ASH has been told a lot recently – by people we know and by people we’ve never met – that ‘Now is not the time to be criticising the Labour Party!’ When is it ever in the eyes of Labour supporters? But the particular argument for not doing so now – as it is every time a general election is called – is that inspiring political call to arms: ‘At least we’re not the Tories!’ Now, at ASH we believe in doing our own thinking, whether about estate demolition or the political parties canvassing for residents’ votes; so let’s start by taking a look at this widely claimed difference between the Labour and Conservative parties. Here, in its own words, are the current aims and values of the Labour Party as laid out in Clause IV of the Labour Party Rule Book 2017:
1. The Labour Party is a democratic socialist Party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many not the few; where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe and where we live together freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.
2. To these ends we work for:
A. A Dynamic Economy serving the public interest, in which the enterprise of the market and the rigour of competition are joined with the forces of partnership and co-operation to produce the wealth the nation needs and the opportunity for all to work and prosper with a thriving private sector and high-quality public services where those undertakings essential to the common good are either owned by the public or accountable to them
B. A Just Society, which judges its strength by the condition of the weak as much as the strong, provides security against fear, and justice at work; which nurtures families, promotes equality of opportunity, and delivers people from the tyranny of poverty, prejudice and the abuse of power.
For those – whose numbers appear to be growing the closer we get to this election – who believe the Labour Party is in any way socialist, the key phrases here are ‘enterprise of the market’, ‘rigour of competition’, ‘thriving private sector’, ‘equality of opportunity’, ‘tyranny of poverty’, and ‘the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe’ – none of which would sound out of place in the Constitution of the Conservative Party. Perhaps not surprisingly, however, the only aims and values expressed in the Conservative Party’s Constitution is ‘to sustain and promote within the Nation the objects and values of the Conservative Party’. Now there’s a tautology worthy of the self-preservation society of the ruling class! But in 2006 David Cameron – perhaps trying to emulate his hero and model – laid out the ‘Aims and Values’ of the Conservative Party as follows:
1. Our Values: The more we trust people, the stronger they and society become. We’re all in this together – government, business, the voluntary sector, families and individuals. We have a shared responsibility for our shared future.
2. Our Aims: To improve the quality of life for everyone through:
A. A Dynamic Economy, where thriving businesses create jobs, wealth and opportunity.
B. A Strong Society, where our families, our communities and our nation create secure foundations on which people can build their lives.
Now, for those of us who can’t remember what Clause IV said before Tony Blair rewrote it in 1995, here’s the original wording from the 1918 Constitution, where it describes the aims of the Labour Party as:
4. To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.
5. Generally to promote the political, social and economic emancipation of the people, and more particularly of those who depend directly upon their own exertions by hand or by brain for the means of life.
While this does not by itself constitute a manifesto for socialism – and in any case no Labour government has come close to implementing its promises – the differences between these principals and the aims and values of the current Labour Party are fundamental – unlike the barely discernible difference between the current Labour and Conservative parties. While the original Clause IV sought to ‘secure the full fruits of industry’ the current one aims to ‘prosper in a thriving public sector’; while the former sought ‘equitable distribution’ the latter aims for ‘equality of opportunity’; ‘common ownership of the means of production’ has now become the ‘enterprise of the market’; ‘best possible administration’ has been replaced by the ‘rigour of competition’; ‘emancipation of the people’ has been reduced to being ‘accountable to the public’; ‘control of each industry’ is fobbed off for ‘justice at work’; and ‘those who depend directly upon their own exertions for the means of life’ are now dismissed as ‘the weak’.
And yet despite this fundamental difference, Jeremy Corbyn, in his 20 months as Leader of the Labour Party, even after having twice been elected by its membership with the largest majority of any Labour Party leader in history, has not changed one word of Clause IV describing the current aims and values of the Labour Party.
So where does that leave Labour’s housing policy? Well, one answer is this photograph, taken last December, showing Corbyn and his Minister for Housing, John Healey, standing with Lambeth Labour council’s then Cabinet Member for Housing Matthew Bennett, and giving his support to Homes for Lambeth, the special purpose vehicle that has been created to demolish and redevelop Lambeth’s council estates, and whose Chair is to be . . . Matthew Bennett (no conflict of interest there then). Homes for Lambeth, which is a commercial venture, had just signed a 5-year contract with construction management firm Airey Miller that requires the new housing developments to make a profit in order to cover their nearly £6.5 million fee. All of Lambeth Labour council’s previous promises to residents to build homes for social rent to replace the thousands of council flats the council are intent on demolishing will be subordinate to this profit margin. This includes not only Airey Miller, but every other private company with whom they enter into development contracts, including the every present Savills real estate firm, which is advising Labour councils across London on their estate demolition programme. This is what Labour councils mean when, in presenting their plans to residents, they refer to the exact percentage of social housing on the new developments being subject to ‘future viability assessments’.
It is to this commercial venture, which is being repeated across London by Labour councils demolishing hundreds of council estates, that Corbyn has given his full backing. This photograph, therefore, is not an anomaly, not a photo opportunity gone wrong, and not yet another example of Corbyn being badly advised by the incompetents he has gathered around him; it is the true and accurate image of the values and aims of the current Labour Party. Corbyn himself made this clear at the Labour Party Conference that was held on 28 September 2016, 3 months before this photograph was taken, and only four days after being re-elected Party Leader with an even higher percentage of the vote:
Across the country, Labour councils are putting Labour values into action in a way that makes a real difference to millions of people, despite cynical government funding cuts that have hit Labour councils five times as hard as Tory-run areas. It is a proud Labour record, and each and every Labour councillor deserves our heartfelt thanks for the work they do.
Of course, more recently, in the course of campaigning towards the general election, Corbyn announced that if elected to power a Labour government will ‘build a million homes over the period of a parliament, half of which will be council and housing association for rent, and be totally affordable.’ In fact he said roughly the same thing at the Labour Party conference, and in the 10-Point Manifesto he published the previous August, where he additionally promised ‘to increase access to affordable home ownership’. Unfortunately, nowhere has Corbyn said whether these million new-build homes would be ‘totally affordable’ like the ‘genuinely affordable’ homes London Mayor Sadiq Khan has made an acceptable replacement for the homes for social rent demolished by estate demolition schemes – and which includes, under its definition, homes for shared ownership and incentives to get middle-income, first-time buyers on the housing ladder – or ‘totally affordable’ like the ‘affordable’ properties for sale or rent at up to 80 per cent of market rate Southwark Labour council is building across the borough in place of the demolished homes for social rent they have promised.
Despite our best efforts to speak with Corbyn about his housing policy on estate demolition, the Labour leader has refused to answer our questions about exactly where a Labour government will build these one million ‘totally affordable’ homes. But given the extent and range of the Labour council-led estate demolition programme to which he has given his unconditional support, the only possible place a million new homes are likely to be built by a Labour government is on the public land being cleared of estates by Labour councils – either for privatisation by special purpose vehicles like Homes for Lambeth and Croydon council’s Brick by Brick, or simply sold off, as council estate land is in Southwark, Lewisham, Greenwich, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Waltham Forest, Barking & Dagenham, Hackney, Haringey, Enfield, Camden, Islington, Hammersmith & Fulham, Brent, Ealing and Merton to developers like Lendlease, Native Land, Galliard, Grosvenor, Knight Dragon and Capco, to builders like Taylor Wimpey, Berkeley, Barratt, Persimmon, Redrow and Higgins, or to housing associations like Notting Hill Housing, Clarion Housing, Family Mosaic, Peabody, the Hyde Group, London & Quadrant and the Guinness Partnership.
But then why – in the highly unlikely event Corbyn is elected Prime Minister – wouldn’t he build 50 per cent private properties and 50 per cent ‘totally affordable’ housing on such privatised land (subject to future viability assessments by Savills)? This is the ‘enterprise of the market’ in action, the ‘rigour of competition’ deciding who wins a contract, the ‘equality of opportunity’ between private companies turning a profit. These are the ‘aims and values’ of the Labour Party laid out in its constitution this year as it enters the general election.
However, in addition to a Dynamic Economy whose beneficiaries still, after the 2008 financial crash, try to tell us that the ‘nation’ owns the wealth of capitalists, and a Just Society that attributes poverty to ‘tyranny’ rather than the systemic inequality produced by capitalism, Clause IV of the current Labour Party also has two further aims:
C. An Open Democracy, in which government is held to account by the people, decisions are taken as far as practicable by the communities they affect, and where fundamental human rights are respected.
