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Stop council 'regeneration' vandalism

In the country where people work the longest hours in Europe and have the least leisure time, where real wages are what they were two decades ago, councils are fixated on building new shopping and leisure facilities. All in the name of “regeneration”.

We reported here the planned vandalism of Glasgow's George Square, halted by public protests, against secret plans to remove statues and ban demonstrations to create a space prioritising shopping and events.

Now in Newport, South Wales, the local authority has taken a wrecking ball to a much-loved mural celebrating the Newport Uprising, a dramatic moment in the struggle for democratic rights in the 19th century.

Newport Uprising Mural

It was in the way of a shopping development, so it had to go. The mural was demolished without even councillors being told it was happening, the day before a planned protest.

Newport Council is consulting on a cultural strategy full of "overall aims, vision, mission, priority themes, desired outcomes and objectives" – the well-known weasel words of bureaucrats everywhere.

A survey showed that people said the top six best things about Newport were heritage, arts and culture, wildlife and open spaces, sport and leisure, attractions, events and things to do, social networks and community, and children’s activities.

Not SHOPPING – you notice. And number one was HERITAGE.

And what is Newport's heritage? Like Glasgow's, it is a heritage of working class struggle, heavy industry and a passion for sport.

Of these Newport Council chooses sport as its number one focus – sporting venues, sporting events and, to be fair, sport for young people. Glasgow has the same priorities – sporting venues are being constructed for the Commonwealth Games 2014. One will later become a massive stadium for visiting pop stars, with expensive ticket prices.

Council's interpret their responsibilities as maximising income for big retailers and entertainment corporates – the same trickle-down economics that have failed so badly for so long.

The claim is that more shops mean more jobs. But as new shopping areas open, with big retailers huddling together like nervous teenagers, others becoming increasingly run down.

Before you know it the glamorous ‘80s shopping mall is full of pound shops, and the local shopping streets are destroyed. You know your local high street is finished when betting and charity shops outnumber the fresh food shops.

And just exactly how successful is this constant lust for the shoppers' pound? The graph below shows that retail in Britain bumps along, never reaching the high point just before the debt bubble burst in 2008. And the real growth in retail sales has in any case been in on-line shopping.

UK retail sales

Are the much heralded jobs arriving? Glasgow has the highest number of jobless households in the UK. Unemployment in Newport is 1.3% above the UK average.

So back to the Newport mural and the struggle for the right to vote, which in one dramatic moment in 1839 broke out into an armed uprising of ironworkers, miners and farm workers.

What we need is a new popular struggle, this time not for the right to vote, but for the right to decide, the right to control our destinies. At present we vote, but we decide nothing. Power has migrated into the hands of the corporations and our "representatives" serve them, not us.

Those who opposed demolition of the mural could mark the 175th anniversary of the uprising next year by launching a Newport People's Assembly. There people can start to formulate their own plan for the future of their city and start putting it into practice in their communities. United with people's assemblies right across the UK, they can become part of a new power in the land – a popular democracy to do our Chartist heritage proud.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
11 October 2013

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