Monday, 9 July 2012

Debating the city's future: not for the likes of you

Big event at the Hegemon tonight: Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England is coming to give a talk. It was good constituency but rightwing Labour MP Pat McFadden's idea:
I wanted us to focus on the city’s future and what we might do about the key challenges the city faces: what will Wolverhampton do for a living in the future and how could it create more jobs; what can we do to raise the levels of ambition and standards in the local education system to give young people more opportunities; how can we tackle the public health issues facing the city; how could we improve the quality of life for the city’s residents and visitors?
All very serious issues facing this failing place. Why Mervyn King?
I was clear that the economy was the number one issue and keen to begin the Wolverhampton Debates with Sir Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England. Sir Mervyn went to school in Wolverhampton and has retained an association with the city. He has been at the heart of the country’s response to the economic storms of recent years. He is ideally placed to talk about our economic future.
OK, he's local. He's also a big name and it does the university good to attract the movers and shakers. But Mervyn King? If I've learned anything from the past few years, it's that he's not fit to run - or regulate - the parking fines division of the local council, let alone an entire financial system.

Steve Bell on King's approach to Bob Diamond

He presided over the substitution of an economy with a fiscal economy. He blithely colluded with the systematic deregulation of the fiscal sector. It crashed, and took us all with it. Then he presided over a bailout which channelled hundreds of billions of pounds from education, healthcare, social services and benefits to the reserves of the banks which impoverished us all, without insisting on any fundamental change to their behaviour or structures. He allowed a property boom to turn us into a nation of haves and have-nots, and not once has he suggested that our economic model needs anything more than a little tweaking.

Steve Bell on Bob Diamond facilitating the madness under the previous government

Will I be putting these points to the Governor this evening? No I won't. Despite our institution's avowed purpose being 'widening participation', I'm not invited, and neither are you. The event isn't even listed on the university's events page.
Sir Mervyn will give his talk to an audience of business, education and political leaders in Wolverhampton.
Who are these leaders? No doubt Uppal will be there, alongside the city's élites. But this is how we got into this mess in the first place - self-appointed and self-perpetuating political and business classes debating our lives behind closed doors. No new ideas, no raised voices, no basic questions. Warm white wine and furrowed brows. Outside, my students beg for work.

What does leadership entail these days? Holding on to your comfortable seat and seeing and hearing no evil. Or alternative arguments. So much for democracy and widening participation. This event demonstrates everything that's wrong with our political and social system. Who is this 'we' to which McFadden refers? The great and the good, not the citizens of a democracy. Those who'll be most affected by decisions made are precisely those who are excluded from the discussion. It wasn't always like this: political parties used to be mass organisations whose members took decisions. British life was made up of a patchwork of bottom-up voluntary groups and societies. No longer: 'we' are explicitly characterised now as the passive recipients of wisdom, not repositories of it. McFadden's a nice chap, but he can't comprehend a society in which 'leaders' listen to the citizens. This is why he and his class - across all parties, organisations and companies, must be treated as a temporary aberration in the march towards a participatory democracy - a democracy which is now under serious threat, as this new report explains.

This is the era of open source: software, art, education and democracy. Shame the news hasn't reached The Hegemon or indeed this country's opinion-formers.

Democracy baby!

Update: apparently some students from the Business School were invited. I see: the city's future is relevant to them but not to anyone else - humanities, urban design, sociology, science or healthcare students. That's a pretty reductive idea of what a city consists of.

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