UK Election: Tory Victory A Disaster for the People of Britain and the Democratic Process

Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron at the Cenotaph on May 8 for a VE Day memorial, marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. To my mind, it actually looks like they're commemorating the death of the UK - apppropriately, given the Tories' plans for the next five years (Photo: AFP). Some of the worst nights of my life have taken place in early May — Margaret Thatcher’s first election victory on May 3, 1979 (when I was too young to even vote), and the 2010 election, on May 6, 2010, which brought a Tory-led coalition government, led by David Cameron, to power.

There were other dreadful nights, on or around May — the Tory victories on June 9, 1983, June 11, 1987 and April 9, 1992 — and after the anti-Tory euphoria of Tony Blair’s victory wore off, following New Labour’s landslide victory on May 1, 1997, the reality of a New Labour Britain was of course a huge disappointment, as the party embarked on its own neo-liberal trajectory, and the country became host to a housing price casino that was a poor substitute for an actual functioning economy — and, in 2003, also became the home of an illegal warmonger.

As a result, the rest of New Labour’s victories — on June 7, 2001 and May 5, 2005 — were also disappointing, as the party failed to remember what it was supposed to be, and continued, instead, as a general betrayer of its founding values. On those occasions, however, the disappointment in a Labour victory was, pragmatically, offset by slim gratitude that at least the Tories weren’t back in. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: March for the Homeless Opposite 10 Downing Street, London, April 15, 2015

A photo from the "March for the Homeless" in London on April 15, 2015 (Photo: Andy Worthington).See my photo set on Flickr here!

On March 15, 2015, 22 events took place in the UK, Ireland, the US and Canada to raise awareness of homelessness, under the umbrella heading, “March for the Homeless.” I attended the protest in London, opposite 10 Downing Street, where campaigners had arranged for homeless voters to register for the General Election on May 7, and there was a free food kitchen.

Homelessness has increased by 55% since the Tory-led coalition government came to power, and, of course, has increased specifically because of the introduction of certain disgraceful policies — the benefit cap, which attempted to portray those receiving benefits as the problem, when the real problem is greedy landlords; and the bedroom tax, whereby a cabinet of millionaires, with more rooms than they can count, passed legislation forcing people on benefits living in social housing who are deemed to have a “spare room” to downsize, even though there are few smaller properties to move to, and many people, treated as worthless “units” by the government and kicked out of their homes, have had to be rehoused in the private sector, thereby increasing the overall housing benefit bill.

An article in the Guardian last June stated that, in 2013, “112,070 people declared themselves homeless in England — a 26% increase in four years. At the same time, the number of people sleeping rough in London grew by 75% to a staggering 6,437.” In addition, as the Streets of London website notes, there are also “around 400,000 ‘hidden homeless’ in the UK, living out of sight in hostels, B&Bs, ‘sofa-surfing’ or squatting.” Read the rest of this entry »

London’s Housing Crisis: Please Support the Sweets Way Tenants Facing Eviction in Barnet

Tenants of Sweets Way Estate in Barnet resisting eviction and the demolition of their homes (Photo via Sweets Way Resists).Please sign and share the Sweets Way tenants’ petition calling for their homes to be saved from demolition on Change.org, and see below for their story. Also see the postscript following the court decision on March 30.

London’s housing crisis is something that preoccupies me on a daily basis, although I don’t get to write about it anywhere near as much as I’d like. As a social housing tenant who has lived in London for 30 years, I can say that, since the Tory-led government came to power five years ago, I have never felt as vulnerable or as demeaned, and I have watched aghast as the current housing bubble has driven house prices beyond the reach of most families — and, perhaps more crucially, has also driven rents to levels never seen before.

With rents and mortgages easily reaching £15,000 or £20,000 a year, matching the median income in London, it is understandable why so many hard-working people are now paying out so much for a roof over their heads that they have little left over for their own enjoyment (and crucially, to put into the wider economy), or cannot make ends meet and are obliged to use food banks, or are having to leave London entirely.

In addition, for many social tenants, life is increasingly insecure, as cash-strapped councils claim that they are unable to afford the maintenance on aging estates, and, as a result, sell the land to developers to build new estates, from which existing tenants are priced out, replaced by foreign investors and relatively wealthy British buyers. These developments are supposed to include “affordable” social housing, but more often than not whatever social component exists is actually unaffordable for most workers, because, in September 2013, London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, set affordable rents at 80 percent of market rents. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: On the March for Homes, Thousands Defy the Rain to Demand Secure and Affordable Housing for Ordinary Londoners

The 'March for Homes' in London on January 31, 2015 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Click here to see the whole of my photo set on Flickr.

What an excellent event the ‘March for Homes‘ turned out to be.

Despite hideously inclement weather — it was bitterly cold, and the rain was almost freezing — an estimated 5,000 people marched to City Hall from the Elephant & Castle in south east London and Shoreditch in east London on Saturday to call for secure and genuinely affordable housing for all.

As I explained in the text accompanying my photo set on Flickr:

The protest had real passion and energy, which to be honest, was unsurprising, given the extent of the housing crisis in London, with mortgages unaffordable for ordinary working people, rents spiralling out of control, unscrupulous landlords unfettered by any kind of legislation to protect tenants, and developers making more and more unaffordable new properties for a marketplace swimming with foreign investors, vying with rich Britons to fleece ordinary workers and to drive the unfortunately unemployed out of London altogether.

I wrote my thoughts about the London housing crisis in detail in an article on Thursday, which I recommend for those who want know more of what I think about the single most severe problem currently facing millions of Londoners — the unacceptably disproportionate cost of their housing. It deserves to be a hot election topic, but it remains to be seen if the Labour Party will rise to the occasion — beyond their pledge to scrap the hated bedroom tax — or, if not, if campaigners for restraints on the private rental market, those in social housing and those seeking to preserve it, trade union representatives, members of the Green Party, left-wing Labour Party members and others interested in the importance of social housing can build and sustain a campaign that places housing at the heart of policy-making, where, along with jobs for all (a generally undiscussed topic), it deserves to be. Personally, I’d like to see another ‘March for Homes’ take place in the spring, before the election, when, with good weather, it could be a huge event. Read the rest of this entry »

Join the ‘March for Homes’ in London This Saturday, January 31

The house made out of estate agents' boards erected outside Lewisham Council's offices in Catford, south east London, by the campaigning group People Before Profit, highlighting housing need in the borough (Photo: Andy Worthington).This Saturday I’ll be joining the “March for Homes” in London, as campaigning groups and individuals call for controls on the private rental market and protection for social housing — and, ideally, a massive, not-for-profit, social homebuilding programme. One group who will be attending is People Before Profit, who, at the weekend, raised this excellent little house outside Lewisham Council’s offices. Campaigners have been sleeping in it at night ever since, and in the daytime collecting signatures on a petition to Lewisham’s Mayor, Steve Bullock, and educating passers-by about the deplorable housing situation in Lewisham — replicated across London’s 32 boroughs, of course — and calling for local housing needs to be addressed, and not the profits of developers, who are all over Lewisham like a plague. Spokesman John Hamilton said, “We want all new housing to be affordable,” and also highlighted the 600 families currently living in temporary accommodation in the borough. “We need drastic action,” he added.

On Saturday, campaigners from across London — myself included — will be marching to City Hall — that odd little lop-sided egg near Tower Bridge, part of the horribly corporate More London development — to tell London’s addled Mayor, Boris Johnson, that drastic action is indeed needed on housing. That’s at 2pm, and is preceded by two marches beginning at 12 noon — one from south London and one from the east.

The south London meeting point (see the map here and the Facebook page) is St. Maryʼs Churchyard, just south of the Elephant & Castle, London SE1 6SQ (nearest tube/rail Elephant & Castle), the protected green space next to two new developments — to the north, ‘One the Elephant,’ a 37-storey tower — with no social housing component — that is being built by Lend Lease (the Australian developers who snapped up the Heygate Estate from the Labour Council for a mere £50m) and to the south, a 44-storey tower — 360 London — that Mace and Essential Living are building, which “will provide 462 units, of which 188 will be affordable” (but only once the word “affordable” has been twisted out of all shape to mean 80% of market rents; in other words, unaffordable for most ordinary working people). According to the London SE1 website, “It will contain one of the largest number of homes for long-term private rental in the country when complete.” In addition, “The Peabody Housing Trust has been appointed to manage the affordable housing element with 159 shared ownership and 29 rental units.” Read the rest of this entry »

Support Hoxton’s New Era Estate Tenants in Their Struggle Against Rapacious US Landlord Westbrook Partners

The two young women in the centre and the right of this photo live on the New Era Estate in Hoxton, and were part of a group of protestors that, on December 1, 2014, had just handed in a petition - of nearly 300,000 signatures - calling on David Cameron to protect them from the rapacious US property developers (Westbrook Holdings) who bought their estate earlier this year and now want to remove the tenants from the flats in which many have lived for decades, paying rents similar to those in council housing or housing associations. If evicted, many of these hardworking people will have to leave London entirely, because of the rampant greed in the capital that shows no sign of abating (Photo by Andy Worthington).Congratulations to the tenants of the New Era Estate in Hoxton for mounting a major campaign to oppose attempts by the US property company that bought up their homes to price them out, in an act of naked greed that ought to make any decent person feel rather queazy about how greed has become the sole measure by which society as a whole measures success.

The New Era Estate — home to 93 families in several blocks of flats in Hoxton, where London’s hipsters mix with council tenants — was built in the 1930s as workers’ housing, a private enterprise by a socially responsible family whose activities echoed what was being undertaken at the time by the London County Council. The Lever family, which built the estate, ran it through a trust — and kept the rents genuinely affordable — until March this year, when it was sold to a consortium, led by the US firm Westbrook Holdings, in which Tory MP Richard Benyon’s family firm also had a stake — and the Benyons, it transpired, took over the running of the estate.

In June, the Daily Mirror reported how rents had already been put up by 10% and how, at a meeting with tenants — many of whom have lived on the estate for decades — Richard Benyon’s brother Edward “announced plans to ­refurbish the 1930s homes and build more flats on the roof,” as the Mirror put it.

“The goal, which is something I have had to say to all of you, is the fact that the rents will be going to market value,” he said, meaning, quite possibly, a tripling or quadrupling of the existing rents, because of the hipness of Hoxton and the complete absence of any kind of rent control. Landlords, if they can get away with it, can charge £2000 a month for flats whether they are new, refurbished or run-down (making a total of £24,000 a year), even though the average income in the UK is only £27,000. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos and Essay: The Inspiring Council House Occupation in Stratford That Is Resonating Across London

See my photos of my visit to the Focus E15 Open House Occupation in Stratford here.

On Friday, I paid a visit to the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, in east London, to show solidarity with the Focus E15 Mothers, a group of single mums, from Stratford, who were recently kicked out of a hostel where they had been staying, because of budget cuts, and were threatened with being scattered across the UK.

On Open House Weekend (September 20-21), making a great political point while the rich and powerful opened up prestigious properties for a day or two, the mums occupied a small block of flats, in perfectly habitable condition, which had been boarded up for years as part of the Labour-controlled council’s ongoing attempts to empty the Carpenters Estate so that it can be sold to housing developers.

In an article for the Guardian last week, Aditya Chakrabortty succinctly analysed the current situation regarding the Carpenters Estate,” which, he wrote, “was long ago cleared of most of its residents as Newham council tried to flog the land. Except the last deal fell through, leaving around 600 council homes empty. This is in a borough where more than 24,000 households are waiting for somewhere to live, and where, last winter, the shopping precinct was full of rough sleepers.” Read the rest of this entry »

London’s Insane Housing Bubble – and the Sickening Greed that is Strangling the Capital

Everywhere I look in London, monstrous new housing developments are rearing up — unaffordable to most working people, and largely bought up by foreign investors. While some take up residence, others leave their investments empty or join the frenzy of home-grown landlords in the buy-to-let market, fleecing an ever-increasing percentage of London’s workforce, who simply cannot afford to buy a property and have no choice but to cough up whatever outrageous amount they are asked to pay by landlords who have been unregulated since the days of Margaret Thatcher, the great liberator of unfettered greed.

This is the new London, in which those involved in new housing developments act as pimps for rich foreigners and for Britain’s own wealthiest property owners, and struggling British workers are preyed on by their fellow citizens, in a market driven by the greedy sense of entitlement that motivates far too many landlords, and a housing bubble kept inflated by the government and the Bank of England, whose refusal to raise interest rates is the primary driver of an economy in which profiteering on housing is seen, by far too many people, as their only viable investment.

However, the situation is now so dire that last week a YouGov poll commissioned by the Evening Standard — normally nothing more than a front for the mortgage industry — revealed that “[h]alf of Londoners want house prices to fall.” Read the rest of this entry »

As Boris Johnson Approves Monstrous Convoys Wharf Development, New Campaign Opposes 236 Planned Towers in London

I was rather pleased that I was out of the country when Boris Johnson, London’s Mayor, announced on March 31 that he was approving plans for the development of Convoys Wharf in Deptford, because, in a city overrun with soulless riverside developments, designed almost exclusively for wealthy foreign investors and unaffordable for ordinary Londoners, it is a particularly depressing example, and one that, for me, is close to home, as I live just up the road from Deptford.

The 40-acre riverside site has been vacant since 2000, when it was closed by its last owner, News International, which used it as a dock for importing newsprint, and, since 2002, developers — initially NI itself, and, since 2005, the Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa, which bought the site off NI — have been trying to gain approval for a Dubai-style high-rise residential development on the site, consisting of 3,500 homes, featuring one 48-storey tower, and two 38-storey towers, far higher than anything else on the shoreline for miles around.

Normally, Chinese businessmen with £1bn to spend on luxury housing on London’s riverfront don’t have to wait for years to have their plans accepted, but the problem with Convoys Wharf is that it was and is a place of great historic importance — the site of the first of King Henry VIII’s Royal Dockyards, which was first developed in 1513 to provide ships for England’s rapidly expanding Royal Navy. Read the rest of this entry »

Petition: Tell Boris Johnson Not to Approve the Monstrously Inappropriate Development Plans for Convoys Wharf in Deptford

Please sign the petition on Change.org, asking London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, not to approve a £1bn plan to turn Henry VIII’s former Royal Dockyard at Convoys Wharf in Deptford into a luxury, high-rise housing development that would be more at home in Dubai.

All over London, housing developments that are unaffordable for the majority of Londoners continue to rise up, and equally unaffordable new projects continue to be approved. Councils are either cash-strapped and desperate, or they are seduced by developers’ promises that their developments will be of benefit to the community at large, even though the entry level for luxury developments is a household income of £72,000, way above the £53,000 that even a couple on the average UK income (£26,500) can afford. When you consider that the median income in the UK is £14,000 (the one that 50 percent of people earn more than, and 50 percent earn less than), it’s easy to see how the entire situation is out of control and is doing nothing for local people, or the majority of hard-working Londoners.

Down the road from where I live in south east London is Deptford, a vibrant but not affluent part of the London Borough of Lewisham, with a huge maritime history. Where Deptford meets the River Thames is the largest potential development site in the borough, Convoys Wharf, a 16.6 hectare (40-acre) site, which most recently was News International’s paper importing plant for printing Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers. Murdoch’s operation closed in 2000, and, since 2002, developers have been trying to gain approval for a massive luxury housing development on the site, featuring 3,500 homes — 3,000 of which will be sold “off-plan” to foreign investors — and including three towers rising to 40 storeys in height. Moreover, just 15 percent of the homes will be what is laughingly described these days as “affordable” (at 80 percent of market rents, these rents are actually unaffordable for most people), and just 4 percent will be for social rent (i.e. genuinely affordable) — that’s just 140 properties out of the total of 3,500. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Campaigning investigative journalist and commentator, author, filmmaker, photographer, singer-songwriter and Guantánamo expert
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