Saturday, 10 August 2013

My disgust at an ill informed and misleading article on the Guardian website

Yesterday, campaigners in Barnet had a bomb dropped on them. I have yet to establish with this was simply a case of "friendly fire" or whether a fifth columnist has stuck a knife in our back. I was alerted to the issue by an email simply saying
Apologies just seen this article we need a mass response
The Guardian has historically been supportive of the One Barnet protest campaign and has written many well informed articles exposing the lack of democracy at the heart of the project. To then read an article stating that the whole thing is good for local democracy was, to say the least, incredible. At around 6pm, that slight tremor in the ground people felt in Barnet was not a mini earthquake or the start of fracking in Totteridge. It was my jaw hitting the ground. I cannot believe that a national paper allowed such an artcile, written by Hannah Fearn,  a jobbing journalist, to appear without even bothering to ask her if she'd checked her facts or spoken to anyone in Barnet who had been involved with the protest. My gut feeling is that Ms Fearn realises that Barnet has a well organised protest movement and she took a conscious decision to write an inflammatory article, in the hope of raising her profile and perhaps getting a payrise.

I am working on a more considered response. Here is what I wrote to the Guardian editor responsible for placing the article.

Dear Ms Marsh,
The article on the Guardian Website today claims that the fact that the failure of the One Barnet Court case proves local democracy is alive and well. Nothing could be further from the truth. I write a blog called "The Barnet Eye" which has attracted over 1 million hits. I have also produced to documentary films on the subject, both featured on National TV and radio. My fellow bloggers in Barnet have also covered the subject tirelessly. I cannot believe that such an ill informed article has appeared in the Guardian. The extreme ignorance of the circumstances of the case to the author beggars and does the Guardian no favours at all.
How can it possibly be claimed that the One Barnet process has anything to do with democracy? The project was deliberately hidden from public gaze in the 2010 Tory manifesto. I stood for Barnet Council against the Tories in 2010 and their campaign deliberately mislead the public about their intentions. No mention was made of it anywhere in the Tory manifesto. As if it wasn't bad enough to mislead the public during an election, the Council deliberately mislead the public about its intention to consult. This was a legal obligation, but using the expensive City law firm mentioned in your article, the Council rather cunningly got around this. Both the High Court and the Court of appeal ruled that Barnet had failed in their duty to consult. The only reason both struck out the challenge of Maria Nash was because the councils clever strategy of deception had circumvented the opposition and Maria was ruled out of time.
There is no aspect of what has happened that is commendable. Perhaps the most laughable and ignorant comment in tour article is
"Much has been made of what the One Barnet affair means for local democracy. Some will claim that the decision of the Court of Appeal flies in the face of the ideals of democracy, as the local authority ploughs ahead with its plans despite the visible objection of so many residents. Rather, I'd argue that the campaign against the contracts has re-ignited local interest in local government and public services, and what they mean for us all. Local democracy is alive and well: if they don't like what they see, the people of Barnet will make their voices heard at the ballot box next year."
This shows supreme ignorance of the situation. The contracts have been signed. Voting for a new administration is meaningless. The contracts cannot be broken, they last for ten years and whoever is in power is lumbered. Worse than that, due to the Outsourcing and the redundancy program, with departments located out of Barnet, there is no prospect of inhousing the departments if One Barnet fails. Whatever message the voters of Barnet send, they can change nothing. How can your correspondent describe this as democratic?
I would suggest that in the interests of Balance, the Guardian allows the Barnet bloggers to submit  ajoint article explaining the situation from a position of knowledge, rather than one which seems to have no bearing on reality whatsoever.

Roger Tichborne

You may or may not be pleased to know that the Guardian has agreed to publish a response from the Barnet Eye.

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