Only a few days before a general election here in the UK, and it looks like the real winner will be “none of the above”, as disaffection with disinterested politicians is at an all-time high, and “we’re all in it together” seems to mean they’re all in it together, along with their cronies in big business and the banking sector, and we peasants/proles can starve and/or freeze for all they care.
I’m not going to suggest to any of you which political party you should vote for (except for the obligatory “not UKIP”), but I am going to explain why the Conservatives (Tories) here in Barnet are such a toxic party for anyone who is not a Russian oligarch buying a mansion. In particular, I’m going to be trash-talking my local Tory candidate here in Finchley & Golders Green, Mike Freer, a man so venomous that even his local party seems to have turned its back on him…
(Okay, apart from a canvasser who came to my door — though he was very understanding when I said I wouldn’t vote for Freer if he was the only candidate!)
Oh, but where to begin with how the Tories have screwed up here? The usual place is One Barnet, the project of mass-privatisation of council services here in Barnet, which they did their best to conceal from us, culminating in a legal challenge from locals that was shut down on the basis that it wasn’t “in time”, despite the court not being able to agree when exactly the people of Barnet had been informed of it. However, it seems our elected Conservative councillors weren’t the driving force behind it anyway, and that it was the unelected council officers who were pushing this agenda. Which means that, at best, our councillors are ineffectual.
As far as the money goes, well, the amount we, the taxpayers of Barnet, are paying Capita and Comensura (who provide agency staff, replacing in-house staff who were made redundant) under One Barnet keeps going up and up, despite the fact that we were told it’d save us money. When, and whose money? We have only limited information, as they’re hiding behind commercial confidentiality to avoid revealing too much via Freedom of Information. There was even a £16m payment for investment in IT that Capita was supposed to front itself, but which the council paid to them, and then lied about, saying it was money they’d brought forward. All this can be read in the blog of a fellow Barnet resident, Mr Reasonable, who has been keeping tabs on everything as an “armchair auditor”.
The worst thing, however, is what they did to adult social services: Your Choice Barnet, where the “choice” appears to be between “suck it up”, “move away” and “die”. Making a profit from social care for the vulnerable is pretty unethical at the best of times, but this company couldn’t even get that right, and needed a million-pound bail-out after ONE YEAR. The attitude among Tory supporters here is that old ladies wanting hot food at consistent times is some kind of “gold-plated service” (rather than an essential part of a daily routine, especially for people with dementia), and that under austerity they should just put up with getting food whenever the overworked and underpaid staff (i.e. the people who actually do the work) are able to turn up, even if it means lunch arrives cold at 4pm. If they don’t like it, well, they can always leave Barnet, can’t they? It’s not the council’s fault if these people couldn’t be bothered to be rich and pay for private care in their declining years, like Maggie Thatcher (whose constituency was of course Finchley)… is it?
And yes, social cleansing is their real aim: a young Tory councillor here in Barnet actually stated that he wants to see a latter-day “Highland Clearance”, with all the socially-undesireable people, i.e. anyone on benefits, including the elderly, disabled, jobless and anyone who needs council housing, driven out of the borough. This has merged with their campaign to sell off any land they can to private developers (including museums and libraries, which of course only poor people use), and culminated in the closure of council estates such as Sweets Way and the forced eviction of the people living there, many with nowhere to go, so that expensive flats can be built instead. Oh, they claim they did their best to find these people new homes, but somehow places to live in Birmingham and Coventry don’t count for people with local jobs, and their children in local schools.
(Mind you, when one remembers what the metaphor “being sent to Coventry” means to posh people…)
There’s also privatised parking enforcement in Barnet, which seems to ignore the stated aim of parking enforcement — that of maximising compliance and minimising traffic disruption, using fines as a punitive measure — and instead seeks to maximise income through a combination of jobsworthing and outright tricking people into parking wrongly. They even said it’s not the job of traffic wardens to advise drivers on where they can park legally, which at best leaves the operatives open to accusations of entrapment, and at worst leaves the operatives open to use entrapment, in order to gain money from fines (as the council still seems to consider parking tickets a revenue stream that needs to be preserved).
