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.

Continue reading “This Charming Man: Jeremy Corbyn and The Smiths”

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?’

Continue reading “Dispossession: The Great Labour Party Swindle”

Vauxhall Hustings 2017

I’ll keep it brief, because I’m nearing the end of my tolerance for this stuff. We started with a minute’s silence and the local minister, Steve Chalke, calling on us to show respect for democracy – which he said meant listening to each other. As chance would have it this hustings were being held in the church that for several months last year put a blackboard up outside inviting passersby to write down their ‘hopes and prayers’ for the community, and they would pray for them. I wrote down quite a few, including: ‘A plague on this Tory government that is a plague on the people of Britain!’ ‘Stop Lambeth Labour Council demolishing Cressingham Gardens!’ ‘May the working class rise up against the oppression of the rich and the corrupt’ And finally, when it seemed none of my prayers were being answered: ‘May the church condemn this government’s attacks on the poor, the disabled, the sick and the vulnerable!’ I don’t know whether the church ever prayed for any of these, but eventually the blackboard was taken down.

After the opening statements by the five candidates, which included for Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, the Pirate party (promoting technology and online privacy) and the Women’s Equality Party, the Chair, Tom Kibasi, who is the Director of the Institute of Public Policy Research, chose questions that been submitted by the audience in the following order of importance. To give you an indiction of how long each topic was discussed I also recorded roughly when the questions were asked:

7.45pm – Brexit
8.20pm – Voting ID and proportional representation
8.25pm – Fox hunting
8.30pm – Banking reforms
8.35pm – National debt
8.45pm – Arts subjects in schools
8.50pm – Child care nurseries
9.00pm – Local transport
9.05pm – Cycling and cars
9.10pm – Housing

Continue reading “Vauxhall Hustings 2017”

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: Inequality, Housing, Renting, Evictions, Homelessness and House Prices

Andrew, Eating

We’ve been compiling these statistics over the past two years and longer, and we try to keep them updated as often as possible as things grow rapidly worse; but any corrections will be investigated, and any new additions that can be substantiated are welcome. The conclusions we draw from them are our own, but will hopefully be shared, one day, by the millions of people whose homes and lives they describe.

PART 1: INEQUALITY

THE WEALTH OF THE RICHEST 1 PER CENT OF THE BRITISH POPULATION IS EQUAL TO THE WEALTH OF THE POOREST 55 PER CENT.

THE 5 RICHEST BRITISH FAMILIES ARE AS WEALTHY AS THE POOREST 20 PER CENT OF THE BRITISH POPULATION.
* That’s 12.6 million people.

THE WEALTH OF THE RICHEST 1000 PEOPLE IN BRITAIN HAS DOUBLED IN THE PAST TEN YEARS TO £658 BILLION.
* More than a third of the annual economic output of the entire U.K.

BRITAIN HAS 134 BILLIONAIRES, THE MOST PER CAPITA OF ANY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD.
* That’s one for every 489,000 people, more per head of population than any other nation in the G20.

LONDON’S 80 BILLIONAIRES IS THE MOST OF ANY CITY IN THE WORLD.
* With a total wealth of £325 billion, more than the GDP of Ireland or South Africa.

THE £9 TRILLION OF PRIVATE WEALTH IN BRITAIN IS HELD BY JUST 34 PER CENT OF THE POPULATION.*
* The remaining 66 per cent holds no positive financial assets at all.

THE GAP BETWEEN RICH AND POOR IN BRITAIN IS THE LARGEST IN THE WEST.
* The poorest 40 per cent of the British population share a lower proportion of the national wealth, only 14.6 per cent, than in any other Western country.

THE INCOMES OF THE RICHEST 20 PER CENT OF THE BRITISH POPULATION IS 105 TIMES HIGHER THAN THE POOREST 20 PER CENT.

JUST 0.3 PER CENT OF THE BRITISH POPULATION – 160,000 FAMILIES – OWN TWO THIRDS OF THE LAND.
* Making Britain second only to Brazil as the country with the most unequal land distribution in the world.

OVER 1,000,000 PROVISIONS OF THREE DAYS’ EMERGENCY FOOD WERE HANDED OUT AT FOOD BANKS IN BRITAIN OVER THE PAST YEAR.
* Including 415,866 to children.

391 PEOPLE IN THE UK DIED OF MALNUTRITION IN 2015.

THERE HAS BEEN A 71 PER CENT INCREASE IN HOSPITAL ADMISSIONS FOR PATIENTS SUFFERING FROM MALNUTRITION.
* From 3,900 admissions in 2009-10 to 6,690 admissions in 2013-14.

IN 2013-14 MORE THAN 86,000 HOSPITAL ADMISSIONS INVOLVED PATIENTS DIAGNOSED WITH GOUT CAUSED BY A LACK OF VITAMIN C.
* An increase of 78 per cent in five years.

CASES OF SCARLET FEVER ADMITTED TO HOSPITAL DOUBLED LAST YEAR FROM 403 TO 845.
* With a rise in other illnesses such as scurvy, cholera and whooping cough caused by malnutrition.

BRITAIN HAS THE SIXTH LARGEST ECONOMY IN THE WORLD.

PART 2: HOUSING

26 OF THE 100 RICHEST PEOPLE IN THE UK LIST PROPERTY AS A MAJOR SOURCE OF THEIR WEALTH.
* 10 make their money from finance, 10 from investment, 7 from retail and 6 from industry.

THERE ARE 164 PROPERTY MOGULS IN THE RICHEST 1,000 PEOPLE IN BRITAIN, WITH A COMBINED WEALTH OF £143.7 BILLION.
* Financiers, by contrast, are worth £65.2 billion.

THE AVERAGE PRICE OF A HOME IN GREATER LONDON IS NEARLY HALF A MILLION POUNDS.
* Currently £488,729, and around £726,000 in Central London.

2 PER CENT OF NEW-BUILD HOMES IN CENTRAL LONDON IN 2014 WERE BOUGHT BY NON-U.K. RESIDENT OWNERS.

61 PER CENT OF NEW-BUILD HOMES IN GREATER LONDON ARE BOUGHT AS AN INVESTMENT.

IN 2015-16 PUBLIC SECTOR SPENDING ON HOUSING CAME TO £28 BILLION.

PROPERTY WEALTH IN BRITAIN INCREASED BY NEARLY £400 BILLION IN THE TWO YEARS UP TO DECEMBER 2015.
* And the wealth of the richest 10 per cent of UK households increased by 21 per cent.

THE ESTIMATED TOTAL VALUE OF THE HOUSING STOCK IN ENGLAND IN 2015 WAS £5.6 TRILLION.
* An increase of £1 trillion since 2010, and now nearly 60 per cent of the UK’s entire net wealth.

THE 80 PER CENT MARKET RATE ON SO-CALLED ‘AFFORDABLE HOMES’ IN LONDON’S NEW-BUILD HOMES REQUIRES A SALARY OF £44,500.
*The median household income in London is £30,500.

IN 2015, 5,300 TWO-BEDROOM HOMES WERE SOLD IN LONDON FOR BETWEEN £650,000 AND £1 MILLION.
* Compared with only 2,000 for less than £300,000.

THE RATIO BETWEEN HOUSE PRICES AND PERSONAL DISPOSABLE INCOME IN LONDON IN 2016 WAS THE HIGHEST IT HAS EVER BEEN.
* Surpassing levels before the sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2007.

PART 3: RENTING

64 PER CENT OF HOMES IN ENGLAND ARE OWNER-OCCUPIED, 18 PER CENT ARE PRIVATELY RENTED, AND 17 PER CENT ARE SOCIALLY RENTED.

LESS THAN 10,000 HOMES FOR SOCIAL RENT WERE BUILT IN ENGLAND IN 2014-15.
* The lowest number since records began in 1991-92.

THE AVERAGE PRIVATE SECTOR RENTS IN LONDON ARE MORE THAN DOUBLE THE NATIONAL AVERAGE.
* £2,216 per month for a two-bedroom home.

AS OF MARCH 2017 THE AVERAGE MONTHLY RENT IN LONDON WAS £1,203.
* The average in England was £833 per month.

PRIVATE RENTS IN BRITAIN HAVE RISEN TO DOUBLE THE COST OF COUNCIL PROPERTIES.

A QUARTER OF PEOPLE RENTING IN BRITAIN RELY ON HOUSING BENEFIT TO MEET THE COST OF ACCOMMODATION.

£20.9 BILLION WAS SPENT ON HOUSING BENEFIT IN ENGLAND IN 2015-16.

IN THE TWO YEARS LEADING UP TO 2016, ALMOST 59,000 HOUSEHOLDS HAD THEIR BENEFITS CAPPED TO A MAXIMUM OF £26,000 PER YEAR.
* Nearly half of those households were in London.

A THIRD OF HOMES IN THE PRIVATE RENTED SECTOR DO NOT MEET THE GOVERNMENT’S DECENT HOMES STANDARDS FOR HEALTH, SAFETY AND HABITABILITY.

A THIRD OF PEOPLE LIVING IN POVERTY IN ENGLAND AND WALES LIVE IN PRIVATE RENTED ACCOMMODATION.
* Up a fifth from a decade ago.

OVER THE PREVIOUS FIVE YEARS, THE NUMBER OF RENTED HOUSEHOLDS IN ENGLAND AND WALES THAT WERE EVICTED HAS MORE THAN TREBLED.
* To 18,000 households evicted in 2014/15.

46 PER CENT OF 16-34 YEAR-OLDS WERE RENTING FROM PRIVATE LANDLORDS IN 2016.
* Up from 21 per cent in 1996

IN 2014-15, 40,000 HOMES WERE BUILT IN BRITAIN BY HOUSING ASSOCIATIONS.
* 5,464 were for social rent, 5,205 were for private sale, and 8,797 were for ‘affordable’ rent, up to 80 per cent of market price.

IN 2015-16, GOVERNMENT FUNDING THROUGH THE HOMES AND COMMUNITIES AGENCY BUILT 602 HOMES FOR SOCIAL RENT.
* In 2009-10 it provided 28,859.

BETWEEN 2012 AND 2015, THE NUMBER OF HOUSING ASSOCIATION HOMES FOR SO-CALLED ‘AFFORDABLE’ RENT ROSE FROM 7,354 TO 123,264.
* With 76,259 converted from homes for social rent.

OVER THE NEXT QUARTER OF A CENTURY RENTS ARE PREDICTED TO RISE AT TWICE THE RATE OF INCOMES.
* And renters will be twice as likely to live in poverty (i.e. living in a household with less than 60 per cent the median UK income).

PART 4: EVICTIONS

THERE WERE 37,839 COURT-ORDERED EVICTIONS IN ENGLAND AND WALES IN 2014/15.
* Four times the 8,034 mortgage repossessions. 19,539 of these evictions were by social landlords.

THERE WERE UP TO 200,000 REVENGE EVICTIONS IN BRITAIN IN 2013.
* In response to tenants complaining about housing standards.

NEARLY 42,000 FAMILIES WERE EVICTED FROM RENTAL ACCOMMODATION IN 2014.
* The highest number since records began in 2000.

42,226 REPOSSESSION CLAIMS WERE MADE BY LANDLORDS IN THE FIRST THREE MONTHS OF 2015, UP 10 PER CENT ON THE PREVIOUS QUARTER.
* 64 per cent of claims were made by social landlords.

A TOTAL OF 42,728 HOUSEHOLDS IN RENTED ACCOMMODATION IN ENGLAND AND WALES WERE EVICTED BY BAILIFFS IN 2015.
*The highest number since records began in 2000, and a 53 per cent increase from five years ago.

IN THE FIRST THREE MONTHS OF 2015, COUNTY COURT BAILIFFS IN ENGLAND AND WALES EVICTED 11,300 FAMILIES.
* An increase of 8 per cent on the same period last year, and 51 per cent higher than five years ago.

16,500 HOMES WERE REPOSSESSED IN LONDON IN 2014.
* 94 per cent were rented properties repossessed by social or private landlords.

EVICTIONS FOR RENT ARREARS FROM HOUSING ASSOCIATIONS IN BRITAIN INCREASED FROM 7,535 IN 2010 TO 9,425 IN 2015.

IN THE THREE YEARS UP TO APRIL 2015, MORE THAN 50,000 FAMILIES WERE FORCIBLY MOVED OUT OF THEIR LONDON BOROUGH.

PART 5: HOMELESSNESS

AS OF APRIL 2016, 1,183,779 HOUSEHOLDS WERE ON LOCAL AUTHORITY HOUSING WAITING LISTS IN ENGLAND.

AS OF MARCH 2016, 71,500 HOUSEHOLDS IN ENGLAND WERE LIVING IN TEMPORARY ACCOMMODATION.

AS OF JUNE 2017, 307,000 PEOPLE IN BRITAIN, ONE IN EVERY 200, ARE HOMELESS, AN INCREASE OF 13,000 OVER THE PREVIOUS YEAR.
* 281,000 are in temporary accommodation, 21,300 are in homeless hostels or social services housing, and 4,500 are sleeping rough.

IN LONDON, 1 IN EVERY 59 PEOPLE ARE HOMELESS.

IN THE PREVIOUS FIVE YEARS, THE NUMBER OF HOUSEHOLDS PLACED IN TEMPORARY ACCOMMODATION IN BRITAIN HAS RISEN BY A QUARTER.

THE NUMBER OF FAMILIES LIVING IN BED AND BREAKFASTS IN BRITAIN MORE THAN TRIPLED IN FIVE YEARS.
* From 630 in 2010 to 2,040 in 2015.

280,000 HOUSEHOLDS IN BRITAIN ARE CURRENTLY AT RISK OF HOMELESSNESS.

250,000 HOUSEHOLDS IN LONDON ARE ON HOUSING WAITING LISTS.

240,000 HOUSEHOLDS, WITH 320,000 CHILDREN, ARE LIVING IN OVERCROWDED ACCOMMODATION.

53,343 LONDON HOUSEHOLDS, WITH OVER 90,000 CHILDREN, ARE HOMELESS AND LIVING IN TEMPORARY ACCOMMODATION.
* A 9 per cent annual increase, and 75 per cent of the national total.

592,000 CHILDREN IN LONDON ARE LIVING BELOW THE POVERTY LINE.
* 37 per cent of all children in the capital.

THERE WERE 36,540 BED SPACES FOR SINGLE HOMELESS PEOPLE IN ENGLAND IN 2015.
* 7,115 fewer than in 2010.

THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE SLEEPING ROUGH IN LONDON INCREASED BY 6 PER CENT IN 2015-16 TO AN ESTIMATED 8,096 PEOPLE.
* More than double the 3,673 in 2009-10.

MORE THAN 200,000 HOMES IN ENGLAND WITH A TOTAL VALUE OF £43 BILLION WERE EMPTY FOR AT LEAST SIX MONTHS DURING 2016.

AS OF FEBRUARY 2016, 22,000 HOMES IN LONDON HAVE BEEN LEFT EMPTY FOR MORE THAN SIX MONTHS.*
* More than a third, 8,560, have been empty for over two years; and 1,150 homes have been empty for over a decade (not including the City of Westminster, which withheld figures).

MORE THAN A MILLION UK HOUSEHOLDS ARE AT RISK OF BECOMING HOMELESS BY 2020.

PART 6: HOUSE PRICES

AVERAGE HOUSE PRICE IN LONDON BY BOROUGH
* In November 2015

Kensington & Chelsea: £1,658,563
City of Westminister : £1,385,797
Camden: £1,049,673
Hammersmith and Fulham: £951,328
City of London: £804,600
Wandsworth: £789,115
Richmond upon Thames: £773,433
Islington: £700,625
Southwark: £637,274
Merton: £633,739
Haringey: £613,292
Barnet: £611,318
Ealing: £606,001
Hackney: £589,164
Lambeth: £559,716
Brent: £543,277
Tower Hamlets: £515,588
Kingston upon Thames: £513,695
Hounslow: £504,562
Harrow: £489,725
Bromley: £456,810
Greenwich: £447,187
Lewisham: £431,060
Hillingdon: £422,290
Enfield: £416,049
Redbridge: £415,639
Waltham Forest: £411,215
Sutton: £376,388
Croydon: £362,518
Havering: £342,354
Newham: £340,670
Bexley: £311,097
Barking and Dagenham: £258,631

THE AVERAGE HOUSE PRICE IN GREATER LONDON IS £597,860.

THE AVERAGE HOUSE PRICE IN CENTRAL LONDON IS £970,892.

PART 7: THE HOUSING AND PLANNING ACT

A £450,000 ‘STARTER HOME’ IN LONDON REQUIRES A SALARY OF £77,000.
* And a deposit of £97,000.

‘STARTER HOMES’ ARE UNAFFORDABLE IN 98 PER CENT OF THE COUNTRY FOR PEOPLE ON LOW INCOMES.
* And in 58 per cent of the country for those on middle incomes.

40 PER CENT OF EX-COUNCIL FLATS SOLD THROUGH ‘RIGHT TO BUY’ ARE NOW BEING RENTED OUT MORE EXPENSIVELY BY PRIVATE LANDLORDS.

214,000 HOUSEHOLDS WILL BE AFFECTED BY ‘PAY TO STAY’ ACROSS ENGLAND.
* And in London, most of the 27,000 households affected will be unable either to afford to rent privately or to buy in the same area.

ALMOST 113,000 COUNCIL HOMES IN ENGLAND WILL BE FORCIBLY SOLD AS ‘HIGH VALUE’ HOUSING.
* 78,778 of these homes will be lost from the 20 most affected local authorities, with half of these in Central London.

THE PROPOSED VALUES OVER WHICH ‘HIGH VALUE’ HOMES IN LONDON WILL BE SOLD IS:
* 1-bedroom: £340,000; 2-bedroom: £400,000; 3-bedroom: £490,000; 4-bedroom: £790,000; 5+ bedroom: £1,205,000.

THE PERCENTAGE OF HOMES OVER ‘HIGH VALUE’ THRESHOLDS IN CENTRAL LONDON IS:
* Kensington & Chelsea: 97 per cent; Westminster: 76.2 per cent; Hammersmith & Fulham: 50.3 per cent; Camden: 49.8 per cent; Islington: 24 per cent; Southwark: 9.5 per cent; Lambeth: 9.4 per cent.

THE TOTAL NUMBER OF HOMES IN CENTRAL LONDON ABOVE THE ‘HIGH VALUE’ THRESHOLD IS:
* Camden: 7,494; Westminster: 5,830; Kensington & Chelsea: 4,369; Hammersmith & Fulham: 3,951; Southwark: 3,755; Islington: 3,711; Lambeth: 2,337.

IN THE 20 BOROUGHS LIKELY TO BE HARDEST HIT, 159,014 PEOPLE ARE ON COUNCIL HOUSING WAITING LISTS.
* With 22,371 children living in temporary accommodation.

PART 8: WHAT CRISIS?

THERE WAS NO FINANCIAL CRISIS –
There is a Class War being waged by the rich.

THERE IS NO HOUSING CRISIS –
There is a Class War being waged through housing.

THERE IS NO DEFICIT CRISIS –
There is a Class War being waged against the poor.

THERE IS NO BENEFITS CRISIS –
There is a Class War being waged on the vulnerable.

THERE IS NO ECONOMIC CRISIS –
There is a Class War being waged against workers.

THERE IS NO N.H.S. CRISIS –
There is a Class War being waged against the sick.

THERE IS NO EDUCATION CRISIS –
There is a Class War being waged against students.

THERE IS NO POPULATION CRISIS –
There is a Class War being waged against immigrants.

THERE IS NO URBAN DENSITY CRISIS –
There is a Class War being waged in the inner cities.

THERE IS NO ELECTORAL CRISIS –
There is a Class War being waged politically.

THERE IS NO SOCIAL CRISIS –
There is a Class War being waged across society.

And we need to win it . . .

Architects for Social Housing

Illustration by Andrew Cooper

Brexit Diary

Andrew, Brexit (line)

22 June

DEMOCRACY

Is there something important happening tomorrow? Everyone seems to be getting very upset about which group of bureaucrats they want to rule over us. The point, I seem to remember Marx saying, is to change the world, not choose your preferred master. The servility of the people dressed up in their democratic best. Dance, dance, like a dancing bear, screech like a parrot, chatter like an ape, cry like a red-nosed clown, pink bows on our shoes, a ruff around our neck. But the eye of an ass watches us from behind.

24 June

APRÈS NOUS, LE DÉLUGE

Suddenly, everyone is so political. But where were you when Ian Duncan Smith was killing the disabled in their thousands? Where were you when George Osborne cut £12 billion to welfare? Where were you when Jeremy Hunt sold the NHS into private hands? Where were you when Brandon Lewis abolished social housing? Where were you when Teresa May turned Britain into a police state? Where were you when David Cameron sold the land we stand on to the highest bidder and turned this country into a knocking shop for foreign investors?

But they mess with our travel plans and suddenly everyone’s up in arms. Not that I expect anyone to get up and do something about it. Maybe a candle-lit vigil in Trafalgar Square, and, of course, a wave of hatred in the press against the racist, politically manipulated, white working class we’ve been happily shitting on for decades; but then it’s back to naked restaurants in the Elephant & Castle, a new i-Phone app that wipes our arses for us, and screwing our fellow man over for a living.

Someone once said that every nation gets the government it deserves, and we definitely deserve what we’re going to get.

STEREOTYPES

I just got off the phone with my mate. She was telling me about a foreign businessman who was welcomed with open arms by the Hackney community in which she lives, but who has never employed locals, and instead uses foreign workers on crap pay with no employment rights in his now thriving business. I presume that now makes her a racist, even if she herself is mixed race.

Then I went to the shops and had a chat with the Indian woman behind the counter about how the price of the Guardian has gone up yet again. Then had a joke in the shop next door with the Turkish guy, who said he’d have to start charging me for plastic bags now we’ve left the European Union. On the way back I passed a team of Polish workers digging up the road to lay more bloody cable. And at the top of my street I waved hello to the Pakistani guy I always chat with when I go to his takeaway.

Everything’s fine here. No random acts of racism in the street or sudden descent into barbarism. Perhaps the middle classes should stop projecting their class stereotypes and fears onto the working class they’re so fond of patronising – white, black and brown. Read the Guardian, that’ll cheer you up. Buy an EU ribbon and stick it in your lapel so everyone knows how un-racist you are. Or go on a march and talk to each other about Britain First. Anything – except think about the capitalist gang-bang of Britain’s poor you’ve been doing so well out of this past decade and more.

AND IN OTHER NEWS: THE REFERENDUM

I’ve been too busy lately to follow the whole EU referendum spectacle, and in the limited time I had to devote to it I didn’t find a single thing to read that wasn’t a hysterical version of ‘But surely you can see I’m right!’ As a consequence, I didn’t vote yesterday. But having followed what is being done to Greece and visited the country last year, I struggle to see the European Union as a force for good. It’s an uncomfortable fact that each of the 10.7 million Greek nationals’ share of the country’s €376 billion debt is 35,000 Euros, payable by every man, woman, child, infant, grandmother, grandfather, disabled, sick, unemployed and bankrupt member of the European Union that was supposed to make them so wealthy. Nor do I see the past ten years in Europe as a model of democratic accountability, workers rights and free croissants, which apparently we’re all going to lose now. On the other hand, I don’t want to see my friends who would otherwise have the right to live here struggle to justify their presence in this country according to whatever new laws we come up with.

However, I am a little surprised by the mass hysteria that has followed the vote to leave the European Union. As far as I can make out, we can still import goods from other countries, so the croissants will still be available; and while I sympathise with the plight of nationals from other countries in the European Union, my friends from Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and other nations also not in the EU have had to overcome the same obstacles and managed to do so. I also note that the London middle classes haven’t been up in arms about the treatment of immigrants to this country not from the EU. I’ve yet to see them resisting the racist snatch squads on the streets of Camberwell, or marching to demand the release of the refugees from non-EU countries imprisoned at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. So you’ll excuse me if their sudden appeal to the right to live here in the name of civilisation, democracy and the fight against racism sounds just a little selfish.

As for the slightly less lofty claims that leaving the European Union has already knocked billions off the value of the pound and will drive foreign investment and businesses out of the UK (or more accurately out of the City of London), I never noticed that the past ten years of austerity politics imposed on the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society were ever lessened by a Britain with the fifth strongest economy in the world being in the European Union. Nor has it been glaringly apparent to me that London being the financial capital of the world has sent a stream of riches ‘trickling down’ – I believe the complex economic theory goes – into the outstretched hands of the undeserving poor.

Finally, I do not recognise the champion of human and workers rights in the European Union that stood by and nodded in approval as the Tories and their collaborators, Liberal Democrats and Labour alike, presided over the dismantling of our welfare state and the erosion of our civil liberties these past ten years. Nor did it stop David Cameron, the lead campaigner for staying in Europe, introducing a new British Bill of Rights for the current session of Parliament, the proposal of which, once again, drew no response from those now so offended by this curb on their own freedom of movement within the European Union.

What I have noticed, though, and that almost universally, is that the vote to Leave has been uncritically claimed as being motivated by racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia, lack of education, lack of a work ethic, and political manipulation by the tabloids – in short, by all the usual stereotypes about the working class that are so central to the sense of entitlement that is at the heart of middle-class identity and its never-ending struggle to exonerate itself of culpability in the more obscene inequalities and injustices of capitalism.

With one or two exceptions, everyone has been united in dismissing, without question, the possibility that the working classes they seem so sure voted for the UK’s exit from the European Union are fed up having their salaries and employment rights undercut by a workforce imported to do precisely that; that being treated as a semi-feudal labour and service industry for the financial elite is not their idea of citizenship; and that, like the workers in Greece, they don’t want their pay packets and pensions being set by the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

As I said, I have not looked into the choices this referendum presented closely enough to have voted either way; but please, dear bourgeois, save your sanctimonious outrage and your barely disguised class hatred for Islington’s dinner parties, when you can sit around and talk about how ghastly England is becoming these days and discuss what part of the world you’re thinking of moving to. The rest of us, who can’t afford a second home and monthly trips to the continent, have to live here.

And some of us, as you’ll see if you look up from photographing your elegantly arranged dinner plate, are fighting for this rotten stinking country that you’ve sat on your arses and watched turn into an offshore tax haven for the filthy rich without lifting your pinkies off your decaf lattes – not with little ticks in boxes every four years, but on the street, and for the homes and lives and culture of the people who have been under attack by the government of an EU Britain for decades.

So please, dear disgusted of North London, put up, or shut up, because your bitching is slightly pathetic, and just as self-centred, class-driven and politically manipulated as the motives being attributed to those nasty, racist, uneducated, ignorant, violent, lazy, work-shy hooligans you’ve never met but seem to know so much about.

I’m in. Are you?

IMMIGRANTS, REFUGEES AND BREXIT

Figures for UK immigration in the year ending December 2015 were:

British immigrants: 83,000
British emigrants: 123,000
Net migration: –39,000

EU immigrants: 270,000
EU emigrants: 85,000
Net migration: 184,000

Non-EU immigrants: 277,000
Non-EU emigrants: 89,000
Net migration: 188,000

Total immigrants: 630,000
Total emigrants: 297,000
Net migration: 333,000

Which means slightly more than half of all non-British immigrants into the UK last year were from non-EU countries; raising the question of to what extent the UK leaving the EU will stop people emigrating here.

In 2015, a total of 1,321,560 immigrants and refugees claimed asylum in Europe, including in non-EU member countries Norway and Switzerland. About 360,000 of these came from Syria, 180,000 from Afghanistan, 120,000 from Iraq, 70,000 from Kosovo, 60,000 from Albania, 45,000 from Pakistan, 40,000 from Eritrea, and the rest from Nigeria, Iran and Ukraine.

A total of 292,540 of these were accepted into the EU, of which 13,905 came to the UK in 2015, while it was still a member of the European Union. David Cameron, the Prime Minister of Britain when it was in the EU, agreed to accept a grand total of 20,000 refugees from Syria over the next five years.

In other words, there is no connection between the UK leaving the EU and our feeble response to the refugee crisis. That lies with the right-wing governments we have repeatedly elected to power, and whose military interventions in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa we have consistently given a mandate to with that democratic vote we’re so proud of.

None of this fits into the narrative being written by the supporters of the same European Union that has backed and financed the wars that caused the refugee crisis, and whose aggressive neo-liberal economic policies are one of the key causes of immigration to the UK by EU nationals, the vast majority of which are not, as they like to think, Italian performance artists working as cappuccino waiters in Soho, but rather Romanian cleaners, Spanish nannies and Polish construction workers labouring on zero-hour contracts to clean up our mess, look after our kids and build our homes for half what we should be paying them.

25 June

THE VOTE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME

Statistics on the referendum are emerging, with the votes for remaining and leaving the European Union divided by everything from age to education to ethnicity to religion to region to nation. But what there are no figures for – in this, the most socially divided country in Europe – is how voting was determined by class.

In place of which we are fed the following conclusion to console us in our time of grief. The provincial working classes voted out because they are stupid and racist (cue interview with Northerner telling us from between his fag that he hates the bloody Romanians); and the urban middle classes voted in because they are heroic defenders of multiculturalism (cue interview with French student in London telling us between tears that we all have to learn to live together).

No hint of class interests here, no economic determination of ideology, no thought of the middle classes voting to feather their already well-bolstered beds, no suspicion of the working classes voting in protest at the destruction of their world, and definitely no class analysis from our independent, middle-class and very pissed-off press.

And how the middle classes eat it up!

