Last night was a momentous night in Barnet Politics. For the first time ever, the Labour Party took full control of the council. They had lead a coalition with the Lib Dems between 1994 and 2002, but in the recent election, they took full control. I've been attending these AGM's as a blogger since 2010.
Last night brought back many memories, and before we get to last nights business, let me share a few, as this really was a historic night and this blog may well be the only lasting public record of this.
Back then, we had six bloggers in Barnet and several showed up for the AGM as I recall. There were disaffected Tory bloggers Don't call me Dave (moved to Essex). The experience of the AGM prompted Dave to announce the first of his many farewell blogs (he posted around a 100 more). Dan Hope (Sadly passed away and hios blogs disappeared when the subscriptions ran out), there was the amazing queen of the Barnet Bloggers Vicki Morris, who has somehow been airbrushed from the story, but was there at the start (Vicki invented the Friday Joke tradition of Barnet bloggers). Vicki was leading a protest against the policies of Middlesex Uni on that night (some things seemingly never change!). Then we have Mr Reasonable, still reasonably active (forgive the pun). No blog from him that night. Mrs Angry, no blog from her either, she was the new kid on the Barnet bloggers block and I am not sure she'd discovered the joys of Council AGM's then. Mr Mustard started later in 2011, so he missed the fun.
Back on that AGM night, Lynn Hillan was the leader of the triumphant Tories. 39 of them were elected, 21 Labour and three Lib Dems. I couldn't believe the inept Tories had been rewarded for such incompetence as they'd shown over the previous couple of years. It was a harsh lesson. I've come to realise that local politics play little role in how people vote, unless there is a massive local issue (such as Croydon Council going bust). If people hate the national government, such as Gordon Brown in 2010 and Boris in 2022, they give the local parties a good kicking.
So that is where we were last night. The electorate had given the Tories a good kicking. They were down to 22 councillors, Labour had 41, a record in Barnet. I sat down in the front row of the public gallery. A council official asked me if I'd booked a seat. I said "I didn't know you had to". He said "I will have to ask you to leave if the person the seat is reserved for turns up". I responded "Great, that will write my blog for me". The penny dropped and that was the end of the conversation. For a moment, I was actually quite looking forward to getting booted out and going for a pint in the Greyhound. Sadly, I was repreived.
The fun started. I can't stand the pomp and ceremony. I know a few people in the audience love it and the Ex Mayor, such as Brian Coleman etc, lined up as guests of honour revel in it. If it was down to me, I'd abolish the whole caboodle and run the meetings on a proper business footing. But I wasn't elected so I guess that is irrelevant. As proceedings progressed, myself and other locals tweeted. Here is how I saw the meeing
It started with the Barnet Alliance turning up to lobby Labour to #KickOutCapita. A couple of the crew, Mill Hill residents, told me they'd broken the habit of a lifetime and voted for me in the election. I said "Don't say it too loud or Labour will ban you" We all smiled conspiratorily.
The meeting started with the entrance of the outgoing Mayor and hubby consort. We then had a prayer from her chaplain. I love a good prayer, I go to Church every week, but I always feel uncomfortable mixing religion and politics. The Chaplain did a fine, but to me it seemed rather anachronistic TBh.
Then we had the handover and the new Labour Mayor. A few thing of note. No hubby as consort. In fact both the Mayor and Deputy Mayor Nagus, chose femaile consorts, so for the first time ever, the entire Mayoral team is female. Then the Mayor announced she would be dispensing with the services of the chaplain. Young people will be asked to speak as required. All of these things are symbolic and quite important. It says that Barnet has changed. Last week, we saw a young footballer come out. My one hope is that in ten years, neither of these things are deemed worth a mention.
Then Barry Rawlin, the new leader was elected and made his pitch. There wasn't too much I disagree with, although I strongly disagree with the abolition of the Residents forums. When I started blogging, these attracted 50-60 residents. The Tories emasculted them and made it almost impossible to use, so the attendance had dropped. I thought Barry should have revitalised them.
Two things Barry said that I strongly agreed with was the commitment to end mass outsourcing and build 1,000 new council homes. I will support both of these initiatives.
Then it was the turn of Tory Leader Dan Thomas. WIth every passing day, he reminds me more and more of a rancid sardine. Slippery as hell and past his sell by date. He berated Barry for not choosing one of his Tory chums as head of audit. He claimed that it had united him with 'hard left bloggers' in his opposition to the move, whilst glaring at me. The difference is, I said this when he was giving his tory chums the £15,000 allowance to do the job. I've not been a hypocrite and changed my mind. Dan is not too clever. What message is he sending his troops in acknowledging that the Barnet Eye was right all along and he was wrong. They say the Lord rejoices when a sinner repents. I suppose I should, but it simply made me feel sick.
The Leader of the @BarnetTories has just done a massive U Turn and admitted I was right all along that it was a travesty that he appointed one of his own party to chair audit. What a complete hypocrite he is, although a sinner who repents is always welcome— Roger Tichborne/Rog T (@Barneteye) May 24, 2022
Then we had Labours Ross Houston as Deputy responding. As people who know Ross will testify, he was sound and sensible. Even Brian Coleman likes Ross! He is a lovely bloke and an asset to Barnet Council. When people are sensible and reasonable, it makes blogging quite hard.
However when they are silly billies, it becomes fun. Cue Deputy Tory Leader David Longstaff. I used to quite like David. He is amenable and was very supportive of Helen Michael when Brian Coleman assualted her. At some point, he has either bashed his head or had a lobotomy. He sarcastically claimed Labours win was a 'peice of cake'. Did he mean that the the Prime Minister, Leader of his party is liability, or did he mean that the local Tories campaign was a complete a joke. Both are true, why he'd choose to say this at the AGM is beyond me.
David Longstaff is a failed actor. He once played one of the Sex Pistols in a TV skit. I'd assumed he'd understand how to work and audience and how to handle hecklers. He launched into a sarcastic lambastation of Barry Rawlings. Davis seems to think he's a Shakespearean performer. He's not, he's Catford Comedy club on a Monday night. He loftily said "Labour thinks everyone in Barnet should have a good job, who will be left to do a bad job?" He glowered at Labour, leaving a long pregnant pause. Or at least that was what he intended. I shot back straight away "YOU!". Everyone, Tory, Labour and non aligned roared with laughter for a good minute. David turned red and his voice went up to semitones, no more pauses, just a squeaky rant. No one was listening anymore.
The council then got down to business. Various reports were passed, committee members allocated, etc. One thing I was pleased about was that Labour have cut the allowances of councillors, saving £400K. Well done. The full set of reports that were approved are available here.
After the meeting, I had a chat with Barry and Ross, amongst others. Ross told me that they've set challenging targets, he hopes to meet them. I said "If you only build 750 council homes instead of 1,000, that will be 750 more than the Tories would have built". They have four years to make their case. It is in all of our interests that they do.
When the meeting finished, I adjourned for a swift half to the Greyhound. To my absolute delight, I ran into the former curator of the Church Farmhouse museum, Gerrard Roots. Gerrard is a wonderful chap. We had a beer and I asked whether he thought there was any way we could revive the museum. He said "The collection is gone. A museum without stuff is not a museum, if it can be done in a book, do a book". It got me thinking. Barnet is a wonderful place. The history is worth celebrating. There is plenty of 'stuff' that needs a home, but we need a reason to have it. It has to tell a story fit for 2022. What is Barnet? Perhaps the two things in Barnet that most people would travel to visit are the RAF museum and the Yaohan Plaza food court. Where is the celebration of our South East Asian community that makes that so wonderful? My good mate, Mark Amies is a historian who celebrates the industrial heritage of North London. Where is the museum where we celebrate, the cars, the fridges, the motorbikes, the clocks that were made in Barnet? It' all there, staring us in the face. Maybe, just maybe, the new regime will make us appreciate our heritage and bring us together.