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The word that most symbolises 2014? Foodbank

Houghton-croppedOccasionally, while typing, I have to right-click my mouse and select ‘Add to Dictionary’ because the year has thrown up a term not included in MS Word’s vocabulary. Previous examples have included ‘selfie’ and ‘bromance’.

2014’s notable addition?

‘Foodbank’.

I suspect most people, at the start of the year, were as unaware of foodbanks as my laptop. Now, they have become a national scandal.

The word ‘foodbank’ symbolises 2014 for me. A dreadful year that exposed the casual cruelties we impose on the poorest and most vulnerable.

So as the year closes, I was asked by New Start to set out my five wishes for 2015.

  1. Investment in voluntary and community groups – no more Big Society scams

One of the grimmest things I did in 2014 was to close down Urban Forum, with my fellow co-chair Gethyn Williams. At the time, I felt more sorrow than anger; organisations have a lifecycle. Survival itself is not an objective for a purpose-driven organisation. Better to give the organisation a decent burial than stagger on in the hope something will come up.

Look at the bigger picture, however, and I’m far less sanguine. One of the reasons Urban Forum declined was the number of our member organisations – smaller, less professional voluntary and community sector groups, many working in the most deprived neighbourhoods – that were making significant cuts or closing down.

Meanwhile David Cameron was funnelling cash to bullshit wheezes like Your Square Mile. Target: 1 million volunteers. Achievement: 64 volunteers.

So, my first wish for 2015: investment in voluntary and community groups, with additional support for those working in the poorest areas.

  1. A participative revolution

Another, more personal, closure in 2014: I left the Labour Party.

My immediate motivation was the sheer hopelessness of Ed Miliband and his gang’s crude attempt to spray-paint New Labour out of party history. The idea that my subs were paying for even a tiny, tiny fraction of a man so lacking in leadership quality was too much for me.

Yet the decision was also the consequence of a deeper dissatisfaction with modern party politics. Parliament is dominated by a monochrome cohort of hacks whose only life experience is being an MP’s lackey or think tank researcher, speaking in an etiolated language that makes sense to nobody else.

Nigel Farage exploits people’s dissatisfaction, but the ‘pound shop Enoch Powell’ is a creature of the same system.

We need to start taking decisions for ourselves through new participative means, rather than corrupt and corroded representative structures.

My second wish: we let the current system wither and die and replace it with one that lives up to Tom Payne’s words: ‘the construction of government ought to be such as to bring forward, by quiet and regular operation, all that capacity which never fails to appear in revolution.’

  1. An urbanist revival halts the construction of garden cities…

Our chronic inability to build houses – a trick most other advanced countries have managed – has led to all sorts of inane ideas being considered.

Step forward, the garden city.

It makes much more sense to build within our existing towns and cities. This approach guards against sprawl and protects greenfield land, costs far less in terms of infrastructure and encourages dense, vibrant cities.

Garden cities do the opposite, imposing great environmental, social and economic costs, draining the vitality out of existing cities in order to create car-dominated, poorly-connected low-density places.

As Anne Power and I argued in Jigsaw Cities and as Richard Rogers more recently put it: ‘We should build new towns in our cities before we build them in the green belt. We have 61,000 hectares of brownfield land in England and the government has approved half of it as potentially suitable for development. That would allow 1.3 million dwellings to be built even at a low density.’

My third wish: we build new homes within existing cities

  1. …and the Garden Bridge

You can see what they’re playing at, can’t you? No matter how bad the idea, stick ‘garden’ in the name and hope to get away with it. After all, who can be against gardens?

The proposed new ‘Garden Bridge’ across the Thames sounds charming and the artists’ images are pretty cool.

But, as Oliver Wainwright recently pointed out, the bridge will actually be a ‘privately managed tourist attraction’. Groups larger than eight will need to book ahead in order to ‘assist visitor management [and] discourage protest groups.’

We’re through the looking glass now, people, when planning authorities are so blatant about their desire to suppress the right to protest.

My fourth wish: The Garden Bridge is cancelled and everyone involved hangs their head in shame

  1. We’ve had the truth – now for justice

The Hillsborough independent Panel revealed the truth about what actually happened at Hillsborough in April 1989 and, far more shockingly, the extent to which the police, press, politicians and parts of the judiciary conspired not just to hide the facts but to slander the dead and blame them for their own deaths.

The smear campaign exposed, yet again, the contempt for the working classes that festers away the heart of the establishment running this country. It also reminds us of the need for constant citizen surveillance of the state and the institutions of the powerful.

The families of those who were killed have achieved the first of their two objectives: the truth. The search for justice – through the new coroner’s inquests, the Stoddart criminal inquiry and the IPCC investigation – has only just begun.

My fifth and final wish for 2015 is that the families of those killed make giant strides toward justice for the 96.

 

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