In praise of the Neo Cafe

Mr. Chakrabortty has one of those pieces praising the people for doing it for themselves. This is what real community is, people simply working together, without direction, without central control, to make things better for themselves and those around them.

This apparently puts those two fingers up to The Man and shows that this neoliberal capitalism thing is all wrong.

Neo also runs a social supermarket, offering food – that the likes of Marks & Spencer and Tesco would otherwise plaster with yellow stickers or chuck away – to residents on a “pay what you feel” basis. One father, Jamie, detailed how he had picked up around £40 of groceries for £8. Later on, he told me how he’d recently been diagnosed with a vitamin B12 deficiency, a complaint that can be traced to the sustained lack of decent food. It had left him tired, forgetful and in pain. I wondered how much worse off he’d have been without Neo’s cut-price shopping.

All vital work – but it’s the next bit I really want you to hear. Because Wilkes and Doherty are doing something harder, rarer and perhaps more valuable than dispensing charity: they’ve begun restoring a sense of pride to a community left for dead by the rest of the country.

Take the centre the pair work out of. Once used by the council, it had long fallen into disrepair. Weeds thrust knee-high out of the paving and the paint on the railings was peeling. On opening day the gates were flung open, a bouncy castle was put up in the garden and some food was served up. The women, who are from neighbouring Wallasey, didn’t know what to expect. Then by the end of the first morning, the garden began to overflow with stuff: footballs, a racket ball set, climbing kit.

Neighbours who wouldn’t even say hello to each other were bringing over their kids’ playthings. When removal men brought over the giant M&S chiller cabinets for the social supermarket but left them outside, muttering about the wrong angles, it was the locals who stood guard against any nicking – and then shifted them inside.

The crucial line there is "Once used by the council, it had long fallen into disrepair. "

This is not two fingers to neoliberalism, this is neoliberalism. Which is, as we all know but all too many others don't, insisting upon the freedom and liberty which allows people to voluntarily cooperate. Sure, sometimes this is in the form of a capitalist style business. But in the smaller echelons of society it isn't and never has been. We actually have our inspiration in the rather more conservative idea of Burke and his "little platoons". 

We have absolutely nothing at all against the Neo Cafe. Indeed we'd hold it up as a shining example of how things ought to be. People getting together to do as they wish - this is freedom and liberty in action.

And note what was required before it happened. The State, in the form of the local bureaucracy, had to get out of the way in order for people to be able to use the assets previously colonised by said bureaucracy and State. And when that happens there is that flowering of voluntary cooperation that Mr. Chakrabortty so praises, as do we.

The usual technical term for this is that the State can be guilty of "crowding out" such activity. Or as we've been saying for a number of decades now, if you want the good society you're going to have to shrink said State so there is room for the good society to flourish.

Burke got it two centuries ago - pity it's a lesson all too many still don't grasp, isn't it?