Tuesday, 17 May 2011
Rites of Passage: the annual council meeting
When Mrs Angry arrived at the Town Hall tonight, there were very few people waiting outside for entry to the public gallery, and a load of police officers were driving away in a mini bus. Was this a good sign, or a bad one? The Chief Executive came out and waved cheekily at Mrs Angry, and yelled something at her about goats and sheep - and grass. Not now, thank you, need to concentrate. Actually, at first she thought he was perhaps having some sort of out of body experience and might be in need of a lie down before the council meeting, but it turned out a local farm had come to protest outside about something, with a few of the occupants let loose on the patch of lawn by the entrance.
When we were allowed in, once again the way was flanked with a completely over the top escort of security staff (very, very polite ones, mind you) and council officers: the arrangements for the Queen's visit to Dublin pales into insignificance, in comparison, frankly.
The public gallery was already stuffed full with guests of councillors, all come to see the enthronement of the new Mayor. Tonight Anthony Finn was passing over his duties to Toyah Wilcox lookalike Lisa Rutter. This ludicrous spectacle took an eternity, most of the evening in fact, and was deeply comical, in a way that only the councillors of Broken Barnet can manage.
Moth eaten old robes, the aged footmen in their breeches, bowing and scraping, waving maces around, walking backwards and forwards, the public made to stand up and sit down, stand up and sit down. All the Tory councillors were wearing trimmed Hogwarts Academy style gowns, and the Labour lot were sporting red roses. Speeches, more speeches, thanks, congratulations, thank you for your congratulations.
And guess who was all blinged up, with that swimming medal on a ribbon he likes to wear: little Brian Coleman, who took a major role in the proceedings, rather like the Archbishop of Canterbury at a coronation. At one point, he solemnly escorted Lisa Rutter into a sideroom where he did things to her, don't know what exactly, some sort of anointing with holy oil, I imagine. When she emerged, anyway, she was wearing the Mayor's gear, and a startled expression.
Mrs Rutter was given the gold chain of office and before anyone could stop him, Mr Jeff Lustig, the Director of Corporate Governance, started fondling her long blonde hair, the old fox, right there, in front of everyone, including a couple of sea cadets, mind you. Shameless. It was a moment of palpable erotic tension, and the whole chamber held its breath. He pretended her hair was caught in the chain, then, of course.
The new Mayor made a speech. 'Your Eminence', she began. I do think Brian is getting a little above himself, don't you? She thought the role of civic Mayor was a wonderful thing. 'Hear, hear', grunted His Eminence.
Then it was time for the Deputy Mayor to be inducted into the arcane mysteries of his new office. Yes, biscuit loving Councillor Barry Evangeli was led off to the side room where it was his turn for the initiation ceremony, and a plate of hobnobs.
Of course a few of the Tory councillors are -ssh - masons, and this sort of thing is run of the mill for them. They love all the ritual, and vows, and walking around in daft costumes. For the rest of us it was a pointless, outdated and timewasting exercise.
More speeches. God help us.
The evening then took on a more sombre tone, as the Chief Executive read out a letter from the absent council leader, Lynne Hillan. Ms Hillan is gravely ill in hospital and has decided to stand down as leader. Her colleagues and members of all parties paid tribute to her and wished her well.
The Director of Corporate Governance announced that there was now a vacancy for council leader, which would be temporarily filled by deputy Andrew Harper, until the next council meeting and an opportunity to vote for a replacement.
At last, some council business. Unfortunately, it was the formal vote for the approval of the constitutional 'reforms' mentioned in the previous post. Labour's Alison Moore and LibDem Jack Cohen tried to plead for some last moment reconsideration of alternative model three, for a sense of remorse over the anti-democratic nature of the new measures, the erosion of rights held by councillors, on behalf of their constituents, held for fifty years or more. Opposition councillors protested about the stifling of debate, the further concentration of power to the Cabinet at the expense of the wider involvement of the other councillors.
And then a most peculiar thing happened. Mrs Angry could hardly believe it. Councillor Brian Coleman stood up and suggested that the 'reforms' didn't really signify anyway, as the new Localism bill was on its way. Good grief: and then, he suddenly announced that - and I hope I understood this, as it seems so unlikely - that he was now in favour of abandoning the executive/Cabinet system and a return to the previous committee based direction.
Er: really? This from the man who submitted the constitutional proposal that will ensure that in future, only the leader of the council and the opposition leader will have the right to speak on motions, policy items and committee reports? How very odd. Has Eric Pickles been giving our Brian a hard time, do you think? Or has the anxiety of the next twelve months campaigning for the GLA elections frightened him out of his usual gung ho political stance into a new, warmer, touchy feely, inclusive Brian Coleman?
Oh hang on. At this point I need to issue a warning. Are you sitting down?
Rumour has it that - ha ha: 'friends' of Brian (as if) are 'urging' him to stand for the leadership of Barnet Council. Yeah, right. Mrs Angry can believe that Mr Toad would love to be leader: after all, he must realise that he is very likely to lose his GLA post to Andrew Dismore, and will lose a whopping amount of his income and all of his larger power base. Being leader of Barnet pays very nicely, and is a doddle: leave all the work to council officers, blame them if it goes wrong, take the credit if it doesn't. So, is he trying to build bridges with the wider Tory group in Barnet? Vote for me and I will bring you all back into the process of government?
Hmm. Thing is, our Brian is not exactly revered and adored by his fellow Tories in Barnet. In fact, Mrs Angry can exclusively reveal that before the Labour nomination for the GLA campaign was secured by Andrew Dismore, local Tories were alleged to be backing Dismore themselves, whispering in the corridors with unexpected allies, and praying that Labour would choose the most credible rival to their own Tory candidate.
Coleman is seen as a -what is the word - a maverick by most Tories, in fact: his pomposity, all the travelling expenses, his Assetco hamper, his continual networking and enjoyment of wining and dining, his frequently tactless utterances, his behaviour during the firefighters' dispute: all this headline grabbing nonsense has had an incremental effect on his chances for re-election. In Barnet, the chances of persuading his colleagues to back him for leadership must be,well, minimal, at best.
In the meanwhile, deputy leader Andrew Harper is stepping up to the mark. He must so want the permanent post. Here he is, backing the reform proposals and model one. Boy, is he keen. He has mentioned his increased portfolio again tonight, and frankly, it really is enormous now: Mrs Angry wonders how he can fit it all in. He says he is rising to support the plans. Er, it is premature, though -uh oh - to think about executive arrangements. No, stop thinking about executive arrangements, too much of a turn on, think about something else - always works. Michael Gove, or Jeremy Clarkson, or the price of fish, or oh, oops, too late: never mind.
The Tories' motion was carried of course, and democracy in Broken Barnet has had a right kick in the teeth are a result. What did you expect?
Tonight's meeting was also the preamble to the rearrangement of committee membership, and the new membership of other bodies was announced by the Mayor. If Mrs Angry's admittedly unreliable hearing was correct, Councillor Robert Rams has been elected to a position with the Friends of Barnet Libraries: ha, yes, really, and get this: Andrew Harper is taking part in the Youth Games - what?
The committee appointments will be announced in the next few days: much anticipation from the lucky winners, of course. Last year, when this muncipal patronage was being handed out, the phones at NLBP were red hot with greedy little councillors desperate to know how much their extra allowances were. I am sure the same is true now.
If you remember, last year we were assured by the Tory Cabinet that, in line with allowance increases, councillors would be subjected to performance appraisal. Here we are, twelve months later, and there is still absolutely no sign of this promise being honoured. But then honour is not a quality we associate with the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet is it?