A version of this article by long-time ASH member Lolly Oii was first published in the new release of Class War, the most dangerous tabloid in Britain and the only paper that speaks to the working class about working-class struggle. We liked it so much we asked the author if we could publish it on the ASH blog and she said yes. This is one of the best summaries we’ve read about estate demolition, what it’s doing to our communities and who is responsible.
Well, where do we begin to untangle this clusterfuck of an issue? Yes, we know there’s a lot to blame Maggie for – introducing the ‘right to buy’ and blocking any cash generated by sales from being used to build new homes; but under carefully hidden layers there’s a lot more blame that actually falls directly at Labour’s feet. In 1997 Tony Blair and his asset-stripping cartel quietly started dismantling council housing using a two-part mechanism that was carried on by Gordon Brown and is continued to this day by Labour-run town halls.
A few hours after winning the 1997 election, Blair turned up at the Heygate Estate near Elephant and Castle to make his inaugural speech (packed full of lies) promising to help the so-called ‘forgotten people’ living on council estates. The only people Blair actually helped were the banks, property developers, housing associations and Oxbridge graduates who dominate council-estate and housing-trust management and policy papers. This privileged elite have asset-stripped our council housing and displaced the working class while making obscene personal fortunes in the process.
On 15 April, 2011, the lies of Blair’s inaugural speech unravel as the demolition of the Heygate Estate gets started. 1,212 council homes are destroyed, including those of 189 short-changed leaseholders, scattering a working-class community of over 3,000 to the four winds. Southwark Labour council’s leader, Peter John, sold the 25-acre estate to the notorious global property developers Lendlease for a paltry £50 million. It cost Southwark council £51.44m just to get rid of residents and demolish the buildings! Lendlease will generously be providing a total of 79 homes for social rent. Meanwhile, we suspect the total number of private homes built on the ruins of the Heygate will be quietly nudged up from the currently stated figure of 2,535 to create bigger profits.
So much for Blair’s ‘forgotten people’ speech. What happened at the Heygate was the mass social cleansing of a working-class community by a Labour council. This is being repeated all over London and beyond: handing over publicly-owned land and building homes for the rich to create huge profits for offshore property speculators, the middle class and the wealthy.
Labour’s Two-part Mechanism
Part One: A multi-billion-pound property giveaway
A council will deliberately withhold repairs and maintenance on an estate – called ‘managed decline’ – to create a reason to push through the ‘stock transfer’ of that estate to a housing association or trust, without any caveats safeguarding tenants or publicly owned land. These housing associations have successfully lobbied the government to let them morph into hardcore predatory property developers, demolishing estates and displacing communities to rebuild mainly private housing, while reducing the level of social housing in the new developments. And it’s much easier for a housing trust to evict tenants than it is for a council.
Part Two: Regeneration
Again, a council practices ‘managed decline’ and then promises residents it will replace the run-down estate with much better shiny new homes. But these new developments built on council ruins consist mainly of private and unaffordable housing. The paltry token amount of social housing will be badly built and shoe box-sized, and comes with further problems, such as the loss of a secure lifetime tenancy, rent increases of over 35 per cent, much higher (uncapped) service charges and, thanks to locked-in contracts with suppliers, expensive energy bills. These conditions have driven those few tenants who actually manage to return to their estate after regeneration deeper into debt.
Regeneration is Social Cleansing
London’s inter-generational working-class communities and small businesses – be they white, black, brown or other – are being eviscerated to build homes for the rich and retail units for corporations. And what has been going on in London is spreading across the UK. Don’t be fooled by councils’ ‘regeneration’ promises (they’re a pack of lies). Don’t believe the offers of more homes (they’ll be unaffordable) and jobs (on minimum wage and zero-hour contracts). Never forget that ‘regeneration’ is totally ring fenced upwards to benefit the banks, developers, elites, estate agents and the middle classes.
Let’s debunk these lies spouted by council regeneration officers. As Architects for Social Housing have demonstrated with their design alternatives to demolition, it’s actually much cheaper to refurbish existing homes and build additional ‘infill’ housing. And on a social level good housing improves people’s well being, creates less damage to the environment than demolition, and allows councils to retain their assets for future generations as well as generating additional revenue. Preserving existing communities is imperative. This means that developers need to be ‘educated’ by us – by any means necessary – to fit in around us, as opposed to being enabled by councils to displace working-class communities hundreds of miles away from our neighbourhoods, only to then slap crappy light-blocking towers of concrete and glass with badly built, overpriced shoe-box flats as and where they fancy. Who the hell needs or wants ‘Poor Doors’ and the social apartheid that comes with them? Don’t forget that many MPs are private landlords – and they won’t act against their vested interests in increasing the housing crisis with this multi-billion pound, council-home destroying, asset stripping Ponzi scheme who’s name is ‘regeneration’.
Now here’s the thing. When property developers – many of whom are also offshore tax-dodgers – build private luxury homes on the ruins of council estates, they get government subsidies and incentives. And the rich and middle class who buy these properties also get government support through the ‘help to buy’ scheme. Yet it’s the same two groups who look down their noses and sneer at us living in council housing as if we’re ‘scroungers’ living in ‘subsidised’ housing. The reality is exactly the opposite!
From Hackney to Haringey and Lambeth to Croydon, in London it’s Labour-run councils that are proving to be the most enthusiastic social cleansers. In September 2016 help for estate residents came from an unexpected quarter when the Tory Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, refused to allow Southwark Labour Council’s compulsory purchase orders that would pave the way for the demolition of 2,400 homes on the Aylesbury estate. And guess what? Southwark Labour council chose to challenge Javid’s decision in the High Court, paying its legal fees with the council tax of Southwark residents. The case was due to be heard on 9 May, but on 28 April Javid, a former Board Member of Deutsche Bank International with an annual salary of £3 million, quietly dropped his objections.
Labour is Lying
Where the fuck is Saint Corbyn of Corduroy in all of this? If you think the Labour leader will save you, you’re in for a bitter surprise. Jeremy Corbyn has remained totally silent on the subject of estate demolition, refusing to support or engage with London’s estate communities. Worse still, he has openly supported and posed for photos with London Labour councils’ villainous Cabinet Members for Regeneration, who in reality are lackeys for developers neatly embedded within council departments.
You might have been fooled into thinking there’d be a little help from the Labour Mayor of London, a former human rights lawyer whose dad was a bus driver and who boasts about growing up in a council home to get votes. But unbeknown to the general public, Sadiq Khan’s housing policies have been written by elite think-tank the Institute of Public Policy Research and toff estate agents Savills – both of who have called for the demolition of every council estate in London. In the run-up to his election in May 2016, Khan made repeated promises to ‘fix the housing crisis’, while his campaign was quietly being bankrolled to the tune of £92,000 by property developers and private slumlords. He promised estate communities that estate regeneration would only take place with resident support demonstrated by full and transparent consultation, and that demolition could only then go ahead if it did not result in a net loss of social housing or where all other options have been exhausted, with full rights to return for displaced tenants and a fair deal for leaseholders. But he was offering false hope. Fast-forward to December 2016, when the Mayor released his Draft Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration, and hey presto! – the promises are nowhere to be seen.
Khan’s actions since taking office clearly demonstrate that he will not defend working-class Londoners’ homes from demolition; or thousands of working-class workplaces and businesses built from nothing (like Eric & Leigh Miller at Gallions Point Marina at the Albert Dock in Newham); or the thousands of highly productive skilled trades and small businesses located in London’s railway arches (like those evicted in Hackney for a pretentious empty Fashion Hub paid for by riot funding money); or Brixton Arches traders fighting eviction by Lambeth Labour council for regeneration by Network Rail, which is shoving small independent businesses out and moving corporate businesses in; or the Black Cab Drivers directly under threat by the non tax-paying Uber Corporation and the City Of London. Khan – or, as many Londoner’s now call him because of the devastation he’s creating, Khanage – is in cahoots with big business, banks and developers.
Austerity is Class War
At the same time that they’re trying to knock our estates down, we’re faced with reforms in the name of ‘austerity’ and multilayered lies spouted by the Tory government – lies that are then parroted and joyfully executed by Labour MPs, mayors and councillors, and reinforced by TV and national and local press mainly owned by five tax-dodging media barons. The purpose is to brainwash, distract and divide the nation by laying the blame on the poorest in this country while keeping the heat off the guilty who actually created this entire toxic situation – the politicians, who’ve got off scott-free, and who continue to steal and carpetbag our homes, money, NHS, etc, for their mates in the banks and private corporations.
