L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

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10 November 2008 Blog Home : November 2008 : Permalink

Government Sponsored Community Organizers

Alex Mortimer has a most excellent rant about Hazel Blear's and her feelings regarding bloggers. It's been linked by many and is far better than my humble offering.

However in the comments there is a link to this UK government website - Communities and Local Government - and to a white paper on it, which I think has now have become law. This document really scares me (and I've barely got past the Foreward - writer G Brown - and Introduction - writer H Blears). I'm sure my readers recall the quip that  "Orwell's 1984 is a warning not an instruction manual" and no doubt many are aware of the UKLP's project to send MPs George Orwell's book to MPs (and the hysterical overreactions by some of the recipients) but this document really makes that joke no longer funny.

These people are indeed implementing 1984 some 25 years after the date in question

We'll start with the glossy front cover where we have a semi-scruffy young woman and smartly dressed black man posing with signs about "real power" and "real people".
Real People? Real Power?
Then there's nice moslem lady in her headscarf telling you how to get involved. What can I do?

The first thing I thought was "how wonderfully multi culti". I mean you can't quite imagine ZANU labour getting a hoodie or a yardie to model the signs can you:
Real People
And the young lady with the head scarf. Good thing she wasn't the sort of fundamentalist who wears a burqa!

But then I figured I was criticising this for the wrong reasons. I mean yes it is indeed multi-culti but actually it's more than that. It is in fact subtly telling us who is welcome to be a "community" and who can fuck right off. And we know who the welcome ones are don't we? It's people from ethnic minorities who scrub up nice as well as enviromentalists, feminists and other campagning -ists who (also) aren't too mucky and who speak with an authentic (urban) accent. White people, males, upper class toffs, rural worzel gummidges (unless they are members of the 'travelling community') and NEETs and pramfaces from sink estates are not required.

That was just the three pictures on the first 2 pages. When we get past the boring copyright page there is the Table of Contents to give us a warning about what is coming next:
It is at this point that you realize that NewSpeak is indeed alive and well in Whitehall. Empowerment in my book implies self sufficiency not sucking at the government teat. Chapter 8 is a good one too. I translate that as how do I volunteer to be the fall guy when some goernment service screws up? If I were answering the questions that are in italics as subtitles to each chapter I think Ms Blears would be most upset at my cynicism. The white paper would also be a good deal shorter since I'd probably manage to answer most of them in a single sentence. Some sentences being short ones like "String them up from the lamp posts" or "You can't"

So lets move on to the Foreward from the Great Leader.

In the modern world there are many challenges that cannot be met by central government acting alone – and to address those challenges effectively, we need to harness the energy and innovation of front-line professionals, local government, citizens and communities.

I'm amazed that he admits government can't do everything. It certainly isn't how he acts. I'm curious about the "front-line professionals" though, does that mean PC Plod, Inspector Knacker and the other jobsworths who obstruct the rest from doing perfectly sensible things (or even silly things that harm no one)?

Among my first priorities when I became Prime Minister were the Governance of Britain proposals to enhance the rights of citizens and to make our institutions more accountable. But we need to build on this by empowering communities and citizens and ensuring that power is more fairly distributed across the whole of our society.

Apart from those huge chunks of power he handed over to Brussels that is so that really the UK doesn't have much to say except "Yes Commisioner"

Over the last ten years local councils have improved the quality of the services they offer local people, and as a result we have freed them up from central government control, with fewer targets and greater trust.

Brussels on the other hand has not. And while the trust may, possibly, extend to the bureaucratic jobsworths in the councils it doesn't seem to apply to the councilors who are, so far as I can tell, forbidden from voicing an opinion on anything that they happen to be knowledgeable about due to "possible conflicts of interest"

Now with this White Paper we want to move to the next stage in that process – enhancing the power of communities and helping people up and down the country to set and meet their own priorities. In this way we strengthen local democracy by increasing participation.

Now that we've cowed local government and turned them into loyal apparatchiks we are now prepared to move on to the next level of indoctrination

This is not about making people sit in meetings on wet Tuesday nights, it is about helping citizens to get involved when they want to on their own terms – paving the way for a new style of active politics that not only gives people a greater say but ensures that their voices are heard and that their views will make a difference.

As long as these citizens don't encourage rebellion or spread dissent that is. Something tells me that local citizens who voice discontent with the masterplan will continue to be ignored.

And it is an agenda for empowerment that reaches right across the board, from supporting people who want to take an active role in their communities to giving them better access to information and the chance to get more involved in key local public services. These themes lie at the heart of our public service reform agenda – the transfer of power both to front-line professionals and to users, who we want to be able to play a far greater role in shaping the services they use.

And what, one wonders, if the users say they don't want these services, or think that maybe they'd like to have rubbich collection every 2-3 days instead of every fortnight?

To help achieve those goals, this White Paper sets out concrete proposals for areas where both central and local government can devolve more power to citizens – giving local communities the power to drive real improvements in everything from the way their neighbourhoods are policed to the way that community assets are used. I believe it will help to build the vibrant local democracies on which our society and our public services depend.

Unfortunately the only use of concrete I'd like to see regarding this paper is using it to entomb the authors. How's that Monty Python line go? "Mr RS Gumby is now appearing as a central tunnel suport on the new Victoria line". And talking of how neighbourhoods are policed. Do you think that local communities who think their police force should stop filling in forms in the station and get out on the beat are going to be listened to? Or the ones who think that a Christian Christmas display with, say, shepards, a manger etc. would be a good thing to place in a local "community asset" will be obeyed?

And then if that pile of bovine fecal matter were not enough we have the bleating of Comrade Blears:

My 30 years in politics, as a community activist, councillor, Member of Parliament and Minister have convinced me that there are few issues so complex, few problems so knotty, that they cannot be tackled and solved by the innate common sense and genius of local people. With the right support, guidance and advice, community groups and organisations have a huge, largely latent, capacity for self-government and self-organisation. This should be the hallmark of the modern state: devolved, decentralised, with power diffused throughout our society.

Oddly enough without the government sticking its oar in community groups and organizations demonstrated their ability to self govern and organize for centuries before government got involved. So how about just getting out of the way and seeing if they can do so again?

PS is a community activist the same as a community organizer?

That people should have the maximum influence, control and ownership over the decisions, forces and agencies which shape their lives and environments is the essence of democracy. There are few ideas more powerful, or more challenging. People with power are seldom willing to give it up readily; people without power are seldom content to remain enslaved. We can see this truth being played out with terrible violence in a country such as Zimbabwe.

So clearly we should ignore all those irritating edicts from Brussels conserning the sale of bananas, the use of metric or imperial measures etc. So if, for example, a local community were to decide that really it would prefer to ignore all those stupid waste disposal rules from Brussels and landfill the contents of everyone's bin collected twice a week then would be just fine with you Hazel?

Actually one suspects not. Which means that this whole bit about empowerment sounds to me more like "fool them into thinking they have power so they won't complain too much, otherwise we'll have to hire bully boys like Comrade Bob Mugabe"

Our history is punctuated by great struggles for democracy, from the soldiers who debated with generals at Putney during the English Civil War, to the Rochdale families who took control over the food they bought by creating the first cooperative, from the families who gathered at St Peter’s Field in Manchester to demand parliamentary reform, to the Chartists who marched in their thousands at Kersal Moor in Salford, from the women who chained themselves to railings and went to prison to win the vote, to our grandparents’ generation who defeated fascism.

And the people who can't go for a walk in front of the mother or parliaments these days without PC Plod shouting "Ausweiss bitte!"

Ours is a government committed to greater democracy, devolution and control for communities. We want to see stronger local councils, more co-operatives and social enterprises, more people becoming active in their communities as volunteers, advocates, and elected representatives. We want to see public services and public servants in tune with, and accountable to, the people they serve. Democracy is not about a cross in a box every five years, but about a way of life. It should flow around us like oxygen.

Well yes indeed. We'd like to see "public services and public servants in tune with, and accountable to, the people they serve" as well. Problem is that until we're allowed to fire about 50% of their worthless butts they won't actually act that way.

We’ve taken some important steps forward in recent years, with devolution for Scotland, Wales and London, reforming the Lords, more investment and powers for local councils, and encouragement for innovative ways to get people involved such as participatory budgeting, citizens’ juries and petitions. But there is so much more to be done.

We're looking at citizens tribunals where they can conduct show trials of the undesirables for example

This White Paper takes us further on the journey, but this is not the last word. We are changing here the terms of the debate. We will continue to strive for greater reform, devolution and accountability, because that is what people will increasingly want and demand. And because it is the right thing to do.

But we won't simply remove huge swathes of government though because that would mean people might get the impression that they could survive perfectly well without government. If they ever think that we're out of job and in dnager of swinging from lamposts in a way that the HSE jobsworths would be really upset with even if they weren't swinging next to us.

I think I'll just summarise the rest of this white paper.  The government pretends to offer Britain the chance to participate and we probably pretend to take part.