Monday, 24 June 2013

Flesh and the devil: another week in Broken Barnet

Are you married, or do you live in Hendon? Apologies to Noel Coward. And Greta Garbo.

 *Avanti updateFriday, see below

Another week in Broken Barnet, then. Ho hum. 

What's been happening, Mrs Angry?

Too much, and too little, and all of it in the wrong place. But that's enough about me. 

As for the other civic dignitaries of our beloved borough - yes, Mrs Angry is only one - well. They have been very busy, and very keen to tell us how busy they have been, as there is an election moving inexorably closer, like a horrible black cloud on the horizon, and the foretelling of the end of an era.

Take our heroic MP for Hendon, Matthew Offord, who has been busy all year thinking about same sex marriage. Not because he wants one, but because he opposes the very idea, as he believes marriage is meant to be for the purpose of 'procreation', which was God's plan for Adam and Eve, rather than endless trips to Ikea, arguments in Waitrose, throwing saucepans at each other and years of unbearable domestic strife. Who knew? Matthew Offord, apparently. He is an expert on marriage, since his own wedding three years ago, around the time of the last election, described here by the Barnet Bugle.

Dirty Dancing, Bugle?

Procreation, then. Mrs Angry has procreated, have you readers? Twice. Very difficult, apart from the first stage, but quite enjoyable, in the long run, all things considered.

If you have not, why not? But anyway, in the absence of children, please do not have sexual intercourse, or any idea about getting married, as this may upset your member of parliament, particularly if it involves any funny business between one man and another, or one woman and another. 

On the other hand, of course, the Hendon MP is quite interested by the idea of polygamy, and funny business between multiple spouses and thinks about that quite a lot too, and has even asked minister Maria Miller when this is going to be legalised, as we see here:


So if you fancy sharing your favours with more than one married partner (married to you, that is, obviously we are all busy sharing everyone else's) then go ahead. 

After all, in the old testament, that sort of arrangement was in favour with the Almighty. It was that spoilsport St Paul who came along and made marriage so boring, wasn't it? And put women in their rightful place, silenced, obedient, shaven headed, and on the same par as a slave, that is.

In this week's local Times, Mr Offord enlarges on his reasons for opposing same sex marriage - see here and now tells us it is wrong because -  "Same-sex marriage is an attack on religion".

This is puzzling, not least because the campaign for equal marriage is for a civil ceremony, not a religious one. 

Matthew Offord and the birds and the bees, all part of God's plan for procreation

But still: Matthew is clearly guided by his faith in the Almighty, and keen to do His will in the London Borough of Broken Barnet. He is also keen to bring the word of God into that place of iniquity, the council chamber, and has proposed a bill in Parliament to call for the re-introduction of prayers before council meetings, a practice which was banned, apparently, by the High Court last year, although as usual Barnet Council pays little attention to what happens in the High Court, and has carried on regardless - see Mrs Angry's post on the last full council meeting,

where we all stood and watched our shameless councillors bow their heads and pretend to humble themselves before the Lord, whilst preparing to carry on as normal, scheming and plotting and fighting amongst themselves, and selling us all into slavery with Capita. That at least is compliant with St Paul's teachings, mind you, so should meet with approval by our elected members.

Matthew Offord should perhaps show his face at a few council meetings, and see for himself that due respect is indeed shown to the God he worries about so much, even though Mrs Angry is pretty sure, from the unmistakeable smell of sulphur and brimstone that wafts around the corridors and out of the Town Hall entrance, that someone else entirely is in charge of the London Borough of Broken Barnet. Yes, even before the official handover to Crapita.

Says Matthew:

I feel there is a clear trend of attacking religion at the moment. I believe, for example with the introduction of the gay marriage bill, that people are considered freakish if they believe in religion. 

Reading prayers of any religion before meetings is something members of my constituency feel is important. It is something I always liked and I was upset when it was banned.” 

Hmm. Actually, Mrs Angry thinks Matthew's constituents might have other issues that they consider to be rather more important, but he is bargaining on being a man of faith and opposing same sex marriage as bringing the electoral support he will need to win this most marginal of London consituencies in the next election. 

He seems to have overlooked the fact that the sizeable number of gay constituents in Hendon feel it it important to be given equal rights in law to marriage with the partner of their choice, and not necessarily only a choice approved of by Matthew Offord. 

To be fair, he may care more about following his principles than losing his seat at the next election, and that would be a rare but courageous path to follow.

Finchley and Golders Green MP Mike Freer ploughs a different furrow entirely to his Hendon colleague, particularly on the issue of equal marriage, which has caused something of an awkward schism between the two former Barnet councillors.

Since his election, Freer has chosen to be open about his own sexuality, and the next election will also tell if this honesty will be paid for in votes lost to the type of bigoted voter Offord thinks he must depend on.

Offord asks a range of wildly diverse questions in Parliament, on a range of subjects from the fate of elderly cod, to the future for polar bears, whereas the Finchley MP is rather less active, and perhaps more focussed, recently being - in contrast to Offord - eloquent in supporting the progress of the equal marriage bill. 

This is perfectly understandable, but his constituents in Finchley might well wish that he address with equal dedication other issues that also concern the residents of this constituency, such as the increasingly elusive provision of accessible healthcare, the result of government policy and the NHS 'reforms' which he has so stoutly defended in parliament. 

He remains curiously silent too, on the subject of One Barnet, the programme of mass privatisation foisted on the borough in the course of, or rather under the pretext of the continutation of Freer's 'easycouncil' soundbite concept. 

Freer would do well to adopt some active issues to remind the residents of this constituency that he is a. our MP and b. working on our behalf. He cannot afford to be complacent: although his seat might appear safer than Offord's, Labour has two excellent possible candidates for election in Finchley and Golders Green in Alon Or-Bach and Sarah Sackman, both engaging, highly intelligent and dedicated political activists who would be very worthy representatives of their community. 

One issue on which members of all political parties in this borough appear to agree is that of the proposed 'Avanti' free school in the Broadfields area of Edgware. This is a Hindu faith school from Harrow, which will cater for more than 1600 pupils, is seeking to relocate to another site, and has chosen one which is in a residential area bordering the green belt, with no public transport and terrible access. 

Mrs Angry grew up in this area, and knows it very well indeed, and  spent a year at the old Broadfields primary school that was once located here. Even in those Janet and John days, with far fewer cars, the surrounding roads would become blocked at school times, and parking caused enormous difficulties for residents.

Quite why no suitable site for a Harrow school is available in Harrow is something of a mystery, but clearly the majority of pupils will be obliged to travel some distance to get to Broadfields, and inevitably by car.

In an already congested area, the effect on the area is predictable, and has been loudly opposed by local residents and their representatives. The Broadfields and Fairways sites had been earmarked by an earlier Tory administration for residential developments only: a reasonable proposal, and in keeping with the area if only on the basis of no greater increase in traffic. 

One might hope that the Mayor of London, so keenly aware of the housing shortage in the capital, and locally in this borough, would want to support such development, but of course there is much more political satisfaction in promoting the free school mania which infects our Tory politicians, especially those ex Etonians who like to dictate to the rest of us who are rather less privileged as to how we should educate our children.

Guess who has decided that opposition must be entirely due to innate racism, rather than a desire not to see an inappropriate development in their neighbourhood? Yes, himself, former Tory councillor Brian Coleman, who recently wrote a nasty blogpost which puzzled Mrs Angry, with its unfortunate reference to JCoSS, (whose opponents, rather reprehensibly, were labelled as anti-semites), as 'Jewish Cross Secondary School'. The link with Avanti is unexpected, perhaps, but here we are: former trustee of JCoSS Ben Rich is now a governor of Avanti, whose website includes his profile with the 'Jewish Cross' gaffe, which Coleman has clearly copied unthinkingly.

Ethnic diversity and the support of disadvantaged minorities is a cause notably embraced by Coleman, of course, as you can see in his latest post where he refers to a 'shanty town' of 'Roumanian and mostly illegal casual workers' living in the former Hendon football club, and recalls with nostalgia the time when he and some Tory colleagues dealt with ruthless efficiency with 'a spate of Irish traveller invasions of greenbelt land in Totteridge' - yes, outrageous: in Totteridge

Coleman, Mrs Coleman and Finchley MP Mike Freer enjoying each other's company at yesterday's East Finchley Festival

He fails to mention that gypsies and travellers have absolutely nowhere legally to stop in this borough, even for one night, as the council refuses to make even the most basic provision for them, and did so in defiance of the law for many years when there was a statutory obligation to do so. Still, as we know, the Daily Mail inspired monstering and persecution of such marginalised people is perfectly acceptable, and nothing to do with racism.

On Wednesday, the Avanti issue was discussed at the London Assembly. The Mayor, Boris Johnson, who rarely visits this borough, unless an election is in the offing, also took it upon himself to insult those residents who object to the plans, not this time as racists, but as 'Nimbys', who 'disliked school children'. 

Boris does not dislike children, of course, and has procreated several times, as we know, also thanks to the Daily Mail. Birds and bees. That's how it works.

Still, at least he is alleging that the people of the Broadfields area - which has always had a large Jewish population, including increasingly more members of the charedi community - are motivated by a general loathing for all children, rather than those from one faith or ethnic minority. This is the classier, public school version of a tactical smear, see? 

At the meeting held earlier this year for residents who are concerned about the imposition of such a development in the Broadfields site, there was an enormous response from the local community, from local councillors of all parties, MP Offord, and Labour AM Andrew Dismore, who commented this week:

We now know exactly what Boris Johnson thinks about the people of Edgware and Mill Hill. He has again shown a complete lack of understanding of the problems his Government’s planning policies have created.  His obsession with free schools has been shown to be a chaotic experiment which provides no local places for local children, but only disruption, inconvenience and traffic jams for local residents, whose views and opinions he has casually tossed aside.

