Sunday, 21 December 2014
Secret Santa in Broken Barnet, or: Easycouncil ... as easy as falling off a chair?
Earlier this week an article by Aditya Chakrabortty, senior economics editor of the Guardian - (and, more importantly, as Mrs Angry can exclusively reveal, one time saturday assistant at Hendon Library) - appeared in the paper's 'Comment is Free' column:
As he said:
If you want to see the future of your local public services, it’s already here: in the north London suburb of Barnet. I visited last week – and it’s not pretty.
Here was a brilliant, incisive analysis of the state of Capitaville, now in its second year, since Year Zero, the beginning of the age of mass privatisation of our council services.
Christmas has come early for the campaigners, activists and commentators of Broken Barnet. Once again media attention is turning to the state of things here in the one time, some time Tory flagship borough as an indication, a sounding of the depths, a measurement of where we are now, in these last few months before the general election.
So yes: and here we are now, then, the festive season in Broken Barnet, that time of year when our Tory councillors put aside all political ambitions, and focus their energies on more community minded endeavours.
You know - like sitting back and pimping the last of the local council services not already sold into ten year bondage with Crapita, putting hundreds of council employees into a state of fear over their jobs, approving a monstrous range of budget cuts, and plotting to destroy our public library system.
Oh. Mrs Angry says sitting back, and pimping the last of our public services. Hmm. Something of an unexpected problem, for some.
Easy as it is for our worse than useless Tory members to do as their senior management tells them and hand control of this borough to profiteering private contractors, without so much as a whimper, they are not, as events at this week's Full Council meeting proved, awfully good at sitting back, or indeed, sitting.
Chairs: hell of a challenge. What to do with them? F*ck knows.
Having outsourced their brains to Crapita, our Tory friends are now unable to work this out. Not to worry. A £1million report has been commissioned from consultants at Agilisys/iMPOWER, to be followed by a ten year contract as implementation partners, and a new management structure, headed by a Director of Sitting Very Carefully. And then the members' chairs will be taken over by Crapita, and leased back to Barnet Council, at a very reasonable rate.
Arriving at Hendon Town Hall last night for the last Full Council of the year, where cuts and outsourcing were on the agenda, to be rubber stamped by our uxorious councillors, mrs Angry was met by a curious sight: look - there was Santa Claus. And there was Santa Claus: and another, and another, a dozen or so (not sure of the collective noun, in this context: a sleighload?) all holding placards.
Which of you, asked Mrs Angry suspiciously, is the real Santa?
I am Santa Claus, proclaimed one.
No! I am Santa Claus, declared another.
A Spartacus style rebellion amongst the whitebearded comrades, then, which must have been awfully confusing for any small children passing by, or our emptyheaded Tory councillors.
Mrs Angry has it on good authority, however, that the real Santa is very cross with our emptyheaded Tory councillors, and she must warn them, like that horrible mum in the Daily Mail story, that they are unlikely to receive anything in their Christmas stockings this year, and serve them right.
He knows, Tory councillors of Broken Barnet, when you've naughty, and he knows when you've been nice. That is to say: never.
Into the town hall and up into the council chamber. The public gallery filled up, watched by nervous security staff - but there was no particular trouble brewing, just a sense of quiet fury, and well worn cynicism at the farce that was about to begin.
And with an added sense of pantomime, as the back row of the gallery became occupied by a row of santas, sitting rather formally, more like a conclave of particularly grumpy cardinals, peering disapprovingly at the sinners in the council chamber.
The Mayor swept in, accompanied by his footmen, with an air of showmanship only slightly less overstated than Liberace, on a tour of Vegas.
Until recently, those in the public gallery (apart from Mrs Angry) would, as expected, stand up - all rise - as the Mayor entered the chamber. It is a sign of the times, and the abiding sense of contempt - oh dear - that we citizens bear for the office, that no one now would even think of making any such gesture. The Mayor might see this as a mark of disrespect to the office he holds. Mrs Angry would argue that it is entirely appropriate. Until Barnet Tories learn to show respect for the residents they represent, they deserve none in return.
The chaplain began her prayer, and our Mayor, councillors and senior officers bowed their heads: always a difficult time for Mrs Angry, who struggles to keep a straight face at the sight of such an unlikely assumption of humility and spiritual reflection, here in the corporate temple of Capitaville.
The ministers leading prayers in the council chamber of Broken Barnet are surely blessed with an evangelical mission way beyond the expectation of God, or even the hopes of the ranks of heavenly angels, saints and martyrs looking down, in tears, on our elected representatives, their knavish hearts frozen in Thatcherite time by the Snow Queen herself, our former PM, now departed.
Ah well. Let it go, Mrs Angry. Let it go. Let it go, let it go.
The Chaplain began with an odd sort of choice of address to the Almighty. We must give thanks, she said, for the money that has been given for the 'regeneration' of Grahame Park. Oh. Ok. Bit political, thought Mrs Angry.
Worse still: let us give thanks for 'volunteers' (here there was a temptation to heckle something on the lines of not in our libraries, thank you very much), oh, and then 'the workers', and 'all in this assembly who have worked hard to make Barnet a better place'. That would exclude all those sitting on the far side of the chamber, then.
Christmas and Chanukah, she commented, were both festivals celebrating miracles. A phenomenon, thought Mrs Angry, unlikely to occur tonight, unless our feckless Tory councillors are suddenly transformed from a herd of donkeys into a pack of roaring lions, and find the courage to oppose the agenda of cuts and outsourcing, and defend the libraries most of them are privately assuring their residents they will not allow to close ...
Christmas, Mrs Angry, as the Chaplain also reminded us, is the season of peace, and goodwill.
But not in Broken Barnet, Reverend.
Declarations of interest: always amusing to watch, to see how the Tories address this requirement, or circumvent it with their self awarded 'dispensations'.
Tory Environment lead member Dean Cohen declared something (he mumbles, and Mrs Angry couldn't hear everything) about being in talks with a lighting business. He has mentioned this before. Must be very long talks. Not sure why it is relevant, anyway.
The Mayor put on a solemn expression now, as he had the sad duty to announce the death of a former deputy Mayor, that no one seemed to remember, but had been, he claimed, cheered up by a visit from him, coincidentally, on the very day before she passed away, during which he showed her an old picture of herself he had taken from the Town Hall, dressed in her robes of office. Mrs Angry observed that this demonstrated yet again the curious degree of significance that Rayner, and most of his fellow Tories, place on the status of being Mayor, above all other reasons of being in public office.
In an unprecedented step, he then announced that, in a demonstration of Mayoral patronage, he had arranged for coffee and mince pies to be made available for the public, in the lobby outside the chamber. We live in an age of foodbanks, of course, and noblesse oblige: and this gesture may or may not be related to the recent revelation by fellow blogger Mr Mustard, following a question by the sharp minded new Labour councillor, Rebecca Challice, about the cost of our councillors' slap up buffet at these meetings:
Question Time, next. Usual game playing by the Tories. It was good to see Brian Gordon, the right wing Tory member for Edgware, comment, in regard to one response, about the 'multi racial and multi cultural' population of this borough. Cllr Gordon, of course, apart from his enthusiasm for diversity, is fondly remembered for his blacked up impersonation of Nelson Mandela at a party in an old folks home.
He is also very good at providing leading questions for fellow Tories, on the lines of would the leader agree with me that we are the most wonderful council in the history of local government? He wanted to know from his fellow frozen hearted councillors about preparations for what a winter of blizzards, here in the blighted landscape of Broken Barnet.
Ah. An opportunity for Dean Cohen to revisit his finest political achievement - no, not the millions of pounds spent over the last couple of years on tarting up pavements in Tory wards, something far, far more successful. Cultivating a bunch of Pledgebankers.
No, not exactly cockney rhyming slang: this was a Big Society Idea, from a few year ago, using - yes - volunteers - to do the things we already pay our council to pay some other contractor to do, ie look after the borough.
As Mrs Angry recalls, at least two citizens in Cllr Cohen's own ward agreed to sign up - or at least pose for a photo opportunity - to shovel a load of grit provided by Barnet Council on those precious, tenderly cared for pavements of Golders Green (£1.1 million worth, in the last financial year).
Unfortunately the venture seems not to have caught on, very possibly because the idea of selfless volunteering has not been pioneered to any noticeable degree by our elected Tory councillors, and although our Tory friends think that libraries can be stripped of all professional or paid staff, our council chamber will remain stuffed full of largely redundant councillors, paid very nicely, thank you, and continuing to deliver shovel loads of shit policies on top of the heads of their electorate, while drawing up plans to replace senior officers with holographic representations, provided by Crapita, at only twice the going rate of six figure salaries, hidden behind the commercially sensitive front of agency provision, hidden behind a commercially sensitive, blogger-proof contract.
