How dare the Lord?

Recently enobled Lord Glasman, of ‘Blue Labour’ fame, allegedly let fire some insults in the Palace of Westminster today:

@kayewiggins @tobyblume Glasman calls Locality “toffs” – says real comm organising would create “conflict and mayhem”

Kayewiggins: Maurice Glasman being v critical of Locality’s comm organising contract. Calls Locality “paternalistic” and “well intentioned busybodies”.

As an unelected peer of the realm in an overstuffed second chamber, this is a direct insult to every member of the movement of grassroots community organisations connecting hundreds of thousands of people rooted in real communities all over the country.

Locality is a solidarity network of community-led organisations in some of the most deprived areas of the country from the Outer Hebrides to the tip of Cornwall, from Hastings to Hull, Cumbria to Camberwell, working with an average of 267,000 people every week. Every type of place you can find in this country has its response in an enterprising local organisation, with the ambition to be imaginative and resilient, to meet local needs today and in the long term.

They’d be pretty amused to be called ‘toffs’, especially by a member of the House of Lords! As a membership organisation, Locality is led by our 600+ members, with more joining every week. We represent their views and our key decisions are made by them, so the name-calling is simply inaccurate.

You dare to be so obnoxious because you think it’s your duty to create conflict, but while your insults slide off the duck’s back, your approach to organising – “rubbing the resentments raw”, generating “conflict and mayhem” – could be seriously dangerous to communities themselves. What happened to Alinsky’s rule that “the price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative”?

Community Organisers is about bringing communities together, building relationships and trust, helping people develop the skills and confidence to tackle issues that matter to them. With madness in the financial sector, welfare sliced by billions and local services in shreds, why would anybody want to create more ‘mayhem’? We want to tap into the things people actually care about, not what lords tell them or politicians hand down. We want to build on some of the fantastic work already being done in local communities and support local people to make neighbourhoods better, fairer places to live.

So either you’re just pretending and poking us to create conflict because you’re so bitter and cross that we presented an alternative, collaborative approach to community organising, or you’re so ignorant (in all senses) that you don’t know what the real world holds, out there beyond Shoreditch.

We’re all glad about the campaign for the Living Wage. Who wouldn’t be? Talk about Motherhood & Apple Pie: a straight ask, well sought, well fought, and we all owe Citizens UK for that. Everyone will always be grateful, glad and inspired. But if Ed Miliband thought he was rewarding that great people’s campaign, he may have chosen badly in enobling the Billy Bunter of the movement.

‘Blue Labour’ has something to offer in re-colouring a story some of us have been living for decades and Ed has known for years, but if it’s going to insult the places that do exactly what you’re talking about, you’ll just be the name-calling bully in the playground.

We’ll show you what solidarity looks like. Locality is a network of actual, real-life community organisations and they do not appreciate your loose talk in the Palace.

Locality members and friends will no doubt tell Lord Glasman and his patrons what they think of his insults. For now, I’m going to get some sleep and live to make another day worthwhile…

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20 Responses to How dare the Lord?

  1. Toby Blume says:

    Good post Jess. I was, as you saw from my tweets, hugely surprised by Maurice Glasman’s comments. He knows better than that….or at least he should. And, as you point out, it’s a bit rich for an enobled peer in an unelected House of Lords – with his ermin robes to boot! – to call anyone ‘toffs’.

  2. Ade Adeagbo says:

    If no one recognises that meaningful community involvement and democratic legitimacy are borne out of what Locality stands for, then they need to be reoriented. Maybe its a high expectation from members of the House of Lords…?

  3. Denny Cater says:

    Actually, the saying is “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me”. Maybe you need to check your facts before asking someone else to “grow up”, especially if you’re then going to criticise him for voicing his opinion.

    How rude of him! My goodness, does he think we’re living in a democracy or something?

    • jesssteele says:

      You’re right of course – what was I thinking of! I’ve deleted that line. Thank you. I wasn’t criticising Lord Glasman for his opinions on community organising although I disagree with them in some aspects, but for being so rude about Locality which is a solidarity network of over 600 community organisations.

  4. Rob Goodwin says:

    Of course the irony of Mr Glasman complaining of ‘toffs’ and ‘busybodies’ is the first thing that strikes you (people in glass houses and all that).
    From my perspective, living here on the Marsh Farm estate in Luton, where toffs are in short supply, Mr Glasman is another embodiment of the evils of our current system of government – political point-scoring for the sake of it, mean-spirited competition instead of open-hearted cooperation, shooting down ideas just because you didn’t think of them first (or because you didn’t win the bid), etc.
    He demonstrates all to well the deep malaise in our political system whereby the power structures controlled by the political elite are forced to retreat behind their political lines, not out of any desire to make things better, merely to maintain power or to facilitate the transfer of power to themselves.
    If Mr Glasman cared more about empowering citizens than empowering the clique he serves, he should be pitching in and taking action, not whining from the sidelines. Isn’t that what community organising is all about?

  5. I think at Locality we need to concetrate on what is important – serving communities that we represent. We should not waste our energy on such people but show them what we can achieve and what difference we make where it matters and this is how we can make them change thier views about us not what we say back after they make any commnets negative or positive. We should not turn into them!!

  6. Christopher Phillip says:

    The problem is not with the ideals that Locality holds, but with its lack of real action. Whilst the Settlement Houses, a significant part of Locality’s history, were a wonderful idea by members of elite universities (in the 1880s these were, almost exclusively, the aforementioned “toffs”) to provide counselling and advice to the poor, in a well-meaning, somewhat patronising, and almost self-congratulatory way, prior to the CAB, they did very little by way of action. Nor would the same group of people have been involved in the Docker’s Strike, ten years earlier, even had they been around. Toynbee Hall, for instance, has sat in the heart of Shoreditch (for centuries one of London’s most deprived areas) for almost as long as Rowntree identified it as an area of grave risk, and aside from providing classes on how not to get into debt, and activities for young people, has done almost nothing to contribute to the area!

    If I live below the breadline because my job does not pay me enough to live, or my rent is too high, or if my children are sick because there is overwhelming damp on the walls of my overcrowded flat, do you think I would prefer “a national grid of peer-to-peer support, sharing ideas, knowledge and skills”, or an organisation that would take mine, my neighbours’, my friends’ and my colleagues’ complaints seriously, to get organised, get powerful, and take action to fix it?

    This is why Locality has been insulted by Lord Glasman, who has devoted the best part of his adult life to working on just such actions. It is not bitterness, it is regret that the main force for community organising in the UK is seen as a very effective network of complaints desks.

    What are Locality’s recent concrete wins? A quick search of the website doesn’t seem to turn up any results…

    • Steve Wyler says:

      Yes Christopher there is some truth in the claim that the original impulse of the first university settlements, established in 1884, was paternalistic. But that changed dramatically and quickly. During the great dock strike of 1889 Toynbee Hall was in fact extremely active in organising relief for impoverished dockers (and was much praised for this by dockers’ leader Tom Mann in his memoirs). Toynbee Hall also campaigned in the national press in support of the match girls strike of 1888, and took a leading role in organising the busmen’s strike in 1891. Toynbee Hall and the other East End settlements campaigned for sanitation in the East End, registration of boarding houses, and for public libraries. They played a big part in setting up the Workers Educational Association. They pioneered law centres and citizens advice bureau. They spearheaded the campaign for a universal pension. All of this they did working increasingly alongside and with, rather than for, the working people of the East End. In many ways, they were the community organisers of their time.

