Category Archives: History & Memory

Echoes From The Past: Stanley Baldwin, Minority Governments And ‘The National Interest’

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Stanley Baldwin: he lost, he won and he lost again. Then he won in 1935.

Many voters and politicians aren’t students of history and it shows. Postmodern politicians, especially, see history like ideologies as meta-narratives that can be ignored or cherry-picked to suit weak arguments. We’ve had two hung parliaments in the space of seven years, yet to hear the media and some politicians talk, you’d think the hung parliament was a recent phenomenon. It is not. On the other hand, we have Tory politicians like Crispin Blunt complaining that it’s the electorate’s fault that we have a hung parliament. Blunt needs to look at our deeply-flawed electoral system and his own party’s dismal election campaign before spouting such nonsense.

I have already commented on Heath’s disastrous 1974 snap election, which resulted in a hung parliament and a Labour minority government. Like Heath, May’s own snap election was born partly from arrogance and partly out of stupidity. Both Prime Ministers wanted to cling onto power at any cost, and neither wanted to admit defeat.

One previous Conservative Prime Minister that hasn’t been mentioned in the history of hung parliaments, and who gambled away a decent-sized majority was Stanley Baldwin, who later became the First Earl of Bewdley and who supported Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy towards Nazi Germany in 1939. Baldwin is also remembered for failing to rearm Britain during the 1930s, while he was PM. He was also known for the ‘Iron Gates Crisis‘.

In 1923, Bonar Law, the shortest-lived PM of the 20th century, resigned because of terminal throat cancer. His chancellor, Stanley Baldwin, was chosen by the ‘men in grey suits’ to succeed him. Law had fought the previous year’s general election on free trade and tariff reform and Baldwin felt committed to his pledge during the 1922 election, namely that there would be no introduction of tariffs without an election. But external pressures were exerting themselves upon the Tories’ trade policy and Baldwin felt compelled to introduce a degree of protectionism. This violated Law’s pledge and Baldwin called a snap general election for 6 December, 1923 to strengthen his grip on his restive party. It was a gamble, for the election resulted in a hung parliament. The Tories lost their 70 seat majority and although they were the largest party, they could not command the confidence of the House. Baldwin remained as PM until the new parliament in January 1924.

The Tories’ King’s Speech was defeated in the Commons on 24 January, 1924 and Baldwin resigned immediately. This led to the first Labour government, which lasted until October 1924 when it was brought down by a combination of intrigue and a smear and fear campaign, remembered mostly for the notorious Zinoviev Letter.  The Tories won a landslide and had a 220 seat majority. Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour Party was reduced to 151 seats, while Herbert Asquith’s unpopular Liberals lost 118 seats and were reduced to 40 seats.

Baldwin’s Tory government of 1924 – 1929 contained former political allies of Lloyd George, and former Coalition Conservatives like Austen Chamberlain, the half-brother of Neville.  It lasted for around five years and is remembered mainly for the General Strike of 1926. Baldwin went to the country in 1929 and expected to win a similar majority to the one he had. He lost again. Memories of the General Strike were still fresh in the memories of many voters and, consequently, MacDonald’s Labour Party won the largest number of seats and formed a minority government but this wouldn’t last. The Great Depression, which began in the same year, created fresh problems for MacDonald and George V urged him to form a National Government. This was the beginning of the end for MacDonald but signalled a new beginning for Baldwin, who would lead the National Government to victory in 1935.  It was this government, which comprised mostly of Conservatives, that fought the 1931 general election.

Let’s come back to the present. Over the weekend there were some murmurings from some commentators that the only way to solve the Brexit Crisis is to form a National Government. This would be an unwise move for any self-styled ‘moderate’ Labour members tempted into such an arrangement.  However, I am aware that many of these ‘moderates’ are completely ignorant of their own party’s history.  In 1931, Labour suffered heavy losses that were mainly caused by MacDonald’s formation of a National Government and the creation of the National Labour Organisation to support it. The Liberals split into three parties, while the Tories remained a single bloc. When Tories talk of wanting to govern in “the national interest” what they really mean is that they will govern in the interests of themselves and their class.

Have a look at this British Pathé film clip of the National Government.

If Labour and the rest of the opposition parties work together and peel off some socially liberal Tories, May’s government can be defeated. They should not pass on that opportunity.

 

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The Tories, Time And Selective Memory

Many of you will know the phrase ‘The victors write history’, some of you may know Marx’s famous line from The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce”. We live at a period in time in which lies have become the new truth and history itself is being rewritten before our very eyes. The revised version of history, which has been constructed to serve the interests of Britain’s socio-economic orthodoxy, is simultaneously tragic and farcical. Tragic because the historical revisionism that we now find ourselves watching can only end badly. Farcical, because the historical claims made by commentators, politicians and armchair pundits are easily challenged if you make the effort.

Yesterday as I was watching the impartial coverage of the local election results on the BBC, I noticed how commentators and politicians alike kept referring to the 1980s.  Indeed, since Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, the media can’t help but refer to the Eighties. Peter Kellner of YouGov, for example, reminded John McDonnell that Labour’s losses, in what are traditionally Tory heartlands, was reminiscent (for him and those like him) of the Local and General Elections of 1983.

Naturally, Kellner couldn’t resist summoning up the ghost of the much maligned Michael Foot. But McDonnell snapped back that perhaps 1974 was a better reference point than 1983.  Kellner grudgingly conceded but appeared to stick to his original position. So what is this obsession with the 1980s? Well, as someone who lived through that decade, I can tell you that the public memory of that decade is faulty both in terms of history and the wilful mischaracterization of Foot as some radical left-winger. This is a recent historical revision of the 1980s and it must be challenged.

In this previous blog, I pointed out that May’s calling of a snap election was actually more redolent of 1974 and Edward Heath’s “Who Governs Britain?” and not the 1980s. The Tories and, seemingly, the media would rather you didn’t remember what happened in 1974.  They would prefer that you remembered the decade’s specially selected highlights: the power cuts, the three day week and the mythical ‘Winter of Discontent’ (coined by The S*n).

So why don’t they want you to know what actually happened in the 1970s?  Is it because Heath’s government was pretty inept but also hellbent on smashing the trade unions? Maybe it’s because the Tories and their allies in the media imagine that history only began when Thatcher was elected in May 1979? Are we now living in the Year 38AT (After Thatcher) instead of the (much contested) 2017AD/2017CE?

Many people forget that it was the Heath government, not Wilson or Callaghan, that introduced Value Added Tax and abolished free school milk (overseen by Thatcher). A few weeks ago I had to correct someone when they claimed the three day week took place under Labour.  They even had the gall to conflate it with the ‘Winter of Discontent’.  Where do historical revisionisms like this come from? Who is responsible for producing these lies? It is possible that the media’s opinion formers play their part with the collusion of politicians – especially Tories and right-wing Labour MPs who join in with their game – in the production of these warped narratives? Of course, it is. You only have to look no further than the likes of Hilary Benn and his license with Spanish Civil War history to see it in action.

Since the 1980s, a cult has grown up around the personality of Thatcher and this cult replaced the earlier cult of Churchill. For these cultists, what Thatcher represented is more important than either her personality or her ‘achievements’. She was either ‘The Iron Lady’, ‘The Saviour of the Nation’. Theresa May might have poured herself into Thatcher’s power suits but it’s a bad fit. Thatcher, for her part, was a Churchill cultist (she also belonged to the Powell cult) and channelled his spirit during the Miners’ Strike and her final days in power. It helped to finish her off.

Adam Curtis’s series The Living Dead examines the way in which politicians will use history to suit their objectives – with disastrous consequences.  Below is an episode from the series, titled ‘The Attic’, which looks at Thatcher’s adoption of the Churchillian mantle as a means to appear tough and in control.

History is a contested space in which each of us writes our histories every day.  We write about our own lives and our interactions with others when we tell colleagues and acquaintances what we did yesterday or the day before.  The word ‘write’ is important here: the French word for story is histoire, which also happens to be the same word for ‘history’. That tells us that history is a narrative and is subject to, and a product of, an individual’s or a group’s ideology. Events on their own don’t make history, they need a backstory to make sense. If you can add some lies, then you have a full blown propagandized narrative that blinds people to the truth about their own pasts.

So what about Michael Foot? Wasn’t he some crazed hard left loon? Well, no he wasn’t. He was considered rather soft left; a ‘safe pair of hands’; the compromise candidate. Sure he was a member of CND and a unilateralist, but they were pretty common in the Labour Party in the days before the Thatcher’s cultural Year Zero (0AT).

