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…