Wednesday, 29 April 2015
Shiny Promises: or: when you are about to close your curtains ... on the campaign trail, in Broken Barnet
Where are we now then? What has happened, Mrs Angry, in Broken Barnet, since the last post, I hear you ask?
Well, the usual sturm und drang, blood and tears, a ceaseless display of animosity, fear and loathing in the streets of Finchley, you know: the sort of thing one might expect.
But enough of my problems.
The great unpleasantness.
Mrs Angry has done her best to avoid as much of it as possible, whilst at the same time pretending to do her bit for the comrades: a difficult task.
Happily missing the hustings, for example, wherever possible - almost as if she were a Tory candidate.
Not entirely missing the odd spot of canvassing, sadly: duty calls, and even Barnet bloggers must obey.
Most informative, of course: and one rather enjoys the challenge of doorstepping, treading fearlessly where others leg it, asap: relishing the prospect of smiling sweetly at Tory matrons peering suspiciously round the gap in the door, little knowing they are speaking to the notorious Mrs Angry, identifying her as yet another deluded socialist troublemaker come to trespass on their territory, and look with envy on their privet hedged, wildly manicured front gardens.
In fact, Mrs Angry's expertise appears to lie in evangelising amongst the former Libdem voters.
Pushing on a door nailed wide open, of course, in most cases, but in others - requiring a gentle hand. Easiest with gentlemen of a certain age, still in their dressing gowns at midday on a Saturday morning. This requires, apart from a gentle hand, a spot of mild flirtation, some pleading, a modicum of allusions to the inherent cowardice, lack of integrity, and moral degradation of the Libdem coalition, and, yes: a few compliments about the garden, and their herbaceous borders. Lovely roses. And is that a Morning Glory?
Please do up your dressing gown.
A visit to High Barnet the other week, Chipping Barnet, the seat held by Theresa Villiers, offered an interesting view of the state of things in this once Tory loyal constituency, which all parties have completely misread as a walkover for the present incumbent MP - until now.
A truly surprising number of Labour voters, even in one of the most affluent roads in that part of the constituency. One or two loyal Tories, of course: but only one or two.
And another Tory turned, and another vote for Labour candidate Amy Trevethan, after a discussion with a rather sweet, thoughtful elderly lady who had met Mrs Villiers once or twice, and therefore, out of politeness, it seemed, had always previously voted for her, fell to the issue of the liberal tradition in traditional Toryism, and where did it go, and wasn't it better for those with liberal principles, and a sense of compassion, to remove a government noted for its exceptionally illiberal social policies?
Changing the subject. Being a synaesthete, don't you know, (look it up), Mrs Angry lives in a rather strange world, ruled by a confusion of senses, and a subjective, idiosyncratic language of colour, but really, for the rest of you, one colour -for some people, at least - seems to arrest the intellectual process, a guide that might otherwise inform their political views. Yes: forget about blue, or red, or yellow, or God forbid, the color Purple: we need to talk about the colour Green.
What was really shocking, in fact, to Mrs Angry, on her Chipping canvas, were two Green voting households she encountered. Shocking not that they voted Green, despite their level of wealth and very comfortable lifestyle: but that, as articulate and very well off as they clearly were, they presented the most antagonistic doorstep experiences that Mrs Angry has encountered, in any election so far.
You had your chance, said one, furiously, pointing at her Labour party rosette, and apparently holding a bemused Mrs Angry personally responsible for the career of Tony Blair, the Iraq War, Trident, TTIP, plastic bags, Ebola, the Black Death, Simon Cowell, One Direction, and now - dear God: Ed Miliband.
Worse still, when asked if they acknowledged that voting Green would necessarily return a Tory government with policies of even more devastating social impact on those least able to sustain them, the poor, the dispossessed, those affected by bedroom tax or cruel benefit sanctions, one of them said: I don't care.
Not once, but twice.
Mrs Angry, as yet undeterred, but with a sinking heart, talked about the evictions of social housing tenants in Sweets Way, just down the road, to both households. The social cleansing of vast swathes of the borough. The bedroom tax.
I don't care.
If the tenants of Sweets Way, or West Hendon, were cute baby seals, perhaps, about to be coshed by hunters, some sympathy may have been extended.
Still, eschewing plastic bags in Waitrose, and carbon offsetting your longhaul flights to Thailand; that salves the conscience, doesn't it?
After the door with all its original coloured glass, so carefully restored, and the shiny brass letter box, so nicely polished, slammed closed before her, Mrs Angry walked down the lovely Edwardian tiled path, and carefully shut the reclaimed wrought iron gate, and irrationally felt the urge to rush home and do something really environmentally unfriendly, mad, bad, and un-Green, like ... put her recycling in the wrong bin, in revenge.
