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Southwark by gaslight
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Southwark by gaslight

Every now and again, whether in press or a formal document, we come across a phrase that makes us want to throw things at the speaker(s). Sometimes the phrase will be deliberately othering, as in 'benefit tourists' or 'health tourists'; sometimes it's just meaningless spin, eg 'fairer for all'.

We have put together some of the things we saw and heard over the years but would welcome any other examples, definitions and interpretations you may have come across (simply comment on the article or send us an email).

Imagine you bump into someone you had not seen in a while, and they start telling you what they've been up to, and at one point you realise you're not quite sure what they're saying, so you go, 'What do you mean?' and they explain, because they want to continue talking with you.

Imagine then a local council claims to invites you (allegedly anyway) to talk with them about an issue, eg a planning policy document. And you listen to what they're saying and you come across something you're not quite sure about, and you ask them to explain.

This is pretty much what we did, back in 2009, when we took part in the council's consultation on the draft Core Strategy (key strategic planning policy document). We were not at all familiar with the language of planning and, after clarifying a few specialist terms ('local development framework', 'development plan document' etc), we were keen to understand the rest of the document too.

There was a lot of talk about 'community' and 'communities' in the document. The community can be 'mixed', 'diverse' and/or 'vibrant'. Council was keen to 'create mixed communities' but at no point within the 200+ page document gave anything resembling a definition of a mixed community. If you do not say what a mixed community is, is it because you cannot or you will not? If you cannot say what it is, how can you tell if any one other, especially existing, community, is mixed or not mixed, or not mixed enough? How is a mixed community different from a diverse one? What makes a community vibrant? Are there target levels for diversity, vibrancy and mixedness? How do you quantify any one of the three 'types'? Can they be quantified? If the three different ideas of community are not based on or supported by facts, what are they based on?

If the council does not say what they mean, is it because they cannot or they will not?

There was at least one reference to an “excellently designed tall building”. Was this Bill & Ted's excellent contribution to Southwark planning? How does the height affect levels of excellence of building design?

In 2009, the council was going to 'encourage the reputation' of Camberwell as a place full of arts and artists. How do you encourage a reputation? What happens when you encourage it just a little bit or when you do a hell of a lot of encouraging? (Incidentally, this 'encouragement' of Camberwell's 'reputation' in practice translated into the council's planning department allowing a developer to first promise to rebuild artists' studios then, when developer pleaded non-viability, allowing them to buiild more, unaffordable, homes instead)

Fast forward to an elections hustings event in 2010, when council 'resident involvement officers' are prompted (by a councillor?) to 'give advice' about how a hustings event should be run. It is of note that the council officers involved had no right to do anything of the sort, and they may well have acted unlawfully and in a discriminatory fashion. The electoral commission, a national body, have clear guidelines which do not rely or in any shape or form need approval or interpetation by local council officers. The council officers advised the TRA (tenants and residents' association) and not the organisers of the event, that it must ensure a number of things:

The T&RA must

- ensure that they are satisfied that all the prospective candidates, from all parties and independent, have been invited

- that publicity has gone out as widely as possible within the relevant ward

- that the meeting is chaired fairly and preferably by a T&RA ` committee member

- that all candidates are given the same amount of time to speak and the same amount of question and answer time”

(the quote is from the original email from a council officer)

Surely, 'must' is usually used for orders and not advice?

It gets better, as the officer's manager expands to say that,

We need to ensure that TRA's behave in a non-party political manner at all times and especially at this time when local - and national - elections are being held.

A TRA stands for Tenants and Residents' Association. Unless a specific reference is made to its committee, TRA is shorthand for all of the people living on a council estate. So the quote could be rephrased to say, 'We need to ensure that all of the people living on a council estate behave in a non-party political manner at all times and especially at this time when local and national elections are being held.'

Which is a bit sinister, no? Nobody living on a council estate should be supporting any one political party (majority of people living on council estates will be council tenants, disabled, unemployed, elderly, single parents, low income and/or keyworkers etc; do we not have a right to a (party) political opinion?) Should we all be discouraged from voting at local and national elections as our votes would be against the council's 'ensuring'? If our votes are irrelevant or unneccessary, who is electing the local politicians? Is there a huge team of council officers monitoring every single one of tens of thousands of us living on council estates in case we behave in a party political manner?

