Four estates in Tower Hamlets, east London, voted no to housing privatisation last week in a “clean sweep” that will help bury New Labour’s privatisation agenda, locally and nationally.
The Labour-led council, with the would-be landlord Sanctuary, and the local New Deal for Communities regeneration quango, spent years on the Ocean estate, and hundreds of thousands of pounds of tenants’ money trying to undermine local organisations and opposition.
They exploited every project, day-trip and coffee morning to try and persuade residents there was no alternative to privatisation.
Tenants against transfer were denied halls for our meetings, our posters were ripped down, we were abused and threatened. An anti-transfer activist was even reported to the police for bursting a balloon!
Circus acts, balloons, and hundreds of staff promoting transfer were brought in from all over the country - some from other private landlords - all in bright orange T-shirts.
But the bullying and blackmail backfired on a massive scale.
The Ocean estate was the first Respect “heartland” and the campaign has galvanised tenants around Respect once again, undermining Labour’s local roots and credibility, in a massive blow to New Labour’s housing policy.
Mehdi Hassan, Ocean campaigner and Respect member, explained, “Everyone worked together on the Ocean estate. We knocked on every single door twice, explaining what it means for everyone.
“People were worried about the loss of security and the higher charges. They see Sanctuary as a business, and didn’t like the plans for demolition - rebuilding 700 luxury private flats for sale, without any plans for schools or doctors.”
On Locksley estate in Limehouse, tenants are already planning to revive the tenants’ association to get improvements done. One tenant, Val, was stopping people in the street saying “we’ve won, we’ve won”. Now she’s trying to get a proper youth club going.
At the western edge of the borough, the Boundary estate voted no by seven to one on a massive turnout! A vote of no confidence in the council’s housing agenda at the next town hall meeting must now be likely.
On two other estates tenants swung against privatisation after a last-minute campaign. In every case the local campaign was boosted by Respect’s consistent campaigning.
Campaigners exposed the loss of security, higher rents and charges, and loss of accountability that would be the result of a yes vote. And we injected confidence that there is an alternative. Having councillors out on the doorstep with us really strengthened us.
Oliur Rahman is the Respect councillor for St Dunstan’s and Stepney Green, which includes the Ocean estate. “This is above all a victory for the tenants and residents of these communities,” he said.
“They have been starved of investment in housing by the Labour group in an attempt to persuade them to vote for privatisation.
“Respect is the only party which directly opposed all privatisation at local and national level.
“We will be backing the tenants all the way as they push for decent investment. The council should start improving and repairing the present stock and investing in new council housing.”
The challenge now is to make the council get behind tenants to demand the government releases all the money that belongs to council housing. We need an urgent programme to tackle disrepair and overcrowding, which is some of the worst in Britain.
The energy and confidence from a string of local victories now need to be turned into solid and tangible gains tenants can see.
Tenants and residents around the country continue to reject housing privatisation where there is a united local campaign.
In Tower Hamlets we began three years ago with a handful of tenants including Liberal and Labour supporters. The local campaigns to stop housing privatisation have transformed local politics.
Local campaigns are the driving engine of this movement. Combined with the Labour conference voting in favour of direct investment in council housing - for the third year running - Labour’s housing policy is on the rocks. A real victory for council housing nationally is within our reach if we get organised.
- Ocean estate
63% said No
- Locksley estate
65% said No
- Cleveland estate
58% said No
- Boundary estate
88% said No