Democracy? You can't do that there 'ere!
SOME time ago I heard a fascinating programme on BBC Radio Four talking about the way our lives were being affected by what used to be public space becoming private. In Basingstoke when the Salvation Army turned up at their usual spot to shake tambourines and sing in praise of the Lord they were met by uniformed security guards acting for the landlords, who had orders to stop any political or religious gathering on the corner that had become their property.
In Milton Keynes I think it was that a man who said he used to be able to nip across the town centre to his grans now faced a bus trip because the precinct was shut on Sunday. Other people spoke of having to scramble down a slope and cross a motorway if they did not want a circuitous journey.
Bad planning and private property between them have a lot to answer for, and though I guess we have all come across such problems, I don't recall much discussion about it. But now I see a case that has occurred which directly shows the conflict between democracy and property. It's in my (dirty) old town, and involves the BBC itself since they moved there.
Thanks to Salford trades union council sister Kate Richardson for sharing this item from the Salford Star with us:
Star date: 19th April 2012
A Salford Star Exclusive
ELECTION CANDIDATE BARRED FROM DISTRIBUTING LEAFLETS
Ordsall local election candidate, George Tapp, was yesterday banned from handing out his leaflets to BBC workers at MediaCityUK which is within the Ordsall ward.
Tapp has also been stopped from handing out leaflets by the new Morrison store across Trafford Road where the streets have now been privatised. Is Salford, home of the BBC, now becoming a democracy free zone?
The BBC has been pointing out how it wants to engage with Salford's local community. So yesterday Ordsall local election anti-cuts candidate, George Tapp, and his agent Paul Gerrard, went to Media City, to the main piazza paid for almost entirely with public money (see here), to try and win the votes of BBC workers…
…But within three minutes of handing out their first leaflets the pair were summoned by security and taken to The Greenhouse to be told by Tony Chebrika, head of security at Media City, that their activity was not allowed on land owned by Peel Holdings.
Having been told by Gerrard that Tapp was an official candidate in the Ordsall ward which covered Media City, Chebrika stated that "the bottom line is that we don't allow leafleting or anything for any cause, or anything like that – we're more than happy for you to stand on the boundaries of the site."
When George Tapp pointed out that Salford people had paid for the `public space', Chebrika added "It's too political for me, I'm sorry, I'm just a security guard… at the end of the day the land owner is Peel Holdings and it's private property and they've decided they don't allow leafleting."
Late last year, official trade union pickets outside the University of Salford's new campus on the 30th November Day of Action were also thrown off the Media City site (see here). Meanwhile, last week the story broke that Peel Holdings security at Media City had been offering BBC workers `escorts' to their cars and tram stops.
It all seems to be an attempt to put a bubble around BBC workers, to shelter them from Salford people and events, whether they want it or not.
"The BBC is supposed to be a bastion of democracy, it's supposed to be about current affairs and there'll be through-the-night coverage of the elections" Paul Gerrard comments "Yet you can't give out a leaflet that belongs to the BBC workers."
And George Tapp points to the irony of the huge Media City BBC screens showing what is happening in Syria… "You've got people all over the world fighting for democracy, I think we'd better start in Salford. Trying to get the message over has gone in Salford."
What has happened to George Tapp and others at Media City is a reflection of the privatisation of public spaces and streets that is going on all around Salford.
Meanwhile, across Trafford Road, outside the new Morrisons supermarket in Ordsall, and around new housing build by developer LPC Living, George Tapp and Paul Gerrard were also told they couldn't hand out leaflets or set up a stall to tell people about the policies of their TUSC (Trade Union Socialist Coalition) Against Cuts party as they were on private land.
"I didn't even know this street had been privatised" says George Tapp "These companies are certainly not interested in the democratic rights of the people of Salford."
The anti-cuts party had been running its stall for weeks on the `boulevard' outside Morrisons when a couple of weeks ago security guards approached its supporters and told them it was private property.
"We'd never had any complaints from Morrisons or members of the public but they said we couldn't set up our stall or give out leaflets" says Paul Gerrard "They gave us LPC's number and I rang them but was told it was nothing to do with them and to get in touch with the management company, Savills. I sent them a polite e-mail request and was sent a curt reply saying not to show up on any part of the Morrisons' shopping area. He didn't give any further explanation."
The Salford Star has also e-mailed Savills asking reasons why permission for a genuine local election candidate to give out leaflets was refused and we are waiting for a reply.
"Basically it's because half of Salford has been sold off to private developers and streets that people think are public streets aren't" says Paul Gerrard "While you can drive on them and walk on them, you can't do political activity, especially if the company that owns them object to what you're saying - like `tax the rich', `nationalise the banks' and things like that."
George Tapp has found it impossible to campaign around virtually all the new flats in Ordsall and Media City as sections of Salford become gated off.
"We go to the high rise blocks and are told we cannot leaflet, we cannot campaign, and those people are being deprived of any information from our party" he says "Unless you're a millionaires' party where you can send things by post our message isn't getting across. You expect it in regimes like Syria, not in Salford."
Ironically, the security guards who told George Tapp and Paul Gerrard that they couldn't give out leaflets on the public piazza outside the BBC wore jackets emblazoned with the slogan `Our City, Your City, MediaCityUK'…
* George Tapp is the Ordsall candidate for the Socialist Party: TUSC Against Cuts. Other candidates standing in Ordsall are Ray Mashiter (Labour), Kate Middleton (Liberal Democrats) and David Morgan (Conservative)'.
Kate was wondering earlier whether this would make the evening's BBC TV news. Not if it's anything like the selective news coverage we see in London which left out those disabled people chained across the road by Trafalgar Square.
And though there's no shortage of freesheets cluttering up London, we have nothing here as outspokenly independent as the Salford Star.