Wednesday 29 December 2010

A New Year In Broken Barnet

Now then. Hmm. Excuse me, a moment. I'm just going through the contents of my hamper.

Let's see ... oh, yes. Lovely. Look forward to that. Gosh: how lucky am I?

Yes: on Christmas Eve, you see, to Mrs Angry's great surprise, a passing council grit lorry skidded to a rather undignified halt outside the Angry house, the doorbell rang, and when she went to see who was there, she found, you'll never guess, no, not an illegal delivery of black market pavement salt - an enormous wicker hamper, courtesy of Barnet Council.

Can you imagine the excitement? Well, at first, of course, she thought it was an abandoned baby, or an unwanted model for local government, but no, it was addressed to Mrs Angry, with a note, Alice in Wonderland style, saying 'Eat Me'. She couldn't help but notice the price tag: £350! Oh: no - hold on - looking a little closer ... actually, it was £3.50, but still: it's the thought that counts, isn't it?

So what have we got here? Let's have a look. You jealous, Brian? Any white truffle oil then? No. Oh. Bottle of Tarragon and Lime Mayonnaise? Nope. Vintage port? Champers?

Oh, well, after all, this is not just any old hamper, this is a One Barnet hamper, so: a Tesco value six pack of Cheesy Wotsits - nice. A Doner Kebab flavor Pot Noodle. Lovely. A pack of Chocotastic Pop Tarts, a tin of spam, a packet of Cheesestrings, (oh: six months past its sell by date?) and a bottle of Irn-Bru.

Thank you very much.

Mrs Angry is deeply touched by this generous gesture. In the interests of transparency she will of course declare all gifts in the opted out section of the Barnet Bloggers' register of interest. (Only if someone notices she hasn't done it yet, and lodges an official complaint, otherwise she won't need to bother, of course).

And it goes without saying, naturally, that this thoughtful gift will not in any way influence the opinions, judgement, objectivity, integrity or professional standards of the Broken Barnet blog.

Have I mentioned, incidentally, that for a long time now I have been thinking of quietly abandoning the name, "Broken Barnet"?

I am toying with something, well, a little less in your face, something a little more wholesome and edifying: something like 'Beautiful Barnet, a successful suburb' (apart from a few areas of social deprivation/slums) or 'One Barnet, One People, One Leader' (- a little too fascistic, maybe?) One Barnet, Two Nations? (Too divisive?) It's a work in progress, anyway.

And, frankly, I do increasingly worry that, in many ways, 'Broken Barnet' projects an unnecessarily negative image to our borough, and I have to ask myself, at a time like this, when times are so challenging and we are, as we know, all in this together, should we bloggers not try to turn away from the 'drip, drip, drip' of poisonous criticism of our beloved councillors, and learn to love them just as they are, warts and all? They are only human, after all. Well, human-oid, anyway.

Citizens of Broken Barnet: it is not our place to question our elected representatives. They know what is best for us, and must be allowed to get on with the important job or running the borough and raking in their allowances (oh dear, old habits die hard) -no, Mrs Angry - running the borough and what was it now, heading a ruthless drive for efficiency, delivering better services for - sorry, lost the last line of your message, councillor, what was it? Oh: less money? No, that can't be right, because it doesn't make sense, does it? What? Doesn't matter, no one listens anyway? Hmm. You could be right.

If Barnet is broken: let's fix it, shall we?

And, as part of our new sensitive approach to borough affairs, Mrs Angry has decided to gently encourage the darling councillors in their endeavours, supporting their stalwart efforts, and highlighting the magnificent work of the last few months.

As we approach the end of the old year, therefore, and the beginning of a new one, Mrs Angry has decided it might be appropriate to mark some of the acheivements of the last twelve months with some special awards. The lucky recipients have been notified, of course, and sworn to secrecy, and will receive their New Year Dishonour at a ceremony, date yet to be arranged, at the Arts Depot in - oh, hold on .... no, scratch that out, might not be open by then, er at a local museum: oh, maybe not, alright, arts or community venue - oh, there aren't any? Oh dear. Well, then, at Chipping Barnet Library - what? Banned? Mrs Angry? Do you know who I am?

Huh. Well, let's see then.

The Broken Barnet Awards for 2010 are as follows:

For unstinting labour on behalf of the community, in some cases, attending no less than two meetings a year of a Committee, and for a mere extra allowance of £15,333: step forward eight lucky Tories:

Councillor Andreas Tambourides, Licensing Committee, two scheduled meetings this year, saw his allowance rise from a stingy £9,974 to a slightly improved £15,333.

Councillor Brian Gordon, Policy & Performance OSC, two meetings scheduled, also now gets £15,333.

Councillor John Marshall, Pension Fund, four meetings, increased to £15,333:

Councillor Alison Cornelius, Health OSC, five meetings: increased to £15,333

Councillor Joan Scannell, General Functions, five meetings:£15,333 Councillor Hugh Rayner, Bus Mgt OSC sub: eight meetings, £15,333

Councillor Darrel Yawitch, Budget Perf OSC, nine meetings: £15,333

Councillor Wendy Prentice, Planning Environment, twelve meetings: £15,333

Well done, all of you for such timely and well deserved increases of 54% extra for these Committee posts. The council officers who write your reports and do most of the committee work for you are sitting at home re-reading their 90 day redundancy notices, as we speak, but I am sure they will join in the hearty congratulations.

Broken Barnet Charity of the Year; for bringing the true message of the gospel to the community, offering loving support for the less advantaged, especially to the homeless: Finchley Methodist Church.

The Broken Barnet Fiction Prize for 2010 goes to: the person(s) responsible for the Ideas Barnet website, of course. Rest assured that Mrs Angry has her admiring eye on you, and your creative talents!

A special award, now, for outstanding modesty and self deprecating shyness in public office.

Yes, step forward, the six councillors who have decided that putting the details of their interests, gifts and hospitality online might lead us to think they are showing off, and encourage outbursts of public envy, so kindly withheld their forms from public view.

Brian Coleman

Barry Evangeli

Sachin Rajput

Joan Scannell

Daniel Seal

Andreas Tambourides

Your thoughtfulness and discretion is most becoming, and an example to us all.

The 2010 joint Broken Barnet/Turner Prize award goes to a ground breaking example of installation art: "Four Useless and Unnecessary New Street Lights with No Lamps attached". This work has been on show in our street since the summer, and has drawn much admiration and gratitude from local residents, despite the multi million pound cost of the boroughwide project: a thought provoking, ironic piece of conceptual art, subtly playing on contemporary themes of meaninglessness, and the loss of idealism and principle in public life.

Broken Barnet Quotation of the Year: difficult one, this. The nominations, please, Mrs X ... no,no, no - don't open the envelope yet, you fool: firstly, of course, we are going to hear some highlights of the last year: unfortunately there really was too much choice, but we have narrowed the field to our special favourites:

A special commendation, therefore, for referring to those in the public sector as not having 'real jobs' 14th September, Councillor Tom Davey - who works for a tobacco company.

For informing us that 'there have been many cases in this country of people brought up in poverty who thrived on it.' Councillor Richard Cornelius, 20th October

But perhaps the last word, and the winning entry, should be from our dear Leader:

'You won't teach me anything about incompetence'. Lynne Hillan, 2nd November

No one is going to argue with you on that one, dear.

Finally, and most important of all: the Broken Barnet Civic Award.

This award is given to someone who, as the strict criteria of a certain other Civic Award demand, "deserves recognition", "works tirelessly for little or no reward" and gives up their time to volunteer for a good cause".

The winner of this award has dedicated an enormous amount of his time, energy and enthusiasm on behalf of the residents of this borough, taking the initiative when local press and politicians have failed to act, and campaigned on countless issues of concern to us all. I refer, of course, to Mr Roger Tichborne, and his Barnet Eye blog.

Commendations too to fellow bloggers Vicki Morris, for her eternal optimisim, Mr Reasonable, for his eagle eyed armchair auditing, and of course, the master, DCMD (when he just can't stop himself).

