Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Back to the Future: Times past, times present, in Broken Barnet

Margaret Thatcher, by Lorna May Wadsworth

*Updated, see below

For reasons too difficult to explain, Mrs Angry recently had occasion to have to sit in the air conditioned isolation of the British Library, trawling through back copies of the two local papers which serve us here in Broken Barnet: that is to say the Times, and the Press. 

In this strictly monitored environment, of course, readers are required to be at all times silent, and well behaved, and not indulge in outbursts of laughter, derisive comments, or any other outward expression of scorn, a requirement which was to prove a severe test of the self discipline of this blogger, distracted as she was from her purpose, entirely unconnected with the political antics of our local council. 

In fact it was quite impossible, due to the unreasonable amount of provocation buried in the seemingly innocuous pages of our local press, circa 1991-1992, courtesy of the coverage of our Tory councillors at that time, more than two decades ago.

This happy period coincided with the end of the Thatcher rule of terror in Finchley, of course: and how well Mrs Angry remembers the thrill of the announcement that day of her resignation, seated as she was at the time in a union meeting, throwing her notebook and pen in the air in jubilation ... 

Soon afterwards came the news that Margaret was also standing down as Finchley's MP. Happy days: Mrs Angry smiled fondly as she scrolled through the images of sad Conservatives in her constituency, gutted at the departure of their heroine. 

Even happier days: the PM at a constituency event with local Tories.

Uh oh; I am still around warned the old girl, in one cheery photo, with a fixed grin, still clinging on, like a failing music hall act reluctant to leave the stage, about to be hauled off by the management - there'll never be another -  but no ... soon she was gone, and her would be replacement, Hartley Booth, begins, as recorded in the local press, to feature in carefully placed local appearances, with a tight smile, trying valiantly to appear a worthy successor to the former PM.

Mrs Angry can remember being in the public gallery of the Town Hall when Hartley Booth was wheeled in to make a stately visit, hailed by his Tory chums in the council chamber.

Sadly the career of Mr Booth, who was a Methodist lay preacher and related to the Salvation Army founder, foundered once it was revealed he had had some sort of 'friendship' with a young female research assistant. 

Mr Booth insisted that there had been no 'sexual impropriety', and had the backing of local Tories - There has been no sex involved and it is rather a fuss about nothing, said the constituency chair. 

After losing his post as pps to Douglas Hogg, he was beaten in the selection process for the next election to John Marshall.
Awfully bad luck to lose your job for a sex scandal with no sex, you might think.

Poor Mr Booth. He must have felt rather short changed, all things considered.

And poor John Marshall, who had lost Hendon to Andrew Dismore, and now was rather surprised to find himself defeated in Finchley by Labour's Rudi Vis.

Vis became terminally ill towards the end of his tenure as MP for Finchley and Golders Green, and the seat became a fairly easy target for recapture at the last election, which is how we came to be blessed with the attentions of Mr Mike Freer, the former leader of Barnet Council, and the godfather of One Barnet, which grew, like a monstrous mutation, encouraged by the tender care of subsequent interested parties, from his fatuous, soundbite 'easycouncil' idea.

Earlier this week we heard that the neighbouring constituency of Hendon, held by Freer's accident prone Tory colleague Matthew Offord, has been predicted by an Ashcroft poll to be won back by Labour, a fact gleefully reported here by the former MP Andrew Dismore, who points out 

 “In April, Lord Ashcroft’s Hendon polling gave Labour a respectable lead of  8% ahead of the Conservatives.  Now in July, his poll shows we have extended  our lead to 15% , meaning  a 7.5% swing to Labour- we only need 0.2% swing to win.

Matthew Offord: hanging out with Miss Ballooniverse, but swinging in the wrong direction

Dismore also reports another interesting discovery regarding the targeting of Hendon ward, and the level of funding available to local Tories:

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has just published  research on fundraising in the most marginal constituencies, including Hendon: http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2014/07/20/election-2015-which-parties-have-the-most-cash-in-britains-battleground-seats/
This shows that since 2010, Hendon Conservatives have raised more than double the amount we in Hendon Labour have been able to raise.

But there is an even more significant detail hidden in this research, regarding the funding of the Finchley constituency currently held by Mike Freer.

Most cash
The UK constituency that has received by far the most cash from any party is Finchley & Golders Green – Margaret Thatcher’s old stomping ground. In the last election, this was considered a prime Labour target seat. But Cameron’s Conservatives extended what in 2005 was a slim majority. With less than a year to the next poll, Conservative party supporters have contributed £369,737 to the constituency since May 2010.

Where does all this money come from, and where does it go to? Hard to be sure.
Another interesting story regarding Freer emerged during the week, as reported here in the Ham & High - off goes our man to a new job, as pps to Nick Boles, minister of state at the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. 

Rather odd, because last October, rather to the surprise of many onlookers, Freer had been rewarded, at last, for his years of loyal support to the government, and his long record of interesting written questions by being given one of two pps posts to Eric Pickles. To the surprise of many onlookers, that is, because rumour has it that Eric, although of course a blushing admirer of Mrs Angry, is not particularly known for his unlimited adoration of our MP. 

Clearly Freer was not always rushed off his feet with the demands of his role in government, as demonstrated by the tweet he made while Theresa May was announcing the momentous decision to instigate an overarching inquiry into cases of historic child sex abuse: an inquiry which he had refused to support:

 As some unknown twitter commenter remarked:
  1. You missed the statement on child abuse to watch cycling?
  2. it's called having the chamber on TV and reading the statement
 His correspondent was surprised that Freer was surprised at his criticism:

Jul 7
Really amazing that a voter takes a view of MP taking pictures of cycling while the HS is delivering statement on child abuse?

Only nine months after his appointment with Pickles, and here he is in what might well be seen as a demotion, moved from the exciting world of local government policy making, which he probably sees as his area of expertise, what with the easycouncil thing and all - to the backwaters of Boles' department. We are told that Boles is also responsible for the implementation of equal marriage, which was a subject that Freer spoke well on, from a personal perspective, last year - in marked contrast to the ludicrous spoutings of Offord, who made offensive remarks apparently comparing equal marriage to polygamy and even incest. But to moved on the pretext of implementing something that has already happened: odd, don't you think? 

Could it be that our Mike did not see entirely eye to eye with Uncle Eric on the subject of localism, and the empowerment of the citizen, and oh - hang on, the virtues of citizen journalism? Well, yes, we know that Eric is a big fan of Mrs Angry, and her blogging colleagues, and we know that Mr Freer ... is not.

Tory Barnet has been nothing but a constant source of embarrassment for the government over the course of the last few years, and seems determined to move in the opposite direction to the policy of localism, as defined by Pickles. 

The latest idiotic act by Barnet Tories, to vote themselves dispensation from declaring their pecuniary interests, the act of which Eric's own legislation created as a new offence, came only days ago, earlier this month. Mrs Angry made sure to tell Mr Pickles all about it, via the medium of twitter. Can you imagine the sort of interesting conversation that might have taken place between Uncle Eric and the new teaboy, should the matter have arisen? In any event what did arise, a week or so later, was that - Freer was out.

The curse of Mrs Angry, see.

But back to a time before Mrs Angry was born, and easycouncil had not been drafted, on the back of a postage stamp, by its only begetter. 

Back to Barnet, 1991, a time when Eric Pickles was not yet Eric Pickles, but a mere shadow of himself, just appointed as a candidate for the safe seat of Brentwood and Ongar. 

Localism had not been invented, of course: indeed for some the very thought was ... unthinkable - local councils were run by councillors, for councillors, and certainly not accountable to their electors. Transparency? You what?

In August 1991 the Barnet Press carried a story about new government proposals to give the electorate more information about their elected representatives: specifically about their interests and financial affairs. It referred to a couple of Tory councillors whose business interests had been criticised as being in conflict with their roles as elected members.

The then Tory leader, Roy Shutz, asked about the idea of expecting councillors to disclose such interests said:

'I understand that some people may feel it is an impertinence to be asked to reveal that'.

An impertinence.

Yes, of course, that was a long time ago, and now, as we know from our current deputy Chief Operating Officer Chris Naylor, the default mode of Barnet Council is now, what was it ... ah yes: transparency, open government, that sort of thing ... Sort of. As long as it only the sort of transparency that doesn't expose any dark secrets to the glare of public scrutiny. 

And - oh dear. Some of our Tory councillors clearly feel it is still an impertinence to expect them to declare their interests, even now: even pecuniary interests, and even when Eric Pickles has made it a criminal offence not to do so.

Which brings us to the matter of our Mayor, the landlord: Tory councillor Hugh Rayner', whose business activities and alleged failure to declare his interests have been reported, in June, to the Monitoring Officer, by Andrew Dismore. Andrew has also raised the matter at Mayor's Question Time, with Boris Johnson.

Several weeks have now gone by, and here we are, nearly in August, and the silly season (a relative term, here in Broken Barnet) when bad news can be safely slipped out of NLBP ... or so they would like to think.

Nothing has happened yet, nor indeed has anything emerged from the investigation, also by the Monitoring Officer, into the complaint made by the Labour group over the reportedly disproportionate highways budget expenditure approved by Golders Green Tory councillor and former Cabinet member Dean Cohen, whose own ward received £1 million in the run up to the election, while Labour held Colindale was given not one penny , as revealed by Mrs Angry from a series of FOI requests - and which Labour allege demonstrate a political bias in distribution.* See below for update

At last Friday's Mayor's Question Time, Andrew Dismore asked another question about landlords in Barnet, this time focusing on the Mayor's much vaunted 'London Rental Standard', which is, we learnt, supported by 448 landlords in our borough. Dismore pointed out to Boris Johnson that several Barnet Tory councillors, ie Hugh Rayner, Peter Zinkin, Dean Cohen, Melvin Cohen, Helena Hart and housing spokesman Tom Davey, are landlords, but do not belong to the scheme. He also invited the Mayor of London to consider the interesting fact that at a recent meeting, the Tory councillors voted themselves a dispensation from declaring their interests as ... landlords.   

Do you think that is right, he asked?

Boris attempted to bluster his way out of this question, having previously been lured so easily by Dismore into condemning the Tory Mayor of Barnet's behaviour as landlord, before his identity had been revealed: this time he commented that Andrew had made allegations of criminal misconduct in regard to Cllr Rayner, and suggested, not unreasonably, that:

 'if you feel that is the case, then you really must take them up with the police'.

The long delay in any news from the Monitoring Officer in regard to the two complaints about Tory councillors is rather worrying, and possibly suspicious. To take so long to investigate these matters, both of which are potentially dealing with alleged unlawful activity might suggest the cases should both be referred to the police, and the CPS, for them to consider whether or not there is any evidence of serious wrongdoing, rather than take such a long time to go through an in house process of inquiry, with no transparency or scrutiny. 

Is the investigation subject to any political pressure? By remaining under the cover of an internal Barnet process, the perception of onlookers may be reasonably to fear this is what might happen, and the length of time, and degree of silence on the matter is in marked contrast to the treatment of a Labour councillor, earlier this year, who was so swiftly and so publicly referred to the police and CPS on the basis of an allegation which was proved to be unfounded.

As to the question that Boris would not answer, as to whether it is right that our shameless Tory councillors should vote themselves a dispensation from declaring their pecuniary interests: well - can this even be lawful? 

Eric Pickles made the non declaration of a pecuniary interest a criminal offence. 

How can it possibly be legally permissable for councillors to exempt themselves in this arbitrary way? 

To do so runs counter to the principle of transparency, and subverts the fundamental purpose of the legal process. 

The basis of our democracy is that the law should apply to all, without exception, not just those it suits, and in public life we now expect absolute compliance with the need for openness and accountability  - except, it seems, here in Broken Barnet, where such demands are still, twenty years later, still seen as 'an impertinence'.

That our Tory councillors fail to see that residents will view their behaviour over the interest declarations at inherently suspicious is par for the course. 

Their entire strategy is based on a fatal misunderstanding of the perception of the average voter, which is why so many of them were so shocked on the day of the count, to find themselves booted out of their seats. 

Such a gulf between councillors and residents is buffered by the Tories' traditional complacency over the need to engage with the people they represent, or to consult them over major policy decisions. 

This was another theme noticeable in the pages of the past press coverage: see the story from December 1991, telling us Barnet had pledged to take steps to become (and here you may titter behind your hand) 'the listening council' ... 

This amusing idea, which never caught on, of course, was the response to a highly critical report from Price Waterhouse, which concluded Barnet failed to consult the public, 'promises services it cannot deliver and which the public do not know about' and appeared as 'centralist and bureaucratic in approach rather than business-like'.


Another theme which runs through this period is what was then an innovative idea, a new policy, introduced by stealth, problematic from the beginning, and a forewarning of what was to come, actively ignored by Tories then and now: the ogre of outsourcing.

In 1991, refuse collection had been privatised, and the council was struggling to cope with the complaints from residents over the problematic new system. Guess what they blamed it on, then, as they do now, in any new service arrangement? 

Yes: 'teething problems'. You know, as in the perpetual failures in the new Capita call centre, twelve months into a contract whose scale simply could not have been foreseen, twenty years ago, and the implications of which are only now just beginning to dawn on the Tory councillors who so glibly waved through their approval of this ten year act of bondage to our new masters.

If you have not already done so, Mrs Angry begs that you will read the recent post by fellow blogger Mr Reasonable, on the subject of the Capita contracts:


With his usual forensic eye, Mr Reasonable turns his attention to the interesting subject of the real cost of the massive Capita contracts, and the extent to which our 'partners' are profiting, at our expense - here is an extract:

What intrigued me were a couple of comparatively small invoices,one on 27 November and one on 9th december for a total of £417,007. What this payment relates to is a clause in the contract called "Gainshare" where Capita get a cut of any savings made. Although the contract is redacted it is apparent from the numbers on the invoices that Capita receive 40% of any savings made.

I felt deeply uncomfortable about these savings and have been trying to understand how such savings could be made so quickly. Following a great deal of correspondence with the council and having several subtly different version of how the savings are justified I have been  told that these savings are the estimate of savings to be made over the next year, that Capita invoice Barnet upfront and then at the end of the year if the savings are not as great as Capita forecast then Capita have to return some of the money.  Frankly I was staggered that the council should be sharing out quite so much of the savings of our money and paying out forecast savings as much as a year before they are realised.

Personally  I cannot believe that any commercial organisation would countenance such a one-sided deal but this is Barnet Council we are talking about. Transparency on these savings is absolutely zero. I have asked repeatedly for evidence and it has been promised as recently as Tuesday but it still has not materialised. Indeed one of the largest elements of this saving relates to an area which I believe is virtually impossible to audit which should make everyone very uncomfortable.

So what you may say. It's £417k out of a massive budget. However this week Barnet signed off approval for contracts worth £594 million to be procured. Most of these are existing contract so will Capita be entitled to 40% of the savings on all those contracts? Let us say that they realise 10% savings possibly by squeezing residential and nursing homes who will in turn squeeze staff wages in exactly  the same way that Your Choice Barnet have cut the wages of staff by 9.5%.

 If that were the case would Capita be entitled to £23.76 million of "Gainshare" which they will bill upfront?
Do any of the councillors who signed the contract know? Was the matter raised by councillors on Tuesday evening when the approved the procurement exercise? There was no debate on the subject and Dan Thomas did not allow any scrutiny from Cllr Paul Edwards who wanted to asked questions.

One of the other shameful innovations of the new Tory administration, decided upon in a fit of pique, when Labour refused to comply with Richard Cornelius' 'indecent proposal' for a twinning vote system between the groups, was that the Chair of the Audit Committee will no longer be, as it should be, a position held by an opposition member. Tory Brian Salinger was appointed instead, and this move underlines yet again the regressive nature of Barnet Tory philosophy, and its utter rejection of the principle of meaningful, rigorous scrutiny.
At last week's meeting, yet another failure in governance - or a casual disregard for due process - led to members of the committee not receiving details of the accounts they were expected to approve before the last minute, leaving them no time properly to review the figures. 

The independent members of the committee objected, and quite rightly refused to sign off the accounts until such a time as they had had the opportunity to see the relevant reports, clearly misunderstanding that the role of the new audit committee  is to rubberstamp the Tory agenda, avoid the process of scrutiny, and quash all intelligent debate. As Mr Reasonable has said:

What a shame Conservative councillors did not take the same approach before they signed off this massive Capita contract.

The accounts will be reconsidered at a special meeting tonight, at 6pm.

Let us return to Mrs Angry sitting in the cool, light and calm of the British Library newsroom, scrolling through the past annals of  our Tory councillors, in Broken Barnet: the land time forgot. 

Let us not be distracted by the awful familiarity of long meetings, presided over by, oh dear, Councillor Old, and the tetchy objection by Cllr Helena Hart at the excess of hot air in the Town Hall (staff luxuriating in over heated buildings, rather than from daring to question the policies of members). 

Try not to smile at the defence put up by our Tory councillors over the revelation of  'junkets' at the Compleat Angler in Marlow, or a lovely hotel in Reading - poor things, these days all they have to console themselves with is their free parking permits (which they voted to retain last week, and no, no need for declarations of interest, of course ...)

And please don't laugh, Mrs Angry, at the admirable sobriety of our sole surving Libdem member Jack Cohen, then moved to remonstrate with his Conservative colleagues (pointless to have a go at Labour) for indulging in alcoholic refreshment, after council meetings - to the indignation of some of the Tory matrons, whose lips had never touched strong liquor (or anything or anyone else, probably). It was a Bad Example, he said, to residents. Quite. 

Mrs Angry looks forward to debating this further with you in the Greyhound, Councillor Cohen. Large Sauvignon Blanc, thank you.

This was, of course, the era of poll tax protests: Councillor Brian Salinger had no truck with those in arrears in the borough, and indeed we read here that he and his colleagues wanted to see them named and shamed. 

