campaign for art in Parl: our places/people hopes/dreams on the walls at westminster

News As Art: Art Is News: From The Neighbourhoods of the UK

Featured Image: Ramsay Macdonald addressing parliament in 1937

The Rushcliffe Committee operated within parliament for a year between May 1944 and 1945. 

It was a very important committee and produced its report in 1945.

Ostensibly about practically considering how legal aid could and should be reformed, it seems to have been convened more to selectively respond to and head off the wider demand in society, the wider world, from returning soldiers, seamen, airmen, veterans, ex prisoners of war, refugees from Europe, the UK, Commonwealth and former colonies as well as people who’d been at home in constant struggle and worry for a wider social, political and economic representation.

In the new Britain everyone felt they were a stakeholder.

There were 19 members: Rt Hon Lord Rushcliffe GBE (Chair)Sir James Aitken, Hon Bickford Smith, Master Burnand OBE, FJ Burrows (Head of National Union of Railwaymen who was quickly taken off the committee and offered the job of Governor of Bengal just before partition between 1946 and 1947), Mabel Crout, Felix Crowder, Ira Gillet, GE Haynes Esq CBE, Hon Justice Hodson MC, Moelwyn Hughes Esq KC MP, the Hon Justice Lewis OBE, SCT Littlewood Esq, Major E Manningham Buller MP, T Mathew Esq, Hon Sir Albert Napier KCB, Lord Schuster GCB CVO KC, Lieutenant Co SH Smith OBE MC, Lord Southwood, Sir Bertrand Watson, Major WTC Skyrme (Secretary).

Although there were at least 900 requests for legal aid per month documented by the military for assistance with marital, housing, debt and relief problems and TC Lunn of The Law Society gave evidence that there were already 1,000 solicitors in England already working in legal aid with people without means, what we need to acknowledge is that then, as now, although the British people were experiencing multiple changes, shocks, bereavements, accommodations, the answer isn’t to just try and buy them off.

See British Politics and Policy During The Second World War by Kevin Jeffreys: it’s on the Journal Store it’s free to read (you can have up to 120 articles a month free)

Then, as now, people are aware that they were and still are suffering a democratic deficit.

In 2022 instead of everyone having a sense of duty to ensure that everyone should have a decent job, education, training, home, quality of life, that deficit is supplied by charities.

The lottery and charities can only exist because they’re paid for by the poorest in society: as a client group, in participation through the percentage of their income paying for a chance to ‘win’, addiction to lottery, gambling, online and off and through volunteering in charities for nothing in neighbourhoods where there are few jobs.

Unfortunately, charities and the lottery are as steeped in the belief that it is good to help people who are worse off and being in with a chance of an honour if you become a bronze, silver, gold volunteer with a particular client group, rather than campaigning for social change through the parliamentary and political system or through giving the worse off the means, resources, capacity and capacities to contribute themselves.

Above: Nic Francis’s End Of Charity: Time For Social Enterprise: we could ask all charities to work towards making themselves redundant and to become social/community interest companies employing/training/skilling people from the local neighbourhood so changing the exploitative relationships in the supply chains across the world (that’s my idea by the way)

Because people are wise, insightful and intelligent and as the poet said they are waiting…… they have aspirations to a more humane, civilised world.

In not addressing the wider aspirations of people for acknowledgment of their lives and contributions in homes, jobs, opportunities in their local neighbourhoods to be self determining, the Rushcliffe Committee set the tone for less and less democratic accountability, supporting really only the future economic stability of people who were just like themselves: the establishment, military and professional classes at the expense of the working class, migrants, refugees, ex-prisoners of war. 

People matter in decision making.

Now, after Grenfell, after Covid (in Covid still really, always coming out), as then, in 1944 in society, there was a wider communal and social insight into the price of war, the cost of war that was mature, humane, diverse and optimistic. 

When we think more deeply about Grenfell the majority of this country know we should be rebuilding their homes on the site, we should be building a memorial too.  We should be sharing the piece by piece reconstruction of the Grenfell community because in their reconstruction we reconstruct our own souls.

After Grenfell the people who suffered made us all see how  before and during the fire they hadn’t been treated as human beings with rights and they were so pleased that the fire fighters deferred to them, spoke to them because they’d been so used to being rejected, refused, ignored. 

It’s the same after Covid: we look at people who are, effectively, privileged: masters of supply chains who are MPs who are in the Select Committees, the Early Day Motions and the Lobbies: manufacturing, import/export, technology and futures supply chains taking up the space in everyone’s news bulletin of parliament and forgetting the space needed to respond to the people who voted for them who believe in parliament as something we should all care about, nurture and develop for the whole country. Not just a few of us.

We need to find ways of balancing this underprivilege/privilege bias. We’re all under privileged eyes and we’re all the poorer for it.

We need to refind a sense of genuineness in work, home, online, leisure: political representation: make politics work for more people, more of the time

We’ve got used to media and social media in unregulated spaces/places because over the last seventy years the notion of developing representation, participation has been laughed at, humiliated, bought off by the massive accumulating power and wealth of people who hog parliamentary space that belongs to all of us.

People who consider themselves the establishment, who consider themselves free to roam with a lifetime pass that they can pass on to their heirs have got into the habit of forgetting that charity is a weapon against equality and human rights.

In Britain charities turnover £84 billion in 2020-2021 but they rely on the poorest not only to be their recipients but to be their volunteers. Most charities are asset rich because of this removal of credibility, networks and pathways for their client groups.

The burgeoning of charities at the expense of job creation, business creation needs to be understood in terms of its parasitic relationship with people described as underprivileged.

Chief Executives are paid hundreds of thousands a year. People give to charity (62% of people give in the UK) because they want to contribute to change.

They think they’re helping to promote social change when, just as in the Rushcliffe Committee, they’re preventing it as charities support a very poorly honours system that carries on picking its own nose as it drives its car through the lives of people it has no intention of carrying. The lottery is paid for by people excluded from healthy education, work, leisure, sport because they’re not from the social groups that benefit from healthy education, work, leisure, sport. It’s a virtuous cycle of exclusion that keeps on excluding.

If we want dynamism we need to realise its a multigenerational multi background process of development: it comes from valuing everyone: putting the lives of people their hopes, experiences, histories, achievements on the walls of the buildings we live in work in, walk through every day.

When and as parliament is refurbished we need to ask for and get visual representations on its walls, corridors, buildings so that the institution reflects back the energy of the people not seen, known, the energy of the places unseen, unknown.

What parliamentarians need to realise is that we are the solar panels of a new future: we can all be part of a much more humane, healthy, conversational future.

We need to realise that jobs, businesses, creativities in neighbourhoods are part of a shared process: see the UK as a living school, college, university, society that all MPs companies, interest groups, lobbies need to acknowledge, remember, be inspired by. 

During Covid lockdown there was much said about the power of art.

What that means is that we became sensitive to who, what and where we were and we drew energy and the ability to make things from that awareness.

Artist Amna Azeem’s vision of Sialkot Pakistan during lockdown

We need institutions that are porous and yet resilient: representing our diversities,

Art seems to provide the richness of context missing in the way we communicate.

our intelligence, our shocks,

our intensities, our health, our histories everywhere in Westminster to remind everyone that we shouldn’t take anyone for granted.

We can all always learn and should expect to be surprised by the potential of people. A new relationship with parliament could transform opportunity in Britain, encourage workplaces, organisations and institutions to think of art as news and news as art.

As well as oil paintings of historical and current aristocrats on the walls of parliament and the House of Lords we need to create a constitutional and institutional environment where the neighbourhoods of the UK, how we look, how we want to look, how we work, how we think how we dream and how we hope and have always hoped are represented well and effectively on the walls of the buildings. Art isn’t marketing it’s the news and in the 21st century the news is art.


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