This is Nigel Slack and he is a man that I trust, at a time when we need them most. Nigel (aka The Public Interest) is crowd-funding to support his continued campaigning & scrutinising of local politics and institutions. He is an independent, non-party political activist, working to represent the people of Sheffield at a time when our faith in the integrity and competence of our institutions is at an all-time low.
As a rule, I don’t contribute to crowd-funded projects, I’m a hard sell when it comes to giving out money because, since 2008, I don’t have any. Not literally none, but nowhere near enough to give it to all the deserving causes that I see on my social media every day, and so I’m very picky.
I am making a small, monthly contribution and I urge you to do the same. Even if it is only a few pounds a month, or just a pound a month, with enough contributors, it all adds up and Nigel can continue to represent us in all those balls-aching meetings that we don’t want to go to.
Please contribute, so that rather than scratching a living serving you you Breakfast McMuffin™, or fulfilling your Amazon™ order of Game of Thrones™ box-sets, or cutting down healthy trees, he will be available to attend Council meetings, give advice and be an independent representative for the people of Sheffield.
A year or two ago, a friend posted a comment on Facebook that she was going to be interviewed on local radio and did anyone have suggested answers to the question “What would you do if you won the Lottery?”. I replied “I’d buy Park Hill and convert it into social housing”. She chose suggestions a bit more warm and fuzzy, but that is what I would have said, had I been asked.
But no-one would ask me that question because no-one wants to hear that answer. I have already been quite outspoken about Sheffield City Council’s and Urban Splash’s failure to complete the redevelopment of Park Hill, its gentrification and also the inappropriateness of the proposed change of use of part of it to artists’ spaces when there are people sleeping in tents and doorways within its own curtilage. You can read my original post here: https://votepleb.wordpress.com/2016/03/22/everything-of-value-has-been-removed-from-this-property-the-scandal-that-is-park-hill-parkhill-sheffield/
On Saturday 30th September 2017, I attended the opening of an art exhibition in a recently reclaimed car park, overlooked by the Duke Street wing of Park Hill that is earmarked to be converted into artists’ spaces for S1 Artspace. http://www.s1artspace.org/
I spoke at some length with Mark Latham, the Development Manager for Urban Splash, and he was very polite to me, as I was to him, but I tried to press him on certain issues about the development, including the change-of-use of part of the site, the lack of completion of the housing units and the effective social-cleansing caused by the pricing of the new units. http://www.urbansplash.co.uk/about-us/people/directors/mark-latham
I am sure he has had a lot of stick over the years and is used to it, and he handled me pretty well, but much of what he said amounted to “we don’t have the money”, “ooh yes, neoliberalism is a bad thing” and “ but what can we do?”. It was like punching bag of feathers and, being an admirer of Gandhi (although I am not strictly a pacifist), that is the only punching I approve of these days.
One question Latham didn’t answer was when I asked him will the rest of the dwelling units really be finished by 2022 (the current predicted finish date, confirmed by him). I’m no developer of property but there looks like a lot to be achieved in only another five years.
However, the failure of this redevelopment is written large across the skyline of Sheffield city centre, and this is an example of what Guy Adams referred to as “administrative evil”. Sound excessive, I know, but Adams, and Philip Zimbardo (the designer of the Harvard Prison Experiment) have written and spoken widely about “technical rationalism”, that is, the retreat from ethical decision-making to rule-based abdication of responsibility.
Also look up Stanley Milgram’s infamous experiment where he found that 37 out of 40 people will continue to follow instructions, even if they believe it to be causing genuine, physical distress to another person. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment
There is a lot more to say about this and I will elaborate more on administrative evil in subsequent posts.
I was at the screening of this film at the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield on 25th July 2017 and, although it is not featured in the film, Park Hill got a mention during the Q&A. I did not get the impression that Latham is a dishonest person, and I’m sure he would have acknowledged the documentary if he had heard of it, but I left feeling deeply unsatisfied with his brushing off and his nothing-we-can-do attitude.
I’m afraid it’s not good enough and it’s not true either.
If Urban Splash wanted to do something about the 600-or-so housing units that have been rendered uninhabitable (in order to prevent them being squatted), they could do something. Maybe they could could temporarily convert 20 or 30 of them into basic living units for nothing more than getting those unsightly rough sleepers out of Primark’s doorway, or those pesky people sleeping in tents and spoiling the hipsters’ view from their bijou flats. If they have no money (which I don’t believe), maybe Latham and the other employees of Urban Splash could take a pay cut to fund it? Or maybe they could borrow money? With the Bank of England’s base rate at 0.25%, surely they could get a pretty cheap loan? But maybe their business is not sound enough to be a good risk, remember what happened last time the banks lent money to the sub-prime sector.
Or maybe the City Council could borrow the money, like they did to build a new office block for HSBC.
Last but not least, maybe Urban Splash could sell one of their assets, rather like our local authorities are required to do, in order to fund the completion of the Park Hill redevelopment? Silly me, in a neoliberal world, as Noam Chomsky put it, profit is privatised and risk socialised, so why should a business that bought an asset for a song subsidise the undeserving poor? It is easy to forget that private businesses get the benefit of socially-funded infrastructure all the time. Healthy, educated workers are the product of the publicly funded National Health Service, and publicly-funded schools and their good are transported on publicly-funded roads.
However, in Thatcher’s Britain “there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” Or, these days, it might be more accurate to paraphrase – “there is no such thing as society. There are individual shareholders and vice-chancellors, and there are corporations”.
But what can we do? I have asked myself that question over and over for years and the answer became obvious, eventually – do something. However, this immediately leads to a further question – do what?
My income halved in 2008 but I can still find a few pounds a month to donate to Sheffield’s Cathedral Archer Project, a non-religious supporting homeless people. I also volunteer for them and in the past have volunteered for Sheffield HARC (homeless and rootless at Christmas) and contributed to the Sheffield Homeless Shoebox Appeal.
Maybe Urban Splash could volunteer staff for the Archer Project’s breakfast club, where local businesses help cook and serve food for the clients. Maybe they already have and I have no doubt that the staff of Urban Splash, their executives and their shareholders do lots of good things that I am unaware of. But they have still failed to achieve the really important thing that needs achieving.
But this event is not going to get anyone off the street, is it? Maybe not directly, and neither is the venting of my self-righteous, middle-class spleen, but it is doing something. And if I do a little bit, and another person does a little bit, and lots of other people do a little bit, then it can add up to a lot. But I’m a nobody. I can give a little bit of money and wash up in the Archer Project’s kitchen, but I don’t have enough influence to make a big enough difference, and this is where institutions, corporations and the wealthy need to break out of their apathetic moral torpor, and put their money where the hungry mouths are.
I know it all sounds very melodramatic but I grew up in this area and have been coming to Sheffield my whole life I have never witnessed this widespread homelessness and rough-sleeping in Sheffield until the last few years. Something is very rotten in the state of England and Mark Latham and the other decision makers, executives and shareholders at Urban Splash, along with the councillors and council officers at Sheffield City Council, need to examine their consciences and ask themselves are they one of thirty-seven or one of three?
Choose lies. Choose three jobs. Choose no career. Choose a divorce. Choose a really, really, really fucking big television, Choose auto-telling machines, coffee salons, artisan beers and self-service checkouts. Choose private healthcare, institutional cancer and dental veneers. Choose variable-rate private rentals. Choose a starter flat. Choose your competitors. Choose leisure wear made by children. Choose a corner suite on a payday loan in a range of fucking highly-flammable fabrics from non-EU countries. Choose PAYE and wondering where the fuck your Council tax went and all those fucking trees. Choose sitting on that Lay-Zee-Boy watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing talent shows, stuffing fucking calorie-counted, emulsified diet food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in an over-priced nursing home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up ministers you voted for to replace your lazy fucking conscience. Choose no future. Choose lies . . . And why would I not do a thing like that? I chose to choose lies: I chose nothing else. And the reason? There is no reason. Who needs reason when “brexit means brexit”?
Poor cow, I almost feel sorry for Theresa May. So desperate was she to get the premiership that she grabbed the most poisoned chalice since the Poll Tax, and betrayed all her barely discernible principles in the process. We should coin a phrase for this kind of infantile hubris; instead of “selling out” we should refer to it as “Clegging Up”.
Brexit is the most bone-headed act of mutual self-destruction since the appeasement of Hitler. I understand there are very strong emotions on both sides, but it must be clear to anyone with a brain larger than a walnut that we’re already getting fucked and it’s only going to get worse, and no-one knows what to do about it.
Except just stop it, that is, seeing as Article 50 has not been triggered and the referendum is not legally binding and it should be debated by parliament and blah, blah, blah (just add any of the other stuff us liberal-elite, unpatriotic remoaners keep banging on about).
It’s perfectly clear that there is not one person in our entire government who is remotely qualified, experienced or capable of managing such an unimagined contingency. What’s more, our government and parliament is largely (not completely) comprised of uneducated imbeciles. Sounds like a cheap, ad-hominem insult, I know, but in which other profession could a middle-aged person, with any degree of professional confidence or ethical credibility, move from a senior job in finance to a similarly pivotal role in the health sector? Or education, or defence, or social welfare? Quite a common occurrence among ministers in British government.
The British parliamentary system not only celebrates delusional, aspirational folly but also handsomely rewards any amount of corruption, misconduct and incompetence.
We now have a Prime Minister who actually said “brexit means brexit.”
In public. To the press. No, really, and we think Trump is an idiot.
Imagine if I went to work and a client asked me what audio-visual (AV) tech I was going to provide to achieve the required results, and I said “AV is as AV does.” I would be dismissed on the spot, but the British parliamentary system requires no such competence, actual or perceived.
When I was of school age, we used to tease each other by pretending we knew an embarrassing secret about another child but refusing to say what it was. Another technique was to start telling some tale and then abruptly stop and say “never mind, you wouldn’t believe me”. Both childish ruses, of course, to pretend some superior knowledge or advantage, and founded on nothing.
Rather like the government’s refusal to give details about its brexit negotiations. Most of us left that sort of behaviour in the playground but Theresa May is so immured in her Thatcher-a-like folly, she can neither recognise nor accept her own impotence. In a move reminiscent of the so-called Darwin Awards, which awards trophies to those whose acts of stupidity remove them from the gene pool, a woman that could countenance the appointment of Boris Johnson to Foreign Secretary has already selected herself for political extinction.
I must admit, I had lost my mojo a bit over the weekend and failed to come up with a satisfactory Playbolam™ for the 18th, although I did have a few ideas, and failed to get it published on time. However, I was saved by the doorbell and the arrival, the following day, of a few carefully chosen bits and bobs direct from Playmobil themselves. http://playbolam.wordpress.com/ http://playmobil.co.uk/
Under the section of their online shop listed as “Last chance to buy”, I couldn’t resist the price reduced pink unicorn at £1.75, although I was not sure what use I would have for it. But as soon as I unpacked it, I could see Spooky May riding it as a symbol of Brexit, accompanied by a few kippers.
Seems so obvious now.
My own inaction was partly inspired by the sheer tyranny of choice, with so many easy targets for anger, frustration and downright incredulity at the sprawling omnishambles that is the British parliamentary system.
I see no future for Britain whilst such incompetence is tolerated. All MPs should be dismissed and re-elected, but employed on proper contracts of employment and overseen by an independent standards body that has the power to remove them from office and, if need be, prosecute them.
Until genuine oversight is applied to those in public office whose decisions affects the lives of others, there is no future but fascism, and we are destined to be lead by the very least among us.
In April last year, I attended an evening event entitled “Everything’s Better in the North” where we endured a series of presentations by residents of Sheffield telling other residents of Sheffield about how good Sheffield is. All good people, and if you were one of those presenters (and you know who you are) please do not be offended. But I don’t need to spend two hours of my life being told that everything is going to be alright when it’s abundantly clear that it’s not.
I grew up here. Not in Sheffield itself, but in this area, and I have been coming into the city regularly for my whole life. I didn’t move to live here until 2003 but I have spent almost all of my adult life living and working in the Sheffield city region.
The speaker from Sheffield City Council did the usual thing of claiming Sheffield is well placed, amongst other things, by being next door to the Peak District, and I grew up believing that the Peak District was a special place, but I was wrong.
The Peak District is an artificially-maintained, ruined landscape. Before the Middle Ages, the whole area was forest. In fact, pretty much all of Britain was forest until it was cleared for the purposes of farming, burning, or to build ships for war and colonisation. That might seem like a long time ago but in geological terms, a few hundred years is not even the blink of an eye. In ecological terms, however, it is plenty of time to fuck up our environment.
