Tuesday 24 May 2022

Welcome to the Borough of (Hopefully No Longer Broken) Barnet

Ok. I've been putting it off, but here is a sentence I've wanted to write for ... at least twelve years. Well, longer, in fact, much longer.

We now live in the London Borough of (Hopefully No Longer Broken) Barnet.  

Yes. As you know, Barnet Tories have been given the order of the boot, by residents, on a scale that was unthinkable, before May 5th, and is still hard to comprehend. They now have only 22 seats - and Labour has nearly double, with 41. By any measure of success, this is quite extraordinary: by Barnet standards, it is nothing less than sensational. 

As predicted in the previous post, the Tory group Leader, (for the time being, anyway), Dan Thomas, has blindly led his group into political oblivion, despite his magnificent manifesto, based on such gambits as  a false claim about freezing council tax, and a fatal misreading of the rules of #angryaboutbins, and boasting of doing something that absolutely no one thinks twice about, ie emptying said bins, ie a service that we pay for, but somehow something for which they think they deserve congratulations, and four more years in charge of the borough.

Thomas was asked on the live BBC election results show for his opinion on the reasons for his party's disastrous performance. With a face like a slapped you know what, and through clenched teeth, he issued a carefully shaped response which blamed 'a perfect storm' of issues - which naturally had nothing whatsoever to do with him, or his party's performance in power. It was pleasing to see him use this phrase, however, as clearly he was subliminally remembering the prescient tone - and titles - of Broken Barnet's previous posts, here and here,  in which the Hendon Hub development fiasco, and the Tories's mishandling of it,  served as an appropriate metaphor for their looming nemesis.

It is true that national issues helped turn Barnet residents into Labour voters: or possibly, as Thomas would have us think, encouraged his loyal electorate to stay at home, sulking, rather than vote at all. 

Covid, Brexit, the incompetence, corruption and lawlessness of the Johnson government, all of this and more has had a major impact on the local elections this time. And yes, the boundary changes here were beneficial to Labour, to a certain extent. 

Whether or not Barnet Tories want to admit it, however, they are entirely responsible for the way the borough's local services have been mismanaged, and the way in which engagement with the democratic process has been made virtually impossible for residents at a time not only of increasingly dreadful standards of services, but also while witnessing, helplessly, an unprecedented level of monstrous over development - and most significantly, now encroaching on areas where formerly Tory leaning residents live. 

The tower blocks marring the skyline, the relentless demolition of much loved landmarks like the Medical Research Centre in Mill Hill, the White Bear pub in Hendon, the Lodge in Victoria Park; the replacement of perfectly usable housing for non affordable housing; the lack of enforcement of planning breaches in their neighbourhoods: all of this has begun to annoy and alienate the sort of people the Tories needed to keep onside. And here we are, and there they are, sitting on the opposition benches. 

Unnoticed by most, no doubt much to his chagrin, former disgraced Tory councillor, AM and village gossip Brian Coleman has taken his stubby little pencil and written a new blogpost (full of grammatical errors) with his thoughts on the election catastrophe. 

Rather to my alarm, he has somehow reached a point of view in agreement with me on quite a few issues. You ok, Brian? Or maybe it's me that needs a lie down.

No, I won't link to his blog as really, one should not encourage him. 

He focuses, anyway, on the ruthless (and pretty stupid) deselection of Tory members - especially women. He commends Hendon's Nizza Fluss for "her  principled and vocal opposition to the so called "Hendon Hub" , the absurd joint development with Middlesex University which post pandemic looks even more unnecessary ..." 

What he has to say about new Hendon councillor Alex Prager, I could not possibly repeat. Of course I didn't laugh.

Fascinating to see that the library cutter Reuben Thompstone's well deserved fall from grace, after standing in the unwinnable Underhill ward, was reportedly preceded by being turned down by three other areas, as well as his own ward of Golders Green. Awful shame. Brian advises him to ditch the 'silly moustache', amongst other things. Mmm. Not sure that will help. He is the moustache: the moustache is he. There is nothing else.

Dan Thomas, who not so long ago was happy to be seen with Coleman escorting the losing Tory candidate at the London Assembly count, gets little comfort from his chum now. He reckons he can only stagger on for a year at least, and then will have to return to his sun lounger (I paraphrase ...) And then:

I wish the new Labour Council well especially as they undue (sic) some of the dafter decisions of the last few years, Hendon Hub , North Finchley regeneration and of course the horrendous partnership with Capita that has proved a disaster and has had Tory Councillors tearing their hair out . 

Goodness me. Did you vote for it, Brian?


Over the last twelve years of publishing this blog, there has been nothing but a slow, insidious, incremental inevitability that the Tories would reach this point of self generated folly - and lose control of the council.

Twelve years and a thousand posts: so much awful stuff to report -  first from the time of MetPro, and the illegally operating, jackbooted thugs that the Tory councillors appointed to keep residents out of the Town Hall, a scandal which led to the discovery of thousands of missing contracts.

Next up: the late, much missed blogger Dan Hope spotted, late one night, that the Tories had sneaked onto a council agenda a proposal to award themselves massive rises in their allowances, even while lecturing us about the need for 'austerity'. We wrote about it: they were forced to retreat.

Then came the strategically organised embedding of the idea of mass outsourcing of services: facilitated by senior officers, consultants and representatives of potential tendering companies. Next came the courtship by Capita, in circumstances never fully understood. The Tories were easily fooled into signing up, without reading the contract that contained so many cleverly designed ways of squeezing every penny out of local taxpayers. We warned them, the unions warned them: they didn't want to know. But we were right, weren't we? And taxpayers have had to pay the cost: more than double the estimated cost.

We sat and watched, and reported, as Capita drew up a long list of 'development opportunities' - opportunities for themselves, camouflaged as 'regeneration'. The mass overdevelopment began, every last corner of the borough that could be grabbed was marked for use. They are only giving up on regeneration now because the opportunities themselves have dried up. Planning has become the favourite cash cow, with a system so saturated with conflicts of interest the entire borough has become helpless before the predation of major developers, pushed by lobbyists, and agents, and none of this in ways which are transparent or accountable. Labour must wrench this service from the hands of Capita, and take it back in house.

We sat and watched and reported, as Capita looked for every last gainshare payment and reward they could muster from such heartless measures as snatching the Freedom Passes of disabled residents, many of them with learning difficulties, some left stranded, helpless, as they discovered their passes had been summarily stopped, without warning. After the fuss we kicked up, this nasty trick was reversed. 

Another shameful episode was the attempt, in order to make a pre-election bribe via a tiny cut in council tax, (the cost of one cup of coffee a month) to take away the desperately needed respite care funding for families of children with severe and complex disabilities. Some of the parents came to the committee to beg the Tories not to do this, their children in wheelchairs. The children, as part of their conditions,  made a lot of involuntary noises - and were told twice by the Chair to be quiet. We reported this story: the cut was restored.

We sat and watched, reported and protested, as our once magnificent library service was gutted, and destroyed, by the hopeless philistinism, one might say hopeless nihilism, of the Barnet Tory councillors. They didn't care. None of them valued libraries, or the local museum. If only they had read more as children, or been taken to visit museums, maybe they might have developed a greater degree of imagination, and empathy, and not ended up as such a bunch of soulless fools, of course.

There have been many, many more stories like these: the millions spent on a depot that was bought for a song only just beforehand, the highly curious tale of the £23 million loan to Saracens, when they could not get a commercial loan; the absolute scandal of West Hendon, where social tenants were tricked out of their homes, and the land given away in secret to developers - throughout all of these we - bloggers, activists, residents, campaigners, have tried our best to question and report what is happening and engage with members, in order to take a meaningful role in the local democratic process. 

But the more successful we were in raising these issues, where so much was at stake, politically and financially, the more repressive were the measures taken by Barnet Tories to silence any challenge, or even debate. The Standards regime was effectively dismantled. The consultation process was trashed, and outcomes ignored. Worse, they amended the council's Constitution, to prevent any challenging questions of policy proposals or decisions: we were gagged, by our own elected representatives. In the end the only voice left for dissenting residents was at the ballot box.

So. My advice to Barnet Tories? 

Kick out Dan Thomas, and elect someone as Leader who has clear judgement, respect for the views of residents, and is prepared to work hard at communicating with those residents, listening to their views and putting their best interests at the front of every policy decision. 

Remember that representation as an elected member is a privilege, and conveys a duty to the community that put you in that position, and that you need to demonstrate to that community that you understand this. Find a modicum of humility, compassion for those in need, and a sense of civic pride - not the sort that relies on the pantomime of council meetings, and slap up dinners in the Haven, at our expense, but one that has a vision of a better place, and a map that might show us how to get there.

Learn from the mistakes of the last few administrations: put up candidates with some life experience, and some degree of competence in handling large budgets, rather than coopting chums or relatives who fancy a life of performative civic functions, rather than working hard for the community. 

Accept the concept of community, in fact: embrace 'the other', get to know the wide and wonderful diversity of the people of this borough, all cultures, faiths, ethnicities. Understand the needs of those who are less advantaged, vulnerable, disabled, and now struggling simply to survive. Show some consideration for older residents, who are excluded from the virtual world of technology in which you live. 

Learn to appreciate the value of culture, heritage: the need for social hubs - for a properly funded library service. 

Wean yourselves off a dependency on the lie of 'private good, public bad'. Don't listen to the whisperings of consultants, lobbyists, and senior officers. Easycouncil was a crashing failure: Your Choice Barnet was a crashing failure - admit it. You can't make profit from a public service - nor should you try.

Stop despising the very concept of social housing. Stop seeing the role of councillor as an agent for development, and developers. Immerse yourselves in the principles of integrity, honesty, transparency and accountability. Here's a novel idea: all of you declare ALL of your pecuniary interests. What have you got to hide?


Moving on. 

We are now in uncharted waters, with a Labour council set to run the borough for the first time ever. Unless you include the Labour-Libdem coalition which lasted from 1994 to 2002, of course. But this year's election saw the Libdems wiped out: hardly surprising as the two former councillors were both defectors from other parties, and the Leader, Gabriel Rozenberg, who apparently thinks he will be Libdem MP for the new Finchley and Muswell Hill parliamentary constituency, (he won't) was not elected in West Finchley, where he chose, rather foolishly, to stand rather than in his previous ward of Hampstead Garden Suburb, where he might at least have depended on some personal support. Now for the first time in many, many years: there is no third party represented on the council.

Mrs Angry's advice for the new Labour administration, then? 

Stand by, comrades.

Things have perhaps not got off to the greatest start, from my point of view. Let's hope it is just a misunderstanding. But I reserve judgement, at this stage - and I have to remain critical, as I would be with a Tory administration.

Because you see, the council agenda for tonight's first Full Council meeting, as spotted by fellow blogger John Dix, has put forward changes to the Constitution in regard to the rights of residents to engage in council meetings. Good, you might think, remembering the extraordinarily drastic restrictions imposed by the last, hard right Tory council.

But they have kept the restrictions - and worse, have devalued the already devalued Residents' Forums by amalgamating them with area committees. This means effectively that residents will still be unable to question, in any meaningful way, their elected representatives at any council meeting.

You may recall that Labour members joined residents in expressing their outrage at the gagging laws brought in by the Tory administration. 

We then discover that they are adopting the same measures. 

Once this was revealed, excuses were made, we are going to consult people on engagement before making changes - well, changes to the Constitution have been made, with no consultation - and that 'governance' wouldn't let them make more changes at this stage. 

The truth is that some of the more right of centre members of the Labour group have always somewhat resented the way in which bloggers, activists and campaigners have held Barnet Tories to account - that is to say, feeling obliged, at times, to take on the function of an effective opposition. 

Latest news on this, however, is, as the meeting looms large this evening, that hints are being dropped that the gagging rules now will now be dropped, at the next Constitution meeting. Wot, no consultation? Ok with the Monitoring Officer, is it, whose contract was renewed, just before the end of the Tory administration? 

If this is the case, it really should have been made clear and indicated right from the off, so as to manage expectations.

Watching the Labour Leader on election night telling the BBC that it wasn't so much Labour who won the council as the Tories who lost it was an astonishing moment. Apart from the somewhat  message it sent to all those activists who worked so hard to canvas for Labour before election day, it struck a warning note: being too comfortable in opposition is perhaps not the best preparation for delivering the radical new administration that is needed in order to undo the damage of so much reckless, heartless Tory policies imposed on this borough.

Labour must ignore the blandishments and assurances of the senior management team. In fact, get rid of as many of them as you can. They have become too used to directing policy, rather than implementing decisions taken as part of the democratic process, by members. This suited the Tory administrations, due to their natural tendency to laziness, and apathy. This is how we ended up with the disastrous Capita contracts - consultants and senior officers - with the help of one or two key Tory councillors manoeuvring behind the scenes - senior officers were relentlessly pushing through the proposals, meeting in secret, making major decisions about the shape of the mass outsourcing, without even informing the then Tory Leader, as we saw at the time of the second contract proposals. 

As fellow blogger John Dix has predicted, the senior management team is likely to try to lure the new Labour administration into thinking they have no option but to extend the contracts. This is not true. And it will be a sharp test of judgement, if they listen to this, and do allow any extension. The benefit will be to Capita's increasingly worried shareholders, not Barnet's range of failing council services. 

The Labour group is without question a collection of decent, well meaning people, and there are some excellent new members now going to be put in positions of great responsibility in the new council. 

Barnet is lucky to have hard working, conscientious Labour councillors who, unlike  many of the previous Tory representatives, are fully dedicated to their roles, and have a genuine sense of civic vocation and duty, as well as an acute understanding of the needs of the residents of this borough whose voices have been overlooked for so long. 

A council which has people like Ross Houston, Anne Clarke, Sara Conway and Arjun Mittra, and newcomers like Liron Vellman, in positions of influence, will be in safe hands. And I hope one of them will soon take over as Leader, for a newly confident, newly enthused administration.

Is Barnet still Broken? Yes: look at the state of us - but at least now we are, at long last, on the road to recovery.  

Wednesday 4 May 2022

Welcome to Broken Barnet: soon to be under new management

Welcome to Barnet

The London Borough of Broken Barnet has always been of interest to the media, especially at election time, partly because of now fading memories of the area's association with Margaret Thatcher, and more latterly because this borough has been seen as a flagship model for some of the more radical (albeit failed) Tory policies of recent years - the large scale outsourcing of public services, for example: the so called 'EasyCouncil' mode of local authority administration. 

This May, however, Barnet is once more attracting a lot of attention for a different reason: because it is the most marginal borough in the London local elections, and the former Tory stronghold looks likely to be taken by Labour - an extraordinary development, in truth. 

The factors that are seem certain to deliver such an outcome are both local and national: clearly there is widespread dissatisfaction with the incompetence, corruption and dishonesty of Boris Johnson's government, as well as the impact of Brexit, Covid, and the relentless cull of rights we have always taken for granted: the right to free protest being the latest victim of assault.

Locally the picture is perhaps even more acute, with the breakdown in public services and the rampant over-development of the borough now so clearly evident, and increasingly so, crucially, to Barnet Tories' once staunchly loyal voters. 

The Tories have only themselves to blame.

Nine years ago, they decided to give two massive contracts to Capita, for the provision of council services. They signed the contracts without reading them fully, which is why, so many years later, as audited by fellow blogger John Dix, Mr Reasonable, whose forensic pre-election post you can read here, the contract fees have ended up costing us more than £586 million, rather than the estimated £225 million- that's you and me, the council tax payers, dumped with more than double the original cost. 

Value for money? Hardly.

We were promised better services for less money. This was not what happened. 

Apart from the massive overspend, the standard of services has visibly declined. On the way to the polling station, voters will walk on pavements unrepaired, or drive along roads littered with potholes. They have noticed the proliferation of unaffordable development, no longer just in Labour wards, but increasingly, as Capita reaches the end of its 'development opportunity' list, encroaching on Tory voter areas - such as in the heart of historic Hendon, where the now notorious Hub plans have been both promoted and approved by Tory councillors, and which will see the imposition of a 21st century campus, complete with grossly inappropriate, multi storey blocks in the middle of not just one, but two Conservation areas, stuffed with Georgian properties, a Saxon church and a number of listed 20th century civic buildings.

Barnet Tories voted through plans that will see these monstrosities forced into the middle of two Conservation Areas in Hendon.

The Hub plans include the wrecking of the listed Hendon Library, once the central branch of the former Beacon Status library service, cut and shrunk in a hugely expensive 'refurbishment' in 2017, this branch now handed over to Middlesex University, as was the local history museum round the corner at the Grade 2** listed Church Farmhouse, whose local history collection, donated over many years by residents, was flogged off at auction. History, and heritage and  are disposable commodities, for our Tory councillors.

The history of the Hendon Hub development, hatched in secret years ago, and ruthlessly pushed, in the face of all reasonable argument, tells the story of the crassly materialistic values of Barnet Tories, steeped in anti-intellectualism, relentless opposed to any sense of community, history or culture - contemptuous of the idea of any public sector service, free at the point of use.

Barnet Tories like to think of themselves as continuing the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. In fact she would have been ashamed of them: a bunch of third rate carpet baggers, with no vision, no conscience, no sense of civic pride, or duty. She would have been horrified at the destruction wrought on the library service: something she saw as vital to self education, independence and social mobility: a ladder of opportunity they have kicked away from those residents in Barnet most in need of access to books, IT support, information - study space: community space.

Here in Hendon, we meet the gaping fault line in the Tory plan of action: the freedom they have given to Capita in terms of their licence to make money out of planning and regeneration in Barnet has expired, as far as the tolerance of residents is concerned, anyway.

The developments being promoted in Barnet might be acceptable, if they met the needs of local people. But they do not. They even fail to meet their own local plans - in the case of Hendon, their own policies deliberately ignored, as they openly admit.

Developers know, moreover, that if they are obliged to offer a small quota of affordable housing in their plans, once planning permission is granted, they can plead 'non viability' and get this requirement quietly dropped. This is just one of the shameless practices promoted by the privatised planning service, along with many other activities which favour developers rather than deliver a fair and open service for the benefit of residents.

Hence we have ended up with a lot of very expensive unaffordable housing, which increases the population, largely by renters living in properties bought off plan by overseas investors, but is not supported by any adequate investment in the infrastructure needed to support the new level of incomers: in schools, healthcare, leisure facilities, parks, retail services. 

As the dissatisfaction with the Tory administration has grown, so too has their determination to become less and less accountable to residents - and voters. 

The right to hold councillors to account has been savagely restricted - the council constitution was amended to make the actions and decisions of elected representatives virtually unchallengeable: effectively there is no longer any right to raise valid questions at council meetings, and to hold our elected representatives to account, no matter how significant and complex the issue. 

Consultations on council policy have become Nonsultations. Legally obliged to pay lip service to this requirement, the outcomes, even if the opposition to their plans is unanimous, are routinely ignored and the Tories and senior officers and Capita simply carry on with their own agendas: agendas that do not prioritise the best interests of the people of this borough, as in the most obvious example of housing. Their own plans say we need affordable homes for families - they ignore all reasoned objections and approve huge, ugly multi storey developments that simply do not address local need. 

Since Covid, Tory members have stopped all surgeries: this no show continues even though their own government leaders lie that 'Covid is over';  Tory members are so unfearful of the virus they largely refuse to attend committee meetings in masks, or to observe any restrictions: indeed some of them are conspiracist anti-vaxxers, and see such sensible measures as unnecessary and an infringement of their liberty. Yet they still hide behind the Covid pretext for keeping their own constituents at a distance.

Residents' Forums are pointless now, with similar restrictions on questions, and the inevitable response to any significant challenge being that the point will be 'noted' - and no further action detailed.

There have been election hustings held locally: barely advertised - and the Tories have failed to attend the last two. This is a grave mistake, as they should remember from last year's Assembly husting, where the Tory candidate chickened out, and Cllr Zinkin had to take his place. Labour's Anne Clarke won, of course. In truth, Zinkin seems to do all the heavy lifting for his group: the current leader Dan Thomas is hardly seen - although now he keeps popping up on Twitter in canvassing photos, with a rictus grin, trying to hold on to hope that the ungrateful residents and taxpayers of Broken Barnet will not kick him out of post. 

Boundary changes have redrawn the wards in parts of Childs Hill, Cricklewood and Golders Green. Zinkin is now standing in the new Childs Hill, with Nizza Fluss (wrongly deselected in Hendon - see below) and former Labour Childs Hill councillorBarnet and Camden AM, the exceptionally hard working Anne Clarke, is now in Cricklewood with former Woodhouse councillor Alan Schneiderman, who is one of the most capable Labour members. A new Tory hopeful in this ward is Yosef David, who seems like a nice chap - but was formerly in the Brexit party, along with Nigel Farage.

Cricklewood Tory candidate Yosef David, formerly a Brexit Party candidate

Thomas's party's election manifesto appears to consist only of a reverse #angryaboutbins gambit, ie expecting voters to be humbly grateful that their rubbish is taken away, (while also expecting them not to notice their cars bouncing in out of the thousands of potholes littering our roads, as a result of the botched Highways service run by Crapita). Oh and they are claiming they have frozen council tax. This is not true, in fact they have raised it but are calling the increase something else, thinking you won't notice. Always a mistake, to take your voters for fools.

Thomas, it has to be said, shows poor judgement at the best of times, and in terms of political instinct generally. He has failed to become elected twice in parliamentary seats, or to be nominated for the Hendon seat instead of Matthew Offord: he failed in his own bid to become elected to the London Assembly after his chum Coleman's fall - he has only ever held a safe council seat in Finchley. And now he is leading Barnet Tories into electoral peril, to complete the score.

Johnson and Barnet Tories' Leader, Daniel Thomas

What does it say about the style of administration foisted on this borough by Barnet Tories, when residents cannot engage meaningfully with their elected members through consultation on developments and other major decisions that have direct and lasting impact on their lives? 

It means that those residents are removed from the democratic process, and powerless to share in the governance of their communities. Or so the Tories think. Thought. Now there are two Judicial Reviews being taken by local campaigners, one in regard to the Hendon Hub, and resident Franca Oliffe is standing on behalf of residents infuriated by the Tories' behaviour over the Hub plans. Franca has reportedly been receiving a warm welcome on local doorsteps: Tory candidates should be worried. Ignoring the opinions and the  best interests of your local residents - and voters - is never a good move. 

Hendon resident and anti-Hub campaigner Franca Oliffe

The other JR is as a result of the planned development on the community green space at Finchley Memorial Hospital, approved by Barnet Tories last year. Yes, the same party whose leader, Dan Thomas, claimed in an infantile motion put to Council recently that:

 "This Conservative Council would not and will not build on our parks or green spaces ..."

The Lodge, Victoria Park, Finchley: sold to developers, demolished - now there is a block of flats in the park. Residents were not and are not amused.

Both developments are in middle-class, residential areas: the sort of area Tories must retain to have any real hope of electoral success. Many of those behind these legal challenges are the sort of people who would normally be Tory voters: their votes have been lost. And that is part of the problem: Tory members have allowed Capita and developers free reign in this borough to the extent that they have undermined their own electoral stability. Labour councillors have told me that overdevelopment and planning has frequently come up on the doorstep, when canvassing Tory and marginal areas.

As well as residents pursuing legal challenges, there have been several, very serious complaints now made to external bodies regarding the way in which the Hendon Hub was alleged to have been promoted and approved by the Tory group in Barnet, following a refusal by the authority to admit any wrongdoing after investigating itself, and finding itself innocent of any charge. 

Watch this space.

Hendon Tory councillor Nizza Fluss, with Hub campaigners. Cllr Fluss was deselected for opposing the Hub plans.

Looking at the wards as they are now, redrawn, and favouring Labour, it is pretty clear that even without national and local factors bearing down upon them, Barnet's Tory councillors are going to be hard pressed to do well in this election. Riven by factionalism within and between the three constituencies, they seem to have made some very odd choices for ward candidates. 

Barnet Tories' long history of misogyny is not news: at the last election, long serving, loyal councillor Joan Scannell was ruthlessly deselected from her seat, because she was not popular with the right people. This time round, two more older women, have been deselected - one fought back and had to be shoved into another seat, and one was unpopular with her colleagues, was then alleged to have made offensive remarks about another candidate, and left the Tory party to join the Libdems. 

The first of these is Nizza Fluss, who was a councillor for Hendon. Her crime was to refuse to support the Hendon Hub plans: and she was punished accordingly, with deselection. She complained about the way in which this was done, rightly won her case, and is now a candidate in Childs Hill. She has continued to oppose the Hub plans, and deserves credit for her integrity and courage. 

The second is West Hendon councillor Helene Richman: the background to the allegations about her conduct is here. Cllr Richman apologised for the offence her remarks had made - but could it be that there is more to this story than meets the eye?  At all events, she is now standing as the Libdem candidate in the same ward. A ward that the Tories won last time round, but are unlikely to retain. Standing for Labour is the redoubtable Andrea Bilbow, who runs a well known charity, and two other new people.

On the theme of misogyny, it is notable that the seats in which the Tories have the most hope of returning councillors have no female candidates. Unless you are an obedient, younger woman, or married to a councillor, you now stand almost no chance of standing as a Tory in this borough. 

