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:

In the first verse, in which London, in the 80s, was “like a lover to me, drunk and disorderly, and full of honesty”, I sing about “the wild pubs and squats,” where we “broke all of the rules,” and in the second verse, about the early 90s (up to the time of Tony Blair), I sing about how rave culture and protest movements like Reclaim the Streets gleefully continued the spirit of dissent.

The reference to the M11 refers to the M11 Link Road that was ploughed through swathes of housing in East London — and resisted by a formidable protest movement — and the CJA, for those who were not around at the time, refers to the Criminal Justice Act, the Tories’ heavy-handed response to the rave culture that saw millions of people dancing and taking drugs every weekend in huge unlicensed raves, and that, in its cross-over with the free festival culture of the 1980s (which was supposed to have been crushed at the Battle of the Beanfield in 1985), created a huge free festival at Castlemorton Common in Gloucestershire on the May Bank Holiday in 1992, when all the tribes and sub-cultures came together in a glorious celebration of dissent — but one that prompted the government to introduce legislation that, as well as severely curtailing the right to gather freely, also allowed the police to shut down events featuring music that was “characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.”

London, they tried to stop you being free
By selling off your culture and through the death of industry
But you came bouncing back with your pills and your all-night raves
In those glimpses of giddy utopia when millions misbehaved
And you were like the earth mother on drugs from the M11 to Reclaim the Streets
Though they hit us with the CJA and that ban on repetitive beats

After the heady enthusiasm of the early to mid-90s, the most recent dark change came, ironically, with the election of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s New Labour in 1997, when, as strategist Peter Mandelson explained, the Labour Party was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.” He added, as has often been forgotten, “as long as they pay their taxes”, but the former is the point about wealth that sunk in, and changed Britain for the worse.

In almost no time at all, a housing bubble began that, by the early years of the 21st century, was already out of control, as house values were increasing at such a rate that people’s houses were making more money than they were in their jobs. As a result of this bubble, endlessly sustained through low interest rates, and a refusal by government to find and publicise any other way for people to invest their money, a fair society is now nothing more than a memory. There was brief puncture to the bubble after the bankers’ (and politicians’) self-inflicted global economic crash of 2008, but then it came back with a vengeance under the Tories, who took power in 2010 (aided by the hapless Liberal Democrats), and, with the assistance of the colossally corrupt Boris Johnson as Mayor of London from 2008-2016, aggressively tried to turn the whole of London into a giant building site for global speculators, while depriving everyone else of the ability to even live with any kind of security.

As I explain in the third verse, focusing on the destruction of London by developers and politicians:

London, you were my impetuous wife
Always out and out of it with a voracious appetite
But oh my darling, the end came with the men in suits
Whose enthusiasm for the super-rich meant they sold you like a prostitute
And when you still weren’t silenced and laughed at their dull complacency
They razed your neighbourhoods to the ground and gave you a lobotomy

And bringing the story up to date in the final verse, with reference to the plague of luxury developments rising up all over London:

London, you’re on a life support machine
In the basement of one of those hundreds of towers being built for a foreign elite
And oh my baby, I hope that you rise again
And throw off these rich parasites like you have every now and then
And I’ll keep fighting against the dying of the light
But without some kind of revolution the future doesn’t look too bright to me

The focus on housing is, I believe, entirely appropriate, because, even before the Grenfell disaster, housing had become one of the two big themes of the 21st century in London, the other being a cynical “war on terror,” launched after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which seeks to fulfil the West’s geo-political aims, making huge amounts of money for those profiting from war, and also allowing western governments to clamp down on civil liberties in their own countries — convenient when we look back on the dissent of the 80s and 90s, and its continuation in the massive anti-globalisation movement that 9/11 was used to curtail.

Alongside the “age of fear” promoted by our governments’ cynical counter-terrorism policies, housing stands at the heart of a refocusing of the economy, especially since 2010 — at the top end, a bubble sustained by foreign investors as cities like London have, through assiduous marketing, become seen as safe, tax-free havens for the global super-rich, but a result of this, as noted above, is that hard-working people have been priced out of the market, even those earning more than the national average wage. The housing bubble has also created an accompanying boom in the price of rents in the private sector, as ordinary people encouraged by the endless message of greed and self-interest pumped out by what passes for our culture, resort to the one-on-one exploitation of others.

With private renters free to be as ruthless as they want, due to a chronic and deliberate lack of regulation, unsafe and hideously overpriced slums are everywhere, sometimes housing desperate immigrant workers in crowded conditions, but also housing hard-working families who would once have been on the housing ladder by this stage in their lives.

Also under threat, as Grenfell showed in such a horrific manner, are those living in social housing, which was once provided almost entirely by councils. Unfortunately, a great sell-off of social housing started under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, and many surviving social properties have since been transferred to housing associations and arms’ length managements organisations (ALMOs). Some are very good (like the housing association that manages my home), and committed to renting out properties at genuinely affordable rates compared to the tsunami of greed in the private sector, but others, like Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, the ALMO that runs the 10,000 or so social properties in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where Grenfell Tower is located, are definitely not.

Note: The photos are from my ongoing photo project, ‘The State of London‘, which I began over five years ago, and which involves me cycling around London on a daily basis taking photos in all of the city’s 120 postcodes, as well as in some of the outer boroughs.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

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 »

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 »

Surprise as Tories Judge that Compulsory Purchases for the Regeneration of Southwark’s Aylesbury Estate Breach Leaseholders’ Human Rights

One of the main blocks on the Aylesbury Estate in Walworth, south east London, photographed in November 2012 (Photo: Andy Worthington).It was with some shock that, two weeks ago, I read the following headline in the Guardian: “Government blocks plan to force out London estate residents.”

The article was about the Aylesbury Estate in Walworth, south east London, one of the largest estates in western Europe, built between 1967 and 1977. Labour-held Southwark Council is in the process of destroying the estate, replacing it with new, privately-funded housing in which genuinely affordable flats will be almost non-existent, and ensuring that many of the estate’s residents are socially cleansed out of London — or at least have to move to less desirable boroughs than Southwark.

At the Aylesbury, the council is working with Notting Hill Housing, a former social homebuilder that has enthusiastically embraced the drive towards building private housing and offering unhelpful — and not genuinely affordable — part-rent, part-buy options for former social renters that has been prompted by government cuts.

Astonishingly, this is the same Southwark Council that engaged in social cleansing at Walworth’s other huge estate, the Heygate, for which they were soundly criticised. The estate was sold for a pittance to the Australian developers Lendlease, who are currently building a monstrous new private estate, Elephant Park, which features no genuinely affordable social housing. The Heygate’s tenants, meanwhile, have ended up scattered across south east London, Kent and beyond, as the graph below shows. Read the rest of this entry »

The Tories’ Wretched Housing Bill is Passed; Another Step Towards the Death of Social Housing

Campaigners on a Kill the Housing Bill march in London on March 13, 2016 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Sadly, I never seem to run out of opportunities to berate the Tories for their cruelty and stupidity, and the latest example came on Wednesday evening, when Parliament passed the Housing and Planning Bill, which will do nothing to ease Britain’s chronic housing crisis, and, in fact, contains several developments that will continue the Tories’ malignant obsession with destroying the provision of social housing. This can have only one end result — contributing further to the scale of the housing crisis, which is already unprecedented in my adult life.

During debates on the bill in the House of Lords, Baroness Hollis of Heigham described the “skeleton Bill” as the worst she had seen in 25 years. “This is a half-baked, half-scrutinised, quarter digested Bill that is not fit for purpose,” she said.

The housing crisis is particularly severe in London and the south east, where house prices have reached stratospheric levels that would be blackly hilarious were they not so chronically unfair and divisive. This insane housing bubble has been fuelled by banks and politicians keeping interest rates close to zero, so that house price inflation has become the main focus of the economy, by the relentless wooing of foreign investors by estate agents, banks and politicians acting as pimps (and whose actions, moreover, betray the British people), and by a persistent under-investment in housing. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: The Kill the Housing Bill March, Seeking Housing Justice, London, Mar. 13, 2016

Kill the Housing Bill: a poster by Big Ben during the march against the Tories' wretched new Housing Bill on March 13, 2016 (Photo: Andy Worthington).See my photos on Flickr here!

On Sunday March 13, 2016, housing campaigners held a national demonstration against the Tory government’s latest Housing Bill, a disgraceful piece of legislation that introduces what the government has cynically described as “pay to stay,” whereby families in council housing, on median incomes (£30,000 nationally, £40,000 in London) will be made to pay market rents, doubling, tripling or even quadrupling what they pay. The move will affect tens of thousands of families, with research indicating that 60,000 families will be unable to afford to live in their homes anymore, while those that are able to do so will be financially crippled by a government that, disgracefully, claims to represent hard-working families, but is actually doing the opposite.

As the Kill the Housing Bill campaign notes, the bill also “forces local authorities to sell ‘high value’ properties on the private market when they become empty – the biggest council housing sell-off in generations,” “abolishes new secure lifetime tenancies in council housing, replacing them with 2-5 year tenancies,” and “[d]oes nothing to address the housing crisis, and instead replaces obligations to build social housing with Cameron’s unaffordable ‘starter homes’ — requiring an annual income of £70,000 in London.”

For a more detailed analysis of the UK’s housing crisis — and the crisis in London, where the greed is particularly focused — see my article written before the march, Call for an End to Housing Greed: Come to the National Demonstration Against the Housing Bill in London, Sun. Mar. 13. I’ll also be writing more on the subject very soon. Read the rest of this entry »

Call for an End to Housing Greed: Come to the National Demonstration Against the Housing Bill in London, Sun. Mar. 13

Kill the Housing Bill: a poster for th e national demonstration on Sunday March 13, 2016.Where to begin in discussing Britain’s housing crisis? Since the Labour victory in 1997 we have been disastrously misled by governments prioritising an endless housing bubble as an alternative to anything resembling an actual functioning economy. The only break in this divisive and unfair policy came after the global banking crash of 2008, but since the Tories got back into power in 2010, via a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the bubble has been back with a vengeance.

