A few thoughts on local councillors…

Our friends at Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) have had quite a few dealings with council officers, local ward councillors and county councillors over the years. We’ve put up plenty of posts about the lamentable service estate dwellers have had from Basildon Council officers who are supposed to be working for the interests of their residents – it’s time we took a look at local councillors…

Let’s get one thing out of the way first – as anarchists, why are we talking about working with local councillors? We do hold anarchist principles and we want to eventually fulfil our ideal of self empowered, self governing communities but as grassroots activists, we want to get results in the here and now as well. Getting results in the here and now requires dealing with local councillors, whether we like it or not. Working alongside BASHA, we feel that we’re qualified to make a few comments on the performance of local councillors…

In an ideal world, someone would be standing for election as a local councillor because they want to serve the people in their neighbourhood. This is where we reach the first hurdle…a fair number of local councillors don’t live in the wards they supposedly represent…

They’re not councillors because they have a passion to do the best for their neighbourhood – they’re in it for party political purposes. Apart from independents who do live in the wards they represent and stand on their record and experience, most local councillors campaigning to get elected are backed and facilitated by a national political party. If they get elected, they’re expected to toe the party line even if that means acting against the interests of their residents. This is why political parties operating at a local authority level seem to have no problem about standing candidates who do not live in the wards they’re contesting.

BASHA have had to deal with more than their fair share of local councillors who do not live in the wards they’re supposed to represent. We’ve seen some of these councillors as well…to put it politely, they’re party hacks. When it comes to election time – that’s national as well as local authority elections – these councillors will be highly visible out on the streets pursuing their party political agenda. In between elections, all too often they become elusive and hard to contact…

Contact…that’s what being a local councillor is supposed to be about. Being available for their residents. That’s all of their residents, regardless of whatever politics they may have, regardless of creed and colour. Not picking and choosing who they may pull the stops out for and who they ignore. When as all too often happens, a councillor doesn’t live in the ward they claim to represent, it’s all to easy for them to be selective about who they do or don’t pull the stops out because they don’t have to face the residents every time they step outside the front door.

Contact…it should be standard practice for all councillors every time they have contact with residents to hand out a card with their contact details at the start of any meeting. It’s a basic courtesy that shows a councillor is genuinely interested in helping residents. We have heard a few instances from BASHA of councillors who do this and they’re extremely grateful for this. All too often, they’ve seen councillors whom look visibly pained at the prospect of having to deal with residents…

What does all of this show? Well, it shows that there is a persuasive argument for keeping party politics out of the local council – this is an issue that we may well return to in future posts. What cannot be argued is that local councillors need to live in the wards they represent if they are going to have an understanding of the issues their residents have to deal with every day. What is also shows is that a lot of councillors need to do some serious soul searching and ask themselves exactly what it is they want to achieve in their role…

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Getting there but…it’s a slog!

The image above shows the bins by the blocks of flats on the ¾ estate in Vange (located on the southern fringes of Basildon). Even though there are a few bits of uncollected rubbish lying around, believe it or not, what you can see is a vast improvement on what it has been like. Anecdotal reports from a number of sources seem to indicate that the situation is being turned around.

It’s starting to look as though the pressure being applied by the Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG), helped by Clean Up Basildon and Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) is starting to pay off. That’s pressure on Basildon Council, educating residents on the protocol for rubbish disposal and encouraging them to take pride in the estate, and last but by no means least, starting to put pressure on some of the landlords to clean their act up.

A couple of points need to be made: a) the estate still has to reach the level of cleanliness that residents have a right to expect as the norm and b) the aggravation that VHCG and BASHA have had when trying to work constructively with Basildon Council officers beggars belief. Community activists are putting themselves through the mill simply to achieve a level of cleanliness and maintenance that should be the basic duty of a local authority to provide for their residents.

The attempts to deal constructively with Basildon Council, which all too often have been rebuffed, only serve to prove that the system of local governance we have is dysfunctional and not fit for purpose. Which is why in the long term, the only meaningful solution to the problems on the ¾ estate is going to have to come from the residents having more of a say and taking more of a responsibility in how it’s run. We’ll do whatever we can to facilitate that…

If you want a job done properly…

Regular readers of this blog will be well aware of the issues our friends from Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) and the Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG) have had in dealing with the authorities who are supposed to be responsible for the ¾ estate in Vange which is located on the southern fringes of Basildon. Both BASHA and VHCG are fed up with the wrangling over which authority is responsible for (not) clearing the trash properly, (not) trimming back out of control undergrowth and (not) maintaining footpaths and steps to a decent, safe standard.

