Pauline Pearce, the “Hackney Heroine” of the London Riots, has a welcome tendency to speak exactly as she finds. Her unique insights and sterling powers of communication were what made her so attractive to the Lib Dems, so there’s something beautifully ironic about how she’s deployed these strengths to trumpet the party’s failings so publicly.
Pearce has announced she is stepping down from the race to be Liberal Democrat president, citing the party’s “Neanderthal views on diversity”. If Pearce had been successful she would have stepped into the role currently filled by MP Tim Farron.
Clearly, we’re still very much in a political world where only Yes men and those with squeaky clean histories are permitted to hold the reins.
Pauline Pearce is a black woman in her late-40s with real insight into the needs of working-class Britain – indeed into the needs of the “underclasses”, if that’s a term one favours — although I wish there was a cosier word for “people with no bloody hope”.
Pearce can’t, she says, afford internet access at home so is largely unavailable by email. It’s tiny details like that — so curious and bewildering to the middle classes — that make her such an unusual figure in the political world.
During the riots Pearce was at ground level in Hackney’s Pembury Estate – walking home to her flat – and was filmed rebuking rioters for the shortsightedness of their anger. Why are you kids burning your own shops? It was something many of us were thinking, but I didn’t have the energy to deal with the fall-out from writing it publicly from a keyboard four miles away. Pauline Pearce said it to the rioters’ faces.
More importantly, I feel, she emphasised to the media hoards the importance of communicating with young people - of being approachable, inquisitive and non-judgemental. Pearce wasn’t just saying these type of things as touchy-feely soundbites, she was revolutionary enough to actually mean it.
We cannot, Pearce seemed to believe, solve problems of social cohesion in Hackney by sending missives from Westminster telling people to stop being naughty and get a bloody job. Policy-makers had to be brave and interact. In a world of political claptrap Pearce was a breath of fresh air. Which party wouldn’t want a person like Pauline on its side?
But after the initial Lib Dem love-in, Pearce says that her plans to run for a senior post in the party have been quashed by patronising comments about her lack of experience, and ridicule about a police record for drug-smuggling. Both of these aspects of her were no secret at the start of her Lib Dem journey. They were seemingly not a problem when Pearce was giving the party a little edge and a scoop of “realness”, but they became one when the woman wanted some actual power.
Pearce accused the party of “neanderthal views on inclusivity”. She concluded, perfectly pithily, “I'll just stay and be the token person who sits and smiles in the background and do my community activism that I always do”. I must confess to a hoot at that part of her statement. It’s just so wonderfully dry. Because I can fully imagine future Lib Dem press calls featuring the usual men in suits mumbling about the need to understand the disenfranchised, while Pauline sits in the background, a perfect example of multi-cultural inclusivity, even if she is, y’know, effectively mute, power-free and brought in mainly for photos. Smile Pauline!
In 2014 it seems we are simply no closer to re-dispersing political power into either the hands of the less privileged, or the hands of those less than squeaky-clean pasts. I can’t help wondering how, if Pauline’s lack of e-mail was a problem, why someone from the Lib Dems couldn’t simply help her out. The crux of inclusivity, very often, is people “just being quite helpful”. You live far away? We’ll get you a taxi. You can’t read very well? We’ll help you learn. You don’t have the right clothes? Here, have a gift token.
The key to inclusivity can be the smallest things. With this in mind, can someone in the London E5 area go round give Pauline Pearce a 4G dongle? Imagine what she could achieve with fast broadband? More seriously, and also quashing her rise to power, Pearce was in her youth involved in gangs. One might think she has some very useful insights into this hot topic if she’s permitted to speak.
She became involved in drug-smuggling and served three years in prison. Surely this indicates she knows about penal reform, plus has experience of the reality of post-prison job-seeking. She is a shining example of life not ending after terrible choices in one’s youth. Until we truly believe in second chances we will suffer the political figures and their short-sighted policy that we truly deserve.
Incidentally, every time a liberal sends me that photo of a young George Osborne with his former friend Natalie Rowe, reportedly a dominatrix, as a way of proving that he’s shady, it only serves to makes me warm to him. In a previous life, George must have seen a few sights. And I don’t want society’s reigns to be in the hands of those with a life half-lived.
One of the only saving graces of being over-40 is that my generation and the ones before made our mistakes pre-camera phone and social media. By 2035 there will be barely anyone left with a reputation unblemished enough for power at all. We need to change our attitude to second chances or politics has a very grey out-of-touch future.