Tuesday 13 June 2017

Mayhem, but a moral victory: the battle of Broken Barnet: Election 2017

For some time now, the museum in Chipping Barnet, surviving against all the odds, in spite of the concerted efforts by the local council to close it, has tried to interest the same Tory council in supporting a project that would look for archaeological evidence for the Battle of Barnet. 

This is of course an investigation of huge significance, nationally, and locally, regarding as it does an event of such pivotal importance in our history: and with the potential to identify the only battlefield site within the greater London area.

The only response to this proposal, initially, was for our culture averse Tory authority to try to prise the museum from its property - a lovely Georgian house - and flog it off to the highest bidder, as they had hoped to do with the museum in Hendon. 

Ransack it, and sell it, as they had done in Hendon - the irreplaceable local history collection shoved in boxes, and sold at auction. Of no value, said the Tory leader, Richard Cornelius, with a shrug. Of no material value, which is the only scale of measurement Barnet Tories adopt  (in fact it did raise a lot of money). Here in essence, is the history of Broken Barnet and the present combined: our borough seen as no more than territory fought over by the forces of Capita-lism, our heritage, like everything else the spoils of war, and of no consideration to our elected representatives.

History, in Broken Barnet, is a dangerous thing, to be contained, and disposed of . The history of rebellion, of course, is even more of a risk, and must be suppressed.

Barnet council, and Capita, failed to find the deeds of the museum property, and were unsuccessful in getting their sweaty little hands on it. 

The volunteers who run it clung on: managed to find funding for the archaeological survey, & applied to extend the museum: plans at first blocked by Tory councillors, now underway, reluctantly, only after it became clear the building was never going to revert to the authority. And because it is located in what was, once upon a time, the Tory stronghold of Chipping Barnet.

This Sunday saw a medieval festival held to welcome residents, and show them some of the fascinating artefacts uncovered by excavation of areas now believed to have seen the fighting in 1471: around Kitts End settlement, and in part of Wrotham Park.

In the grounds of the museum, people were watching a re-enactment of fighting between medieval combatants, clad in armour. Families sat on the grass, enjoying the spectacle. Oh, and there, in a VIP area, surrounded by a group of people pretending to be serfs, and safely behind a nominal border of string,  stood the Tory mayor, Brian Salinger, adorned by his chain of office, and clearly relishing the role for which, in the view of all local Tory councillors, marks the utmost height of their brilliant careers. 

Tory Mayor Brian Salinger, surrounded by serfs

Except that the Mayor wasn't quite his usual, ebullient self. Could barely raise a jibe at Mrs Angry's impertinence, in ignoring the barrier of string, and slipping in to take his photo. Stood talking in subdued manner to his companions, in very low spirits. And ... some one was missing: where was Theresa Villiers, the local Tory MP, who usually graces these events with her patronage? 

Perhaps she had other things on her mind. 

Such as the three hundred votes that had only just secured her re-election, on Thursday - and the dire warning given to her, and her two parliamentary colleagues, that she, and they, are now poised to lose their seats, as the serfs, here in Broken Barnet, are rising up against their overlords, and life, for our local Tory politicians, is never going to be the same again. 

Putting on a brave face: Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers, with Mayor Brian Salinger Pic courtesy BBC

It was clear that something was in the air, on Thursday, when arriving at the polling station. 

You could almost smell it, and see it - the scent of blue tinged fear.

The signs were there, too, even on the walk up the road: quite literally, the usual massive sign in the front garden of a Tory activist who lives next door to the church hall where we vote had been rather cheekily decorated with a Vote Labour sticker, and no one had bothered to remove it.

Good Morning, trilled the vicar, with a practised smile, standing at the door of the church hall, like a celestial bouncer: or perhaps, as if to annex the process of democracy and stamp it with parochial authority, and a nudge in the direction of the Conservative party, whose policies, he had assured Mrs Angry last time, when acting as a teller outside, were not, as suggested, utterly in conflict with the Christian values he represents.

Two ancient old women, Tory tellers, sat inside the entrance, against the rules, perched on deckchairs, oblivious to passing voters, and chatted away, as if on a day trip to the seaside.

Inside the hall, we were the only voters, even though it was lunchtime. This was good news: in this area of Finchley, such a low attendance suggested that Tory voters were staying at home, sulking over the dementia tax, or worried about Brexit.

As we left, the Tory teller ladies didn't even bother to take our numbers. 

Outside the hall, Mrs Angry's Tory activist radar picked up an alert: yes, look - smug young man with slicked back hair, a permatan, and crisply ironed shirt, looking at his clipboard with a grim expression. He gave Mrs Angry a baleful look, and said Good Morning, with the air of someone who was eyeing her up suspiciously, in desperate search of a voter to canvass. Mrs Angry's spoilsport son, recognising the dangerous look on his mother's face, whisked her away before she launched any counter assault. 

Later on that morning Mrs Angry made the trip up to North Finchley, to inspect the polling station at the the local library, still closed, along with most branches, while the Tory council rips it apart, removes the children's library, halves the staff, culls the stock, and study space, and installs DIY robot library technology.

A couple of weeks ago, towards the end of purdah, a banner appeared outside this library, and the library in East Finchley, proclaiming the good news that the library would re-open later this summer, and informing the public that the closure was due ... to 'refurbishment'. 

Of course anyone who knows what is happening to our libraries knows that the closures are in fact due to the work that will impose a savage programme of cuts in service. 

Anyone who knows what is happening therefore, might reasonably conclude that the claim of 'refurbishment' is simply not true, and intended to deceive those who ... do not know what is happening. And during an election period. 

Worse still, one of these banners was displayed prominently, centrally, right outside the entrance to a polling station - and yes - here we are, on the day itself, still in place, right next to  the main election sign.

Mrs Angry took a photograph. On approaching the entrance, in search of the Presiding Officer, two Tory matrons sitting outside asked, laughing, why she was taking a photograph. She explained that it was evidence of what she considered to be a breach of purdah, and the regulations regarding polling stations, and a deliberate attempt to deceive voters about the assault on our library service, as promoted by their party. They made faces, and muttered. 

The Exit Poll team outside looked on, bemused: afterwards explaining this was one of 140 or so sites around the UK, chosen as key indicators of the outcome. Good choice, and one suggesting that the Yougov poll, that had predicted Finchley & Golders Green was likely to be taken by Labour, was not wide off the mark, after all.

Inside the library, the voting was being held in the two rooms which formerly comprised the children's library, now closed by Tory councillors, with the approval of all local Tory MPs.

The lovely oak framed bow windows have now been obscured, and the rooms emptied, supposedly for use as income generating office areas: except we know from FOI requests that there are no tenants for any of the library spaces. The libraries, like the council itself, have been hollowed out, and surrendered to the private sector on the pretext of saving money, with no prospect of achieving that outcome. 

Is it allowed, to display political material, at a polling station, Mrs Angry asked the Presiding Officer? 

No, it isn't, was the reply. 

Why have you allowed that banner to remain next to the polling station sign, then? It is politically motivated, misleading, should not have appeared during purdah, and most certainly should not be allowed on election day. He did not know. He would pass on the complaint. 

A complaint had already been made, to the council's Chief Executive. He claimed - eventually - that the banners were 'factually accurate', and had only been used in order to comply with the council's duty to inform the public. This is of course nonsense, as 'refurbishment' is not the reason for closure, and if there was a duty to inform the public, that duty did not suddenly emerge in purdah, a couple of weeks before the election, when Tory candidates were hearing protests about the cuts from residents at local hustings, but at the time of the library closures, months ago. 

But still: it was only right and fitting that a library stolen by a Tory council from the children of Finchley should be used, first of all, as a venue for their parents' right to engage with the process of democracy, and to exercise their vote. 

What could be more appropriate? Or rather, more ironic.

Here in Margaret Thatcher's home territory, her Conservative heirs have betrayed the pact she made with her electorate, to offer them what she saw as the means to a better life: not just through property ownership, now out of reach of any young resident in this constituency, but in terms of education, and access to public libraries, a service she robustly defended in her career, remembering and honouring the part it had played in her own early life. 

The people of Finchley, voting in the former children's library, and elsewhere, used their opportunity, last Thursday, to express their views on the policies of another Tory government, policies endorsed with absolute loyalty - and much enthusiasm - by local Tory councillors, as well as the sitting MPs. 

And what a result: or set of results - an absolute trouncing, short of a final win, but a moral victory: all three MPs only retaining their seats - for the time being - by the skin of their vulpine teeth. Theresa Villiers, in Chipping, clinging on with only around 300 votes, Freer in Finchley and Golders Green, by a margin of 1500 or so, and Offord in Hendon by roughly a thousand votes.  

That they now face the loss of their seats, should there be another election anytime soon, is a very real possibility. 

That too many people, on both sides of the political spectrum, failed to see this coming, is quite astonishing. 

Yes: Mrs Angry has got so far in this post without resorting to I Told You So, but - she did. Tell you so. And you too, the Labour party in Barnet: please excuse me - Told you so

The portents have pointed this way for some time. 

At the last election, in 2015, as usual, Labour resources were thrown at Hendon, in the hope that this would achieve a win for Andrew Dismore, who had previously lost the constituency to Offord by a narrow margin. In fact, Offord won easily. As Mrs Angry pointed out, at the count, a view not universally welcomed at the time, not canvassing in Chipping had been a tactical error, judging by the fact that even without any support, the young & inexperienced, left leaning candidate Amy Trevethan, had won an incredible 18,000 votes against the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. 

A tactical error, because as Mrs Angry had also predicted, to disbelief, or rather, to deaf ears, in the previous local elections, wards in Chipping were taken by Labour, as the former Tory stronghold began to wake from its state of bondage, and prove that complacency by both parties was misconceived. Chipping is now one of the most marginal constituencies - as indeed are, slightly lower down the list, Hendon and Finchley.

Hendon: well. What can you say, about Matthew Offord, that has not already been said? Apart from the contribution to his own downfall that he managed in his distance from the so many sections of his own electorate, and the much publicised treatment of a now deceased constituent, and his widow, the changing demographics of the constituency played an important role in his loss of votes.  

Matthew Offord       pic courtesy Mirror

The Tory plan to develop their way to electoral success in Hendon was - rather to everyone's surprise - undone by the fact that most of the new housing is rented by a younger generation unable to buy: who came out to vote, returning around 70% support for Labour, rather than the Tory voters that our Tory friends thought would cooperate in the plantation of Grahame Park, Colindale and West Hendon. 

The failure of Offord himself to consolidate his own position with his local party, (it is rumoured that deputy leader Daniel Thomas nearly won the nomination from Hendon Tories) or to endear himself to voters, by engaging with them in any effective way, sealed his fate. He won't survive another election, as things stand now.

Finchley and Golders Green? Sarah Sackman fought an impressive campaign in 2015, and had Freer's team very worried. This time round, complacency by Tory activists soon gave way to panic, with good reason. Again, changing demographics, with a more transient population, a young renting electorate, and the fear of older Tories over dementia tax, not to mention the Remain voters who felt betrayed by their MP's flipflopping approach to Brexit - all of this contributed to his relegation to marginal status. Goodbye, Mr Freer, next time round.

Waiting in the wings: Jeremy Newmark, poised to beat Freer at the next election - pic Barnet Press

Chipping also has had demographic changes, but also has always held untapped potential Labour votes that have been ignored. This constituency has also seen a rapid decrease in the strength of the local Conservative association - and the sad loss of some of its more active members, like the now disgraced former Totteridge and London Assembly member Brian Coleman. 

But of course the other factors here are firstly the brilliant choice of candidates by Labour, with three outstanding representatives - Jeremy Newmark, Mike Katz, and Emma Whysall: all highly intelligent, articulate people, well chosen for their respective constituencies. 

And they had the sense to pick up on local issues which really matter to voters - issues which Mrs Angry has, in vain, tried to persuade Labour councillors to get a real grip on, that is to say the state of local NHS services: the dire state of waiting lists in this area - and the scandalous waste of Finchley Memorial Hospital - and, oh yes: the library cuts, a programme that by unfortunate timing for the Tories, was at the most evident stage of development when the election was called, but will continue to lose them votes when the newly emasculated libraries re-open.

The fury felt by many Tory voters, at seeing the doors of their local library firmly closed, and having seen half the library staff in April lose their jobs, has and will continue to illustrate the most direct representation of Tory cuts in action, in a way that their own voters can understand.

The Labour candidates understood the political implications of these things and very effectively held the Tory MPs to account for their failure to put the interests of constituents first, and worse still, to back government and local council policy always, rather than address the local impact on the people of Barnet, Hendon, and Finchley & Golders Green.

Oh. And then there is the other thing, of course. Which no one wanted to talk about, in Broken Barnet Labour circles. The love that dare not speak its name. Yes: Jeremy Corbyn. 

As explained so many times before, voting for Corbyn as leader, for Mrs Angry, was absolutely the only choice, the only way of realigning the party: dragging it away from the dominance of a hopelessly detached, fatally centrist, London focused, election losing agenda, and bringing it back to the founding principles of the Labour movement. 

At the last two party conferences, as reported here, and here, it was impossible not to feel increasingly isolated in this view, not so much within the wider representation of the party, and the new membership, as amongst the local Labour party, many of whom maintained Corbyn was unelectable, and that only a tedious manifesto of compromise and Tory-lite policies would win over the immoveable prejudices of the average voter. Well, there you go. Wrong. Corbyn's manifesto, manifestly, was a brilliant one, and at last offered a real alternative to the usual pap - and offered hope of something better, within grasp.

