Haringey and the Wholesale Social Cleansing of London: Thousands of Social Tenants to Be Removed Via Estate Regeneration

A Haringey housing protestor in December 2016 (Photo: Polly Hancock).

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I was so busy last week with Guantánamo-related business (on and around US Independence Day) and activities involving my band The Four Fathers that I didn’t have time to devote to a truly scandalous development that took place last Monday — the decision, by councillors in the London borough of Haringey, to go into a 50:50 partnership with a private developer in connection with the future of its properties, including all its social housing, on the explicit understanding that it will demolish huge swathes of that housing and that those kicked out of their homes — their homes, not “units” or properties that don’t count as homes because those living in them don’t own them — will very probably not be able to return to the area, or even to carry on living in London at all.

In a powerful article in the Guardian last Monday, Aditya Chakrabortty captured the full disgrace of this social cleansing, focusing on how those in power treat those whose housing is in their control — with contempt, “[t]he condition of being held worthless,” as he pointed out.

Explaining that “[c]ontempt is the thread that runs through much of the worst barbarism in today’s Britain,” Chakrabortty began, inevitably and appropriately, by discussing the Grenfell Tower inferno on June 14, when a still untold number of people were killed in an entirely preventable disaster, noting that one Grenfell campaigner told the Financial Times, “It was not that we stayed silent, but that they never responded. It was not just that they ignored us, but that they viewed us with contempt.” 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 »

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.

Summer Solstice 2017: Reflections on Free Festivals and the Pagan Year 33 Years After the Last Stonehenge Festival

An aerial view of the Stonehenge Free Festival in 1984, liberated from the police during the subsequent trial.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

My books Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield are still in print, and please also feel free to check out the music of my band The Four Fathers.

Back in 1983, as a 20-year old student, I had a life-changing experience when a friend of mine initiated a visit to the Stonehenge Free Festival, an anarchic experiment in leaderless living that occupied the fields opposite Stonehenge for the whole of June every year. The festival had grown from a small occupation in 1974, and by 1984 (when I visited again) became a monster — one with a darkness that reflected the darkness that gripped the whole of the UK that year, as Margaret Thatcher crushed the miners and, metaphorically, razed the country to the ground like a medieval conqueror.

I remember the 1983 festival with a great fondness — the elven people selling magic mushrooms from a barrel for next to nothing, the wailing of acid rock bands, the festivals’ thoroughfares, like ancient tracks of baked earth, where the cries of “acid, speed, hot knives” rang though the sultry air. Off the beaten track, travellers set up impromptu cafes beside their colourfully-painted trucks and coaches, unaware that, just two years later, on June 1, 1985, some of those same vehicles would be violently decommissioned at the Battle of the Beanfield, when Thatcher, following her destruction of Britain’s mining industry, set about destroying Britain’s traveller community, which, during her tenure as Prime Minister, had grown as unemployment mushroomed, and life on the road seemed to provide an appealing alternative.

A festival circuit, running from May to October, had grown up with this new movement, with Stonehenge at its centre. Michael Eavis’s Glastonbury Festival was also connected to it, as were numerous smaller festivals, as well as other events focused on environmental protest, especially against nuclear weapons and nuclear power. The travellers’ most prominent manifestation, the Peace Convoy, had visited Greenham Common, site of the famous women’s peace camp opposed to the establishment of US-owned and -controlled cruise missiles, in 1982, and in the summer of 1984 established a second peace camp at Molesworth in Cambridgeshire, the intended second cruise missile base after Greenham Common. 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!

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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 »

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 »

Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Release ‘Riot’, New Online Single Tackling Austerity and Inequality

Listen to ‘Riot’ here!The photo is by Eric Hossinger (hozinja) on Flickr, and is reproduced via a Creative Commons agreement. It was taken on December 4, 2010 during a UK Uncut protest outside Topshop in Oxford Street about tax avoidance by the company's boss, Sir Philip Green.

Today my band The Four Fathers are releasing ‘Riot’, our third online single from our forthcoming album, ‘How Much Is A Life Worth?’ following the release of ‘Close Guantánamo’ (2017 mix)’ in February, and ‘Dreamers’ last month.

I initially wrote ‘Riot’ in 1986, while living in Brixton, as a punky reggae song that dealt with how parents and society mess up kids’ minds and emotions — themes of youthful alienation that didn’t survive when I revived the song for The Four Fathers at the end of 2015. We’ve been playing it live since then, and we recorded it last summer in the first session for our new album, ‘How Much Is A Life Worth?’ which we hope to release on CD in September.