MULTICULTURALISM, CLASS AND BREXIT

Under the New Labour government of Tony Blair the policy and laws on immigration in this country were changed to allow an enormous rise in the number of work permits granted to migrant workers. With the expansion of the European Union in 2004, UK labour markets were opened to workers from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. This was not done out of a sudden conversion to the politics of peace, love and harmony between peoples, but to drive down the rising cost of the labour of the working-class population of the UK. By 2014, ten years later, 43 per cent of workers in elementary process-plant occupations (industrial cleaning and packers, bottlers, canners and fillers), 33.6 per cent of workers in cleaning and housekeeping, and 32 per cent of process workers in the food, drink, tobacco, glass, ceramics, textile, chemical, rubber, plastic and metal industries were foreign-born. The increase in the share of migrant labour has been greatest among process workers, up from 8.5 per cent in 2002 to 32.0 per cent in 2014.

The situation we have today, where a UK worker’s request for unionisation, a living wage or a contract is legal grounds for dismissal, is a direct result of this flooding of the labour market. When outraged protesters ask how it is possible that Phillip Green can buy a third luxury yacht with the pensions of 20,000 ex-BHS workers, or sack any employee who strikes for a wage she can live on, they might want to consider where the employment rights, recourse to industrial action and wage bargaining power of the working class in this country went.

Capitalist employers call it ‘competition’, and back it up with eagerly received propaganda in the media and entertainment industries denigrating the British working class as lazy, making a choice to live on benefits, and lacking in a work ethic for not accepting the same conditions of employment as Polish construction labourers and Romanian cleaning women. Even these are now standing up and protesting against those conditions. But those same workers who have had the economic value of their labour and skills undermined by the deliberate importing of migrant labour into the UK, who have had their unions made impotent or illegal by successive governments in thrall to the City, and who have seen the social services on which their increasingly impoverished communities rely cut by the politics of austerity, know exactly what it is: the means by which the rich have grown richer beyond avarice and the poor have been driven into greater and more abject poverty.

What the middle-class technocrats of neo-liberal capitalism call ‘multiculturalism’, which has been adopted and propagated as the ideology of our brave new world, is nothing more than the unregulated movement of capital through global markets by multinational corporations that have no country, pay no tax, are bound by no government, concede no rights to their workers, demolish our homes for profit, write our laws to legalise their theft, and determine our governments. And the free movement of labour acclaimed by middle-class liberals as the economic realisation of this ideology is nothing more than the means by which the resistance of workers to their impoverishment has been taken away from them by the influx of a surplus labour force.

In response to all this, which has seen the working class of this country reduced to political and economic impotence and servitude, we now have the lamentations of the European middle classes complaining bitterly about ‘not feeling welcome anymore’ in the UK and proclaiming themselves the defenders of that entirely illusory Britain they have done so much to create, which sees no contradiction in describing itself as built on tolerance, multiculturalism and economic opportunity, while presiding over the greatest assault on the living and employment conditions of the working class in this country in a generation.

It is unfortunate that the working class have had to make this political choice in tandem with the racist right-wing of the Leave campaign – which isn’t to say that the Stay campaign wasn’t just as racist and right-wing; but it’s not as if they’ve been offered anything resembling an electable political party that has cast more than a condescending glance in their direction for several decades now – if ever. But for the politically-correct middle classes to continue to dismiss that vote as based on racism and xenophobia, and to ignore its actual economic determinations, is to play into the hands of the politicians, bankers, international financiers and media moguls who want to drive this country further to the right, both economically and culturally. More than that, it is a continuation of the political betrayal and economic exploitation of the working class, and the unquestioning embrace of monopoly capitalism, that has been the defining quality of Britain’s London-centric, multicultural middle classes this past decade and more.

28 June

WHITE-VAN MAN & MIDDLE-CLASS RACISM

I was walking along Old Street today when two Home Office Immigration Enforcement vans pulled up on the other side of the road. Ahead of me I noticed a black African (not black British) man moved carefully to put the bus shelter between him and them, while watching the vans nervously through the glass partition. I could see through the windows of the vans that the immigration officers were a mix of white, black and brown. I was giving them the finger when another white van pulled up between me and them, and the two white men inside shouted out: ‘Go on, lads, lock ’em up!’

Another example, one might think, worthy of the Guardian’s website, of the racism released by Brexit. But these vans and their snatch squads have been patrolling our streets since April 2012, pursuing not Eastern Europeans but immigrants from outside the European Union. They have come up against community resistance in Shadwell, Camberwell, Deptford and many other places with communities that have refused to be intimidated by their tactics. But I can’t say I’ve noticed the European middle classes that are so outraged by Brexit’s threat to their freedom of movement among them. In fact, I haven’t noticed London’s middle classes look up from their decaf lattes and artisanal burgers long enough to notice any of the attacks on our civil and human rights this right-wing Tory government has instigated over the past six years.

So please, if you’re going to splutter and rage at whatever new laws on immigration Brexit may bring, at least be honest about why, and don’t dress it up in a suddenly discovered love for the community of man. Perhaps, if our British bankers, French restauranteurs and Qatari property developers had paid their Polish builders, Romanian cleaners and Spanish nannies a living wage, gave them a contract, and allowed them to join a union, the racists in those vans – on both sides of the street – wouldn’t be roaming our streets now.

THE NEW PLEBISCITE AND THE LIMITS OF PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY

The Labour Party has 229 democratically elected Members of Parliament. 172 of those have just voted to support a motion of no-confidence in their democratically Party leader, 40 voted against the motion, and 17 abstained or were absent. Despite this, Jeremy Corbyn still has the backing of the unions that finance the Labour Party and of its membership, which under the new rules that elected him 9 months ago with 59.5 per cent of a 76.3 per cent turnout – over 251,000 members – determines the Party leadership on a one member-one vote electoral system. Never before in the history of the Labour Party, which has seen more than its share of farces, has there been such a divide between the membership of the Party, which currently fluctuates around 388,000, and its representatives in Parliament.

I believe we are about to see the limits of our Parliamentary democracy exposed – not, as some entertained, in the Tory Government’s refusal to trigger Article 50 that will initiate the UK’s exit from the European Union; nor in the fact that the next Prime Minister of the UK and its 64 million subjects will be elected by the less than 150,000 members of the Conservative Party; but in the refusal of the parliamentary wing of the Labour Party to permit its members to chose their own leader. How anyone who has any commitment to social change in this country can still continue to support the Labour Party, or have faith in the Parliamentary system to bring that change about, beggars belief; but it will be interesting watching their illusions vanish, and seeing what straws they will clutch at in their wake. Anything – anything! – but face the political truths of our times.

A THOROUGHLY UNEXPECTED AND UNPLANNED SITUATION

On Channel 4 News this evening, Jon Snow was interviewing some Labour politicians on a platform outside the Houses of Parliament when a crowd of mostly young, mostly white protesters came marching down the street and into the Old Palace Yard. I wonder who decided to let them through? If we’d tried to get anywhere near that side of the yard, which lies behind concrete barriers within a restricted security area, we’d have been aggressively stopped by the police. So somebody wanted them there.

When we were organising the demonstration against the Housing and Planning Bill in January I looked into the security arrangements in this area, and legally you can’t pass wind without a copper’s permission. You definitely can’t pass into the east side of Old Palace Yard, as this march did; you’re not allowed to use megaphones, as they were; and you’re not allowed to march, as opposed to a standing protest, without prior permission from the Mayor of London, which they didn’t have. So the idea of this being a spontaneous march from Trafalgar Square down Whitehall, past Downing Street, through Parliament Square and onto Old Palace Yard opposite the Houses of Parliament is very suspicious. The whole route lies within the Government Security Zone, where the MET has free reign to arrest and otherwise beat the crap out of you on the mere suspicion that you’re about to do something anti-social, let alone illegal. The last time I marched with a crowd of kids like this, on the anti-Tory demonstration last May after Cameron got in, the riot police first baton charged then kettled us for three hours outside the Ministry of Defence. Here, there was barely a MET officer in site, and when they did arrive they filed politely down the side. If this bunch of middle-class protesters got this far, it’s because someone in power wanted them and their pro-EU chants on national TV. ‘A thoroughly unexpected and unplanned situation’, as Jon Snow helpfully told us, it wasn’t.

29 June

REDUCTIO AD HITLERUM

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Yesterday, during Nigel Farage’s farewell speech to the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgium Prime Minister and current MEP, compared UKIP’s already infamous poster of Syrian refugees along the Slovenian border to the propaganda of the Nazis. This is known as Godwin’s law, after the US attorney Mike Godwin, who argued that ‘as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazism or Hitler approaches’.

Adolf Hitler, who was born on the border between Germany and what was then Austria-Hungary, had a Lower Bavarian accent that appears to have given him, in the ears of North Germans, an impression of sincerity rather than provincial uncouthness. Though I don’t like to admit it, I experienced a similar impression recently when listening to Susan Williams, otherwise known as Baroness Williams of Trafford, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, during the debates in the House of Lords, where she led the Conservative peers in their support for the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill. An attractive woman of 49, born in Cork, educated in Huddersfield and a politician in Greater Manchester since 1998, it was difficult to reconcile her warm Northern accent with the vilification of and attacks on the working-class that came out of her lying mouth.

I haven’t heard Nigel Farage speak often, but listening to him yesterday I was suddenly struck by his accent, which beneath the stock-broker’s patter sounds a lot like an uncle of mine. Uncle Den was the spitting image of Eric Morecambe, had a similar sense of humour and a flair for draftsmanship, and worked for a graphic designer. I wouldn’t be surprised if he voted for Farage; and although my own family, as my Welsh grandmother once declared, ‘is like the United Nations’, I’d bet he voted to leave the European Union.

That said, the irony of a member of an organisation that is stripping Greece of its land, property, assets and self determination, which has politically and financially backed every war pursued by the US and EU nations in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa over the past few decades, and which has sat on its bank balance while thousands of refugees from those wars drown in the Mediterranean or are herded into concentration camps – the irony of a member of such an organisation using a Reductio ad Hitlerum to champion the civilising benefits of the European Union would not have been lost on old Uncle Den.

30 June

CULTURAL VEGANISM IN THE COACH & HORSES

By mistake I was out in Soho last night, a place I usually avoid like the plague. After a few pints I dropped into the Coach & Horses with a mate. I never liked this place, was never a proper regular, but went once or twice a week in the 90s. Norman, the self-styled rudest landlord in London, was a miserable bastard who treated his staff like shit, and the place was full of bitter old queens who looked askance at us youngsters when we leaned against their particular two feet of bar. But it was, at least, a pub, full of sound and fury, with its own divisions and revisions. I haven’t been there for a long time, but had no illusions about what awaited us as we walked though the doors. Norman’s long gone, of course, though they still use his name on the menu. The sign reading ‘Sandwiches £1’ that was so prominent in the stage play of Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell has gone too. And I think I can safely say that no-one like Jeff would be seen dead in the place.

I ordered two pints of the only ale they had on tap, and as I always do asked that it be poured in a mug. The boy behind the counter looked confused at my request, and waved a lager glass at me. He was of indeterminate nationality, just another of the bored as fuck Euro-trash clones that have taken the place of our barmaids. But I don’t blame him. Employment by a corporate owner who can fire you on a whim from a zero-hour contract at £6.50 an hour doesn’t inspire either humour or duty. Loathing and fear of getting the sack was all I recognised in his eyes. I could see, behind his blank stare, the seconds ticking down before he could run off to G-A-Y, or more likely take two night buses home to his bedsit in Deptford. I knew he had no idea what our national pub-snack was, but asked him anyway if he had any pork scratchings. I think he thought I was taking the piss, which I wasn’t; but when he turned away with a shake of his head a punter next to me handed me a menu and told me it was a vegan pub.

Now it was my turn to be confused. Like a man blindly thrashing his way through his own nightmare I held the menu up to my eyes. He was right. Norman’s Coach and Horses: London’s First Vegetarian & Vegan Pub:

  • Sauteed Wild Mushrooms on Toast (V.O): £6.95
  • Beetroot salad (VO, NFO,GF): £10.95
  • Portobello Mushroom Burger (VO,NF): £11.75
  • Celeriac, Chestnut and Parsnip Sausages (V,MF): £11.75
  • Chard Leaf Curry (NF): £11.50

I was just digesting this information, and trying to work out what VO, NFO, NF and MO meant, when I suddenly became aware that a troupe of cockney performers was standing around an upright piano in the corner of the bar, banging on pan lids with wooden spoons, and generally doing their best Dick van Dyke impression of what the clientele of West End yuppies, European hipsters and confused American tourists think London’s working class look, sound and act like. They played the usual songs we know and love from a hundred Hollywood movies, including my all-time most hated Maybe it’s Because I’m a Londoner, with many a ‘knees up mother brown’, ‘lawks, misses, is that an ankle I spy?’, and ‘spare us a penny, guv’nor.’

I began to think they barman had slipped something into my drink, and waving the menu in the face of the nearest cockney performer spluttered out: ‘It’s a fucking vegetarian pub!’ as if this would find some outraged response, or at least a roll of his eyes. But he just looked at me and said: ‘Aren’t you a vegetarian?’ I’d paid for the pint, so sat down with my mate and drank it, but when the same performer went round with a glass mug (no doubt they’d brought their own) asking for some change, I couldn’t let the matter drop and asked him if he was a vegetarian. He told me no, but that his son was.

That was enough for me. I downed my pint and left. Outside, where the sound of the cockney band starting up again met the sounds of the street, a row of people sat at the chunky wooden tables and stools so beloved of their class. The men were dressed in dark business suits, the women in the same. There wasn’t even a hipster to spit at. In front of them stood discreet halves of continental lager, large glasses of bad Chianti, and heavy china plates adorned with dishes I didn’t recognise or could afford.

When people say they want their country back, I would guess they mean from something like this. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say they want their culture back: back from this generic, global, corporate, monolithic, homogeneous, middle-class imitation of culture; back from the exploitative relations of production behind its facade of inclusiveness and equal opportunity; back from the stupidity, blandness and banality into which we have willingly sunk for nothing more than the promise of a vegetarian burger that costs two hours’ labour on the minimum wage for the workers who make it.

The consumers and class for whom this ersatz culture has been made, who have grown rich from the economic relations of its production, who are employed to propagate its ideals in our media, press, and entertainment industries, and who are refashioning our cities, countries and identities in its likeness, call it ‘multiculturalism’, and attack anyone who doesn’t dutifully take their place within its cultural logic as a racist. And I can see why. What confuses me, however, is why everybody else can’t.

Can I get some marinated tofu with that?

1 July

THIS CALLS FOR IMMEDIATE PROTEST!

The country is in turmoil. Nobody, it seems, wants to lead it. The Prime Minister has fallen on the bloody sword he has wielded over our heads for six long years. Boris Johnson, who shirked no ignominy that might have brought him closer to the crown, has just renounced his life-long ambition to place it on his head. The most likely pretenders to the throne are nobodies with the charisma of a fired geography teacher. Her Majesty’s loyal opposition, not to be outdone in idiocy, is tearing itself apart, deaf to the voices that voted for it. The most popular leader in Labour’s history is under attack from his own parliamentary wing, which directs all its energies to a self-immolation worthy of the Party’s Methodist credo. Yet they, too, cannot muster an alternative candidate not tarnished by the history of their shameful support for whatever lie might have brought them to power. The vultures that have straddled our sodden isles, one foot planted firmly on the Continent, have lost billions on the back of a vote by the working class they despise and exploit. Trillion pound trade deals that would have consigned us to obedient serfdom have collapsed in a day. And the political union that is one of the greatest instruments of neo-liberal economics looks on in terror as the fabric of its police state tears along the Brexit seam.

Faced with all this, with every political and economic institution against which it has railed the past decade standing on the edge of a cliff we thought we’d passed long ago, when the supposedly irresistible absolutes on which monopoly capitalism rests have never appeared so shaky and open to change – what does the so-called Radical Left do? It organises a march to demand that workers from counties obedient to the European Union be allowed to work in the UK under the same exploitative relations of production as the rest of us . . .

In a few weeks this will all be wrapped up. The Tory Government will have a new Prime Minister. The Labour Opposition will have a new leader. The bankers will be back in the driving seat. And the Brexit disaster of 2016, like the financial crisis of 2008, will be just another excuse for further austerity measures, an increase in police powers, and the herding of more sheep into the corrals of neo-liberalism. Plus, of course, an opportunity for our middle-class intellectuals to write their next book or make their next film about the imminent downfall of capitalism.

We weren’t ready, and we never will be until we build the revolutionary working-class movement that alone is capable of overthrowing capitalism and bringing a new world into existence. The rest – the holier-than-thou Puritanism of identity politics, the anarchists who want to be ruled by Brussels, the earnest debates on post-capitalism in university halls, the getting very excited about the Second Coming of Jeremy Corbyn, the rise of Saturday protesting as the new clubbing, the empowered and empowering discourses of the other policed by middle-class students, the networked individuals who are gonna change the world one click at a time, the endless petitions to some benevolent god out there in our collective imagination – is bullshit.

2 July

THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGING

Brexit map

On the left: how post-Brexit UK is being depicted in our press and media. Let’s call it the Guardian view of the world: a once United Kingdom divided now by region; multicultural London, the cosmopolitan Scots and the loyal Irish alone in a sea of Little-England isolationism, xenophobic racists, pheasant-eating fox hunters and benefit-scrounging council tenants.

On the right: something closer to how the UK actually voted. A referendum is not a general election, and the votes are not counted by geographic constituency. So Scotland didn’t vote to stay in the European Union, and Wales didn’t vote to leave. Right across the UK the electorate voted both to stay and to leave, with no more than a 60-40 split either way in most regions. But in the largest turnout in British electoral history, 17.4 million people, 52 per cent of voters in a 72 per cent turnout, chose to leave. Leaving aside the fox-hunters, the Paki-bashers and the Telegraph-readers, that’s still a huge number of people who made a decision to vote against the trajectory the UK economy has been taking for many years now, and which they associate, rightly or wrongly, with our membership of the EU. Our two-Party Parliament and our first past the post electoral system has constitutionally prohibited anything approaching this level of democracy before. And for the first time in a very long time, the working class have had an opportunity to make their voices heard, with each individual vote directly counting towards the result of the referendum.

For the middle-classes of London, which is to say, the British establishment in Parliament, in the City, in the press and in the media, to dismiss this vote as the deluded, manipulated expression of racist oiks, to call for a second referendum, to feverishly consider the legal and constitutional loopholes to triggering Article 50, and all the other ways they have spent this week trying to turn back the clock on their worst nightmare, is perhaps the clearest demonstration yet of the utter contempt in which that establishment holds the working class of this country and its complete indifference to their impoverishment under this Government. No surprise there. But that the so-called Radical Left have uncritically and without hesitation added their hysterical voices to this middle-class outrage has shown very clearly where they stand in the class war, and no amount of marching and bleating about refugees and immigration and racism will hide their loyalty to their class, their Party and the economic relations about which, as usual, they have nothing to say.

3 July

THE MIDDLE CLASSES STRIKE BACK

Hipsters for the EU! Snotty-nosed middle-class students for the EU! You won’t fool the children of the revolution for the EU! Radical Left People’s Assembly for the EU! Young upwardly mobile professionals for the EU! Young hooded anarchists for the EU! Sons and daughters of the urban middle-classes for the EU! People with enough money to spend their weekends in Barcelona for the EU! Non-binary poly-sexual cis-gendered women’s caucus performance artists with a gallery in Marylebone for the EU! Home-owners who’ve just seen the value of their homes plummet for the EU! Decaf latte with vegan burger and celeriac side-salad for the EU! Very pissed off middle-class twats who didn’t realise there were any working class people left in this god-awful country for the EU! Terribly busy people from Islington worried about who’s going to clean their £1 million homes for £6.50 an hour now for the EU! Oh what a bore do I really have to apply for a work permit like the rest of the world for the EU! Acolytes of the Cult of Jeremy Corbyn for the EU! Signatories to the Tony Blair isn’t a war criminal fan club for the EU! David Cameron wasn’t such a bad guy after all historical revisionists for the EU! This is our first ever protest and gosh isn’t it fun for the EU! Here’s another amusing pun on EU/YOU from an 80s pop-song for the EU! All cops are bastards but these ones seem really nice for some reason for the EU! I’ve sat on my arse and done fuck all while the working class have been ground into poverty but don’t mess with my travel plans for the EU! Londoners for immigrants as long as they all live in Bradford for the EU! All Brexiters are white racist benefit-scrounging hooligans I mean poor deluded victims of the Daily Mail wot don’t know their own minds for the EU! At the end of the day Greece needs to pay its way in the world Deutschland über alles for the EU! Smug bastards on the side of the bankers but at least we’re not racists for the EU!

Etc . . .

8 July

JEDERMANN SEIN EIGENER FUSSBALL

I watched the semi-final of the Euros between Germany and France last night. It was one of the strangest footballing experiences I’ve ever had, not only because Germany actually lost a football match, but because I watched them lose with a bunch of Germans, having arrived in Berlin on the 5th. We’d walked north from the S-Bahn at Ostkreuz, and this was easily the biggest crowd with the best atmosphere we’d encountered, though that isn’t saying much. I know Friedrichshain isn’t exactly Football Central, but the behaviour of the crowd still took me by surprise. There were at least as many women watching as men; except for one black man, everyone was white; except for the barmaids and a squatter who’d wandered by from Rigaer Straße, everyone was middle-class. Lots of German team shirts, long wooden tables, tall glasses of beer, etc. And within a minute of turning up, even though the match had already started, a smiling German waitress came up and asked us what we’d like to drink.

But the crowd’s reaction to the game was the strangest thing. I know reaching the semi-final of the European or World Cup is a bi-annual event for the Germans, but the atmosphere was more like a group of parents watching their children play an egg-and-spoon race at the school fundraiser. No shouting, no swearing, no real cheering, no tension (I guess because they all expected to win), and very little excitement. As opposed to the straining faces of Englishmen, who stare like Dante’s damned at the role-call of their own judgement, the Germans sat around and chatted politely about the rise of the Deutschmark and the price of Lederhosen, occasionally turning to catch a few completed passes before nodding soberly in approval and returning to their beer. What got the most reaction was a well-timed tackle, of which there were many. These received not the full-throated roar of an English crowd mingled with cries of ‘KILL HIM!’, ‘BREAK HIS LEG!’, etc, but a polite round of applause, the kind you hear at the Opera when a middling soprano makes his entrance. Even when Schweinsteiger gave away the contentious penalty that gave the dastardly French the lead, I honestly think I was the only person in or outside the entire bar debating whether it was ball to hand or hand to ball.

At half time, when English TV typically dissects every missed pass (of which there are many), bungled shot (ditto) and referee decision against them (cause we woz robbed!), German TV switches ― I shit you not ― to the latest in politics from the European Union (Brexit) and a weather report (cloudy). I can’t imagine a single TV screen in a single pub in England surviving this.

Midway through the second half, when it began to look like Germany were in ein bisschen die Mühe, the table to my left broke out into song. ‘Ah!’ I thought, ‘now we’ll see some German Angst! Not so cool, calm and collected when they’re losing, are they?’ Alas, in response to me asking my German friend what mildly Francophobe football song they were chanting, she replied that it was a birthday song for one of their party, who stood up on cue and took a bow, blocking the view of the screen for half the bar. Frankly, if this didn’t result in his immediate glassing in an English pub I’d do it myself.

As the last five minutes were signalled and France were still 2-0 up, and even the German players appeared to have a bead or two of sweat on their quizzical brows, the one black man present stood up and politely waved his hand at the screen in exasperation. The final seconds ticked down. Were they really that confident about scoring not one but two late goals? Maybe I’d read the clock wrong and there was still half an hour to go. Germany were about to go out of the semi-final of the European Cup, a stage England last reached twenty years ago and has only achieved twice in major finals since 1966, and not a voice was raised, not a swear word was shouted at the referee, not an umlaut was dropped. I saw grown men weep into urinals when England were knocked out of the quarter finals of the 1998 World Cup by Argentina. I’ve seen crowds of English supporters look more distraught by England losing yet another penalty shootout than if you’d told them China had dropped a neutron bomb on the US. But here . . . nothing. No anger, no despair, no blame, no conspiracy theories, no interrogation of the national character, no drowning the collective sorrow in Jägermeister bombs and a quick shag in the girls’ toilets. Just an acceptance that ― although Germany were clearly the better team ― France had nicked the game, more on the back of German mistakes than by their own skill.

To the waitress’s polite enquiry, the crowd soberly decided they had an early start the next day doing whatever it is Berliners do for a living, and declined a third pint of Pils. Within five minutes of the final whistle the bar was empty. The chairs were neatly stacked. One glass had been broken, not in anger or violence, but knocked over by a moved chair. ‘Alles gut!’ they smiled. ‘We’ll win next time!’ And I have absolutely no doubt they will.

The question arising, of course, is this. Is the German nation so accustomed to success in football that both supporters and players never lose their cool and presence of mind, on or off the pitch, while the English, fans and players alike, run around like headless chickens in an agony of repeatedly crushed hopes? Or is it because they keep their cool ― and don’t really see what all the fuss is about a game they just happen to be extremely good at but fall short of seeing as the embodiment of their national character ― that the Germans are so good at football; whereas the English ― who run around like headless chickens in an agony of renewed despair ― try desperately to find the dubious glory of their long-lost Empire, a stiff upper lip in the face of disaster, and all the other cliches of their former national character in their current abject ineptitude at all sports, but in this one above all others?

As a nation, a people, a culture, a gene pool, Germany is so clearly superior to us in everything they do that it’s slightly embarrassing. The average girl on the street has the figure of an athlete. The kids are polite and speak seventeen languages. In Berlin, at least, nobody seems to work, everybody drinks in moderation, and even the punks say ‘bitte’ and ‘danke’. It’s no surprise that even after 2 World Wars, 1 Holocaust, and 39 years of the Stasi, they’re still running Europe. Where the Panzer failed the Euro has conquered. Like the British in India, the Germans have learnt that you don’t need to invade a country when you can strip it of every asset and reduce its citizens to penury and servitude with a Central Bank and a bunch of bureaucrats. But I can’t shake the feeling that this is what Tony Blair and Angela Merkel, not to mention Jean-Claude Juncker and the rest of the European Commission, want us to be. And if it’s a choice between 4 World and 3 European Cups versus a packet of pork scratchings, a pint of warm ale and a pub full of screaming, swearing, fighting, pissed-up, one-eyed cockneys weeping into their urine at full time, I’m slightly ashamed to say I’ll take the latter.

Everyman his own football.

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

Illustration by Andrew Cooper

Resistance Begins at Home: The Housing and Planning Act

London’s housing crisis is at a crossroads. The Conservative Government’s Housing and Planning Bill has passed to an Act. We have a new Labour Mayor, elected on a manifesto promise to build 50,000 new homes a year on demolished council estate land. David Cameron will soon launch his Blitzkrieg campaign on 100 so-called ‘sink estates’ across England, many of which will be in the capital. The London Land Commission is compiling a statutory register of brownfield land suitable for redevelopment that includes existing local authority housing estates. And the estate demolition plans drawn up by real estate firm Savills that threaten the council homes of over 400,000 Londoners are ready to be implemented through London Labour Councils. It seems necessary, therefore, to take stock of where we are, where we are going, and what we need both to do and stop doing in order to start doing something about it.

Parliamentary Ping Pong

On Tuesday 3 May, Brandon Lewis, the Minister for Housing and Planning responsible for driving the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill through Parliament, rejected 12 of the 13 amendments proposed by the House of Lords. Financial privilege, a convention that deters peers from voting against the Government’s Budget, was invoked in six of the amendments refused, relating to local authorities retaining a percentage of funds from the enforced sale of high-value council housing rather than it all going to central government, the income threshold at which a household will incur market rents, and the limits to the increase in that rate. The Minister’s party backed him up, and the following day, Wednesday 4 May, after a warning from the Minister about the Government’s mandate, the House of Lords failed to insist on all but two of their amendments, 108, on carbon compliance for new homes, and 110, on sustainable drainage systems, and proposed five new amendments in lieu: 10B, on the provision of other forms of affordable housing besides Starter Homes; 47B, on local authorities retaining part of the proceeds from the sale of high value council homes to build replacement affordable housing, including, according to amendment 47C, homes for social rent; as well as 97B, on neighbourhood right of appeal against planning permission, and 109B, on affordable housing contributions to small scale developments. These amendments were sent back to the Commons the following week, and on Monday 9 May they rejected them again, while conceding new amendments to energy performance and drainage. Tuesday they were back with the Lords, who withdrew new amendments 10B on Starter Homes, 97D on neighbourhood planning, 108 on carbon compliance and 110D on drainage, but narrowly insisted on proposed new amendment 47E on the proceeds of high value council housing. On Wednesday the Commons again, and for the last time, rejected amendment 47E, and later that same day, after a further warning from the Prime Minister, the Lords finally withdrew the last of their 13 amendments. The following day, Thursday 12 May, the Bill received Royal Assent.

The week-long stalemate between the House of Commons and the House of Lords is known in Parliamentary parlance as ‘Ping Pong’; but rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic would be a more accurate description of its bearing on the outcome. If the two Houses had not reached consensus over the final text of the Bill before the State Opening of Parliament on 18 May, the Government could have invoked the Parliament Act and forced the Bill through in its original form, without any of the Lords amendments. The Minister had hinted at this threat with his repeated reminders to the Lords that the Bill was part of the Government’s election manifesto and therefore has a democratic mandate. So now, after seven months of debate – first through its two readings in the House of Commons, then a month in the Public Bill Committee, then again in the report to and final reading in the Commons, then for two readings in the House of Lords, a further month in Committee, another report to and final reading in the Lords, back again to the Commons, and then back and forth between Lords and Commons – the Housing and Planning Bill has not changed in any significant way since it was first read in the House of Commons on 13 October, 2015.

Against hopes if not expectations, the Right to Buy will be extended to housing associations, adding to the 40 per cent of council homes lost to Right to Buy that are now being rented out by private landlords. On the pretence of paying for this, local authorities will be forced to sell council homes that become vacant if they are deemed high value according to a threshold that is still to be determined by secondary legislation, but is thought to be around £400,000 for a 2-bedroom home in London, and will apply to nearly 113,000 council homes in England. A total of 214,000 households earning over £40,000 in Greater London and £31,000 in England, rather than the originally proposed £30,000, will be forced to pay market rates to stay in their council homes, but these thresholds will now be based on the incomes of the main two household earners, not include child or housing benefits, and be raised in line with inflation, with a taper of 15p in every pound over the threshold rather than the proposed 20p. Secure tenancies will not be passed from parent to child and new council tenancies will be for 2-5 years. The obligation to build state-subsidised Starter Homes for sale at 80 per cent of market rate on 20 per cent of new housing developments will be an enforceable duty that supersedes any requirement to build affordable housing, including homes for social rent, under Section 106 agreements, but their resale after 5 years at full market price will now be regulated by a taper to be determined, once again, by secondary legislation. And planning permission in principle will be granted to any housing development on sites entered on a statutory register of brownfield land that will include existing local authority housing estates. Following Royal Assent the Housing and Planning Act is the new law of the land, to be implemented by central and local government, and enforceable by the cops and the courts. So much for Parliamentary democracy.

Kill the Housing Bill

Few of us, perhaps, who have read this Bill and watched the Government use every dirty trick in the house to curtail Parliamentary scrutiny of its legislation, expected anything else. Following the constitutional reform on English votes for English laws, the Housing and Planning Bill could draw on a majority of around 90 MPs whenever a vote was required to push it through to the next stage. More damagingly, though, what popular opposition there has been to the Bill in the housing sector, which coalesced around the Kill the Housing Bill campaign at the end of last year, has been almost entirely devoted to influencing the passage of the Bill through this Parliamentary process: first through lobbying Members of Parliament, then through lobbying the House of Lords, and through any number of marches and demonstrations to and outside Parliament. At all of these, however, from the initial demonstration outside Parliament on 5 January to the march to Downing Street on 30 January, a second march to Parliament on 13 March, and another protest outside Parliament on 3 May, plus the various meetings in town halls and lobbies in Parliament, Labour politicians of every rank, from Councillors and Cabinet Members for Housing to MPs all the way up to John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn, have been invited to add their voice to the Kill the Housing Bill campaign’s opposition to the Bill – or at least, to those aspects of the Bill that are not being directly implemented by Labour Councils.

This is hardly surprising, since the organisations leading the Kill the Housing Bill campaign are all supporters of, and in some cases supported by, the Labour Party. Whether Defend Council Housing, the Socialist Workers Party, the Radical Housing Network, Unite Housing Workers, the People’s Assembly, Momentum, and all the other organising groups would agree with this statement in theory is irrelevant. In practice they have consistently placed their criticisms of the Bill in the mouths of invited Labour Party spokespersons, and their opposition to its legislation outside Parliament has conformed in every aspect to that of the Labour Party inside. It’s difficult to come up with any other reason for the continued absence from the campaign’s literature and press releases – and even from its name – of anything about the Bill’s legislation on planning, which has been written specifically to extend the estate regeneration programmes that are being aggressively pursued by Labour Councils in Southwark, Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham, Hackney, Haringey, Islington, Camden, Walworth, Hammersmith and Fulham, and across Greater London.

The consequences of this duplicity are growing increasingly apparent. As activists for the Labour Party’s carefully circumscribed opposition to the Bill, rather than the grass-roots campaigners they claim to be, the Kill the Housing Bill campaign has spent the past five months turning its back on the numerous estate resident campaigns that have been fighting the demolition of their homes by Labour Councils. To take only one example of many, at Lambeth Labour Council’s Cabinet decision in March to demolish Cressingham Gardens, the large protest by residents that saw Cabinet members barracked from the meeting hall lacked any support from either the Kill the Housing Bill campaign or members of its constituent groups, including Lambeth Momentum. Again, this is not surprising. Any campaigner who went onto an estate currently under threat of demolition by Labour Council regeneration schemes and told residents to vote Labour would find themselves identified not as the defenders of council housing they imagine themselves to be, but as apologists for the Labour Party’s ongoing attack on working-class homes. Since 2000, over 100 council-built estates have gone, or are going through, full or partial demolition regeneration schemes in London. The Housing and Planning Act will increase that number many times over. And the tens of thousands of residents whose homes these schemes threaten know whose logo is on their demolition notices, and for the overwhelming majority of them it isn’t that of the Tory Party.

That the Kill the Housing Bill campaign, despite this, has repeatedly invited Labour politicians to speak at marches, demonstrations and meetings supposedly organised to oppose the Bill represents, perhaps, just another in the long line of betrayals of the working class that make up the history of the Labour Party. But as a result of this betrayal, five months of fruitless lobbying and placing their opposition to the Bill in the service of the Labour Party has left the Kill the Housing Campaign back where it started. It would be wrong to say, however, that it has achieved nothing. It has wasted the time and energy of what popular opposition there was to this Bill on marches, meetings, lobbies and farcical stunts like the recent ‘sleep-out’ in solidarity with the homeless that was little more than a photo-opportunity for the invited Labour politicians. It has represented this Bill’s national assault on the working class as a disagreement in housing policy between two Parliamentary parties. It has refused to draw attention to any aspect of the Bill that implicates the Labour Party in its implementation, and in particular to the changes to planning legislation that will have the most direct consequences for London’s council estates. And most damaging of all, in doing so it has alienated the greatest source of resistance to this Bill for the sake of allegiance to a Party and faith in a Leader who has not only failed to make any statement condemning Labour Council estate regeneration schemes, but whose only response to the mass destruction of working class homes and communities that is happening now is to promise to build more council homes when – or more accurately if – he is elected in four years’ time.

One thing, nevertheless, has become clear from the seven months of Parliamentary debate and five months of wasted campaigning: and that is that any opposition to this Act that aligns itself with the Labour Party, as the Kill the Housing Bill campaign has done from the start, is doomed to parliamentary ping-pong. The fun and games are over, the marches and demonstrations and playing at politics, both inside and outside of Parliament. The real political practice starts now.

The Agents of Change

So let’s start again. And let’s start by distancing ourselves from any organisation that implicitly or otherwise supports the Labour Party and its complete failure to avert the disasters either of the Housing and Planning Act or of the mass demolition of the social housing that is still home to 3.9 million households in England. That means distancing ourselves from the Kill the Housing Bill campaign and all those who will, no doubt, continue to lobby, protest, march and fall in line behind its obedience to the Labour Party. We need to stop asking the people and institutions that want to demolish our homes to give us the means to stop them doing so, and start organising our own resistance on the ground. And let’s begin again by recognising that the greatest source of opposition and resistance to the Housing and Planning Act and the estate demolition programmes it serves are not to be found in Parliament and the consciences of landlords, life peers, hereditary millionaires and company CEOs, but on council estates and with the hundreds of thousands of working class residents whose homes and lives they threaten.

Architects for Social Housing works specifically with resident campaigns fighting the demolition of their homes through estate regeneration schemes. We design architectural alternatives to demolition that increase the number of homes on an estate through infill and build-over. By setting a percentage of these aside for private rent or sale we generate the funds to refurbish the existing homes, and in doing so we provide a way for the communities they house to continue to live together. In addition to this design work, we work closely with residents’ campaigns, sharing information about the regeneration process and what Government housing policy means for them. Over the past year we have pursued this approach with Knight’s Walk, part of the Cotton Gardens estate in Lambeth, where our proposals forced the council to consider alternatives to full demolition and ultimately helped saved half the homes; with Central Hill estate, also in Lambeth, whose residents have proposed our designs as an alternative to the Council’s plans to demolish all 456 of their homes; and with West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates in Hammersmith and Fulham, where our designs are part of the residents’ application for the Right to Transfer their 760 homes to a community-owned, resident-controlled housing association. All three of these estates are, or were, under threat of full demolition by Labour Council regeneration schemes.

But we have a problem. As the resistance to their plans has grown, councils have stopped even pretending to listen. The People’s Plan, a 350-page document drawn up by the residents of Cressingham Gardens estate, was dismissed by Lambeth Labour Council out of hand and its authors, despite having the backing of over 80 per cent of residents, have been branded as trouble-makers and bullies unrepresentative of the estate as a whole. Architects for Social Housing received a similar response to the recent presentation of our design proposals to the Central Hill estate resident engagement panel. Following a concerted smear campaign against us in the press, only a single Lambeth Council officer bothered to turn up to our presentation. Across London the consultation process, such as it is, is being reduced to little more than a formal minimum as residents unanimously reject the justifications for the demolition of their homes. On the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates there has been no communication between residents and the council for nearly two years. Tenants and leaseholders alike are beginning to realise that steering committees, resident engagement panels, regeneration surgeries, overview and scrutiny committees, cabinet meetings, and all the other consultation structures supposedly set up by the council to listen to residents’ opinions are in fact there to silent their opposition. The more residents withdraw from these structures and start creating their own, the stronger their voices grow.

None of these resident campaigns is political in the conventional sense of the word. Their contempt for the Labour Party that has abandoned them is as total as it is for the Conservative Government. But over the course of our involvement with their campaigns we have watched residents’ growing politicisation – not to the ping-pong of Parliamentary politics but to the properly political practice of the communities which, under force of necessity, they come to form. And from working with these communities we’ve come to realise what many housing campaigners already know: that there are few stronger motivations to direct action than that of a single mother with two children fighting for her home. It is not by chance that so much of the current form of resistance to the social cleansing of London began with the Focus E15 Mothers, who in August 2013 took it upon themselves to act upon their situation when threatened with being forcibly moved out of London by Newham Labour Council. A year later they initiated a political occupation of the Carpenters Estate, where 600 council homes had stood empty for years since being decanted preparatory to their demolition and redevelopment. If the members of the Kill the Housing Bill campaign left their marches and demonstrations with Labour politicians and worked with residents in their fight to save their homes from Labour councils, they would know that here are the agents of change that will ultimately determine whether this cross-party attack on the working class will succeed or be defeated. Against first appearances, perhaps, certainly against their denigration by Government propaganda in the national press, and most definitely in opposition to the dismissive judgements made about them, their families and their homes by Labour Councils, these are the avant-garde of the movement we must set in motion.

After a year of attending council meetings and listening to council lies, residents know more about estate regeneration and what it means for them than any activist or academic. It is from them that we need to take our lead. In return, they need the support of housing campaigners, political activists, squatters and eviction resistance groups. They need the expertise and skills of lawyers, academics, architects, quantity surveyors, engineers, planners and even developers. They need the financial support of the unions and other organisations with access to funds. They need the solidarity not only of residents on other estates threatened with regeneration programmes, but also of other campaigns of resistance to the dismantling of the welfare estate by this Government, whether librarians, doctors, students, people with disabilities or union members. What they don’t need is to hear more lies from the Labour Party and its activists, or to see the struggle for their homes turned into an excuse for its complicity in the social cleansing of London. Again, if members of the Kill the Housing Bill campaign left their meetings and lobbies with Labour politicians and attended the endless panels, committees, surgeries and consultations with local authorities that residents do, they would know that here are the all-too-willing implementers of the end of social housing – not, as they falsely claim, under duress from Government cuts and the Housing and Planning Act, but in full collaboration with its policy of the social cleansing of our communities.

Building Resistance

So let’s begin again. And let’s start by putting the communities that live on council estates at the heart of our resistance, because at the moment few of them know what’s coming their way. If they’ve heard, by now, of the Government’s Housing and Planning Act, and might have read about its plans to ‘Blitz’ a hundred so-called sink estates, it’s still doubtful they’ve heard of the scale of the regeneration programme being drawn up by real estate firm Savills, given legitimacy by think-tanks like the Institute of Public Policy Research and Future of London, promoted by the London Housing Commission and New London Architecture, enacted by the London Land Commission and the London Mayor, financed by builders like Taylor Wimpey, Barrat and Berkley, supported by property developers like Barclays, Lend Lease and Capco, administered by housing associations like Peabody, Notting Hill Housing Trust and London and Quadrant, ratified by the Conservative Government, and then, only then, implemented by the predominantly Labour Councils the residents of these estates elected to power.

Open Garden Estates is an initiative by Architects for Social Housing designed to counter this lack of information. Piloted last year on the three estates we were working with, it was an opportunity for campaigns to galvanise fellow residents into resistance, publicise the struggle to save their homes, and invite people from the local community and beyond onto the estate. The aim was to help banish the myth of council estates as concrete jungles that are home to anti-social behaviour and crime, and show them to be what they are – some of the last instances of community living left in London, and perhaps the only remaining places where the mixed communities we hear so much about in the speeches of politicians have a chance to survive the encroachment of gated ghettos of predominantly white, middle-class wealth. This year, with funding from a charitable trust and in collaboration with the Revolutionary Communist Group, Open Garden Estates is expanding its reach. We currently have ten campaigns signed up to host the event, which is also part of the London Festival of Architecture, and we hope to have more by the time it happens over the weekend of 18-19 June. Our aim, this year, is to reach as many residents with as much information as we can about what the housing policies of this Government, the new London Mayor and their local authority will mean for their homes, and how they can start to build their resistance.

Our current advice to estate residents, which has been arrived at by residents themselves through their own struggle, but which is supported by advice from housing and leasehold lawyers, is that collective resistance by leaseholders forcing Councils to issue compulsory purchase orders against them is one of the most effective ways to resist estate regeneration and potentially save the homes of all residents, leaseholders and council tenants alike. It costs the Councils considerable sums in legal fees, allows residents to question the consultation process at public inquiries and judicial reviews, put forward alternative architectural designs for refurbishment and argue that they better represent the needs of the local community, and delays developers’ demolition plans by years, costing them large amounts of money. It also casts an illuminating light on the Plato’s cave of illusions in which the public is imprisoned by the media and its representation of what is happening to housing in this country. If we can show every leaseholder on every estate in London why they should do this, and why every council tenant on their estate should support them, then the Conservative Government, Labour Councils, and all the other housing associations, estate agents, building companies, property developers and real estate investors feeding at the London housing table might start to think again about whether estate demolition and redevelopment really is the easiest route to a quick profit and high returns.

We need to remember at every step that there is no housing crisis except the one being driven by the boom in the London property market, and we need to make it both financially and politically unviable for the businessmen and politicians running this city to realise their plans to build investment opportunities for offshore capital on the land our homes stand on. The police have immunity to beat up as many protesters as they like, and councils are happy to pick off tenants one by one; but we need to test their ability to evict an entire community in which the public, despite the denigration of working class lives in our national media, can still recognise themselves and their own struggle for housing, security and dignity. To this end we need to build a community of resistance to the attack on social housing we are facing. Only then can we think about how to set in motion a wider political movement to start reclaiming the public realm that is being sold from under our feet. This isn’t about a choice between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party, as liberals too terrified to face the truth like to think: this is a fight between monopoly capitalism and its subjects. Resistance begins at home.

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

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And Then There Were None

On Tuesday 3 May, Brandon Lewis, the Minister for Housing and Planning responsible for driving the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill through Parliament, rejected 12 of the 13 amendments proposed by the House of Lords. Financial privilege, a convention that deters peers from voting against the Government’s Budget, was invoked in six of the amendments refused, relating to local authorities retaining a percentage of funds from the enforced sale of high-value council housing rather than it all going to central government, the income threshold at which a household will incur market rents, and the limits to the increase in that rate.

The Minister’s party backed him up, and the following day, Wednesday 4 May, after a warning from Lewis about the Government’s mandate, the House of Lords failed to insist on all but two of their amendments: no. 108, on carbon compliance for new homes, and no. 110, on sustainable drainage systems, and proposed five new amendments in lieu: no. 10B, on the provision of other forms of affordable housing besides Starter Homes; no. 47B, on local authorities retaining part of the proceeds from the sale of high value council homes to build replacement affordable housing, including, according to amendment no. 47C, homes for social rent; as well as no. 97B, on neighbourhood right of appeal against planning permission, and no. 109B, on affordable housing contributions to small scale developments.

These amendments were sent back to the Commons the following week, and on Monday 9 May they rejected them again, while conceding new amendments to energy performance and drainage. Tuesday they were back with the Lords, who withdrew new amendments no. 10B on Starter Homes, no. 97D on neighbourhood planning, no. 108 on carbon compliance and no. 110D on sustainable drainage, but narrowly insisted on proposed new amendment no. 47E on the proceeds of high value council housing. On Wednesday the Commons again, and for the last time, rejected amendment 47E, and later that same day, after a further warning from the Prime Minister, the Lords finally withdrew the last of their 13 amendments. The following day, Thursday 12 May, the Bill received Royal Assent.

The week-long stalemate between the House of Commons and the House of Lords is known in Parliamentary parlance as ‘Ping Pong’; but rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic would be a more accurate description of its bearing on the outcome. If the two Houses had not reached consensus over the final text of the Bill before the State Opening of Parliament on 18 May, the Government could have invoked the Parliament Act and forced the Bill through in its original form, without any of the Lords amendments. The Minister had hinted as much with his repeated reminders to the Lords that the Bill was part of the Government’s election manifesto and therefore had a democratic mandate.

So now, after 6 months of debate – first through its two readings in the House of Commons, then a month in the Public Bill Committee, then again in the report to and final reading in the Commons, then for two readings in the House of Lords, a further month in Committee, another report to and final reading in the Lords, back again to the Commons, and then back and forth between Lords and Commons – the Housing and Planning Bill has not changed in any significant way since it was first read in the House of Commons on 13 October, 2015.

Against hopes if not expectations, the Right to Buy will be extended to housing associations, adding to the 40 per cent of council homes lost to Right to Buy that are now being rented out by private landlords.

On the pretence of paying for this, local authorities will be forced to sell council homes that become vacant if they are deemed high value according to a threshold that is still to be determined by secondary legislation, but is thought to be around £400,000 for a 2-bedroom home in London, and will apply to nearly 113,000 council homes in England.

A total of 214,000 households earning over £40,000 in Greater London and £31,000 in England, rather than the originally proposed £30,000, will be forced to pay market rates to stay in their council homes, but these thresholds will now be based on the incomes of the main two household earners, not include child or housing benefits, and be raised in line with inflation, with a taper of 15p in every pound over the threshold rather than the proposed 20p.

Secure tenancies will not be passed from parent to child as they once were, and new council tenancies will be for 2-5 years.

The obligation to build state-subsidised Starter Homes for sale at 80 per cent of market rate on 20 per cent of new housing developments will be an enforceable duty that supersedes any requirement to build affordable housing, including homes for social rent, under Section 106 agreements, but their resale after 5 years at full market price will now be regulated by a taper to be determined, once again, by secondary legislation.

And finally, planning permission in principle will be granted to any housing development on sites entered on a statutory register of brownfield land that will include existing local authority housing estates.

Following Royal Assent the Housing and Planning Act is the new law of the land, to be implemented by central and local government, and enforceable by the cops and the courts. So much for Parliamentary democracy.

And-Then-There-Were-None-Bigger-Large_1050_591_81_s_c1