There is a new political reality in The London Borough of Barnet. Up until May, the local Conservatives had a big majority and the Council was run using a Cabinet system. This meant that a powerful group of eleven Senior Councillors could do what they liked and the rest were expected to rubber stamp it. For any rebellion to succeed a minimum of seven councillors needed to vote with the opposition. Any councillor breaking ranks, would lose power and privelidge and be subject to public humiliation. Back in 2010 this happened when former Councillor Kate Salinger broke ranks and abstained on principle in a vote to give her senior colleagues a pay rise. She was humiliated in front if the full council and the public as she was voted out of all positions of responsibility. This sent a powerful message to her colleagues as to exactly what happens to boys and girls who defy the cabal at the top. In private conversation several Tory councillors told me they thought One Barnet was a bad idea, but said it was pointless opposing it as they'd get the same treatment and the policy would pass anyway.
That was their excuse then, and much as I felt they lacked backbone, I could understand their logic. In May this all changed. The cabinet system was abolished. Even more important, the Tory majority was cut to One. This means that any Tory councillor who genuinely believes a policy is wrong can stop it dead in its tracks. Even more important, there is nothing the leadership can do to stop this. Where's previously they could isolate and bully errant councillors, they now need every vote. If a councillor votes down a policy, the leadership has no choice but to bite their lip. An errant councillor receiving threats can say 'cut it out or I'll resign the whip and you will be out on your ear!' Sadly this has yet to dawn on them. The recent vote on libraries just showed how weak, spineless and stupid some of them are. There are at least five Barnet Tory councillors who I know of who have spoken against the policy of library decimation. One of these councillors even said so in a public meeting of the Mill Hill Residents Association. All any of these councillors need do is tell the leadership to pull the policy or they'll knobble it and it would be dead in the water.
It is vital that local people send this message to their councillors. Ask them their opinions on important matters. If they say that there is nothing they can do, they are telling porkies. They have more power than they've ever had. What we need to see is Barnet Councillors standing up for their principles, standing up for their voters and standing up to council officers who for far too long have got away with murder.
It is also worth mentioning the role of Barnet Labour in all this. It beggars belief just how incompetent the current leadership has been in dealing with the new reality. In five months, only one bad proposal has been voted down. This was a proposal to cut nursery funding. Rather than tabling sensible, well thought out motions and canvassing the more sensible Tory backbenchers for support, they have gone for headline grabbing stunts, such as the vote of no confidence in the Tory Leadership. There is nothing more guaranteed to unite the Tories than an attack on their administration.
Let me give one example. The Tory leadership wants to shut Mill Hill library. This has a huge impact on voters in Mill Hill and Hale wards. Mill Hill was a majority Lib Dem ward until 2010 and Hale is split between Tories and Labour. Both wards can be considered marginal. If the Labour Party had tabled a motion saying 'the council will withdraw proposals to close Mill Hill library immediately as this would be highly damaging to both the elderly residents and children in Mill Hill and Hale wards' then the Tories in those wards would have had a massive dilemma. They could vote to keep their bosses sweet or they could vote in the interests of the people who elected them.
If they voted against the motion, then Labour in Hale and the Lib Dems in Mill Hill should have immediately done a leaflet drop naming and shaming councillors who clearly don't care.they could list the maths of town hall votes and leave no one in any doubt as to just how badly their interests are being represented.
But no. It seems to me that neither side is actually interested in representing the voters. In Barnet Town hall, it seems the main priority is collecting allowances, getting free parking permits, eating free buffets, furthering political careers and impressing your town hall mates. It really makes me sick.