Tuesday, 15 May 2012
The Great and the Good: and Brian Coleman - Broken Barnet Annual Meeting
Mrs Angry arrived at the Town Hall this evening at the same time as Cllr Robert Rams, who was nursing his broken shoulder, and a pained expression, which may have been more to do with being seen arriving at the Town Hall with Mrs Angry, than having his arm in a sling, but he bore up and Mrs Angry tried to sound sympathetic, which required enormous amounts of acting and kindly utterances of oh dear, how awful etc. Only joking, Robert. Luckily you never spotted Mrs Angry that night, in the rain, tripping you up with her umbrella outside the tube station.
Upstairs there was a crowd of old codgers, hangers on, and men in uniform wandering about, the latter rather giving the impression of some sort of Ruritanian operetta, set in a Mittel European courthouse. Oh well: oh dear, the plebs were not allowed in the public gallery, until the invited guests, the ones who had not been forced to sit cheek by jowl with the councillors in the chamber, took their places. As it happened, not that many did take their places, and then the unwashed hordes of well, a few cynical onlookers, sat in the gallery.
Oh look: there was Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers. And Mrs Angry's friend, Supt Seabridge, who waved merrily at her across the chamber. In swept new GLA member Andrew Dismore, to applause ... oh ... sitting very quietly in the gallery as well, Mrs Angry noted, was Mrs Shaheen Mahmood, Tory candidate for the Brunswick Park election. Should I ask her if she has any spare leaflets, wondered Mrs Angry? On reflection, probably not.
At the last moment, a familiar little stocky figure sidled into the chamber and took his usual seat amongst his Tory colleagues. And then: and then nothing. Hardly anyone noticed. Former AM Brian Coleman sat in his place and slouched back against the wall, arms folded defensively. Where was the old Brian: ebulliant, strutting, loud - very loud? He is a reformed character now, you know, whispered a friend in the public gallery. Unrecognisable. In fact, thought Mrs Angry, he rather reminded her of her cat, after his visit to the vet to be neutered, some years ago, when he returned home, minus his balls, in a terrible sulk, and walking with a pronounced limp. He then spent two days hiding in Mrs Angry's wardrobe, nestling amongst her grade two knicker collection. The cat, not Brian Coleman. (As far as I know: I'll check before I go to bed).
Anyway. Then we had the pantomime of the Mayoral anointment. This consists of a lot of bowing, speeches, walking backwards and forwards with flunkies in tricorn hats, white socks & breeches, to a sideroom where secret things are done, and the Mayor and Deputy Mayor reappear, like Paul Daniels and the lovely Debbie McGee, as if by magic, in moth eaten fur trimmed velvet robes, which means they are now very important, and can go to lots of functions in the chauffeur driven limo, and wave at bemused children who wonder who the hell they are.
Councillor Marshall proposed that Brian Schama should be Mayor, because he had worked for Burberry's and been quite good at his job, and then he had worked for Ratners after Gerald Ratner had said all they sold was a load of crap, and made it a toxic brand, and he had rescued it. Ah: thought Mrs Angry - he is the perfect Mayor for One Barnet, in that case. Maybe he could pass on some friendly advice to Brian Coleman too.
The proposal was seconded by Cllr Sury Khatri. Cllr Khatri decided it was appropriate to make a joke about Cllr Schama coming back from holiday to find, and here I apologise on his behalf, to find Cllr Khatri had ' a better tan than he did'. Oh how the Tory councillors roared with laughter at this 'Love Thy Neighbour' era joke, which was ok, you see, in their eyes, because Cllr Khatri himself is Asian. Mrs Angry covered her own eyes in shame, on their behalf.
Kate Salinger has become Deputy Mayor. When she returned from the secret sideroom in her gown, the whole chamber and public gallery rose once more. Oh: no - only one person remained seated. Can you guess who that was? Yes: Coleman. Simply pathetic behaviour. He sat sullenly throughout the whole event, slumped in his seat, seething.
