Figs from Thistles: Labour’s Grenfell Opportunism

‘Never again will we allow this to happen. But what has been so despicable about this, is that this has happened in the richest borough, in the fifth richest country in the world, where we have a government and a local council more interested in saving money than saving lives. If there is anything we can do in terms of the Labour Party, let’s make it absolutely clear: we will stand up against austerity when we go into government, we will end it. But above all else you know why this was caused, because of the crisis in housing, and particularly in this capital city. When we go into power, let me give this commitment. Above all else, we will house people. We’ve said we’ll build a million new homes, and half of them we’ll be proud to call council homes again. The memorial to the 72 will be the generation after generation that comes, that will be housed decently in our capital city.’

– John McDonnell, Labour Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer,
speaking at the Justice for Grenfell Solidarity March (16 June, 2018)

Where to begin with this?

1. The technical conditions that led to the Grenfell Tower fire are in place across the city and country, where similar cladding systems are currently in place on around 300 council-owned blocks and 500 privately-owned blocks a year after the fire. So far from never allowing this fire to happen again, it is waiting to happen right now.

2. The austerity fiscal policies of the Conservative government have almost nothing to do with the technical, managerial or politicial reasons why this fire happened, and to say otherwise can only conceal what those reasons are.

3. A Labour politician isolating the fire to the actions of a single – conveniently Conservative – council ignores the fact that the same privatised managerial structures with the same unaccountability to residents and resistance to public scrutiny are not only already in place all over this city in boroughs run by Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat councils, but are being replicated by those same councils through the estate regeneration programme that is privatising their council stock, transferring it to housing associations, subjecting it to cosmetic refurbishment schemes, or simply demolishing it and replacing it with high-cost, low-quality housing. In numerous examples across London, from Oval Quarter in Brixton to Orchard Village in Rainham, Solomon’s Passage in Peckham to Portobello Square in Notting Hill, residents of these new developments are complaining about the same threats to their safety as those the residents of Grenfell Tower complained about, and like them are being ignored by the private management organisations to which the councils are handing over its housing stock.

4. Calling new developments ‘council homes’ does not define their cost, tenure or management. The Labour Party’s manifesto on housing promises that half of its promised one-million homes will be ‘housing association and council homes’ – not just council homes – and that these will be for ‘genuinely affordable rent and sale.’ ‘Council homes’, therefore, includes all the myriad definitions of affordable housing – including homes for social rent (but rarely and in tiny numbers), London affordable rent at roughly 1.5 times social rent, London Living Rent at 1/3 of median household income in the borough (roughly double social rent), and shared ownership homes selling for around £650,000 in Inner London, plus all the other categories like tenancy strategy rent (around double social rent) and target rent (for which I still haven’t found a fixed definition). Labour’s Green Paper on housing indicates just how large a role it anticipates housing associations playing in fulfilling a Labour government’s housing quotas, and with every merger – whether it’s Circle with Affinity Sutton (125,000 dwellings), or London & Quadrant with East Thames (90,000 dwellings), or Notting Hill with Genesis (64,000 homes), or Peabody with Family Mosaic (55,000 dwellings), or Amicus Horizon with Viridian (44,000 dwellings) – it becomes more apparent that housing associations are beginning to exert as large a monopoly over the provision of social housing in England as builders like Berkeley, Persimmon, Barratt and Taylor Wimpey currently exert over the provision of private housing. Calling the three-quarters-of-a-million pound properties housing associations are currently building in London on Labour council-implemented estate regeneration schemes ‘council housing’ – proudly or not – won’t make them any more affordable, either to rent or to buy, for the council residents evicted to build them.

5. ‘Decently’ housing future generations in London means maintaining and refurbishing the council estates the current generation lives in, not stock transferring them en masse to housing associations, not demolishing them and replacing them with unaffordable properties for capital investment, buy-to-let landlords and wealthy home owners, and not privatising them through Private Finance Initiatives or Special Purpose Vehicles that will subcontract out their maintenance and management to exactly the same private contractors responsible for the Grenfell Tower fire.

6. If we are to ensure that ‘never again will we allow this to happen’, we need to start by seeing clearly through the lies not only of the successive Conservative and Labour governments that told us that privatising and deregulating the process through which compliance with building regulations is approved would make us safer, but also the lies of current Labour party politicians like John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn, Sadiq Khan, David Lammy, Emma Dent Coad and all the others who are trying to make political capital out of this disaster at the expense of the truth about its causes, and in doing so concealing the threat this truth continues to hold for residents of social housing under Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat local authorities.

7. There is very little practical difference between the housing policies of the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour Parties, and McDonnell’s promises of what a Labour government will do are backed up neither by the present policies of Labour-run councils and the Labour-run Greater London Authority, nor by the housing policies of the Labour Opposition under Jeremy Corbyn.

8. ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravening wolves. By their fruit will you recognise them. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?’

– Matthew, 7:15-16

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

London’s Local Elections 2018: The Consequences of Voting

Paris, May 1968

Now the shouting’s stopped and the insults have settled, here’s the damage in London from the Local Elections 2018:

  • Barking & Dagenham: Labour hold
  • Barnet: Conservative gain
  • Bexley: Conservative hold
  • Brent: Labour hold
  • Bromley: Conservative hold
  • Camden: Labour hold
  • Croydon: Labour hold
  • Ealing: Labour hold
  • Enfield: Labour hold
  • Greenwich: Labour hold
  • Hackney: Labour hold
  • Hammersmith & Fulham: Labour hold
  • Haringey: Labour hold
  • Harrow: Labour hold
  • Havering: No overall control
  • Hillingdon: Conservative hold
  • Hounslow: Labour hold
  • Islington: Labour hold
  • Kensington & Chelsea: Conservative hold
  • Kingston-upon-Thames: Liberal Democrat gain
  • Lambeth: Labour hold
  • Lewisham: Labour hold
  • Newham: Labour hold
  • Merton: Labour hold
  • Redbridge: Labour hold
  • Richmond-upon-Thames: Liberal Democrat gain
  • Southwark: Labour hold
  • Sutton: Liberal Democrat hold
  • Tower Hamlets: Labour gain
  • Waltham Forest: Labour hold
  • Wandsworth: Conservative hold
  • Westminster: Conservative hold

All of which means Labour now runs 21 London boroughs, an increase of 1; the Conservatives run 7 London boroughs, a decrease of 2; the Liberal Democrats run 3 London boroughs, an increase of 2; and there is no overall control in 1 London borough, down 1 from 2014. At the end of the day, there’s been very little change except for the worse. So where does that leave us? To answer that question, I’ve looked at four London boroughs, Lewisham, Sutton, Kensington & Chelsea and Lambeth, to see how their estate regeneration programmes have been affected by the local elections.

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Our Urban Millions Must Wrest Control from Hostile, Inhumane Labour

I was reading Sadiq Khan’s article with this title in The Observer this Sunday, and initially I wondered who it was he was describing, so closely did his description of the Conservative government he was attacking resemble his own party. I thought that, given Labour’s record in local government, Khan’s got a nerve lecturing the Tories on morality and racism. So I rewrote his article in line with what Labour councils have been doing these past four years and longer to the urban millions the London Mayor calls on to vote this Thursday. On the 3rd of May remember to say: a vote for Labour is a vote for the demolition of hundreds of council estates, their replacement with properties for offshore investors, the selling off of our public assets to the highest bidder, the privatisation of our public land and services, the eviction of local businesses and markets, and the social cleansing of our communities from the inner cities.

John Healey, Matthew Bennet and Jeremy Corbyn, Lambeth Labour Manifesto 2018
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The Social Realism of the Labour Party: Jeremy Corbyn and the Socialism of Fools

Mear One, Freedom for Humanity (2012)

The mural (above) at the centre of the latest publicity disaster to engulf Jeremy Corbyn has been compared to the anti-Semitic depictions of Jews in Nazi propaganda. One Labour Party website has even taken readers through comparisons between the offending mural and historical examples from Der Stürmer (below), a vehemently anti-semitic and anti-communist German tabloid newpaper. However, while this interpretation of the mural, which has been denied by the artist but eagerly embraced by the public, relies almost entirely on the size of the noses of its central figures, the mural makes a far more conscious reference to the history of art that has been entirely passed over by the press, most obviously because it doesn’t fit into the reductive and sensationalist narrative that has been woven about the anti-Semitism of the mural and Corbyn’s initial support for it. Followers of ASH will know that we have no love either for Jeremy Corbyn or for the Labour Party, but the willingness with which our national press and media, as well as our parliamentary parties, have embraced the mob-rule of Twitter to pursue their political ends is something we oppose. Behind the universal accusations of anti-Semitism directed at both this mural and Corbyn there is the collusion of the British establishment in silencing – through ad hominem attacks, unfounded accusations and personal slander that is disseminated without question in the press and repeated across social media – anyone who dares question what is being questioned across the world at the moment: the cultural hegemony of world capitalism.

