Wednesday 23 May 2012

The Battle for Brunswick Park

Past and future: will the Coleman factor play a part in the by election? Coleman at the GLA count, with, hello: is that the Brunswick Park Labour candidate Andreas Ioannides in the background? Pic Ham& High

As reported earlier this week, the campaign team for the Brunswick Park Tory candidate has, in a short space of time, printed and delivered no less than four leaflets on behalf of their representative, Mrs Shaheen Mahmood. These leaflets are designed to convince voters in the ward that Mrs Mahmood is, as she puts it, not a professional politician, but an ordinary working mother, living in the area, and with a record of active campaigning on behalf of her community.

Mrs Mahmood is being rather modest about her status as ordinary working mother, and amateur politician: as we know, but she prefers not to tell prospective voters in her election material, she is in fact the Executive Secretary of the Conservative Muslim Forum, and works at Conservative Central HQ. Why she has chosen to omit this important detail is rather a mystery.

Evidence for her local involvement as a 'campaigner' is rather thin on the ground: achievements listed in the area are credited to the Conservative 'team', (including, on one side of the first leaflet a rather questionable use of a 'tribute' to the recently deceased former ward councillor and leader Lynne Hillan). And one claim, in leaflet number three, delivered last weekend, has led to a complaint by the agent of the Labour party to the Returning Officer.

In this leaflet, it is stated:

'Following a successful campaign by your local Conservatives, parking will remain free at the Ward's two car parks in Osidge Lane and Brunswick Park Road and Church Hill Road car park in neighbouring East Barnet Ward ...'

Oh dear. This is a very naughty claim to make, for all sorts of reasons. The first reason is it is not true, as no announcement of this sort has been made, and the second reason is that even if it was, a decision like this should not be publicly announced during the purdah period before an election. One might question the judgement of whomsoever authorised the publication of such a statement.

The claim to have won protection from charging for the two ward car parks would anyway be untrue, even if an announcement declaring the change of policy had been made: the real reason that the Tory council has had to retreat from its own policy decision is that bloggers, residents, traders, activists and the Labour party have kicked up such a storm of protest over former Cabinet member Coleman's idiotic scheme.

The Tories are now seeking to take credit for saving residents from the catastrophic results of their own actions, by blaming the monstrously unpopular Coleman for all the bad things that have ever happened under a Tory administration. The truth is that the Conservative councillors allowed him free reign to impose these stupid policies, and, from a combination of cowardice and lack of intelligence, evaded all opportunities to oppose him. It is we who opposed him, and we disposed of him for them, while they all sat quivering in the council chamber. The Tories all bear responsiblity for supporting the parking scheme, and for each one of the other shameless new policies they agreed, either actively or by remaining silent, to let him impose on the people of this borough, and we must not let anyone forget it.

As for the false claim in the election leaflet: the Returning Officer decided that the Tories must be told to 'withdraw it'.

Quite how that is done, or how he intends to ensure it is done is a mystery. Presumably teams of Tory activists will be knocking on every door in Brunswick Park, asking for their leaflet back, and giving out a new one in return. If not, Mrs Angry imagines that the Labour Party agent will be considering other, and rather more serious, forms of action.

*Instant update: the Bugle has just published the following statement from the Returning Officer in regard to the offending leaflet:

The Returning Officer’s concerns with the leaflet related to the following statement.

“Following a successful campaign by your local Conservatives, parking will remain free at the Ward’s two car parks”

No such decision had been published by the Council on this matter and, as that is the only decision which can be relevant for these purposes, the statement was incorrect. In that regard, he requested that no further leaflets were distributed, or otherwise published, incorporating this particular statement or any other which might convey or imply that the Council has confirmed a decision in relation to free parking at the car parks in the ward.

The concern was that a wrong perception may arise that the Council has assisted others with regard to publicity and, as such, acted contrary to the law regarding local authority publicity during the “purdah” period.

Tut tut.

Other election news, then ... Well: someone has brought to the attention of Mrs Angry a blogpost published on the Jewish Chronicle website written about the Brunswick Park poll. This blog was by someone called Matthew Harris, who is apparently a local Libdem activist (I know, I know ...) and has stood as a candidate in the last general election for Hendon, sadly, with no success. (if you recall, we ended up with another Matthew - Dr Offord, the marriage guidance expert - do try and keep up.)

