Sunday 6 April 2014

What makes you think you're talking to someone who cares? Another Barnet Tory Cabinet meeting.

What makes you think you're talking to someone who cares, asks Robert Rams? 

F*ck knows, says Mrs Angry.

Come with Mrs Angry, now,  to a moment lost in time, the Cabinet and Cabinet Resources meetings that took place on Wednesday night. Yes, I know, doesn't sound very inviting, but bear with me.

A moment lost in time, maybe, but one that must be retrieved. In the course of the two meetings, our Tory Cabinet members excelled themselves in a performance of the utmost contempt for the needs of their residents, just inches away from the starting line of local elections next month. Read on.

Cabinet Resources began with a low key discussion about an uncontroversial subject: preventative healthcare. Not controversial, yet still our Tory members like to approach the issue from the point of cost effectiveness, rather than say, quality of life, or even the noble ambition of keeping residents alive longer, so as to enjoy a longer span of years in this other Eden, the demi-paradise we once called Broken Barnet, now this sceptic isle of Capitaville ...

Lots of mumbled thoughts about whether or not to encourage health checks, or, the subtext went, to leave the feckless poor of Broken Barnet, who have failed in their duty to provide themselves with private healthcare , to kick the bucket earlier than necessary, relieve the council of the burden of their dependency, and generate more fast moving profit for the new Crapita Easycrem eternal leisure facility.

Leader Richard Cornelius thought men might be encouraged to take such healthchecks by the little woman at home, if necessary. A wife, he said, with a tone of uxorious fatalism, sneaking a quick look at Councillor Alison Cornelius, might cajole her husband ...

Mrs Angry shivered, and tried very hard not to think of Councillor Alison Cornelius cajoling Councillor Richard Cornelius, in the dark hours of the night. Back to Eden, perhaps, and Eve, and an apple, and Richard Cornelius with a fig leaf. No. Or maybe Lady Macbeth, and a dagger? Hmm.

Move on, Mrs Angry.

Ah. Parking. Safer ground.Well, no, not really. A minefield, in fact, but one through which our Tory councillors wander like rambling sheep, oblivious to all electoral danger.

Tory Brian Gordon, presently a Hale councillor, but jumping ship to Edgware because he had the sense to see marginal Hale will be taken by Labour in May, was presenting a Task and Finish group report on this, perhaps the most stupid blunder made by his party since re-election - although clearly it is hard to choose, from a very long list.

With the masterly political instinct that Barnet Tories so often indulge, they had easily allowed themselves to be 'persuaded' by their former colleague Brian Coleman that residents of this borough would be happy to be milked of every last drop of their hard earned money through his idiotic parking scheme, which featured the removal of all cash parking facilities.

Of course this had a catastrophic impact on all residents, but especially on our high street traders, who saw an immediate drop in footfall, and who are still battling to preserve their businesses.

The T&F group found that it would not cost that much to bring back cash parking, and theoretically would be fairly easy to implement, however ... Ah. Come on then: let's have it.

No need to rush into anything. The already tinkered with 'improvements' still needed time to 'kick in' ... 

Turning the clock back, said Cllr Gordon, can have a lot of adverse consequences ... 

They would delay any action until a later date. We mustn't jump on people. Thank God, thought Mrs Angry, casting a baleful eye on some of the more portly Tory members seated at the table. That was too frightening a thought.

In the meanwhile, they would concentrate on 'more and better publicity' ... Better signage.

Yes, thought Mrs Angry: that'll help. 

Here is the fatal fault line that runs right the way through the political strategy, if that is what it is, of our Tory councillors. 

Take an ideologically based policy. Convince yourself it is a magnificent idea. Do not consult your residents about it, except after you have already agreed upon its adoption, or unless you have created a form of consultation that will produce the outcome you want. Ignore all criticism. Stifle all public debate. Impose the policy. Stand back and wonder why everyone hates you, and write an article in the Guardian about how fantastic you are. Stand for re-election, and lose your seat.  

Robert Rams spoke up now. His contributions to any meeting are always the same: childish, point scoring, confrontational, negative. Point scoring and confrontational, but inadequately delivered, so counter productive: he succeeds merely in trivialising all debate in which he takes part, and ends by looking foolish. In the tradition of Barnet Tories, he fails to recognise this and learn from his mistakes, even at this late stage before the election, in which he is about to lose his seat in the highly marginal ward of East Barnet.

He commented now (and Mrs Angry observes that she has written IDIOT! in big red letters next to her notes) that Labour were 'grandstanding' in their opposition to the parking policy, and that they are wrong to think they are 'resonating' with residents. In other words, residents and traders of East Barnet, your councillor thinks the new parking regime is enormously popular and that you will be rushing to the polling station on May 22nd to express your gratitude to him. Oh dear.

Labour's Alan Scheiderman came to the table to present the Labour conclusions to the T&F report. He commented that residents clearly wanted the 'choice' of paying by cash (of course Tory 'choice' is only for Tories, isn't it? Also many of the boroughs the group had studied had returned to cash payment or like Lambeth abandoned plans to remove it. The Tories in the T&F were broadly in agreement over the findings, yet, he said, it would appear that they had been 'sat on'. Mrs Angry wondered which was a worse fate, to be jumped on, sat on, or cajoled by a Tory councillor? 

Do the right thing, pleaded Alan, and bring back cash parking ...

Deputy leader Dan Thomas tried knocking the discussion off course by a reference to vouchers, and the unpleasantness of having to rummage around in his glove compartment. Mmm. Mrs Angry could imagine that might be best avoided.

Ah. Now the delightful Tom Davey's turn. Although he is one of the doomed but doesn't know it councillors for Hale, he lives in Mill Hill and claimed the traders there are 'doing well'. The parking places are always full. A delusional Richard Cornelius agreed. No one could say the way the changes were made two years were ideal but there was no immediate need for change. Oh dear again.

The Tories have failed not only to realise the damage this scheme would inflict on residents, they have failed to to understand the politicial consequences of their actions on their own electoral futures. 

Like the last days of an ancien régime, there they sit, hiding behind the shutters, playing cards, while the mob gathers below the balcony ... think 'Carry on, don't lose your head', rather than Danton, though: great tragedy this ain't: knockabout farce, bien sûr. 

Cornelius may admit now that the way in which the changes in parking were made was wrong: significantly, and in contrast to most of his own colleagues,  he will not admit the principle is at fault - from the perspective of an affluent resident of Totteridge, to whom parking charges are of no consequence. 

In truth the vast majority of Tories knew that Coleman's parking programme was disastrous, but did not speak out for the same reason they are only now beginning to dare to criticise him publicly. They were too scared of what he would do. The blogpost he wrote about many of them, exposing their personal vulnerabilities demonstrates exactly the reasons for such cowardice: he knows them all too well, and is happy to share their secrets with the world.

The meeting continued with another policy that needs deconstructing: the refusal of the council, during the règne de la Terreur of Brian Coleman, to allow any road safety measures to be installed, and indeed to remove as many as possible. The legacy, in terms of the number of accidents, is undeniable, and Tory Kate Salinger came now to discuss something which would have been unthinkable in Coleman's time: the approval of 20 mph speed zones in the borough. 

Any such policy would never have reached the table in the bad old days, of course. Yet now, approval was given, with no real opposition. Such vital measures, life saving actions, so easily approved, and so long resisted: why? See the above. Shameful.

Next up: empty homes.

This time we had the considered opinion of another Salinger, Kate's husband Brian. He asked 'what is an empty home'? He might be the man to know, because of course he is a landlord himself.

A difficult question for Barnet Tories, generally though, because a house is not a home: it is a property. And poor people are not entitled to homes, because they do not own houses, and are not property owners. They are a burden, and are best removed from the borough, sent over the border like refugees, in search of resettlement in another country, where other poor people live. Come back when you are rich, and can afford a penthouse flat in Hendon Waters. 

As usual, the concern about empty properties was not so much due to any consideration for the plight of homeless families in the borough, as the cost for the council of providing those homeless families with accommodation.

As we tried to point out to the Mayor of London the next day, before they abolished the problem of having the longest housing list in the UK by ... abolishing the waiting list ... there were around 18,000 households or applicants that were without a home in this borough.

Brian Salinger thought one way round the problem was that residents should be encouraged to grass up their neighbours, if they thought that their empty homes were unoccupied for too long. In which case, Cllr Salinger, may I whisper in your ear about a dozen or so properties, in an appalling state of neglect, standing vacant for about, oh, 25 years, up the road in Bishops Avenue?

No? Not interested? But then, as the local Tory councillor Andrew Harper observed of the billionaire absentee owners, 'That's their prerogative'.

And, as housing spokesman Tom Davey reminded us:

If you buy a house and want to leave it empty, it's up to you ...

The rich have a prerogative, in Broken Barnet, and the poor have nothing but the hope of dislodging this adminstration of mindless capitalists, and replacing it with elected representatives with a sense of social justice. 

Roll on May 22nd.

Musical chairs, now, as the Cabinet meeting ended, and Cabinet Resources began, and members swopped seats.

There was only really one obviously important issue on the agenda: the matter of the 'regeneration' of West Hendon, and the attempt by Barnet Homes to extort £10,000 from all leaseholders for alleged maintenance charges, in respect of work the council's agency claims must be done, even though the buildings are about to be demolished, and even though much of the work listed should have been carried out by the authority many years ago. The council was now proposing the offer of some sort of discount, but will not write off the demand. Not good enough.

Residents' representative Jasmin Parsons had submitted no less than 95 questions on the subject of these issues: careful, detailed, well informed and well focused questions.  She has a wide grasp of the subject, and has challenged the council's position with reasoned argument, and now presented her case calmly and courteously, but with insistence, speaking on behalf of all those residents, leaseholders and tenants, who need an articulate spokesperson for them in the terrible uncertainty in which they now find themselves.

That all of this was of no consequence to our Tory cabinet members was perfectly clear to see. Their indifference was expressed in different ways, but the most objectionable response was from Robert Rams, who sat sulkily through Ms Parsons' contribution, ignoring her comments, and openly playing with his phone as she spoke, and as Tom Davey attempted to pretend to address her concerns with a slow, patronising belittling of the points she was trying to raise. 

We are both in this together, he pronounced, absurdly.

Mrs Angry called across from the public seating, objecting to Rams' rudeness, and suggesting he stopped tweeting while Jasmin was speaking.

His reaction to this may be observed in the footage below.

I think, he jeered, in an outburst of infantile fury, you mistake me for someone who cares what you think ... ?

Mrs Angry laughed, commenting that he sounded like a small child, and if he was a child of hers, he would be sent to his room at once. But really: Rams' colleagues, and the senior officers around the table stared at him in astonishment.

(In fact Mrs Angry's children, when small,  always ignored her when she tried this form of parental discipline, and refused to go: Miss Angry would wobble her lip and cry, and her brother would fold his arms and say, I'm not going, and you can't make me. But still.)


I'm not going, and you can't make me, said Robert Rams, aged six.

Well, no: he didn't, not in so many words. 

He might as well have.

The Chair, Daniel Thomas reminded Rams that they had a rule of always ignoring heckling. 

Mrs Angry reminded the Chair that it was not acceptable for a councillor to sit playing with his phone rudely while a member of the public was addressing the committee, and Thomas reprimanded his colleague, and told him to pay attention - advice which he ignored.

Jasmin tried to resume her supplementary questions. 

When you've finished with your 'twitter', please ... she began, looking at Rams.

I'm just looking you up, to see who you are, he said, grossly disrespectfully.
With great dignity, Jasmin ignored him, but it was clear he was trying to find personal information about her, which was not only discourteous but absolutely inappropriate behaviour at a committee table, to a member of the public. 

Can you imagine if a member of the public, sitting at the table, had taken out her phone, and looked up Robert Rams? Plenty of fun to be had, if you do.

It might be hard to tear oneself away from his new blog, for example, all about American wrestling: do take a look. It's a hoot. 

