Put down that amnesia wand, or we’ll all be dumb… #Manchester #climate #movementbuilding #failure

Reader(s) of a certain vintage and geographical persuasion will remember a 1987 Midnight Oil song “Put Down that Weapon” which implored “Put down that weapon or we’ll all be gone.” And a couple of lines later

And it happens to be an emergency
Some things aren’t meant to be
Some things don’t come for free

It is an emergency, and we need all brain cells on deck. We need to make use of the past, so we don’t repeat it.

If we lobotomise ourselves, with those memory eraser wands from Men in Black

if we choose to ignore the long history of spasms of mobilisation (as distinct from movement-building), if we choose to wake up each morning as if it’s our first day in Punxsatawney, then we will continue to fail.

What brought this rant on?

This.

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MUST WATCH: Prof Loretta Ross on calling out/calling in and much in between

Superb video, lots of things that will make you go “yes!” and other bits that will have you wince, I think…

More info about the prof here.

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Where are the #climate groups now? Or “Manchester Activist Scene Tedious And Banal ‘All Together’ Exhortations”

Two and a half years ago – at what I suspected at the time was the height of the climate issue (1) – I wrote a piece called A bluffer’s guide to #Manchester environment & #climate organisations, old and new. Various people got in touch to say it was useful, and it did well (it’s all relative) on the stats. Now, at what is very likely the end of the “issue attention cycle” – or at least the mass public mobilisation around climate (2) it’s worth revisiting these organisations to see how they fared. I’ll follow it up with some observations on why it has turned out like it has (because, spoilers – many of the much-publicised and vaunted organisations turned out to be… um… “not quite as resilient as they thought” (3)), what needed to be done differently, what needs to be done differently from now (main thing – be honest about how shit our side is and take steps to make it less shit), why it almost certainly won’t be done differently (that’s where the shoddy “MASTABATE” retronym comes in), and what, therefore we can reasonably expect (4).

So, to recap the graphics from last time round, from 2018 and then 2019

And now? I’d say this.

Those groups

GroupPandemic/now
Campaign against Climate ChangeThinks that a few hundred people in the rain is “magnificent”. Can’t do anything that isn’t placards. No website (infamously it has a banner with an URL to a site it hasn’t had for a decade-ish [Update 19 Nov 2021- See third comment below- The URL now redirects to a Facebook page] ), no Twitter. No clue. God help us all
Fossil Free Greater ManchesterStill plugging away. No apparent innovations in campaigning though.
FrackFree Greater ManchesterDisbanded after helping to win the defeat (permanent?) of the anti-fracking activists
Friends of the Earth (Manchester branch)

As anyone would expect, saying nice things about Andy Burnham, despite GM’s utter failure to cut its emissions. That’s about it.
Green Drinks ManchesterDead? Held a poorly attended event at Patagonia recently. No website or Twitter activity. Seems dead, but may stagger on. Was in deep shit before the pandemic, in any case
Green PartyHas had a councillor for six months, not that you’d know it particularly from their website. Councillor has not forced his way onto the Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee that Labour kept him off, even though that would have been a winnable (or at least worth-fighting) fight. Or taken the fight to the Council on its bullshit. So it goes.
Greenpeace ManchesterStill doing things that national Greenpeace wants done (that’s the model).
Manchester Climate Monthly (aka MCFly, from when it was Manchester Climate Fortnightly, 2008-2010)About to wrap up. Didn’t do terribly much during the pandemic because was busy with CEM stuff.
SERADead, in Manchester at least – replaced by new outfits that think a Green New Deal is The Answer
Steady State ManchesterPlugging away
Carbon CoopThat’s the award-winning Carbon Coop to you…
Kindling TrustPlugging Away
Bridge 5 MillStill there
Manchester Environmental Education NetworkHard to say from a website gander
The Salford StarSadly dead. Brilliant project
The MeteorStill publishing. Extensive if uneven coverage on environmental issues – less so of Manchester City Council.
“New groups” (as they were in May 2019)
Climate Emergency ManchesterDoing okay. Had a good pandemic. Solid core group, recruiting more people to do stuff, holding the Council to account, learning new skills [Full disclosure – I was in the core group until a week ago]
Extinction RebellionFunctionally extinct (clinging to a local campaign for mutual sustenance is not going to force the British State to decarbonise everything by 2025)
Fridays for FutureAs good as dead- A small number of people stand outside the Central Library on a Friday, handing out flyers to passersby and holding a banner that has a website that hasn’t worked for about 10 years.
GM Climate Action NetworkDead.
GM Unite the Union Community Branch – climate groupDead
Rising Up! Manchester FamiliesDead
Youth Strike for ClimateDead