A very Happy New Year to all readers.

Sunday 19 December 2010

Mrs Angry's Christmas Broadcast

2010 has been something of an Annus Horribilis for our family, and indeed for the citizens of Broken Barnet.

The Angry household started this year in a state of deep despair.

Our family had been living for a full year next door to the villainous 'Smith' family: neighbours from hell - tenants placed in a private property by Barnet Homes, as part of their appalling practice, via a council sanctioned scheme, of placing 'vulnerable' families in uninspected houses, no questions asked, in a concerted effort to massage the figures of the council's housing waiting list. If you recall, the house in which our delightful neighbours were accommodated was a rat infested dump, surrounded by a mountain of squalid filth, courtesy of the owners, one of many landlords approved by the council for this scheme, whose properties were not checked to ensure they met the most basic of health and safety requirements. I wonder how many more vulnerable families - ordinary families in genuine need, rather than the vile Smiths - will be thrown into such appalling and practically unregulated accommodation, once the new housing policies are implemented?

For almost a year and a half, we were terrorised by a routine of continual daily - and nightly - antisocial behaviour by the tenants placed in this property, and their noise, intimidation and harassment. When we complained, at first the council agreed to act, then after months of empty promises changed their mind, and simply abandoned us to our fate. In the end, in fact, the council only took action to deal with the issues when Mrs Angry started this blog, and started to publicise what was happening. As this was shortly before the election period, this proved to be rather effective.

Funnily enough, at last week's full council meeting, Mrs Angry found herself unexpectedly reminded of the horrifying series of events which brought this blog into being. Sitting directly in front of her, in the public gallery, was one of the senior officers involved in the council's handling of the case. (When I say senior officers, I mean those fortunate few on the highest salaries, who are not, I believe, one of those who will be sitting down to Christmas lunch worrying about the redundancy notice they received the other week.)

Ms X, as we will call her, sat throughout the meeting armed with her council tablet/lap top, (you know, the ones that cost us a cool £3 million) - rather indiscreetly open to public view. Tut tut. Not sure why she was there, sitting in the public section, when on duty. Mrs Angry enjoyed reading her emails, however, and was amused by her covert googling of stories about Silvio Berlusconi's women, and Sam Allardyce's career prospects. Did you feel the eyes of Mrs Angry boring into the back of your head, at all, by the way, Ms X? She was warmly wishing you a very merry Christmas, and a happy New Year, and sincerely hoping that the Smith family, or someone just like them, moves right next door to you, one day very soon.

Every cloud has a silver lining, as we know, and, happily, out of our year and a half of misery was born Mrs Angry, and this blog. Just think, Lynne Hillan, and Andrew Harper, and dear Mr Freer: if you had ever shown us the slightest sympathy and support, Mrs Angry- and Broken Barnet - might never have come to life, and what a sad loss that would have been!

Of course, after starting this blog, Mrs Angry fell very easily into the routine of writing about the machinations of the London Borough of Barnet, and discovered that there was a large audience keen to read all about the latest political idiocies of our lunatic Tory council.

First we had the election, and the disastrous result: then we had God's gift to the blogging community of Barnet - Allowancegate. Because as soon as the new Tory administration was in place, what did it do? It decided, or at least the leadership and Cabinet decided, to award itself a nice little - no: an enormous increase in pay. This sneaky attempt to fill their pockets with more of our hard earned dosh was engineered in full knowledge that only weeks later, the council was going to impose the most devastating range of cuts in budget savings, and serve redundancy notices on many ordinary members of staff. The attempted allowance rate increase was first highlighted by the Barnet bloggers, let us remember, and then picked up by the local press. A familiar pattern, in short. No doubt our beloved councillors had hoped that they could manage the pay rise on the quiet, which might explain the curious last minute arrival of the proposal on the agenda, due to oh what was it now? IT problems. Mmm.

Let us not forget the scenes in the council chamber when the allowance increase was voted on by the full council, supported by all Tories except for Kate Salinger, who abstained, and was treated abominably by her colleagues as a result. Long serving council officers who witnessed this performance were visibly stunned by the extent of vindictiveness which was demonstrated by the Tories' act of revenge, and Mrs Salinger was seen to leave the chamber in tears.

Mrs Salinger's callow colleagues allowed this outrageous increase to be voted in, and watched the public flaying of their colleague without protest, remaining silent until the public reaction embarrassed them into a somewhat belated attempt to distance themselves from what had happened.

What followed was an unprecedented reaction from the residents of this borough, many of them previously loyal Conservative voters. Their sense of outrage was explosive: Lynne Hillan was forced into a humiliating retraction, and the increase was cancelled. Oh: except for a fortunate eight members who found themselves rewarded with a 54% rise in pay for their additional allowances as Chairs of committees, in some cases committees which meet only twice a year. These favoured few saw their allowances rise from a mere £9,000 or so to a stonking £15,333. The extra money which has been thrown at these councillors amounts to more than £40,000: this of course would pay for, say, several posts in the now threatened children's centres, or wardens in sheltered accommodation, but of course in our borough, the well being of our Tory councillors' bank balances is far more important than a few staff redundancies, or a massive cut in vital services for residents.

The furious reaction to Allowancegate was not just confined to local bloggers, the press and the residents of Barnet. It was widely criticised in the national media, and by senior Conservative figures. Only then did our greedy, craven councillors decide to try an exercise in damage limitation, and seek to retract the increase. Dissent within the Tory ranks began to seethe and threatened to boil over into, goodness me, rebellion by the disaffected councillors, who felt themselves to be increasingly marginalised by the dubious Cabinet system of decision making. New boy Mark Shooter made a valiant effort to challenge Lynne Hillan for the leadership - and very nearly pulled it off. As time goes by, it becomes more and more interesting to wonder what might have happened if he had succeeded.

The past year has seen other eye wateringly awful revelations from our beloved council, of course. Most of these centre around the strange cult like movement to which the Barnet Tories have become fanatically attached. I refer to the alleged 'model for government', formerly known as Futureshape, which now, of course, in its latest divine incarnation, has taken the form of 'One Barnet'. Every time this idiotic plan reaches a critical level of notoriety, it must shape shift into sonething else, in order to survive. By the time you finish reading this, of course, it may have undergone a further metamorphosis: who can tell?

The L Ron Hubbard of Futureshape, little Mike Freer: whatever happened to him, btw? Well, yes, I know he became an MP, but whatever happened to him? Any sightings? What's that? Last seen touring the Lake District in Sooty's camper van? Bless.

Well, anyway: some consultants came along and had a little look at One Barnet, which was very kind of them, although of course they were well rewarded for this, as we are very fond of consultants in this borough and like to throw money at them whenever possible. Oh dear, though: they didn't like what they saw, you know ... well, the truth is that they had problems finding anything to inspect.

In fact, it reminds me of the end of another cult story: Joanna Southcott, the self styled eighteenth century prophet, who claimed to be the mother of a new messiah, and left a box of sacred writings which might only be unlocked in the presence of several bishops, more than a century after her birth. When the box was opened in the 1920s, it revealed the contents to be a night cap, a horse pistol, and a lottery ticket. And nothing else. And when Grant Thornton broke the seals on the One Barnet box, they found much the same - a load of nothing: no business plan, no timescale, no costings, no risk assessment; in other words, an empty policy, devoid of meaning, with no structure and no solid foundation.

As in all cults, however, the true believers - and the cynically controlling leadership - of One Barnet are united in their determination to maintain their committment to the empty box, all the way to Armageddon, if necessary: and unless someone stages a last minute intervention to free us from their grip, that is surely where we are all heading.

There are two major impending disasters hurtling towards each other now, bound for a major collision: the drive to make savage cuts in public spending, and the impending implementation of One Barnet policies, also intended to deliver savings, but on an ideological basis rather than as a reaction to the greater economic crisis. Lest we forget, these theoretical savings are just that: paper promises with no substance, and as yet this idiotic policy has actually cost us millions of pounds, rather than save us any money.

These two pressures on budget policy, ie One Barnet, and the government's spending review, are being fatally confused, as if they are and always have been driven by the same considerations; this is, unquestionably, very seriously damaging to the forward planning of our borough's economic well being.

Added to the burden of the One Barnet claptrap, and a feverish enthusiasm for the Coalition government's brutal campaign of cuts, we, the residents of this borough will have to bear the weight of this Tory administration's ludicrous claim that they are going to deliver 'better services for less money'. Any school child could work out that this is a lie, an impossibility, and one contradicted by the council's own statements on the need to cut so many vital services, - ones whose removal or reduction will hardly be viewed by those reliant on them as 'better', even by Barnet standards.

Another deception which this administration upholds is a committment to the principle of consultation with the electorate over matters of council policy. There is of course a statutory obligation for local authorities to consult residents over certain matters, and Barnet has to toe the line, in theory. In practice, this process, as we have all seen in recent months, is a farce, and stage managed by the administration for its own political purposes.

Public surveys, such as the one for libraries, are designed in such a way as to lead the resident to endorse the pre set political agenda of the council. The much vaunted 'Ideas Barnet' website was proven to be secretly loaded with One Barnet friendly suggestions, and the most popular ideas which happened to be critical of such things as councillors' allowance rises, or the expense of the mayoral cars, were blatantly ignored. The public meeting which was supposed to be open to any resident to discuss the budget was barely advertised and then conveniently cancelled, while on the quiet, a 'Citizens Panel' was organised to replace a free discussion with a controlled event, with unknown participants chosen by a process unverified by independent assessment. The cynicism of such behaviour, and the fear of honest engagement with residents is truly shameful, but it seems the leadership of the Tory group is quite beyond any sense of shame.

After nearly a year of waiting, the long promised register of councillors' interests, gifts and hospitality went online. This was meant to be in acknowledgement of the need for 'transparency'. In true Barnet fashion, transparency was taken as necessary only in the cases of those who wished to be transparent. Those councillors who refused to take part - all of them Tories - simply opted out.

And what of those who did agree, eventually, to put their interests online? Were they all entirely forthcoming about the information that was required? Well, this is a very interesting subject, isn't it? Some councillors seem to be incapable of understanding the most basic requirements of such forms. Should they then be trusted with the burden of responsibilities and decision making that the job of running our borough entails?

And what a responsibilty they have ahead of them.

What was it Vince Cable said earlier this week?

"There is a kind of Maoist revolution happening in a lot of areas like the health service, local government, reform, all this kind of stuff, which is in danger of getting out of control. We are trying to do too many things, actually ... Some of them are Lib Dem inspired, but a lot of it is Tory inspired. The problem is not that they are Tory-inspired, but that they haven't thought them through. We should be putting a brake on it."

What he describes is happening nationally, but is happening here in Barnet to an extreme degree: a reckless, ill thought out and irresponsible upheaval on such a scale that no one really understands the scale of the impact that it is going to have on our lives. And in charge of this apocalyptic onslaught on everything we hold dear is the biggest bunch of fools you could hope to meet this side of Bedlam.

So: what to do it about? Not so long ago, our local Press newspaper said that we were in need of a revolution in this borough. I don't disagree. It's time to stand up to these fools and remind them who is boss. I'm not sure if it is a revolution, or a fight for justice. But we all have our part to play.

Citizens of Broken Barnet, as we move towards the end of this eventful year, take time to reflect on the state of this borough, and the direction in which we are being led. If you are unhappy at the thought of what is heading this way, it is up to you to do something about it. You elected these nincompoops: now is the time to hold them to account. You are entitled to question your councillors, regularly, either by letter, email, phone or in person as to their conduct in the performance of their duty to represent you, so exercise this right. Go to council meetings, ask questions, attend the residents forums, before they try to do away with them. Ask the opposition councillors to stop being so polite and well behaved, and maybe do a bit more yelling and screaming on our behalf.

Well: let's forget all that for now. It's nearly Christmas, here in Broken Barnet.

Fights are breaking out in Waitrose over the last of the organic brandy butter, black snow is everywhere on the ground - and look: deep in the protecting shadow of the local church spire, poor old Ebenezer Scrooge lies still in his bed, a sheet pulled up to his chin, waiting breathlessly for the sound of a Harvey Nichols hamper arriving outside his front door - but what is this? Clanking chains and heavy footsteps echo in the dark; the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Christmas Yet to Come, line up, one by one: oh, Mr Scrooge: what fearful visions will they have to show you?

Merry Christmas, dear readers.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Mrs Angry's Naughty List: December Full Council

When Mrs Angry was a little girl, she had a book, a children's encyclopaedia, which absolutely fascinated her, mostly because of its luridly coloured, full page illustrations. And one of the illustrations which particularly intrigued her portrayed the different customs associated with Christmas, all around the world.

This picture caused extreme anxiety to the infant Mrs Angry, in fact, because from it she learnt that in many glum looking countries in Scandinavia, and in spoil sport Germany, naughty children run the risk of waking up on Christmas Day to find that instead of a nice sack of presents, Santa had left them - can you believe it - a load of twigs?

Now, you may find this hard to believe, but Mrs Angry, as a child, was not always perfectly behaved, and she consequently worried all year round that one Christmas, this dreadful fate might happen to her. It hasn't yet, but you just don't know, do you? And tonight, citizens, after a conversation she had with a Very Important Person in a red outfit and long white beard, she must whisper to you that if she were, say, a Conservative councillor in the London Borough of Barnet, she might be preparing for a major disappointment on Christmas morning. She's had inside information, you see, from the big man himself.

Yes, tonight was the latest full council meeting at Hendon Town Hall, and Mrs Angry went along a little earlier to show her support for the mass lobby outside of council employees, from many different departments, and also some of our local students, including the admirable Alex from Finchley Catholic High School, of sixth form demo fame.

Oh, and of course, also in attendance was, yes, Father Christmas, who greeted Mrs Angry with a hearty handshake (I'm not in trouble this year, then) - and confided in her that he was greatly displeased with the behaviour of certain Tory councillors, whose names, I have to tell you, are now on his naughty list, and these councillors can be assured of major disappointment on Christmas morning. Matters cannot have been improved by the fact that Santa apparently was not allowed to enter the Town Hall and watch the meeting in the public gallery. I can't help feeling, friends, that an authority that is prepared to mess with Father Christmas is utterly doomed, one way or another. Naughty, naughty Barnet Council.

Mrs Angry waited for the right time to nip past the police and security into the Town Hall. (Despite the general public in theory having the right to attend these meetings, just gaining access can be a very difficult job). Luckily the police went off in a van, waving merrily at Father Christmas (obviously they at least are keen to stay on the right side). Before they drove off, the police van door opened, and a woman police officer beckoned to Mrs Angry. Uh, oh, thought Mrs Angry: I'm in big trouble. The officer leant towards her and said: 'I really like your coat!' 'Oh, thank you,' she replied, somewhat non plussed. Is flattery the new police tactic for dealing with demonstrators? Not a bad idea.

As usual, in fact, Mrs Angry used her Harry Potter technique to pass into the hallowed preceepts of the Town Hall: not so much a cloak of invisibility, as the method in which Harry and chums enter Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross in order to catch the Hogwarts' express: just running at the wall and hoping for the best. Actually, I fear that, judging by the very polite 'good evenings' I always receive when I pass throught these gates of hell, I manage to walk in because -oh God - I must look like a council officer or even - gulp - a councillor. Must be the coat.

Inside the council chamber, waiting for the meeting to begin, the noise of chanting and whistling from the crowd was pretty impressive. Suddenly, a suitably dark, sombre toned bell began to toll, in funereal fashion, and out beloved elected councillors trooped in. Send not to ask for whom the bell tolls, Tory councillors of Broken Barnet: it tolls for thee. Hopefully. The toytown macebearers (you know, the ones whose deletion so many residents asked for, in vain, via the idiotic Ideas website) marched in, dressed as always in pantomime breeches and cravats, and tricorn hats. Yes, really. The Mayor sat down. We sat down. We stood up again for a prayer.

