Greens now have TWO councillors in #Manchester – what next? What ELSE needs doing?

First up – congratulations to the new Green Party councillor in Woodhouse Park, Astrid Johnson.

You can read more about her and the election result on the Greens website.

Second up – congratulations to the team around her. The sheer amount of work required to get this result is beyond the imagination of folks not heavily involved.

Third up – and only quickly because

a) nobody reads this site

b) I have a job I should be doing

c) I don’t even freaking LIVE in Manchester anymore, some “what next/what else” thoughts (because, you know, my opinion is so sought after).

What next?

In the short term, I hope the Greens

a) make it impossible for the Labour Party to keep both their councillors off Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee. The only way to do this is to start flagging it as an issue now, to raise the cost to Labour of keeping them both off. Making appeals to Labour’s moral compass is a mug’s game.

b) I hope the Greens also do a better job than they have done in the last year of updating their website with blog posts (pro-tip – a well-constructed press release can easily be converted into a blog post, if you get the structure right). I hope this leads to them doing more “political education” work, that’s mostly not being done by anyone very well in Manchester.

[But to be clear – scrutinising the Council is not something that should be left to the Greens, or any political party. It’s the work for other organisations too, unless they think that social change comes from cheerleading a couple of Labour Party councillors who claim to be trying to change the system from within.]

I hope the Greens figure out some way of working with the two Liberal Democrats around scrutinising the Council. They might even be able to cover as many as four of the six scrutiny committees, between them.

Longer-term

Presumably the Greens will be targetting Woodhouse Park for their third seat at next year’s elections. Will Eddy Newman even be defending the seat for Labour? Who knows. I hope they can sustain their upward momentum, and morale, and expand their influence.

What else?

More generally, let’s not get carried away – this is still a Labour Party with 92 of the 96 seats. They control all the committees. They have a largely supine officer class that looks the other way when elected politicians do things dodgily and flagrantly. The officers know which side their bread is buttered on… Meanwhile, presumably the civil war within Manchester Labour Party continues to rage (and may explain why they couldn’t get rid of the man they all love to hate – John Leech – simply didn’t have enough boots on the ground?)

Manchester is still a de facto (but not, obviously, de jure) one party state. Labour seems to have suffered no discernible electoral damage in Chorlton Park or Old Moat, where a protest vote against the Hough End Fields decision seems to be conspicuously absent.

In a one-party state, the “rules” are different. Getting anything done that isn’t in the perceived self-interest of those running the show becomes, well, I think today’s euphemism is “challenging”…

Meanwhile, the carbon dioxide accumulates, the government passes laws criminalising protest and the issue attention cycle has moved on from climate change. We face a mind-boggling cost-of-living crisis with all that that entails around ever-deeper immiseration and cruelty towards the most vulnerable in society.

What is to be done?

The tasks – maintaining, at the group level, morale, sanity, absorptive capacity, capacity to act – remain the same, even as the circumstances in which people of good faith try to operate become ever harder.

We won’t get there with stale old brain-dead meetings where you are told about how awful everything is for three hours and then exhorted to “build the movement” by clapped-out grifters and hustlers. Trust me on this.

Anyway, good luck (and, barring maybe one post next week) goodbye.

Meanwhile, all our yestedays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.

Posted in Manchester City Council, Unsolicited advice | 2 Comments

Manchester Council won’t even say “no, we’re not looking again at that ‘independent’ panel that cut Lib Dem funding” Alternative title – “‘Fiona Ledden?’ Nobody here by that name…”

Orwell would chuckle. So would Kafka, I think. We really are in the Penal Colony, aren’t we?

Yesterday, Manchester City Council gave responses (and some replies) to a Freedom of Information Act request about an “Independent Remuneration Panel” they had hand-picked to investigate which councillors should get how much money.

Interestingly, the “independent” panel had a person who was found (by others) to be tweeting out support for Labour candidates in Stockport’s local elections…. Ooops. And the panel’s findings? Oh, they involved a massive cut for the Liberal Democrat group on Manchester Council. What are the odds, eh?

So, one of the questions was this

7. Given the evidence that one of the panel members was tweeting support for Labour, will the City Solicitor be revisiting the panel’s findings? If not, why not?

Response: This information is not held by Manchester City Council.

So I wrote back

Dear Ms Ledden,

thank you for your response to this FOIA, which even contained some actual replies.

I request a proper reply to question 7.

The  response that the “information is not held by Manchester City Council” does not amount to a competent evasion

Your reply can be as simple as “of course I won’t”. 

Thank you

Doctor Marc Hudson

And I got back

Dear Dr Hudson,

Your question 7 was “Given the evidence that one of the panel members was tweeting support for Labour, will the City Solicitor be revisiting the panel’s findings? If not, why not?

My response to this question was: “This information is not held by Manchester City Council.”

You have subsequently asked: “I request a proper reply to question 7. The response that the “information is not held by Manchester City Council”
does not amount to a competent evasion. Your reply can be as simple as “of course I won’t”.

In response to this request for clarification of my response I would advise you that the Freedom of Information Act requires public bodies to communicate to requesters information it holds unless one of the exemptions in the Act applies. The Act does not impose any duty on a public body to provide answers to questions if the information is not already recorded. In this case the City Solicitor has not recorded whether she will be revisiting the panel’s findings and so the answer to the question you have posed is “This information is not held by Manchester City Council.”

Yours sincerely,

Peter Hassett

Senior Solicitor

Manchester City Council

Normally I am not speechless, but, on this occasion…

Posted in Manchester City Council | Leave a comment

Manchester Labour versus democracy – “independent” panel admits talked to Lib Dem, but says has no minutes of meeting

In May, Manchester Labour has cut the money available to councillors in the opposition, making the necessary work of scrutiny that much harder. See Manchester Evening News story here)

Now, a Freedom of Information Act request has forced the Council to admit that the “independent” panel made up of three people, one of whom was busy Tweeting pro-Labour statements before the local elections DID in fact talk to John Leech, Liberal Democrat councillor.

But it took no minutes.

4. Did the Panellists speak to Councillor John Leech?

Response: Yes

5. What NOTES did they make of their conversation. (please provide)

Response: This information is not held by Manchester City Council.

6. If they did NOT take minutes, why not?

Response: This information is not held by Manchester City Council.

So, were they playing on their phones? Cyber-canvassing for Labour? Why are they so incompetent?

Can anyone appeal about Manchester Labour’s appalling behaviour and decision to cut funding to opposition parties?

No.

8. What appeals process exists for members – or members of the public who are wearily sickened but unsurprised by this latest grotesque sham – to use?

Response: The decision to accept the recommendations made by the IRP was taken by Full Council in its meeting held on 18 May 2022. There is no appeals process.

Read the rest of the Freedom of Information Act request below.

But first, this.

  1. For the sake of clarity – I am not now and have never been a member of the Liberal Democrats. Or the Greens. Or ANY political party. I used to be a fan of Labour, and I would vote for a left-wing Labour government in a heartbeat. But what we have in Manchester is – despite occasionally flowery-rhetoric and hand-wringing – a vicious cabal of greedy, stupid neoliberals.
  2. All those Labour councillors who tut-tut, and keep quiet about this, while “disagreeing”? You are EVERY bit as complicit in this as those Tory MPs who voted in favour of Boris Johnson in the Vote of No Confidence last week. This assault on demoracy is YOUR fault. You enable the goons at the top, through your silence.

1.  Who appointed the panel?  Named individual please.

Response: Fiona Ledden, City Solicitor, Manchester City Council

2. How did he (or rather “she”) choose?  What efforts did she make to ensure that the panellists were in fact, not, ooh, party political hacks who tweeted about Stockport Labour party. For example?  Was there a long-list that was drawn up? If so, by who?  How were people – perhaps too independently-minded – winnowed out?

Response: Fiona Ledden made the appointments to the Panel based upon the format used in previous IRP reviews. In the previous review Declan Hall, a former lecturer at the Institute of Local Government, the University of Birmingham, currently an independent consultant who specialises in Members Allowances and support was appointed as Chair. The other two members were the Chief Executive of GM Chamber of Commerce and the Regional Manager UNISON North West. Fiona Ledden made the same appointments of current incumbents to those named posts for this IRP review. No longlist was drawn up. The requirement for the IRP, and its membership, is that it be independent of the Council. There is no requirement for the members of the IRP to be apolitical or to have no political ties or views.

