Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Follow my leader: voting for Jeremy Corbyn, and for a better future for the Labour party

The five years or so since beginning this blog have been tumultuous, for Mrs Angry, in many ways, and yes, she is trying very hard to not to tell you she has been on something of a - God help us all - a journey: of sorts. 

Of  many sorts, in many different ways: but a process in which the old certainties of life have been exchanged for ... something else. 

One of those certainties, which have changed so dramatically, rather surprisingly, is the political landscape, a painted backdrop to the drama of all of our lives which has, incrementally, over these last few years, begun to look more and more tawdry, and out of place.

As we reach respectable middle age, of course, we are commonly expected to become more settled in our ways, more sure of our opinions: complacent, settled - accommodated in our positions, safely rooted in our carefully arranged lives, our homes, our families, our beliefs and preconceptions.

If there is any point to the travails we experiences, however, it surely must be not to remain rooted in complacency, and a fixed view of the world, but to learn from the troubles we endure, and adapt, accordingly. 

So it is, then, that as it is for all of us as individuals, in politics, in the Labour movement, we find ourselves at a moment of intense significance for all of us, and poised to make a decision that is so much more than the election of a new leader. 

Much more: we find ourselves, almost by accident, at last confronting the unacknowledged faultline that runs throught the party, a vulnerability which has exposed us to electoral failure, and threatens to continue to make us unelectable for the foreseeable future, unless we address the issues now tearing us apart.

But let us pause here, and indulge Mrs Angry in a moment of personal reflection.

Let's go back to earlier this summer, and a visit to what still feels like more of a home than the sanitised suburban home of my own North London childhood: to the home of my mother, and my grandparents, and aunts, and cousins, back in Durham.

Well, I've written about all this before: the history of our family, from the now incomprehensible degree of poverty of the 1930s, in the Durham coalfield, the trauma of loss, and hardship, of class limiting barriers to what we must now call 'aspiration' - the desire for a better life: not in terms of the new definition, in which we are encouraged to envy the material success of a consumerist lifestyle, but a rather more fundamental aspiration - to stay alive, and attain a decent standard of living, supported by equal access to education, healthcare, and support in times of need. 

The history of my family is probably the history of yours, too: the movement through generations of time from poverty to something better, only to find, despite everything we fought for, the risk of being returned to the bondage of poverty, dependence, and lack of freedom to choose the life we want.

In my family, the release from these limitations, these barriers, came only after the struggles of organised union resistance, and then the achievements of a postwar Labour government: the Welfare State, the NHS, access to education: social mobility, and a movement to what my mother and her sisters saw as a better life: a middle class, suburban life, respectable at last -but at a price, the cost of isolation from the sense of community they depended upon, in their younger days. 

Marriage, to my mother, and her sisters, and perhaps many other women of the time, presented a chance for social mobility: she chose a man with a job in the City, his own house, and car, holidays abroad: and adapted herself to her new life, stifling her Durham accent, and remodelling her carefree, pre-married self to the role of an obedient housewife.

My mother's emotional disconnection is traceable, I realise now, back to that fractured sense of belonging: of moving from the vibrant, Catholic working class background of her own family to the  southern, C of E, property owning, Conservative voting, semi-detached, nuclear family of the post war era.

She hated it, this sterile, anodyne world, however, and longed to return to the North East. Before I was born, she packed her suitcases, and threatened to leave, but didn't. My arrival, six years after my brother, sealed her fate, moreover: stuck in the south, and a marriage she clearly resented, with a new child, that is to say me, that she probably resented too: the reminder of her captivity, and exile. 

Perhaps that is partly why I learned to prefer the world she had left behind, and the working class, largely Irish Catholic, defiant, anti establishment feeling of my maternal family's background: it satisfied the need I felt for my own sense of belonging, and acceptance. 

Going back to Durham earlier this summer made me think about all this, with a new perspective. The visit was for several reasons: to see my only relative back in my mother's home town; the melancholy task of visiting family graves; to do some research in the local archives ... and to go to the Big Meeting, the Miners' Gala. But there was another motive, this time, and one which had came out of the blue. An invitation to an exhibition.

My mother used to talk about a cousin, who was an artist, and a cartoonist, with a regular strip in the local paper, who used to send cards and calendars every Christmas, featuring his own prints: an artist - a thing of wonder, in a mining family. An anomaly, a maverick: a rare creature, someone who tried to escape his lot in life, like my grandfather, a privately educated boy from Easington Lane, who spent his years in the trenches of the First World War translating for the officers who were superior to him by right of birth, and class: but his return from the horrors of Flanders securing only a guaranteed entry to a hellish fate he thought he had escaped, in the pits.

Jimmy Kays had also felt entitled to a better life. An illegitimate child: supposedly the grandson of a wealthy Englishman, back in Ireland, the family paid to clear off back to England, and keep quiet. Jimmy thought he was meant for better things: an intelligent child, and with an unexpected talent for drawing: so he asked his stepfather to pay for him to go to art school. An absurd ambition for a boy from a mining community then, and clearly this was not going to happen - and never did. 

The aspirations of young working class men like my grandfather, and Jimmy Kays, were not to be supported: social mobility was feared, not encouraged - and the class system still rigidly adhered to.  So my grandfather's classical education was abandoned for a lifetime of hewing coal, and the would be artist also went down the pit, like his half brothers, and cousins, and every other boy in his community. But whereas my grandfather invested any sense of failure in drink, and the camaraderie of his fellow workers, Jimmy Kays took his pens and pencils to work with him, and turned his experience into a creative process: an act of defiance as subversive, in its way, as the union activism which lost him his job, in the end.

Durham's more famous artist-miner, Norman Cornish, lived up the road from my family in Spennymoor, and although forced to leave school as a boy, to start work, he was able to take advantage, as did my aunt, from the art classes at the local socialist run Settlement: an enterprise viewed with deep distrust by the authorities and some of the more conservative minded residents. Empowering working class people through the medium of art? Very dangerous.  Almost as dangerous as a formal education.

In a later generation, both Jimmy and my grandfather would have had the opportunity to become something else, of course: for one or two generations, that is, because now look: here we are again: education, healthcare and all the other advantages that enabled their families to 'better' themselves are now being systematically removed from the reach of other working class men and women. 

Looking at some of Jimmy's work in the new heritage centre in Horden - saved by local artist and university lecturer Jean Spence, who has written extensively about the role of women in the Durham coalfield - was a really moving experience, in fact. 

A tantalising glimpse of a life overlooked, a legacy forgotten, even by his own family: the sardonic wit of his cartoons, written in the now almost vanished language of the mining era, 'pitmatic'. This was a language born out of toil, and want, shaped by a male sensibility, a reclamation of a way of life in which men were effectively emasculated, used like bonded slaves, commodities, their sense of powerlessness again removed, with humiliating force, by the closures that followed the strikes of the Thatcher era.

The heritage centre formerly housed a miners' welfare centre: now a lottery grant has been used to upcycle the past, and bring a new sort of community enterprise to life. The volunteers now serve tea and cakes, and welcome visitors to an exhibition celebrating everything that has been lost, now, in Horden. 

One woman sat staring out of a window that now looks on to a children's playground, and talked quietly about the closure of the pit: her husband and father lost their livelihoods, she said, and yet, only the year before the closure, the government had invested £6 million on the mine. With hundreds of years of coal left, under the sea just behind us, and the country now reliant on imported fuel, it was politics, not economics, that closed Horden and all the other Durham pits. 

Since then, unemployment, poor standards of health, and housing have marked the area, which has also lost many local services, due to the demands of 'austerity': police, fire station, schools. 

Neighbouring Easington, another former pit village, and the location of 'Billy Elliot' is often cited as the most economically deprived town in the UK, with even worse levels of sickness. 

And a letterday Billy Elliot would probably find the local community centre shut now, due to cuts in funding, if he tried to turn up for dance classes these days.

Over on the western side of the county, where my grandfather moved to, the coal was no longer so easy to find: Msinsforth, for example, his last pit, a man carrying the Spennymoor banner at the Gala told me, had closed because of flooding. 

But the Labour councils had seen what was coming, and encouraged other local industries to set up in the area, rather than allow communities to face the loss of their livelihoods. 

In other words, the intervention by state support, rather than the indifference of Tory 'laisser faire'  ideology is what made the difference between quite literally, in some cases, life and death in the these communities, after the mining era. A difference in philosophy we need to see now, from our Labour leaders, rather than a mute endorsement of the policy of austerity.

My mother's cousin Ronnie, now in her eighties, whose father was another member of the Kays family, still lives in former miners' housing in Tudhoe, near Spennymoor: housing eventually taken over by the council, and of course much of it now sold, as part of Margaret Thatcher's right to buy scheme. 

Ronnie bought the house, in line with the aspirational values encouraged by our Tory politicians, but is still a Labour voter. She didn't know why, really, she told me, making a face, thinking about the current party, and leadership, except: well, that's what we've always done, isn't it?

We talked about the Big Meeting, and her face lit up, like the girl she once was, and my mother and my aunts were, enjoying the day out, and the spectacle, and especially the music: her own husband had been a musician, playing trumpet in local bands. 

I've told the story before: but my grandfather stopped going to the Gala after bumping into his old headteacher on the bus home, one year. He wanted to know what his star pupil was doing now. When he heard he was down the pit, he was aghast. I thought you would be a headteacher yourself, by now, he said. The humiliation was too much, and he never went again.

Ronnie mentioned nearby Sedgefield, where Blair had been MP, for all those years, yet never shown his face at the Gala, to make the traditional speech expected of the Labour leader - and nor indeed did Gordon Brown attend, for all his manic pacing up and down the other day, demanding sympathy for his alleged support of the miners during the strikes.

Oh, but they wouldn't hear a word against Blair, the Labour lot over in Sedgefield, said Ronnie, with a wry smile. 

The Miners' Gala, of course, has truly become the Big Meeting: more than an act of nostalgia for something gone, it has been newly energised by becoming the biggest national gathering of political solidarity, with representation from all over the world, in fact: workers, unions, brass bands - and still the focus of pride, and defiance, by the communities whose livelihoods were destroyed by the Thatcher government, but never their spirit, nor their sense of identity.

This year, of all years, it became something else: part of the Labour party leadership roadshow, with the four candidates, in their different ways, attending, yet clearly not, except in the case of Jeremy Corbyn, who made a speech, entirely comfortable with being there, for fear of sending the wrong message. 

That message, of course, that they so worry about, would be one that might disturb the readers of the Daily Mail, whose support they so fondly imagine must be won, in order to win a victory for the party at the next election. A message of solidarity with working class history, heritage, with the unions, with the very principle of organised resistance, and ... oh no, maybe even ... strikes.

At the Gala, support for the Corbyn campaign was, as you might expect, pretty solid. Former Barnet blogger Vicki Morris was interviewed by the local news about why she was backing him:

One of my first cousins, who grew up in Durham, and saw his family background as something ... well, rather embarrassing, a brilliant student, who went to Cambridge, became a diplomat, then left,  informed us, during the Blair years, that his next career would be in politics. My father was curious: which party? The response floored him. My cousin shrugged. That was irrelevant, he said. He had not yet decided which party to join.

I never saw my father, a dyed in the wool, Telegraph reading Tory, so angry. He would not have cared which party his nephew had decided to represent, but to see such a move as a career choice, and not one of vocation, appalled him.

And here lies the problem.

Our political establishment - of all parties - has been hijacked by these people, and by this sickness: this corruption of principle, and the ideal of public service. Hijacked by those who see Westminster, or the local council, as a place for self indulgence, and personal opportunity. 

In the years spent writing this blog, I've attended several Labour party conferences, and become increasingly horrified by the extent of the gulf which exists between those who represent the party, in the shadow cabinet, and those who manage the party's organisation, and the ordinary grassroots members, the activists on the ground, in every constituency, the union representatives, and the people who are the real backbone of the Labour movement.

Sitting in the back of the conference hall, it is impossible not to notice the lack of support given in response to the banalities and platitudes offered up in the speeches of party leaders: and to note the enthusiasm given to those speakers, usually union reps or constituency delegates, who refer to the traditional values of the Labour movement, and eschew the soundbite politics and carefully groomed presentation of the Labour elite.

Two years ago in Brighton, I sat through a 'debate' in the hall, in which people like the ineffable Chuka Umanna spoke, so glibly, like all of the shadow ministers, about nothing in particular, in speeches intended only to bolster their own career prospects, and keep them in line with a natural progression towards advancement.

Len Mc Cluskey walked on stage. As he did so, Ed Miliband slipped away, into the wings, in a carefully calculated rebuff, returning just as calculatedly when he had finished. After Mc Cluskey's speech had received a standing ovation. 

As I wrote at the time:

"He woke everyone up from their One Nation reverie: he quoted Harold Wilson - if Labour is not a moral crusade, then we are nothing - if our party is to have a future, he warned, it must speak for ordinary workers, and it must represent the voice of organised labour. A radical message, which appears to have been blocked by the filtered in box of the Labour leadership's thought process.

This party, he admonished, should be proud of the link with the trade unions. He quoted George Bernard Shaw: I dream things that never were, and I ask: why not?

Indeed, thought Mrs Angry: why not?"

Afterwards, in the queue for the ladies loo, I overheard a group of older women from Glasgow talk despondantly about the debate, and the speeches made by the party leaders. They don't speak my language, said one of them, sadly, shaking her head. 

Who can wonder why Scotland has preferred the SNP to Labour? Not me.

At a previous conference in Manchester, three years ago, taking place on the very spot of the Peterloo Massacre, that seminal moment in the history of the struggle for reform, and social justice, visiting the People's History Museum, and emerging from the ephemera and relicts of the same fight for freedom, and equality, only to be confronted by a drinks reception for a bunch of public schoolboy party organisers, who had no concept of, or interest in, the radical working class roots of our movement: and so began a terrible sense of disillusionment with the path the Labour party has been following.

