Tuesday 8 March 2016

In a time of difficulty: the fight for Barnet Libraries continues

Mrs Angry was rather disappointed to find, on attending the Full Council meeting last week, that the Mayor's chaplain was not present. Very disappointed, in fact.

Usually this part of the otherwise preposterous proceedings is the only time in which there is any contribution of any value, and the only time in which our Tory members at least pretend to have any sense of moral duty; bowing their heads in an affectation of piety - before proceeding, in the most self serving and heartless fashion, to agree a series of decisions that inevitably will have a massively detrimental impact on the lives of the less fortunate members of our community.

Still, in the absence of chaplain Dayan Abrahams, the Mayoress, Mrs Shooter, announced that she would speak. Uh oh. Mrs Shooter, it must be said, (first left in the pic below) is a lovely woman, very charming, and yet with a certain glint in her eye, which hints at an independent mind, unfettered by party prejudice. 

She now welcomed the assembled councillors, and members of the public, (and her husband, as 'Worshipful Mayor', which worried Mrs Angry, who took her aside later and discreetly inquired if this was compulsory, at home. Only in ... certain circumstances, it seems.) 

I  believe nothing happens by chance, remarked the Mayoress, after pondering the beautiful gift of an extra day, the day before, a Leap day, with a sky that was blue, air that was crisp, and which had left her feeling glad to be alive, even here, in Broken Barnet ... and then she pretended to make a slip of the tongue: addressing the Tory councillors sat indifferently on the benches:

You all have an ego, she said, looking at them, swiftly followed by a well rehearsed correction ... You all have the ability to put aside your ego ... and work for the common good, she suggested. 

You what?

Hmm, thought Mrs Angry. Let's see. 

The Tory councillors were bemused. What was she banging on about? Why did she think they were there, anyway? Tonight wasn't just any council meeting. Well, no: it was the budget meeting too, the most serious decision of the council year; but forget all that tedious nonsense - the thing of real importance ... was something much more dear to their little wizened, mummified hearts. The appointment of a new Mayor.

Playing the role of Mayor, as Mrs Angry has explained to you so many times before, is the highest ambition of any Barnet Tory councillor. They spend years jostling for their chance to be nominated, lobbying each other, schmoozing their colleagues, keeping their noses clean, so as to maximise their chances. 

The fact that such is the ultimate honour, in the eyes of our Tory members, tells you everything you need to know about them: cut off from the reality of life for the majority of the residents they represent, measuring themselves by the standards of a mothballed view of town hall politics, perpetuated in an oak panelled chamber from the 1930s, reached by a stair case lined with portraits of pre-war aldermen, bristling with civic pride, and an innate sense of entitlement, as a result of their municipal status.

Their successors in the Town Hall now, are mostly small time businessmen - and reluctantly declared landlords - and a handful of Tory matrons, relegated to the margins; neo-Thatcherites, still living in the far off, heady days when Margaret ruled the country, and all was well.

Rather amusingly, from Mrs Angry's mischievous point of view, was the background to this year's competition for the Mayoral nomination, as leaked to her by one of her spies in the Tory group.  

Yet again the Tories turned down long serving councillor Brian Salinger, a veteran of thirty years of - of what exactly? Wearing interesting ties to council meetings, and reading golfing magazines when he gets bored? 

Oh, well: he was once council leader, group leader - until Brian Coleman (remember him?), always the bridesmaid, and never the bride, and fortunately never leader Himself, organised a coup to ensure the ineffable Mike Freer, now MP for Finchley & Golders Green, took over the role, thus setting the scene for the nonsensical easycouncil era, and the road to disaster which we are now following, after handing over control of the borough to Capita. 

Salinger's tendency to take his own line in things, and make enemies, has scuppered his chances of gaining the reward he no doubt feels entitled to, with his feet up in the Mayor's Parlour. Oh dear: and sadly Cllr Salinger has now fallen foul of the curse of Mrs Angry, and the law of karma, for this act of impertinence, and serve him right: 

And yet again he has been spurned by his colleagues, and the golden mace of office passed to one who is uniquely suited to the role, the small but perfectly formed Cllr David Longstaff, (they might have to get a cushion for the Mayor's chair, so he can see over the top of the table) - a sometime Actor, don't you know, who once, presumably in the course of his professional career, but who knows, posed naked, from the rear, covered in gold paint, pretending to be an Oscar statuette. Hang on, Mrs Angry, have you made that up? Nope: see here.

Of course even in Broken Barnet, the law of karma is in a state of perpetual motion, and the latest snub for Cllr Salinger may just have repercussions which his Tory colleagues, always ready with knife in hand, for him and his wife, a former councillor, may just live to regret. 

