Keeping Havering Special?

The Tory administration at Havering Council being taken to task for their housing and planning policies. We’re pleased to see the Havering Special blog emerging on the scene – the more local blogs like this that spring up, the happier we’ll be:)

HAVERING SPECIAL

‘Keep Havering Special’ was the slogan that the local Conservatives used whilst campaigning here in Havering; they may claim it helped them pick up votes but in reality it was the Non-Voters Party who won.  The overall turnout was as low as ever – with a paltry 26.6% of eligible voters going to the polls in Gooshsays;  Upminster ward had the highest turnout, but even there the turnout was a not-very-impressive 45.47%. The reasons for this pitiful turnout may be discussed in a future post on this blog, but going back to the Tory slogan – what DOES it actually mean?

According to them, it means preserving the borough’s green spaces, avoiding over-development of (albeit much-needed) housing, and generally preventing the borough from looking like inner-city London – “letting Romford become a concrete jungle is something I will fight to stop!” as Romford MP Andrew Rosindell wrote in…

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Change doesn’t just happen by putting a voting slip into a ballot box

On May 3rd, the local authority elections took place. You may had noticed the flyers coming through your door. You may had been doorstepped by enthusiastic candidates promising to do all they can for you while forgetting the constraints councillors operate under. If your local councillor was up for re-election, you may had noticed them being more solicitous and efficient than normal. On this basis, you may well have gone out and voted.

Here are some hard truths. The role of local authorities in an age of seemingly permanent austerity is to implement the government’s agenda by making painful decisions about which services to cut or scrap. No matter how enthusiastic and committed your local councillor is, even if they belong to the party that’s in power on the council, they’re obliged to deliver the government’s austerity agenda. There’s no getting away from it – your local councillor is the one who has a role in deciding where the axe is going to fall.

If you recognise the constraints your local councillor operates under but still voted, that’s fine. As anarchists, we’re supposed to hold a strict line on voting not changing anything. Voting under the system we have will never deliver the radical change we desire. However, we recognise there are merits in voting for the least worst option or for a councillor who is acutely aware of the constraints they operate under but who will still pull out the stops for you.

Whether you voted or not, bear in mind that real change will only come from grassroots community action by residents committed to making a difference in their neighbourhoods. In the case of the ¾ estate in Vange, that change has come from work by the Vange Hill Community Group facilitated by Basildon & Southend Housing Action. This has involved community clean ups, guerilla gardening and constant lobbying of the council officers involved in providing the services the estate relies upon. The two ward councillors have proved themselves to be less than effective and they’re simply bypassed.

In the case of Brooke House Residents (Brooke House is the iconic block in the middle of Basildon town centre) they do have a ward councillor who is pro-active and fully in support of their efforts. He’ll do what he can to lobby for improvements in the block but is also acutely aware of the constraints he faces; one being the long term aim of the council using a policy of managed decline to force residents to seek alternative accommodation so the block can be flogged off to a developer.

Bringing about real, radical change doesn’t come from putting a voting slip in a ballot box every now and again. It comes from residents recognising that it’s only through their collective efforts that things will start to change and then getting together to start to bring that about. We at South Essex Working Class Action are here to help facilitate the work of any residents who want to bring about change at the grassroots in their neighbourhoods.

Local elections – low turnout and a political vacuum

Firstly, for the election geeks among you, here are the links to the local election results and the turnout figures across the area we cover…enjoy:)

Election results
Havering | Thurrock | Basildon | Castle Point| Southend | Rochford – results still to be posted

Turnout
Havering – 37% | Thurrock – 30.42% | Basildon – 29.64% | Castle Point – figures not available | Southend – 32.21% | Rochford – figures not available

Looking through the results that have been posted up so far for each authority, it’s pretty clear that UKIP are becoming history. Their former supporters either didn’t bother to vote or switched back to the Tories. It was UKIP losing seats in Basildon that played a part in handing control of the council back to the Tories. In Thurrock, it was UKIP councillors quitting the party and forming the Thurrock Independents that effectively finished UKIP off there.

What’s interesting is the turnout figures. Nowhere in the region we cover did the turnout approach the 50% mark. Anything over 40% turnout for a local election in a non-general election year is considered pretty good. Right across the region, wherever we looked, the turnout was always higher in the more affluent wards and considerably lower in the poorer ones. For example, in Basildon, the leafy affluent Burstead ward had a 40% turnout which was double that of the considerably poorer Fryens ward with a 20% turnout.

In the poorer wards, people have lost faith in the ability of either central or local government to devise and implement polices that will make any improvement to their lives. Their response is to simply let the local elections pass them by as they have, rightly in our view, concluded that whatever the result, it won’t be of any help to them. A political vacuum is being created – the question is, who will fill it? With the demise of UKIP, it could be argued that currently, there’s nowhere for a protest vote to go.

Whether the street movement being assembled by Tommy Robinson and his cohorts that manifested itself in the streets of London on Sunday 6th May can throw up a party that will appeal to that section of the white working class that sees it self as disenfranchised remains to be seen. The point is that the left and anarchists have to come up with a strategy that will counter the divide and rule rhetoric coming from Robinson and his ilk, and engage with and unite all the working class, regardless of origin or ethnicity.

With our strategy – Building the base for radical change – we’re just about scratching the surface when it comes to empowering working class people to start taking more control of their neighbourhoods. We can just about claim three estates where alongside resident action groups, we’re starting to address the concerns and hopes of working class people. What we’re trying to do is take what we can from our experience when we were in the Independent Working Class Association from 2003-2009, learn from the mistakes that were made and come up with something that we hope will fill the political vacuum created by the left abandoning the working class.

We fervently hope that at some point, sooner rather than later, the left and anarchists will wake up to the need to engage with the working class. Failure to do so will pave the way for the malign, reactionary elements to start to fill the vacuum with disastrous consequences for all of us.

It’s that time of year…

On May 3rd, local authority elections will be taking place. You may well have noticed the flyers coming through your door. You may even have been doorstepped by enthusiastic candidates promising to do all they can for you while somehow forgetting the constraints they’ll be operating under. If your local councillor is up for re-election, you may have noticed they’re being more solicitous and efficient than is normally the case. Your local news websites and papers will be featuring ward by ward analysis of the state of play between the contestants and how that will affect the balance of power on the council.

Here are some hard truths. The role of local authorities in an age of seemingly permanent austerity is to implement the government’s agenda by making painful decisions about which services to cut or scrap. No matter how enthusiastic and committed your local councillor is, even if they belong to the party that’s in power on the council, they’re obliged to deliver the government’s austerity agenda. There’s no getting away from it – your local councillor is the one who has a role in deciding where the axe is going to fall.

If you recognise the constraints your local councillor operates under but still want to vote, that’s fine. As anarchists, we’re supposed to hold a strict line on voting not changing anything. Voting under the system we have will never deliver the radical change we desire. However, we recognise that there are merits in voting for the least worst option or for a councillor who is acutely aware of the constraints they’ll be working under but who will still pull out the stops for you. Obviously, if there’s a candidate from the far right standing in your ward, then getting out to vote to stop them making gains is imperative. Supporters of reactionary and far right parties tend to be more motivated when it comes to voting so that has to be countered.

Whether you vote or not, bear in mind that real change will only come from grassroots community action by residents committed to making a difference in their neighbourhoods. In the case of the ¾ estate in Vange, that change has come from work by the Vange Hill Community Group facilitated by Basildon & Southend Housing Action. This has involved community clean ups, guerilla gardening and constant lobbying of the council officers involved in providing the services the estate relies upon. The two ward councillors have proved themselves to be less than effective and they’re simply bypassed.

In the case of Brooke House Residents (Brooke House is the iconic block in the middle of Basildon town centre) they do have a ward councillor who is pro-active and fully in support of their efforts. He’ll do what he can to lobby for improvements in the block but is also acutely aware of the constraints he faces. One being the long term aim of the council using a policy of managed decline to force residents to seek alternative accommodation so the block can be flogged off to a developer.

Vote if you want to but bear in mind that bringing about real, radical change doesn’t come from putting a voting slip in a ballot box every now and again. It comes from residents recognising that it’s only through their collective efforts that things will start to change and then getting together to start to bring that about. We at South Essex Working Class Action (the Stirrer and Basildon & Southend Housing Action) are there to help facilitate the work of any residents who want to bring about change at the grassroots in their neighbourhoods.

A few thoughts on local councillors

The next round of local elections will be taking place on Thursday May 3rd. The party political point scoring is now spreading out from the council chambers and will be coming to your doorstep. All too often the hopes, concerns and fears of the residents are cynically used to fuel that point scoring rather than being the focus of attention of councillors and candidates. It’s not surprising that turnouts at local elections are abysmally low…

We’re going into the realms of ‘what if’ but…what if party politics was taken out of the equation when it comes to voting for local councillors? If someone wants to stand for election as a councillor, it should be because they want to do the best for the people living in their ward. That should be the only basis for wanting to become a councillor – political ambition and party politics has no place in the council chamber. Candidates should clearly state why they’re standing, what they’ve already done for their community, what ideas they have to make their neighbourhood a better place to live and what skills and ideas they can deploy to make their role work – then let the voters decide who’s the best person to represent their interests without hiding behind a political label.

Needless to say, having to stand as an independent offering your life skills and experience means you will have to be well known in the ward you intend to represent. That would rule out the opportunists going for a ward on the other side of the borough because the political party they ‘re standing for fancy their chances there. Without wanting to state the bleeding obvious, a councillor can only effectively represent a ward if they live in it and not only know about but experience the problems that people living there have to deal with. If any independent councillor wants to move away from the ward once elected, they should be obliged to stand down as a councillor and an election for a new one should be called.

In a more open, equitable system where local councillors act in the interests of their residents and have no party affiliations, they would effectively be operating as delegates. Delegates should be recallable if it’s felt that they are not properly representing the interests of the residents who gave them a mandate. Suffice to say, we can think of a few councillors across southern Essex who would no longer be in their roles if they were subject to recall for poor performance.

This is going to upset the defenders of the party political system – tough luck. All we have to say to you is take a step back, think about why – except when there’s a general election at the same time as a local one – the majority of the electorate don’t think it’s worth voting and then ask yourself what is it about party politics on the local council that people find off-putting. Councillors working together to put the needs of their community first instead of engaging in political point scoring and bickering might actually lead to people taking more of an interest in what the council does…that could eventually lead to some genuine change…

Havering Tories and dog whistle politics

The Tories in Havering have produced a leaflet that has generated a lot of controversy: Labour condemns Tories for racially charged attack on Sadiq Khan. This example of dog whistle politics is so over the top, it almost reads as a parody of itself!

Let’s unpack this leaflet… The first bullet point refers to ‘massive population increases from London’. Havering has been a London borough ever since the creation of Greater London on 1st April 1965. What they fear is movement from inner to outer London. Funny that, because a lot of the housing built in Havering from the start of the 20th century onwards was to facilitate the desire of people to move out from the crowded streets of inner London to the suburbs. This is something that has been going on for over a century! When the Tories talk about ‘massive population increases’, they are dropping a not very subtle hint that some of those moving out may be of a different ethnicity to the white, 50 years plus demographic they’re targeting for votes. This is classic dog whistle politics in action.

The second bullet point talks about vast numbers of high rise blocks. In case the Tories in Havering hadn’t noticed, there’s this transport link called Crossrail running all the way from Reading in the west through to Shenfield in the east and passing right through Romford. There’s this thing called the ‘Crossrail effect’ which is boosting property prices all the way along the route and fuelling the development of clusters of apartment developments aimed at people commuting into London. You would have thought that rising property prices and the potential nest eggs they could provide would be good news for the Baby Boomer demographic the Tories are targeting with this leaflet.

What the leaflet fails to mention is why there’s such pressure to release land for housing development in Havering. Central and inner London has block after block of high end luxury apartments that are nowhere near fully occupied and whose function is to act as investment vehicles for the super rich who buy and sell them for a profit. Developments which were warmly welcomed by none other than the previous Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. So, it would seem that Havering Tories are railing against developments that are pretty much a direct consequence of the policies of Boris Johnson! When you have housing in central London built to function as an asset instead of providing somewhere for ordinary Londoners to live, it’s not surprising there’s such pressure on locations such as Romford for housing developments where people can actually live.

