Saturday, 31 July 2010
Blimey O'Reilly. That was nothing.
This week, the coverage of the Allowancegate scandal which has so enraged the residents of this borough became even more outspoken. The local Times group papers, and even the normally restrained Barnet Press, have both reached unprecedented heights of condemnation of the Tory councillors and their greedy little plot. The Times is really going for it by running a petition to demand the council back down over the pay rise. Neither of these publications have previously taken such a stand on a matter of local controversy, and it is very gratifying to see them doing what local papers should do, and defend the interests of the community in such unabashed fashion.
Of course, I think that what has been described in the Guardian, no less, as the 'pulsating blogosphere' here in Barnet can take the credit for kicking all this off, and indeed continues to carry the story forward. And this phenomenon is a sign of steadfast and healthy opposition to the increasingly disturbing attempts of the local administration to enforce its will on an electorate it is trying to exclude from the democratic processes of consultation and communication, 'transparency' and accountability.
It is clear now that there has been a total breakdown of the relationship between the council administration and the residents of this borough. And the blame for this lies entirely with the attitude of contempt and the utter lack of respect from the Tory councillors towards the electorate which so recently placed it back in power.
Both local papers this week carried interviews with Leader of the council, Lynne Hillan, just back from her latest holiday. While she was presumably cavorting in the sun and enjoying her well earned rest - and after all we learnt that all cabinet members have to do a two day week, bless them - the job of dealing with the outburst of public anger at the Tory councillors' pay hike had been left in the capable hands of her eminence grise, Brian Coleman. He had in turn performed the miraculous deed of making things even worse by declaring that the grateful masses would prove to be 'delighted' at the thought that he would be having even more of our hard earned cash stuffed under his mattress. The interesting views of the residents on this particular comment may be read in the letters' pages of the local papers.
So it was up to Lynne, this week, to repair the damage, and launch a charm offensive on the mutinous residents of Barnet. Oh dear. This was as dangerous as asking Typhoid Mary to do the catering at a Buckingham Palace garden party.
You would think that she might have learnt, after her embarrassing tv appearance, in which she so spectacularly died a death, that using the media requires an element of intelligence and discretion. Evidently not.
How did Lynne set about winning back the hearts and minds of the electorate?
Well, in the Times she informed us:
1.Central government thinks councillors should be voluntary, which would mean you would only recruit 'retired' rather than working people, and therefore people who are not 'the right sort of people for the job'. Ms Hillan, with her spectacular success in company management, is obviously the right sort of person for the job.
2.If you are in the Cabinet, you are working two days a week, and this might interfere with your day job, if you had one.
3.The previous rate of pay was based on a scheme which was 'flawed' and 'inequitable'.
4.The pay rise was not a pay rise at all, but actually a 'redistribution'.
Ok. Let's take a look at all that.
1. Central government, and everyone else, is not saying councillors should be entirely voluntary, or without reasonable allowances. Reasonable, Ms Hillan. A difficult word for you?
What is so wrong, anyway, with retired people being councillors, if they are dedicated and conscientious? Your remarks are patronising. What other work do you do, apart from being a councillor? Are you running another company, perhaps? What matters is that councillors put the interests of their consituents first, are honest, hard working, and trying to serve the community because they care about it. Being a councillor is not a career, it should be a vocation.
2.If Cabinet members are claiming to be working two days a week, where is the evidence? When do they clock on - and when do they clock off? What about the councillors who are apparently being paid to attend meetings they ignore, yet still receive their allowances?
3.If the previous pay scheme was flawed and inequitable, why did you approve it in March?
4. If the pay rise is a redistribution, the fact that it benefits you and your cabinet chums at the cost of other councillors is hardly the basis for a claim of fairness and for the purpose of being more equitable, is it?
In the Barnet Press, Ms Hillan is pictured smiling, slumped complacently, arms outstretched in a tub chair. She proceeds to try to defend the pay hike. Same old arguments: a sudden respect for the new pay scheme, promoted by a quango (funny - thought the Tories despised all quangos) and then: oops, she becomes a little confused.
Apparently, Lynne and her gang 'had been looking to adopt' the new pay scheme 'for some time', although she then says 'we hadn't really discussed it' ... 'only after the election councillors started saying we needed to look at something different'.
So: they had all been thinking about it, but not really discussing it, before the election. Thinking, and somehow communicating a mutual desire by what? Semaphore? Mime? A coded game of charades? Or were they all thinking dark lonely thoughts in secret, a festering sense of injustice at their lowly rate of allowance? And then, in the warm afterglow of post electoral satisfaction, did the love that dare not speak its name, ie the love of money, just suddenly emerge all at once, in a spontaneous show of greed?
'I'm not saying I want more money ...' she whinges, 'but the unions have been allowed to increase public sector pay over and over again.'
Er: what? Yes, those lavishly rewarded public sector workers - so overpaid, don't you think? And lazy: how many hours a day, how many days in a week do they work? Oh, what, more than two days a week? No, you're having a laugh ...
The Press, like the Times, publishes a choice selection of readers' letters venting their spleen at the pay rise, and the editorial also tells us that some could not be published 'for legal reasons', leaving us to imagine the extent of foul mouthed fury they must contain, bearing in mind the vitriol of those that actually made it into print. The editorial itself is stunning, an admirable piece of invective, at one point remarking of the treatment of the one abstaining councillor:
'If that is democracy, give us a revolution.'
It ends by saying that this move by the councillors, if acceptable to the modern Tory voter, proves that there is no modern Tory voter, and Cameron's attempts to reform the party are 'swept away in an arrogant swipe.' Wow again.
But let Ms Hillan have the last word. In her parting shot, she gives a telling illustration of the 'difficult' and 'painful' times that everyone other than herself and her cabinet chums will be exposed to over the next few years. She warns us that residents' relationships with the council are going to change. When, for example, she explains, it has been snowing, and someone, presumably someone elderly or incapacitated, needs help in clearing a path, the answer is going to be: 'Get a spade out of the shed' ....
Hmm. An interesting example dredged from the subconscious, Mrs Angry would suggest.
Because that spade, poor foolish Snow Queen, with the splinter of ice in your cold, cold heart, is the one with which you are digging your own political grave.
Friday, 30 July 2010
Wednesday, 28 July 2010
By this show of solidarity, our elected people's representatives hope to draw attention to the tragic plight of overemployment and underpayment amongst our Conservative councillors, many of whom struggle to feed their fat faces on token handouts from the begrudging residents of our borough.
'Tell the voters of Broken Barnet that our councillors shall not starve!' cried one particularly rotund and militant spokesman.
Sadly, once the marchers reached their destination, the Prime Minister was unable to spare them the time of day.
' Tell those snivelling little oiks to piss off,' he yelled out of the window of 10 Downing Street, as Eric Pickles pointed the way to the nearest bus stop, and slipped them all the price of a cup of tea.
'We're W**kers, United, we'll never be defeated' chanted the defiant marchers, as they faded into electoral oblivion.
Monday, 26 July 2010
Councillor Graham Old, the one Tory councillor who dared to face the audience at the Forum, was last night moved to admit that his colleague Councillor Kate Salinger, the only Tory to abstain from voting for the shameful pay rise, was, and I quote: 'a great heroine'.
Yes. A great heroine.
Now that there has been so much distaste expressed by the residents of our borough for not only the rise itself but the way in which Mrs Salinger was punished and humiliated by her own party as a consequence of her brave stand, there is evidently a sense of shame amongst at least some of her colleagues about what took place. Of course you may be cynical and say that this is only because of the fall out - the unprecedented feeling of disgust from the electorate, the government, and pretty well anyone you care to ask: and, additionally, it seems, from news earlier today, that there are now formal moves to question the 'legality' of the vote, driven by the efforts of the GMB union.
Another funny thing that happened concerned some of the other local Tory councillors, who, for some reason, completely forgot to turn up to face their residents at the Finchley and Golders Green Residents' Forum! Can you believe it? No Councillor Dean Cohen, who is actually the Chairman of the committee, or any of the Golders Green councillors such as his dad, you know, the Cabinet member with the new allowance, Councillor Melvin Cohen. No Councillor Reuben Thompstone. From Finchley Church End, no CouncillorEva Greenspan, or Councillor Daniel Thomas, who spoke so enthusiastically at the full council meeting. What a shame. Perhaps there was something good on telly last night.
