DONCOPOLITANISM: Zen and the Art of Doing

market garden estate

Last week I spoke about how the Doncopolitan was driven by passion; how Rachel and I (with help from our many contributors, advertisers and supporters, of course) have built both a magazine and, we hope, a new-found faith in Doncaster with very little money, no time (with no money we have to work other jobs just to pay the bills, so the magazine is largely made at night, which also means…), no respite and in a seemingly constant battle against the naysayers.

Why would we tire ourselves to breaking point for an arts and culture magazine?

Well, despite the fact that Doncaster *really* did need an arts and culture magazine, the Doncopolitan has always been much more than that. From the first issue it has been a manifesto for change. One which argues that we, the people of one of the poorest regions in England, can and will…

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The Echo of The Voiceless

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Like it or not, the UK (as it is currently constituted) has decided to leave the EU. What this means for us in socioeconomic terms will only become evident over the coming decade. Likewise what it means for Britain as a unified whole will only become evident over the course of the next couple of years. The one thing we can be certain of is that the entire process has laid bare the terrible state of politics and democracy in Britain, right here, right now.

From the very beginning the referendum was a farcical affair. What we needed was a year-long process (at the absolute minimum) of information, education and debate. What we got, for what was billed as ‘the most important decision in a generation’, was a short-lived barrage of sound-bite, fear-mongering, popularist jingoism and media hype.

If we have learned anything from this referendum it is that the powerful and the political on both sides of the debate have nothing but contempt for everyday people. By ‘everyday’ I mean the people I spend every day with; the former – and formerly loved – ‘working class’ people of the regions which, once upon a time, made up the  Labour heartlands. I live in Doncaster, where 69% of voters ticked the ‘Leave’ box.

Neighbours and work colleagues I’ve spoken to (not so much friends, as I inhabit largely left wing circles, but more on that later) were all hungry for more information. Rather than focusing on the immigration debate – which made up 90% of the vox pops in the media (a propaganda strategy used to reinforce classism for the last 50 years) – the majority of people voiced concern for the immediate welfare of their friends and family and many spoke about their fears for an uncertain future… the kind of thing which should be at the heart of every political decision (more on that later too).

People were truly torn and many felt that they were making a decision between a rock and a hard place… it is not as if we’re exactly thriving under the EU, despite the £millions of EU funding which has been pumped into the region. None of this was reflected in the media or in the attitudes of politicos… both left and right.

The right have always seen us as feckless, lazy, uncultured and lowly. We should never be surprised by the undisguised hate which comes from a class of people who depend on others to do their work for them; if they did not look down upon us they would be forced to admit their complicity in our suffering. But it is the allegations from some on the left this morning which have uncovered the real crisis in modern democracy.

Apparently Britain’s poorest communities are full of ‘ignorant’, ‘uneducated’, ‘bigoted,’ ‘racists’ who fail to understand the enlightened message of the supposedly left-wing and socialist Remain campaign.

Ignoring the fact that this was a decision between which neoliberal, largely unaccountable, top-down bureaucracy would have the greatest sway over our lives, it is exactly this attitude towards poor working class communities from some on the left which ensures the mistrust of poor communities and ultimately guaranteed the Leave vote in the majority of  England’s and Wales’ forgotten towns. In fact it was the blatant arrogance of the mainstream left which caused much of the current political isolation in the first place; as the IWCA wrote after the defeat of Labour in last year’s general election:

The New Labour project was underpinned by the belief that Labour could ditch Clause 4, embrace neo-liberalism and orientate entirely to the middle class, safe in the knowledge that its working class core vote could be taken for granted because, in Peter Mandelson’s words, they had ‘nowhere to go’.

Cruddas says that its current plight ‘could be the greatest crisis the Labour party has faced since it was created. It is epic in its scale’. Post-New Labour, what is the Labour party for? If it cannot retain working class support in its heartlands, if it is no longer seen as the party of the class by a significant and growing section of the working class, what is its reason to exist? Can this ever be resolved? Having lost Scotland, and facing constituency boundary changes that will likely work against them, will it ever be able to form a national government on its own again? Labour, like the Lib Dems, are finding out the hard way that there is no need for three neo-liberal parties, or even two; and that gaining votes in Guardianland doesn’t compensate for the loss of the core it took for granted.

One only has to look across the Channel to mainland Europe to see the vacuum being filled by Euro-nationalist parties […] the French think-tank the Jean Jaurès Foundation, founded by the former French PM Pierre Mauroy to ‘promote the values of Democratic Socialism’, issued its analysis of the factors behind the rise of the Front National. It reported:

‘With no political offer from the left, working-class French people feel they have been abandoned economically, socially and culturally. The FN has stepped into the breach: it says to these people: “you are the most important and we will fight for you”.

‘The left is trying to make up to what it calls ‘real minorities’ who it believes are discriminated against. In doing so it has become indifferent, even scornful, of the wider French working class. They say to these native French “you have not understood, you are racist and sexist”, and so these people have said, so be it. They are ready to admit voting FN because the left has abandoned them and the FN is interested in them.’

In short, the left in France has abandoned class politics, embraced identity politics and taken the core working class vote for granted, and is now reaping the whirlwind.

The IWCA has been warning about the political vacuum in the former Labour heartlands for years. I believe in a different politics (which I shall elaborate upon in a future post), but, as somebody who lives and works in one of the poorest regions of Britain, I have the utmost respect for their analysis and a first-hand understanding of the classism which their work has helped to highlight. Labour and the left in general have no idea what it is like to live in impoverished Britain.

Every basic security has been swept away and every basic need has been hijacked by the neoliberal money machine. One of the most basic of human needs, shelter, has become a pension scheme for the affluent, causing the widespread return of absentee landlords and a rise in sub-standard living conditions. This has also helped to make house ownership all but an impossible dream for the vast majority of people living in impoverished towns. Without the dream of a better life who can really be enthused by the prospect of low-paid, zero-hour, menial work which will do little more than pay the bills and put food on the table until you die (usually prematurely of a poverty related disease). Despite the lack of truly attractive career opportunities the vast majority of us living in the former Labour heartlands are in employment – regardless of what the BBC would have you believe – most of the children living in poverty today (a full third of children in the UK) have one or both parents in work. Education might have helped to break us out of the poverty trap (we are all ‘ignorant’ and ‘uneducated’ after all), but the vast majority of local schools focus more on discipline than they do on education. Small wonder that British children are the loneliest and most prone to depression in Europe. As for that other poor epidemic, obesity (can’t they just exercise and eat quinoa?), our communities are surrounded by arable land, but our towns have become food deserts where its easier to buy pizzas than potatoes (unless, of course, they’re chipped!) and lettuces tend to be sold wrapped in pitta with kebab meat. Can anyone really fail to understand the bitterness, cynicism and anxiety which runs through these communities.

An influx of new people to towns where resources are already stretched to breaking point is always going to cause resentment. But to see this as racism, bigotry or ignorance completely misses the point. Sure there are dickheads, show me a single human community which doesn’t have its fair share of haters, but the truth is that these areas – even ‘too white, too working class’ Donny – are incredibly tolerant despite the socioeconomic crisis we’ve been suffering for years. Yes there are flash-points, but the haters are a noticeable minority.

Far from being ignorant bigots the majority of the one-time salt-of-the-earth are simply trying to make the best of a very bad situation; a situation exasperated by the fact that they have been abandoned by the political elite. But just because the political have abandoned impoverished communities it doesn’t mean that the people in those communities have abandoned politics. The myth of apathy does not hold water when over 70% of people actually registered to vote in the referendum. The EU referendum result was, in part, a protest by a people who feel – not without good reason – completely abandoned by the existing political status quo.

People are obviously desperate for change, but the changes which have been offered are all but meaningless because the power to affect change at a local level has been all but stripped away. I believe that, far from bemoaning our lot and attacking people for taking sides in an ill-thought out, farcical referendum, this result opens up an opportunity for new and expanded political debate and, more importantly, a new way of doing politics.

But, if we are to be truly democratic (and, for that matter, truly progressive) this debate must include the forgotten people of the former Labour heartlands.

(Rant over)

The Great Undecided

eu referendum

Like the vast majority of people I speak to, even at this late stage, I remain undecided with regard to the EU Referendum.

My younger, braver, more committed self would have stuck to his anarchist principles and declared: “Voting changes nothing! Why beg for sovereignty when you can build autonomy!” (there’s something rather melancholy about the fact that it takes age to really appreciate the beauty of youth, I do believe that only the under 30s should be entitled to vote😉 )

But there are elements of this referendum which go way beyond choosing between Westminster and Brussels. Like it or not things will change after Thursday – and I fear that it won’t be for the better, regardless of the outcome, if we do not change the way we think about politics in the UK.

There is nothing simple about the choice at hand. We live on an ever shrinking planet where everything we do – every choice we make – touches on millions of lives; both human and other. It is  with regard to the ‘other’ (animal welfare, ecology, sustainability, etc.) which I have personally turned to to try and inform my own decision. Yes, we have the EU to thank for things like cleaning our beaches and preserving diminishing fish stocks, but there are also areas where Britain is way in front of the EU and where the EU is in fact a barrier to change (as Geoarge Monbiot’s Feral conclusively shows).

That younger self I referred to was a keen ecological and animal rights activist – who wore out a perfectly good body in defence of the earth (ow, my aching bones). Back in 1995 an equally youthful and much, much braver defender of animal rights, Jill Phipps, died trying to stop the live export of veal calves from Coventry airport. Veal crates had already been banned in Britain five years earlier, but it would take the EU until 2007 (17 years!) to catch up. Likewise sow stalls were banned in Britain in 1999 and the EU did not catch up until 2013. Britain was also the first to ban animal testing for cosmetics (1998), but when the EU finally banned this completely unnecessary practice (2009) its regulations were much stronger and further reaching than Britain’s.

I am not trying to use these illustrations to sway people’s opinions either way, I am merely trying to illustrate the complexity of the choice that we are being asked to make. We each have our own passions and convictions and must, therefore, consider that which is closest to our hearts when we make our decision. And yet those who have the strongest leanings in both camps are acting as if we, the great undecided, are fools for not recognising their self-evident ‘truths’. How can we struggle to make such a simple choice as ‘in or out’?

But therein lies the great tragedy of modern democracy. Boiling things down to simple, bipolar choices – Leave or Remain, Right or Left, For or Against, Them or Us – actually reduces our capability to influence the political landscape. We have the technology (shit, now I’ve got the theme tune to the Six Million Dollar Man running through my head) to make decisions based on actual policy rather than party or ideology.

Allegiance to a single party or political belief is sooooo last millennium. The dinosaur rhetoric of your average old-school politico would be laughable if, as the murders of Jo Cox, Lee Rigby or 500,000 Iraqi children (through sanctions) has shown, their dogma were not so hideously dangerous.

It is time to move on. To use the great opportunities presented to us by the communications age to build a new kind of politics. One which puts debate before conflict.One that builds unity instead of division. One which places compassion above greed. Something like the idea the very wonderful Artist Taxi Driver (@chunkymark) is outlining here:

But until then – and regardless of whether Westminster or Brussels calls the shots – the real engine of change will remain those who dare to take a stand for their convictions. Those who see what must be done and who act upon their beliefs without victimising others. Those who, with their own bodies, feed the hungry; rescue the oppressed; protect the vulnerable; give voice to the voiceless; heal the hurting; comfort the despairing; guide the lost; educate the ignorant; provide for those who have not…

These people are – and have always been… – the ones who really change the political and social landscape, no matter where they put their cross.

Speaking of which… where the hell should I put mine?

In loving memory of Jill Phipps.

No Sleep Till Bohemia

DONCOPOLITAN Fake It Issue cover

Rachel and I (Warren) started the Doncopolitan with a clear vision in mind; to showcase the wealth of local talent which Doncaster possesses, but which is too often ignored, and to prove once and for all that there is no such thing as a ‘cultural desert’.

The theme of our first issue was #FakeItUntilYouMakeIt. Working from our initial tag line – If You Wanna Be A City, Act Like A City! – we argued that it was time to quit the moaning and the constant negativity and start acting as if this was the only place on earth you wanted to be; or as I wrote in that issue:

The future is unwritten. Why not be the ones holding the pen? Act like you’re living in the best place on earth and one day you will be.

I won’t elaborate any further as you can read the full article its on page 8 of Issue One

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Rooted: Banner Making & Planting Workshop

The PermaFuture Project

Snail Girl We might be gardeners, but we still love snails😉

We had a fun day today at Doncaster Museum & Art Gallery

In preparation for the Rooted ‘Harvest Moon Festival’ later in the year we planted up some more planters…

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Including Thomas’s ‘Tea Pot’…

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…Jessic’a ‘Wellie’…

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…and a whole host of other fun things…

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As well as getting our hands dirty planting…

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…we also started to stitch the Rooted banner…

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We used fabric & buttons…

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…and everyone got stuck in…

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…except John, who got stuck making flat-pack furniture…

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…which will become a planter during a future workshop.

It wasn’t long before the banner took shape…

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But if you want to see the finished article you’ll have to pop down and see us at Pride on Saturday in Sir Nigel Gresley Square…

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We won’t be hard to miss as we’ll be the ones with a big green yurt!

Until then…

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