Monday, September 23, 2013

Could it happen here ?

The dreadful events at the Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi where gunmen from the al-Shabab group have murdered innocent shoppers including women and children in a random act of terrorism have inevitably caused questions to be asked if it could happen here in the UK ?

In the late Autumn of 2010 COBRA , which stands for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A, where it happens to meet , was called after specific intelligence had been received that there was a threat to attack British shopping centres  in the run up to Christmas . The intelligence apparently related to Shopping complexes such as Brent Cross, Lakeside , Meadowhall in Sheffield and  Trafford in Greater Manchester and those attending COBRA had the events in Mumbai a couple of years earlier at the forefront of their minds .

In a rare occurrence the Prime Minister lost his temper when he learnt that in any terrorist incident or indeed any incident involving an armed suspect, firefighters and para medics would stay outside the security cordon until the Police stated that the armed suspect had been dealt with . Even if a building was on fire or there were wounded members of the public needing treatment firefighters and para medics would stay outside the cordon not least due to the danger of being shot themselves by a gunman. The Prime Minister had visions of Sky News filming the scene and of firefighters and para medics sitting around and perceived by the viewing public to be taking no action .

Those who had not seen the Prime Minister lose his temper before realised that he meant business and  that the situation had to change and he had  successfully put a rocket up the Fire Service (and indeed the Ambulance Service).  Indeed one very senior official told me he did not want to be at the end of a "Cameron roasting" again !

Meetings were held with Fire Chiefs in several large cities (London , Birmingham, Manchester and others ) , the then Fire Minister ( Bob Neil ) called in the Fire Brigades Union , who for once put the National interest first and a small number of firefighters in our major cities (the majority in London )  were trained in how to operate wearing bullet proof protection and how to behave in the event of an armed incident . This issue has remained of deep interest to the Prime Minister, I recall him discussing it with firefighters when he visited Tottenham Fire Station in the aftermath of the 2011 Summer riots and I have no doubt that David Cameron's personal efforts on this have made the UK better prepared in the event of a Nairobi style attack.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Barnet's Conservative Councillors

Ever wondered what the remaining 37 Conservative Councillors are really like ?

Well here is your short guide in no particular order

Councillor Brian Salinger (Oakleigh Ward) now 65 served since 1986 with four years on Haringey before that . Had an unpleasant skirmish with the Local Government Ombudsman ( before the Standards Committee was ever invented ) in the late 80s over a planning application . Has never recovered from losing the Council and Group Leadership after the 2006 local elections in a coup organised by the late great Lynne Hillan  and others (including me ) which has lead to a long "Ted Heath " like sulk . Whilst Leader was nicknamed by the Officers "Dr Stranglove " (remember Peter Sellers played all the parts ) after his Leadership was nicknamed "Napoleon" , because he had been a very short leader .
Still thinks he will be summoned back from the wilderness (voted against "One Barnet" in the Conservative Group) but was shocked this year when he was well beaten (by Cllr Melvin Cohen )  in the internal Conservative ballot to be Mayor this year. Yes there is a Conservative Councillor more unpopular than me .

Councillor Mrs Kate Salinger  (Coppetts Ward) Kate was elected against the odds in 2006 in what should be a safe Labour Ward mainly through her sheer hard work locally . The local Conservative Association thought she did not stand a chance but let her get on with it anyway. Since her defiance of the whip over Members allowances (seen as the worst betrayal by many colleagues)  the Conservative Leadership have done all in their power to ensure she loses her seat in 2014 , trying to close Friern Barnet Library , ensuring a nice big waste facility and depot on Pinkham Way. Made probably the most disastrous Maiden speech on the Council in recent times when she burst into song , something she is known for after a long evening. Her failed Standards Board complaint against her colleague Cllr Andreas Tambourides cost the taxpayer around £50,000 and ensured the enmity between the Tambourides and the Salingers continues. Not likely to survive 2014 despite the respect which many residents in her Ward have for her hard work . More right wing than her husband and more popular .

Councillor Mrs Wendy Prentice ( High Barnet Ward) Hard working former Mayor (and now Mayoress to Melvin Cohen ) on first name terms with many residents of her Ward particularly in Hadley where she has lived for decades and used to deal with her Ward work whilst walking her dog every morning. No push over and will fight when roused . Saw off the Lib Dems in High Barnet . Her finest hour was Chairing the Group meeting that saw the end of Brian Salinger's Leadership . Safe pair of hands as Chairman of Planning . Quite happy to shock people with her outrageous hair colour . Will top the poll in her ward in 2014 as everybody knows her and likes her . One of the few members of the Conservative Group who demonstrates any loyalty.

Councillor David Longstaff (High Barnet Ward) former Labour Party member and indeed Parish Councillor , bit part actor . Who can forget his role as a drunken elf in the Christmas edition of Casualty or was it Holby City , I forget.............His personal web site contains a video of his stand up act which is about as funny as his speeches in the Council Chamber . Then there was the episode of my favourite Drama "Lewis" where he played a Friar definitely not a monk !Was a Salinger protege but managed to get appointed to the Cabinet by distancing himself from them . Considered promoted too soon and a lightweight and seems to think that being in charge of "Community Safety" means when the Borough Police Commander says jump you reply how high ? Has no concept of holding the Police to account and did little to attempt to save the two Police Stations being closed in the Borough once he knew that High Barnet in his ward was safe. In charge of the latest misguided attempts at North Finchley regeneration under his leadership the scheme will no doubt go the way of all the rest over the years, which several people think is why Richard Cornelius ( who at heart is a free marketer) put him in charge of it . Upset the Jewish Community big time with a disgraceful anti Eruv performance at the Area Planning Committee that left many fellow Conservatives reeling. Unlikely to get many votes from Barnet Synagogue next year

Councillor Mrs Eva Greenspan (Church End Ward ) Long serving (1990) former Mayor , hugely popular in the Jewish Community and loves her Planning on which she works hard  . Has failed to convince various Conservative Leaders over the years to make her Chairman of the Planning Committee . Was a very generous Mayor but her farewell speech when she described herself as "the Peoples Mayors" did raise a few Conservative eye brows. Has a low boredom threshold and can rarely sit still during a Council meeting . Must have the highest mobile phone bill of anyone on the Council . Known for her elegance and exquisit dress sense . Forms part of the "Orthodox block vote" in the Conservative Group which Leaders upset at their peril .

Councillor Dan Thomas (Church End Ward) Young , ambitious , blond, good looking and intelligent , Deputy Leader of the Council. Protege of Mike Freer . Known for his frequent exotic holidays to keep his tan up . In 2010 considered jumping ship and was actually interviewed by Bexley Conservatives for a seat on Bexley Council as he was then virtually living and working there. Fought some God forsaken South Wales Parliamentary Constituency at the last General election and no doubt if a winnable Parliamentary seat came up he would grab it with both hands . In his early Cabinet days was not known for his hard work ( in 6 months as Cabinet Member for the Environment 2009/10 he failed to hold one "theme " meeting with his Senior Officers) however his work rate has improved . Ditched the Ferrari and the Porche with the personalised number plate in favour of the sensible Smart car . Paranoid about his receding hair line but a dab hand in the kitchen . His career in Barnet probably hinges on the success of "One Barnet" .  He will, I suspect  eventually become bored with Local Government and indeed Barnet.

Councillor Barry Evangelli  (East Barnet Ward) Protoege of Andreas Tambourides and to some extent Lynne Hillan . Made a good Deputy Mayor and, if he can hold East Barnet Ward will no doubt be Mayor sometime between 2014/18 . Seems to have stopped the attempts to hold back the years by dying his hair and is just about "out" these days as a "Silver fox" .In the battles in the Group always on the side of the Good Guys !

Councillor John Marshall (Garden Suburb Ward) now 73 but this old war horse just keeps on going . Has held every office known to man , Mayor , MP, MEP , Councillor , as somebody once said to me "good thing we don't have Parish Councils or else he would stand for that as well !"
A brilliant campaigner and frankly works twice as hard as most Councillors half his age. Everybody, south of the North Circular is on first name terms with John although many of them stabbed him in the back in the 1997 General Election a fact I suspect he found hard to come to terms with. Has ensured the Lib Dems are now an irrelevance in Garden Suburb ward and will easily top the poll in 2014 . Always at the heart of  whatever conspiracy is going on in the Conservative Group in recent years has consistently backed the wrong candidates in Leadership elections .He ran the disastrous Leadership campaign for his ward colleague Cllr Andrew Harper in 2011 and was perceived as a Salinger supporter. Known for a bit of name dropping "As Betty Boothroyd once said to me" .......His well deserved knighthood does not look like it is coming.

Councillor Andrew Strongolou (Underhill Ward) Drafted in at the last moment in 2010 to replace Fiona Bulmer in Underhill Ward who had quit in a huff because she did not win the Tory Leadership. Managed to get elected mainly because sitting Conservative Councillor Daniel Webb found it difficult to hide his contempt for many Underhill residents . Has never really taken to the Council and is totally semi detached. Not standing in 2014 . Managed to get done for drink driving ( three times over the limit I believe ) at Hammersmith Magistrates  soon after being elected to the Council which the Tory Leadership successfully hushed up , local journalists did not even notice. Looking increasingly bizarre these days and has resisted calls to get his hair cut . Struggled for work but is probably the only Councillor on Barnet to have appeared in a Stephen Spielberg film (eat your heart out Longstaff) .

