Friday 8 May 2009
Democracy - R.I.P.
Cllr Jack Cohen is the leader of the LibDems in Barnet. He has a blog on the Barnet Times and it doesn't cost taxpayers a bean. Council leader Mike Freer also used to have a free blog on the same paper but he didn’t like the fact that the great unwashed were allowed to post comments on it, so he gave it up and replaced it with a blog which taxpayers have to pay for.
At the last council meeting, Cllr Freer admitted that he receives only 150 unique visitors per month to his blog. There is a technical reason for this, Mr Freer: your blog is rubbish! When you can be bothered to post something, it is usually just a rehashed press release, and you only allow people who say how wonderful you are to post comments.
Some people might think that Cllr Cohen’s blog is also rubbish, but at least we don’t have to pay for it. In his latest article entitled At The Races, Cllr Cohen refers to the last meeting of the Cabinet Overview & Scrutiny Committee. Apparently Cllr Freer accused Cllr Cohen of only asking questions so that he can write about it on his blog.
What a cheek! The temerity of an opposition councillor asking the leader questions so that he can then pass the information on to residents. Who ever heard of such a thing!
Don’t the opposition realise that their job is not to question, not to challenge, not to scrutinise, not to hold the Executive to account? They should be more like the Conservatives and simply raise their hands when they are told to. If Cllr Freer says that everything in the garden is rosy, who are we to disagree?
On the other hand, some people might argue that when a £12 million bridge project goes £11 million over budget; when £27.4 million of taxpayers money is deposited in unauthorised high risk investment schemes and when £1.4 million is spent on near obsolete computers (half of which are still in storage), what we need is more scrutiny not less.
Barnet Council produces more classified reports now than at any other time in its history. There is a culture of secrecy ingrained in every fibre of the council’s being. The changes to scrutiny which Mike Freer has pushed through will damage democratic accountability still further. The fact that Cllr Freer takes umbrage with the leader of an opposition party merely for asking a question should be a wake up call for democrats of all parties.