Monday, 27 June 2016

Brexit: Breaking points, broken promises - and Broken Barnet

A deserted Hendon Town Hall, on election night

This election day seemed wrong footed, right from the first step inside the polling station. After the chaos of May's London elections, and the cockup over the registers, which saw thousands of voters disenfranchised, one might have hoped for all irregularities to have been addressed, and the democratic process restored to some sort of efficiency. 

This time, they had the right registers, but at our polling station the Presiding Officer appeared to think he had to escort us through the procedure, following us to the table, asking for my daughter's card, taking it from her and handing it to the clerks, as 'proof' of our address. They were confused by his intervention, as we have different surnames, and they thought I was not on the list.

No, I said. That is not how this works. We both state our name and address, and that is all that is needed. I don't have my card. It's not up to you to ask if we are related and assume we live at the same address. He wanted to argue about it, but we walked away, and voted, in an empty room, and left, for the first time in my voting experience, with no tellers at the doors to ask for our numbers. 

I suggested to my daughter that we were fortunate not to be asked who we wanted to vote for, and have the infamous pencils taken out of our hands, to be replaced by magic biros, and a proxy vote made on our behalf, in the approved manner.

As it happened, pencils won over biros, in Broken Barnet, and the vote here at least was a convincing win for Remain. But as I observed later, in the long, long hours of the count, some Brexit voters were determined to make their mark indelibly, and in the most emphatic manner, large angry crosses, in marker pen, as if that would have a more convincing outcome than a less determined indication. 

As I made my way to join the count, I had passed by the Town Hall, where election night results, in the era of local MP Margaret Thatcher, were traditionally declared, now looming large in the midsummer dusk, in all its deserted, gothic majesty, the lights not on, and nobody home, except for a congregation of pigeons determinedly clinging on to the window ledges, peering in at the empty council chamber. Another omen.

The signs were ominous, but arriving at the count, at Allianz Park, in Mill Hill, with Labour councillor Devra Kay and her daughter, our mood was reasonably optimistic, despite the prospect of having to stay awake all night, scrutinising the tables of ballot papers. 

Allianz Park is the name given to the former local authority Copthall sports stadium, handed over to Saracens rugby club by our Tory councillors, and renamed in homage to the German insurance company, who have an £8 million sponsorship deal with the team. It is, therefore, of course, the perfect venue for the counting of votes, in Broken Barnet: a former public asset, deliberately neglected until ripe for disposal to a profit making enterprise, its annexation confirmed by the striking out of its local name, and any association with the history of the borough.

Arriving at the count, with misplaced optimism, Labour Cllr Devra Kay & daughter

Copt Hall was once the home of the Nicholl family, whose centuries long association with the area is now forgotten, their ancient house demolished, and its name a matter of indifference to our Conservative easycouncillors. 

Handing our heritage and only major sports centre to German business partners did not raised any concern from our elected representatives, and the dark irony of this crucial referendum being accounted for not in the former seat of municipal power, but in a once publicly owned building and facility appropriated by a European sponsor, would probably have passed them by, as well.

On the other hand, it may have been a matter of no interest at all. Hard to tell, on the night itself, because of one remarkable fact.

Not one Tory councillor, or local MP, or senior Tory activist attended the count. 

They boycotted it, and left all the work of scrutiny, and overseeing the counting of the ballot papers, to others. Sitting up all night, watching and checking the count were Labour councillors, Labour party members, a handful of Better In activists, and a cabal of tight lipped, sullen Brexiteers. 

We left around three thirty: the result came in an hour later: unless he made a last minute appearance then, and I've seen no report that they did, neither the Tory leader of the council, Richard Cornelius, nor the deputy leader Dan Thomas, or any senior Tory came to observe the proceedings, let alone thank staff for their hard work on the election, and through the long night. You might think after the national disgrace heaped on the authority as a result of the mismanagement of the last election, it might have been appropriate to show some interest.

As for our MPs: no sign of Eurosceptics Offord or Villiers, or Remain supporter Freer. 

Why did the Tories stay away? 

