Thursday 13 December 2012

Glad to be gay, in Broken Barnet? A tale of two Tory MPs.

What is it about the Conservative politicians in Broken Barnet? What drives them to behave in such a relentlessly attention seeking, contemptible fashion? 

Why are they so intent on self destruction? 

Much of it is due to an obstinate refusal to adapt to a post Thatcherite world, a nostalgia for the certainty of a time where the enemy was clear: socialism, the unions, the public sector ... and here they are, in 2012, unable to see beyond their own blinkered prejudices, unable to think for themselves, and unable to see the ground slipping from under their feet.

Until the rise of the local blogosphere, and the subsequent birth of the current insurgency amongst residents, there was no real challenge to the political status quo in this borough, and the individual eccentricities and outrageous behaviour of our local Tory politicians went pretty well unremarked.

Things are different now, though, aren't they? 

Brian Coleman: career over: positions on the GLA, LFEPA, NLWA, Barnet Cabinet, all lost and gone forever - and now even his membership of the Conservative party suspended.

Barnet Council: last week the Tory Cabinet was driven out of the committee room into private session by the mutinous opposition of residents. In 2014, it will be driven out of power.

And our local MPs? The only dominant female Tory in Barnet, Theresa Villiers, keeps her head down, and her opinions anodyne enough to avoid controversy, and has seen her career flourish as a result. Her seat is still not as safe as she might like to imagine, however, thanks to the insane behaviour of her local Conservative councillors.

Mike Freer, the promoter of easycouncil, now trying to distance himself from the toxicity of its most recent metamorphosis, One Barnet, and keep quiet about his endorsement of the NHS 'reforms', struggles to achieve any preferment in Westminster. It is rumoured that this might be because Uncle Eric is not awfully keen on him, for some reason. Uncle Eric is awfully keen on Mrs Angry, of course.

And that leaves us with Matthew Offord.

Oh dear. 

Where to begin? 

Mrs Angry refers you to all her earlier posts - there are plenty to choose from. The series of unfortunate events that comprise his time as MP for Hendon almost defies belief. The strange accidents: a broken wrist suffered in the bathroom on honeymoon ... the eye injury caused by a mug flying out of a kitchen cupboard, the alleged incident with another MP at the previous Tory conference, the mysterious disappearance in Belize during the riots, the attack on a previous colleague's reputation under the protection of parliamentary privilege; the invocation of the Human Rights Act in order that his political adviser Max, the Jack Russell, could accompany him at work in the House of Commons, the dinner with army chiefs of staff where he allegedly shouted abuse at a speaker & called him a gobshite,  and then ...oh yes, the latest thing. 

Gay marriage. 

Matthew Offord does not approve of gay marriage, as we know. 

See these posts:

This week, in the House of Commons, Offord's contribution to the debate on this issue took the form of demanding to know if the government planned to solicit views on the sanctioning of polygamous marriage - not once, but twice.

To the Barnet Press, in an attempt to justifiy his childish, deeply offensive remarks he managed to make matters even worse by suggesting that equal marriage might as well be extended not only to polygamous marriage but to marriage between 'blood relatives'.

The fact that he thinks a comparison between a loving union and an act of commitment between two people who happen to be of the same sex to that of a couple engaging in an incestuous relationship is staggering enough. 

That he is stupid enough to suggest this to a journalist - and expect people to agree with him - is beyond belief. 

With Offord the problem is not just with what he says, and thinks, however: many other Tory MPs hold the same or similar views, we can be sure. It is his lack of judgement, and his continual failure to gauge what is appropriate behaviour or comment for someone in his position that singles him out, and makes it inevitable that he is seen as yet another dangerous Barnet electoral liability for the Tory party.

Will he be standing as the Conservative candidate for Hendon in 2015? If the Tories are happy to lose the seat, then yes, maybe. He won last time, standing against Andrew Dismore, by only just over a hundred votes. There is no chance he will win again.

'Dr' Offord may have imagined that there are votes in expressing such intolerance of equal marriage. Mrs Angry would suggest that if so, this is a grave miscalculation.

In this borough, in Hendon constituency, it is true, there are large faith groups and cultural communities in which he probably hopes he will find electoral support for his apparent moral crusade in defence of what he sees as 'traditional' marriage, an institution to which he is a recent convert, having only married at the age of forty, just before the last election.

There are those who may have religious objections to equal marriage - but of those who do, how many are likely to visit the polling station and vote simply on the basis of this issue? 

There are also undeniably the usual collection of homophobes, hate driven nutters and mindless bigots who inhabit every section of society: again, probably not inclined to vote en masse on such a matter. Too busy standing for parliament, one imagines.

But the vast majority of people in this borough are decent, reasonable people, who at worst will be apathetic about the whole business, and in many cases will feel strongly that it is perfectly reasonable for gay couples to be able to claim the same rights as anyone else, to have their relationships recognised with the same level of respect as any other long term partnership.

Oh, and last, and perhaps most important of all, and the one glaringly obvious fact that Offord and all the other bigots overlook.

There must be thousands of gay residents in this borough, of course, who will be hoping that this legislation is approved, and who are horrified by the statements made by Offord. Mrs Angry knows that many gay voters living in Hendon have contacted their MP to express their sense of outrage at the position he has taken, and has indeed seen some of the correspondance.These residents will most definitely be going to the polling station to male their views count, in 2015.

Coleman is finished, and now Offord is finished.

Freer? He will have a real fight to hang on: by May 2015, the One Barnet mess will have polished off the local Tories, the NHS, benefit 'reforms', the continuing recession, and all the other policies included in the Coalition government's war of attrition on the foundations of our social welfare structure will have made the election of a Labour government almost inevitable. 

During the last election, Freer, who describes himself as openly gay, produced a campaign leaflet which had no mention of his own civil partner, and chose instead to feature a nice photograph of what we were told were his mother, and his mother in law. At the time, it seemed to be a feeble acknowledgement that in some sections of the Finchley and Golders Green constituency, an openly gay MP might not be seen as acceptable. This struck Mrs Angry at the time as a pretty shabby deference to bigotry. 

Freer appears to have left such equivocation behind, however, and had the courage to defend the new proposals on equal marriage, publicly condemning the remarks of his former Barnet councillor colleague as 'barking and offensive'.

How interesting it is to see the previously close Tory politicians, in neighbouring constituencies, taking such opposing views on the same issue. Will it have an impact on their political futures? 

Sex, religion, and politics: an uneasy combination at the best of times, but especially here, in Broken Barnet.

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