Thursday, 30 September 2010
"Dear An Gry
We've suspended you as a 'Facebook friend for the next two months. The rules of moderation we run on our site are that we can't allow party political comments, indecent language or statements likely to cause offensive (sic) (in practice these tend to be statements which could be deemed racist). The council is the publisher of the Facebook site and cannot publish anything which is party political political. (sic)
We have judged some of your comments to be party political.
XX Assistant Director, Communications
After I stopped laughing, I sent the following reply:
"Dear Mr X,
Thank you for your communication, which I have received with great amusement.
I do sincerely hope that this does not cause you 'offensive', but I would really expect the assistant Director of Communications at the London Borough of Barnet to be able to write a coherent paragraph, without so many grammatical errors.
I see that I have been dealt the crushing blow of being suspended as a Barnet Facebook Friend for two months, for the apparent crime of being, as you say: 'party political political.We have judged some of your previous posts to be party political.'
I am assuming, therefore, that you consider some of my posts to be party political.
I note that in this administration's view, being party political is seen as offensive as being indecent or even racist. That is very interesting, isn't it?
Can you tell me if you have suspended all the 'friends' who visited this site during the Edward Meakins' debacle and left personally offensive and racist comments, some of which I reported to you? How long for? If you have not suspended them, why not?
What are your criteria for establishing that something is party political? Is this also applied to comments which praise the policies of the current administration? If not, why not? Are party political comments actually defined as anything which might cause embarrassment to the administration, even when the content is true?
Who decides what is 'party political'?
I am of course mortified to be barred from your page for two months.Can you tell me what tariff my two month sentence is based upon? What, for example, would I have to do to be suspended for three months? Do I have to go through a probationary period after that, with guidance in correct thinking, Cultural Revolution style, before I am allowed back? I don't want to step out of line again, obviously.
I note with interest also that I have been 'defriended' by you not after any of my previous wall comments, but only when I pointed out that remarks were being censored.
I look forward to your response, as it will give me something to read in the long, lonely weeks when I am barred from your Facebook page.
(Mrs) An Gry
Oh dear, oh dear ... of course I should have pointed out that I although critical of the policies of the current administration, I am not party political because actually I am not, and have never been, a member of a political party. I fear that logic has little to do with this lunatic council, however, and there you have it, citizens: Big Brother in action, yet again!
BTW, I sneaked back to the Barnet Council Facebook page and found that actually I could get on there with no problem, and so left a suitable message. It's probably gone now, though, eh?
Well, hello: looks what's happened since I posted the previous blog.
On the Ideas Barnet website, my suggestion about cancelling the 54% pay rise just given to councillors who chair committees has miraculously reappeared - it had been removed, leaving only a headline tag.
On the nasty little anonymous and frankly suspicious submission about staff, 'Refresh and Rebuild', my comment had also vanished, so I put another one on asking why it had been censored. The original comment is now back, and the second one has gone.
I then realised that the reason the Barnet Council facebook wall was closed was because someone at Barnet monitoring the page has had orders to 'dis'like me and thereby prevent me from having access to the wall. Tut tut.
Mrs Angry is most upset, London Borough of Barnet. Is it something she said? By the way, I lied, I don't really like you at all, in case you hadn't noticed.
I think, however, that as a resident and tax payer of this borough, and someone who pays for the provision of social media forums such as this for the purpose of the borough, I should be entitled to express myself freely, without censorship, or being barred from the forum in question. Unless a remark is offensive, which of course it was not, there is no justification for what you did.
I've rejoined, 'liked' you again (how was it for you?) and left a comment. Let's see how long that stays in place.
This Tory administration, fellow citizens, is terrified of not being able to control the torrent of criticism of its recent behaviour. It is using whatever means it can to stifle debate and obstruct genuine consultation with the public, because it has no desire to hear what people really want to say.
The apparent consultation with the public over the Budget will be cut and suited to whatever the council wants to impose on us: don't make this an easy job for them. Join in the process, make your opinion known, politely, and make sure they don't bury it in the backyard with all the other bodies.
NB: The next Residents' Forums dates have been announced:
Chipping Barnet, 27th October 2010, 6.30pm East Barnet School
Finchley & Golders Green, 19th October 2010, 6.30pm Avenue House N3 (note different venue to last two meetings) contact email@example.com
Hendon, 21st October 2010, 6.30pm, Barnet Multicultural Community Centre, Algernon Rd NW4, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
If you live in Barnet, you are represented by one of these three forums.
Please go along, or better still, submit questions beforehand on any local or borough issue that you feel you wish to raise.
There is a statutory obligation for the council to hold these meetings; different authorities vary in how much publicity and encouragement they give to them. There is a wild rumour, for example, that some neighbouring councils (sshh) provide tea and biscuits - but not here, in Barnet, where such luxuries are only laid on for our councillors. (I've seen - and sampled - the spread laid out for them at half time in Full Council meetings: a table covered with sandwiches, cakes, exotic fruit, all for a ten to fifteen minute break ...). There's another cost cutting suggestion for the ideas website, maybe?
There are rumours also that other councils advertise these meetings in such a way that people might find out about them, but I doubt that that will catch on here, do you?
Saturday, 25 September 2010
Tories like to talk about the need to loosen the bonds of bureaucracy, and to resist intervention or any perceived intrusion by the state into the life of an individual.
In practice, of course, what this really means is a desire to protect liberty and freedom for themselves, and to the right to serve their own interests before the needs of others. And the perfect example of this is to be found here, in the dystopian nightmare world of Broken Barnet.
You might think that an apparent devotion to the concept of liberty might be reflected in a respect for the right to freedom of expression. In liberal Conservative tradition, this is certainly the case. But what do we have here in this borough? Are the Tory councillors in Barnet keen advocates of liberal Conservatism? Are they, in fact, in any shape or form typical of contemporary mainstream Conservativism? Er: I would say not. I would say that the antics of the Tory group in Barnet are a matter of supreme embarrassment to senior party officials and those in government.
In fact the behaviour of our own homegrown Tories has isolated them from their own party, and alienated them from their own electorate. Their mandate (the word of the moment, eh, messrs Grant and Thornton?) has been hugely damaged by the allowance rise controversy, and the fundamental critcisms raised about the specious Future Shape programme. In short, their ability to govern has been fatally weakened, and like any regime that is fearful of losing control, the Tories are turning to desperate measures in order to attempt to restore their authority.
There is a state of war now, between this administration and its own electors. And we all know what is the first casualty of war, don't we? The truth.
As JFK once said: 'A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people'.
This Tory administration is afraid of the people, and afraid of the truth.
And that is why there is an increasing move to suppress all criticism of council policy, to restrict access to information, to stifle debate and open communication, to present council policy in misleading terms, using language to obscure and confuse, rather than to clarify and inform; to hide important decision making procedures in a maze of bureaucratic confusion, and to replace genuine public consultation with the rubber stamping endorsement of meaningless PR exercises.
A few questions:
How many council meetings have there been where reports are submitted too late for thorough inspection by opposition councillors, or the public? Or where a welter of material has been added, leaving little time for ordinary residents to read and analyse?
Why are our Residents Forums so badly publicised?
Why are some councillors so reluctant to attend and engage with these Forums?
Why does the Leader not use her own 'Leader Listens' link?
What happened to the Barnet Citizens' Panel, which used to assess residents' views of council performance and identify areas of improvement?
Why, at the last full council meeting, when so many people were waiting outside in the rain, and only 25 were allowed into the public gallery, did the council not open up another room, with audio links, so that they could listen to the debate? Why was there an unnecessarily thick wall of police officers blocking entrance to the Town Hall to anyone except a couple of elderly people with mobility problems - and one determined blogger?
Why, at the previous full council meeting, did a senior Tory councillor move a motion to suppress a crucial debate about his party's self awarded allowance rise - a matter of huge public interest?
Why did so many Tory councillors refuse to respond to all emails on this subject from their constituents?
Why are we waiting for any method of scrutinising and appraising the amount and quality of work performed by our councillors?
Where is the promised consultation with the public over the hugely important and controversial Future Shape proposals?
Why is the risible Barnet Council Facebook page seemingly moderated by a junior council officer, using his own personal Facebook link? Why are comments that are not racist, or offensive being removed from this forum? Why is the page shut whan any politically embarrassing issue is raised?
Why is the promised consulation over budget proposals being covered by a website - http://ideas.barnet.gov.uk/ - created, it seems by the Ministry of Truth, in which, once you have submitted an idea, you are told that any proposal deemed to be 'party political' will be omitted? How can any budget proposal not be party political, and who is being given the right to deem what is or is not party political?
No website should ever tolerate any material that is personally offensive, abusive, or racist.
But no council site should censor comments or contributions to a debate with the residents on the excuse of being 'party political', and we should not accept such repressive actions by this council.
*(Update, Monday, 5.45pm: well, Mrs Angry just can't believe it: her helpful suggestion (yes, it was perfectly polite and inoffensive) headed 'cancel 54% councillor chair rise', has disappeared, with only a forlorn remark stating 'There are currently no posts in this category', yet amusingly leaves a clue to its former existence in the tags listing, along with, she notes, some other ghost entries, eg one about Brian Coleman - no, not by me. My suggestion has become a non suggestion. Also amongst the 'disappeared' is a comment on what really is a peculiar and suspicious 'suggestion' regarding staff, under the 'Refresh and Rebuild' heading.)
Censorship is the mark of an authoritarian regime, a regime in fear of its existence, with no respect for the rights and freedoms of the people it claims to represent. If you can't win this debate without silencing your critics, Tory councillors of Broken Barnet, you've lost the argument - and you've lost the moral right and authority to govern this borough.
Local authorities are legally obliged to engage with the public in a process of consultation. In our borough, this process has become a travesty. There is no forum for honest, open communication between the adminstration and its electors.
In place of consultation, we have instead a cleverly designed mechanism of endorsement of the lunatic Tories' own mutant political agenda.
In cynically deliberate tactics, the choices the electors are given to direct the course of their lives are in truth not choices at all, because all freedom to express an alternative view has been removed.
Look again at the new Budget website.
All 'suggestions' by the public are moderated before approval, not just for the necessary screening of offensive material, but for any suggestion which might have political content - the thought police of Broken Barnet are ready and standing by.
Look at some of the options to which residents may offer comments in our Orwellian, multiple choice democracy. Try and tear yourself away from away the raging debate over the future of council bedding plants: should we go for the usual vulgar busy lizzies, or better value hardy perenniels? Oh, I just can't make my mind up ... oh, and I wonder if a suggestion to save more than £40,000 by cancelling the new pay rise to our troughing councillor easyChairs will be published?
Look a little closer: and any council officers reading this, I suggest you read the helpful anonymous suggestion that has been published regarding the need to 'refresh and rebuild council staff' ... someone is claiming that staff are aware that they are 'under delivering, but understandably don't want to blow the whistle' you should all 're-apply for newly challenging newly accountable posts' and 'faced with such challenges' many of you 'will want to leave!
I wonder who might have placed that particular gem? Is that not a 'party political' comment by some mysterious person? The art of spin is a very dark art, isn't it?
If I were currently employed by the London Borough of Barnet, I would be demanding that this insult and slur on the reputation of the vast number of council officers who work damned hard, and are currently terrified about the prospect of losing their jobs, is immediately removed. It won't be: and people are being invited to endorse this smear by rating it - you are of course not given the option of saying this is a load of objectionable rubbish. If you are a council officer, I suggest you leave a comment - if they let you.
So the war on truth is already targeting council employees. Worse is to come, by the looks of it.
You might think that it is a right of trade unions to organise meetings, and formulate a strategy to fight the forthcoming loss of jobs and services that are coming this way.
You might think that it is indeed the duty of trade unions to do this. Apparently not.
Last week we read in the local Times newspapers that Tory Councillor Brian Coleman has been objecting to the BBC about an employee who was stated to be listed as a speaker at last week's union organised meeting at North London Business Park.
Mr Coleman, of course, is a very enthusiastic defender of the right to free speech and open debate, and very respectful of the wide range of views that can be expressed in a democratic society. He was deeply concerned about the threat to the neutrality of the BBC that might be posed by an employee speaking in a personal capacity to a union meeting. Mr Coleman, you might recall, once rightly complained to the BBC about the appearance of well known political pundit, Comrade Konnie Huq of Blue Peter/X Factor fame, at a, wait for it, a bike rally. Just imagine, if Mr Coleman had not stepped in to save us from Konnie's revolutionary activities: the BBC might even now be overun with Trotskyist cycling programmes, and Blue Peter would no doubt be Red Peter, brainwashing small children into running bring and buy stalls for North Korean missile programmes! Mind you, X Factor would be a bloody sight more fun if someone could raise Cheryl Cole's political consciousness, wouldn't it?
But Big Brother Brian was not happy to stop at stopping BBC employees from compromising the political virtue of their employers. He had more to say, squeaking:
"The trade union movement in the borough is a complete shambles and they are a group of no hopers. They are lone voices bleating in the dark ..."
Oh dear. Brian: if anyone is a lone voicing bleating in the long, lonely, dark night of the soul, it's you, mate. Oh, and if any group in the borough is in a complete shambles, and a load of no hopers, er, I think that recent events would suggest that it just might be the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet ...
The trade unions in this borough are strong, well organised, and committed to their members, doing what they can for the hard working employees of this borough who do not, like the shameless Tory councillors of this borough, have the opportunity to vote themselves massive pay increases, but face the frightening prospect of trying to support themselves and their families on frozen salaries and the real possibility of losing their jobs.
And that is what worries you, isn't it? The fact that the antics of the Tory group in Barnet have outraged the normally docile voters of this borough and will attract enormous sympathy for the workers who will shortly be the victims of the coming spending cut frenzy?
Think of the end of 'Nineteen Eighty Four':
'If there was hope, it must live in the proles ... those swarming disregarded masses?'
I'd remember that, if I were you, Big Brother.
Thursday, 23 September 2010
Mrs Angry's advice? Start packing now, citizens.
According to Wednesday's report in the Times Group local papers, "Senior councillors have been ordered to draw up a business plan for the Future Shape scheme after an independent report revealed there is no 'fundamental mandate' for it" ...
That is an interesting phrase, isn't it: 'fundamental mandate'. What does it mean? The word mandate sort of implies an authorisation from the electorate, doesn't it? A timely reminder that the council is supposed to be working on our behalf, although this idea has slipped out of fashion lately. Did we give permission for Futureshape? They will argue that by voting the Tories back in power, we did: (ahem, when I say 'we', not me, obviously).
Ah: except there is a better argument which says that you really didn't know what you were signing up for, did you? No one could have, in fact, because if Grant Thornton can't get to grips with what Futureshape is actually planning to do, then it is unlikely that the average voter would understand either. You were led up the garden path, in other words.
The Times report states that auditors Grant Thornton have criticised the scheme for having 'no clear direction' and called for the council to set out the planned costs, benefits, timescales, risks and outcomes of the programmme.
