Thursday 2 November 2017

Night of shame at the Town Hall as Barnet Tories sink to new depths

Are you familiar with Stalinism? Last week, I went to see "The Death of Stalin", a fiercely  ironic portrayal of the last hours of Joseph Stalin and the immediate aftermath of his death. I've long had a keen interest in the USSR and Communism. My wife did Russian Studies at Uni and I extensively travelled around the Soviet Union prior to its collapse. Unlike most who spout forth about the failures of communism, I have actually seen most of the good and bad things of the system at first hand. After my first trip, I realised that it was a house of cards and about to collapse. The truth of the matter is that if you have a system based on lies, fear and bureaucracy you are doomed to failure.

So what has all of this got to do with Barnet Council? Where to start? On Tuesday I saw a bizarre tweet from Hendon Labour councillor Adam Langleben.

I couldn't really believe my eyes. "Enemy of the people" is an emotive term. It is one deployed by both Nazi's and Stalin's cronies in show trials of opponents and enemies. One thing I've learned through my travels and studies is that if a regime starts branding anyone an "Enemy of The People", that regime is rotten to the core. Of course it is possible that the Barnet Tories are too ill educated to know the history and connotations of such a charge. Maybe, David Longstaff, a failed Thespian, went to see "Death of Stalin" and thought that it would be hilarious to send up Mayor Khan in such a manner. If he did it is hugely disrespectful to all of those persecuted by tyrants and despots across the world. It is bad enough that this silly man contemplated such a prank, but what followed was even worse. All of his Tory chums joined in the jolly jape and voted to pass the motion.

And why do they consider Mayor Khan an "Enemy of the People". This is where it gets truly bizarre. It was as a result of the Mayor passing a planning application for the National Institute for Medical Research in Mill Hill. What did the Tories object to? Well the Mayor made two major changes to the plans. The first was that he upped the social housing content of the site. The second, that he insisted on 800 spaces for parking bicycles. I doubt even Stalin would have someone shot or label them for such a crime. Now, I should go on record to say that I personally do not think what the Mayor has passed is great. I am very familiar with the site. The Mayor has applied a view of planning that is suitable for a development in Islington or Camden Town to a site that is about as rural as it is possible to get with a London Postcode. Whilst cycling is a great way to get around, the geography of the site, atop one of the biggest hills in London, is not conducive to travel. The cycle home from Mill Hill East or Mill Hill Broadway stations, is something that Bradley Wiggens or Chris Frome would relish as part of their training for the Tour de France. The Mayor clearly should have included more car parking spaces and insisted on the developers paying a contribution for a better bus service. The Ridgeway is already gridlocked in the morning as parents drop children at St Vincents, St Pauls and Mill Hill schools. The 240 bus is packed to bursting and wheras people currently get off at the NIMR to go to work, now they will be getting on. I am not entirely convinced that the design of the scheme is particularly appealing. It looks like a bunch of "out of the box" Barrett houses, with zero personality. I am pleased that they are keeping the iconic central building with it's green roof, but it is a real missed opportunity to have a far better scheme.

However, and this is a pretty key point, it is far from the worst planning scheme in the Borough. Every possible criticism of what they Mayor has passed (apart from too many places to park bikes), can be levelled tenfold at just about every other major scheme in The London Borough of Barnet. Anyone familiar with the Brent Cross and West Hendon schemes will know that Barnet are no "friends of the people" with what has been passed. Quite ironically, back in the days when I first started blogging, before the Barnet Eye, I wrote a blog for the Barnet Times. I got into hot water for alleging that the then Tory Leader of Barnet Council and now Finchley MP Mike Freer was a cross between Stalin and Mr Bean, reprising Vince Cables put down of Gordon Brown. The Barnet Times removed the blog, but fellow blogger "Dont Call me Dave" republished it for posterity with a commentary. For those unfamiliar with Don't Call Me Dave, he's a former chair of Chipping Barnet Tories. I wrote to support my claim.

Over development of Barnet. There are currently 6,000 families on the waiting list for council houses. This tells me that there is a need for 6,000 new homes in Barnet. How many dwellings does the council plan to build? 80,000. There are massive schemes all over the Borough. Just to list a few - Cricklewood, Colindale Hospital, Mill Hill Barracks. Each one of these schemes threatens important local sites. Cricklewood threatens Hendon FC. Colindale includes plans for a road straight through Montrose Park. The Mill Hill Scheme plans to put a busy road through Sanders Lane Nature reserve. Once these sites are destroyed, that is it, they are gone. Why do we need 80,000 new dwellings in Barnet? Have the people of Barnet been consulted as to whether we want them. These are not homes for local people, complete with nice gardens for children to play in, these are massive rabbit hutches. Anyone who has to drive in rush hour will know that the roads are already full to bursting. The schools are all oversubscribed. What is the purpose, other than to transform a green suburb into the new Elephant and Castle? Schemes like this proliferated in the Soviet Union. Massive blocks of grey flats, lifeless, soulless and soul destroying. Barnet has a unique character and our Council want to destroy it.
And later

Deportations. No I'm not joking. It is official council policy to deport inconvenient people out of the Borough. A good friend of mine, a widow with 4 Children, one severely disabled has been on the Barnet Council House waiting list for 7 years, since her husband died. She has been in temporary accommodation. Last year she was told that she was being evicted and that if she wanted a home she'd have to drag the children away from their schools and friends and move to Norfolk.

Excessive squandering of money. As in all Stalinist economies, as there is no proper scrutiny and no transparent decision making, bad decisions are made and no one gets held to account. 
It seems ironic, given the long history of all of this in Barnet (the words above were published in July 2008), that Longstaff has the gall to try and blame the Mayor of Barnet. As with all Stalinist regimes, Barnet Council forced the Barnet Times to remove the offending blog from their website. Mike Freer was not one to tolerate dissent from his bonkers schemes.  Whilst I consider it to be truly ironic, given all of this, that Longstaff even considered such a silly, playground politics wheeze, what followed was altogether more disturbing. Councillor Arjun Mittra is a Labour councillor from Finchley. I've know Arjun since he was elected. He is one of the nice guys of Barnet Politics.  In fact, if I have a criticism of Arjun, it's that he's too nice and too decent. When I see politicians getting up to the sort of shenanigans that the Barnet Tories have, over the years, I want people to call them out and give them what for. Arjun's style is to mildly point out that maybe, just maybe they should consider rephrasing what they've just said. Like many Hindu's raised in the Borough, Arjun fits in. Until Yesterday, I didn't actually know he was a Hindu (it isn't really important to me). He's a well educated bloke and he probably speaks English better than I do. What has this got to do with the price of fish? Well On Tuesday, Councillor Longstaff, not content with behaving like a prize Berk (in the classical meaning of the word) with his motion, happened to make a racist insult in the council chamber against Arjun. Unbelievably, this tweet shows just what he said

There is absolutely no way this can be construed as anything other than a racist slur of a well educated and well respected member of the council. Just in case you don't know Arjun, not only does he speak perfect English, he has a very clear English accent. If you spoke to him on the phone, I can honestly say you'd have no idea of his ethnicity (not that such a slur would be appropriate in any circumstances in the Town Hall).  You may think that is pretty appalling. It gets worse.

You may wonder why such a man has got on in Barnet Council. He is not without his admirers

Brian Coleman, the disgraced former Barnet Tory bigwig, who was kicked out in disgrace after assaulting a woman in Finchley High Road is clearly a big fan. Interestingly, Coleman was not always a fan and noted the "lack of support" Longstaff had shown for the Jewish community in his infamous blog

Councillor David Longstaff (High Barnet Ward) former Labour Party member and indeed Parish Councillor , bit part actor . Who can forget his role as a drunken elf in the Christmas edition of Casualty or was it Holby City , I forget.............His personal web site contains a video of his stand up act which is about as funny as his speeches in the Council Chamber . Then there was the episode of my favourite Drama "Lewis" where he played a Friar definitely not a monk !Was a Salinger protege but managed to get appointed to the Cabinet by distancing himself from them . Considered promoted too soon and a lightweight and seems to think that being in charge of "Community Safety" means when the Borough Police Commander says jump you reply how high ? Has no concept of holding the Police to account and did little to attempt to save the two Police Stations being closed in the Borough once he knew that High Barnet in his ward was safe. In charge of the latest misguided attempts at North Finchley regeneration under his leadership the scheme will no doubt go the way of all the rest over the years, which several people think is why Richard Cornelius ( who at heart is a free marketer) put him in charge of it . Upset the Jewish Community big time with a disgraceful anti Eruv performance at the Area Planning Committee that left many fellow Conservatives reeling. Unlikely to get many votes from Barnet Synagogue next year 
It seems that the new, more robust Longstaff has won Coleman over.

Whilst this whole sorry story is a terrible indictment on the @BarnetTories, I must say that there was one aspect that cheered me greatly. The Mittra family, contrary to what Longstaff thinks, clearly have that greatest of British characteristics. A good sense of humour in the face of adversity. Arjun's sister used the opportunity to post the following tweet.

I sincerely hope that David Longstaff is held to account for his actions. The Barnet Tories should know damn well what being "the nasty party" does for them. Coleman lost a 20,000 GLA majority for his appalling behaviour. I doubt that anyone who is a decent citizen would vote for a man prone to such awful behaviour. There is no place for any of this in the London Borough of Barnet. If David Longstaff is a decent man, then he will issue an unreserved public apology to Arjun. If he doesn't, his Tory Colleagues should take the appropriate action. If they don't I suspect they will pay a heavy price at the ballot box. 

No comments: