Sunday 6 February 2011

Big Brother's Order for the Day: constitutional 'reform' in Broken Barnet

Updated Tuesday - see:

Only last month an attempt was made by Brian Coleman, in his capacity as chair of the London Fire Authority, to revise the standing orders of this body so as to prevent 'the practice of Members of the Authority putting questions to the Chair and leader of the Authority' ... This move was spotted by a vigilant blogger, Adam Bienkov, and highlighted in the Guardian and London Standard, leading to awkward publicity for the Mayor, and, pretty swiftly, a humiliating climb down by Coleman.

Well, then. A regular reader of the blog recently drew my attention to the agenda of a Special Committee meeting of Barnet Council, scheduled for the 9th February:

And look what Mrs Angry has spotted, tenderly placed amongst a flurry of proposals purporting to 'improve' the organisation of council procedures: Item 5, point 8 - aha: a very helpful suggestion from a Councillor B. Coleman. It proposes:

'To amend the Council Procedure Rules to grant a reserved express right to only the Leader of the Council and the Leader of the main Opposition Group or their spokespersons to speak on Motions, Policy Items and Committee reports at the Council meeting. All other speakers would be called at the discretion of the Mayor.'

This outrageous proposal openly seeks to prevent any free debate by the elected representatives of you, me and all the residents of this borough, in what is supposed to be a democratic system of local government, reducing our council meetings to a mute, submissive, rubber stamping exercise.

In fact, forget about rubber stamping, it's back to the Orwellian boot stamping on the human face routine: you will do and think as you are told, and there will be no dissent.

What possible defence could you give for such an amendment to council procedure?

They will say it is to 'streamline' the committee structures and council practices, to save time, or some such rubbish. According to the accompanying report, however, it is clear that there are no resource implications - and no justification.

They will emphasise that the Mayor may use his discretion to allow speakers. This is crap as well: the position of Mayor is not like the position of Speaker in the House of Commons, with strict neutrality. The Mayor is an elected councillor, takes part in important votes, and will inevitably be under pressure to be party political in decision making. And please observe that, incredibly, only the leader of the main opposition party is allowed to speak - for a couple of minutes - not the leader of the third party, ie the LibDems. Yes, do sit down, and shut up, Lord Palmer, you're not in the House of Lords now, chum.

There are other proposed changes too. Note that the next two are from the Conservative Group as a whole, whereas the restriction of speech amendment above is a personal proposal from Coleman. I think that is very interesting, don't you, citizens?

Point 5:

To amend the Council Procedure Rules to remove the distinction between motions and policy items. This could allow for a more flexible procedure where the Mayor might decide to allow prolonged discussion of a motion to allow more Members to have the opportunity to speak and interact.
The abolition of Policy Items could allow the discussion of at least one 'opposition motion' at each meeting. Dispensing with two distinct items on the agenda (motions and policy items) could involve arrangements by which there could be discussion of at least one opposition item.
Please note the clever use of the phrase 'the Mayor might decide to allow prolonged discussion of a motion' ...

Point 6:

To remove ‘Comments on the Work of Cabinet’ from the agenda of Council meetings.

Ah, yes, of course, f*ck transparency and accountability, the work of the Cabinet should be exempt from comment from our elected representatives, who have no right to scrutinise or question the decisions of their betters. Quite right.

Point 9:

To review the current structure of Area Sub-Committees and Residents Forums.

This last one is no suprise and is no doubt intended to prevent Mrs Angry and other badly behaved residents from daring to ask awkward questions, in writing or in public, leading to embarrassment for the council: in other words, it is another attempt to minimise the powers of scrutiny of ordinary residents, and the accountability of the administration and councillors to the people who placed them in power.

There will be a lot of excitement this week about the forthcoming budget papers, details already leaked elsewhere, if you are interested. Forget, for a moment, all of that, and the fuss about parking charges, and libraries, and children's centres: no matter how serious theses issues are, they are greatly outweighed by the significance of what is being proposed this week in the shape of these so called consitutional reforms.

If these reforms are passed, the ability of councillors to make a real contribution to the decision making processes of this council's administration will be cut to shreds. If you think what is happening now, in terms of the cuts, the One Barnet nonsense, is bad enough, imagine what might happen if the current leadership is able to push through even more controversial proposals without even a whimper of protest from their own party, let alone the opposition.

Ask yourselves, ladies and gentlemen, if you think that these outrageous proposals are truly what David Cameron and Eric Pickles and Grant Schapps would consider to be in line with the sacred tenets of 'localism'. Is the repression of debate and free speech by the elected representatives of the people of this borough in any way going to deliver the declared object of localism, ie to further empower ordinary citizens and give them greater involvement in the decision making processes that govern their community?

Or have we been kidnapped and marched relentlessly onwards into a brave new world of localised dictatorship, by a small bunch of power crazed Toy Town megalomaniacs masquerading as the Tory council Cabinet, intent on imposing their lunatic agenda in blatant disregard for any of the fundamental principles of democracy, let alone the governing policies of their own central party?


baarnett said...


On another, much less important matter:
Mrs A: Your shiny new Twitter site says:
"This person has protected their tweets."
Does that mean anything?

"What do we want? Unprotected tweets! When do we want them? Now!"

Mrs Angry said...

it means you have to ask me (& join if not a member I suppose)if you can follow my oracle like pronouncements ... I'm still a bit of a twitter virgin so haven't really got to grips with it all yet ...

baarnett said...

The excellent but infrequent "Mr Toad Must Go" web site has an update about 'Ur Brian':

Mr Toad.

Mrs Angry said...

yes, yet another story which defies belief. The self indulgence of someone spending so much money on such an event is just staggering. And oh look: another few thousand votes bleeding away from the Tories. Carry on Coleman.

Jaybird said...

There is more in these papers - not to allow questions on any issue which is not on the agenda (but issues cannot be put on the agenda because of the above); to restrict what the scrutiny committee is permitted to scrutinise; and to allow the Cabinet and Cabinet Resources Committee to make decisions with a financial ceiling of £2.5 million (as opposed to £1 million now).

Moaneybat said...

The Tories 'Militant' tendency, Coleman must be the old Hatton of 1980s Liverpool in disguise. Soon, Barnet's Tories will be accusing the Pickles/Schnapps partnership for 'capping' their Central Government handout to cover up all of Barnet's self inflicted losses going back to her predecessor who is now an MP. Sad!

Mrs Angry said...

I think you are right, Moaneybat: Barnet is the pissed, groping uncle at the Big Society wedding that everyone is desperately, but unsucessfully, trying to ignore ... completely out of control and a total embarrassment.