Attending Tower Hamlets full council meeting on Wednesday night and in it’s new swanky, luxurious building in Mulberry Place, which I think is very much lacking in comparison to the lovely old building it once owned in Bethnal Green, however, it did bring back a few old memories I will say of times past.
I think that I have lost count of the times when back in the mid eighties and in that very building, it was a regular occurrence to be escorted out, I mean of course slung out by the presiding Mayor for one thing or another, basically for disrupting the meeting, for it was a time when disused and derelict land and the docklands were being handed over to big business such as the land upon which is now sited that capitalist monstrosity known to us all as Canary Wharf, that abortion of a legacy left behind by Thatcher in them unforgettable years... I will not forget in to much of a hurry then, that this would never had been possible, if not for the cooperation of a Labour Party and its Councillors, this fact has a direct link to the present day and what is happening now, not only in Tower Hamlets but in the country as a whole. For the communities settled along the river like that of Tower Hamlets of London Docklands, the closure of the upper docks between 1967 and 1981 was traumatic. Local people were faced with uncertainty and change as traditional port-related activities vanished, jobs declined and physical decay became increasingly obvious as local people felt bitter, even betrayed.
Not surprisingly, the creation of the London Docklands Development Corporation in July 1981 was largely met by the Docklands communities with scepticism, suspicion, hostility and even outright opposition, not least by local, mainly Labour, politicians. They at first regarded the Corporation as an intrusive, non elected government body, a most unwelcome Conservative-created cuckoo in their highly traditional working class nest. But things changed and a right wing Labour council got into bed with the property developer, this is not hard to understand when you had the likes of Rob (later Lord) Mellish serving as Deputy Chairman, Rob or Bob as some called him (later Lord) Mellish, was the MP for Bermondsey and former labour Chief Whip, both frequently attended meetings with community representatives, his attention focused in the main on the achievement of maximum change - infrastructure, perception and the attraction of private sector investment before the next General Election of 1983 so as to seal the deal.
Put it simply then, by selling it’s sole to the devil, the Labour Party, co-operated with capital, passed all manner of planning regulations in the council chamber and in doing so ignoring and refused to take notice or even acknowledge; just disregarded in my opinion and intentionally, the needs of the working people who were already struggling to cope with what was a chronic housing shortfall, they didn't look towards the future, they just took the golden handshake of the property developer or did as they were told from their masters above and did that dirty dance, so thirty years or so fast forward in time just like a time traveler I’m sitting in this lovely council chamber and a Tower Hamlets First Councillor calls a Labour member a puppet; in a half heated exchange and Labour (sic) protest and object ...what for; it’s the truth, they are puppets they have always been, but this time they have the dirty hand of Eric Pickles up their backside.
The mistakes made in the past have had a direct bearing and impact on the future, so the moral of this story is this, if you don’t learn the lessons of past mistakes, it's one step forward and ten strides backwards and you end up with what we have had for the last four and a half years, Cameron and his old school friends such as Boris Johnson who is now running London in the interests of his class and the super rich as we see and experience the gentrification of many a former London working class area.
The mind bubbles, at the very thought that once Tower Hamlets council had not one single Tory on it for years, now there are five of the blood sucking beasts, not to mention that Labour lost control to a racist Liberal group in the 1980s and a BNP Councillor was elected later for a short time.
I was able to call upon my my memory of Labour in the 80s and make a comparison to this Labour group and that one of old, if anything nothing has changed only this, back then I considered the Labour group to be on the right, now it seems to have moved further to the right and that’s saying something when as I recall that the group Paul Beasley led in Tower Hamlets was very stubbornly right wing; Beasley by the way became a serving member of the LDCC, and in the elections of 1986 he lost his seat when he stood as an Independent.
People make a place. They build, live, work and play there and imbue the buildings, streets, nooks and crannies with their spirit. Places and events also make people. The people and communities of London Docklands and Tower Hamlets have historically endured times both mean and great - the excitement of tall ships arriving from unknown corners of the world, depression and grinding poverty in pre-war years, the worst Second World War bombing of any British civilian target, industrial contraction, dock strikes, the closures of the docks and finally stagnant dereliction, and now gentrification and then something and someone decides to fight back, or it could be as I heard it said in an excellent speech from John Rees the other week in defence of Tower Hamlets and its Mayor Lutfur Rahman: “Tower Hamlets is a fighting Borough”. I think this borough will fight back and it can only do that effectively if we all support that fight.