Poll tax came and went, and now we have the bedroom tax instead: Salinger and several other of the Tory councillors are still here and are equally indifferent to the plight of those affected by what Cllr Davey refuses even to acknowledge as a tax. If you can't afford to live in Barnet, they say: move on. And if you don't, they will move you anyway, in their policy of social cleansing, or 'regeneration'. 

Margaret would have been so proud.

In 1991, Barnet was having to buy back cemeteries from a catastrophic privatisation deal hatched with Margaret's chum Lady Porter: here we are in 2014, having thrown Hendon Cemetery into the Capita contract as a 'sweetener', because outsourcerers love to get their sweaty hands on the easy profits of death, as well as life. 
 As for housing: Thatcher's legacy, her right to buy scheme for council tenants - even as she stood down from her seat, it was clear to see that this was leading to a crisis for would be tenants and homeless families, some of them put four in a room in bed and breakfast accommodation, with the council's stock rapidly decreasing, and not replaced. 

This state of affairs was noted in a Labour councillor's letter in the paper in 1992, pleading for the soon to be closed former 'asylum' at Friern Barnet to be used for social housing. Some chance: our Tory councillors have always opposed the creation of new council homes, and anyway the building was sold to the Comer Brothers, who are the landlords of Barnet Council, at North London Business Park - and indeed have kindly donated to Mike Freer's war chest, in the past.

In the nineties, the local Times group were damn good at covering local politics. There was an entire page devoted to the latest news on that front, courtesty of veteran reporter Bill Montgomery, a winner of an award by the Campaign for Freedom of Information for investigative journalism. Mrs Angry used to leak information to him, in fact, when involved in local union politics. Bill was an old school journalist, who cultivated a network of sources, researched his stories, worked hard for his material, and was never afraid to tell it like it was. 

In one piece in December 91, he lambasts the Tory council in a piece headed 'Selling the Family Silver', noting their agenda of seeing publicly owned assets as at their disposal, for short term profit. He predicted the sale of schools, courthouses, depots, and many other council properties: and he was spot on. Here we are, in 2014, and our Tory councillors are still blindly following the same course of action, thrashing about for anything they can flog off, regardless of any worth other than market value: libraries, museums, all surplus to requirement.

Things change: change is good: it is an unstoppable process, but apparently not here in Broken Barnet, where our Tory politicians are stuck in an evolutionary bottleneck, cut off from the rest of the world.

Bill Montgomery has gone, and local investigative journalism has largely been replaced - or perhaps re-energised - by the emergence of the blogosphere, and the citizen journalist. 

This is a new role welcomed by Eric Pickles, the Tories own local government minister, as part of his localism agenda, but no: here in Barnet they fight, tooth and nail, to resist the very principles of their own party's stated aim, to empower the electorate in their own communities, and support the idea of local democracy. 

For Barnet Tories the very idea of a committment to transparency, accountability and the act of objective scrutiny is anathema: an impertinence.

This grubby backwater council is no longer the Tory flagship borough, or the proud constituency of a prime minister - it sits in a state of terminal decline, presided over by a Mayor under a dark cloud of allegations, its members an endangered species, on the brink of extinction, pecking away at the last vestiges of their existence, while a new generation of predators, the corporate profiteers move in, and steal their ground from under their feet.

They don't see it: they never will. 

Our only hope is that voters get another chance to wrench their finger tips from control of this borough, and this council, and usher in a new era, where the ghost of Margaret Thatcher is finally exorcised, her legacy laid to rest, most fittingly, in the Crapita Easycrem.

Not entirely gone - and not forgotten.

Broken Barnet, 1991-2014.


This evening saw a reconvened Audit Meeting, brought together again in order to discuss the accounts which independent and Labour members objected to being asked to approve, last week, having been supplied with the reports at such short notice.

First we were treated to a somewhat baffling debate about the borough's heritage assets - yes, there may not be any family silver left in the Mayor's Parlour, but we have his gold chain, which the Tory councillors have convinced themselves belongs to them (and of course Brian Coleman still thinks it belongs to him) ... in fact it was loaned to the Mayoralty by NALGO/Unison, and in Mrs Angry's view, Unison should demand it back, sell it, and use it to fight the further assault on our public services by our doltish Tory councillors.

We then learnt that some of the borough's war memorials appear to be missing from the list - a rather regrettable fact in the light of this year's anniversary of WW1. The Tory councillors shrugged. It means someone else is looking after them, they said, with relief. 

More shrugging when Labour's Arun Mittra asked again about the heritage assets, specifically the apparent undervaluing of some of our local statues. Our most famous example, La Delivrance, known locally as the Naked Lady, stands rather brazenly by Henley's Corner, waving a sword around, installed after the first world war by Lord Rothermere, who is said to have wanted to see it there on his trips to visit his mother in Totteridge.

This and another statue in Friary Park appeared to valued at a minimal rate, surprising in view of at least the notable aesthetic and cultural significance of  the Naked Lady. The Tories thought no, it reflected the market rate of lead, or whatever base metal the objects were made of. This was, of course, the perfect predictable demonstration of the cultural frigidity of the Barnet Tory psyche. Melt it down, flog it off, let someone else take care of it.

People's Mayor Mr Shepherd audits the auditors

Mrs Angry's mind was wandering somewhat at this point, and she very nearly missed the thing which she had come to observe: an objection from Labour councillors to the accounts being approved when there was the outstanding issue of the potential unlawful spending of the Highways budget, the subject of a formal complaint by the group first to the Auditor, and then kicked back by him to the Monitoring Officer.

Mrs Angry had raised the issue originally with the external auditors in a written question at the last full audit meeting, specifically because of this significance, that they could not approve any potentially unlawful expenditure. 

It seemed, however, that our friends from Grant Thornton were not expecting this issue to be raised, and were completely wrong footed. Much fumbling and dithering ensued, and we heard that our external auditors thought that a mere sum of £4 million regarding the Highways issue was not important enough to constitute a material objection: really?

So then we all wanted to know - even if it is unlawful? Ah. 

That caused more head scratching, and quizzical looks across the table, and whispered conversations between the Monitoring Officer, and the new Chair, Tory Brian Salinger, which lack of transparency was itself objected to by Labour's Geof Cooke, who also pointed out the length of time that the investigation into the complaint was taking. 

