Friday 3 November 2017

An Enemy of the People: or - Barnet's Tory councillors finally lose the plot

Former Barnet Mayor Councillor David Longstaff, who accuses the Mayor of London of being 'An Enemy of the People' ...

Mrs Angry tries her best to avoid Full Council meetings of the London Borough of Broken Barnet, for very good reason: an aversion to pantomime, long standing, which dates back, well ...  to childhood days, long ago, and unhappy memories of Christmas outings to the Golders Green Hippodrome. 

This annual visit involved a range of unforgettable theatrical moments, such as the deranged antics of an aged Arthur Askey, incongruously dressed as Buttons, leaping about the stage like a performing chimpanzee escaped from a tea party at London Zoo, menacing the boys and girls in the stalls with his manic grin, and air of desperation. And then there was the fear induced by the compulsory session of audience participation, in which hapless small children, still quaking with fear, would be hauled up from the stalls on to the stage to take part in the show. Horrible.

The combination of knockabout farce, grotesque plots, and wizened, grimacing old men frightening the audience means, therefore, that Full Council meetings that involve the grandstanding theatrical performance of Barnet Tory councillors hold little attraction: but Tuesday's agenda, and in particular some of the idiotic written questions put by administration members, proved more tempting than usual. 

The Hippodrome, of course, has been much in the news, recently, for all the wrong reasons. After many years as a traditional theatre, and then as a venue for the BBC, the listed building was taken over by a Christian church, but it has now changed hands once again, to a body that wishes to use the former theatre for a Muslim centre. Unfortunately, this proposal has met with a reaction of hostility from some local residents, and led to a barrage of offensive, racist comments left on the council's planning portal, which had to be removed. Worse still, the situation has been inflamed by other parties, such as those who organised a meeting at which further extreme views were expressed: a meeting attended by self styled 'Mosque buster' Gavin Boby.  

This meeting failed to ignite the level of outrage that its mysterious organisers (who didn't want to be identified) clearly wanted - and thankfully community leaders, and representatives, were outspoken in their support for the new owners, and condemned the racist comments expressed by a small minority of objectors.

By coincidence, the Golders Green Hippodrome, in the sixties, was owned by the family of another Barnet blogger, the father of all Barnet bloggers, formerly known as 'Don't Call me Dave': David Miller, son of Lady Doreen Miller, the Tory peer. He told Mrs Angry that his family were very sad to see the Hippodrome fall into such a state of disrepair, and they are pleased that the building is now going to be put to good use.

But then of course, as one might expect, came the uninvited intervention of pantomime villain Katie Hopkins.

'Hatey Katey' was thrilled to find what she clearly thought would be a situation she could exploit for her own purposes: and she issued a series of tweets, some of them aimed at local Labour councillors Adam Langleben, and Arjun Mittra.

Well, then. Adam and Arjun are two of Barnet's brightest, and most hardworking younger Labour members. Adam is a leading member of the Jewish Labour Movement, and has put an enormous amount of effort into addressing the issue of anti-semitism; Arjun is Hindu, and an experienced councillor involved in all forms of community related ventures. They represent and reflect the true face of what is one of the most ethnically diverse local authorities in the UK: a place where residents from a huge range of cultures and religions live in harmony: Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, evangelical Christians: eastern Europeans, Japanese, Italians, Cypriots - and many other communities - the range is too diverse to list.

If there is division, in Broken Barnet, in fact, it is one of class, not ethnicity: between those who have, and those who have not - the ever widening gulf between the affluent areas of the borough, and the less advantaged, mostly western side, whose problems are addressed seemingly only by the Tory policy of faux regeneration, and decantation of the poor.

This is not what Hopkins wanted to find, of course: clearly astonished by the fact that the Jewish community has so emphatically rejected the politics of hate, and condemned the racist targeting of the Hippodrome proposals, she is wrong footed, and at a loss as how to continue with her agenda of bigotry. 

