Labour, Labour Home Snatchers!

Anarchist Martin Wright leads a protest as a Labour Party activist is called to the microphone

The picture above has an interesting structure with a strong central figure and two planes defined by the poster he is holding and the banners behind, which appeals to me. But it is also a picture in which the text is important, particularly the poster message ‘Labour Leaders in the Social Cleansing of Council Estates in London’, not just because it actually makes  an unfortunately true point, but because it very clearly makes the point which this image is about – a protest by one of London’s leading anarchists over housing, and against the policies pursued by Labour councils in London.

Tanya Murat of Southwark Defend Council Housing and a council tenant in Walworth

When the Labour government brought in the idea of regeneration it was probably for the best of motives, an attempt to improve the housing of many who were living in sub-standard accomodation by providing them with homes that met modern standards. But it was soon being used to do something very different, partly because developers saw it as a huge money-making opportunity, partly because some councillors and officers saw it as a way to develop their careers (and personal fortunes), partly because local authorities lacked the knowledge and experience to deal with the developers, and at least in part because of the demands and limitations imposed by central government on local authorities.

The result has been a culture in  which the needs of the people local authority housing is intended to meet – local residents – have become largely neglected, with councils aiming at realising the values of public assets and some councillors and officials getting treated to extravagant entertainment and getting lucrative jobs. Of course local councils have always suffered from people exploiting their positions for their own interests (and only a very few have been brought to justice.) But the huge redevelopment proposals which came out of thte regeneration process provided rich pickings for some.

Most local government in London is Labour led – with some borough such as Newham having no effective opposition at all. So mostly it is Labour controlled councils that are demolishing estates and handing public assets over to often rather corrupt developers – including some housing associations. Conservative councils are just as bad, but there are few of them. And we expect Conservatives to serve their own interests and those of their wealth friends, while Labour we expect to be ‘for the many not for the few’.

Ted Knight (right) argues with Martin Wright

Class War and other anarchist and left groups had come to take part in the protest called by called by ‘Axe the Housing Act’ against the demolition of council estates but neither they nor housing activists they have worked with were given the chance to speak. The final straw for them was when a prominent London Labour Party activist was called to the microphone. It is a long time since Ted Knight was ‘Red Ted’, the leader of a Labour council which planned and built homes on the premise that “nothing was too good for the working class”, was in power, but he remains a member of a party that has been responsible for more than 160 estate demolitions in the capital (though he has been fighting against some of them.)

‘Labour Labour Home Snatchers! Even Worse than Maggie Thatcher’

It wasn’t then suprising that Class War and some other activists erupted at this point, disrupting the meeting by shouting their views. They didn’t stop the meeting, but held it up for some time before things quietened down enough for Knight to speak – and the arguments continued. The banner behind Martin Wright, on which only a few words can be seen (you can read it unobstructed at the right of the picature above ), shows Corbyn reading another Class War poster, listing the names of many of the estates Labour Councils are demolishing, thrust in his face as he went to speak at another protest.

‘The people Ballotless by MendaCity Hall’ – Sadiq Khan rushed through proposals to avoid ballots

Some weeks after this Labour did make a new policy statement on housing, which did include some of the demands activists including Class War and  residents have been making, among them calling for all estate residents to be balloted and to be treated better when councils want to ‘regenerate’ estates. But those proposals are still being largely ignored by London Labour councils, with London Mayor Sadiq Khan rushing through a number of proposals which failed to meet the new standards, and others finding excuses to avoid implementing them.

There have been a few sucesses, notably in Haringey, where a huge level of protests by activists iniside and outwith the Labour Party resulted in the election of Labour councillors opposed to the billion-pound giveaway of council assets involved in the HDV (Haringey Development Vehicle), but elsewhere in London Labour councils dominated by the Labour right (and organisations such as Progress) are still finding ways to continue  the old and discredited policies.

I tried to cover both the main protest and the reaction to it from Class War and others, and separated out the two on My London Diary. There were a number of speakers representing estates currently being demolished or under threat in the main protest, but it did seem a shame that it was not more inclusive.

Class War protest Labour Housing record
No Demolitions Without Permission

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