Mrs Angry realised, on looking at a photograph, that she had seen Mr Harris at the GLA count at Ally Pally, sitting in a corner with a group of tearful Libdems. They had hogged all the available chairs in the hall, incidentally - rather like their treacherous Westminster colleagues grabbed all those cushy ministerial posts in the coalition government that is driving this country to the brink of ruin.

The Barnet Eye has, like the gentleman blogger he is, written a post in riposte to what he calls Harris's 'attack' on poor Mrs Angry, and the other Barnet bloggers. Mmm. Denis Healey once memorably compared an 'attack' by Sir Geoffrey Howe to being 'savaged by a dead sheep'. What he said, Matthew. (A cousin of Mrs Angry used to write speeches for Geoffrey Howe, you know. Clearly he was too discreet, and rather less effective, than Mrs Angry ...)

In his post, Mr Harris refers to Mrs Angry, and says waspishly:

"I really do not like her suggestion that the Jewish and Greek Cypriot communities are "represented" by councillors who happen to be Jewish or Greek Cypriot, while other communities are (she says) not "represented" at all, as there are no councillors from those communities - those communities apparently including Irish Catholics and Turkish Cypriots. Jewish and other councillors are elected to represent their wards, not their "communities". I have known councillors across London who give a great service to all residents, regardless of their ethnicity and faith. Also, Mrs Angry suggests that this Tory candidate (who is apparently involved in the Conservative Muslim Forum) won't win support from Jewish and Greek residents of Brunswick Park, because of the (Muslim) candidate's possible views on Israel and Cyprus. What have Israel and Cyprus got to do with municipal politics in Barnet? Mrs Angry suggests that the Tory lady might have signed a letter opposing Israel's role in the Lebanon War of 2006. Well, so what if she did or did not? I supported Israel in that war - does that mean that Muslim residents couldn't vote for me to be their Barnet councillor? Of course not. "

Well, this is all rather silly, isn't it? Or perhaps naive.

Mr Harris claims not to be interested in the Barnet blogosphere, ( the Barnet Eye suggests he may be a teeny bit jealous of our reputation) but perhaps he should pay more attention to what we write about, or at least better inform himself of the reality of political life here.

(Mrs Angry notes with amusement, by the way, that in a recent post the indignant Mr Harris has criticised A Barnet Blogger - think he means me - for describing a local Tory politician as 'tubby'. If he means the Tory politician I am thinking of - look, can you see? Yes, him. Well, the reason, Mr Harris that we object to his Tory tubbiness is not that he is tubby (although he is) so much as that it is a tubbiness supported by wining and dining at so many self indulgent functions, and a tubbiness carried there and back at the expense of local taxpayers ...)

He asks what issues such as Israel and Cyprus have got to do with municipal politics. He is right to ask - but like it or not, the truth is that they are of immense relevance here, in this borough, an area which is home to possibly the largest Greek Cypriot and Jewish communities in the UK. One would naturally expect councillors from these communities to be interested in the political issues of both Cyprus and Israel - and so they should, and so they are, in many active ways. Motions on the subject of Cyprus have even been known to be passed at council meetings - you might think this is inappropriate, but it happens. Many residents are puzzled by the annual jolly that councillors take to Morphou, where they enjoy the hospitality of the local authority - hotels, dinners, and flights - excused as a visit organised to 'protest' about the invasion of the island.

On Wednesday night Mrs Angry had an interesting conversation with a Turkish Cypriot resident of Barnet who told her he felt very strongly indeed about the continually one sided presentation of the Cyprus issue by our local councillors. And of course whatever the rights and wrongs of the history of the invasion, there can only ever be a reconciliation of the conflict when both parties feel that their perceived grievances are given a fair consideration. In Barnet, as things stand, he felt, this is not likely to happen any time soon.

Brian Coleman's use of the rather inflammatory subject of Israeli political issues, and the questionable backing of his controversial friend Jonathan Hoffman and co, to try to add weight to his defence in the antisemitic smear complaint made to the Barnet Standards' Committee, was an extreme and atypically negative example of wider political issues being dragged into the Town Hall, but there are many far more positive cases where the Jewish community, like the Greek Cypriot one, benefits from - and indeed expects - support from councillors both in the borough, and in the political world beyond the limitations of Broken Barnet. And again, there is nothing wrong with this, as long as it does not exclude a full consideration of the needs of other sections of the community who have no one to lobby for them.

Clearly external political issues are, whether we like it or not, a matter of interest for our councillors. All well and good, but my point is that as the second most diverse local authority area in London, we really need a broader representation of members - more women, more candidates from ethnic minorities, cultures and religions.

Mr Harris seems to want to interpret my post as saying members always put their own communities before their duties to their particular wards. This is not what I said. I said that they do also see a wider duty, and clearly this is the case. And not all councillors: too many of them, to be frank, see no duty to anyone other than themselves, and regard their posts as honorary appointments, with a nice allowance thrown in.

How would Shaheen Mahmood fit in with her Tory colleagues in the council chamber? Should she care? How well does she understand the political climate here? How well do they know her?

Mrs Angry has never seen her at a meeting until last week's Mayor making, and from her remarks to a local resident in Brunswick Park, she exhibits a certain lack of knowledge about the issues that have really angered local people, in particular the library issue.

What do the other Tories make of Mrs Mahmood? Why have only one or two councillors canvassed for her, and why are the others so reluctant to endorse her? Why does she not talk about her role with the CMF in her election literature? Is it something she does not want people to know about? What are her views on Israel, the Occupied Territories, the occupation of Cyprus? These matters are not irrelevant to the campaign, as all these issues are of great interest to many of her Tory colleagues, but more importantly, the communities of Brunswick Park have a right to know in greater detail the real political viewpoint of the candidates asking for their vote.

Only weeks ago, it would have seemed impossible that Labour might win the Brunswick Park election: there are only six days to go now, and it seems that that just might be what is going to happen. The liberation of Barnet from Brian Coleman, and the lingering scent of victory, a deep hostility by residents to the right wing agenda of the Tory administration, and the huge unpopularity of government popularity seems to have mobilised the residents of this ward to show their resentment through the coming ballot.

Significantly, perhaps, as the Barnet Bugle reports, here:

leading London based Cypriot newspaper 'Parikiaki' has published two favourable articles about the Labour candidate, Andreas Ioannides. Quite what local Tory councillor and strategist Andreas Tambourides makes of that is anyone's guess.

Mrs Angry paid a visit to Brunswick Park this evening, visiting a local tennis club where residents had come to watch the fifteenth community screening of 'A Tale of Two Barnets'. It was a fabulous evening, in the most beautiful warm summer evening setting, the clubhouse a charming relic of old English eccentricity - complete with jubilee union jack bunting, an ancient bar, home made cake, a gold lettered wooden commemorative board listing who won the mixed doubles in 1953, and a polite notice reminding members that Tennis Clothing - And Shoes - Must be Worn, but - Visitors, Feel At Home.

This visitor did feel at home, and thought the mood of the audience was very interesting. They watched the film carefully, as through the open doors and windows, what sounded like a nightingale (couldn't have been, could it? Probably just a blackbird, but then Mrs Angry has an overly romantic imagination), sitting in a tree just outside, sang its evening song so beautifully.

The discussion afterwards, involving a wide range of non politically minded residents, revealed a strong animosity directed towards the hijacking of our community by the One Barnet villains, Tory councillors and senior officers, who are selling our council services to their mates in the greedy private sector companies, desperate to make profit at our expense. Will their resentment express itself through the ballot box, next week? We will see.

As we walked up the grassy path leading away from the clubhouse, the sun was setting over the trees in the distance, and the sky beyond was suffused with a glorious, soft orange light. The last time Mrs Angry had seen a sky like it, in fact, was one stormy night, almost exactly a year ago, after the infamous MetPro Audit meeting which marked a real watershed in the relations between this community and our elected Tory councillors. Since then, the fight to reclaim control of our borough has grown into a real grassroots movement, with real victories, hard won: and who knows, maybe even bigger ones to follow.

Mrs Angry is feeling rather tired and irritable and is now taking a break from blogging.

She is leaving Broken Barnet -yes, it is possible - and is off to Cornwall tomorrow, so will sadly have to miss the Brian Coleman retirement party - and the by election. Bad timing, but there you go.