Rest assured that your own special correspondant, Mrs Angry, did make it to the meeting, and made careful notes of the two hour long discussion, much of which, unsurprisingly, became uncomfortably fixated on the sensitive subject of our councillors' recent self awarded pay hike.
There were about thirty or so residents who had got wind of this meeting, and made the point of attending, and a number of councillors from other parties joined them in the audience: Finchley Labour Councillors Alison Moore, Jim Tierney, Geoff Cooke and Alan Schneiderman, and Libdem councillor Jack Cohen, from Childs Hill. The mood of residents was restrained, but angry and determined: both sides sized each other up as we waited for the meeting to begin. The officers and the solitary councillor on the committee looked nervous: residents wondered if they would they try to supress discussion as had been the case at the forum last week? Not much chance of that last night, as it turned out.
The only Tory councillor who showed his face at this forum was Church End councillor Graham Old, and he chaired the meeting. Councillor Dean Cohen sent his apologies, with no explanation as to his absence; nor was there any explanation as to why no other Tory councillor from Golders Green had dared to attend.
One of the things which greatly puzzles Mrs Angry about the make up of the present council is the peculiar network of families which dominates the membership. There are several Tory married couples who are councillors: Mr and Mrs Cornelius; Mr and Mrs Tambourides; Mr and Mrs Salinger; There is also a father and son combination: Melvin and Dean Cohen, and of course two thirds of our Libdem councillors are married to each other (work that one out yourself).
Now call me old fashioned, but I rather think that some things are best not practised within the family. Incest. DIY. Trying to explain the offside rule. Working as your husband's parliamentary secretary, or your dad's researcher - and, arguably, acting as joint councillors for the same local government ward.
In the interests of 'transparency' and accountability, I feel that such cosy pairings, however honest and hard working, are in general, an anachronism in modern government, even on a local scale. Keeping it within the family might be a nice arrangement for the councillors: double allowances etc, but it is surely not the healthiest option for the electorate, nor an arrangement which necessarily represents the best value for money.
Last night, however, there was only one lonely councillor left to take the flak at our meeting, and it appeared, from what transpired, that he had been set up as the patsy by his absent colleagues. New boy Graham Old has only been in office since May, and was therefore able to plead ignorance to any uncomfortable questions which predated his election, which was rather convenient, of course.
Sitting with Councillor Old was Jeff Lustig, Director of Corporate Governance, and some officers from Democratic Services, planning, and transport. Mr Lustig sat at the councillor's right hand, and they waited, with wary expressions, for the meeting to commence.
After a couple of brief items about CPZs in North Finchley, and traffic congestion in Golders Green, the real fun began.
A question had been submitted asking why the notorious Item 5.3, which had proposed the councillors pay hike, had been allowed on the agenda at the very last minute on the basis of 'urgency'. We were referred in a written response to the Mayor's explanation for his approval of this at the council meeting, which alludes to 'problems with IT within the council' which had 'contributed to delay in distributing/publication of the paper', but did not really properly address the issue of the alleged urgency. The Mayor had merely said: 'I am satisfied that Council need to consider the London Council Independent Renumeration Panel Report as soon as possible after its publication in May, particularly given that the next Council meeting is not until 14th September 2010.'
He was evidently worried that some of his colleagues would have to wait eight more weeks without their pay rise: just imagine, off on their well deserved holidays with no extra pocket money! Poor darlings.
A woman in the audience asked what exactly were the problems with the IT, and why it seemed only to affect the papers concerning the allowance rise? Mr Lustig said something about 'networks' problems' but could not comment further. Councillor Old looked uncomfortable. The woman then asked if, as these alleged IT problems had meant the item had been included at the last minute without any warning, whether it would not have been better for the item to have been delayed to the next meeting so that full consultation could take place? Ah. Councillor Old looked even more uncomfortable.
'I take your point', he said.
He was clearly unable, or unwilling, to provide any further elaboration, explanation, or defence.
'You take my point?' asked the woman, in amazement.
'You take my point.' she muttered, shaking her head in despair.
There was then a discussion of whether or not legal advice had been taken as to the way in which this item would be voted upon. No clear answer was given to residents about this: in fact there was a marked reluctance to respond: possibly the reason may lie in the challenge now apparently being posed by the GMB, or perhaps the answer was simply not known, which would be rather odd, wouldn't it?
Councillor Old was asked directly by another woman why he had voted in the way he had. He had a list of answers ready. The previous system had been discredited. The whole 'thrust' of councillors' work had changed. The new system demands that councillors are subject to a new system of appraisal. Yes. Bla bla bla. Heard it all before, thank you.
And of course the audience was less than satisfied with these reasons. Councillor Salinger's appalling treatment was mentioned, and Councillor Old then let slip his quite unexpected tribute to her heroism. I suspect that this belated outing of support for Mrs Salinger may well be viewed as a grave error by some of his more senior colleagues. It may however have saved him from a full verbal lynching by the residents.
He was asked if the old system of allowance rates had really been discredited since only March, when the previous rate system had been used to approve the annual allowances. He pleaded ignorance: pointed out that he was a new boy, and hadn't been around then. Oh. Shame.
A woman who is a well informed and articulate member of the Residents Association of Barnet pointed out that there had been nothing in the Tories local election manifesto about a new allowance scheme, that they ought to have a conscience and duty to reflect the wishes of the people, and their best interests. There was applause for her, as indeed for much of what she said throughout the evening.
Another gentleman involved in the anti Brent Cross development coalition asked what was the criteria for urgent items at council meetings. He was told that this was already set out in the written answer. Very well hidden if it is: damned if I can see it. And of course one might reasonably conclude from recent events that the real criteria is if the timing is beneficial to the administration.
Questions were asked about the procedural chain of events which brought Item 5.3 to the agenda, and it was suggested that the meeting at which the proposals were formed was anyway too close to the council meeting for any IT problems to have been the reason for the lateness of the inclusion on the agenda. Interesting. Councillor Old ruefully remarked that in the good old days, the whole issue would have been put before a committee of councillors before going to the vote anyway.
And therein lies the problem, in my view: this administration is concentrating power and decision making within the control of a small cabal of individuals within the cabinet rather than consulting with their group, let alone taking the issues forward to be debated by the council as a whole.
Labour councillor Jim Tierney then spoke. He noted the status of heroine now awarded to Mrs Salinger for her daring act in abstaining from the vote, and concluded that Mr Old must therefore have a truly profound admiration for the Labour and Libdem councillors who had actually voted against the move.
He reminded Councillor Old that 24 hours before the Tory group pushed through their pay hike, council staff had attended briefings about their own pay freezes and the uncertain future they all face. He wondered how the staff felt to hear the next day that councillors had awarded themselves this rise in their own pay? Yet again Mr Lord looked ill at ease, as indeed any decent person would, and rather surprisingly, and to his credit, made the point of expressing his personal respect for the Labour and Libdem councillors.
A resident in the ensuing discussion reminded Councillor Old that we live in a democracy.
'We used to', yelled another member of the audience.
A woman told Councillor Old that in her opinion, in the matter of the allowance proposal, he should have used the power of his vote rather than join in with the crowd. He listened to her but said that he did not apologise for what he did.
Libdem councillor Jack Cohen spoke. He pointed out that there were no Cabinet members present. They of course will be the largest beneficiaries from the new allowance scheme, whereas he stood to suffer a 60% reduction of his own allowance.
Labour group leader Alison Moore, who also loses out, said that the issue was about honesty, and fairness, and timing. The pay hike was so ill judged.
A woman asked Councillor Old why he had not taken the heroic route forged by Councillor Salinger. He said he had earlier tried to negotiate a compromise and reduced rate. He also pointed out that he felt it was unfair that he should come in for so much criticism when at least he was present to answer residents' comments. She pointed out in reply that that was because none of his colleagues had had the decency to turn up, and that the only reasonable conclusion in the absence of any other excuse, was that it was due to cowardice.
Another resident then asked if the absent councillors would still receive the allowances they claim for attending this meeting. Unbelievably, it was confirmed that they would indeed receive this money.
I think for me, this was the most objectionable remark that I heard all evening.
