Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

The Wembley way

The struggle against a city academy in north London controlled by a group of hedge fund managers might be a sign of things to come. Hank and Jean Roberts tell the story of the campaign

September 16, 2010
3 min read

In 2004, Lord Levy, Tony Blair’s ‘pimp’ for getting the super rich to fund Blair’s school academies project, visited the then Labour-run Brent Council and persuaded it to support the building of an academy on the Wembley Park sports ground. As usual this was kept secret – but the unions soon found out.

We fought back hard using a variety of tactics, which escalated over the long struggle to save the sports ground. It began with the usual meetings, pickets of council meetings, letter-writing and petitions. The council was embarrassed but determined to proceed. We knew we were gathering support and in 2006 their stance against the academy played a key part in the Lib Dem win at the council elections (see box, right). The academy was withdrawn – victory.

A few months later, however, it was all back on the cards. The new consultation was even more of a con than the first one and we treated it with the contempt it deserved. Meetings were disrupted and we even took over one and ran it ourselves. We produced a number of scurrilous broadsheets – scurrilous because the truth was scurrilous! Eventually we occupied the sports ground. This started with just two of us striking up a tent and then others joined us.

The original sponsor of the proposed academy backed out – but another group stepped in: ARK, a group of multi-millionaire hedge fund speculators (leading lights are Arki Busson, Paul Marshall and Stanley Fink), who worked closely with all three main parliamentary parties to ensure that they stayed on board with their privatisation agenda.

Our occupation continued. Our protest actions included building tree houses on the site, numerous public meetings, forming an alliance with the local residents association, organising a ‘flash camp’ for a week outside the town hall, launching a legal challenge, getting thousands to sign our petition, having over 100 camping on the site overnight, and having many hundreds visiting during the day and supporting some of the fundraising events.

We left after six months when the lease on the sports ground was extended for a year. Then the council reneged on that agreement and moved to evict the people who ran the site, including a nursery. We occupied again but this time they went for court orders. The fantastic support meant even this had to be delayed. We held a rooftop protest by camping on the roof. Finally, in July 2009, after we had been evicted, another group reoccupied the site before being violently removed after a couple of weeks, when the whole sports ground was secured with guard dogs patrolling.

We held up the process for five years, which we consider a partial victory. We have to remember that we are in a war to save state education and we will not achieve complete victory in every battle. In making it increasingly difficult for the privateers, though, we start to turn the tide. Our action spawned others all over the country, including the occupation of the school roof at Lewisham Bridge, which defeated the academy proposal there, and a victorious campaign at Royal Docks school in Newham against ARK taking it over.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook

‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali

Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.

Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent

Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art

Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs

Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite