Friday, 3 November 2017

An Enemy of the People: or - Barnet's Tory councillors finally lose the plot

Former Barnet Mayor Councillor David Longstaff, who accuses the Mayor of London of being 'An Enemy of the People' ...

Mrs Angry tries her best to avoid Full Council meetings of the London Borough of Broken Barnet, for very good reason: an aversion to pantomime, long standing, which dates back, well ...  to childhood days, long ago, and unhappy memories of Christmas outings to the Golders Green Hippodrome. 

This annual visit involved a range of unforgettable theatrical moments, such as the deranged antics of an aged Arthur Askey, incongruously dressed as Buttons, leaping about the stage like a performing chimpanzee escaped from a tea party at London Zoo, menacing the boys and girls in the stalls with his manic grin, and air of desperation. And then there was the fear induced by the compulsory session of audience participation, in which hapless small children, still quaking with fear, would be hauled up from the stalls on to the stage to take part in the show. Horrible.

The combination of knockabout farce, grotesque plots, and wizened, grimacing old men frightening the audience means, therefore, that Full Council meetings that involve the grandstanding theatrical performance of Barnet Tory councillors hold little attraction: but Tuesday's agenda, and in particular some of the idiotic written questions put by administration members, proved more tempting than usual. 

The Hippodrome, of course, has been much in the news, recently, for all the wrong reasons. After many years as a traditional theatre, and then as a venue for the BBC, the listed building was taken over by a Christian church, but it has now changed hands once again, to a body that wishes to use the former theatre for a Muslim centre. Unfortunately, this proposal has met with a reaction of hostility from some local residents, and led to a barrage of offensive, racist comments left on the council's planning portal, which had to be removed. Worse still, the situation has been inflamed by other parties, such as those who organised a meeting at which further extreme views were expressed: a meeting attended by self styled 'Mosque buster' Gavin Boby.  

This meeting failed to ignite the level of outrage that its mysterious organisers (who didn't want to be identified) clearly wanted - and thankfully community leaders, and representatives, were outspoken in their support for the new owners, and condemned the racist comments expressed by a small minority of objectors.

By coincidence, the Golders Green Hippodrome, in the sixties, was owned by the family of another Barnet blogger, the father of all Barnet bloggers, formerly known as 'Don't Call me Dave': David Miller, son of Lady Doreen Miller, the Tory peer. He told Mrs Angry that his family were very sad to see the Hippodrome fall into such a state of disrepair, and they are pleased that the building is now going to be put to good use.

But then of course, as one might expect, came the uninvited intervention of pantomime villain Katie Hopkins.

'Hatey Katey' was thrilled to find what she clearly thought would be a situation she could exploit for her own purposes: and she issued a series of tweets, some of them aimed at local Labour councillors Adam Langleben, and Arjun Mittra.

Well, then. Adam and Arjun are two of Barnet's brightest, and most hardworking younger Labour members. Adam is a leading member of the Jewish Labour Movement, and has put an enormous amount of effort into addressing the issue of anti-semitism; Arjun is Hindu, and an experienced councillor involved in all forms of community related ventures. They represent and reflect the true face of what is one of the most ethnically diverse local authorities in the UK: a place where residents from a huge range of cultures and religions live in harmony: Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, evangelical Christians: eastern Europeans, Japanese, Italians, Cypriots - and many other communities - the range is too diverse to list.

If there is division, in Broken Barnet, in fact, it is one of class, not ethnicity: between those who have, and those who have not - the ever widening gulf between the affluent areas of the borough, and the less advantaged, mostly western side, whose problems are addressed seemingly only by the Tory policy of faux regeneration, and decantation of the poor.

This is not what Hopkins wanted to find, of course: clearly astonished by the fact that the Jewish community has so emphatically rejected the politics of hate, and condemned the racist targeting of the Hippodrome proposals, she is wrong footed, and at a loss as how to continue with her agenda of bigotry. 

Back to the pantomime, in Hendon Town Hall: a little premature, perhaps: being the eve of Halloween, where our Tory members gamely played along, in the night of the living dead, acting out the usual Zombie politics: party loyalty and blind obedience before truth, justice, and decency, as we shall see. 

Before the proceedings began, a woman representing the Hindu community gave a short talk about her faith, the rule of karma, the eternity of the soul - and offered a prayer for peace. 

Shantih, shantih, shantih.

The Tory members looked on, and smiled politely. 

Peace does not come dropping slow, in the council chamber of Broken Barnet, however. 

Next up was the usual preposterous question time, and hostilities resumed, even as the prayers for conciliation still echoed in the ears of onlookers, as Tory councillors acted out the usual farce of non questions designed to a. boast how wonderful they are and b. claim how terrible is the opposition. 

The issue of the Hippodrome arose during these questions: the contentious petition launched by some objectors would not be heard at council, said Cornelius, due to lack of numbers, and the matter would be considered purely on planning grounds (shortage of parking is a potential problem) - and local Tory councillor Peter Zinkin went on angrily to denounce the Islamophobic comments of some of those who are so virulently opposing the plans. Labour leader Barry Rawlings agreed and stated that we will not be 'letting hate crime rule' in this borough. 

So far so good: a moment of consensus. If only peace, love and understanding had prevailed for the rest of the evening.

Mrs Angry had already decided not to stay for the whole meeting, dismayed by the intensely stupid contents of much of the second half of the agenda: not by the sensible motions from Labour, and one from Tory Rohit Grover in regard to road safety in his ward - but by the ludicrous decision, blithely ignoring all the really serious issues facing residents in the borough, to use the time to 'debate' two other motions from the Tories. One of these was from Alison Cornelius, wife of the Tory leader, on the subject of ... 'controlling' dog walkers, and the other ... from the ineffable David Longstaff: 

Is Mayor Khan an enemy of the people of Barnet?

What was the point of such a motion? Why such hostility levelled at the Mayor of London? Apparently for daring to intervene in a couple of planning applications*, the Uber issue, etc (*nothing and no one must be allowed a moderating role in the arcane mysteries of Barnet planning, of course). 

An Enemy of the People.

There are so many perjorative allusions here. And the Tories must have been well aware of this, when they decided to submit this motion.

Such a phrase is the mark of the new idiocy in right wing politics that has taken hold in the lunatic fringe of the media, here and in the US. 

As you will read in this article from the Washington Post, it is a term that has the most dark and shameful historic associations: from the designation of 'ennemi du peuple' at the time of  the French revolution's Reign of Terror, its adoption by Goebbels as part of his demonisation and persecution of the Jewish people, and its usage by Stalin, signalling a death sentence for intellectuals, artists - or any other citizen who displeased him.

What on earth possessed the Conservative group in Barnet to allow a motion with such deeply offensive undertones to be put to debate? And let us remember that they all voted to support it.

Ignorance of the historical context is hard to believe - and no excuse. In these dangerous times, great care and sensitivity should be employed when elected representatives raise issues for debate - this motion, using these words, with clearly despotic connotations, as well as the nod towards contemporary alt-right lunacy, should never, never have been used.

Why employ such a phrase, even disregarding the historical context, in regard to a democratically elected politician, on such a feeble pretext as minor decisions on planning applications, and transport policy? 

Frankly it is absolutely clear, as the Labour group pointed out, that the deliberate use of such a repellent term is from the same bottom of the barrel scraping tactics as Zac Goldsmith's widely reviled election campaign. Not so much Lynton Crosby's dog whistle, as a total immersion in gutter politics.

Labour submitted an amendment which stated:

Council believes its elected members should be careful not to use coded language that portrays people of different backgrounds as "enemies" so that they are perceived as 'other' to everyone else.

And Cllr Arjun Mittra stood up to speak against the motion.

You can hear what happened next by listening to an audio recording here. Scroll down to Item 14.3.

From the very beginning, Cllr Longstaff launches into a frankly absurd and personally directed diatribe: he starts with a jibe at Cllr Mittra: 

'If he understood English, that would really help'. 

That was an utterly indefensible remark to make to anyone who happens to be of Asian heritage, but also ridiculous - Arjun Mittra is a highly intelligent, well educated, thoughtful and well spoken young man. David Longstaff, on the other hand, as you will hear, is unable even to pronounce the word 'redolent'.

Labour councillor for East Finchley, Arjun Mittra

Longstaff says that the form of criticism of his motion was disgusting and despicable. The phrase 'Enemy of the People', he claimed, was a play on the title of the work by Ibsen. Really? Then he should know that Ibsen's play is about the struggle to hold a morally bankrupt local authority to account (- over contaminated water in the municipal baths - something which could never happen in Broken Barnet, of course).

Longstaff continued: he denied any 'coded language' in regard to Sadiq Khan. He trotted out an arch routine claiming there were no differences between the two of them, both South London boys, working class fathers, both went to university. Of course the obvious difference of race and religion, an issue exploited by the vile Goldsmith campaign, was entirely omitted.

Cllr Mittra's turn. He made a passing, less than complimentary reference to his Tory opponent's former acting career, which infuriated Longstaff - but swiftly moved on to a rather more important point: in the aftermath of the murder of Jo Cox, and the alleged plot regarding another MP, we should be more conscious of the impact of inflammatory political speech. 

The noise in the chamber tells you how divisive and inflammatory this motion was, and is. The outrage, however, on the Tory side, is audibly from Cllr Longstaff, driven into a fury by the disparaging comments about his professional record as an actor.

Well. What can you say? Arjun Mittra's comments were arguably a little unfair. 

Councillor David Longstaff's calling as An Actor, stand up comedian, and model, has, in fact, been an honourable one: extensive, and ... varied in scope. 

We know this because when he first emerged from the wings, so to speak, on the stage at Hendon Town Hall, Mrs Angry came across his CV on the website of his casting agency, and was enormously thrilled to find the details of his illustrious career. 

Sadly, this website disappeared. Or so it seemed. But no! Good news: the agency has a new name and there, still, for all of us to enjoy, is the record of a life in the business that is show. There is a wonderful compilation of footage of some of the best performances. Do take a look.

You know, Mrs Angry, in her time, has been fortunate to see many theatrical legends in action. 

Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Gambon; yes, Arthur Askey, and Danny La Rue. 

But nothing they gave in their interpretations of Pinter, Chekov, Shakespeare - or Mother Goose, could measure up against say, Cllr Longstaff as 'Beige Man in Ikea', (ad) or Drunken Elf, in Holby City. 

Who could forget witnessing his small part in 'Mary Whitehouse', a stirring performance as Mr Smallwood? Not me.

Cllr Longstaff has also given a marvellous rendition of local Finchley benefactor Inky Stephens, as you can see in the listing's footage (scroll down to the bottom ... then fast forward to The Bottom). Yes, Inky Stephens, who gave us Victoria Park, part of which the Tories sold off, and which came perilously close to being developed, earlier this year:

"Come: I'll show you my tree ..." (Not Mr Smallwood, again: Inky Stephens. One of the more memorable lines in this epic production).

And yes: lest we forget, perhaps his most memorable and long term role, (other than his role play contract as Mayor of Broken Barnet, once upon a time): as an Oscar statuette, naked, and covered in gold body paint, like that poor dear girl in 'Goldfinger'.

But Longstaff has given up the stage - or the stage has given him up - and he now wants to be taken seriously in his role as an elected representative - and, oh dear, as Chair of the Community Leadership Committee ...

Fair enough: if you want to be taken seriously, Councillor Longstaff, probably don't put forward puerile motions insulting the most important politician in London, who has been placed in that position with the most resounding endorsement of the residents of our city. 

Something we most certainly should take seriously is the role played in this tawdry drama by the Tory leader, Richard Cornelius, and the chorus of disapproval extras sitting in the Conservative side of the chamber. They really should know better than to allow such a motion to go to debate. Why did they - especially at a time when at least some of them had shown such courage in speaking out in favour of the Muslim community centre?

Here is the reason. Because this council is run, as in Ibsen's play, by the masters of a morally bankrupt authority: Barnet Tories are desperate to avoid the looming defeat at next year's local elections, and to fend off the very real chance of losing three newly marginal Tory constituencies at the next General Election. Desperate because everything they have promoted, over the last few years, is falling apart, and being exposed as a total con - a betrayal of their electorate. This summer's external Audit report confirmed, in no uncertain terms, the perilous state of the authority's financial position, heading towards disaster, ransacking the reserves as the Capita contracts, rather than saving us bucketloads of money, and delivering better services, is proving nothing less than a cash cow for the contractors, while functions such as planning and enforcement are now so bad, even the most docile of conservative minded residents are questioning the wisdom of returning the current administration to power. 

Barnet Tories are now launched on a Trump style mission to distract, therefore. It is no coincidence that at the same time they were cutting public services, they spent nearly £1 million on new PR posts, to carry on up until the elections next May. 

Yep, they invented the term 'fake news', by the way. No one knows more about it than they do. 

These new PR lackeys are part of a propaganda machine that relentlessly churns out the most deathly council spin, and publishes (at our expense) the overtly party political council news 'Barnet First'. The same machine tries to convince residents that the hugely unpopular library cuts are not cuts, or even a'configuration', or a 'refurbishment', but an 'investment'; the same machine manufactures outrage over the closure of a police station in a Tory ward, and a perceived lack of policing, when they refused to tackle Boris Johnson's police cuts for Barnet, when he was Mayor. (In fact they blamed the police, not Boris, see here).

Last week some of us went to the latest in a series of 'question times' with the Tory leader, Richard Cornelius. Ill advertised, so as to minimise attendance, of course - but every resident present made it clear, to an increasingly flustered Cornelius, that there is no longer any chance of fooling the voters of this borough. 

They are now seeing the outcome of so many years' ideological obsession with privatisation, council tax freezes, faux regeneration, and the widening of the gap between those who have, and those who have not. 

They have lost patience with the trio of Tory MPs in Broken Barnet who support a merciless government, sit back, and do nothing to help those in their constituencies with desperate needs; and they have lost all faith in is the heartless, gutless, shameless Tory councillors who run this borough. 

They know who the enemy is, in short. 

And they know it is not the Mayor of London.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Labour Conference 2017: The beauty of our poetry, and the richness of our lives

Last year, the leaving of Liverpool was for me, I thought, the last Conference I would attend. The divisiveness within the party, and the sense of distance I felt from members who had not embraced the reality of change, either of leadership, or direction, made me feel irredeemably gloomy, and not inclined to re-visit the experience. But a week in politics, a month, a year: a long time, and so much has happened since then. After the spectacular performance of the party during the general election, Mrs Angry's boundless optimism reared its head once more, and here she was, back in Brighton.

Quite apart from the sense of excitement at the party's changing prospects ... Brighton is always the best venue for Conference, and an irresistible lure. See here and here. The unique character of the town, its faded, flaking Regency grandeur, the unbearably self-pleasing hipster culture, the juxtaposition of forced seaside jollity, and a sense of urban decay: all of it makes the perfect painted backdrop for a debate on the state of Britain, in the twenty first century. 

And the sea, the sea; always there like an eternal question, unanswered, crashing onto the pebbled beach, slapping up against the Palace pier, while the ruins of the West Pier, Mrs Angry's favourite Conference metaphor, sits forlornly out among the waves, disconnected from the shore, ravaged by fire: but still standing.

Listen! you hear the grating roar 
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling, 
At their return, up the high strand, 
Begin, and cease, and then again begin, 
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring 
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sitting on the damp shingle, 'the naked shingles of the world', in the rather melancholy early autumn sunlight, trying to remember those lines of Dover Beach, I realised I'd never seen the old pier this close before. Now it seemed much nearer to the shoreline than I had thought. (Small, and far away, Dougal).

The sea between seemed calm: until the waves met the pebbles, and suddenly jumped ashore with some force. A young couple lying together by one of the abandoned pier supports were caught out by this, were soaked in seawater, and ran up the beach, laughing, dripping from head to foot. Perhaps it was an omen, for #lab17. Prepare for the unexpected. Ignorant armies, clashing by day and by night.

Up to the Conference centre, which was surrounded by the heaviest security seen yet, with armed police in groups guarding the entrance, and stringent checking of those entering. Inside, all was as normal, the usual array of stalls and broadcast teams, and thousands of people thronging the different levels. Except: it was true to say that the crowds of people were more diverse than ever - a slow process, moving from the days of the boys in suits, to an attendance by a membership more representative of the population, but it is happening, at last.

In the hall, speakers from CLPs were taking turns to put questions from the stage. Several of them objected to the fact that Sadiq Khan was being given the chance to speak at Conference, but not other urban mayors. London-centric politics are so well embedded in all political parties that this sort of favouritism still surprises ... well, only those who live outside London. The rest take it for granted.

Time for a young man in a suit, next up, to try telling members that it was right to hear from Sadiq because he has the largest mandate. Well, yes: because London is so populous. But does that mean he must always take precedence? The people in the hall let it be known that they thought not. But this exchange was a healthy sign: challenge from the floor was strictly forbidden, in the bad old days, pre Corbyn. The balance of power is changing, and members increasingly are given their say.

Outside the centre, a noisy NHS march, led by drummers, moved along to Regency Square, where in fierce sunlight reflected from the sea, speakers like Jon Ashworth and John McDonnell addressed the crowd. Again, in the past these demos took place outside the fenced off Conference, exiled from Conference: now it is a matter of course that the shadow Chancellor and colleagues will take part too.

In the afternoon, Ian McNichol talked about the party's hugely impressive performance in the general election, and the spectacular gain in membership - now around 575,000. Even Canterbury had turned Labour, he remarked: a seat held by Tories since 1295. That was a result of what he called, with a commendable attempt at inclusive diplomacy, 'real Progress, and Real Momentum'.

The Tories, said McNichol, think they are born to rule. Who's going to stop them? WE ARE! shouted everybody. 

Ian Lavery spoke of the pride he had felt in Gateshead when such a massive crowd came to hear Jeremy Corbyn speak during the election campaign: he also poured scorn, to popular approval, on pantomime villains Theresa May, for her dismissal of the use of foodbanks as 'complex', and George Osborne, who had been 'kicked out of cabinet, like a dog in the night'. 

More speakers the next morning in plenary sessions continued to amuse the hall. Emily Thornberry referred mischievously to Jeremy Corbyn's election night 'high five' moment, (which they later re-enacted with rather more success) and then suggested Boris Johnson might be made to take a paternity test in regard to Brexit, with a consequent award of £350 million in maintenance payments.

Keir Starmer talked about the Tories' Brexit policy of 'constructive ambiguity', and their 'post imperial delusions'. Labour now, he said, are the 'grown ups in the room'. 

Union leaders addressed Conference. Unison's Dave Prentis is not the most eloquent of speakers, but appears now to have overcome any doubts about the leader, and was awfully keen to remind us of what he now called 'our magnificent manifesto'.  He said he wanted to see us all on picket lines. Not sure if that included the picket lines in Broken Barnet.

Aslef's Mick Whelan talked about the lie of trickle down economics, and the deception of the 'Northern Powerhouse'; the scandalous difference in levels of investment between north and south.

Funny to see Unite's Len McCluskey no longer the lone voice in the wilderness, addressing Conference with a plea for a return to socialist values. He clearly was almost at a loss to know what to say, this year, except to observe happily that at the election we had won not only the support of the young, the hearts and minds of voters, but that we had won back our dignity and pride, and he ended by quoting part of the chorus of 'The Red Flag'.

Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We'll keep the red flag flying here.

The flinching cowards and sneering traitors, at this Conference, were keeping a low profile, and indeed, there appear to have been some damascene conversions, since last year, as the reality of Corbyn's grip on the party, and the nation, made it obvious to some previously disaffected MPs that the advancement of their careers depends on a new found loyalty to the party leadership, and a hasty, if belated, conversion to the founding principles of the Labour movement. 

Amusing to see critics of the new leadership, and new direction, suddenly so keen to fall in line, now that it is clear the change is here to stay.

But hurrah: here on the stage now was Dennis Skinner, who was greeted, as ever, with huge applause, good humour and affection. He talked about his life as a miner, working with men of a range of nationalities, all brought together by their working lives, comradeship, and union membership. He compared the way things were then to the experience of those living in a world of zero contract jobs. But he was thrilled at the high turnout at Conference, the surge in membership, and the clear proof that the party was 'alive and kicking'.

Skinner, of course, was acting as 'John McDonnell's warm up act' - and here now was the Shadow Chancellor himself. His speech was prefaced by a short film by Ken Loach, sitting in the hall, as Mc Donnell pointed out. Loach, whose 'I Daniel Blake' so perfectly expresses the extent of injustice and sense of anger that fuels so much of the newly energised party, stood up and punched the air with his fist, in a gesture of solidarity.

Mc Donnell spoke about his own family's history, and the course of the Labour movement moving in parallel with that history; one that rebuilt the nation from the ruins of war and enabled his generation to move forwards to a better future. This is a message that speaks to so many of us whose own families were enabled to move from an expectation of nothing but poverty and injustice to a point of opportunity and achievement: whose families would not have believed that we have returned, in the age of Daniel Blake, to a state of inequality reinforced by the removal, or destruction, of so many of the hard won rights they had secured.

The years that followed the path of progress, that led us into an era of materialism and a culture of exploitation are, surely, now at an end, and we need to reassert control of the process that gave us the things we, in my generation, took for granted: the foundations of a civilised society - the NHS, free education, a welfare state. 

When Mc Donnell announced a Labour government would be taking back control of the utilities that once were nationalised, in the interests of that better society: rail, water, energy, Conference was thunderous in applause. It was time to remember that such a proposal, only three years ago, was unthinkable. Now it is fundamental to the party's agenda. And hugely popular.

The shadow chancellor also summarised the ways in which recent Tory governments have become recklessly indifferent to the impact of their policies on ordinary families. The end of his speech spoke to me, and seemingly everyone else in the hall:

The Tories have tried to change people’s view of what is normal and acceptable in our society. They want us to accept that in the fifth richest country in the world it’s normal and acceptable for people to be saddled with debt; for people to have to work long, often insecure, hours, stressed out, struggling to find time with their family; for people not to have a pay rise for years no matter how dedicated you are or how hard you work; for young people to have no prospect of owning their own home; for disabled people to be pushed to the edge by the benefits system; or for carers to be struggling without support or recognition.

Let’s make it clear – we will never accept that this is normal or acceptable.

Yes, we will increase GDP, close the current account deficit and increase productivity. But life is not just about statistics. As Bobby Kennedy said almost 50 years ago:

  “The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry.”  (18 March 1968)

The performance of our Government will be measured by the care we show to all our people and the richness of their lives.   

We proved in the election, and we will now go on to prove in Government, our belief that:

Hope will always overcome fear.

Kindness and generosity will always overcome greedy self-interest.

And that the flame of solidarity in our society will never be extinguished.

For years we have proclaimed that “Another World is Possible.”

I tell you now, that world is not just possible, it is in sight.

Let’s create it together.

This is what people want to hear: not the politics of division and despair, of self interest and self satisfaction.

Interesting, and pleasing, that the Shadow Chancellor, and then on the last day, the Leader, both referred to poetry in their speeches: not Dover Beach, but Ben Okri, on Grenfell, by Corbyn. 

Leave a post Brexit Tory to a choice of verse & they resort to Kipling, of course - as we saw this week.

Satisfaction of another kind was on offer later that day, at the Labour Party Irish Society do. From the moment of arrival, the reception was warm, welcoming, and for perhaps the first time at any Conference event, it was a feeling of being at home: the craic, the laughter, a roomful of other people carrying a burden of inherited Catholic guilt; the good humour of the hosts, and guests. Well: perhaps all but one of the guests. Read on.

The leader of the Irish Labour party addressed the gathering, suggesting that the speeches should not get in the way of our drinking, which was clearly good advice, faithfully adhered to by all, including Himself.

As to Brexit: the prospect of a hard border was simply unthinkable, he said. It would not happen. Could not happen.

Standing next to me was a familiar figure. Ah yes, to be sure: it was Your Man - (not mine) - Owen Smith, who in June was appointed by Corbyn as shadow Northern Ireland secretary. He stood there with a glass of beer in his hand, as if he did not quite know what to do with it (everyone else was drinking Guinness from a bottle) and listened more carefully than needed to the speeches. At one point he said to the speaker (who ignored him): you said that last year. I turned to him and suggested, perhaps unwisely, that if he could remember what was said last year, he clearly had not had enough to drink, either then, or now. Nothing. Nope. Not the slightest hint of amusement. He pursed his lips, like a Sunday school teacher. 

Off then to another Irish event: 'Labour for a United Ireland - in a small room over a gentrified pub called the Pump House. A modest gathering, fewer than thirty, but the place was packed - and Ken Loach was due to come. 

In fact this was the sort of meeting that makes Conference so worthwhile: real debate, thought provoking - provocative, even, as we shall see. The panel consisted of people like the Sinn Féin MP for West Belfast, Paul Maskey, and writer Geoff Bell.

Interesting to be reminded by Maskey of the previous times in history that English MPs have played 'the Orange card' to get what they want: Theresa May is following in a time honoured tradition by retaining power only by bartering with the DUP. And yet again, the fate of the Irish people is left in the balance while British interests come first: the continuation of an imperialist policy. Here is the island of Ireland, he said, administered by two states, and three governments: time it was understood you cannot tell the Irish people what to do anymore, and let them decide their own future, in or out of Europe.

Loach arrived, and sat down. He apologised for being late, having been at a discussion about Israel and Palestine. He then said, in passing, that he had never heard a word of antisemitism in the Labour movement. 

Who could have anything but but admiration for Ken Loach as an artist, and film maker? I'm proud to have been in a short film made in Barnet for which he recorded an introduction; 'I Daniel Blake', is an outstandingly moving and important work, and The Wind that Shakes the Barley, about the fight for Irish independence, is a masterpiece. However ... he was incredibly naive to make such a statement. He does not see the contradiction in telling us, as he did at this meeting, that he remembers the overt racism expressed towards Irish people,"no Irish, no blacks, no dogs", and the injustice of telling the Irish how to run their own country, while at the same time claiming the right to tell Jewish people that they are wrong to feel they are the target of racism too, or denying the experiences they have. 

On the other hand, the thought occurred more than once during Conference, that the absence of a safe forum in which constructive political criticism of Israeli government policy towards the Palestinian people can be raised, respectfully, and without causing offence, has a dangerous consequence: a small minority of those who become interested in these issues, purely from a political perspective, sometimes end up adopting, intentionally or not, language and attitudes that are antisemitic, often from ignorance, and lack of challenge at an early point. 

