Thursday 26 January 2012

The Friday joke: Gutter politics in Broken Barnet

Matthew Offord (third from left) sticks his parliamentary oar in again

Have you seen this week's edition of the Barnet Press?

It carries an editorial comment which may puzzle some readers - take a look:

MP should leave it to the professionals

"The life of an MP might seem exciting to some. Speaking to constituents then going to the Palace of Westminster to call the powerful people in the country to account.

But after almost two years in the Commons, Conservative Matthew Offord is looking for a challenge, and the life of an amateur detective has taken his fancy.

Mr Offord has examined the clues and concluded that Labour's Andrew Dismore - in allowing a tenant to stay in his second registered home - is guilty of electoral fraud.

But the fact that this is the third time Mr Offord has attempted to report the crime casts some doubt on whether the authorities are taking his fears as seriously as he is.

Inspector Offord may want to let the real police handle this - he wouldn't want anyone mistaking his unbiased commitment to justice for a petty attempt to smear a political enemy."

Strong stuff. What is it all about, you may be asking? To explain, Mrs Angry will publish the following extract from Hansard, the Parliamentary record, taken from a debate about 'Individual Voter Registration' in the House of Commons. The following statement was made by Offord, the Conservative MP for Hendon, on 16th January:

"As Labour Front Benchers have tabled the motion, they need to answer some questions, particularly about a candidate in the Greater London authority elections who resides in Westminster, in Westbourne Grove, and registers himself on the electoral register with his girlfriend at his permanent residence, but has continued to allow himself to be registered at a second property he owns in the London borough of Barnet that is inhabited by his tenant. If that is not legally wrong, it is certainly morally wrong, and it is dishonest to mislead voters into presuming that the candidate lives locally. Where would Labour Front Benchers say that that person lived? For sure, many Members of the House have access to two properties, and the law states that people who have two homes are allowed to register at both addresses, but it is an offence to vote more than once in a general election, although such people may vote in both areas at local elections."

Mr Offord won his seat from Labour's Andrew Dismore in May 2010, after a close run campaign in a marginal constituency rumoured to be amongst those favoured by Tory donor Lord Ashcroft for extra support and attention: a tactic which, if true, would have appeared to have been successful, as Offord scraped in with a majority of around only a hundred votes.

Since being elected, Offord has hardly covered himself in glory, inspiring a series of idiotic stories about his unfortunate Mr Bean like tendencies, rather than glowing reports of his work on behalf of the constituency: breaking a wrist in the bathroom on honeymoon, damaging his sight when a mug flew out of his kitchen cupboard, etc. Very accident prone, is our Matthew.

Since acquiring a cute little puppy called Max, who has far more political acumen than his owner, Offord has attempted to adopt a more positive image. Max has has generally been a good influence, and a wise mentor. But oh dear, try as he might, Max has failed to stop Matthew from succumbing to the temptation of using parliamentary privilege to cause trouble for his political enemies.

Take a look at these comments, made a year ago, on the 20th January 2011, in a parliamentary debate on anti-semitism. Reading this now, incidentally, Mrs Angry is struck by the ridiculous comment immediately preceding the remarks which caused so much controversy.

"We heard today from my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Mr Scott). However, it is not just Jewish people who are subject to anti-Semitism. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) said he has also been subjected to it."

Er: what? It is not just Jewish people who are subject to anti-semitism ... Really? He continues:

"A useful illustration comes today from my local paper, the Hendon Times, where I have been attacked by someone who helped us in the general election campaign. I was always rather concerned about some of the views of this individual, but we are a broad church in the Conservative party. However, this individual started making anti-Semitic comments. Once I was elected, I would have no truck with any such individuals. I hear today through the local press that he has decided to join UKIP. UKIP is welcome to someone who makes anti-Semitic remarks, because he is certainly not welcome in the Conservative party."

Offord was challenged by the individual whom he accused of anti-semitism to repeat such allegations outside parliament. He did not.

An article in the local Times on 21st January explained the background to this story, referring to the man he had mentioned in parliament, a former Tory activist and Chair of the local ward, who had -

"criticised Mr Offord for being “uncontactable” among his reasons for quitting the Conservative party.

He told the Times Series he was joining UKIP and intended to stand against Mr Offord for the Hendon seat at the next General Election.

Mr Offord refused to give a statement on the matter to the paper, but instead used Parliamentary Privilege, where MPs can say what they want without fear of legal action, to launch his attack"

Clearly, as we are reminded today, which happens to be Holocaust Memorial Day, anti-semitism is vile, and always utterly unacceptable. An accusation of any act of racist abuse is very serious - but it is a smear which cannot be legally challenged when made in such circumstances.

Offord did himself no favours by resorting to such tactics in the course of his spat with a former Tory colleague.