There are in fact many first time candidates in this election, from all parties. As well as a number of paper candidates who might well find themselves elected, by default.

The combination of changes in the boundaries, and the numbers of councillors in each ward, as well as the retirement - or death - of some long serving councillors is the reason for the new intake: the outcome will be very interesting. Standing down is Mill Hill Tory, expert linguist and silver fox, John Hart. The handle bar moustachioed Cllr Hart is as old as time itself, of course, even older than that other scheduled ancient monument, Hampstead Garden Suburb's John Marshall, who is also retiring. 

It seems likely that the loss of old timers and the proliferation of new candidates will not help the Tories. A lot of loyal personal votes will be lost - and some of the sideways moves of current Tory members, panicking at the prospect of losing their council seats, is rather baffling. 

The former library cutter Reuben Thompstone has lost his safe seat in Golders Green (room for two only and therefore baggsied by father and son act Melvin and Dean Cohen). He has turned up as a candidate in Underhill, of all places, which is likely to go to Labour, and this move might look rather suspiciously as if the Tories were not bothered about keeping him in a seat. 

Excuse me while I look for my tiniest of tiny violins.

Mill Hill attracts all sorts of ever hopeful candidates - ie the Libdems, despite coming third last time. Fellow blogger Roger Tichborne is standing again, as well as your man Richard Logue, who was, hang on, let me get this right ... Labour, then Libdem, then Labour and now Libdem again. Keeping up? Rather amusingly, standing against her Uncle Roger, for Labour, is Pascale Fanning-Tichborne. I imagine they have a bet on to see who beats whom.

In two Finchley wards - East and West - Libdems are standing in full defiance of the fact that the best they can do is split the opposition vote and return the Tory candidate. Both wards have hard working Labour members, and this is a pointless exercise, of course.

Oh, and in Totteridge, here is a well known name: former long time Child's Hill member and old chum Jack Cohen, who is not so much a Libdem as a Lib, and a good sort, (even if he doesn't know his rivets from his screws). Clearly I could not possibly suggest that you vote for a Libdem ... but Jack has promised I can be his Mayoress if he wins & miraculously becomes Mayor. Can you imagine? All those free buffets, and the chance to sit in the council chamber, smirking at the Tory opposition ...?

Of course Totteridge (and Woodside, to which it is now joined) is the fiefdom of the Cornelius councillors Richard (former Leader) and his wife Alison. Short of an armed uprising, nothing will dislodge these two from their seats. Also I think the Barnet Libdem policy (which came as a surprise to at least one of their candidates, didn't it, Simon?) of developing the Green Belt, may not go down awfully well in any part of Barnet, but particularly in Totteridge, and Mill Hill, and Underhill and all the other wards blessed with at least one green area where the Tories and their developer partners can't build any blocks of flats.

There are of course other parties standing in the elections: from the Green Party, the Women's Equality Party - and one or two individuals with no party connection. 

Among Labour's new set are some very promising younger candidates: in Whetstone, Liron Vellman and Ella Rose, for example, and in Edgwarebury, Josh Tapper (he of Gogglebox fame). One impressed resident (ok, my brother) tells me that they have noticed Josh regularly working in a local park, quietly clearing up litter. This is the sort of community spirit we need: and something that has been so sadly lacking under the Tory regime. 

In truth that Tory regime has been lacking in so much: gone are the days of old school Tories, doing their best for the people of Barnet: following a vocation for civic service, and even philanthropy. 

One Nation Tories are short in supply, in Broken Barnet, as they are in the House of Commons. The parallels between what is happening in Parliament, and locally, here in Broken Barnet, are hardly coincidental. They are a representation of a vaccum deep in the heart's core of the Tory psyche, in the era of Johnson: a loss of moral credibility - of moral purpose.

The view from Hendon Town Hall

If you go to a committee meeting in the borough's Town Hall, at Hendon, bang in the centre of the area now waiting for the destruction to be wrought by the Hub plan, you walk up the stairs, past portraits of Aldermen and women,  and long dead, former councillors, the predecessors of the current hatch of Tory members, who so much enjoy dressing up in the inherited, moth eaten robes of office, and taking turn to play Mayor.

The original Aldermen and women, councillors,  took up their roles because they wanted to make things better: they wanted to give ordinary people a park to enjoy, on their days off, or a library to give them access to self improvement. Post Thatcher, what do we have? Tories with a sense of entitlement, who enjoy the status they think is conveyed by becoming a councillor, and the generous allowances, but feel little sense of obligation to the people who voted them into office. 

The Town Hall, at Hendon, is one of those civic buildings about to be surrounded by the hideous blocks of the Hub plan, supposedly for students, but likely to end up as speculative residential housing. It stands next to the listed library, about to be gutted, its library function removed, and the property given over to Middlesex University. What would the men and women who made such efforts to open this library think of their latter day heirs in the council chamber? I think I know. They would be appalled.

The listed Hendon Library, about to be hollowed out, built on, and handed to Middx Uni, thanks to your Tory councillors.

As well as complaints made to the Council about the Hub fiasco, there have also been more than one formal complaint made about the alleged failure by Barnet Council properly to investigate and act upon the non-declaration of pecuniary interests by a number of Tory councillors.

Several Conservative members have been investigated by the Monitoring Officer in regard to such declarations. And several Conservative members have been found by the Monitoring Officer to be in breach of the Code of Conduct as a result.

What happened? Were they sanctioned, for their breaches? No. No further action. 

In at least two serious cases reported to the MO, no proper response was given at all, despite being promised.

Why is that? 

This matter, and other complaints from a number of residents, is now being referred to the Local Government Ombudsman. Again: watch this space.

Barnet Tories have allowed a culture to become embedded in their group, and in their administration of this council, in which there is a refusal to obey the duty of transparency and accountability that they owe to their electors, the residents and taxpayers. 

Conflicts of interest abound, at every level of the council, not least because of the multiple roles that Capita plays in so many areas of council services - particularly in the role of planning and development. And engagement in what should be the shared purpose of a strong, healthy, local democratic process has been deliberately stifled by the Tories, particularly in recent years, to the point where it does not function at all.

The overarching duty of all elected representatives is to abide by the Nolan Principles for Public Life:

1. The Seven Principles of Public Life

The Seven Principles of Public Life (also known as the Nolan Principles) apply to anyone who works as a public office-holder. This includes all those who are elected or appointed to public office, nationally and locally, and all people appointed to work in the Civil Service, local government, the police, courts and probation services, non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs), and in the health, education, social and care services. All public office-holders are both servants of the public and stewards of public resources. The principles also apply to all those in other sectors delivering public services.

