The Crime of Destroying Social Housing in London – and the Significance (Or Not) of Jeremy Corbyn’s Response

A photo of the first stage of demolition on the Heygate Estate in Southwark, south east London, in April 2011 (Photo: Lotte Sheedy for the Architects Journal).This is my 2900th article since I began writing here on a full-time basis in May 2007. If you like what I do, please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

A great crime is taking place in London — the destruction of social housing estates by councils, who, squeezed of cash by central government, and, for decades, prevented from spending money on social housing, have entered into deals with private developers, in which housing — primarily estates — that the councils claim they have no money to refurbish are demolished, and replaced by new developments that offer huge profits for the developers, but that provide no social housing, or a risibly small amount.

In recent years, the purely private developers have been joined by housing associations, the preferred choice of governments, since the time of Margaret Thatcher, for managing social housing. However, with their central funding completely cut by the Tories since 2010, they have also been obliged to embark upon more and more developments featuring a large component of private housing to subsidise their properties for rent.

A further complication is that, in one of the most cynically breathtaking acts of spin in modern British history, the social housing provided is generally what is officially termed “affordable,” but which, in reality, is not affordable at all for most Londoners. Boris Johnson, during his eight destructive years as London’s Mayor, set “affordable” rents at 80% of market rents, and in most of London — if not all — market rents are so out of control that those on the median income in London (the level at which 50% of workers earn more, and 50% earn less) are paying up to 70% of their wages on rent, when the acceptable model — in pre-Thatcher days — used to be that no one should pay more than a third of their income, just as, before the insane bubble that has more or less existed since New Labour took office in 1997, the acceptable cost of a house was no more than three and a half times a worker’s income. Read the rest of this entry »

Calling for the Closure of Guantánamo on the 16th Anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks

A sculpture by José Antonio Elvira in the town of Guantanamo, in Cuba, dated 2006 (Photo: Zósimo, a Creative Commons photo via Wikimedia Commons).It’s the start of my latest quarterly fundraiser. Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Today, as we remember the terrible terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, I am also aware that it was those attacks that, in turn, led to a terrible development by the United States that has consumed my life for the last eleven and a half years — the establishment, four months later, of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, where men have been subjected to torture, and are held indefinitely without charge or trial, for the most without anything resembling evidence.

Largely seized by America’s allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and sold for bounty payments, most of the prisoners arrived at Guantánamo without any information about them at all, and the US authorities then proceeded to create what they pretended was evidence by interrogating the prisoners using torture and other forms of duress, thereby rendering most of it worthless — although that conclusion remains something that, sadly, most US citizens, and a shockingly large number of lawmakers neither know nor care about.

Exactly nine years ago, on the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I had an op-ed published in the Guardian, “Bush’s bitter legacy,” in which I began by stating the following, which largely remains relevant today: Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Festival of Resistance Against the DSEI Arms Fair in London’s Docklands, Sept. 9, 2017

Stop the arms fair: a placard emerges from a sea of police at the Festival of Resistance against the DSEI arms fair in London's Docklands on September 9, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

See all my photos from the Festival of Resistance against the DSEI arms fair  on Flickr here!

Yesterday (September 9, 2017), the Campaign Against Arms Trade and Stop the Arms Fair organised a Festival of Resistance against the bi-annual international arms fair that takes place in London’s Docklands at the ExCeL exhibition centre, which I visited, played at, and took photos of. See my photos here. This UK government-backed orgy of trade in weapons of war and weapons of mass destruction tries to disguise itself by calling itself DSEI (Defence and Security Equipment International), but anyone perceptive can see through the PR-speak.

As the festival’s Facebook page explains, “As one of the world’s largest arms fairs, DSEI brings together over 1,500 arms companies and military delegations from over 100 countries. On display will be everything from crowd control equipment to machine guns, tanks, drones and even battleships.” Countries invited to take part, all with dire human rights records, include Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The resistance to the DSEI has involved protests all week in advance of the arms fair itself, which runs from September 12-15. Throughout the week, dozens of protestors were arrested stopping arms-laden vehicles arriving at ExCeL, and this pattern continued during the festival, as protestors locked on to each other in the road or locked on to vehicles. Protests are also continuing throughout the coming week — see here for further details. Read the rest of this entry »

Judge Confirms That Trial of James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, Architects of CIA Torture Program, Will Go Ahead

James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen as they appeared in videos of their depositions as part of the court case against them in 2017.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Great news from Washington State, as Judge Justin Quackenbush, a federal court judge, has ruled that a “civil lawsuit brought by three victims of the CIA’s torture program against the two psychologists who created it will go to court on 5 September” after finding that “more than a year of discovery had yielded sufficient evidence to support the plaintiffs’ claims,” as Larry Siems, the editor of Mohamedou Ould Shahi’s acclaimed prison memoir, Guantánamo Diary, explained in an article for the Guardian.