      What are Locality’s concrete wins? Locality was formed seven weeks ago by merging the Development Trusts Association and Bassac. In the last few years we have scored some notable successes. We have grown a movement of 600 independent community-led organisations, working in the poorest parts of the UK, on social, economic and environmental causes, all led by local people. We have speared-headed the community assets campaign, transferring half a billion pounds of land and buildings into community ownership in the last decade, and over half of the Western Isles in Scotland are now in community ownership. Our cultivating enterprise programme helped local communities launch fifty new social enterprises in the last two years. And we are continuing, in the spirit of the early settlements, to keep the pressure on for national change, as our campaigns for a Community Reinvestment Act and a Community Allowance demonstrate.

      Locality is not a ‘network of complaints desks’ (whatever that means!). It is a combination of community activists, often in the poorest parts of the country, building community capability for self-determination, and tackling injustice and vested interest. Don’t knock us – join us!

      • Christopher Phillip says:


        I’ll admit that I may have been a little unfair. My main point is largely that Locality seems to do very little by way of active campaigning. Asset ownership is important, I’ll agree, but living and working conditions are surely more so? Surely you can’t argue that it is more important for people to have decent wages than have a shiny new social enterprise open down the street?

        Is there not something to be said for confrontational organising, not only working with the communities that you represent, but also aiming to get committments and improvements from the private sector and government, not only on large campaigns, but also on local issues?



  7. Like Rob, I’m another member of the Marsh Farm Outreach team in Marsh Farm, Luton, who are one of the 11 kick starter hosts for Locality’s bid for the CO programme. I want to respond to the ‘toff’ comments generally but more specifically to Christopher’s comments.

    As a group of long term unemployed residents of the estate, we do live below the breadline, our rent is far too high in relation to our meager incomes, and we have far too many friends and neighbours who are crammed into overcrowded flats, some suffering physical and social sicknesses in the home as a result. This first hand experience of poverty, homelessness, unemployment and exclusion, coupled with the frustration of living with the failure of successive ‘top down’ policies that spent millions of pounds with no real effect on the ground, led us to develop and build our own common sense solutions to these problems – ‘by the people, for the people’. This journey took us from squatting to reclaim and restore derelict local lands and buildings in the early 90s through to our struggle to pilot the UK’s first ever ‘Organisation Workshop’ in Marsh Farm, where we, alongside many of our most excluded neighbours, will organise to create our own jobs in new social enterprises selling goods and services to our neighbours and the wider community.

    So we Marsh Farmers have a long history of “getting organised….and taking action to fix it” Christopher – and we are honoured to be working with Locality for reasons set out in my previous response to the “radical as a digestive biscuit” jibe on this blog…

    …and for reasons I’m about to set out here.

    You suggest that an organisation like Locality who have built a “national grid of peer-to-peer support, sharing ideas, knowledge and skills” cannot also be “an organisation that would take mine, my neighbours, my friends and my colleagues complaints seriously, to get organised, get powerful, and take action to fix it?”

    You couldn’t be more wrong mate!

    Our long journey has also meant challenging abuses of power, whistleblowing and defending our community against corruption of the regeneration processes and the public purse in Luton. This saw sustained and high profile attacks on our organisation, launched by a clique of very powerful local figures with vested interests in maintaining the status quo. These attacks included a series of highly damaging articles published in the local newspaper, which were so damning of our organisation anybody reading them could be forgiven for swallowing the version and giving us a wide berth.

    When the shit hit the fan the Locality crew not only “took our complaints seriously”, they mobilised to support us in ways which were well beyond the call of duty, deploying their resources, time and expertise just when we really needed them. Many other ‘respectable’ organisations we know of (with contracts to keep) would have run a mile before getting involved in such a high profile and controversial battle. Locality, far from running a mile, took the time to look beyond the bile and propaganda to see what really lay behind the assault, before standing 100% by our side, representing our case to Ministers, supporting our leg work on the streets and even providing statements for Judicial Review of the events at the High Court. Locality’s confidence in us was fully vindicated when a High Court Judge and the findings of a barrister conducting an enquiry for the Local Authority commended the commitment, tenacity and integrity of our organisation and exposed a multi million pound funding and governance scandal.

    So ‘God bless em’ we say!

    You say it’s not bitterness driving Mr Glasman (I use Mr because I don’t and won’t use the term ‘Lord’ for mere mortals like Maurice) but the fact that he has “devoted the best part of his adult life to working on just such actions” coupled with “regret that the main force for community organising in the UK is seen as a very effective network of complaints desks” (that sounds pretty bitter to me Christopher!).

    If that is so, why has he chosen to make a public attack on the programme before we’ve even started? How does he think that helps those of us living in ‘deprived communities’ who are preparing ourselves for the challenge? Why did he not organise a meeting with Locality to discuss his concerns?

    My previous post on here makes the point that locality tried to work with Citizens UK prior to the bid but this was rejected by CUK. That’s a real shame, especially as this could and should still happen, but instead Maurice has resorted to these public attacks on the people at Locality. How do you think this sniping from the outset looks to those of us living in Marsh Farm and similar communities throughout the country? We have a once in a generation opportunity to prove the viability of ‘by the people, for the people’ ways of doing things, and before we even start one of the main organisations in the UK who are supposed to be all about people led solutions seem intent on wrecking the programme? If Maurice and co are really driven by the high motives you say they are Christopher, they should be sitting down with us to work together, maximising the prospects of success by using the best of all strategies.

    Instead, from a streets eye view it looks like Maurice Glasman’s rant is driven by a mixture of bitterness at losing the contract and, even worse, this article makes it look like a willingness to use the CO programme as a political football.

    As a resident of Marsh Farm, one of the UKs so called ‘pockets of deprivation’ and being from a family of lifelong Labour voters, I think this is a shameful case of putting ‘Poli-Tricks’ Before People.

    So I’d like to use this blog (which I hope he reads) to invite Maurice Glasman to meet with us to discuss these issues in an open forum.

    Whilst I agree with a lot of the stuff he’s saying about the failures of New Labour, the need for what he calls a more ‘conservative socialism’, too much statism and even on the Labour movements part in the alienation of EDL type people, this is far too important an opportunity to ruin by using the CO issue as a party political football.

    I hope he turns out to be bigger than that…lets see

  8. Here’s a musical, lyrical lesson from Peter Tosh….if you live in a Glasman House…dont throw stones!!

    One Love

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  10. sinbad says:

    ping pong your achievements back and forth all the time fixated on your own brilliance.

    contrary to what you think the working class don’t need depoliticised do-gooders to think and act on their behalf and being taxed for the privilige. stroll on ffs. nauseatingly self-serving posts

    • jesssteele says:

      Sorry you feel this way. You’re under no obligation to read the blog of course. I’m not depoliticised and I think and act on my own behalf. I talk to and with other people, not for them.

  11. sinbad says:

    nver making it past moderation

    • jesssteele says:

      The delay in approving your comments was due to being away in Manchester with community organisations and then at the Hastings Pier AGM tonight – yeah, it went well thanks, local people are pretty pleased that they’ve been able to work together to sort something out that everyone in power said was impossible. There are different ways to skin cats…

  12. Great Post much appreciated.

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  14. Henry says:

    I would still appreciate some concrete examples of achievements. Locality had nothing to do with community land ownership in the Highlands so I don’t accept that as an example. lease do tell.

    • jesssteele says:

      Sorry to be so slow to approve and reply, Henry. I haven’t blogged for so long that I didn’t notice this was pending.
      I’m not sure what kind of achievement examples you were looking for. It’s not quite true to say that Locality had nothing to do with community land ownership in the Highlands – our sister organisation DTA Scotland was involved as an adviser and solidarity network for many of these. Locality respects and cherishes its legacy from both DTA and bassac – our members have enormous achievements over many decades. You can see a bit more about them in last year’s membership survey (2012 coming soon).

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