With the Conservative & Lib Dems in full flow, it’s difficult to know which battles to pick, where to fight, what are the red lines. They’ve cancelled contracts to build schools, they’re engaging in blatant gerrymandering, they’re attacking local government budgets, they’re handing schools over to religious groups who are in favour of segregation (and Toby Young), they’re decimating workers’ right (2 years before you have any anyone?). Even the only saving grace is proven to be complete thin air, they’re doing nothing to improve civil liberties aside from cancelling ID cards which weren’t going to happen anyway (farming child detention to foreign ‘reintegration camps’, tracing e-mails etc.) and now they’re going to force the unemployed to do manual labour, community work, probably the job they’ve been fired from in their slash and burn libertarian for beginners economic rampage. This government is so extreme even Thatcher’s eyes would water (if she had tear ducts), with the help of the Lib Dems the very worst of the Tory party is finally getting its way, it’s like One Nation is a term applied only to the lyrics of Funkadelic in Dave, Gideon & Nick world. This government is going to war on everything that normal people worked and fought for over the last hundred odd years, and like in any war you make your first strike massive, devastating, overpowering, you strike multiple targets, you overwhelm your opponents and you make sure you leave your mark forever.
This is shock & awe politics.
Shock & awe politics on steroids by a generation of millionaires who have never had to work a day and take their inspiration from the stereotype asset strippers that previously existed only in the screenplays of satirists.
My lovely readers (or more likely, lovely reader who has stumbled here by accident), I’m afraid it is up to us. But what can we do? With so much going on how can we possible make a difference?
You know red lines, things like tuition fees used to be to the Lib Dems? I believe that each of us must pick our red line, pick our cause and make that our own fight. However, we must stick to it.
I have a red line. I have something that I cannot simply sit by and watch and I want to do something about it, I need to do something about it.
Before I discuss this red line, I need to contextualise why it’s so important to me. I love London, a city I have lived and worked in all my adult life. I love its vibrancy, I love how people mix, how people of all religions, creeds, colours, beliefs live side by side, I love how my beloved Arsenal can be so geographically close to Sp*rs yet retain their reputation as the purveyors of beautiful football, I love how much music there is here, how so many movements have come from London’s streets and London’s colleges, I love how I can walk to and from work each day and walk through so many different cities in one, and I love how rich and poor live side by side.
For me, this last point, that the average London street like mine places millionaires next to some of London’s poorest families is something that helps London be all of those great things above, the mixing of financial backgrounds is a key factor in London’s vibrancy.
With the disgraceful cuts in Housing Benefit, the Tory/Lib Dem alliance wants to attack this way of life, this fundamental of London’s spirit, this fact that has been true of this city for hundreds of years. They don’t believe the poor should participate in a city which truly is one of the capitals of the world. The refrain you will hear is “Why should poor people live in London if other working people can’t afford to”?
Do you know why? Exactly because people can’t afford to. Property poverty in London is a huge problem. My humble one bedroom in zone 2 costs over half of the average wage before tax, and that’s without council tax, bills etc. How the hell can a family afford to live here? To have a 2, 3 or 4 bedroom house needed for their roost. No, those who state that the poor shouldn’t live in London if they can’t afford it think not of how an affordable social housing solution could not only solve this problem but also give jobs to those working in the building trade. It’s the kind of hateful self-interest that you see when people state we shouldn’t give aid to foreign states ‘COS WEVE GOT R OWN PROBLUMS’.
They’re happy for London to be out of reach for all normal families because it is for them. But I am not. I can afford it here, I am one of the lucky ones, but I don’t want to live in a London devoid of children from working class familes. I don’t want to live in a London full only of professional couples and flats used by the super-rich for a few days each year.
It’s not as though everyday families can afford to move to the countryside. These families will end up in a tiny strip of the southeast’s suburbia and the north (as outlined here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/nov/08/housing-benefit-north-south-divide ) leaving London a sterile city, a playground populated by the rich whilst ‘the help’ is bussed in from miles away to do the dirty jobs (they won’t get the train as transport poverty is on the up, what with 30% fare increases). It’s also simply not the case that this cap will depress rental prices and normalise the lettings market as the Tory & Lib Dem buddies will tell you because landlords are already refusing to take tenants on Housing Benefit as I noted when I was moving earlier this year and as Glenda Jackson points out here: http://www.24dash.com/news/housing/2010-11-03-Housing-benefit-cap-wont-lead-to-surge-in-homelessness-insists-welfare-minister
No, this change in housing benefit is an attack on London’s soul.
The Tory’s and Lib Dems will tell you this is an attack on the workshy, but only something like 1 in 8 HB claimants is unemployed (and I simply don’t accept the rhetoric that the unemployed are workshy). It is an attack on those who don’t have enough money, it is social cleansing and Clegg gets angry about those words being used because they ring true.
And I can’t sit here and take it. Much as it doesn’t effect me directly it affects my city, my community, and I must do something.
So this blog is a call to action for anyone who like me, cannot let this one happen. I don’t know what to do, but I have got an idea. We need to make this policy unworkable. We need to make sure that everyone realises that this is an attack on every day families. We need to make sure that landlords put the Conservatives under pressure. We need to take action.
My idea is that we need to organise to help families to stay in their homes, to pay what they can afford but simply refuse to leave their homes. We need to stand with them when the bailiffs arrive, we need to make sure that each time they try to evict a family that there are cameras to record this social cleansing as it happens. We need to organise so this flood of refugees from London doesn’t go unnoticed. That this social cleansing is not made easy, that it’s made every bit as hard as actioning this type of hideous policy should be.
We need to make sure that people understand that this is children being ripped from their schools, from their friends, just because their parents have the audacity to be in a low paid job. We need to make sure that people realise that extended families will be separated, that grandparents who raise so many of our children these days, will be living halfway across the country once the 2 generations below them have been forced away.
We need to help people stay in their homes, and if they can’t stay we need to make moving them on as painful as can be imagined for the government, for landlords and for bailiffs.
So much as I don’t have a clue about how we’re going to organise (PLEASE HELP ME), I do know this, I want to call this action “Stay”. For me it’s about helping people stay, stay in their homes, stay close to their communities and support groups, stay close to their schools, stay in stability, such a core thing in helping people get back on their feet. But it’s also about this, I want London to Stay London.
Who’s with me?
EDIT: To get in touch you can tweet me http://twitter.com/kilburnmat or mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ve been using #STAY as the hashtag to keep a tab on it so feel free to use that too