Margaret Thatcher, by Lorna May Wadsworth
*Updated, see below
For reasons too difficult to explain, Mrs Angry recently had occasion to have to sit in the air conditioned isolation of the British Library, trawling through back copies of the two local papers which serve us here in Broken Barnet: that is to say the Times, and the Press.
In this strictly monitored environment, of course, readers are required to be at all times silent, and well behaved, and not indulge in outbursts of laughter, derisive comments, or any other outward expression of scorn, a requirement which was to prove a severe test of the self discipline of this blogger, distracted as she was from her purpose, entirely unconnected with the political antics of our local council.
In fact it was quite impossible, due to the unreasonable amount of provocation buried in the seemingly innocuous pages of our local press, circa 1991-1992, courtesy of the coverage of our Tory councillors at that time, more than two decades ago.
This happy period coincided with the end of the Thatcher rule of terror in Finchley, of course: and how well Mrs Angry remembers the thrill of the announcement that day of her resignation, seated as she was at the time in a union meeting, throwing her notebook and pen in the air in jubilation ...
Soon afterwards came the news that Margaret was also standing down as Finchley's MP. Happy days: Mrs Angry smiled fondly as she scrolled through the images of sad Conservatives in her constituency, gutted at the departure of their heroine.
Uh oh; I am still around warned the old girl, in one cheery photo, with a fixed grin, still clinging on, like a failing music hall act reluctant to leave the stage, about to be hauled off by the management - there'll never be another - but no ... soon she was gone, and her would be replacement, Hartley Booth, begins, as recorded in the local press, to feature in carefully placed local appearances, with a tight smile, trying valiantly to appear a worthy successor to the former PM.
Mrs Angry can remember being in the public gallery of the Town Hall when Hartley Booth was wheeled in to make a stately visit, hailed by his Tory chums in the council chamber.
Sadly the career of Mr Booth, who was a Methodist lay preacher and related to the Salvation Army founder, foundered once it was revealed he had had some sort of 'friendship' with a young female research assistant.
Mr Booth insisted that there had been no 'sexual impropriety', and had the backing of local Tories - There has been no sex involved and it is rather a fuss about nothing, said the constituency chair.
After losing his post as pps to Douglas Hogg, he was beaten in the selection process for the next election to John Marshall.
Awfully bad luck to lose your job for a sex scandal with no sex, you might think.
Poor Mr Booth. He must have felt rather short changed, all things considered.
And poor John Marshall, who had lost Hendon to Andrew Dismore, and now was rather surprised to find himself defeated in Finchley by Labour's Rudi Vis.
Vis became terminally ill towards the end of his tenure as MP for Finchley and Golders Green, and the seat became a fairly easy target for recapture at the last election, which is how we came to be blessed with the attentions of Mr Mike Freer, the former leader of Barnet Council, and the godfather of One Barnet, which grew, like a monstrous mutation, encouraged by the tender care of subsequent interested parties, from his fatuous, soundbite 'easycouncil' idea.
Earlier this week we heard that the neighbouring constituency of Hendon, held by Freer's accident prone Tory colleague Matthew Offord, has been predicted by an Ashcroft poll to be won back by Labour, a fact gleefully reported here by the former MP Andrew Dismore, who points out
“In April, Lord Ashcroft’s Hendon polling gave Labour a respectable lead of 8% ahead of the Conservatives. Now in July, his poll shows we have extended our lead to 15% , meaning a 7.5% swing to Labour- we only need 0.2% swing to win.
Dismore also reports another interesting discovery regarding the targeting of Hendon ward, and the level of funding available to local Tories:
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has just published research on fundraising in the most marginal constituencies, including Hendon: http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2014/07/20/election-2015-which-parties-have-the-most-cash-in-britains-battleground-seats/
This shows that since 2010, Hendon Conservatives have raised more than double the amount we in Hendon Labour have been able to raise.
But there is an even more significant detail hidden in this research, regarding the funding of the Finchley constituency currently held by Mike Freer.
The UK constituency that has received by far the most cash from any party is Finchley & Golders Green – Margaret Thatcher’s old stomping ground. In the last election, this was considered a prime Labour target seat. But Cameron’s Conservatives extended what in 2005 was a slim majority. With less than a year to the next poll, Conservative party supporters have contributed £369,737 to the constituency since May 2010.
Where does all this money come from, and where does it go to? Hard to be sure.
Another interesting story regarding Freer emerged during the week, as reported here in the Ham & High - off goes our man to a new job, as pps to Nick Boles, minister of state at the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Rather odd, because last October, rather to the surprise of many onlookers, Freer had been rewarded, at last, for his years of loyal support to the government, and his long record of interesting written questions by being given one of two pps posts to Eric Pickles. To the surprise of many onlookers, that is, because rumour has it that Eric, although of course a blushing admirer of Mrs Angry, is not particularly known for his unlimited adoration of our MP.
Clearly Freer was not always rushed off his feet with the demands of his role in government, as demonstrated by the tweet he made while Theresa May was announcing the momentous decision to instigate an overarching inquiry into cases of historic child sex abuse: an inquiry which he had refused to support:
As some unknown twitter commenter remarked:
Could it be that our Mike did not see entirely eye to eye with Uncle Eric on the subject of localism, and the empowerment of the citizen, and oh - hang on, the virtues of citizen journalism? Well, yes, we know that Eric is a big fan of Mrs Angry, and her blogging colleagues, and we know that Mr Freer ... is not.
Tory Barnet has been nothing but a constant source of embarrassment for the government over the course of the last few years, and seems determined to move in the opposite direction to the policy of localism, as defined by Pickles.
The latest idiotic act by Barnet Tories, to vote themselves dispensation from declaring their pecuniary interests, the act of which Eric's own legislation created as a new offence, came only days ago, earlier this month. Mrs Angry made sure to tell Mr Pickles all about it, via the medium of twitter. Can you imagine the sort of interesting conversation that might have taken place between Uncle Eric and the new teaboy, should the matter have arisen? In any event what did arise, a week or so later, was that - Freer was out.
The curse of Mrs Angry, see.
But back to a time before Mrs Angry was born, and easycouncil had not been drafted, on the back of a postage stamp, by its only begetter.
Back to Barnet, 1991, a time when Eric Pickles was not yet Eric Pickles, but a mere shadow of himself, just appointed as a candidate for the safe seat of Brentwood and Ongar.
Localism had not been invented, of course: indeed for some the very thought was ... unthinkable - local councils were run by councillors, for councillors, and certainly not accountable to their electors. Transparency? You what?
In August 1991 the Barnet Press carried a story about new government proposals to give the electorate more information about their elected representatives: specifically about their interests and financial affairs. It referred to a couple of Tory councillors whose business interests had been criticised as being in conflict with their roles as elected members.
The then Tory leader, Roy Shutz, asked about the idea of expecting councillors to disclose such interests said:
'I understand that some people may feel it is an impertinence to be asked to reveal that'.
Yes, of course, that was a long time ago, and now, as we know from our current deputy Chief Operating Officer Chris Naylor, the default mode of Barnet Council is now, what was it ... ah yes: transparency, open government, that sort of thing ... Sort of. As long as it only the sort of transparency that doesn't expose any dark secrets to the glare of public scrutiny.
And - oh dear. Some of our Tory councillors clearly feel it is still an impertinence to expect them to declare their interests, even now: even pecuniary interests, and even when Eric Pickles has made it a criminal offence not to do so.
Which brings us to the matter of our Mayor, the landlord: Tory councillor Hugh Rayner', whose business activities and alleged failure to declare his interests have been reported, in June, to the Monitoring Officer, by Andrew Dismore. Andrew has also raised the matter at Mayor's Question Time, with Boris Johnson.
