Friday 27 December 2013

Henry Hyndman and Hampstead

A long traditional Boxing Day walk yesterday taking in part of  the 'Northern Heights' that winds it way across my bit of Northern London - from Alexandra Park to Hampstead Village and back.

This western side of Haringey couldn't be more different from Tottenham - and the walk was rather like taking a cross section through the underbelly of the chattering classes. Barbours, Hunter wellies, those South American hats with the ear flaps,  and all-terrain baby buggies were out in abundance.  The pub at the end of the walk was full of them.  Opposite the pub a blue-plaque on an imposing Victorian mini-mansion caught my geeky eye.  

Here lived Henry Hyndman, founder of the first 'Marxist' organisation in Britain. Also sometime Tory toff kicked out of the Liberal Party, ego-maniac and control freak. He managed to piss off Marx when he wrote a crude introduction to Marxist ideas without mentioning Marx at all. But most significantly he shattered his own organisation and drove out the best elements like William Morris and Eleanor Marx. Amongst other things, he did so by making some seriously fucked-up political decisions including taking money from the Tory party in return for splitting the Liberal vote, and supporting Britain's involvement in the Great War. His final political incarnation was in an organisation with the unfortunate name of the National Socialist Party.

In effect he began the phenomenon of ruling class interlopers screwing up the labour movement - a torch that was picked up most effectively in recent times by Tony Blair. And he couldn't have found a more fitting place to be commemorated than Hampstead Village.

Sunday 15 December 2013

Make room in Tottenham

I've been living here for over 25years  - and watched as Tottenham became left behind whilst so many of the surrounding areas have become gentrified. 

And this isn't a blog about house prices. I don't care about that because I believe that a house is somewhere to live and be comfortable, not a financial investment. But I do care that over these years Tottenham has become ghetto-ised rather than gentrified. A downward spiral of smothering low aspirations and low opportunities in every respect - not just in terms of employment but also in political self-belief.

In the past couple of years things have started to change. Not without controversy, the local council, the mayor's office and Spurs FC have begun a process of 'regeneration'. And let's be clear this policy is about exploiting commercial opportunities and carrying through the 'ethnic cleansing' of the ConDem's austerity program that will drive the poor out of the inner city housing with benefit caps.

It's a local joke that we turned the corner when a run-down record shop that was a favourite hang-out for local youth for years was replaced with a branch of Costa Coffee. In fact that was quite a symbolic change. Good news for the incoming young middle class - not so good for the communities that are already here and fast being left behind.

But it doesn't have to be this way. This weekend I looked in at a tiny pop-up art gallery that has been operating out of a closed down Caribbean take-away. It's the work of a local project aptly called 'Make Room'. A friend of mine who is an art teacher at a local school arranged an exhibition there for some of his pupils' work. It gave them a voice to  put some  input into the changes that are happening around them - and to think of themselves as proper artists.

Of course Tottenham needs a damn site more than community arts projects - and the thought of turning the area into the new Hoxton sends a shudder down my spine. But praise where it's due: Thank fuck for projects like this - and for the commitment of people like my friend - it shows that amidst all the corporate bullshit and political spin, there can be a genuine meaning for local people in 'regeneration'.