Tuesday 1 May 2018

When Jeremy came to Barnet: End Game, and Tory panic, as polling day approaches

A week in politics is a long time. 

A week in politics in Broken Barnet is a very, very long time.

And Mrs Angry's week, in Broken Barnet, from Monday to Monday, has been, well: not just very, very long, but ... very interesting, all things considered. 

One might suspect that for Barnet Tories, things have not been quite so enjoyable, as they hurtle faster and faster to polling day, with all the speed and unstoppable force of - well, I don't know, some unstoppable thing, that's ... very fast. And they seem incapable of steering themselves into any other other direction than the abyss of electoral doom. 

Of course they have tried to get some political profit from areas they like to think they're good at. You know, roads, pavements, bins, planning. No: really. Apparently after 16 years of trying, they think they might get the hang of running these things at last, if you'll only give them another chance.

That was Plan A. Hide your cockups in plain sight, right there in your own manifesto. 

Plan B: Quick! Look over there! Move on, nothing to see here, in Tory Barnet, but over in Brent, and Haringey, and Camden, Awful Things happen, that might happen here, when the Maoist cult leadership of Barnet Labour party takes over, and imposes military rule, and compulsory May Day parades past Hendon Town Hall. 

Plan C: nasty little smears. The favourite last minute tactic of Barnet Tories. Not going to bother helping them with that one by repeating them, or linking to them. Eurgh.

Plan D: quoting Mrs Angry in election material, as the voice of authority. Yes: hilarious, desperate tactic this one - first of all in a leaflet (punctuated with frenzied outbursts of CAPITAL LETTERS) to voters in the most marginal ward in London, ie Childs Hill, absurdly trying to claim Mrs A and A Labour Councillor think Tories spent too much money on marginal Childs Hill's roads and pavements, just because Tories spent too much money on marginal Childs Hill's roads and pavements. The most money, in fact, just as the most marginal ward last time round also had a fortune thrown at it.

AN OUTRAGEOUS ATTACK, they splutter ... Even more stupidly, they draw attention to the two Tory councillors who claim they have been 'lobbying' Highways officers for two years - and brag about nearly £5 million splurged on this most fought over ward - which is still, however, like every part of the borough, inexplicably littered with pot holes, a state of affairs that is guaranteed to make every voter wonder where the hell the fecking money went.

Then we have the nasty little press release about a couple of disaffected former Labour councillors, at the end of which, in the editors' notes, they tried linking to this blog, and an innocuous enough description of the pair as hard woking local councillors - which they were. Oh dear, the link appears to be broken now ... 

Still, gratifying to be recognised at last by Barnet Tories as OUTRAGEOUS and yet, at the same time, an utterly indispensible source of academic citation for their press releases. 

Clearly because of this sort of notoriety, and the vote of confidence, long awaited, for the Barnet bloggers, last Monday Mrs Angry and Mr Reasonable took part in an interview with Tim Donovan, for a BBC London news item on the election in Barnet: shall we say it again, most marginal borough in London. 


The BBC London interview (poor quality image, sorry ...)

We talked about the Capita contracts, the massive hidden charges that make a mockery of claims of 'savings' - and the broken promises of 'better services for less money'.

Services are falling apart: was that just the view of a Labour activist, asked Tim Donovan? No: residents now are faced with the consequences of the contracted out services, and the fatal mistake Barnet Tories have made is to fail to see the impact of this on their own electoral stability. 

Pot holes, bins, planning - libraries: these are the things that middle of the (bumpy) road Tory voters can see are falling apart, literally, in terms of the fabric of the built environment and infrastructure, as well as metaphoically. This is what is losing them support, and may well lose them control of the council. 

And then: ha ha, the item ended most amusingly as Tim Donovan cornered the Tory 'leader' Richard Cornelius and questioned him. As usual, Cornelius opened his mouth and allowed a load of freeform nonsense to spout forth. He claimed the Capita contract was 'fantastic'. It isn't. He claimed the contract was not 'ideological'. It is. He claimed it is saving us £1 million a month. It isn't. 

Or at least the truth is they 'give' us £1 million a month with one hand - and take back far more in other ways, through the crafty contract variations hidden in the small print.

Then Tim Donovan caught Cornelius off balance and asked him about the local bloggers: what did he think of them? They've been at you for some time, haven't they

Yes, said the Tory leader,  But one day they might be right, so I do listen to them, he said, with his usual saturnine smile, aligned with the apparently guileless innocence of much of his off the cuff public comments: then he panicked and added quickly, but not quickly enough: ...  but they haven't been yet ...

Well, a few days later we were back at Cafe Buzz, Mr Reasonable and Mrs A, for another meeting. Hard not to pause for a moment, and consider the number of significant events that have happened here, over the last few years, in this trouble making spot, on the curiously powerful leyline that runs through this part of Broken Barnet, down from the former Tory stronghold of High Barnet, down and round to the spiritual home of all local Tory councillors and politicians, at Margaret Thatcher House. 

How much plotting and rallying of the Barnet Spring has taken place, here, at Cafe Buzz?

Which former Tory grandee saw his career end outside, on the pavement, after he attacked the cafe owner, Helen Michael - an end and a turning point not only for him, but the whole party: marking the end of one era, and the beginning of another: the beginning of the end of the malign power the Tories exert over this borough, and all its hapless residents. It was a point which broke the spell, and proved to all that they could and would be held to account, and brought down, in the end. 

And here we are, and here we were, yesterday, with a few of the local activists who have fought so hard to deliver a better future for Broken Barnet, having coffee with the leader of the Labour party. 

Oh and with the Shadow Chancellor on speakerphone, due to being stuck in traffic on the North Circular ... 

