Secure Homes for All? The Labour Party Manifesto on Housing

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

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

Let’s just pause here. Housing associations are not government run so half of these homes – in the absence of precise figures let’s say 50,000 per year – will be built by them to fit their requirements as private companies; though no doubt they will continue to receive the considerable subsidies they currently receive from central government agencies like the Homes and Communities Agency that the Manifesto promises to overhaul. So will a Labour government only provide those subsidies for the building of homes for social rent? The manifesto doesn’t say, and in the absence of any indication to the contrary we must assume housing associations will continue to receive subsidies for building homes for affordable rent, London living rent, affordable sale, shared ownership, shared equity, and anything else they can think of to supplant the council homes for social rent housing associations are either privatising or demolishing and building in their place. Indeed, ‘affordable’ is the only tenancy type and rental level the manifesto mentions.

So what of the other half of this half a million homes, the 50,000 council homes a year? To this end a Labour government will establish a new Department for Housing – in the words of the Manifesto – ‘to focus on tackling the crisis and to ensure housing is about homes for the many, not investment opportunities for the few’. We couldn’t have put it better ourselves. Except that council homes are not affordable housing, not even for ‘genuinely affordable rent or sale’. Council homes are, or were, exclusively built for rent at around 30 per cent of market rate, which is uniformly, although confusingly, referred to these days as ‘social rent’ – particularly in local authority planning documents identifying their demolition and replacement by, again, homes for affordable rent at up to 80 per cent of market rates, London living rent, affordable sale, shared ownership, shared equity and, of course, private sale – which, as in the Labour Manifesto, make up by far the largest proportion of new-build homes. Despite its vague promise to build ‘council homes for rent and sale’, the Labour Manifesto says nothing about building council homes for social rent.

What it does talk about is ‘Home Ownership’, the title of the next section. The other half of the 1 million homes a Labour government promises to build is, of course, made up of homes for private sale, so it’s understandable that these take precedence. The Manifesto promises ‘low-cost homes’ for ‘first-time buyers’, much like the Conservative government’s policy of Starter Homes. By this the Tories meant new-build properties capped at £450,000. Does the Labour Party regard this as ‘low cost’? The Manifesto doesn’t say. What it does say is that it will build these low-cost homes ‘just as Labour councils have been doing right across the country.’ So, let’s look at what homes for private sale Labour councils have been building, and get an idea of what the Manifesto means by ‘low cost’.

In Trafalgar Place at the Elephant and Castle Southwark Labour council in partnership with property developer Lendlease have built 2-bedroom apartments that start at £725,000 on the ruins of the demolished Heygate estate. Transparency International recently reported that every one of the properties on the first phase of the redevelopment has been bought by oversees investors. On Woodberry Down in Manor House Hackney Labour council in collaboration with property developer Berkeley Homes is building 2-bedroom apartments that start at £660,000. 55 per cent of the properties on the first completed phase have been bought by overseas investors. In Kidbrooke Village Greenwich Labour council, again in collaboration with Berkeley Homes, has built 2-bedroom apartments for £540,000 on the demolished Ferrier estate. And on the condemned Cressingham Gardens estate Lambeth Labour council – in a redevelopment vehicle directly backed by Jeremy Corbyn – is promising to build new properties for private sale that will start at £435,000 for a 1 bedroom apartment rising to £863,000 for a 4 bedroom property. So maybe the comparison with the Conservative government’s policy on Starter Homes is inaccurate only in that it undervalues the cost of these ‘low cost’ homes. We’ll leave it to you to judge whether this is building ‘homes for the many’ rather than ‘investment opportunities for the few’.

The next section is titled ‘Private Renters’, the fastest rising market in UK accommodation. Because of the lack of council housing for social rent – which is being further reduced by the council estate demolition programme being implemented across the UK but concentrated in London because of the huge profits – 20 per cent of British households now rent from private landlords, compared to just 17 per cent from social landlords – housing associations making up 9 per cent of that, and only 8 per cent living in council flats and paying social rent. So while the Manifesto’s pledge to introduce three-year tenancies for private renters, place a cap on rent rises, and ban letting agency fees is welcome, this only attempts to address the private market, which accounts for the majority of the £20.9 billion the UK spends per year on housing benefit. What it doesn’t address is the lack of alternative rented accommodation in the public sector, or the erosion of that 8 per cent by the nation-wide council estate regeneration programme.

So maybe the next section, titled ‘Council and Social Tenants’, will provide the solution. Perhaps here is where we will read the Labour Party’s commitment to build slightly more than the half of the half of the 1 million new homes it has promised. Perhaps this is where we will see laid out in clear terms the tenancy and rental levels so desperately needed by the 1.9 million households on the UK housing waiting list, the 280,000 households at risk of homelessness, and the 71,500 households living in temporary accommodation who can’t afford the new homes being built by Labour councils for three-quarters of a million quid?

Well, the pledge to ‘remove government restrictions that stop councils building homes’ is a good start – though perhaps if the Manifesto clarified those restrictions as including that on councils borrowing in order to build council homes for social rent this pledge would carry more weight. And the Manifesto also promises to reverse some of the housing legislation brought into law by Conservative governments, including ditching the phasing out of secure tenancies on council flats, scrapping the bedroom tax on council tenants, and suspending the right-to-buy council homes. But beside this ditching, scrapping and suspending, nothing is said about stopping the nation-wide estate demolition programme being carried out predominantly by Labour councils. Instead, all we get is a repetition of the pledge to build ‘genuinely affordable homes to rent and buy’.

And that’s it. There’s a further section on ‘Homelessness’, but nothing about the role of Labour housing policy in producing it. The pledge to make 4,000 homes available for people with a history of rough sleeping is welcome, but nothing is said about Labour councils criminalising rough sleepers with Public Space Protection Orders, closing down homeless hostels and selling the land off to private developers, or using anti-homeless architecture to drive rough sleepers out of their boroughs. Nothing is said about ditching, scrapping and suspending these practices and the laws created by the Conservative government and embraced by Labour councils to accommodate them.

And that really is it. There’s nothing we haven’t heard before on Labour housing policy; nothing promised that isn’t already being delivered by Labour councils across the country; and nothing said – not one word of hope – for the hundreds of thousands of Londoners facing the demolition, privatisation and social cleansing of their homes by the national programme of estate regeneration. No wonder the Labour Party unanimously agreed to this Manifesto: for Labour and Conservative councils alike it’s very much business as usual.

This is a Manifesto to nothing, a final throw of the dice in the wager Jeremy Corbyn has been playing with the British public, hoping that his image of a social democratic government will appeal to a large enough percentage of the population to get the Labour Party elected on 8 June. That its housing policies remain so bound to a programme of privatisation and home ownership shows just how little it has changed from the party of Tony Blair, whose devotees in our town halls, councils and housing committees remain the real representatives of Labour in power. We’d like to say that this is a missed opportunity; but in the 20 months since he was elected leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn has never once given the slightest indication that his housing policy differs in any way from that of the Labour councils to which he has given his backing. On the contrary, both he and his Shadow Housing Ministers have gone out of their way to say that Labour councils are the Labour Party in power. This Manifesto is the final proof of that betrayal.

Architects for Social Housing

Social Housing: Demolitions, Privatisations & Social Cleansing

Last month, to accompany its exhibition at the RIBA, Karakusevic Carson Architects published a book titled Social Housing: Definitions & Design Exemplars, which contains 24 case studies of new developments across Europe and the UK, many of them estate regenerations in London. These include the Colville, Kings Crescent and Nightingale estates in Hackney and the Bacton Low Rise estate in Camden, all four of which have been designed by Karakusuevic Carson; the Agar Grove estate in Camden, designed by Hawkins/Brown and Mae; as well as Tower Court in Hackney, designed by Adam Khan Architects and the Silchester estate in Kensington & Chelsea, designed by Haworth Tompkins. Oliver Wainwright, the architecture and design critic at the Guardian, called the book ‘A fascinating overview of social housing today. Complete with the essential nitty gritty details of plans, sections, budgets and timeframes, it’s both a practical manual and optimistic manifesto for what its possible to achieve, against all the odds.’

Such case studies have become endemic to the rash of publications over the past two years setting out the legislation, business models and design principals of estate regeneration in the UK. In February 2015 Urban Design London published its Estate Regeneration Sourcebook, which contains 14 case studies of regenerated estates, again including the Colville and King’s Crescent estates. In March 2016 four architectural practices not in the Karakusuevic Carson book – HTA Design, Levitt Bernstein, Pollard Thomas Edwards, and PRP – published Altered Estates: How to reconcile competing interests in estate regeneration, which contains 12 case studies of  estates regenerated by these practices, including the South Acton, Aylesbury, Packington and Crossways estates. Last December the Conservative government published its Estate Regeneration National Strategy, which contains 16 case studies of regenerated estates, including the demolished Ferrier and Myatts Field North estates, now redeveloped as Kidbrooke Village and Oval Quarter. The same month the Greater London Authority published Homes for Londoners: Draft Good Practice Guide to Estate Regenerationwhich contains 8 case studies of anonymised estates. And in April of this year the Labour Party published Local Housing Innovations: The Best of Labour in Power, which contains 44 case studies of new housing in Labour boroughs, many of which are engaged in council-led estate regeneration programmes.

All these publications and case studies have one thing in common: they all depict estate regeneration as the solution to the UK’s housing shortage, the new developments as unqualified improvements on the demolished estates, and the communities of residents as willing and satisfied customers in the regeneration of their homes. What was uniformly missing from all these publications is the ‘nitty gritty details’ – to use Oliver Wainwrights phrase – of how many homes for social rent were lost to these demolition schemes, how much public land was privatised by the redevelopment, and how many residents were socially cleansed from their estate as a result – everything, in fact, that would allow the reader to make a judgement about whether these ‘exemplars’ of estate regeneration are solving the housing crisis – as they claim to be – or exacerbating it.

