Monday, 2 March 2015

True Blue, or a Whiter Shade of Pale? Barnet's Tory MPs, fading fast, and panicking over library cuts

Here is a curious thing.

Look very carefully at these pictures of our three local Tory MPs ... and then tell Mrs Angry what colour you see:

 Chipping Barnet MP, Theresa Villiers

Finchley & Golders Green MP, Mike Freer

And the other one, Hendon's Matthew Offord. DR Matthew Offord.

Now then: most people will immediately see the colour blue

Go on, have another look, just to be sure ...

Yes: dark blue, accompanied by all the Barnet Tory trimmings you might expect, you know: a breathless endorsement of every last stupid thing their colleagues on the council might say or do, a refusal to criticise any aspect of council policy; a tacit agreement to avoid involvement in any local campaign of objection to any aspect of council policy - a strategy of doing nothing controversial, in other words, for five years, keeping your head down, and hoping this is enough to get yourself re-elected, safely returned to a very cushy job lounging about in the palace of Westminster, with a very nice salary, opportunities to tour the world on 'fact finding' trips, and all the world at your disposal.

But now look again ... still blue, but, hang on ... is it the light, or ... are our elected representatives beginning to look a little paler? Almost, if you look more closely, whiter than white, with an unexpected golden hue, around the edges ...


Hmm. Thing is, you see, although a strategy of doing and saying not very much by our Tory MPs might be enough to achieve re-election, in happier times, when there is a natural disposal to get rid of a long term Labour government, or the economy is doing well, and there is not in power a coalition government imposing an agenda of such remorseless, punitive assaults on the rights and well being of the less advantaged members of our society, and selling off our beloved NHS - oh dear: that is not where we are now, is it?

And here in Broken Barnet, after five years and more of the idiotic exploits of a maverick, delusional Tory council, seemingly set on a course of alienating its own natural electoral base, with hugely unpopular policies, the wholescale sell off of our public services to Capita, the catastrophic parking regime - we are now presented with the lunatic proposals to destroy our library service.

As Mrs Angry, with her usual delphic prescience, and a certain amount of schadenfreude, predicted long ago, this last brilliant idea by our emptyheaded Tory councillors, is without question the one most guaranteed to turn even the most moderately minded, apolitical resident of Barnet into an armed combatant, a freedom fighting suburbanista, determined on electoral revenge, on May 7th. Why? 

Because, as we have said before, and let us say it again: you can close as many children's centres, support services, nurseries, as you like, in this borough; cut as many jobs as you please, and the silent majority of conservatively inclined voters will remain, well: silent, if somewhat perturbed, and possibly even mildly disgusted.

But there is one rule, in Broken Barnet, that must be obeyed: or rather, the first rule, and the second rule of Broken Barnet.

1. Do not mess with libraries.
2. Do not mess with libraries.

A couple of years ago, our Barnet Tories messed with libraries.

They tried to shut down Friern Barnet Library.

They failed.

Friern Barnet Library was taken over by Occupy activists, given back to local residents and campaigners, and re-opened by the community, for the community, in a breathtaking victory for real localism in action, direct action. The outcome was that the Tory council, under the nominal leadership of Richard Cornelius, was forced into a humiliating defeat, and the plans to grab the building, and flog it off for development, were trounced, good and proper.  

But let us be clear and honest about that outcome: a humiliation for the Tories, and hugely damaging to any remaining credibility as an administration, but what remains, although a popular community centre, is not a public library, but a venture staffed by volunteers, with no link to the borough's service, and such as it is, its future is uncertain.

Worse still: out of the jaws of defeat the Tories have grabbed what they hoped would be a greater victory, in the long term. And that is the destruction, or at best the emasculation, of the borough's wonderful library service: one that has always been recognised as one of the best in the country, even in terms of value for money - at least until the present Tory administration took over, and set about running it down, and culling the professional staff.

The takeover of Friern Barnet library by volunteers - and the handover of the library in a shop Hampstead Garden Suburb branch, in response to the whinging of the local,hugely affluent voters and highly influential local residents association: these examples have served as inspiration for the scheming, philistine Tory councillors who see libraries only as a liability: a portfolio of potential lucrative property developments. Hence the current plans to close libraries, cut opening hours, cut staff - and even, most ludicrous of all, to shrink them in size by 93%, and - God help us - have 'open' libraries run with no staff at all.

Culture averse as they are, and never having read a book in their lives, let alone used a public library, the Tory members of Barnet Council failed to foresee the outrage this set of proposals would generate, and made a gross miscalcuation, in the process.

They failed to understand the totemic significance that the public library system has in this country, and in this highly literate, articulate, and well educated borough.

They did not grasp the interesting truth about this issue: that even residents who do not use their local branch libraries, who are wealthy enough to buy their own books from Waterstones, or Amazon, or read on a kindle, or maybe not at all,  want them to be there, know that libraries are needed by the community. 

It is the same philanthropic feeling which is expressed in the widespread unease over the effects of policies like bedroom tax, or the withdrawal of legal aid for others less advantaged than you, which still disturbs that very British sense of fair play, and justice. 

And there is something undeniably British about the very idea of a public library: in the inclination to a staunch defence of a resource for those in need of free access to education, and information.

Outrage, at the thought of the destruction of our library service was the inevitable, immediate reaction to the announcement of these terrible proposals - and to the farcical 'nonsultation' which ensued, a loaded survey which the newly formed library campaign warned residents to answer very carefully, as it was clearly designed, as most Barnet consultation is, to provide data supporting their nefarious proposals.

And the impact of this was soon expressed, not only in the brilliantly resourceful borough wide campaign to save the libraries, but in a massive avalanche of furious responses from residents, expressing their horror to local councillors - ah, and of course to their MPs.

Library 'invasion' East Finchley

Our three local Tory MPs are a pretty complacent bunch: or at least they have been, until the reality of the pending general election has hit them, full on.

Matthew Offord, of course, lives in a world of his own, caught in its own mysterious cycle of orbit, in a surreal, parallel universe, where the fate of elderly cod,and turtles in tax havens, and narco terrorists sailing across the blue waters off the coast of Belize are so much more interesting than the tedious problems of, for example, the tenants facing eviction and the demolition of their homes, in West Hendon. Mr - DR, DR, Mrs Angry, DR OFFORD, only became worried about West Hendon earlier this year, when he solved the problem by, erm - inviting some of the leaseholders to the House of Commons, to pose for photos and be assured that all would be well. All is still not well, in case you haven't been keeping up with that story.

Mike Freer has been, until now, similarly unruffled by the prospect of convincing a grateful electorate to carry him on their shoulders, singing his praises, back into the House of Commons. 

But what has he done, for the people of Finchley & Golders Green, over the last five years? What local issues has he pursued? Let's have a think.

Still thinking.

Worried about mansion tax. 

And squatting. 

In mansions, in Hampstead Garden Suburb.

Erm. Nope, nothing much else springs to mind. 

No help either from the two leaflets shoved through Mrs Angry's door in recent months: one was so short of local issues to boast about, it was obliged to fill up space with a sudoku puzzle, and the second was an ill judged piece of work, reminding everyone how well the economy was doing, and therefore, by implication, how much better off we all are. 

We are not all better off, though, Mr Freer, unless perhaps you live in a mansion in Hampstead Garden Suburb  .... 

Still, Mrs Angry's spies - including  A Local Councillor - have told her, with some amusement, in the latter case, that Mr Freer is now copying his Hendon colleague's tactics, and, in the absence of any local campaigning, inviting great tranches of his constituents to, yes: the House of Commons, where they will have a tour, and an audience with the great man himself, before he loses his seat, which is a nice memory to treasure, isn't it?

For some unaccountable reason, Mrs Angry, who is a constituent, of course, has yet to receive her invitation to the House of Commons, with her MP, but then again, his last encounter at Westminster with Mrs Angry didn't go awfully well, ending with the man breaking out in a cold sweat, and backing away with rather over enthusiastic haste - mind you, he wasn't the only one to do so, on that visit, as Mrs Angry recalls. Such is her effect on most men, Tory MPs or otherwise, sadly, in and out of Westminster.

Theresa Villiers, of course, as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, is awfully important, and terribly busy these days, and barely has time to show her face at the recommended number of local events, up in Chipping Barnet, once the stronghold of Tory dominance in this borough: the nest of Barnet Conservatism - or was, until the nest took a tumble, with the downfall of Brian Coleman serving as an awful warning of things to come. 

Goodbye, then, to the heady whirl of fundraising candlelit suppers and strawberry teas of High Society in High Barnet - an era past, now, with rapidly declining Tory membership, and a change in the demographics of the constituency to an electorate less likely to want to maintain the status quo. 

Revolution in Chipping Barnet is unlikely to happen any time soon: but Villiers' majority is quite likely to take something of a bashing, as it seems she now realises. In fact Mrs Angry is reliably informed that Ms Villiers is in something of an unprecedented state of dismay at the state of things, in the run  up to May.

In Hendon, Matthew Offord is being challenged for the seat by the previous MP, Andrew Dismore. Dismore only lost last time by a slender margin, 100 or so votes, even at a time of national swing against the by then unpopular Labour government. The reason it was so close was that Andrew Dismore, as even his enemies will admit, is a shrewd and hard working constituency MP. He will return, in May, and Dr Offord  ... will be a sad loss, won't he?

In Finchley Freer is facing a real battle, with an outstandingly good Labour opponent, Sarah Sackman, a candidate who grew up in the borough, a barrister who is extremely bright, articulate - and whose intellectual grasp is matched by a genuine passion for social justice.

Sarah Sackman, in short, is everything that Freer is not, and, unlike him, has worked hard to involve herself in controversial local issues, exemplified by the advocacy she has extended to causes such as the families from Mapledown, a school for children with severe disabilities, whose respite care funding was slashed by our Tory councillors as soon as they had announced the 'gesture' of a council tax cut, just before the local elections last year. You might wonder why our local MPs failed to speak up on behalf of these children, or any of the many issues which have so galvanised the political debate here in Broken Barnet: whatever the answer to that conundrum, they are paying the price now.

Labour has Hendon and Finchley firmly in sight, but has of course followed the mistake committed by the local party leadership and campaign last year, in yet again overlooking the potential for Labour votes in the Chipping area. 

Before the local elections, Mrs Angry pointed out that the Libdem sellout and other local factors were likely to see some significant Tory losses, and Labour gains in Chipping wards, and of course Mrs Angry is always right, about everything, and that is exactly what happened. One particularly satisfying departure was Robert Rams, in East Barnet, very largely due to his disastrous handling of ... the library fiasco.

So here we are at the general election, and the Tories have learned no lessons as the previous library cockup has been followed by proposals to destroy the whole service, and in Chipping Barnet - as well as the two other constituencies - this is having a serious impact on what Theresa Villiers has come to regard as a safe Conservative seat. 

At the last election in 2010, Villiers had 24,700 votes. The Labour candidate had 12,773. Seems an impossible margin, perhaps, until you consider that the Libdem candidate had a whopping 10,202.

The Fibdems are unlikely to retain anything like that, of course. Other parties? Meh. 

Green - move on. 

Ukip? Bound to get some votes, but probably taking them from the Tories. 

Add the Libdem vote with an increase in Labour vote due to national issues, and more still due to the changing demographics in the constituency, and measure that against the unpopularity of the current government, and the failure of any attempts to convince even Tory voters that the politics of austerity and an agenda of socially punitive 'reforms' is making their lives any better - and you can see why Ms Villiers might be, as reported to Mrs Angry this weekend, not a little concerned about her own position. 

The Labour candidate in Chipping Barnet is a local councillor, Amy Trevethan, another very bright young woman, who has not had the benefit of party support and funding given to the other two constituencies, but should not be as easily dismissed as some would have you believe. 

And put into the frame now the library issue: see how our Tory MPs have turned from a strategy of silence, and, apeing the tactics of Tory councillors getting it in the neck from furious residents, whispering quiet reassurance to individual constituents that their local libraries will not be closed, to this week's sudden leap into very dangerous territory: actually expressing an opinion, in public, on a local matter, and thereby appearing almost to, well ... f*ck me ... not support the shabby library bashing plans of their Tory council colleagues.

Theresa Villiers started the trend, the beginning of last week, emboldened by dipping her toe into the shark infested waters of social media only the other week, being forced to make a statement on the scandalous Sweets Way evictions, on to the street, despite pleas by residents to local Tory politicians, apparently unheard.

Ms Villiers, of course, has survived her time as MP for ChippingBarnet by not doing or saying anything remotely controversial - some might say remotely interesting - throughout her term of office,  so this is a new departure for her. But her statement on libraries needs careful reading.

Support Our Libraries, trills our intrepid MP, although in fact her comments do anything but that - what she means is: please don't close my libraries .... and she favours 'elements' of Option One, outsourcing libraries, shrinking some of them in size, suggests we make savings by cutting staff, or even considering the truly idiotic 'open', unstaffed libraries. She completely fails to measure her own enthusiasm for such terrible proposals with what she herself identifies as the qualities so appreciated by her constituents: 

There is strong support for the libraries in my constituency. In my view, they provide invaluable educational and learning opportunities for people of all ages. They also make a helpful contribution to social mobility, for example by providing a quiet place for children and young people to study, even if their home life is disrupted. 

My understanding from the feedback my constituents have given me is that libraries are a popular resource for a very wide range of people from across our diverse borough, including our minority ethnic communities. Many older people place great importance not just on library services, but on the opportunity for social interaction a visit to the library can offer.
Ms Villiers has not quite grasped that all these features of the wonderful service our libraries offer to residents are provided by professional librarians and trained staff, already at minimum staffing levels, thanks to the cull instigated by Robert Rams, in the last round of assaults on Barnet Libraries.

As Chipping Labour's Amy Trevethan has observed to Mrs Angry:

"None of the 3 options in the Tories' 'consultation' are acceptable: each require closures or massive reductions in floor space- reductions which will presumably lead to closures in the future. In Chipping Barnet, Osidge, South Friern and East Barnet libraries  could be shrunk to 1/32nd of the size of Chipping Barnet library - or 1/10th of their current size.

"Some Tories seem to think the pain can be avoided - or at least concealed - by 'changes' to how our libraries are staffed. In other words, they are lining up library staff to take the hit. But how can the quality of services be preserved without adequate levels of staff? Will children still be able to access the libraries during unstaffed hours? And what about the safety of other vulnerable library users, and council property, when the premises are unstaffed? Presumably the 'self-service' model will entail an extra reliance on an outsourced IT system, but given the IT problems that have plagued the libraries' computers over the last year or so, how can we be sure this system will deliver?

Chipping candidate Amy Trevethan with fellow new Barnet Labour councillors

"The Council have the opportunity to modernise the service and ensure it is run by professional, trained librarian staff: a service fit for the 21st century and able to meet the educational and training needs of all our residents. Trained staff are a vital part of this picture - rather than get rid of them, the Council could be making savings on its massive spend on agency staff and consultants (roughly £17m per year). 

The Council claim they want to save £2.85m on the libraries, yet in just 16 months they have willingly poured £110m into Capita's coffers for the CSG and Re contracts. This is £70m over the agreed price for those contracts. At present trends, £1bn of the Council's money will have been given to Capita by 2025. Why the urgency to scrimp £3m on such a valued part of our local educational infrastructure when many millions more are being thrown at a FTSE 100 company? That's the bigger picture and it points to a deeply unhealthy set of priorities in the Tory administration."

Theresa Villiers' apparent sudden conversion to the joy of libraries was also queried in a letter to the Barnet Press by another Theresa, Mrs Angry's imaginary alter ego:

Villiers' statement was duly followed, almost as if it had been coordinated, by pronouncements by her two colleagues, Freer and Offord. That's DR Offord, to you, Mrs Angry. 

Offord tagged along after Villiers and Mike Freer, apparently keen for us to remember a. he exists and b. he is "someone to whom books mean a great deal", and someone desperate to be re-elected so please don't shut any of the libraries in his constituency either.

Of course our three MPs are being very careful in what they say, ie not saying hands off and leave them as they are, thank you very much. Post election, if still in office, will they sanction a new service which keeps libraries in place in name only, with no staff, fewer opening hours, and shrunk in size? I think it is a safe bet, don't you?

Andrew Dismore and his fellow Labour parliamentary candidates raised the issue of libraries at the end of last year, in this letter, and asked:

Will Barnet’s Conservative MPs join us in campaigning against these cuts to such vital and valued local public services, given that their votes in Parliament have taken the axe to local government funding?

In January, Offord was sweating enough to agree to an unprecedented appearance at a meeting in  Mill Hill to debate the library issue, and promptly tried to have Mrs Angry thrown off the panel when he arrived and realised she was on it as well as Andrew Dismore ...

At this event Offord again avoided making any direct opposition to the real impact of the plans, or criticise the consultation process, but chose to waffle on about a couple of books he read, whilst claiming, as a reason to 'modernise' the service that people don't read books like they used to... Other people, you understand, not DR Offord, who is a gentleman, and a scholar.

Been a long time coming, then, hasn't it, this new found zeal by our MPs, for 'supporting' libraries - or rather looking for the least worst of the Tory options for cuts?

In the Ham & High, for some reason, possibly because it caters more to the better class of voter in Finchley &Golders Green, rather than the hoi poloi who read the local Times, Mike Freer is described, in the headline as joining Labour in 'slamming' the Tory library cuts plan. 

Hmm. Much as Mrs Angry enjoys the thought of her MP 'slamming' anything his Tory chums on Barnet Council ever do, have done, or propose to do, in the past, in the present or in the world to come, she thinks this is not an accurate description of his position. Interesting, and unprecedented, but the timing?

His apparent conversion to the joy of libraries is welcome, and indeed his anxiety over the consultation process, but rather a surprise, considering he, and indeed his two parliamentary colleagues, have kept quiet about the library plans throughout, erm, the entire length of the consultation process, and waited until it was safely over to raise any 'concerns'.

As the article states:

Mr Freer has been criticised by Sarah Sackman, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Finchley and Golders Green, for failing to speak publicly about the cuts until now and for not attending a public meeting about the threatened closure of Childs Hill Library. 

And as Sarah says in her blog:

We spoke out publicly against the proposals from the start. Proposals which would mean that in Finchley and Golders Green alone, libraries in Childs Hill, East Finchley and Golders Green would see staff cuts, reductions in space and closures. The community united against the Conservatives’ ill-thought out library policy. We collected petitions, ran street stalls and attended public meetings. We wouldn’t let up.

Then yesterday, after 3 months of near-silence and after the consultation had closed, your Conservative MP said what Labour has said from day one – that the consultation is flawed. Why? Because with a 10,000 signature-strong petition and public pressure mounting ahead of next week’s Extraordinary Council Meeting, it’s clear Mike Freer and his Conservative colleagues are panicking.

If the Tories in Barnet really think the consultation is flawed, do they support Labour’s motion to halt the cuts and go back to the drawing board?

On Tuesday there will be the next full council meeting, preceded by the 'extraordinary' meeting, at 7pm, called to consider a motion by Labour in regard to the library proposals, urging the Tory council to put aside the current plans and reconsider the plans which will cause such devastation, if approved. 

A protest will take place from 6pm onwards: if you care about your local library service, this might be the time to come and join other residents to show your opposition to the Tory proposals. 

And when it comes to 7th May, and the general election, you might like to think very carefully as to which candidates you really trust to fight, when it is right, and not when it suits them, for the issues which really concern the people of Broken Barnet.

Update Tuesday: 

Shadow Minister for the Arts, Chris Bryant, visited Golders Green Library this morning with Sarah Sackman, and spoke to local residents about the importance of libraries - as well as, of course, to meet People's Mayor, Mr Shepherd, who brought to his attention the glaring absence of the Morning Star from all Barnet libraries, except Burnt Oak branch, where the British Soviet Friendship Group used to meet, apparently. 

Mr Bryant was somewhat lost for words, but after a moment of further danger, when the conversation veered off to matters apertaining to the corporation of the City of London, always risky with Mr Shepherd, he managed to collect himself and put together a few interesting thoughts on the library issue - and to give his backing to Sarah.


Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Temporary People: is Barnet Broken, or 'terrific'? The failure of Barnet Tory housing policy - evidence to Labour's Housing Commission

Finding solutions? Giving evidence, anyway - Mr Reasonable and Mrs Angry at the Housing Commission

Last night saw the latest session of Barnet Labour's Housing Commission, chaired by Nicky Gavron, to which bloggers Mr Reasonable and Mrs Angry were invited to give evidence. Clearly at the last minute someone was panicking at the thought of giving us an opportunity to say exactly what we thought, in an open forum, and emails arrived urging us to focus not so much on the problems, as on finding solutions. 

Hmm. Mrs Angry was of the opinion that her evidence was just that: based on five years of observation of Barnet's performance in regard to housing policy, and that it was her duty to contribute on that basis, and persuade the Labour leadership to try a bit harder to get into power, so as to implement a change in policy, rather than witter on about hypothetical solutions.

We dutifully went along, to a freezing cold community centre in Grahame Park,a council estate soon to be regenerated and gerrymandered out of existence, courtesy of Tory housing policy.

Here is the full text of Mrs Angry's contribution: an illustrated version - cut short due to time restraint, and probably just as well.

It's now five years since I started writing about local issues in my blog,  ‘Broken Barnet’, and although in all the time since I have covered many other aspects of the political landscape in our borough, it was a housing matter which drove me to start writing it, related to the way in which Barnet was using the private sector to address its inability to provide social housing for those in need.

At the time, Barnet had the longest housing waiting list in the country. Instead of seeing this as an urgent reason to consider investment in new social or council housing, the then administration, headed by Mr Easycouncil himself, Mike Freer, preferred to use the private sector to exercise its duties to house homeless residents, and appeared to care little about the standard of accommodation in which these families would be placed.

Here we are, five years later, and Mr Mike Freer is – for a few weeks longer, anyway - MP for Finchley and Golders Green, and oh look: there he is, on the Sunday politics show, only a week ago, telling us that the housing list is now only – only – 3,000 or so, or just under, even, and that his Tory colleagues in Barnet are building an astonishing number of new homes, we’ve built 6,000 new homes in the last five years, he says.

There is no housing crisis in our borough, in other words, says Freer, who, as we should remember, was the leader of the council when the new agreement with Barratts to develop West Hendon was made, in 2008, the details of which agreement, in terms of the viability report, for example, are not in the public domain.

Mr Freer is not the only Tory politician to be blessed with a sense of boundless optimism about the provision of housing in this borough, of course.

Only last week, I had a disagreement on twitter with one of the new Tory councillors, Gabriel Rozenberg - yes, the son of Joshua, and Melanie Phillips - who was complaining that a letter he had sent to a local paper had not been published, objecting to an article which had quoted a local pressure group  claiming, ‘that we are heading towards a housing crisis’.

What nonsense, he said: Barnet Council is going to build 20,000 new homes over the next two decades. We’re ready for the challenge.

Some loudmouths, he continued, only want to do Barnet down. The thousands of people moving to Barnet, year after year, prove just how wrong they are.

Oh dear. This was too much for loudmouth Mrs Angry, who engaged Cllr Rozenberg in a debate via twitter about his interesting views:

Me: Seriously? Are you being naive, or totally cynical? Those new homes will not be for ordinary families, but for the most affluent.

He replied: err totes serious. You think Barnet’s ‘broken’. I think Barnet’s terrific. If it’s so awful why is it set to be #1 in London?

Me: That can only be because you have not experienced what it is like for the huge number of people living in real need in this borough.

There is no excuse for this, other than fear of facing reality. Step outside of Hampstead Garden Suburb, & visit West Hendon ...

or Strawberry Vale, or Dollis Valley - or Sweets Way, if anyone is left there after tomorrow's evictions. This is real life, not HGS

Cllr Rozenberg: Mrs A, please accept, there is light and shade here. Many ppl are moving to Barnet cos it’s a great place to live.

Me: Oh Gabriel, please: the poorest residents are being mercilessly turfed out to make way for the 'well off' - is that fair?

Reply: Once again: if it’s such a hellhole of a borough, why is it so popular? You keep changing the subject.

Me: Popular with whom? It is hell for those living in poverty: anywhere is, just as most places are fine if you are wealthy

And answer this: how is it morally justifiable to give private developers public land, and evict the people living there?

No reply.

West Hendon residents facing eviction: pics courtesy of the Mirror

My mistake was to introduce the concept of morality into the argument: always a difficult subject of discussion with Barnet Tories. 

To be fair to Cllr Rozenberg, he is, in my view, naive, rather than lacking in compassion, unlike some of his colleagues, and at least makes the effort to take part in some sort of discussion – unlike most of his colleagues.

Tory leader Richard Cornelius does not like to leave the safety of his comfort zone, the leafy avenues of Totteridge, but recently was obliged by the BBC One Show to make an unprecedented appearance in one of the less favoured areas of his borough, in West Hendon, in the estate which he has previously described as ‘grotty’, a community now being bulldozed out of existence to make way for the luxury private development by Barratts.

We now know that Barratts have been given the land for free, and are waiting for Barnet Council to ‘decant’ residents living there already, or compulsorily purchase their homes, at a price calculated by Capita valuers below the point at which they can take advantage of the supposed shared equity schemes which is their only way of achieving the new homes promised to them originally as part of what was once a genuine regeneration scheme.

Cornelius, in his interview, stood rather gingerly in the unfamiliar surroundings, dressed in his silk cravat, displaying his typically cheerful, if sometimes inappropriate, saturnine smile, talking his usual nonsense: denying the reality of the terrible circumstances facing the residents of West Hendon, and, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, claiming that:

“the owner occupiers are all getting shared equity and a new place”

“the secure tenants will all be housed on the estate as well”

“the temporary people will be accommodated locally”

The Tory leader seems to have forgotten that any perceived ‘grottiness’ is directly the result of his own failure as landlord to maintain the estate, nor does he seem to register the offence he might cause by describing people’s homes in this way.

This tells you a lot about the extent of disassociation he and his colleagues feel from the real impact of their policies: the disregard for people’s lives, other people’s lives, not ‘people like us’ – ‘temporary people’, who can be ‘decanted’: dehumanised.

Easy to have an easycouncil housing policy that deals with the destruction of a community, with the loss of homes, when you remove the human aspect of their stories, isn’t it? These people, temporary people.

And necessary to dehumanise the situation, when you are committed to an agenda of not just gerrymandering, replanting entire communities with more affluent residents, more likely to vote for you, under the pretext of ‘mixed communities’ – or when you are committed to an agenda of social engineering, an activity with which our Tory councillors are now dabbling, in their dilettante fashion.

Yet again, in the story of the Sweets Way evictions, we are seeing Barnet Tory housing policy in action, and at its most shameful: children, mothers, sick residents turned out of their homes, literally on to the street, with no real care for what becomes of them, just as long as they are removed so as to free up yet another estate for a private development.

I should say that by chance I met two of the residents who have now been evicted from their homes in Sweets Way. One was an elderly man with complex health problems, and who had had a heart attack as a result of the stress caused by the loss of his home. He was told to go and live in Hanwell. 

The other was the mother of two boys who was given only the option of a flat in Grahame Park, another temporary location on another so called regeneration estate: she showed me the pictures of the filthy, squalid flat she was expected to move into with her children, with dirt, damp, and broken windows.

Yet only this week we see again the Tory leader claiming:

Residents who were temporary tenants are being found new places to live in the area. This process has gone quite smoothly despite the misinformation and scarcity of empty flats ... 

Those who sell their homes will get a brand new flat to live in ...   

The solid achievement of building homes needs to be recognised and celebrated. The new mixed areas are so much better than the old isolated council estates.

Sweets Way evictions: the impact on families, and the reality that Tory leader Richard Cornelius prefers to ignore ...

Housing is a key policy for our neo Thatcherite, materialist councillors: moving on from the provision of affordable homes, or social housing, for those who need them to a principle of removing what they see as dependence on the state, on council services, an absence of ‘aspiration’ – a culture of failure. 

This is how housing policy in Tory Barnet has come to be a moral crusade, if morality can be used in this context: a value judgement, a measurement of material worth.

This is clearly reflected in almost every policy decision promoted by the current member for housing, ie Tom Davey: an individual who revels in controversy, and refuses to apologise for remarks such as wishing to see only the well off living in this borough, and hoping to see the penthouse flats of West Hendon filled with Russian oligarchs.

We are travelling back in time beyond the golden era so beloved of our local Tories, of Thatcherite values, to something approaching the judgemental politics of the poor laws introduced in the nineteenth century.
If you are not wealthy, if you are poor, you are almost certainly the undeserving poor, and must be punished, and corrected. The creation of new social housing will only encourage dependence and obstruct the development of self help.

Access then, will be restricted: priority of housing allocation given to those who can demonstrate ‘a positive contribution to the community’, and as we have seen in West Hendon, and now in Sweets Way, residents kept on long term non secure tenancies, some of them for a decade or more, so as to deprive them of the full protection of what should be their rights in law to a decent standard of secure housing.

Those lucky few who are awarded a council home now may only have it on a five year contract: the consequences on families of such flagrant disregard for the need for a home, and not just temporary housing, is simply of no interest to the Tory administration in Barnet.

Well: you can’t expect Tories to deliver a housing policy based on the principles of social justice, but we do expect the Labour party to do just that, and that is why we are here, giving evidence to this Commission.

What can Labour do?

It is easy to ask the question, and speculate, and formulate nice ideas about what we want, but the most important thing is to see commitment, and passion, and a real desire to make change, not just easy words, ill defined, and a message lost somewhere between a good intention and a real campaign of reform.

As Harold Wilson famously once remarked, The Labour party is a moral crusade, or it is nothing.  

I absolutely believe this to be true, and I fear that in this borough, the Labour opposition, or at least its leadership, has sometimes struggled to communicate a strong commitment to that principle, and has failed to engage with voters because of it.

More recently, however, I believe there is a real recognition from most Labour councillors for the need for change, and the move to try to address some of the urgent issues through this Housing Commission is commendable and I hope that as many people as possible will support it, and engage with it. It is easy to criticise, but the only way to improve all the terrible housing issues which are springing up around us is to stand up and do something about it.

Housing is an issue that is already, as we have seen, made subject to moral evaluation: now is the time to reclaim it from the patronage of the Tory approach, and give back control of the decisions which dictate the direction of policy to the people who are actually affected by it, to empower communities and enable them to protect their rights to housing, to remain as communities. A re-invention of localism, a rewiring of the concept, so that it actually works, rather than sits in a box under the stairs, unused, Eric.

At the last session of the Housing Commission that I attended, the new Labour leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council made a very interesting contribution with an explanation as to how he had, on taking office, looked in detail at some of the developments agreed by the previous Tory administration, and shaken those agreements until a load of loose change fell out of the back pockets: to the tune of £26 million, or thereabouts. He is reinvesting that money in housing.

Here in Barnet, we should be able to do the same. The Capita contracts, as Mr Reasonable will tell you, are a licence to print money – not for us, the taxpayers, but for the contractors. 

If we were to see a Labour administration take over, we might hope to see an immediate re-evaluation of the contracts, and a no nonsense demand for revision of the terms of the agreement, which would see more savings returned to the public purse, and rather less thrown in the lap of Capita. 

Then, perhaps, we could re-invest that money in housing projects that safeguard the needs of local residents, especially those in the greatest need. New build council housing, a real commitment to affordable housing to buy or rent: a change of culture, and the replacement of the cynical facilitation of private development by a new programme of housing provision aimed at preserving and supporting communities, not destroying them.

But that is unlikely to happen anytime soon, sadly. 

We missed the opportunity to take control of the council, despite the London wide trend of Labour wins. If there are any by elections - and Mrs Angry can exclusively reveal now that there is likely to be one, or maybe two, very soon, albeit in a very safe Tory ward - perhaps there will be another chance, but are we sure that there is the determination yet to challenge the contracts, and force change?

I’m not sure there is. We hear rumours that the Labour group is again going to support the Tory council tax freeze: if true, in my view such a move is utterly indefensible: no, reprehensible - and indicative of the need for fundamental change in the direction and leadership of the group in opposition on Barnet Council. Residents and voters need to see an opposition to the Tory administration, not one that endorses its agenda. 

But there is a more important battle to fight now: at the General Election. Ultimately, all housing provision can only take place within the definition and restrictions of central government funding, legislation and policy making: and the only way to make radical change that prioritises the housing needs of London’s residents is to elect a Labour government – and then a Labour Mayor. We have three outstandingly good Labour candidates here in Barnet: Sarah Sackman, Andrew Dismore, and Amy Trevethan.

When we go to vote in a few weeks’ time, we need to remember who was responsible for the mess we now find ourselves in: who instigated the so called regeneration projects that are driving people out of this borough, the easycouncil standards that have reduced everything to a question of profit before people, greed before need, or stood by and refused to act, when residents needed help?

If you don’t like what is happening now, in this borough, and you want something different, something better - then please: make sure your voice is heard in May.