The latest phase of the revived bubble is, as is now taken for granted, promoted via interest rates that are permanently near zero, making savings appear pointless, and housing the only attractive investment — and also, of course, via the permanent wooing of foreign investors from every part of the world, who are somehow persuaded that the overpriced towers rising up everywhere in London are good value for money. With the addition of a shortage of supply, dating back to the enforced decline of social housing under Margaret Thatcher, who sold council homes but refused to allow councils to build new properties, and chronic under-investment for 30 years, it becomes possible to understand how housing is now out of reach for more and more of London’s workers — even professional couples with generous financial support from their parents.

As the Guardian reported in an article last September, “Revealed: the widening gulf between salaries and house prices”:

In 1995, the median income in London was £19,000 and the median house price was £83,000, meaning that people were spending 4.4 times their income on buying a property. But by 2012-13, the median income in London had increased to £24,600 and the median house price in the capital had increased to £300,000, meaning people were forced to spend 12.2 times their income on a house.

Read the rest of this entry »

“This Is The New Politics”: John McDonnell’s Inspiring Speech to the Labour Party Conference Includes Announcement of Establishment of Powerful Left-Wing Economic Advisory Board

Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell in Brighton during the Labour Party Conference 2015 (photo from John's Twitter page).The last week has been so busy for me with developments relating to the announcement of the imminent release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, that I didn’t have time to cover the Labour Party Conference, and to express my delight at seeing Jeremy Corbyn as the new leader of the Party and John McDonnell as the shadow chancellor delivering their message of hope and change — yes, really! — to the conference.

Jeremy’s election, by a landslide, came about because of his refreshing honesty and decency, something that I know about through following his work for many years — and that of John McDonnell, his closest Parliamentary colleague — and being involved with them in the campaign to free Shaker Aamer (John set up the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group last November, and Jeremy, as a member, visited Washington D.C. in May as part of a cross-party group of MPs calling for Shaker’s release). It is fair to say that everyone who cares about injustice — in issues of social justice, the unfettered greed of the banks and the housing market, the persecution of minorities, workers’ rights, and many more issues — will have discovered over the years that John and Jeremy have taken up their cause, along with another indefatigable opponent of injustice, Caroline Lucas, Britain’s sole Green MP.

It has been wonderfully refreshing to know that, everywhere I go, people I know and care about are delighted that Jeremy has been elected, and are also delighted that John is the shadow chancellor. 60,000 people have joined the Labour Party since Jeremy’s victory on 12 September, and his appeal to the young and the disenfranchised and those fed up with the greed and cynicism of most politicians means that he might well be able to draw in a significant number of the 15.7 million people in the UK who don’t vote. There are, I think it’s fair to say, millions of us in this country who care about all kinds of injustice that are firmly established in the political status quo, and finally we have elected representatives taking on the government and presenting an alternative view that is so refreshing that I can’t help reflecting regularly on the fact that there has been no robust opposition to the prevailing neo-liberal world view, with its focus on selfishness and enriching the rich, since before Tony Blair became the leader of the Labour Party over 20 years ago. Read the rest of this entry »

George Osborne’s Savage Cuts to Some of the UK’s Most Vulnerable People in His ‘Emergency Budget’

George Osborne (far left) in a photo taken in Oxford in 1992, of the notorious Bullingdon Club, a drinking club for the university's privileged elite.What a horrible, despicable bunch of vicious bullies the Tories are, obsessed with making the poor poorer and the rich richer, while cynically dressing up their abuse in the language of fairness and aspiration.

In the Tories’ first budget since the electorate bizarrely freed them from the restraints of coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the Chancellor, George Osborne, delivered an ’emergency budget’ that was, no doubt, supposed to make us feel that we are in a state of emergency, still in need of savage cuts for the health of the economy, even though the false and damaging rationale for austerity has been thoroughly discredited time and again by economists, who understand that it actually stifles economic health. How Osborne has got away with his cruelty and stupidity for so many years almost beggars belief, as he has not managed to save any money, despite making life miserable for millions, but our bent media urging people to turn on one another  — and a sad propensity for British people to revert to Puritan self-flagellation when prompted — seem to be to blame.

And so Osborne’s budget hit poor people hard on a number of fronts, while hiding much of the pain behind one generous gesture inherited from the Lib Dems and another that is nowhere near as good as it sounds. The former is the raising of the threshold at which tax is paid, to £11,000 a year, while the latter is the surprise announcement of what George Osborne described as a ‘National Living Wage.’

This was supposed to hide another policy tweak that is nakedly for the benefit of the rich — the raising of the threshold at which inheritance tax is paid, so that £1m houses can now be handed on to children without the state taking a penny, an increase from £650,000. Even the Daily Telegraph had trouble justifying that. “Today’s emergency Budget has brought huge inheritance tax savings for people with expensive properties,” an article explained. 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 »

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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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The Battle of the Beanfield

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Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

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Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

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