Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Shake, Rattle and Roll - The Councillor Mike Freer Show

I thought I'd nip down to Whetstone to watch the emergency debate about the Council's missing (not lost) £27.4 million and the full general council meeting. Now I'll give a full report on the ins and outs of the meeting tomorrow, tonight I'll just give you a flavour of what you missed. It is always interesting to go to these meetings to see our chosen leaders in action. I sat down next to a nice lady from Unison who had come to take notes on the debate on the future direction of the council. It is always pleasant to have someone like minded for a bit of moral support in the face of the torrent of blather which we were about to be subjected to. Councillor Wayne Casey stood up to present the case for the Lib Dems. His case was that the council lost £27.4 million quid and it is Mike Freer's fault as he's in charge. Councillor Casey is pretty competent on the chambre floor. He made his points pretty well. About half way through his speech, the nice lady from Unison said "Look at Freer's leg!" Poor Mike was clearly nervous and his leg had developed a mind of it's own. Shaking does not do it justice, imagine Buddy Rich's leg during a bass drum solo. Strangely enough the other leg was completely still. I noticed Councillor Matthew Offord's body language, sitting next to Freer. He was leaning so far away from Freer, that he was nearly nestling in Councillor Braun's bosom. He looked momentarily as if he was seeking motherly comfort. All too soon Councillor Casey was over. It was Mike Freer's big moment.

As he stood up he was clear he was angry. How dare those pesky LibDem's have the audacity to ask such impertinent questions. Watching Mike Freer ranting away reminded me of Blakey in on the Buses. He had the power, he knew he'd win the debate as he had the bus company (sorry the majority) on his side, but Butler (sorry Casey) had made a monkey of him. The Tories made appropriate noises at the right moments and all managed to put their hand up at the same time to ensure the vote was carried.

Later during the meeting, as I recall as Councillor Moore was speaking, Mike Freer suddenly got up and frantically started fiddling with the venetian blind behind him. For a horrible second I thought we'd all gotten to him. I said to the nice lady from UNISON - "He's going to jump". His jerky movement's, each limb seemingly divorcing itself from the central control of the brain. Then he stopped. It was as if his brain was resetting itself. He sat down and suddenly seemed back on his brief. It seemed that order of the day was evade the question. I must hand it to Mike. He does this well. It seems that in the Barnet Tory councillors there are three ways to answer the question. Mike Freer just answers the question he'd like to have been asked. To give a potted example - Monroe Palmer asks "Will you take responsibility for losing £27.4 Million in the Icelandic Banks" Mike replies "I'll happily take responsibility for doing a marvellous job in restoring the council finances so we can do lots of marvellous things" (yes I know I'm not Hansard, but you get the drift). Then there's Brian Coleman. I quite like the fact he can't even be bothered to pretend to be bothered - example: Brian Salinger asked "Will you be asking the Barnet Press to ban adverts from Brothels" - Brian Coleman replied "No". Then there are the rest of the councillors, the finest example being Councillor Andrew Harper. He tries his best to give a proper answer and when he hasn't got the facts to hand promises to give a written answer to the questioner. Needless to say, of the three he's furthest down the food chain (and the allowance pot). I actually quite like Andrew Harper (I guess I shouldn't say that, as I'm probably the last endorsement he wants or needs). He just seems like a decent bloke, who wants to do a good job for Barnet and I can't argue with that.

Following the Q A& A session there were four motions debated. One of these was proposed by Deputy Council Leader Matthew Offord. This motion was one to say that it was great that Burnt Oak Library has had a makeover. Somehow Councillor Offord managed to turn this motion debate into a diatribe against the last 10 years of Labour Govenrment and how this had robbed people of opportunity. Now there was little old me thinking that you went to the Library to borrow a few books. Oh No, Barnet Library's have the power to transform workshy slobs into dynamic entrepreneurs, and turn Burnt Oak into the new Mayfair. Hugh
Rayner then added an amendment to say that all the ills of humanity are the fault of the Barnet Labour Councillors (or words to that effect). Labour stood up and said Rayner had ruined a perfectly good motion, so they had to oppose it. A vote was called and the Tories all put their hands up. So there you have it, Burnt Oak library is great and all the ills of the world are Alison Moore's fault.

People ask me why I don't stand as a Councillor. The reason is because every time I go to a meeting, I see a room full of people, most of whom are quite intellegent and who want to do a good job, wasting a perfectly good evening in pointless debate, evading reasonable questions, posturing and preening. My old freind Jane Ellison (former councillor) used to assure me that lots of good work was done behind the scenes in committee. The trouble is that from what I've seen (and this isn't just under Mike Freer and the Tories) the herd mentality rules. I can't believe that all 33 Tories were happy with what the council has done with Icelandic banks, but the arms say otherwise.

Until the day when independent and non aligned councillors hold the balance of power, I'm afraid things just won't change.


Don't Call Me Dave said...

Rog, what I found totally unacceptable was the total lack of contrition from Mike Freer with not even a hint of an apology. Nobody is suggesting that the council deliberately lost the money, but they could at least apologise for what has happened.

Instead we had this unedifying spectacle of Cllr Freer blaming everyone else but himself. Whatever happened to the concept of leaders leading and accepting responsibility for the actions of the troops?

It seems that some councillors are more interested in political point scoring than telling the taxpayers what will happen if the money is lost for good. Cllr Daniel Thomas tried to be clever in pointing out that some LibDem councils have also lost money in Iceland. So what? The debate last night was about Barnet and if it hadn’t been for the LibDems there wouldn’t have been a debate at all. I am ashamed that not one Conservative councillor had the guts to speak out on this important subject. It just goes to prove that the whipping system is damaging democratic accountability.

I am willing to bet that the Conservatives sitting on LibDem controlled councils which lost money have spoken out quite vociferously on this matter.

What was utterly shameful was when Cllr Thomas likened the LibDems to the BNP. I am not a LibDem supporter, and if they lost a few seats to the Tories at the General Election I would be quite happy. But I would never put them in the same category as the BNP. Cllr Thomas should grow up, stop playing his master’s poodle and apologise for his tasteless remark.

Amanda said...

So what if the labour Party were condemned for 10 years of bad administration, it doesnt hurt to point the finger of blame and remind some people they are not perfect.

I am also pretty sure there are plenty of people briefing the Lib Dums about the goings on in the Conservative Group, now that is childish.

Rog T said...


what goings on were these.Please enlighten me as I've got no idea what you are referring to.

As a normal person who isn't interested in politics, what was your take on Councillor Freer's rather bizarre performance? I'd be interested to hear a totally unbiased view of the proceedings from someone with no political preference.

Julie said...

I was at the Council meeting and the point Cllr Thomas was making was that the Lib Dems were trying to stir up 'resident anger' when it hardly exists - no one can deny this is what the BNP do but on a different issue.

He also wasn't trying to point out that other Lib Dem councils had lost money but that other Lib Dem councils so no point in wasting money having an emergency meeting.

Both reasonable points.

As for this whole iceland deposit issue, any mild-mannered objective person would agree this is simply bad luck and this won't be an issue at the next council election anyway.

The negative comments of Roger, David et al are to be expected.

The Tories will retain control in Barnet in 2010 with an even bigger majority and continue to rule as those with axes to grind and keyboards to tap gawp with frustated disagreement!

Don't Call Me Dave said...


If the council doesn’t get OUR money back, and if services have to be cut as a result or council tax goes up, then it most certainly will be an election issue. Residents might not be screaming at the gates of the Town Hall today, but you can be sure that if the money is lost for good, the public mood will change.

When council tax went up 24% in 2003, the Conservatives blamed Labour - with some justification. But it won’t work this time around. Mike Freer can blame the officials if he likes, but the public won’t buy it. Politicians cannot expect take all the credit when things go right but absolve themselves of all responsibility when they go pear shaped.

Even if this is all the fault of officials, the public expect their elected politicians to be looking out for their interests and, in this regard, the council has failed miserably.

Julie said...

A lot of 'ifs' there....

Sounds like you're hoping for the situation you describe! Hehe!

People's bins will still be collected, roads will still be resurfaced, schools will still be open, street lights will still work, 99% of Barnet's residents will still get from the council what they expect and so it will not be a decisive issue at the election, which will be overshadowed by a general election anyway.

The vast majority of Barnet residents don't know or don't care what the name of the cllr is who runs the council and what the icelandic investment situation is all about. This may be a pity but its true. The majority will just come out and vote Conservative.....like good suburbanites.

Rog T said...


I guess you are a Tory. As a trotskyite Labourista, I sincerely hope the Tories base their policy on your strategy that everyone is a mug and they'll vote for you anyway, no matter how rubbish you've been.

If I were you I wouldn't even bother to try and get you vote out, because you just know you'll win.

I love comments like yours. They make all of my Conservative mates rather twitchy (just like your beloved alter ego).

I can go to bed happy now !

Don't Call Me Dave said...


The Conservatives should retain power in 2010, but only provided that they do not get complacent.

You only need to look at what happened in Mill Hill in 1994. That used to be a safe Tory area so they ignored it, sending everyone to work elsewhere, and the Lib Dems marched in. It took 12 years to win back just one of the three seats.

Julie said...

I didn't say people will vote Tory because everyone's a mug, there you go twisting things again, Oliver.

It's because they see themselves as generally Tory leaning, happy that the council is getting the basics right (see my last post), and not really bothered about the iceland deposits.....

They can't be complacent but they won't exactly have to break their backs.

Rog T said...


You really should read Oliver Twist. The kid being abused by those with power and authority. You might learn something.

People can read your post and they can read my post and they can judge for themselves. You may not have meant to sound arrogant and condescending towards the electorate of Barnet but that's how it sounded to me. Plenty of folk in Mill Hill read my blogs and they tell me face to face when I get it wrong and when I get it right. We'll see.....