D. A Healthy Environment, which we protect, enhance and hold in trust for future generations.
On both Cressingham Gardens and Central Hill estates, the first two of the six estates threatened by Lambeth Labour council to be given their demolition notices, 80 per cent of the more than 2,000 residents voted against the demolition of their homes. While on the Aylesbury estate, where 73 per cent of residents voted against demolition, even the Conservative government’s inspector found that the compulsory purchase order issued by Southwark Labour council on the homes of leaseholders was in violation of their human rights. As for a ‘healthy environment’, a report by Model Environments commissioned by ASH has shown that the environmental cost of demolishing Central Hill estate equates to the annual emissions of over 4,000 Lambeth residents, heating 600 detached homes for a year using electric heating, or the emissions savings made by the London Labour Mayor’s RE:NEW retrofitting scheme in a year and a quarter. That’s for just one of the hundreds of council estates under threat of demolition, privatisation and social cleansing by Labour councils, and whose loss for ‘future generations’ will be irreversible within our current legal system. It’s not by Corbyn’s heartfelt speeches to the assembled masses, but by its community-destroying estate demolition programme, that the Labour Party’s promise to create an Open Democracy should be judged.
We will, nonetheless, uphold our end of the aims and values of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, and hold it to account for its record in local government, from which its policy on housing is explictly taken. As the interim Housing Minister, Teresa Pearce, gushed at the same Labour Party conference at which Corbyn offered Labour councils his heartfelt thanks:
I want to say to Labour councillors up and down the country: thank you. In Labour-run councils you are making a difference, and I am proud of the ingenuity you have shown in the face of difficult choices, finding new solutions, demonstrating just what Labour can do in power. Our Councils are a vital source of Labour representation, and an increasing inspiration on policy. Innovating, forward looking, credible policy: that is Labour in power in local government.
Pearce and Corbyn aren’t alone in their effusive thanks to the inspiration of Labour councils for Labour housing policy. This April, in what is effectively the Labour Party’s manifesto on housing going into this election, John Healey, the current Shadow Minister of State for Housing, published a report titled Local Housing Innovations: The Best of Labour in Power, in which he writes in the introduction:
Labour in local government isn’t just a source of representation, it’s a demonstration of Labour priorities to meet housing need, support mixed communities and give working people the chance to fulfil their aspiration of home ownership. And as this report shows, when Labour is in power it is often also a cradle of fresh ideas and innovative policies. In housing and planning Labour councils are applying our established values locally in new and inspirational ways. I hope that it will be a useful reminder to Labour members and supporters of the good we can do in government and a source of inspiration to colleagues in councils and across the wider housing sector. These are ideas that can change lives, and show the difference Labour in power can make.
We agree. We believe them. And we will remember. In the 20 months since the Labour Party elected its new leader not one of the politicians with a say in Labour’s housing policy – not Jeremy Corbyn, not John McDonnell, not John Healey, not Sadiq Khan, not James Murray – and not a single Labour MP whose constituents are threatened by Labour councils, has said one word against what Labour in power in local government is doing to the tens of thousands of homes of Londoners being socially cleansed by Labour’s estate demolition programme. And on 8 June 2017 the Labour Party will be held accountable for that silence at the ballot box.
But what of the final – and most desperate – plea of the Labour Party, which we are repeatedly told in increasingly shrill tones, that: ‘A vote for anyone but Labour is a vote for the Tories!’ Now, if that were the case, and Labour really were intent on saving the country from yet another Conservative government – which has much to be said for it as a national strategy – why then has it not formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party to ensure that the parliamentary candidate with the best chance of defeating the Conservative candidate is backed by all parties? The Labour Party needs a swing of 8.7 per cent, equivalent to a national poll lead of 11 per cent or three million votes, to win a majority of just one. Whatever the polls say – and the latest have the Tories on a lead of around 18 per cent, with a huge majority of around 174 seats – they have never been this wrong, and never in favour of Labour. The only chance the Labour Party has of defeating the Conservative Party is through a progressive alliance.
