Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Problem with the Olympics? Shut up and go to an independent bookstore you silly twit

Ugh, I am so furious about Iain Sinclair not being allowed to speak in Hackney because of his previous criticism of Olympics 'regeneration', that I wrote to the Mayor. This is what I said:

I write to register my protest at the recent 'disinvitation' of Iain Sinclair from an event at Stoke Newington library, where he was to speak about his forthcoming book on Hackney. The idea that Hackney Council should not host events at which controversial opinions are aired strikes me as ludicrous. How, in the view of the Council, is democracy supposed to work if issues of public interest cannot be discussed in public spaces? What public interest is served by driving dissent into private spaces?

Why does the Council think that the mere hosting of an event on its premises would amount to an endorsement of the views expressed? Does Hackney Council endorse every single opinion expressed in every single book that it stocks on its library shelves? Does the Council seriously think that people are so - what is the right word here? - daft, that they would assume from a few critical words spoken at an event held within the precincts of the council library, that Hackney Council has suddenly changed its mind about hosting the Olympics in 2012?

During the recently concluded Beijing Olympics, it was not uncommon to hear a certain barbed appreciation of the Chinese government's efforts from voices in the British establishment (both government and media): 'they managed to run a great show because they're a totalitarian government'. Hasn't the British government taken hypocrisy to new heights by criticising the Chinese government for its record on human rights but suppressing exactly the sames sorts of dissent at home?

As a resident of Hackney, I am particularly appalled by the thought that the £82 I am expected to cough up every month in these times of ever increasing financial difficulty might be used to run council services in a propagandistic fashion.

I look forward to having this curious decision explained to me a bit more persuasively than it has been so far. Or better still, reversed.

Best wishes,
***** ***

The issue has been taken up by bloggers galore. I decided to use the word 'curious' in the last sentence because I am trying to speak like the English - as in 'what a curious lack of judgment' = 'what bullshit'. You also have to use words like 'appalled' instead of disgusted, revolted, or puke-choked. Although one good English word is gobsmacked. Maybe I should have said gobsmacked.


The mayor writes back: (comments anyone?)

Dear Mr Rao

Re: Iain Sinclair

Thank you for your email regarding the above matter.

Iain Sinclair is well known as an author who has expressed controversial opinions on local issues. A decision was taken to withdraw an invitation to launch his forthcoming book in a Hackney library, as a result of his recently published, largely negative comments about regeneration in the borough and the 2012 Olympic Games.

The Council is working hard to create a thriving new neighbourhood at Hackney Wick, including affordable new homes, business space, sports facilities and green spaces. The Council views the 2012 Games as an opportunity to regenerate and revitalise this area of Hackney, and therefore does not wish to be seen to support or condone views contradictory to these aims, such as those of Mr Sinclair.

I wish to emphasise that in no way is the Council seeking to ban Mr Sinclair’s book, prevent it from being stocked in Hackney libraries once published, nor is it fettering free speech. The matter was one of whether it was right for the Council to be actively promoting such views when not part of a balanced debate.

The Council recognises there are various views on the 2012 Games, and is not seeking to curtail free speech or freedom of opinion within Hackney. Indeed the Council welcomes public discussion on such matters and has not just taken part but helped organise debates on these very issues with different sides making contributions, both for and against. However, that in no way describes a “one-sided” commercial book launch in a public library that could easily be misconstrued as an endorsement by the local authority of the writer’s views.

The Council was never against Mr Sinclair launching his book in the borough and were always happy to suggest suitable Hackney venues to his publishers. I understand that Mr Sinclair has now chosen to launch his title in Pages of Hackney, the borough’s latest and recently opened independent bookshop.

In addition, the Council is writing to Mr Sinclair’s publisher to invite him to speak at an alternative event next year. This will be held at a Council venue, with the exact format and date to be decided, but unlike the promotional book launch it will present a balance of different views.

Yours sincerely

Jules Pipe
Mayor of Hackney


(Dear S.)
(theme of the month: *olde* democracies confound)
Well said - hope you'll post any response you get.
no response yet... I'm not exactly holding my breath.
Thanks for posting this up - I am rather looking forward to seeing how the 'balance of different views' is achieved at that venue 'with exact format to be decided'.

After reading this Hackney Gazette article COUNCIL BACK-PEDAL OVER AUTHOR BAN many of us had the impression Hackney Council realised how the wind was blowing and had come to their senses.

It's actually confirming Pipes statement - he's not banned from the borough of Hackney (how munificent of them), but he's not allowed to read from his book in a library. He will be allowed to present his inflammatory material in a controlled environment under close supervision, after the London 2012 PR gravy train guzzlers have had plenty of time to concoct their feeble counter-presentation, which will undoubtedly cost a packet and involve a lot of garish banners saying inane things like 'your Games' and 'change'.

Incidentally it was NOT a commercial book launch as Pipe states.

Thanks for this. I've been wondering whether and how to respond - but we should, shouldn't we? Would you mind if I used some of your thoughts to draft a response? Or perhaps even draft something together?

See no. 9:
oh i SO disagree. i love being gobsmacked.
More background to this came to light as a result of Freedom of Information requests to Hackney Council - which shows it wasn't the "commercial book launch" Jules Pipe claimed, and that no formal process was followed - it was an arbitrary and undemocratic act of corporate paranoia, where the recommendation of their own bizarre 'risk assessment' was rejected

Text version of the internal emails is here

article by Sam Urquhart
The full FOI correspondence is on
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