Socialist Worker

An assault on our democratic rights

by Alan Walter, Camden Defend Council Housing
Issue No. 1911

CAMDEN COUNCIL in north London has summonsed me to court for “placing posters on a bus shelter by means of sticky brown tape”.

The alleged “offence” took place last November as part of the successful campaign against the Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO) scheme in the borough.

The ALMO was the first step towards privatisation of council housing in the area.

The council is now seeking £460 costs for bringing the prosecution, and I face a fine of up to £1,000.

This is an outrageous attack on democracy. The council admits to spending £500,000 promoting the ALMO.

They produced untold glossy material putting a one-sided case to tenants. Every home received eight newsletters through the post on top of full colour adverts in the local press every week.

They also had posters, show flats, a mobile trailer and even a DVD.

The campaign against the ALMO had only a tiny fraction of the council’s resources. It relied on donations from individual tenants, tenants’ associations and unions.

While the council used managers to campaign for a yes vote, the no campaign was made up of local people voluntarily finding time between childcare, jobs and everything else.

I can’t count how many times over the last 25 years I’ve put up posters on lamp-posts, trees, bin chambers and bus shelters in Kentish Town.

This is how we advertise our tenants’ association meetings, trips away and other community activities (as well as lost dogs).

It’s also how we campaigned in the mid-1980s to support the council when it opposed ratecapping, against it in 1987 when it tried to sell off our homes, and with it in joint campaigns against the Nazis and racist attacks in the 1980s and 1990s.

I remember how Kentish Town was covered in posters during the miners’ strike and again supporting the hospital workers opposing the closure of UCH hospital—that’s how we built a massive public meeting at the Greek Church with a platform including Labour MP Frank Dobson.

The council is saying that prosecuting me is just part of a wider process which includes hitting big record companies. But it’s one thing for the council to go after multinational companies using commercial flyposting gangs to wallpaper the borough to make money.

It’s totally different when local people tape up posters as one of the few means we have to participate in the democratic process.

Private firms spend millions lobbying politicians to promote their interests.

The government and local authorities use public money to campaign for their policies.

Our means are much more limited.

This prosecution is an infringement of the democratic rights of everyone who lives in the borough.

This is our community. We have a fundamental right to organise and campaign where we live. We can’t let them criminalise us for doing so.

The council has taken eight months to bring this disgraceful prosecution.

I hope that individuals and organisations across Camden will call on the council to drop it.

Please write to council leader Jane Roberts, and send Alan messages of support at 42 Aborfield, Peckwater Estate, London NW5 2UD.

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Article information

Sat 24 Jul 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1911
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