All the way along the estuary, local authorities are being asked to identify land that can be released for development to meet government designated housing targets. If local authorities fail to come up with a plan to identify land suitable for housing, central government have said they will intervene and undertake the task themselves. In effect, the Tories in Havering are questioning the housing policies of their Tory government – just take some time to think about that one because you couldn’t make this up!

The third bullet point talks about ‘building on our cherished open spaces’. If there were schemes to concrete over spaces such as Raphaels Park, Bedfords Park and the like, it would be understandable if people were getting outraged. If there was any hint of a threat to those spaces, we’d be joining in with the outrage! From what we understand, a lot of the high density apartment blocks scheduled for Romford are going onto brownfield sites. Also, as they’re apartment blocks, by their very nature, they’ll be going upwards and will have a relatively small footprint. Yes, there are issues with infill proposals in some neighbourhoods which are posing a threat to loved and used recreational spaces and residents are rightly opposing those and by and large, we would support their efforts to resist this.

Then there’s ‘Havering ruled by Mayor Khan’. Now, as anarchists and housing activists, we don’t have a lot of time for any mayor of London, regardless of political affiliation, who they are or where they’re from. However, this statement has to be taken apart and shown up for what it is. As we’ve stated before, Havering has been a part of Greater London since 1965. As part of what is now the Greater London Authority, Havering like every other London borough is subject to the policy decisions of the elected mayor which happens to be Sadiq Khan. The Mayor of London has a policy remit that’s more of an overview of Greater London than day to day interference in what goes in in each and every London borough. Okay, it’s obvious what’s going on here…it’s the Tories playing on the fears of a certain section of their target demographic about someone with a ‘foreign sounding’ name having a say in how their lives are run. Even though Sadiq Khan was born and raised in south London. Again, this is classic dog whistle politics…

To be honest, when we saw this leaflet on someone’s Facebook page, our initial reaction was this has to be a spoof as it has so many holes in it. A couple of minutes of checking proved that it wasn’t a spoof and was the real deal. At the start of this piece we jokingly said this leaflet reads as a parody of itself. On a more serious note, this is a real throwback to the kind of reactionary rhetoric we used to see thirty or more years ago. The fact the Tories in Havering feel confident about putting this out is an indication of how reactionary the political and social climate is becoming. We have a lot of work to do to counter this…

We got it wrong on the turnout…

A few posts back, we predicted that there would be a low turnout at the general election: Election 2017 – some thoughts from outside the bubblehttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/election-2017-some-thoughts-from-outside-the-bubble/ Well…we were wrong on that one weren’t we?! The turnout was up, boosted by many young people registering to vote and then going on to exercise that right: Huge number of young people believed to be behind vote that rocked Torieshttp://metro.co.uk/2017/06/09/youth-out-in-full-force-as-72-of-young-people-vote-in-general-election-6696890/

A fair number of them voted for Corbyn’s Labour. It has to be acknowledged that despite Corbyn starting out from a pretty dismal position in the polls, the ensuing campaign energised a lot of younger people into registering and voting, making May’s campaign look wooden and stilted by comparision. Yes, regardless of our criticisms of Labour, we’re admitting that Corbyn has created a new force in British politics and that has to be acknowledged. The question is, what happens now?

We still stand by every criticism that we and our comrades have made of Labour, particularly the way Labour controlled councils in London are actively complicit in the process of social cleansing in the name of ‘re-generation’: Clusterfuck! Labour’s Shameless Council Estate Rip-offhttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/06/07/clusterfuck-labours-shameless-council-estate-rip-off/ However, we also realise that many of the people who were swept up by the enthusiasm of Corbyn’s campaign were not aware of the reality of what Labour councils in the capital are actually doing. Those of us who are calling these councils to task (Architects 4 Social Housing, Class War, Focus E15 to name a few) don’t have the reach or clout we would like to get the message across and we know we have to up our game in order to do so.

The election is over and we would like to leave the arguments within anarchist circles about voting or not voting behind us and start to look at the task ahead. If just some of the people who were energetically campaigning for Corbyn can get stuck into grassroots activism in the community, workplace, colleges and out on the streets, it really would start to make a difference: What now? Fighting austerity in a hung parliamenthttps://libcom.org/blog/what-now-08062017