In Broken Barnet, our council does not subscribe to a policy of granting easy access to the public in order to allow them to participate in the democratic process, and witness our Tory councillors betray their voters, and their own consciences, in council meetings.
Last night, for example, despite a huge crowd of people wanting to enter the Town Hall and sit in the public gallery of the council chamber, only a handful of fortunate citizens - and one persistant blogger - managed to gain entry. Oh, mustn't forget, once proceedings were under way, and all seats in the gallery were taken, the parents of a Tory councillor were allowed to come in and sit on the side, on the floor, blocking the way, underneath the fire evacuation notice. They seemed a perfectly nice couple, but as a member of the public pointed out -loudly - this was unfair to all those who had been waiting outside in the rain and were unable to get in.
A large lobby outside the Town Hall was kept away from the entrance by a ridiculous number of what looked like 12 year old community police officers, who seemed to be expecting a storming of the Winter Palace, rather than a well ordered demonstration by workers and residents objecting to cuts, frozen pay and job losses. Mrs Angry, using her super hero like powers of invisibility, simply slipped though the thick blue line and was fortunate enough to be rewarded with a seat in the public gallery.
The other occupants included a party of senior citizens who were there because they were concerned about threats to the Freedom pass, and sat prepared with sandwiches, watching the meeting as if it was a sporting event. Two of the elderly gentlemen behind me excelled themselves in expressions of well deserved derision towards the ranks of the Tory councillors. When the Mayor enters, you are commanded to stand, as if you might be in the presence of a sacred being, or royalty: the old boys snorted with laughter and carried on sitting. 'Why should we stand?' they yelled, munching away 'Why should we?' ...' Blimey, aint they got big heads'. Indeed.
The Mayor gave a nice little talk to the chamber and the gallery, telling the public that they could not take part in the proceedings and asking us patronsingly to 'leave the debate to us'. They know best, you see. That's why we pay them those allowances.
Rabbi Ginsbury, the Mayor's chaplain, uttered a long prayer, calling for harmony, sweetness and blessing, and asking that members would show humility and sincere repentance. Can't argue you with you there, Rabbi, but I think you may have been disappointed as the night's events unfurled.
So, let battle commence. On with the agenda.
Apologies: not really. In any sense. Declarations of interest. Ah. One vain, anonymous councillor had been worrying about declaring an interest when the Freedom Pass item was debated, as he/she felt that colleagues might not like to publicly admit their advanced age if they were eligible for the over 60 pass. Ah: bless. It was decided that perhaps the councillors should admit any elegibility, but this was done discreetly, and very swiftly, in a move which demonstrated the surprising agility of the more senior councillors. Not too quick for Mrs Angry to spot Lynne Hillan's arm moving ever so shyly in an upward direction, though! Of course much merriment was expressed at the thought of Brian Coleman, the patron saint of cabbies, not needing a bus pass in the near future. Laugh? Oh dear me, Brian, on a bus? With the great unwashed?
Question Time next, answers to questions written by councillors to other councillors. One item which was of interest was the Henley's Corner issue. This is an accident black spot on the North Circular which desperately needs action to prevent further loss of life, but for many, many years arguments between the local authority and other bodies, including now Transport for London, has prevented any solution from being implemented. In other words, political arguments have been allowed to obstruct and fatally defer any move towards the much needed improvements.
New Tory boy Councillor Daniel Seal made a silly speech, resorting to the usual Barnet Conservative default mode of blaming the wicked Labour government and/or Ken Livingstone for every evil deed in the history of mankind. Labour councillor Kathy Mc Gurk pointed out that Councillor Seal might like to do his homework in future before ranting on about things he evidently knows little about. She reminded him that there have been 200 accidents in this area in the last five years. She suggested that as cuts were currently being used as the latest excuse for not addressing the problem, Mayor Johnston might like to forego his beloved Routemaster scheme in order to pay for it. Councillor Seal sat sulking in his place for some time and later stood up suddenly, blurting out 'Well, I may be a new kid on the block, but bla bla bla wicked Labour bla bla '... Oh dear, Daniel, : tears before bedtime ...
In the new crop of Tory councillors, there are quite a few wet behind the ears young men who are keen to prove their credibility with the older members (and impress any parents watching in the public gallery) with their sixth form standard debating skills. Ranting like a 1980s Conservative minister seems to be the style of choice. Amusing though this is, it only serves to underline the immaturity and lack of experience of so many of the new Tory intake. Allied with the cynical self serving laziness of the older members, this has proved to be a fatal combination.
As regards Kathy Mc Gurk, Mrs Angry felt last night, not for the first time, that she should be given a more prominent role in the Labour group. No disrespect to Alison Moore, who is undoubtedly very bright and has a perfect understanding of the complexity of the issues at stake, but Ms Moore is too nice, polite, and unassertive to be a match for the bullying, idiotic Tories in Barnet. Kathy Mc Gurk (who, coincidentally or not, went to the same character forming school as Mrs Angry and Tory spin doctor Vanessa Gearson) is more on the ball, more scary, more mouthy, has the ability to think on her feet during debate, and is not afraid to express her opinions in forthright terms.
The Dear Leader, Lynne Hillan, had submitted an amusing item for the agenda on the subject of the Audit Commission. Lynne wanted to tell us how glad she was that this had been abolished. This was a good thing, you see, because it cost a lot of tax payers' money, and Lynne does not approve of anything that costs a lot of tax payers' money, which is why she would never say, demand more of it in order to increase her own allowance. Also, the Audit Commission kept telling people what to do, which is wrong, unless you are a Conservative councillor in Barnet. I didn't quite follow the other objections, but it seemed to be on the basis er, that the Commission had a lot of glossy brochures, and that they 'Paid someone to make Political Points against Mr Pickles', who of course, is a big fan of Lynne Hillan, as Mr and Mrs Salinger may or may not be able to confirm. Oh and Audit staff went on a 'jolly', allegedly: they went to the races one day. Tut tut. Only Tory councillors are allowed to indulge themselves at the expense of the tax payer, remember. Ms Hillan urged us to forget about the need for a national Commission to scrutinise our local finances: as she pointed out, we must learn to 'trust local councillors' . Ah. I think there may be a problem there, old girl.
Next came a rant by Tory Brian Gordon about something, lord knows what, didn't really signify, but his diatribe took us around the old time favourites of Too Much Bureaucracy, the evils of Watchdogs, Health and Safety regulations, Quangos, the Public Sector (what, all of it?) and on and on .... there followed a polite silence while he calmed down and we turned to Labour councillor Geoff Cooke's item on ticket office closures at tube stations, concerns about safety, job losses etc.
Up stands shy and retiring Brian Coleman to make a response. Actually, he did not make a response, exactly, preferring to shout, hector and bellow in his usual unpleasant and unnecessary manner, spitting invective about 'Dave Spart', the Private Eye character - you know, Private Eye, the magazine which recently described Brian as, oh what was it now .... that 'charmless oaf'?
I wonder if in future meetings Coleman might be asked to stop yelling, and show some restraint? Alternatively, officers might like to consider doing us all a favour and turn his microphone off: he doesn't need one and could probably be heard as far as the ticket office at Hendon Central station, where no doubt he disturbed them from what he alleges is the common practice of staff ie 'reading the latest paperback'. Funny that, because whenever I use Finchley Central station, there is always a queue of people needing help with Oyster cards, or advice on journeys. Perhaps if Brian ever used his GLA Oyster card and travelled on public transport, he might find the experience enlightening, as well as a much needed lesson in humility and thrift.
The public gallery greatly enjoyed Mr Coleman's spleen venting. 'Big head, big mouth!' yelled one of the old boys behind me, to general approval.
Suzette Palmer spoke, in her usual polite, reasoned manner, a refreshing and welcome contrast to the rude, aggressive, and loud mouthed Tories. Sadly, such politeness and reason is very much a rarity in his council chamber.
At last we reached the main event of the evening, Item 3.6, Libdem Jack Cohen's naughty little suggestion that the council might have lost confidence in the magnificent leadership of Lynne 'Because I'm Worth It' Hillan. Of course, unless you knew what Item 3.6 was, you might not have realised what they were voting for, or against. It was tactfully hurried through by the kindly Mayor, with barely a word in explanation. Labour and Libdems of course voted in favour of the motion: what would the Tories do? For the against vote, all their arms shot up in the air, as if pulled by invisible strings by an unseen puppet master. Just imagine the scene. Within a micro second we seemed to being moved on to Item 3.7, but the Labour councillors all yelled for a division, which means each councillor is asked in turn to declare their vote. One by one, all thirty nine Tory councillors announced that they were against the motion and therefore declared their full confidence in Lynne Hillan, the leader whom half of them are believed to have voted against in the leadership contest with Mark Shooter last week. Yes, that is very odd, isn't it?
In other words, citizens, as predicted, every Tory councillor chose, or was 'persuaded', to put 'loyalty' to party before loyalty to the residents of this borough, whose trust has been so cynically abused in the last few weeks.
What of Mark Shooter, the man who would be King? That was last week, and this is now. Mr Shooter's body language throughout this meeting was very interesting. He was not a happy bunny, sat hunched in his seat. From across the chamber he appeared to be scowling. When the vote was taken and he voted against the motion, there was loud booing from the public gallery and he seemed to shake his head.