Questions continued with two telling admissions from the Tory 'Leader', Richard Cornelius:
In response to this question by Labour's Phil Cohen:
Q:' Visiting our local library with my family is the highlight of our week'. Who said that?
A: I don't know.
From Labour's Paul Edwards:
Q: Would the Leader confirm if any senior officer currently employed by the London Borough of Barnet has also been an employee of Capita in the last five years; and if so, for which Council Department/theme area are they currently employed?
A: I do not believe so, but it would not be a barrier to their employment.
Cornelius may not 'believe' so: if so, he is wrong, or badly informed. There is a senior officer who has worked for Capita for many years, and within that time frame, who is now heading one of the services being prepared for outsourcing, a proposal for which Capita has already been involved in 'market testing'.
Mrs Angry has been trying to ask questions about this from the new, part time, interim Monitoring Officer, since October, and only just received a reply - after resorting to shaming the Chief Operating Officer on twitter - a response which claims the individual has not worked for Crapita since 2011 and-
... has no ongoing financial interest in the company. In those circumstances, it cannot be said that a reasonable, objective and well-informed member of the public would see any conflict of interest.
Really? Obviously Mrs Angry is well informed, but cannot claim to be reasonable or objective: what do you think, reasonable and objective readers?
We hear that there are council protocols for such situations whereby conflicts of interest might occur, as described in the officers' code of conduct, with which of course the officer has complied with. No one doubts his honesty, but it is the responsibility of the council to have in place a system that addresses any possibility of risk from conflicts of interest, or even the perception of conflict of interest.
Are you confident, readers, that Barnet's protocols are sufficiently stringent to ensure the integrity of the tendering process for these outsourcing contracts, worth millions and millions of pounds of our money, bearing in mind the number of other senior officers who have come and gone between tendering companies, contractual partners, and consultancies?
After more knockabout questions, and careful evasions, and poor old Tory councillor Old getting his jacket caught in his chair, and finding himself unable to stand up to speak, it was on to the first item for debate: the interesting story of the council's new depot plans.
In their enthusiasm for the encouragement of property development, Barnet Tories, some way back, happily sold off the previous borough depot at Mill Hill East, before, oh dear, they had found a suitable site to take its place.
Plans to use a site at Pinkham Way, conveniently in an area bordering on Haringey, came to nothing, and now they want to use a location in Oakleigh Road South for the waste depot - and this has caused some concern amongst local residents.
Tory councillor Dean Cohen intervented to make another declaration of interest. A client of his, he said, owned a site adjoining the new proposed location.
Labour's Kathy Levine spoke about the council's incompetence in regard to this matter, not only in the failure to identify a suitable site, but in the price paid, in apparent panic, for the Abbotts Road property, which, she said was more than £5 and a half million more than the vendors had paid for it: Barnet was had over a barrel, she claimed.
Local Tory councillor Lisa Rutter stood up. Her queenly manner, assumed during her term of office as Mayor, an office she was clearly deeply reluctant to relinquish - as demonstrated by what seemed like a six hour long speech at the end of her term, has never entirely faded, despite the length of time since she was deposed.
She now made a dramatic declaration of intent to the chamber.
She would not vote for the plans.
A sharp intake of breath.
She was going ...wait for it ... to abstain.
Her demeanour, at this point, was as one might expect to have seen on the shining, heroic face of Joan of Arc, headed for the stake, and not giving a damn for the fiery torment lined up for her.
Or that was her intention. In fact she appeared rather more in the guise, thought Mrs Angry, perhaps unkindly, of that woman, Margaret Dumont, in the Marx Bros films, always trying to rise above the anarchic chaos of the plot, and retain some semblance of dignity, but failing.
Vote against it, don't abstain, suggested someone. Well, ok: it was Mrs Angry.
You can't face both ways, said someone else. You know the Mayor will use his casting vote, and the plans will go through anyway.
And so he did, and so they did.
Lisa Rutter's residents should know and understand, and remember, that their local councillor could have voted against the depot plans, and they would not have been approved, but she chose not to, apparently putting party loyalties before the concerns of her constituents.