MO Maryellen Salter said that there was only one issue still outstanding before she could conclude her investigation, which would be 'in the near future' - and we all await her report with great interest, don't we?

Friday, 18 July 2014

A Pardoner's Tale, or: a dispensation of innocence: further shame for Barnet, as Tories vote to hide their own pecuniary interests

It is an honour to everich that is heer 
That ye mowe have a suffisant pardoneer 
T' assoille yow in contree as ye ryde, 
For aventures whiche that may bityde. 

It was always going to be an eventful evening.

And the extent to which the council was aware of this possibility was marked, as Mrs Angry observed, by the preparations made for the potential trouble that might ensue. Police at the Town Hall, overly heavy security inside, and an emergency committee room set up as an alternative venue, should any protest disrupt the meeting, and chase our quivering councillors into flight, down the corridor, away from their electors.

This was the second full council meeting of the new administration, with a new Mayor, Hugh Rayner, whose inauguration had been marked by a less than respectful response by the public and by a Labour opposition outraged by the now notorious 'indecent proposal' made by the Tory leader in a desperate attempt to protect his party's perilous control of the council. 

The Cornelius proposal, whispered into the ear of the staunchly virtuous Labour leader Alison Moore, was that there should be a sort of twinning arrangement, parliamentary style, so that any Tory councillors on holiday, out to dinner, or wanting to stay at home washing their hair, could be excused attendance at meetings, without fear of causing the loss of a majority, and any crucial vote.

The Labour leader slapped Cllr Cornelius's hand, and told him to get lost. This rejection had consequences, however: the Tories punished Labour for this refisal to play their game by a petty sequence of measures, including the withdrawal of some expenses for opposition spokespersons, and most notably deciding to change the time of the September meeting to a date deliberately coinciding with the week of the Labour conference, and in fact on the very day of Ed Miliband's speech.

Short of travelling to and from Barnet - and abandoning poor Mrs Angry to the temptations of Manchester, unchaperoned, which would be unwise - this means there would be very few Labour councillors able to attend this meeting, which is of course their intention. 

Such a tactic was pretty pathetic, and completely without precedent, as by convention meetings are never arranged for the week of any party conference.

All of this disagreeable, petty behaviour by the Tories, together with the mayhem caused by the complete shambles of the new and apparently unconstitutional committee system, created a tumultuous response in the council chamber and the public gallery, and Rayner lost his temper, demanding repeatedly that respect be shown, if not to him, to the office of Mayor. Ah.

Within days of this plea, the Mayor himself had managed to bring his office into a state of no little disrepute by the emergence of allegations connected to his business dealings as a landlord, and reported claims that he had failed to make the necessary declarations of interest at meetings in which housing issues were discussed. The outcry which ensued saw calls for the Mayor to step down, and an outpouring of criticism over his apparent activities and failings in regard to his declarations. 

Assembly Member Andrew Dismore made a formal complaint to the Monitoring Officer, followed by a further submission with more evidence. We await the outcome with some unease: why is it, many are asking, that even though the allegations concern what is now a potentially criminal offence, ie the reported non declaration of a pecuniary interest, no referral has yet been made to the police?

When earlier this year, coincidentally just before the elections began, it was made known that a Labour councillor had been referred to the police for what eventually was proven to be a false allegation of 'taxdodging', there was clearly no hesitation in taking such an action, or announcing the development. 

Here we have a much more serious matter, brought to the attention of the Monitoring Officer, Maryellen Salter, more than a month ago, yet apparently no referral has been made. There is even talk of the matter being presented to the group leaders' panel, a toothless body with no power to apply any sanctions, let alone deal with an issue of potential legal consequence.

Ms Salter is a busy woman at the moment: not only is there an investigation into the Mayor, there is another one focused on the very interesting issue of the disproportionate Highways expenditure, overseen by the Mayor's colleague Dean Cohen, who gave a million pounds to his own ward in the run up to the election, while Labour held wards received comparatively paltry amounts of funding, and Colindale nothing at all. The Labour group - eventually - followed up Mrs Angry's coverage of this scandalous state of affairs, and submitted a complaint, and here again we must ask - in view of the case that there may have been unlawful expenditure, will this matter be referred to the police?

Because clearly the police do take a close interest in Barnet issues. In the last week alone, Mrs Angry has observed a police ISP reading this post, about an attempt to lobby Hendon MP Matthew Offord:


And yesterday the Met was back again, reading up about Rayner, just before the meeting, or rather just before the protest which was due to take place outside the Town Hall, before the meeting began. 


And protest is the word that links these two visits from the boys in blue, of course: our elected representatives may disport themselves in any way they think fit, but any expression of dissent by any residents will be likely to be under scrutiny.

Allegations of unlawful behaviour by elected representatives are not automatically the subject of investigation or scrutiny by the police, therefore, but lawful demonstrations by ordinary residents, expressing their democratic right to protest most certainly will be. Funny old world, isn't it?

And so back to the meeting, and the protest at the Town Hall, which moved inside - after the Mayor had slipped round the back rather than face them, leaving his wife and chaplain to leave the limo on their own - and up the stairs to the public gallery, closely followed by security staff. 

 The People's Mayor, Mr Shepherd, enters the public gallery

The Mayor entered the chamber. Mrs Angry noted with amusement that he had dispensed, for this occasion at least, with the pomp if not the pomposity that he had bragged about in his inaugural address: please take note, Daily Mail, because obviously a man's outfit, even in Broken Barnet, tells you all you need to know about their suitability for political office.

But - no velvet gown or frou-froued blouse, this time, and no fox furs: a sober black suit, suitably penitent for a man in his position, with only the Mayoral bling to accessorise his outfit. Perhaps a pair of cheery socks, or a raffish handkerchief well placed, in top pocket, would have lightened the effect. Something to think about, Mr Mayor, for next meeting. Oh. If there is one, of course.

As he entered, visibly flinching at the prospect of what might be to follow, members of the public in the gallery remained seated (as Mrs Angry always does) and held a silent protest, with a dignity sadly lacking from the other side of the glass wall that divides our elected representatives from the great unwashed they speak for. They held up posters allusing to rogue landlords, and to the fact that 86% of residents in a poll in the local press thought Rayner should resign.

At this point Mrs Angry noted a cameraman filming the protest: not one of the regulars who dutifully record our meetings. When asked who he was, he claimed he was from Al Jazeera English. 

Bearing in mind the rather more significant, not to say abominable conflicts around the world, in Gaza and elsewhere, it seemed hard to believe they would be interested in the continuing saga of unrest here in Broken Barnet, but then ... it is an uprising, of sorts. 

And apparently what is happening in West Hendon, some of whose campaigners were present last night, is of interest to this channel: and so it should - the social cleansing of vast swathes of outer London is a war that needs reporting, and an injustice that needs a resolution.

The Mayor looked ill at ease, right from the start. He took his place, and his chaplain, a female pastor gave the usual sort of address that we must endure at these otherwise God forsaken occasions. Mrs Angry tried hard not to listen, as the sight of so many Tory councillors bowing their knavish heads in prayer, just before launching into an agenda of villainous intent and socially divisive policies never fails to send her into a fit of near apoplexy. The general drift of the chaplain's address, it seemed, was to remind us to be obedient to the rule of authority, and our betters, who are charged with our protection on behalf of the Lord. 

Well, f*ck that for a game of soldiers, thought the disobedient Mrs Angry, grabbing her notebook and pen, and preparing to chronicle the evening's performance.

And what a performance it was.

Any declarations of interest, asked the Mayor?

Oh, how we laughed.

Mr Shepherd, who some have suggested should be nominated as the People's Mayor, and what a brilliant idea that is, announced from the back of the public gallery that he had to declare an interest in the NHS, on account of his blood donations. 

Fair enough.

A couple of sad announcements: the death of Cllr John Hart's wife, after a long illness, and also that of Lady Miller, the Tory peer - and mother of former Barnet blogger 'Don't Call me Dave'.

On to constitutional matters - yes, there is a constitution, even in Broken Barnet, although like the scriptures, it is open to a wide range of interpretation, and widely abused by all who practise its commands. 

The high priests of governance had previously allowed the Tory councillors to make a complete cockup of the new committee system, and now had somehow to fix it. 

How they have fixed it is as follows. 

Identifying there is a problem, and taking the legal advice they should have had before they created the new system, and then finding it was unconstitutional, and then taking more legal advice which said although it was unconstitutional, it wasn't, and they could carry on until they changed the system to one which was. 

Got that?

The issue of concern was around the proportionality of the committees. The solution to this, it seems, is to give a majority of one on all committees except where it really matters, ie Policy and Resources, for which they have insisted on having two.

The Labour leader complained, but the Tories couldn't give a shit, of course. 

An argument broke out next about the date of the September meeting.

At the recent question time in Friern Barnet library, Mrs Angry had tackled the Tory leader about the date being moved to the Conference week, and suggested to him that it had been a pretty shabby thing to do. Rather to her surprise, he had had the grace to look ashamed, and nodded, and said that it needed adjustment.

Now here we were, at the meeting where the Tories were doing the opposite, and forcing through the date he had agreed was unfair. He squirmed in his seat, but voted with all his ghastly colleagues to support the motion.

Cornelius' gentlemanly act is the not the real deal, it seems: scratch him and he is like all the rest of the neo Thatcherites sitting in Hendon Town Hall - Brian Coleman in white gloves: just as ruthless, and just as lacking in any sense of fair play, but with slightly better table manners.

This regrettable tendency, so prevalent amongst the Barnet Tories, now reared its monstrous head in the most provocative manner, in the form of something that really, one might have thought was impossible: covering themselves in an even greater level of ignominy than they already displayed.

Try and imagine this.

You are the leader of the Conservative party in Barnet.

Your new Mayor, within weeks of taking office, is under investigation by the Monitoring Officer for alleged misbehaviour in his role as a private landlord, and for reportedly failing to declare a pecuniary interest at meetings in which housing matters have been discussed.

At the very next full council meeting, where there is a well placed motion from the opposition directed at licensing landlords, you persuade the same Monitoring Officer to overrule the requirement for councillors to make declarations of interest in relation to their business activities as, yes - as landlords.

You then sit back and wonder why there is an explosion of incandescent fury in the ranks of residents sitting in the public gallery.

Remember: this is Broken Barnet, and this is the way we do things here. 

Whenever you think our Tory councillors could not act in any way more stupidly than they already have - hello: look, here they come with something new, something guaranteed to make them appear even more questionable, incompetent, and totally without any standard of propriety in public life. 

It's the sort of thing which keeps people like me compelled to look on, in horror, a witness to what has been without a doubt the most awful, prolonged, slow motion dive into abject shame - and beyond. 

In fact, such wilful misdirection of policy is almost a gift: it is the inversion of political instinct - a masterful display of low cunning gone terribly, spectacularly awry.

Yes. Our Tory councillors, facing an item from the opposition on the thorny subject how best to deal with rogue landlords, were faced with a problem. Many of them are themselves  landlords, and therefore had interests which would preclude them from taking part in a vote.  Or should do:  you can never be sure, in Barnet, can you?

In fact, apart from the Mayor, these Tories have interests which would ordinarily prevent them from taking part in a debate on any housing issue: Zinkin, Salinger, Dean and Melvin Cohen, Hart and Davey. 

Labour's Tim Roberts declared his interest, and left the chamber when he felt it appropriate, for which demonstration of transparency he received applause, from his colleagues, and from the public gallery.

But in order to make sure the dreaded fate they fear could not arise, that is to say, the passing of a proposal from opposition councillors that might benefit some of the most vulnerable residents in this borough, victims of unscrupulous landlords, the Tory group resorted to a desperate tactic. 

They told the Monitoring Officer, their latterday Pardoner, to sanction a motion that gave them a dispensation to take part in the vote, without any obligation to make declarations of interest. 

You will probably think that is pretty outrageous by any standard. In a council chamber presided over by a Mayor in trouble for his alleged behaviour as a landlord, and for reportedly failing to declare his interests in relation to his business activities - well - that pretty much surpasses anything they have ever done.