Try and cope without her. x

NB The Old Bill has told Mrs Angry off for saying she was going away, but although she is going away, she is pleased to say that some members of her household are not coming with her. Burglar Bill is therefore advised not to bother casing the joint, and that anyway all he would find of interest is a big pile of ironing, a dim witted cat and a collection of notebooks with scrawled insults about local councillors written in Town Hall meetings over the last two years.

That's that then.

Is that better?

PS Good luck to Andreas, next week.

Sunday 20 May 2012

Married Love: a guide by Dr Matthew Offord, MP

Marriage, as approved by Matthew Offord (doesn't that man look awfully pleased with himself ... while his wife gets on the phone to her lover? Or a divorce lawyer.)

Mrs Angry has been thinking a lot about sex in the last few days. And Matthew Offord. She is at a funny age, and it passes the time, you know. Sex and, not with, Matthew Offord, you understand. We are not married, or intending to procreate, so clearly that would be out of the question. Apart from the more obvious one, that is. No offence, Matthew.

As we have heard this week, Mr Offord has proffered his considered views, or somebody's considered views, on the subject of same sex marriage. Matthew has declared that this must not be allowed as marriage is intended purely for the purpose of 'procreation', ie the conception of children, and as two men or two women cannot physically conceive, any union they may form cannot be permitted to be formalised, even in a civil context, as 'marriage'.

As he would appear not to be unduly distressed by the thought of couples not wanting, or unable to have children marrying, or those who have stopped procreating still having pointless, unneccessary and sinfully enjoyable sex, many have stated that his objecting to gay couples doing the same might just be seen as being ever so slightly unfair. Or even hypocritical. Mr Offord denies that this is the case, of course. We should say Dr Offord, in truth as he is- oh, yes he is, a doctor. Not a medical one, Mrs Angry believes.

Our Matthew, in his long and distinctly odd reply to the constituent asking for his views on same sex marriage, states that his opposition to such a thing is based on his 'strong personal, moral and religious belief'. He is, like any other citizen, entitled to his own personal views. But those wanting to have legalised same sex marriage are not asking to interfere with anyone else's beliefs: what they want is to exercise what they see as their right, the opportunity for their own civil marriage, which has no religious significance. So why would he address the issue, as he does, from the point of faith?

The suggestion that the purpose of marriage is purely for the creation of children is an extraordinary position to take: an argument which the Catholic church used to hold in the past, part of a negative attitude to sexuality formed largely on the interpretations of the teachings of St Paul. Many of the most controversial, hard line policies followed now by evangelical Christians are based on an inflexible obedience to Paul's views: the role of a wife, and her duty to submit to the will of her husband, the reluctance to allow women to take the role of ministry, and in this case, the fear of any expression of sexuality outside the context of marriage. Paul thought that celibacy was preferable, in fact, and only tolerated the idea of marriage for those whose passion was burning, and in need of safe containment. He stated he believed he was expressing the will of God, but that it was only a belief. Evangelical Christians ignore the significance of this ambiguity, of course.

Reading Offord's email to his constituent reminded Mrs Angry very much, in fact, in terms of both content and phraseology, of the sort of argument that fundamentalist Christians use. Did he really write it himself? Mrs Angry notes he refers to the petition in defence of traditional marriage as reaching around 100,000 signatures, whereas in fact it has reached nearly half a million now: whatever source he used to crib his notes is clearly an old article.

And here is an interesting thing. Look at this recent statement on the Hendon MP's website:

Matthew celebrates life with Jesus House

"Matthew was pleased to attend the annual Jesus House Celebrating Life Banquet in Brent Cross. This is an event to mark the contribution made by elderly people in the local community. It is attended by senior citizens from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds and more than fifty care homes across the boroughs of Barnet and Brent.

Speaking from the stage, Matthew paid tribute to the spiritual work undertaken by Jesus House in local communities, workplaces and schools, and the willingness of congregants to help others.

The event was also attended by Theresa Villiers, MP for Chipping Barnet, and Cllr Barry Evangeli."

Matthew Offord, preaching to the converted

Mike Freer, MP for Finchley and Golders Green, has also recently attended Jesus House functions, and tweeted last December about his admiration for the organisation, eg:

"Went to Jesus House at Brent Cross to support their hamper packing which they deliver to those in need. Amazing church - amazing operation!"

