Fighting patronage politics – Uniting the East End

There has been a lot of concern about the Independent Mayor’s mainstream grant proposals.  This is the money that is handed out every three years to local voluntary sector organisations to deliver important services for local people.  Most organisations are relatively small and serve a population within walking distance. 

There has always been a slant towards the west of the borough in the allocation of this and other resources.  Many great longstanding organisations are based around Aldgate and Brick Lane, and funding is geographically skewed towards them, although their reach is broader and others benefit from their expertise.  This time is different. 

Tower Hamlets is divided into 8 Local Area Partnership areas, made up of two or three wards each.  Funding and services are planned around these areas. 

LAP 6, made up of Bromley by Bow and Mile End East wards, is the most deprived LAP area.  East India ward next door is the most deprived ward in London – the riverside properties in Limehouse alter the overall picture for LAP 7, but the area is similar to LAP 6 – mostly high density post war social housing with some small terraces, high unemployment, poor health.  One of the reasons for the long term underfunding is the lack of infrastructure for organisations to work from and be funded – in Mile End East two small community centres on St Paul’s Way are now being supplanted by a great new centre as a part of the Leopold estate redevelopment, and East End Homes is building new facilities too, but three and a half years ago, when this funding was last awarded, although there were relatively few applicants, those that did apply were treated relatively fairly.  Not this time. 

LAP 6 is the poorest LAP area.  According to new analysis I have recently been given it is also the LAP area currently proposed to receive the least mainstream grant funding.  LAP 6 is currently proposed to receive 3% of the total.  By contrast the highest amount awarded to any single LAP area is 20% of the total to LAP 2. 

It has been suggested that cronyism, patronage, call it what you will, is at the root of this.  A few facts. 

Many long standing service providers with a great record of serving diverse local communities have had their grants cut. 

Many new organisations, some only founded very recently, have received significant amounts of money. 

Most of these new organisations are sited in a very few geographical areas. 

The distribution of funding does not reflect need.   Mile End East, Bromley by Bow, East India and Lansbury have the greatest number of households in Tower Hamlets who will be seriously affected by government cuts to benefits coming in in April 2013.  Currently that same area will see our welfare advice service funding cut by 75%, the biggest cut in the borough.  This is not because the Independent Mayor has less money available for the mainstream grants.  It is because he is choosing to allocate it elsewhere. 

Activities for children and young people locally are also set for the chop. 

There has been such a strong reaction to this that the Mayor has delayed making his final decision on the funding allocation.  He is likely to publish his final proposals soon. 

I think that this is worth organising against.   I’ve been talking to local people and getting petitions signed for a few weeks now, but we need to scale things up.  Contact me if you agree and can help.  The east and south of our borough are as full of talent, hope and rich potential as anywhere else on earth.  Patronage politics is designed to divide and weaken us.  Let’s fight to unite the east end. 

Learning from Greats – the East London Federation of Suffragettes

On the 14th November in Bethnal Green myself, Kathryn Perera, the Chief Executive of Movement for Change, and Prof Mary Davies, leading biographer of Sylvia Pankhurst, will lead a discussion on what we can learn from some great campaigners, the East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELFS). 

ELFS started as a part of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the suffragette campaign for Votes for Women.  By the end of the First World War ELFS was a service provider, running a toy factory to create jobs, the Mother’s Arms, a children’s centre supporting mothers with childcare and advice on child health, low cost restaurants and advice and advocacy support for east end women and their families.  They started as a single issue campaign about political power and won trust, hearts and minds, maintaining momentum behind their cause whilst serving their neighbours and helping people to help themselves.   They won the vote too.  We can learn a lot from them.   

Sylvia Pankhurst chose to settle in Bow because “The East End was the largest homogenous working class area accessible to the House of Commons by popular demonstrations”. 

She recognised the democratic deficit in the mainly middle class Edwardian suffragette movement, and hoped that a mobilised east end would be an example to women across England. 

ELFS was an impressive centralised machine. Branches of approximately the size of two current local government wards would submit weekly reports to be published in their newspaper, the Women’s’ Dreadnought, setting out how many papers they had sold, how much money had been raised, how many canvassing session had been run.  Volunteers and the numbers of papers they had sold were listed every week.   Around 20 public meetings were organised each week across what is now Tower Hamlets.  The first edition of the Dreadnought includes instructions on canvassing:
“Much time is spent by Suffragettes in going from house to house to talk with the wives and mothers whose busy lives keep them within doors and make it difficult for them to hear the truth about Votes for Women”. 
Mrs Walker, a suffragette and docker’s wife, compiled a list of issues raised with her in one canvassing session: “unemployment, poverty, housing, women as slaves, sweating”.  Not enough has changed. 

Volunteers weren’t just treated as cogs in a machine– they were trained in public speaking, and after a single session would be sent out to the nearest street corner to make speeches.  Women gave up what little they had to spare for the cause.   “Self Denial Week” involved women donating the money they would otherwise spend on sugar and jam to central funds, making flower posies and badges to be sold, and organising jumble sales. 
Not everything was run from the top.  When Zelie Emerson broke up a Poplar Borough Council meeting by throwing floour and stink bombs in protest at suffragettes being banned from council premises, she hadn’t asked anyone’s permission beforehand. 
ELFS built for mass demonstrations in Victoria Park, marched on Downing Street, had mass prayer sessions outside Westminster Abbey, sent deputations to see the King …  they understood how to put pressure on those in power, and how to win the trust of the people of east London. 

Come and hear more about them, on the 14th November, 7pm in Bethnal Green.  Book here: