An anarchist perspective on the London Mayoral Elections: ” We all know politicians are lying, corrupt, self-serving parasites – its time we let them know. This is our London, not their, their party’s or their paymasters’.
– noticeable that the Greens still get left out.
I stopped to chat to the Left List canvassers outside Leytonstone Station the other day greeting them with the line, “I thought you lot didn’t believe in bourgeois democracy”, which seemed to catch them slightly unawares. The SWP must have changed a bit since I was a lad when all SWSS members were thoroughly indoctrinated with the line on the futility of elections. I perused their stall, being a sucker for political paraphernalia, and looked at the latest edition of Socialist Studies that included an article on ‘Reality TV: the Big Brother phenomenon’. “What’s Big Brother got to do with socialism”, I scoffed, before noticing that the lady I was talking to, and at this point looking slightly sheepish, was former Big Brother contestant (and local celebrity) Carole Vincent.
“The London County Council is probably the most remarkable attempt of modern democracy to build a local governing machine which will produce a highly expert staff of bureaucratic specialists controlled by a general council elected by practically every class of the community. The achievements of the London County Council are the results of this great experiment in scientific democracy; whereby we often put in an illiterate slum elector at one end of the machine and turn out an expert administrator at the other.
So complicated has the art and science of government become since men ceased to be wandering hunters.”
G.R. Stirling Taylor, The London County Council (published in ‘Wonderful London Vol 3circa 1920))
the photo shows the Council Chamber at County Hall (before it was turned into an amusement arcade with a McDonalds
I went to the V&A the other week to catch Iain Sinclair and Will Self having a discussion about psychogeographic(al) writing. I should have blogged this ages ago, well 2 weeks ago when it happened, I know that’s the point of blogs. I’m not an obsessive blogger as you’ll be able to tell by flicking through previous posts.
Here’s a quick précis what was said.
Iain Sinclair again talked about the psycho-politics that he encountered in the mid-sixties. He’d brought this up at the ‘Ah Sunflower’ screening last year, by way of explaining his route into psychogeography. And also mentioned that at that time he’d been far more interested in Alfred Watkins than Guy Debord and was doing loads of Ridgeway walks right up to the time of writing ‘Lights Out for the Territory’. By way of a self-indulgent adjunct here, my own psychogeographic work in High Wycombe led me out to the Ridgeway by applying Sinclair’s idea of ‘nodules of energy’ to my home town. He neatly sums up the main thrust of psychogeographic writing as “the quest for quests”.
Will Self talks about the “power of walking’s destructive ability to destroy the fabric of how we are meant to live in cities.” This has a distinctly Debordian tone, and I might have misquoted him there as I can’t imagine such a skilled wordsmith using ‘destructive’ and ‘destroy’ in the same sentence.
Sinclair then invokes an older tradition, DeQuincy’s idea that within the labyrinth of London there is a north-west passage that takes you out of the city. A theme that was later picked up by Machen I think, in the ‘London Adventure’.
Iain also talked about the role that Thatcherism played in the psychogeographic revival of the late 1980’s as a form of “resurrected tools of resistance, psyche was summoned up”.
It was interesting to sit and listen with the other Magus of the Edgelands – Nick Papadimitriou. Both Iain Sinclair and Will Self mentioned Nick’s name at various points, the only person they both cited except for Debord. Nick resolutely denies the term, ‘psychogeography’ and deploys ‘psychogeographer’ as a pejorative with the same intensity as others invoke old English names for the female sex organs.
Nick was partly the reason for me not posting sooner. We had a day out filming for the documentary about him and his work. Reviewing some earlier footage I had come across him talking about Will Self’s ‘Interzone’ project from the 1980’s after I spotted a photo of a young Will leaning against a chainlink fence at Erith Marshes.
I’ve been mucking around with a website for National Psychogeographic, which although incomplete will grow, so by all means contact me with suggestions for content firstname.lastname@example.org
I was intrigued and amused to read the story in The Guardian today that a Channel4 Dispatches report had uncovered that our noble mayor had “links to a Trotskyite faction conspiring to transform London into a “socialist city state”.
I also used to know one of these alleged Trotskyites conspiring to Sovietise the capital of Capitalism as I was in the Labour Students with Simon Fletcher at City Poly back in the early nineties, when he was President of The Students Union and I was on the Executive and Chaired the Labour Club. If he is now a wild-eyed Trot then that would be quite a transformation – particularly for a fella now drawing a nice fat council tax subsidised salary that another old comrade speculated was in the region of 70-odd grand.
Lovely chap Simon as I remember him and I’d never want to been seen to besmirch his character in any way. But I sniggered into my coffee when I read the following beside a photo of a demonic looking Simon (he was a skinny lad at Poly, like an extra in a Smiths video – see photo, I’m on the right there and haven’t aged much better myself).
“The reports described how his chief-of-staff, Simon Fletcher, began his career working for Tony Benn and won a seat on Camden council in 1993 before becoming involved in Socialist Action. The faction, which sprang from a split in the International Marxist Group, aimed to reconcile its revolutionary programme with cooperation with the Labour party. Its critics claim Socialist Action decided to extend its influence by placing its members in positions of power in a number of organisations.”
Well surely the total failure of any kind of Left-wing influence in the Labour Party today at any level would be testament to the fact that Socialist Action have resolutely failed in their ambition. Hey, maybe they are running London after all, might explain the utter ineptitude of the GLA.
Simon the raging £70k-a-year Trot, was the fella that as President of the S.U. vehemently opposed the student protests that led to us occupying the Poly buildings for two weeks. He ironically viewed it as a Trotskyist manoeuvre and hated the Socialist Workers Party. He was a Bennite like many in the Labour Party at that time, myself included, but more than anything he gave the impression of being a careerist, and why not for a very bright bloke who got a First in Politics and lived and breathed the Labour Party.
I last saw him around the time of the last Mayoral elections looking only mildly embarrassed by Ken’s return to Party that he’d left along with thousands of other activists but who couldn’t bring themselves to rejoin the War Party.
I sense a good old fashioned smear campaign here – a return to Thatcherite style attacks on the Left, ‘Reds Under The Bed’ and all that. And it must just be over the limp Congestion Charge, because otherwise Ken is a model Quisling of the City corporations.
Needed to blow out the Crimbo cobwebs and the remnants of a belligerent stomach bug, so headed off for a wander. Instead of a write-up I’ve posted a video of the walk scored with a soundtrack I made before going with my old 12-string and a kids accordion.
Rummaging around in a pile of newspapers at home I came across an old copy of G2 contain a brilliant article by Hari Kunzru on the fight to save Francesca’s Cafe on Broadway Market. There was a wider battle against rent rises and an attempt to gentrify the market out of all recognition.
In the light of the discussion with ‘Curious’ Rainbow George on Saturday and the attempt to talk about a successful squatted campaign by George, I thought I’d post Kunzru’s follow-up article about the occupation of the cafe that lasted 4 months. Sadly they were evicted but it demonstrates that the smallest thing, such as the closure of a cafe, can sparked a strong and spirited campaign. It also gives a bit of context to the Class War march through Notting Hill on 3rd November.
A dispatch from Tony’s cafe
Thursday January 5, 2006
Though my corner of Hackney has yet to attain a Middle-Earth level of cosmic grandeur, the ongoing battle between local people and the forces of regeneration has been growing in stature. We’ve got our very own Dark Lord, in the shape of a property developer called Dr Roger Wratten, who has an underground island base in Tunbridge Wells and a henchman with a glass eye. Ranged against him is a hobbit-like band of local people, who since late November have been barricaded inside Francesca’s cafe at 34 Broadway Market, blocking Wratten from pulling it down to build a block of flats.
Since G2 first covered the occupation a month ago, No 34 has seen everything from espionage to battering rams. There was a large and rowdy public meeting, at which a (presumably heavily-sedated) council official played the role of ritual sacrifice and was duly mauled by the local furies. Wratten’s wife went undercover into the cafe, where she posed as a supporter, stuck 20 quid into the collection bucket and even signed the petition. When she bragged about her mission to the London Evening Standard, the occupiers (who until then had no idea she’d been there) mounted a cheeky legal defence, claiming that as a director of her husband’s property company, her actions could constitute a licence for them to remain on the premises. The judge took the best part of a day to decide the matter, eventually concluding that though Mrs Wratten’s actions had been “foolish” they didn’t actually imply she wanted the protesters to stay.
Just before Christmas, filled with festive cheer and armed with a court order, a van-load of Wratten’s men arrived at the cafe. They broke down the front door and immediately set about ejecting the occupants. Within the hour they’d taken off the roof and were well on the way to collapsing the whole structure into the basement, watched sullenly by a group of heckling locals.
Unfortunately for Wratten, his men were so eager that they didn’t follow basic safety procedures and by mid-morning the demolition had been halted by the Health and Safety Executive. It was then discovered they hadn’t even bothered to disconnect gas bottles from stoves and heaters, risking blowing much of Broadway Market sky high.
The cafe’s destruction was undoubtedly a low point for the protesters, but demonstrating the sort of perverse determination usually only seen in old war movies, a group of volunteers got up on Boxing Day morning, went into the demolished cafe, cleared away the rubble and rebuilt it. By that evening the occupation was back on. By New Year’s Eve there was a two-storey structure with a back wall and a reinforced anti-bailiff frontage. Francesca’s was reborn.
Since the story broke, journalists from around the world have started to appear at the cafe. The other day I found Der Spiegel taking tea behind the barricades and TV crews from as far away as Australia have filmed the battered site. On New Year’s Day a sermon was even preached at St Paul’s Cathedral, which took No 34 (and Isaiah 35) as its text. “So, if this is our city,” asked Father William Taylor, “where the High Way is not so much a Holy Way but a prime development opportunity for international capital investment, where does that leave us today?”
The battle even seems to be taking on the contours of an international diplomatic incident. The mayor of Naro, the home town in Sicily of Tony Platia, who has run Francesca’s for 30 years, has written to Ken Livingstone, demanding to know how he could allow the demolition of “this famous Italian premises”. La Repubblica and Rai Uno are building the story up into a pan-European grudge match.
Meanwhile Wratten has got court authorisation for another eviction. By the time you read this Francesca’s might be a hole in the ground. Or not …
Fore more on the market have a gander at ‘The Battle of Broadway Market’
To see how the battle for the soul of Hackney continues have a look at The Hackney Independent
Here’s a link to the excellent London Topological blog – the article on London tunnels is well worth a look for the subterraen minded