BRIAN COLEMAN (l) and DENNIS MCSHANE (r)
SUPPOSE I shouldn't crow over the downfall of individuals whom I happen to have taken potshots at in this blog, but what the hell, amid the ongoing bad news this last week, what with storms, ash disease, global warming, Michael Gove and ATOS, it was nice to end the week with something to laugh at.
That was supplied first of all by Brian Coleman, "Mr.Toad" as he was dubbed by some bloggers in the London Borough of Barnet, where he is illustrious councillor for leafy Totteridge. Having lost his seat on the Greater London Authority to Labour's Andrew Dinsmore in May, Coleman nevertheless seemed his old cocky self in September, saying he would refuse to apologise to a Barnet woman whom he had likened to a pre-war Blackshirt because she wrote to him about the Veolia company's involvment in Israeli occupation.
"In my book anti-Zionism is just a modern form of anti-Semitism", Coleman declared, going on to slam an Israeli friend of mind, Ron Cohen, as "disloyal", because he too had written to him about Veolia.
Coleman was found to have breached the council's code of conduct and censured by the Local Government Standards Tribunal, but he refused to apologise to the two constituents, and said September that he felt “under no obligation ... This was a matter dealt with by the flawed Local Government Standards regime, now abolished.”
That same week he was detained by police after allegedly attacking a café owner who filmed him parking in a loading bay in North Finchley. Council parking restrictions and charges have been a sore point in Barnet, as has been the councillor's own parking. Charged with assault and careless driving after the September 20 incident, Coleman is due in Hendon Magistrates Court on Monday.
Meanwhile he has been suspended from the Conservative Party. It seems the decision came from the party at national level while the Barnet Tories were still dithering. And a belated and grudging apology to one of the constituents he had insulted was too late to save him.
Now the 'Toad' has turned. In an amazing attack on the "One Barnet" outsourcing policies he formerly supported, which would leave the council as a mere procurer of services, handing £50 million a year contracts to private firms, the Totteridge councillor says this was a typical "New Labour" idea, and should be scrapped. Claiming the council was hoodwinked by its officers (the chief of whom departed recently), Coleman also blames trade unions, presumably for cleverly supporting the scheme by pretending to oppose it.
Whomsoever the Gods (and this blog) wish to destroy, they first drive bonkers, even if showing a flash of sanity. Local bloggers in Barnet, by whom our Brian will be sorely missed if he goes for good from local politics, have written to the council for a consulation over the "One Barnet" scheme.
FROM Tory Councillor Coleman (who incidentally has his own blog as "the King of Bling" to Labour MP Dennis MacShane who decided to resign this week after Kevin Barron, the Labour chair of the cross-party committee on expences, described the findings against him as the "gravest case which has come to the committee for adjudication".
The committee recommended that MacShane should be suspended from the Commons for 12 months, with loss of pay and pension rights for the period, after ruling that he had submitted false invoices to pay for official trips to EU countries. He also allowed interns to keep laptops, paid for by parliament, when their internships came to an end.
MacShane is no stranger to parliamentary committees. As chair of the inquiry panel of the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Anti-Semitism, he was a leading campaigner for the claim promoted by the Israeli government and American Zionist lobbyists, and adopted by Brian Coleman, that anti-Zionism is the "new antisemitism". His panel condemned the lecturers' union UCU for allegedly interfering with academic freedom and creating problems for Jews by publicising the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israeli universities.
Writing in the Jewish Chronicle, back in March, under the headline Tragedy in Toulouse shows Jew-hatred is alive and well, MacShane lumped gunman Mohammad Merah's attack on Jewish schoolchildren with critics and opponents of the State of Israel, ranging from Iranian president Ahmadinejad to his own old union the National Union of Journalists.
"There is little media or political concern when the National Union of Journalists or the University and College Union back boycotts of Jewish journalists or Israeli academics", complained McShane, accusing the unions of "double standards" and antisemitism. .
As I pointed out at the time, neither union had decided any such thing. The UCU had publicised a call for Israeli academic institutions to be boycotted because of their involvment with repressive government policies, and the NUJ sent a resolution to the TUC, in the wake of the onslaught on Gaza, concerning a consumer boycott of Israeli goods which many people see as justified by discrimination and the treatment of Palestinian farmers and their produce, just as a previous generation boycotted South African goods, or if you go further back, the TUC boycotted Nazi Germany
If McShane had merely wanted to argue against these policies he might as a good journalist have checked his facts, but he seemed to prefer the old tabloid adage "Never let the facts stand in the way of a good story!" even when attacking his old union, and smearing it by association with terrorists.
It seems McShane was equally imaginitive in his expences claims. During the 2009 expenses scandal the Daily Mail reported that he had claimed £125,000 over a period of 7 years for his garage, which he used as a constituency office. One fellow Labour MP privately told the journalist that he was ‘very surprised’ at the scale of Mr MacShane’s claims given that he does not have to pay to rent an office.
In total, MacShane was ordered to repay £1,507.73 in wrongfully claimed expenses, with his appeals against the ruling being rejected. In addition, he was alleged to have passed twelve invoices from the "European Policy Institute" for "research and translation" expenses to the parliamentary authorities, and claimed for eight laptop computers in three years. A number of newspapers stated that the EPI was "controlled" by MacShane's brother, Edmund Matyjaszek, a claim which MacShane denied: "The EPI was set up 20 years ago by a network of people on the Left working in Europe and the US...Ed is my Brother, but simply administrates it."
On October 14, 2010 Labour decided to suspend Denis McShane from the whip after the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards had referred an expenses-related complaint about him to the Metropolitan Police. In June 2011 The Daily Telegraph highlighted further discrepancies in MacShane's expenses which had been uncovered by former independent candidate Peter Thirlwall. As a result he held an emergency meeting with House of Commons officials and agreed to repay a further £3,051.38.
MacShane had previously written an article for The Guardian in which he quoted Macaulay ridiculing the British public in its "fits of morality", and tried to play down the expenses scandal: "There will come a moment when moats and manure, bath plugs and tampons will be seen as a wonderful moment of British fiddling, but more on a Dad's Army scale than the real corruption of politics."
Referring to the use made of the European Policy Institue and claims for travel and books, as well as office equipment, the committee said: "The real mischief of Mr MacShane's actions was that the method he adopted of submitting false invoices, as the commissioner said, bypassed the checks and controls the House had instituted in a way which enabled Mr MacShane to spend public money as he thought fit." The committee was also critical of his use of laptops. "We do not believe that any reasonable member would have considered it proper to have allowed interns to take laptops provided by the public purse away with them at the end of their internship," it said.
Back in March I wrote :.
"The people of Rotherham surely deserve better? And if Labour is not prepared to remove the disgusting Denis McShane, I hope trade unionists and socialists will make it their business to send him packing and into obscurity".
It appears that MacShane said he would resign after accepting the findings of the investigation by John Lyon, the parliamentary standards commissioner, which was launched after a complaint by Michael Barnbrook, a former BNP member.
The disgraced MP is reportedly giving the BNP credit for his downfall, claiminng it wants to thwart his "campaigning against antisemitism", forgetting perhaps that regardless of its antisemitism the BNP at the last election voiced strong support for the State of Israel, just like him, and admiration for what it was doing to the Palestinians. The BNP's Nick Griffin may now be abandoning that turn if only to distance his party from the Israel flag-waving English Defence League, and he could be hoping to restore his fortunes with a by-election in Rotherham where the BNP got over 10% of the vote in 2010.
Any chance the far-Right could do better this time may be spoiled by their splits, with Griffin rival Andrew Brons, already a Yorkshire MEP, likely to be eying the seat for his breakaway hardline True Brits. But in any case, what has to be faced is not whether the far Right played any part in bringing McShane down, but the extent to which Labour MPs who dip into the public purse, run sidelines, and deride the concerns of the public, provide opportunities for the fascists. It is the job of socialists not to shield such politicians but to block those openings by interposing our own alternative.