In April 2017 a new wave of deliberately cruel welfare legislation came into force. It abolished housing benefit for 18-21 year-olds, limited child-tax credits to two children, slashed bereavement allowance, scrapped the ‘eldest child premium’, reduced Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) payments for claimants in the work-related activity group, requires women who have conceived a child due to rape to fill in an eight-page ‘rape assessment’ form to stop their tax credits being withdrawn, and rolled out the disastrous Universal Credit. What we are witnessing is an active joint-enterprise class war from the Tory and Labour elites designed to push the working class out of London by removing estate homes and destroying our work spaces. If it’s not stopped, this active joint enterprise between the Tory and Labour elites to push the working class out of London by demolishing our council homes and work spaces will leave us deeper in debt and trapped in minimum-wage, zero-hour contract jobs, effectively making the working class modern-day slaves to banks, rent and corporations.
There is zero political opposition ready to right any of the eight years of heinous wrongs unleashed on us in the wake of the financial crash of 2008, including the state-backed mass euthanasia of the disabled, poor and vulnerable. The removal of legal aid now allows the powerful to screw us even harder with impunity. So fuck the Tories! And fuck fucking Labour too! Both are elites with their snouts buried so deep in the trough of the lucrative public gravy train that they’ll lie, maim, destroy and kill to keep hold of the power and financial privileges that come with being in public office.
Remember, there’s only a year to go till the next round of local elections. A great time to kick the political elite’s arses – and have some fun! Did you know there is only one Labour-run council in the entire UK that has not imposed cuts to local services? It’s in Scotland, where Labour only have one MP left. Ayrshire Labour Council has been forced to ring-fence services, cut councillors’ vanity projects and focus instead on doing right by the people of Ayrshire.
All this is very different from those parts of the UK where Labour dominate local and other regional councils and treat working-class constituents with total disdain, imposing barbaric cuts and then having the barefaced cheek to swan off in packs to swanky property fairs – like MIPIM in Cannes or the London Real Estate Forum in Berkeley Square – and shameless town-hall champagne jollies at our expense, where they sell off council estates, parks, libraries, schools, community spaces and our future generations’ community assets to international, tax-dodging, speculating, property developers. Oh yeah, and don’t forget the billions that councils waste on vanity projects fawning and pandering to the middle class, while the most vulnerable in our communities are denied essential services to pay for this rubbish.
Just imagine if people in London and other Labour strongholds started to organise strategically and rebel constructively against the party’s tyrannical cuts to public services, asset-stripping, gross malfeasance, and the social cleansing being inflicted on working-class communities by London’s Labour-dominated town halls. It’s time to remind these council members and mayors what they are: public servants. Time to make them sweat. Time to make them nervous. Time to get the piss-taking Oxbridge and PPE elite piss-taking toffs that have taken over our fucking town halls sacked and give them a good long taste of our reality: zero-hours contract jobs on minimum wage or off to the job centre for a life on unemployment benefit and state-backed DWP abuse!
There’s a long, hot summer coming. So get off the sofa, switch off the lobotomising TV propaganda and get out on the street. If you’re going to a housing demo – or any demo – make sure you bring your own personal placard or banner with what you want to say. Do not, under any circumstances, accept or hold any placards branded by the Socialist Workers Party, Defend Council Housing, Axe the Housing Act, Radical Housing Network, Momentum, Radical Assembly, Unite the Union or any other Labour-affiliated organisation. There are lots of dodgy predatory political distraction merchants out there, and they’re part of the reason we’ve seen no real change in politics over the past 35 years, only growing inequality.
Remember, if you live on a council estate the rich and the middle class want you out of your home so they can demolish it and piss all over your manor. So keep an eye out for the tell-tale signs. It always starts with an invasion of hipsters and artists, overpriced craft beer and poncey coffee shops. Then your local market is destroyed and replaced with some bullshit ‘farmer’s market’. These moves are usually funded by the council to serve their gentrifying agenda. And before you know it – hey presto! Your estate is up for ‘regeneration’. Ain’t nothing wrong with change, but not if it excludes the local community. Fight for what’s yours by any means necessary – and do not allow yourselves to be excluded from your own neighbourhood!
Get angry. Don’t be afraid to find your voice and shout and curse the Tory government, bent Labour councils and politicians. Get out there and make some noise, have a laugh and take the piss out of them. For too long the political elite, mayors and town hall dictators have been laughing at us and robbing us blind in the process. The only way out of this political sea of shit and the ongoing daily misery is to do things ourselves. The only way forward is class solidarity, mutual aid and self-determination.
Architects for Social Housing