Friday, 14 November 2014

Brought to book: Barnet's nonsultation on library cuts




After scraping back into power in May, Barnet's Tory councillors and senior management team, as predicted, gleefully set about targeting even more council services with a range of proposed new 'models of delivery', claiming that radical change was necessary in order to achieve immediate as well as sustainable long term savings.

The truth is, of course, that radical change is necessary only for certain interested parties, in order to create further opportunities for outsourcing, and favoured by our empty headed Tory councillors because they have been persuaded by their senior management, and the cohort of private consultants who feast off public sector privatisation, that there is no alternative, and the savings that such contracts will deliver are 'guaranteed'. 

For Barnet Tories, whose clockwork brains are geared by an ideological mechanism inherited from another era, where anything organised within the public sector is inherently bad, this is an appealing proposal, and the lure of guaranteed savings enough to satisfy any doubts that might occur to anyone with any intelligence, or scruples.

This ready excitement over more and more privatisation encourages the dear little heads of our Tory members to overlook one of the most obvious dangers lying in wait, hidden in the road ahead: the political pitfalls of their policies, once approved. 

We saw this with the parking contract, and now we are seeing it once more with their library proposals. And yet again they are set on a mission to infuriate the middle classes, their own electoral heartland, with a reckless determination, on a course designed by their senior officers, working to an agenda of their own, disinterested in, and indifferent to, the political fallout.




The consultation period for the library proposals has begun, and there is now a survey on the council's website which residents and library users may undertake. It is important that, if you care about the future of Barnet libraries, or even expect to see anything like a library service survive the cull planned by your Tory council, you take part in the consultation process, as well as protest loudly, now, about the atrocious plans lying on the table. But please read on, and consider the clever traps lying in wait in this survey, before taking part.



Just to remind you, here are the three options explained in an easily accessible format, by resident and Libdem activist Alasdair Hill, who has also started a petition you might like to sign, as well as the Labour one - see links to both below.

Option One: 

Only four remaining 'core' libraries, shrink the rest in size by the percentages shown below. Outsource the service. Three of these in traditionally Tory wards, one in an area being 'regenerated'/developed.



Option Two: 

The same lucky four, plus four others, three in traditional Tory wards, one previously Tory that was unexpectedly won by Labour in May. No staff available for 40% of the opening hours. Service outsourced.





Option Three:

The one where Tory plotters think the Labour opposition will be duped into accepting cuts presented as 'community leadership of libraries'. This is a plausible lure, but only for anyone stupid enough to want libraries run by volunteers, outside the public library system, and without professionally qualified staff. Eight libraries open only staffed for 50% of opening hours. Service dumped and outsourced, dressed up as a community initiative.

This is the only option, funnily enough, that preserves some semblance of library provision for staunchly Labour East Finchley, the ward represented by the Labour leader, and situated near the Strawberry Vale estate, the worst area of social deprivation in the entire borough, and only just outside the top ten per cent most deprived areas in the country.


What is clear from all of these options is this: the variations that they present prove the point of the whole exercise is not logical, or based on any independent analysis of need, but designed to be subject to political influence, and pressure from residents.

The flaw in their calculations is that although they have protected their own political core of Chipping, Church End and Hendon from the worst of the destruction, the changes there will be enough to infuriate thousands of their own voters, and elsewhere will be even more successful at losing much needed support.

Throughout the consultation document we read hints that they will not stick to these three definitions, and may end by 'striking a balance' of various proposals contained therein. Let Mrs Angry translate: depending on the level of panic exhibited by nimbyst Tory councillors worried about any closures or loss of service in their own ward, the final plans, presented as a compromise, will be approved - or so they hope, by the council.

Already two Tory councillors have publicly exhibited misgivings about - guess what - their own local libraries being closed or radically affected.

At the CELS meeting at which the proposals were presented, long serving councillor, and self confessed Thatcherite, Helena Hart, member for Edgware, expressed her dismay at the impact on her local library, and for some reason the one in Golders Green. 

At a recent residents' association meeting in Mill Hill, Sury Khatri, who has criticised the One Barnet outsourcing procedure, after agreeing to it, reportedly declared his opposition to the plans for Mill Hill library.

Both Tory councillors voted with their colleagues shortly afterwards when the report was moved to Full Council.

Mrs Angry has written to both councillors to ask why, and will publish any responses that may ensue. They have not replied, so far.

She suggests all readers with Tory members write to them and demand answers from them as to their position on your local libraries: hold them to account.

It is necessary to warn anyone who takes part in the Barnet Libraries' nonsultation to be scrupulously, forensically, careful how you respond to this survey, as a significant number of the questions have been cynically devised to produce data which they will use to endorse their proposals, even if that is not your intention - by offering you a loaded set of options which presupposes your acceptance of their definition of the context of these plans.

Questions 6,7,8,23,25,26,41, for example, need careful negotiation.

They have made the survey as long and as difficult as possible, as well, in the hope, no doubt, of deterring residents from sticking the course and submitting their views.

Please stick the course, and submit your views.

In regard to any dubious questions, the only way to respond, in order to avoid being used as a stooge, in Mrs Angry's view, is to leave them unanswered, and fill up the comment section with your reasons. 

Remember that the purpose of this exercise is to trick you into producing data that they can use to endorse one of their three options. There is an assumption that you accept one of those options, or a combination of the three, is necessary.

That said, you should take part and ignore their proposals: tell them what you think, and what you want.

Before taking part in the survey, you will be asked to read the accompanying consultation document which you can find here - do read it, but wear Mrs Angry's blogger branded x ray specs, which filter out Barnet's interesting representation of the 'facts' and the context in which these devastating proposals are being made.

A recent court ruling on consultation has confirmed that it is unlawful for local authorities to engage in this process without providing proper information, or giving regard to alternative options to the proposals themselves. 

Here we see lip service paid to these requirements, for example, with carefully placed phrases such in support of a 'genuine dialogue' - yeah, right: and in rubbishing the radical idea that a rise in council tax might actually save some of our public services from the depradations of our Tory councillors' slash and burn policies. 

Terrible warnings are given of depending on such a strategy, and baleful predictions, which they have kept quiet before now, of a necessarily huge rise in council tax on the way, the revenue from which is already allocated. 

They do not, of course, explain that their self confessed political 'gestures' in freezing and then cutting council tax pre-election is another cynical act which deprived vital services of funding, and brought us to the point where they now claim such drastic savings are unavoidable, or that there are many areas of extravagant waste and spending, such as on the million pounds consultancy bills, within the budgets they approve which could easily cover the library cuts - if the political will was there.



The Consultation Document begins with a telling admission: 

In the most recent library user customer survey, nearly 90% of users were satisfied.

As we have often observed, this is the first rule of Broken Barnet: something ain't broke, so we are going to destroy it anyway, because there is profit in it, somewhere, for someone.

It is clear, in fact, if you are, as advised, reading this tosh wearing Mrs Angry's x ray One Barnet bullshit glare resistant specs, that the financial argument for what is being presented as an indisputable truth, that the Tory proposals are being forced by the need to make cuts in budget, is absolutely not the real driver for their scabby plans. 

The volume of cuts being imposed on libraries is breathtakingly severe in scope: 60% of total budget

This is not sustainable, in any service, which is why it is being applied - the service, as it stands, must not be allowed to survive.

The real reasons, readers, are twofold. 

One is an obstinate loyalty to the half baked philosophy that lay behind Mike Freer's 'easycouncil' idea, the sort of ill defined, instinctive mistrust of any public service ethos that so easily appeals to the neo thatcherite eejits of the Barnet Tory group. 

Income generation is one thing - and it should be noted that from very early on, Barnet Libraries have always embraced the need for to create revenue, which is what helped it to be one of the best value for money services in the country - but this is never enough to satisfy our Tory masters, who cannot understand any sort of service that does not take place behind a shop front or on a market stall, and think there must be an incremental drive for more and more commercial activities, until the original function of the service is entirely obliterated.

What is curious, however, is that there is no costing for any of the proposed new revenue requirements, or estimations, just as there is no mention of what will surely be substantial need for capital investment, in the name of making 'savings', should many of the truly devastating recommendations be put in place, such as shrinking the size of libraries by 93%, or adapting them for different use - what they refer to as the 'reconfiguration' of buildings.

As for the new ideas for sources of revenue:

The document suggests 'meeting room hire, renting parking spaces, providing collection points such as Amazon Lockers, advertising and some increases to fees and charges'.

Libraries already hire out rooms, in fact, but renting out parking spaces? Providing any libraries are left at all, have you thought through the equalities impact on removing the few spaces there are already for those residents with mobility problems? Nope. Didn't think so.

Don't have a problem with sponsorship or advertising, if they promise to drop the rest of the idiotic plans. Something tasteful. Wonga. William Hill. British American Tobacco. Would residents squeak a bit about that, do you think, Cllr Tom Davey?

Amazon lockers? Yeah, whatever: a company selling books, rather than lending them, and paying minimal taxes, would seem the appropriate installation to have in a Tory Barnet library, wouldn't it?

Jesus: to think we complained about the last lot of library proposals. Come back, Robert Rams, you and your invisible flagship libraries - all is forgiven. 

Or maybe not.

Here is another odd claim, hidden away: that an in house solution has no additional savings potential. This is absolute nonsense, a creative approach to such things as sponsorship, or finding alternative forms of funding is perfectly possible - and does not require any reduction in staffing, or any other deeply damaging assault on the standard of service provision.

One new source of income generation is commendable, however: the idea that substantial levels of revenue can be screwed out of fines for children who - wait for it - bring their library books back late. Yes, really. See Question 15.

Mrs Angry remembers the fine box in Edgware library, when she was a child, glass topped, and sunk into the wooden counter, with a slot and a brass chute down which your coins would have to roll, making a satisfying chink, as they dropped inside. Sadly, because the infant Mrs Angry was a prodigious reader, and would usually have read all the three books borrowed on Saturday morning by Sunday afternoon, so did not have any overdue books, she never had the chance to try out the fine box herself, and was obliged to watch other, more naughty children perform this shameful ritual, with a secret envy.

In our new age of austerity, of course, the children of Broken Barnet must be put to the wheel, and have applied to them the same merciless programme of punishment as their errant mums and dads, who so wilfully incur parking fines by daring to park their cars in what turn out to be the wrong places, at the wrong times, caught by a warden short of his targets for the day, which do not exist, but must be met.

Quite right that the children of our borough should be targeted too, little cash cows of the future, groomed for a life of exploitation in the profiteering paradise of Capitaville. 

Mrs Angry warmly approves of this sort of initiative, naturally, and has suggested in her response that Capita's  bailiff company, Equita, could be instructed to pursue these juvenile delinquents, in the case of non payment of library fines, visiting their homes, and shouting through the letter box threats to confiscate their toys, should they refuse to cough up. 

Oh, yes, and: hidden away in the consultation is a reference to possible optional charges, subscriptions: the two tier service that 'easycouncil' was all about. No doubt that will apply to the proposed 'open', DIY libraries. 

There won't be much inside them, of course, as the book stock will have been decimated by then, but still: here is a smart card to let you in - £2o charge to let you out, after losing your mind talking to a holographic librarian, and searching the shelves in vain for something to f*cking read, in the virtual outsourced, hollowed out, cleaned out libraries of Broken Barnet.


The other motive for the new proposals, the second reason is - pure speculative greed. The library service is being ripped apart by a fatal budget cut of 60%, because it must be outsourced, and because the buildings are an asset waiting to be stripped, laid bare, and used for capital gain. Don't be distracted by all the crap about the need for  'new models of delivery' and 'savings': yes, they like the sound of that, but the real motive is pretty clear.

There are numerous references to the redevelopment of library sites. This idea is casually used in the context of possibly providing income for whatever is left to provide a service, once the Tory councillors have destroyed most of it, by whichever option they finally choose. The development of closed libraries, of course, is not spelt out, but coyly included, obliquely, and no commitment made at all that any capital made from the sale of such properties will return in any degree to the library service, for example: 

 'Alternatively income might be secured by redeveloping the current library site ... '

Might be. 

New libraries might be provided in the same areas, or nearby. 

Or they might not

Which do you think might be more likely, readers? Is there a degree of certainty comparable, say, to the promise of an invisible library, in North Finchley, which necessitated the closure of Friern Barnet library? Is a broken promise, in Broken Barnet, more likely than not? If so, how reliable is a 'might be', a possibility left trailing in the air, with no promise at all?

And how much do you think our Tory council secretly has already estimated it can make by the sale of so many of our library buildings? 

We will never know exactly, because such information will be redacted on the grounds of commercial sensitivity.

Library buildings will, if we allow these plans to go forward, be shut, the book stock removed and dumped, the staff made redundant, the properties put up for sale. 

In some cases, no doubt, developers already have their eyes on sites that just might provide some much needed unaffordable luxury housing, which will get the seal of approval from the same set of Tory councillors who sold off the site in the first case. 

And the people of this borough will be left with a handful of libraries, no professional library service - and some bookshelves in the corner of a community centre, stuffed with a few yellowing secondhand paperbacks.


If you don't like the sound of that, and you want to retain the wonderful library service we have now, make sure you fight for it, and make your voice heard. 

