A T-shirt for Mr. Toad
Coleman (thinks): I wonder what you are thinking, Boris?
Johnson: (thinks) I'm thinking,with you as No.2, Brian, nobody's likely to bump me off!
(photo from http://torytroll.blogspot.com/,
old joke from US president Richard M.Nixon talking about Spro T.Agnew )
FORGET Che and other left-wing T-shirt ikons, there's soon to be a hero fit for Tories to wear with pride! I hope I'm not being previous and giving away trade secrets, but I hear someone is sounding out the market for tee shirts depicting Barnet Tory councillor Brian Coleman, who also sits for Barnet and Camden in the Greater London Assembly, of which he has been deputy chair, and is chair of the regional fire authority..
Barnet was in the news, and figured in this blog, before Christmas, after the council found it had lost millions in Icelandic banks, but persevered with a bold plan to put staff on the dole and services out to tender. Councillor Coleman has come to my attention from time to time, with his remarks about "foreign students", and his assertion that it was "ridiculous" to suggest fire station cleaners deserved a living wage.
'A decision about whether to pay fire station cleaners a minimum of £7.20 an hour was referred to last Friday’s meeting after three members of the fire authority's Finance, Procurement and Property committee, voted against paying the London Living Wage to contract cleaners, whilst three voted in favour.
Following his vote against decent pay for fire station cleaners, Brian Coleman, Conservative AM, said that paying the London Living Wage of £7.20, “is just ridiculous.”'
That attitude seems to have been dropped by Mayor Boris Johnson last year, in the face of the RMT campaign for underground cleaners. But just because Boris gets so much publicity, we should not miss out this deputy. Brian Coleman is a very popular Tory. There's even a Facebook group dedicated to Brian and his wit and wisdom, called Brian Coleman (aka Mr Toad) has got to go. From it I learned that: 'He ‘outed’ Ted Heath in the New Statesman thus: "The late Ted Heath managed to obtain the highest office of state after he was supposedly advised to cease his cottaging activities in the 1950s when he became a privy councillor." That's very witty, not bad from a man who complained that his own rise to high office was obstructed by a bunch of "homophobic, bigoted old farts" among fellow-Tories, and said Ted Heath had been warned against taking tea with him in public.
After Liberal Lynne Featherstone told how she had called the fire brigade because of worrying noises from her boiler, which turned out to be just an airlock, Brian publicly condemned her as "dizzy", and "airhead", although fire officers said she had done the right thing in calling them.
The Fire Brigade Union’s regional secretary for London, Joe MacVeigh, said, “Councillor Coleman needs to decide whether he wants to be a serious political figure or whether he wants to continue playing the role of complete buffoon. He holds a position of enormous responsibility, and he should be dignified and statesmanlike in everything he does. Instead, he blunders around, whipping up controversy, and trying to draw attention to himself at every opportunity".
Some people accused Councillor Coleman of sexism, others compared the cost of calling out fire engines with the expense of Brian Coleman. The "Mr.Toad" tag is not a nasty description of Brian's appearance but a reference to his love of motoring and the freedom of the road. Some criticised his reopening a Barnet lane to traffic, but Richard Littlejohn dubbed him a "hero" for getting rid of speed bumps. St.Albans magistrates did not approve of his breaking a 30 mph speed limit in Borehamwood in 2006, when he already had nine points on his licence. On August 9, 2006 they gave him three more, fined him £300, and banned him from driving for six months. .
Well, a busy man like Brian has to get about, and between April 1 2006 and March 30 2007 he ran up £10,000 in taxi fares. Between April 1 and December 31, 2007 he ran up further expenses of £4,157. Ken Livingstone asked "Brian Coleman must explain to Londoners how he can possibly justify spending more on taxis in four weeks than the average Assembly member does in nine months."
In the Metro newspaper, Coleman claimed not to use taxis but said he thought he was being ferried about in 'an official GLA car'. They reported that in December 2007 he ran up a £412.50 cab fare on a round-trip from his home in Finchley to a nearby meeting where the driver kept the meter running before taking him to City Hall.
A GLA audit panel report in July 2008 revealed that Coleman had run up taxi expenses of £8231 in the period 1st April 2007 to 31st March 2008. This amounted to nearly half of all cab expenses of the Mayor and 25 assembly members. On one day alone Coleman ran up a cab bill of £656. Speaking to the Metro assembly member Jenny Jones said that he justifies the expense because he has taken to wearing gold chains from another era - "He doesn't need to wear these chains but his ego's out of its cage".
Then again, being a popular councillor and London Assembly member can mean carrying a heavy responsibility. They say there's no such thing as a free lunch, but Councillor Coleman's list of free lunches is exposed by 'The Barnet Eye':
Apart from hot dinners and travel expenses a person still needs pocket money. As a member of the GLA, Coleman receives a basic allowance of £50,582 Add to this his Special Responsibility Allowance as Chairman of the London Fire & Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) - £25,612.50. Add his basic Barnet Council allowance - £9,735 Add his Barnet Council cabinet allowance - £17,036. Total £102, 965.50 a year.
Still, Brian works hard to give value for money. As we've seen he has tried to keep down costs in the fire service by opposing the cleaners' living wage, and discouraging unnecessary calls, and he also proposed closing the London Fire brigades museum - "see one brass helmet you've seen them all". So we can't complain that at a meeting of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority that he chairs, he voted for an additional £7,564.91 (plus SR allowances) to be paid to authority members who are also on the London Assembly.
Coleman votes himself a further pay rise:
So while we may look forward to Brian Coleman attaining honours, Barnet trades unionist Victoria Morris has come up with the tee shirt idea. Apparently it came to her while mucking about with a fun computer programme that lets you form words into a fancy pattern. Vicky tried it with the list of Brian Colemn's free dineers. As she writes to the Mr Toad site:
"I have idled away an hour making a Wordle (www.wordle.net - hours of amusement guaranteed) from Brian Coleman's entries into the Greater London Authority Mayor and Members Register of Gifts and Hospitality. It's a fair mathematical representation of what Brian has entered there, based on word frequency: the bigger the word, the more often it has appeared in the Register. I hope you enjoy this picture as much as I do. The smallish word on the bottom line is 'Whetstone'. http://vickim57.blogspot.com/
I'm thinking of making it into a t-shirt to raise money for the campaign against Future Shape (Barnet council's privatisation plans) and am taking orders...
In a second message Vicki adds:
"More on the Coleman t-shirt - obviously, the wordle is on the back and on the front is Brian's face shouting 'taxi!'. Please email me - email@example.com - if you want one, because I am seriously going to look into this."
FOR more info. on Coleman see:
AND one last word in mitigation. A maverick Brian Coleman did call for abolition of the Corporation of the City of London, which runs the bit of London where the banks and money are, as distinct from the GLA. Ken Livingstone accused him of wailing like a "demented Trot". Coleman's not a Trot, I am, and it tells you something about Livingstone.
BARNET TRADES UNION COUNCIL AGM
7–9.30pm, Tuesday 10th February 2009
Committee Room 2, Barnet House, 1255 High Road,
Whetstone, London N20 0EJ
(tube: Totteridge and Whetstone, High Barnet branch of the Northern Line)
With guest speakers from the Chemilines dispute (GMB)
and London Underground cleaners (RMT)