Category: Comment

An explanation…

We’d like to apologise for the dearth of posts on this blog since the start of the month. This is down to us being busy, writing, laying out, reviewing and then scrapping and starting all over again the process of producing the next Stirrer paper. It’s not been an easy process in any way, shape or form!

Part of that is down to the fact that there’s so much we could write about, we honestly don’t know where to start! Another factor is that with the next edition of the Stirrer paper which is due to hit the streets in early September, we were writing it with the London Anarchist Bookfair (Saturday 28th October) in mind where we have a stall. That meant writing a paper for two different target audiences.

One of those audiences has had enough of the way things are going and wants some inspiration on how they can start to change things on their estate, in their neighbourhood or in their workplace. The other audience are the people who attend the London Anarchist Bookfair, some of who understand where we’re coming from and support what we’re trying to do at the grassroots and some who to be perfectly honest, we’re starting to have some real problems with…

As you can imagine, producing a paper to satisfy both of those audiences is nigh on impossible! So, we’re going to re-write the Stirrer paper so it’s pitched at our local audience but we will be getting extra copies printed for the bookfair so attendees can get an idea of what we think a grassroots paper should look like – this will be our usual four page format As well as that, we’re going to produce a two page newsletter aimed specifically at the bookfair audience explaining where we’re coming from politically and outlining some of our frustrations with the anarchist movement.

The two pager aimed at the London Anarchist Bookfair audience will be us living up to our name of the ‘Stirrer’. It may not win us a lot of friends and may even make us a few enemies but hey ho, sometimes you have to stick your head above the parapet, tell a few home truths and take the risk. Unlike the normal edition of the Stirrer, this paper will not being going up online as a PDF until after 28th October so if you want to see what we have to say, feel free to visit our stall at the bookfair.

EVERYTHING TO GAIN (and everything to lose)

We’re entering a period of instability – all that’s solid seems to be melting into air. With an indecisive election and Brexit negotiations descending to the level of farce, our so called rulers look weaker and more divided than ever before. The faction ridden ruling elite of this country have embarked on the first stages of Brexit negotiations with no clear idea of what they want or how they’re going to get it. A fractured so called party of government seems to be more fixated on who’s going to replace the hapless Theresa May as prime minister and leader rather than getting it’s head around understanding exactly what Brexit entails.

A breakdown of trust

At local council level, councillors and council officers all too often are found to be self serving and incompetent. The Grenfell Tower disaster showed up the so called ruling elite at the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea as arrogant, out of touch and uncaring – it was ordinary people on the ground who took over the initial relief and recovery effort while the authorities floundered around.

Across the south of Essex, we struggle to find anyone who has a good word to say about their local authorities. Southend Council are obsessed with pointless vanity projects such as the museum on the cliff top instead of addressing the homelessness crisis in the town. Basildon Council can’t even organise a weekly rubbish collection on estates such as the ¾ in Vange without leaving bags of uncollected rubbish strewn all over the place. Thurrock Council are in full control freak mode attempting to dictate which media outlets can and can’t report on their proceedings and refusing members of campaign groups the right to ask questions at council meetings. People are losing what little faith they had in local councils to do the job of serving the public…

Whether, it’s at national or local level, trust in governance is declining, yet nothing appears to be happening to bring about real change. Much of the left has been subsumed into the bizarre cult of Jeremy Corbyn, buying into the deluded notion that should he manage to form a government, everything will be all right. The Corbynistas need to take a look at the dismal record of London Labour councils when it comes to socially cleansing the working class from London in the name of ‘regeneration’ – maybe that would give them the reality check they need. Everyone else appears to be just hunkering down and getting on with things as best they can…

There has to be a challenge

While the powers that be are divided and appear to be blundering from one crisis to another without a clue as to where they’re going or what they’re doing, they’ll continue to get away with it until there’s a serious challenge from below. At the moment there appears to be no sense of an opposition that can pose a real threat to the status quo, let alone a desire to move beyond the dysfunctional world we have to endure and build a more just, equitable and sustainable one. While this state of affairs continues, the ruling class can stagger from one crisis to the next safe in the knowledge that in the form of the state, they have the monopoly on the force that’s needed to keep their grip on power, regardless of how tenuous that may seem to be.

