One of my few realised ambitions in life is to live in Hackney. Although I grew up in Essex – and I am a proud son of that county – I knew from the age of 8 that I’d end up here.
Iain Sinclair seems to get it too. His new book – Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire: A Confidential Report – is out in February, and I’m greatly looking forward to it:
Once an Arcadian suburb of grand houses, orchards and conservatories, Hackney declined into a zone of asylums, hospitals and dirty industry. Persistently revived, reinvented, betrayed, it has become a symbol of inner-city chaos, crime and poverty. Now, the Olympics, a final attempt to clamp down on a renegade spirit, seeks to complete the process: erasure disguised as ‘progress’. In this ‘documentary fiction’, Sinclair meets a cast of the dispossessed, including writers, photographers, bomb-makers and market traders. Legends of tunnels, Hollow Earth theories and the notorious Mole Man are unearthed. He uncovers traces of those who passed through Hackney: Lenin and Stalin, novelists Joseph Conrad and Samuel Richardson, film-makers Orson Welles and Jean-Luc Godard, Tony Blair beginning his political career, even a Baader-Meinhof urban guerrilla on the run. And he tells his own story: of forty years in one house in Hackney, of marriage, children, strange encounters, deaths.
Sinclair’s book was to be launched at one of Hackney’s libraries. A good idea, you might think.
Apparently our Mayor, Jules Pipe, does not agree. The decision was taken to cancel the planned event and disinvite the distinguished author. The Hackney Citizen – thanks to a FOI request – knows why:
In an email dated 24th September 2008, Head of Media Polly Rance wrote: “It is clear that we cannot allow the event to go ahead. I have discussed this with The Mayor and his direction was clear.
“He feels, as do I, that we should not host an event on Council premises promoting a book which has an overtly contraversial (sic.) and political (albeit non-party) agenda, and actively promotes an opinion which contradicts our aims and values as an organisation – in this case the 2012 games and legacy, which Sinclair’s book will seek to ‘expose’ as a con being perpetrated on the people of the East End.
“My suggestion…was that we write to the publishers and let them know that we feel it would be inappropriate for the Council to host the event, but offer to assist them by suggesting other local venues such as independent book shops. If pushed we can explain that we do not wish it to appear that the Council is in anyway condoning or endorsing the content of Sinclair’s book. I have discussed the potential PR ramifications of this with Jules and he is comfortable with this approach, in that it is honest, straightforward and a position he would feel comfortable defending.”
So, what do you think the consquences would be of cancelling an event, on the grounds that Jules Pipe can’t take a bit of criticism of the Olympics.
To discover the answer, Hackney Council conducted a “book launch risk analysis”.
“Cancellation of a library event on the grounds of the legal content of a work runs contrary both the ethics (sic.) of the profession and to the principle of the Stock Acquisition Policy which states that Hackney will adhere to the CILIP Policy on Intellectual Freedom and Censorship. This policy has been signed off by the Lead Member for Culture.”
With a prescience verging on the prophetic, the risk analysis also warns that Sinclair might publicise the cancellation on BBC Radio Four (he did just that).
In addition, the analysis warns: “Given the high number of media professionals who live in the borough, the event is likely to get a good deal of publicity.”
(via Ben Locker)