It is unfair to portray Labour members as a whole as holding or tolerating such views, however, as some political enemies like to do: almost all of the offensive material is from people who are mindless, anonymous trolls, or attach themselves to the fringes of extremist groups, not party members. Anyone within the party who resorts to such vile behaviour, should be dealt with as a matter of urgency, and kicked out - and hopefully will be, from now on.

Next morning I wandered into the hall just as a member of the 'Jewish Voice for Labour' movement was launching into a speech accusing the party of creating an amendment (supported by Barnet councillor Phil Cohen) targeting 'thought crime' - in a way that could only offend those who within the Jewish Labour Movement - such as former Labour candidate for Finchley and Golders Green, Jeremy Newmark - have worked to create the new party rule change that will deal with antisemitism - a change backed by Jeremy Corbyn. It was an ugly moment, and I left again, as soon as possible.

Later that day, I was chatting outside the Grand Hotel with one of the Labour councillors from Barnet, when another member of  'Jewish Voice for Labour', who knew the member, although this councillor strongly disagreed with her views, engaged us in an unsolicited argument. She felt aggrieved, stating that the Jewish Labour Movement should not, could not, represent her or the community. JLM, in fact, has a long and distinguished history of representation, founded as 'Poale Zion', at the beginning of the 20th century, and affiliated to the Labour party in 1920. Who or what are JVL? Not sure. 

The amendment is passed, anyway - and now the party can move on: we hope. Yes: Mrs Angry, eternal optimist, again.

One of the most noticeable changes in Brighton, to me, since the last Conference here, is the increase in the number of homeless people on the streets: not just at night time, in shop doorways, but in the day, lying on mattresses and makeshift beds in the shopping areas and elsewhere. Not an unusual sight anywhere, sadly, now: but within the Conference zone, it was a timely reminder of the real extent of social deprivation happening now, worsening now. 

Back at home, some people not at Conference, not party members, or activists, were busy tweeting their disapproval that Labour were apparently not debating Brexit. How dare the party to which they do not belong allow the Leader of the Labour party to cunningly manipulate them into a democratic vote choosing the issues to be debated?

Well,  this was nonsense: members were balloted, and gave priority to other issues for those selected items. Elsewhere, everywhere, the subject of Brexit was very definitely given plenty of discussion. 

Momentum's 'The World Transformed' - next to a bar named 'Revolution' ... and on the site of a house where Dr Johnson and Fanny Burney used to visit their friend, the writer and diarist Hester Thrale ...

But standing in the street one day, observing a homeless man huddled in a corner of a doorway,  wrapped in a blanket, looking across the road in detached curiosity at the passing delegates and members and the queues of people waiting to enter Momentum's 'World Transformed, suddenly things seemed to fall into place: a moment of epiphany.

Arguing about the finer points of Brexit and nothing else is a middle class luxury: an indulgence. Someone in a shop doorway in Brighton, or a single mum in a hostel in Margate: they aren't worrying about their right to go and live in Berlin, or Barcelona, or anything much more than how they can afford the bus fare to the GP, or feed themselves, and keep some sort of life going in the next few days and weeks. While we allow ourselves to become fixated on one issue, and a problem which is never going to be resolved while the current government is in place, people are taking their own lives, driven to despair by the loss of benefits; our NHS is being torn up and thrown to the dogs of privatisation; thousands of people are being forced to depend on the handouts from their local foodbank. Only a change of government can help them - and only a change of government can do anything to reclaim anything positive from the consequences of Brexit.

 That and nothing else should be our priority. No one has a coherent strategy for Brexit, nor for preventing it: there is no way of preventing it as things stand - and the nation the Tories want to build in its place is a terrifying prospect. Only a Labour government can create something that protects most, if not all, of the benefits we now have as part of the EU: but maybe, just maybe - if we are stuck with Brexit - it would be possible to create something even better.

Labour has to address the urgent needs of ordinary people, and our most vulnerable citizens, and offer the hope of a society where they will be safe, supported, respected and empowered. 

We've seen that trickle down economics don't work - now we have to work from the other end of the social scale. 

In or out of the EU, we have to have a change of government to protect the most vulnerable of our citizens.

A fringe meeting on Tuesday night posed an interesting question: was Labour still the party of workers? 

The panel, hosted by the Resolution Foundation, a think-tank that works to improve the living standards of those in Britain on low to middle incomes, was going to include Frances O'Grady, Kevin Maguire, and was chaired by Torsten Bell.

It was held in the Hilton Metropole: an ageing venue of unique ugliness - aptly referred to in Eliot's Wasteland, in one of many literary allusions that associate Brighton with the reputation of a place of unsavoury assignations. Once a grand Victorian hotel, now in a state of barely controlled decline, with many of the Conference events, such as this one, taking place in a massive room, emptied of all human context: a vast space, windowless, grey: oppressive - deeply depressing. Unreal city.

Deborah Mattinson from 'Britain Thinks'  gave a statistical analysis of voters in the last election. How many workers had actually voted for Labour? She gave a breakdown of statistics, and indicated a problem with engaging working class voters. 

Now it was time for Lucy Powell, MP, to speak.

She was well aware of the need to listen to the working classes, she said, smiling. In her constituency she had run a series of meetings with them, to encourage them to express their concerns. The older white working classes, she said, once they got over being -ha ha -#angryaboutbins (copyright Mrs Angry, 2016) revealed that they no longer felt they had 'purchase' over their communities. Oh. Did they use that term, wondered Mrs Angry, or are you putting words in their older white working class mouths?

It was good that Jeremy Corbyn seemed to give hope to some of these people, she admitted - but then contradicted herself somewhat by claiming many voters on the doorstep had been 'angry' - not about bins, but about him. Clearly not to the extent of failing to vote for a Labour MP, thought Mrs Angry, who was beginning to feel rather irritated by her (not helped by the fact that Powell was wearing the same green Boden dress Mrs Angry had worn the day before, unintentionally appropriate for two Irish events: a fact which obliged her to wonder, rather abashed, as to why she was choosing the same clothes as a shadow cabinet mutineer).

Kevin Maguire struck a somewhat different tone: rather less condescending, and more pragmatic - from a north eastern mining background, clearly he felt he might have a rather more informed view of what the working class, in 2017, was, and what they wanted to see from Labour. No sentimentality: listen, but challenge racism, promote Labour values.

Time for questions. Up shot Mrs Angry's hand. A BBC cameraman, who had been filming the discussion, appeared suddenly, too late to have any moderating effect on what now came out. 

Did Lucy Powell not think she ought to reconsider the vocabulary she was using? Talking about the 'working classes' as 'they' and 'them': rather patronising, as if they were some sort of rare species, that needs protecting, when in fact the Labour movement is rooted in working class history ... People in the audience mumbled agreement: a few applauded.

By this time, Powell had realised her gaffe, and was flustered, muttering of course, of course ... Mrs Angry pointed out that like Maguire, she had family background in the former mining areas of the north east, (ironically we were sitting in the Durham room) and she knew that a whole generation of Labour voters had been lost (over the Blair, Brown & Miliband years), that Corbyn couldn't win them back overnight, it was going to take time - but clearly it was happening.

Of course, of course, she hadn't meant to be patronising. Her credentials: well, said the ex Somerville College, Oxford graduate, who comes from a family of teachers: she was a Mancunian. (Yes, thought Mrs Angry, not necessarily a term that is exclusively interchangeable with working class). She could remember visiting her grandparents, in their home, you know, and the pride they felt in their community - their privet hedge - Eh? 

Privet hedge? asked Mrs Angry, thinking of the squalid slum terrace where her own grandparents had lived in Durham, and as Frances O'Grady and Deborah Mattinson tried to hide their laughter. Luxury!

The mood of the meeting changed then: Powell's anodyne politics were clearly not delivering the message most people wanted to hear. Before the end, one woman explained this was her first conference. The thing that had struck her, she said, was that the party seemed to consist of too many over educated young men in suits. Ha! I hear you, sister - Yes, said Mrs Angry, as the other women on the panel nodded: but this is better than it was, believe me. Although, she almost added, looking guiltily at herself, and Lucy Powell, the place is now full of middle class women dressed in Boden. 

A brief escape from the vast, airless, gloomy rooms of the Metropole, but then back again, to a slightly less awful venue in the same hotel for the annual Labour Friends of Israel reception. Outside the entrance there was a noisy demonstration with people relentlessly chanting 'Israel is a terrorist state'. Mrs Angry's heart sank. Once inside, the reception was packed, and speeches were made by a young female MP from the Knesset, the Israeli ambassador, and Emily Thornberry, shadow Foreign Secretary, in place of Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn had come last year, courageously, although visibly nervous, and used his speech to condemn antisemitism - almost exclusively unreported by the mainstream media. This year, after so much controversy over this issue, it was clearly decided the better course of action was not to go at all.

Emily Thornberry and Ian McNichol listen to the Israeli ambassador

Waking up the next morning to another beautiful day in Brighton, Mrs Angry stumbled out of bed to peer out of the window at a stunning view of the sea, and the old pier, from the viewpoint of her hotel in the perfectly preserved Regency Square: a vista spoiled only by being bisected by the sky high column of the new observation tower. 

Up then and off to the centre, even though this year, thanks to the mess up over her pass, she had no ticket for the Leader's speech: in the end it didn't matter, as, thanks to a kind steward, she found herself somehow sitting in the front section, in a better seat than ever. 

And of all the speeches seen at the last few Conferences, this was one to be at: the hall was galvanised with a massive wave of energy, excitement, and enthusiasm. The contrast with the Miliband years, when he lumbered around the stage like a puppet, and the speech seemed to go on forever without making any point, or offering any hope, and the best reception he could expect was some dutiful applause, was striking. 

This year Ed was spotted by a friend in the cheap seats, way behind Mrs Angry, looking on thoughtfully. 

Down in the mosh pit, surrounded by a group of very excited Glaswegians, and a few seats along from a curiously subdued Owen Jones, the crowd's mood was exultant. The event was brilliantly presented: the right choice of music, timing, footage, graphics: very effective, and the perfect backdrop to the simplistic style of the leader himself. 

No need to repeat the speech. There was not a single policy in it which you could not applaud: a range of courageous, practical ideas that meet the needs of all those who have been waiting for a fundamental change in the party, and in the political system. The part which was the most resonant for me was this:

The Tory approach to the economy isn’t entrepreneurial. It’s extractive. They’re not focused on long-term investment and wealth creation. When you look at what they do rather than what they say it’s all about driving down wages, services and standards … to make as much money as quickly as possible with government not as the servant of the people but of global corporations.

And their disregard for rampant inequality, the hollowing out of our public services, the disdain for the powerless and the poor have made our society more brutal and less caring.

Now that degraded regime has a tragic monument the chilling wreckage of Grenfell Tower. A horrifying fire in which dozens perished an entirely avoidable human disaster. One which is an indictment not just of decades of failed housing policies and privatisation and the yawning inequality in one of the wealthiest boroughs and cities in the world, it is also a damning indictment of a whole outlook which values council tax refunds for the wealthy above decent provision for all and which has contempt for working class communities.

Before the fire, a tenants’ group of Grenfell residents had warned … and I quote words that should haunt all politicians “the Grenfell Action Group firmly believes that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord”. Grenfell is not just the result of bad political decisions It stands for a failed and broken system which Labour must and will replace.

A broken system: nationally, and here, in easycouncil Barnet, freefalling into the abyss created by the hollowing out of every local service; a place where avarice and a merciless ideology drives an agenda of privatisation beyond the point of any effective restraint - or justification. 

The tragedy of Grenfell has come to signify so much more than the terror and loss of that terrible night: it marks a moment in history from which we can never return, or look back, but only resolve to make the most radical changes to a society that can allow such a thing to happen. There is an appetite, a hunger for change now, that I don't remember seeing before, in my lifetime. 

To see such widespread support expressed for example, for the re-nationalisation of our utilities, is quite something. The centre has shifted: years of Tory government and a lukewarm Labour opposition has created a more radical, reformist minded electorate, waiting for the opportunity offered by Corbyn to re-write the rule book, and make the impossible possible. As the Tories tear themselves apart, and face an existential crisis within their own party, the nation is looking elsewhere for leadership, new ideas - and hope.

Wandering back to the hotel, along the pebble beach, and then circling round the base of the new tower, Mrs Angry looked about, at the sea, and the old town. 

Our Victorian forebears, terrified by Darwin, and the idea of a world without God, used to build piers, to annex the waves, if not Arnold's sea of faith, in the spirit of imperialism: now we construct towers to give us ascendance into heaven, and enable us to look down from a clearer perspective, one previously the privilege of that Victorian God: with a cool eye, and the authority of our own grasp on power.

Standing in the present, looking back to the historic square, or the old pier, still defying the motion of time and waves, maybe isn't such a bad thing, after all. 

Change is difficult, for some more than others, within the party and without; but an acceptance that things cannot continue the way they are, and a willingness to consider more radical and challenging approaches to the issues that face us, is what we need. The message is clear for all of us - adapt, or die: embrace the cold reality of the new, or lose the achievements of the past, as well as the possibilities of the future.

Brighton September 2017

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Nothing to worry about: Audit, in the age of Capita, continued - or: Something may turn up ...

'My other piece of advice, Copperfield,' said Mr. Micawber, 'you know.

