Tuesday 12 July 2011

The end of the pier show: a farce in several acts by the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet

Mrs Angry, always happy to advise Councillor Cornelius

* Now updated: see below.

Another full council meeting, tonight, and another three hours and twenty minutes of rib tickling entertainment in the council chamber.

Mrs Angry is too tired to write tonight but will tell you all about it tomorrow.

You will be thrilled to know, however, that after months of pointless opposition, our camera shy Tory councillors have voted to 'allow' the grateful citizens of Broken Barnet to film their pathetic behaviour in council meetings, and wasn't that nice? See how easy it is, Tory councillors, to do the right thing, after so much idiotic obstruction - and all it took was, well: what? The defiance and determination of a handful of bloggers - oh, and a public humiliation by Eric Pickles.

A certain Tory Cabinet member, who turned up late for an important council meeting last night, after apparently attending a much more interesting engagement, tweeted that the bloggers will get bored with filming after a couple of meetings. Ha: I've got news for you, friend: we are all already deeply bored with the infantile behaviour that masquerades as the democratic process and is displayed so predictably in all council meetings in this borough, but we report them so that the residents of this borough see exactly what you get up to, and we will continue to do so for as long as is necessary. Like Mr Pickles said, Robert: here to stay.

More to follow.
*Here's more then. Continued.

So back to the beginning: full council meeting bla bla bla up the stairs ... Mrs Angry made her way to the council chamber and found herself standing at the table with the agendas next to Cllr Andrew Harper, who gave Mrs Angry what used to be called an old fashioned look. Uh oh, thought Mrs Angry: payback time.

Of course, sadly, no more jokes can be made about Andrew's portfolio, which has visibly diminished in size, after up and coming councillor Daniel 'John' Thomas pushed him out of the way and took over as deputy leader. Now Mr Harper was complaining about not being able to find a copy of the questions and answers. Well, said Mrs Angry, waspishly: perhaps you should have read them before you came to the meeting. I did, he said, triumphantly - I did - ... on the internet. Councillor Harper has evidently been on one of those Big Society volunteer silver surfer courses in the library - oh, what? Hampstead Garden Suburb Library - closing? Never. Whatever next.

Mrs Angry took her place in the public gallery, rather disappointed that, after her endorsement by Eric Pickles, she had not been allocated a place next to the Mayor, and asked to make a ceremonial entrance with the mace-bearing footmen in white gloves, and Councillor Coleman walking backwards in front of her, bowing. Oh well. The Chief Executive looked in, holding a banana, for some reason, but hid it and ran away when he saw Mrs Angry. It was very small. But no more Mr Nice Guy. This is war, Mrs Angry: a fight to the death. Who will win, I wonder?

Tributes were made to a former Tory leader of the council who had recently died. Brian Coleman managed to start his contribution with a petty remark, taking issue with the Labour leader for some point he thought she had been wrong about.

We then had to watch some young and very embarrassed school kids be dragged in front of everyone for some reason, something to do with the youth games. Good. A council meeting is the place for this sort of thing, now that we have banned any meaningful debate. Next: a mention of a birthday card for Prince Phillip. Lovely. Nearly half an hour had gone by: any council business? No: now a polite lecture from the new Mayor. Councillors must be courteous. The public must try to restrain themselves from being carried away by the excitement that they will inevitably feel when attending council meetings. Ok, making a note of that. Calm down, Mrs Angry.

At last questions and answers. Questions and some answers. Whenever any reference is made to anything connected to audit or MetPro, Mrs Angry noted the Tory councillors, as one, suddenly struck dumb, and suddenly finding something fascinating to examine on the floor of the chamber.