What needed to be done differently

  • Better meetings
  • Better strategy within groups
  • A commitment to capacity building and retention within groups and between them. Required trust and imagination. Nope.
  • Even an inkling of an understanding that repeated mobilisation is not the same thing as movement-building.
  • Explaining the perils off the smugosphere and the emotacycle, and how they are feel-good dead ends. Finding out what people WANTED to do, and what skills and knowledge they had. Talking about the gaps, and coming up with ways of them developing skills, knowledge, relationships.
  • Focussing on the importance of morale, and fake morale boosters versus real morale boosters.

What needs to be done differently

James Baldwin said it well – “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Until “we” as a “movement” in Manchester face the fact that there was a moment when hundreds of people (thousands?) could have been helped to be dedicated, skilled, long-term activists in holding local power to account (not just the Council, btw – there’s far far more to be done than just that), but that the opportunities in that moment were squandered, spaffed against the wall, then nothing can be done to take advantages of the (lesser?) opportunities to come.

But if we persist in wishful thinking, and vacuous out of date hopey-changey cheerleading of failed groups, and of the latest bunch of Labour leaders who have already shown that they are not interested in thinking or doing anything differently, then, well, we will continue to MASTABATE (see title of blog).

Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine to MASTABATE – at least it’s sex with someone you love, right? But it’s not politics.

Why it almost certainly won’t be done differently

It would require painful reflection on past failure and a change in expectations, theories of change and possibly the end of some friendships. Easier to stay in the cosy smugosphere. So incumbents will. And there just isn’t the external pressure (from “the state” or the niches) to force the incumbents to behave differently.

Basically we lack numbers, we lack strategy and we lack emotional courage to face up to the fact that we are so deep in the smugosphere that we’re like goldfish in water who don’t even know that water exists. We allow ourselves to be tugged along in emotacycles. We are shit at recruiting and retaining people (not everyone can be retained of course, nor should be, but our numbers are lower than they could be, than they need to be).

What to expect

Trouble. And not in the generative, hopey-changey handwavium Donna Haraway sense. Trouble trouble. I will do a separate post on gazing into my crystal balls. Betcha can’t wait.

Footnotes

(1) It gives me no pleasure to say I was right. (Oh, bullshit, of course it gives me pleasure to say I was right. I love it when my guesstimates are right, they let me think I know what is going on. It’s a bit of an effort to forget all the (many more) times I’m wrong, but I pay myself for that effort with gloating when I’m right – amirite?)

(2) Issue attention cycles tend to last 3 years or so – or they have for climate, anyway. Within them, the media is interested in covering the issue. But when they’ve done all the stories they can, and editors and readers are bored, the caravan moves on. IACs in the past have ended with a big international conference (Rio, Copenhagen) and there’s a non-trivial chance Glasgow will be a similar punctuation. Back in 1992 and 2009 people said “oh, but it’s different this time, because everybody now knows, and corporations are taking it seriously, and governments have policies….” In a year or so we will know if it IS different. In any case, as this article has hopefully made clear, I’m more interested in the local than the national/international.

(3) They were shit, worse-than-useless shit. But if I put that in the main body, then somehow I’m a bad person. I don’t make the rules…

(4) This bit is probably not worth reading. I am no better a Nostradamus than anyone else. Spit-balling futures gives you the illusion of foreknowledge, the illusion of some control. So it goes.

What do we learn comparing “peak climate” and post-COP26?

  • The wretched putrid culture of “activism” is strong. It expels many, “rewards” a tiny number.
  • That if you don’t have a website, that you’re going to update, you should  fuck off
  • That if you’re not going to try to spread the skills  beyond your own group, you should  fuck  off
  • That if you stick to one repertoire (especially if it involves licking the genitalia of one party, then don’t expect applause)
  • Lots of groups say they believe in learning, in networking, but when push comes to shove, they simply don’t do it.
  • Groups die, and if we aren’t willing to say why, then the “movement” tanks with them.
  • This was all entirely predictable, and, yes, predicted

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Who you gonna believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?

If people won’t even tell the truth about their own actions, why should we trust their analysis of others’? Or their trustworthiness, competence etc? Serious question. And silence is complicity, btw.

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#COP26 hot take of hot takes

Said it before, will say it again. #COP26 is utterly irrelevant for people who want to do real stuff in #Manchester.

Still, here’s a very lightly annotated list of a tiny proportion of the hot takes. I have even wasted time I don’t have on a kind of matrix,

But it could have been done before COP finished. Why?

Because, COP26 – like others before it – was a Rorschach (inkblot) test ; what you saw depended on what you expected to see, and what your vision of a “reasonable” response to the climate emergency might be. After each shitshow there are some who for ideological, career or psychological reasons want to say “well, THIS bit was good, so NEXT year you should pay me/pay me attention to go to wherever it is and report on the slow progress.” In the language of the con, it’s known as ‘cooling out the mark’. Then there are other people who say “it was a shitshow, we’ve been betrayed.” Which is fine, but why the (mock?) surprise. After 26 go-rounds, aren’t you a little, um, naive? Meanwhile, most people on this planet have only the dimmest awareness it was even going on… Lucky blighters.

Carbon Action Tracker

“Empty words, no action” First Nations perspective in the Guardian.

Also, Pacific Islands getting screwed again, also the Guardian.

Global Justice Now folks – “1.5 on life support”

We’re so screwed… James Dyke writing in the I.

BBC journo Matt McGrath “Seen in that light, the agreement reached here after extended negotiations looks like a limp sticking-plaster for the deep wound that’s threatening life on this planet.”

Michael Jacobs on Twitter. Thread

Climate deal offers relief for wealthy nations but vulnerable fear ‘death sentence’ Financial Times November 15, 2021

ECIU –

The Glasgow Pact

And I live tweeted their recent webinar which you can watch here.

Carbon Brief’s comprehensive and possibly authoritative view- here.

Business Green – quick story

Green Alliance “was COP26 a success is the wrong question” –

Edie (business website) “7 takeaways” – good piece

All these pieces above are worth skimming. But ask yourself why you are spending your finite time and energy on that, when there are local councils that YOU could be trying to influence, getting away with spin and nonsense. My reason for reading all these was because I have a professional interest these days. Without it, I would not have bothered. Local. Local. Local.

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What #COP26 means for #Manchester on #climate

First off, that’s a clickbait headline. Sorry. Anyone who knows this website, or my perspective, knows what is coming.

COP26 means absolutely nothing. It never did, and anyone who told you it did, who told you that it was somehow going to put a fire under the Labour Group (which has 94 or the 96 Councillors), or convert the elected and unelected leadership to an understanding that their economic model of endless growth was “sustainable”, OR that COP26 was somehow going to create a climate “movement” in Manchester was either an idiot or a liar OR BOTH.

COP26 was always going to be a corporate-friendly shitshow with real politik watering everything down, and a massive spin effort to make the next one (Egypt, since you ask) seem like the place where Glasgow’s “success” will be ratified. It was always going to end this way, the clue is in the name (twice) COP. And 26.

The task for locally-focussed activists was always, regardless of “triumph” or “disaster” or some in-between imposter, about having the stomach, spine and muscles to do something about the local realities.

Manchester City Council will have spent a lot of money (how much is the subject of a FOIA) attending and trying to do what they ALWAYS do – turn the fate of the planet into an inward-investment marketing exercise. They’ve been doing that since 1992.

Various well-meaning activists will have exhausted themselves and others, and taken up bandwidth with stories to tell about their own importance and martyrdom.

To quote a former Prime Minister, “nothing has changed.”

Manchester, as a city, has still burnt through 6 million tonnes of its 15 million tonne for-the-rest-of-the-21st-century budget in the last 3 years.

The Manchester Climate Change “Partnership” is still made up of organisations treating it like a circular fig-leaf/stabvest, and not saying boo to the goose that is the City Council and the so-called “Agency”.

Manchester City Council is still made up almost entirely of craven, (self-)whipped ignorant councillors, some of whom can even quote Gramsci (so smart, so effective). There is a tiny handful of councillors who understand what is at stake and who haven’t offered up their brains and their spines in supplication.

Manchester’s activist scene (not a movement) is still made up of well-meaning people who have unexamined “information-deficit” models of social change, who continue to confuse access with influence, thinking that the latter relies on the former, who tell them stories of changing the system from within, who are swimming in the smugosphere, and keep riding the emotacycle. Manchester’s activist scene, with a tiny handful of exceptions, fail to understand what is at stake, and have offered up their brains and spines for … well, I’m not sure what.

What is to be done?

Oh, the usual –

  • building organisations that can sustain themselves, by recruiting and retaining individuals.
  • building organisations that resist co-optation, capture and repression
  • building organisations that can link with other organisations to do meaningful movement-building work.

Without these, all the other necessary stuff –

  • drawing the links between climate catastrophe and the endless yet escalating assault on ordinary working people (welfare cuts, worsening wages, terms and conditions),
  • drawing links between the ideologies of control and extractivism that have given us spiralling carbon emissions and patriarchy and racial capital, and all the other social, environmental, economic, political and spiritual ills that ail “us”

is just a woke parlour game and virtue-signalling exercise.

And if we don’t examine the failures of the last three years, in meaningful and astringent terms, then we will continue to fail.

Future generations will pay an enormous price for our past failures. Let’s at least have the common courtesy to make them not pay a price for our current failures.

Over the coming days and weeks you’ll find on this site

a) some links to decent analysis of COP26 (but you shouldn’t bother to read it – it really does not matter)

b) a comparison of the activist scene in May 2019 and now

c) what I think is coming in the coming year (but I am probably wrong)

d) reflections on 14 years of local climate activism from someone who is bugging out.

You can (and frankly, probably will) ignore it if it hurts your feelings. I genuinely do not care.

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Rubbish answers from #Manchester City Council about waste collection, panic-buying 4xl hazmat suits

A FOIA.

On 23rd October I wrote to informationcompliance@manchester.gov.uk

Dear Sir/Madam,

I read this story in the Grauniad with alarm.  It concerns bin lorry drivers selfishly deciding to put food on their families’ tables by taking higher paid jobs delivering food and the like. Taking back control of their finances and all that.
Now, I know the Council is inordinately proud of its electric lorries, with names like Leesey-McLeeseface and so on, but to the best of my knowledge self-driving lorries are still a glint in Elon Musk’s eye. They not yet, as the young people used to say “a thing”, yet.

So, naturlich, some questions arise.

[My questions are in bold, the answers from the council in plain text]

1. Does the Council employ any bin lorry drivers directly? If so, how many, and what steps – if any – is the Council taking to encourage them to stick around.
No, the Council does not employ any bin drivers directly.

2. If, as I suspect, the Council does NOT employ any bin lorry drivers, and they all got TUPEd over to Biffa when the service was privatised (turns out it isn’t just Tories who privatise, eh?), then

a) how many drivers does Biffa employ to do bin collections in Manchester City Council’s area (rough count is fine)
This information is not held by the Council.

b) is the council aware of any action taken by Biffa to keep these drivers from taking better paid jobs, as per the Grauniad
Biffa are working to retain their existing drivers and are actively looking for new drivers to fill any vacancies.

c) Has the relevant Executive Member had any discussions – either proactively or initiated by Biffa – about this? If so, when, who started it, and what has been the outcome, thus far, of discussions.
The relevant Executive Member sits on the strategic board with Biffa where operational issues like this are discussed as and when they arise.

3. What contingency plans does Manchester City Council have in place for a crisis with bin collections in December/January?  Should I be panic-buying 4XL hazmat suits and rodent traps?
Biffa are contractually obliged to provide certain services in the area covered by Manchester City Council. They have contingency plans in place including the use of agency drivers, the use of drivers from other parts of the business and if it came to this, the prioritisation of putrescible waste collection. Manchester City Council is in regular contact with Biffa to assess the current situation, forecast potential disruption and put arrangements in place. Please keep an eye on our website for the latest information. See https://secure.manchester.gov.uk/info/500362/covid-19/8030/covid-19_bins_rubbish_and_recycling

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Another pointless rally that could have helped “build the movement” but didn’t. #Manchester #climate #farce

It was my friend’s fault (1). She was the reason I even went to this god-awful event, which was even god-awfuller than I thought it would be.

