Please note the quote marks around ‘best of’. Selecting what I think is the key post from each month is inevitably a subjective exercise. What I hope this achieves is to show that while posts around lockdowns, vaccine passports and everything else that’s being leveraged to propel us towards the fourth industrial revolution make up half of this selection, The Stirrer does focus on other issues. This blog was never intended to be obsessed about the crisis – it’s just that we have to respond to the situation we find ourselves in. We hope that going forward into 2022, we can broaden the scope of what The Stirrer covers but inevitably, we’ll have to be responding to events. This will be the last post of 2021, however, we’ll probably be back by next Sunday or Monday:)

Dave – the editor

Clusterf**ks and system failures – January 24, 2021

This piece is intended to look at how the systems and structures many people take for granted and assume are there to serve us – and in the event of emergencies protect us – are actually, disjointed, dysfunctional and failing. A number of posts recently published on our sister blog, the Thurrock and Basildon Heckler about the flooding that hit Thurrock (amongst many other areas) on January 14 have been used in compiling this post.

Rather than discuss these issues in the abstract, I’ve used these posts to highlight where parts of the system effectively failed us. The specific failings addressed are a planning system that allows new homes to be built on a floodplain, poor management of an over-budget, behind schedule road widening project and lastly, failure to check and maintain flood defences such as sluice gates properly.

Imposed change and a lack of control – February 15, 2021

Living and operating out on the Thames estuary, we’re aware of a lot of changes in the pipeline. Changes led by developers as well as the bid to make Thurrock a freeport. Changes that will have a significant impact on our lives. Changes that many people feel they have no say in and are effectively being imposed upon us whether we like it or not.

After a year of the COVID-19 crisis and a succession of lockdowns and tiered restrictions, people feel they have even less control over their lives than ever before. Changes which were already happening such as the decline of bricks and mortar retail have been rapidly accelerated by the lockdowns. While physical retailers such as Debenhams are going to the wall, the likes of Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, have seen their fortunes soar. As has been said, ‘why let a crisis go to waste’? The fabric of our town centres which we have taken for granted for most of our lives is going to be subject to massive change. Change which going by the situation with the Basildon town centre masterplan, us mere plebs will have absolutely no influence over.

A challenging situation… – March 14, 2021

I’m writing this on the first anniversary of what we naively thought would be a three week lockdown to ‘flatten the curve’ before we could return to some kind of normality. Well, it’s a year later and I’m beginning to forget what ‘normal’ was like as I still struggle to adjust to a constrained ‘new (ab)normal’. This is a personal struggle and a political one – both painful in their respective ways. For the purposes of this piece, I want to concentrate on the political struggle although there is an overlap into the personal as comrades I thought were open minded have turned out to be anything back. Apart from the small crew I work with out here in the south of Essex who have the maturity to agree to disagree, the ties I had with many comrades have been weakened and in a fair few cases, completely severed. It has reached the weird point where my most steadfast allies and comrades are people I’ve met online during the past year!

Is there a growing undercurrent of hedonistic defiance? – April 6, 2021

Over the last few weeks, there’s been a lot of attention paid to the #KillTheBill protests that have sprung up in opposition to the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. What played a part in capturing people’s attention was the violent behaviour of the Avon and Somerset plod in Bristol and also the Met in London.

Gaining somewhat less attention, is the revival of street protests against lockdown, the new (ab)normal and the great reset. In a bid to try and get some semblance of unity between these two strands of protest, we wrote this piece: A dialogue is needed – 28 March, 2021. Whether this and some associated graphics we’ve produced calling for a united struggle makes any impression remains to be seen.

So, what happens next? – May 15, 2021

The problem about writing these pieces on lockdowns and tiered restrictions is they’re inevitably snapshots in time that will date as events move on and as, yet again, the government and their advisors shift the goalposts. There’s also the fact there are so many issues involved ranging from the effectiveness (or not) of the covid vaccines and the potential safety issues of something that’s still in the trial phase all the way through to digital vaccine passports and the accelerated move towards a cashless society, it’s difficult to stay on top of everything. In addition, those who have brought into the lockdown and great reset agenda invariably pick out one small aspect of what us lockdown sceptics have to say and make that a major point of their argument. This makes debating with them from a holistic point of view incredibly frustrating.