The same awful feeling of impending doom hung over last year's conference   - and again, only McCluskey struck a warning note to the party leadership, as recorded in this blog:

"... seizing on the result of the referendum to try to persuade the Labour leadership that it must change the course of its campaigning back to traditional party voters, ordinary working people whose interests were being ignored by all the main parties. 

Ignore them at your peril, he warned Labour. 

He dismissed the pundits in our own party who said class didn't matter, and rejected the idea of a constitution made by posh boys at Chequers. 

He called on the party to mobilise the imagination and aspiration of members determined to defeat the ruinous coalition". 

They did ignore them, and the election result proved his prediction to be entirely accurate.

As at conference, so too in the constituencies: Arnie Graf made some interesting points recently in an article on this subject.

Here he highlighted the 'disconnect' between those working at grassroots level, from those strategists supposedly running the national campaigns, and the leadership of the party.

Here in Barnet, as elsewhere, the great sickness at the heart of the Labour party is evident. Oh rose, thou art sick, and the invisible worm ... the complacency in opposition, the institutionalised apathy: the palpable distaste and even embarrassment at over links with local unions, the effective endorsement of Tory budgets, of Tory policies - a culture of defeat that avoids the difficult, combative warfare needed to attack the Tory policies now condemning sections of our society, once more, to the role of despised underclass, a return to the politics of degradation, of moral judgement, and the rule of a privileged elite. 

Almost as much as seeing the way the party leadership works, seeing from close quarters, here in Barnet, the ineptitude and fatal vacuum in leadership, and the dereliction of socialist principles in the local party system has galvanised my own political feelings, and sent me further and further towards the more radical edge of the spectrum, in desperation, and fury.

Here we are now, in a new era of autocracy, veering towards a twenty first century version of fascism, in truth: a social revolution in reverse, engineered by the great grandsons of those whose grip my grandparents' generation had thought had been wrenched from the reins of government, in the post war election.  

Their delivery from the injustice and inhumanity of the society they inhabited was wrought by the introduction of the Welfare state, the NHS, and all the other advancements and features of a civilised society, which we assumed once won, were ours forever, but are now being destroyed, looked on by an impotent Labour party, obsessed by the idea of gaining power by any means other than by being what we are, or what we were - or what we should be.

Because gaining power, for those who have invested their own personal ambitions in the place where vocation, and a burning desire to make a better society should be held - they are the ones who are intent on winning the party leadership, and maintaining the status quo, or even dragging us further into the morass, by committing us to a 'moderate' response to the Tory agenda, on the pretext of 'electability'.  

With one exception, of course, and that exception is Jeremy Corbyn. 

And yes, even if Jeremy Corbyn doesn't really exist, we have now invented him, as a means of recovery from the awful plague that infests the Labour party now.

The success of Corbyn's electoral campaign has been astounding: no one could have, would have predicted it. Most of us on the left, still reeling from the shock of the general election defeat, had resigned ourselves to at best a Burnham victory, and five more years of the same old dithering leadership, the same old arguments, and compromises, and fudging, and careful alignment of non controversial policies, ending in yet another defeat at the hands of people who, if they want a Tory government, will vote for the real thing, and not the blue Labour version.

The secret of his success is quite simple: he represents a great howl of protest from the rank and file members of the party, the traditional Labour voters, those who are disaffected from the party as it is, and who have stopped voting for the party because of what it has become. 

These people want their party back, out of the hands of the careerists, the young men in suits, the self serving spin doctors, the focus group directed policies. 

They want social justice, and yes, a moral crusade, and politicians who are brave, and inspirational: who are hungry for change, and a better society - who can take on the desperately cynical policies of an ever more cruel and punitive Tory government, and give back a sense of hope to those without it, that a radical alternative is possible, and can be delivered by the Labour party, as it did post war. 

No candidate can possibly embody such genuine aspirations, nor deliver them singlehandedly. But even if he does not win the leadership of the party, Corbyn has already delivered a body blow to the old way of doing things.

Labour must change how we apply our values as the world around us changes, said Liz Kendall, yesterday. A few days ago she dared to coopt Attlee into her campaign, and now chunders on about the Rochdale pioneers, and other carefully chosen exemplars of the Labour heritage. Our values: whose values? Kendall's vacuous right wing blatherings are not mine, nor the vast majority of the Labour movement, the grassroots movement. 

The world around us changes, but truth is eternal, and excusing a shift in principle on the pretext of application is insupportable.

When a Labour party fails to oppose in principle, and in practice, a Conservative government bill on Welfare cuts, for example: then the game is up. 

It's time for the Labour leadership to come out from behind the fenced off talking shops of the annual conference, the stage managed 'debates', and the fortress mentality, time to invite in those protesting outside the security zone, demonstrating against the killing of the NHS, the wickedness of the bedroom tax, the assault on the Welfare state. 

Time for the spirit of the Gala, the Big Meeting, the campaigners, the protestors, the grassroots activists, the founders of the Labour movement, to be reflected in the political aspirations of what was the people's party, and what must again be the party of the people, yes, of the many, not the few. 

And time for the blue Labour apologists, the careerists, the opportunists who live off the party establishment to be politely shown the door, and invited to join a party in which they will feel more comfortable.

So: I've voted for Jeremy Corbyn - for the person I believe to be the only candidate who can lead the party into a better future, rooted in the values of the past, values which should be retained, and a history, and heritage that must be remembered, and honoured. 

Perhaps then we might now leave behind the catastrophic result of the last two elections, and move forwards to create a party that will win an election, and save us all from the terrible consequences of this Conservative administration: not by apeing the monstrous inhumanity of the Tory party, but by offering hope, and support, to those members of our society who need it - and taking back control of our lives from those who abuse the power and influence invested in them for too long. 


Monday, 20 July 2015

We do not know ... what else we did not, and still do not know, or - Questions: and some answers - about the £13.5m depot sale

Last week Mrs Angry updated her post on the Abbots Depot story: see here -

This was after receiving a response from Barnet Council to an FOI request which was not, in fact, a response, but an announcement that they would not reply to the request for at least another ten working days.  

The pretext for this delay was that they considered that some of the information she had asked for was 'exempt', and they needed another two weeks to consider whether disclosure of the information was in the public interest, or if it was, in the time honoured tradition of 'open government', here in Broken Barnet, and the covert war against the principle of transparency, more appropriate to sit on the information, and keep it all under wraps.

Well, of course such a reply is always a cheering indication that the material you are requesting is so embarrassing that the authority is desperate to keep it out of your hands, and rather than worrying about the public interest, they are worried about the exposure and political fallout that may result from publication.

Mrs Angry was having none of it, however, knowing full well that transparency over the matter of the £13.5 million purchase of a site sold only the year before for a mere £750,000 could only ever be in the public interest ... and she also pointed out that they had not fulfilled their obligation, clearly indicated by the Information Commissioner, to explain exactly what was the nature of the exemptions they were claiming. (Hint: not wanting people to see what a balls up you've made of something is not a valid exemption).

It was a surprise, however, to see, the very next day, that the material asked for was suddenly released after all. 

How odd. Could it be, thought Mrs Angry, that amongst the Tory ranks the mistrust that certain members have in the way in which their own officers - and our private partners and outsourced contractors Capita & HBPublic Law, all of whose employees feature throughout this correspondence, have handled this business ... has led to pressure to release the evidence she had asked for? 

The truth is that a significant number of Tory councillors are now beginning to realise just exactly what is the new reality, here in the hollowed out council they have created, and their natural suspicion of senior officers -whom they know really regard them as a flipping nuisance, and creatures to be indulged, or kept in the dark as much as possible - is beginning to stir some resentment amongst the Conservative group. Strange bedfellows, Mrs Angry. No, best not to dwell on that line of thought.

The chickens, Tory councillors, are now coming home to roost, are they not?

Looking through the emails now released, as expected, some names had been redacted: some of which are possibly officers of a seniority which does not exempt them from identification, and which will be challenged, as Mrs Angry has done previously, and successfully, when senior officers and consultants tried to hide from her eye of scrutiny, in response to an FOI request.

(Note to person in charge of the black felt tip: it is pretty easy to work out whose names you are redacting. Use a thicker pen, in future).

Because the evidence of these emails makes one thing undeniably clear: councillors were not given the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, at the appropriate time, in regard to the interesting history of the Abbotts depot; and that senior officers most certainly knew before the Full Council meeting of December 16th that, in direct contradiction to the statement given to Labour's Geof Cooke as late as May 19th

"to the best of our knowledge, there have been no changes to the freehold or leasehold positions since 1/1/14' ...

Read on, and see if you think that that position, maintained then and now by Barnet and Capita senior officers, overseen by our outsourced legal service, is in fact fairly defined by that phrase ... 'to the best of our knowledge': and then ask yourselves, readers, if that is the best service they can provide - why the heck are we throwing so much money at them, as demanded by the contracts that our Tory councillors so happily approved? 

How is such a statement compatible with the evidence below, including this mysterious email, heavily redacted, for some reason, sent only a few weeks ago?

We were aware of this purchase from the beginning ... why did you not tell the councillors, then?

Click on enlarge, to read the document.

And now, in combination with material published by a local residents' group yesterday, containing questions -  and long awaited answers -  to Cllr Cooke in regard to the matter, it is clear that there is now an urgent need for a full, independent investigation into the depot purchase, and the way in which councillors of all parties have been kept in ignorance of the facts by their own officers, and of the part played in this mess by the contracted legal service, HBPublic Law, and of course our contractual partners, Capita. 

Readers should compare and contrast the two sources of information, and make up their own minds about the story of Abbotts' Depot, and to decide whether or not, even now, before the first waste lorry has dumped its load on the site, there is a pervasive smell of rotten borough wafting across the area.

Here are the questions raised by Cllr Cooke, and the response from Barnet's Chief Executive, Andrew Travers, on the 9th July, as published yesterday by RAAD, Residents Against Abbotts Depot, via their Facebook page, Say NO to Abbotts Depot. As well as the aspect of the information withheld from councillors, there is the complex issue of if, in fact, we have secured full use of the site in questions, and if the apparently informal use by another company raises a threat to our huge investment in this purchase. It should also be remembered, incidentally, thatin the not too distant future, this site may well be needed for railway sidings for the Crossrail 2 expansion.

One significant omission from the attempt by senior officers to defend their representations to councillors on the depot transaction is this: why were councillors told that the £13.5 million value was based on a previous transaction of £8million, a few years ago, supposedly around 2006/7?

Where is the proof of this sale, and if there is none, on what basis was the valuation made?

As you will see, Geof Cooke is one of the few really tenacious Labour councillors, astute and obstinate in his attempts to hold officers to account, as one saw at the Audit Committee, in the days when, as it should be, an opposition, Libdem Chair was in charge, ie Monroe Palmer, and there was actually a chance of securing some scrutiny of council finances. Since then, of course, the Tories have appointed ... a Tory Chair.

The questions from Cllr Cooke, and the original responses, which he found to be unsatisfactory, followed by supplementary questions from him, labelled GNC. The most recent clarification from CEO Andrew Travers is in red. Mrs Angry's comments in orange and annotated Mrs A. There are typos in the original format, unedited.

1. Regarding Abbots Depot, on 12/11/14 John Hooton *1 informed us that ‘The site has been in long term use as Abbots Depot and has remained vacant since they ceased to operate’ but on 19/05/15 Matthew Walters *2 informed us (via Members’ Enquiries) that ‘There is no formal arrangement with regards to the Winters use of the Abbots site, however Winters are currently using part of the Abbots Depot on an informal basis’. 

Mrs A: 

*1 the Chief Operating Officer.

*2 Head of Corporate Programmes at Capita-Barnet

Original Response: Correct, the fact that Winters were using part of the site on an informal basis came through the site due diligence after November 2014

GNC: Why was the council under a misapprehension on 12/11/14? Had Cergold misinformed the council? When it was discovered that councillors had been misinformed why was no correction issued?

Response: It is perfectly normal for issues of this nature to be identified during the due diligence phase of a transaction like this.

Mrs A:

This is true, in part. It is fairly normal for issues of this nature to be overlooked, in the natural way of things in Broken Barnet. 

2. Regarding the Abbots Depot site, on 25/11/14 John Hooton informed us that ‘The purchase price was £8m some 7/8 years ago, this figure is being confirmed with the Land Registry’. There was no update until 19/05/15 when Matthew Waters informed us (via Members’ Enquiries) that ‘With regards to the sale of Abbots Depot in June 2014, the Land Registry search we carried out has revealed that Cergold purchased the property in June 2014. The directors of Cergold are the Comer Brothers and according what the Comers (sic), they had ownership for several years before then’ and that ‘The price stated to have been paid on 11 June 2014 was £750,000’.

Original Response: Land Registry entries indicate on 11 June 2014 a price of £750,000 was paid for the transfer of the freehold of the Abbots Depot site to Cergold Limited. The Council is not privy to the reasons behind this agreement but is confident that the £750,000 figure quoted does not reflect the open market value of the site Abbots Depot site. The reason that the Council is confident that the figure does not reflect market value is that the two companies involved in the purchase and sale of the freehold are owned by the same people.

GNC: Was the ‘open market’ valuation based on an assumption that planning permission for residential development could be obtained without any change to adjacent land? I am still awaiting the response to an overdue member’s enquiry as to the exact identity of the vendor in 2014.

Response: The valuation included an assumption that residential planning permission could be achieved. Details of the business case for acquiring the site were set out in the exempt appendix of the DPR approving the transaction. This appendix remains exempt until the transaction is complete should planning permission be granted. In the interests of transparency the intention is that the details of this exempt report will be published once the purchase of the site is complete should planning permission be granted.

Mrs A:

Please note the $64,000 question has been ignored: or rather, the £8m question. Where is the proof of this purchase? Is there a clue to the accuracy of this reference in the vagueness of the date, ie 'some 7/8 years ago?

