(This is the text of the pamphet given out at our Own Double Entry night on 23rd January 2016)
What’s All This About Then?
After last May’s General Election, we felt crushed. Not just disappointed, but totally, utterly defeated and hopeless. Another five years of the Tories stripping the lead from the country’s roof, ripping up the floorboards and pulling out the copper pipes to sell to their mates.
By the next election in 2020, there’d be nothing left. Everything was set to get dramatically shitter, and there was nothing that any of us could do to stop it.
Seven months on, we decided to stop feeling sorry for ourselves. It’s a new year; there’s still a lot to fight for, and there are more of us than there are of them.
In BS Johnson‘s brilliant novel “Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry”, the titular accounts clerk applies the principles of double entry
book-keeping to what he sees as the world’s injustices.
In his ledger, he records each offence (or debit) against his
freedoms and happiness, and then takes an action (or credit) of
equivalent value to restore the equilibrium.
Here are a handful of debits, and a handful of actions that we plan to take this year to redress the balance.
It’s only a few.
You may disagree with them.
You may have some better ideas of your own.
We hope so.
DEBIT – Destruction of local communities by property speculators
This won’t be news to anyone- the character and appearance of London has changed dramatically over the last few years, and it’s getting worse. Stripped of funding by central Government, and dazzled by freebie trips to global property fairs, our local councils are actively wooing property speculators, in the hope that the meagre section 106 payments they can wring out of new developments will plug the holes in their budgets.
At the same time, they’re handing over large areas social housing to developers for less than the land is worth, and forcing Londoners out of their homes in the process. Taken together, these two trends will reshape the city we love completely over the next few years, sucking the life and spontaneity out of it and leaving our streets looking like the boring, lifeless un-places shown on the architects’ renderings.
One of the most immediate things you can do is physically support the people who are currently fighting to keep their homes. Eviction Resistance Network is a non politically-aligned group which believes that no-one should be forcibly removed from where they’re living, when they have no other adequate housing options. You can find details of a local group at evictionresistance.squat.net.
The bigger picture is daunting; quite a few groups have sprung up to fight specific battles, such as Save the Joiners and Save Soho, but there’s no overall coordination yet. The threats to London as a liveable, diverse city are all intertwined- and they need a similarly coordinated response.
Britain has the highest rail fares in Europe, and despite what we’re told, private companies invest relatively little of their profits back into the system. At the same time, the tax payer pays a higher subsidy and invests more money in the network than it did when the railways were publicly owned.
Many services are operated using trains built and paid for by British Rail- but these vehicles are now privately owned and leased back from private equity groups. So today’s passengers are effectively paying rent on clapped out trains which were already paid for by commuters thirty years ago.
Ironically, many of the private train operating companies are owned by consortia made up of other countries’ state owned rail companies. Apparently public ownership is OK- just as long as it’s not the British public.
CREDIT –Support Bring Back British Rail– a campaigning group which organises regular protests at stations around the UK, and which has done an impressive job of revealing to passengers what a massive con it all is.
The message seems to be getting through, as the Department for Transport has just (grudgingly) agreed to discuss handing control of
London’s suburban trains to publicly owned Transport for London. It’s not re-nationalisation, but it’s a significant change of direction from a Department which has long argued that the private
operators and the free market are doing just fine without any
significant state regulation.
DEBIT – Fear and suspicion fostered by the state and the media.
Barely a week goes by without some Islamophobic news story appearing in the grubbier end of the press, and a handwringing MP appearing on TV to demand that the British Muslim community does something prove to the rest of us that they’re not all terrorists.
CREDIT – If the press actually paid attention, they’d see that far from being a shadowy, sinister presence on the edge of society, British Muslims already make all kinds of efforts to build bridges with the rest of the communities they live in. Did you know that Sunday 7th February is #VisitMyMosque day? No? Neither did we until recently- for some reason the press hasn’t found the space to
publicise it so far. So why not visit your local mosque, say hello and have a cup of tea: http://www.mcb.org.uk/visitmymosque/
Pic: Matthew Brown
DEBIT – Small music venues disappearing
London has lost 40% of its music venues in the last ten years; rising rents, redevelopment and noise complaints from incoming residents are among the causes. Crossrail obliterated a whole clutch of them to make way for its Tottenham Court Road station, and Crossrail 2 may do the same to Dalston.
This venue was forced out of Shoreditch last year to make way for an office block, and it’s on a short lease here, so may have to move again soon.
CREDIT – Go to a gig. Aha! You already have. Well done.
Next week is independent venue week (25th-31st Jan), so why not go to a venue you’ve not been to for a while and see what’s on?
And if you enjoy tonight, why not pay what you think it was worth to Steve on the door? All the money they get goes towards putting on more nights like tonight. Finally- e-mail your MP and ask them if they support the ‘Agent of Change’ principle- meaning that developers have to acknowledge existing music venues and pay for soundproofing if required. It’s good idea and we need it now, but the Government need a bit of pushing. You can find your MP’s details at www.theyworkforyou.com.
DEBIT –Decent pubs closing down
According to CAMRA, roughly 30 pubs close every week in the UK, with London and the South East accounting for about a third of this figure.
It’s true that this is partially due to changing habits- but it’s not just bad pubs which are closing, as the trade would like us to think- lots of busy and well loved pubs are also closing- often to the shock of their neighbours and customers.
Pubs aren’t just for drinking in- these days they’re venues for community meetings and clubs, places to hear live music or comedy; their function rooms provide some of the only affordable space that people can hire for weddings, wakes and parties in this increasingly expensive city. Pubs help to bind civil society together.
CREDIT – Go to the pub! Yes, it’s more expensive than buying cans, but pubs need drinkers, or they’ll disappear. We’ve bumped into the strangest people and made the most amazing friendships in pubs- that’ll never happen in front of the telly with a six-pack.
Write to your local councillor and ask them what protection policies they have in place to safeguard pubs, and consider getting together with a group of fellow drinkers to get your local listed as an ‘asset of community value‘, giving it some protection from demolition or change of use.
DEBIT – “All our High Streets Look The Same!”
Having deserted the town centres for the edge of towns in the 80s, now the big chains are back to kill off what life is left on our high streets with their convenience formats. Tesco Metro, Sainsbury’s Local- these little shops specialise in a small range of products priced at a premium, and rely on constant visits day and night from noisy articulated lorries to keep their shelves stocked.
CREDIT – Ignore them. Pretend they’re not there, and walk a bit further to your local independent shop. “But everything’s more expensive there!”, you may cry. Is it? Have a look and you might be surprised by how much the chains bump up the prices in their micro stores. Plus the more you use your local shop, the more fresh stock they can get in, and your money stays in the local community. And when was the last time a self-checkout machine asked how you were feeling, or let you off twenty pence because you’d run out of change?
CREDIT – Go and boot one of them up the arse at our sideshow, and get a friend to photograph you doing it.