Friday, December 01, 2006

A Way in a Manger

Every morning I wake up and the same old question pops up, regular as toast – why are we allowing stupid people to run everything?

You know Ben ‘Lost Me’ Way, the post-pubescent anti-hero of this week’s The Secret Millionaire (Channel 4, Wednesdays, 9pm), is a few canapés short of a corporate finger buffet when the cabbie that ferries him across the cultural divide manages to traverse not one but two Thames crossings on route from Mayfair to our Murder Mile right here in Hackney.

‘Thar’ll be four hunret fifty parns governor.’

‘Very well my good man’, (slinging the cabbie a monkey), ‘kerry on. There’s a good fellow.’

With a poignancy that recalls the Preston Sturges 1941 classic Sullivan’s Travels, the wealthy but tragically emotionally bereft young twat seeks spiritual solace amongst the common poor folk and dreams of purchasing a companion or two and maybe even some credibility as a human being. It was always going to be a long shot.

The Pedro Club, just down the road from me, has experienced a similar boom and bust to that of ‘Lost Me’, who built an e-empire quite literally out of nothing and lost it all by the age of 21. ‘Nothing’ is quite difficult to find again once you’ve lost it, so he simply started over, unearthing a different pile of nothing. Modern economics eh?

One of the oldest youth clubs in London, the Pedro briefly enjoyed the patronage of Elizabeth Taylor before being asset-stripped a few years ago by another of its associates. Presently being dragged rather than run by an obviously caring but highly disorganised youth worker called Ufu, the Pedro was crying out for an adventurous business brain, or possibly someone who knows where the bin bags are kept.

In stumbles ‘Lost Me’ as a volunteer youth worker, just the sort of level-headed, brimming with acumen type you would want around to mentor our disadvantaged young’uns. On his website he describes his business as,

‘Taking our own initial ideas and making them happen. Developing the core concept, providing the seed funding, building the team.’

During a ‘finance meeting’, ‘Lost Me’, very nearly breaks cover and reveals that he is a business high-flyer by failing to understand a simple spreadsheet, usually an infallible indicator of a CEO. Luckily for him, none of the Pedro trustees had come across a spotty e-millionaire before and have long since given up on trying to fathom spreadsheets. The fact that he couldn’t articulate an entire sentence should have set alarm bells ringing too, but possibly none of them had ever seen a Richard Branson speech.

After spending a few days recovering from the shock of encountering black people for the first time, ‘Lost Me’ affects a withdrawal from his self-identified enormous skills and knowledge bank to find the necessary inner resources to carry on with the experiment,

‘It’s scary to have people scream around you and be nuts… It’s like being in a different country’, he whispers to a secret prat cam in his digs. Presumably he hasn’t yet graduated to the VIP room at Tramp.

Having survived ten days of residence in our borough which is ‘on a par with Chicago’ in terms of risk to life according to Ufu, ‘Lost Me’ was able to unlock his inner philosopher and debrief to the Sunday Times,

‘I’m a great believer in the broken window theory — the idea that if you can solve the small problems then the big problems take care of themselves.’

Errr, I think that’s Dr Phil theory. Isn’t broken window theory the one where you fix a window straight away so it doesn’t look like you’re begging to have all the others broken? Never mind.

My question is this - why are we still putting up with the relentless Oprahfication of public responsibility? You take one idiot with money who knows absolutely nothing about anything and get him to mess with young people’s heads for no other reason than to make a television programme and massage his already over-attended ego. Wayne, the young designer he choose to help was so obviously talented, his abilities should have been picked up by the education system. Why did Wayne need a parachuting plonker to get him started in business? Where was the link between him and, say, The Prince’s Trust – an organisation specifically set up to fund young people to start their own businesses?

It’s a complete fallacy that there is no money around to help young people. The sector is awash with money. Youth clubs like the Pedro are usually refused funding because they can’t demonstrate that they are financially responsible or able to provide activities that meet even a basic standard of good quality. Believe me, the bar isn’t that high. Clubs like this stay open and limp along because they are better than nothing at all, most of the time. They are also a waste of young people’s time and the public’s money because all they do is reinforce the idea that there is nothing in the world that is stimulating.

The worst thing about this programme is that ‘Lost Me’ tells a lie about his background to secure his position in the youth club and the ethical balance is supposed to be restored by the dispensing of largesse. Someone left their moral compass in their other Ferrari.

Last time I looked, you needed to carry out a police check to work with young people. ‘Lost Me’ may have committed a criminal offence as may the senior youth worker who didn’t know the background of someone he engaged as a volunteer youth worker having one-to-one contact with potentially vulnerable young people.

What does this say about the wealthy classes and their attitude towards the less well off? That, no matter how fake they are, they fully expect the poor to take them at their word. Just one more question – where were all our shooters when we really needed them? Come back Class War – all is forgiven.

Cartoon from


Steve_East9 said...

Spot on! Even the 'Guardian' preview of 'I'm a millionaire - get me a half-assed reputation as modern do-gooder even though I'm a slimey little rich-kid making a fortune out of Europe's lowest business taxes' had serious doubts about the ethics of this one. I'm also thinking of the nauseating 'gratitude' shown to 'Lost Me' in the programme and the 'tears' of Ufu had me running for the spew bucket. I too live so close to Clapton Park I can see it from my window and was still shocked by what a dump the Pedro Club is.

Historically, all charity and most 'philanthropy' is motivated by seriously suspect intentions. In fact, it's usually to act as a block on collective support and welfare and is represented by far more clued-up individuals than 'Lost Me'.

Throughout the programme I was reminded of the book 'Riceyman Steps' by Arnold Bennett set in King's Cross around the time just after the First World War. I would recommend this work of Bennett's very highly and it shows what we are going back to. Here is an example to show that Religion, like Charity go hand in hand, and have entirely negative anti-working class motivations: referring to a church built in the reign of William IV, Bennett remarks "William IV, whose Government...had a pious habit...of building additional churches in populous parishes at its own expense...its practical interest (being) in the inculcation among the lowly of the Christian doctrine about the wisdom and propriety of turning the other cheek." (chapter 10, pp56 Pan Paperback edition 1964) Most of the inhabitants of 'Riceyman Square' are poor working class living an almost permanently miserable existence and only happy, according to Bennett, "..when they are drinking alcohol or making love."(pp60). Well, pan forward 80 years or so and what do we have? Epidemic levels of excessive teenage alcohol use and (still) some of the highest levels of teenage pregnancies. And when it's not alcohol, it's now 'recreational' drugs, but the 'making love' stays the same!

Against the background of the never-ending and suffocating propaganda that progessive taxes and well-funded, collective and democratically-organised services are 'history', or 'unaffordable' or 'politically unacceptable', we would all do well to remember that nations that do organise society on that basis just don't have the depth of problems the UK and US have, score far higher in widespread polls of life-satisfaction...oh and they generally don't go on war-making sprees and spend huge percentages of their national wealth on arms.

Now, can Clapton Park have a tiny bit of the UK's £39.8 BILLION 2004/5 defence expenditure PLEASE!!!

That's so pants said...

This is exactly what made me so uncomfortable. It's so crass and pointless. I haven't read 'Riceyman Steps' but will seek it out. What makes me sad is that, up until fairly recently, the working class had good organisational skills which were learned through trade union membership. Social clubs funded by a couple of pence a week from the wage packet provided high quality activities and cheap food and drink. What we have now in terms of social provision is pathetic. Communities get very protective of clubs like the Pedro because they fear if it's taken away, there'll be nothing at all for kids and I can understand that. Unfortunately, that attitude also maintains dysfunctional organisations at their present level.

Anonymous said...

I think it's very unfair of you to criticize people in the community who are trying to do something for young people who very often don't have a chance of getting ahead in life. Both Ufu Niazi and the boxer James Cook are dedicated individuals who have worked tirelessly for years, often without recieving any payment or thanks. They seemed happy with the involvement of Ben Way. What's your problem with that and what, if anything, have you ever done to help?

That's so pants said...

It's a fair cop anon. I do not do anything 'to try to help' young people. What I try to do is criticise the system that gives them so few chances of, as you put it, 'getting ahead in life'. This needs a longer explanation so I will tackle in today's post - my cunning tactic to keep you reading! Come back around tea time - I should have it sorted by then.

Steve_East9 said...

I think 'anon' needs to examine the issues a bit more carefully (and Noosa Lee is being a bit modest since she has a history of working and volunteering in social regeneration involving youth - as any cursory reading of her blog will attest to).

It shouldn't matter that those of us who actually live in the neighbourhood covered by the episode of that programme should claim any more 'right' to comment than anyone else. However, the 'philanthropic' involvement of an outsider who comes along and throws a few crumbs deserves critical examination, other wise we might as well just take the Victorian view that any 'help' is good since the 'helpers' don't really need to do it so shouldn't have to submit to any kind of examination. That is frankly ridiculous in 21st century society. If 'anon' takes the trouble to actually read the comments they would then have an obligation to come back and respond to *those* and not some emotional reflux.

That's so pants said...

Hi Steve. I hope I've tackled this in my subsequent post - I'd really love more talking about this because I really think that everyone is very satisfied with the charitable ethic. I'm a middle-aged and middle-class Australian and I've lived in Hackney for nearly 25 years, and on four of what are (or were) considered to be the roughest estates in Britain. I've never felt unsafe anywhere in London so I don't get what is going on here - at all.