It should be noted that the current administration hangs by the slenderest thread: a majority of one. And the Salingers have a record of giving the finger not just to stroppy bloggers, but to their own party, when they feel justified. And Salinger's support is crucial, in any major vote.

Cllr Longstaff's nomination was seconded by Cllr Wendy Prentice for no other reason, it seems, that she could think of, other than that he is, as she assured us, very good at playing the role of a drunken gnome. As well as a golden *rsed statuette. (These qualifications, in truth, are all that is required, for the job of being Mayor of Barnet). And although he is rumoured once to have played the role of a Labour party supporter, for real, he is now the most loyal of Tory members, and has received the appropriate reward.

The Tory leader's budget speech perfectly demonstrated the curiously atrophied extent of their political grasp: a man who only understands a duty to cut taxes, as a Conservative tenet of faith - presently covered by the demands, as they perceive it, of austerity - and sees no further.

We are in a time of difficulty, Cornelius explained, with patronising ease, like an autocratic parson in the nineteenth century, worried about the national economy, and seeking to justify, to his obedient parishioners, sitting in their shawls and smocks, the imposition of the Corn Laws. 

He lurched forward with a jolt then, not up to the present day of course, but to a time and place where he feels most comfortable, the twentieth century, with Alec Douglas-Home, Mrs Thatcher, Gordon Brown - and Derek Hatton. Derek Hatton? He tiptoed into the present day, then, throwing about references to skinny lattes, and red herrings: an indigestible mix, one might think.

In a later response to members' comments on the budget, the Reverend Cornelius waxed even more lyrical, and biblical, raving about things 'withering on the vine' and demanding, with a pantomime hiss appropriate to the occasion, that we should not 'get entangled in the bindweed of SOCIALISM' ...  

SOCIALISM, and reds under the bed generally, are still a major concern for the Tory leader, living as he does in a cold war bunker in Totteridge, hiding from a world that does not, has never, and will never exist. But one issue which he avoided, tellingly, except in passing, and with clearly fading confidence, was this: the mythological beast that delivers the elusive 'savings' that are supposed to be the point of our ten year contract of bondage with Capita.

Labour's budget was a very good one: (no, really) ... funded by cuts to areas where Tory extravagance knows no bounds: such as the continual splurge on private consultants, and agency staff, running into millions each year, at the behest of Capita and senior management; the whopping extra allowances that our Tory friends award themselves for committee posts, even at a time of a hollowed out council, where they have made themselves practically redundant. 

The new Labour leader, Barry Rawlings explains their alternative budget

Oh, and a radical 'restructuring' of senior management, which would save huge amounts of indefensibly high salaries enjoyed by the latterday, crapitorially inclined courtiers who line the corridors of North London Business Park. These 'efficiencies' would not only save our libraries from the catastrophic cuts the Tories are waiting to approve, but safeguard our local policing. A better use of resources, one might think.

Cornelius now is unable to defend the Capita contracts with anything like the conviction he once deployed so glibly to sell the deal to his fellow members. He muttered feebly only that we couldn't provide the services ourselves cheaper.

Mrs Angry reminded him, from the other side of the chamber, that he cannot say that, as he does not know, as the Tories were so easily persuaded by their own senior officers, and attendant outsourcing advisers, that they should not even consider an in-house option. And now we are handing bucketloads of taxpayers' cash over to Capita - £18 million in December alone, because the devil is in the detail of all contracts, and our Tory councillors couldn't be bothered to read the small print which allows huge extra payments to be made, outside of the core agreement.

Mrs Angry sincerely hopes that Cllr Cornelius and the other patsies in the Tory group will at least make the effort to read this article in the Guardian, in which the Tory leader of another authority reveals how much less expensive it is to manage services now, post Capita: and the interesting fact that 36% of such contracts now end in failure.

And oh: the question of libraries too is clearly a matter for severe discomfort, amongst the ranks of the Tory councillors, and so it should be. 

Here we are, in the run up to the May elections, and here they are, by an act of extraordinarily bad timing, about to sanction the most swingeing,  and yet utterly unnecessary, cuts to our once magnificent library service.

Ah, no, Mrs Angry. Library cutter in chief Cllr Reuben Thompstone declared that they were not cutting libraries, but were about to 'freshen them up'.

Well, yes. This is an acceptable and accurate description of the proposals. If you accept that say, the Blitz was not an attempted obliteration of our capital city, but merely a courtesy call by the Luftwaffe, intent on creating a more open and inclusive urban landscape. 

Sneering at those who proposed an alternative budget, making jibes about 'motherhood and apple pie', Cornelius gave a chilling assurance:

'Libraries will be modernised.'


No. Decimated, destroyed; robbed of their function, staff sacked, books culled, the former libraries will become buildings managed by Capita, with nominal library areas, shrunken in size, and a parody of the idea and function of a public library.

Some of the Tory members recognise the danger of what they are doing, and have lobbied furiously, secretly - and of course successfully - behind the scenes, for their own nimbyist purposes, making sure the worst impact of the cuts will fall on those not in Tory wards, but those who are in greatest needs of access to a public library, with books, information, computers, studying space, and the help of professional librarians. 

The children of the least advantaged families in this borough, who so much rely on all these facilities, will be the most affected by the Tory cuts: completely barred from the new unstaffed libraries, and destined to struggle to find such resources elsewhere. But they live in Labour wards, so who cares? 

In fact Tory deputy leader and aspiring London Assembly member Cllr Dan Thomas made it absolutely clear that he and his colleagues do not care one jot. 

Thomas appears to think he will be elected by the grateful residents of Barnet and Camden as a result of a cunning strategy of a. not having any opinions on anything, and b. not expressing the opinions he does not have. 

This is probably because he has realised, rather belatedly, that whenever he does open his mouth, something rather unfortunate is likely to emerge. So silence is clearly the better option. 

An interesting approach, but sadly not one to which he remembers to adhere. He is prone to letting drop clangers, for example, in meetings, and elsewhere, which is unfortunate, and betray a certain lack of discretion. For example, see this tweeted exchange between him and his rival Labour candidate, the current AM Andrew Dismore:

Dan Thomas for GLA ‏@BarnetandCamden  Jan 27

Is it true @Andrew_Dismore couldn't even be bothered to vote on the Mayor's budget today?  Only AM who left early?  Has he given up already?

‏Response from @Andrew_Dismore:

@BarnetandCamden I was at National Holocaust Day ceremony, invited as a founder of the Day so had to leave meeting early.


Have you been wondering where the Tory candidate stands on the EU? Is he an inner or outer? No one knew ... until yesterday.

Yesterday, when it was revealed that Cllr Thomas had, for reasons unknown, deleted a forthright blog post written by him in 2014, before he was selected as a Tory candidate, on the subject of ... immigration, and the need to leave Europe, if we can't regain 'control of our borders'. 

Immigration is a favourite subject for our Daniel, who stood in Neil Kinnock's old constituency, in 2010, with a manifesto that also focused on this subject. Rather puzzling, as one imagines immigration to Islwyn is on the low side, and was then even more so - but then, this topic is always a useful tool for prospective Tory candidates short of other ideas, isn't it?

Daniel Thomas: ignored by the voters of Islwyn in 2010, and due to receive the same treatment in 2016, from the voters of Barnet and Camden, many of whom are, as it happens, immigrants, or the descendants of immigrants, as are, incidentally, most of his Tory colleagues.

How amusing: seven out of ten working people: are you better off? Or worse off?

Stirring up fears about immigration, of course, when standing in one of the most ethnically diverse areas of the country for election to the London Assembly, is perhaps not the best of strategies, if you really want to stand a chance of being elected ... 

Oh dear. Is that why ... no, surely not ... why he deleted the post?

Never mind. Barnet Eye blogger Mr Roger Tichborne has thoughtfully retrieved this post, and reblogged it for your reading pleasure here

(There is, as you will see, a danger of Cllr Thomas making himself appear more interesting than you might have thought, what with a Cherokee great grandfather and all. Mrs Angry, of course, can match that with her - admittedly rather distant - cousins in the Kiowa Nation,  on the Irish side, you know, from Sligo. Don't ask. Long story. John Wayne made a movie about it.)

Yes, Dan Thomas is very worried about towns being 'flooded with immigrants', here and in the US. Presumably he is a big fan of Donald Trump, then? Uh oh. 

Of course Mrs Angry has her own concerns about immigration, and London being flooded with blue eyed Tory boys from the Welsh valleys, intent on seeking their political fortunes in our capital city, taking our (non affordable) houses, and jobs in building societies, and imposing their way of life and foreign food on us, such as this abominable looking, Tory fundraising, 'Welsh cake ice cream':

Dan Thomas for GLA ‏@BarnetandCamden  Mar 1

Just made some home made 'Welsh cake ice cream' for St David's Day fundraiser supper #lickthespoon 

Really not tempted to lick that particular spoon, as it happens, thank you.

Thomas may be trying to keep his mouth firmly shut during the approach to May's election, but he cannot quite manage to stick to his own rules. And during last week's Full Council meeting,  playing to his own group of boorish Tory members, he rather foolishly made another gaffe, and ventured an ill advised foray into the dangerous territory of opinions better left unexpressed: on the subject of ... libraries.

Libraries were not worth saving, he suggested, because, as he now informed the room, with cool contempt, "they are not used by most residents".

As soon as he said, it, Mrs Angry is willing to guarantee, he regretted it. Not the sentiment, but the admission. 

And what a typical Barnet Tory sentiment: services that are not used by 'the majority' of residents are irrelevant. Like meals on wheels: only used by a few scrounging old people: get rid of them - oh, they already have. Respite care for disabled children: they tried getting rid of that too. What next?

Thomas was uneasy, after his stupid remark about libraries, as he knows perfectly well that this is a toxic subject for aspiring Tory politicians, in this area. Why? Because, as Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell stated on his recent visit to Hendon, the idea of a public library system is one which is embedded in our sense of national identity, and British values, as much as the NHS, and all the other measurements of civilisation which have been so hard fought for, and now stand to be destroyed by Tory ideologues in government and their profiteering friends.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, supporting Barnet library staff

Here in Barnet, especially, all Tory politicians know, or should know, the danger of attacking our library service. 

During the General Election campaign last year, the threat of cuts and closures incensed many normally loyal Tory voters, and all three local MPs were terrified of the impact on their electoral chances, issuing panicked statements about libraries as the extent of the influence of the issue on voting intentions became clear, and safe constituencies suddenly became marginal.

This anger amongst residents has not gone away: every library demo and march has brought out middle class, conservatively minded voters, joining in political protest for the first time in their lives, because unlike their Tory councillors and MPs, they care desperately about the issue. 

Barnet is one of the most literate, well educated, well informed, and well read areas of London:  a borough largely populated by residents who grew up with a library close to home, an essential resource for the extent of their literacy, and reading pleasure, as part of their childhood, school years, student life, lives as parents of small children, as the children of elderly parents. They expect their library service to be supported by their local council, not destroyed.

Even those who are not dependent on libraries understand the need for their survival, for those who are: another concept that Tory politicians cannot grasp, due to their own abject lack of empathy with the experience of lives less fortunate than their own.

Well: last Thursday was World Book Day

Just two days after Dan Thomas dismissed any concern over the future of libraries in this borough as irrelevant to 'most people', the children of East Finchley came to their local library to demonstrate exactly what this building, this service, means to them, and their families: 

Not just children, of course: yes, their parents, and their grandparents, neighbours, and many other representatives of the residents of Barnet who will suffer the impact of the Tory cuts, should they be approved in a few weeks time. 

A disabled woman, who can only walk, very slowly, with the use of crutches, spoke to Mrs Angry about her fears for her local library, should these cuts be imposed: access is difficult enough for her now, and how on earth would she manage to use an unstaffed library? And she cared enough, Councillor Thomas, to come out on a freezing day in March, to join the protest outside East Finchley library.

With long term library campaigner Keith was his friend Mike, who has been blind since birth, and also felt very strongly that he must come along to give his support. 

Mike explained how vital libraries and their audio books were to him. 

Mrs Angry was reminded of a film shown at a recent Speak Up For Libraries campaign, which featured one award winning council that was actually investing in libraries so as to provide, for example, support groups for sight impaired users, with activities like book clubs, aided by new technology that could provide multiple audio versions for their members. A vision of public service as it should be, rather than the betrayal of trust, and evasion of responsibility, that is enacted in this borough.

But it was the children's event, really: and really, it was quite heartbreaking for anyone, like me, whose love of reading was nurtured entirely by the books at my local library in Edgware as a child, to see a new generation having to plead for the right to visit their own branch, and be provided with what should be a universal right, and is indeed a statutory obligation for all authorities to deliver: the right of access to a public library, near to home, for the benefit of all who need it, a safe space, free of charge, with proper funding, and most important of all, a library service run by professional staff.

Councillor Thomas lives in Edgware now. I don't know if he has children, but I'll bet he has never borrowed a book for himself or his family from his local library - now being used as a pilot for the terrible 'open', unstaffed library model he and his colleagues want to impose on us.

Present at the protest outside East Finchley library, however, on World Book Day, was local Labour Assembly Member Andrew Dismore, and local Labour councillors, all of whom have, in stark contrast to local Tory politicians, and aspiring Members, supported residents campaigning against the cuts from the very beginning.

It's simple then: let your local Tory councillors and MPs know how you feel about the plans to destroy your library service. And if, as expected, the plans are voted through anyway, you will have a chance, in May, to punish them at the ballot box, and vote for something else; something better.  

A life without libraries is unthinkable, but that is what, in all effect, will be the future for our children, and grandchildren, if we let this go. 

It's up to you, and me, now, to see that that doesn't happen.

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