Stewart Halforty reports from Nottingham, where a picket stopped a bailiff sent by a state-owned zombie bank to repossess a family home
The story of Tom Crawford is about the state of the nation and the new tools we have at our disposal for collective action. It’s the story of everything that is wrong with the system: Debt, the housing crisis and a banking sector that doesn’t work for us.
Tom and his family have lived in their house in Carlton for 25 years. Tom insists he signed a contract for an endowment mortgage and the bank have since lost the paperwork meaning he owes £43,000. Tom’s original mortgage was with Bradford and Bingley, a bank destroyed by its own greed during the crisis in 2008.
In a banking system where mortgages were wrapped up in to Consolidated Debt Obligations and traded freely on the open market the loss of paperwork for an endowment policy should come as no surprise. £43,000 is not a lot of money to 'the masters of the universe'.
Whatever the issue, it seems wrong that a bank can make an error in their favour and collect someone’s home, but when they made the colossal error that led to the recession we bailed them out to the tune of billions of pounds.
The media, new and old
There were two waves of media response. Social media picked up Tom’s story weeks ago and a dedicated band of mainly local activists and family members have been managing a Facebook group and promoting the video tirelessly.
I first heard about it when Tom's video was posted on the Nottingham People’s Assembly Facebook page. It didn’t ‘go viral’ all by itself, a committed group of doubtless younger family members and friends posted the video on the walls and blogs and feeds of everyone they thought might be able to help.
It is testament to the power of social media that with a few skills and a lot of hard work effective networks can be built quickly.
The second wave of media, the traditional media, caught on slowly after the crowds gathered. Over a period of hours the story moved from the Nottingham Post, to BBC Radio Nottingham, to a mostly fabricated story on the Daily Mirror website and on to mainstream media saturation.
The Mirror got the story early and a well meaning reporter spun a video of the protest in to ‘the moment when 200 strangers stopped a bailiff’ but in reality there was no moment and the bailiffs were told by police to turn back before they got off the motorway.
The real story is not of a moment but of a movement that was weeks in the making. A few key organisers, who probably didn’t even see themselves as such, used the power of social media to get a message out and then mobilise a protest at short notice.
By far the more significant fabrication in the media has been that the protest was a flash mob of well meaning strangers.
In fact, the protest was mainly made up of Tom’s family, friends and immediate neighbours. Then it was Nottingham activists, although the usual hoard of paper sellers had missed what was happening. Finally it was Anonymous activists and anti-debt campaigners from all over the UK.
The eviction the people stopped was not a flash mob of helpful strangers, heart warming as that story may be. It was a carefully prepared and well organised picket to stop a bailiff sent by a state-owned zombie bank to repossess a family home and it could be repeated up and down the country if the necessity arose and the will was there.