Update Thursday: see below
So anyway ... at this point the Mayor perhaps could feel he was losing the interest of the audience, and decided to do a bit of stand up Boris to keep things spinning. He talked about, yes, his favourite subject, cycling, and gestured towards our bicycle hating assembly member, Brian Coleman. 'Don't you think he should get on one?' asked Boris. 'And not come back', suggested Mrs Angry. The audience sniggered at the thought of Brian wobbling on a push bike, as he bared his teeth at Boris in a somewhat unconvincing attempt at a smile.
Politicians, mused Boris, should keep their promises. There was wry amusement from the gathering at this point. He mentioned the Freedom Pass as a promise he had kept, which, as several hecklers pointed out, was something we already had.
Mrs Angry imagines that now we must expect not the promise of new policies from our politicians, but the promise, if we are very lucky, not to take some vital service away, and we must be grateful for such small mercies. Don't ask a Tory politician for a new hospital: just give thanks if he doesn't agree to it being shut down. Of course here in Broken Barnet we have seen David Cameron promise to save the services at Chase Farm hospital before the election, and then agree to the closure of A&E once safely in office, something which will have a huge impact on the lives of people in this area. And have any of our local Tory MPs, councillors or Assembly members lifted a finger to protect these vital services? Er .... no.
But Boris doesn't like to acknowledge the unpleasant truth of the effects of his government's policies on the things that really matter to Londoners: healthcare, education, local council services. He likes thinking about bikes, and buses, and trees, and nice things. Did we know, he asked, that in London now, we have such a thriving economy that we export bikes to Korea, cake to France, tea to China, rice to India and ... ha ha ... you'll enjoy this ... Piers Morgan to America? Oh how we laughed. We laughed so much we nearly forgot we live in Broken Barnet, where our the economy of our local town centres has been destroyed by Tory parking policy, courtesy of the eejit standing behind the podium. Now we export parking revenue and trade to other boroughs.
Council leader Richard Cornelius next. It was a very short speech, but still the longest Mrs Angry has ever heard him make. It was full of Cornelius whimsy, of course. He said he was grateful to see such a 'big cheese' visiting our borough, and expressed his gratitude for the money which the Mayor has been throwing at us in these last few months before the election.
Ah yes, the money. In his speech Boris made passing reference to the 'good news', happily announced that very afternoon, of a £3.7 million grant to Barnet. Except nearly £1 million of it we are granting to ourselves, but putting Boris' name on. Ok. This is not a pre election bribe. It is not public money being used for political purposes. The timing is purely coincidental. And curiously, neither Boris nor Cornelius, or Coleman for that matter, made as much capital from it as they might have been expected to do. The other interesting omission was any explanation, confirmation or denial, of the story in yesterday's Evening Standard stating that the huge Brent X Cricklewood development was effectively 'dead in the water'.
Mrs Angry hears that this story has caused great alarm and confusion in the council offices of Broken Barnet: the announcement appears to have taken everyone by surprise, in fact. Looking more closely then, at the Standard story, one has to question quite how much of it is quite what it seems. Read the first two paragraphs:
"Boris Johnson is set to tear up a massive regeneration scheme in London in a bid to spark new life into Brent Cross shopping centre.
The Mayor is considering whether to "de-couple" the plans to revamp Britain's oldest mall from the wider 20-year regeneration of Cricklewood."So, first he is 'set to tear up' the plan, and then he is said to be 'considering' a move to alter it. Not quite the same. The article continues:
"He has now agreed to investigate whether shopping centre owners Hammerson Plc and Standard Life Investments can defer their wider community regeneration pledges or submit a new planning application simply to improve the retail outlets."
Now he is investigating whether or not the plans can be altered anyway.
In other words, the Standard is using an anonymous source to say the plans are 'dead in the water' when in fact there is no definite indication that the Mayor will or can prevent the development from going ahead. Of course the Standard has always been a helpful friend to Boris Johnson, and anything which delivers a good news story on the day of a visit to the most damaged Tory voting area in London must have been very welcome. And look: Brian is quoted in the article:
"I welcome this. I have always supported Brent Cross's expansion - it's long overdue.
"The original scheme was for thousands of Hobbit houses and would have been a disaster."Good news all round. And if Boris can spin this apparent miracle out until May, even better.
But back to Richard Cornelius: sorry, were you talking? No one noticed. As we know, Richard is easily confused by difficult concepts. There are lots of things he cannot understand, and he likes to tell us about them in meetings, so that we share his dilemma, and sympathise with him in his lonely position as leader, where he has to make nasty decisions, and look unpopular. Tonight he told us that the economy was hard to understand. Mmm. He said the council wanted to make Barnet a nice suburban place to live. Like the high rise, high density Brent x Cricklewood development, Richard? Oh, no, Boris is sorting that, maybe, and anyway it is in the disadvantaged, Labour voting area of Broken Barnet, where the undeserving poor cannot expect to be handed a suburban lifestyle as if they were, well, you know, one of us, the lucky residents of Totteridge.
He complained that in the 1960's, some 'simply ghastly housing' had been built in the borough. Much better to knock it down, and get some friendly developer to move in and gentrify the area, build some homes that no one in those areas can afford to live in, but then that serves them right for lacking the aspiration that the current Barnet housing Cabinet member, Tom Davey, wants to see them acquire.
Cornelius thought it was 'a disappointment' that there were too many unemployed young people in the borough, but pointed out that our colleges were very good, and did not, contrary to popular belief, teach silly things like er 'basketweaving'.
Oh dear. And now, to widespread derision from the audience, he tells us 'he wants our high streets to thrive', and complains about the number of pound shops and charity shops which are blighting our town centres. This provokes an outburst of heckling about the catastrophic parking scheme, a howl of fury. Coleman tries to tell people, including Mrs Angry, to shut up. Cornelius is very red in the face ... '... and on that happy note, ' he says, battered by the reaction, and sits down. Boris looks startled by the depth of hostility in the hall. Does he not really not understand the extent of unpopularity of Brian Coleman, and the damage that has been done to the Tory vote in this area? After tonight, Mrs Angry would say, his understanding will have been greatly enhanced.
After a dreary speech by the Deputy Mayor for transport, Isabel Dedring, we were introduced to the token community representative, a woman called Gale Laser, who is currently being rolled out to this sort of public event in order to be seen to be grateful to Boris for his hand outs and counteract the virulent criticism by local shop keepers and other small business owners of the Tory council - and especially Brian Coleman. She gave a dutiful, well rehearsed speech which glossed over the parking issue, (although she later expressed her criticisms in stronger terms).
Mrs Laser explained that she was the chair of the Barnet traders' association which won a £400,00 grant from Boris, but not a business woman herself: she was 'just a housewife'. Clearly the Talk London event was a party political event, and organised to support the election campaign of the Conservative party in London. Was Mrs Laser there as a business representative, or as a political stooge? Citizen Barnet reports that at the end of the meeting, Mrs Laser was kissed on both cheeks by Brian Coleman, so it would be reasonable to assume that they are well acquainted, and on good terms. Many people in the hall assumed that Mrs Laser is a member of the Chipping Barnet Tory association: if this is incorrect, then perhaps she should have made this clear to the audience, as otherwise she stands accused of allowing herself to be used for the political benefit of Messrs Johnson, Coleman and Cornelius.