3. The report to the 16/03/15 meeting of the Assets, Regeneration and Growth committee, which was referred to the full council meeting on 14/04/15, requested approval of payment of a premium to buy out a ‘Waste Operation lease’ on land for which ‘The freehold interest in the site is owned by Network Rail’ (identified by a map provided to councillors as the main Winters site) but on 19/05/15 Matthew Waters informed us (via Members’ Enquiries) that in relation to the part of the Abbots Depot site occupied by Winters ‘The vacation and clearance of this area is also covered as part of the acquisition of the Winters Site’.

Original Response: It came to light during the pre-contract due diligence that Winters were occupying part of the Abbotts Depot site for storing their skips. We asked the vendor to explain the basis of this arrangement but they merely stated it was informal and the arrangement would be terminated before completion. In the contract with Cergold Limited to purchase the Abbots site, they are obliged give vacant possession so it is incumbent on them to ensure that Winters vacate before completion.

GNC: If Winters vacating Abbots Depot is a requirement on Cergold, in what sense is ‘The vacation and clearance of this area is also covered as part of the acquisition of the Winters Site’?

Response: Vacant possession of the Abbotts site is assured through the contract with Cergold. The agreement for the assignment of the lease on the Winters site also includes a provision that Winters will not to relocate to any other part of the wider site of the former railway sidings (including Abbotts Depot).

4. The three items of information above were provided at 16:36 on 19/05/15 in response to a challenge to the comprehensiveness and accuracy of an earlier response at 14:51 on the same day. That response stated that ‘To the best of our knowledge, there have been no changes to the freehold or leasehold positions since 1/1/14’.

Original Response: Correct. There was an error in the responses provided at 14:51 on 19/05/15, which were clarified at 16:36 on the same day. This confirmed that Land Registry entries indicate on 11 June 2014 a transfer of the freehold of the Abbots Depot site to Cergold Limited took place.

Mrs A: 'An error'? How did that 'error' come to be on such a scale, when senior officers knew perfectly well as early as at least 9th December what the real background was? And why was the information not forwarded as a matter of course to councillors at that point?

GNC: How did the June 2014 transaction come to be overlooked despite a direct question and how can the correction to a blatant error be described as a ‘clarification’?

Mrs A: Get out of that one, if you can: 

Response: The reason for the clarification is that the 2014 transaction was between parties with shared ownership. Therefore even though technically the Land Registry records a change of ownership the same individuals retained ownership and control of the site.

Mrs A: Erm? Please answer the question ...

Unnumbered: Assuming that the most recent information is correct, I suggest that the decision making process to acquire the two sites should be investigated because relevant information was withheld from at least some of the councillors making the decision.

Original Response: It is not the case that relevant information was withheld based on the respsonses provided above and bleow. The monitoring officer has reviewed the decision making process and is confident that it was robust.

Mrs A: 'It is not the case that relevant information was withheld ...' Readers must compare the emails to the responses here, and decide for themselves.

Robust, again? See below. Or 'bleow'.

GNC: Is it your view that occupation of Abbots Depot by Winters and the recent purchase of Abbots depot for £750,000 were not relevant information for councillors voting through expenditure of £13.5m plus a substantial lease buyout premium?

Response: Yes, neither of those issues are relevant to the price paid, which as set out above was supported by a business case. In the case of the occupation of the site by Winters, the Council would have a right to be compensated by Cergold in the unlikely event that they failed to deliver vacant possession on completion. The price paid in June 2014 would be relevant only if it was paid on a transaction at arms length, which it was not.

Mrs A: Just extraordinary. Neither of those issues relevant? All previous transactions most certainly WERE and ARE relevant when there is a process leading to the purchase of a site costing £13.5 million, and no apparent evidence of how that valuation was reached.

A. The occupation of part of the Abbots Depot site by Winters was not disclosed. It may be under an informal arrangement but that does not necessarily mean it was irrelevant.

Original Response: We believe that all relevant and material information was provided at the appropriate time in order to support the council's decision making process. It came to light during the pre-contract due diligence that Winters were occupying part of the Abbotts Depot site for storing their skips. We asked the vendor to explain the basis of this arrangement but they merely stated it was informal and the arrangement would be terminated before completion. In the contract with Cergold Limited to purchase the Abbots site, they are obliged give vacant possession so it is incumbent on them to ensure that Winters vacate before completion.

GNC: No follow-up

a. Did the Council take legal opinion as to whether Winters had a right to stay on till any date or to be given time to vacate? If so what was the advice?

Original Response: Yes, the Council took legal advice throughout. In the contract with Cergold Limited to purchase the Abbots site, they are obliged give vacant possession so it is incumbent on them to ensure that Winters vacate before completion.

Mrs A: how legally binding are these 'obligations' and duties which are apparently 'incumbent on them'?

GNC: The question was about advice received by the council about Winters’ legal rights occupying land informally, not about Cergold’s contractual obligation to deliver vacant possession. Please answer the question.

Response: The council's solicitors did enquire of the seller's solicitors who cited that contract terms that they were selling with vacant possession and stating that Winters would vacate before completion.

Mrs A: Can we have full confidence in a response that is grammatical nonsense, and apparently with no proof of certainty?

b. Are Winters paying Cergold for use of part of the Abbots Depot site?

Original Response: This is not a matter for the Council, however, we asked the vendor to explain the basis of this arrangement but they merely stated it was informal and the arrangement would be terminated before completion.

Mrs A: er, well yes, it is a matter for the council, if it may have an impact on our investment in the site ...

GNC: Did the council receive legal advice that whether or not Winters was paying Cergold was irrelevant to any legal rights Winters might have in the matter?

Response: Legal gave advice that the arrangement with Winters might amount to a protected business tenancy, regardless of whether any rent was being paid. It appeared to legal that rent was in fact being paid in kind, namely Winters were allowing Cergold to use some of their skips. However, the vendor's pre-contract representations suggested the arrangement was informal and a personal one between the Comers and Winters (i.e. not constituting a legal estate in land). The risk of possession not being given was judged to be very small.

Mrs A: Ah ... regardless of whether any rent was being paid ... oh dear. And 'suggesting' the arrangement was informal, 'judging the risk of possession to be very small' ... Reassured, much, readers?

c. Was the possibility of Winters not vacating Abbots Depot when required recorded as a risk on the project risk register before the proposal for the Council to acquire the main Winters site and, if so, what was the mitigation?

Original Response: The risk of Winters not ceasing their informal use of the Abbots site was not recorded in the risk register as in the contract with Cergold Limited to purchase the Abbots site, they are obliged to give vacant possession so it is incumbent on them to ensure that Winters vacate before completion.

Mrs A: bored with this now. What I said before.

GNC: Is it not the case that there was a risk to the council’s depot relocation plan if Winters had legal rights at Abbots Depot that prevented Cergold from delivering vacant possession when required?

