Unless you are a Labour Party member, you probably haven’t heard of Progress. It describes itself as an independent organisation of Labour party members which “aims to promote a radical and progressive politics”. It’s essentially a ‘New Labour‘ pressure group within the party, though it has tried to hide its Blairite identity in recent years by calling itself ‘Labour’s new mainstream‘, something which fools few.
A protester holds up a list of Council Estates that Labour councils are socially cleansing
Though its right-wing views are at odds with the huge majority of the party membership, thanks to considerable funding largely by Lord Sainsbury, and some deft political maneuvering – its supporters are largely careerist politicians – it exercises considerable control over the party machinery, which has so far enabled it to resist efforts to get it proscribed, despite clearly being a party within the party, and it has managed to get many of its members selected as Parliamentary candidates, often to the considerable rage of local party members. So far unsuccessful in its attempts to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader we are likely to see yet more dirty tricks by Progress MPs and at every party conference.
A woman comes out to shout at protesters and lie to them they are disrupting a youth health meeting
Most London Labour councils are dominated by members or supporters of Progress, and are pursuing policies which in areas such as housing which are completely at odds with the traditional values of the party, working with developers to sell of public assets and drive the less well off out of London.
The Revolutionary Communist Group say ‘Housing is a right – Not a privilege’
Though their may be few brown envelopes changing hands, many Labour (or Progress) councilors are ending up with lucrative jobs, getting trips abroad and lavish lunches and dinners for playing their part in the evicting of social housing tenants, the demolition of their estates and their rebuilding as expensive flats, many simply to be sold as investment opportunities for wealthy foreign investors. Some get sold ‘off plan’ before they are built, being sold again before completion, and then perhaps again a few years later, but often never having been lived in – or perhaps visited a week or two a year for a trip to London.
In one not atypical example, 1700 social housing units were replaced by only 70 in the redevelopment, the former tenants and leaseholders being dispersed onto the fringes of London or further afield, many home owners getting only a fraction of the true market value of their properties, and tenants being forced into private renting with little security of tenure and much higher (and rising) rents.
Progress supports these policies, though hiding its intentions behind higher sounding ideals, the actual policies are all about realising asset values. But look at what has happened, for example to the Heygate Estate at the Elephant, what is happening to the Aylesbury Estate to the south, what Lambeth plan for Central Hill and at other estates around London and the pattern is clear.
Jasmin Stone of Focus E15 talks with a man attending the meeting
Local councils are having a tough time of it with central government cuts, and are looking at estates like these as a way to solve financial problems rather than with any real concern about the people who currently live on them, or the many thousands on their housing waiting lists.
Their feeling about these people is summed up by one Labour Mayor who told protesters ‘If you can’t afford to live in London you can’t live in London‘ and at market rents relatively few can afford it. We need council housing and other social housing in London at prices that ordinary workers, including those on minimum wage, can afford. And one of the jobs of London’s local councils is to ensure it is provided in London, not indulge in social cleansing.
Local residents say Lambeth Council Leader Liz Peck disrespects the views of Lambeth residents
As well as housing protesters, the Momentum conference was also picket by local campaigners against one of London’s craziest plans, the Garden Bridge, a bridge neither necessary nor useful and a huge private project that would require considerable public investment for little public good. Recently there has been a damning report by Dame Margaret Hodge on the financial aspects of the plan, identifying a huge gap in funding which should be its death knell. But the protesters were more concerned that Lambeth Council were backing the scheme, and giving money towards it despite the opposition of Lambeth residents.
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