Will a Tory town hall victory in May lead to bitter defeat in July?

St Albans Civic Centre: One of the new Tory controlled councils. Pic Credit: St Albans gov.uk

St Albans Civic Centre: One of the new Tory controlled councils. Pic Credit: St Albans gov.uk

This weekend’s Observer contained a very interesting article from Toby Helm revealing that local councils are planning to lobby the government like mad to stop yet another huge wave of cuts.

What was interesting is that it was coming from the victorious Tory leaders in May’s local elections who are now fearful of having to implement heavy unpopular cuts to local services.

It has gone virtually unreported the scale of the local government gains by the Conservatives who gained of 32 councils and 541 more councillors on the back of getting a majority in Parliament. the full results are on the BBC website here.

The gains – many from  no over all control include Amber Valley (from Labour),Basingstoke, Bath,Brentwood, Broxtowe,East Staffs,Gloucester, Gravesham,Hinckley (from Lib Dems),Herefordshire,Lewes, Newark,North Warwickshire,Scarborough,St Albans,Taunton, Warwick, West Devon,Winchester,Worcester and Wyre Forest.

Labour had just three gains, Chester, Stockton-on-tees and West Lancashire but overall lost control of  three councils and lost over 200 councillors.  But this masks the scale of Labour defeat in places locally like Dacorum in Hemel Hempstead where Labour is down to two seats and the Liberal Democrats down to three, with 46 councillors from the Conservatives.The Liberal Democrats lost another 411 councillors and control of four councils, holding on to South Lakeland, Eastleigh and Eastbourne..

UKIP gained their first council in Thanet  where Nigel Farage was defeated and put on another 176 councillors.This council will become a yardstick on how UKIP run local services.

The Conservative victors have every reason to be apprehensive. Local government has borne a disproportionate share of the cuts under the now departed Eric Pickles and George Osborne is introducing an emergency budget in July. The Treasury often prefer to land local government which supplies personal services with big cuts to spare some of the lobbying from anxious Whitehall departments.

I predict that we are going to see some very radical changes to services. Private companies like Capita must be rubbing their hands with glee and many councils may have to follow the London borough of Barnet and outsource the entire council to private companies. People will soon find out that the only way to contact their council will be by a call centre – if they are lucky in England – but if unlucky in Bangalore or Chennai. The Tory victors could end up being defeated by their own austerity policies.

A modern morality tale: The decline and fall of Brian Coleman

Brian Coleman: Once high on the hog now out of politics

Brian Coleman: Once high on the hog now out of politics

Last week’s local elections  which saw  a massive revival for Labour in London – also witnessed the disappearance from political life of one Brian Coleman.

The once powerful chair of the London fire authority and domineering Tory figure in Barnet Council saw defeat at the hands of  the electors of Totteridge after being finally disowned by the Tory Party and forced to stand as an independent.

Four years ago Mr Coleman was riding high and he knew it. His extortionate expenses claims from the taxpayer were one of the highest  for a councillor in the country. His disdain and hatred of  the Fire Brigades Union and anything that London firefighters stood for was beyond any reason.

 His introduction of a hated parking system in the borough and championing of outright privatisation of everything that moved were well beyond  the pale – down to tearing down posters  from small shopkeepers opposing his parking scheme and even assaulting one of the people who objected to it.

 He seemed to revel in  the role of a Pantomine villain goading and bullying opponents almost wanting  the electorate to hiss  and boo him while centre stage.in whatever political drama he had created. Even Tory mayor Boris Johnson, not one to avoid the limelight, sometimes put his head in his hands at the mention of his name. No wonder he was sometimes called Mr Toad or worse.

Obviously there is a debate to be had between the Right and Left about the running of our public services, the role of unions but there was no need to show such contempt for one’s opponents and arrogance about using taxpayers’ money for expensive  and excessive taxi journeys running to hundreds of pounds.

 His defenders tended to call him a ” colourful character ” or  “a good Conservative” but this was beyond just human foibles. In a way  his demise is a modern morality tale that would not disgrace in another century a story from Chaucer.

 His final act on Twitter as he was defeated was to report that he was at home listening to arias from Puccini’s tragic opera Tosca. Here the heroine throws herself off a parapet in the final scene. While I would never wish such a fate for Mr Coleman it seemed a fitting dramatic musical  backdrop to the end of a political career that almost brought down the borough of Barnet for the Tories and may still do so after a by election at the end of next month.



Citizen bloggers to get new protection to investigate public scandals

The Information Commissioner is to put bloggers on the same footing as professional journalists allowing them to gather information on individuals and public services without fear of being challenged under the Data Protection Act.

 I am indebted to this article on the excellent Inforrm blog today which reveals that the Information Commissioner has put out new guidelines to the media for consultation.

The proposals are particularly important after a series of outrageous attempts notably by Barnet Council to force local bloggers to have to register with the Data Protection Act. The aim was to force people to register so council officials and councillors could demand to know what information was held on them. Luckily they failed. This change will make it impossible for councils like Barnet to even contemplate such action.

The relevant parts -outlined in the proposed guidelines- are to exempt journalists and bloggers from the requirement to provide such information if  they are pursuing a story in the public interest.This exemption allows journalists to mount a public interest defence to most apparent breaches of the Data Protection Act but it will be easier to rely on the exemption.  This states:

  • As long as the aim is to publish a story (or for someone else to publish it), all the background information collected, used or created as part of investigation can also be exempt,
  • The  proposed rules also allow bloggers as well as journalists – if they were forced to hand over information- to redact any information which could lead to the source being identified..
  • Information about someone’s health, sex life or criminal behaviour should only be collected if the journalist is very confident the public interest overrides their right to privacy.

These changes along with the new Defamation Act should be welcomed by everyone. It amounts to official recognition that the world is changing and that public bodies, whether it be your local council, hospital, or, as is increasingly the case, private companies running public services that they should expect to be heavily scrutinised. It also serves as a warning to directors of private companies, arrogant councillors, and insensitive public providers, that they will not be able to bully active citizens who want to probe their activities and they will not be able to force the disclosure of sources or information that led to their exposure. consultation on the new guidelines from the ICO ends on April 22nd.

Brian Coleman Convicted: A Tory bully and now a thug

Brian Coleman: convicted of assault. No moreexpense account lunches

Brian Coleman: convicted of assault. No more expense account lunches

On the day the purple spots of UKIP started to pop up across the English shires, one former prominent Conservative councillor got even more than just a  drubbing at the polls.

Brian Coleman, former mayor of Barnet, former chair of the London Assembly and chair of the London fire brigade, pleaded guilty to assaulting a  woman cafe owner who tried to  film him breaking his own parking regulations.

Rather than acknowledge that he was breaking the law and the hypocrisy of what he was doing, Coleman resorted to violence that might be associated with a common street brawler. He hit her and grabbed her breast in his attempt to snatch her Iphone..

The representative of the party of law and order ended up with a £1400 fine and restitution for injuries to Helen Michael. For all the gory details of the hearing and the remarkable silence from his fellow Tory councillors in Barnet, read the detailed  and tremendous account by Mrs Angry,   on her very popular  Broken Barnet blog ( http://wwwbrokenbarnet.blogspot.co.uk ).

Frankly after Mr Coleman’s attack on decent firefighters in London, his botched privatisation of the London  fire service through AssetCo and his rude attacks on other Barnet citizens, including a desperate single mum, justice was done.

I am sure it is only a matter of time before Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, feels moved to disown his behaviour. Or perhaps not . it is too embarrassing for  Tory words.

Why Eric Pickles will allow councils to fiddle your cash – MPs’ damning verdict

Eric Pickles:will he make it easier for councils to fiddle your cash?

Eric Pickles:will he make it easier for councils to fiddle your cash?

Do you believe your council spends your money wisely? Are you sure none of your council tax is wasted through incompetence or fraud? Do you trust all your local politicians to be honest? Probably the answer to all three is no!

Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, has a flagship policy of scrapping the body that  tries to protect you from all of this – the Audit Commission. His passionate belief is that this body of highly skilled auditors and officials  is a load of bureaucratic nonsense – and has produced figures to claim that the public will save  over £1bn in a decade by scrapping it.

Now an all party committee of MPs led by the indefatigable Margaret Hodge, scourge of  tax avoiding Amazon and Starbucks and chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, has come to some damning conclusions on what the government is about to do. There is a full report by me on the Exaro News website (http://www.exaronews.com).

Basically Pickles wants to leave it to local councils, health trusts and the new NHS commissioning bodies to police themselves by appointing their own auditors,taking away a whistleblower hot line to the Audit Commission, and allowing big accountancy firms  free rein to up their charges by picking off individual councils. It also allows  even more cosy relationships to be built between the auditor and the local council and leaves whistleblowers nowhere to go.

Given the present background of mass privatisation of services this plain daft. The most extreme example is Tory controlled Barnet’s plan to hand almost everything over to the private sector – see the Broken Barnet website for detailed coverage (http://wwwbrokenbarnet.blogspot.co.uk). Are locally appointed auditors going to be up to doing a tough job – already Grant Thornton missed the MetPro private securityscandal in the borough. How will they keep up with all the services being privatised?

Some amazing facts are comments in  the report. The government claim it will save £137m a year. The MPs say the figure is more likely to be £2.4m. They warn of a fragmented and more complex audit regime.

And on the appointment of local auditors they say: “The proposals for self-appointment of auditors risk compromising the independence of audit. The Government must intervene to ensure that existing governance structures within local bodies are not duplicated; existing contracts are managed proficiently; economies of scale in audit fees are not lost; quality of audit does not diminish; value for money can be measured comprehensively and consistently; fees, especially for smaller bodies, do not increase as a result of increased tendering costs and potential limitations to the market in audit and; processes for auditor removal, whistleblowing and public interest reporting are rigorous enough so that the regime is sufficiently robust in difficult circumstances.”

The link to the full report is: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmdraftlocaudit/696/696vw01.htm.

Pretty damning stuff. And they call on the auditor general, Amyas Morse, to  offer to take calls from whistleblowers as well as local auditors who could have a vested interest in not upsetting the council.

Otherwise they warn that whistleblowers will contact the media, and in Barnet’s case,it will be  the local bloggers. Too right if Pickles gets his way on this dodgy piece of legislation, your money is at stake.

Coleman Update: Final Humiliation – Now facing the sack by true blue Barnet

A report tweeted by the editor of the Barnet Times series is forecasting final doom for Brian Coleman tonight Thursday)- when his own Tory group removes him from his Cabinet  environment portfolio. (see http://bit.ly/Jhqe8h)

This means is less than seven days his income from the taxpayer will be slashed from over £120,000 – to just £12-14,000 a year. For the very first time his income level may justify his subsidised fixed rent two bedroom flat he rents from Finchley Methodist church charity.

He still keeps the chairmanship of an important Barnet Council committee on the budget and spending – but he will no longer get his £38,000 Cabinet salary.

Boris Johnson seems to have taken the sensible decision to keep him away from the London fire authority after his big defeat at the hands of the electorate which saw Andrew Dismore defeat him by 21,000 votes.

How  the mighty are fallen – Thank God for democracy and transparency.

Coleman’s last stand in a sweet shop


Yet more extraordinary scenes involving Brian Coleman are reported by the Barnet Press (http://ow.ly/aCVrT) – caught on CCTV haranging a sweet shop owner over the local council’s controversial parking scheme. Mr Coleman went down a parade of shops demanding posters were removed.

Reporter Daniel O’Brien’s story out yesterday says”:Anna Constantiou, who owns Rapunzel hair salon, in High Street, Barnet, said she was shocked when Mr Coleman came into her store demanding she remove a poster with the message “Sack Brian.”

“He said, ‘I want you to take it down right now. I find it offensive,’” said Mrs Constantiou. “I said it’s my opinion and I don’t agree with your parking restrictions. I can’t afford to park near here.”

However, she said she felt she had no choice but to take it down the poster.

“He was going mad and shouting,” she said. “He was right in my face and wouldn’t leave when I asked him. He was intimidating.”

Michael Kentish, owner of sweet shop Hopscotch also received a visit from Mr Coleman.

Mr Kentish said he had put up the political posters, as he believes the “rushed” removal of parking meters from car parks had had a dramatic effect on high street footfall. ”

His CCTV caught the scenes.

Frankly after all the rows over his huge expenses and free gifts, the botched privatisation of London fire brigade, attacking single parents, you would think a Tory seeking  re-election would not start a row with local shopkeepers- core Tory voters. You’d also think that making parking really difficult would not endear him to Barnet Tories either.

 Does he really want to be sacked by the electors of Camden and Barnet tomorrow? Perhaps I have missed his secret agenda- he wants a life outside politics. Mr Coleman has refused to comment to the press.


Brian Coleman: “Human Rights-My Backside!”

Brian Coleman - no to human rights

Tory councillor Brian Coleman – standing for election again this May as London Assembly Conservative member for Barnet and Camden – is at it again!

 In an interview for a foreign TV station he is making it clear again that he wants stringent controls over everybody who blogs on the internet – after the failed ” complaint” by his local council Barnet to try and get local blogger Derek Dishman fined and registered under the Data Protection Act for publishing public details about the views of Barnet officials on their own websites. If successful Barnet would have prevented bloggers writing anything about anyone except their own family and housemates -without being licenced by the DPA.

In an extraordinary interview – see www.youtube.com/watchv=0uuj1il43xg&feature=youtu.be  the councillor demands censorship and libel action against bloggers- and evidently beleives they don’t have right to criticise him or anyone else without bweing taken to court.

 What is worse it appears after this youtube except was put up on the website t00manycuts.blogspot.com  followed a comment on Twitter Mr Coleman successfully moved to have the authors removed from their Twitter account. I don’t quite know what  the tweet said but it was not flattering and it may to do with the fact that he is living a subsidised Methodist housing charity flat while claiming £128,000 a year council allowances from four authorities and organisations.

Coleman has never responded to the accusations – but always been happy to condemn poorer people who complain about rising rents.

 Curious to know what David Cameron, Grant Shapps ( the local government minister) and Boris Johnson might think of his views on human rights and the internet. But if you are planning to vote for him, he is obviously standing on a platform of removing human rights from all Barnet and Camden citizens. Great platform for a democracy!

 Let him know  your views on this> he is contactable on


Barnet blogger row takes website hits to over 75,000:Twitter following tops 2000

Interest in Barnet council’s appalling attempt to criminalise and censor Mr Mustard, a local blogger, took the total number of hits on this website to over 75,000 – they are now over 76,500.

 The blog attracted over 3150 hits last week – making it the second all time most popular blog. The only blog that has been more popular is one exposing how Tony Blair’s millionaire donors are now charging 6.5 per cent on their loans to the Labour Party – which has had 4258 hits. Thanks to local Barnet bloggers,Guido Fawkes, the Guardian, Liberal Conspiracy and the Taxpayers Alliance for highlighting the Barnet blogging scandal.

 The Barnet row even surpassed interest in the ever popular audit of Brian Coleman, Barnet councillor and chair of the London Fire Brigade, whose  greedy expense claims,   £100,000 plus council allowance payments and use of cheap subsidised housing has now attracted 2738 hits.

And  thanks to some 27 kind souls are now regularly subscribing free to the blog – so they can follow every word if they want to.

 Armchair audit is about to be revived – so watch for some new analysis of  the wealth of top people leading the charge to cut pay, jobs and services.  Meanwhile Twitter following has jumped over the 2000 mark – so thanks for that!

Barnet’s mad and bad plan to censor and criminalise the nation’s bloggers

Barnet Council: Attempt to criminalize blogger Pic courtesy:http;// telegraph.co.uk

You couldn’t make this up. Barnet Council already facing trouble for illegally filming residents and bloggers coming to hear a council meeting on cuts, is now  seeking to censor and criminalize bloggers across the nation.

 The council has put in the most ludicrous complaint against a local blogger, Mr Mustard ( real name  Derek Dishman)  to the Information Commissioner claiming he has committed a criminal offence  under the Data Protection Act by not registering as a data controller  because he has made critical comments  about whether some of its officials have real jobs.

Using his right as a citizen he puts in regular FOI’requests to the council.  The row appears to have begun over critical comments questioning the council appointing a £50,000 change and innovation manager, Jonathan Tunde-Wright with  a remarkably verbose and tediously worded job description – for a job that seems to involve privatising everything. Phrases like ” delivery of  system thinking interventions” gives a  flavour ( see http://bit.ly/sQUmyA for full offending blog)

Now  Mr Tunde-Wright has his  personal website which contains his own creed for his work and  a commitment to “transparency and engagement “, ” community and accountability” and also a strong Christian belief :”  My quest to unravel the mystery of the cross of  Jesus Christ. That is a lifetime mission.” Nothing wrong with this ( Tim Montgomerie when at Conservative Home believed both in Jesus Christ and David Cameron). His website – with some interesting comments on council cuts following the recent BBC film is (  http://jonathan.uk.com/)

Now look at what Barnet Council did. On the day the Mr Mustard’s blog appeared they complained to the Information Commissioner seeking he had broken the law – and could face a £5000 fine- because he had ” processed personal data unfairly” and had no protection under the Data Protection Act.

 The council claims wrongly that ” the individuals involved do not refer to their employment with the council on their personal websites “( in fact Jonathan’s contains a link direct to Barnet Council) and ” views on the merits of their personal websites and blogs is not in the public interest.”

Initially rebuffed the council then came up with an extraordinary description of what Mr Dishman was allowed to blog without being forced to register or be prosecuted for unfairly processing data.

According to Barnet the only things bloggers can write about is their own personal data, their own family defined as people related by blood or marriage and their own household, anybody living in their house or flat.

Everything else requires registration and can be subject to legal challenge. The council even found an obscure Swedish case, involving a European Court judgement, against a member of the Swedish church  who released details of a number of local people waiting to be confirmed as why this must be done.

Luckily there has been an extremely robust response from the Information Commissioner.  They have dismissed Barnet’s second attempt with these words: ” If the ICO were to take the approach of requiring all individuals running a blog to notify as a data controller … it would lead to a situation where the ICO is expected to rule on what is acceptable for one individual to say about another.”

“Requiring all bloggers to register with this office and comply with the parts of the DPA exempted under Section 36 (of the Act) would, in our view, have a hugely disproportionate impact on freedom of expression.”

Thank God for some sanity. But what Barnet was really up to – to suppress freedom of expression, local comment  and intimidate someone who was using his right to ask them difficult Freedom of Information requests. By threatening to criminalize someone who in the ICO’s words writes a blog as a hobby, the authority is out-of-order.

If Barnet had succeeded it would have had enormous implications and costs for bloggers across the country. As Conservatives who are committed to transparency, the council should know better. They need to put up and shut up!

Barnet did not answer my questions about this. But I did contact both bloggers.

Mr Dishman said: “The likely response of the ICO if I needed to register would have been to invite me to register. I would have paid the £35 p.a. which is the only criteria to enable registration. If the council had succeeded in getting me fined £5,000 I would have paid it and then the blog would have become hyper critical and my work rate would have increased. What where they thinking? ”

He said he had no quarral with Jonathan Tunde-Wright or any of the officials named on his website.

Mr Tunde-Wright seems a bit bemused. “Speaking as a private individual it has felt like being caught in a crossfire somewhat.

” I think it is ironic that people like myself (and there are many of us in the public sector) who are truly passionate about public service and community empowerment appear to have been the targets of certain bloggers – talk of picking the wrong targets!

” I also do feel that by going beyond the Post to naming the Post Holder, referencing my personal blog and making particular comments, the said blogger may have crossed the line and placed myself and my family in this uncomfortable place of feeling harassed online.”

Barnet finally issued a statement to the Guardian today(tuesday):

“The council was concerned that an individual had used information gathered by the FOI process and linked this with other information to ridicule and abuse individual members of staff. The council consulted with the ICO as to whether this constituted a possible breach of the Data Protection Act.

 The ICO asked the council to make a formal submission, stating this was a currently a grey area.

It should be stressed that the individuals about which the council were concerned were not part of the council’s senior management team. The council does not tolerate the abuse or bullying of any of its staff.”