Friday, 16 March 2018

The Ides of March, 2018: Barnet Tories lose control of the council


Backstabbing in Broken Barnet, a local Tory tradition, perfectly re-enacted this week

Due to 'events', dear boy, 'events', Broken Barnet - the blog, dear boy, the blog - has remained in something of a state of suspended animation, frozen in time,  since January. 

In the meanwhile, however, Broken Barnet itself has, with commendable determination, continued on its course to total self destruction. Yes, all in pieces now. Most gratifying. Only taken them eight years, but now here it is, all over the place.

How could anything else be expected? The laws of the universe command nothing less than the inevitable decline and fall of any establishment, no matter how rotten, or self regarding, in the end. And here in Tory Barnet, that end, The End, is Nigh. 

Oh, hang on: Update: since beginning this post, The End is Here. 

Events, as you will see, have indeed overtaken us all.

And yes, it all happened, fittingly, as noted here by local Labour AM Andrew Dismore, on the Ides of March ...


Yes. Now hold on, because this next bit will require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. On an epic scale. Imagine say, War and Peace, re-imagined by Baz Luhrmann., if not Carry On Councillor.

So.

Seven weeks before the local elections, Barnet Tories have lost control of their own council. 

Well, not so much lost, as given it away.

This is how it happened.

In act of breathtaking stupidity, as we learned earlier this week, the hapless Hendon Tory constituency party decided to deselect three of its most long standing councillors: Joan (where's my coat) Scannell, Maureen (Two Sheds) Braun, and Sury (Didn't approve of the Capita contracts but signed up anyway and then moaned about it) Khatri.



Hendon councillor Maureen Braun

In other words, the deeply misogynist Barnet Tories have rejected two older women, despite their long record of service in their communities - please note the 85 year old Mill Hill councillor John Hart has been re-selected - and Hendon's only BAME councillor, Sury Khatri, despite his own exemplary record as a ward councillor, over two terms. Why?

The Hendon constituency has always been problematic, even by the bottom of the barrel scraping standards of Broken Barnet - and increasingly so. Dwindling membership and factionalism within the depleted ranks has not helped at all, but the selection process overseen by a residue of hard line Tories, determined to shore up their own support, has led to the most calamitous of outcomes for the council administration.



Edgware councillor Joan Scannell, right

The ruthless deselection of well respected members was an astonishingly stupid move, but also breathtaking in its mercilessness: all three are experienced councillors, popular in their wards - and were pretty sure to retain a section of the Tory vote that is otherwise at risk of ... ok, maybe not joining Momentum, but ... sshh ... maybe ... not voting Tory. The way in which they were despatched, however, beats all. Perhaps not so much back stabbing, as stabbing right there, in the front, with nothing more than a belated thanks for their long contribution of service by - oh, deputy leader Dan Thomas who is -aha - also Chair of Hendon Tories:

“As per Conservative Party rules, all councillors must be reselected by their constituency association to stand for re-election. As this process is conducted by secret ballot, it is neither possible nor appropriate to speculate why applicants are not successful.


“Councillors Joan Scannell, Maureen Braun, and Sury Khatri have a combined length of service on Barnet Council of 52 years and both Joan and Maureen served with distinction as Mayor. We are extremely grateful for all they helped us to achieve as a Conservative Council and we wish them all the best for the future."

Anyone seen the Barnet Tory leader, Richard Cornelius, by the way? Or has the coup already taken place?

Well, then. An outright Labour victory, in areas like Mill Hill and Edgware, is more or less unprecedented, but after such an overt act of politicking, and the removal of well known councillors, due to seismic political and demographic changes in this part of the borough: well, it just might happen. And if it does, it will, of course, help to deliver a Labour run council. Hoorah.

Except: no, hang on. 

The Tories have pretty much done that anyway, and seven weeks early. 

As of yesterday.

Tssk. Timing is all, Tory chums: but no, whoops, there you go, far too soon, all over the place, and nothing to show for it, except a deep sense of shame.

Dear me. 

But back to the deselection.



Sury Khatri and his deselected colleagues issued a press release, published here on the Barnet Eye blog: Mrs Angry understands it was written, this howl of rage, in frantic UPPER CASE, by Cllr Khatri.

PRESS RELEASE - MOMENTUM ARRIVES IN HENDON CONSTITUENCY , NOT LABOUR, BUT TORY COUNCILLORS NOT TO BE RESELECTED !

COUNCILLOR JOAN SCANNELL RECEIVED THE BRITISH EMPIRE MEDAL FROM THE QUEEN IN HER 90TH BIRTHDAY HONOUR’S LIST FOR HER SERVICE AS AN EDGWARE COUNCILLOR TO THE COMMUNITY IN THE LONDON BOROUGH OF BARNET. JOAN HAS OVER 44 YEARS SERVICE WITH THE COUNCIL AND HAS THE CORPORATE MEMORY WHICH CANNOT BE REPLACED. CHAIRMAN OF GENERAL FUNCTIONS COMMITTEE FOR 16 YEARS, THE CONSERVATIVE GROUP SECRETARY UNOPPOSED FOR 21 YEARS AND WITH AN EXEMPLARY RECORD OF ATTENDANCE. JOAN IS ONE OF THE UNFORTUNATE CASUALTIES.

COUNCILLOR MAUREEN BRAUN THE LONG SERVING AND HUGELY EXPERIENCED CHAIRMAN OF HENDON AREA PLANNING COMMITT EE, AND THE LICENSING SUB-COMMITTEE , HAS THE HIGHEST RECORD OF ATTENDANCE FOR DAYTIME MEETINGS. UNFORTUNATELY MAUREEN IS THE SECOND CASUALTY.

COUNCILLOR SURY KHATRI, THE POPULAR CHAIRMAN OF HENDON RESIDENTS FORUM, ALSO HAS AN EXCELLENT RECORD FOR ATTENDANCE OF MEETINGS. SURY, ONE OF THE TRUSTEES HAS SPENT OVER 4 YEARS SETTING UP THE NW7HUB (& THE MILL HILL PARTNESHIP LIBRARY). SURY IS UNFORTUNATELY THE THIRD CASUALTY.

ALL 3 COUNCILLORS ARE DEVASTATED BY THIS. WE ARE HOWEVER TRULY HONOURED TO HAVE BEEN GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO SERVE THE COMMUNITY ALL THESE YEARS AND WOULD LIKE TO THANK THE RESIDENTS WHO HAVE PLACED THEIR TRUST IN US AND SUPPORTED US THROUGHOUT THE YEARS

Love the Momentum reference. Barnet Tories (current and former) have recently resorted, after realising their powers of persuasion are strictly limited, to trying to frighten voters into voting for them by claiming on twitter that to do otherwise will bring about the Apoclaypse, and/or a Labour administration run by, ha ha: Momentum.

This cheered Mrs Angry up no end, when she read it. At last: the comrades are taking over Barnet Labour group. Revolution is just around the corner. Massed hordes will be running up the stairway of Hendon Town Hall, the day after polling day, to tear down the revered portrait of Brian Coleman from his place above the council chamber door, and replace it with a picture of Lenin. Labour leader Barry Rawlings, in line with orders from the Politburo, will formally announce the dictatorship of the proletariat is now in place, in the former council chamber of the London Borough of Capita. Happy Days.

As for the axed Tory councillors, well: Mrs Angry's sympathies are somewhat limited, as it happens. All three Tories may be decent people, and moderate in their views, and in marked contrast to the swivel eyed right wingers in the Tory group, but: they have given loyal support to their group's illiberal policies, over the years. 

Sadly, 'third casualty' Sury Khatri chose to endorse the Capita contracts, and then criticise them, and the process which they had been agreed, after the event, when it was too late. And then complain to Mrs Angry, more than once, that she always reminds everyone about this. Here we go again, Sury. Oh, and setting up a pretend library in Mill Hill, as part of a - excuse me - "business hub" has done nothing to endear him to her. 

But now look: Cllr Khatri may just have redeemed himself, ever so slightly, in the eyes of Mrs Angry, by throwing a strop - and throwing the most almighty spanner in the works. He has resigned the Tory whip, and thrown the council into turmoil, only weeks before the election, as now there is no over all control. 

Yes, you read that right: there is no longer a Tory led council, in Broken Barnet.

The sense of 'fin de si├Ęcle', and the last days of a doomed and decadent empire, have hung over the last few months of the Tory administration, like a bad smell. And like the last days of any disintegrating power, the desperate attempts to cling on to power tell their own story. Let Mrs Angry be the Edward Gibbon de nos jours, and lovingly chronicle the final moments, the decline and fall, of Tory Barnet. 

Here is an illustration, to set the mood, from last weekend:

Behold, in place of loyal footsoldiers once so thick on the ground, in the Tory fortress of Chipping Barnet, a band of mercenaries from Gaul sent in - bussed in - to try to placate the natives, and convince them not to rise up against the army of occupation: 



Visiting Tory activists, lured to Chipping Barnet with the promise of a free lunch: (and taking over the disabled parking area of the tube station ...)

Yes: so they are so short of members, activists and supporters now, in what was always the heartland of Barnet Tory votes, a plea has had to be launched to rally the troops elsewhere, to come and beg Barnet voters to return another Tory administration: the sort of troops that might be desperate for a free sandwich and a wave at Priti Patel, that is ...



We really are in desperate days, aren't we? Gone is the golden age of Barnet Conservatism, when local Tories, blinded by the reflected light of Gloriana herself, the Blessed Margaret, ruled the borough as her divinely appointed representatives on earth. 

A sense of entitlement, and the feudal system of administration of this borough by successive Conservative councils, used to come wrapped in a sort of slightly mildewed covering of paternalism, along with a cohort of gentlemanly members, and a handful of Tory matrons allowed to join in, as long as they kept their heads down, and did as their menfolk told them.

In more latter years, the calibre of candidates for the Barnet Tory group has sharply declined. The era of members like Leslie Sussman, who saw his role as an expression of civic pride, and served the community for decades, but refused to take a penny in any allowance, has long vanished. 

The rot set in the days of the administration led by Mike Freer, now Tory MP for Finchley and Golders Green, clinging on by his fingertips in a newly marginal seat -  Freer's former deputy leader, Matthew Offord, now MP for Hendon, also faces electoral annihilation, as well as Chipping's Theresa Villiers - but it was a pattern reflecting the change in Tory values generally, and nationally. No longer solely the party of the upper classes, and an ethos of noblesse oblige: here came a new generation of working class Tories, ruthless, ambitious - but in many cases, in the context of Barnet, trusted with duties that are far beyond the limits of their own capabilities. 

The oikishness of Barnet's post Thatcherite, upstart Tories is still perfectly represented in the council chamber of the London Borough of Broken Barnet, a group largely comprised, as it is, of failed smalltime businessmen, lower level managers, bank clerks - and the wives or sons of councillors, wedged into safe seats. 

Completely out of their depth when charged with tackling the management of a billion pound budget, they were easy prey for the machiavellian plotting of outsourcing consultants and senior officers intent on facilitating a mass privatisation of council services. 

Tory members, only too pleased to let someone else tell them what to do, rather than be expected to use their own judgement, obediently allowed themselves to be persuaded of the wonderful benefits of the two massive Capita contracts. 

Indolent by nature, and alarmingly dim, Barnet's Tory councillors happily sat back and left senior officers and consultant legal advisers to oversee the entire process of outsourcing on their behalf, blithely accepting their assurances as to the benefits of what even Brian Coleman later referred to as an 'officer driven juggernaut', the Capita deal - now hurtling towards them, totally out of control, faster than we can reach the elections in May.

