Update: Since this blog appeared Grant Shapps, chairman of the Conservative Party has finally suspended Coleman from national party membership though he still says he is a local Tory councillor. He appeared before Uxbridge magistrates on November 5 and pleaded not guilty to an offence of assaulting by beating a local cafe owner, Helen Michael. He has been bailed to appear before magistrates on February 6 when the case will be heard.
Full reports on this are on the @BarnetBugle and @ BrokenBarnet websites.
The news that London’s former fire chair and Barnet councillor, Brian Coleman, has now been charged with assaulting local cafe owner Helen Michael and driving without proper caution is perhaps not surprising. Obviously as he will be appearing at Hendon magistrates on November 5 there can be no comment on the case.
But there is plenty of comment that can be made about Richard Cornelius, the leader of the Tory Party in Barnet and now self-serving arbiter of council standards in the borough. He has decided that despite Mr Coleman being charged that there is no need to suspend him from the Tory Party pending the court’s decision.
As Mrs Angry says in her excellent blog today ” this is preposterous” ( http://wwwbrokenbarnet.blogspot.co.uk/). He uses the lame excuse that somehow to suspend Mr Coleman would interfere with the judicial process. Like hell it would!
But there is a wider issue here. Mr Cornelius can only do this thanks to the decision of Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, to abolish in the name of localism, the Local Government Standards board last January. By no means perfect, this board did set standards for England and councils would have to be very wary about ignoring its decisions. Indeed councillors had no choice but to stand down.
My old colleague and hero, Peter Preston, former editor of the Guardian. warned of this in a prescient article before Mr Pickles acted. You can read it here ( http://bit.ly/XOyTWv) and everything he says applies to what is happening in Barnet now.
I hear rumours that Barnet Tories have checked the present law and even if Mr Coleman is convicted he could stay in office – provided he doesn’t spend three months or more in prison.
Frankly this is both damaging to the standards required in local government and to the Conservative Party in particular. It gives the impression that there is one law for Tories, and another for the rest of the public. It chimes well with the recent behaviour of Andrew Mitchell, the former chief whip, who swore at the police, and sits very badly with David Cameron’s initiative on Monday for tough intelligent justice.
It is time someone quoted Henry II and said ” Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?” and put Coleman out of the picture (not of course as brutally as the four knights) before he does even more damage to politics.
Finally as @BrokenBarnet reports the local Tory leader acted and started procedures to suspend Brian Coleman though he is still a member of the Conservative group at the moment.
Richard Cornelius, the Tory leader said:”I am initiating the process of suspending Councillor Coleman from the Conservative Group. There are group rules that need to be followed and I must abide by these rules.
“Due process must be followed and I will update as and when I can.”