Saturday 12 April 2014

Whose West Hendon? Our West Hendon: MP Matthew Offord hides in a police van, and refuses to face his own constituents

Matthew Offord, MP for Hendon, hiding from his own constituents in a police van

Last night Mrs Angry returned to the Community Library in Friern Barnet to take part in a question time event with Reema Patel, local campaigner and former library trustee, local councillor Barry Rawlings, and writer and library campaigner Alan Gibbons, who had also come to the library's 80th birthday celebration a few weeks ago.

It was a genuinely very interesting debate, about books, libraries, the joy of reading, the power of the written word, the danger of the written word, and its exclusion from prisoners now, in the policy of the Condem Government, and Chris Grayling's regime of literary purdah for the inmates of our jails. 

Education, in this new world, is for the privileged, and books and knowledge are now become weapons of self defence, in the hands of the underdogs: a risk not worth taking by those in power.

We talked about the stifling of democracy by our local council, and the reversion to a society we thought had been relegated to the past, a nineteenth century world where those at the lowest economic level are subjected to the moral judgement of their betters, and a rule of punishment for the crime of being poor.

We talked about housing, and the iniquitous record of the Tories in Barnet in regard to providing homes for anyone other than the most affluent residents of our borough.

And while we talked, that iniquitous legacy, and the struggle to reclaim our democratic process, over on the other side of the borough, some residents were taking the debate to the streets, and making their voices heard, even though the man they wanted to hear refused to listen. 

Although unable to attend, as always the eyes and ears of Mrs Angry are everywhere, and she has had eyewitness accounts, a selection of photos, and footage of the event, so as to report the event.

I've written quite a lot in the last few weeks about the issue of the so called regeneration of West Hendon, and in particular the plight of the residents of the estate over looking the Welsh Harp, where Barratt Homes, with the enthusiastic backing of Barnet's Tory councillors, are creating a private development for those who can afford it, with luxury penthouse flats for the Russian oligarchs housing Cabinet member wants to come and live here, while he pushes the residents who are not so fortunate out of the area, and out of the borough, in many cases. 

Canvassing in this area has been an eye opening experience, seeing ordinary families left to cope with substandard housing, neglected for decades, damp, overrun with rats, and left for years in many cases as unsecure tenants, with no idea where they will be living, when the properties they live in now are demolished, as they soon will be. 

Those residents who were council tenants, and fell for the Tory offer of buying their homes, are now the leaseholders of unsellable properties, and reeling from shock after being given bills for £10,000 each for work which Barnet Homes insists needs doing, even though the buildings are about to be knocked down, and much of it was the responsibility of the authority, and should have been done many years ago.

Last week Jasmin Parsons, a representive of West Hendon residents' groups, came to a Cabinet meeting at the Town Hall, to try to reason with the councillors about this attempt at extortion. They clearly did not want to listen - and Robert Rams was more interested in playing with his phone. 

Tom Davey coolly explained it was not the purpose of the authority to subsidise private homeowners. A discount might be made, but it is unclear how much this will be, and if it will be adjusted to exclude the unnecessary work that residents claim represent much of the maintenance bill for which they are being charged.

Only today we hear that residents are being sent letters that are final demands that they pay for electrical work, and that they now have only 28 days to pay up.

Last night there was a meeting in West Hendon organised by local Tory MP Matthew Offord for his constituents. 

Some of the residents of the West Hendon estates, who are his constituents, not unreasonably thought they should attend this meeting, and ask him about the future of their community. 

And yes, it is a community.

 This West Hendon resident has lived there for forty two years

It is a community, that is, until the bulldozers move in to knock down the buildings in Marsh Drive and Tyrell Way, and the people who live there will be moved out and moved on, to make way for the sort of people our Tory councillors prefer to have here, that is to say the sort of people who will vote for them.

Where will the displaced people from West Hendon go? Who knows.

What will the effect of this dispersal be, on the children of West Hendon, and the elderly residents who have spent their whole lives here? No one cares.

What happens to people when they are uprooted from their homes, and moved on, and moved out? How do their children form a sense of being rooted in their neighbourhood, and 'stakeholders' in their own futures? How deep are the faultlines in society being forged by the deliberate upheaval and dispersal of entire communities?

The people of West Hendon decided they would march to the meeting organised by their MP, in a local church hall. Mums, children, older residents, two local vicars led the way. Mrs Angry commends these ministers, for living the word of the gospels in a practical demonstration of the Christian faith.

And for having a sense of humour.

The residents marched through the streets of West Hendon:

When they got to the church hall, Matthew Offord did not want to see them.  

All these constituents of Mr Offord, including a serving local councillor,  were barred from a meeting with their MP. 

Residents were told that the meeting was now private, and by invitation only.

The police presence outside the church hall was reinforced.

The protestors wanted at least to present their petition. No. Offord hid inside, with about 20 or so residents who had turned up independently of the protest. Eventually he said he would not face the protestors face to face, but two or three of them might be allowed in. They refused this condition, and carried on waiting outside.

The footage below shows you what the residents told their MP, though megaphones, while they were waiting.

Best of all is the amusing commentary from three young local boys, who took to the principle of direct action like ducks to water:

Come on Matthew: this is our invitation

This is our community

Whose MP?

Our MP

Who pays your wages?

We pay your wages

Whose Barnet?

Our Barnet

Don't let us down: please just come out ....

A woman commented to the boys about Offord's failure to respond - I'm sure your mother would tell you it's bad manners ...

Me too, said one of the boys

I agree with that, said his friend, firmly.

No reaction: the MP continued to hide inside the hall. The people of West Hendon waited: for ninety minutes.

As darkness began to fall, the protestors still waited.

Eventually, a police van with flashing blue lights appeared to collect the quivering MP, who was so frightened of a small collection of women, small children, and senior citizens. He slipped out of a back entrance and into the van.

The residents of West Hendon that he does not want to engage with came to stand in front of the police van. He cowered inside, staring straight ahead, too scared even to look at them. 

The police arrested and removed some of the protestors.

The police van departed, taking the Conservative MP for Hendon away from the group of  constituents who had dared to try to exercise their democratic right to speak to their elected representative.

The police then 'de-arrested' those who had stood in his way.

In a rather curious account of this demonstration in a local paper on Saturday, it is suggested that the crowd of local demonstrators was full of housing activists from 'across London'. Looking at the footage it is perfectly clear that this is simply not true. Of the seventy or so people there, Mrs Angry, who is a seasoned observer of these events, can only recognise five people, and the rest are quite plainly largely local women with children, and ordinary residents. 

In the article, however, the reporter accepts without challenge Matthew Offord's description of the residents from West Hendon who tried to see him as 'a ragtag bunch', who only wanted to 'cause trouble'. 

Yet again the use of filming and social media proves their worth in reporting the facts, rather than the fiction and spin promoted by interested parties involved in such incidents.

In 2015, the de-arrested demonstrators and residents of Hendon will de-select the Conservative MP for Hendon, and replace him with a Labour MP, Andrew Dismore, who will serve his constituents in the way they deserve.

Next month you will have the opportunity to remove the Tory council which has foisted this housing crisis on our borough. 

Luckily the Cabinet member for housing, Tom Davey, is in a marginal ward, and is likely to lose his seat.

The protest made by the people of West Hendon is not just about West Hendon. 

Whose West Hendon? Their West Hendon. 

Whose community? Our community. 

Not One Barnet: our Barnet.

And citizens of Broken Barnet: it's up to you, now.



Anonymous said...

As someone who lives in West Hendon, this regeneration cannot come soon enough. Looking forward to buying my own home.

Mrs Angry said...

Really, Anonymous? Well, lucky you, being able to afford to buy somewhere to live, presumably in the luxurious development of 'Hendon Waterside'. But this is not a regeneration, it is a private development, with no allowance made for the community that is already there, and is being forcibly moved out of the area, so as to accommodate the vast profits at stake in the new enterprise.

Enjoy the view. Should be great, from the 29th floor.

APML said...

Oh well,i`m stunned..

It`s nice to see that UKIP are working well in West Hendon !

Mrs Angry said...

Are they? What makes you think so, Button 55? Not met any supporters when canvassing. Perhaps they were being awfully polite, and not wanting to upset Mrs Angry. Very wise.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to learn that Andrew Dismore did not win.