Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Get a life!

As the quality of journalism of local newspapers declines and their readership falls through the floor in recent years a new phenomenon has appeared with the rise of the internet ; the local blogger.

It is now a rare occurrence for any professional journalist to be sitting in the gallery of a Council meeting and their place has been taken by the amateur and often obsessive “blogger”

Up and down the country individuals who have a particular axe to grind or have failed to be actually be elected to their local Council sit for hours listening to tedious committee meetings and then composing blogs which often have little relationship to the proceedings they have just witnessed.

The problem with bloggers in local government is that unlike the local press who still have to abide by the rules of the soon to be defunct Press Complaints Commission (although many local journalists openly flout it)

In Barnet we are particularly blessed with bloggers with a number writing several times a day about Barnet Council matters (is the Council really that interesting?). A number have taken to doing it anonymously by adopting silly names which in my view is rather on a par with sending poison pen letters or as Mike Freer put it “the one handed bloggers”. The signs of obsessive behaviour are clear to see, one blogger has viewed this blog over 200 times in less than a week. More worryingly as they become more and more obsessive their conspiracy theories become wilder and wilder and their grasp of reality becomes more tenuous. I did have a very good laugh earlier in the year when one blogger suggested that those of us involved in the organising of the borough’s celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee were part of some sort of “Masonic” conspiracy, for the record I am not a freemason. I do have to admit that there are several blog stories that have appeared that I know to be complete fiction from start to finish because I deliberately fed a pack of lies to either a Council officer or indeed a Councillor whom I suspected of leaking to the bloggers and sure enough the stories appeared.

Their attempts to personalise local politics (where to some extent the local newspapers have followed suit) has lead them to begin to indulge in bizarre activities. Councillors and senior professional officers of the Council have been followed, a black van has been reported suspiciously parked outside Councillors homes, officers of the Council have had their private residences photographed, and one female Council officer had her mobile phone number published, my 88 year old Mother was attacked in the street and one Council officer had to take their house off the market after inappropriate enquiries from bloggers.  Additionally there have been repeated acts of criminal damage on Conservative Party premises in the borough. Many Councillors of all parties no longer disclose their private addresses in order to protect their families.  In short bloggers rather than attempt to keep the wider community informed and involved, something all Councillors would welcome, have attempted to instigate a regime of intimidation just because they happen to politically disagree with the current Council administration. This is not unique to Barnet with the distinguished Leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council Sir Merrick Cockell amongst others regularly being regularly the victim of appalling personal abuse.

Additionally as a lazy way of filling their blog they submit dozens and dozens of Freedom of Information requests on spurious matter which they then reveal as shocking exclusives on their blogs. Of course this is also a tactic employed by the Taxpayers Alliance which regularly reveals “shock horror” that Local Government spends money! In Barnet the hundreds of thousands of pounds spent dealing with FOI requests could have kept Friern Barnet Library open. Just a thought!

I am not worried about blogs that genuinely debate matters of political interest and indeed there are several that cover Barnet affairs from a socialist point of view with which I fundamentally disagree but I enjoy reading. Furthermore the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles’ idea about recruiting “armchair auditors“ is a positive move to enhance the power of the Internet and make local government more accountable. In Barnet some bloggers who think they act as the servant of the voters have actually developed bigger egos than us Councillors; the difference is they don’t have a democratic mandate to back it up and get highly offended if anyone criticises them. They can dish it out but they cannot take it.

One gets the feeling that some bloggers have fixated on Barnet Council and its’ officers and members in preference to obsessing over David Beckham or Simon Cowell.

My message to some bloggers, “Get a Life!“


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