Monday 4 May 2015

Playing the orator: the campaign trail continues - an election hustings, and the Battle of Chipping Barnet. . .

I’ll drown more sailors than the mermaid shall, 
I’ll slay more gazers than the basilisk, 
I’ll play the orator as well as Nestor, 
Deceive more slily than Ulysses could, 
And like a Sinon, take another Troy. 

I can add colors to the chameleon, 

Change shapes with Proteus for advantages, 
And set the murderous Machevil to school. 
Can I do this, and cannot get a crown? 
Tut, were it farther off, I’ll pluck it down.                          HenryVI, Part 3

On the campaign trail, in Broken Barnet, Part 3: 

Some wonderful news was announced recently by our one surviving museum, here in Broken Barnet - Barnet Museum, the museum the Tories couldn't close, because they couldn't find the deeds, (andwould upset too many Tory voters) - whilst happily shutting up, putting up for sale, the Church Farmhouse Museum, in Hendon.

Funding has been found, at last, for the first proper archaeological survey of sites which may be related to the Battle of Barnet, which took place in 1471, in an area somewhere a little north of present day High Barnet. 

Many thousands of men lost their lives in this battle, a definitive moment in English history, attended by three kings, Edward IV, Henry VI, and the future Richard III, then only 18, and fighting, to much commendation, in his first experience of combat. After his victory, it is said Edward entered Barnet itself, and gave thanks in the church. 

That church still stands, at the top of Barnet Hill, the highest spot, it is said, between Barnet, and York, and in another direction, supposedly, the next highest spot is in the Urals. And of course, like so many of the most potent landmarks of our borough, right on the Great North Road, one of the historic routes of England. Significant, then, in so many ways.

On Thursday Barnet Church held a hustings event for the general election, inviting a range of candidates to attend, and answer questions from the residents and voters of Chipping Barnet. Accepting the invitation were Labour's Amy Trevethan, the Libdem's Marisha Ray, Ukip's Victor Kaye, and for the Greens, A M Poppy. We were also blessed with a contribution, of sorts, from the independent candidate Mr Mehdi Akhavan - he of the aversion to shiny promises. 

Ready primed to woo us with some of those shiny promises, of course, was the incumbent MP for Chipping Barnet, and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, who, wearing a Thatcherite blue dress, and an air of stately benevolence, mingled graciously with a few curtseying locals, and then walked regally down the aisle, like Thatcher or the Queen, a twitchy security man, screening the crowd, following at a discreet distance.

Villiers' queenly air, of course, has at least some claim to authenticity, if it is true that she and her illustrious family are, as, claimed, direct descendents of - well, well, Elizabeth Woodville, the 'White Queen', wife and consort of Edward IV, whose marriage to her was part of the sequence of events leading to the Battle of Barnet. 

But her composure was soon to be put to the test: here was no audience of obedient courtiers, but a packed meeting full of ordinary Barnet residents and voters, determined to hold their elected representative and her rivals to account - and the reception was, as one seasoned observer commented later, the most hostile reaction to any Tory candidate at any of the recent hustings. 

Mrs Angry had been trying to be on her best behaviour, not wanting to heckle in church, and upset the Rector (no problem with that, mind you, as according to his twitter page, he is not only a Christian (always a bonus, in the CoE) but - sharp intake of breath from Barnet Tories - A Socialist. Good man. How can you be a Christian, and not be a Socialist? Except for those of the Methodist Tendency that produced Thatcher, and Brian Coleman, of course, which must have John Wesley in heaven gnashing his teeth and shaking his fist with fury.

The Rector addresses the audience

Mrs Angry squared her conscience re heckling, eventually, on the grounds that it wasn't a Catholic church, and had therefore been deconsecrated by, well: Anglican heresy, embroidered tapestry kneelers, and a centuries long failure to recognise the tenet of transubstantiation. And the virgin birth, possibly. So there. Let the Battle, in, if not of, Barnet, re-commence. 

Each candidate was given time to make a timed speech. 

Theresa Villiers' effort began with a curious interpretation of her last five years of not doing very much in Chipping, presented as five years as a 'passionate champion' and a 'vigorous, strong voice' for the constituency. She has 'got results', apparently. Which is nice, although it wasn't clear what those results were, exactly:: something about the NHS - not mentioning Chase Farm, whose A&E was closed by her boss David Cameron, despite promising to 'save' it, pre-election  ... something about supporting the high streets - not mentioning the parking disaster orchestrated by her council colleagues, which has had such a devastating effect on all our local traders, and residents.

Like her other Tory MP colleagues with nothing to say, shiny promises, saying they will continue to support and demand things that they haven't supported or delivered over the last five years. That kind of stuff. F*ck yeah. Results, and plenty of them. Well done, Ms Villiers.

Schools for example: they all try, our Tory politicians, to claim responsibility for all the good schools, which are nothing to do with them, and keep quiet about the rest, which generally are. At this point Mrs Angry decided to test the church's acoustics, (pretty good) and shout a reminder about Mapledown school, which provides care for children in the borough with the most complex disabilities. 

Ms Villiers' Tory colleagues cut the funding for respite care to these children, within a fortnight of cutting council tax by 23 pence a week, for a 'pre-election gesture'. Still, for a Barnet Tory MP, a good school is a selective or academy school for middle class children, not an exemplary, caring facility for children with disabilities.

Nothing from the former Tory MP about, oh: libraries, for example. Ah. 

Until raised later, by the sort of residents who used to be, ought to be, natural born Tory voters. 

If you recall, just recently Theresa Villiers and her two Barnet MP chums were panicked into statements appearing to support Barnet libraries, Villiers trilling on about the marvellous educational resources they are, and centres for interaction for the elderly, but in the next breath  suggesting we look seriously at the option for self serve libraries, stripped of their staff - you know, the ones who yes, provide the education, professional service, and interaction.

But the Spires shopping centre: the fact it is still there, sort of, she claimed responsibility for. And implied credit for almost everything wonderful in Chipping Barnet: the air that we breathe, the rising of the sun in the morning, and the going down of the sun in the evening. 

A glorious sun of York, presumably. 

Later on, a resident raised the awkward issue of, oh dear: the very unpopular proposed purchase by the Tory council of Winters' haulage site in Oakleigh Road South for a recycling facility and lorry depot.

Clearly, thought Mrs Angry, later, looking at her notes, and laughing, as usual, at her own jokes: this is the Winters of our discontent


But just look at the residents infuriated by the plans: more lost Tory votes.

And then a note of desperation, as the former minister breathlessly pledged, to dedicate 'every inch of my being' to the assembled voters, should they do as they were surely expected, and vote her back into office, so as to continue her brilliant career.

Poppy spoke with her usual passion about TTIP, and local issues, such as the appalling Sweets Way evictions, (name checking Mrs Angry, apparently, who missed it, as her mind was wandering at the time, as usual). 

Some light relief from the Libdem candidate, whose hopelessly plodding seriousness and monotonous delivery of written crib notes provoked much wriggling and mirth amongst the audience. To think that in 2010 the Libdems had pulled in 10,000 votes! What a comedown.

The man from Ukip surprised us all by his non ukip sounding views, on all but everything but the EU, and who was later advised by Mrs Angry to see the light, and join Labour, as he was too nice for Mr Ferridge's horrible party of miserable old codgers. Victor indicated this might even be an option, one day, and kissed her - hold on, need to check notes ... hand, which was quite disarming, although of course a perfectly reasonable way to show homage to Mrs Angry, and in keeping with the medieval, courtly theme of the evening, and if only more readers, or indeed men, would show such devotion, it could only be a good thing. Ah well.

Then there was the very fascinating Mr Akhavan, who may or may not be a fan of Henry VI, Part III, but expresses a fondness, in his leaflets, for 'a Play named Hamlet, by 'the Greatest Man in The History of British Literature, William Shakespeareand poses the question, on behalf of his own Voice and Action Party: To Be Or Not To Be

To be or not to be, well - like himself, apparently.

I am a man of many ideas, he declared. He is an actor, poet, film and theatre director, photographer, and owner of a shop in Friern Barnet, see? And a candidate with no imprint on his leaflet, but no two hours long investigation by SO15, or trouble from the Returning Officer. Tut tut. 

Labour's Amy Trevethan sat patiently listening, scribbling notes, at the foot of the altar, in a church from the early middle ages, restored in the nineteenth century, her young, pale face, below the Victorian stained glass windows, like a Burne-Jones model: the Pre-Raphaelite contrast to Theresa Villier's hawkish features, and watchful demeanour. 

Young she may be, Amy, and not a seasoned public speaker, but she is growing in confidence, has a steely resolve, and a sharp intellect. And she spoke with articulacy, the young contender standing against the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, talking about the people in the constituency, this borough, that Villiers and her Tory parliamentary colleagues have ignored, over the last five years - to their own electoral cost, as they have only latterly begun to realise. 

As Villiers looked on, clearly unsettled, Amy talked about the reality of life under a Conservative government, for those who are not feeling the benefit of the recovery George Osborne so wants us to believe in; the evicted children of Sweets Way, the families of Dollis Valley, the residents with whom she marched days before, through High Barnet, in defence of our public libraries, her grandparents' generation, which saw the creation of a welfare state, now being destroyed.

What was clear from the mood of the audience, and the evident discomfort of Theresa Villiers, that her supporters were in the minority. 

Of local Tories, there were few familiar faces: one new councillor from the safest seat in the borough, Totteridge - and two Tories who lost their seats to Labour in last year's local elections, ie Andreas and Joanna Tambourides. How sad it was, to see them, at the count, storming off the dais: Come, Andreas, we are leaving ... And now Labour have more councillors in Chipping, than the Tories.

How times have changed, in Chipping Barnet. But that is the point: history marches on, and no one has tenure of any parliamentary seat, or governmental authority.The age a divine right to rule, of noblesse oblige and patronage, died centuries ago, and even in Chipping Barnet, it is becoming clear, the residents are no longer in the habit of doffing their cap to the Tories' sense of electoral entitlement.

Mrs Angry was talking to a French journalist, Eric Albert, last week, from Le Monde, who is fascinated by what is happening here, in Broken Barnet, and has written a book about the curious crisis of the soul that he thinks has overtaken we Brits: Les Anglais, dans le Doute
(The article on Barnet is now available here - although behind a paywall).

He maintains revolution is intrinsically, well - just not a British thing. Mrs Angry argued that perhaps the truth is that our revolutions are on a smaller scale: small but determined acts of rebellion, campaigning: even occupation, even in Broken Barnet.

We used to fight civil wars, and now we fight elections. But you could argue too that the Wars of the Roses continue, in Chipping Barnet: one colour against another, one party against another. 

Here in this former Conservative stronghold, the site of so much historical significance, the battle which will decide the future of Barnet, for the next five years, may just be a victory not for the bearer of the white Rose of York, and the true blue candidate; but to a new challenger, wearing the red rose of Labour.

Good luck, Amy.


John S said...

Great blog.

May I also take the opportunity to wish Amy the best of luck, the people of Chipping Barnet would be fortunate indeed. To have an MP like her looking after their interests, after being so badly let down by the incumbent . Who has dedicated her time as their MP, concentrating on her own career , and most certainly not the well being of all the people of Barnet. Her claims to have done so much for the people of Chipping a Barnet are pure fantasy,.

Anonymous said...

I truly believe that we have a real power house of new labour candidates here in Barnet ! Young & dinamic with an energy for change & a Lust for real community cohesion ! Not what we are now witnessing were money & privelige can buy anything as so apparently demonstrated by this ultra right wing council. For anyone who has taken the time to look at the sweets way evictions , these children are going to grow up as the next generation of voters . Do YOU THINK , they that there concerns will be about the mansion tax . It will be revenge!! For a youth destroyed by these greedy bastards .

Anonymous said...

On the matter of revolutions, you might care to remind M. Albert that we had one, and cut off a king's head, 150 years before they got round to it.

Mrs Angry said...

I think, Mr Roper, that the French think our Civil War was a Revolution -lite, and not as stylish as theirs. Admittedly, the idea failed to catch on, didn't it?

Anyway: have updated blog with a link to M. Albert's article, au sujet de 'easymairie'.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Dear Mrs Angry

Oh dear, Mrs Angry. General Elections are not won or lost on council related issues, however much you may wish it so. Perhaps Theresa Villiers' supporters were in the minority at the hustings, but that does not prove anything. If you are voting Tory, why turn up to a meeting and be aggravated by a bunch of noisy and deluded lefties?

DCMD's predictions for Barnet:

Chipping Barnet: Comfortable Conservative hold.

F&GG: Conservative hold with reduced majority

Hendon: Labour gain

DCMD will respect the will of the electorate, even if it produces a result he would not have wished for. Will you?

Mrs Angry said...

I think you are wrong, DCMD: times have changed and in this borough, politics really are all of a mix, and what you will not know is the extent to which, for example, the library cuts issue has crossed over to the general election campaign.

And no, things have changed in Chipping too.

Respect the will of the electorate? Well, I won't be responding to any unsatisfactory outcome with a military coup, or anything on that line, if that sets your mind at rest!