Ben Van der Velde, a campaigner against Camden Council’s draconian busking policy and a successful stand-up comedian, has been selected to stand for the Green Party in Camden Town with Primrose Hill ward in May’s local election.
He will be challenging three ward councillors who all voted to introduce one of the harshest busking policies in modern UK history, against Green opposition, in November.
Under Camden Council’s new scheme unlicensed buskers across the borough face a criminal record, fines of up to £1000, the seizure of instruments in the streets and the forced sale of musical instruments to pay fines after 28 days.
Ben’s selection comes ahead of a High Court hearing on February 27th and 28th of a legal challenge brought by the Keep Streets Live Campaign, which is asking a judge to quash the contentious policy.
Here’s what Ben says about the policy and his campaign:
“I’ve been living in Camden Town for the past four years, but this special North London borough has been a key part of my life since I was fourteen. The first time I ever visited London on my own I headed straight for Camden Town – it’s a Mecca for music-lovers and young people the world over. I had an hour to kill before friends turned up so I got out my guitar and started playing – an innocent, creative and friendly act by a new kid in town. Thanks to the ludicrous new legislation put in place, if I did that now I’d be committing a criminal offence punishable by a £1000 fine and the seizure of my guitar, unless I’d first bought a license and waited twenty working days for a council panel to decide whether I was a ‘fit and proper person’ to busk!
“Over the past few months I have been baffled at how Camden Town’s local representatives could so casually strike at the freedom to perform and refuse to engage in reasonable dialogue with the busking community. Whilst I appreciate there are some residents who have been upset by buskers, this number is infinitesimally small in the scheme of things. 220,000 individuals live in Camden and last year there were just over 100 complaints. Based on a couple of phone calls a week – which may or may not be valid complaints – Camden Council have elected to criminalise busking and turn otherwise law-abiding musicians into pariahs.
“The fact of the matter is that if Camden Council wished to act against nuisance buskers they already have the legal powers to do so, without harming the vibrant street culture of Camden Town. Instead they have decided to put in place an incredibly harmful piece of blanket legislation that will only act as a tax on creativity and spontaneity. There seems to be an opinion in the council chamber – not shared by the hundreds of residents I’ve talked to on the street – that busking is nothing but a melodic nuisance on our streets, which doesn’t reflect the reality that most buskers are generous, community-minded individuals who want to enhance public spaces – their workplaces – rather than diminish them.
“I decided that Camden needs better councillors who are more in touch with what makes the area great, and who will act proportionately when there are problems. It is a sad day when local government manages to legislate against the right to play music in public freely, especially in one of the most famously musical boroughs in the land. At the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony a whole section of it was, correctly, devoted to our pride in Britain’s staggeringly diverse musical heritage.
“Licensing busking in this way would stem the flow of potential Lennons and McCartneys, Morriseys and Strummers, Bushes and Winehouses and all the other singers, guitarists, flautists, beatboxers and djembe players that want to enrich themselves and their communities. If you want to take a cold, dead- eyed financial look at the situation, licensing busking is potentially depriving future British superstars – revenue makers – from learning their trade in the finest workshop out there: the British High Street. So don’t confiscate our guitars, don’t muffle our horns and don’t unplug our amplifiers. Let buskers in Camden, and the nation over, continue to help the public walk down the high street with a little swing in their step and a bop in their legs.”
Jonny Walker, founding director of the Keep Streets Live Campaign is backing Ben’s campaign. He says:
“The campaign is fully behind Ben taking this stand and running to become a Camden Councillor. This heavy-handed new law will do great damage to Camden’s cultural and social well-being by turning street musicians into potential criminals. We don’t believe there is widespread popular support for a policy that will see police officers mobilised against buskers and seizing instruments by force in the streets.
“This divisive scheme risks undermining respect for the law and will set an incredibly damaging precedent for other towns and cities across the UK. Local authorities should support and nurture street culture, and work alongside both buskers and residents to design policies that build community and deal with issues in a constructive and positive manner. Our High Court challenge at the end of this month is an important opportunity to undo the damage that Camden’s hasty decision has caused. That’s why we need future elected representatives who will not make such a terrible mistake again”
More about Ben Van der Velde:
After graduating from Jesus College, Oxford with a degree in Modern History, Ben went on to study Acting at the Central School of Speech and Drama and, since graduating for a second time, has worked as an actor and stand-up comedian. He has performed for the West Yorkshire Playhouse and Gideon Reeling and at comedy clubs and festivals all over the country, including Bestival, Komedia and The Stand in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle. In addition to his performing, Ben has worked as a private tutor in English, History and Politics and a fundraiser for a variety of major charities. He currently has a radio version of his debut Edinburgh Festival show in development.
On November 11th 2013, Camden Council voted to put in the harshest policy against busking in the UK, against Green opposition.
Now if anyone wants to busk in the entire borough of Camden — they chose not to limit the license to the problem areas — they have to buy a license, wait 20 working days, and stand in front of a panel to be approved.
Billy Bragg, Bill Bailey, Mark Thomas and Jon Gomm joined in protests against the plans, and Green Councillor Maya De Souza spoke against the policy at the Council meeting in support of the buskers’ case against the new rules.