Highlights from Occupy London protest issues demands to democratise City of London | UK news | guardian.co.uk
- An end to business and corporate block-votes in all council elections, which can be used to outvote local residents.
- Abolition of existing “secrecy practices” within the City, and total and transparent reform of its institutions to end corporate tax evasion.
- The decommissioning of the City of London police with officers being brought under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan police force.
- Abolition of the offices of Lord Mayor of London, the Sheriffs and the Aldermen.
- And a truth and reconciliation commission to examine corruption within the City and its institutions.
I agree with them, but fear they’ll be outmanoeuvred by an increasingly belligerent Church of England, aided as it is by the right wing press and other apologists. Giles Fraser is gone, edged out by a Church completely indifferent to its scriptural objectives. The organisation which repeatedly bleats about losing its influence and how it faces ‘persecution’ by no longer being able to discriminate against whomever it pleases, is going to show just what lengths it’s prepared to go to to protect its privilege. Inequality? Who cares. Corruption in the City which is its home? Not a problem, because they do very well out of not challenging the neoliberal status quo.
The discussion about the days of rioting in England is continuing, amidst polarisation the likes of which I’ve never experienced in discussing politics before. Here we have Dr David Starkey – noted historian and frequent pain the ass – arguing about the riots being down to black ‘culture’ (read: ‘people’). I’ve always detested this man. Always. And after these exchanges on the BBC’s ‘Newsnight’ I can confirm I think even less of him now. Try this initial quote:
David Starkey: There has been a profound cultural change. I’ve just been re-reading Enoch Powell, the rivers of blood speech. His prophesy was absolutely right in one sense; the Tiber didn’t foam with blood, but flames lambent wrapped around Tottenham and wrapped around Clapham. But it wasn’t intercommunal violence. This is where he was completely wrong.
What’s happened is that a substantial section of the chavs that your wrote about have become black. The whites have become black.
A particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic, gangster culture has become the fashion. And black and white, boy and girl operate in this language together.
This language which is wholly false, which is this Jamaican patois, that’s been intruded in England. And this is why so many of us have this sense of literally a foreign country.
Newsnight Interviewer: In that speech Enoch Powell talked about in 15 or 20 years time, the black man having the whip hand over the white man.
David Starkey: That’s not true. What’s happened is that black culture, this is the enormously important thing: it’s not skin colour, it’s cultural.
His final line is a neat side-step from saying black ‘skin colour’ doesn’t legitimise racist attitudes like his, but black ‘culture’ does. Riight. So black culture is gangster culture, which is the ’cause’ of the rioting? As Owen Jones points out he directly equates black culture with criminality! What a moronic way to try to legitimise racism! How many lies and misrepresentations can one man make in one sitting? Since when has there ever been a single, homogenous, black cultural entity? Since when is hip hop or rap a uniquely destructive cultural form? This man presents himself as an intellectual, yet doesn’t have any means of directly linking subcultural attitudes to skin colour to the violence which took place. Seumas Milne reflects on mainstream attitudes which very much did link into the violence, and strangely enough they have nothing to do whatsoever with race, sorry, ‘culture’:
Politicians and media talking heads counter that none of that has anything to do with sociopathic teenagers smashing shop windows to walk off with plasma TVs and trainers. But where exactly did the rioters get the idea that there is no higher value than acquiring individual wealth, or that branded goods are the route to identity and self-respect?
While bankers have publicly looted the country’s wealth and got away with it, it’s not hard to see why those who are locked out of the gravy train might think they were entitled to help themselves to a mobile phone. Some of the rioters make the connection explicitly. “The politicians say that we loot and rob, they are the original gangsters,” one told a reporter.Another explained to the BBC: “We’re showing the rich people we can do what we want.”
Most have no stake in a society which has shut them out or an economic model which has now run into the sand. It’s already become clear that divided Britain is in no state to absorb the austerity now being administered because three decades of neoliberal capitalism have already shattered so many social bonds of work and community.
What we’re now seeing across the cities of England is the reflection of a society run on greed – and a poisonous failure of politics and social solidarity. There is now a danger that rioting might feed into ethnic conflict.
So maybe it’s not ‘gangsta culture’ responsible at all, or (more significantly) the concept of ‘gangster’ needs to be seen in a much broader context than it already is. Helen Dexter looks into the causes of violence, and finds far more varied (and difficult) answers than simply blaming it on race:
Richards in Fighting for the Rain Forest (1996) talks of ‘excluded intellectuals’: educated youths with few if any opportunities, or youths who feel they have been denied the education they deserve. A young, educated population with few opportunities has played a significant role not only in Sierra Leone and Liberia but also the Arab Spring and recent protests in Greece and Spain. Richards’ work suggests that it is not poverty per se that provokes violence but rather relative deprivation, the perception that your situation is deteriorating in contrast to others around you.
