Saturday 31 October 2009

Blogger Of The Year

The Not The Barnet Times award for blogger of the year 2009 goes to Mr Niall Connolly (pictured right) who writes the Muck & Brass blog.

Even though there are two months of the year remaining, it is inconceivable that any other blogger will come close to matching Mr Connolly’s efforts which have resulted in 11 of Somerton Town’s 15 councillors resigning en masse.

Mr Connolly said the councillors had “only just discovered democracy” and described a council leaflet regarding voting rights as “more like a Nazi call to arms or an invitation to ethnic cleansing”

There can be no doubt that blogging has changed democracy forever. The public, completely disenfranchised by the troughing political classes, are now embracing modern technology in a way that allows for proper scrutiny of the political process.

No longer can our elected representatives hide behind the establishment wall. No longer can they keep secrets from we, the people. No longer can MPs and councillors say one thing, do another and hope not to get caught out.

As the next election approaches, politicians will discover that blogging is but just one tool in the public’s armoury and those luddites who refuse to embrace change will no longer be able to treat the public with complete and utter contempt and expect to get re-elected.

Coleman slapped down in X-Factor row

Barnet’s resident big mouth, Cllr Brian Coleman, has waded into the row surrounding the X-Factor house in Golders Green, in an attempt to divert attention from his recent disgraceful outburst when he called a Labour GLA member an “odious toad”.

On Thursday Coleman told the Barnet Times:
“This whole thing has got completely out of hand: shouting and screaming in the street, graffiti scribbled over gates and fences, and people running out in front of moving traffic. X-Factor’s producers need to recognise their responsibility to my constituents. I shall be writing to Simon Cowell this afternoon to say: if they can’t be good neighbours then they should move to a more secluded location where they are no bother to anyone else.”
Simon Cowell must be trembling in his boots!

However, Councillor Andrew Harper, the Cabinet Member for Environment and Transport - and one of the three candidates for the vacancy of Deputy Leader when Lynne Hillan takes over from Mike Freer next month - adopted a more pragmatic attitude. Unlike Brian Coleman, Cllr Harper actually has responsibility for the roads in Golders Green. He told the paper:
“Frankly the council and, I believe, the majority of residents, see the presence of the X Factor in the street as part of life's rich tapestry.”
Residents told the paper that they were happy with the contestants living in their street and that the crowd had been very polite.

Don’t Call Me Dave thinks that if anyone should move to a secluded location where they will be no bother to anyone else, it should be Brian Coleman, not the X-Factor contestants.

Thursday 29 October 2009

Archbishop says the elderly are not a burden but a gift

Independent Catholic News reports the findings of a study into services for older people carried out by Middlesex University’s Social Policy Research Centre. That’s the university Barnet's resident big mouth Brian Coleman called "crap" before hypocritically accepting an honorary degree in 2008.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols, head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, said in response to the findings:
“Age is something that comes to us all…This is the critical message in providing care for the elderly…It enables us to see that behind all the political, economic and social questions of growing old is a human face, a life, a person – a mother, a father, brother or sister who is part of us and has helped to make us who we are. The elderly are not a burden but a gift – without them our lives and our society would be impoverished and diminished. They have a right to our resources and our care.”
It is impossible to disagree with Archbishop Nichols unless, of course, you happen to be Cllr Lynne Hillan - architect of the shameful decision to decimate Barnet’s warden service for elderly residents living in sheltered accommodation.

Coleman gets it wrong again!

Demonstrating that he knows nothing about running a business, Brian Coleman was interviewed by the BBC yesterday to discuss charges the Fire Brigade will impose if they are called out to rescue people trapped in lifts.

Landlords are required by law to maintain the lifts in their properties and there is nothing wrong with the principle of charging them for the cost of a Fire Brigade call out. But to knowingly charge less that the actual cost of providing the service, as Coleman has proposed, will not encourage landlords to comply with their responsibilities. Rather, it will do the complete opposite. Why pay a private contractor if the Fire Brigade are cheaper?

Rog T has some interesting proposals on his blog.

Oy Sole Mio

Some culture for a Thursday lunchtime.

They won’t like it at BNP headquarters!

Wednesday 28 October 2009

The People’s Republic of Barnet

By all accounts, this recession is the worst in living memory. In the three months to August, unemployment rose to 2.47 million. But whereas 230,000 jobs were lost in the productive private sector between March and June, in the wastelands of the public sector 13,000 new jobs were created.

Not real jobs you understand. As fellow blogger Constantly Furious so eloquently puts it, we’re talking about Outreach Co-ordinators, Diversity Managers, Community Space Challenger Co-ordinators and Enviro-Crime Enforcement Officers. In short, interfering pen pushers and bureaucrats.

Comrade Mike Freer, never one to miss a socialist bandwagon, joined in the fun and appointed a Business Support Officer “in order to strengthen dialogue with local businesses in the borough”.

According to Freer’s report Responding to the recession in Barnet, this non-job will help the council to:
  • Understand more about the experience of local businesses in the current economic climate
  • Support local SMEs and enable them to be more aware of, and bid for, contracts from local developers
  • Act as a conduit for support and advice
  • Understand the skills needs of local businesses
  • Encourage links between business and education
  • Support contractors in the preparation and implementation of their Local Procurement Strategy documents
The position is funded by using what is known as “Section 106” money, paid to the council by property developers and intended to be spent on infrastructure improvements - not useless jobs for Gordon Brown’s client state.

Don’t Call Me Dave has a simple question for anyone running a small business in Barnet. If you need advice to help get through the recession, do you:-
(a) ask your bank manager

(b) contact the Federation of Small Business or

(c) call the council which sunk £27.4 million into failed Icelandic banks just as other councils were getting out? Or which spent £1.4 million on obsolete lap top computers, or £31,000 on a room booking system which could have been bought for £2,000, or £14,000 on five flat screen televisions for chief officers, or £5,000 for our glorious leader to be flown business class on a junket to America?

Mike Freer talks about copying the Ryanair business model, but even after 15 pints of the black stuff, it is hard to imagine Michael O’Leary coming up with anything as stupid as this.

Monday 26 October 2009

Former Tory Councillor calls for leadership contest

Ever since standing down from Barnet Council, former Edgware councillor Richard Weider (pictured left) has shown remarkable independence of thought, a trait sadly lacking in many of his former colleagues.

In a recent message posted on Rog T’s blog regarding Lynne Hillan, Richard wrote:

“…to my former Conservative colleagues I urge someone else to stand for leader against Lynne. This is not necessarily because I don't want her to win. Rather, it is because I don't want you to suffer a similar disaster to Labour under the failed Prime Minister that is Gordon Brown.

To become leader you need to show that you have the skills to persuade others, and that is best done through a leadership election. So I please urge someone to stand so that a proper debate can take place and the best leader can emerge, that can take the party forward to Conservative principles and for the residents.”

Richard Weider is completely right. The Conservatives won the 2006 council elections with Brian Salinger as leader, yet 21 Tory councillors (out of an electorate of 216,717) decided to ignore that result and anointed Mike Freer as leader. It would be an affront to democracy to impose a second successive leader on Barnet residents without an election.

Lynne Hillan has contested the leadership of the Conservative Group twice before and lost twice. If she is finally to become leader of the Conservative group, it should only be after a contest in which all the candidates have put forward their proposals to lead the council into the next elections and beyond.

But can it really be the case that only Lynne Hillan has a vision for the future of the council? Or have the other potential candidates been bought off with promises of key cabinet posts in a future Hillan Administration? Some councillors have become so addicted to their allowances that they dare not risk challenging for the leadership in case they lose and are banished to the back benches with the loss of £20,000 or more a year.

One of the privileges of being a member of the Conservative Party is that you have the right to take part in the development of policy. It says so quite clearly on the back of Don't Call Me Dave's membership card. Yet ordinary party members in Barnet have never been consulted over major policy issues such as the Barnet Bond, Future Shape or the decimation of the warden service.

If councillors expect rank-and-file members to campaign at the next election and sell the Conservative message on the doorstep, they too need to be involved in the leadership contest.

The comparison Richard Weider makes with Gordon Brown is a stark reminder of the consequence of appointing a leader simply on the basis of Buggins’ turn. We have a Prime Minister who is hopelessly out of his depth and drifting aimlessly. He has no policies, no sense of direction and no ability to communicate with the public - even over something as trivial as his favourite biscuit! He is leading his party to electoral catastrophe. Do Barnet's Tory Councillors really want to suffer the same fate?

Sunday 25 October 2009

Council spends another £278,000 on lap top computers

In July 2008, Barnet Council spent £1.4 million buying 1,400 near obsolete lap top computers, 100 of which are still in storage.

Cabinet Member for Resources, Lynne Hillan, has just authorised the purchase of another 300 tablet PCs at a cost of £277,937 - over £925 each. In her report, Cllr Hillan describes the purchase as “excellent value for money”. A quick visit to PC World would reveal that this purchase represents anything but good value.

Lynne Hillan wants to slash the warden service to save money but then pisses cash away like this.

If this is a sign of things to come under a Hillan leadership, then frankly we are doomed.

Thanks to Statler & Waldorf for the use of their photograph.

Saturday 24 October 2009

This is not Conservatism

Council Leader Mike Freer is interviewed in this week’s Barnet Press regarding his crackpot “Future Change” proposals which are being introduced without a democratic mandate or any public consultation.

Freer says: “We could say to residents if you’re able to up your recycling rate from 40 to 70 per cent and you are saving the borough £200 in landfill tax, we will give you £100 back.”

A real Conservative would say to taxpayers: “If you can save the council £200 in landfill tax, we will give you £200 back.”

Real Conservatives understand that the council has no money of its own. Every penny it spends comes from taxpayers, and every penny saved should be returned to taxpayers, not spent flying council leaders business class on foreign jollies.

Friday 23 October 2009

Coleman does it yet again!

Don’t Call Me Dave thanks Mr Toad for drawing our attention to a video published on YouTube featuring Brian Coleman’s latest petulant outburst during a meeting of the Business Management and Administration Committee. Coleman can clearly be heard calling someone, believed to be Labour GLA Member John Biggs, an “odious toad”.