Back to the pantomime, in Hendon Town Hall: a little premature, perhaps: being the eve of Halloween, where our Tory members gamely played along, in the night of the living dead, acting out the usual Zombie politics: party loyalty and blind obedience before truth, justice, and decency, as we shall see. 

Before the proceedings began, a woman representing the Hindu community gave a short talk about her faith, the rule of karma, the eternity of the soul - and offered a prayer for peace. 

Shantih, shantih, shantih.

The Tory members looked on, and smiled politely. 

Peace does not come dropping slow, in the council chamber of Broken Barnet, however. 

Next up was the usual preposterous question time, and hostilities resumed, even as the prayers for conciliation still echoed in the ears of onlookers, as Tory councillors acted out the usual farce of non questions designed to a. boast how wonderful they are and b. claim how terrible is the opposition. 

The issue of the Hippodrome arose during these questions: the contentious petition launched by some objectors would not be heard at council, said Cornelius, due to lack of numbers, and the matter would be considered purely on planning grounds (shortage of parking is a potential problem) - and local Tory councillor Peter Zinkin went on angrily to denounce the Islamophobic comments of some of those who are so virulently opposing the plans. Labour leader Barry Rawlings agreed and stated that we will not be 'letting hate crime rule' in this borough. 

So far so good: a moment of consensus. If only peace, love and understanding had prevailed for the rest of the evening.

Mrs Angry had already decided not to stay for the whole meeting, dismayed by the intensely stupid contents of much of the second half of the agenda: not by the sensible motions from Labour, and one from Tory Rohit Grover in regard to road safety in his ward - but by the ludicrous decision, blithely ignoring all the really serious issues facing residents in the borough, to use the time to 'debate' two other motions from the Tories. One of these was from Alison Cornelius, wife of the Tory leader, on the subject of ... 'controlling' dog walkers, and the other ... from the ineffable David Longstaff: 

Is Mayor Khan an enemy of the people of Barnet?

What was the point of such a motion? Why such hostility levelled at the Mayor of London? Apparently for daring to intervene in a couple of planning applications*, the Uber issue, etc (*nothing and no one must be allowed a moderating role in the arcane mysteries of Barnet planning, of course). 

An Enemy of the People.

There are so many perjorative allusions here. And the Tories must have been well aware of this, when they decided to submit this motion.

Such a phrase is the mark of the new idiocy in right wing politics that has taken hold in the lunatic fringe of the media, here and in the US. 

As you will read in this article from the Washington Post, it is a term that has the most dark and shameful historic associations: from the designation of 'ennemi du peuple' at the time of  the French revolution's Reign of Terror, its adoption by Goebbels as part of his demonisation and persecution of the Jewish people, and its usage by Stalin, signalling a death sentence for intellectuals, artists - or any other citizen who displeased him.

What on earth possessed the Conservative group in Barnet to allow a motion with such deeply offensive undertones to be put to debate? And let us remember that they all voted to support it.

Ignorance of the historical context is hard to believe - and no excuse. In these dangerous times, great care and sensitivity should be employed when elected representatives raise issues for debate - this motion, using these words, with clearly despotic connotations, as well as the nod towards contemporary alt-right lunacy, should never, never have been used.

Why employ such a phrase, even disregarding the historical context, in regard to a democratically elected politician, on such a feeble pretext as minor decisions on planning applications, and transport policy? 

Frankly it is absolutely clear, as the Labour group pointed out, that the deliberate use of such a repellent term is from the same bottom of the barrel scraping tactics as Zac Goldsmith's widely reviled election campaign. Not so much Lynton Crosby's dog whistle, as a total immersion in gutter politics.

Labour submitted an amendment which stated:

Council believes its elected members should be careful not to use coded language that portrays people of different backgrounds as "enemies" so that they are perceived as 'other' to everyone else.

And Cllr Arjun Mittra stood up to speak against the motion.

You can hear what happened next by listening to an audio recording here. Scroll down to Item 14.3.

From the very beginning, Cllr Longstaff launches into a frankly absurd and personally directed diatribe: he starts with a jibe at Cllr Mittra: 

'If he understood English, that would really help'. 

