Monday 26 February 2018

Misogyny in the Barnet Conservatives - Would you stand by and let someone abuse your mum or granny?

Councillor Dr Devra Kay
 Dr Devra Kay
Over the years of writing this blog, I've made many friends and met many lovely people. Of all of them,  one of the nicest is veteran West Hendon Councillor Dr Devra Kay. Devra is a genuinely lovely, warm person. She got into politics to try and make her neighbourhood better, help her neighbours who didn't have the breaks in life she had, and to use the wealth of knowledge she has built up over the years. I've never known Devra to be malicious, nasty or unkind. Even when she disagrees with people, she is courteous and tries to be understanding of their viewpoint.

Just before Xmas, Devra invited myself and a group of other friends for dinner at her club in Pall Mall. I arrived early and we had a great chat in the bar before our other friends arrived. Devra told me that she was standing down as a councillor. I was shocked to hear this, as I know she loves helping people. I asked her why and she was reluctant to say at first. Initially she said "At my age, I don't need the hassle and there are many other things I want to do with my time". I didn't really buy this, I know Devra loves working for the community. So I pressed. As Devra is not one to be unkind and maybe sometimes thinks that it is partially "her fault", she was reticent to spell it out, but in short she told me that she was thoroughly sick of the misogynist, sexist atmosphere in the Town Hall at Barnet. She was simply sick and tired of the way that the male Barnet Tory Councillors, who run the authority, treat female councillors with a total lack of respect. I pressed her to name names. Not because I wanted to write a blog, but just so I could know who to keep an eye on. Devra did not want to say. She felt she may be being unfair as they may not even be conscious they are doing it.

Of course, the misogyny of the Barnet Tories is not something I'm unaware of. The cases of it are legion. My fellow blogger Mrs Angry has documented it on numerous occasions.  In 2014 she noted

"The misogyny of the male Tory councillors in Barnet is legendary, but worse still is the schoolboy sniggering that inevitably ensued in their ranks when Cllr Sodha, an older woman of Asian origin, would address a meeting. Her accent was the cause of amusement with the Tories - an atrocious habit which struck Mrs Angry with astonishment in the earliest days of writing this blog, watching them laugh when she pronounced words in a way which they found comical, in the way of someone still living in the era of 'It ain't half hot mum', and the 1970s mind set that is required thinking, if that is the word, for Barnet Tories.…"
Then there was the appalling case of when disgraced Ex Barnet Councillor Brian Coleman assaulted Cafe Owner Helen Michael in North Finchley. The local Tory Party refused to take any action against Coleman, even though he'd been arrested and charged. He was only suspended due to pressure from Central Office. Within a couple of years, he'd been readmitted to the Party. Now of course not all of the Barnet Conservatives are misogynists and when informed by the Barnet Eye, Tory Councillor, Gabriel Rozenberg, who is one of the decent Tories locally kicked up a fuss and had him slung out again, but the fact he was readmitted in the first place speaks volumes. The local Tories, eventually spun the story as an administrative mix up, but Coleman was well known and it defies belief that whoever processed the application didn't know exactly who he was (it's not as though they are inundated with membership requests). With regards to Devra Kay, Brian Coleman has been spreading lies and bile about her on Twitter. It does beg the question of whether he's been readmitted to the Tories, or whether he's doing a freelance hatchet job to help out his friends? Those tweets  caused a stern rebuke from well respected Labour Councillor Ross Houston.

 Coleman had previously insulted women in the public gallery, describing them as "Sad, mad hags".  The leader of the Barnet Tories, complacently said in response

“It was a difficult meeting where feelings ran high but an individual councillor has to be responsible for his or her words.  It is for Cllr Coleman to decide whether he wants to make an apology.”
“If you are a middle aged woman and you turn up to a public meeting should a councillor insult you just because you are a woman?   Hag is clearly a sexist word. I feel disgusted by it. It is just revolting. Would he refer to his mother as a hag? I should think not.”
That Tory Barnet Council, the authority of Great Britains first female PM could allow itself to be so stuck in the past with attitudes to women is beyond belief. One would think that the local Tories would realise that the 50% of voters are female and don't want to be treated as second class citizens. Sadly nothing could be further from the truth. I know of one male Tory councillor who refused to be photographed with his two Tory fellow ward councillors, as he didn't want to be pictured with women. 

Another Barnet Tory with a less than exemplary record is Mill Hill Councillor John Hart. The Barnet Times reported how he publicly mocked a female science teacher from Sri Lanka at a public meeting. The Time said
She said she had been asking a follow-up question at the Hendon Residents' Forum when Cllr Hart started mimicking her accent.
Would Councillor Hart do the same to a 6'5" Fijian Rugby player? I very much doubt it. 

Over the weekend, I was contacted again by Devra Kay. She asked my advice as to what I thought of the recent appalling behaviour by Tory Councillor Hugh Rayner towards her (as Adam Langleben describes here)

She told me that although had tweeted he'd apologised, she had not received his apology. 
Devra sent me the full transcript of her exchange with Councillor Rayner and explained the background to his outburst. She also confided in me that she had felt personally threatened. She was also incensed that the Mayor told veteran Lib Dem Councillor Jack Cohen off for trying to get the Mayor to force Rayner to apologise at the time and simply allowed Hugh Rayner to continue.

Whilst it is a postive sign that Hugh Rayner has publicly acknowledged the fact that he behaved in an awful manner, it shines a torch on the misogynist attitude that has forced Devra Kay to quit as a councillor. I wonder if the Tories see the resignation of a well loved councillor due to their appalling manners and behaviour as a victory? If  a councillor behaves so badly that he realises a public tweet is required, how on earth can the Mayor of Barnet not have been moved to intervene? It is quite frankly appalling.

Devra also told me of the treatment veteran Labour Councillor Agnes Slocombe has been receiving. Agnes clearly has a thick skin to take it, but it is clearly not acceptable. She said
"I have been at so many meetings with Agnes when she has had her hand up to speak before anyone else and keeps it up but is ignored by the Chairman. I have intervened and called out to the Chairman that Cllr Slocombe wants to speak and that she has had her hand up for some time while Agnes says to me that she must be invisible."
The time has come for things to change. With regards to the Mayor's inaction Devra said
 I am bound to compare the behaviour of the Mayor with that of the Speaker of the House of Commons during a recent PMQs when Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, standing in for the Leader of the Opposition, was shouted down by the government benches. The Speaker intervened conclusively commenting that male members regularly shouted down women members and such behaviour could not be tolerated.  If the Mayor had done his job no ensuing action would be necessary.
The chair of the Conservative Party, Brandon Lewis said a new code of conduct would require people standing for Parliament to "behave responsibly and show respect" to others. I couldn't agree more. It would be good if the same applied to councillors. 
It seems that the Mayor and the Tory group are completely unaware of the Barnet Council Members' Code of Conduct (Paras from members code of conduct)

2(d) Treat others with respect

3(d) Discriminate against people on the grounds of race, gender, disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation and age

3 (e) Bully, intimidate or attempt to intimidate others.

You can hear the exchange between Councillor Rayner and Devra via the link in Adam Langleben's tweet. Do you think Councillor Rayner treated Councillor Kay with respect? Do you think the Conservative Mayor discharged his duty of care towards Councillor Kay to ensure that this code was upheld?

Let me finish with a little aside on my own view of sexism, misogyny and the behaviour of the Barnet Tories.

Many years ago, I had a conversation with my mum now dearly departed). Although my mother was a lifelong socialist, she knew former PM and Finchley MP Margaret Thatcher well through local charity work. Thatcher had even urged my mother to try and stand as a parliamentary candidate. She had told her that as she was intelligent and a hard worker, she'd do well. My mother asked her what it was like being a female MP. Thatcher had told her that Parliament was a boys club and that at times it could be awful, but once she realised that she was more intelligent and hard working than many of her male colleagues, she found she could cope and get things done. She told my mother that not a day went by when she didn't get some sort of (what we would call these days) a sexist comment. Thatcher learned to ignore these and often would turn them around on her tormentors. At the time of this conversation, Thatcher was not PM, she was an MP. No one dreamed that she'd become Prime Minister (I think the conversation was in 1972).

I asked my mother if she'd considered Thatchers suggestion. She told me that she had seriously thought about it. What had swung her mind to dismiss the idea was my father telling her that if someone tormented her in the way Thatcher described, he'd feel honour bound to punch their lights out. My father was a fiery Australian and  he worshipped my mum. She explained that my Father was a gentleman. He always treated women with respect. He believed that anyone who was discourteous, let alone abusive to a woman was a complete pig. My mother told me that she'd only ever heard him swear once, when he hit his thumb with a hammer. This surprised me because in the company of men, he swore like a trooper. I was raised to be respectful to women, most especially ones of an age. I believe that all decent men share this view. I happen to think that men who are abusive or violent towards women are sickening pigs.

On May 3rd, the people of Barnet have the opportunity to vote for councillors to represent them in the council chamber. Would you stand by and let someone abuse your mum or granny and intimidate them, to the point they gave up a job they loved? Would you stand by and let them bully your neighbours or friends mum or granny? When you cast your vote, please bear this in mind. 

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