Tomorrow evening will see our next Full Council Meeting, here in Broken Barnet, at Hendon Town Hall. This is always an ordeal: watching the idiotic bowing and scraping of Mayors, and Deputy Mayors, and flunkeys in breeches and white gloves (see above): simply preposterous, but our Tory councillors love this - some more than others, of course, as we shall see.
Once the prancing about is over, and the ritual of self congratulation, and po faced commiseration for departed councillors gone to what Mrs Angry firmly hopes is their due reward in the next life, and the Chaplain has invoked the blessing of the Almighty on the selfless endeavours of our elected members, there is usually a short amount of time left for council business, although a substantial part of this is dedicated to aha, questions from councillors.
Mrs Angry has read her way through these, on your behalf. This particular meeting's list, in fact, tells you much about the mindsets of the parties in Broken Barnet. I say parties: I cannot see any questions from the Libdems, which is a shame: it is not as if we are short of matters to question, is it? Perhaps Councillor Jack Cohen is attending a film festival in Barcelona, or in steerage, on his way across the Atlantic, worrying about the wrong sized rivets. Or was it screws? My heart will go on, Jack, anyway. Sorry.
A wide range of Labour councillors have submitted perfectly sensible, practical questions on matters of concern to constituents, both at ward level, and in a wider context. Doing their jobs, as elected members, in other words.
The Labour leader has raised important questions about One Barnet, and about the scurrilous parking scheme. Cabinet member Dean Cohen, who took over responsiblity for this from Coleman, has done absolutely nothing to repair the damage this fiasco has caused to our high street trade, and disruption to residents, other than to agree to a couple of hours free parking at Christmas, a pathetically inadequate concession which he managed to cock up, with the result that thousands of Barnet residents ended up paying for their 'free' parking. His responses here on the subject are predictably evasive, shambling.
Councillor Ioannides -and even our new Independent councillor Brian Coleman, whose questions have all been loaded ignominiously at the end, meaning he will not fit into the limited time for supplementaries - have asked questions about Boris Johnson's plan to close two of our police stations, neatly sidestepped by Tory Cabinet member Longstaff.
Tory Cllr Joan Scannell has a question. She wants to know if Longstaff approves of ANPR, automatic car reg recognition, and if he thinks our police should have it. He says yes, despite the argument about the invasion of privacy.
Well, look here, you two: why worry about that? A local private security firm, Evolution Emergency Response, formerly known as MetPro, may be able to assist, see here ...
Yes ... it says on their vehicles they have ANPR, see ... and we know that they have no problems with the invasion of privacy and nor will they require any sort of, you know, contract type of thing ...
Labour's Pauline Coakley Webb asks a question about the disgraceful auctioning off, in a Warwickshire church hall, of much of the contents of our Church Farmhouse Museum - our local heritage - how much did this make for Councillor Robert Rams? £17,386.64. Kerrching. Easier to sell off portable pieces of our heritage than a library, even with a leaking roof, isn't it, Cllr Rams?
If you recall, Tory Leader Richard Cornelius disdainfully dismissed the museum's collection as being of no value.
Of course he was not talking about the value in terms of social history, because our Tory councillors do not consider social history to have any intrinsic value, but it would seem he was wrong from a commercial point of view, as well: clearly many of the items flogged off reached very handsome prices. Other artefacts have been given to other local musems, run by bodies or authorities who do appreciate their importance. Sadly the contextual significance of these items, many given by local residents, is now lost forever.
And what have our Tory councillors concerned themselves with? What are the most important issues, would you say, here in Barnet, now, with a billion pounds worth of our services about to be thrown into the sweaty hands of Capita and possibly one other lucky winner in the privatisation giveaway competition?
Oh. No. One Barnet cannot, must not, be named. Toxic. Hang on, are these the same rules as for the Residents Forums: no mention of sshhh, Mrs Angry, of .... POLICY. There. I said it. And now look, yes: Forum chair Councillor Reuben Thompstone is outside, shouting through my letter box: THANK YOU FOR YOUR CONTRIBUTION MRS ANGRY BUT YOU WILL RESTRICT YOUR COMMENTS TO MATTERS OF PUBLIC WORKS.
I will not - not here, and not anywhere else.
By the way, Mrs Angry has written to Cllr Thompstone, and invited him to apologise for contradicting her in regard to his administration's breach of the Constitution over the matter of 'themed Forums'. Cllr Thompstone has replied, but not apologised. Mrs Angry has replied and asked him again. Admitting you are wrong is very difficult, of course, although Mrs Angry has never had to do so, as she never is, but for Barnet Tory councillors such humiliation is clearly unthinkable.
One Barnet? Only one Tory councillor has referred to the subject. One Tory councillor has been a very busy boy, in fact, and rather astonishingly, has submitted more than a dozen questions. Yes: nearly a quarter of all of the questions on tomorrow night's list are from Councillor Andrew Strongolou. Who? Yes, he is a councillor. No, really. And a resting Actor, like Goldenarse.
Councillor Andrew Strongolou
Why is this astonishing? Well, because Cllr Strongolou is not known for, shall we say, his prominent role in the esoteric rites that perform the function of council meetings, here in Broken Barnet. Mrs Angry has only heard him speak twice, in all the time she has been attending these turgid events. He usually sits silently, brooding manfully behind dark glasses, even at night, looking mean and moody (or so he thinks, frankly, this makes him look rather comical) and yes, rather too much like a young Colonel Gaddafi, or possibly Borat.
Mrs Angry was told by A Councillor that it has been suggested to this councillor, who was elected to the desperately marginal Underhill Ward, (it already has one Labour member), that it might be a good thing to raise his profile, in the run up to elections next year. True, but this advice might apply to most Tory councillors, or perhaps, no: some might do better to go into hiding, in fact.
