Tuesday, December 18, 2012


One of the occupational hazards of public life is the constant stream of funerals that one has to attend and often there seems a surge around about Christmas Time .

Sometimes one turns up out of a sense of duty especially if you know the deceased has few family and their friends have mainly passed on before them and sometimes out of a desire to pay tribute to Community work they have done in the past .

Occasionally one is present to mark the passing of someone who was unique and the likes of which we will not see again .

Yesterday was one of those later occasions when I attended the funeral of my friend Mrs Betty Geller.

Betty, who was 85 and had been fighting a virulent form of cancer for the last couple of years died on Sunday and in the Jewish tradition was buried on Monday, was known throughout the Conservative Party especially in North London and was the type of figure that keeps the Democratic process in our Country running.

Having brought up her family and supported her former Bomber Command husband in his career, Betty became a widow in middle age and decided that her Country and the Conservative Party needed her. She worked diligently on a voluntary basis ( indeed I am sure it cost her thousands over the years ) to support the Conservative Party and the other passion in her life , the State of Israel . She managed to combine both, in her support of the Conservative Friends of Israel of which she became National Vice Chairman . Woe betide any Tory Minister whose attitude was less than One Hundred per cent behind Israel as Betty would remind them in no uncertain terms of the errors of their ways . Many a front bencher has been accosted in the corridor at Conservative Party Conference ( at which Betty was a diligent attender ) and been reminded of the need for the UK to stand firmly with Israel , as a fellow Democratic State in the need for a just settlement in the Middle East .

There was not a Conservative Parliamentary candidate in North London whom Betty had not organised a meeting for, nor was there a Party Leader from Margaret Thatcher onwards with whom she was not on first name terms, after Mrs T, I think her favourite was Michael Howard . Her support for young candidates seeking to make progress in the Party was well known and among her "proteges" was the current Party Chairman Grant Shapps. Having campaigned for many years for her good friend Sir Rhodes Boyson in Brent North and against the lunacies of 1980s Brent Council , Betty would go all over the Country to campaign in Parliamentary by elections in her high heels and always looking immaculate , quite how her feet survived I have no idea!

 Serving as President of Brent North Conservative Association she was delighted when her good friend Bob Blackman was elected MP for Harrow East at the 2010 General Election . Bob,also  my former colleague on the London Assembly , was present at Betty's funeral yesterday despite the disgraceful behaviour of  the gutter press in running some decades old story in which nobody is interested in their columns over the weekend. It was this sort of courage in Bob Blackman as well as his solid and proper Conservative views that Betty so admired.

In the 1990s the misguided John Major abolished "Political Honours" and although honours which would have been given for Political service were often dressed up as something else( "Services to Local Government" or "Services to the Community" )  David Cameron is thankfully slowly bringing them back but not in time to reward Betty. There is no doubt in my mind that Political Service to all mainstream Parties is just as important to Society as Charitable Service , Olympic Bronze medals or thirty years as a hard working school dinner lady . Without voluntary workers to deliver leaflets and canvass and telephone the voters we will be reduced to the state funding of political parties or the collapse of Democracy .

Betty has passed on her genes to her daughter Marilyn , a leading Conservative Councillor in Harrow and indeed to her son in law David Ashton who was an excellent Leader of Harrow Council and fought a first class campaign for Parliament in 2005 .

The presence of so many at Betty's funeral , including many non Jews and several Muslim colleagues of her daughter Marilyn is a tribute to Betty's ability to make friends across any divide and indeed any age group.

Four things it seems to me were important to Betty , her family , her friends , the Conservative Party and the State of Israel. All four will  deeply miss her enthusiasm , outspokenness ,handwork, support and dedication .

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Deputy Mayor for Policing

An extraordinary story splashed all over the "Evening Standard" tonight , that the Deputy Mayor for Policing Stephen Greenhalgh has been accused of sexual harassment of a Junior female City Hall employee in the lift .

My friends at City Hall , and I still have some, tell me the incident which apparently happened several weeks ago, allegedly involved Mr Greenhalgh , who since the abolition of the Metropolitan Police Authority is virtually a one man Police Authority for London , getting in the lift admiring the young lady's "arse ", and giving it a slap !

Mr Greenhalgh , a former Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council and the "Blue eyed boy" of Eric Pickles and Conservative Local Government has apologised for anything "that could be or may have been construed as inappropriate behaviour"

Frankly I cannot believe the reports of Greenhalgh's alleged behaviour to be true  , if the incident did happen then I suspect he will have even less of a Political career left than I have and will soon be joining Ann Widdecombe on the Panto Circuit ( Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at High Wycombe , tickets available at all prices ) . However when the chips are down you know who your friends are and in his few short months at City Hall Mr Greenhalgh has made few friends .

His first appearance before the London Assembly after he had been in office for all of three weeks was a total train crash after he decided he did not require the Commissioner of Police to sit next to him and assist with difficult answers. The consequential embarrassment when Greenhalgh had to admit he had not read the brief on the forthcoming Olympics amongst other things ,had Conservative Assembly squirming and became quite a hit on "You Tube" . Subsequent appearances have shown a little improvement .

However Greenhalgh apparently refuses to reply to correspondence from Members of the London Assembly claiming at a recent Conservative Group meeting that was not in his job description and there are severe rumblings from Borough Council leaders of all Parties over his lack of engagement about suggested Police Station closures. Many London Councillors , including me , are unable to equate the upbeat , positive messages on the strengths of Neighbourhood Policing that emerge from City Hall (and indeed Scotland Yard) with the day to day reality of constant "extractions" ( Officers being withdrawn for other duties) and lack of any Transport for Safer Neighbourhood Teams, essential in a huge ward such as Totteridge. The constant problem of burglary is not being dealt with effectively .

When the excellent Kit Malthouse had Greenhalgh's job not only did he put the hours in (rumours are Mr Greenhalgh's appearances in the lift or anywhere else at City Hall are" intermittent ") but he had a grasp of the detail and was always willing to speak to Assembly Members, Councillors, MPs and Conservative activists .

Stephen Greenhalgh may like Kit Malthouse be a "heavyweight", but only one of them is a Political heavyweight .

Just when we thought the Met was becoming settled under the excellent Commissioner Bernard Hogan - Howe ( where is the Knighthood ? ) it looks like a period of Political turmoil is ahead.

Friday, December 07, 2012

How not to oppose "One Barnet"

Last night brought back feelings of nostalgia .

I was at the Town Hall to listen to the Cabinet Meeting that we all knew was going to unanimously agree the "One Barnet" contract with Capita .

However there was   process to go through .

The meeting took place in Committee Rooms one and two which soon became full to the extent that badly briefed security guards attempted to exclude elected Councillors , not helped by the fact that the Leaders Wife, Cllr Mrs Cornelius had distributed various coats , scarves and items of winter clothing across two rows of seats at the front like a demented German tourist with the sun loungers .

The Cabinet were all present , some looking a little sheepish and the meeting started with the usual thirty minutes of public questions. The usual suspects who submit these questions are often their own worst enemies and I am completely at a loss as to whom they think their target audience is . There were two sensible and important questions in the whole half hour but the rest just frankly seem to enjoy the sound of their own voices knowing in advance what sort of answer they will get. The local journalists do not bother writing anything down and Mr Silverman , not even the most committed opponent  was listening to your endless monologue which just seemed to go on and on and selfishly wasted time at the expense of other residents. The most sensible issue raised was the collection rate of Council tax which currently stands at a very respectable 98.2 per cent and which privately no Councillor thinks can be significantly approved upon by Capita or in fact the Arch Angel Gabriel!

The Leader of the Council was obviously pursuing a policy of charm and reasonableness, both qualities that he possesses in abundance ,  towards residents but sadly this was at the expense of attempting to keep any sort of discipline in the public gallery . Councillor Rams on the other hand , had clearly been attending courses at the Brian Coleman School of Charm (but Robert you never completed the course )  and I suspect was taking secret pleasure at winding up the sad , mad and the bad and the occasional  reasonable resident.

Councillor Hugh Rayner as Chairman of one of the relevant Scrutiny Committees and on behalf of the the Chairman of the other , who was not able to attend ( a wedding I suspect !) mentioned very little and had to be reminded by the Leader of the four points he was supposed to have mentioned so that the relevant Cabinet Member could give the scripted reply and so that  they all knew where they is the pre distributed scripts . The Leader of the Opposition spoke , slower and more authoritatively than usual but she knew she was just going through the motions . Nice ( always a damning word in Politics)  , pleasant and hardworking as Cllr Alison Moore is her failure to proper harness the opposition to " One Barnet" , and her failure to outline cogently the alternatives has allowed the unreformed 1980s lefties to dictate the anti agenda

Once the cabinet had begun to discuss the report before them in a clearly orchestrated move a number of people in the public gallery stood on their chairs and started chanting in a clear stupid attempt to stop the meeting . All that happened was that the Cabinet , Officers, Other Councillors present and the press just adjourned into the neighbouring "Heritage" Room , ironic really as the Cabinet were busy destroying the Council's Heritage, which had been already set up to deal with such an eventuality.

The sensible residents who had come along to listen to the Cabinet debate the matter and are genuinely interested in the issues found themselves excluded as the lunatics attempted to take over the asylum. The demonstrators achieved absolutely nothing except made themselves beyond the pale to reasonable middle of the road residents . It was a massive own goal and handed the Cabinet a huge PR victory . Remember "One Barnet" will only be defeated if those of us who believe in democratic politics persuade enough of our colleagues to come with us and form a united front with "Mr and Mrs Average Barnet" . Mr and Mrs Average Barnet would run a mile from last night's disgraceful behaviour .

