Great news for all of my Barnet Conservative friends. I know you've all been missing having Brian Coleman as your GLA rep. His charm and wit has been missed in County Hall. His friends in the Fire Brigades Unions have missed his fraternal approach to negotiations. Restaurants all over London have been counting the cost of Brians departure, as his replacement has a rather different view to being entertained.
But politics is a game of ebb and flow. Three and a half years ago, Andrew Dismore ejected Brian Coleman on a wave of anti parking charge hysteria. Dismore was Labours golden boy. Sadly for Andrew the gold tarnished when he lost to Matthew Offord earlier this year in the General Election in Hendon. With Jeremy Corbyn taking over the Labour Party, the Tories believe that they could put a donkey up in Barnet and Camden and win.
But clearly the Tories didn't say "who is a donkey because we want to test this theory". They clearly chose the best man for the job. Brian Coleman would no doubt approve. The Barnet Conservatives are the party of aspiration (but only if you are a white middle class male). It is interesting to note that in Barnet, there is strong evidence that female candidates do well, but the Tories have a blind spot. In the 2014 council election, there were two new split wards. In Brunswick Park, the Tories lost two councillors. Both were male. Their sole female candidate, Lisa Rutter beat the third place Labour candidate, who was male. In Hale, Labours Kitty Lyons beat Tory Elliott Simberg. However according to the Hendon Times, there wasn't even a Tory woman on the GLA Shortlist. It is odd really, when you consider the area produced the UK's first female Prime Minister.
Have a look at the current Barnet list of councillors. Whilst Labour boasts a female councillor who is the youngest in the country and several other young females, how many Tories are female? How many are young females? Is it really true that women have no aspirations? Or is it only Labour women? I find this rather odd. I know plenty of very successful women, who support the Tories, but for some reason none seem attracted to the idea of becoming active in the party. It is a boys club. It is pretty clear that this boys club is something Dan Thomas approves of because he is the deputy leader of the Council and the Conservative Group. Has Dan encouraged the Tories to seek out new talent? Has he sought our young and talented people from across the community? Has he looked beyond the Tories Traditional power base. Has he moved the Party beyond the Coleman era?
(set the time to 4:48)
When it comes to Barnet and Camden GLA candidates, it seems to me that in many ways Thomas is the "Coleman continuity candidate". He was the Deputy Leader when Coleman was arrested for attacking Helen Michael. He could have insisted Brian was ejected from the Party, but no. Colemans membership was only suspended when the central office intervened.
Then there is the parking debacle. Thomas supported Colemans policies. He was a cabinet member. He could have opposed them but clearly agreed with them, defending them on numerous occasions. Coleman has recently come out as a strong supporter of the Tories attack on the Libraries. As we saw at Mondays meeting, Dan Thomas sings from the same songsheet.
Brian Coleman was an avowed Union basher. Dan Thomas is also a fiece critic of Trades Unions. During his stint as Deputy Leader, Thomas has seen an unprecedented level of industrial disputes. It seems to me that Barnet has one of the most poisonous industrial relations records in local government. Brian Coleman lists his rows with the Fire Brigades Union as one of his crowning achievements. It seems to me that Dan Thomas is cut from the same cloth, seeing UNion bashing as a great notch on a Tory CV.
Now anyone who knows Dan and Brian will say "Dan is nothing like Brian". Well in one way this is true. Brian was someone who didn't care who he upset. He positively thrived on upsetting people. It is 100% clear that Dan lacks this level of gumption. Whilst he was pompous and patronising towards Ms Jacobson and Ms Musgrove, he lack the downright rudeness Coleman would have undoubtedly deployed. Coleman would have piled straight in. Thomas parried and got a pasting. But the differences are purely ones of presentation. I have no dount that Thomas has far more sense than to bash Helen Michael (or any other woman for that matter), he knows how to control his temper, but he would have exactly the same view towards grinding her business into the ground.
The truth is that if you are a Tory and you liked Brian Coleman, you'll love Dan Thomas. Dan is Brian, but with a bit more polish and decorum. If Brian could keep his temper, he'd still be a Town Hall Tory. He'd still be a respected man, despite the carnage he has wrought on businesses across Barnet. Dan Thomas was part of the same gang. It is a small, exclusive club and to do well you have to buy into the philosophy. Dan has a track record in office. It is exactly the same track record as Brian Colemans, because they were part of the same administration. Dan is basically Brian Coleman on valium. Whilst that may sound like a bad thing, in actual fact if you are a Barnet Tory, it is probably rather good news.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the GLA race will be just how boring it is likely to be. Dan Thomas will inspire no one to vote Tory who isn't a die hard. Having seen Dan Thomas in action, I can't possibly imagine anyone turning out to vote because they are excited at the prospect of Dan Thomas in the Town Hall. Dismore will inspire no one to vote Labour who isn't a die hard. The Coleman bogeyman has gone. Dismore is not a Corbynite, so I don't expect a huge wave of support from enthused party activists. I personally think the GLA is a complete waste of time and would support the complete abolition of it. That would save a stack of money. As it is we have an election, featuring a bunch of non candidates, fighting for a non job, that neither of them really want, but both see as part of some end game to somewhere else. Both Thomas and Dismore have a track record of losing as candidates in general elections. I suspect that Dismore has one eye on the House of Lords and Thomas has an eye on an unloseable seat in Parliament somewhere. If the Greens and UKIP have half a brain between them, they should recognise that Barnet and Camden could actually be winnable if they could find the right candidate, with the right campaign themes and the right campaign. If they had any sense., they'd pick young, fresh candidates without a history of losing in battles for better jobs. If they said "Barnet and Camden need someone who can say something different are not simply party lackies who are looking for a cushy job and a nice payday. They need someone who can make the Mayor sit up and take notice". The truth is the GLA election exists purely as an opportunity to give the big parties a well deserved smack on the bum. Coleman enabled many rather fed up Tories to do just that. Have the smaller parties got the sense to realise that and sell their campaign on that basis. People will vote for protest parties when it doesn't matter and no election in the UK matters less than that for the GLA.