She didn't, of course: that is the prerogative of Miss Angry, who apparently cannot grasp the basic principles of separating different types of rubbish, unlike her esteemed mother, who has made a close study of the subject, here in Broken Barnet, and written quite a lot about it, over the last few years.
Of course it is unfair to suggest that most Green voters are like this, and indeed there was a tight lipped Tory woman in the same road who also happily responded: I don't care, when the plight of those less fortunate than her was raised.
Most Green voters support their party's agenda, of course, because they are people of conscience, and are deeply concerned about environmental and other matters they feel are ignored by the mainstream parties.
But the harsh reality is that those Green supporters who feel equally passionately about social issues, and are distressed by the impact of Tory/Libdem policies on such vulnerable citizens, are, in many cases, going to prolong and extend the suffering and humiliation experienced by them by facilitating the election of another Tory government.
Another resident that morning, in the same road, one of the Labour voters, pointed out to Mrs Angry, rather crossly, that there had recently been an idiotic article in a broadsheet newspaper featuring a resident of Broken Barnet, of that constituency, who had swopped his vote with that of another voter in another area, in what he thought was an awfully clever use of tactical voting. He was doing it, he said, because he lived in a safe Tory seat, and his vote for Labour wouldn't count. He was going to vote Green, in a deal with someone in a target Labour ward.
Quite what was the benefit to the Green voter, was not explained. Because the harsh truth is that in Chipping, a Green vote will not return a Green candidate, but will return a Tory MP, and help to return a Tory government. Please, voters, in Chipping Barnet: come to your senses, and do the right thing.
The Green candidate, Poppy, is a wonderful woman, a local policitician of many years experience, and, quite frankly, wasted with the Greens. We need courageous, articulate women like her, in the Labour party.
But one thing is clear, and must be reiterated: it is simply not any longer the case that Chipping Barnet is a safe Tory seat. And a green vote is a vote for the Tories.;
Chipping Barnet Labour councillors, elected in 2014: Paul Edwards, Phil Cohen, and Amy Trevethan, now Labour's candidate in the general election.
Must we go through all this again? It seems so.
The myth of Chipping being still a Tory stronghold is based entirely on a misreading of the facts - perpetrated, of course, by the Conservatives, but also, unfortunately, by certain local and central Labour strategists, who failed to predict last year's Labour gains in the supposedly true blue constituency, and an outcome that means Labour now have more council seats in Chipping than the Tories.
Such a victory, in what was until recently the stronghold of the local Conservative party, dominated by characters like Brian Coleman, and the Tambourides, living in a twilight world of strawberry tea fundraisers, enforced by a posse of blue rinsed party workers, was a significant development, a marker in the course of change that has affected all three local Tory associations - a decline in membership, an ageing and dwindling cohort of local activists: in-fighting, and financial loss. Oh dear: Mrs Angry is dabbing her eyes, daintily, with her hammer & sickle embroidered handkerchief.
Both Labour and Tory party strategy this time round is focused entirely winning the two other constituencies, Hendon, which was won by the ineffable Matthew Offord by the slenderest of margins, ie 106 votes - and, rather to the astonishment of CCHQ, Finchley and Golders Green.
Hendon has long been predicted to be a Labour gain, and Offord will be history, on May 8th - but Finchley and Golders Green? This constituency is clearly of huge totemic significance to the Tories - to lose control of the constituency held for so long by Margaret Thatcher would be a humiliation made all the more intense by the lack of foresight that would have warned them clearly of the danger posed by Sarah Sackman, the outstandingly good candidate for Labour, a political star in the making, now retracing the path followed by the former PM.
Mike Freer, Finchley Tories - and CCHQ - are in a state of panic at the burgeoning of support for Sarah Sackman, and are completely at a loss to understand why Freer, who was said at one time to have the biggest electoral war chest of any Tory candidate, is now in real danger of losing his seat.
Every picture tells a story
That they are at a loss to understand why this is the case, is predictable, in fact, and the most glaring demonstration of two things: the innate materialism of the Tory ethos, believing that money buys everything, even a successful election campaign, rather than effort, a good record, and the support of committed volunteers on the ground; and that, fatally, they are completely out of touch with the issues that so concern the ordinary families in this borough, this constituency.
Mike Freer has coasted along as MP over the last few years, looking on with pride at his legacy to Barnet council tax payers, the wholesale handover of their local council services to profiteering private company Capita, and doing nothing very much on our behalf in Westminster; a fact that is evident on all his election literature, which has absolutely nothing to say, other than witter on about the Mansion Tax - or the 'Family Homes Tax, as he tried to brand it, until he realised that this is a vote loser, as most families in Barnet can only dream of living in a home of such high value - and now he has been sending out this desperate leaflet:
Scaremongering from Freer
This silly attempt to scare voters over a tax that will deliver funding for the NHS, applies only to those fortunate residents already very well placed in life and more likely already to be Tory voters, makes some interesting claims - nicely rebutted, if you really need reassurance, here: http://www.labour.org.uk/blog/entry/six-things-you-need-to-know-about-labours-mansion-tax ...
Your house will be revalued, claims the leaflet - er, no, no, it won't - not unless you live in a house worth a whopping amount of money, over £2 million, or thereabouts, and of course most of us do not live in a property of this value, and most residents of this borough are worrying if they will be able to keep any sort of roof over their head, while some are becoming homeless, thanks to the lack of any truly affordable housing, to buy or let, for ordinary people on average incomes, and below average incomes.
Another sign of fumbled strategy in the Finchley Tory camp was revealed by the recent gaffe over a local issue which Freer belatedly tried to 'own' - a 'safe' local issue, of course, which did not put him in the unthinkable position of challenging his Tory chums on the council, and would appeal to the ordinary resident: you know, that man on the Clapham Omnibus, or rather, the man, or woman on the No 13 bus, which runs from Golders Green.
Seemed like a good idea: and hoorah! Look! Suddenly, a miracle - the bus was 'saved'. And not just 'saved'. 'Saved' by Mike Freer. And 'saved' by Boris Johnson, who is trying to 'save' Mike Freer. (And, ha ha: Matthew Offord). Ah. Thing is ... can you 'save' things like buses, during an election campaign, and purdah? A question raised here by Mrs Angry's friend, journalist David Hencke:
... where it also transpired that the No 13 bus had not been 'saved' after all, by Mr Freer, (who claimed, rather oddly, that now the No 13 bus was 'going nowhere', which was unfortunate, because before he stuck his two pennorth in, it did at least go to Aldwych) ... not saved by the Tory candidate, or anyone, in fact, but the decision postponed til ... yes, after the election.
Worse still, TFL soon followed up with a very awkward statement, after protest from Sarah Sackman's team, that contradicted the claims made by Freer and Boris: the bus had been 'saved' as a result of a cross party campaign:
The same misplaced confidence as Freer's, in being easily returned to a 'safe' Tory seat had been, until recently, retained by Theresa Villiers, in Chipping. The warning bells only began to ring earlier this year when the library cuts proposed by her constituency colleague, the council 'leader' and Totteridge councillor Richard Cornelius, unleashed a torrent of protest throughout the borough amongst normally loyal Tory residents.
Both parties tend to ignore the potential of untapped Labour votes in this constituency, and have not acknowledged the demographic changes, and other factors, which have at last loosened the grip of the Tory party, and undermined the certainty of Theresa Villiers being returned to her seat, and a ministerial post, in government, or as part of a shadow cabinet. Local Labour agent and councillor Paul Edwards explains in the comments stream of the Indy article:
Labour won the majority of seats on Barnet Council in Chipping Barnet constituency last year, with 35% of the vote compared to 39% for the Tories, the Greens only polled 12%. Ben and Jonathan are simply wrong, Chipping Barnet is no longer a safe Tory seat and with only a 4% gap between the Tories and Labour,the Tories recognise this too.
The tactical voting you wish to use should be for the excellent Labour candidate Amy Trevethan. A vote for the Greens will simply return the sitting Tory MP.
If only 800 of the Green voters had voted Labour last year it would have delivered 2 more Labour councillors in Chipping Barnet and a Labour Council in Barnet borough instead of the right wing neoliberal mob we have now masquerading as Tories. Labour can win if all the anti-Tory voters vote Labour.
If you don't believe me come and join me on the doorstep and see the response you get when these facts are presented to voters. They realise Labour can win, but a vote for the Greens will de facto deliver a Tory again in Chipping Barnet. We can really make a difference this time. So let's do it!
From Green to red, and now to yellow: the Libdems, of course, were responsible, in 2010, for splitting the opposition, and re-electing a Tory MP, with a massive 10,202 votes, to Labour's 12,773 - representing 20% of the turnout. Where are these voters going to go now?
Well: the truth is, for anyone with any sense, there is no real alternative to Labour, in Chipping Barnet.