True Blue Lisa Rutter, failing to oppose the new depot plans
Mrs Angry's mind was wandering by now, but she suddenly found herself listening to an uncharacteristically bad tempered Dean Cohen launching an attack on Labour's abandonment of the grossly undemocratic working groups, an attempt by the Tories, terrified of the risks unleashed by the new committee system to their tenuous grip on power, to persuade the traditionally docile opposition to discuss and agree on policy proposals out of sight, behind closed doors, and beyond the reach of transparency and accountability: a travesty of the local democratic process, in short.
Labour should never have fallen for this, of course, but the leadership complied, until protests from more radically minded members such as Alan Schneiderman and Devra Kay led to their boycotting the whole farce. Alan reminded Dean Cohen now that hidden in the proposals put to one of these groups were suggestions that our street lights should be turned off at night, and the parks left unlocked: both putting women's safety at increased risk, amongst other consequences. By Labour councillors dragging the issues into the public arena, and inviting members of the public to attend, the Tories had then been forced into a retraction of these idiotic proposals.
Dean Cohen maintained the group meetings were held in public. Hmm, thought Mrs Angry, eventually - but kept a virtual secret, with no agenda, no papers, no public questions, no minutes: no democracy.
At this point in the evening, Alison Moore, the Labour leader, decided, at last, that she had had enough, and launched what was by usual standards an outspoken attack on Tory policy, nationally and locally, observing that we were seeing 'the inevitable destruction of local government as we know it'. Even Thatcher, she said, baulked at such extreme measures, and yet we were seeing this happen in Barnet.
She laid into a list of expenditure wasted on such things as paying over the odds for the new depot, the parking deficit, the extortionately high salaries of 14 senior officers earning more than £100,000. As for the millions wasted on consultants' fees: a 15% cut would save our libraries, wouldn't it? She accused the council of 'stunning incompetence', that Barnet's public services were not safe in Tory hands - you know it, and we will not support it.
Deputy Labour leader Barry Rawlings began to speak. As he did so, or perhaps because he did so, Tory councillor Anthony Finn, for some reason, fell off his chair, or rather - slowly slid forward, like Titanic on the slipway in Belfast, launched and moving inexorably towards the ocean floor.
The chamber looked on in surprise: a security officer rushed through the doors with impressive speed, and went to his assistance.
In the public gallery, the news that a Tory councillor had hit the deck was met with a certain amount of feverish excitement. Has someone kicked the bucket? asked one man behind Mrs Angry?
The word 'by election' shot through the gallery faster than a speeding bullet.
Fortunately Cllr Finn was hauled up from the floor of the chamber, unscathed, if somewhat embarrassed, and able to joke about there being no safe seat left in Barnet.
In many former Tory wards in Broken Barnet, this is most certainly the case.
Libdem Councillor Jack Cohen was speaking now.
A riveting speech from Cllr Cohen (screws loose, Jack?)
He was brandishing a copy of the Barnet Tory Town Hall pravda, 'Barnet First'. In it, he had found a lovely feature with Councillor Cornelius smiling benevolently at residents, and doing what sounds like a good example of what Mrs Angry's no 1 fan, ie Eric Pickles, emphatically does not want Town Hall administrations to do, ie wasting tax payers' money on agitprop. Do you, Eric? Tell them off, then: good and proper.
According to the Tory leader's message to the downtrodden masses of Broken Barnet, Crapita is starting to see the fruits of their labour, here in their latest and greatest colonial outpost.
Strange Fruit, concluded Mrs Angry, via Billie Holiday.
Jack Cohen observed that you do not pick fruit by cutting down the tree itself.
He also floated the idea, hat tip to @rustyrockets, in a thought popularly received in the public gallery, that Richard Cornelius was the 'Poundland Margaret Thatcher'.
Or perhaps, he suggested, with a dig at the Tory leader's Hatton Garden jewellery shop, a more suitable comparison would be Ratner's?
Cornelius replied with a brave if somewhat bizarre response, claiming that the Tories had fought off all Judicial Reviews brought against the council (clearly forgetting the parking fiasco) and that, ha ha: democracy was 'safe in Conservative hands'. Mmm.
Tory matron Joan Scannell spoke waspishly about 'nasty comments' and banged on, as the Tories still do, and will until the end of time, not about their own faults, but about the 'Labour deficit'. She said, in rather a 'nasty comment', that she could not wait to see what the opposition's financial proposals would be, and what they would cut.
Your allowance, suggested Mrs Angry.
