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 »

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 »

The First 100 Days of My Photo Project, ‘The State of London’

The State of London: images from Andy Worthington's ongoing photo project, featuring photos taken over the last five years.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator — and photographer.

 

Back in May, I launched the first manifestation of a photo project I’ve been undertaking for the last five years — ‘The State of London’, which involves me photographing London on bike rides that I undertake every day, from small local circuits from my home in south east London to long journeys to the other side of town and back.

In the years since I began this project, in May 2012, I’ve visited all 120 London postcodes (the EC, WC, N, E, SE, SW, W and NW postcodes), and have also made additional visits to some of Greater London’s outer boroughs. A few years ago, I had a website made, with an interactive map allowing me to post photos by postcode. I hope to start using the website soon, which will also feature original essays about the capital, its history and its current state, and I’ll also soon be setting up a Twitter page, but for now the Facebook page is the place to visit to see glimpses of what I’ve been up to, and I hope that you’ll “like” it and start following what I do, if you haven’t already.

I’ve lived in London for all of my adult life, since I finished university in 1985, but it wasn’t until 2012 that I realized that huge swathes of the city were unknown to me, and that I wanted to visit all the places I’d never visited, as well as revisiting other places I’d got to know over the years. The trigger was me getting ill in 2011, giving up smoking, and realizing that I needed to get fit, and the photo project was the perfect solution. When I began, I soon realized that even the parts of London closest to me, in south east London were in many ways unknown territory, and, with a blanket ban on bicycles on trains in place in the run-up to the 2012 Olympic Games, I had to cycle through south east London to get anywhere else in London, and, as a result of these journeys and of my shorter bike rides close to home, I eventually got to know almost every street in south east London — and have also photograph many of them at some time or other. Read the rest of this entry »

Four London Gigs for Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers, Promoting Songs from Forthcoming Album, How Much Is A Life Worth?

A poster for The Four Fathers' gigs in London in July 2017.Over the month of July, my band The Four Fathers have four gigs in south east London, and we hope that, if you’re around, you’ll come and see us — and even if you’re not around, we hope that you’ll check out our music, and even buy a download or two!

In the last few months, we’ve been releasing songs from our forthcoming second album, How Much Is A Life Worth? — Close Guantánamo, which I wrote for the Close Guantánamo campaign, and with a new verse dealing with the menace posed by Donald Trump, Dreamers, a song about friendship and parenthood, which I wrote for a friend’s 50th birthday, and, most recently, two of our hardest-hitting political songs, Riot, which warns politicians about what to expect if the poorer members of society are relentlessly exploited and treated with contempt, and London, a love song to the city that has been my home for the last 32 years, in which I reflect with sorrow and anger on how the UK capital’s wildness and its relentless and persistent state of dissent in the 80s and 90s has been tamed — or bludgeoned — by greed over the last 20 years, and how, sadly, the recent disaster at Grenfell Tower in west London is the most distressing outcome of this institutional disdain for the poor.

Other key songs we play live include our anthemic anti-austerity song, Fighting Injustice, our cover of Bob Dylan’s Masters of War (from our debut album, Love and War), the folk song Rebel Soldier that I put to a reggae tune in Brixton in the 1980s, and other songs not yet released — How Much Is A Life Worth?, about how white people perceive the value of their lives against those of (i) the victims of our wars, (ii) refugees and (iii) in the US, black people killed by the police, and Equal Rights and Justice For All, about the importance of habeas corpus. A recent addition is Stand Down Theresa, our updated version of the Beat’s classic protest song, Stand Down Margaret. A rough but energetic version of Stand Down Theresa is on video here. Read the rest of this entry »

My photos of ‘Not One Day More’, a Huge Protest Against Theresa May in London, July 1, 2017

"F*ck off back to your wheat field": a great placard from the 'Not One Day More' protest against Theresa May and the Tories in London on July 1, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

See my photos on Flickr here!

Please also, if you can, consider supporting my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

Today (July 1, 2017), I cycled into central London with my son Tyler to support the ‘Not One Day More’ protest called by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, and to take photos. We caught the march on Whitehall, as the tens of thousands of protestors who had marched from BBC HQ in Portland Place advanced on Parliament Square, and it was exhilarating to stand by the Monument to the Women of World War II in the middle of Whitehall, near 10 Downing Street, as a wave of protestors advanced, chanting, “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” and “Tories, Tories, Tories, out, out, out.”

