Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Long Walk Revisited: Election 2015 in Broken Barnet

*Updated - see below

Ok. Can't ignore it any longer, much as Mrs Angry has tried. 

The General Election, in Broken Barnet, 2015.

Here we go then.

In the early days of writing this blog, three Tory MPs were elected to represent the three constituencies of this borough: two of them, Mike Freer and Matthew Offord, (that would be DR OFFORD: he is a doctor, you know) were formerly the Leader and Deputy Leader of Barnet Council, and now took on the parliamentary seats of Finchley and Golders Green, and Hendon. The third, Theresa Villiers, had been MP for Chipping since 2005. 

All three MPs have spent the five years of the last parliamentary term in a state of blissful complacency, enjoying their time at Westminster, and no doubt fondly expecting to be returned again to office, by a grateful electorate. 

Until more recently, of course, when the mood of the country, and more particularly, and more importantly the mutinous feelings of many of the residents of Broken Barnet, including those who might have once been claimed as natural Tory voters, have become increasingly apparent.

Why is this the case? Against the backdrop of widespread concern among voters over issues like the NHS, bedroom tax and so on, here in Barnet we have our own matters of discontent, deeply held resentments, old and new, and many of them directly as a result of local Conservative council policies, tacitly endorsed by the silence and inaction of local MPs, two of whom are intimately linked to the easycouncil model that is the source of so much that is wrong with our borough.

In the last year, we have seen the real face of Tory housing policy laid bare, in front of us, in the most visceral way, in the course of the West Hendon Inquiry, and the events leading to the eviction of so many families in Sweets Way. 

Former deputy leader Matthew Offord won Hendon in 2010 by the slenderest of margins, with 19,635 votes: a majority of only 106, snatching victory from Labour's Andrew Dismore, while the Libdems pulled in a total of 5,734. Hard working Dismore, who had been widely respected in the constituency, which accounted for his substantial support despite the national swing against Labour - and was a real loss, but perhaps fate played a hand here, as he was to win back the GLA seat of Barnet and Camden from the Tories, marking the beginning of the end for the political career of the ghastly Brian Coleman. 

During his term as MP, Offord has pretty much seen the collapse of the local Tory association in Hendon, with rumours of disagreement amongst the ranks, disaffected members running off to UKIP, and membership in a state of decline. 

Former Leader, and the founding father of Capitaville, Mike 'easycouncil' Freer, won Thatcher's old constituency Finchley & Golders Green back from Labour, a reclamation partly due to the national swing, and perhaps partly because the Labour MP Rudi Vis had been terminally ill during the latter part of his term, and unable to fulfill his duties. Alison Moore, the current Labour leader in Barnet, stood against Freer, but was never likely to win - and did not. Freer won with 21,688, to Labour's 15,879. The Libdem candidate had 8,306 votes.

Theresa Villiers won her seat in 2005 with 19,744 votes, against Labour's 13,784 - the Libdem candidate coming third with 6,671.

In 2010, in an election with an increased turnout in Chipping Barnet constituency, Villiers came back with an increased vote of 24,700, and Labour dropped slightly to 12,773: the Libdems, however, received a whopping 10,202, and yet again helped to deliver a victory for the Tories.

The three MPs in Barnet began their term in office feeling pretty pleased with themselves, and clearly adopting a sense of complacency about their prospects of being returned to their seats next time round, with all the rush of excitement about the Coalition agreement with the newly revived Libdem party. 

This complacency was, and is, ill judged. Not just because of the well deserved implosion we now see in the Libdem vote, but because they allowed themselves to take voters for granted, sit back, concentrate on their attempts to build their own political careers, and remain detached from local issues and the real needs and concerns of residents.

Theresa Villiers, the only really bright one of the three, and always destined to go places, got on with her own career building plan, keeping her head down, never expressing an opinion in public, and attending an optimum number of local resident social functions, so as to keep the local party happy. She was rewarded by an appointment to the role of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, a well deserved promotion, no doubt, but the demands of the role necessarily meant less time pay attention to local matters: always a difficult balance to achieve, for any minister.

Both Tories and Labour: (the leadership and central party, in the latter case, rather than local members) both assume that Chipping is a safe seat. They made similar assumptions in the last local elections, when Mrs Angry predicted, correctly, that Labour would pick up substantial support, and here they go again, underestimating the result of a changed demographic landscape, and a weakened Tory vote. 

Labour's Amy Trevethan, one of those new councillors elected last year, has been poorly supported in this campaign, overlooked because of her relative youth and inexperience, but in contrast to the twin set and pearls approach of Villiers, she has made the effort to involve herself in the issues that affect the less advantaged residents of the constituency, also overlooked in the proscribed vision of a political analysis rooted in the feudal past, when the Conservative Assocation exercised its droit de seigneur over the hapless voters, and worried only about the date of the next strawberry tea fundraiser.

Labour's Amy Trevethan at Barnet A&E, struggling to meet targets

The new political reality in Chipping constituency was made evident on the streets of the Sweets Way estate, a few weeks ago, when tenants were evicted, with their possessions, in order to make way for yet another of the private developments Barnet Tories approve under the cover of 'regeneration'.

