Sunday 9 October 2011

'Fairly swiftly subdued' - unless you are Councillor Brian Gordon: another appraisal

Mrs Angry grooming Councillor Marshall

Councillor Brian Gordon's 'tribute' to Nelson Mandela: apologies from Mrs Angry on his behalf

Mrs Angry lay sprawled on the sofa, dressed in her usual writing attire: a shocking pink taffeta and chiffon ballgown, diamond necklace, her heart shaped face framed by a sparkling tiara, and clutching her favourite little lap dog, 'Councillor Marshall', whilst dictating, with her eyes closed, to her faithful secretary and amanuensis, Mrs X ...

'The Eighth Earl of Essex Park was an impatient man,' she began ... 'And his valet was very often obliged to bear the brunt of his notorious temper. Tonight was no exception.

The Earl pulled down his breeches and leaned over the end of the bed, as his manservant stood to attention.

Damn you, Robeson, snapped the Earl, Tighter, you fool ...

I'm trying my best, Your Grace ... but the ties ... the ties are fraying, and about to give way ... and I can't ... I can't quite manage to find the right position ...

Tighter, I say!

I wonder, Your Grace -would you, instead of the corset ... would you not rather consider joining the Reverend Giles' Slimming World programme, every Tuesday night, in the Methodist church hall, in order to discover the amazing you?

Such unspeakable impertinence, roared the Earl: I'll have you horsewhipped for it, man!

Oh, no: not again, whimpered Robeson, I -

I think, interjected Mrs X, that you had better stop there, Mrs Angry.

Mrs Angry sat up. No: you could be right, she said, smoothing down her dress, and stubbing out her cigar on the carpet. F*ck this for a game of soldiers, let's have another Tory councillor appraisal instead.

Mrs X sighed with relief.

Send in Councillor Brian Gordon, demanded Mrs Angry ....

Now then: Mrs Angry must make a confession.

Mrs Angry has a tendency to dislike anyone named Brian.

This dates back to starting school, aged four or thereabouts, and having to sit on a table with a horrible, spoilt little boy called Brian who always hogged the best tin of crayons, and cried if anyone took the tin away, so Mrs Angry had to colour in with those horrible big fat dirty ones and always went over the edges, and made a mess of her pictures. Plus he used to sit all afternoon in the Wendy House with a girl called Annette and not let anyone else inside, and the pair of them never let anyone else play with the black and white rabbit, Spotty, either. Just saying.

This may well be why Mrs Angry is naturally predisposed to be irritated by Brian Coleman, and any other Brians. And nothing that Councillor Brian Gordon has ever done or said has encouraged Mrs Angry to alter her opinion.

Councillor Gordon has won himself the honour of an appraisal this week for some very bad behaviour. Please note that it is always a mistake, Tory Councillors of Broken Barnet, to remind Mrs Angry of your existence, if you have so far eluded her close attention.

Earlier this week, as you may recall, there was an alternative Residents Forum, organised as a response to the stagemanaged, censored charades of the official council run meetings. The Alternative Forum was a great success, and gave an opportunity for residents of all parts of the borough to air their concerns about local issues.

A report in this week's edition of the Barnet Press gives a full account of the Forum, and an editorial says:

'Frustrated by what they see as a deliberate attempt by the council to stifle free speech, residents of Barnet have attempted to regain their voice. At Tuesday night's well-attended, alternative residents' forum, no subject was off limits and everyone was given a chance to speak. It's just a shame that not one Conservative was there to listen. Maybe every single Tory member was at the party conference. Doubtful. Maybe they're frightened of confronting residents outside the safe, restrictive confines of a council-run meeting. Less doubtful. Either way, it's bad enough that so many residents feel the need to circumvent the political system entirely in order to get their voices heard. But for this cry for help to be ignored by those in charge of that system shows there's something very wrong indeed.'

On the same page there is a letter, addressing the very same subject, from Councillor Brian Gordon. Councillor Gordon is of course blessed with the gift of seeing only wonderful things in the post apocalyptic landscape of Broken Barnet. He is particularly keen on submitting lovely One Barnet friendly 'questions' at full council meetings, planted in order to big up his Tory Cabinet colleagues - a pointless party political exercise and one which makes a cynical nonsense of the question time procedure.

In his letter to the Press, Gordon discusses the Hendon Forum, of which he is the Chair, and he claims:

'Our forum is not hampered in any way by the new rules. It is only marred occasionally by the irresponsible actions of a small group of anti-council agitators, who attend with the sole object of shouting out and trying to undermine the democratic debates that take place. With firm chairmanship, those individuals are fairly swiftly subdued, but it is unfortunate that they cannot find a more constructive way to occupy their spare time.'

Er: yes. That's right. Apparently democratic debates take place, now, at the Hendon Forum. At least in the imagination of Councillor Gordon. And isn't it good news that these agitators who dare to protest during these new democratic debates are 'fairly swiftly subdued'?

Councillor Gordon represents the Hale ward in Edgware, along with fellow Tories Tom Davey and Hugh Rayner. Mrs Angry grew up in Edgware, and lived in Hale Ward, and is heartily glad that she does not do so now.

According to the online register of interests, Gordon works for a firm of solicitors and is also a journalist for the Charedi/ Orthodox newspaper 'Jewish Tribune'.

Last year, Councillor Gordon, who is a tiresomely frequent and abrasive critic of what he sees as the legacy of profligate Labour spending and wasteful practices in the public sector, was fortunate enough to be granted the gift of the chairmanship of the Policy and Performance OSC committee, and received, along with his fellow chairs, an extravagantly generous 54% rise in pay - from £9,974 to £15,333, for a post overseeing a committee which meets only twice a year. Lucky Brian.

Gordon holds some unapologetically forthright views, and has made some memorable comments in council meetings attended by Mrs Angry. Where do we begin?

Gordon is keen on strong discipline in schools. He was most displeased by the interest shown by many of Barnet's pupils in demonstrating against the tuition fee hikes. At a meeting in December, as reported in the local Times:

"In a question to Cllr Andrew Harper, who is in charge of education, Cllr Gordon said: “Can the council issue a directive to all the high schools in this borough in state control saying we as a council urge students be forbidden during curriculum hours to go to these demonstrations.

“It's completely inconsistent with what they're doing at school.”

However, Cllr Harper gave a cautious response saying: “I'm not at all sure either I or the director of children's services are actually empowered to do what Cllr Gordon has asked."

Other pressing concerns raised at meetings have included asking that schools take action to control the use of mobile phones in schools: again hardly a council matter. But Councillor Gordon likes to worry about things that are beyond his remit as a councillor: he evidently sees himself as some sort of moral guardian for the community at large, and has clearly defined limits as to the boundaries of acceptable behaviour -for everyone else except Tory councillors - here in the world without sin, the demi paradise of Broken Barnet.

You may recall the meeting last month at which he asked clearly horrified council officers if as an authority we ensure that children placed in foster care by the authority were placed with a father and a mother. He was told that of course in Barnet we abide by the requirements of equality legislation, and to the amazement of everyone else in the room, he asked for confirmation that this included placing children with same sex couples. Councillor Gordon clearly feels it is his business to establish the sexual preferences of residents wanting to foster: Mrs Angry wonders if he bothered to express his shock at the revelation that the authority allowed unlicensed MetPro employees who had not undergone CRB checks to have close contact with other looked after children in the borough?

Councillor Gordon has little tolerance, it seems, for those whose views do not accord with his own. At a full council meeting last year, for example, a large number of concerned residents came to demonstrate outside the Town Hall to protest about the proposed waste disposal faciltity at Pinkham Way, on the North Circular. This protest was one of the largest seen for some time, and kept up an orderly but vocal presence throughout much of the council meeting. In a passing comment, Councillor Gordon referred to the perfectly well behaved residents, who included elderly people, disabled people and families with young children, as 'rabble'. This was too much even for his normally tolerant colleague, Mayor Anthony Finn who immediately corrected him, crossly reminding him that they were in fact demonstrators. Councillor Gordon sat down.

Oh. The Mandela photograph.

In 2007, Brian Gordon sent a photograph of himself in the outfit shown, which he wore with pride to a party to celebrate the Jewish festival of Purim, to a reporter on a local newpaper. Councillor Gordon evidently thought that dressing up in this costume, and 'blacking up' his face in this way was perfectly acceptable, and not at all offensive. Not surprisingly, of course, this view was not widely shared, and caused a great deal of controversy. The story soon became reported nationally, in the Mail, even on the BBC.

Some people sought to defend Brian Gordon, although perhaps in some cases they might have done better to keep quiet. For example, see this letter in the local Times from a Mr Poster:

"I find it quite incredible that Councillor Brian Gordon has been (in your words) 'widely condemned' for the manner in which he chose to celebrate the Jewish festival of Purim, although it is not surprising that his opponents seized the opportunity to jump on the political bandwagon!

I entertained at the Sydmar Lodge Care Home on Purim, and hosted its fancy dress parade. During my last song, Councillor Gordon came in, promptly took my mike and spontaneously began 'rapping' to my backing music. It was quite hilarious, and (in entertainment terms) brought the house down. Quite a number of the wonderful carers and staff are black, and as far as I am aware, they all enjoyed the performance. Attached is a photograph of Councillor Gordon with mike in hand, and me alongside.

My late father was known as London's Al Jolson, and used to perform complete with black face in his own minstrel shows in the 1950s, also appearing as the famous entertainer in a stage adaptation of his life. Yes, we've come a long way since the demise of The Black & White Minstrel Show. Unfortunately, it's been down the wrong road, as a result of 'political incorrectness' ..."

Oh dear.

Some press stories claimed that a spokesman for Mr Mandela said that he did not really take offence at the Councillor's get up, except in the unfortunate choice of shirt, which is quite amusing and remarkably gracious, if true, but then in Mr Mandela's 27 years in captivity, including 18 years sleeping on the floor of a cell on Robben Island, for daring to hold political views in opposition to the brutal dictatorship of the apartheid governments of South Africa, Mrs Angry imagines that worrying about such pathetically insulting racial stereotyping might not seem awfully high on the list of his concerns. On the other hand, Mrs Angry's ANC activist friends, one of whom is now a minister in the South African government, would probably have had Councillor Gordon paraded and whipped through the streets of Johannesburg for daring to insult their former leader.

Mrs Angry always finds it impossible to understand why someone who is from one ethnic minority, which has faced centuries of the most appalling persecution and racist stereotyping, could possibly think it acceptable to caricature the physical appearance of someone from another ethnic minority. Perhaps it is just a lack of imagination, or a lack of empathy: it is unacceptable in anyone, but surely particularly so in an elected representative of a borough with such a diverse population?

While researching this post, Mrs Angry stumbled across a very interesting story in one of the local papers, published in 2007 at the time of the Mandela story. In an article here with the heading: 'Tory accused of racism 30 years ago' we are told that Councillor Gordon once held very strong views on the subject of immigration.

"Almost 30 years ago to the day, when the 21-year-old Brian Gordon was the Conservative candidate for the Burnt Oak by-election, he told a meeting of Edgware Conservatives that he wanted an end to immigration because he felt that Britain should not be the 'dustbin' of the world."

"The Hendon Times editor at the time, Dennis Signy, wrote a strongly worded comment in the following week's edition, saying that his interpretation of the dustbin remark was that 'any immigrant to this country can be classified as so much garbage'."

Take a look: if you are not shocked by the article, you certainly will be by the photograph of Gordon and his 1970's bouffant hairdo. To be fair to him - why, Mrs Angry, why? - it should be remembered that his remarks were made thirty years ago, and I suppose we all make idiotic mistakes in our youth.

In 2011, however, we live in a world fraught with conflict and divisiveness: we need community leaders and representatives who are sensitive to the demands of a diverse and changing society, and respectful of attitudes and lifestyles that differ from their own beliefs and standards. Is Gordon the sort of representative best placed to work for a more cohesive community, and one where a sensitive, liberal approach to social and political matters, and an awareness of equality issues, is so important? It's a fair question, isn't it?

Equality is an issue that is not well understood by the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet. Apart from a continuing tendency for individual councillors to make offensive remarks - one councillor last year was reported to the standards committee for allegedly making racist comments at a meeting, for example - we have heard one Cabinet member objecting to the obligation to provide transport for children with special needs, the disabled and vulnerable adults, and another state that Barnet was not the place for people on benefits.

The Tory administration's first attempt to remove wardens from sheltered housing was thrown out by a judge due to a lack of an equalities impact assessment, and the same reason has just obliged the council to halt the approval given to a controversial planning application. It would seem that this Tory administration sees the issue of equality as a problem, and a nuisance, and not as a motivation or a guiding principle.

But we digress.

Performance appraisal for Councillor Gordon? Well, in his defence ... er. Umm. Well, I suppose he does declare his interests openly and honestly, unlike some of his Tory colleagues. What else? He provides a certain amount of entertainment, with his combative approach in meetings. Oh: and he likes libraries. As we reported at the infamous 'rabble' meeting in April:

'Brian Gordon told us he liked libraries too. He liked them when he was a child. He liked them when he was a teenager. He carried on liking them. Now his children really like them and spend a lot of time in them. Who could blame them?'

Hmm. Mrs Angry doesn't really like Councillor Gordon, though. He will therefore receive the same score as his deputy leader, Daniel 'John' Thomas: -6, oh, plus minus another three for insulting Mr Mandela, and another one for that hairstyle in 1977. -10: worst score yet. Tut tut, Councillor Gordon, and you an Edgware boy, too.

And now do excuse me: must go and treat Councillor Marshall's fleas.

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