Last weekend saw the inaugural annual conference, at the four star Sandbanks Hotel in Poole, of Forums Unlimited (FU), - a Broken Barnet initiative dedicated to encouraging residents' engagement with their local community representatives, created with the aim of fully embracing the council's stated desire to forge a new relation with their electors. This new relationship is, on the side of residents at least, going to be challenging and rigorous in its relentless drive for greater efficiency, and committed to delivering better opposition - at no expense whatsoever. Well, not that much.
Mrs Angry was obviously too busy to engage in much of the conference activity, spending all her time in the bar, or in calming aromatherapy sessions in the hotel spa, but for those who could be a**ed, there were plenary sessions, and workshops, helping residents to acquire new skills in suburban warfare: civil disobedience for the downtrodden masses of Hampstead Garden Suburb, 'heckling with confidence' voice training for council meetings, and a self help group for residents who have emailed Councillor Brian Coleman - and received a reply. All in all, a useful and inspiring weekend, and the £1,000,000 grant we hope to receive in funding from Councillor Ramsbottom's new Big Society Fund will be greatly appreciated.
Last night, in fact, some of FU's star pupils attended the Barnet area Residents' Forum, seizing the opportunity to test some of their new found skills. Rumours abounded that certain Cabinet members were refusing to attend unless guaranteed a police escort, or that Forum chairs had been told to take a hard line with any troublesome question makers. And as the evening progressed, it seems, from the reports given by her spies at the debriefing session, that many of the residents who had packed out the meeting became infuriated by the lack of direct response to perfectly straightforward questions, and eventually left in disgust. (Mrs Angry hopes that this was not just an excuse to clear off down the pub, and will be asking questions later.)
Never mind. Today marks something of a watershed in the history of the residents' resistance movement, and help has arrived courtesy of the kindness of strangers: a Mr Eric Pickles, no less.
At last week's tumultuous Cabinet meeting, Mrs Angry had noted a councillor monitoring the activities of residents in the public area. At one point, senior officers were alerted to something, and shortly afterwards, a member of the public was approached in relation to his use of a mobile phone.
He was allegedly threatened with expulsion from the public gallery at the Barnet cabinet meeting, for attempting to make a short film of proceedings on the phone. Mrs Angry believes that a complaint was made to Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and now look: a very interesting development this morning ...
According to a statement, Eric Pickles has announced ( and please note this will be the only instance where the name of Margaret Thatcher will be allowed in this blog with no accompanying insult):
"Fifty years ago, Margaret Thatcher changed the law to make councils open their meetings to the press and public. This principle of openness needs to be updated for the 21st Century. More and more local news comes from bloggers or citizen journalists telling us what is happening at their local council.
"Many councils are internet-savvy and stream meetings online, but some don't seem to have caught up with the times and are refusing to let bloggers or hyper-local news sites in. With local authorities in the process of setting next year's budget this is more important than ever.
"Opening the door to new media costs nothing and will help improve public scrutiny. The greater powers and freedoms that we are giving local councils must be accompanied by stronger local accountability.
"We are in the digital age and this analogue interpretation of the press access rules is holding back a new wave of local scrutiny, accountability and armchair auditors."
Ha bloody ha, Ms Hillan, Mr Coleman and all the rest. Well ... here's one citizen journalist looking forward to her reserved seat, and free One Barnet novelty biro, at the next council meeting, anyway.
But there is more: Hugh Muir in the Guardian Diary has a rather amusing item today.
'Revolution in Egypt, unrest in Bahrain, and citizens rise up in Libya. People have had enough. 'Tis the spirit of our times. "If the downtrodden citizens of Egypt can rise up against an appalling dictator, why cannot we downtrodden citizens of the borough of Barnet rise up against our appalling dictator and get rid of Brian Coleman forthwith?" writes resident and would-be revolutionary Larry Ross, in the Barnet Times. "I and thousands of others would be happy to join in any demonstration outside his house." But Larry, don't you know that Brian, the free-spending municipal Tory they all love to hate, would merely make good his escape by taxi – all the way, perhaps, to the Conservative safe haven of Hammersmith and Fulham. You, poor Larry, would foot the bill.'
Well, if someone is thinking of purchasing a one way ticket to Venzuela right now, Mrs Angry is more than happy to chip in: how about you, citizens?