Response: Following conversations with the vendor's solicitors we understand the arrangement is undocumented and informal and as vacant possession is assured through the terms of the proposed purchase we do not believe there is any risk to the Council's depot relocation plan.

d. Would Winters’ occupation block access to the bulk of the site to the south and thus affect the Council’s plans?

Original Response: If the informal arrangement for Winters to use part of the Abbots site were to remain in place after the council purchased the Abbots site then this would impact the council's plans. However, in the contract with Cergold Limited to purchase the Abbots site, they are obliged give vacant possession so it is incumbent on them to ensure that Winters vacate before completion.

GNC: No follow-up

e. Does the proposed agreement between the Council and Winters explicitly cover evacuation of Abbots Depot?

Original Response: No, Winters have not been paid for the vacation of the Abbots site. Vacant possession of the Abbots site is assured through the agreement to purchase the Abbots site. The agreement for the assignment of the lease on the Winters site, includes a provision that Winters will not to re-locate to any other part of the wider site of the former railway sidings (including Abbotts Depot).

GNC: No follow-up

f. The identification of the ‘waste operation lease’ site was initially vague in the committee report of 16/03/15 but it did specify that the freeholder was Network Rail (with no mention of Cergold) and the map that was provided on request did not identify any part of the Abbots Depot site being part of the ‘waste operation lease’ site. So was the premium specified in the exempt papers just for a lease of the Network Rail site or did Winters’ occupation of part of the Abbots Depot site give them additional negotiating leverage that increased the price to the Council?

Original Response: The 'waste operation lease' site referred to is the Winters site and the freeholder of this site is Network Rail as stated in the committee report of 16/03/15. Winters had no additional leverage as a result of their informal use of the neighbouring Abbots site as vacant possession of the Abbots site is assured through the agreement to purchase the Abbots site from Cergold.

GNC: How could an agreement between the council and Cergold nullify any legal rights that might be held by Winters?

Response: There is no suggestion that Winters has or claims a lease. The arrangement is informal and the vendor has warranted that it will end before completion.

Mrs A: how legally binding is 'warranted'? Is it worth the paper it may or may not be written on, do you think?

g. Was the Winters’ occupation of part of the Abbots Depot site a factor in the officer decision to recommend acquisition of the main Winters site (which is not operationally necessary and was not proposed in November 2014 when negotiation to acquire Abbots Depot was recommended)?

Original Response: No. Winters' informal use of the Abbots site was not a factor in the decision to purchase the Winters' site as vacant possession of the Abbots site is assured through the agreement to purchase the Abbots site.

GNC: Question f above applies here too.

Response: There is no suggestion that Winters has or claims a lease. The arrangement is informal and the vendor has warranted that it will end before completion.

h. Was the inclusion of Winters’ evacuation of part of the Abbots Depot site in addition to their main site the reason why they did not want their freeholder, Network Rail, to know the buyout premium or even, apparently, that Winters was interested in selling its lease?

Original Response: The council is not privy to this information

Mrs A: 'The council' appears to have sat in the privy throughout this whole process, with its fingers in its corporate ears, humming a merry tune, when it should have been asking hard questions of the various interested parties ...

GNC: So why is the public not allowed to know the premium paid by the council to Winters?

Response: This is commercially confidential information. The council has entered into confidentiality obligations with Winters in the contract between them.

Mrs A: Ah. Aha. Yes, of course. Commercially confidential information. Obligations to Winters. Not to councillors, or we, the long suffering taxpayers?

B. Officers have now confirmed that Cergold paid only £750,000 for the whole of the Abbots Depot site in 2014. If the most recent purchase price had been disclosed to councillors then Cergold’s profit from selling the freehold for £13.5m would have been a very valid area for questioning by councillors. Councillors have yet to be provided with an explanation as to why the council is prepared to pay £13.5m for a site that only a year ago was bought for £750,000.

Original Response: Land Registry entries indicate on 11 June 2014 a price of £750,000 was paid for the transfer of the freehold of the Abbots Depot site to Cergold Limited. The council is not privy to the reasons behind this agreement but is confident that the £750,000 figure quoted does not reflect the open market value of the site Abbots Depot site. The reason that the Council is confident that the figure does not reflect market value is that the two companies involved in the purchase and sale of the freehold are owned by the same people.

Mrs A: If the Council is confident that the figure does not reflect market value, why did it keep its suspicions to itself, and not use this interesting fact to negotiate a better deal, and better value for money for residents?

GNC: Is the council confident that appropriate UK tax will be paid on Cergold’s profit of £12.75m (1,700%)?

Response: This is not a matter for the Council to comment on.

Mrs A: Presumably, then, the Council has informed HMRC of any concerns it may have in regard to the alleged under-valuation of the £750K transaction by the Council's landlords, and would be developers of North London Business Park?

C. The 16/03/15 committee report made no mention of Winters’ plan to move out of the Oakleigh Road South area irrespective of any prospect of the Council paying them to go away so the appropriateness of paying them a substantial premium did not receive appropriate consideration, even though it was raised by opposition councillors.

Original Response: The Winters site was not actively being marketed prior to the Council entering into negotiations for the reassignment of the lease, so plans for the operation to move out of the area irrespective of these discussions remain a matter of speculation. If Winters did intend to vacate the site, the lease would have been available on the open market, therefore, without intervention, the Council would not have been able to prevent another similar waste operation from occupying the site.

GNC: The Winters site (and the Mill Hill depot site) are safeguarded for waste use and it is Barnet’s obligation as a North London planning authority not to allow a reduction in waste-processing capacity in North London. How does the council propose to discharge that obligation in respect of the Winters site?

Response: This is a matter for the Council to engage in through the updating of the North London Waste Plan. Following re-assignment the Winters site will continue to be zoned for waste management and processing. Our proposals seek to increase the operational efficiency of the waste service which will ultimately improve the capacity. We anticipate these improvements will be required to accommodate the projected increase in throughput of waste and recyclables over future years.

D. The information in points 1-3 above came to light only through research by affected residents and persistent questioning by me. The information was withheld, for whatever reason, when it should have been disclosed first voluntarily by officers prior to decisions by councillors and then in response to explicit questioning. In the event all that I have is confirmation of what I put to the officer in question. I and other councillors do not know what else we did not and still do not know.

Original Response: We believe that all relevant and material information was provided at the appropriate time in order to support the Council's decision making process.

Mrs A: Do we? That's a cracker. The extent, and 'robust' nature, of your self belief is  ... quite something.

GNC: Do you not accept that residents and opposition councillors have strong reason to doubt the council’s wish to be transparent on this matter?

Response: We believe that all relevant and material information was provided at the appropriate time in order to support the council's decision making process. The monitoring officer has reviewed the decision making process and is confident that it was robust.

Kind regards,
Andrew Travers
Chief Executive
London Borough of Barnet

Finally from me: as regards the decision making process being reviewed by the part time Monitoring Officer, and being found to be - ha, that favourite word - 'robust', may we please have clarification of the terms of reference used by the Monitoring Officer, and an explanation as to how a definition of 'robust' was, in his view, appropriate in the case of the process under review?