3. What were the terms of reference for the panel?  I am particularly interested in knowing if it was pointed out to them that Manchester is unusual among all local authorities in the UK as having – and having had had – a massive preponderance of one political party in charge.  Or if this lovely fact was ignored.

Response: I attach a copy of the Panel’s terms of reference. [see here]

and this one

7. Given the evidence that one of the panel members was tweeting support for Labour, will the City Solicitor be revisiting the panel’s findings? If not, why not?

Response: This information is not held by Manchester City Council.

(that is a”no”, but the City Solicitor is unwilling to simply come out and say so.)

Posted in Manchester City Council | 1 Comment

Manchester Labour’s latest assault on democracy

Manchester Labour Party has again attacked democracy.

The latest assault came at Full Council, as they hid behind an “independent” (1) panel that suggested it cut funding for the opposition members.

The reporting on this, by both Manchester Evening News and by Climate Emergency Manchester, was factually correct, but largely missed the bigger point

Manchester Labour do not want scrutiny. They will do everything they can – including reducing the cash their elected opponents get – to minimise the eyes and mouths raised against them.

If Manchester Labour were competent, this might not be the disaster it is. But the city is massively behind on its carbon emissions cuts, and the “leadership” of the council is either too idle or too stupid to do anything about that. Instead, just more blandishments, more patting selves on the back, more ritualised nothingness (it’s almost as if they are climate activists, eh?)

The reporting should have been titled “”Manchester Labour attacks democracy… again.”

Because that is what this is, regardless of what you think of John Leech and Alan Good (the Liberal Democrats) and the two achingly-silent Green councillors.

At the foot of this post is the FOIA I have submitted. But meanwhile, you’re probably thinking “what IS he going on about. Labour won the election, they can do what they like, right?”

What IS democracy?

You can look at this like Donald Trump – as a power grab where if you have the power, you twist and abuse norms to get what you want and to keep it. That is, essentially, how Manchester Labour have seen things, and seem set to continue to do.

Or you can look at democracy as more than just elections, and “formal” structures, and see it as ALSO a set of norms, customs, behaviours that allows dissident voices to be heard, so that better outcomes are reached.

This is what Manchester Labour does NOT do. See here-

That FOIA

Dear Sir/Madam,

re: so-called “Independent Remuneration Tribunal.

I am writing to request information about the recent entirely neutral and not-at-all petulant and nasty action by the Council.

Better be more specific, because that does not narrow it down.

I write concerning the  Review of Members’ Allowances presented to Full Council on 18 May 2022.  

1.3 “The members of the IRP were appointed, and requested to commence a review of MCC’s Members’ allowances scheme in September 2021. “

That is a bravura use of the passive voice – well done!

1  Who appointed the panel?  Named individual please.

2. How did he (or rather “she”) choose?  What efforts did she make to ensure that the panellists were in fact, not, ooh, party political hacks who tweeted about Stockport Labour party. For example?  Was there a long-list that was drawn up? If so, by who?  How were people – perhaps too independently-minded – winnowed out?

3. What were the terms of reference for the panel?  I am particularly interested in knowing if it was pointed out to them that Manchester is unusual among all local authorities in the UK as having – and having had had – a massive preponderance of one political party in charge.  Or if this lovely fact was ignored.

4. Did the Panellists speak to Councillor John Leech?

5. What NOTES did they make of their conversation. (please provide)

6. If they did NOT take minutes, why not?

7. Given the evidence that one of the panel members was tweeting support for Labour, will the City Solicitor be revisiting the panel’s findings? If not, why not?

8. What appeals process exists for members – or members of the public who are wearily sickened but unsurprised by this latest grotesque sham – to use?

Thanks so much in advance!!

Please consider this a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000

Dr Marc Hudson

What is to be done?

Oh, the usual. But not gonna happen, so no point enumerating it.

There will be more pointless meetings, and more craven fan-boi-ing of a party that has not been progressive for a very long time,, and more raging narcissists wanting eveyone to applaud them as they try to “change the system from within”. Carpe the diems. And FOIAs, obvs.

Footnotes

(1) This is one of their favourite words – allows them to wash their hands and say “we are only following suggestions.”

Posted in Manchester City Council | Leave a comment

Grifters and lifters – or “yes, we’re doomed: what do you propose We. Do. Differently?”

Spending too much (i.e. any) time on Twitter.

Am getting exceptionally and excitingly bored of natural scientists telling us how doomed we all because of how evil oil companies are, or how unaware the mass of the public are without simultaneously reflecting on the failure of the groups that they championed/championed them.

Am sick of hearing stuck records and banal “epiphanies” about the failures of the information deficit model (no, really? wow, I never knew) or how filling kids’ heads with information isn’t the way forward.

Am mostly sick of people doing all this – filling up everyone’s bandwidth – while having no answer to the “okay, so what do we do DIFFERENTLY?” question.

It is all variations on “the cat should wear a bell”.

It is a nice grift – you get to signal your virtue, your wisdom, your concern. You can point at the predictable bad guys (and for the avoidance of doubt OF COURSE THERE ARE BAD GUYS DOING BAD THINGS, BUT FFS WE HAVE KNOWN ABOUT THESE ASSHATS FOR THREE DECADES AND YET WE PERSIST IN THE SMUGOSPHERE AND THE EMOTACYCLE).,

Meanwhile, you don’t have to confront the “good guys” (the NGOs, so-called “blockadia” with the brutal facts of their failure, of their more than three decade long failure to confront the forces destroying the possibility of human civilisation (“I think it would be a good idea”) on earth.

You don’t have to name the shitty rituals that stabilise ineffective “resistance”, that feed into predictable boom-and-bust patterns, that throw up a few movement “stars” while killing everything else.

You don’t have to risk access to speaking gigs, you don’t have to risk convenient friendships, you don’t have to actually risk ANYTHING.

It’s a grift, basically.

What we need is lifters – people who will lift our eyes from our feet, from defeat, so we see what we have done badly. We need people with the vision and the guts to call out the failure, to diagnose it, to demonstrate that other ways of doing things are possible. Requires guts, vision, integrity. Not going to happen while grifters can still get their good guy/gal tokens from the old “cat should wear a bell” grift. It just isn’t.

Most of all we need a time machine, so we can have a do-over of the last three and a half decades.


Posted in narcissism, Unsolicited advice | 1 Comment

Manchester City Council versus beauty, clean air, clean minds and, well, everything

They are killing us with pollution. They are killing us by allowing the car to run rampant.

They are flogging our pavements and our eyeballs and our attention.

They spout nonsense about clean and green and how they are “carbon literate” and …

Oh, you know all this. You get punched in the face by it every day.

Here’s the latest from Steady State Manchester, on electronic billboards, their energy consumption and “Jevons’ Paradox.”

I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to our lords and masters at the Council back in December 2021 and finally got answers to in February and hadn’t been bothered to put on line. Here’s the previous post about this topic.

Read it and weep.

1. Was there any minuted discussion within The City Council – between officers, between officers and Executive Members, between Executive Members – of the any legal liability arising from what is advertised on the displays, as per the December 17th tweet by Chris. If so, please provide copies of those discussions/discussion documents
Officers discussed the parameters of what would be displayed on the CIP units at the Overview and Scrutiny Ethical Procurement Sub Committee on Thursday 21st February 2019 the minutes for this meeting are available on the council website


2. Was there any minuted discussion (same groups) of the morality, aside from legal responsibility, of encouraging further consumption/consumerism during a climate emergency? If so, please provide copies of those discussions/discussion documents
As above.

3. During the negotiations with JC Decaux, did the Council propose to have any veto over what could be displayed? If so,
a) please provide a copy of what MCC proposed and
The specification stated that all advertising must comply with the code of practice of the Advertising standards authority, in addition to this the following conditions were included:

a. not infringe on any trademark, copyright or patent rights of another company;

b. not relate to films which have not been granted permission for public exhibition or which do not show the British Board of Film Classification certificate;

c. not be in advocacy of, or opposition to any politically, environmentally or socially controversial subjects or issues;

d. not relate to a political party or parties or a political cause/not refer to indecency or obscenity or use obscene or distasteful language;

f. not depict direct or immediate violence to anyone shown in the advertisement;

g. not depict men, women or children in a sexual manner or displays nude or semi-nude figures in an overtly sexual context;

h. not promote the availability of adult or sexually orientated entertainment materials or establishments;

i. not promote food or beverage products that are classed ‘less healthy’ based on the Food Standards Agency ‘Nutrient Profiling Model’

j. not promote tobacco products and e-cigarettes or related products

k. not promote weapons, gambling or illegal drugs;

l. not promote financial organisations and loan advancers with punitive interest rates, ‘cash for gold’ or similar pawn broker type agents;

m. not contain negative references to Manchester City Council Services or those services provided or regulated by the Authority, or organisations associated with the Authority

n. not adversely affect in any way the interests of the site owner

b) what was JC Decaux’s response? (just summarise it, since that reply is probably covered by commercial confidentiality, innit?
JCDecaux agreed the above terms

4. When is the contract up for renewal?
The contract is for 10 years with an option to extend up to 5 years. The contract Start date is 1 August 2021

5. Is further pollution of public space to be scrutinised by any scrutiny committee, ever? If so, which one will it be?
Nothing is scheduled at this time

6. Oh, and what risk assessments were conducted about distracting drivers, further light pollution for wild life and cluttering pavements to the detriment of the mobility of pedestrians and wheelchair users? Please provide copies.
All sites were assessed based on the visual amenity and Highways safety as part of the planning approval, each site was approved on this basis. Therefore, no individual risk assessments were undertaken

Posted in Manchester City Council | Leave a comment

Twelve years ago in Punxatawney, Lancashire…

I am almost Gone From Manchester (more abt that soon). Doing a clear out, stumbled on this interview from the magazine of “Environmental Network for Manchester.” EN4M was funded by Manchester City Council, back when they still had money. It’s an interview from mid-2010, when I was… about to leave Manchester

To use a quote that has fallen into disuse – “Nothing has changed! Nothing has changed.”

Except this time I am gone for good.

Posted in Unsolicited advice | Leave a comment

Manchester’s Mutual Masturbation Morass on #climate

Manchester City Council is refusing to admit that a recent “independent” review of its climate activities was a joke.  

In February an “independent” (more on that later) report was released giving the council a clean bill of health about its climate action.It had involved some people coming up from Bristol and talking to people the Council had suggested they talk to. 

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request which asked “Did the Council make any effort to point the “peer challenge” team towards anyone who wasn’t going to say “nice things” about the Council, especially on climate change?”

The council gave a response (not a reply) that consisted of the following

“The Council developed a plan for the Peer Challenge in collaboration with the LGA, including the officers, members and stakeholders that would be interviewed. Those interviewed were freely able to express their opinions and were encouraged to do so.”

The council officer was invited to improve on that or else an internal review would be requested.

“Dear Ms Wood

I am not satisfied with your answer to question three.  

Please try again

If you do not, I will request an internal review.

Thanks!

Dr Marc Hudson”


They declined the opportunity,

Dear Mr Hudson, 

Thank you for your email. 

We have no further information to provide in response to this information request. 

Kind regards,

Kate

[And note that Kate cannot even get someone’s title right. I don’t care about the Dr thing,but the fact that she has such poor attention to detail does not exactly fill ya with confidence, does it?]

So an internal review has been requested.

Thanks.

I want an answer to my question.  It can simply be a sentence  “No, we did not make any effort to contact people who would have critical perspectives on the Council.”

Therefore I request an internal review.

Dr Marc Hudson

If that does not result in an actual answer then I guess it goes to the Information Commissioner.

What is going on

These “independent” “challenges” are a wheeze and a junket set up via the Local Government Association (the club that the various councils join). It’s a “you say nice things about us, and we will say nice things about you” echo chamber and mutual masturbation racket that is worse than useless.

Useless because it is devoid of actual truth, actual challenge at a time when it is more urgently needed than ever (see below). Worse-than-useless because it feeds into the smugness, complacency and turd-polishing that Manchester City Council has been doing on climate change since (checks notes) …. forever.

It’s the equivalent of a circle jerk.

Why this matters

Manchester as a city has burned through 6 million tonnes of its 15 million tonne carbon budget for the 21st century in the last three years.  It is so ridiculously off track as to make the whole thing a joke. Not the funny kind.

Manchester City Council would say “but we’re only two/four per cent of the budget, and we’re on target for OUR emissions reductions.” 

Setting aside the fact that Manchester City Council’s emissions reductions are largely from cutting services, sacking staff and flogging buildings, the bigger point is this. 

It was Manchester City Council that set the budget. It was Manchester City Council that gobbled up the PR opportunities. Therefore it is Manchester City Council that has to show leadership. Leadership is not preening and organising mutual masturbation and calling it “independent.” Leadership involves ensuring that the truth is found, and that it is acted on.  Manchester City Council will not know the truth about climate change until it bites their fat white arses.

What you can do

Understand that this Council has precisely zero intention of ever learning anything from its own mistakes, that it sticks its fingers in its ears and shouts “La La La” at the top of its lungs.

See for example, refusing to have the Council’s sole green councillor on the Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee that the Council had to set up because of public pressure from Climate Emergency Manchester (full disclosure – I am a former member of that organisation, and co-founder).

Understand that the Council treats climate change as just another issue to be spun and lied about, just another issue to be part of its international marketing campaigns.

Once you understand that

  1. Up your Freedom of Information Act skills (this is not difficult, and Climate Emergency Manchester is hosting a free training event on May 17th), because they ain’t NEVER gonna tell you the truth about this issue. Or any other for that matter. It is just who they are.
  2. Join a functional group that i)  isn’t led by poseurs and super-annuated virtue-signallers and/or co-opted drones and ii) is trying to innovate rather than continuing with the same stale repertoires of holding poorly-attended rallies and events, or serving up opportunities to councillors to preen and dodge the important questions.  That doesn’t leave you with very many groups, it’s true. Good luck, cos you are gonna need it.
Posted in Manchester City Council | Leave a comment

Just Stop Oil – anthropologically fascinating but politically terrifying

There’s a song by David Rovics with a lyric that has haunted me

“What do you say to someone. Who’s just lost everything. Eventually things might be OK”

It’s from a song called Tsunami, about the 2004 catastrophe in Aceh.  

And I’ve struggled to write this blog post, about things that happened three weeks ago because, well, what do you say to someone, who has understood that we as a species are about to lose everything – eventually things might be okay?

Because things won’t. The war is over, the good guys lost.  It is very hard not to think that humans are the cusp of some really gnarly shit. A relatively small number of people understand that, and an even smaller number are willing to run towards what they perceive to be the root cause of the problem and, well, to quote Mario Savio –

“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop.”

So I struggle to write this, and am only doing so because

  1. My failure to do so has gnawed at me
  2. I made a couple of promises on Twitter.

Enough with the I.

What follows is

  1. Some background about Just Stop Oil
  2. An account of the basic format of their spiel
  3. An account of what went “wrong” on two occasions
  4. What it all means, why it is anthropologically fascinating but politically terrifying

Background

Just Stop Oil is the latest offshoot of Extinction Rebellion, the social movement organisation which sprang to enormous prominence in the second half of 2018 and has had a very tough time of it since late 2019 (before the pandemic)..  There have been several spin-offs before, mostly only known by participants and careful readers of the Guardian.  The one that did “take off” was “Insulate Britain”, which blocked roads – mostly in the south of England – while calling for the government to, well, insulate Britain.  A small number of Insulate Britain activists – committed, brave, whatever else you might think of them – have done jail time for ignoring injunctions.. 

Now the same people (though they are trying to recruit– more on that later) are calling a new iteration “Just Stop Oil.” (I could riff on “Just Do It ” a failed climate group from 13 years ago, or Get Oil Out, from the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969, but, you know, life is short and the apocalypse is coming).

JSO folks are holding recruiting meetings across the UK – or at least England, a kind of “come with me if you want to live” thing.  The “fishing for men” [and women] thing seems not to be going so well.


The basic format

Based on two exposures, here is what happens.

There’s a very basic introduction/thank you for coming.  There’s no real effort to get people building links with each other.  The idea is very much that people have come and will be filled up with the information – and the fervour – and either be converted to the mission on the spot, or else be willing to hand out leaflets for future events, OR come to some non-violent direct action training.

The first section of the talk is a long, rambling and not very coherent account of the “science” of climate change.

There’s no useful images and metaphors for people, no opportunity for them to test out their current understanding of the causes and severity of climate change. Most seriously, this is a deeply (and deeply unnecessarily) populist and quasi-conspiratorial vision and version of the climate science.

There’s no historical angle (I don’t mean Svante Arrhenius, or even Revelle/Keeling/Schneider/Hansen etc).  There’s not even a structural explanation of why the IPCC is like it is, or an analysis of the media. Nope, it’s all ascribed to careerism and weakness by “establishment” scientists. Weirdly – and this is DEEPLY weird – one of the scientists they do quote is … Sir David King, who is about an establishment a figure as you can imagine.  But because he’s retired, and a quote of his is useful to the Just Stop Oil people, well, it’s all elided.

The irony is that the mainstream science – as per the IPCC’s 1.5 report that was a key part of XR being able to catch the public mood in September 2018 – is quite scary enough.

There are consequences for this conspiracy-thinking, which we will come back to. Ultimately, if you’re going to spend 30 minutes talking about climate science and at the end of it those people are no better equipped to explain climate science to OTHER people (their friends, family, neighbours) then, um, you’re not movement-building, are you?

The second section of the talk is even worse.  It’s labelled as “social science” but it’s an embarrassment that would get a failing grade in any university course worth the name.

What the speaker does (and they are speaking from a script handed down from on high, or at least on Hallam), is tell an ahistorical and vastly inaccurate story of the import of the Freedom Riders – brave individuals organised within CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality – to try to desegregate the interstate bus companies in the Deep South in 1961.

If you’re interested in this stuff, there’s a book all about it – Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice  by Raymond Arsenault and a great review by Thomas Sugrue in the London Review of Books Again, there is no historical context, no mention of the lunch-counter sit-ins, of Ella Baker, of SNCC, of all the tensions within and between movement organisations (it wouldn’t be hard to paint this picture, in broad brush strokes, but to do so would complicate the saviour – and the WHITE saviour – narrative that is being painfully and clumsily laid-out.)

The third part of the talk is one I only saw once – it’s the testimonies from two people who have already been arrested, or heavily involved, speaking to the liberatory nature of being in a beloved community.  After the fear (You have been lied to about climate change – it’s worse than you can imagine) comes the call to action (people got on a bus. YOU can get on a bus. Buy your ticket here).

There was no opportunity, no invitation to ask questions – these were all to be held to the end, and even then, not really. 


The plan was for people to split into smaller groups, each with one of the organisers in the discussion, which was to be very much a brief “what did you think”  (not, “do you have doubts/uncertainties”) followed by “so, are you going to dip your toe in the water a little bit – distributing leaflets – or are you gonna come back for another meeting about nonviolent direct action training?”  For there is to be a blockade of oil industry infrastructure in March or April… And they need warm bodies on the barricades.

In the end that didn’t happen, for reasons I will come back to, but it felt for all the world like a high-pressure pyramid selling style thing, where people are recruiting recruiting recruiting.

What went wrong?

On the first time I turned up late and… doubled the number of attendees.  We sat there, three young people, two presenting from laptops, one student and one old fart (me).  So, not so useful for them.  


The second time, on the same day that this appeared in the Guardian I went to a community centre in South Manchester, close to where I live (I wouldn’t have travelled further afield – my curiosity is limited). Numbers were marginally better (about 10 people, plus the three speakers).  Slim pickings though, for the thousands of leaflets that were circulated…

What went “wrong” was three things, two of which were unavoidable and maybe not important, and one which was extremely telling, and left the organisers flummoxed.  

The first was a person who had come with their carer. They didn’t really get the “hold questions for the end” and clearly didn’t want to be talked at for an hour, so began to interject.  The Just Stop Oil person dealt with it firmly and compassionately (full disclosure – I know the speaker, and she is a very very admirable human being).  But it continued, and in the bit where we were supposed to be brought to a fervour of joining, the person stood in the middle of the room and proposed that the way to deal with the problem was for shelters to be built – like bomb shelters in the war – where we could all retreat.  Nobody quite knew what to say, and their carer then had to gently intervene  (btw, if you’re after this as a plot for an eco-novel, you’re too late – Ben Elton did it in “This Other Eden” almost thirty years ago.)