Matthew Offord was never going to make any sort of political impact at Westminster, and his rather volatile personality, idiosyncratic approach to his role, and general failure to engage with constituents has not helped his always fragile prospects of re-election. Some of the capers with which he has been associated have frankly been absurd: a gift for the media, and indeed for his rival candidate.

Dr Offord. He's a doctor, you know.   
All that time wasted on worrying, for example, on fact finding trips to the lovely Cayman Islands, about the plight of endangered turtles, might just have been better spent worrying about the rather more clear and present threat to the people in his own constituency, another species becoming extinct in Broken Barnet, as a result of Tory social cleansing: the working classes, in particular those living in West Hendon, evicted in order to facilitate the luxury Barratts' development. 

Mind you, Mrs Angry is reliably informed that now the Cayman Island Turtles are worrying about Matthew Offord, and  thinking of coming over to Hendon, on their own fact finding tour, to support him in his hour of need. Unless they turn into ninja turtles on the way over, Mrs Angry imagines, this would be a wasted trip.

Because after five years of Offord's term in office the result most likely is that of all the constituencies in London, Hendon is set to be taken by Labour, and really Offord has only himself to blame. Does he realise how unlikely he is to be re-elected ? Probably not, for the reasons we shall explore.

In Finchley and Golders Green, until very recently, Mike Freer clearly imagined his own seat to be unassailable, and looked forward to being returned to Westminster for another five years. 

Festive fun with Freer

A recent London poll recorded a 6 percent swing to Labour, enough for Freer to lose here. 

And a Labour poll this week confirmed that Labour and Tory candidates here are running neck and neck.  

(Update*Were neck and neck: now Sarah Sackman has pulled ahead by two points ... See below).

As recently as last weekend, Mrs Angry can report, he was assuring a mututal acquaintance at a local social gathering,  that he expected to win back his seat. 

Mmm.  Of course this was before the latest polls were out. And whether he really believes this is another question - but the truth is all three candidates are only just waking up to the unthinkable thought, the real possibility that at least two of them are going to be out of job, on May 8th.

In the meanwhile, Sarah Sackman, Labour candidate for Finchley and Golders Green, has demonstrated, throughout the time in which she has been nominated, a real commitment to supporting local residents, in the way that you might expect the current MP to take as a natural part of the job. 

Sarah has worked hard to be an effective, compassionate advocate for families of the children with multiple complex disabilities who attend Mapledown School, whose respite care funding was so mercilessly, cynically cut only a week or so after Barnet Tory councillors made a 'pre-election gesture' of a 1 per cent cut in council tax; represented parents and children facing the closure of Moss Hall Nursery, and the residents of Friern Barnet, facing the loss of their library.

Theresa Villiers has been so rattled by the lack of enthusiasm in Chipping Barnet for another five years of Tory government that she has had to embrace another unthinkable concept: actually getting involved in local political issues, and ... goodness me, form an opinion, and express it, not just at the odd tea party with local supporters, but gulp ... via social media.

This unprecedented dabbling with the inelegant arts of political campaigning was provoked by an issue - the issue - that has so frightened our three Tory MPs, in the run up to the general election. 

This is, of course, the threat to our libraries, here in Broken Barnet, courtesy of the latest phase of  the local Tory council's war on public services, which is now proposing to make a 60% slash in budget funding, in order to make £2.8m, and will see libraries shrunk, shut, cut, and emptied of staff.

What possessed the empty headed Tory councillors to endorse such a savage set of proposals at such a catastrophically ill judged moment, just before the election, is an interesting question. 

The answer is simple enough: our ineffably relaxed and complaisant Tory 'leader', Richard Cornelius, and his 'leading' members, have allowed themselves to be led meekly by the nose by officers, as usual, and swallowed their assurances that the library cuts were not only necessary, but easily enforced. 

Barnet Tories have no interest in - or understanding of - cultural matters, and see only the development potential of any publicly owned property asset. So: libraries? Meh. Shrink them, shut them, cut them, sell them off: who cares?

Of course this is the most fundamentally foolish misreading of the iconic significance libraries have for the residents of this borough: or at least the residents who deliver electoral victory to Tory politicians: the middle classes, normally politically apathetic, and inclined to be conservative in nature, Barnet residents are fiercely defensive of their local libraries - even if they rarely use them personally, they want them to be there, for others, or for themselves, should they need them. 

Predictably, therefore, to everyone but the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet, the threat to libraries has seen the three parliamentary candidates getting it in the neck from irate residents for months, sending them eventually, one week in  to the point of each issuing statements in support of libraries, and even daring, at last, to criticise, even if only by implication, the policies of their council colleagues.

This new found love of libraries has been in name only, of course, and they have failed to consummate their feelings by any demonstration of practical support. 

The preferred option for library cuts is not due to be announced until after the election: this might have been seen as a wise move, but in fact such a delay was only ever going to extend the period of uncertainty, and magnify the suspicions and anger of residents. It may even prove to be the one issue which wins or loses the election for all three former MPs.

Saturday saw the second of four marches organised by Save Barnet Libraries to protest about the planned destruction of this vital service. I would describe the campaign as having cross party support, but of course our Tory candidates, despite their born again status as library lovers have been conspicuous by their absence. 