To rectify these omissions – which are the first and most important criteria by which any estate regeneration should be judged – Architects for Social Housing is publishing this e-book of 12 case studies that we have written over the past year-and-a-half, accompanied by 6 articles that look at the function of estate regeneration in London’s housing crisis. Missing from this list of studies is Central Hill estate, on which we have published numerous articles as well as a design alternative to its planned demolition, and which will be the subject of a book-length case study to be published later this year. The reality of estate regeneration revealed in these studies is totally at odds with that presented in the publications by the Conservative government, the Labour opposition, the Greater London Authority, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the think tanks set up by the London councils demolishing the estates and the architectural practices contracted to design the new developments. We will leave it to the reader to judge which is the more accurate representation of a national strategy that will affect the homes and lives of millions of people in the UK.

Case Studies in Estate Regeneration 

  1. Kings Crescent estate, Hackney
  2. Woodberry Down estate, Hackney
  3. Northwold estate, Hackney
  4. Loughborough Park estate, Southwark
  5. Heygate estate, Southwark
  6. Aylesbury estate, Southwark
  7. Macintosh Court sheltered housing estate, Lambeth
  8. Knight’s Walk, Lambeth
  9. West Kensington & Gibbs Green estates, Hammersmith and Fulham
  10. Montague Road estate, Waltham Forest
  11. Ferrier estate, Greenwich
  12. Park Hill estate, Sheffield City

Estate Regeneration and the Housing Crisis

  1. 15 Truths About London’s Housing Crisis
  2. Ethics of Estate Regeneration
  3. The Housing and Planning Act
  4. Mapping London’s Housing Crisis
  5. Sink Estates and Starter Homes
  6. The London Clearances

Reviews

‘Twaddle as usual.’

– Philip Glanville, Labour Mayor of Hackney

‘Hard left nonsense. The article isn’t just shrill, it’s factually inaccurate and spreads misinformation about estate regeneration.’

– Theo Blackwell, Cabinet Member for finance, technology and growth, Camden Labour council

‘You just lie, and lie, and lie to people.’

– Tom Copley, Labour Deputy Chair for Housing, London Assembly

‘The so-called “Architects for Social Housing”.’

– Matthew Bennett, former Cabinet Member for Housing, Lambeth Labour council

‘Ego-tripping self publicist.’

– Joan Twelves, Lambeth Momentum and former Leader of Lambeth Labour Council

‘Shows how much you know about anything. I had thought you were a force for good, this completely changes my opinion.’

– Candida Ronald, Labour councillor for Blackwall and Cubitt Town, Tower Hamlets council

‘Cretinous sectarian drivel that if listened to would ensure the mass demolition of our council houses.’

– Keith Dunn, Haringey Momentum

‘Disingenuous propaganda that undermines fellow professionals.’

– Alex Ely, founder of Mae Architects

‘A noble idea but not really practical.’

– Brendan Kilpatrick, Managing Director of PRP Architects

‘Not everyone believes that public money should be used to subsidise families to live in areas they could not otherwise afford to.’

– Ben Derbyshire, Chair of HTA Design and President elect of the RIBA

‘Behold the Trumpo-Ukip “Left”.’

– Dave Hill, sacked housing commentator for the Guardian

‘Too shouty.’

– Oliver Wainwright, architecture and design critic for the Guardian

‘Architects have a key role in our society’s responsibility to initiate change, and the evolving discourse of ASH and its members are an essential and much needed reflection of this.’

– Tomasz Romaniewicz, Coffey Architects

‘If you want a thorough grounding in what’s causing the ongoing housing crisis and what needs to be done to provide a solution that’s dictated by our agenda, this is essential reading.’

– South Essex Heckler

‘A very good piece which deserves a wide audience.’

– Anna Minton, Reader in Architecture at the University of East London and author of Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the Twenty-First Century City

‘First time I’ve heard a genuinely powerful proposal for how to combat this, and such a comprehensive and concise view on the whole thing.’

– Olga Winterbottom

‘So much information and analysis here on the issue of social housing, starter homes, right-to-buy sell-offs and estate regeneration.’

– Andree Frieze, freelance journalist and Green Party candidate, Ham & Petersham

‘I strongly applaud the work ASH have undertaken, on a number of levels, these last few months. Their actions and very successful message-delivery have reached a wide audience, and I, for one, find the manifesto an excellent hook upon which to hang my own beliefs, emboldened in the knowledge that there is a growing movement standing against the complicity of the architecture profession in exploiting homes and the built environment as mere financial commodities. Due to this movement, I feel able to say that I will never work for clients whose aim is to use architecture as a vehicle for producing money. Architecture is there to support life; a creative, diverse and complex life. This must remain its priority. Thank you ASH for clarifying this objective, and strengthening my resolve to achieve it.’

– Sam Causer, Director of Studio Sam Causer

‘This is probably the finest writing on the subject of this administration’s policies on social housing I have come across.’

– Joseph Asghar, photographer

‘Wonderful blog post. I hope to view a great deal more by you.’

– Robert Marie

‘Thank you ASH for a superb critique. This kind of analysis is a great complement to the on-the-ground work you have been doing at West Kensington & Gibbs Green, Central Hill and so on.’

– Michael Edwards, Teaching Fellow at the Bartlett School of Planning and author of The Housing Crisis and London

‘Excellent analysis. I’m so glad you’re doing this work, even if it must feel sometimes like writing the eulogy for council housing UK.’ 

– Single Aspect

‘Well done ASH for putting all these pieces together.’

– Jerry Flynn, 35% Campaign

‘Your Blog is superb. I look forward to reading it and, in particular, your most recent posts have been extremely powerful and pertinent to everyone in the country. I’ve shared them widely.’

– Briony Sloan, Chair of Rawdon Greenbelt Action Group

‘I feel as if I have just had a warm, relaxing bath reading this article. Such a relief to hear about happenings from such dedicated, informed, effective and, to top it off, even dryly humorous group. Thanks very much for posting.’

– Orenda E, former leaseholder on the Heygate estate

‘Well done guys keep it up.’

– Peter Barber, Director of Peter Barber Architects

‘So happy you are saying all the things many of us believe but wouldn’t dare to say.’

– Fenna Haakma Wagenaar, architect

‘A judgment has to be made, not just on the quality of a building, but whether it contributes to the Common Weal, or its opposite. ASH have demonstrated that there are other ways to practice architecture and maintain professional integrity.’

– Kate Macintosh, architect of Dawson’s Heights and Macintosh Court

‘This important challenge to academics relating to architecture and housing, and to the Labour party, needs to be published and widely distributed.’

– Stefan Szczelkun, author of The Conspiracy of Good Taste

‘Brilliant article. Fabulous research. It’s the kind of investigative journalism “proper” journalists don’t seem to do any more. I wonder why . . .’

– Steve Tiller, Hackney Momentum Steering Group

‘A long read but well worth the effort, as it goes into forensic detail about what happens when a council estate in London is “regenerated” and what happens to the former residents.’

– On Uncertain Ground

‘ASH helps residents have a voice and a vision.’

– Patmore Cooperative

‘Look forward to publication. None of these architects, critics and case studies speaks to residents about their homes and communities. You do!’

– Save Northwold Campaign

‘Long live ASH!’

– Aysen Dennis, tenant on the Aylesbury estate

Since it started in September 2015 the ASH Blog has been visited over 88,000 times by nearly 53,000 people in over 150 countries.

Class War on Woodberry Down: A National Strategy

Woodberry Down in Manor House is one of the most sinister places I’ve ever visited. The council estate, built between the 1950s and 1970s, sits either side of the Seven Sisters Road, cradled in a bend of the New River flowing south. But turn down Woodberry Down itself and behind the Edwardian terraces and red-brick façade of St. Olave’s Church, overlooking the two large pools of Stoke Newington Reservoir, and a strange new world is emerging. Behind a wall of glass sweating office workers run towards you but never arrive. Maps of the surrounding area are reproduced on every corner with arrows indicating ‘you are here’. Hoardings lining the street display huge colour photographs of people smiling or shopping or jogging or pointing. Banners bearing company logos hang from lamp posts next to children’s drawings enlarged by professional artists. Boards and windows are covered with obscure phrases like ‘Designed for life’, ‘Our Vision’, ‘City Living Naturally’, ‘High Spec Equipment’, ‘The Nature Collection’, ‘Wildlife Information’, ‘Career Advice & Volunteering’ and ‘Sales & Marketing Suite’. And in contrast to the noisy mix of classes, races, ages and cultures spilling out of Manor House tube station, here everyone is young, everyone is silent, and everyone looks the same. Ashen-faced girls in dark skirt suits walk home in uncomfortably high heels; while boys with neatly-trimmed beards and tight-fitting jeans walk tiny Pugs along the pavement. Down by the reservoir a huge silver ball sits encased in water flowing from the sort of water-feature you’d expect to see in the courtyard of a Singapore hotel. Everywhere you look signs remind you that this is ‘Woodberry Down’. While above you, emerging from a skeleton of steel and plastic netting, towers of green and yellow glass rise high into the sky. And at every corner, down every alley, on every lamp post, above every shop, beside every entrance, a red plastic dome watches over you, recording your every move. So what has happened here?

When Woodberry Down estate was completed in the 1970s, its 57 blocks of 5- and 8-storey buildings provided 2,013 new council homes. According to the Woodberry Down masterplan, which was granted planning permission by Hackney Labour council in 2009 to redevelop the estate over the following twenty years, 1,980 of these homes will be demolished and replaced with 5,557 new units. Of these, 3,292 will be properties for private sale and 2,265 will be ‘affordable’ housing, the latter comprising 1,177 properties for shared ownership, with 1,088 flats promised for social rent. Between 2011 and 2015, Hackney council spent £16 million of public funds on the Woodberry Down redevelopment, which also received financial support from the government’s Homes and Communities Agency and the Greater London Authority. The council consulted residents and neighbours on the proposed redevelopment for a total of five weeks between 8 November and 15 December 2013. Unsurprisingly, from the 5,109 letters they sent out they received only 32 responses.

Woodberry Down is being redeveloped by two private companies: property developers Berkeley Homes and Genesis housing association. The Berkeley Group currently has 32 developments in Greater London, including Kidbrooke Village, which like Woodberry Down is being built on land cleared of 1,906 demolished council flats on the former Ferrier estate in Greenwich. The most expensive new properties on the Woodberry Down redevelopment have all been sold, but prices on the available properties range from £490,000 for a 1-bedroom apartment, £660,000 for a 2-bedroom apartment, all the way up to £1,475,000 for a 3-bedroom premium residence overlooking the reservoir (now rebranded the Woodberry Wetlands nature reserve) complete with access to a swimming pool and spa facilities only open to other private residents, a state of the art gym and 24-hour concierge service. To give you an idea of whom these 3,392 new properties for private sale are marketed at, a £450,000 property requires a salary of £77,000 per annum and a deposit of £97,000. It’s not surprising, therefore, that 55 per cent of the properties built in phase 1 were bought by overseas investors, mainly from Asian markets. According to the British Property Federation, in 2013 61 per cent of all new homes sold in the capital were bought not to live in but solely as an investment. Equally unsurprisingly, the Berkeley Group has sales offices in Singapore, Hong Kong and Beijing.

The other development partner, Genesis housing association, which manages 33,000 homes across London, has been handed the responsibility by Hackney Labour council for delivering over 1,900 homes for shared ownership and social rent on the Woodberry Down redevelopment, presumably to replace the 1,980 council homes that are being demolished. However, these proposed tenancies are dependent upon future viability assessments at each of the 8 phases of redevelopment. In their planning approval, Hackney council committed to delivering 41 per cent ‘affordable’ housing in each phase of the redevelopment; but of the 1,465 new units in phase 1 only 563 were ‘affordable’, 38 per cent of the total; while in phase 2 only 307 of the 850 units will be ‘affordable’, 36 per cent of the total. Far more important than this distinction, however, only 36 per cent of the ‘affordable’ housing on phase 2, a total of 110 flats, will be for social rent. No guarantees have been given for the tenancy mix on the remaining 6 phases, all of which will be subject to viability assessments – which means the 20 per cent profit margins demanded by the developers. So far these ‘independent’ assessments have been carried out by BNP Paribas, the fifth largest bank in the world. How likely these homes for social rent – or even the quota of ‘affordable’ homes – are to materialise in the future was indicated in July 2015, less than a year-and-a-half after the Woodberry Down development was granted planning permission, when Neil Hadden, the CEO of Genesis, said in an interview:

Our current development programme is configured on the basis that we produce a third social housing or affordable housing, a third intermediate tenure, such as shared ownership, and a third for the market. We’ve been having discussions in the light of the budget and we really think that the affordable rent element has gone and therefore we should be looking more at a 50/50 split between intermediate tenures, such as shared ownership and market rent/outright sale. There’s not going to be any grant for affordable housing going forward, so how will other associations make it stand up? We are not able, or being asked, to provide affordable and social rented accommodation to people who should be looking to the market to solve their own problems. My problem will be to supply new housing at different price points in locations where the economics of those schemes stack up, and because of where we work the demand will be there for those properties.

Former council tenants with secure tenancies on the Woodberry Down estate who have had their homes demolished and been moved into the new Genesis housing have complained that as housing association tenants they have fewer rights and can more easily be evicted by their new landlord. And there are reports – particularly from pensioners and low-income families – of tenants having to go into debt just to afford the increased cost of heating their homes, or of moving off the new developments altogether because they cannot afford their increased rent, service charges and utility bills. This is not particular to the Woodberry Down development, but a reputation Genesis has earned across London. In 2014 the Labour MP for Westminster North, Karen Buck, conducted a survey of all Genesis residents in her constituency, and in response to the question: ‘Overall are you satisfied as a tenant of Genesis housing association?’, three quarters of the tenants responding said they were not satisfied, and 81 per cent felt that things were getting worse rather than better.

These are, of course, the lucky ones. When the Woodberry Down redevelopment began, 1,555 households were council tenants, with the remaining 425 flats owned by leaseholders. As shown by the tenure split for phases 1 and 2, which have supplied around 300 homes for social rent, most of Woodberry Down’s 1,980 households are still living in their council homes on the other side of the street. According to the masterplan, these are to be ‘decanted’ at some later date during phase 6 of the redevelopment, which is earmarked to compensate for the lack of ‘affordable’ housing in the earlier phases. But even if the tenure split proposed in the planning document for Woodberry Down materialises – and in the light of the comments by the CEO of Genesis this seems highly unlikely – 1,555 tenant households in council flats won’t fit into 1,088 housing association units for social rent. And £650,000 pound properties for shared ownership or a monthly rent of £2,200 for a 2-bedroom flat are not options for either leaseholders offered £220,000 compensation for their demolished 2-bedroom homes or council tenants currently paying social rent. So where will the people who don’t fit into Woodberry Down’s billboard world go?

Directly opposite Woodberry Down, next to Manor House tube station and just outside the border of the redevelopment site, stands Ivy House, a privately-owned and run hostel for homeless families that contains 97 units over 2 floors. Residents live in single bedsits with their children, and although Ivy House is categorised as temporary accommodation some families have been there for more than two years. Residents are allowed no visitors at any time, day or night, are not permitted to eat in their room, cannot smoke anywhere in the hostel, and are prohibited from using their own bedding. CCTV is fitted throughout, and there are regular room inspections by staff. A barred iron gate is fitted across the entrance. One interviewed mother who lives there said she felt like she was ‘living in a prison’. Ivy House is owned by Rooms & Studios London, a company set up by Danny Edgar and Zamir Haim, that has 1,500 similar units for rent across the capital. On their website they describe the accommodation as being for ‘professionals, students and hostel seekers’. In the three decades they have operated in London the two entrepreneurs have bought, built, refurbished and sold assets worth over £200 million.

Hackney Labour council currently houses 793 homeless families in hostels like Ivy House, the highest number of any London borough, where a total of 2,733 households, around 8,000 people, live in temporary accommodation, the sixth highest in London. £35 million per year in Housing Benefit is being paid to private landlords like Rooms & Studios London in order to house homeless families in temporary accommodation in Hackney – but it’s being paid by central government, not by Hackney council. Although it has one of the worst records, Hackney isn’t alone in producing homelessness. As of September 2016, a total of 73,120 households in England, including 114,930 children, were living in temporary accommodation, with 53,343 of those households in London. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that in the year 2015-2016 £20.9 billion of public money was spent on housing benefit in England. A quarter of the people renting in the UK now rely on housing benefit to meet the spiralling cost of their accommodation; but with 20 per cent of homes now being privately rented compared to just 17 per cent socially rented, the majority of that £20.9 billion goes straight into the pockets of private landlords.

The estimated total value of the housing stock in England in January 2017 was £6.8 trillion – an increase of £1.5 trillion in the last three years – equivalent to 3.7 times the gross domestic product of the UK, and nearly 60 per cent of the UK’s entire net wealth. £1.7 trillion of that housing stock is in London. It’s also not surprising, therefore, that according to the recently published Sunday Times Rich List, 26 of the 100 wealthiest people in the UK listed property as a major source of their wealth; while among the richest 1000 people in the UK – who increased their wealth by £83 billion over the past year alone to £658 billion – there are 164 property moguls with a combined wealth of £143.7 billion.

Listed at number 407 on the Rich List, Tony Pidgley, the Chairman and founder of the Berkeley Group, is one of these. By concentrating developments on the hugely lucrative London market, the Berkeley Group has the highest profit margins of any builder in the UK. For the year ending 30 April 2016 Berkeley announced pre-tax profits of £530.9 million, up from £110.3 million in 2010, and is currently valued at around £4 billion. In 2014, when 441 council homes on the Woodberry Down estate had been demolished and 1,109 new properties had replaced them, Pidgley had a personal fortune of £160 million. Three years later he’s now worth £285 million, with a total annual pay-packet of £23.3 million, making him the second highest-paid CEO in the Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 index. It’s not surprising, therefore, that in a speech he delivered last July, Pidgley reflected on the many benefits of estate regeneration:

Regeneration is about creating new places where people aspire to live, work and visit. It is about taking unused or under-used land and transforming it into a thriving community.  It is about putting the heart and confidence back into a community. This is never more important than estate regeneration where people’s homes are being redeveloped.

True regeneration requires partnership between the public sector, developers and the community, creating a shared vision and working together to deliver it. Regeneration takes years, often decades, and a strong partnership is critical to weather the inevitable storms along the way. One thing I know from my years in development is that you do not deliver what you think you will at the outset. Circumstances change and you need to be flexible and to adapt. This does not mean abandoning the vision at the first sign of trouble, but having strong agreed objectives that will be adhered to but may be delivered in a different way.

It is the community who have to come first and be at the very heart of the process, showing them respect and giving them a voice. You have to engage with the community before you do anything else. I know this from the Berkeley Group’s developments at Woodberry Down. We have put our heart and soul into the job of rebuilding these places and transforming not just the physical fabric of each community but the way people feel about their lives.  

Regeneration is about far more than bricks and mortar. It’s about aspiration, well-being, and people’s quality of life. Great regeneration makes a place feel safe, creating a real mix of uses, and a real mixed community with a balance of private and affordable homes.

Inevitably regeneration, and estate regeneration, will lead to an increase in the number of homes. This is positive as we urgently need to provide London’s growing population with homes they can afford. So, we should be embracing increased densities. More homes will generate higher revenues to pay for employment programmes, youth projects, shops, public realm and sports facilities. In effect, it provides the funding to pay for investment in all the things that make a great community.

So regeneration is a force for good and is vital to change people’s life chances as well as delivering more homes and better places for all. We need our new Mayor, Sadiq Khan, to champion regeneration to create places where people aspire to live. This is about giving people back their pride in their front door and their community. It will demand tenacity, investment and collaboration with the boroughs. And it is central to the future of our fantastic capital.

In addition to being the Chairman of the Berkeley Group, Tony Pidgley also sits on the advisory panel of the government’s Estate Regeneration National Strategy that is similarly targeting 100 council estates across the UK. Other panel members include Elaine Bailey, the CEO of Hyde housing association, which demolished and redeveloped the Packington estate in Islington; Paul Tennant, the CEO of Orbit housing association, which is redeveloping the Erith estate in Bexley with the help of funds from the National Strategy; Nicholas Boys Smith, the Director of Create Streets, a research institute that promotes the demolition of council estates and their replacement with terraced blocks; Dominic Grace, the head of London Residential Development at real estate firm Savills, which – when not advising the Cabinet Office to demolish the council homes of over 400,000 Londoners or writing housing policy for the London Mayor – is advising London councils on their estate demolition programmes and producing viability assessments for property developers that reduce the affordable housing quotas on new developments to their minimum; and Peter Vernon, Executive Director of the Grosvenor Group, the property corporation that manages the estate of the Duke of Westminster and his family, which besides its portfolio in Mayfair and Belgravia owns 133,100 acres in the UK – 0.22 per cent of the total land – and has offices in 18 cities across the world, with current total assets of £47.6 billion. The advisory panel is headed by Gavin Barwell, the Minister of State for Housing and Planning.

The National Strategy has been given £172 million of government funding to assess which 100 estates are to be regenerated, a mere £1.7 million for each estate; so there will be similar demands for partnership between the public and private sector in order to redevelop them; similar changes and adaptations to what residents are promised at the outset to meet future viability assessments; similar transformations of the communities whose homes are demolished into those that live in the new developments; similar replacements of council homes for social rent with private and ‘affordable’ properties; similar increases in densities of housing generating similar profits for the developers; similar collaborations between the private companies whose representatives sit on this panel and the councils that will hand over the public land those companies need to keep bleeding the UK property boom to the last drop; and similar championing of estate regeneration by politicians pointing to the aspirations of the similarly fictitious communities as the one being advertised on Woodberry Down.

London’s housing crisis is not a crisis, and it’s not about housing. It’s been manufactured to create new markets for the investment of international capital. It’s for this reason – and not the cost of their construction – that the properties being built on London’s demolished council estates are so expensive – that, and the profits of developers. The four largest building companies – Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey, Barratt and the Berkeley Group – made pre-tax profits of £2 billion in 2015, an astronomical rise from just £354 million in 2010, and have even promised an extra £6.6 billion in dividends to shareholders by 2021. And while demanding the demolition of hundreds of council estates to free up land for redevelopment, these four companies alone currently sit on 450,000 empty building plots across the UK – further driving up the price of land and the housing they build on it. As a result, London house prices have risen by 86 per cent since 2009, and at an average price of £482,800 now cost more than fourteen times the average London salary of £33,720. And as a visit to the Sales and Marketing Suite at Woodberry Down will confirm, the new properties being built on demolished council estate land – even those located outside the coveted real estate of Inner London – cost far higher than the average.

The function of new-build properties within London’s property market ­– which at 3.7 times the UK’s GDP is now an economy in itself – is not to house the 250,000 London households currently on housing waiting lists, or the 240,000 London households with 320,000 children living in overcrowded accommodation, or the 50,000 London households with 78,000 children that are currently homeless and living in temporary accommodation; it is to satisfy the demand of capital for investment opportunities. Because of the enormously inflated exchange value of new-build properties, their use value as homes for Londoners is almost zero. On the contrary, the more council estates are demolished to clear the land for their construction, and the more public land is lost to private companies, so the higher the demand for housing grows, the higher the price of the housing being built in their place is driven up, and the louder property developers like Tony Pidgley demand the demolition of more council estates to make way for higher density, higher cost housing in their place.

It’s within this self-perpetuating cycle of capital that we should understand the demands of builders, developers, housing associations, estate agents, think tanks, architects, councillors and politicians to demolish and redevelop more estates, and their justifications for doing so with ever more fantastical appeals to notions of community. Estate regeneration isn’t a solution to the UK housing crisis: its the means by which the rich perpetuate and profit from that crisis at the expense of the poor. Estate regeneration is a national strategy in the class war being waged through housing.

Architects for Social Housing

Vote Labour? The Aims and Values of Estate Demolition

ASH has been told a lot recently – by people we know and by people we’ve never met – that ‘Now is not the time to be criticising the Labour Party!’  When is it ever in the eyes of Labour supporters? But the particular argument for not doing so now – as it is every time a general election is called – is that inspiring political call to arms: ‘At least we’re not the Tories!’ Now, at ASH we believe in doing our own thinking, whether about estate demolition or the political parties canvassing for residents’ votes; so let’s start by taking a look at this widely claimed difference between the Labour and Conservative parties. Here, in its own words, are the current aims and values of the Labour Party as laid out in Clause IV of the Labour Party Rule Book 2017:

1. The Labour Party is a democratic socialist Party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many not the few; where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe and where we live together freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.

2. To these ends we work for:

A. A Dynamic Economy serving the public interest, in which the enterprise of the market and the rigour of competition are joined with the forces of partnership and co-operation to produce the wealth the nation needs and the opportunity for all to work and prosper with a thriving private sector and high-quality public services where those undertakings essential to the common good are either owned by the public or accountable to them

B. A Just Society, which judges its strength by the condition of the weak as much as the strong, provides security against fear, and justice at work; which nurtures families, promotes equality of opportunity, and delivers people from the tyranny of poverty, prejudice and the abuse of power.

For those – whose numbers appear to be growing the closer we get to this election – who believe the Labour Party is in any way socialist, the key phrases here are ‘enterprise of the market’, ‘rigour of competition’, ‘thriving private sector’, ‘equality of opportunity’, ‘tyranny of poverty’, and ‘the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe’ – none of which would sound out of place in the Constitution of the Conservative Party. Perhaps not surprisingly, however, the only aims and values expressed in the Conservative Partys Constitution is ‘to sustain and promote within the Nation the objects and values of the Conservative Party’. Now there’s a tautology worthy of the self-preservation society of the ruling class! But in 2006 David Cameron – perhaps trying to emulate his hero and model – laid out the ‘Aims and Values’ of the Conservative Party as follows:

1. Our Values: The more we trust people, the stronger they and society become. We’re all in this together – government, business, the voluntary sector, families and individuals. We have a shared responsibility for our shared future.

2. Our Aims: To improve the quality of life for everyone through:

A. A Dynamic Economy, where thriving businesses create jobs, wealth and opportunity.

B. A Strong Society, where our families, our communities and our nation create secure foundations on which people can build their lives.

And no, there is no echo in here. Now, for those of us who can’t remember what Clause IV said before Tony Blair rewrote it in 1995, here’s the original wording from the 1918 Constitution, where it describes the aims of the Labour Party as:

4. To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.

5. Generally to promote the political, social and economic emancipation of the people, and more particularly of those who depend directly upon their own exertions by hand or by brain for the means of life.

While this does not by itself constitute a manifesto for socialism – and in any case no Labour government has come close to implementing its promises – the differences between these principals and the aims and values of the current Labour Party are fundamental – unlike the barely discernible difference between the current Labour and Conservative parties. While the original Clause IV sought to ‘secure the full fruits of industry’ the current one aims to ‘prosper in a thriving public sector’; while the former sought ‘equitable distribution’ the latter aims for ‘equality of opportunity’; ‘common ownership of the means of production’ has now become the ‘enterprise of the market’; ‘best possible administration’ has been replaced by the ‘rigour of competition’; ‘emancipation of the people’ has been reduced to being ‘accountable to the public’; ‘control of each industry’ is fobbed off for ‘justice at work’; and ‘those who depend directly upon their own exertions for the means of life’ are now dismissed as ‘the weak’.

And yet despite this fundamental difference, Jeremy Corbyn, in his 20 months as Leader of the Labour Party, even after having twice been elected by its membership with the largest majority of any Labour Party leader in history, has not changed one word of Clause IV describing the current aims and values of the Labour Party.

Corbyn Homes for Lambeth

So where does that leave Labour’s housing policy? Well, one answer is this photograph, taken last December, showing Corbyn and his Minister for Housing, John Healey, standing with Lambeth Labour council’s then Cabinet Member for Housing Matthew Bennett, and giving his support to Homes for Lambeth, the special purpose vehicle that has been created to demolish and redevelop Lambeth’s council estates, and whose Chair is to be . . . Matthew Bennett (no conflict of interest there then). Homes for Lambeth, which is a commercial venture, had just signed a 5-year contract with construction management firm Airey Miller that requires the new housing developments to make a profit in order to cover their nearly £6.5 million fee. All of Lambeth Labour council’s previous promises to residents to build homes for social rent to replace the thousands of council flats the council are intent on demolishing will be subordinate to this profit margin. This includes not only Airey Miller, but every other private company with whom they enter into development contracts, including the every present Savills real estate firm, which is advising Labour councils across London on their estate demolition programme. This is what Labour councils mean when, in presenting their plans to residents, they refer to the exact percentage of social housing on the new developments being subject to ‘future viability assessments’.

It is to this commercial venture, which is being repeated across London by Labour councils demolishing hundreds of council estates, that Corbyn has given his full backing. This photograph, therefore, is not an anomaly, not a photo opportunity gone wrong, and not yet another example of Corbyn being badly advised by the incompetents he has gathered around him; it is the true and accurate image of the values and aims of the current Labour Party. Corbyn himself made this clear at the Labour Party Conference that was held on 28 September 2016, 3 months before this photograph was taken, and only four days after being re-elected Party Leader with an even higher percentage of the vote:

Across the country, Labour councils are putting Labour values into action in a way that makes a real difference to millions of people, despite cynical government funding cuts that have hit Labour councils five times as hard as Tory-run areas. It is a proud Labour record, and each and every Labour councillor deserves our heartfelt thanks for the work they do.

Of course, more recently, in the course of campaigning towards the general election, Corbyn announced that if elected to power a Labour government will ‘build a million homes over the period of a parliament, half of which will be council and housing association for rent, and be totally affordable.’ In fact he said roughly the same thing at the Labour Party conference, and in the 10-Point Manifesto he published the previous August, where he additionally promised ‘to increase access to affordable home ownership’. Unfortunately, nowhere has Corbyn said whether these million new-build homes would be ‘totally affordable’ like the ‘genuinely affordable’ homes London Mayor Sadiq Khan has made an acceptable replacement for the homes for social rent demolished by estate demolition schemes – and which includes, under its definition, homes for shared ownership and incentives to get middle-income, first-time buyers on the housing ladder – or ‘totally affordable’ like the ‘affordable’ properties for sale or rent at up to 80 per cent of market rate Southwark Labour council is building across the borough in place of the demolished homes for social rent they have promised.

Despite our best efforts to speak with Corbyn about his housing policy on estate demolition, the Labour leader has refused to answer our questions about exactly where a Labour government will build these one million ‘totally affordable’ homes. But given the extent and range of the Labour council-led estate demolition programme to which he has given his unconditional support, the only possible place a million new homes are likely to be built by a Labour government is on the public land being cleared of estates by Labour councils – either for privatisation by special purpose vehicles like Homes for Lambeth and Croydon council’s Brick by Brick, or simply sold off, as council estate land is in Southwark, Lewisham, Greenwich, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Waltham Forest, Barking & Dagenham, Hackney, Haringey, Enfield, Camden, Islington, Hammersmith & Fulham, Brent, Ealing and Merton to developers like Lendlease, Native Land, Galliard, Grosvenor, Knight Dragon and Capco, to builders like Taylor Wimpey, Berkeley, Barratt, Persimmon, Redrow and Higgins, or to housing associations like Notting Hill Housing, Clarion Housing, Family Mosaic, Peabody, the Hyde Group, London & Quadrant and the Guinness Partnership.

But then why – in the highly unlikely event Corbyn is elected Prime Minister – wouldn’t he build 50 per cent private properties and 50 per cent ‘totally affordable’ housing on such privatised land (subject to future viability assessments by Savills)? This is the ‘enterprise of the market’ in action, the ‘rigour of competition’ deciding who wins a contract, the ‘equality of opportunity’ between private companies turning a profit. These are the ‘aims and values’ of the Labour Party laid out in its constitution this year as it enters the general election.

However, in addition to a Dynamic Economy whose beneficiaries still, after the 2008 financial crash, try to tell us that the ‘nation’ owns the wealth of capitalists, and a Just Society that attributes poverty to ‘tyranny’ rather than the systemic inequality produced by capitalism, Clause IV of the current Labour Party also has two further aims:

C. An Open Democracy, in which government is held to account by the people, decisions are taken as far as practicable by the communities they affect, and where fundamental human rights are respected.

D. A Healthy Environment, which we protect, enhance and hold in trust for future generations.

On both Cressingham Gardens and Central Hill estates, the first two of the six estates threatened by Lambeth Labour council to be given their demolition notices, 80 per cent of the more than 2,000 residents voted against the demolition of their homes. While on the Aylesbury estate, where 73 per cent of residents voted against demolition, even the Conservative government’s inspector found that the compulsory purchase order issued by Southwark Labour council on the homes of leaseholders was in violation of their human rights. As for a ‘healthy environment’, a report by Model Environments commissioned by ASH has shown that the environmental cost of demolishing Central Hill estate equates to the annual emissions of over 4,000 Lambeth residents, heating 600 detached homes for a year using electric heating, or the emissions savings made by the London Labour Mayor’s RE:NEW retrofitting scheme in a year and a quarter. That’s for just one of the hundreds of council estates under threat of demolition, privatisation and social cleansing by Labour councils, and whose loss for ‘future generations’ will be irreversible within our current legal system. It’s not by Corbyn’s heartfelt speeches to the assembled masses, but by its community-destroying estate demolition programme, that the Labour Party’s promise to create an Open Democracy should be judged.

We will, nonetheless, uphold our end of the aims and values of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, and hold it to account for its record in local government, from which its policy on housing is explictly taken. As the interim Housing Minister, Teresa Pearce, gushed at the same Labour Party conference at which Corbyn offered Labour councils his heartfelt thanks:

I want to say to Labour councillors up and down the country: thank you. In Labour-run councils you are making a difference, and I am proud of the ingenuity you have shown in the face of difficult choices, finding new solutions, demonstrating just what Labour can do in power. Our Councils are a vital source of Labour representation, and an increasing inspiration on policy. Innovating, forward looking, credible policy: that is Labour in power in local government.

Pearce and Corbyn arent alone in their effusive thanks to the inspiration of Labour councils for Labour housing policy. This April, in what is effectively the Labour Partys manifesto on housing going into this election, John Healey, the current Shadow Minister of State for Housing, published a report titled Local Housing Innovations: The Best of Labour in Power, in which he writes in the introduction:

Labour in local government isn’t just a source of representation, it’s a demonstration of Labour priorities to meet housing need, support mixed communities and give working people the chance to fulfil their aspiration of home ownership. And as this report shows, when Labour is in power it is often also a cradle of fresh ideas and innovative policies. In housing and planning Labour councils are applying our established values locally in new and inspirational ways. I hope that it will be a useful reminder to Labour members and supporters of the good we can do in government and a source of inspiration to colleagues in councils and across the wider housing sector. These are ideas that can change lives, and show the difference Labour in power can make.

We agree. We believe them. And we will remember. In the 20 months since the Labour Party elected its new leader not one of the politicians with a say in Labour’s housing policy – not Jeremy Corbyn, not John McDonnell, not John Healey, not Sadiq Khan, not James Murray – and not a single Labour MP whose constituents are threatened by Labour councils, has said one word against what Labour in power in local government is doing to the tens of thousands of homes of Londoners being socially cleansed by Labour’s estate demolition programme. And on 8 June 2016 the Labour Party will be held accountable for that silence at the ballot box.

But what of the final – and most desperate – plea of the Labour Party, which we are repeatedly told in increasingly shrill tones, that: ‘A vote for anyone but Labour is a vote for the Tories!’ Now, if that were the case, and Labour really were intent on saving the country from yet another Conservative government – which has much to be said for it as a national strategy – why then has it not formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party to ensure that the parliamentary candidate with the best chance of defeating the Conservative candidate is backed by all parties? The Labour Party needs a swing of 8.7 per cent, equivalent to a national poll lead of 11 per cent or three million votes, to win a majority of just one. Whatever the polls say – and the latest have the Tories on a lead of around 18 per cent, with a huge majority of around 174 seats – they have never been this wrong, and never in favour of Labour. The only chance the Labour Party has of defeating the Conservative Party is through a progressive alliance.

Instead, Labour are unrelentingly attacking anyone who threatens their place not only as the leading but even as the second- or third-placed party for a parliamentary seat. In Vauxhall, the Labour leaflet devotes an entire side to attacking the Liberal Democrats, while conveniently failing to mention that the Labour candidate, Kate Hoey, campaigned with Nigel Farage in support of Brexit; and in a Stalinist re-writing of history her office has even stooped to airbrushing housing journalist George Turner, the Liberal Democrat candidate, out of previous photographs of the two of them. While in the case of South West Surrey, the Labour Party has actually expelled two members, one a party secretary, who tried to form a progressive alliance with the Green Party and Liberal Democrats to unite behind an NHS doctor standing against the NHS-destroying Conservative candidate Jeremy Hunt.

The only conclusion to be drawn from this that we can see is that Labour doesn’t give a damn about unseating the Tories – whom they know they haven’t got a chance of defeating in this general election – unless it’s to the benefit of their own party; and that they are only interested – as the Labour Party always has been – in retaining as many of its rapidly dwindling number of seats in Parliament as possible. We’ll judge the Labour Party on its record in opposition and its actions in this election, not on what its Manifesto will promise (which has added nothing to what Labour has already said about its housing policy, and which you can read our comments on here).

It goes without saying that ASH would never recommend anyone at any time voting for a Conservative candidate for anything; but it’s vitally important that the estate demolition programmes of both Labour and Conservative councils are denounced and challenged by an MP from a different party to the one they represent. In Lambeth alone, Labour MPs Helen Hayes and Chuka Umunna have stood by silently and obediently as the Labour council has pursued a policy of demolition and social cleansing on Myatt’s Field North, Cressingham Gardens, Central Hill, Knight’s Walk, Fenwick, South Lambeth and Westbury estates. The same applies to Labour MPs Neil Coyle and Harriet Harman who have overseen the demolition of the Heygate and Aylesbury estates in Southwark; Dianne Abbott and Meg Hillier in Hackney, where the Woodberry Down, King’s Crescent, Nightingale, Marian Court and Colville estates are being socially cleansed under the cloak of regeneration; Steve Cowan in Hammersmith and Fulham, where the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates are threatened with demolition; David Lammy in Haringey, where the Broadwater Farm, Northumberland Park and Love Lane estate are to be demolished; Matthew Pennycook in Greenwich, where the Labour council demolished the Ferrier estate and evicted the entire community; Jim Fitzpatrick in Tower Hamlets, which is socially cleansing Balfron Tower and demolishing the Aberfeldy, Teviot and Brownfield estates; Vicky Foxcroft in Lewisham, where the Achilles estate is threatened with demolition; Keir Starmer in Camden, where a slew of estates have been or are threatened with social demolition and social cleansing; and, of course, Jeremy Corbyn in Islington. Despite many requests for us to do so, ASH is not here to tell people how to vote; but we strongly recommend that people affected by London’s estate demolition programme attend as many hustings as possible, and interrogate these and other parliamentary candidates – Labour and Conservative alike – on their record of opposing estate demolition, privatisation and social cleansing.

