Tuesday, 1 January 2013

2012: a year in Broken Barnet, Part Two


Between the sheets: Matthew Offord takes a firm hand with his constituent

As Councillor Coleman sat morosely in his fixed rent charity flat, and contemplated the course of his own undoing, another local Tory politician seemed bound on a similarly disastrous line of political action: Hendon MP Matthew Offord responded to a constituent asking for his views on same sex same marriage as follows:

'Having waited many years to get married I acknowledge the value the commitment brings. It is my strong personal, moral and religious belief that the institution of marriage is to provide the foundation of a stable relationship in which those two people of the opposite sex procreate and raise a child. That is physically not possible for same-sex couples so I don't see the point of introducing a law to allow this.'

Marriage, citizens, and you know, shh, that thing men and women do - no, not argue and throw saucepans at each other, the other thing - and no, not men and men, women and women - it is for procreation, see? Not pleasure. Are you married? No: stop that fooling around then, AT ONCE. Mrs Angry can see you, and will report you to Dr Offord, (who has been married since just before the last election, but would appear not to have procreated himself yet). 

And yes: Matthew Offord has recently compared equal marriage to polygamy, bigamy, and - even more incredibly - to incest.

May also saw another hugely significant electoral result: against all the odds, the Brunswick Park by election. This was prompted by the death in April of local councillor and former Tory leader Lynne Hillan, and had been widely seen as a very safe seat for the Conservatives, who had decided to nominate Mrs Shaheen Mahmood as their candidate. Mrs Mahmood's campaign was rather interesting, omitting to highlight her important post within the Conservative Muslim Forum, and making some rather eyebrow lifting claims in the electoral literature: 

'Following a successful campaign by your local Conservatives, parking will remain free at the Ward's two car parks in Osidge Lane and Brunswick Park Road and Church Hill Road car park in neighbouring East Barnet Ward ...'

A claim which was untrue and had to be withdrawn, of course, after complaints from  the Labour agent.In fact, local anger over parking and the closure of Friern Barnet library ensured that the Labour candidate won, and the delightful Andreas Ioannides is a very welcome addition to the council: charming, intelligent and conscientious: qualities hard to find amongst the Tory benches, you can be sure.


At last, even our dunderheaded Tory councillors realised that the game was up, that their own idiotic policies were going to cause them serious long term electoral damage: but what to do? Tory loss leader Richard Cornelius scratched his head and thought awfully hard about this knotty problem. Nope. Nothing came to mind. But then, in an interview that month in the Barnet Press, we read:  

'I have been asked, says Richard, why on earth did I get involved in local politics?


And Tricky Dicky then proceeded to acknowledge that the parking policy was a mistake, and that he and his colleagues were 'saying sorry'. This eventually led to a vague committment to review the situation, which in turn has led to nothing of the sort, other than some useless tinkering with the new rules and charges.

On to another star of the Barnet Tory group: I say 'star', I mean all round chilled out entertainer, little Robert Rams. Cometh the hour, cometh the man: as the Tory group has fallen into greater and greater disarray, the profile of the Bobster has risen accordingly, the perfect choice to preside over the banquet of fools sitting in governance over us. The blogpost headline which made Mrs Angry laugh the most this year was perhaps this, from the Barnet Eye:

'Robert Rams: 'I have built an imaginary library' ...

Yep, still makes me laugh. Even more so, as the imaginary library has now been demolished. Look, all in ruins. Rams had been bragging on twitter that he was building new libraries, with extended opening hours. He forgot to mention the library he had closed, and of course the so called landmark library, which was supposed to justify the closure, is now not going to be built - if it ever really was.

Rams is said to have his sights on a parliamentary career, but Mrs Angry suspects the hand of fate may intervene

In June the focus of attention of the growing network of activists in the borough became the One Barnet programme, in an attempt to raise the awareness of residents of the reality of the wholescale privatisation of public services endorsed by the Tory councillors, led by a determined senior management team. 

And then, at the end of the month, a most extraordinary story emerged: the story of Helen Michael, and a poster, and a visit from the secret policemen.


When Helen Michael first produced her anti parking poster, a complaint was made to local police, apparently on the instigation of Brian Coleman's agent, that she had failed to put her details on the publication, as required by electoral legislation. On the instructions of the Chief Executive and Returning Officer, Nick Walkley, local police came to see her about this omission, for which she immediately apologised, and took steps to amend. The police assured her that they had no further interest in the matter.

On July 3rd, Helen Michael was obliged to spend two hours, under caution, at a police station, being interviewed by two officers from SO15, a counter terrorism unit - supposedly due to the poster and a minor omission which had already been dealt with. Helen was asked questions such as:

What were the reasons behind the poster? 
Were these her own ideas? 
Was it just the local traders who were involved in the production of the poster? 
Was there any political input or intention in production of the poster?

This was a staggering development, even by the standards of Broken Barnet: the cafe owner who dared to challenge a reckless parking policy interrogated by anti terrorist police? Why? Everyone pointed the finger of suspicion at Coleman, and the Chief Executive, but information received by Mrs Angry suggested that the real pretext for the questioning was the approaching arrival of the Olympic Torch in Barnet, and measures being taken to ensure that no disruption would take place along the route. 

The likely pretext, certainly: many other examples around the country demonstrated the excessively high level of scrutiny of local activists potentially planning to take advantage of the Torch relay: quite disproportionate to the real threat of terrorist incidents, of course. But was this just a pretext, and was something else, someone else behind the use of SO15 to put the frighteners on Ms Michael?

And now for something completely different: another trip to parliament, for Broken Barnet, not this time in the person of Mrs Angry, but in name only, named and shamed in the course of a Public Accounts Committee meeting, presided over by the marvellous Margaret Hodge, keen to know all about the use of tax avoiding 'interim' consultants in local government, or 'Town Hall Tax Dodgers, as Eric Pickles prefers to call them.

Earlier this year, the (on and off) Broken Barnet Westminster correspondent and cycling expert, (and now Political Journalist of the year), Mr David Hencke, revealed the extent of tax avoidance so prevalent amongst senior public sector employees such as Ed Lester, the head of the student loan company, who were paid as consultants, through their own companies, thus avoiding high levels of tax and PAYE. Here in Broken Barnet we have long been aware of the number of our own home grown long term 'interim' consultants, who have taken advantage of this wheeze in order to maximise their earnings.

Oh dear. Margaret Hodge summoned Carolyn Downs, the CEO of the Local Government Association, to tell us more about this useful dodge. How many of these posts were there in local government? Ms Downs thought about 13. In the UK, as a whole. 

Margaret Hodge, having  referred to 'a moral duty' to contribute to the public purse,  asked if it was true, then,  that in the London Borough of Broken Barnet there were erm ... NINE such posts? Oh, what a shame, Ms Downs could not speak for Barnet. Who can? Who would? Because in fact, at the time of the meeting, there were at least 14.

Public accounts were an issue back home Broken Barnet, in July, as it happens. 

Mrs Angry, Mr Mustard and Mr Reasonable decided to take advantage of the annual opportunity to inspect the accounts of our council. Oh dear. This is a right enshrined in legislation. The London Borough of Broken Barnet does not consider itself to be subject to the restrictions of the law, however. ( See various examples, including several boxes worth of material currently submitted for Judicial Review ...). 

When we turned up at the council offices at North London Business Park, we were presented not with the documents we had requested, but material that was so heavily redacted as to be rendered totally incomprehensible. 

We were also treated as if we were some sort of terrorist threat, rather than residents exercising their democratic rights: escorted to the loo, in Mrs Angry's case, by a male officer, who waited outside until she was finished, and marched her back to her redacted documents, watching for the moment when she attempted to make a run for it, and run amok in the council offices, stealing paper clips, and using her pinhole lapel camera to take photos of Andrew Travers, asleep at his desk. Hello: Mrs Angry is having a MetPro flashback. (Still lots of interest in this company, btw, judging by recent hits on her blog).

Mr Paul Hughes, the exernal auditor from Grant Thornton, seemed the obvious person to complain to. Mr Paul Hughes didn't really give a shit, however. 

He gave retrospective permission for the redaction of any personal data ( which we were not interested in anyway) on the grounds that individuals might be subject to mention in local blogs, an accusation which Mrs Angry entirely rejects, except in his case, and and serves him right:


Oh dear: it was a very long summer, wasn't it? 

Part Three: eventually. Maybe.


baarnett said...

What do you mean, "Maybe"?

Aw, go on.
Go on, go on.
Go on, go on, go on, go on.

Mrs Angry said...

sorry baarnett, keep missing comments, hidden on new blogger, which I DO NOT LIKE. I did go on, as you will have seen. And on, and on.