Several hundred people (four hundred? maybe five hundred?) gathered and were told things they either already knew, didn’t need to know, or speeches they probably largely didn’t agree with. The local situation, with Manchester or even Greater Manchester, was not touched on by any speaker that I listened to (2).  These people, overwhelmingly white (3) with many of them  grey (as in, 50 plus) milled around, wisely not really listening to the speeches.

There were more banners for the Revolutionary Communist Party than XR, which seems to have “finally” (in less than three years) given up the ghost.

After almost an hour of this, they went for a “march” before coming back – in reduced numbers (150?) – to hear yet more speeches about the need to build a movement. These speeches were being delivered to the backs of dedicated activists who had heard enough, and didn’t feel the need to get wet listening to the same worthy words people have been spouting on climate change for 30 years.

I sat on the steps of the cenotaph in the rain and didn’t cry, because I knew this was coming. It’s why, until the day before, I wasn’t going to come. Two and a half years ago, the school strikes drew thousands. Today there were at most 500. On a day when COP was in the news, after weeks/months of exhortation, and with lots of different groups invited to give speeches in the hope their supporters/members would turn up. On Friday the 5th, the “school strike” drew 50 people, tops, and very very few students among them. Check this picture.

What happened to all those people, all their concern, all their energy and hope? How could the existing organisations be so very shit at helping those individuals convert short-term fear/panic into long-term involvement in meaningful and sustainable action?

All this was predicted, this failure. At least some of this failure was avoidable. But avoiding failure requires acknowledging the past as something that might be repeated. It requires just a smattering of strategic nous, of humility, of willingness to innovate.  But innovating is apparently something only governments and corporations have to do. The perfect social movements don’t need to give up on soothing and stupid rituals, of offering up attendees as ego-fodder to a small group of speakers who have nothing to say,  but whose presence allows the organisers of the event to feel like they’re ticking the right boxes, and Being Important.

Innovation might unsettle the incumbency, and  we cannot be having that, now can we? 

What next for the “COP26 Coalition” in Manchester?

There is, hilariously,  no meeting planned for people to learn what happened at the COP, and to meet with other people  to discuss what needs doing locally. That, surely, was a kind of no-brainer for organising so you could tell people who came to the rally about it. They may try to organise one, but Christmas is coming, and we are probably looking at another lockdown in any case. If it gets pushed to January, well….

More generally, these so-called “coalitions” are usually short-lived and can only agree on the most basic repertoires (marches and rallies chief among them). There is a huge amount of work needed to manage all the disparate groups and their needs. Most organisers of such “coalitions” don’t even know that this IS work, or understand what it would entail, so won’t even try to do it They tend not to have the skills, in any case

So the coalitions fracture, as member groups defect or even wink out of existence. The “coalition” staggers on for a short time, with one or two of the larger groups maintaining the fiction that there is still a coalition because it suits their political or psychological needs to pretend. Sooner or later another issue comes along, the kaleidoscope is  shaken and a new colourful pattern is stared at for a while.

More broadly, the climate issue may well largely lose what little salience it has.  COP26 will end in a battle over “failure” vs “success.” if the former view prevails, people will say “no point getting involved, which is hard anyway, because that was our last chance to save the world” and if “Success” people will be influenced by the enormous amounts of corporate propaganda about net zero this, reducing emissions that that they will think that by changing their shopping habits all will be well and so “there is no need to get involved.”

Meanwhile, there is an enormous amount of work that needs doing. The only group in Manchester consistently trying to hold Manchester City Council to account across the whole range of climate issues (beyond geographically specific areas) is Climate Emergency Manchester, which I am no longer a member of, but wish every success. If you’re interested in trying to do something local, beyond the smugosphere, beyond the emotacycle, then get in touch with them on contact@climateemergencymanchester.net

Footnotes

  1. What’s the point of being a white middle-class man in the patriarchy if I can’t blame my own failings and mistakes on a woman?
  2. The organisers seemed not to want to name local names, because the local names are people they get along with, and derive benefits from a cosy relationship with.  Mmm, feel the power of the brave social movement organisers!!
  3. This is NOT a criticism of people of colour not turning up. Why should they?  Almost everything they’ve heard about the environment movement, from the media and from those few poc who’ve tried to engage, would have given them the (largely correct) impression that their concerns and realities would not be acknowledged or understood.  Ditto for class.
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Era of Injustice not in fact over, say workers, animals

SUNDAY – Despite proclamations that the era of injustice would be over after small gatherings of climate activists yesterday, an investigation has revealed that injustice has in fact continued, and may even be worsening.  This newspaper has spoken to various ordinary humans, and one doomed animal, to uncover their viewpoints, which cast doubt on the likelihood of success of the well-meaning protests groups which have become a feature of modern  life.

The recent protests, co-ordinated by a new and temporary group of small  groups calling itself the “COP26 Coalition” held poorly attended demonstrations in some of the remaining public spaces in a handful of cities across the world, to coincide with the 26th annual climate conference of the United Nations..

Despite the stated intention that the “era of injustice” would be over following such a spectacle, an investigation by this newspaper has found little evidence of a profound and long-lasting transition away from exploitative social and economic relations, nor in fact a diminution in the decades-long escalation of environmental and inter-species institutional violence.

Approached for comment while working in a degrading, alienating and dangerous unskilled light-manufacturing job John Smith (not real name – would  lose job if identified) was non-committal.

“Yeah, I heard about that march thing, and kinda sorta was thinking I might go. Or watch  it on livestream But I’m having to pull  double shifts because my rent went up and fuel bills are crazy right now.  And my car, which is the only way to get to this shit job, broke down, so there’s that.  But,  you know, I hope they’re right and all this injustice shit  is over soon. Then maybe someone can ask my supervisor to stop busting my balls, shorting my wages and giving all the sweetest slots to that chick he wants to fuck. But look, gotta get back to it, you know.”

Meanwhile, in Delhi, a displaced farmer Vijay Shiva (not his real name), whose land was confiscated by the local well-connected plutocrat when he fell impossibly behind on debt payments for fertilizer and pesticide had seen no improvement in either his nutritional status, his three children’s educational prospects, nor the quality of the air after the sparsely-attended protests.

”My family farmed the land for generations. But we cannot compete with the megacorporations who own the government, who change the rules to suit themselves and who dump all the costs of production on the poor and on the future.  Those of us who do not commit suicide in despair try to survive, but every year they find new ways to steal from us, even our hope and dignity.  But I hope the nice rich people feel good now that they have had their rally.”

In a slaughterhouse outside a major  Australian city, a pig called Wilbur (not his real name) about to be killed was dismissive. “We have heard this so many times. If they’re so convinced that their big international meetings will lead to change, how do they explain the number 26?  Humans only care about control, luxury, stealing everything they can. They have no interest in justice, not for other species,  not even for future generations of their own.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment with a stun gun and then a blade, so I can be someone’s ham sandwich next Tuesday. Fuck you all  very much.”

The organisers of the rally insisted that gathering a small number of people together to listen to predictable speeches while being rained on was in fact a strategic masterstroke, and a crucial and unprecedented first step in building an irresistible, non-co-optable  or  repressible intergenerational movement that would overturn a trajectory of increasing extractivism that began hundreds – nay, thousands – of years ago and had intensified dramatically since the Great Acceleration of the 1960s, before being solidified via neoliberal and algorithmic surveillant technologies since the 1970s.

“We’re pretty sure that the next rally will be a bit bigger, and we will be able to sell more newspapers and distribute more flyers to one another. After that, the sky’s the limit” said a spokesman for one of the groups, declining to give his name in case his public sector job came under threat. 

The perpetrators, and enablers  of most of this justice, the transnational capitalist class, could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.

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The new Council leader’s #climate impact?  Or “The Pretenders: Leese-ism in the post Leese world”

After 25 (1) years of one guy in charge, Manchester City Council has a new Leader.  Many (2) people have asked my incredibly informed opinion on what it does/might mean for climate policy in this city, so I’ve put fingers to keyboard. Think of this as a sequel to a February post about the end of Leese.

The TL:DR is this – the best horse to bet on is called “More of the same.”  This is for both personal and, more structural reasons. Meanwhile, Manchester has blown 40 per cent of its carbon budget for the 21st century in the last three years, and nobody in power gives the smallest of shits.

In the rest of this piece I will toggle (okay, dodge) between these two, while also talking about “the agency problem” (there are two of them) and conclude with the obligatory but ultimately pointless “what is to be done/what could be done.”

