It seems that I am rather more behind the times than I realised. According to todays Sunday Times, membership of the Chipping Barnet Conservative Association has declined by 43.9% since 2009 http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/Politics/article1298968.ece. This is a huge decline. The Sunday Times has not explored the reasons for this fall off, but it does mention that other Cabinet member such as William Hague and David Cameron have only lost 2% of their association membership in the same period. In fact of all cabinet members only Eric Pickles local association has seen a steeper decline. Whilst all of the cabinet have seen a decline in membership of their local parties, Villiers has seen an extraordinary fall off in her association.
Given the behaviour of certain members and former members of her association at the Council, it is no surprise to anyone in Barnet that the membership of the party is in a state of total collapse. Ordinary local Conservative Party members are generally a fairly sensible group of people. They recognise what are sensible policies and what are decent standards of behaviour. Back in 2008, when this blog started, one of my staunchest supporters was "Dont Call Me Dave" AKA David Miller. Although David doesn't agree with my political philosophy, he found that he agreed with 99% of what I was writing about the local Conservative Council. He started writing his own blog, called "Not The Barnet Times" (http://www.notthebarnettimes.co.uk/). At the time I was writing blogs for the Hendon Times. I described David as Barnets most sensible Tory. David is a former executive officer of the Chipping Barnet Conservative Association. David soon established himself as one of Londons top political bloggers. He was scathing of his own party and chronicled the descent into farce of the Chipping Barnet Conservative Association. As the policies of the local Conservatives became more disconnected from reality and real voters concerns, David predicted the disenchantment of the local party.Eventually David gave up on the local Conservatives and left the party.
Sadly without the moderating influences of the more sensible members of the association, the policies of the local Tories became ever more bizarre. Perhaps the final nail in the coffin for many members was the disasterous reign of of notorious criminal Councillor Brian Coleman as parking supremo. As befits a convicted criminal, Coleman passed a swathe of measures hiking parking charges, which have since been declared illegal by the High Court. Coleman once proudly bragged to David Miller that the Barnet Conservative party needed to be destroyed, so that it could be rebuilt (presumably in a Colemanesque mold). It seems that he is well on the way to achieving the first of these objectives. As he's been kicked out of the Party following his criminal conviction, it seems he'll be unlikely to ever enact the second part.
A couple of years ago, this blog did a poll of readers. To my surprise, 35% identified themselves as Conservatives. I talk to many local Conservatives. A common theme emerges. They all seem totally disenchanted with the local party. One comment that emerges time and time again is that they are voting Conservative with gritted teeth, because they can't bring themselves to vote for another party. Some have defected to UKIP in recent months, but many do not see UKIP as an alternative.
Whatever you think of the Conservative Party, in Barnet they are in a complete state of collapse. The more sensible councillors such as Sury Khatri, the Salingers and Mark Shooter are marginalised. The cabinet seems to be selected on the basis of who will nod their head most vigorously when senior officers speak.
This week, perhaps the biggest folly of all has been completed by the Barnet Conservatives. The One Barnet contract with Capita has been signed. The Leader of the Council, Richard Cornelius has claimed that this will lead to £150 million of savings in ten years. This figure is based on all manner of assumptions and best case scenarios. Many local people simply do not believe the figures. The Council never point out that the first two One Barnet projects have been total disasters. In the first, Parking control was outsourced to NSL. Now parking wardens swarm around like angry wasps, aggressively looking for opportunities to issue tickets for the most minor of infringements. My fellow blogger Mr Mustard has demonstrated how since NSL took over parking in Barnet, the number of appeals has soared. Not only that but now more than half of parking tickets are cancelled (full details here http://lbbspending.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/patas-appeals-soar.html ).
The second big One Barnet failure is Your Choice Barnet Ltd ( http://www.yourchoicebarnet.org/ ). This is a private company, wholly owned by Barnet Council. You may wonder how a private company can be "wholly owned by Barnet Council". I did. It seems that the Barnet Conservative Leadership believe that if you take a group of Council functions (in this case adult social care) and then set up a private company, outside of democratic scrutiny by councillors, but owned by the Council and managed by the same people, you will save lots of money and provide better services. The company was set up, the staff transferred on the basis of "a cast iron business case" and then the inevitable happened. Because no one in Barnet seems to understand how the relationship between Barnet Council and Your Choice Barnet works, they helpfully put this on their website ( http://www.yourchoicebarnet.org/news/2013/08/the-relationship-between-barnet-council-and-your-choice-barnet/ )
- YCB is part of The Barnet Group, a Local Authority Trading Company, which is owned by Barnet Council
- YCB's only shareholder is the council. Any profits we make are reinvested into our services or paid to the council
- YCB is a private company and is treated the same as any other provider of care and support in Barnet
- we provide care and support services and have a contract with the council to do this. It is called a framework agreement and other providers are also on this framework agreement
- if we cannot provide value-for-money services, the council could award the contract to another service provider who can
- Barnet Council's social workers assess people's needs and decide the level of care and support they need. We do not carry out these assessments
- YCB then provides the services required to meet people's needs
- we will support or advocate for our service users if we feel that they should receive extra hours, but we do not make the final decision on this. This is made by the council.
1. Barnet Council and the taxpayer is liable for any losses.
2. Barnet Council needs to fund all investment and take all of the financial risk.
3. The management is largely the same management that were in place when the service was in house, meaning that they are unlikely to be innovative.
4. Barnet Council has placed itself in a position where it can suffer reputational damage for issues beyond its control.
5. There is a whole new layer of management, accountancy and legal advice required. Every agreement between YCB and Barnet needs to be signed off by two sets of lawyer, where previously there was none.
It may also surprise you to find out that the person who advised me of this is a prospective Conservative Candidate at the next general election. I asked if he was a member of the Barnet association and he suggested that he wouldn't touch them with a bargepole, as they are a toxic brand. His view is that many Conservatives are in management and when they look at the way the council is being run, are horrified.
So what has happened with YCB and its "cast iron business case"? The company found that it's cast iron business case was nothing of the sort. The company had to go back to the council, asking for a million pound bale out. This was less than a year after the services were transferred. Did this cause the Council to pause for thought about the One Barnet contracts being let with Capita? Of course not.
Who picks up the bill for all of this? As I mentioned in Fridays blog, it is not the largely Labour supporting people in the borough who are on benefits or on minimum wage. It is the affluent middle class, more Tory demographically voters who have cash to be milked.
This is why the Chipping Barnet Conservative Party has seen a 43.9% drop in membership. I don't believe it is inevitable that party membership is in decline. I think it is a product of the party being out of touch. The "Young Conservatives" used to be a pseudo dating agency for young Tories. Members would then progress through the party, with a strong social scene at all levels. As the party has become more divorced from the concerns of ordinary membership, these links have broken down. I have a friend who is a senior member of a South London Association. He said they have had to work extremely hard to keep their membership bouyant. He reads the blog and often advises people advocating outlandish policies to consider the case of Barnet. I am sure that the decline of the Chipping Association will be useful ammunition for him in his crusade for sanity in his association.
Of course, I have no doubt that senior Tories in Barnet such as Robert Rams and Richard Cornelius will deny that the decline has anything to do with them or the One Barnet scheme. Until they pull their head out of the sand, they will fail to see the danger that the One Barnet effect poses to them and their membership. The bottom line with all this is that with nearly 50% fewer members, it will be twice as hard for their activists to get voters out in 2014. The ballot box will then tell the true story.