Labour MP Diane Abbott faces hostility and anger at housing meeting in Southwark

Photo: Peoples's Republic of Southwark

How can we solve the housing crisis? This was the question set by a public meeting called by Southwark Defend Council Housing (SDCH) on 10 February. Following the recent protest occupation of the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark - a huge council estate earmarked for demolition and 'regeneration' - there was a new mood in the meeting, with several speakers suggesting that a housing movement is starting to develop. The majority in the meeting were clear about how we can solve the housing crisis - we need to escalate the fight and we cannot trust our politicians. Headline speaker Diane Abbott MP refused to publicly support the occupation or condemn the actions of Southwark Labour council. Her useless speech only served to confirm the mood and comments from other speakers and the floor - that the Labour Party does not and will not represent working class people.

Speakers from Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations, 35% campaign, Save Cressingham Gardens and Aylesbury Tenants First demanded secure social rented homes and refurbishment of existing homes rather than demolition. They exposed the disgusting actions of Labour-led Southwark and Lambeth councils, from their empty promises, relationships with private developers and their manipulation of figures. The recently demolished Heygate Estate at Elephant and Castle was mentioned, with the loss of 1,200 council homes an example of Southwark council's priorities. These will be replaced with 2,400 new homes with only 79 due to be socially rented. The rest will be unaffordable. The speakers were clear - social housing should be ours to live in, not theirs to sell. Sam from the Aylesbury Estate occupation explained the council's actions in running down the estate, smashing up the empty properties further in order to prevent further action and the actions being taken to challenge this, including protests and building relationships across the estate (see: Protest outside the council). The occupation received overwhelming support. The same cannot be said for Diane Abbott.

Diane Abbott presented a very general view of the housing crisis, and suggested Labour were being too 'timid' in their response. This did not convince many people in the audience and on the panel - who have seen the council's actions and heard Labour's lies before. There were calls for no-one to vote for Labour, for Abbott to leave the party, and for us to take action ourselves. 

When she suggested that council housing 'fell' into private developers hands during the last Labour government, she did the audience a disservice, who know precisely the criminal actions of Labour and their commitment to privatisation. People criticised her for insulting our intelligence and for playing the politicians game - her only response was to complain about being 'cussed' by a meeting she had chosen to attend. For her this was nothing more than a play of words; angry tenants describing impossible living conditions and the realities of the current housing situation and criticising her party's actions were simply dismissed as a 'cuss'. When a supporter of FRFI demanded that she publicly offer her support for the occupation and condemn the actions of the local Labour council, which has recently destroyed empty homes on the Aylesbury Estate, she refused. Despite texting on her mobile phone for the majority of the meeting, she replied to points with empty assertions about her age, how long she had lived in London, and her commitment to fighting the housing crisis. This kind of disdain has no place in building a movement to defend housing. A movement must be built to challenge the disastrous housing system and all those who defend the status quo, whatever their party.

Discussion about the context of the housing crisis added to the urgency of taking action; the rapidly increasing inequality between rich and poor, yet more cuts to services planned and benefit sanctions and attacks are creating further misery. It was inspiring to discuss estates that are organising to fight back, from the Aylesbury occupation to New Era estate and the Focus E15 campaign. As Gerlinde from Save Cressingham Gardens emphasised, we have to fight, fight, fight - and celebrate the victories along the way! Others raised the victory of anti-austerity party Syriza in Greece, and the rise of other anti-austerity parties across Europe. Many stressed the urgency of building resistance to austerity here. Whilst Diane Abbott remains a figure on the 'left' of the Labour Party, legitimising their actions and sowing illusions that the party can change from doing anything other than serving the ruling class, she has no place in this movement, or on its platforms.

Council tenants, leaseholders and other residents of Southwark are tired of politician's talk, tired of lies. It is up to us to continue to take action, to resist and to get organised. A march was called by SDCH for 15 March, and there are constant actions before then as local groups organise and refuse to let the council rest.

Social housing not social cleansing!

Fight for the Aylesbury Estate!

Blog of the Aylesbury Estate occupation:

Lend Lease: another octopus: branches/london/3894-ll120215