And now - after the famine, the feast - we are blessed with an abundance of questions. Or at least his name is on these questions: very often Tory councillors earning their McDonalds golden star points do so by putting their name to drafted questions intended to make the Cabinet look like masterfully skilled local government administrators and oh, well, you know, vaguely competent, anyway.
Our Andrew asks obediently therefore about alternative options to One Barnet (Answer: there are no alternatives - did you guess?) and what have the opposition parties put forward as an alternative (fill in the rest) and equally importantly, he asks a couple of forensically incise questions about grit. Yes, grit.
Barnet Tories like talking about grit, because it is public works, and not policy, and goes on the pavement, and people can see it. We are even allowed to use it, if we ask nicely, in a Big Society sort of way. And pose for a photo for Barnet First. Marvellous.
Cllr Dean Cohen replies enthusiastically on this subject, with much talk of shovels and wheelbarrows, a tactic which, combined with the rhyming possibilities suggested by the subject of grit, may provide Mrs Angry with the makings of a scatalogically based One Barnet limerick, perhaps in the early hours one morning, when she can't sleep.
Ah, but, best of all, Cllr Strongolou, with all the zeal of a born again Barnet Tory councillor, has asked several questions about one of the most important issues facing us here in Broken Barnet, in the winter of discontent that is, oh, somewhere round, what where are we, no, not 1984, exactly, scroll down ... 1978/9?
It is always 1978/9, in Broken Barnet, inside the head of our Tory councillors. Their collective memory is caught in a moment of time, the moment of glory when the sainted Margaret Thatcher, our local MP, became PM. And all their current obsessions are still the obsessions of that era: the loathing of the public sector, 'red tape', political correctness, Europe, and oh yes: stand by: The Unions. THE UNIONS.
No less than seven questions by Strongolou are on the subject of THE UNIONS.
How many council employees are members of THE UNIONS? Should we give money - tax payers' money - to THE UNIONS, how much support does the council give to THE UNIONS, Oh dear: Does the tax that goes towards supporting THE UNIONS provide as much value for money as other council expenditures? (like supporting all those consultants, and paying for elocution lessons for senior executives, or oh, stop there, Mrs Angry).
Up pipes Cllr Scannell again: How much influence do THE UNIONS have on council policy?
Look, Joan: here - can you see this tiny dot?
Yes. That's about how much, my dear. Compare that to the influence on policy by private consultants, and global outsourcing companies. Then go and have a lie down.
Our Tory councillors are panicking. They know they are in serious trouble, and they don't know what to do about it - except find some scapegoats. Can't blame the blogosphere, because the blogosphere will eviscerate them if they so much as try ... could try blaming the local press, if they turn up - yes, look a question from Biscuit Boy Cllr Evangeli wanting to know about advertising contracts with the local papers, and when the contract runs out - contract? This is Broken Barnet son, wake up? And another ludicrous question from Strongolou, will the council be pursuing legal action or consulting the press complaints commission due to factual errors in recent advertising found in the local press? Ah, the anti One Barnet wrap around. Answer: No. Hard luck.
So who is left? Ah ... THE UNIONS, that's who'll we'll blame.
The trade unions in Barnet are entirely responsible, well run organisations working desperately hard - harder than almost anyone realises - on behalf of their members, who are after all, just ordinary, lowly paid council officers with families to support. Union members, Andrew, and Joan, are people like you, or me, who are also tax payers, and many of them local residents - and voters too.
The Unison secretary, John Burgess, is an honourable, hard working and conscientious man who has tried his best to persuade the lazy, feckless Tories to inform themselves properly about the One Barnet scam, alas to little avail. Interesting, however, that the Tory councillors are now pretending to be so concerned about the power and influence of the very people they have steadfastly ignored for so long, isn't it?
In truth, although marginalised by the employers with whom they are intended to engage, the unions have played their part at the forefront of the resistance to our council's shameful administration, resistance to its betrayal of the best interests of the residents of this borough. It is a part to be proud of.
So: Mrs Angry has written to Cllr Strongolou, to ask him about his interesting questions.
No reply as yet, but then she is not awfully sure if his emails reach him, you know.
Dear Councillor Strongolou
As you may or may not know, I write the local blog 'Broken Barnet', and I would appreciate your assistance in replying to one or two questions I have in regard to tomorrow's council meeting.
I note that you have submitted thirteen questions to tomorrow's meeting, including some based on the interesting topic of trade union membership and acitivities, including two regarding the matter of contributions by tax payers. My questions to you:
1. Why have you submitted so many questions?
2. What has spurred this sudden interest in union matters?
3. What experience do you have of unions either as a member, or perhaps as a manager, in some form of employment?
4. Have you had any form of employment that has brought you into contact with union issues, or indeed, any form of full time employment in recent years?
5. I note that in your declaration of interests, you have nothing offered in response to the requirement, signed in May 2010, to show 'every employment, office, trade, profession or vocation that you have to declare for income tax purposes'.
Presumably this declaration is up to date, and has not altered within the last 28 days? It is perhaps rather surprising that someone of your young age is not employed, especially when so many other councillors hold full time jobs, as well as undertake their duties as elected members.
Do you think, however, that your apparent lack of experience in the world of work, and the fact that you are not a taxpayer really puts you in the best position to raise criticisms of hard working council officers who happen to be, as well as tax payers, members of a trade union?
Do you not think that these officers are in need of the support of their union, at a time when so many face the loss of their livelihoods as a result of the One Barnet programme, and will face struggles which you would appear not to have to bear yourself, such as the support of dependent children, and the demands of paying their mortgage?
I look forward to your response.
In the meanwhile, Andrew, here is a song just for you, to get you in the mood for tomorrow night ...