An extraordinary set of responses, by any measure, but seen in the context of the emails released through FOI, well: more than extraordinary - an indictment of this council, its management, its administration, the failure to communicate essential information to elected representatives, the apparent failure by contractual partners to ensure due diligence into the case for such a vast investment of taxpayers' money.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Living Life Elevated, or: Hasta La Vista - the reinvention of West Hendon

Mrs Angry never can resist an invitation to an opening: especially one that offers opportunities for mischief - and free champagne, in line with her own brand of socialism, of course.

Well then, Saturday morning, and off to West Hendon, to take a look at the new showroom apartment in the Barratt London development, nestling - no: dropped into the marshy terrain, the waterfront that is the willow fringed borders of the Welsh Harp, squatting on the ground where once stood rows of terraced houses, flattened in the war by enemy bombing, in one terrible night in 1941, which took the lives of so many civilian victims, and made more than 1,500 people homeless.

Next to the site, the 1960s council estate which gave new homes to local families is being demolished, piece by piece: an entire community mercilessly destroyed, and who knows how many people being made homeless, not by enemy action, but by their own elected representatives - so as to allow the creation of a private development, one from which they have been effectively excluded, despite the entire project being sanctioned under the guise of 'regeneration', and subsidised by the public purse.

As it happens, Mrs Angry has had occasion, recently, to have to research the price of properties in the London Borough of Broken Barnet, and how amusing it was to her to find that the very first suggestion of all property searches results in an invitation to go and live in Hendon Waterside, this beautiful, if entirely fictional concept being marketed by Barratt London. 

She decided she ought, therefore, to go and take a look. Perhaps fate was, after all, leading her to spend her twilight years on a balcony in West Hendon, gazing upon the ... what is it, let us check the brochure ... the 'tranquil environment' and the 'picturesque views'.

Well, depending which way you look, of course.

Arriving in West Hendon, and looking for the road that leads to the lovely new development - trying to cross the Edgware Road, which is a hair raising experience of its own, it must be said that Mrs Angry was somewhat puzzled.

Where was Waitrose? What: no Carluccios? No White Company?

Qu'ils mangent de la brioche, but: an absence of hipster patisseries to supply them ...

Trianon House. Ah yes: memories of Marie Antoinette, and her downsized chateau retreat, in the grounds of Versailles. Hmm. And a useful car accessory shop, selling hubcaps. 

Are these signs of regeneration, or degeneration, following years of blight caused by the promised 'regeneration' that will never now take place?

On reading the literature being distributed by Barratt's sales team, one could only be more mystified. Still: nice to see that an 'uplift' in terms of more aspirational residents was clearly already underway. Look: a feeder nursery to the academy establishment attended by so many members of our Tory government:

Eton Nursery, for any unexpected child yield in West Hendon: for aspirational toddlers

Down the road, then.

Not to worry, this is only the view for the poor people, not Marie Antoinette, or the Russian oligarchs in the new development: the sans culottes, who have been 'decanted' into the new Bastille, safely outside the footprint of the private scheme, facing the backyards of the Edgware Road.

For those who live on the wrong side of the fence, in Hendon Waterside: no view of the water, of course. Pay for view clients only, here.

Mrs Angry wandered down into the estate. She thought she was in Tyrrell Way, but - oh: no. Now, Mrs Angry, you are in ... Moorhen Way. 

Local historical names must be obliterated, now, in Hendon Waterside. Year Zero has begun. 

Tyrrel? It was the name of a local vicar. No one except Mrs Angry knows that anymore, probably, unless they've spent hours sitting in the British Library looking at a now forgotten history of the parish. There you go: at least it will be remembered here, in a virtual chronicle. 

Moorhens: they are half bird, half duck. Neither fish nor fowl. No, neither waterfowl, nor ... Oh, I don't know. Yes, they have them on the Welsh Harp. At the moment, before the SSSI status is lost, as a result of the impact of the development on the wildlife that once lived here.

The gates to the new development were open, but hovering outside was another endangered species: a group of residents, ready to greet prospective buyers intent on attending the Barratt opening day.

Resident Mitzi, who must endure the construction site, & all the noise and constant dirt from the site right next to her home

An air of unease surrounded the entrance. Security guards watched the residents suspiciously, as if they were migrants gathering at Calais, waiting to steal their way into the promised land behind the border, the black fence that defends Fortress Barratt from intruders. 

Reclaiming the banner

Also outside were the two film makers who are making a documentary for the BBC on the West Hendon story, to be broadcast later this year. While we were all talking, someone spotted the security guards had pulled the residents' banner out of the flower bed by the entrance: they rushed in and demanded it back, shouting - thieves! Thieves! 

After a stand off, the banner was taken back and returned to the entrance. The residents had won one small battle, at least. Each side retreated behind their lines.

Jasmin, in her Lennon specs, and some lyrics to serenade visitors ...

A few prospective buyers were trickling in and out of the newly opened showroom reception area. As they passed by, the residents spoke to them, perfectly calmly, but honestly, asking them if they knew the background to the development, or that they would effectively be buying a property on a building site, that this was the first Saturday for a very long time that had not been dominated by the sound and mess of the contractors working on the site? 

Most visitors were interested, and listened to what residents said. But inevitably a police car arrived, on whose behest it was fairly obvious. They found no problem, however, and left shortly afterwards, respecting the residents' lawful right to conduct a peaceful protest.

Some residents held up pictures representing the history of the site, and told the visitors, who listened attentively, it must be said, exactly what does lie beneath the new development: the memorial park, the sacred ground that Barnet and Barratt do not want to acknowledge.

Time to cross the border between West Hendon, and Waterside. Mrs Angry slipped through customs, without being stopped (some of the residents had been refused entrance) and passed the smiling young women at the door, to be greeted by a lovely lobby full of more smiling young people, and an array of hospitality. 

A suitably uxorious waiter offered Mrs Angry a glass of champagne, absurdly balanced on its own square wooden tray, and she sipped at it whilst admiring the model developments in their perspex display cases, her Barratt goody bag swinging delicately on her other arm, full of lovely pictures to look at on the way home.

Later she read the brochure, one headed with an invitation to 'live life elevated' with great excitement, as a prospective buyer, of the many attractions of the West Hendon area, which Barratt London, in a feat of engineering surpassing even the 32 story tower of babylon that is The Vista * (yep: that's what they call it), have moved West Hendon into Hampstead, and even as far as Primrose Hill, Camden Town, and ... Selfridges. Marvellous. Doesn't mention the Edgware Road, of course, or the kebab shops, or Trianon House, or the Motor Shop, or the lack of Waitrose, Carluccios etc. 

*Vista: a pleasing view.

synonyms: view, prospect, panorama, aspect, perspective, spectacle, sight; 

a long, narrow view as between rows of trees or buildings, especially one closed by a building or other structure.

a mental view of a succession of remembered or anticipated events.

"vistas of freedom seemed to open ahead of him"

These models were truly a work of art: Mrs Angry particularly admired the one that lit up slowly, then off again,  provoking uneasy catholic childhood memories of pay as you go illumination of shrines in French and Italian churches. Where do you put the coins, to turn the lights on? No: sign here, bottom of the mortgage agreement. Easy. 

And then there was the interesting display of the wider project, with the later buildings which will, as you can see, be made of sponge, presumably, thought Mrs Angry - remembering the wishful rumour that is now floating about West Hendon, that the new tower block is slowly sinking, like Venice, with the weight of too much aspirational folie de grandeur, into the marshes on which it is built - made of sponge in order to soak up any excess water from the land which was reclaimed from the once much larger reservoir, many years ago?

Hasta la Vista, baby? 

Who mentioned babies? Not allowed, not here. Read on.

In the cool of the air conditioned building, in the lobby and upstairs in the apartment there wafted a familiar scent: 'Orange Blossom', by Jo Malone, clearly a favoured brand by Barratt's set dressers. 

The hard faced, urban invasion of a idyllic landscape, sanctified by calming aromatherapy, a benediction, with fragrance rather than incense, to induce a sense of well being, and represent prayers for a better life rising up to heaven, or at least to the penthouse flats on the 32nd storey - and to encourage an inexplicable urge to buy into a luxury development of socially cleansed, sweet smelling properties, courtesy of Barratt London. 

Off to the lifts to see the flat, accompanied by a handful of other prospective buyers, eyeing our escort salesman  with suspicion, as he checked with a colleague where exactly he was supposed to go. He had never been there before, it seemed. He took us to the bin store, first time round, said one of the visitors, laughing behind his hand. 

Up to the first floor and here was a sight familiar from Mrs Angry's previous visit to the other showroom. 

Here, however, in the new location, the narrative that informed the decor was slightly less edgy, rather safer, and more like something out of a Next catalogue, circa 1991: with not Alexander McQueen on the coffee table, but a book on Impressionism - meh - and three peculiar 'artworks' on the wall that looked as if they might be pieces of distressed concrete removed from the backyards of distressed, evicted social tenants on the council estate: a sort of trophy, wondered Mrs Angry? 

In the bedroom, this time, now we have left behind the distant fantasies of the former showroom, and moved into the new now, where only those privileged few who can afford the sort of mortgage that will deliver them into this new development may even dream about living here ...there is no empty wallet on the bedside table, no watch, no discarded dress lying enticingly on the bed, beneath the teasing reflection of an artfully shattered mirror: 

This apartment is aimed at young professional couples, and so here we find the same sparkly dress, but hidden away, and neatly hung in the wardrobe; some new handbags, a pair of tea canisters, (normally keep mine in the kitchen, don't you?) and a nice pair of tan shoes, not really f*ck me shoes, more the sort of thing you might wear to your goddaughter's christening. 

Oh, and a trio of black and white photos of the sort of people we are invited to believe might live here, that told their own narrative, an unusual one, thought Mrs Angry, peering with immense curiosity at the pitctures: and with a moral tale - a blonde woman, and her (rather younger) lover, apparently meeting at a Morning Star editorial team building summer camp, falling in love, renouncing political activism, and ending in an aspirational sort of kiss, happily followed up by the purchase of a Barratt home, and a petit bourgeois, revisionist renouncement of class war, right there on the waterfront, in West Hendon. 

Could happen. There is hope for you yet, Mrs Angry.

And the wider message was clear: whereas the other showroom appeared to cater for some sort of casual fantasy, this is the sort of dormitory accommodation for young professional worker drones to live together and ... well yes, have sex, now and again, but of course not babies, which would upset Barratt's projected child yield, and create a need for schools, and GPs and parks, and ... all the things which go to make a community. Neither Barratts nor Tory Barnet want to encourage that sort of thing, of course, as it could only represent a threat to the profit margin of the entire development, and indeed the housing strategy now gripping the nation.

And what a view!

Oh well, not that one. This one: look ...

You can see the water, in winter, said the salesman, who had never been there before, craning his neck, and standing on his little tippy toes. 

Can you, asked Mrs Angry, regarding the screen of lovely willow, blocking any sight of the Welsh Harp? Oh yes, he said. In winter. And erm ... there will be a gym. And Sainsburys and Costa will be here. 

Really? You sure? When? Where? 

Oh, on the commercial part. 


Well, he wasn't sure. (About 15 years time, according to the residents). 

Because, frankly, said Mrs Angry, playing the part of a sniffy buyer: the approach to the development, all those shut up shops on the Edgware Road, the general air of decline, and fall ... it's not quite, you know ... what one might expect, is it, if you are paying for a place like this? And buyers would have to put up with years and years of living on a construction site, as well ...? 

Well, if it were anywhere else, she was told, the price would be sky high. In line with the height of the four tower blocks, then. An admission here, however, that West Hendon is not really the sort of gentrified area buyers would expect? Mrs Angry asked about the penthouse flats: how much would they be? He shrugged. He didn't know. He worked for Foxtons, it emerged, not Barratts.

Mrs Angry made her excuses and left. This was a mistake as, left to her own devices in a strange place, as usual she got lost, and ended up in some subterranean level, with  no obvious way out. She began to panic: no one knew she was here ... was she going to end up spending the weekend locked in a Barratt building, in some awful karmic punishment?  The very thought drove her back into the lift, to press any number of buttons, and thankfully, eventually, up and out of the building.

Passing once more across the border to Tyrrel Way, the crew from the BBC film nabbed Mrs Angry to do her bit to camera, which, fuelled by a glass of Barratt champagne on an empty stomach rather too early in the day, and fresh from the scented rooms of Hendon Waterside flowed easily, and was all encompassing in scope, as you might imagine. 

As she talked, she was aware of a rather menacing figure, a man dressed in expensive but frankly rather ghastly Austin Reed weekend wear - including trousers in an eyewateringly, in your face, shade of yellow, standing in alpha male pose, furiously across the road, glaring at us, watching the filming and the protestors talking to buyers, one of whom had by now been converted by their arguments and happily posed for photographs with them. 

Who was the man? From Barratt, or Barnet, or Crapita, or Foxtons, or some other interested party, presumably, outraged that the people who actually live on the West Hendon estate, whose homes and families and history belong here, might dare to object to the destruction of their community, and their eviction from this land, publicly owned land worth £12 million, given away to developers for £3?

He better get used to it, our friend in the yellow trousers, get used to the sight of strangers at the gate, and a long siege.

The residents in West Hendon, who have been condemned to another fifteen years or more of living on the edge of a construction site, their homes and family lives, their community and history betrayed, and broken up, are going nowhere, and will be there, everytime there is a sales event, to speak out, and tell the truth, the inconvenient truth that demonstrates the real cost of Hendon Waterside. 

And the truth about Hendon Waterside is a story that is being acted out in every part of this country now, anywhere there is an easy profit in turning freely available land, subsidised by taxpayers, into private profit. The only thing to do, the duty that we all share, is to keep telling the truth, and refuse to be silenced. One day, perhaps, someone might listen.