Question time at Friern Barnet Library - the library shut by Barnet Tories, as part of their war against culture, in this borough, but re-opened by occupiers, and returned to the people of Friern Barnet to enjoy, as intended by those who opened the library, with funding from the Carnegie Foundation, in 1934.
And, as usual, the magic powers which surround and protect the people's library worked their influence, that night, energised by the faultlines which underlie our troubled borough.
Mrs Angry was keen to attend, because there was an interesting array of candidates due to take part, including Tory 'leader' Richard Cornelius, and veteran councillor and silver fox, the handle bar moustachioed councillor John Hart, both of whom are almost certainly guaranteed to make ill advised comments whenever let loose in public.
And Mrs Angry had a question ready for them, carefully prepared, hidden at the back of her notebook.
Also present was the Labour leader, Alison Moore, who arrived wearing her trademark red jacket - which perhaps she should have retained throughout the meeting, so as to avoid confusion.
There could not have been a better time to find Richard Cornelius and his colleague exposed to public scrutiny, of course.
After a week of absolute farce, in which the new Mayor faces calls to resign because of his questionable business activitities, including the matter of a lease pre-signed by Councillor John Hart, another councillor has been referred to the Monitoring Officer for investigation of his expenditure on his own ward, and the council committee system has been found to be unlawful, you might think that Councillor Cornelius and Councillor John Hart might be a little shy of turning up at all.
Not a bit of it.
Cornelius arrived early, perfectly relaxed and his usual affable self, his Mr Punch like grin primed, and at the ready.
At the door a man was holding a bucket, collecting contributions for the library that Mr Punch had closed, and put up for sale.
The Tory leader, a member for the very affluent area of Totteridge, and the owner of a Hatton Garden jewellery business, peered suspiciously at the bucket, and seemed unsure how much to give.
From each, according to his means, suggested Mrs Angry, keen to help, and keen to convert Cllr Cornelius - or any other party leaders present - to the cause he fears so much ... the evil of Socialism.
She also told him she had a question ready, and one which he would enjoy.
This was not entirely true, to be fair, as we shall see.
His smile tightened, and became a little more fixed than it had been on arrival.
Apart from the Chair, Barbara Jacobson, the other member of the panel was an interesting man called Aubrey Rose, CBE: a fromer lawyer and human rights activist, who has been involved in many causes legal, environmental, humanitarian: the first jewish commissioner at the Commission for Racial Equality, serving on the Board of Deputies for British Jews for 50 years.
On the far right, announced the Chair, is Richard Cornelius. We knew that already, but laughed anyway.
And then the questions.
The first resident wanted to know, how did the panel see the future of Barnet politics affecting the poor, homeless, elderly, and how can we enjoy our borough when so many others are not in a position to do so?
Richard Cornelius responded that Barnet is 'a nice place for people to live' . He thought that in terms of the political situation the close result means that 'we must work together '. He seemed pretty cheerful about the future, but then: 'I am an optimist', he said.
Labour leader Alison Moore agreed. All the funding cuts meant we have 'a huge challenge' ahead of us, but ... Barnet is a borough we all love to live in.
Everything is a huge challenge, it seems, to the Labour leader.
The issue, she said, to Mrs Angry's bemusement, was 'how we as politicians hold the ring, collectively ...'
Mrs Angry has an aversion to idiotic PR terminology of this nature, but what did it mean?
According to a helpful definition, it means: to oversee a situation while attempting to remain uninvolved in it.
Ah: I'm with you. Yep. Makes sense now.
John Hart wondered, does party politics affect this? He was part of the problem, being already old. In the past, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when he was a boy, people didn't live as long.
Mrs Angry, mindful of his views on the repugnant idea of 'handouts' to disabled children, wondered what might be about to emerge from Cllr Hart as a solution to the burden of too many old people. Being one himself, of course, may have induced to him to a more liberal view than he might otherwise have expressed.
Although we live in a less spiritual age, he told us, we care for the old. It is a fact. He didn't think it was a party political issue.
Aubrey Rose said he was not a member of any political party, although he had been a member of all three, at some point. He was 'delighted' to hear the common approach, and yes: Barnet was a marvellous place to live.
Oh dear. Mrs Angry was getting very fidgety, by now.
A resident whose late husband depended on support given by the now notorious 'Your Choice Barnet' venture, pointed out, with polite but clear impatience, that in her experience, Barnet was not quite so marvellous for those, for example, with disabilities.
And Mrs Angry pointed out, unable to remain silent much longer - always a difficulty in these circumstances - that all the members of the panel were clearly comfortably placed in life and very probably, therefore, did find Barnet a lovely place to live, but they appeared to be rather complacent about the fact that for many people in the borough, life is less than lovely - those living in West Hendon, Strawberry Vale, Dollis Valley, and Colindale - forgotten people of this borough - the invisible people.
Quite some time later, clearly after he had been brooding about this point, Cornelius blurted out that Barnet was merely 'average' in the ranking of areas of social deprivation.
Being merely average is ok, it seems: except for the fact that Barnet Tories refuse to acknowledge the existance of this problem, as it simply does not register with them as something of any significance. They close their eyes to it. It spoils the image of the 'successful suburb', the leafy borough.
Why worry about the people who live there, the ones who rely in foodbanks, and pay housing benefits to landlords who set their rents at the London Housing Allowance level, who work on zero hours contracts, who live in areas where the roads are not fixed, and the pavements not lavished with care, whose tenancies are from month to month, whose children don't know if they will be at the same school in a year's time, whose quality of life is defined by want, and need, and worry, whose life expectancies are lower than those who live in Totteridge, and Hampstead Garden Suburb - they are never going to vote Tory, are they?
The Labour leader remembered she was a Labour leader, and talked about 'those who struggle to lead good lives' and 'a real challenge'. She referred fleetingly to the theoretical concepts of 'principles' and 'moral obligation'.
Burble burble. Then John Hart was off again, rewriting history - a habit common to quite a few Tory councillors at the moment, as we were to see later. He thought we could do more for ourselves, so as not to be a burden on the NHS.
He mentioned his childhood in Sheffield, which was privileged in the sense of having an inside loo. Families were closer then. Family members, daughters and daughters in law, looked after sick or elderly members. A woman's role, of course, thought Mrs Angry. But ... people didn't live as long. Nowadays ... who would look after him, when his time came? He seemed to think the NHS would do the job.
A woman in the audience suggested that John Hart had forgotten his history, and reminded him that the NHS was created for people who couldn't afford to pay for care.
New councillor for West Hendon Devra Kay reminded him of something else he had forgotten: or perhaps was unaware of: that the care he may rely on, sooner, rather than later, was private care, not the NHS: and why, she asked, did he think Your Choice Barnet care workers are thinking of going on strike?
He appeared non plussed by all these issues. Clearly there is a large difference between the way in which Cllr Hart sees the world, through the filter of his own preconceptions, and a mind living in the distant past - and the way things are now. Despite the impression given by his sprightly appearance, he is a man in his eighties, and clearly he is not going to adjust his somewhat trenchant views, at this stage in his life.
Up stood Green party activist Poppy, delivering a blistering address to the panel on the assumption they were making about the demands of austerity. Austerity was a choice, she said, not a force of nature, like a tsunami. There are alternatives: plug the tax loopholes; dump Trident; increase funding to local government.
Question time organiser Keith reminded us of Napoleon Bonaparte's observation: Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools.
Blogger Mr Reasonable, who sat behind Mrs Angry, sighing, and groaning, as he does throughout most Barnet meetings said 'it's always about the money' ... he told us he had been dealing that week with members of a major financial institution in the city, who made it clear that within the square mile there was so much money available - trillions of pounds of the stuff looking to be invested - practically limitless resources.
Instead of spending so much money on housing benefit, why not invest in house building?
There is a real need for social housing, as we know (especially, interjected Poppy, to the general amusement of the audience, with so many rogue landlords around).
Aubrey Rose endorsed this idea. He referred to the case of the Barnet Spires development, and seemed to be under the rather naive impression that the new owners were acting only on behalf of a philanthropic motivation, rather than for business reasons.
A nice thought, but of course the new owners are a hugely wealthy but deeply private family company which is also behind the development of Gateway House, in Finchley Central, which hopes to get planning permission from Barnet Council in a eyewateringly profitable plan which will see no affordable housing, on the basis of offering a new library we do not need, thus enabling our Tory masters to close and flog another purpose built library that is perfectly suited to its purpose.
Why can we not encourage a philanthropic interest by developers in the idea of social housing, and accommodating the needs of those without a million quid to spend on a penthouse flat, and for whom living in this borough is not as nice, and lovely, as the Tories want us to believe?
And on this theme Mrs Angry asked Richard Cornelius why his administration did nothing for the needs of those who are less well placed in life. He denied this was the case. She reminded him of the statement of his housing spokesperson, Cllr Tom Davey, that they wanted only the 'well off' to live in this borough, and that he was happy to see the development in West Hendon, which will see so many social tenants and leaseholders ejected from their homes, replaced by 'Russian oligarchs'.
