electmartin1.blogspot.com The Socialist Alternative

The Socialist Alternative

Lewisham politics and on occasions, some things a little more light hearted!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Here's an article I wrote recently (whilst still a cllr) for ROOF Shelters Housing Magazine. Many thanks to Shelter for allowing me to reprint. Think its worth sharing on here in terms of all the housing issues which clearly are about to be put under even more strain with the ConDem budget

A couple of years back I wrote an article for ROOF about the increased involvement of the private sector and private sector methods in housing. So where are we four years later? And what’s my perspective as a (previous) local authority councillor representing an inner City part of London

Over the years, local councils have been stripped of many of their powers over different services and the money available to them has been cut by central government.  The Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who began this process, famously said, “I must take more power to the centre to stop socialism”.  

What she really meant was that services like the NHS, state education, council housing and other aspects of the welfare state which protect people against the effects of ‘market competition’, should be opened up to private companies to make profits from public needs.  But as people won’t generally vote to hand over vital services to ‘profit-first’ companies, the democratic control over services exercised through elected local councils had to be eroded.

So lets have a look at how such methods, first pursued by Thatcher and subsequently continued by New Labour have impacted on housing in Lewisham Council. Lewisham council has a Labour majority council (just) with a directed elected Labour Mayor, Sir Steve Bullock. It has set up Lewisham Homes as a management entity to manage its stock. Lets take stock, afterall it is probably fair to say that it’s a model that is replicated elsewhere in the country. The arrival of Lewisham Homes saw the loss of large numbers of staff, housing office closures as well as the loss of traditional allocated housing officers. The composition of the management board of this arms lengths housing organization also meant in practice that tenants and lease holders were always in a minority on the board. Local ‘business people’ would be in the majority with highly paid council executives and other officials. Where is the democracy in this model? Election of the board was ruled out and leaseholder views were sidelined.

Thereafter Lewisham Councils’ housing policy sought to increase housing supply, widen housing choice, manage demand, develop the private rented sector and expand housing offers whilst greening homes and neighbourhoods.

Each element of this policy can be debated in its own right. A particular issue is the ‘managing demand’ element. For example in order to manage demand the new housing allocations policy, (point 2.3.1, pages 13 and 14, 2009, for those who want to check it out), now states that those with an income, or savings of assets of £16k are no longer eligible to register for housing. Even if those assets belong to a member of your family who forms part of the household. This could mean that elderly people who have been saving all their working life or even if you own a car worth this amount! This paltry amount is considered to be a significant asset according to the housing directors. Of course 16k is far from a significant asset or wage and in reality those earning this amount, will already know what it means to be part of the working poor. Now they will be poor and without even the safety net of secure and affordable housing. During this same period we saw a major Housing Association in conjunction with Lewisham Council spend a million pounds on a housing stock transfer campaign that was rejected. A simple question frames this wasted opportunity – ‘How many repairs would that failed campaign have paid for?’

Home Search

Additionally a system called Home Search was set up in Lewisham which in practice meant that irrespective of your needs you queue along with everyone else and bid every week for available properties.  So everyone is equally left waiting forever for housing. Is this what is meant by the ‘Choice’ agenda that New Labour Councils have embraced with gusto? This model of provision reminds me of a Stalinist state where there is one loaf of bread in the bakery. But its ok, as everyone is forming an orderly queue around the corner and as far as the next block for that matter. This system just isn’t delivering, as those on the waiting list will confirm. Hence the cynical need by Lewisham to ‘manage the waiting list’ by effectively crossing people off it.

Down grading your priority housing score.

Oh and then there is the banding issue as well – whereby you re-label bands A, B, C and D as 1, 2, 3 and 4. At the same time as you move over to this system, you use it as an opportunity to downgrade a priority case as I have witnessed recently. In such a system it becomes almost incidental that someone should be disabled such that their disabled ‘sticker’ gets left of their housing notes. Why after all when you have ‘a choice’ based system would their disability factor into a decision to provide priority housing?  

What’s the alternative?

Our housing provision is in a mess, with 17,000 plus on the waiting list in Lewisham. Many tenants are living in overcrowded homes that are unsuitable for their and their families needs and many are living in disrepair. Yet did it have to be this way? Even by the summer of 2008, there were still 108 councils that had not transferred their council homes to housing associations or set up Arms Length Management Organisations. Yet these organisations were still managing to carry out Decent Homes improvements. 

But rather than be critical of the failures lets set out what we ought to be doing. Lets have a system where the repair programme is managed by in house staff, where rents would stay reasonable, where there was real democratic control by tenants (not unelected unaccountable boards). Lets combine a new house building programme with local skills training for youth especially and lets look at getting rid of the disasterous PFI housing programmes. Lets be bold and use our council status to engage in reasonable prudential borrowing. Lets use the general funds and council reserves along with any welcomed central government investment. This would be a huge brilliant start. It has not been missed by people that the government released money very quickly for the banks when it was required. It can be done. Besides it all makes economic sense to do these things. All councils borrow money, at cheaper rates and more securely (because they are public bodies) than commercial organisations like housing associations.
Some of us have tried to push these policies. In 2008, a proposal by myself and another socialist councillor argued for £13m to be released for housing repairs across a large section of the borough. This would have added just 3% to Lewisham’s overall borrowing plans. This was rejected by the other councillors. In comparison ruling councillors in Lewisham had borrowed £29.4m in 2006-07 to pay-off a Hyde debt from a Lewisham-Hyde ‘partnership project’ to refurbish just 149 homes on Lewisham’s St John’s estate. This showed that councils want to hand over council homes to housing associations even when it isn’t cost-effective to do so.

Councils still have enormous powers and responsibilities. Lewisham council still controls a budget of well over one billion pounds, spent on services from housing to schools, youth clubs, libraries, adult social care, crime reduction, sports centres, highways maintenance and refuse collection, to name but a few.  It also has legal powers, over some non-council provided services for example, that it can exercise for our benefit. What councils do, and what councillors do, can still massively affect the quality of our daily lives. They certainly don’t have to accept every dictate from central government to cut or privatise our services.  They have a choice.

Frank Dobson MP recently wrote in ROOF about the good old days of tenant empowerment. I share his sentiment for those days of collective action. Frank goes on to (rightly) criticise the ‘Lib Dem/Tory coalition running Camden council’ that ‘is selling vacant flats and houses to the highest bidder.’ He is right to take it personally as he states. But the record of his own party on housing is also questionable especially in Lewisham.

Got this email from Nick O'Shea chair of Lewisham Mencap - which was very nice indeed. Enjoyed working with them in opposing cuts and lets hope we can continue working together in the future. Thanks Nick! 
Hello Chris

Nick here from Lewisham Mencap.  It has dawned on me that you lost your seat in the Election and I just wanted to say thank you for all the outstanding work you did as a Councillor.  You made the services offered to vulnerable people your priority and were always really helpful, positive and willing to stand up and be counted.  It made a huge difference when we were mounting campaigns to prevent cuts to services and was good to know you were there!

So, from me and Lewisham Mencap, thank you and I wish you the very best in all that you go on to do.

With best wishes


Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The Earth Dies Screaming

I dedicate this song to BP - and I'll dig out 'A One in Ten' for George O a bit later


Monday, 21 June 2010

'We'll fight the cuts ' New Labour say... oh no they wont

Britain has been ‘Con Dem-ned’ to a future of savage attacks on public services, pay and pensions and benefits combined with tax increases for working and middle-class people. The Tory/ Liberal Coalition has been cobbled together in a desperate attempt to create a government enough to launch an all-out onslaught on the living standards of the working class


Two thirds of the new cabinet went to public school. This is a government of the elite, for the elite, and it is going to set out to hammer the rest of us. We are facing cuts of over £50 billion a year: that means, if we let them get away with it, that our public services and public sector pay and conditions will be cut by over 20%, the biggest cuts since the 1920’s.

But even if New Labour had won the general election there would have been no fundamental difference. Former Chancellor Alistair Darling explained New Labour’s cuts would have been deeper and tougher than those of Thatcher.


In Lewisham the New Labour council and Mayor has agreed £50-£60 million cuts over three years, which will hit schools, libraries, nurseries, bin collections, street cleaning, housing services, youth provision and much more. Newly elected Lewisham East Labour MP Heidi Alexander says that “we need to protect public services” and that she “will fight tooth and nail to make sure that money comes to Lewisham”. Yet as deputy mayor on Lewisham council, Ian and I witnessed Heidi's loyal New Labour ways as she consistently voted for cuts in a whole number of annually set budgets.

Ok lets be fair though. If New Labour are serious about fighting the cuts, then the Socialist Party with their tremedous track record in opposing cuts and with numerous successful campaigns under their belts, will be prepared to help. Will the New Labour councillors follow our strategy of seriously opposing these cuts? Like those in the Liverpool City Council who stood up to Thatcher between 1984 and 1986 and built houses and schools and created jobs in the teeth of a vicious Tory government.

Or is this just chest beating?

Sadly the reality is that it is the latter. As I blogged earlier, just three week after the election Lewisham’s New Labour council real intentions were made clear by announcing the closure of 8 childminding centres in July. These crèches are a vital service for parents who use the council’s adult education centres. These cuts will see one full-time and 25 part-time crèche workers lose their jobs. We say these crèches should stay and that Lewisham council should demand the necessary funding from government to keep these centres open. We will do all that we can alongside parents and crèche workers to defend this service.


We are not responsible for the increased government debt. Our services are threatened with the axe because of the economic crisis triggered by the bankers reckless gambling and £1.2 trillion that the government promised to rescue the banking system from the consequences of the gamblers actions! That is more than ten times the annual spending on health. Yet this year the ‘banksters’ bonuses are as high as ever. RBS, which is 84% owned by the taxpayer, is paying out £1.3 billion in bonuses to its top executives, while 2,000 of its lowest paid workers have been thrown onto the dole. We do not accept that working class people should have to pay for the economic crisis, while ‘the Banksters’ laugh all the way to the bank.

Public sector workers, users, parents, young people and everyone who doesn’t want to see the Tories destroy our services must get organised to fight the cuts – be they initiated by the Tory-Liberal government or the Labour council. At local level we need to form anti-cuts alliances to bring together the different campaigns in one united campaign against all the cuts. Nationally, a huge demonstration against cuts, to be followed by a 24 hour public sector general strike, is necessary.


All the establishment parties stand in the interests of the rich – the billionaires – rather than in the interests of the millions. We need a party that stands up for the millions not the millionaires. That is why the Socialist Party is part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) which includes among its supporters, Bob Crow leader of the transport workers’ union (RMT) and many other socialists trade unionists and community campaigners. The Socialist party sees TUSC as a step towards a new party- based on the trade unions and working-class people – a party that stands up for the millions not the millionaires.


We live in a capitalist society where the profits of a few always come before meeting the needs of the many. We are fighting for a different type of society both in Britain and around the world. A socialist society, where the major corporations and banks that dominate the economy are taken into democratic public ownership. Production can then be democratically planned to meet the needs of the population and the environment rather than to line the pockets of a few billionaires.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Youth fight for Jobs

Rather than just replicate the arguments - heres the rest of the leaflet - feel free to come and join us on Tuesday  

The Conservatives during the elections talked about abolishing the Future Jobs Fund. Youth Fight for Jobs criticised this scheme because it did not offer permanent jobs, only six month placements, often on the minimum wage. Because of their temporary nature, they were likely to be low skilled, and more fundamentally did not ultimately change the employment outlooks. The number of vacancies is dropping (now at 475,000) while the number of unemployed increases. This scheme has already created anger amongst young people forced onto it, who will undoubtedly welcome its abolition.

But signs are that the Conservatives will introduce schemes which are less useful than that. According to the Financial Times “The Tories promise to create 400,000 apprenticeship or training places and give smaller companies a £2,000 bonus for every apprentice hired but have made no pledge to continue Labour’s £1bn Future Jobs Fund.”

Big attacks are already expected to continue in further and higher education. Many young people have continued in education, or re-entered, to gain skills and avoid the thankless task of chasing non-existent jobs. But cuts in colleges and universities will still go ahead, while many young people are worried about attacks on grants for those in colleges (EMA for 16-19s, ALG for those above 19). Further down the line, the cap on university places remains in place, and the threat of university fee increases.

This coalition will implement Conservative attacks on young people and the unemployed - the attacks that were found in the manifestos of Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats. The new cabinet is two thirds private school, two thirds Oxford & Cambridge educated, with multi-millionaires well represented within their ranks.
Youth Fight for Jobs will continue to organise for a mass fight back, for a program of job creation to solve the problems of unemployment, for free education to allow people to develop to the best of their abilities, and for a living wage that will allow those in work to live a decent life.

020 8558 7947 • PO BOX 858, London, E11 1YG
youtube.com/youthfightforjobs http://tiny.cc/YFJfacebook

Victory !! Goldsmith Trust Defeated!


But we cant be complacent. The Con Dems clearly are about to attack systematically the principle of comprehensive education with their 'Free Schools'

Argentina - politics and football

Its often said by non football loving lefties that football is 'reactionary' and 'de-politicising'

I do have some sympathy as a mental health worker, with the idea that football can often be the only acceptable way for males to display their emotions publicly due to machismo attitudes..

However sometimes there are little glimmers of politics combined with football - which I think is a good thing

Take a look here at the Argentina side taking a stand supporting the mothers of the Desaparecidos or Disappeared - when the right wing military junta took power in the 1970s


But also genuine frendship that Castro and Maradona have built up over the years!


The ever controversial character that is Maradona - clearly showing his political leanings! And lets hope his unorthodox approaches to leading the Argentinian team are successful. Afterall  I stuck a fiver on Argentina when they were still 7 to 1. Was just so tempted - in defiance against the way the UK media wrote him off as a mad man.

As it stands currently the Argentines are looking good!