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.