Poor old Rabbi Ginsbury tried yet again to instill some spiritual values into the empty heads and lost souls of our councillors, speaking on a theme of festivals of light, asking the Almighty to open our eyes, send light into the bleak darkness, bless us with goodness, sustenance and encouragement, and to enable peaceful co existence and harmony. Mrs Angry was suddenly blinded with tears of shame, and resolved to write nothing but compliments and flattering comments about the assembled council. Sadly, as soon as we all sat down again, the councillors, as usual, immediately ignored everything the Rabbi had mentioned and launched straight back into their familiar petty warfare, and Mrs Angry returned with a sigh to her poison pen note taking.

I wish I could relate to you the details of a session of magnificent debates on the issues which are so much in all our thoughts just now: the savagery of the spending cuts, the widening faultlines in the One Barnet strategy, the huge number of ordinary council officers who are besides themselves with worry because they have just been handed 90 day redundancy notices, and will spend this Christmas worrying about whether or not they might have a job in a few weeks' time. But no: this just never happened, somehow.

Oh: what did they talk about then?

First off we heard about some councillors who had died. Very sad, of course. Especially as Brian had, he told us, been on the Christmas card list of one of them, and let's face it, that must be pretty rare. Tributes were paid. And then we had a minutes silence. Fair enough.

Oh, and some good news: Councillor Dean Cohen, the long suffering target of my questions at our Residents' Panel, is engaged to be married, so mazel tov, Dean, from Mrs Angry. Her heart is broken, of course.

Next: ah yes. The wonderful news that longtime Tory, sorry, Libdem, councillor Monroe Palmer has been made a peer. Oh, how nice. More tributes were paid, at great length, to the new Lord Palmer, by all parties. Apparently, his duties in the House of Lords will not prevent him from continuing as a Barnet councillor. More good news. Although, as Lynne Hillan winsomely added, 'if he's as busy at the Lords as he is in Barnet, Susette may find herself peeling all the potatoes!' Oh, laugh? We in the public gallery were beside ourselves. 'He's just another Tory,' yelled an elderly man sitting behind me. Ahem. In fact, Hillan was very keen to praise her Libdem chum, a dedicated man who, we were told, like Lynne, wants only to make life better for as many people as possible. Oh, that much is obvious, Lynne, for sure ... And on and on ... now it was Jack Cohen's turn to praise his colleague. He referred to the people in the public gallery all being pleased that his friend was being honoured at last in this way: the people in the gallery all looked at each other, somewhat bemused, and shrugged their shoulders. 'No they're not' retorted the old boy in the back. Well, banging on about this peerage business at least saved the Libdems from having to talk about the thing that must not be mentioned: the, sshhh, tuition fees betrayal, eh?

Questions and answers: very tame. Not because all the questions were dull or on topics which are not of interest, but largely because the answers are so unforthcoming, and in many cases councillors who placed questions opted not to pursue the point with a supplementary question. Maybe they are just giving up the fight.

Anne Hutton had asked a pertinent question about the library issue: 'How are the responses to the libraries' consultation being collated, and when will Councillors be given the detailed results?'

Cllr Ramsbottom's written reply was that the consultation programme had been 'broad and comprehensive', including 'over 30 different consultation activities'. Wonder what these were? Running away from Library Campaign canvassers? Anne Hutton's supplementary was equally to the point: if the public response to the consultation was that residents did not want any libraries to be closed, what would happen? I'd like to tell you that there was a clear answer to this, but you can imagine, can't you, the sort of reply? And anyway, I think recent experience with the Ideas Barnet website travesty of a consultation indicates that that there is no chance on earth of such a response being concluded or, in the unlikely event such a demand is made, being honoured by this idiotic council.

Bridget Perry spoke, but I am afraid I can't tell you what she said, as I was so distracted, not to say awestruck, by her new hair do. I've mentioned previously that this rather formidable Tory matron sported a pre Strictly Anne Widdecombe raven haired bob: in homage to Lady Gaga, perhaps, she has now modified this with a bizarre strawberry red stripe, the effect being indescribably weird. What next: facial piercings? A tattoo? Go for it, Bridget. That'll scare off a few more diehard Tory voters, if there are any left in Barnet.

Talking of Lady Gaga er ... yes: up stands Brian Coleman.

After so much time already wasted on trivialities, Brian decided to bore the pants off the assembled audience with his motion on the very, very serious subject of: no, not the cuts, not One Barnet, not even his ground breaking pot hole elimination scheme - (sorry, obviously not ground breaking, ground filling), oh no ... he wanted to talk about something much more important than any of those things. Temporary traffic lights. Yes. And of course when I say talk, of course, I mean rant. Not a full blown Coleman rant, accompanied by foaming at the mouth, and teeth grinding, more of a Grade 2, voice riding on a rising crescendo of petulant lecturing, rather like a tetchy scout master telling off a pack of cubs for messing up the church hall.

What was he on about? ~Well, you see, as Brian moves in stately fashion around our great metropolis, he often finds that the progress of his movement is impeded by 'minor road works'. In other words, his taxi has to stop for a moment, or he himself has to slow down to an annoyingly low speed. This is completely wrong, as Brian is very important, and must be allowed to go wherever he wants very quickly, very fast. Only the other week, he had to go to a funeral (in a Catholic church, he added, as if somewhat surprised to have survived the experience intact, and, frankly, so am I), and he had had to halt at some temporary traffic lights. I would have thought this might have been God's way of telling him to stop and reflect on the nature of mortality, and the need to repent before the day of judgement, perhaps?

Councillor Coleman wants to ban all temporary traffic lights, and bring back the compulsory use of stop and go boards. Yes, yet again in Broken Barnet, time is marching backwards. Isn't it funny, citizens, that in the same week we hear the council is proposing to get rid of school lollipop crossing attendants, so vitally needed in order to protect the lives of young children, on the grounds of these jobs being unnecessary costs, Coleman and others expect the utility companies to pay for extra workers on all road work teams simply to stand around all day and wave a board occasionally, just so that speeding motorists are not inconvenienced?

As if this wasn't enough, we then heard from a Labour councillor on the same subject: more or less agreeing with Coleman - at great length. The orations from all parties on this theme would not have disgraced Cicero, in fact: they went on for so long, actually, I see I have written in my notes KILL ME NOW, followed by 'displacement activity?' ... Oh, and then, and then: dear God: Monroe Palmer decides to agree, as well. Another long speech. Ok, agree, agree, all of you, but just shut up and move on to something that really matters. Oh good: here comes new boy councillor David Longstaffe - you know, the actor, beige man in Ikea, remember? We discussed his Bottom? Yes, here he is, thankfully fully clothed and making his maiden speech. Oh: he is going to talk about - temporary traffic lights! Good man yourself!

The worst thing about this is not just the amount of time at tonight's meeting that was given over to this stupid idea, but the fact that all parties agreed with it. Mrs Angry sat in the meeting tonight truly horrified at the trivial issues that were allotted so much time, when so much of such magnitude is happening both locally and nationally. Civil unrest, unprecedented attacks on local services, the loss of so many local jobs, and our elected representatives choose to talk about dead councillors, peerages, and bloody traffic lights. They can't face talking about the things that really matter: the disaffected Tories have given up hope of bringing any change within their party, the rest of the Tories are deranged, Labour can't seem to find the strength to put up much of a fight: significantly, Kathy Mc Gurk, who has at least got a mouth on her, was absent, and it showed. The Libdems are Tories in all but name - well, to be fair, Jack Cohen at least has the grace to look uncomfortable, and tries to keep asking awkward questions, but he is a one man show.