Take part in the consultation - carefully. 

Sign the two petitions

Email your local councillor. 

Email your MP. 

Write to the local press. 

Write to the national press. 

Join other residents, of all backgrounds and all political persuasions who are united in determination to oppose these terrible proposals, and fight back, to save Barnet Libraries.

There is a meeting on 26th November which any residents interested in fighting for their local libraries are urged to attend:


It's now or never. 

Here lies a dilemma for our Tory councillors. 

Support the destruction of our library service, and commit political suicide, on the brink of a general election, hanging as they are within one by election of losing control of the council - and another long drawn out, bloody battle such as you would expect, in Broken Barnet where there is a pride in our heritage, historical, cultural, and literal, however much the Tories try to stamp it out, or sell it off, and a tradition of organised resistance, determination - and defiance.


https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/no-to-closure-of-barnet-libraries

Labour's petition

Updated Sunday: 

Here are dates of 'consultation' events at your local libraries: if you care about the future of Barnet libraries - that there will be a future for Barnet Libraries, then please make the effort to attend, and voice your opinions. 

You will note that in typical fashion, your council has arranged many of these events to take place at times when the majority of working residents will not be able to attend -  but try to come anyway.
 
Location
Date
Time
Mill Hill
Tuesday 18th November 2014
2-5pm
Burnt Oak
Thursday 20th November 2014
5-8pm
Mobile library route
Friday 21st November 2014
All day
Chipping Barnet
Saturday 22nd November 2014
2-5pm
Hendon
Monday 24th November 2014
2-5pm
East Finchley
Wednesday 26th November 2014
5-8pm
Mobile library route
Thursday 27th November 2014
All day
East Barnet
Friday 28th November 2014
10am-1pm
Edgware
Sunday 30th November 2014
2-5pm
Grahame Park
Tuesday 2nd December 2014
5-8pm
Mobile library route
Wednesday 3rd December 2014
All day
Golders Green
Thursday 4th December 2014
10am-1pm
South Friern
Saturday 6th December 2014
10am-1pm
Church End
Monday 8th December 2014
5-8pm
Mobile library route
Tuesday 9th December 2014
All day
Childs Hill
Wednesday 10th December 2014
10am-1pm
Osidge
Friday 12th December 2014
2-5pm
North Finchley
Saturday 13th December 2014
10am-1pm

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Hesitating before Heaven's Gate: Mrs Angry's Remembrance Day


Earlier this week, Mrs Angry and her friend, like so many other Londoners, thought they might stroll on down to the Tower of London, peep over the wall and take a look at the poppies in the moat, placed there to commemorate the 888,246 lives lost in the First World War. 



The number of people disembarking from the tube station and trying to make their way to the Tower was simply overwhelming: tetchy police officers struggled to manage the traffic and pedestrian crossing as the crowd pushed its way over the road, and that was before the queue had even been reached.

Looking down over the wall, and seeing the tide of crimson flowers spill out of the Tower, and into the valley of the moat, it was impossible not to be moved by the significance, as well as impressed by the success of the idea on its most material level as an installation, a piece of conceptual art, but one, unlike the pieces you might find across the river in the hall of Tate Modern, that speaks to the citizen with little interest in art, conceptual or figurative. 

After seeing the poppies, we had lunch in the brasserie across the road. The manager told us, while we were waiting for a table, about her childhood in rural France, and memories of picking poppies, and rushing home through the fields to give them to maman, only to find, to her dismay, the petals had already dropped. 

Such is the ephemeral nature, and fleeting beauty of the poppy, flower of the blood soaked battlefields, lying dormant in a scarred landscape, brought back to life by generations of ploughing the mud where deadmen's bones still lie, and unexploded ammunition hides, waiting a hundred years and more to find its target.

As curiously moving as the ceramic poppies planted in the moat,  was the sight of the long, long queue of people looping around the Tower, waiting patiently for the opportunity of walking past the moat and seeing the poppies just a little bit closer. Why were they there, and why is it that still the losses of a war that began one hundred years ago now, still fascinates and disturbs us so much?

Well, of course it is true that so many families lost relatives, and like mine, have stories and old photos of grandfathers and great uncles who did not return from the trenches. 

One of those 888,246 commemorated in the field of poppies around the Tower was my great uncle, John Cross, who lies buried in a tiny graveyard in a village near Cambrai. 

Another great uncle, Percy Garnish,  died after the war from the effects of being gassed, having served as a sapper at Hooge, Ypres, and many other battles. A decorated shell case he brought back used to have pride of place in our house, when I was a child, the places he had served at engraved on the brass casing: I have it now, and sometimes wonder, looking at it, whose lives were ended by the 18 pounder missile it once contained.


Percy's brother brother Ernest, in the 'Buffs', lost his mind, from shellshock, and died two years later in a military asylum, his family left in penury, and his younger children consigned to an orphanage. 

Two of my grandmother's cousins, brothers Bernard and Tom Penman, brothers in arms: miners who enlisted in the Durham Light Infantry, died within a month of arriving in France, only two days apart, in May 1915, in the dugouts at Sanctuary Wood, also at Hooge. Tom was twenty years old: younger than my own son, but Bernard was only seventeen: a child. Their mother never recovered from the loss of her two sons, as you might expect.

And my grandfather Tommy Nicholson: he spent three years in the trenches, or rather dragging gun carriages around the battlefields, as a bombardier in the RFA, and came back a broken man, a heavy drinker, traumatised and brutalised by his experiences, no longer the naive young volunteer who sent this postcard to his sweetheart, my grandmother, from his training camp in Aldershot.



These are not unusual stories, and yet it has taken a century, and three or more generations, to mourn those who lost their lives, in the war to end all war, the war that ended nothing, and began a whole new era of more efficient ways of killing people, and endless profit for arms manufacturers, and misery for mothers, wives and children.

There are several war memorials in Barnet, and a number of services were held this morning to mark Remembrance Day. 

Here in Finchley we have a ceremony at the Finchley United Services Club, in Tally Ho, opposite the Arts Depot. 

A small memorial, with not many names on it, sits outside, in honour of 'Men of Finchley', who lost their lives in the two world wars. 

It would seem no women are commemorated here, which is odd, as there must have been servicewomen from Finchley in the armed forces at least in the Second World War, and it would be surprising if none of them died; but then as the minister who took led the prayers remarked, other women, the mothers, wives and children of the fallen, were as much victims of war as the men who did not return home, or those who did, injured, or suffering from the psychological impact of their time in battle.