These people are our elected representatives: we placed them in office to serve our best interests. They lecture us about the need for painful sacrifices and then award themselves huge and unjustifiable pay increases. And then they do not have the integrity to turn up to the meetings they are paid to attend in order to explain themselves and account for their actions to their own constituents.
They want us to believe that they are working so hard for constituents, that they deserve salaries from us, not allowances. Can you imagine, if a council worker in any department, or any employee in the private sector decided not to bother attending an important meeting, that they would be allowed to stay away with no good reason, and not face disciplinary proceedings? That they would be paid to sit at home and fail to carry out their duties? Why should it be any different for councillors?
A resident then felt moved to propose that a certain councillor whose attitude he felt to be less than helpful be paid to stay away from the Residents' Forum. I pointed out that tonight he already had been.
And last evening's demonstration, fellow citizens, is an example of how the democratic process works, or rather does not work, in our borough: empowering the council administration and its leadership rather than the community it has been elected to serve.
Forget about the Big Society, with local autonomy and increased accountability to residents, here in Broken Barnet we live in a virtual dictatorship, and unless we are very careful to assert our rights to more accountable representation, we will continue to do so.
Saturday, 24 July 2010
Take the announcement, in the local Times, about the new venture called 'Outreach Barnet'.
Barnet has pulled together vital support services for vulnerable people, ie the elderly, disabled and homeless - in order, it is claimed, to 'improve their chances of independent living'. The story says that 'staff will help people organise living in their own homes. develop independendent living skills and direct people towards health services or training schemes'.
Or, put another way, the 'downsizing' of service contracts, which is expected to make the council savings of £2 million, effectively means in many cases that vulnerable people, when they ask for help, will now be given a shove in the right direction and then left to sort themselves out.
Remember that heartwarming example set for us by self styled easyBolics guru Mike Freer, of the old lady struggling to do her washing up, because he says she has to relearn how to do it? Yeah. Can you imagine, ladies and gentlemen, if the frail and elderly mothers of our Tory councillors, or local MPs, were failing to cope with everyday skills, that they would be expected to take a lesson in washing dishes and left to struggle with such chores, so as to retain a cost saving independence? I rather think they would be bought a dishwasher, if they didn't already have one, or be provided with a paid home help to support them, or found a genteel retirement home to move to, don't you?
Of course this is not an option for the plebs, those people who have been punished for their shameful lack of aspiration by failing to attain the life style of say, a local councillor with a whopping great allowance hike. These sponging old folk must be frightened into a proud refusal to become reliant on support services by a sinister insinuation of what might happen if you let 'strangers into your house' to do your housework for you. Much better to struggle on in silence, isn't it? Don't worry, a nice Tory councillor will nip round to remind you what to do with a pair of rubber gloves and a bottle of washing up liquid (no, no, not that, tempting though it might be) and then clear off to visit his or her old mum in their nice new retirement home, with residential wardens in attendance, no doubt.
Kindly councillor Sachin Rajput, cabinet member for adults, who, like all cabinet members, has just voted himself a well earned pay hike, said of the new scheme: 'Everything we are doing is about promoting independence and choice for our residents ... this is about providing a better service with less money ...'
Ah! Choice again: that mystical, elusive, Tory concept. What does it mean? No one knows. Where is the choice, tell me, Sachin? How does a vulnerable person make an informed choice about how best to cope when they are struggling to look after themselves? What sort of choice do they actually have? Any at all, in fact?
Labour councillor Barry Rawlings pointed out that this move was hardly likely to offer improved support without increased levels of investment, and said:
'The Barnet Tories' priority tends to be saving money rather than providing better services, except when it comes to themselves, where they seem to be providing the same old service but for more money.'
Thursday, 22 July 2010
I hope the Tory councillors of Barnet have woken up this morning to find their local newspapers sitting on the doormat.
I hope that they have picked them up, trotted off to have their breakfast, and sat down to have a nice leisurely read, whilst informing themselves, as all good councillors should, of the latest local events and opinions.
Not good is it?
In fact, in all my years of living in this borough, I can in all honesty say I have never seen or heard anything like it. I can't remember such a violent reaction to a local issue as the intense fury and utter disgust expressed in the papers - and elsewhere - over the scandalous allowances rises our shameless councillors have just voted themselves.
It seems that most of the letters are largely by people who are not particularly politically motivated, or used to writing to the press to express their feelings; many of them ordinary, loyal Conservative voters who simply feel betrayed by what they see as a complete breach of trust.
The Tories in Barnet have made a very, very serious mistake.
How they came to make such a grave misjudgment is puzzling. Whose idea was it? It seems not to have been a collective move, as Tory group members had to be whipped into line, like the callow weaklings they evidently are. So the leadership of the group, the cabinet members, or some of them, must have pushed for it. Why? And why now? After the vote in March which had apparently already settled the annual rate? Were they so arrogant that they thought they could sneak this new allowance hike in without anyone noticing, or caring? Did they think they could take this step with the approval of the government and their own central party leadership?
Did they care? Or has the Big Society already reached the London Borough of Broken Barnet? Are our councillors taking their brief from Dave and empowering themselves with rather more local autonomy than was intended?
Almost as bad as the vote itself has been their secretive management of the proposal, the sneaking of the item onto the agenda at the last minute, allowed on the dubious basis of 'urgency' - and then their subsequent behaviour. The vindictive political battering of the one councillor who dared to abstain. The ruthless stifling of debate on the issue at the council meeting. The farce at the Residents' Forum. All throughout this grubby business we have had to sit back and watch the democratic process being shamelessly used and abused.
Well, blessed are the peacemakers: Mrs Angry would like to offer a positive way forward out of all this nasty conflict. It's quite simple. If, as has been suggested, the residents of Barnet are 'delighted' to reward their councillors with wads of extra cash, let's give them a chance to express their warm approval.
I call on every Tory councillor who voted for this new pay rise to resign from their seats and oblige us to have a series of by elections. If you deserve to be re-elected, you will be, and if the residents of your ward feel any less than delighted with your actions, you can all f*** off down to the job centre.
Can't say fairer than that, can you?
Some residents have set up an online petition to protest about the recent hike in allowances that our councillors have voted themselves. The petition demands that the decision to award themselves this pay rise be rescinded by the council. Please sign this petition and make your feelings known.
Additionally, the local Times Group newspapers have now taken an unprecedented stand on this issue and set up their own petition, 'Reject the Rise'. It's really important that everyone who cares about the future of democracy in our borough takes a stand and signs this petition:
And of course there is a Labour petition organised by Andrew Dismore, which you may already have come across on the streets of the borough:
Please sign ALL of these petitions and remind our elected representatives of their duty to serve the residents of this borough rather than their own self interest.
Monday, 19 July 2010
Strange, but true, according to Home Office files.
A tradition of demanding money with menaces continues today here in Broken Barnet, as a Mrs Salinger found to her cost last week.
Where is Nipper of the Yard, when you need him?
Friday, 16 July 2010
Lynne Hillan, the Leader of this band of brigands, has mysteriously and conveniently gone to ground, and left her Svengali, Brian Coleman, who is well practised in the art of insolent defiance, to deal with any fall out and awkward attention from the media.
Our gang of three local Tory MPs, Freer, Villiers* and Offord, yesterday stated their lack of support for their Tory colleagues' actions. As this response came nearly two days after the event, Mrs Angry fails to be convinced by the depth of their commitment to this position. She predicts that there will be no visible difference whatsoever in the chummy relations between parliamentary Tories and the local Tories, and no efforts made to ask them to reconsider their actions. * (Updated Monday - it seems that actually Mrs Villiers has made no comment on the issue, so one can only assume that she is in support of her colleagues' exorbitant pay rise.)
Government minister Grant Shapps was furious at the allowance hike and asked them to think again. Yeah right, pal. That's telling'em. Now let's see some real hard line response from the government and Conservative party, and action to deal with this renegade bunch, and then I might begin to have some belief in David Cameron's ability to run the country.
Someone suggested to me that the Tories in Barnet were threatening to be almost as much an embarrassment to Cameron's government as Derek Hatton's administration on Merseyside was to Labour in the days of Militant: time to assert your authority, I would suggest Dave, and any other Tory who cares about the reputation of your party. Are you up to it, though?