While the majority of people are under the illusion that things will be all right and thinks that the third of society that’s suffering needs to get its act together, there will never be a serious challenge to the system. Should things go seriously wrong as a result of another financial crisis or the Brexit process leading to a black swan event, then a large proportion of the population will be screwed. If there’s no significant radical movement in place by that point, we’re in serious trouble.

With the ruling class as divided as it is now, we have the best opportunity there’s been for a long while to build a movement that will bring about fundamental change through collective struggle. That movement can only be built from the grassroots upwards – waiting for the messiah in the form of Jeremy Corbyn will not bring about the change that’s needed. As the title of this piece says, there’s everything to gain if we can get our act together and build that movement. If we can’t, then as the bracketed subtitle suggests, there’s everything to lose…

Are Thurrock Council really interested in your views?

At this week’s meeting of Thurrock Council, the proposals for the Lower Thames Crossing were up for discussion for the first time since Highways England announced they would opt for Route C, running just west of Orsett, skirting round Chadwell St Mary to cross the river between Tilbury and East Tilbury. Feelings were running high at the meeting as campaigners against the crossing in the public gallery were prevented from asking questions and speaking: Thurrock Council meeting suspended after Lower Thames Crossing campaigners express their outragehttp://www.thurrockgazette.co.uk/news/15436135.VIDEO__Council_meeting_suspended_after_Thames_Crossing_campaigners_express_their_outrage_before_being_escorted_out/

The Tory leader of the council, Cllr. Rob Gledhill, presented a report setting out the authority’s next moves and creating a Lower Thames Crossing task force to lead their response. The council claim they want to listen to the views of residents on the crossing, however when George Abbott, the leader of the Thames Crossing Action Group requested to speak to the meeting, he was denied permission. The action group has over 9000 members on its Facebook page so it should have been considered influential enough to be allowed a voice at the meeting. The council didn’t see it that way and for reasons beyond us mere mortals, saw fit to deny George Abbott and other members of the action group a voice.

As you can see from the video clip in the Gazette piece, George Abbott was understandably not best pleased at being denied the right to speak to the meeting. Let’s just take a step back here and look at what Thurrock Council did… Despite claiming they want to listen to the views of residents about the crossing, they denied the leader of the action group the right to address the council. When George Abbott questioned that, the council meeting was suspended and security were called in to escort supporters of the action group out of the meeting.

To our eyes, this is the council wanting to control the narrative right down to the last full stop and comma and silence anyone asking difficult questions. This episode is not the first instance of Thurrock Council’s tendency to be control freaks. This is what we had to say a few weeks back about a proposal by the council to decide which news outlets could or couldn’t report on their proceedings: Thurrock Council in control freak modehttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/07/03/thurrock-council-in-control-freak-mode/

We can’t help coming to the conclusion that Thurrock Council’s objections to the river crossing are mere window dressing and that they’re coming under pressure from central government and the Tory MP for Thurrock, Jackie Doyle-Price, to not rock the boat. After the fiasco at these week’s council meeting our advice to the anti-crossing campaigners would be to not trust Thurrock Council as far as they could throw them…

Falling apart…

Back in March, we wrote about the complex planning chain involving the housing development at Dry Street, the re-location of the Basildon campus of South Essex College to the current site of Basildon Market and the re-location of the market to St. Martin’s Square: A breakdown in the chain?https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/03/27/a-breakdown-in-the-chain/ Well, evidence is growing that there really is a break in the chain, one that centres around the fate of the Basildon campus of South Essex College…