1.1 Selflessness

Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.

1.2 Integrity

Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.

1.3 Objectivity

Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.

1.4 Accountability

Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.

1.5 Openness

Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.

1.6 Honesty

Holders of public office should be truthful.

1.7 Leadership

Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour and treat others with respect. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.

A party which does not respect and implement the Nolan Principles at every level of its administration, is simply not fit to stand any candidates for election. 

Here in Barnet we have had years of increasingly unaccountable Tory governance, and in the last four years, this antipathy to the principle of transparency, the exclusion of residents from the democratic process, and the abandonment of acceptable standards of ethical governance has left the borough in a state of ruin. 

What is happening in Westminster, led by the amoral, incompetent government of Boris Johnson, is happening here. 

We cannot continue like this. 

It's time for change.

The only way of stopping this borough from further depredation and decline, of calling an end to the  easy pickings for developers, contractors and consultants, and of wrenching back control of our community, our environment, our history and our built heritage - protecting our public services, our most vulnerable and disadvantaged residents - is to vote Labour and put a group of decent, honest, hard working representatives in a place of power to do good, and help rebuild what we have lost.

Labour Deputy Leader Ross Houston, Victoria Park

Tuesday 25 January 2022

Storming the Town Hall: Barnet Tories, the lie of 'Regeneration' - and the May Elections


Last week I was asked by a BBC journalist preparing for the May elections in London about the prospect of a Labour win in Barnet. Yes, this is a real thing. Hold on to your hats.

There has been much speculation in the last week or so about a number of Tory held London boroughs that may well be taken by Labour: my view is that - for the first time in the ten years or so since I've been writing about local politics - it seems more likely than not that such a result is a genuine possibility, here in Barnet, and increasingly begins to look like the most likely outcome. 

Tory canvassers are secretly panicking, and Labour canvassers reporting more and more former Tory voters who are no longer prepared to support the party in this borough.

The reasons for this are pretty obvious: although in the past local elections were about local issues, certainly this time round they will be strongly influenced by national concerns: Covid, Brexit - the universal sense of disgust at the corruption and incompetence of Boris Johnson's government. Another important factor is the impact of new ward boundary changes: in this borough, changes that favour Labour.

Most important of all, however, in Barnet, is the disaffection of what were traditional Tory voters as a result of the dire performance of council services managed and delivered by the authority's contractor, Capita - and because of the ever encroaching plague of manic over development in the borough, a phenomenon which now has even the leafiest areas entirely in its relentless grip. Over development which is not being supported by any adequate level of investment in desperately needed infrastructure and support in terms of schools, healthcare, parks, parking, transport - retail outlets. In many cases the developments are removing such community assets in the course of clearing the way for profit driven 'regeneration'. 

Far from meeting local housing need, this non stop process is being promoted purely for the benefit of developers, and for Capita, which amongst the fat portfolio of contracts it still retains, holds planning the most desirable. Most desirable, because it is the most lucrative: capable, as we have seen, of generating huge levels of profit for the company, in terms of fee based income streams, such as the deeply non-transparent pre-application 'advice' service for developers and their agents: some of the latter having been only recently senior planning officers with ... Barnet/Capita. Applications with fee based advice, data obtained by FOI suggests, are far more likely to be successful.

Remember that, despite the issue having been raised - by me and others - constantly over several years of the contract, it is only recently that the service that Capita Re offered to applicants and agents to 'name your own planning officer' has been quietly dropped, despite the clear risk of 'conflicts of interest' - especially in the case of the agents who are former colleagues of the planning officers with whom they deal.

Last year, raising the question of why details about pre-planning advice, and the name of the planning officer who was dealing with it, had vanished from Capita Re's application forms, I was told that this was due to changes by the government. Lo and behold, last week, on checking the application form for another awful development - six blocks plotted for the former Homebase site in North Finchley - there again was the question, on the form, but ignored. Yes, fee based advice had been paid for. Tick. What was it? 'As advised.' Who gave it? 'Mr.' Mr Who? They weren't saying. Why not?

Back to the old Barnet/Capita tradition of counter transparency then,  and a practice that obscures and obstructs our right to know how large developments are enabled and encouraged by the privatised planning service. On raising this again and complaining about the practice, I was offered no explanation but - a meeting with the Head of Planning, to discuss the matter. Nothing further has happened about that, funnily enough. 

Until very recently, as well as planning, Capita ran 'regeneration' in Barnet. This is an activity which purports to bring new life to failing communities, but does this by removing the people who live there - and any of those community assets that get in the way, like libraries - and inviting in developers to make whopping profits from luxury housing developments: the taller the better, although the tallest only in Labour wards, of course. 

Regeneration, for Capita, went by the name of 'development opportunities', and there is almost no town centre, suburb or open space in the borough which has not been targeted for these appalling schemes. 

In West Hendon, land worth millions was given to Barratt London in a secret deal, secret, that is, until revealed by the requirement for disclosure at the CPO Inquiry. 

Finchley Memorial Hospital: plans hatched in secret, again, and accidently exposed some years ago, were last year, during Covid, slipped out under the clever cover now of providing homes for NHS workers - to be built on the local community green space. There is nothing to stop these properties being sold on the open market, in fact, rather than to key workers, who are very unlikely to be queuing up for them (as other attempted developments of this type have shown) and it is highly likely this will happen, after the usual plea of non viability is put in, at a later stage. 

North Finchley is now being laid wide open to another assault in the name of 'regeneration': more unaffordable housing, and developers being given, by our Tory councillors, the local Arts Depot, and ... the lovely, historic library. Which brings us back to ... yes, the Hendon Hub. 

Barnet Tories think this is an appropriate development for the middle of a Conservation area

The story of the Hendon Hub development is hugely significant, because it perfectly demonstrates almost every rotten element of what has gone wrong not only in this Tory run authority, but on a national scale, encouraged by the current government.

Conflicts of interest in abundance, at every level of the council; hidden agendas, mass development given a free hand, regardless of the impact on the built environment, our built heritage, and our communities, all promoted by commercial interests, and here in Barnet, too many Tory councillors with little or no interest in representing the people who elected them, nearly four years ago. 

Unfortunately for the Tories in Barnet, their failure to restrain the extent to which their privatised regeneration and planning services operate has now fatally compromised their own electoral chances in May. 

