Rebuilding Britain: Housing at the Labour Party Conference 2018

1. The Tory Housing Crisis

‘A new world of energy innovations: E.ON’ – is the advertisement that pops up on screen when I go to download the agenda for this year’s Labour Party Conference, obscuring the information behind. I guess it’s appropriate in a way, since its to E.ON – one of the world’s largest electric utility service suppliers with total assets of €55.95 billion – that Labour councils like Lambeth are binding residents of estate redevelopments such as Myatts Field North on obligatory 25-year contracts, and whose district heating system was judged to be ‘not fit for purpose’ by Fuel Poverty Action. But what a wonderfully apposite token of the sort of public-private finance initiatives that are at the heart of Labour’s plans for ‘Rebuilding Britain: for the many not the few’ – as this year’s marketing line puts it.

When I’d clicked the corporate advertisement away and could see the timetable of events, it took me a while to find the policy session on Housing. Well, it was partly about housing, combined with Local Government and Transport in a seminar, and was held concurrently with two other policy sessions between 8.15 and 9.30 on Tuesday morning. I bet they were turning the crowds away from that one.

I also found, on Tuesday’s fringe timetable, a meeting being held at 5.15pm today titled ‘How Can Housing Associations Reconnect With Their Social Purpose?’ It was hosted by London & Quadrant Housing Association, which was responsible for the first redevelopment site of the Aylesbury estate, Albany Place, where 2-bedroom properties went on sale for £550,000; for the demolition, redevelopment and privatisation of the Haggerston West and Kingsland estates, which resulted in the loss of 148 homes for social rent; and which is currently engaged in the demolition, redevelopment and privatisation of the 178 homes on the Excalibur estate, and their replacement with 371 new properties, of which 143 will be for private sale, 35 for shared ownership, 15 for shared equity, and 178 for affordable rent.

Speakers at this meeting included John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Housing, whose recent Green Paper on Housing has made it clear that a Labour government would hand over responsibility for so-called ‘affordable’ housing provision to housing associations such as L&Q; James Murray, the Deputy Mayor for Housing and Residential Development at the Greater London Authority, where he is presumably helping to draft housing policy that has been specifically designed to expand and fund the demolition and privatisation of council estates; Andy Brown, the Chief Operating Officer at London & Quardrant; and Councillor Peter John, the newly elected Chair of London Councils and long-standing Leader of Southwark Council, which is at the forefront of Labour’s estate demolition programme, the man who signed off the demolition of the Heygate and the Aylesbury estates, and who is intent on demolishing a swathe of estates along the Old Kent Road Opportunity Area. For those of you still in doubt, this is what the Labour Party means by ‘social purpose’.

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Oy Vey! No Latkes for Labour

Al-Araqib, Naqab

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.’

– Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial

1. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance

This is the document, and the definition it proposes, that’s been causing all the trouble for Oh Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, and which the party’s National Executive Committee adopted in full yesterday, 4 September, 2018. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which itself adopted this definition on 26 May, 2016, calls it a ‘non-legally binding working definition of anti-semitism’, which makes me wonder why the Labour Party is so eager to turn it into party policy and perhaps, in the unlikely event they form a government, British law. But even as a non-legal document this is a mess from start to finish. The basic definition above is pretty irrefutable: that anti-semitism is the rhetorical or physical expression of hatred against Jews based on negative perceptions about Jewish identity; but when the document goes on to list what it calls guiding ‘illustrations’ of anti-semitism we get into all sorts of unrelated statements that are neither logically consequent upon nor illustrations of the basic definition. It’s been the refusal of the Labour Party to adopt these ‘illustrations’ in full and without question that has been the occasion for the accusations of anti-semitism against Labour in general and Oh Jeremy Corbyn in particular, and which yesterday’s abject concession was meant to silence.

Quite apart from the extraordinary arrogance of expecting any organisation, let alone the largest political party in Europe, to adopt any document in full and without question – as if it were carved in two tablets of stone by the burning finger of Yahweh and brought down from Mount Sinai – the problems begin with the equation of being Jewish with the State of Israel. So we get off on the right foot, let’s be clear that being a Jew is not the same as being a follower of Judaism, since many Jews are secular; but for a lot of people Jews are a race (although there’s no biological basis to that claim) and perhaps a culture (although how that encompasses, say, Ethiopian Jews and Ashkenazy Jews is unclear) or a set of practices (although whether these extend beyond religious rituals and a fondness for gefilte fish is also in question); while the State of Israel is, of course, a country created by the United Nations in 1947 from the British Mandate of Palestine.

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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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