That was an utterly indefensible remark to make to anyone who happens to be of Asian heritage, but also ridiculous - Arjun Mittra is a highly intelligent, well educated, thoughtful and well spoken young man. David Longstaff, on the other hand, as you will hear, is unable even to pronounce the word 'redolent'.

Labour councillor for East Finchley, Arjun Mittra

Longstaff says that the form of criticism of his motion was disgusting and despicable. The phrase 'Enemy of the People', he claimed, was a play on the title of the work by Ibsen. Really? Then he should know that Ibsen's play is about the struggle to hold a morally bankrupt local authority to account (- over contaminated water in the municipal baths - something which could never happen in Broken Barnet, of course).

Longstaff continued: he denied any 'coded language' in regard to Sadiq Khan. He trotted out an arch routine claiming there were no differences between the two of them, both South London boys, working class fathers, both went to university. Of course the obvious difference of race and religion, an issue exploited by the vile Goldsmith campaign, was entirely omitted.

Cllr Mittra's turn. He made a passing, less than complimentary reference to his Tory opponent's former acting career, which infuriated Longstaff - but swiftly moved on to a rather more important point: in the aftermath of the murder of Jo Cox, and the alleged plot regarding another MP, we should be more conscious of the impact of inflammatory political speech. 

The noise in the chamber tells you how divisive and inflammatory this motion was, and is. The outrage, however, on the Tory side, is audibly from Cllr Longstaff, driven into a fury by the disparaging comments about his professional record as an actor.

Well. What can you say? Arjun Mittra's comments were arguably a little unfair. 

Councillor David Longstaff's calling as An Actor, stand up comedian, and model, has, in fact, been an honourable one: extensive, and ... varied in scope. 

We know this because when he first emerged from the wings, so to speak, on the stage at Hendon Town Hall, Mrs Angry came across his CV on the website of his casting agency, and was enormously thrilled to find the details of his illustrious career. 

Sadly, this website disappeared. Or so it seemed. But no! Good news: the agency has a new name and there, still, for all of us to enjoy, is the record of a life in the business that is show. There is a wonderful compilation of footage of some of the best performances. Do take a look.

You know, Mrs Angry, in her time, has been fortunate to see many theatrical legends in action. 

Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Gambon; yes, Arthur Askey, and Danny La Rue. 

But nothing they gave in their interpretations of Pinter, Chekov, Shakespeare - or Mother Goose, could measure up against say, Cllr Longstaff as 'Beige Man in Ikea', (ad) or Drunken Elf, in Holby City. 

Who could forget witnessing his small part in 'Mary Whitehouse', a stirring performance as Mr Smallwood? Not me.

Cllr Longstaff has also given a marvellous rendition of local Finchley benefactor Inky Stephens, as you can see in the listing's footage (scroll down to the bottom ... then fast forward to The Bottom). Yes, Inky Stephens, who gave us Victoria Park, part of which the Tories sold off, and which came perilously close to being developed, earlier this year:

"Come: I'll show you my tree ..." (Not Mr Smallwood, again: Inky Stephens. One of the more memorable lines in this epic production).

And yes: lest we forget, perhaps his most memorable and long term role, (other than his role play contract as Mayor of Broken Barnet, once upon a time): as an Oscar statuette, naked, and covered in gold body paint, like that poor dear girl in 'Goldfinger'.

But Longstaff has given up the stage - or the stage has given him up - and he now wants to be taken seriously in his role as an elected representative - and, oh dear, as Chair of the Community Leadership Committee ...

Fair enough: if you want to be taken seriously, Councillor Longstaff, probably don't put forward puerile motions insulting the most important politician in London, who has been placed in that position with the most resounding endorsement of the residents of our city. 

Something we most certainly should take seriously is the role played in this tawdry drama by the Tory leader, Richard Cornelius, and the chorus of disapproval extras sitting in the Conservative side of the chamber. They really should know better than to allow such a motion to go to debate. Why did they - especially at a time when at least some of them had shown such courage in speaking out in favour of the Muslim community centre?

