Posts Tagged ‘Tory’

Staines, Always Just Staines

Friday, May 20th, 2022

Staines, Always Just Staines – Staines-upon-Thames Day, Sunday 20th May 2012.

Staines, Always Just Staines
Councillors ordered ‘Ali G’ look-alike Drew Cameron to be escorted off the site

I’ve lived in Staines since 1974, but it was a place I knew years earlier, growing up seven miles to the east in Hounslow, now a part of Greater London, but then, along with Staines in Middlesex. Staines was out in the country, and I remember watching a herd of cows being driven along one of its main roads. A few boys from there came to my school, and we would sometimes laugh at their country yokel accents.

Staines then was a place we would sometimes come to on Bank Holidays, taking a 116 or 117 bus ride and then walking to the Lammas, a park beside the Thames, with paddling pools and a diving pool into the river. It was here I learnt to swim, though now anyone foolish enough to get in the river here probably gets first-aid treatment.

Staines, Always Just Staines
Staines was a Roman town, Ad Pontes

Staines had its own smell, or rather stink of linseed oil from the lino – Staines’s largest industry occupying a large site to the north of the High Street – but now long-closed and a large shopping centre. The smell hung on for a few years, but I think has now gone. And that High Street had a notorious and ever-present traffic jam, taking the A30, the main route to the south-west, though the centre of the town. That was alleviated by the opening of the Staines Bypass, and later the M3 and M4 which run a few miles to the south and north of the town, but Staines Bridge, despite widening, continues to be a traffic bottleneck.

Staines, Always Just Staines
Drew Cameron as Ali G

Politically, Staines has long been true-blue Tory, one of the safer Conservative seats, and its current MP is Kwasi Kwarteng, though he spends little time in the constituency. In 1965 when almost all Middlesex became part of London, a rebellion by backwoods Tories in the posher areas of Sunbury and Shepperton led to the formation of a new borough, Spelthorne, which broke away to become a part of Surrey, the ancient enemy county across the Thames.

Staines, Always Just Staines
Lord-Lieutenant of Surrey, Dame Sarah Goad cuts a ribbon

While the Thames was the major factor in the development of Staines – a Roman bridging point, Ad Pontes – more recently its proximity to London’s Heathrow airport and three motorways – M25, M3 and M4 have been significantly more important in persuading major companies to set up offices in the area. So it was something of an anachronism when Tory councillor Colin Davis, over a Magnum of Champagne proposed changing its name to Staines-upon-Thames – more appropriate would have been Staines-by-Heathrow.

Staines, Always Just Staines
Kwasi Kwarteng MP at the event

Few if any actual Staines residents backed the change, though it was popular with estate agents and the like. Many voted against it in the local referendum, but most of these votes were disqualified as they came in via the local football club, enabling the Tories to forge a majority. The whole campaign, fired by the anger of a few at the comedian Sacha Baron Cohen whose character Ali G claimed a gangster upbringing in the ‘Staines Ghetto‘ and to be the leader of ‘Da West Staines Massiv‘ showed a massive sense of humour deficit, as well as a whiff of anti-semitism. Ali G had been a huge publicity boost for Staines, and the campaign for the name change attracted more world-wide publicity – and even an article in Vanity Fair.

The London Stone (replica)

Colin Davis won his bet, and the name change was officially made and celebrated at an event in Staines on Sunday 20th May 2012. Since it was taking place a short walk from my home I went to photograph it. As I comment in My London Diary, “An Ali G lookalike who turned up to a Staines event marking the local council’s decision to change the name of the town because of the publicity given it by Ali G was escorted off the site by security. It was further proof that some Spelthorne councillors lack a sense of humour but need to make an ass of themselves.”

Colin Davis is no longer a Spelthorne Councillor, and was more recently chair of the Enfield Southgate Conservative Association in north London. He was this year suspended from the Conservative Party and subsequently “resigned after after a photo allegedly showing him wearing a Nazi uniform at a social event several years ago emerged.”

