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Friday, 22 October 2010

Newsnight report on Barnet Council

One of my favourite journalists, Michael Crick, went to speak to the Leader of Barnet Council for Newsnight (the bit on Barnet's about 30 minutes in). Having said that she would speak to Mr Crick, the Leader (and every other Conservative councillor) then refused to speak to him after all, leaving him stood waiting outside Hendon Town Hall. He wanted to speak to her because she had written a letter to a Conservative minister attacking the Coalition Government's Housing Benefit reforms. Having written this letter, I am surprised that she was then unwilling to defend it on Newsnight. If this is easybarnet, I'd hate to see difficultbarnet.

So Mr Crick then went to Barnet Council's Hendon Residents' Forum in search of a Conservative councillor, and he found one: John Hart, chairing the Forum in his best Terry-Thomas style. Actually, that's unfair - Terry-Thomas was funny. You may recall that I've previously described these meetings as being very badly run and this was no exception. A crowd of people shouting down the Chairman, including, as Mr Crick noted, some obvious Labour activists - among them my defeated Labour opponent, Hendon's former MP, Andrew Dismore. OK, so I personally didn't defeat Andrew Dismore, he was defeated by the Conservative Matthew Offord - who was not visibly present at the Forum, incidentally. Neither was I, but then I'm not Hendon's Member of Parliament, and he is.

I don't really blame Matthew if he had better things to do, in the Commons or in the constituency, then to attend a Hendon Residents' Forum, given how badly these Forums are run by the Conservative-controlled council. If you think the shouting was just for the TV cameras, then think again - it's always like this at these meetings. I have to ask Andrew Dismore, sat there grinning on Newsnight while shouting Labour activists bring the meeting to a standstill: do you really condone your colleagues' behaviour? Is this a constructive way for people to behave at a public meeting? When I last attended a Forum, two bright young consultant types (paid for with my Council Tax) came up and asked me if I had any good ideas for improving how they are run. Has anything come of their research? Beyond this bit of fluff, has anybody actually done anything?

Actually, I wish that I had been there - then there would have been someone from Barnet who was prepared to defend Coalition Government policy on Newsnight, given local Conservatives' unwillingness to do so. Conservative voters in Barnet vote Conservative, I think, because they want low Council Tax, less red tape and prioritisation of front-line services. There might be some Conservatives who would deliver such things, but, sadly, it appears that few, if any, of them have been elected to Barnet Council. Barnet's Conservative Administration is deeply unConservative, as evidenced by the Leader's attacks on the policies of the Conservative/Lib Dem Coalition Government.

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