Allianz Park stadium and sports centre sits in a semi-rural setting, in the middle of Copthall playing fields, in Mill Hill, surrounded by fields, and old hedgerows, miles from anywhere, inaccessible by public transport, approachable only by a manically road humped meandering road: its splendid isolation a perfect venue, in short, for the process of counting the vote for Barnet's council elections.
We say splendid isolation: in fact the old centre and stadium, long regarded as a white elephant by Barnet Tories, was handed over by them to Saracens rugby club, for a peppercorn rent, and has been tarted up and customised to their specification: the result is an incongrous building, with a shop, and bars, the public one, as Mrs Angry noted with wry amusement on arrival, boasting large windows etched with commendable aspirations to 'honesty', 'humility', and 'discipline'.
Rogue councillor Brian Coleman had objected to the Barnet Council election count being held at Allianz Park, due to the association of the name - because of course as soon as the former Copthall stadium had been given away to Saracens, they announced an £8 million sponsorship deal with the German insurance company, and renamed it, despited protests from many , not least Jewish residents who are aware of Allianz's history, and its shameful support for the Nazi regime.
Renamed, rebranded, refurbished - and now lent back to Barnet to hold the count. Were we paying for the privilege? Or was it a favour returned by Nigel Wray, the hugely wealthy owner of Saracens, who happens to be a constituent of Tory leader Richard Cornelius, and fellow member of the Totteridge Residents Association? Who knows.
Before Mrs Angry could give her name at the reception desk, she was handed an ID badge. Oh yes, said the assistant, smiling, we were warned you were coming. Coming later, she added. Oh. Mrs Angry contemplated the extent of her infamy, and wandered towards the count.
Into the long, narrow room where the ballot boxes were being emptied and counted on tables allocated to each ward in a line, a long walk. Right at the far end the BBC was poised, waiting to film what was a significant moment: the test of a former Tory flagship administration - the day of reckoning, for easycouncil.
Walking along the line of tables was a surreal, dream like experience: or perhaps rather like death by drowning, where the face of everyone you have ever known rises up before you, to say goodbye: in this case, every character who has featured in Broken Barnet over the last four years, friends, foes, people from across the political spectrum in this borough - and Brian Coleman - all gathered together in one room. Friends, enemies, or even, as nwo you see him now you don't Tory councillor Danny Seal suggested 'frenemies'.
Also keen to chat was his new Hampstead Garden Suburb ward colleague Gabriel Rozenberg, who is a HUGE fan of Mrs Angry. (Even though the so called friend who told her this told him she prefers Mr Reasonable, can you believe it?)
And she wishes that Tory councillors would stop sidling up to her, as they did all day Thursday, and telling her how much they enjoy reading this blog, because, you feckless eejits, she does not want you to enjoy it, at all. That is NOT the point of this blog. Please pay attention.
She wants you to feel full of remorse, and self recrimination, and to vow to turn away from your path of sin, to a better life of honesty, humility, and discipline. Or you could join the Labour party?
Honesty, humility, and discipline. Like rugby players, but without any of that homoerotic larking about in the bath, as some of you might be too distracted from your duties.
And your Tory MP chum Matthew Offord would only come in and pull the plug, to stop any of that funny business, in case it prevents procreation, or, UKIP style, perhaps, causes flooding on a biblical scale.
*Disclaimer ... Sorry: Mrs Angry has had no sleep, is losing the will to write this post, and her mind is wandering.
Gabriel, by the way, is the son of legal journalist Joshua Rozenberg. Oh, and he is also, of course, the son of Melanie Phillips, which may explain his predisposition to admiration of women with forthright views - and a limited amount of tact and diplomacy.
Speaking of which: the previous day had been spent by Mrs Angry at two different polling stations: one in West Finchley, and one in West Hendon. The first session was enlivened by the musings of a local UKIP member, see below, who entertained us with the story of his life growing up in South Africa, his first languages being Zulu, and Afrikaans. He came here as a fifteen year old, he said. So, said Mrs Angry, listening to his lifestory, and tales of derring do, and living in the USA, and elsewhere, you want to deny to European immigrants the privileges you as a South African immigrant enjoyed, by settling here?
Tellers at a West Finchley station, including Cllr Jim Tierney
No, no, he retorted, as the Asian Tory teller regarded him, coolly, but in dignified silence, we want the same rules as Canada and Australia, and ... and would those rules have allowed you in? Ah. He wasn't sure.
