Today we bid a fond farewell to “Not The Barnet Times” and welcome instead Barnet Council Watch.
When I started this blog at the end of July 2008, it was in response to an article on the Barnet Times web site written by Mill Hill resident Rog T. His piece was entitled “Barnet’s very own Stalinist Mr Bean” and criticised council leader Mike Freer. The blog was subsequently removed by the Editor who decided that it broke their rules. It was an excellent article and, in my opinion, the paper made a mistake by removing it. Hence, Not The Barnet Times was born.
What happened next surprised me. Instead of constructive criticism of Roger’s article, a number of anonymous postings appeared criticising me for posting the article. And there was I thinking that we lived in a democracy! It was clear that the article had struck a raw nerve. But if you are a politician - and especially so if you are the leader of a council and wish to become an MP - you have to accept that not everyone will think you are wonderful. Not everyone will bow down before you. Some people will have a contrary view and, what is more, they have a right to say it without being abused.
A few articles later and it was clear that Mike Freer’s cage was well and truly rattled. How could I, the anonymous councillor wrote, criticise Cllr Freer when we are both members of the same party? Well, we might be in the same party, but only one of us is a Conservative. There are many loyal party members who, like me, believe that scrutiny of the decision making process within Barnet Council has effectively been neutered resulting in a total lack of democratic accountability.
In short, the Executive and Chief Officers are out of control, and if you believe in democracy then you have a moral duty to speak out - even if that means criticising members of your own party.
The Local Government Act 2000, brought in by Labour, has shifted power from the 63 elected representatives on the Council to a small secretive cabal which includes non elected officers. Whatever the intentions of the Act, it has failed miserably.
As Janet Daly wrote in an excellent article in the Daily Telegraph recently: “I have not got over the shock of being in a democratic country where the governing class holds the views of ordinary people in such contempt: the priorities of the public…can be disregarded or dismissed if the governing elite decides that they are wrong-headed or benighted. There is almost no sense at all of the principle that underpins the US Constitution: that in a democracy, the will of the majority of the people is sacred.”
I would be delighted if this blog became redundant. But for that to happen, it requires the 53 non cabinet councillors to do their job properly, re-assert control and hold the Executive to account. Until then, welcome to Barnet Council Watch.
www barnetcouncilwatch org uk