Thursday 3 April 2014

Go home Boris: we don't want you here: When the Mayor came to Broken Barnet - and how it all went horribly wrong

Welcome to Broken Barnet, Boris

Last night Mrs Angry had the great misfortune to have to sit through a Barnet council cabinet meeting, in the course of which Jasmin Parsons, a representative of residents in West Hendon, made a courageous attempt to hold the Tory councillors to account for the appalling treatment of leaseholders and tenants living on the doomed estates around the Welsh Harp. (Full report in the next post).

These estate buildings are due to be demolished, while Barratt Homes create 'Hendon Waterside' around them, a luxury private development. 

Those living on the estate have faced an uncertain future for years, and still face an uncertain future: many are unsecured tenants, and others are leaseholder now faced with an extortionate claim for payment of £10,000 in maintenance costs for a property about to be knocked down, and for work that should have been the responsibility of the authority. 

The tenants do not know how long they will be living there, or where they will go, or when they will go. Except for a privileged few, who are to be moved into a building in the most polluted, unpleasant part of the site, none of the current residents will be able to stay in their own community.

A revolutionary thought, to greet the Mayor. Don't panic: it'll never catch on here in Tory Barnet.

This is how the Tories have chosen to prioritise their housing policy: the encouragement of private development, and the avoidance of anything other than statutory responsibility to the homeless, the disadvantaged, the poor of this borough, deserving, or undeserving - it's all the same to Cabinet member Tom Davey, and leader Richard Cornelius. 

As Davey has said: you must live within your means. If you can't afford to live in Barnet - tough. He is happy to see the penthouses of 'Hendon Waterside' filled with Russian oligarchs, because in this borough we want only the 'well off', who do not depend on council services.

Ah, but it is unfair to say the Tories have completely turned their back on the issue of social housing, Mrs Angry. 

Just in time for the election, and after a mere twenty two years of waiting, they have managed to build not one, not two, but three new council homes. One is made of brick, one is made of sticks, and one is made of straw. 

No room for little piggies, but the lucky tenants who have been decanted into them will be allowed to stay in their new homes for FIVE YEARS! 

Isn't that kind of Councillor Davey, whose new rules forbid the granting of longer contracts to new tenants? No problem: the children will enjoy the challenge of being thrown out of their homes, faced with changing schools, leaving their friends behind, and managing without any sense of being rooted in a community. 

And so today the big bad wolf himself, the Mayor of London, was invited to come to Broken Barnet, to officially open the new houses, and provide a lovely photo opportunity for the philanthropic, visionary Tory councillors who are so desperate for a good news story to distract the ungrateful voters of our borough from their catastrophic record over the last four years.

Boris' only fan: Tory councillor Kate Salinger tries to cheer Boris up

Oh dear.

Things didn't quite go according to plan, sadly.

Mrs Angry thought she would join some local residents and Labour activists who were going to go to the opening. A protest had been planned: might be fun to watch ... 

So off she went this morning, with a handful of Labour councillors and candidates, to Alexandra Road, in Muswell Hill: literally on the border line between Barnet and Haringey.

Barnet Homes had thoughtfully laid on a modest reception and buffet in a small community centre - the aptly named 'Freehold Centre' - on the Haringey side of the road. We wandered in, Mrs Angry as usual deploying her try and stop me if you dare smile and cheekily adding her name to the guest list. 

Inside a number of Barnet Homes officers stood watching us anxiously, keen to make conversation, but not certain who we were, luckily. A couple of these officers explained that they were keen to start engaging and communicating with Barnet Homes tenants. Oh. Good idea. Bit late for the people in West Hendon, though, isn't it, asked Mrs Angry? 

It emerged that the two residents groups there were largely unknown to them, which is an astonishing admission, after all the years of campaigning that have taken place. But as we know, consultation, in Barnet, generally takes place after any given event, or decision, if at all.

One rather po faced senior officer from Barnet Homes, who had been at last night's meeting and recognised the infiltrator Mrs Angry, called a policewoman into the room, whispering furiously about her and pointing at the dangerous anarchist hovering by the buffet. Ooh, get you, po faced senior officer: Mrs Angry was AWFULLY scared.

The police officer appeared to have explained to the man from Barnet Homes that - as yet - the law, even in Broken Barnet, does not allow for instant arrest and detention of middle aged bloggers standing  around in a community centre with an impertinent grin, and plotting a sequence of embarrassing questions for the Mayor of London. Or does it? Probably. Got away with it this time, anyway.

In the small room where the Mayor was due to arrive, a corporate backdrop had been carefully arranged, with a wobbly stand reminding everyone that we were in the London Borough of Barnet, which we were not, and a marvellous time lapse film of the building of the three houses, lovingly recorded for posterity, as if it were the centuries long creation of the pyramids at Giza, or the erection of a record breakingly high skyscraper in Manhattan. 

Still, reflected Mrs Angry, for Barnet Tories, the building of three council houses probably is on the same scale as one of the wonders of the world, or any urban monolith.

Outside the centre a loud group of protestors was gathering, with banners, heckling the Tory leader and councillors as they arrived. 

A warm greeting from Barnet Alliance for Tory 'leader' Richard Cornelius

The police presence had increased dramatically, and no one else was being allowed in.

Regarding the self congratulatory Tories and their rather nervous looking housing officers it became clear that we were about to be treated to a nauseating display of Tory hypocrisy -and a compulsory endorsement of the now world famous Boris act: a load of regurgitated spin, the recycling of his interminable jokes, presented in a grandstanding performance of what he does best: being Boris Johnson, in a way even he can hardly replicate any longer with any authenticity.

