An open letter to Simon Elmer & @ASH_Housing in response to "Ambition: The Green-eyed Twitter Troll"

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Architects for Social Housing – or Simon Elmer and Geraline Dening – have accused me of trolling and a whole lot of other things.  I have been rethinking my work in recent months and felt it was time to work together with people from a broad range of interests.  To admit I was being too purist.  To advocate for dissent and disagreement and for solidarity.  I still do.  I stand by my concerns about ASH but I also think they do a great job at raising awareness of the social housing crisis and advocating for the rights of social housing tenants.

This is an open response to Simon James Elmer who wrote the blog on ASH’s website accusing me of trolling.

Dear Simon,

Thank you for your extensive c. 9,000 word blog post.  I am sorry that I have so obviously upset you.  I must, however, respond in brief to be sure that anyone reading your blog has a balanced perspective.

To be accused of conspiring to construct a “two-and-a-half month trolling drama” involving ASH is, quite simply, untrue – a drama.  To claim that I Tweet “under the name @etiennelefleur” and to claim this is anonymous is entirely untrue.  I’m clear who I am – it is not an anonymous Twitter account!

To claim that I’m an academic reliant on state funds is rich coming from Dr Simon James Elmer – an art history professor and a poet – an academic and an artist who yourself benefited from a funded academic education.  To suggest I’m “well entrenched in the academic world” is a massive overstatement.  I’m trying to gain recognition in academia but I stand by my work and refute any claim that I’m a careerist, that I’m exploiting anyone or hiding my identity in any way.  I speak out as myself just as you clearly do.

You sneer at my self-descriptions.  I stand by the descriptions I playfully ascribe to myself.  They’re not meant to be entirely serious and they are written for specific contexts.  I do not deny my work is work and I wish to have a career in academia and the arts.  To claim otherwise would be ludicrous.

To suggest that “Stephen wanted ASH to publish his text on our blog, but we refused” is simply untrue.  I did not ask you.  To claim that “Stephen refused to put his name to the text, without which it was no more than slander, whose repercussions would be felt not by him but by ASH” are again totally untrue.  I published the text on my blog.  I was asked to write the text by someone you know very well – but you know that very well.   It was posted on the LSE blog page first but not by me.  It was anonymous and I did have concerns about it.  I did not ask ASH, rather he interjected on a Facebook conversation about the text which involved several other people.  (The Facebook post has been deleted now, for some reason, I believe.  Although, my comment to you has not.)  I’ll not do a screenshot as it’ll only upset you…  The blog remains on my blog and has not been contested.  It is clear on my blog who I am.  God knows, then, how this total fabrication of events might somehow give “some insight into the motivations – and character – of the people who have been attacking ASH”.

I do playfully refer to myself as a gamekeeper turned poacher.  Why?  Because I am being open about my previous life working as a manager in a big business and as a manager of an Arts Council England arts organisation and as a company director (dot to dot active arts CIC) and as a PhD student… I am open about what I do.

To claim I’m “leading a fantasy life of rebellion” is a bit rich coming from Dr Simon Elmer (PhD).  Your poetry is all about, in my opinion, a fantasy life of sacrifice, although, some of it is challenging and controversial to say the least...  Your alter-ego The Sorcerer’s Apprentice reveals a different, more intimate side.  I do, however, find Chat Up deeply offensive.  But then, being stuck behind my keyboard up here in Newcastle 24 hours a day, every day probably means I don’t get it.

The idea that I have not protested – that I do not protest - and not taken part in activism (and indeed continue to be an activist) is absolutely false and, indeed, presumptuous.  And, calling me a “keyboard inactivist” and banging on and on about me being stuck behind a keyboard all my life is absolute nonsense.  Anyone who knows me knows that’s simply not true.  I do like Tweeting a bit though…

The idea that I’m trying “to build a private fiefdom within the housing movement” is also abhorrent and totally untrue.  And to suggest that Artists Against Social Cleansing has some form of oedipal relationship to ASH is, quite frankly, bizarre.  But then you do sometimes quite like the bizarre…

My post post ‘ASHwash: Architects for Social Housing AND for Establishment Values?’ was not “anonymous clictivism”.  How could it be?  I wrote it and published.  It was clearly authored by me.  IT WAS ME!  I tweeted it via my personal account @etiennelefleur which gives my full name and interests clearly.

The suggestion that I tried to “imitate the ASH articles, reproducing screen grabs of apparently damning information, including footage of incriminating evidence of art-washing, highlighting textual proof of criminal behaviour, etc.” is plainly untrue.  I respect ASH’s work but do not seek to copy you.  (Is this approach unique to ASH anyway?)

Finally, I confirm that I am a Labour party member and a member of Momentum and very proud of that too.  I understand that Labour councils are just as guilty of social cleansing as Tory councils (often more so in certain parts of the country) but I am a Labour member and a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn.  I am open and clear about that too.  However, that does not mean that I have somehow instigated an alleged “trolling” campaign for any political reason or for any political gain.  Likewise, I did not and do not seek to profit from this episode from a career perspective.  If I was looking to further my career, I would hold my tongue.  (Perhaps I must hold my tongue.)  Should I hold my tongue, Simon?  Is that what you’re demanding?  I will not.

I do not believe I have trolled you and, having been regularly trolled myself, wish to say sorry if you feel I have.  I wish you well.

Stephen.