Socialism in TOWIE town #44 #cong20


What is the future of socialism in a society that appears to have succumbed to ‘capitalist realism’ – the notion that there is no reasonable alternative to the economic and political framework most countries have adopted? This blog reports from the town that gave birth to the Only Way is Essex, but still offers some hope.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Has ‘Capitalist Realism’ triumphed?
  2. Am I diverting from a socialist future by offering charity?
  3. Can I act out the future I’d like others to embrace?
  4. What is the future that my socialism imagines?

About Richard Millwood:

Dr Richard Millwood is director of Core Education UK and a Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Computer Science & Statistics, Trinity College Dublin. Current research interests include learning programming and computational thinking and in relation to this, he is currently engaged in the development of a community of practice for computer science teachers in Ireland and also creating workshops for families to develop creative use of computers together. He gained a BSc in Mathematics & Physics at King’s College London in 1976 and first became a secondary school teacher. From 1980 to 1990 he led the software development of educational simulations in the Computers in the Curriculum Project at Chelsea College London. He then worked with Professor Stephen Heppell to create Ultralab, the learning technology research centre at Anglia Polytechnic University, acting as head from 2005 to 2007. He researched innovation in online higher education in the Institute for Educational Cybernetics at the University of Bolton until 2013, gaining a PhD by Practice ‘The Design of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education’. Until September 2017, he was Assistant Professor for four years directing the MSc in Technology & Learning and supervising six PhD students. He is now working for Eedi / Diagonostic Questions as Computing Lead.

Contacting Richard Millwood:

You can follow Richard on Twitter or send him an email

By Richard Millwood

I live in the home of TOWIE – The Only Way Is Essex –  which is set in Brentwood in Essex, England. The hit television series has averaged around one and a quarter million viewers every year since 2010 to watch almost three hundred episodes. But not everyone loves its “irritating, vain celeb-wannabes standing around babbling about their dull romances and private lives” [ ‘TOWIE’ Live review: Dancing pigs have more charisma Alex Fletcher on Digital Spy, 2012 ]. It featured a loaded, empty-headed but wealthy class, hardly improving on the Essex-girl jokes and white-van-man stereotypes. Brentwood’s high street could be  any prosperous high street in the i’m-all-right-jack south-east – only more so. “Often you’ll go into a pub and you’ll have a table of about eight girls with all their hair in curlers, beautiful clothes on,” said a taxi-driver and security guard turned film-maker. “Nine times out of ten they’re from somewhere in Ireland, probably the first time they’ve been out of the country. They’ve all spent about 400 quid each to come to sit in a pub in Brentwood.” [ The power of Towie – how ITV’s hit show changed Essex Tim Burrows in the Guardian, 2015 ]

Brentwood has a Conservative MP, who wins with a large majority. The local council has thirty seven councillors of which twenty are Conservatives, thirteen Liberal Democrats, three Labour and one independent. Many of the ordinary residents are employed in the financial sector – Brentwood is a commuter town, only twenty five minutes by fast train from the City of London. The appearance is of a wealthy ‘loadsamoney’ population, but as with all stereotypes, the truth is more diverse.

Brentwood has wards where houses go for three million pounds, and child poverty is 2%, but housing in neighbouring wards is still expensive at a tenth of that price, but over 25% children live in poverty. I know this because I chair the local Labour party and have found it interesting to explore the demographics and the reasons for its political complexion. I have tried to explain why we bother in Brentwood, even making a presentation about our aims in Leinster House, Dublin in 2017. We have around five hundred members in the local party, which is more than the membership of the other two more successful parties combined, but few are active at election time. The best I recall was eighty getting involved, but that included quite a few who turned up for an hour to help with poll checking at the vote or signed the nomination papers.

In the 2019 General Election, I recall meeting in the pub with a few of these volunteers to stuff envelopes. As we finished, I explained to a stranger what we were up to and who we represented, and he exclaimed “You Communist c••t”, as he swiftly left the building. I wasn’t hurt, but surprised, and wondered at the conception of our friendly and well-meaning Labour Party as ‘extreme left’ in character, and thus began a personal inquiry of the meaning of Socialism, to me and to the residents of Brentwood.

I knew that folk weren’t voting for us, but hadn’t stopped to think how they were rationalising their vote.

I recently started volunteering for Brentwood COVID-19 Mutual Aid, a self-organising group set up to support the vulnerable and isolated in the community during the Covid-19 outbreak. My discovery of a two-year project, predating the crisis, to offer community and nourishment to Brentwood residents has challenged me to think how could I practice what I believe. How could I demonstrate that I have a practical as well as philosophical view of how society should best run? 

And then I found Bank Job, based in nearby Waltham Forest, a group creatively challenging the Creditocracy through direct action, by buying up debts and releasing the debtors. They argue that debts are a result of a monetary system which is impoverishing multitudes by design, and could be changed.

Both these projects gave me hope, that we need not wait until we are in power to start changing things for the better, and even more importantly, we may be the better for it!

So I come to Congregation and it’s theme of Society 3.0 with these questions buzzing:

  1. Has ‘Capitalist Realism’ triumphed?
  2. Am I diverting from a socialist future by offering charity?
  3. Can I act out the future I’d like others to embrace?
  4. What is the future that my socialism imagines?

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