How Architects for Social Housing Took On the Dangerous Neo-Liberal Contempt for Social Housing of Patrik Schumacher and Others at the Barbican

A banner in defence of social housing at the Anarchist Bookfair in Tottenham on October 28, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

On Saturday, while I was meeting up with other social housing campaigners at the Anarchist Bookfair in Tottenham (where there was a screening of the powerful documentaryDispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle,’ housing activist and academic Lisa McKenzie and anti-fascist activist Martin Lux were discussing ‘Taking it to the Streets — the politics of Class Solidarity,’ and the Radical Housing Network was discussing ‘After Grenfell, the struggle for housing justice’), Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing was taking on some of those seeking to justify and celebrate the neo-liberal destruction of social housing at the Battle of Ideas in the Barbican Centre, described as “two days of high-level thought-provoking public debate.”

To be blunt, it is hard to think of a more important topic for those living in the UK right now than the parlous state of housing, and the class war and exploitation of the poor by the rich that is currently underway, and that, if it isn’t stopped, will destroy the lives of hundreds of thousands of people over the coming decade.

Those people live in social housing, on estates that are being torn down not because there is fundamentally anything wrong with them structurally, but because those responsible for them — councils and housing associations — starved of funding by central government, have chosen not to fight for their tenants, but to enter into deals with wealthy and rapacious international property developers, who knock down the estates, and replace them with hideously overpriced new apartment blocks and towers, largely for sale to foreign investors.

In contrast, those who used to live on the estates — the tenants and, in the cases of properties formerly owned by councils, the leaseholders — are lied to about the reality of their predicament until, in many cases, they willingly sign their own death warrants regarding their homes. Tenants, in general, do not get to return to the new developments — and if they do, they pay considerably more, for less space, and with no tenancy rights whatsoever — while leaseholders — those who bought into Margaret Thatcher’s promise of home ownership for council tenants — are offered such derisory amounts of money for their homes that they can no longer live in the area.

Simon Elmer and his colleague, Geraldine Dening, set up Architects for Social Housing in 2015 as an alliance of like-minded individuals opposed to this destruction, and their main contribution to this unfolding nightmare — beyond taking a strong moral and ethical point of view in defence of those who live in social housing — has been to demonstrate, over and over, how refurbishment is much cheaper than demolition, and, through detailed planning, how infilling and adding to existing buildings can create extra homes without the need for any destruction.

The councils and developers don’t care, of course, because their mission is not to save existing estates, and provide new housing for genuinely affordable social rents, but to socially cleanse their boroughs of their poorer inhabitants, or those who failed to jump onto the housing ladder the last time it was remotely affordably for people on average incomes, around 15 years ago, and to join in the profiteering of the developers. In some cases, those responsible seem to have nothing but contempt for those in social housing — and as ASH has continually pointed out, the majority of the wrecking crews are Labour councils —but in other cases the ideology also involves old-fashioned corruption, with many councillors and council officials joining developers via generous revolving door policies.

On Saturday, Simon Elmer was not up against councillors but a largely unappealing group of architects and advisers in thrall to neo-liberal supremacist views, and all demonstrating absolute contempt for those poorer than themselves and their destructive and heartless colleagues. The only one I knew of in advance was Patrik Schumacher, who took over from Zaha Hadid as the head of Zaha Hadid Architects after Hadid’s death, and whose contemptuous supremacist views appal everyone who retains a shred of decency.

As the architectural website Dezeen explained last November:

Zaha Hadid‘s closest confidantes have distanced themselves from the speech made by her successor Patrik Schumacher, in which he called for social housing to be scrapped and public space to be privatised.

Rana Hadid, Peter Palumbo and Brian Clarke – the three other trustees of the Zaha Hadid Foundation, and executors of Hadid’s estate – said they “totally disagree” with Schumacher’s views.

They also claimed that Hadid herself would have opposed the speech, which mapped out the architect’s vision for a deregulated and privatised city, with support for foreign investment into property and gentrification.

“The views recently expressed by Patrik Schumacher regarding the closure of art schools, the abandonment of social housing and the building over of Hyde Park are his personal views and are not, in any way, shared by us,” said the trio.

“Knowing Dame Zaha as well as we did, we can state categorically that she would have been totally opposed to these views and would have disassociated herself from them. We personally also totally disagree with these views.”

The others on the panel were a compromised academic, Kath Scanlon, Lisa Taylor, the Chief Executive of a think-tank grandiosely called the Future of London, and James Woudhuysen, formerly Professor of Forecasting and Innovation at De Montfort University, Leicester, and now a visiting professor at London’s South Bank University, who, although reprimanded by Simon below for his thoughts on recycling, has some interesting views on housing, and, in particular, believes, with some merit, that prefabrication is the answer to Britain’s housing crisis — see this article from 2004, and this paper, written with the architect Ian Abley, also in 2004, imagining a prefabricated housing future in 2016, which, of course, never happened. The two had just written a book called Why is construction so backward?, explaining how the UK “construction sector is one of the world’s weakest in innovation.” 

Below I’m cross-posting the text of Simon Elmer’s speech on Saturday, as made available on the ASH website, prefaced by an introduction in which he explained more about his fellow panelists, and provided pertinent links to their work — or their malignant propaganda. This is a rather powerful and concise defence of ASH’s position, which I thoroughly endorse, and a necessary and important rebuke to the dark forces bent on the destruction of all social housing. The links in Simon’s speech, I should note, are my own additions.

Unfortunately, those on the dark side have considerable money and influence, but we are many and they are few, and if we can genuinely work out how to remember what solidarity is, after 30-40 years of its persistent erosion by the neo-liberals who are still trying to wipe us out, then we can take on these disgraceful people, who wage their bitter ideological wars not on traditional battlefields, but though turning our actual homes into battlefields from which we are to be cleansed, resist them en masse, and win this fight!

Be warned, though, if we don’t work out how to fight back effectively, we will be evicted, marginalised and removed to whatever towns can be found that can be made into privately-rented ghettos.

Battle of Ideas: Reform or Revolution in Housing?
ASH, October 28, 2017

On Saturday, 28 October, as part of the Barbican’s Battle of Ideas festival, ASH was part of a panel debate titled Housing: Reform or Revolution? The rest of the panel was composed of Patrik Schumacher, the Principle at Zaha Hadid Architects, who the previous year, at a speech at the World Architecture Festival, had called for estates in Inner London to be demolished to make way for more productive people and their ‘amazing multiplying events’; Kath Scanlon, Assistant Professorial Research Fellow at the London School of Economics, who the same year co-authored a report commissioned by the Berkeley Group recommending their estate redevelopment, Kidbrooke Village, as an example of why London’s housing should be taken out of the control of local authorities and placed in the hands of private developers; Lisa Taylor, Chief Executive of [the] Future [of] London, a policy network which the previous year had published a report recommending that demolishing and redeveloping council estates was one of the keys to addressing London’s housing crisis; and James Woudhuysen, Visiting Professor at London’s South Bank University, who in 2006 on the BBC Breakfast Show had argued that recycling was a symptom of an ‘authoritarian state’ and accused the Green Party of being ‘reactionary’ and ‘anti-human’. This is the text of ASH’s presentation.

1. Reform or revolution?

A photo of an advert for hideously overpriced apartments in New Cross, London, used by Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing in his talk at the Battle of Ideas in the Barbican Centre on October 28, 2017.I want to start with title of this event: reform or revolution, and look at what this opposition means in practice through a recent image of a new housing development. The image is an advert for the NX Gate apartments in New Cross. It shows a young woman in what I guess advertising executives would call a state of excitement, over which are written the words: ‘The rental revolution is here! Rent from £300 per week’. Developed by Realstar Living, NX Gate rents 2-bedroom apartments from £1,525 per month, not including the numerous service charges. Just down the road from this new development is the Achilles Street estate, where a 2-bedroom council flat costs £414 per month, nearly a quarter as much. Despite this, Lewisham council has plans to demolish this estate and redevelop it along the same lines as NX Gate, making it just one of over 190 such estates that have recently undergone, are undergoing, or are threatened with redevelopment, privatisation and social cleansing by London’s estate regeneration programme. In case we don’t know at whom this ‘revolution’ is being marketed, the Rightmove advert for NX Gate indicates that the new development is 10 minutes from Cannon Street and 12 minutes from Canary Wharf, with Goldsmiths College just around the corner.

In short, the ‘revolution’ in housing is a marketing gimmick, aimed at young bankers looking to buy and international students looking to rent with the bank of mum and dad. So let’s look at the reality behind this gimmick.

2. There is no such thing as a free market

Last year my fellow panelist Patrik Schumacher famously declared that council tenants were being subsidised by the state to live in parts of London they would not otherwise be able to afford, and that he wanted to demolish their homes to make way for what he called ‘his people’. Now, whatever you may think of this programme for the social cleansing of Inner London, the reality is that the UK’s post-war housing estates paid off their construction costs and debt interest years ago, and are actually making a profit for councils and housing associations. Or at least, they would be if they weren’t demolishing so many of them.

Like so many things taken as fact in debates about how to solve the housing crisis, the truth is the exact opposite of what we are told. It is the private sector that is being subsidised by the state through a myriad of schemes: Right to Buy, which has sold 1.8 million council homes, a quarter of which are now owned by private landlords; Housing Benefit, which pays £20 billion a year to subsidise the growing private rental market that has taken their place; Help to Buy, Rent to Buy and Shared Ownership, which are available to households earning £90,000 a year; and more generally with the billions of pounds of public land and assets that are being sold to private developers at a fraction of their market value. The truth is that there is no private housing scheme that is not based on pocketing huge sums of public money.

3. The public sector doesn’t exist

But just as there is no such thing as a free market, so the public sector also doesn’t exist. Is it any wonder that Parliament refuses to regulate the private rental market when 1 in every 5 MPs is a landlords? In the local authorities implementing the estate demolition programme the conflict of interest is even greater. The prime example here is Southwark council, where 1 in 5 councillors are lobbyists for the building industry, and where 6 of the most senior officers responsible for selling the Heygate estate to property developers Lendlease for one-fifteenth of its market value now either work for or with the company.

And the lobbying is not confined to councillors. Kath Scanlon of the London School of Economics, who sits beside me on this panel, was paid by the Berkeley Group to produce a report on Kidbrooke Village, a development built by them on land cleared of over 1,900 demolished council homes and around 5,000 evicted council tenants. Of the 4,500 properties for private sale being built in their place, only 150 are planned for social rent. Despite this, Professor Scanlon’s report recommended that not only our homes but our communities too be handed over to the design and profits of private developers like the Berkeley Group, whose pre-tax profits have quadrupled in just five years from £136 million in 2011 to £531 million in 2016.

In short, our public housing and public land is in the hands of individuals and institutions that mistake stewardship for ownership, and public service for the opportunity to flog our public assets to the highest bidder.

4. Building more homes is not the answer

It is universally agreed that to solve the housing crisis we need to build more homes. However, the housing crisis is not one of supply but of affordability, with 56 per cent of London homes failing to meet this criterion. Now, while the law of supply and demand describes a capitalist dream of competitive markets responding to human needs, London’s financialised housing market, flooded by global capital, is driven by profit margins. House prices in London have risen by 86 per cent since 2009 to an average price of nearly £491,000 in January 2017, fourteen-and-a-half times the average London salary, and in Inner London to £970,000; while rents in London’s private rental market have gone up by 9.6 per cent in the past two years alone to an average of £2,216 per month for a 2-bedroom home, double the national average. Simply building more high-value properties will only push these prices up.

In transport systems this is called ‘induced demand’, when building more roads actually increases traffic. As an example of which, a decade ago the only baker’s on Hackney’s Kingsland High Street was Greggs, where you could buy a loaf for under a quid. Nowadays the street is lined with artisanal bakeries selling loaves at many times that price – and, just as importantly, as of last year Greggs stopped selling loaves to concentrate on take-away health-food fodder for the influx of Dalston hipsters. Not only has the increased number of bakeries in the area increased prices rather than reducing them, but it has also removed the low-cost loaf for the local working-class population. We all know what this process is called: gentrification, which isn’t driven by consumer choice but by market creation. If we leave London’s housing to the market, all we’ll get is the housing equivalent of more artisanal bakeries.

5. There is no housing crisis

The estimated total value of the housing stock in England in January 2017 was £6.8 trillion, an extraordinary figure that has increased by £1.5 trillion in the last three years alone. Equivalent to 3.7 times the gross domestic product of the entire UK, and nearly 60 per cent of the UK’s entire net wealth, the property market now constitutes an economy in itself. Unsurprisingly, £1.7 trillion of that housing stock is in London. The function of new-build properties in London is not to house the 250,000 London households currently on housing waiting lists, or the 240,000 London households with 320,000 children living in overcrowded accommodation, or the 50,000 London households with 78,000 children that are currently homeless and living in temporary accommodation; it is to satisfy the demand of international capital for investment opportunities.

Because of the enormously inflated exchange value of these new-build properties, their use value as homes for Londoners in need of housing is almost zero. On the contrary, the more council estates are demolished to clear the land for their construction, and the more public land is lost to private companies, so the higher the demand for housing grows, the higher the price of the housing being built in their place is driven up, and the louder the demands to demolish more council estates to make way for higher cost housing in their place.

6. Architects for Social Housing

So what’s the answer? Over the past 3 years Architects for Social Housing has designed alternatives to the demolition of 5 estates, increasing their capacity by up to 45 per cent without demolishing a single existing home. Through renting or selling a percentage of the new builds privately we can generate the funds to refurbish the rest of the estate, which has typically been deprived of maintenance for years as part of its managed decline. If the requirement is to build more homes in which Londoners can afford to live, there is no necessity to demolish the only homes in London to have escaped the speculation in property. Like austerity measures, London’s programme of estate demolition and redevelopment is not an economic necessity but a political choice.

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

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 music is available 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.

Tottenham Housing Campaigners Seek a Judicial Review to Save Their Homes from a Rapacious Labour Council and the Predatory Developer Lendlease

Stop HDV campaigners outside the High Court on the first day of the judicial review against the planned Haringey Council/Lendlease £2bn Haringey Development Vehicle.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

Yesterday, an important court case began in the High Court in London — an application, by 73-year old Tottenham resident Gordon Peters, for a judicial review of the legality of Haringey Council’s intention to enter into a £2bn partnership with the Australian-based international housing developer Lendlease that is deeply troubling on its own terms, as well as — if it goes ahead — having disturbing ramifications for the future of social housing throughout the entire country.

As Aditya Chakrabortty described Gordon Peters’ claim in a powerful article for the Guardian yesterday, ‘A Labour council attacking its own people? This is regeneration gone bad,’ “Aspects of his claim for a judicial review sound local and technical – but the fight itself is national and totemic. His case is being watched by the construction industry, by councils across the country and by Jeremy Corbyn’s team. Anyone who cares about the future of social housing, or what happens to London, or to local democracy, should root for Peters – not least for his bravery in placing himself squarely before a juggernaut.”

Chakrabortty added, “That juggernaut is the Haringey Development Vehicle, a scheme by the zombie Blairites running the north London borough to shove family homes, school buildings and libraries into a giant private fund worth £2bn. Its partner is the multinational Lendlease, which will now exercise joint control over a large part of Haringey’s housing and regeneration strategy. This is the plan Peters and many others want stopped. The 25-year deal is unprecedented in size and scale. It is breathtaking in its risks. And for many its consequences will be dreadful, including for their relatives and friends.” Read the rest of this entry »

No Social Cleansing in Lewisham! Fundraiser for Tidemill and Achilles Street Campaigns with Potent Whisper, The Four Fathers, Commie Faggots at the Birds Nest, Nov. 12

The poster for 'No Social Cleansing in Lewisham' at the Birds Nest in Deptford on November 12, 2017.

Check out the Facebook event page here — for ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham!’ at the Birds Nest, in Deptford, London SE8, on Sunday November 12 from 6-11pm, with Potent Whisper, the Four Fathers, the Commie Faggots, Asher Baker, The Wiz-RD and Ukadelix.

Followers of London’s housing crisis — and, particularly, the destruction of social housing estates and their replacement with new, private developments — will know, from the experiences of residents and leaseholders on the Heygate Estate in Walworth, in the London Borough of Southwark, that councils and developers talk sweetly about the right to return for tenants, and about adequately compensating leaseholders, but that in the end both groups are socially cleansed out of their homes, and often out of their boroughs, and even out of London completely, as they are excluded from the new properties built to profit the developers, and to appeal to investors (and largely, it seems, to foreign investors).

The biggest culprit to date has been Southwark Council, which is currently engaged in another huge act of social cleansing on the Aylesbury Estate, also in Walworth, but there have been other notorious examples — the West Hendon Estate, for example, Woodberry Down in Hackney and Robin Hood Gardens in Tower Hamlets — and other councils are queuing up to engage in their own social cleansing. Lambeth Council plans to demolish two well-regarded estates, Cressingham Gardens and Central Hill, and Haringey Council is currently trying to enter into a 50/50 partnership with the rapacious international property developer Lendlease (the butchers of the Heygate Estate) in a £2bn deal that will see the council handing over control of all its social housing, with plans for the destruction of several estates.

Until recently, Lewisham has not figured prominently in this story, having largely bypassed social cleansing issues by working with developers on brownfield sites. But at the end of September, Lewisham councillors approved the destruction of Old Tidemill Garden and a block of social housing on Reginald Road, in Deptford, and the council is also intending to demolish blocks of flats and shops on and around Achilles Street in New Cross. See the Tidemill Facebook page, the Achilles Street Facebook page, and also see my article, Social Cleansing and the Destruction of Council Estates Exposed at Screening of ‘Dispossession’ by Endangered New Cross Residents. Read the rest of this entry »

My Band The Four Fathers Release ‘Equal Rights And Justice For All,’ Defending Habeas Corpus, Opposing Arbitrary Detention at Guantánamo and in the UK

The cover for The Four Fathers' new online single, 'Equal Rights And Justice For All.'My band The Four Fathers have just released a brand-new online single, ‘Equal Rights And Justice For All,’ a passionate defence of habeas corpus, which is supposed to protect all of us from arbitrary imprisonment.

The song — an insistent and infectious roots reggae groove — was inspired by my work trying to get the prison at Guantánamo Bay closed down, my work opposing the use of secret evidence in the UK, and also by the 800th anniversary of King John signing Magna Carta in 2015. The key element of this document, which the barons obliged him to sign, was habeas corpus, the right to be bought before a judge to test the validity of one’s imprisonment, which, over the centuries that followed, ended up applying to everyone, and was successfully exported around the world as a hugely significant bulwark against tyranny.

See below for the song, on Bandcamp, where you can listen to it for free — or, if you’d like to support us, buy it as a download for just £1 ($1.25) — or more if you’d like. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Festival of Resistance Against the DSEI Arms Fair in London’s Docklands, Sept. 9, 2017

Stop the arms fair: a placard emerges from a sea of police at the Festival of Resistance against the DSEI arms fair in London's Docklands on September 9, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

See all my photos from the Festival of Resistance against the DSEI arms fair  on Flickr here!

Yesterday (September 9, 2017), the Campaign Against Arms Trade and Stop the Arms Fair organised a Festival of Resistance against the bi-annual international arms fair that takes place in London’s Docklands at the ExCeL exhibition centre, which I visited, played at, and took photos of. See my photos here. This UK government-backed orgy of trade in weapons of war and weapons of mass destruction tries to disguise itself by calling itself DSEI (Defence and Security Equipment International), but anyone perceptive can see through the PR-speak.

As the festival’s Facebook page explains, “As one of the world’s largest arms fairs, DSEI brings together over 1,500 arms companies and military delegations from over 100 countries. On display will be everything from crowd control equipment to machine guns, tanks, drones and even battleships.” Countries invited to take part, all with dire human rights records, include Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The resistance to the DSEI has involved protests all week in advance of the arms fair itself, which runs from September 12-15. Throughout the week, dozens of protestors were arrested stopping arms-laden vehicles arriving at ExCeL, and this pattern continued during the festival, as protestors locked on to each other in the road or locked on to vehicles. Protests are also continuing throughout the coming week — see here for further details. Read the rest of this entry »

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

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

 

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

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

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

Video: Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Play Anti-Austerity Song ‘Riot’, Released on Sixth Anniversary of UK Riots

Listen to ‘Riot’ hereA photo of the London riots in August 2011., and watch the live video here.

Exactly six years ago, on August 6, 2011, riots erupted across the UK. The trigger had been the killing, by police, of Mark Duggan in Tottenham in north London the day before, and for the next three days there were riots across the country — the largest riots in modern British history, as 14,000 people took to the streets.

As I wrote back in May, when my band The Four Fathers released our song, ‘Riot’, which was partly inspired by the 2011 riots, “Buildings and vehicles were set on fire, there was widespread looting, and, afterwards, the police systematically hunted down everyone they could find that was involved — particularly through an analysis of CCTV records — and the courts duly delivered punitive sentences as a heavy-handed deterrent.”

I wrote about the riots at the time, in an article entitled, The UK “Riots” and Why the Vile and Disproportionate Response to It Made Me Ashamed to be British, and my song ‘Riot’ followed up on my inability to accept that the British establishment’s response to the riots had been either proportionate or appropriate. Read the rest of this entry »

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).

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

 

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: 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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