Instead, Labour are unrelentingly attacking anyone who threatens their place not only as the leading but even as the second- or third-placed party for a parliamentary seat. In Vauxhall, the Labour leaflet devotes an entire side to attacking the Liberal Democrats, while conveniently failing to mention that the Labour candidate, Kate Hoey, campaigned with Nigel Farage in support of Brexit, oversaw the disastrous redevelopment of the Myatt’s Field North estate, and in a Stalinist re-writing of history her office has even stooped to airbrushing housing journalist George Turner, the Liberal Democrat candidate, out of previous photographs of the two of them. In Bermondsey and Old Southwark the Labour incumbent, Neil Coyle, who presided over the social cleansing of 3,000 residents from the Heygate estate, has stooped to calling the Metropolitan Police on his Liberal Democrat opponent, Simon Hughes. While in South West Surrey the Labour Party has actually expelled two of its own members, one a party secretary, who tried to form a progressive alliance with the Green Party and Liberal Democrats to unite behind an NHS doctor standing against the NHS-destroying Conservative candidate Jeremy Hunt.
The only conclusion to be drawn from this that we can see is that Labour doesn’t give a damn about unseating the Tories – whom they know they haven’t got a chance of defeating in this general election – unless it’s to the benefit of their own party; and that they are only interested – as the Labour Party always has been – in retaining as many of its rapidly dwindling number of seats in Parliament as possible. We’ll judge the Labour Party on its record in opposition and its actions in this election, not on what its Manifesto will promise (which has added nothing to what Labour has already said about its housing policy, and which you can read our comments on here).
It goes without saying that ASH would never recommend anyone at any time voting for a Conservative candidate for anything; but it’s vitally important that the estate demolition programmes of both Labour and Conservative councils are denounced and challenged by an MP from a different party to the one they represent. In Lambeth alone, Labour MPs Helen Hayes and Chuka Umunna have stood by silently and obediently as the Labour council has pursued a policy of demolition and social cleansing on Myatt’s Field North, Cressingham Gardens, Central Hill, Knight’s Walk, Fenwick, South Lambeth and Westbury estates. The same applies to Labour MPs Neil Coyle and Harriet Harman who have overseen the demolition of the Heygate and Aylesbury estates in Southwark; Dianne Abbott and Meg Hillier in Hackney, where the Woodberry Down, King’s Crescent, Nightingale, Marian Court and Colville estates are being socially cleansed under the cloak of regeneration; Steve Cowan in Hammersmith and Fulham, where the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates are threatened with demolition; David Lammy in Haringey, where the Broadwater Farm, Northumberland Park and Love Lane estates are to be demolished; Matthew Pennycook in Greenwich, where the Labour council demolished the Ferrier estate and evicted the entire community; Jim Fitzpatrick in Tower Hamlets, which is socially cleansing Balfron Tower and demolishing the Aberfeldy, Teviot and Brownfield estates; Vicky Foxcroft in Lewisham, where the Achilles estate is threatened with demolition; Keir Starmer in Camden, where a slew of estates have been or are threatened with social demolition and social cleansing; and, of course, Jeremy Corbyn in Islington. Despite many requests for us to do so, ASH is not here to tell people how to vote; but we strongly recommend that people affected by London’s estate demolition programme attend as many hustings as possible, and interrogate these and other parliamentary candidates – Labour and Conservative alike – on their record of opposing estate demolition, privatisation and social cleansing.
One of the things we hear most often said by residents as they look at the stoney faces of Labour councillors announcing the demolition of their homes, or at the cowardice of Labour MPs who stand by and ignore their appeals to oppose the decision, or at the collusion of Labour mayors with the private companies redeveloping our homes into investment opportunities for the rich – is that they cannot believe their arrogance, their dismissiveness, their cynicism and their corruption. Well, the reason they are so arrogant, so dismissive, so cynical and so corrupt is that every time an election comes around – whether a general election, mayoral election or for the local council – Labour drags out its time-honoured call to arms: ‘At least we’re not the Tories!’ And once again, against all the evidence, just as they did last time and the time before that, residents whose estates are being demolished, privatised and socially cleansed by the Labour Party vote them back into office.
This has got to stop. Far from this being ‘not the time to be criticising the Labour Party’, now is precisely the time to hold all Labour politicians to account for their blind party loyalty at the expense of the constituents they now expect to vote for them. Watch the videos in this post, listen to the voices of the residents, look at the faces of the Labour politicians, read what their housing policies say. A vote for Labour is a vote for estate demolition.
Architects for Social Housing