Thursday 29 May 2014

Broken Barnet, May 2014: the morning after the night before

It is now a week since the local elections, and all parties in Barnet are now beginning to adjust to the new reality of political life in this borough. 

Or not.

In the last few days we have seen the Tories in a state of shock, uncharacteristically silent, unable to comprehend the reasons for the loss of so many of their councillors, and unable to see that their failure to predict such consequences is proof itself of the fundamental problems that have driven their party to the brink of disaster. 

They didn't see it coming, in short, because they didn't look. And their ability to remain happily out of touch with reality, has reached its logical conclusion: not to know when they had made the fatal error of alienating their own electoral guarantors, the residents naturally inclined to vote for them, whose support they took for granted, and overlooked in the rush to impose their half baked policies in the course of the last four years.

Not that Mrs Angry is inclined to help the Barnet Tories analyse what went so awfully wrong, but for the record, it might help if they sat in the corner thinking very hard about their attitude of contempt for the views of residents, and asked themselves why they felt obliged to act with such Stalinist zeal to silence all debate with residents, to avoid real consultation with them, to allow Tory councillors like Brian Coleman and Robert Rams to treat residents with such rudeness at council meetings - and to continue in imposing their most unpopular policies regardless of widespread protest, and an uprising of activism in this borough on an unprecedented scale, and one which brought the focus of media attention not just nationwide, but across the world. 

I mean, really, when it becomes a common place occurrence for the borough to be visited by film crews from Japan, or Australia, or Germany, and documentaries are made on just one of the political issues tearing your community apart - did you never stop to think, Tory councillors of Broken Barnet, hang on - this is all getting out of hand? Maybe ... just maybe we've got this wrong? Maybe we are going to be in a spot of trouble, on polling day?

The result of their arrogance, and ineptitude, is that their control of the council has all but disappeared, and hangs in the balance. 

We are just one by election away from the Tories losing all authority, and the introduction of the new committee system means that they will need to exercise a regime of the most stringent party discipline, and eternal vigilence, to ensure their own members turn up to all meetings. This will be an impossible challenge for the Tories, Mrs Angry cheerfully predicts.

At the election count, she asked one young Tory member why he had stood again for council, when his poor attendance record was so poor, and widely criticised. He maintained that he had made a promise to 'improve' his record of attendance, patchy because of work commitments, but said he thought that actually, going to meetings was not the only part of being a councillor which mattered, helping constituents was just as important. True, but for the next four years, being at meetings is going to be crucial, not optional. 

In truth, what is left of the Barnet Tory party, after the election, is a most peculiar creature, hard to define. 

So many of the members that were most characteristic of the previous administration have left us, thank God.

Consider the loss of the man they dare not name, no longer a Tory by the time of the election, but the dark power behind the throne throughout most of the administration, yes, it's him, Brian Coleman, the malign influence which worked its destructive power over the leadership of the party, and led to its downfall: without his totemic presence in the chamber, what strange synergy there will be, in this new administration.

Let's be clear: the Tory party has accomplished the sell out of our council services to Capita, and got it through an election campaign for two reasons. First of all because of the complete failure of the Labour party to oppose the programme - more of this later - and second: the privatisation has only just begun to become established, and only the first signs of fundamental change have begun to become apparent to residents. That is not going to hold out much longer, which is why it is vital for the new intake of opposition members to start as they mean to go on, and get a grip of contract scrutiny.

This week after the election, in fact on the first morning back after a Bank Holiday weekend, it was almost impossible, as Mrs Angry found, over the course of 14 phone calls in one hour, to reach the council by phone. The new Capita call centre could not cope with the number of calls it was receiving. 

 The way that Capita addresses the shortfall in the number of lines it provides, is to set up 'this number is not recognised' messages, or simply saying 'the line is busy'. This brilliant wheeze - dismissed at the beginning of the contract as teething problems - means that not all calls are logged - if they were the performance statistics would tell the truth, that at times residents cannot access information about their council services. 

These failings to respond to calls will not be recorded as failures to respond: they will simply not appear in the data, thus enabling KPIs to be flunked, as indeed they are, as Mr Mustard will tell you, in the course of the NSL contract. 

This is how your councillors, of both parties, have the wool pulled over their eyes about performance, and are able to remain at contract scrutiny committees, nodding as senior officers and Capita representatives assure them everything is just fine and dandy. 

It is not.

And just bear in mind that where large outsourcing contracts like these have ended, it has often been based on dissatisfaction with call centre performance, as we are now seeing in Birmingham. Contrary to what some are saying, it is possible to escape contracts, if the contractors are proven to be failing to provide the services paid for.

You, councillors of Broken Barnet, are being fooled. No more excuses, please: do your job, and challenge contractors not only on the performance statistics, but how they actually compile those statistics. It takes a bit of effort, doing this, but -hello - that's what you have been elected to do.

Over the last four years, I have sat and watched Labour councillors on committees fail to challenge the most appalling blunders by both Tory members and senior officers, open opportunities for political profit, and, for f*ck;s sake, to do what the people of this borough deserve, stand up for them, and do the right thing, on their behalf.

I'm not prepared to do the same again, in silence. 

In the previous administration countless opportunities were lost, by a failure in courage, in strategy, and most of all in leadership. This cannot continue.

The Judicial Review of One Barnet is the most worrying example. The reason this failed, of course, was not because the merits of the argument of the claimant: Judge Underhill ruled that Barnet had breached the statutory duty to consult residents about the privatisation of services. The Judicial Review failed because it was made too late.

Why was it made too late? Because legal action was not instigated by Labour when it should have been, early on in the process. Legal advice was not taken by Labour, until - it was too late. This was an unforgiveable error in judgement.

