When I suggested that DPUK needed to democratise I was cancelled & removed from its WhatsApp groups
Last June, with dire predictions of massive rises in the energy cap, Don’t Pay UK suddenly appeared on the scene. Where it came from was always a bit of a mystery and how they were able to finance large amounts of leaflets and a slick website, to say nothing of premises/phones/ admin etc. was even more a mystery.
But like most people I was more concerned with mobilizing against the energy price rises than questioning where DPUK had come from. The fight against the Tories and neo-liberalism was the priority not navel gazing. And if a benevolent capitalist had provided seed money so what?
All this occurred in the midst of political paralysis as the government was convulsed over Boris Johnson’s future as Prime Minister. In essence we had no government for nearly 3 months.
Not only was the rise in energy prices forecast as hitting £3,800 in October, £5,000 in January 2023 and up to £7,000 by April 2023 but the Tory party was engaging in a fantasy contest between two lunatic right-wingers who were competing as to who would hammer the poor most.
I was among a number of those in the labour and trade union movement who were arguing that we had to consider a Can’t Pay Won’t Pay campaign and look carefully at and learn the lessons of the battle against the Poll Tax 30 years ago. Not that the two struggles were the same. On the contrary there were important differences which DPUK has never seemed to understand
On the socialist left there had already been a vigorous debate about the merits of not paying energy bills and there was an important constituency who said that not paying would not work. Groups such as Disabled People Against the Cuts were particularly vociferous in arguing that disabled people couldn’t take part in such a campaign. A position I disagreed with but which many people supported.
Some us had begun to set up a Can’t Pay Won’t Pay campaign in Brighton with the aim of campaigning for a mass refusal to pay. However we were all aware of the differences between 30 years ago and now and the difficulties we faced.
The Crispin Flintoft Show, which is a twice weekly Zoom show consisting of mainly expelled and suspended Labour Party members as well as those who have managed to cling on despite Starmer, has regular attendances of around 500. In May the featured speaker was Tommy Sheridan, the leader of the campaign against the Poll Tax who warned of the differences between the Poll Tax campaign in 1989/90 and the battle against the energy prices today.
On June 24, the Socialist Labour Network held a meeting with Tommy Sheridan, Ian Hodson, President of the Bakers Union and Paula Peters of DPAC on the theme of Can’t Pay Won’t Pay.
In Brighton we decided to hold an inaugural meeting of Can’t Pay Won’t Pay and I was approached by Andrew Farrar, an anarchist associated with DPUK, to work jointly together. CPWP agreed to hold a joint public meeting on August 30.
The meeting on August 30 was jointly chaired by Nehaal, who is currently Vice President of the National Union of Students and myself. Speakers included the President and Secretary of the Trades Council, Matt Webb and Andy Richards and Sheila Hall, who was a councillor in 1990 who was suspended along with 5 other Labour councillors for refusing to implement the Poll Tax. Also speaking was the man who served the longest sentence (30 months) for his part in the poll tax riot.
Over 150 people attended and it was judged by all that it was a great success. But then things began to go downhill. Activity fell off and it proved difficult to get people to run a weekly stall in the town centre. The only activity since then was on October 1st when a rally of about a 100 was held at Brighton Clocktower. Given that there was a strike meeting at The Level of nearly 1,000 people it is clear that the campaign had stalled.
Following the public meeting at a weekly coordination meeting an objection by Farrah was made to my attending a regional meeting (in fact a national meeting of regional groups). No doubt after words in his ear. However I did get out of him that these meetings were attended by between 20 and 30 people, which for a national meeting is pathetic.
I made several attempts to discuss DPUK’s strategy in the different chat groups and each time they were met with personal abuse by a few anarchists who were more concerned with how oppressed they were and how many identities they could claim than progressing the campaign. Comments such as
I’m a woman. The mother of a disabled person. A teacher in the most deprived area of Brighton. You don’t get to filibuster me into silence. I’m big enough and ugly enough not to stand for this
was one such contribution from an unnamed anarchist who harboured a deep grudge over the role of Militant in the Poll Tax 30 years ago. I pointed out that I too had a disabled child to care for but didn’t see what relevance this crass resort to identity politics had for the campaign against energy price rises.
This particular person was obsessed by the fact that Sheila Hall had spoken at the public meeting because Sheila had been a supporter of Militant 30 years ago. Clearly she spoke for other anarchists.
It is a fact that the All Britain Anti Poll Tax Federation which was set up in November 1989 was led by the Militant Tendency who had recently been expelled from the Labour Party. Although Tommy Sheridan had made some injudicious remarks about those arrested in the Poll Tax Riot no-one can take away from him the fact that he had been gaoled for 6 months for defying the Scottish courts over his presence at a Warrant Sale or for his leadership of the campaign against the Poll Tax in Scotland, which suffered from the Poll Tax one year earlier than the rest of the country.
