Open Letter to Kevin Peel about #Manchester City Council and how to scrutinise it @kevpeel

Dear Kevin,

kevintweetsit’s unfortunate that you ignored the content of the 7 proposed ways Manchester City Council could improve its democratic scrutiny, and instead focussed on presentation issues(1). I have no way of knowing if you did this as a tactic, but it means an important discussion risks not happening.

If you are as time-poor as the rest of us, feel free to skip to the final section, past the “smiley activism doesn’t work” and “Hudson’s first law of Mancunian activism” to the “what is to be done” bit.

The implication of your tweets is that if only I was all sweetness and light, things would be peachy. But…

Smiley activism doesn’t work.
How do I know? Some (by no means all) experiences;
2007. Participated (at council’s invite) in repeated workshops that were supposed to lead to a citizen-written climate policy by end of year.  The process fizzled out.
2008. Asked about the promised Climate Strategy engagement. Fobbed off (and then lied to about how the Council was going to spend the £1m that was set aside for Carbon Reduction. But I digress).
2009. Co-launched “Call to Real Action”, which helped Council run its stakeholder-engagement process to produce the “Manchester Climate Change Action Plan”
2009 -10. Endless meetings of the Environmental Advisory Panel (which I proposed), which I attended unpaid. Panel became Council-dominated fig-leaf and talking shop.
2010.  Invited to attend Economy Employment and Skills Scrutiny Committee meeting. Council promised to prepare report on Steady State Economics. Council didn’t
2011. Launched open letter – signed by various people the Council likes – where we offered to help write a document about Steady State Economics. Council members said “yes”, but officers “forgot” this and went ahead and wrote their own.
2012. Proposed a series of low-cost ways to revamp of the sclerotic Environmental Advisory Panel. A very senior officer publicly announced the council would work with me to produce questionnaire/proposal. The council didn’t, and then abolished the Panel.
2014. Launched open letter to Council on 9 actions it could take on climate change. [Here’s a link to the video]  And we were met with blandishments and buck-passing and broken promises.  See a pattern emerging at all?

[And it’s not just me – plenty of other people have tried to engage the Council. And found that unless you are offering yourself as a fig-leaf, saying what they want to hear, then you are ignored.]

But of course, just because smiles don’t work, doesn’t automatically mean that snarls do. Except they sometimes can, and I am a little surprised you don’t acknowledge this, given our recent history.
In February 2014 at Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee you asked for a progress report on the long-delayed Green Infrastructure Strategy. This was accepted as a recommendation and then WAS NOWHERE TO BE FOUND ON THE MARCH MEETING AGENDA. (Sorry for shouting, but this stuff matters)
And guess what – I wrote a robust email – which I cced you into, and as if by magic, the item appeared and was discussed… (For that email, see footnote 2)

Hudson’s first law of Mancunian policy activism (3)
Policy initiatives from outside the Town Hall/Chamber of Commerce nexus will only be acknowledged if they a) help avert embarrassment and/or b) further entrench the comfort and power of the incumbents.

For some history and theoretical underpinnings (4), see this video.

So, the “Call to Real Action” climate project of April 2009 was welcomed because the Council had tried and failed to do plausible climate policymaking, and The Glorious Leader had committed to flying to Copenhagen in 8 months’ time with a completed policy in his hand.
And any attempts to get the Council to think outside the box (steady state economics) or to properly scrutinise themselves and their abject failure would create serious discomfort, risking the image (the word is used advisedly) of “Open for Business” and “Everything basically under control.”

So, if I believe all this, why do I bother? Because I can’t not. I can’t tear my eyes away from the car crash that is Manchester’s endless bullshitting about climate change. True, it’s merely a microcosm of the species’ bullshitting, but it’s one that I – as a citizen with freedom of speech, freedom of assembly-(ish) and occasional freedom of information – have a responsibility to try to DO something about. Thus Manchester Climate Monthly, the videos, the interviews, and the concrete proposals of how things could be done differently. The proposals that never get taken up unless they save embarrassment…

What is to be done?
So, Kevin, you have a reputation for speaking out – both in public and ‘behind closed doors’ – about overweening power and the damage it can do.  It seems to me then, it would very very helpful if you could;

a) go into specifics of what you proposed in your 30min+ speech at the Unlock Democracy event on Tuesday (the one you said I should have been at.) What, precisely, do you think needs to change in the mechanics of the scrutiny committees, the Executive’s consultative panel etc?

b) explain which of the seven proposals that I put forward in such a positive and engaging way you agree with, and what you are therefore going to push for within the Labour Party/Group and as a councillor. When are you going to push for them? How?

c) explain which (if any) of the seven proposals you disagree with, and give your reasons.

If you want to have an (unedited) guest post on MCFly, you are welcome. If you want to write it on your own website, MCFly would happily cross-post/link to it.

But the citizens of Manchester – whether they vote or not – should be able both to test your ideas and to find out what you think of other people’s ideas, above and beyond cheap tone-policing.

Best wishes to your party for what is sure to be a very tight race in all wards.

Marc Hudson

Footnotes
(1) “Presentation issues”; That’s a euphemism for my sarcasm and cynicism. Why do I write like that? Because smiley activism doesn’t work. And so you are left with the decision of whether to speak truth to power. And of how to keep your self-respect intact. I know several people who think they are changing the system from within. And these people – I don’t know how they look themselves in the eye in the morning. So many compromises, so many silences, so much cowardice. If I am going to do this activism – unpaid – then the only payment is the ability to call it like I see it. Perhaps you can understand? I don’t know.

(2) Here’s the email I sent, on February 27th (cced to Cllrs Kevin Peel and Kate Chappell)
Dear Councillor Curley,
I am writing to you in your capacity as chair of Neighbourhoods Scrutiny.
as you may remember, I was at the Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee meeting in early February.
At the end of the discussion of the Climate Change “Action” “Plan”  I distinctly heard Councillor Kevin Peel request that the long-delayed Green and Blue Infrastructure Strategy be submitted to the March Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee.
I also distinctly heard this recommendation be accepted.
I am therefore confused and alarmed that
a) the minutes do not reflect this, and that
b) the item is not scheduled for discussion.
I await your response.
Marc Hudson

(3) The “law” is an embarrassing banality. It’s not special to Manchester. Any encrusted regime acts the same way. It’s the niche actors who need to decide how they respond.  The best way is to have both an inside and outside approach. And to movement-build. Which is hard, when you’ve too few actually reliable people. So it goes.

(4) By “theoretical underpinnings” I of course mean “hobby-horses for which I found some academic footnotes”.

 

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About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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4 Responses to Open Letter to Kevin Peel about #Manchester City Council and how to scrutinise it @kevpeel

  1. Tracy says:

    Dear Marc, I agree wholeheartedly with what you are saying. Thank you for finding the energy to keep chipping away. The Council does some good things (there are some good people in it) but on green issues – woeful.

  2. Sam Gunsch says:

    Dear Manchester Climate Monthly,

    I propose: Comparison shopping!

    Rate my city, my municipal politicians, my civil servants, on their actual action toward commitments they lauded as reasons to vote for them and reasons to respect their efforts BUT do this across cities. Across continents.

    so what I’m suggesting… How about working up a network of citizens doing what you are doing, across the cities and towns of the English speaking jurisdictions of the West?

    City to city comparisons.

    Thus, seems to me, it’s likely that your sort of indelicate citizen scrutiny won’t be as easily pushed into the ditch with the ‘play nice’ or be ostracized ‘tone-policing’ type of threats.

    And for full disclosure, readers of McFly should know, I’m a big fan of the political perspective of this McFly editor. So I’m inclined to take his side. I follow all his posts and reply privately with all sorts of unsolicited advice.

    The thing is, however, that politics here in Canada, Alberta, my city of Edmonton, is very much the the same as Manchester’s… that is: around green/political issues such as climate, econ growth without limits, political alliances between elected rep’s and vested interests, etc.

    It’s the standard playbook we’re up against, and to which McFly is reacting: We’re urged to do the game: Playing nice and going inside into every consultation/process/political exercise, BUT God Forbid! we point out the bare-ass of lack of any substantive action toward the goals. Excommunication!

    Anyways… different continent, but same old pressure to engage in ass-kissing, go with the flow, chicken-shit status-quo corporatist politics.

    Yeah… I’m with him… I’m not nearly as politic… for me; smiley face activism is just pissing-in-the-wind.

    Sam Gunsch

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