Category Archives: London

The Undignifed Response To The Grenfell Tower Fire From Britain’s Right

The terrible fire at Grenfell Tower in Notting Dale last week in which scores, possibly hundreds, of people died, has prompted rather peculiar knee jerk reactions from Britain’s right-wing commentators and their followers. The most popular complaint among them is “the left has politicized this tragedy”. This is an interesting accusation, given the fact housing is a political issue, and for the fact the claim reveals a general ignorance of the word ‘politic(s)’. But the accusation is also indicative of a state of mind that blinds a person to empathy, compassion, sympathy and all the things that make us human; the very things that separate us from the machines. We do not ‘process’ feelings; we reflect, we meditate and we think about them; perhaps we act on them individually and collectively. That’s politics. Individual organs within our bodies (it’s not a ‘wonderful’ machine) may process nutrients but as organisms, we are more than the sum total of our physical processes. A point missed by those, like the Ayn Rand cultists, who would convince us that we are nothing more than robots made of flesh.

Catherine Itzin (1980), in her excellent book about British political theatre, Stages In The Revolution, argued “Everything is political; all life is political”. Second wave feminists always said “The personal is political”. We should also remind ourselves that word ‘politics’ is derived from ‘polis’ the Ancient Greek word for city; a place with a high concentration of citizens . In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle used the word politikos to describe the ‘affairs of the citizens’. In this form it can mean anything from an individual’s preferences and judgements, or the discourses that groups of people create or circulate among themselves.  Politics is not limited to the practices of professional politicians and their associates in the press.

Merriam Webster offers these definitions of the word ‘politics’.

  1. 1a :  the art or science of government b :  the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy c :  the art or science concerned with winning and holding control over a government

  2. 2:  political actions, practices, or policies

  3. 3a :  political affairs or business; especially :  competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership (as in a government)b :  political life especially as a principal activity or profession c :  political activities characterized by artful and often dishonest practices

  4. 4:  the political opinions or sympathies of a person

  5. 5a :  the total complex of relations between people living in society b :  relations or conduct in a particular area of experience especially as seen or dealt with from a political point of view office politics ethnic politics

Like it or not, housing is a political issue and to accuse a group or a person of “politicizing the tragedy” misses this point – especially when the local authority’s response to the Grenfell blaze was so woeful. This was a preventable tragedy and to voice that fact is political and rightly so.

When Jeremy Corbyn told the media that empty homes in the borough should be requisitioned to temporarily house Glenfell survivors, the howls of outrage were as predictable as they were hysterical.  These self-appointed moral guardians would tell us they are educated, but their comprehension of written and spoken English was noticeably lacking in their discourses.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a requisition is a:

NOUN

  • An official order laying claim to the use of property or materials.

    ‘I had to make various requisitions for staff and accommodation’
    1. 1.1 A formal written demand that something should be performed or put into operation.
      ‘requisitions for an Extraordinary General Meeting must state the business to be transacted’
    2. 1.2 Law A demand to the vendor of a property for the official search relating to the title.
    3. 1.3 mass noun The appropriation of goods for military or public use.
      ‘requisition of grain at the point of a gun proved a novel experience for the peasantr

The word that many right-wingers reached for instead of requisition was confiscation: a completely different word, which is defined as:

NOUN

mass noun

  • The action of taking or seizing someone’s property with authority; seizure.

    ‘a court ordered the confiscation of her property’

There it is. It isn’t that they misheard the word. Oh no. They heard what they wanted to hear: “millionaires’ properties should be confiscated to house displaced [but filthy] working class people from our neighbourhood[that we’d rather not see]”.

According to Helmet Head, the oligarchs who have bought properties in Kensington and Chelsea and left them empty, are entitled to special privileges by dint of their bloated bank accounts and their greed (here, the billionaire is revered as a living god). Property ownership is apparently an inalienable ‘human right’ that trumps the right to life, freedom of expression and so on.

Hysteria and hyperbole. First, legislation would have to be introduced for this to occur and second, homes were requisitioned by the government order during the First and Second World Wars. Requisitioning properties in times of emergency is nothing new and the properties are always returned to their owners. This is an emergency.

The Lyin’ King, in his column for CapX, effectively dodges the question of possible corporate manslaughter or managerial incompetence by adopting a morally high, but ultimately questionable, position of disinterest. He opens in his typically dishonest fashion by linking Grenfell Tower to a hoax call. It’s pretty despicable.

Do you remember the tragic story of Jacintha Saldanha? You don’t? It was huge at the time. Jacintha was a nurse at the hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to her first child. She got a hoax call from two Australian radio presenters pretending to be the Queen and the Prince of Wales, and put it through to the relevant ward nurse. When the news broke, Jacintha, who had had a history of depression, committed suicide by hanging, leaving two teenage children.

He then links the genuine concerns of the residents and neighbours and the glacially sluggish response from RB Kensington and Chelsea’s leadership to scapegoating  innocent parties. I draw your attention to the final sentence, because it is most revealing.

We are still at that stage in the aftermath of the Grenfell horror. Obviously, we need to find out what went wrong, and assess whether other places are at risk. If there is evidence of criminal negligence, of course that negligence should be punished. But the discussion over the past two days has gone well beyond these things. The country is bellowing for a scapegoat big enough and monstrous enough to bear responsibility for such an outrage. The idea of a tragic accident simply won’t do.

Yes, this is tragic. That’s stating the bleedin’ obvious but an accident? How does Dan, for all his moralizing and expensive education, know this was an “accident”? Moreover, by referring to Grenfell as a “tragic accident”, he is making his own political judgement of the disaster.

But what about the contributing factors?  Has Dan not read the Grenfell Action Group blog?  Does he think that residents shouldn’t have voiced their concerns at the  substandard quality of the £10 million refurbishment, or the mysterious power surges? Does he think that, given their circumstances as renters, they have no right to complain? Those who rent their homes as opposed to those who buy their, are often seen by the property-owning classes, as second class citizens. 

Like our pre-modern ancestors, we have an innate sense that, for such a horrifying event to have happened, there must have been great wickedness at work. Like them, we disagree as to who was responsible for the wickedness. Usually, though, just as they did, we blame whomever we already happened not to like. Glancing at this morning’s newspapers, I see that the Guardian blames inequality, the Mail blames eco-regulations, the Express blames EU rules and the Mirror blames the Tories. Simon Jenkins, that champion of harmonious and well-proportioned architecture, blames tower-blocks. Owen Jones, my favourite radical, blames racketeering landlords. For all I know, one or more of these villains may indeed be at fault; but, for now, it is mainly guesswork.

 A massive point has been missed.

Here, Hannan tells his readers to give money and to sympathize with the victims, while at the same he presumes to speak for the residents and their suffering. Just wow.

The media always follow the same course on these occasions. Having initially blamed their favourite bêtes noires, they will move on to the victims and survivors, asking them what should be done. Which brings me to a very hard thing that needs saying. The victims deserve our utmost sympathy as well as our practical help. Please do give, if you haven’t already, to one of the appeals. But bereaved relatives have no particular authority when it comes to finding the correct prescriptions. We should not expect policy ideas from people in shock, and demanding them is not just a form of journalistic grandstanding; it is also deeply unfair to the victims it purports to elevate.

Emotions are human, and grief and suffering are expressed in individual ways. Money is not the only answer; it is only a sticking plaster. Long term needs must be considered, namely the residents’ right to live in their neighbourhood in safety.

Hannan et al will always deny the central issue of housing provision and potential avoidability of this disaster is political issue, but this view is as absurd as it is dangerous. It smacks of  a wilful disinterest that is wholly based upon class privilege. Their underlying disgust for, not only council tenants, but the working class as a social formation, bobs up from behind the cover of their tiresome and empty platitudes, and is thus visible for all to see. Charity, for them is the answer, not a proposal to deal with the structural inequalities that have blighted this country for generations, but philanthropy and the guiding hand of paternalism is offered to head off any real demands for meaningful social, political, cultural and economic settlement. This is disgust in action.

Disgust figures prominently in the tweets of CapX’s  Iain Martin, who subjects last week’s protests outside Kensington Town Hall, to a volley of sneers, paranoia and misinterpretations. In this tweet, he slyly insinuates the residents – who should be meek; content in their social condition – are being led astray by members of the much depleted Socialist Workers’ Party.