Mrs Angry is disappointed in you, Mr Shooter, and she suspects you may be disappointed in yourself.
Let's have some light relief, shall we? It occurred to me, when my mind was wandering during one of the less interesting debates last night, that if one of Wayne Rooney's alleged lady friends was to apply her admirably enterprising 'ugly tax' to the men in the Barnet Tory party, she would make an absolute fortune. Imagine Mrs Angry's discomfort, then at what happened next. In the flush of success at seeing off the no confidence vote in their leader, Andrew Harper and Brian Coleman turned to her and puckered up, simultaneously planting a slobbering kiss on each cheek (the face, the face,) like a pair of over aged, and frankly not very accomplished gigolos. The public gallery, it must be said, gasped in horror at the sight of this threesome from hell. Surprisingly, perhaps, Lynne did not slap them for this assault on her matronly virtue, and seemed quite grateful for the attention. Poor old love.
Phew, the Tories were glad to move on from such unpleasantness, as well as the vote, and we were then treated to a tedious lecture by Helena Hart on the Coalition healthcare proposals. Jack Cohen started wittering on about bedpans in Newcastle (they have indoor toilets, now , Jack, up North, did you know?) Tory councillor Bridget Perry, who looks like Anne Widdecombe before she discovered her inner blonde, made some sort of incomprehensible comment. And Kathy Mc Gurk took the opportunity to remind the Libdems that their colleagues in government were actively enabling the introduction of unacceptably right wing policies. Hmm.
Labour Councillor Barry Rawlings introduced his item regarding cuts to pensioners' benefits. As he pointed out, the Tory attitude was 'we're all in this together' unless you are poor, vulnerable, a family, ill or a pensioner ... enter Councillor Tom Davey to contribute to the debate. Oh good. Councillor Davey, another Tory boy, looks very young, and is possibly so young as to be still in receipt of pocket money from his mum and dad. His life experience, however, apparently entitles him to sternly lecture his elders on the necessity for us all to 'only spend what you have'. Now this boy was the councillor who, I seem to remember, informed us at the previous full council meeting that people who lived in council houses lacked 'aspiration', and is evidently a young man of deep compassion and much wisdom. Last night he felt moved to express his approval of those who have 'real jobs' ie in the private and not in the public sector. That went down very well, in the public gallery, and I suspect with every council officer present, especially those who spend their days writing reports for councillors.
Oh and what is Councillor Davey's real job, you may be asking? Er, as I understand it, and do correct me if I am wrong, Mr Davey, he works for a tobacco company.
I believe that anyone, like me, who has lost close relatives to diseases caused by the smoking promoted by tobacco companies may take an alternative view on whether or not this constitutes a good example of a 'real job', you know, Tom.
By this point, I am afraid I had had more than enough and was preparing to leave the meeting. I waited for a suitable moment as the debate was taken up by new Labour councillor, Pauline Coakley Webb. Now, earlier in the evening, old Tory John Marshall, who seems to sees himself as a great statesman, had graciously commended the eloquence of the new Tory boys' maiden speeches. Ms Coakly Webb spoke about the effects of worry on pensioners who faced concerns of such as the possible withdrawal of free bus travel, courtesy of the new Coalition spending cuts
As she spoke, the Tory councillors ignored her and talked amongst themselves, failing to show her any courtesy as she tried to make herself heard. This was of course in marked contrast to the silent and attentive reception shown to the Tory boys. Women generally are shown little respect in this council chamber by the Tories but even by their standards this was pretty shabby behaviour.
And as she spoke of elderly people who might be worrying in the near future about whether or not they can afford to take a bus to the doctor, or hospital appointments, she came to a sudden stop. Hillan and Coleman sat oblivious, grinning, for some reason, amused by something, as they seemed to be throughout latter part of the meeting, in fact. Ms Coakley Webb objected to the noise in the chamber, and lack of courtesy shown to her in her maiden speech. The Mayor looked at her. The light came on to signify the end of her time: she pointed out she had struggled to make her speech because of the disruption. The public jeered at the Mayor.
At this point, I left, feeling utterly sickened by the nasty, brutal and childish way in which our Tory councillors disport themselves. I didn't bother to stay for the allowance rise retraction: of you want to know what happened look elsewhere.
And this, my friends, is how they are. No conscience, no scruples, no compassion, no courtesy. And no brains, either, because they are entirely unable to see beyond the immediate consequences of their actions to the long term damage they are causing to their party, and more importantly to the well being of this borough.
By their vote last night, they finally endorsed their own complete lack of integrity and total unworthiness to represent the best interests of the electorate, and their crass stupidity in thinking that their behaviour will be forgotten by us in the future. It won't.