We need houses and jobs, not more threats
I am a council tenant in Doncaster and Caroline Flint, the new housing minister, is our local MP. Tenants here were shocked at her proposal last week that council housing should be made conditional on people actively seeking a job.
She was widely condemned for her comments and since has backed down by claiming she was just trying to start a debate. But if she wanted to start a debate, why didn’t she talk to council tenants in her constituency first?
In fact Caroline Flint’s comments came out of the blue, and all of us here in Doncaster are just shell shocked. There is already enough of a stigma attached to being a council tenant. We are an easy target – always being treated like serfs and blamed for all of society’s problems.
I believe that people who can work should work, and I don’t have a problem with people being encouraged to find a job. But that doesn’t give anyone the right to threaten people with losing their homes. The unemployed need help to get their self-esteem back, not more threats.
Sometimes I’m glad I’m retired and not in the workforce any more. They’ve torn the heart and guts out of Doncaster – the pits, the steel industry and the rail industry have all closed down. We’re only now just beginning to pull ourselves up by our shoelaces.
There’s two and a half generations of men who have never seen any employment apart from odd jobs. The government promises us training, but then we have to jump through hoops to get the funding for training courses.
And even those who do have jobs are typically earning the minimum wage on temporary contracts where the employer doesn’t have to worry about sickness or holidays.
I’m frightened that we’ll soon see families on the streets, or forced into the private rented sector. It won’t be long before we see another slum landlord like Peter Rachman. There are a lot of unscrupulous landlords out there who will take advantage of the vulnerable.
I’m the chair of the Doncaster federation of tenants’ and residents’ association, representing some 70 associations across Doncaster. We had 42,000 council properties 15 years ago, but today that figure is down to 21,000 – while 15,000 families are on the waiting list.
People apply for council housing for a hundred and one different reasons. It’s not that much cheaper, but the security of tenure is something people want. Living in a council house was once something to be proud of, but things have changed since they brought in the right to buy.
The very first thing people would do when they bought their council home would be to put a new door on – thus marking out their home from ones with council doors on. That’s when the divide started, and the stigma. But even then I never would have had a problem with selling off council houses if they had built new ones in their place.
This is Caroline Flint’s constituency and she’s supposed to have a finger on the pulse. Instead her government is holding a sword of Damocles over council tenants’ heads. My father would be spinning in his grave to see what they’ve done to the Labour Party.
Lynda Ralph, Doncaster, South Yorkshire
Tory woes in Canada
I’ve followed some of the controversy about the British mission in Afghanistan from Canada. It’s clear that the whole thing is coming apart at the seams – not just in Britain but right across the Nato countries.
For our Tory government, which inherited the Afghanistan “combat mission” from the previous Liberal regime, the war has become a real albatross around its neck.
Canadian troops are on the frontline of the war in Afghanistan, suffering casualties at a far higher rate per head than any other Nato country.
The Tories are now at their lowest support ever, even in their western strongholds. The Afghanistan war is clearly a part of this decline – and they know it.
The Tories attempted to build support for their Vietnam-lite by having a former Liberal bigwig, John Manley, lead a panel to assess the mission, promising to implement its recommendations.
However, this card trick has blown up in their faces. The “findings” the panel released after months of hearings turned out to be plagiarised directly from an article Manley wrote before the panel existed.
Our prime minister Stephen Harper is now planning to force an election over the issue of Afghanistan, believing that France’s president Nicolas Sarkozy will save his bacon by announcing additional troops.
Then Harper can make the election campaign about the “honour” of not abandoning the French who have stepped up to the plate.
But it’s a big risk for him and the Tories, with a clear majority of Canadians opposed to the war and no guarantee that the French will deliver what he’s demanding.
What’s more, every time the light is shone on the Afghanistan mission, more of the population turns against it, with support having dropped 20 percent in the last year and a half.
The Tories are skating on thin ice. If we can keep up the pressure, then when the election comes, we can make sure they fall through. The international anti-war demonstrations planned for 15 March will be key to this.
Shawn Whitney, Toronto, Canada
No school is safe from these academy plans
Sadie Robinson’s article on Pimlico School (» Teachers’ strike against New Labour’s education policy, 9 February) makes the point that a victory against attempts to reduce lunch hours would strengthen opposition to plans to shut the school down and reopen it as an academy.