The Chairman of the Committee, Jennette Arnold, adjourned the meeting for ten minutes and although the cameras were switched off, the microphones were not! Mr Biggs can be heard politely criticising Brian Coleman for his outburst, who then replied:
“I’m not taking any lectures from you. You are the rudest politician in London.”
Don’t Call Me Dave has never met Mr Biggs but he can say without a shadow of doubt that, at the very worst, he can only be the second rudest politician in London. Nobody comes even close to Coleman who must now surely be facing another misconduct charge?

The GLA Members Code of Conduct states:
“You should promote equality by not discriminating unlawfully against any person, and by treating people with respect, regardless of their race, age, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability. You should respect the impartiality and integrity of the authority's statutory officers, and its other employees.”
It is highly arguable that Coleman’s comments breach three specific sections of the code:
3(1): You must treat others with respect.

3(2)(b): You must not bully any person.

5: You must not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or authority into disrepute.

Given that it is little more than a month since Brian Coleman was found guilty of breaching Barnet’s Code of Conduct, you would have thought that he would have learnt to keep his big mouth shut.

Can anyone provide an explanation for Coleman’s ever more erratic behaviour?

David Seabrooke sacked!

Don’t Call Me Dave has been reliably informed that Mr David Seabrooke, recently appointed Democratic Services Manager, has been sacked.

This comes as little surprise given that Barnet Council doesn’t actually do democracy.

Update to follow. Perhaps.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

How to save the wardens and £600,000

When Lynne Hillan first announced the council’s plans to put elderly residents’ lives at risk in order to save £950,000 a year, Don’t Call Me Dave prepared the table below showing how Barnet could save more than £1 million without affecting front line services.

These figures were based on information provided by the council in various public reports.

Following the initial public outcry, the council did its sums again and reduced the cuts efficiency savings needed to only £400,000. However, as outgoing leader Mike Freer claims he is always looking to save money, there is absolutely no reason why DCMD’s proposed efficiency savings cuts cannot be implemented.

Keep the wardens and save taxpayers £600,000 a year. Simples!

Monday 19 October 2009

Save Our Wardens!

I have written many times about Barnet Council’s shameful plans to scrap the warden service, but tonight I have seen for myself the fear in residents’ eyes. So much so, that I am abandoning my usual style of writing in the third person. This is no time for grammatical niceties.

I was attending prayers in memory of a family friend who sadly passed away. The service took place in one of the sheltered houses where he had happily lived for several years.

I recognised one of the other residents from recent news footage on the BBC and so went over and talked to her. She told me to look around. There were residents who were blind and some in wheelchairs. “How are they supposed to get out if the warden has left for the day and there is a fire?”, she asked. Good question, but I had no answer for it. “There is going to be a fatality”, she warned.

Another resident said: “Of course the woman in charge of this got her own mother out in time”. Lynne Hillan denies that she acted improperly but even if she genuinely didn’t have any say in the decision to move her mother to a home not affected by the cuts, the simple truth is that residents don’t believe her.

One lady complained to me: “They lost all our money in Iceland and the man in charge is a banker”. At least, I think that’s what she said.

I spoke with the relative of one resident who was also visiting. He said: “The council are going to do whatever they want to do. They are not interested in consultations. They have already made their mind up”. He is right that the council is not interested in public consultations. They simply don’t care that 85% of residents oppose their plans.

But I do not accept for one moment that this is a done deal. The public can and must put an end to this madness.

In 2002, the Labour/LibDem Administration, led by Alan Williams, proposed granting permission to Barnet Football Club to let them build a second stadium on green belt land. Local residents were enraged. So enraged that an all party pressure group was formed called BRASS - Barnet Residents Against Second Stadium.

The council simply ignored the public protests and local residents imposed the only sanction they could - they voted Conservative. Life long Labour Party members switched allegiance and consequently Labour lost two seats to the Tories in Underhill ward. That was enough to swing control of the council to the Conservatives and save the green belt.

To those head-in-the-sand politicians who say that local elections cannot be won on single issues, think again.

To Lynne Hillan, who started this whole process: explain to voters how you can sleep soundly at night knowing that elderly residents are living in constant fear.

To Richard Cornelius, who is too scared to go and visit the affected residents: do you really think David Cameron will send you to the House of Lords when you treat elderly residents so callously?

And to £103,000 a year Brian Coleman, who said of the warden cuts: “The sensible nature of Barnet's changes is becoming more evident every day”, I say go. Just pack up your gold chains and get out of this borough. We are all sick and tired of your big mouth. You are arrogant, pompous and hopelessly out of touch with reality. You are an embarrassment to real Conservatives.

To the rest of the Tories on Barnet Council, think hard about this: do not underestimate the strength of public anger over this issue. If the council can change control due to the actions of residents in just one ward, think what will happen when residents across the whole borough go to the ballot box in May. Conservative voters in every part of Barnet are just as opposed to warden cuts as Labour and LibDem voters. And just as Labour voters switched allegiance on a point of principle in 2002, so Conservative voters might switch as well - unless you come to your senses and abandon these ill conceived proposals.

You have no mandate to impose such savage cuts on the frail and vulnerable. The same financial savings Lynne Hillan claims are needed can easily be made by cutting out bureaucracy in the press and PR department alone. Just ask yourselves one question. Are you really prepared to risk losing power for the sake of Lynne Hillan’s cruel and unnecessary plans?

Sunday 18 October 2009

Members Code of Conduct

Article 6(a) of the Members Code of Conduct states:

You must not use or attempt to use your position as a member improperly to confer on or secure for yourself or any other person, an advantage or disadvantage;

Something to hide?

On 19th May 2009, Don’t Call Me Dave asked Barnet Council for a copy of the spreadsheet detailing the allowances paid to our hard working and well beloved councillors.

This year the spreadsheet came with a warning because some councillors had indicated that they were not going to accept the increase they had voted for themselves. The council promised to provide the corrected spreadsheet as soon as it was available.

Five months and several reminders later, DCMD is still waiting. The law says FOI requests should be answered within 20 working days.

Telling the public how much councillors are paid is never going to be a priority for this obsessively secretive council, but it is hard not to form the opinion that the information is being deliberately withheld.

Perhaps some of the councillors who publicly announced that they were not going to stick their snouts any deeper into the trough have had second thoughts and are now claiming the money? We have a right to know.

Friday 16 October 2009

Barnet's dodgy pavements

The Barnet Press reports that Barnet has some of the most dangerous pavements in the country. Nearly £1.8 million compensation has been paid by the council to people injured in tripping accidents in the last 5 years alone.

Over the same period, councillors have awarded themselves nearly three times as much in allowances and perks.

Of course, if Councillor Tambourides didn’t park on the pavement, perhaps there wouldn’t be so many broken flagstones in the borough?

The Chris Harris scandal: is Andrew Harper to blame?

The national media has picked up the story that Golders Green councillor Chris Harris, who has been on “extended leave” in Australia since July, is still claiming his allowances of £831 a month.

Cllr Harris told the Barnet Times this week: “On reflection, maybe it was a mistake to continue accepting my salary, but it just didn't dawn on me to stop it. It just drops straight into your account and I wouldn't have even known how to stop it.”

Don’t Call Me Dave is saddened by these silly comments because Chris Harris worked very hard in the past as a councillor and was not afraid to stand up to the bullies on the council who were unhappy at his support for local residents over the Hendon Football Club issue.

But Cllr Harris needs to understand that the payment he receives is an allowance, not a salary, and if you are not in a position to do your job properly, you shouldn’t claim it. The suggestion that he didn’t even known how to stop the payments is, frankly, insulting our intelligence.

But what makes this story really shocking is that council leader Mike Freer apparently did not know that Cllr Harris was still away. Mr Freer told the Barnet Press: “I was asked by Mr Harris if he could have an extended holiday abroad over the summer, which I considered acceptable. What I didn’t realise come last Wednesday afternoon was that he was still on holiday and nobody knew when he was coming back because he was not contactable. It was then put to him to waive his expenses claims, but he said no.”

Don’t Call Me Dave is not quite sure how it could be put to Cllr Harris to waive his expense claims if he was not contactable, but for the leader of the council not to know that one of his councillors had gone AWOL is almost unbelievable.

The person responsible for this debacle must surely be Cllr Andrew Harper, the Conservative Chief Whip. It is his job to keep the troops in line. What many taxpayers will find even more shocking, however, is that Cllr Harper receives an allowance of £5,984 a year for being the whip - even though this is a party political position.

DCMD would be grateful to any councillor who posts a message here explaining why taxpayers should have to pay for party whips.

Whilst the calls for Cllr Harris to stop claiming his allowances are entirely reasonable because he is not doing his job, Cllr Harper should repay the money he has received from the public purse because he is not doing his. Not that we should have to pay for it, even if he was.

Thursday 15 October 2009

Barnet’s MPs all have a Legg to stand on

Sir Thomas Legg, who conducted a review of MPs expenses, has told Barnet’s three Members of Parliament - Andrew Dismore, Theresa Villers and Rudi Viz - that they will not have to repay taxpayers for the money they claimed in respect of their second homes.

Whilst this will undoubtedly come as a relief to the so called ‘honourable’ Members, it will stick in the craw of many constituents. The Green Book which lists MPs allowances states unequivocally that claims are: “only allowable if the spend is wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred on parliamentary duties”.

Quite why it is necessary for an MP living in London to require a second home at taxpayers' expense is a question they have yet to answer adequately. The Additional Costs Allowance (ACA) was intended for MPs representing far flung constituencies - not those which are a mere 45 minutes from Westminster.

The general public, whose tax bills are rising sharply, are justifiably aggrieved to find themselves paying inter alia stamp duty, legal fees, mortgage interest, cleaning and gardening bills on the luxury bijoux residences our MPs seemingly cannot do their job without.

MPs reportedly feel hard done by and bemoan that their claims were “within the rules”. Indeed they were, but these were rules which they themselves made. That something is legal does not, however, make it morally acceptable.

It is quite clear that none of Barnet’s MPs are going to pay us back a single penny of our money, but the very least they could do is apologise.

An open and honest administration

Conservative Home website reports that Tory run Windsor and Maidenhead is the most open council in Britain about its spending. It also has the lowest Council Tax of any unitary authority outside London. Its leader David Burbage (pictured right) believes this is not just coincidence. He writes:-

"Local authority spending has never been more transparent than at Windsor and Maidenhead, and now my pioneering Council has gone one step further by identifying payments made by our service departments who are spending taxpayers' money.

I welcome the commitment by Caroline Spelman at Manchester to make all local authorities publish their expenditure; Windsor and Maidenhead led with the £500 threshold - and we continue to improve the offering for local taxpayers to see where their money is going, by publishing with additional clarity our outgoing costs.

Together with the lowest Band D Council Tax outside of London of English unitary authorities, we want to provide the best services at the lowest possible price - and show that transparency breeds both efficiency and an improved confidence in democracy.

The Council also publishes every expense claim made by every councillor.

Our latest data release puts more information out than ever before, and we think that everyone should be doing this.

Trust in politicians and political institutions is at an all time low and I believe greater openness will go a long way to restoring that trust. Transparency breeds confidence in our democracy.

This is ground-breaking openness but we should not be unique, all public services should be doing this – it’s taxpayers’ money, after all, not ours."

When the Conservatives won control of Barnet in 2002, then leader Victor Lyon promised “an open and honest Administration”. We are still waiting.

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Court shock for Lynne Hillan

The Barnet Times reports that the council is facing a costly and embarrassing court battle over on-site warden cuts after permission was granted for a Judicial Review.

Although it has been left to Mike Freer and, more recently, Richard Cornelius, to publicly defend the proposed changes, regular readers will recall that it was Lynne Hillan who decided to instigate these savage cuts when she was Cabinet Member for Community Services.

The news could not have come at a worse time for Cllr Hillan as she prepares to finally fulfil her ambition to take over the leadership of the council from Mike Freer, who sources claim is stepping down next month to concentrate on his General Election campaign.

However, senior Conservatives are privately expressing their concern that a deal has been struck for Lynne Hillan to be anointed leader without a contest just like Gordon Brown was - and most probably with the same consequences.

Monday 12 October 2009

Who would God vote for?

In the old days, you knew when you were being robbed. A man would stick a gun in your back and say “stick ‘em up”. Now, however, the crooks have found a more efficient method to systematically steal our hard earned cash, and with far fewer risks attached. First they stand for Parliament. Then they get us to buy their furniture, do the gardening, clean their moats and pay their non existent mortgages. And when there is just one squeeze of the lemon remaining, they sting us for a gold plated index linked pension.

Similarly, in the old days, when the villains were caught red handed, their response was more usually “it’s a fair cop guv” rather than “this was approved by the fees office”.

Listening to the shameful cabal of dishonourable MPs repeating the mantra “it was all within the rules” is somewhat reminiscent of Nazi officers at Nuremburg protesting “we were only obeying orders”, not because anybody is suggesting that the crimes perpetrated by some MPs are even remotely comparable to the atrocities carried out by the Nazis, but because they exude a similar arrogance and show neither the slightest contrition nor the ability to distinguish right from wrong.

The damage to democracy and our political institutions will take many years to repair because there are similar problems of accountability and transparency at local level where the antipathy between electors and elected is rising.

Prior to 2002, councillors would receive an allowance of a few hundred Pounds a year. People stood for election out of a sense of civic duty because they had skills and experience of benefit to the community. Money was not the motivation. Today, a back bench councillor can receive £10,000 for attending just two meetings a year. Cabinet members receive £30,000 - £40,000 and many Council leaders receive £70,000+ because they also sit on highly paid quangos without any democratic mandate.

Allowances have increased thirty fold in the last few years but you would be hard pressed to find many people who would agree that there has been a corresponding improvement in front line services. The public are justifiably angry because they have been forced to tighten their belts due to the economic climate, whereas politicians have their snouts in the trough and appear totally oblivious to our pain.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown told us that he was guided by a moral compass, but he must have acquired it from the bargain bucket at Woolies because the current political crisis is entirely due to the collective moral failure of the ruling classes. At the next General Election, policies will be of secondary importance to large swathes of the electorate who will instead be more concerned as to the honesty and integrity of the candidates.

In 1997, the Catholic Church published a document entitled “The Common Good” which was widely considered as a call by Bishops for the public to vote Labour. Many Christians believe that Jesus would have been a Socialist whereas the late former Chief Rabbi Lord Jakobovitz was ennobled by Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, of whom he was a great admirer. It begs the question as to who God would vote for to restore public confidence in the political establishment.

Looking at the manifesto pledges of some of the political parties contesting the next election, one party has a range of policies which might possibly meet with God's approval.

On political sleaze, this party believes that an MP’s salary is quite sufficient for the average person to survive on and that their expenses are too high. These expenses would instead be distributed to the poor and needy.

On electoral reform, the age at which people can stand for election would be reduced to 18. At this age you can vote, drink, and do almost anything else, except run for Parliament. Elections would be held on weekends to increase voter turnout.

