Wednesday, 11 September 2013
A canopy of peace: the first Full Council meeting in Capitaville
Brian Coleman sits alone in the chamber before the meeting
Updated: Coleman's revenge - see below:
It was with a heavy heart that Mrs Angry trundled up the steps of the Town Hall last night, to the council chamber, and a front seat in the public gallery. She really did not want to go, and would much rather have stayed at home, watching Mary Berry, in that tent, being kind to incompetent bakers dropping cakes on the floor, and crying, or swearing like dockers. Just like the home life of Mrs Angry, in short.
But no, duty called, and indeed there was a certain amount of temptation in the form of one particular item on the agenda: the recommended censure of Councillor Brian Coleman, for the disrespect he had shown to two members of the public, who had made complaints to the new Standards-lite Group Panel which has the power, if it so chooses, to punish naughty councillors with a fearful sanction. Being censured ... at Full Council. This dreadful fate is enough to bring the most blackhearted member to heel, of course: unless the blackhearted member's name is Brian Coleman.
Poor Brian, expelled from the Tory party, has become persona non grata with his former colleagues, and obliged to sit apart from them, banished from the delights of the Conservative members' room and its sumptuous catering facilities. As Mrs Angry arrived in the chamber, he was indeed sitting forlornly on his own, in his new place: her spies informed her he had, however, been somewhat comforted by a kiss from his former helpmate, the Director of Plaice, Ms Pam Wharfe.
You may be wondering if senior officers of the London Borough of ReBarnet are allowed to kiss members, or even Tory councillors. Backsides, clearly. Mrs Angry has checked the new Capitaville Code of Corporate Conduct and, yes: it allows for bowing, kowtowing, manly handshakes, naked wrestling, and short embraces of a platonic and professional nature, with no conflicts of interest, and no tongues, so clearly no protocol has been breached, and the golden thread is still intact.
Before the mildly attractive prospect of seeing the old fool get into yet more self created trouble, and delight us all with his preposterous behaviour, we must sit through hours of torment in the shape of an agenda from hell: shaped by fiends intent on mortifying our civic pride with motions on royal babies, and local boxers, and back slapping self congratulations about our schools' exam results.
As usual we started with prayers. At these Full Council pantomimes, Mrs Angry refuses to stand up as demanded for the entry of the Mayor, footmen, pumpkins and mice, but does stand for the Chaplain, so as not to cause offence (look at Mrs Angry, not wanting to cause offence ...) and is always struck with a sense of sinful pleasure at the sight of rank hypocrisy by the Tory councillors, bowing their heads and nodding as the Rabbi invokes the blessings of the Almighty. Last night we heard a plea for 'a canopy of peace'. Amen, said Mrs Angry, hands fervently clasped, but rather hoping the Almighty wasn't listening, as that would spoil the evening's entertainment.
Time for the councillors' questions: how many times has the Mayor's limo broken down in the last six months? Answer, twice. Disgraceful.
Question about the amount of pension fund money is invested in the tobacco industry? The shameful percentage adds up to erm, possibly around 2%, but as Mrs Angry is practically disnumerate, she would need to ask Cllr Rams, who is an expert statistician - explaining only this week to grateful residents that 14 out of 15 libraries with wifi represents 99% of the total.
Libdem Councillor Jack Cohen wanted to know about 'beds in sheds', but Mrs Angry was not sure why. Rather a lot of men would be quite keen to move into their sheds, of course, and ignore their wives and families, and live happily ever after at the end of the garden, and perhaps Jack is contemplating such a move. Or perhaps Libdem policy, post welfare cuts, is to encourage those struggling with the bedroom tax to think more creatively?
Councillor Coleman's questions are usually relegated to the bin, as they end up at the very end of the session, and there is never time for them. By some chance, last night the usual filibustering by other councillors failed, and his questions did come up for supplementaries.
How many pictures, he asked, currently form part of the Council Art Collection, and what is their estimated value?
Replied Cornelius ... I suspect portraits of past council dignataries would not be easily sold.
Mrs Angry had a vision of a particular portrait, hanging at the top of the Town Hall stairs, the one she is often tempted to improve with the use of a marker pen, and which appears to be ageing horribly, in the manner of Dorian Grey, as its tantrum prone owner reverts to ever more infantile status. No: not likely to make much on ebay. Anyway, we have museums and libraries to sell off first, haven't we?
Oh. Done that.
