Gilbey on Film: Chronicle of Protest, previewed

Activist video is providing a corrective to the mainstream media - but nothing beats the power of a

One of the qualities I love about cinema is its assertiveness: it's so much harder to overrule or ignore a film when it's on a cinema screen, whether that screen is in the Grand Palais in Cannes or the Slough Cineworld, than when it's on television, laptop or iPod. I was impressed when I watched Chronicle of Protest, the omnibus edition of Michael Chanan's attentive video blogs for the NS, on DVD this week. But its real power will become apparent, I suspect, only when it is screened in a cinema, as it will be this Saturday as part of the East End Film Festival.

Chanan's blogs have already contributed to the democratising of the media by drawing heavily on amateur videos, shot by activists on the various protests and sit-ins which have engulfed and energised the country since the coalition government came to power. Moving that material to a cinema screen provides a kind of ratification that is pleasantly at odds with the film's urgent, snapshot feel.

The idea behind the commission, if I understand it correctly, was to provide a coherent picture of the mood of protest. Mainstream media can only fragment and dissipate such a groundswell, filtering each separate demonstration through its own agenda. (One example highlighted by some of the film's interviewees is the bizarre way in which the unhappy travel experiences of two members of the Royal Family became the focal point of the protest against the hoisting of tuition fees.) Chronicle of Protest goes some way toward being a corrective to this.

Through some nifty editing and lucid rhetoric, the connections between the actions of the coalition and the hardships imposed on communities become transparent. A level-headedness emerges in the judicious cutting of scenes which another documentary might have played straight; I especially liked the way Chanan cuts back and forth between the temperate oratory of Terry Eagleton and the incendiary scenes of protestors storming Jeremy Hunt's appearance at the LSE. Laurie Penny of the NS reflects that the government is rather like a spider, in that it is more scared of us than we are of it, and Chanan helpfully replays in slow-motion close-up a shot of Hunt looking mortified as the room is besieged.

I also liked the material showing another of this magazine's writers, Mehdi Hasan, imagining at the podium what he would do to attack the government if he were Ed Miliband. I express no favouritism to Mehdi, whom I have met only once (I believed we discussed Terminator-related matters), when I say that his address gives the film an extra jolt of fiery energy. (Later, Chanan films an interview with him from a suspiciously low angle, as though Mehdi is being stung in a Panorama exposé, perhaps on a cash-for-guest-editorships scandal.)

One thing I didn't like about this otherwise involving film was its framing device of performances by the First of May Band, whose compositions ("Hey there, Mr Banker Man/ You don't look so great/ Someone ought to tell you/ You're past your sell-by date") seem too simplistic to provide more than a cosmetic reflection of the woes documented on screen.

"Chronicle of Protest" screens at the Rio Cinema, London E8 at 3.45pm on 30 April. Tickets available here. It will be released on dvd in May

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.