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Issue 6 - June 1972
Method Or Madness
It's well evident to me that the interests of the influential authorities in Newcastle, the Press, the University, Commerce, are, by nature of their role in the city i.e. the acquisition of influence) one and the same as the interests of Newcastle Council. On those occasions when they are obviously not, they are easily reconciled.

For example, it would be interesting to know how Dr Tony Ridley, director of Tyneside Transport Passenger Executive found that it was in the interests of that body to give his blessing to the motorway scheme (Eve Chron 14/4/72), or how the headmaster of the Royal Grammar School found it to be in the school's interests to lose one acre of its lands in the present development. It just doesn't pay an organisation to put its interests in conflict with those of its 'elected' parliament.

Anyone who has lived in a socially deprived area knows from experience that the official departments set up to help them, exist only to paralyse the ability and will of the community to make an issue of their deprivation. How else could the richest borough in London, Kensington and Chelsea, boast the city's worst overcrowding and slum racketeering?

And of course, in England you stand no chance outside institutions. This is the dilemma dissident majorities face. It is a strange thing about pressure groups (like SOC'EM) that without ever realising it they are cornered into parodying the parliamentary institution they set themselves up to counteract. This is how dissent in English life is contained. In order to change legislature it must describe itself so wholly in the terms of what it opposes that it loses its energy, authority and cause. The gravest example to spring to mind is the history of the trade union movement, 1926 or 1971 model.

I'm not a Geordie. I've lived most of my life in and around Notting Hill, which is a together place. More people turned out to vote at the Goldborne election than did at the municipal election. I say this so that you appreciate my viewpoint when I observe the activities of SOC'EM. SOC'EM's following seems to range from those who just don't want a motorway at the bottom of their garden to those who make the issue not simply a matter of arbitrary aesthetics i.e. taste) but part of a lifestyle. In order to house these otherwise conflicting groups, SOC'EM makes a policy of being apolitical. Of course, even if it weren't true, and in my opinion it can't be, it needs the umbrella of such a mystification to short cut to some sort of solidarity. It was unable to give a lead to members in the last election. The questionnaire sent to prospective candidates was only half-heartedly followed up. It is in SOC'EM's constitution that there must be no affiliation with no political party. See what I mean about the organised paralysis of dissent? Without questioning the integrity of SOC'EM I think one can make a good case for its naivety.

Is the problem one simply of whether or not we want a motorway? Is that the whole of it? I mean, is it that we think our representatives have erred on just this one occasion? Or do we want to make it a much wider issue of social priorities and put into question the legislative process which doesn't accept such social priorities? In so far as the SOC'EM group parodies that of the Civic Centre, I think it has opted for the former position, whatever its propaganda says to the contrary. The ladies and gentlemen who run it - for that's what they are - pay lip service to democratic notions as do the City Council. They do this not through choice (as far as SOC'EM is concerned - this isn't the issue): being English is a habit of mind.

Like the City Council SOC'EM executive organisation comes down from the committee, a coterie which does the work and chooses the work it does (choosing the work is the reward for doing it). There is not machinery to either mandate it or to plough outside energy into the enterprise. Like all English 'institutions' its authority comes not so much from the election as from being the repository of its electors.

My own view is that only harnessing grassroots energy achieves results. The environmental question does not exist in cosy isolation from unemployment, industrial exploitation of human and natural resources, building racketeering, civic fraud ... Such a 'political' enterprise, however, might involve procedures which Councillor Grey and the Editor of the Journal would not respect.

Whatever it involves, such a movement is prohibited by the structure of the pressure group, modelled as it is on the organisation it would pressurise.

One suggestion at the last public meeting, which was met with loud acclaim, was that students and freaks put a suit on and tidy themselves up. That gives you some idea both of the level of SOC'EM's preoccupations and of the pressures of respectability I've been talking about. It was sad to notice how many 'students and freaks' - not grasping the parallel with the Council's plans for Newcastle, voice approval of the idea.

Neil Ferguson

SOC'EM comment: the suggestion that freakies get their hair cut was not taken very seriously. Last Wednesday, as a result of Neill Ferguson's outburst at the public mee4ting, a meeting to discuss new ideas was held. Neill Ferguson attended and seemed quite happy with the discussion.