Sunday, 28 October 2007


Yesterday I highlighted the SOS (Save Our Seafront) public consultation exercise centred on King Street in South Shields. Curly, over at his Corner Shop, also reviewed the demonstration. Whilst his post fully acknowledged the right of the SOS campaigners to hold such a gathering, he clearly outlined his support for the hotel development on the land currently occupied by Gypsies Green.

Like the protesters, Curly is entitled to his opinion. However, I can’t but help feel that on two counts he has been slightly disingenuous. Firstly, his often repeated assertion that the campaign involves “familiar faces” and secondly, his criticism of the lack of "what looks like a lack of support from the younger elements of South Tynesiders” involved in both the SOS structure and its public support.

Let’s look at these two issues on their merits. The familiar faces scenario is often used as a criticism within this Borough, the idea centring on the premise that the presence of certain individuals “dominates” campaigns or demonstrations. However, to use such an argument ignores one of the greatest historical political traditions of this region – that being the committed activist who applies his free time and free service to the propagation of an ideal. For thirty years the 19th century lawyer W. P. Roberts (The Miners Attorney) was ever present in the Courts fighting for miners safety rights (he attempted to prosecute Lord Londonderry 17 times without any legislation to specifically support his claims). He also led marches, organised meetings, wrote and spoke to press and constantly attacked councillors and MP’s for ignoring the plight of the industry and the disgraceful conditions of its workers. Roberts is now credited by many as a major force in the creation of the concept of work orientated health and safety legislation. Ellen Wilkinson, or “Red Ellen” as she was condescendingly called, was the “familiar face” in the fight to not only save the ship building industry on the Tyne, but was one of the prime forces behind the Jarrow Crusade and March. Her presence in Jarrow during the thirties was constant – she was in every paper, at every meeting and on every street corner where men congregated for work. Wilkinson also served as one of the countries first female women ministers under Atlee’s war time cabinet. She is credited as being one of the driving forces behind welfare legislation to ease the effects of severe unemployment. The list of “familiar faces” in the north east’s heritage is endless, but they all exhibited similar characteristics; dedication to a cause, the will to fight what they perceived as injustices and the ability to lead and organise where others could not. Far be it for me to compare current “familiar faces” with such illustrious company, but to level the accusation at the door of current campaigns is an unwarranted argument against modern day protesters who devote their time, effort and energy for very little reward other than a sense of civic duty and pride. I notice nothing has been said of certain “familiar” councillors whose letters of support regularly arrive with suspicious speed on the desk of The Gazette’s editor, to be printed with equal prominence and speed!

What then of the accusation that the campaign lacks the support of youth or younger people, or in Curly’s words, the under 35 age groups. At the grand old age of 42, I resent the implication that my opinion on the future of the Borough is negated by the fact that I am outside of a particular age group. The same argument applies to those over 50, over 60 and so on. Unlike the Liberal Democrats attitude, activism or community involvement is not validated by age restrictions. Where would the Conservative Party be without their beloved Winston Churchill or for that matter Margaret Thatcher, both hardly spring chickens when they came to power. To discredit a movement on the grounds of its age structure is ageist and insulting to those involved, and it also ignores one of the great problems faced by society today; the majority of young people find politics boring! Voting statistics show they don’t bother with the ballot box, neither do they trust politicians to represent them. Further, common sense tells us that they feel they have better things to do with their time. The perceived view by young people is that modern political parties, both at national and regional levels, have nothing to offer them. With council meetings lasting only 7 minutes, a council chamber with the average age well above the aforementioned “35” bracket, what can South Tyneside offer it’s young people in the form of representation? Certainly not acknowledgement of their concerns, certainly not empathy for those issues which affect them. The ageist argument also ignores one great factual premise; age and experience lead to the ability to appreciate wider arguments, in this case the knowledge that a certain hotel development will not enhance the area, but lead to the beginning of an erosion in the areas character, traditional economic well being and outstanding beauty.

Familiar faces? Not enough young people to reflect opinion? Far from being detrimental to this campaign, age and experience are ESSENTIAL.

My own philosophy is very clear; I am happy to be a “familiar face” because I am active on behalf of those who either do not have the time or the ability to do so, or indeed actually want me to do it for them. I also rely on the experience that age has given me and those around me, to face the issues prevailing. Finally, in the case of Gypsies Green, I want the SOS campaign to succeed so that those younger than me can appreciate and enjoy the area when they are more willing to do so. No more, no less……….

Raymond Challinor “A Radical Lawyer in Victorian England: W.P. Roberts and the Struggle for Workers' Rights”

Ellen Wilkinson “The Town That Was Murdered”


Curly said...

Peter, for clarity,

in neither of the two posts that you link to do I use the phrase "usual phrases", I used the term "familiar" as in people who I know and have met and am comfortable in their company.

Neither do I, in the posts you link to, make any attacking or disparaging comment on the age of the protesters, let's face it I'm over fifty myself!

However I did ask for opinions from the under 35's as a matter of interest.

I hope you aren't taking yourself too seriously with your comparison to "Red Ellen", it might raise the hackles of those whom you wish to argue with, ha,ha!

Let's try and keep the arguments on a straightforward economic, regenerating, planning, battleground, it will do us more credit.

PETER SHAW said...

Fair Comment on the first point (text posted late at night, eyesight not so good, feeling tired etc etc) I shall amend the quotation marks et al to reflect the actual words used. You have my humblest apologies. However, the sentiment remains the same. I note from your original post that “j taylor” has highlighted the issue that younger people were involved, and that “john” makes the point that he has concerns on the “age” issue.

Whilst not comparing any current activists to “Red Ellen”, I would be happy to find that any “opponents” were actually aware as to whom she was!

South Tyneside Council has a great ability to produce issues that split people into very distinctive camps, the Gypsies Green development being a good example. As they say “this was is a roller!”.