Introduction

There’s a song by – oh the irony – the Pretenders called Hymn to Her.(3)   The lyrics are apposite –

And she will always carry on
Something is lost
But something is found
They will keep on speaking her name
Somethings change
Some stay the same

Same. On climate policy implementation, my money is on “some stay the same.”

The personal is political

Have a read of the post-election stenography by Confidentials about Bev Craig. It has nothing from her on climate.

It’s just NOT her “thing”. That’s allowed, of course, but let’s no be one of the pretenders who say it doesn’t matter..  When she was chair of Health Scrutiny Committee, an effort was made to get the Committee to look at the health implications of climate change. It failed. She did not use her power as chair to get it onto the agenda.

Sure, she will say the “right” and encouraging things to some councillors, and to some (Labour party-affiliated) activists.  But more than this?  I will believe it if I see it.

Why does this matter? Because in hierarchies, ambitious people take cues about what is important from their bosses. They try to make their bosses happy. If their bosses don’t care, they tend not to care- there’s no career-mileage in it. The personal is political.


The Political is personal

Mostly though – and this will not be popular, and will be derided as “ad hominem x 94,” the broader problem is not the new Leader (and remember, it was very nearly someone else) and what she does or does not prioritise..  The problem is the entrenched culture of the Labour Group and the Council employees the leaders have hired and promoted over the last (checks notes) several thousand years.

In the Council there is – with a few honorable exceptions – a culture of bluster, of brightsiding and gaslighting, of picking favourites (people who know how to cover things up, how to suppress bad news), of blameshifting onto individuals and onto “others”.  It’s clear in scrutiny committee meetings especially, when rather than telling the unvarnished truth in reports or oral presentations, the senior officers and Executive members pretend everything is fine.  Councillors interested in the basic facts are stonewalled and then quietly warned they are not helping their careers/position.

The culture in the Labour Group is the problem – Marcia Hutchinson’s open letter about the behaviour of the whips (still causing ructions, apparently) is a rare glimpse into the toxic morass of bullying and intimidation.

These are not fruitful grounds for the kinds of honest, searching and dynamic thinking about the status quo and ‘what next’ that Manchester needs, and perhaps – perhaps – deserves.

Follow the Money

Above all of this personality-based, “culture”-based horror sits the basic fact that Manchester has, since 1987, pursued a policy of “keep Central Government happy so they will send public investment our way and also that will mean we are more likely to pick up lots of private sector inward investment, especially international.”

The Marxist intellectuals reading this will go “yeah yeah, blah blah David Harvey, spatial fix.”

The ecologically minded intellectuals reading this will go “yeah yeah, blah blah While Jonas and Gibbs Sustainability Fix.”

That model “worked” very well for sections of Manchester. Manchester has beaten other Northern cities in the inward investment game, using sport, “culture” and an insanely stable political system to attract all sorts (libel laws are a thing, so I won’t name names).  You see it in the property speculation, in the conspicuous consumption, etc etc.  Go a couple of miles out of the city centre, and you see a different picture of Manchester’s “success”.  Geographers will write you theses about spatial inequalities. Sociologists invent words that mean post-industrial disease.

The arrival of a new leader, after 25 years, changes this wounded strategy not one iota.

Brexit may have made it all more problematic, and the Tory shitshow generally even more problematic, but all the indications are that “the Council” doesn’t know any different, and doesn’t care to.

Again, remember, these people have been successful on their own terms, are unlikely to reflect.  These people have also been through a hell of a five years – first Brexit, then the pandemic.

So, we’re more than half done.  Let’s talk about “the agency problem” (4). There are two of these.

The Agency Problem (1)

The Manchester Climate Change “Agency” – actually a community interest company, not a statutory body – was set up in 2015 after the abject failure of the “Stakeholder Steering Group” which had run from 2010 to 2015 and achieved half of nothing.

The “Agency” has – after 3 national bids – finally appointed a new director. From within Manchester City Council itself. So, lots of fresh thinking there then.

It is advertising now for a deputy director (god, why) and has, like the steering group before it, achieved half of nothing.

Every six months or so it grudgingly turns up at a scrutiny committee meeting and blathers.

This year, it couldn’t even be bothered to hold a public AGM.  This might have something to do with the fact that 40 per cent of the city’s carbon budget for the entire 21st century has been blown in the last 3 years alone.