Labour's Anne Hutton had proposed a motion in defence of EMA; the Education Maintenance Allowance. I watched a report about this issue the other day and was genuinely really upset by what some students from disdvantaged backgrounds had to say about the effect the withdrawal of this allowance would have on their lives, and the influence on younger pupils and students thinking about whether or not to continue in education. The effects of the loss of EMA and the impossible debt burden of the scandalous tuition fees increases is going to have a huge impact: we will face the consequences for many years to come of obstructing the right of poorer members of our society from entering a level of further education: the stupidity of this policy is glaringly obvious: and yet again the most vulnerable and least resilient amongst us are being targeted. Yet tonight we hear Andrew Harper say peevishly that he will NOT be lobbying against the loss of EMA, or asking our wonderful - and childless - three Tory MPs to do anything about it either. Why? He quoted some idiot who recently said that 90% of students spent their EMA allowance on 'fags' ... On my way out of the Town Hall I noticed a group of Tory councillors puffing away outside: perhaps they spend an equal amount of their councillor allowances on this horrible habit?

Fellow traveller Monroe Palmer stood up to defend, in a meandering way, recent Condem coalition policies, and the cuts, seemingly on the basis of being necessary because the Labour government had gone out shopping and on a silly whim had bought two aircraft carriers, don't know why, impulse buying, or something. Lord Palmer: maybe it was because we might need them if there is another war, and our army and navy might look a bit silly without any, no? Just a thought.

A Labour councillor pointed out that the loss of EMA is too drastic, and too quick.

A Tory councillor (not sure who he was, have written 'droning beardy'), came out with some marvellous remarks: viz - EMA was 'social engineering' and oh guess what: we're all in this together. Mmm, well, some of us are more in this than others, aren't we? Further comments about social engineering: the mistake was to encourage 50% of young people to think they should be in further education, which er, made the other 50% feel 'they had failed'! (Bit like the good old Tory 11 plus then, eh?) In order to prevent this 50% from feeling inadequate, the Tory approach is to try and dissuade everyone from entering further education, see: hence the tuiton fee hike and dumping EMA. Brilliant.

Helena Hart now started on one of her strict mumsy lectures about health, and eating proper, like what she does. She told Brian Coleman off for eating crisps. She also made a joke, ha ha, about him being Barnet's expert on 'nudging'. This, in case you are unaware, is a right-on strategy used in political policy making and management to gently 'persuade' people to do what you think is in their best interests. Obviously Brian is to nudging what Pol Pot was to the art of flower arranging, so this is A Joke. A Tory Joke. Brian laughed. The other Tories laughed. The neo Tory Libdems laughed. The Labour councillors looked bemused. Mrs Angry did not laugh. In fact, at this point, Mrs Angry closed her notebook.

'F*ck this for a game of soldiers,' she thought, 'I'm off to the pub.'

At the Claddagh, down the road from the Town Hall, council workers and other parties opposed to the devastating effects of this council's budget cuts, had organised a social event, with music, including a set played by fellow blogger Rog T. (He's quite good, actually, but don't say I said so). It was a refreshing change of atmosphere to the foetid air of the council chamber, and heartening to see the camaraderie of people fighting against the merciless savagery of this administration's budget cuts, designed by a bunch of incompetent representatives who felt no shame, such a short time ago, in trying to grab more money for themselves, before voting in the measures which are going to cause such misery and hardship for so many.

This last council meeting, in fact, to my mind, encapsulated everything that is wrong with our collection of councillors. There is too much consensus, not just amongst the Tories, but cross party. Most of the long serving councillors are all too comfortable in their entrenched positions and have become complacent. Some of the Tories are beyond complacency, and indeed are so deeply inactive, as to be possibly clinically as well as politically dead.

This happens to be the 100th blog I've written: my centenary issue, as it were. When I started it, as I have explained, I had only the intention of embarrassing the council into taking action to end the nightmare existence they had inflicted on my family, as a result of their scandalous housing policy, and the failure to admit the mistakes they had made in dealing with the problems this had caused us.

I could never have foreseen that all that so many people would take an interest in the stuff I write here: I am always astounded by the number of hits the blog receives, so: thank you for reading, I hope it serves some purpose, and thank you too to all the people who leave comments. Someone said to me last night that he knew no other borough where there was such a vibrant political blogosphere, and speculated why this is. I think it is because there is a need for it: we live in extraordinary times, and, tragically for the residents of this borough, with a spectacularly flawed administration in charge of our local services.

There is a lack of communication, or any productive relationship, between council and residents. There is a lack of mutual respect, and a lack of trust.

Dissent within the controlling Tory party is bubbling away, but is impotent in action.

The opposition parties appear to be in a state of denial, failing to match the gravity of the current crisis.

I think it is time we acknowledge the fact that you have to fight fire with fire: being nice and polite with bully boys wins no wars.The people of this borough have not asked for a coalition administration. They deserve better than this.

In addition, with a few exceptions, the response from the local press has been at best sporadic, and there is an absence of robust investigative journalism.

In short, the Barnet blogs are popular and active because they have to be. Blogging at least brings some political accessibilty to the people, and acts as a counterpoint to the sinister increase in attempts by some to stifle debate and withhold information from the very electorate who placed them in office in the first place: that's why I continue this blog, and I hope that you will continue to read it.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Your kecks are on fire - the One Barnet budget consultation

There are lies, damned lies and statistics. And then, of course, there are One Barnet statistics. These figures, and the way in which they are compiled, are indeed a tribute to the immense creativity of the corporate mind, here in Broken Barnet.

Fellow blogger Mr Reasonable has dedicated a considerable amount of time and effort to a close analysis of the dubious financial claims that our council has made in relation to the Future Shape/One Barnet nonsense, and the current budget proposals. His work has cast serious doubt on the accuracy of some of the projected figures contained within these masterpieces of corporate spin. Our Dear Leader, Lynne Hillan, even felt moved to express her 'gratitude' to him at a recent meeting for his armchair auditing.

There is another Cabinet meeting on Monday 13th December. A kind friend has drawn my attention to the accompanying agenda and reports, which include a discussion of the so called consultation with residents over the notorious budget proposals. Let's take a look, shall we?

Apart from some limited specific service consultation, most of the discussions with residents have been confined to the Ideas Barnet website, and a Citizens Panel meeting. More of the latter later, first let's review the review of the ideas website.

As of 24/11/2010, we are told, '213 ideas were posted here and 351 comments added to these ideas. There have been a total of 1,638 votes on the wisdom or otherwise of the ideas.'

'Since the 6th September there have been 5,001 visits to the site'. There's been an average of 6.40 (?) page views per visit, the total number of pages viewed 31,991. There were 3,041 unique visits. Etc etc.

In other words, there is the capacity for analysing in great detail the type of visitors. Hmm. This must have been helpful if anyone bothered to investigate complaints about the origin of many of the ideas, which, as Mrs Angry learnt recently through an answer to a Residents' Forum, were not genuine ideas from residents at all, but have been revealed to be 'test' ideas uploaded and mysteriously left on the site, unidentified as such. And then of course there were ideas submitted but never published, or censored, or 'disappeared', especially in the beginning.

Oh and note the reference to visits since the 6th September. Interesting, when the site was not officially launched a fortnight or so after that date, isn't it?

Rather amusingly: no - very amusingly, the report is obliged to inform us of the most popular budget ideas. These are as follows:

Stop paying councillors an allowance above say, £1,000 a year - 69 votes
Get rid of the Jaguars - 68 votes
Get rid of the Mace Bearers - 60 votes
Review the top 100 contracts - 56 votes
Cut down on the number of consultants used by Barnet Council - 54 votes
Smaller print -50 votes
Stop buying expensive laptops - 36 votes
Withdrawing 54% allowance rise just awarded to councillor chairmen (I'm so proud) 34 votes
Consulting with staff over the coming Budget Cuts - 31 votes
Stop paying Councillors' pensions - 26 votes
"Free" Passover Collection - 26 votes
Reduce Free Skip Service - 26

We are then told that, excitingly, 'There has been some important and relevant feedback which is being incorporated into the Council's budget plans. Details of the key ideas and feedback being taken forward are as follows ... '

Well, at this point all citizens will be rubbing their hands in glee, of course, anticipating, as requested, an immediate reduction in councillors' allowances, a selling off of the mayoral cars, and an instant banishment from the borough of all those hugely expensive consultants that our council appears to rely on. Ah. Oh dear.

