Friday 11 April 2014

Words change their meaning: the last full council meeting in Broken Barnet

Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question, inaptness to act on any. 

Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defence. The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. To succeed in a plot was to have a shrewd head, to divine a plot a still shrewder; but to try to provide against having to do either was to break up your party and to be afraid of your adversaries ...

Thucydides, The History of the Peleponnesian War

After four years, four long years, Tuesday night's last full council meeting of course marked the end of an era, in Broken Barnet. The last time we would see the same company of characters on the same stage in the pantomime performance that is the norm on these occasions: the knockabout fun, the hissing at the villains, the audience participation, and the complete absence of any meaningful engagement in the process of democracy: how we will miss it. Will we?

Mrs Angry arrived a little early, so as to show her support for the the Your Choice Barnet workers gathered outside the Town Hall, to protest at the outrageous cuts in their already low salaries, imposed because, to the surprise of no one with any sense, the business model based on making profit out of providing care to vulnerable and disabled residents is fundamentally flawed, and the financial disaster which has ensued must be paid for by the workers who carry out this vital service, to such dependent users. 

Mrs Angry understands that the six figure salary of Tracey Lees, the Chief Executive of the Barnet Group which controls YCB will not be reduced, of course.

Councillors were arriving for the meeting, and were greeted politely by demonstrators, who offered them leaflets, which clearly the Tories were not keen to accept. Hello: Mrs Angry spotted disgraced former Tory Councillor Coleman slipping in the front door, and greeted him. 'Good evening!' 

And then, readers, in front of witnesses, he mouthed:  'OH FUCK OFF' at Mrs Angry? 

Wasn't that awfully rude?

Of course Mrs Angry was educated by nuns, you know, at one of the local Grammar schools Brian is always praising, as indeed he did again last night, so she did not reply, as she might have done, if she were not so retiring and genteel: Fuck off yourself, you great eejit.

Up the stairs to the council chamber. The bell tolls mournfully and the councillors trail in. The Mayor processes into the chamber like Cinderella, accompanied by footmen, but no pumpkins. The Rabbi begins his address, the usual forlorn prayer that our wretched, troughing councillors might act to spread God's spirit on earth, 'caring for those less fortunate' which, sadly, our Tory members interpret as 'not caring for those less fortunate'.

Questions and answers from our representatives from and to the Cabinet members. Some cracking examples of idiotic, arrogant responses.

Labour leader Alison Moore had asked a question about tenants struggling with council tax. Here is the stupid reply from Cllr Tom Davery: 

Based on HMRC information, there is no such Tax levied in the UK.

Labour's Alan Schneiderman, to Tory 'leader' Richard Cornelius:

Why have Tory councillors not attended any of the 'question time' events organised across the borough despite being regularly invited?

Cornelius: Conservative councillors have not chosen to attend these meetings as they are organised by those with a predetermined view.

Oh, how Mrs Angry chortled to read this response. 

She had forgotten that the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet do not subscribe to a predetermined view, on any subject, and retain that perfect curiosity of intellect for which they are now renowned, the length and breadth of the country. 

Two very interesting questions from Tory Brian Salinger, in regard to a very interesting matter: the case of the missing council laptop that his former colleague Brian Coleman has admitted he disposed of, sometime last summer, for reasons unknown to us. 

Quite how this curious loss was discovered by the council, or why Councillor Coleman felt obliged to rid himself of his laptop is one of the great unsolved mysteries of the twenty first century.

At the last council meeting naughty Brian Coleman was formally censured for disposing of his laptop. He ran out of the room before the Mayor could utter the reprimand, of course.

Salinger asked: 

What progress, if any, has been made in investigating the nature of any data loss connected to the censuring of the non-aligned member at the last council meeting?

(Brian Coleman is now so toxic a name in Barnet Tory circles that he must not be directly referred to, nor may any member look him directly in the face, for fear of his Medusa like stare, which would turn them into stone, or members of UKIP - not, of course, that you would be able to tell).

Cornelius replied that Coleman's solicitor 'has no instructions' on this issue. The Monitoring Officer therefore asked Coleman some questions - in order to 'assess the risk'. oh dear.

'Councillor Coleman has stated that he does not consider any direct questions on the matter by the Monitoring Officer to be appropriate'. Ah. 

