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Camden New Journal - One Week with JOHN GULLIVER
Published: 29 March 2007

Pictured: David Miliband with pupils Owen Gearty, 10 and Paige Portal, 11.
Miliband is Paxmanned by the littlest inquisitors

HE wasn’t on a campaign trail but it must have seemed like that when environment minister David Miliband visited Eleanor Palmer primary school yesterday (Wednesday) – and found himself quizzed by ten year-olds about why he didn’t want to be Britain’s next Prime Minister!
Not a hint about a Gordon Brown challenge had been given by Miliband when a pupil piped up: “Why don’t you want to be the Prime Minister?”
A surprised Miliband, quick as a flash, replied: “Because there are other good candidates – I mean candidate.”
And when another pupil asked about remarks by Tony Blair that he would make a good PM, he laughed: “I was of course flattered, but the Prime Minister did not actually say what was reported.
“He never said I should be the next PM.”
The children were bright in other departments as well in a visit arranged so that Miliband could expand his department’s “massively important job” of saving the planet.
Questions ranged from from “What to you think of religious groups who think global warming does not matter because God will save the world?” through to “should four-by-fours be banned?”
He answered: “I’m not religious myself, but there are many religious groups and people who are very concerned about global warming and are acting to stop it.”
As for four-by-fours, he said: “There are actually not a lot of four-by-fours – although there may seem a lot if you live in NW3.”
Was this a political slip or was he thinking of all those Middle England votes? A few days earlier his other brother Ed – both of them live in Primrose Hill – opened an art exhibition in Camden Town. Readers may remember that a couple of months ago Ed fought a lost battle with the council’s planning committee when they allowed an off-licence to open on the ground floor of his new flat in Chalcot Road despite his strong objections.
He seemed to take it on the chin when a colleague asked how he felt about it.
He shrugged his shoulder and gestured “It doesn’t matter.” He added: “It’s really no big deal…’s part of politics.”

Jack’s soda bread farewell

CLIENTS knew Jack Gaster as a first-class lawyer who rarely lost a case.

Friends knew him as an unyielding Marxist, a few close to him often saw his romantic side.
And it was that side of him that emerged from the homilies paid to the veteran lawyer at his funeral on Thursday at Golders Green crematorium.
Jack died recently at his home in Belsize Park at the age of 99.
His daughter Lucy told nearly 200 mourners that though he may have appeared ‘authoritarian’ he wasn’t like that in his personal life.
He loved literature and music and while in his mid-90s took his grand-children to an opera at Sadlers Wells, a theatre he had frequented since the 40s.
Typically, the back page of the order of service threw another light on Jack’s character – it was his own detailed recipe for soda bread.
Among the mourners were Sir Geoffrey Bindman, whose son Dan has made a DVD on Jack’s life, Arthur Scargill, leader of the Socialist Party, Ken Gill, a former union leader, once a member of the Adelaide branch of the Communist party who met at Jack’s home, and Andrew Murray, chairman of the Stop the War Coalition.

Bert makes a long library goodbye

THERE were emotional scenes at the Friends of Highgate Library’s annual meeting last Thursday when chairman Bert Humberstone announced his retirement at the grand old age of 87.
Bert, who has used the library in Chester Road for some 70 years, set up the Friends 12 years ago, at a time when his beloved library was threatened with closure by the Town Hall’s moneymen.
Over the years he has campaigned quietly behind the scenes to protect the building, from arming the Friends with a water-tight constitution to having the building listed (Grade II) by English Heritage to keep it safe from developers.
As incoming chairman Richard Waddington told members on Thursday: “Bert is going to be a hard act to follow.”

Bill the role model

IT was the night of the great library rebellion. Camden, then under Labour, had cooked up a plan to close a number of libraries. But a rebellion of Labour members had slowly gathered pace.

The crucial vote was, for once, not a foregone conclusion. The scene was set for one of the most extraordinary nights in the history of Labour’s 30-year domination of the Town Hall. And the lead role was to fall to the veteran councillor and three-times mayor Bill Budd.
Library supporters had packed the public gallery and draped banners over the sides.
Knowing their words might have some influence, the speeches contained actual passion and animation for a change.
Then came the vote. Bill Budd was in a fix. He had fought on the beaches of Dunkirk, not just to defeat Hitler, but to build a better Britain. He had been a Labour Party member for 40 years and never voted Tory. Yet here were the new Labour suits telling him he had to close down libraries.
The vote was so tight that the roll of councillors were called and when each heard their name they had to say clearly for, or against. Loud boos or cheers greeted each.
Bill Budd’s turn name was called. With tears in his eyes, he inaudibly croaked “For”. The libraries would close and loud boos resonated from the gallery with some pointing the finger, unfairly, at Bill.
But the Tories whipped out another motion, which would keep the libraries open. Again the roll was called. This time when it came to Bill’s name he loudly and clearly affirmed he was against the closure. The libraries were saved and Bill had helped save them.
The point of this story is that Bill Budd, who died this week was among the last of a dying breed. Politicians who stand for principle, who believe in ideas, not careers. Who have an eye on their conscience, not on tomorrow’s headlines and their place in history.

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