How disappointing. And how very odd. Flying in the face of the clear mandate given by residents for such measures, they appear to have been completely ignored, can you believe it, in favour of, well, some strangely One Barnet look-alike type ideas, for example:

-build better support networks for carers: sounds good, doesn't it, except it is linked to the cuts in Adult social care and is therefore being promoted in order to build up the use of carers rather than paid support.

-merging services with neighbouring London boroughs - I don't think I need to explain that one, do I?

-clearing snow - a bag of grit for you to sort your own problems out, so we can wash out hands of the responsibility

-admin departments - a sinister allusion to 'admin functions efficiencies'

-Stop paying huge rent on NLBP - something about consolidating office accommodation - hmm, I suppose when they get rid of enough members of staff, that will free up a few desks?

-Stop replacing the pavements in Whetstone - apparently every time Brian Coleman visits NLBP, the royal route is repaved before the start of the ceremonial procession up Oakleigh Road South. I think this is only right and proper, and a correct use of tax payers money.

- Taxis - we should stop taxi runs for children and adults if these are happening - yes, it seems taxis will now only be used where 'cost effective'. In other words, we are retaining the two jags for the Mayor, and councillors taxi expenses will no doubt be paid without question, but disdvantaged children and adults can walk, or catch the bus.

-Museums - Surely museums could be run by volunteers and managed by the third sector? Of course. Anyone can be a curator, and put together the academic research for an exhibition on literary, historical or artistic subjects. I may even volunteer to arrange an exhibition of my son's ground breaking bottle top collection, 2003-2005.

Let's extend this principle to the entire council, in fact: all senior officers, loyally working without pay, and purely out of love for the ideals of One Barnet. And how about using volunteer councillors, with no allowances?

And that's it.

Funny, isn't it that all the genuinely popular suggestions are ignored in favour of some handpicked easyBarnet flavoured ideas of dubious origin, whose number of votes are curiously not given?

Ah, but then: when you look at an attached Appendix 3, there are even more examples listed of both the most popular ideas ,and ithe deas which are not popular but still being acted upon: not the same things at all, as we know.

Here we find, for example:

Stop replacing perfectly good lampposts - 23 votes

Oh, hold on: Rebuild Barnet Workhouse - my brilliant idea, and I am pleased to see attracting 22 votes. Get that cauldron of gruel on the boil now.

Reflect 25% budget cuts in councillor allowance rates - 20 votes

Not one of these being actioned, sadly, yet an idea on the crucial subject of the perenniel flower bed displays outside the Town Hall, with only 14 votes, is being addressed!

Other ideas listed in the appendix as being taken up, with no apparent mandate, include - again -suspiciously worded proposals with the correct One Barnet attributes, eg: exploiting council property and assets, oh and hello: 'close Osidge Library '- where did that come from, and how many votes did it get?

Right then. The Citizens' Panel. There is a load of stuff emanating from this newly convened panel, at a meeting which by remarkable coincidence, took place the day before the open public meeting which was supposed to give a voice to any resident who wanted to discuss the budget proposals. This open meeting was barely advertised, and few people realised that to attend you had to send an email informing the council of your intention. Because so few people did email such an intention, the meeting, rather controversially was cancelled. The Citizens Panel meeting was used as a substitute for the open meeting.

As I have mentioned, I was a member of this panel. At a recent Forum I asked what had happened to it and was given two different answers: that it had been dropped due to the expense, and that it was still in existence and going to be used for budget consulation. I waited in vain for my invitation, and was told later that I had been removed from the panel, after my years of long service, gratefrully received, but they had forgotten to tell me!

So what does the report and the appendix tell us about the panel meeting?

There were 54 attendees. Ok. How were these selected?

We are told that 'Attendees were invited in proportion to the adult population of the borough.'

Oh. wonder what 'in proportion' means. In terms of sex, ethnicity, religion, sexual preference, hair colour, political views? Ah ... so it seems that these 54 people were all vetted in some way. They were not selected on a random basis, that we do know. Was there an independent body involved in the selection? If so, in the interests of 'transparency' we should be told: if not, then oh dear, that's not very good, is it?

Now here is a telling paragraph in the report:

'Several people in the public meeting felt they were hampered in the discussions by not having more detail of the scale of the cut (information was presented about current budgets and proposed reduction - the two were not present together) This concern was also raised by the Budget Performance Overview and Scrutiny Committee.'

In my view, that tells you all you need to know about the meeting, and indeed the entire budget consultation process. Even the council's own scrutiny committe was unhappy about the lack of clear information about the details of the proposed cuts.

If you want to read through the 'discussions' that took place at this stage managed meeting you can read them on the council's website. I have no intention of taking them seriously, nor the ludicrous Ideas Barnet suggestions. It's clear to me that this consultation is not a consultation at all, but another clumsy bit of spin intended to endorse a pre set political agenda. The Cabinet meeting will merely rubber stamp these reports, with no dissenting voices, and carry on with business as usual.

If you feel slightly aggrieved by this somewhat cavalier attitude to the democratic process of consultation, why not pop along to the Town Hall on Tuesday night, and voice your protest, along with a few other disaffected citizens?

That sort of thing is all the rage, these days, you know. But do try and behave: you don't want to end up being kettled in the Town Hall car park, do you?

PS The mass lobby, organised by the NUS and Unison, is at 6pm, and then, if you manage to avoid being detained by Her Majesty's constabulary, you can nip down to the Claddagh Ring for an evening of fun: free buffet, and music by the likes of Mr Roger Tichborne (don't let that put you off). Keep the free buffet quiet, or You Know Who might leg it out of the council chamber down to the pub with his doggie bag ...

Saturday 11 December 2010

Class War with Mrs Angry

That photograph of Charles and Camilla was everywhere yesterday, wasn't it?

At first, Mrs Angry was very annoyed at the amount of attention that was being given to the incident, when the really significant issue, the nationwide sense of outrage over the tution fees hike, was in danger of being overlooked. It seemed grossly irritating that a moment's slip in the security arrangements for a pair of over priviliged members of the royal family should be considered more important than the devastating economic impact on every ordinary family in this country.

But then I became interested in the photo itself, and what it had to say about the state in which we now find ourselves.

What the tabloids described as a look of fear on the royal faces looks more like anger to me: outrage, even, as outside the car, rioters, completely out of control, are lunging at the royal couple, baying for their blood, screaming 'Off with their heads' ... just extraordinary. This wasn't a scene from revolutionary France, the flight of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette from the mob of Paris: this was a pair of slightly bored sixty somethings off to the Palladium, to sit through the undeniable reign of terror that is our annual Royal Variety Show. Funnily enough, the route along Oxford Street was once the road that all condemned prisoners took to their place of execution at Tyburn, now Marble Arch; but of course, on this occasion, Charles and Camilla were heading in the opposite direction. These days, anyway, we don't punish our royalty by chopping off their heads; we make them sit through a performance of N-Dubz and Susan Boyle, and serve them right.

Now please don't misunderstand: I don't have any particular animosity towards the Royal Family.Not all of them, anyway. Like most people, I think the Queen is a dutiful, conscientious woman, and the rest of them : well, I really would prefer that they weren't indulged at the expense of the rest of us. As it happens, me being a champagne socialist, I er, ahem, have been to Buckingham Palace, once - and this will make you laugh - as the escort of someone representing the London Borough of Barnet, at one of those garden parties. Don't panic, Mr Walkley: I did behave myself. More or less.

Attending one of these events is a highly surreal experience, rather like being Alice in Wonderland: guests are ushered through the rather tatty looking palace - faded velvet curtains and yellow nets, very shabby genteel - by bad tempered courtiers in top hats brandishing umbrellas which they use to poke the visitors into line, (really) whilst shouting at the guests 'Take your hat off! Keep moving!' - and watching your every move, in case you leg it up the stairs, like the mob at Versailles, or pinch a Canaletto. You are then unceremonially prodded into the palace gardens, which you discover look rather like a badly maintained public park, Broken Barnet style - (although without the usual number of chavs sitting on the benches, spitting, and shouting at their pitbulls).

