Friday, 8 May 2015

Barnet Labour - They never forget and they never learn

Look at the calendar. The date is the 8th May 2015. By my reckoning it is only 1,825 days  until the next election. Things change. 1,825 days ago, the day after the last election, the Lib Dems were the kingmakers and the SNP were a bit of a joke. The Lib Dems entered the Coalition, on the promise of a referendum on electoral reform. The SNP festered on the subject of a referendum. Gordon Brown was still the leader of the Labour party for a few days. In politics things change a lot don't they?

Well not in the Barnet Labour Party they don't. In 2010 they had just lost two parliamentary seats and the Tories had tightened their seat on the Council. Andrew Dismore had lost the seat in Hendon to Matthew Offord and Alison Moore, who was both leader of the Council and parliamentary candidate for Finchley and Golders Green had overseen an awful campaign in both. Whilst Labour didn't do too badly in London generally, they put in an awful performance in the London Borough of Barnet. So what happened next? Whilst Labour has had two national leaders resign in that period, the Leader of the Council, Alison Moore, who went on to lose the council election in 2014, is still in charge. Whilst both Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband recognised that they should make way for fresh blood with new ideas, Alison Moore seems to think she should go on forever. When Alan Williams lost the council election in 2002 he resigned. After last years council elections, I had a meeting with a leading Barnet Labour Activist. He informed me that there was no one else who was up to the job. When I trotted out a list of far more charismatic and effective councillors, a  lame excuse was given time and time again as to why each was unsuitable. I stated that as far as I was concerned, if Moore remained, then it would seriously damage the campaign for Andrew Dismore in Hendon. This claim was ridiculed.

The activist used the example of the 2012 GLA triumph for Dismore in Barnet and Camden. I stated that this campaign had little to do with Alison Moore. As far as I am concerned, that campaign was won by a coalition of local groups that myself and a few other people put a huge amount of effort into pulling together. These included the CPZ group, the Friern Library Group, Helen Michael and the Finchley Traders. All of these  busted a gut to campaign for Dismore. The fantastic five local bloggers threw our heart and soul into the project. We produced a documentary film before the election, A Tale of Two Barnets, which was shown to over six hundred local people at the Phoenix Cinema, explaining how the Barnet Tories were making a complete hash of the local council. I used every media contact I had, and it was featured on BBC TV and radio as well as ITV News.

All of this ensured that Coleman was deposed. So what conclusion did the Barnet Labour party draw from this huge community campaign? They decided that the 40,000 turnaround in votes from Tory to Labour was all the result of their hard work and nothing to do with community groups, BAPS (yhe group formed out of the local popular movement) or the bloggers. For the 2014 campaign, all of these groups were effectively excluded from the campaign. Rather than building relationships in the local community, they were cut. A suicidal policy of attacking the Lib Dems was embarked upon in Childs Hill and High Barnet. This alienated thousands of Lib Dem voters from Labour. It also cost the Lib Dems the Childs Hill ward. This shoddy treatment of Jack Cohen alienated many. Cohen had always supported Labour locally against the Tories and local voters new that if votes were leant across party lines at elections, victories for Labour in national elections and Lib Dems in council wards, which would otherise be Tories would follow.

When I raised the stupity of this policy with the local activist, I was given short shrift and told that this policy would ensure a Dismore victory, as Lib Dems were forced to choose Labour or Tory. Sadly for Dismore, they all chose Tory, punishing him for his antipathy towards Jack Cohen. No party wants to encourage opponents, but local Labour knew Jack was an assett and they tried to destroy him. The arrogant assumption that Lib Dems would back Labour after such shoddy behaviour was ridiculous. Despite being banned from being a Labour Party member for standing for the Lib Dems (although I resigned from the party, I forgot to cancel my standing order for subs and in an act of spite they invoked the rule saying you can't stand for another party whilst a member), they still asked me to deliver leaflets for Labour in the 2015 election.

I broached the subject of rejoining the party a few months ago with one of the local activists and was told in no uncertain terms that I wasn't wanted. A week later I got another call to deliver leaflets, which I did. I again asked if we could sort something out and was told "If you write a grovelling apology we'll consider it". At this I decided that I'd had enough and made excuses when I was again asked. I decided that I would write blogs in support of the Labour campaign, but from an independent perspective. After the Mill Hill hustings at the Hartley Hall, I went for a curry with some Dismore activists, Dan Hope of the Barnet Bugle, Alasdair Hill, the Lib Dem candidate and a few other locals.

