Posts Tagged ‘Simon Elmer’

Class War Notting Hill Pub Stroll

Saturday, March 5th, 2022

Class War Notting Hill Pub Stroll. The peaceful pub crawl on Saturday 5th March 2016 by a small group of Class War supporters revisiting sites important in the early years of the movement attracted rather more police than participants; several venues closed for the event and Notting Hill Foxtons was fully boarded up.

The event had been widely publicised as ‘Historic – Riotous – Fun’ although it lived up to the first and last of these three words, it was never likely to be more than a little good humoured horseplay.

The event started with something of a whimper; unfortunately the Ground Floor Bar, formerly the Colville Hotel at 186 Portobello Road on the corner of Talbot Road which was the advertised starting point was unavailable as the whole pub had closed down shortly after the event was conceived and was boarded up awaiting sale. It did reopen briefly a few months later before becoming The Ginstitute.

Class War’s first conference was held in a private room at the Colville on 27th August 1983, shortly after the second Class War magazine had been published, and according to the speech Ian Bone made outside the closed pub it ended with a fight between Sean Mason and the landlord. In his entertaining memoir ‘Bash The Rich‘, still available, Bone writes “To be honest, I doubt if anyone who was there can really remember what the fuck happened” over the course of an 8 hour lock-in when even the landlord joined in the political arguments over “Stonehenge, IRA, sexual politics“, though he does give considerable detail.

Class War has been described as “fearless, hilarious and, for the rich and powerful of this benighted isle, absolutely terrifying” and this still appeared to be the case with their activities of a small handful of people in Notting Hill on this afternoon being closely watched and followed by a small team of police who appeared on every street corner. Class War found the second pub on the trail, ‘The Castle’ mysteriously ‘closed for maintenance’ as they arrived, though the staff were still working inside and it was open as usual later in the afternoon, with staff trying hard to scrape off an number of Class War stickers from its frontage.

The Castle was once Portobello Road’s the Warwick Castle, but it was sadly gutted some years back, gentrified and is now called simply ‘The Castle’. You can read about its heyday in the book by book ‘3000 Hangovers Later’ by Ray ‘Roughler’ Jones, another Class War stalwart who briefly joined the event later.

It was at the Warwick Castle that Ian Bone saw Joe Strummer of The Clash drinking, came up on the spot with the idea of a ‘Rock Against the Rich’ tour, and found the man to be enthusiastic for it – prepared not only to take part, but put money into it. Class War recorded the event by putting up a number of ‘Blue Plaques’ to Strummer and to Rock against the Rich – actually ‘Blue Plates’, paper plates fixed to the windows and walls with Class War stickers.

The Duke of Wellington had remained open, though perhaps with rather more bouncers than usual on the door, but they let us in and Class War settled down for a pint or two, with several more joining the group, including Lisa McKenzie who made a dramatic entry, throwing off her coat to reveal her ‘Class War Womens Death Brigade’ t-shirt. This used to be the main H H Finch’s bar on the Portobello Rd but was subjected to an entire refurbishment after being taken over by Young’s in 1991, now catering to the tourist trade.

Class War after a few expensive pints were led out again by Rita the Raven down Portobello Road where they danced briefly outside at the record stall before settling in the only remaining real pub in the area, the Earl of Lonsdale, a Sam Smith’s pub that was once Henekey’s. Sam Smith’s in many of their pubs have gone to a great deal of trouble to keep or recreate the character of a real British pub, and then their bitter was reasonably cheap (for London) as was the chips and other food.

Class War had published a route with timings for the afternoon but of course were running well behind. Despite this some supporters managed to find them and join in, though others I met at another event the following day had tried but failed. Most of us made it out of the pub to walk down to George Orwell’s former house – a venue that had gone viral with a faked image on social media showing a photoshopped CCTV camera next to its blue plaque. Here Lisa McKenzie gave a speech praising George Orwell, a scholarship boy at Eton, for recognising the nature of the war by the elites against the working classes.

Next came a visit to the Notting Hill branch of Foxton’s, securely boarded up for the day, outside which Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing spoke about the housing crisis and the role of estate agents in gentrification and the Foxtons sign gained a few stickers.

After he had been speaking for around ten minutes a number of police vans and motorcycles drew up noisily to reinforce the small group of officers who had been watching all afternoon from a polite distance of a few yards, and Class War quickly melted away into a nearby pub and I went with them.

An hour later, after the unexpected bonus of seeing a Class War make-up demonstration for a comrade it seemed unlikely that they would complete their tour with visits to the homes of Tory Chancellor George Osborne and his father and the Daily Mail, and I left for home.


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March Against Housing & Planning Bill

Sunday, January 30th, 2022

The March Against Housing & Planning Bill on January 30th 2016 was organised by activists from South London, particulary from the London boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark.

These include many who are fighting against the demolition of social housing that is taking place across London, including in Lambeth and Southwark. Council tenants and leaseholders on council estates are fighting to save their homes – and fighting against Lambeth and Southwark councils who together with private developers and estate agent advisers are bent on demolishing the estates and replacing them with new estates which are largely for private rent or sale at London’s inflated market prices.

Southwark Council in particular carried out an expenisive PR exercise to demonise the Heygate Estate at the Elephant & Castle, having failed to carry out necessary maintenance and flooded the estate with people with various social problems over a number of years. The whole disastrous history has been documented in depth on the Southwark 35% site. A prize-winning estate with 1,214 homes built in 1974 to provide social housing for around 3,000 people was deliberately run-down and demolished. It’s replacement, Elephant Park has less than 100 social housing units. Many of its new flats are simply investments for overseas owners.

Southwark sold the Heygate to developers for one third of its previous valuation, and spent more on the scheme than it received. A study by Global architect firm Gensler concluded that the £35m spent by Southwark in rehousing the estate residents was exactly the same as it would have cost to refurbish the estate up to modern standards – and would have avoided the huge carbon footprint of demolishing and rebuilding.

A well as Heygate, Southwark Council’s main target has been the Aylesbury Estate, where Tony Blair chose to launch the Labour regeneration policy which has enabled corrupt councils to destroy much of what remained of social housing. For many council officers and some councillors it has enabled them to move into highly paid jobs with developers as a reward for their services. Lambeth has also been pursuing similar policies (along with other boroughs in London) and in particular with the Central Hill estate close to Crystal Palace.

An angry heckler – their argument continued after the speech by Livingstone

The protest against the Housing & Planning Bill in 2016 was also attended by people from both Lambeth and Southwark Council, and when Southwark Council Cabinet Member for Housing Richard Livingstone stepped up to the microphone to speak at the rally before the march some trouble was inevitable. Among those loudly heckling him was another of the speakers, Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing.

Class War have also been active in support of social housing in South London in particular and livened up the march by dancing along the street with banners singing the ‘Lambeth Walk’. One banner carried the words of a leading US Anarchist Lucy Parsons (1853-1942), “We must devastate the avenues where the wealthy live” and another had a field of crosses with the message “We have found new homes for the rich“.

Class War supporters rushed across the street for a short impromtu protest in front of a large branch of one of the leading estate agents driving the gentrification of London and advising councils and government on housing policies, but soon rejoined the main march of around 2,000 people heading for Westminster Bridge and Downing St.

At Downing St there was another protest outside the gates. Police had formed a line across Whitehall and directed the march to the opposite side of the street opposite Downing St. The march followed them across but then many simply walked back across the street to mass in front of the gates for a rally led by Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! who have been active in supporting the Focus E15 Mothers in their campaign against the housing failures of Newham Council.

More on My London Diary at Housing and Planning Bill March


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At the LSE – Sept 29, 2016

Wednesday, September 29th, 2021

I’d gone to the LSE to attend a session in the LSE’s 3-day ‘Resist’ festival organised by Lisa McKenzie, then a research fellow in the Department of Sociology there, though I imagine that this was one of several reasons her contract was not renewed. It’s OK if your work is purely academic, or if it supports the kind of people and companies that fund universities, but anything practical which supports the working classes is definitely infra-dig.

At the end of the session (more about it below) McKenzie called upon Petros Elia, General Secretary of the United Voices of the World trade union to which many of the LSE cleaners now belong. He accused the management of the LSE of failing to protect the interests of cleaners working there who they have outsourced to a cleaning contractor in a cost-cutting exercise without insisting on decent working conditions and conditions of service. He invited all present to a meeting to discuss action by the cleaners which was to be held as a part of the Resist festival later that day. I hadn’t intended to stay for that, but decided to do so.

Covid has made many re-evaluate the contributions of many low-paid workers, and to realise how essential their services are to the running of society. Cleaners are one such group and the meeting organised by the UVW made clear how terribly they were being treated by their employers, Noonan, while the LSE was happy to pocket the few pennies they were saving by outsourcing and look the other way to the injustices taking place under their own roof – while claiming the moral high ground and uncovering and moralising on those in societies around the world.

It was also a meeting which would have shattered any prejudices about low-paid workers being less intelligent, less aware or less articulate than those in higher positions. Many of them were migrant workers and speaking in their second (or third) language, though some through interpreters, but made themselves heard more clearly than the average cabinet minister in a radio or TV interview.

The cleaners’ campaign for parity of treatment with other workers employed directly was supported by students – including those on a new graduate course in Equality – and the students union General Secretary, several post-graduate students and staff. One of those present was LSE Professor of Anthropology David Graeber who so sadly died aged 59 just over a year ago and is much missed.

