Dead Men Left

Friday, December 23, 2005

Local politics

Just received a rather heartening press-release from Tower Hamlets Against Transfer:

Tenants vote NO in 5 out of 7 ballots
Tenants voted NO to transfer in five out of seven of the housing privatisation ballot results announced today in Tower Hamlets.

'People are seeing through the empty words, glossy pamphlets and hard sell. Once you see the blackmail, threats and dirty tricks it gives the game away. Once you get out on the doorstep and discuss it with neighbours, tenants can smell a rat with Housing Choice,' says Kay, a Cranbrook tenant.

Tenants against transfer to new private sector housing association landlords have worked hard trying to make sure we knock on every door, and counter the years of glossy propaganda, DVDs and hard sell by the would-be landlords, Council and so-called 'Independent Tenant Advisor' staff.

'We want improvements on our estates - not privatisation. Why should we give up our security, lower rents and charges, and accountable landlord? We don't want these RSLs doing private luxury developments all over our green space. They want to make money at our expense - it's not on,' says Sean, one of the tenant on Longnor, Osier and Norfolk (Bancroft East) who voted no.
'It's a disgrace the lies they tell - they promise new homes to loads of desperate people, they say there's no difference in tenancy rights. Lots of tenants were not sent voting papers. But we kept up campaigning to the end, and the tenants stood together to say NO,' says Habib of the Clichy and Stepney Green campaign.

The five latest No votes are on Barleymow (56% no) , Cranbrook (72% no), Granby/Hereford (63% no) Longnor,Osier and Norfolk (54% no) and Stepney Green/Clichy (63% no). On Lansbury the campaign faced intimidation and threats from HARCA staff, with voting conducted in a HARCA-run hall. On Exmouth estate most tenants voted before hearing any alternative point of view.

Today's results follow no votes on Wapping and Lincoln estates in October 05, and a controversial Bow Parkside ballot in July 05 where the Council's claim of a 7-vote majority is being legally challenged. Tenants on the Ocean estate in Stepney are also furious that their vote, due in November 05 has now been postponed until summer 06 due to the mood on the estate. A deputation from the estate to the Council meeting last week demanded that the vote is held immediately or abandoned. 'We believe they have postponed our vote because they know we would vote no,' the deputation told the full Council meeting 14.12.05.

Tenants against transfer are demanding the Council put all housing funding into repairs and improvements on estates immediately, and back the local and national campaign for direct investment in council housing as an alternative to stock transfer or other privatisation options.

Tower Hamlets council is fighting estate-by-estate for New Labour. And fighting is pretty much the word: on the Lansbury estate, HARCA (the “registered social landlord” looking to run the place) used its own employees to bust up a Defend Council Housing meeting: in a bizarre simulation of genuine protest, a group of HARCA staff, complete with HARCA placards (and a token representation from the estate), marched into the community hall screaming and shouting abuse, and sufficiently disrupted the meeting that the chair had to call the police. Though HARCA’s, ahem, politically independent, it struck me as a classically New Labour manoeuvre: a completely simulated “movement” papered over the atomisation of social and political life New Labour strive for.

Elsewhere, Tower Hamlets council is victimising a long-standing member of staff for her involvement in Defend Council Housing. They know that each vote against stock transfer is a blow against New Labour; what they absolutely dread is that Respect will gain as a result. Whilst I don’t share the confidence that Respect will win control of the council next May, I’m sure that we will be the biggest single party represented in the chamber in a few months’ time.

That, by itself, would be fantastic: one of the most deprived boroughs in the country has been subjected to over a decade of crackpot New Labour schemes, a Blairite gloss that barely masks over a deeply corrupt political culture. The extent of New Labour’s failure in the East End, is quite stunning. Misplaced talk about “communalism” during the general election campaign out here was a shoddy attempt to divert attention from the underlying reasons Respect has gained a traction there; yes, the war matters, but so do local schools, the PFI scheme at the hospital, the proposed Crossrail development, and, above all, housing. The war alone would not have won George Galloway his seat, and it will not deliver council seats for Respect in the spring.