Carole Swords is one of Tower Hamlets’ leading housing campaigners. She is standing for Respect in Bow West along with Deeka Adan and Robin Hirsch.
Carole has always lived in east London and remembers being brought up in an overcrowded flat “owned by a rat landlord”.
Carole left school at 14 and became a window dresser at Selfridges and then did a series of courses to develop her education. She has brought up five children and is widely known in the area.
“I’ve always been involved in some sort of campaign,” she says. “When the Liberals ran Tower Hamlets 15 years ago the council was doing building work on the estate and scattering asbestos everywhere. I stood in front of the sledgehammers to stop the work.
“I’ve been fighting ever since – campaigns for nursery education, the NHS, special needs children, older people, against the Corral project, for environmental schemes, against the closure of our local supermarket when there are no alternatives – and much else.
“For most of my life I’ve been a Labour supporter and always backed them at elections. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I came to Respect.
“The main issue was the privatisation of the Parkside estates where I live. There was a housing transfer ballot with many, many irregularities.
“I wasn’t prepared to see it go ahead on the basis of a majority of seven when I knew of people who had wanted to vote against but had been pressured to vote for privatisation.
“When the result was announced I photocopied my own leaflets for a protest meeting, organised a room – and 220 people turned up.
“I took a letter round the 2,600 houses affected by the transfer and got 1,200 tenants and 600 leaseholders to sign asking for an inquiry into the vote.
“It’s this sort of work that brought me into contact with Respect and convinced me the party is serious about standing up for the people of this area.
“Bangladeshi, black, white – we’ve all got to stand together. There are no areas and no communities that are off limits for Respect.”
Minister refuses to listen
Tenants were denied the opportunity to talk to housing minister Yvette Cooper when she visited Tower Hamlets on Monday.
Council and Poplar Harca housing association tenants, anxious to tell the minister of their problems, were locked out of a community cafe while Cooper was whisked in a side entrance.
Tenants were again denied an opportunity to explain their concerns as she left.
“We can’t get the council or Poplar Harca to listen – and it seems they don’t want the minister to hear our case either,” said anti-transfer tenant Gerry Matthews.
Rita Ash, who lives on the Leopold estate which has just been transferred to Harca, said, “I wanted to hear some answers. They had all these complaints from people who’ve just gone to Harca, why won’t they listen to us?”
Kamrul Jaman, a Harca tenant on the Burdett estate, said, “We are very concerned about our prayer facility. We were promised bigger premises but still on Fridays people have to kneel and pray outside.”