We noted with interest this comment on the GAG2011 Facebook page:
Are South Essex College actually quitting Basildon leaving behind a mess? They were the key factor in the Nethermayne /Dry Street development. The plan to sell the current college land and relocate to the town centre was essential for the development to go ahead. Basildon Council agreed to move the market and allow a new college to be built. Basildon Council were so committed they even got Essex CC to give them more money when they ran out of cash relocating the market. Phase 2 of the development which involves demolition of the college has now been granted but there is no sign of a new one and now the college is in special measures. So are the young people of Basildon going to lose the college altogether? We want to know!
Now in a previous guise, we’ve had our differences with GAG2011 over tactics but what we like about them is that they are pretty thorough when it comes to researching stuff and backing up statements with facts. So their comment above has to be taken seriously. Whether Basildon Council (and South Essex College for that matter) will ever come up with a straight answer is however, another matter…

South Essex College are currently in special measures – https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/628656/SFA-Current_Notices_of_Concern_and_Serious_Breach-Issue-17-July_2017_fin….pdf With Phase Two of the housing development at Dry Street having received detailed planning permission, logically the demolition of the current site of the college should be getting underway at some point. However, work on the re-location of the market is proceeding at a snail’s pace and there’s no sign of any progress being made on re-locating the college to the town centre. There’s growing speculation that there may be no long term future for South Essex College in Basildon…

It’s well worth reading the comments below the post quoted above on the GAG2011 Facebook page as they reveal a total breakdown of trust in the planning system and a considerable degree of cynicism about the integrity of local government. A growing number of people are coming to the realisation that Basildon Council have pulled the wool over people’s eyes regarding this planning chain that has resulted in the destruction of much loved open space at Dry Street and the desecration of St. Martin’s Square. It looks as though the council (and the college) could well deservedly become victims of their own hubris…

Out of sight, out of mind…

That has up until now, generally been the attitude of Thurrock Council when it comes to dealing with the growing problem of flytipping down alleyways across the borough. The attitude was that if it can’t be seen from the road, it’s not a problem, even though the lives of residents have been blighted by the alleyways behind their houses being blocked by flytipped trash. Well, according to this piece on Your Thurrock, the council may be having a change of mind about this: Thurrock Council pledge to undertake fly-tipping reviewhttp://www.yourthurrock.com/2017/07/17/thurrock-council-pledge-undertake-fly-tipping-review/ Mind you, it’s only a review so let’s not get too excited that we might be moving towards a solution on this…

On the subject of solutions, we’re reproducing in full a comment left after the Your Thurrock piece which makes some very useful practical suggestions but also expresses the poster’s utter frustration in dealing with the council:
1. Fire gates either end with keys distributed to all households. 2. Organising residents who wish to maintain the alleyways. 3. Up north most alleyways are now small communal gardens made by the residents. 4. Clean, organised alleyways deter dumping as tippers know they’re being watched. It also deters residents from dumping out their back gate. 5. Making the resident responsible for their allotted area of alleyway also helps. 6. Lighting would be good too as this seems to deter the drug users. Some councils have employed solar lighting to deter these and fly tippers. 7. Portable CCTV can be employed, again tippers never know if the cameras are live or not. Most people who live with alleyways behind their properties are sick of all the dumping and fly tipping. We live on one that when we moved in in 2000 was a lovely little alley, well kept and maintained. We have motorcycles that we store in the back of the garden and it was easy to get them out. Now it’s impossible to even walk down these alleys. We have contacted the council on numerous occasions telling of the needles from drug use in the alley, but they said they sent someone to a look, bit of a lie, as I was around when the inspector viewed it and he stood at the top of the alley then got in his car and drove off. I was told he even picked up some discarded needles. Oh no he didn’t. We, the neighbours have removed the needles ourselves. We even had a cat come home with one stuck in his paw. The trouble with this council is the attitude of “If it cannot be seen from the road, we do nothing”. That was exactly the words used when we complained over two years ago. As for our councillors, I have mailed all of them and had no reply. One was too busy being Mayor (Cathy Kent as mentioned in this article), the other (her husband) running for MP, and the third I don’t even know who he is. Waste of space if you ask me. Well, there you go. You want comments, now you hear it from the streets affected. I bet I’m not the only one that’s so angry with the “Clean up the Town and forget the outskirts” mentality of the council. Oh, and by the way, Mrs Kent. we now have spilled oil, welding gas canister, 3 bed frames plus mattresses, a couple of fridges, a washing machine and a sofa. There will be a TV next week, we’ll have all we need to set up home right there in the back alley. Coming round for tea? No, I thought not.
robbiep