Musically, our version of my old tune is the closest we’ve come to date to echoing the minor key tunes and armagideon themes of classic late 70s roots reggae, which remains my favourite music, nearly 35 years after it first blew my mind at university in Oxford. Read the rest of this entry »

On Brexit, the Observer Pulls No Punches With a Suitably Savage Editorial Just Before Theresa May Triggers Article 50

No Brexit!Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

It’s nine months since normal life in Britain came to an abrupt end after the EU referendum, when, by a narrow majority, 37.4% of the eligible voters in the UK voted to leave the EU (while 34.7% voted to remain, and 27.9% didn’t vote). Never mind that the outcome of the referendum was only advisory; never mind that everyone agrees that events involving cataclysmic constitutional change should never be decided by less than a two-thirds or 60% majority — the Tories, most of the rest of Britain’s political class, and the media all behaved as though the “will of the people” — the will of the 37.4% — had to be obeyed.

After a leadership bloodbath, in which David Cameron resigned, and the Leave campaign’s leaders, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, were also revealed as toxic, home secretary Theresa May, nominated by just 199 MPs, became the Prime Minister, and set about becoming nothing less than a tyrant. Although Leave voters had tended to insist that their vote was about restoring sovereignty to the UK, when it came down to it they seemed not to care that sovereignty in the UK resides with Parliament, and not the PM and/or her ministers, and were content to let May insist that she alone — with the assistance of her three Brexit ministers, the hapless David Davis, the dangerously right-wing Liam Fox, and the clown Boris Johnson, recalled from the dead — should decide everything about how Brexit would take place without consulting with Parliament at all. When concerned citizens took May to court and won, the Daily Mail called the judges “enemies of the people,” and far too many Leave voters agreed, showed their true, violent colours.

However, when it came to acknowledging Parliament’s role, May continued to treat MPs with contempt. After appealing, and losing again in the Supreme Court, she and her ministers issued a tiny Brexit bill, and then told MPs to vote for it, disempowering themselves despite the judges’ best efforts to empower them. Rational and/or morally necessary amendments to the bill — guaranteeing EU citizens the right to stay in the UK, for example, and guaranteeing Parliament a final say on the final deal, two years from now — were defeated, with Tory MPs in seats that voted Remain whipped into silence, and Jeremy Corbyn attempting to whip all his MPs to follow suit. When the Lords reinstated the amendments, MPs voted them down again. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Huge Turnout for Unite For Europe March in London, to Tell Theresa May and Isolationist Tories that 16 Million of US Say No to Brexit

See my photos on Flickr here!A photo from the Unite for Europe rally outside the Houses of Parliament on March 25, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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

 

On Saturday March 25, 2017, I joined tens of thousands of supporters of the UK remaining in the EU in Parliament Square, at the rally at the end of the Unite for Europe march that began at Park Lane, and I hope you have time to look at my photos, and to share them if you like them.

The march had been called to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, signed in 1957 by the six founder member states of what became the EU, but it took on an added poignancy because, this Wednesday, Theresa May will trigger Article 50 of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, officially beginning the two-year process of the UK leaving the EU.

As I have thought ever since the Leave camp secured a small majority in last June’s referendum, the 16.1m of us who voted to stay in the EU need to work relentlessly over the next two years to try and make sure that, if we do leave the EU, we do so in a way that isn’t as economically suicidal as the “hard Brexit” favoured by Theresa May and her chief advisers — David Davis, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox — although my favoured end result, and one I will not waver from seeking relentlessly, is for the Brexit process to be halted when it becomes clear that there is no way for it to take place without destroying our economy. Read the rest of this entry »

Unite for Europe: Join the National Demo in London on March 25 to Tell Theresa May That 16 Million Of Us Don’t Accept Her “Hard Brexit” Insanity

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This coming Saturday, I hope to see as many of my British friends and readers as possible on the Unite for Europe march in London, the last protest before Theresa May triggers Article 50 (as she has just announced she will, on March 29), starting the two-year process of the UK leaving the EU. The Facebook page is here, and the Twitter page is here.

Unite for Europe is an umbrella group of Remain campaigners, and the march begins at 11am outside the Hilton on Park Lane, with campaigners taking the message of the 16.1 million ignored British Remain voters to Parliament, to let Theresa May know, as forcefully as possible, that her plans for a “hard Brexit” are completely unacceptable, as is her evident contempt for those of us who voted to remain in the EU, who have been shamefully sidelined and silenced since last June’s referendum.

Just to be clear, I will be doing whatever I can, over the next two years, to stop Britain leaving the EU, as I am convinced that it will, otherwise, be the single biggest act of economic suicide committed by any country in my lifetime — as anyone not blinded by patriotic wishful thinking can ascertain by reading Ian Dunt’s excellent book, Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now? or his more recent article, Everything you need to know about Theresa May’s Article 50 nightmare in five minutes. 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.
Email Andy Worthington

CD: Love and War

Love and War by The Four Fathers

The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

Outside The Law DVD cover

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

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