There would be mass savings. And better services. That was the mantra. Well, here we are, five years later and guess what? No mass savings, in fact we are handing over millions and millions of pounds each month to Capita, as we pay agency staff and consultants to do the work council staff used to do - at maybe three times the cost - and the many variations hidden in the contract the members did not read allows the company to screw more and more fees from such lucrative sources as gainshare payments, that is to say extra rewards payable to them on those 'savings' which are - as fellow blogger Mr Reasonable has demonstrated - somewhat hard to identify.

Better services? No. No, no, no. 



Tory leader Richard Cornelius and Cllr Dean Cohen, awfully proud of their new, state of the art pot hole filler in. Better services, for less money? Erm: no.

Not that they will acknowledge this, or even maintain an effective level of scrutiny of performance, or hold Capita to account when there are serious failures in service. Instead of any such process, they leave Cllr Antony 'Mickey' Finn to oversee the rubber stamping committee, an absolute Pollyanna who thinks scrutiny should not be critical, or indeed negative, and waits, in a state of blissful innocence, for a time when everything will be 'hunky dory'.

Now of course we know, from the council's own external auditors, that the authority is running out of money, having been driven to ransack its reserves to try to balance the books. The books - the accounts - that are, like everything else, written up by the council's contractors. Yes, the same contractors whose service delivery is written up in ... the accounts, whose pages were found by the auditors to be full of errors. 

The multiplicity of roles that Capita plays now, in this borough, defies belief. Within the services it runs, such as planning, this is a real concern. Here it acts as fee based advisers to developers, oversees the planning application process, and advises on the recommendation, or otherwise, of individual proposals. It is also a developer. None of this broad range of activities within the same area offers any reason to our Tory councillors to worry about potential conflicts of interest, of course.

But beyond the limits of the London Borough of Capita, Capita Plc itself is in deep trouble. 

Only a matter of time before it a. collapses or b. has to radically reshape its structure and delivery of services. Either way, Barnet is in line for difficulties on an unprecedented scale. 

Who knew? 

We did. 

And we told you so, Tory councillors, didn't we? 

We even took you to the High Court for a Judicial Review, and would have won, if not out of time. Oh, and when we asked what contingency plans you have, should the Capita deal go tits up, you laughed, didn't you, and said that wouldn't happen? 

Who's laughing now?

Not Mrs Angry. Well: no, she is laughing, but only at your expense, not ours. Because of course it will be the tax payers of Broken Barnet who pay for your gross incompetence, should Capita sink.

All up for grabs now, anyway. Through their own idiocy, Barnet Tories have, at the very least, delivered the best possible PR coup to  Barnet Labour, teetering as we all are on the verge of purdah, in the run up to the May elections: losing control of their own administration, and exposing the bitter divisions within the group, which run far deeper, and in more directions than the Brexit issue.

Throughout the span of eight years in which this blog has been running, some stories have continued to exert a powerful pull on the memory. 

Reporting the Tories' destruction of our library service, here in Barnet, has become something more than a local issue, and part of a wider campaign and struggle to ensure the survival of libraries in the UK as a whole. But nowhere perhaps better exemplifies the danger facing the service than right here, in our own back yard, where culture, heritage, education and learning are valued only in terms of the properties in which they are installed, and the opportunities for profit such buildings extend, now we live in the age of Capita. Our libraries stand as witness to the larger depredations wrought on this borough by so many years of botched governance: a suitable metaphor, standing in full view of every former resident who once enjoyed a previously magnificent, award winning, and value for money service.



The former Golders Green children's library

My own experience of libraries here in Broken Barnet has been as a child, an adult, a parent, and a library worker, and as someone who witnessed the closure, occupation and re-opening of Friern Barnet library, in a spectacular act of defiance by residents and protestors. The fight to preserve our libraries continues, largely thanks to the work of Save Barnet Libraries, who have made a formal complaint to the government about the impact of Tory cuts.

