Saturday 12 May 2012

How to lose an election, the Broken Barnet way ...

*Update Monday, see below, and Tuesday: the case of the disappearing leaflets ... and * aha: look here, compare & contrast ... scroll down to bottom

Mrs Angry had a sore head yesterday morning. Not, alas, through over-indulgence in alcohol, but through sheer frustration, which had her banging her head on her desk, and muttering at her laptop. Why so, Mrs Angry? Well: read on.

This week has of course seen the spectacular downfall of London's most detested local politician, the ghastly Brian Coleman, flailing like a tubby little Icarus, his waxen wings melted by flying too close to the blazing sun of his own ego, falling, falling, down to earth, watched by a world of rejoicing onlookers. Yes, most enjoyable.

The Conservatives here in Barnet have lost their evil genius - well, genius is a term which needs some qualification, perhaps, and local Tories, including MPs Mike Freer and Matthew Offord, not known for displaying any form of genius either, are now visibly trembling with anxiety about their own futures, in a borough where local issues are now so powerfully dictating the electoral outcomes of broader based campaigns. They are right to be concerned: the Barnet Spring is here to stay, and residents politicised and energised by everything that has happened here in the last two years are not going to sit back and let everything slide back to where it was before.

So why the frustration, Mrs Angry? Well: here is the thing. The last humiliation for Coleman came on Thurday night, when he was stripped of his Cabinet post at his group's AGM.

Also on Thursday night was the Labour group's AGM. Instead of capitalising on recent events, and learning from the campaign which brought down Coleman, and which was really organised at grassroots level by bloggers, activists and local residents, rather than, as it might have been, by the Labour opposition, the group has chosen to carry on as normal, re electing the same leader, and removing the Cabinet post of Councillor Kath Mc Guirk.

This is, Mrs Angry feels, a ridiculous step.

A couple of articles in the online local Times group newspaper about Coleman's demise have had some rather amusing comments left by a pair of Tory councillor trolls, objecting, for example, to the Barnet bloggers' letter to Tory leader Cornelius, which demanded the sacking of their man. Who are these imbeciles? sneers 'Hunters999', who, just like his hero, Mrs Angry notes, has an interesting habit of putting Inappropriate Capital Letters in the oddest of places ... Commenting on the rumour that Coleman was to be sacked from the Cabinet, Councillor - sorry, Hunters999 declared: 'A very sad day for democracy if true, A good man forced out by a bunch of hooligans'. Tee hee. Mrs Angry, hooligan. About right, probably.

And in a way the trolls are right to question why the bloggers have effectively become the force of opposition in Barnet. The truth is that we have taken over the role of scrutiny and organisation of the opposition. We ask the questions that should be asked, and we demand answers until we get them. If we do not get them, we make a fuss.

At the last Audit meeting, the questions put to the committee, on matters of huge significance to the borough, by Mr Reasonable were acute, detailed, and dangerous. His questions are always acute, detailed, and dangerous. Neither the Tory councillors nor the Labour group had thought to challenge the officers in this way. The original investigation and later work into the continuing use of non compliant contracts was done not by councillors - or the local press - but by bloggers. There are many examples of very important matters of public interest raised by bloggers and forwarded to senior councillors, both in opposition and amongst the disaffected councillors in the Tory group, which are simply ignored, or dealt with too slowly and with no grasp of the political value of the issue.

This is just not good enough.

And yes, in a sense the trolls are right, it should be the elected representatives, of all parties, who form the opposition, not a group of mouthy citizen journalists. We have only arrived at this role because of the vacuum which exists in the political life of this borough.

Clearly there must be change, in the leadership of both parties, and the proper involvement of all back bench councillors. In other words, councillors:


Oppose, challenge, scrutinise: fight for your constituents.

Councillor Mc Guirk is a very experienced, bright, witty and articulate member, and is perhaps, after the AM & Cabinet member formerly known as Brian Coleman, the most effective loudmouth in council (and Mrs Angry means that in a good way).

You can tell which councillors are the most dynamic in Broken Barnet, simply by the way they project themselves, and their voices, in the council chamber at full council meetings. Kath and Brian are of the forthright tendency who need no microphone. In Coleman's case, a mute button would be preferable, of course, but usually such confidence and assertiveness is a virtue. If you are a man.

One note of optimism for the future, perhaps, comes in the shape of recent by election winner in East Finchley, the new young Labour councillor, Arjun Mittra. Mrs Angry has had some very interesting discussions with Arjun, and he is, in her view, going to be a major asset for the party, and indeed for the residents of the borough. And what is particularly nice to hear was his reaction to being elected, as quoted in the Barnet Press:

“I have lived here practically my whole life and I never thought I would be asked to represent my community as a councillor,” said the 25-year-old former Labour Party organiser. “It’s a huge honour.”

Of course elected candidates always say something similar, but in Arjun's case, this was said with sincerity, and what a contrast it offers to the cynicism of too many of the lazy, arrogant Tory councillors who regard their election as something for which we, the residents, should be eternally grateful.

Councillor McGuirk, we are told, upsets some people in her party. She is passionate in her beliefs. She is has strong views. She expresses her views. At times, she may be less than tactful. Oh, yes: we went to the same school: have I mentioned it? Both of us, you see, the product of an education delivered, with attitude, by a particular stroppy order of nuns.

No, not a discreet Celia Johnson, suffering genteely, in Brief Encounter, stroppy Cllr Kath Mc Guirk

In the committee rooms and council chamber of Broken Barnet, women are not expected to have opinions, strongly expressed.

Of course, if you are of Irish Catholic descent, you will know that women having opinions, strongly expressed, is part of our culture, and something to be proud of. And feared. But in this borough we are very British, and polite, and live in the past, a lovely world where women are ladies, and behave themselves accordingly: by keeping quiet.

In Mrs Angry's view, keeping quiet is not going to return Labour to power.

If you are involved in politics, and you fail to upset anyone, you are almost certainly doing something wrong, and should retire immediately. Political activity is - or should be - about challenging injustice and supporting the interests of voters with every effort, not about condoning the status quo, sitting back and smiling nicely, while a Tory council sells residents' services to private sector profiteers, and throws council employees out of their jobs.

Amongst Barnet Tories as well, of course, condoning the status quo, keeping quiet, a blatant attitude of misogyny, and the dominance of male politicians, are all traditional customs taken for granted. But then the Conservative group largely consists of doddery old timers, dribbling fools, and unemployable scroungers, and an assortment of ambitious, hard faced young men. This does not make for an intelligent, efficient, compassionate or articulate party.

There are no young women, and too many older women who defer to the male culture of bullying and bigotry. When any woman speaks in a meeting, in fact, the Tory men either patronise her views, or ignore her views, or make it clear that they are bored. If she is one of the older women, or from an ethnic minority, or with a quiet voice, or a foreign accent, this will usually be the cause of schoolboy sniggering, in one corner of the chamber.

How refreshing, then, if somewhat surprising, to see the choice of Tory candidate for the upcoming by election in Brunswick Park.

Their selection is a middle aged woman called Shaheen Mahmood, previously unknown in the borough, but with an interesting, if unusual, background. Her choice as candidate, in fact, a is very curious development. Let Mrs Angry explain.

The London Borough of Barnet has the largest Jewish population in the UK, and also a large Greek Cypriot population. These two communities are well represented on the council.

Barnet is, however, an extremely culturally diverse borough, and it is true to say that there are many other ethnic minority groups, of significant size, whose interests are not represented at all by any of the three political parties. The Irish Catholic population is largely ignored, as are the generations old community of Italians, which originally settled here after the last war. The new intake of Eastern European residents has no representation, which is regrettable.

Barnet has many Hindu residents, but there is also a growing Muslim community, and indeed a well attended mosque in North Finchley.

There are also a fair number of Turkish Cypriots in Barnet, an invisible minority, it seems, whose interests are completely ignored by the local Tory party, many of whose councillors, and former AM, regularly visit Cyprus for expenses paid trips in order to 'protest' against the invasion of the island.

The Brunswick Park ward, whose by election has been caused by the recent death of former leader Lynne Hillan, has a large Greek Cypriot population, and an estimated seven per cent of the population is Jewish. The Muslim population is also around seven percent.

Mrs Mahmood is the executive secretary of the Conservative Muslim Forum, a rather controversial body which was founded by Lord Sheikh in 2005 in order to encourage more British muslims to become active supporters of the Conservative party.

It is fair to say that the Conservative Muslim Forum has caused a certain amount of controversy and suspicion amongst some sections of the Tory party, particularly after a policy document was published by the Forum in 2007 expressing critical views of Israel, and support for Iran.

Interestingly, a Shaheen Mahmood from London is listed as a signatory, along with George Galloway and Vanessa Redgrave, amongst other radical figures, in a letter published in the Times, on 22nd July 2006, calling for 'an immediate halt to the Israeli government's war on the Lebanese and Palestinian people'. Of course this might just be another Shaheen Mahmood, we suppose, and Mrs Angry is happy to correct this misapprehension, if so.

The position of the CMF, or at least that of Lord Sheikh, is to be supportive of the Turkish bid for EU membership, and of the Turkish population of Northern Cyprus, which he has been happy to visit, as you can see here at the 'Most Successful Turk Awards'.

You may recall a previous Assembly member and Cabinet member here in Barnet, whose name was .... erm .... anyone? Brian who? Yes, Brian Coleman. He and his charming friend Jonathan Hoffman, they are not awfully keen on those who dare to voice any criticism of the state of Israel, and Brian is not awfully keen either on anything defending the cause of Turkish Cypriots. Many of his Tory colleagues on Barnet Council feel the same way. If Mrs Mahmood is elected, therefore, we can expect some very interesting and lively debates in the council chamber, which Mrs Angry for one looks forward to, with great anticipation.

Bearing in mind that the Labour party candidate for this by election is Andrew Ioannides, who is Greek, the decision to adopt Mrs Mahmood as the Tory candidate in Brunswick Park may be seen as either courageous, and highly commendable, and a healthy sign that the Barnet Tories are slowly creeping towards a more inclusive membership, and one which better represents the full diversity of our borough, or, alternatively - a major blunder, and one which will lose them another seat.

Oh dear.

*Update: Monday:

Well, here is a funny thing. The Barnet Bugle has tweeted an interesting observation in regard to the election leaflet that Shaheen Mahmood had published on the Conservative Muslim Forum, but has been withdrawn from their website, as of today - the Bugle has a cached copy of this leaflet, see here:

*Update Tuesday:

Well, here is another funny thing. The leaflet available yesterday via the cached link, has now disappeared. Don't worry, though, Mrs Angry has pinched a copy from the Barnet Bugle.

It will be interesting to compare the old and new versions, won't it? As the Bugle noted, by the way, on the old leaflet Mrs Mahmood, the Executive Secretary of the CMF, based at Conservative Central HQ, states that she is not a professional politician, but 'just an ordinary working mother'. With such admirable female self deprecation, Mrs Angry would suggest, Mrs Mahmood will fit in very nicely with the old chauvinists on the Tory benches.

*Last update, I promise ...

A puzzled resident of Brunswick Park has sent Mrs Angry copies of two different leaflets stuck through her letter box by Tory campaigners in recent days. You can see the front and back of the first one below ...

and the front and back of the second here:

Mrs Angry is holding a 'spot the difference' competition for readers.

The lucky winner can accompany Mrs Angry to the Annual Council Meeting tonight, to hold her handbag, and/or kick her when she laughs at inappropriate moments of the Mayoral enthronement.

Must be costing a bomb to print two lots of leaflets, mustn't it? Good to see Mrs Mahmood is still only an ordinary working mother, but it is rather silly, and sad, really, that there is still nothing about the undeniable contribution she has made in regard to her position with the Conservative Muslim Forum.

As regards to her priorities, her wish for three pedestrian crossings may not be entirely in line with Barnet Council's refusal to put the wellbeing of pedestrians before the demands of speeding motorists, but then we live in a post Coleman era, where his obsession with opposing traffic calming measures, and his idiotic proposal to remove safe crossing points may, we hope, be thrown in the bin, along with the last vestiges of his political credibility.


Mrs Angry said...

Mrs Angry notes some readers puzzling over the tag 'pugna pro nobis' - it means fight for us, & is part of the St Michael's school song. See, Miss Morrissey: the benefits of a convent education ...

baarnett said...

In fact,
O heros invincibilis, Dux Michael!!
Adesto nostris praeliis, ora pro nobis.
Pugna pro nobis, pugna pro nobis,
Dux Michael.

Mrs Angry said...

yes, indeed, Baarnett: Mrs Angry can still sing it, if necessary. I had no idea you were a SMOG (St Michael's Old Girl) too. What year did you leave? Remember those awful culottes we had to wear for PE? Oh, how they chafed.

Mr Mustard said...

I think that baarnett was probably hiding inside the vaulting horse Mrs A.

baarnett said...

I see on her leaflet that the thing that most annoys her is motorists not stopping at pedestrian crossings.

That problem would, of course, be solved by Brian Coleman's intention to remove Barnet's pedestrian crossings, because it stops the free flow of traffic.

Mrs Angry said...

baarnett: yes - oh, hang on ... do you mean Brian Coleman who used to be the Cabinet member for Environment & Planning? And AM. And Chair of the Fire Authority? And on the NLWA? If so, well, really no one gives a shit what his intentions were anymore, do they?

Mr Mustard, sadly, in all her years at St Michael's, Mrs Angry never once managed to get over the horse, and would therefore not have noticed any interlopers inside. We did have a strange man who came to the school to give us yoga lessons, and was dismissed after one week by Sr Mary Paul for staring at legs,(those culottes again) and making remarks about girls' bosoms. He said he was a doctor. I think he may have been lying.

Anonymous said...

You seem to have a negative disposition towards the Greek Cypriot population. There is a reason our representatives support them, it's because many of them are here because they had to flee from the invasion by Turkey. The plight of the Turkish Cypriots you speak is a plight for the continuation of the illegal occupation of Cyprus, and the displacement of around 200,000 Greek Cypriots many of these and their children who have had to find a new home in North London. So our representatives have every right to do what they are doing.

Mrs Angry said...

No, Anonymous - I do not have any negative disposition to the Greek Cypriot population, nor would I condone any illegal occupation of any territory, but it is true today that although the Greek Cypriot population is well represented in Barnet and has a powerful political lobby, there are many minorities in Barnet who have no voice, and I would argue that there should be a more proportionate representation of the full diversity of the borough.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Mrs. proportionate representation must be shown to exist in Barnet.