Saturday's march went from Hendon Library to Childs Hill, via Golders Green. Labour parliamentary candidates Andrew Dismore and Sarah Sackman spoke at the beginning and end of the three mile route.

Just along the road from Hendon Library, across from Labour offices in the Burroughs, there is a derelict former pub, the Old White Bear, a lovely example of thirties tudorbethan architecture, fitting perfectly in the surrounding conservation area. 

A local developer bought this once lovely building, and tried to submit plans to replace it with a number of flats, and basement. He is still trying to develop it: in the meanwhile it stands empty, and decaying, enveloped in a ghastly plywood fence: and now proudly displaying two posters for Matthew Offord, nailed to a couple of trees, in a rather alarming prefiguring of his own electoral crucifixion:

As we marched through Golders Green, another Tory poster loomed into view, to the amusement of all: 

Now then: Mrs Angry expects her readers to be, by now, well trained in the art of satire, and political symbolism, and fondly hopes you can make up your own jokes about the significance of desperate Tories wanting to associate themselves with the thwarted, decaying dreams of heritage averse property developers, and the decline of our local high streets, clinging, as Freer's poster does, to all the fading, poignant glamour of a former mediterranean themed mini-market, festooned by not one, but two abandoned shopping trolleys.

But cast your mind back, readers, to the GLA election of 2012, in which a local cafe owner in North Finchley, daring to lead a campaign against Brian Coleman's disastrous parking policy was pulled in for questioning by detectives from SO15, supposedly due to a poster in her window, featuring Freer's former colleague and ally Coleman, which they were investigating because, they claimed, there was no imprint?

Is this poster bearing an imprint? Nope. Just a small detail stating it is a temporary sign. Interesting, but presumably perfectly in accordance with electoral rules. 

In Golders Green, interestingly, even residents on their way to and from shul stopped to listen, with clear concern, to the library campaigners. It was a clear indictation of the extent to which Freer and his colleagues should be worried. 

A real champion of the community should be seen to defend the local library, the high street, local services, throughout his or her years in office - and our three MPs have simply failed to do this. 

A strategy of not becoming involved in any significant local issues, and avoiding controversy, and more importantly protecting their council colleagues, was a huge error. But what else could they do? 

One thing they can do, and have done, is avoid the deep dangers lurking in any open hustings, sharing a stage with candidates from other parties, and being open to challenge, or taking part in debate.

This is a grave mistake: an admission of fear - or an arrogant statement that says, I do not have to explain myself to my potential constituents

Oh yes, you do, you do: and here is the proof, from the night before a new poll shows Sarah moving ahead: a hustings with another no show from the Tory candidate.

Villiers, never having been a local councillor, may absolve herself of responsiblity for any of the half baked policies Barnet's Tory administration has adopted, but Freer and Offord, former leader and deputy leader, until 2010, are directly implicated in the promotion of the 'easycouncil' driven massive privatisation of local public services, and indeed in matters such as the West Hendon 'regeneration', which under their watch became the private development it is now, profiting grossly from the land we now know to have been effectively given away to Barratts in the secret 'Poundland' deal.

The price of inaction during their term of office is now being paid by all three MPs, as evidenced by the election material now being produced by their campaigns, trying desperately to make something out of nothing. 

In the local Times paper each local candidate has been presenting their reasons why they should be voted into office. Theresa Villiers lists some interesting evidence on her own behalf. She did oppose something, once: the Cat Hill development. Which is in another borough, Labour run. What else? Ah yes: 

... securing expanded A&E, maternity and children’s services at Barnet Hospital ...

Hmm. That would be the services that had to be expanded at Barnet, because they were ended at Chase Farm, Hospital, despite the specific promise, made before coming to power, by David Cameron, that he would prevent any such cuts. Here he is, with Theresa looking on and smiling:

Another promise broken by Tories: Chase Farm

Yes: lo and behold: the Tories got into power, Chase Farm lost its A&E and maternity services, and now Barnet General has to take the strain, a severe and added pressure to a hospital whose A&E has continually failed the four hour waiting time limit. 

(Indeed, as Mrs Angry discovered last year, with a seven hour stay there with her son, those four hour figures are likely to be even worse, as at that point he was thrown out of his bed & made to sit in a chair round the corner for three more hours 'discharged' while half the beds remained empty ...)

For Ms Villiers to present the 'expansion' of those services at Barnet as anything other than what it really is: in order to try to cope with the cuts made by her government, and the broken promises made regarding Chase Farm is really unacceptable.

I will also work to ensure that Barnet’s schools continue to be among the best in the country, with over 90% graded good or outstanding by Ofsted ... 

What does that mean, for heaven's sake? Some of Barnet's schools are very good: such as QE Boys, in her constituency, and St Michael's, in Freer's. These establishments achieve such high results because they are highly selective in intake, and are stuffed full of middle class pupils from all over London, tutored up to the eyeballs for years in order to pass the entry exams. 

Other children are fortunate enough to attend a faith school, such as FCH, whose attainment is due entirely to the ethos of the school, and hard working teachers, which is nothing whatsoever due to any efforts by Theresa Villiers, or indeed any local politician. 