But even if left-wing parties are marching in solidarity with the residents and a few SWP placards (which are on every fucking march and demo, by the way.  It doesn’t mean that everyone is a fucking member) are seen, does this necessarily prove anything? Is this necessarily the SWP in another bandwagon-jumping exercise? Not really.  Any human would have been appalled at what happened to those poor unfortunate people. Would this country’s right-wing have taken up the cause of those who lost their homes at Grenfell Tower by marching in solidarity with them? It’s highly unlikely.  Well, no, actually.  They only protest when their idea of freedom is challenged or when it’s otherwise not being met on their terms. Even then, such events are poorly-attended.

In this tweet to Owen Jones, Martin insists that the residents, whom he describes as a “mob”, aren’t capable of spontaneous collective agency but are being led astray by the darkest of forces. Yes, it’s the SWP again, cast here as “tin pot revolutionaries”.

Beneath Martin’s sneers burns a fierce class hatred that is bolstered by his sense of class entitlement, which is common to all free market cultists.  Indeed, it speaks volumes when I say that I have yet to meet a working class right-wing libertarian. I don’t think they exist. Anarchists, yes. Libertarians, no.

Brendan O’Neill claims to be a man of the left, a Marxist even, but this claim has always been empty. He’s a right-wing libertarian-contrarian, who spends his days shouting about the ‘middle class left’ and views the working class as a homogeneous mass that is ignorant, easily led and certainly not left-wing. In his article for Spiked Online, he demands that Labour, the left or whoever, stop “exploiting the dead of Grenfell Tower”. His article ploughs roughly the same furrow as the Lyin’ King’s effort but is no less wilfully ignorant in its tone and manner. We get to his ideological spin at the bottom of the piece:

‘But the Grenfell disaster is political’, the people exploiting it cry, somewhat defensively. And they’re right. It is. Social housing and gentrification and the eco-approved application of cladding to tower blocks are political issues, or at least public issues, and we should talk about them. But these people aren’t treating Grenfell as political; they’re treating it as party political. They’re using it to demean Toryism as evil, and big up Corbyn as the leader Britain needs right now. He cares, you see, unlike them. He is Good, they are Bad. This isn’t politics – this is a culture war, where the horrors experienced by the working classes of North Kensington are used to underpin the binary moralism of a Corbynista worldview of the right as wicked and the left as decent. They are building their political movement on the corpses of the poor, and no amount of radical-sounding lingo can cover up just how cynical, opportunistic and depraved that is.

O’Neill uses the Grenfell Disaster to attack Corbyn. It’s intellectually dishonest and it’s shabby. His screed reveals his rather slippery view of his politics: the right is “wicked” and the left is “decent” he moans. But this is no more than a warped perception of Corbyn’s very human response to the disaster. I don’t recall Bruvver Bren making any demands on behalf of the residents or, indeed, meeting them face-to-face. Can you? O’Neill takes Murdoch’s shilling, so his job is to produce unimaginative crap like this.

Hypocrisy, thy name is Brendan O’Neill.

For the likes of Toby Young, Dan Hannan, and Iain Martin, the working class should simply put up with their condition because, so the neoliberal argument goes, they made ‘poor life choices’. If they burn to death in a ‘tragic accident’ then one must remain calm and accept the fact that politics is something that is practised by, and reserved for, professionals like Hannan, a man who takes a salary from the European Union, but who has worked to destroy the very institution from which he has benefited enormously.

Since the days of Thatcher, right-leaning middle class types have always believed in the notion that the working class can simply ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’ and be like them. The trouble is, the working class cannot be like them because, unlike them, they weren’t born into privilege. They literally cannot afford to be right-wing libertarians or Tories.

Reference/further reading

Bourdieu, P. (2003). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, London: Routledge.

De Certeau, M (1988). The Practice of Everyday Life. London: University of California Press.

Fanon, F. (1986). Black Skin, White Masks. London: Pluto Press.

Harvey, D. (2007). “Neoliberalism as creative destruction”. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 610(1), pp 21-44.

Itzin, C. (1980). Stages in the revolution: political theatre in Britain since 1968. London: Eyre Metheun.

Rowe, C. J., & Broadie, S. (2002). Nicomachean ethics. Oxford University Press.

 

 

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Filed under London, Media, Murdoch press, propaganda

Grenfell Tower: A Question Of Management

The tragic, but avoidable fire at Grenfell Tower in Notting Dale, West London has raised a number of questions about the management of council properties, the quality of building materials and governmental oversight. We don’t know the actual cause of the fire as investigations have yet to be conducted. One thing is for certain, council tenants deserve a better deal and they’re not getting it.

Ask most council tenants who they want to manage their housing and they’ll almost always tell you “the council”. I used to work in housing and I spoke to many tenants, some of them were faced with having a Tenant (or Resident) Management Organisation (TMO/RMO) or ALMO (Arm’s Length Management Organisation) forced upon them. When I used to work for Lambeth, one estate, the Blenheim Gardens Estate was on the brink of being transferred. The tenants were being promised all sorts by the council and many of these promises came to nothing.  There are plans to transfer the estate to an Housing Association.

TMOs, RMOs and ALMOs tend to be a stepping stone to an eventual stock transfer to a housing association like Peabody, or a private property management company like Pinnacle. In either case, tenants get a raw deal. They may discover that the terms of their tenancies have changed or the quality of estate management declines.

Grenfell Tower is managed by Kensington and Chelsea TMO. Like the rest of Kensington and Chelsea’s housing stock it was transferred to the TMO in 1996.  The Grenfell Action Group have made numerous complaints to KCTMO about fire safety, which have all been ignored. The block itself has recently been refurbished at a cost of £8.7 million, but many believe that the quality of materials used for the building’s cladding are responsible for the blaze.

The Tory government  also failed to carry out a fire safety review of tower blocks. The minister responsible, Gavin Barwell, apparently “sat on the report”. The Independent reports:

Gavin Barwell failed to give the review the green light during his tenure as housing minister, despite it already having waited for years.

The fire expert behind a report calling for the desperately needed safety appraisal, said he had spoken to Mr Barwell earlier this year and the then-minister told him no decision on the review had been taken.

The bottom line is that councils will usually ignore the concerns of tenants in order to save money. Kensington & Chelsea Council is Tory-controlled, so it comes as no surprise that they transferred the management of their entire housing stock to KCTMO, who have been described as a ‘mini mafia’. Scum sucking parasites is what they are.

The Tories are no friends of council housing and Hammersmith and Fulham councillor, Harry Phibbs, sees tower blocks like Grenfell Tower as “vertical slums”.

During his time as mayor, Boris Johnson, closed fire stations. He was warned of the potential consequences.

The Tories must also take a large measure of the blame for failing to act when they had a chance, and for the cuts they’ve imposed on local authorities in the name of deficit reduction.

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The Independent Healthcare Commission’s Report: public meeting

Last night I attended a public meeting called by Hammersmith and Fulham Council to report on the findings of the Independent Healthcare Commission, which was chaired by Michael Mansfield QC.  The main findings were reported in the mainstream media in December and now it was the public’s chance to hear about the findings. It was a well-attended meeting with many people standing, and an overflow room had been made available for those who couldn’t squeeze into the limited space in the Town Hall’s small hall.

The meeting was chaired by Cllr. Vivienne Lukey, the cabinet member for health and adult social care. Her opposite number, Conservative councillor, Andrew Brown, was also present in the audience. I had been told that Brown was a doctor, but it turns out that he didn’t qualify and, in the middle of his training, transferred to the BSc Medical Sciences with Management course at Imperial College instead. He currently owns and runs a, guess what? A PR company that specialises in communications in the healthcare sector.

Council Leader, Stephen Cowan, was first to address the audience. He told us that his life had been saved by the NHS at least five times during his childhood and for this, he would always be grateful to them. Cowan also remarked on how upon taking office, he was finally able to see the confidential papers relating to local hospital closures, which confirmed his worst suspicions. During the 2014 Local Government elections, the local Tories claimed that Labour and the Save Our Hospitals campaign was “scaremongering”. They have been rudely exposed as liars. Brown was silent.

Cowan also claimed that Shaping a Healthier Future (SaHF), a group established to provide public relations for the cuts, has literally spent billions churning out propaganda and little else. SaHF’s website trumpets what it calls “joined up care” and announces “7 day services”, which itself hinges on Jeremy Hunt’s tissue of lies about the NHS not having a 7 day service. Cowan also warned the government that the council wouldn’t hesitate to take them to court and a Judicial Review would be the possible next step. Brown said nothing.

After Cllr Cowan’s address, a film was screened that outlined the findings of the Independent Healthcare Commission was screened. Brown was unmoved.

Dr. Stephen Hirst, a former GP and a health commissioner explained how all the hospitals in which he’d worked had all closed. He then went on to claim that SaHF affects areas of high deprivation more than other areas and any attempt to define Urgent Care Centres, such as that proposed for the Charing Cross Hospital site, was difficult. As for the proposal to move most of Charing Cross’s functions to St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, he asked “Why can’t St Mary’s move to Ealing”? Ealing Hospital’s maternity unit and Accident and Emergency department has recently been closed. Brown offered no response.

Next to speak was Dr. John Lister, who told us the commission took written depositions from both sides. However, the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) saw fit only to provide witnesses after the elections. The commission also sought a meeting with NHS England but its Chief Executive, Simon Stevens, was being obstructive. Stevens, according to his Wikipedia entry is former Labour councillor on Lambeth Council. But that wasn’t all: the business case for closures was constantly delayed and it seemed to me that NHS England was dragging its feet because it has something to hide. Lister, who was witty and humorous in his assessment, also added that the commission recommended that the closed A&Es be reopened. “How many nurses do you have to sack to save £75 million”, he demanded to know. Brown stood there impassively.

It struck me that, once again, the government and its lackeys were manipulating statistics to make some rather boastful and dishonest claims. It was also clear that the CCGs were not standing up for patients or the needs of hospitals and were solely concerned with cost-cutting. This is ironic given the amount of money being spent on management consultants and PR companies like Saatchi.  Dr. Lister concluded that “Urgent Care Centres have a place as long as they’re alongside A&Es”. Brown said nothing and fiddled with his phone.

Save Our Hospitals (SOH) chairman, Patrick Barron gave an emotional and passionate speech, telling the room that “They’re trying to shaft the community”. He reminded us of the junior doctor’s strike and how the government has ended the nursing bursaries, which begs the question: how do we attract more people into nursing? Surely, the possibility of a crippling debt is enough to deter anyone from entering the profession? Barron said that Northwick Park Hospital couldn’t cope with the sheer volume of patients who had been displaced by the closure of A&Es elsewhere in North West London. However, when Barron claimed that SOH helped to get Labour into power in the borough and repeated the earlier claim made by Cllr Cowan regarding the Tories lying over hospital closures,. Cllr Brown finally felt emboldened enough to speak. “It’s not true”, he interjected. The Cat thinks that Brown’s sense of entitlement compelled him to interrupt Patrick Barron, because he was neither a doctor, nor a councillor, nor a person of the same class as Cllr Brown. A typical Tory bully.

The Q&A session began with Dr. Sean Morris, a junior doctor who explained the situation on the ground. Brown looked uncomfortable (he was asked to give up his seat to someone who was less mobile and was standing) but interested. Dr. Morris told the audience how he had worked in four local hospitals and that the review was not “clinician-led”. He also told us how, on more than one occasion, he’d worked 56 hours straight. The last strike by junior doctors was 40 years ago, yet the Tory government has cast the British Medical Association as a militant trade union in the mould of the National Union of Mineworkers. How’s that for melodrama?

Speaker after speaker gave their views, one of whom reminded us of the European Union’s working time directive, which will no doubt be scrapped if Britain leaves the EU. A former SOH chair, Merril Hammer, was pleased that Cllr Cowan had indicated the possibility of a judicial review and asked what the council was doing with regards to challenging the business case adding “Save Our Hospitals is not going away”! Cowan said that he’d met with a QC about the case and said “the last thing we want to do is sue the government” but “if we have to, we will”. He then reminded us that £35 million had already been spent on management consultants. A shocking waste of money that could have been spent on the NHS instead.

Local MP, Andy Slaughter arrived late after voting against the government’s welfare bill and further cuts to disability payments. He reminds us of the Tories’ “black propaganda” when they were running the council. There isn’t a peep from Brown. However, Dr. Hirst assured us that the review is not party political and says that “no one knows his politics”. This is issue “isn’t about Labour or Conservative” he claims. Brown nods.

Actress, Vanessa Redgrave, whom I’d last seen at a production of Ibsen’s Little Eyolf nearly 10 years ago at the now demolished Riverside Studios, spoke passionately about how the NHS saved her life and said “what the government is doing to junior doctors is illegal”. Interestingly, she reminded us that if all else fails, there was always the option of taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights. Jim Grealy also of SOH wanted to know where the team goes from this point on. Finally Dr Sandhu told a harrowing story about what he had to deal with over the Christmas period, while working at Ealing Hospital. He finishes by telling us how expensive MRI scanners that have been installed at The Shard, which is visible from the hospital. A private healthcare company having taken over three floors of the building in November 2013. It was obscene. “The Shard” he tells us “sticks out like a knife” cutting out the heart of the NHS. It’s a potent mental image to be sure.