Several weeks have now gone by, and here we are, nearly in August, and the silly season (a relative term, here in Broken Barnet) when bad news can be safely slipped out of NLBP ... or so they would like to think.
Nothing has happened yet, nor indeed has anything emerged from the investigation, also by the Monitoring Officer, into the complaint made by the Labour group over the reportedly disproportionate highways budget expenditure approved by Golders Green Tory councillor and former Cabinet member Dean Cohen, whose own ward received £1 million in the run up to the election, while Labour held Colindale was given not one penny , as revealed by Mrs Angry from a series of FOI requests - and which Labour allege demonstrate a political bias in distribution.* See below for update
At last Friday's Mayor's Question Time, Andrew Dismore asked another question about landlords in Barnet, this time focusing on the Mayor's much vaunted 'London Rental Standard', which is, we learnt, supported by 448 landlords in our borough. Dismore pointed out to Boris Johnson that several Barnet Tory councillors, ie Hugh Rayner, Peter Zinkin, Dean Cohen, Melvin Cohen, Helena Hart and housing spokesman Tom Davey, are landlords, but do not belong to the scheme. He also invited the Mayor of London to consider the interesting fact that at a recent meeting, the Tory councillors voted themselves a dispensation from declaring their interests as ... landlords.
Do you think that is right, he asked?
Boris attempted to bluster his way out of this question, having previously been lured so easily by Dismore into condemning the Tory Mayor of Barnet's behaviour as landlord, before his identity had been revealed: this time he commented that Andrew had made allegations of criminal misconduct in regard to Cllr Rayner, and suggested, not unreasonably, that:
'if you feel that is the case, then you really must take them up with the police'.
The long delay in any news from the Monitoring Officer in regard to the two complaints about Tory councillors is rather worrying, and possibly suspicious. To take so long to investigate these matters, both of which are potentially dealing with alleged unlawful activity might suggest the cases should both be referred to the police, and the CPS, for them to consider whether or not there is any evidence of serious wrongdoing, rather than take such a long time to go through an in house process of inquiry, with no transparency or scrutiny.
Is the investigation subject to any political pressure? By remaining under the cover of an internal Barnet process, the perception of onlookers may be reasonably to fear this is what might happen, and the length of time, and degree of silence on the matter is in marked contrast to the treatment of a Labour councillor, earlier this year, who was so swiftly and so publicly referred to the police and CPS on the basis of an allegation which was proved to be unfounded.
As to the question that Boris would not answer, as to whether it is right that our shameless Tory councillors should vote themselves a dispensation from declaring their pecuniary interests: well - can this even be lawful?
Eric Pickles made the non declaration of a pecuniary interest a criminal offence.
How can it possibly be legally permissable for councillors to exempt themselves in this arbitrary way?
To do so runs counter to the principle of transparency, and subverts the fundamental purpose of the legal process.
The basis of our democracy is that the law should apply to all, without exception, not just those it suits, and in public life we now expect absolute compliance with the need for openness and accountability - except, it seems, here in Broken Barnet, where such demands are still, twenty years later, still seen as 'an impertinence'.
That our Tory councillors fail to see that residents will view their behaviour over the interest declarations at inherently suspicious is par for the course.
Their entire strategy is based on a fatal misunderstanding of the perception of the average voter, which is why so many of them were so shocked on the day of the count, to find themselves booted out of their seats.
Such a gulf between councillors and residents is buffered by the Tories' traditional complacency over the need to engage with the people they represent, or to consult them over major policy decisions.
This was another theme noticeable in the pages of the past press coverage: see the story from December 1991, telling us Barnet had pledged to take steps to become (and here you may titter behind your hand) 'the listening council' ...
This amusing idea, which never caught on, of course, was the response to a highly critical report from Price Waterhouse, which concluded Barnet failed to consult the public, 'promises services it cannot deliver and which the public do not know about' and appeared as 'centralist and bureaucratic in approach rather than business-like'.
Another theme which runs through this period is what was then an innovative idea, a new policy, introduced by stealth, problematic from the beginning, and a forewarning of what was to come, actively ignored by Tories then and now: the ogre of outsourcing.
In 1991, refuse collection had been privatised, and the council was struggling to cope with the complaints from residents over the problematic new system. Guess what they blamed it on, then, as they do now, in any new service arrangement?
Yes: 'teething problems'. You know, as in the perpetual failures in the new Capita call centre, twelve months into a contract whose scale simply could not have been foreseen, twenty years ago, and the implications of which are only now just beginning to dawn on the Tory councillors who so glibly waved through their approval of this ten year act of bondage to our new masters.
If you have not already done so, Mrs Angry begs that you will read the recent post by fellow blogger Mr Reasonable, on the subject of the Capita contracts:
With his usual forensic eye, Mr Reasonable turns his attention to the interesting subject of the real cost of the massive Capita contracts, and the extent to which our 'partners' are profiting, at our expense - here is an extract:
What intrigued me were a couple of comparatively small invoices,one on 27 November and one on 9th december for a total of £417,007. What this payment relates to is a clause in the contract called "Gainshare" where Capita get a cut of any savings made. Although the contract is redacted it is apparent from the numbers on the invoices that Capita receive 40% of any savings made.
I felt deeply uncomfortable about these savings and have been trying to understand how such savings could be made so quickly. Following a great deal of correspondence with the council and having several subtly different version of how the savings are justified I have been told that these savings are the estimate of savings to be made over the next year, that Capita invoice Barnet upfront and then at the end of the year if the savings are not as great as Capita forecast then Capita have to return some of the money. Frankly I was staggered that the council should be sharing out quite so much of the savings of our money and paying out forecast savings as much as a year before they are realised.
Personally I cannot believe that any commercial organisation would countenance such a one-sided deal but this is Barnet Council we are talking about. Transparency on these savings is absolutely zero. I have asked repeatedly for evidence and it has been promised as recently as Tuesday but it still has not materialised. Indeed one of the largest elements of this saving relates to an area which I believe is virtually impossible to audit which should make everyone very uncomfortable.
So what you may say. It's £417k out of a massive budget. However this week Barnet signed off approval for contracts worth £594 million to be procured. Most of these are existing contract so will Capita be entitled to 40% of the savings on all those contracts? Let us say that they realise 10% savings possibly by squeezing residential and nursing homes who will in turn squeeze staff wages in exactly the same way that Your Choice Barnet have cut the wages of staff by 9.5%.
If that were the case would Capita be entitled to £23.76 million of "Gainshare" which they will bill upfront?
Do any of the councillors who signed the contract know? Was the matter raised by councillors on Tuesday evening when the approved the procurement exercise? There was no debate on the subject and Dan Thomas did not allow any scrutiny from Cllr Paul Edwards who wanted to asked questions.
One of the other shameful innovations of the new Tory administration, decided upon in a fit of pique, when Labour refused to comply with Richard Cornelius' 'indecent proposal' for a twinning vote system between the groups, was that the Chair of the Audit Committee will no longer be, as it should be, a position held by an opposition member. Tory Brian Salinger was appointed instead, and this move underlines yet again the regressive nature of Barnet Tory philosophy, and its utter rejection of the principle of meaningful, rigorous scrutiny.
At last week's meeting, yet another failure in governance - or a casual disregard for due process - led to members of the committee not receiving details of the accounts they were expected to approve before the last minute, leaving them no time properly to review the figures.
The independent members of the committee objected, and quite rightly refused to sign off the accounts until such a time as they had had the opportunity to see the relevant reports, clearly misunderstanding that the role of the new audit committee is to rubberstamp the Tory agenda, avoid the process of scrutiny, and quash all intelligent debate. As Mr Reasonable has said:
What a shame Conservative councillors did not take the same approach before they signed off this massive Capita contract.
The accounts will be reconsidered at a special meeting tonight, at 6pm.
