*Updated Monday 13th May: Coleman to be expelled by Tory party? See below
Yesterday the five Barnet bloggers issued an open challenge to Tory leader Richard Cornelius, calling for him to speak out about the conviction last Friday of his former colleague Brian Coleman of the offence of common assault, by beating, of Finchley cafe owner Helen Michael - see previous post:
Let's republish the letter here:
On Friday 3 May Councillor Brian Coleman pleaded guilty to the charge of common assault by beating of Helen Michael, in the High Road in North Finchley. Evidence from CCTV was shown in court and proved incontrovertibly that this incident was nothing less than an utterly indefensible act of aggression. It resulted from Councillor Coleman being caught parking in a loading bay, trying to evade the hugely controversial parking payment scheme he had imposed on residents in this borough.
Despite the fact that he has now been convicted of a criminal act of assault, Barnet Council has refused to comment, absurdly claiming that this is unnecessary as the attack did not take place while the Councillor was on council business.
Indeed local Tory members, including leader Richard Cornelius, openly continued to support their fellow member after he was charged, and were privately informing others that the story of the assault was false. Councillor Coleman was suspended from the party only after intervention from Conservative Central Office. Since the conviction, local Conservatives have issued no statement.
By his own actions Councillor Coleman has shown himself to be unfit for public office: such bullying behaviour, dishonesty and hypocrisy are not acceptable in an elected representative of the community.
We demand therefore that he stand down from his seat in Totteridge, and that the Conservative Party expel him from membership.
We call on Richard Cornelius, as leader of Barnet Council, and on behalf of the Conservative Party in this borough, to apologise to Ms Michael, and to dissociate himself and his colleagues from this appalling incident.
To remain silent is not an option: to remain silent is to condone an act of violence against a woman, and this was and must always be absolutely unacceptable.
Within a couple of hours of this being published, a statement was issued by deputy leader Daniel Thomas, quoted in the local Times here :
“Party officials will be meeting soon to conclude the issue of Cllr Coleman's membership, which remains suspended. There is an internal process to follow. The Conservative Party deems conviction of assault an extremely serious matter.”
You will note that no statement was issued, as it should have been, in reaction to the conviction, until forced to bow to pressure.
That a council would refuse to comment on the pretext, given last week, that the violent assault by a councillor bore no relevance to his elected role, and that the Tories would choose to remain silent until five days after the trial, and then only to appear to defer any decision to another source, is utterly shameful.
If the Conservative Party deems conviction of assault to be an extremely serious matter, why was it not deemed so on Friday?
In today's local Times, opposition councillors have spoken here of their astonishment at the reaction of local Tories to the case: Labour's Councillor Barry Rawlings said:
“If there is any justice in this world, this will be the end of his political career. If assaulting residents doesn’t end your career, you have to wonder what you have to do.”
Libdem councillor Jack Cohen commented:
“The whole reputation of the council is at stake. His career is pretty much over.
I was astonished when I heard about the allegations and when I saw the CCTV footage of the assault, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’ve never seen anything like it, or anything approaching it, in 25 years on the council – it’s truly remarkable.
He’s never apologised for anything but a little bit of humility from Councillor Coleman would go down well at the moment.”
Strong words: 'the whole reputation of the council is at stake': but true - and of course the changes to the standards' regime, thanks to Eric Pickles, and thanks to the local decision not to predict the need for the discipline of independent councillors, means that there is really no effective sanction which can be imposed on Coleman through any council procedure.
Brian Coleman remains as councillor for Totteridge, even though he is suspended from membership of the Conservative party. He may continue in this role, albeit as an independent councillor, because although he was convicted of a criminal offence, he did not receive a prison sentence. His presence on the council until the next election, of course, will be a gift to the opposition, and a source of continuing anxiety, embarrassment - and danger - for the Tories.
What of the longer view of the future, however? What of his suspended membership? Can he stand again as a candidate for the Conservative Party?
It is not impossible, believe it or not.
Mrs Angry understands that the decision as to whether Coleman can renew his membership may well be left to the local association to decide. This does not prevent central party officials intervening, as they did before, of course.
It would appear that the only way a candidate is barred from standing is if he or she is not on the list of candidates approved by the local government committee. It has even been suggested that one does not have to have membership of the party to stand as a candidate ...
Brian Coleman still has his loyal admirers within the foetid mass of Tory councillors in Broken Barnet, boneheaded fools who would stand by him whatever he did. He also has friends in the Camden half of his former GLA constituency. His agent there was the only supporter to attend court last week - a brave thing to do, in the circumstances.
These diehards are in the minority, however. Most of the others now realise the extent of damage that his behaviour does to their own electoral prospects - but still they lack the guts or the integrity to criticise what he has done. Many of these councillors privately insisted before the trial that Helen Michael's version of events was false: naturally they are reluctant to admit that they were wrong, now that the CCTV footage has proven that she was telling the truth, and that Coleman was not.
So we have waited in vain for the response from his former colleagues which this appalling behaviour demands: a swift condemnation of Coleman's act of assault, and an immediate expulsion from the Conservative Party. The beating of a woman, in the high street, in full view of witnesses, and a camera, is apparently not sufficiently serious to warrant this reaction.