The meeting was encouraging but it’s clear that there’s a great deal of work to do. The struggle goes on!

 

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Crap Cycle Lanes (#6)

20150320_161512

Not quite a cycle lane but the indication of a cycling route. I spotted these freshly painted cycle icons today on Bridge Avenue in Hammersmith. This street is one-way and it not only encourages cyclists to ride in the wrong direction, it also gets them to ride too close to the parked cars. I know that it’s the end of the financial year but do councils really have to waste money on this kind of thing instead of building proper cycling infrastructure? Yes, it seems they do.

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Greg Smith For Kensington?

I spotted this story in the revived local paper, The Fulham Chronicle (confusingly titled London Weekly News and Fulham Chronicle). According to The Chronicle, Greg Smith, the “high flying” leader of the opposition Tory group on Hammersmith and Fulham Council, is being tipped as the front runner for the newly vacated Kensington seat. But “high flying”? Someone’s having a laugh.

As readers will be aware, the current incumbent, Malcolm Rifkind, stepped down a couple of weeks ago after being suspended by his party for being caught on camera offering his services to an undercover reporter for a nice tidy sum. Labour’s Jack Straw was also caught, thus proving there’s little difference between Nu Labour and the Tories. In the ensuing row, Rifkind complained that his MP’s salary was insufficient and he could make loads of money elsewhere. Then he flounced off.

Greg Smith is well-known to this blog for being a member and founder of the Young Britons Foundation and for offering little in the way of opposition to the ruling Labour Party. The only big idea the Tories have offered is an anti-litter campaign and, er, that’s it. Since losing last year’s local government elections, Smith and his party are still licking their wounds and crying into their Martinis (or whatever they drink).

Kensington as a constituency is the revival of an old constituency of the same name. It was joined with Chelsea between 1997 and 2010 and is usually the kind of constituency that selects a high profile, often flamboyant, figure. Smith is neither of those things. Previous MPs for Kensington and Chelsea include Alan Clark and Michael Portillo. It was considered to be one of the safest Tory seats in the country.

The Chronicle’s article closes with “Councillor Smith is highly regarded in Conservative circles”. Shrugs. Well, how about stating the obvious for a change? If Smith is selected, then who will take his place as group leader? Mark Loveday, who, coincidentally is also a member of the YBF? I can’t think of anyone else.

Smith is up against the likes of Toby ‘Helmet Head’ Young; former H&F councillor and fellow YBF founder, Donal Blaney; footballer, Sol Campbell and cricketer Andrew Strauss. Christ, what a shower.

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Filed under Conservative Party, General Election 2015, Government & politics, Hammersmith & Fulham Tories, London, Young Britons' Foundation

H&F Tories: Still Bitter After Seven Months

Hammersmith and Fulham’s Tories are still crying over their defeat seven months after May’s local elections. The Cat has noticed that, with little to complain about, they’ve resorted to accusing the Labour administration of not doing enough about litter on the borough’s streets.

I stumbled across the rather neutral-sounding Hammersmith and Fulham Forum the other day and wasn’t surprised to discover it was run by the local Tories. This blog claims:

Many residents have noticed how the streets are less clean in Hammersmith and Fulham since Labour took control in May.

“Many”? How many, exactly? It doesn’t say. If H&F Tories are complaining that the new Labour administration isn’t taking litter seriously, may I remind them that they didn’t do much with regards to litter either – in spite of their claims to the contrary. On many occasions I saw lots of litter blowing about on Queen Caroline Street as well as dumped rubbish on Fulham Palace Road while they were in power. It seems to me that these Tories haven’t really got much to complain about and are looking for any excuse, no matter how feeble, to ingratiate themselves to the borough’s residents, most of whom voted them out. Here’s another Phibbs special titled “Devenport Road under Socialism”. “Socialism”? Really? You’re taking the piss, pal.

I used to live in Devonport Road, in Shepherd’s Bush, and one of the motivations I had for standing for the council in 2006 was the filthy state of the streets when Labour were running the council.

I thought you were motivated by power and prestige, so don’t try and fool us, Phoghorn.