Clearly the Tory group in Barnet, like the party itself, was divided on the subject of Europe. The Tory leader has always shown his antipathy to the EU, and after standing unsuccessfully as a candidate in the London Assembly elections, Thomas has been outed as an outer. Other members, such as the veteran member for Hampstead Garden Suburb and former MP, John Marshall, have been staunchly pro Europe. Marshall, despite his age and frailty, helped man a Remain stall at last week's East Finchley festival - and indeed we happily agreed that this was the first and only time in which we were likely to be on the same side in any political debate. 

Marshall's fellow Suburb councillor Gabriel Rozenberg is also pro EU, and has been tweeting madly about it since the disastrous vote, although curiously more reticent beforehand. Gabriel is of course the son of Brexit fan Melanie Phillips, and like most sons (though not mine on this point, at least) is probably naturally inclined to disagree with his mother as a point of principle, but still ... Neither of these two Remain supporting Tories showed up, on Thursday night.

With the majority of Barnet Tory councillors, it is hard to detect if their absence was strategic, a matter of fear, apathy  - or merely laziness. Whatever the reason, it perfectly illustrates the moribund state of health of the Conservative local party, the democratic deficit in their administration - and the contempt our Tory members extend towards the process of governance, the role of governance with which they are entrusted.

The morning after the night before: always the hardest moment, in any election, in Broken Barnet - and here we still are, rubbing our eyes in disbelief, wondering whose bed we are in, and how we got there, and what we did ...

And how even to begin to consider the implications of what has happened? 

The duplicity and recklessness of those leading the Leave campaign, with no plan for what to do, if they were successful, defies belief, and represents an act of irresponsibility on a incalculable scale. More than irresponsible: if there had been any discernible signs of intelligent strategy and forethought, one might argue they were guilty of an act of economic and constitutional treason, or terror. As it is, the apocalyptic storm they have unleashed is by default, rather than by design, an act of idiocy - but its impact will be the same.

How fitting it is that we are, at last, about to see the Chilcott report published, and Blair's invasion of Iraq held to account. An act of aggression, based on a false premise, for the purpose of regime change, and no strategy for managing the outcome of victory: hard not to see parallels with what is happening now in the disastrous Brexit campaign - a catastrophically stupid retreat, rather than an invasion, but with consequences that will last for generations to come.

Equally irresponsible are those voters who made their mark on their ballot papers without properly informing themselves of the implications of their decision, choosing to leave Europe, largely, simply on a basis of fear of migration, and a vague belief, promoted by the tame press, that their lives were being remote-controlled by faceless Eurocrats, leaving them powerless to direct their own destinies ... All the promises they believed, now revealed as lies and misconceptions, and the unimaginable impact of their decision entirely due to their own failure to think, and question, before voting, and exercising what is, after all,  a democratic duty, as well as a right.

And then we have the self indulgence and self serving machinations of the Labour party, looking on as members of the Tory government expose themselves as the most conflicted administration ever yet seen, a party torn in two, and instead of stepping into the breach, here is the opposition launching us into another act of self immolation.

The opportunist MPs who so happily accepted posts in Corbyn's shadow cabinet have been waiting for the time in which they could seize a chance to kick him out, restore a more malleable leader, and return to the cultivation of their own best interests, in defiance of the clear mandate given last year by grassroots members. 

They neither understand nor care why there was such a groundswell of support for change: that core Labour voters have abandoned a party run by those who put career before principle, who fight for preferment rather than against social injustice, who regard the ideals on which the Labour movement was founded as an historic footnote, an irrelevance to the modern day party, and an obstruction to the smooth progress of their own best interests.

Here in Barnet, a few Blairites in the local Hendon CLP attempted yesterday to promote a motion of no confidence in their own party leader. They failed: defeated by a membership vote that reflects an acknowledgement that there is a reason the Labour party is losing votes in that constituency. Not just a change in demographics, but a growing dissatisfaction with the party from local campaigners and residents being driven from the area by Tory housing policy, for example, who look at the ineffectual leadership of the council opposition, and cannot support them. 

It is a problem echoed in constituencies all over the country, and best exemplified perhaps by what is happening to the teaching assistants in Durham, in what should be the heartland of Labour support, but whose Labour council has sacked these vital workers, and demanded they lose 25% of their income on new contracts. The Labour establishment, a legacy of New Labour, still embedded in so many parts of the country, is complacent, and estranged from working class communities in the North East, and elsewhere, and this is why increasingly such voters veer towards ukip territory, voting for Brexit - or not voting at all.

A new Labour shadow government and leader will fail its duties as an opposition, and never become elected, if it fails to learn this lesson, and refuses to acknowledge the message sent to them by those grassroots members who voted, last year, for a reaffirmation of Labour's core values, and a commitment to the people of this country, who are being crushed by a punitive set of Tory policies, and so desperately need a Labour party that offers an alternative vision - and hope for the future.

The day after the vote, I fell into conversation, in a supermarket, with a local Tory party activist: a nice woman, bright enough, yet who told me she had not really made up her mind about her vote, until the last minute. Now she wasn't sure whether it was the right decision, she said, vaguely, as if it didn't really matter. 

Here in London, during May's elections, citizens rejected the politics of hatred so cynically adopted by Tory campaigners. That horrible attempt at divisive, gutter politics deflated as satisfyingly as the Back Zac balloons in the window at Margaret Thatcher House, here in Finchley, post election.

But we are always just a knife edge away from the rise of something even less inclusive and tolerant, in our capital city, and elsewhere.

Back home, I noticed the foreman of the Polish builders who have been working hard on the house next door for months, standing outside, leaning against the skip, and regarding my 'Remain' signpost with a worried expression. He is right to be worried: not because he will be asked to leave any time soon, or fail to find work here, but because something fearful, and dangerous, has been unleashed, here, now, in this country. 

Already there are many reports of incidents of hate crimes against migrant workers, and fear amongst migrant communities of a backlash from the dawning realisation, by those who voted for Brexit on the basis of an unthinking resentment of immigration, that their vote was wasted, and our diverse, multicultural society is here to stay. 

Add to that resentment the impact on our crashing economy of the withdrawal from Europe, and you have a potential formula for social unrest, riots, and divisiveness on a scale we have not yet seen - and the rise of an even uglier and more overt face of political demagoguery. 

The breaking point that Nigel Farage wanted us to believe in was a lie: we will be broken, in Barnet, and elsewhere, not by remaining part of the EU, but by Brexit itself, and by his doing, and that of all those, in all parties, who play games with our political future, for their own purposes. 

Where we go now, or what we do, feels as if it is completely out of our control, the inversion of everything Farage, Johnson, Gove and all the rest promised us. The only surprise is that so many of us did not foresee it.


Jimbokav said...

You have a lovely flow to your writing. (Recently even more so).

I can imagine that all the Barnet Tories swerved the count simply on the basis that there was every chance of it being an outrageous cock-up once again and that they risked being tarnished by it if in attendance. "We had best stay well clear!"

I note with interest your comment regarding those heading the leave campaign, "with no plan for what to do", but to my mind this was never going to be a decision for this camp or that camp, but for the elected Prime Minister and his appointed cabinet. It's their job isn't it? It's what they are paid to do. Just because we opted to leave the EU doesn't mean that those were in favour of doing so should now have a say in running the Country. We had a general election, the Tories won and it's they and they alone who are in power. As a result it's they and they alone who now have to react to and deal with this situation. It's what governing is all about. You are not just in charge in the good times.

I'm of the opinion that Cameron has really shown his true colours here and acted like a petulant child who did not get what he wanted. (He stormed off home in a huff vowing that he's not playing anymore). I'm astonished that everyone seems to have let him away with it and it's as if the shambolic nature of the faltering un-loyal Labour party have allowed him to get away with it my doing everything they can to steal all the negative headlines for themselves.

I just don't get it! Cameron is gone, the Nation is in turmoil, so what will we do? Take advantage of this, or do what we can to simply implode and let the Tories and Cameron away with it again. There must be leading political minds astonished at the ineptness of the current Labour strategy. Don't you want to win? Ever? Seriously?

I work in an business where approx. 70% of the work-force are Polish and at least another 20% are Romanian. There are very few Brits now and many of the Poles especially asked me today how I voted and expressed their concern that they will be unable to stay, (ridiculous I know). Some of them have been here for 10 years and own houses here. Many of them seem outraged that we have the ability to make this decision ourselves never mind about what the decision itself actually was. I was torn before the vote, but as time has gone by and I have seen the reaction to the result, I have actually become more and more at ease with the result, (and the small part I played in it).

Cameron finally showing his true colours. I did that.

Jimbokav said...

Now is the time for 3 things.

1. The ruling Tories need to pull their finger out and forget about pointing fingers and appropriating blame to others, they need to govern. On that note, (and I hope this comment comes back to haunt me, I really do), but the most impressive panelist on last night BBCQT was........ dirty Tory Anna Soubry of all people. I can't believe I have written that but it's true. While the others were sulking and brooding and blaming and.... well very negative really, she was seemingly for the first time ever in my experience, switched on, positive, engaged and..... on the money. If that "performance", (because that's all it is I know), is anything to go by, then the Tories are going to hammer Labour and keep on hammering them for the forseeable future. Labour just seem in such complete disarray.

2. The general population need to do our bit. We need to be better than we have been, certainly better than the media representation of us have been, and we must "lead" if you will and show our politicians, (from all sides), what our values are and what we expect of them. For far too long our politicians and media have set the tone for this Country and we need to wrest back control and ownership.

3. The Labour party need to re-group, (and quickly), and get themselves in tune with what the voting public see as core values. Not for Labour. This isn't about Tory or Labour, this is about us, the public. We don't want Cameron or Boris and his wealthy mates setting the agenda for our Nation, but unfortunately, neither do we want what Labour has to offer. They don't seem to know who they are anymore. I like Corbyn as a person. I think he is possibly better than his counter-parts, but if he is going to get an opportunity to prove it, then he has to be a winner first before everything else. It's too easy to be "nice" in opposition. What we also need to be careful of now, (really careful in fact), is that while both the major parties are squabble shambolically amongst themselves, they don't allow a disgruntled population to enticed by the false promises of the far right.

Mrs Angry said...

Sorry, Jim, but I just don't buy this.

On the previous post you commented that your reason for choosing to vote leave was ultimately because you were scared of the impact of immigration. What we now know is that you and many others who voted on this basis were misled, and that the lie about 'taking back control' over this, and other blatant acts of deception, were merely ploys to build support for their campaign.

You may not think it matters what they said, that it is not their responsibility now, what happens: of course it matters. The country voted on the basis of a complete misrepresentation of the case for leaving the EU, and
did not make a properly informed decision. Many members of the government were complicit in this act of deception: and how telling that Johnson and Gove were too cowardly to attend parliament yesterday.

Apart from their campaign of deception, the Brexit leaders had not considered any strategy for action after the vote, and yet you want to let them off the hook, and blame the government? Does it not occur to you that the fact there was no plan is fundamental proof of the gross irresponsibility of their reckless ideas, their lack of judgement, and rationality?

You worried about the impact on your child's future from the impact of immigration. Now like me you should be worried about the impact on the future of our children from an economy that is in freefall, and a United Kingdom that will be torn apart. Scotland will go, maybe even Wales, one day - and the implications for the risk to peace in Ireland are unthinkable.

Perhaps you have no concerns about the economic damage this madness has created, and will continue to create, and unlike me have not spent the last few nights awake worrying about your already precarious financial security. Lucky you.

Take back control? We no longer are in control of anything, and have sacrificed our future wellbeing for the benefit of a few mad old men living in the past, and a group of self serving narcissists furthering their own political careers.

Red Sonia said...

WE - and MPs - have had no control or exercised so-called "sovreignty" for decades. All PMs have relied on "secondary legislation" to a greater or lesser extent, which does not go through a vote in Parliament, to push through scores of unpopular laws - Cameron has been particularly fond of this and used it many many times.

Now Bojo has been thrown to the sharks (no lifebelt coming from me) and we still have a bunch of headless chickens putting themselves forward.

Makes Corbyn look statesmanlike.

Mrs Angry said...

Boris was on Sky news this morning being pursued by insistent questioners, & complaining he was being stopped from doing what he wanted to do. Oh dear. This is a new experience for him, the spoiled child who has always got what he wanted until now. Enough of his infantile posturing, and self indulgence.

As for Corbyn, he may not appear statesmanlike, but at least he follows his own set of principles, and doesn't compromise them for an easy life. I'm not sure we live in an age of statesmanship anyway: we no longer have the respect for political office that would allow us to be impressed to that extent by any of them.

Red Sonia said...

Can't wait for Eagle to challenge him - he will walk it!

Red Sonia said...

And off we go ...