|Bob Blackman, a Freemason, and "absentee landlord" with six buy-to-let properties in Welwyn Garden City was elected as Member of Parliament for Harrow East in the General election 2010; shortly after Tony McNulty (former MP for Harrow East) was found to be over-claiming his Parliamentary expenses for a second home, forced to repay £13,837 and made to apologise to the House of Commons.
Born on the 26th April 1956; Robert John Blackman is the son of Robert Blackman and Winifred French. He was educated at Preston Manor High School, and went on to enjoy free further education at Liverpool University, where he gained a B.Sc in Physics and Maths. In 1988, he married Nicola Rowsell (they have no children).
Careerwise, Bob Blackman worked as a Salesman for Unisys Corporation from 1979-90, then as a Salesman for British Telecom from 1991-95, as a Sales Tutor at British Telecom's training college from 1995-98, finally he was a British Telecom Regulatory Compliance Manager from 1998-2010.
Politically, Bob Blackman initially failed in his attempt to become a Brent Local Councillor when he contested Tokyngton Ward in the 1986 Brent Council elections. He was then lucky enough to be selected for the Conservative stronghold of Preston Ward, after the sudden death of Councillor Eric Newton, where, after a by-election he managed to get voted in.
[Brent at this time was known as "Barmy" Brent, because of its radical left-wing policies, and was at the time London's third most marginal borough. A few years later, after the Conservatives gained control of the borough, Private Eye magazine christened the Borough "Bent" Brent, because of the number of corrupt schemes that Councillors were involved in, as well as the Council's track record for abysmal mismanagement and incompetence.]
Bob Blackman was thusly a Brent Councillor from 1986-2010; during which period he was, Conservative Group Leader (1990-2010), Council Leader (1991-96), Deputy Council Leader (2006-10), and a member of the Greater London Authority (2004-08) [note: Bob was later criticised as being a part-time Councillor, by Councillor Ann John; when he tried to simultaneously juggle the role of Deputy Council Leader and GLA member as well as his work at BT].
Before having the good fortune of being able of being able to contest a constituency held by a corrupt sitting MP, Bob Blackman had made a number of prior attempts to become a Member of Parliament. For example, he failed to win the Brent South constituency at the 1992 General Election, next he failed to win the Bedford constituency at the 1997 General Election, and then failed to win the Brent North constituency at the 2005 General Election.
However, Bob Blackman's story really begins in 1991, when he managed to become Brent Council leader, after a number of Labour councillors defected to his Conservative Group...
To Labour Councillors Nkechi Amalu-Johnson and Poline Nyaga he gave a £1 million community centre as well as large personal allowances, their own office and support staff, which persuaded them both to cross the floor to Mr Blackman's group.
[Poline Nyaga and Nkechi Amalu-Johnson had previously declared policies of support for Ugandan dictator and mass-murderer, Idi Amin; wanting to sack all Asian staff working for Brent Council - so that they could replace them with Africans - and demanding that Harlesden should be renamed "Harlesden-upon-Paradise (Nirvana)" ward... They continued trying to introduce even more bizarre policies to Brent Council after joining Bob Blackman's Conservative Group, such as wanting to legalize female circumcision for African families; later they declared themselves to be Witches and claimed to have put spells on people - Amalu-Johnson was later arrested on sixteen Fraud charges].
In the case of Judith Harper, a Labour member who had apparently become homeless and had refused the offer of a flat on an estate, Councillor Blackman intervened and said that she could have a nice house on a leafy road in Barnet. She changed her political persuasion.
[Judith Harper resigned as a Councillor in 1993, after Land Registry records showed that she already owned a flat in Willesden - since 1989, which was rented to a private tenant. She was later arrested and charged with Fraud].
To Harshad Barot, who was being investigated by the council about the disappearance of a council grant for a voluntary organisation for which he was responsible, Councillor Blackman offered that the investigation by the council would be dropped. Harshad Barot crossed the floor.
[It was later found that Harshad Barot already had a conviction for attempting to defraud Brent Council over a Home Improvement grant].
Ken Livingstone noted, in a Parliamentary speech about Councillor Bob Blackman's dubious activities, that:
...in Brent, it is commonly known that Councillor Blackman is the municipal Robert Maxwell.
More episodes of sleaze and corruption followed over the next couple of years, and Early day motion 1993-94/1623 states:
...Tory group leader Mr Bob Blackman has blatantly ignored the Prime Minister's call for Tories to oppose sleaze and corruption by refusing to condemn this breach of the electorate's trust [...] Tory rule in Brent has sullied the name of the area, associating it with bribery, corruption and a complete lack of principle in the pursuit of power.
Bob Blackman failed to take action over the corruption dogging the council, and eventually the Standards Board for England ruled that "Rules were broken when Councillors M.D. Patel and Harshad Barot were admitted into the Brent Tory Group". Bob Neill was sent over from the Greater London Conservative Party to tell Councillor Leader Blackman that he either gets rid of Councillors Patel and Barot or that he would be deselected - Councillors Patel and Barot were removed from Bob Blackman's Conservative group.
Come 1994, Bob Blackman decided to take legal advice over a Channel 4 drama series called "Little Napoleons". Councillor Blackman, apparently, feared that the programme implicitly drew parallels between him and the shows Tory leader (who was portrayed as a particularly nasty person).
Since part of the action was filmed in Brent's Town hall Council Chamber, with the explicit agreement that no connections were to be made, Bob Blackman was incensed that there should be even the odd verbal reference. Interestingly, scriptwriter Michael Abbensetts seemed to feel no such impediments, saying in an interview given at the time:
This drama is about Local Government in general. But in some instances, about Brent in particular.
In 1995, it was discovered that Councillor Blackman had written "thank you" letters to Government policy advisers and ministers, expressing gratitude for grants which had helped the Conservative party win the 1994 borough elections, along with a shopping list of Government grants for the coming year, "to ensure there are no swingeing increases in the level of council tax set by the borough next year".
At that time, Councillor Bob was also implicated in bugging members of opposition parties, after a transcript of a conversation held at a Labour councillor's home was found on his discarded laptop computer. That transcript, along with a series of threatening letters and phone calls, had been used to try to intimidate Councillor John Duffy into dropping his investigation into the allocation of £70,000 of council tax money paid to Brendan Mulkere, the Secretary of the Brent Irish Centre
[The Brent Irish Centre was another interesting case, involving Bob Blackman; where there had been a vast difference between the lowest tender and the accepted bid for renovation work (£60,000 more than the Architect had estimated). The renovations still ran vastly over-budget, and massive VAT fraud was suspected. No proper contracts were agreed, workers were hired on a day-to-day basis, and materials were bought as needed. It was also suspected that Brendan Mulkere had circulated illegal pro-Tory election literature during the 1994 borough elections, which had helped Bob Blackman keep his majority.]
Later, under Councillor Blackman's leadership, "Ad Shop" - the semi-privatised section of Brent council that placed adverts and recruited staff - managed to lose £400,000 of Council tax payer's money.
An independent report by Derek Owen of Fisher French Owen Associates confirmed this loss and pointed out that Councillor Richard Buckley, Chair of Brent Business Board had "a clear and substantial non-pecuniary interest" and had used his position to prevent the losses coming to light. The report recommended that the District Auditor investigate the specific loss of £23,800 spent on alcohol, lunches and an occasion where the entire department had been flown to Schiphol international airport, and the VIP lounge hired for a one-hour staff meeting. According to the report, Councillor Blackman was complicit at every stage of this scandal.
Bob Blackman later tried to prevent the enquiry into this matter being held in public, and further attempted to suppress the report by intimidating councillors and insisting that it be discussed in closed session; hiring Securicor to distribute the report (which Bob had gone to the expense of having printed on red paper with each Councillors name woven into the fabric of their copy - to prevent photocopying or redistribution) and insisting that Councillors sign an undertaking not to show the report to, or discuss it with any third party, before being given a copy.
In 1998, Bob Blackman landed himself in a dose of trouble similar to Brent's earlier Maureen McGoldrick scandal (in 1986 Miss McGoldrick, a Teacher working in the London Borough of Brent, faced a witch-hunt after it was alleged that she had made racist comments - but was later found to be innocent).
To explain, Bob Blackman had sent a press release to four newspapers, accusing Councillor Ahmad Shahzad (Chairman of the Human Rights Society of Pakistan) of making anti-semitic remarks in a speech given at a meeting of young Pakistani workers, and suggesting that Mr Shahzad was unsuitable to work as a Brent Councillor.