So, whatever anyone tells you: this is not 1983, 1987 or even 1974. The year is 2017 and future cannot be divined by poring over past events and summoning up their spirits. If you want your fortune told, there are plenty of seaside mystics and other ‘scryers’ out there who will take your money. But don’t waste my time with your cod second sight baloney.

Reference

Marx, K. (nd.) The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. Marxist Internet Archive. Available at: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/pdf/18th-Brumaire.pdf . Accessed 6/5/2017

 

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1974 -“Who Governs Britain”?

Yesterday, when I heard Theresa May was going to announce a General Election, I immediately thought of Ted Heath’s massive gamble in 1974.  Is this her “Who Governs Britain” moment?

In February 1974, a petulant Ted Heath called a general election on the premise that he was the best person to lead the country.  Weeks later, he got his answer in no uncertain terms. “Not you, Ted”.

Here’s the Tory Party Election Broadcast from February, 1974. You’ll notice how little has changed since then.

That General Election resulted in a hung parliament.  Heath tried to convince the Liberal Party, led by Jeremy Thorpe, to support him in coalition. But the Liberals demanded some movement on proportional representation before entering into such an agreement.  Heath refused to budge, so the Queen asked Harold Wilson to form a minority government.

Wilson went to the country in October to consolidate his government’s position and won 18 more seats.  Heath had clearly bitten off more than he could chew.  His outgoing administration left a massive balance of trade deficit, which precipitated the Sterling Crisis of 1976, and led to the Labour government applying for a short-term IMF loan, which was paid off in 1979.

Throughout the 1980s, Thatcher’s Tories used the same language of crisis that May and Cameron have used since 2010.  Namely, that Labour “bankrupted” the country and they were “cleaning up the mess” (sic) left by them. Yet, if they’d been faced with the same decision, the Tories would have also applied for an IMF loan. The same is true of the 2008 sovereign debt crisis. They’d have borrowed money to bail out the banks.  When most of the media is on your side, you can tell as many lies as you like and get away with it.

The myths and lies of the 1970s have been woven into the political fabric of this country by the corporate media, and have been accepted uncritically by Tories, Liberals, voters and right-wing Labour MPs, who are too cowardly to fight back.  It’s time to put an end to this madness. Voting the Tories out on 8 June is the start of that process.

 

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Filed under 20th century, General Election 2017, History, History & Memory

Let’s Talk About: Legitimacy (of the parliamentary kind)

The Tories and their allies in the press seem to believe that the party with the most seats in the event of a hung parliament should have the automatic right to form a government. They also claim that should Labour get fewer seats than the Tories and if they form a minority government with the support of smaller parties, then this government would be illegitimate. This has been comprehensively debunked time and time again. Yet the Tories and Nick Clegg continue to lie about this, relying on widespread ignorance of how parliament and governments function.

There is a historical precedent that has never once been mentioned during this election campaign by those commentators whose job it is to ‘explain’ the political system to the voters. The General Election of 6 December 1923, which Stanley Baldwin had called over tariff reform (which meant very little to many working class voters), produced a situation similar to the one commentators claim will happen this Friday. Baldwin hoped that he could cement his authority after succeeding Andrew Bonar Law as party leader and Prime Minister, and he was eager to make his mark.

But Baldwin’s plan to increase his party’s already large majority backfired. Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour Party came second with 191 seats. Herbert Asquith’s Liberals came third with 158 seats (the Liberals were split). Baldwin’s Tories came first with 251 seats . When added together, the combined anti-Tory seats outweighed the Conservatives’ numbers. However, things were not straightforward:  Baldwin claimed legitimacy and appeared before the Commons, but was defeated on 21 January by a no confidence motion tabled by former Labour leader, J.R. Clynes. George V had no choice but to appoint MacDonald as Prime Minister. Labour then formed a minority government with the support of the Liberals on 22 January, 1924. There was no question of Labour’s legitimacy to form a government on that occasion, because everyone knew  how the game was played. Today, the Tories and their media chums continue claim that should Labour come second, they will lack legitimacy. The front page of today’s edition of the Murdoch-owned Times has printed a variation on the lie.the_times front page

However, the role of the Liberals in 1924 should not be read as the facilitation of a Labour government but as part of a plan to secure more power for themselves, should the government fall. Indeed, the Daily Mail begged Asquith to form a coalition with the Tories to keep Labour out. Asquith hoped that the voters would see Labour as incompetent. What the voters actually saw were squabbling, power hungry politicians knifing each other in the back. Even so, MacDonald’s government was weak and unstable and suffered its first defeat in March. By October, it would be voted out of office thanks to the Zioniev Letter.

The Liberals paid for their treachery and they were reduced to 40 seats. Asquith lost his seat, was kicked upstairs and died four years later. Even though Baldwin secured a massive majority, he would again lose out  to Labour in the so-called ‘Flapper Election’ of 1929, which resulted in another hung parliament. MacDonald relied on the support of Lloyd George’s 58 Liberal MPs. But this government wouldn’t last long and in 1931 another election was called. Again, this produced a hung parliament and the notorious National Government was eventually formed with Baldwin pulling the strings.

In February 1974, Edward Heath’s Tories came second and Labour came first. Heath remained in Downing Street as  the caretaker Prime Minister and attempted to form a coalition with Jeremy Thorpe’s Liberals. But Thorpe rejected the Tories’ coalition proposals on the basis that Proportional Representation wasn’t offered as part of the deal. Harold Wilson was invited to form a minority government with the support of the smaller parties. Again, there was no question of legitimacy.  This government lasted until October, when Wilson called another election and won a wafer-thin majority. By 1976, Wilson was gone and replaced by’ Sunny’ Jim Callaghan, whose majority began to evaporate due to by-election losses and defections. Callaghan was forced to enter into a pact with the Liberals (the Lib-Lab pact) in 1977. This lasted until the end of 1978 and the rest, as they say, is history.

What these elections reveal to us are the flaws inherent in the First Past The Post voting system. Whichever party forms the government after tomorrow’s election, we must take to the streets to demand electoral and constitutional reform.  There must be no let up.

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Filed under 20th century, General Election 2015, History, History & Memory, Let's Talk About, Media, Tory press, Yellow journalism

Let’s Talk About: Economic Growth

Images like this mean nothing to Dan Hannan. who prefers to deal with fictional characters than real people and their complicated lives.

Economic growth or just ‘growth’ is the holy grail of career politicians, neoliberal economists and their hangers on in the media. We’re often told how important it is to have ‘growth’ in our economy and it is only then that everyone will see the benefit. The trouble with this notion is that those who continually spout this rubbish aren’t the ones who need to worry. They’re already comfortable. The ones for whom these pronouncements mean little, if nothing at all, are the poor and the low waged. They continue to see their income squeezed, while the cost of living continues to rise. But the media and the government will have none of it.

A few weeks ago, the BBC’s economic editor, Robert Peston, was crowing over low oil prices. He told the nation’s viewers that “everyone” would now feel “richer” because of the continued fall in petrol prices. This is not only misleading; it’s also dishonest. The only people who can feel “richer”, by definition, are the rich themselves. If you are poor, you cannot be “rich”, it’s an absurdity. Yet this does not stop the likes of Daniel Hannan repeating this meaningless tosh. In Thursday’s blog for CapX, he repeated Peston’s bogus claim that “The rich are getting richer and the poor are… getting richer”. This is a measure of how out-of-touch our media and politicians are in relation to the people they purport to serve. We can also draw the conclusion that the mainstream media, the Westminster politicians and economic cults like the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute for Economic Affairs are in a cosy conspiratorial relationship with one another. The relationship between these institutions and ordinary people themselves is one of power. They consider themselves to be the voices of authority and we must listen and obey… or so they think. So when they tell us that “things are getting better” we are expected to believe them. But I no more believe them than I believe in the existence of God, the tooth fairy or Father Christmas. I see no improvement and neither do millions of other people.

The problem with those who constantly talk about ‘growth’ is that they can only speak the language of statistics and mathematics, and can only view the world through the lens of their social status. They are incapable of relating their nutty ideas about economics to the average person because what they’re saying bears no relation to everyday life. Trickle down, for example, is one economic fallacy that is repeated ad infinitum by economic cultists and held up as a model for ‘growth’ and economic well-being. But not even right-wingers like George HW Bush believed it and derided trickle down as “voodoo economics”. Yet the Hannans and Osbornes of this world cleave so tightly to it like men at sea clinging to any bit of flotsam that comes their way.

