Sunday, 6 October 2013

The five harsh lessons of the One Barnet struggle

For the last five years, this blog has fought tirelessly to make our local politicians see sense over the One Barnet program. Now Barnet has been transformed into Capitaville and the axe has been taken to the tree of jobs that used to be Barnet Council. Functions are being chopped up and scattered to the far flung reaches of the country and all manner of revelations about the ineptitude of the council and how we've been taken for a ride are starting to emerge. Thus far we've found out that the carve up of jobs was printed on a map in the contract. We've found that Capita have appointed their own bailiffs to chase debts, despite Barnet having contracts in place. The existing companies are in the process of starting legal action against the council (guess who will pay). We found out that the investment in new systems is being paid for by Barnet taxpayers, not Capita and perhaps the most predictable cock up of all is that the Leader of the Council told the press this week that he expects the whole thing to be a  cock up. 

Sadly, I believe we should never have found ourselves in this position. I believe that if the people of Barnet had got the support of the people whos job it is to represent us, we'd never have found ourselves in this mess. I have turned a blind eye to all manner of things in Barnet that have disturbed me. What I am about to write will probably lose me a few friends, but it is the truth, so if people don't like it they can go forth and multiply. This is written not for the benefit of anyone in Barnet, but for anyone else stupid enough to try and stop such a juggernaut in their Town Hall.

1. You will fail if the opposition party don't give you 100% support. In Barnet, the main opposition group, the Labour Party have never come out against One Barnet. Despite hundreds of leaflet drops, wrap around adverts on the cover of local papers, two sell out films at the Phoenix, blanket coverage in the press for five years and countless public meetings, the Local Labour Party have never once committed to the fight against One Barnet. They have been lukewarm in their opposition. We've never seen a three line whip on turnout to protests. We've never seen a motion telling Capita that they will break the contract if elected. We've never seen a public proclaimation that they actually oppose the process. We've never seen leaflets saying they support the APSE alternative being delivered to every house in Barnet. We've never seen anything more than a motion for a referendum. If Labour had packed every meeting with supporters, challenged every dodgy paragraph of the contract and held the Tories to account, there is no way we'd be here. A few of the Labour Councillors have done their bit, but they are not in the majority. Labour has failed the people of Barnet in its opposition to One Barnet. That is a fact and if people don't like the truth then it is just too bad. The Labour Party in Barnet has been a comfy club for far too long. It is time that they started to fight for their principles with passion and vigour. During the GLA elections last year, the Barnet Alliance pulled out all the stops to support Barnet Labour and get Andrew Dismore elected. This was a huge success. Labour has not reciprocated with the One Barnet Campaign. The last Labour budget even accepted the dodgy savings detailed in the contract.

2. You wont stop an outsourcing if the local Unions aren't 100% committed to the fight. There are two types of Trades Unionists. There are ones who stand up and fight for their principles and there are ones who cheer other people on if it doesn't cost them any money. Workers in Barnet are now losing their jobs. If they had flexed their collective muscle properly when this monster first reared its ugly head, the Council would have thought again. Which workers in the public sector have the best deal? The answer is those such as Tube drivers who are prepared to fight for their terms and conditions. If residents find their bins aren't being emptied and their roads aren't being gritted they will soon realise the value of council services and they might take a different view to the proposals. Barnet had a couple of token half day strikes, this was never likely to change the minds of the local Tories.

3.  Local activists need to cut the talk and step up the action. In my opinion there are far too many planning meetings and far too people out on the streets drumming up the support of local people. The one lesson I learned from the Friern Barnet Library is that actions speak louder than words. Direct action changes the landscape. Now of course there are some people I totally exhonorate from these comments, but there are far too many people who talk a good game, but when it comes down to standing out in the snow protesting, suddenly find an urgent appointment or have developed a cold. 

4. Politicians need to be shown what the consequences of ignoring popular sentiment are. This happened in the GLA elections to great effect. In six months time, we have the Council elections. When the politicians knock on your door, ask them what they have done to ensure that the people of Barnet did not get ripped off by Capita in the One Barnet Contract. Ask them if they read the contract and saw the map of where the jobs are going. Ask them if they objected to this attack on the local economy. Ask them how they manifested this opposition. If you belong to a local Party, seek to deselect any candidate that can't give you a sensible answer. Barnet needs people who care to represent us.

5.The harshest lesson of all is that most people really couldn't give a sh*t about what happens to anyone else in Barnet, so long as they are alright. If the project fails, as one in four major outsourcing projects fail, then we will get lousy services and a huge tax bill. Now given the efforts I've put in to fighting this process, I'll feel pretty P*$$*D off, but if a single person moans about it to me and has sat on their bum for the last five years doing nothing, I shall tell them where to go.

At the last council election, I stood for council and lost. I spent six months campaigning to no avail. About a year after the campaign people started coming up to me and saying "You stood for council, what are you going to do about..." (usually planning issues). I asked them if they voted for me. Invariably they said "No, we voted Tory because we wanted to get rid of Gordon Brown". I then pointed out I stood for council, which was a totally different election. I also pointed out that I lost, so unlike my victorious opponents, it ain't my job. I then informed them that I had resigned from the Lib Dem party over the coalition and I am banned from membership of the Labour Party, so I won't be standing again.  They then said "we need people like you at the council, stand as an Independent." The truth is that if they wouldn't back me with a party behind me and the excellent track record of the local Lib Dems prior to 2010, then they wouldn't back me as an Independent with no resources. I have better things to do than trudge round Mill Hill, knocking on doors in the rain. 

The harsh truth is that as far as I'm concerned, I think Barnet has been hugely let down. It's been let down by lazy politicians, lazy trades union members and activists who are too busy running talking shops when they should be out on the streets pulling out every stop. Most of all though, I think we've let ourselves down. The wraparound about One Barnet went out to virtually every home. People read it then used it to line the budgie cage litter tray. In the film Woodstock, made in 1969 about the music festival, there is a song called "I feel like I'm fixing to die" by Country Joe MacDonald. It is an anti war song. Half a million people were at the festival. The chorus was "and it's 1, 2,3 what are we fighting for, don't ask me I don't give a damn, next stop is Vietnam, and it's 5,6,7 open up the pearly gates, there aint no time to wonder why, we're all gonna die". After the first chorus, Country Joe Berates the audience saying "I don't know how you ever hope to stop this F*ckin war if you can't sing any louder than that". When I look at what has happened in Barnet over the last five years, that is exactly how I feel. 

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