Having lost the JR, what then? During the election campaign, we had a series of question times at different parts of the borough. Mrs Angry took part in the first one, and sat in fury as the Labour leader refused to commit the party, if successfully elected, to attempt to exit from the Capita contracts. This also infuriated the majority of residents in the audience.

Now safely back in opposition, where some Labour members feel so much more comfortable, we hear reassurances that the party will 'fight to ensure that One Barnet is not selling residents short'. 

Let's hope that the new intake of more challenging and more radically minded councillors will do just that, and not succumb to the culture of complacency and impotence that has too often prevailed in place of any rigorous process of opposition.

And there are some really, really good new Labour members: at last, some young women, bright, passionate and determined: Reema Patel, Amy Trevethan, and Rebecca Challice. Equally promising are Devra Kay, Kitty Lyons (previously a councillor until 2006), and Kathy Levine, joined by Ammar Naqvi - a very able and welcome candidate, Adam Langleben, who works for Andrew Dismore, Paul Edwards, who used to be involved in union politics in Barnet, with Mrs Angry, a long time ago, the inimitable Alon Or Bach, who stood against Sarah Sackman for the Finchley and Golders Green PPC contest, Phil Cohen, Tim Roberts, and Laurie Williams. 

In an article here the local Times, the Labour leader Alison Moore is quoted as saying that this latest electoral defeat for Labour was in fact nothing of the sort, that the results were 'positive for the party' ... she says - I think absolutely it was a success

If this had been a campaign fought in the context of proportional representation, yes, perhaps. Notably where the candidates won surprising victories, it was largely because acitivists in those areas defied the predictions of the leadership group and did their own thing.

And as far as Mrs Angry is aware, the result in Barnet must be judged on the basis of first past the post, and - winning control. So, no: not a success, another failure. A failure resulting in a stronger party, but still: a failure.

There was every chance of doing this, of winning control, after the calamitous Tory administration of the last four years. 

Let's say it again: the Tories lost this election, and then so did Labour. 

Why? Because of the same misjudgement that failed to challenge them effectively in opposition, and something else too.

In the Times article the headline reads: I still have the backing of members. In the article itself the leader actually states: I still have the confidence of many members ... 

In fact the Labour party is in schism, beneath a veneer of unity, between the more - sorry to say - conservative members, and those more radical in approach, who want a new and more challenging form of opposition. 

It has been so, in truth,  for many years, with all criticism dismissed as supporting one faction or another, personalised, polarised. 

This failure to be inclusive of a range of views, and to allow the same attitudes to prevail without any review, is how an opposition becomes institutionalised, neutralised, too comfortable as part of an establishment.

The division in the party is such a waste of energy, and a real weakness, and yet it is set to continue because some of those who might make a challenge for leadership are too scared of disadvantaging themselves, should they fail, and in the handout of offices, and others feel that everything is just wonderful, and anyone who says it is not is disloyal, and mean. 
What is happening in Barnet is, in its way, a reflection of the faultlines within the national party. A disconnection between the voters, who see only weakness, and lack of conviction, with an establishment that runs on its own momentum, fuelled by an empty tank, right up until the moment of electoral failure.

Four more years of this, then? 

No: there won't be, because new leader or not, the councillors arriving in the Town Hall mark a new course, one of change, which will build a new momentum. 

The Tories in Barnet are in meltdown: in total disarray. Cornelius is the counterpart of his Labour rival, in fact: rather fatally for his party, he lacks leadership, or political instinct, and no doubt, sooner or later will be challenged, presumably by deputy leader Daniel Thomas.

The Tories only began to realise what was on the cards for them, in truth, in the last days of the campaign. The party which had ignored all criticism, all demands for a real dialogue with voters, all attempts at consultation, suddenly realised they were about to be handed the results of the ultimate form of consultation, in the course of the democratic process, when even their normally loyal supporters told them where to get off.

Then, so desperate were they to hold on to Hale, they resorted to such tactics as asking David Cameron to phone voters in that ward, to invite them to support their local Tory candidates. And yet, after a very long count, despite - or perhaps because of - Cameron's help, it became clear just how close they came to losing all three seats, rather than one. Boroughwide, their supporters, all those residents and traders they provoked into a 40 % turnout on polling day, came out in strength to punish them for the parking fiasco, and every other cockup they have created in the last few years.

Look at their major losses: Rams, the two Tambourides -  and good riddance to all three - and a real struggle to hold on to so many wards. The old epicentre of Tory influence in  Chipping Barnet has blown: things fall apart, the centre cannot hold. The heartlands of Conservative power,  in the cradle of Thatcherism, all crumbling. Who would have thought it? 

Me, and quite a few others, in fact, those of us who bothered to look carefully at what was happening, and why.

You can imagine how popular Mrs Angry is with the old guard in the Labour party at the moment, for daring to raise these issues in public: facing accusations of disloyalty, and being unkind, washing dirty linen in public. Oh dear. 

Don't give the Tories something to make political capital from, they are saying. 

Friends, you've been doing that for the last four years, without my assistance. Now is the chance to put an end to it.

The Tories in Barnet are now in no position to make capital out of anything: they are trashed, discredited, floundering about with no leadership of their own, no direction. Richard Cornelius is standing by, smiling politely, like the chief steward of the Titanic, handing out glasses of sherry to passengers, as they wander towards the lifeboats. 

There are no lifeboats. The ship is going down, and we are all going down with it.

And to those people who don't want to hear it, let me say this: there is a need to address these issues honestly, and openly, and now, when it really matters. That is the mark of a healthy relationship: this is what should mark the difference between us, and the quivering, cowardly Tories, who have followed their own leadership blindly over the edge of the electoral abyss.

It might be in the interests of some to shut down all dissent, and carry on as normal, but it is not in the interests of the party,  or those residents who have placed their trust in elected members to form an effective, fighting opposition, and protect them from the onslaught of Tory policies, nationally and locally, that are driving them into poverty, and then seeing them gerrymandered out of this borough, a process which is set to continue in the new administration.

Next year we have a general election. 

As you will see from this piece in the Ham & High ,  the fight between Tory MP Mike Freer and the brilliant Sarah Sackman has already begun. The party must be in a state of unity, and it must have a new approach to campaigning: painful honesty now, and a few more members putting party interest before personal comfort, or ambition  -and Labour will be unstoppable. 

After the humiliating losses for the Tories in the Barnet areas, predicted by the more radical of us amongst the party, it should be said, and dismissed by many - all three constituencies in this borough are now up for grabs. 

Let's start here working towards that, here and now, but let's start by being clear about who we are, where we are, and where we need to go.

Sunday 25 May 2014

We are disappointed, or: Barnet decides - the day of reckoning

Allianz Park stadium and sports centre sits in a semi-rural setting, in the middle of Copthall playing fields, in Mill Hill, surrounded by fields, and old hedgerows, miles from anywhere, inaccessible by public transport, approachable only by a manically road humped meandering road: its splendid isolation a perfect venue, in short, for the process of counting the vote for Barnet's council elections.

We say splendid isolation: in fact the old centre and stadium, long regarded as a white elephant by Barnet Tories, was handed over by them to Saracens rugby club, for a peppercorn rent, and has been tarted up and customised to their specification: the result is an incongrous building, with a shop, and bars, the public one, as Mrs Angry noted with wry amusement on arrival, boasting large windows etched with commendable aspirations to 'honesty', 'humility', and 'discipline'. 

Rogue councillor Brian Coleman had objected to the Barnet Council election count being held at Allianz Park, due to the association of the name - because of course as soon as the former Copthall stadium had been given away to Saracens, they announced an £8 million sponsorship deal with the German insurance company, and renamed it, despited protests from many , not least Jewish residents who are aware of Allianz's history, and its shameful support for the Nazi regime. 

Renamed, rebranded, refurbished - and now lent back to Barnet to hold the count. Were we paying for the privilege? Or was it a favour returned by Nigel Wray, the hugely wealthy owner of Saracens, who happens to be a constituent of Tory leader Richard Cornelius, and fellow member of the Totteridge Residents Association? Who knows. 

Before Mrs Angry could give her name at the reception desk, she was handed an ID badge. Oh yes, said the assistant, smiling, we were warned you were coming. Coming later, she added. Oh. Mrs Angry contemplated the extent of her infamy, and wandered towards the count.

Into the long, narrow room where the ballot boxes were being emptied and counted on tables allocated to each ward in a line, a long walk. Right at the far end the BBC was poised, waiting to film what was a significant moment: the test of a former Tory flagship administration - the day of reckoning, for easycouncil.

Walking along the line of tables was a surreal, dream like experience: or perhaps rather like death by drowning, where the face of everyone you have ever known rises up before you, to say goodbye: in this case, every character who has featured in Broken Barnet over the last four years, friends, foes, people from across the political spectrum in this borough - and Brian Coleman - all gathered together in one room. Friends, enemies, or even, as nwo you see him now you don't Tory councillor Danny Seal suggested 'frenemies'. 

Also keen to chat was his new Hampstead Garden Suburb ward colleague Gabriel Rozenberg, who is a HUGE fan of Mrs Angry. (Even though the so called friend who told her this told him she prefers Mr Reasonable, can you believe it?)  

And she wishes that Tory councillors would stop sidling up to her, as they did all day Thursday, and telling her how much they enjoy reading this blog, because, you feckless eejits, she does not want you to enjoy it, at all. That is NOT the point of this blog. Please pay attention.

She wants you to feel full of remorse, and self recrimination, and to vow to turn away from your path of sin, to a better life of honesty, humility, and discipline. Or you could join the Labour party?

Honesty, humility, and discipline. Like rugby players, but without any of that homoerotic larking about in the bath, as some of you might be too distracted from your duties. 

And your Tory MP chum Matthew Offord would only come in and pull the plug, to stop any of that funny business, in case it prevents procreation, or, UKIP style, perhaps, causes flooding on a biblical scale.  

*Disclaimer ... Sorry: Mrs Angry has had no sleep, is losing the will to write this post, and her mind is wandering.

Gabriel, by the way, is the son of legal journalist Joshua Rozenberg. Oh, and he is also, of course, the son of Melanie Phillips, which may explain his predisposition to admiration of women with forthright views - and a limited amount of tact and diplomacy.

Speaking of which: the previous day had been spent by Mrs Angry at two different polling stations: one in West Finchley, and one in West Hendon. The first session was enlivened by the musings of a local UKIP member, see below, who entertained us with the story of his life growing up in South Africa, his first languages being Zulu, and Afrikaans. He came here as a fifteen year old, he said. So, said Mrs Angry, listening to his lifestory, and tales of derring do, and living in the USA, and elsewhere, you want to deny to European immigrants the privileges you as a South African immigrant enjoyed, by settling here?

Tellers at a West Finchley station, including Cllr Jim Tierney

No, no, he retorted, as the Asian Tory teller regarded him, coolly, but in dignified silence, we want the same rules as Canada and Australia, and ... and would those rules have allowed you in? Ah. He wasn't sure.

He had a good story about another election, however: his first wife, he said, had been working in a polling station many years ago, when Winston Churchill walked in. He summoned the Presiding Officer over and demanded he tell him the name of the Conservative candidate. The Presiding Officer informed him, with pursed lips, that he was unable to do so, as it was not permitted for him to discuss political matters with voters. 

A heavy responsibility, of course, being a Presiding Officer. Mrs Angry has done it, in the past, and therefore has some knowledge of those rules which dictate what may or may not be done within the environs of a polling station. It became obvious at the next stint of telling, at a station in West Hendon, that not all Presiding Officers are as well informed or active in their duties as they should be.

The Tory tellers at this station, it transpired, were not Conservative party activists. Or members. Or Conservatives. Or even particularly interested in politics. Or residents of Barnet. They were there, they both explained, to do a favour for a friend. Odd. Even more odd was the presence of a couple of men standing outside the station, talking conspiratorially all the time, using blue tooth and phones to communicate with who know who, and casting hostile glances at Mrs Angry, for no reason she could see. 

Unofficial Tory 'security' at the polling station

Mrs Angry was told they were there to 'be with' the Tory teller, but they had no ID, and did nothing but watch people. At several points, a large black limo with associates of theirs would come and drive slowly past the polling station entrance, again, the occupants staring at Mrs Angry. Then one of the men took a chair, and sat down outside the entrance, in what was frankly, rather an intimidating gesture. All of this, including the car's registration number, was passed on to the Labour party agent, and then to the Returning Officer, but it should have been addressed immediately, in person.

The Tory candidates in West Hendon failed to win any seats, of course.

Mrs Angry had arrived at the count at midday, and the real counting had not really got underway. When it did, the process was long, highly complex, and intensely scrutinised by observers from all parties, sitting at the tables, the length of the room. That the vote was so complex was due to the number of cross votes, with some residents deciding to distribute their favours amongst a motley collection of parties, as is their right, but causing a real problem for the count, which is why, as well as the closeness of many of the results, the event went on, and on, and on ... 

Mrs Angry had collared a particularly red faced Richard Cornelius on arriving at the count, and asked the Tory leader if he was feeling happy, or ... Grimacing, he shrugged and choosing, in his Mr Punch-like way, a suitable fairground allusion said rather gloomily, well ... politics is a real roller coaster, and ... you have your ups and downs ... 

And then with a certain gleam in his eye, he predicted a long day of many recounts: meaning, Mrs Angry concluded that a. the sense that the Tories had had a pretty catastrophic result was right, and b. that they were going to fight over every last vote, whatever it took. It took all day and all night, that was what it took - and many asked why that was the case, when in the olden day, pre-Capita, pre One Barnet, we were able to organise an election night declaration within a much shorter time. 

In between wandering up and down the tables, picking up whispers about who was in, and who was out, the only other thing to do was to go upstairs to the cafe, where people sat at large round tables covered in white linen tablecloths, like a wedding reception from hell, with guests trying not to sit at the wrong table, with those awful people from the groom's side, or ... oh dear ... libdems. The Greens, of course, sat on the floor in a circle, held hands, and had a picnic. 

Yes, I am making that up.

Or am I?

Hung around the walls of this room, and indeed everywhere in the building, was a rather haphazard art collection, apparently belonging to Nigel Wray, of sporting scenes: pretty ghastly stuff, to be frank, but clearly worth a fortune. Good job he didn't have to flog it to pay the rent on the stadium, isn't it? Mrs Angry was tempted to pinch one, as collateral, to make up for the subsidy extended to Saracens, courtesy of her council tax, but then ... would you really want that stuff on your own wall? No.

Brian Salinger, in his election day tie

By now some councillors had seen the writing on the wall, and predicted their own political demise. As soon as Mrs Angry had arrived, in fact, Tory Kate Salinger had told her cheerfully that she was 'toast'. 'Burnt Toast', she added. She was right. 

A shame for Kate, because she is a nice woman, but, despite her own valiant effort in defying the shameful allowance rise hike,  she was ultimately the victim of her own inability to maintain such independence of mind, and retain her loyalty to the party which agreed to shut libraries, and did, and then saw one reopened by squatters from the Occupy movement, and returned to the community. In her way she tried to support the new community library, but her position was untenable, and voters were unforgiving.

Libdem leader Jack Cohen spent the day in the most awful state of torment, believing he had lost his seat in Childs Hill, which he has held since 1986. Lord and Lady Palmer had both stood down, and personal loyalties clearly no longer applied to the new Libdem candidates. Would Jack Cohen, who is widely respected, a dedicated, hard working councillor, and a man of great wit, really no longer be a member of Barnet Council? Such a prospect was too awful for words. Who else would make speeches about Albert Einstein sitting on a hot stove, or argue with Mrs Angry about the wrong size rivets on the Titanic, or dare to try to correct her on her knowledge of the films of Luis Bunuel? Robert Rams? Ha. 

Robert Rams: what had happened to his vote, delivered by the grateful residents of East Barnet? Read on.

Slowly the results began to emerge, and we moved into another room to hear the declarations given by Returning Officer and Chief Executive Andrew Travers. Unsurprisingly, the right wing Tory Brian Gordon, who had jumped ship in risky Hale to stand in safer Edgware, was returned, along with starchy-knickered, self professed Thatcherite, Helena Hart, and her gal pal, the former manageress of the Ponders End branch of Freeman, Hardy and Willis, 1953-1969, Miss Joan Scannell. 

Mrs Angry was amused to see that to the side of the Returning Officer was another of Nigel Wray's pictures, this one rather good, a large canvas (see below) depicting an upwardly mobile Nelson Mandela. Brian Gordon, of course, is famous for once 'entertaining' the captive audience at a home for elderly residents with his blacked up impersonation of Mr Mandela: so, a fitting backdrop to his admirer's return to power.

Robert Rams, from the start of the day, had a face like a smacked *rse, (I have redacted and edited my own comment here, btw) and was in a full on sulk, all day, disappearing eventually when it became clear he had - deservedly - lost his seat in East Barnet. 

