Who’s to blame?

The working class is defeated, they have no political representation and they are only the subject of popular disdain, mockery and hatred.

This is thinking behind the two playwrights Beatrix Campbell and Judith Jones in their latest offering Blame.

Hackney Independent talked to them just as Blame is about to open at the Arcola Theatre on Kingsland Road.

The play is set in a multi-racial working class household in this borough. Divided by drugs, alcohol and violence the household unites around the disappearance of one of the youngest members of the family – a 10-year-old girl.

Beatrix Campbell, a long standing journalist, and Judith Jones, a social worker of 30 years experience, have worked together before on their previous play And All the Children Cried, and decided to write together again on that elephant in the British sitting room – class.

Beatrix explains: “What moved us to do this play was that we were interested in what has happened to the working class. In our lifetime we lived through the amazing contrast between the moment after the Second World War when the working class had to be taken into account and its demands had to be answered to the point now where the working class doesn’t really exist at the parliamentary level or in a category where they are going to be taken any notice of.

“And the consequences of that for the poorest people within the working class are astounding and unacceptable.

“It’s impossible to ignore the way that there is a permanently pauperized presence in Britain.”

Theatre is infamous as the place where the polite classes go to quietly sip wine, but facing the paradox of presenting such a working class-centered piece in a middle class institution, the writers are unapologetic, as Beatrix makes clear:

“We believe totally in the importance of addressing the life and times of working class people who are maligned, in any environment that we can possibly find and challenging middle class or upper class or reactionary political preconceptions about how people are in those circumstances.

“What we are interested in is an unsentimental look at how these people behaviour is sometimes terrible, sometimes funny, sometimes mystifying, and sometimes tragic, and any environment that that can be aired is good as far as we are concerned.

“Besides, the final resting place for this play will be in the Arcola Theatre on the Kingsland Road in Hackney, which is where the play is set, so nothing could be more appropriate.”

Hackney remains today one of the most overcrowded and poverty stricken boroughs in London. We live in a labyrinth of concrete tower blocks that houses a population of which over half are dependent on some form of income support. But despite deep seated social problems, the borough has become a byword for urban chic as gentrification has taken hold over certain areas.

This social conflict provided the ideal setting for the play:

“Hackney is emblematic of what has happened to Britain with globalization and what has happened to the working class. It’s emblematic of a borough in London that has always been poor and where life has always been a struggle, it’s also emblematic of the enormous richness of our history and culture.”

Both Judith and Beatrix comes from working class families and have spent their subsequent professional careers working and writing about the class.

Beatrix is the author of previous acclaimed books Goliath: Britain’s Most Dangerous and Wigan Pier Revisited, with Judith Jones has her experience grounded in over 30 years of social work.

One in three children today grow up in poverty, a figure which Judith finds astounding: “I thought when I started social work that there would still be so many children living in poverty – I thought that something might be done about it and then we could deal with other issues such as mental health and children protection, but this certainly hasn’t been the case as we have to deal with it all.”

The play is bound up with their pessimism for the future of working class politics in England. Without a representative voice, the playwrights claim, they lack any economic clout.

“It’s very hard to imagine how the working class will gain a strategic presence here in England,” explains Beatrix Campbell, “The transformation of the Labour party means that is not a party with a comfortable relationship with the working class any longer.

“We feel very strongly that its needs and future have very little political articulation at all, other than being to blame for everything and as people who are lowlife scumbags who are spoiling it for everybody.

“We are trying to confront this situation with this play.”

Blame runs at the Arcola Theatre from March 27 until April 21.
To book tickets call their box office on 020 7503 1646

EXCLUSIVE! The British Premiere of East of Liberty

Hackney Independent presents

A story of good intentions
Part one

A documentary about gentrification and regeneration in the predominantly African-American neighbourhood of East Liberty in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.

Playing at the Dalston Rio on May Day Bank Holiday – May 7

On this coming May Day Bank Holiday Monday, the Dalston Rio will be hosting the British premiere of East of Liberty, a documentary about gentrification and regeneration in the predominantly African-American neighbourhood of East Liberty in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.

East Liberty was once one of Pennsylvania’s most prosperous areas, but disastrous urban planning in the 1960s saw both the central business area collapse and tower blocks erected leaving residents isolated in the sky.

But change is again coming to East Liberty. The traffic in the centre is once again flowing after being rerouted in the 60’s, the tower blocks are coming down and new shops are offering everything from yoga to organic food.

