Monday, 16 March 2015

Sweets Way: another round of evictions, another occupation - and a visit from Russell Brand


Greetings, friends from the MoD. Maybe use a proxy server, in future - slightly more discreet.

As you will know, Mrs Angry has a pet theory about the curious, seemingly unstoppable sequence of extraordinary events, here in Broken Barnet: one that depends on a pysycho-geographical interpretation of the world, charged with the power of a legacy our Tory politicians would rather deny, and destroy. 

Our history, and our heritage - the story of the people who have lived here, and left something that survives and defies, somehow, the new order of things in this borough: the selling of our land into bondage to profit, a hostage to market forces, and the easy prey of private development.

The small rebellions which occur, from time to time, seem to take place in strategic points of the map of our borough. West Hendon, caught between Watling Street and the Welsh Harp: the occupation of the People's Library, Margaret Thatcher House, on the road that cuts across from Barnet to Finchley: the downfall of Brian Coleman, the occupation of the Bohemia, on the Great North Road ... and now on the same route, the evictions, and the occupation, of Sweets Way, in Whetstone.

Whetstone itself is of symbolic significance, of course: you can still see the stone itself, outside a public house, some say it was where the men fighting in the Battle of Barnet sharpened their swords. A more prosaic explanation is that it was a stepping stone for travellers from the coaching inn that once stood there. But as in all these things, the power is in what people believe, rather than what is true.



On the eastern side of the Great North Road, in Whetstone, a Mr Sweet once had a large hothouse nursery, growing grapes and tomatoes, and cucumbers, having been apprenticed to a Mr Kay, whose nursery in Squires Lane, along the road from Mrs Angry, has disappeared except for the high brick wall that once sheltered his own vineyard. 

According to one account from 1901, the young Mr Sweet used to look up at the trees at Hampstead Heath, and feel that if he could not become associated with Nature in a more or less intimate manner, he would not succeed at anything. Eventually he settled in Whetstone, built his glasshouses, and became known as 'father of the modern hothouse nursery business'.

During the second World War, this land was requisitioned by the army, and post war became the site of a housing development for military families, an estate in modest grey brick, but fringed still with a number of trees, which soften the effect of the subdued architecture, and lend an air of quiet to the area. Are they Mr Sweet's trees? Hard to tell, but it seems as if they might well be. And Sweets Way is a community of roads built on a human scale, family sized houses: exactly the sort of housing we need for families in need of a home, at an affordable rent, in our borough.



Evicted residents of Sweets Way, and Jasmine Stone, from E15

In which case, you might reasonably ask, why have these houses been emptied of their tenants, in some cases their belongings forcibly removed, by bailiffs, thrown on the streets, the properties secured and the families who lived there left without homes to go to?

Well, yes, of course: this is Broken Barnet, and Sweets Way is one of the last enclaves of social housing, or indeed any realistic definition of affordable housing, in the hugely affluent ward of Totteridge, represented by ... the local Tory council leader Richard Cornelius - and his wife. 


The housing itself is owned by Annington Homes, a company which in 1996 secured a deal with the Ministry of Defence in which for £1.6 billion, it acquired 57,000 homes used to accommodate serving members of the armed forces and their families, leasing them back to the MoD, and selling on those homes considered surplus to requirements. This agreement was to prove somewhat controversial, over the years which followed, with complaints about the standard of accommodation and cost of renting back the properties, and becoming the subject of a parliamentary report  in 2007.

Sweets Way has been used in the last few years as social housing for local families, some on long term temporary accommodation arrangements, of the sort we have seen at West Hendon, denying people the full protection of secure tenancy, and making them easier to dispose of - to 'decant', when they themselves become 'surplus to requirement'. 

Their homes are now to be demolished, to make way for a new development approved by Barnet Council last December, after a previous one, a very similar one, was turned down just a couple of months before the local elections of last year. 

Barnet Council has had plenty of time to arrange for the families of Sweets Way to be given alternative accommodation, but has failed to do so with any semblance of competence. This has led to terrible outcomes for some families, mercilessly evicted like tenants in the Irish famine, emptied out onto the streets, their possessions dumped there by bailiffs, the residents left to fend for themselves. 

As reported here, a few weeks ago, Mrs Angry by chance met two residents about to be evicted from Sweets Way: one was Peter, a very nice, elderly man with complex health problems, who had suffered a heart attack at the end of last year as a result, he said, of the stress caused by the looming eviction, and his worry about finding a new home. He had accepted alternative accommodation, only to find housing officers had given the property to someone else, and then told him he must take up a place in Hanwell. 

The other was a lovely woman called Shereen, who had two teenage sons.  

Shereen

She showed me photos of the accommodation she was expected to move to by Barnet Homes: a flat on another 'regeneration' estate, so clearly again for another limited tenancy - but this place was simply foul: appalling.


Filthy, damp, squalid: with broken windows, uninhabitable.



Sweets Way was home to around 160 families: all to be evicted, as we have seen, with no real consideration of the difficulty of finding suitable accommodation for them to move to.  Only ten families remain. Eviction, court orders, bailiffs: all arranged with logistical efficiency. Rehousing? A matter of indifference, it seems, to Barnet Homes. Families uprooted, given one choice of accommodation, suitable or not, in any location, and in any state of repair. 

By now the story of Sweets Way was beginning to make itself known: from the first tweet, denied by Barnet Council, claiming that the children of some evicted family had been taken into care, to the scenes witnessed and filmed by local housing campaigners of bailiffs evicting tenants and their possessions onto the street, what was happening here was now the focus of wider and wider attention, from the local media and beyond.


Sweets Way, of course, follows the course of much of what we have seen, are seeing, in West Hendon: tenants and residents in the way of private development, becoming in many cases the responsibility of Barnet Homes, for rehousing, with all the humiliation, desperation and vulnerability that entails: a dependence on the goodwill of housing officers, some of whom, as in the case of West Hendon, appear unable to communicate clearly to the residents their rights and options.

In the case of Sweets Way, as we will see, it seems only the media attention has brought any pressure to bear on the need to find homes for some of the evicted families that are anything approaching an acceptable standard of suitability. 

And then last week, matters took another turn entirely: one of the houses that had been emptied of its inconvenient tenants was taken over by occupiers, in order to make a protest about the mass evictions. Among those taking part in this event were some faces familiar from other occupations in the borough, notably the reclamation of Friern Barnet Library. 

On Saturday, Mrs Angry was invited to come over and visit - as well as one or two other people - and duly went, arriving on the edge of the estate, walking through the streets of a ghost town, an extraordinary silence hanging in the air, the sound of homes that are no longer homes, but merely buildings divested of their significance, their purpose: as redundant now as the nursery buildings abandoned here by Mr Sweet, from homes for families to hothouses of speculation, and profit. 

Hard not to spot the occupied house: there it was, the fences draped with banners and posters, and there they were, our friends from Occupy, Bohemians Daniel, Mordechai, and Petra.


Bohemian Occupiers: Petra, Mordechai and Daniel

Another face familiar from stories in the media: Jasmine Stone, from the E15 mums group and housing activist: and most importantly families who had been turfed out of their properties, but returned to make a stand at what they - and so many other supporters - see as a terrible act of injustice: the loss of their homes.


The day before had seen a visit from a large number of police. It was explained to them that this was a political protest, and on those terms it seems there was no criminal act being undertaken. The police waited, pointlessly, until the children came home from school, and got on with their homework ... and then left.

We went into the house, and talked to some of the mums and children staying there. I asked about the two people I had met, trying to ask the courts to stop their evictions: what had happened to them? Later on that afternoon, I had the answer to that question.  

In the kitchen, stuck to the window, was a notice: a notice to vacate, stuck on the outside, so as to be read inside. 

After taking a photo of this, I turned round, and standing behind me, in surreal fashion, holding a cake box, was Russell Brand. Hello, he said, putting out his hand. Oh ... hello, I said, slightly caught by surprise, and unsure of the etiquette on such occasions ... Erm ... I write one of the local blogs ... Oh: cool, he muttered. Short of anything else to say, I admired his selection of tupperware, which he was very worried about, as it wasn't his, and he had to return it.

Just then, readers, it suddenly occurred to me what a strange course my life has taken, in what should have been my respectable middle years, standing in the kitchen of a squat with Russell Brand, discussing tupperware. 

In fact, at this point, Mrs Angry took a moment to text this thought to Miss Angry, who was at work, and primly refused to be impressed by her errant mother's misbehaviour, expressing some concern as to the likelihood of having to attend a police station, and provide bail cover. And: Yes but have you washed my white tights, she demanded, tutting, in her virtual way? Mrs Angry hadn't. The next day she received a lovely Mother's Day card, handmade, but expressing the wish that she might try to become a less embarrassing mother. And apply herself with more efficiency to her household duties. 

Some hope.

Russell Brand, of course, has given his support to the E15 mums, and also made a short film about the West Hendon development. He is mocked by some for his new found zeal for political activism, and his rejection of political orthodoxy, his cynicism: but there is no doubt that in this case, at least, his support and the attention he brings to the terrible injustice being perpetrated here, is hugely useful.

Amusing to watch him in action: undeniably charismatic, more than a little manic: witty, of course, very bright, yet somehow, between the cracks of his madly energised persona, watchful, detached: thoughtful. 

He loomed large in the house, tall and dark, loud and dominant - followed about by a troupe of kids, like the pied piper, particularly good with them: almost messianic in his insistence on speaking to them, rather than the grown ups: suffer the little children ... 

He listened to the families, held their babies, jumped on the trampoline outside, and went to the swings with a gaggle of children. 


Asked about the real issue of the day, ie the fate of Jeremy Clarkson, he yelled, from the swing, that he didn't buy into the automobilised obsession of Top Gear, and that the children should eschew that sort of thing, and prepare themselves to be 'radicalised' ... 

And he pointed out the folly of perfectly good houses like the ones in Sweets Way being knocked down to make properties for rich people. 

You're rich, observed one of the kids. 

And off he went, in his blacked out people carrier, driven by a man, as he explained, keen to get to the Arsenal game. He waved royally as he left. It was huge fun for the Sweets Way families, and a real boost to their campaign. But what happens now?

One thing that seems to be happening, in another echo of the Irish evictions, is that there are reports of houses being already made uninhabitable, to deter former residents from returning, or any further re-occupations.

Amongst the twenty or thirty residents, former residents who were at the occupied house, at last I had spotted Shereen. She hugged me and told me what had happened to her, since we had met a few weeks ago. She had now been sent to accommodation in Enfield, miles from her sons' schools - even though they are about to sit GCSEs. 

asked about the terrible flat in Grahame Park: officers from Barnet Homes had reportedly told a councillor that flats in such a state were only being offered with the clear promise that 
the property would be fully renovated, with new kitchens and so on, before the tenant moved in, on a temporary basis, of course, as Grahame Park is due for 'regeneration'. Was that right? 

No, she said. Only after she refused to go to such a filthy, substandard place did they say they would do it up. And based on the cases I heard at the West Hendon Inquiry, I can believe that is perfectly true.


Shereen and Russell Brand

Since the story had been widely reported, Peter, she thought - whose health problems, as he had explained to me meant that he needed to be close to Barnet General - had variously been offered somewhere in Bounds Green, moved to a studio flat in Wembley Park for a few days, and then to somewhere in Finchley Central, in a property she said had a heating system that was leaking.

I spoke to Rejane, another mother of young children, girls aged five and eight, who has lived in Sweets Way since 2009. She showed me, on her phone, an email from a Barnet housing officer which she had just received, telling her that she may have to wait weeks, or even months, for rehousing. She claimed other housing officers were pressurising tenants to go to the private sector, and relieve the authority of the burden of finding them the homes they so badly need.

Barnet approved this development, and knew full well the consequences for residents, in a borough in which housing policy is being deliberately engineered in order to exclude as many families in need as possible, and indeed to remove them from the borough. But they made no real effort to safeguard the well-being of families who would be losing their homes, as a result of the development they were suddenly, post local election, so keen to support.


The lack of alternative accommodation for those made homeless by the private developments encouraged and supported by the Tory administration is monstrous, but calculated. What they do not expect, have not expected, is the reaction from residents, campaigners, and the media. 

One thing is sure: the reputational damage caused to the companies involved in current developments in Barnet is profound, and increasing. This can be measured, on a small scale, by the number of PR agencies and companies who read 'Broken Barnet', clearly worrying about the impact of direct action on their profit margins, present, or projected. 

They should be worried: and their consciences, if they have any, should be ensuring that they feel a sense of shame for the trauma and disruption caused to the families who stand in the way of their lucrative development.

Today some of the evicted children from Sweets Way went to the offices of Annington Homes, and tried to speak to the Director, James Hopkins, who reportedly earns around £2.2 million per annum. It appears he was unwilling to see them, for some reason. 


The series of small rebellions that are taking place in Broken Barnet, the direct action: brave acts of defiance by ordinary residents, but these are events that ought to sound a warning sign to all political parties. 

The political disaffection embraced by celebrities, repeated by those frustrated and alienated by orthodox political campaigning is a symptom, not a cause of political failure. 

The parties which are not engaging directly with the people most affected by the surge in social injustice that has occurred in the course of the last Tory led government's administration, or the last two local administrations here in Barnet must learn how to listen, and not shy away from the real problems people are facing. 

As we move towards the election, and find our parties obsessed with their own campaigns, and worrying about how many kitchens are acceptable, or how many jobs, somehow they have overlooked the glaring fact that for many voters the challenge today is if they have a home to live in, or a job that pays enough to support their families. 

So: Russell Brand came to Sweets Way - good for him. At least he made the effort to show his support.

We are unlikely to see any campaigning Tory ministers dare to show their faces on this estate, or any other 'regeneration' estate in Barnet. So let's see a shadow cabinet minister get on the tube to Whetstone, or West Hendon, and show their solidarity with the mums and dads, the children and babies, who have no permanent homes to go to, tonight, or tomorrow, or maybe ever again.


And let's see Tory council leader Richard Cornelius, and housing chief Tom Davey, and the smiling, true blue suit of deputy leader Dan Thomas appear in Sweets Way, and explain to the people there their views on 'aspiration', and the plight of the feckless poor. 

Local Labour candidate Amy Trevethan has done her best to work towards a better outcome for the evicted tenants of Sweets Way. 

Exactly what her electoral opponent, the current Tory MP for Chipping Barnet - and Northern Ireland secretary - Theresa Villiers, has done on their behalf is unclear. 

Here is another neat synchronistic link: Villiers' illustrious ancestors include George Villiers, the 4th Earl of Clarendon, who was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland during the period of the Famine: and the mass evictions of tenants which ensued during that era.

In the meanwhile, the occupation continues, and it seems there will be a sleepover, tomorrow night, at 60, Sweets Way. Rusty Rockets is supposedly packing his sleeping bag and heading over. Mrs Angry imagines that it is unlikely that Mr and Mrs Cornelius, Tom Davey, Dan Thomas, or Theresa Villiers will be doing the same.



Saturday, 14 March 2015

Less than best, or: in a private space - the secret story of West Hendon

Eric Pickles: pic courtesy of the Guardian

In the course of the Inquiry into the compulsory purchase orders of homes in the doomed West Hendon estate, one thing above all else became absolutely clear: the fatal absence of information central to the matter under review; an omission that was deliberate, strategic - and fundamentally wrong.

That information was the viability report, the original basis for agreement between Barnet Council and Barratts in regard to the latest, bastardised version of what had originally been intended to be, many years previously, under a Labour council, a genuine programme of regeneration, but has now become a massively profitable private development, using public land, land which we know now to have been given away, not sold.

I say not sold: in fact that is unfair. Three parcels of land were bought for £1 each, for a site valued at the time as being worth more than £12 million.

This 'Poundland' deal secured for Barratts a unique opportunity for a private development on the edge of the beautiful Welsh Harp reservoir, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, fringed by open space, a sanctuary in the otherwise relentlessly urban landscape of this area of north west London. 

A unique opportunity, of course, that has been achieved by default, or rather by stealth, smuggled through the gates of scrutiny like the Trojan horse, in the guise of a scheme meant to improve the local community, but which in fact will destroy that community, raze it to the ground, to be replaced by luxury housing, luring overseas investment or those fortunate few able to afford the non 'affordable' price of properties, and neatly facilitating the Tory agenda of gerrymandering the poorer, Labour voting areas of the borough out of existence.

How did we get to this point? We went into the process of the Inquiry knowing only that we did not know, well, what we did not know: the details of the agreement between Barnet and Barratts, and in particular the nature of the viability study. Requests for this information had always been rebutted, and now at the Inquiry, when the Inspector was asked to demand the release of the study, the consistent argument against doing so from Barnet and Barratts, a line stoutly maintained by their counsel, was that this information was not relevant. 

At the same time, however, the developers and the local authority insisted the compulsory purchase order for the properties in West Hendon were absolutely essential to - ah, yes: the viability of the scheme. 

Phase 3, the stage involving these three bargain basement pieces of land, was itself essential to the success - for that read profitability - of the entire development. 

So: we were not entitled to know the details of the 'viability' they claimed was so perilous, yet the Inquiry was expected simply to take the word of developers and the council that this was the case, and feel sympathy with their plight, acting as they were, as pioneers in the brave new world of faux regeneration.

This desperate need to secure the 'order lands' was the real driving force behind the merciless treatment of leaseholders and tenants on the estate, and the issue of York Memorial Park was crucial to the matter too: it was necessary, from the point of view of the development, to set about denying the historical significance of the area in question, just as surely as it was to demolish the properties which stand in the way of Barratt's profiteering.


As the Inquiry hearings finished, and Inspector Zoe Hill went off with her library of core documents, sans viability study, one or two of us, who had sat through the two weeks of the process with rapidly mounting suspicions, decided to submit Freedom of Information requests for information relating to the development. The recent ruling by the ICO in favour of enforcing the publication of a similar viability report regarding Greenwich Council was encouragement enough to ask for what should have already have been in the public domain, and certainly should have been available to the Inquiry.

West Hendon Councillor Adam Langleben made a request to Barnet Council: and Mrs Angry made two, one to Barnet, and the other to the Department of Communities and Local Government, expecting, as was to prove the case, that the outcome in terms of response on broadly the same subject would be different, depending on the varying sensitivities of the respective bodies.

To Barnet Council:

Please send me copies of the letter and enclosures of August 7th 2013, sent by Barnet Council to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and referred to in a letter of 25th September, by a Ms Karen Rose, applying for consent to dispose of land at West Hendon. 

Please send me copies of any other correspondence relating to the disposal, to or from DCLG and Barnet Council.


This arrived with some redactions of names, and a dozen or so documents, some of which were inocuous enough, maps and notices already seen. These appeared to be padding, in fact, and possibly meant to fill the gap of other material held but not disclosed, as we shall see.

To the Department of Communities and Local Government, then, a request asking for:

Copies of all correspondence between the DCLG and Barnet Council regarding the disposal of land in West Hendon, which received consent in September 2013, and any memoranda or related documents, including such as may be from, to or by the Secretary of State.

So: broadly the same request, although oddly, the more specific one to Barnet failed to winkle out the correspondence referred to regarding the letter of 27th September, whereas DCLG sent what I had asked Barnet for, but did not receive: curious, is it not? Still, the belt and braces approach seemed to be quite effective, even if not all information has - as yet - been released.

As to the material sent from Barnet Council, the most obviously interesting document was a Development Appraisal from the Valuation Office Agency, dated July 20th, 2013full of stuff about such things as the 'Standalone Development',  and grandly sub-headed, 'The West Hendon Masterplan' ... 

Aha  ... The Masterplan

Yes: full of interesting details about the projected costs, fees - profit. And 'assumptions'. Masterplans tend to be built on a foundation of 'assumptions', don't they? Or delusions of grandeur.

Hard for a mathematical eejit like Mrs Angry to interpret these figures, and indeed they required reading, and re-reading, and a lot of head scratching, and checking with some of the more numerate bloggers of Broken Barnet, before she could be quite sure that some of those numbers, hidden so innocently on the page, amongst the costs for road works, and stamp duty, were, after all, the truly incendiary facts underlying this development.

The 'net realisation' of the 'regeneration' is estimated at £510, 516,436. 00.

The costs, including the architect's fee, at a stonking 8%, or £17,061,782.00, nearly £7 million more than the amount paid to the council as Section 106 funding, come to £418,182,108.00.

This means - and this is where you may wish to reach for your hankie, and dab your eyes - the hard pressed developers, or so we are told, will be making a profit of - of only ... £92,234,108.00.

Don't know about you, but when engaged in cobbling together a luxury housing development on public land, given away for £3, and masquerading as the regeneration of a council estate in West Hendon, Mrs Angry doesn't even consider getting out of bed for anything under £93 million. 

The very thought. 

Barratts, therefore, must be congratulated for being prepared to build their ghastly, 32 storey hideouts for all those Russian 'oligarchs', out of favour, doomed to live in exile amongst the kebab shops of West Hendon, instead of the saltmines in Siberia. 

Harsh. 

Almost an act of charity, you might say, by these developers - or a demonstration of philanthropic devotion in the field of housing comparable only to Mr Peabody, or our own local heroine, here in Finchley: that pioneer of affordable housing, Octavia Hill.

Mmm. 

Of course presumably £92,234, 108.00 is only an 'assumption'. You never know, with a bit of luck, property values being, as they have been since then, on an upwards direction, maybe they might just be able to screw a little more profit from all that effort. More like £92,234, 109.00.

But then, hang on ... let's skip forward to the last document released, a Market Value report for Phase 3, prepared for the Valuation Office by DVS, the District Valuer Service, this is, we are informed  'to establish the market value for a proposed disposal of less than best consideration ...'

And here was another calmly listed set of figures, which again required reading, and re-reading, and not so much head scratching as a reaction of stupefied disbelief.

The three parcels of land that are required by Phase 3 of the scheme are valued as follows:

Phase 3 (i) -   Unrestricted Value: £3,100,000
                      
                         The unrestricted value: £1.

Phase 3(ii) -    Unrestricted Value: £8,890,000
                         
                          Restricted value: £1.

Phase3(iii) -    Unrestricted Value: £325,000

                          Restricted Value: £1.

All three parcels of land had 'nil value'  declared in regard to the 'voluntary conditions'.

Unrestricted value, we are told, is 'similar' to market value ... 'but includes the amount that a special purchaser may be willing to pay' ... 

Of course that does not specify whether or not the definition of 'special purchaser' means one who wants a value below market value. Restricted value, ie the Poundland price? And what about those 'voluntary conditions'?



According to this, the valuation of £1 for each piece of land reflects the voluntary conditions by which Barnet will benefit from the disposal at less than best consideration ... voluntary conditions that we are told have 'nil value'. Oh. 

Confused? Me too. Because on face value, if one dares to use the term, it would appear to indicate that we have given Barratts the land for £3 rather than £12 million, for no financial benefit. 

Well, perhaps Mrs Angry has misunderstood.

The second parcel of land, by the way, though you wouldn't know it from the description, includes York Park - York Memorial Park, the open space which commemorates the many civilian lives lost in the terrible bombing of February 1941. 

Worth, in financial terms, around £9 million. 

In terms of social history, and the significance to a community being violated and destroyed in a campaign rather more effective than the one perpetrated by the Luftwaffe: beyond estimation. 

Sold to Barratts for £1. 

(And here is a curious thing: the document which show the notice published - in a way most people would not have seen it - in July 2013, for the disposal of York Park is in the name of the then Director for, oh dear: 'Place', Pam Wharfe, now departed from Barnet. Curious because her name, given as formal authorisation, is misspelt, twice, on the notice, in big letters, as Wharf). 

We have been told by Barnet Council that the land was given away because of the marvellous deal offered by Barratts, to supply, within their private development, some affordable housing, and also that this deal was only possible if the land was given away, due to the viability of the scheme, and the need for the developers to make sufficient profit from the scheme.

The extract above, from the Application, and disclosed by DCLG, is blaming the requirement to deliver affordable housing for the developers' insistence on the land being 'transferred' to them for the price of only £3.

It may be that Mrs Angry is naive, and not grasping the point here, but it does seem that £92 million profit, plus presumably grants from central government, and tax free conditions that accompany so called regeneration projects have created a deal which entirely favours the developers, and not the taxpayers of the London Borough of Broken Barnet, whose land, worth at least £12 million, has been so easily disposed of. Paying market value, or at least the unrestricted value, would still have left them with a few quid in the bank, wouldn't it?

And as Cllr Langleben has pointed out here

... as you will see, the point I am making is that in a world where Barnet Council didn’t own the land – Barratt would have had to cough up 20% anyway – but in the case of West Hendon they didn’t even have to pay for the land and they are still only providing basically half of the Council’s affordable housing target and most importantly – in line with developments nearby like Pulse where the land was bought at full market value.



Caught in the middle of this bargain basement giveaway are the people of West Hendon, the tenants and leaseholders being forced from their homes, after living for years on a building site, their lives made hell, unable to sell up and go, unable to find secure accommodation, their amenities taken from them, their local park built on, their community destroyed, and every promise made to them at the time of the original agreement broken.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government - or his representatives - has allowed the local authority in Barnet to destroy a local community, in fact, on the basis of a scheme put to him as representing something that has not happened: the provision of affordable housing to which residents already living there had a right to access. 

To look at the documents released by FOI requests, and indeed listening to the jabbering of Tory councillors even now, we can see quite clearly that there was an expectation of residents on the estate transferring to the new properties, the Tory leader as recently as last month claimed that this would be the case. Yet as we heard over and over again at the Inquiry, leaseholders are effectively barred from the new housing because the council's Capita supplied valuers absolutely refused to give a valuation of their homes that was sufficiently high to enable them to apply for shared equity for any property, despite evidence submitted that indicates the Capita values are below market rate.

The crucial point here then is whether or not the Secretary of State or any of his officials at DCLG dealing with the application  to dispose of the three parcels of land, for the knockdown price of £3, was assured that residents' ability to take up the offer of rehousing in the development had been safeguarded. 

If such undertakings were made, then clearly the Secretary of State was misled: if not, why did he, or his junior minister, knowingly approve the action? 

Well: it should be the case that, in the interests of transparency, of course, the reasoning behind the approval of the cutprice disposal is in the public domain, to allay any fears by local taxpayers that the deal does not represent value for money. 

After all, Eric: you keep banging on about localism, and empowering communities: did you mean only empowering middle class, Tory voting communities, after all? 

And do the people of West Hendon not have the right to take an informed part in the process of consultation that affects their lives to such a profound degree, and is now destroying that community, by default, by stealth, and by your leave? 

Who took these decisions? On whose advice? 

What do the documents released in the FOI tell us?

Oh dear. 

When it comes to anything touching on this sensitive matter, guess what? It has been refused, or redacted. The response informs Mrs Angry that some information has been withheld because:

... there is a need to protect the safe policy space for recommendations to be considered. This exception can apply to information in whatever form it may take including memos, notes of meetings or emails and can include submissions i.e. consideration templates to ministers in government departments, information passed between officials in the course of their duties, internal minutes and briefs. Therefore we have redacted any recommendations, considerations or non-factual information, though factual information has been released.

The response continues:

In this case disclosure of the information you have requested would be the disclosure of advice that was provided to Ministers and which they were able to take into account in reaching a decision. The public interest is of course served by knowing that the advice that has been provided to Ministers is accurate and appropriate. 

However, the Department must also consider that there is a very strong public interest in ensuring that Ministers can receive advice from officials within an appropriate degree of private thinking space. Whilst it may be appropriate to disclose factual information that provides an informed background to Ministers, it may not be appropriate to disclose actual advice, which may include the recommendation that officials have made. 

We consider that this changes the need for Ministers to be able to receive advice and guidance from officials in the knowledge that it will remain within an appropriate degree of private thinking space, unless there is an at least comparably strong public interest in releasing that advice. We believe that it is particularly important that officials have the space within which to advise Ministers on sensitive and challenging issues without being constrained by the knowledge that the advice may subsequently be challenged in public. Ministers must also have the freedom to disagree, if that is their conclusion, with the recommendations and advice given. 

A private space, for thinking. A safe space.

Rather a nice idea, isn't it? Shades of Virginia Woolf, a Room of One's Own: a virtual chaise longue on which Eric Pickles may recline, with a box of chocolates & a glass of sherry, thinking awfully hard, but in a private way, safely and blissfully unaccountable to the beastly spoilsports and nosy parkers who want to know why their council is giving away free land to private developers.

Hmm. Is this good enough, from the department run by the man who says he wants local government to be accountable to the people who pay the council tax that funds it? No, frankly, it is not, and of course Mrs Angry has objected to the withholding of this vital information, and will take it to the ICO, in due course, if they persist in stonewalling.

Was Pickles even briefed, formally, or informally, on West Hendon, or was it all decided by junior ministers and officials? We do not know.

In the meanwhile, we must make do with some redacted documents, including a letter sent on the 20th September 2013 to planning minister Nick Boles, from someone (name redacted) at the National Planning Casework Unit. 

Issue: Whether to grant London Borough of Barnet consent.

This tells Mr Boles the sad story - get that hankie out again - sniff, that if the developers are not given the land for free, and a social housing grant of £5.5 million, they will incur a loss of £18 million. What they call 'a high level of affordable homes', needed to 'decant' those pesky residents, is what is to blame, see?

Never mind that secure tenants and their children are being packed into a horrible building outside the boundary of the luxury development, in a holding area overlooking the grimy backyards and businesses of the Edgware Road. 



Or that the estate has been deliberately filled with non secure tenants living for years on temporary contracts, to minimise their rights to rehousing.

Or that leaseholders were about to be hammered with ten thousand pound bills for maintenance the authority has failed to implement.

Or that those same leaseholders, who did the thing our Tory councillors so admire, aspired to 'better' themselves, and join the property owning classes, were shortly to find no one cared when they pointed out the council's valuation of their homes, by Capita, for Capita, conveniently made sure they were unable to obtain a new home on the development?

And Mrs Angry is still puzzled by the figures here. Subtract £18 million, from £92 million, and  ... that leaves, erm ...? Quite a lot of money, doesn't it? 

Especially when you consider that Barratts announced recently announced pre tax profits rising from £120 million last year, to £210 million this year ... 

And this complaint about having to provide a high level of affordable homes: you sure that was accurate advice? Compared to similar schemes in the borough, for which land was not given away in a Poundland deal?

Anyway, Mrs Angry, you are asking, what was the outcome of this letter, and the advice given? 

It was as follows:



Oh well. And of course although we do not know what was said here, we also do not know what else we do not know, in terms of withheld memos, notes, emails, phone calls, minutes, and briefs, do we?

Eric Pickles is awfully keen on transparency in the Town Hall, of course -but his own department is able to wriggle free of this requirement when it suits. 

Well, let's see about that, shall we? 

The exemption from the FOI request being cited is on the grounds that they may withhold the information if the public interest in doing so outweighs the public interest in disclosing it. 

Quite clearly this excuse is utterly spurious, and the real reason for not releasing the material is political sensitivity. 

This is simply unacceptable, and the information must be put in the public domain, so that we can see exactly why and how the residents of the West Hendon estate came to be cheated and betrayed in the course of this development. 

This is a scheme that has become a perfect example of the lie that is 'regeneration', the worst illustration of the many ways in which Conservative housing policy, and the mythology of localism, are failing the ordinary people of this borough, this city, this country, in so many communities: from Broken Barnet, to Broken Britain - it's a long journey, and a desperate ending, for all of us.



Friday, 6 March 2015

To redeem the work of fools, or: a diversion from the truth - an Extraordinary Meeting in Broken Barnet


You know the score by now. 

A Full Council meeting at Hendon Town Hall. 

Barnet's Tory councillors, gathered together before the altar of Thatcherism, underneath a portrait of Her Majesty the Queen, and, more importantly, beneath the benevolent gaze of the incumbent Mayor, called to give formal approval to the policies created in their name by the senior officers of the London Borough of Broken Barnet, Crapita, and a cohort of bloodsucking, council tax leeching private consultants.

Our Tory councillors barely feign interest in the issues on the agenda, more worried about the more important matter of whose turn it is next to be Mayor, and deputy Mayor, and Mayoress, and dress up in the moth eaten furs and faded velvet gown of office, ready for a year of smiling graciously at civic receptions, and patronising the residents of Broken Barnet. 

This is their raison d'ĂȘtre, as councillors: the pinnacle of their political ambition - a sense of status, at last, an endorsement of their sense of self, a necessary end for a collection of small time working class conservatives living in the past, looking on in bewilderment at the modern world, and camarooned within their own party, unknowing, unacknowledged: an evolutionary bottleneck, the last of their kind, claws at the ready, and feathers bristling with pride,as they slide slowly into the antedeluvian sludge.

Goodnight, and goodbye. 

We salute you, Tory councillors, of Broken Barnet: last night was your finest moment, and perhaps the end of days, for you, though you don't see it. 

Last night's pantomime, a full council and budget setting meeting, was to be preceded by an Extraordinary Meeting, which sounds more promising than it really is -  called by the Labour opposition in an attempt to persuade our doltish Tory councillors to amend the budget, so as to spare the axe on our library service. 

The proposals to cut libraries, shut libraries, shrink libraries, squeeze them until the last book jumps off the last shelf, into a waiting skip, and they can sell a collection of vastly profitable properties for development - all this has, predictably to all but said Tory councillors, caused uproar in Broken Barnet, even unto the very heartland of their own natural born voters - a consequence now leading our three Tory MPs, Theresa Villiers, Mike Freer and Matthew Offord to be quivering with fear, on the brink as we are of the general election, and forcing them on to a desperate, unprecedented course of actually forming an opinion on a local political issue - and then expressing it.

Villiers, Freer and Offord have now, at the end of the consultation period, weighed up their chances of being re-elected and realised that they are now, and have always been, dedicated defenders of the library service about to be destroyed by their Tory colleagues. We therefore arrived at the Town Hall, last night, wondering if this declaration of concern would hold any weight with our councillors. 

Further speculation regarding the outcome of the meeting centred around the slender majority, of one, that the Tories now hold. As Mrs Angry had discovered, one of our Tory councillors was missing: the globetrotting young councillor for Hampstead Garden Suburb, Danny Seal, who once objected to Mrs Angry describing him as not being the brightest button in the box of Barnet Tories, on offer, and shoved to the back of the drawer as that box would be, in the bargain basement of political haberdashery. 

Cllr Seal was very lucky to be reselected last year, due to his record of not showing up for council meetings, but as he told Mrs Angry at the election count, he had promised to reform, and attend every meeting, and be a very good boy. Nice boy, he undoubtedly is, but his attendance record this time round has been terrible: a 53% absence rate. This is simply not good enough, for someone paid £10,000 of taxpayers' hard earned dosh simply to turn up to a few meetings - and potentially fatal for his own party's administration. 

Foolishly he also insists on drawing attention to his own absences by tweeting non stop about his travels, under the impression anyone is interested in which airport lounge he is sitting, at any given moment. This weekend it was El Prat. No, obviously Mrs Angry could not resist. But, oh dear: El Prat remained in Spain, rather than return for the crucial meeting, which meant the outcome would hang on the casting vote of the Mayor - unless any of the Tories recovered the use of their consciences, and voted against the group whip.

Outside the Town Hall at 6pm, residents and campaigners started to arrive, en masse, detemined to show to their elected representatives their determination to retain the library service we all care for so much.




Residents of all ages and backgrounds, campaigners from across the borough, who have been so well organised by the indefatigable Polly Napper, and Alasdair Hill, Labour councillors, Labour candidates, Sarah Sackman, Andrew Dismore, and Amy Trevethan - and of course, Mr Shepherd, the People's Mayor - were in attendance, the gravity of the occasion marked by the number of bags of clippings Mr Shepherd felt were required: the usual two bag rating upped to a four bag level.

Earlier in the week, the People's Mayor had complained, at some length, to Chris Bryant, Shadow Minister for the Arts, on a visit to Golders Green library to support Sarah Sackman, about the absence of the Morning Star from all but one Barnet library. Burnt Oak took it, he explained, but only because the British Soviet Friendship group used to meet there. 


Some residents brought posters, with choice of quotes only people on a library protest would think of: quotes from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future - and from a Patti Smith song - People have the Power: to redeem the work of fools.

Which was to be something of a motif of the evening to come. Or at least an aspiration. They like aspiration, don't they, Tories?

Other residents brought books. Mrs Angry was amused to see this choice, by one resident, of two books that may not naturally appeal to our Tory councillors. 



True, they are naturally disposed to a dismissal of the working classes as 'Chavs', an underclass, and a problem to be removed from the boundaries of Broken Barnet, but the Kama Sutra? 

None of them would have the inclination, the imagination - or the stamina, Mrs Angry would guess. Let alone the opportunity. 



As night fell, a huge crowd continued to gather outside, yet, unusually for this sort of meeting, there was no waiting minibus full of police, or crash barriers. Had they been told to play down the risk of barricade storming, teetering as we are, on the brink of an election? 

Funnily enough, despite their recent embrace of radical, grass roots campaigning, our three MPs were conspicuous by their absence.

Mrs Angry entered the Town Hall with some Labour councillors, and slipped into the public gallery, to read through the agenda and get ready for the meeting. After a while a member of the security staff came in, very embarrassed and apologised, saying that the Mayor had instructed him to tell Mrs Angry to get out. 

Mrs Angry was not very pleased, and politely pointed out a. that she was there as a journalist and b. that if the Mayor had a problem with this, he was very welcome to come and tell her himself that she should leave, and try to make her - and then he might like to explain to her, and then Eric Pickles, exactly how this was compliant with the guidance from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on access to council meetings for journalists, and citizen journalists?

For some reason, the Mayor was too scared to come and face Mrs Angry, and she remained in her place, accompanied by a couple of Tory activists who appeared not to have had any trouble from the Mayor, or indeed anyone else.

The Extraordinary Meeting kicked off with a speech from Labour leader Alison Moore, who spoke of her love of reading (it's all the rage, you know, that sort of thing) - and the excitement of finding a book that catches the imagination. A book that catches the imagination ... Mrs Angry's too easily distracted mind began to wander ...


Pull yourself together, Mrs Angry.

The Labour proposal was an amendment to the budget which was reasonable enough: to get the Tories to stop, pull back from the brink and think again before agreeing to such a devastating round of library cuts.

Time for the architect of those shameful plans to speak: Reuben Thompstone, the member who was responsible for trying to impose cuts in funding for respite care for disabled children, straight after the Tories boasted of their pre election gesture of a cut in council tax, giving back 23 pence a week to residents, but of course necessitating a slash in budget elsewhere. 

This, readers, is the ugly face of Barnet Conservatism. 

Thompstone has once more been passed the poisoned chalice and tasked with the destruction of the borough's library service.

Ah: as Brian Coleman (remember him?) used to say - cometh the hour, cometh the man

And there he stood before us, the angel of destruction, Cllr Thompstone, his voice, interestingly, betraying a certain amount of nervousness, and looking straight ahead, trying to pretend he was at a school assembly and not taking an axe to one of the best library services in the country. He talked of a 'misunderstanding', and suggested, with the grasp of a man with an intellect of infinite subtlety, or had read the thought in an article, somewhere, that libraries were an emotive issue.

Jack Cohen, who can't help being a Libdem, and carries it off better than anyone might be expected to, in the circumstances, made a rather better speech: as well as pointing out with barely concealed contempt that protecting the library service had been part of the Tories own election manifesto (promised myself I wouldn't mention Nick Clegg, and student loans here, Jack, so - I won't), he observed that overwhelmingly, people want to the council to think again - even the three local Tory MPs. And he noted that the decision to cut libraries in this way is, as must be admitted, a political decision, rather than one based on economic need.

Labour's Anne Hutton asked the Tories to please stop and reconsider, to look at other options, to try an holistic approach, to undertake a real consultation, to find what people really want. Of course it is true, as she said, that the Tories would rather not know.

The Mayor had clearly been expecting some sort of outrage from the public gallery by now - a fair enough assumption, on past form, but people were biding their time. At least they were until Rayner resorted to type, and decided, patronisingly, to tell the members of the public present - 'without being patronising', that they were behaving awfully well, by not interrupting. This did the trick, of course: stirring the masses into rebellion.

But first the matter of the vote on the Labour amendment. Labour members voted for it, of course, each proudly holding up a book, as they did so. The Tories voted against, of course, and did not hold up books, of course, as most of them are barely literate.


Thanks to Danny Seal disporting himself in Barcelona, the Tory majority was lost, and the outcome depended on the casting vote of Mr Mayor. 

You can see from the footage below how events transpired: following an intervention from the People's Mayor, Mr Shepherd, and a reference regarding his fellow Mayor's interesting role as landlord, Rayner smiled graciously, and then launched himself into a constitutional minefield.

         
 
He voted. But ... he voted with the opposition. 

We all looked at him. 

He looked at us. 

He then realised what he had done: and so did we, and then the chamber erupted: he had allowed the amendment to pass. 

We stood and applauded him, the gallery and Labour councillors, unable to believe what had just happened




As soon as he realised what he had done, Rayner tried to retract it: he had made a mistake, he blurted out, as the opposition and members of the public in the gallery howled at him. 

Did the vote still stand? No one knew. 

They bluffed it out, eventually. 

If you recall, Barnet disposed of all the experienced governance officers, and legal officers, and the much criticised appointment of a monitoring officer who had no legal qualifications had proved to be a serious error, but was addressed merely with the 'interim', part time replacement of a fill in from Westminster Council, Mr Large, who later on in the proceedings appeared to be under the misapprehension that the council is run on a Cabinet system.

The Mayor forced the proceedings to continue as if the matter of the vote was of no significance, whereas the matter really needed legal and constitutional advice, and clarification. At this point it was clear that the devastating findings of the investigation into Barnet's legal services by Claer Lloyd-Jones are still not being taken seriously by the Tory administration.

As confusion held sway in the chamber, the doors suddenly burst open, and a crowd of people from the overflow public gallery began to force their way onto the floor, shouting angrily about the Mayor's refusal to stand by his first vote, and calling for him to resign.


Pandemonium: we all looked on in amazement. Again, no one seemed to know what to do, and an impasse ensued, a stand off, with the group of protestors refusing to move. The Mayor got up and swept out, chased out of the chamber.

It was hard not to think of another annual budget meeting, five years ago, in which, in order to prevent any embarrassing scenes of this nature, our Tory councillors had used their illegally operating, unlicensed, non contractually appointed private security firm to physically bar ordinary members of the public from the gallery - and allowed them to film Mrs Angry and others with hidden cameras ... Some Tory councillors probably wished MetPro were still running the show, no doubt. 

It seems the police were called, but considered the event, unsurprisingly, to be of low priority and took the long way round to get to the Town Hall, in order to silence the voice of democracy. In fact Mrs Angry did not see any arrive at all, and the residents in the chamber made their own decision when to leave, which was not for some time. 

In the meanwhile, chaos continued not amongst their members, but in the chamber, as councillors and senior officers appeared unable to act, or decide how to proceed. Labour's Kath Mc Gurk, at one point, sat down in the Mayor's seat, and attempted to call the meeting to order, much to the fury of certain senior officers, who of course are rather more used to running the council, than councillors.



Tory councillor Brian Salinger snarled across the chamber towards the public gallery that he had seen nothing like it, since the 80s, and the days of the 'looney left'. The Town Hall chamber of Broken Barnet is, of course, strictly reserved for the exclusive use of the swivel eyed loons of the Tory party, and clearly Salinger felt deeply affronted, as we shall see.

Eventually the meeting resumed, and became the proper, full council. The Mayor swept back in, and his chaplain fumbled though a rather odd opening prayer, pleading with the Lord to help the people of Barnet to work in 'such harmony' in 'home and housekeeping', to set 'such an example'to other boroughs, and demonstrate that the 'impossible will be possible'.

And then, God help us, or not: the single most important item on the evening's agenda. No, not the budget, or indeed the library cuts ... the nomination for Mayor, of course. This is the single most important issue to Barnet Tory councillors, at any meeting - for them it is the absolute apogee of their political lives.

Clearly no one could bring to the role of Mayor of Broken Barnet anything quite matching the unassailable integrity and dignity of Councillor Hugh Rayner, so it was very difficult choice for the Tories. This time, they went for the only male councillor who is not either very very old, or very very young, ie dashing ex hedge banker Mark Shooter, who started off so promisingly, being rebellious, standing in a leadership contest, buying Mrs Angry drinks in the Greyhound, passing on scurrilous stories about his colleagues. But now: he has been well and truly tamed, and brought to heel, and rewarded for his good behaviour by being made Mayor.

Maureen Braun, in true Barnet Tory matron style, nominated her ward colleague, apparently on the basis of being a. young (relative to Cllr Braun, who is verging on the prehistoric), b. having a 'USP' (it might have been 'USB', but if so, it was unclear as to where, exactly, you would plug it in), and c. being 'fit'. 

Mrs Angry and her neighbour in the public gallery had an urgent whispered discussion, at this point, as to whether or not Mark Shooter is, or is not, fit. And I'm not telling you what the conclusion was.

Councillor Finn seconded the nomination, giving a speech consisting of an interminable joke, which, Cllr Devra Kay suggested to Mrs Angry, was the sort of thing an uncle would bore the guests with, at his nephew's barmitzvah.

Time for the Labour nomination, which of course stood no chance. 

One of Mrs Angry's councillors,  Ross Houston, was proposing another of Mrs Angry's councillors, Kath Mc Gurk. Kath, as he reminded us, had served as a Labour member for 21 years. He described her as quick witted, speaking with passion, a hard working single mother: the Red Queen of Finchley, educated at that wonderful Finchley school, St Michael's which, he naughtily observed, had produced not only Kath, and Tory activist Vanessa Gearson, but ... Theresa Musgrove. The Tories looked appalled - as if they wanted to make immediate plans to put the school in special measures - and then it was time for the vote, and of course Mark Shooter won. 

No longer possible to put it off any longer: it was time for library campaigner Alasdair Hill to present the 9,000 strong petition, and make a speech urging the Tories to reconsider their terrible proposals for our libraries which were, Alasdair reminded us, temples of civic society, and vital to all sections of our community, young and old,the frail and disabled. 


He mentioned a number of Tory councillors who have been giving assurances to their residents that they opposed the library cuts - but still vote for the options to go forward, and so step forward, Councillors Sury Khatri, Helena Hart, and Lisa Rutter. Rutter even went so far as to sign the petition, as Mrs Angry reminded her in a timely heckle during the meeting. But what these councillors say, and do, are entirely different things. Remember that, when your library closes, and then  again, when they seek your vote in the next local elections: all of the Tory councillors, because not one of them has had the integrity to stand up for what they know residents want, and expect them to defend.

Labour now proposed another way forward: the setting up of a commission, similar to their Housing Commission, a cross party body to try to resolve the issues at stake. It was of course rejected. 

The meeting drifted on. Tory 'leader' Richard Cornelius was told by the Mayor that he had 15 minutes to speak on the Budget. Oh God, no, said Mrs Angry, rather louder than she meant. Too much for anyone to bear: starting with a statement proclaiming the Coalition government to be a great success - although, observed our Richard, in his ineffable style, he had always thought of Libdems as 'fluffy bunnies'. 

The spectre of Jeremy Thorpe suddenly rose before Mrs Angry's eyes, just for a moment, and bunnies going to France, and all sorts of things the Libdems would rather we forgot, for some reason, and then, whoosh, we were off again, boasting about Barnet's marvellous housing record, and then, oops, expressing gratitude to Labour for supporting Tory policies.  On next to a consideration of Hilary Benn: a two dimensional version of Eric Pickles, sneered Cornelius. 


 Something to drive Eric Pickles wild with jealousy ...

Hmm. Not sure how many dimensions Eric has, in his earthly manifestation. More than the average, for sure. 

Now then: time for Labour. There had been talk of Labour supporting the Tory budget, at which point, in the interests of balance, Mrs Angry would have been ready with a range of heckled insults, but now we heard that the Labour leader was proposing merely not to offer an alternative budget. She did however make a range of perfectly valid suggestions as to where else the Tories could find savings, rather than cutting services like our libraries.

Jack Cohen, the only surviving Libdem on the council, had his turn, pointing out the waste of public money by a Tory 'slash & burn' administration that fails to have any system of checks and balances of its dealings with Crapita, for example: the matter of the £16m 'investment' which was in the end not an upfront investment from them at all, but the sum we paid Crapita, meant to be for IT - where did it go? They don't know. Why don't they cut political assistants, councillors' allowances by £1,000, and dump the extravagant waste of £100,000 on the mayoralty, and 'the flummery of office'?

Time for deputy leader Dan Thomas to have his say. As usual he had sat bolt upright throughout the meeting, watching the proceedings with his cool regard, and smiling. Now with his usual fully automated delivery of true blue tory polemics, completely detached from anything approaching the reality of life for most residents of this borough, he told us about the wonderful new massive Brent Cross development agreement just made with Argent, with whom, he said, and he may well have been blushing, we have 'a new relationship'. 

Of course if any of our Tory councillors had ever borrowed a library book, thought Mrs Angry, and sneaked out that copy of the Kama Sutra, they might better understand what sort of positions,and indeed contortions, will be required of us, in the expression of this new relationship, as we have endured with Barratts, in West Hendon.  The Ass, or the Elephant - in or out of the room? (Warning, the latter position not for plus size men, apparently. Not looking at anyone in particular, Eric).

Will we, I wonder, be sealing this new partnership with gifts, as in the handing over to Barratts of three areas of land worth £12 million, exchanged for the token payment of £3.00? (See next post for more on this).

Thomas waffled on, lost in a wonderland of new development, a brave new world for people like him. People are being evicted from their homes, yelled Mrs Angry, in an attempt to penetrate his complacency: a waste of time, of course. 

Labour's Barry Rawlings spoke of the Tory attitude, and referred to what he described as 'a diversion from the truth'. He mustn't use the word lie, he said. Oh go on, thought Mrs Angry: tell it like it is, for once.

But the meeting had now descended into the ditchwater of Tory delusions: and a debate that was not a debate, but voices speaking into a void, a vacuum, in an hermetically sealed chamber, safe from the toxic air of reality the rest of us depend on, here in Broken Barnet.

That this meeting took place in a state of such incompetence was one thing: that the Tories regard the process of democracy as nothing more than a ceremonial requirement is clear: the predictable absence by one councillor, repeatedly tolerated by the party leadership, an elected member who has only been to 47% of the meetings he is paid to attend, says much about their attitude. 

They wonder why residents are driven to burst into their own council chamber, and yell, and wave library books at their elected representatives, in that very British way of demonstrating. It's not the storming of the Winter Palace, but it speaks of something gone awfully wrong in the life of our local democracy

But the final insult to the democratic process in this borough was demonstrated perfectly by another councillor: long serving Tory member Brian Salinger, a former leader, who, during budget speeches by opposition councillors, deliberately took out a golfing magazine and made a great show of reading it, to show his contempt for the proceedings, sandwiched between equally bored Tory colleagues:


Unfortunately for him, a photo was taken, and tweets by Mrs Angry and Councillor Devra Kay spotted by a journalist from the Mirror, who then produced this story .

From kama sutra to instant karma, in one evening. 

This is Broken Barnet. 

There is nothing else to say.