Half of the hundred or so Tower Hamlets residents who turned up to protest outside the council meeting were refused entry to the meeting where the £56m service cuts were being agreed. Poplar, London, UK. 08/03/2011
It's perhaps symptomatic of the changes in local government over the years that while town halls once used to be the proud centre of their locality, the Tower Hamlets offices are now hidden away over an uncrossable busy dual carriageway with a fence down its centre and behind a massive brick wall in a private business estate on what was once the East India Docks. I made the mistake of following the directions from the Transport for London web site and had to retrace my steps a quarter of a mile and then risk my life running across one of London's busier road junctions in the evening rush hour before finally finding a way in.
There I found several police vans still full of officers and the whole frontage of the rather anonymous offices hemmed in with barriers and a dozen or two more police standing around watching a group of around a hundred local residents, a few with megaphones and flags, along with a large banner, 'Tower Hamlets - Hands off our Public Services' and banners from the East London Teachers Association and Tower Hamlets Unison.
The atmosphere was calm, and the council had made clear that the residents would be allowed in to the public gallery to watch the proceedings, and while I was there they started to go in, with council officers searching bags and coats. But when around half of the people had been admitted, the process stopped.
The council had decided to allow only 50 people in to the public gallery, leaving the others outside in the cold. There was room for more, and the decision was taken to lessen the change of any comments from the public during the meeting. It seemed to be a fundamentally anti-democratic decision.
Of course little of consequence is now actually decided in council meetings, and the real work of local government takes place in secret behind closed doors. We used to be able to pride ourselves on our democracy, but those times are long gone.
At its previous meeting, the council had failed to reach agreement on a £56 million cuts package in what is one of the poorest areas of the country, but as expected these were voted through last night.
But although people were shouting and arguing outside, there seemed to be no chance that they would be let in, and gradually people were drifting away, and I left also, to wait next to nearby Blackwall DLR station in a bleak and empty area for half an hour for the next bus - on what is supposedly an every 7-12 minutes service. As the bus finally made its way back across Tower Hamlets towards central London it did rather seem like coming in from the wilderness.