Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Brian Coleman - a cautionary tale for our times

Last Friday, Councillor Brian Coleman was convicted of assault.  When I last commented upon Coleman, he had yet to suffer a spectacular fall from political grace of a kind that few politicians have experienced.  Unlike Chris Huhne, he did not conspire to pervert the course of justice beyond a protracted denial of any culpability.  Yet despite some damning evidence on CCTV of both his crime and his incredible pig-headedness in refusing to accept responsibility, the process dragged on for months, clogging up the courts and wasting time and money in a way only a Tory politician caught in the headlights can do.

Coleman had become a political liability for the Tories well before this.  Evicted from the GLA by Labour in the form of Andrew Dismore, even his cronies and clients in Barnet then dropped him from their Cabinet - moving from a bling-tastic six-figure allowance scam to the levels of individual councillor allowance must have been cushioned by living in subsidised accommodation - and then the national (not the local) party suspended him after the assault charge was brought.

In many ways, this is a tragic indictment of a career politician - who appears to consider himself both superior to other mortals and immune from both criticism and the consequences of his action.  The provocation (as his lawyer tried to argue in mitigation) was that the victim had been vociferous in protesting about (and recording the consequences of) Coleman's parking policies on local businesses - and as the leading councillor he was a legitimate target, especially when spotted parking illegally to use a cashpoint when other road users would have been fined.  To criticise a politician and to expose apparently hypocritical behaviour is the right of any reasonable elector and citizen.

So he has been convicted and fined - a criminal record is not a light punishment.  Yet he still has apologists and "friends" who are willing to defend his conduct and not to question whether he remains fit for public office.  Humility and common sense would dictate his withdrawal into private existence, making the most of an opportunity to re-assess whether his talents might be best directed into not antagonising his fellow human beings.  Until he either stands down or is defeated, he will face what he will doubtless regard as provocative scrutiny, but he has done nothing that gives confidence that such behaviour is a one-off, unrepeatable aberration.

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