The council's contractors will hardly be bothered what happens then. They have had a good run in Barnet: most of their fees came from the process of organising 'Regeneration' and planning, rather than the end result itself.

Recently the inevitable moment came when more failing services were taken back from Capita, as well as Regeneration. This is no major loss to them at this stage: there is pretty much nothing left that they can develop - but it has happened too late to prevent the detrimental impact on many residential areas and town centres. And in Hendon, the Hub land grab, memorably described by one resident last week, as a 'brutal acquisition', cooked up years ago, but kept under cover until late on in the process, has infuriated local residents who live in the heart of the oldest and most historic part of Hendon, which has dozens of listed buildings, and comprises not one but two Conservation Areas. And of course these residents are the sort of people the Tories desperately need to support them, in order to hold on to their seats.

Only one Hendon Tory councillor, Nizza Fluss, has had the courage and integrity necessary to oppose these plans, and truly represent her constituents, who, as the ludicrous 'nonsultation' process demonstrated, are outraged by the attempt to force a development of crashingly ugly, modern multi storey blocks - supposedly intended as student accommodation and other campus space for the ever expanding Middlesex University. Ever expanding in the past, that is: post Covid, post Brexit, these plans are clearly no longer viable, you would think. It makes no difference. Development must be pushed wherever there is an opportunity for profit.

Tory Cllr Nizza Fluss, who has bravely opposed the Hub plan - to her cost

Cllr Fluss was deselected by certain fellow party members in the Hendon Tory association, following her opposition of the Hub development.

Barnet Tories don't like women who answer back, or do the right thing, instead of doing as they are told, by the men, of course. 

On the 10th January, at a meeting of the Strategic Planning Committee, at Hendon Town Hall, in the centre of one of the two Conservation areas at risk from the Hub plans,Tory members ignored the unanimous, detailed and clearly articulated opposition to the plans from residents, and approved the plans in a remarkable show of unity on a planning decision which of course is supposed not be whipped.

One thing that emerged from the (strictly limited by the Chair) farce of pretending to consider the arguments for and against the plans, at this meeting, was that the much vaunted replacement library, which is allegedly going to be squeezed into the ground floor and basement of the planned Rotunda building opposite the Town Hall, is still shrinking in size, almost as if it will completely disappear, in the end. (Which is quite likely, in fact, like the Invisible New Library not built as promised in North Finchley).

When such fierce local opposition to the Hub plans had become apparent, half way through the Nonsultation, the developers tried to persuade residents of the benefits of having their listed library taken away - given away, and gutted - they attempted then to make the scheme seem more 'community focused' by declaring the library would now accommodate a Safer Neighbourhood police unit. 

Whether or not they checked if the Met can actually afford to staff such a unit is not known - but clearly this eats into the space meant for the substitute library. 835 square metres reduced to 675. Which must accommodate every other library function: adult & children's borrowing, PCs, stacks, storage, staff space, study areas, printers, a community area & all the other lovely new functions they dangled in front of residents, like 'Makerspaces'. Ah: but hang on - we've forgotten Local Studies and Archives, which currently require 160 square metres - and specialised storage for documents. Which leaves ...  515 square metres - not even a third of Hendon Library's original space. To put it in terms that are easier to visualise, this is less than the space of two tennis courts - for all the normal library functions, of what was once the central borough library, plus the extra wonderful things they claimed would be there. It just doesn't make sense, does it?

You can listen to a recording of this meeting here - and marvel at the way the Tory members pushed through the hugely unpopular plans, ignoring all reasoned objections. Some light relief is afforded by the Chair who steamrollered the meeting to its conclusion failing to remember her mic was picking up her whispered remarks, throughout the meeting, to senior officers ...

There was a pronounced sense of somewhat desperate, blind determination from those pushing through this proposal at the meeting, that night. I suppose they were keen to get the plans underway before May - if indeed they go ahead. 

As this meeting and other related matters are now understood to be the subject of more than one very serious complaint, I am not going to comment in detail on what happened, or the further implications: but it is reported that there are some deeply alarming issues which have emerged from the meeting itself, and from the process of 'consultation', over the last year or so. 

Watch this space.

One characteristic of Barnet Tories is that, like lemmings, they will head towards danger with free abandon, thinking that they are immune from any consequences. Frankly, most of them are pretty dim, and don't care about much other than retaining their seats., which usually requires nothing more than unquestioning loyalty to the current leader - and a safe seat, of course. None of them are politically astute, and the current leader is particularly tone deaf when it comes to gauging the mood of voters. Still, it came as a real surprise to see their latest idiotic move. 

You may recall that a few years ago, the Tory group supported a truly awful Motion to Full Council, proposed by the golden boy himself, Cllr Longstaffe, claiming that the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is 'An Enemy of the People'. Bad enough, you might think. Here comes another one., this time proposed by the Tory 'Leader', Dan Thomas, and due to be 'debated at tonight's Full Council meeting. 

This puerile nonsense reads as if it was written by Thomas, in biro, on the back of a shopping list, to be honest: publishing it all here, however, so you can see the extent of sheer childishness and mendacity of this motion, and this Tory group, attacking the Opposition, with rather touching lack of awareness of the theory of Freudian projection (to say nothing about the curious accusation of 'impotence' ...)

Political Discourse Within Barnet

Council notes that:

1. The Barnet Labour Party and members of the Opposition have made misleading claims about this Administration’s policies and achievements.

2. Contrary to Barnet Labour’s misinformation:

a. Barnet has not only maintained weekly collections of refuse and recycling under this

Conservative administration, unlike any neighbouring borough – which are all run by

Labour– but we also have the lowest number of missed bin collections in London.

This is of course a feeble attempt to play, without permission, a round of 'Angry About Bins' (© Mrs Angry) but scoring an own goal, from the council which has stupidly stopped collecting food waste, and now charges householders an annual fee for the privilege of having their green waste collected - occasionally.

b. Council Tax in Barnet has been kept lower than that of any of our neighbouring boroughs for

the past decade, and will remain so. In real terms, Council Tax in Barnet has been reduced by

5.2% over the past decade — despite the Labour Mayor of London taking an ever-increasing

sum from Council Tax.

Barnet Tories kept council tax so low, they were unable properly to fund basic council services. In one particularly infamous incident, they cut desperately needed funding for respite care for the families of children with profound and complex disabilities, so they could boast about reducing the tax bill by the equivalent of  a few pence a week.  The families were reduced to having to go in person to the council to demand this funding restored - only to be told that their children were making too much noise in the committee room. Public outrage saw the cut grudgingly reversed, after this appalling move: but what a thing to do ...

c. Barnet has zero “non-decent” Council homes, while our neighbouring boroughs have

thousands. Labour Enfield alone have over 4,000.