Oh dear, someone mentions the meeting the night before, in which library issues were discussed, but where was the Cabinet member responsible, Councillor Robert Rams? You weren't there, shouts a Labour councillor. I was, he claims. Eventually, yells someone else. Where was Robert Rams? A drinks party at the GLA? No. That is not true. He was unavoidably detained. Cabinet members are quite often unavoidably detained, Mrs Angry has noticed. It was most unfortunate, for example, that the new Leader, Mr Cornelius and so many Cabinet members were unable to get to the MetPro audit meeting, being stuck in a lift somewhere, or at a drinks party at the GLA, or at home watching tv. No wonder they don't want performance appraisal or their attendance figures published for the scrutiny of residents.

After Q & A, the meeting debated the implications of the Winterbourne View scandal. There was a lot of hand wringing and councillors telling us how dreadful this was, as if we did not understand, until they had explained it to us. It was an opportunity for them to look concerned, and caring, and over an issue that they think has no direct association with Barnet.

Mrs Angry would like to direct the attention of the Tory councillors of Barnet to the homes they currently use for the placement of elderly mentally infirm residents, including the one in which Mrs Angry's father was incarcerated, and which the CQC has allowed to reopen to new residents, on a basis of minimal improvement, after a Safeguarding Adults investigation instigated by a neighbouring council. Are the councillors sure that they are familiar with the standards of care in these homes? And what about the terrible case of Jesse Moores, a young man with special needs who died while in the care of this authority - or the recent horrifying report about the care of elderly patients in the Royal Free?

Alison Cornelius, yes, wife of the leader, talked in a small voice about man's inhumanity to man. This is the first time I have heard her speak. Husband Richard looked on proudly. Mrs Angry almost felt her knee jerk anti Tory hostility fade slightly, just for one brief shining moment.Then she pulled herself together.

Libdem councillor Jack Cohen made a touching speech, invoking the words of Primo Levi, and reminding Mrs Angry how refreshing it is to find a councillor who has some intelligence, and some sense of a world of possibilities beyond the boundaries of google and starbucks.

Labour councillor Andrew McNeil talked about procurement and safeguarding: the dangers of outsourcing social care. Unfortunately Mrs Angry must report that she noted one Tory Cabinet member who ought to know better yawning rudely and looking bored at this point, which is pretty typical of their standard of behaviour, to be honest.

Item 3.2: parking - aha - normal hostilities were resumed. Up stands Labour's Boudicca, Kath Mc Guirk. She is a street fighter, like all SMOGs (St Michael's Old Girls) ahem, including Mrs Angry, of course. We were trained in unarmed combat by the Sisters of the Poor Child Jesus, you know. And we know how to deal with the likes of Brian Coleman. Mother Fidelis, Sister Clare Dominic: they didn't take any prisoners, did they Kath?

Kath rubbished Coleman's report. She addressed the mewling, shambling Tory back benchers: You do have a mind, she explained to them, patiently: You can speak out ... they gulped and stared at each other in a state of panic: speak out? While Brian was in the building? Councillor McGuirk spoke about the effect of the parking charge hikes and changes on the elderly: as if Coleman could care less. He made a joke about ha ha rose tinted specs, and rubbished Kath;s rubbishing of his report. Facts, let's have some facts: ongoing chaos? There was NONE. All is sweetness and light in the demi paradise of Broken Barnet.

It was a wicked lie to say that parking meters were always out of order. 81% were working. Oh good: only 1 in five now out of order at any given time, and funnily enough all in the same most popular areas, I believe ... but the Tories blame this all on vandalism. Hmm: I do often see enraged housewives in Finchley taking an axe to parking ticket machines, pretending it is a Tory Cabinet member, in order to avoid paying for the privilege of parking. Or is that just me?

And then Brian told us we could not have new parking signs because the cost, the COST, he yelled at us, would be ONE MILLION POUNDS. Evidently this quote was procured, probably by Captain Craig Cooper, under new orders from Grant Thornton, from the same company tendering for the job of painting the lines, at a cost of THOUSANDS OF POUNDS on that road where 'arrogant popinjay' Councillor Coleman's biggest fan lives.

Where were we going to get sort of money from? From ICELAND? yelled a wag in the public gallery. YOU GET FREE PARKING DON'T YOU, yelled another. GIVE UP YOUR FREE PERMIT!

Aha: Councillor David Longstaff, the Actor, the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd: can't remember what he was ranting about, and frankly I don't care. For an actor he displayed a surprising inability to play to the audience: snappy, sulky, got rattled by the audible amusement -from the public and opposition, and completely lost it to the point that he actually resorted to yelling 'WHATEVER' like one of Mrs Angry's offspring, and then said, oh: I'm going to finish and sat down. Thank God, shouted someone. Oh, hang on: that was me.

Councillor Lord Palmer stood up to make an important correction: the devastating MetPro audit was an internal report and NOT from the external auditors. He talked about the lack of an assurance rating - one of many - for the cashless parking scheme so beloved by Councillor Coleman.

Housing next. By some terrible twist of fate, responsibility for this has been given to Councillor Tom Davey, whose views on social issues make Thatcherism look like namby pamby liberalism: but first we had a speech from another charmer, Rowan Turner, who likes shouting, like all the worst Tories, and berating, like all the worst Tories. This is particularly irritating when it comes from the younger members, some of whom still live at home with their mums and have no real life experience on which to base their right wing world views.

Mr Turner has an interest in gypsies, for some reason, Mrs Angry has noticed, which is odd when you consider that any gypsy or traveller is chased out of this borough as soon as they set foot here. Mr Turner asked a question once about the sites which were supposed to be provided in all London boroughs: a plan dropped by Boris in the run up to the election because of course the Daily Mail reading public must have their bigotry respected. At this meeting, Turner made a snide remark about gypsies objecting to the word, you mustn't use it, you know, he said, archly. Him being an expert, of course. As a matter of fact, you objectionable little oik, traveller is the term preferred by Irish and Scottish travellers, who are not Romany/Romani in origin, and the word gypsy is generally preferred by Romany people. If that's alright with you, Mr Turner. It's not meant to be a term of abuse, and if that is what it is in your vocabulary, perhaps you need to adjust your attitude.

Susette Palmer told councillors to stop being childish, and to grow up. Constantly rubbishing everyone else is uneccessary and un British. This set Rowan Turner off again on his ironic PC posturing. Un British?

A very nice man behind me in the public gallery, who had not been to a council meeting before, spoke to me during the break about the experience. He was visibly shocked by the immaturity and pantomime antics of our elected representatives: and who could blame him? More of a farce than a pantomime: a predictable formula of slapstick humour, fateful misunderstandings and disastrous consequences.

Tom Davey stood up. Straight into an offensive statement: he referred to the 'nonsense' of affordable housing. Ho ho: all housing was, guess what - yes, affordable only - ha ha - some was more affordable than others. Oh, how they would laugh, all those shiftless homeless people at Barbara Langstone House, or in temporary accommodation all around the borough at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords, or even, the feckless fools, sleeping in a shop doorway somewhere. They would agree with the wordly wise Cllr Davey when he announced that social housing was a bad thing because 'it traps people' .... Labour like it though, he said, because Labour feeds on the fear of the unknown ... I thought I saw new Leader Cornelius cringing slightly at this point, but that can't be right, can it, because Mr Cornelius himself told us recently that many people thrive on a background of poverty ...

You want more offensive remarks? Davey is your man. He turned to the subject of all these millionaire union and Labour leaders who live in subsidised housing. Well, a couple who earn around the same as Councillor Coleman who was now beside himself with laughter, rolling about, chortling: Councillor Coleman, you know - the man with a six figure income who has been living for years in a fixed rent flat owned by a local Methodist church, a registered charity. Councillor Coleman, who lives in a glasshouse, throwing stones.

Davey continues. These dreadful people who have no aspiration to be like him and make something of their lives, in a job working for say, a tobacco company, are also hogging social housing with unoccupied bedrooms. Yes, citizens: if you pull back the curtains one day to find a pale faced, sneering Tory councillor at the top of a ladder, throwing his fag ends on your lawn and looking through the window to see who is in your bed, you know who it is likely to be.

Try throwing some more old people out of their homes, suggested someone in the gallery. Oh, that was me again. Ssh, Mrs Angry: you are sitting next to the Barnet Bugle, who is a diehard Tory, and is offended by your heckling. Mrs Angry found an old sweet covered in fluff, at the bottom of her handbag and gave it to him as an apology. Having seduced him with confectionary, and possibly because he had been sitting next to her for three hours and could resist no longer, Mr Hope decided to show Mrs Angry his extendable tripod, intended for use later in the evening. Mrs Angry was impressed.

The next item related to safeguarding. As we know from MetPro, the London Borough of Barnet takes safeguarding very seriously, except when it comes to carrying out CRB checks of illegally operating security staff working with children at risk and vulnerable adults. Mr Harper waffeld on about the council's marvellous record on this vital issue. Labour's Anne Hutton spoke and asked that the safeguarding regulations applying to contracted out services be adhered to. At this point, Mrs Angry noted Brian Coleman laughing with the cluster of Tory councillors sitting around him. It is an unwritten rule that Tory councillors - the men who dominate the party anyway, must snigger and talk when a female councillor speaks, especially a Labour one, or an older one, and Mrs Angry has even, at other meetings, seen Tory councillors laughing at female councillors from ethnic minorities who pronounce words in a way they think is comical. Truly pathetic.

At last we came to the grand finale of the evening's entertainment: item 4.4, a report from the Head of Governance, and oh: look a motion on the issue of the filming of council meetings.

A late amendment had been submitted by Tory Councillor Joan Scannell that residents should be 'allowed' to film discreetly from the public gallery. Please note that yet again, it is a female Tory councillor who has shown a rare display of common sense and honour, amongst the snivelling cowards of the Tory group. If you recall, it was one brave woman, Councillor Kate Salinger, who resisted the order to vote for the shameful allowances last year, and was tornto shreds as a result, and now another female Tory brought to an end months of embarrassing, idiotic publicity for Barnet's refusal to abide by the new guidelines from central government.

I've never heard Joan Scannell speak before, and had wondered if she was capable. She gave an interesting little preamble, about her ninety eight year old mother, and the development of new technology, from crystal sets, to computers, SatNavs and digital cameras of all kinds "and secret lapel cameras", Mrs Angry yelled, helpfully, thinking back nostalgically to MetPro and the budget meeting in March. 'Yes, where's my appearance fee!' demanded veteran campaigner and top hatted republican Mr David Shepherd, sitting behind Mrs Angry.

Mrs Angry notes with amusement that this face saving amendment emerged after she helpfully suggested to her friend the Director of Corporate Governance that he add Appendix B, guidance from Mr Pickles, as expressed to the CIPFA conference, to his report. Or perhaps Mr Cornelius has been won over by her recent words of advice?

According to a report in the local Times, the Tory group were given a free vote and allowed to vote 'with their consciences', which puzzled Mrs Angry, as the mentality of the Tory group is frankly sociopathic in tendency: manipulative, self obsessed, lacking compassion, unable to sustain meaningful relationships - and entirely lacking in conscience. In this case, however, they obviously knew when they were beaten, and voted for the amendment.

I wish I could say the same for the Labour group, some of whom didn't seem to know what they were doing. Mrs Angry is on your case, comrades: watch out.

By this time, ex Tory councillor and Tory blogger Mr Daniel Hope, from the Barnet Bugle, was demonstrating the full extent of his tripod, and was filming the councillors talking about filming the councillors. And there it was, captured for posterity, another u turn by the Tories, and another victory for the bloggers of Broken Barnet.

That was easy, wasn't it?

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