The court found, after watching a videotape of the speech, that Ahmad Shahzad had said nothing anti-semitic, so Bob Blackman was made to apologise in court and pay undisclosed libel damages, as well as Mr Shahzad's legal costs.
Bob Blackman thought that he might be able to run for London Mayor in 1999 and 2003, but it seems that he was dogged by so many scandals that he failed to make the Conservative London Mayoral election candidate shortlist, and had to settle for Conservative party backing to become a London Assembly member instead.
In September 2000 Bob Blackman became a Freemason (Kenelm lodge, No.8255). Not much is known about this secretive organization, other than the conspiratorial information to be found on the internet. However, in 2007 Bob Blackman Chaired the Kenelm Masonic lodge.
Come 2001, Bob Blackman managed to upset children's champion Esther Rantzen, after he attacked the award of a peerage to Childline Chief Executive Valerie Howarth, and sarcastically suggested that giving Howarth a peerage was equivalent to giving Myra Hindley an MBE.
Esther Rantzen countered that she was saddened and appalled at the stupidity and ignorance of Councillor Blackman's statement, adding that he should apologise to Valerie Howarth for his shabby attack on her.
By 2003, Bob Blackman began acting even more childishly, since it was reported that during a fringe event "Fighting back in Labour's inner-city heartlands" held at that years Tory party conference, he called 4’11" Liberal Democrat MP, Sarah Teather, a "Poisoned dwarf".
After Bob Blackman eventually managed to became a London Assembly Member, he praised Harrow Council's decision to become one of the first councils to switch to fortnightly refuse collections (meaning that organic waste is collected every week, but residual waste, including disposable nappies, is only collected every two weeks), stating:
Harrow has a very innovative collection system that, with the help of residents, is creating great results for recycling.
Clearly overlooking the fact that fortnightly refuse collections mean that rubbish bins are often overflowing and become affected by bad smells and the proliferation of flies, rats, maggots and other vermin, as refuse piles up for an extra week, until the bin men take it away to landfill.
However, Bob Blackman changed his mind and made a U-turn, whilst campaigning to be elected to the House of Commons; stating in a press release:
A Conservative Government will change Whitehall policy, restoring the expectation that councils should offer full weekly collections - ending and reversing the Labour policy of bin cuts, which are harming public health and the local environment in many parts of the country.
That said, at the time of writing, Harrow council is still operating a fortnightly refuse collection policy, and since the General Election 2010, Brent council has also switched over to fortnightly rubbish collections, whilst Bob Blackman has remained silent about whether he still supports this scheme or not.
Bob Blackman also used his time as a London Assembly Member to air his anti-sports sentiments - condemning the new Wembley stadium because he felt that it was "a very grandiose design and the costs have spiralled out of control".
Shortly, he became the Conservative Party's London Assembly Olympics Spokesman, a position which helped him to pooh-pooh the 2012 London Olympics, merely because the plans might run over budget, and he considers that the logo is "hideous" and "a complete waste of money" (However, he failed to notice that LOCOG had forgotten to add VAT their costings, and appears to have taken no action whatsoever to limit other overspending.
As Conservative Party London Assembly Olympics Spokesman, he could have used his position to ensure that security was outsourced to a company capable of handling the size of the contract, or that event tickets were fairly allocated to members of the public that wanted to attend the games, so that large blocks of seats weren't left empty. But, instead, he used the opportunity for scaremongering, when he made a lot of noise about a long-decommissioned nuclear reactor having been on the Olympic site many years earlier.
Apparently, It didn't matter to Bob Blackman that Londoners may have fallen foul of nuclear poisoning in the 23 years since the reactor was decommissioned, but it would be an outrage that a few hundred athletes, competing for a month might suffer nuclear contamination.
[Queen Mary's college (who had used this reactor to train students of Nuclear engineering) pointed out that the reactor had been the size of a bucket, generated very little power in the two years in which it had operated, and was then properly decommissioned by the Nuclear Installation Inspectorate. As an interesting aside; it later transpired that the original reactor site was located next door to the television studio where the drama series "Bad Girls" had been filmed - all without any radiation related problems having been recorded].
