By Kieran Aldred
This General Election result is devastating. A Conservative majority for five years – none of us expected it. No Labour/ SNP led Tory opposition. No Liberal Democrat break on austerity. Just pure unadulterated revved up Thatcherite neoliberalism. For private renters in England and Wales, and everyone caught up in the gnashing teeth of the housing crisis, this is the worst outcome.
David Cameron has promised to extend Right to Buy to Housing Associations, fuelling further sell offs of social housing and increases in pariah landlords. Housing benefit will be further restricted for the young and the disabled, forcing more and more vulnerable people from their homes. We can’t even expect the measly crumbs of housing policy reform promised by the Labour party. No three year tenancies. No cap on rent increases. No repeal of the Bedroom Tax. No commitment to a higher minimum wage.
With Cameron’s promise of £12 billion cuts in public spending, the council services we rely on will be decimated. Even the more socially minded councils will struggle to support the needs of an increasingly impoverished and homeless population. Expect more social cleansing, more evictions, more people ejected, without jobs, family or social connections, to the Midlands, South Coast, West and beyond.
So what do we do? We can’t let ourselves slip into a coma of despair and rage. Now more than ever we need to be focused, vocal and organised.
Housing activist groups are springing up all around London as people in crisis are radicalised. Our groups need to come together to work in solidarity, develop our skills and take action to bring the political and economic structures behind the housing crisis to their needs. In all the uncertainties that lay ahead, we can be sure of one thing; that a Tory majority government are not interested in our right to decent, secure genuinely affordable housing. Any change will happen because we become powerful enough to demand it.
Our greatest hope for change is a collective demand to end the forces of social cleansing and profiteering. As activists, we won’t agree with each other all the time. But now more than ever we need each another.
Amongst the doom and gloom there are glimmers of hope. In London, Labour did better than elsewhere in the country, taking 45 out of the 73 parliamentary seats. This includes, for Digs, the return with increased majorities of Meg Hillier and London Mayoral candidate Diane Abbott. Boris Johnson’s success in Uxbridge means that an open London Mayoral election is certain, either next year or possibly earlier if he is made a Cabinet member and decides not to do both jobs.
Diane Abbott and David Lammy are already eyeing up the Labour London Mayor candidacy. In the city suffering the worst ravages of the housing crisis, they both know the candidacy will be fought and won largely on their solutions to this crisis. Both hopefuls have said they support some form of rent control and that affordable housing and keeping people in their homes will be a priority.
But we need to demand that Labour London housing policy be founded on the needs of people rather than the needs of developers and landlords. This won’t happen unless we have an organised, vocal network of people willing to take action to defend our homes and communities.
As more and more activist groups rise from the toxic swamp of the housing crisis, we in London are in a brilliant position to mobilise people these struggles. This is probably partly why the Tories, ideologically opposed to council housing and falling over themselves to line the pockets of landlords and developers, have done badly in inner city London. In the fight to become Mayor, housing could be Labour’s biggest hope of success, and therefore our biggest hope of securing radical policies.
These will not be easy years ahead. Our campaigning and resistance has to grow and mature faster as the foundations of neoliberalism will be cemented in national legislation. London as the heart of the housing crisis has the most to gain and the most to lose, with a rising movement ready to demand change but with land and property greedily eyed for sale and exploitation. We must take this opportunity and galvanise. We must work together and resist. We must identify the weaknesses in our targets and strike. We must fight back. Our city, our community, and our homes depend on it.