Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Brian Coleman: the story behind those apologies - and his suspension

Last night the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet gathered for a group meeting, expecting, amongst one or two other pressing matters, to be asked to vote on the proposed suspension of their troublesome colleague, Totteridge councillor Brian Coleman.

Just before this could get under way, the news broke that Coleman had already been suspended as a result of action initiated by the national Conservative party board. 

Senior Tories had lost their patience, and tired of waiting for the shambling Barnet leader Richard Cornelius to do what he should have done weeks ago, and taken action to suspend Coleman, the former GLA member and chair of the London fire authority, as soon as he was arrested on suspicion of assault of a local woman. 

As reported in this blog some time ago, central party officials are said to be infuriated by the local Conservative associations' indulgent attitude to Coleman, and their refusal to follow constitutional procedure in dealing with allegations of behaviour likely to bring the party into disrepute. Last night David Miller, the former Tory chairman of Chipping Barnet Conservative association, indicated in a tweet that it was indeed the 'dithering' of local Tories that led to the intervention by the party board.

Coleman's charges in relation to the alleged assault are charges only, and suspension is no implication of guilt, merely a precautionary action pending the full outcome of the legal procedure. 

It is however reasonable to expect that Coleman should already have been suspended in September on the grounds that he refused to apologise to the victims of his deeply offensive 'anti-semite' slur emails: he was not. 

Cornelius should have censured him for the insulting 'sad, mad, bad, and a couple of old hags' remark he made about residents in the public gallery at the last full council meeting: he did not.

And as we know, Cornelius failed to act when Coleman was charged last Monday with assault by beating and a driving offence: he indicated he would not be taking any action in relation to his colleague, for fear, he claimed, that it might prejudice the legal proceedings.

This nonsensical excuse provoked such an outcry that within twenty four hours Cornelius was obliged to perform a u-turn and announce that he was after all instigating the procedure for suspension. 

Clearly this response failed to pacify the concerns of central office, and no doubt the possibility that our craven Tory councillors would buckle and fail to vote to suspend Coleman compelled the board to take control of the omnishambolic affair and do the deed themselves.

Apologies from Coleman to Ron Cohen and Charlotte Jago, the victims of Coleman's abusive emails, arrived only yesterday, hours before the Tory group meeting which was going to debate their colleague's suspension. 

The announcement that Coleman would after all apologise was made last week at the time of Cornelius' u-turn. It is pretty clear, therefore, that the 'anti-semite' slurs and refusal to comply with the sanction of the Standards Board played a role in the party officials' intervention and decision to suspend Coleman.

These so called apologies are, quite frankly, a travesty of the sanction process:  forcibly, painfully extracted: weeks late, cursory, sloppy: littered with errors - the act of someone continuing to show contempt to the victims of his insults. 

But too late, anyway: it's all too late - the damage is done, to the Tory party, locally, nationally, to Coleman's own career. And he has no one to blame but himself. 

When he sits in his charity flat, over the next few weeks, scribbling away at his memoirs, plotting his comeback, perhaps Brian Coleman will take the time to reflect on the sequence of events which have brought him to this end. It seems unlikely, however: he appears to have no capacity for reflection, or self knowledge. 

And this is his tragedy, ultimately: his life's story is not a tale of power, political intrigue, and statesman like acheivements, the sort of life he imagines that he has led: it is a story of rampant egotism, boundless vanity, relentless confrontation with perceived enemies - and petty point scoring.

The Tories in Barnet have failed to keep Coleman in check, and have failed to censure him because they do not feel it is necessary. In many ways he is their animus: their archytype of self, the spoken word of their private thoughts. No wonder they are reluctant to dispose of him: what will the Barnet Tories do, without his looming presence in the dark shadows of their collective mind?

Senior Tory party advisers have now written off Barnet as a lost cause. The Tories have already lost the next general election here: but now - now it is time for Labour to prove that they deserve to win it.


The local Times paper reports this afternoon that Tory leader Richard Cornelius has declared himself to be 'feeling the strain' of the Coleman suspension. 

"I have found it very difficult to deal with because I know and like Brian. These allegations have come along and I’ve found it very difficult to handle."

Here you have the heart of the matter, the reason for the reluctance to censure anything Coleman does or say: a weak leader who puts loyalty to a friend before the duties of his post.

The seriousness of the charges now facing his chum should have been dealt with in absolute fairness to all parties, and without favour. Cornelius claims in this report that the suspension imposed by the party board last night was always possible as his colleague has a 'presence' outside Barnet, but he goes on to admit that he was taken by surprise, on the way to the group meeting, when told of the party's decision. 

As well as his reluctance to suspend Coleman from the whip, in the light of the current charges, Cornelius has always refused to condemn his many acts of rudeness to members of the public, and indeed appears to find them rather amusing. 

Mrs Angry suspects that the last laugh, Councillor Cornelius, will be on you: hopefully next week, if your colleagues remember where their balls are, if not their brains, and support the vote of no confidence.

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