Mrs Angry is very broadminded, of course, and frankly, if watching a load of oiled up, muscle bound semi-naked men in lycra pants grunting and grappling with each other is your thing: go for it. 

Nothing wrong with a spot of wrestling, with the right sort of man, is there, ladies? Not sure about the lycra pants, mind you.

Anyway, Councillor Rams and his business partner are awfully keen on American wrestling, and this week it was revealed that they have started writing a blog about it on the Huffington Post - 'Royal Ramblings': take a look ... very interesting.

They are worried, for example, about Hulk Hogan's return, after that sex tape thing, hold on - got a picture somewhere ... ooh, maybe not. Please, no.

And then:  

With annual rumours that the Undertaker's weakening hips will prevent him from fighting again, some have speculated that he could submit to Lesnar. 

Hmm. Wouldn't be surprised.

Back to rather more important matters.

Later on in the meeting Rams questioned Jasmin Parsons about her background, who was she representing? Clearly he was trying to discredit her, for whatever reason, and perhaps portray her as a Labour party activist, which to the best of my knowledge she is not. She is, however, a sensible but passionate advocate of her community, and has undoubtedly contributed more to her community than any of the Tory councillors sitting at that table.

She tried to explain. 

She carefully listed the work that Barnet Homes is trying to force leaseholders to pay for, work she claimed was not needed, or not being done, or not being done properly, or that should have been years ago by the authority.

The councillors said, oh surely you realise we have a duty to ensure we comply with health and safety legislation. Jasmin pointed out that they had been happy to allow them to live in these conditions until suddenly now, when it was nearly time to knock everything down.

She talked about the effect of the years of waiting, under notice of demolition, the impact on health, on the children now expected to walk a long distance across busy roads to get to a green space, while York Park, meant as a permanent memorial to the many people of West Hendon who lost their lives in the bombing of 1941, is closed off, and torn apart. And now the people on the estate are about to be pushed out of their homes, but suffering in the long period of uncertainty, the insecurity of their positions.

You made your point very well, acknowledged Cornelius, with his air of gracious condescension. Tom Davey, with a not quite perfectly adopted attempt at smooth reassurance, spoilt the effect by observing coolly, with a cold smile, and that dead-eyed look of his, that the council could not be expected to subsidise private homeowners. 

There you go, you see: the Thatcherites, faced with the logical outcome of Margaret's right to buy policy, years down the line: shortage of social housing, and owners dumped with substandard properties they were duped into buying, simply don't give a damn.

The report was nodded through, of course. 

And let us not fail to mention something else that was nodded through, on the quiet, with no mention, no discussion, but not unremarked by Labour councillors, who have no intention of allowing this to be the end of the matter, thankfully: the cuts to Mapledown School for disabled children, specifically their after school clubs and half term schemes.

Mrs Angry noted that the schools' Cabinet member Reuben Thompstone has shaved off his beard, and changed his hairstyle. Almost unrecognisable. After his remarks suggesting that the parents of the children at Mapledown, most of whom have profound and highly complex disabilities, find 'more creative' ways to fund their children's activities, you might think that is a wise move.

Only 45 days to go to the elections, citizens of Broken Barnet: are you registered to vote? 

Please make sure you are, and do your duty, and rid us of these dangerous fools.


Anonymous said...

There must be six weeks of political purdah before an election. Watch out for sneaky parties trying to make hay when the sun is NOT shining.

Morris Hickey said...

Wrestling. Isn't that some kind of stage managed pseudo "sport" intended to deceive people into thinking that it's genuine and spontaneous?

Mrs Angry said...

Hmm. Like democracy in Broken Barnet, Morris? Yes. Except we have to watch Robert Rams in the ring, rather than Hulk Hogan. Less hairspray and fake tan, but a bit of a let down.

Anon: our Barnet Tories have showered us with affection in the last few weeks, with good news stories and pics about them planting trees,(in Tory wards) replacing pavements, ditto, etc etc.

I am almost persuaded to forget the four years of apocalyptic failure that brought us the the paradise in which we now live, according to Richard Cornelius. Of course he may just be cajoling us, good and proper, until the election. Mrs Angry is easily cajoled, though: how about you?