This party proposes help for parents to combat child obesity. On the environment, it has a clear policy to deal with global warming, including the planting of more trees, and also proposes severe penalties for littering.

On education they propose to reduce class sizes and to reintroduce student grants. On transport, speed cameras would be abolished in favour of automatic speed limiters operating in built up areas. Its answer to the fuel crisis is that we should walk more. Politicians in future would be required to use public transport.

They also propose that everyone should have free connection to the internet to improve education and help British business compete in the global market.

Many voters would look at this list and conclude that they are all eminently sensible policy ideas. But they are not taken from the manifesto of any mainstream party. Rather, they have been selectively edited from the manifesto of The Official Monster Raving Loony Party who aim to achieve a reduction in class sizes by moving the desks closer together! To combat global warming, the Raving Loonies propose to put air conditioning units on the outside of buildings!

But not all of their ideas are daft. The Raving Loony pledge to reduce childhood obesity by telling parents to feed their children less junk food is not loony at all and, indeed, many of their other proposals over the years have found their way into law.

It is simply a matter of presentation and the serious concern is that fringe parties such as the BNP will now profit from the moral decline of our political lords and masters. Unlike the National Front, whose ideological hatred was tattooed on the forehead of its members, the BNP presents itself as a moderate respectable party whose members dress in smart suits and have the appearance of typical middle class citizens.

Politicians are all now running around like headless chickens talking about the need for systemic reform to restore public confidence, but it is not the system that is at fault but rather the people in it. Religious leaders of all denominations undoubtedly have a very important role to play at the next general election, not by campaigning for a particular candidate or party, but by helping to recalibrate the moral compass of all candidates of all parties.

Of course God doesn’t have a vote, but if he was inclined to get involved in politics, he would surely tell those wishing to hold public office that they must observe his laws above all others. Perhaps he would also remind candidates that they should always honour their manifesto pledges and that they cannot claim for a Mezuzah on expenses!

Barnet easyCouncil. You will either love it, or hate it.

Tonight’s episode of Panorama reported on the cost cutting measures at Ryanair - the airline we apparently love to hate. As regular readers of Not The Barnet Times know, council leader Mike Freer wants to emulate the budget airlines and transform Barnet into easyCouncil.

The short clip below highlights exactly why Ryanair’s business model is totally unsuitable for a council to adopt.

Gordon Brown’s Con Trick

One of the greatest conmen of the twentieth century was Victor Lustig, who became known as the man who sold the Eiffel Tower.

Gordon Brown is about to repeat the same trick by selling the Dartford Crossing.

When the QE2 Bridge was opened in 1991, the public were told that the toll would be charged for only as long as it took for the construction costs to be recouped. The debt was effectively paid off in March 2002, yet Labour has not only continued to charge us, but they actually increased the toll by 50% in 2008.

It is now reported that Gordon Brown wants to sell off a number of state assets - including the crossing - to plug the gaping hole in the public finances caused by his reckless and irresponsible management of the economy.

A private owner will obviously continue to charge drivers for ever and a day, yet anyone who uses the crossing (or listens to traffic reports on the radio) will know that the whole area is a regular bottleneck during the morning and evening rush hours caused by congestion at the toll booths.

This causes massive damage to the environment and the economy, as well as frustration for drivers.

Earlier this year, a Department of Transport spokesman said: “Having charges helps tackle congestion…” which is absolute nonsense because motorists have no alternative but to use the crossing.

If the tolls were removed, the congestion would vanish. Unfortunately, Gordon Brown prefers the option of making our money vanish instead.

Sunday 11 October 2009

It’s got to be Gordon’s

For those wondering who wrote the best letter of the week, it has got to be Brian Gordon’s missive to the Barnet Times.

Cllr Gordon complained about the “unsavoury language” and “vulgar personal insults” which opposition councillors have employed in council meetings.

Don’t Call Me Dave supports any attempt to eliminate crass and offensive remarks by elected politicians, but wonders what Brian Gordon thinks of comments made by his own leader, Cllr Mike Freer?

As regular readers will be aware, Mike Freer, who is the Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Finchley & Golders Green told an interviewer that residents were “nutters”, “not normal” and “a pain in the arse”. Freer also suggested that his opponents masturbated whilst writing about him.

Pot calling the kettle again, Brian?

Conservative support for blogging

Douglas Carswell is the Tory MP for Harwich and Clacton. Unlike the few remaining dinosaurs in the Conservative Party, Mr Carswell recognises the positive effect bloggers have on the democratic process.

He has just written the following article for PR Week magazine:

The internet has removed what economists call barriers to entry in business and PR. It is about to do the same with politics. Established players and parties will either adapt - or lose market share to nimbler upstarts.

Bloggers, who have democratised news coverage, are forcing parties to change the way they run their press operations. 'The message' is no longer defined exclusively by party officials - but by a broader movement. At the next election, amateur YouTube clips will spring up, with as big an audience as any plodding party election broadcast.

The internet makes it possible to change the way we do politics. The tide of anti-politics makes change essential.

Even before Expensesgate, there was an appetite for authentic democratic representation. Consumers desire the distinctive, particular and the local and consumerist voters want the same in their politics.

