Saturday 5 November 2011

Freedom of Expression, Trotskyite style

Article updated: See below

Don’t Call Me Dave stopped writing blogs about Barnet Council some time ago because (a) it was taking too much time to research stories thoroughly and (b) there were plenty of other bloggers out there doing a far better job. See the panel on the right hand side of this page for a selection. Not blogging about Barnet does not prevent DCMD from posting comments on other blogs when the mood takes him.

All the bloggers welcome DCMD’s contributions, even if they disagree with him, with the exception of Mrs Angry who regularly refuses to publish his comments. The irony will not be lost on readers that in a blog posted today under the title Freedom of Expression: another victory for the Barnet bloggers, Mrs Angry refused to publish one comment from DCMD, published a second and then removed it shortly thereafter.

Mrs Angry’s blog was a commentary on the excellent investigative work by Rog T who had forced Barnet Council to admit that it had lobbied the Information Commissioner in an attempt to silence opposition from local bloggers. The importance of Rog’s exposé cannot be underestimated. It is the first act of a tyrant to try and silence those with whom you disagree. And so it has proven to be the case, yet again, with Barnet’s leading Trotskyite, Mrs Angry.

At this point, dear Readers, you may be wondering what seditious commentary had DCMD tried to post to the Broken Barnet blog? The answer is that he merely pointed out to Mrs Angry that every time he tried to report that Barnet’s chief legal officer Jeff Lustig had signed off the contract to the Underhill sale - a transaction that was subsequently ruled illegal by the High Court - the dear lady refused to publish the comment.

DCMD refuses to believe that Mrs Angry was simply too lazy to read the many public documents relating to this matter which have been published in local and national newspapers (to say nothing of the esteemed Not The Barnet Times blog) for verification of the facts. The simple truth is that the transaction in question took place when Mrs Angry’s beloved Labour Party were ruining running Barnet. In the world of the swivel-eyed Trot, it is quite acceptable to post comments berating the evil Tories, but all criticism of Labour Administrations must be suppressed.

You cannot claim to support freedom of expression but then remove a comment that is lawful and relevant to the debate. You either believe in freedom of expression or you don’t. Now we know in which camp the fragrant Mrs Angry sits.

Update: 7th November, 2011

DCMD temporarily took down this blogpost yesterday as a gesture of goodwill to Mrs Angry so that he could consider her complaint that it was an unwarranted personal attack. Mrs Angry contends, and DCMD accepts, that she has no knowledge of the facts surrounding the Underhill sale. Without being availed of the facts, Mrs Angry’s argument is that she does not want to open herself up to legal liability in the event that someone posts a defamatory or libellous message. That is fair enough, but only to the extent of dealing with unknown persons. Perhaps unintentionally, by removing his comments, Mrs Angry was effectively saying to DCMD “I do not trust what you have written”.

The facts of the matter are publicly available, and have been for several years. That Mrs Angry exercises her right not to read these documents does not make them any less valid.

Mrs Angry believes that DCMD’s comments about Jeff Lustig are an attempt to re-open the debate about the Underhill sale. They are not, and despite him telling her so several times, she still persists in this belief. The issue is one of corporate governance.

Mr Lustig was the council’s senior legal officer in charge of the Underhill sale. It is his signature which made the contract legally binding. In the private sector, if an employee carried out a transaction which caused his employer to incur losses of hundreds of thousands of pounds - if not millions - and then suffered the ignominy of that transaction being declared unlawful, he would be summarily dismissed. Not so in Barnet. Mr Lustig was not removed from his post, as he should have been, but promoted to Head of Corporate Governance and given a salary rise.

The majority of the scandals recently exposed by Barnet’s Bloggers can be attributed to a failure of corporate governance. The Metpro scandal, for example, came about because nobody bothered to check the council’s own rules and regulations for the awarding of external contracts. When council employees see that the rules can be ignored with impunity and that the people responsible for major cock ups are never held to account, it is no wonder that standards fall.

But it is the job of the Head of Corporate Governance to ensure that standards don’t fall and that the letter of the law is applied to everything done in the Council’s name. In this regard, Mr Lustig has failed spectacularly in his statutory duties.

Rog T’s revelation of the attempt by Barnet to legally gag its opponents also has Mr Lustig’s fingerprints on, although Mrs Angry does not seem to accept this. The Council’s complaint to the Information Commissioner was based on a legal argument regarding the Data Protection Act. It is inconceivable that Mr Lustig would not have been aware of the action being taken in the Council’s name.

Mrs Angry doubts whether Mr Lustig came up with the idea of the complaint to the Information Commissioner. That may very well be so, but as the Council’s senior legal officer, he should have stopped the application in his tracks. It is his job to give advice on legal matters. Did he advise the council to drop the action? If so, why was he ignored?

Mr Lustig’s position is untenable as his credibility has been irreparably undermined. He is not employed to allow public funds to be used to pursue a vendetta against Bloggers. His job is to serve the people of Barnet and ensure that the council complies with the law. Until such time as he is removed from his position and replaced by someone who will carry out his duties without fear or favour, these scandals will continue to occur.

Mrs Angry is seemingly so determined to portray every council cock up as the work of the evil Tories that she sometimes loses sight of the bigger picture. It is to Mr Lustig’s good fortune that Mrs Angry will not countenance this debate on her blog.


Mrs Angry said...

DONT CALL ME DAVE - do not incur the wrath of Mrs Angry: you are being very naughty, as well you know.

I demand a retraction from you on the allegation that I regularly refuse to publish your remarks. The only remarks I have ever refused to publish are about YAWN your obsession with the Underhill saga, and the reason I do not always publish these is a. because they are BORING and b. because although I do no believe in censorship I do believe in the existence of the law of libel, and I am not going to expose myself to action on the basis of comments by anyone about a subject I know nothing about, and therefore cannnot be sure of the accuracy of your remarks. If you read the full report by the ICO in regard to the judgement of freedom of expression in blogs, you will appreciate the comment about libel and defamation as being the only real considerations. I have trained as a journalist, and a large part of our training was in such matters, for obvious reasons.

I am afraid it it is true that I am too lazy to read up about Underhill: it happened before my time as a blogger and as a resident and a girlie I was not interested. I am not and never will be interested in anything to do with football, and I do not have to apologise for not being interested in something that fascinates you, but frankly no one else.

If you read my posts you will see that, for example, I have published comments about the Dale Farm story that challenge my position, and I have done so in order to be fair, despite the annoyance - I rarely get any comments I have to think about publishing, and for some reason they are almost always from you on the same topic!The only other comments i have ever witheld in the year and a half of my blog have been one or two in regard to MetPro, and for legal reasons.

The reason I withdrew a couple of the comments yesterday were a. partly to wind you up and b, because the content is detracting from the seriousness of the point in the post, which is my final point to you, instead of wittering on about Underhill you should focus on what is really important - what is happening now, and be recognising the seriousness of what has transpired in this attempt by Barnet Council to attack the bloggers who are continuing to expose their shabby, furtive and dangerous activities.

Now can we be friends again? Go on DCMD ...

Martin Rosen said...

I am not a football fan. However if Barnet Council have allegedly stitched up Barnet FC then I do want to know about it.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Mrs Angry

You have deleted, or refused to publish, at least 5 comments from me, perhaps more (DCMD has not kept a log). No retraction shall be forthcoming, unless there is a new definition of ‘regular’ with which I am unfamiliar.

You claim to be concerned about libel and defamation (fair enough) but acknowledge that you could not be bothered to ascertain the facts of the matter in question. In which lesson in your journalism training did they teach you to simply airbrush from history events which you couldn’t be arsed to enquire about?

My comments were most certainly pertinent to your blog post yesterday. The issue at hand was not Underhill per se. Rather, I was drawing to the public’s attention the fact that you were criticising the council for trying to silence its critics when you engage in the same activity yourself when it suits you.

The issue that I have attempted to raise on your blog is not the Underhill sale specifically – that matter is in the past and, as the Court ruled, cannot be undone. The issue is that the senior officer involved in the unlawful transaction was not removed from his post, as he should have been, but promoted and given a salary rise. There is a huge issue within Barnet regarding governance. If the guy in charge of the Corporate Governance department is actually responsible for one of the biggest cock ups in recent local government history, then that is most definitely a matter which should be discussed by bloggers and the public alike. I really do not understand why you refuse to countenance any criticism of Mr Lustig on your blog.

Do not censor my comments again and we can continue to be friends!

Martin: Whether it was the council which ‘stitched up’ BFC or the other way round is a highly charged debate. My concern, at this stage, simply relates to holding to account those responsible for causing the council to loose a valuable asset for significantly less than its real value.

Mrs Angry said...

oh do stop being so silly DCMD: I have never censored your comments,I have never refused to publish ANY comment unless I cannot be sure that it is not libellous,& I simply don't know enough about Underhill to judge that. I have neither the time nor the interest necessary to immerse myself in it enough to be able to judge, I am responsible for my own blog and must be allowed to make my own judgements, not rely on the views of others, or be attacked for doing so. If you want to bang on about such an old story do it in your own blog - nothing to stop you, is there?

I have criticised and will continue to criticise Lustig and any or all of his fellow senior officers if they do something I feel is wrong, but all the Underhill stuff is irrelevant to me - that was then and this is now, and whatever you think was going on then has got a whole lot more complex and serious.

Underhill is history: what is happening now in Barnet is on a far greater scale and will have enormous implications for the future of all of us. Let's move on, shall we?

Mr Mustard said...

Hello DCMD

I certainly don't want to get inbetween you and Mrs Angry but I would like to point out that the current way that the council is run leads to an enormous amount of work for bloggers and so we do have to decide what to read up and blog about.

I can't say I am a big fan of Mr Lustig and I am trying to get to the bottom of who decided on the silly course of action about me with the ICO re the DPA. It may take a while.

Best regards

Mr Mustard

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Mr Mustard

DCMD is a bit old fashioned. He believes in the concept of accountability. He hankers for the days when a person at the top of an organisation would accept responsibility for the work carried by people in his or her charge.

Who can forget Lord Carrington’s resignation following the Argentinean invasion of the Falkland Islands? Nobody blamed him for the invasion, but it happened under his watch and resigning was the correct and honourable thing to do. Compare his behaviour with that of Theresa May who is, as DCMD writes, holding on to her position as Home Secretary, despite admitting to Parliament that she hasn’t a clue how many terrorists may have entered the country following the relaxation of border checks. Even if civil servants exceeded their authority as Mrs May claims, the Home Secretary is responsible for border control and she should walk the plank.

Mr Lustig should have been sacked in 2002. His departure would have sent a very clear message that failure is not acceptable at this level. If Barnet employed as head of corporate governance someone who actually believed in the concept, then we would not have the problems we are dealing with now. It is inconceivable that Mr Lustig was kept out of the loop with regard to the complaint to the ICO about you. It was an affront to democracy. It happened on his watch. Even if it wasn’t his idea, he must go.

DCMD wonders if the council has used its powers under RIPA to snoop on any bloggers?