It is enlightening to recognise where political figures and movements embrace pseudo or recreated traditions, and impose self-serving hierarchies and power structures to ‘authenticate’ their right to rule.
I often referred to Eric Hobsbawm’s excellent ‘The Invention of Tradition’ while researching for my MA on architecture and politics in post-civil war Spain. My thesis looked at Franco’s adoption of the Spanish Imperial architectural ‘style’ (and I use that term carefully) to fill the post-civil war longing for stability. He spoke of Spain’s return to international status, while he drew up fictitious family trees claiming descendence from the royal line. He embraced classical art forms as representing 'eternal beauty', and denigrated modern art and its meaning. For ten long years, Franco built neo-classical monuments, memorials, stately public buildings, and created processional routes in the capital – while a million people are said to have died of starvation.
The imposition of fixed rules on architecture, the arts - and social mores – is a well-documented means to exclude those who ‘don’t fit’ the picture. This establishes a hierarchy that ‘authenticates’, justifies and benefits those who have put themselves at the top, and more importantly discredits and disenfranchises those with other values, aesthetic or social.
Bizarrely, this process is often accepted without question by the population they wish to subjugate.
A social anthropologist would tell us that it is a very common predilection of the conquerors or would-be conquerors to subjugate the populace by means more subtle than physical force. Creating hierarchies and persuading the ‘lower orders’ to accept them has happened throughout human history, where societies have passed from an egalitarian co-operative community necessary for survival, to a self-serving, introspective and hierarchical system. If you can make the populace accept their inferiority and the superiority of their ‘betters’ then almost anything is possible.
If you think I’m about to make a parallel between the 1940s in Spain, and Kensington and Chelsea now, you are quite correct.
So we are persuaded that the taxpayers’ money is well spent as the Mayor needs a Bentley to ‘maintain dignity’, Holland Park needs an opera as ‘high culture’ benefits the local economy, the streets of South Ken must be paved with pink granite 'to attract tourist money', Holland Park School must be the most expensive in the western hemisphere because somehow that will improve education. We are told that the ‘Royal’ borough demands the best and it is money well spent.
However there is no evidence whatever that people care if the Mayor arrives in a taxi, that opera improves the local economy or life chances, or that spending £100m on a school will benefit students three times more than spending £33m.
Let's should stop accepting the PR. Let's demand the evidence.
Some months ago we asked 100 people on the street to pick their MP from a choice of eight; only 17 could do so. The past few days have revealed our MP’s sheer avarice, sense of entitlement and lack of compassion. How ironic that he is paid £60k/year by Adam Smith Institute. The Honorary MP is a totem of how some influential figures in our Council conduct themselves, and reflects their world view.
But what has become very clear in the past year or two is that across Kensington and Chelsea there are values that many hold dear and share, and that there are people of all backgrounds and beliefs who are no longer content to be represented – in the Town Hall or in Westminster – by those who have created a world of self-interest that we are supposed to respect and subjugate ourselves to.
And this is how The Deserted Village ends:
Further information on inequalities in K&C here: