Sunday’s demonstration, which was organised by the Kill the Housing Bill campaign, began in Lincoln’s Inn Fields – as was reported in the Evening Standard – with Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, telling us she is opposed to the Housing Bill, and ended outside Parliament – as reported in the Independent – with James Murray, Labour Islington Council’s Member for Housing, telling us the same. An A-B march, was the media’s message, by an inarticulate rabble, with a Labour Party spokesperson at each end, there to tell us what it was all about.
As anyone involved in the fight to save London’s council housing knows, the boroughs at the forefront of the social cleansing of our city over the last fifteen years are Labour boroughs. Our main opponent in this fight is not the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill, which is yet to evict a single council resident, but the regeneration programmes implemented by the Labour Councils of Southwark, Lambeth, Lewisham, Greenwich, Newham, Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Haringey, Camden, Islington and Hammersmith & Fulham. A recent estimate is that between 2000-2015, no less than 113 housing estates have been, or are currently undergoing, regeneration in London, with the loss of 47,000 council homes. The vast bulk of these have been implemented by Labour Councils against their own residents. It’s unclear, therefore, in what way the Labour Party can claim to be opposed to the Housing and Planning Bill, whose attack on social housing is a continuation of its own ruthlessly pursued policy of demolishing London’s council estates.
In his Manifesto For All Londoners published this week, Sadiq Khan, the Labour candidate for London mayor, declared his commitment to the Tory project of building 50,000 new homes a year in London on what he variously calls ‘other public sector land’ and ‘brownfield land’, on which he promises to build what he calls – in an attempt to distinguish it from the Government’s definition of ‘affordable homes’ as 80 percent of market rate – ‘genuinely affordable housing.’ These promises, for which Sadiq Khan provides no definition of either what constitutes ‘genuinely affordable’ or where this miraculously undeveloped land is to be found, do not differ in any way from those made by his opponent, Zac Goldsmith, who has committed to building the same number of homes on what, unlike Sadiq Khan, he does not shy away from identifying as the newly recategorised ‘brownfield land’ on which existing housing estates are built.
Not only is Sadiq Khan’s Manifesto in complete accord, therefore, with the philosophy and legislation in the Housing and Planning Bill, but it even appears to rely on its planning legislation to ‘unlock’ the land, as the legislation puts it, necessary to implement its building programme. Such large numbers of new homes will not be built on the piecemeal land made available by the enforced sale of council homes under the new legislation in the Housing and Planning Bill, but on the land freed up by what will be mass regeneration programmes, implemented by Labour Councils, to demolish London’s council housing. As laid out in the Manifesto, the conditions under which these estate regeneration schemes are to be implemented – community consultation and support, the exhaustion of all other options, and a ‘fair deal’ for existing residents – are indistinguishable from those we’ve already heard in the mouths of Labour councillors and Tory ministers alike, and will do nothing to contain, mediate or halt this increase in the demolition of London’s council housing. This is hardy surprising, given that both Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith are being advised on housing policy by estate agents Savills, who in a report to Cabinet published this January recommended demolishing the council homes of over 400,000 Londoners.
Despite these building plans, and the regeneration schemes that will clear the way for them currently being implemented across London, at the conclusion of yesterday’s march we were read a text by Jeremy Corbyn in which the Leader of the Opposition urged us to place our trust in the Labour Party, to cast our votes for the Labour Party, and promised that, once elected to the Government of this country, the Labour Party will build the homes we need. However, from Diane Abbott and Sadiq Khan to John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn, what we haven’t heard from the Labour Party, either on yesterday’s demonstration or at any other time, is a demand or commitment to stop the social cleansing of London’s communities that is taking place now through the Labour housing policy of estate regeneration, and to which the Tory Housing and Planning Bill is a continuation and extension designed to clear council estates of their residents preparatory to their redevelopment.
All of which raises the following questions:
– Why has the Labour Party, from the leadership down to councillors and rank-and-file party members, taken such pains to declare their opposition to this Bill, to the extent that Lambeth Labour, who currently have plans to demolish six council estates, this week used a photograph of the Cressingham Gardens campaign to save one of those estates in their own newly-launched campaign to ‘Fight the Housing Bill’?
– Why has the Labour Party, through its support for the Kill the Housing Bill campaign, taken such great care that the reports on the demonstration in today’s press and media have been dominated almost exclusively by Labour spokespersons?
– Why have the loud criticisms of the Labour Party by the residents of estates being demolished by Labour Council regeneration schemes found, to my knowledge, not a single mention in the same media and press reports?
From the beginning of this campaign we argued that calling it ‘Kill the Housing Bill’ was a mistake, since the focus on Pay to Stay, the enforced sale of High Value council housing, the end of Secure Tenancies and the extension of Right to Buy, all of which have dominated the debate on this Bill, ignored its planning component. It seemed at the time that this was partially due to the greater difficulty in understanding and summarising the Bill’s legislation on Planning Permission in Principle, which has been put forward specifically in order to by-pass existing planning practice and requirements, and redevelop the land on which London’s housing estate communities live.
It appears now, however, that this aspect of the Housing and Planning Bill was deliberately omitted from the Kill the Housing Bill campaign precisely because the building plans of the Labour Party to which Jeremy Corbyn has alluded, which Sadiq Khan’s Manifesto outlines, and which have been test-run by Labour Councils across London through their estate demolition programmes, are in accord with the Bill’s planning legislation, and even, in the event of Sadiq Khan’s election, will rely on it to be implemented. It’s clear now, in any case, that Kill the Housing Bill is a Labour Party-orchestrated campaign that has been designed to do two things:
1) To shift the debate about the Housing and Planning Bill away from the actual implementation of its legislation in London through Labour Council-led estate demolition and a Mayoral building programme of high-value housing on Local Authority land;
2) To nullify and appease the anger and opposition from council residents and traditional Labour voters who are being evicted from their homes by Labour Council-implemented regeneration schemes, and derail their efforts to organise resistance to them.
Sunday’s demonstration was supposed to clarify and publicise the message of the campaign against the Housing and Planning Bill in response to the silence and half truths in the mainstream media. But in the light of the orchestration and branding of yesterday’s protest and the resulting domination of today’s press reports by the Labour Party to the exclusion of every other voice, including that of its organisers, the Kill the Housing Bill campaign revealed itself this weekend for what it is – not part of the solution to the housing crisis threatening the homes and lives of hundreds of thousands of Londoners, but part of the problem.
Truth, someone once said, is the first casualty of war. To restore the truth about the class war being fought through London’s housing to the strength we need to win it, the first step to recovery is to stop asking the people and institutions that are trying to destroy our homes to provide us with the means to stop them doing so. That means not only this Conservative Government but also the Labour Opposition. Fortunately, through years of fighting the propaganda, lies and bullying of Labour Councils, the residents of the council estates threatened by the Housing and Planning Bill know who and what to trust. With their knowledge and support, and that of other groups not hoodwinked by yesterday’s public relations stunt by the Labour Party, we will continue to initiate our own campaigns against the attacks on London’s council housing and the communities it houses. Please join us.
– Architects for Social Housing