Councillor Rowan Turner (as most of us still call him ) (Underhill Ward) elected in 2010 in this highly marginal Ward . A very intelligent young , church going decent guy and suitably right wing . Decided to add his wife's surname to his when he got married (against advise) which makes him sound like a snob or a poof or even worst a feminist , he is none of these . If he survives in 2014 is no doubt destined for high office in the current Administration of "Boys" . Impeccable manners unusual for someone his age, and has been shocked by the rudeness of some residents and bloggers.

Councillor Graham Old (Church End Ward ) Another nice guy who has been around politically a long time . Served on Merton Council with Theresa May but best known for losing in Hale Ward in 1994 which handed Barnet to the Lib/ Lab coalition . Nicknamed by one senior Barnet Tory as the "Councillor for Narnia " because he is so far back in the closet . Hates the infighting since he came on in 2010 but is no Brian Salinger fan . Nice , certainly not stupid , hardworking but sadly a bit wet .

Councillor Danny Seal ( Garden Suburb Ward ) Won the highly coveted Conservative nomination in Garden Suburb Ward in 2010 . An early associate of Councillor Mark Shooter to whom he attached his waggon but when Shooter's star burst rather lost interest in the Council. Spends a lot of time in Israel where he apparently has business interests and is rarely seen at the Town Hall . Missed the last two Council meetings and has not attended a full Council meeting since the Annual meeting in May. Always thought that Mike Freer was God . Rumour is John Marshall carries him in the Ward and detailed ward work is not his forte . I suspect more interested in making his first million than chairing a Scrutiny Committee ( and who can blame him ) . Cornelius will not touch him with a barge pole. Seal may well not feature on the ballot paper in 2014 . Cocky and thought he knew it all when elected considered a worthy successor to former Councillor Daniel Webb .

Councillor Robert Rams (East Barnet Ward ) elected in 2006 and a key member of the Administration of "the Boys" . Rumours are not standing in 2014 as has had quite enough of the mindless abuse over Friern Barnet Library, where the Conservative Group were happy to pile all the crap on him  . Is fairly recently married and his  wife does not enjoy the nitty gritty , not to mention time commitment of local politics ( not unusual in the Tory Group where the wives either cannot stand the Council  or get themselves elected to it). Works as Head of Office for the Conservative GLA Group where his career seems to have stalled (it is a very comfortable job with all the local Government perks) and used to be Chief of Staff to Nigel Evans MP . Was step brother to the late Amy Winehouse but has none of her unfortunate habits, nor for that matter her artistic talent. An operator behind the scenes ( locally and wider afield) was a key supporter of Lynne Hillan and enemy of Salinger . Possesses  that key characteristic of Barnet Conservative Councillors ,  very little loyalty.

Councillor Darrel Yawitch (Edgware Ward) Elected to the Council in a by election in 2009. Soon became apparent he had one key issue which was to secure VA status and new buildings for Beit Shvidler School in Edgware and that achieved rather lost interest . Not standing in 2014 and I am not sure anyone will notice . Firmly part of the orthodox block .

Councillor Joan Scannell (Edgware Ward ) Wily Old Bird first elected in 1994 and before that was a Council Officer serving as PA to the Director of Social Services amongst other things. Long time Secretary of the Conservative Group and knows where some of the bodies are buried. Stickler for the rules. Distrusted by Cornelius and actively disliked by "the boys" who see her as part of the Old Guard that has consistently hated the Cabinet system . Was an excellent Mayor . Is a survivor and I suspect will still be there long after "the boys " have all grown up and moved on  .

Councillor Bridget Perry (High Barnet Ward) failed in her initial attempt to get elected at the 2005 High Barnet by election but successfully fought off a Liberal challenge in 2006 . Enjoying being Deputy Mayor having been shafted last year by Kate Salinger. Hard working Ward member genuinely popular in High Barnet with a history of voluntary work with the girl guides. Brighter than she looks and underestimate her at your peril. A rarity in Barnet Conservative Politics in not being interested in high office and having a sense of loyalty, consequently looked down on and patronised by "the boys" .

Councillor Melvin Cohen (Golders Green Ward) Serving as Mayor for the second time and finds it very difficult to hide his love of the job.  Sadly second time around is never as enjoyable as the first. Father of the Conservative Group ( and indeed Father of Councillor Dean Cohen ) having first been elected in 1982. Very rarely expresses an opinion ( I could not tell you if he is on the left or the right of the Conservative Party ) but that is probably how he has survived so long . An acknowledged expert on Planning. Roused to anger when he was challenged in 2011 by Kate Salinger for the Vice Chairmanship of the Conservative Group when he made the speech of life to see her off. Does not always vote with the Orthodox "block vote" . Has now been with his (male) partner for 25 years but decided Wendy Prentice would make a better Mayoress Melvin no one would have raised an eyebrow ....................

Councillor Hugh Rayner (Hale Ward ) former RAF Squadron Leader elected in 2006 . Solid , dependable, reliable but somewhat naïve, he is considered a safe pair of hands  . A good Deputy Mayor ( to me ) but would not put his name in to be Mayor in 2011 as he wanted it in Olympic year , when he did so in 2012 he was surprisingly beaten by newcomer Brian Schama supposedly because Rayner as Chairman of Hendon Association had upset many of the Hendon Constituency Councillors . Was very hurt by that experience . Had a difficult relationship with Matthew Offord MP but rumours that Rayner was busy ringing round North London Conservatives seeking advise on how to deselect his MP seem to have come to nothing . A bit of a fence sitter will become Mayor in due course unless Hale Ward reverts to its former marginal status.

Councillor Tom Davey (HaleWard) elected on my coat tails in a by election on London Election Day in 2008 , he is the ultimate member of the Administration of the " Boys" . Educated at QE Boys he is clever , ambitious and his saving grace, wonderfully right wing and does not suffer fools gladly . Not for him any namby pamby "consensus" and I cannot see him agreeing to the Socialist concept of a "London living wage". Will go far unless he becomes bored or decides his business career comes first. Like all the boys does not quite manage to hide his disdain for the old timers. One of the few Councillors who can make a decent speech and enjoys winding up the whingers and moaners .

Councillor Stephen Sowerby (Oakleigh Ward) Elected in 2010 Oakleigh Ward was his reward for failing to get elected in High Barnet Ward in 2006 where despite working his socks off , a pesky Liberal Democrat hung on . Sadly has been a complete non event on the Council and serves as a "Committee place filler" . Did distinguish himself on Area Planning this year where he very effectively demolished  Cllr Longstaff's opposition  to the Barnet Eruv . Engaged to a very nice girl he met on the Internet . Cornelius considers him not the sharpest knife in the box and Stephen can look forward to a long career on the backbenches filling Committee places and pursuing his interest in military history.

Councillor Lisa Rutter ( Brunswick Park Ward) elected in 2006 when she was a loyal supporter of the coup against Salinger . Probably the most regal of recent Mayors , she always looks a million dollars despite being no spring chicken and wore more "bling " than I have ever been seen with. Was excellent during the 2011 August riots touring the Borough and dispensing reassurance but sadly it was all down hill from there with her Mayoralty eventually becoming a parody of itself. Sadly finds it hard to accept that that year was the pinnacle of her Council career and she is now on the scrap heap of ex Mayors . Her very pleasant husband Mark was her Escort and I believe there is no truth in the rumour that even he had to call her " Madam Mayor" . However the rumour that he wishes to add to the already incestuous nature of the Barnet Conservative Group be being elected a Councillor in 2014 seems to have more validity. Cornelius considers her a joke and has not forgotten the stroke he nearly had when he discovered the Civic visit to Barnet of "fun loving" Mr Michael Barrymore.

Councillor Sury Khatri (Mill Hill Ward) Elected in 2010 when 16 years of Liberal dominance in Mill Hill ended. Heavy smoker who dislikes virtually every aspect of Conservative Group policy . Made a speech once in the Conservative Group in which he attacked privatisation , parking policy , One Barnet , Library closures , cuts etc and which colleagues thought was a resignation  speech but still he hangs on . Quite happy to tell anyone who asks that "One Barnet" is crazy (as he did at the Audit Committee a couple of months ago ) . Many Tory Councillors think he is barking and wonder if he will sign up to the 2014 Manifesto . Will cause problems if the Tory Administration is reelected next year with a slim majority. The Tory Councillor most likely to defect to Labour .

Councillor Andrew Harper (Garden Suburb Ward) Rather innocuous gentleman Councillor who having won a 2005 by election got the taste for the rough and tumble of Barnet Politics . A competent administrator rather than a Politician , Council Officers liked him, always a bad sign  . Having become Deputy Leader to Lynne Hillan he thought he was a natural shoe in when she retired ill but the Conservative Group thought otherwise particularly after a disastrous speech at the 2011 Annual Council Meeting when even neutral observers thought he sounded desperate for the job and could not wait for her to retire.
Came an embarrassing third in the subsequent Leadership election and promptly resigned as Deputy Leader and realised Politics was not the game for him . Retiring in 2014 to spend more time with his music .

Councillor John Hart ( Mill Hill Ward) re elected to the Council in 2006 after being ousted by the Liberals in 1994. Is now at 82 enjoying an unexpected Indian Summer of a Political career. A genuine character , popular in Mill Hill ( although surprisingly let down his residents over Saracens ) with a personal vote and reminiscent of Councillors as they used to be . Does not do Political correctness and had one serious run in with the Standards regime . Only Councillor to use the word "Fuck" in the Council Chamber and frankly does not give one either. Out of sympathy with the current Administration ( privately thinks One Barnet is "total crap" ) .Cornelius physically winces every time John gets up to speak and most of "the Boys" wish he would go away as they find him embarrassing . Would make an ideal Chairman for the Allotments Committee , a position that would make him very happy indeed . Will no doubt still be a Councillor when they carry him out in a box for his Green burial .

Councillor Helena Hart (Edgware Ward) Huge admirer (some would say clone) of the beloved Margaret Thatcher she has become the acknowledged expert on Health . Loyal to Mike Freer he brought her into the Cabinet in 2006 as a reward for her support against Salinger in the coup and because the Group was short of competent women . Would have made a good MP but her heyday in the mid nineties was the time of the Conservative Party's lowest fortune. Hates rows and usually tries to keep a low profile ( less generous colleagues suggest she has a lot of splinters in her nether regions from sitting on too many fences ) Loyal to Lynne Hillan to the end she would make an excellent Mayor but has turned the job down several times

Councillor Anthony Finn (Hendon Ward) No Jewish wedding , Bar mitzvah or other event in the Orthodox Community is complete without the attendance of the jovial figure of Anthony Finn as his waistline will testify . First elected in 1990 , Tony is a survivor despite an early run in with former Leader Roy Schultz who accused him , Eva Greenspan and another former Councillor of only being interested in Orthodox issues . Has always been the "shop steward" of the Orthodox block . In Group elections will openly tell anyone and everyone who canvasses him that he will vote for them . Deputy Leader for a long period under Victor Lyon he managed to fight off a couple of challenges from Salinger who implied that he was lazy but finally fell to Salinger's sworn enemy former Councillor Kanti Patel . Not a supporter of Lynne Hillan but was very annoyed when Mike Freer dumped him from the Cabinet having had enough of his laid back attitude (which hides a calculating mind) . Despite being reticent about doing it turned into an excellent hard working Mayor . Has lasted as Chief Whip for 2 years which is longer than most of his predecessors. Cornelius is wary of him but needs his support as he has few Jewish friends in the Group.

Councillor Maureen Braun (Hendon Ward ) Elected in 1998 having previously served 4 years on Camden Council where famously she had a bag of soot thrown over her during a Poll Tax setting debate, now that was proper Politics ! . Loyal to Lynne Hillan and implacable supporter during the Salinger coup had a long term rivalry with Eva Greenspan over the Mayoralty and positions on planning . Has become the target of accusations from the "boys " that she rests her eyes at meetings.

Councillor Dean Cohen (Golders Green Ward) Son of Councillor Melvin Cohen and brother of prominent Jewish journalist Justin , Dean married a couple years ago and already has two children or it may be three by the time you finish reading  this . No truth in the rumour he is planning to out do Councillor Brian Gordon who has nine children and an increasing number of grandchildren . Loved in Golders Green as the natural successor to the saintly late Councillor Aba Dunner and therefore ends up with the vast majority of the Ward work to the relief of his Father. Sadly not above a bit of back stabbing and pretending that things that have gone wrong were nothing to do with him ( hiring of parks , remember Dean ?) and does not give the impression of being on top of the huge Environment Portfolio. In his early days on the Council was once shouted at by Nick Walkely (unlike him to be unprofessional ) leaving Dean with  a fear of Officers. Likely to be around for years until his son is old enough to join him on the Council . About to preside over the forthcoming bins fiasco that will make parking look like a side show .These days always looks exhausted ,I suspect it is not the children or the business but the bloody parking !

Councillor Reuben Thompstone (Golders Green Ward) Nice Guy New Zealand born , teacher. Having replaced Andrew Harper at Education clearly finding his feet and another boy promoted slightly too early but apparently Cornelius was under pressure from some colleagues  not to appoint his wife to replace Harper.  Been around politically in Finchley a few years and not considered a high flyer but solid and reliable . Recently married a nice girl from Nigeria he met on the Internet. Local Politics means you simply don't have time to meet people in other ways.

Councillor Mark Shooter (Hendon Ward) Arrived with a bang in 2010 and within three months was challenging Lynne Hillan for the Group Leadership . Wealthy , Good looking , charming and intelligent his ill advised Leadership challenge left him a marked man and although in 2011 ran a far better Leadership campaign following Hillan's retirement was never going to get the support of Chipping Barnet Councillors . Cornelius is deeply suspicious of him and will not give him any significant office , Mrs Cornelius, not known for her closeness to the Jewish Community is even more suspicious and appears apparently not to have forgotten  a row over the Kosher catering at a David Cameron dinner , "They are eating OUR rolls " she was heard to exclaim. Although easily bored and unable to suffer fools he appears to be biding his time . Is the obvious Conservative Group Leader if Cornelius loses the election in 2014 if he is prepared to put in the commitment. Voted against "One Barnet" in the Conservative Group. Will stay a Councillor to maintain his profile in the Orthodox Community

Councillor Brian Schama (Mill Hill Ward) Elected in 2010 but you would have thought by the way he behaved in the weeks after the election he had been on the Council for 20 years . Had an opinion on everything . Wrote a simply dreadful letter to the already ill  Lynne Hillan at the height of the August 2010 leadership contest which he then e mailed to all Tory Councillors . Stood against Wendy Prentice for the Group Chairmanship as part of that coup attempt and lost by one vote.Die hard Hillan loyalists have never forgiven him . His attempt at the Mayoralty after 2 years on the Council was not taken seriously until he beat Councillor Rayner who was the establishment candidate. Was not a bad Mayor in the Community but hopeless in the Chair , quite killed the budget debate. Fell out big time with Matthew Offord MP with whom he is barely on speaking terms. At 73 his Mayoralty is the highlight of his Council career and anyway Cornelius does not trust him or particularly like him , the rumours were that having been a glorious Mayor he would challenge Cornelius for Leader , however this backfired as he won no friends in the Tory Group by his behaviour in the Chair at Council meetings .

Councillor Sach Rajput (Oakleigh Ward) hugely ambitious , criminal barrister whose speeches in the Council Chamber often lead you to believe he is addressing the Judge and Jury . Intelligent and competent he has stood for Parliament (in Brent Central ) and is clearly using Barnet Council as a stepping stone to a safe seat or a High Court Judgeship  In his younger and slimmer days was known as a "Ladies man" but is now happily married with twins . An active Freemason, always seems to end up on the winning side and has risen without trace , to coin a phrase . Firmly part of "the boys" Administration . Will not let the matter of loyalty get in the way of a stellar career.

Councillor Andreas Tambourides (Brunswick Park Ward) Long serving and hard working . Has educated the Conservative Group and indeed Party on the issue of the rape of his beloved Cyprus by Turkey and highly regarded in the Cypriot Community especially by women of a certain age who remember his fabulous bass tones from his days on London Greek Radio . Did not fall into the trap of some ethnic minority Councillors of becoming too identified with just one Community. Devoted to his friend Lynne Hillan whose illness and death hit him very hard . Was an excellent Mayor but unfortunate that it coincided with Salinger's brief reign as Leader . No love lost between those two and Salinger and him have not spoken in years , for that matter neither have Salinger and I . Sadly his glory days seem behind him and is widely blamed for the fiasco that was the Brunswick Park by election last year and the unfortunate choice of Conservative candidate but the Conservative Group enjoy picking scapegoats. Strong supporter of Cornelius whom he sees as Lynne's anointed successor and a bastion against any return by Salinger , not a view I share .

Councillor Joanna Tambourides (East Barnet Ward) Very organised hard working wife of the above . Selected in 2007 when the Conservative Party were desperate for a candidate following the death of the much loved Olwen Evans ( whose memorable speech delived the coup de grace to Salinger during the 2006 coup) . However her promotion to the Cabinet by Lynne Hillan as a favour to her friend Andreas and because of the shortage of competent women was a step too far. Has struggled to grasp the portfolio as Planning Committee Chairmen  will tell you , cannot think on her feet , struggles in Council with Robert Rams often whispering answers to supplementary questions to her . Genuinely nice woman who was an excellent Mayoress but clearly not enjoying her current role . However Cornelius desperately needs the Tambo's loyalty and votes .

Councillor Brian Gordon (Hale Ward) Elected in 1998 in Hale Ward as the only Conservative with two Labour , a result repeated in 2002. Big personal vote and highly regarded in the Jewish Community . Outspoken right winger with principles who says what he thinks and although not everybody's cup of tea is straightforward if sometimes a little naïve and what you see is what you get . Distrusted by a succession of Conservative Leaders, not least for his traditional orthodox Jewish views  is not prepared to compromise his principles for Office . Loyal  and not interested in taking part in conspiracies . An integral part of the Orthodox block. Rumour is he is switching wards to Edgware in 2014 ( which is where he lives) , Contrary to what some think has no prejudices and treats people as he finds them .