Students and staff continued to support the cleaners in various actions and the campaign was partly successful. The cleaners were brought in house in June 2017, but are still remained “frustrated and grieved by their continuing treatment as “second-class” workers.” A petition was launched in April 2021 making 14 demands. A major continuing problem is that the LSE does still not recognise or talk with the cleaners’ trade union, the UVW, but talks with Unison which never consults the cleaners and fails to represent many of their needs.

The earlier session of ‘Resist’ was a lengthy and detailed indictment by Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing of a report by a group of LSE academics on Kidbrooke Village, a development by Berkeley Homes and Southern Housing. This replaced the LCC-built Ferrier Estate in SE London, which was deliberately run-down, demonised and emptied by Greenwich Council from 1999 onwards.

Elmer accused the report of lies about the estate regeneration, of basing their report on that of the property developer and passing it off as their own, of placing the cultural legitimacy of an LSE report in the service of Government policy and the profits of Berkeley Homes and of accepting financial backing to validate the desired conclusions of their backers.

Elmer made a convincing case, but none of those responsible came to make any defence of the report, and it was hard to know whether there could have been any – though I suspect it might well have been only a matter of picking a few holes and making minor corrections to his analysis. Clearly universities should not be places where property developers or even governments call the tunes and the LSE would appear to have been caught out kowtowing to capital.

More at:
LSE Cleaners campaign launch
Simon Elmer of ASH indicts LSE


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Another Grenfell protest

Wednesday, November 13th, 2019

It seems increasingly unlikely that we are ever going to see justice for the victims of Grenfell as the establishment use all the tricks in their book to protect those responsible.

Perhaps in the end after years of purposefully drawn out inquiry by police and judges a few small companies will be found guilty of failing to follow some aspects of building regulations and be given insignificant fines, though I doubt even that. But the real culprits seem almost certain to escape scot-free.

THe RCG have a fine banner by Andrew Cooper

So far we have only seen the first stage of the official  Grenfell Tower Inquiry which appears to have been a travesty, with the judge shifting blame on those responsible for fighting the fire and coming to a conclusion that not only flies in the face of what experienced fire-fighters say, including those who were there on the night, but could well lead to more deaths in other high-rise fires. People are almost certain given the publicity by the report to die in some future fires because they try to escape rather than staying safe in their homes. And quite clearly had the idiotic Jacob Rees Mogg lived in Grenfell he and his family would have died there.

These blocks – Grenfell included – only got approval on the basis that any fire would be contained within a flat and would be expected to be able to burn itself out even if fire-fighters did not attend. Building regulations made sure that this was the case, and the towers were built to enable any firest that did occur to be safely fought from within the building. The flats were essentially small self-contained concrete units, isolated from each other, with dry risers to supply water on the landings when needed and smoke traps.

Simon Elmer of ASH who produced a report on Grenfell

The blame for Grenfell lies squarely with the government ministers who altered the regulations and allowed building owners to make their own fire inspections, with owners who saved money by arranging inadequate inspections and employing contractors to add unsuitable cladding and otherwise compromise the building safety. Contractors too bear some resposiblity for agreeing to install unsafe cladding and for doing so in a way which removed the gaps essential for safety.

Another small left-wing group declined the offer to join the RCG protest

Kensington & Chelsea Council and its TMO must bear the main responsibility for this particular building, with councillors and others taking the decisions which made the building a fire-trap. They were more than incompetent, bullying those who informed them of some of the problems.

The council too failed to properly deal with the survivors, despite some extravagant promises made in the early days after the fire by Theresa May and others. A full year after the fire only 41% of the households from Grenfell Tower and adjoining Grenfell walk had been permanently re-housed. Of those in the wider affected area, 29% had been able to return to their homes and 1% – one family – permanently rehoused. The other 70% (90 families) were still in some form of temporary accomodation. This despite Kensington & Chelsea being one of the wealthiest boroughs in the country.

Many of those most closely involved are still suffering intensely from trauma and both initial relief and counselling were other areas where the council and other official response are felt by many to have been inadequate – and put to shame by the community response. As an outsider I don’t feel entitled to comment, though I’ve certainly heard the pain expressed by some of the community.

People pose on the council steps at the end of the RCG protest

Various groups formed after the fire, some with more support among the victims and wider community than others. Although all have I think taken part in the monthly silent walks which aim to keep the memory of the events alive, there have been arguments with some groups urging a more radical stance is needed to get action.

Two of these groups, both relatively small, had come to protest at the Kensington & Chelsea town hall outside the council meeting. I had gone to photograph the protest by the Revolutionary Communist Group who have run street stalls on Ladbroke Grove close to Grenfell and organised other protests in the area as well as taking part in the silent walks. As well as their own speakers they had invited others to talk, and as main speaker Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing, whose report and film produced within a few weeks of the fire remains the most authorative account of the reasons why Grenfell was a tragedy waiting to happen.

More at No Justice for Grenfell


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