Many of the placards, understandably, dealt with the Grenfell Tower disaster two weeks ago, when an untold number of residents died in an inferno that should never have happened, but that was entirely due to the greed and exploitation of the poorer members of society that is central to the Tories’ austerity agenda, waged relentlessly over the last seven years, and the neo-liberalism — insanely, unstoppably greedy, and utterly indifferent to the value of human lives — that has been driving politics since the 1980s.

The Guardian noted, “When the march reached Parliament Square, a minute’s silence was held ‘in memory and respect’ to the victims of Grenfell Tower. Tributes were also paid to the emergency services who responded to the fire with a minute’s applause.” Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said, “To the victims of Grenfell Tower we pledge now, we will stand with you and your families all the way through. We bring you sympathy but more importantly we bring you solidarity. We will not rest until every one of those families is properly housed within the community in which they want to live. Grenfell Tower symbolised for many everything that’s gone wrong in this country since austerity was imposed upon us.” He also “slammed the Tories for praising the emergency services ‘every time there’s a tragedy’ but then cutting jobs and wages.” Read the rest of this entry »

After Grenfell, Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Release New Single, ‘London’, A Savage Portrait of the UK Capital Hollowed Out By Greed

The cover of The Four Fathers' new single 'London', released on June 23, 2017.In the wake of last week’s entirely preventable inferno at Grenfell Tower in west London, in which, officially, 79 people died (although the real total may well be over 300), the horrendous loss of life — and the fact that it was entirely preventable — has forced London’s housing crisis to the top of the political agenda, although to be honest, that is where it should have been for the whole of the 21st century.

The latest online single released by my band The Four Fathers (also on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube), ‘London’ deals largely with the housing crisis, as part of a love song to the city going back to the 1980s. I moved to Brixton in 1985, and in the song I provide my personal take on how the wild and chaotic capital of the 1980s and 1990s has been overtaken by a focus on greed and the dull, soul-sapping, materialistic values of “gentrification,” and how, in this dysfunctional new world, the vibrant dissent of the 80s and 90s has largely been silenced, and those in charge of housing — endlessly putting profit before the needs of people — have razed neighbourhoods to the ground and given the capital city a lobotomy.

Listen to the single below — and buy it as a download if you wish: Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: The Protest Against Theresa May Outside Downing Street, June 17, 2017

'Safe housing is a right not a privilege': a placard at the 'Protest Against Theresa May' outside Downing Street on June 17, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

See my photos on Flickr here!

Please also, if you can, consider supporting my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

The text below is adapted from the accompanying text for my photos on Flickr.

Yesterday, I cycled into central London to join a ‘Protest Against Theresa May’ that had been called by the journalist Owen Jones and the writer Sara Hanna-Black, and that was attended by thousands of people.

I hope you have time to check out my photos, as there was no shortage of witty and angry placards aimed at Theresa May, especially after her disastrously poor response to the terrible fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower in west London on Wednesday. For my response to the Grenfell disaster, see Deaths Foretold at Grenfell Tower: Let This Be The Moment We The People Say “No More” to the Greed That Killed Residents.

What a difference two months can make in politics. When Theresa May called a snap election at the start of April, she was 20 points ahead of Labour in the polls, and presumed that she would win a landslide victory. Then, on the campaign trail, she was wooden, aloof and unsympathetic, and her manifesto was a disaster, containing a provision for care funding for older people that was instantly dubbed the “dementia tax”, and was vilified by many of her own supporters, and even by the media that generally supported her unconditionally. 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 »

DIY Cultures 2017: The Counter-Culture Is Alive and Well at a Zine Fair in Shoreditch

Zines and posters from DIY Cultures at Rich Mix in Shoreditch, London on May 14, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

Last week I paid a visit to DIY Cultures, a wonderful — and wonderfully packed — one-day event celebrating zines and the DIY ethos at Rich Mix in Shoreditch, curated by a core collective of Sofia Niazi, my friend Hamja Ahsan and Helena Wee, and was pleasantly reminded of the presence of the counter-culture, perhaps best summed up as an oppositional force to the prevailing culture, which has long fascinated me, and in search of which I am currently bouncing around ideas for a writing project I’d like to undertake.

Next week it will be exactly ten years since I started publishing articles here — on an almost daily basis — relating, for the most part, to Guantánamo and related issues. Roll back another year, to March 2006, and my Guantánamo project began in earnest, with 14 months of research and writing for my book The Guantánamo Files.

Before that, however, I had been interested more in notions of the counter-culture than championing and trying to reinforce the notion that there are absolute lines that societies that claim to respect the law must not cross — involving torture and imprisoning people indefinitely without charge or trial. 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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Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

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