Ten Years Since the Global Financial Crash of 2008, We’ve Been Screwed by Austerity, and Now The Predators Want Our Homes

An image summing up the global economic crash of 2008.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Yesterday, September 15, marked the 10th anniversary of the day the new world order that started under Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and continued under Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, blew up spectacularly when the banking giant Lehman Brothers went bust, precipitating a global economic crash that was the worst since the Great Depression of 1929.

The crash came about because investment banks like Lehman Brothers had been involved in risky, toxic deals that should never have been legal, primarily involving “sub-prime mortgages” — lending money to buy homes to people who couldn’t afford them, and then packaging those toxic debts up in other complex financial packages.

The collapse of Lehman Brothers, with debts of $613bn, started a domino-like collapse through the entire financial sector, which had previously thought of itself as infallible, and had been supported in this absurd notion by politicians and economists.

In response, governments spent billions bailing out the banks, while everyone else suffered. No senior banking executive faced prosecution for their crimes, but individuals lost money, businesses folded, unemployment was rife, and the easy credit on which so many people depended dried up. Immediately after the crash, it was at least obvious that others were suffering too — building sites across London, for example, lay abandoned, and even the rich felt the squeeze, but salvation, in the UK at least, was soon at hand when the Tories, with the support of the Liberal Democrats, were able to form a government after the general election in May 2010, and immediately set about creating a new narrative — that the problem was government spending, not bankers’ crimes, and that the solution was to cut public spending. Read the rest of this entry »

Year 2, Day 100 of My Photo Project, ‘The State of London’, Recording A City Gutted by Greed Since the Olympics

The latest photos from my photo project, 'The State of London', marking one year and 100 days since I first began posting a photo a day on Facebook.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Yesterday, August 18, marked one year and 100 days since I began posting a photo a day on ‘The State of London’, a Facebook page I established on May 11 last year, marking five years since I first began cycling around London on my bike, taking photos of whatever interested me. You can see all the photos to date here.

In the six years and three months since I began this photo-journalistic project, I have been out on my bike almost every day, cycling many thousands of miles across all of London’s 120 postcodes, and discovering that what interests me are the changing seasons, the changing weather, the River Thames and the capital’s other rivers, its canals, its parks, and my own idiosyncratic take on the built environment, in which I’m drawn to the old, the odd, the idiosyncratic, the run-down, the derelict and the abandoned, and also to social housing — the great post-war estates, currently facing an unprecedented threat from councils across the political spectrum, who, financially squeezed by central government, are entering into deals with property developers to demolish their estates and to build over-priced new developments from which almost all the existing tenants are priced out, an epidemic of social cleansing that is largely unnoticed by those who are not directly affected by it. 

When these homes are destroyed, social rents (generally set at around a third of market rents) are also conveniently wiped out, replaced by properties for private sale, for market rent, for “affordable” rents that aren’t affordable at all, being set at 80% of market rents, and for shared ownership, an alarming scam designed to fool renters into believing that they are property owners. To add to Londoners’ woes, housing associations, which have increasingly taken over councils’ housing role since the Thatcher years, have also been severely squeezed, and many have, in response, also joined the private property development gravy train. Read the rest of this entry »

Brexit: Inspiring New Polling Analysis Shows Majority of Constituencies Now Support Remaining in the EU

A No Brexit badge, available via eBay.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

There was some rare good news in the Observer on Sunday, when, two years and two months since 37.47% of the eligible electorate voted to leave the EU (17.4m people, compared to the 16.1m who voted to remain), the impossibility of this proposal, and the realisation that the government tasked with implementing it is spectacularly, almost inconceivably incompetent, has finally led to a situation in which support has swung back significantly for staying in the EU. 

Just to be clear before I proceed with explaining why this is good news, I’m no enthusiast for the EU’s neo-liberal tendencies, or for the way the Euro project was used to strangle Greece, but pragmatically we are tied to the EU through 43 years of laws and treaties, and our economic health depends on our involvement in the single market and the customs union, which allow the frictionless trade with the EU that makes up by far and away our biggest trading market. In addition, the free movement of people across the EU is, in general, a positive development, and not the righteous target of the misplaced fears of those with a tendency to insularity, racism and xenophobia. We are all nations of immigrants, and immigrants have an overwhelming tendency to assimilate.  

Focaldata's analysis of the constituency shift from Leave to Remain since the EU referendum in June 2016 (via the Observer).The Observer’s headline that encouraged a surge of optimism on my part, and on the part of so many other Remain voters, was “More than 100 seats that backed Brexit now want to remain in EU”, and its tagline explained, “Major new analysis shows most constituencies now have majority who want to Remain.” Further spelling out the change, the text of the article confirmed the study’s conclusion that “most seats in Britain now contain a majority of voters who want to stay in the EU.”

The research was undertaken by the Focaldata, a consumer analytics company, which “compiled the breakdown by modelling two YouGov polls of more than 15,000 people in total, conducted before and after Theresa May published her proposed Brexit deal on 6 July”, itself an unworkable “soft Brexit” proposal, which nevertheless enraged the evangelical Brexiteers on the right of the Tory Party, whose arrogance and capacity for self-delusion apparently knows no bounds. Read the rest of this entry »

Grenfell One Year On: How Can We Feel Safe in a Country That Regards Everyone in Social Housing as Inferior?

The Silent Walk for Grenfell, December 14, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Exactly one year, ago, an inferno engulfed Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey tower block in north Kensington, in west London, with such speed and ferocity that 71 people died, and a 72nd person died this January as a result of injuries sustained that night.