I, too, love living in Sheffield, but where I fall out of line with many of the people who are active in the creative, business and marketing sectors is that I do not subscribe to what I would characterise as an destructively uncritical positivity-cult.
Somehow, it has become understood that to be critical is to be negative, and anything other than unfettered enthusiasm is disloyal to our home city. But someone needs to talk about the uncomfortable truths and, in the absence of any other willing soul, that someone is me.
These days, Sheffield is a shit-hole. It’s sacrilege to say so, I know, and it’s getting worse. Not all of it, of course, and there is plenty to be proud of, but also there is plenty here that we should objecting to, rather than celebrating.
Our roads are in the worst state of repair as at any point in my lifetime, homelessness is now as commonplace in Sheffield as it used to be as a cliché in London, public services are being eroded at the same time as banks and corporations are making record profits, wages are falling and employment opportunities are reducing. Publicly owned land is being sold off to corporations, and town planning control has been eviscerated to the point where we are witnessing the most poorly planned and brutal urban redevelopment since the 1960s.
Interesting times, and unless we do something about it, there is worse to come.
But now the Conservative government has offered the carrot of funding for The Great Exhibition of the North. The stick, of course, is not critcising the most corrupt and incompetent government in British history.
Having watched the promotional video, representing Sheffield’s bid and featuring University of Sheffield’s Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Chair of Museums Sheffield, Kim Streets and director of Sheffield Theatres Daniel Evans, I understand their dilemma and I sympathise. Although that is no compensation for their vacuous complicity.
Kim Streets enthuses about the “great spaces” available for the exhibition whilst standing in the Millennium Gallery, but fails to mention how many staff have been laid off by Museums Sheffield in the past few years due to austerity-led funding cuts, or the shortened opening hours of these great spaces. Professor Vanessa even has the disingenuous hubris to use the term “Northern Powerhouse”, having fully absorbed and regurgitated the Tory propaganda. She’s a highly-qualified academic and social historian and should know better.
Arts and cultural activities are, mostly, the indulgences of the middle classes, and a large proportion of the population (the same people who regularly receive nothing from arts and cultural funding) will receive nothing of value from money spent on exhibitions, craft classes, seminars and walking tours.
The disenfranchised of Sheffield and “The North” will not be re-enfranchised by the enthusiasms of academics, administrators and curators. Nor will they benefit from the fees paid to accountants, solicitors and technicians, employed to enable such a celebration.
Maybe some of that money could be used to repair the roads in “The North”, or maybe the PFI corporations charged with the task are restoring them back to their pre-tarmac days by uncovering all the cobbles and setts of yesteryear.
The problem I see with this kind of festival (and I have worked on, and been to, many of them) is that it will be primarily comprised of activities of consumption and distraction, created by middle-class people, for middle-class people and selected & funded by middle-class people. Artisan bread and carbon-neutral circuses.
But we could say no.
Conditions here in “The North” are now worse than at any other point in my lifetime and pretending that everything is going to be alright is a deluded fantasy. Rather than singing “God save the Queen”, we should be singing “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!”.
That might seem angry but this is what I grew up on:
For many years, a regular sight in Sheffield city centre was a man carrying a banner, claiming “The End Is Nigh”. He always seemed a little out of place, wielding his melodramatic warning amid the thronging shoppers of Fargate.
But just the other day, walking along The Moor, Pinstone Street and Fargate was like one of the continuous follow-shots from Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men” (2007), the streets lined with religious zealots, worn-out beggars and passive-aggressive chuggers, every one of them hussling for money and salvation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Children_of_Men
The end was nigh, after all, although I didn’t know how nigh, and now I do know, the end is even nigher.
I never expected to be the angriest voice in the village during my own middle ages. But where is the protest? I was a young adult at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s but I do not see any of the anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian rebelliousness in young people today, just when we need it most. They seem to be too busy watching “Game of Thrones”, or playing Minecraft, or else whacked on energy drinks, too distracted to recognise what a sterile, debt-ridden dystopia they are growing up in.
There’s plenty of money about. Not in Sheffield, of course, but ask Google, ask Apple, ask Barclays or maybe even ask the Bank of England who conjured £375 billion of funny money in 2009 to support a group of businesses, supposedly too big to fail, whose operational practices are indistinguishable from organised crime.
“Every day, we’re busy helping our millions of customers get to where they want to go in life. Lloyds TSB, for the journey.” Yeah, the journey to the local Job Centre Plus. God bless their crooked hearts.
We now live in a world of post-factual journalism, post-responsibility politics and post-competence institutions.
And this brings me back to the Great Exhibition of the North. The very name betrays a divisive cynicism only conceivable within the distorted mind of a Westminster-based “special adviser” to the most corrupt and destructive government in British history.
I genuinely apologise to anyone in Sheffield that I might have offended by suggesting that their endeavors are futile but, if it’s any consolation, I include my own. Especially in the creative & arts sectors, we have lied to ourselves for years that everything will be alright, and if we do this project or that job, or another exhibition for nothing or very little, it will lead to some sort of deferred future “success”.
But it didn’t, and there is no precedent to think it ever will.
The promised funding is nothing more than a bribe to keep “The North” quiet and those people who have contributed to the application should be ashamed of their complicity in such shallow and cynical manipulation.
But an exhibition celebrating all the good things about “Not London” will seem pretty sick when your water has been poisoned and your house condemned due to earthquake-induced subsidence.
If Sheffield wins the bid, I’m sure The Great Exhibition of the North will be about much more than stainless steel, Park Hill and Henderson’s Relish (like most exhibitions in Sheffield are), but I hope the people involved will look beyond the end of their own suburban gardens and consider how to include those in our city and region that are unrepresented by middle-class professionals: those without homes, those without status and those without disposable income.
And in the meantime, I say fuck you, I won’t like what you tell me.
In October 2014, I worked as the event technician at an afternoon conference at a hotel in Sheffield. With hindsight, I wish I had paid more attention, but one of the speakers said something that really sticks in my mind; a man from Kier (one of the PFI construction and infrastructure contractors to Sheffield City Council) said, during his presentation, “It’s no secret that the US military want to move all their European operations to the UK, and we want a piece of that action.”
I’m paraphrasing because I didn’t make an audio recording and I didn’t write a transcript at the time, but it’s come back to haunt me in the light of our recently passed referendum on EU membership. I didn’t sign a non-disclosure agreement, nor was I asked not to repeat anything I heard at that meeting and, apparently, it’s no secret.
He didn’t go into detail, and I cannot recall well enough to know if he meant actual military bases, or the stationing of aircraft, or simply administration. Or maybe he meant the so-called “black sites”. Outside of the EU, and without that tiresome Human Rights business, the UK would be a very convenient strategic location.
I have heard no mention of this since, on any media channel, and it might not be what it seems, but I can’t help being reminded of the so-called “special relationship” between the UK and US, so beloved of Reagan and Thatcher, as well as Churchill and Roosevelt. A special relationship between two countries sounds like a good thing, but what it eventually revealed itself to be was the use of RAF Greenham Common as a base for US nuclear bombers, and and our own nuclear power industry supplying the US with plutonium for the warheads. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Relationship
Make no mistake, when I refer to “Americans” in this context, I do not mean the people of US nationality, I mean the establishment of the USA. That is the CIA, the NSA, the military-industrial complex, the National Rifle Association (NRA), the privatised prisons, the medical insurance companies, big pharma, fast-food corporations and the blood-sucking financial speculators of Wall Street. The government-corporate complex in the UK is corrupt to the core, but almost a paragon of virtue compared with the United States.
Over the last 30 years, Britain has been actively diminished by the greedy obsessions of Margaret Thatcher’s denial of society and the promotion of consumption and selfishness, and my motives are a lot more complex than just wanting to grab a piece of that action without considering its consequences.
I voted Remain (warts and all) because every time I go to a European country I am delighted by the experience, although often ashamed of my own association of being English / British. Because we have a reputation, hard-won, of being drunken, thuggish and ignorant. I aspire to be more European, not less, but there is a much more frightening spectre at this particular bonfire of the cultural vanities: the United States.
Without the protection of the European bloc, I worry that the paid-for shills in the UK Conservative party have already made a pact with the devil, and I do not want the UK to be the jumping off point for the US’ military coups, “extraordinary renditions” or democracy-bringing in Europe or anywhere else.
I voted remain for two reasons: becasue I want to be more like Europe (warts and all) and because I do not want to live in the fifty-first state of the USA.