Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Two Sides to Every Story

Barnet has its fair share of online story tellers.  Here are two examples illustrating why their stories should always be taken with a pinch (or scoop!) of salt…..

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of speaking at a Hampstead Garden Suburb Residents’ Association ‘Open Meeting’, the topic of which was ‘One Barnet’.  One reason I accepted their invitation was because it was a ‘non-political’ event. By ‘non-political’ I mean the body organising it wasn’t doing so in order to promote a particular view or as an excuse to harangue those they disagree with.  The RA simply asked me to explain One Barnet to ordinary, open minded residents in a factual format and answer questions. 
This was in stark contrast to a BAPS meeting where the Council Leader had no chance of a fair hearing from the assembled members of the local anti-council/anti-Conservative/anti-cuts brigade.  I’ve seen a video snippet of the event. When the picture pans out to the audience 90% can be named by anyone active in Barnet politics and you can easily predict the questions.  Their concerns are genuine, of that I have no doubt, but to pretend the audience was a gathering of ordinary, open minded residents mobilised by suddenly hearing about back office outsourcing and who could have been swayed one way or the other is misleading.  They were activists plain and simple: BAPS members, Labour party members, former Labour party members, former Lib Dems, unsuccessful candidates in the 2010 election, trade union members and their friends. 

At the Open Meeting, I explained the borough’s challenges and how the Council is attempting to address them. For most, the detail of One Barnet and the rationale behind it was interesting and, with exception of the BAPS activists in the room, it was clear none found it at all ‘radical’ or ‘controversial’.  There were thoughtful and considered questions asked but no one was saying ‘this is a grave mistake’ or ‘please stop this’, except for the BAPS members of course.  There was no widespread disapproval from the audience and I saw many nods of agreement. 

Standing at the front of the room I had the best view of the audience. Having been forwarded a BAPS account of the evening I was amused by its interpretation of events.  What they could not see, of course, were significant numbers of the audience shaking their heads every time BAPS asked a question and the rolling of eyes at the realisation these were attendees with an axe to grind.  When the issue of a referendum was raised by BAPS, one gentleman quietly muttered ‘Oh god’ followed by ‘Do shut up’!  Before anyone says, it wasn’t Cllr Harper or I!  My response to the referendum question was a summary of the speech I made at the previous Council meeting. It was clear the audience did not share BAPS’ enthusiasm for a referendum costing £200,000 and instigated by just 2% of the Borough’s population.  BAPS are blind to the fact that nobody else shares their obsession with outsourcing or One Barnet and that while a very small number of residents are interested in the technicalities of service delivery, far more simply want quality outcomes and controlled council tax.

The next day I received two e-mails from attendees I’ve not met before expressing their gratitude for my contribution.  One stated she was not a Conservative voter but would be tempted to vote for us for the first time after attending the meeting and that she felt the borough was in ‘safe hands’(ward councillors have seen the message before the usual cynics cast their doubt!).

Exactly what the other attendees thought I do not know, but I do know this: HGS residents, like the rest of Barnet, are intellectual and assertive. They would have all left me without any doubt if they disliked my presentation.  As is often the case in politics, it’s the vocal minority who dominate the airwaves.

Another example of distorted reporting is that of Barnet’s independent councillor in a recent attempt at explaining the former Stanley Road playing field situation.  In this particular ‘account’, I was described as ill-advised and only having pound signs in my eyes when considering the sale of the aforementioned site.  What the author didn’t know, understand or neglected to mention, was that I had met with Sports East Finchley some time before the CRC meeting at which I invited all bidders for the land to come up with a compromise between development and community use.  I could have advocated selling to the highest bidder, but I didn’t.  From that decision the current situation arose. 

So there you go, beware what you read and, more importantly, what you believe.  Some people will not let the truth get in the way of a good story!

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