And it gets better still, when the manager adds

As previously mentioned, TRA Hall useage by candidates need to be non party political” - 'candidates' referred to here were the people (most of whom belonged to a political party) standing in the local elections. How they can 'represent' their party at elections or election events by being non-party political is anyone's guess.

Any one 'consultation' (or the alleged invitation to talk about and comment on any one common issue or proposal) is bound to be, offensively, little more than a sales exercise. Most of the time there is an 'overwhelming support' for whatever it was (and this literally is whatever, often borderline fantasy) the officials proposed, even if the number of those consulted was insultingly low and even if the number of 'supporters' is even lower; even if the number of people opposing the proposal is ten or 20 or 30 times bigger than that of the 'supporters' and so on.

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(images borrowed from Save the Peckham Arch campaign)

Too consistent to be accidental?

Everybody hates a tourist

For quite some time, the main stream media and main stream politicians have been warning us about the devastations up and down the country caused by the, on average, a gazillion of benefit and/or health tourists. As there is a gazillion of them, they are absolutely everywhere you care to look, shamelessly touristing around and stealing our health and our benefits and e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g.

This narrative is of course totally opposite of the one in which 'tourists' are good, why, the royal family alone brings in tens of gazillions of tourists and their money absolutely all of the time, right? What none of us ever get to hear is what we should do about, say, 'profit tourists' (eg people who are buying off chunks of London and the rest of the country as investments), or 'greed tourists' (eg people who travel to the City/Canary Wharf to gamble with other people's money), or 'power tourists' (eg those who will say anything to advance their political careers).

The 'tourist' is always 'less worthy' than the speaker, 'less human'. Once their 'less human' state has been 'established', it is easy to dismiss their poor health or their dire poverty forcing them to leave their homes, their towns and countries, in search of some relief.

Is does all for Peter fairer everything says John the council

This, clearly scrambled, statement, is as meaningful as the original one. From as early as 2010, we think, Peter John, leader of the council, has been keen to convince anyone who'd listen how the pledges, promises and actions by his bunch are 'fairer for all'. We never felt terribly comortable with this grand statement, so we asked Peter John to explain what he meant. Which he did by never replying.

Selling off the Heygate at a loss is fairer for all?

Allowing Lendlease to 'depart' from the council's own policy on the minimum amount of 'affordable' homes they're meant to build so that Lendlease instead builds only 25% on the former Heygate (and only 79 in place of former 1,200 council homes), so that the 1,100 former Heygate residents, even if they wanted to exercise their 'right to return' would not be able to do so, is fairer for all?

Allowing Lendlease to not build a single affordable or a single council home on One the Elephant is fairer for all?

Evicting people from their homes on the Aylesbury, forcing them to move away from their friends, family, communities, jobs, making them iller and poorer in the process is fairer for all?

Charging council tax to disabled, unemployed and other people on benefits, making them iller and poorer in the process is fairer for all?

Evicting me from my home, away from my friends, family, my communities, my place of work, making me iller and poorer in the process, is fairer for me?

If I am not 'all' who is? Members of Southwark Labour Party? People who work at the council? All of the other people who live in Southwark except me? People who don't live in Southwark yet but will, once my home, my community and my life is destroyed?

Crazy ideas

A month or so ago, we were genuinely shocked to hear a local councillor make a reference to 'crazy ideas'. These, we found out, were proposals made by the people who live around the development area. There was nothing outlandish about the proposals we could find, so this could not have been the reason they were 'crazy'. Could it be that the proposals were 'crazy' because they came from the people who live in the area? Are all of the people who live in the area 'crazy' or only those who suggested alternative solutions? Are the people who live in an area 'crazy' only if they suggest alternatives?

(to be continued)

See also:

Terms of engagement (videos)

Unspeak

Notes from the resistance

 

 

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