Why ASH is joining the Labour Party

Over the past few weeks Architects for Social Housing has been running a fairly low-key fund-raising campaign on our Facebook page. Its immediate object was to raise enough money to replace the two of our three computers that have recently been declared dead. Although the response from 13 members of the page was generous, it didn’t raise enough money, so last week we extended this campaign to the ASH blog with a post titled ASH’s Law: A Fundraiser. However, despite the fact that over 250 of the readers of our blog are automatically notified whenever we publish a new post, as of writing a mere 10 people have even visited this post, and only a further 11 people have donated. Grateful as we are – and we are very grateful – for these donations from the people who dug into their wallets, we have over 2,200 followers on our Facebook page alone, and ten times that number have visited our blog so far this year, so two dozen donations isn’t much of a response. We can only assume that the title of our post put our regular readers off. By comparison, our recent 19,000-word report, The Costs of Estate Regeneration, which took three months to write, has been visited over 750 times since we published it on the ASH blog four weeks ago. It would appear from this that people are willing to read our work, but not to offer us anything in return. Due to changes in our circumstances – i.e. were broke – this is no longer a financially sustainable business model for ASH. To try and rectify this, we are making one more appeal to our readers, using means both fair and foul. Hence the subterfuge of the title of this post, which is not our unlikely declaration of allegiance to the political party whose councils are primarily responsible for demolishing London’s council estates and replacing them with properties for home ownership for the rich, buy-to-let landlords and investment opportunities for global capital, but another fundraiser for Architects for Social Housing. But why should I donate money to ASH? – I hear you ask. To answer that question we have to sing our own praises for a bit, which is a little embarrassing; but it seems we need (gently) to remind our would-be supporters of what we’ve done and do.

Architects for Social Housing is a Community Interest Company founded in March 2015 that works in the field of architectural design, community support, policy research, written analysis and the occasional demonstration. We have produced design alternatives to demolition for 6 housing estates, and up to feasibility study stage for 3 of them, including Knight’s Walk, the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, Central Hill estate, Northwold estate and Patmore estate. We were paid for only two of these design proposals – for the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates and the Patmore estate – and that with fees insufficient even to fully pay the architects who worked on them. There is simply no way the residents of these estates would have been able to pay the fees demanded by any other architectural practice. The rest of our design work has been done for free. Each of these schemes has taken years of work to develop, undertaken by young architects giving their labour for free, and entailed innumerable meetings, workshops, consultations, presentations and feedback forums with residents, the production of dozens of articles and studies and, in the case of Central Hill estate, a book-length report. All of this has been done by Architects for Social Housing pro bono publico – for the public good. Unfortunately for us, however, the public hasn’t been quite as generous in return.

Since we set the blog up in September 2015 ASH has published over 200 articles, reports, presentations and case studies, as well as our design proposals for the 6 threatened housing estates, that together have been visited over 190,000 times by 106,000 people from 179 countries across the globe – only 16 countries short of the entire planet. These include Central Hill: A Case Study in Estate Regeneration, which has been visited 1,300 times; The Truth about Grenfell Tower, visited nearly 17,000 times; The Tower: Rewriting Grenfell, visited nearly 2,500 times; Mapping London’s Estate Regeneration Programme, visited over 2,700 times; The Good Practice Guide to Resisting Estate Demolition, visited nearly 1,200 times; Regenerating Hackney’s Estates, visited over 4,800 times; An Exemplary Regeneration: King’s Crescent Estate, visited nearly 2,000 times; Sheffield Tent City and the Social Cleansing of Park Hill Estate, visited 1,500 times; Class War on Woodberry Down, visited nearly 1,200 times; Vote Labour? The Aims and Values of Estate Demolition, visited 1,100 times; The End of Social Housing, visited 7,700 times; and The London Clearances, visited nearly 14,000 times. All these articles and reports that took weeks and sometimes months of research to produce, and whose readership indicates they have been of both interest and use to residents, campaigners and academics alike, have been made available to read on the ASH blog for free.

In addition, over the past 4 years ASH has delivered more than 40 presentations to academic institutions, including to the Bartlett School of Architecture, the Architectural Association, De Montfort University, Birkbeck College, the University of East London, the University of Westminster, the Cass School of Architecture, the London Metropolitan University, the University of Sheffield, the Braunschweig University of Technology, Goldsmiths College, the Royal College of Art and the Chelsea College of Art; as well as at the Greater London Authority, the Royal Academy, Building Design Partnership, Trafford Hall, Cambridge House, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, the Barbican Centre, the Serpentine Gallery, the Western Front Gallery in Vancouver, the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales, the Kunstraum / Bethanien Art Gallery in Berlin and the Architectural League of New York. Although, for our presentations abroad, ASH was paid expenses, the bulk of these presentations were given for free. That’s usual for a busy senior lecturer at a wealthy academic institution; but ASH isn’t an institution of higher education that can pay our members an academic salary.

Although we try to keep a track of our activities, it’s impossible to say just how many meetings, informal discussions, formal presentations and interviews ASH has had or given to newspapers, magazines, news programmes, radio shows, online platforms, filmmakers, artistsgalleries, council scrutiny panels, journalists, students, architectural groups and conferences, not to mention our own meetings on subjects from the causes of the Grenfell Tower fire to hustings on housing to legislation and policy on estate regeneration: hundreds, easily; but again, all this work and time has been given for free.

So what of our present and future activities? In terms of our design work, over the past year ASH has been working with several London-based housing co-operatives looking to expand their housing capacity. With the ongoing refusal of Londons councils to build council housing in which council tenants can afford to live, ASH has been looking at ways to locate the land and build the homes for social rent that Londoners need. We have developed and are continuing to develop architectural designs for two building schemes, and are currently exploring the financial and legal models that are best able to develop these projects. We will soon be writing about these projects in the context of the Greater London Authoritys campaign to promote community-led housing and what this term means in practice. As for other research, following the popularity of our recent report on The Costs of Estate Regeneration, we have received numerous requests to present its findings to residents, campaign groups, tenant and resident associations, think tanks, the Planning Advisory Service, at conferences and – Im genuinely pleased to say – to Labour Party organisations desperate to find an alternative to their partys scorched-earth housing policies. So high has the demand been that, in collaboration with the Woolfe Vision film collective, which has documented much of our past activities on film, ASH will be turning this report into a short film that we will make available to these and other groups for free. But again (and for the last time), to do so costs us time and therefore money – money ASH doesnt have.

When we first formed back in 2015 ASH was able to win grant funding for Open Garden Estates, a London-wide project we ran for the next three years, and which was hosted by 17 housing estates threatened with demolition. All that money went on banners for the residents, producing maps of their estates and printing publicity material for the event. None of it went to ASH. Unfortunately, since then, ASH has not been able to gain any further public funding. Given the extent and reach of our activity this may seem incongruous, but we feel this is partly down to the fact that we are a working group rather than one of the communities to which most grants are made available, and our impression is that the first thing potential funders ask is why a group of architects is asking for public money. Of course, ASH’s membership includes more than architects; but we also think that the political dimension of our activities is another barrier to funding, with potential funders likely to be members of the Labour Party about whose housing policies and council practices ASH is rightly critical. The result of all this is that, although residents fighting the demolition of their estate, or leaseholders going to a judicial review of the compulsory purchase orders on their homes, or activists occupying threatened community halls or gardens, or filmmakers making films about the housing crisis – all of which are actions deserving of support – are apparently able to raise tens of thousands of pounds with relative ease (though with most of it going directly into the pockets of lawyers), Architects for Social Housing, which has produced the designs and knowledge on which many campaigns have based their resistance has received barely £1,500 in donations during the past two years we’ve been asking for them, and that from less than 40 donors.

Someone suggested to me last week that what ASH needs is a rich benefactor, a working-class lad or lass done good who will slip us a few grand a year to keep us afloat. The trouble is, any businessman (or woman) who hasn’t sold their class down the river will almost certainly be a Labour supporter, and therefore as likely to support ASH as we are to join the Labour Party. ASH speaks the truth. That’s what we do. It shouldn’t be as rare as it is, but the truth isn’t something you have to be ‘brave’ enough to speak: that’s liberal tripe. The truth is something you have to work hard enough to create. There are a handful of exceptions, but 99 per cent of the stuff published about the housing crisis is the regurgitated lies of the politicians, think tanks, councillors, developers, consultants and architects profiting from this crisis, and it takes work to oppose those lies with the truth. The yes-men in our national and local press are little more than propagandists for the establishment, parroting the press releases of developers and councils. We’re not journalists doing the bidding of their tax-avoiding paymasters, Labour activists mouthing false promises about Oh Jeremy Corbyn, or academics promoting their outdated books with one eye on a grant application. We’re housing workers, and we produce knowledge about housing derived from our own practice. ASH is on no-one’s side but the truth, and the truth has few friends, fewer collaborators, and – unfortunately, it seems – no benefactors. So it’s up to you and us, the little people, to create that truth from the web of lies that surrounds us. We often observe that if everyone who ever told us how important our work is and how much they admire ASH had, while saying so, pulled out their pockets and tossed us a pony we wouldn’t be asking you for some money now. But they didn’t. So now’s your chance to do so. And yes, that means you. ASH needs YOU!

Someone else told me that, in the declining years of late capitalism, the best way to crowd-fund is to offer something in return. So, besides the ability to continue reading new articles and reports on our blog for free and listening to the presentations that we give on average every two weeks, donators to ASH will be recognised with the following gifts:

  • A £20 donation will receive a badge with the famous ASH logo on it.
  • A £50 donation will receive one of the much sought-after invitations to the ASH Christmas Party 2018, to be held in Cotton Gardens estate.
  • A £100 donation will receive a limited-edition T-shirt bearing the motto with which ASH typically ends its presentations: Architecture is always political’.
  • A £500 donation will receive an A1 colour print of one of ASHs axonometric drawings for either Central Hill estate or West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates.
  • And a £1,000 donation will receive an A0 glossy print of ASH’s brand new GOTCHA! poster (only joking).

Anyway, I hope this shameless piece of self-promotion will convince you of the extent and perhaps the importance of ASHs work, and that my equally shameless begging conveys the seriousness of our financial situation. In short, if we are to continue to do the work we are doing, we need a significant increase in the donations we receive from the people who benefit from our work. As for ASH joining the Labour Party . . . apologies for the fake news, but in the words of the anarchist Benjamin Péret: ‘There is some bread we will not eat!

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

Architects for Social Housing is a Community Interest Company (no. 10383452). Although we do occasionally receive minimal fees for our design work, the majority of what we do is unpaid and we have no source of public funding. If you would like to support our work financially, please make a donation through PayPal:

 

Rebuilding Britain: Housing at the Labour Party Conference 2018

1. The Tory Housing Crisis

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “Rebuilding Britain: Housing at the Labour Party Conference 2018”

ASH’s Law: A Fundraiser

You’ve heard of Murphy’s Law: that if anything can go wrong it will go wrong? Well, this is the law of ASH, reflecting the sad times in which we live. It says that if you’re generous (or naive) enough not to charge for your work, people won’t value it, because the only value most people recognise these days is that of the market. The past four years of ASH have been an almost uninterrupted demonstration of this law, which we won’t go into here; but now’s your chance to show that there are other measurements of value than a price tag.

Since we set the blog up in October 2015 ASH has published over 200 articles, reports, presentations and case studies, as well as design proposals for 6 threatened housing estates, that together have been visited 190,000 times by 105,000 people from 195 countries across the world. This month we published The Costs of Estate Regeneration, which has since been visited nearly 700 times. In June we published The Tower: Rewriting Grenfell, which has been visited nearly 2,500 times. In April we published Central Hill: A Case Study in Estate Regeneration, which has been visited 1,300 times. Last September we published Mapping London’s Estate Regeneration Programme, which has been visited over 2,700 times. And last July we published The Truth about Grenfell Tower, which has been visited nearly 17,000 times. If every one of our readers had paid £1 every time they read an article we’d be rich – which we’re not asking to be. If they’d paid 10p every time they read an article they’d have paid us the equivalent of a part-time salary for our work. As it is, despite several fund-raisers to address our increasingly difficult financial situation, the total donations to ASH over the past two years amount to less than £1,500, and these donations have come from a mere 26 readers.

Being of an English disposition when it comes to money, we’re both extremely grateful and embarrassingly humbled by the generosity of those who have donated. However, we’re also aware that ASH is at a financial crossroads, and that the roughly £1,000 we’ve received this year is not much of a return from the 22,000 people that have visited the ASH blog since January 2018, let alone the more than 100,000 people who have read our work for free over the past four years.

Unless readers want their future analysis of London’s housing crisis from the likes of Dave Hill, the Guardian and the policy writers for the Labour Party, we ask that you please dig deep into your wallets and make a donation to ASH through the PayPal link below. Thank you for your help.

Architects for Social Housing is a Community Interest Company (no. 10383452). Although we do occasionally receive minimal fees for our design work, the majority of what we do is unpaid and we have no source of public funding. If you would like to support our work financially, you can make a donation through PayPal:

The Red Lady of Paviland

Abbie Trayler-Smith, The Big O (2014)

‘The circumstances of the remains of a British camp existing on the hill immediately above this cave, seems to throw much light on the character and date of the woman under consideration; and whatever may have been her occupation, the vicinity of a camp would afford a motive for residence, as well as a means of subsistence, in what is now so exposed and uninviting a solitude. From all these circumstances there is reason to conclude, that the date of these human bones is coeval with that of the military occupation of the adjacent summits, and anterior to, or coeval with, the Roman invasion of this country.’

The Reverend William Buckland, of the Geological Society of London, Reliquiæ Diluvianæ; or, Observations on the Organic Remains contained in Caves, Fissures, and Diluvial Gravel, and on other Geological Phenomena, attesting the Action of a Universal Deluge (1823)

Wrong. On every assumption wrong: on the date
Of the burial by thirty-thousand years,
Long before the Universal Deluge
Of Biblical myth or a clergyman’s
Fancy of a world before Eve and Adam.
Wrong, too, about her occupation: not
A prostitute for soldiers but a hunter
And gatherer who survived on fish from the
River Severn. Wrong, finally, about
Her sex: the Red Lady of Paviland
Having died a young man, still in his twenties,
His slender body anointed with ochre,
Necklaced with shells and ringed with ivory,
In the oldest remains yet discovered
In these Doggered isles of the burial rituals
Of our anatomical ancestor.

I saw her sitting at the Tesco checkout
Of the Swansea Marina Superstore,
Servicing the second homes that surround
The former docks (now ‘Maritime Quarter’)
Where luxury yachts are tightly anchored
In the once fishingboat-bobbing sea
Of Dylan Thomas’s vanished town.
Her periwinkle eyes were empty as shells,
And no dolphin smile swam across her lips
As the fish-frozen fingers in her hands
Trawled across the sensors of her till;
A red-haired Penelope with no suitors,
Neither a hero at home nor to wait for,
Scanned by an electronic Cyclops, she
Unpicked the barcode of her digital life
To the distant lighthouse of her nightshift’s end.

