Friday, 25 January 2013


I learned something new today - a current use for the word 'astroturfing', which generally refers to the type of policy-making/influencing that is designed to mask the originators of the message, by assuming the appearance of coming from politically disinterested, grassroots, participants.

Or, as it usually turns out to be these days, neo-liberal, free-market policy-making/influencing that assumes the appearance of coming from seriously concerned grassroots participants, in order to deliberately mask its true intentions.

I sought out the meaning of 'astroturfing' when I saw it used in relation to Policy Exchange's latest 'report' which argues that modernist tower blocks should be demolished and replaced with streets of terrace houses and low-rise flats that people 'actually want to live in' (I shan't bother citing their website address, they can shift for themselves without me cross-referencing them). Policy Exchange, of course, is a right-wing think tank was set up by the 'radical' (The Guardian's term, fabulously, not mine) Tory planning minister Nick Boles. 

The author of the report is one Nicholas Boys Smith (straight outa Brideshead, that one) who says that "It's time we ripped down the mistakes of the past and started building proper streets where people want to live". God, that old chestnut. And just like the way NCH in Nottingham crudely dipped into fiction in order to slag off the Lenton flats (see my post We'll drift through it all its the modern age) Alice Coleman ... no, sorry, I had a bit of a flashback then ... Boys Smith casually asserts that it was no wonder that Kubrick used Thamesmead "to symbolise the vicious dystopia of The Clockwork Orange". Clockwork Orange is a movie of a piece of fiction, Nick - it wasn't real! 

Boys Smith acts on behalf of an organisation shoutily called 'CREATE Streets', which exists to 'encourage the replacement of South London’s 1960s estates with conventional streets and squares, terraces and villas. Most people who can afford to do so choose to live in normal homes in normal streets. We exist to help CREATE neighbourhoods that give everyone this choice ... ' 

But have a look at the chaps behind this:

Here's one, and I quote:

'Simon Kingston leads the Global Development Practice of a major international head hunter and has a practice that focuses on higher education, development and public policy. He has lived in Southwark for twelve years.'

This here tells you all you need to know about what is going on in Southwark at the moment, and of the realities behind the busybodying of the likes of Create Streets.

So, Create Streets want 'normal' homes in 'normal' streets, presumably for 'normal' people. Can we really be convinced that they are bothered about those who live in their modernist vicious dystopias? That they seriously want to re-house them in 'normal' houses? When their Tory chums have no intention whatsoever to build anymore public/social housing, conventional, normal or otherwise? No, it smacks of just another little vanity project by those who clearly have the money, the time, the backing, and the ear of the prevailing plutocracy - appearing concerned, doing 'good', but actually doing nothing other than stirring things up and giving a cultured gloss to the ongoing dismanting of the public sphere. 

'A vicious modernist dystopia'. Oh no, sorry, it's the Barbican. 


  1. Southwark council have just spent millions demolishing some generously planned 1970s flats when a bit of refurbishment and better selection of tenants could have made the estate perfectly liveable. such a waste of money and other resources, that Southwark residents will be paying for for the next 20 years, and their replacements for sixty years.

  2. You're absolutely right - there's generally something quite sinister going on in any case south of the river (Heygate etc. social cleansing masquerading as 'redevelopment', the closing of hospitals at Lewisham). The Create Streets report concentrates on South London (although its aims are much wider) - nice bits of land by the river, across the way from Westminster ...