This is simply unbelievable.
A local authority, with a budget of £1 billion, has committed itself to a programme of massive outsourcing of public services and large scale spending cuts, yet has made no risk assessment, no costing, no timeplan?
At the last full council meeting, Leader Lynne Hillan was very amused by the idea of the leader's job being merged with that of the Chief Executive, Nick Walkley. She thought that she would like his job (I'll bet) but he wouldn't like hers. Maybe not, but I'm guessing he'd do it a bloody sight better than you do, missus.
There are, in fact, very serious questions to be asked about the ability of local councillors to deal with the huge strategic and financial challenges of a modern day local authority of the size of Barnet.
These people, and their largely ceremonial roles, are from an era when local administration was a matter of gentlemanly agreement over the setting of the local rates, the naming of the new municipal park, or whether or not to place a water trough at the local turnpike. (Troughing is, of course, still an issue of major concern for our elected representatives, but now it is for the benefit of dumb councillors rather than dumb animals. )
The London Borough of Barnet is now a huge administrative structure, with highly complex needs. One of those needs is that is is run by able and accountable leadership.
In what other business or administrative context, other than a local authority, would someone like Hillan be given such enormous responsibility? With control over a £1 billion budget? What are her qualifications for such a post, other than having been elected group leader by an unknown number of her fellow councillors? Does she have a background in senior corporate management? Has she retired from a career of spectacular success in the city? I would imagine that very few local councillors, certainly in Barnet, have enjoyed such a career. Oh: apart from Mr Shooter, maybe, but this was not considered a good enough reason to elect him as leader, for some reason.
Does the leader of any council have to have any qualifications, or proof of ability, in fact? No? Not even a gcse in Home Economics? If not, why not? How can anyone without prior experience in dealing with such huge responsibilties be expected to cope with the running of a mammoth urban administrative area? And yet, if Cameron's 'Big Society' wants to devolve even more power to local authorities, there will be even more power invested in the hands of council leaders. That's a good idea, isn't it?
Of course easyCouncil was not Lynne Hillan's masterplan: Mike Freer, our new Tory MP, is the brilliant political and economic strategist who came up with that idea. Back here in Broken Barnet, however, Lynne and her Cabinet colleagues have happily endorsed Futureshape at every opportunity and this administration is fired up and stamping their feet with impatience, waiting for the new scheme to get underway. Oh dear.
If, in the wake of Allowancegate, any more proof were needed of the reckless, amateur status floundering of this Tory administration, here it is: the lack of preparation for the introduction of Futureshape. Yet another blunder. But it is on a scale which dwarfs every other criticism you can throw at this collection of self serving idiots. Allowancegate was a disgrace, a folly, and caused widespread outrage. The uncertainty and vulnerability caused by a premature committment to the Futureshape/One Barnet progamme could have consequences on an apocalyptic scale.
If you think this is an exaggeration, remember the warning from the head of Childrens' Services in Barnet that his department was facing financial 'Armageddon'? Cuts of up to 50%? This is a service which deals with vulnerable children, and provides them with vital support and protection. What more sensitive service provision could be more in need of a stable and secure level of adequate funding? What could be a more telling warning of what is in store for us?
Let's get one thing straight: the Grant Thornton report cannot properly assess the likely success of Futureshape/ One Barnet/easyCouncil, for one very good reason: there is almost nothing to assess yet.
All this report can do is demand more information, any real information, on the actual detailed planning which must support any proposal of this nature, of this size.
Councillor Robert Ramsbottom has now agreed that he will come up with some sort of 'business plan' by December. Brilliant idea: instead of messing with our libraries, give this intellectual giant an even larger responsibility.
Can any Tory councillor identify any other line of business, any company, any organisation, in which such a state of affairs would be tolerated? Would any bank manager lend money to a self employed businessman who came to him with no business plan, no risk assessment, no costing? No? Then why should the tax payers and voters of Barnet have their services, their borough, put at risk in this foolhardy way?
Once someone does get round to coming up with some sort of business plan, is this going to be further assessed by another set of consultants, at our expense? Are we going to have to pay for some other consultants to come up with a business plan, in fact: I'll bet we do. Unless we want something on the lines of:
1. Let's run One Barnet like Starbucks!
2. Let's not run it like Blockbusters ...
3. My head hurts, can I stop now?
How much more time and money must be spent on a fanatical committment to this laughably inadequate, so called 'model for government' that we are now told never really existed in any reliable detail? How much more of our money has to be spent on saving the faces of an administration that so evidently lacks intellect, competence, and genuine committment to the well being of the people it was elected to serve?
Tuesday, 21 September 2010
This was a puzzling experience, because no one actually talked about Futureshape, except in an immediately corrected slip up, like a reference to a disgraced family member that no one is supposed to mention.
It became evident, in fact, that like an unwanted baby left on the doorstep of the Town Hall, Futureshape, child of shame born out of the lurid affair between Mike Freer and his own ego, has now been formally adopted and renamed. One Barnet, as we must learn to call it, is now in the care of new parents, and frankly, they are struggling to cope with the demands of the new arrival.
Of course, we should not punish the child for the sins of its father (unless we are allocating housing, in the new morally judgmental Tory Barnet way) but try to understand the needs of the baby, and help it to thrive. Ah. Coochy coo. Thing is, it seems that One Barnet is not like other babies. It appears to be some sort of evil changeling, left by the fairies to wreak havoc in the mortal world of Broken Barnet. Like a changeling, no matter how much nourishment and care is given to One Barnet, it seems only to demand more, and more, and yet fail to develop as it should. What can be done? Soon the whole of Broken Barnet will know that the baby is possessed, and the villagers will come knocking on the door, demanding the child be given back ... But of course the bumpkin who fathered this baby has legged it to the big city, and left the parish overseers to support his mewling brat.
Mr Roger Tichborne, a blogger of this parish, yesterday published some very interesting correspondance on the subject of Futureshape/One/easy/Barnet. A report appears to confirm the suspicions of many that, despite bucket loads of money being thrown on this 'model' for local government, there is still not even yet a business plan, or clear understanding as to how this model will work in practice.
At the scrutiny meeting, it was clear from the questions put by Libdem and Labour councillors - oh and Tories too - that they were totally bemused by the whole project. They felt that they were not being properly informed about progress made, and that there was an absence of the necessary financial detail, but it seemed to me that that might be because little or no significant progress had been made. Questions were asked about really basic, fundamental issues such as, from Monroe Palmer, whether or not it was legal for a local authority to seek to trade at a profit: unbelievably, no one knew: no one knew! An officer was instructed to find out. This was, well, rather alarming, I thought, and hardly spoke well of the preparation for the implementation of the project.
Alison Moore commented on the lack of information being given to the residents, as well as councillors: where is the evidence that the council really does want a 'new relationship with citizens', to 'engage' with them, let alone start a 'dialogue with service users', whatever that means? Well, in truth, in the wake of Allowancegate, I would say they have managed to acheive a new relationship with residents, Alison - one of fear, loathing and mutual contempt.
Interestingly, no one seems to have asked why the whole thing has been rebranded with no thought given to explaining this to the people who are paying for the damn thing? Is it because they want the plebs to think that the discredited easyBarnet/Futureshape rubbish has been dropped?
Because we are paying for the damn thing, and paying a lot. More than two million pounds of your money has allegedly been spent, citizens, on consultants' reports, and such like, with more money committed to 'transformation reserves' for future years. How much money, exactly, and why they have not specified the amount? Come on, tell us! It's our money, and we have a right to know. It's hard to tell from official figures just how much this will be, year by year.
Have any savings been made yet, or has there only been extra money spent on this twaddle? What do you think, citizens? Ask your local councillor to explain it to you. I doubt that they will be able to: because in truth no one really understands what it all means. Take the amusing performance of Lynne Hillan in her marvellous tv interview a few months ago, where she appeared dumbstruck and totally unable to explain the fundamental principles of her predecessor's brilliant idea. This is, I would humbly suggest, was because there is nothing much to explain, as it is an incomplete theoretical concept, short on detail, and still undeveloped.
You might think that it is fairly obvious that you cannot run a local authority on the basis of an idea which is so little formed that even now it is having to be inspected or maybe reinvented by hugely expensive consultants. Obviously, councillors of Broken Barnet, in the past few weeks you have been head down with your noses buried in the trough and too busy to notice, but we in the real world are in the middle of an economic crisis, and we cannot afford for you to throw our money away on potentially unworkable experiments in local government. We would prefer it, if you don't mind, if instead of trying to create a Brave New World, you would get on with the job of running the borough: looking after schools, organising social care, filling pot holes, that kind of thing. If it's not too much trouble. Thanks.
At the last full council meeting Lynne Hillan submitted a motion celebrating the abolition of the Audit Commission. This was because they were so wasteful of public money. Other councillors lambasted the waste in the public sector, staffed by people without 'real jobs'. Yet here we are, nearly six months into the shambling, controversy haunted administration of another Tory council, still without a clear grasp of how they are going to administer the policy they claim brought them back to power, chucking our money after a facile, soundbite concept that is only costing us more and more, with no real profit in return. I think a reasonable conclusion would be that this is a recipe for disaster.
It's time to call a halt: and it's time for an urgent, objective, external assessment of the whole benighted Futureshape programme: to ascertain exactly what it has cost so far, what it will really cost if it is continued, and whether or not the tax payers of this borough are just possibly being taken for a ride, up a small sewage infested river inlet, without the necessary steering implement?
Monday, 20 September 2010
Send in the clowns? Don't bother, they're here ...
Councillor Andreas Tambourides, Licensing Committee, two scheduled meetings this year, sees his allowance rise by 54% from a stingy £9,974 to a slightly improved £15,333. Well done Andreas!
Councillor Brian Gordon, Policy & Performance OSC, two meetings scheduled, now gets £15,333. Did I hear you complaining about the Public Sector at the Full Council meeting, Brian?
Councillor John Marshall, Pension Fund, four meetings, £15,333: John's getting on a bit so this will help nicely towards his own retirement plans.
Councillor Alison Cornelius, Health OSC, five meetings: hope your health can stand up to the strain of so many exhausting meetings!
Councillor Joan Scannell, General Functions, five meetings:£15,333 - I like the sound of General Functions, nice and vague ...
Councillor Hugh Rayner, Bus Mgt OSC sub: eight meetings, steady on there, Hugh, but don't panic: think of the £15,333 coming your way!
Councillor Darrel Yawitch, Budget Perf OSC, nine meetings: £15,333 - young Darrel's a bit of a new favourite and has been given a big boy's post with a big boy's allowance to match ...
Councillor Wendy Prentice, Planning Environment, twelve meetings: Wendy, if I were you, I'd ask why you have to sit through ten more meetings than Councillor Tambourides for the same dosh ... of course, for all we know these are 12 meetings of only a few minutes each, but still ...
Now then, back in the real world ...
Did you know that, according to a 'GLA Economics' report in 2008, low pay is mainly concentrated in Outer London boroughs, and the second highest number of these workers lives in - go on, guess - yep, the London Borough of Barnet. 26,000 people, in fact, living on, or often below, an hourly rate of £7.05.
Of course, you may think that, for example, earning between £6-8 an hour as a careworker, rather than £10,000 per hour as a committee chair, and looking after the intimate personal needs of vulnerable elderly residents, rather than looking over a couple of reports, is perfectly acceptable. You may think the jobs that low paid workers do are an absolute doddle and deserve no more as a total annual pay amount than a Tory councillor can in some cases earn for less than two hours of meetings a year, (on top of their other allowance, of course) but if you do - well, I'm guessing that you are either a complete a***hole and/or a Tory councillor.
Last week, Councillor Dean Cohen, chairman of the Finchley & Golders Green Residents' Forum agreed to ask his eight lucky colleagues if they would care to voluntarily forego some or all of the 54% pay rise.
Any response yet, Dean?
My apologies to anyone suffering from coulrophobia, or indeed anyone suffering from a morbid fear of Tory councillors: and who could blame you?
Thursday, 16 September 2010
Yes: a year.
An hourly rate of around £10,000.
Only trouble is, you do have to be a Tory councillor in Barnet, and you do need the patronage of the leader, Ms Lynne Hillan. If you can meet these stringent job specifications, you might be in with a chance.
Ah, but Mrs Angry, I hear you cry: I read in my local paper that the allowance rises have been dumped, and I thought that all the unpleasantness of the last few weeks is all forgotten and forgiven?
Er: no. That is what the Tories want you to think. You might want to use your own judgement.
On Tuesday night I sat in the public gallery of our Town Hall and listened yet again to the Tory councillors in Barnet ranting about their usual retro obsessions: unions, quangos, waste, over spending, yawn, and then their sneering at public sector workers, who are people without 'real jobs', the tube strikers, people on housing benefit. These people, you see, are living off the state, or living the life of Reilly in over paid jobs subsidised by the tax payer. Disgraceful. Not like the hard working, noses to the grind Tory councillors of Broken Barnet, you see.
Ok. So last night Mrs Angry sent her spy to the Finchley and Golders Green Residents Forum. Her loyal spy and good friend, let's call her Mrs X, had tabled some questions, as follows:
Question 1: "The allowance rises that Conservative councillors voted for themselves in July have been greeted with widespread outrage by residents of the borough, and unprecedented criticism by senior Conservative politicians in the government. Despite such condemnation, and the partial retraction by the Leader of some of the proposed rises, I understand that eight Tory councillors who chair Committees are still going to receive massive increases in their allowances, as follows:
Cllr A Tambourides Licensing Committee £9,974 increased to £15,333 (increase of 54%)
Cllr Alison Cornelius Health OSC the same
Cllr Wendy Prentice Planning & Env the same
Cllr Hugh Rayner Bus Mgt OSC Sub the same
Cllr Darrel Yawitch Budget Perf OSC the same
Cllr Brian Gordon Policy Perf OS the same
Cllr Joan Scannell General Functions the same
Cllr John Marshall Pension Fund the same
a: Can you confirm that these allowance rise figures are correct?
b. How many times a year do each of theses committees meet?
c. We hear almost every day of the enormous level of cuts that must be made to local services, the frozen pay of ordinary council workers, and the risk of redundancy to so many others, and we know that many residents of this borough will be struggling to survive in the current precarious economic climate. I therefore ask the Conservative councillor members of this Forum to explain to the residents and voters of Finchley and Golders Green how they can defend the the staggeringly high allowance rise given to their privileged colleagues?
Question 2:a. Is it the case that a councillor in receipt of an allowance, or other form of attendance renumeration, is still paid for his or her attendance even when they do not bother to attend the meeting in question?
b. Is there any way in which residents can properly scrutinise the level of work and service which councillors provide in return for these allowances? Surely in these 'challenging times' such allowances should be performance related and should not be regarded merely as a gift from the local tax payer?