Councillor Alison Cornelius (Totteridge Ward ) elected in a by election in 2009 when the Ward was desperate and could not find another candidate . Has taken the post of "Leader's wife" to a whole new level .well beyond the traditional one of organising the sausage rolls although she can be relied on to do the catering .Collects Committee appointments and jobs like other people collect Tesco Clubcard points . Has turned the Health Scrutiny Committee into a car parking sub Committee and became the object of ridicule when officials at  Barnet General  discovered her counting cars and examining car parking passes accompanied by an embarrassed Councillor Graham Old . Not known for her empathy with the Jewish Community she sensibly kept quiet during the debate on the Totteridge Eruv and usually is away or busy when invitations arrive from Synagogues. Her opposition to the initial planning application for the Etz Chaim School in Mill Hill lead to her swift substitution for subsequent meetings discussing that application. Not possible to have a short conversation with her it is just easier to say yes and save the phone bill cost .  Her husband long ago opted for the easier option of agreeing with his wife . Has turned the Conservative Party in Totteridge almost into a family business.

Councillor Richard Cornelius (Totteridge Ward) Elected in 2006 took to the Council like a duck to water. Ended up as Leader after Lynne Hillan's retirement in 2011 as the Chipping Barnet candidate and having amassed the least number of enemies. If he loses the election in  2014 he will be immediately dumped and may well in any case face the "Salinger" treatment once the election is out of the way . Instincts are right wing and anti Officer but as Leader has increasingly fallen under Officer influence . Some of his senior Officer appointments are considered bizarre and just preparing the way for a change in Council control next year .Originally highly sceptical of the whole One Barnet concept he lost his temper in an explosion that could be heard from his French holiday home when he found out about the "Joint venture" proposal in August 2012 and yet within weeks was persuaded. Is increasingly seen as a delay and dither man and entirely ineffective  and his U turns are becoming a weekly occurrence . Has no public recognition factor in the Borough and he ( and more so his wife ) is jealous of those local  Politicians who have .Has failed to build rapport with the Finchley and Golders Green and Hendon  Conservative Associations and thinks he can survive with the votes of Chipping Barnet Councillors . Will no doubt go down in Borough history for signing the One Barnet contracts ( on whose advise did he have his photo taken signing them ?) and will no doubt not be around when a future Conservative or Labour Administration has to unpick the mess as in so many other Local Authorities . He is however no fool and provides the charm and likability in the Cornelius partnership.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Action needed now !

Barnet Council has featured again this week in the national media with the "Daily Mail ", Radio 5 live and BBC London amongst others reporting on the shanty town reportedly full of Roumanian migrants that is flourishing on the former site of Hendon Football Club over in Cricklewood , very near to Brent Cross .

This problem is not new , in Spring last year , the night of the Mayor's Ball if I remember rightly , there was a major fire on this site and it took the London Fire Brigade a considerable time to confirm that fortunately there were no casualties amongst the derelict buildings, rubble and rubbish which was being used as some sort of shanty town by mainly Roumanian and mostly illegal casual workers . Indeed any weekday morning you can see these migrants workers lined up on Cricklewood Broadway

The freehold of this site is owned by Barnet Council and although there have been endless legal arguments and even a protracted land tribunal hearing over the last 15 years or so , the site is earmarked for development for much needed housing and no doubt once the housing market picks up developers will get on with it . In the meantime local residents have to put up with this eyesore and the resulting nuisance and people are living in conditions which make war torn Damascus look like a luxury holiday .

There is no sanitation , the place is over run with vermin and it is an all round health hazard and frankly in the event of another fire a death trap .

The Council has the power to deal with any dangerous structure any where in the Borough if necessary and take remedial action and send the landowners the bill . In this case never mind any disputes with the leaseholder the Council has an increased responsibility as the freeholder of the site .

During the media ho ha on Monday apparently " nobody from Barnet Council was available for interview" . Very odd . Where was the Leader of the Council or the Cabinet member for the Environment , Councillor Dean Cohen ?

 Indeed this site lies in Councillor Dean Cohen's Ward , although rumour has it  not in an end of the Ward he often visits . When in the Summer of 2001 there was a spate of Irish Traveller invasions of greenbelt land in Totteridge and elsewhere the late Victor Lyon, Kevin Edson  and I as Ward Councillors were at Brook Farm before the sun had set and we even had Sir Sydney Chapman then MP for Chipping Barnet return from  his Summer break to reassure residents everything possible was being done to move these people on and deal with the issues of abandoned vehicles and dumped rubbish  . Once the travellers had left  the Council moved in swiftly ,cleared the tonnes of rubbish and spent a not inconsiderable sum securing Brook Farm and several others sites in Mill Hill, Burnt Oak and Arkley from possible future occupation . Indeed the Council Officers swift action was not unrelated to the pressure they were under from elected Politicians .

Last week after the fire at the Somali Community Centre in Coppetts Ward, which appears to be the result of a disgraceful racist arson attack , there were so many visits from senior Politicians that the place began to resemble Downing Street on Cabinet reshuffle day . Councillors (some of whom had never ventured South of the North Circular Road)  had to ask for directions from Council Officers , indeed one Senior Barnet Councillor was heard to ask "surely this place is in  Haringey ? " Yet it did not stop them  queueing up to give the nation the benefit of their views on this fire before they had any confirmation that it could be arson .

However what this site in Cricklewood needs is not a ministerial visit but a fleet of Council bulldozers and skip lorries and some of our hard working refuse staff from the soon to shut Mill Hill Depot to clear the site and end the problem .

Take  the necessary action, worry about the niceties and who picks up the cost once you have sorted the  problem out .

It used to be that the Conservative Administration in Barnet was noted for firm and swift action when problems arose , now we seem to have dither and delay .

As Churchill would have said "Action this Day "

Monday, June 10, 2013

I had a wonderful evening last Thursday attending a performance of "The Bodyguard" at the Adelphi Theatre in the Strand . Although I love my musicals I do not normally enjoy " compilation " shows and have never bothered with "Mama Mia " . However although "The Bodyguard " is just a rendition of the Whitney Houston song book it is saved by a stunning performance from the American actress / singer Heather Headley.  The audience seemed less of the usual West End audience with the majority female and a sizable "Essex type " contingent with the odd tattoo and bra strap showing and numerous boxes of maltesers's being consumed , but never the less for all that  it was an enjoyable evening and even I joined in the standing ovation for Heather Headley.

On my way to the Theatre I popped in to the Leicester Square headquarters of Global Radio to do a radio interview with my old acquaintance Iain Dale of LBC who has forged a hugely successful media career having given up his ambitions of becoming a Conservative MP.

During the day I had received several media bids from outlets wishing me to comment on the decision of Chipping Barnet Conservative Association Executive the night before to expel me, which developed into a bizarre bidding war . BBC London offered me the Eddie Nestor show which I accepted but then Iain asked me to appear on his show which I accepted as he has five times the listeners of Nestor and he is an old friend and in the past I have found Nestor ill informed and frankly lightweight when it comes to Politics. The BBC were not very pleased with my withdrawal and phoned back and offered me a television appearance as well !

Before going on air I reflected with Iain that we had both been shafted by the Executive of Chipping Barnet Conservative Association , me the night before and Iain in 2003 when he failed at the Executive stage in the Chipping Barnet parliamentary selection process undertaken to find a candidate to succeed Sir Sydney Chapman . Iain had told the Executive that he was openly gay and the sound of elderly jaws hitting the floor was the end of Iain's Parliamentary ambitions in North London.

Iain's excellent show gave me an opportunity to refer to matters that were mentioned in Court but surprisingly have received very little media coverage including the three attacks on my 89 year Mother and the sustained incidents of harassment mentioned by the Judge

The decision taken by the 39 Executive Members who turned up ( the Executive numbers over 70 , so there was a long list of apologies), was I understand a very narrow majority but I had no intention of turning up for what was clearly a kangaroo court with the Officers of the Association having already made their minds up . In the current world of rapidly declining  Conservative Party membership Councillors are forced to "multi task " with Cllr Richard Cornelius serving as Chipping Barnet Conservative Association President as well as Leader of the Council and his wife and fellow Totteridge Councillor serving  as a Deputy Chairman ( this is an elected post as opposed to the five other jobs her husband has appointed her to ) . Councillor David Longstaff who like Cllr Alison Cornelius shares an ambivalent attitude to Barnet's Jewish Community , he opposed the Barnet Eruv , she opposed Etz Chaim School , is also a Deputy Chairman of the Association . Former Councillor, the sensible shoe wearing,  Fiona Bulmer is the current Chairman of Chipping Barnet Conservative Association . Fiona spent 8 years on Barnet Council where she valiantly opposed Barnet Football Club's Underhill Stadium and consistently advocated a firm right wing Conservative approach to all problems . Indeed she often undermined former Council Leader  Mike Freer considering him not right wing enough and often outflanked even me from the right. Her firm free market views included  voicing the opinion that Barnet Market should be allowed to go to the wall . Fiona who is a failed  Parliamentary and European candidate is apparently still seeking a Parliamentary seat . Her failure to win the Conservative Group Leadership when Mike Freer retired in 2009 led to a sulk of Brian Salinger proportions as she walked out of the Cabinet and then a few months later suddenly retired from the Council . She is currently serving as a (paid) non Executive Director of the Barnet and Chase Farm Hospital and driving through the much needed reorganisation.  A friend of mine who considered her for a Parliamentary seat a few years ago unkindly said " She will never get selected ,she has a face like a bag of spanners !"

