It's been just over a year since Barnet Labour comprehensively booted the Conservatives out of power in the Town Hall. I had wondered how they would react. I was there on the night, as a Lib Dem candidate (I too had a difficult night, although as a blogger it was worth it to watch the wholething unfold).
I wrote a blog detailing the challenge facing the Tories in Barnet. The thing that intrigued me was how they'd cope with opposition. The answer, sadly, is they have been absolutely useless. The only councillor who appears to be doing anything is the Edgware new kid on the block, Lucy Wakeley, who at least seems to be trying to earn the ten grand allowance that local taxpayers giver her for being a councillor. A quick shufti at the Barnet Tories twitter shows that Lucy has tweeted more than the rest of them put together. It seems to me that the only theme they can consistently plug is that Sadiq Khan is useless and the ULEZ is massively unpopular in the Borough of Barnet.
Although this does seem to me to be a productive strategy, I don't think it will wash in either the next general election or the next council elections. The Tories made the rather odd decision to stick with a leader who'd never won an election, and delivered the worst loss ever. Even Tottenham Hotspur would not make such a schoolboy error. Dan Thomas managed to persuade his colleagues to shaft former Leader Richard Cornelius, who'd delivered a wonderful result in 2014 after the 2018 election. All that followed was chaos. Thomas proved to be a lousy adminstrator and an even worse campaigner. The main Tory project of their 20 year reign was the Capita outsourcing, that had unravelled before they were booted out.
Graveyards were untended, the roads started to fall apart and the Borough looked shabbier than ever. The Tories 2022 campaign was perhaps the most lacklustre campaign I've ever seen. A year later, they have not even begun to get their mojo back. Their Twitter has managed one pop at Labour in a month
Labour promised faster and better road repairs, but the reality is delayed pothole repairs and never-ending roadworks 🚧 pic.twitter.com/udvbBU0VwM— Barnet Conservatives (@BarnetTories) May 22, 2023
A rather silly one, as everyone knows that it was two decades of neglect that trashed the roads. I spoke to one Mill Hill Tory Councillor who moaned that Labour had brought back the Cabinet system and they have been totally marginalised. I supported Former Tory Leader, Richard Cornelius move to scrap the Cabinet system and use committee's. Leaders hate the committee system as there is a genuine level of local democracy and it is harder to pass decisions, but to me this is a good thing. Now everything is carved up behind closed doors.
You may ask what difference all of this makes. It seems to me that we now have a council where the opposition cannot be bothered to do their job and the ruling party are hell bent on doing everything behind closed doors. As someone who believes in transparency and local accountability, it does not seem healthy to me. I completely get that Labour feel that drastic measures are needed to unpick the mess the Tories left them, but I worry that without proper scrutiny, they will make the same mistake's that the arrogant administration of Mike Freer made when the Tories were pushing through their outsourcing agenda.
Labour have been in power for just over a year and I have detected a subtle change. They are starting to get used to power and have realised that they are the kings of the castle. They are becoming a tad more guarded in their interaction with people like me, who are potential critics. I am not surprised by this, but Barnet really needs a good council and that means scrutiny. My fellow bloggers have all but given up on blogging about Barnet.
So to sum up this end of the first year report. It is clear that we have a non functional opposition. The new party in charge do not feel inclined to have proper scrutiny and the non party scrutineers (us bloggers, The Barnet Alliance, etc) have been so ground down by the last few years that if the Labour adminstration starts to screw things up, we will sleep walk into it without a peep.
My hope is that we get a fresh generation of Tories, of bloggers and of other community groups, who make sure that Barnet Labour have to think about what they do and properly scrutinise the decisions. I'm not a fan of grandstanding for the sake of it. I've not criticised the Labour administration much, as they haven't done much I disagree with until now. This is starting to change was we see the plans for the Edgware redevelopment unfold. I also suspect that the Green Belt is not as safe with Labour as it was with the Tories. The Mayor of London has some very stretching housing targets and from what I hear, the green belt is seen as a soft target by some for housebuilding. I am not generally a fan of Tory policies, but I accept that they were less keen on Green Belt development than Labour.
The big story in Barnet Politics is how it will swing in the General Election. The smart money at the moment is on a Labour win in all three Barnet seats. Unless the Tories get their act together, this will not be a narrow margin but yet another massacre.