Barnet’s new pioneering Tory policy: Curb free speech

Anthony Finn-permission to speak ,sir? Pic -courtesy Barnet Times

Barnet Council already notorious for cuts as a no frills  Easy Council  – is about to make dubious history as the first borough to curb free speech.

New proposals now sent to a committee  will take away most councillors right to speak at future council meetings unless the Tory mayor, Anthony Finn, gives his permission.

The proposal is part of  a plan to “streamline” debate and procedures  by the ruling Tory group so presumably councillors will have little opportunity to protest at the growing number of cuts and increased parking charges residents have to face.

The Tory group also wants to bar discussion about the work of the Cabinet at the full council and change the scope of debates.

But the most controversial proposal comes from former Barnet Tory mayor Brian Coleman which limits the right even to speak.

His motion says: “To amend the Council Procedure Rules to grant a reserved express right to only the Leader of the Council and the Leader of the main Opposition Group or their spokespersons to speak on Motions, Policy Items and Committee reports at the Council meeting. All other speakers would be called at the discretion of the Mayor.”

The plan from a £128,000 a year  council allowance man  keen to become the new Tory Taliban  follows his humiliating climbdown last month (see earlier blog) when Boris Johnson slapped down his proposal to ban questions to the chair of the fire authority,one Brian Coleman.

Then he was exposed by blogger,Adam Bienkov. This news comes courtesy of another blogger, Mrs Angry, whose Broken Barnet website http://bit.ly/i13ngn  regularly reveals the calamitous state of affairs in the borough.

The proposals mean  as Labour is the official opposition, the government’s coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, could be denied a voice in the borough as could any dissenting backbench Tory. One extraordinary result is that Monroe Palmer, a recently ennobled Liberal Democrat councillor, could have more rights to express himself in the unelected House of Lords than as an elected Barnet councillor.

All this is hardly in line with David Cameron’s promise of more transparency and proper debate.

Barnet Council’s head of media, Sue Cocker, said: ” The council cannot comment on the substance of the report as these proposals have come forward from the Conservative Group. ”

“A review group will be considering the issues and will report back any proposals to a future meeting of special committee (constitution review).”

Richard Robeson, spokesman for the Conservative group on Barnet, would not enlighten people on the proposed curbs. The Facebook friend of Brian Coleman said tersely: ” We do not talk to bloggers or journalists “. If you can do better than me try him at work on 0208 359 2004.

You might ask what is going on by emailing the mayor at cllr.a.finn@barnet.gov.uk.

In future there may be a better way of protesting. The council under legislation will have to provide soon a facility for e-petitions from residents raising issues. How about tabling a motion calling for the council to restore free speech for its own elected councillors.

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