Today I attended the lobby organised by the Defend Council Housing Campaign and the trades unions, as part of a Swindon delegation comprised of members of the TGWU, GMB, UNISON and Swindon TUC. Two Labour Councillors were part of the delegation.
Myself and some TGWU members met with South Swindon MP Anne Snelgrove. Our main aim was to press her on the need for a council house building programme, and the right of Councils to build new houses. Whilst they are not legally barred from doing so, rules introduced by Thatcher mean that they are heavily financially penalised if build any. Hence in the entire country last year there were only 400 built.
Our relatively new MP explained to us that she was opposed to councils building and owning housing. "We live in a home owning democracy" she explained to us. She was not best pleased when I reminded her that this was what Thatcher said, and Peter Mandelson's words in "The Blair Revolution", "we are all Thatcherites now".
Councils are not the best organisations to build housing, she said. They are very bureaucratic. It would be better for private companies to build them. Private business she said, is more efficient!
She was also opposed to 'monolithic' estates such as were built in the past. That is, estates full of....Council tenants.
The degree to which Blairites like her have moved was eloquently illustrated back at the Rally at Westminster Methodist Hall. Gerald Kaufman, old right wing social democrat spoke about the need not only to allow direct investment in current Council Housing stock, but for a big council house building programme. He told the audience that much of his surgery work related to the problems of tenants of housing associations, which he denounced as unaccountable organisations!
It's worth pausing to think through this conception of a "home owning democracy". It was Thatcher's desire to create a "home owning democracy" which led her to introduce the 'right to buy'. This was a conscious attempt at social engineering designed to destroy the political base of electoral support which most of these estates constituted for Labour.
The logic of such a conception is that you are a failure or underserving of participation in the pseudo-demoracy under which we live, if you do not own your own home. New Labour is the party of "aspiration" we are told. The Labour Party was originally the party of the collective aspiration of working people. New Labour reveres individual aspiration. That Austin Mitchell and Gerald Kaufmann appear like raging left wingers up against the Blairs and the Snelgroves is an indication of the degree to which the latter have abandoned social provision in their worship of the tenets of the free market. One of the speakers reminded us that in the 1950's and '60s, the Tories and Labour used to argue about who built the most Council houses.