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Michael Madden: thoughts on visual art, politics and the planet (2)

Michael Madden: painter, sculptor, restorer, environmental campaigner and Hastings resident, talks with HOT’s Chandra Masoliver about his life, work, the Labour Party and the state of the planet. 

CM:  How do the experiences you outlined in our last interview make you feel about democracy and the environment, locally and nationally?

MM: We need to see more of a cross-party balance in local councils because I think that they become undemocratic if dominated by a single party. The Labour-dominated councils I mentioned before seem to act in favour of developments, which are often not in the public interest, and Labour councillors just blame the Tories. To be fair, they’re partly right to do so because government legislation encourages councils to use the sale of their “assets” i.e buildings and/or land, to then fund capital projects (see here).

So the law can easily enfranchise a form of asset stripping from the public purse to the private.

And I don’t think Labour councillors have to swallow Tory policies whole. They do, after all, have alternatives. In the midst of admittedly savage cuts by the Tories, they could either stand down, become independents or ask locals what they want the council (as public servants of taxpayers) to do – not in inquiries held after deals are “in the bag”, but before.

HBC has limited its search for solutions to ones that provide it with income, thus ignoring others that might be more practical/economic, and would have less drawbacks for well-loved treasures.

Let’s take the council’s idea for the solar farm, put forward as a Green proposal by Hastings Borough Council. The Country Park is a natural asset given to the council by a wealthy local family, to act as stewards for Hastings’ people, who never imagined that a future council might be encouraged to see it as an “asset”. The council’s own on-line literature extols the wonders of it and invites any taxpayer to hold them to account. But they don’t like it if you do.

I don’t mean that proposing a solar farm on the Country Park is asset-stripping exactly, but it could be the first stage in privatising an area of the Country Park, which would be asset-stripping. The worry is that once a solar farm is placed within the Park, it may later become a brown-field site and might then be sold as a capital asset to a construction company for housing.

Alternative schemes such as promoting the installation of solar panels on the roofs of Hastings houses might be more effective in terms of saving carbon dioxide emissions, and more acceptable to residents, than the three solar arrays in the Country Park. Also, HBC has yet to tell us how its scheme will help to tackle fuel poverty. It seems obvious to me that it is primarily intended to generate income for the council, which will sell the electricity generated for profit to a distributor who will then presumably sell it to residents for further profit. So residents will not gain much, if anything.

My point is that the council fails to value the assets it has. The Country Park is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a wildlife habitat, a pair of lungs for the town and is irreplaceable.

St Jerome in a Landscape.

St Jerome in a Landscape (after Patinir).

The council is also espousing educational opportunities for locally disadvantaged children at the Country Park Visitor’s Centre (only half-built three years after proposal) and funded partly by selling off the old Rangers’ Cottage). OK – good idea – but much better if the Country Park is left intact.

The council’s commitment to green issues is questionable, because in the past it has referred to people who showed care about such things either as “vexatious complainants” or worse – “posh nimbies.” Some councillors seem to have held the view that locals who campaigned on the Bunker and the landslip cared more about ‘bourgeois’ things like the environment than the local poor. Nothing could be further from the truth – it wasn’t an either/or situation.

I think the solar arrays proposal is the latest in a series of bad HBC ideas. Others include:

  1. HBC’s initial support for a “Luxury Marina” on Rock-a-Nore.
  2.  HBC’s failure to deliver on their promises to the Heart of Hastings group that they would be able to self-build affordable homes on the former Broomgrove power station site.
  3. HBC’s proposals for the White Rock area, including the demolition of the 1920s’ theatre, which is totally undervalued. It would be far more elegant if the council took away the sewer-pipe columns that they added. The figurative faience relief roundels alone are period pieces and irreplaceable, and the interior is a piece of heritage with 1066 seats, purpose-built in the 1920s.

I believe that all of the above show weakness, conflicted ideals, and no understanding of issues around quality. If the council cannot come up with anything better than this, why should anyone not believe they are less interested in “the Many”, and more interested in “the Few”. I’ve worked with my hands all my life, and I hate to see representatives of a political party that I’ve spent a lifetime voting for acting in this way.

The leader could, for instance, lay his cards on the table and say to the Hastings’ population: “Let’s have local referenda. This is the poisoned chalice that the government has given us and we have limited options. You choose which one of them you’d like us to carry out on your behalf.” That would be democratic.

Also, as far as I know, they have spoken about affordable housing for years, but have enabled none so far, partly because developers always wriggle out of providing it as a percentage of their new-builds.

So how will you vote in the national and local elections?

Nationally, I’ll vote for the party that gives us the best chance of staying in Europe. I’m only interested in how democracy works to lower inequality (or doesn’t). I think leaving Europe will increase inequality.

Jeremy Corbyn says that Labour is now a socialist party, but the fact is this. The party is represented by MPs who are all required to swear an oath of allegiance to the monarch. What Labour voters want is a leader who can win within the system, rather than one who wants to enable Marxism within a system that will not tolerate it and who sings The Red Flag, which links the party to failed totalitarian regimes, thereby losing many voters’ support.

English Terraced Castle, Hastings.

English Terraced Castle (2007; painted in Hastings about the rise of nationalism).

If Brexit happens I will blame Corbyn as much as Johnson, for offering such weak opposition. It is clear that Brexit risks economic collapse, and that the real issue on Brexiters’ minds was unregulated immigration. That could have been handled far better within the Union.

Why is it that the Labour Party only offers us a neoliberal (Blair) or a socialist (Corbyn), when what we always needed was a social democrat? Social democratic countries in Europe and the Nordic bloc are the best examples for the Labour Party to follow.

If I was a construction worker, I could see why I might have voted for Brexit. Under Tony Blair’s premiership, the industry was flooded with Poles because their labour costs were lower. That benefited private developers. But construction workers should have a go at the developers rather than Europe.

Although the Common Agricultural Policy was flawed, the truth about the British fishing industry is that it sold some of its quotas to Holland under Tony Blair. It seems a bit odd to become militant about it now and blame Europe.

I believe we will be better off in the club at a time when natural resources are about to become scarce. We will need all the friends we can get and I would sooner trust Europe than Trump. Added importation costs from countries much further away will increase national carbon emissions.

England's Dreaming.

England’s Dreaming (2007).

The European Union was created after WW2, partly in order to ensure that Fascism never rose again. If we leave, we’ll be known as “the sick man of Europe” (as we were before joining) and it may also precipitate the break-up of a union which, however flawed, is the best chance of avoiding a third world war. I mean, even Winston Churchill was pro-European, and so was Thatcher initially.

So I still hope Brexit can be avoided, because I feel it has all been handled in a very undemocratic way. I think it has proven that we need a more representative form of democracy because our ‘representatives’ don’t represent us any more (either locally or nationally). Extreme ideologues on both sides support a pantomime of democracy – a failed system that offers us only two choices but never the right ones.


All artworks by Michael Madden. See also his website.

The interview continues with a look at wider environmental issues and the future of the planet.

Posted 17:16 Thursday, Oct 10, 2019 In: Hastings People


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  1. Michael Madden

    For Kendal.

    I appreciate all your comments – good points well made. I’m not sure if you meant to post them on this interview or on interview 3. But anyway, I would seriously love to have more dialogue on these issues and believe that many other poeple I know would also. So please get in touch if you like via my website. All the best, Michael

    Comment by Michael Madden — Saturday, Nov 2, 2019 @ 19:15

  2. Michael Madden

    I just wanted to correct my earlier post to Mrs Doubtfire. Sorry – I didn’t mean that Nigel Farage has two dual nationalist kids, but two dual-nationality kids. Terrible spelling too – apologies and thanks to everyone who has reponded – some very good points made bout which there should be more discussion. My website should be up and running again soon and my contact details are on there. I am not on Facebook. Next week’s article will put forward a few more ideas, but I would be very interested to hear from anyone who would like to try and save the White Rock Theatre from demolition.

    Comment by Michael Madden — Monday, Oct 14, 2019 @ 13:10

  3. Ms Doubtfire

    Regarding Item 10 on Mr. Maddens response to my comments – I felt dismayed. duped and misled when Tony Blairs spin doctor Alistair Campbell led us to believe that we were 45 minutes away from an attack by Saddam Hussein… a false statement which gave Blair the confidence to bomb the living daylights out of thousands of innocent victims. We are all frequently duped by those in power but the vote said LEAVE and those die hard Remainers cannot accept this hence the current situation..end of story. Or maybe just the beginning.

    Comment by Ms Doubtfire — Monday, Oct 14, 2019 @ 12:09

  4. Simon Marshall

    I particularly like the idea of further democratisation at local level. It would encourage more widespread engagement and participation, which are both essential ingredients for any healthy community . Our politicians have mostly become politicos who want the power of governance without the duty of representation.
    Lovely paintings. Especially the now oh-so-topical “England’s Dreaming!

    Comment by Simon Marshall — Monday, Oct 14, 2019 @ 11:50

  5. Michael Madden

    For Mrs Doubtfire – 1. The referendum votes were so close, hardly any other Eurpean countries would have taken the result as a mandate. i.e there were nearly as many people who wanted to remain as thought they wanted to leave 2. All recent polls show that now that people understand what Brexit really involves, the result of another referendum would be Remain, 3. It was an adisory vote, not a legally binding one, so Teresa May, originally a remainer, should not have triggered Article 50, 4. If one referendum is ‘democracy’ why not have many referendums on other issues? 5. Boris Johnson is now our PM, and a rabid No Dealer, but was originally a remainer, 6. Many who did vote for Brexit certainly didn’t vote for a No Deal, so ven more reason tohave another referendum – how can more democracy be bad? 7. The UK has been losing £6M per week since the referendum, 8. Rees Mogg has made millions since and as a result of the vote and Nigel Farage has said that if Brext goes badly he will move with his German wife and 2 dual nationalist kids, probably to Germany, 9. There has been a masfsive rise of nationalism since the vote, including racism. That is not the same thing as patriotism, 10. Mny people were misled by the Vote Leave bus slogan that implied that the UK would invest the £350M per week they pay the EU, into the NHS. Many were very dimayed and felt they had been duped, 11. It has become clear that not even the politicians knew what Brexit involved. So how you can talk about ‘democracy’ is beyond me. It has been a complete mess and I don’t feel that Labour has offered any real opposition. But anyway I will end this reply here and try not get involved in more debate with you on this issue. Kind regards,

    Comment by Michael Madden — Monday, Oct 14, 2019 @ 10:03

  6. Eye on the ball

    Great article. Michael Madden has his finger on the pulse highlighting many of the damaging developments both locally and nationally. It really is about time everyone pulled together and looked at the long term effects of their actions on society as a whole rather than what is good for themselves in the short-term.

    I agree wholeheartedly that HBC can help the environment in many ways rather than damaging our country park. One way would be to introduce controls on emissions from domestic chimneys and solar panels on all public buildings and new builds.

    As far as Brexit is concerned the country is split almost 50/50 of the percentage of people who voted. I can see only one fair way out of the mess – we leave the EU and have no say in the running of it (as per the referendum result) but we stay in a trading relationship. We were not asked in the 2016 referendum if we wanted to leave the customs union and we voted in a referendum under Ted Heath to join what was then the EEC – a free trade european area. That referendum result still stands.

    This is not my ideal position and maybe no-one elses but it is the only legitimate compromise between two sides who can never agree on totally staying in or crashing out.

    Comment by Eye on the ball — Monday, Oct 14, 2019 @ 08:44

  7. Ms.Doubtfire

    Mr. Madden complains that Brexit has been handled in a very undemocratic way – the only undemocratic issue here is that the majority voted to LEAVE the EU and now those who don’t like the outcome of the referendum want another one!!!
    Thats hardly democratic is it???

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Sunday, Oct 13, 2019 @ 17:45

  8. Francis Sheppard

    Having know Mr Madden over a vast number of years he is well known and respected for his comments and input in most subjects. The one thing that can be said is that he has never been accused of sensationalism or of over dramatising things. He writes his articles with genuine honesty and because of this some could feel uncomfortable and even embarrassed thus possibly more than to likely claim he was. he bases his testimony on pure facts and readily available information and is renowned for his dogged Persistence in getting to the truth.

    Which have resulted in great victories for those organisations he has been involved in a massive asset to any political or community set up the people of Hastings would do well to take notice of him. And give him the title Hound of Hastings a very true factual article.

    Comment by Francis Sheppard — Sunday, Oct 13, 2019 @ 13:19

  9. D Bergen

    This is a very thoughtful analysis both of local issues and of larger problems in national politics–at both levels there is lack of choice at the ballot box and lack of power for citizens to protect the quality of life in places where they have chosen to live. And Mick’s paintings make the point just as strongly as his discussion does. Thank you !

    Comment by D Bergen — Sunday, Oct 13, 2019 @ 13:16

  10. Angie Phillip

    I appreciated the first part of this interview and the second part is not only knowledgeable and illuminating, it is also inspirational. I agree with all the points that are made especially those to do with a Brexit that has been undemocratic throughout because the public have been battered with emotional slogans rather than being informed. This article makes a good start on addressing these issues as well as offering information on local projects so I hope that everyone in Hastings (as well as further afield) reads it. Last, but not least, Michael Madden’s artwork is both beautiful and interesting. I was previously unaware of his marvellous work so I shall go in search of it to have a look in the flesh. Huge thanks for this.

    Comment by Angie Phillip — Saturday, Oct 12, 2019 @ 10:22

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