Tag Archives: Greater London Council

Hero or villain? The Livingstone question

A thoughtful and refreshing analysis of the Livingstone Affair. Ken’s a goshite and that’s something on which we can all, hopefully, agree. He is not, however, an anti-Semite. David Rosenberg was there at the dawn of the GLC Rainbow Coalition under Livingstone and is witness to some of the key events that have helped to shape the discourses surrounding Livingstone Affair.

rebel notes

My favourite political image among the protests and street activism that has marked the first three months of 2017 is a banner held on the St Patrick’s Day parade. It proclaimed:”More Blacks! More dogs! More Irish!” – mocking the daily racism of the 1960s when people looking for homes were confronted by openly discriminatory window signs rejecting applicants from these categories. The first Race Relations Act of 1968 finally knocked that appalling behaviour on the head, but not the sentiments behind it. It took another 20 years of grassroots campaigns led by victims of racism, finally aided by another layer of government, to normalise anti-racism and explicitly promote multiculturalism.

58e42cc61500002000c7dfa7 GLC leader Ken Livingstone addressing  GLC London Against Racism rally 1984.

That layer of government was the Greater London Council (GLC). Under a visionary Left Labour leadership from 1981 it railed against continuing inequalities and discriminatory practices and the mindset supporting…

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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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Filed under 20th century, Conservative Party, Cuts, Government & politics, Hammersmith & Fulham Tories, History, History & Memory, Housing crisis, Labour, Local government, London

The London Mayoral Circus (or Bring Back the GLC)

There is a lot written in the papers about Ken Livingstone and not all of it is good. As we know, there is a reason the press writes awful things about Ken and it has nothing to do with his alleged (and entirely unproven) anti-Semitism or his supposed love of Islamism. It is because those papers are owned by Tory-supporting proprietors and they are unlikely to print anything that actually applauds Livingstone’s achievements as mayor. While they do this, they deliberately, some would say, wilfully, ignore the defects of their anointed mayoral candidate, Boris Johnson. Indeed, many of the right-wingers that rock up on Dave Hill’s blog tend to complain that Hill isn’t having a go at Livingstone. But then, why should he when the Tory press is working overtime to produce a never-ending stream of smears and baseless allegations that have been cooked up by the foetid mind of Lynton Crosby?

Naturally, Gilligan has been working overtime churning out smear after smear on behalf of his paymasters. As one person remarked on Twitter last week, Kennite has produced 27 blogs about Livingstone in a single month. That is an obsession. Moreover, it is the sort of obsession that is redolent of a thwarted lover-turned-stalker. In ordinary circumstances, Ken would be entitled to report Gilligan to the police and take the matter to court. Perhaps he should. I know I would.

The mayoral contest has been overshadowed by this silly tax evasion row. If it has adversely affected Ken, then it has also damaged Boris – though to hear his supporters talk, you would think that his shit doesn’t stink. I’ve encountered several of Johnson’s supporters on Liberal Conspiracy, all of them repeat the same lies. One of them, who called himself “hobson” even told me that “decent people won’t vote for Ken”. When I pressed him on his use of the word “decent” and told him that it was a value-loaded word and that he may well have used the words “good versus evil”, he replied with a load of gibberish about Ken being a “racist”. When I asked him to produce evidence to support his claim, he merely repeated the same nonsense. Is “hobson” an astroturfer? Quite probably. You will find more than a few Boris cheerleaders/astroturfers commenting on this Liberal Conspiracy blog.

BBC London recently grilled the mayoral candidates. Ken did well and Boris bumbled and avoided questions. Johnson’s attitude to the questions betrays his lack of substance and a worrying dearth of ideas. Indeed, since he has been mayor he has done relatively little aside from take Ken’s ideas and call them his own. His ‘Routemaster’ has become an expensive laughing stock. To get the bus on the road, he had to lie about bendy buses killing cyclists.

I’m now going to level with you. I never wanted a London mayor. I wanted a return to the Greater London Council. The idea of mayor came from the United States and has literally been grafted on to an entirely different political system. It doesn’t work. It was a pathetic compromise on Tony Blair’s part to appease the rabid right of the Tory party who complained that the GLC was “loony left” and a “waste of money”. The Greater London Assembly would be a different beast, he argued, and so it was.

The GLA is a fraction of the size of the old GLC and does not properly represent the people of London. London has a population of over 8 million and its assembly only has 22 assembly members – which is less than a quarter of the GLC’s 100 members.  The Republic of Ireland, for example, has a population of 4.5 million. There are 166  Teachta Dála in the Dail Eireann. Ireland’s population is half the size of London, yet the Irish people are better represented. In fact, the people of Northern Ireland, with a population of 1.7 million, are better represented by their 108 assembly members at Stormont. London’s legislature, such as it is, has limited powers to the extent that it may as well not exist at all.

In spite of my misgivings about mayors and tiny, unrepresentative assemblies, I am still going to vote for Ken Livingstone because I believe, that for all his faults, he has the best interests of Londoners at heart. Boris Johnson, on the other hand, regards the role of mayor as a stepping stone to other things. Johnson has also demonstrated his penchant for vanity projects.

You can have a laugh and follow Lynton Crosby’s Twitter feed here. He has 1230 followers and is following 6 people. He also has another Twitter account. Question: why does he need 2 accounts? Is his ego really that big? Probably not as big as Johnson’s enormous ego.

Speaking of Bozza’s huge ego, I found this story in the Daily Mail from 2009, from which I shall quote a portion.

Boris Johnson’s rivalry with David Cameron intensified yesterday when the London Mayor said he could one day try to become Prime Minister.

Mr Johnson hinted he might not stand for a second term in his current role and would be prepared to lead the country.

In a newspaper interview, Mr Johnson likened himself to the ancient Roman nobleman Cincinnatus, who was plucked from his farm to become dictator.

When I joked about Johnson being like a Roman Emperor, I wasn’t far from the truth. Even he admits it…though, admittedly, Cincinnatus was a dictator of the Roman Republic. Personally, I think Johnson is more like one of the minor but totally ineffectual emperors of the late period of the Western Empire: he’s full of hot air and vainglorious to a fault and like them, he has done nothing for those he claims to represent.

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Filed under London, London Mayoral election 2012