So Mrs X trundled along to the Forum. Oh, what a disappointment: the only Tory councillor to turn up was the youthful chair, Dean Cohen (you know, from one of the dynastic arrangements on the council, the son of Cabinet Member Melvin Cohen). Apologies came from not one, not two, but three other Tory councillors, Graham Old, the vice Chair, Reuben Thompson, and oh, Dean's Dad, Melvin. Dean is a nice enough kid, but frankly looked as if he would rather be at home on his X box than fending off awkward questions from the ungrateful residents of Finchley and Golders Green. He is, however, the Chair of this Forum.
When these questions came up, he looked a bit bemused. Mrs X pointed out that he might like to come up with some sort of response. A written answer, by council officers, had confirmed that these incredible 54% pay increases to Commmittee chairs were going ahead: what did he have to say about this? He looked thoughtful. Well, at the meeting last night, he said, proposed allowance rises were retracted, you know.
-But not these?
-Why not? Did he not think that in view of the current economic climate these rises were completely inappropriate?
-Oh, well ... the rates are as suggested by a London wide scheme ... bla bla bla
-That doesn't mean that the council has to impose them, does it?
-Well, the rates are as suggested by a London wide scheme ... bla bla bla .. he repeated this several times.
An angry lady in the front row (no, not me) said to him: 'Why on earth don't you at least try to come up with some sort of defence? All you do is repeat the same thing!'
Mrs X expressed the view that the reason he could come up with no defence was that there was none, that these 54% rises were indefensible, and might even be described as obscene. Hear, hear, yelled the residents in the hall.
Are the councillors not aware, she asked, of the fact that ordinary council officers, and indeed most people in the public and private sector, not only are facing frozen salaries, but the threat of redundancy? How then can the councillors justify these outrageously high increases?
Councillor Cohen looked at a loss for what to say, as well he might. Also sitting in the hall, by the way, were Libdem Councillor Monroe Palmer, and a man who looked awfully like the Deputy Leader of the Tory group, Mr Andrew Harper. Mrs X decided, however, that this cannot possibly have been Mr Harper as he did not avail himself of the opportunity to defend the leadership's actions over the allowance rise hikes but remained hidden at the back, silent and anonymous, and within running distance of the exit.
The discussion became even more interesting.
The written answer had details of the number of times each committee meets per year, and the number of scheduled meetings in 2010/11 - as follows:
Licensing Committee - number of meetings: 2
Health OSC - 5
Planning Environment 12
Bus Management OSC 8
Budget & Performance OSC 9
Policy & Performance OSC 2
General Functions 5
Pension Fund 4
At the Full Council Meeting on Tuesday, I heard a councillor state that the total time spent in session by the Licensing Committee was 1 hour and 14 or possibly 1 hour 40 minutes: it was hard to hear, because of the uproar.
Yes, that's right, work it out, citizens. If we are generous (and we are, aren't we?) and say it is 1 hour and 40 minutes, that makes a modest rate of around, er, £10,000 per hour! Well f*** me.
Isn't this the most disgusting, insulting, obscene gesture at the ordinary, hard working residents of this borough who have to foot the bill for this bunch of ugly faced troughers?
As Mr Lustig was able to confirm, there are currently no council officers in receipt of this privileged payscale.
If you remember, on Tuesday night, Councillors Brian Gordon and Tom Davey mouthed off about the public sector, whose employees, according to Davey, don't have real jobs - you know, all those lazy, scrounging, over paid nurses, police officers, care assistants - and council officers ...
By the way: who is the Chair of the Policy & Performance OSC committee, which has how many meetings scheduled this year, er .... only two, yes - and will see his Chair allowance increase from a poverty line wage of £9,974 to a miserly £15,333? Er ... Councillor Brian Gordon.
How are these posts allocated, then: is it on the grounds of proven experience in the areas of responsibilty? Hard to tell. Certainly Councillor John Marshall is well qualified for the Pension Fund Committee, being an old codger, and having been in politics for a long time - rumoured to have been an MP in the time of William Pitt the Younger.
What about the handsome and charming Andreas Tambourides, who, like any supermodel, only gets out of his Tory Committee Chairman's bed for £15,333 a year: what are his qualifications for the demanding role on the Licensing Commitee?
It could be argued, of course that there is a lot of background work which we do not see: reading, researching, etc. I am sure there is, - and I am sure that most of it is done by council officers. And anyway, so what? Many residents take part in, say, voluntary community committees which demand a certain amount of commitment of time and other contributions, and in return receive no more than a plate of stale biscuits (if they're lucky), and a glass of water.
If the fabulously well rewarded Chairs of these committees are appointed on the basis of merit, and expertise, what is the process of appointment? Are they subject to an application procedure, an interview, and performance assessment? Are they subject to equal opportunities criteria, and appointment panels? If not, it would appear that, in the interests of 'transparency' and 'accountability', there is urgent need of the introduction of such a procedure.
Mrs X suggested to Councillor Dean Cohen that, as he seemed to feel that his colleagues were being reluctantly forced to accept pay rises of 54% on the basis of a particular new pay scale, that they may want, in view of the economic crisis, to set a good example and forego a significant part, if not all, of their extra payments. He nodded, unconvincingly. It was always possible, he thought. Would he, suggested Mrs X, care to put this to his colleagues? Er, he could certainly put it to them ... Good, said Mrs X. Please do, and can we have this minuted, that Councillor Cohen is going to make this suggestion, and may we please have a formal response?
Watch this space, then.
Which brings us neatly to Mrs X's second question, the scrutiny and appraisal of councillors.
A written answer stated:
"Members' allowances are paid for the office they hold and are not linked to attendance at meetings.
The public can scrutinise this through attendance at public meetings, scrutiny of published reports of the Council meeting(s) and through direct questioning of the relevant Member(s). Furthermore, in July 2010 Council resolved 'That the recommendation of LCIP be followed for role descriptions to be developed for councillors for all their areas of work; the role descriptions to be placed on council websites; Members to report publicly on their activity through a variety of channels ... and the introduction of an appraisal system for Members."
In other words, at present, there are none of the LCIP recommendations in place, and there will still be no accountability in the way in which posts such as the Chairs are made. I suggest that we all, as advised, ask our councillors on a regular basis what they have been doing, how many meetings they have been to, how many they have missed, etc. I am sure that they will all be happy to respond. Then we can give them helpful performance appraisals throughout the course of the next three and a half years, when of course they will have to reapply for the job of councillor.
As to attendance rates: Mrs X asked Councillor Cohen if he thought it was acceptable that a council officer on a modest salary cannot receive payment for a meeting which he failed to attend, yet Councillors do not have to account for their absences from meetings, or reimburse any payment? For example, he had failed to attend the previous Forum, of which he was Chair: he had sent apologies, but no explanation: did he not think that residents were entitled to such?
He stated that he had been at a family wedding. Perhaps, suggested Mrs X, it might have been a good idea to explain this, as unfortunately, with the absence of any other Conservative councillors, it left your colleague Councillor Old to bear the brunt of residents' fury over the allowance rise scandal, and residents had mistakenly thought that you were avoiding the Forum for that reason.
Mr Lustig then made some useful comments, and talked at length, and in some detail, about the 'interesting subject' of how to approach the performance appraisal of councillors, this issue evidently being one to which he has given great thought.
Hmmm. I'll bet.
Wednesday, 15 September 2010
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.
Tuesday, 14 September 2010
Mrs Angry's advice to parents is that if any of your children show any signs of wanting to go into local politics, and stand as a Tory candidate in a borough like ours, then please: act now. Seek professional help. Immediate intervention is necessary. Pray that they become lap dancers, money launderers or bank robbers, rather than see your child sink to the depths of shame displayed in the council chamber in Hendon Town Hall this evening.
In case you are wondering, all 39 voted to show their unquestionable support in their leader, Lynne Hillan, you know, the one that half of them are alleged to have wanted to dump a few days ago after the outrage of her allowance rise hike, and subsequent, if partial, u turn.
Full report tomorrow.
Sunday, 12 September 2010
Why not take the opportunity to visit your Town Hall, before it's flogged on eBay, or a car boot sale, along with any other corporate assets, by our smash and grab council?
Come and watch your elected representatives in action, the Tory councillors who will be herded into the Council chamber like so many dopey, obedient sheep, watched over by kindly Farmer Coleman and his electric prodder, who will gently encourage them to vote with full confidence in the manager of the local abbatoir.
Keep up - you know, Lynne Hillan, yes, you remember, the 'leader' who last week only just scraped through a fight with poacher Mark 'Sharp' Shooter. Sheep stealing is a very serious offence, a capital offence, in the eyes of Farmer Coleman: Mr Shooter will shortly be up before the beak, and, if he escapes a death sentence, is likely to be condemned to transportation to Australia, a favoured destination of absentee Tory councillors, or to the eternal damnation of life in the backwaters of the Barnet Tory political party. I'll bet he is quaking in his boots, poor lamb.
On Tuesday night, therefore, you will see the Tory councillors shuffling along in an orderly line to demonstrate 'party unity' and show the residents of this borough what a bunch of gutless, selfish, stupid wastrels that most of them undoubtedly are. They will express their support for their leader and say they are doing it because they have to, because they have to show 'loyalty' and end a period of intense controversy and embarrassment to the reputation of the Conservative party. They will say they are doing it because Mr Whiplash made them. They will close ranks, and try to stifle all debate about the issue, and talk about anything else as if it is of no consequence.
If, as seems likely, the majority of Tories allow themselves to be whipped into shape and show new found support for Lynne Hillan, it will be the third time, in fact, that they have endorsed the shameless allowance rise affair, and also the vicious treatment of Mrs Salinger, who, uniquely amongst the collection of her cowardly colleagues, dared to follow her conscience and do the right thing by abstaining. They will be endorsing a leader whose behaviour in this issue has been furiously criticised by the residents of this borough, as well as by senior members of the government. Why?
Please: tell me something, you Tory councillors of Barnet. Why is so called 'loyalty' to party considered to be more important than loyalty to the electors of this borough, and the trust placed by them in their representatives? Why is the wellbeing of the Tory group being given priority over the best interests of the residents of our borough?
Ha. The truth is, fellow citizens, that they are scared.
Question: what are they scared of?
Don't tell me that grown men and women are frightened by pathetic bullying tactics into voting one way nor another, rather than voting according to their consciences.
Perhaps it might be a good thing for them to remember that we are currently marking the anniversaries of the London Blitz, and also the Battle of Britain. Were it not for the courage and fortitude of those who were took part in these events, many of us would not be here now debating this issue, as many of our families would have been systematically murdered by an extension of the policy of Nazi genocide, and none of us who survived would be able to express ourselves freely in a state run by a bullying fascist government. The only way to deal with bullies, whether individual, or in terms of national movements, is to stand up to them and refuse to let them have their way. They thrive in a culture of silence and passive endorsement. You cannot afford to look the other way, and blame someone else for the choice you make to keep quiet. Come on, work it out, Tory councillors, it's not too difficult an analogy, even for some of you.
You haven't been elected for the benefit of your own advancement in life, to further your own interests, or to provide yourself with a nice little sinecure for minimum effort. You've been elected to represent the people of this borough, and to do what is best for them. If this principle brings you into conflict with what is best for your own personal interests: tough.
If you vote with your conscience instead of following party 'discipline', what is the worst that can happen? Mr Whippy rings you up and shouts down the phone at you? Tell him to f*** off and put the phone down. Come on, it's easy; we've all done it at one time or another, and wouldn't you secretly really enjoy it anyway - at a safe distance? Ooh er, thinks Councillor X, biting his nails, ... I just don't know ...
Or is it, oh dear - something else ...something more shameful?
Come on, someone, tell Mrs Angry - whisper in her ear: it'll be our little secret ...
Oh hello: what's that now, Sooty? Yes, yes, we know, you've just sold your camper van to diddy little MP Mike Freer and Sweep is furious and kicked the what out of you? And - and - yes, do speak up: Aha! Sweep says that TOO MANY TORY COUNCILLORS ARE WORRIED THAT IF THEY DON'T VOTE THE WAY THEY ARE TOLD THEY WILL BE WAVING GOODBYE FOREVER TO ALL FUTURE CHANCES OF PERSONAL AND POLITICAL ADVANCEMENT SUCH AS GETTING A NICE COMMITTEE TO CHAIR AND ALL THE EXTRA ALLOWANCES THAT COME WITH IT! Oh, no, Sooty. I just can't believe that. I am sure that they would have more personal integrity than to allow themselves to be driven by such selfish motivation.
But then again, we have to remember that we live in the land that time forgot, the rotten borough of Broken Barnet, where it's every man for himself, and the idea of personal integrity in public service is a thing of the past.
I think we deserve better than this, don't you?
Saturday, 11 September 2010
On Thursday a story appeared with the heading: "Senior Conservatives on Barnet Council coy over Majority of leader's victory". This report commented on the remarkable reluctance of the Tory party to announce by how many votes Lynne Hillan had won the recent leadership contest.
An official spokesman had stated merely that Ms Hillan had won by a 'decisive victory'. It has been commonly believed, however, that in fact the result was very close, with only one vote deciding the fate of the contest, something immediately pointed out in a comment by Rog T.
Mrs Angry added a comment to the effect that in the course of the Allowancegate fiasco, Ms Hillan had betrayed the trust of the voters who had placed her in office, and, after the leadership vote, had lost the authority she needs within her own party. The councillors who had supported her continuation in office had thereby endorsed the allowance rise disgrace, including their own treatment of colleague Mrs Salinger, and condemned themselves in the eyes of the residents of this borough.
For some reason, it is very rarely that anyone ever leaves a comment on the Times website in support of the council. I wonder why? But now, enter someone called 'hunters999' who tries to needle Mr T:
"Hey Rog Not sure if you're aware but the Local Elections are 3 and 3/4 years away. So plenty more time for you to gnash your teeth in the meantime "
Rog mutters about revenge being a dish best served cold ... and then, aha, along comes an old familiar, if occasional, commenter, the fragrant AmandaB, who charmingly points out that Rog 'has tried that and failed!' Hmm.
Now then. I don't know who Hunter s could be. Hunter S Thompson? What: Fear and Loathing in West Finchley? That's the title of one of my blogs, funnily enough ... As for AmandaB ... well, let's see ... do you remember the amusing blog entitled 'The Friend of Mike Freer'? It's written by 'Mrs T' remember Mrs T, who told RogT, (no relation) after a blog on the subject of his struggles with dyslexia, that he was a 'thickhead' ? Got some nice friends, our new MP.
Take a look at the Freer blog, I do highly recommend it! At the moment there is a lovely picture of Mike in his new camper van. Mike, if you're reading this, do come and park outside my house - (maybe not next door darling, if you remember) - we can have such a good old chin wag! Anyway, poor old Friend of Mike Freer only has one follower, by name of: Amanda! What a coincidence.
On Friday a new story on the Times site: "Barnet Councillor Lynne Hillan's leadership victory was by a convincing majority, source claims".
