Last week's local press was bad enough.
Blimey O'Reilly. That was nothing.
This week, the coverage of the Allowancegate scandal which has so enraged the residents of this borough became even more outspoken. The local Times group papers, and even the normally restrained Barnet Press, have both reached unprecedented heights of condemnation of the Tory councillors and their greedy little plot. The Times is really going for it by running a petition to demand the council back down over the pay rise. Neither of these publications have previously taken such a stand on a matter of local controversy, and it is very gratifying to see them doing what local papers should do, and defend the interests of the community in such unabashed fashion.
Of course, I think that what has been described in the Guardian, no less, as the 'pulsating blogosphere' here in Barnet can take the credit for kicking all this off, and indeed continues to carry the story forward. And this phenomenon is a sign of steadfast and healthy opposition to the increasingly disturbing attempts of the local administration to enforce its will on an electorate it is trying to exclude from the democratic processes of consultation and communication, 'transparency' and accountability.
It is clear now that there has been a total breakdown of the relationship between the council administration and the residents of this borough. And the blame for this lies entirely with the attitude of contempt and the utter lack of respect from the Tory councillors towards the electorate which so recently placed it back in power.
Both local papers this week carried interviews with Leader of the council, Lynne Hillan, just back from her latest holiday. While she was presumably cavorting in the sun and enjoying her well earned rest - and after all we learnt that all cabinet members have to do a two day week, bless them - the job of dealing with the outburst of public anger at the Tory councillors' pay hike had been left in the capable hands of her eminence grise, Brian Coleman. He had in turn performed the miraculous deed of making things even worse by declaring that the grateful masses would prove to be 'delighted' at the thought that he would be having even more of our hard earned cash stuffed under his mattress. The interesting views of the residents on this particular comment may be read in the letters' pages of the local papers.
So it was up to Lynne, this week, to repair the damage, and launch a charm offensive on the mutinous residents of Barnet. Oh dear. This was as dangerous as asking Typhoid Mary to do the catering at a Buckingham Palace garden party.
You would think that she might have learnt, after her embarrassing tv appearance, in which she so spectacularly died a death, that using the media requires an element of intelligence and discretion. Evidently not.
How did Lynne set about winning back the hearts and minds of the electorate?
Well, in the Times she informed us:
1.Central government thinks councillors should be voluntary, which would mean you would only recruit 'retired' rather than working people, and therefore people who are not 'the right sort of people for the job'. Ms Hillan, with her spectacular success in company management, is obviously the right sort of person for the job.
2.If you are in the Cabinet, you are working two days a week, and this might interfere with your day job, if you had one.
3.The previous rate of pay was based on a scheme which was 'flawed' and 'inequitable'.
4.The pay rise was not a pay rise at all, but actually a 'redistribution'.
Ok. Let's take a look at all that.
1. Central government, and everyone else, is not saying councillors should be entirely voluntary, or without reasonable allowances. Reasonable, Ms Hillan. A difficult word for you?
What is so wrong, anyway, with retired people being councillors, if they are dedicated and conscientious? Your remarks are patronising. What other work do you do, apart from being a councillor? Are you running another company, perhaps? What matters is that councillors put the interests of their consituents first, are honest, hard working, and trying to serve the community because they care about it. Being a councillor is not a career, it should be a vocation.
2.If Cabinet members are claiming to be working two days a week, where is the evidence? When do they clock on - and when do they clock off? What about the councillors who are apparently being paid to attend meetings they ignore, yet still receive their allowances?
3.If the previous pay scheme was flawed and inequitable, why did you approve it in March?
4. If the pay rise is a redistribution, the fact that it benefits you and your cabinet chums at the cost of other councillors is hardly the basis for a claim of fairness and for the purpose of being more equitable, is it?
In the Barnet Press, Ms Hillan is pictured smiling, slumped complacently, arms outstretched in a tub chair. She proceeds to try to defend the pay hike. Same old arguments: a sudden respect for the new pay scheme, promoted by a quango (funny - thought the Tories despised all quangos) and then: oops, she becomes a little confused.
Apparently, Lynne and her gang 'had been looking to adopt' the new pay scheme 'for some time', although she then says 'we hadn't really discussed it' ... 'only after the election councillors started saying we needed to look at something different'.
So: they had all been thinking about it, but not really discussing it, before the election. Thinking, and somehow communicating a mutual desire by what? Semaphore? Mime? A coded game of charades? Or were they all thinking dark lonely thoughts in secret, a festering sense of injustice at their lowly rate of allowance? And then, in the warm afterglow of post electoral satisfaction, did the love that dare not speak its name, ie the love of money, just suddenly emerge all at once, in a spontaneous show of greed?
'I'm not saying I want more money ...' she whinges, 'but the unions have been allowed to increase public sector pay over and over again.'
Er: what? Yes, those lavishly rewarded public sector workers - so overpaid, don't you think? And lazy: how many hours a day, how many days in a week do they work? Oh, what, more than two days a week? No, you're having a laugh ...
The Press, like the Times, publishes a choice selection of readers' letters venting their spleen at the pay rise, and the editorial also tells us that some could not be published 'for legal reasons', leaving us to imagine the extent of foul mouthed fury they must contain, bearing in mind the vitriol of those that actually made it into print. The editorial itself is stunning, an admirable piece of invective, at one point remarking of the treatment of the one abstaining councillor:
'If that is democracy, give us a revolution.'
It ends by saying that this move by the councillors, if acceptable to the modern Tory voter, proves that there is no modern Tory voter, and Cameron's attempts to reform the party are 'swept away in an arrogant swipe.' Wow again.
But let Ms Hillan have the last word. In her parting shot, she gives a telling illustration of the 'difficult' and 'painful' times that everyone other than herself and her cabinet chums will be exposed to over the next few years. She warns us that residents' relationships with the council are going to change. When, for example, she explains, it has been snowing, and someone, presumably someone elderly or incapacitated, needs help in clearing a path, the answer is going to be: 'Get a spade out of the shed' ....
Hmm. An interesting example dredged from the subconscious, Mrs Angry would suggest.
Because that spade, poor foolish Snow Queen, with the splinter of ice in your cold, cold heart, is the one with which you are digging your own political grave.