It's good to see that the Libdem councillor Jack Cohen has apparently reported the council to the Standards' Board, following allegations of deliberate delaying of the inclusion of Item 5.3, the now notorious allowance rise proposal, sneaked into the council meeting agenda at the last moment, allegedly due to 'IT' problems. This last minute inclusion conveniently prevented the usual consultation process with councillors and of course the public too.
This is how the democratic process works, you see, in our borough. During the meeting itself, as soon as the debate on the allowance had started, it was apparent that the Tories were terrified of allowing the discussion to continue: guess which enemy of free speech immediately yelled for a move to end all debate, seconded instantly by a colleague. End of discussion. This is how corrupt and repressive regimes function: fearful of debate, remorselessly intolerant of dissent. Their views are the only ones that are valid, and they will either bully you into agreeing with them, or silence you. This behaviour stinks of the type of political thuggery which my father's generation fought to prevent being imposed on this country: dictatorship, fascism, call it what you will, it is a betrayal of our fundamental rights and freedoms and must be challenged.
In the course of the council meeting on Tuesday, we sat and listened to Tory councillors sneering at the poor who live in council housing, the poor who are dependent on benefit claims. They have no aspirations, they complained. Not like them, desparately aspiring to comfortable life styles at our expense, you understand. They meant scroungers, of course: idle people claiming something for nothing, something they do not deserve.Because the majority of the Tories in Barnet are so intellectually challenged, and the rest of them don't give a shit anyway, no one mentioned the irony of their own frantic clawing after more tax payers money. Lynne Hillan moaned that she had to pay her bills, that she had too much work to do. Oh dear. My heart bleeds. Perhaps she might like to go and get a job, or maybe start another business? Well, perhaps not the latter, eh?
The truth is, Hillan, and your hard-done by colleagues, that being a local councillor is meant to be an act of service to the community, voluntary, with expenses and allowances paid in respect of this service. It is not a salaried position, and not intended to be. If you can't combine being a councillor with supporting yourself, don't stand for council. The tax payers of Barnet have elected you to represent their best interests, not as a favour in order to provide you with gainful employment. It may well be that many councillors actually are incapable of finding and following a position of gainful employment, or running a successful business: these are exactly the sort of people we should not be giving what is, as you claim, such a demanding responsibility, in fact.
At the eventful meeting on Tuesday, Councillor Kate Salinger was the only Tory on Barnet Council to show any integrity whatsoever: she abstained from the allowance rise vote. Even she dared not oppose it. She abstained, she said, in line with her conscience. As I mentioned in the earlier blog, The Tell-tale Heart, conscience, in my opinion, is fairly evidently not something which can be accommodated within the political life of the Tory administration in Barnet. Let us salute her courage and integrity, all the same, in the face of the frankly horrific bullying and intimidation that she received from her Tory colleagues as a result of her refusal to support their grasping pay rise.
What happened to her was vile, ugly, and sickening: an act akin to a public stoning, a ritual humiliation by a largely male group of bullies and tyrants, supposedly her colleagues. Only in the dark disturbed depths of Tory Barnet could you expect to find such pleasure taken in such an unnecessary procedure. One might expect such behaviour by the usual culprits in this administration, but what about the rest of them, the ones who said nothing, kept their heads down and voted with the proposal. What sort of cowards are they? The sort of people who turn aside when someone is scapegoated and bullied and are just as culpable as the bullies themselves.
There is a little known online paper called the London Daily News, which is supportive of Coleman and his gang - reporting the pay rise story it includes a particularly shabby reference to Councillor Salinger: take a look if you want to see how truly pathetic and ruthless this lot really are.
After the council meeting, Coleman tried to justify the treatment of Mrs Salinger as being for the purpose of 'discipline'. Of course discipline is something that he feels should be applied to everyone except himself, and self discipline, the curtailing of one's own self indulgences, is a concept with which he is markedly unfamiliar. The need, for example, to forego an increase in his allowances at a time of hardship for so many. The need to follow the policy of his own party and forego an increase in his allowances in line with government policy, even. Let's hope that senior Tory party members feel moved to sanction their own form of discipline on Mr Coleman, Ms Hillan and their shabby Barnet colleagues. Alternatively, Mrs Angry would be willing to bestow some corrective discipline on Mr Coleman on behalf of the electors of Barnet, if duty called: as Churchill said - give me the tools, and I will do the job - but I'm not entirely confident it would be gratefully received.
In the report submitted to council in defence of the pay rise, scrabbling around for some desperate justification, there was mention of the increased workload due to email correspondance to councillors from residents. Of course this failed to take into consideration the fact that it is a damn sight quicker and easier to correspond by email than by post, telephone or in person. I think perhaps a lot of residents are unaware that they can correspond with their elected representatives in this way. I know that many disgusted and angry voters of this borough may have views on this weeks's events which they might wish to convey to their Tory councillors. You may also feel moved to send a message of support to Mrs Salinger.
This weekend, then, if you feel you would like to make your councillors earn some of their new pay allowances, I suggest you do just that: tell them politely, and succintly, how you feel: their email addresses are easily obtainable from the Barnet website, as are the details of all councillor surgeries, should you wish to visit your councillor in person.
Let's remind the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet that they are the elected representatives of the residents of this borough, that they are the servants of the electorate, and not their masters, and that they are ultimately accountable to us, if not to their own consciences.
Wednesday, 14 July 2010
George Orwell, Animal Farm, 1945
There are some historical forms of live public entertainment which we now frown upon. Bear baiting. Public executions. Chimpanzees tea parties. Laughing at the inmates of Bedlam.
If you still have a taste for this sort of thing, though, let me suggest you spend an evening, as I did last night, attending a full meeting of Barnet Council, four hours of raucous fun, watching the Tory councillors, the elected representatives of you, me and all the good people of Broken Barnet, disport themselves at our expense, lecture us at length about the painful austerity measures which we must be subject to, and then vote themselves a lovely package of extensive increases in their own pay allowances.
I've attended council meetings, on and off, for some years now, and even had to take part in some as a staffside representative. I have to say, in all honesty, that I have never seen a more discreditable bunch of Tory councillors than the selection we have now. The immaturity of their behaviour, the feeble level of debate, the lack of intellect, and of course the lack of integrity, marks this lot out as something quite unique, even by Barnet's admittedly low standards.
The most worrying feature, though, is the leadership of this group. Watching the interaction and body language of the Leader, Lynne Hillan, her mentor, Brian Coleman, and their chum Andrew Harper, was most illuminating.
The real Leader of this council, dear readers, is Mr Blobby himself: or so he thinks. He certainly has the loudest voice, and likes to hear it as often as possible. He evidently also believes that he is the Oscar Wilde of Barnet Council, and trots out what are supposed to be his little witticisms at every opportunity - which sound suspiciously as if he has been practising them in front of the bathroom mirror. Whereas other councillors are soft spoken, and have trouble being heard even with the microphones, our Brian has no problem. Aside from the occasional peevish remark, when he is caught unawares, in full flight he does not speak so much as hector and bellow: typical of someone who has no respect for the views of others. He and the Leader sat sniggering like nursery schoolchildren throughout most of last night's proceedings. Lynne Hillan was a complete revelation, in fact - to say she is a surprising choice as leader is to put it mildly. Say what you may about Mike Freer: as we all know he was a banker, and certainly looked like one, didn't he boys and girls, but at least he looked vaguely credible as a local politician: the present Leader seems markedly short of the requisite gravitas and bearing of someone appointed to what she later reminded us was such a responsible position, and so badly underpaid ...
Well actually, let's tell it like it was: there they sat, Hillan and Coleman, like Olive and Stan from On the Buses, whispering and giggling, as the council proceedings unfolded. Curious behaviour, you might think, in the circumstances. It was noticeable, however, how disrespectful the Tory group councillors are whenever anyone from any other party is speaking. They smirk and snigger, talk, make derisory comments constantly. When a woman speaks, especially, I noticed, when a Labour woman councillor from an ethnic minority speaks, this amusement is increased. Their audible derision takes on a really nasty, bullying tone. Apparently women, funny accents and mispronounced words are still very funny in the non PC world of Barnet Tories. One female Labour councillor made the unfortunate mistake, when discussing the Condem government, of referring to the Condom government. Oh ho ho: condom: see, ha ha: of course, slightly amusing, but to the boys of the Tory group this was SO funny - and this coming from a bunch most of whom are definitely either too old or too ugly to have a packet of johnnies that isn't past its sell by date anyway ...
