I must start this blog with an apology to the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet. I think I may have been rather unkind, in the past, to some of our Conservative representatives, accusing them, in the wake of Allowancegate, of being a bunch of greedy, grasping, lazy, cowardly ne'er do wells.
You see, I simply had not appreciated, until the register of councillors' interests, gifts and hospitality came online, that so many of them are far from comfortably off, or well placed in life.
Imagine my shame, therefore, when, on reading through the register, I discovered how many of our Tory councillors are in fact - oh dear - homeless, and indeed unemployed. At least, I think that must be the explanation.
First of all, let us be clear that this is not a full register of interests, gifts and hospitality. Despite a stated committment to the principles of accountability and oh dear, 'transparency', councillors have been given the option to withhold their entries from publication online, thus making a nonsense of the whole thing.
Seven councillors have refused to allow their details to be open to public scrutiny in this way. They are all Conservative councillors. Let Mrs Angry repeat the roll of honour:
Mark Shooter *
Brian Coleman is no surprise, of course, and, of course, we should not question his right to privacy in the matter of his financial interests, the listing of who buys him lunch, or sends him the odd Harvey Nichols hamper, should we? Absolutely none of our business. He isn't acountable to us is he? Oh: is he? Ok. But, do you know, I'm guessing he may not be entirely thrilled to see that former Guardian parliamentary correspondant David Hencke has, in his recent blog, taken a close look at our friend's career:
I note there are details here of a Brian J Coleman who, in 2008, was renting a three bedroomed flat in West Finchley, his landlords being the Methodist Church, a local body which is now a registered charity, by the way.
I think it is too easy to draw conclusions from this. It may be another Brian Coleman. Whoever it is, since 2008, he may have trebled the rental. Or he may have fallen on hard times, and now rely entirely, like Blanche Dubois, on the kindness of strangers, in order to keep himself fed and housed. Poor old Brian. If only there were a soup kitchen nearby, run by the church for homeless people ... oh what? There was one, in the church hall, but it had to be closed down? Complaints? That is a shame. For those in genuine need of Christian charity.
Mr Shooter, though: look at the company you are keeping, Mark, really .... Mrs Angry is disappointed with you. Again. * Update Friday 4pm: according to a local press report, Mark Shooter will now put his details online, attributing his opting out to being a new boy and not realising the implications. This is indeed a rare example of a Tory councillor in Barnet regretting something they have done - and putting it right. Hooray.
Of course the residents and tax payers of Broken Barnet may be granted a peek at the details withheld from the online listings, if you are prepared to ask nicely, say whose details you want to see (why?) are granted an appointment, and prepared to troop over to NLBP, where you will have supervised access. Fancy a trip?
The entries, then.
I should explain that in many cases, it seems that standards of literacy amongst these councillors leave a lot to be desired. I can only imagine that they did not benefit from an education at the better schools in the borough, but attended one of the other ones, you know, the sort Andrew Harper doesn't talk about, the ones that lost their investment funding recently without so much of a squeak of protest from our local authority ...
In fact much of the hastily and evidently reluctantly scrawled entries on these forms from our Tory chums is practically illegible, for some reason. It has occurred to Mrs Angry that perhaps a graphologist might have some interesting observations to make, in some cases, about the scarily disordered handwriting of our Tory Councillors. Could it be that there is a link between messy writing, a disordered mind, and an adherence to lunatic fringe Conservatism?
There is also, in these entries, an unhelpful use of mysterious and unexplained acronyms, abbreviations and so on. Nevertheless there is much of interest. Oh by the way, did I mention that I have opted out of the need, in this blog, to analyse the interests of Labour and Libdem councillors? If you want to know more, you can apply to Mrs Angry, and I will arrange, at mututal convenience, an appointment, in a dark alleyway at midnight, for a three second glimpse of my notes. You will be sworn to secrecy, at the risk of having your tongue cut out and nailed to the Town Hall door, should you divulge the contents.
The Register. Of particular interest, then, in alphabetical order:
Maureen Braun: Mrs Braun's declaration is a frankly tedious repetition of NONE, NONE,NONE. (The size of the NONE on the hospitality bit is frankly rather scary.) No employment, no expenses, no declarable charity involvement, no home. Perhaps she rents, and this does not have to be declared, although other councillors have given details of their homes, rented or otherwise. Or perhaps this is why she wanted to build that shed? Ah ...
Tom Davey also has no property interest or rental declared, poor lamb. Perhaps his 'real job' -working as a finance analyst for 'British Imperial Tobacco' - does not pay as well as you might think. Shame, eh?
Andrew Harper's job: Being Andrew Harper. That is to say, councillor, Deputy Leader, and Cabinet member. I suppose that is pretty well rewarded, anyway, no need for any other day job.
John Hart: ah ... John (who has rather nice writing, btw, as you might imagine) is a retired lecturer. In linguistics, I believe, is it, Rog? And President of the Mill Hill Allotment Society, being a horny handed son of the soil. I wonder if he ever invites lady bloggers to visit his potting shed?
Lynne Hillan. Ah, yes. She is a councillor, apparently with the LBB. The other five days of the week she is a director of Silverdale Ltd, or - oh dear - was, at the time of writing. And also does something in IKEA, poor old girl, just to make ends meet. Oh hold on, no that's IDEA, some sort of Local Government thing.
David Longstaff (really?) - well, what a surprise. He declares himself to be 'an actor and comedian'. I imagine this fits in very well with being a Tory councillor in this borough. His details on 'Castingcallpro', an online agency for luvvies, is absolutely fascinating. He is small, but perfectly formed, 5 foot 7 - and has a 'playing age' of 47, we are told. Mrs Angry is thinking very hard about adopting a playing age. Hmm. Anyway, his roles have included: a maniac, in the Accidental Death of an Anarchist, a monk, and of course 'Wig Man'. Longstaff had a small part in Mary Whitehouse (sadly miscast) and once played a 'Beige Man in Ikea'. Wonder if he bumped into Lynne? He is willing to perform nude, but only professionally. Phew. I wonder if he might be available for the Mrs Angry's forthcoming Broken Barnet production of Midsummer Night's Dream: it would be marvellous to see his Bottom, wouldn't it?
Graham Old's declaration is as boring as, well, oh dear, Graham Old.
Wendy Prentice, though, is a mysterious woman. Her form is as informative as Maureen Braun's, but with the tantalising detail that she lives in 'about three acres of Hadley Highstone' ... I can only imagine this means she lives in some sort of tent on the common, like Mrs Angry's gypsy forebears, or perhaps as a new age traveller. Your secret is safe with Mrs Angry, Wendy, but don't tell Brian Coleman. Or the Daily Mail.
Robert Ramsbottom's entry is rather sweet and disingenuous. Stop it, Mrs Angry. Pull yourself together. Well, apart from being head of the Conservative office at the GLA (do say hello to Roger Evans from me, Robert!) he tells us he is a member of the lodge of 'fraternal unity'. Isn't that the Communist Party of Great Britain? No? Also, he says 'I am a member of the Jewish Lads and Girls Brigade' What, both of them? At the same time? I would have thought he was a bit old, but then perhaps they go by height, like Legoland. By the way, Rob, a friend of mine wrote the official history of the Jewish Lads Brigade, 'A Good Jew and a Good Englishman' - now out of print, I believe, but luckily available through your local library's interloans system for a very modest charge. Don't get that sort of service in Starbucks, or Waterstones, or Amazon, do you now?
Andrew Strongolou: I'm worried about this young man. No employment and no property declared and, according to the Barnet online information, appears to live at the Conservative Group's members room at the Town Hall. Can't be comfortable, sleeping on those racketty old chairs. A sign of the challenging times we all face, all in this together, as we are.
Finally, Joanna Tambourides. Unlike her shy and retiring spouse, she has at least not withheld her details online. She even tells us that she is declaring some hospitality, courtesy of the Morphou Municiplity in Cyprus, a nice few days' break last month, but as she points out, she paid for her own flights and, and I don't know why she might think we might imagine any other arrangement - her hotel room was 'shared with my husband'. Well done.
Of course the really interesting entries are the ones we are not allowed to see except through a ridiculously bureacratic and controlling process. Funny, isn't it that the sort of councillors - bar Mark Shooter perhaps - who have insisted on withholding their details would normally be the first to complain about those Tory obsessions, red tape, bureaucracy, form filling?
And now for something completely different. My night with Brian Coleman. How was it for you, Brian?
It was prizegiving night at my son's school last night. This is Finchley Catholic High School, yes, the one whose sixth formers organised yesterday's tuition fees demo - an event which so scared the local Tories, I noticed yesterday, that bus loads of bored policemen, and stacks of barricades had to be brought in beforehand, as if they were expecting a revolution rather than a polite protest by some admirably stroppy sixth formers. But anyway.
The Angry family duly trooped off to the school last night. Imagine my horror, then, as we drove up to the school and spotted an all too familiar tubby little figure stomping through the gates, in the direction of the school hall. Oh no, cried Mrs Angry, what on earth is he doing here? Is there no escape?
In fact we were blessed with the presence of three councillors: Coleman, Richard 'Mr Punch' Cornelius, and poor old love, Maureen Braun, probably glad not to have to spend the night in the shed. But the honoured guest and speaker was someone of real standing, Chief Constable, and President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Sir Hugh Orde, who presented all the prizes and gave an interesting speech about the challenges of policing in Northern Ireland. He also mentioned - and I hope you were listening, Brian, - the necessity, in the process of negotiation, of being prepared to respect the opinions of others, and make concessions in order to acheive a fair settlement.
As you may recall, Coleman has been making himself rather unpopular with London police chiefs recently, and I was rather hoping that Sir Hugh, on behalf of the Met, and in the tradition of old school community policing, would sort our Brian out with a well aimed clip round the ear, but no; rather disappointing. Never mind though, because our man had to listen, for once, and without yelling objections, to Sir Hugh's reference to the effects of cuts in police spending, oh and then to the address of the head teacher, Seamus Mc Kenna, who pulled no punches on the timely subject of government cuts in education spending, and of course the appalling financial burden that pupils now face due to the tuition fees hike. In fact he used the term 'a sense of betrayal', which no parent in the room would have disagreed with, I am sure.
The highlight of the evening, of course, was to witness Mrs Angry's son collect a special award, for achievements not entirely unrelated to the skills which he uses as technical assistant to his mother in the art direction of this blog, producing so many lovely pictures of our beloved councillors. Oh, how we laughed and cheered, as he trooped past a dutifully applauding Brian Coleman with his prize!
This school is a comprehensive school, by the way: it educates boys - and some girls in sixth form - of all abilities and backgrounds and produces outstandingly good academic results from such a varied intake. It also has a strong pastoral ethos. Last night, I noted, a special prize was given to a new boy at the school whom I know has difficult home circumstances and with their help, has made a great start to his life at the new school. In any good school pupils receive a well rounded education, and an awareness of the greater community in which they live. The success of a school should not measured by league table results alone. Faith schools traditionally manage to provide a high standard of education , academic and otherwise, for their pupils, but what about the many non selective, state schools?
Unfortunately, in this borough, we have too many schools with a highly selective intake who naturally produce continually high rates of high exam grades, and are then congratulated by themselves and the borough for their marvellous achievements. (Please pay attention, Andrew Harper). Perhaps it's time that the Tory adminstration looked at some of the less high acheiving schools, the ones serving the less advantaged children of the borough, and think a little less about how quickly they can wash their hands of responsibility for them via hare brained schemes like the academy system, and a lot more about how they can help such schools help these children acheive their own largely unrecognised and unsupported potential and individual successes.
- just seen the latest Barnet Eye blog and read that the ghastly Guido Fawkes blogger has stupidly implied that the FCH pupil who organised the anti tuition fees rise demo was in some way influenced by the presence at the school of Damian McBride, former spin doctor and special adviser to Gordon Brown, and that the pupils were 'bunking off' school. Oh dear. The demo was after school, was well behaved, well organised (see comments in the local Times from Cdr Basu) and Alex is to be commended for his effective and well disciplined protest.
Yes, McBride is an old boy of FCH and is now employed there as a Business Liason Officer. Maybe it's a form of penance: more extreme, perhaps, than three Hail Marys and a couple of Our Fathers, trying to instil some business sense into the minds of spotty schoolboys, but there you go. Oh, and another of his duties is organising events like Thursday's prizegiving, which he does very well. And I must tell you, readers, how much we enjoyed the look on a certain councillor's face when the head thanked Mr McBride personally for his efforts ...