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 .