Thursday, 19 April 2012

Barnet Council and the Army of Accidental Activists

John and Susan Sullivan
Last night, as I listened to the Q&A session at the House of Commons, a rather odd thought struck me. We had a few fantastic interventions from committed hard working activists, doing their best to prevent Barnet Council from ruining their lives. Perhaps the two who made the biggest impact on me were Helen Michael, de facto leader of the revolt by traders against outrageous parking charges and John Sullivan, campaigner aaginst the destruction of disabled services in Barnet.

They both made impassioned plea's for their causes. Helen told how the outrageous parking charges were destroying her business. She brought a leaflet showing all the closed shopfronts in North Finchley and Barnet. She explained that many people had lost their livelyhood, purely because the council had not given due consideration to the effect the charges would have on High St trade. John Sullivan talked about how the destruction of services for adults with learning difficulties had affected his 48 year old daughter. John is 71, he told how he was 21 when his daughter was born. Then there was nothing. Having seen society progress to a more civilised way of dealing with adults who need special requirements, he is scared to death of the effects this will have on his daughters health and wellbeing.

The point is that I don't believe that either Helen or John are natural political activists. They are people who have been forced to take up a fight by a council which has backed them into a corner. John Sullivan cannot walk away from this fight, because to do so would be to betray his daughter. Helen Michael is in a similar situation. She has spent years building a business and it is her livelyhood.

When you are backed into a corner and given no way out, all you can do is fight. If the idiots who are running Barnet Council think they can fob them off they are deluded fools. Both John and Helen are intelligent people who are more than a match for anyone I've seen at Barnet. A Barnet Tory quipped to me that the screenings of A Tale of Two Barnets brought "all the sad old lefties out of the closet". he could not have been more deluded. Helen Michael told a meeting hosted by a Labour MP that she was distributing leaflets saying "Back Boris, Sack Brian". John Sullivan said "I don't care what party anyone belongs to, it's about common decency". A Tale of Two Barnets is not about Labour activists, anti cuts protestors or vote Labour. It is about giving the people of Barnet a voice. The people have spoken. They want changes. In other circumstances, John Sullivan would be watching the telly on a Wednesday night, wearing his slippers and chatting to his wife about their plans for a summer Holiday. Helen Michael would be putting her feet up after a hard days shift in  a busy, well run cafe, swigging a decent glass of red wine and chatting to her friends.

The fact that they were in the Wilson Rooms at the House of Commons speaking of their problems with Barnet Council is a tragic accident. They are victims of the car crash that is Barnet Council under this Conservative regime

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