The “Agency” has subcontracted out some “community engagement” work, and this is – from what I’ve heard – going terribly. Low low numbers at meetings (2 organisers, 2 residents, anyone) and generally meaningless drivel.

Meanwhile, the Climate Change “Partnership” has recently welcomed Manchester Airports Group into the fold. And guess  what – suddenly any talk of reducing the growth of Manchester Airport Group is off the table. How very very odd.

A real Council Leader, who wanted to lead, who wanted to get something done, would boot the Airports Group out (yeah, like that is going to happen) and overhaul the Partnership, forcing it to be more than a figleaf.  Not gonna happen.

The Agency Problem (2)

Over the last 3 years, with climate (relatively) high on the public agenda climate groups in Manchester have failed to meaningfully recruit and retain new members. They have failed to co-ordinate, they have failed to innovate.  If they were not able to do these things with a throughput of new people, how likely is it they will succeed when other issues – food shortages, energy prices, evictions “etc” occupy the media and public attention?

Without co-ordinated, innovative, growing groups, who is going to put pressure on the leader, the Labour Group, the Labour Party more generally, the Council? 

What is to be done?

What would need to change for there to be change? Well, everything. A non-complete list would look like this.

  • Bev Craig would have to have many sleepless nights about the carbon budget blow out and what it will mean for her tenure (presumably she wants to be in the job ten years?).  She would need to have some sort of epiphany, some sort of Damascene conversion
  • The Labour Group (the 90 however many it is) of councillors would need to grow a brain and a spine and fall out of love with being whipped.  Most of them seem to love it. They like the comfort of licking a boot, either having become habituated to the taste, or else they fantasise about one day being the goon actually wearing the boot.
  • The Manchester Labour Party would have to have a Damascene conversion and realise that “blame the Tories” is excellent and accurate at a national level, but does not help achieve the things that need to be achieved (some of which can be achieved) at a local level. They would have to start selecting candidates who give a shit, or insisting that sitting councillors do their job of holding the Executive to account. Hmmm, good luck with that.
  • We’d need a central government that matched all the wonderful words about net zero and industrial decarbonisation and levelling up with some coherent narratives and, gasp, actions. Having a look at recent pieces in the Grauniad (Simon Jenkins, the response to Johnson’s conference speech) this is not a safe horse to bet on.
  • Enduring activist cultures of the smugosphere and emotacycle would have to be acknowledged and combatted, with the identification and cultivation of councillors who give a shit, while also massively strengthening citizen scrutiny of the Council/Agency/Partnership escalating failure.

The problem is not the individuals per se, or rather, the problem is the individuals en masse. The solution is counter power outside the Labour Group and indeed the Labour Party that forces them to behave.  Building that counter power is the work of years, and with the partial exception of CEM and now the Green Party (sort of), that work is not, as far as I can see, being done.

What is likely to happen

Craig will pat various Labour-affiliated activists on the head and they will roll over. And she will have a year long honeymoon in general, where she can say “these things take time.”

The carbon budget concept will be abandoned, with blame pinned on central government. This will happen quietly, with much less fanfare than the announcement of the budget in 2018. Absolutely nothing will be learned.

Councillors who give a shit about climate change will burn out, give up.

Climate action groups will struggle after the farce that unfolds at Glasgow – they are already falling apart/under enormous stress.  Either the event will be perceived by the public as a “success” in which case nobody will feel motivated to get involved, or it will be perceived as a failure, in which case nobody will feel motivated to get involved. The tactical/repertoire exhaustion will continue and many will simply wink out of existence, as they did in 2009-10. 

I started this with a hopeful song. There’s another on  “a change is gonna come – “ But maybe it won’t,. Maybe rather than Cooked, we are cooked.

Footnotes

(1) Minus that short break in 2010 which Is not spoken of in polite company

(2) Okay, as per the number of the footnote itself, two.

(3) We’ve already seen some truly embarrassing sycophantic tweets which are hymns to her, of course (crawling is an Olympic sport, here in Manchester).

(4) This is a little in-joke on my part. “The agency problem” is what beard-stroking Leninists trot out when they are laughing at liberals and progressives who are extolling the beauty of a better world via – probably – state regulation.  “Ah yes,” Vladimir Staliniski says from the back row of the meeting hall” “But who is going to make this happen?” (Vladimir’s answer is his groupuscule, once it seizes state power).

 

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