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 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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New Old Labour: An Introduction for Housing Campaigners

And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The Parliamentary Party and the Progress councils fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the unions, both affiliated and unaffiliated, standing before his throne. And the books were opened, including the Electoral Register. And the voters were judged according to how they had voted, as recorded in the Register. The boroughs gave up their constituents, and the wards and the parishes gave up their electorate. And all were judged according to their voting record. Then the non-voters and the ballot-spoilers were deleted from Momentum’s mailing list. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Electoral Register was also deleted from the list.

Then I saw a new Government and a new Party, for the old government and the old party had disappeared. And the Blairites also were gone. And I saw the Holy City, the new London, coming down with Momentum dressed like a young bride for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying: ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more homelessness or food banks or delays on Network Rail or NHS queues or hard Brexit. All these things are gone forever.’

And the one sitting on the throne said: ‘Behold, I am making everything new!’ And then he said to me: ‘Write this down in our Manifesto, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.’ And he also said: ‘It is finished! I am Estate Demolition and Affordable Housing – the Beginning and the End. To all who are poor I will give freely from the ever-so-slightly raised taxes on the rich. All who are victorious will benefit from the £167 billion Trident nuclear programme, and I will be their God, and they will be my voters. But cowards, critics, doubters, unbelievers, ballot-spoilers, those who practice free thinking, extreme leftists and all who did not vote for us – their fate is in the electoral wilderness!’

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Jeremy Corbyn and the Haringey Development Vehicle

Across the country, Labour councils are putting Labour values into action in a way that makes a real difference to millions of people. It is a proud Labour record, and each and every Labour councillor deserves our heartfelt thanks for the work they do.

– Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party conference (28 September, 2016)

In the lead up to last night’s decision by Haringey Labour council to go ahead with the transfer of £2 billion of land and assets, including thousands of council homes, into the hands of international property developers Lendlease, Aditya Chakrabortty, who has been following the Haringey Development Vehicle, and who is the best of the journalists writing on housing at the Guardian, published an article highly critical of Haringey and other Labour councils implementing social cleansing through estate privatisation and demolition.

In response he was widely attacked on Twitter by Labourites, whose spluttering objections can be narrowed down to the one that indignantly demanded: ‘How is this helping the Labour Party!’ This conforms to everything we’ve been writing not only about the Labour Party’s antagonism to the truth, but it’s belief that the homes and lives of residents it threatens should be sacrificed to its electoral success. Apparently Chakrabortty was also told that the Haringey council leadership regard him as a ‘one man left wing Daily Mail’ (welcome to our world, Aditya: at least they didn’t denounce you as a Tory, as they have us). However, in his article Chakrabortty couldn’t refrain from absolving the Leader of the Labour Party from his accusations of corruption.

‘However easy it is for pundits to conflate today’s Labour party with Jeremy Corbyn, to do so ignores the daily experience of people under many Labour councils that are his ideological opposite. Such as the zombie Blairites who run Haringey, and who bear as much resemblance to Corbyn’s Labour as Jive Bunny does to Death Metal.’

It’s a strangely dismissive and overstated comment in an otherwise serious and measured article, and suggests the difficulty Chakrabortty has in believing what he asserts. Is Corbyn really the ‘ideological opposite’ of the Leaders of Labour councils? Is Corbyn’s Labour really Jive Bunny to Claire Kober’s Death Metal? And if so, why has Corbyn consistently refused to condemn the actions not only of Haringey council but of every other Labour council engaged in the social cleansing of working-class communities through estate regeneration schemes?

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Oh, Jeremy Corbyn! The People’s Assembly

Tories Out!

Did I hear right, or was I making it up? As I stood outside the pub having a fag, the crowd shuffled past, branded like an Olympic team with flags and banners and placards bearing the logos of every Labour-affiliated union and other left-wing group, including several I thought no longer existed. I recognised the tune – it was the opening bars from the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army – but what were the words being sung over the top? Was I imagining it, or were they really chanting ‘Oh, Je-re-my Cor-byn! Oh, Je-re-my Cor-byn!’ over and over again? We’d listened to a couple of speeches outside the BBC, where the People’s Assembly demonstration – titled ‘Tories Out!’ – had assembled, but this was too much. We decided right there and then to abandon any idea of joining the blushing throngs.

Later on in the day we joined Class War in the Chandos off Trafalgar Square for an ill-earned pint. A small commando team had gone off to ambush Jeremy Corbyn in Parliament Square, and when they turned up they told us that while waiting for Corbyn to arrive they had confronted Len McCluskey – the General Secretary of Unite the Union, which pretty much funds the Labour Party – with the record of Labour councils socially cleansing working-class communities from London through council estate privatisation and demolition. He simply turned his back on them, showed not the slightest interest in hearing what they had to say, or even in looking at the posters they held up listing just some of the 155 London council estates threatened by Labour councils.

Later on the Messiah himself had arrived, and rather like Moses parting the Red Sea the crowd had fallen back to let him through. Quick as a flash Lisa Mckenzie of Class War ran up behind him and confronted Corbyn with the same question she had asked McCluskey. It’s a simple question, one we’ve been asking the Labour Leader for two years now, so far without receiving an answer: ‘When are you going to stop Labour councils socially cleansing people out of London?’

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Clusterfuck! Labour’s Shameless Council Estate Rip-off

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 Aylesbury Estate in Camberwell 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, down the road from the Aylesbury in the Elephant and Castle, 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 – and is now happening at the Aylesbury – 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.

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Secure Homes for All? The Labour Party Manifesto on Housing

Well, it’s brief, and says nothing that hasn’t been said before; so let’s get the housing component of the Labour Party Manifesto – published today under the title For the Many Not the Few – out of the way.

Titled ‘Secure Homes for All’, its focus is on house building, rightly identifying the housing crisis as one of affordability, but wrongly identifying the building of new homes as the solution. To this end the Manifesto promises the by-now familiar figure of 1 million new homes over the next Parliament should Labour be elected to power. And what will a Labour government build? 100,000 council and housing association homes a year, so half the five-year total, just as we have previously been told. And what will those homes be? For ‘genuinely affordable rent or sale.’

Let’s just pause here. Housing associations are not government run so half of these homes – in the absence of precise figures let’s say 50,000 per year – will be built by them to fit their requirements as private companies; though no doubt they will continue to receive the considerable subsidies they currently receive from central government agencies like the Homes and Communities Agency that the Manifesto promises to overhaul. So will a Labour government only provide those subsidies for the building of homes for social rent? The manifesto doesn’t say, and in the absence of any indication to the contrary we must assume housing associations will continue to receive public subsidies for building homes for affordable rent or sale at up to 80 per cent of market rate, for London living rent at a third of the borough’s average household income (so £680 per month per person in the borough of Haringey, £770 in Hackney, £895 in Lambeth, £950 in Southwark, and £1,170 in Tower Hamlets), for 25 per cent shared ownership, for shared equity, and anything else they can think of to supplant the council homes for social rent housing associations are either privatising or demolishing and building in their place. Indeed, ‘affordable’ is the only tenancy type and rental level the manifesto mentions.

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