Monday 14 March 2011

Time To Stop Being So Bloody Polite

So I've been out of circulation for three weeks, having had yet another operation on my shoulder, a very uncomfortable period of recovery and missing out on celebrating my birthday. Not really a barrel of fun and laughter, in other words.

It has also meant an absence from many activities I would normally have taken part in, notably the protest on 28 February against Newham council's plans for massive cuts in local services. I've had plenty of feedback though - on Sir Robin Wales' huge hissy-fit over protesters inside the environs of East Ham Town Hall and their deliberate exclusion from the council chamber's public gallery. The posting on Mike Law's blog repeats some of what I've heard from others.

Viewed from a distance, this is all a reminder of just how completely Newham has become both a post-democratic and post-political borough.The signs have, of course, been around for a long time: the small ruling group that admits only those into power with the same views as the Mayor, the vacuous management-speak mission statements, the 'consultations' that are designed to tick a box or reinforce a decision that has already been made, the enthusiasm for grandiose regeneration schemes that benefit business but have nothing to do with the aspirations of local people promised only the dim prospect of low-paid, non-unionised service sector jobs.

Other councils, of course, have followed the same route and other councillors have poured scorned on anyone has dared to raise disagreement and opposition - the fundamental basis of all politics - against their council's narrow managerial consensus. Newham is also not alone in seeking to exclude people from even witnessing its decision to slash services. But the borough isn't Tory Wandsworth, it is a 100% Labour council, one that still claims to hold on by some tenuous thread to a radical past that cared about social justice. However, the way it has decided to implement cuts, with an indifferent shrug of the shoulders, as if this is nothing more than a troublesome administrative decision and with the docile acceptance of largely clueless local councillors, really does seem like a final break with that past.

Many of the people I've spoken to over the last couple of weeks are incredibly enthusiastic about protesting against the Coalition government on 26 March, organised by the TUC. But all were rather more dismissive of the value of demonstrating when the council set its cuts budget in February. What, they have said, would be the point when council meetings are designed simply to rubber-stamp the Mayor's decisions? The formal institutions of local democracy may continue to exist but democratic engagement, reduced to an election every four years that is interpreted by the Great Helmsman as a blank cheque to do almost anything, has produced an disconnected, self-referential political class cut off from the public they claim to represent. There is - quite literally - no point in lobbying a Newham councillor with thoughtful, evidence-based argument when they'll just vote the way they are told to anyway. Equally, few people I know still believe that thoughtful, evidence-based arguments presented in the traditional ways, through letters or petitions, have any value or are even read by those who hold power in Newham.

So where does that leave us as local citizens? With the recognition that the only alternatives left are to do nothing, or to stop being so bloody polite. If a local service is worth defending, taking it over and refusing to allow the bailiffs to enter has more chance of causing a storm than a strongly worded letter to the Newham Recorder. There are some, particularly within sections of the local voluntary sector, who will never bite the hand that feeds them. But for everyone else, what other options are there apart from passive acceptance or direct action?

Tonight at 7pm, the Labour Party in Forest Gate is meeting to talk about the impact of cuts. Not the impact on local people, but on their party - how the council's decisions can be spun into the ludicrous notion that over £100 million of 'Labour cuts' are somehow better than 'Tory cuts'. If I wasn't stuck in an horrendous 'shoulder immobiliser' that severely restricts my movements, I'd be there demanding to know how Labour Party members can sleep at night - even though it's at Durning Hall Community Centre and I'm sure I'd get into all sorts of trouble.

Still, there's always next time. As the cuts start to hit home, there will be many more opportunities to stop being polite.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Oh Its so good to have you back - was having withdrawal symptoms!

silvertown steve said...

I'm not sure they would listen to anything, the only one we can change things in Newham, is if a number of local residents stand against Labour in the next local elections.

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