Nasty comments: Joan Scannell
Oh dear. Sitting in the gallery was Gerrard Roots, the former curator of the Church Farmhouse Museum, which was shut, ransacked and put up for sale while Cllr Scannell and her Tory colleagues sat back and watched, without protest.
Gerrard, who may or may not have come to the Town Hall via the Greyhound, (tempting, but always risky, for anyone about to sit through a Barnet council meeting), and who is anyway yet to be persuaded to show anything other than the most scathing contempt for Barnet Tory councillors, and their reprehensible behaviour, does not give a flying fuck for their opinion, and nor does Mrs Angry, who was beside herself with mirth, as he was now moved to make a not necessarily universally popular recommendation to our elected representatives:
Earn your money - and SHUT UP, he suggested. Loudly.
Oh dear. Councillor Wendy Prentice, she of the bird of paradise coiffeure, was outraged by what seemed to Mrs Angry to be a perfectly reasonable request, and she squawked in fury across the chamber at the Mayor, to demand an apology.
I know who said it, she said, like some sort of uppity teaching assistant in a primary school assembly, as we fell about laughing: I RECOGNISE HIS VOICE ...
It is true to say that Gerrard has a rather splendid, withering patrician tone when he speaks, and that Councillor Wendy Prentice ... does not.
He was unmoved, and unrepentant.
I am not going to apologise, he said. And SHUT UP.
How funny that the Tory women were happy to see their slip-sliding colleague Antony Finn remark 'Calm down dear' to a female Labour member, and said nothing when their former pin up boy Brian Coleman insulted women in the public gallery, and called them 'old hags', and yet are so sensitive when a member of the public reminds them that they receive a generous allowance to represent us, the residents sitting in that gallery.
On with the motley: the panto continued with a turn by handle-bar moustachioed silver fox and renowned linguist, Cllr John Hart, who resembles a character in a vintage fifties British comedy, probably played by Terry-Thomas, or Leslie Phillips ...
Not eating all the pies, but clearly stimulating all the same: Cllr John Hart
Cllr Hart gave a frankly mystifying speech, even by his own standard, a benchmark that is pretty unbeatable.
It appeared that he was asking us to support his intention to, well: to stimulate the residents of Mill Hill with pie stalls.
Nope: don't ask me.
The residents of Mill Hill, Councillor John Hart, might be more stimulated by the thought of a Tory councillor with the integrity to defend their local library, and not vote through the current scabby proposals to shut it down, or sentence it to death by a thousand cuts.
And next we had the amusing spectacle of veteran Tory Cllr John Marshall on the subject of the truly shameful leaders' panel, which is the scabrous replacement for the former standards committee, politically weighted and a total joke.
Earlier in the evening, during the Q&A session, in response to the Labour leader's belated objections to the panel, and questioning its integrity, the Tory leader, running forward gingerly, in his vintage knee length footballer's shorts, to an open goal, remarked that it was strange that she should take part in a body that she felt lacked integrity.
Back of the net.
Alison Moore now announced that Labour would be withdrawing from the process.
This is the only approach the opposition can possibly take, and should have been taken right from the moment any credibility was removed - but now the wider Labour group has made it clear the sort of co operation and consensus that the Tories try to exploit is no longer going to be an option, and so -hard luck, Tory councillors of Broken Barnet. Fings ain't wot they used to be.
Are you sitting comfortably?
Thank God. Half time. No oranges, but the lure of mince pies. Mrs Angry tried to retain some principles, and boycott them, but failed. An officer slipped into the gallery and whispered to Mr Shepherd that he was invited to come and sample the Mayor's hospitality. He smiled graciously - In the Mayor's Parlour, he asked? I have been there before, you know. No, Councillor Lord Shepherd: laid out on a trestle table outside the public gallery door.
The People's Mayor declined the offer, with pained dignity.
A Nightmayor, and the People's Mayor
Note to the Mayor: the mince pies were very nice, but too small, and not as good as Mrs Angry's. (Note to those seeking to corrupt Mrs Angry: cake usually does the trick. Or alcoholic persuasion, or whispering suggestions in her ear. Unless you work for Crapita, in which case ... no. No, no, no).
Where were we?
Recess over. Tories started without Labour, who didn't hear the recall bell.
A new Tory councillor, who, unique in that she appears to be, if not in the first flush of youth, of childbearing age, and in possession of her own teeth, and some faculties, made a maiden speech worrying about obese children. Mrs Angry tactfully tried not to look at any particular councillors, at this point.