This is mind boggling silly story, based, in the best traditions of British journalism, on no evidence whatsoever, other than a claim by 'a senior source', saying that Hillan's majority 'is bigger than the three last leaders put together' ... yeah, right.
Ok: convincing majority, then. Any proof? Nope.
If I ring up the Hendon Times and tell them that, say, Councillor Brian Coleman is a Martian, and I saw him land in Victoria Park ten years ago in a flying saucer, I would expect them to ask me to provide them with some sort of evidence (it's kept in a safety deposit box in my bank, if you're interested). But no, this 'senior source' is taken at face value.
Mrs Angry left a comment about this, obviously (I'm having a lot of sleepless nights again - don't ask - with time to fill in the wee hours) and then Rog T joined in, demanding proof. Mr Reasonable, who is what it says on the tin, also commented, pointing out that the tax payers of Barnet have a right to know how many people voted for the person responsible for a £1 billion a year budget. He suggested that 'if they do not publish the details then the only conclusion we can come to is that they have something to hide. Sadly this is yet another reflection of the secrecy culture that pervades every corner of Barnet Council.'
Hello: the return of HunterS; he retorts: 'LOL> I think a few people on here need to get a life and move on. At the end of the day Hillan won. NEXT COUNCIL ELECTIONS MAY 2014. ...' Nice.
Mrs Angry reminds him of the slight obstacle of the vote on Tuesday night, and then, thankfully along come a couple of new commenters. Maurice42 asks Hunter s to explain his remark 'people need to get a life' and says 'I am one of many people who are disgusted by the actions of many of our so called representatives in local and national government'. And then an amusingly named 'Hunted999' from Edgware announces that he just hopes that 'the 18 'decent' Conservatives see what's being done in their name and the disgust it provokes amongst residents'.
We can always hope, Hunted999.
What keeps you awake in the wee small hours, residents of Broken Barnet?
Thursday, 9 September 2010
Wednesday, 8 September 2010
Lynne Hillan is now one of the politically undead. Like a zombie, she will go through the motions, and sit through a few more meetings, and chuckle in corners with her chum Brian, plotting revenge like a couple of kids in the playground, the weird ones that no one wants to play with, but it will all amount to nowt. Look at the facts.
She seems to have clung on to power by one vote. Mark Shooter, the new boy, with no political experience, narrowly missed unseating her, and may still yet. In retrospect, he looks like the best leader they could have had: a man who, although he did take part in the infamous allowance vote, is otherwise untainted by the self serving culture of the rest of the longer serving members of the party. In his 'final pitch' letter, he stated he wanted to instigate a positive engagement with the public and council staff, rejected 'soviet bureaucratic initiations' such as Futureshape, went out of his way to support our libraries, and, tellingly, objected to 'having instructions barked at you with menaces' by unnamed Tory colleagues.
With such a weak power base, Hillan has lost all claim to credibility as leader, and all authority, just as certainly as she has lost the support of the ordinary Conservative residents in this borough, who continue to voice their deep sense of disgust over the Allowancegate disgrace in the local press. It is not a question of whether or not she will go, she will; but who will take over? Andrew Harper fancies his chances, but he is too closely allied with the present mess to represent a move to a new approach, which is so badly needed if the Tories are to recover lost support.
Not only did Hillan come so close to losing her position, Brian Schama, the other new boy councillor, very nearly dislodged Wendy Prentice from her position of party chair, again losing only by one vote. He had written a magnificently vitriolic letter to Hillan, quoted in the press and blogs, stating that he was 'ashamed to be your colleague', describing the public humiliation of Kate Salinger as 'obscene bullying', and accusing his leader of being 'cynically determined to suckle as much as you can from the Barnet civic teat'. What a charming picture he paints.
The only real surprise to me in regard to last night was the previously unplumbed depth of stupidity and political ineptitude to which so many of the Tory councillors sank in their inability to do the right thing and vote for change. By their cowardly, shambling dithering, either scared or 'persuaded' with promises of God knows what into voting as they did, they have effectively told the electorate of this borough that they endorse the allowance rise outrage, and will continue to stand by the architect of this policy. Additionally this vote is an endorsement of the shameful treatment of Mrs Salinger, after she alone had the courage to stand up for her convictions and refuse to be bullied onto voting for something she felt to be wrong, and a betrayal of the interests of the people she was elected to serve.
The voters of this borough, and in particular the traditional loyal Conservative voters of this borough, will not forget that the Tories, by last night's vote, sanctioned everything that happened on that fateful night of the allowance rise hike. They won't stop to wonder which of the councillors voted for Hillan, and which of them didn't, they will see only the end result and all Tory councillors will be held responsible. Of course, Mrs Angry can guarantee that very soon, and again in the run up to the next elections, we will be hearing from Tories whingeing about how they didn't want to vote for Lynne Hillan, and a big shouty nasty man made them do it and oh dear, how my heart bleeds ...
The current crop of Tory councillors should enjoy the next three and a half years, and rake in as much allowance and attendance money as they can, because, I suspect, they are not going to be invited back for another round of shafting by the grateful residents of Broken Barnet. In fact, if you think about it, in an unpleasant analogy, what the Tories have done to this borough is the corporate equivalent of a date rape: under the pretext of respectability, they slipped something into our drink and screwed us for everything they could.
Kick them where it hurts, then, in the email box, in the councillors' surgeries, at the earliest opportunity. Go to the council meetings and let them know you are watching what they are up to. If you disagree with what they do, do something about it and let your opinions count for something. If you believe in the democratic process, then now is the time to join in and defend it from the exploitation of unscrupulous opportunists who really do not give a damn about the community in which we live.
Tuesday, 7 September 2010
I thought about this last night when I was sitting doodling in the Cabinet meeting described in the previous blog. It occurred to me that at least three of the local troublemaking bloggers were seated in the same small area of the room, and if Lynne Hillan had thought things through she could have availed herself of the opportunity to get someone to saw through the light fitting hanging over our heads, and make things so much easier for herself and her hapless bunch of wreckers on the council ...
Life is full of opportunities, of course, and it is usually the choice of the individual which will decide whether these possibilities are used for the better, or wasted. Sometimes it is a matter of chance. Tonight, at the wonderful piece of development potential that used to be our Town Hall, there is an opportunity to change the course of history for the better here in Broken Barnet, as the trembling Tory councillors gather together to vote in the long awaited leadership contest.
In Mrs Angry's inbox last night arrived a copy of an open letter from the sadly missed daddy of all Barnet bloggers, the reformed and rehabilitated former Tory, and now hero of the Broken Barnet proletariat, Comrade David Miller, the artist formerly known as 'Don't Call me Dave'.
He has written a letter to all Tory councillors, entitled 'The Wisdom of Brian Coleman' (It's longer than the title might lead you to suspect).
Many years ago when I was Chairman of Chipping Barnet Conservative Association, I dared to criticise the first of Lynne Hillan's failed attempts to become leader of the council.
Cllr Coleman saw me walking in the street and stopped his car for a quiet chat (this was in the days before his driving ban when taxpayers subsequently had to provide him with taxis). Speaking in the understated manner that we have all come to know and love, and with only the very slightest finger gesticulation, our Brian told me clearly and unequivocally: "In order to rebuild, you must first destroy".
Like Hovis, the words of Brian Coleman are as good for you today as they have always been.
As you embark on yet another leadership election, ask yourself this. Are you happy that, save for one notable exception, you have brought the Conservative Party into disrepute? Do you think loyal party members will be impressed that you have reduced Barnet Council to a laughing stock?
It is no good blaming inexperience or alleged bullying tactics employed by certain individuals. You are grown adutls, not children, and you are all quite capable of thinkning for yourself. You know the difference between right and wrong and even if you had only been a councillor for five minutes, you knew that the decision to hike allowances for Lynne Hillan and her cronies was morally wrong and indefensible, yet you voted for it anyway.
You have let down the public who elected you to office, as well as all the hard working volunteer members of your associations who gave their time and money freely to support your campaign.
Unless you want to see the Conservatives wiped out in 2014 along with your own political ambitions, you have to do what Brian Coleman said all those years ago. Destroy the old and rebuild.
David Miller "
Can't really better that, but I will add that by coincidence an answer arrived yesterday to the letter Mrs Angry sent to Lady Warsi, Chair of the Tory Party, making, at some length, many remarks similar to those of Mr Miller. Her aide commented that they were of course, deeply appreciative of Mrs Angry's helpful comments, and had even 'taken on board' what she said, but concluded that ultimately it must be 'a matter for the democratically elected council in question'. Hmm. Democracy: remember how that works, you Tory councillors of Broken Barnet?
Step out of the bunker, and prove it.
Monday, 6 September 2010
Got a job lot, lovely quality, pre-war, only one previous owner, poor old lady, down on her luck, needs a few quid fast, no questions asked ... amazing business potential, planning permission guaranteed ( friends in the right places, know what I mean); no? What about a few allotments then, you know, dig for victory and all that ... well, dig deep in your pockets and you could find yourself with a prime development plot! You interested? Meet me round the back of the town hall, bring the readies - oh hold on - wannna buy a town hall? Or a school? No? What d'ya mean, piss off out of it, chum? Don't you know there's a war on? Sorry, I mean dontcha know we are living in 'challenging times', and 'facing a time of austerity' and 'difficult choices'? Got to make ends meet somehow ...
No, no, no, Mrs Angry: you have it all completely wrong. Stop there.
Last evening, in fact, I sat with head bowed, during the Cabinet meeting in Committee Room 2 of the Town Hall (at least that is what it was when I left) thinking about stabbing a biro in my leg, not just to try to stop myself falling asleep with boredom, but to punish myself for having had the awful suspicion that there was a plot afoot to sell off some of our borough's finest corporate owned buildings to the highest bidder.
Because, you see, as we learned from the dear Leader (at least that was what she was when I left) this is all a silly misunderstanding. Our libraries, we suddenly remembered, are wonderful - the jewel in the crown of the London Borough of Barnet. According to wee little Robert Rams, our libraries are so good they are almost as good as Starbucks, which is a Good thing, and not as bad as Blockbusters, which would be a Bad thing. No, I didn't understand, either. And now he wants us to go to Tesco's to pick up our library books. I suppose that is just as well, because when we do go to our local library we may shortly find that overnight it has been turned into a Tesco express, or a theme pub, maybe with a library theme, decorated with second hand, withdrawn library books ...
I have to declare an interest here. In another life I worked for Barnet Libraries, and indeed did time as the union convenor during a period when - oh dear - it was proposed, by a previous bunch of Tory nutters - that several should be shut, or hours drastically reduced. There was a public outcry, and all were saved. If there is one thing that is guaranteed to have the Tory heartland voters in Barnet out on the streets demonstrating, and calling for the head of their local councillor, it is a threat to a library, and our dear Cabinet members are aware of this, hence the need to make all the right sounds last night. After the recent catastrophic Allowancegate business, the last thing they need is a fright over potential library closures.
I've used libraries all my life, for the old fashioned reason of borrowing books, and I believe passionately in the public library system. That is not to say that libraries do not have to adapt to change, as society evolves. But when Rams trundles out the line 'better service for less money', you know the writing is on the wall, as this is is his lot's codeword and cover for the nasty word which cannot be uttered outright: CUTS. Last night they were very keen to persuade us that libraries were safe in their hands, that they only wanted to 'improve' them: but what will happen when there is the inevitable conflict between providing the service we expect, and a savagely shrunken Tory budget? I think you know the answer.
Little Mr Rams, the evening's Brian Coleman tribute act, became, well, not very scary, when he answered fellow blogger Vicki Morris' question about libraries. 'Typical union response' he piped up rudely, for no good reason, at one point, to the helpless amusement of attending bloggers, members of the public, and even a few councillors.
Talking of Brian: where was he? A council meeting without Mr Toad is like Hamlet without the prince, or maybe Toad in the Hole without a sausage (not even a chipolata). Perhaps he had another vitally important 'cart naming' ceremony to attend. Oh dear, Brian, remember to fill those expenses in straight away, before you forget!
Or was this a diplomatic absence? Does Coleman know something Lynne doesn't want to know about tomorrow's vote? Was the rat deserting the sinking ship? Or was he busy on the phone, ringing round his fellow councillors with heartfelt messages of goodwill and gentle words of persuasion?
Someone had seemingly already had a word with the councillors present at the Cabinet meeting. (Incidentally, the only sure fire way I have discovered of working out the difference between councillors and senior council officers at these meetings is that the latter ones are marginally better looking than our aesthetically challenged councillors, and wear better suits.) The Cabinet councillors present this evening looked er, rather uncomfortable, almost as if someone had been lurking in the car park when they arrived, and threatened them with a chinese burn if they spoke out of turn. Almost no one spoke at all, in fact, and there was no real discussion of any issues, only a demure and obedient rubber stamping of all recommendations, soviet style. A meeting scheduled to last til 10pm was polished off before 8pm. Very odd.
The only one trusted to behave, and keen to express himself, was suave deputy leader, Mr Andrew Harper, who has a mellifluous tone of voice, and likes to burble on in a smooth, seamless, hypnotic, everything is all perfectly reasonable sort of way. Bit like the dentist just before he gives you a painful injection, or Count Dracula, just as he bends down to sink his fangs in your neck. Look into my eyes, Mrs Angry: Oh, Mr Harper ...
Apart from a nice little reassuring chat about libraries, we had a bit of a lecture on waste and recycling from Councillor Tom Davey. Lynne Hillan looked on in motherly approval (ah) as he waffled on about how disappointed he was to find that recycling wasn't, as expected, best supported at 'higher achieving schools' ... (you know, those thick kids, you would think that they just chuck their coke tins over the hedge, wouldn't you?) This must have resonated with Councillor Helena Hart who pointed out rather waspishly that Stonegrove estate had the worst record for recycling (you remember, a council estate is one of those awful places where people with no aspiration live, according to the Tory councillor speaking at the last full meeting). No matter how they try, even the most straightforward discussion of almost any issue exposes the hopeless elitism and prejudice of this Tory council.
Early in the meeting, we had a question from a member of the public who wanted to know about the Local Development Framework, and ask how, exactly, it could support the Big Society idea of 'empowering local people'. Good question, to which he received a tedious answer bla bla bla read drearily by Hillan looking and sounding even more like Olive from On the Buses (ooh Arthur), and so devoid of meaning and interest that the poor man resorted to forming a supplementary question based around an allusion, wasted on the dim councillors, to the subject of the Great Stink. This was not, as you might imagine, a reference to Allowancegate, but to the Thames' sewage crisis of the mid nineteenth century, when our elected government was unable to meet due to the foul stench that was accumulating outside its office windows one particularly hot summer. Hmmm.
There is something rotten in the state of Broken Barnet too, and the smell of it is building up outside the windows of the Town Hall. The big clean up is three and a half years away, but maybe tonight might be when we start to look forward to a new beginning of some sort.
Here's hoping, anyway.
More later today.