He had a good story about another election, however: his first wife, he said, had been working in a polling station many years ago, when Winston Churchill walked in. He summoned the Presiding Officer over and demanded he tell him the name of the Conservative candidate. The Presiding Officer informed him, with pursed lips, that he was unable to do so, as it was not permitted for him to discuss political matters with voters.
A heavy responsibility, of course, being a Presiding Officer. Mrs Angry has done it, in the past, and therefore has some knowledge of those rules which dictate what may or may not be done within the environs of a polling station. It became obvious at the next stint of telling, at a station in West Hendon, that not all Presiding Officers are as well informed or active in their duties as they should be.
The Tory tellers at this station, it transpired, were not Conservative party activists. Or members. Or Conservatives. Or even particularly interested in politics. Or residents of Barnet. They were there, they both explained, to do a favour for a friend. Odd. Even more odd was the presence of a couple of men standing outside the station, talking conspiratorially all the time, using blue tooth and phones to communicate with who know who, and casting hostile glances at Mrs Angry, for no reason she could see.
Unofficial Tory 'security' at the polling station
Mrs Angry was told they were there to 'be with' the Tory teller, but they had no ID, and did nothing but watch people. At several points, a large black limo with associates of theirs would come and drive slowly past the polling station entrance, again, the occupants staring at Mrs Angry. Then one of the men took a chair, and sat down outside the entrance, in what was frankly, rather an intimidating gesture. All of this, including the car's registration number, was passed on to the Labour party agent, and then to the Returning Officer, but it should have been addressed immediately, in person.
The Tory candidates in West Hendon failed to win any seats, of course.
Mrs Angry had arrived at the count at midday, and the real counting had not really got underway. When it did, the process was long, highly complex, and intensely scrutinised by observers from all parties, sitting at the tables, the length of the room. That the vote was so complex was due to the number of cross votes, with some residents deciding to distribute their favours amongst a motley collection of parties, as is their right, but causing a real problem for the count, which is why, as well as the closeness of many of the results, the event went on, and on, and on ...
Mrs Angry had collared a particularly red faced Richard Cornelius on arriving at the count, and asked the Tory leader if he was feeling happy, or ... Grimacing, he shrugged and choosing, in his Mr Punch-like way, a suitable fairground allusion said rather gloomily, well ... politics is a real roller coaster, and ... you have your ups and downs ...
And then with a certain gleam in his eye, he predicted a long day of many recounts: meaning, Mrs Angry concluded that a. the sense that the Tories had had a pretty catastrophic result was right, and b. that they were going to fight over every last vote, whatever it took. It took all day and all night, that was what it took - and many asked why that was the case, when in the olden day, pre-Capita, pre One Barnet, we were able to organise an election night declaration within a much shorter time.
In between wandering up and down the tables, picking up whispers about who was in, and who was out, the only other thing to do was to go upstairs to the cafe, where people sat at large round tables covered in white linen tablecloths, like a wedding reception from hell, with guests trying not to sit at the wrong table, with those awful people from the groom's side, or ... oh dear ... libdems. The Greens, of course, sat on the floor in a circle, held hands, and had a picnic.
Yes, I am making that up.
Or am I?
Hung around the walls of this room, and indeed everywhere in the building, was a rather haphazard art collection, apparently belonging to Nigel Wray, of sporting scenes: pretty ghastly stuff, to be frank, but clearly worth a fortune. Good job he didn't have to flog it to pay the rent on the stadium, isn't it? Mrs Angry was tempted to pinch one, as collateral, to make up for the subsidy extended to Saracens, courtesy of her council tax, but then ... would you really want that stuff on your own wall? No.
Brian Salinger, in his election day tie
By now some councillors had seen the writing on the wall, and predicted their own political demise. As soon as Mrs Angry had arrived, in fact, Tory Kate Salinger had told her cheerfully that she was 'toast'. 'Burnt Toast', she added. She was right.
A shame for Kate, because she is a nice woman, but, despite her own valiant effort in defying the shameful allowance rise hike, she was ultimately the victim of her own inability to maintain such independence of mind, and retain her loyalty to the party which agreed to shut libraries, and did, and then saw one reopened by squatters from the Occupy movement, and returned to the community. In her way she tried to support the new community library, but her position was untenable, and voters were unforgiving.
Libdem leader Jack Cohen spent the day in the most awful state of torment, believing he had lost his seat in Childs Hill, which he has held since 1986. Lord and Lady Palmer had both stood down, and personal loyalties clearly no longer applied to the new Libdem candidates. Would Jack Cohen, who is widely respected, a dedicated, hard working councillor, and a man of great wit, really no longer be a member of Barnet Council? Such a prospect was too awful for words. Who else would make speeches about Albert Einstein sitting on a hot stove, or argue with Mrs Angry about the wrong size rivets on the Titanic, or dare to try to correct her on her knowledge of the films of Luis Bunuel? Robert Rams? Ha.
Robert Rams: what had happened to his vote, delivered by the grateful residents of East Barnet? Read on.
Slowly the results began to emerge, and we moved into another room to hear the declarations given by Returning Officer and Chief Executive Andrew Travers. Unsurprisingly, the right wing Tory Brian Gordon, who had jumped ship in risky Hale to stand in safer Edgware, was returned, along with starchy-knickered, self professed Thatcherite, Helena Hart, and her gal pal, the former manageress of the Ponders End branch of Freeman, Hardy and Willis, 1953-1969, Miss Joan Scannell.
Mrs Angry was amused to see that to the side of the Returning Officer was another of Nigel Wray's pictures, this one rather good, a large canvas (see below) depicting an upwardly mobile Nelson Mandela. Brian Gordon, of course, is famous for once 'entertaining' the captive audience at a home for elderly residents with his blacked up impersonation of Mr Mandela: so, a fitting backdrop to his admirer's return to power.
Robert Rams, from the start of the day, had a face like a smacked *rse, (I have redacted and edited my own comment here, btw) and was in a full on sulk, all day, disappearing eventually when it became clear he had - deservedly - lost his seat in East Barnet.
Like many of the Tories who lost seats or failed to win one, he did not have the grace to attend the declaration, and take his defeat like a man. The man who shut our Church Farmhouse Museum, and our libraries, and sat in council meetings scoring cheap points against any opponent or resident who addressed a committee, or sat there playing with his phone rather than give his attention to proceedings - he was thrown out of office and he and his colleagues replaced by three Labour candidates, Phil Cohen, Laurie Williams, and best of all, Rebecca Challice, a young and really brilliant addition to the Labour group.
Another Tory who did not bother staying to hear the declaration was Ansuya Sodha, the former Labour councillor for West Hendon who was deselected, and became so outraged at losing what she had thought was her right to remain a councillor, she defected to the Tory group, when they offered her a nomination. Elected instead were three Labour councillors, the redoubtable, wonderful Agnes Slocombe, now the longest serving councillor in Barnet, the hardworking assistant to Andrew Dismore, Adam Langleben, and Mrs Angry's dear friend, the lovely Dr Devra Kay, who is a woman of many parts: Yiddish scholar, jazz singer, and a real delight.
Councillor Agnes Slocombe
No one likes a turncoat, and really Sodha's behaviour was pretty shabby, by any standards. Used by the Tories who spent the last few years sniggering at her every time she spoke, because she is a woman, an older woman, and an Asian woman, she will now be unceremoniously dumped by them and forgotten. Good riddance.
Tom Davey spent most of the day in what to Mrs Angry was a most satisfyingly intense state of barely concealed panic, facing the real prospect that he was not going to return to his seat. Even when the results were declared, he struggled to show any sense of relief. It was a close run thing, as demonstrated by the election of one Labour candidate, Kitty Lyons.
Mrs Angry sincerely hopes that this experience will teach young Master Davey to grow up, learn a little discretion, and perhaps stop wasting so much time playing board games and dressing up, and more time trying to learn the art of empathy, and understand the needs of those less fortunate than him. Benefit 'scroungers', the disabled, abused women, for example.
Another spectacular victory for Labour came in Underhill, which had been a split ward, with one Labour councillor. On Friday we waved goodbye to Tories Rowan Quigley Turner, and his amusing colleague Andrew Strongolou: all replaced by a terrific team - Tim Roberts,
Paul Edwards (a former union colleague - comrade - of Mrs Angry, as it happens), and another terrific young female candidate, Amy Trevethan, extremely bright and ambitious - and winning, like Rebecca Challice, against all the odds and naysayers who said they were too young (ie under retirement age, like most of the old codgers in the Tory party) or too female (unlike most of the old codgers in the Tory party).
Amy is standing against Theresa Villiers next year, and she is going to give Villiers a real problem, because, as these results show, there is a previously untapped Labour vote in Chipping consituency that just may take Amy to Westminster. We desperately need young, gifted women to enter politics both locally and nationally, and now we are beginning to see that happen.
The other parties: how did they do? The Greens did ok: and also did the usual terrible thing, by default, of splitting the anti-Tory vote, thereby delivering you, dear reader to another Conservative council. Those of you, and yes I am looking at someone in particular, who felt obliged to distribute your votes here there and everywhere in High Barnet with light hearted abandon, to, Greens, Libdems, anyone but Labour, have returned three Tory councillors, and as it turned out, at the nerve wracking end of the night, a Tory administration. Thank you very much.
It is a great shame that the Greens did not come to an agreement in certain wards to butt out, and help us all climb out of the pit of Tory doom, but the greater good, and strategic planning seems to pale into insignificance, when you spend all day worrying about the planet, and climate change, and stuff, we must suppose.
Barnet Alliance's strategy of recommending people vote 'anyone but conservative' would also, in retrospect be a mistake. Tactics, tactics: a hard lesson to learn, but an unavoidable truth.
UKIP. It must be no longer avoided, Mrs Angry.
Most of the UKIP candidates were what you might expect: old boys in blazers, wishing they had a gin and tonic in their hand, and wandering about the building at a loss as to what to do. One of them, the Underhill candidate, did pretty well, the rest pretty poorly, and none of them were elected. End of story for Mr Ferridge, in London? Probably.
The collapse of the Libdem vote was another story. Mrs Angry thought it would be spectacular, and it was. Areas like Mill Hill, a former stronghold - the vote was less than UKIP. Unfortunately, the good people of Mill Hill, or at least some of the people of Mill Hill, saw fit to return the moustachioed octogenerian Tory John Hart, whose recent highly offensive remarks about the 'handouts' to disabled children at Mapledown School should on their own have seen him finished as a councillor. Whether or not he is fit enough to see through another four year term is another question. And there is real danger now for the Tories in Mill Hill from Labour, who made previously unheard of gains there - as Mrs Angry predicted.
And then there is Childs Hill.
This is the ward that kept us waiting until so late at night, as they checked, and rechecked, and checked again.
Early on in the day, Jack Cohen had said to Mrs Angry, shaking his head, that he was gone. He had clearly given up all hope of retaining his seat, and the poignancy of such a loss, both politically, and personally, was felt by many at the count, of all parties. The count continued, and it became clear that in the cross voting, he was doing much better, as perhaps you might expect. Not until the last minute of the last declaration of the evening did we discover who had pulled it off, as both Labour and Tory candidates were in reach of the crucial figure. He won, by nine votes.
Of course as a Labour member, Mrs Angry should have been rooting for the Labour candidate, and a Labour win. But in truth Jack Cohen, though he will hate me saying this, and so will they, is a better Labour councillor than many of the Labour councillors, and he is certainly by far a better opposition councillor than many of them. He clearly was close to tears when his result was announced - and so was Mrs Angry.
A shell shocked Jack Cohen, after the result that just saved him
From tears to laughter then : come on, he who must not be named, shall be named: Brian Coleman. Remember him? Already feeling nostalgic, aren't you? Come back, Brian - no. Don't. Really: please don't.
He arrived with his mum, and promptly headed over to Labour leader Alison Moore, mwah, mwah... 'Leader designate', he proclaimed, to the great excitement of no one in particular. The kiss of death, in fact, for both.
As soon as it became clear that the tray for Brian's vote was not overflowing with votes: indeed it was positively underflowing with votes, he sneaked out, unnoticed, unmissed.
There were a lot of very tired, and very, very tired people at the count, exhausted by the last few days and nights of campaigning, and looking longingly at the bar, which was kept firmly shut throughout, no doubt for fear of the consequences. By the time of the Totteridge declaration most of us were in a heightened state of nervous hysteria. Andrew Travers read out the names in his deadpan, E L Wisty sort of voice.
Auld, Ash, Green Party, 464 votes
Cole, Michael, Liberal Democrats, 256
Coleman, Brian John, ... No Description ....
That was it. The room erupted in ribald laughter. Brian Coleman: No Description. A fitting epitaph to his political life, which died there, on that podium, in his absence, in the Allianz Park Stadium, on the 23rd May, 2014.
Mr Travers struggled to maintain his composure, but more or less pulled himself together in order to tell us that the old fool had 265 votes, which, as his former colleague Danny Seal pointed out, was about the same as the number of twitter followers he has. Had: he has bowed out of twitter, with a last tweet telling the world he was sitting with a glass of something, listening to Tosca. You know, the one where the fat lady sings, and then throws herself off the parapet. Very apt.
As Mrs Angry has pointed out elsewhere, there was once a famous performance of Tosca, where the diva found herself falling on a trampoline, and bouncing back again.
God forbid. Look: Mrs Angry is making the sign of the cross.
So: at the end of the long day, and the long night, where were we?
Labour had come tantalisingly close to taking control, winning unexpected votes - even in Totteridge - in areas the Labour leadership had dismissed as unwinnable.
And here is the bitter truth, and a truth that some do not want to hear.
With better leadership, and a properly focused campaign, Labour would now be in control of Barnet Council.
Those responsible for this missed opportunity, you might think, should immediately do the right thing, and stand down.
In an interview given to the local Times here , Labour's leader Alison Moore said:
We fought a hard campaign, and we have elected some brilliant new councillors that will contribute to Barnet. There was a chance we could have won, and we are disappointed but it’s certainly not a ringing endorsement for the Conservatives.
Tonight’s result is testament to our manifesto and out pitch to people about restoring the fairness and democracy in Barnet after an administration that have not engaged with local people and dismissed their views.
We will continue to fight and be on the side of local residents and making sure their voices are heard. We will also fight to ensure that One Barnet is not selling residents short.
We are disappointed. There was a chance we could have won.
Not a ringing endorsement for the Conservatives.
That's ok then, isn't it? Keep calm, and keep on losing elections. You've only lost three local elections, and one general, so obviously learning from mistakes is unlikely, but hey: what does it matter?
It's not just One Barnet that is selling residents short, in truth, that has been selling residents short for the last four years, and longer - it is the failure of the Labour party in Barnet to act as an effective opposition.
There are many really good, dedicated, hard working Labour councillors in Barnet, and now there is a new intake of fresh, intelligent, creative new members, most of whom have a distinctly more radical approach, and will quickly come into conflict with a leadership that remains on the course it has followed for the last God knows how many years.
Fellow blogger Roger Tichborne has described very well many of the ways in which the Labour leadership has failed in its duty, and has expressed the view of the majority of us here:
The Labour leader should have offered her resignation as soon as it became apparent she had lost yet another election - and this one was a winnable election.
Mrs Angry understands that she has declared her intention to stay on at least another year, until the next general election.
This is preposterous.
In no other context would a party leader who has failed to win so many times refuse to put the party interest first, and cling on to power. Change is good: change is vital - and if we want to be serious about winning our local constituencies next year - and the local results prove that with the right campaign all three wards are now vulnerable - we need a new leader.
If the Labour leader will not do the honourable thing and resign, there must be a leadership contest, and just as we have a fresh intake of members, we must start with a new purpose, a new sense of direction, and a new attitude.
Let's dump the complacency, the settling for second best, the apologetic deference to senior officers, and the gentlemen's agreements with Tory opponents.
Let's not copy any more of the Tories' policies, and budgets, and help them maintain the status quo.
Let's remember we are the party for, what was it? Yes: the many, not the few, not the residents of Totteridge, and Bishops Avenue, the people in West Hendon, and Colindale, and Strawberry Vale, the ones without a stake in the Tory controlled Barnet, the ones who are facing real hardship in their lives and desperately need an opposition party that is angry on their behalf, and will fight social injustice with passion, and hold this council, and their partners in shame at Capita to account, and make them squirm until we can prise their sweaty hands off our public services, and take them back for us, for our benefit, and not the profit of their shareholders.
That's my view, and that is all I have to say. I won't support a Labour group in Barnet that continues in the way it has, and I won't keep quiet about what would be a serious betrayal of the best interests of the people of our community.
Adapt or die: the rule of nature, and the principle of evolution. Brian Coleman's fatal mistake was in defying that rule, and that principle: it is a folly common to many politicians, and therein lies a lesson for all of us.
It's time to move on.
Broken Barnet, May 2014.