The emphatic defeat of Brian Coleman in the London Assembly elections – a larger than life bully in true blue Barnet – was one of the defining features of the London Assembly elections.
He was knocked out of the seat by Labour comeback kid, Andrew Dismore, an “awkward squad” former MP for Hendon, whose campaigning skills and determination when he was a MP was well-known in Parliament. So he shouldn’t have been surprised that Dismore would pursue every voter.
But there is no question in my mind why 2012 was so different to 2008 for Brian Coleman – apart from the political climate that favoured Labour last night but also saw Dismore perform far better than Livingstone.
Coleman had a unique skill to anger nearly every group in the borough – whether the small shopkeeper, the motorist,home owners (over parking),the local firefighter, the trade unions, struggling single parents, religious groups, journalists, – and when there was a chance to throw him out they could hardly wait to do so.
But he had relied on a cash strapped local press to bully his way often unreported and rarely held to account by his local Tory group, who seemed to live in ” shock and awe” of whatever he said next.
But the difference between 2012 and 2008 is that he couldn’t get away with it so easily – because of the rise of the blogosphere. Five local bloggers including a larger-than-life figure blogging as Mrs Angry;a guy with a head for figures – Mr Mustard; John Baldy and the Barnet Eye and Barnet Bugle took him on – and wouldn’t let him get away with it. I should also add – Mr Mustard has reminded me -Mr Reasonable and Vicki Morris.
He also faced a pretty lively campaign from the Fire Brigades Union – both in Barnet and across London – because of his passion for privatisation which got him far too closely connected to AssetCo, the near bust and badly run owner of London’s fire engines.
In my view – though this can’t be scientifically proven – the coverage of the blogosphere changed hearts , minds and eventually votes in Barnet. They were read by large numbers of people (the one I did as an armchair audit on his expenses,home, and allowances, attracted well over 3000 hits)
Coleman himself was a large dinosaur when it came to the net – he needed young Tories and officials to tell him how to operate a computer – so he didn’t realise what was coming.
Coleman is one of the first councillors to be thrown out following bad coverage on the net. The very ” armchair auditors” that David Cameron and Eric Pickles are keen to promote – came out and devoured their protegé on the London Assembly. Grant Shapps, the computer savvy local government minister, should be proud to see people held to account in this new way.
If the Tories believe in real democracy the one decision Boris Johnson should take is not to use his power to re-instate Coleman as an appointed councillor in any way to the London Assembly. The people of Barnet and Camden have spoken.