Monday, 29 June 2009

A Lesson in Manners?

On the evening of June 24th a number of residents attended the Council Meeting at the Town Hall, having heard that one of the Labour Councillors, Lisa Nandy, would be proposing a motion censuring the views expressed about council tenants by Stephen Greenhalgh in his chilling proposals for the reform of social housing, published by right wing think tank Localis. It was an illuminating but depressing experience.

The special motion was as follows:
"That this Council:

Rejects the offensive, damaging and false portrayal of social housing tenants in the paper 'Principles for Social Housing Reform' published by right wing think tank Localis.

Firmly rejects proposals which seek to deny decent, secure homes to those who need them.

Further condemns such a crude attempt to disguise deeply unpopular proposals to demolish local homes and communities by using the language of rights and empowerment.

Agrees with Shelter that people are empowered by genuine choice and security and asserts that people are disempowered by ill-thought out, stereotypical and stigmatising papers such as this.

Resolves that funding Localis £8,000 a year at a time when Hammersmith and Fulham Council is cutting vital services to local people is a shameful waste of public money that will cease with immediate effect."

We couldn't have said it better ourselves.

(£8,000? That was something we didn't know about before. Is that why they've started charging for home care? They've emptied the coffers supporting right wing think tanks?).

In support of the motion, Councillor Jean Campbell (the only council tenant on the Council) spoke movingly about the sadness she feels to hear people like her neighbours on White City Estate so grossly mis-represented and stigmatised by Stephen Greenhalgh: described in his paper as living in "broken neighbourhoods" and "ghettos" where a "dependency culture and culture of entitlement predominates". In contrast Jean Campbell described her community thus:

"My community on the White City is a vibrant one. My neighbours include people working in health care, people working as police officers or people who are simply doing their best to bring up their kids and look after their families."

What was notable about Jean Campbell was not just what she said but how she said it. She challenged the views of the Tory Councillors but spoke to them with respect. She persevered with dignity despite shameful behaviour from the other side of the chamber, reminiscent of school days (though with touches of Animal Farm).

Stephen Greenhalgh in particular spent his time ostentatiously misbehaving: noisily banging papers on the table, whispering and sniggering behind his hand to his chum Nicholas Botterill, closing his eyes in feigned (or perhaps real??) sleep. He behaved like this whenever members from the Labour Group were talking and seemed wholly proud of himself.

Others were as bad. When Labour Councillor Stephen Cowan, supporting Jean Campbell, pointed out that White City is already a mixed community with BBC workers amongst its residents he was heckled by Conservative Councillor Jane Law, who declared with a look of absolute disdain that "People from the BBC don't live on White City!" Clearly this concept was too horrific for her to contemplate. Poor thing, she looked like she'd had quite a shock.

Worst of all was the smugness, posturing and political point scoring at every opportunity, to the exclusion of intelligent debate. Even in full knowledge that members of the public were present these Conservative councillors did nothing to acknowledge us and our genuine concerns except by deliberately repeating the insulting language of the Greenhalgh report.

Yes, they knew we were there and yes, they seemed determined to show their contempt.

Are they really so certain of the electorate that they can afford to behave in this way?

Jean Campbell finished by asking Stephen Greenhalgh to look her in the eye and answer three questions:

  • Does he intend to lobby for an end of secure tenancies?

  • Will he provide a legal guarantee that all the social housing he demolishes will be replaced like for like - no catch?

  • Will he apologise to me and the thousands of council house residents like me for his simple caricaturing of our lives?

He made no attempt to answer despite repeated requests. Why was that, Councillor Greenhalgh?

Instead Councillor Lucy Ivimy was chosen to give a long winded, meaningless answer. She may be Cabinet Member for Housing but was nevertheless an odd choice to reply to a motion opposing the stigmatisation of council tenants, given her history. Few people have had the dubious honour of being outed by the Daily Mail over allegations of racism towards tenants, but she's managed it.

Thankfully we did not witness the same level of braying contempt for the political process from the Labour Group. If we had we might have lost all faith in the idea of decent people in politics. (We are not making a party political statement here, simply reporting what we observed on the night).

We are grateful to Lisa Nandy, Jean Campbell and their colleagues for standing up in that hostile environment to speak for ordinary people like us.

The motion was voted down, of course, but the words that were spoken remain.

If you think there is even the slightest exaggeration in this article do go along to a Council Meeting to see for yourself. It won't be the happiest evening of your life but it will be an education.

Monday, 22 June 2009

The Greenhalgh Vision of the Future

The Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council, Stephen Greenhalgh, has written a policy paper for the right wing think tank, Localis, that starkly outlines his draconian vision of the future for social housing. We will shortly publish a summary of this paper. In the meantime read it carefully and don't be fooled by the glossy attempt to present supposedly inclusive housing solutions. If he has his way our hard earned legal rights will be swept away to afford unprecedented power to landlords. Security of tenure will be replaced by a two month notice period. And any right minded person will understand that in London, with sky high property prices, few real opportunities for secure and affordable housing will be open to ordinary working people. More likely we will be bussed in from the suburbs to service the privileged minority in the City and bussed off out again at the end of the day!

Councillor Greenhalgh's questionable intent and starring role in the video of his confrontation with angry residents has drawn the attention of the Guardian writer Dave Hill's blog.

The Greenhalgh paper states that:
"Today social housing has become welfare housing where both a dependency culture and a culture of entitlement predominate."
How insulting to those of us who strive to work hard and provide for ourselves and our families - and likewise to those living through difficult times that are thankfully made a little easier by the kind of help that we would all hope for at such times.

One of our group was featured in the Shepherds Bush and Hammersmith Gazette on June 12th in the 'My Hammersmith' feature. Click on the article to read it. You'll probably notice that she sounds like an ordinary kind of person - hard working, community minded, motivated, football-loving - not the dependent, work-shy caricature they'd have you believe us to be.

Undoubtedly there are estates around the country that need drastic improvement and communities that need change for the better, supported by possibly radical but equally compassionate interventions. However the answer is most definitely not to sweep the good ones away. Ours has been described as 'prime real estate' by commentators - can this really be coincidence?

Stephen Greenhalgh supposedly believes that:

"A decent neighbourhood is a place where people want to live and they have pride in. At the heart of a mixed and sustainable community is a mix of people with different income levels, at different life stages and with different occupations who occupy their homes on a mixture of tenures but where no single tenure predominates."
This is us. So why blow us apart? What could possibly be in it for you?

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Media Coverage

We are pleased to report that local and national media have picked up on our plight.

On Sunday 14th June the BBC Politics Show reported on our situation with the Council and highlighted the considerable discrepancies in the Council's message about their plans e.g. last week the Council’s press office told the BBC that there had been "Absolutely no discussions with any developers about the site" yet there is video of the Conservative Leader of the Council, Stephen Greenhalgh, admitting on 29th April (under pressure from residents) that there have in fact been talks (see link below). Likewise the property speculator in question confirmed to the BBC last week that he has indeed been in talks with the Council and would be 'very interested' in getting involved in 'rebuilding' of Queen Caroline - in other words, demolition of our homes. And (worryingly) they expressed confidence in this going ahead at some point.

One of the most noticeable omissions in all of this is that there has never been any mention of rebuilding the estate for the current residents. We are absolutely certain that we are not the intended recipients of the supposed 'opportunities' that Councillor Greenhalgh refers to when trying to wriggle out of the corner he has backed into!

After all, we all know that property speculators are not philanthropic businesses. They will want to maximise profits and we know who gets hurt....

Three residents from Queen Caroline were interviewed on the Politics Show and expressed their deep distress and concern about what is being planned for us and about the lack of transparency and honesty in the process. They talked about the impact on their lives of the current threat to their security. One, whose child has recently been diagnosed with autism and needs stability even more than all children, explained just how negative an impact this kind of uncertainty is having on her child.

Our local Labour Councillor Stephen Cowan (who strongly supports our cause) was interviewed live on the Politics Show but regrettably none of the ruling Conservative Councillors (i.e. those responsible for secretly planning to sell our homes) made themselves available. Our understanding is that one of the Councillors was meant to represent their side of the story but became mysteriously unavailable. The very least they could have done was turn up to be held accountable to the public. Or perhaps they don't view themselves as public servants? You can draw your own conclusions as to why neither the Conservative Leader of the Council, Stephen Greenhalgh, nor the Cabinet Member for Housing, Lucy Ivimy showed up.

Instead they sent along Nick Johnson, the Chief Executive of the Managing Agents, Hammersmith and Fulham Homes. This poor man seemed woefully ill-informed and probably felt somewhat compromised by the situation he found himself in. Even though he had just seen the video of Stephen Greenhalgh admitting to talks with developers and refusing to allay fears of residents he could do nothing but toe the party line and say there are "No firm plans".

Will they still be saying this when the bulldozers come?