Thursday, 24 May 2018

Why do the Barnet Tories reward abject failure and despise compassion?

Firstly, apologies. I intended to write this blog yesterday, but I simply couldn't face immersing myself in the sewage that is the behaviour of our local Conservative group. So I had a day off, a pleasant cup of tea at Cafe Buzz, a long walk around Arrendene with the dog and a night on the tiles with my good mate Keith in Blackfriars, discussing football, children and the wedding (his forthcoming one, not all that business last weekend).

Sadly, my blissful day was interrupted by a phone call from Simon Allin at The Barnet Times. My attempts to bury my head in the sand and pretend that everything was fine and dandy in the world was ruined. Simon is the hard working and conscientious local politics reporter for the paper. He suffers all manner of infantile sniping from the likes of disgraced, convicted woman beater and ex councillor Brian Coleman on Twitter, who pedantically relish pedantically correcting Simon on a regular basis, for his lack of understanding of the byzantine ways of Barnet Council.

It comes as no surprise to me that Coleman was also enthusiastically retweeting the news that Councillor Reuben Thompstone has been elected by the Tory group as the new Mayor. Long time readers will remember that Coleman himself was Mayor in 2009. He has the inglorious title of being the only Mayor of Barnet found guilty of breaching the standards code whilst in office. Coleman revels in being an "ex Mayor", despite the fact that he was undoubtedly the least successful holder of the office and that his subsequent criminal record brings the whole office into disrepute. My own view is that any Ex Mayor who pleads guilty to beating women in court should have his picture removed from the Town Hall wall. There really should be a zero tolerance of such behaviour by the council.

I suspect that one reason that Coleman is so excited about the appointment of Reuben Thompstone is that he knows he may have the title of "worst Mayor of Barnet" wrenched from his sweaty palms. The newly elected Mayor has shown himself to be the most catastrophically ineffective councillor in the history of Barnet. For all his sins, Coleman was at least a mildly competent administrator, when he wasn't falling asleep at the desk or insulting people.

No one can make such a comment about Thompstone. In 2014 Thompstone was chair of the Budget Overview and Scrutiny Committee. His keynote policy was to cut the budget at Mapledown School ( a highly regarded special needs centre, looking after the most severely disabled children in the Borough). The cut specifically centred on afterschool and respite care, vital for parents with a 24 x 7  commitment to their children. The policy caused outrage. To their credit, three Tory Councillors, lead by Maureen Braun lead a revolt and threw out the cut. As best as I can remember, it is the only time that I've seen the Tories vote down one of their own policies. My blog from the night records the scenes for posterity.
"Councillor Maureen Braun, not a friend of this blog asked Rubes "Who is more vulnerable than disabled children". Rubes tried to string a sentence together, but failed. Braun had summed up the general feeling in the room. Rayner had sensed early on that the Tories were on a loser. He had spent the evening trying to figure out how to extract his reputation from this situation. He clearly didn't want to shaft Mapledown, but couldn't work out how to protect his Tory friend. He moved to a vote and to the amazement of all, Salinger and Braun, to their great credit voted to send the report back to the cabinet. In short a Tory Committee had agreed that the Mapledown cut was unfair and unjust and needed review.
Rayner realised that with an election looming, this presented a constitutional issue. He tried to get a council officer to help him out but no one really seemed to know. Rubes, a large man, seemed to have shrunk and seemed to resemble a demented leprechaun. He looked totally gutted."
It is interesting to note that the two councillors who had the guts to stand up for disabled children have gone. Salinger retired and Maureen Braun was deselected, much to her surprise, before the recent election. Reuben Thompstone is a big friend of the arch Tory plotter Daniel Thomas and it is pretty clear to me that this was payback.

But what of Thompstone (or Rubes as we lovingly call him). What did Big Rubes do next? One may have thought that having made such a monumental cock up, the Barnet Tories might have learned? Clearly not. The man was given the Children, Education and Libraries subcommittee chair (with the big fat allowance that goes with it). Barnet has long had a reputation for good educational services and excellent libraries. What could possibly go wrong? Where shall we start?

As the head of this committee, the first duty of Reuben Thompstone is to care about local children. Given that his former colleague Maureen Braun had noted that he didn't recognise that no one was more vulnerable than disabled children, it is not surprising what happened next. Thompstone embarked on a scorched earth policy with regards to libraries. The library space was halved, with libraries remodelled to create such things as "hubs" where businessmen can drink coffee and access the internet, where children used to read books. Librarians who welcomed people and helped them read were replaced with security guards, who sent them away if they didn't have the right card. Under 16's had access removed, meaning no quiet place for exam revision and no access to books for study. And all of this money saving came at a cost of £14 million. You really couldn't make it up.

That would be a massive scandal in itself. There is currently a challenge going to the secretary of state as there is evidence that it may be illegal. It is certainly discriminatory and many believe not compliant with the Libraries act. However it is dwarfed into insignificance by the failure of Childrens Services. An OFSTED report deemed the council to be failing. Essex County Council were brought in to take over and turn things around. Click here to read the whole sorry tale of woe. It seems that with competent management lead by Essex, things are now improving, but surely the councillor responsible - Rubes - should have been sacked? What organisation on earth would reward someone for such abject failure? The answer is The Barnet Conservatives. Reuben Thompstone has been reward with the Mayoralty. This is normally given to councillors with long service as a reward for doing a fantastic job. The outgoing Mayor was Brian Salinger. He was one of the longest serving councillors, former leader and a man steeped in public services. He was kept waiting nearly a decade for the honour. The difference was that he wasn't mates with Dan Thomas. He wasn't a yes man. The message that the elevation of Rubes sends loud and clear to all of the other Tory councillors is that "failure is fine so long as you put your hand up when we tell you".

Back in 2012 we made a film called "A Tale of Two Barnets". There is a modern update. "A Tale of Two Tories". One, Maureen Braun showed compassion for disabled children. Her payoff? A sneaky deselection. The other, Reuben Thompstone, showing no compassion, cocking up Childrens services and spending a fortune on making libraries less accessible. His reward, the best job in Barnet, a free limo, a big robe and load of bling.

It makes me sick. Over the years, I've always done what I can to support the Mayors Charity. I've given thousands of pounds, logisitical support, attended events etc. I am sorry to say that I will not be doing so this year. Councillor Reuben Thompstone is a complete disgrace and I will not be supporting this vicious charade. It seems I am not alone in this view.
Julia Hines is the former chair of Age UK Barnet.

I really have only one question for the Barnet Tories - Why do the they reward abject failure and despise compassion?

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