Freedom’ deferred… – June 16, 2021

Was anyone really surprised when it was announced that the so called ‘Freedom Day’ we were promised for Monday 21 June has been postponed until Monday 19 July? Will anyone be really surprised if, as we get closer to Monday 19 July, it gets put back again? Given how much has been invested in implementing the great reset / fourth industrial revolution agenda and the way the coronavirus crisis has been leveraged to start to bring this about, anyone who is looking at the situation critically and holistically will not be expecting the government to grant us any meaningful degree of freedom.

Not the holistic look at the January floods in Thurrock that we were hoping for – July 13, 2021

The report spends a lot of time describing what happened. As for why Thurrock Council think it happened, they’re saying that the flooding was the result of the months of December and January being the wettest recorded in the region in a hundred years. It was certainly wet – we really couldn’t have failed to notice just how wet it was! The rain in January was falling on ground that was already waterlogged. Any excess water had no where to go so flooding was inevitable. That much is true.

Institutional rot – August 1, 2021

With my Thurrock and Basildon Heckler hat on, I’ve become a frustrated and often angry observer of the workings and failings of local authorities. I’ve seen a lack of transparency and accountability. I’ve seen arrogance and a total lack of humility. I’ve mistakes, failures and sheer incompetence covered up and excused. I’ve seen disjointed thinking and a failure to develop a holistic overview. The only way I can describe what I and many others see is ‘institutional rot’.

The local authorities who are supposed to be the servants of the public are in fact, anything but. I’m not naïve enough to believe there ever was a golden age of local democracy and governance. However, what I and many others dealing with local councils are seeing is a dangerous disconnect with the public they’re supposed to be serving.

Making a stand against artwashing, gentrification and social cleansing – September 12, 2021

We’ve seen it happening in London for a good few decades now. Formerly scruffy neighbourhoods but with a sense of community being gentrified, with the original working class inhabitants pushed out to or beyond the margins of the capital. In many of these neighbourhoods, there was a trajectory. Empty buildings were taken over by artists looking for cheap/free space to work from. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, there was a wide choice of empty properties to pick from. Once a cluster of artists had established themselves, there would be a few coffee shops and cafes moving in to serve the needs of the artists.

Why the high rise towers? – October 31, 2021

Our introduction to the contentious issue of the impact of these towers on a town centre came in joining with others in opposition to the Basildon town centre masterplan which will see many new apartment blocks being built. All the change of administration from a Labour/Independent Alliance to the Tories at Basildon Council will result in is a watering down of some of the proposals, with an arbitrary height limit of twelve stories on any proposal. A height limit that’s already being challenged by the developers.

The mooted re-development of Grays town centre will unsurprisingly, involve the construction of a number of high rise apartment blocks. In neighbouring Romford, a swathe of apartment towers will Manhattanise what was once a market town, irrevocably changing it’s character. Our newest city on the estuary, Southend, will inevitably see pressure from developers to add yet more high rise towers to the townscape.

It’s complicated… – November 16, 2021

We can’t help but notice the demonisation of anyone opposing vaccine passports, digital or paper, as so called ‘anti-vaxxers’. It would be too easy to dismiss this demonisation as lazy, uniformed thinking. That would be wrong because this is part of a strategy of divide and rule. The problem we face is that too many people are falling for this rather than taking a few steps back, having a critical look at the situation and asking a few pointed questions.

Humanity stands together” – a photo essay of a protest – December 19, 2021

Out on the streets on Saturday 18.12, there were anti-vaxxers marching alongside the double and in some cases, the triple jabbed. There were army veterans marching alongside ravers from the 80s and 90s. There were white working class people marching alongside black and Asian working class people. Unfortunately there were a few alt-right people skulking about as the protest was assembling in Parliament Square. There were a lot of young people out expressing their anger at having almost two years of their life restricted and shut down – the years when memories are made and years they won’t get back. I hope the images above go some way to capturing the diversity of the people turning up on these protests.