We started with a prayer from the Mayor's chaplain, a Rabbi who made an erudite speech about Talmudic tradition and councillors being nice to each other, and how the Mayor was going to bring about peace and harmony. Surprisingly, this Mayor seemed determined to be remarkably grumpy, especially to the Labour councillors, one of whom later accused him of not being even handed ... and I have to say that I thought it was rather rude of him to ask Councillor Sodha 'Are you awake?' when she was few seconds late in speaking, at one point.
Tribute was paid to the late local Labour MP Rudi Vis, who passed away recently. Guess which councillor, throughout one particular speech, had his eyes markedly fixed on the ceiling. Of course, it may have been that he was seeing a heavenly vision of angels or asking for forgiveness for his many sins from the Almighty, but quite frankly it simply looked as if he was being deliberately disrespectful.
Question time followed. This was a series of written answers submitted earlier, some of whose responses were being queried at the meeting. In most cases this was because the answers Labour or Liberal councillors had obtained from the relevant Tory responsible were inadequate. Brian Coleman appeared to answer most of these, with as little information as possible, and as dismissively as possible. His favourite stock answer, as to when something that ought to be done, might be done, when he couldn't be bothered, or could not reply for other reasons, was 'In due course'. This phrase evidently is an in joke with those cheeky Tory chappies. 'In due course' they repeated, constantly, chortling at their own wit: 'In due course!'
Amongst the interesting questions to which there was no satisfactory answer was from Labour Councillor Schneiderman asking why it was taking so long for councillors' expenditure to be published, as promised long ago. How timely: this will at last be published next week, safely after the meeting, Barnet style. He also asked when will Futureshape savings overtake the costs that this scheme had incurred?
In due course.
Councillor Agnes Slocombe was unhappy about Brian Coleman's response on battery collection in recycling boxes. Hers kept being left behind. Councillor Coleman thought this was nonsense: he, apparently, gets through a lot of batteries - hmmm - and has no problem disposing of them. In a response that would strike a note of fear in any citizen's heart, he offered to call round in the morning to inspect her recycling arrangements.
Councillor Coakley Webb asked Brian the meaning of the phrase 'In due course'.
Brian, in a witty riposte that would have had dear Oscar chewing the tablecloth in envy, replied 'In due course means - in due course!' Oh, how we laughed.
Brian is the new Broken Barnet Czar of Potholes (think it was potholes) -cometh the hour, cometh the man - and was asked why it was taking so long to sort them out, and who was to blame for this situation? Councillor Coleman sought to shift the blame by announcing that as the pot holes were due to 'an act of God', he was going to take legal action against the Almighty. This statement, however, caused a sharp intake of breath in the council chamber:
'Blasphemy!' protested more than one councillor.
The Mayor became very solemn and looked across the room in pious disapproval. Luckily the Rabbi had left by now. Coleman, for once, slipped into his seat and shut up.
There was a debate about the proposed housing plans. Labour councillors mentioned the effect of cuts in benefit on vulnerable families, the 'social cleansing' it would cause, moving the poorest families on continualy in search of a diminishing stock of affordable housing. Oops, someone even mentioned Shirley Porter.
Libdem councillor Susette Palmer informed us that she had a dream. We've all heard that one, dear. Decent education and housing for all. Yes, yes, we agree: move on. She defended the present housing points' system. Olive and Stan sat there smirking. To be fair, watching the three Libdem councillors last night initially was rather amusing: they are evidently less than thrilled at being forced into bed with their long term opponents, and their vile seducers, their Tory colleagues, took a great relish in verbally feeling them up, as it were, knowing they couldn't protest too loudly. It was like watching your uncle and aunt being forced to attend a swingers' party and not knowing where to look. They overcame their reserve, however, and daringly flirted with some racy Tory suggestions, and supported some of their amendments, which did not exactly cover them with glory. Later on, however, they redeemed themselves by their savage criticism of the scandalous events which were to follow.
Lynne Hillan made a speech about the budget. She told us, warned us, sternly that tough decisions will have to be made, and - tragically, these decisions could not be implemented 'without pain'. Pain for other people, that is, you understand, not Lynne and her cronies, who are special, very special, and above all of this unpleasantness. There would be harsh spending cuts, all because of Labour. Everything nasty was Labour's fault. For overspending. On things like, ooh what: salaries? Allowances? However, things can only get better under the new government. All that wicked bureaucracy and rules and regulations which have caused the decline of Western civilisation will be banished, and there will be a free for all, hooray!
She welcomed the Libdems into a new era of intimate relations with the Tories. They looked ashamed and stared ahead with fixed expressions. Councillor Schneiderman spoke: he pointed out that Barnet had only ever complained about the low level of funding from central government, rather than ask to have it cut. Monroe Palmer then stood up. He announced that actually he was going to disagree with the Leader: he wasn't scared, oh no, not him. He noted that the Leader talked of sacrifices that had to be made, but apparently not by the Leader in relation to her proposed increase of her own allowance. Thunderous applause broke out in the chamber.
Hillan and Coleman looked sheepish and slunk a little lower in their seats.
A new Labour councillor, Brodkin, spoke now: an impressive, eloquent, well reasoned speech - he will be an asset to the Opposition, mark Mrs Angry's words, and what a contrast to some of the new young Tory councillors whose laughable neo Thacherite opinions could only be expressed by someone with no real life experience. One of the new Tory boys' parents came in to watch him make his speech, then left. Remarkably restrained, I thought, because if that had been my son I would have legged it over the public gallery barricade and given him a hiding. Don't say you haven't been warned, my boy ...
We had a discussion then on road safety. Geoff Cooke, for Labour, is concerned, as we should all be, about the rise in accidents in the borough. What did our Brian, with his 'roads, roads, roads, roads' portfolio have to say about this? He welcomed the Mayor of London's proposal to relieve us of some traffic lights and pelican crossings which, rather annoyingly, have the habit of slowing down traffic and obstructing would be speeding drivers, a subject dear to his heart (if he had one). He claimed people had been knocked down and killed on road calming platforms in the Finchley Road, something vehemently denied by local councillors of both Labour and Libdem parties. Coleman became even more exciteable at this point, yelling and bullying - really, I do think he needs to calm down a little: bearing in mind his ever increasing girth, (a few lunches too many, I suspect, Brian) he is a prime candidate for a heart attack or stroke, and that would be a sad loss for the people of Barnet, wouldn't it, friends?
Geoff Cooke, he ranted, in his own time in charge of roads, was an 'arch fiddler'. Oh dear. Not expenses or allowances, you understand, that's a Tory indulgence. No: just couldn't stop himself trying to bring in road safety measures, here there and everywhere, obsessed with the idea of preserving life rather than prioritising the needs of speeding councillors. Silly man.
Next topic: education. Academies, and the loss of funding for Barnet's most needy schools. Andrew Harper likes academies now, even though they were a Labour initiative. He likes them now I guess, because obviously whereas before they were only for the poorer residents, and therefore a foolish idea, now the scheme can be exploited by successful middle class schools. He said how wonderful it will be for these schools to be free of control: ah yes, that old Tory touchstone, freedom to do what you want regardless of the consequences for others: marvellous. People who objected were alarmists who didn't understand: 'TEACHERS! yelled a certain blogger sitting behind me.
Mr Harper said smoothly that of course it was disappointing to have all that funding taken away, but quite right of Mr Gove to take it away. Anyway, we have such wonderful schools in Barnet, it doesn't really matter. Funny how none of the Tories pay any attention to the fact that we also have some really crap ones too, the sort their children will never have to go to. Anne Hutton pointed out that chucking this scheme out meant that £160 million has been completely wasted. But that fact was completely wasted on our Tory councillors.
