BRIAN COLEMAN: Maggie T, Nicky G, BoJo and me
PUBLISHED: 19:07 16 May 2008 | UPDATED: 15:05 07 September 2010
2008 Getty Images
After holding his seat at City Hall Brian Coleman, the self-styled King of Bling, talks to Ham&High reporter Katie Davies and, despite being openly gay, admits he always had a soft spot for Margaret Thatcher. AS the clock approached midnight on May 2,
After holding his seat at City Hall Brian Coleman, the self-styled King of Bling, talks to Ham&High reporter Katie Davies and, despite being openly gay, admits he always had a soft spot for Margaret Thatcher.
AS the clock approached midnight on May 2, the glass bureaucratic shell of City Hall was hardly the electrifying embodiment of Periclean democracy.
Half full with bleary-eyed journalists slouched over chairs and weary electoral officials watching the clock, the only people who still looked interested were the handful of Tory automatons running on too much caffeine and the promise of employment.
However, they all insisted on going the distance, waiting to hear Boris's victory speech, later described as affable, gracious and mature - in other words, boring.
But across town, with the far more theatrical backdrop of Alexandra Palace something much more dramatic was going on.
Brian Coleman, Tory Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden, had overwhelmed Ken's deputy Nicky Gavron. And in his five-minute acceptance speech, he thundered out a vicious, personal attack on his opponent. He coined himself a cheesy new nickname 'The King of Bling', made a rallying cry for the people of Tibet, and almost carried his elderly mother out of the building.
"I say what I think - I don't do beating around the bush," he explains, with a wave of the hand, a week later.
"New Labour damaged politics. There is no trust because of the lies they told. All these Blair babes who never said anything off-message. I say what I think and if people don't like it - well it's their democratic right not to vote for me."
But the politician, elected with a majority of almost 20,000, seems to have found plenty of people who do like his approach. In fact, Mr Coleman's direct and very verbal style, which is certainly not new, has miraculously landed him in trouble, but never disaster.
He once called Haringey "ghastly" and, despite a few shocked politicians, no-one seemed to notice.
"Haringey is ghastly," he says, shrilly. "Anyone decent has flown out of there. I can't be doing with this political correctness - no-one would go through Wood Green with their car doors unlocked."
The Assembly Member, who is also a Barnet councillor, once described Middlesex University as "crap". Despite this, he will recieve an honorary degree from the university later in the year.
"And I am honoured to accept it," he laughs. "They obviously recognise fantastic public service when they see it."
Is it still crap? "Put it this way, it is the best university in North London," he smiles in full knowledge that it's the only university in the area.
The electorate, it seems, has warmed to his outspoken style, and another of his traits - he will, and does, attend anything and everything in his constituency.
"Half the job of a politician is turning up," he explains. "I am one of life's great turner-uppers. There is no envelope too small for me to go to the opening of."
It could be why Mr Coleman isn't too fussed about going on the record when others might be more circumspect. He is open about being gay and even 'outed' former prime minister Ted Heath in his weblog.
"I have never experienced homophobia in the Tory party," he says. "You only have to look at the make up of the Assembly to know that. Three out of our 11 members are gay. I think gay men have the time and energy to devote to local government. We haven't got nagging wives demanding we take them to the pictures."
He says that his work means he has "no time for relationships".
"Politics is my social life - you can't live a normal life if you do this," he shrugs.
"The downside is you can't ever relax and you have no privacy. Even if I go to the supermarket wearing a baseball cap someone will stop me to ask about broken paving. And sometimes it goes too far. Once I found Channel Five going through my dustbins."
For someone who dedicates so much time to politics, it must have stung that he wasn't made one of Boris's deputy mayors.
He laughs it off with typical Coleman aplomb: "Not at all darling, why would I want to be some deputy of paper clips."
But one can't help but think that after eight years under Ken he expected to have a place in the sun under Boris.
But he happily points out that he isn't the perfect match for Cameron's Tory Party.
"I am a traditional Conservative and Cameron is perhaps more socially liberal - they are more touchy-feely and I don't do touchy-feely. Boris does," he said.
"But Cameron is an extremely clever man. It's all very well for old farts like me, but we just can't win a general election like that. He appeals to a new generation. It was Mrs T who got me interested. She was my MP and I was a huge admirer - I still am.
"If I was to love any woman it would be Margaret Thatcher."
He says that this term he will focus on the constituency: "I couldn't care less about anywhere but Barnet and Camden".
That will start with getting Boris to restore viewing corridors for Primrose and Parliament Hills, stopping plans for a Cross River Tram and resolving issues with a Transport for London loading bay in Hampstead Garden Suburb that is costing drivers thousands of pounds.
Post office closures won't, however, be on the agenda as he states simply: "There is nothing Boris can do. Ken made promises on things he couldn't deliver."
This focus on small-scale ambitions shouldn't, however, suggest that Mr Coleman is shying away from notoriety.
"The question is, do I want to be a big fish in a small pond or a small one in a big pond," he says. "I want to get things done I don't want to be a bored backbencher in Westminster. As constituency member for Barnet and Camden I get more media coverage in a week than they get in their careers."
And it's media coverage that Mr Coleman knew he would get with his well-timed election outburst. He attacked Ms Gavron for mocking the badge he wore as Deputy Chairman of the Assembly by calling it "bling" and then lashed out at her decision to carry the Olympic torch.
"I just decided to go for her," he says, smiling rather viciously. "I was sitting in my garden during the count and I knew then exactly what I wanted to say.
"I have been a long-time campaigner for Tibet and the sight of Nicky Gavron handing the torch to Steve Redgrave was disgusting. She commented on the badge and it really annoyed me. It is a nice badge and there is nothing wrong with the traditions of local government."
Just weeks into his mayoralty Boris Johnson will be hoping this is the first and last time Mr Coleman upstages him. But given Mr Coleman's love of the limelight, that's rather doubtful.
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