Tuesday, 5 April 2011

I am a Camera

In many cultural traditions, the use of cameras and photography is a very sensitive issue. In others, of course, such forms of scrutiny are commonly used by ruthless authorities to control the population.

Here in Broken Barnet, we are blessed with manifestations of both traditions. We have no culture, as such, as our budget slashing, philistine Tory councillors have decided their citizens should get on the tube and look for it elsewhere, but we do have a toy town dictatorship always looking for new opportunities to keep the plebs under control, dominated by a cabal of sweetly shy individuals who protect their own privacy with all the modesty of a convent of Carmelite nuns.

The Twisted Sisters of the London Borough of Broken Barnet are so coy, in fact, that they refuse, despite the instructions of their own government ministers, to allow filming, tweeting, or photography in the council chamber by residents, yet, outrageously, their own contracted employees have admitted filming the same residents recklessly daring - or rather, in many cases, politely attempting, but failing - to attend a budget meeting.

Over the last month, the bloggers of Barnet have been protesting as publicly as possible about Barnet Council's use of a private security company, MetPro Rapid Response - or possibly MetPro Emergency Response - to control residents at this meeting on March 1st. Many questions have been asked, and almost none have been answered.

In fact, it is fair to say that rather than proceed with due regard to transparency, honesty, and accountability, this council has retreated into a corner, backs against the wall, and refused to communicate. Freedom of Information requests have been delayed, or ignored. Personal complaints have been ignored or delayed. The few answers that have been given have been minimal, begrudging, inaccurate, and careful to avoid the most important questions of all. And, oh look: is that a plume of smoke over North London Business Park, citizens? I love the smell of burning videotape in the morning, don't you?

Such obstruction and evasion can only point to one reasonable conclusion: that there has been a series of corporate failures, and that every effort is being made to prevent an open and honest inquiry into what has happened. The whole thing stinks.

And who is going to sort this mess out? Is going to be investigated, freely, voluntarily? No.

Have any opposition councillors taken a public stand on this issue? No.

Have our local papers here in Broken Barnet covered the story? No.*Update, 7.20pm: the local Times has now belatedly covered the story and claims Barnet has destroyed the footage, which didn't exist, did it? http://tinyurl.com/6zmfqxb

All credit then to the bloggers in Barnet who have stuck to their guns, investigated this issue, demanded questions and reported to the residents of our borough exactly what is going on.

And well done to reporter Georgia Graham and the Ham & High, (described, after all, by Councillor Brian Coleman, not so long ago, as a "quality newspaper"), whose story last week seems to have sent the Tory councillors and senior officers of the borough, and a few others, into something of a blind panic.

Yesterday a number of Barnet bloggers issued a joint press release calling for an inquiry into the highly controversial issue. There has been an enormous amount of interest in this story from mainstream media, and this has frightened some of the people caught up in the whole sorry tale.

I have to report to you, ladies and gentlemen, that there has been some unpleasantness and foolish statements by certain individuals in various quarters in regard to the coverage of this issue, and this has displeased Mrs Angry. She feels moved to advise that this is not a good idea.

Mrs Angry would like to speak to the councillors of the London Borough of Barnet, of all parties.

Councillors of Broken Barnet: are you going to sit back and accept all the crap being swept under the carpet?

Do you think perhaps you have become so institutionalised that you no longer know the difference between right and wrong?

Do you really just sit on the council for your allowances and a tupperware box of free biscuits after meetings, or do you care about your community?

Do you care about standing up for the truth, and taking responsibility for your actions?

Are you going to make your voices heard? Or are you going to carry on like a bunch of toothless old men sat on a bench watching the world go by?

You might not think this issue matters very much: you are wrong, if you do.

It's not just about a bunch of blackshirted bouncers, it's about how this council perceives its duty to the people whom it is supposed to serve, and who pay its wages. It's about probity, and accountability, and yes, transparency and scrutiny: all those things which our Tory masters think are meaningless words that they can betray for the purposes of political convenience.

Well: you can ban filming, and photography, and tweeting, and you can hire people to spy on your electorate, 1984 style, but there is one thing you cannot do, and that is stop the residents of this borough from watching what you do and holding you to account.

I don't need a camera: I am a camera, and I am watching you.


baarnett said...

"I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking."

Well, we'll leave out the 'not thinking' part; this is the original text from the 1939 book.

I get the feeling that 'Securitygate' may be a story that grows over the next few weeks and months, not diminishes.

Mrs Angry said...

I think you are right, baarnett: and they have no one to blame except themselves.