Einstein and Mrs Angry debate the relative merits, or otherwise, of Councillor Coleman's controversial park hire scheme
Last night's full council was preceded by an 'extraordinary' meeting, called last year -yes, last year, five weeks ago, by the Labour group to try to force the Tory cabinet to grant a pre Christmas amnesty from the crippling new parking charges. The new cashless parking scheme has caused widespread damage to shops and small businesses all round the borough, and their owners are seeing a loss in trade of up to 40% in some of our town centres.
With touching regard for the problems faced by traders, the Tory administration has delayed this meeting until nearly the end of January. All the same, it gave an opportunity for Labour's Kath McGurk to present some sort of debate on the issue.
Waiting downstairs before we entered the public gallery, Mrs Angry fell into conversation with Helen Michael, the cafe owner from North Finchley who has been admirably vociferous in her opposition to the idiotic new scheme. Mrs Angry drew her attention to the later meeting's questions from councillors, which included the following from Labour leader Alison Moore;
'Some local businesses are citing the cashless parking service and huge parking charge increases as a major reason for a reduction in trade, and even for shops and businesses closing down - when will the Cabinet member listen to local people and reverse the enormous and unfair parking charge increases that he imposed last year?
The answer by Councillor Brian Coleman says that businesses everywhere are calling in the receivers due to 'booming' internet sales, and even poor old Tescos are reporting 'relatively poor trading', even though most of their shops have free car parking.
Er: yes. Councillor Coleman appears not to have realised that internet shopping has been around for some time, and was not invented last winter, around the same time that our parking machines were withdrawn from use. Using the example of a national fall in sales by Tesco, in competition with other supermarkets, is idiotic even by his standards, as there is no evidence to suggest that the Tesco in Finchley has suffered any particular loss in trade: the fact that it offers the only free parking in the area has more probably bumped up sales significantly in the last few weeks.
He rabbits on about needing to help the High Street with 'more flexibility on change of use' and er 'support for the nighttime economy', 'more intelligent Planning decisions' (might need to find some more intelligent councillors, then, Brian). Yes, no doubt this is the case, but if residents are unwilling to visit the High Street in the first place due to your stupid parking scheme, these changes will make no difference.
His last comment is simply incredible. (His lack of punctuation, not mine).
'Quality retail businesses that are flexible will always survive those that are not will go to the wall. The lazy cop out is to blame the council.'
Helen Michael's reaction to this was I imagine a fair representation of how every shopkeeper in the borough would feel on reading this: complete and absolute fury.
The contempt that Coleman demonstrates here for the opinions of local business owners is truly staggering: here is a man who has spent most of his adult life as a councillor and then Assembly member, supported by publicly funded posts, and has never had the responsibilities or experience of running a successful small business, criticising those who are doing so, in the face of a major recession, and now facing immediate ruin as a direct result of the local Tory council's parking policy, of which Coleman is the architect.
In Finchley Central today, two different shop owners told Mrs Angry how furious and anxious they are over the impact of the parking changes on their business. The first was the manager of a charity shop who said that some days there is almost no trade, but worst of all is the dramatic loss of donations as people are no longer willing to stop and park in order to drop them off. Last week we heard Leader Cornelius speak disdainfully of our high streets being full of pound shops and charity shops: he needn't worry because soon they will all be closed, and nothing will replace them.
The other shop owner runs two businesses in the area, one in Finchley Central, the other in North Finchley. He is a very unhappy man, and says he has lost 40% of his usual level of business, and those customers who do call are spending less, as they have parked in a supermarket with time limited free parking.
Mrs Michael and her fellow traders are not - or were not - political agitators. They are local business owners, naturally inclined to expect support from a Conservative council. They do not expect to be put out of business by a Conservative council, or insulted by sneering remarks from the likes of Brian Coleman.
But Coleman is not solely to blame for this mess: the so called Leader, Richard Cornelius, is almost equally responsible. Either he has completely misunderstood the situation, in which case he is a fool, or he does understand, and is too frightened to stand up to Coleman, admit publicly that his administration has got this badly wrong, and put things right, and if that is so, he should be ashamed of himself.
Also culpable are the rest of the Tory group who as we saw last night, and despite the many councillors who privately state their condemnation of the parking changes, do not have the guts or integrity to stand up for what they know to be right, and vote against the continuation of this policy. Shame on you all, then.
And how very stupid they are. Mrs Angry hears that Boris Johnson has expressed his support for the traders of Barnet in their fight against the scheme, and, as she predicted last week, he will be taking a close interest in this issue, with perhaps some interesting developments to follow. Boris is no fool, and could see on his visit last week, just before the results of the Yougov poll which showed how close he is to losing to Ken, the damage being done to the Tory vote in this area.
Some damage is irreversible: there have been so many high profile issues here in Barnet in the last two years which have upset the Tories' own electoral base. Boris is in danger, Brian certainly is in danger, and the next local elections here in our borough will see a loss of marginal and previously safe Conservative seats in several wards.
During last night's 'extraordinary' meeting, Brian Coleman sat sniggering through the entire motion moved by Labour, whispering to his cabinet chum Andrew Harper. Kath made the case again about the new system discriminating against older residents, to no avail. He simply does not care. He stood to make his reply, screeching in that comical, petulant tone, delivering his usual music hall act, to a more than usually hostile reception from the cheap seats in the public gallery.
The old cash payment system required twelve men to go round all the meters: and they were all men, he told us, mystifyingly, because he had taken the trouble to check (why, Brian, why?). Is this really how we want to run things in the twenty first century?
YES! Everyone yelled at him.
Thousands of residents had already registered for the scheme.
THEY HAVE NO CHOICE!
And let's talk about the Labour party's agenda here ...
WHAT'S YOURS, COLEMAN?
Elderly drivers going out without a mobile phone were frankly somewhat foolish ...
DON'T PATRONISE OLDER RESIDENTS
When he finished his rant, he sat down to applause from his fellow Tories, including, I should add, one or two who really ought to know better and don't think Mrs Angry didn't see you. This was totally unneccessary, and shows you what a bunch of trembling sycophants they all are in his presence - with almost all of them queuing up to badmouth him behind his back to anyone who will listen.
The Libdem's Jack Cohen spoke next, telling us that the health food shop in North Finchley is closing, after many years of trading. When he asked the owner why, the answer was: Barnet Council. This process, he said, is being multiplied the length and breadth of the borough, destroying local business. Why don't the Tory councillors stand up to Coleman BECAUSE yelled someone, (well, ok: it was me) THEY ARE A BUNCH OF COWARDS.
Jack Cohen winked in Mrs Angry's direction, having warned her in the lobby he was going to allude to this blog. He said the Tory cabinet members were happy enought to fleece the local tradesmen but were strangely reluctant to residents' forums when invited to address them about the parking issue, eh Councillor Coleman, who was invited to November's forum but failed to appear. Jack referred to a blogger's comparison of the leadership of the council to a certain Captain Pugwash: Coleman being the pirate, and Cornelius playing the part of Tom the cabin boy who always smiled, and said nothing, although to be fair, that could be said of the Tory group as a whole.
Cap'n Coleman and Richard Cornelius, getting ready to jettison the parking scheme, but not yet
The deadly boring Coleman acolyte Rowan Turner spoke movingly of the dreadful hurt caused by Jack Cohen's 'personal slurs'. Mrs Angry thought in fact that Jack was very restrained in not bowing to pressure from the public gallery to allocate the roles of two other apocryphal members of Cap'n Pugwash's crew, messrs Bates and Staines, but there is no pleasing some people, is there? Turner wanted us to remember the hard work they all do.
WHAT HARD WORK? demanded the gallery.
They still get paid, whatever they do, said Mrs Michael to Mrs Angry, shaking her head in disgust: 'I've worked for nothing for the last two months ...'
As predicted, the Tories voted against the opposition motion. When Labour insisted on a division, which compels each member to be named as to the vote they are making, a Tory councillor tweeted to complain, saying what a waste of time it was. Mrs Angry tweeted back that in fact it informed local residents and traders which Tory councillors had decided not to support local business. He didn't reply.
The full meeting began now, after more pointless flouncing about in lace edged gowns, velvet knickerbockers and tricorn hats by the Mayor and her bearers. Mrs Angry refuses to stand up at this point now, in protest at the assault on our local democracy by these town hall tyrants, and this incurs dark looks from certain councillors and council officers. Mrs Angry does not give a shit.
Any hope of mention of any issues of real importance to the community, such as the hugely contentious matter of Coleman's proposed prostitution of our public parks and greenspaces, had now to be postponed for an interminable length of time as the Mayor announced, in the rather amusingly regal voice she has adopted for what is clearly a role she relishes, plans to tell the Queen how absolutely thrilled we all are at her forthcoming diamond jubilee. This was explained to us at some length. And then it was explained to us that we would also be telling the Duke of Edinburgh how thrilled we were at the Queen's forthcoming diamond jubilee. Fabulous news.
All the party leaders had to tell everyone how thrilled they were too, also at great length. Richard Cornelius talked about her reign spanning the eras of both Churchill and Cameron. Hmm, thought Mrs Angry, that was a rare reference to the present Tory leader: in Broken Barnet we barely acknowledge the hurtful truth that Margaret Thatcher has turned into Meryl Streep and no longer spends every election night in Broken Barnet, sat in the Town Hall, with a gin clutching Denis in the Mayor's parlour. In this borough, Tories live in their own little twilight world, thirty years behind the times, long before Eric Pickles started wearing braces, let alone conceive the dangerous idea of localism, and everything our councillors fear from a world gone mad for transparency and accountability.
Royal bowing and scraping finished, now time for a change of tone from obsequious to solemn. There were three recently deceased local figures to remember. One was 99, the other 101, so frankly it was not entirely unexpected. One had been a councillor whom all parties recognised had been a man of integrity and devotion to public office. This was an example to emulate, you might think, but the irony floated over the heads of our elected representatives and out of the window of Hendon Town Hall.
The third was a younger man, Karl Ruge, who had played a prominent role in the community, and clearly had had an interesting life. Mrs Angry's ears pricked up when Jack Cohen spoke about him and mentioned his friendship with Albert Einstein. Apparently on one visit to the great man, he took the trouble to try to explain to Ruge's sister his theory of relativity. He said if she sat on the kitchen stove for one minute, it would seem like one hour, but if they were to walk hand in hand in the garden for one hour, to him, it would seem like one minute ... (have I got that right, Jack, you know, rivets, Bunuel, etc?)
Mrs Angry thought she had almost understood what the old boy was banging on about at last. One minute in the council chamber of Broken Barnet certainly seems like an eternity. And yet the evening had only just begun. Can you bear to read anymore? Not sure I can bear to write it.
continued later, maybe ...