An ace mall with quite a nice stadium attached

Two reports from the society of the spectacle.

In his new book The Beach Beneath the Street, McKenzie Wark makes a strong case for the "contemporary resonance" of situationism, in particularly the theoretical writings of the Frenchman Guy Debord. In his masterpiece The Society of Spectacle (1967), Debord wrote the following: "The spectacle is the moment when the commodity has attained the total occupation of social life."

Two pieces in today's Guardian provide melancholy evidence for the claim that the commodity has indeed achieved "total occupation of social life" in this country.

Exhibit 1: under the headline "Welcome to London 2012. But first take a walk through the shopping centre", Esther Addley reports from Stratford in east London, where work on the Olympic stadium and adjoining mega-mall is going on around the clock:

No matter which sport you are going to see when the third London Olympics begin, a visit to 2012 park will mean one thing - walking though a very large shopping centre first.The high-speed Javelin train from King's Cross - set to deliver 25,000 spectators an hour to Stratford International - exits to a busy row of shops and restaurants, constructed by the Westfield Group. Crowds arriving at Stratford's tube and mainline station can exit either via a concourse leading directly into Westfield's complex or walk across an elegant rusted steel bridge - again built by Westfield, again delivering sports fans into the heart of the retail development.

Years ago there was a now notorious advertising campaign for the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, in which posters carried the strapline "An ace caff with quite a nice museum attached". You might say that the "Olympic Park" in Stratford is an "ace mall with quite a nice stadium attached".

Exhibit 2: the intellectual historian Stefan Collini unpicks the dismal, economistic logic of the higher education white paper, which encourages the students currently scrambling for university places to "think of themselves as narrowly focused consumers, searching for 'value for money' among different forms of employment-directed training". This government understands very well the logic of Lord Browne's crudely utilitarian, unabashedly economistic review of higher education that was published in the autumn. As Collini puts it:

Whatever view you take of this government's macroeconomic policy, the truth is that the new higher education system will not reduce public expenditure in the short or even the medium term. Indeed, the reason why the white paper now proposes a more centrally controlled system than at present - in terms of determining how many students with particular A-level results universities will be able to take - is because the government has belatedly realised that the new fees will otherwise increase public expenditure in the short term. In fact, the independent Higher Education Policy Institute, which published its analysis of the proposals this week, thinks the government is still underestimating the cost to the public purse of the new system. The measures are clearly being introduced for political reasons, to install the simulacrum of a market and to make universities serve the economy more directly.

 

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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Labour is a pioneer in fighting sexism. That doesn't mean there's no sexism in Labour

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

I’m in the Labour party to fight for equality. I cheered when Labour announced that one of its three Budget tests was ensuring the burden of cuts didn’t fall on women. I celebrated the party’s record of winning rights for women on International Women’s Day. And I marched with Labour women to end male violence against women and girls.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing for women across the country. But, as the Labour party fights for me to feel safer in society, I still feel unsafe in the Labour party.

These problems are not unique to the Labour party; misogyny is everywhere in politics. You just have to look on Twitter to see women MPs – and any woman who speaks out – receiving rape and death threats. Women at political events are subject to threatening behaviour and sexual harassment. Sexism and violence against women at its heart is about power and control. And, as we all know, nowhere is power more highly-prized and sought-after than in politics.

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

The House of Commons’ women and equalities committee recently stated that political parties should have robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment. The committee looked at this thanks to the work of Gavin Shuker, who has helped in taking up this issue since we first started highlighting it. Labour should follow this advice, put its values into action and change its structures and culture if we are to make our party safe for women.

We need thorough and enforced codes of conduct: online, offline and at all levels of the party, from branches to the parliamentary Labour party. These should be made clear to everyone upon joining, include reminders at the start of meetings and be up in every campaign office in the country.

Too many members – particularly new and young members – say they don’t know how to report incidents or what will happen if they do. This information should be given to all members, made easily available on the website and circulated to all local parties.

Too many people – including MPs and local party leaders – still say they wouldn’t know what to do if a local member told them they had been sexually harassed. All staff members and people in positions of responsibility should be given training, so they can support members and feel comfortable responding to issues.

Having a third party organisation or individual to deal with complaints of this nature would be a huge help too. Their contact details should be easy to find on the website. This organisation should, crucially, be independent of influence from elsewhere in the party. This would allow them to perform their role without political pressures or bias. We need a system that gives members confidence that they will be treated fairly, not one where members are worried about reporting incidents because the man in question holds power, has certain political allies or is a friend or colleague of the person you are supposed to complain to.

Giving this third party the resources and access they need to identify issues within our party and recommend further changes to the NEC would help to begin a continuous process of improving both our structures and culture.

Labour should champion a more open culture, where people feel able to report incidents and don't have to worry about ruining their career or facing political repercussions if they do so. Problems should not be brushed under the carpet. It takes bravery to admit your faults. But, until these problems are faced head-on, they will not go away.

Being the party of equality does not mean Labour is immune to misogyny and sexual harassment, but it does mean it should lead the way on tackling it.

Now is the time for Labour to practice what it preaches and prove it is serious about women’s equality.

Bex Bailey was on Labour’s national executive committee from 2014 to 2016.