Let us return to Mrs Angry sitting in the cool, light and calm of the British Library newsroom, scrolling through the past annals of our Tory councillors, in Broken Barnet: the land time forgot.
Let us not be distracted by the awful familiarity of long meetings, presided over by, oh dear, Councillor Old, and the tetchy objection by Cllr Helena Hart at the excess of hot air in the Town Hall (staff luxuriating in over heated buildings, rather than from daring to question the policies of members).
Try not to smile at the defence put up by our Tory councillors over the revelation of 'junkets' at the Compleat Angler in Marlow, or a lovely hotel in Reading - poor things, these days all they have to console themselves with is their free parking permits (which they voted to retain last week, and no, no need for declarations of interest, of course ...)
And please don't laugh, Mrs Angry, at the admirable sobriety of our sole surving Libdem member Jack Cohen, then moved to remonstrate with his Conservative colleagues (pointless to have a go at Labour) for indulging in alcoholic refreshment, after council meetings - to the indignation of some of the Tory matrons, whose lips had never touched strong liquor (or anything or anyone else, probably). It was a Bad Example, he said, to residents. Quite.
Mrs Angry looks forward to debating this further with you in the Greyhound, Councillor Cohen. Large Sauvignon Blanc, thank you.
This was, of course, the era of poll tax protests: Councillor Brian Salinger had no truck with those in arrears in the borough, and indeed we read here that he and his colleagues wanted to see them named and shamed.
Poll tax came and went, and now we have the bedroom tax instead: Salinger and several other of the Tory councillors are still here and are equally indifferent to the plight of those affected by what Cllr Davey refuses even to acknowledge as a tax. If you can't afford to live in Barnet, they say: move on. And if you don't, they will move you anyway, in their policy of social cleansing, or 'regeneration'.
Margaret would have been so proud.
In 1991, Barnet was having to buy back cemeteries from a catastrophic privatisation deal hatched with Margaret's chum Lady Porter: here we are in 2014, having thrown Hendon Cemetery into the Capita contract as a 'sweetener', because outsourcerers love to get their sweaty hands on the easy profits of death, as well as life.
As for housing: Thatcher's legacy, her right to buy scheme for council tenants - even as she stood down from her seat, it was clear to see that this was leading to a crisis for would be tenants and homeless families, some of them put four in a room in bed and breakfast accommodation, with the council's stock rapidly decreasing, and not replaced.
This state of affairs was noted in a Labour councillor's letter in the paper in 1992, pleading for the soon to be closed former 'asylum' at Friern Barnet to be used for social housing. Some chance: our Tory councillors have always opposed the creation of new council homes, and anyway the building was sold to the Comer Brothers, who are the landlords of Barnet Council, at North London Business Park - and indeed have kindly donated to Mike Freer's war chest, in the past.
In the nineties, the local Times group were damn good at covering local politics. There was an entire page devoted to the latest news on that front, courtesty of veteran reporter Bill Montgomery, a winner of an award by the Campaign for Freedom of Information for investigative journalism. Mrs Angry used to leak information to him, in fact, when involved in local union politics. Bill was an old school journalist, who cultivated a network of sources, researched his stories, worked hard for his material, and was never afraid to tell it like it was.
In one piece in December 91, he lambasts the Tory council in a piece headed 'Selling the Family Silver', noting their agenda of seeing publicly owned assets as at their disposal, for short term profit. He predicted the sale of schools, courthouses, depots, and many other council properties: and he was spot on. Here we are, in 2014, and our Tory councillors are still blindly following the same course of action, thrashing about for anything they can flog off, regardless of any worth other than market value: libraries, museums, all surplus to requirement.
Things change: change is good: it is an unstoppable process, but apparently not here in Broken Barnet, where our Tory politicians are stuck in an evolutionary bottleneck, cut off from the rest of the world.
Bill Montgomery has gone, and local investigative journalism has largely been replaced - or perhaps re-energised - by the emergence of the blogosphere, and the citizen journalist.
This is a new role welcomed by Eric Pickles, the Tories own local government minister, as part of his localism agenda, but no: here in Barnet they fight, tooth and nail, to resist the very principles of their own party's stated aim, to empower the electorate in their own communities, and support the idea of local democracy.
For Barnet Tories the very idea of a committment to transparency, accountability and the act of objective scrutiny is anathema: an impertinence.
This grubby backwater council is no longer the Tory flagship borough, or the proud constituency of a prime minister - it sits in a state of terminal decline, presided over by a Mayor under a dark cloud of allegations, its members an endangered species, on the brink of extinction, pecking away at the last vestiges of their existence, while a new generation of predators, the corporate profiteers move in, and steal their ground from under their feet.
They don't see it: they never will.
Our only hope is that voters get another chance to wrench their finger tips from control of this borough, and this council, and usher in a new era, where the ghost of Margaret Thatcher is finally exorcised, her legacy laid to rest, most fittingly, in the Crapita Easycrem.
Not entirely gone - and not forgotten.
Broken Barnet, 1991-2014.
This evening saw a reconvened Audit Meeting, brought together again in order to discuss the accounts which independent and Labour members objected to being asked to approve, last week, having been supplied with the reports at such short notice.
First we were treated to a somewhat baffling debate about the borough's heritage assets - yes, there may not be any family silver left in the Mayor's Parlour, but we have his gold chain, which the Tory councillors have convinced themselves belongs to them (and of course Brian Coleman still thinks it belongs to him) ... in fact it was loaned to the Mayoralty by NALGO/Unison, and in Mrs Angry's view, Unison should demand it back, sell it, and use it to fight the further assault on our public services by our doltish Tory councillors.
We then learnt that some of the borough's war memorials appear to be missing from the list - a rather regrettable fact in the light of this year's anniversary of WW1. The Tory councillors shrugged. It means someone else is looking after them, they said, with relief.
More shrugging when Labour's Arun Mittra asked again about the heritage assets, specifically the apparent undervaluing of some of our local statues. Our most famous example, La Delivrance, known locally as the Naked Lady, stands rather brazenly by Henley's Corner, waving a sword around, installed after the first world war by Lord Rothermere, who is said to have wanted to see it there on his trips to visit his mother in Totteridge.
This and another statue in Friary Park appeared to valued at a minimal rate, surprising in view of at least the notable aesthetic and cultural significance of the Naked Lady. The Tories thought no, it reflected the market rate of lead, or whatever base metal the objects were made of. This was, of course, the perfect predictable demonstration of the cultural frigidity of the Barnet Tory psyche. Melt it down, flog it off, let someone else take care of it.
People's Mayor Mr Shepherd audits the auditors
Mrs Angry's mind was wandering somewhat at this point, and she very nearly missed the thing which she had come to observe: an objection from Labour councillors to the accounts being approved when there was the outstanding issue of the potential unlawful spending of the Highways budget, the subject of a formal complaint by the group first to the Auditor, and then kicked back by him to the Monitoring Officer.
Mrs Angry had raised the issue originally with the external auditors in a written question at the last full audit meeting, specifically because of this significance, that they could not approve any potentially unlawful expenditure.
It seemed, however, that our friends from Grant Thornton were not expecting this issue to be raised, and were completely wrong footed. Much fumbling and dithering ensued, and we heard that our external auditors thought that a mere sum of £4 million regarding the Highways issue was not important enough to constitute a material objection: really?
So then we all wanted to know - even if it is unlawful? Ah.
That caused more head scratching, and quizzical looks across the table, and whispered conversations between the Monitoring Officer, and the new Chair, Tory Brian Salinger, which lack of transparency was itself objected to by Labour's Geof Cooke, who also pointed out the length of time that the investigation into the complaint was taking.
MO Maryellen Salter said that there was only one issue still outstanding before she could conclude her investigation, which would be 'in the near future' - and we all await her report with great interest, don't we?