Wednesday, 17 April 2013
The last goodbye: Barnet Tories' farewell to Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher: a nation mourns: but not Mr Shepherd
Mrs Angry had intended to wear her red dress to the full council meeting last night, as a gesture of eccentric socialism and general disrespect to Barnet's Tory councillors in the wake of Margaret Thatcher's demise. In one way it was appropriate, this dress, having been spotted by Miss Angry worn by Samantha Brick in a feature in the Daily Mail: suitably Tory, then - but will it make me as beautiful as Samantha Brick, worried Mrs Angry? Her daughter made a face indicating a certain degree of reservation on this point. Hmm, no, maybe the pink one then. And off to the Town Hall.
The meeting commenced as usual with the trumpery of tricorns, footmen prancing about with the mace, the ceremonial entrance of the Mayor, squeezing the last drop of grandiosity out of his nearly completed year in office. After the usual invocation by his Chaplain, Rabbi Shochet, asking the Almighty to, by some miraculous means, imbue our councillors with a respect for God and all mankind, to work in peace and harmony, and to pursue the ideals of democracy, liberty, and freedom for all, like Baroness Thatcher, well: we all sat down,arms folded, having been told that the meeting would be extended to allow councillors to pay their tributes to the memory of Finchley's former MP. Mrs Angry sighed, and waited for the onslaught.
The Mayor had a special memory of Margaret. Once he was at someone's house, and was standing by the fireplace, and someone came up behind him, and tapped him on the shoulder. 'Excuse me dear', said Mrs Thatcher, and then, then she bent down to straighten the rug, as it had been 'rucked up'. Marvellous. Kind of like we had to straighten out the country, after she resigned, because it had been fucked up.
Excuse me dear.
Still, in its way, almost as good an ancedote as the one about the old girl told by Brian Coleman in his latest blogpost, recalling, in between the usual name dropping references to obscure dead Tory freemasons and titled nobodies:
"... she never attended any event without ensuring she had spoken to everybody in the room and nipped into the kitchen to lend a hand with the washing up as well . "You can never have enough tea towels " I once heard her remark at a Finchley Conservative Bazaar , somehow I cannot image David Cameron making that remark with total naturalness."
Personality cults flourish in only the most repressive regimes, of course: a necessary opiate of the people. Forget North Korea: here in Broken Barnet the cult of Margaret Thatcher thrives amongst the faithful Tories, bowing before her memory in ritual obeisance, and now entering a period of obligatory public mourning. All North Korean households are required to display portraits of the Kim family on one wall: in Broken Barnet, we were told by Cllr Brian Salinger, every household at one time had a portrait of Margaret Thatcher. He recalled one house which boasted a picture as big, he said, as the one of Her Majesty here now, above the Mayor - we all looked up, above the very seat where Thatcher sat on election nights to make her acceptance speeches. Was her ghost hovering in the chamber now? Mrs Angry thought it unlikely.
The tributes continued, all trivial recollections by the older Tories of Finchley and Golders Green, of meaningless conversations with the dear leader, magnified into ancecdotes of massive totemic significance: all perpetrating the same myth of a woman of great charisma, and, as the steely, starchy Helena Hart insisted, rather unconvincingly, of warmth and compassion ... she, Helena, a long serving Tory councillor, had been described as an unreconstructed Thatcherite. I was then, she said, am now, and always will be. This, thought Mrs Angry, is undoubtedly true.
The loyal Tories all referred to Mrs Thatcher's apparent prodigious memory for people she had only met once or twice, investing in her a quality which was probably better explained by a clever agent slipping her the nod, in the manner of a fake clairvoyant's sidekick, planted in the audience. But the effect still lingers: a breathless admiration for someone who would appear to have done very little for Finchley, other than pop in for the odd cup of tea with Herbert and Doris, as Cllr Salinger recalled, and inspire one local party worker to name her new born baby after her, poor child, after having to apologise for turning up to meet her, in labour, in a - oh dear - a Labour red dress, and then rush off to hospital.
Tory leader Richard Cornelius said, in his usual disingenuous way, that Margaret Thatcher had had 'a truly frightening grasp of detail'. Yes, indeed. He dismissed the Heath government as 'an unfortunate interlude'. He also thought that she and Ronald Reagan had really had something quite special together, although some people sniggered about it. Mrs Angry sniggered about it.
Old timer John Marshall, former MP for Hendon, old enough to have been a pallbearer at the funeral of the Duke of Wellington, told a story about Mrs Thatcher remembering who his wife was - often a difficulty for Tory politicians - moaned about various Labour prime ministers and Red Robbo and all that sort of stuff, and thought her privatising everything was awfully good, and gave as evidence that she was a good Christian the fact that she had paid for a new communion rail in the Wesley Chapel. To get into the Tory section of Methodist heaven requires a certain amount of financial commitment, it seems, and you will then be guaranteed an eternity spent in the presence of people like Thatcher, and Brian Coleman. May God have mercy on your souls.
Mrs Angry thought about another anecdote about the late PM, told to her recently. Here is the censored version.
Apparently, some time in the mid eighties, Mrs Thatcher's watch was sent to be serviced by a jeweller in Hatton Garden (no, I know what you are thinking, not Richard Cornelius) ... the watch was returned, but not before an unexpected embellishment to the inside of the case by the naughty jeweller: the inscription of a hammer and sickle - and some rather irreverent misuse of the watch, which Mrs Angry had better not divulge. Amusing to speculate whether this is true, and if her delicate wrist was moving in perfect synchronicity with the symbols of communism, is it not ...?
All throughout the testimony from councillors, residents in the public gallery sat sighing, tutting, and yes, more sniggering.
Mr Shepherd arrived and proceeded to sit in the front row, eschewing his usual reading matter, the Morning Post, for the Socialist Worker, and its own front page tribute to Thatcher. Libdem Jack Cohen referred to Mr Shepherd's appearance in the footage shown here of the 1987 election announcement, in this very chamber, with Lord Buckethead (apparently a cousin of the Barnet Bugle) narrowly missing out to the Prime Minister, by a few thousand votes.
Labour leader Alison Moore did her best to be polite and respectful without entirely overlooking the alternative history of Thatcherism, but really it fell to Mrs Angry's local councillor, Irishman Jim Tierney, to tell it like it really was, and unpick the threads of the mythology of her statesmanship.
He poured scorn on the infamous Francis of Assisi moment, words that were nothing more than a mockery: where there is discord? She was a strident, dominant figure, who wiped out the mining communities (John Marshall was heckling, by now) - her attitude to the IRA and Sinn Fein prolonged Ireland's suffering, stalling needed discussions, she did nothing to resolve the problem. In the end, there was so much discord, and despair.
And, he pointed out, she was despatched by those honourable men in grey suits - Mr Clarke, Mr Lilley, Mr Major. It was, he said, a shabby end.
Geoff Cooke also spoke about the real legacy of Margaret Thatcher: he referred to her achievements in the face of a continuing prejudice against women in the Conservative party, Rubbish, muttered one or two of the token Tory women councillors, after checking with the men that it would be okay to say so.
He pointed out that cuts in military funding sanctioned by Mrs Thatcher had actually led to a reduction in the patrolling that might have prevented the Falklands Invasion and subsequent war.
She had been, he said, remarkably lucky in the timing of events beyond her control, but playing out in a sequence favourable to her - the conflict between the Trade Unions and the labour movement, the coal strike: how fortunate she had been to benefit from oil revenue, but it had been squandered by her.
As for selling council houses, on the cheap: look at the consequences, the deliberate social engineering, and worst of all, the consequences of Thatcherism here in her own consituency, in Broken Barnet: look how hard it is for those in need to get a council house.
It was time then, to be upstanding, for a minute's silence in respect of Finchley's former MP, and our former PM. Mrs Angry remained seated, and thought about the real inheritance she left us, the communities damaged by the very qualities her admirers praise her for: her iron will, her ruthlessness, her complete indifference to those in need, whose vulnerability she despised, and exploited.
Back in her own Town Hall, last night, her bereaved colleagues, revived by an immersion in the spilt blood of her own reign of terror, proceeded to carry on her work here, with renewed vigour, and a sense of triumphalism. It was an ugly, ugly sight.
An ugly, ugly sight: Thatcher's heirs, the Barnet Tories, supporting welfare 'reform'
After a speedy but characteristically incendiary question and answer time, the meeting moved on to leader Cornelius' motion on welfare reform, something which he welcomes. To Barnet Tories, whose views are informed by that distorted view of reality filtered through the headlines of the Daily Mail, all those in need of such support are scroungers, lacking in aspiration, who choose not to work, or exaggerate their disabilities.