As well as insulting local residents he has yet to respond to a letter I sent to him in May suggesting an alternative site for Avanti House Free School. The Mayor could use his powers and extensive land bank to help solve this local crisis, but has so far failed to do so.”

No one seems to have considered, incidentally, the potential impact of such an unmanageable inflow of traffic on those attending funerals at the Jewish cemetery in neighbouring Edgwarebury Lane, just behind the site.

The wards affected by the Broadfields development plans and the temporary site at Fairway in Mill Hill are Conservative, and vulnerable to challenge in the next election. Edgware is represented by self proclaimed Thatcherite Helena Hart, the tremulous Joan Scannell, and Darrell Yawitch (who he?), and even wobblier Hale ward is graced by the attentions of Hugh Rayner, with, oh dear: Tom Davey, and - oh dear again, Brian Gordon, who is alleged to have seen what is coming and decided to stand in Edgware ward rather than his old stomping ground.
Boris Johnson's comments serve only to underline the fatal disconnection with the Tories' own heartland, the suburban voters of Broken Barnet. Upset the voters of Broadfields, as well as all the other Tory voters you have already alienated by the events of the last few years, especially the idiotic parking scheme, and you will lose the next election. 

Boris Johnson won't care about that: the loss of Barnet council in 2014 has already been predicted by party strategists, and he won't be standing again for Mayor anyway, but the impact of the Avanti development here in Edgware and Mill Hill will also create more concern for retaining Hendon in the general election. It all depends whether or not they think that too is a lost cause. 

No wonder Matthew Offord is trying to keep God on his side, if not Boris: he's going to have to rely rather heavily on divine intervention in the course of the next couple of years, Mrs Angry suspects. 

*Updated Friday 28th - Avanti School

Here is an interesting development in the Avanti saga: an alternative site, perfectly suitable, more accessible, and ten times larger, yet it appears to have been dismissed due to being, erm - too small. 

What's going on? 

See the press release from AM Andrew Dismore: 

Avanti: Government and Barnet Council need to go back to school

Andrew Dismore, Labour London Assembly member for Barnet and Camden, has today published the response he has received from Government  free schools minister  Lord Nash,  (attached).

Mr Dismore said:

I suggested to the Council, the Mayor of London and the Government, they should make available to Avanti part of the soon to be vacated land on the MOPAC owned  and  Mayor Johnson controlled Peel Centre police training college site in Colindale. Lord Nash says:

“We have had preliminary discussions with Barnet Council to establish whether the
MOPAC site could be suitable for Avanti House Free School. From the information
available, it seems that it may not be large enough for the schools requirements”

But the Peel Centre site to be sold is 54.36 acres, whilst  the Broadfields site  is just  4.4 acres and the Fairway site is only 3.7 acres, a mere fraction of the Peel  Centre land soon to be disposed of and available. If the school seems to think that amount of land is enough for them, why did Barnet Council, in their “preliminary discussions” with the Government, suggest the Peel Centre site was too small?

There seems to be either a breakdown in communication between the Council, the Mayor, the school, and the Government, or they need to go back to school to learn some basic geometry and arithmetic on how to calculate area sizes.

The Mayor said he wanted to use redundant police stations and land for free schools, so what is wrong with this site? It is ideal: it already has plenty of open space and even a running track, and the road and transport links are far easier.

The suspicion must be that something fishy is  going on. Surely the suggestion of using the Peel Centre land for a free school instead of yet more housing overdevelopment is not being refused because it interferes with the Conservatives’ social engineering housing experiment in Colindale?

Whilst the Minister says that both the Fairway and Broadfields sites are “only options”, time is running out for the school’s planned and necessary move in September into temporary premises.

Are they planning, with the connivance of the Conservative Council, to take advantage of the age old dodgy developers’ trick by fast tracking a planning application during the Summer holidays, when the opportunity for most people to object will be much less- even on the very restricted remaining grounds still available after the Government watered down the planning rules, to the detriment of local communities and the benefit of free school proprietors?

It’s time for the Government , Mayor, Barnet Council and school to play fair with local residents and say just what they have been up to in secret behind the scenes.”


Don't Call Me Dave said...

As Oscar Wilde said: Bigamy is having one wife too many. Monogamy is the same.

Mrs Angry said...

Pushing on an open door, DCMD.

Anonymous said...

I don't dispute the thrust of your argument but if memory serves Mr Freer entered a civil partnership while still a member of Barnet Council and has been open about his sexuality for many years.

Mrs Angry said...

I don't know about the date of the partnership, I do know there was no mention of his partner in the election material I saw, which was very disappointing.