First, the Barnet Eye wishes to send congratulations to Richard Cornelius, the Leader of the Barnet Conservative Party and the Leader of Barnet Council for the next four years, or at least until his colleagues decide to knife him in the back, which is what the Tories usually do after a successful election in Barnet. Whilst many of his scheming rivals will be seeking to "pin the blame" on Mr Cornelius for all manner of disasters (real and imaginary) in their campaign, he has pulled off a stunning victory. The electoral tides are flowing strongly against the Tories, and washed away Hammersmith and Fulham and Croydon Tory administrations. For Barnet to hang on is a truly astounding achievement. I believe this to be almost entirely down to Mr Cornelius. This may strike many as a strange thing to say, but I think he is an excellent player of political poker. He had a rotten hand and has had setback after setback since being leader. The greatest of these was the misfortune to have a certain Brian Coleman in his cabinet when he took over. The many sins of Mr Coleman are well documented, but like all great poker players, Mr Cornelius turned Colemans many cock ups to his advantage. When Coleman assualted Helen Michael and was forced out of the Tories by had office, following local ditherings, Cornelius adopted the "nothing to do with us mate" attitude to every toxic policy Coleman had introduced. He had a scapegoat and boy did he know how to exploit it.
Another unhappy momento of the regime Cornelius inherited was Councillor Robert Rams and his extremely unpopular closure of Friern Barnet library. Whilst Richard Cornelius has shown he doesn't have the Cojones to sack useless colleagues, he does know how to make sure they get the blame for unpopular policies and he gets off scott free. So he was quite happy for Rams to get the flack for the library closure. When Occupy reopened the library, Cornelius realised he had a golden opportunity to save his own bacon. The library was allowed to reopen as a glorified book club (no trained librarians, no access to the Barnet Library system). It costs bugger all to run and it allowed the Tories to claim that "Unlike Labour in Brent, no libraries shut in Barnet". This was a supreme deal of cards from a skilled operator. In one blow he'd lanced a very septic boil. Cornelius knew Rams would take the flack for the decision and he'd take the credit for the reversal. Job done.
The third great coup that Cornelius pulled off was to run a virtual non campaign in Barnet. Whilst I originally felt that this was suicide, I realised over the last week that in fact it was a complete piece of political genius. The Tories have achieved nothing in four years. Every major initiative they've done has been a complete cock up. They have nothing to boast about, so why not say nothing? I criticised the wraparound that they put on the Press newspaper, as this was clearly something only a blogger looking for fault would read. After I wrote the blog criticising it, I realised that it may well have been a masterstroke. Cornelius was clearly getting pressure to spend the war chest and this silenced the critics in his own party. I am sure he put the most geekish complaining nerds to work designing it, to ensure no one would read it and no one would think about their mistakes. You see Cornelius knows that Tory voters turn up. All he has to do is to try and keep the lid on the discontent on the other side and they'll win.
They say great leaders need to be lucky. Richard Cornelius is extremely lucky in many ways. Coleman getting himself arrested was a gift from the Gods. It took this poisonous man out of the tory party and into oblivion. That was not his greatest piece of fortune. That was to have as his opponents, a Labour party lead by Alison Moore. The Barnet Eye has been covering Barnet politics for the last six years and nothing could be clearer than the fact that Alison Moore is the most ineffective and useless leader that Labour could possibly have. She has had numerous chances to destroy the Barnet Tories, but every single time has fluffed it. I first witnessed this before the previous election, when the then Tory Leader of Barnet, now MP Mike Freer was on the racks over the Icelandic investments.
There was an emergency debate. Lib Dem Councillors Jack Cohen and Wayne Casey had skewered Freer and he was ready to be barbequed by Moore. She stepped up and blew it. The public gallery was full of bloggers and residents and our jaws dropped at her inept response. Since that day, she has continually missed political open goals. The Tories should have been finished off for Metpro, the CPZ parking fiasco, Your Choice Barnet bailout. Each of these major scandals would have been used by a competent opposition leader to destroy the party in charge. In each case Labour meekly rolled over and let the Cornelius administration off the hook. Then there was One Barnet. The Barnet Labour Party could have stopped this in its tracks. Local Trades Unions and Bloggers had dug up enough evidence to proove that the whole scheme was a disaster waiting to happen. Labour did nothing and said nothing. They never came out and opposed the scheme and never said they'd reverse it. Had they done the hard graft that myself and fellow bloggers put in and asked all the questions, pointed out all of the problems and demanded a proper, open and transparent discussion of the issues, there would be no One Barnet or Capita contract now. In short, the Barnet Labour Party, four the last four years have been a failed opposition.