There’s only so much banging your head against a brick wall you can take in dealing with the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of local authorities and housing associations and trying to contact ward councillors conspicuous by their absence. At a recent meeting we (the Stirrer) and BASHA decided to do something about this with a day of therapeutic community cleaning where we can see a definite result at the end of a day’s hard graft.

Any of our supporters are more than welcome to join us on the day – please wear suitable footwear and clothing you don’t mind getting mucky. Tools will be provided, but if you can bring along anything you think will be useful, you’re welcome to do so…

Getting on with it…

We don’t normally cross post from On Uncertain Ground but as a result of some of the criticism we’ve received since the London Anarchist Bookfair, we’ve got a few points to prove to certain people and would like to set the record straight…

One of the problems with anarchism are certain elements who are only too willing to criticise comrades involved in campaigns, grassroots community projects, actions and the like but who never seem to get out and do anything themselves. This post is a celebration of people and groups who just go out and get on with stuff – people and groups we’ll do our level best to support. Before we go any further, here’s a little warning… Some of those mentioned are not political in any way shape or form – they’re just local residents frustrated at the inaction of their local councils and who’ve decided to take matters into their own hands…

A couple of us volunteer as gardeners at the community run Hardie Park in Stanford-le-Hope – https://www.facebook.com/LoveHardiePark/ We remember what it was like back in 2007 and 2008 when we contested the Stanford East & Corringham Town ward…

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Reviewing our propaganda

This was how our propaganda looked when it was laid out on our stall at the London Anarchist Bookfair on Saturday 28th October. It was gratifying to hear praise from people for how neat the stall looked and the way our literature is designed and produced, however…

If we’re being brutally honest with ourselves, when we look at what we produce and who reads it, we still get the impression that a lot of the time, we’re preaching to the converted. Given the remit we and our comrades in Basildon & Southend Housing Action have set ourselves, preaching to the converted is NOT what we want to do! What we do want to do is reach the disenfranchised people on the estates who know they’ve been abandoned, are pissed off about it but at the moment, don’t know where to turn.

One thing we’re becoming acutely conscious of is the existence of the digital divide and the fact that many of the people we need to reach on the estates do not have, or cannot afford, a reliable internet connection. Therefore the only way we can reach them is via the tried and tested analogue method of flyers and newsletters. Punchy, eye catching flyers, papers and stickers that will grab people’s attention and inspire them to act. As stated previously, we’re an evolving project and if we’re honest, we’ve still got a way to go before we can produce the kind of propaganda that will grab the attention of the audience we need to reach and mobilise.

We think we’re getting to the point we want with the split in the blogs after the demise of the Heckler and the setting up of the Stirrer, The Estuary Alternative and On Uncertain Ground. Granted, we had to do a fair bit of explaining at the bookfair to people who knew us in our previous guise as the Heckler but they did understand our reasoning for doing it as each of these blogs is way more focused. However, we really would like more people to be contributing to all three of these blogs…

It’s the printed material we produce that needs to evolve to the point where it does the job it’s supposed to do which is mobilising people who feel they’ve been abandoned by the system to start fighting back. Which means more in the way of experimenting and trying out new ways of writing, designing, producing and distributing our material to see what does and doesn’t work. The one constraint is the cost of printing. We spent £50 for a stall at the London Anarchist Bookfair and it could be argued that we would have been better off turning up as punters and spending the money for the stall on printing the flyers and stickers we need to get our message across. Which is most likely what we’ll be doing next year…

What we always have to bear in mind that our propaganda is a means to an end – namely stirring people up to the point where they will start to take action. Supported by our producing material that will facilitate that. Which means that if we’re producing something that isn’t getting the results we want, it’ll get binned or substantially altered until it does start delivering results…nothing is sacred…

We’re going to be at the London Anarchist Bookfair on Saturday 28th October

With our friends from Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA), we’ll be jointly running a stall at this year’s London Anarchist Bookfair. The venue is Park View School, West Green Road, London, N15 3QR and the bookfair runs from 10am – 7pm.

This is a final call out for our friends and supporters to come along and have a chat with us about the work we’re doing out along the estuary. As we’ve stated previously, while we adhere to anarchist principles, for a variety of reasons stated in the special edition of the Stirrer we’ve produced for the bookfair, we find it hard to feel that we’re part of a broader anarchist movement. That may be down to the somewhat fractured nature of anarchist activism at the current time. We may be naïve but we hope that this year’s bookfair might see the first steps towards some degree of unity with more of an emphasis on class politics…

We recognise there are anarchists who do not share our analysis or approach…we don’t have a problem with that. Achieving radical change requires a variety of different approaches, depending on the circumstances prevailing. Despite our having a reputation of sometimes being a bit stroppy, we’re actually willing to listen to different viewpoints and learn from the experiences of others. We also welcome constructive criticism and reasonable debate as well. However, what we do not welcome is intellectual point scoring on the one hand and sneering abuse on the other – if that’s all you have to offer, please don’t bother coming over to our stall!

Silenced

A few posts back, we wrote about the frustrations that the Vange Hill Community Group and Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) have been having in dealing with Basildon Council and the other authorities and agencies who are (supposedly) responsible for the ¾ estate in Vange: At the risk of endlessly repeating ourselves…https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/10/17/at-the-risk-of-endlessly-repeating-ourselves/ We made it crystal clear at the end of this post that both the Vange Hill Community Group and BASHA want a constructive working relationship with Basildon Council. After all, in theory, the council are supposed to be servants of the people and part of that should involve working co-operatively with local residents.

Well, it would seem that Basildon Council are in no mood to co-operate in any way, shape or form as you can see from the communications sent by Basildon Council below

This was sent to the Vange Hill Community Group:

Dear Xx Xxxxxxxx,

Many thanks for your further email. I am particularly keen to work with you, both individually and as part of the Vange Hill Drive community group.

Please combine your service requests into one email, sent to me weekly, to enable me to enact resources in the most effective way and to ensure that works are completed in the correct timescales. This is over and above what we would normally provide residents with, and I hope that this shows how committed I am to working with you to ensure that we can work towards a cleaner Vange Hill Drive estate.

Kind Regards,

James

…and this was sent to BASHA:

Dear Xx Xxxxx

I am writing to acknowledge receipt of the below email and to advise you that with immediate effect, the Council will only respond to one email per month from you. The email from you may contain a service request if it relates to your household only. Any further emails you send in will be acknowledged but no reply will be provided.

We have chosen to take this action as your contact with the Council is excessive and the content of your email (particularly cutting and pasting facebook messages and phrases such as ‘If you cannot do your job I suggest you fall on your sword and resign’) is found to be unnecessary. The Council’s limited resource is spending a disproportionate amount of time on dealing with your correspondence and cannot be maintained.

We will monitor your level of contact for the next three months and if no improvement is made we will further restrict your access.

Yours Sincerely,

James

Thank you Basildon Council, you’re about as much help as a kick in the nether regions! The offer was made to put aside previous differences, meet face to face and start to build a constructive working relationship – this is how the council responded. When we make political points about the system of governance we have not being fit for purpose, it’s not empty rhetoric – it’s based on bitter experience. Until power can be brought right down to the grassroots allowing residents to have real control over how their estates and neighbourhoods are managed, this is the kind of obstructive, arrogant conduct we have to deal with from those who claim they have the right to run our affairs…

At the risk of endlessly repeating ourselves…

We’d like to draw the attention of the relevant Basildon Council officers and the ward councillors for the area covering the ¾ estate in Vange to this list of posts we’ve written about the issues on the estate and the frustrations the residents are experiencing in trying to resolve them:

Stop moving the sodding goalposts!https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/10/06/stop-moving-the-sodding-goalposts/
Falling apart…an update:(https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/09/23/falling-apart-2/
Admit it…you need us!https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/09/20/admit-it-you-need-us/
Doing it for ourselves (because no one else will!)https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/doing-it-for-ourselves-because-no-one-else-will/
Evading responsibilityhttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/08/20/evading-responsibility/
The fightback starts nowhttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/08/02/the-fightback-starts-now/

For a blog that has only been going since February and which covers an area stretching from Southend in the east to Dagenham in the west, this is a heck of a lot of posts about one estate! We shouldn’t have to be writing these posts. If Basildon Council officers, the local ward councillors, Essex County Council and both the Circle and Swan housing associations were doing their jobs properly, the ¾ estate wouldn’t be experiencing anything like the problems it has.

To all of the agencies and the ward councillors involved, we ask you to listen to the residents and don’t dismiss their concerns, fob them off with excuses, give them the runaround or treat them with contempt. Remember, you’re supposed to be the servants of the people, not their masters.

When things do eventually get done on the ¾ estate, all too often it’s been after persistent nagging and pressure that creates mistrust and bad blood between residents on the one hand and council officers, councillors and housing association staff on the other. It shouldn’t have to be like this. We know that both the Vange Hill Community Group and Basildon & Southend Housing Action would prefer a co-operative working relationship with Basildon Council, Essex County Council and the relevant ward councillors.

The offer is on the table… Forget about what’s gone on in the past, get round a table, talk the issues through face to face, show residents you’re serious about working in partnership with them and let’s make a new start with a clean slate. It shouldn’t be that hard should it?

We’ll be at the London Anarchist Bookfair on Saturday 28th October

With our friends from Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA), we’ll be jointly running a stall at this year’s London Anarchist Bookfair. The venue is Park View School, West Green Road, London, N15 3QR and the bookfair runs from 10am – 7pm.

Why are we going? Firstly to talk to people about our community focused politics and actions, and the need to work from the grassroots upwards in our neighbourhoods if we’re serious about fundamental change. Secondly to boost the audience for all of the South Essex Radical Media blogs and publications, and hopefully get some donations to help with the cost of running and producing them:) Thirdly, to build alliances with any like-minded groups who share our approach and tactics in the project of building a movement for change. Finally, we also hope to be able to meet up with our supporters at the bookfair to plan and plot for the future…

We’re attending the bookfair because we try as much as we can to operate on anarchist principles. However, we can’t really say with our hands on our hearts that we really feel we’re part of the broader anarchist movement. That is partially down to our geographical isolation out on the Essex shore of the Thames estuary which means we can operate in a more flexible way if it means we get results and can build useful alliances.

Also, when we have been out on the streets during the course of this year, apart from a few outings with our friends from Class War, we’ve been out and about with a range of groups who don’t really see themselves as anarchists. United Voices of the World: Unions take note…this is how you take action!https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/10/01/unions-take-note-this-is-how-you-take-action/ and Focus E15: Marching from tower to towerhttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/08/14/marching-from-tower-to-tower/ are two of the groups we’ve been out with.

Basically, it’s showing solidarity with people who really are at the sharp end of what a dysfunctional society has to throw at them but who’ve no intention of taking it and fight back instead. In these circumstances, as far as we’re concerned, solidarity is considerably more important than ideological purity…

To conclude, the whole point of an anarchist bookfair is to have a space for constructive debate so we can all move forwards. We feel that a point has been reached where some serious soul searching is needed as to how we can make anarchism relevant to working class people…

Stop moving the sodding goalposts!

This is what we’ve written about the Vange ¾ estate over the last few months as part of our commitment to supporting the work of the Vange Hill Community Grouphttps://www.facebook.com/groups/180311358699122/

Falling apart…an update:(https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/09/23/falling-apart-2/
Admit it…you need us!https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/09/20/admit-it-you-need-us/
Doing it for ourselves (because no one else will!)https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/doing-it-for-ourselves-because-no-one-else-will/
Evading responsibilityhttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/08/20/evading-responsibility/
The fightback starts nowhttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/08/02/the-fightback-starts-now/

Basildon & Southend Housing Action – https://www.facebook.com/basacton/ – and now the Vange Hill Community Group have been bending over backwards in trying to encourage residents to put out their rubbish on the right day, correctly sorted and in the right location. Sounds easy doesn’t it? All that’s needed is for Basildon Council to come up with a clear set of guidelines for residents to follow and the problem of uncollected rubbish will be solved once and for all.

Cue manic laughter… FFS, getting blood out of a stone would be considerably easier that getting a straightforward, comprehensible rubbish collection protocol from Basildon Council that leaves residents and council operatives in no doubt as to what needs to be done! Seriously, how hard is it for council officers to come up with a rubbish collection protocol that residents and operatives can understand and implement? We’re not talking about anything complicated here – we’re talking about one of the basic functions that people expect their councils to be able execute efficiently and without any dramas.

It seems that every time Basildon Council have been contacted over this, the answers have been contradictory, evasive and misleading. They keep moving the sodding goalposts! The council need to bear in mind that they’re dealing with community groups who want to do the right thing and get the rubbish collection problems on the Vange ¾ estate resolved once and for all. Groups that would like to work with the council to make life better on the estate rather than having to battle them all of the time.

We don’t want to be pushed into a position where we have to name the council officers who we think need to pull their weight but the time has come… James Hendry, please give the Vange Hill Community Group a) a clear, understandable rubbish collection policy that residents and council operatives can implement and b) give the Vange Hill Community Group the respect they deserve for trying their hardest to make their estate a better place to live…