This Thursday we have to re-elect a local council. I have voted in every election in Barnet since 1982 When I first started voting, my house was in Hale Ward which was a Tory ward. At some point, I can't remember exactly when, the boundary was redrawn and my house became part of Mill Hill ward. From 1982 until 1994 Barnet Council was staunchly Conservative. I think it is fair to say that most Tories thought that this would never change. This was Margaret Thatchers home town Council. We all know what the Tories did to Maggie and shortly after the people of Barnet took their revenge. Both Mill Hill and Hale Wards, strongly Tory flipped over to Labour. This was no accident. A dodgy deal in a smokey room between the local Labour party and the Lib Dems (which no one has ever admitted publicly) saw the two parties agree to a truce. in Hale Lib Dems were asked to vote Labour on the doorstep and in Mill Hill Labour supporters were asked to vote Lib Dem. This resulted in the Tories losing overall control of the Council and Labour and the Lib Dems sharing office.
The 1992 election was the first time I'd voted for anyone other than Labour. I was pleasantly surprised at what a good job my local Lib Dem Councillors did. By the time the Tories retook the Council in 2004, this alliance had totted up 8 years in office and done a decent job of running the Council. There was no chaos in the parking policy as we see today. Residents who wanted traffic calming measures, to stop speeding motorists, saw humps introduced. In my road this meant that toddlers and moggies lead a safe life. It is no lie to say that since the Tories ripped out the humps the moggie population of Barnet has been decimated. My own son, when he was 3 years old ran into the road and due to a road hump wasn't splattered to death. Now cars speed up Millway, which is a popular ratrun from Mill Hill Broadway to the A41 at speeds often in excess of 50mph. We've had t have wing mirrors replaced on numerous occasions and had one car written off recently by a speeding driver who never bothered to stop.
In 2010, the old order in Barnet completely disintegrated. The Lab/Lib Dem deal disintegrated as the Lib Dems jumped into bed with the Tories in Westminster. At this election, Labour have deliberately targetted the Lib Dem stronghold of Childs Hill in a spiteful and I believe rather stupid attempt to take advantage of the situation. The most likely outcome of this is that the Lib Dems will lose seats and this could possibly keep the council Tory even if Labour do well elsewhere. Given that the lileyhood of the Barnet Lib Dems keeping the Tories in is next to zero, it is in my opinion a foolish move. I would advise anyone who does not back the Tories to stick with Jack Cohen and the Lib Dems in Childs Hill. Anything else is extremely likely to simply had the ward to the Tories.
Apart from Childs Hill, the other two wards where the Lib Dems are active are High Barnet and Mill Hill. I expect the both Jeremy Davies in Mill Hill and Duncan MacDonald in High Barnet to do well. Both have strong personal votes. I would again advise anyone who is not inclined towards the Conservatives to at least consider voting for these two. In High Barnet, I would love to see Poppy, the Green Party candidate win. I think that Barnet needs a strong voice for Green Issues. I don't support the Green manifesto or agenda, but I strongly believe that having such a voice on the Council would improve decision making. I for one would not be sad to see a Lab/LibDem/Green coalition in power.
Of the minor Parties, we also have UKIP. I believe that UKIP made a huge mistake in not fielding more candidates. This is extremely niave as the Euro elections are taking place and the more local candidates you have, the more personal votes you get. I fully Expect at least two UKIP candidates to win a seat. I suspect that George Jones in Mill Hill is most likely. George spearheaded the "Save Mill Hill Garden Centre" campaign and helped collect 3,500 signatures. If only half of those people vote for him, I suspect that he'll get a seat on the Council. I have known George for years. He used to be my sister in law's next door neighbour. I don't agree with his politics, but he is an honest and decent man and I believe everyone knows that.