Waiting for ducks to arrive in the Duck Race

Spelthorne Council has featured in Private Eye and elsewhere on numerous occasions over recent years for its huge borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board to buy office and retail space, much of it outside the Borough, though it does include £385m for the large BP site in Sunbury. The man behind the policy – which the Treasury has said it would ban other local authorities following was deposed as Tory group leader in 2020, after which he and 5 other councillors left the Tory Party to form the United Spelthorne Group.

Their resignations left the Conservatives in a minority on Spelthorne Council, which is not in a position of ‘no overall control’ for the first time since its formation – which is perhaps how local councils should be. Two Labour councillors have also left for the Breakthrough Party, and the council now has a minority administration of Liberal Democrats, Green Party and the Independent Spelthorne Group.

Personally I still live in Staines. If I can be bothered when web sites fill in my address as Staines-upon-Thames I correct it. It’s not really a big deal, unlike Brexit, but it would be nice to go back officially to the old name.

More on My London Diary at Council Attempts To Rename Staines.


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Housing: Focus E15 – Newham Show 2016

Saturday, July 10th, 2021

Housing remains a major problem, with many people and families in London still having to live in inadequate and often dangerous conditions. It isn’t that there is a shortage of homes, as many lie empty. There is a shortage, but it is of homes that people can afford to live in.

What London desperately needs is more low-cost housing. Council housing used to provide that, and by the late 1970s almost a third of UK households lived in social housing provided on a non-profit basis. Post-war building programmes, begun under Aneurin Bevan, the Labour government’s Minister for Health and Housing led to the building of estates both in major cities and the new towns that provided high quality housing at low rents, attempting to provide homes for both the working classes and a wider community.

Successive Conservative governments narrowed the scope of public housing provision towards only providing housing for those on low income, particularly those cleared from the city slums, reducing the quality of provision and also encouraging the building of more high-rise blocks, something also favoured by new construction methods of system building. Housing became a political battle of numbers, never mind the quality.

It was of course the “right to buy” brought in under Mrs Thatcher that was a real death blow for social housing. As well as losing many of their better properties, councils were prevented from investing the cash received from the sales in new housing – and the treasury took a cut too. Tenants seemed to do well out of it, getting homes at between half and two thirds of the market price, but often having bought their homes found the costs involved were more than they could afford, particularly when repairs were needed. Many of those homes were later sold and became “buy to let” houses.

Around ten years ago I passed an uncomfortable 25 minutes of a rail journey into London when a young student with a loud public-school voice explained to two friends what a splendid scheme “buy to let” was. He was already a landlord and profiting from it. You didn’t he told them actually have to have any money, as you could borrow it against the surety of your existing property – or a guarantee from Daddy – at a reasonable rate. You then bought a house and let it out, through an agency to avoid any hassle of actually dealing with tenants. Even allowing for the agent’s fees the rents you charged would give you a return on your investment roughly twice you were paying on your loan. It was money for nothing. And so it was for those who could get banks and others to lend them money, though recent changes have made it a little less profitable.

New Labour did nothing to improve the situation, and even made things worse through encouraging local councils to carry out regeneration schemes, demolishing council estates and replacing them with a large percentage of private properties, some largely unaffordable “affordable” properties and usually a token amount of actual social housing. The situation has been was still worsened since then, both by extending the right to buy to Housing Association properties and also by changes in tenure for those still in social housing. Successive governments have also driven up both house prices and rents by various policies, particularly the subsidies for landlords provided by Housing Benefit.

I’ve written before about Focus E15, a small group based in Newham whose activities have prompted some national debate. Begun to fight council moves to close their hostel for single mothers and disperse them to privately rented accommodation across the country (like Katie in ‘I, Daniel Blake who gets sent to Newcastle), having succeeded in their fight to stay in London they widened their scope to help others fight for decent housing – particularly in Newham, where the Labour council under Mayor Robin Wales was failing to deal with some of the worst housing problems in the country – while keeping large numbers of council properties empty.

Eventually Newham got rid of Robin Wales (and their campaign almost certainly helped) but the housing problems remain. A few days ago Focus E15 tweeted

Brimstone house in Stratford is the former FocusE15 hostel, now run by Newham Council as temporary and emergency accommodation.

One of Robin Wales’ big PR operations was the annual ‘Mayor’s Newham Show’ held in Central Park. Focus E15 were stopped from handing out leaflets inside or outside the show and on 1oth July 2016 set up a stall and protest on the main road a few hundred yards away. After handing out leaflets to people walking to the show for an hour or so, they briefly occupied the balconies of the empty former Police Station opposite Newham Town Hall on the road leading to the show ground in a protest against the Mayor’s housing record and policies.

Strangers Into Citizens 2007

Friday, May 7th, 2021

One of the great failures of British politicians in my lifetime has been over immigration. Since Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in Birmingham in April 1968, both major parties have engaged in a desperate contest to show they are tougher on immigration than the other.

Immigration as we moved from Empire to Commonwealth wasn’t just a moral issue of living up to the promises the country had long made to its overseas subjects – but had failed to live up to. It was also a matter of economic and social need, for workers, nurses, bus conductors, doctors and more to keep the United Kingdom running. By the 1960s, a third of junior doctors were from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and in 1963 Enoch Powell, then minister of health launched a campaign which recruited a further 18,000 doctors from India and Pakistan.

Immigration controls had of course begun earlier, but the 1962 Conservative Commonwealth Immigrants Act began a new series of anti-immigration measures. Labour followed this with their 1968 Act, a panic measure to restrict the arrival here of Kenyan Asians. The 1971 Immigration Act and further legislation restricted even restricted the numbers of foreign nurses – who the NHS was and is still very reliant on.

On and on the politicians have gone, increasing the restrictions and playing the numbers game promoted by racists rather than adopting a positive approach and stressing the great advantages that immigrants have brought to this country. While in the Tory party attitudes have largely been driven by straight-forward racism and the residues of imperialism, Labour’s policies seem more cynical and solely based on middle-class electoral assumptions about working-class racism.

Of course there are working-class racists. But there is also working class solidarity that crosses any lines of race, and which could have been fostered by the Labour Party and the trade unions. Instead they have left the field largely open to the likes of the EDL and the lies of the right-wing press. In this and other ways Labour has not lost the working class, but abandoned it.

The vicious and racist policies imposed in recent years by Theresa May against migrants, particularly those here without official permission but also those with every right to be here but without a huge archive of paperwork by which to prove this – the Windrush generation have met with opposition from some mainly on the left in Labour, but they built on the policies of the New Labour government before here.

Labour have abstained rather than voted against so much discriminatory legislation, and their opposition to Priti Patel’s draconian bill which aims to criminalise Roma, Gypsy and Traveller lifestyles and increase the surveillance powers of immigration officers as well as introducing new ‘diversionary cautions’ against migrants to allow police to force them to leave the country has at best been half-hearted.

Of course there are exceptions. Honourable men and women in both parties who have argued against racist policies, and MPs who have voted with their consciences rather than follow the party line – and sometimes lost the party whip. And of course those in some of the smaller parties and outside parliament, particularly various religious leaders, some of whom took a leading role in the Strangers into Citizens March and Rally on May 7th 2007 which called for all those who have worked (and paid their taxes) here for more than four years to be given a two year work permit, after which if they get suitable work and character references they would be given indefinite leave to remain.

Although this still would not change our terrible mistreatment of those who arrive seeking asylum, it did seem a pragmatic solution to a major problem which governments have found intractable. But as the organisers of the event and many of the speakers insisted, it needed to be part of a wider package of fair treatment for those applying for asylum or immigration. But the political parties were not listening and seem only able to think of more and more restrictive, racist and authoritarian policies which drive us further into becoming a police state.

http://mylondondiary.co.uk/2007/05/may.htm


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