Wednesday, February 08, 2006

"A Home Owning Democracy"

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.


Jim Jay said...

Just recieved this from Cambridge DCH campaigners.

From: John Marais, Tenants Against Privatisation.

Yesterday 8 Cambridge council tenants from 'Tenants Against Privatisation' plus Cllr Kevin Blencowe and officers from Amicus and Unison travelled to London for Defend Council Housing's national rally and lobby of parliament, in support of the '4th Option' of a fairer financial deal for retained council housing as an alternative to Government pressure for privatisatisation by the 3 options of Transfer, 'Arm's Length Management' or PFI. [ Ref: www.defendcouncilhousing ].

Free transport was provided by the union Amicus, after the council had refused to help with rail fares.

Over 1000 tenants, councillors and trade unionists from all over the country attended the rally in Central Hall, Westminster, where there were speeches in our support from tenant leaders, union officers, MPs and ex-Ministers, including Frank Dobson, Michael Meacher, Tony Benn, Gerald Kaufmann and Derek Simpson There were also continuous workshops for discussion of issues affecting council tenants.

Tenants later crossed the road to the House of Commons to speak to their MPs. Unfortunately David Howarth, whom we had arranged to meet, was delayed in a commons committee meeting, so we will be making later arrangements to speak to him in Cambridge.

The numbers involved in the opposition to privatisation, and the high-level support we are now getting means that council housing is here to stay, and in view of the one and a half million families on the national waiting list ( 4,500 in Cambridge ), the government must allow more investment for the future of this vital community resource.

Regards, John Marais.

Jim Jay said...

Also from Defend Council Housing National

‘Fourth Option’ Lobby and rally a real success

At least 1300 tenants, trade unionists and councillors, from over 90 areas across the UK, took part in the Lobby of Parliament and rally for the 'Fourth Option' on 8 February.

See DCH website for web report and downloadable bulletin and press statement from Austin Mitchell following Wednesday’s ODPM PLP briefing to MPs.

The campaign is growing and the government's position is less and less sustainable!

Feb 8th strengthened the resolve of tenants, councillors and trade unionists to resist the government's three options of transfer, PFI or ALMOs and to press home the demand for the 'Fourth Option' – direct investment.

Speakers reported signs that Ministers now recognise the need to respond constructively. Before Christmas the Council Housing group of MPs met ministers David Miliband and Yvette Cooper, who agreed to look at our financial arguments in details and meet again. Informal discussions indicate Ministers are now looking at how to change policy.

Tenants want this sooner rather than later!

Astonishing PLP Briefing re-writes Labour conference policy

Labour MPs were shocked to receive an ODPM PLP briefing on Wednesday claiming "Conference did not vote for the so-called '4th Option'."

At Labour's September national conference in September 2005 Composite 8 was passed overwhelmingly, after coming top in the CLP Section priorities ballot. The composite "calls on government to provide the 'Fourth Option' of direct investment to council housing as a matter of urgency." It couldn’t be clearer!

‘Fourth Option’ benefits 250 areas

Tenants, elected councillors and council workers in around 250 local authority areas would benefit from the 'Fourth Option'. It can be funded from the money government currently siphons off tenants' rents and the profits from 'right to buy' sales and other capital receipts.

Council housing is cheaper to build, manage and maintain than the alternatives. Extra investment would effectively tackle the growing housing crisis, and the Treasury could save on Housing Benefit costs.

The formulas discussed at the 2004 Labour conference provide a framework: allow all good performing councils to access additional investment – without the requirement to set up ALMO companies; provide support to other authorities to improve their performance, and ring-fence all the money from tenants' rents, capital receipts and debt write-off to fund the 'Fourth Option'.

Fringe Meeting @ Labour’s Blackpool Conference Saturday Feb 11

12.45 – 2pm, Orbiston Hotel, 78 Adelaide St - behind Winter Gardens, Blackpool. If you are attending the conference or within travelling distance of Blackpool come along...