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and

six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure
twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. The blossom is blighted,
the leaf is withered, the god of day goes down upon the dreary scene,
and--and in short you are for ever floored. As I am!'

Following the calamitous interim report earlier this summer from Barnet Council's external auditors, Mrs Angry predicted that, after the initial shock felt by our muddleheaded Tory councillors, there would be a concerted effort made, before the final report, in regard to damage limitation. 

From shock, to panic - and then denial. The political cost of doing otherwise, for most of the Tories in Barnet, is too high. Next year's local elections are too close for comfort, and of course there could be a general election at any point. This perilous circumstance is having a miraculous effect, in fact: members are now taking care to refuse unpopular planning applications, for example - see the previous post, and other controversial matters, such as the Cricklewood issues discussed at another committee last night, at the same time as the Audit meeting was in progress. But they lack the ability to do anything about the biggest problem of all: the catastrophic contractual agreements with Capita, and a financial crisis that can no longer be denied.

Most of the more astute Tory councillors know that the council is up the proverbial creek, with only a cut price paddle provided by Capita, sitting in a leaking boat, slowly sinking into the swamp. But they cannot admit it. To do so would be to admit they ignored all warnings about the risk of entering into the two massive outsourcing contracts, and have failed in their duty properly to direct and monitor the performance of the delivery of those contracts. 

Mrs Angry went along last night, out of a sense of duty more than anything else: having submitted some questions, and received the usual sort of nonsensical written replies, requiring ... more questions. 

Out of a sense of duty, and despite feeling rather unwell, after a long day locked in an overheated archive, reading through volumes of historic bank accounts, page after page of inky ledgers, money paid in, and money paid out: pretty straightforward, said the archivist, pointing at the annual and six monthly balances, which showed an alarming level of expenditure, set against a sometimes risky level of income. Yes: easy enough, audit, historical or otherwise: profit and loss, money in, and money out: and a final balance to tell the story. Or to show, as our latter day corporate clerks would say, 'the direction of travel'.

Audit in the age of Capita

Easy enough, with accurate accounts. But what happens when the accounts are kept by the same provider as the items and services noted in those ledgers? When the barely numerate butcher, baker and candlestick maker all get together to submit their bills and then write them up in the customer's own accounts, making lots of mistakes, but keeping the ledgers under the counter, and pretending there is nothing to worry about?

That, in effect, is what has happened here, in the London Borough of Capita. The council's accounts, which record the financial transactions of the authority's contracted services, are the responsibility of ... the same contractors who provide those services. 

So apart from the multiplicity of roles and potential conflict of interests represented by the range of Capita's grip on our local public services, there is an overarching conflict of interest that beats everything: their presentation of the annual accounts.

And as the interim external audit report showed so clearly, earlier in the summer, the annual accounts, as overseen and presented by Capita, in regard to services largely provided by Capita, were full of errors. Mistakes that have been identified by BDO include massive sums of money listed in the wrong place, or overstating or understating significant amounts of council funds - our funds: taxpayers' money.

The tone of the interim report was unequivocal: the council's accounts were a mess, and we were using up our reserves in a reckless fashion, which suggested that rather than being the rip-roaring success promised to us by our Tory members, the Capita contracts were not delivering good value for residents, but leading us into financial disaster. 

One of the Tory members of the audit committee gave an indication of the way in which the group would later try to limit the damage: turning on the auditors themselves, and castigating them for the lateness of the report, rather than the content of the report, and the implied criticism of the administration's competence. Yes, shooting the messenger.

The subsequent report from the auditors is rather different in tone, if not in content, much more of a distancing from outcome, based on the council's own rather less than convincing assurances. In other words, yes, we are teetering on the brink of disaster, but on the other hand, the council has said everything will be fine, so maybe it will, after all. 

Well: we all like a happy ending, don't we? And even auditors run out of time - and patience.

In the committee room, the meeting began with a homily from the Chair, Hendon Tory cllr Hugh Rayner. He said that after the final audit report he was happy - no, content - with the 'position' of the council, but not the 'process'. That might be interpreted as trying to encourage us to worry about the arrangement of deckchairs, rather than asking questions about the seaworthiness of the vessel, or indeed the likelihood of icebergs ahead. He graciously indicated that it was unsporting to blame the auditors for the mismanagement of the council (Yes, shooting the messenger #2) when naughty Capita might have had something to do with it. Because naughty Capita did have something to do with it, in fact, they were being slapped on the wrist with a fine, like an overdue library book surrendered by a child lucky enough to find a library from which he is not barred - £50,000. Ooh, er. Just a fraction of their daily profit from the London Borough of Broken Barnet, one imagines.

Time for comments from the public: fellow bloggers Roger Tichborne and John Dix spoke, Mr Tichborne demanding to know how much more the delayed Audit reports had cost the taxpayer, and Mr Reasonable observing the problems deriving from the lack  of clarity over responsibility: the confusion between the roles played by Capita and LBB. He pointed out the extent to which residents were excluded from the role of scrutiny, and mentioned the very serious matter of an FOI request for details about gainshare reward payments, which is being refused on a basis he maintains is quite spurious, as the commercial confidentiality clause used to block release has expired. Who can tell us what that payment for £970,000 was for? Apparently we are not allowed to know.

'I could not receive it as a gift,' said Mr. Micawber, full of fire and

animation, 'but if a sufficient sum could be advanced, say at five per

cent interest, per annum, upon my personal liability--say my notes of
hand, at twelve, eighteen, and twenty-four months, respectively, to
allow time for something to turn up--'

A group shrug from members and officers,  and then it was time for supplementary questions to the written replies. There were some cracking lines in these responses. Mrs Angry's favourite was regarding Question 8:

Risk Management, Conflicts of interest:

3.4 Taking informed and transparent decisions
which are subject to effective scrutiny and
managing risk

Has the external auditor reviewed what appears
to be a number of significant risks raised by
conflict of interest and/or the perception of
conflict of interest posed by the multiplicity of
roles played by the councils' contractors in regard
to planning and enforcement? Is there in place a
satisfactory mitigation of those risks?


The council has satisfied itself it has effective governance processes in place and has provided information to us to be content with the Annual Governance Statement. If you have any specific concerns then you are encouraged to raise them through the escalation routes available to you to either myself or the Council depending on the nature of the concern.

The council has satisfied itself. 

And this is enough for the purposes of audit, apparently. The word of a - well not exactly a gentleman, is he, the personification of Broken Barnet? And - self satisfaction, surely, can never be enough, in the end, can it? 

Satisfaction, or at least, 'contentment', is something the Auditor values highly, however. It is his measure of success. And in answer to Qs 4, and 6, that measure of value was used to satisfy any lingering doubts about, you know, the butcher being left in charge of his customer's accounts: Capita left in charge of the books that log the transactions regarding Capita run services.

 The written answer said the auditors were 'satisfied' with the arrangement. In a state of post-audit mellowness, instead of falling asleep, or making us a cup of tea, we now hear, whispered in our ear, that the auditor is 'content'. And then again 'satisfied', by Q 6. Hmm. Oh hang on: content - or maybe just satisfied - that things will be ok until ... 2020? What happens then?

What happens then? asked Mrs Angry. After our profligate council has dipped into its reserves for the last time, and found there is nothing left? Oh, and by the way, about the change in tone from the highly critical interim report: has any pressure been brought to bear on you, by members, for example?

The auditor smiled, and hesitated. You're smiling, observed Mrs Angry, so am I right?

He murmured something about 'acting without fear of favour'. Of course. Except this is Broken Barnet, where fear and favour are the ruling principles. Or would be, if we had any.

But: and he did seem to be pleased to have the opportunity to say this - the council's arrangements, and his level of contentment/satisfaction therewith, are - oh dear - sustainable only until 2020. In the medium term. After that?

All hell will break loose. 

Or rather, as he said now, addressing the members directly, eyeball to eyeball: 

You will need a fundamental re-write

A fundamental re-write. 

Well, f*ck me. In audit speak that means: THE END IS NIGH. MAN THE LIFEBOATS.

He looked at them. They looked at him. Mrs Angry looked at a Labour councillor. He looked at Mrs Angry. The Tories looked at their shoes. 

Other questions included two on the issue of the Lodge, Victoria Park, the sale of which has been the point of formal objections to the accounts. Although as expressed in his written reply the Auditor had not found any evidence so far that the sale had been unlawful, after the planning meeting of 7th September, where development plans had been firmly quashed by Tory members, and it was recognised that the covenant still applies, he acknowledged the circumstances now may have changed and the matter may be open to review.

Oh: and here is a curious thing. The interim audit report had noted some councillors had not been making annual declarations as required. Mrs Angry had asked why the Monitoring Officer was similarly failing to note that too many members were not making declarations of Gifts and Hospitality. The Chair seemed unwilling to believe this, so Mrs Angry gave an example: having witnessed several of his colleagues disporting themselves at this slap up dinner, at possibly the most expensive restaurant in the borough - and as Mr Reasonable spotted in the accounts, at a cost of £1500. Mrs Angry had been attending a family event at the same venue that night, and was horrified to find the place stuffed full of Tory councillors. 

As she reminded them, passing through the bar, when they greeted her long suffering brother, who worked for them in governance for 30 years, yes, you made him redundant a few years ago, remember? And then, when Tory leader came over to say hello to the long suffering brother, the brother's fearless niece, Miss Angry, demanded that Cornelius should tell her if we, the taxpayers, were paying for his dinner. Mrs Angry's heart swelled with maternal pride, as you may imagine.

Cornelius, clearly terrified by yet another Angry woman holding him to account, meekly admitted that, yes, that was the case. Yet there appear to be no declarations from those present of their attendance at this bash, enjoying the hospitality of you and me, the tax payers of Broken Barnet, and indeed some Tory members have made no G&H declarations at all. *Does this matter? I think it does: it is yet another mark of the indifference shown by our elected members for the principles of transparency, and accountability - and reminds us that austerity, at a time when vital public services are being cut to the bone, does not apply to them.

*Updated: according to the Monitoring Officer (yes, apparently there is one, somewhere) it is his view such jollies do not have to be declared, even though the Labour members did, as you and I are footing the bill. Of course any hospitality paid for by us, without our consent or knowledge, is never going to influence their opinion in any way, so this is, clearly, perfectly proper).

Now, as the Suits from Capita sat back in the seats they had annexed from the front of the public seating area, members listened to the auditor present his report, and then ask questions. 

One of the revelations of the audit was the questionable status of the Pension Fund, which appeared to have been overstated, by, oh, a mere £92 million ... . Not for the first or last time that evening, Mrs Angry wondered why the internal audit process had not already identified such a glaring error. 

But such concerns were not of interest to the Tory members. Councillor Finn, who is the Chair of the Committee tasked with overseeing the scrutiny of contractual performance, was very worried about something else. He was bewildered by the colouring system of the audit report. There were too many colours, he complained. What did it all mean? The auditor tried to explain the subtle variation in opinion that the colours represented: wasted on the Tory members who can grasp only that ... red means danger. Especially the red flag of socialism.  The Chair intervened to apologise, at this point, to members of the public whose copies of the report were only in, oh dear - black and white. 

Councillor Finn

Oh dear, again. Along came another massive question in regard to the accounts. The matter of a £4.6 million debt, from Capita Re, in regard to underperformance of contracted income, that should have been recovered, but had not. Why not? One of the Capita Suits, a Mr Mark Dally, lounging in the public gallery, wasn't that bothered. He was invited to sit at the table, to sit up, and explain ... why he wasn't that bothered. 

Mr Dally, who according to his Linkedin profile, is - excuse me - a 'Change Maker'  (God help us all) who works as a regional director for Capita Local Government, smiled and described the debt as 'disputed'. An agreement would be reached soon. Oh. Well, what is £4.6 million of taxpayers' money, after all? Neither here, nor there. Yes, it might help safeguard vital services, prevent the terrible cuts in the library budget etc, but ... let us not stand in the way of Change, Capita style. Can't have enough of that, in Broken Barnet, can we?

Yes, the debt was owed by Re (the Capita joint venture with Barnet) and appears in the accounts presented by ... Capita, but: meh. Might be paid, might not be. #conflictofinterest, tweeted Mr Reasonable.

At this point, Mrs Angry decided she felt too unwell to stay any longer. She made her excuses, and left. It had been a long day.

Those who remained continued tweeting: 

Cllr Arjun Mittra‏ @ArjunMittra

Cllr Finn says "we should be proud of accounts" "nothing to worry about". This is of course the man chaired the scrutiny of the contracts.

And the man who is Chair of the Performance and Contract management committee, who thinks scrutiny should always be positive, not critical, and wants everything to be 'hunkydory'. Still, as Micawber always believed - 'something may turn up', a miracle, to keep the bailiffs from the door. And, in the absence of surcharges, rather than see our elected representatives end up in a debtor's gaol, it will be the taxpayers of Broken Barnet who bear the consequences of this authority's financial mismanagement.

Thinking back to the hours spent reading through those accounts in the archive earlier in the day, following the ebb and flow of financial activity in the life of one particular figure, left an undeniable sense of historical, or at least fictional, perspective: and the voice of one of the characters created by him. 

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery."

No colours needed here. Cllr Finn: profit or loss: that is the only measurement, in the end, that counts. The Micawber guide to accountancy. But when you surrender control of the books to the tradesman, and surrender common sense to the rule of political dogma, or party loyalty - all measure is lost, and we are lost with it.