You wander about aimlessly eyeing up the other women's hats, and all the members of the armed forces in full dress uniform - and trying to avoid the Brian Coleman look alike mayors strutting around with all their municipal bling, (the only occasion, please note, Brian, when such excess is appropriate). You snigger at that woman from Emmerdale trying to walk on soggy grass in her spikey Louboutins. Suddenly, the doors open and the Queen and royal party are standing before you. Everything is still. The royal standard is flying in the clear blue skies above above the palace, a military band starts playing the National Anthem, and even Mrs Angry is momentarily, just a teeny weeny bit awestruck.

Well, actually, she is thinking to herself: ' F*ck me, I'm standing on the lawn at Buckingham Palace, staring at the Queen. And not laughing ... '

HM then descends to walk long the lines of guests. This takes ages. Your mind wanders. When she approaches, you have forgotten where you are and why: who is that little woman, and why is her face so familiar? Ah, yes - on the stamps. She smiles politely at you: you smile politely at her, she moves on. No, I didn't curtsey.

The experience was interesting, if only for one thing: a reminder that our society is still deeply rooted in the past, and one that is still strictly defined by divisions of class and wealth. While we had a Labour government, we may have fooled ourselves that we were moving towards a more equal society - if anyone really believed that the Labour government represented anyone other than a self interested group of opportunists lining their own pockets. Since the election, though, we have been thrown back right over the royal garden wall to where we feel more familiar: poking our heads through the iron gates of the palace, and gawping at the toffs.

And what an Eton Mess they are making of things, aren't they, Posh Boy and his public school chums? From our point of view, of course, not theirs. Of course they don't care about hiking up tuition fees. What's the fuss about - a few thousand quid? One of Samantha's handbags probably costs more than the new fees for one term of university education.

The children of Cameron, Clegg and Osborne will never have to worry for one moment about the cost of their education: Mummy, Daddy, or the family trust fund set up by their grand parents, will take care of that. Of course we are supposed to be comforted by the thought that students from poor backgrounds, you know, from up north and all that, whose parents still keep coal in the bath, and have an outside toilet, may qualify for an exemption for fees. The fact that most will now not even consider the option of further education because of the prospect of the burden of debt for the rest of their working lives is probably all for the best, isn't it? It would only lead them to expect something better than life in one of those dreadful sink estate ghettoes where they should stay safely excluded from the middle classes. No, not social engineering: think of it as an extreme form of kettling, maybe?

And ah, yes, the middle classes ... when politicians like Cameron and Clegg talk about the middle classes, they really mean, or want to pretend to mean, people like them, because they really don't want to admit to belonging to an upper class. They dress down in jeans, and open necked shirts from Boden, and think that we will be fooled. We're not, and we know that most middle class people do not, unlike them, have inherited wealth, or fabulously well paid jobs. They define themselves as middle class probably on the basis of education, or having a mortgage. Most significantly of all, they are the section of the electorate that the Tories must reclaim at every election if they are to return to power. This section of the electorate also represents the families who are going to be kicked in the teeth by the burden of debt that will accrue as a result of the tuition fee increase. Not rich enough to pay their childrens' fees for them, not poor enough to qualify for exemption. And their children, the ones in sixth form now, who are going to be the first students to be walloped by this scandalous fee hike. When the next election comes, these kids are going to be eligible for the first time to vote: that's going to be interesting, isn't it?

No middle class student is now going to vote Conservative. Oh, and how could I forget: sorry, it's hard to type without laughing at the thought of anyone ever again voting for the Libdems, let alone any students.

It's curious, isn't it, how little we have heard from our three Tory MPs and our three Libdem councillors, here in Barnet, on the subject of tuition fees? None of our MPs have any children, of course, so they have absolutely no understanding of the economic realities affecting most of their constituents, and probably care even less. Our Libdem councillors: hmm - has anyone asked them for their thoughts? No? I suppose Mr - sorry -new Lord Palmer is very busy being fitted for his ermine robes (unless Susette is knitting him some).

It's easy to criticise the idiotic incidents of violence in the recent protests. Cameron and his colleagues are no doubt delighted to have something to distract us all from the important issue, the vote itself. We should not lose focus of the fact that these were isolated acts, and that the vast majority of those taking part were there to excercise their democratic right to express the anger they feel, and the sense of betrayal.

During the Newsnight coverage of the vote and the demonstrations on Thursday, a reporter made the point that we were watching an unprecedented form of uprising, a national rebellion, that was fuelled not so much by students as by sixthformers - schoolchildren. In this borough we have already seen our own homegrown sixthform protest. Local MP Mike Freer and other Tories criticised this demonstration. This is predictable, of course: there is a huge gulf now between the political system of representation and the people it is supposed to serve. Whether it is nationally, in parliament, or locally, here in Barnet, until the politicians start to take notice of public opinion, this gulf will become unbroachable, and violent protest will increase to an unsustainable point.

It's often said that we've never had a revolution in this country because our class system has traditionally allowed for social mobility and such flexibility has defused the potential for any uprising. I'm not so sure. I think that the social effects of this Coalition government are going to be so profound that it will imprison people within new constraints of poverty, and the frustration that they will feel is going to find an outlet in more and more extreme acts of protest.

See that look on Camilla's face? That expression of outrage at the intrusion of mob rule is one of those defining moments of history. It's going to be an iconic image of these times: the day we redefined the meaning of class war.

Monday 6 December 2010

Mrs Angry's Christmas Appeal

At this time of year, the thoughts of many of us turn to those less fortunate than ourselves, who face a bleak and uncertain future; all the more poignant, indeed, as we move towards the celebration of Christmas, and the promise of a new year.

I'm not talking about all those hundreds of feckless, overpaid Barnet council workers who have just been handed their 90 day redundancy notices: nobody cares about them, do they? Time they went and got a real job. And please don't mention those thuggish, lazy firefighters ...

No: I'm talking about sad, lonely, and vulnerable people like 'Brian', and so many others like him, the forgotten victims of the recession: yes, our Tory councillors, many of them, as we now know, apparently unemployed and homeless: struggling to make ends meet, in deep despair since their well deserved allowance rate increase was so cruelly snatched away, earlier this year.

If it were not for our generosity, and the benevolence of local charities, people like 'Brian' would have no shelter, no home to call their own. He would be just another down and out, condemned to a pitiful existence on a negligable, six figure salary, dependent on the odd luxury hamper from Harvey Nichols, doggie bags from the Lord Mayor's banquet, or lunches paid for by kind hearted friends, such as those nice chaps at AssetCo. Without them, he could be kipping on the bench outside the post office in North Finchley, his little arms cradling a bottle of cider, or sitting outside Waitrose with a few tattered copies of the Big Issue. He might even have to go and live in one of those dreadful 'slums' in Grahame Park.

Show him how much you care. When you are working out how long your redundancy pay will pay the mortgage and keep the wolves from the door, remember to put a little aside for charity, and people like 'Brian'.

There couldn't be a more deserving case, this Christmas, could there?

Sunday 5 December 2010

Here comes the chopper: the Arts Depot at risk

It seems the Arts Depot in North Finchley has just been informed that Barnet Council is proposing to withdraw its essential core funding. This hugely important community resource and cultural venue has been open for only six years: never popular, of course, with our philistine Tory councillors, it must have been high on the list of targets for savings, and now faces an uncertain future.

There is a petition to sign if you want to register your protest:

Thursday 2 December 2010

Keeping Warm with Mrs Angry, the One Barnet way

In the interests of public safety, Mrs Angry has decided to issue some helpful advice to the residents of Broken Barnet on the subject of the weather crisis.

