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Living in Westminster: for the privileged on the Right

“Living in Westminster is a privilege, not a right” the leaders of Westminster council are keen on telling us. This is the same council that in the late 80s under Shirley Porter kept council properties empty to sell to the ‘right’ sort of people, moved suspected Labour voters against their will, and subverted council services for political gain – the Tory council’s majority had been slashed at the 1986 elections and they were willing to do anything, however illegal, in order to stay in power. Porter was eventually found guilty of willful misconduct and gerrymandering and ordered to repay the £36m the council had lost in revenue due to her tactics. She ended up paying back only £12m as agreed with the Tory council in place in 2004. In 2009 the Tory council finally apologised for Porter’s actions two decades earlier and declared that her actions were the opposite of contemporary Tory policy. But were they?

It has emerged that Westminster council will be scrapping existing tenancy agreements and moving over to the ‘affordable rents’ model. They will also be doing away with secure tenancies and replacing them with five year contracts subject to financial conditions, or means testing.

I have written about the problem of affordable housing several times before. The proposed rents for such properties are around 80% of market value – in a market which is vastly overpriced, especially in London and Westminster in particular, the idea of using unrealistic rates in order to calculate affordability has to be questioned. But for some the market contains all the answers to our problems, and we can see where that has got us.

I have also written on means testing for social housing, at most length here – again, applying market forces to public services simply does not work.

Westminster have also announced that in line with changes in 2013, when local authorities will be able to set council tax benefit levels rather than adhere to a central government tariff, they will be awarding benefits based on tenants’ ‘behaviour’ rather than their need – I wrote on their intentions here.

All of this adds up to a newer, ‘legal’ form of gerrymandering and social engineering/cleansing and is really not so very different from what Shirley Porter tried to do in the late 80s. It is also an example of how Eric Pickles’ much vaunted ‘localism’ can be used, a far cry from the supposed enabling and empowerment of communities he would have us believe.

The ‘policies’ employed by Porter worked and the Tory council was reelected with a landslide in 1990 – this was never redressed. The aims of the current regime are pretty much the same, all about engineering ‘their’ borough to ensure the right people live there. And it’s not just Westminster, this is happening on a national level with changes in social housing and housing benefits, and benefits caps being introduced. This is not happening in the name of ‘fairness’ or ‘necessity’, but in the name of an ideology that seeks to divide and rule.

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  1. May 17, 2012 at 12:22 am

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