Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Missing in Action: Brian Coleman. Gone, but not forgotten by Mrs Angry

How Brian Coleman managed to cut down on his GLA taxi expenses

It is with deep sadness that Mrs Angry must report some news from the frontline of the election battle for the London Assembly.

Brian Coleman is missing in action, and is not expected to make a return to the constituency of Barnet and Camden.

It is rumoured that our beloved assembly member has been the victim of friendly fire, and ended his career in a skirmish with local Tories, in a car park in Chipping Barnet.

Rumour has it that he had been mistaken for a parking meter, was lassoed by a tow truck and removed, and on closer inspection was found to have had his mouth stuffed full of £1 coins. Brian was released and last seen wandering about the streets of West Finchley in something of a daze. He is reported to have entirely lost his political instincts.

We shall not see his like again.

Thank feck for that, eh, citizens?

Yes: according to a marvellous post on 'Political Betting.com' the suitably named Sean Fear has predicted that Brian is on his way out. As he says:

"In my view, Barnet and Camden is very likely to fall, as it requires a swing of only 5.5% to Labour, and incumbent Brian Coleman is unpopular among London Conservatives."


Mr Fear is himself a London Conservative, and therefore in a position to tell it like it is. Oh dear, Brian. 5.5% is all it takes? You're toast, chum.

Think of all the sections of the community that Coleman has offended or upset in the last couple of years: every driver in the borough, every shopkeeper, every elderly person unable to pay for parking by phone, or afford the 4x rise in cost of visitor tickets, every park user, every single mother struggling to live in the 'real world' and pay her rent, not to mention 'these people': the vulnerabel and disabled users of subsidised transport, and their relatives and carers.

The attempt to award himself a big fat pay rise, along with his Tory councillor mates, as soon as he got back in power in Barnet in 2010, the revelation that he lives in a charity owned flat with a rent fixed at half the going market rate ... the wining and dining & hampers from Assetco, the insulting remarks about Fire Brigade Union members ... oh, let's stop there, shall we? Anyway, this all adds up to more than 5%, I'm guessing: more of a 55% swing heading in the other direction, I would imagine, Brian.

And he must know the game is up ...his conspicuous absence from the hustings, from any visible canvassing here in Barnet: this tells you all you need to know.

Where was Brian when Boris Johnson came to Finchley last week, to stroll along the Dollis Valley walk and see where his grant has gone, a grant that was awarded some time ago, but only just being implemented, in time for the election, and clearly intended to provide a suitable good news photo opportunity for the Mayor and for the local Tory member?

Unfortunately, this timely hand out has been blown in the course of a scandalously mismanaged scheme which has seen perfectly adequate footpaths replaced, while dangerously broken up sections remain, half finished playgrounds, and the imposition of ghastly, ugly and useless 'entrances' at the end of unrepaired tracks.

Coleman, for whatever reason, did not accompany Boris on his walk, which was probably just as well, as the Mayor was collared by local residents' association chair Dennis (the menace) Pepper, who pointed out the mess that has been made of the whole project.

Deputy Tory leader Cllr John Thomas was not amused at being shown up in front of Boris, and complained to the local paper which published the story. But where was Cllr Coleman? Was he sulking? Or has he been told by Lynton Crosby to keep make himself scarce?

Brian Coleman is reluctant to take part in any hustings events, we are told: the only canvassing so far that he has taken part in and that we know about, in fact, has been in the safe zones of Hampstead and Belsize Park. But the safe zones in the Camden part of the constituency are not significant in terms of voters. It's in Barnet that Coleman needs to win over the hearts and minds of the electorate.

Oh dear.

Never mind. Brian has been keeping himself busy. According to a tweet yesterday by his Camden Tory hangers on, he managed to get himself invited to Buckingham Palace to take part in the presentation of 'Loyal Addresses by Privileged Bodies'. Can you imagine? Brian must have been feverish with excitement. Not sure why he was there, as most of the others seem to have been people like the Archbishop of Canterbury, and other church leaders. As far as Mrs Angry is aware, Brian Coleman has not as yet been appointed as the head of a church or religious order, but of course he is, in many ways, a privileged body. Sorry, in Coleman house style: A Privileged Body.

Tomorrow, monarchists of Broken Barnet, guess what? The Queen herself, yes, Her Maj, is ssshhh ... well no, not coming to Barnet, sadly. Almost as good though. She is DRIVING THROUGH THE BOROUGH. At high speed, blinds drawn, probably, like Dr Johnson in the Lake District, but in this case to avoid sight of that ghastly little man who came to the Palace yesterday, and wouldn't stop bowing, and dribbling on the carpet, and kept boasting that he has paid £1,000 of residents hard earned cash to commission his mate's son to write a royal anthem for her jubilee.

Brian may be trying to keep a low profile, in this, surely the strangest election campaign in London, but yesterday the Guardian helped him out with some useful publicity. On Monday, Patrick Kingsley's Diary informed us:

"• Elsewhere in motoring, scarcely believable scenes at London's City Hall. Assembly member Brian Coleman – scourge of firemen, connoisseur of the hansom cab – appears to have tightened his purse strings, if not his belt. Once criticised for expensing £10,334 on taxis in a single year, Coleman has kept this year's outgoings to just £189.65. Or has he? Closer inspection of his parallel expense account at the capital's fire authority, which he chairs, suggests the burden is merely shifted elsewhere – to the tune of £3,367.27. The biggest culprit? Car journeys. All 80 of them, not least a £40.34 round-trip from Southwark to Westminster. It's five minutes on the Jubilee line."

Now this is very interesting. Mrs Angry is puzzled by some of Brian's expense claims. Of the Assembly Members on the authority, his total, by the way, of £3,367.27, towers over the next biggest, by Tony Arbour, for a mere £192. Most of the others claim nothing. But look at this entry - on 2902/2012, a taxi fare of £38.55 (invoiced) to go to the Grosvenor hotel for a dinner. Doesn't say where from. But by an extraordinary coincidence, the return fare was - guess what? £38.55. Invoiced.

Mmm. And here is another one: 4/11/2011 - taxi, from where we do not know, to East Wintergarden, 43 Bank Street E14, to the CFOA Spirit of Fire awards, £49.24. (Invoiced). Guess how much the return fare was? Yep. £49.24. Invoiced. Of course one might ask why we have to pay for a black cab anyway, which presumably this must be, as otherwise the fare would be rounded up, and a damn sight less expensive.

If he cannot bring himself to get the tube like any other Londoner has to, what's wrong with using a local minicab service? A cab all the way to Heathrow airport costs less much than that. Try Fairway Kenwood cars, Brian - Mrs Angry uses them all the time, and has had some very interesting political discussions with many of their remarkably well informed, not to say opinionated drivers. You'd be in your element.

Ah: hang on though - Heathrow Airport ... looking at Brian's GLA expenses, which are now an exemplary study in restraint and value for money for London tax payers, only £189.65, compared to the bills which used to run into thousands in former years - hello, a modest claim for a tenner or so for mileage to a question time event ... but two claims in relation to taxi fares to and from Heathrow - outward on 7/10/2011, for £77.46, and return on the 10/10 for £101.47. What was this for? Oh: what is described as 'an official trip to Cyprus'.

