Saturday 5 May 2012

The Count: sacking Brian Coleman, the Broken Barnet way

Mrs Angry's favourite photo of 2012: Andrew Dismore, AM, watched by Barnet CEO Nick Walkley - and Mrs Angry

It was rather a pleasing coincidence, Mrs Angry thought last night, that the political demise of Brian Coleman took place in the shabby genteel surroundings of Alexandra Palace - Ally Pally, the 'People's Palace'.

Built in 1873, this keystone of North London's heritage, a landmark visible on the horizon for miles around, for so many years the centre of news broadcasting, the building has been almost destroyed twice by terrible fires, but has struggled on defiantly into the twenty first century, still an iconic representation of the lives and aspirations of ordinary Londoners. And last night, as we witnessed the end of Brian Coleman's grip on political power on the London Assembly, the lives and aspirations of ordinary Londoners here in Broken Barnet came a little closer to fulfillment, with real hope for the future.

The count for the result of some of the London Assembly consituencies took place yesterday in the enormous hall at Ally Pally. Barnet and Camden's boxes were processed right underneath the famous Willis organ, with its vents puffing steam endlessly throughout the day, like Coleman at a committee meeting.

High up above us, beating its wings helplessly for hours, a mangy looking pigeon tried to find its way through the glass ceiling and escape out into the dreary Haringey sky. Mrs Angry watched it, on and off, throughout the day, but with a rather heartless sense of detachment, as the idea had occurred to her that it was the representation of the electoral process itself. If the pigeon remained, it would be a bad omen.

On arriving at the count, a friend immediately whispered to Mrs Angry that something quite extraordinary had happened. Or so it was rumoured. Totteridge ward - yes, Totteridge, Brian's own ward, suposedly the safest Tory seat in Barnet, if not much of North London - had voted for Andrew Dismore! What? No - thought Mrs Angry. Impossible. Don't believe it. If true, though ... Coleman has lost, and spectacularly, catastrophically badly.

As it happened, Coleman had lost. And lost spectacularly, catastrophically badly.

Andrew Dismore's polled 74,677 votes: Brian Coleman only 53,378. The turn out in Barnet was 6% higher than the London average - in other words, people were falling over themselves to get to the polling stations in order to #sackbrian. And Brian was sacked.

Green Party candidate AM Poppy came a very respectable third, with 17,904 votes, and pleasingly, the treacherous, mewling Libdems (although the local candidate seemed to be a very nice guy) could only persuade 13,800 residents of Barnet to trust them once more with their support.

As ballot papers were registered, scanned, verified and stored, the results showed on screens, with bar charts indicating the race between the red Labour votes, and the blue Conservatives. Except there never was a race. From the start, Dismore was leading. We all held our breath, waiting for the 25% mark of verified papers, which is held to be statistically significant. It came and Dismore had increased his marginal distance ahead of Coleman. We began to feel confident of success.

We being a coalition of interested parties, of course. Labour party supporters, Greens, Tories, couple of bloggers, residents ... we spent the day together in solidarity with a common cause, the cause that has united so many diverse sections of our community in one determination - the determination to stand up to the mindless tyranny of our Tory council, and its personification in the strutting, bullying nonentity that is, or was, Brian Coleman.

There were plenty of Labour party councillors, activists, members from Barnet present at the count. There were no representatives from the Barnet Conservative group, not one councillor, no local party activists. It was an extraordinary state of affairs - the only people associated with Coleman were his agent from Camden, David Douglas, and his personal assistant, and later on a few members of the Camden Conservative association. As the day progressed, and the reality of their candidate's failure, and the scale of his failure hit home, Mrs Angry felt rather sorry for them, in fact.

From all their enthusiastic tweetings and website updates, followed with a fair amount of mirth and disbelief by those of us in Barnet, it was clear that they had no idea of the extent of fear and loathing engendered here in this part of the constituency by their man. They were genuinely stunned by his defeat: and to be fair, they had worked very hard to try to support his campaign in the limited areas of the constituency where his name would not immediately provoke a volley of abuse from canvassed voters. Next time, guys, maybe choose a candidate who deserves such loyalty.

Fear and loathing, particularly the latter, here in this borough, as a result of his activities as a councillor, has for Brian Coleman, been the undoing of his career at the London Assembly.

His campaign was lost not on the basis of anything he has done, or not done in City Hall - difficult to tell with Assembly members anyway, as they seem to do very little.

No, Coleman's campaign was lost on the streets of Broken Barnet: in the shops, in the parks, in the council chamber, in every dismissive word he has spoken, every rude email he has sent to constituents, every absurd, defiant statement he has made in public - and every increasingly outrageous policy decision he has imposed, with his relentless drive for pointless, self defeating, revenue extorting measures - policies that have caused such difficulty for residents here, and upset so many sections of the community.

Fatally for Coleman, his arrogance convinced him that he could afford to push through such measures without any reaction from the Tory voters who have re elected him so faithfully, so many times. His monstrous ego had reached such extremes of self indulgence that the possibility that his behaviour might have personal consequences for his own political well being simply did not occur to him. It seems incredible, now, but that is the truth.

In the late afternoon at last a familiar Barnet Tory face arrived at the count: Leader Richard Cornelius, who greeted the assembled Dismore supporters with his usual good manners, and then stood about rather looking as if he wished he were not obliged to be there. By now, of course, it was clear that Coleman could not win.

Finchley shop keepers' spokeswoman Helen Michael spoke to him and asked what would happen now. She told Mrs Angry, with no little amusement, that Cornelius had expressed the hope that some more positive use might now be found for Brian Coleman's talents.

We speculated as to what sort of alternative occupation might suit Coleman. Helen thought carefully and decided that she might be able to offer,as a community based initiative, some sort of work placement in Cafe Buzz, clearing tables, and washing dishes, as a way of supporting his reintroduction - or introduction, into the world of work. Real work, in the 'real world', Brian.

A cold chill entered the hall. Local Tory MP for Finchley and Golders Green, Mike Freer, still trembling from his encounter with Mrs Angry at Westminster a couple of weeks ago, had appeared, as if from nowhere, amongst the crowd of Camden Tories, huddled together like a herd of frightened sheep in a corner of a pen. Freer was grim faced.

Mrs Angry cast a look up at the glass ceiling. The pigeon was gone.

The final result was approaching. A beaming Andrew Dismore entered the hall to thunderous applause.

Mike Freer deliberately turned his back.

A rumour filtered through that Coleman had arrived. As demonstrated in this clip, courtesy of the Barnet Bugle & BBC politics show, our former AM was less than happy to be filmed as he made his way to the count:

No one had been certain whether or not he would even turn up, if he was sure to lose. He did appear, arm in arm with his mother, and walked through the hall to his Camden supporters. We had already agreed that we would behave ourselves, and not taunt him, feeling smug enough to feel this was unnecessary, but what was surprising was that he received no reponse at all from anyone: his own people were silent, and downbeat. No applause, no sympathetic cheer. Brian stood talking to his group, struggling to maintain a somewhat wan smile, but unable to entirely disguise the humiliation of the moment. Richard Cornelius stood looking on, his hands clasped behind his back as if trying to disassociate himself from the whole ghastly mess.

Helen Michael and Mrs Angry and Citizen Barnet positioned themselves in front of Coleman, arms folded, standing there like the Fates descending in fury on their earthbound victim, grinning horribly, and revelling in his discomfiture, on behalf of everyone in Broken Barnet who has ever had their own personal experience of this man's outrageous behaviour. It was a memorable moment. Coleman looked at Mrs Angry in disgust and muttered to his cronies. Mrs Angry laughed.

Revenge is sweet, and yes, it is a dish best served cold, Councillor Coleman.

It was time to go to the Palm Court for the result. A sulky looking Chief Executive Nick Walkley made the formal announcement, and, accompanied by an explosion of cheers and applause, Andrew Dismore was declared the new member for the London Assembly for Barnet & Camden.

The new member's speech, which you can see here,

made several interesting points. He did not descend to the depths explored by his rival in the acceptance speech four years ago, in which he attacked the Labour candidate, asserting that she had blood on her hands, and then, ridiculously, stormed off with his mum, declaring 'the king of bling is back'.

Andrew thanked everyone who had helped him - including the bloggers of Broken Barnet, and observed, as Mrs Angry has done, that Coleman's failure is in no part due to his refusal to move into the twenty first century, and meet the challenges of campaigning and engaging with the electorate by exploiting the opportunities of social media, blogging, tweeting, and so on. Mrs Angry suspects that Brian's problem is not so much with the demands of social media as with the concept of democracy itself, the need to engage with the electorate, to remember at all times that he is only in post by the consent of the electorate, and that it is an honour and a privilege to serve your community in this way.

Dismore's speech was to be the only one: the Tory candidate, for once in his life, had nothing to say. In many ways this was a surprisingly submissive reaction by Coleman. But in truth he was clearly in a state of shock and unable publicly to admit defeat.

With great discourtesy and gracelessness, as Andrew Dismore began his speech, Coleman took his mother's arm and they moved out of the Palm Court, and down the steps of Ally Pally, into a brave new world.

In the People's Palace, the people had spoken: as he recently told a resident daring to ask a question of a Barnet council committee:

You've had your answer - now clear off.

What happens next?

This week sees the AGM of the Tory group in Barnet. It gives leader Richard Cornelius the chance to remove Coleman's cabinet post, and change the course of this borough's political direction. If he fails to do so, he will be acting in deliberate defiance of the will of the residents of this borough, so clearly expressed this week in the ballot box. If Cornelius really is the decent man he would like us to think he is, and indeed if he has any real pretence to leadership, he will have the courage to act - if not, he will be consigning the fate of his party to history at the next local election, because the political survival of Brian Coleman, here in Barnet, will prove to be the irritant in the oyster shell which will produce the pearl of a Labour victory in 2014.

Barnet Tory leader Richard Cornelius wishes he was elsewhere

Helen Michael poses in front of Coleman and his few supporters

Coleman kisses his GLA career goodbye, as MP Mike Freer looks on.

Sunday postscript:

Uploading the last three pictures above, which Mrs Angry obtained last night, she was reminded of an observation she had made at the count, but had only half considered at the time.

As the last picture illustrates, the only real gesture of sympathy and support for Brian Coleman in the immediate circumstances of his defeat was shown by a visit from local MP Mike Freer, above left.

Freer, Mrs Angry was told by a Tory source not so long ago, still exerts, or has exerted, directly and indirectly, a fair amount of influence on the local political leadership here in Broken Barnet. This may surprise many people. It shouldn't.

Everything we are about to experience as a result of the massive One Barnet outsourcing programme, whereby all our council services are being sold off to profit hungry private sector companies, is the legacy of Mike Freer and his adoption of the 'Easycouncil' agenda. Easycouncil became Futureshape, and is now rebranded as One Barnet, but it is the same project. When it was first adopted, Freer promoted himself as the architect of the whole concept, and when he stood for parliament, he may just have persuaded some people that he was some sort of political genius on the basis of this rather dodgy gambit.

In truth, the easycouncil model is a variation on a theme common in rather too many local authorities throughout the country, and in every example the resulting move to mass outsourcing has ended in failure, to a lesser or greater degree. Remember Suffolk, and Kent?

You can trace the pathway back to companies like BT, Capita, Serco, all of whom have huge interests at stake, and there are networks such as the chief officers' association, SOLACE, which are involved in supporting the same wildly ambitious commercialisation of local authority service provision.

At the count, Freer appeared to be very displeased by the defeat of his Barnet friend. More than displeased: furious, and deeply concerned.

Was he worried that such a tidal wave of rejection for a Tory candidate might recur at the next general election, and jeopardise his seat, in a constituency formerly held by a Labour MP?

Or was he anxious about the future course of direction for the Tory administration in charge of Barnet Council, and the progression of the One Barnet programme?

A message for you, Mike Freer, from Mrs Angry.

You should be worried. Look at what we acheived, that night in Ally Pally.

Through a coalition of opposition, a new network of resistence, and an unprecedented campaign driven by bloggers, activists, and ordinary residents, we have brought down your mate Brian Coleman from what was seen as an unassailable position of power, and we have brought that power back to where it should belong: within the community our elected Tory representatives are supposed to support, but have ignored at every turn, as they pursue their own self interest.

Brian Coleman is finished: now we have to turn our attentions to Barnet Council, and wrest back control of the borough from the grubby little hands of our Tory tyrants in the Town Hall.

Oh, and after that ... look, Mr Freer, and Mr Offord, and even Mrs Villiers: here comes the next general election.

Are you feeling quite as confident about your prospects as you did this time last week?


Ron said...

Brilliant and funny, my dear Mrs A, though i'm a bit disappointed from the credits you pour over Dismore (AM). after all he's just another smock. much more civilised then Coleman (AM-ret.), i must admit but still a smock.

Anonymous said...

To use Coleman's favourite expression


APML said...

At long last happy days i congratulate you sir..Don`t forget UKIP are going to be nipping your butt soon ....Nice one Andrew the cockroaches of Barnet are being fumigated,good luck ..

Anonymous said...

Great post! Coleman reminds me of a lunging pitball in that video, it looks like his mother is pulling the leash trying to restrain him.

It completely baffles me how he could have been so out of touch with local people, and not have realised / predicted the effects of his astonishing rudeness.

Mrs Angry said...

Do you mean schmuck, Ron? No, that's not fair. No politician is a saint, but he is a worthy representative, and a million times more deserving of the post than the previous incumbant.

button55: sir?

Anon: I think he may have got the message. At last.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Mrs Angry

Although Brian Coleman lost by a substantial margin, he still polled over 50,000 votes. As I have previously commented, not everyone reads blogs or local newspapers. Not everyone is obsessed with politics. Indeed, the low turnout proves that the overwhelming majority simply don’t give a stuff about any of the candidates.

The reality of the situation is that on many issues of policy, Brian Coleman still appeals to many people. Traditional Conservative supporters want traditional Conservative representatives - not wishy-washy Social Democrats like David Cameron. If Coleman had presented himself in a less confrontational and belligerent manner, he might well have held on to his seat. Politicians are the servants. Coleman thought he was the master. That was his real undoing. The public respect politicians if they hold strong views and stick to them, even if they don’t always agree with those views. What the public won’t accept is arrogance and unnecessary rudeness. In the words of Lord Sugar, that is why Brian Coleman had to be fired.

Anonymous said...

mrs a - i have followed your blog for some 9 months now. i am a tory activist and was involved in the count last friday for another district. everyone involved in our group were watching your count with great interest. we were very pleased that coleman was well and truly trounced. may i congratulate you and your fellow bloggers on a job well done. we have learned a lot from your activities.

Mrs Angry said...

DCMD: the reality of the situation is that HE LOST, and by 20,000 votes, a 15% swing to Labour. Can't get away from it: it was a fantastic result and an emphatic rejection of Coleman. Yes, put any old fool up as a Tory candidate & some people will still vote for him or her, but this time many die hard Tories did the unthinkable, and voted for a Labour candidate. But you are right to say that is was his increasingly overt rudeness and unnecessary arrogance which really made him unelectable.

Oh, and by the way, I seem to remember we had a small wager on this outcome, did we not?

Anonymous no 2: really one cannot help but feel sorry for Mrs Coleman being dragged about by her son in this way - except for the fact that if perhaps the infant Brian Coleman had been sent to bed without any supper rather more often by mummy he might not have turned into the ghastly little man he is now.

Anonymous no 3, well, thank you, very kind. I hope your own candidate was worthy of your efforts.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Mrs Angry

There is no disputing the reality that Brian Coleman lost heavily. My point was that, despite everything that he has done and everything that has been written about him, more than 50,000 people still voted for him. I will continue to argue ad infinitum that whilst the council makes an increasing number of unpopular decisions, a very large percentage of voters would have been blissfully unaware that Coleman was the person responsible for the parking changes. This is borne out by your report of the Camden Conservative campaigners’ shock when the results started coming through.

The really interesting data will be the ward figures for Totteridge, due out today. If BC lost here, then his political career is well and truly over. If not, he will bounce back.

What was this wager of which you speak?

Mrs Angry said...

DCMD: you must not argue ad infinitum with Mrs Angry - it is not allowed, and she will always have the last word.

Check your old emails: I am sure we had a bet on Coleman losing his seat, as you, old cynic, did not believe this happy day would ever come to pass ...

Anonymous said...

Will keep an eye on the daily lists at Barnet County Court for DCMD v Mrs Angry

Anonymous said...

Fantastic work Mrs Angry. From now to the 2014 elections, we will all need to watch and see if Mr Coleman learns from this defeat to become a better representative for Barnet residents. Equally - I'm sure that many of us will be watching Mr Freer with interest until the next general election - in what I predict will a very short and inconsequential Parliamentary career...

Mrs Angry said...

Mr Hope: I think DCMD has previous for not honouring a bet. Or was that me? More likely, as I never like to admit I am wrong, which I never am.

Anonymous: thank you. I do not think Mr Coleman is capable of learning from his defeat, as he would have to admit he had been wrong, which he never is - oh.

Mrs Angry said...

... and, Anon, Mr Freer should be aware that he is likely to suffer a similar fate unless he switches his priority from supporting unpopular government policy in order to curry favour to working more actively for the benefit of his consituency. His support for the monstrous NHS reforms, for example, is ill judged and has upset many local GPs - and me. The new government guidelines on referral & the increasingly long waiting lists are having a devastating impact on people's lives & he would do well to listen to the views of local healthcare professionals rather than suck up to Lansley & Cameron if he wants to retain any credibility.

I'm not sure why he has spent so much time worrying about issues such as the number of mobile phones in Whitehall, or of squatting in households like the Gaddaffis' mansion in HGSuburb rather than engaging with the issues which really concern people in this area - the ones which have ended the GLA career of his mate Coleman, but he would be advised to rethink his strategy.