Why has no Tory councillor - not a single one - spoken publicly about the incident since the trial, and sought to distance themselves from what was an appalling act of aggression against a female resident?
Because this is how they are: cowardly, misogynistic, putting their warped perception of local party loyalty before any consideration of decency, integrity, or respect for their residents.
Their failure to condemn is because they saw in him what they are too, or what they aspire to be: utterly self-serving, remorseless, victorious: defiant.
This is Broken Barnet, where the enduring legacy of Margaret Thatcher, the true face, the ugly, brutish face of suburban Conservatism, has crawled back home to die.
It's a horrible sight, isn't it?
Finchley resident David Stephenson wrote to the central Conservative party about Coleman's conviction, demanding to know what action the party would be taking. Today he received a reply which states the position in the clearest terms:
Thank you for your email. Brian Coleman is no longer a Conservative Councillor. The whip was removed from him when he was charged. It will not be restored. He has not been a member of the Conservative Party since he was charged with an offence as his membership was suspended at that time. A process of expulsion will now follow.
Field Director - South (Eastern, London and South East Regions)
Coleman's career as a Conservative politician is over.
It's been a long time coming.
Oh. Just one thing: like all good horror stories, the ending to this tale may not be quite as definitive as we might hope. Asked how long it would take to expel Brian Coleman from membership, Mr Sanderson replied:
It would depend on the availability of the voluntary members of the local Association. As a suspended member has no more involvement in the Party than an expelled member it is not particularly time-sensitive.
Hmm. In other words, no hurry, chaps, carry on as normal? Not for Coleman, whose grip on power is lost, but let's see how long it takes the local Tories to find themselves 'available' to do the honourable thing, and kick him out, shall we?
Just staggering: local Tory sources have been bending Mrs Angry's delicate ear, this lunchtime, with complaints that far from being ready to act responsibly and acknowledge the seriousness of Coleman's behaviour, the councillors, MPs and members of local Conservative Associations are still arguing about his future.
Mrs Angry understands that our ubiquitous councillor is a member of many Tory associations, including the three within Barnet, ie Chipping, Hendon and Finchley.
Chipping Barnet Conservative Association is reported to be meeting tonight to vote Coleman off the list of approved candidates in their territory, but Hendon still have him as their Vice President and, it is said, plan to do nothing at all.
Likewise Finchley and Golders Green Conservatives will be likely to sit back and carry on as normal. We believe that our local MP Mike Freer is not awfully comfortable with this idea.
This needs confirmation - but if true, it is really the most serious indictment of the standards upheld, or rather not upheld, by the Tory party in Barnet.
Tory Central Office want rid of Coleman: quite evidently his behaviour has breached the requirement to do nothing as a member that brings the party into disrepute.
Back in the heartlands of Tory Broken Barnet, however, it is apparently held that a criminal conviction for a violent offence perpetrated against a female resident in the street is perfectly acceptable, and should neither deprive a councillor of membership of their party, nor necessarily preclude him from standing as a candidate in at least two of the areas of the borough, or indeed elsewhere.
The scene is set, like a Jacobean tragedy, with all the elements of malice, intrigue, revenge and moral corruption - on the stage our local Tories plot, and fight amongst themselves, as we in the audience look on, in horror.
In the end, if they fail to deal with Coleman, waiting in the wings are the men from Conservative Central Office, who have been reading this post today, and who will intervene, if necessary.
That it may be necessary at all is simply beyond belief.
Mrs Angry asked her MP, Mr Mike Freer, for his view:
I am writing to you to ask if it is true that disgraced councillor Brian Coleman is still a member of the Finchley and Golders Green Conservative Association, despite his recent criminal conviction, and the remarks by Conservative Central Office that he would be expelled from membership of the party?
I am sure that I am not the only resident of this constituency who is dismayed to see the wall of silence from local Conservatives protecting Cllr Coleman after his conviction for assault. Political differences aside, surely any act of violence perpetrated by a man on a woman is something that is utterly contemptible and should be condemned?
When it is an admitted act by an elected member of the council on a resident, in a public street, all the more reason to speak out and distance local Conservatives from such appalling behaviour, one would hope.
To be fair to Freer, he always responds quickly to Mrs Angry: he said -
Cllr Coleman is not a conservative councillor nor is he a member of Finchley and Golders Green Conservatives. His expulsion from the party has to follow due process and is a matter for Chipping Barnet Conservative Association.
Hmm. Mrs Angry responded:
Thank you for your reply: I think people are confused because he is a member of many constituencies, and central office are implying it is up to individual associations to deal with his membership.
Let's see if that provokes a reply.
Curiouser and curiouser: in response to a query by Mrs Angry regarding Coleman and Hendon constituency, Councillor Hugh Rayner claimed last night:
Brian is neither a member nor a Vice President of the HCA.
Indeed, at time of writing he is not even a member of the Conservative Party
So: MP Mike Freer tells us that Coleman is due to be expelled from the party, but Tory councillor Hugh Rayner insists he is not a member of the party.
Neither MP nor councillor took the opportunity given by Mrs Angry to comment on or to explain the failure by local Conservatives to condemn the assault on a female resident which led to their former colleague's conviction.