The decision was expected, as Judge Quackenbush had allowed the case to proceed last April, a highly important decision that I wrote about at the time in an article entitled, In Historic Ruling, US Court Allows Lawsuit Against James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, Architects of CIA Torture Program, to Proceed. I also wrote a follow-up article in June this year, In Ongoing Court Case, Spotlight On James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, Architects of the Brutal, Pointless CIA Torture Program, after the New York Times obtained videos of the depositions made by Mitchell and Jessen, in which the two men attempted to defend their positions (the Times also obtained the depositions of two former CIA officials and of the plaintiffs, as well as newly declassified CIA documents).

As Larry Siems explained following this week’s ruling, “It will now be up to a jury in Spokane, Washington, to decide if the psychologists, who reportedly were paid $75m-$81m under their contract with the CIA to create the so-called enhanced interrogation program, are financially liable for the physical and psychological effects of their torture.” Read the rest of this entry »

Haringey and the Wholesale Social Cleansing of London: Thousands of Social Tenants to Be Removed Via Estate Regeneration

A Haringey housing protestor in December 2016 (Photo: Polly Hancock).

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I was so busy last week with Guantánamo-related business (on and around US Independence Day) and activities involving my band The Four Fathers that I didn’t have time to devote to a truly scandalous development that took place last Monday — the decision, by councillors in the London borough of Haringey, to go into a 50:50 partnership with a private developer in connection with the future of its properties, including all its social housing, on the explicit understanding that it will demolish huge swathes of that housing and that those kicked out of their homes — their homes, not “units” or properties that don’t count as homes because those living in them don’t own them — will very probably not be able to return to the area, or even to carry on living in London at all.

In a powerful article in the Guardian last Monday, Aditya Chakrabortty captured the full disgrace of this social cleansing, focusing on how those in power treat those whose housing is in their control — with contempt, “[t]he condition of being held worthless,” as he pointed out.

Explaining that “[c]ontempt is the thread that runs through much of the worst barbarism in today’s Britain,” Chakrabortty began, inevitably and appropriately, by discussing the Grenfell Tower inferno on June 14, when a still untold number of people were killed in an entirely preventable disaster, noting that one Grenfell campaigner told the Financial Times, “It was not that we stayed silent, but that they never responded. It was not just that they ignored us, but that they viewed us with contempt.” Read the rest of this entry »

As Grenfell Tower Death Toll Reaches 79, Calls for an Urgent Public Inquiry in the Face of Systemic Failures of Government, Council and Management

Grenfell Tower in the afternoon of June 14, 2017, and tenants in a neighbouring block (Photo: Andy Worthington).After last week’s horrendous and entirely preventable loss of life at Grenfell Tower in west London, which I wrote about in Deaths Foretold at Grenfell Tower: Let This Be The Moment We The People Say “No More” to the Greed That Killed Residents, I am unable to turn my attention away from this bleak testament to greed and the disdain of the rich for the poor, and of the largely white establishment for ethnic minorities, immigrants and the white working class.

As the death toll officially rose to 79, Commander Stuart Cundy of the Metropolitan Police said this morning, “Sadly today, as of 8am the number of people has increased. I believe there are 79 people who are either dead or missing and, sadly, I have to presume are dead.” As the Guardian described it, he added that “it was ‘a truly awful reality that there may be some people who we may not be able to identify’ because of the intensity of the fire.”

The Guardian added, “His voice breaking, he said it was ‘incredibly emotional’ for those from the police, London fire brigade and London ambulance service who are working in the burnt-out skeleton of the 24-storey block,” which had housed between 400 and 600 people in 120 flats. Read the rest of this entry »

Deaths Foretold at Grenfell Tower: Let This Be The Moment We The People Say “No More” to the Greed That Killed Residents

Grenfell Tower in west London photographed on the afternoon of June 14, 2017 after being destroyed in an inferno (Photo: Andy Worthington).

Please sign the 38 Degrees petition to the government urging them to “improve fire safety in tower blocks to make sure the tragedy in Grenfell Tower is never repeated,” which, by Saturday morning, had over 155,000 signatures.

I’ve been preoccupied since Wednesday by the terrible loss of life in the inferno that engulfed Grenfell Tower in west London, by how it was preventable and should never have happened, and, most shockingly of all, by how was foretold, in explicit detail, by tenants who published their fears and warnings on a blog, but were ignored by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council, and by the management company responsible for their homes, Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation.

On November 20, 2016, under a photo of a tower block on fire and the heading, ‘KCTMO – Playing with fire!’, a representative of the Grenfell Action Group wrote, “It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the  KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders. We believe that the KCTMO are an evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia who have no business to be charged with the responsibility of  looking after the every day management of large scale social housing estates and that their sordid collusion with the RBKC Council is a recipe for a future major disaster.”

The author of the post also stated, “Unfortunately, the Grenfell Action Group have reached the conclusion that only an incident that results in serious loss of life of KCTMO residents will allow the external scrutiny to occur that will shine a light on the practices that characterise the malign governance of this non-functioning organisation.” Read the rest of this entry »

On Eve of Election, Theresa May Returns to Her Default Position, That of a Grubby Racist Scaremonger with Contempt for the Law

A poster promoting Theresa May as a threat, an adaptation of a billboard campaign, via the Vox Political website.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator – and watch my band The Four Fathers playing ‘Stand Down Theresa’, a cover of The Beat’s classic protest song, ‘Stand Down Margaret.’

 

It was all going so well until Saturday. As I explained in my article, The Spectacular and Unforeseen Collapse of Theresa May and the Tories, Theresa May’s campaign was collapsing, after her arrogant belief that holding a General Election — despite repeatedly promising not to do so — would enable her to increase her majority and wipe out the Labour Party. She forgot, too, that although she spoke about securing a greater majority to strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations, her Brexit position was one of total paralysis.

She refused — and still refuses — to discuss anything about Brexit with anyone, in an increasingly transparent effort to disguise the fact that her amateurish government of deluded Brexiteers has no idea what they are doing, has made no real effort to recruit the people necessary to deal with negotiations (for what will, if it goes ahead, be the biggest bureaucratic task in history), and knows that it will be an economic disaster the like of which has never been seen. (It’s also worth noting that her claim that securing an increased majority will assist in her negotiations was a lie in any case, as her electoral majority has no bearing whatsoever on EU negotiations).

With Brexit off the cards, people’s attention turned, instead, to domestic policies, and as the relentless negative reporting — or complete absence of reporting — about Jeremy Corbyn gave way to an election campaign in which he was allowed to speak and to get his message across, it began to resonate with the British people in significant numbers, as those brutally silenced by Theresa May after Brexit — an evidently large number of the 16.1 million people who voted Remain, but were told to shut up after the referendum result — were finally given back their voice. Read the rest of this entry »

London’s Horrendous Housing Crisis: Slums, Unfettered Greed and the Unacceptable Exploitation of Workers

Housing crisis: a photo from the 1970s, sadly as relevant today as it was then.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

Regular readers will know that Britain’s housing crisis — and especially the crisis in London — is something that angers and depresses me on an almost permanent basis, and for one unassailable reason —  because housing is, essentially, a human right, and yet, during the course of the 21st century, it has become the key commodity in the enrichment of the few at the expense of the many. See my archive of articles about the housing crisis here, here, here and here.

The saying “safe as houses” came into being because housing was traditionally regarded as stable, somewhere money would neither be gained nor lost, but since Margaret Thatcher’s assault on social housing in the 1980s, and the artificial housing bubble maintained by the government and the banks since the days of New Labour, it is now an unregulated cesspit of astonishing greed and the immoral exploitation of others.

Thatcher’s selling off of council houses, and her refusal to allow councils to build any new housing, started a slowdown in the rate of housebuilding that has never been reversed, and the greed that has grown to dominate the housing market in Britain has also been ramped up due to an increase in demand as the population has increased, and the cynicism of politicians and bankers, who worked out that an ever-growing housing bubble was a seemingly viable substitute for genuine economic growth, as well as delivering free money in extraordinary quantities to those — generally the baby boomers and my generation, those born between the end of the Second World War and the end of the 60s — who were fortunate enough to have got on the property ladder before the frenzy began. Read the rest of this entry »

Ismail Einashe, British Citizen of Somali Origin, Describes How The Status of Migrants is “Permanently Up for Review” in the New Intolerant UK

The journalist Ismail Einashe, in the header from his article about citizenship in the UK, firs published in the New Humanist magazine, and then in the Guardian.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

What strange, and almost unbelievably infuriating times we live in, as Donald Trump somehow remains president in the US, and Britain continues to be bludgeoned by a phoney demonstration of democracy. The latest example is the General Election on June 8, which follows a previous example just two years ago, despite the Tories introducing legislation to ensure that elections only take place every five years. In between, there was, of course, the lamentable EU referendum that is the reason for this General Election, as Theresa May struggles to provide endless distractions from the reality that leaving the EU will be an unmitigated disaster, the single greatest instance of a nation declaring economic suicide in most, if not all of our lifetimes.

For Theresa May, this is an election in which nothing must be discussed, just the endless repetition of soundbites about being “strong and stable,” and lies about how an increased Tory majority will improve our Brexit negotiations. In fact, the size of the government’s majority means nothing at all in the negotiations with the EU that the Tories want to avoid discussing because they have no idea what they are doing, and while this is ostensibly good for the opposition parties, the Brexit blanket, like a thick fog, is tending to obscure any serious discussion of the government’s many other failings — on the economy, on the NHS, on all manner of fronts — and this, of course, is being aided by the generally biased, right-wing media that is such a drag on anything resembling progressive politics in this country

What is also being forgotten, or overlooked, is how Theresa May, a soft Remainer who has, cynically, turned herself into the hardest of hard Brexiteers, is so dangerous not only because her actions reveal how she has no principles whatsoever that she will not sacrifice to stay in power, but also because, in her previous job, as the home secretary, she was dangerously racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic. I discussed her record in detail at the time of her leadership victory, in an article entitled, As Theresa May Becomes Prime Minister, A Look Back at Her Authoritarianism, Islamophobia and Harshness on Immigration, and I was reminded of it a few months ago in a detailed article by the journalist Ismail Einashe, a British citizen of Somali origin, which he wrote for the spring 2017 edition of the New Humanist magazine, and which was then picked up by the Guardian. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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