Its not funny but it’s a joke: London’s housing activists

At the weekend I attended the March for Homes, this was called by five of the council estates that are under threat of demolition in London. The demo was outside City Hall near Tower Bridge, it started at noon on Saturday and City Hall where the London Assembly sits, and the Mayor has his office was empty and closed. In truth I didn’t want to go, I have been on many of these call outs over the last 6 years and each one gets more depressing than the last.

In 2013 we were a growing housing campaign, 2014 and 2015 numbers were rising with each demonstration and rally. All over London people were organising, at one point there were as many as 200 different campaigns fighting to stop the council from demolishing their estates, or redeveloping them in ways that would make their lives more difficult or more expensive, other campaigns wanted a fairness and was trying to hold their local councils to account to what had been promised. This period was becoming dynamic, and was totally led from the front by working class women.

During this period I honestly thought the housing movement would do something incredible: it was growing in numbers but also in political capital, we were being seen, I honestly thought this was the beginning of a housing revolution. I remember Sadiq Khan coming out during the Mayoral election campaign, and stating that he would not allow poor doors in London if he were elected, he also stood on a platform that the housing crisis would be his priority. It sounded promising, it turned out to be totally fake news, Sadiq Khan won and has been on par with Boris Johnson regarding housing, he has given loans and grants to property developers and done nothing for social or council housing, he also hasn’t made good on his Poor Door pledge, he has never mentioned it again.

Since 2015 the housing movement in London has dwindled with fewer and fewer people becoming engaged, and the lead has moved from working class women who live on the estates to organised groups, The Peoples Assembly, the Socialist Workers Party, and the Labour Party, despite the open knowledge that it is the London Labour Party that are responsible for most of the class cleansing at a local council level and Labour Party supporters in and outside of London are tactfully ignoring what that their comrades are doing to working class people’s communities. The consequence has been that the housing movement has been astro-turfed by the Labour Party and its supporters, and the wider organised left, they have fire blanketed the working class anger within our estates through narratives of false hope, through top down organisation, and through boredom. They have put party collegiality way above working class people and the housing crisis. The narratives go like this:

The Tories have inflicted austerity on us and removed funding from local councils, therefore the Labour councils have had no choice but to bring in private developers, demolish social housing that they can no longer afford to maintain, or to use the expensive private rented sector rather than invest in new council homes. Everything will be better in some point in the future, somehow with a Corbyn government.

Anyone that does not agree with this narrative or in my case knows that it is totally bullshit bollocks are seen as being negative, not helping, or as I was accused on Saturday of thinking this issue was funny. The truth is the situation on Saturday was farcical, I might write a short story about it because it was hilarious.

I arrived at 1pm and the rally had already been going on for an hour with speaker after speaker all saying the same things they said on the last rally, but previously to more people. There were the usual SWP paper sellers unaware that they are an a total embarrassment to anyone on the left, but no one dare tell them to fuck off because without them numbers would half, as usual there were the same community leaders doing speech after speech, I could hear the usual catchphrases ‘social housing not social cleansing’ ‘no demolition without permission’ and the obligatory ‘we have to stand together’ — meaning we are in charge and you have to stand behind us. The now obligatory ‘and when we have a Corbyn government we will all be alright’ while avoiding the elephant in the room — or the elephant sat on the pavement near Tower Bridge and that was that everyone was there because it is Labour councils, and Labour Mayors that are responsible for the social cleansing.

I was with Leigh Miller who had recently been illegally evicted from Gallions Point Marina, a place that Leigh and her Dad Eric had taken a piece old brownfield contaminated dock land at Galiions Point on the Thames nearly 30 years and turned it into a boat yard, with affordable moorings and a family atmosphere, attracting working class Londoners who love being by the Thames. She has been fighting an eviction notice for almost two years. The Mayor of London’s office wants that land back, it is to be part of another new development that is to extend Canary Wharf financial centre to Gallions point. Two weeks ago police with dogs illegally evicted her from her business and her boat that is moored there. Her Father Eric that has been ill with cancer became so ill he is now in hospital. However their fight continues, Leigh is taking this to the High Court, she says she will never stop, it’s her home.

We were hoping that Leigh would be able to speak on the platform about what was happening to her and her Dad but instead the speakers continued ‘Jeremy Corbyn will save us blah blah – demolition with permission’ blah blah blah.

It was a farce and the 200 people who were there were starting to dwindle, to be honest it was pointless, no-one was even in City Hall, it was closed. Some of those that were bored and tired and frustrated and thought there was better things to say — for example: ‘no demolition at all’ or ‘we could come back when this place is open and tell the assembly members, and the Mayor what we think’.

Sadly this was a step too far for the paper sellers and the housing radicals, so a few of us unfurled two amusing banners pointing out that the Labour Party was the problem. A row ensued — apparently we disrupted their march. By this time any resident had given up out of boredom and left, so the paper sellers and radical housing people decided to give it to the man one last time. They marched around the empty building on a Saturday afternoon with no-one there singing ‘Revolution’ as they revolved around an empty City Hall.

Do I think the housing crisis is funny? I’m 50 years old and worry about paying my rent every month, I live hand to mouth as I did when I was 19 with a one-year-old. My son, now 30, lives the same way, I cant even help him out. Leigh and Eric have lost their home and business, my mate Martin in his late ’60s cant even see out of his flat anymore there are so many skyscrapers blocking his view, and all his friends are leaving him as London pushes them out. I do not think this is funny. But I have to say the demo on Saturday was a joke.

~ Lisa Mckenzie