Above: No Child Left Thinking: Democracy At Risk In American Schools by Joel Westheimer 2008
On Tuesday 21st August 2018, freelance Guardian journalist Louise Tickle, wrote an article with this heading: ‘Can A University Rescue a City When The Local Authority Fails?‘
Above: the local government changes from County Councils to Districts and Unitary Authorities 2019/2020
The Guardian article is about hope for and by the young for the young and, as such is great, but really, I realised, left me feeling that it was like PR for universities that have really become powerful corporate interests, rather than environments at the heart of the human spirit and heart.
Surely a university is about growth, organic growth of people at every stage of life? We need to understand how the student pound and the loan system needs to be brought into a democratic understanding beyond the market. Why should the young be tasked with problems that the older generation have produced? Shouldn’t the solution at least be shared?
The tone of the article seemed to me to be a call for the energy of the young harnessed in the service of civic duty but ignoring the exploitation of students by developers and corporate providers that has affected their capacity to achieve a sense of authenticity.
Developers and corporate providers are my generation. I know about how students were targetted by big corporates when the first student loans were distributed: I did some market research of 1st, 2nd 3rd and 4th year students about where they spent their money, who targetted them and where they socialised over the period of their degree.
Interestingly, students who were flyered and goody bagged by companies in their first year had remained loyal to those companies throughout their degrees. Students like the local, the home base because, actually everything is big and strange: the problem is that they don’t have time to develop the critical thinking, to get perspective, or feel they could make different choices. I think that’s bad for their sense of proportion.
Ironically, it’s a William Jamesian type of Will To Believe summoning up the of the depressed in a mob view of the wider world where the structure of privilege impacts directly not only on your experience but on the experience of others. Politics isn’t an active negotiation between equals but a struggle to lobby for the patronage of an elite.
Displacing young professional dystopian despair into civic action is patronising and controlling of what the young and the old can do alone and together in society: they need freedom, permission and approval to do that which comes from a broader view of parliamentary connection with people and the value and values of their lives.
Accounting companies can’t set the economic, political and social agenda.
When you look at the recent PWC report on Local Authorities (consider how PWC and the group of top accountancy firms who are really writing and delivering government policy has been criticised, recently). Remember how PWC accountants came under scrutiny for their multiple roles with Carillion?
Parliament is more than the manager of the gig and gang labour supply chain, it’s a place where issues and checks and balances via constituency MPs can be tested constitutionally and we can begin to change and evolve these pernicious forms of labour exploitation that gig and gang labour foster.
The history of local authorities, the value to everyone of local democracy, the space to reflect, to consider, to debate, discuss and challenge is reduced to a consumer survey where knowledge is a weapon of persuasion:
‘Six out of ten survey respondents (local authorities), agree that councils should be more responsible for facilitating outcomes rather than delivering services, and a similar proportion now feel able to measure outcomes and assess impact which is a key to delivering a place based transformation’
This has never been voted on, democratically.
Which means that the writer of the report (accountant/marketing/PR person), has little inkling that PWC authority is being used to write off the history of local authorities and write in a new technocratic support role for local government, a bit like the way that engineering and building information modelling has written out the architect but not bothered to tell them.
Local authorities provide a really important tier of representation.
Leaving aside the case of Northampton Council and wishing the university and the very dynamic Vice Chancellor well, I wanted to connect with the assumptions and history behind why an article about the loss of a layer of democratic accountability might be written in that way.
What will and can happen in university has become a big business lobby with a narrow, self interested notion of what should and can be done with ‘public money’ more reflecting a hostile tabloid tone. We need to be able to look at what is actually happening, what isn’t happening, what is needed and why.
When the direct grant from government to local authorities was abolished last year all I could see was a desire from the government to manage a corporate supply chain that time limits some people’s rights while privileging others. It becomes without parliamentary criticism, scrutiny and insight, ideological, going back to a kind of mad Rees Moggism
of a little England like a post modern form of feudalism sold to the world as marketing for heritage and export. It ain’t half hot mum is the wrong way to think of the world and the future.
(William Rees Mogg seems to argue for the re-introduction of the centripetal social bond which had meant protection and service in medieval times but today, the management of massive gang and gig supply chains are full of harm and risk and they need to be broken up. William needs to understand how other people deserve as much perpetuity as he, he he).
Above: Jacob Rees Mogg (and, as a youth) and victims of the government’s hostile environment, Anthony Bryan and Paulette Wilson who gave evidence before the Home Affairs Select Committee April 2018.
The current (conservative) government offers the carrot of democratic accountability through the revised ‘business rate’ to a local ‘community’ but actually what they’re effectively doing is telling us that we have to continue with Amazon warehouse internet capitalism and Sports Direct franchised corporates on the high street to finance the ’services’ that a ‘community’ needs. And that’s not to mention social media companies.
The point is it’s not a game of how Mike Ashley can get out of the 2016 Victorian Workhouse scandal
and be reinvented as a saviour of the British high street. This happens because parliament has forgotten how many people want constituency and constitutional politics to create better solutions to regressive ways of working and exploiting in 21st century Britain. They’re really basic questions and parliament could answer them and find solutions.
Above Mike Ashley BIS Select Committee 2016: Rich Jeff Bezos and an image of a Scottish Amazon workhouse August 2016
We all know that Mike’s kind of capitalism is filling our prisons and hospitals and streets with problems. What the average person won’t realise though, is we can do more, can do more than yet another ‘pilot’ scheme to help victims of these ways of managing labour and the fruits of technologies. So many singular ‘schemes of rehabilitation and recovery’ are just highly marketed and overvalued, PR for a feeling that something is being done.
It’s as though they’ve have been given a golden media ticket for success when the underlying indicators of social distress across the life cycle need to be addressed by far more capacity than charitable do-gooding that is really allowing a permit, a licence, a passport in perpetuity for a casino and drug culture in lifestyle and retail to be too powerful.
With the notion of ‘civic engagement’ of universities, we’re actually going back to a future before the welfare state, before the notions of equal rights and the importance of inclusion rather than tokens of social mobilities
(via a golden ticket
) to an environment where
where some people have more rights than others and always succeed because of that social advantage.
Gaming us out of our lives?
Leaving us with the inadequacies of noblesse oblige and charity to solve the horrendous issues of privilege and underprivilege where through the gig and gang economy the nightmare experience of exploitation undermines the value of voting, of hope, health.
The problem in universities, now, as well as in the wider community is that we have an intergenerational ideas and asset lock created by the gig economy of core and peripheral workers and the only opportunity for the future (parents remind their children), is just to be normal and conventional and buy a house.
What’s repressed returns, though, so the dispenser of this kind of advice is stuck in the same kind of economic time warp with an eventual end story (already written for them by their local old person’s home venture capitalist) that they have to sell their pride and joy to pay for care that might be awful.
This fuels a dystopian working and living environment where everyone consumes more and is less satisfied, for ever and ever. It’s a kind of hell.
Inside the university, just as in society, there is little ability to change this, to have insight: often the university creates and provides the employment agenda outside the university in a way that needs scrutiny. Universities write and define professional, semi professional and unskilled roles in a way that isn’t accountable to local democracy and much, much broader interpretations of cultural, community and social connection and value that we need as a society.
It’s really important that university HR departments go out into towns, villages, other cities. Look at how the lack of needful and creative thinking in the towns, cities and countryside about the new needs to become a normal part of our dialogue, conversations, everyday lives.
New kinds of jobs: jobs, opportunities and roles that come through a new understanding of knowledge and how it’s shared and distributed is the way everyone can benefit because they’re really learning in a shared way. We have to go beyond and between professional categories in our thinking about how our lives can be improved. The lack of reciprocity, of genuineness, genuine engagement, connection and understanding rather than compliance, obedience and policing is a fundamental limitation of the systems we live and work under at the moment.
We are stifling creativities.
The closed and overly compliant environment prevents interdisciplinary, interdepartmental, cross departmental and inter background sharing. The compliance environment stifles criticism and over inflates trivial, personal gains and gaming as a career strategy.
Caring is seen as something that inferior individuals need in a survivalist world of extreme experiences. What needs to be understood is how this is a coded way of understanding how a move to a corporate environment in universities coincides with an amelioration of rights in perpetuity for everyone in a community.
Aggression is part of the traditional system that human rights mitigates against but aggression should also be seen as a fear response to the gig and gang labour economy that prides itself on playing really to its young male strengths (but terrifies most people even young strong males) and needs to be challenged.
There’s nothing wrong with some aspects of survivalism and extreme experience but there needs also to be space where every anxious and competitive undergrad, grad, post grad, lecturer and worker in a university and outside a university can feel that what they do is of social, personal, cultural and spiritual value.
In the wider world we have to remember that the negative way we might be treated in the world is usually as a result of our previous and historical actions and activities and where we try to ignore the consequences of our actions. We need to listen and provide solutions to these ancient issues that are everywhere. We can’t hide from them.
For the lecturers, a careers service without the sense of real community connection that is rigorous, self critical and down to earth, we risk undermining all the good work they do to support and skill their undergraduates, graduates, post graduates and other kinds of learners inside their institutions.
To be true to ourselves and others throughout our lives we have to challenge, develop and change the local gig economy in jobs and services. We all know it’s wrong: change needs to come from inside the institution as well as outside. Aping the scale and culture of american universities without real cultural insight is letting us all down.