From Private Eye:
If, with a general election approaching, an opposition party found its posters ripped down on government orders, its advertisements refused by newspapers, and its spokesmen prevented from booking halls for public meetings, there would be an outcry.
But this is exactly what is happening to defenders of council housing around Britain who want to campaign on an equal footing with the forces in favour of privatisation as local councils ballot their tenants over “stock transfers”.
In Lambeth, South London, where the council is controlled by a Tory-Lib Dem coalition, a proposal to sell the Clapham Park Estate to Clapham Park Homes, a subsidiary of the Metropolitan Housing Group, would see half the existing council flats demolished and 1,428 expensive private flats built at a cost of £560m – all to raise the £28m required to have improvements done to bring the remaining social housing up to the government’s “decent homes standard”. So far £2.5m has been spent on the campaign to persuade tenants to vote for the stock transfer.
Lending his support for the transfer is local MP Keith Hill, who also happens to be housing minister. In 2003 he declared: “The law is entirely clear. Tenants need to be presented with equal information about the pros and cons of the various options for which they are being consulted. That is absolutely the principle that we as government and we as ministers conform to.”
Fine words… but a blatant lie. Opponents of the transfer have alleged intimidation and abuse by board members and staff employed by the Clapham Park Project (the quango administering the transfer). The use of a “converted sports bag”, with no secure lock as a ballot box in the show flat on the estate has cast doubt on the robustness and integrity of the democratic process. And tenants also received a newsletter from the so-called “Clapham Park Independent Stock Transfer Campaign”. It included an article smearing the “No” campaigners as “pagans and racists… squatters and illegal occupiers…” No contact details were given, despite the fact that CPP staff were seen distributing it. Meanwhile locks on tenants noticeboards were changed to prevent anti-transfer literature being displayed.
Across the river in Labour-run Tower Hamlets, where a similar series of ballots are taking place, housing manager Terry Damiano has instructed his staff to take down any “Vote No” posters they see on estates. In both boroughs bookings of public halls by “No” campaigners have been denied or cancelled at last minute.
With privatisation of the nation’s council housing being ideologically driven by the government, big proftis to be made by developers, and council housing managers salivating at the prospect of fat private sector salaries, it looks like democracy will be the first thing to go under the ball and chain.