Mrs Angry looked around, and realised, with a sinking feeling, that she was the only one there who might just get away with a modicum of well aimed heckling,  to clear the true blue air of smugness that was hanging over that part of Muswell Hill, a foul miasma far worse than anything caused by the saharan sand and pollution filled smog drifting across from the neighbouring North Circular.

At last Boris arrived and made his way to the front of the small gathering. Richard Cornelius opened proceedings by announcing, in that faux-disingenuous way of his: "It seems counter-intuitive for a Conservative-run council to build council houses ... " and carried on with a short and silly speech which gave Mrs Angry the opportunity to warm up her ripostes - and alerted Boris to the fact that not everyone in the crowd was necessarily a natural born Tory supporter.

Boris making a note: never, never come back to Broken Barnet

The Mayor had chosen one of his off the peg standard rallies for the occasion: he remarked upon the fact that life expectancy in London for men had risen by eighteen months  since he had been Mayor, at which point Mrs Angry commented that might be because they are determined to live longer in the hope of seeing him kicked out of office - hello ... he cast a quizzical look in her direction. 

He observed that there had also been the biggest baby boom, under his reign, since we won the world cup in 1966, and suggested that the increase in fecundity was entirely due to him, at which point Mrs Angry may have made her own suggestions that are probably better not put in print. 

All the ladies present, of course, left the occasion worrying about the risk of phantom pregnancies as a result of merely breathing the same foul miasma as our tousle haired Mayor.

Clearly stung by the previous day's criticisms in City Hall of his failure to deliver an acceptable level of affordable housing, he blustered his way through some nonsense defending his record and promising wonders to come. Yeah, yeah. No one believed him, he didn't believe himself, and no one cared. 

 You talking to me?

Speech over, Councillor Cornelius made the fatal error of steering the Mayor in our direction. Whoosh. What did Boris think, asked Mrs Angry, of the fact that Councillors Tom Davey and Richard Cornelius believe that only the 'well off' should be living in Barnet, that if you cannot afford to live here, you should live elsewhere? 

As she referred to Davey, he was standing just behind Boris, and Mrs Angry imagined this repetition of his puerile views would embarrass him. But no: in fact he seemed thrilled to have his name mentioned, and his idiotic utterances broadcast to the Mayor. 

Richard Cornelius tried to deny that they had ever said such a thing. Labour candidate for West Hendon, Devra Kay, reminded him that they had, and that it is captured on film.
Curious, said Boris , bleurrghhhh,  bluster bluster ... brrrrhhh, blaaahhhh, grrrrrrhhhhh.

Mrs Angry continued, as Boris hovered by her side, trapped, and surrounded by photographers recording his ordeal, and yet rather intrigued by the barracking he was now getting. 

What did he think about the leaseholders and tenants in West Hendon, being moved out of the way for a private development, the leaseholders only having done the right Thatcherite thing, and bought their council homes?

Oh, Labour bla bla bla bleurghhhhhh, blaahhhh, grrhhhh ... who are these people, he eventually demanded of Richard Cornelius, who stood frozen behind his guest, grinning his rictus grin, clearly desperate but unable to move him safely out of the way?

Socialists! pronounced Cornelius, in a breath taking denouement, a sensationalist gesture straight from the stage of Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol.

Socialists? asked Boris, with just the slightest trace of amusement at the Tory leader's vintage world view, written on a loose page from a Conservative Party calendar, circa 1973.

Yes: socialists, Boris ... though to be fair, there were quite a lot of Labour councillors there too ...

Mrs Angry was distracted, at this point, by noting how alarmingly Hanoverian Boris is: in profile remarkably like his Georgian royal forebears - and unequivocally patrician in his demeanour.  

Here is some footage of our brief encounter, unfortunately cut short, and filmed on a phone, but fairly entertaining:

Whatever discomfort had been afforded the latter day king of City Hall in the Freehold community centre was a mere forewarning of the spectacle awaiting him outside.

Protesters from West Hendon had a noisy, blisteringly attentive reception of their own for Boris, as he tried to make the short journey from the centre to the three tiny houses across the road. 

He was clearly shocked by the level of hostility awaiting him, and his only attempt to make another speech was drowned out and quickly stopped by the demonstrators: it was a rare defeat for the Mayor - to be silenced by the opinions of ordinary Londoners, in public, on film, in an event designed to enhance the image of Tory Barnet and confound Boris' critics, who insist on scrutinising his record in office, rather than facilitating his political ambitions.

West Hendon Labour candidate Devra Kay

Thank you, thank you Boris, for the houses, sang a protestor, dancing madly around him. 

Whose Mayor? Night Mayor ...  

£250,000 a year is chicken-feed ...

Can I have some chicken feed, Boris?

Can I have some more? 

Three houses, Boris?Three houses ... that's not enough ...

Housing is a human right,

What about water cannons, Boris?

What about Wonga, Boris?
You don't represent us, Boris ...  

Go home Boris: we don't want you here ...

Whose community?

Our community!

Whose West Hendon?

Our West Hendon!

Waiting outside patiently, as he hid inside one of the three council houses, were a line of women from the estate the Tories want us all to forget about, where the tenants no one wants were left to rot in damp, rat infested housing, waiting to become the dispossessed, moved out of their homes, out of this borough, in this, the worst, most desperate act of gerrymandering, social cleansing Barnet Tory policy, but still, to the last minute, clinging defiantly to their hard won sense of community.

Whose West Hendon? 

Their West Hendon.

Take a look, Mr Mayor, then walk on by. 

But Mrs Angry suspects you won't be coming back to Broken Barnet any time soon, somehow. 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

he didn't get the message - typical thick tory - so we have a repeat performance hope you can join us