Hierarchical parties need to become looser umbrella organisations. They must become flatter, more democratic and open-source. Funding will be raised via small, online donations, candidates selected via Totnes-style open primaries.

Perhaps mass-brand, corporate politics will turn out to have been an aberration? My hunch is less rigid party politics will leave our democracy stronger.

Compare Mr Carswell's words to Brian Coleman's who thinks that blogging should be treated like child porn.

Improve your financial skills

The Barnet Times reports that a financial advisor is holding a seminar next week to help people manage their money better and improve their understanding of long-term financial planning.

This blog is essential reading for Barnet’s councillors and chief officers, so no further comment from DCMD required.

Saturday 10 October 2009

Dannii Minogue's X Factor Shame

Don’t Call Me Dave admits to being an X Factor fan. The mock rivalry between the judges trying to outdo each other has become legendary.

But in tonight’s first live final, Dannii Minogue crossed the line between constructive criticism and homophobia when she made a rather unpleasant comment to Danyl Johnson who had performed “And I Am Telling You” - a song made famous by Jennifer Hudson.

The song was written for a female performer but for some inexplicable reason, Mzzz Minogue suggested that Danyl didn’t need to change the gender references in the lyrics.

Danyl is clearly shocked by her remarks and can be seen mouthing “I’m not ashamed”.

He has no need to be. Dannii Minogue, on the other hand, does.

Thursday 8 October 2009

The Barnet Secret Service

Don’t Call Me Dave has written previously about the unhealthy culture of secrecy which permeates through every fibre of the council’s being.

Not The Barnet Times reader, 'baarnett', posted a comment earlier this week highlighting a particular problem regarding the council’s ban on the recording of public meetings. You can read baarnett’s letter to the council here.

The council is relying on a decision taken by the Planning & Resources Committee in October 1993 to prohibit recordings. Click on the image below to enlarge.

The Committee’s decision was based on an earlier decision taken by the General Purposes Committee in November 1983. Click here to download the report. The council had considered a suggestion from Cllr John Rawles to allow recordings of public meetings (by the council itself) but the idea was not pursued.

The interesting point to note from this report is that there were no “relevant previous decisions” which means that the council did not actually have a policy regarding public recordings.

In the early 1980s it is highly unlikely that members of the press or public would have wanted to record meetings because tape recorders were bulky and expensive and digital storage was the stuff of science fiction! So it is not really a surprise that there was no resolution in 1983 prohibiting something that people were not doing - or even thinking of doing!

In 1993 the then Chief Executive said that unless councillors agreed on a formal policy to allow meetings to be recorded: “this would continue not to be permitted”. But for this to hold true, the council must have passed a resolution sometime between November 1983 and October 1993.

As a general rule of thumb, everything is permitted unless a law is passed saying that it isn't! So if the council believes that the public recording of meetings is prohibited, it must demonstrate that a resolution has been passed outlawing such action.

Don’t Call Me Dave raised this matter with Mike Freer last year. DCMD asked the leader of the council whether he supported the ban on public recording. On 3rd March 2008, Cllr Freer replied (spelling corrected):
“I do not support members of the public recording off their own bat - we would have no control over cutting and splicing. Recording by the council under correct supervision is fine.”
Anyone reading that comment could easily be mistaken for thinking that Cllr Freer is a Socialist embracing nanny state ideology. There is not the slightest shred of evidence that the public would make improper use of any recordings and the suggestion that only the council can be trusted to make recordings is more in keeping with an old fashioned regime from behind the iron curtain than a forward looking and enlightened English democratic council.

Given that you can record about 24 hours worth of conversation on an audio CD costing 10p, the council could easily record all public meetings, and if a member of the public did try to “splice” their own recording, they would quickly be found out - assuming that the council itself could be trusted not to selectively edit the disks.

Camden Council not only records its meetings, but makes them available for public download from their web site. The Government, the European Parliament and many other public authorities do likewise, so you have to wonder why Barnet Council considers itself so important that it can operate a blanket ban precisely when other institutions are opening themselves up to greater scrutiny.

The public has an absolute right to observe meetings of the Council and there is nothing in law which says that public meetings cannot be recorded. Given that many residents, especially the disabled, do not have access to the Town Hall, public recordings are entirely justifiable and beneficial for democracy.

At a time when the standing of politicians is at an all time low, restricting public scrutiny of proceedings will only add to suspicions that the council has something to hide. It seems a poor state of affairs that local councils now have the power to bug our phones as a measure to prevent fly-tipping, but the public cannot make a recording of a public meeting.

In 2002, former leader Victor Lyon promised an open an honest administration. That is hardly consistent with a council which seeks to uphold a 26 year old regulation - if indeed such a regulation even exists. A fundamental aspect of democracy is that politicians are our servants, not our masters. The moment they come to think of themselves as the masters, we are on the road to tyranny.

Monday 5 October 2009

A ruder Mayor than Brian Coleman!

Believe it or not, there is a Mayor who is even ruder than Brian Coleman. Pictured below is James D Kalb, the Mayor of Portsmouth, Ohio.

Dizzy has posted a copy of the e-mail sent by Mayor Kalb to a local blogger, Robert Forrey, who had contacted him requesting documents relating to the building of a park.

From: City of Portsmouth
Subject: Re: Freedom of Information
Priority: Normal. Date: Sunday, September 27, 2009 1:47 AM
To: Robert Forrey

Per your public records request;

You are correct in stating that at the meeting in the park the fact was "acknowledged that such a written agreement existed". What I don't understand is why you feel that a confirmation of this fact would necessitate a publication or distribution of the mentioned document.

As you requested, a copy of the document has been prepared for you to pick up at my office. Our regular office hours are from 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM, Monday through Friday.

If there is anything else that I can do for you, which is required by law, don't hesitate to call my office. If it isn't required by law then don't bother asking, because I think that you're a worthless piece of s**t and I wouldn't p**s on you if you were on fire (my opinion). You're a poor, lonely, jealous, old man with aspirations of being a writer. You write your lies and uneducated opinions on people and issues from behind the safety of your slobber stained keyboard with the hope that somebody will read them that doesn't know you and believe that you're more than the pitiful, broke-down, lizard-looking thing that you are, in my opinion. Get a life old man. On second thought, don't bother..............

I do have a question for you. Do you have family and if so do they even like you?

Looking forward to your next Internet issue of "FORREY'S FOLLIES".....NOOOTTTTTT

With little respect for you,
Mayor James D. Kalb

It's lucky that Rog T doesn’t live in Portsmouth!

As one of Barnet's top bloggers might put it, James D Kalb (aka Mr Toad) has got to go!

Cameron supports electoral reform

Yesterday, Not The Barnet Times called for electoral reform to restore trust in the political process.

It seems that David Cameron was thinking what Don’t Call Me Dave was thinking because he told BBC Radio Manchester that the next Conservative Government would hold a referendum on whether their city should have an elected Mayor. Mr Cameron said:
“Then you've got one person who you praise if they get it right and blame if they get it wrong. You can vote them in if they do a good job and give them the sack if they do a bad job. I think that sort of accountability helps to build great cities.”
Mr Cameron is absolutely right, but his proposal should be extended to cover all councils with tax raising powers.

As we revealed yesterday, only 21 people out of an electorate of 216,717 voted for Mike Freer to be leader of Barnet council - a mere 0.0097% - yet Freer has been able to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money hiring consultants for his crackpot Barnet Bond and Future Shape schemes without any democratic mandate.

Tens of millions of Pounds were invested in dodgy Icelandic banks and all the while Freer and his cronies rewarded themselves with inflation busting increases in their allowances.

Politicians have a tendency to accept the glory when things go right, but blame everyone else when they go wrong. David Cameron’s proposals will allow the public to put an end to that practice.

Sunday 4 October 2009

Never mind the policies, what about the voters?

Everyone knows that the Conservatives will win the next General Election. The only question is the size of their majority. That is why the LibDems and Labour resorted to pretty desperate measures at their respective party conferences last month.

Both parties resorted to scare tactics: “Don’t vote for the Tories. If elected, they will do this that or the other.” But in the next breath they accused the Conservatives of not having any policies. Well make your mind up!

However, the reality is that you do not need to have policies to win an election. When Labour won their landslide victory in 1997, it was not because the public thought Tony Blair was the Messiah who would lead them to the promised land. It was simply because, after almost 18 years in power, the public were fed up with the Conservatives and wanted a change. John Major could have promised to abolish income tax – it would have made no difference.

The Conservatives will win the next election on the same basis – the public are simply sick and tired of this discredited, incompetent and sleazy Labour government and want them out .

In any event, what is the point of making policy announcements when the public no longer believe anything politicians say?

The Labour manifesto of 2001 stated: “We have no plans to introduce University top-up fees, and have legislated to prevent their introduction.” But once returned to power, Labour did indeed introduce top-up fees.

Their 2005 manifesto said: “The new Constitutional Treaty ensures the new Europe can work effectively… We will put it to the British people in a referendum.” During the run up to the election Gordon Brown said: “It's not as though this is being imposed on the country. People will have the chance to put their views.”

History will recall that the same Gordon Brown signed the Lisbon Treaty without giving us the promised referendum.

At the last election, Tony Blair promised to serve a full term and people voted on that basis, but all the while Gordon Brown was plotting behind his back to depose him.

In Barnet, the public voted for a Conservative council led by Brian Salinger but unbeknown to the electorate, disgraced councillor Brian Coleman had tabled a vote of no confidence in Cllr Salinger during the election campaign itself, which resulted in Mike Freer being installed as Supreme Leader, even though Salinger had delivered the best election result for the Tories for 16 years.

There were 216,717 registered voters in Barnet at the last election, yet we have a leader chosen by a mere 21 people.

At the last General Election, the Conservatives polled more votes in England than Labour, but Tory voters have been entirely disenfranchised by an electoral system that is no longer fit for purpose.

The public have grown weary of politicians who promise one thing and deliver another. Accordingly, there is a desperate need for electoral reform in the UK – at local level and national. Until we have a system where politicians are fully accountable to the public – for their words and deeds - then election manifestos are not worth the recycled paper they are printed on.