Wednesday 13 May 2015

No Leadership challenge for Barnet Tory Council Leader Richard Cornelius

Four years ago, the Barnet Conservatives wisely followed the advice of the Barnet Eye blog and elected Richard Cornelius as their leader. You may wonder how such a situation came to pass? Well when it was announced that there would be a Leadership election, there were three candidates. There was the insider/favourite Andrew Harper, who was deputy leader and had been running the council for the period of former Leader Lynne Hillans illness. There was new boy and maverick Mark Shooter, who I really liked but had no experience of Barnet Council and their was Richard Cornelius, who no one much new anything about. I did a bit of homework and it soon became clear who the sensible choice for the Tories was. Harper was clearly a yes man with no real experience of running anything.  Before his elevation to the role of Deputy Leader he'd seemed like a decent guy, but had soon been found out. A thin skin was revealed and a  nasty streak, demonstrated in a number of bitchy comments towards various members of the public.

If I needed a hedge fund boss, I'd have chosen Mark Shooter straight away. I actually think he'd have done a lot of good for Barnet in the role, but his lack of experience of public bodies may have been a complete car crash. In short, it was a huge gamble.

Then there was Richard Cornelius. Whenever I'd spoken to him he was coureous and well mannered. In cabinet meetings he'd shown members of the public respect and on occasion shown he wasn't a yes man. He had run a family business for years. I also learned he'd come to the council on the back of the doomed campaign to save Totteridge library. He seemed like a steady hand and someone who could cope with the pressure. I did wonder if a public endorsement of Cornelius was a good idea. Such praise from someone who the majority of Tories think is a lefty bogeyman could have been very counter productive. But then I thought that the people who hate my guts would all be voting for the other candidates. About half the Tory councillors are quite sensible, so I thought it was worth the effort. Here was my analysis. As it transpired I was spot on with my prediction. The Tories were clearly spooked by the scenario I set out of mayhem that Shooter may unleash. Perhaps it is ironic that the tactic I used to secure the election of Cornelius was so effectively used by the Tories.

Now you may think, I am bigging myself up on this, but after the election, Richard Cornelius thanked me and said that this blog had swung a few undecideds to vote for him.

Councillor Andrew Harper - Continuity (ie more Metpro style scandals and more money down the bog with One Barnet schemes)

Councillor Richard Cornelius -  The Sensible Party (ie get a grip on the executive and try and salvage the useful bits from One Barnet, whilst taking a machette to the consultant crazy culture that has sprung up)

Councillor Mark Shooter - The slash and burn party (ie have a bonfire of the vanities in Barnet, kick the shit out of the executive, have a sacking frenzy for all the people doing non jobs and hope that at the end of day, injecting a bit of sanity into the council can save a few quid and sort out the huge black hole which Mike Freer built).

Current Betting  : Cornelius 11/12 , Shooter 2-1, Harper 3-1

For what it's worth, I think that the Shooter & Cornelius teams are working together to stitch up Harper, because they both recognise the fact that Harper = Disaster. Lets look at the maths. Shooter lost by one last time. That means that as Lynne Hillan is indisposed, it is a dead heat. Brian Coleman has backed Shooter which means Shooter has 19 to 17, if every Hillanite backs Harper. Rams does what Coleman tells him, so that is 20 -16. All Harper can offer is cabinet jobs, but he can't really afford to lose anyone, so the next question is how will Cornelius split the vote. I hear that he's likely to get a minimum of six cabinet members and possibly 10 other councillors  (6 from Shooter and 4 from Hillan camp). So this means the following :-

First Round
Cornelius - 15
Harper - 8
Shooter - 13

The Harperites are likely to swing behind Cornelius as they know that Shooter means the firing squad.

Second Round
Cornelius - 22
Shooter - 14

What this means is that Harper isn't the second most popular Leadership Candidate so he hasn't got a leg to stand on for retaining the deputy job (hence my view that it's a stitch up). That my friend is the way the cookie will crumble. It is possible that once Harper's mates realise what's going on, even more will defect to Cornelius in the first round and that will be that.
Sadly Richard didn't take the machette to the consultants or kick most of One Barnet into touch. He is probably a bit less pragmatic and a bit more Thatcherite than I'd realised and he has been persuaded that mass outsourcing is marvellous. Barnet has launched on a program unprecedented in local government and no one knows how this will work out. But that is something which only the future knows.

It has emerged that Richard Cornelius has been reelected unopposed to carry on as Tory Leader for another year. As the Tories won the council election last year and swept the board at the general election in Barnet, it is no surprise that the Tories are sticking with a winning team. I've spoken to a few Tory activists and they seem more than happy with Richard and his leadership. I am not surprised. It is also worth noting that Richard is now the Tory who has served the longest term as leader since they won the council back in 2002.

I think the main reason for his success is that he loves the job. Unlike Freer, he didn't see it as a stepping stone to Parliament. Unlike most of the rest of them, he doesn't mind the banter. He told me that unlike Freer he isn't spooked by noisy public galleries and sees it as all part of the fun of local government. He also confided that he thinks Socialist sit ins in the council chamber play very well with his core vote.  The results of recent elections seems to back this theory up.

He is also very lucky. When he came to power, the Barnet Tories had some very unattractive councillors. One was convicted for beating up a woman and another for drunk driving. Both of them are gone. Another was caught lying on several occasions and was hated for his role in shutting libraries. He got turfed out, as did the one who parked his car wherever he liked. Although Richard saw a bit of a cull in 2014, it was all dead wood that he was better off without.

Napoleon once said "give me a lucky general". They don't get much better than Richard, who always seems to be in the right place at the right time.

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