Newham council attacks Focus E15 Campaign with lies and deception

On 7 October, Focus E15 campaigners will leave the Open House they had established on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, East London. Since 21 September the campaign has occupied a block of four flats, which had been boarded up for six years, to broadcast its demands for an end to social cleansing in Newham.

The protest drew widespread national attention, sparking a public debate about the housing crisis. It was covered by the BBC, Channel 4, The Guardian, The Independent and the Financial Times and others. Following an unsuccessful attempt on 26 September, Newham Council were able to secure a possession order on 2 October. However, with the campaign deciding to leave the property anyway on 7 October, the Council decided not to serve it.

Following the second court case, Labour-run Newham Council issued a statement which was a mixture of lies and deception. Earlier, on 29 September, Labour’s Newham Mayor Robin Wales made a statement to a Council meeting which was equally dishonest.

Here are two lies from the Council statement:

  • Lie 1: The Council has had a ‘long-stated intention’ of temporarily moving in families in need of housing into the Carpenters Estate.

This is news to those on Newham’s housing waiting list of more than 25,000 people. The Council has left properties on the Carpenters Estate vacant for up to ten years because it wanted to sell the site. This new Council decision has in fact been sparked by the high profile of the occupation – whose main demand has been to ‘repopulate the Carpenters Estate’.

  • Lie 2: The Council says that none of the young families received eviction notices from their landlord last year.

This is not true. In August 2013, they were served with notices terminating their tenancies on 20 October (with a later date for those who have been there under six months).

The Council statement quotes Mayor Wales as condemning the government’s ‘barbaric approach to welfare cuts for the most vulnerable.’ Yet neither has done anything to fight back against the government and both have complied with the government’s every diktat on welfare cuts. This self-same Wales led an attack on those forced to live rough saying in the local Newham Recorder: he ‘was not prepared to tolerate some of the behaviour and problems’ that homelessness ‘causes for our wider community.’

Wales’s own statement to Newham Council was equally sly. First, he issues an apology to the Focus E15 families, conceding their case was ‘initially handled badly’. This is a year after the Focus E15 mothers started to fight back – no apology has ever been offered before. Why now? Only because Newham Council was in the spotlight. It was a meaningless apology: the Council is not sorry for what it has done, but because it has been found out. Wales is quoted in the Financial Times as blaming an ‘inexperienced junior officer’ for what had happened. Yet shipping people like the Focus E15 mothers out of London is Newham Council policy. Focus E15 mothers were offered housing in Hastings, Manchester and Birmingham in 2013. This was not the whim of a ‘junior’ officer: he or she was acting on Council policy, and many Newham residents have been shipped out of London because of it. Blaming someone else for this, particularly a junior member of staff who cannot answer back, demonstrates a complete lack of integrity. In Wales’s view, everyone else is to blame apart from himself.

Wales says – as if there was any dispute – that the Focus E15 families needed to move on from Foyer accommodation. He then says ‘every family…who wanted to stay in London was assisted to find independent accommodation in London.’ But this was only after the Focus E15 campaign had started. It was only after local councillor Terry Paul had refused to support them, local MP Lyn Brown had ignored them, and Wales himself had dealt dismissively with the women when they approached him at his surgery in November 2013. Even in February this year, Wales’s housing priorities were for ex-service men and women and ‘working families’, not for those on benefits. Local accommodation was only found because of the political pressure of the mothers organising and fighting back, not through the generosity of the Council or Mayor Wales. And even then the local accommodation the women had to accept is short-term and insecure in private rented housing, not in social housing. This is no long-term solution as Wales would have us believe: that is what the mothers are now fighting for.

Wales’s statement says that he would be happy to sit down and talk to members of the campaign. We are not interested in talk, but in meaningful action, and the only things we have ever got from the council arose from our actions, not from discussion or talks. Both Wales’s and the Council’s statements complain about alleged aggression from the campaign itself. Neither, however, mentions that Wales is currently being investigated by the Newham Standards Committee over allegations about an aggressive and uncontrolled outburst towards the Focus E15 mothers and their children when they approached him at the Mayor's family day in July. This is the stock-in-trade of those in power: acts of resistance by the oppressed are always dismissed as ‘aggression’, while their own acts of oppression are at best excused with belated apologies, or blamed on others. A policy that seeks to push Newham residents out of London is the real aggression – only Wales is not on the receiving end of that policy, so he does not think of it as such.

Wales tells Newham Council ‘we have to make difficult decision’. When politicians like Wales talk of ‘difficult decisions’, they are not decisions about themselves, but decisions that involve attacks against the poor and the working class. Somehow, describing them as ‘difficult decisions’ is supposed to make them legitimate. So Wales’s ‘difficult decisions’ never mean sacrifice of any part of his £80,000 a year: they always mean that others are going to have to pay, those who cannot afford it. The last thing he can conceive of is joining the working class in building real resistance to the onslaught from the ruling class.

The Council has attempted to draw a distinction between the Focus E15 mothers and what they have described in one statement as ‘agitators and hangers-on’. Such a distinction is used by the desperate: it is no different from Margaret Thatcher’s talk of the ‘enemy within.’ It tries to present a fictitious division between organised activists - in particular the Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG), which has been central to the campaign from the beginning - and the Focus E15 mothers. The RCG has been proud to stand with the Focus E15 women and will continue to fight with them and with all those fighting to build an independent working class movement against cuts and austerity.

 

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