Alison Moore ripped through these prejudices with her own ruthless efficiency, pointing out that most of those in receipt of benefit are either in work, or elderly. It does not matter how many times you present the truth to Barnet Tories, however: they will simply look on blankly, unable to adjust their minds from a default setting of bigotry. They like to think about benefit claimants being workshy, lacking yes, aspiration, wanting something for nothing - like themselves in their performance as councillors, in fact. Cllr Rowan Turner declared that claimants should attempt to lead 'fulfilling lives': Mrs Angry took the opportunity to remind the councillors of their own self awarded benefit, ie the big fat pay rise they voted through as soon as they came to power in 2010.
Labour's Gill Serjeant wanted to tell a story for the simple minded Tory councillors. It was about someone called Mrs A, she said - hello: that got everyone's attention, especially Mrs Angry. Mrs A was separated, with two children, and ... hold on, thought Mrs Angry ... but no, this Mrs A was a worthy woman, who left the house every morning to work as a carer, long hours, long journeys, struggling to support her family on low wages, but still in need of support in the form of benefit. It was a typical tale of our times, in fact, but fell absolutely on deaf ears: again, the Tories looked unmoved, bored: Gill sat down.
Next up - Bedroom Tax. Oh hell. Alison Moore tried again, valiantly. But the deeply unforgiving Tom Davey, who is Cabinet member for housing, would probably be the last person on God's earth to show any sympathy for those affected by this terrible policy. In written answer to an earlier question on housing allowance he had said:
'A large number of people believe the taxpayer should subsidise them to live in areas they cannot afford to live in, which is resulting in increases in claimants, This is grossly unfair to hard working taxpayers who live within their means.'
Davey is hard working: he is employed by British American Tobacco, and he lives within his means, with his mum and dad.
Have you got a room at the Ritz? enquired Mr Shepherd, safely returned to his usual pose, behind the Morning Star ...
Labour's councillor Sodha explained what it is like, from her experience as the parent of a disabled child, to need the extra space provided by a seemingly spare room. Davey appeared to be amused. Mrs Angry made an observation that was rather rude, at this point.
The matter of Barnet's disastrous LATC, 'Your Choice Barnet', a company set up to make profit out of providing care to residents with disabilities: yes, only in Barnet would they set up such a scheme, in the face of all warnings of the risk of failure, and then have to bail it out to the tune of £2 million in the first year. Cllr Rajput, to the accompaniment of shouting from the public gallery, thought we should be 'pleased' with Your Choice. The disastrous failure had been planned, as part of their cunning scheme. It would make a profit in its third year.
Mrs Angry was so incensed that she collared Cllr Rajput after the meeting and politely gave him the benefit (after careful assessment) of her opinion about this scandalous state of affairs. He was somewhat of a loss as how to respond. Perhaps that is because there is no honourable response to make.
The evening ended on a combative note, and too much yelling by Mrs Angry, provoked by a councillor who has been much overlooked, of late: yes, Brian Coleman. His questions are largely ignored, now, and motions not seconded by his former Tory colleagues. This is clearly galling. For some reason, at the end of last night's meeting, he wanted to raise, very crossly, the issue of a proposed fee for independent members of the new standards panel, which of course deals with complaints about members - a process with which he is not unfamiliar.
Why, he demanded, outraged, why should such a person receive a fee for their efforts? A magistrate ... a magistrate, he declared, with a gobsmacking example of Freudian slippage, or just perhaps a recently found interest in the duties of such a position, received no such payment.
Oh, how we laughed. Councillor Coleman is of course due to appear at Uxbridge Magistrates Court, on May 3rd, in order to answer charges relating to an alleged assault, which he denies.
Coleman distinguished himself yet again last night: enraged by heckling from the public gallery he spat out an accusation that Residents Forums had been censored because of the behaviour of, yes guess what, 'the sad, mad and bad' ... what about the old hags, yelled Mrs Angry? The Mayor, this time, took no time in censuring Coleman for his repeated insult. It seems our Brian has learnt nothing from his recent experiences, however, and will continue to behave in this way.
The meeting ended then. It had been a very long meeting.
It was of course Margaret Thatcher who first opened up council meetings to the public, and gave residents the right to attend such events. Here, in her own Town Hall, we do our best to take full advantage of this right, and hold our elected representatives to account.
Our Tory councillors, her successors, resent this bitterly, and do everything they can to resist the scrutiny of residents. It's no good, though: Coleman's reign is over, Margaret Thatcher is dead, and soon Thatcherism, and this Conservative administration, will also be a thing of the past.
It's only a matter of time, Margaret.