Saturday, 6 June 2009

Freer's way: silencing the majority

Trying to better understand Barnet council leader Mike Freer, I read this December 2007 article by him, published on the Hendon Times website:
Judging the mood

Yesterday I went with the Chief Executive to present to an awards judging panel: the Council is shortlisted for two awards... one of the judges asked a question which did get to the heart of some of the issues: Given all the infrastructure issues we had identified as a problem of the growth in the Borough past and expected, had we won over the residents???

Well as politicians we often take silence as acquiescence - but is this a fair assumption? But if silence isn't acquiescence, is it apathy? Or is it that the Council simply goes on around our residents and we are largely invisible to the vast majority. So what do we do? I don't suppose there is a magic forumla, every attempt at engagement has its faults - even the Leader Listens events (which get audiences from 12 to 70) aren't perfect - but interestingly I ask every audience if they have attended a Resident's Forum and the vast majority haven't. So whilst not perfect, the Leader Listens do seem to get a raft of different people. So I guess the answer to the question is - in the absence of other information, silence has to be acquiescence - isn't that how democracy works? The silent majority rule OK!!
This political philosophy gives Freer no clues as to what to do when a part of the hitherto silent majority gets rather vocal against a council proposal, as they are doing over the proposed sheltered housing warden cuts. In this instance, he has decided he doesn't want to hear their voices at all: he cancelled the May residents' forums and has turned down a request by a member of the public to address the Cabinet meeting this Monday 8 June, before the Cabinet makes its decision. Addressing the Cabinet is allowed for under the council's governance rules, but is at the discretion of the Leader.

What would it have cost Freer, before he swung the axe, to listen to one of the sheltered housing residents, David Young, organiser of a petition opposing the proposed cuts?


Rog T said...

Top blogging Vicki, there is a much simpler explanation. Freer knnows he's lost the argument. He just wants to look as though he's a tough leader.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

To paraphrase the former Member of Parliament for Finchley, Freer is frit!

I do not recall the leader ever refusing a request from a member of the public before to speak at cabinet.

So much for the Leader Listens.