Shortly afterward, Bob Blackman was quietly sacked as Conservative Party Olympics Spokesman, but continued his contempt for sport, after he suggested that Thai Kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and freestyle Wrestling should all be banned (since he dislikes sports so much, he will presumably refuse any tickets for the London 2012 Olympic Games offered to him as an MP).
Unfortunately though, Bob Blackman has been determined to try to keep dragging his political agenda into the UK's hosting of the 2012 Olympic Games, despite the International Olympic Committee (IOC) having publically stated:
The Olympic Games should not be a forum to raise political issues
In 2007, Councillor Blackman continued to show poor judgement in his choice of political company, when he recruited Bertha Joseph to his Brent Tory group; whereupon she quickly brought her Office into disrepute and was suspended from the council after using donations intended for a Down Syndrome children's charity to buy ball gowns for herself, as well as for failing to declare cash gifts and hospitality. [Bertha Joseph was subsequently promoted to Deputy Chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) by Chairman Brian Coleman, whom Ms. Johnson had previously appointed to the Authority. However, she was later forced to resign her position].
Bob Blackman almost got his comeuppance after the 2008 London Assembly elections, when having lost his seat on the GLA, he narrowly avoided a vote of No confidence called by his own political party, who accused him of underperformance and threatened to deselect him.
However, Bob continued in the role of Brent Councillor, using his position as Deputy Leader of Brent Council and Lead Member for Resources (meaning he presided over Brent Council's budget) to gain Brent a reputation as one of the most aggressive authorities in the UK when it came to bankrupting people for very small amounts of Council Tax arrears. A fact that Bob seemed to be proud of, since he would apparently boast about it at Council meetings.
The Council's Bailiffs forced debtors to pawn jewellery, and harassed the relatives of non-payers to such a degree that this shoddy way of treating residents prompted Brent North MP, Barry Gardiner, to publicly state:
The council is instructing [Bailiffs], even in cases in which it had entered into agreements with my constituents that they could pay their debts by instalment.
Meanwhile, Brent Council Chief Executive, Gareth Daniel, noted that Local Government Officers at Brent Council were being forced to provide political leadership because the Tory / Lib Dem coalition Executive members weren't up to the task. Further pointing out that the Council was top-heavy with highly paid Managers (sometimes managing only one person), hadn't spent enough on the people who actually deliver Council services, and suggesting that the council should get rid of about 10% of it's employees - many of whom had only been employed because of the fragmentary approach that Bob Blackman had adopted when he was leading Brent Council back in the 1990s.
Eventually, Bob Blackman resigned as a Brent Councillor, and started campaigning to become the MP for Harrow East, a nearby London Borough where the residents weren't so aware of Bob's chequered past, but not before having invested more than £45 million of Brent Council funds in Icelandic banks Heritable (the UK arm of Landsbanki) and Glitnir, both of which failed when Iceland became insolvent during the 2008 financial crisis.
Campaigning to be elected, Mr. Blackman got things off to a very poor start, when, during the run-up to the 2010 General election, he described Harrow Council as a "Basket Case", at a mental health charity meeting, of all places! Then, just a few days later, he described his Labour rival as "Mad", and part of the "Looney Left".
Next, as soon as he was elected, he appointed his wife, ousted Brent (Tokyngton Ward) local councillor Nicola Blackman, as his Office Manager on a generous £29,999 salary, despite this practise having been widely condemned during the previous MPs expenses scandal.
Bob then made another of his famous U-turns, reneging on the pledge that he had signed for the National Union of Students, during his election campaign - to vote against any rise in tuition fees - and instead voted to triple the amount that university students will pay for their education.
In the first set of expense claims reported after the general election, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) revealed that the Member for Harrow East had produced the third highest expenses claim in London: claiming £9,982.67 in his first four months as an MP; compared to other nearby constituencies, such as the Member for Harrow West, who claimed £458.55, the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner, who claimed £1,353.10, or the Member for Brent North, who had claimed no expenses at all.
Remarkably, Mr. Blackman asserted that he needed to spend £2,453.51 renting an office, and another £3,877.50 on staff for it. More incredible is that he spent another £2,515.63 on computer software - allegedly to help him keep track of his casework.
We've never come across software that helps people ignore the letters that are written to them!
More updates as Bob creates them...
- Thanks are due to the staff at the British Library, Brent Archives and the Colindale Newspaper Library, for providing the source material that was used to create this page.