The government’s housing strategy lurched further into crisis last week as tenants, local councillors, trade unionists and MPs came together in defence of council housing.
They were defying New Labour’s attempts to undermine tenancy rights and sell off housing stock.
A massive privatisation attempt in Brighton & Hove – which would have seen 13,000 homes transferred to a housing association – was rejected last week when tenants voted no to transfer.
Tenants in Tower Hamlets, east London, are engaged in a legal battle with the council over allegations of irregularities in housing ballots.
The council wants to transfer some 2,000 homes on the Parkside estates in Bow to a housing association.
But tenants won a high court injunction against the completion two weeks ago and a legal hearing over the sale is set for later this month.
Housing campaigner and Parkside resident Carole Swords is leading the battle against the council. She is representing herself in court.
“We haven’t got much time and the law is not made easy for tenants – so this will be hard,” she said. “But when the abuses get out of control we have to make a stand.”
The nationwide tenants’ revolt comes as the government unveiled a report it commissioned into the future of social housing in England from Professor John Hills of the London School of Economics.
Hills distanced himself from New Labour’s plans to erode secure tenancy and shift people out of council accommodation at the launch of his report.
The mood to fight for council housing was captured at an upbeat rally organised by Defend Council Housing (DCH) on Tuesday of last week to launch a new pamphlet titled, “Dear Gordon: invest in decent, affordable, secure and accountable council housing.”
The rally, held in the House of Commons, heard from a wide range of MPs, trade unionists and DCH tenant activists.
All affirmed their determination to press the case for direct public investment in building new council housing – the so-called “fourth option”.
Respect MP George Galloway described how the tenants’ campaign in Tower Hamlets had put the New Labour council on the back foot, winning the last four ballots against stock transfer.
This is despite huge expenditure by the council to secure a yes vote.
“The council has now stooped to tactics that would embarrass the mafia,” he added. “In the Holland estate, which literally backs onto the City, the police are involved in a very serious investigation into allegations of fraudulent ballots.”
Several other MPs also spoke at the DCH rally, including Austin Mitchell, Jon Cruddas and Michael Meacher.
They underlined that the Labour Party conference had consistently voted for the “fourth option” and called on the government to listen to tenants’ demands.
Former cabinet minister Frank Dobson attacked the neoliberal economic dogma underlying the government’s aversion to council housing.
“The market has never been able to provide housing for the poorest people in the country,” he said.
“Even the Victorians recognised that the market did not work for everyone.”
For more information go to www.defendcouncilhousing.org.uk
For more on housing see Stirling Howieson, No place like home?