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.


Matthew Harris said...

Interesting to see that you moderate comments on your blog, enabling you to censor the comments that you do not like. Comments are not moderated on my personal blog.

Here is the original JC blog posting, so that you can all judge for yourselves:

I still maintain that it is wrong to attack a 'tubby' Tory based on his physical appearance, rather than based on his views and his actions, but that's down to you.

You write: "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."

Who are these people who "have no one to lobby for them"? The non-Jewish residents of Childs Hill, for example, have Cllr Jack Cohen (who is Jewish) to 'lobby' for them. And he does. Very hard.

You seem to be saying that, because a disproportionately high number of individual human beings who happen to be Greek or Jewish haas been democratically elected to Barnet Council, the Greek and Jewish communities are doing disproportionately well out of the council, because of 'lobbying' by the councillors concerned.

You sound like a saloon bar bore saying: "Yeah, loads of the councillors are Jewish and Greek and so on, and they get loads of stuff for their own people from the council." I'm sorry, but you do.

You are implying that Jewish, Greek and other minority councillors will give preferential treatment to the interests of their own communities. You may not like me saying that, but it happens to a correct reading of what you have written.

Mrs Angry said...

As you can see, Mr Harris, in fact I do indeed publish comments that I do not like: the only reason that I moderate comments is for legal reasons, as I would be responsible for any libellous remarks left on the blog, and very occasionally a comment is made which might be considered to fall under this definition. This would however be the only circumstance in which publication

The reason for the delay in this case is that I have been away, and have not been able to access my blog comments.

You fail to mention, incidentally, that your JC post did not allow me right of reply, and required readers to be approved for registration before any comment could be made: a process which has only just been completed.

I really do not know why you have become so obsessed by the need to write so much about me: it might be considered flattering, if it were not verging on the obsessive. To the best of my knowledge, we have never met, and I do not have the slightest interest in you or your opinions. I can only imagine that you are envious of the attention that the Barnet bloggers receive. May I politely point out that this attention is focused on us purely because we have worked very hard to achieve the success we have had in holding our local authority to account.

It would appear from your comments that you are not particularly familiar with the issues that are of such current significance in Barnet: I think you have not read many of our posts, or you would be better informed. I have never seen you at any council meetings, so again I would suggest that this does not enable you to comment with much authority on what our elected representatives do or say at such events.

You ask 'who are these people who have no one to lobby for them' - that you need to ask this reinforces the point that you are not properly informed about the issues you criticise us for raising. You use the example of Libdem Jack Cohen, and horribly twist my words to suggest that I think he would ignore the needs of non Jewish residents. Again, I have never said that any councillor would do such a thing, and your insinuation is frankly deeply offensive.

As it happens, I feel nothing but the greatest respect - and affection - for Jack Cohen,as you would know if you bothered to read the previous posts, and indeed for Monroe + Suzette Palmer, all of whom bring a much needed sense of humanity and common sense to our lunatic council.

I have said that councillors who belong to the Greek Cypriot and Jewish communities ALSO, as well as representing ALL their voters, see a duty to represent the needs of their own communities. I have stated quite clearly my opinion that this is perfectly normal and indeed desirable. The difficulty is that other communities have no representation and like it or not, the political reality is that without members on the council to act on their behalf, the needs and interests of these groups, rather than as individual residents, are overlooked.

I have often written about the lack of younger women councillors in Barnet, and the misogynistic culture which prevails - and the impact that this has on policy decisions, and in debate. I note that you make no mention of this, either because you really have not read the posts and have no real idea of my views, or perhaps because it does not fit your desire to present me as something I am not. Cont'd.

Mrs Angry said...


The truth is that our council, in all parties, is not sufficiently representative of the widely diverse community that Barnet has now become. All three parties need to encourage more female candidates, and candidates from a wider variety of backgrounds, and cultures, to stand for election, and create a more accountable and effective administration.
Oh, and let's have fewer councillor jollies to Morphou, and maybe organise a visit instead to another of our twin towns - Jinja in Uganda, which as a desperately needy area of one of the twenty poorest countries in the world, probably could do with some support from us, don't you think?
As for you, Mr Harris: I suggest you stop worrying so much about the Barnet blogosphere, and divert your restless energies into something more useful, like helping to restore the lost credibility of your own Libdem party.

This correspondence is now closed.