Despite the massive increase in membership since his election as leader, Labour locally has been slow to recognise the shift in political tone from the centre to the left, and local Tories had clearly expected that he would be the kiss of death, in the Barnet constituencies, for the hopes of all three Labour candidates. He wasn't. The choice of Jeremy Newmark, and Mike Katz, in Finchley & Golders Green, and Hendon, helped - their staunch advocacy within the Jewish community reassuring to many electors understandably with reservations after the inept handling of the antisemitism issue. But Corbyn's national popularity was also reflected within the three Barnet constituencies, and unquestionably was the factor that brought all three to the brink of a truly astonishing Labour victory.
Could there have been three Labour MPs returned? Of course. And some of the blame must be taken by the party organisers. Tactical mistakes have been made by Labour in Barnet, based on the usual failure to step outside their frame of thought, and the same magic circle of leadership, and to approach campaigning in a more dynamic, and more effective way. 

In this campaign, Mrs Angry received messages from new members volunteering to help canvass in Barnet constituencies, cross to find they were being asked instead to campaign in other constituencies, such as Enfield, and Hampstead. Another issue is a more technical one: a decision was made not to use tellers at polling stations, or technology that assesses turnout, and directs last minute, targeted door knocking to get out the vote. Whether this was the result of the short notice for the election, or a lack of will within the party's organisation is unknown - but next time one would hope for a better use of resources.

Some crucial votes were lost - wasted - on other parties, as is always the way in Broken Barnet. Green votes were down from last time, partly due, one suspects, to the choice of new candidates, but local Libdems helped split the opposition vote, as usual. The much vaunted Libdem revival did not appear, but the distraction in key areas was enough to help return another Tory candidate. 

Next time will be different. This election's results has proved that the people of all three Barnet constituencies are no longer satisfied with the performance of their Tory MPs.

Election night 2015

Offord, Villiers and Freer have taken their electorate for granted, and failed them. 

Beyond a small circle of activists, there is no local, personal loyalty for them within their own communities - and the breakdown in relationship between them and their constituents is entirely their own doing. 

If they had any sense, they would take the risk of putting local issues before the promotion of their own political careers, take on their own former colleagues in Barnet Council, and stop hiding in their constituency offices, or behind the parliamentary aides who do their constituency work, get out, enter into open debate, consider the issues affecting ordinary families, and those struggling to survive, and try to understand their needs. But they won't. They are incapable of it. 

There are local elections here, next year. Whatever the chances of another general election, the impact of this June's results will continue to reverberate, and when the council vote comes along, will be remembered by a newly empowered electorate, freed from the restriction of thinking the Tory grip on power is unshakeable. 

In all conflicts, of course, the ultimate threat is not just outside the walls with your enemies, but within the fortress itself. Factionalism plays as large a part in war as anything else: another significant part of the forgotten history of Broken Barnet, so lovingly chronicled in these archives.

So before we forget, let's look at the words of one Barnet Tory: Tory councillor Gabriel Rozenberg - son of Melanie Phillips - whose outburst on twitter, post election, is a most telling indictment of his own party's failings: a few examples -

Gabriel Rozenberg‏ @rozgab  Jun 11

After an election, time to speak up. Of the past 6 elections, my party has won 1.We cannot win from the hard right. It’s an illusion.

If we revert to agenda that ignores young ppl, offers little on housing, talks of ‘citizens of nowhere’… we’ll lose the next election, too.

Brexit, being an almighty disaster, is our country’s #1 challenge to get fixed. Yet it is not actually the VOTERS’ top priority at all.

Voters want rising wages, job security, affordable homes, safe borders… and predictable government. Brexit delivers none of that.

In Barnet, as elsewhere, the Tory party is in disarray: there is a fatal fault line over Brexit, and so many other issues. Lack of coherence in policy, and any awareness of the mood of the electorate, has led to the disintegration of the party, with voters and members confused as to what the party stands for, and failing to see how the Tory government, or the local council, is working to their benefit. 

Theresa May was an inept minister, and is an incompetent Prime Minister. Her weakness is the same weakness that will ultimately be the downfall of so many Tory politicians: a lack of emotional intelligence, and failure to read or understand the feelings of others. 

Rejection, whether in love, or politics, is for most of us, a painful experience, but one that teaches a lesson: for politicians like these, it is  no more than a moment of confusion: something they cannot have predicted, and an outcome from which they will learn nothing. 

Mrs Angry's predictions, on the other hand, have proved to be pretty reliable, and here is another: if there is another election soon, the same candidates will stand again, in Broken Barnet, despite the evidence of their rising unpopularity - and the Tory party will lose all three seats: the local council will also change hands, next year, from the Tories, to Labour.

Let battle commence.

1 comment:

CalvinCasino said...

Hear hear Mrs A. 🌹😀