She is assisted in this public service by the marvellous guidance currently being offered by our council via its use of state of the art social media. As you know, Mrs Angry is a loyal fan of the Barnet Council Facebook page and has now been allowed to 'like' it again, after an unfortunate incident earlier in the year, when she was accused of planting party political suggestions on the page. She should have realised that only certain priviliged and/or overly ambitious individuals are allowed to plant party political suggestions on council sites, for example the Ideas Barnet website, and then of course only if they are in full support of correct Futureshaped thinking.

Now then. Look outside your window. See that white stuff falling out of the sky? It's not that whimsical, detergent based artificial goo in the Christmas Sainsbury's ad, drifting delicately onto a lovely village with yummy mummies, resident Welsh choirs standing by, and a ready supply of Jamie Oliver's mince pies. No. This is a curious phenomenon that we weather experts call 'snow'.

Snow is wet, and cold and messy. Did you know?

When it freezes, it becomes quite smooth and hard and when you walk on it, if you are not careful, you might fall over. Even if you are careful you still might fall over. Because of course, this is not Sainsbury's snow, and it is certainly not M&S snow: this is One Barnet snow, dropping on One Barnet streets. And as it falls, it brings not just inconvenience and disruption to the residents of our borough, it brings a very rare thing: an opportunity to worry the residents and force them to engage in a warm and fuzzy love in, all delivered in a virtuoso display of One Barnet in action.

Q:What is the motto of easy, sorry, One Barnet, citizens?

A:Better services for less money.

Q: define 'better'.

A: Well, in the One Barnet book, this means actually much worse, because we don't want to spend any money on anything, but we don't want anyone to realise it is worse, so we will keep saying it is better until everyone believes it.

In the seven or so months since the election, this administration has been pursuing a determined course to self destruction. Allowancegate, the leadership challenge, and the fundamental questions raised by the Grant Thornton report on the viability of the Futureshape/One Barnet 'model' have left the Tory group in disarray, infuriating local residents, local press, local bloggers, even the national press, and, most dangerous of all, alienating its own diehard Conservative voters.

Our Tory councillors know that they have to try and wrest back control of the tarnished image of this council. But what can they do? Well, they have tried to control the consultation process over the budget proposals, and now they are trying to restore the public perception of the council with an attempt at building 'a new relationship' with residents. A journalist from one of the local newspapers has been poached to act as gamekeeper/Press Officer. There are plans afoot to use interactive media, and 'revamped' residents' forums and various other strategies to try and wallpaper over the cracks. In other words, we may be going to hell in a hindcart, but we will be assured that we are on the stairway to heaven, so convincingly, that we won't realise where we are until it is too late.

The snow arrives, and our council leaps into action. A blizzard of press releases falls from on high. At the time of writing on Thursday afternoon, there have been 18 statements in two days warning people that it is snowing, or going to snow, or might snow, might be icy, is icy, and - and here is the important news - the council advises residents to 'take extra care'. Oh. Thanks, Hadn't thought of that. And er what is the council doing?

Well, the usual round of gritting. You know, main roads, town centres and stuff.

'So,', remarked one resident who was obviously less than impressed with all the showing off about that, 'You're doing what you're paid to do?'

Other residents have pointed out that some main routes, and also various thoroughfares frequented by the elderly and infirm have not been gritted.

'How about gritting the side roads, then maybe the pensioners could go shopping?' asked one.

'No one likes the council. Go away.' suggested another.

Mrs Angry, after recommending her own usual nightime heat saving (and rather alluring) outfit of thermal vest and knickers, topped off with a balaclava helmet, asked what had happened to the promised Community Grit Keeper scheme, you know the one discussed by Coleman and Dean Cohen, who had been set a 'task and finish' working group on this very subject. (In case you are wondering.'task and finish' groups are one of those ghastly Barnetspeak phrases, which means a group of new boy or old codger councillors given some homework to do by the Cabinet prefects to keep them out of mischief and make them feel that they matter, which they don't, and then they report back to a committee which ignores their findings anyway.)

But the Community Keeper scheme: this is where favoured members of the community are supposed to be given control of local grit bins, and a padlock with a secret code, and trusted to give out grit to the needy like a parish overseer in the nineteenth century. Big Society thinking, see? Only problem is oh: one year on and they haven't actually got round to setting this up yet. Doing a little trial run. Be ready round July, just in time for the next heatwave. This will thwart the plans of those silly residents whom Mr Coleman has accused of actually daring to use the grit without asking him first, not to mention prevent those rogue gangs of international grit thieves waiting to ransack our precious One Barnet supplies, eh?

Mrs Angry has asked how residents were supposed to know where existing bins were located. She was referred to a list which is just that, an alphabetical list of roads with bins. No map, in some cases no clue as to where exactly on the road the bin might be. Is there any logic to the distribution of these bins? Are they fairly distributed? There do seem to be an awfully large number of roads in, what shall we say, the leafier parts of the borough which are listed. There is no bin in Mrs Angry's road, despite the fact that it is a busy thoroughfare with several schools in the vicinity. Well, yes she could walk to find one: if the pavements or side roads had already been gritted. Ah.

She was also referred to a marvellous piece of One Barnet advice, which I commend to all citizens: it is entitled:

"Clearing Snow and Ice from Footways:

There's no law stopping you from clearing snow and ice on the public footways outside your home or from public spaces. It's unlikely
(unlikely! Very reassuring) you'll be sued or held legally responsible for any injuries on the path if you have cleared it carefully and not made the conditions worse. Remember, people walking on snow and ice have responsibility to be careful themselves. Please note the following tips:

Clear the snow or ice early in the day

It’s easier to move fresh, loose snow rather than hard snow that has packed together from people walking on it. So if possible, start removing the snow and ice in the morning. If you remove the top layer of snow in the morning, any sunshine during the day will help melt any ice beneath. You can then cover the path with salt before nightfall to stop it refreezing overnight. Be careful - don’t make the footpaths more dangerous by causing them to refreeze.

Prevent slips

Where possible, use the footway spreading machine provided.
(Whoa ... 'footway spreading machine provided? Really? Ah: you giving out brooms, maybe?) Pay extra attention to clear snow and ice from steep footpaths or steps - you might need to use more salt on these areas. (Do you mean grit? Where do we get that again?)

Use salt or sand - not water

If you use water to melt the snow, it may refreeze and turn to black ice. Black ice increases the risk of injuries as it is invisible and very slippery. You can prevent black ice by spreading some salt on the area you have cleared. Be careful not to spread salt on plants or grass as it may cause them damage. If you don’t have enough salt, you can also use ordinary salt, sand or ash.
(ash? where from: a volcano?)

Take care where you move the snow

When you’re shoveling snow, take care where you put it so it doesn’t block people’s paths or drains. Make sure you make a path down the middle of the area to be cleared first, so you have a clear surface to walk on. Then shovel the snow from the centre of the path to the sides. Ensure that when clearing snow/ice you are not making another part of the path, or the road, more slippery.

Offer to clear your neighbours’ paths

If your neighbour will have difficulty getting in and out of their home, offer to clear snow and ice around their property as well. Check that any elderly or disabled neighbours are alright in the cold weather. If you’re worried about them, contact your local council.
(who will do what, tell them to wait six months for a means tested assessment of need?)

Please note:
Paramount in any wintry conditions is the need to walk within the conditions that prevail
(walk within the conditions that prevail? What?) and therefore residents are urged to walk with caution and wear appropriate footwear, particularly if gritting or clearing snow or ice. "

Er: yeah. Thanks for that.

Coleman and his Tory pals are outraged at the idea of residents demanding the gritting of pavements and side roads. They fail to understand how hard, and dangerous, it is for many elderly and disabled citizens to get even a short distance along a path or across a road that has not been gritted. These residents probably don't have their own transport - and don't have the option of expenses paid taxis chauffeuring them from A to B - and if they don't get out to the shops to buy supplies, how will they manage? Well, I guess they have to sit at home and wait for the Big Society to come knocking at their door. And keep up to date on the latest advice on 'taking care' on the council websites. In the meanwhile, the real cost of all this Tory ideological claptrap falls the hardest, as usual, on the least advantaged members of society: no, not Cameron's one, the real one, in the real world, where you and I have to live.