Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Broken Barnet, the movie, or - A Tale of Two Barnets

The Phoenix in East Finchley is a fabulous old cinema: its history spans an era from the age of silent film and the first talking pictures, to a later role as an independent 'art house' cinema, which still retains its individual character, and period atmosphere.

This year marks the hundredth year of opening, in fact, and sitting there last night, remembering all the great films that have been screened there, it was rather odd to see the theatre being used now for such a different type of film, a community project, watched by a packed audience of local residents brimming with discontent over the political direction of their borough.

Helen Michaels, cafe owner from North Finchley

This was not an audience of agitators, or union members, or members of a political party. It was a broad range of local people from all sorts of backgrounds, and there for all sorts of reasons.

Most were what you might describe as of a certain age, and perhaps unlikely activists.

Some were there because they were local traders desperately trying to reverse the calamitous new parking policy which is causing such damage to their businesses.

Others wanted to draw attention to the terrifying future facing those depending on support from services which are been outsourced to the private sector.

Some were there because they fear they are about to lose their jobs, and see the security of their livelihoods taken away.

There are so many issues now, here in Barnet, which are engaging residents in a new political reality, in a way I can't recall before: without meaning to, you might conclude, the new realities of life in this borough are doing what the Tory council pretends it is providing, through its perverse form of local authority admininstration: by default, it is regenerating the borough, and creating community where perhaps there never was one before.

Last week Barnet Council managed to publicise 'A Tale of Two Barnets by (temporarily) banning the poster from all libraries. The pretext for this was that the flyer contained an asterisked word in a comment made by Philip Rackham, a resident with physical and learning disabilities, who had said:

“As a user of social services my view is that Barnet Council don’t give a sh*t about disabled people and their carers.”

Philip Rackham, resident

Mrs Angry met Philip last night, and he is a delightful man, and told her some very silly jokes, but she is absolutely sure that he is quite right, and that Barnet Council does not give a shit about disabled people, and that he is perfectly entitled to say so.

*Updated Wednesday

Today in the Barnet Eye John Sullivan, one of the residents featured in the film with his daughter, who has a disability, has a guest blog. You can see it here As he says:

"A Tale of 2 Barnet's was an eye opener and perhaps in this year of a diamond jubilee and the Olympics , where once again local and central governments will pretend to the world that all in the garden is rosy, A Tale of 2 Barnets should be distributed more widely because it tells a story for the whole country as well, including a copy to Buck house, so that the reality of what is happening in Barnet and across the UK is not deliberately covered up to portray a false image of Great Britain, a Britain that was great because it was once a caring society, a Britain that has become in just 2 years a completely uncaring society.

The question A Tale of 2 Barnet's raised for me is, when did right become wrong and when did wrong become right, when did it become right to denigrate disabled children and adults as did Cllr Coleman at a recent transport meeting and still be considered fit for office. When did it become right to ignore the plight of the seriously ill, the disabled and those with a disability and deny them succour, and right to devastate their lives to make a profit from their misfortune?"

In the audience last night there were the Labour party GLA candidate Andrew Dismore, Labour councillors and supporters, there were also Green party candidate A M Poppy and other Green supporters - there were even, Mrs Angry would guess, quite a few disaffected Tory voters. There were no Tory councillors, however, no doubt because 'leader' Richard Cornelius, the comic relief in the film to be shown, had cast aspersions on the production, after agreeing to be filmed, but without seeing the end production.

I should add that there was no intention by the producers of the film to portray Cornelius as a clown: as we know, he performs that role with consummate mastery, without any need for direction or editorial sleight of hand.

Consider for one moment the comment he made about his own role: he observed that as leader, there was very little that he could do ... 'I'm not sure there is much that I can change about Barnet' ... and that he therefore had set himself 'quite low' expectations. Clearly.

Tory 'leader' Richard Cornelius

The footage with Cornelius, and also Chief Executive Nick Walkley, who combines a misleadingly naive appearance with a love of hollow, weasel worded corporate speak, produced a reaction of hisses, heckling and a smattering of disrespectful jeers whenever they spoke.

The film itself is unpretentious, unsophisticated, perhaps even naive: and these are its strengths - it is a documentation of the state of things now in Broken Barnet, told through the words of those who live here, and are living it, day to day.

Incrementally, as you sit and listen, the weight of testimony provided by the speakers leads the viewer to the inescapable conclusion is that something has gone horribly wrong somewhere here in this borough, and no doubt elsewhere in Cameron's Big Society experiment, and that a terrible price is being paid by those members of our community who are least able to negotiate the terms of contract by which they now find themselves caught fast.

Most people in this borough simply do not understand what is about to happen to their local services, and on such massive scale.

When the One Barnet programme is complete, and you find yourself having to find care for a relative with dementia, or support for a child with learning difficulties, and have to deal with an unaccountable private company whose only interest in the borough is based on an appetite for profit, at your cost, you will realise what your council has done. Some of the people in this film already know from their own experience what the effect privatisation is on the provision of council services: listen to them, and understand what is coming.

In the film you hear from some of these residents, or, as John Sullivan reminds us, those whom our favourite councillor Brian Coleman memorably described as 'these people'.

Here they are, then, these people, who so annoy him with their need for subsidised transport -for example, a quadriplegic resident - now officially, ridiculously, a job seeker, the parents of two middle aged residents with severe learning disabilities whose care provision has been affected by privatisation.

We also hear from a pensioner's representative, a parish priest, both of whom have seen enormous social changes here in the last few years, a local shop owner and a cafe owner, the first almost incapable of expressing his fury over the consequences of the crazy parking scheme which is seeking to exact further revenue at the cost of local business, the latter a previously unpoliticised trader, now brilliantly articulating her contempt for the Tory council which has so badly betrayed the very people it relies on for support in elections.

Which brings us to the question raised by many taking part in the film, and by Ken Loach, whose introduction reminds us to consider the wider issue: what do we do about all this? What can we do? Ken has made several films about the miners strike and he chose a familiar motto to quote - unity is strength. If residents pull together, and fight against the things which are undoing our community, piece by piece, perhaps one day we will be able to put Broken Barnet back together again.

Oh, I forgot to mention a couple of mouthy Barnet bloggers who are also in this production. Mrs Angry slid to the floor in horror at the sight of some woman who looks like her mother pretending to be her in a dark pub in Edgware, and can't remember exactly what she said, but it made some sort of sense, something about a culture of bullying.

Which reminds me, thankfully all the compliments she and other people made about Brian Coleman landed on the cutting room floor, and it was a refreshing change to be able to talk about Barnet without any mention of the old fool. Not mentioned, but present all the same, you can be sure.

Early on in the film when Mr Mustard was talking about his blog, he told the camera that he was only half as funny as Mrs Angry. Mrs Angry yelled behind her in the direction of where he was sitting (in the cheap seats) words to the effect that he was not even half as funny. See, Mr Mustard, even that got a laugh. It's a gift. Stick to the adding up.

There will be more showings in the borough in the next few weeks - see websight for details, and one at the House of Commons. Mrs Angry will try to behave herself, and not break any doors.


Mr Mustard said...

I was just being the straight guy for you Mrs Angry. The invoice is in the post.

Of course I was using half in the One Barnet context in which it can mean anything you want it to.

You are funny though and I am deadly serious. Look out Barnet; that is some combination.

Whilst I was at the film my snooker team were losing 12-0. Perhaps we could get Cornelius to lead them and they would lose by that score every week.

Mrs Angry said...

Mmm. Not funny really, just facetious. Pointless but entertaining.I amuse myself, anyway, even if no one else is laughing.

baarnett said...

Budget News:

Let us be thankful that Barnet's Chief Executive, Nick Weasley, can look forward to 45% tax on his meagre earnings over £150,000.

This will make him better motivated, in this enterprise-focussed local authority.

Mrs Angry said...

I believe that 'aspiration' is the word of the day, baarnett. I think it may persuade Mr Walkley to aspire to a new job in the private sector, where he will be much happier. BT, Capita, Serco ... Mrs Angry is happy to provide a reference: see the last two years of Broken Barnet.

baarnett said...

Mrs A, you gave a fine performance in the film. It is a shame we see you on screen so seldomly.

Who could forget your previous Pre-Budget appearance, starting at 3 minutes 45 seconds (use the slider at the bottom), on:


Mrs Angry said...

Yes, Baarnett, that is me, looking like my revered mother again, how spooky is that? Actually, I think that lady driver is the one who tried to assassinate Mrs Angry yesterday by forgetting, oh dear me, silly woman, to look in her mirror to see if there was anything behind before reversing into stationary traffic and small children crossing the road.

Anonymous said...

Cornelius and Walkley are doing something to Barnet and it is not for the good of Barnet residents. I believe it has been Walkley's mission from day one to create a comedy show in Barnet you may well have seen it "Brittas empire" you can see it now a mother hiding her kid in the cupboard under the reception, as she can't afford child care, thanks to Osborne and the destruction of local services party (a.k.a the conservative party- coalition) due to her benefit being slashed.