Housing policy collapses
Your article ‘We’re coming to London to defend council housing’ (14 January) highlights a crucial issue, but there are other factors as well.
The failure of governments (including this one) over 30 years or so to build sufficient low cost houses to rent, and the absence of adequate policy to limit the still escalating price of houses are two examples of even greater dimensions.
The virtual cessation of council house building by the end of the Conservative administration, which has continued until today, has left long waiting lists in every district in the country. In Maidstone nearly 2,500 are on waiting lists, 1,000 affordable houses are needed each year and only 556 are being built. As a result average house prices have trebled to £204,327, and to buy an average flat you need an income of £45,100 a year.
The indebtedness of many of our young families as they attempt to ascend the housing purchase ladder will come to haunt us.
The policy of leaving problems to the market to solve means in reality abandoning any hope of a solution. Private enterprise has already failed in the last eight years or more to make up the deficit caused by the policy of stopping council house building.
We need a campaign which encompasses not only those who struggle to retain council ownership of the rapidly reducing stock of social homes by councils, but those who will campaign across the whole spectrum of housing deprivation.
Leslie Turner, Maidstone
In 2002 Kirklees council in West Yorkshire, run by the Liberal Democrats and supported by the Green Party, handed over the management of more than 25,000 homes to an arms length management organisation (Almo).
Four years later this situation has been branded the “worst of all worlds” for tenants.
Tenants believe there is less accountability and that they are receiving a poorer service.
Local housing offices have been closed and some tenants have to travel miles for the help and advice which used to be available on their doorstep.
On top of this the Almo’s chief executive was given a pay rise from £57,795 to £88,100 last June.
The Lib Dems are now proposing to extend the Almo contract to 2011, but many tenants are demanding that the council should regain control of its housing stock.
John Appleyard, Liversedge, West Yorkshire
More than 1,000 tenants in Dolphin Square, a giant block of flats near the River Thames in Pimlico, are fighting Westminster council’s plans to sell then off to a US-based group.
For 70 years the estate has offered subsidised rents to those who have to work in central London.
There were attempts in the 1950s to buy the estate. So in 1963, Keith Joseph, the Conservative housing minister, arranged a deal whereby Westminster council would acquire the leases on the flats until their expiry in 2034.
But residents were told at the end of last year that the block was to be bought by Westbrook, a US-based group. We fear rents will soar and force out residents.
Tenants have been sold down the river to satisfy the greed of Westminster council — it will make £50 million from the sale.
Margaret Haylett, South London
Galloway & Big Brother
I’d like to know just how George Galloway thought he was advancing the cause of socialism by committing himself to the Celebrity Big Brother spectacle.
In the apologia sent out on his behalf by Respect, George says he will be speaking constantly about Iraq, Palestine and the poverty endured by many of his constituents. Who does he think he’s kidding?
The “live” broadcasts from the Big Brother house are subject to editing before transmission and Channel 4, as a public service broadcaster, will have no option but to ensure E4 does not become a 24-hour party political broadcast for Respect.
If the media mention Respect at all, they refer to us as George Galloway’s party. But Respect is not Galloway’s party. He’s an asset as a brilliant speaker, but that’s all.
If Galloway wants to be a self-seeking publicist no better than all the other MPs who forget about the working class as soon as they have their votes, he must be brought into line or ditched.
Chris Lowndes, Portsmouth
New Labour MP Denis MacShane had the nerve to lecture George Galloway about “sleaze” in the Independent last week.
That is rich indeed coming from a member of the political party that brought us David Blunkett. Humbug and hypocrisy knows no bounds it would seem.
What all this boils down to is that MacShane, who voted for the sleazy, outrageous 2003 war against Iraq, is attempting to smear a fellow MP who voted against that war.
Galloway’s “crime” is to have seized a rare opportunity to try to put his case against the war directly to a wider audience. His “crime” is to attempt to bypass and undo some of the “character assassination on a grand scale” he has experienced in the past.
Galloway did not create Big Brother or its sleaze. On the basis of MacShane’s twisted logic, anyone who attempts to struggle for a worthy cause in less than holy surroundings is to be condemned.
Dr Christopher C Erswell, Sale, Cheshire
From a revolutionary who believes in god
I went to the recent Socialist Workers Party (SWP) conference and was pleased to hear John Rees address the need for socialists to clarify their position on the religious question. I believe in god and see no contradiction between my faith and being a revolutionary socialist.
I am not a believer in good works being the path to redemption, rather I am aware of the practicalities of the need to take responsibility for the material world and make it a place fit for human inhabitation and development.
As such I do not feel a need to challenge the position of the SWP, as we have the best analysis of the world situation and as such are more likely than most religious groups to make the practical decisions necessary to rid the world of the horrors of capitalism.
It has taken me a long time to come to this conclusion, however, as I have been derided for my faith or, even worse, considered to have funny ideas which are best left undiscussed.
I completely understand why socialists are sceptical of religious beliefs and I am much more respectful of well thought out atheistic ideas than I am of any barbarously sentimental religious affiliations.
My appeal, however, is that those with religious perspective should be regarded as capable of being committed and conscientious revolutionaries.
Danielle Field, Preston
This book helps us to battle racism
Books are weapons, and Tell It Like It Is: How our schools fail black children is a very potent weapon in the fight against racism in education and against the government’s education proposals in the rightly named White Paper.
Brent in north west London is the most diverse borough in the country and here we are finding that the book strikes a chord with almost everyone we talk to about it.
These include parents, teachers and lecturers, education support staff, young people, trade unionists and community activists.
There are so many possible ways of using the book. Events can be based in individual schools or colleges, or in the community.
The event we are organising is sponsored (so far) by the Unison and Natfhe unions, the education service and a number of community and youth groups.
It is being hosted by Harlesden library. The librarians are enormously enthusiastic about the book, but ironically Brent libraries’ book buying budget has been frozen—so they can’t afford to buy a single copy.
Sarah Cox, North London
See events for meetings
Pensions and policemen
Thank you for your articles about the “rule of 85” for workers in the local government pension scheme.
I am almost 56 and during the last 12 months have been thinking and planning my retirement. This seems to be dashed for another nine years!
I work for a police authority and do exactly the same job as eight police officers in the legal department. They leave at the age of 51.
Am I expected to remember and take in the many changes in law and practice until I am 65 years old?
Added to this I receive about £9,000 less a year than them for doing the same job.
There will be strikes if the government foolishly thinks it can easily carry out its ideas. There will be higher sickness levels and low morale.
Name and address withheld
Nothing human is alien to us
Many thanks for the short appreciation of Derek Bailey (14 January).
A good socialist publication should take in all aspects of the world, including those so criminally ignored by the corporate media.
Just one more recommended CD for all Bailey novices — Ballads (2002, Tzadik).
Stephen Mynott, Lowestoft
Who won at Irish Ferries?
The outcome of the Irish Ferries dispute is not a victory. Wages have been slashed in half and conditions of service torn up.
The company is offering a redundancy deal which is really a worker replacement scheme that had been on the table from the beginning, and the ships are being re-flagged.
The deal also includes a three year no strike agreement.
Getting a slightly better settlement than the one originally offered by the company is not the same as defeating management.
This defeat is the result of years of social partnership by the Irish Labour Party and the union bureaucrats.
Socialists in Ireland now have to start organising against the union leaders who sold out both the seafarers and the workers who marched in support of them.
Liam Mac Uaid, East London
Left meets in Pakistan
A very successful Marxism Day School was held in Karachi on 8 January. It was organised by International Socialists Pakistan.
About 60 people came to attend seven lectures spread throughout the day on human nature, the Marxist concept of history, fundamentalism, development politics, national liberation, media and imperialism and revolution.
Speakers included Geoff Brown from Manchester, Zayar Khan from Quetta, and Jehanzeb Khan from Islamabad.
The state repression in Sindh and Balochistan against those fighting mega-projects and national discrimination dominated the day school. Speakers were of the view that these struggles are of enormous importance, as they have erupted along with working class movements against privatisation and battles by landless peasants.
Sartaj Khan, International Socialists Pakistan
Hypocrisy on health protests
The article Shropshire Towns Rise Up For NHS (14 January) showed just how many people care about health. Who said people are apathetic about political issues?
In Telford, the Princess Royal Hospital also faces threats. However, the local campaign is being run in the Wrekin constituency by the new Tory MP! The seat was previously held by Labour.
We need to remind people that the Tories were far worse in the 1980s when it came to the NHS.
Graeme Kemp, Wellington, Shropshire