Britain’s Broken Democracy: Tories Become UKIP, Media Ignores Labour Gains, Labour Continues Estate Demolitions

An image of a voter and a polling station sign.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

What a generally dispiriting occasion Thursday’s council elections were. On housing, which is the most pressing issue in the lives of over half the population, there was almost no acknowledgement, from either of the main parties, that we are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis of affordability and of security of tenure. Labour councils, even those that are actively engaged in demolishing council estates and replacing them with new developments with private developers, from which local people will largely be excluded, were largely undamaged at the polls, while the Tory heartlands generally held firm. 

Pundits observed that UKIP were almost wiped out, with establishment commentators suggesting that this was some sort of triumph of common sense in merrie olde England, whereas the truth is that the post-Brexit Conservative Party under Theresa May has actually become UKIP, and, as a result, the truth is considerably more alarming than lazy pundits suggest. As for Labour, the mainstream media furiously tried to portray their modest gains, and their considerable overall majority of councils and councillors, as some sort of sign of failure, which it very obviously isn’t. Some independent analysts suggested, plausibly, that Remain voters sent a powerful message to the Tories, and to Labour under the hazy, instinctively Eurosceptic Jeremy Corbyn, that the EU was significant battleground in the elections, but in general the elections played out as a showdown between the two big dogs of English politics, Labour and the Tories, in which overall, there was little change, because, overall, little change is actually possible. In our wretched, complacent first-past-the-post system, very little is actually to play for, and while the damage this inflicts on a broad platform of viewpoints is always apparent in a general election, local elections somehow get far less scrutiny, even though their outcomes are often even more damaging for democracy.

In Lewisham, where I live, for example, 60% of those who voted cast their votes for the Labour Party, but Labour walked off with 100% of the council seats. 

How is that supposed to be fair? Read the rest of this entry »

A Defence of Social Housing in a Resolutely Hostile Political Environment

The destruction of Robin Hood Gardens Estate, in Poplar, east London, photographed on December 12, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Tomorrow, Londoners will go to the polls to vote in council elections in the capital’s 32 boroughs,and across the UK there will also be elections in 34 metropolitan boroughs, 67 district and borough councils and 17 unitary authorities.

Voting ought to be a simple matter. The Tories, under Theresa May, are spectacularly useless and, wherever possible, cruel. Engaged in an effort to implement Brexit that seems to be destroying them, they are also gasping from one scandal to another — the latest being the Windrush fiasco, initiated by Theresa May, who is, to be blunt, a racist, and this whole racist disaster demonstrates quite how unpleasant they are.

And yet, if you care about fairness and social justice — in the specific context of housing, the biggest issue facing Londoners today, as well as many, many other people around the country — then voting for the Labour Party is not, in general, to be recommended, leaving a giant hole where participation in the democratic process ought to be. Read the rest of this entry »

The 34 Estates Approved for Destruction By Sadiq Khan Despite Promising No More Demolitions Without Residents’ Ballots

The destruction of Robin Hood Gardens estate in Poplar, March 13, 2018 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Anyone paying any attention to the sordid story of council estate demolitions in London will know how hard it is to take politicians seriously — and especially Labour politicians — when it comes to telling the truth about their actions and their intentions.

Perfectly sound estates are deliberately run down, so that councils can then claim that it’s too expensive to refurbish them, and that the only option is to knock them down and build new ones — with their developer friends who are conveniently waiting in the wings.

In addition, a collection of further lies are also disseminated, which divert attention from the fundamental injustice of the alleged justification for demolitions — false claims that the new housing will be “affordable”, when it isn’t; that part-ownership deals are worthwhile, when they are not; and that building new properties with private developers will reduce council waiting lists, when it won’t. Read the rest of this entry »

My Band The Four Fathers Launch A Year of Political Gigs in Walthamstow This Saturday, In A Protest Against Another Divisive Private Development

The poster for the occupation of Walthamstow Town Square on February 24, 2018 at which The Four Fathers are playing.Check out all The Four Fathers’ studio recordings here, and the video of our song ‘Grenfell’ here.

Kicking off a year of varied gigs — involving a healthy dose of political events and community festivals — Lewisham-based band The Four Fathers are heading to Walthamstow this Saturday, February 24, to play a few songs (including ‘London’ and ‘Fighting Injustice’) at an occupation of Walthamstow Town Square by campaigners resisting plans to redevelop the square, primarily because of their opposition to the lack of genuinely affordable housing in the planned new development, but also because of concerns about the size of the towers that are proposed for the site, and the loss of public land in the centre of the town.

Please note that I’m also attending a screening of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK‘, the new documentary film about the housing crisis, directed by Nikita Woolfe, and for which I’m the narrator, at Harmony Hall in Walthamstow at 6pm, and also staying on afterwards what I hope will be a lively post-screening Q&A session. Further details here.

The Observer picked up on the story this weekend, in large part because of Walthamstow’s proximity to Haringey, where, last month, council leader Claire Kober announced her resignation, after an extraordinary grass-roots campaign to stop the council from entering into a unprecedented £2bn deal with the international property developer Lendlease, which would have seen much of Haringey’s social housing, and other assets, put into a 50:50 development project with Lendlease, known as the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV). 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 »

Ha Ha! The Tories Lose London

"Tories out" graffiti.Good news for a change, as the Tories definitively lose control of London (OK, I’m slightly jumping the gun, but the Guardian is reporting that “Sadiq Khan ‘has won’ London mayoral race,” and Jeremy Corbyn has already sent Khan his congratulations). The Tories, who were already down in terms of MPs after last year’s General Election (when 45 of the capital’s 73 Parliamentary seats went to Labour), have now lost the Mayor, with Labour’s Sadiq Khan soundly beating Zac Goldsmith, and in the capital-wide elections for members of the Greater London Assembly, with 14 of the 25 seats counted, Labour had nine seats (a gain of one), and the Tories had five (a loss of one). The BBC reported that 43% of Londoners had voted Labour, 31% had voted Tory, and the Green Party had come third.

This is good news for Sadiq Khan, of course, but also for Jeremy Corbyn, in his first electoral test as Labour Party leader, and for the Labour Party as a whole the results are a vindication of his leadership — especially satisfying after the artificial anti-Semitism row that Labour right-wingers and a throughly unprincipled mainstream media were all too delighted to promote. At the time of writing Labour had held almost all its council seats across England, and had also held 29 seats in Wales (just short of a majority). The only dimmed light is in Scotland, where the SNP continues to replace them as the party of the left — and where, shockingly, the Tories pushed them into third place.

In London, of course, the Tories persistently shot themselves in the foot. Zac Goldsmith failed to connect with people and looked like he didn’t want the job — and it’s interesting to see how people aren’t fooled by a lack of desire for the job. However, his woes multiplied in the last few weeks when he hired the black propagandist Lynton Crosby, the Australian who has been behind the Tories’ relentlessly black propaganda for the last six years, which, it is important to note, is single-handedly responsible for the horrendous increase in the petty hatreds that have come to typify modern Britain — dominated, in particular, by racism, but also targeting anyone vulnerable, as can be seen by the government’s relentless assault on the unemployed and the disabled. Read the rest of this entry »

On Polling Day, Friends of Muslim Community Organiser Suliman Gani Launch Petition Demanding Apology from David Cameron for Making False Allegations Against Him

Muslim community organiser Suliman Gani (left), who is seeking a public apology from the Prime Minister, David Cameron, who has made false allegations about him supporting Islamic State (IS), when nothing could be further from the truth.Please sign and share the petition, calling for David Cameron to apologise to Suliman Gani, which currently has over 1,100 signatures.

Yesterday evening, friends of Suliman Gani launched a petition on Change.org, urging Prime Minister David Cameron to retract allegations he made two weeks ago about Muslim community organiser Suliman Gani. At Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron called him a supporter of Islamic State (IS), when nothing could be further from the truth. Mr Gani has, in fact, appeared at an event called ‘The Evils of Isis’, at which he condemned their actions, and has repeatedly explained how their actions are un-Islamic.

The Prime Minister’s false allegations were part of an effort to undermine Sadiq Khan prior to today’s London Mayoral elections, which also involved Zac Goldsmith, who called Mr. Gani “one of the most repellent figures in this country”, while failing to remember that he had a photo taken with Mr. Gani at an event last year, and also failing to recognise that Mr. Gani has long expressed support for and interest in the Conservative Party.

Today, as Londoners go to the polls to vote for the capital’s next Mayor, please sign and share the petition, and please vote wisely. Read the rest of this entry »

David Cameron, Zac Goldsmith and Andrew Neil Owe Suliman Gani An Apology for Calling Him “Repellent” and an IS Supporter

A photo of Zac Goldsmith with Suliman Gani, released by Gani after Goldsmith had unjustifiably described him as "one of the most repellent figures in this country."What a disgrace the Tories are. With Zac Goldsmith consistently trailing Sadiq Khan in the polls, prior to the election of London’s Mayor on May 5, campaign managers — including PR guru Lynton Crosby, who specialises only in the kind of black propaganda that has dragged politics into the gutter for the last six years — decided to play the race card, accusing Khan, a Muslim, of sharing platforms with Muslim extremists, and singling out, for particular attention, Suliman Gani, a teacher and broadcaster, and formerly the imam of Tooting Islamic Centre.

This was an odd choice, as anyone who knows Suliman Gani can confirm, because he is no extremist, but, rather, a community leader who tries to build bridges between communities, and a tireless advocate for human rights. I have known him for many years through my work on Guantánamo and the campaign to free Shaker Aamer, and have always found him to be thoroughly decent. Although he is socially conservative, and opposed to gay marriage, which is not a position I take, it is one that many Tories do, but I have no reason to suspect that he views women as “subservient,” as alleged, or, crucially, to believe that he is at all supportive of terrorism.

So it came as a real shock when, last Thursday, speaking of individuals Sadiq Khan has shared a platform with, Zac Goldsmith said, “To share a platform nine times with Suliman Gani, one of the most repellent figures in this country, you don’t do it by accident.” Read the rest of this entry »

Free Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo: Photos of a Protest Outside Parliament, April 24, 2013

Free Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo: Protest in Parliament Square, April 24, 2013Over 117,000 People Say: Free Shaker Aamer from GuantanamoStand up for Shaker Aamer: Save his lifeI died waiting for justice: Adnan Latif 1975-2012Free Shaker Aamer from GuantanamoJoy Hurcombe, the chair of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign
Bring Shaker home nowCampaigners call for the release from Guantanamo of Shaker AamerSadiq Khan calls for the release of Shaker Aamer from GuantanamoShaker Aamer: where's the justice?Sheikh Suliman Ghani calls for the release of Shaker Aamer from GuantanamoJohn McDonnell calls for the release of Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo
I am waiting 11 years for Shaker AamerMr. Prime Minister, phone your friend, President ObamaMr. Cameron, ask Obama to close Guantanamo now

Free Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo: Protest Outside Parliament, April 24, 2013, a set on Flickr.

On April 24, 2013, campaigners calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, held a demonstration outside Parliament following a Parliamentary debate in Westminster Hall from 9.30 to 11 am. Shaker, who has a British wife and four British children, is one of 86 prisoners cleared for release by an inter-agency task force established by President Obama in 2009 but still held, and, in recent weeks, his story has finally become prominent in the mainstream British media, as he is part of the prison-wide hunger strike that began on February 6, and there are fears for his life (see my recent reports here and here).

The Parliamentary debate followed a successful e-petition, calling on the British government to “undertake urgent new initiatives to achieve the immediate transfer of Shaker Aamer to the UK from continuing indefinite detention in Guantánamo Bay,” which secured over 100,000 signatures, through the tireless work of numerous campaigners, making it eligible for a discussion in Parliament. Please note that an international petition for Shaker is still ongoing. 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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