And now the Council has decided that the incident requires to the Information Commissioner so that they may investigate the matter.

Which is interesting, because when Mrs Angry asked the Monitoring Officer a few weeks ago about the risk of data loss, and whether or not it was a matter for the ICO, she replied that the matter appeared to be  low risk and implied a referral to the ICO was unlikely. 

Councillor Coleman, who for some reason always swivels his chair in meetings so as to face the public gallery, rather than the Mayor, became rather disconcerted during the awkward moments of discussion regarding his laptop, and moved ninety degrees east, to turn his back entirely on the Mayor, and then again another reorientation of ninety degrees, so as to turn his back on the public gallery.

Brian Salinger had another question:

Does the council have proof that Councillor Coleman did destroy his council laptop, and that he did so in a manner which would prevent data being recovered from it?

Cornelius replied that this was confirmed in correspondance from Coleman's solicitor, who however failed to answer, as did his client, questions regarding the way in which he disposed of the laptop. As a result we are unable to confirm whether the data contained on the computer was safeguarded appropriately.

So: how did he dispose of it, do you suppose? Was it at the dead of night, with a sledgehammer? Dropped off the Hungerford Bridge? Recycled, at Summers Lane Dump?

Or did you just get over excited, Brian, and knock your tea over the keyboard? We've all done it. Just turn your laptop upside down, and use a hairdryer. Oh. You probably don't need one. 

Brian Salinger, by the way, was most ungentlemanly in his reaction to the news, passed on in the corridor by Mrs Angry, that at last week's demo in honour of her new fan, the Mayor of London, she was mistaken as his wife. In fact, not just mistaken, accused of it.

Mrs Angry is always being mistaken for someone's wife, anyone's wife, endowing herself with this honour by the mere action of standing in the same postcode as any given male resident of Broken Barnet. Must be a body language thing. Theirs, not hers ... Anyway, Councillor Salinger did not stop laughing for at least five minutes, and indeed very nearly suffered an  apocalyptic fit. Or do we mean apopleptic? No. Right first time. Rude, thought Mrs Angry.

Brian had one or two questions. 

Following revelations that Haringey Council spent £16,000 in Cannes, did Barnet Council have any involvement in MIPIM - or, as he explained, with a commendable grasp of French - Le marché international des professionnels de l’immobilier - Mrs Angry was not entirely certain he know what it meant, but our Brian was clearly fuming he wasn't asked, as indeed was Mrs Angry, who could do with a trip to Cannes. (Any offers, please DM. Mrs Angry is happy to pretend to be your wife, if necessary. Not yours, Brian, obviously: no offence. Well, actually: yes, a bit).

Anyway, yes, someone from the new Barnet-Crapita Joint Venture 'Re' went - no, not, as you might think, to 'Re'lax in the south of France and drink champagne on a yacht but to ... what was it ... to, dum di dum, where is it ... ah: to publicise the opportunity ... erm, for ... ah, potential partners for the Brent Cross South Development

Mmm. Bound to be shedloads of those hanging about the Croisette, desperate for a chance to flog a penthouse view of the North Circular, and easy access to Staples Corner. 

Oh: the officer from Re was 'supported' by 'a member of Capita who is assisting with the procurement activities for this project'. 

We are told: Another Capita representative attended in a business development capacity to promote Re and its service across London

Why? This was a jolly aimed at property developers, wasn't it? 

And then: All costs incurred in undertaking the above were met by Re and Capita. Well, yes: so costs of this trip to the Riviera were at least in part paid for by us, the taxpayers of Broken Barnet.

On to the business items. But first a brief statement from Labour leader Alison Moore about a matter that was exciting the Tory councillors, and of course the non-aligned member, beside himself with glee at the opportunity from distracting attention from the story of the laptop, and all the open speculation that has been swirling around the borough in regard to the circumstances behind the 'disposal'.

A Labour councillor has got into problems over a dispute with the authority over a council tax charge that was incorrectly demanded, now retracted. There have also been several other councillors who were correctly noted as late payers, but are allegedly Tory members. Can you guess, readers, which party is being targeted for attention, and described, wrongly, in a local press article as a 'tax dodger'?

Our delightful Tory housing spokesman Cllr Tom Davey has taken it upon himself to launch a crusade on this false premise, making all sorts of accusations, and absurdly writing to ask the Labour leader if she does not think her position 'untenable'. 

This is particularly amusing to Mrs Angry, who suggests Councillor Davey contemplates the great folly of standing in glass houses, and throwing stones.

At this point in the proceedings, the doors to the public gallery opened, and a woman entered with a young boy in a wheelchair. He clearly has severe disabilities, and, as his mother, who sat next to Mrs Angry, explained, he is a pupil at Mapledown School, the school near Brent Cross, which is facing cuts in budget from the council because our Tory councillors prefer to give a 23 pence a week tax cut as a pre-election stunt, rather than support Mapledown's after school and half term schemes, which offer vital respite care to the families of their pupils.

Tory Cabinet member for schools Reuben Thompstone has suggested to parents like Juliet (not her real name) that they are more 'creative' in raising the money taken away by him and his colleagues. And Tory leader Richard Cornelius sees nothing objectionable about cutting tax in order to win votes, even if the burden is carried by the disabled children of Mapledown: he thinks that the ordinary person on the street will think this is 'fair'.

Yesterday Mrs Angry was out on the streets around Brent Cross, that development opportunity in waiting so eagerly pimped in Cannes, talking to 'ordinary people'. One man, she spoke to a homeowner, very articulate and keen to hold his elected representatives to account, was undecided about who to vote for.  He was disgusted by the fact that - and interestingly he volunteered the information, without being told - the Tory councillors had voted themselves a big fat pay rise as soon as they got back in 2010. On the other hand, he was not keen on council tax, or any other tax. When Mrs Angry asked him, however, if he thought the 1% cut, and return of 23 pence a week was worth it, when a school for disabled children, just around the corner, was being deprived of vital funding, he was quite clear: the answer was emphatically - no. Result: the retrieval of one Labour vote.

The main business item was a 'debate' about the budget. Painful, pointless, and full of the usual pantomime performances. Mrs Angry, worried that the heckling that inevitably ensues such infuriating spectacles might upset Juliet's son, asked her if he would be disturbed by such a response, which was already starting. Oh no, she said. This is fantastic. Carry on. 

She sat quietly, carefully noting the Tory councillors amusing themselves in the chamber and steadfastly failing to acknowledge her presence, although they knew who she was, as the Mayor had been asked by Labour to move an item forward so as not to tire her son by waiting. In the end, she tired of waiting for any mention of Mapledown, other than comments heckled from the public gallery, and she left with her now sleepy son. 

While the Tory councillors congratulated themselves on their political record, and headed off for their usual buffet spread in the members room, she was returning to a life of responsibilities unimaginable to anyone who has not had to act as a full time carer to a severely disabled child, and whose burden of care needs exactly the sort of support they have so blithely decided to cut. What a repellent lot they are. 

If you would like to show your support for parents at Mapledown School, please sign this petition:

Amongst the causes for congratulation demanded by the Tory leader in his speech was the marvellous record on housing development and 'regeneration'. He spoke effusively of the visit last week to Broken Barnet by Chancellor George Osborne, who had stood on the roof of Brent Cross Shopping centre, and admired the view.

An opportunity missed, observed Mrs Angry, thinking fondly of that episode of Sherlock, and  Benedict Cumberbatch persuaded over the side by Moriarty. 

Tweets for George Osborne from the grateful residents of Broken Barnet,  courtesy of

Rather oddly, Councillor Cornelius forgot to mention a similar visit, also last week, by the Mayor of London, to whom Mrs Angry, in the course of an unexpected and not entirely cordial conversation with Boris, had the great honour of being introduced, by the Tory leader, as A Socialist.

Libdem veteran Lord Palmer stood up now and told us that this was a sad moment for him, as the last council meeting of his career as a local councillor for Childs Hill - lasting 28 years.

He quoted Thucydides, who had recorded the history of the Peleponnesian War, and noted how in war, words change their meaning: in the civil war that has run for the last four years in Broken Barnet, this is most certainly true. The rule of One Barnet dictates that privatisation is only a 'change programme'. The Bedroom Tax does not exist. The Ethics and Probity committee exists only in order to disguise the absolute absence of both, within the dark soul of the Tory party. And so on, and so on.

Palmer referred to the abuse of the term 'regeneration'. The development in West Hendon was not what residents wanted. The Tories didn't care about local residents, of course. He suggested people might be lured into visiting Barnet by a 'Come to Barnet for the Parking Experience of Your Life' campaign. Hugh Rayner, who has been in trouble for misusing his free permit, taken by Tory councillors only on the grounds that they are only for 'business' purposes, shook his head disapprovingly. Barnet Tories believe that the parking system which they do not have to use is hugely popular with residents, of course. Councillor Rowan Quigley Turner commented complacently that 'the public trust us'. Ha. No, really.

Labour's Claire Farrier spoke well about the Tories Totteridge tinted spectacles, that enabled them to overlook the realities of life in areas of social deprivation, like Burnt Oak, where working families are £1600 a year worse off, and those in need of benefits, or afflicted by the bedroom tax are suffering real hardship.

Alison Moore said that Barnet residents need a council that listens, not one that awards itself allowance rises, and free permits, whilst imposing huge parking charges on everyone else.

Standing up to speak for all the Tory members living in lalaland, Cllr Dan Thomas said that all opposition to their marvellous policies came from twenty residents, a very vocal minority, and that widespread dissatisfaction with the council does not exist. Mmm.

Libdem leader Jack Cohen was the only councillor that evening to refer to the Mapledown disgrace, and said the Tories should be ashamed of themselves. Of course he knows, and we know, and now Juliet and her son know, that they feel no shame. In a marvellous, scathing invective, Jack referred to the Tories' incompetence, arrogance, and stupidity. He said residents will see through their council tax cut stunt, If there is any justice in the world, he said, to much rejoicing in the public gallery,  the Tories will be sent packing in May.

Very good. Not for the first time Mrs Angry wondered what it would be like if Jack Cohen returned to the Labour party, and become leader of the opposition. How about it, Jack?

Tory Anthony Finn mocked the Labour budget, and the proposal of a 'Fairness Commission'. Easy to laugh, as the Labour budget was poorly thought out, but only a Barnet Tory would denigrate the idea of attempting fairness, of course.

 Finn: livestreaming for Mr Shepherd

Finn also rubbished the idea of livestreamed filming of council meetings. This would only benefit Mr Shepherd, he claimed, who could leave his bags of clippings at home, and watch the proceedings in comfort. 

Councillor Lord Shepherd was not happy with this suggestion, and loudly demanded the right of reply, which was rudely ignored. Like Mrs Angry, he is a sensitive soul, and takes rejection badly, and was clearly unnerved: later on in the proceedings he was driven to open a can of Pimms and sit there sipping it genteelly - and not offering any to Mrs Angry, unfortunately, as by then she was in need of strong drink herself. 

As she regarded the Tory councillors disporting themselves in this way, Juliet shook her head. It's insulting, she said. She left shortly afterwards, and who could blame her?

Departing Tory Andrew Harper stood now to make his goodbye speech. It was a long goodbye. Mrs Angry watched and waited, and as always he did not disappoint his number one fan. His portfolio was still very much on his mind, as he prepared to stand down. In fact he seems incapable of standing down, and letting go. Re-lax, don't do it, Cllr Harper. He rabbitted on about education, education, education, and Michael Gove saying there should be no ceiling - no qualified teachers, you mean, commented Mr Shepherd. He told us all a pointless anecdote about the time when he still had his portfolio, and bumped into a young lady in parliament, whom he was very pleased to see, as no doubt she noticed. The End. Move on.

Brian Coleman was given his go. He mentioned Mapledown in passing , commenting he had been to prizegivings there, and yes, yes, all very moving etc - said in an unconvincing tone of voice that somehow lacked any suggestion of being - well: moved - and was spoiled by being followed by a dismissal of anything that smacked of 'mother and apple pie' ...

He pointed out that the role of the LEA is declining, which indeed it is, with all the free schools and that sort of carry on. I remember the days, he began ... nostalgia begins here, for Coleman, at the end of his career, and with only things to look back on, rather than to. 

He referred to the failings at Edgware primary school and also noted the number of Barnet schools that are so highly praised, but full of pupils from far beyond, which is something Mrs Angry has pointed out, at every opportunity, but the Tories refuse to acknowledge. Her old school, St Michael's  and QE Boys are amongst the worst culprits for this. The previous headteacher of the former school often stated that she did not care how far her pupils came from, as long as they got to school on time, and as long, the subtext went, that the school was able to cream off the highest scoring pupils in the wider London area so as to retain its position at the top of league tables, rather than serve the local community.

Tory Reuben Thompstone, supposed to be the Cabinet member for schools, did refer to this phenomenon in his response. He commented, ridiculously, that on the one hand Coleman moaned about pupils from far beyond Barnet being in Barnet schools, but the school Jack Cohen had been so complimentary about earlier in the discussion, St Agnes, was full of Polish pupils.

Erm ... But they live in Barnet, replied Jack, stunned by Thompstone's lunatic logic.

Perhaps, thought Mrs Angry, Councillor Thompstone imagines the children at St Agnes travel back and forth from Warsaw every day. Or does he mean ... they are not really to be considered residents of Barnet, because they are from Eastern Europe?

Councillor Thompstone is from New Zealand. As far as Mrs Angry is aware, although he was reluctant to put his details on his declaration of interests until asked, he lives in Barnet, and does not commute to the Antipodes. Although some parents at Mapledown may wish to think creatively about finding the money to pay for a one way trip back home.

That was nearly it. Just time for our Tory councillors to show themselves in their true blue colours once again, and refuse to support a motion to  extend the lease of the community library - the People's Library, in Friern Barnet for ten years. When they voted against this, Tory Kate Salinger, who caused uproar recently by trying to claim credit for saving the library from erm ... her own party policy of cuts,  left the chamber, in an apparent fit of coughing. 

The Tories will not extend the lease because the building is too valuable an asset, and they intend to dispose of it if they can, if they are re-elected. No amount of coughing or discreet exits by Kate Salinger will stop this, if they get back. If you live in Coppetts ward, or indeed anywhere in the borough, and you care about this library, saved from closure by campaigners, residents and most of all, by the intervention of occupiers, then please: vote for a Labour administration on May 22nd, or face the reality of more and more cuts and closures, endorsed by you, and signing the fate of this borough's local services.

In the meanwhile ... do come to the Community Library tonight at 7.30, for a fundraising panel event, with Mrs Angry, writer and library campaigner Alan Gibbons, and local lawyer, former library trustee and Labour candidate Reema Patel. Heckling allowed, and indeed welcomed. No extra charge.


Mr Mustard said...

Two comments if I may Mrs Angry:

We have long had Town Hall Tax Dodgers (copyright Eric Pickles) at the council but mostly in the ranks of pseudo employees and consultants, like our now "head of well paid service" who used to be the deputy & S151 Officer "Andrew Black Hole Travers" into whose tax efficient payment arrangements the external auditor told me whilst vetoing my one of challenges to the 2013 Accounts "the issue is minor in financial terms and is still being considered by HMRC"

If it was that minor the people concerned wouldn't try and dodge tax, now would they?

The other point is that Cllr Rayner was caught abusing his permit and so he handed it back. I am told he somehow has another one. I wonder when he applied for it i.e. how many days after he handed the other one back in.

Mrs Angry said...

Let us make one thing clear, Mr M: the councillor in question here is not a tax dodger, and as the latest story in the Barnet Press says, was in fact in tax credit. There is far more to this story than has yet been revealed, and of course behind all of this are serious questions about the political motivations of some of those involved.

Anonymous said...

The big unanswered question is who or what has gagged this Councillor and why?

Mrs Angry said...

As you should be aware, in these circumstances there may be investigative procedures and legal restrictions which apply as a result. No mystery, no conspiracy - just 'due process'. But a temporary restraint, and all will be revealed as soon as possible, as it should be, in the cause of both transparency and indeed fairness to the councillor involved.

Anonymous said...

You're not saying that this Councillor has been arrested or charged? There is no earthly reason for them to come forward and make a general statement to clear the air.

I don't think we'll ever be told. Labour will say it has all been cleared up and that will be it.

Mrs Angry said...

Sorry. Perhaps I didn't make myself clear.