They are wrong, too, about her. Wrong
About why she had her son: not to claim
Child Benefit and a higher rung on the
Housing List, but because she loved his father –
Before he left for an enemy’s shores.
Wrong about her occupation too: not
To sit day and night at this conveyor belt,
The cybernetic arm of a computer, but
To love and teach her child how to live better.
Wrong, most of all, about what to do with her:
Not ‘incentivise’ her out of poverty
By cutting her wages and sanctioning
Her benefits until she feeds her boy
From the food-bank tins she sells but cannot buy,
But to free her from this evolution’s end
In the camp of a foreign invader.

And set her running again across Gower:
Leaping the streams above dragon-clawed falls,
Trailing the hand of her goat-footed kid
To the wave-carved spirits of the rocks below,
To comb their uninviting solitude
For a stone that a boy picked up and threw
Thirty-three millennia and more ago
Into the ice-locked ocean twenty leagues south;
And scaling the cliff when the tide roars in
To the tear-drop mouth of a limestone cave,
Ringed with quartz and carpeted with sand:
Place the skull of a mammoth on the grave
Of a man, not much older than she,
Whose sunset head sank into the sea,
Last survivor of our Universal
Deluge, the Red Lady of Paviland.

Simon Elmer

The photograph of the young girl is by Abbie Trayler-Smith, a Welsh photographer, from her series The Big O, about obesity in young girls in the UK. That’s not why I chose it though. When I was trawling the internet for a photo of a red-headed Welsh girl, all I found was the usual fashion-magazine fodder of pouting waifs, until I stumbled across this very beautiful photo of the girl I never in fact saw in the Swansea Marina Superstore. The other photographs were taken during a visit to Paviland Cave (known locally as Goat’s Hole) in April 2018, and another this September to Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History, where the bones and other relics of the Red Lady are kept. Unfortunately, these don’t include the mammoth skull that the Reverend William Buckland found beside the burial but has been lost ever since, and which I suspect is gathering dust in the cellar of Penrice Castle.

 

The Costs of Estate Regeneration: A Report by Architects for Social Housing

A PDF file of this report can be downloaded here: The Costs of Estate Regeneration

Contents

1. Gains and Losses

Estate Regeneration Schemes: Dwellings Demolished and Redeveloped
Leaseholder Compensation, Shared Ownership and Market Sale:
          Ferrier estate and Woodberry Down estate
          Heygate estate and Aylesbury estate
          Myatts Field North estate and Central Hill estate
Affordable and Market Rents in the London Borough of Lambeth in 2017

2. The Social Costs

Promises, Losses and Realities of Estate Regeneration (hypothetical)
Tenure and Use of New Development (hypothetical)
Resident Eviction, Relocation and Inhabitation (hypothetical)
From Resident Ballot to Planning Application: Knight’s Walk

3. The Financial Costs

GLA Affordable Housing Grants: £4.8 Billion of Government Funding
Estimated Cost per New-build Dwelling: Aylesbury Estate
Financial Costs of Demolition and Redevelopment versus Refurbishment
Income on Demolition and Redevelopment (hypothetical)
Costs of Demolition and Redevelopment (hypothetical)

4. The Alternative to Demolition

ASH Alternative to Demolition: Refurbishment, Infill and Roof Extensions
ASH Alternative to Estate Demolition: Central Hill Estate
Lambeth Council Feasibility Report for ASH Proposal: Central Hill Estate
Comparative Capitalisation on ASH and PRP Proposals: Central Hill Estate
Net Present Value for ASH and PRP Proposals: Central Hill Estate
Financial Discrepancies between NPV Calculations for ASH and PRP Proposals

5. The Cost of Refurbishment and Infill

Breakdown of Costs on ASH Proposal (Robert Martell & Partners)
Total Estimated Cost of ASH Proposal (Architects for Social Housing)
Breakdown of Costs of Lambeth Council Proposals versus ASH Proposal
Estimated Feasibility Study for ASH Proposal: Central Hill Estate (25 Years)

Introduction

One of the biggest problems faced by residents informed that their estate is being considered for ‘regeneration’ is the disinformation they are given by the local authority or housing association implementing the process. This is compounded by the council officers who run the unelected Resident Engagement Panels and Steering Groups formed to persuade resident representatives of the benefits of regeneration; by the professional consultants employed to manufacture resident consensus for what they have been told will happen; by the architects who visualise the promises of what regeneration will means for residents; and ultimately by the property developers who will build the new development. For whatever residents are initially told about ‘regeneration’, on estates built on London’s lucrative land, this invariably means the demolition of the existing estate, the redevelopment of new properties at greatly increased densities, and the privatisation of the management and maintenance of the new development.

This problem of disinformation, however, isn’t confined to residents. Housing campaigners trying to resist the demolition of residents’ homes, as well as the journalists who occasionally write about their campaigns, share the same misunderstandings about the costs of estate ‘regeneration’. As a result, such campaigns of resistance are almost entirely confined to ethical arguments about the right of the estate community to continue to exist. These arguments are important, but they are of no concern to the agents of regeneration: either to the developers after the land residents’ homes are built on, or to the council undertaking the process of moving them off it. The registered social landlord, whether local authority or housing association, will make gestures of appeasement towards those rights right up to the moment residents are forcibly evicted from their homes; but those arguments will have little or no influence on what gets built on the land cleared of the demolished homes. What determines that is one thing, and one thing only: the financial costs of demolishing and redeveloping estates.

It is important, therefore, that residents and campaigners understand these costs, and can base their resistance to the estate regeneration programme that is clearing the land for London’s property boom not only on arguments about ethics, but on a clear understanding of what will result from the continued demolition of the city’s housing estates in the middle of a crisis of housing affordability. The financial figures show that, if an estate regeneration scheme begins by demolishing the existing estate – which is current policy for London’s Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat councils, the Greater London Authority and the UK Government – the cost of demolition, compensation for leaseholders and tenants and the construction of new-build dwellings is so high in today’s housing market that the resulting redevelopment will overwhelmingly be made up of properties for private sale, with a hugely reduced number of homes for social rent, increased rental and service charges for existing council tenants, and enormously increased sale prices and reduced tenancy rights for leaseholders.

It is on the basis of this understanding that over the past three years Architects for Social Housing has developed its design alternatives to estate demolition for five London estates, including the Knight’s Walk and Central Hill estates in Lambeth, the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates in Hammersmith and Fulham, and the Northwold estate in Hackney. These design proposals increased the housing capacity on the estate by between 35 and 50 per cent without demolishing a single existing home. In addition, the funds raised from the market sale and rent of around half of the new builds meant the other half were able to be allocated as homes for social rent. Finally, the sale and rent revenues from the new builds generated the funds to refurbish and improve the current estate up to the Decent Homes Standard and higher. The ASH model of estate regeneration through refurbishment and infill new development is easily the most socially beneficial and environmentally sustainable option to address the crisis of housing affordability in London; but it is also the only financial option that doesn’t result in the social cleansing of existing residents from their estate and the mass loss of homes for social rent that is being implemented by the estate regeneration programme in its current form.

Continue reading “The Costs of Estate Regeneration: A Report by Architects for Social Housing”

Oy Vey! No Latkes for Labour

Al-Araqib, Naqab

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

– Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial

1. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance

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

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

Continue reading “Oy Vey! No Latkes for Labour”

Calling All Architects: New Approaches to Old Housing

This article is based on separate video conference interviews conducted by Emily Schmidt in October 2017 with Geraldine Dening and Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing (ASH), architect Frédéric Druot, and Graeme Stewart and Ya’el Santopinto of ERA Architects and the Centre for Urban Growth and Renewal (CUG+R).

Emily Schmidt and Rosalie Genevro, ‘Calling all Architects: New Approaches to Old Housing’, in Housing as Intervention: Architecture Towards Social Equity, guest-edited by Karen Kubey, Architectural Design, vol. 88 (July/August 2018)