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  • May Mcnicol-Williams

London News highlights

Welcome to the November edition of London News in The Toast. This month I'll be filling you in on the fate of the Just Stop Oil protestors who glued themselves to Van Gogh's Peach Trees in Blossom, Croydon's third bankruptcy in two years, public sector workers strikes and more.

Two Just Stop Oil protesters glued themselves to the frame of Van Gogh's artwork, Peach Trees on the 30th of June and were found guilty of £2,000 worth of criminal damage. Emily Brocklebank, 24, and Louis McKechnie, 22, bought tickets to the exhibition and entered at 3.30 pm before removing their jackets to reveal the characteristic orange t-shirts worn by all protesters, reading Just Stop Oil. The frame, which dates from before the painting itself is said to have been permanently damaged, District Judge Neeta Minhas told Westminster magistrates court and added later, “It is not in a state where it can return to its original state,” as she delivered the verdict. “The painting has significant historical and art value and I consider the damage to be substantial. It is not minor, insignificant, temporary or trivial.”Brocklebank, a student from Yeadon, Leeds, received a 21-day sentence, suspended for six months, but is subject to an electronically monitored six-week curfew. McKechnie was jailed for three weeks. Brocklebank told the court, “When it comes to protesting, just speaking does not get a platform. By gluing, it gives a story which the media chooses to follow…I didn’t think I would cause much damage. Glue comes off.”

The London borough of Croydon has declared effective bankruptcy for the third time in two years and South London authority says it faces an ‘existential question’ after asking ministers to write off £1.3bn of debt.

In the latest sign of the continuing financial storm raging through local government, the south London authority said it wouldn't be able to balance its books after April, and signalled a fresh round of brutal cuts to services and job losses. It has asked ministers to write off £1.3bn of debts, including £500m run up through a series of ill-fated commercial investments, arguing the sheer scale of Croydon’s crisis required an unprecedented financial bailout from the government. Croydon's Tory mayor, Jason Perry, warned ‘tough decisions’ were needed to guarantee the council survival in the future, and that it ‘needed to do and spend less’. Perry added: “The previous administration has left a legacy of unprecedented financial mismanagement, toxic bad debt and a lack of governance and transparency that shames Croydon and continues to have a long-lasting impact on the sustainability of our council.”

The ‘previous administration’, under Labour control, first declared bankruptcy in November 2020, after its finances spun out of control following a string of shady property investments, and overspending on social care. Subsequent reports identified that it suffered from chaotic leadership and mismanagement. A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: “We have appointed an independent panel to address the significant governance and financial failings in Croydon and will continue to monitor progress to ensure the council delivers for its residents.”

Scotland Yard has reportedly sacked only 10 of 412 Met police officers who were under investigation between 2017-2022 for disorderly conduct on multiple websites and apps, including WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, unspecified dating apps and LinkedIn. The majority of officers under investigation were given only written warnings while others were put on ‘reflective learning practice’ or given ‘management advice’.

This figure regarding the number of officers fired falls in line with a statement made by new Met commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, who has said the force is being hamstrung by the difficulty in sacking officers. Of the 412 officers investigated, 109 cases led to formal or informal action, and a further 7 would have been dismissed if they had not retired or resigned. The Met reported that 23 officers were asked to reflect on their actions and write an account of what they did and how and why it was wrong, and that 11 officers received a final written warning, implying previous bad conduct.

These revelations will raise fresh concerns about the Met after it was put in special measures this summer by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, which followed the uncovering of a large account of systemic failings in fighting crime and serving victims.

After the Iran V England match of the World Cup on Monday, much of North London, which is home to a large Iranian population, remained silent during the country's national anthem, as a show of solidarity with those in Iran fighting the totalitarian regime. The Iranian players, who faced backlash before the match after meeting with Hassan Rouhani, The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, also stood stoically silent during the anthem, which many believe to be their own act of protest.

While some fans stood cheering England in a show of protest, others proudly supported their country but not the ruling Islamic Republic government. For many, the player’s silence during the national anthem did not go unnoticed. “I think the result (referring to the players not singing the national anthem) is a clear reflection on the sort of political dilemma they are all in,” said Saheil Ghaffari, who is an Iranian man living in the UK. “In the Iranian political atmosphere it is very difficult to have an opinion, so I understand that they’re very limited to what they can say.”

The match comes roughly 2 months after the start of anti-regime protests, as a result of the murder of 22-year-old Mahsa Zhina Amini, who was died in the custody of the morality police after she was attacked following charges that she violated a mandatory head covering law for women.

Finally, strikes will be taking place across the country as well as in London by public service workers, demanding better working conditions and pay in line with the high level of service they provide. Many of City and Islington Colleges own teachers and more nationwide will be striking on Wednesday the 30th of November as a way to draw attention to disputes over pay rises.

Dr Mary Bousted joint general secretary of the NEU, said, “The government must listen and take notice of the effect real-terms pay cuts are having on our members, and, if we continue down this unsustainable path, the consequences that their leaving the profession will have on both the sector and the young people they teach.” Nurses will also be striking in the next few weeks, in the first Nurses Strike in the history of the NHS. These strikes are confirmed to be held on the 15th and 20th of December. This strike is also being held due to disputes over pay.

Thanks for reading this month's issue of London News, keep reading next month to stay informed!!

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