Like many of the Tories who lost seats or failed to win one, he did not have the grace to attend the declaration, and take his defeat like a man. The man who shut our Church Farmhouse Museum, and our libraries, and sat in council meetings scoring cheap points against any opponent or resident who addressed a committee, or sat there playing with his phone rather than give his attention to proceedings - he was thrown out of office and he and his colleagues replaced by three Labour candidates, Phil Cohen,  Laurie Williams, and best of all, Rebecca Challice, a young and really brilliant addition to the Labour group.

Another Tory who did not bother staying to hear the declaration was Ansuya Sodha, the former Labour councillor for West Hendon who was deselected, and became so outraged at losing what she had thought was her right to remain a councillor, she defected to the Tory group, when they offered her a nomination. Elected instead were three Labour councillors, the redoubtable, wonderful Agnes Slocombe, now the longest serving councillor in Barnet, the hardworking assistant to Andrew Dismore, Adam Langleben, and Mrs Angry's dear friend, the lovely Dr Devra Kay, who is a woman of many parts: Yiddish scholar, jazz singer, and a real delight. 

Councillor Agnes Slocombe

No one likes a turncoat, and really Sodha's behaviour was pretty shabby, by any standards. Used by the Tories who spent the last few years sniggering at her every time she spoke, because she is a woman, an older woman, and an Asian woman, she will now be unceremoniously dumped by them and forgotten. Good riddance.

Tom Davey spent most of the day in what to Mrs Angry was a most satisfyingly intense state of barely concealed panic, facing the real prospect that he was not going to return to his seat. Even when the results were declared, he struggled to show any sense of relief. It was a close run thing, as demonstrated by the election of one Labour candidate, Kitty Lyons. 

Mrs Angry sincerely hopes that this experience will teach young Master Davey to grow up, learn a little discretion, and perhaps stop wasting so much time playing board games and dressing up, and more time trying to learn the art of empathy, and understand the needs of those less fortunate than him. Benefit 'scroungers', the disabled, abused women, for example.

Another spectacular victory for Labour came in Underhill, which had been a split ward, with one Labour councillor. On Friday we waved goodbye to Tories Rowan Quigley Turner, and his amusing colleague Andrew Strongolou: all replaced by a terrific team - Tim Roberts,
Paul Edwards (a former union colleague - comrade - of Mrs Angry, as it happens), and another terrific young female candidate, Amy Trevethan, extremely bright and ambitious - and winning, like Rebecca Challice, against all the odds and naysayers who said they were too young (ie under retirement age, like most of the old codgers in the Tory party) or too female (unlike most of the old codgers in the Tory party). 

Amy is standing against Theresa Villiers next year, and she is going to give Villiers a real problem, because, as these results show, there is a previously untapped Labour vote in Chipping consituency that just may take Amy to Westminster. We desperately need young, gifted women to enter politics both locally and nationally, and now we are beginning to see that happen. 

The other parties: how did they do? The Greens did ok: and also did the usual terrible thing, by default, of splitting the anti-Tory vote, thereby delivering you, dear reader to another Conservative council. Those of you, and yes I am looking at someone in particular,  who felt obliged to distribute your votes here there and everywhere in High Barnet with light hearted abandon, to, Greens, Libdems, anyone but Labour, have returned three Tory councillors, and as it turned out, at the nerve wracking end of the night, a Tory administration. Thank you very much.

It is a great shame that the Greens did not come to an agreement in certain wards to butt out, and help us all climb out of the pit of Tory doom, but the greater good, and strategic planning seems to pale into insignificance, when you spend all day worrying about the planet, and climate change, and stuff, we must suppose. 

Barnet Alliance's strategy of recommending people vote 'anyone but conservative' would also, in retrospect be a mistake. Tactics, tactics: a hard lesson to learn, but an unavoidable truth.

UKIP. It must be no longer avoided, Mrs Angry. 

Most of the UKIP candidates were what you might expect: old boys in blazers, wishing they had a gin and tonic in their hand, and wandering about the building at a loss as to what to do. One of them, the Underhill candidate, did pretty well, the rest pretty poorly, and none of them were elected. End of story for Mr Ferridge, in London? Probably.

The collapse of the Libdem vote was another story. Mrs Angry thought it would be spectacular, and it was. Areas like Mill Hill, a former stronghold - the vote was less than UKIP. Unfortunately, the good people of Mill Hill, or at least some of the people of Mill Hill, saw fit to return the moustachioed octogenerian Tory John Hart, whose recent highly offensive remarks about the 'handouts' to disabled children at Mapledown School should on their own have seen him finished as a councillor. Whether or not he is fit enough to see through another four year term is another question. And there is real danger now for the Tories in Mill Hill from Labour, who made previously unheard of gains there - as Mrs Angry predicted.

And then there is Childs Hill. 

This is the ward that kept us waiting until so late at night, as they checked, and rechecked, and checked again. 

Early on in the day, Jack Cohen had said to Mrs Angry, shaking his head, that he was gone. He had clearly given up all hope of retaining his seat, and the poignancy of such a loss, both politically, and personally, was felt by many at the count, of all parties. The count continued, and it became clear that in the cross voting, he was doing much better, as perhaps you might expect. Not until the last minute of the last declaration of the evening did we discover who had pulled it off, as both Labour and Tory candidates were in reach of the crucial figure. He won, by nine votes.

Of course as a Labour member, Mrs Angry should have been rooting for the Labour candidate, and a Labour win. But in truth Jack Cohen, though he will hate me saying this, and so will they, is a better Labour councillor than many of the Labour councillors, and he is certainly by far a better opposition councillor than many of them. He clearly was close to tears when his result was announced - and so was Mrs Angry. 

A shell shocked Jack Cohen, after the result that just saved him

From tears to laughter then : come on, he who must not be named, shall be named: Brian Coleman. Remember him? Already feeling nostalgic, aren't you? Come back, Brian - no. Don't. Really: please don't. 

He arrived with his mum, and promptly headed over to Labour leader Alison Moore, mwah, mwah... 'Leader designate', he proclaimed, to the great excitement of no one in particular. The kiss of death, in fact, for both. 

As soon as it became clear that the tray for Brian's vote was not overflowing with votes: indeed it was positively underflowing with votes, he sneaked out, unnoticed, unmissed.


There were a lot of very tired, and very, very tired people at the count, exhausted by the last few days and nights of campaigning, and looking longingly at the bar, which was kept firmly shut throughout, no doubt for fear of the consequences. By the time of the Totteridge declaration most of us were in a heightened state of nervous hysteria. Andrew Travers read out the names in his deadpan, E L Wisty sort of voice. 

Auld, Ash, Green Party, 464 votes

Cole,  Michael, Liberal Democrats, 256

Coleman, Brian John, ... No Description ....

That was it. The room erupted in ribald laughter. Brian Coleman: No Description. A fitting epitaph to his political life, which died there, on that podium, in his absence, in the Allianz Park Stadium, on the 23rd May, 2014.

Mr Travers struggled to maintain his composure, but more or less pulled himself together in order to tell us  that the old fool had 265 votes, which, as his former colleague Danny Seal pointed out, was about the same as the number of twitter followers he has. Had: he has bowed out of twitter, with a last tweet telling the world he was sitting with a glass of something, listening to Tosca. You know, the one where the fat lady sings, and then throws herself off the parapet. Very apt. 

As Mrs Angry has pointed out elsewhere, there was once a famous performance of Tosca, where the diva found herself falling on a trampoline, and bouncing back again. 

God forbid. Look: Mrs Angry is making the sign of the cross. 

So: at the end of the long day, and the long night, where were we? 

Labour had come tantalisingly close to taking control, winning unexpected votes - even in Totteridge - in areas the Labour leadership had dismissed as unwinnable.

And here is the bitter truth, and a truth that some do not want to hear.

With better leadership, and a properly focused campaign, Labour would now be in control of Barnet Council. 

Those responsible for this missed opportunity, you might think, should immediately do the right thing, and stand down. 

In an interview given to the local Times here , Labour's leader Alison Moore said:

We fought a hard campaign, and we have elected some brilliant new councillors that will contribute to Barnet. There was a chance we could have won, and we are disappointed but it’s certainly not a ringing endorsement for the Conservatives. 
Tonight’s result is testament to our manifesto and out pitch to people about restoring the fairness and democracy in Barnet after an administration that have not engaged with local people and dismissed their views.

We will continue to fight and be on the side of local residents and making sure their voices are heard. We will also fight to ensure that One Barnet is not selling residents short.
We are disappointed. There was a chance we could have won.

Not a ringing endorsement for the Conservatives. 

That's ok then, isn't it? Keep calm, and keep on losing elections. You've only lost three local elections, and one general, so obviously learning from mistakes is unlikely, but hey: what does it matter?

It's not just One Barnet that is selling residents short, in truth, that has been selling residents short for the last four years, and  longer - it is the failure of the Labour party in Barnet to act as an effective opposition.

There are many really good, dedicated, hard working Labour councillors in Barnet, and now there is a new intake of fresh, intelligent, creative new members, most of whom have a distinctly more radical approach, and will quickly come into conflict with a leadership that remains on the course it has followed for the last God knows how many years.

Fellow blogger Roger Tichborne has described very well many of the ways in which the Labour leadership has failed in its duty, and has expressed the view of the majority of us here:

and it is a view that must be heard by those who influence the direction of the Labour group now, before it is too late.

The Labour leader should have offered her resignation as soon as it became apparent she had lost yet another election - and this one was a winnable election. 

Mrs Angry understands that she has declared her intention to stay on at least another year, until the next general election. 

This is preposterous. 

In no other context would a party leader who has failed to win so many times refuse to put the party interest first, and cling on to power. Change is good: change is vital - and if we want to be serious about winning our local constituencies next year - and the local results prove that with the right campaign all three wards are now vulnerable - we need a new leader.

If the Labour leader will not do the honourable thing and resign, there must be a leadership contest, and just as we have a fresh intake of members, we must start with a new purpose, a new sense of direction, and a new attitude. 

Let's dump the complacency, the settling for second best, the apologetic deference to senior officers, and the gentlemen's agreements with Tory opponents. 

Let's not copy any more of the Tories' policies, and budgets, and help them maintain the status quo. 

Let's remember we are the party for, what was it? Yes: the many, not the few, not the residents of Totteridge, and Bishops Avenue,  the people in West Hendon, and Colindale, and Strawberry Vale, the ones without a stake in the Tory controlled Barnet, the ones who are facing real hardship in their lives and desperately need an opposition party that is angry on their behalf, and will fight social injustice with passion, and hold this council, and their partners in shame at Capita to account, and make them squirm until we can prise their sweaty hands off our public services, and take them back for us, for our benefit, and not the profit of their shareholders.

That's my view, and that is all I have to say. I won't support a Labour group in Barnet that continues in the way it has, and I won't keep quiet about what would be a serious betrayal of the best interests of the people of our community. 

Adapt or die: the rule of nature, and the principle of evolution. Brian Coleman's fatal mistake was in defying that rule, and that principle: it is a folly common to many politicians, and therein lies a lesson for all of us.

It's time to move on.

Broken Barnet, May 2014.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

The Lost Highway, or: the road to Broken Barnet, May 2014

                                        Now, boys, don't start your ramblin' round 
                                        On this road of sin or you're sorrow bound 
                                        Take my advice or you'll curse the day 
                                        You started rollin' down that lost highway 
Hank Williams

and the revelation of what is undeniably an absolute scandal - the disproportionate allocation of funding from Barnet Council's Highways budget, in the course of which some wards have inexplicably been given hugely generous handouts, and others, such as in the case of Labour held Colindale Ward this year - not a single penny. 

The allocation of the Highways budget funding was, until Tory Cabinet member Dean Cohen took over from Brian Coleman, allocated equally between wards. He changed the system, supposedly so as to dispense the money ... erm, what was it - ah yes, ... according to 'need'. 

Earlier this year, Coleman alleged that Cohen had spent more than £800,000 on his own ward of Golders Green. Mrs Angry submitted a Freedom of Information request to verify the level of expenditure on a ward by ward basis, and the response was truly stunning: in two years Golders Green Ward had been awarded a staggering £1.6 million - one million alone in the last year, the year before the current election. 

The disparity in the level of spending was plain to see, and is is clear that the most favoured wards tend to be Conservative held, or potentially marginal. 

By contrast to the million pounds plus given this year to Golders Green, Colindale, a Labour held ward with areas of social deprivation, Colindale, despite long standing requests from local councillors, received absolutely nothing. After these revelations, a local councillor complained about this matter to the Chief Executive. Weeks later, and there has been no adequate response. 

It would appear that such a reluctance to respond might be because there is nothing that Mr Travers can say in defence of what is clearly an indefensible situation: that the Labour voting residents of Colindale are subsidising the expenditure on pavements and roads of the residents of Tory Golders Green. 

Mrs Angry therefore decided to submit another Freedom of Information request, this time asking for a breakdown of expenditure of the £1.6 million that Councillor Dean Cohen allocated to his own ward, over the last two years, since he changed from a system of equal allocation to one based on 'need'. The response to this request is simply incredible.

Here is the expenditure: I have added the postcode to the addresses, for reasons which will become clear.


Footway - relay

Heathfield Gardens NW11          £69,281,07
Hurstwood Road NW11               £89,515,93
Hurstwood Road NW11               £70,305,79

Carriageway Resurfacing

Tilling Road NW2                       £50,057,45
Prayle Grove NW2                     £22,241,54
Heathfield Gardens NW11         £51,833,56
Highfield Avenue NW11             £200,506,58


Footway Renewal

Western Avenue NW11              £42,450,37   
Princes Park Avenue NW11      £296,663,58
Woodlands NW11                        £242,991,06
Gloucester Gardens NW11        £70,853,22
Woodlands Close NW11              £58,295,75

Carriageway Resurfacing

Claremont Road NW2               £68,166,45
Hurstwood Road NW11             £36,160,00
Princes Park AvenueNW11      £231,650,00

You will note that the lowest payments are to roads in the NW2 area. This is the less affluent part of the Golders Green ward, lying west of the Hendon Way. Tilling Road, in fact, is the location of the Mapledown School for disabled children, which has just had its vital respite care schemes cut thank to the Tory councillors, including Schools cabinet member Reuben Thompstone, who is a local councillor but had never visited Mapledown. A forgotten part of the ward, it might appear.

Most of the roads which have received rather more generous handouts from the Highways budget are in a relatively small area, north of the Golders Green Road, an area where Councillor Dean Cohen himself lives.

Most fortunate of all are the residents of Princes Park Avenue, who have been handed nearly £530,000 in two years for their roads and pavements.

To put this in perspective, let us take another look at the graph showing the distribution of Highways funding in all wards, across two years: 


You will see that the total amount of funding given to one road in Councillor Cohen's own ward amounts to the same total given to some wards over two years,  in entirety

Libdem stronghold Childs Hill received less than Princes Park Avenue - around £488, 000, the Labour ward of East Finchley - £322,000. And of course the Labour  ward of Colindale received only £92,936.

The highly marginal ward of Hale has been given a particularly large amount of funding, second only to Councillor Cohen's own ward in Golders Green. This must of course be a coincidence, and it is unfortunate that in both cases, Hale and Golders Green, according to Mrs Angry's spies, for some reason the work which this funding has paid for is still continuing in the last few days before the election, a reminder to all voters, of course, that their council is keen to facilitate their easy route to the nearest polling station. We wouldn't want any voter to trip on their way, would we? Unless they live in Colindale, or East Finchley.

After Mrs Angry brought this interesting distribution of funds to the attention of certain Labour councillors who were given continual excuses from officers as to why their own Highways related improvements were not forthcoming, one member made a complaint to the Chief Executive, and asked for an explanation. Oh dear. Tactless. And there is apparently still a problem in formulating a full response, despite the involvement of Mrs Angry's favourite officer, Ms Pam Wharfe.

Ms Wharfe's excuse for the lack of funds for Colindale was:

all roads and pavements works are evaluated on need therefore there should simply have been roads and pavements in a worse position elsewhere. Clearly a lot of work is being done in 2013/14 on Lanacre Avenue in relation to regeneration works connected to Grahame Park.

Mmm. Clearly. That would explain everything.

Oh, and then ... there is this briefing on a four year expenditure plan, which may or may not tally with what actually was distributed, but tells you something about their intentions:

All that dosh for Totteridge? Interesting to see the winners and losers, compared to this projection, isn't it?

At the last Audit meeting, the Chair suggested that any concerns that the disparity in Highways expenditure was unlawful should be referred to the External Auditor.

What do you think of that, readers?

But anyway, here we are, on the eve of the election, and all is up for grabs, at least in theory. The truth is that the Tories are flailing about, unable to present anything to offer the voters - too frightened even to mention the mass privatisation of council services that they have overseen in the course of the last administration, with no mandate, or consultation with residents - and shrinking in fear of the impact of blunders like the parking policy, the allowance rise they awarded themselves, the support they gave to Brian Coleman, the cuts to disabled children's respite care, the handing over of Hendon Crematorium to the profiteering sweaty hands of Capita.

Their manifesto, such as it is, only surfaced in the latter days of the campaign, and what a cracker it is:

The Tories promise -

Low council tax (even if they have to take the money away from disabled children)
New school places ( for children out of the borough who get through the selective entrance exams of the best scoring schools in Barnet)
A green borough (what is left after providing more potential sites for developers, or in the case of our parks, pimping our open spaces for commercial hire)
Better roads and pavements (ha! Good one: see above - only applies in Tory/marginal wards)
New homes (if you are 'well off', preferably a Russian oligarch, or lucky enough to be allocated one of the three new council houses, the first for 22 years).

No mention, of course, of any extension in the privatisation of our council services, which is absolutely guaranteed, should the Tories return to power.
The campaign for the local election has had the Tory administration fighting a rearguard action, of course, with nowhere to go. What could they say, to defend their record in power, and persuade residents to vote for more of the same? They managed to return in 2010 by not informing voters of their plans to privatise council services, and then refusing to consult on those plans. They know only how to impose policy, not how to work in partnership with their own electorate, and respect their views. 

The last four years in which they have been in control of Barnet has been marked by a virtual civil war, between an increasingly politicised and well informed opposition of activists, bloggers and campaign groups, a guerrilla war, striking right at the heart of the Conservative agenda, and continually disrupting what they thought would be the easy installation of an easycouncil regime, a flagship borough, and a new model of local government.

From easycouncil, to Futureshape, to One Barnet: then as the toxic brand became too much to deal with, the privatisation of this borough became merely 'a change programme', a euphemism discreetly murmured by Tory leader Richard Cornelius, with all the discretion and unctuousness of a handwringing undertaker, perfectly cast in the era of Easycrem, and the Capita way of death that we now must subscribe to.

Such is the level of concern over the failure to convey to the ungrateful voters of Broken Barnet the magnificent achievements of our Tory council, in one ward, key to electoral success, they have had to call on the help of local Tory MP, the godfather of easycouncil himself, Mike Freer. 

This is Childs Hill, traditionally held by the Libdems, but now Lord and Lady Palmer are standing down, Tories have convinced themselves that they have the natural first call on the ward, as indeed have Labour. Which party is right? Or will the ward remain loyally Libdem? (Yes, I know, but I like Jack Cohen, and would like him at least to return, as frankly he is the only councillor in Barnet with any wit, and intellect).

Freer did his best to help his Tory colleagues by sending out a 'survey' about the Mansion  Tax, and trying to frighten what the Tories imagine to be the great hoardes of wealthy mansion owning residents who might resent paying their fair share of contribution to the public purse. Tax, you should remember, for Barnet Tories, is an anathema, and teh principle should apply only to poor people, who should stop moaning about the Bedroom Tax, because it does not exist, and anyway they are poor, which is their fault.

This 'survey' has got Freer into trouble, because he is alleged to have misused parliamentary resources for electoral purposes, and will now face an investigation into the matter. But what is telling about this is it shows the Tories have misread the situation and made assumptions about residents which are inaccurate: in fact most people in Barnet are hard working people who aspire to own their own homes, and feel no sympathy for those owning properties worth £2 million or more. The very phrase 'Mansion Tax' is guaranteed to alienate most of the voters they need to persuade to support them.

Their fatal error, the Barnet Tories, is that they confuse the interests of those who make the biggest donations to their party with the ordinary residents whose lives have become so much harder over the last few years. 

Aside from the demands of austerity, the residents and traders of Barnet have been incensed by the parking fiasco, by the arrogance of Brian Coleman, and the failure of his former colleagues to sanction his behaviour: they do not approve of cuts to disabled schools in order to pay for a 23 pence a week tax 'gesture', and they most certainly do not want to see their local crematorium run for profit. 

They don't care about the tax burden of absentee home owners in Bishops Avenue, and yet even if they are not directly affected themselves, they see the injustice of the Tory housing policy, and the immorality of trying to make profit from the provision  of care to the disabled.

In short, the inherent decency of most people in this borough has reached the extent of tolerance that they can bestow on the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet. Tomorrow they have a chance to make their opinions count: let's hope they do just that. 

Over the last four years, I have chronicled the story of this Conservative administration, in loving detail, all for your reading pleasure. 

What a story it has been: one long tale of incompetence, immorality, greed, laziness, inertia, corruption, hypocrisy, and abject submission to the influence of private interests, conflict of interests, and swivel eyed lunacy, promulagated by a bunch of neo Thatcherite, doltheaded Tory councillors who care more about prancing about in a set of moth eaten mayoral robes, and stuffing their tupperware boxes with goodies from the corporate buffet table, than they do about the residents facing real hardship as a direct result of their own policies, and those of the Tory government they support.

The real Tory manifesto is there, for all to see: what they have done, and what they have failed to do, and what they will do if they return to power. 

I never intended to carry on writing this blog as long as I have - frankly I have had more than enough, and would welcome the chance to escape Broken Barnet. 

If Labour take control of the borough tomorrow, Mrs Angry can retire, and I can run away. 

Do me a favour, please, and put me out of my misery, the only way that counts - vote Labour, and kick the likes of Richard Cornelius, Robert Rams, Tom Davey, Dean Cohen and all the rest of the fecking eejits that have hijacked this borough, and got us travelling on the lost highway, right up the *rse.

Thank you.

This was Broken Barnet.

It's up to you, what happens next.

And this one is for you, Councillor Cohen - enjoy: