Monday 14 November 2011

Mrs Angry on blogging, and who says what we can say?

Updates below:

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:

Mrs Angry understands that this has provoked a reaction in the most interesting of quarters, at the very highest levels - and why wouldn't it, representing, as it does, an attack on the right to free speech, self expression, civil liberties and protection under the law of what is supposed to be, even in Broken Barnet, a democratic society?

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 ...

although Lord Hunt is a well liked and well respected man, he seem to have made some controversial remarks in this interview, one or two of which has caused some alarm: for example, after praising the professionalism and integrity of, funnily enough, journalists such as David Hencke, he is asked if the real problem is not actually the responsibility of the tabloids:

... "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:

with Mark Ferguson, editor of Labourlist, and blogger Iain Dale, discussing political blogging. I have to say that this bit had Mrs Angry grinding her teeth:

"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:

*Update Tuesday:

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.


baarnett said...

First I was horrified by Lord Hunt's remark.

Then I saw his office had issued a clarification. I expected it to say that he realized that the existence of the political bloggers meant he "must raise his game" as an organisation.

But no: he was predicting expansion of regulation to the blogging world after all.

But that is like saying there should be expansion of regulation to people standing on street corners, saying what they think about some matter, or standing up at a public meeting, and doing the same.

"I'm sorry Mr Bloggs, but you aren't on my list of Registered Commenters on the Cat Hill / Brent Cross / Library Closures / CPZ issue. You will have to fill in this form, which will be processed by Councillor Coleman in due course, and you will be able to collect your licence from Hendon Town Hall when we contact you."

I suppose Mrs Angry could "go offshore", and the "Broken Barnet" blog could be typed while she lay on a sunny beach, drinking cocktails, in a tax haven or somewhere, with no extradition treaty with the Broken Borough of Barnet.

Mrs Angry said...

Yes, I found his original remark really very odd, such a short while after watching Mr James Murdoch's unblinking evidence to the parliamentary committee ... on reading the clarification my first reaction was that he had made matters even worse, but the second part of his statement seems to imply he would reject regulation of blogs. I somehow think that many of his Tory colleagues would disagree with him.

Not a bad idea, baarnett, tax haven & all that. Belize is very nice, I hear, apart from the ever present risk of hurricanes and narco terrorism.

baarnett said...

And hapless minor (and temporary) MPs, dressed in black, descending down steel ropes from helicopters, and leaving you boxes of Milk Tray chocolates.

(In your dream, anyway.)

baarnett said...

There's more comment here:

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Mrs Angry

Where is the evidence to show that the idea of the complaint to the ICO came from councillors? Barnet’s argument was a highly technical point of law. DCMD does not believe the current band of quarter-wits (they can only aspire to be half-wits) have the wherewithal to have considered a complaint along these lines. You need to see the paper trail.

If it transpires that councillors were behind the idea, it does not absolve senior officers from responsibility. They have a statutory duty to stop the council making an arse of itself.

Mrs Angry said...

DCMD: does it not occur to you that there are one or two senior officers who would enjoy seeing their political masters make arses of themselves: or simply don't care?

baarnett said...

DCMD: I know it's a rather obvious joke, but the quarter-wits comment made me laugh!

They would, of course, have to bring in consultants, to tell them if upgrading from quarter- to half-wittiness was desirable and possible, and over what timescale.

Following several Powerpoint presentations, the council would then advertise for two Wit-Level-Increase Implementation Consultants, who would bleed the council dry for three months and then leave.

Sir Olly said...

You may joke that bloggers everywhere will be hauled before the Magistrates
but down here in Bexley that is exactly what happened on Monday 7th
A blogger was accused of revealing a councillor's home address and inviting
people to commit criminal damage on it. Namely post dog faeces through the
letter box. He neither revealed his address nor did he ask anyone to do
anything other than be critical of said councillor.
I personally have been warned of arrest if I continue to criticise Bexley
council. Not harass mind you, just make critical comments.
Hate to say it, but Bexley are way past Barnet when it comes to attacking
bloggers. :-) (strong language)

baarnett said...

I like your new picture of Uncle Brian being acclaimed by the heroic United Taxi-Drivers of London and their families.

"You have made us all wealthy, Great Leader!" they shout.

Mr Mustard said...

Hi Mrs Angry

I thought that as the subject of the proposed big fine I should say a few words about this curious episode ( If Barnet Council could be said to have feet they have managed to shoot themselves in both feet at once. )

Hi also to DCMD. I am the one person who can probably get to the bottom of who said what to whom & why and can find out who in fact authorised the complaint form to be issued. My multi-part FOI request went in a few days after the smoking gun was found.

I don't think that Uncle Eric will have been very pleased at this attack on one of his favourite bloggers and which if successful would have ruined one of his modern day information sources - blogs in general - not just mine.

Mrs Angry said...

Mr Mustard, they are a bunch of bullies in the playground,trying to get you behind the bicycle shed & beat you up. Don't worry, Mrs Angry will sort them out.

And no, I don't think Uncle Eric will be pleased at all, which reminds me, must nip back to twitter ...

baarnett said...

"I like your new picture of Uncle Brian being acclaimed by the heroic United Taxi-Drivers of London and their families. "You have made us all wealthy, Great Leader!" they shout."

And then you go and change your main picture on the blog yet AGAIN!

I rather doubt " 'You have made us all wealthy, Great Leader!' they shout." is likely for Mr Cameron.