Tuesday 12 July 2022

Barnet Council gagging rules - A victory for the loudmouths!

Last week the new leader of Barnet Council, Barry Rawlings  appeared on the Eddie Nestor show as part of the meet the leader series. I'd suggest everyone has a listen. It is important to know what you voted for. I sent Eddie a question concerning the rules on public questions to ask Barry. After the last council election in 2018, the Conservatives imposed strict rules on the number of questions that could be asked and put a limit of 100 words on the questions. This meant that it was almost impossible for residents who found issues with council policies to get proper answers. The Tories pretended that this was to 'give everyone a chance to be heard'. This was highly dishonest, as anyone who attended meetings would know the chair went through questions in rotation, so you only got to ask a second question after everyone else had asked their first. If you CLICK HERE and listen at 13.07 you'll here the question and Barry's answer. I was very disappointed with Barry's answer where he said he didn't want to give a megaphone to already loud voices and wanted everyone to have the chance to participate. I made my views known immediately in a blog in response. I know Barry and I know that he probably realised immediately that he'd said something that he really couldn't justify and probably didn't mean. When I spoke to Barry at the count after the election, he told me he wanted me to continue to scrutinise the council and be critical as it was the only way they'd ever improve. I believe that this was the real Barry and the loudmouth comment was an abberation, but regardless he'd said it and true to my word, I gave Barry the feedback he sought. 

Barnet blogger Mr Reasonable made his views known on Twitter

I'd could describe John as many things, but he's not a loudmouth. What was really sad was that there seemed to be a concerted campaign of trolling myself and John for our comments by a small group of local Labour activists. I can't be bothered with such nonsense, so I blocked the said characters. I don't mind people saying I'm wrong but when they post Tweets like this, I really think that intelligent discussion is not worth the effort. 

Everyone has an opinion and anyone can post whatever they like on Twitter, but really? Why on earth would anyone post such idiocy? I was starting to wonder whether the local Labour group was morphing into some sort of Stalinist monster, where anyone who dissented would get remorselessly trolled. Happily it appears that sense has prevailed and Barry has reflected on the matter and changed tack.

The Barnet Post publised a story late last week detailing a U-Turn. Interestingly the Post didn't seem to listen to Barry's comments on the Eddie Nestor show and just regurgitated a press release, but to be quite honest, so long as the Labour group has done the right thing, it doesn't really matter. They have done the right thing. Rescinding the Tory rules is a sensible move and I hope that the local activists who decided that trolling John Dix was clever, feel a little bit ashamed, now it is clear that the Leader of the local Labour Group disagrees with them. Anyone who know John Dix knows he's a huge asset to the London Borough of Barnet. He should be getting a civic award not brickbats.

It seems that the new adminstration is listening to residents concerns and taking sensible views into account. That has always been what I've asked for. I don't expect anyone to agree with me all of the time, but all residents who have concerns should be listened to. If the administration disagrees it should be able to lay out it's reasons in a clear and transparent way. My biggest criticism of the Tory administration between 2006 (when Mike Freer took over as leader) and 2022 was that they were completely unprepared to engage. Individual councillors would privately engage in dialogue, but this was always off the record and any changes to policies were done through gritted teeth. I want Barry and his team to succeed, not because they are Labour (I'm not) but because it will be good for me and all of the other local residents. I started blogging as a result of Barnet Council changing my disabled Mum's care package in a manner that caused her huge stress and upset, as a result of a botched outsourcing decision. I believe it contributed to her death in 2008. When people call me a loudmouth and tweet that I have a 'monster ego' it goes with the territory of writing a popular blog and standing as a candidate for the local elections. If you want to have a pop, then don't expect to let it go without a pop back, though as us loudmouths are like that!

I am OK with it, but the reason I embarked on this was nothing to do with me. It was because I saw first hand what effect bad decisions by Councillors could have on people who couldn't argue their own case (my mother had a stroke and could not communicate effectively). The fact that over the years my blog (and the other Barnet bloggers) have managed to give a voice to hundreds of people who wouldn't have otherwise had a voice and exposed and changed bad and illegal council policies makes it all worth while. The rules that Barry is changing will make it easier to give those people a voice. Ill informed activists of all parties may not like loudmouths like me putting the boot into bad policies from their parties, but those people who have been given a voice, such as the victims of the Freedom pass scandal, the removal of overnight wardens in sheltered accomodation and those that have paid less tax through the Barnet bloggers exposing the Metpro Scandal have a different view. Everyone should welcome sensible criticism, councils, oppositions, bloggers all should be prepared to take criticism and scrutiny on board. If someone tells me I've got something wrong, I change it. If they call me a a loudmouth, I'll take some aspects of the Loudmouth criticism as I've had to shout to be heard to survive. Where I would dispute the term is the implication that my shouting is uninformed. I'd dispute this as I do everything I can to get my facts right. Getting one's facts right when writing blogs about the council is far easier when the council is open and transparent. I've lost count of the times when a councillor has challenged me about a statement I've made, where their response has been "If you saw the secret papers you'd know you were wrong" only to be proven 100% right as another mess has unfolded. When the same councillors would say "The officers assured me". They hadn't read the papers and just asked for reassurrance. Public questions put that on record. That is why this victory is important.  

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