New mayor of Newham… same old politics

Focus 15 campaigners

At the end of October, Focus E15 campaign and Brimstone House residents met with Newham’s first new Mayor since 1995, the ostensibly ‘left’ Labour Rokhsana Fiaz, and Cabinet Councillor for Housing John Gray. Conditions at Brimstone House – the former Focus E15 hostel – have changed little since former Mayor Robin Wales shut down the mother and baby unit five years ago. Now reclassed as temporary accommodation, it remains overcrowded, insecure and prison-like. The testimonies of residents about the destruction of their lives and their children’s visibly moved the mayor to tears. But the real question is – will it lead to any action?

Fiaz, who has taken over in a 100% Labour borough that was administered for decades by the infamous Wales and his cronies, has promised a clean break from the corruption and social cleansing that characterised his administration. While she has promised a review of housing policy and out-of-borough placements, homeless families continued to be evicted and decanted out of Newham. She has vaguely talked of ‘redevelopment’ on Carpenters’ Estate – where 400 council homes have been empty for ten years, despite one in 25 people in Newham being homeless – and of ‘listening to residents’. Is this a break from the council’s previous intention hand the estate over to private developers for demolition and ‘regeneration’? Anything less than refurbishing and re-populating Carpenters as council homes would be a gross betrayal of the working class in Newham.

The record of the council under Fiaz is not encouraging so far. In August, John Gray promised to re-open a children’s playground at Brimstone House. It remains shut, and the conservatory due to be refurbished as a children’s room is still locked and full of junk.

Focus E15 campaign, with the support of the Revolutionary Communist Group, will keep up the pressure on the new mayor, giving her the opportunity to stand with the people of Newham, and challenge the policies of a local Labour council which continues to condemn thousands to homelessness, slum-like temporary accommodation and social cleansing. If Newham’s elected officials continue to fail to act on their promises, we will take action of our own.

Fiaz has unearthed 10,000 deleted emails with potential evidence of the corruption of the previous administration led by Robin Wales, while Debt Resistance UK/Research for Action has just published Debt and Demo­cracy in Newham, a citizen audit of LOBO loans, showing that under Robin Wales’ leadership Newham was involved in taking out dubious and expensive loans from banks, making it the most indebted of all local authorities in Britain. In the run-up to the 2012 Olympic Games, Newham was promised that investment would bring new infrastructure, schools and affordable homes. In reality, the borough’s Olympic legacy has turned out to be the highest rate of homelessness in Britain and more than four in ten children growing up in poverty. No wonder the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty chose Newham as his venue to hear testimony from residents and organisations in London.

Meanwhile, the gravy train rolls on, as Robin Wales cruises easily into his new role at the right-wing thinktank Policy Exchange, after 23 years as head of the Labour council and 16 years as Labour mayor. Focus E15 campaign and comrades from the RCG demonstrated outside his first public engagement.

Join Focus E15 campaign and FRFI every Saturday, stall with open mic, 12-2pm on The Broadway, Stratford E15, and come to our next public meeting Saturday 8 December, 2.30-4.30pm at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, E15 4DN.

Hannah Caller

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 267, December 2018/January 2019

 

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