In Modern Hatreds (2001) Kaufman writes about the power of narratives, history and myths in producing and legitimizing violence. In the Balkans those trying to provoke violence told stories about historic conflicts between peoples, telling a particular version of history that served their purpose. Commentators bought into these stories, re-telling them, reinforcing them and in stressing the ethnic origins of those involved – created the very ethnic war they claimed to be observing. Tottenham has conflict narratives aplenty. There is a history of police racism to draw on. Race is a much simpler narrative for the press and politicians to draw on than the more complex class and social exclusion.
Not all conditions have to be complex though. It is not a coincidence that these riots are happening during the summer holidays. An ex-community worker in Northern Ireland once commented that street violence was noticeably worse in Belfast during the school summer holidays. She discovered the power of ‘bouncy castle diplomacy’ – give the kids something fun to do and they tend not to throw bricks at each other. Never under-estimate the power of boredom.
So, are the riots in London to do with social exclusion and deprivation? Absolutely. Norman Tebitt had a point though when in 1981 he told an audience in Blackpool that although his Dad had been unemployed in the 1930s he hadn’t rioted. Certain structural conditions seem to make violence more likely but they don’t make violence inevitable; clearly agency is involved. However where violence does not make sense agents are unlikely to choose it.
Violence is also rarely if ever spontaneous: it is a reaction, it needs a spark. The surest way to make violence appear an appropriate course of action is to have suffered violence against you, either directly or indirectly – the shooting of Mark Duggan, the suicide of a Tunisian street vendor, a history of domestic violence.
One of the most ingrained and comforting misperceptions in politics is that humans are naturally prone to violence. We’re not. Most people find violence very difficult to do. Understanding the processes by which violence becomes a viable choice of action is not as much fun as declaring how awful it all is or heralding the overthrow of the government and rise of the underclass. It might help to stop it, though. Along the way we might also learn that our violence is not so different to theirs.
Strangely enough you can see much of this in Paul Lewis’ firsthand account of the riots. Maybe if our elected representatives read Dexter’s analysis and Lewis’ account, they’d choose more helpful options than collective punishment, political sentencing and threatening to restrict free speech for all. Kicking entire families out of council accommodation for any connection whatsoever with the four days of rioting is absurd, as is cutting off their benefits – how can this bring those who feel they’re at the fringes of society back into the fold? And whilst using rubber bullets and water cannon might make certain elements in society feel safer, they don’t just themselves undermine the rule of law, they miss the point entirely. As Seumas Milne said on Twitter today:
@BillyGottaJob Yes, agree about greed culture, underpinned by a capitalism that shreds communities, fuels inequality and delivers crisis
We have instead to start looking at the values upon which our society is based – our neoliberal capitalist project (note: I’m not knocking capitalism itself) is shredding communities and is fuelling inequality. What sort of society do we live in, where we say we should aspire to unhinged levels of materialism as a precondition to partaking in civil society, and then make it impossible for a sizeable number to join in? Charlie Brooker’s right when he adds:
If preventing further looting is our aim, then as well as addressing the gulf between the haves and the have-nots, I’d take a long hard look at MTV Cribs and similar TV shows that routinely confuse human achievement with the mindless acquisition of gaudy bling bullshit. The media heaves with propaganda promoting sensation and consumption above all else.
Jon Snow looks even deeper – at the gap between wealth and the law:
There is a sense in Britain too of a widening gap in both wealth and law – that there is a that there is one law for the elite and one for the poor. Take the MPs’ and Peers’ expenses scandal. A tiny handful of the expenses abusers have gone to jail. The vast majority have been allowed to pay stuff back or retreat to the political undergrowth. How many of the looters will be allowed to bring their plasma screens and running shoes back in return for their freedom? And yet it is the very unpunished abuse of the state by its elected and unelected elite which many argue is part of the landscape that the recent riots played out across.
We are told over sixteen-hundred rioters and looters have been arrested. Hundreds have been charged, some have already been punished – many cases are still in train.
Many have pointed to the reality that an even smaller handful of bankers have faced the law even than those politicians who have been prosecuted. No British banker is in jail for what happened in 2008. And as financial upheaval cascades before us all over again, almost no serious measures have been taken to stop the same people from doing it to the people all over again.
I’m not an academic. I’m not a famous historian. But even I can easily conclude from the evidence that we have at least two Britains (and on multiple levels), moving ever faster apart from each other, and simply making unfounded connections between race and criminality doesn’t hold the agencies responsible for increasing our society’s inequality to account. These riots have legitimised the latent authoritarianism present during New Labour like never before, threatening to make conversations about the inequalities central to early 21st century British life impossible. Anyone who suggests kicking rioters out on the streets (yet conveniently not other criminals) is a bad idea is being labelled as soft and weak, whilst a government hell bent on instituting unimaginable cuts misrepresents liberal attitudes to get away with blaming the disadvantaged for their disadvantage. Until/unless a new generation of politicians comes to the fore, eager more to do the right thing than retain indefinite power for its own sake, we’re screwed. The answers to the tough questions which need to be asked won’t come overnight – they may not even be possible within an electoral cycle, but since when did that mean they weren’t desirable?
Last night saw the Metropolitan Police boost their numbers and organising themselves tactically a lot better. As soon as ‘rioters’ decided that there would be repercussions to their behaviour London suddenly went almost quiet (despite numerous rumours otherwise). No water cannon was needed, no rubber bullets or (as many are still demanding) a shoot-to-kill policy. That pattern was clearly not repeated across the country, but who could have expected that the same problems would crop up in places like Gloucester? I’ll admit I have no idea what the policing was like last night in Manchester or Birmingham (and I’d like someone who genuinely knows more to educate me) – were they on the back foot? Under resourced? Badly organised? But even those things weren’t true, how can we still be talking about severely violent sanctions against (largely) kids? I’m fully aware of the violence they’ve been perpetrating, of the fires they’ve started and the lives they’ve ruined, but how can anyone who calls themselves ‘liberal’ (which to me means someone who doesn’t resort to knee-jerk solutions to deep rooted problems) imagine that increasing the levels of violence will fix anything?
There is another sensation you feel watching these pictures, and it is one with which we are becoming increasingly familiar, especially in 2011, the year the news refused to stop. It is impotence.
The most unsettling reports have been of policemen standing back, apparently powerless to stop people as they smash and burn and steal. It’s deeply unnerving to see those we expect to protect us incapable and in retreat. Read the comment threads and Twitter feeds, with their demands that “this must stop”, or even for looters to be “shot on sight”, and you see the signs of impotent rage, the desperate desire for somebody to do something.
I get it. To those of you who’ve been angry at me for damning you for your ‘illiberal’ stance on this disorder, I do get it. Seeing neighbourhoods you love getting trashed for no good reason while the authorities appear for any reason not to be able to stop it by means we’d prefer is of course going to push you beyond limits you thought you had. If I’d had my building burnt down in the last few days I’d probably feel the same. Our police can’t cure disorder as we’d like, in the same way that they and politicians don’t stop the bankers who destroyed our economy. Why should we bother sticking with the traditional ways of solving problems when it feels like they don’t work? Freedland adds:
And while the revulsion at the looting has been widespread and bipartisan – with plenty of liberals admitting to “coming over all Daily Mail” at the ugliness of the vandalism – that sense of the impotence of politics is widespread, too. One aspect of the phone-hacking scandal that went deep was its revelation that those we might think exert authority – police and politicians – were in fact supine before an unelected media corporation. The sheer power of News Corp contrasted with the craven behaviour of those we elect or entrust to look out for us.
Even if few years have brought the news congestion of 2011, there has been trouble before, with 1981 an obvious precedent. But in previous periods of instability the assumption was that if only political power was in different hands, or if key institutions like the police modified their behaviour, things would be better. Now what small glimmers of optimism there are come from pockets of communal action, like the collective clean-ups that started in London . Democratic institutions themselves are seen as weak or broken.
He’s right. We have a society where there are no meaningful consequences for bad behaviour. Break the economy and get your bonuses increased. Steal from a JD Sports and watch the Met let you get away red handed. Meanwhile our elected leaders let Rupert Murdoch and his ilk get away with outrageous abuses of corporate power, our courts throw the book at genuine protesters, when the police nearly kill them, and we’re left with the feeling that only by taking harsh steps can we redress this imbalance.
I still don’t agree. Calling in the army to shoot civilians didn’t work too well in Northern Ireland. Using a water cannon (I hear the UK only has 6), against fast-moving targets who’ll just slip off to another target well ahead of the police is pointless (and that’s without taking into consideration the morality of it). Higher numbers of police using better tactics won’t stop this disorder instantaneously – after all we have moronic behaviour like this to contend with – but London has tentatively shown it may at least stop further outbreaks of mass violence. But where do we go from there? Moral leadership would help, but good luck finding that in Westminster or Lambeth Palace. Dave Hill says:
it has long been far from clear that the tactic has had any benefit in terms of reducing knife and other violent crime against young people, which have risen under Boris. At the same time it is regarded by mature and intelligent adults to have had a very bad influence on the relationship between young Londoners and the police. The post-riot debate should not fixate on the quantity of police resources, but the effectiveness – or disastrous lack of it – with which they have used.
But there’s no call for this. We could put the last few days in perspective and ask who these kids are and why they might feel the need to behave like this (even illogical behaviour doesn’t come from a vacuum). Instead there’s just a call (now from the idiot PM) for greater weaponry. Just soundbiting everything that’s happened as ‘mindless criminality’ (which make no mistake has happened, but it doesn’t remotely explain everything) doesn’t allow any opportunity to consider our society’s values and how healthy they might be. Graeme Archer adds:
these riots aren’t spontaneous, but the result of years of incubation. We have de-civilised boroughs like Hackney. This is dis-civilisation. This is what happens when middle-class liberals suspend judgment, for fear of causing offence.
I’ve seen just that in my borough – the authorities refusing to intervene in a responsible, normal way against bad behaviour for fear of being called ‘intolerant’ or ‘racist’, but this just adds to the problem of troublemakers not seeing consequences for objectively bad behaviour. That message really has been received and understood. Instead politics is now all about the state saying it’s not interested in solving community problems; it’s about withdrawing money and opportunity from communities which need it the most, and crushing dissent. The next time this problem comes up in a big way (and if we don’t start being a bit more grown up it sure will), expect it to end far worse than this, and for our disconnect from one another to get completely out of hand. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Let me make one thing clear: I’ve been as frightened by this as everyone else. It’s happened on a small scale in my neighbourhood, in my borough on a much larger scale, and on far too big a scale in my town. I want it to stop – too much petty opportunism and sheer criminality is instilling fear within communities which had until three days ago at least existed under an uneasy truce. But what I don’t agree with is an increase in violence – I’m actually debating with celebrities (some big names) on Twitter right now why water cannon and rubber bullets are wrong. What we need before anything else is perspective. From David Allen Green:
there will be calls for more policing, and far more police powers. People’s fears will need to be allayed by gestures; everyone will need to feel safe again. A liberal approach to law and order will now seem to many as simply inappropriate and misconceived. But there is no good reason to introduce water cannon and rubber bullets. Indeed, in seemingly exceptional times, it is more important to adhere to the rule of law and the normal exercise of police powers.
There may be another riot tonight, or there may be calm. There may be another bout of looting, or there may be preventative police action. But when these riots are over, this new sense of fear may well remain. Society will not have broken, at least not in any objective manner; but people’s confidence that things will always be alright for them in their daily urban lives could perhaps be broken instead.
Water cannon blows people’s eyes out, whether they’re a looter or an innocent bystander, but that’s not even the greater point: it’s impossible to restore law and order by abandoning the rule of law. Our society is predicated upon the presumption of innocence for everyone at all times, unless proven guilty. Using potentially lethal weapons undermines the very fabric of our criminal justice system. The authoritarian left and right however don’t agree and we need to spend time convincing them. Kenan Malik does a great job of looking underneath this crisis:
There is clearly more to the riots than simple random hooliganism. But that does not mean that the riots, as many have claimed, are protests against disenfranchisement, social exclusion and wasted lives. In fact, it’s precisely because of disenfranchisement, social exclusion and wasted lives that these are not ‘protests’ in any meaningful sense, but a mixture of incoherent rage, gang thuggery and teenage mayhem. Disengaged not just from the political process (largely because politicians, especially those on the left, have disengaged from them), there is a generation (in fact more than a generation) with no focus for their anger and resentment, no sense that they can change society and no reason to feel responsible for the consequences of their actions. That is very different from suggesting that the riots were caused by, a response to, or a protest against, unemployment, austerity and the cuts.
Shock, horror, a nuanced look at why this is happening. It’s very easy for all of us at a time like this to lapse into easy left/right generalisations. And the point I highlighted makes far more sense than simply suggesting that there was an easy cause/effect between the cuts agenda and the explosion of violence into London’s (and beyond) streets. But Malik isn’t alone; there’s also the At-Long-Last-I-Have-A-Job-Blog:
The looting that’s engulfing us must become a game-changing moment for our society. Repressing the urges and desires that we have so carefully groomed will not work. We cannot police the problem out of existence. It may well be that in the very short term there must be a robust response because the consequences of this unrest are too devastating for too many of our comrades for it to be simply allowed to run its course. But if we think that crushing this revolt with unprecedented firepower and then carrying on as before will sort the problems out, we are deluded. We have to attack the root causes. We can’t continue to have “good” greed and “bad” greed. We have to regain the cultural understanding that we appear to have lost: that all greed is corrosive. That will require changes in us all, not just in those who are rampaging through our streets.
This is a brilliant, even deeper look at what’s fuelling this seemingly contagious behaviour. We have a society which is indeed now built on the value that greed is good. New Labour built that up to the nth degree, building up the entire economy on the presumption that acquisition for its own sake was a good thing. Crazy levels of debt were built up as people thoughtlessly got things for the sake of getting them. And of course after 2008 we’ve had an equally loud message that it’s possible to get away with unthinkable levels of greed: if you’re a banker you can wreck the entire economy and noone will hold you to account. It seems silly now to think that that message wouldn’t spread out into wider society and have lessons drawn from it. Our values as a whole are utterly fucked up.
I have a few other thoughts:
- Rolling/’breaking’ news is a problematic factor here. There’s more than a little evidence piling up that opportunistic little shits are seeing disorder as it happens and then joining in. I don’t believe in censoring the press in any way, but ‘breaking’ news doesn’t allow for any understanding, and the BBC at least, as a public service broadcaster should think long and hard about its priorities here.
- Twitter has been condemned by the Right as a contributing cause, but that’s as moronic as blaming the telephone for violence in the past. The medium isn’t the problem. It’s also disturbing to hear the Met are planning on trawling through thousands of tweets, looking for people inciting violence. Demonising speech, even inflammatory speech, without being able to determine cause & effect, is dangerous.
- There’s more than a little evidence also that the police allowed certain flashpoints to happen unchecked. There’s either incompetence or appallingly Macchiavellian agendas at play in the middle of this in certain boroughs. This isn’t to say that all the policing throughout this has been bad, but there is the sense that the Met is an even more disordered mess than we’d previously thought. Hopefully today’s effort will be better.
That’s it for now – I don’t have any easy answers. Comments welcome.
On Saturday I attended the highly successful #march26 March for the Alternative, and I was almost outside Fortnum & Mason when the TSG riot police blocked Piccadilly off entirely. I knew that protesters from UK Uncut had occupied the store but it was still a shock to see the sheer volume of police removing what I ‘d understood to be a sitdown protest with considerable prejudice. One of them has shared her experience, and it makes a great deal more sense now:
UK Uncut conducted itself with this peaceful etiquette throughout the three-hour occupation of Fortnum & Mason, a shop they said they had chosen because a related company allegedly avoided £40m in taxes.
Despite being detained in the store, Joan Higgins, 61, from Liverpool, described the protester’s theatrical show as “the perfect accompaniment to my tea and scones”. The exit was slightly less polite.
Police officers inside the building thanked protesters for their cooperation and promised that they could leave together without interrogation. Outside, however, riot police pushed those who exited into a small area where they were unlinked by force, photographed, arrested and led away. The protesters, who spent the night in police stations around London, believed they had been duped. Or communication between police inside and the force outside the shop had completely broken down. The riot police told me that protesters were being arrested for “aggravated trespassing” and that the customers unable to leave the shop were “scared half-to-death”. A spokeswoman for Fortnum & Mason said: “The damage is minimal. We have cleared up after the disruption and are now helping our neighbours on Piccadilly do the same. The store is open for business as usual.”
My partner and I were walking right behind the building on Jermyn Street to bypass the trouble, when a bank of TSG started marching down the street in our general direction. Clearly an order had been given by someone to secure the entire area with as much menace as possible, without any interest in differentiating between Black Bloc anarchists (who were causing significant trouble, and had done throughout the day) and anyone else. Laurie Penny said of the situation at Fortnum & Mason:
What differentiates the rioters in Picadilly and Oxford Circus from the rally attendees in Hyde Park is not the fact that the latter are “real” protestors and the former merely “anarchists” (still an unthinking synonym for “hooligans” in the language of the press). The difference is that many unions and affiliated citizens still hold out hope that if they behave civilly, this government will do likewise.
The younger generation in particular, who reached puberty just in time to see a huge, peaceful march in 2003 change absolutely nothing, can’t be expected to have any such confidence. We can hardly blame a cohort that has been roundly sold out, priced out, ignored, and now shoved onto the dole as the Chancellor announces yet another tax break for bankers, for such skepticism. If they do not believe the government cares one jot about what young or working-class people really think, it may be because any evidence of such concern is sorely lacking.
She has a point. The increase in radical behaviour on the streets can easily be tracked back (in large measure) to New Labour’s betrayal over Iraq. The power of the signal which Blair sent out in his refusal to acknowledge the will of over 2 million people who protested entirely peacefully can’t be understated, and Penny is right when she notes that a significant number of young people have understood it; peaceful protest changes nothing. Having said that, I haven’t heard a single account of the protest at Fortnum & Mason to suggest it was marred by violence (when other local premises had been attacked), and she continues:
A large number of young people in Britain have become radicalised in a hurry, and not all of their energies are properly directed, explaining in part the confusion on the streets yesterday. Among their number, however, are many principled, determined and peaceful groups working to affect change and build resistance in any way they can.
One of these groups is UK Uncut. I return to Fortnum’s in time to see dozens of key members of the group herded in front of the store and let out one by one, to be photographed, handcuffed and arrested. With the handful of real, random agitators easy to identify as they tear through the streets of Mayfair, the met has chosen instead to concentrate its energies on UK Uncut – the most successful, high-profile and democratic anti-cuts group in Britain.
UK Uncut has embarrassed both the government and the police with its gentle, inclusive, imaginative direct action days over the past six months. As its members are manhandled onto police coaches, waiting patiently to be taken to jail whilst career troublemakers run free and unarrested in the streets outside, one has to ask oneself why.
Of course the mainstream media and usual suspects will now lump UK Uncut alongside Black Bloc and others who were responsible for violence before and after this event. But Laurie Penny’s analysis of the power relations in play couldn’t be more poignant – however much those who disapprove of protest may bleat their anger about people being unable to shop at a branch or two of Boots for a spell, UK Uncut provides an invaluable means of peacefully highlighting the fraud behind the government’s ideological attack on the public sector. The ConDems’ savage cuts were not voted for, they aren’t necessary, and you do indeed have to question why the police expended so much energy against them, when the ringleaders of the violence were blatantly clear even to uninformed passers-by. I applaud anyone, young or old, who is prepared to stand up for the society they want, in the face of shock doctrine economics, and the social disaster which inevitably comes with it.
It seems as though the Tories really are engaging in disaster capitalism (Naomi Klein’s ‘Shock Doctrine’):
Councils in London have privately warned that low-income families will be driven out of richer neighbourhoods to the suburban fringes and parts of the deprived inner city, putting pressure on social services and schools and potentially “triggering a spiral of debt, eviction and homelessness”.
Freedom of information requests to London boroughs revealed the disturbing consequences of government housing measures since July. The main measures cap payments to private landlords by councils for benefit claimants from next April – with four-bedroom homes limited to £400 a week. Six months later all rents paid from the public purse will be pegged to a third of market rates, down from a half. Claimants of jobseeker’s allowance will lose 10% of housing benefit from 2013. Places such as Oxford, Blackpool and Brighton will be affected but the capital will bear the brunt of the changes.
George Osborne says the taxpayer should not be expected to pay for families to live in expensive city centres, but many councils have balked at the proposals. London boroughs estimate that 82,000 families – more than 200,000 people – face losing their homes because private landlords, enjoying a healthy rental market buoyed by young professionals who cannot afford to buy, will not cut rents to the level of caps imposed by ministers.
The result would be “social flight” to poorer parts of the capital as the reforms, according to one local authority, “effectively make it impossible for low-income households to rent in the private sector in inner London”
London Mayor Boris Johnson attacked the proposals, saying:
“What we will not see, and will not accept, is any kind of Kosovo-style social cleansing of London.
“On my watch, you are not going to see thousands of families evicted from the place where they have been living and have put down roots.”
Despite the prime minister’s insistence that the measures would go ahead unamended, Johnson indicated today that he was in talks with Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, to press the case for a three-pronged plan to mitigate the impact on Londoners.
Tim Montgomerie went on the offensive against Boris:
London’s Conservative mayor supports the principle of the government’s housing reforms – calling them “sensible” and describing the current position as “unsustainable”. He does, however, have a perfectly reasonable concern that the change from the current payments regime to the new system should be handled carefully. Some high-end estimates suggest 80,000 London families might be affected by the new system, and that’s a lot of potentially angry voters who Johnson – facing an uphill re-election battle in 2012 – needs to worry about.
In talking, however, of “Kosovo-style social cleansing” he risked insulting the memory of those murdered in that benighted part of Europe in the late 1990s. The mayor of London has since issued a statement saying he was quoted out of context but has yet to apologise for those poorly chosen words.
Where Johnson is right is in saying that a nationwide cap is going to be much harder on Londoners than any on other part of the country. The same housing benefits that would provide a very reasonable place to live in most of the UK will not provide particularly comfortable accommodation in the nation’s capital.
In discussions with Iain Duncan Smith, the secretary of state for work and pensions, Johnson is arguing for more transitional relief. He wants a £30m pot of money to smooth the move of families from their current homes into new and more affordable properties. I hope he gets some of that money, but it must be transitional. As soon as possible, we must move to a system where people on benefits are not able to afford a better lifestyle than those who are working.
Polly Toynbee explains what’s really happening:
This month people who lost their job have had their help with mortgage interest payments cut in half. Expect more arrears and repossessions. Next year housing association and council rents will risefrom their present heavily subsidised rents to 80% of the market rent for new tenants – about £100 more a week. New social housing will no longer be available to the poorest, but only to those who can pay high rents.
People in private rented accommodation will see their benefits capped from April. From October only rents below the 30th percentile for the area will be eligible. The Department for Work and Pensions says families will pay an average £22 more a week, but evidence suggests in many places it will be far more. But that’s only part of it. In a radical change to benefit philosophy, anyone out of work for more than a year will lose another 10% from their housing benefit. This is a departure into the realms of US welfarism, influenced by the architects of American time-limited welfare who have been visiting David Cameron. Conditionality now gives way to punishment, shadow DWP secretary Douglas Alexander points out, regardless of how hard someone tries to find work that isn’t there. This arbitrary cut is the first step to an entirely new policy.
But that’s not all. The sum paid towards the rent will fall every year, in perpetuity: it will no longer rise as average local rents rise but will be pegged to the consumer price index. If that had happened in the last decade most people would have been priced out: rents rose by 70%, but the CPI only rose 20%.
Now add in something more sinister. Council tax benefit, worth an average £16 a week, is to be cut by 10% and then handed over to each local authority to decide how much benefit to offer: if some councils want to push poor people out, they can pay virtually nothing to their residents. But hey, that’s localism.
And addresses Montgomerie’s point swiftly:
Meanwhile housing benefit claims soared as lack of cheap council housing saw councils put people into expensive private housing instead. The crash meant new claimants among the unemployed and those whose hours and pay were cut. Councils put people into private rentals for lack of cheaper social housing, and of course the number of households is growing as people live longer. The shortage will get much worse with the housing budget halved.
All fairness to Tories – they know how to wield power when they get it. But this is social engineering on a scale which would make Dame Shirley Porter blanch. The objection the Right has with benefits is Tim Montgomerie’s last line, but those rare examples happen for a reason, as Polly points out. Grant Shapps though disagrees with her:
Grant Shapps, the housing minister, embarked on an unwavering defence of his government’s reform of the housing benefit system last night, dismissing some of the concerns of opposition MPs, housing charities and London councils about the likely impact of the changes as “complete nonsense”.
As London Labour MPs warned that tens of thousands of poorer residents would be forced to leave the capital, Shapps rejected suggestions that the reforms could push large numbers out of London.
“The caps are not somehow draconian or unfair,” he told the Guardian. “The average taxpayer does not want to see £21bn, more than the whole police budget, spent on housing benefit.”
But what the ConDems don’t want you to think about is tax avoidance – they want you to rail against the poor, who after all weren’t the people responsible for the economic crash, but who are well placed to be the fall guys for an exercise in fundamentally reorienting the role and position of the state; Thatcher may have been Friedman to the core, but this will be Friedman on acid. Accordingly Vodafone not paying its tax bill won’t bother the coalition at all, as Johann Hari shows:
For years now, Vodafone has been refusing to pay billions of pounds of taxes to the British people that are outstanding. The company – which has doubled its profits during this recession – engaged in all kinds of accounting twists and turns, but it was eventually ruled this refusal breached anti-tax avoidance rules. They looked set to pay a sum Private Eye calculates to be more than £6bn.
Then, suddenly, the exchequer – run by George Osborne – cancelled almost all of the outstanding tax bill, in a move a senior figure in Revenues and Customs says is “an unbelievable cave-in.” A few days after the decision, Osborne was promoting Vodafone on a tax-payer funded trip to India. He then appointed Andy Halford, the finance director of Vodafone, to the government’s Advisory Board on Business Tax Rates, apparently because he thinks this is a model of how the Tories think it should be done.
By contrast, the Indian government chose to pursue Vodafone through the courts for the billions in tax they have failed to pay there. Yes, the British state is less functional than the Indian state when it comes to collecting revenues from the wealthy. This is not an isolated incident. Richard Murphy, of Tax Research UK, calculates that UK corporations fail to pay a further £12bn a year in taxes they legally owe, while the rich avoid or evade up to £120bn.
It really begs the question who an informed taxpayer would really be more bothered about, doesn’t it? By all means deal with the fall out of the economic collapse, but what’s being done is ideological. Noone on either side of the political divide should be unclear about that.
It was obvious to those of us who saw the video of this horrible confrontation between the Met and G20 protesters:
but it’s finally been ruled unlawful and the Metropolitan Police are going to pay a heavy price:
The Metropolitan Police are facing a compensation bill of £250,000, after admitting a raid on a climate change group the day after the G20 protests in London last April was illegal.
Police burst into the Convergence Centre in east London carrying taser guns, and handcuffed protesters face down.The Met Commissioner admitted it was unlawful to arrest, search them, and force them to be recorded on film, but he refused to apologise to the protestors.
They were non-violent and there were no reasonable grounds for suspicion, but the Met didn’t care last spring. They’d decided, without any evidence whatsoever that there was going to be violent trouble, and went as far as indicating their preparedness to be violent in turn. Look at the story of Delroy Smellie:
The sergeant at the centre of allegations of striking a female protester with a baton during a heated exchange at last year’s G20 protest said he was acting in “self defence” after mistaking a carton of juice and camera for weapons, a court heard.
Sergeant Delroy Smellie, 47, said he struck Nicola Fisher, 36, in a “pre-emptive strike” after seeing both items in her hands. The confrontation outside the Bank of England, on April 2 last year occurred during a vigil for the death of Ian Tomlinson, a newspaper seller who died after inadvertently getting caught up in a demonstration the previous day. Mr Smellie, an officer in the Met’s elite Territorial Support Group, is accused of common assault by beating. He denies the charge, and his lawyers insisted they would argue he was acting in self-defence.
A highly trained riot police officer mistook a carton of juice and a camera for weapons eh? Check the video out and decide for yourself if he’d decided on his course of action in defiance of the evidence in front of him. Now then, why aren’t we still talking about Ian Tomlinson, whose death was directly caused by Met brutality?
Darren Johnson, Jean Lambert, Ken Livingstone, Johann Hari, Bonnie Greer, Seumas Milne, Jon Cruddas…all meeting this Saturday for the 2010 Progressive London conference. If you’re interested in progressive politics and what they can offer London, you should book here.
The chairman of the British Olympic Association has decided the only way to fight drug taking in the 2012 London Olympics is to enable legal police raids:
this week Colin Moynihan announced plans to expand police powers to allow raids on the athletes’ village, ostensibly to combat doping.
The British Olympic Association chairman has evidently decided Britain’s bursting statute book is not sufficiently equipped to deal with a two-week sporting event. Fortunately for Moynihan, he moonlights as a Tory peer, so he can use the powers vested in him by this other hat to introduce a Lords bill to remedy the oversight.
As I say, this is fortunate for his lordship, but it does feel rather less fortunate for British citizens. It’s not just that the plan will be an ostentatiously ineffective deterrent – expert opinion holds that drug cheats tend to stay in privately rented accommodation – nor the vagueness about how Moynihan intends to criminalise substances which may be banned but in almost all cases are legal. It is simply unacceptable to change the law of the land to enforce the internal rules of a competition.
So Moynihan wants to use the police as a formal political tool then. He wants to use police raids to search for (as the article says) substances which may contravene the rules of the Games, but otherwise be legal. Yet another nail in the coffin of the rule of law in this country, merely brought about by 2012. And that’s in addition to this nonsense:
civil rights campaigners are worried about several clauses in the London Olympic Games and Games Act 2006. Section 19(4) could cover protest placards, they said, as it read: “The regulations may apply in respect of advertising of any kind including in particular – (a) advertising of a non-commercial nature, and (b) announcements or notices of any kind.”
Section 22 allows a “constable or enforcement officer” to “enter land or premises” where they believe such an advert is being shown or produced. It allows for materials to be destroyed, and for the use of “reasonable force”. The power to force entry requires a court warrant. Causing still further concern is a section granting the powers to an enforcement officer appointed by Olympic Delivery Authority.
Anita Coles, policy officer for Liberty, said: “This goes much further than protecting the Olympic logo for commercial use. Regulations could ban signs urging boycotts of sponsors with sweat shops. Then private contractors designated by the Olympic authority could enter homes and other premises in the vicinity, seizing or destroying private property.”
Do we really need to trample on civil liberties merely in order to stage the Olympic Games? As Chris Grayling points out in the second article, powers are there to be used. To say they won’t be is about as ridiculous as saying Peter Mandelson won’t use the Digital Economy Bill, if passed, to censor every website which inconveniences him. Trouble is on the way in 2012 and before, and as with most of the rest of the civil liberties breaches of New Labour, for no logical reason whatsoever other than to benefit corporate interests. I don’t know anyone who supports the Olympics being in London and although I was amazed on the day London won them, it made no sense for Paris not to get them. If only they had.
Last night I attended a vigil in Trafalgar Square for Ian Baynham, the gay man recently murdered there. I’ve written recently about why gay hate might be so much in the ascendant once more, but last night was cause for optimism. Thousands of people – gay, straight, white, every ethnic minority under the sun, older, younger, you name it everyone was there to make a stand against hate. Friends and family of Ian’s were in attendance, some of them spoke and shared their private memories of a man lost because he dared to stand up for who he was.
The video is of TV personality Sue Perkins, reading out a list of people lost to homophobic hate in the last ten years. It was sobering to experience, and remains sobering to watch.
Thought those days were over? That cosmopolitan central London, on the doorsteps of Soho, where the annual Pride celebrations are now held, was now essentially entirely gay friendly and safe? Think again:
A man who was assaulted in London’s Trafalgar Square as part of a homophobic hate crime has died, Pink Paper can report.
Ian Baynham, was walking through Trafalgar Square with a 30-year-old friend on Friday 25 September when a woman began shouting homophobic abuse at him.
Punched to the floor and kicked repeatedly outside South Africa House by a second female and a man, the 62-year-old victim was taken to a central London hospital with serious head injuries, including brain damage.
Baynham died last night when doctors turned off his life support machine.
This, people, is why hate crimes legislation is important. Whether it be because of the economic climate or other social reasons, gay hate is on the increase. The Independent reports:
Over a quarter of all incidents involved physical violence. Figures from the Met show that in the last year reported homophobic hate crime in London has risen by more than 5 per cent, from 1,008 to 1,062 incidents. London’s gay and lesbian population is thought to stand at around 750,000.
National figures on homophobic incidents are not collected by the Home Office, however. A survey by Stonewall, the gay rights charity, published last year found that one in five gay people had been the victim of a hate crime in the last three years.
Stonewall also published a report earlier this month which revealed a “deeply alarming” amount of homophobia in schools. The report is the largest survey of both primary and secondary schoolteachers on the issue of homophobic bullying.
David Morley, Michael Causer, the Admiral Duncan bombing, these aren’t isolated incidents. The image is of two of the murder suspects. Hopefully Ian’s murderers will be found and sent to jail for lengthy terms. We cannot afford to be complacent – laws may have changed, but homophobia hasn’t gone anywhere.