The resulting debate in the Heritage Room would win the "Olivier award" for best original script and several cabinet members struggled to adopt the "concerned face" look which was clearly in the stage directions as they asked their scripted questions which all seemed to begin with " I am concerned about X , can I be reassured about .....................?

Surprise , Surprise all the Cabinet were duly reassured about their concerns .

I will spare the blushes of the Cabinet member who duly read out their allocated lines whilst I knew jolly well they did not believe a word of it . As long as you can sleep at night Councillor .

However the answers did give a lot of useful information especially about guarantees that Capita has given about quality of service and scrutiny . The problem is that these are meaningless. How do I know ? I have been there and got the T shirt !

The vast majority of the current Cabinet have little experience of running anything or of dealing with the awarding of large and sensitive Local Government contracts .

In 2001 I was Leader of the Opposition Conservative Group on the London Fire Authority (LFEPA) when the then Labour Chair ( Val Shawcross) brought forward proposals to out source the ownership and management of the entire vehicle fleet and the workshops of the Fire Brigade . I and my Group were somewhat sceptical, not least by the length of the contract , but after endless Officer briefings , some minor changes and much discussion we supported the Labour Group proposals , why ? because the contract was with a subsidiary of British Gas , there were guarantees from the parent company so nothing could go wrong and anyway British Gas was a huge company , with lots of experience . Sound familiar ?

It was not long before British Gas sold the contract on and after various deals it ended up being run by a company called Asset Co and then finally (this Summer)  by an eccentric Northamptonshire Baronet who collected vintage cars when the brigade finally brought it back in house before outsourcing it again !

The losers last night were the ordinary residents of Barnet , they deserve better than the Cabinet decision and they most certainly deserve better than the howling mob who should be ashamed of themselves

No doubt several bloggers went home with moist gussets thinking they had achieved some great victory over the Council , they achieved nothing except the betrayal of the residents they claim to represent . It is time for the usual suspects to shut up and allow the sensible , reasoned opponents of this process to take the floor .

Sunday, December 02, 2012

The Police admit why Burglary is out of control

Last week at a semi public meeting the Barnet Borough Police Commander admitted that Burglary was still the number one crime problem across Barnet .

Despite endless Political pressure over the last couple of years the Metropolitan Police has failed to get to grips with the rising tide of Burglary across the Suburban London Boroughs and particularly Barnet . Month after Month the 21 "Community Action Panels " ( One for each Council Ward) that exist to ensure proper community liaison between the Safer Neighbourhood teams and local residents have been briefed on initiative after initiative being undertaken to tackle Burglary which by all accounts  10 per cent of Barnet households  have fallen victim to.  The latest involved use of the Police helicopter sweeping low over parts of the Borough and making the windows rattle  as residents try to get to sleep around about midnight.

Known Burglars have apparently  been targeted and some when arrested have been encouraged to "confess" to many other break ins other than those they have actually been arrested for.

Sadly one of the key weapons in the battle against this most hateful crime , the Safer Neighbourhood teams themselves have been neutered by the endless "abstraction" of Police Officers from Barnet to go off to other parts of London and deal with whatever the Met think is the issue of the week . A number of Safer Neighbourhood Sergeants ( many of whom are having to look after two teams rather than one ) are openly briefing about their lack of transport ( some teams are lucky in they have a bike between them !)  and manpower and their complete inability to do the job they are supposed to be doing. Oh and by the way I understand the bike allocated to the Totteridge team is broken and in for repair........................

However this week it was revealed by the Police that 41 per cent ( Yes 4 out of ten ) Burglaries in Barnet are committed by Roumanians . Apparently there is a regular mini bus service that runs from Golders Green to Roumania and deposits said Roumanians in the heart of the Borough allowing a number of them to get straight off the mini bus and stuck into their life of crime . Apparently  Barnet has the highest percentage of Roumanian Burglars in the Country.

So if you want something done about Burglary , and which reasonable citizen does not , do not blame Government spending cuts or the forthcoming closure of most of the Borough's outdated Victorian Police Stations but blame fairly and squarely the European Union . Although Britain obtained certain opt outs of EU rules when Bulgaria and Roumania joined the EU with regard to allowing their citizens to work n the UK , the pen border arrangements mean we have no control of who arrives from these two Countries. 

The time has come to introduce  a Visa system , certainly for Roumanians and stick two fingers up to the EU !

Oh and when four years ago much of the alcohol related crime in the Borough was emanating from the Polish  Community the then Cabinet Member on Barnet Council in charge of Community Safety (me) had leaflets produced in Polish and distributed explaining our drinking  laws and what would happen if you breached them , that , combined I suspect with the recession seemed to deal with the issue .

I know virtually all routine wok on Barnet Council has ceased whilst Members and Officers struggle with "One Barnet" ,( have you tried speaking to the Planning Department ?) but surely as we approach the peak Christmas burglary period the relevant Cabinet member needs to start holding the Police to account over their failure on Burglary and could perhaps produce some leaflets in Roumanian and get them handed out at Golders Green Bus Station