The new councillor for Totteridge, Brian Coleman's replacement, thought it was a good idea to stop poor people becoming fat by sending them to their local park, and making them take up gardening. (Mrs Angry is yet to see ex Cllr Coleman jogging around Victoria Park, or buying secateurs in Homebase, but one hopes he will follow his successor's helpful advice, now that he is at a bit of a loose end and at risk of piling on those extra pounds).
Labour's Arjun Mittra, who is lovely, but perhaps could be described as being possessed of a cherubic figure, spoke with fondness of his interest in sport, as a child, having watched them all on tv as he indulged his interest in kebabs, pizza and pepsi. He did not say that he would be easily stimulated by pie stalls, but Mrs Angry thinks it likely.
New boy Tory cllr Gabriel Rozenberg also made his maiden speech. Not sure what it was about, but he decided to tell us about his own childhood aversion to sport, being a conscientious objector to all such compulsory activities . Mrs Angry felt a bond of kinship with Gabriel, reminded of her years at St Michael's, spent hiding during PE lessons, quaking with fear in the gym cupboard.
He explained that his mother, ie the journalist Melanie Phillips, used to ring his school and beg them to allow him to pursue a form of physical activity more suited to him, such as, he said, cats cradle, or origami. Which was rather funny. But then he went and spoiled it all, and provoked Mrs Angry into heckling him, by banging on about the wonderful parks and ancient woodland in his ward, and how children can benefit from these lovely places, and design their own obstacle courses and all that sort of thing.
As he spoke, Mrs Angry listened to the sound of Mr Shepherd, the People's Mayor, sellotaping together a selection of articles from the Morning Star, and sighed.
Cllr Rozenberg is a nice bloke, and very bright, and very possibly in the wrong party, but he is in the Tory party because he is naive, and representing as he does the favoured residents of Hampstead Garden Suburb, has simply no understanding of the real challenges faced by children, obsese, or not, or those maybe going without food altogether, or dependent on foodbanks, in the less advantaged areas of Broken Barnet, where there are no lovely parks, or ancient woodland, and the obstacles they must avoid are those created by a Tory government and local authority intent on demonising their parents, and punishing them for being poor.
Labour's Anne Hutton had an interesting contribution to make. She reminded members of the agreement that local primary schools had been given in regard to the grounds of the new Finchley Memorial Hospital. You may recall that Mrs Angry has questioned the curious excuse sometimes given by various Tories, the Mayor of London and TFL, that there is not enough space at FMH for a bus to take patients there, and deposit them, and turn around, when it is clear to see there is a load of unused grassed over space.
Cynical Mrs Angry has previously, and frequently, suggested this was because that land has secretly been earmarked for development (just as staff told her the rumour of the unoccupied building space being reserved for private practice): and lo and behold, it now seems that there is a rumour that the council wants to move the Lido from the other side of the High Road, and relocate it ... at Finchley Memorial. Well, then: what is the truth?
Cllr Hutton's own cynicism about funding for local projects has been aggravated by the promise of development for North Finchley library resulting, she said, in nothing more than a model replica of the building. It'll be bigger than the new one, said some wit in the gallery.
Back to reality, now, a far cry from ancient woodlands, and the first world problems of privately educated schoolboys, good or bad at sport: over to West Hendon, that portal into another dimension of Broken Barnet: a view of the borough our Tory councillors turn their backs on.
Labour's Adam Langleben spoke about the appalling treatment of residents of West Hendon now an area of 'regeneration', ie development, now being socially cleansed of their presence.
In this other Eden, the children of the poor are being packed up, cleared out, sent away, taken away from their schools, their friends, their neighbourhood - their community: and the land where their homes now stand has been sold to privateers, profiteers, who will drive the last of them out, knock down their houses, and build luxury properties for absentee owners, and speculator landlords.
As they wait for the final days of their years long, short term unsecure tenancies to end, or must give up the properties they were so enthusiastically encouraged to buy, the council has left them to live in squalor, in asbestos ridden, damp, rat infested properties neglected by the council over decades. Barnet Homes then turned on the leaseholders and landed them with massive, last minute bills for maintenance they as landlords had failed to implement. In some cases, the monthly payment for these demands is bigger than their mortgage.
As Adam observed, Barnet Tories are selling Thatcher's dream - the right to buy your own council home - right down the river. How ironic, sitting in the Town Hall that witnessed her election night triumphs, to hear the story of the betrayal of her key policy, the encouragement of aspiration, and the reward of hard working families with the keys to their own home. They have learned the hard way that the party which once pretended to want to help people out of poverty by persuading them to join the property ladder was only in it for a quick buck - and a chance to destroy the very concept of social housing.
Ah, but Tory housing lead member, the charmless Tom Davey, was on his feet, reverting to his new persona, that of the quiet man, who speaks in what he clearly thinks is a controlled and yet deadly manner, no longer the ranting juvenile: retaining the juvenile political extremism and ideology, but expressed in the moderate, soothing tones of a third rate stage hypnotist. Look into my eyes, and listen to my voice. You will feel sleepy, very sleepy, Mrs Angry, and then you will find yourself reading the Daily Mail, and hating benefit scroungers, and socialism, and wanting to buy a penthouse flat in a Barratt Homes development overlooking the Welsh Harp.
I am actually amused, he declared, in a tone of voice in which there was not the slightest trace, nor even an atomic memory, of any sense of humour.
He said that Cllr Langleben had misrepresented the truth, that there was no evidence of financial distress. The developers had already offered to pay costs, and help out.
Why now? shouted furious leaseholders in the gallery.
Only because of so much bad publicity, suggested Mrs Angry
It is true to say that some show of assistance has been miraculously made, latterly, by Barratts, albeit only in some cases. Mrs Angry has noted some weeks ago, at the height of direct action taken by local residents, and a good amount of sympathetic media attention on the plight of residents, that a certain PR company whose clients include the developers of the West Hendon project, have been reading and re reading her posts on the subject. It may be entirely coincidental, of course.
Labour's Devra Kay protested about the treatment of her constituents in West Hendon. Tom Davey shut his eyes, and held his head.
Her colleague Paul Edwards pointed out that the council was not there simply to facilitate profit, it is there to ensure social and economic justice.
Nope. Deaf ears. Nothing.
Cllr Langleben alleged then that those few residents who had been offered a new deal were given them only on condition of accepting a gagging order, which is quite extraordinary, if true. Why would that be the case, do you suppose?
He observed, with good cause, that the Tories are running scared of the judge let public housing inquiry into the West Hendon leaseholder scheme, due to take place in January, following orders from Uncle Eric Pickles.
Oh, and Labour would be writing to all council tenants in the borough, warning them of what was likely to happen to them, too.
Davey looked bored. Other Tory councillors looked embarrassed. They know they have betrayed the leaseholders, even if they don't give a shit about the tenants they have planted in West Hendon, rounded up like hostages, prepared for the moment when they will be bussed out of Broken Barnet, beyond the boundaries of our borough, to become someone else's problem.
The meeting wound up then.
Happy Chanukah, and Merry Christmas, said the Mayor.
Unless you are a leaseholder in West Hendon, observed Mrs Angry, as she packed up her notebook and pens.
What about the druids? wondered Mr Shepherd, aloud to himself, worrying about this fellow Mayor's failure to be fully inclusive, in his festive greetings.
Everyone drifted out. All the cuts and outsourcing proposals, and the destruction of our library service had been voted through, on a majority of one, and barely anyone noticed. Painfree privatisation, the easycouncil way.
At least: that's what they want to believe.
But the real battle is fought not in the council chamber of Broken Barnet, or by motions to council, or pointless pantomime debates.
It's up to us now, to inform the residents of this borough of every Tory councillor who voted for the next round of outsourcing and cuts in budgets, and then tries to tell them, with a nod and a wink, that of course they won't allow their local library to close, or that depot to be built next door to their homes.
Look at the evidence - when have any of them had the courage to stand up for what is right, and just, and put the best interests of residents before the mindless tribal loyalty to their own group, and their own political ambitions?
The battle in the council chamber and committee rooms of the Town Hall - the pantomime - is a diversion from the real war going on around us.
The real struggle is outside, in the hands of ordinary residents, and activists, and campaigners, and in the words written in the press, and this blog, and spoken on tv, or the radio, or via social media: it is the battle for the hearts and minds of voters. And that campaign is underway, drawn up, mapped out, on the march.
The Tory councillors of Broken Barnet may or may not survive the next three years or so, with their slender majority: but their foolishness has very likely cost the three local Tory MPs irreparable damage in their chances of being returned to parliament next May. Either way: this war will all be over by next Christmas: it remains to be seen who is the winner, in the end.