Looking at the tenure of properties in areas affected by flytipping may also be an idea. From when we’ve been doing door-to-door deliveries of the Stirrer paper, it seems that there are some areas with a lot of buy to let properties with a fair few being rented out on short term leases. Add in an element of landlords who cut corners and get away with the bare minimum they’re obliged to do with some blatantly flouting the rules, then you may well have an explanation for where at least some of the flytipping is coming from. Whether Thurrock Council are prepared to spend time and resources chasing up rogue landlords is however, another matter.

As we’ve written before, a large number of buy to let properties in a neighbourhood is going to cause problems, particularly if a fair number of them are on short term leases: Where the new town dream has died…https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/07/06/where-the-new-town-dream-has-died/ With people constantly moving in and out, there’s no community spirit or sense of belonging which is why flytipping becomes a major issue because the flytippers sense that no one cares and that they can get away with it. It goes back to the long term project of trying to rebuild community solidarity and addressing issues of tenure to introduce an element of stability back into neighbourhoods affected by these issues. That however, is unlikely to happen this side of a major political, social and economic change…

Keeping up appearances

We noted with interest this piece on Your Thurrock on how Thurrock Council are preparing themselves for the future as funding from central government continues to be slashed year on year: Thurrock Council finance boss looks to a future of “not a penny from the government”http://www.yourthurrock.com/2017/07/14/thurrock-council-finance-boss-looks-future-not-penny-government/ Obviously a Tory run council isn’t going to be challenging the narrative from a Tory government about continuing austerity and will be more than happy to implement an agenda of cuts…

In a period where Thurrock Council make no secret of the measures they’re having to take to bring expenditure down while building up their cash reserves, it’s not surprising that people are starting to ask some searching questions about spending priorities. Where we live in Stanford-le-Hope, we can’t help noticing that the council appear to have gone into overdrive (resources permitting) on their cleaning and greening agenda with verges getting regularly cut and Ruskin Road Park looking better than it has done for a long time. The people we know in the area have picked up on this and half jokingly have been asking ‘when is the royal visit happening?’

When the talk a couple of years back was about handing over pretty much every public space for resident led groups to run (as has happened at Hardie Park in Stanford-le-Hope) in a bid to save as much money as possible, it now seems that the money is there for them to be maintained to a reasonable standard. The answer to that is that it’s about surface appearances. What residents and visitors to the area see are the pavements, verges and parks and that goes a fair way to forming their impression of what Thurrock is like as a place to live and work. Hence the effort and money that’s being spent on what to all intents and purposes, is keeping up appearances.

Unless you have an ill or elderly resident in need of a care package from social services, what is provided in this sector is hidden from a large section of the public. These are services that most people don’t pay much attention to until they’re in the unfortunate situation where they have to turn to them. When they do turn to what are increasingly outsourced social services, all too often they’re found to be inadequate. As most of this suffering takes place in private away from the public eye, it’s one area where cuts can be made and corners cut because by and large, the council can get away with it.

In a political, economic and social climate where people are judged by the contribution they make to the bottom line through work, anyone who for whatever reason isn’t working, is seen as a burden on society. When those out of work are forced to turn to social services for support, they are demonised as ‘scroungers’. With these attitudes, it’s not hard to see that the axe will fall on services being provided to people that elite elements in our dysfunctional, dystopian society see as ‘undeserving’. So when you see the trimmed verges and cleaner parks across Thurrock, don’t be deceived by appearances because there is a lot of hidden suffering under the surface…

Eight weeks!

This story from the Echo pretty much sums up the problems experienced by residents on the ¾ estate in Vange: Rubbish left to fester for 8 weeks in bin shed as rats and maggots enjoy the messhttp://www.echo-news.co.uk/news/15387717.Rubbish_left_to_fester_for_8_weeks_in_bin_shed_as_rats_and_maggots_enjoy_the_mess/ The rubbish has now been cleared but the fact it was left for eight weeks speaks volumes about the attitude of Basildon Council and Circle Anglia Housing (they ‘manage’ the social housing on the estate) to the residents of the ¾ estate. Basically, they don’t give a s**t!

Regarding the accumulation of rubbish that was left for eight weeks, this statement from Basildon Council is telling: “The bin shed is owned and operated by Circle Anglia Housing and it is for the managing agents of the properties to allow the council access to empty the bins. This includes the removal of dumped large items”. As ever, the problem is being batted back and forth between a council that doesn’t give a s**t and a housing association that’s not noted for its transparency and listening to their residents when they express concerns. If either of these two actually cared about the residents, they would have been on the case after the first report of a missed collection to work together to resolve the issue rather than pointing fingers at each other like two naughty kids in class trying to avoid being blamed by the teacher for misbehaviour!

So as well as working with residents to organise a community clean up, it looks as though our friends from Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) will need to be getting on the cases of both Basildon Council and Circle Anglia Housing to get them to pull their socks up. There is some good news however – residents have set up the Vange Hill Community Grouphttps://www.facebook.com/groups/180311358699122/ – in a bid to turn round the fortunes of the estate by lobbying the council, Circle Housing and re-building community spirit and morale. If you live on the ¾ estate and care about its future, join this group and help them to improve life in the area…

Where the new town dream has died…

On Wednesday 5th July, we started distributing the Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) flyer depicted below. Our first port of call was the ¾ estate in Vange. This was my first visit back to the ¾ estate for a couple of years and I was shocked at the state of the place…it’s way worse than anything I’ve ever seen in London… The ¾ estate has more than it’s fair share of problems ranging from neglect by Basildon Council and the shadowy, less than transparent operation of Circle Housing through to anti-social behaviour and what to all intents and purposes, looks like a collapse of community morale…

One of the problems on the ¾ estate is tenure… A lot of houses were brought by their tenants when the right to buy came in. The problem is that a few decades later, many of these properties have been brought up by buy to let landlords…some of who are total scumbags. Anecdotal evidence suggests that tenancies on a fair number of the buy to let homes are on short leases. One elderly resident we talked to said there were ‘a lot of comings and goings’… The feeling among the few long standing residents who remain is that the sense of community that used to be found on the estate disappeared long ago as the number of people moving in and out on short term leases increased. Instead of neighbourliness and solidarity, there’s fear, suspicion and a collapse of morale…

Then there’s the neglect by Basildon Council. Perhaps we should send them a map of the ¾ estate to remind them the place exists? There are issues with rubbish collection which have been going on for years and show no sign of ever being resolved. There are broken kerbs and potholes everywhere. As for the walkways and steps, apart from the fact that they appear to be going back to nature as the grass and weeds take over, there are numerous uneven and broken paving slabs that mean you need to keep your eye on where you’re walking to avoid tripping over…

Okay, that’s the public areas…another issue is the state of a significant minority of the homes on the estate… The phrase ‘no one gives a f***ing s**t’ and ‘how the f*** can people live like this?’ were being uttered by my comrade at frequent intervals as we delivered the flyers. A few properties looked as though their residents cared and still had some pride. A significant minority of them had overgrown, rubbish strewn, dog s**t covered front gardens. Granted, a lot of properties are on short term leases but…can the tenants not show some respect for their neighbours by at least making an effort to keep things tidy? It’s not just short term tenants who are the problem – we know there’s a significant minority of long term tenants who also appear to have given up making any effort to keep up appearances.

Morale on the ¾ estate has collapsed. It’s a massive task to try and turn the whole of the ¾ estate round and we (BASHA and the Stirrer) haven’t got the resources to do that. However, there’s one small corner where we have got a couple of contacts and we’re going to work with them on a community clean up. We’re talking about a strategy of turning round one small corner of the estate and using that as an example that we hope will eventually spread. At the same time, we’re going to start building up a picture of the tenure patterns on the ¾ estate, paying particular attention to the element of buy to let landlords who are taking the p***.

By initiating a community clean up in one small corner of the ¾ estate, we hope to start the long slog of re-building community morale and solidarity. Watch this space for developments…

Dave (the editor)

The weird cult of Jeremy Corbyn

After the general election, I naively thought that we had reached the point of peak Corbyn and that elements of the left and other radicals would start to think a bit more independently again. Far from that happening, to all intents and purposes, the mania about Corbyn seems to intensified to the point where it has become a cult…a disturbing and weird one…

This was brought home to me on Saturday July 1st when, for the purposes of reporting the event and showing solidarity with any independently minded elements, I attended the Tories Out! Protest organised by the People’s Assembly. If you didn’t know anything about UK politics and saw the name People’s Assembly, you would assume that it was a left wing front representing a fairly broad range of opinions on that end of the political spectrum. Not a bit of it, the People’s Assembly is nothing more than the Jeremy Corbyn fan club. In fact it could well be argued that they do not represent the people in any way shape or form…

As for the Tories Out! protest, apart from a small autonomous block, a few other small, independently minded groups such as Class War and some individual renegades who all grouped together on the march, it was one massive Corbyn love-fest from start to finish. There were endless chants of ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ pretty much from the off. Thousands and thousands of people putting their faith in one political leader and pretty much abandoning any vestige of independent thought let alone, autonomous grassroots action that has some relevance to the daily experience of most working class people.

I can normally tell if a protest like Tories Out! is going to be a large, because when there are huge London protests, there will be people getting on at various points along the c2c line to go to it. I didn’t see anyone getting on at any point on my journey into Fenchurch Street who looked like they would be attending Tories Out! As per usual, the train pretty much emptied at West Ham as most people piled off to go up to Westfield at Stratford for some retail therapy…

My guess about the numbers on Tories Out! is that the attendance was around the twenty thousand mark. Most of the attendees were the usual suspects plus people who have been swept up by the cult of Corbyn. It felt like a very middle class affair with lots of well meaning people but apart from a few of us renegades, little or nothing in the way of anger. Apart from a small autonomous block, the anarchist presence was pretty much zero. The working class presence was also pretty low as well. It’s pretty obvious by now that Corbyn is pitching for the young middle class vote and that everyone else is expected to fulfil their allotted tasks in securing that to ensure his victory.

Halfway down the Haymarket, a few of us had reached the point where listening to one more chant of ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ would have pushed us over the edge so we departed for the pub. In the pub, the idea was hatched that a few people from Class War should go down to Parliament Square and get as close as possible to Corbyn to tell him a few home truths about the complicity of London Labour councils in social cleansing in the name of ‘regeneration’. Suffice to say, the plan was executed and not only did we manage to get the point across to Corbyn, prior to that we also encountered Len McCluskey as well – two for the price of one!

Needless to say, McCluskey and Corbyn weren’t best pleased at being called out on the dismal, anti-working class attitude of London Labour councils who are cosying up to the property developers. The Trots, stewards and Corbyn worshippers weren’t all that pleased at our intervention either. However, far from the metaphorical lynching I was expecting, there were people who were curious about what we had to say and there was a range of encounters and discussions with a few Class War papers getting handed out as well. All in all, it was a worthwhile intervention…

As for the cult of Corbyn, what has to be born in mind is that it is just that and doesn’t have a wide social base outside of the liberally educated, young middle class. The cult of Corbyn exists in a self reinforcing bubble that is apart from the day to day reality of most working class people. Hardly anyone on the estates in Thurrock and Basildon is talking about Corbyn – he’s simply not relevant to their lives. There’s still a massive political vacuum to be filled…

Dave (the editor)