London's political scene lost a giant yesterday, following the sad news that Brian Coleman had been expelled from the Conservative party.
Coleman has been a well-known, if not well-loved, figure in this city for nearly a decade now. Partly this is due to various important jobs he's held (GLA member, chair of the London Fire & Emergency Planning Authority, mayor of Barnet, et al.). Mostly, though, it's due to his outstanding record of tragicomic misbehaviour. The average politician may spend their time sucking up to the electorate and trying desperately to avoid controversy. Our Brian, though, sometimes looked like a man on a mission to offend as many voters as he possibly could.
Who can forget the £10,000 taxi bill he expected the taxpayer to cover for him (more than the other 24 GLA members put together, as it happens)? Or the time he was accused of screaming at shopkeepers who had dared to stick up posters campaigning against his re-election? Or his legendary rudeness, which saw him dismiss his critics as “hysterical” or "hags"?
His defining characteristic, though, seems to have been a quite monumental inability to handle criticism. He attacked political bloggers for "undermining” political institutions (by, for example, publishing details of what politicians were doing). He accused those who questioned him of anti-semitism ("I suppose 70 years ago," he wrote to one woman who’d written to him about local waste contractors, "you would have been in the blackshirts"). And when a struggling single mother asked his advice on her housing problems, he told her that she needed to stop expecting help and “live in the real world”. (At the time, incidentally, he was reportedly earning an estimated £120,000 a year from the public purse.)
Coleman's star has been waning for some time - he lost his GLA seat last May - but one can't fault him for going out in style. The reason for his expulsion was no mere financial scandal, but a conviction for assault (!) on a woman (!!) who'd filmed him illegally parking in a loading bay (!!!?!). The combination of parochialism, hypocrisy, and low-level thuggery the incident represents seems, somehow, the perfect exit for the man.
This may not be the last we see of Brian, however. He's promised he'll be standing for re-election next year on "a platform of proper Conservative values". We can't wait.