'Zero non decent council homes'. Got that? Apart from the fact that thousands of homeless residents have been kicked out of the borough, the Dear Leader seems to have forgotten his own appearance on the Victoria Derbyshire show (after refusing to appear the week before) trying to defend the truly abominable condition of flats in West Hendon, in which council tenants' children were forced to live with cockroaches biting them, rats running around their homes, and their walls covered in mould.

d. Barnet’s outsourcing has saved millions – ensuring value for money for our residents.

Ah yes. The old story. Utterly untrue. The short list of guaranteed savings is restricted, and minimal, and pales in comparison to the many, many millions surplus paid to Capita, so far, that was never foreseen, although it should have been, by the Tory councillors who signed the contracts

e. Barnet has successfully stood up to developers and has been successful in having storeys

removed from proposed towers. The ineffectual Labour group is impotent to influence the

Labour Mayor of London’s desire for ever larger tower blocks in London. This is evidenced by

the Mayor’s support for the original B&Q proposal and those regarding tower blocks over

tube stations, such as a recent High Barnet application.

Frankly this is so risible, it is hard to know where to begin. Or end. It is reported that the Monitoring Officer removed the word 'wilful' in regard to the idiotic accusations against Labour - but why was this Motion allowed to stand at all?

'Barnet has successfully stood up to developers' ? What a f*cking joke.

Tory Barnet has actively welcomed and encouraged, with the help of Capita, a scale of over development that has ignored the real housing needs of ordinary families. The needs of developers are put before all other considerations.

Clearly the Labour group - and the Labour AM, Anne Clarke, are able to communicate effectively with the Mayor of London to moderate any multi-storey plans, or he would not have done so, in regard to the tube station developments. Perhaps if the Tory group were not set on smearing the Mayor as an "enemy of the People", he might be more inclined to include them in a grown up discussion about the borough's needs.

For Thomas even to dare to pretend to oppose multi storey blocks is absurd. These have gone up all over the Western side of the borough, carefully avoiding the Tory areas elsewhere - except in Hendon's Conservation areas, where clearly something has gone awfully wrong in their judgement, and someone's influence has convinced them to commit electoral suicide, rather than listen to the overwhelming objections of their local residents. 

f. This Conservative Council would not and will not build on our parks or green spaces. This has been made clear a number of times over the past year in various committees and at Full Council.

This statement is on a Johnsonian scale of 'fiction'. The Tories approved the development of the community green space at Finchley Memorial Hospital last June, despite fierce opposition from local residents incensed at the loss of their amenity. They were caught considering the use of 'low value' parks and green spaces for placing solar energy facilities and battery storage. And last year saw the construction of a block of flats in Victoria Park, after they sold off and allowed the demolition of the historic, Arts & Crafts style park keeper's Lodge. 

3. The above are responses to only some examples of the mistruths stated by the Labour group.

4. The Labour Party and Labour councillors made exaggerated claims during the East Barnet by election, which the people of East Barnet clearly saw through. However, such claims risk causing polarisation, unnecessary upset and worry amongst local residents.

Ah. Presumably a reference to the hugely inappropriate Gas Works development, which proposes more of those blocks Thomas claims to oppose, but is apparently happy to see in an area with too many Labour voters. The only affordable housing here will punish the undeserving poor by shoving them right next to the railway line, with windows that can't open, (because of the noise levels being too high for approval). Once they realised the flats will over heat, as a consequence, they have designed a cooling system that the already disadvantaged tenants will have to pay for. 

But just imagine: Barnet Tories accusing someone else of 'causing polarisation'!

And on we go:

Council believes that:

1. Misinformation about the state of the Council, and this administration’s policies and history, are little more than a sign of desperation from the Labour group.

Misinformation from the Council, and its contractors and consultants, (eg in the case of the Hendon Hub - Historic England, anyone?) are ok though. Ok.

2. Over the past term and beyond, this Conservative Council has consistently made decisions based on value for money for our residents, while ensuring that they receive the best possible services.

Quite clearly decisions are not made on the basis of value for money, nor do they deliver the best possible services. Again, this is Johnsonian inversion of the truth, up ending the story of their own dreadful performance. 

Tax payers' money has been extracted on an eye watering, industrial scale from the Capita contracts, via income opportunities hidden at the time of signing in the form of contractual variations, unnoticed and by Tory members, before approving for a ten year term of bondage to the conditions. As fellow blogger John Dix can tell you, you and I and all the other residents have already paid hundreds of millions more than the expected amount.

That services are not the best possible is evident to anyone who walks along a tarmac patched pavement, or driven along the thousands of pot hole scarred roads, or tried to phone a council department, or had to chase enforcement of flagrant breaches of planning permission conditions, or visited a relative in a care home like Apthorp Lodge. 

Rather than in invest in new social housing that would benefit the most needy residents, or borrow state money in order to do so, Tory members preferred to borrow £22 million from the Public Works Loan Board to lend to their 'partners' at Saracens to build a lovely new stand at their Stadium, which was our Stadium, and for which they only pay a peppercorn rent. Value for money? Meanwhile families in West Hendon were living in utter squalor, and the Housing committee did not meet for eight months, because - 'there were no urgent issues'.

That over the last few years Tory members have sought to stifle challenge, engagement and consultation with their own residents is undeniable: changing the Constitution to prevent questions at committees where hugely important and controversial plans are decided being the keystone of their shameless and deliberate strategy of gagging dissent. 

This gagging has not only coincided with a period of increasing decline in the standard of council services, but also with a period of hugely expanded proposals for so called 'regeneration' and development. What a stroke of luck! 

Except that the Tories' luck is now running out. 

Poor leadership and recklessly poor judgement has made them complacent, and to take risks  that can only damage their electoral prospects. Tory voters are now queueing up to fight developments in their areas: the snatching of the community green space at Finchley Memorial is facing Judicial Review, and the Hendon Hub is being legally challenged, in various ways, as well as now being the subject of very serious complaints over ... related matters.

Roll on May: it's time to clear out the Augean stables, and rid ourselves of the rotten stench hanging around this Tory council and their collaborators. 

Time to bring the council back under democratic control, return local services in house, where true value for money can be achieved - and give a voice back to the residents whose representatives have, for so long, so blatantly betrayed them and their well being.