Treading the three-way tightrope

…and that’s before I’ve started balancing the plates.

There are a number of different worlds that I bounce to and from – &/or have had an insight into. I’ve never really been much of a party-political creature – the only times I went to the gatherings of any political party were a couple of Green Party meetings in 2001 to see what was going on during one of the high points of the anti-globalisation movement. I eventually found a nice little home as a volunteer at the Brighton Peace and Environment Centre as an information centre volunteer during their Gardner Street days as I embarked on my final year at university.

Having spent my second year at university living in a place that was ultimately condemned by the local council as being unfit for human habitation, being a mere pawn in the battle to find somewhere suitable to live in Brighton shaped my interested in all things housing – as it did with higher education. Schnews and other news leaflets in the Information Centre made up for the reading material that wasn’t coming out of what felt like an emotionally distant university and student union. At the time, I said to some wise owls that I was still trying to find “my place” in the grand scheme of trying to make the world a better place, & several of them said that my disposition was far better suited to getting inside the system and trying to change things from the inside rather than being at the barricades.

Two years after graduating I managed to get my feet inside the system, getting a feel for the issue of transparency – as well as of the civil service mindset of “If they don’t know what you are doing, they don’t know what you are doing wrong!” (Sir Humphrey Appleby). Seven years inside the civil service allowed me to get out and about, meeting people in communities that were in receipt of government funding to deal with problems of multiple deprivation to the representatives of NGOs, charities and lobbyists all seeking to influence government policy.

As far as ‘politics’ is concerned I find myself looking at the different worlds of:

  • The political ‘anti party politics’ world of the #Occupy movement and those in and around it (which has many a link to the anti-globalisation movements of some ten years previous)
  • The ‘front line’ of those who work in those communities suffering from multiple deprivation – as well as those who live in those communities
  • The Westminster Bubble that I described in a previous post
This is the three-way tightrope.

The Westminster Bubble essentially operates within a framework of existing laws and conventions – many of which to a greater or lesser extent those joining the #Occupy movement want to get rid of. Being restricted in both mindset and actions, there’s only so much change that can come from within the Westminster Bubble. Hence why some on the Labour Left have praised the #Occupy movement for pressuring Ed Miliband to speak up about some of the issues that the former are highlighting. Others however have accused Miliband of either being too timid or trying to hijack a grassroots movement for political ends. Until I see some concrete policies, I’m tempted to reserve judgement.

The challenge that political parties face in re-engaging with the general population is a similar challenge that faces both the thinkers and do-ers in the #Occupy movement – how do you engage with those communities who are at the sharp end of the cuts, or, as far as mainstream politics is concerned, the most de-politicised? It’s all very well organising grand London conferences with big name speakers, or setting up a web page or blog for people to read. But if people A) don’t know that these things are around and B) cannot afford to get there, are the people both parties and social movements need to reach out to being automatically excluded? Remember on the social media front, up to 11million adults have not used social media before.

Whenever I stay over in London I normally stay over with relatives who have lived and worked in London longer than I have been alive and have thus grown extremely long roots in the area they & their friends live in. We always end up having debates about various things – which I love but am also petrified about at the same time because I know I’m going to be given a verbal going over that’s far more intense than any university debating society. It’s also an eye-opener in terms of what’s going on in inner city UK (or rather inner city North London) and what the view is of their generation in the area that they live in. Let’s just say there were no ‘soft touch’ views on the London riots. A good clip ’round the ear and a spell in the cells, rather than the detailed social scientific studies of what caused this to kick off.

Taking these debates beyond familiar surroundings (whether the university seminar room or the Westminster committee rooms) is what the #Occupy movement has done – & fair play to those who have gone down to debate and engage with them. It’s also brought the spotlight onto the City of London as a political institution as well bringing into the mainstream the issues around the privatisation (and depoliticisation) of public spaces.
In terms of finding the answers to the biggest economic crisis in my living memory, they are not going to come pre-packaged in a nice glossy publication sponsored by some benevolent foundation or quango. (I have seen too many such publications in the past that have made me think “What is the point of this?”) As Pierce Penniless says:


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