Friday 4 February 2011

Where we are now

May you live in interesting times, says the old Chinese curse ... and these last couple of weeks in our beloved borough have been very interesting indeed, haven't they, citizens?

Numerous strands of developing issues are slowly weaving themselves into a complex, fascinating tangle of old rag, big enough to hoist on a flagpole and flap, in desultory fashion, at half mast, in the wind of change blowing outside the Broken Barnet Town Hall.

All the stupid political decisions taken by the Tory leadership in Barnet are now beginning to impact on each other, and on the residents and voters, who at last are waking up to the reality of what another four years of this cack handed administration will mean.

The Tories have got away with so much blundering in the past because the core voters in the borough have largely been unaffected by council policies in action, and many have been too lazy to care about the effects on anyone else. Oh, how things have changed. And how foolish the Tory councillors have been.

The trouble all started last year, when the Tory leadership tried to sneak in the infamous troughing allowance rise, got caught out, did it anyway by whipping their callow colleagues into line, and then kicked the political shit out of the one councillor who dared to express her dissent. The outrage that this greedy, nasty, shameless episode created was enormous, unprecedented, and has caused life changing injury to the electoral well being of the Tory party in Barnet, a fact that they seem unable to grasp.

The decision to push for this hike, right before the imposition of the worst budget cuts the country and the borough has ever seen, was a fatal political misjudgement. It has undermined any vestige of respect that the residents might have had for the rest of the administration's agenda, and worse still, raised the political consciousness of thousands of previously apathetic residents and voters. These are the people who will be banging on the doors of the polling stations at the next election, waiting to punish the Tory candidates by switching their votes. Oh dear.

Having infuriated the ordinary residents by their greed, what did our empty headed Tory councillors do next? They fought amongst themselves, and made yet another idiotic decision: to let Lynne Hillan remain as leader, compounding the damage of Allowancegate, and encouraging the leadership in their sense of omnipotence. Another masterstroke.

Next: instead of trying to rebuild the fractured relationship with the people they are supposed to represent, the Tory administration decided to betray their trust even further by setting up a package of budget 'consultations' which was nothing less than a blatant PR exercise aimed at getting public approval for the council's own ideological agenda.

The said agenda is based on the lower set schoolboy economics of the One Barnet/easycouncil scheme which consultants Grant Thornton, in yet another report funded by us, effectively warned was not fit for purpose. This load of crap has has millions of pounds of our money thrown at it, and has yet to return us a single penny.

The residents of Barnet know when they are being sold a pup, and they know the easycouncil idea is a pup. They don't want vital services cut or outsourced. They no longer accept the old excuse that the cuts are being made because of 'Labour inefficiency'. They remember the £27.4 million pounds of our money lost in Iceland, the £11 million lost on the bridge project: and the rest. They look at the lost revenue, and the council expenditure, the money wasted on conferences and hip hop workshops and consultants and senior officers on private contracts, and they are cross: very very cross. They remember the councillors' greed and hypocrisy in trying to vote themselves more money, just before making hundreds of staff redundant, cutting budgets and slashing funding to voluntary bodies.They know that the One Barnet mantra, 'better services for less money', is a lie. They know that money is not being saved to support frontline services, as it is the front line services themselves which are being cut. And now, with these budget cuts are being laid before them, they are beginning to wake up, stand up, and answer the bully boy councillors back.

At recent council meetings and resident forums, we have seen ordinary residents begin to vent their fury at some of the proposed cuts and increases in charges. At the march last Sunday, up to 2,000 people felt strongly enough to demonstrate their anger at what is happening, and only a proportion of these were council employees or union members. These new protesters are not political activists, they are largely middle class, conservative minded people who strongly oppose the idea of losing libraries, childrens' centres, arts and museums funding, and are enraged by the imposition of wildy inflated parking charge increases, and loss of bays.

But the Tory leadership just doesn't get it.

At the last full council meeting, we were shown the extent of the contempt in which the opinions of voters are held by the Barnet Tories by the way in which the Cabinet member responsible for the parking hike, yes, your favourite and mine, Councillor Brian Coleman, laid into the people who had dared object to the new proposals. Firstly he arrogantly rejected out of hand any criticism of phone only parking charges, claiming there was no one in the borough who had a car but not a mobile phone. To howls of anger and derision from the public gallery, he then launched an attack on the complaints, and sneered at the people who wrote them, portraying all objections as whinging from the privileged residents of Hampstead Garden Suburb, people who live in 'big houses' and were incensed that their 'gardeners' would not be able to find somewhere to park.

What a laugh: class war with Brian Coleman, the man who represents the enormously affluent area of Totteridge, stuffed to the brim with millionaires, along whose main highway you cannot walk without passing the gated mansion of a football manager, or cross without being sprayed with ditch water by a speeding porsche belonging to some soap star celebrity.

And it should be said that throughout the course of this rant, Andrew Harper, deputy leader and councillor for Garden Suburb, sat there with all his red faced Tory pals and said nothing. If I were a resident of the suburb, I would be asking my representatives for an explanation. Or you can ask Mrs Angry for an explanation, if you prefer. And her response would be that the Tory councillors in Barnet are a bunch of dunderheads, and too shit scared of Brian Coleman, and the prospect of damaging their glorious political careers, and losing their committee allowances and other perks, to stand up for what they know is right. She sincerely hopes that one day the councillors will find it in themselves to follow the example of their voters, and tell it like it is, rather than keep calm and carry on. But she is not holding her breath. She predicts that it will only be nearer to the next elections, and the real prospect of losing their cushy allowances for good that the Tory eunuchs will remember that they are big boys after all, flex their muscles, and try to look tough for the voters.

For some reason, however, Coleman thinks it acceptable to attack the suburbanistas when they dare to criticise him. He thinks he has a safe seat in Totteridge, and that he is able to say what he likes without any fear of reprisal. He forgets, or does not care, that the newly awakened, affluent, articulate middle class residents who were so incensed by his remarks are the backbone of the Tory vote in Barnet, and that he has pushed things just a little too far. He and his Tory councillor chums have awakened a sleeping giant, and they will live to regret it.

No comments: