Tuesday 12 May 2015

A Long Day's Journey into Night: Broken Barnet - Election 2015

Even before the polls closed, when she arrived at Allianz Park, for the election count on Thursday night, Mrs Angry was already slightly worried that she might well end the evening in a state of shock.

Anaphylactic shock, that is: having accidentally eaten something to which Mrs Angry is allergic - and watching alarming rashes appear, heart racing, feeling faint, and slightly sick. Symptoms easily confused with the effects of a long and tiring day, a seven hour, all night ordeal by ballot, and the reaction to a sequence of disastrous election results, along with what Mrs Angry's handy bedside reference book for incurable hypochondriacs describes as 'the feeling of anxiety or impending doom' associated with such episodes.

Well: a sense of doom soon descended on the light headed Mrs Angry, on arrival, as the mother of Sarah Sackman greeted her, anxiously, with news of the exit polls. Oh dear.

No one believed them, at first. But you know what happened, of course, as the longest day turned into night, a chilly evening slowly changing into a red sky in the morning, and a shepherd's warning, above the green desert fields of Copthall, a clear warning of disaster. Because, eventually, there it was:  a disaster - nationally, and locally, with another Tory government, and all three Tory seats in Barnet held by their previous MPs. 

During the evening, we moved desultorily between the count itself, one huge long line of people emptying out boxes, and flicking through piles of paper with rubber thimbles - and the refreshment room, with party workers, candidates and guests sat awkwardly around linen clothed round tables, like some awful wedding party, where the bride had not turned up, and the reception had been cancelled, but all the aunts and uncles and cousins felt they might as well sit and wait and watch a bit of telly, until it was time to catch their train home to Blackpool. 

At the top table, clearly marked out in their own fashion, rather like a bunch of tomcats spraying their territory, sat the UKIP party members: taking over the table and surrounding area with posters stuck to the pillars, and their literature, if that is not a contradiction in terms, spread out like the tourist information at an evangelical christian bed and breakfast place. 

The UKIP pack included only one rather formidable looking woman, with long, steely grey hair, who sat alone amongst the cohort of old boys in blazers, all of them corralled in a circle for safety, backs against the enemy.

On the tv screen, the disaster unrolled before our eyes, Labour losses, Tory gains, Libdem annihilation (not so disastrous, of course), a string of long serving MPs waving goodbye to their seats, wearing tight smiles as they listened to the declaration, and calculated the financial losses that had disappeared, with the confiscation of their season ticket to the parliamentary gravy train.

Downstairs in the count, the staff began their night's work. For Mrs Angry, who can barely count past nine without forgetting where she is, simply watching them speed through the piles of ballot papers made her feel even more nauseous, similar to the effect of motion sickness, crosses moving through the sequence like the pencilled figures in an animated flicker book, jumping from Labour, to Conservative, at a dizzying speed. 

We sat staring solemnly at the piles, slowly watching the inevitable outcome loom with unstoppable certainty into sharper and sharper focus, and wondering how we had arrived at this point, from a day which had started with such promise.

Most of Mrs Angry's day had been spent standing outside a polling station in a church hall in Finchley, opposite the park, and not far from home.

Always interesting, this job, chatting to the voters, ignoring the secretive, mistrustful ones who run off, muttering at you rudely, seeming to think you want to know who they voted for; helping old ladies down the steps, patting their dog's head, admiring babies, chatting to the vicar about his wonderful display with the history of their war memorial: and chatting to the staunchly independent lady Tory tellers who keep you company, tell you about their hip replacements, but bite their lips and bravely carry on, when you offer to get them a chair. Perhaps they think you will use some sort of cunning socialist plan to get all those polling card numbers and keep them to yourself.

These women are a dying breed: unquestioning loyalty to the Conservative party as it used to be, without knowing it has become something utterly different, or understanding the impact of their own party's policies on those less fortunate than they are. 

One of these tellers later in the day was sporting a purple rosette. You're not from UKIP, are you, teased Mrs Angry? The woman admitted the Tory blue had faded, over the years, to a sort of violet colour. But it was, she explained, of sentimental value: a rosette she had worn since Margaret was MP. 

Ah. Yes. Margaret.

Mrs Angry's mobile rang: it was her 89 year old neighbour, Padraig. Theresa! he yelled. Then again: Theresa! The phone went dead.

Mrs Angry panicked, as Padraig is very frail, and is often unwell, and she has the key to the house, in case of emergencies, which occur quite often. Had he fallen again? 

The Tory teller looked on indifferently, uninterested in Mrs Angry's dilemma, and steadfastly carrying on taking numbers ... Luckily the lovely Amanda, a local PCSO attending the polling station had been listening, and immediately offered to cycle round and check he was ok. 

Miss Angry, who got home at the same time as the policewoman, later reported that Padraig had announced, on her arrival, standing at the garden gate, and shaking his fist, that the emergency was that ... he wanted to go and vote, having suddenly remembered that that fecking (Mrs Angry is paraphrasing) **** David Cameron was destroying the NHS, which his taxes had paid for, since he arrived from Sligo, in 1946, (ok, paid for from 1948) and on which he depended, now, to keep him alive.

Being unable to sit on the back of the bicycle, and as the police emergency vehicle which had also attended, screeching to a halt, at top speed, was probably not going to take him to the polling station, this request was one the PCSO could not really accommodate, sadly. It may be the last opportunity to exercise his right to vote, and it is his generation which have invested the most in this country's NHS, and Welfare State, and now face the destruction of everything they fought for, paid for, and on which they now rely.

Throughout all the local streets, swarms of red t shirted Labour volunteers buzzed about, to a brilliantly orchestrated plan.  There was one enormous sign, with a commandment to vote Conservative, two doors away from the Polling station, but no sign of any Tory activists anywhere - and in fact throughout the campaign, Mrs Angry had not seen a single canvasser, even from a safe distance, using her neighbourhood watch x ray specs, scanning up and down the road.

The feeling from the campaign to elect Sarah Sackman was brimming with optimism, and energy- and everyone hoped the polls were right, and the London swing take her to Westminster. It was not to be. 

Over in Hendon, Labour's Andrew Dismore was determined to be returned to the seat he lost five years ago, by only 106 votes, to Matthew Offord. He deserved to be: Dismore was a very good MP, and respected even by Tory voters - such as Mrs Angry's late parents - for his work in the constituency. Everyone expected Offord, who has been such a lacklustre, at times absurd MP, to lose. They were proved wrong.

Dismore's failure, polling 20,064 to Offord's 24,328, was a real surprise, but in retrospect, perhaps it should have been predicted. He himself has pointed to the impact of Tory housing policy on the demographic landscape of the western side of the borough: West Hendon has brought the issues of 'social cleansing' and gerrymandering to the fore, but the gentrification, and Toryfication, of this constituency has been in progress for some time, and undermined the Labour vote. 

Now we must turn to the Finchley and Golders Green result.

Despite the brilliant campaign run by Sarah Sackman, turning what had been assumed to be a safe Tory seat into a marginal constituency, in the end Mike Freer won by 25,835 votes to her total of 20,173. It is true to say, of course, that twenty thousand people, almost half of voters did not want him to be returned to office: but there we are: in the end he achieved a majority, and that is all that counts, in the present system of voting.

Unfortunately, the end of the Finchley Tory campaign was marred by a truly shocking tactic, clearly the demonstration of a desperate party absolutely determined to win at all costs, even if it required a descent into gutter politics: completely baseless -lunatic - allegations appeared in several newspapers, with no evidence whatsoever, that Sarah Sackman's canvassers in Golders Green had been deliberately 'outing' Freer to members of the orthodox Jewish community. Completely unsubstantiated, of course, but the Tory press published this smear anyway. 

Just how insidious and effective this sort of smear is, at the time of an election, is demonstrated here by local writer and journalist Francis Beckett, who also took a turn on duty at a Finchley polling station.

The idea that Sarah Sackman, or any canvasser, would do such a thing, as a political strategy, is simply absurd - and a repellent suggestion.

Worse still, from the point of view of Mrs Angry, she has heard from reliable sources - Labour and Tory -  that her name has also been used by local Tories, in connection with this smear - deeply offensive, and utterly untrue: demonstrably untrue, in fact laughable, were it not so repugnant. 

Freer deservedly won widespread praise for the speech he made in a parliamentary debate on the vote for equal marriage: by doing so, he outed himself in the most public way possible, and it is difficult to see why he would think anyone would now need - let alone want to - inform potential voters of something of which he should be proud, and is not a private matter, for any reason.

For the record, although really why one should have to counter such lunatic claims is questionable: Mrs Angry's only involvement in canvassing in this constituency was one session in her own part of Finchley, chasing up postal votes, from Labour supporters. The only time she has been in Golders Green, this year, other than when Chris Bryant visited the library, was a few weeks ago on a march through the high street, which gave remarkably little time or opportunity for outing Tory politicians, or whipping up a frenzy of pre-election 'homophobia' amongst the charedi community. 

And if some members of this community have become aware of Mr Freer's sexual orientation, that is very probably because they read about it in the press, if not in his own election literature which as far as Mrs Angry saw, failed to mention the support he gave to the equal marriage campaign. That anyone should object to his being gay would be ridiculous, and deeply regrettable: but as a gay man committed to tackling bigotry wherever it lies, that should include all communities, whatever the sensitivities of the cultural or religious context presents, Jewish, Muslim, evangelical Christian, or any other faith group. Tolerance and diversity are the mark of a civilised society, not secrecy, fear, and pandering to prejudice. 

Let us put this quite clearly, for the benefit of Tory activists and desperate politicians in Finchley, who are playing politics with this odious tactic: Mrs Angry is not, nor is Sarah Sackman, or any member of her team, - do we really have to explain this? - the sort of person to resort to knocking on doors and discussing the sexuality of a political candidate. As Sarah responded to this slur, in Pink News:

Homophobia has no place in our society or in an election. I publicly support equal marriage and LGBT rights. If Mike Freer has any evidence supporting the statement he made to Pink News he should refer it to the police. That is the proper way to deal with this. 

Distressing though it is to have to address this sort of dirty tactic, the truth is that in complete a contradication as possible from calculated accusations of being 'homophobic', both of us have spoken out very strongly in defence of equal marriage, and indeed not only has Mrs Angry has praised Mike Freer for his speech on this subject, she loudly and repeatedly criticised his Tory colleague Matthew Offord for his deeply insensitive remarks and stubborn opposition to the issue. 

This was of importance for many reasons, but especially after gay friends, who have subsequently married, and who happen to be constituents of Offord, forwarded to her some correspondence on the subject between them and their MP which they found objectionable, as did one or two readers. 

One example, of many posts, criticising the opposition to equal marriage:

On the other hand, Mrs Angry has also pointed out the inconsistencies in Freer's own position on this subject, including his association, which he described to her as 'a very constructive relationship ... even if we disagree on some topics', with Jesus House, a local evangelical church supported by Matthew Offord, which holds some highly controversial views on those 'topics', as reported here in Pink News, regards homosexuality as a sin which leads to eternal damnation, and which was reported to have resorted to the practice of 'gay exorcism'. Does this sort of view come under the definition of homophobic, would you say? Ring up the Daily Mail, and ask them to write about that, then.

This latest sort of slur is pathetic, but deeply hurtful for anyone with so many gay and lesbian friends, whose sexuality is something to celebrate, not denigrate. 

And particularly hurtful at this particular time for both Sarah and Mrs Angry, still grieving, as many of us of in Finchley are, for the loss of our dear friend and comrade Nick Goldberg. You can read Mrs Angry's tribute to him, if you are in need of measuring the truth of such a smear, and then judge for yourself if it is the work of a 'homophobe'. 

Smears are the hallmark of a certain tendency in the local Tory party: when they are held to account, or cannot win the debate, this is their tactic of choice. It is grossly distasteful.

But let us leave that horrible, cynical story in the gutter where it deserves to remain, and move on.

Frankly Mrs Angry has no interest in following the careers of any of the three local Tory MPs, who will no doubt continue happily as before, without learning any lessons from the response they had from residents in the run up to this election, in regard to the library issue, or any other local matter. 

Sarah Sackman will inevitably, if she wants to, be elected elsewhere, somewhere, one day: if that were not to be the case, it would be a real cause for regret, and the loss to the Labour party of a most talented, hard working, intensely bright and compassionate politician.

Turning now to Chipping Barnet, always viewed as a Conservative safe seat, and at one time the centre of power of the Tory council group: well, well.

The following part of this blog will fall under the sub-heading: I told you so.


If you are a Tory, true blue, or red, and/or Blairite Labour councillor, and/or the leader of the Labour group, or a supporter of the leader of the Labour group, you might want to skip this bit.

In Chipping Barnet, supposedly the safest seat in the borough, the Secretary of State was after all, returned to office: but the Labour candidate, Amy Trevethan, won a simply stunning total of 18,103 votes.

Amy's result was a hugely significant achievement, for several reasons.

For one thing, it was the highest Labour vote in Chipping since 1997, this time cutting Theresa Villiers' majority in half, with a total of 25,759 votes. It should be noted, by the way, that unlike her two Tory colleagues, Ms Villiers has conducted herself throughout the campaign, and indeed at the count, with dignity, and refusing to stoop to the ungracious behaviour or speechmaking of other candidates.

Amy Trevethan is a young girl, in her twenties, who has been a Labour councillor for less than a year, and yet, with her stalwart supporter and agent, fellow council colleague Paul Edwards, pulled off this brilliant result - with no support whatsoever from the local Labour leadership, or central party, and with almost no resources, or help.

Worse than no help, in fact. 

Amy was reportedly actively prevented from campaigning in her own constituency, told to be effectively nothing more than a paper candidate, and like other members from Chipping, told to go and work instead in Hendon.  

There was a possibility she would even face disciplinary procedure for daring to make any effort to do what was her clear duty: to give the voters of Chipping Barnet the opportunity to elect a dedicated, hard working representative of the Labour party, genuinely committed to being elected to parliament in order to champion the best interests of all residents, including those so easily overlooked by Ms Villiers.

When Mrs Angry arrived at the count, to her astonishment, whereas the two constituencies of Hendon and Finchley & Golders Green were being strictly supervised by Labour counting agents, but not one was sent to the Chipping tables. And Mrs Angry found herself in the ridiculous situation of having to try to scrutinise the counting instead of the official Labour count staff, simply, it seemed because it was decreed no help should be given to the Chipping candidate.

It soon became clear, even to Mrs Angry's unseasoned eye, that Amy Trevethan had done very well: many crosses for Labour - and this was not a surprise to Mrs Angry at all, as she had predicted this: 


as indeed she did the seats in the constituency picked up last year in the local elections:


... despite the dismissive attitude of the party's strategists. 

The decline in membership of the local Tory association, the changing demographics, a younger electorate, an MP who failed to engage with local issues: all the signs were there, if you were willing to read them; but the Hendon-centric roots of the party leadership meant that there was no interest in even the possibility of any significant Labour vote. A big mistake.

As it turned out, despite the opposition from her own party, there was a significant Labour vote: 18,103 votes, to be exact. All credit is due to her, and to her agent Paul Edwards, for their refusal to accept the defeatist, blinkered vision of their own party's campaign management. 

And there would have been many more votes, and perhaps even an unexpected win, had the candidate been allowed to campaign properly, or given anything like the resources used in Hendon, let alone Finchley & Golders Green. It is arguable, in hindsight, that members from Hendon should have been sent to canvass for the Chipping candidate: perhaps, after all, she stood a better chance of winning than Andrew Dismore, who won only two thousand more votes than her.

The other remarkable thing about her result is that, as seen at the hustings, Amy Trevethan's views are not of the Blairite, weak as water, blue tinged shade displayed by the Labour establishment in this borough, but offer a more progressive alternative - the real reason, perhaps, for her unpopularity with those leading the group. 

Despite, or rather because she offered strong message, and more radical approach, she won the support of so many residents in Chipping Barnet: proof that offering that more challenging option, and one in line with traditional Labour values, can and does win votes, right in the heart of what used to be a Tory stronghold. A lesson here, not just for Barnet Labour, but for the national party at this time where we now face a real crisis of identity - and an election of a new leader.

The reason for the unsuccessful election campaign in Barnet is partly due to the way in which the local party has been led over the past few years: and a failure to adapt and evolve in response to the ever changing political landscape, even after three electoral failures. 

Voters do not recognise the artificial boundaries that politicians maintain between local and national issues: they measure a party by the perceptions they have from the news, or social media, but their most direct experience of political campaigns and controversies - certainly in Barnet - is from the local council, and the most immediate matters that concern residents are the way their local services are run. 

And when there is so much controversy about that very issue, as in this borough, even more attention is focused on the Labour opposition.

Factionalism and a lack of unity are disastrous in any venture, as is a sense of complacency in opposition, a state of institutionalised defeatism, which by default facilitates rather than challenges Tory policies, and creates a role of coalition with their administration. 

The politics of consensus, and touchy-feely nonsense about 'holding the ring' with the party in power has no place in Barnet.

Such a submissive, non confrontational approach is nothing less, in Mrs Angry's view, than a complete betrayal of the best interests of those residents in this borough.

A betrayal of those who are in so badly in need of a strong voice in local government. 

Those watching the NHS destroyed and put up for sale, those facing homelessness as a result of the gerrymandering housing policies of the Tory administration, those families sinking under the burden of the bedroom tax, or suffering the humiliation of target driven benefit sanctions, of dependence on foodbanks, unable to defend their rights in law by the cuts in legal aid. 

And those about to see their basic human right to a life of dignity, freedom, and safety destroyed by the new Tory government, in its continued class war, its vilification of the underclass it has so carefully created, over the past few years, 

What is needed is a defiant, passionate and courageous opposition, carefully and strategically led, offering a radical, positive and clear alternative to the Tory agenda. 

It is time, in other words, for a new leader for the Labour group, in Barnet, and a new direction. We have lost too many winnable elections now for the status quo to be sustainable, and for the sake of the party, and the sake of the borough, after ten years undoubted hard work as Leader, but marked by a sequence of election failures, it is reasonable to expect Alison Moore should offer her immediate resignation. She has not.

She will cling on, for the time being at least, if not into the longer future, on the pretext of providing 'stability', backed by those who fear change, and are comfortable in defeat, and whose politics are centrist, unchallenging, and stuck in the past, waiting with baited breath for the resurrection of New Labour, and the life of the world to come, post Blair, in the form of ... another Blair.

As has now been revealed in the Barnet Eye blog, a ballot took place on Sunday in which the local Labour leader was re-elected.

Mrs Angry, as a member of the Local Campaign Forum, was present, as an observer, with no right to vote, and no, she did not leak the story, but as so many members are unhappy about the outcome, it is hardly surprising that someone did. 

Why should there be so much secrecy about this process? Because, it seems, this suits the best interests of individual ambition, rather than serving the needs of the party, let alone the principles of democracy, transparency, and accountability.

The truth is that the Labour party is split between an old guard, which is conservative and fearful of change, and those who want a fresh start, a new leader, and a more open and democratic form of opposition. Or rather, a form of opposition.

The leader's position was contested by West Finchley councillor Ross Huston, an experienced member with a background in housing, and a passionate belief in social justice. He is a genuinely good man, committed to the ideals he holds, respected by the wider group, and easily capable of leading and unifying the party. 

Allegations and rumours abound now within the group about certain discussions and secret agreements supposedly made before the vote, which may have affected the outcome of the ballot. If true, this would of course be quite unacceptable. This matter must be investigated, with urgency.

Whatever the truth of these allegations, in the light of the last few years' record, it is reasonable to assume the failure to select a new leader and a new direction is likely to mean the party in Barnet will continue to lose elections, will, despite all arguments to the contrary, damage Andrew Dismore's campaign for the GLA, by maintaining the public perception of an opposition that is not an opposition, but facilitates, by default, the Conservative agenda.

Much of the problem here in Barnet, of course, is a symptom of the wider malaise affecting the Labour party nationally. But in contrast to the retention of the status quo in Barnet, the swift resignation of Ed Miliband was dignified, and timely: no clinging on, no excuses, no bowing to the idea that the stifling of dissent will lead to 'stability' and unity, or that the best interests of the party necessitates a continuity in leadership. 

Decent and intelligent man though he undoubtedly is, Miliband should never have been leader, and yes, more to follow on the subject of 'I told you so' ... 

Already there is a process begun to replace one unelectable party leader with another of the same type, a middle aged, well educated man, from a background removed as far as possible from the lives of ordinary people. Chuka Umunna, who is troubled by reports that he is too good looking for politics, wants to stand, and is actually being taken seriously apparently for no better reason than that: he is (reasonably) good looking, wears a suit nicely, and looks good, perched on a BBC sofa, talking about nothing at all that might frighten off middle class voters.

Good, because now we hear that the ineffable Tristram Hunt also wants the party to appeal to those who shop at John Lewis, and Waitrose. 

Yes. But one might suggest he should be trying to appeal to those who do not shop at all, but rely on foodbanks, and who continue to be never knowingly undersold, by the Labour party.

They look like Tories, sound like Tories, the men sitting on the sofas: what the hell are they doing in the Labour party?

God save us, and deliver us from these people, who seem intent on deliberately misreading the lessons of this election failure, wanting us to lurch to the right, rather than reconnect with the people who are, or who were, traditional Labour voters. 

Everywhere you look, ordinary working people are deserting the Labour party in droves, distracted by UKIP, and ready for exploitation by anyone with an alternative agenda.

If the party does follow this route, and reverts to an even more colourless, passionless, New Labour betrayal of traditional Labour values: then we really are fucked, aren't we?

This Saturday, in Broken Barnet, we saw the last of four library marches through the streets of the borough, from one library to another, a total of fourteen visited. 

After this week's events, and feeling utterly dispirited, Mrs Angry was disinclined to go to this march, preferring the thought of staying in bed and feeling sorry for herself. She was told off, in a nice way, quite rightly, by the Unison secretary, John Burgess, who is a powerhouse of strength, and has an unsinkable capacity for hard work, and perseverence. She got out of bed. And how glad she was that she did.

Yesterday's march was, against all the odds, the most wonderful, joyful, triumphant act of unity - and defiance. Around six hundred people, gathering together, walking through the streets of Finchley, reclaiming the territory, and showing the strength of opposition not just on the issue of our library service, but to whatever onslaught we know is coming from the new government, as well as our own council, here in Broken Barnet.

The Labour movement, in its history, at its best, is the party of the people, of the streets, not the party that needs to win elections with smears, or an appeal to the worst in human nature, an appeal to selfishness, complacency, greed, and indifference to the fate of your fellow human beings. This is the movement where people come together, for the common good, in community, and good spirit, as we saw on Saturday: bloodied, but unbowed, and supported by a sense of fellowship

Many of those taking part did so spontaneously, in reaction to the election results, finding an outlet for their anger and frustration, and fear of what is to come. While we marched, and when we sat later in the Bohemia, talking about the week's events, we wondered if we were about to see social unrest on an unprecedented scale. 

We did not know, then, that it had already started, outside the gates to Downing Street, and it is pretty certain, is it not, that in the next few years, many frustrated citizens will feel they have no option other than to express their sense of anger through such protests, through direct action, and, unfortunately, through repetition of the unrest we saw at the time of the riots, not so long ago.

Starting at South Friern, by the time the march had arrived at East Finchley library, a huge crowd had gathered - including Sarah Sackman - (and her lovely mum) - and actually, well: just about anyone you could think of who is a part of the left leaning political world here in Broken Barnet, and of course the many campaigners, families and residents who are utterly horrified at the thought of what the Tory council intends to do to our much loved libraries.

Also attending the march was writer and library campaigner Alan Gibbons, who is a brilliant speaker, and gave inspirational speeches here and then at the end of the march in North Finchley. 

He urged the crowd to keep fighting for their libraries, and to fight the neo liberal ideology which drives the Tory obsession with privatisation, cuts, and closures. He spoke about the situation in Ireland, where despite the dreadful impact of their economic collapse, libraries have been kept open, and fully staffed by professional librarians. 

If that is the case, pondered Mrs Angry, this is a choice of policy directed by common sense, maintaining essential services for people at a greater time of need, the absolute inversion of the British Tory - English Tory - ideological determination to destroy the public library system, and the failure by the Labour party to offer any robust defence of that library system, as part of its agenda of compromise and continued support for austerity measures.

We marched off to Church End library, a long, long line of people, trailing back as far as the eye could see. 

The route we took was almost like a timeline of Mrs Angry's life in Finchley, the bass drum sounding slowly in funereal fashion, past the Labour offices in Church Road; past the end of Long Lane, a few minutes from home; past the primary school attended by the Angry children; past the church where they were baptised, and up to the library where they used to borrow books. 

Off through Finchley Central then, led by the magnificent London Metropolitan Brass band, and a proliferation of banners, proudly held aloft, past all the familiar shops

A cheery wave in the direction of Brian Coleman's charity owned, fixed rent flat (needs it now, of course, poor old boy) ... and then look, stopping to admire Freer's Tory offices, the temple of Thatcherism, where the People's Mayor, Cllr Lord Shepherd stood for a moment, with his mischievous grin, and his copy of the Morning Star, and handing out leaflets to passers by. 

Mr Shepherd accompanied Mrs Angry on the rest of the route, describing how he had been thrown out of his strictly orthodox nursery school at the age of five, for bad behaviour, and yet, at the age of seven, won a certificate of merit from the Hendon Guild of Courtesy. 

His father frowned upon his son's political leanings as too liberal, he said: his father, he explained, as we expressed a less than reverent goodbye to Margaret Thatcher House, ended up as a narco-Trot, a position he himself had not taken, being, of course, as the veteran, champion heckler, with such impeccable timing, reminded Mrs Angry, too courteous and polite for his own good.

Passing Waitrose, and the Arts Depot, and the Tally Ho, into the High Road, that fateful street, and the Bohemia, Cafe Buzz, where Helen Michael greeted marchers, as we passed the spot where Coleman attacked her, and ended his inglorious career ...

Arriving at North Finchley library was the end of the march, but not the end of the campaign. More speeches, including from Green Party's Poppy, still recovering from the election, who made the observation, rather interestingly, that it was no longer time for party politics, but time to rely on ourselves, and the unions. 

Speeches from several others, most notably Unison's John Burgess, and the NUT's Keith Nason (who later kindly gave Mrs Angry and Cllr Kay a lift to Waitrose, in style, in the back of his vintage routemaster bus) ...

For Labour, for some reason, the leader Alison Moore was not present, which was a shame, especially, for Mrs Angry, anyway, from the point of mischief and photo opportunities, as Mr Shepherd was standing  by the microphone holding up a copy of the Morning Star, with the headline 'New Labour, Old Danger':  but her place was taken by Ross Huston who castigated the local Tory MPs who had only remembered that they rather liked libraries for a short time, in a panic, in the run up to the election, after getting so much grief from residents over the planned cuts. 

Ross is an admirable and widely liked and respected councillor, in fact: a man with a real moral compass, and a social conscience, and responsible for setting up the Labour housing commission. If the party had any sense, he would now be leader. Clearly the party, collectively, rather than factionally, has no sense.

He observed that culture is marked by the way in which we value libraries, that civilisation itself depends on the values we support. 

How true it is, that the matter of library cuts means so much more than than you might attribute to it: it represents something much wider, more complex, that we can hardly express. 

Perhaps hidden within the language of metaphor, and the power of the written word, in the other worlds of literature, and the imagination, is our only hope for something better than we have now, or will see again for some time.

Alan Gibbons' speech you can see here: he has been to many such library campaign events, around the country, but on the march he had told Mrs Angry how truly impressed he was by the one in Finchley, the strength of feeling, and such a show of defiance in the face of the election results. 


Alan remarked that this was march was in some ways like an Irish wake. That is to say, the end of something, mourned, but celebrated, a defiance of the darkness to come, but the recognition of another truth: that that life must carry on, and is worth living, in the companionship and consolation of family, friends, and community.

The fight continues.

The fight continues, but not Mrs Angry, for the time being.

After five years of writing about the political scene in Barnet, and observing, with increasing horror, the level of corruption, both moral, and literal, in our system of local government, the dirty tactics deployed by the Tory party: the idiocy, selfishness and lack of compassion of some of those elected to office, and the obstinate refusal of the Labour party to adapt, and change, measured against the wonderful, obstinate, defiant unrelenting commitment of so many members of this community to try to put things right ... it seems time to take a break. 

Barnet is broken, Britain is still broken, and about to be the victim of another merciless assault from a government with an ideological agenda that will see our NHS, our welfare state, out public services hammered into a thousand pieces, and thrown into the laps of profiteers. 

I fear for my future, I fear for my children's future, and it is hard to see a way forward, at the moment. 

But there will be one, we must believe.

In the meanwhile, Mrs Angry is taking a sabbatical, in order to focus on other matters, and finish a couple of more projects that, thankfully, have nothing to do with the blighted landscape of political life, here in Broken Barnet. 

Wednesday 6 May 2015

Ed Balls. Colemanballs: Election 2015 - time to say goodbye to Broken Barnet

Back down the Great North Road again, then, back to another location of significance, in the events so lovingly chronicled in this blog: to North Finchley, and the premises of a certain trouble making cafe owner, Helen Michael, to await the arrival of a certain someone, despatched to support Labour candidate Sarah Sackman, in the last days of her campaign. Yes. Ed Balls.

Ed Balls arrived, surrounded by a Thick of It style posse of anxious assistants, went to a couple of local shops & came back to Cafe Buzz, where he had coffee, (yes, he paid his bill himself) happily posed outside with Helen, and Mrs Angry - and library staff facing the loss of their jobs as a result of the Barnet Tory plan to destroy our library service  - and went to meet Helen Michael, handing her a bunch of flowers in admiration, he said, of all the work she does for the community: and well deserved.

The truth is that Helen Michaels, as well as serving us so well as the nemesis of Brian Coleman, really is a generous, public spirited woman, who has worked very hard not only to object to the ludicrous parking system which is devastating our high streets, but to represent local traders, and help to regenerate North Finchley.

Ah yes: Brian Coleman.

Two years ago, the former Tory GLA member for Barnet and Camden, one time deputy leader of the Tory group on the Assembly,former Chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority,  councillor and cabinet member in Barnet, etcetera, etcetera, pleaded guilty - at the last moment - to the common assault by beating of Helen Michael, in the street in North Finchley, attacking her, grabbing her arm and breast: as found by the judge at his trial:

'Ms Michael sustained a number of injuries, including scratches to her hands and wrist, soreness to the wrist, her shoulder and in the region of her chest'.

Why did he attack her - in front of, although he did not know it, a cctv camera, and an off duty police officer?

Because this woman was the cafe owner who had led the campaign against his catastrophic parking regime,dared to hold him to account for it - and had caught him flouting his own rules, parking without payment, in a loading bay, while he was using a cash machine in the high street. 

She was alerted to this by someone who had seen him park illegally, had gone outside, and stood at some distance, taking a photo with her phone, which he then tried, by force, to take from her, and then drive off, despite her trying to stop him.

This vicious assault by the thick set Coleman, on a slightly built woman, who was acting in the public interest and rightly holding him to account, was utterly unacceptable, and the act of a thug. And Coleman repeatedly lied about the incident - as was exposed by the cctv film - until the day of the hearing. The police did not believe him, and banged him up in a cell overnight in the course of questioning him further.

One might not be entirely surprised that such a man would behave in this bullying and abusive way: but one might have hoped that his fellow Tory councillors, and local Tory MPs, would disassociate themselves from his vile behaviour. But they did not. Far from it. They repeated his version of events, and tried to discredit Helen Michael. This was, of course, before the trial, and the viewing of the film which proved he was lying.

Despite her vindication, and the criminal conviction handed down to their colleague, not one local Tory, councillor or MP, has ever publicly condemned Brian Coleman for what he did, nor apologised to her for supporting him. 

It was only after a sustained public outcry and intervention from the highest level at the Central Conservative party that Coleman was, eventually expelled from the party.

Or so we were led to believe.

And it was only when he then did the thing they feared the most, and exposed some of his former fellow Tory councillors private lives, outing one or two who happen to be gay - as if anyone cared - and revealing another one who had been found guilty of a drink driving offence, that they began to show any hostility to him at all.

Despite his behaviour, some local Tory councillors have continued to be perfectly friendly to him. At his 'Mayormaking' ceremony, Hugh Rayner went out of his way to welcome him, and say how nice it was to see him.

Not only did Tory council leader Richard Cornelius refuse to condemn Coleman's behaviour in assaulting Helen Michael - I know and like Brian, he told a Labour councillor, and I can't believe he would do that ... Coleman's great friend and former colleague, Finchley & Golders Green MP, and now PPC, Mike Freer has never disowned him. 

Freer, of course, owes a debt of gratitude to his friend for engineering the coup which made him Leader of the council, before becoming MP for Finchley & Golders Green - and they were both highly influential in directing the course of the last few years of the Barnet Tories' quaintly retro, neo Thatcherite agenda.

And now, in return, Coleman, by his own stupidity, has reminded everyone of the toxic nature of his association with the Tory party, just days before the general election, when Freer, to his great surprise, finds himself in a marginal constituency, and likely to lose to a formidable Labour candidate, Sarah Sackman.

How has this come about? By the usual way of things with Coleman - not knowing when to keep quiet, and an insatiable need for attention. In other words, through the medium of twitter, which was invented specifically to ruin the careers of fools like him.

Since his downfall, Mrs Angry has had no interest in Coleman, perceiving him merely as a problem solved, and irrelevant to the political scene, here in Broken Barnet. Bumping into him a week or so ago, while he was at some event organised by the Rotary club he belongs to, it even occurred to her to hope that in some way having to engage in charitable work might perform the function of a form of rehabilitation. 


In a twitter spat with Barnet Eye blogger Roger Tichborne recently, the following exchange occurred:

  Brian, just out of interest, what is an appropriate punishment for a man attacking a women in the street

 The Freedom of the Borough in my case clearly !

Yes: after all this time, Coleman has learned nothing, and is still clearly totally unrepentant about his assault of Helen Michael: worse still, thinks it is amusing to joke about the subject of violence against women. He is not alone, in thinking so.

Coleman's contempt for women is well established of course - you may recall the council meeting in which he referred to women in the public gallery as 'sad, mad, and a couple of old hags' - only one example of his offensive behaviour, as lovingly catalogued here, by a Barnet resident and tweeter, Mr John Baldy: http://101reasonstosackbriancoleman.tumblr.com/

Coleman was never reprimanded for his confrontational, and often insulting approach to residents: in fact outbursts like these were always met with mirth by his fellow Tory councillors, whose misogyny is deeply embedded in the culture and traditions of their antediluvian view of the world. 

And this is not a question of an older generation: consider the case of one of the younger Barnet Tory members, Tom Davey, who - God help us - has responsibility for housing, and has been promoting a policy change that would oblige women living with an abusive partner to declare themselves homeless before being considered for re-housing. 

Cllr Davey thought it amusing, once upon a time, to make jokes about 'smacking my bitch up'. http://politicalscrapbook.net/2014/04/vile-facebook-messages-of-social-cleansing-tory-councillor/

Sarah Sackman, standing against Mike Freer, here in Finchley and Golders Green is outspoken in her support for social justice, and the rights of women at risk from violence, speaking out in criticism of the Barnet Tory housing proposals, starting a petition, and commenting:

This is a cruel step backwards for victims of domestic violence in our community. Under this Tory council, victims will be forced to choose between their personal safety and their home. By proposing that victims of domestic violence declare themselves homeless and by stripping them of tenancy or occupation rights, the council is rewarding their abusers. 

For women struggling to escape abusive relationships, and unable to access justice due to the savage Tory cuts in legal aid, a Labour government at least offers some hope: 

Back in Broken Barnet, however, where women are still second class citizens, and the subject of ridicule and contempt - it has now emerged that the slap happy Coleman has yet again damaged the party he claims to revere, by dropping an almighty clanger, only days before the election, and further weakening the campaign of his long time friend, Mike Freer.

After making further disparaging remarks about Helen Michael, following the visit from Ed Balls, Roger Tichborne made a fairly casual comment to Coleman, which provoked a very interesting response:

    cleverest thing the Tories did was kick you out of the party

 and indeed readmit me

Re-admit him? 

Was he joking?

Finchley Tories categorically, and repeatedly, denied it was true. The following exchange, however, suggested that they were wrong:

OK, I can confirm that Brian Coleman has not been re-admitted to any local Conservative party. AFAIK he hasn't asked; if he did we'd refuse.

 you are of course misinformed

Gabriel Rozenberg, of course, is a new councillor, and not one of the old timers who have run the offices of the Finchley Tory party at Margaret Thatcher House since - well, since the era of Margaret Thatcher. He is an honourable young man. He is also rather naive, and inclined to believe whatever he is told by his older Tory colleagues.

Mr Tichborne and Mrs Angry devised a strategy, and suggested to Brian that if he was telling the truth, he ought to prove it: that is to say, prove that he really had been admitted to the party.

He played along, predictably, and within a short while had tweeted a picture of his membership card.


This set the Finchley Tories in a state of panic, as you might imagine. And they used Cllr Rozenberg to take on the responsibility of covering up what had happened.

Next up was a tweeted picture of this letter, dated the day the story was outed, and pics of the letter being posted through Brian Coleman's letter box:

Dear me. 

We were asked to believe that no one knew Brian Coleman, expelled from the party for his criminal conviction of assault, had continued to pay subs to the party, and had received at least one membership card, posted to him by the Finchley Tories,  without any member of the Finchley Tory party being aware of it. 

And now having denied this, until outed on twitter, Finchley Tories, in the midst of trying to persuade us to vote for Coleman's friend Mike Freer, then wrote him a cheque for £25 and asked him to stop being a member. 

Still. £25. Not to be sniffed at, in the circumstances. Might buy Brian, for example, around 38 copies of his beloved Hendon and Finchley Times, especially those impertinent articles by Anna Slater, who has committed the dreadful crime of being a journalist, and reporting the truth - and being female ... 

Where is the truth, in this sorry tale? 

Brian Coleman, the Schrodinger's Cat of the Finchley Tory party: a member, and yet not a member. Not a member, until Barnet bloggers, empirically proved that ... he is a member. He still thinks he is a member. He has a card to prove it.

Did someone tell him, after his conviction, that after a couple of years in the wilderness, if he keeps his head down, he can come back to the party? Seems likely.

Why has Mike Freer, the Tory candidate, former MP, former leader of Barnet Council, remained silent on this subject? Why has he never condemned the behaviour of his old friend, nor spoken out about the farcical re-admission into the party, even if it took place without his knowledge?

Here is a photo from the GLA count of 2012, which saw Coleman lose his place, and marked the beginning of the end of his career, with a shocked Mike Freer - and Helen Michael, in hte foreground -come to give his support to his old friend, realise, perhaps for the first time, that the hold the Tory party had on the borough was losing its strength, and his own political future was no longer secure. 

Despite this clear warning, however, the party continued to take the electorate's support for granted, with the result that what they had imagined would be a straightforward election in Finchley and Golders Green, at least, has become a battle in a marginal constituency.

Brian Coleman was, and is, the dark animus of the Barnet Tory psyche, the manifestation of a strain of Conservatism that belongs in the blue wheelie bin of history, but lingers on, in Broken Barnet, in attitude, in principle, and in policy: the true face of Tory politics, here and now. Until he and the old guard who still protect him move on, Conservatism in this borough will never regain its dominance, or credibility.

I've been writing about the political life of this borough for five years now. It begins and ends at the same point: with a hardline, male dominated, bullying Conservative administration, and their partners, a trio of uxorious parliamentary representatives, who see their role not as advocates for the broad spectrum of people who live here, but for a privileged few. 

Their silence over Coleman's behaviour, and his re-admission to the fold, however it occurred, speaks more eloquently than anything of the decadent values they represent.

Theirs is a world where equality, and respect for women, for families, for those in need, in poverty, at risk, the old, the young, those with disabilities, are of no interest; surplus to the requirements of a relentless, remorseless ideology, where material worth is the only value that counts, and the consideration of human frailty is seen as a weakness, rather than the very definition of humanity, and community.

You have a chance, tomorrow, in the three constituencies in this borough, to vote for Sarah Sackman, Amy Trevethan, and Andrew Dismore, and to rid yourself of the culture of cynical, abusive Tory values that has governed this country for the last few years. 

It's time to replace our three Conservative MPs with people who will better represent those residents who face the daily struggle not of worrying about mansion tax, or their offshore savings accounts, but the ordinary problems of keeping a roof, any roof, over their heads; worrying about the NHS, being plundered by private sector investors; about the surrender of their local public services to predatory, profit hungry private companies; about the impact on those least able to bear them of the punitive, humiliating welfare cuts, and target driven job seeker sanctions.

Please use your vote wisely, even if you are not usually a Labour supporter: you may be by nature a Libdem, or a Green party supporter, but the harsh reality is that those principles, however faithfully held, cannot elect a representative, but will, if used at the ballot box in any of the three Barnet constituencies, help to re-elect a Tory MP. 

There is a 13% swing in London towards Labour, and all three constituencies are capable of returning a Labour MP, if the opposition voters unite, for the common good, on behalf of those who simply cannot sustain another five years of Tory policies. 

When you stand in the polling booth, if you have any doubt, you might like to think of the people of West Hendon, watching their homes destroyed, in order to accommodate a luxury development on the land where their homes stand, sold to developers for £3. 

Or think of the children of Sweets Way, thrown on to the streets, and sent to live in yet another 'regeneration' estate, or miles out of the borough.  

Or the families in Strawberry Vale, dependent on a foodbank, run by the local churches.

The children of Mapledown, whose families lost their respite care to pay for a Tory election tax cut 'gesture'.

The care workers of Your Choice Barnet, made to pay the cost of the Tory's failed plan to make profit out of care, with a 9.5% cut in their already low wages.

Don't vote for the status quo, for MPs with a sense of entitlement, who expect to be returned to Westminster simply because ... they want to be. Do something brave, and stand up for what is right, and wave goodbye to Broken Barnet, the scrapyard littered with the remains of Mike Freer's easycouncil; a land where the last Thatcherites came to die, and are holding us hostage while they go down.

This was Broken Barnet: where and what we can become, after tomorrow, is up to you now.