What to make of this story? Camila Batmanghelidjh has been basically forced out of Kids’ Company after the Cabinet Office wanted to know what it’s been doing with the money. Much detail is available in a Buzzfeed piece of the sort you’re meant to think Buzzfeed doesn’t do.
She, of course, blames austerity, cuts, etc. This is pretty rich coming from someone who repeatedly endorsed David Cameron in the run-in to the 2010 elections and even afterwards, appearing at the 2006 Conservative conference and taking part in the Big Society founding meeting at Downing Street in May, 2010.
This may have been the brief interlude between the coalition being formed and the first Osborne Budget, but they had already agreed on the extra £6bn in-year cuts, so it’s not as if we weren’t warned.
One way to look at this is the photo above. The Tories had a go at being nice, that’s how she fell in with them, and then they turned on her. Because they’re Tories. By December 2010, this narrative was already falling into place. Even the Lib Dems had their own creepily sexist and racist version of the same pattern.
But there was always another side to the Big Society project. The May 2010 kickoff meeting also included Ray “Robocop” Mallon, mayor of Middlesbrough and professional populist, for example. That doesn’t sound like the nice straightforward story about the Tories letting down a nice charity for children, does it? Also, this blog post was justly much read for what it said about working for Kids Co – pretty much the management from hell – but it also mentioned them “feeding in” to the DWP’s policy agenda. It also brought out was the degree to which their astonishingly high staff-pupil ratios were achieved by ruthlessly strip-mining volunteers.
The post and indeed the whole site has now been scrubbed, to the point of getting rid of it from the Internet Archive. But let’s take a look at what they might have been feeding in to policy. Here’s a document from July 2007.
Ms Batmanghelidjh told the MPs: “I actually think the mothers [specifically black – ed] are hugely responsible because they have created a culture where they can get rid of the adolescent boy. They can get rid of the male partner, they can survive on their own.
Often people think it’s the males who are the culprits, the irresponsible people who actually come along and make these girls pregnant and walk off. And they underestimate the level of rejection and cruelty from the females towards the males.
I actually think the males are really vulnerable and it starts in adolescence. The minute the adolescent boy begins to look slightly like a male and behave like a male, often the mother wants that young male banished from the house. A hate relationship often develops. I really think we underestimate the vulnerabilities of young black men.”
I don’t know about you but I see a hell of a lot of NOT OK in there. The “males”? That’s not a bit…veterinary? Also, I read the first paragraph as carrying an anti-welfare subtext, especially as the target audience was a bunch of MPs.
What we’re talking about here is US-style respectability politics, really. For some fine snark, which would do for a quick start tutorial, try Adam Serwer. This is very important in understanding Iain Duncan Smith and specifically his interest in the works of Lawrence Mead. It’s a double-edged sword; one swing blames the poor for their problems, while the backswing has at the unglamorous poor-bloody-infantry in schools and social services with their unions and budgets.
As I’ve said before, I see A4e, Kids’ Company, and the Trussell Trust as key institutions in understanding how we got into this mess.
A4e actually did start off as a grassroots charity in post-steel Sheffield, but it drifted – in terms of its leaders’ aspirations, in terms of the increasing irrelevance of the approach both it and the DWP had learned, and in terms of its ability to manage a rapidly growing team of people who were working on commission, essentially a sales force.
Kids’ Company represents something different. In its constant drive to recruit celebrity donors, it came to offer legitimacy to the politicians. Iain Duncan Smith, more than David Cameron, locked onto this as political cover for his respectability politics agenda. Because it didn’t really have an articulated agenda of its own, it also leaked unexamined prejudices into the policy market (see above). And its commitment to an interventionist, treatment-ist world view fit right in with the IDS agenda.
Trussell will need another post, or a PhD, but I’m deeply suspicious of it because I can’t think of anywhere that has foodbanks that has ever managed to get rid of them and return to a normal society. I suspect they know this and worry about it, which is why they’re really quite critical of the DWP, rather than just hollering for more budget, and why Iain Duncan Smith keeps falling out with them.
And of course there’s the great overarching IDS theme, the role of the chancer. It is beautifully ironic that the great chancer of the times himself accuses Trussell of chancerism, when they are the least chancerish of the satellite NGOs spinning around DWP. Chancers are important; have you ever wondered why everyone started carrying bottles of water around in the 1990s? Wonder no more. Yes. He’s her dad.