Another Barnet blogger, Mr. Mustard, frequently cites examples of dodgy parking tickets, and advises readers on how to challenge them successfully where they were unfairly applied (e.g. due to signage being insufficient or confusing). He also highlighted how Barnet massively ramped up the charge for residents’ parking permits; fortunately they were defeated in court, which is why my drummer housemate (who seldom uses his car) pays £40 annually instead of £100. The council themselves admitted to this being pure revenue raising, but felt it was allowed on a technicality as they’d put the money into road maintenance (though leader Richard Cornelius did admit it had been “charmlessly” done, which was big of him).
But let’s get to the nub of my gist: Mike Freer, my local MP and the Tory candidate. This is a man who thinks he’d be better at representing the Jewish community because he isn’t Jewish and thus doesn’t have a “vested interest”, like his Labour opponent Sarah Sackman. It’s a ludicrous claim, because the one good thing he’s ever done as an MP is to speak out in favour of gay marriage, i.e. on behalf a community of which he is a part, so why is potential bias okay in his case but not hers? And as if that wasn’t bad enough, he also thinks Sackman is “bandwagoning” because she stands up for public libraries, disabled services and children’s nurseries here. Does he believe that only a political opportunist would oppose cutting services for the vulnerable, in an effort to curry favour and win votes? What does that say about him?
Perhaps this is why the Barnet Conservatives aren’t using social media much in the run-up to this election: they know they’ll just make things worse. Oh, except for one Tory, who you may remember me slagging off a couple of years ago… yes, unfortunately Brian Coleman is back in town, and boasting on Twitter about how he’s a member of the local Conservative association here in Finchley, despite the fact that they were supposed to have booted him out (albeit grudgingly, and only on the orders of the central Conservatives) back in 2013 when he was convicted of attacking a nice lady who runs a café in North Finchley.
However, Barnet blog The Barnet Eye has been unable to get a clear answer from the local Tories: initially denying he’d been let back in, they now seem to think his name had “accidentally” been left on their list, and that he’d thus been charged his 2015 membership fee (which they’ve publicly refunded) and sent his card. Either this didn’t happen in 2014 (since they haven’t refunded two sets of fees), or it happened and no-one knew, and he’s thus remained a member this whole time, only finally being exposed now that he’s crowed about it on social media. Which suggests he’s screwed himself by not being able to keep his big fat
mouth keyboard-typing fingers shut.
As you may recall me saying before, this is the guy who decided that only people with smartphones could park on high streets in Finchley (by getting entirely rid of cash-based parking meters), and then set SO15 (yes, anti-terror police) on the aforementioned nice café owner when she omitted one small detail from a poster she’d made criticising him. He attacked her when she photographed him parking illegally outside her café, in other words violating the intentions of his own position in the council (one law for them, and all that), and insisted he was innocent until the last minute before his trial, whereupon he changed his plea.
(Oh, and did I mention he’s a personal friend of Mike Freer? I’m sure that’s got nothing to do with anything, I just thought I’d throw it in here, you know, for completeness…)
All the above explains why I would not cast my vote for the Tories here in Barnet even if they were the only party, or had a burly thug follow me into the voting booth, a la Tower Hamlets, to make sure I voted the “right” way. The trouble is, who do I vote for instead? I recall how badly Labour managed things up to 2010, especially under Gordon “Let’s sell our gold reserves at the lowest possible price” Brown, but what other choice do I have?
I want “anyone but the Tories” here in Barnet, but what chance do the Greens have? I still want to support them (since they’re pretty much the only political party who wants to expose the secretive and sinister TTIP treaty, which will enable corporations to sue governments if they don’t make “enough” profit), but here in Barnet, would that be a vote wasted?
I’m just glad I don’t live in Bexley, or I’d be arrested just for writing this blog post!