A couple of months ago, the Labour leadership claimed that if the Tories were re-elected, they would take public spending back to the levels of the 1930s. This was enough to get all manner of right-wing economic cultists into a lather. Hannan was one of those. In this blog, he does his best to claim how the 1930s was a “time of growth”. It’s a risible misrepresentation of a decade that’s become synonymous with economic hardship.

Well, here’s a fact that may surprise you. The 1930s saw more economic growth than any other decade in British history. It’s true that there were patches of deprivation. As in all times of economic transition, some industries declined while others rose. The poverty of the Jarrow Marchers was genuine: theirs had been a ship-building town, devastated by the collapse of international orders.

Sophistry, damned sophistry. For the millions of working class people who struggled to survive the decade, this is an insult to their memory. My mum’s family was Liverpool working class and I can remember her telling me what life was like in the Thirties: if you were poor or low-waged, you had no access to affordable or decent healthcare, because there was no National Health Service (the Tories will abolish it if they are re-elected). There was very little work on Merseyside in the 1930s, so people lived a hand-to-mouth existence.

Hannan continues his fantasy tour of his romanticized past:

Yet these were golden years for new industries such as electrical appliances and aviation and cars, the years when Morris, Humber and Austin became household names. The 1930s also saw an unprecedented boom in construction, as the comfortable suburbs of Betjeman’s Metroland spread across England. The Battersea Power Station raised its minarets over the capital, a symbol of self-confidence in architecture.

Here, Hannan waxes floridly about a world that only those with the economic means could take part. The appliances and cars that he talks about were beyond the means of my family and many others. No working class people owned cars, let alone possessed household appliances. My grandmother was still using a boiler and a mangle well into the 1970s. As for Metroland, the houses that were built there were for sale. Only those with nice, middle class incomes could afford a mortgage.

Here, Hannan slaps more gloss onto his fantasy.

 Britain responded to the 1929 crash by cutting spending drastically and, in consequence, soon saw a return to growth. The United States, by contrast, expanded government activity unprecedentedly under the New Deal, and so prolonged the recession by seven years. Yes, seven years. Here is the conclusion of a major study published in 2004 by two economists at the UCLA, Harold L Cole and Lee A Ohanian:

Cole and Ohanian are comprehensively defenestrated in this blog. Hannan isn’t interested in reality and like all right-wingers of his ilk, he exists in the hermetically-sealed space of privilege. The material of history is bent and twisted to shrink-fit a weak narrative. Like many of his fellow Tea Partiers, he makes the same feeble argument for cuts.

Contrasting the American and British experiences, we are left with an inescapable conclusion. Cuts work, and trying to spend your way out of recession doesn’t.

Let’s put it this way, if a company doesn’t borrow or spend money to invest when it is doing badly, it will go under. Cuts only work for the already wealthy. They are also a means by which the powerful punish the poor for being poor. Hannan makes clear his hatred of FDR and the New Deal. This is the same position held by the economic cultists at the Ludwig von Mises Institute as well as his fellow Randists.

This is perhaps the greatest fallacy of all:

Still, if only for the record, let me set down the real lesson of the 1930. The best way to recover from a crash, not least for low earners, is to bring spending back under control. Growth follows, jobs are created, and the people taking those jobs thereby gain the most secure route out of poverty.

It’s easy for those who have never personally experienced poverty to claim that “the most secure route out of  poverty” is work. Low-paid and zero hours contract jobs actually lock people into poverty. Hannan is not only a fool, he’s a dangerous fool. Leaving people to fend for themselves without a safety net will lead to greater social problems. Hannan is unmoved by such concerns. Yet he would be the first to complain that shanty towns are an “eyesore”. This is the man who calls himself a “Whig”.

Talking about economic growth when people are struggling to survive is deeply offensive. Talking about GDP is meaningless because not only is it a poor way of measuring economic performance, it means nothing to ordinary people. For all his claims of how cutting public spending will improve economic performance, Hannan has never had to suffer the privations of working in a low-paid job. Like all of his pals in Westminster and beyond, he is a bully, who talks a good talk but when his words are unpacked, they reveal the true horrors of the current political system.

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96 Years Ago Today: Rosa Luxemburg was murdered in Berlin

I had to reblog this. Rosa Luxemburg was murdered 96 years ago today. Lest we forget.

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1907 or 1908 maybe- rosa luxemburg- rls

96 years ago today, on 15 January 1919, Rosa Luxemburg was detained, interrogated and murdered by right-wing soldiers under the command of socialist Defence Minister Gustav Noske. Today she is remembered around the world for her life and ideas.

Born in Russian-Poland in a middle-class Jewish family in 1873, Rosa Luxemburg emigrated to Switzerland after completing High School and enrolled at Zurich University. Whilst still a student she co-founded the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland (SDKP, later SDKPiL), with Leo Jogiches, Adolf Warszawski and Julian Marchlewski, before being awarded a doctorate in 1897.

The following year, she moved to Berlin and joined the German Social-Democratic Party (SPD), then the largest and most powerful socialist organisation in the world. She rose to prominence on the left-wing of the SPD as a firebrand speaker, journalist and theoretician, writing works on economics, nationalism, imperialism, war, socialism and democracy.

Luxemburg taught at…

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Housing, the 1968 Rent Strike and What We Face Today

Can’t pay your rent? Then we’ll come for your children.

When the Tory-led government announced that social rents should rise to market levels, there was anger but nothing happened. That anger wasn’t channelled; forged into a weapon to attack the government and the local authorities and greedy Housing Associations. Instead, people just rolled over and took it.

When the same thing was proposed by Wilson’s Labour government (a LABOUR GOVERNMENT) in 1968, there was righteous indignation.  But instead of sitting and fuming, people actually did something about it. They organized rent strikes. So far, few people have advocated rent strikes and, as far as I know, I am one of those few.

In London, the Greater London Council (GLC), which was controlled by the Tories (hard to believe but the Tories only liked the GLC when it was run by their fellow travellers), was particularly zealous in implementing the rent increases. I found this article by Ian Macdonald on marxists.org in which he says:

The Greater London Council is Britain’s biggest landlord. There are about 242,000 tenants involved. On 7 December last year, the chairman of the GLC Housing Committee announced the Tories’ new rent scheme. Under the scheme, GLC tenants can expect their rents to increase by 5s in the £ in October 1968, a further 5s in the £ in October 1969, and an extra 4s in 1970. A tenant now paying £4 per week, will be paying £6 16s in 1970, and tenants in some of the newer flats will be paying as much as £10 per week. In addition, lodger charges are to rise, and central heating and car parking will be more expensive.

That is not all. In future, less money is to be spent on repairs, and tenants will have to do their own interior decorating. In this way, the Council hopes to save £850,000 on repairs, and £500,000 on decorating. It also means the sack for some of the Council’s 6,000 electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and other maintenance men.

The GLC have made much of their intended rebate scheme. But the only way to get a rebate will be to go through a means test; no tenant, say the GLC, need disclose his income to the Council unless he is applying for a rebate. In fact, very few of the 240,000 GLC tenants will benefit. Here is an example of a family which will not benefit. The tenant earns £12 per week, and his wife £5. They have a child and a lodger, both over 21, and now pay a rent of £2 16s 8d per week. In 1970, they will pay £4 16s 4d and get no rebate.

You can see this happening right now. All Housing Associations have increased their rents above the rate of inflation and, furthermore, they have duly bowed to the government’s diktats and are letting out properties for market rents. Local authorities, too, have increased their rents. One of those councils is Hammersmith and Fulham – Cameron and Pickles’s favourite council – which has palmed off the management of its stock to Pinnacle and placed income restrictions on those people applying for or living in one of their properties.

Last year Hammersmith & Fulham announced:

Trailblazing Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F) Council is to be the first local authority in the country to simultaneously introduce fixed term social housing tenancies and a maximum income cap for people wishing to access the housing register.

The flagship council will be ripping up the social housing rule book from April 2013 when it will introduce a number of radical policies which seek to increase low-cost homeownership, tackle the social and economic divide in the borough and give a far greater priority for council housing to people who are making a community contribution.

H&F, has the fourth highest property prices in the UK and one of the highest proportions of social housing in London as a proportion of total housing, with around 34 per cent social rented.

That compares to a London average of 25 per cent and a West London average of 21.5 per cent. Just over two per cent of the borough’s housing is intermediate.

H&F is also one of the first councils in the country to get back into building homes, after a 30 year absence. These properties are sold at a discounted market rate to those on low to middle incomes who live or work in the borough and might struggle otherwise to get onto the property ladder.

Notice how this article tells us that the council is “trailblazing”. As for its claim that it’s “building homes”, it is building homes but not for those on low incomes.  Last year the council announced  that it would be building 25 new (yes, 25) homes for those foolish enough to buy them. But there’s worse to come in this article:

Those households earning above £40,200 will generally not be eligible to access the housing register. Instead, they will be offered advice on other housing options including joining the Council’s HomeBuy Register.

This new way of working will replace an antiquated and inefficient system that created false hopes and expectations.

The council and the government’s solution to the housing crisis (and let’s face, it is a crisis) is to stimulate a potentially disastrous property bubble. The HomeBuy scheme aims to achieve this, in spite of the council’s denial. Ian Macdonald:

Instead of directly attacking this problem, the GLC and the Government talk rubbish about ‘well-off Council tenants’ being subsidised. In fact, every penny that is contributed to housing out of rates or from the Government goes straight into the pockets of the money lenders, landowners and builders. If this element were removed, Council rents would be cut to less than a quarter of their present levels without anything coming from the ratepayers or the Government.

Who says history doesn’t repeat itself? H&F Council wants to go further and bases its approach on the widely-discredited and evidence free report produced by its former leader, Stephen Greenhalgh and his partner John Moss:

Currently most social housing tenants have the right to stay for life unless the tenancy is brought to an end because of a breach. Once the tenant passes away, the right of succession passes onto a family member even if the housing need of the individual is less than other potential applicants.

The council believes that this does not promote personal aspiration or provide tenants with any incentive to try to move into home-ownership and fails to take into account the fact that a household’s need for social housing may be temporary.

From next year, the council will issue fixed-term tenancies of five years for new social housing lettings. This would be reduced to two years in certain cases.

Existing tenants will be unaffected by the new proposals. New tenancies in sheltered accommodation and for those with special housing or health needs will still be on a secure basis.

Two year tenancies will be issued for those with a history of antisocial behaviour and for those between the ages of 18 to 25.

So what Wilson’s Labour government failed to achieve in 1968 has now been enthusiastically adopted by the Tories. The only real difference between then and now is that the classism is turbo-charged and more blatant than ever.

As for those who doubt the effectiveness of rent strikes, Macdonald writes:

It is true that badly organised or isolated rent strikes are usually defeated. But where the tenants are properly organised and show determination, they have in the past succeeded. In Glasgow in 1915, the strike was completely successful. In 1938-9, there were over 30 strikes in the East End of London demanding cuts in rents. All were successful. In 1939, 50,000 Birmingham municipal tenants defeated a differential rent scheme similar to the present GLC scheme after a 10-week strike. In the 1950s, Luton tenants managed to defeat a similar scheme. The GLC tenants can do the same, but there is no doubt that the battle will be tougher than anything in the past, since the Government’s whole prices and incomes policy is at stake.

The key, as always, is organization. These days, organizing rent strikes may be harder because of Housing Benefit. Yet, these payments have been replaced by something called the ‘Local Housing Allowance’. The Tories also want people on low incomes to pay Council Tax. This is nothing less than a form of economic feudalism, in which the poor, the vulnerable and those earning less than £40,000 are forced into a 21st century version of serfdom.

John Grayson, writing for Inside Housing says:

The campaigning of tenants between 1968 and 1973 had an effect. Many councils began negotiating with tenants’ organisations for the first time. The Association of London Housing Estates drafted the first tenants’ charter in 1970. Three years later Dick Leonard, a Labour MP, introduced (unsuccessfully) the Council Housing (Tenants’ Representation) Bill.

Unfortunately the proto-neoliberal Labour government of Wilson and Callaghan decided to have another stab at crushing council tenants:

Between 1974 and 1979 the Labour government continued a policy of cuts in housing. There were often confrontations with councils and the National Co-ordinating Committee Against Housing Cuts organised a national campaign in 1975. In Liverpool the Tenants’ Co-ordinating Committee emerged as a federation for tenants and rent strikes were organised in protest at the council’s policies. The tenants were excluded from all council meetings.

Rents are increased, people are threatened with having their children taken from them and there’s the Bedroom Tax, another half-baked government idea to ‘solve’ the housing crisis. Yet there is no evidence to suggest that such a draconian measure will do anything other than hammer those who are already being squeezed by a high cost of living and stagnating incomes.

We want homes, not property ladders.

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