Councillor Crew

July 3, 2010

At a work do recently we celebrated the achievements of graduates of our programme that supports 16-18 year olds get into work or education. Many received certificates for completing training courses or receive an award in categories such as outstanding achievement or overcoming challenges. Safe to say that many have not had an easy ride thus far in their lives and have not been so successful at school so this may perhaps their first public recognition of their work.

Dishing out the certificates was the Speaker for Hackney, herself someone who had started with very little and worked hard to get where she is over the past 40 years. She had come to the UK as an immigrant and had lived on the breadline and now runs a number of community groups and charities.

She brought along with her another Councillor, Michael Jones who said a few words about his life so far to inspire the youth. Michael is a 23 year old, originally from Jamaica but spent most of his life in Hackney. He gave his address very much in the street vernacular of an inner city ‘yoot’, his go and get ‘em message was very positive and from the heart, and clearly he was able to relate to some of the young audience.

And yet there was something not quite right that made me feel uncomfortable. Obviously he challenges your perception of what a local councillor should be. His message was positive, but not very articulate, and he felt the need to deliver it in a way that was cringing for those over the age of 19. It made me wonder if this should be what should be presented as something to aspire to. Then I thought, why not? He represents a proportion of the electorate, but then I thought, no, it’s patronising to have an inarticulate person representing the youth. Then, I thought, am I being a cultural snob, and applying my liberal white middle class liberal sensibilities to the immigrant working classes of inner city London? Then I had a vision of McCrack swinging for me with a leaded copy of Nick Cohen’s latest polemic.

Then I thought, crudely speaking, what we are doing is rewarding these young people for taking one step closer to being economically active citizens. We are rewarding them for playing the game a little better than they had done previously. One of the courses I run is called Ready for Work. The central objective is to prepare young people to learn the rules of how to get on in the world of work. Essentially, don’t be late, don’t be rude, wear the right clothes and be prepared to do boring work. Not particularly inspiring.

I cling to the idea that the freedom and self-sufficiency afforded by work overall makes these young people happier. I have seen it when they get jobs, the sense of pride in their independence and that they can do something positive. And yet the nuts and bolts of it is teaching these youngsters how to behave to a norm. I’m interested in what has created that norm and what maintains it. Evidently the market creates it. If the market demands that all transaction be conducted in Gaelic due to a tax on all other languages, woe betide the man who fails to learn that language.

So I guess, by showing these youths how to behave we are helping them learn the language of the majority, one which will help them get ahead in the game that we have created and overall this seems to be positive and not so sinister.

I am still unsure as to why I felt uncomfortable with this guy speaking in the way that he did. I contrasted Sean Bailey, a guy who tried to stand as a Tory MP in the recent election who also had a hard London upbringing but who presents himself in a very different way. He is articulate, intelligent and yet still relates and gains the respect of young people; he used to be a youth worker. He actively discourages the stereotyping of young men, particularly from the black community and lives this identity himself. When I first saw Shaun Bailey speak I was impressed because of all these things but Michael seemed to be the opposite of this. Was it because he I felt he was not a good role model, was ultimately patronising to the young people, or was it because he did not fit into what I perceive to be how a citizen representing and influencing a community should be? In his own way, he was inspirational but I think ultimately it seemed like a bit of a tokenistic effort, and I think this patronises rather than helps young people, in contrast to someone like Shaun Bailey who does not feel the need to adapt this persona to appeal to his young electorate.

Or am I just being a snob? Answers on a postcard please

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2 Responses to “Councillor Crew”

  1. Imran Ahmed said

    Shaun Bailey talked repeatedly about “keeping it real”, how Cameron was “his boy” and how Black people were treated like slaves by Labour. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/davehillblog/2010/apr/17/shaun-bailey-andrew-slaughter-hammersmith-general-election-2010 When it comes to patronising people, no-one held a candle to Bailey. And that, in the end, was why he was comprehensively beaten in one of the most shocking results of the General Election.

    • McCrack said

      I think as long as he’s not wheeled out as the only example of what a young person might talk like or act like or think then I don’t see it as a problem. It’s only if people elevate him to some sort of spokesman role for the youth merely because he can talk ‘real’ without looking daft. However, it’s a fairly limited colour palette with which to paint a political career.

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