Friday, April 27, 2012

Get rid of this poisonous toad!

LORD TOAD of Totteridge

IT'S less than a week to voting time, and though without enthusiasm for either the institution of mayor or the fading once-"Red" Ken who is Labour's candidate, I will have to vote for him I suppose, to strike a blow against the rich boys, Boris the bankers' chum, and Cameron the wealthy tax avoiders' son, in short the Bullingdon Club in government.

I'll be voting Labour in the constituency section too, but here I might envy friends in the Barnet and Camden constituency who will have the added satisfaction of voting to get rid of the most odious man in London politics (and that's just what some of his party colleagues think!), Brian Coleman. This is the Barnet councillor dubbed "Mr.Toad" because of his motoring run-ins with the magistrates, which led to a ban from driving, during which he ran up a taxi bill that exceeded those of other GLA members put together.

It seems that Brian is back at the wheel again, because someone reported him the other day using his councillor's parking permit in Golders Green while out campaigning with Boris Johnson. Barnet traders have been up in arms about parking charges hitting the high streets, and some of them just don't see that as a member of the council responsible Coleman should be exempt when he goes out doing party work as well as his council duties.

As a member of a highly-paid council, a senior Tory in the Greater London Assembly, and chair of the fire services committee, Coleman probably feels entitled to his estimated £120 grand a year plus expenses. Members of the public just don't realise the weight that must be on his mind. One local woman, bringing up a young child, approached him a few months ago saying that the landlord had put up her rent from £870 a month to £1,100 a month, and that she did not know what to do. Back came Brian with his advice. It was nothing to do with the council and she ought to try "living in the real world".

Brian Coleman is a councillor for Totteridge, which has some of the most expensive houses in London. The part of the "real world" where Brian Coleman resides is a flat owned by Finchley Methodist Church, where the rent is set by the rent officer. It has three rooms plus a kitchen and bathroom WC and costs the councillor, who is a single man, just £546 a month. Obviously the councillor leads by example, if you can follow.

Another area for which Coleman has responsibility is the environment, and he represents Barnet on the North London Waste Authority. Many people object to the French firm Veolia getting the waste contract, because of its involvement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, helping set up what is now a segregated light railway linking illegal settlements. Veolia has also been mentioned in the Israeli civil rights group B'Tselem's report on landfill sites in the Jordan valley.

In response to a member of the public who wrote to him on this subject, the councillor denounced her as antisemitic. “In my book anti-Zionism is just a modern form of anti-Semitism. I suppose 70 years ago you would have been in the blackshirts.”

We don't know what Coleman's "book" is, which ennables him to affect such ignorance about the Veolia issue, while offering his uninformed views on what someone might have been if they had been around 70 years ago. Perhaps his history or his arithmetic are as ropey as his politics, or the script for his conditioned reflex has dated. The exchanges over Veolia took place in January and February 2011. Seventy years earlier the fascists had shed their blackshirts and were dodging 18B, though some Zionists and some top men in Coleman's party had sought an accomodation with Nazism.

But we needn't digress into history. It is not a qualification for being in local government. But having some respect for your constituents is. When my friend Ron Cohen wrote to Coleman about Veolia, Coleman replied: “I will not entertain this anti-Israel nonsense.” When Ron informed him that he was an Israeli, he replied, “a disloyal one at that”. Coleman concluded their heated correspondence with “doesn’t take much to flush you out.”

(Not that Coleman is against all boycotts, mind. In 2008 he said British athletes would be "tainted with the blood of Tibetans" if they went to the Beijing Olympics. But no one has accused him of anti-sinesism, yet, because it's a word I've just invented. )

A meeting of Barnet's standards sub-committee at Hendon town hall last month ruled that the senior councillor had breached the members’ code of conduct by accusing members of the public of antisemitism, and shown disrespect for the woman he claimed might have supported the blackshirts. The committee asked Coleman to apologise to those he had insulted. Coleman refused, and vowed to appeal the decision taken.

It is not the first time the standards committee has found against him, but he seens to have as little respect for his council colleagues as for the public.

Coleman claimed he had been fighting a "rising tide of antisemitism" in Barnet and vowed to fight on. As someone remarked in the 'Mr.Toad Has Got to Go' Facebook group, "Very nearly as repugnant as racism are those who for their own purposes make use of false accusations of such behaviour: this devalues the real evil of mindless hatred and is nothing less than the politics of the gutter."

To put it another way, patriotism has proved to be the last refuge but one for some scoundrels.

Although Brian Coleman is all too well known in Barnet, and has inspired a whole genre of hostile blogs, he is probably not so familiar to people in Camden, which he is also supposed to represent in the GLA, but where he seems to have done nothing. As my blogging colleague Vicki Morris, of Barnet Trades Union Council, fears: " One perverse byproduct of his inactivity in Camden is that Coleman is not so hated there as he is in Barnet, where he is far too active! Turnout in Camden could be relatively low. A lot hinges therefore on the turnout in Barnet where Coleman and his works are well known".

They are organising a Coleman must go campaign in Barnet this weekend. But I hope enough people in Camden also remember to come out and vote next week, and to vote against Brian Coleman. And just remember, this is the man who provoked a firefighters's strike two years ago by threatening to sack London's firefighters. I said at the time that this was the man who ought to be sacked, and now you have your chance.

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