Everybody, seemingly, was a winner

But then voices, excluded, marginalised and anxious began to emerge…

Chris Ivey, a seasoned filmmaker in Pittsburgh, first started working on the project in May 2005.

He found himself filming a publicity stunt in which paint bombs were being launched by employees of the regeneration company from a giant catapult at a soon-to-be demolished tower block, East Mall. But, amidst the revelry, he found residents far from happy:
“I was hired to document the tearing down of the high rises. At the same time I interviewed some of the residents who lived in the high rises and they weren’t happy at all because of the spectacle that was before them. They were really angry. It was their home, it was where they used to live, some for 30 years or more. Even though in many ways it wasn’t the best place to live it was all they had and to see strangers having fun by shooting paintballs at the block left them furious.”

And so began a journey of investigation in which previous silent rage was given space to talk.

The film first debuted in the US last Autumn, and the response has astounded the director:
“The reception here has been really incredible. It’s the most talked about thing in the city right now. There’s been loads of coverage in the papers and everybody around town is talking about it. All the screenings have sold out. The people at the screenings are really passionate – they’re always asking what they can do to get involved.”

Chris Ivey will be attending the event and answering questions at the end. On the prospect of showing the documentary here in London he said:
“I’m really looking to forward to coming to Hackney to show my film. Gentrification isn’t just happening here in the States, it’s also happening all over the world too. Sometimes it’s race, and sometimes it’s class, but it always comes down to the money – who has it and who doesn’t, and if you don’t have it you’ll get screwed.”

East of Liberty will be shown at the Dalston Rio at 1pm on May Day Bank Holiday – May 7. The price of admission is £4.

flyer pdf


Fat Cat Salary Fury

From Hackney Gazette, March 15 2007

Town Hall Chief’s Pay is Revealed

“Fat Cat” salaries pocketed by Hackney Town Hall chiefs have been revealed following an investigation by a campaign group.
The six-figure sums taken home by senior bureaucrats were released under the Freedom of Information Act by the Taxpayer’s Alliance.

It shows the top 10 highest earners in the town hall raked in more than £1 million between them in the last financial year.

The highest-earning Hackney Council officer is the chief executive, Penny Thompson, who was paid £164,839, just £22,000 less than the Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Next up is director of housing Steven Tucker, who earned £126,000, followed by Gillian Steward, the director of customer and corporate services, who took home £123,000.

Timothy Shields, the director of finance, and Kim Wright, the director of community services, both earned £120,000.

The report was released by pressure group, the Taxpayer’s Alliance, who said the figures were “insulting”.

Chairman Andrew Allum said: “It’s a complete insult to tax-payers’ dignity that so much of their money goes down the drain on top salaries for council staff.”

Jane Holgate, secretary of Hackney Trades Union Council, also condemned the salaries.

She said: “I think it is disgraceful, particularly given the fact that many of the council’s employees are on low salaries and living in a London borough where the cost of living is very high.

“We are operating in a tight labour market and these jobs would be filled despite the inflated salaries.”

The campaign group, London Council’s, which represents the capital’s local authorities, said senior officers were worth the money.

London Council’s chairman, Cllr Merrick Cockell, said: “Being a borough chief executive is not a small job. Public demand for excellent service and value for money means that we need to recruit the best possible candidates for these demanding roles.

“This can only be achieved, especially in the capital with its high costs of living, by offering competitive salaries.

“That said, they work incredibly hard for their money – and are paid far less than they would be in an equivalent job in the private sector.

“These people are individuals who want to make a difference to their community and they must be rewarded for that.”

A Hackney Council spokeswoman said: “Hackney’s pay for its chief officers is in line with that offered by comparable authorities in London and across the country.

“Local government in London is a competitve recruitment field and chief officer salaries reflect what we need to pay to attract the best people to improve services for the people of Hackney.”

Say Goodbye to Football on the Marshes

Published in Hackney Gazette, March 15, 2007

Didn’t you just know that relocation of the travellers to a site on Hackney Marshes was a done deal from the very first time the subject was raised?

Once again this pathetic bunch of councillors, who are supposed to represent us, have proved that democracy is non-existent, not only nationwide, but in this case, on our very own doorstep.

Who do they think they are kidding when they state that Hackney’s planners had carried out excessive consultation?

I protested against the plan on behalf of more than 1,500 footballers, who, whenever they learn of the council and the London Development Agency’s misguided input, are astute enough to conclude that much of what is going on is just a matter of hiding their land-grab intentions under the banner of the Olympic ideal.

We have learned the hard way that we can’t believe a word uttered by the LDA. We feel desperately let down and see no real future for grass-roots football in the long term.

If they can ride roughshod over our feelings by acting without taking our football community’s objections seriously, then what hope is there for the future of Hackney Marshes?

It isn’t the fact that the travellers have been given approval to move permanently to a site on the Marshes. That is not the point. It is the very principle that matters.

We are apalled that approval in any shape or form has been given to anyone to take up residence on the Marshes. It is the thin end of the wedge and just goes to prove that this undemocratic body can abuse its powers on a scale beyond belief, where, when and wherever they want.

What is happening to this once great country? We used to be listened to, now it seems we are in the hands of a bunch of chancers who are in the process of getting their grubby little hands on the people’s land in the name of the Olympics.

In the football community’s eyes, they have tarnished its name forever.

We are sick of the very mention of the word Olympics. All it does is conjure up visions of smug politicians giving themselves a mutual pat on the back for all the so-called wonderful things they suppose they are doing for the “plebs”.

Then there is the matter of the escalating costs. It is all very well for these politicians to tell us that in the end it will all be worth the mounting expense. It isn’t their money! They just go on glibly on their merry ways with no seeming accountability.

Users of the Marshes – incidentally, we pay to play football on the Marshes – are even more fearful now than we ever were.

The LDA will rat on their promise to restore the East Marsh to its former splendour of grass pitches after the Games.

With costs spiralling out of control, some aims will have to be nipped in the bud and we are betting that restoring the East Marsh to its former glory will be one of them.

We can envisage them looking at the nice plot of concreted land and thinking this could be an excellent opportunity to claw back a large wad of cash.

Do you think it won’t cross their scheming little minds? We in the football community are prepared for the worst.

I did not go to the meeting regarding the travellers at the town hall. Experience has taught me that they may go through with the formality of stating that they will listen, but they will completely ignore our wishes or our objections.

I feel extremely sorry for Anne Woollett and the Hackney Marshes’ user group. Did they genuinely feel that they had a hope in hell?

I know of the hard work this group carries out in order to preserve the Marshes and, if it was not for their input, “our” Marshes would have appeared before us as a gigantic tarmac terrain long ago, instead of the wonderful green space we have at present, and if a community-serving group like the MHUG can’t prevent the desecration of the Marshes, what hope is there for us all?

Finally, my criticism of this spineless council excuses Cllr Simon Tesler. It would appear that there is a molecule of good sense and decency within politics somewhere.

While I think about it, say goodbye from all footballers to the Arena Fields, soon to be lost forever, leaving fond memories of happier days, but sadly to be replaced by an unsightly multi-story car park and media centre. Someone, somewhere is a good little earner!

Johnnie Walker
Chairman, Hackney and Leyton Sunday Football League

How green is Hackney New Labour?

Hackney Council are trying to boost their green credentials with a “compulsory recycling” scheme. The pages of Hackney Today and the council website are full of recycling initiatives. Why has this suddenly become a priority of our Labour council?

A look at the voting figures from last May’s elections show that apart from the four Tory/Lib Dem wards in the North East of the Borough that Labour have written off, the Green Party is now the opposition to Labour in the majority of wards. The Greens secured hundreds of votes even in wards where they stood paper candidates and did not campaign at all.

Labour has reacted to this pressure with various recycling initiatives. Even though they only won one seat, the Green Party have got a result.

Of course, there was a “pilot” for compulsory recycling last year. Labour knew they were up against it from the Greens in Clissold Ward so they introduced a bogus pilot in the Church Street area. They put out leaflets and council staff knocked on doors in the run up to the local elections saying recycling was now compulsory. And of course nothing happened as a result of this cynical stunt. Where was the follow up when the election was over?

Recycling is a government target for councils to meet. There are hard targets like running good schools, leisure facilities and council estates. And there are relatively easy ones like recycling, where you can easily make an impact on those who don’t necessarily use public services but do buy into the new green consensus.

Yes, Hackney council needs to organise recycling, but it also needs to put improved public services first. Instead of backing plans to fine those who don’t recycle, we should be throwing out of office those who cannot get our swimming pools open, clean and repair our estates (without the threat of flogging off bits of them to pay for improvements) or run the best possible schools for all of our kids.

Labour pursues recycling as the easier option, instead of improving services they should be prioritising, but have since lost interest in running themselves. Key services have been turned over to private companies like the Learning Trust, Greenwich Leisure and, in council housing, the double privatisation of both “Hackney Homes” and the private contractors managing each neighbourhood.

Hackney New Labour has been allowed to recycle the Tory policies of privatisation, land sales and gentrification for too long.