Saturday 25 September 2010

Thoughtcrime in Broken Barnet

One of the sacred tenets of Conservative philosophy is a reverence for the notion of 'liberty'.

Tories like to talk about the need to loosen the bonds of bureaucracy, and to resist intervention or any perceived intrusion by the state into the life of an individual.

In practice, of course, what this really means is a desire to protect liberty and freedom for themselves, and to the right to serve their own interests before the needs of others. And the perfect example of this is to be found here, in the dystopian nightmare world of Broken Barnet.

You might think that an apparent devotion to the concept of liberty might be reflected in a respect for the right to freedom of expression. In liberal Conservative tradition, this is certainly the case. But what do we have here in this borough? Are the Tory councillors in Barnet keen advocates of liberal Conservatism? Are they, in fact, in any shape or form typical of contemporary mainstream Conservativism? Er: I would say not. I would say that the antics of the Tory group in Barnet are a matter of supreme embarrassment to senior party officials and those in government.

In fact the behaviour of our own homegrown Tories has isolated them from their own party, and alienated them from their own electorate. Their mandate (the word of the moment, eh, messrs Grant and Thornton?) has been hugely damaged by the allowance rise controversy, and the fundamental critcisms raised about the specious Future Shape programme. In short, their ability to govern has been fatally weakened, and like any regime that is fearful of losing control, the Tories are turning to desperate measures in order to attempt to restore their authority.

There is a state of war now, between this administration and its own electors. And we all know what is the first casualty of war, don't we? The truth.

As JFK once said: 'A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people'.

This Tory administration is afraid of the people, and afraid of the truth.

And that is why there is an increasing move to suppress all criticism of council policy, to restrict access to information, to stifle debate and open communication, to present council policy in misleading terms, using language to obscure and confuse, rather than to clarify and inform; to hide important decision making procedures in a maze of bureaucratic confusion, and to replace genuine public consultation with the rubber stamping endorsement of meaningless PR exercises.

A few questions:

How many council meetings have there been where reports are submitted too late for thorough inspection by opposition councillors, or the public? Or where a welter of material has been added, leaving little time for ordinary residents to read and analyse?

Why are our Residents Forums so badly publicised?

Why are some councillors so reluctant to attend and engage with these Forums?

Why does the Leader not use her own 'Leader Listens' link?

What happened to the Barnet Citizens' Panel, which used to assess residents' views of council performance and identify areas of improvement?

Why, at the last full council meeting, when so many people were waiting outside in the rain, and only 25 were allowed into the public gallery, did the council not open up another room, with audio links, so that they could listen to the debate? Why was there an unnecessarily thick wall of police officers blocking entrance to the Town Hall to anyone except a couple of elderly people with mobility problems - and one determined blogger?

Why, at the previous full council meeting, did a senior Tory councillor move a motion to suppress a crucial debate about his party's self awarded allowance rise - a matter of huge public interest?

Why did so many Tory councillors refuse to respond to all emails on this subject from their constituents?

Why are we waiting for any method of scrutinising and appraising the amount and quality of work performed by our councillors?

Where is the promised consultation with the public over the hugely important and controversial Future Shape proposals?

Why is the risible Barnet Council Facebook page seemingly moderated by a junior council officer, using his own personal Facebook link? Why are comments that are not racist, or offensive being removed from this forum? Why is the page shut whan any politically embarrassing issue is raised?

Why is the promised consulation over budget proposals being covered by a website - - created, it seems by the Ministry of Truth, in which, once you have submitted an idea, you are told that any proposal deemed to be 'party political' will be omitted? How can any budget proposal not be party political, and who is being given the right to deem what is or is not party political?

No website should ever tolerate any material that is personally offensive, abusive, or racist.

But no council site should censor comments or contributions to a debate with the residents on the excuse of being 'party political', and we should not accept such repressive actions by this council.

*(Update, Monday, 5.45pm: well, Mrs Angry just can't believe it: her helpful suggestion (yes, it was perfectly polite and inoffensive) headed 'cancel 54% councillor chair rise', has disappeared, with only a forlorn remark stating 'There are currently no posts in this category', yet amusingly leaves a clue to its former existence in the tags listing, along with, she notes, some other ghost entries, eg one about Brian Coleman - no, not by me. My suggestion has become a non suggestion. Also amongst the 'disappeared' is a comment on what really is a peculiar and suspicious 'suggestion' regarding staff, under the 'Refresh and Rebuild' heading.)

Censorship is the mark of an authoritarian regime, a regime in fear of its existence, with no respect for the rights and freedoms of the people it claims to represent. If you can't win this debate without silencing your critics, Tory councillors of Broken Barnet, you've lost the argument - and you've lost the moral right and authority to govern this borough.

Local authorities are legally obliged to engage with the public in a process of consultation. In our borough, this process has become a travesty. There is no forum for honest, open communication between the adminstration and its electors.

In place of consultation, we have instead a cleverly designed mechanism of endorsement of the lunatic Tories' own mutant political agenda.

In cynically deliberate tactics, the choices the electors are given to direct the course of their lives are in truth not choices at all, because all freedom to express an alternative view has been removed.

Look again at the new Budget website.

All 'suggestions' by the public are moderated before approval, not just for the necessary screening of offensive material, but for any suggestion which might have political content - the thought police of Broken Barnet are ready and standing by.

Look at some of the options to which residents may offer comments in our Orwellian, multiple choice democracy. Try and tear yourself away from away the raging debate over the future of council bedding plants: should we go for the usual vulgar busy lizzies, or better value hardy perenniels? Oh, I just can't make my mind up ... oh, and I wonder if a suggestion to save more than £40,000 by cancelling the new pay rise to our troughing councillor easyChairs will be published?

Look a little closer: and any council officers reading this, I suggest you read the helpful anonymous suggestion that has been published regarding the need to 'refresh and rebuild council staff' ... someone is claiming that staff are aware that they are 'under delivering, but understandably don't want to blow the whistle' you should all 're-apply for newly challenging newly accountable posts' and 'faced with such challenges' many of you 'will want to leave!

I wonder who might have placed that particular gem? Is that not a 'party political' comment by some mysterious person? The art of spin is a very dark art, isn't it?

If I were currently employed by the London Borough of Barnet, I would be demanding that this insult and slur on the reputation of the vast number of council officers who work damned hard, and are currently terrified about the prospect of losing their jobs, is immediately removed. It won't be: and people are being invited to endorse this smear by rating it - you are of course not given the option of saying this is a load of objectionable rubbish. If you are a council officer, I suggest you leave a comment - if they let you.

So the war on truth is already targeting council employees. Worse is to come, by the looks of it.

You might think that it is a right of trade unions to organise meetings, and formulate a strategy to fight the forthcoming loss of jobs and services that are coming this way.

You might think that it is indeed the duty of trade unions to do this. Apparently not.

Last week we read in the local Times newspapers that Tory Councillor Brian Coleman has been objecting to the BBC about an employee who was stated to be listed as a speaker at last week's union organised meeting at North London Business Park.

Mr Coleman, of course, is a very enthusiastic defender of the right to free speech and open debate, and very respectful of the wide range of views that can be expressed in a democratic society. He was deeply concerned about the threat to the neutrality of the BBC that might be posed by an employee speaking in a personal capacity to a union meeting. Mr Coleman, you might recall, once rightly complained to the BBC about the appearance of well known political pundit, Comrade Konnie Huq of Blue Peter/X Factor fame, at a, wait for it, a bike rally. Just imagine, if Mr Coleman had not stepped in to save us from Konnie's revolutionary activities: the BBC might even now be overun with Trotskyist cycling programmes, and Blue Peter would no doubt be Red Peter, brainwashing small children into running bring and buy stalls for North Korean missile programmes! Mind you, X Factor would be a bloody sight more fun if someone could raise Cheryl Cole's political consciousness, wouldn't it?

But Big Brother Brian was not happy to stop at stopping BBC employees from compromising the political virtue of their employers. He had more to say, squeaking:

"The trade union movement in the borough is a complete shambles and they are a group of no hopers. They are lone voices bleating in the dark ..."

Oh dear. Brian: if anyone is a lone voicing bleating in the long, lonely, dark night of the soul, it's you, mate. Oh, and if any group in the borough is in a complete shambles, and a load of no hopers, er, I think that recent events would suggest that it just might be the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet ...

The trade unions in this borough are strong, well organised, and committed to their members, doing what they can for the hard working employees of this borough who do not, like the shameless Tory councillors of this borough, have the opportunity to vote themselves massive pay increases, but face the frightening prospect of trying to support themselves and their families on frozen salaries and the real possibility of losing their jobs.

And that is what worries you, isn't it? The fact that the antics of the Tory group in Barnet have outraged the normally docile voters of this borough and will attract enormous sympathy for the workers who will shortly be the victims of the coming spending cut frenzy?

Think of the end of 'Nineteen Eighty Four':

'If there was hope, it must live in the proles ... those swarming disregarded masses?'

I'd remember that, if I were you, Big Brother.


Mrs Angry said...

Celebrity footnote: Comrade Huq, and revolutionary hero Dermot O'Leary, and a planeful of X factor luvvies, were on a flight back from Ireland with the Angry family recently.Sadly, Konnie showed no signs of wanting to walk up and down the aisle selling copies of the Socialist Worker, and Dermot was too busy signing autographs to engage in a dialectical dialogue with fellow passengers.
X Factor spoiler alert: can you believe that warbling old hippy from Brazil was still a contender? If you want to know who else got through, send a used fiver to Mrs Angry, and she'll whisper in your ear ...

baarnett said...

Chapter 2 of 1984 says:

"He was a fattish but active man of paralyzing stupidity, a mass of imbecile enthusiasms — one of those completely unquestioning, devoted drudges on whom, more even than on the thought police, the stability of the Party depended."

Fits Barnet, doesn't it?

Mrs Angry said...

... except for the active bit ...