Residents of Lancaster West, particularly those involved in Grenfell activism, have been subject, since the period following the Grenfell fire, to a strict code of silence under which criticism of known activists, or the revelation of any other emerging inconvenient truths, were strictly taboo and could not be voiced under pain of social ostracism or some other form of revenge.
The justification for this code appeared to make some sense in the weeks after the fire as the right wing press dug for dirt on any left wing activists seeking justice for the victims of the atrocity. However, the majoriy of right wing hacks eventually lost interest and moved on, but the omerta continued and continues to this day. Grenfell United continues to maintain a code of silence regarding just about everything they do except such grand public spectacles as, for instance, the ‘Silent Walks’. Westway23 also imposes a similar taboo regarding any of their members who are involved in Grenfell activism.
Not everyone, however, is a fan of such ruthless censorship, although few dare to confront it openly. One has to wonder from whence such groups derive their power and why they feel the need to use that power to censor their members so ruthlessly.
Because I work alone and suffer from poor health I rarely publish blogs these days and in May last year I had pretty much decided to retire this blog completely by publishing what I chose to call ‘The Last Post’. However it subsequently became clear that my work was not yet done when I discovered that powerful forces in the community were intent on scapegoating Dany Cotton, the Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, using all means at their disposal to force her resignation. In reaction I published a defence of her in November of that year. It was becoming obvious to me that all was not well in the Grenfell community. There were ruthless forces at play and the mythical ‘Love Fest’ was more fiction than reality. Leadership by dictat was the norm and there were a number of scores that remained to be settled with the more ruthless forces within the community, so I resolved to confront these reactionary elements with as much energy as I could marshall.
Coincidentally the style and content of this blog had been changing over time. The Grenfell Inquiry and the renewed press interest in it had rendered the traditional GAG style and content largely redundant because the atrocity was now well covered in the mass media and the blogosphere generally. Consequently I had found myself writing in a more personal style, almost without realising it. ‘The Last Post’ probably serves as a good example of the maturation of this newer style marked by personal revelations and an unapologetically critical attitude toward those I felt had betrayed me personally or the principled forensic standards this blog had prided itself on and had previously been known for.
My personal naivete notwithstanding, I was nonetheless shocked and surprised when I published the link to ‘The Last Post’ on a number of Facebook groups known for their dedication to all things Grenfell and one of these groups saw fit to break with the others by deleting the GAG link. It was the admin at Westway23 who deleted the link with the following explanatory note:
The administrator of the Westway23 Facebook group was, at that time, Emzee Haywood, who happens also, I believe, to be the ‘significant other’ of Niles Hailstones, the Chair of Westway23. Niles also happens to be a close friend of Ed Daffarn, my former partner in the Grenfell Action Group and the person I had criticised in the blog that the Westway23 admin found so objectionable that it warranted deletion. I will make no further comment here on the possibility that personal vested interests may, or may not, have influenced the decision to censor me in this way. Instead I invite my readers to form their own opinions as to what may, or may not, have improperly influenced the decision.
When I saw that the link to my blog had been deleted and Emzee Haywood’s name had appeared on the same page identifying her as the admin. I did a quick search to see if I could find her personal FB page. It wasn’t hard to find and prominent near the top of the page was the following graphic:
I would suggest that there is a glaring contradiction between Haywood’s glorification of the ideals described in the Faulkner quote and the Westway23 policy of censoring unfavoured material, in my view an abuse of power by Westway23. George Orwell had a name for this. He called it ‘double-think’. In this context I would suggest a simpler name that describes the same internal contradiction between the ideal Emzee espoused and the censorship power wielded by Westway23. That name is ‘hypocrisy’.
In the explanatory note from Westway23 Emzee described the facility I had previously enjoyed of posting my content without awaiting moderation as a ‘privilege’. I was granted this so-called ‘privilege’ because I had complained that my content had typically languishd for weeks awaiting moderation before it was eventually published. Following my complaint I received no notification from Westway23 that this so-called ‘privilege’ of unmoderated posting had been bestowed upon me. I simply observed that when I submitted a new post it appeared immediately (as it should). Furthermore I would seriously question the whole moderation system employed by Westway23 with its endless delays by feckless moderators who can’t be bothered to do the jobs they have volunteered to do, or perhaps deliberately hold them back so they can be carefully scrutinized for any content that fails to pass the ‘smell test’.
I never posted again on Westway23. To my mind freedom of speech is a right all should enjoy and not a ‘privilege’ that must be earned or can be bestowed by fiat.
Please note that my intention here is not to defend trolls or trolling. That is another issue to be discussed at another place and time. The issue I am confronting here is the use of censorship as a means of social control and supression of information by the more powerful local activist groups and how ironic is the practice of quite properly demanding full disclosure from all bodies involved in the botched refurbishment of Grenfell Tower at the same time that the merest suggestion of misbehaviour or malpractice by those who are numbered among the aggrieved of Grenfell is ruthlessly hidden by censorship.
Censorship is initially imposed, as I have previously asserted, by the more powerful activist groups, but it then percolates through the whole community. Like a cancer that’s metastasised it morphs into a form of self-censorship that controls and stymies all debate while creating an impenetrable shield against the personal accountability of those who are in favour, or who occupy positions of power. I am not a believer in hierarchies of power. What’s more I thought we had already identified the system of hierarchical power already existing in national and local government as one of the the root causes of the catastrophe that befell the residents of Grenfell Tower.
When my post was deleted by Westway23 I was given no advance warning and nor did I have a right of appeal. There was no way for me to challenge the decision that had been made. So it was not just the workings of the power hierarchy that was at issue for me. This was also a case of authoritarian power against which I had no redress.
We should take great care in our various activist groups never to flirt with the methods or philosophies of those who would subject us to hierarchies of power. We must take special care never to be enticed or seduced by the sometimes convenient attractions of totalitarian power, of the power mongers who surround us and who operate with impunity in our society, cutting corners and covering backs in the relentless pursuit of power (and wealth) for its own, or whatever other, sake. Totalitarianism is where the impunity of power inevitably leads and the difference between the two is usually more a matter of linguistics than of any real distinction. Let us not take that path. If we do then we will be no better than the powerful and amoral forces ranged against us.