Tuesday 20 January 2015

Return of the Invisible Man: Dr Offord and Mrs Angry talk about libraries

Mrs Angry was asked, only the day before, to join a panel for Wednesday evening's meeting about the Barnet library proposals organised by Mill Hill Residents Association, one of those local groups that Barnet Tories are desperate to court - or rather groom - in the course of their electoral campaigns. 

She knocked up a few notes, therefore, tempted by the lure of being on the same panel as Matthew Offord: like all three local Tory MPs, he has spent the last few years avoiding any potentially dangerous open meetings, but now, of course, with a majority of only a hundred last election, clearly panicking, and making a rare appearance at just this sort of meeting. 

Arriving at the hall where the meeting was to be told, Mrs Angry was told that Offord had objected to her presence on the panel, as she was not an elected representative. He was reminded that this event was not a hustings, and that she was there for political balance, as the other members were Offord, Tory councillor John  Hart, and local AM, former Hendon MP, and future Hendon MP, Andrew Dismore. Fair enough, so.

After a talk in support of our libraries by Deborah Moggach and S F Said, the panel were invited up to the stage, which was at some distance - and out of earshot of the audience. Just as well. 

Mrs Angry arrived on stage, after Offord had sat himself at the table, having already decided to make polite conversation, ask him how he was after his recent eye injury, and maybe enquire about Max, his jack russell terrier and political advisor - but: oh dear ... as she walked on, he looked at her with a chilling glare.  

Don't be scared, said Mrs Angry, reassuringly, smiling only slightly mischievously, as she prepared to sit down. (You can see all this, from a distance, from about 29 minutes in - and Mrs Angry's contribution, for waht it's worth, from around45.50).

She wasn't prepared for what followed.

Scared? he immediately hissed at her, with an expression of blazing fury on his face:

Contemptuous, he snarled, sotto voce.

Mrs Angry had never met him before, or spoken to him, or had any contact with him, and was staggered by the underlying agression of his manner. It was, she thought, rather like a wounded animal, cornered, knowing its time is up, and lashing out.

I'm sorry? she asked, appalled.

Contemptuous! he repeated, and then continued, while maintaining a cool demeanour for the benefit of the audience out of earshot, similar remarks, quietly, and for no reason, on the line that she was 'a vile bully, an online bully', and - it was so shocking, it is impossible to remember exactly what else he came out with.

Why are you doing this? asked Mrs Angry, standing on the stage, aghast, looking at him,  stunned by his verbal assault, but somewhat distracted by the almost messianic expression in his eyes.

By this time, thankfully, Andrew Dismore was behind her and a witness to his sequence of insults, which continued even as we sat down. On the film Mrs Angry's reaction veers between horror, and laughter: but it was truly shocking, and an real insight into this man's character. 

Mrs Angry felt obliged to tell the organiser of the event, who came to the stage then, what Offord was up to, and that she was happy to take part in the debate, but not to be subjected to such abuse. 

As a result, veteran Tory councillor John Hart was asked to sit between us. 

I don't mind, said the handlebar moustachioed old boy, leaning towards Mrs Angry, whispering, with a Terry-Thomas aside: I like blondes ...

Help me, said Mrs Angry, to Andrew Dismore.

 What triggered such a reaction? Has Mrs Angry ever had any dialogue with the MP for Hendon, online, or offline? No. On the other hand, she has, in the cause of writing this blog, had occasion to report some of these stories about Offord - or rather, DR Offord, as he commanded her to call him. 

Holding the mirror up to nature, reporting the truth, is not an activity welcomed by our local Tory politicians, and the more insecure they feel about their electoral prospects, the more they fear the glare of scrutiny. And what has triggered Offord's behaviour to Mrs Angry?

Yes, she had condemned his ludicrous opposition to equal marriage which included offensive remarks comparing the love between two people who happen to be of the same sex, who simply want to marry, like any other couple, to polygamy, or even incest.

And reported the time he made a fool of himself shouting remarks at a dinner with army chiefs.

No doubt he objected to her chronicling his interesting trip to Belize, during the London riots, apparently to engage in a fight against hurricanes, and 'narco-terrorism' ...

And more recently, his fact finding visit to address a problem of urgent concern to the residents of Hendon, ie the turtles , blue iguanas - and boobies - of the Cayman Islands.

You might think that rather worrying about the endangered species of far away tax havens, the MP for Hendon ought to have been devoting his energies to the endangered species in his own constituency, and expressing his outrage over the threatened habitat of the working class community of the estate in West Hendon, about to be thrown out of their homes, to make way for a luxury development by Barratts. 

Far from showing any interest in the pleas of campaigners fighting this forcible eviction, Dr Offord, when Our West Hendon came to lobby him at a local meeting, refused to meet them, or leave without a police escort.

Yet in the last week or so he has, at this late stage in the proceedings, just before the Housing Inquiry which begins today, invited some residents to a meeting at Portcullis House, taken them on a lovely tour, and no doubt posed for some nice photos - and agreed to come to the library meeting. 

Is there an election in the offing, Dr Offord? 

Not being used to such open meetings, clearly he was unnerved by the idea that he was would have to be in the presence of opposition, and take part in a difficult and potentially risky debate. 

He came expecting something that did not happen, as you will see, and you may judge for yourself his own performance: watch what happens when he speaks to a woman who worked as a volunteer in a library ... and compare his evident lack of ease in this dangerous environment to the courage of Ed Miliband, in the same hall, a few days later, taking on a sequence of unknown, difficult questions, and addressing with admirable openness the complexities of the issues raised.

Offord was of course, as a former councillor, and indeed eventually deputy group leader, part of the Tory council administration which brought Barratts into the West Hendon development, and he was also, despite the curious remarks he made in his otherwise carefully worded speech about the library cuts, a member of the administration when the chance to retain Totteridge Library was finally thrown out.

And what did he have to say about the current proposals? Beginning with an amusing Freudian slip, saying we were pushing on a 'closed door' in regard to the library proposals, he then cleverly chose to disregard the scale and significance of the plans, and avoid talking about the cuts. He waffled on instead about how much he liked reading, giving as evidence of this a sight of his library card, and the names of two books he had read. One was the Invisible Man.

Dr Offord, and Mrs Angry

No, not HG Wells, Mrs Angry: the one by Ralph Ellison. 

And the other was ... Confessions of a Justified Sinner, by James Hogg, supposed to be the inspiration for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Hmm, thought Mrs Angry. Very interesting choices. 

And then: says Offord, airily: people don't read books like they used to ... and John Hart informed the audience that no one read as much as he did. In French, and Spanish too. Mrs Angry disagreed and dared to suggest that she read quite a lot. Could she read in French, and Spanish? Of course. (She was lying about the Spanish, to be fair).

So: our Tory betters are of course men of culture, gentlemen and scholars, but the plebs in the audience, and on the panel: we can only dream to be as well read as them, those wise men charged with responsibility for removing from us the means to access the knowledge they hold so dear.

Contrast their vision of libraries with that of Andrew Dismore, whose career in law and politics, he said, would not have been possible without the public libraries he relied on throughout the course of his studies. Libraries, he said were at the heart of the community. Heart, community: difficult words for Tories to understand.

Offord and his Tory council colleague John Hart both ignored the absolute savagery of the cuts planned for libraries and talked about lovely ideas for improving them, as if the three devastating options, and the absolute destruction of our library service which they will create was a complete myth, and we were talking about something altogether different, and reasonable. They also, along with Cllr Khatri, another member for Mill Hill, assured us all that Mill Hill Library would not close.

A a gentleman, a scholar, and a multi -linguist: Cllr John Hart. And Dr Matthew Offord.

Mrs Angry has said all along that Mill Hill, Edgware, Golders Green and now probably Childs Hill libraries will not close. 

Why? Why do you think? Because they are in sensitive Tory wards.

She understands on very good authority that even as we speak, Tory councillors are lobbying for their own libraries to be saved and yet planning to vote with an absolute lack of compunction for the proposals to go through, and to hell with the other libraries.

Lack of compunction is perhaps the trait that defines the Tory philosophy, in Mrs Angry's book. (Now available for loan, or download, at www.brokenbarnetlibraryfranchise.co.uk). Or lack of empathy, something she touched upon in her address to the meeting, an emotion which, as the writer and library campaigner Alan Gibbons once reminded us, at an event at the library that wouldn't close, Friern Barnet Community Library, is developed and supported by the reading of fiction. 

Mrs Angry also commented that the Tory war on words included the truly dreadful ban on books for prisoners, which that perfect example of her thesis on empathy, Justice Minister Chris Grayling, had introduced, in defiance of the potential for rehabilitation, or the transformative power of the written word. But that is the point, is it not: the danger of a word, a thought, and the risk of awakening the latent intellect of disadvantaged people, given the means of expressing their experiences, and challenging the establishment?

Perhaps the Tory aversion to libraries, and the written word, locally, and nationally, is based on their own lack of empathy and understanding: to want to put your interests before those of others, to prefer the pursuit of profit before the pursuit of love, or friendship, or social justice - that is never going to appeal to anyone who has grown to adulthood reading the great novels of our time. You know, all those works Gove wanted to removed from the syllabus, like 'To Kill A Mockingbird', Of Mice and Men ... books that teach us how to feel compassion, and even love - and to fight for what it right, and true.

Having said that, of course: much easier to get by in life, isn't it, if you have a heart of stone, and nothing moves you - or hurts you?

The Tory councillors' number one priority is their own political survival - presented as so called party 'loyalty' - and the need to preserve their chances of retaining the whip, and being reselected to delight us all again by being reselected as candidates and to continue to enjoy their comfortable lives, freed from the burden of governance by the rule of Crapita, and still sitting on their generous allowances. 

They may feel vague regret at the scale of cuts they are going to endorse, needlessly, but none of them so far have shown the slightest courage, or moral integrity in being prepared to stand up to do what they know their constituents will want: to preserve our library service, and invest in a vital community resource. 

The money is there, if they want to find it. At the moment, they don't want to consider looking for it, because a. they are too lazy, and b. they don't understand, or care about the impact of what they are about to approve. And by impact I mean also, because they have not thought this through, on their own political survival.

It will be interesting to see what the Tory councillors will make of yesterday's revelations in this blog here, reproducing a reported dialogue in a public area of Barnet's council offices between two men allegedly hatching a plot for the commercial exploitation of the library proposals.

Because the implications of that dialogue are almost impossible to grasp, even if you are not a Tory councillor: the scale of the significance. It means that we no longer have to worry about the outcome of the consultation so much as the irrelevance of the consultation process.

There were a couple of curious questions, or rather suggestions, from members of the audience in the course of the meeting: one man advocating a partnership with ... oh, Starbucks, and another keen to work something out with ... Waterstones. 

Mrs Angry refers you to the previous post, and this line from the reported dialogue at NLBP:  

A new system whereby books can be sold or rented – they would have all the latest books. Mini Waterstones, Mini ipad station and starbucks coffee. 

Oddly prescient, weren't they, those questions?

Also gracing us with his presence, at the back of the hall, and keen to pose another question hostile to Labour (funny how the Tories are in no need of targeting) was, yes, Mrs Angry's new friend from UKIP, their parliamentary candidate for Hendon, Jeremy Zeid.

As at theWest Hendon housing meeting last week, Mr Zeid was awfully shy, and forgot to tell everyone that he was indeed the UKIP parliamentary candidate for Hendon, so, as at the meeting last week, Mrs Angry helped me out by introducing him to the audience. 

He did not seem particularly grateful at the time, but after the meeting at least revealed himself to have a sense of humour, when Mrs Angry, worrying about her former adversary Brian Coleman, who is at a bit of a loose end these days, asked if UKIP might want to take him on, and give him something useful to do. 

Mr Zeid looked appalled and said, in no uncertain terms, that they would not take him, as he was an ******** (redacted by Mrs Angry, on the grounds of decency). Harsh. Buy a bike, and try the Greens, Brian, is Mrs Angry's advice.

As for the meeting, and the views expressed: watch the footage and gauge for yourselves the mood of the audience, not one of political activists, but a residents association, there to debate one issue: a truly impressive turnout, on a scale that should put fear in the hearts of Tory councillors - and, more urgently, Tory parliamentary candidates. 

The very first question put at this meeting was, rather touchingly, from a very young girl, one of a pack of brownies at the back of the hall. She asked a question that caught everyone on the hop, and hung in the air, unanswered, at first.

What, she asked, in all her innocence, would you do with the books?

A moment of silence. What did she mean? And then a woman in the audience understood. 

What would you do with the books, when the libraries closed?

They'll burn them, she said ...

Footage here: courtesy of the Barnet Bugle.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You should give yourself a pat on the back Mrs Angry that Offord has deemed you worthy enough to be communicated with. As a constituent of his I have written to him on a few occasions and have never once received a reply. This is stark contrasts to both his predecessors, Dismore (Labour) and Gorst (Conservative) who, without fail, gave a dignified and courteous response even if it was to tell me they disagreed with my point of view...and even in that instance they forwarded my letter to the relevant Govt. department and kept me informed of outcomes.I have spoken to other constituents of Offord and I know I'm not alone in this treatment and I suspect this will be a major factor in us being mercifully shot of him in May. As you note, he has left it too late to grasp the concept of community.