Every year, in the autumn, several councillors from Barnet visit Morphou in Cyprus for a short break, usually all hotel accommodation and flights provided at the expense of the Municipality. This, we are told, is in order to attend a 'peace demonstration' relating to the Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus. Their loyal support for the people of Morphou is expressed by attending lunches, and dinners, and in accepting lovely paperweights and a few bottles of wine. Here is last year's entry from the online GLA gifts and hospitality register:

Brian Coleman 07-OCT-11 Meals at restaurants in Cyprus during Visit to Cyprus to attend events organised by the Municipality of Morphou to protest against the Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus. 7th October Dinner at Pavilion Restaurant in Nicosia 8th October Dinner at Hilton Hotel Nicosia 9th October Lunch at Stavros tis Asinou 10th October Lunch at Evohia Restaurant Nicosia Municipality of Morphou

Brian Coleman 07-OCT-11 Visit to Cyprus (7 - 10 October) to attend events organised by the Municipality of Morphou to protest against the Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus. Return flights with Cyprusair from London to Larnaca and 3 nights bed and breakfast at the Hilton Park Hotel in Nicosia

Clearly this sort of hectic schedule of protest is bound, one day, to persuade the Turkish government to pack up and leave Cyprus. A few more dinners at the Pavilion Restaurant should do it, I reckon, don't you?

Now when Mrs Angry and Mr Mustard were eventually allowed, recently, under strict supervision, and with security arrangements reflecting the highest level of alert at the council offices which our visit represented, to view the withheld declarations of interests, gifts and hospitality by our Barnet councillors, we found that Brian Coleman had not declared this latest trip to Morphou. It may be this was because his trip was made in his capacity as GLA member, and therefore does not have to be listed here. But was his trip an official one? Perhaps it was, endorsed by the London Assembly. Should the London tax payer have to fork out over £170 in fares to & from the airport for such a trip, though?

On the other hand, we must admire the skill involved in getting the Fire Authority taxi fare expenses to match exactly, to a penny, inward journey and outward journey, bearing in mind all the variable factors of traffic, speed, signals, different routes. Mrs Angry is sure there is a perfectly valid reason for the coincidence, and will write to LFEPA to ask, so she can explain to the rest of London's taxi customers how to do the same. Perhaps the cabbie is carefully encouraged in this activity by Brian, holding a stopwatch, to speed up, or, no - surely not - slow down, in order to acheive such a target. What larks, eh? Mrs Angry suspects, in fact, that Cllr Coleman's new idea of removing pelican crossings from the borough is in order, with relentless efficiency, and for the provision of better services for less money, to facilitate the unimpeded progress of his taxi journeys, and therefore save the London tax payer a small fortune. Well done, Councillor Coleman, says Mrs Angry.

Of course when he loses his Assembly seat in May, and therefore his Fire Authority post as well, he won't have to take a taxi anywhere, will he? Might not be able to afford to take a taxi anywhere, come to that.

Poor old Brian.

Missing you already.

Mrs Angry x


baarnett said...

It will be great to dance on Brian's political grave next May, but I still think it is by no means certain he will lose (and neither does DCMD, so I am in Illustrious Company).

After all, he was no less awful in 2008, wasn't he? I know the bloggers were not such a force then, but will Conservative voters just abstain for the Camden and Barnet ward this time, in large numbers, or really vote for someone else, which is what is necessary?

Mrs Angry said...

I disagree entirely, baarnett, I think everything is different to 2008. We have a new government with extremely unpopular policies, and voters want an opportunity to express their dissatisfaction. Since the last local elections, the Tories in Barnet have excelled themselves in stupidity, and yes, the bloggers have helped to publicicise this in a new and rather effective way. Also since the local elections, Coleman's arrogance has been unrestrained - when Freer was leader he used to keep him in check to a certain degree. The present bunch of Tories cannot cope & this has encouraged him to think he is fireproof. He has made serious misjudgements: the allowance rise was the first, then all the policies such as parking and park hire, all the outrageous utterances. The need to get his way is stronger than the fear of the consequences.The consequences of alienating so many Tory voters in Barnet are going to be significant. Oh, and the other factor is that the Labour candidate last time was not as strong as Andrew Dismore, who is known locally & respected for working on behalf of constituents.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Mrs Angry

It is, of course, possible that Brian Coleman will lose his seat. Nothing is certain in life except death and pasties. I don’t know how this 5.5% percentage swing figure has been calculated. I prefer to look at it in terms of Pounds, Shillings and Pence.

At the last election Brian Coleman polled 72,659 votes. It would have been 72,660 but somehow my pen slipped on the ballot paper. Labour’s Nicky Gavron polled 52,966 votes - a majority for Coleman of 19,693.

Obviously there are many variables to consider. Some voters will have sadly shuffled off this mortal coil, new voters will have joined the register, some residents moved away and others moved in. So we are not comparing like with like. All the same, overturning a majority of nearly 20,000 is a big ask.

You refer to Andrew Dismore’s status in the community. Nicky Gavron was not an unknown quantity. She was a high profile GLA member who had been Deputy Mayor to Red Ken. Labour voters (who turn out to vote) will of course vote for Dismore, but that is not going to be enough. Will LibDem supporters vote tactically? If they do, your man has a chance. If they don’t, he doesn’t. Just as Coleman is reviled by the left, so Andrew Dismore is detested by many Conservatives - especially those in Chipping Barnet with long memories of the legal action he brought against them. Many Tories will still vote for Coleman, warts and all, rather than allow Dismore in.

The point that I have made in other places is that if Dismore is to win, he has to go out and give people a positive reason to vote for him. Simply saying “Vote for me, I’m not Brian Coleman” is not enough. Many reports are suggesting that large numbers of Labour voters cannot bring themselves to vote for Ken. If that is so, it will have a negative effect on all Labour GLA candidates.

I will shed no tears if Brian Coleman loses his GLA seat, but I think you are dancing on his grave prematurely.

Mrs Angry said...

Greetings, DCMD: death and pasties, ha.

No, I think Dismore will appeal to many disaffected Tories, and much more so than Nicky Gavron. No disrespect to her, and as you remind us she polled 52,966 votes, even in the circumstances of the last election. Dismore has local connections and was seen as a good constituency MP even by many Tory voters (even my parents). In no way is any Tory opposition to Dismore comparable to the furious reaction to Coleman.

As to Libdem supporters - if there are any left - I think they will express their unhappiness with the Coalition by voting against the Tory candidate, apart from any personal animus v Coleman.

Yes, a generation of voters will have been replaced by a new one - again I think that will see a loss in the Tory vote from older residents who have passed on, or gone to live in Torquay. In regard to the new voters, having one in my household, I can assure you that no one he knows would ever contemplate voting for the party which is landing them with the student loan debt, and locally they see the Tory council, and of course Coleman as a joke.

Finally, I suspect that anyone standing as the rival candidate to Coleman will win simply for the obvious reason: not being Brian Coleman.

baarnett said...

Brian winning in Barnet & Camden would be a case of the 'Nasty Pasty'.

But at least Boris can happily cast Brian adrift, given the popular vote method of the Mayoral election. The Mayor does not have to be unduely worried about who gets the GLA member places.

The GLA just monitors the Mayor, and has no executive function. It also produces detailed reports on a range of worthy subjects, but Boris has publicly admitted he doesn't read them.

This is all very different from a local authority, where every ward seat matters, in order to cobble together a majority, and lead the council.

Mrs Angry said...

I like a pasty, me, do you baarnett? I seem to recall I last had one at Leeds Station, only the other week and ... oh no, hold on.

Mrs Angry said...

Yes, just checking my pasty diary. Last had one in St Ives, two years ago. It had too much pepper, and I suspect they had used tinned diced potato. Very disappointing.

I have a bit of a headache, and therefore my sarcasm monitor is not working properly. Did you say something about 'every ward seat matters' & 'lead the council'? I see no difference in the way the GLA operates and Barnet council, where no Tory councillor reads any reports and their views do not affect the leadership in any way. Have I misunderstood your point?

Don't Call Me Dave said...


Boris has had every opportunity to remove Brian Coleman from his LFEPA position but has consistently refused to do so. It is reasonable to assume, therefore, that he is quite happy with the job Coleman is doing. There is no evidence that this will change in the event that both are re-elected.