Fee-paying Di's Hypocrisy Is In a Class Of Its Own

(from Brian Reade’s column in the Daily Mirror Oct 30 2003)

Well, thank God that tub-thumping, redder-than-red, socialist MP Diane Abbott is in the clear after all. As listeners to a London radio station found out, it wasn’t HER decision to send her son James to a public school but her boy’s. Which makes everything fine. And it sends out an inspirational message to any other Labour-voting parent with £10,000-a-year to spare, who can’t bear to let their precious offspring rough it with the oiks at the local comp. Just say you can’t let your principles get in the way of your kid’s foot-stomping demand to speak posh in a cap.

But why stop there? If junior wants to invest his pocket money in an off-shore tax haven, hunt with dogs, beat up asylum- seekers, shoot burglars, join Bupa and the BNP, what can you do? At 12, they just WON’T listen. There is something about the stench of socialist hypocrisy that is uniquely repulsive. It’s to do with letting down people who have nobody else to turn to. Conning your way to power through making eloquent stands against inequalities that, deep-down, you agree with.

How can Abbott, who lambasted Tony Blair and Harriet Harman for not sending their kids to the local comprehensive, justify sending her son to a far more exclusive school, buying even better life-chances for him, than they did? How can she let him swan off to an Oxbridge conveyor belt while giving the four Hackney schools he could have gone to another kick in the guts? It is worse behaviour than any Tory’s. Because she was elected to make the most deprived educational area in Britain a better place by tackling the masonic privileges she has just signed up to.

If this were still the Labour Party every constituent member would be given the right to de-select her. But it isn’t. In fact, under New Labour Abbott has just upped her chances of joining the Cabinet because in their lingo she has “shown courage in the face of tough choices”. In other words, shown how willing she is to crap on every working-class family she represents.

The only MPs they want to kick out of the party today are ones like George Galloway. Why? Because he stuck to his principles. He said what most of the party was thinking, that the war in Iraq was obscene and illegal, and British troops should not be fighting there. His comments, which may have been expressed cack-handedly, but which stemmed from deep personal beliefs, did not cost the life of one British soldier. But Blair’s and Jack Straw’s did. And what’s worse, theirs were lies. They knew it and now we know it. So if anyone betrayed the Labour Party over Iraq and put the next election in jeopardy it is the leadership. Yet Galloway is sacrificed without a peep from his gutless backbench colleagues.

Meanwhile, party lackeys defend Abbott with the standard waffle trotted out for Blair and Harman: “It’s every parent’s right to choose… blah, blah, blah.” The same waffle she has repeatedly attacked to earn a highly- lucrative second career as TV’s token female leftie. Who is the genuine Labour MP here, Galloway or Abbott? Which one would you most like to see kicked into touch? Me too. But instead he’s excommunicated while she prospers. It’s time New Labour was given another makeover and re-named the Non-Ronseal Party. Because it is the one oily product that does exactly the opposite of what it says on the tin.

Vital Now – Vital Then?

In response to an article in last week’s Hackney Gazette about the site of Bibs and Braces nursery being turned into a private nursery – with the help of lottery funding – an IWCA letter from Asha Kelly hit back. Lead letter in Hackney Gazette 23rd October reprinted here:

Councillor Linda Kelly may be denying any responsibility for shutting the Bibs and Braces nursery (Nursery Back in Business – Hackney Gazette October 16 2003) but it was her party that sold it off last year. Closing down a council-run nursery that served working class parents and reopening it as a private nursery charging £135 a week may strike some as perverse until you realise that this privatisation by stealth seems to be part of Labour’s strategy in Hackney and beyond. If the nursery is now “vital for the area” as Cllr Kelly claims, wasn’t it “vital for the area” when it was council run and a whole lot cheaper?

Isn’t it also a touch ironic that the new nursery can now be built after lottery funding was made available? After all, it’s not usually the middle class who buy the lottery tickets which provide the money for lottery funding, but the working class. A strange case of the poorer part of the community dipping into their pockets to subsidise a private venture for the better off!

A new lease of life

With latest figures showing an astonishing increase in the number of empty properties in Hackney (from 795 to 2895 in the space of just a year), we reprint here an article from The Guardian’s website arguing the case for local councils taking over ownership of private properties left vacant for no good reason.
(Friday October 10, 2003 – Society Guardian website)

As consultation ends on a scheme to force landlords to bring their empty properties back into use, Jack Dromey urges the government to take measures to implement it

With all the talk at the moment of a housing crisis, you could be forgiven for not picking up on the fact that there are a startling 729,770 empty homes across England. Not a lot of people know that but just think of the contribution that they could make to meeting housing need?
While some of these empty homes are in areas of low demand for housing, over half are empty where there is high housing need. In London and the south-east, for example, there are just under 185,000 empty homes. Of this total more than 80% are in the private sector and 70,000 have been empty for more than six months.

Yet in 2002 there were around 59,000 families registered as homeless in the same region.

The debate on empty homes in this country has moved on. It is no longer about the shocking management of empty homes by the NHS, Ministry of Defence or local councils, as much work has been undertaken in this area over the last decade. The big challenge now is bringing back into use those long-term empty private homes to meet increasing housing need.

To date local authorities across the land have adopted empty property strategies and have worked with private owners of empty homes to ensure the homes are brought back into use. Through targeted grants programmes, and gaining the associated nomination rights, empty homes have been brought back into use.

Yet a voluntary approach is only sadly going to take us so far. Take just one local authority, the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, which has for many years run a progressive empty property strategy. Despite this excellent work, the council still found itself with over 1,000 properties where their approaches had been turned down. In many cases these owners are “accidental landlords”. They may be owners of a shop, with a flat upstairs, or landlords who have inherited a property. The best long-term solution is to turn these landlords into good landlords or encourage them to make a decision to get out of the property business rather than force them out of it.

An idea was developed with such properties in areas of high housing need, where a good reason can’t be given for keeping the property empty, and the owner has turned down offers of assistance, the local authority should have the discretionary power to take over the management of the property.

The authority would undertake the necessary capital works to make good the house and then the rental income stream could pay for this work. Once the debts had been paid, the management of the house would revert back to the owner. As the management period neared completion, the owner would be offered training on being a landlord or advice on how they could continue letting out the house. The key issue with this idea is that ownership is not the issue it is occupation.

Indeed it can be seen as a win win solution. The owners receive an income and their property is improved, housing need is met and the community loses another empty home and its ability to attract crime and vandalism.

Such a scheme was advocated by the Local Government Association in its submission to the housing and planning select committee and is supported by Shelter, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and indeed my own union the Transport and General Workers’ Union. And a number of local authorities are expressing interest in this scheme, from Southampton to Salford showing that this idea is not one restricted just to London.

The recent select committee investigation into empty homes in 2002 recommended a pilot scheme to test such a scheme and the government responded with interest to this idea. In their Communities’ Plan published on 5th February 2003, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister announced that it was minded to go out to public consultation on this issue, and a consultation paper was launched at the joint Empty Homes Agency/Social Market Foundation conference in May.

And we have now come to the end of a three-month public consultation period. The government has responded quickly to the campaign run by the Empty Homes Agency, but it must not lose momentum. Compulsory leasing (or empty homes management orders as the government prefers to call it) has massive potential to increase the supply of affordable housing by using existing assets. This is a radical idea but one that we need to put into action fast.

For that reason I call upon the government to include compulsory leasing in the housing bill when it returns to parliament in the next session. With the current intense pressure for new housing the government must turn this idea from rhetoric to reality soon. We can’t afford to wait.

Jack Dromey is the national convenor at the Transport and General Workers’ Union

For more information on the IWCA’s policies on this issue see www.iwca.info