Child Poverty next. This doesn't exist, or at least it is a relative term, according to some of the more stupid Tory councillors who now spoke. Of course more stupid is a relative term: I perhaps you should qualify that by saying really, really, stupid, ill informed and insensitive. They said, for eample, if I understand them correctly, that under Labour more children were living in poverty (which doesn't really exist) whereas in fact all studies show that the reverse is true ... Councillor Hutton reminded us all of the scary fact that Barnet is slipping backwards in the index of Multiple Deprivation. She mentioned the areas of Burnt Oak and Colindale, which don't really register on the radar of Barnet Tories, of course.
Throughout this discussion, Hillan, Coleman and Harper and other Tory councillors seemed to be amused by something: Councillor McGurk shouted that she failed to see what they found so amusing about the subject of child poverty.
Tory councillor Davey had some very interesting views on this subject. He claimed that only aspiration lifts people out of poverty. Ah, the deserving poor again. We need to do away with concentrated social housing because it was a Bad Thing for the plebs to be surrounded by people with no aspirations. Yes, really: I've checked my notes.
And then we reached item 5.3.
This was an item on the agenda which had only appeared at the last minute, for some strange reason. It was the proposal that Barnet should drop the current scheme for deciding the level of allowances for councillors in favour of one which coincidentally would hoik their allowances up by a huge amount. Lynne Hillan stands to gain a cool £20,000.
Ms Hillan stood up to try to defend the indefensible.
What we had not appreciated, of course, was that in these times of austerity, she and her chums are special cases. They need to pay their bills. They have more work to do than before.
This obviously does not apply to any council officer or any worker in any other employment. You see, what we have always paid our over worked councillors is only an allowance, despite all the responsibility they undertake. The idea that the level of their allowance is meant to represent the fact that they are not employed as councillors but choose to do this -ha ha - as a service to their community, seems to have escaped Ms Hillan and her chums. Local government is NOT or should not be an alternative to employment in the private sector, nor are the positions of councillors meant to be salaried. If you rely entirely on your earnings from your council office, that is your decision. If you don't like it, take a walk down to the job centre, love.
Alison Moore told Ms Hillan that to do what she proposes at a time like this was obscene, self serving, hypocritical and at exorbitant cost in a times of austerity. She had neither a scrap of integrity nor any remorse.
Susette Palmer warned that she was about to explode. In fact in her anger, punctuated by applause and heckling from the public gallery and in the chamber itself, she embodied the outrage that any resident of this borough must surely feel at what the Tories have done. As she lambasted the scrounging wastrels, Brian Coleman sat biting his nails indifferently. She accused them of sheer greed, said that the proposals were morally outrageous, and ethically unsound. She was glad the Mayor's chaplain was no longer present to see the councillors trying to cheat the electorate.
Guess which councillor now moved to shut down any further discussion of the issue, swiftly seconded by a shameless crony? The Labour group forced a division roll call which compelled each councillor to express support or opposition to the allowance rise.
Not a single Tory opposed these outrageous pay rises.
Only Tory Councillor Kate Salinger had the temerity to abstain. At this point, I left in disgust, but I am told Mrs Salinger was consequently deprived of all committee responsibilities by the leadership, in an act of spite to punish her for daring to do the right thing. *Update: this event has just been described to me by an eyewitness as 'a public execution' ... Well: looks like some good old forms of live entertainment are coming back into fashion after all.
And this, Tory voters of Broken Barnet, is the bunch of greedy, self serving, parasitic, scrounging hypocrites whom you have returned to power for another four years.
What were you thinking?
Tuesday, 13 July 2010
Members of the hated ruling family intend to force the local parliament to award them new grants of massively increased personal allowances, paid for, naturellement, by a tax on the poor, in order to sustain its decadent, self indulgent lifestyle.
Enraged citizens yelled abuse and began spontaneously to install an interesting wooden structure with a shiny, sliding blade, and a basket at the bottom, on the green outside.
'Off with their f***ing heads' demanded local fishwife and blogeuse, Mme Fachee.
Aux Armes, Citoyens?
Saturday, 10 July 2010
And now she is able to leave once more the foetid, dark, and perverse underworld of Barnet Council and all its intrigues, and return again to the relatively light relief of research in the history of arsenic poisoning and serial killing in the nineteenth century. Phew. Much more pleasant.
In the course of this research, I've had to read a lot about the psychology of psychopaths: the traits that set them apart from others - narcisissim, an inability to make healthy social and sexual relationships, and a total absence of conscience.
Hmm, absence of conscience. Almost jealous of that one. There is not a person on the planet, after all, who has been brought up in the Catholic church who does not suffer from the curse of a guilt complex. Same for some other religions, of course: my best friend, who is Jewish, has a complex pretty much the same shape and size as mine, both connected in traditional fashion to fearsome mothers, of course. Catholic guilt is a terrible burden, at times. But it is also a blessing.
If you have been brought up as a Catholic, you never worry about CCTV or speed cameras, and the infringement of your civil liberties.You know someone is inside your head and watching your every thought anyway, so why worry about a flipping camera? And of course nothing is more enjoyable than breaking rules. If you have no sense of sin, how can you enjoy being badly behaved? Forbidden fruit, and all that. If everything is allowed anyway, how very boring that must be. I suppose that is why people like my ex neighbours, the greatly missed Smiths and their friends, who have no religious/moral guilt trip weighing them down, resort to such an extreme lifestyle, to try to amuse themselves. (I was so pleased to note yesterday that Troy Smith, according to his Facebook wall, was having another lovely day 'gettin high', bless him. Obviously, Ms X, all that intervention and support and those behaviour contracts are doing wonders for the Smiths after all, wouldn't you say?)
I think it is very interesting that a disproportionate number of people in prison are said to be Catholic. Because on the other side of the coin, a disproportionate number of politically and socially people active share this background too. In America, for example, the Democratic party would never have the clout it does without the historical allegiance of the Irish Catholic community, the rise of the Kennedys being the ultimate acheivement. My own cousins in the US have had their own part in this: just like the Zelig/Woody Allen character, they have a habit of popping up at significant moments of history. Some of them were filmed once for a JFK election campaign, on a reel of film languishing in the Kennedy Library: one is in the background in the film of Bobby Kennedy making his impassioned speech in Indianapolis, on the night of the assassination of Martin Luther King, and best of all, my cousin John Sullivan, a Democratic fundraiser, is in that famous photo of Bill Clinton hugging Monica Lewinsky, and was consequently interviewed by the FBI, and made to give evidence to the Starr enquiry. It was known Monica had a big crush on the President, and John was supposed to prevent her from getting too familiar with poor old Bill - with spectacular lack of success. And no, he didn't have the pleasure, himself, apparently.
Why do Catholics get so involved, for good and for bad? Because of conscience, guilt, and a keen sense of injustice. They like breaking rules, but if others don't play by the rules, they get very upset. I think there is even a connection with blogging: a perfect combination of sermonising and confession, eh Rog?
A sense of injustice is something a woman cannot not have after a Catholic upbringing in my generation: boys being treated so differently to girls. In my house, anyway, and at my school. I won't dwell on the fact that my brother was a perfect child, and I was very naughty, apparently, or the scandalous arrangements at my primary school where, for example, girls were only given half the boy's portion of food at lunchtime, and then had to sit in silence while the boys were allowed to queue up for seconds: get the idea? I was an outraged feminist at the age of six because of continual hunger.
Guilt though: we were imbued with guilt from an early age: guilt for our mortal sins, our corrupt souls. First confession at the age of seven: what does a seven year old child have to confess? Bless me Father, for I have sinned: for the sake of entertainment, and for lack of anything more interesting to report, I used to make things up; highly imaginative and somewhat unlikely crimes which must have raised the eyebrows of the priest, but cunningly covered by a clever 'and I have lied' admission at the end of my list of sins ...
Alfred Hitchcock, who was from a Catholic family, and educated by Jesuits (uh oh) often mentioned the traumatic and highly influential effect of an incident in his early childhood when his father took him to the local police station and got the sergeant to lock him in a cell, to teach him what happened to 'naughty boys'. Arguably his whole career was fired by the consequent sense of fear of injustice, and guilt for unspecified crimes. I can understand why.