Then there was the Labour Campaign. My fellow semi retired Tory Blogger, 'Don't Call Me Dave' Miller has summed up their cock ups in full here - http://www.notthebarnettimes.co.uk/2014/05/snatching-defeat-from-jaws-of-victory.html - he couldn't be more spot on. The Labour attempt to unseat the Lib Dems in Childs Hill was stupid, spiteful and self defeating. Everyone in Barnet knows the Lib Dems would jump into bed with Labour as they did in 1994-2002. Labour diverted vital resources from Hale Ward to Childs Hill in this ridiculous attempt to shaft the Lib Dems. Everyone I know in Barnet, from Trades Unions, BAPS and even many Labour members told Moore to leave well alone. Had Labour put the effort into Hale, they would have won the three seats instead of the one they took. It is also likely the Lib Dems would have taken the other two Childs Hill seats as the Labour effort simply split the anti Tory vote. Everyone in who follows Barnet Politics knows Jack Cohen is a huge assett to Barnet Council. Despite a total collapse of the Lib Dems everywhere else in Barnet, he kept his seat in face of an onslaught from the Greens, the Tories and Labour.
As to the actual campaign themes Labour chose to work on. As mentioned above there were huge issues that they should have spent the last year ramming down the throats of the Labour core voters. These are the people who have to turn up to win you elections. Instead we got crass leaflets full of meaningless statistics. If I'd have been running the Labour campaign, I'd have spent six months dropping leaflets in wards like Hale, with details of all the car crash stories the Tories had generated in the last four years. The Metpro scandal demonstrated that they had no handle on the finances, yet only readers of the blogs are aware of the issue. Many people know there were "problems with parking" but few know that Barnet Council lost a court case brought by its own residents because the CPZ policy was illegal. This court case cost a fortune and that money could have been used to keep open the Mapledown School respite scheme.
Another major failure was that the Labour Party completely failed to use electronic media to get its message over. Many Tories believe that the local bloggers have been working with Labour to help them secure a victory. In actual fact the opposite is true. Local activists set up a meeting between the local Labour Leadership and the bloggers to see how we could help their campaign. Guess what happened? The Labour leadership didn't bother to turn up. As I am sure you can guess, we were amazed. Strangely enough we are not egomaniacs, so we tried again. This time the Labour leadership turned up. We said "how can we help your campaign". Now bear in mind this blog gets 30,000 hits a month and has had over 1.3 million in total. I have written blogs every day. The bloggers have had three letters published in the last six weeks in local press and had numerous mentions. I even got a name check in the Guardian earlier in the week. What do you think the Labour Leadership's reply was? They said "Can you help knocking up voters on election day". In short, they just don't get it. They are stuck in the 1970's and they are totally unwilling to even engage with anyone they can't control.
The key wards in this election were Childs Hill and Hale. The local Labour leadership made a catastrophic decision to divert resources from Hale to Childs Hill. Given that Hale was winnable (demonstrated by the fact they took 1 seat out of three), how could they have lost focus so badly. Well this was another huge blunder. The Barnet Eye happens to know that the local Labour Party believed that there would be two major press stories published, which would supposedly destroy the reputations of the the two Tories who actually won. The Barnet Eye has been well aware of these stories for some time. I was not surprised at all when the press decided to pass on them. Labour should not have relied on the whim of newspaper editors and legal departments to do their job for them. There was a belief in Labour that because Tom Davey, the Hale Tory incumbent, who was reelected had acted like a Berk on Facebook there would be a huge backlash against him. In actual fact Mr Davey scored more votes than his two colleagues. Whilst I think his comments on Facebook were stupid, it is clear that his voters were not in the least bothered. I suspect all of us have done or said things in the past we'd regret and that was the view of most Tory voters. I wouldn't have banked my campaign on facebook tittle tattle. I do however believe if they'd concentrated their fire on Mr Davey's record as a Tory Cabinet member, in a very poor regime they may have actually been successful.
The truth is that Alison Moore has to go, if Labour ever want to make progress in Barnet. They need an effective campaigner and an effective Leader. I'd personally like to see Kath McGuirk as she has personality and charisma. If Labour see last night as anything other than a massive missed opportunity and aculmination of four years of failure, then they are deluded.
And on to the minor Parties. I am delighted that Jack Cohen of the Lib Dems retained his seat. Jack deserved it. Anyone who has watched Barnet Council would not disagree. Elsewhere, those without a record of service suffered from the toxic brand which the Lib Dems have become. I had thought decent ex councillors such as Jeremy Davies and Duncan MacDonald may have done better, but the public were having none of it.
The Greens have proven that they have no mass appeal for the public in Barnet. I thought Poppy in Barnet was a great candidate. Poppy got less than 1,000 votes. It is time for the Greens to wake up and smell the coffee. All they do in Barnet is scupper the chances of other progressive candidates.
Then there is UKIP. They polled appallingly. Their campaign has been described as a car crash by one candidate. As this was their first attempt at local politics in Barnet, I suppose this was to be expected.
So there we are. Barnet is still Tory for the time being, but they have no scope for errors or defections. If Hugh Rayner or Tom Davey fall under a bus (and I truly hope they don't), then we could have a very interesting by-election.
Well done to all candidates, successful and unsuccessful. Been there and know how much hard work it is.