The Barnet bloggers are a very effective group, when they choose to work together, but they are also each one fiercely individual, and hold very different views in terms of political beliefs - or lack of them. One or two things they have in common, of course: a wicked sense of humour, and a sense of mischief, but most of all, and the thing that definitively unites such a disparate group of people, is a deep and abiding mistrust of everything that issues out of the gaping corporate mouth of the zombie like body of the London Borough of Barnet.
It ought perhaps to worry the Tory leadership and the senior management team of this authority that a group of people of such different backgrounds, views and allegiances are so strongly united and deeply committed to a common point of focus. It ought to alert them to the fact that what they are doing in this borough goes way beyond the boundaries of acceptability. It ought to worry them that their own government's Secretary of State for local government has openly supported us - and singled out their administration for a public humiliation - by criticising the culture of financial incompetence we revealed in this borough, and by slating their shabby behaviour in covertly and illegally filming us .
None of these things, or so it would appear, is of the slightest concern to the Tory cabinet, or the senior management team. Their only interest is in relentlessly pushing through the One Barnet agenda of privatisation. What happens after this has been acheived is of no consequence to them, which speaks of the real motivation behind the programme, doesn't it?
Appearances, of course, are often deceptive: behind the calm facade of the One Barnet facilitators, there is in fact an almost comical state of rising panic: the further the tendering stage of the billion pound packages of business opportunities progresses, the more there is at stake, and the more there is a need to control the public perception of what is happening. As we have seen in recent weeks, this obsession with the smothering of dissent and a total rejection of the need for public scrutiny is reaching new extremes of lunacy.
This is a common pattern throughout the UK, in fact, as citizen journalism finds its strength, and is beginning to cause difficulties for those who want to set their own agenda for local governement. Local councils who have become comfortable over generations of inherited authority are now having their dominance and interesting activities challenged by empowered bloggers, and they don't like it.
Look at what is happening in South Wales. Welsh political blogger of the year, Jacqui Thompson, who blogs under the name of Caebrwyn, won her award recently, and deservedly so, after the most appalling treatment from Camarthenshire County Council, who earlier in the year responded to her action in filming a few minutes of a council meeting with a phone by calling the police, having her arrested, handcuffed, and driven miles to a police station where, quite outrageously, she was detained for hours -before being released without charge. In response to the massive publicity which this act of idiocy provoked, the same council brought in the most draconian new measures possible to restrict the free access of residents to council meetings. Residents must now sign an undertaking not to film the proceedings before they are heavily escorted up to the public gallery: once there they are locked into the room and may not leave without the knowledge and attendance of council staff. Last week, Caebrwyn, trying to leave the gallery, found herself trapped in a stairwell for several panic stricken minutes, imprisoned by locked fire exits, and unable to escape. What could better illustrate the madness of local politicians who have nothing but contempt for their electorate and are intent on preventing the scrutiny and accountability of their communities?
Here in Barnet bloggers have also been refused the right to film council proceedings, which we simply defied - we were spied on and ordered about by council employed illegally operating henchmen, which we reported and investigated, we have been falsely accused of costing thousands of pounds of tax payers money on FOI requests, which we have exposed as a lie, and now we find we have been the target of an attempt to silence us by the most desperate council initiative yet - by complaining to the ICO that we are breaking the Data Protection Act, and therfore liable to punitive fines, because we are unregistered data controllers, a ludicrous accusation which, er, was thrown out - twice -on the grounds of utter stupidity.
At the same time, Barnet continues to obstruct and delay responses to Freedom of Information requests, continually breaching the statutory time limits, and withholding information. As blogger Mr Reasonable asked at a council meeting last week, in relation to the council's refusal to engage honestly with citizens - a question to which he received no reply - what is it that you are so afraid of? What do you have to hide?
There is a faultline that runs right through Eric Pickles's much vaunted idea of localism and means it will never work: it it is impossible to reconcile the conflict between commercial interest, and the activities of the senior officers enabling the externalisation of council services, with a policy of greater transparency and accountability to the communities the authorities are meant to serve. And furthermore, by failing to compel councils to engage with these communities in any meaningful form of dialogue, there can be no real accountability or transparency.
How are the residents of any area meant to take a real part in the democratic process of local government, when they have no power to influence decision making? Pickles likes to pretend that they can - but the truth is that the only pressure that a community has to exert on their elected representatives is effective only in the immediate period before an election. For the rest of the time, as we see here in Barnet, the political leadership and the senior management team determinedly work together to prevent any threat of interference from the electorate.
In Barnet, instead of a move towards the greater involvement of the wider community we have seen a deliberate policy of alienation: the emasculation of our local constitution, a shameless removal of the opportunities for free debate amongst elected representatives, an heretical inversion of the processes of consultation, the blatant censorship of residents' forums. But it is not just the principle of freedom of expression which has been attacked, there is an institutionalised system of abuse of the principle of the freedom of information, whereby material that should be in the public domain is being protected by obstruction, selective censorship, and needless delay.
Mr Pickles, with his stated enthusiasm for open government, and his demand for armchair auditing, has inadvertently put a knife to the throat of many of his own party's administrations. He has become the patron saint of citizen journalism, and we all thank him for it, but his failure to attend to the missing piece of the localism model will ultimately only spell disaster for his much vaunted policy. The enemy of corruption is exposure, and who is more effective in the community at pulling the cover off the dubious activities of local authorities than the citizen journalist? Here in Barnet, you can be certain that we will keep pulling at the cover.
Watch it all fall down.