Saturday 25 February 2012

Change and Decay in all around we see, and A Tale of Two Barnets

So anyway, there we were, last Sunday, Mrs Angry and daughter, wandering about in Highgate Cemetery - and yes, for those readers concerned that I spend too much time sitting in graveyards feeling glum: you're not wrong, but this is as exciting as my life gets these days, and it is still less depressing than sitting in the Town Hall among the undead Tory councillors of Broken Barnet. Or at home. And there is something oddly symbolic of the state of things generally, at the moment, in an overgrown graveyard, that rather lends one to melancholy musings on change and decay in all around we see.

Miss Angry was photographing graves, for her A level coursework, dressed as usual in an interesting combination of biker girl meets Audrey Hepburn, and totally inappropriate for a Victorian cemetery.

'I don't understand it,' said Mrs Angry ... 'I know that Karl Marx is buried here, we've walked round twice, how have we managed to miss him?' *

'Karl who?' asked Miss Angry, with a shrug.

There was a long silence from her mother. Then:

'Are you winding me up?' demanded Mrs Angry, a letter to Michael Gove re national history syllabus rapidly forming in her mind.

Mrs Angry got hold of her daughter by the ear and frog marched her out of the cemetery gates and back up Highgate Hill with a stern lecture on the history of socialism, class struggle, dialectical materialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

By the time we got to the top of the hill, Miss Angry was begging for mercy, I can tell you.

*(This Sunday Mrs Angry and daughter went to Abney Park Cemetery, in Stoke Newington, and missed the grave of James 'Bronterre' O'Brien, the Chartist leader. There may well now follow a weekly series of visits to graveyards where Mrs Angry and daughter argue, get lost, and then fail to find the last resting place of other famous pioneers of social reform and great political thinkers.)

As we crossed over the border, back into Broken Barnet, Mrs Angry was pondering the difference between her teenage and twenty something years, and the political activities our generation were involved in, with the attitudes of our own children. Our generation had the great blessing of years of a Tory government and the reign of terror of Mrs Thatcher, of course, and this was pretty much all we needed to provoke the raising of our political consciousness. Our children have, until recently, had the misfortune of living through a Tory lookalike Labour government and years of a stultifyingly boring political scene, and so have been deprived of the same stimulus.

But things are changing, and although Miss Angry and her fellow students may not, as we did, understand the wider context, or the historical context, they are certainly aware of the impact of the radicalism of the Coalition government's agenda of the last two years, and this is going to be felt in any future elections. The whole issue of the cost of student loans has had a salutory effect on any young voter, and locally, here in Broken Barnet, there is nothing but contempt for the Tory administration. Much of this contempt is inspired by the idiocy of the likes of Brian Coleman (or is that just in my household, where, predictably, he is a figure of ridicule ..?) but it is also true that the realities of life in this borough bestow the perfect education for any young student of politics.

Last week's decision by our Tory council to shut a much loved library in Friern Barnet, a Labour voting area, whilst agreeing happily to retain the toytown library in the hugely affluent, Tory voting area of Hampstead Garden Suburb speaks eloquently of the rapidly widening gap between the haves and have nots of Broken Barnet, and the polarisation of opinions between the main body of the electorate, and the cabal of Tory tyrants who run this council, and their wealthy backers. Totteridge and Garden Suburb are looked after very carefully by their Tory councillors - and MPs.

The gulf between the privileged and the disadvantaged has been growing for some time, as demonstrated by studies such as the league tables of areas of social deprivation. And since the Tory administration was returned two years ago, the One Barnet agenda has pushed the two separate communities living here further and further apart.

And yes, there are effectively two communities here now. There is one fortunate, comfortably placed Barnet, living in Tory wards, whose children go to the best, usually selective schools which are so well thought of. This Barnet is not so reliant on the overburdened healthcare provision, largely based anyway, in the better off areas of the borough, because this Barnet has private healthcare to fall back on when they need to jump the queue to see a consultant about any medical problem. This Barnet is not reliant on the social care that has been offered by our council services, just being flogged off, or rather given away to the circling vultures of the private sector.

The other Barnet, the Barnet without means, the residents on low incomes, our elderly, our vulnerable children, the disabled, the refugee populations, the ethnic minorities, most living in the twilight world of social housing or at the mercy of short term but high cost private rental arrangements, cannot afford to move into the catchment areas for the minority of decent state schools. Take a trip over to the Barnet Eye blog to read this guest post from a resident who can give you a glimpse of this Barnet, if you like:

This Barnet's access to healthcare requires long distance journeys to hospitals across the other side of the borough. This Barnet of the dispossessed will only be allowed to apply for social housing if they are morally suitable, if they can persuade our Tory councillors that they have contributed in a 'positive' way to their communities. If they ever manage to attain such accommodation, they will not be allowed to settle there, and establish a permanent home, because our Tory councillors think this will discourage 'aspiration', and because the thought of being evicted if they fail to maintain a morally worthy life style will, it is thought, keep the feckless, undeserving poor on their toes, and teach them to be more like our Tory councillors, who are all of them fine, upstanding, honest and hard working members of society, as we know from their declarations of interest - don't we?

Back to the same theme, then: One Barnet, two Barnets. And hello: what do we have here?

Film maker Charles Honderick has made a thirty minute documentary about the state of things in our rotten borough. It's called 'A Tale of Two Barnets' and features a wide range of residents, including possibly some bloggers, and even the Leader of the council and Chief Executive, talking about how they view things here and now. There will be a premiere at the Phoenix, East Finchley on 19th March, 6-8pm, all are welcome ... oh, and Mrs Angry will be sitting in the dark with her hands over her eyes, praying that her bit is on the cutting room floor.

Britains's finest political film maker, Ken Loach, director of so many masterpieces of cinema and television - Cathy Come Home, Up the Junction, Kes, The Wind that Shakes the Barley (one for you, Boris, stuffed full of Fenians) and so many others, has filmed an introduction to Charles' film. Take a look.


Tom Roper said...

Karl is buried in the less photogenic East cemetery, which may explain Miss Angry's ignorance

Mrs Angry said...

yes, we were in East Cem, still missed Marx. Miss Angry would be less ignorant of such things if she would show more respect when her mother is lecturing her on issues of grave historical and political significance, and was less impertinent.

baarnett said...

The most stratified local authority I know is Haringey - richer west, poorer east. Barnet is more mixed.

But hostorically, and without looking at individuals, it is odd there is not more of a patrician (plus the female of that) and 'one-Nation' Conservatisim in Barnet, rather than what we have - bright blue in tooth and claw.

Mrs Angry said...

hmm, will answer later, bath about to spill over ..

Mrs Angry said...

ah ... that's better, cleansed of trolling toryism ... I am always fascinated by the sheer awful oikishness of our Barnet Tories: me, I like my conservative class enemies to be gentlemen, and not jumped up plebs like Coleman et al.

In Barnet they are almost all sad little Thatcherites, living in the past, and accompanied by a new intake of young right wing opportunists who are still living at home with Mum and Dad and know nothing about anything, but fancy themselves as politicians.

Of the old timers, John Marshall and Brian Schama are gents, Cornelius is nice but dim, the rest, apart from the Salingers, are ghastly ... only there for their allowances. The women are largely invisible and treated pretty appallingly by what appears to be a chauvanistic, not to say misogynist prevailing attitude by the dominant Cabinet members. Interestingly, and tellingly, there are no young women Tory councillors. And this is how Coleman manages to push the group into supporting his ludicrous and self imploding policies: there is a vacuum, and he has inhabited it, in his inimitable way. What will happen when he loses his seat in May is anyone's guess: I imagine they might start to turn on him, fearing for the loss of their publicly funded sinecures at the next local election.

baarnett said...

For those around to remember, did the "wets" die out in Barnet/Finchley in the Thatcher years?

It might have been uncomfortable to have been "semi-detached", and "not one of us", at the time.

Mrs Angry said...

I think there were quite a few of the old school Tories then, don't know about wets, exactly. Remember Leslie Sussman, who only died last year, and who never took any allowance, being minded to see his post as councillor as public service? The present lot are neo Thatcherites, most not around then. And one cannnot imagine any of them undertaking their duties with the same selfless motive - to serve the community. Which reminds me, another story in the local Times today about Brian Coleman's rudeness to a constituent over parking problems in North Finchley ...

Neal Sussman said...

Dear Mrs Angry, I have just read this post and wanted to say that you are absolutely correct in many of your opinions and I totally agree that Councillor Leslie Sussman undertook his duties in a completely selfless manner and with great love and hope of building a better communuty around him. I can say this with complete confidence as I am his son, and I am always overwhelmed when people remember the man he was. Thank you, Neal Sussman

Mrs Angry said...

Hello Neal: how nice to receive this comment from you - I think your father was a very rare thing, an honourable man, and one admired by all parties here in Barnet. I am sure you are very proud of him, and such a dedication to the ethos of public service. I wish more representatives would look at his example and take note. Best wishes, anyway: Mrs A.

Jeff Richardson said...

I am a Labour party supporter and had the pleasure of serving on the same school governing body as Leslie Sussman. I was always impressed by his dedication, his openness to others' ideas and his sound judgement. He quite changed ny views of Tories. It's shame the present lot are nothing like him.