The hard won improvements during the eight years that the Conservatives did not come about by accident. Nor did they involve increased spending.

Hilarious.

The Conservatives may be in opposition but we will not be passive. We are planning a programme of “Grotspotting” throughout the borough to demand that Serco honour their contract. Councillors will be encouraging those involved in  residents associations and “community activists” to help with this task.

You’re kidding me. This is all you have? Christ, these people are desperate. Phoghorn has even coined a stupid wee word too. “Grotspotting”. It’s all about the message and cute soundbites. As for real ideas, you won’t get those from a bunch of no mark, chinless wonders who regard council flats as “vertical slums”.

In another blog, which begs the question “Is the council consulting you on planning applications”, they claim… well, Phoghorn Phibbs claims:

If we are to have new buildings in our borough that make it more beautiful rather than more ugly then it is important for as many residents as possible to make their views known.

Is that why your party approved the Fulham Reach development? Is this why your party wanted to build skyscrapers all over the borough and destroy a third of Furnival Gardens to build a bridge from the Town Hall to the Thames? The Phoghorn conveniently forgets how his party rode roughshod over residents’ concerns when they approved the building of luxury apartment blocks around Hammersmith and sold off council properties to their developer chums. Yet here’s Phoghorn telling us that the council should consult residents over planning applications. The powerful stench of hypocrisy emanates from his every word.

By the way, H&F Tories are still claiming that A&E services will remain at Charing Cross Hospital in spite of the fact that Imperial NHS Trust intends to demolish the hospital and sell off the site to developers. 

Meanwhile, former councillor Andrew Johnson tweeted:

Labour’s housing proposals represent a grave threat to future of council housing in H&F Stock transfer not the answer, improved service is.

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Filed under Hammersmith & Fulham, Hammersmith & Fulham Labour, Hammersmith & Fulham Tories, London

Let’s Talk About: Tower Hamlets

Tower Hamlets Town Hall was built while the Lib Dems were in power.

This is a new series in which I will talk about a topic that takes my fancy. Yesterday, Eric Pickles, the Community Secretary and pie-eater extraordinaire, sent a government hit squad into Tower Hamlets. This is unprecedented and given the level corruption in other councils (some of them Tory-run), this latest government move is suspicious and smacks of the centralizing tendencies of the current Tory-led government. It also reeks of racism and class disgust. Read on.

The Tories and their knuckledragging chums in The Telegraph have been running a vendetta against Tower Hamlets Council and, in particular, its mayor, Lutfur Rahman for the last four years. What upsets the Tories and their pals is that Tower Hamlets Council reflects the ethnic composition of the borough. But it’s the fact that a Bangladeshi is the twice-elected mayor of the borough is what upsets them even more.  This excellent article by Chris Nineham, in the Socialist Review reminds us what Tower Hamlets used to be like:

From the moment of taking office the Liberals not only discriminated against the local Bengali population, but actively scapegoated them in a series of high profile publicity stunts. In 1987 they made national news by claiming that 52 Bangladeshi families living in bed and breakfast accommodation had made themselves intentionally homeless, simply by coming to Britain. They were therefore not entitled to benefit. This was too much even for the Tories, and the council was eventually beaten in the courts, but the damage had been done. The vile message had already gone out, ‘Immigrants are scroungers, they are taking our homes’.

That message was reinforced a year or so later when Tower Hamlets mayor Jeremy Shaw travelled to Bangladesh to tell the government there that immigrants were no longer welcome because the borough was full up. Nothing, of course, could have been further from the truth. Apart from the 900 empty yuppie flats on the Isle of Dogs, the council was sitting on 3000 empty properties, rotting from neglect. But the truth did not matter, the trip was a stunt for home consumption, and the local paper quoted Shaw’s claim in a banner headline.

When Derek Beackon won the Isle of Dogs by-election in 1993 for the BNP, there was shock and dismay. Beackon was elected towards the end of the Lib Dems’ eight year spell of running Tower Hamlets, and on the back of their blatantly racist “Sons and Daughters” housing scheme. After Beackon’s election there was a fear that the BNP would take more seats in the 1994 local government elections. Paul Anderson writing for The New Statesman said:

It is without a doubt the Lib Dems who have most explaining to do when it comes to last September’s debacle. As their national party’s inquiry into Tower Hamlets, chaired by Lord Lester, QC, made clear just before Christmas, their propaganda in the borough, particularly in the Isle of Dogs, has systematically pandered to racism, especially on housing.

What then styled itself the Liberal Focus Team took control of the council from Labour in 1986 after more than a decade of “community politics” characterised by populist anti-Labour rhetoric and assiduous wooing of tenants’ associations – a major force in a borough in which three-quarters of the population lives in council housing even after years of right-to-buy. Despite having a tiny majority, the Liberals implemented their decentralisation and council house-sales policies with missionary zeal. From the start, they courted controversy over race with their tough line on the council’s legal obligation to house the homeless (mostly Bangladeshi) and their “sons and daughters scheme”, giving priority in housing allocation to the offspring of people born in the borough, most of whom were white.

In 1994, I was one of a large group of comedians (along with with Lee Hurst, formerly of Red Action) who doorstepped and leafleted the Isle of Dogs in an effort to get the residents to turn their backs on Beackon and the BNP. You probably wouldn’t get a group of comedians doing that now, but in those days there was still a sizeable contingent of politically active comedians on the circuit. In any case, Beackon lost his seat and the BNP dogs went home with their tails between their legs.

What strikes me as odd is that when Lib Dem controlled Tower Hamlets engaged in blatant corruption, not a single Tory said anything. No hit squads were mobilized to assume control of the council’s operations and no one even suggested that the council be taken into special measures. As for the press, they were strangely quiet.  These days, the likes of Ted Jeory and his partner-in-crime, Andrew Gilligan make a big deal out of the sizeable Bangladeshi population. They would, of course, deny that there’s a racial dimension to their interest in the borough. Gilligan, for example, often prefaces the name of Lutfur Rahman with the phrase “extremist-linked” or similar. It doesn’t take a Barthesian scholar in semiotics to work out what he’s trying to say. It’s pretty bloody obvious. Indeed, anyone who takes issue with Kennite’s sensationalist drivel is accused of supporting “terror”. Charming. The trick that Jeory uses to counter any Bangladeshi claims of racism is to accuse them of “cheapening the word”. It’s not as though Jeory ever faces racism on a daily basis though, is it?

Jeory and Gilligan have both accused Rahman of vote-rigging and electoral fraud for years. Even after investigations have concluded there were no irregularities, they persisted with this accusation. After this year’s local elections, there were similar accusations and two people were arrested. Curiously, there are no updates on this story and it may well be the case that the accusations were baseless. We shall see.

This whole episode began when Rahman was originally selected then deselected by Tower Hamlets Labour Party as their mayoral candidate. The whole selection issue was a messy business that was covered extensively by The Guardian’s Dave Hill. On 21 September 2010, Hill wrote:

There is a view in local Labour circles, one shared even by some strong opponents of Rahman, that had everyone seeking the nomination been allowed to enter the contest from the start – which is what eventually occurred – the quality of debate would have been both higher and more honest and the battle less divisive. More than one unsuccessful candidate takes the view that the publicity generated around Rahman helped him win by persuading some party members to rally round a man they considered to be a victim of smear campaigns and dsicrimination

The party then expelled Rahman from Labour for standing as an independent mayoral candidate against the wishes of the party, which preferred to impose candidates on the electorate rather than allow local parties to decide on their own candidates.  As an independent, Rahman had the support of RESPECT and the former London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, who attempted without success to have Rahman readmitted into the party.  Since then, there has been a steady drip feed of anti-Rahman stories from Gilligoon and Jeory.

I think we all need to remember that the PWC report did not find any evidence of fraud. That will piss off Gilligoon and Jeory, who were hoping for a scalp. From The Guardian Live Politics blog

The council, which is run by the independent mayor, Lutfur Rahman, said PWC did not find any evidence of fraud. In a statement to the Commons, Pickles said he did not know whether or not the PWC report amounted to evidence of fraud, but that he was sending it to the police anyway. He said the report exposed cronyism “risking the corrupt spending of public funds”. His decision to intervene was backed by Labour, and Tower Hamlets was strongly criticised by MPs from all sides.

My bold. As for “cronyism”, there was plenty of that in Hammersmith and Fulham when the Tories were running the council. Yet, Gilligan said nothing and nor did Pickles, who described Hammersmith and Fulham as his “favourite council”. That says an awful lot about The Sontaran’s judgement and Gilligan’s character.

 

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