John Mc Donnell, on speakaphone. Labour Oakleigh candidate Angie Hudson, centre

Sitting round the table with us, and chatting away, Jeremy Corbyn was that rare thing: a politician who is himself, and speaks without constantly measuring his words against a scaled model of behaviour, that dictates what he should be, to please everyone, and no one, in fear of saying something interesting, or thoughtful, by mistake. Or indeed something that might upset those not in full accordance with his views. He was quietly spoken, but confident, funny, patient - and appeared to be genuinely interested in what everyone had to say. 

Fellow blogger Mr Reasonable talked about the Capita contracts, which are now the focus of a truly magnificent report by Barnet Unison, with a foreword by John Mc Donnell, that gives the long and complex history of the outsourcing of our council services from the launch of the Easycouncil idea, and its reconfiguration, through 'Futureshape', to 'One Barnet' - names all of them in their turn discarded and rebranded as interested parties sought to force the borough down the road to mass privatisation.

Blogger Mr Reasonable tells Jeremy Corbyn about the Capita contracts

We talked at some length about Tory cuts to our libraries, me telling him about the savage removal of the children's libraries, and the Tory plans to give the space to a private company to charge fees for desk rental. Taking away study space in libraries like East Finchley, next to one of the borough's pockets of social deprivation. Corbyn was visibly appalled.

He also mentioned he knew East Finchley library well, and did I know he had an allotment nearby? Yes, I did ... In fact he knows Barnet pretty well, not just on visits to support marches in defence of our public services, but in his earlier career as a NUPE official in Barnet. World exclusive: I can reveal that the Labour leader told Mrs Angry he once 'occupied' the former Gateway House, and colleagues had to post flattened fish and chips to him, through the letter box ...

On the subject of libraries there was one thing I really, really wanted to know: and so did Hugh Jordan, the Barnet Libraries Unison convener (once Mrs Angry's job, funnily enough, in another lifetime). What can a Labour government do to protect public library services from council cuts, and ensure there is proper funding in place to retain them? He and John Mc Donnell, on speakaphone, stated they intended to compel local authorities to do just that, protecting cultural resources: libraries, music, drama, the arts. 

Hugh pointed out the inadequacy of the current Libraries Act, and Mc Donnell agreed it was minimal in scope. He wanted statutory provision for cultural services in total 'embedded' in legislation. 

How refreshing to hear the leader of a political party and a shadow chancellor discussing culture as a statutory right, in Broken Barnet, where culture is seen as something disposable, or even a threat. We shut libraries here, close our museums, sell off our heritage to the highest bidder. Only a new government, and a new national policy can help us preserve what is left.

Barnet Unison's John Burgess with the report on the failure of Barnet's mass outsourcing

Ok: what about small businesses, asked someone, as local businesswoman and trader spokesperson Helen Michael, who has fought so hard to save her High street from decline, looked on.

Corbyn and Mc Donnell said they wanted Labour to be the party of small businesses. Corbyn spoke about the demise of high streets, blighted by the prevalence of charity shops, and payday loan enterprises. We need a greater diversity - of cafes, shops, libraries: a sense of community.

A woman present who had experienced the horror of Apartheid talked about asylum seekers. Jeremy observed it was important to look at each individual as a human being, not as a mass: he talked about his experience visiting a refugee camp on the Syria/Iraq border, and listening to the courageous story of one young girl who had lost her family, but who looked to a better future, and aspired to be a doctor.

At this point a woman from Chipping Barnet sitting at the table introduced herself and asked Corbyn if he understood how she, as a Jewish member of the Labour party, felt at the moment, how hard it was for her. 

He spoke at length about the subject of antisemitism, and said emphatically and unequivocally, yet again, that it was 'absolutely unacceptable'. It was true the process of dealing with reported incidents was long, but there was no place for it in our party. When a cafe regular, a Tory supporter, also Jewish, who had been listening quietly throughout now interrupted, politely but firmly, and asked him about Ken Livingstone, Corbyn explained the reasons for the protracted procedure - but agreed the processes had been 'far too slow'. The response seemed to be accepted as fair enough: and the leader dealt with the subject calmly, and with openness, as he did with every issue. 

He moved on to speak to the local press, and then was escorted out by the troublesome cafe owner (who was invited to visit his allotment ...) The troublesome cafe owner, who used to be a Tory (guess who brought that to an end), confessed to being won over by the Labour leader, despite her earlier reservations. 

And that is Corbyn's secret: by being himself, and refusing to conform to the artificially contrived image of what a politician, a party leader, is meant to be, he has retained the ability to communicate with and inspire voters, in an age where cynicism and disengagement have turned the political process into something so far removed from the experience of ordinary families, or individuals - especially those most marginalised, most disadvantaged, and in the greatest need. 

As Mrs A pointed out to Mr C, many people assume Barnet is an affluent borough, with few problems in terms of social need. In fact it is both populous and diverse, and polarised, with a gulf not between different communities, but between those who have, and those who have not. Yes, he agreed, referring to another example highlighted by Grenfell, in Kensington and Chelsea. The story is always more than we see at first sight.

Marginal is a term that means something entirely different, to Barnet Tories: it is the word that strikes fear in their hearts, for all the wrong reasons, Being excluded not from all the things that make life worth living, in your own community, but from control of the political process that gives them power, and privilege, and the right to dictate to others how they will live those lives, in dispossession and disaffection from the rights and freedoms we used to take for granted. 

Up to you now, this week, to take back control of the process of democracy in this borough from a party that has proved itself unworthy to govern. 

Please do the right thing, on Thursday, and vote for a Labour council for Broken Barnet. 

Then we can begin the process of picking up the pieces, and start again, to remake a community that works, yes, you know - for the many: and not those few, who want to maintain their hold over us, at any cost.

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