Sunday, 15 June 2014

Why the Barnet Conservatives are not "Barnet Conservatives"

So what is the point of the Conservative party? Now I am not asking this as a snotty Trotskyite student living in an ivory tower in Islington, champagne paid for by daddies allowance. It is a serious question. What are the Conservtive party supposed to do? Back in the days when I was a snotty Trotskyite student, at Orange Hill Senior High School, in around 1979, the question was answered for me by the then Hendon North MP John Gorst. Mr Gorst would occasionally visit the school and talk to A level students about the world of politics. Bear in mind the world of 1979 was a very different place. We had not really seen what Thatcherism was all about. The Unions were seen as the power in the land and the country was percieved as being in terminal decline.

So in our  Q&A session, I asked Mr Gorst what the point of the Conservative Party was and who it served. I naively thought this was a really good question and that Mr Gorst would either be stumped or tell a stack of porkies. It hadn't really occurred to me that Mr Gorst was not stupid and had been doing the job a long time. He clearly didn't believe the purpose of the Tory party was to pave the way for the coming of the Anti Christ, so he gave me a sensible and rational answer. He said (and this is from a memory ravaged by 35 years of hard living) "That is a very simple question to answer. The Conservative Party exists to ensure that the conditions are right in the UK for the economy to generate wealth. We beleive that the the more wealth that the UK economy generates, the better off all of the people living in the UK will be, therefore, we serve the entire people of the UK". He then carried on "without large successful private companies like ICI, Marks and Spencers and Barclays Bank, the economy would go into terminal decline and everyone would be considerably worse off. It is our job to make sure that everyone, both locally and nationally, who can generate wealth for the local and national economy, has the best opportunity that we, as a party, can provide to do so".

And then just to make sure I got the point "I know your father quite well. He runs a local business which provides jobs for local people. My job as his MP is to make sure that his business is not hampered by bad government and bad local councils. Both local and national governments have a huge responsibility to people like your father, to make sure they can generate as many jobs as possible and help the country get back on its feet".

In the absence of a better answer, that is what I consider the Conservatives mission in Barnet as both MP's and a Council to be. As Mr Gorst later said in the Q&A, if you persue policies which damage the local or national economy, sooner or later you reach the point where the numbers don't add up and the economy crashes. At this point, however well intentioned you are, things like the NHS and social welfare become unsustainable.

Now of course there are far more complex issues to consider than Mr Gorsts simple ideological view of how the economy should work and what the Conservative party should do. However when we look at what our local Conservative politicians do, I believe Mr Gorsts benchmark is a very good one to judge them by.

Have our local Conservative MP's and Councillors created conditions where local wealth creators can thrive? The first question to ask ourselves is "what is a local wealth creator?". I guess that many more simple souls in the Tory Party would probably say "Someone like Richard Branson". This is because most simple souls in the Tory Party seem to have no understanding of economics. This is because anyone or any organisation which provides employment or builds infrastructure is potentially a "wealth creator". The NHS in Barnet generates huge amounts of local wealth, through jobs and by getting people back to work. In the USA many people's economic activities are severely limited due to the fact that health insurance is a primary consideration when making employment decisions. This effect is never talked about, but having close relatives with serious health issues in the USA I know how serious this can be. The council is also another wealth generating organisation. Every time a road is dug up, a tree planted, a school opened, this generates wealth in the locality.

Which brings me to the central point I am making. If we accept Mr Gorsts definition of what the Conservative party is supposed to do, we have to conclude that our local Conservative MP's and Councillors are not really Conservative politicians at all. The central plank of their strategy for managing the council finances has been a project called "One Barnet". This is essentially all about exporting your cash, from the Barnet economy, to other far flung places dotted around the UK and even further afield. The council are spending up to £1 billion with Capita PLC over the next ten years, with the vast majority of this cash leaving the Borough. Jobs that were previously based in Barnet have been relocated to call centres all around the country. The Barnet Tories claim that this will make the Council more efficient, however this is being shown to be a complete myth. Let me give you one tiny example. My house is in the Mill Hill Controlled Parking Zone (CPZ). Every year since the CPZ started, we've simply renewed our permit, paid the fee and it has turned up. This year, the first with Capita, the system is broken. When we tried to renew it, we were told that Capita did not have our details. Despite being on the electoral register and paying council tax, we had to prove that we lived in our house and that we owned the car. Once we did this we paid for the permit. The permit has still not arrived, which means that we have to park a quarter of a mile away from our house when the CPZ is in operation. Is this an improvement to Council efficiency?

The One Barnet program has resulted in hundreds of job losses in Barnet. These have meant that hundreds of local people now have less money to spend in local businesses. What has this got to do with wealth generation? Another very unconservative thing that the Barnet Conservatives have done is to completely cock up the local system of parking. Prior to 2011, parking in High Streets was cheap and people had cash operated pay and display machines to facilitate local residents. The local Conservatives removed these to "save money" and the effects on the High Streets has been to decimate them. Many small businesses, struggling to cope with a deep recession, have been forced out. I attended a forum in 2011 with the Leader of the Council and leaders of local businesses, where these problems were detailed and he simply ignored the issue.

Perhaps even more damning has been the attitude of Mr Gorsts successors, the three local MP's in Barnet. They are Theresa Villiers, Mike Freer and Matthew Offord. None of these "get" what the job of being a Conservative Politician is. They all simply like the kudos of a cushy job. None have tried to defend local business against the council. They have acted as apologists for the local regime. The Borough of Barnet has lost several important centres of excellence locally due to their total disinterest, including the National Newspaper archive in Colindale and the National Institute for Medical Research in Mill Hill. Mr Offord even claimed that resiting the NIMR at Kings Cross was a good thing because Mill Hill is so remote from London (despite being only 16 mins on a fast service from central London).

Which brings us back to the point I started with. The purpose of the Conservative Party is to generate wealth, both locally and nationally. Every study has shown that the first thing you need to ensure that wealth is generated is openess and transparency in decision making. This ensures that the right decisions are made and everyone knows they will be treated fairly. The whole One Barnet decision making process was shrouded in secrecy.  Even worse, we now see a situation where Capita are in charge of procurement in Barnet. Certain services, such as Bailiff services have been handed out to Capita's own subsidiary companies. Can such "cosy arrangements" really be good for the local economy?

In short, it seems to me that "Barnet Conservatives" are not really Conservatives in the true sense at all. This article in the local press this week highlights the only sort of "wealth generation" which some of them seem to be interested in -


Mrs Angry said...

Very true: and the fatal flaw in the makeup of Barnet Tories is that they no longer understand the needs of their own natural voters. Perhaps if they actually listened to residents, and engaged with them, rather than impose policies without their consent that benefit outsourcing companies and their hangers on, rather than the people of this borough... they might have some sort of political future.

Glyn Burns said...

Spot on, Roger!

Anonymous said...

Democracy Has Been the Sad Victim of this social Experment ! You will Notice that those who inflict on Others , what they themselves Do Not Have to Endure !! ie The senior officers stay employed Directly as Barnet Employees , Have the Benifits of that !! The councillors Have the Benifits of setting there own Expences & Wage !! Some Torys are Now Bleating About signing the one Barnet Contract !!! They Didn't Have to !!!!! Who in there right Mind would sign a contract without reading IT ? & then we have the sorry Tale of senior officers changing the contract Without consent or constitutional Right !! They & the councillors should be Held personally responsible !!!

Dan said...

Great post Roger. I have to say, though, that we've been rather impressed by Theresa Villiers as she is getting involved in the Love Barnet campaign for a better High Barnet high street. Freer and Offord are low quality minds with severe lack of vision, real third rate chaps.