Welcome to our world, yours too, probably. There’s less about poetry in this quarterly column, and I hope you’ll forgive that and look at the new podcasts.
Otherwise, change, and contumely. The world of poetry and mental health can graph each well in a parallel if jagged fashion. Provision for one usually means support and provision for the other, and in times of prosperity it’s axiomatic that both find relief.
In times like these one kind of poetry can harden, even shrill itself to a barbed point – with luck, poisoned. Satire thrives. But distress collapses in on itself. The one can advertise like murder, the latter, well it feels like murder when support is taken away, and it seems the deaths of the distressed helps the great architects of the national austerity balance their books. A regrettable necessity, like the retention of gun licences requires a blood-sacrifice of relatives; or the death of thousands to retain a national position in Afghanistan.
One essential is a roof over one’s head. Since 2007 I’ve been active about the empty properties, those that revert to the Crown or Duchies when no relative can be found, and are sold on. I’ve campaigned for these and their attached monies, to be released to co-operatives, housing associations and councils, perhaps leased, so that they can’t be sold on. These very different properties can be utilised for everything from community projects to housing. After writing at his personal invitation to Communities Minister Nick Hurd, twice over the period of 13 months, I’ve finally got a response from my last emails and letters of November 22nd.
The response was simply dated ‘January 2012’ like a circular and one Mandla Goldsmith – ,to whom it was passed at the office for Civil Society – responded. Nick had passed the buck to her; she was now passing it back to me to pass again to the Treasury Solicitors; Department as the Crown’s Nominee. A solicitor’s(Farrer & Co) for the Duchies. Clear so far?
We’ve had of course the public scuffle over the recently proposed ‘cap’ of housing benefits at £26,000. Even Labour struggled up from their supine position. As if the benefit scum was siphoning off hard-earned bankers’ bonuses. The truth if course is these are artificially inflated rents caused by the refusal to lower rents – let’s be clear it’s not capitalism . Developers prefer empty properties to responding to true market forces which are naturally plummeting, and making a small dent. It’s the same with commercial properties. It’s not true you can’t lease a commercial property. If you put it at £100 a week you won’t have much trouble. It brings more rent than emptiness but lets the cartels down. All salaries and wages are driven by the pegging of rent and property prices to each other, and have been since the greater disposable income of working people in the mid-1960s, and the abolition of the protection (a more moral capping) in the landmark Rent Act of 1974. Add to this the selling off of council property so that it can lie empty or decay – so get sold to property tycoons to develop to uninhabitable hutches – and you complete the picture.
In Amsterdam and Holland generally there’s a rule that you must alternate a private tenant with a state one. And if a property remains unoccupied for three years it’s repossessed by the state. The population density in Amsterdam rivals Paris and exceeds London but they manage. The continent is not so property-driven as the UK.
For a series of reasons, delay in consultancies being offered to consultants (the Arts Council were cutting themselves in half) and other delays, we weren’t able to bid for various monies till very late in the day. Blanche warned us we’d have to make her and Roy redundant, in September. I refused that till we had the result of funding (patchy, it could almost all come through) till the end of January. For one thing, if Blanche went in September there’d be no Poetry Express 37 and 38 and no quarterly accounts to present to the Arts Council (amongst others, including our accountant) for them to release our next tranche of the grant. And without Roy no projects can be bid for. My salary would be at risk too, which I saw clearly with all the figures I mulled over and worked at with our then Chair Phil Ruthen who’s now Special Advisor (not like Terry Waite a hostage to fortune). Well I took what I hope was an ethical decision and delayed what I hope are temporary redundancies for as long as I could. The result is that there’s no more salary for anyone at present; Roy and I keep on in more or else voluntary capacity till we discover the results. Funds are swimming in, and we should greet them with gently smiling jaws. The Arts Council have confirmed their support from 2012-15, and we continue. But Blanche isn’t here, and might not be back. Roy and I are – and Roy deserves a huge vote of thanks. I’d also like to thank our faithful volunteers and those who also receive no monies from us. Dave Russell, Xochitl Tuck, Razz. It’s due to their selflessness that you’re reading this.
Dave Russell will let you know about issues emerging over the latest mental health legislation. I’ve written about these all last year and we’re waiting on new developments, or indeed new horrors. Please don’t hesitate to share your own views, stories and exposures to us.
Nick said when we met ‘Simon , don’t we know each other?’ and I encouraged that, a College friend. But it was at the Other Place and the Other Nick I was at College with. His (of Clegg I speak) friends were Libertarian Tories who tried to ambush me on Library Duty every night, a sitting politico, and urge me to their comparatively enlightened views. Personal liberty (remember it was Clause 28 time, and this seemed almost enlightened, if weasel-themed) would be cross-fertilised with fiscal ‘Classical Liberal’ economics. I resisted it then and we now have the legacy of the 1980s: free rampant capitalism, self-regulating self-serving, curiously not self-bankrupting; and of course we now have that remarkable phenomenon, the nationalisation of the rich and privatisation of the poor.
Some of these phrases might be familiar. The e-campaigns since late 2009 have transformed the territory, all over the world, whether against torture and homophobia, or nationalising forests and not letting Murdoch and BSkyB own the world, these campaigns have bitten. I’d like to know your thoughts and at we might mange in the way of our own. Write to me at ‘email@example.com’. Let’s have (I suppose in a slightly less dramatic away), a British Spring, or a Survivors’ Spring of identifiable goals. Otherwise many of you are familiar with Avaaz, 38 Degrees, Care2, and One.org. Keep clicking them and us. It keeps us all alive.