Here is the reason. Because this council is run, as in Ibsen's play, by the masters of a morally bankrupt authority: Barnet Tories are desperate to avoid the looming defeat at next year's local elections, and to fend off the very real chance of losing three newly marginal Tory constituencies at the next General Election. Desperate because everything they have promoted, over the last few years, is falling apart, and being exposed as a total con - a betrayal of their electorate. This summer's external Audit report confirmed, in no uncertain terms, the perilous state of the authority's financial position, heading towards disaster, ransacking the reserves as the Capita contracts, rather than saving us bucketloads of money, and delivering better services, is proving nothing less than a cash cow for the contractors, while functions such as planning and enforcement are now so bad, even the most docile of conservative minded residents are questioning the wisdom of returning the current administration to power. 

Barnet Tories are now launched on a Trump style mission to distract, therefore. It is no coincidence that at the same time they were cutting public services, they spent nearly £1 million on new PR posts, to carry on up until the elections next May. 

Yep, they invented the term 'fake news', by the way. No one knows more about it than they do. 

These new PR lackeys are part of a propaganda machine that relentlessly churns out the most deathly council spin, and publishes (at our expense) the overtly party political council news 'Barnet First'. The same machine tries to convince residents that the hugely unpopular library cuts are not cuts, or even a'configuration', or a 'refurbishment', but an 'investment'; the same machine manufactures outrage over the closure of a police station in a Tory ward, and a perceived lack of policing, when they refused to tackle Boris Johnson's police cuts for Barnet, when he was Mayor. (In fact they blamed the police, not Boris, see here).

Last week some of us went to the latest in a series of 'question times' with the Tory leader, Richard Cornelius. Ill advertised, so as to minimise attendance, of course - but every resident present made it clear, to an increasingly flustered Cornelius, that there is no longer any chance of fooling the voters of this borough. 

They are now seeing the outcome of so many years' ideological obsession with privatisation, council tax freezes, faux regeneration, and the widening of the gap between those who have, and those who have not. 

They have lost patience with the trio of Tory MPs in Broken Barnet who support a merciless government, sit back, and do nothing to help those in their constituencies with desperate needs; and they have lost all faith in is the heartless, gutless, shameless Tory councillors who run this borough. 

They know who the enemy is, in short. 

And they know it is not the Mayor of London.


David Beere said...

Thank you very much for this well researched and detailed report on Barnet Council.

It is to be hoped that it finds its way to many more Barnet people so they can find out what nonsense the majority group on Barnet get up to. They have nothing to say worthwhile and resort to abuse and ignorant jibes .These are people who cannot debate.There sole reason d'ĂȘtre seems to be keep taxes to the minimum and play their part in ensuring the decline in public standards in local government carries on unchallenged.

Mrs Angry said...

You are absolutely right, David: they are incapable of debate, or independent thought, hence the shameful failure of those members who should know better to at least abstain from approving a motion with such an inherently offensive associations.

And failing to censure a remark suggesting a councillor from an ethnic minority dose not understand English is simply unacceptable.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Dear Mrs Angry

Whilst it is very nice to be on the receiving end of one of your rarely granted compliments, I am not the father of all Barnet bloggers. That honour, as you well know, belongs to the late and much lamented Daniel Hope.

When the BBC sold the Hippodrome, I seem to recall they cited the cost of maintain the building as one of the reasons. This was not unreasonable given its listed status. It is very sad that the building can no longer function as an old fashioned Hippodrome, but many municipal theatres are struggling these days and I suspect it would be too costly to run purely as an entertainment centre.

So taking that into account, it makes perfect sense for the building to now be used as a community centre, provided, of course, that the new owners are prepared to spend whatever is required to restore the building and ensure it is safe for public use – apparently there was a problem in this regard under its previous ownership.

I do not believe that the objectors speak for the majority. What they seem to have overlooked was that the Hippodrome was sold at a public auction. If they felt that strongly about the issue, they should have bought it themselves.