Ah: public question time ... and suddenly, Mrs Angry had a moment of revelation. Before the meeting, she had questioned the wisdom of allowing Brian Coleman to attend this event. The embarrassment that his unpopularity could cause in an uncontrolled environment is unlimited, and we all know that Boris has been advised to keep his distance from his troublesome Tory colleague: it could all go very horribly and publicly wrong. Ah, but: Brian was not, as you might expect as our local assembly member, on the panel, to answer questions, as Cornelius was, he had been given the role of Chair, and therefore was in charge of the public question session. This was, Mrs Angry has to admit, a stroke of genius. Not only did Brian escape the panel, and evade any scrutiny of his performance at the GLA over the last few years, with his knowledge of local troublemakers, he was able to prevent any of the usual suspects from asking awkward questions. Brilliant. Except it didn't quite go to plan, did it Brian?
Mrs Angry noted with amusement the technique Coleman used in order to identify the safest route through the minefield of resentful residents all wanting to get their questions answered. He spent ages desperately sweeping the audience with his beady eye, trying to find a safe choice. As many of the arms raised in the air were attached to well known activists, union reps, Labour party members - and bloggers - he struggled at times to find a trustworthy candidate. One or two of the early questions were chosen quickly, and were suspiciously non controversial. It was suggested to Mrs Angry later that there were some planted questioners, lurking in the areas where certain local Conservative associations were seated. Surely not?
In fact most of the questions were so bland and boring Mrs Angry cannot be bothered to list them - it's all been filmed so if you are really keen to know, check that out when available. Then a man called Roger Kemp, whose face clearly was unknown to Brian Coleman, asked what was an interesting question. He referred to the total failure of Barnet Council, in the year we welcome the Olympic Games to London, to support sporting activities in our borough, and reminded everyone of their refusal to act to prevent the demise and sale of Hendon FC, and the development of Barnet FC. He contrasted this with the interesting accommodation and support of Saracens' rugby club at Copthall Stadium. Hmm, indeed, Mr Kemp, thought Mrs Angry.
Cornelius tried to reject these accusations. Saracens would hardly use Copthall. What? 'Green belt!' shouted a member of the audience. Oh, and then: 'you gave them a 99 year lease for £1', yelled another. Yes: very interesting.
Boris registered with surprise the fury with which this issue was received by the audience, watching the interaction between Cornelius and residents. He asked if people were not awfully keen on the development, and a resounding response gave him his answer. Ah: Brian Coleman sees his chance. He informs everyone, in a snappy outburst, that he had always opposed the Saracens plan.
Brian's decision to take this position is not well known, or much heard about. Mrs Angry is unclear why Coleman should apparently feel so strongly about this: he was quoted as saying the reason is he represents an adjoining ward, and therefore his constituents are concerned about parking. It's a bloody long walk from Totteridge to Copthall, isn't it? Good to see our man listens to people's concerns about parking, though. He publicly stated that he has 'reservations', anyway, and therefore disqualified himself from voting at the Cabinet Resources meeting where the controversial deal and £1 rental agreement was approved.
Brian has taken a similar position over Brent X Cricklewood. Again, a major planning issue miles from Totteridge, and Mrs Angry is impressed by such concern. Has he done anything actively to oppose these two developments? We imagine he must have, as he feels so deeply about them. You see, Mrs Angry is able to see the good in everyone.
I am afraid I now have to use that phrase. You know, that certain large grey animal, with big ears and a bad memory? It was in the room. No, not Brian. Begins with E. No P, for parking.
At last, someone managed to crawl under the relentless drive for efficiency of Brian Coleman's screening process, and a woman stood up to shout about the terrible effect that the new charges and cashless payment scheme were having on the town centres of our borough. To thunderous applause and much yelling, heckling and disorder, she gave the panel a piece of her mind. Mrs Laser had earlier stated that cashless parking is the way forward (goodness me, that went down well, but must have pleased Brian) but now she agreed that our high streets were 'dying on their feet' and the effect was sounding a 'death knoll' for local businesses. In the pandemonium, Mrs Angry observed Boris looking genuinely taken aback by the antagonism exhibited towards the local Tories, represented by Coleman and Cornelius. As the question time came to an end, Boris pointed out that Brian had inexplicably ignored a large number of the residents wearing the anti parking scheme t shirts. It was safe to point it out by then, of course, but he did invite them to come up and speak to him about it later, to Brian's evident displeasure.
Mrs Angry believes that the Mayor was calculating the cost of the damage that the idiotic Barnet Tories were going to cause in electoral terms. People are naturally disposed to like Boris: he is personable, charismatic in performance, but he is an ambitious man. He leant on Westminster Council to drop their equally stupid parking plans, and they did. He knows what Coleman is like from his membership of the GLA, and his position at the London Fire Authority: now he has seen for himself the realities of political life in Tory Barnet. He must be worried. He would be a fool not to be. Although Boris is regarded with amusement, and his personal vote may be unaffected, the possibility of losing Barnet and Camden to Andrew Dismore is real, and strong.
Mrs Angry will make some predictions.
The much hated parking scheme will be dropped, just in time for the May elections.
No real decision will be made on Brent X Cricklewood before May.
Brian Coleman will lose his place on the London Assembly, and his political career, if not dead in the water, will be confined to the shallow back waters of Broken Barnet, where he will have only the small fish of the few remaining council services not to have been outsourced to the provate sector by himself and his Tory councillor chums.
Like the captain of the ill fated Italian cruise ship, Captain Coleman has sailed too close to the rocks, and capsized his own future. Will he be the last man to leave the sinking ship, or will he jump into a lifeboat at the earliest opportunity? Let's see.
As Mrs Angry's daughter had predicted, Brian Coleman was curiously unable to spot Mrs Angry's arm going up during question time, so she was unable to ask anything. Shame. To be frank, though, it would have been very hard to choose only one.
If you get round to reading this, Boris, and I think that may not be entirely impossible, here are some of my questions:
1. Would the Mayor like to take the opportunity to give his support to the outsourcing of £1 billion worth of council services to the private sector by a council which only months ago was exposed as failing to properly procure hundreds of contracts worth many millions of pounds?
2. Why is it that our Tory council can give our local stadium over to a non local rugby team for a peppercorn rent of £1 per annum, yet refuses to show the same generosity to our own two small museums, one of which has been shut and put up for sale to developers, and the other which faces the same future as it is being told to agree to a short term commercial lease or close?
3. What does the Mayor think of our local Assembly member's comments to a constituent threatened with financial disaster by a huge rent rise that she and her child should not expect to rely on 'the system' to support her, and that she must learn to live 'in the real world'? Does the Mayor think that Brian Coleman, AM, FRSA, lives in the real world?
As we all gathered our stuff together, and and prepared to move off after the meeting, a scowling Brian Coleman stomped past and out of the hall. He had done his best to treat the event like one of the Barnet residents forums: an iron grip on dangerous questions, making it almost impossible for the expression of dissent, but in the end he failed, and how enjoyable it was to see.
Your choice, then, in May: Brian Coleman ...
or Andrew Dismore?
No wonder Boris looked rather uneasy during the course of Talk London, when he witnessed the overt hostility of the audience to his Tory colleague and assembly member Brian Coleman, and Barnet Council leader Richard Cornelius. The total breakdown of trust in the relationship between the Tory council, Coleman, and the voters of Broken Barnet will have a very serious impact on the Mayor's campaign as well as spelling disaster for our present AM. And now today we hear here:
that a poll has found the level of Boris and Ken's popularity with voters is much closer than anyone had suspected. Boris is perceived to be out of touch with the London electorate, and dissatisfaction with his record on transport issues - and of course the latest fare increase - have had a negative impact on his appeal. Ken may lack Boris' charisma but he is quietly winning the battle for London. After Tuesday night, Team Boris must be wondering what they can do to staunch the flow of lost Tory voters here in Broken Barnet.
Brian: look, over here, me in the red dress with my arm in the air ... don't say Mrs Angry didn't warn you, darling ...