As to the "big parties". Both have run complete stinkers of a campaign. Who will this damage more? I suspect the Conservatives. They are in power and they have made a whole stack of mistakes over the last four years. Their strategy seems to be "keep schtum and hope everyone forgets". In Mill Hill, I believe they have completely cocked up with their leaflets. I had one today and it lists as their achievements
* Keeping down Council Tax
*Reducing Crime by 11%
*Building 965 Affordable homes
*Invested £10 million in roads and pavements
*Schools rank in top 5% nationally
This smoke and mirrors manifesto has not gone down well. People have seen through the hype. Most people recognise that whilst tax has seen a tiny cut, things like parking charges have gone through the roof. Many homes in Mill Hill are in CPZ's and the new Saracens exclusion zone has been widely recognised to be a "Stealth Tax Trap". This weekend saw Saracens last home game. I wonder how many unsuspecting residents got tickets this week?
As to the reduction in Crime. Mill Hill has never been a hotspot, although burglaries have been a constant problem. I doubt whether most Mill Hill residents feel safer, as they didn't feel endangered in the first place, People also recognise that it is the Police, not the Council who have brough crime down. They see the Tories a trying to cash in on the success of the local Police. No Tory has explained to me which policy of the local council has cut crime.
The claim about "affordable housing" has gone down like the proverbial "lead balloon". Mill Hill is awash with new blocks of luxury flats going up. The most visible being the huge block at the end of Flower Lane. People think the council have lost control and Barnet is being horrendously overdeveloped. Claiming that even more flats are going up is a massive own goal.
The roads and pavements claim is met with derision. Perfectly good stretches of pavements have been replaced, whilst roads are peppered with potholes. Many residents have asked how they could spend ten million quid and yet the roads are so bad. Yesterday I drove dow Edgwarebury Lane, a major thoroughfare and was shocked by the appalling state of the surface. If you make claims of spending loads of money, then you need to ensure that the people who get the leaflet are people who have seen an improvment.
Finally the leaflet talks about the success of Schools. In Mill Hill, there is a real issue with getting into the school of your choice. Mill Hill County is horrendously oversubscribed. Most years people living less than a mile away are denied on catchment. It is also strange that the Tories claim success, when the Academy status means schools are out of Local Authority control. The same is true of the new and rather controversial free school in Mill Hill.
In short, the Tory campaign has been an own goal.
Then there is the Labour Campaign. Well I can honestly say that all their leaflets that I've seen haven't been full of mistakes and campaign errors. That is because they haven't actually delivered any. The whole campaign has been totally lacklustre from start to finish. The theme seems to be "don't make any mistakes, don't make any promises, don't do anything at all". If the local Tories had done a good job and they were simply trying to hope the national situation would do the job this may have worked. As it is the local Tories have been a disaster. By not getting out and challenging the Tories on the errors, they have simply appeared to be a waste of space. People have said "why should we vote Labour if they will simply carry on with discredited policies of the Tories".
In the last year Labour have missed serveral open goals. The worst was to back the Tories task and finish group on Your Choice Barnet, after this suffered financial meltdown. Labour signed up to the Mantra that taking the service back in house was not an option. This alienated many.
I talk to hundreds of people in Barnet every week. I expect a few big shocks. If I were a bookie, based on what I'm hearing, I predict the following
Labour to take seats in Underhill, East Barnet, Coppets, Hale
Lib Dems to keep Childs Hill and pick up a seat in High Barnet/Mill Hill
UKIP to gain 1/2 seats
Greens to take a seat in High Barnet.
Brian Coleman to poll under 700 votes
I think the most likely outcome is a change to NOC or Tory retain control
In my personal opinion the NOC result would result in two outcomes - A Lab/Lib Dem/Green coalition or a Tory/UKIP coalition. I cannot see the parties dividing any other way. I don't think any party has run a decent campaign. In 1994, when Lab/Lib Dems won, they run a tight and focussed campaign got the message over, targetted wards sensibly and worked hard. This time all of the parties are sleepwalking.
We desperately need a change. The current administration has done a lousy job. They have nothing to boast about and if they get back in, Barnet will be a concret jungle in no time. They have made no mention of protecting the green belt. I suspect leisure to be handed over to Saracens RFC, resulting in the loss of Copthall Swimming pool etc. They have shown that they cannot manage the Capita contract and I expect a significant deterioration in local services, as we've seen at Hendon cemetery.
Sadly I don't think that any of the options are good for Barnet. But I do urge everyone, regardless of politics to get out and vote. On Friday, we'll see how close my predictions were.