Next question was from a resident who is involved in the community library in Friern Barnet: the building you're seated in, as he reminded the panel: what did councillors think about the possibility of a ten year lease for the library - or being re-incorporated into the public library system?
Aubrey Rose thought the community library was a remarkable example of what grassroots activism could achieve. He thought a ten year lease was a good idea, as that would enable the library to bid for lottery funding.
Oh: Richard Cornelius now says they are 'pushing on an open door, as regards asking for a longer lease'. Marvellous news, and what a change in tone, now that Robert Rams is no longer here to delight us with his war of attrition on the cultural life of Broken Barnet.
Except: uh oh - Richard Cornelius also says that he wants Friern Barnet Library 'to be a model' for the future ...
Readers: if the alarm bells are not ringing in your head now, they should be.
Have no doubt what the Tory councillors are about to do.
They are going to try to get rid of other libraries, and either shut them, or give them to community groups to run.
Why? Under the guise of encouraging 'big society' ideas, and getting people to 'help themselves', they will liberate several potential property assets to flog, and divest themselves of the need to run a proper library system.
You might think that sounds ok.
It is not ok.
It means, as the volunteer librarian at Friern Barnet pointed out, a further devaluation of the role of professional input, and the principle of a public library system.
A library without librarians is just a book club. You wouldn't want your children to go to a school run by untrained volunteers, would you: so why encourage them to use a library with no professional organisation?
Mrs Angry was angry.
She pointed out that the only reason we were all sat in the 'community' library was because it had been liberated by occupiers, and the plot by Cornelius and his cronies to flog the building for development had been foiled.
She reminded everyone that once upon a time Barnet had one of the best library services in the country - including in terms of value for money - and that not only were the Tories undermining the role of professional librarianship, as demonstrated by the closure and plundering of Church Farmhouse Museum, they clearly had no understanding of the value of heritage, the arts, or literature: they were cultural philistines.
John Hart said he was old enough to remember lending libraries, such as those run by Boots. Probably old enough to remember the circulating libraries used by Jane Austen, thought Mrs Angry: here we go - the good old days ... yes, his father had run one, and he had worked in it, becoming, he said, a librarian at the age of 14.
No, muttered Mrs Angry, you were a 14 year old boy lending books, and you were not a librarian .... he resented the implication that the Tories were uncultured. He was, he said, an artsy craftsy person. Mrs Angry considered the requirement by William Morris, that all objects should be useful, or beautiful: which is Councillor John Hart?
Time for Mrs Angry's question.
I grew up in an era when a public figure, a politician, or a public servant, would as a matter of honour, offer their resignation, for the benefit of the party or service that employed them, should matters arise that brought their judgement into question.
Where do the members of the panel think that the point occurs, when resignation becomes necessary?
Cllr Cornelius refused to pressure his former colleague Brian Coleman to resign, at the time of his assault of a female resident not so long ago. He refuses to accept that the Mayor should stand down, despite the controversy over his activities as a landlord. Does Cllr Cornelius not think the time has come to admit that the current catastrophic state of the council is his responsibility as leader, and offer his own resignation?
Councillor Cornelius denied that he had failed to condemn the actions of his former fellow councillor. The record, of course, speaks for itself, and no amount of rewriting history can undo the abject cowardice of the Tories when it came to Coleman, and in particular the assault of Helen Michael.
His answer, as to whether the Mayor or he should resign, he said, red with indignation, was - NO, and - NO.
Aubrey Rose, clearly shocked, in the course of the evening's discussions, by the level of hostility in the room to our Tory councillors, but making the only possible conclusion that an intelligent observer could come to, remarked at this point, in his careful way, that 'there is really a feeling of deep concern as to the conduct of the council' ... that there was 'a feeling that the council really hasn't cared ...' that there was 'a gap between the council and the people' ...
The Labour leader thought residents had an absolute right to have a properly run council, that listens and responds. The events of the last few weeks since the election had been a pretty shambolic process, including the mess up in governance, and the rubbish IT provision from Crapita to new councillors. As to resignation, she said, we all had our own code of honour.
Poppy then dragged another elephant into the room, and brought up an issue which might well suggest the need for resignation: the involvement of Councillor John Hart in the pre-signing of a lease that one of the Mayor's tenants alleges she was pressured to sign, late at night, without having read the rest of the document.
Oh, here we go, muttered Hart.
No comment, he said. The matter was under investigation.
But then, rather foolishly, he did comment: he referred to his actions as ' a silly lapse' which he regretted - but claimed he had merely 'helped a friend'.
It was an astonishing, and rather damning admission, from his own point of view.
Mrs Angry suggested at this point that in her opinion, he should have been asked to resign after the remark he made in regard to the cutting of funding to Mapledown School, for vital respite care for disabled children. He had dismissed this vital support for exhausted parents as 'handouts'.
Hart claimed he had no recollection of ever saying any such thing. Mrs Angry told him she had been present at the meeting at which he had said it.
If I said it, he stated, I am sorry.
Cllr Devra Kay now spoke. She referred to what has become known as the 'indecent proposal' made by Barnet Tories to the Labour leadership, at the beginning of the new administration, at the farcical Annual Meeting, a proposal that reportedly threatened the removal of certain allowances if Labour would not agree to a pairing agreement that the Tories wanted.
Richard Cornelius claimed now that such an offer was only in regard to any members that were ill.
Cllr Kay refused to accept this, and asked her party leader to clarify the point: what was the offer? Was it really only about members who might be ill, or was it broader than that, which is what Labour members had been led to believe? It was an uncompromisingly direct question, and the leaders of both parties were on the spot.
Alison Moore appeared uncomfortable, as indeed did the Tory leader. She said something about it being for members who were unable to turn up.
In other words, it seems that the arrangement had been a broad one, that would enable Tory councillors to retain their majority when they thought they might be in danger because a member was away, or had another commitment - or could not be bothered to attend.
A rather more conservative minded member of the audience tried to suggest that the pairing agreement was perfectly acceptable and even democratic - Mrs Angry disagreed, and pointed out that what counted, according to the Tory view of matters, was winning by numbers: the majority won.
If their members could not be bothered to turn up - then the truly democratic conclusion was that the other side should take the majority - and that really was democracy in action.
As for the debacle which followed this cack handed suggestion, and the ruthless way in which the Tories then voted to move the date of the September full council meeting to the day of the leader's speech during the Labour conference: that was pretty shabby, wasn't it, suggested Mrs Angry, to Richard Cornelius?
In his typically disingenuous way, he had the grace to look embarrassed, and quietly agreed, and even admitted that it needed 'to be adjusted' - a pretty sensational admission, after the previously intransigent position his party had taken.
A couple more questions. Parking: the usual complaints. Round and round we go, with this subject, and nothing is ever done to resolve it.
Somehow in the course of this issue, Councillor John Hart ended by hurling an obscure Spanish proverb at Mrs Angry - something about her being a bull in a field.
No hablo espanol, replied Mrs Angry, who spent all her Spanish lessons at school misbehaving, and provoking the wrath of the hapless teacher, poor Senora Lee, and being moved a record 25 times in one term for her efforts. Try French, she suggested, regretting the words as soon as they left her mouth. Richard Cornelius tittered.
A last question from a resident on an issue of immense importance: the fate of the failing Your Choice Barnet care service. Was it destined to be handed over to Crapita, when it completely collapses?
Aubrey Rose confessed to the audience that he was prejudiced against outsourcing. Another reasonable response from a reasonable man, and Mrs Angry hoped that Cornelius would take his measured, but clearly critical position on the issues debated during the evening as a warning that it was not just 'the usual suspects' who feel so alienated from the Tory administration, and its agenda for the borough.
We waited to hear from the Labour leader what the opposition party would do about the appalling state of YCB, whose workers are now facing a 9.5 % cut in their already pitiful wages - wages which do not even include being paid for travelling between the very vulnerable clients who depend on their care.
Her reply, expressed in tones that made it clear that such a possibility was highly unlikely, was that it would be, yes - 'a challenge' to bring Your Choice Barnet back in house. A member of the audience corrects her when she says that the enterprise was 'arguably' underfunded, and only then does she retract her qualification. And then she concludes:
Bringing YCB back in house was not necessarily a magic wand ...*
A magic wand.
*(Mrs Angry's hearing is dodgy and she originally misheard this as not necessarily what we want. Not that this phrase makes the statement any better). See below for update.
It is hard to explain the impact of this feeble response on those present.
Members of the audience whose relatives are users of YCB looked on in horror.
It was truly an excruciating moment for any Labour party member to witness: yet another failure in leadership - and a betrayal, accidental or not, of the families who are at the mercy of this catastrophic venture, and the workers who are being so ruthlessly exploited by a subsidised failure kept on life support for reasons of political expediency.