Mrs Angry has written about Jesus House in a previous post last year:

Jesus House undoubtedly does good work in the community, outreach work with projects delivering hampers for the needy, and support for young unemployed people. As you will see, this church has been given a generous £50,000 grant from Barnet Council for the latter project. The question must be asked, however, as to whether such charitable acitivity is undertaken for its own sake, or as an opportunity to evangelise, and persuade grateful and often vulnerable recipients to join the church.

Jesus House, it must be acknowledged, is a member of the rather controversial Evangelical Alliance, which regards gay sexuality - or as they put it, rather thrillingly, 'homoerotic sexual practice' as well: a sin. There is no other way of putting it.

As we are told, Mr Offord is of course a happily married man - married to a woman - and therefore in no need of any struggle with his conscience in engaging freely with a body that holds such judgemental views.

Finchley and Golders Green MP Mike Freer is gay, and indeed has a civil partner. He has commented that Offord's views on gay marriage are 'misguided', although he supports his right to hold such views. It is hard to understand how Freer can support a church which regards his own lifestyle as inherently sinful, but then political necessities make strange bedfellows. Oh: unfortunate metaphor, but you know what I mean.

Take a look at the Evangelical Alliance's view on same sex marriage:

you will find its position is remarkably similar to the arguments put forward in Matthew Offord's letter to his constituent.

Whatever your views on marriage, same sex unions, civil partnerships, there is a wider issue here of fundamental importance to all of us.

In the new world created by the coalition government, the wide reach of their 'Big Society' idea necessarily includes the participation in the provision of social care and support to vulnerable people by voluntary sector and religious bodies like Jesus House. As bloggers such as Caebrwyn and Y Cneifiwr have reported from South Wales, this can be a dangerous venture, posing a potential conflict of interest and the possible exclusion of gay residents, or those whose religious beliefs are incompatible with the core values of the charitable bodies providing a service. The inclusion of fundamentalist religious organisations represents a real challenge to the demands of equal opportunities legislation. If your lifestyle and beliefs are in conflict with a faith driven organisation chosen to offer a programme of social care, or some other form of support, are you going to be excluded? If you are a sinner, will the charitable outreach programme handing out hampers, or training, expect you to show repentence for your sins?

Looking at the Evangelical Alliance's website and its 'don't mess with marriage' page, Mrs Angry's eye was caught by a comment from someone called 'Beverley', whose views present a sensible rebuttal of their position, actually rather closer to the real loving spirit of Christianity than the hate filled bigotry of other members of their professed faith:

"As a Christian I am struggling to see how allowing same sex couple to marry will affect my Church, faith or personal marriage in anyway. The more I look into Church law the more I see that we are fully protected. It seems extremely unlikely that we will be forced to marry people of the same gender.

The law that is being passed (whether we like it or not) will be for civil weddings on secular grounds. My stance on homosexuality really is irrelevant to the civil rights of other citizens.

They say roughly 10% of the population are gay or bisexual so it does sit uneasy with me when these same people are watching Christians on TV referring to them as 'disgusting.

I'm just not convinced the Church are heading in the right direction with this."

Mmm. Quite. Why are fundamentalists, of all faiths, so obsessed with sex? Are there not more important issues to worry about: war, poverty, injustice, corruption, human trafficking, homelessness, substance abuse, alcohol abuse, disability, health issues, inequality? The truth is, thinking about other people's sexual practices is far more interesting, let's be honest, than any of these rather more difficult and boring subjects, and is no doubt linked to a sense of personal inadequacy in the puritanical zealots and hypocrites laying down the law for everyone else.

Equally, it might appear to some that there is political profit to be made by exploiting the burgeoning lobby of evangelism and intolerance being exhibited by conservative religious movements, some of whom now exert a covert influence at Westminster, and elsewhere. But for all the fundamentalist religious bodies and individuals seeking to assert their beliefs, and impose them on the rest of society, there are far more sensible, liberal minded and decent people wanting to extend tolerance to their fellow citizens. Dangerous game, flirting with extremism: especially if you are as accident prone as our MP for Hendon. Mrs Angry thinks Mr Offord ought to be very careful, from now to the next election, and calculate more carefully the consequences of what he says, and what he does.