Several of the others present who voted for my expulsion were individuals who have their eyes on my Totteridge seat .

There is a mystery as to why Chipping Barnet Conservative Officers saw the need to hold this meeting when they took no action against another Chipping Barnet Conservative Councillor who was fined a considerable amount more than me when he was convicted for drink driving at three times over the legal limit. The matter was hushed up during the period that Cllr Richard Cornelius was serving as Chairman of Chipping Barnet Conservatives .

I have been overwhelmed by the many messages of support I have received from many friends from within and without  the Conservative Party and I can assure my residents that I intend to continue to represent them on the Council and to advocate firm Conservative values , opposition to Gay marriage , support for Grammar Schools, Academies and Faith based schools , withdrawal from the EU , opposition to the Stalinist , Soviet monolith that is the "One Barnet " programme and support for all our Communities in Barnet without discrimination .

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The man of the moment

As my friends  will know I have a very limited knowledge of , or interest in Football: however every time I mention the subject for reasons that are lost on me the hits recorded by this blog sore through the roof !

But even I did not fail to notice the wall to wall coverage of the retirement of the Manchester United Manager Sir Alex Ferguson . No media outlet was immune from endless tributes to the great man and normally serious and rational journalists ( yes you Nick Robinson) were euogising the man as some sort of modern saint . Indeed as I write I suspect there is a Committee sitting in the Cabinet Offfice under the Chairmanship of Francis Maude drawing up plans for Sir Alex's eventual State Funeral at Paul's Cathedral complete with a gun carriage and Falklands veterans and presumably the obligatory demonstration at Ludgate Circus from a few die hard Socialist Workers supporters claiming Football is a Capitalist conspiracy to control the masses.

Sir Alex , along with Totteridge resident Arsene Wenger have defied the ridiculous trend in modern football that if you do not achieve instant success you lose your job . The merry go round of football league managers over the last six months has proved that many club owners have more money than sense . Indeed some league clubs have had so many managers in the last year or two that they make Harrow Council appear a model of stable Leadership .

Back in 2008 I reluctantly accepted an invitation to a Dinner at the House of Lords to mark the 125th Anniversary of the Boys Brigade . Why reluctantly you might ask because I have never had a reputation for declining a decent dinner ?  Well the after dinner speaker was to be the aforementioned Sir Alex Ferguson and as I had no interest in football and Sir Alex is a well known and firm supporter of the Labour Party I had no particular desire to meet him or listen to his after dinner musings  .

Indeed in my experience sportsmen are not necessarily the best after dinner speakers . I once endured Kris Akabusi at a Conservative function at the Savoy and after 20 minutes every time he paused for breath the audience applauded hoping he would take that as his cue to sit down , likewise Sir Steve Redgrave may well be  a much decorated distinguished sportsman and indeed now earn his living from "motivational speaking " but on the night I heard him he appeared not to be able to motivate anybody to fight their way out of a paper bag .

However how wrong I was .

Sir Alex Ferguson turned out to be my sort of man ( Party Politics aside) . A rather competent after dinner speaker he explained how from his working class upbringing in 1950s Glasgow he owed so much to the Boys Brigade and the firm Christian Faith and ethos it installed in him . He produced from his pocket his small Boys Brigade Bible which he carries with him everywhere and which continues to be his inspiration . He may well have a reputation of  not tolerating dissent and of throwing a football boot at David Beckham but all great men have a temper and without one you are a complete wimp. His practise of banning journalists who are disrespectful, of in the case of the BBC produce programmes insulting to members of his family seems a sound practise to me and one that other public figures should follow . Certainly Newcastle Football Club have done the same and locally Barnet Football Club have apparently  refused to cooperate with the Press Group for many years because  supposedly  the Chairman took exception to something they printed.

So I wish a happy retirement to Sir Alex Ferguson , a Christian Gentleman of the first order and a man with a firm determination and a track record of achievement . A genuine "man's man" .

So what if he was nicknamed the "human hairdryer " , telling it how it is never did anyone an harm !

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Rejoice ! Rejoice !

The late Enoch Powell recounted how when he came down stairs  and picked up the morning paper the day after the February 1974 General Election( which he had opposed and refused to stand as a candidate in )  and saw that Ted Heath had failed to win he sang the Te Deum.

I did exactly  the same yesterday afternoon when I glanced at the football results !

If I had the power I would be ordering that the Church bells in Barnet be rung this morning in celebration of the relegation of Barnet Football Club from the Football League.

I know I am not the only Conservative adding a little Champagne to my orange juice over breakfast this morning at what seems like an end to the 15 year saga of Barnet Football Club.

The Chairman claimed last week that Barnet had been "ushered out of the Borough " well now the Club has been ushered of the Football League entirely due to their own performance and not something they can blame the Council for .

Apparently the Supporters Trust wish to exlpore the idea of building a 10,000 setter stadium on the now defunct Underhill site : Not a chance !  Anyway why would you need it ?

No doubt there will be some residual issues to resolve over the future of the site ( Please can the Council have the freehold back for the £10,000 the Club paid for it ? ) but the construction of a housing estate on Metropolitan Open space and greenbelt land is not an option .

I always  believed that the Chairman of Barnet Football Club was badly advised throughout the whole saga but the attempts by some elements to make the whole issue Party Political and extremely personal were always going to end in failure for the Club .

I wish the fans and players well in the years to come in Harrow in non league football  , but forget a return to Barnet , no Politician of any Party or Local Government Officer and few residents are going to want a repeat of the last 15 years .

Thank you and Hallelujah !

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The School Nimbys are at it again !

Here we go again !

If there is one issue dominating local and increasingly national politics it is the shortage of school places and the radical reforms being introduced by Michael Gove , the best Secretary of State for Education since Margaret Thatcher .

Although there is a brief respite this year for children due to enter Primary School at age 5 this coming September due to a blip on the birth rate , from September 2014 Barnet, like most local Councils will have to enable more school places to be created.

The Gove reforms allowing the creation of Free Schools and the conversion of successful Local Authority schools into Academies are increasingly reaping benefits for Barnet parents . Most Barnet Secondary Schools have converted to Academies but so far only two primary schools.

One of those Primaries that has become an Academy is Grasvernor Infants in Underhill , the Borough's smallest school that has several times resisted attempts by Barnet Council to close it as totally uneconomic. Indeed its Governor's decision to go for Academy status is no doubt partially influenced by a desire to prevent Barnet Council from closing it in the future, not to mention that Academies do not have any Local Education Authority appointed Governors . Indeed it has become increasingly difficult to sustain  long term LEA Governors at that school , several having received an indifferent welcome and raising eyebrows at the alleged practise at the Governors meetings of ordering in Pizzas and opening bottles of wine and going on till half past ten at night !

The sooner all Barnet Schools opt of LEA control and we can wind up the activities of the Education Department at North London Business Park, with the resultant savings to Barnet Council tax payers , the better. I have long advocated the abolition of the Education Authority role for Town Halls as it is entirely synonymous with the "One size fits all approach " which has lead to so many young people across the Country being failed by the school system . At least in Barnet we have always had a fairly light touch from the Education Authority and successive Conservative Administrations have encouraged a diversity of schools , maintained , Voluntary aided and Grammar amongst them .

However it seems to me that every time the Community tries to add to the diversity of schools available for parents in Barnet  attempts are made by the NIMBY (Not in my back yard) element to prevent progress.

In my view new schools should be opened slap bang in the middle of residential areas . That is where the demand is and it encourages residents to use and appreciate their local schools. I am entirely pro motorist but would make it a criminal offence for parents to drive their children to school . I and probably the vast majority of my generation were never driven to school , we walked or took the bus. Among the excuses I have been presented with are that it is not save for their precious darlings to walk the streets of Barnet . Well the latest crime figures show another welcome reduction in violent crime and of course Barnet is one of the safest Boroughs in London. The number of random child killings in the UK is dreadful , about one child per year is killed by a stranger , and tragic and appalling as every child killing is , this is the same level as the 1950s !

The suggestion that somehow the streets are awash with paedophiles on the prowl looking to kidnap children and that the only answer is that they need to be driven everywhere in huge 4 by 4s by women with only a vague sense of the rules of the road is absurd.

The suggestion that the Avanti House School should move to the Broadfield area of Edgware should be welcomed with open arms . This successful school run by a Hindu foundation and currently located off the Harrow side of the Edgware Road wants to expand but is already faced by a well organised group of local residents who fear that somehow their area will be ruined by the schools arrival .

Well I have news for the good folk of Edgware , the area is changing and has changed dramatically over the last few years and one of those most welcome changes is the influx of a new community of middle class , professional families from an Asian , particularly Indian background.  This Community is well behaved , law abiding and ambitious for its' children hence the demand for the original establishment of the Avanti School and now for its' expansion .

We have a successful history in Barnet of welcoming new schools both faith based and secular across the Borough . However whereas the secular Archer Academy in East Finchley received little opposition to its' planning proposals on the disused Stanley Road playing fields , the faith based schools seemed to have had a harder struggle . The opposition to the Jewish Cross Community School ( JCOSS) in East Barnet was vicious at times and yet it was being sited on an existing school site and the outrageous and over the top objections to the conversion of the closed down garden centre in Daws Lane to the new Etz Chaim Jewish School wasted thousands of pounds of tax payers in pointless and ultimately unsuccessful Court cases. Fortunately the Greek Orthodox based school St Andrew the Apostle, due to open on the North London Business Park site in October has yet to attract the NIMBY brigade.

JCOSS is going from strength to strength and has not brought East Barnet to a halt and work on Etz Chaim goes on a pace. There is actually less traffic in Daws Lane and it is far easier to park  with Etz Chaim operating in temporary Council owned premises next door to the new buildings and the doom and gloom mongers have been proved wrong .

So it will be with Avanti .

Is it me or are the usual NIMBY objections to any development spiced up in the case of these schools by a dose of old fashioned racism and anti semitism ? I would have hoped that the type of objection I received from one so called Community activist when Akiva Primary School applied to rebuild its' facilities "These people are ruining Finchley " "What people ? " I asked "The Jews" she replied , were long gone .

I welcome all new schools to Barnet whether Free Schools or Academies, secular or Faith based ( about time we had proposals for a Muslim School ) or even private . I would dance with joy if we could persuade the wonderful Michael Gove to allow new Grammar Schools !!

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

She saved the Nation , but she put Finchley on the map !

I somehow thought she was immortal .

Only last month I was reading an obituary in the "Daily Telegraph" of an old acquaintance of mine , Sir Fergus Montgomery former MP for Altrincham amongst other places, and recalling that the last time I chatted to him was when he , along with other former Parliamentary Private Secretaries to Margaret Thatcher, acted as an usher at Sir Denis Thatcher's Memorial Service at the Guards Chapel .

I had a vision then of Lady Thatcher reading the same article over her cornflakes at the Ritz Hotel and thinking "Oh dear another good  friend gone" but as many people do a they get older secretly congratulating herself  on outlasting someone else from their past.

Over the last few years Lady Thatcher's declining number of public appearances were mainly restricted to funerals and Memorial Services , the "cocktail parties of the geriatric set" as Harold Macmillan famously described them, and as former friends and foes joined those green benches in the sky Lady Thatcher sailed serenely , although increasingly frailly on .

I last saw her about a year ago having lunch in the excellent  restaurant of the Goring Hotel near Buckingham Palace with three friends . I was delighted to see that I was not the only one who could manage three courses from their first class lunch menu and that age and ill health  had not diminished her appetite .

In Spring 2010 whilst I was Mayor she agreed to attend a Mayoral Charity lunch I was hosting at Mossimon's in Belgravia , we told no one in advance she was coming and of course she received a rapturous reception and enjoyed the lunch . However by that time she could only respond to fairly straightforward questions requiring simple answers and the then Lord Mayor of Westminster Duncan Sands and I kept the conversation going.  A year of two previously I had given an interview to the distinguished historian Philip Ziegler who had been commissioned to write the official biography of Ted Heath and I asked him if he had interviewed Lady Thatcher ? "I am told there is no point as she cannot remember " he replied " yes she may have difficulty remembering three weeks ago but she still remembers  thirty years ago " was my advise to him .

Her recent ill health, she struggled to get over the death of her devoted and extraordinary husband Denis who was her complete rock , slightly overshadowed her legion of achievements which will fill acres of newsprint over the coming days .

However whilst she certainly put Great Britain back on the map after the Nation's decline under Labour in the 1970s she put Finchley firmly on the map !

When she was selected for the then Finchley and Friern Barnet Constituency ( and many commentators forget the Friern Barnet element )  to fight the 1959 General election nobody could have envisaged her future career.

Sir John Crowder , the retiring Member of Parliament firmly told his Conservative Association that he was sure they would  want to select "a younger man ",but younger members of the Finchley and Friern Barnet Conservatives ( and in those days there were many as apparently it was the best place to met members of the opposite sex ) took one look at this strong , determined young woman who knew how to make a decent speech and decided she was the candidate for them . As a young backbencher she introduced a Private Members Bill ensuring access to the meetings of public bodies although I suspect she would have been applled at the behaviour of some  who choose to exorcise the rights that her Act conferred in the Barnet public gallery .

Indeed over the next 33 years the Constituency always came first for Margaret Thatcher . When Prime Minister she gave the best part of a Friday or Saturday about  every three weeks to local matters and events, she missed the Finchley Carnival only once and that was for the World Economic Summit at Versailles , there was virtually no local organisation she was not part of as President or Patron  and she never attended any event without ensuring she had spoken to everybody in the room and nipped into the kitchen to lend a hand with the washing up as well  . "You can never have enough tea towels " I once heard her remark at a Finchley Conservative Bazaar , somehow I cannot image David Cameron making that remark with total naturalness.

Her support for Finchley Memorial Hospital was unstinting and we knew that the hospital would never be earmarked for closure, ( yes NHS cuts are nothing new) , whilst she was Prime Minister .

She had that unique gift possessed by few Politicians ( Tony Blair has it in spades as well I have to say ) that whilst you were talking to her YOU were the most important person in her life , she was not looking over your shoulder for someone more important or interesting to talk to .

She fought a last ditch campaign to save Grammar Schools in Barnet and when Secretary of State for Education clashed with a number of Conservative Members of Barnet Council who wished to rush headlong into comprehensive education . Indeed on the whole she had little time for the then Conservative Adminstration of Barnet considering several of its leading members wet and far too patrician in their approach and she could not understand why her own Borough Council was constantly increasing the rates and was not like Wandsworth and Westminster in the vanguard of Conservative local Conservative local government innovation . When Council Leader the late Leslie Pym would explain that Barnet did not receive the same level of grant as Westminster and Wandsworth he would be dismissed with a waive of the hand , he still got his CBE  . She supported those of her Councillors who kept to proper Conservative values ( the  formidable Barbara Langstone, wife of her long term devoted Constituency agent , who stood for no nonsense , John Tiplady who carefully controlled planning and the great Frank Gibson whom she credited for her selection and whose funeral at All Saints  she attended even though there were pressing National issues to be dealt with  ) and accepted their explanations that they were always out voted by the wets from Hendon and Chipping Barnet .

Her support for the State of Israel and the local Jewish Community fundamentally changed local Politics in Finchley . Memories of the  "Great Golf Club scandal " of 1962 which saw Jews excluded from Finchley Golf Club and was blamed on the local Tory establishment leading to the loss of the Finchley Borough Council  were  well and truly banished by Mrs Thatcher's barnstorming appearance at a hastily arranged "support Israel " meeting at Moss Hall Junior School during the Six Day War . Her decision to allow American planes to use British bases to bomb Libya in 1986 ensured a record number of subscriptions for the Finchley Conservative Association.

There were many thousands of ordinary Finchley and Friern Barnet residents who benefited from her advise and help over the years , from my late Father who in the 1970s had difficulties with the Inland Revenue over tax on properties he owned ( a helpful letter from the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury Robert Sheldon soon  arrived following Mrs T's intervention ), to a fellow Finchley Methodist infamously imprisoned in Moscow by the KGB for alleged Bible smuggling who to this day recalls Mrs T's support of his wife and keeping up the Parliamentary pressure on Harold Wilson which eventually lead to his release in a spy exchange .

Whatever the world crisis her constituency correspondence was dealt with quickly and efficiently and across Finchley there are hundreds of people who have fading Prime Ministerial correspondence on every subject under the sun siting in the back of draws waiting for the grandchildren to inherit it . She found time for her constituents as individuals.

Her contribution to the Borough was recognised by the award , just after she was elected Prime Minister, of the Freedom of the Borough. It needs a two thirds majority of the Council and Labour had done so badly in the 1978 Council elections, being reduced to a rump of nine seats, that they could not block it . Her death leaves only two living Freemen of the Borough , Lord Sacks and former Councillor John Apthorp founder of Bejams and Majestic Wine.

Prime Ministers of course enjoy total power except for that brief period during a General election when the polls have closed and they are waiting for the count to be declared in their own constituency , Lady Thatcher of course could not stand incompetence and inefficacy and Barnet Council who to this day are renowned for their slow election counts would feel the wrath of her anger as she sat in the Mayor's Parlour at Hendon Town Hall sipping scotch and watching the clock tick forward into the early hours . In 1987 as David Dimbleby told the Nation on the BBC that "Mrs Thatcher was heading back to Downing Street " she yelled at the telly " No I am not , I am still waiting for this Bloody count !"

Some were disappointed when she choose the area of her Lincolnshire Birth place (Kesteven) in her House of Lords title rather than Finchley and certainly had she continued the (now abandoned ) tradition of accepting an hereditary Earldom for ex Prime Ministers,being Countess of Finchley had a certain ring to it but that geographical designation remains available for a future political star .

When I used to serve on the Council of Europe and visit Eastern Europe to monitor elections and when asked where I came from I would say "Finchley" always the reply came " Ah, Have you met  Margaret Thatcher ?"

In a hundred years time when all of us are forgotten, Margaret Thatcher will still be remembered and revered on every continent   and the North London Suburb of Finchley will have earned its' part in world history .

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A rare win , win situation !

Some issues in local government just go on and on and whatever effort successive Councillors and Council Officers put into resolving them there is often no end in sight.

So it is a pleasant change to report the ending of one long running saga in Barnet affairs , the Stanley Road Playing fields issue which has been occupying the minds of Barnet's finest for about the last 10 years . This site is bang in the middle of East Finchley near the Grange Estate and adjacent to the Northern Line .

Next week the Cabinet Resources Committee will be asked to agree the disposal of the Stanley Road Playing fields and the site of the former Herbert Wilmot Youth Centre to the Department for Education for the construction of facilities for the new "free school" , the Archer Academy due to open in September .

This non denominational school created very much by parent power and lobbied hard for by Mike Freer in a clear justification of Michael Gove's policy , in East Finchey has already acquired the Hampstead Garden Suburb Institute Building round the back of East Finchley tube station and will fill a huge need for secondary school places for East Finchley children . The other Secondary School in the area , the Roman Catholic Voluntary Aided Bishop Douglas has long been recognised by local parents as a disaster area in Education and it is a complete and abject failure of the Catholic Arch Dioceses of Westminster that this long running disgrace has not been sorted . Repeated attempts by the Borough over the years have been rebuffed by the Arch Diocese and the only solution now for Bishop Douglas is closure or a relaunched Academy ( a la Wren Academy in North Finchley ) .

Over the years I did not win many friends in the Conservative Cabinet by constantly objecting to the sale for a housing estate of the playing fields , first we had to see off a Cllr  Brian Salinger scheme and then a Cllr Dan Thomas scheme . Back in 2005 Cllr Salinger won himself few friends by sending in the bulldozers one weekend to knock down the former Herbert Wilmott centre on the pretext of Asbestos issues, hoping for a quick sale of the site and Cllr Thomas , I suspect badly advised by his Officers saw only the pound signs of a Capital receipt .

What East Finchley does not need is more social housing . As a Ward it has more than its' fair share. What the area is desperately short of is green space , sports facilities and Community assets.

The Archer Academy proposals will provide a sports centre , an all weather pitch , and ancillary community facilities available outside school hours and protected by a proposed deed of dedication with the local organisation Sport EF . The local Community have worked hard to try and acquire the site themselves but were always doomed to failure as many organisations gave them warm words of comfort but no hard cash and their plans were unfortunately over ambitious and there seemed a reluctance to compromise .

East Finchley as an area is changing dramatically . Young middle class families unable to afford Muswell Hill and needing to be in easy reach of the tube are moving arriving in  large numbers . Now the facilities they demand  are following, with the creation of a decent Secondary School to which they can send there children . All they need now is a Waitrose ( and they could have had that , together with a new Library if Councillor Brian Salinger had not derailed the disposal of Park House near the station back in 2002) .

The Stanley Road proposals are a win for parents wanting secondary places for their children ; for the Community who want sports facilities ; for those opposed to yet more dense social housing and for the Council where the £3 million odd ( according to my source at the Dfe) capital receipt will compensate for the delayed receipt for the eventual sale of the Friern Barnet Library site .

I am rather proud of my small  role in this saga and look forward to the new Academy being a huge success .

No doubt one or two whingers will emerge and the Hendon Times will adopt its' usual sour attitude to good news but to quote a Finchley icon "Rejoice at the news  " !!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Underhill Soap Opera drawing to a close ?

News that the Football League have given Barnet Football Club permission to play their League matches next season at The Hive facility at Edgware in the London Borough of Harrow seem to herald the end of the longest running Political saga in Barnet Politics , the future of the Underhill football ground.

I will not bore readers with all the background but since 2001 when a Government Planning Inspector refused permission for Barnet Football Club to redevelop Copthall, what happens at Underhill has occupied the minds of Barnet Council Officers , Councillors , successive MPs and hundreds of local residents .

The support of the Labour Party for a planning application on green belt land at Underhill for a new stadium actually cost the then Labour / Liberal Party coalition control of Barnet Council in 2002 as local residents took the Conservative Party at their word when it was made clear a Conservative Administration would not allow a 10,000 stadium on Green Belt land. Anyone who has knocked on doors in roads around the football ground will know residents are eternally grateful that successive Conservative Council Leaders have kept their word.

The decision by Barnet Football Club to move seems the only sensible solution as the Chairman of the Club must have realised that no Politician of whatever Party would support a substantial redevelopment of Underhill . The Labour Party who in the early years of the decade appeared supportive of the clubs planning proposals has in recent years distanced itself from its' earlier position .Successive Council Leaders,  have endured endless meetings with the Barnet Football Club Chairman and his acolytes but on many occasions just as deals appeared close the goalposts would move , sometimes literally !

Alan Williams , the late Victor Lyon , Brian Salinger , Mike Freer , the late Lynne Hillan are among those who had the scares on their backs having dealt with the Football Club issue.

Negotiations were never helped by the habit of the late Dennis Signey OBE ,former Editor of the Hendon Times and a distinguished sports journalist and media adviser and director of Barnet Football Club leaving confidential meetings at the Town Hall and immediately ringing local journalists with a complete briefing , I suppose once a journalist always a journalist.

The sale of the freehold of the club ground by the Labour / Liberal Administration during the 2002 local election campaign purdah period ( a timeslot when no important decisions are suppossed to be taken  ) left a huge suspicion in the air over the behaviour of the outgoing Labour Administration and lead to endless Enquiries that cost the taxpayer thousands and never really proved anything except possible Council incompetence .

For someone who has little interest in Football , although I did attend Barnet v Port Vale at Underhill a couple of years ago , and once slept  with an Arsenal striker , I am not fussed if Barnet survive in the Football League or bothered where they play . However I did have some sympathy with the Chairman of the Club when he thought Barnet Council were applying double standards over Copthall by granting Saracens Rugby Club a lease and planning permission.

Saracens undertook a smooth PR and lobbying operation with Councillors and threw money at the local Community . They received a far friendlier reception from many Councillors because Rugby Union is followed on the whole by middle class Tory voting Barnet residents . Indeed the average age of a Saracens' attendee is apparently 59, hardly the age group known for rowdy behaviour. The lobbying worked as Councillors , with one or two  noble exceptions forgot about their scruples and principals about green belt development and duly voted it through .Although I think few realised they were going to get a stadium named after a German Insurance company with a rather dodgy history under Nazi Germany including one former Director General serving as Hitler's Economics Minister  . Mill Hill residents have already begun to complain to their local Councillors about the huge Controlled Parking Zone with yellow lines stretching across a vast area of Mill Hill.

Guarantees made to the Hendon MP by the Mayor of London were simply ignored . Not much unites Andrew Dismore, Matthew Offord  and I, but opposition to this  redevelopment of Copthall did.

The key factor that ensured Barnet Council eventually saw off Barnet Football Club was that successive Council Leaders and ordinary Councillors stood firm in the face of sometimes appalling intimidation . Who can forget the Coffin paraded through the streets of Chipping Barnet during the 2006 Council elections of the leaflets handed out by Football Club supporters at tube stations advising people not to vote for specific candidates on the basis of their perceived support or otherwise for the football club or the dreadful behaviour of gatecrashers at the 2006 Mayor making and buffet.

Saracens are being a little more subtle.

Last week the Club sent me an invitation to attend their match against London Welsh in March . I declined . I may be a lot of things but a hypocrite I am not . I assume that  no Councillor who has accepted such hospitality is able to vote on future planning and licensing hearings involving the Club. The "sponsoring " of all the Town Centre signs across the Borough gives the impression that somehow Saracens has the Borough "bought and paid for" . The constant positive coverage in the Hendon Times is of course unrelated to the money spent advertising in this increasingly desperate  publication . No doubt the details of the " deal" being given by Saracens as they host the Mayor's Charity dinner at the end of his year will appear in the register of members' interests in due course and is unrelated to the fact the Mayor as a Mill Hill Councillor seems to have failed listen to many Mill Hill residents who objected to the planning application .

However suddenly Barnet Political Leadership has woken up and told Saracens " enough is enough"
The Leader of the Council , Councillor Richard Cornelius told the last Conservative Group meeting that Saracens had been told in no uncertain terms that any further planning application to add 5,000 more seats ( on top of the current 10,000 ) to satisfy European Club competition rules would be given short shrift.  So how much longer before Saracens follow the Barnet Football Club route and claim the Council are uncooperative on attempts to extend their stadium and will have to consider moving elsewhere ........................

I suspect the Council has not heard the last from Saracens nor from Barnet Football Club . The Chairman has a ground to sell and quite for what development the green belt Underhill site will be sold for may ensure the Underhill soap opera still has some distance to run !

Thursday, February 07, 2013

scratch the surface and see what you find

A few weeks ago the United Kingdom marked Holocaust Memorial Day . Since the introduction of this commemoration in 2001 ( due in part to the efforts of Andrew Dismore)  Barnet Council has been prominent in ensuring a suitable civic event is held. We have progressed from a cold tent in Hendon Park to the more comfortable surroundings of Middlesex University and have ensured schools participation not least in the campaign supporting the planting of snowdrops in remembrance of the children murdered during the Shoah.

The Barnet Civic event this year took place despite thick snow on the ground and attracted a reasonable attendance including all three of the Borough's Members of Parliament, the GLA Member , the Borough Police Commander and a sizeable phalanx of Councillors . The responsibility for arranging the event lies with the Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Community Engagement ( a title dreamt up by Mike Freer when Leader of the Council to keep me busy ) and now held by Councillor Longstaff who duly introduced ( very briefly ) the event . However as Councillor Longstaff spoke I could not help thinking of a video that I had watched on You tube a few days before of that same Councillor's appearance at a recent meeting of the Eastern Area Planning Committee when the subject of an "Eruv" to cover the Chipping Barnet area was on the agenda .

Applications for Eruvs have always caused a flutter of controversy ever since Barnet Council dealt with the first one covering parts of Finchley/ Golders Green/Hampstead Garden Suburb  20 years ago. However a long and through Public Enquiry at the time  decided there were no planning grounds to reject applications for Eruvs and as Council Planning Committees can only by law consider planning matters all subsequent applications have been allowed .

However this did not stop Councillor Longstaff appearing before the Committee to argue against the Barnet Eruv not least by suggesting it would encourage Jews to move into the area !!!!!

The man in charge of Holocaust commemoration in Barnet is worried about Jews moving into the Area ??????

The fact that existing  Erus have made no difference to house prices , population mix or anything else but have made the life of some observant Jews with young children or elderly relatives easier seems to have escaped him . Thousands of Barnet residents pass through Eruvs everyday of their lives and have no idea they are doing so . Councillor Longstaff's objection that residents did not want to see religious symbols outside their windows was dismissed by Councillor Joanna Tambourides who asked him if this meant he objected to public Christmas Trees ?

However Councillor Longstaff is not alone in attitude to the Jewish Community . The Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Bradford East David Ward managed to cause uproar with his comments about Holocaust Memorial Day and "The Jews" inflicting "atrocities " on the Palestinians. At least he apologised unlike the long term insulter of Israel Baroness Tonge who quite rightly lost the Lib Dem Whip over one of her ignorant outbursts . The cartoon by Gerald Scarfe in "The Sunday Times" published on Holocaust Memorial Day was rightly condemned by Rupert Murdoch , a long time supporter of Israel and the Jewish Community .

Here in Barnet, despite or perhaps because of our substantial Jewish population there are still far to many examples  of nice middle class" respectable" people seeming  to think there is nothing wrong with making anti Semitic remarks and behaving as if they were members of Finchley Golf Club in the early 1960s . A local blogger who thinks there is nothing wrong with objecting to the Sternberg Centre Planning application on the grounds "these people are ruining Finchley "; Activists on picket lines outside meetings of the North London Waste Authority oozing with anti -semitism  as they attempt to intimidate Politicians deciding on the awarding of a waste contract objecting to a multinational doing business in Israel; or objectors to a Planning application for a Mill Hill Jewish School inventing reasons why it should not proceed when everyone knew what their real agenda was ! Oh and quite why has there been such a concerted campaign against the proposed redevelopment of the Fallowcourt Avenue Synagogue ?

I spoke at the Planning Committee that agreed the application for an Eruv for the Woodside Park/ North Finchley/ Totteridge Area and before I did so I read through the two lever arch files of objections that had been received . After 20 minutes or so I could take no more. Whilst some residents had restricted themselves to objecting on what they considered planning grounds there was letter after e mail ( one of 28 pages !) containing vile anti - Semitic abuse some of which would have made Oswald Mosley blush . It made me feel physically ill .

And before the usual suspects claim anti Zionism  is not the same as being anti Semitic , that may be the case at Islington Dinner Parties but not in my book .

I look forward to the day when those who fail to understand or apperciate the Jewish Community restrict their comments to the Golf Club Bar

Friday, January 04, 2013

What on earth is Barnet Council afraid of ?

See below an e mail exchange with the Council's Director of Corporate Governance Mr Jeff Lustig which I think speaks for itself .

Mr Lustig is a long serving , highly professional and well regarded Officer and I cannot believe he would in anyway want to restrict elected Councillors ( never mind residents ) access to information .

I am surprised at the Mayor who has ruled my innocuous questions out of order as in his two years on the Council he  has already acquired a reputation for asking difficult questions .

I see Mr Lustig consulted the (Acting ) Chief Executive Mr Travers ................................

From: Coleman, Cllr Brian 
To: Lustig, Jeff
Cc: Schama, Cllr Brian Conservative; Cornelius, Cllr Richard Conservative; Moore, Cllr Alison Labour; Cohen, Cllr Jack Liberal Democrat
Sent: Fri Jan 04 19:44:04 2013
Subject: Re: Council Questions - Meeting 22 January 2013

Mr Lustig , I believe you have advised the Mayor incorrectly

As the Daily Telegraph no less has published this week detailed information concerning payments made to former Director Brian Reynolds following an FOI request , I cannot see why the Council should attempt to withhold exactly the same information with regard to the former Chief Executive

Likewise asking for a list of names (without figures) of Assistant Director and equivalent who have left the Council is information that elected members and indeed the public are entitled to .

I suspect the DCLG and the media will take a dim view of the Mayor's decision and I ask if you have brought the Daily Telegraph article to the Mayor's attention ?

I shall of course raise the Mayor's decision at the Council meeting and in the local media as appropriate and I am sure the Mayor will be able to explain to the media why he thinks the taxpayers of Barnet and elected Councillors are not entitled to this basic information

In the mean time please treat both these questions as FOI requests

Kind regards

From: Lustig, Jeff
To: Coleman, Cllr Brian 
Sent: Fri Jan 04 18:53:06 2013
Subject: Council Questions - Meeting 22 January 2013

Dear Councillor Coleman,
I refer to the questions you have submitted for the next Council meeting. They appear below.
I have concerns about the two highlighted questions because the answers sought will require the disclosure of contractual and employment arrangements of individual members of staff in the public forum of a Council meeting. I have consulted the Interim Chief Executive who shares my concerns. You will note that a distinction is drawn between the highlighted questions and a question relating to the gross costs to the Council of redundancy payments, etc. which does not require individual members of staff to be identified.
I, therefore, raised the concerns with the Mayor and asked that he consider declaring the highlighted questions as improper under CPR 17.3 on the basis that it is not appropriate for the contractual and employment arrangements of individual members of staff to be dealt with in public forum. The Mayor has agreed with my concerns and declared the highlighted questions as improper under CPR 17.3. I am, therefore, returning the highlighted questions to you with an appropriate explanation. Pursuant to Article 12 of the Constitution, the Director of Corporate Governance has reserve powers to exercise all or any of the constitutional powers given to the Head of Governance.
“17.3 If the Mayorconsiders the Business Item, amendment or question to be vexatious, irrelevant, or otherwise improper, the Head of Governance will return it to the Member who submitted it. The Head of Governance will explain to the Member in writing why it will not be included on the agenda circulated for the meeting. The matter will only be included on the agenda if it is resubmitted in the timescale for receiving an item of business of that category and is signed by at least fifteen Members of the Council.”
The inappropriateness would be based upon, but not exclusively, the following extracts from the Protocols for Member-Officer Relations
“6.3 Members should remember that, although the Council has an open access to information policy, there is no automatic right to information about:-
  • any individual applicant to become an employee, or
  • any individual who is an employee (this includes details of grade and pay, and any disciplinary, grievance or other employment issue that involves a particular employee), or
  • consultation or negotiations over any labour relations matter
7.4Members should avoid undermining respect for Officers at meetings, or in any public forum. This would be damaging both to effective working relationships and to the public image of the Council. In general Officers are unable to ‘answer back’ or defend themselves against criticism in a public forum.”
Jeff Lustig
Director of Corporate Governance
London Borough of Barnet, North London Business Park, Oakleigh Road South, London N11 1NP

Barnet Online:
P please consider the environment - do you really need to print this email?
How many Police Stations does the Cabinet member think the Borough needs?
Brian Coleman
David Longstaff
Could Cllr Thomas update the Council on the future of Stanley Road playing fields?
Brian Coleman
Daniel Thomas
Does the Cabinet member welcome the recent decisions of the Planning and Environment Committee and the Eastern Area Planning sub Committee concerning the Woodside Park and Barnet Eruvs?
Brian Coleman
Joanna Tambourides
Where does Cllr Tambourides envisage Planning Officers will be based post the implementation of the DRS One Barnet project?
Brian Coleman
Joanna Tambourides
Will the Cabinet Member list all those of Assistant Director level and above who have failed to be appointed to posts in the new Management structure or have opted to retire or resign?
Brian Coleman
Daniel Thomas
Will the Cabinet Member list the gross costs to the Council (including redundancy payments, accrued holiday pay , pay in lieu of notice , pension contributions ) paid out in relation to Assistant Directors and above who have not been given posts in the new management structure?
Brian Coleman
Daniel Thomas
Was any money in lieu of serving notice or accrued holiday pay or any other sum paid to the late Chief Executive and if so how much ?
Brian Coleman
Richard Cornelius