But the library issue is more than the story of one library - or the story of one service: it is all of this and more: of the fight for the heart and soul of this borough. 

(Perhaps that is why, yesterday, in a move clearly aimed to distract attention from the impending catastrophe in the council chamber, Barnet Tories decided to publish a frankly barking tweet, accusing Mrs Angry, library campaigner, of advocating ... erm ... the closure of 'half Barnet's libraries'? Yes. Really.)

Libraries have been relegated to the committee now overseen by the ineffable Reuben Thompstone, a portly young Tory who is awfully pleased with himself, and his little curly moustache, adopted, one assumes, as he aspires to an air of gravitas that is, alas, eternally slipping out of reach. 



Cllr Reuben Thompstone

The CELS committee has born witness to some of the worst acts committed by Barnet Tories in their reign of error.

The evisceration of our libraries - at a cost of £14 million, to save £2 million - was one of them. 

But nothing can compare to the truly shameful treatment given to the families of some of the most vulnerable children in our borough, four years ago, when Barnet Tories had the brilliant idea of cutting council tax by a few pennies a week, deciding the pre-election 'gesture' could be covered by measures such as slashing the respite care for families of children with multiple and complex disabilities, who attend Mapledown School. 

The absolute cynicism and barbarity of such a move, and the abject misery and distress caused to those families almost defies description: but you can read how Reuben Thompstone dealt with this awful episode, and the meeting attended by some of the children affected, here: 

http://wwwbrokenbarnet.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/a-heartbreak-too-difficult-to-describe.html

(Among the children whose lives were affected by the proposed slashing of respite care was a beautiful young girl named Sophie, who suffers from a range of profound disabilities, and whose grandmother Rose, who cares for her, and cared for her late brother, spoke at the meeting presided over by Thompstone, and whose dignity and eloquence left a lasting impression on all who heard her. 


Sophie's lovely face can be seen now on a large billboard that you pass if you drive out of Broken Barnet, on the North Circular, in an appeal that is part of fundraising efforts for the much needed Noah's Ark Children's Hospice. You can donate to this admirable cause here). 

Another triumph of Thompstone's term as Chair of CELS came in the shape of last year's damning OFSTED report into Barnet's children's services, identifying a shocking level of  failure in the care of vulnerable children, leaving them at risk of 'serious harm'.

How fitting then, that as their parting shot, at the last full council meeting, marred by slurs thrown at Labour members, and following previous full council meetings in which Labour members such as Arjun Mittra and Devra Kay were also subject to abuse by Tory councillors, that the choice of Mayor for the next year - should they be re-elected - was none other than ... Reuben Thompstone. Who could be a more suitable choice, to represent their group?

I prefer to think this borough is better represented not by strutting Tory councillors taking their turns to dress up in moth eaten fox furs, and chains of office, appointing themselves to an outdated post which gratifies their overweening egos, but by courageous citizens like Rose, and Sophie, and all those who quietly and tirelessly support our most vulnerable residents, when they need it most, not turn the other way.


Well: let Barnet Tories in Easycouncil melt, and the wide range of the One Barnet empire fall. Here, readers, is our space. 

A space of five weeks in which to enjoy their self generated folly, and prepare for an election in which, at last, we have a real chance of wresting control of our lives out of their hands, and the hands of Capita, and back in the care of a democratic system of governance. 

Please make sure you are registered to vote, and make sure your vote counts. 

1 comment:

John Brace said...

Isn't it funny how this page on the outsourced website about Barnet's councillors that states that 32 out of 63 of the councillors are Conservative when it should be 31?

As when you count the actual number it comes out to different to what it at the start of the page.

The point that with the Mayor being a Conservative councillor, that the Conservatives with 30 other councillors no longer have a majority on the Council? As the Conservative block vote can be outvoted (in theory) by the other 32 councillors?

Sadly there seem to be no Council meetings between now and the elections... but there are elections of roughly a third of the seats in May. What do you think are the chances of control of Barnet Council changing after the 2018 elections?