I again raised the subject of my membership. Much to Mr Hope's amusement, I was given a lecture on why I couldn't rejoin. Mr Hope then suggested that we have a £5 wager on the outcome of the Hendon election. He stated he was convinced Dismore would lose. Now I have no idea whether the conversation between myself and the activists had any bearing on his taking the bet, but I suspect he twigged that they were not exactly on top of their brief when it came to running a campaign.

Now I am not a narcissist. I don't think that my membership of the Labour party made the slightest difference to the result in Hendon. But I think the whole thing is a prime example of why Labour is so completely useless in Barnet. Whatever you may or may not think of me as a person, I am sure that no one can doubt my work ethic. Yet Barnet labour avoid me like the plague. What about the other active Barnet bloggers. Mrs Angry is a fantastic blogger, with a real gift for writing and Mr reasonable is brilliant at forensically destroying the financial case for Tory Competence in Barnet Council. Mr Mustard has won countless parking appeals. Before the 2014 Council campaign, we met with Labour to see how we could help there campaign. The answer was "knock on a few doors for us please". I thought this was insane.  Barnet bloggers have issued many joint blogs on important subject, we are all well versed in tweeting, and have sizeable followings locally. Yet Barnet Labour never asked us to coordinate anythiong with their campaign themes. During the 2012 campaign, BAPS and the bloggers would regularly organise "twitter storms" where we all agreed to tweet like mad on a subject at a designated time. Barnet Labour weren't interested. Whilst on my own, despite the 1.5 million blog hits I've had, I doubt I could make much of a difference, between the four of us, we could have really done quite a lot.

I found it bizarre that no one from Barnet Labour ever asked us to help get a film together in the way we had for "A Tale of Two Barnets". Any of us could have listed dozens of reasons why Barnet Tories couldn't be trusted. They didn't ask Helen Michael. Even if they'd just made Youtube clips, it would have been something. Over the years, I've done a huge amount of PR work in the music business. For a couple of years I used this experience, free of charge to help oppose the Barnet Tories. I got 60's sensations The Foundations to play at a packed rally at The Arts Depot in Finchley, which was packed out. I organised smaller scale events with bands, for BAPS as well. These were well attended and helped draw in the community. I worked with the other bloggers to maximise the impact of these events, and BAPS gave stirling support tweeting and leafletting.

Yet for the 2015 election, Labour made no use of BAPS, bloggers or other community activists. Conversations about engaging with the Lib Dems were met with disdain and comments such as "I can't understand why they are bothering to even turn up".  The Dismore campaign never once made any effort to try and win the Lib Dems over. The campaign was simply about getting the Labour core out. This failed miserably, because it insulted the intelligence of the vast mass of people who were genuinely unsure. The Tories message was support us or get chaos. Labour should have been saying to Lib Dem voters, we made mistakes but we've learned. Sadly there was no humility, and even worse there was a degree of arrogance. The Hendon campaign thought they had the seat in the bag. Several local people have said to me that they were rather put off by this arrogance.

I didn't see Matthew Offord winning either, I fell into the same complacent trap that Labour had. Whilst the activists worked hard posting leaflets and knocking on doors, ultimately they didn't sell an attractive proposition to the local floating voters. The Moore years at Barnet Council do not support the concept that Barnet labour knows what its doing. Appointing Andrew Dismore as candidate following his loss in 2010 was a mistake. I hadn't really thought about it, but as he was thrown out after three terms it Labour were effectively saying to voters "You made the wrong choice and we know best". If Dismore had simply lost on a huge national swing, then it may have worked. As it was, he lost because he had issues with his expenses that alienated many voters. The assumption was that this would simply be forgotten, but it was naive and stupid to assume the Tories would let this lie. Wheras Labour didn't use the Barnet bloggers at all, the Tories used theirs to blistering effect and to be quite honest they were correct to.

By the time polling day came around, I'd decided that I couldn't give Dismore a wholehearted endorsement, so I said nothing. I cannot and will not lie to my readers. I felt completely different about Sarah Sackman, who I feel has been let down by the Barnet Labour machine.

I am left pondering the future. I have decided that I can no longer support local Labour, unless it radically changes. I am not a Conservative, so I have some serious thinking to do. But then, so do local Labour. Lets hope that they finally wake up, but it seems to me they forget nothing and learn nothing.  Now is the time to have these debates and try and learn the lessons,

No comments: