Whose streets? Our streets! Whose homes? Our homes!
THOUSANDS OF ANGRY, students and political activists were joined by MPs and councillors as we marched through London on a sunny March Sunday to protest the Tories’ plans to destroy public housing.
Kill the Bill! Kill the Housing Bill! And a surprise re-entry into the top of the demo playlist, that ’40s anthem, Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner!
Not surprisingly the national demo organised by the Kill the Housing Bill campaign was a tad London-centric – but then it is homes in London which are most threatened if the Tories get their way in hollowing out the city by forcing the working class out of the centre. One of the challenges for the campaign must be to build outside the capital. This Bill will affect everyone, everywhere.
The Bill is still progressing through the Lords, and crucial votes will take place soon. And there are signs that, as part of their current ‘let’s-not-scare-the-voters-too-much’ EU Remain strategy, the Tories are watering down some of the proposals such as the Pay to Stay limits and housing benefit caps which are leading to hostel and sheltered housing closures.
In London, the mayoral election on 5 May is crucial with housing such a hot topic. A Labour Mayor with planning and building powers determined to stem the gentrification of our great working class districts can make a massive difference. Will Sadiq? I don’t know. But Labour’s Manifesto opposes the Bill and pledges ‘that estate regeneration only takes place where there is resident support - and that demolition is only permitted where it does not result in a loss of social housing.’ The trouble is that these words ring hollow to tenants in London’s Labour boroughs fighting to save their homes from demolition. The Labour leadership needs to step in and heal the rifts which have built up between councillors and residents and their supporters if we are to unite to fight the Bill.
Calls are going out from tenants’ groups insisting councillors should refuse to implement the Bill. Because the Bill is such a compendium of measures, there is a lot of scope for councils to investigate what they can and can’t do and share information and legal advice. As a start, they can pledge not to evict anyone who refuses to Pay to Stay. Many of the measures are ‘voluntary’ for housing association landlords which have become increasingly corporate bodies in recent years and lack any real democratic or accountable ways for tenants’ voices to be heard. In my book, this means we just need to shout louder! Councillors can help us do that by bringing together council and housing association tenants.
It will be up to us to defend our homes. The march was just the beginning. Tenants are getting organised and we will Kill the Housing Bill!
Andrew Berry, Housing Association tenant, adds:
Such is the opposition to the Housing Bill that 600 people turned up to a public meeting organised by Islington Labour Council and an overflow room had to be set up. The meeting came about after a discussion at a meeting organised by IHOOPS, Islington’s anti-cuts campaign, which called on the council to organise a public meeting on the Bill by writing to all residents. The council only wrote to council tenants, but the meeting was widely publicised and had a broad mix of council, housing association and private renters in attendance.
The meeting was very angry at the Tories’ proposals, especially ‘Pay to Stay’, and there was call after call for councillors not to implement it. Their official line was that they would wait and see, and they also correctly called for unity to defeat the Bill and attend the demo. Labour councillor Una O’Halloran, who was on the platform, broke ranks and said ‘Islington is often the first to do something and I want Islington to stand up and say that we won’t implement it.’
The Bill is disgusting and it’s social cleansing and we need to stick together. While councillors are not yet prepared to refuse to implement the Bill, it does show they have a role in building the opposition. The Islington presence on the march was noticeably large. If every council had organised meetings before the demo it could have been an even bigger march. Other Labour councils should follow Islington’s example and build a movement against this rotten Bill and, if it goes ahead, we need to campaign for councils not to implement it.