At the same time, many local children of average ability struggle to find a place at a decent school. And then we have this: 

Championing our local high streets will always be a top priority for me ...

Not sure that the High Street traders in High Barnet would agree with this, having seen their business dealt such a devastating blow by the idiotic parking policies introduced by the Tory council, and tacitly supported by all three Tory MPs. 

And finally: pushing BT for faster broadband in Barnet ...  rather cheeky, when it was her Labour opponent Amy Trevethan who has worked so hard on this, and went to the effort of creating a petition earlier this year on this very issue ... 

No mention, of course, of anything addressing the terrible housing crisis in this borough, or the plight of tenants at Sweets Way, or the impact of bedroom tax on families unable to find smaller properties to move to, or any issue that relates to social injustice, and the struggle of so many ordinary people living in this borough, in all three constituencies..

This remarkably selective view of Barnet is shared by all three Tory candidates, in fact.

Finchley and Golders Green's Freer has so little to boast about, his election material makes for deeply unimpressive reading, and the exertions involved to find something, anything, to say, adds a desperate, and somewhat comical tinge to the contents, not helped by the decision to produce for the latest leaflet landing on Mrs Angry's doormat as shown here:

Sorry. As shown here:

Yes: not so much an election leaflet, as erm ... a 'magazine for busy people', in the style of thes sort of rubbish you find in the dentist's waiting room, like 'Chat', or 'Take A Break'. No mention of the C word, sshh ... CONSERVATIVE, except hidden discreetly on the poster on his van. 

Wise decision.

For busy people, then. Not just any sort of 'busy people', you know, like Barnet Council's hard working, low paid YCB care workers struggling to cope with their duties, and now facing a 9.5 per cent cut in their wages. 

No, the sort of busy people who are, what is it ... ah yes ... 'trying to get on in life'. 

Like Mike Freer. He's trying, bless him.

Look: happy as Larry, arms akimbo, showing off his Sooty campervan, as keen as you like to, you know get on, and about. 

Here is a man who has his own mobile home, and isn't afraid to show it off. 

Aspirational, see? 

And when it all goes pear shaped, and the parliamentary career comes to an abrupt halt, he will have somewhere to live. No pitches - or tolerance - in Barnet, of course, for travellers and gypsies, and Dale Farm is out of the question, now - but there's bound to be somewhere to stop up for a bit. Not the back of Margaret Thatcher house for much longer, probably, once he gets the old heave-ho.

Because, you know, Finchley Tories take a dim view of alternative life styles. 

(Miss Angry took a cursory look at the leaflet, and asked, rather bemused, in the way of someone whose errant mother spends a good deal of her time in occupied properties - 'Squatting? ... Is he for, or against?')

Against, Maddy. Against.

In fact the leaflet is awful: there is nothing in it, nothing of interest, nothing to say. No mention of this voting record:

Voting for: raising VAT on working families, raising tuition fees, opening up the NHS to more privatisation, supporting bedroom tax, and the tax break for millionaires

Voting against: the £8 minimum wage, a ban on MPs' second jobs, an energy price freeze, protecting Sure Start, guaranteed GP appointments within 48 hours.

Freer complains about what he calls 'the family homes tax', ie the Mansion tax, using as an example, meant to exercise our sympathies,  a large detached house of the sort the vast majority of ordinary residents could only dream of living in. To think this sort of issue will appeal to anyone but a minority of privileged voters already likely to be Tory supporters, is again misjudged. 

As for Matthew Offord ...  he  may have latterly tried to present himself as a man of letters, and keen supporter of libraries, but during the first Library march, when his rival Andrew Dismore turned up at his office, en route, Matthew was rather over keen to show him off the premises, and his staff member returned the library campaign leaflets in, well, a state of imperfect condition, shall we say - and in a manner suggesting a profound lack of interest in the contents. 


Supporting libraries - Andrew Dismore, endorsed by the People's Mayor, Councillor Lord Shepherd

There has been little help for marginal Hendon in this election campaign, so far. Well, ok: they sent in Michael Gove, and then Boris, but that is hardly going to help, is it? 

Mind you, Matthew's agent Max, Hendon Tories' own Lynton Crosby, fell a bit in love with Boris, when he was here. 

Word is he is now planning to dump Offord, post election, and work on the new Uxbridge MP's campaign for the Tory leadership. It's that or Battersea Dogs Home. 

Same fate for Lynton Crosby, probably.

Marina Hyde in the Guardian wrote a very funny piece about the visit:

Anyway, they got the dog under control, and it turned out its name was Max, and that he was Offord’s pet or chief of staff or something. Explaining Max’s presence, Offord declared: “This is such an exciting day that we wanted everyone to be part of it.” If you want some Offord trivia, his majority in 2010 was a worryingly slim 106, and he voted against gay marriage on the basis that marriage is for the purposes of procreation. Only the humane could fail to warm to him.

Oh dear. Only the humane. 


But funny.

And talking of procreation. Yes, we must. 

The birds, and the bees. (Married bees, of course). 

Close your eyes, if you are easily shocked. There now follows material, and images, of an educational, and sexual nature - this is procreation, as approved by the MP for Hendon.

No need to be embarrassed, of course. 

Dr Offord, being a doctor, you know, is an expert on this subject. 

Well, so one must assume. He has not procreated, as far as we know, but is a staunch advocate for marriage, exclusively between a man and a woman, because, he tells us, the true purpose of wedded bliss is in order to have children. Did you know? Not for visits to Ikea, arguments over recycling, and whose turn it is to fill the dishwasher, and necessarily thinking about someone else, anyone else, (except maybe  ... Michael Gove, or Jeremy Clarkson, or ... fill in your own list), when engaging in conjugal activity. 

Well, despite all that, Mrs Angry has procreated: twice, and has come to the conclusion that marriage is not at all necessary to the process, or indeed necessary in the first place, and indeed is best avoided, in favour of a life of freedom, free love, and senseless, sensual pleasure, whether between man and woman, man and man, woman and woman. 

But if such individuals, men and men, women and women, should wish to marry, that is a lovely thing, and something to be celebrated - and no f*cking business of Matthew Offord's.

Here is a curious thing. A resident of Hendon has brought this leaflet to the attention of Mrs Angry: apparently published by the 'Coalition for Marriage' ...

Is this being distributed with the consent of Matthew Offord? Hard to believe that is the case. A risky move, whoever is behind it, gambling on the assumption that the residents of Hendon are interfering, mindless bigots who disapprove of equal marriage - and to the extent that it will influence the way they vote. 

One would hope that the decent silent majority of rather more tolerant constituents will prove that is most certainly not the case, on May 7th.

Mrs Angry has just reviewed the draft for this blog, and noted that it started awfully seriously, and has descended, as usual, into casual irreverance, and trivia. 

Ho hum. 

Mrs Angry has had a trying few days, and life is too short to waste on all this stuff, really.

The message is pretty straightforward. To conclude, and maybe just skip the bit before, and concentrate on this: 

Don't waste your time voting for Tory candidates.

Don't waste your time voting for other parties, unless you really mean to vote Tory, but the hard way.

Don't sit at home thinking you can't be bothered to vote, because all politicians are the same. They're not, but you will end up with the same ones, if you don't do the right thing.

Please vote for Sarah Sackman, Andrew Dismore, and Amy Trevethan.

Mrs Angry tries always to be honest in her political analysis, and would not recommend any political candidate in which she had any doubt - yes, even Labour ones. 

Having come to know all three Labour parliamentary candidates over the last few years, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that they deserve your vote - need your vote, if we are to rid ourselves of the scourge of three Tory MPs - and a Coalition government - who only care about people like themselves, those with means, not with needs, ordinary families working hard to keep a roof over their heads, look after their children, their elderly parents, their neighbours: their communities.

Which brings us back to today, and an Ashcroft Poll which - hurrah - puts Sarah Sackman two points ahead of Freer in Finchley & Golders Green. 

In this piece by the Guardian's Dave Hill, he notes Ashcroft's commentary includes ...

... the rather fascinating finding that optimism about the economy, “both for the country as a whole and for themselves and their families” was highest of all in Finchley and Golders Green. In other words, while voters there seem to agree with Cameron that things are looking up they are going off his government anyway.

This is really the point, as stated so many times by Mrs Angry, in regard to the political landscape here, in Barnet - and it is evidence, often overlooked, of something that is not understood by Tory politicians, perhaps because they lack the very thing themselves: a feeling of empathy with those in need, and a sense of concern for the loss of public services and the threat to the NHS. 

Those who do not currently use a public library, or rely on social housing, who may prefer to use private healthcare, are not fools, and they are not without concern for those who are not as fortunate, and they also know that one day they, or their families and friends, may have to rely on these support systems being in place. We don't all live in a world where if we have a roof over our head, we don't care about anyone else. Our Tory politicians assume that our motives are selfish, exclusive, complacent: they are wrong, and they will be proved wrong on May 7th.

Now is not the time to take anything for granted, but we must allow ourselves a moment of excitment, as Finchley & Golders Green is outstripping expectations by a swing of 7 per cent. And deservedly so, with such a candidate.

Let's cast our minds back to the happy month of September 2013, and this post: 

Sarah Sackman is set to be the second female MP for Finchley: and it is not entirely impossible to imagine her as someone who is perfectly capable, one day, of being the second Prime Minister of this country. 

Like her predecessor she is very very able, astute, hard working, and determined. Unlike her predecessor she is compassionate, funny, and absolutely committed to the ideals of social justice.

As Mrs Angry observed in 2013, 

We need to win seats like Finchley and Golders Green in the next election, if Labour is to have a chance of forming the next government, and work at undoing the damage caused to our NHS and our least advantaged citizens. 

How do we do this?We can fight back, and we have, here in Barnet, Sarah told the Labour party members of Finchley and Golders Green . The example of the library occupation with which she was involved, a campaign which united a range of residents, from squatters, and rabbis, and retired accountants is one such demonstration of our power and potential. 

Here in Thatcher's old constituency, she said, we have proved there is such a thing as society - and such a thing as community.

Yes: community. 

Barnet may be broken, but amongst some of the fabulous people here who want to put it together again there is, thank God, a greater sense of solidarity, compassion for those who need support, and a vision of a better way of living together, for each other: something our Conservative politicians will never understand, and the reason they must suffer the consequences of their relentless promotion of an agenda of ruinous, self indulgent policies, on May 7th.

*Updated Wednesday:

Unsurprisingly, there has been a good deal of media interest in yesterday's poll, putting Sarah Sackman two points ahead of Tory rival Mike Freer. The Guardian today has an excellent piece: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/apr/15/labours-ground-war-advances-into-thatcher-territory in which the point is made, as it was here, that Sarah has worked very hard at acting as an advocate for local community issues - the role, you might think, that would not be necessary if the current MP had truly become the 'champion of the community' he now claims to have been.

Since her nomination in 2013 she and her team have worked with parents to stop cuts for children with disabilities, successfully kept a threatened local nursery open, fought planned closures to GP surgeries, and campaigned for a better bus service. 

 Her Tory rival, Mike Freer, dismisses this succinctly: “If you can find a bandwagon you will find her on it.”

One can only wonder what the parents of children at Mapledown will think of their dreadful plight - losing their vital respite care funding - being regarded as a 'bandwagon' by the local MP; or the families dependent on Moss Hall nursery - or the library users furious at the prospect of the loss of their service, as a result of needless, savage cuts by Freer's easycouncil Tory colleagues ...

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Firm but Fair: Broken Barnet - living in a Fools' Paradise

When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.

Mrs Angry has been rather preoccupied with other matters, over the last couple of weeks, and had little time, or much inclination, to blog, and so has had to rely on some of her little helpers to carry on, behind the scenes, and undertaking some field work, on her behalf, in the meantime.

Running the Broken Barnet blog is of course a full time business, and requires the support of a very large back office team, you see - now outsourced to Crapita, at a cost of £160 million per annum, in order to achieve savings of £160 million per annum, minus consultancy costs, naturally, and an upfront capital investment of £16.1 million for paperclips, biscuits, gin, and all other blogging support services. 

Staff: dear me, very difficult to find the right sort of easily exploitable interns, willing to work for next to nothing on a perfectly reasonable, zero hours contract, even in these last dying days of the Coalition government, but Mrs Angry has taken on one or two assistants keen to learn the art of bloggery, and one of these new interns, Mrs Alice Fulbright, yes, yes: that is A. Ful -bright (Mrs), has been undertaking some vital research - a spot of 'mystery shopping' of our elected representatives, here in Broken Barnet, to answer the question, Eric - are we getting value for money, from our Tory councillors?

First up, then, a letter from Alice to library boss, Councillor Reuben Thompstone, so keen to promote the nefarious Tory plot to destroy our public library system, by shutting them down, cutting their hours, getting rid of staff, and shrinking the size of of the libraries themselves by a truly eye watering 93% in floorspace. 


Well done‏ 

Dear Councillor Thompstone 

 I just wanted to write and tell you how much I admire your stand on this library issue. 

I am heartily sick of local 'left-wing' trouble makers and other professional whingers complaining about your plan to shut down libraries. 

If I had my way, they would all be shut, frankly, and the money saved spent on increasing your wages as councillors, just for putting up with all this constant criticism. 

 In this day and age, anyone who wants to read a book can buy one off amazon, or from a charity shop, if they are on benefits, as so many are these days, especially, no doubt, the ones who are making all the fuss about libraries. 

And perhaps if more people spent less time reading, and more time working, we would not be in the mess we are in now, thanks to the last socialist government. I am sure you will agree. 

 With Best Wishes 

 Alice Fulbright 

 (Mrs) A. Fulbright 

Mrs Angry - and Mrs Fulbright - thought that Councillor Thompstone might just feel slightly suspicious at this gushing missive, but subtlety, irony and indeed satire are qualities in short supply amongst the ranks of our Tory councillors, as we shall see. Back came a most gratifying, and gratified response: 

Dear Mrs Fulbright, 

 Many thanks for your thoughtful and supportive comments. Is there a possibility you might write to one of the local press establishments? We do not always receive kind words in these (sic) and it helps balance alternative views. 

 Best, Regards, 

 Reuben Thompstone 

Councillor for Golders Green,  Lead Member for Children,  London Borough of Barnet

Goodness, thought Mrs Fulbright, and Mrs Angry: what a marvellous suggestion: yes, every possibility - and here you are, Councillor Thompstone, presented, on behalf of every library lover in Broken Barnet, with your wish come true. 

How sad that such 'kind words' are so rare. 

Have you perhaps ever wondered why that might be?

Not sure if by 'press establishments' you meant this blog, exactly - but this is the best we can do. 

Unfortunately, at this point Alice overstepped the mark somewhat, and decided to continue this correspondence: 

Dear Councillor Thompstone 

Yes: a very good idea. I am off tomorrow with my husband for a short break, to the Scilly Isles, but I shall try to send something to one of them in the next few days. Of course I believe the local press - and other so called 'social media' so popular with my grandchildren - are completely biased in favour of the sort of communist-style propaganda that seeks to undermine everything that is decent these days, so one cannot hold out too much hope. 

Thank goodness for men like you, with vision, who carry the banner of Conservative Values, and continue the fight against such anarchy. 

 I had the great honour of meeting Lady Thatcher several times, when she was our MP - she once came to a church bazaar I was organising, and was so kind when I accidentally knocked a cup of tea all over her handbag. Don't worry, she said: I have no state papers in there, only a spare pair of stockings! 

 I know that she would be a staunch admirer of your determination, intelligence and political courage. If libraries need closing: do not listen to the mockers, scroungers and troublemakers - you are the man to do it, and I wish you the best of luck. 

 Yours sincerely, 

 (Mrs) A. Fulbright. 

No reply as yet, but then of course Mr and Mrs Foolbright are enjoying a second honeymoon in the Silly Isles, as far as Reuben Thompstone is concerned. 

NB: Mrs Fulbright's anecdote regarding the milk snatching old bat originally referred not to stockings, but some other form of lingerie, and was censored, in the end, by Mrs Angry, on the grounds of decency. And credibility

Hmm. Who next? Alice thought she might try it on with that old rogue, man of the world, and expert linguist (rumour has it, anyway) the handle bar moustachioed, Terry Thomas look alike, Councillor John Hart.

This dialogue went awfully well - in fact, rather too well, and Mr Fulbright is not at all pleased, I can tell you. 

Mill Hill Library‏ 

Dear Councillor Hart 

I wanted to write to you about this library matter, as frankly I am heartily sick of reading all these whinging left wing complaints about what seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable proposal, ie save money from a service that is largely unnecessary, in this day and age. 

I know that you are a man of letters, so to speak, and a great reader, like myself, and perhaps you would agree that for people like us, who are cultured and well educated, a private library at home, and a 'room of one's own', as Virginia Woolf put it, is all we need to get by. 

Those who insist on reading the latest trashy best seller, which is all libraries seem to supply these days, or some tiresome, politically correct novel reviewed in the Guardian, can either go to WHSmiths and buy it, or even the local charity shops, if they are of limited means, or dependent 'on benefits', as so many of these so called library campaigners most probably are.  

I really do fail to see, by the way, why a public library should fill its shelves with smutty books like 'Fifty Shades of Grey' or whatever it is called - I have of course not read it, as my husband always chooses my library books for me, and insists it is not suitable! 

If we must have libraries, let them be full of improving literature, to elevate the mind, not drag it down in the gutter. 

I should add that last time I was in Mill Hill Library, I asked the person behind the desk for a biography of Lady Thatcher, and he said there was nothing available. This was very disappointing, and I have not returned since. 

Public libraries may have been a useful thing in the past, but really one must ask now if they do not encourage an attitude of laziness, and feckless dependency on the state, rather than encouraging people to stand on their own two feet, and pay their way. 

An alternative, of course, might be to charge users for the library service. If one is happy to pay for a night in the pub, or the bingo hall, one should be willing to pay for access to literature, information and all else. 

We live in a market economy, and until the loony left acknowledge this hard fact, we will make no progress, in my view. I see nothing wrong at all in closing all, if not most of our local libraries, and putting the money saved to better use: think of the capital profit to be made from selling the buildings for development (although of course we shall have to endure the usual suspects demanding we build council houses rather than decent, attractive properties that we want to see. 

As far as I am aware, none of the libraries are listed, so demolition would be no problem, and the sums raised would go towards keeping our council tax low, or even providing a cut in the rate. 

One might even venture to suggest that the revenue from development might enable local councillors - or at least the Conservative members - to be paid a more generous allowance for all the hard work you do! 

With very best wishes, 

Alice Fulbright 

(Mrs) A. Fulbright 

Mrs Fulbright, who appears to have something of an  idée fixe, for some reason, on the subject of the late Margaret Thatcher, was thrilled to receive a prompt reply: 

Dear Mrs Fulbright, 

What a refreshing email. 

I agree with most of what you write: the library purchases are mostly Millsey Boonsey rubbish; few people visit the book shelves; the premises need to be put to better use (plus library use on a reduced scale); premises may well be disposed of to raise capital for other uses (sadly, not for Conservative councillors’ emoluments). 

On Mrs Thatcher’s biography I believe some have since been published. Like you I buy books – on Mrs Thatcher I recommend warmly Cold Cream by Ferdinand Mount and Alan Clark’s Diaries. Both worked for her and admired the lady. Ferdinand Mount is especially insightful. 

One point: library usage has to be free by statute. I hope you sent in your comments for the consultation, now closed. Thank you once more. 

Best regards 

John Hart 

Mmm. Mrs Fulbright was not shocked by Councillor Hart's dismissive remarks about the libraries, but Mrs Angry certainly was, as they seemed rather at odds with the tone of his views expressed at the library debate in Mill Hill, earlier in the year. 

Still: at least we know now, where he really stands, and indeed his opinion would seem to be pretty much what the vast majority of Tory councillors really think. 

Mrs Alice Fulbright was not quite finished with Councillor Hart, however: 

Dear Councillor Hart 

Many thanks for your response. On the subject of Lady Thatcher, according to my husband, Alan Clark was a philanderer, and a cad, and his diaries are unsuitable material for ladies. This makes me more inclined to read them, however, as frankly my husband is inclined to be something of a killjoy, and life is short, is it not? 

With best wishes, 


And back again, from the game old boy: 

Dear Mrs Fulbright, 

Override your husband’s objections and read Alan Clark’s Diaries. Philanderer or not (many of the best men are) he is a stylist and considerable historian. His father was, of course, the creator of the famous TV programme “Civilisation”. Life is indeed brief. At my age, even more so. 

With my best wishes. 

 John Hart 

Best to leave it there, I think, Councillor Hart. 

Mrs Fulbright is not in the habit of overriding her husband, one suspects - in any sense - and it is ill advised, Mrs Angry would suggest, to try to come between a man and his wife. Or to suggest improper reading material to her. 

Alan Clark? Tssk. Still, we must be grateful Cllr Hart did not mention the biography of Anthony Crosland, as he once did in the council chamber, horrifying the Mayor with the quotation, gleefully declaimed:

If it's the last thing I do, I'm going to destroy every fucking grammar school in England ... 

What is rather shocking, readers, is the habit of certain Tory councillors of not opening their emails, or responding until prompted. Yes, Councillor Rozenberg, Mrs Angry is looking at you, boy - took your time, didn't you? And you Dan Thomas? Very boring response, too, when it did emerge. Yawn. Oh, and Dean Cohen had to be chivvied along by Mrs Fulbright, who wanted a cracked pavement outside her house in Princes Park Avenue fixed by the end of the week, as she was expecting guests, and knew he was awfully good at fast tracking that kind of thing, according to her sister April.

One or two others, in this limited exercise, of course, may have felt at a loss as how to reply, such as the queenly former Mayor, Councillor Lisa Rutter, who may or may not have welcomed Mrs Fulbright's congratulations for her fence sitting - or leaping - over the library and lorry depot issues.

After all, as Mr Fulbright remarked to his wife, and Mrs Fulbright passed on, perhaps rather tactlessly: 

It takes great courage to ignore the will of constituents and put party loyalty before the demands of local residents, even if, as my husband has pointed out, this will lose you your place at the next local elections. 

Clearly you are a woman of great principle, and I salute you. 

And then, last of all, for April Fools' Day, we have the Dear 'Leader' himself, Councillor Richard Cornelius. 

A man who is too scared ever to reply to any email from Mrs Angry, for some reason, but felt moved to favour Alice with his views on housing policy, after she raised the issue of - ah, Sweets Way: 

Standing firm‏ 

Dear Councillor Cornelius 

I feel I really must write to you to express my sense of anger about the squatters who have moved into the former council housing development in Sweets Way, Whetstone. 

I am not in the habit of contacting councillors, but in this case I feel I really must speak up: if only the 'silent majority' of decent, law abiding residents would do the same. 

Do these people have no sense of shame? 

They seem to think they are entitled to subsidised housing, simply because they have not, like you and I, worked hard all their lives, and seen the rewards of their labour bring them the sort of home that you and I enjoy, here in Totteridge. 

These are, quite simply, the politics of envy. What can we do, with such people? I am glad to see that they are largely being moved out of the borough, and will cease to be a burden on the taxpayers here. 

One almost longs for the era of the workhouse, and the deterrant of all that implied for those who refuse to support themselves, and not expect others to hold responsibility for their well being. 

Of course we hear nothing but complaints from the usual local suspects, who seem to think living in a socialist paradise will solve all their problems. 

My husband and I hope that you will stand firm in the face of all the disgraceful trouble making being encouraged by left wing agitators, who seem to want us to return to a state of anarchy. 

Yours sincerely, 

Alice Fulbright 

(Mrs) A. Fulbright 

His response was as follows: 

Dear Mrs Fulbright, 

Thank you for your email. We will be firm but fair. There is an obligation to house some people but not those who have made themselves deliberately homeless. 

Personally I want to help people improve their condition but not support a lifestyle based on welfare hand outs. Barnet gives housing preference to those in work. This has made a big change. 

Lets hope the election gives us the result that enables the reforms to continue. 

Thank you for your support 

Richard Cornelius 

So. The unfortunate tenants of social housing in this borough now facing the loss of their homes apparently deserve no help, or sympathy, from Richard Cornelius. 

And this is because they have made themselves 'deliberately homeless', is it? 

By being forced by his council to remain in non secure tenancies for years on end, subject to being moved around the so called 'regeneration' estates of Broken Barnet, whenever it suits the authority? 

Tory housing policy is based not on need but is dispensed by a punitive system driven by the gears of social engineering, oiled by a sanctimonious vision of the feckless poor, benefit scroungers. 

Firm but fair? 

Tell that - again - to the children of Sweets Way, Councillor Cornelius; the families, hard working families, not 'scroungers' demanding hand outs, who have been evicted from their homes, their lives, security and education thrown into disarray.

What could be the better definition of a fool, this April, the cruellest month of all for so many residents of this borough, than those words, spoken by the Tory leader? 

And in the Fools' Paradise that is Broken Barnet, the joke is on us all, not just today, but tomorrow, and the day after that, and all the days until we rid ourselves of their pernicious, heartless governance of our community.