Many years ago, when they still had such things, I had the surreal experience of having to take part in an identity parade. I was standing in a bus queue at Brent Cross, one day, daydreaming, when I became aware of a police man and woman behind me. 'Excuse me, Miss,' said the policeman. At this point I froze in horror. Everyone in the bus queue looked at me with suspicion. And I realised I had been caught out at last. I knew it would happen, sooner or later: I would get found out, and here it was. I must have nicked something, and they'd got me. 'I wonder if you might be able to assist us' 'Oh, yes?' They explained about the id parade. 'Yes: the suspect, well, she is just like you, you see ... in fact, Miss, you are a dead ringer' ...' I hesitated. 'Of course she is a very attractive young lady,' he added, in desperation. At this point I felt it my civic duty to comply. So I went off to the police station and waited, in an interview room, with bare walls decorated with only a poster telling me about my rights, for nearly an hour. I had nothing to do but read the poster. Again and again. By the end of the period of waiting, in fact,I would have been happy to confess to anything. Eventually all the volunteers were all shown into the canteen and put in a row. A space was kept, and once we were all in place, the suspect was sent in to join us. She was an Italian shoplifter with a face like a well seasoned street walker, who smirked and sauntered over to her place. A dead ringer, I thought? Hmm. Thanks.
In came the store detective whom was supposed to identify her. I knew then what would happen. Because of course, I felt guilty. I knew I was guilty. Even though it wasn't me, couldn't be me, I felt responsible. And it showed. I felt myself go red as he walked along the line. He stopped and looked at me. I went even redder. He hovered. I began to wonder if it really was me, after all. Because I felt guilty. Could it be that I was guilty? He moved along and looked at the suspect. He came back to me. He walked away and whispered to the police, shrugging. We were then all sent home, as the store detective evidently couldn't be sure which of us was the thief. To this day, I never enter this shop in Brent Cross without worrying I am going to be stopped and searched by suspicious security staff.
Going through any checkpoint, any customs/immigration check, in fact, I am sure I get stopped and searched because I give off all those signals they look for now - because I always feel guilty. Maybe there should be a separate queue for Catholics, with a couple of nuns on duty - in my experience 100% accurate at detecting deceit.
I hope that I can claim, anyway, on the basis of my chronic guilt complex, that whatever deep psychological flaws I undoubtedly have, I am at least not a psychopath. I don't know how many Hail Marys and years roasting in hell you would get for bumping someone off, but I'm just not prepared to do it. What about people who are guilt free, though, and are not restrained by conscience, or empathy with their victims? Who only care about themselves, and to hell with anyone else?
I think there are certain occupations which attract people like that. I suspect, for example, that a few people who choose medicine as a career are somewhere on this spectrum of personality disorders. To be able to deal with surgery, disease, and distress requires an ability to remain professionally detached, but in some cases, combined with a desire for the power over life and death that a doctor has, this can appeal to individuals with a total lack of compassion.
And then there is the political world.
Perfect territory, nowadays, for someone driven by an eternally demanding sense of self importance, a need to control the lives of others whilst indulging one's own desires, a ruthless, selfish drive to attain and retain power. A lack of empathy with others, a lack of compassion? A natural affinity with Tory values, I would suggest, especially the modern, self made Tory who has come to the fore in recent times. No such thing as society, as we know, only individuals.
What distinguishes the administration here in Broken Barnet is a nasty distillation of all of these disturbing traits. You could even argue that a form of group psychosis has taken hold. Under a Ripper like cloak of easyBolics philosophy, our borough is being dragged into the dark alleyway of a terrifying future.
Look what is happening already in education and housing in Barnet.
Our council wants to bring in a policy which gives priority for rehousing to families who in some way can prove that they are morally worthy of such a privilege, by having a record of voluntary work, for example. Families who are troublesome, by contrast, will go right to the back of the line.
I think that anyone who has read this blog from the beginning might understand why I might feel I have a right to hold a reasonably informed opinion on this issue. Whilst amused at the thought that, suddenly, the authority which has tried to condone its failure to deal with our former neighbours' ASB on the grounds of belated and convenient sympathy for their 'needs' is now taking a zero tolerance line with such disruptive residents, things are not so simple.
Whatever trouble and distress caused to us by the vile Smith household, I do not see how you can punish a child for the failures of parents by withdrawing the chance of decent housing from them. Surely this is anyway discriminatory? Who is able to make moral judgements over entitlement to priority of social housing? The law surely does not allow such a process. Housing must be allocated according to need, not as a reward for matching some half baked councillor's idea of moral worth. How does 'safeguarding children' work in this daft new policy? Or do we only safeguard the rights of children with well behaved parents?
As things are now, any council tenants who cause ASB type problems are swiftly evicted from their council properties by a standard corporate procedure. Of course, as we know only too well, this does not apply to would be tenants, on housing benefit, placed in private accommodation. In the new proposed policy, all disruptive tenants would end up in private accommodation, where there will be no effective protection from Barnet for you and your family, if they become you neighbours. Lucky you! Lucky Barnet, as they will be able to wash their hands of these troublesome families, and relieve themselves of the burden of responsibility they have while they are their own tenants. Brilliant strategy.
What sort of administration can invent a policy with such a hard-nosed, ideolgically intransigent attitude? Only one with such a lack of compassion for those who really are vulnerable and in need of help. The desire to mess with the dark arts of social engineering in such an amateur way and in this local context is very weird indeed, I would say.
Education, then. Told you what would happen, didn't I, in 'Mrs Angry's Schooldays' ... Our Tory council can't wait to get rid of as many of our schools as possible via the newly extended Academy scheme. Funnily enough, I don't think my old school will be eligible after all, having a selective intake - whereas my son's school may well go down this path. A high risk strategy. And this idea was started by Labour in an attempt to improve the failing schools in disadvantaged areas, but the Tories in government, and their Libdem partners in crime, have leapt at the chance of 'freeing' any school from 'interference' (and need for funding) by local authorities. So now the most successful state schools are queueing up to apply for this scheme, without any real idea how this will work in terms of future funding, or what they can do if things go wrong. The ability to coordinate educational provision will evaporate, and there will be a hugely increased failure to provide fair access to decent standards of education for the least advantaged children.
Worse still, in Barnet a number of schools with children from such backgrounds are having their promised funding for much needed improvements snatched away. Amongst these are a school for children with special needs, and a pupil referral centre. In other words, the most vulnerable children in our borough are yet again going to be affected. The already gaping difference between the bad and good schools in Barnet is being torn even further apart, with clinical indifference, by Tory ideology, with no care for the effect on the most deprived and vulnerable sections of the community. No guilt, no conscience, no compassion: no heart.
What of the architects of these policies? Look at them. A council that boasts it can bring us better services for less money. A council which is happy to lose £27 million of our money, with no consequnces for any of them. A council which has put the safety of our roads in the hands of motoring enthusiast Brian Coleman, the man responsible for the removal, at unknown cost, of speed calming measures on our roads - and previously lost his license for speeding. A council which says we cannot afford wardens in residential homes, but spends hundreds of thousands of pounds on new senior officer posts. Etcetera etcetera.
Consider our three local MPs, none of whom as far as I know, have children themselves, so have no real understanding of the realities of parental concerns, but if they did, you can bet no child of theirs wouldn't be going to Bishop Douglass, or Ravenscroft, or any of the schools having their budgets withdrawn. Again these measures are something that affect other people, so of no significance to them personally and therefore irrelevant. They announced last week they would be protesting to Michael Gove about the loss of funding for Barnet schools, as if that is going to make any difference. Why, anyway? They knew perfectly well what their own party policy on this funding would be.
New boy Mike Freer launched his political career on the back of the idiotic easyBarnet/Futureshape idea, which is dedicated to cutting spending to the minimum, and forcing the needy resident to be less reliant on help from the local authority. If you read his explanation of this easyBolics rubbish in The Times in November last year, he gives this endearing example:
"Rather than washing their dishes for them, we now support older people to relearn how they can do so with restricted mobility. Do many old people want a stranger popping in to do their washing up or would they rather do it themselves?"
No guilt, no conscience, no compassion, no heart: the motto of Broken Barnet.
Friday, 2 July 2010
Mrs Angry has been forced to watch it, of course. There is no escape in the Angry household, no excuses, no exemptions. And in the course of staring vaguely in the direction of the tv screen, I've found my mind wandering quite a lot. The offside rule, for example: yes, I do understand it now, thanks to a twenty minute lecture, with diagrams, by Mr Angry, *(news update - this boast is no longer valid, it seems, after a serious misunderstanding in the Spain v Germany match) but like most women, I suspect, I fail to see why you need it anyway. (If you think you can explain this, in a short paragraph, please feel free: if not, then ha, I rest my case.)
If I have to watch sport, frankly, my own preference is - as for many women - and for all the wrong reasons - rugby, of course, especially if Ireland is playing. Because they play to win, they play with passion and they play with national pride. Think you can see where I am going with this.
I came across an interesting interview the other day in Vicki Morris' blog, vickim57, in which she quotes John Barnes' recent comments in the Standard on the unlikely parallels between socialism and good football. Or perhaps they are not as unlikely as you might imagine.
During the World Cup coverage, to take my mind off the actual football, I've also been thinking a lot about South Africa, and how radically it has changed in such a short time, politically, socially, and in so many other ways.
Seems to me the failure of England's team in this World Cup is an interesting symptom of a malaise in our national psyche, one which has infected our political life too. And the fact that this tournament is being held in the nascent Rainbow nation of South Africa only serves to underscore the loss of innocence and idealism in our own political and sporting lives.When I was at college, our particular group of students partly consisted of a set of international post graduates. One of them was 'Mo', a South African of Indian descent. He was a political activist who had arrived on the course after escaping SA, and a government intent on silencing him for daring to question the brutal rule of apartheid then in place. Mo had already been imprisoned without trial for taking part in a student protest, released after many months and then warned he was about to be arrested again. He fled overnight, with no belongings other than a suitcase of ill fitting clothes pulled out of a friend's shop on the run in the last night in his own country. By various furtive means, he escaped the clutches of the South African police and eventually was allowed entry to the UK, on a UN scholarship
When he arrived on our course, Mo was a suspicious, almost paranoid young man. He had come from a country where everything he did, from the area where he lived, the school he went to, the part of a bus he was allowed to sit in, the cafe he was allowed to eat in, the toilets he could use, and so much more, was defined and limited by the colour of his skin. He had never mixed with white kids, couldn't believe that it was irrelevant to us who he was or where he came from, and initially was deeply suspicious of anyone who was friendly to him. At first, he was convinced that one of us was a SA secret police informant, and tried to catch whoever it was by asking each one of us in turn to illegally channel ANC money through our bank accounts. If, like me, you said no, worried what your parents would say, that was ok: it proved you were not out to entrap him. He began to relax, and spent the rest of his time evangelising, trying to raise our spoilt middle class political consciences, forcing books and pamphlets on us about apartheid, Steve Biko, infant mortality in the townships,and dragging us off to see plays about Soweto. And he was right to do it. It did change our minds and outlooks. The Tory government of the time was doing sod all to challenge the evil of apartheid. Equally shamefully, many of our famous sportsmen and musicians, the sort who now fawn over Nelson Mandela -were happy to travel to SA and accept blood money whilst sustaining the status quo, and while the majority of the oppressed population lived in abject poverty in shanty towns, with no vote, no decent health care, no right to a decent life. Mo said one day there would be a revolution, and the enslaved people of South Africa would take control of their lives, and he was going to make sure it happened. We didn't really believe him.
Well, he was right, and he did, and he still is. In fact 'Mo' is now a minister in the South African government, and a big cheese in the ANC and the SA communist party. There is still a huge amount of work to do in SA to rebuild a fairer society from the wreckage and exploitation of the apartheid years, and the politicians who are driving this forward are- like Mo - motivated by idealism, and commitment to their country and the people they represent. And watching the coverage from SA, you cannot help feel the spirit of a new society, one that still believes it can build a new Jerusalem, a new nation. How very different to the jaded, cynical and corrupt political systems in Europe and Britain.
In our country, idealism and a sense of service to the community has all but vanished from our parliament and our local government authorities. After the downfall of Thatcher, and the rise of Tony Blair, we have seen our political parties morph into one homogenous blob, peopled by career politicians with only self interest at heart.
Years ago now, a cousin of mine announced to my father that he was leaving the Diplomatic service and thinking of a career in politics. He was asked what party he intended to stand for. He shrugged: doesn't really matter, he said. My father was incandescent with rage. Despite being a die hard Tory, he did not care which party his nephew stood for, but to have no allegiance at all, no political conviction, was in his view an absolute scandal. But typical of the contemporary politician, I would say. And therein lies the fault.
We no longer have politicians like Mo entering politics as a vocation, because they want to serve the greater community, fuelled by idealism. Our politicians want only to serve their own self interests. They want a career,with expenses, allowances and priviliges, not a chance to help their fellow men and women. To be elected, it is necessary to please as many people as possible, so extreme political positions are avoided. And the Coalition government we have been landed with is the natural conclusion of this trend. How I miss the days when Tories were gentlemen, who looked on politics as a duty - noblesse oblige and all that - and Labour MPs were sturdy socialists, fighting to drag the working classes out of the mire of poverty and social injustice.
The rot set in with that grocer's daughter from Grantham, of course. If there is anything worse than a jumped up, working class Tory, I have yet to come across it. Call me a snob, but I like my political enemies to be shameless landed aristocrats with good table manners, the Harold Macmillan type of Tory, not the coarse, aggressive Tebbit model. Old Tories have a sense of duty and responsibilty to the less advantaged: new Tories don't give a shit about anyone but themselves. If they managed to pull themselves out of the gutter, they don't understand why everyone else cannot do the same. The old values of tradition and honour are of no interest to them: all that matters now is material gain, and profit. For the sake of party image, they retain a few of the old school Tories like Cameron and Osborne, now in partnership with that nice Tory-lite Mr Clegg: all public schoolboys and class traitors. Aristos pretending to be middle class in order to be electable. Yeurgh.
And then, shamefully, on the other hand, we have Labour MPs with priviliged backgrounds: former multi millionaire ministers with butlers, houses in Notting Hill, holidays on Russian oligarchs' yachts, all of them wealthy and totally estranged from the roots of the Labour Party, the working class, the disadvantaged, the poor. Socialism is a forbidden word, shamelessly excluded by New Labour like an embarrassing granny at a society wedding.
In local politics things are no different. Whereas in the past people stood for election to serve their own local communtities out of duty and a sense of civic pride, now it functions only as a preschool for wannabee politicians, and a safe haven for raving nutters.
Our own home grown bunch of raving Tory nutters here in Broken Barnet didn't even want to do the right thing and fly the England flag during the World Cup. They had to be shamed into it. Strange really, when you consider that every criticism that is made about our national team and its cynical, spoilt, overpaid celebrity players is the natural progression of the sort of Tory values that our local administration so admires: blatant materialism, wildly inflated salaries without any performance related assessment, and a total lack of accountability for failures and misjudgements. Just as our Tory led council can lose £27 million in a dodgy investment without fear of sanction, our national football team can embarrass us in the World Cup without much to worry about other than a few tabloid headlines barely glanced at as they jet off on their well deserved holidays.
At least the French had the right idea with their useless team: sending a minister to lecture them in the changing room, then summoning Thierry Henri to explain himself to M. Sarkozy. It couldn't happen here, malheureusement, because of course accountability has totally vanished from British politics, British sport and almost everywhere. Our finest players are more interested in their brainless WAGS, and their teammates' brainless WAGS, than winning a game for their country. It's a long way from Gazza's tears to Rooney's sulks, isn't it?
Just as the England players after their last disastrous game failed to admit that they had been spectacularly awful, no one in the political world feels obliged to put their own performance under scrutiny and no one any longer has the decency to resign from a political post on a point of principle, because careers are more important than principle. The Coalition government will stagger on, whatever the misgivings of ordianry Libdem party members, because a third of all their MPs have cushy ministerial posts in the government, and they won't want to surrender those arrangements, will they?
During the World Cup coverage, some of the most interesting background features have focussed on some of the little boys - and girls - who live in the poorest areas in South Africa, and have nothing, in a material sense, but love football with a passion, and were so excited by the whole tournament coming to their country. Their enthusiasm and openness was really touching. They are genuinely priviliged in a real sense too: they live in a country that is moving forwards, and where people really believe that a better future is coming, and that they can work for that future to be a reality. They have nothing that we think we want, but compared to some of us, and the decadent society we choose to live in, they have everything they need, and more.