The minister observed that  the soldiers we remember today were fighting evil, and injustice. Mrs Angry reflected that in war, evil and injustice are foreign enemies, outsiders: but it is true to say that at all other times, those enemies are closer at home, and now evil and injustice are being used as weapons against our own people, by our own government, in a war against the poor, and disadvantaged: a civil war.

We must, said the minister, make sure we fight for the things our fallen heroes gave their lives for. How true that is: and the obligation that legacy leaves us with cannot be ignored, can it?

This ceremony, apparently overseen by local Salvation army members, was well attended, the busy roads as usual blocked off by police, allowing a marching band and parade of young local army, air and sea cadets, as well as scouts, to arrive at the Club, drums beating, feet stomping. 

A number of veterans were there, wearing their berets and medals, to honour their fallen comrades - and a touching number of ordinary residents came too, simply because they wanted to be present. 

High above, in the flats above the Artsdepot, others came onto their balconies to watch, and shopkeepers left their businesses to do the same. 

Wreaths were laid, perhaps the most touching from a man wearing an array of medals, holding the hand of a small boy, in a new, black suit too big for him, maybe in honour of a lost, and much loved grandfather.



Local Labour councillors Kath McGuirk, Alan Schneiderman, Alon Or Bach, Arjun Mittra, Anne Hutton, and Geof Cooke were present, along with Sarah Sackman, who is standing against local Tory MP Mike Freer in next year's election.



Rather surprisingly, it must be said, Freer himself was not there, and indeed the only Conservative representative at this service was the rather disgruntled looking councillor Eva Greenspan, representing the Mayor. Disappointing, as the local Conservative HQ, at Margaret Thatcher House, is only just across the road, and Church End has three Tory councillors, Greenspan being only one of them.

The Mayor was not present, of course, because he was elsewhere, at a ceremony in Hendon. We know this because there was a story on the local Times' website about his participation, which appears now to have disappeared, or been modified, and which informed us that amongst the commemoration organised by our council, Barnet's Mayor was keen to honour the fallen 'with a fleet of council refuse trucks, displaying the words “Pause To Remember". Here is the picture, in case you can't find it now: 


Nothing, really, could speak more eloquently of the grossly insensitive nature of the Tory administration, here in Broken Barnet, could it, than that they think it appropriate to use refuse trucks to ask us to 'pause to remember' the fallen heroes of two world wars?

Sometimes, just sometimes, readers, it is impossible for this blog to match the unconscious satirical output of the subjects we so keenly observe, here in this borough.

Let's end with a more dignified tribute, shall we? 

Mrs Angry's grandfather spent the beginning of his war at Laventie - a village situated right on the frontline, with its own Rue du Paradis, and a Rue d'Enfer, a place populated by poets and artists, it seems. Robert Graves spent time there, as well as poet and composer Ivor Gurney. Art is, or so we thought, until the poppies were planted in the moat of the Tower of London,  the indulgence of the intellectual middle classes. War is for the working classes, to do or die: poetry comes with the conscripted sensibility of the intellectual, of course.

Mrs Angry went to Laventie a few years ago, to make some kind of personal connection that might help her to understand the enigma that was her troubled grandfather. It was a memorable visit. 

Was the 'broken church', now rebuilt, the one described by Ivor Gurney, which her grandfather recalled seeing destroyed, the graves split open, showing him the thing that appalled him more than anything else he saw on the battlefield - the corpse of a young mother, in her shroud, with her newborn baby: an image horribly replicated, Mrs Angry noted, in Gaza not so long ago? Maybe it was - or maybe it will serve the same purpose, anyway.

But Laventie, most of all, I think is to soldiers
The Town itself with plane trees, and small-spa air;
And vin, rouge-blanc, chocolats, citron, grenadine:
One might buy in small delectable cafes there.
The broken church, and vegetable fields bare;
Neat French market town look so clean,
And the clarity, amiability of North French air.
Like water flowing beneath the dark plough and high Heaven,
Music's delight to please the poet pack-marching there
.

The town itself is the subject of an iconic image of that war, by Eric Kennington, now in the Imperial War Museum - and also the inspiration for the poem by Gurney, whose own time in the trenches made him a great artist, but at a terrible cost: the loss of his sanity, and an early death, in an asylum, like my great uncle. Let the poet speak for him, and all the others who left no trace, no written record, no picture, no composition, no memory of their own war.



Laventie


One would remember still
Meadows and low hill
Laventie was, as to the line and elm row
Growing through green strength wounded, as home elms grow.
Shimmer of summer there and blue autumn mists
Seen from trench-ditch winding in mazy twists.
The Australian gunners in close flowery hiding
Cunning found out at last, and smashed in the unspeakable lists.
And the guns in the smashed wood thumping and grinding.

The letters written there, and received there,
Books, cakes, cigarettes in a parish of famine,
And leaks in rainy times with general all-damning.
The crater, and carrying of gas cylinders on two sticks
(Pain past comparison and far past right agony gone,)
Strained hopelessly of heart and frame at first fix.

Cafe au lait in dugouts on Tommies cookers,
Cursed minnie werfs, thirst in 18 hour summer.
The Australian miners clayed, and the being afraid
Before strafes, sultry August dusk time than Death dumber —
And the cooler hush after the strafe, and the long night wait —
The relief of first dawn, the crawling out to look at it,
Wonder divine of Dawn, man hesitating before Heaven's gate.


Remembrance Day 2014
888,246
888,246
888,246

Friday, 7 November 2014

Accentuate the positive, or: the beginning of the end - Barnet Tories in humiliating defeat over cuts

Standing ovation for the victory over nursery cuts won by Labour Cllr Rebecca Challice
 
A packed Town Hall, last night, for the Full Council Meeting, as was expected, with the proposed savage cuts to Barnet libraries and nursery provision on the agenda, followed by an 'Extraordinary' meeting held to debate Labour's motion of no confidence in the Tory leader, Richard Cornelius, in the aftermath of the highly critical Lloyd-Jones report into the failure of governance, and legal services.

All Barnet Full Council Meetings are pretty Extraordinary, to be fair: an ungainly combination of pantomime and farce, played out to an audience of unruly residents, cramped into a tiny public gallery, overlooking the council chamber, separated from their superiors by a safety glass wall, for fear, one imagines, of projectiles, or being spat upon - or at least close contact with the electorate they so despise.

So many residents turned up last night the council was obliged to open up an overspill room, which itself overflowed- hundreds of people, many of them parents at Moss Hall, one of the nurseries affected by the cuts. 

Hidden away at the end of the same corridor, as one of Mrs Angry's spies noted, was an emergency bunker for our paranoid elected members, should the apocalypse dawn, and their ungrateful residents do what they could hardly be blamed for, jump over the glass wall, and take over the council.


Outside the building two police vans waited, in case of trouble, and inside extra security officers prowled the corridors, and monitored events in the public gallery, peering anxiously through the glass in the doors, and once or twice coming in to stand, rather pointlessly, arms folded, when the yelling was loudest. And there was a lot of yelling. And not all of it from Mrs Angry.

The proceedings were filmed by an Occupy London activist, and streamed live on Bambuser, and also filming was a documentary film maker who works for the BBC. Barnet, once again, is in the news, and once again, all because of the political lunacy that prevails in the administration nominally run by our council's Tory party. Nominally, of course, because this is now the London Borough of Capita, and subject to the rule of private enterprise, and senior officers, rather than our elected representatives. It's just that, as yet, only a few Tories have cottoned on to this; and one of them, as we will see, was the cause of a major humiliation for his own party, later on in the proceedings.

Hugh Rayner is of course the perfect Mayor of Capitaville, bringing, as he does, the exact level of dignity in office that you would imagine might be appropriate to such a role. 

He opened the proceedings, and asked his chaplain to say a few words. The Pastor obliged, and asked the Almighty to bestow upon the meeting 'the peace which surpasses all understanding', as well as the gift of wisdom, and clarity of thought.

Oh dear. It would seem that God was not listening to our entreaties, and there was to be no peace, understood or not, precious little wisdom, and on the Tory side of the chamber, at least, as usual, no detectable sign of any clear thinking.

No Full Council meeting can begin in this borough without tributes to someone who has escaped the boundaries of life in Barnet into a better one, possibly via the newly expanded services at the Hendon Easycrem facility, and almost certainly marked with a funeral or memorial service attended by the former Tory member Brian Coleman, who seems to spend all his time at such events, or tweeting remarks for or against the obituaries of the great and good, that exclusive club to which he will never belong. 


These tributes serve to prolong the nuisance of having to get on with council business, and also compels members of the public to be upstanding, and bow their heads, in the way our Tory members wish we would do as a natural course of action, in their presence. 

This time we were told of the sad passing of sometime Barnet Tory MP Sydney Chapman, whose service to the area was marked by the naming of a road in Hadley Green, Sydney Chapman Way, regularly altered by local dissenters  to ' Sydney Chapman, No Way'. 

Veteran Tory and former MP John Marshall stood to speak about Chapman. He liked trees, we heard, and planted 26 million of them. Not all in his own garden, one imagines. He was very welcoming to young new MPs, and keen to 'show them the ropes'. He showed them where the bars were. It wasn't clear what else he did, especially for his constituency, but he seems to have been well liked, an old school Tory, and, as Labour's Kath McGuirk pointed out, unlike the rest of his Conservative colleagues on Barnet Council, he was a staunch supporter of the ArtsDepot, and indeed, the arts. Across the chamber, our culture averse Tory members looked on, indifferently, creatures from another time and place.

No way, now to avoid the inevitable. Time to tackle the first of the incendiary items now gingerly lifted out of the box, and laid before members. Tory councillor Reuben Thompstone stood by, matches in hand, and then - whoosh. 

Nurseries. What can you say, to justify cutting funding to early years provision? Well, of course you can't, and even if you could, the insufferable complacency of Reuben Thompstone should automatically bar him from trying. He justified taking the money away by saying to do otherwise would have an impact on children in 'deprived parts of the borough'. This was a novelty, of course, hearing an admission from a Barnet Tory that there are deprived parts of the borough, but shameless using this as a pretext to cover their ruthless budget slashing.

Labour's Rebecca Challice is a new councillor for East Barnet - one of the youngest councillors, if not the youngest councillor in the country  - and she is a real asset to the party: bright, charming, and tactful, and her background as a carer, and Chair of the local carers' centre gives her a maturity and sense of compassion that some of the younger Tory members would do well to emulate. 


Two of the nurseries under threat are in her ward - which fell to Labour in May, to the shock and dismay of the Tories who had previously held it and had not foreseen the loss - and she had formulated a sensible amendment to the Tory motion, asking for the decision to be deferred, and more thorough consultation undertaken. 

Rebecca had thoughtfully given up her right to speak, her maiden speech as a councillor, to her amendment,so as to allow the vice chair of governors of St Margaret's nursery to address the chamber, for three minutes. He did so now, a short but effective speech, remarking on the 100 year history of the school, the outstanding OFSTED reports, the lack of consultation over the cuts, the impact of the loss of key members of staff, the questions not addressed, the decisions made in haste - involve us, he asked. 

He received thunderous applause, which annoyed the Mayor, who complained about the length of it, as of course only token signs of approval and dissent may be expressed by members of the public, in the chamber of democratic debate, where our elected representatives speak on our behalves.

Time for Tory Brian Salinger to speak. Salinger, of course, is the Chair of Governors of Moss Hall, and had already spoken furiously against the proposals affecting his nursery at the meeting last week, from which Labour members had moved the issue, despite the disapproval of the Chair, Cllr Thompstone. He repeated his objections to the proposals, pointing out with great impatience that the problem was not, as his fellow Tory had insisted, a matter of subsidy, but due to the core funding of early years provision, which formula was, he barked NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE!

Salinger rubbished the idea of amalgamating Moss Hall with the three other nurseries, far away in East Barnet - how could they share staff? No one had seen a budget so they could not tell if it was financially viable, or not. Children, he observed,  did not get a second chance at their education - and he moved his own amendment to his own party's proposal. 


All very good, but one has to ask if he would have bothered taking this rebellious stand if the nurseries concerned did not include the one with which he is associated.

Labour's Anne Hutton thought the nursery proposals typical of the Tory attitude that so long as something saves money in the short term, that's alright.

Thompson's responses were bizarre. He observed, rather rudely, that some nurseries may be or fifty years old, or a hundred years old: some older than Cllr Salinger (ooh, get you) and said that to oppose the cuts would lead to an impact on less advantaged areas, like Burnt Oak, and Colindale. 

This was too much for Mrs Angry. She retorted, from her seat in the public gallery, that he had never worried before about these areas, or their disadvantaged residents. 

West Hendon! yelled Jasmin Parsons, one of the residents and activists from a housing estate and community about to be destroyed by the luxury new development by the Welsh Harp. 

Mapledown! yelled Mrs Angry.


Reuben Thompstone watched by fellow Golders Green member & environment chair Dean Cohen, who allocated the astronomical sum of £1.1 million to be spent on their ward's pavements & roads in the year before the election, while Labour wards went without - nearly half the money needed to 'save' all our libraries.

There now proceeded what can only be described as a laughably inept handling of the vote for the motion, and the amendments. No one knew what was going on, including the members of both parties, and those councillors who had submitted amendments. Yet again, there appeared to be no one in the chamber with a grip on procedure, and yes, our new interim, part-time, pre-used Monitoring Officer was present, as well as the Chief Executive, who sat there in his usual decorative role, as is the custom at these meetings, and is part of the onerous duties which earn him a larger salary than the Prime Minister. 

Despite the findings of the Lloyd-Jones report it seems that Barnet still has no one in place to oversee the management of governance and prevent these cock-ups: why not?

It was hard to follow the sequence of voting, but at the end of it, after a moment of disbelief, a wave of euphoria broke over the heads of the opposition: Rebecca's amendment had been carried, thanks to one Tory rebel - and that's all it takes now. For the first time in many years, Barnet Tories were defeated in a vote, and their scheming, shameless assault on nurseries in Labour wards thrown out - or at least sent back to the drawing board. 

A Tory rebellion: Brian Salinger votes with Labour

It was a moment of exquisite pleasure to observe the faces of the Tory leadership - and wonderful to see this moment of triumph won by a new Labour councillor, marking a change in the strength of opposition politics in Broken Barnet, and a huge psychological blow for the Tories.

The Moss Hall parents and protestors were jubilant,of course, and left the Town Hall in a state of noisy excitement, celebrating their successful campaign. Successful so far, of course - a word of warning to them that the Tories are unlikely to leave the matter there.

Next up: libraries. A more sober mood fell on the chamber. Labour's Anne Hutton responded to the pathetic Tory defence of their proposals, that is to say that these savings had to be made, and identified, and Labour had agreed to that principle and now they were 'playing party politics'. 

This was a theme throughout the evening, and to be frank, the tactic of accusing Labour of having agreed to all the Tories' nefarious plans is partly the opposition's fault, or at least the party's leaders. Until now the opposition has been too keen to engage in cooperative dialogue, seeing itself as (and please excuse the term) 'holding the ring' with the administration. Critics within and outside the party, however, see this as part of the problem in Barnet, the opposition institutionalised, and tricked into endorsing the Tory agenda. 

The new intake of Labour councillors will not be associated with such traditions, hence the new tough love policy of non cooperation with working groups, the tawdry kangaroo court of the leaders' panel, and so on. And the Tories, poised on a precipice with their majority of one, are panicking at the prospect of not being able to continue to dupe their trusting Labour colleagues into facilitating their ghastly regime.

Labour is not playing 'party politics' , said Anne Hutton - this is about caring for our libraries ... she gave some examples of how other London boroughs made provision for libraries, while facing the same economic challenges. Croydon has thirteen libraries, Camden twelve; Hillingdon has rebuilt and refurbished all its libraries. There must be an holistic approach to the library service, and we must take our time to consider the way to do this properly, including looking for alternative sources of funding that we can tap into, to make a library service fit for the 21st century.

Tory Reuben Thompstone said breezily that this was a consultation, this is just the beginning. 

Of the end, for you, thought Mrs Angry, with fond memories of the spectacular end of former library member Robert Rams' brilliant career, now evaporated, and leaving as much trace behind him as the invisible library he built, or didn't build, in North Finchley.  

The subject of libraries was put aside for a while as other items came up for debate: ah, the Lloyd Jones report. 

Barnet Council, said Labour leader Alison Moore, has been made a laughing stock by the failures identified in the report, bringing the council into disrepute. It was not, as the Tory leader has implied, a trivial issue, but had caused a total meltdown. Claer Lloyd-Jones' report was a damning indictment.

Tory leader Richard Cornelius said he thought Ms Lloyd-Jones' report was perfectly clear, Clearer than Alison Moore's speech. And that was that, of course. No harm done, motion lost. Back to business as usual. 

Question time now, put back in order to deal with the nursery issue earlier in the evening. Always good for a laugh, of course, and entirely pointless, and plenty of opportunity for the Tories to do that thing so reviled by Reuben Thompstone, playing party politics. Playing internal party politics, perhaps, was Tory Brian Salinger, who asked some awkward questions - real questions, rather than the can the leader confirm how wonderful we are variety usually posed by Tories. Hmm, thought Mrs Angry. Is Brian Salinger warming up to a leadership challenge? He has been leader before, of course, and was deposed in favour of Mike Freer, in a plot engineered by Brian Coleman. He has never quite got over it, and certainly that would liven things up a bit, wouldn't it? 

Almost lost amongst the variety of questions was one from Labour's Councillor Charlie O'McCauley, from Burnt Oak, and who wanted to know what the borough did to celebrate Black History Month, an issue of personal significance to him, and countless other residents, of course. The Leader dutifully replied that there had been a number of events and activities held in - oh, held in Barnet's libraries ... wonder if they will be taking place in this borough, ever again, once those libraries have been shut, flogged off, or shrunk in size by 93%?

Charlie referred to the role that a former resident of the borough has played in the abolition of slavery, that is to say William Wilberforce, who lived in Mill Hill, and - as you would know, readers, if you came to Mrs Angry's sell out talk for Finchley Literary Festival on Dickens and the borough -  built the church on the Ridgeway, after falling out with the Rector of Hendon, who was a vicious, profligate snob, and came from a long line of plantation owners in Jamaica). 

The Tory leader smiled and boasted of course he knew that, and William Wilberforce, he declared, was a good Tory.

Erm: no, he wasn't, as John Marshall, the only Barnet Tory who has ever read a history book -no, ever read a book -informed him, on the quiet. 

Of course Wilberforce was a man who followed his own conscience, and judged each issue on its own merit, an idea beyond the comprehension of a Barnet Tory councillor.

Right winger and unapologetically politically incorrect Brian Gordon, whose contribution to Black History Month this year, or any year, is unknown, but once 'blacked up' in fancy dress as a form of entertainment at an old folks party, in a 'tribute' to Nelson Mandela, had a very important question: on the subject of the Edgware Smell.

This 'appalling stench' is apparently from a composting plant out of the borough, and nothing to do with our Tory run council. The malodorous air in the council chamber of Broken Barnet, on the other hand, most certainly is.

More important than any other questions were two posed by Labour's Paul Edwards, on the subject of payments to Capita. More important, in the end, than anything else that was discussed that night, or all year, because the truth that lies beneath this question and answer, whatever it is, puts into perspective all the cuts and closures and loss of services and job losses, sold to us on the basis of the need for 'savings'.

Q14. 

Would the Leader confirm how much the council has paid to Capita to date under the CSG and Re contracts, whether this is in line with the payments profile for both contracts, and if not, how much does it vary by for each contract?

Written answer:

Under the CSG and Re contracts, the council has paid £47.6m (CSG) and £16.1m (Re) by the end of September 2014. These payments are in line with the published payments schedule. The CSG and Re contracts will provide a financial benefit to the Council of £165m through savings and income over 10 years. CSG services now cost £6m less per year.

This answer of course regurgitates the official version that the Tories, senior officers, consultants and Capita stick to, whatever challenge is made to their calculations and projections. The figures are nonsense, because they only tell you part of the overall spread of payments and 'savings', and the 'landscape', as our officers would put it, is never a constant view, but changes with the passing of the season, and out fo the corner of the eye. And this response tells us nothing in terms of hard facts: in line? Prove it. Give us the figures. Which of course we cannot access as the costing that the contract was based on was 'commercially sensitive', and therefore redacted from publication or disclosure. 

Have those costs been hiked up, do you think? 

Are we paying more than we are saving?

What about the 'gainshare' payments that we have to hand over to Capita, if they say they are saving a certain amount of money and are therefore entitled to an extra fee: are we scrutinising the claims and challenging the figures?

Councillor Edwards' supplementary question asked:


Would the leader confirm that the figure of £63.7m given in his answer does not include the £14.8m paid in 1 July 2013 for and quote “interim measure to provide critical services”? Nor does it include the £16.1m paid to Capita as part of the CSG contract for IT and back office infrastructure, whatever that might mean.



So in fact the LBB has actually paid over £94.6m to Capita since the Council outsourced services to this company, £31m more than in your written answer. Would the leader kindly explain this difference?


Was there an intelligible answer? What do you think? 

Mrs Angry was watching the Chief Executive, during this part of the Q&A. He seemed curiously ill at ease - or ill humoured.

Later on in the session Cllr Edwards asked another question about Capita:

Q44


On the 8th October the Telegraph’s ‘Questor’ reported that: “INVESTORS have been ignoring the warning signs at outsourcing group Capita [LON:CPI (Other OTC: CPICQ - news) ] as they chase returns and growth. Capita’s return on capital has slumped. Last year the company saw pre-tax profits fall by a total of £260m, with £146.7m related to losses on disposing and closing businesses. The overall conclusion and advice it has given to Capita shareholders is to SELL! In the context of Capita’s falling pretax profits and its slump in return on capital, and the advice to Capita shareholders to sell, would the Leader like to explain what risks he believes there maybe that Capita may not be able to deliver on its ten year contractual obligations to Barnet Council?

Typically absurd answer by the Leader:

Many Labour Members complained at Capita’s past profitability, so should now be pleased that contracts must now be less lucrative for them. I am confident they will continue to deliver improved services for us.

The Tory leader's confidence, of course, is boundless, especially, as we shall see later, in his own abilities, even when all evidence to the contrary is laid out before the world in the pages of the Lloyd-Jones report. In regard to Capita, however, as Cllr Edwards pointed out, his confidence was not widely shared, including, it seems, amongst his own Tory group. He then proceeded to quote a tweet from Ocotber 30th by the globe trotting young councillor Danny Seal in which he complains about the awful IT service for councillors by 'Crapita'.

Watch this clip: it's rather amusing ...

       

Oh dear. 

In his supplementary question Paul asks again about the famous £16.1 million of capital investment that you may recall Mrs Angry kicking up a stink about, when it transpired that the so called 'upfront investment' we had been categorically told, over and over again, was the reason we needed to outsource in the first place, was in fact going to be paid for not by Capita, but by us to THEM, in the form of an interest free loan! 

Will we ever get a sight of the real state of the balance sheet? Not if any of the interested parties can help it, you may be sure.

QT over, another issue Mrs Angry has been writing about for some time now: the disgraceful actions of the council over the Edwardian park keeper's lodge in Victoria Park, whose tenants were evicted some years ago, since when the property has stood empty as our sweaty palmed Tory councillors found, to their dismay, that they cannot sell off the building and keep the dosh, as there are covenants that restrict the sell off of the house, and mean that any profit must be used for the benefit of the park. 

We must keep a sharp eye on that, mustn't we, because of course, at this meeting, despite a brave speech by local Labour councillor Jim Tierney, who reminded us of the 114 year history of the lodge, to no avail, as of course they agreed to approve the sale of the property, as heritage, in Broken Barnet, built or otherwise, is only an asset to be disposed of, not protected.

Back to libraries.

Anne Hutton repeated her plea for a consideration of alternative forms of funding, such as Arts Council England, and the holistic approach to service provision, rather than a hatchet job. Falling on deaf ears, of course.

Deputy Tory leader Dan Thomas burbled on about Totteridge Library, for some reason (the library closure that propelled the Tory leader into his glorious political career, because obviously it was in his back yard, and clearly the back yards of everyone else matter not at all.  

Then he said, ooh, look over there, Labour run Brent ... they closed libraries, you know - and was heckled by the public gallery, so he turned to the Labour group in Barnet, and accused them of not telling the Tories how else they can find the money they say they need, which they don't need at all, and why do they need help to run the council anyway, but he ended by rabbiting on about 'fairness', and 'real budgets, not fantasy'.

Behind Mrs Angry in the public gallery some familiar faces began to chant a warning:

OCCUPY THE LIBRARIES! OCCUPY THE LIBRARIES! OCCUPY THE LIBRARIES!

Who could blame them? In Broken Barnet, direct action seems like the only real option to many people, disillusioned by the lunatic Tory administration, and what has been, up til now, a passive opposition.  

Up til now, comrades. Keep the faith.

Time for the sole surviving Libdem councillor, Jack Cohen, to speak. As usual his was the voice of reason.

The library consultation was a sham, he said.

They have been trying to close the library in his ward of Childs Hill for forty years. But how funny that they should be trying again now, after gaining two Tory councillors in the ward.

And how shortsighted that was. As Reuben Thompstone sat below him, smiling complacently, Jack reminded everyone that the Brent Cross development meant there would be thousands of new residents in the area - and no library. What were they doing with the Section 106 money, if not for this sort of thing?

Time for Labour's Ammar Naqvi to speak, another maiden speech. He made an eloquent, elegant speech about the role libraries had played in his life, helping him become the person he is today. A library, he said, isn't simply a building with books in it. It is a welcoming, community space, where people can come together and grow. A library is a vehicle for social mobility, he observed, a pathway for personal development ... yes, thought Mrs Angry, and you might expect a real Tory, who really believes in aspiration, and helping people to work their way out of poverty, and a life limited by disadvantage, to support that ideal, and do everything they can to protect such a vital resource for self improvement.

But not, Mrs Angry,  in Broken Barnet, where even what passes for Conservative principles must come second to the dominance of the market place, and the price of everything as a commodity, and not an intrinsic, immeasurable value.

Anne Hutton told us an interesting anecdote now: from when the Tories had persuaded Labour to take part in their off the record 'working groups'. A certain Tory councillor, commenting on the proposals to 'shut a few libraries' shrugged and commented coolly that, so what, all that would happen was some residents would 'squeak a bit'.


The only sort of library volunteers approved by Mrs Angry: former occupiers of the People's Library

Well, the Tories voted through the library report, of course. PHILISTINES, yelled a furious man in the public gallery. He is absolutely right, of course.

Remember this, citizens, when the first by-election comes along, or even the general election. Barnet Tories want to kill your library service, and all the councillors voted for these proposals to go forward. 

Yes, there will be a nominal consultation. 

You will be asked to make a choice that does not exist, but suits their predetermined agenda. 

You will not be asked if you accept the basic premise that any cuts are necessary. 

It is up to you, if you object to what they are planning, to make your voice known, and take action, now to save your local library. They can find the money, if they want to.

Ask Councillor Cohen where he found the money to spend nearly half of the money they say they need on his own ward's pavements, in the months before the local elections.

Ask the Mayor why so  much money was spent on his ward of Hale, in the same period, on pavements, and roads, and on all the other Tory wards. 

Ask the Chief Executive why we spend so much money on private consultants, and hand over so much of taxpayers' hard earned cash to Capita, when they are supposed to be saving us money. 

On to another subject: a very serious and sensitive subject, and an issue championed by another new Labour councillor, Reema Patel, who has challenged new plans by our Tory members to oblige the victims of domestic violence to declare themselves homeless, before being rehoused. An amendment has now been won, thanks to her sterling efforts, but housing spokesman Tom Davey clearly was not pleased by her campaign. 

Davey is perhaps the most politically extreme of all the Tory councillors, despite, or rather because of, his youth, someone who revels in making controversial and provocative comments, such as expressing the desire to see Barnet exclusively populated by the 'well off', and making disparaging remarks about those who rely on council services.

Speaking now, and denigrating Reema's campaign, he chose to talk in a low, cold, and quiet voice, a contrast to his usual rentagob grandstanding, but just as calculated, clearly meant to sound calm and reasonable, but having the effect of sounding rather patronising - and worse, which in the context of the subject under discussion, was unfortunate. 


Even more unfortunate is the fact that only five years ago, Davey thought it was amusing to joke about violence against women, as revealed here in Political Scrapbook, earlier this year. 



Smacking my bitch up? Just a joke.

Reema, who is an extremely bright lawyer, activist and speaker, despite her profound hearing difficulties, is clearly deeply emotionally invested in the issue she had worked so hard to resolve. She spoke now about the terrible challenges faced by women affected by domestic abuse, whether in terms of physical violence, or, as might also be the case, a partner's controlling behaviour, such as - restricting access to a bank account. It takes immense courage, she said, for a victim to summon up the courage to leave, and here was a moment of opportunity - why wait until physical abuse had occurred to do something? 

After the condescension of the housing spokesman, we were treated to the tetchy response from another man, David Longstaff, telling us how grateful we should be for Barnet Tory policy on this subject.

Labour's Kath McGuirk was pretty furious, and remarked that the victims of domestic violence in this borough had been made to pay the price of a shortage of housing.

The People's Mayor, Mr Shepherd, had his own contribution to make, of course, and remarked that in his possibly politically incorrect view, the Tories who were pontificating on the subject of violence against women might be sorted out by a good handbagging from Mrs Thatcher. 

Trouble is, thought Mrs Angry, they would have enjoyed it too much. Anyway, they would only have been asking for it, wouldn't they? There's a joke for you, Councillor Davey. 

The evening had been long, and still continued: time now for the bit they wanted to put off to the very end, the Extraordinary meeting, to discuss a vote of no confidence in the Tory leader.

Back again to Alison Moore, and Barnet being A Laughing Stock, and in a State of Chaos, and brought into disrepute, and incurring Avoidable Public Criticism.

As she spoke, Chief Executive Andrew 'Blackhole' Travers, slumped back in his seat and looked rather cross. Perhaps he prefers Unavoidable Public Criticism. But of course he is only the Head of Paid Service, and yes, earning more money than David Cameron - (remember when he was just another interim consultant, earning £1,000 a day?) - so nothing that goes wrong can possibly be his fault, as his duties consist only of sitting at his desk, counting paperclips, and throwing darts at pictures of Mrs Angry.

Oh dear, More tactless remarks, from Alison Moore. Incompetence, on a grand scale. And (I'm cutting this short here, as I'm sure you get the general picture, and we were all knackered by now) No Confidence in the Leader. Or the Deputy Leader. So there.

The Tory Leader stood up, full of Confidence in the Leader. Brimming over with it, in fact. He thought the Leader was marvellous.  He did graciously agree, however, from his position of absolute innocence, to apologise on behalf of those who were responsible.

Who? yelled Mrs Angry. Who? Make them stand up, and say sorry


He said then, apropos of nothing, that he had had a letter from Hilary Benn,  and that we should all 'wake up'. Erm. And anyway, as he had noted the local press had been keen to report,  he was going to vote for himself.

You're in Private Eye, as well, Cllr Cornelius, Mrs Angry pointed out, helpfully. 

Here, in case you haven't seen it, Richard:


Jack Cohen remarked that, as the saying goes, a man who can smile when things are going wrong has thought of someone else to blame. 

Cornelius always smiles, of course, even as the knife is under the cloke.

Paul Edwards suggested the council was being run by boy racers, who crash the car, but emerge unscathed: another apt analogy. 

Deputy leader Dan Thomas thought Labour were playing 'cynical political games' (if only) and that we should stop concentrating on the negative 

Accen-tuate the pos-itive, agreed Mrs Angry. El-im-in-ate the negative.

Cornelius won the vote, of course, albeit by the help of his own vote, and nominally at least,retains the full confidence of his group, just as the chief executive retains the confidence of the Leader. 

But, as a comment written and underlined in Mrs Angry's scrawled notes from the meeting suggest - the Tories are losing their grip.  

They lost a vote tonight, with one member bailing out. It only takes another disaffected Tory, or one who is absent by accident, design, illness or lateness, for them to lose another, and then: they are only one by election away from losing control of the council. 

They have launched into another deeply unpopular set of proposals, and if they continue with the library cuts, or continue with cuts in nursery provision, they will lose bucketloads of Tory voters. This will affect not only their position, but the chances of local Tory MPs trying to get elected in May. 

Oh dear. Never mind, Tory councillors of Broken Barnet. 

You might be up  a Laughing Stock, and incurring Avoidable Public Criticism, and, let's be brutally honest, stranded way, way up Shit Creek, without a paddle, but still ... never underestimate the power of positive thinking.