On class, egofodder and control: Manchester City Council versus #climate action and democracy

Manchester City Council is – through its usual behaviour – destroying the possibility of an effective response to climate change. This will not come as a shock to anyone who has been paying attention at any point in the last 20 or so years.

They’re doing it actively through airport expansion, new car parks they call “mobility hubs.

They’re doing it passively by not prioritising walking and cycling (latest atrocity on the former topic here),

and not scrutinising their own plans and “progress” (see Climate Emergency Manchester’s Team Scrutiny Fabulous posts).

But I want to talk about one of the hidden, longer-term things that’s going on. And as a man I will steal… sorry, cite, the work of two women.

First up, a new episode of the GreenNew Deal podcast with Dr Jenna Ashton (full disclosure, she’s a friend). In it she talks about how certain politicians (she doesn’t mention names, but we all know who she’s talking about) want to run around saying that people in North Manchester don’t care about climate change. It’s bullshit, but they perceive it as useful/convenient, so they keep spouting it and very few Labour councillors or Labour Party members have the spine to call it out.

The second item is from leafy South Manchester – Didsbury in fact (which was name-checked by Ashton). Here’s an account by Alison Hawdale (full disclosure, another friend) published on Climate Emergency Manchester (full disclosure, until 3 weeks ago I was in its core group). The crucial bit, for my purposes, is this (emphasis added)-

“As you might imagine, the 30 people who attended were a self-selecting section of the public.  I knew quite a few of them, and I imagine there were not many degrees of separation between us all.  If we had been there so that our collective knowledge, experience and passion could be harnessed, then something powerful might have been ignited,  But instead I sat through a talk on how to reduce my personal food waste, and another on how I could organise my own litter-pick.  I’m not saying these things aren’t important, but really we were the wrong audience.  The whole thing could have been on a much more collaborative, problem-solving basis to tackle the issue of reaching out to the thousands of residents of Didsbury East who were not in the room.

“There was one collaborative element to the evening – we were asked to put post-it notes up making comments about the Didsbury East Climate Plan, but by the time I left, none had been put up,  The plan had not been sent out before the meeting, there was only one copy of it available on the night, and very little time to look at it.  I think that the people attending could have provided valuable input into the document, and maybe some of the evening might have been usefully spent on this sort of discussion.  The plan has now been sent out to those who came to the meeting and a group at the Didsbury Climate Cafe intend to take a careful look at it.”

This is vintage Manchester City Council (and other organisations, including, sadly, most so-called civil society/campaigning groups.) Pure info-deficit. Pure neoliberal atomising patronising tosh. What they call engagement I call ego-foddering. They want people to applaud them and then crawl back into their holes and not ask questions. They don’t want independent, non-controllable, persistent and (perhaps) smarter-than-them groups to form. So they make it soul-suckingly boring, intimidating and patronising, so that most people give up and those who remain can be co-opted. And no, it’s not a cunning plan, where they sit around thinking “how can we screw these people?” All they have to do is do things exactly as they’ve been done over the last however many decades, and then wring their hands at low participation. Bourdieu habitus blah blah blah.

This is what I mean by “ego-fodder.”

And you can read this

Ego-foddering: Why is it awful, who benefits, what is to be done? #oldfartclimateadvice #climate

There is a very very strong class component to this. Middle-class people, who “did well” in school (sat in rows, in silence, parrotted back the expected answer) have a higher threshold for this. Working class people, who were on the receiving end of dark sarcasm and much worse, have better things to be doing that putting up with this shit, so they quite rightly don’t, on the whole.

There’s not much we can do about the Council, in the short-term (though we can name what they do for what it is, and should). What we CAN control is how organisations that allegedly have a class/gender/race analysis behave.

But we probably won’t.

About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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