It was a disaster that should never have happened, and the fact that it did cuts to the heart of how Britain operates in the 21st century.

The tower block was built of essentially incombustible concrete, and the process known as compartmentalisation was meant to ensure that any fire that broke out would be contained within the flat in which it broke out, with every other flat supposed to be able to resist the spread of fire for an hour, giving the fire services time to arrive on the scene.

In fact, fire leapt up the tower like nothing anyone had seen before, clearly indicating that every safety measure that was supposed to prevent an inferno had drastically failed. At the heart of the disaster were measures taken that had fatally corrupted the structural integrity of the tower. In order to make the tower appear more attractive, new cladding had been applied to it, but the cladding was flammable, and had created the inferno that took so many lives. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Eddie Daffarn, Who Foresaw the Grenfell Tower Fire, Interviewed by Channel 4 News as the Official Inquiry Begins

Photos of 21 of the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire on June 14, 2017, in which 71 people are acknowledged to have died - and a 72nd victim died of injuries sustained in January 2018.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

This has been a significant week for the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire last June, when 72 people died in a disaster that should never have happened. On Monday, the official inquiry began, with survivors’ testimony that has been taking place all week after the inquiry’s chair, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, called the fire “the single greatest tragedy to befall [London] since the second world war”, and “pledged that survivors’ testimony would be treated as ‘integral evidence’ in proceedings which could run into 2020”, as the Guardian described it.

The Guardian’s detailed coverage of the hearings this week is here — Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four and Day Five — and, from the beginning, the testimony was extraordinarily powerful.

As the Guardian described it, “Marcio Gomes, the father of Logan Gomes, the disaster’s youngest victim who was stillborn after his mother went into a coma, showed the several hundred gathered survivors, support workers, lawyers and journalists an ultrasound scan of his son and told them how he had been left ‘broken.’” Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

My Gratitude to the NHS, Seven Years After I Developed A Rare Blood Disease and Nearly Lost Two Toes

Andy Worthington in St. Thomas's Hospital, March 23, 2011 (Photo: Dot Young).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Seven years ago yesterday, I was admitted to hospital after suffering for two months with severe pain in two toes on my right foot. As a human rights campaigner, it was, I thought, somewhat ironic that I was in such pain that I was suffering from sleep deprivation, unable to sleep for more than a few minutes before being jolted awake in excruciating pain, a situation that lasted for at least a month, if I recall correctly after all this time.

Eventually, doctors worked out that I had a blood clot, which was what was turning my toes black, but it wasn’t until I was admitted to hospital — and, specifically, St. Thomas’s, where I was taken on March 20, that specialists worked out what to do for me — or, rather, what they would try, to see if it worked — which involved me, for five days, having what felt like liquid cement pumped into me, in an effort to widen the artery that fed my toes and, ultimately, to save them. (I wrote about my experience at the time, in an article entitled, Intimations of Mortality — And Why This Is the View From My Bedroom).

Their endeavours, I’m very glad to say, were successful. After 12 days in hospital, thoroughly marinaded in morphine (a miraculous pain-killer that doctors work hard to prevent mere mortals from having access to on a regular basis, presumably to prevent the world from being overrun with morphine addicts), I returned home, to resume my life, to allow my toes to fully heal, and, eventually, to start a new life. Read the rest of this entry »

Finally! Theresa May and the Tories Suffer a Major Defeat on Brexit as MPs Secure a Meaningful Vote on the Final Deal

The Theresa May Brexit float, set up by campaigners for the UK to remain in the EU.

Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Congratulations to MPs, who, yesterday evening (December 13), voted by 309 votes to 305 to give themselves a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal that Theresa May and her small clique of dangerous and deluded Brexit fantasists were planning to pass without including MPs at all.

In the end, the Labour leadership persuaded all but two of its MPs (Frank Field and Kate Hoey) to vote for the amendment, in a move that was obviously difficult for those from constituencies that voted Leave. The amendment was tabled by former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, and its supporters in the Labour Party, and all the smaller parties except the DUP, were joined by eleven Tory rebels — as well as Dominic Grieve, Heidi Allen, Ken Clarke, Jonathan Djanogly, Stephen Hammond, Sir Oliver Heald, Nicky Morgan, Robert Neill, Antointette Sandbach, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston. Hammond, a vice chairman of the party, was almost immediately sacked, and the Daily Mail proceeded to damn the rebels on its front page, causing Keir Starmer to comment, in a tweet, “When judges uphold the law, they are branded enemies of the people. When MPs uphold democracy, they are branded traitors. Never has it been more important to reassert our values.”

In a day of passionate debating in Parliament, which often saw the Tory right attacking their colleagues, as tends to be the way with Brexiteers, who are prone to threats and hysteria, Dominic Grieve gave a passionate half-hour speech regarding his amendment. He “warned that the bill as it stood would unleash ‘a form of constitutional chaos’”, as the Guardian described it. He “said he had sought to engage with ministers to find a compromise, but without success: ‘The blunt reality is, and I’m sorry to have to say this to the house, I’ve been left in the lurch, as a backbench member trying to improve this legislation.'” Labour’s Yvette Cooper said, “This is an important moment. The House of Commons has tonight voted against the government’s attempt to concentrate power and against letting a small group of ministers take crucial decisions on the details of Brexit without Parliament having a meaningful vote.” Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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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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