The howling and stamping of feet in the public gallery, and prolonged heckling was on an unprecedented scale, as residents and protestors were genuinely shocked at the extent to which the Tories are prepared to abandon any pretence at integrity, simply in order to win a political point.

But let's look more closely at the report from the Monitoring Officer which apparently has allowed our Tory councillors to avoid any obligation to be transparent and open when taking part in the decision making process of our local authority: is this dispensation even lawful?


 2.3 Council has not specifically delegated to a Committee or an Officer the
power to grant dispensations to Councillors or co-opted members in
accordance with section 33 of the Localism Act 2011. It has however been
assumed it is for Council to decide on dispensations in the absence of a
specific delegation. A dispensation allows Councillors or co-opted
members to be present, take part in debate and vote on any item in which
they have a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest.


Please note the clause which states, my emphasis: it has however been assumed it is for Council to decide on dispensations in the absence of a specific delegation.

And please remember that this is the same council and the same Monitoring Officer, and the same Chief Executive that had assumed the new committee system was properly constituted, but was not - or may have been, we are not sure - and the process by which we arrived at this state of confusion is now, in consequence, the subject of an independent investigation by Claer Lloyd Jones, QC.

Can you really have a dispensation from the need to make declarations of interest, and does it not run counter to every one of the Nolan principles, let alone raise a grave risk of serious harm to the reputation of the authority?

Anyone who has had a Catholic upbringing will be familiar with the concept of dispensations in canon law, the loopholes which the church can use, if it wishes, to give favour to the powerful, similar to the indulgences that were once for sale to those whose behaviour would otherwise be considered a grave sin, and earn them an eternity in hell: a sort of medieval carbon offsetting of wickedness for the wealthy, if you like.

Dispensation, in the context of the elastic constitution of the Tory administration, here in Broken Barnet, would appear to be based on a similar need to expiate the transgressions of those with influence.

The ambiguity over the legal status of this dodgy get out clause makes it pretty clear that there is every reason to present a legal challenge, and one would imagine this is exactly the course of action that will be pursued.

Back to the meeting.

The furore caused by the truly astonishing vote by Tory councillors to give themselves a dispensation from obligation to declare interests ibecame so intense, in fact, that, as must have been predicted, the Mayor felt obliged to announce an adjournment. 

Members poured out of the chamber, and residents from the gallery, and oh: Tory leader Cornelius ventured into the public gallery, in search of one of a small group of brave Tory party organisers who had sat there, one of them a shy young man in mysterious shades, who had run like the clappers earlier in the evening, when the man from Al Jazeera turned the camera on him. Wonder why? 

Probably worrying about the prospects of his future career in Conservative politics, should any footage emerge proving any association with the open sore that is the Tory party in Broken Barnet.

Richard Cornelius, sadly for him, timed his entrance just as Mrs Angry was going through the doors, and therefore set himself up nicely for a prolonged and detailed expression of Mrs Angry's views on his regrettable behaviour.

 No escape for the Tory leader: Mrs Angry - behind the door - tells him off

Mrs Angry remarked that she had thought he was a man of his word, and as he had admitted to her that the stunt his party had played over the conference week meeting was shabby, and needing putting right, he would do so. His face reddened, and he burbled on about it being impossible to find another date. He did not explain why he did not then cancel the meeting entirely. 

And, said Mrs Angry: of all the things that you could do, when you have your own Mayor under investigation for apparently failing to declare his interests, why on earth have you done the one thing guaranteed to make yourselves look even more awful? More importantly, did he really think what they were doing was in line with the Nolan principles in public life? Yes, he said, unconvincingly, he thought it was. 

Really? Let's remind ourselves of those principles, shall we?

  • Selflessness Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.
  • Integrity Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.
  • Objectivity In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
  • Accountability Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
  • Openness Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands it.
  • Honesty Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
  • Leadership Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

Looks as if they pretty well have broken every one, doesn't it?

What happened next was reminiscent of the bad old days of MetPro, and the rule of force in the Town Hall: Mrs Angry was invited to the Labour room for refreshments by a couple of the councillors, and also wanted to visit the loo. The way was barred by two security guards. Erm, I'm going to the ladies loo, said Mrs Angry. Go downstairs, they said, you're not going down that corridor. 

Yes, I am, said Mrs Angry: I've been invited to the Labour room. Oh really? Which is it, they asked - going to the toilet, or going to the Labour room? How impertinent, she thought. *

Both, as it happens.

No: they barred the way. 

I have been invited by Labour councillors, and if you don't believe me go and ask them, said Mrs Angry, who is in fact now a liaison officer to the group for her branch, and considers herself perfectly entitled to help herself to one of the party's wilting cucumber sandwiches and mini eclairs, should she choose -  And so have I, said another Labour activist. 

They gave in then, and Mrs Angry swept by with matronly disapproval, and soon rewarded their grudging permission, after grabbing said sandwich, by slipping out of the room, hurrying further down the corridor and taking covert photos of Committee Room 3, the operations room set out like Churchill's war time bunker, in preparation for invasion, with tables and chairs carefully labelled with placenames. 

 Emergency Ops Room, Hendon Town Hall

As she peered through the door, it became apparent that an officer was now setting up microphones, ready for an evacuated council meeting. Yes, this is an elected administration, in 2014, at war with its own electors.

Feeling only mildly like a heroine of the French resistance, returning to the village with important news: listen very carefully, I shall say this only once - she hurried to the gallery and informed the residents that their cowering councillors were about to make a run for it, should they continue to exercise their democratic rights to protest, with a few posters and the odd heckle. The residents in the gallery vowed to do their best to carry on exercising their democratic right to protest, with posters and heckling, and looked forward, with no little satisfaction, to the prospect of the Tory councillors fleeing down the corridor to their emergency ops room. As it turned out, however, this apocalyptic ending to the night's events was averted.

*Mrs Angry understands, by the way, that several Labour councillors fell foul of the heavy handed security that night, and were almost barred from parts of the Town Hall by security staff.

There was, after the meeting reconvened, a debate, of sorts, of an item from Cornelius on the subject of the 'savings context' of members' policy.

A few interesting points: Alison Moore reminded the Tory leader of some of the shameful choices his party made in order to make savings - cutting the funds to respite care for disabled children, for example. 

Libdem Jack Cohen pointed out that in their budgets both Tories and Labour had proposed cuts in council tax - he had not. He alluded to the trap in which Barnet now finds itself, tied in to a ten year contract with Crapita, and already seeing service standards decline, and without the evidence of promised savings. Now we are in hock to them, he said, if we need to make greater savings, we cannot, the contracts do not allow us to do so. He told the story of a constituent who had written to Barnet officers about a problem and was perplexed on being answered by an employee who, it transpired, was not a Barnet employee, but belonged to Capita. When asked why he was responding to the resident, and not a council officer, he was told that now: 'Capita speaks for Barnet' ...

Deputy leader Dan Thomas, fresh from his recent honeymoon (yes, clearly Mrs Angry's heart, once more, is Broken ...) spoke to support Cornelius' item. Hmm, thought Mrs Angry, obviously not listening to his blatherings, but keen to provide this blog with more fashion notes: John Thomas, who sometimes writes a blog called True Blue Barnet, was wearing a most unusual Pale Blue jacket, rather like, as observed by Mr Gerrard Roots, the former curator of the Church Farmhouse Museum, who was sitting next to her and gleefully sharing the duty of heckling Tory councillors, rather like the uniform of a Thompson's tourist guide in perhaps Magaluf, or Ibiza.

Time for the opposition item on ... oh dear, the regulation of landlords. Awkward. 

Labour's Ross Houston, who is the housing spokesperson,  spoke eloquently on the subject he probably knows more about than anyone else in the chamber. 

And then, oh dear, a pronouncement from the Mayor that could only result in a reaction of deep dismay by all present: Councillor Old, you have five minutes ...

Tory councillor Old is living proof of the theory of nominative determinism: one cannot imagine him, even as a young schoolboy, as anything other than a doddery old Tory councillor, rabbiting on, trapped in the usual Barnet Tory timewarp, stuck somewhere in the Thatcherite 1970s, a place of safety but under seige from the red peril, and red tape: the great bugbears and preoccupations of our Conservative members still, forty years on.

He went further back in time, in fact, to the 1960s, a dreadful era, apparently, in which it seems that our Graham was not letting it all hang out, and enjoying the bliss of free love and magic mushrooms, but worrying about the impact of secure tenancies and restrictive regulation of the housing market. 

This sort of regard for the rights of tenants, he seemed to be saying, meant that landlords found it hard to make any sort of living from their properties. 
Apart from Rachman, suggested Mrs Angry, across the chamber floor, rather tactlessly, perhaps.

At this point, it was noticeable that the Mayor, who had been covering his face, during some of the more uncomfortable parts of the evening, was nodding in agreement with his colleague, who,  it transpired, was more worried about the proliferation of beds in sheds, and unsightly erections in back gardens, which of course is something which keeps us all awake at night, and should be tackled, head on, in Mrs Angry's firm view. Although not if your neighbours are watching.

By now it was getting rather late. The Mayor thought it necessary to rule that the meeting should be extended beyond the ten o'clock limitation.

Yes, said Labour's Alon Or Bach, looking at the Mayor: ten pm is when some of us have to go and visit our tenants.

And then - oh, God: time for the churlish young Tom Davey to speak. He thought, guess what, that Labour could not have a 'grown up conversation' about housing.  Tom Davey, who lived at home with Mummy and Daddy until recently, bless him.

You need, he said, to allow people 'choice'. You know: Tory choice - choice for the middle classes, and those with means. The 'well off' residents that Davey wants in Barnet, rather than those 'benefit scroungers' that he so dislikes.

Question time for councillors no longer appears at the beginning of the full council meeting, but still offers plenty of opportunities for embarrassing the Tory administration. Another sign that our Tory chums have lost their mojo, bigtime, is that this session was not packed full of the old style self priming congratulatory non questions, whereby an obedient backbench councillor, wet behind the ears, is encouraged to earn brownie points by asking for reassurance of the enormous acheivements of the Tory administration. None of that, this time: just a relentless litany of questions  on two subjects, from Labour: on the rather sensitive issue of, oh dear, rogue landlords - and the million pound Highways expenditure in Golders Green granted by Cllr Cohen, to his own ward.

Keeping their noses clean: the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Broken Barnet

Labour's Ammar Naqvi, a very bright new councillor, asked some particularly astute supplementary questions on the former topic, so astute that for some reason the Mayor resorted to hiding his face behind his hand, in deep discomfort. 

Another new Labour councillor Amy Trevethan asked, with what may or may not have been breathless naivete and boundless curiosity:  

Would the Leader provide an update on the ratio of pomp to pomposity in Councillor Rayner's mayorship so far?

No coherent answer emerged from the Leader, or the Mayor, as you might expect. Coherence, selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and - oh dear -leadership: if you are expecting to find any of these attributes in the council chamber of Broken Barnet, you are going to be awfully disappointed.

None of these things have a market value, after all, none of them can be bought, and none can be sold in the guise of a dispensation.

Back to the Pardoner's Tale, then, and a message for Cllr Cornelius and all our sinful Tory councillors,  for which Mrs Angry begs your pardon, even if she doubts any of you really have any coillons:
Thou woldest make me kisse thyn olde breech 
And swere it were a relyk of a seint, 
it were with thy fundement depeint!

But, by the croys which that Seint Eleyne fond, 
I wolde I hadde thy coillons in myn hond 
In stide of relikes or of seintuarie. 
Lat kutte hem of, I wol thee helpe hem carie; 
They shul be shryned in an hogges toord!*
This is Broken Barnet, in 2014. 

Welcome to the middle ages.

*For the benefit of those Tory councillors who failed their 11 plus, and may be in need of translation:

Mrs Angry is unlikely to kiss your *rses, any time soon, and is casting doubt as to the effectiveness of your washing cycle.

Mrs Angry is not convinced that any of you have any balls, but if you did, she would be quite happy to remove them for you, although this would be accomplished with a fair degree of disrespect and ribald humour.

Mrs Angry