Monday, November 24, 2008

London Biennial Conference (III) - Housing Workshop, Ken, Motions and Election Results

This is the last post on the London Labour Party conference held on Saturday. Life moves on rapidly nowadays. Who would have guessed on Saturday we would now be celebrating an income tax increase for the rich! Lovely stuff, better late than never.

Lunch was provided by Newham Labour group, many thanks for a nice curry and glass of wine. Nothing too good for the workers. In the queue I met properly for the first time Hackney Councillor and well known Labour blogger Luke Akehurst. We both agreed that it is a bit strange to come across folk in person that you have only met electronically beforehand.

I forgot to return the conference workshop forms in time so I had been put down to attend the Contact Creator workshop. Now this is an important campaigning tool but I am already due to attend training so I bunked off to go to the “London Housing in the Election” workshop. This was being run by Cllr Jamie Carswell, Deputy Mayor of Hackney. Joanne Milligan chaired. Also present was Paul Stone Deputy Leader of Islington Labour group. The heroine of the hour, new Tower Hamlets Councillor and diss-respect slayer, Rachel Saunders was there with Labour NEC member and employment rights lawyer, Ellie Reeves.

Housing had been a key London issue of the conference so far, mentioned by most speakers. The fear is that Boris is road testing for the national Tories in London. As Robin Wales had said already, don’t believe what he says; look at what he actually does.

Jamie is also the “London Councils” lead on Housing. The major concern about Boris is that he has ditched the 50% target for social housing in all London new build schemes. Boris has also increased the eligibility for access to subsidised shared ownership to those with an income of £72,000 pa (from £60,000?). Possibly even worse Boris has cancelled the vital infrastructure projects such as the DLR extension to Barking and the Thames Gateway Bridge. What this means is that Barking is still supposed to have been identified as an area of housing growth but what is the point of building more housing if there is no transport infrastructure for residents to get to work. Doesn’t Boris understand the concept of “joined up thinking?

The most graceless thing of course by our so called “London Mayor” is his proposal that 45% of all social housing should be built in the 9 Labour boroughs which have only 27% of the population. Gerrymandering or what? Effectively, what this mean is that Tory boroughs will only allow private housing developments and will try and export their “poor” (and God forbid potential Labour voters) to Labour boroughs. It had been pointed out many times that Boris is surrounding himself with advisers associated with the very wicked former Tory leader of Westminster Council, Shirley Porter. The Tories obviously also believe that social housing is tenure of the last resort and the desperate. So out of sight out of mind?

Interestingly Jamie reminded us that the horrible term “Social Housing” was invented by one Michael Heseltine. Jamie prefers the term “Public housing” which I think is far better (even though in the States it has similar negative contentions to social housing – but there you go).

There was other interesting stuff on Boris, such as he is including rebuild in his 50,000 new homes target (so if he knocks down 50,000 homes in the next 4 years and only builds 50,000 new ones then he will have still reached his target); the impact of “gated communities” (communities???), the Warwick 2 housing statement (level playing field for Councils and RSLs), shortage of family seized housing units, HMOs, managing areas were there are more than one public housing landlord.

There was a bit of cut and thrust in the Q&A. While the future of Council Housing is of course still very important it has to be recognised that a significant percentage of housing stock in London has been transferred (30-35%?) or built by RSLs so we have to take this on board. We must make sure that we are pursuing policies that ensure that such new (and old) public housing landlords are being held to account.

I made a suggestion that while there are some very good RSL public housing landlords there are some very, very bad ones. One solution would be for Labour councillors and party members to join the boards of such landlords to drive up standards. Landlords who treat their residents badly will also treat their staff with similar disdain. Councillors also need to call rogue landlords to account in their boroughs. This is an issue that needs exploring further.

There was a very poplar suggestion that all empty homes should have their council tax increased the longer they remained empty and Paul Smith (deputy leader of Islington Labour Group) came up with a very good idea about organising a petition against Boris getting rid of the 50% target.

Afterwards was Ken Livingstone's speech which went down very well. Ken was on form. He thanked the Labour Party for the magnificent effort that everyone put in during the GLA election. He led in all but 4 London boroughs which puts paid to the ES lie that he was the Zone 1 mayor. It was the collapse of the Lib Dem vote that caused most problems. Ken sincerely hoped that people would not take this out on Brian Paddock by voting him out of “I’m a Celebrity”. Since Boris had cancelled the congestion charge on Porches et al in central London, he now has a financial “black hole” to fill – so watch out ordinary Londoners.

Next we debated resolutions on health & safety and housing. There were also emergency motions on Boris cancelling transport schemes, Post offices POCA contracts and windfall taxes. I spoke, so did UNISON delegates Gloria Hanson and Rae Voller.

The election results were very interesting. West Ham Alan Griffiths lost to Luke Akehurst. Check out Luke’s post (and take) on these results.

Most of the conference then seemed to decamp to the nearby Edward VII pub where over a pint or three the world was properly put to rights and a good time was had by all.


Andrew Berry said...

It’s Paul SMITH Deputy Leader of Islington Labour Group! Not stone.

John Gray said...

Thanks Andrew for that - I must learn to write legible notes and double check names.

We actually had a good chat. It seems that you have a good reputation in the Council! Of course I tried to put him right, but he wasn't having any of it!

Anonymous said...

Hi John

You might have warned me you were taking photos. I'd have smiled for the camera :-)


John Gray said...

Hi Jo
No time for bourgeois Cameron concepts such as smiling for cameras!

This is a picture of serious, determined and thoughtful people who are going to change our world for the Better!

(And Bash Big Bad Boris on the way)