Of Holy Roman Empires and #Manchester People’s Assemblies. Change? Plus ca change…

I may be suffering from premature exasperation, it’s true. But last Tuesday night’s little (alright, large) smugathon perturbed me mightily. The organisers had got Mark Steel (yesterday’s darling) and Owen “Chavs” Jones (today’s darling) along. This on its own was guaranteed to mean the original venue had to be substituted for a larger one.
Running the usual gauntlet of paper sellers and trestle-tables didn’t worry me. The haphazard instructions to stewards didn’t particularly worry me.
The “open mic” did, but I managed to avoid the worst of it. Let’s just say this – it isn’t “democracy” to let people with neither no aptitude for public speaking or no concern that they are being boring irrelevant idiots (like the guy immediately before me, who had to have the microphone taken away from him) drone on. It’s a catastrophe, and tokenism and makes the organising group look like self-indulgent victims to attendees who might be weighing up whether to get involved. The solution is simple – everyone gets two minutes, tops. At the end of it they are applauded off by the organisers (and as many other people as want to join in.)

The “assembly” turned out to be just the same old rally format, with the tiniest possible nod to “democracy” by having an open mic session. The organisers know that they have a credibility problem as control-freaks, and so this gesture is a safety-valve – “what more do you want, comrade, we had an open mic session!”

from the May 2013 newsletter of National Coalition for Independent Action http://www.independentaction.net/newsletters/

From the May 2013 newsletter of National Coalition for Independent Action

So, the main event –
The latest meme/slogan that the SWP are spouting (“Unity in Action”) got a fair number of spouts, of course.
The first guy post-chair spoke both too loud and way too fast (clearly very nervous, poor chap).
The Salford Bedroom Tax woman was good, but did I really hear her say that she wasn’t particularly bothered about starving children in Africa – as someone emailed me “I know I know, everyone has their political journey to make, but talking to them is one thing, putting them up on a stage is quite another!“
The science teacher from the NUT was okay, but perhaps outstayed her welcome a bit.
Mark Steel did what he always does, a mix of exaggeration, sarcasm and analogy. Steel is astute, has good comic timing and knows how to push his audience’s buttons. But it would have been useful for everyone if he had shown us just a little of the caution that emerges in his book “What’s Going On?” around the smug and delusional culture of the left… Perhaps it was judged, either by him or the hosts, that this would be jarring to the mood music.
Owen Jones came last. I’ve only ever seen short clips of him on Newsnight or Question Time or whatever. Haven’t yet read “Chavs,” but intend to do so.
Hmm. He gives me a sense of George Monbiot circa 2000 – part of this sort of vague SWP/umbrella style big public meeting national tour, but it not being clear exactly how long the marriage of convenience will last…
This was clearly a spiel he’d given plenty of times. Must be a kind of hell to go around doing this, I fear (but personally, I would therefore work the room a bit better, find out what it was people knew about, were particularly incensed by etc). Nonetheless, he threw out useful factoids

  • In 2010 the wealth on the (Sunday Times?) “rich list” went up by 30%
  • Cameron is leading a transformative government
  • The banker-caused deficit being transferred onto the poor and disabled…
  • Coherent alternative needed around housing, wages and jobs
  • Tax credits are a subsidy for low wage employers

Jones advocated the entirely doable and sensible possibilities around public control of banks, stopping corporate tax avoidance and an industrial policy.

None of the speakers talked about the pending ecological debacle that goes far beyond carbon emissions. We seem to have thrown that one in the “too hard” basket and are hoping that by ignoring it it will go away. Let’s see.
After Jones finished there was a dash for the exits, with many people patently not keen to stick around for more open mic and yet more of the speakers “telling us what we should do.”
I was among them.
Dwight says:
Voltaire apparently quipped of the Holy Roman Empire that it was not an empire, nor holy, nor Roman. Well, what happened on Tuesday was not an assembly – it was a rally. It was not “people’s” – it was about celebrities and organisations – and it was not Manchester-focused- the main aim was to get people to buy tickets to go to an event in… London.
Not only is our philanthropy telescopic, it seems our politics are. If it is this bad with 86 out of 96 councillors being Labour, how bad will it be after next May, when it is 96 out of 96?
What I would say, given the chance, to the organisers –
You haven’t TOLD us – and you most certainly haven’t SHOWN us – how it will be different next time round.
You haven’t even admitted that these sorts of rallies/fronts have been very very shitty in the past, and that many of your organising personnel have been at the very least complicit in its shittiness. You seem to have taken the easiest route – to blame the Tories (and also Labour). Yes they are despicable, but that’s a given. What about we improve our ways? Nothing ever seems to be our fault…
Why did you show so little interest in getting people to talk to each other, or in finding out what they can DO (rather than thinking of them as rally-fodder?)
Therefore, thanks, but one hundred and once times bitten, one hundred and twice shy…


About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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One Response to Of Holy Roman Empires and #Manchester People’s Assemblies. Change? Plus ca change…

  1. Pingback: The People’s Assembly Line – #Manchester fails to be revolutionary yet again |

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