One of the things we hear most often said by residents as they look at the stoney faces of Labour councillors announcing the demolition of their homes, or at the cowardice of Labour MPs who stand by and ignore their appeals to oppose the decision, or at the collusion of Labour mayors with the private companies redeveloping our homes into investment opportunities for the rich – is that they cannot believe their arrogance, their dismissiveness, their cynicism and their corruption. Well, the reason they are so arrogant, so dismissive, so cynical and so corrupt is that every time an election comes around – whether a general election, mayoral election or for the local council – Labour drags out its time-honoured call to arms: ‘At least we’re not the Tories!’ And once again, against all the evidence, just as they did last time and the time before that, residents whose estates are being demolished, privatised and socially cleansed by the Labour Party vote them back into office.

This has got to stop. Far from this being ‘not the time to be criticising the Labour Party’, now is precisely the time to hold all Labour politicians to account for their blind party loyalty at the expense of the constituents they now expect to vote for them. Watch the videos in this post, listen to the voices of the residents, look at the faces of the Labour politicians, read what their housing policies say. A vote for labour is a vote for estate demolition.

Architects for Social Housing

A Vote for Labour is a Vote for . . .

This is Helen Hayes, until Parliament was dissolved the Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, speaking (you can listen to her here) against the Conservative government’s Housing and Planning Bill at a march organised by Lambeth Housing Activists on 30 January, 2016. Pretty, isn’t she? Well, take a closer look.

Before being elected a Member of Parliament in May 2015, Hayes was a senior partner at Allies & Morrison, an architecture and planning company which, during her partnership, was part of the consortium that demolished the Heygate estate, resulting in the loss of over a thousand council homes and the social cleansing of an entire working class community from the Elephant & Castle neighbourhood. The Oxford-educated Hayes’ specialism at Allies & Morrison was planning, and between 2010 and 2015 she was also a Southwark Labour councillor, a conflict of interest shared by many of the people responsible for selling the Heygate land to property developers Lendlease in 2010 for a loss of £30.5 million. Allies & Morrison also drew up the supplementary planning documents for the Brixton Arches that recommended to Lambeth Labour council that they be regenerated’ by Network Rail, resulting in the eviction of the traders and the closure of the market for the next two years. And as the 35% Campaign has documented, her company has been involved in numerous other dodgy regeneration projects in Southwark and Lambeth. In 2015, when Hayes resigned from Allies & Morisson to take up her place in Westminster, she received capital growth payments totaling £71,443.

In the bi-election for the Gypsy Hill ward in June 2016, Hayes actively campaigned for Luke Murphy, Lambeth Labour council’s candidate. Murphy, who won the campaign by a margin of only 36 votes out of just 2,814 cast in a ward turnout of only 27 per cent, is a member of the right-wing Labour cabal Progress, and has consistently supported the Progress-dominated Cabinet’s decision to demolish the 456 homes on Central Hill estate. During the campaign, Hayes was joined in her support for Murphy by his fellow Progress member Matthew Bennett, the former Lambeth Labour Cabinet Member for Housing, and Lambeth’s most hated man for his role in signing off the six estates threatened by the council’s estate demolition programme.

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 15.05.41

Among its many fabrications, the Labour campaign accused the Green Party – which came second in the bi-election with 1,184 votes after winning nearly 80 per cent of the votes from Central Hill residents – of waging a campaign based on lies and spreading fear; characterised the election as a fight between Labour and Tories in a ward with no Conservative voting base (they won a mere 210); and wheeled out the disgraced former Chair of the Central Hill Tenants and Residents Association, Jean Haley – who had been sacked by residents for recommending the regeneration of the estate without consulting them first – and presented her as the current TRA Chair, then publicised her slanderous attack on the Greens and her support for Labour.

Despite all this – despite her backing for the councillors and Cabinet that threaten the homes and lives of thousands of residents on Central Hill and five other Lambeth estates, including the already condemned Cressingham Gardens, and despite her long professional involvement with and profiting from the social cleansing of working class communities in Southwark and Lambeth – a week later, on 18 June, Hayes saw fit to attend the ASH-organised Open Garden Estates event being hosted by the Central Hill community. We found her chatting to what she called ‘her constituents’, but when we challenged her on her record and asked what she was doing there, Hayes shamelessly tried to use the recent murder of Labour MP Jo Cox to avoid answering our questions, then ran off.

Later that day Hayes had dried her tears sufficiently to post on Twitter the caption: ‘Good to catch up with Central Hill residents at the open day, thank you for having me.’ In response, one of the residents of Central Hill estate wrote this open letter to Hayes:

‘Helen Hayes has done absolutely nothing to actively support our campaign. She has made some noises about being sympathetic to our plight, to the point of saying that she would expect the residents to be properly consulted, but that she would not do us any favours by openly opposing the scheme, as this would be detrimental to the position she has of being able to attend and monitor the process within the council meetings pertaining to the regeneration scheme; and that she would be more effective by not kicking up a fuss and instead make some recommendations through the process to try to ensure some fairness.

‘No, Helen Hayes, it’s called sitting on the fence – not making waves with the council but at the same time hijacking our event by turning up, feigning interest in the alternative designs proposed by Architects for Social Housing, and grabbing a photo opportunity of you talking to residents, so that when we win you can claim some glory by saying you came to our Open Garden Estates event to support us.

‘No, Helen Hayes, if you were genuinely concerned with this issue, you would have come to talk to the residents, and not just with the Resident Engagement Panel, to find out for yourself what residents have been told and what they want. But you haven’t. You’ve only come to this event for personal publicity.

‘You are a fraud, Helen Hayes, a betrayal as an MP to the people who need you to speak on their behalf via the channels available to you, to demand a fair consultation as part of the democratic process which, by it’s own definition, must consider the rights and wishes of the people affected by these proposals.

‘You have failed to be our voice, despite the Resident Engagement Panel calling meetings with you to outline our serious concerns about the people of this estate being bullied by the Council into submitting to their dictat of demolishing our homes. You have stood by and watched as the council have spewed lie after lie, but done nothing. You are nothing more than a puppet of the council, yet sitting on the fence, waiting to see how this will fall, to make sure you come out of this smiling either way.’

Nine months later, on 23 March this year, against the wishes of 79 per cent of residents and the opposition of the Crystal Palace community, Lambeth Labour Cabinet voted to demolish Central Hill estate.

This is Helen Hayes, the Labour candidate for Dulwich and West Norwood, canvassing for the general election on 8 June. Not so pretty now, is she? Still want to vote Labour?

Architects for Social Housing

In Defence of Our Land: Historical Similarities Between the Enclosure of Common Land from the Thirteenth to Nineteenth Centuries and the Privatisation of Public Land in the Twenty-First; or, Why the Class War Never Changes, Only its Historical Form

These extracts are from John Wright’s recently published book, A Natural History of the Hedgerow (2016). I began reading it partly out of my love and hatred of hedgerows, about which I have written before on this blog in an article on Land Values, but also as an escape from the violence, injustice, political corruption and urban squalor of estate demolition. Little did I expect that, far more than a natural history of the hedgerow, Wright’s book also contains a social history of the struggles arising from the enclosure of common land in England and Wales between the Thirteenth and Nineteenth Centuries; and reading it I was struck by how similar the motivations and injustices of enclosure were to the conflicts arising today from the privatisation of land through the programme of estate demolition, not only in London but across the UK. Above all, I was struck by the class basis to both wars, the similarity between the arguments used by the ruling class to justify its appropriation of the common land from an already impoverished working class, the collusion of parliament and judiciary in that injustice, the arrogance with which the landlords convince themselves – if not their tenants – that it is for their own good, and the contempt and cruelty with which the rights of working men and women were and still are trampled on and dismissed. I was also interested by the brief accounts of the latter’s rebellions, which echo down to our own struggles to save our housing estates from demolition, their residents from eviction, and our land from privatisation. Every generation thinks that its historical moment is without precedent; but as this text shows, the class war between the rich and the poor never changes, only the forms it takes at different moments in history. For the agricultural workers and tenant farmers of the Thirteenth to Nineteenth Centuries one of the most violent forms of class war they faced was the enclosure of the common land on which they depended for their subsistence; for the working-class residents of council and social housing in the Twenty-first Century the contemporary equivalent is the demolition of the estates in which they live. Whether we should take hope and courage from these rebellions or despair at their repeated defeats depends, of course, on our own willingness to survive – and even to win – this war; but we should never be mistaken about its class basis, or to what ends it is waged.

The True Levellers' Standard Advanced

Inclosure and Enclosures

Slowly at first, from the Thirteenth Century to the close of the Nineteenth, thousands of miles of hedge were planted and walls erected, enclosing common fields and common waste. Subsistence farming as a communal way of life was gradually being replaced by enterprise farming and individualism. For this to happen it was necessary for common land to be taken into private ownership; and so, in its various guises, common land died, slowly and painfully.

The words ‘enclosure’ and ‘inclosure’ are frequently used interchangeably, but, although they are connected, there is a fundamental difference between them. An enclosure is a physical boundary and the land within it, and to enclose denotes the act of placing a boundary around a piece of land. Inclosure is a legal term that refers to the conversion of common land into private land. When land is inclosed the rights of the commoner are ‘severed’, a term that also occurs in the very different context of shellfish collection when the common right to fish in delimited areas of tidal waters is severed by a ‘several order’. Once common ownership is lost, it tends to stay lost.

This is straightforward enough, and it enables one to discuss these two different matters without confusing them, but one can still run into conceptual difficulties. For example, if a common open field, area of waste or meadow was acquired outright by one person this means that the field was inclosed because rights of common have been removed. If (and this rarely happened) it had no surrounding hedge or wall, it would still be inclosed, but it would not be enclosed. It is even possible to inclose an area of land while removing its hedges so that it is no longer enclosed. For the purposes of this book I intend to follow the modern convention and dispense almost entirely with the word inclosure and use enclosure for both meanings, trusting that context will make the usage clear. It is also true that enclosure and inclosure often occurred at the same time, so any distinction between them is usually moot.

The enclosure period is a long one, divided roughly into ‘early enclosure’ and ‘parliamentary enclosure’, the former beginning in the Thirteenth Century, the latter in the Eighteenth Century. Much enclosure of land during the early centuries was pragmatic and piecemeal and for the most part by agreement. Until 1235, the common waste, woodland and pasture – though deemed to belong to the lord – could not be taken out of common by him. As demand for land increased, the waste became a temptation to both landless sons of farmers and to lords sympathetic to their pleas and the prospect of more rent. A certain amount of encroachment took place, with small enclosures springing up here and there, which became semi-regularised in time after a fine was paid. You could get away with almost anything if you were prepared to pay the fine; in this case the fine was paid annually and became indistinguishable from rent.

However, a formal path to enclose parts of the waste was made clear in the Statute of Merton of 1235. The statute may have been liberal and progressive in intent, but the risk it presented – that the lord could enclose the waste for himself – was obvious even then. To ensure that the waste on which the peasants relied so heavily to pasture their oxen and stock did not disappear completely, a provision was made that parts could only be enclosed if the commoners were left with sufficient for their needs. Making sure such a clause was enforced would be difficult for an illiterate and immobile peasantry, and as circumstances changed it became honoured only in its breach. Considered to be the first English statute, the Statute of Merton was not an auspicious start, heralding as it did the opening shots in a long war which the English and Welsh peoples would eventually lose – the war of access to their own land.

A darker period was to follow during which land was enclosed by force, a period sometimes known as the Tudor Clearances. Like just about everything in history, there is disagreement about just how hard these times were. But it is a matter of historical record that many of those who suffered loss of land rights were vocal and sometimes active in their own defence. There was also a contemporary literary genre of polemicism decrying the actions and low motives of the enclosers.

Economic and political reasons made enclosure attractive – if not always necessary – for those who might gain from it. What drove it during this period was, famously, sheep. A declining population meant there were now relatively few people to till the soil, and as a result land became cheap. With wool at a premium and sheep needing relatively little labour, sheep farming on a massive scale became both viable and attractive. The Statute of Merton was a further spur, enabling lords and large landowners to remove the rights of the peasantry to common land, thereby making it available for sheep.

There is a contrary view that claims Tudor enclosure wasn’t as bad as was once thought. Because of the drop in population, so the argument goes, villages and settlements became unsustainable due to lack of facilities; and with so few to work the land, sheep farming was the only possibility. While such situations may well have arisen, the well-recorded views of those who opposed enclosure suggest that the main motivation for privatising common land was greed. The methods were certainly underhand, if for the most part legal: rents would be racked up to force eviction, and appalling penalties applied to anyone who continued to use their lost common rights.

The hardship and suffering that many endured resulted in the one thing that monarchs fear above all other – rebellion. There were doubtless many localised acts of violence and destruction, but the period is notable for several organised rebellions. Each of these has been honoured with a name, providing a sorry roll-call of doomed fights against repression and theft: Jack Cade’s Rebellion of 1459, Kett’s Rebellion of 1549, the Midland Revolt of 1607, and the Diggers’ actions forty-two years later. These, and many more, are reminders of the iniquities of the past, and of the alienation from the land that we suffer even today.

Robert Kett, a Norfolk yeoman farmer, was initially the target of locals rebelling against enclosure. Seeing the justice of their cause, this ‘gamekeeper turned poacher’ joined and then led what was to become one of the largest and bloodiest rebellions in England (though the blood was shed mostly by his followers). Despite his ultimate failure – he was hanged from the walls of Norwich Castle in 1549 – his legacy remains, as do his words:

The common pastures left by our predecessors for our relief and our children are taken away. The lands which in the memory of our fathers were common, those are ditched and hedged and made several; the pastures are enclosed, and we shut out.

Kett presented twenty-nine demands to the authorities, only one of which mentions enclosure directly:

We pray your grace that where it is enacted for inclosing that it be not hurtful to such as have enclosed sovereign grounds, for they be greatly chargeable to them, and that from henceforth no man shall enclose any more.

It was not just rebels who objected. The most distinguished person to express a contrary opinion was Thomas More who, in his dystopian satire Utopia (1516), railed against enclosure and the greed of those wishing to cash in on the wool trade:

Your sheep that were wont to be so meek and tame and so small eaters now, as I have heard say, be become so great devourers and so wild that they eat up and swallow down the very men themselves. They consume, destroy and devour whole fields, houses and cities. For look in what parts of the realm doth grow the finest and therefore dearest wool, and there noble men and gentlemen, yea and certain abbots, holy men no doubt, not contenting themselves with the yearly revenues and profits, leave no ground for tillage: they enclose all into pasture, they throw down houses, they pluck down towns and leave nothing standing but only the church to be made a sheep house.

Fearing lower revenues, loss of a source of military conscripts and general unrest, various monarchs passed eleven Acts of Parliament to prevent wholesale enclosure, the first in 1489 and the last one hundred and fifty years later. All of them were ineffective. Homelessness became the crime of vagrancy, and for a brief period recidivists could become enslaved. In 1607 came the Midland Revolt in which thousands of angry men and women began pulling down hedges and fences and leveling ditches, the latter causing them to be termed ‘Levellers’. In the mid-Seventeenth Century the religiously inspired ‘Diggers’ (who also called themselves ‘The True Levellers’) fought against enclosure by simply ignoring it, digging and planting where they would. They did not pull down hedges and fences, but were opposed to enclosure nevertheless. In the words of their manifesto:

The earth (which was made to be a common treasury of relief for all, both beasts and men) was hedged into enclosures by the teachers and rulers, and the others were made servants and slaves; and that earth, that is within this creation made a common storehouse for all, is bought and sold and kept in the hands of a few.

Parliamentary Enclosure

Parliamentary enclosure saw the ultimate demise of open-field and other forms of common agriculture, and most common land had disappeared by the end of the Nineteenth Century. The very first Act was passed in 1604 to enclose land at Radipole, Dorset, but the heyday of parliamentary enclosure began around 1750, then ebbed and flowed until its work was done. As we have seen, much had already been accomplished in reordering the land by this time; perhaps as much as 75 per cent of it was already enclosed. The Acts affected only England and Wales.

The enclosures of the preceding centuries had progressed apace and were even speeded up by ‘enclosure by agreement’. This was a process whereby an entire parish could be enclosed after negotiations between the interested parties, mediated by an official Enclosure Commissioner who guided proceedings and attempted to settle the inevitable disputes. However, the history of land usage and ownership needed the sharp axe that only Parliament could wield to cut through the tangle. The local courts could adjudicate in individual cases, but only Parliament had the power to sweep away these obstacles in their entirety. This was done mostly through private enclosure Bills, instigated by members of the public and examined by bands of itinerant Commissioners and surveyors who met as a committee at public meetings in the parish concerned. Private Bills became Acts only after approval by Parliament.

Those concerned were chiefly the large landowners, but also small farmers who saw advantage in the reordering of the countryside. The whole process of reaching agreement, allotting land fairly, making maps, marking out the enclosures on the maps and, not least, marking out new roads, was one of the largest undertakings in British history. Although some of the Acts were tidying-up exercises, by 1914, when the last straggler was bought into the fold, 5,200 enclosure Bills had been enacted in law, transforming 6.8 million acres of land in England alone, and another 1.7 million acres in Wales.

Of course, not everyone agreed that a complete removal of the open-field system, with its associated rights of common, was a good thing. Those against and those for fell, inevitably, into who would lose and who would gain. There were, however, cheerleaders for both sides, ready to offer their opinions, canvassed or not. The often extreme passions that are still roused by enclosure revolve around issues of justice and political rights, countered by arguments about agricultural utility and social utilitarianism. Numerous fiercely argued pamphlets and newspaper articles for each side can be found from the very start of the parliamentary enclosure period.

The open-field system was criticised for being unwieldy and conservative; unable to easily adopt modern farming methods and new crops and institutionally resistant to change. Others pointed to the fact that it had lasted for a thousand years and had served well, and noted that open fields had, in fact, embraced new methods, adapting them to their special situation. Although much ink was used in the defence of the relative practicalities of one agricultural system over another, most of it was spilt in arguments over justice. But even if it was admitted that enclosure improved agricultural yields and profits, who was it who benefited? Not those who were dispossessed of common access to the waste and effectively thrown from their villages.

The frequently smug assertions of those promoting wholesale enclosure make uncomfortable reading. In the mid-Nineteenth Century, Lord Worsley, the MP for North Lincolnshire, spoke of the poor as squatters upon the commons, rather forgetting that they had very right to do as they pleased upon the commons, since it was they who owned them. Even the normally sensible agriculturalist Thomas Hale, writing in 1758 at the start of the period of extensive parliamentary enclosure, took the questionable stance of suggesting that the tenant farmer would benefit from enclosure, even while admitting that rent would increase ‘to three of four, and sometimes to ten time its former price.’ He also repeats the commonly expressed sentiment that as far as the poor were concerned, it was all for their own good.

The advantage that a poor man has by keeping two or three sad creatures of cattle of any kind upon the common land, are not nearly equal to what he and his family would find by being sure to know where to get constant employment as labourers. The privilege is indeed a source of idleness: and that can never be for private or public advantage.

Defenders of the poor were equally vocal. Writing in objection to the General Enclosure Act of 1801, which made enclosure much easier, a correspondent of the Windsor and Eton Express argued:

This iniquitous scheme for augmenting the wealth of the rich by the robbery of the poor, so far transcends all former acts of spoliation of a similar kind, in extent and in recklessness of general and individual rights, but it comprehends not merely wild and sterile heaths, but lands which have been rendered productive by the labour of the occupiers.

Riots were a regular occurrence throughout much of the parliamentary enclosure period, as were attacks on hedges and ditches. The dispossessed also attempted redress by simply ignoring an act of inclosure. In 1849 the Exeter and Plymouth Gazetteer reported how commoners were excluded from common land on which they had enjoyed rights to winter pasturage after its enclosure by the lord of the manor. When they put their sheep to pasture regardless, the sheep were duly impounded. At this point a Mr. Landwick decided that he had suffered enough and:

Congregated together some 40 or 50 men at one of the public houses on the eastern side of the town. Having given them drink he led them in a tumultuous manner through the town, joined every step by similarly disorderly persons, hurrahing, using threats, and some with sticks; and when they found the gates too strong, they got ladders.

Mr. Landwick succeeded in retrieving his sheep, but quickly found himself in court. A preliminary hearing suggested that he would have been better advised to have requested from the Commissioner a revision of the order suspending the common rights, to which he replied that’ ‘When men attempted to maintain their rights, it could not be done in drawing-room style.’ This assertion poignantly encapsulates the powerless predicament of the working man. Those who see enclosure as beneficial argue that most of those who lost their rights did not actually have those rights in the first place, but simply used the commons for grazing even though they had no customary right to do so.

The Enclosure Commissioners were required to take into account everyone who had an interest in the land and apportion it as best they could, according to the size and quality of the various holdings. For some recipients, the holding they were awarded did not compensate for what they had lost, and many found it impossible to make a living. The most seriously affected were those who had no formal right to any land – such as the cottagers and labourers – but may have used common pasture anyway.

By the time of the parliamentary enclosures, the yeoman farmer was largely a character of the past, replaced, for the most part, by people who owned land but did not farm it themselves. Be they lord, a distant financial company or a local man, most landowners were landlords. Hale’s estimate of how much rents would increase proved exaggerated; but it was still large at around 50 to 100 per cent. Optimism about the benefits of enclosure to agricultural productivity proved even more ill-founded as the increased yields improved by little more than 10 per cent. How a rent increase could be sustained for so little improvement in production is a puzzle even now. But, since farmers could not easily leave their land for pastures new, it seems likely to be a simple matter of the rich landlord getting richer and the poor farmer getting poorer. The tenant farmer, it seems, fared little better than those with no claim to land at all.

– Extracts from John Wright, A Natural History of the Hedgerow (London: Profile Books, 2016)

Electoral Defeatism

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The widely held view that the result of the coming general election is a foregone conclusion has really brought out the desperation in the so-called radical left. We’ll leave aside the dreamers who have supported Jeremy Corbyn through his 18 months of indecision, inactivity and failure; but even those who have opposed Labour on everything from its vote to bomb Syria to its council estate demolition programme can now be heard calling for variations on the ‘lesser of two evils’ argument – as if this were anything new. In reality this is the only political argument Labour has ever put forward: ‘Vote for us or you’ll get the Tories!’ Since everyone knows that Labour hasn’t got a chance in hell of winning this election, Labour supporters from Ken Loach to Paul Mason now have the added comfort of believing that Corbyn is some sort of reincarnation of Clement Attlee, and that if only – by some magic – an electorate that has increasingly turned its back on him suddenly turns around and votes him into power, the Parliamentary Labour Party that has done everything it can to oust Corbyn from the leadership will suddenly – and equally miraculously – transform itself into the Party of Aneurin Bevan and build Jerusalem in England’s grey and mortgaged land.

As a British subject of Her Majesty you grow accustomed to watching the intelligence quotient of the British electorate drop several notches every time a general election is called, but the particular political conditions of this one have introduced a new dimension of fantasy so far removed from reality that we’re moving – not unsurprisingly – into the dream spectacle of US politics, with Corbyn as our very own Willy Wonka who – despite failing to stand up to the British press, the City, the Establishment, Parliament or even his own Party – will somehow manage single-handedly to transform the UK into a land of nationalised industries, free healthcare and education, with a new council home in every back yard. Better still, unlike the imperialist Attlee he even promises to withdraw us from what’s left of Britain’s colonial interests and finally come out and say what he really thinks of the State of Israel whose every crime we steadfastly refuse to criticise, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia we’re so happy to sell arms to, the State of Qatar to which we’re flogging so much of London, the United States of America whose every aggression we obediently support, and – who knows? – even our own hideous Royal Family and the obscene sums it receives from the British taxpayer in the middle of a permanent programme of austerity paid for by the impoverishment of the working class of Britain.

Nothing of the sort will happen, of course, and those who take shelter in this fantasy do so because they refuse to face up to the reality of what has happened to Britain over this past decade and more, and what lies in store for us when this Conservative government is re-elected with – as seems likely – the largest majority since Margaret Thatcher’s second term in government. For anyone who has followed what is going on outside the right-wing propaganda of our state press and media, it seems likely that what the next five years will bring will make Thatcher’s revolution look like Weimar Germany to May’s Third Reich. And the more those who refuse to see this are afraid of its coming reality, the more they hide their faces in the illusion of a socialist Labour government coming to power – if not this time then the next time, and if not then the time after. The important thing (they repeat over and over to themselves and anyone who will listen) is not to lose faith. But faith is all this so-called political belief is based on, and like all faiths it serves to conceal the material reality of the world its believers do not wish to inhabit. The fact Britain’s so-called ‘intellectuals’ are seriously – even earnestly – engaging in this fantasy shows not only how lacking we are in political thinkers of stature (no change there), but how successful our state propaganda is in maintaining the illusion of parliamentary democracy.

It’s in this context, on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, that Lenin’s formula of ‘revolutionary defeatism’ offers a possible alternative to the farce being presented for our democratic choice. Coined to describe the attitude and policy of the Bolsheviks towards the imperialist war in which Russia was then engaged with Germany, revolutionary defeatism argued that since the Great War was a struggle between capitalist nations for a larger cut of the imperialist pie, the working class who fought the war – quite apart from losing their lives in the millions by doing so – had nothing to win from it, let alone the working class of the colonised nations. On the contrary, Lenin argued it would be better for the working class of both Russia and its colonies if their country lost the war, and turned the defeat of the government sending them to their deaths into a civil war which would – so the theory went – in turn create the conditions for a working-class revolution.

As it turned out, Lenin was right, though events didn’t unfold in quite that order. It was only once the Russian working class had turned on its rulers and with surprising ease overthrew the feudal order under which it had lived for a thousand years that Russia withdrew from the war with Germany. The human cost of that war, however, undoubtedly motivated its combatants to rise up against the dictatorship of the Russian Tsar. Far harder, in terms of the direction of the revolution, was to oppose the bourgeois Provisional Government that sprang up to take his place and which – much like our Labour Party did in Britain after the Second World War – tried to dampen the revolutionary fervour of the working class with the dog bone of democratic representation within a capitalist state.

In Britain we’ve spent the past seventy years gnawing that particular bone, and what gristle was once on it has long ago been devoured. It’s time we spat it out and adopted Lenin’s position to our own war, which is not between the Tory and Labour parties – which like Germany and Russia before them are locked in a struggle for a bigger bite of the capitalist cake – but between an increasingly impoverished, oppressed and politically voiceless working class to which 65 per cent of the British population still belongs and the administrators of monopoly capitalism for a ruling class that constitutes maybe 5 per cent at most. In this class war, the Labour Party of the middle class, which makes up the remaining 30 per cent of our population, can only play what has always been its role in British politics, which is to convince the working class of Britain that it has some say over the political system under which it lives and works. If it may have once to a certain extent – accepting the welfare state and nationalised industries in exchange for the promise of socialism the Labour Party never intended to keep, even before Tony Blair rewrote Clause Four of its constitution – it certainly doesn’t anymore. And now that system is breaking down both economically and politically, it is time we woke up from our servile chewing, spat out the bone, and bared our teeth at our masters.

To this end, electoral defeatism – to coin a term – is the only politically progressive policy. The counter plea, issuing with increasing shrillness, anger and desperation from Labour supporters who have excused every betrayal of the working class by their Party, is that if the government of Theresa May comes out of this election with an increased majority, its ability to continue to wage war on the working class of Britain will be that much greater. But that is going to happen anyway; you don’t win an election in two months, and once returned to government with an increased majority the Conservative Party will escalate the class war it has been waging since it came to power, which it has always waged, and which it was formed to wage. As for voting for Labour in order to reduce that parliamentary majority: from fighting in every war the US tells us to to eroding our human rights in the name of the ‘war on terror’ to increasing the power of surveillance over us by the police and secret services to intruding on what’s left of our privacy to criminalising our homeless to demolishing our council housing to privatising our public services to socially cleansing our communities for profit to selling off our public land to foreign investors, the Labour Party has not only been unwilling to stand up to the Tories in Parliament but has shown itself to be their willing ally in the class war.

For this reason, the revolutionary political movement we need to form if our class is to survive, let alone win, this war will only be born in this country from the electoral annihilation of the Labour Party. It will take far, far more than that for the working class of Britain – perhaps the most depoliticised and certainly the least politically organised working class in Europe – to rise up in revolt against its immiseration, let alone start a revolution. But if the polls are right – and they rarely overestimate a swing to the Tories – it looks like the 8th of June could bring about the end of the Labour Party as an electoral force once and for all. In six weeks time Jeremy Corbyn will be a footnote in history, what’s left of the the Parliamentary Labour Party will take care never again to so carelessly put a left-candidate up for the leadership, Momentum will be disbanded, and we will once again be presented with the edifying spectacle of a new Party leader being chosen from a selection of anonymous right-wing candidates each indistinguishable from a Tory. Maybe David Miliband will return from his vacation with the Clintons and try to do a New Labour: Take Two. Who knows? But it is up to us to seize this moment of Labour’s defeat with the same clarity of purpose and immediacy of action with which Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized the Russian revolution. The time for cowardice, hiding in the fantasy of social democracy or making do with the scraps from our masters’ table is over. We must face the collapse that awaits us with open eyes and turn it to our own ends.

Architects for Social Housing

Illustration by Clifford Harper