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This Charming Man: Jeremy Corbyn and The Smiths

Why pamper life’s complexity
When the leather runs smooth
on the passenger seat?

– Morrissey

On Saturday I went to see The Smyths, a Smiths and Morrissey tribute band, at the O2 Academy Islington, a soulless venue inside the soulless Angel Central shopping centre. It’s the first time I’ve seen the band, and I was surprised at the following they have, with the room packed with bequiffed forty- and fifty-somethings up for a dance down memory lane. The band was great fun, and it’s an indication of the cultural impact of the original that they’ve been together for 15 years, three times as long as The Smiths.

The second song of the night was Morrissey’s Irish Blood, English Heart, which I thought a brave choice in politically correct Islington, and while I jumped around at the back I noticed that the response, even amongst this brushed and parted crowd, was pretty mute. Then about two-thirds of the way through the gig, just after That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore (of all tunes), the band broke into a rendition of those fatal opening bars to the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army; and yes, even in this room, the crowd broke into the moronic chant of ‘Oh, Je-re-my Cor-byn!’ It was almost enough to make me vomit into my own beer. As you can imagine, I wasn’t too pleased by this, and not only because a White Stripes song has no place in a Smith’s tribute act.

After the gig I was talking to the guitarist (he’s the one on the right in the promotional photo above, wearing what I’ve just realised could be interpreted as a Jeremy Corbyn hat), who if not quite up to the genius of the greatest rhythm guitarist of his generation had nonetheless done a good job of nailing How Soon is Now?, and after telling him so I brought up the Corbyn chant. Quite apart from the fact that Irish Blood, English Heart contains the lines ‘I’ve been dreaming of a time when / The English are sick to death of Labour and Tory’, I pointed out that The Smiths were always on the side of difference and never conformed to what we are told to think either culturally or politically, and that whatever The Smyth’s politics may be, there is no way on earth that Morrissey would condone them slipping that servile chant into his defiantly contrarian music.

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Dispossession: The Great Labour Party Swindle

Tonight Paul Sng’s film Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle will have what I think is its last screening of the year at the Chelsea Curzon cinema, and to the excitement of many what the publicity calls ‘the Right Honourable Jeremy Corbyn’ will be in attendance.

This is quite a turn around, as when the film first came out back in March it was attacked by Labour activists as ‘anti-Labour’. Unite the Union, which largely bankrolls the Labour Party and Corbyn in particular, even called for a picket of the screening at the Brixton Ritzy cinema, as they claimed it broke the call by staff there, who were striking for a living wage, not to use the cinema, when in fact Paul had already approached them and been given their permission to show the film. As anyone who has opposed them knows, this is typical of the way Labour activists operate. However, that was then, and this is now. Paul has always been very open that the film is not a political film and on more than one occasion has publically denounced Corbyn. So it’s also quite a turn around for him to be showing his film to him now.

‘But what’s the problem?’ you may ask. ‘Surely it’s a good thing that the Leader of the Labour Party and possibly the next Prime Minister of the UK sees this film?’

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Why I Never Write About the Fucking Tories

Illustration by Clifford Harper
In a nation of 65.5 million people the membership of the Conservative Party is a tiny 134,000, a fraction of the well over half a million current members of the Labour Party. Yet the Conservative Party is one of the most successful political parties in Western democracies. Conservative Prime Ministers led UK governments for 57 years of the 20th Century and for 7 of the 21st. It currently has 8,857 councillors in local government – a extraordinary 1 for every 15 party members – out of a total of 20,830 seats; and, despite implementing the most draconian cuts to government expenditure in living memory while simultaneously presiding over the highest wealth inequality in Europe, has just been voted to the government of the UK for the third time in seven years. So how do they do it?

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