesn’t like women who talk back.
Anyway. This is the sort of reception the Focus E15 mothers and women like me have had all year from that council. People have been made to wait outside, excluded from a general public event like a council meeting and then left hanging as the elected have run for it.
Updates from the meeting (updated 26 February 2014):
More on the furious misogyny of Newham:
Getting onto three days now and I have still not had an apology from Newham council for barring me from entering the council chamber at Monday’s public council meeting. Not a word. Nothing. Still. I’m an NUJ accredited journalist and have been doing this work for years, but – nothing. I did hear via a number of sources that the council said I should have been admitted, but that means absolutely nothing. Saying a journalist should have been admitted after the event is useless. Completely useless. As everyone is perfectly aware.
I can tell you what I HAVE heard, though. Well, from one person anyway. I’ve heard that I insulted the council by saying that it cut Monday’s meeting short and left the building very quickly and en masse because of the noisy Focus E15 protest outside the council chamber.
The line is (I trust I have this straight) that the meeting wasn’t cut short, because it was in itself incredibly short (about 30 minutes to decide and debate the year’s budget, do you mind). Newham says it did not cut it short as it cuts nothing short, although as I say, 30 minutes has struck a few of us as a very short meeting indeed. The line appears to be that the meeting ended in an entirely natural way at set time as the year’s budget was knocked off in 30 minutes and that councillors simply left the room in the manner that they always do, unmotivated in any way by the clamour made by the young women protesting outside the council chamber. So. I can only conclude that the mayor always leaves council meetings at the speed you see in the video below and that everyone else always leaves at pace and en masse, looking neither left nor right and just going for it. Have a look at the videos below and see for yourselves. I know what I saw and filmed. I saw people steaming out en masse. The whole fast-departing crew is grim-faced in the extreme. Having covered council for years, it’s usually my experience that when council meetings end without a protest in the mix, councillors hang around and talk to each other and leave the chamber at their leisure in twos and threes. They’ll talk and stop to lean against walls and finish conversations and they’ll often be there for a while. They might even speak to desperate constituents lining the hallway.
So. That’s the sum of Newham council communication with me since it cut communication off at the beginning of the year. Silence has been broken to make sure the council’s reputation as an outfit that sees out half-hour meetings is upheld. The rest we must guess. Nobody bleating about meeting attendance has taken this opportunity to expand on issues like the rows of flats that lie empty on the Carpenters Estate while the council hands out Asbo warnings to rough sleepers, or to address the very real concerns about the conditions at the Focus E15 hostel and the effects that those conditions might have on the toddlers and babies who live there. As you’ll read in this story, the young mothers at the hostel raised concerns earlier this year about rats, mice, rubbish and mould. Mould, as I’ve said a number of times now, can be extremely dangerous to small children – read Zoe William’s recent article reference to that here. Nobody from the council or the East Thames housing association responded to me when I posted that story. Nobody popped up on my timeline to say That’s Terrible. I make the point again that I can barely get anyone in the press or politics to take an interest in this, or in the struggle the Focus E15 mothers have and continue to have in their fight for social housing. They’re fascinated by councillor reputation, but a little less by children’s lives. The Focus E15 people are women and children and they have no money. They are dispensable. Women and children are collateral.
More on the Focus E15 story soon. It is certainly very interesting to note who is responding and to what.
Amazing scenes (and precedents) tonight at the full and supposedly public Newham council meeting. The Focus E15 mums – a group of young women, many of whom are still technically homeless – have been campaigning for social housing for all for some months. You can read that story here. Some have been placed in private rentals for just a year (without washing machines, etc, even though they have small children). Others are still at the Focus E15 hostel for young homeless people. They turned up to attend the public council meeting to try and talk to Mayor Robin Wales tonight. They were told that they weren’t allowed in – some rubbish about the public gallery being under construction (apparently it has been for ages. A lot of us are starting to think it will be forever). Security wouldn’t even let a small delegation from the group in to say their piece. So, the women began to chant. The noise clearly carried into the chamber, because not long after it began, Wales and the council got up and left the building. You can see Wales being followed by the women here and getting really angry:
I’ve got more video to post, so will do so through tonight.
In a very interesting precedent, the council denied me entry to the meeting as well – even though I’m an accredited journalist. Before the chanting began, I went up to security, showed them my NUJ press card and said I wanted to go in and see the meeting for a bit. Amazingly, they responded by saying I needed to be approved by the council to attend that full public council meeting. This was quite something. I’ve heard a lot of crap over the years, but this one was new. They asked me if I’d applied to the council to attend. I of course said I hadn’t – no journalist has to apply to attend a full public council meeting, for God’s sake. Nobody should have to at all. They said if I hadn’t, and hadn’t been approved, I couldn’t go in. I of course would not be approved, because I’ve been writing about these women and their campaign for some time and the council has already told me that it won’t communicate with me, because it doesn’t like the line I’ve taken. You can read that story here. The line I’ve taken is that everyone deserves decent social housing and that homeless women who campaign for that on everyone’s behalf ought to be heard at least, but it appears that is off-message. I’ll tell you this – if we’re at the point where only council-approved journalists are allowed in and the ones who interview service users *too* closely are not, things are not in a good place at all.
Here’s an audio of Newham council security staff saying I have to apply to attend public council meetings or be invited (presume the invite got lost in the mail):
And here’s a video of councillors leaving and the Focus E15 mums asking councillor Terry Paul if he would come and talk.
The thing is – there’s a major issue here and it doesn’t matter if councillors and MPs like it or not, or like the fact people are protesting and reporting on those protests or not. The issue is that people increasingly can’t afford decent places to live. MPs and councillors need to face that fact, rather than take issue with people who yell about it. The private rented sector is out of control and social housing is now so rare that you can’t really factor it in as an option. By demanding social housing and pointing up the problems with the private rented sector, the Focus E15 women are speaking for a great many people. Wales can stick these women in private rented flats for a year all he likes and they’ll be back at the end of the year with the same problems – the problems that everyone who must rent face. They’ll be talking about rent hikes, insecure tenancies and crappy flats owned by landlords who don’t care. That’s the problem. It’s a very big problem and it’s growing. And there it is. I think we can all agree that the housing crisis is not going to disappear just because you tell a bunch of young women to shut up and an old blogger like me to piss off.