Where was the anger, on their behalf? Where the opposition to the Tory agenda of profit before compassion, ideology before need? Why, yet again, do we hear what effectively is an endorsement of the status quo, an acceptance of defeat, complicity with the failings of the ruling administration?
Is it now Labour group policy not to press for the return of YCB to direct control? When was that decision taken, and on what basis? Is it the view of the majority of Labour councillors?
What about the unions, and the effect on negotiations over industrial action over the pay cuts?
Two family members of YCB users spoke in fury of the impact of the rapidly deteriorating service, to little avail. Cornelius at least had the grace to look uncomfortable, especially when, after he claimed staff were not paid the lowest wages, Mrs Angry asked if he would be prepared to undertake such a job, seeing to the personal care of such dependent people, on such a level of pay.
He said quietly that he would not choose such work. Mrs Angry pointed out that no one chooses to take a job with such poor rates of pay, and that if he had had a parent at the mercy of employees so demoralised by such conditions, he might feel differently, and that such low pay and the reliance on agency staff inevitably poses the risk of another Winterbourne View.
Cornelius' discomfort at least suggested an element of troubled conscience. And after all, one expects the Tories to defend their own cock ups. But what excuse can there be for the leader of the opposition, who demonstrates such equivocation when called on to defend the rights of those who bear the burden of impact from the mess the Tories created? What alternative can there be to rescuing the disaster that is Your Choice Barnet from further collapse?
Not so long ago the Labour group allowed themselves to be persuaded to endorse a Task and Finish group which whitewashed the whole YCB fiasco. Now the leader is apparently refusing to contemplate the need to take the most obvious course of action: to take a failing enterprise back in house, protect the needs of the vulnerable users who rely on these services, and crucially at this moment, to fight for a decent level of wage for the workers who deliver them.
But is this view, expressed on Friday, actually party policy? If so, does the rest of the group know that, and were they involved in any debate over the matter?
What is curious is that at a Residents Forum last week, and after a truly appalling speech by a senior officer seeking to justify the cut in wages to staff, Labour councillor Alon Or Bach had said the party does think the council should consider taking YCB back in house.
And indeed this view was the subject of a motion submitted to council in April last year by the deputy leader, Barry Rawlings.
This apparent contradiction in policy is significant - it represents something that is happening within the Labour group now that the party is returned to a much stronger level of representation on the council: a growing schism between those who support the old way of doing things, and those who want to see a new direction, and a more radical, combative approach, once based on policies that defend the principles of social justice, and challenge rather than endorse the Conservative agenda of what we heard last week must include a 'sustainable market place of care'.
Mrs Angry's question about resignation was not only aimed at the Tory councillors.
And as the democracy, as the system works now, is about winning control through majorities, not about forming a consensus.
Labour lost the election: it should have won.
If the party had campaigned in a more focused and better directed way, it would have won.
Failure is not good enough: there is too much at stake - the people of this borough deserve an opposition which fights, not conciliates.
An opposition which opposes, not endorses, the Tory agenda.
It's not good enough to say, well, we don't think we can really get out of the Capita contracts, so we won't bother to try.
It's not good enough to tell families dependent on a sinking service for care support that market forces are the only effective option for the future, and to tell the workers you are going to stand by and do nothing.
It's not good enough to support the Tory budget, and the shameful tax cut, and then witter on about 'fairness commissions'.
Whether or not there is a leadership challenge within the Labour group, one thing is clear: the way in which the group works in opposition can and must adapt and evolve.
As even Richard Cornelius commented, at the end of the discussion: 'that's the nature of life - things change ...'
Things change: things fall apart.
Question time came to an end.
This is the kind of meeting, said the Chair, in conclusion, that proves the value of democracy.
The trouble is, thought Mrs Angry, stuffing her notebook in her bag, furiously, and heading for the exit, that democracy means different things to different people, doesn't it?
*Update: the Labour leader's apparent equivocation over the Your Choice Barnet fiasco, and whether or not it should be brought back in house has caused a good deal of controversy and Labour councillors have been given a statement on the group's position which, we are pleased to see, is far more robust in its position, and contains no references to magic wands: Mrs Angry's emphasis in red:
The agreed Labour group position is that if the YCB business plan continues to fail, YCB should be brought back in house in order to protect the service. At the moment YCB are currently in negotiation with staff and the unions to find savings of £400k that would not mean pay cuts of 10% and a deteriorating service. The Labour Group supports these negotiations.