Parliamentary privilege is exactly what it says, a privilege, and one which should not be abused or misused. It offers an MP a legal immunity which should be used sparingly and carefully for matters of public interest, not for the purposes of private bickering. But it seems Mr Offord has resorted once more to such a shabby ploy in an attempt to discredit a former rival, and the new Labour candidate for the forthcoming London Assembly.

After Matthew Offord's latest remarks in parliament about Dismore, a particularly nasty story appeared in the London Standard repeating his accusations, and naming the tenant - a local Labour activist - who has been dragged into this debacle, through no fault of his own.

As it happens, Mrs Angry knows the tenant who has been staying in Mr Dismore's home: he is a decent and honest individual, and so, in her opinion, is Andrew Dismore.

As the article in the Standard actually admits, under City Hall rules, candidates for the London Assembly do not have to live in the constituency in which they stand. Dismore is breaking no laws by owning two properties, and many people are registered in more than one place, especially in Barnet where there appears to be a difficulty in maintaining accurate records. Does Offord mean to suggest in all seriousness that he thinks Dismore will vote twice? What is he suggesting, exactly? Or is he just trying to cause trouble? Has he really not got anything more important to raise in Parliament?

What has Offord done to help the local traders seeing their businesses bleeding to death, as a result of the catastrophic parking policy his former fellow Tory councillors here in Barnet have imposed on our town centres?

Where was he when they shut Hendon's Church Farmhouse Museum, and where is he now they are trying to flog the listed building and historic grounds off to developers?

What is he doing to fight Brian Coleman's plan to pimp our parks and greenspaces to private customers, shutting the parks to residents or charging them for admission to events?

Andrew Dismore was a hard working constituency MP when he represented Hendon, and well respected by residents of all political allegiances. He got on with his constituency work with diligence, and commitment, and with a notable lack of self promotion, in contrast with other MPs of our acquaintance, here in Broken Barnet.

He didn't disappear during times of crises abroad, playing Action Man and posing in a wet shirt for ridiculous photo opportunities on hotel balconies, claiming he was fighting 'narco terrorism' on behalf of the people of Hendon.

He didn't make a fool of himself invoking the Human Rights Act when he was told to stop bringing his dog into Westminster.

He didn't waste the time of our already overworked and under supported police with idiotic complaints about the perfectly reasonable living arrangements of his former rival.

He didn't use parliamentary privilege for personal attacks on political opponents.

In the next election, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that the voters of that constituency will want to return any Tory MP, let alone the one we have now: indulging in this sort of gutter politics is hardly going to make that possibility any more likely.

And there is another angle to this story, of course.

Andrew Dismore is standing as the Labour candidate for Barnet and Camden in May's GLA elections. The present assembly member is one Brian Coleman. Coleman is in deep shit: he has made himself hugely unpopular over the last few years, and the parking fiasco in Barnet has really incensed the normally reliable Tory vote in this area: he is very likely to lose his seat to Dismore. If Barnet and Camden is taken by Labour, the chances of the Tories losing control of the Assembly is a very real one.

Boris came to Barnet last week, and was clearly taken aback by the level of hostility shown by residents to Coleman and Barnet Council. If Barnet and Camden falls to Labour, the balance of power on the London Assembly will be in real doubt. Brian Coleman is a candidate impossible now to promote in a positive way: so what to do? Go for Dismore. The Standard, of course, is always ready to help out Boris, and look there we are, a horrible story all wrapped up and in print for everyone to read on the tube on the way home.

Of course the really amusing story in relation to our GLA candidates' accommodation is the story of the current Tory member Brian Coleman, and his charity owned home.

Do we have to repeat it again? The man who earns around £130K from his publicly funded posts lives in a flat belonging to a charity, Finchley Methodist Church, of which our Mr Coleman happens to be a member, and he is also the beneficiary of a fixed rent which is set at a level half of the current market value. He has told a single mother constituent of his, struggling to support a six year old son with special needs, and pay her rent for the same sized flat, in the same area, at double the rate he pays, that she should 'live in the real world' and not expect to be supported by 'the system'.

Not sure why the Standard forgot to mention this story, or why Matthew Offord has not used parliamentary privilege to highlight such hypocrisy, but then, as we know, in this borough, the things which really matter tend to be overlooked in favour of political expediency.

This is Broken Barnet, and this is how things are. If you don't like it, don't vote for it. In May you will have the choice of voting for Brian Coleman, or Andrew Dismore. Does Mrs Angry have to make it any more clear where your duty lies? Ignore the black propaganda: it's a sign of how desperate the Tories are. Do the right thing, and give Coleman a kick up the *rse.

Have a nice weekend.

1 comment:

baarnett said...

I suppose the photo is from the 1982 movie,

"The Best Little Oar Louse to Tax Us."