IT WAS billed as the Hackney Debate – a BBC Question Time-style debate about the future of the borough with, said the council, a “panel of local experts” and the Mayor.
Only it wasn’t. The experts proved vague about local issues, and that too often made them apparently reluctant to debate, finding it easier simply to agree with the preceding speaker.
Nothing like Question Time, then, and that lack of open discussion spoilt an excellent concept, as even the voices from the house failed to provide any strong challenge to the unexciting views of the panel.
It comprised, along with Jules Pipe:
* Melissa Butcher, a local resident and academic;
* Robbie de Santos, who advises charities involved with rental accommodation and its lack;
* Tunde Okewale, a barrister and social entrepreneur;
* Dr Cheryl Day, Clapton Girls’ Academy headteacher.
(At least one of the above, incidentally, is planning to be a Hackney MP.)
Once it became clear that everyone was going to be as nice to one another as you would expect from a resolutely middle-class panel, some in the audience were resigned to musing on who was going to be the star of the night.
Undeniably it was the Mayor, who revealed a talent for self-referential humour. His best crack was that he was an “over-involved resident more than a politician”. A wonderfully winning political comment even as he denies being a true politician.
Pipe also managed to subvert more than one topic as, of course, you would expect from a skilled operator.
When co-panellist Butcher mentioned a documentary film on the demolition of Dalston Lane’s Four Aces/Labrynth club (failing to mention that the building was worthy for more than 1980s clubbing music, having been a magnificent theatre), Pipe justified the council vandalism with some claims of questionable accuracy.
None of the panel, however, took him on, and it was clear by then that the chairman, the fine Guardian journalist and local blogger Dave Hill, despite his several references to QTmeister David Dimbleby, was going to issue only the mildest of challenges to anyone.
A consensus did emerge, one that could have been predicted: all the good things in the borough were thanks to the council; the bad was the fault of gentrification, in other words, the middle class.
The 2015 Hackney debate may not have caught fire. That, however, may be a minority view: at the drinks party afterwards many people said they’d enjoyed the discussion.
This free event should be held again – but with panellists likely to spark off one another.
And not in an academy school, as this one was. Surely Hackney council did not site it at Homerton’s City Academy to claim credit for the school’s success? After all, the government set up academies to be free of council control.
David Altheer 190315
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