It seems that once again, the best efforts of the leadership and senior management of the London Borough of Broken Barnet to silence the voice of the local bloggers has gone horribly, comically awry.
Last week we revealed that, earlier this year, the council had sought to stifle the increasingly acute scrutiny of the Barnet blogosphere by reporting one blogger to the ICO, claiming, idiotically, that he was processing personal data, was not registered as a data controller and therefore making him liable for a criminal prosecution, and a fine of up to £5,000 at a Magistrate's court - or an unlimited one at a crown court. The ICO rejected this nonsensical suggestion, unsurprisingly, and in no uncertain terms - twice, in fact, because the council stupidly refused to accept the first decision. The ICO was, rather incredibly, obliged to remind Barnet of the Human Rights Act, and the over riding requirement to honour the principle of the freedom of expression.
This really is an unbelievable story: or at least it would be to anyone with no knowledge of the resolutely undemocratic culture that pervades the administration of Barnet Council.
This determination to act without proper scrutiny, transparency or accountability is driven by the purposes of the cabal of Tory cabinet members, dominated by the ubiquitous Brian Coleman, and a senior management team intent on driving through the massive and highly controversial billion pound One Barnet programme, which will deliver almost all of our local council services into the warm embrace of the profit hungry private sector.
Unfortunately for the town hall dictators of Barnet Council, the bloggers in this borough take a different view of the need for openness in local government, and rather surprisingly, find themselves, in this respect, aligned with the policy of the Secretary of State for local government in his struggle to make the processes of governance more accessible to the community.
We are constantly at war with this administration over access to information which is supposed to be in the public domain, is supposed to be our right to view, and their increasingly bizarre attempts to obstruct our investigations speaks eloquently of the depth of desperation and panic amongst their ranks to silence our blogs. Why?
It is also a sign of the extent of their alarming sense of detachment from reality, and the political mainstream, that they feel obliged to go to such extremes, with apparently so little thought of the possible consequences. Did anyone at Barnet really think that the ICO was going to support the idea that bloggers were only entitled to write about themselves and their immediate family and friends?
Did they imagine that up and down the country, magistrates' courts and crown courts would be packed full of endless queues of hapless bloggers charged with the awful crime of expressing their views on local government, or daring to publish information that should already be in the public domain? Do they have any sense of their own absurdity?
Mrs Angry believes that the drive to pursue this risible course of action is far too ill judged to have come from any senior council officer, who would have been all too aware of the obvious risk of failure. The idea must surely originate from one of the more delusional but influential Tory politicians, incensed and unnerved by the intensity of attention from the local bloggers, particularly in the wake of the MetPro exposure. One would imagine that any legal advice given to members intent on making this complaint would have advised caution, and that other members may well have had grave misgivings about such an action.
If not, they certainly they will do shortly, as the story seems set to be publicised on a rather wider scale than they might have imagined.
Yesterday, risking immediate arrest and detention without charge at his local police station, Westminster correspondant and blogger David Hencke bravely dared to publish a post about this story:
Oh and look: Mrs Angry has just noticed the story is listed on Guido Fawkes' blog's 'seen elsewhere' section, see it here ...
Also, find this mention in the Guardian:
By coincidence, in today's Guardian, there is an interview with Lord Hunt, the Tory politician, and new chair of the Press Complaints Commission, the body which is supposed to regulate the press, but which has come under a barrage of criticism in the wake of the tabloid hacking scandal ...
... "No," he replies, "I think the greater challenge is with the bloggers, whether it's Guido Fawkes or whoever."
Oh dear. Really? The reputation of Fleet Street journalism has never been so low, yet the new Chair of the PCC is more worried about blogging?
According to Guido Fawkes today, however, Lord Hunt's office has contacted him to clarify these comments, saying they were
“… a passing remark which has been amplified. He was not discussing standards in blogs, but rather the structural issue that they represent an area of free speech, which government may want to regulate, or may end up regulating. The point he was making was that work needs to be done to stave off statutory regulation for everyone, including blogs like yours. That is the challenge.”
So in fact, or so we hope, Lord Hunt wants to protect the freedom of expression in blogs from regulation by government. Good news, then. And perhaps he might like to remember that the revered Mr Hencke is also a blogger now.
Funnily enough, this afternoon, Guido Fawkes, aka Paul Staines, is giving evidence at a parliamentary joint select committee on privacy and injunctions, along with other bloggers such as David Allan Green, who writes as Jack of Kent, as well as for the New Statesmen, and representatives of organisations like the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom.
Also worth reading today is this online interview on Champollion digital:
"Why aren’t there more influential women in the political blogosphere?
Iain: When the Tories started their A-List they got more women candidates but the percentage of female candidates on the approved list stayed the same. I just think we’re going to have to accept that a certain group of society is never going to be as interested in something as another group.Mark: Political blogging is a blokey – and often unpleasant – entity. Anyone who’s ever read comments on any political blog – left or right, big or small – will have seen comments such as “why are you prattling on” or such things ... "
If any readers wonder why there are so few women political bloggers, I think you have your answer here. It is true that our little fluffy heads cannot sustain an interest in the blokey world of politics, or blogging, and anyway it is time to put my apron on and scrub the kitchen floor, so do excuse me.
If I may, before I go, I would like to point out that in fact the blogosphere is now an established forum of political debate, a form of communication increasingly used by the mainstream media, and a hugely important medium for those wishing to use their right to freedom of expression in an increasingly restrictive society.
This right is not something we can take for granted, and it is the duty of all of us, and the price of freedom, is it not, to maintain an eternal vigilance wherever it is under threat? And now I am sounding like some foaming at the mouth libertarian Tory so, yes: I will stop prattling on - and get back to the kitchen where I belong.
*Update: hard to keep up with events today, but rather amusingly, no less than three Barnet stories are featured in Dave Hill's Guardian blog link today. A busy day for the Communications team at LBBarnet today, Mrs Angry imagines.
another story also here: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/11/14/how-barnet-council-tried-to-criminalise-all-bloggers/
Oh dear: look - can you see the windows steaming up in the room at North London Business Park where Mrs Angry's friends in the corporate Communications Team are trying to glue all the pieces of Broken Barnet back together again?
Here is their riposte to the Guardian in regard to the ICO story:
"The council was concerned that an individual had used information gathered by the FOI process and linked this with other information to ridicule and abuse individual members of staff. The council consulted with the ICO as to whether this constituted a possible breach of the Data Protection Act. The ICO asked the council to make a formal submission, stating this was a currently a grey area.
It should be stressed that the individuals about which the council were concerned were not part of the council's senior management team. The council does not tolerate the abuse or bullying of any of its staff."
This is of course a pile of stinking you know what. We know it, they know it, you know it: the ICO knows it and told them in no uncertain terms to f*ck off when they made their complaint - twice.
The complaint to the ICO was not from an individual, it was from the council, a complaint in relation to the alleged incorrect use of 'personal data', an allegation which the ICO found to be utterly untrue.
The truth is that the senior management and political leadership of Barnet are hiding behind a desperate attempt to distract everyone from the criticism and well deserved ridicule they are receiving as a result of their idiotic complaint, and if anyone is being targeted with abuse and bullying it is the Barnet bloggers, simply for daring to voice perfectly valid criticisms of their incompetent administration.