Tag Archives: social cleansing

‘Social cleansing’ of London is well under way – BBC documentary

Paris had Baron Haussmann. London has the Tory-led government at Westminster. One used civil engineering to socially cleanse a city, the other uses legislation and is seemingly supported in its efforts by the opposition Labour Party (a majority of Labour MPs voted for the benefit cap, including my local MP, Andy Slaughter). I’ll be posting a blog in due course about the social cleansing that’s taking place right here in David Cameron’s favourite borough.

Mike Sivier's blog

Cartoon by Martin Shovel. Cartoon by Martin Shovel.

Leading Conservatives must be delighted with the success of their benefit cap in getting single mothers and people with large families out of London – as depicted in the BBC Panorama special, Don’t Cap My Benefits, yesterday evening. (Thursday)

The change means that nobody in the UK is allowed to receive more than £26,000 in benefits per year. The government has claimed this is the same as the average family income, but readers of Vox Political will know that this is a flimsy lie and average family income is in fact more than £5,000 per year higher, at £31K+. The reason benefits weren’t pegged at that level is that far fewer people would be affected by it. Make no mistake – this measure was enacted to shift people from the capital.

The film shows the effects of the change on a number of families in Brent…

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Nightmare on King Street (Part 11)

Today’s Fulham & Hammersmith Chronicle (not available online) reports that LBH&F is about to change the housing rules to end tenancies for life. The paper tells us that this is a “pioneering new policy” that will “increase low-cost home ownership”. How so? Property prices in the borough are some of the highest in London and, according to F&HC, the fourth highest in the country. I have seen mid-terrace properties being advertised for as much as £1m!  In January, I reported that H&F were to build around 25 homes to buy in a disused health centre. How will that make any difference? It won’t. There is a chronic housing shortage in London and indeed the rest of the country. H&F is not immune from this. The Tory ruling group thinks that it is.

The cabinet member for housing, Cllr Andrew Johnson defending the policy said,

“We are saying that the current system, whereby anyone can apply for a council home irrespective of housing need has failed”.

“Irrespective of housing need”? What’s he talking about? People who apply for housing from the council are in need. I’d like to meet these people he’s talking about but I suspect that I never will. He continues,

“We want to give honest, hard-working local residents on low to middle incomes, who make a positive contribution to their local communities, the opportunity to access social housing”

Oh, yeah, the old “honest, hard-working” line again. Now where have I heard that before? In other words, anyone who has to claim benefits to live on a meagre wage isn’t “hard-working” or “honest”? There’s more,

“The old, antiquated system has created disadvantaged communities by producing concentrations of people on benefits with disproportionately high levels of unemployment and sometimes social breakdown”.

“Old” and “antiquated” in the same sentence. That’s a tautology, surely? Johnson’s a sophist but I find his use of those words interesting. It is as if to assume that what this council is doing is progressive or modern. Of course, it is neither. Towards the end of the article, he repeats the old familiar line about those who are “more deserving”. What is also interesting is this idea of giving priority to the Armed Forces. But, hang on, don’t they already have housing?

F&HC also says that this policy is expected be approved at next Monday’s cabinet meeting and has been approved by recently appointed housing minister, Mark Prisk, who…now get this, was once the vice chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students.

The Dear Departed Leader’s dream of a borough for the rich has just come a step closer to reality.

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Policy Exchange: our solution to the housing crisis? Sell off more council homes!

Policy Exchange, the think tank with close ties to the so-called Notting Hill set, has proposed that ‘expensive’ council homes be sold off in order to ease the housing shortage. A few years ago, Localis, which in its own turn has close ties to Policy Exchange, also proposed the same thing in this report. So there’s nothing new about this latest announcement from Policy Exchange and as ideas go, it’s one of a few that gets recycled and presented as a stunning new, but ultimately evidence-free, report.

Think-tanks exist to give credence to the barking mad ideas of whichever party they happen to be associated with. Policy Exchange, in common with many of the other think-tanks, describes itself as “non-partisan”. Of course we know that isn’t true, particularly if the think-tank in question goes out of its way to talk up its notional neutrality. They doth protest too much! The Tories prefer their think-tanks to conduct slipshod research and to base their reports on their own prejudices and their sense of self-righteousness rather than on evidence.

I heard Neil O’Brien, Policy Exchange’s director, on the Today programme this morning talking about the latest report. His rationale appeared to suggest that people who rent council street properties (that’s what they’re called) shouldn’t do so, because they’re not the right class of person to be occupying such a high value property. Okay, he didn’t put it in those exact words but that is the essence of what he said. He claimed that councils bought up street properties in the 1970s and therefore those council tenants who occupy them are less deserving than a Tory-supporting rentier capitalist.

Policy Exchange’s slogan is

For better public services, a stronger society and a more dynamic economy.

“Better public services”? Coming from a think-tank that is committed to destroying what’s left of public services, it’s an Orwellianism to be sure.

I’ve only skimmed the report and like all the other reports that are produced by Policy Exchange, it isn’t based on any kind of research, but on a form of class disgust that is couched in academic-sounding language and supported by impressive-looking graphics.

The report’s synopsis opens with this,

Is extremely popular with all sections of society. 73% of people including social tenants think that people should not be given council houses worth more than the average property in a local authority. By 2:1 voters agree people should not be given council houses in expensive areas.

Then there’s this,

Raises tenants’ standard of living. The majority of social tenants are either totally or largely reliant on benefits. Someone living on benefits in an expensive part of London will pay a 10-15% premium compared to someone living in a cheaper area.

Again, there is no evidence to support this assertion that the majority of ‘social’ tenants are totally or largely reliant on benefits and even if that were the case, the issue is not the benefits themselves but the lack of decent jobs coupled with the high cost of living, neither of which can be ameliorated by the author’s proposals.  Where did this figure come from and what percentage of the respondents were actual council tenants? The author doesn’t say.

The report’s author is Alex Morton, who

was Secretary to the Conservative Party’s Globalisation and Global
Poverty Policy Group under the Rt Hon Peter Lilley MP. Following this he worked in the Civil Service Graduate Fast Stream before leaving to join Policy Exchange.

And

He is the author of the 2010 report Making Housing Affordable, which won the Prospect magazine’s Think Tank Publication of the Year and highlighted the cost of current housing policies.

Prospect magazine. Am I supposed to be impressed? This is perhaps the most important bit of Morton’s ‘report’.

Social housing tenants deserve a roof over their heads – but not one better than most people can afford

And there you have it, the author’s class disgust and class prejudice was the driver of this report. But who is this majority that Morton alludes to? It’s a mystery.

Housing Associations like Peabody have been selling off properties as soon as they become vacant for several years.  This blog from Peabody tells us that the policy of selling council properties in desirable areas has been on the table since before last year.

Last week, Policy Exchange’s Matthew Oakley argued in the Guardian that social housing properties in desirable areas – eg, central London boroughs – should be sold off. The revenue, he suggested, could be invested in social housing elsewhere – eg, in cheaper and less desirable areas in outer London or even outside of London.

But it is also ironic that while Peabody complains about this policy, it is more than happy to comply with the government’s diktat. But have Policy Exchange merely duplicated their own previous work? It seems likely. Here’s more from the ‘report’.

Ultimately, as our report Making Housing Affordable set out, we need affordable private housing to cut social housing waiting lists,
which fell from 1.2 million to 1 million between 1979–1997 as market housing was cheaper.

With rents the highest they’ve ever been, how does the author propose to make private housing more “affordable”? This cannot be achieved without some form of rent control and, as we know, the Tories are implacably opposed to rent caps or rent controls. I get the feeling that any solutions that are proposed by the Tories and their think-tanks aren’t real solutions at all, but are, instead, a means of rationalizing their class prejudices.

Naturally the news of this report in the media has been accompanied by a blog from O’Brien, whose own short biography tells us that, “He writes in a personal capacity”. That would appear to be untrue.

To be clear, what I’m proposing wouldn’t mean a single person having to move house. We are only talking about selling off houses that become empty. Nor would it mean that social housing would disappear from expensive cities like London, because the definition of “expensive” I am using is specific to a particular region, not the national average.

O’Brien speaks with forked tongue. Those properties that become empty will not be used to house a council tenant but sold off to someone with money to spend on a useless leasehold tenancy. He claims that social housing will not disappear but this is precisely what would happen. This next quote is similarly disingenuous,

Lots of expensive social housing has come about unintentionally. In the 1970s Britain’s big cities were on their knees. London boroughs in particular took the opportunity to snap up terraces of housing in run-down places like Islington at bargain prices. But Britain’s inner cities – particularly London – have been transformed. What were slums are now eye-wateringly expensive places to live. Two thirds of the heads of households in social housing are not in work, and when you’re living on benefits, it’s not helpful if your nearest shop has been turned into a mini-Waitrose.

My bold. There are three things here. The first is O’Brien’s assertion that London has been “transformed”, he offers the neutral-sounding, “What were slums are now eye-wateringly expensive places to live”. But O’Brien, a sophist by trade and a liar by nature, can only tell part of the story, the rest is simply discarded because it doesn’t fit the narrative. There has been a housing shortage in London for several decades, local authorities were performing their public duty. The alternative would have been to have let such properties to crumble. Indeed, O’Brien has deluded himself into thinking that middle class, would-be property owners would have flocked en masse to places like Brixton to snap up the many empty street properties that were available in the late 1960s and 1970s.

When many councils bought street properties, so too did many middle class people who bought these properties for a song at auction. O’Brien also deliberately ignores the ongoing gentrification programmes, but what really stands out for me is the last clause in bold. This illuminates O’Brien’s deep-seated class disgust.  He assumes that people on council estates would not shop in Waitrose (which, incidentally, offers substantial reductions on items that are close to their sell-by date. The others will knock off 10 or 20p and think they’re doing you a favour and their own brand butter is cheaper than the other supermarkets own brands too. So there!). What O’Brien also assumes is that middle class home-owners don’t shop at Lidl or Aldi. But he would be mistaken because many of them do. Why? Have a look at the prices (especially on wines) in the big three supermarkets and then come back to me. In many of the places that O’Brien and his team would like working class people to move, there are few amenities. These are the so-called food deserts, where the local shops will include a takeaway, a betting shop and a general shop that sells newspapers and tinned and frozen food, all at a premium price. But nothing fresh.

So to sum up, there is no methodology mentioned in this report and the graphics that are used to bolster Morton’s thesis are the product of a YouGov survey that was commissioned by Policy Exchange. These graphics are used in conjunction with cherry-picked graphics from a previous YouGov survey, which was commissioned by The Sun. So it’s hardly non-partisan and most certainly not objective.

Another attack on tenants has appeared on 24 Dash. Foghorn Phibbs, who is already well known to Nowhere Towers, aims his fire at the Tenant Participation Advisory Service (TPAS). Is this some sort of absurd pincer movement?

Phibbs once infamously described council tower blocks as “vertical slums”.  In his recent blog, Foghorn has

accused TPAS of spending thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money on “lavish” awards and employing policy officers to lobby against government housing policy. He also criticised the cost of its annual conference and branded the performance of chief executive Michelle Reid a “farce”.

Naturally, Foghorn doesn’t offer any analysis, just bile. Here’s an excerpt from his screed.

“Substantial taxpayer funding for social housing is being redirected from spending of practical benefit and passed instead to an organisation called the Tenant Participation Advisory Service.

“I couldn’t find its accounts on its website but it has 23 full time paid staff which implies its budget is substantial. Funding would also seem to come overwhelmingly from the taxpayer – via housing associations and assorted council housing departments and “arms length” bodies.

“Spending transparency data shows the TPAS is paid thousands by, for example, Salix Homes, who manage Salford Council properties, for ‘customer involvement’. Taunton Deane Borough Council has paid it £2,440.80 for ‘supervision and management’. Hounslow Council has paid it £16,000 in a single month. Lambeth and Luton are among other councils that splash out a lot of their residents money. North Lincolnshire Homes paid the TPAS for a report – which praised North Lincolnshire Homes for giving £500 to Unison for CRB Checks.

Pure sophistry. But those awful CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) checks…. terrible things.  Much better to have child sex offenders and rapists looking after vulnerable tenants. No? But that’s not what’s got his goat, so to speak, it’s the fact that there exists an organization that provides help, support and advice for tenants that upsets him. He rationalizes this in typical Tory style, “why should I pay for these people”, he thunders.  Notice the way he gets in a swipe at Unison. But it’s a badly aimed swipe. Those people who are members of Unison are working with vulnerable people and they are required by  law to undergo CRB checks. Perhaps Phibbs would rather the local authority in question broke the law?

I found this on Conservative Home (yes, they get homes, while everyone else has to make do with a bit of plastic sheeting and some newspaper for insulation).

It is an odd brand of socialism that argues that the state should provide luxury mansions for the few rather than sell them to enable an increased supply of housing for the many. Socialism by jackpot.

Sensationalism, hyperbole and exaggeration are employed here to mask the patent lack of thinking. No one is provided with a “luxury mansion” and I would challenge the author of this drivel to provide me with some evidence, but I know that I could be waiting forever because Tories don’t like evidence, much less the truth.

UPDATE 20/8/12 @ 2307

I’ve seen Foghorn Phibbs on Newsnight trying and failing spectacularly to defend Policy Exchange’s, er, thinking on the housing crisis. This is the best they could do, apparently, such is the intellectual talent that was available that they chose Harry ‘Foghorn’ Phibbs, former member of the FCS, pillar of the local community, councillor, Greenhalgh’s mouthpiece and Daily Mail hack, to fight their corner.  Bravo, chaps!

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Nightmare on King Street (Part 8)

This week Newham Council announced that it was exiling families in need of housing to Stoke on Trent, where there are fewer jobs than in London. Cllr Stephen Cowan, the opposition group leader on Hammersmith and Fulham Council, has discovered that the same thing is happening right here in David Cameron’s model borough. He writes on his blog that,

The BBC is reporting that Hammersmith and Fulham Council “are considering” proposals to move at least “500 families from London to the East Midlands.” They are undertaking this enterprise with their two other tri-borough Conservative-run local authorities and using the astonishingly disingenuous excuse that there is “a shortage of housing in their areas.”

Apparently the council has already packed off people to Margate.

You can read the rest here.

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Hammersmith & Fulham Council: a personal story

The strap should read "putting rich residents first"

I never had any trouble with Hammersmith & Fulham Council when it was Labour-controlled. When the Tories took control in 2006, it signalled the beginning of attacks on the borough’s poor, the low-waged, the homeless, the disabled and children.  Within two years, I would become embroiled in a very long battle with the council. And it is a battle that is far from over.

In 2008, after a period of unemployment, I signed off the dole and took a job as a cycling instructor for Kingston Council. I duly informed the council of my change in circumstances. The council stopped my Housing Benefit (HB) but not my Council Tax Benefit (CTB).  Normally, when HB is stopped, CTB is also stopped; the two benefits always work together. But at Tory-controlled Hammersmith & Fulham, incompetence and maladministration have been developed into art forms. I asked the council what it was playing at and why they didn’t stop the CTB. They could not provide me with an answer and sent me a massive bill for CTB arrears instead. There was no apology. Nothing. Just pay up or else.

I began my PhD in September 2009. I had a job and so didn’t need to claim any benefits. However in February 2010 I was made redundant.  In desperation I suspended my studies (which I am entitled to do) and claimed Jobseekers Allowance, HB and CTB (which I am also entitled to do).  I was paid HB but, by December 2010, the Council decided that I was not entitled to HB and sent me a bill for £944.  I even provided them with a letter from my university that informed them of my suspension of studies. It was ignored. The Jobcentre had no problem with my suspension and appeared to know the law better than the Council, who took it upon themselves to move the goalposts. The council has acted illegally by not only sending me this bill but referring the matter to their bailiffs.

But that’s not all.

As a full-time student (I have recently changed my status to part-time because of ongoing financial difficulties) I am entitled to a Council Tax exemption. In 2009 and 2010 I provided the Council with certificates of exemption. In 2009, they took a incredibly long time to process the certificate and subsequently helped themselves to a year’s worth of council tax from my account (that’s theft). After cancelling the direct debit in January, they decided to help themselves to more money later the following year (again, that’s theft),  thus making me overdrawn without prior authorization. The Council did not apologize nor did it reimburse me for the bank’s charges. Instead it told me that the money would be used to reduce my CTB arrears. It wasn’t. They tried to claim that they had “technical difficulties” but refused to elucidate what those “technical difficulties” were.

The Tories at H&F council claim that the authority is heavily in debt and needs to make cuts. But it would also seem that they have advised their HB and CTB teams to refuse benefits to people or find ways to claw back the monies paid by fabricating a lack of entitlement. There is also the element of sheer incompetence: the council are slow to reply to correspondence and frequently (possibly deliberately) misplace or lose documents that are sent to them by Recorded Delivery. I am still waiting for a reply to an email that I sent to the council last week that questioned their cavalier attitude to benefits claimants and the extra-legal methods they employ  to claw back those benefits.

The Council expects me to give up and pay up but they underestimate my resolve. I have been consulting with the Citizens Advice Bureau at the Royal Courts of Justice (the local Citizens Advice Bureau is just as useless as the Council) with a view to taking legal action against them and I will press for the maximum in compensation.

Furthermore, it is my view that H&F council wants to remove all social housing tenants and benefit claimants from the borough, which they have recently labelled “The Borough of Opportunity”. It’s a borough of opportunity but not for those who are on incomes of less than £100,000 per annum or those who live on council estates or who are disabled or homeless.

H&F council has appeared in Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs column 13 times and I often wonder how many other people in the borough have had similar experiences to me. If you have been a victim of H&F council’s incompetence or maladministration, then I want to hear from you. You can contact me at buddyhell@hotmail.com

UPDATE 19/4/12 @1422

Recently I have sent a number of letters to the Council by Recorded Delivery (or Signed For). The Council denies ever having received the letters, even though I have proof that they were delivered. I suspect foul play and I am determined to get to the bottom of this matter.

I also notice that H&F Tories claim that “Residents satisfaction with the council climbs again”. They justify this by citing a recent residents survey that they conducted. It’s funny, but I don’t recall being asked for my opinion. I also suspect that the survey was worded in such a way as to favour a particular, flattering outcome for the Council, which is actually one of the most complained about councils in the country. I will quote a snippet from the blog here.

Residents’ satisfaction with local council services has risen again so it now rivals some of the traditionally best regarded councils in the country.

75% of respondents in a recent ‘Tri-borough’ survey, which polled around 500 people over the phone, said they were satisfied with Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F) Council’s performance. This compares to 77% of residents in Westminster and 85% of residents in Kensington and Chelsea – which have both historically been two of the most well thought of council’s in the UK.

In a separate H&F poll, known as the annual residents’ survey (2011), 62% of respondents said they were satisfied with the council’s performance – up 2% on 2010.

The Dear Leader was jubilant,

“These latest survey results bring us closer still to our two neighbouring boroughs putting us in a small band of elite UK councils with residents’ satisfaction of 75% or above.

“We are the only council in the country that is consistently cutting council tax, reducing debt and boosting residents’ satisfaction while protecting front-line services.”

He added,

“Our residents are overwhelmingly telling us that we are on the right track and, while there is more to do, we are proud to be leading the way in delivering more for less in the age of austerity.”

Which residents are these, I wonder?

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Hammersmith & Fulham and the Tory money-go-round

It has the dubious distinction of being Private Eye’s Rotten Borough a record 13 times. But Hammersmith & Fulham Tories aren’t bothered; they revel in their bad guy role.

Recently a council property was sold at auction and was featured in BBC1’s awful Homes Under the Hammer. It was sold because the council claims that it didn’t have the money to refurbish it. But the money that it’s made on the sale will go where exactly? On council housing? No. This will become a second home for someone. Which reminds me, why would anyone want a second home in Hammersmith? It’s not Cornwall or Wales.

Shepherds Bush blog also has the story

I found this Telegraph article that appeared on 9 September 2011 about big construction companies funding the Conservative Party. The party has what it calls “donor clubs”  one of which is The Property Forum, which exists to bring together party bigwigs and property and construction moguls.

Mr Slade, who has donated more than £300,000 to the Conservatives individually and through Helical Bar, has claimed that the club plays a key role in shaping the party’s planning policy.

The Cowan Report also has the story.

Helical Bar, along with Grainger plc, are involved in the King Street development, which aims to transform the area around the Town Hall into a London version of Basingstoke.

Slade is also the Chairman of The Property Forum . Annual membership costs a mere £2,500, which presumably grants the donor access to a bag-carrier rather than a minister. Access to someone like that will doubtlessly cost more.

For key players within the property industry to meet senior Members of Parliament over breakfast, discuss current topics and learn about related issues.

I found this on the same page.

Unlike Labour, we are not funded by the Trade Unions. Instead, we rely on the generosity of our committed members. We want to build a broad network of donors, who pay regularly by direct debit which allows us to plan our campaigning activities with greater certainty.

Party Patrons will help us to campaign more effectively in a number of ways:

  • Transmitting our message right across the country to gain support – for the Conservative Party, there’s no such thing as a no-go area.
  • Encouraging existing Conservative voters to join the Party
  • Millions of people vote Conservative, but we want to attract more members who will champion our cause at local level.

This is shameless stuff. The Tories admit that they’re supported by unaccountable and undemocratic bodies which will then dictate policy to the party but, at the same time, attack Labour because of its links with the trade unions, which are democratically elected and accountable institutions – unlike millionaires and corporations.

Slade has been less than flattering about Housing Minister, Grant Shapps

 “He’s just a kid – why should he know what goes on in local authorities?”

Not only is Shapps “just a kid”, he’s a pretty dimwitted kid who regurgitates soundbites on command.

Slade also has a close relationship with Emperor Boris.

He is a close ally of Boris Johnson and donated £20,000 to his campaign to become Mayor of London.

He has previously claimed to have helped shape Mr Johnson’s plan to see 50,000 new affordable homes built in London.

Asked by a newspaper interviewer whether his donations were intended to influence the Mayor’s building policy, he reportedly said: “You do run the thin line of someone saying, ‘I’m only doing this to have access and influence’, but that was what politics was always about. It’s a little unfair, but there must be 20 per cent truth in it.”

“Affordable homes”? Those aren’t council houses, by the way.

Property Week carried this story in 2008.

Mike Slade, chief executive of Helical, said: ‘Despite the current market difficulties, this is an outstanding opportunity for a mixed use regeneration scheme in a borough close to home, where we enjoy other substantial interests.’

Yes, they “enjoy other substantial interests” in the borough. Might these interests have something to do with forcing people out of their homes under the pretense of making “improvements”? Remember this story from HF Conwatch?

Here’s the cabinet document relating to the disposal of Edith Summerskill House.

Nowhere Towers does not have any further information pertaining to the sale of Edith Summerskill House but we suspect that it will be sold to one of the council’s construction ‘partners’.

As we can see, the same companies that fund the Tory Party also do business with Cameron’s favourite asset-stripping council. There’s an old saying: “one had washes the other” and there is no better example if this than the connection between the construction industry and the Tory party.

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Super councils and localism: a load of hot air?

The news that three London councils are to merge their services has set off a few alarm bells. The three: Hammersmith & Fulham, Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea are not only three of the smaller London boroughs, they are also Tory-controlled. Hammersmith & Fulham went over to the Tories about 5 years ago. When they took power, the new leader said how much he wanted to see rich people move into the borough. Greenhalgh’s Hammersmith & Fulham soon became the model Tory borough in the same way that Chile provided the model for Thatcher’s economic policies. Greenhalgh’s aim was to demolish council homes and replace them with homes to buy.

Greenhalgh outlined his plans for “radical reforms” as he told Eric Pickles, Tory party chairman, and Grant Shapps, the shadow minister for housing, that he wanted to see social rents rise to market levels, and housing welfare payments to households “based on need, rather than rent paid”. This would mean placing individual adults in a room in a shared house, for example.

Now you know where the government’s housing policy comes from. It should come as no surprise that  Greenhalgh also heads up the Tory’s Council’s Innovation Unit.

As far as I know, the political merger of local authorities can only take place if an Act of Parliament is passed that permits a merger. In this case, the 3 councils have sidestepped this issue by merging only their services. This raises the question of accountability given that the serivces that have been merged such as refuse collection are carried out by private contractors.

Susanna Rustin of The Guardian writes,

For all the phoney language of compassion that drips from their statements, the crocodile tears about services cut, these councils are hellbent on cutting back on public sector provision, and in some of the areas that need it most. There are wards in north Westminster – a constituency held by Labour’s Karen Buck in May to the outrage of her big-spending Conservative challenger Joanne Cash— that are among the poorest in the country. There is some terrible housing and not enough primary schools, but still the financial crisis and impending cuts did not move the Conservative council to cancel its £23,000 banquet in a fancy hotel in March.Nor do the central London Tories seem inclined to follow the advice of communities secretary Eric Pickles to oblige highly paid council staff to take a pay cut.

Meanwhile on the Hammersmith & Fulham Conservative site, they claim that local MP Andy Slaughter is out of touch with his voters,

In opposing a cap on Housing Benefit the Labour MP for Hammersmith Andrew Slaughter is out of touch with his own supporters. An ICM poll in June asked: “Do you support or oppose imposing a maximum weekly limit of £400 on Housing Benefit.” Support was 68% with 23% opposed. Even among Labour voters there was strong support – by 57% to 35%.

I suspect that the findings have been cherry-picked or that the interview questions were phrased in such a way as to favour a particular outcome. Of course I have no real way of knowing this for sure but having worked in social and market research in a previous life, I can honestly say that some surveys are badly flawed.

But the proposal that these 3 councils merge is also badly flawed as Phil Cooper interviewed in the Fulham Chronicle points out,

“Merging three councils will inevitably mean fewer council officers administering reduced services over a much larger area. There will be much greater reliance on the voluntary services to fill gaps just at the time when council funding to the voluntary sector is also being slashed.”

Greenhalgh has already closed some community centres and homeless hostels. Sands  End Centre, just west of well-heeled Chelsea has been facing threat of closure since the Tories took power here in 2006.

I’ve heard many Tories talk about such things as localism but what do they actually mean when they use this word? How do they reconcile their idea of localism with the erosion of public services?

Finally this open letter to The Guardian from the three opposition leaders in the respective boroughs says,

The Conservatives are not ruling out using this merger as a mechanism for even more frontline service cuts, stealth taxes and loss of jobs, or as an excuse to undermine local democracy or sell off more community buildings. Nor have they explained how local residents will keep their ability to hold their council to account. They have not explained how any newly elected administration would be able to secede from any part of this if political control changes. They have also failed to explain why these particular local authorities should merge services.

Big society? Localism? It’s just a load of hot air.

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Boris Johnson: the fallout

Yesterday Boris Johnson claimed that he was against any “Kosovo style” social cleansing of London. His words immediately found their way to their intended target: David Cameron who was out of the country on business. His choice of words was also seized upon by Nick Clegg who described them as “outrageous” while Vince Cable, the pre-election hero, accused him of  being “ludicrously inflammatory”. Yet the government has failed to present a decent counter-argument to the charge that their proposed cap on housing benefit won’t force many people out of London to the periphery. The Housng Minister, Grant Shapps was in denial,

“Just because you are on housing benefit, that shouldn’t give you the ability to live somewhere, where if you are working and not on benefit you can’t. We’d all love to live in different areas, but I can’t afford to live on x street in y location. The housing benefit system has almost created an expectation that you could almost live anywhere, and that’s what has to stop.”

Myths and tropes.

The Leader of Westminster City Council, Cllr Colin Barrow, claimed on the BBC that people from lower incomes deliberately target his borough because of its stylish properties. Oddly enough he provided no evidence for this assertion. Remember this is the same council that sold off loads of council homes in order to gerrymander certain wards. It also sold off 3 cemeteries for 5p each.

But has Bojo gone all One Nation on the Tory Party? When someone like Johnson comes out with a statement like the one he did yesterday, you have to spend time looking for the reasons behind it. First, the mayoral elections take place in 2 years time.  He has Ken Livingstone snapping at his heels and he wants to try and steal as much thunder from his as he can. Secondly, he is well aware that London relies on a lot of cheap labour and he wants to ensure that there is a massive pool of cheap labour for London’s businesses to draw from. He isn’t doing this for altruistic reasons; his reasons are the same as any other capitalist exploiter of labour.

The press have taken up differing positions: much of the right wing press is reporting how Johnson has been slapped down by Downing Street. Others tell of how Cameron and Johnson are on a collision course over benefits. Kennite claims that his hero has recanted his words. He says “I confess, however, to less sympathy for the capital’s unemployed”.  Alors, quelle surprise! He then goes on to repeat every single right wing cliché in order to bolster his case, like this one,

Of course, everyone has the right to live where they choose. But nobody has the right to require the rest of us to pay for their choice. And on the whole, the real losers will be not the poor, but the private landlords who have bought up council houses and made fortunes from the taxpayer. As the state is by far the biggest customer in their market, they’ll have to cut their rents, helping every tenant – subsidised or not – and further reducing the number who lose their homes.

Maybe he didn’t see the Panorama programme about the dodgy landlords who make a fortune out of Housing Benefit? When have private landlords ever reduced their rents? Someone is being a little naïve here.

Meanwhile the Hon Tobes and The Independent point to the rivalry between Cameron and Johnson that dates back to their time at Eton and Oxford.

One final word: to say that the government’s proposals don’t represent a form of social cleansing would be dishonest. But for the government and its apologists to deny that the effect of the Housing Benefit cap will not force those on low incomes to move elsewhere is equally dishonest.

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Filed under Big Society, Comprehensive Spending Review, ConDem Budget 2010, Conservative Party, Government & politics, Public spending