It was time for the outgoing Mayor, Lisa Rutter, to make a speech. Rutter, whose queenly manner throughout her year of office has caused Mrs Angry a good deal of amusement, was determined to make the most out of the last moments of her reign. Her speech, rather in the tone of Her Majesty's Christmas broadcast, went on, and on, and then on some more. She told us at great length about teas in her parlour, trips to our twin towns, yes, Morphou, in Cyprus (Cllr Rutter is one of the many Greek Cypriot councillors on Barnet Council) and Ramat Gan in Israel, where, she told us, she visited a training hospital, and was struck by their use of interactive mannequins. Cllr Rutter is of course accustomed to working with mannequins, but the ones in the council chamber are not really interactive, more inactive. On the Tory benches, anyway.
The outgoing Mayor, still only thirty five minutes or so into her long goodbye, decided she could prolong it a bit more by thanking people. By now, Mrs Angry was hoping she would be cut short, like Adele at the Brits, and told that Blur were waiting to play their live set, but no such luck. She thanked Jeff Lustig, the Director of Corporate Governance, who, last year at her coronation, had fun tussling with her long blonde hair when it got caught in the Mayoral chain. He had no opportunity this time, sadly, with Brian Schama, who stands for no nonsense, and indeed slapped his hand later, for calling him Madam Mayor by mistake.
More thanks: everyone in the entire borough who had served her faithfully, including the custodians, the limo drivers, the mace bearers, and her husband for holding her handbag. Oh, and she said, looking across in this direction, the public in the gallery for behaving - usually. Mrs Angry assumed an innocent expression, as best she could.
After all that tomfoolery, there was only one item of real business: the adoption of the new arrangements for dealing with allegations of misbehaviour by councillors. In many ways, this was a fitting issue to be dealt with at such an occasion. Not that Tory Melvin Cohen appeared to think so.
Councillor Cohen made a short but nasty little speech, paraphrasing his remarks as Chair at the special consitution committee last week, in which he regretted the necessity of any such 'panoply' but insisted on a 'light touch approach', sneered at Labour's Alison Moore for daring to suggest that it was not just about councillors doing the right thing, but about the perception of the public that they were acting in such a manner - and then went on to be equally rude about Libdem Jack Cohen. He also mentioned the fact that there would be a new sanction of criminal prosecution for failures to declare pecuniary interests. Indeed, thought Mrs Angry.
The Labour leader reminded Melvin Cohen of the Tories' continued erosion of tranparency and democracy, the censorship of residents' forums, the restriction of call ins, the exclusion of trade unions, the termination of the One Barnet scrutiny committee. How can the public hold councillors to account? How can such measures be in the public interest?
This sort of argument is wasted on the hard hearted Tory councillors of Broken Barnet: if Barnet is broken, that is because they like it this way. It suits them, and if it serves their self interest, rather than that of residents, well, yes: this is why they became councillors in the first place.
Of course in the last week or so, we have seen the ultimate extension of this attitude brought to a very dramatic conclusion, in the defeat and free falling decline of Brian Coleman.
As we left the Town Hall, Mrs Angry spotted Coleman hurrying across to the car park, and driving home, unable to face the traditional reception which follows the annual meeting and Mayoral inauguration. This is not like our man at all, to refuse a canape and a chance to hobnob - a changed man, then? No. No doubt after a period in the wilderness, the old devil will try to wriggle his way back into some sort of position of influence.
Meanwhile, however, in the chamber tonight there was a marked change in atmosphere: the silencing of Brian Coleman, and the appointment of the new Mayor and deputy, both decent, polite, and honourable people, marks a new beginning, perhaps.
Perhaps the battle for the lost soul of the Tory administration has begun, and the madness which has infected its lunatic regime for far too long is beginning to lose its grip.
Hmm. Ok, over optimistic, no doubt. But let's leave it there for now.