Can we please have some grown up politics? part 2

Danny Kruger, who was giving evidence to the PASC alongside Lord Glasman, Polly Toynbee and Shaun Bailey, left a very interesting comment on my blog yesterday about the hearing. He suggests I have got the wrong end of the stick and provides some essential context to the comments that Maurice Glasman made about Locality.

I am certainly prepared to accept if I am wrong and have, as Danny says ‘got the wrong end of the stick’. I did reveal in my blog that I was not following the hearing, but rather picking up the reports on twitter from others who were. No one is disputing whether the comments I quoted were said, so the issue appears to be whether or not they were taken out of context. Or perhaps it simply highlights the importance of being aware of how social media is changing the way news travels and the way it is communicated.

Anyway, I wanted to respond to the points Danny makes and return to why I think the wider issues I raised are still valid….

There are four points of Danny’s that I want to address:

1) “The witnesses weren’t grandstanding, trying to hog headlines, or doing anything other than responding to questions – mostly pretty superficial – from MPs”

I wasn’t there and I’ve not watched the hearing, so I am prepared to accept I may have deduced too much from the comments I read coming out of the hearing. However, I would point out that my comments about grandstanding and point scoring were not confined to those giving evidence, but included the MPs on the committee too. You’ve acknowledged that the questions were superficial and that’s disappointing – though I do understand that the Inquiry was only just starting. My request was for some grown up politics and I don’t believe that, even if the witnesses weren’t trying to hog the headlines, there was anything to make me change my mind about this. Our political discourse (and to an extent the not for profit sector) is beset with polarised positioning and tribalism. I am not suggesting we should all move to a position of consensus, but I also think we do a disservice to our beneficiaries to act in such a self interested way. The same day as the PASC hearing, I was listening to Muhammad Yunus talk about opening up the ‘door to selflessness’. I sincerely hope our leaders heed his advice.

2) “Maurice Glasman’s remarks about Locality came at the end of a long and v interesting account of the history of community organising, in which he cast himself and London Citizens in the tradition of Alinsky against the Settlement Houses tradition…He sees Locaity in the Settlement House tradition.”

We obviously didn’t have the context of Maurice’s talk on twitter – though I have heard him use exactly that line before whilst speaking. I think his analysis of the origins of community organising in the US is extremely useful and insightful. However I think he was wrong to extend the criticism of the 1930s US settlement movement to Locality and its membership in 21st Century England. They are very very different – in context and practice. And if Maurice Glasman doesn’t know that, then in my view he should be very careful about making that sort of statement.


3) “Maurice spoke with gentleness throughout, and is surely allowed to complain about the Govt’s choice of provider if he wants to.”

Of course he is, and I would encourage debate and dissention in political discourse. However was he criticising the government for making, in his view, the wrong commissioning decision? Or was he criticising Locality? Lord Glasman of course has a vested interest in one of the unsuccessful bids. Sour grapes?

If you look on the PASC website, you see Lord Glasman listed as “Advisor to Ed Miliband and Senior Lecturer in Political Theory at London Metropolitan University”. I think that makes a difference as he is, in effect, speaking as an advisor to the Opposition (whether he wants to or not). I think it’s inappropriate. Maybe we disagree?


4) “The idea Maurice shouldn’t refer to ‘toffs’ when he’s a Lord (of about 5 minutes standing) – mocking his ermine – this is the son of Dame Hilary Blume talking, right? Doesn’t that make you an hon. or something? Since when did being honoured for services to the community mean you couldn’t attack elitism?”

Ooh, Danny, I know you said you were feeling bad about “having a bash” at me…was it for this one? Low blow! But I forgive you. 🙂 

Being a son of a DBE doesn’t afford me any title. Honourable is a title given to the son’s of hereditary peers – as an intelligent and well educated man such as you, surely knows.

I actually don’t have any problem with recognising services to the community – and the honours system (despite some problems) is a good way to do that. I am immensely proud of my mum’s honour for the work she has done for the charity sector. And, to be honest, I also recognise and admire the work that Maurice Glasman has done for the community over many many years.

However, for as long as we have an unelected House of Lords, still with around 100 hereditary peers, I consider it ‘fair game’. Come on, with respect to the many working peers (who have only been there since 1958!), it’s been the bastion of “toffishness” for centuries. And as for the ermine…to be honest I’m personally not a fan of fur. But I suspect that’s probably a minor point!

The main thrust of my blog yesterday was that there was too much pettiness and point scoring in politics and I would like to see more honesty and intelligent debate. I don’t lay the blame for that at Maurice Glasman or any individual, we must take responsibility as a society for this – we get the politicians we deserve. That sort of change may seem monumental and mean reforming Parliament, political parties, the media, education……But you have to start somewhere and in my experience, anywhere will do.



4 thoughts on “Can we please have some grown up politics? part 2

  1. Couldn’t agree with you more on this one"That sort of change may seem monumental and mean reforming Parliament, political parties, the media, education……But you have to start somewhere and in my experience, anywhere will do."

  2. Thanks to Danny Kruger and you Toby for picking up on the context for these comments from Maurice Glasman. Whilst he has a fair point about the origins of both Alinsky organising and the UK Settlement movement, the specific context of these comments in recounting the history of organising makes them more understandable. The problem lies as you say in the way social media pick up and magnify the juicy bits leaving the setting in which they first appeared in the dust.There remains however a fundamental difference between the two organising approaches – how do you both build and challenge at the same time? How can we have a grassroots mass politics that creates alliances for the common good yet at the same time confronts the powerful who oppress the community at large? Citizens UK and Locality answer these questions in very different ways. One (Citizens UK) is tested and tried; the other (Locality) has yet to leave the starting blocks. Interesting times!

  3. Late to the debate, I know …I sat and listened to an intelligent discussion between Maurice Glasman and Philip Blond last Monday 23rd May. Community Organisers and Alinsky were mentioned, as well as a side comment about the successful bidder for the programme (Locality). As anyone who has been involved in this debate over the last year knows, the coining of the term Community Organiser and the political positioning leading up to and since the programme became active has generated more debate than most other government programmes amongst those who work with and in communities. One of the irksome elements is that most of these people know that a variety of approaches are needed, depending on the community’s starting point. To suggest that community organising in its purest sense – or indeed community development – is the only solution lacks insight and smacks of arrogance from its proponents.Maurice Glasman may well have located his PASC views in a historical and academic reasoning of why the settlement movement would not be appropriate for delivering this type of programme. But Locality is not the settlement movement of the 1930s as has already been mentioned, nor does it have the single focus of the settlements. As a recent Trustee of Locality – helping it to move through the merger of the settlement and development trusts movements – and also in my role working for an organisation (CDF) which pitched a bid which lost out to Locality, I am in no doubt that Locality’s history, networks, reach, expertise and passion for social justice of its staff and the organisations which make up its membership, stands the best chance of delivering what is acknowledged as tricky programme.If one has a public platform and respected academic/intellectual rigour, then the same rigour should be applied to research the subject matter more thoroughly before making a public statement.The member organisations of Locality that I know, work in some of the most disadvantaged communities – ones that have tremendous assets and energy – in the country and they certainly aren’t elite or paternalistic; Maurice should come face-to-face with some of these members and their communities. By communicating a perspective based on a personal preference and interest then the credibilty of the individual’s pronouncement needs to be challenged. Give Steve Wyler a call, Maurice!

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