The second mattered even less: it was me.  We were in one group, rather than the two that was planned (because a couple of other people had left). I was sat to the immediate right of one of the “testifiers”, whose job it clearly was to guide the conversation quickly to declarations of commitment to The Cause.  I said I’d pass (because I didn’t trust myself, and I didn’t want to piss on their chips/rain on their parade). He insisted, so I pointed out that I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and I’ve seen groups like this come and go, go up like a rocket and come tumbling down like a stick, that while the climate change portion of the talk was not actually wrong, the social science stuff was cringeworthy.  Ooops.  And it was dealt with in classic British fashion by… pretending it hadn’t been said, and the next person was asked for their view point.

The third problem – and the serious one, which merits the “politically terrifying” bit of the title – was this.


One of the attendees, an affable older chap, was there to try to recruit people to the fight over the Clean Air Zone in Manchester.  Or rather, to the fight AGAINST the Clean Air Zone.  He was keen to distribute the Just Stop Oil flyers, and equally happy to use the rhetoric of “scientists and politicians have been lying to us” to claim that air quality was fine, and that Andy Burnham is bringing this in as a personal wealth generator etc etc.


And the Just Stop Oil people had precisely no way of dealing with this. They were clearly bamboozled by it. It hadn’t been in their briefing…

But they’d left themselves wide open for this sort of anti-scientific opportunism by their completely unnecessary and cack-handed denigration of actual science.  They had nowhere to turn, and no way back..

I was reminded from a scene in a Dirty Harry movie (that’s the way my brain works) where Harry Callahan is confronted in a multi-story carpark by vigilante cops whose language is precisely that of the student radicals…

Why it’s anthropologically fascinating, politically terrifying and what will happen?

So what happens when prophecy fails, when the streets empty, when the caravan moves on? Well, folks tend to double down on the rhetoric, and keep trying what worked in the past – like the T1000 in the vat of molten steel at the end of Terminator 2 – flicking through all previous incarnations, in the hope one will work.

This feels to me like we are going into another period of abeyance, of climate change protest just not being “a thing”.  There is an existing cost of living crisis for many, and it will spread and spread as food and energy prices go through the roof. 


The protests in April (and it seems, since I went to the JSO thing, that it has been folded into the same day as the XR thing? I could be wrong) will be much smaller than the organisers hope, and receive much less media coverage than they are hoping for.  Many people are burnt out already, others burning, like the planet.

Meanwhile, the rhetoric of populist anger, of having been lied to, used so ineffectually by climate activists, will be deployed with far greater effect and resonance by some truly horrifying people.

And it as times like this we need new thinking, beyond exhortation and faux-populist information-deficit maunderings.  We need to build links, networks, self confidence, granular capacity to act.  But in the space of three years XR has become its own tribute band, playing the same old songs louder and louder, to ever fainter cheers, as painful as a Spinal Tap. Meanwhile, the thermostat goes up to eleven…

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Climate Art Project in #Manchester – Deadline 14 March!!

Do you live in Manchester and want to bring people and ideas together?

Becoming an Art Agent is an opportunity for you to imagine a better future for people in Manchester, to make something happen and to do it your way. It could be a get together, a new creation or something entirely new!

We are a group of visual art venues from across Manchester (Castlefield Gallery, HOME, Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth) all working on British Art Show 9, and we would like to hear from you, and see if we can support your ideas.

We are happy to chat with you and answer questions about what your project could be before you apply. Drop us an email any time at artagentsmanchester@gmail.com 

More information about how to share your idea with us can be found in the attachment.

You may like to know:

-You don’t need to have a fully formed idea to apply. We will work with you to develop your idea and budget

-This is a paid opportunity, with a fee of £115 per day or equivalent. This work will include planning and delivering your project, and also some training and evaluation. We expect this to be the equivalent of between 4 and 8 days’ work, and this may be made up of half days or hours to suit you

-There is a budget to pay for your project, this will be agreed after selection-The deadline to send your information to us is 14 March at 9am

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