UKIP? There's some geezer called Victor Kaye. Stood in Chipping in 2005. Got 924 votes. Is, like Tory Cllr John Hart, a keen linguist, sporting interesting facial hair. And like the late lamented Brian Coleman, an active member of Rotary. Wonder if he has ever asked Brian to come over to the dark side? Please go ahead: give him something useful to do, and it might help him stop worrying about Mrs Angry's blood pressure (it's fine, Brian, since you ask. Rather surprisingly.)
Of course you might be tempted by the very interesting election material of one independent candidate - a Mr Mehdi Akhavan, whose leaflet presumably does have an imprint on it, or Barnet Council would have contacted SO15, as they did with Finchley cafe owner Helen Michaels, who had created a poster criticising Brian Coleman's parking policy, without, yes, an imprint. One imagine Mr Akhavan has had the same rigorous interrogation, but who knows.
Anyway: there are some lovely pics of him, in his leaflet, with various Tory mayors, and he makes a few good points. If you are fed up, for example, with 'disgusting' beggars , and dirty buses (the No 13 from Golders Green, perhaps?) and with candidates who give 'shiny promises'.
As he recommends, you need to think about all this sort of stuff, 'when you are about to close your curtains ....'
Ah yes: think very carefully, citizens of Broken Barnet, about those shiny promises ...
Closing the curtains, and shiny promises
The Libdems seem to have just given up in Chipping: putting up a paper candidate Marisha Ray, who thinks, erm ... that 'there has never been a better time to vote Libdem'. Mmm. You might have overstated that, Marisha.
In one road alone, Mrs Angry managed easily to secure three former Libdem voters for Labour, and it is reasonable to assume that is going to be the general tendency. Which leaves Mrs Villiers with a problem, but one which she has only latterly begun to acknowledge.
Without the safety of a swing in favour of her party, and with Labour doing so well, and the Libdems removed from the picture ... what has she done to secure the support of local residents? Not the die hard, old school Barnet Tories, but those infuriated by her colleague Brian Coleman's idiotic, punitive parking scheme, by the proposed destruction of our wonderful library service, and also the incomers, the younger voters, the families the less advantaged voters who have always been overlooked, especially when the ancien regime presided over by the Chipping Barnet Conservative Association was in its heyday?
On Saturday there was the third of four marches organised in support of the campaign to save Barnet libraries: starting from Chipping Barnet library. The march was to be led by the London Metropolitan Brass Band, a fabulous group of musicians, who began to play on the bandstand across the road as marchers turned up: a huge turnout of around two hundred people.
I love these people, these residents, activists and campaigners: they are heroes: people with real commitment, love, and absolute determination to defend their community, and their services.
One of the pieces the band had chosen to play was 'Gresford', the deeply moving anthem which used to be, perhaps still is, played at the funeral of miners - and was also played, at least in some parts of Durham, at the end of the miners' strike, as a sign of defiance, but also marking the passing of not one individual, or one pit, but of so many communities.
Watched over by a group of nervous police officers, it seemed an appropriate choice, for a march in Broken Barnet, where the localised cult of Thatcherism still demands sacrifices from its latterday followers in the town hall, her devotees intent on the destruction of public services, on a scale as widespread and ruthless as anything she did to the coal industry, or could have envisaged for any .
As we walked through the streets of High Barnet, once the centre of Tory dominance, in this borough, the reception from onlookers and passing drivers was quite extraordinary, and certainly not the reaction one might have expected: people were so supportive, and pleased to show it.
Something has changed: you can feel it, and nothing is certain, anymore, in this electoral campaign, is it?
Time to look at the Labour candidate in Chipping Barnet: Amy Trevethan.
Amy has, to some extent, been sidelined, in all the excitement over Finchley & Golders Green, and Hendon. Sidelined by Tories, and Labour, whose resources have been concentrated on disposing of Matthew Offord, and now Mike Freer. But they are wrong to overlook Chipping, as they were at the time of the local elections last year.
Amy Trevethan is a young candidate: this is something that disturbs some people, but that is ridiculous, it is in fact something to celebrate, and very definitely in her favour: Chipping now has a very young electorate. And she is, unlike Theresa Villiers, a local girl: hear what she has to say:
I grew up making the same use of public resources as everyone else in the constituency - the same parks, schools, libraries, buses, leisure facilities, cafes -- these are all part of my life and I value them; I genuinely understand the role that they play in local life and how important they are to local people.
My childhood was spent playing football in the playing fields by Barnet FC; reading in Chipping Barnet library; swimming at QEGS' formerly public swimming pool; going for milkshakes at the Oakhill park cafe; playing at Friern Barnet park and Old Courthouse Recreation ground; that kind of thing.
I first got involved in politics because I realised the effects that Coalition policy were having on vulnerable people up and down the country, including Chipping Barnet, and the destruction they were meting out to public services, particularly the NHS and the stealth privatisation of education. I came to realise I couldn't just stand on the sidelines and wait for, or expect, someone else to stand up for social justice.
The consequence of expcting someone else to do it is just more Tory cllrs, another 5 years of a Tory MP ...
The country that I want to live in is one where public services are valued, accessible, integrated, universal, properly funded; where we don't penalise people for being poor; where we think about things like decent housing and health care as necessities that as a society we should come together and make sure are provided for all.
That's all at risk unless we fight for it -- so I am standing from a 'push' factor; because what the Tories are doing is unbearable and is ruining lives. I see the impact daily. But I also have things I want to fight for --- perhaps unlike Theresa Villiers.
How do we ensure carers and disabled people get a fairer deal? How do we ensure that young people have opportunities when they leave school; how do we address the growing incidence of mental health problems and ensure that resources are in place to support people?
I've been taking up casework on behalf of residents across the constituency. I represented families evicted from Sweets Way to Barnet Homes, trying to negotiate exemptions in their treatment and the acceptance of their appeals against the decisions that the council's homeless duty had been discharged (because of one offer only policy, which Labour councillors opposed precisely because this sort of thing would happen).
As the evictions got underway in mid-February, I also wrote to Notting Hill Housing Trust and Annington Ltd calling on them to halt the evictions and allow Barnet Homes to find suitable accommodation for the tenants. I go down to Dollis Valley almost weekly speaking to families and hold my own surgery there, every fortnight -- helping families who are facing eviction, who are concerned about where they will be removed to during the regeneration; disabled and unwell residents who are being chased by Capita for payments they don't actually owe.
I've had successes in getting residents in sub-standard accommodation rehoused; in forcing Capita to back down from dragging vulnerable people to court for council tax sums they didn't actually owe; achieving fairer treatment of disabled persons and carers in the ward; getting roads repaired, etc. Represented people who've had their benefits sanctioned because they weren't well enough to make their job centre appointments. When I forwarded one of these cases to Theresa Villiers, she said there was nothing she could do. Well -- if a member of the government can't do anything, then who can?
Mike Freer, Matthew Offord, Theresa Villiers, bless their dear little Conservative heads: all so keen to be returned to their comfortably rewarded positions in Westminster, and so proud of their parliamentary records, small but perfectly formed, as they are, so easily summarised in the first paragraph of their respective campaign leaflets, but yet ... so shy, when it comes to debating the issues that might concern their electors, and raised in an open meeting.
Well, as it happens, there is a rare opportunity to hear some of the candidates in Chipping, tomorrow night, in a hustings event, at Barnet Church: Mrs Angry will be there - why not come along?
Here in Broken Barnet, in Hendon, Finchley and Golders Green, and Chipping Barnet, there is a palpable sense of real excitement, and a possibility of something rather wonderful - electing a new set of representatives, who actually wants to make the world a better place, and do something for the residents who have been ignored over the last five years: that is to say, those who do not lie awake at night worrying about Mansion Tax, but rather whether or not they will have a home to live in at all.
Not those who who rubbed their hands with glee, last year, at the thought of 23 pence a week returned to them in the form of a pre-election council tax 'gesture', but rather those parents whose disabled children faced the loss of respite care at their school, as a result of that pathetic gambit.
Not the the billionaire resident of Bishops Avenue, who made his fortune from selling arms, or porn, or robbing a tyrannised country of oil revenue, but the single mother down the road, in Strawberry Vale, reduced to using the foodbank at St Mary's on a Saturday to feed her family.
Not the private developers welcomed with such doting attention by our supine Tory councillors, intent on pursuing their viciouswar on the poor, giving away the land where their homes stand, driving them to despair, or Milton Keynes, in their haste to remove as much social housing as possible, in the name of the lie that is 'regeneration'.
Let's have elected representatives who speak up for the victims of the Barnet Tories' blatantly, gerrymandered, socially cleansed, socially engineered ideological landscape, their mindless, remorselessly cruel housing policy.
Let's get rid of the Tory MPs who have supported, and even directed, the easycouncil philosophy that lies behind the brave new world we live in, here in Broken Barnet: and replace them with Sarah, Andrew, and Amy, who will put the needs of the less advantaged residents of this borough before the business interests of Capita, or Barratts, or any other predatory, profiteering company standing by to feast off the carcass of our dying public services, the skeleton of our social housing stock: and let's try to put the pieces of Broken Barnet back together again.