8 August 2012

Petition propaganda

or put Robert Rams in charge of libraries

Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position. Propaganda is usually repeated and dispersed over a wide variety of media in order to create the chosen result in audience attitudes.

As opposed to impartially providing information, propaganda, in its most basic sense, presents information primarily to influence an audience. Propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. The desired result is a change of the attitude toward the subject in the target audience to further a political agenda. Propaganda can be used as a form of political warfare.

When The Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 was introduced, the following appeared in the Guardian:

Councils will be banned from ignoring petitions signed by residents under plans designed to make local authorities more responsive to the views of voters published by John Denham today.

The communities secretary said his proposals would give local petitions "real teeth" and assure people that they could use them as a device to get things changed.

So after signing the Friern Barnet library petition Mr Mustard hoped that the council would listen to the views of the many residents who are manifestly against cuts to library services and their transfer to inconvenient locations.

The above Act, and Mr Mustard has read the petitions section, does not require or mandate the council to contact every petitioner to tell them why they were wrong to sign it. There is also nothing in the statutory guidance suggesting or authorising such a use of the database. This is what the guidance says a council will do in response to a petition

Our response to a petition will depend on what a petition asks for and how many people
have signed it, but may include one or more of the following:

• taking the action requested in the petition 
• considering the petition at a council meeting
• holding an inquiry into the matter
• undertaking research into the matter
• holding a public meeting
• holding a consultation
• holding a meeting with petitioners
• referring the petition for consideration by the council’s overview and scrutiny committee*
• calling a referendum
• writing to the petition organiser setting out our views about the request in the petition

Can you see where it says to email people who object to tell them why they are so wrong? no, nor could Mr Mustard.

Before Mr Mustard shares the wretched email from Robert Rams with you there is a much wider question to consider. Here is a lovely film taken by Dan over at the Barnet Bugle

Friern Barnet Library Petition 31 July 2012 from The Barnet Bugle Ltd on Vimeo.

You can fast forward to about 49m if you like and see that the vote was taken on sending the matter for consideration by the Cabinet through the Cabinet member. It seems that the cabinet member concerned, one Robert Rams, the Cabinet Member for Customer Access and Partnerships (except in Friern Barnet of course) has decided not to refer to Cabinet and has jumped the gun. This will give the officer who took the minutes a problem as hopefully Cllr Rayner will be ensuring they are accurate and the the voted on referral actually takes place and the outcome is reported back to Overview & Scrutiny.

Anyway having signed a petition that garnered 569 on-line supporters and 1,954 in writing in support of the following:

We the residents, students and workers of Friern Barnet, are petitioning Barnet Council to RE-OPEN our local library. Friern Barnet Library in its present place and shape is an integral part of community life in the surrounding area. We want a cheerful Local library. This is a chance for Barnet Council to show they ARE listening to local residents and reverse the bad feeling caused by the closure of this lovely library.

and the following words are on the petition page and arrived in an email which is an impertinent step as Mr Mustard was obliged to leave his email address in order to add his name to the petition and he didn't think he was signing up to receive propaganda (red pen by Mr Mustard)

Dear Petitioner, (you had my name)

Petition to save Friern Barnet Library or re-open Friern Barnet library

Thank you for taking the time to sign a petition relating to Friern Barnet library. You thank me for taking the time to fight against your philistinic closure of a library.

No Council takes a decision to close a library lightly – I, like you, value (you value the capital receipt the building will bring, that is all) Barnet’s libraries very highly and am proud of their vital contribution to literacy among our children. (Where do local people go? What about the elderly who can't easily travel to Tally Ho?)

Unfortunately, the current economic climate means that the Council has to save £46million across 3 years, and the library service has to take its share of this. (No it doesn't. The choice of what cuts fall where fall to councillors like Robert Rams. This decision to cut the library budget and thus to close a library is because you didn't decide to cut some other part of the council budget, like £250,000 a month to consultants) Unlike some other councils, (irrelevant, we can only easily use local libraries)   Barnet Council has chosen (yes, chosen to close a library, a free choice that you had) to make these savings as part of a clear strategy to improve our library service and make it fit for the future – reinvesting in improved facilities in which we can all be proud, and taking into account the needs of the whole borough. (whole = except for Friern Barnet)

Our strategy ensured that we are now putting literacy at the heart of everything we do, opening our libraries up for longer and ensuring that every primary school child becomes a library member. (How will the primary school children of Friern Barnet get to tally Ho, 6 year olds on the bus? or walking 2 miles?)

When making this difficult decision, the Council did consider a wide range of options, including the potential to create a community library at Friary House: unfortunately no community group took up this offer (because the building is not suitable, how many times do you have to be told this) or was able to submit a robust business proposal for any other premises. (Isn't it the case that we pay council tax so that councils provide the facilities that we need for community benefit?)

In response to requests, the Council has opened an interim library at Tally Ho Corner, as we work hard to develop plans for a landmark library at artsdepot. No-one asked for a Library 2 miles away. There is so much demand that all of 74 people go there in a week. Whilst North Finchley residents might like this idea they will profit at the expense of a poorer ward.

Although we have been asked to reopen the Friern Barnet library building, no one has come up with a robust alternative to the saving we need to make to meet the budget set for the service by full Council. Yes they have. Dump 2/3rds of councillors, slim down the 95 strong management team and flatten the structure, stop paying Town Hall Tax Dodgers like the Assistant Director of Customer Services Bill Murphy who is sadly also the AD of Libraries, chuck Agilisys out and save £250,000 a month, put council tax up by the rate of inflation, let Mr Reasonable audit large value invoices every month as he offered, once you have done those Mr Rams I will send you some more jobs.

As a result, while I have considered the request made in the petition, I am unable to agree to reverse the decision made by the Council’s Cabinet in July 2011. It isn't your decision. It has to be taken by the full Cabinet.

I am sorry that this is disappointing news for you. Not really a surprise though.

Yours sincerely

Cllr Robert Rams
Cabinet Member for Customer Access and Partnerships

In future please don't use the council website to start your petition. Here are some alternatives. If you do have to use the council website to support an existing petition go to gmail or similar, create a new email address, use it to sign the petition, get the acknowledgement and then delete the email address. Then you won't suffer any further propaganda from the council.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


  1. I think this is a very mean-spirited article. Whether you agree with the council's decision to close the library or not, the fact that they are prepared to engage with petitioners directly rather than simply issue a press release dismissing the petition seems to me to be worthy of applause.

    Incidentally, the petition page you link to makes it clear that your email address will be used to inform you of any response. You can't complain about that, and call it propaganda, just because the response isn't the one you wanted.

  2. I see you are a Tory councillor,Mark SG, & a Deputy Mayor ... interesting. You are clearly not familiar with the political scene here in Barnet, or you would appreciate that this petition farce is completely typical of the absolute travesty that is 'consultation' in this borough. As someone who signed the petition I was puzzled by Ram's email as I had understood the decision had not been made - at least officially. Seems now the Barnet Tories do not even go to the bother of even pretending there is any power by any committee to influence the shameful decisions of the Cabinet cabal which run this borough.

  3. look Mrs Angry, also from MarkSG website

    one of UK's leading authorites on UK service stations (doesn't say anything about library expertise)

  4. wonder how you get to be an expert in service stations. I imagine it involves a lot of toilet breaks, and buying large packs of maltesers. Oh hang, on, that's me.


I now moderate comments in the light of the Delfi case. Due to the current high incidence of spam I have had to turn word verification on.