Sunday 23 September 2012

A Tale of Two Assembly Members, and some advice for Richard Cornelius

By the laws of psychogeography, there must be an explanation for the peculiar attraction for trouble that lies seething under the surface here in Finchley.

Only a few days ago, Mrs Angry was filming her contribution for the follow up to 'A Tale of Two Barnets', and found herself talking about our most famous export, one Margaret Thatcher, the former MP for Finchley and Golders Green. Mrs Angry was presenting the argument that Thatcherism was born here, and now, in the way of all wounded beasts, had crawled back home to die, in the council chamber of Broken Barnet. It's been a painful, protracted process: the body is still twitching, and ranting incoherently, fighting spasmodically against the dying of the light.

The Tory party in Barnet, in its death throes ... what a week.

On Thursday morning, Mrs Angry was invited to Cafe Buzz, in North Finchley, to take part in the visit from our new Assembly member, Labour's Andrew Dismore, with fellow AMs Tom Copley and Joanne McCartney, here to look at the high street as part of a GLA economics study.


Labour councillors Jim Tierney, Arjun Mittra, Pauline Coakley Webb, AMs Joanne McCartney and Andrew Dismore, and Labour cllr Anne Hutton

The morning got off to a slightly awkward beginning for Mrs Angry, as she was obliged to sit opposite Tory Councillor David Longstaff, about whom she has written, quite extensively, in perhaps what might be viewed as a less than entirely respectful manner.

Cllr Longstaff was introduced to Mrs A by a mischievous Cllr Pauline Coakly Webb. He extended his hand. 
How do you do, he said, very politely. I'm 'Goldenarse'. 

Oops. Mrs Angry laughed like a naughty schoolgirl caught out writing rude words on the blackboard.

In fact, to Mrs Angry's slight shame, Goldenarse turned out to be rather nice, and with a sense of humour, luckily. No: she didn't look. Mrs Angry is actually very shy, you know, and anyway, it seemed a bit inappropriate to ask, on a first date. 

All credit to him, anyway, for turning up, the only Tory councillor to make the effort.

Barnet Tory cllr David Longstaff, Labour cllr Anne Hutton, AMs Joanne McCartney (and part of ) Tom Copley

Helen Michael, the owner of Cafe Buzz, is of course the spokeswoman for traders in Finchley, and spearheaded the campaign against the lunatic parking policy of former AM and former Barnet Cabinet member Brian Coleman, a policy which overnight saw trade in this high street, and town centres all over the borough, drop by up to 40%, and has had a devastating impact on not just the local economy but the daily lives of the majority of residents.

Helen's campaign is largely recognised as one of the crucial factors in the electoral defeat of Coleman at the GLA elections in May, and of course a poster designed and created by her alluding to his responsibility for the parking fiasco and its effect on local businesses led to a complaint by his agent, and then, astonishingly, a two hour interview, under caution, at a local police station with two police officers from the counter security unit SO15.

 Helen, Andrew and one of her anti parking posters (no, not the one that upset SO15 ....)

After the GLA defeat, and a couple of by election disasters, Barnet Tories admitted the parking policy was a mistake and announced they would review the whole case. In fact little has been done, and the issue continues to cause huge resentment amongst the borough's residents and traders.

The new Assembly Member led the group around some of the shops in North Finchley. Helen Michael introduced him to the shopkeepers, who talked about their businesses and the impact of the parking changes - a policy which is entirely designed to maximise income for the council and its private company partners, at the expense of local drivers and traders.

 Andrew Dismore and Helen Michael visiting the shopkeepers of N12

Dismore and the others saw for themselves the number of shops that have closed in the high street, even in the prime central locations in the middle of the area. 

What has Barnet Council done to help regenerate the economy of the high street? 

Nothing. Quite the opposite, in fact.

At a business breakfast meeting with local traders both Tory councillors and senior officers refused to listen to the protests of local shopkeepers, who feel betrayed by the party which has always claimed to support the small business owner. 

We walked down the arcade near the Tally Ho pub, a decaying row of shops which seems to symbolise the extent of economic disaster facing this and other town centres all over the borough. 

Cllr Arjun Mittra standing by one of the closed shops in the arcade

Clearly there are other factors involved in the decline of our high streets, which may be beyond the control of the local authority, but there is so much which it could and should be doing to support traders. The adoption of the parking measures, with card payment and whopping charges was disastrous, and should never have been agreed, but was ramraided into council policy by Coleman, whose proposals as Cabinet member always went unchallenged, with foreseeable political consequences.

also in the arcade: Broken Britain/Broken Barnet

The visit by Andrew Dismore and the others from the GLA was exactly the sort of activity which the residents of this London Assembly consituency might expect to take place, as part of their AM's responsibilities, and as part of the process of engagement and consultation with the elctorate. 

In the years that Brian Coleman was our AM, a need to establish and maintain develop a intimate relationship with the local community was not considered to be of high priority. It is true to say that communication between Coleman and constituents was lacking in any real pretence at engagement, and he appears to have seen his role as something radically different to that being created by his successor.

A few hours after the new Assembly member left North Finchley, Brian Coleman, the former AM, is alleged to have arrived in the high street near Cafe Buzz, and become involved in an incident with Helen Michael. As a consequence of this encounter, Councillor Coleman was arrested on suspicion of common assault, and spent the night in custody at a central London police station. He was bailed the next day, pending further investigations. Helen Michael was later reported to have suffered a broken wrist.

Since the arrest of Councillor Coleman on Thursday, quite astonishingly, no statement about the incident, or any action in regard to Coleman's position within the group, has been made by the Conservative party in Barnet.

The week before this alleged incident, Brian Coleman, in the course of a speech to full council in support of the One Barnet programme, made insulting remarks to the public gallery, referring to residents present as 'sad, mad and bad, and a couple of old hags', and also made a derogatory remark about a named local trade union leader. There was no condemnation from the Tory group for these highly offensive remarks, indeed the leader Richard Cornelius, as quoted in the local press, refused to criticise his colleague's behaviour and said it was up to him as to whether or not he should apologise.

Mrs Angry wrote to Cllr Cornelius to complain about Coleman's remarks, which partly appeared to be directed at her. Nearly two weeks later, he has not replied. After last Wednesday's scrutiny meeting, she approached him quietly and asked politely if he would kindly do so. He seemed embarrassed and agreed to respond. He has not.

The failure of Barnet's Conservative councillors, in particular leader Richard Cornelius, to censure Coleman's behaviour at the council meeting, and the failure to make any immediate statement following his arrest on suspicion of common assault sends a clear message to us. It implies that they condone his attitude to women and elderly residents, as expressed at the meeting, and that they see no reason to suspend him immediately from the party, after the allegation of an assault on a woman, while police investigations continue.

Another issue which urgently needs addressing is the question of the complaint brought to the Standards' committee earlier this year in regard to Coleman's emails to two correspondents in which he labelled an Israeli resident as an 'antisemite', and compared another, a young woman, to a 'blackshirt'. Coleman was found guilty, told to apologise, appealed, and lost. He has, Mrs Angry understands, not appealed again, and yet no apology has yet been received.

The leadership of Richard Cornelius has been called into question throughout the last year on several occasions. 

He has confessed himself to have been, in the past, a One Barnet sceptic, but is happy to sit back and do nothing to scrutinise the gaping faultlines which have opened up in the process. 

He clearly has no control over the course of  the £1 billion programme, due to outsource almost all our council services to the private sector.  

The fact that this project has been hijacked by the senior management team and pushed in the direction they wish it to follow has been proved recently by the exposure in this and other local blogs of the 'decision' made by the directors' group to change one half of the programme to a 'Joint Venture' without consulting the elected members of the council.

At Wednesday night's meeting, chaired by Brian Coleman, Cornelius three times asserted that he had seen no papers whatsoever in regard to the Joint Venture, yet officers the very next day were assuring staff that JV is the preferred option. 

There is, in other words, no question who is running this borough: we have a dictatorship of unelected and overpaid senior officers, and an administration which presides over a culture which tolerates the open exchange of employees with the very same private sector companies vying for business from this council. This is an absolute, stinking scandal.

Councillor Cornelius: it would be easy to argue that your leadership has been totally discredited, that you have failed the people of this borough in your tenure as leader, and that you should resign.

If you resign, however, one might expect to find the consequence will be to facilitate the election of another Tory hardliner without the slightest scruple or any claim to personal integrity, who will take this borough even further into the mire of disaster into which which it is now sinking. 

You are, we must believe, an honest man, and perhaps it is time now, Richard, to be honest with yourself. 

Wise up, man up, and do the job we pay you to do. 

Act like a leader. Eschew the moral vacuum which is at the heart of this administration. Show a more active respect to the people you represent - especially the women of this borough.

Stop the One Barnet programme, overule the senior officers who wish to prevent you speaking to council staff and union representatives, and think again.

You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.


Honestjohn said...

How anonymous are my comments

Mrs Angry said...

erm ... well, as anonymous as this, Honestjohn ... is that you John Prescott, bothering me again? Didn't I tell you? Just leave it be.

Cadwallader said...

When I grow up I want to write with the concision and civilized vitriol of Mrs Angry. Hear-hear and bravo.

Mrs Angry said...

Civilized vitriol ... I like that, thank you, Cadwallader. Concision - see, readers, concision, yes, Mrs Angry ...

baarnett said...

Since Father Benjamin's appearance, rearranging the chairs on Whetstone High Road, he and Brian have decided to take up show business...

"We're a couple of plebs
We mix with the best celebs
We like Friern Barnet, far away from the bloggers’ webs.

We're proud of our chums Metpro
Pride of ‘Friary Park Summer Show’
In August we look cute, when we act as the grand maestro

Countess Spencer has asked us up for tea
We don't know how to get there, no siree
No, siree

We would drive up the A1000, but we haven't got the price
We would skate up the A1000, but there isn't any ice
We would ride on a bicycle, but we haven't got a bike
So we'll walk up the A1000
Yes, we'll walk up the A1000
And to walk up the A1000's what we like."