But academies can be brought in through other means. In South Gloucestershire, the most academically successful school in the local authority has been invited by the government to twin with another school serving a less advantaged area some miles away in a “federated academy”.
The corporate sponsors of the academy are to be Airbus and Cisco Systems. Under the terms of the link-up, the high attaining school will become an “international” school and the other a “vocational” one.
This is one of five “federated academy pathfinders” being set up round the country that will effectively recreate the grammar and secondary modern system.
Two private schools in Bristol are also going for academy status. Their catchment area will be the whole of Bristol, effectively ensuring that selection will continue.
This is the most brazen attempt yet to shift wealth from working people to the middle class. Public money will be used to give pupils from already wealthy backgrounds a free “private sector” education – paid for by those who won’t be able to get in, even if they wanted to.
Paul Vernell, Bristol
Left alternative to neoliberal agenda
Lindsey German made some salient points in her article (» Respect’s fight for Londoners, 2 February) on the London Assembly elections.
There is a need for left wing policies that will benefit the working class and deprived sections of the population.
The advice on tactical voting for Ken Livingstone was also sound enough. However, it does raise the continually vexing question of whom do you vote for if there is no viable left wing candidate to New Labour.
I have voted at every local, national and European election for nearly 40 years. I am aware of the battles that were fought for this limited right by our class – and of the cynical way this right has been exploited by all mainstream parties.
But I cannot see myself voting for this appalling party led by Gordon Brown any longer, except in circumstances to keep out a right wing faction. Does anyone have any suggestions?
It is not surprising that people are cynical about electoral politics, since all the parties follow the neoliberal agenda. This makes it imperative that Respect continues to make a national impact in the future.
Graham Anthony Richards, Manchester
Doctors warn of NHS sell-off
The January newsletter from the British Medical Association draws attention to the fact that the government is taking steps that doctors believe will harm patient services.
It is encouraging commercial companies to set up and provide GP services. Many doctors are concerned that company profits will come before patient needs.
Local practices are of vital importance to the community and give good value for money.
We must do all we can to prevent the privatisation of the health service – and keep it free at the point of delivery by people we know and trust.
Bob Miller, Chelmsford, Essex
Seoul students win court case
I wanted to share some good news with readers and supporters of Socialist Worker.
As some of you may know, our student members at Korea University have been victimised by the school administration for engaging in political activities and opposing its neoliberal policies.
The school expelled the students, but they fought back by staging a sit-in protest in tents on campus for more than 600 days.
A few days ago, the appeals court ruled in favour of our students and demanded that the school reinstate them.
This is a big victory and will surely give confidence to many students getting ready for tuition hike protests in the coming spring.
CJ Park, All Together, Seoul, South Korea
Elite mourns a brutal dictator
The Indonesian dictator Suharto received a royal funeral on the island of Java. The Indonesian ruling elite was out in force and the government declared a week of mourning.
But nowhere in the capital Jakarta have I seen any scenes of mass grief. Ordinary people are not tearing their hair out or rending their clothes.
Meanwhile activists carry on their campaigns for justice for those who disappeared under Suharto’s rule and victims of state violence.
I would like to let readers know of my new publication What Happened in Indonesia 1965-66? It is a compendium of writings from various sources. Copies cost £6 each plus postage.
David Jardine, Jakarta, Indonesia
Welfare for the private sector
This New Labour government plans to use private companies to check up on incapacity benefit claimants.
So while failed banks like Northern Rock are provided with billions of pounds of taxpayers money in “welfare benefits”, private companies get to make profits by attacking the real welfare state.
Nick Vinehill, Snettisham, Norfolk
Juno’s dubious sexual politics
Thank you for Wuno Allison’s critical review of the new film Juno (» A pregnancy dilemma that’s too easy to solve, 9 February). It made a refreshing change from the reviews in the mainstream press, which showered praise on the film while tiptoeing round its dubious sexual politics.
I am sick and tired of films like Juno and Knocked Up that portray pregnancy as the highest condition a woman could aspire to.
Sylvia Elgrib, Sidcup, Kent
Nationalise the energy supply
The cost of energy has nearly doubled in the space of four to five years. The cost of living for ordinary people is spiralling out of control.
Calls on the energy industry to curb these rises will prove ineffectual. It is time we looked into nationalising the energy supply.
There is a window of opportunity here for nationalisation, particularly in Scotland, the coldest part of Britain and the most affected by energy rises.
Tam Graham, Glasgow