Oh God, now on to the main event of the evening. No, not the ceremonial punishment of Councillor Coleman, but a motion celebrating the royal birth.
Readers will probably be unaware of this, but recently the wife of the heir to the heir to the throne had a lovely baby, and this is more important than anything else that is happening in this borough, and had to be debated for a full thirty minutes, yes, thirty minutes, as the main motion of the Conservative Party. Even if this was a valid issue to mention at a council meeting, thought Mrs Angry, what is there to debate? Send Andrew Travers to WHSmith and tell him to buy a fecking card, if you're that bothered.
Veteran republican Mr Shepherd got up, grabbed his bag of clippings from the Morning Star, and left the chamber in disgust.
Several members of the public, and local representatives of the press, followed him and remained outside in protest.
It is not often, said Tory leader Cornelius, that the late King Farouk of Egypt is quoted in this chamber ...
Oh: true, thought Mrs Angry, not often enough ... let me count the number of speeches in which such references have occurred over the last few months ... hmm ...
Nope: it's been a while.
"The whole world is in revolt. Soon there will be only five Kings left — the King of England, the King of Spades, the King of Clubs, the King of Hearts, and the King of Diamonds."
But then, what did he know: Farouk was notorious for his ineffectual governance of a notorious administration and Councillor Cornelius - oh.
You might think that as this was only ten days after the Capitalisation of our council services, we might want to mark that momentous event as well, but no: and quite the reverse - all the jiggery-pokery last night was displacement activity to divert attention from that very realisation.
We may have sold our staff and our services into bondage with a profiteering private sector company, but life in la-la land goes on as normal.
It is the decadence of the ancien regime, turning its back on the baying mob, and retreating to Versailles.
The baying mob always gets its way, in the end, of course.
Citoyen Coleman, shortly to be up before the Tribunal, who would soon be pleading for the last remaining traces of his reputation to be spared the indignity of Mme Guillotine, played for time by adding his own monarchist gush to the proceedings.
In the course of his ramblings, he reminisced over the visits by royalty to the borough, including, he said, to St Michael's Catholic Grammar school. This was the first of four mentions of Mrs Angry's old school by Brian, and Mrs Angry can only conclude what many are now openly thinking: that Brian ... you know, has a bit of a thing about her, and has become overwhelmed with gratitude for the place of her education, tenderly provided by the Sisters of the Poor Child Jesus.
Later on in the evening the Tory councillors indulged in yet another orgy of back slapping, self congratulatory hogwash over recent school exam results. The truth is that all the best schools in this borough are highly selective, and full of pupils from out of the borough, and most significantly have used such selective entry to produce perfectly predictable high results with little or no help from the local authority.
Still, another compliment for St Michael's from Coleman. Laughter as Labour's Cllr Mc Guirk reminded him she is an Old Girl. Even more laughter when he is informed that a certain blogger in the gallery is also an ex-pupil. Well, snapped Coleman: we all make mistakes.
At least I managed to get into a grammar school, unlike you, Brian, taunted Mrs Angry, with a cheery smile thrown across the room at the man who went to QEBoys when it was a ... pah ... a comprehensive ...
At last we reached the main event: the Mayor introduced the item regarding a recommendation that Cllr Coleman be censured for his behaviour demonstrating a failure to show respect to two residents, Paul Merchant and Dr Julia Hines.
In the first instance Coleman, at a council committee meeting had called Mr Merchant a 'twat', and in the second, the complaint referred to an exchange of emails between the councillor and Dr Hines. She had, as well as Labour leader Alison Moore, objected to Coleman's offensive remark addressed to women in the public gallery (including Dr Hines, and Mrs Angry), as 'sad mad and a couple of hags'.
Coleman (centre, white shirt) listens to Daniel Thomas dismiss his appeal
The 'hags' complaint was dismissed, due to the apparent uncertainty of the panel as to whom it referred - although more likely because in Tory Barnet such offensive language directed at women is looked on with indifference - but the other complaints were upheld and the sanction was for the member now to be censured. Coleman had appealed, so this would be decided now by vote at the meeting.
Prior to the meeting, Coleman had circulated to all councillors an email making further allegations regarding Dr Hines. This was quite properly ignored in these proceedings.
Given the opportunity to speak in defence of his appeal, Coleman complained he had not been allowed a lawyer at the hearing, which is why he had not attended. He blamed the complaints, predictably, on a party political campaign, made more ludicrous allegations about one of the complainants, including a claim that she had 'applied to follow me on twitter', as if that was a process as formal as joining the civil service, and an expression of admiration for his views, rather than done in order to see what the man might be saying about her.
It was not one of Coleman's best performances: he seemed to sense that for once, he was totally without support.
Councillors looked on sheepishly. His former colleagues, even those who still secretly keep close to him, did nothing, but sat in craven silence. Deputy Leader Dan Thomas, whose job it was to speak on behalf of the disciplinary panel, seemed ridiculously nervous. He assured his erstwhile senior member that this action was not a concerted effort to tarnish his reputation. No need, thought Mrs Angry: he has managed that perfectly without your help.
The appeal was dismissed. Coleman sat facing the gallery, his face rigid with fury. The vote was in favour, 39 councillors voting their approval.
As Coleman's long term friend and colleague, Mayor Melvin Cohen, began to read out the formal reading of the censure, he simply got up and walked out, showing yet again complete disrespect for council procedure, and the obligation he owes to those he represents, and to the standards expected, or that used to be expected, of those in public life.
Coleman will not acknowledge the uncomfortable truth: that his present circumstances are entirely the result of his own arrogance and boorish behaviour.
Such behaviour is directed by a rampant narcissism that refuses to accept that he is not above the rules which apply to others; that insists that his judgement is the only one that counts, and that drives him to treat with such contempt the people whom he has been elected to serve.
His fall from grace is a personal tragedy, and really, ultimately, one should feel sympathy for him. But his disgrace is one that was assisted by the weakness and cowardice of his Tory colleagues, who failed to restrain his rudeness and confrontational behaviour, and allowed themselves to be bullied into supporting his reckless, ruthless policies.
At no point have they apologised for his behaviour, or distanced themselves from the incident involving Helen Michael, even after he was convicted of the criminal assault by beating of her in the street.
Brian Coleman is their dark animus, the representation of everything that is wrong with the Conservative inversion of the democratic process in this borough.
The disregard that he shows for the feelings and opinions of others is the logical extension of their philosophy: they do not care about the views of their electorate, and they are incapable of empathising with the needs of those less fortunate, the disadvantaged, the citizens of the real world. And they have been happy to sit back, shrugging,and let Coleman act as he does, just as they are content to see us fall victim to Capita's predation, because we are of no account.
This is only week two, in Capitaville.
It's all shaping up nicely, though, isn't it?
As Mrs Angry left the Town Hall on Tuesday night, she was followed by her two blushing Tory admirers, Cllrs John Marshall, and Andrew Harper. Trying to avoid squeezing through the automatic doors with either of them, she attempted to distract their attention with the helpful suggestion that the sanction system would be a lot more effective - not to say enjoyable - if they were to act like true blue Tories, and introduce a form of censure based on corporal punishment.
Except, added Mrs Angry, hastily, as their eyes twinkled thoughtfully, that some councillors might enjoy that sort of thing rather too much.
A member of the local press, passing by, enthusiastically suggested the use of the type of disciplinary accessory available in certain niche market suppliers. Not as innocent as he looks, that boy.
Mrs Angry imagines that many Tory councillors will be thinking along the same lines as her this afternoon, after hearing about their former colleague Brian Coleman's latest outrage.
People often wonder why Barnet Tories have been so reluctant to restrain Coleman's antics before now, when they have been forced to do so by central party pressure, and by the increasingly bizarre behaviour he exhibits.
Coleman has boasted more than once that he knows 'where the bodies are buried' - and now he has begun to dig them up.
Today he published a blogpost, to which Mrs Angry has no intention of putting a link, in which he attempts to expose all or at least some of the personal secrets of his former fellow party members.
In the course of a litany of sensational accusations and malevolent tittle-tattle, he has outed two allegedly gay colleagues, and made allegations of a drink driving offence against another.
He has of course been less savage with the few members who still support him, in secret: and his motive is clear - as he told the Barnet Press, in the most extraordinarily childish outburst:
“I wrote it because of the way they voted on Tuesday night. They didn't have to vote to censure me. Of course, it's revenge. Revenge is a dish best served cold and I haven't finished yet.”
Coleman's meltdown is truly horrifying: not so much in the damage he is trying to do to others, as in the extent of his own self immolation.
If he has any real friends, they should be acting to intervene, and to help him turn his undoubted talent for destruction to a more positive purpose. That is, however, Mrs Angry suspects, very unlikely to be the final outcome of this particular story.