The fact that Tommy and 5 others had been elected to Glasgow City Council spoke volumes about how the Glaswegian and Scottish working class felt whereas the anarchist contribution to the campaign was nugatory. Yet these sectarian comments kept coming up from certain individuals and local Admins acted to protect these sectarians.
When I responded to a few of these characters I received a ‘final warning’ from an unelected moderator of one of the chat groups. Clearly democratic debate is anathema to identity politics anarchists. As a result I decided to have no personal interaction with any individual and to simply post political observations as to the current state of play. Nonetheless this didn’t satisfy the flaky anarchists who had appointed themselves as Admins and I was removed without warning or explanation last Tuesday.
I should add that at no time was any Admin elected. All of them were friends who appointed each other, as Nehaal admitted. Anarchists are opposed in theory to leadership but in practice they are opposed to an elected leadership because of course nothing will happen unless some people take the initiative.
Don’t Pay UK Nationally
So what is going on in DPUK? I attended a national meeting of activists about 3 weeks ago. It was chaired by Simon, a well-known Brighton anarchist. There were a total of 112 in attendance. It was made clear that DPUK’s leadership consisted in essence of a group of friends of a similar political persuasion.
All the speakers were pre-selected and no audience participation was allowed. I guess this is anarchism in action. There was though a vigorous discussion in the chat and the main theme in that was the need to discuss a political strategy. However the meeting finished after just one hour and those with their hands up were simply ignored.
What DPUK has are hidden, unelected and unaccountable leaders. We used to call it the ‘tyranny of structurelessness’ in which feminist and other organizations, which were leaderless in theory, ended up with unelected leaders by default and thus were far more undemocratic than those bureaucracy ridden institutions of the labour movement.
From my own impressions a large number of people have been signed up as potential activists or organizers but, as is common with anarchist campaigns, there is no direction or strategy. It has been suggested that DPUK is deliberately engaging in the mass collection of data such and email addresses for other purposes. Whether this is true I do not know, however there is little sign of any adherence to data protection legislation.
DPUK’s Lack of a Political Strategy
On its website DPUK state that ‘We will take this action [withholding payments] when we reach 1 million pledges to strike.’ The only problem is that at the time of writing only 198,551 people have signed up pledging to stop their direct debits. Three days ago it was 195,510. In other words the number of people signing up and pledging to stop paying via direct debit is increasing by 1,000 a day. At this rate it will take over 2 years to reach the figure!
This is simply no way to run a campaign. Before Liz Truss’s pledge that bills would be capped at an average of £2,500 DPUK were receiving 10,000 pledges per day. In other words there has been a precipitate drop in people pledging to stop their direct debits. Yet there has been no mention of this. Complete radio silence.
In practice a pledge is unenforceable anyway and it is anyone’s guess how many people who have signed a pledge have thought twice about it. In any event stopping a direct debit doesn’t mean not paying. There are a number of ways of paying energy bills of which direct debits are just one. In short DPUK have been blind sided by the government’s decision to stuff the mouths of the energy companies with gold to the tune of £170 billion.
As Catherine Furae of Live Chronicle wrote, Don’t Pay UK halts energy strike as it fails to sign enough people. Except that DPUK hasn’t told its own supporters that it has called off the action. Instead they simply urge them to greater efforts.
Where has DPUK gone wrong?
Because DPUK was set up undemocratically without any attempt to involve people in the wider anti-cuts and trade union movement they embarked on what was clearly a very risky strategy without any discussion or prior thought about involving wider forces.
It is obvious that at a time when working class people and trade unions are engaged in mass strike action that there is a need to engage the unions and workers in any campaign against the energy prices rises. But unfortunately these anarchists tend to have little involvement with unions nor do they care much for what they see as just another manifestation of the labour bureaucracy.
In my view there was absolutely no need to make an unrealistic target of 1 million the pivot of a campaign against the energy prices. Instead there should have been an attempt to involve the wider labour movement for example by calling a conference. The fact is that Britain’s anarchists are not exactly well placed in the trade union and labour movement.
If there had been an attempt to hold e.g. a large zoom conference then the follies and dangers of setting an unrealistic target figure as the be all and end all of the campaign could have been pointed out. Instead of media gimmicks and there is no doubt that DPUK attracted a lot of media attention, a strategy of building in local communities could have been put in place and leaflets highlighting the estimated energy costs could have been used instead of simply saying Don’t Pay.
Whether even this would have worked is open to doubt but as things stand DPUK have failed at the first hurdle.
I should add that although I disagree with anarchism politically I have respect for many anarchists who are involved in anti-fascist or Palestine solidarity work. But I find it difficult to muster much enthusiasm for those whose contempt for democracy matches that of Sir Keir Starmer.
Has DPUK Anywhere to Go?
Any Can’t Pay Won’t Pay campaign is going to face very serious obstacles not least the fact that 4 million households have pre-payment meters. To date DPUK has simply ignored this problem. It is also a fact that millions of people are simply going to be unable to pay their heating bills this winter. The question is how to marry these together.
It seems to me that any campaign has to focus on working class areas of high deprivation where the issue is of most concern. The problem of pre-payment meters has to be addressed. I’m no technical expert but if it is possible to physically neutralize or bypass these meters then this should be done – en masse.
I certainly do believe that a CPWP campaign can succeed but it will be difficult if divorced from the wider labour and anti-cuts movement. The current DPUK policy of clamping down on any discussion of strategy and focusing instead on how many leaflets one can distribute, to the point of cancelling and removing troublesome activists, show that this organization, given its secrecy and lack of democracy, isn’t up to the task it has set itself, which is reversing the present price rises.
No mass movement that isn’t democratic can hope to succeed in a battle with this government. Democracy isn’t a luxury it is a necessity.
DPUK’s Refusal to Speak About Public Ownership
When I opened the public meeting in Brighton I was interrupted by applause when I mentioned that the crisis could not be resolved until the utility companies were under public ownership again. It is obvious to all and sundry that as long as energy in Britain is owned by private monopolies there can be no solution to the continuing price rises.
The Tories and Starmer Labour are opposed to public ownership. But here is the curious thing. Try as you might, it is impossible to find a single reference to public ownership of the energy companies on the DPUK site. As far as those who control DPUK are concerned such questions are irrelevant because both involve capitalist production. Of course DPUK don’t say what their real position is. They simply don’t mention it as they hide behind their curious identity politics.
According to We Own It 66% of the public support nationalisation. The fact that both Truss and Starmer are opposed to public ownership might tell our youthful anarchists something about neo-liberalism, which is founded on a hatred of public ownership. However anarchists combine both liberalism and ultra-leftism. Ultra leftist because they make no distinction between private ownership of energy companies and public or state ownership. Unfortunately bodies like the IMF do make such a distinction.
I have deliberately avoided the speculation of people like Ben Timberley and others as to whether or not DPUK is a genuine group or not. I always tend to assume the best but there is no doubt that DPUK is now seriously floundering as its lack of any meaningful strategy has caught up with it. It seems like a good idea that got lost along the way.
I have also sent an Open Letter ‘The Silencing of Dissenting Voices‘ to members of Brighton & Hove DPUK!
An Interesting ‘Conversation’ with Morrigan, one of the Founders of DPUK
My falling out and expulsion from Brighton DPUK began with a ‘conversation’ with Morrigan, a teacher and one of the founders of DPUK. She objected to my report on the above national meeting of DPUK (and implicitly that of Dave Hill) on how it was a controlled affair before going off on one.
First she felt the need to establish her identity – not only a woman, but a teacher in a difficult school, a carer for a disabled son etc. I pointed out that I too care for a disabled son but I’m not sure what relevance that had to the discussion!
However to Morrigan, displaying the fine arts of anarchist identity politics this was all ‘mansplaining’, which is shorthand for having the temerity to disagree with a woman!
However once in her stride Morrigan had no compunction about attacking Sheila Hall, a former Labour Councillor in Brighton who was suspended for refusing to implement the Poll Tax. Apparently she was a supporter of the Poll Tax according to the said Morrigan and guilty of numerous other sins.
At the end of the ‘conversation’ Morrigan complained of being bullied. Presumably disagreeing with someone in authority, as Morrigan clearly is in the group, is bullying. Well the Moderators certainly thought so.
The whole conversation is here and an extract is below.
Anarchists come in all shapes and sizes, from syndicalists to lifestyle and personal politics anarchists. For many anarchism is a rebellion against capitalist conformity but that often leads to a rejection of collective action in favour of individualism and a rejection of the labour movement and trade unions.
Morrigan above demonstrates a deep hostility to the left and the idea of class as the motivating force in society in favour of identity politics where anyone can claim to be oppressed. Indeed on the basis of ID Pol. you can claim multiple oppressions. Her vitriol is directed at what was Militant but it is more applicable to all socialist groupings. Along with this is a rejection of theory in favour of spontaneity. It is but a short step to adopting the anarchy of the free market.
Anarchism rejects the idea of leadership but only in so far as that leadership is elected and accountable. As demonstrated in my expulsion by unnamed moderators (one of whom, Steve J has just written to me suggesting that my writing to individual members of Brighton DPUK was motivated by ‘sadness’ (!) there is no concept of due process or evidence. Hence Morrigan can lie quite blatantly about Militant and a speaker that I invited to the public meeting without any comeback.
There are of course anarchists such as the Bristol anarchists who have been sentenced to savage terms of imprisonment or those involved in Palestine Action who reject identity politics and the ideas of ‘safe spaces’ but many anarchists like Morrigan reject the very idea that they are on the left.
DPUK shows every sign of being a hidden political project masquerading as a campaign against the fuel price rises. It has been suggested that it is also a data harvesting project.