Tuesday 20 October 2015

Barnet Libraries - This is the beginning of the battle, not the end

In May 2014, the people of Mill Hill elected three Conservative Councillors. They are

 Mill Hill

Tonigh, these three councillors voted to destroy Mill Hill Library. It currently has a fooprint of 3,606 Sq ft, trained librarians and ample facilities for children to study in peace and quiet. The three councillors listed above decided that this assett is worthless. They have decided to halve the size of it down to 1,991 sq ft. They have decided to remove the librarians and they have decided to remove access for children aged 14-15 (unless accompanied by parents).

Any one of these three councillors could have stopped this. The Conservatives have a majority of 1 in the town hall. This means that only one councillor needed to change sides and the proposal would have been thrown out. These councillors cannot claim that they would have faced sanctions from their colleagues. If such threats were made, all the councillor need do is say "I'll stand as an independent" and the Conservatives would have lost their majority. Nothing would have happened.

Dishonest scoundrels may say that the Conservatives won the election, so they had a mandate. This is highly dishonest as their manifesto committed them to preserving the Library service, not to destroying it. If you buy beef burgers in Tesco, you have recourse if you find horsemeat in them.

The Tories tried this trick before. They closed Friern Barnet library. What happened there should have been a lesson to them. The locals rebelled. The Library was occupied and eventually reopened. Ironically Friern Barnet is the only library not receiving a savage haircut in this round. In Friern Barnet, the Conservative councillor Kate Salinger was kicked out as a result of the Tories policy. Her husband Brian Salinger was photographed entering tonights Council meeting by local blogger Mrs Angry. He had a message to all users of Barnet Librarys as he entered.

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Councillor Salinger has a message for Barnet Library users

It seems that the concept of standards of public behaviour in Barnet is something that died with the concept of a library service. Councillor Brian Salinger isn't some oddball maverick in the Tory group. He was their Leader until 2006.

I missed most of the fun. I turned up for the meeting bang on 7pm when it was due to start. The public gallery was packed as you may have expected. I sat through a lengthy rant by the Borough Rabbi. The Mayor said he was going to give us a prayer, but he gave the councillors a lecture on their responsibility to the children of the Borough. It is interesting how keen the Barnet Tories are to play the faith card and how little they listen when a religious leader has a message they dont like.

Then we had a rather smug section of what can be best called "Mayoral Announcements". Our current Mayor Mark Shooter, clearly enjoys this, Mark is a lovely chap, but seems to be developing a rather large ego. He went to great lengths to tell us all about the marvellous letter he sent to the Queen in his role as Mayor. It congratulated her on being the longest ever reigning monarch Quite bizzarely he didn't seem at all interested in reading her reply. Maybe she agreed with the Rabbi. Then we had the rather odd spectacle of Tory after Tory stand up and declare that they are a Landlord, declaring an interest in a later matter. I wonder how many rent to council tenants. It doesn't stop them voting. Councillor Helelna Hart announced that she had an interest in something or other, but had sought an exemption to vote to "maintain political balance". I found this outrageous. Lets use a little analogy. If councillors were to vote themselves a 54% increase in their allowance, would you expect them to be able to dodge the rule saying that you can't vote if you have a financial interest in the matter? You would say "hold on, thats bang out of order". Actually that is just what the Barnet Tories did in 2010.

Then we members questions. I sat through 34 questions, but I ran out of time. I am a trustee and chairman of a local charity that raises funds for a local school. It is a volunteer role. I had a meeting to chair at 8pm, so I had to leave. I completely missed the library debate. I had to follow it on Twitter. It is probably just as well.... It would have broken my heart.

Volunteering. A hot issue on this blog, this week.

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Councillor Reuben Thompstone tonight ( I kid you not! the image hasn't been airbrushed)
Regular readers will know that I had an exchange with Councillor Reuben Thompson, asking him to give up his £15,000 allowance. He didn't even bother to justify this huge bung for chairing a dozen or so council meetings. He just said that asking the question was an "ad hominem" attack.

I suspect that the Barnet Conservatives think that Jeremy Corbyn running the Labour party means they are invulnerable. I suspect they think they can do what they like and the electors will vote for them anyway. They made the same mistake in 1994, losing the council until 2002. They forget a few things. Firstly Council elections are not General elections. Issues like libraries do matter. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see the Barnet Tories lose control of the council in a ward where they are decimating a library in a by-election. My personal view is that the Barnet Labour party do not deserve to be in charge of the council. My preference would be for a strong group of independents to develop in marginal wards. I'd like to see the balance of power held by non aligned individuals, who vote on principle not on misplaced party loyalties.

I believe this could happen. I happen to believe that tonight was not the end of the battle, it was the start. It is a terrible wake up call for every Barnet Resident who cares. No one who saw the rude and rather ridiculous individuals, who make up the Tory Party in Barnet in action tonight could possibly think such a motley crew really have anything to offer.

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