Friday, 28 November 2014

Tower Hamlets a Flourishing Democracy and a fighting Borough

Part Two

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.  

Part Two

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Tower Hamlets a Flourishing Democracy

Tower Hamlets a Flourishing Democracy (Part One)

Last night I went along to join a lobby of Tower Hamlets Council as an act of solidarity with hard working and committed trade unionists, organized by Unison and workers employed by the authority in what I consider the front line of deprivation, that damaging lack of material benefits considered to be the basic necessities in society and which in this borough blights the lives of so many, but more about that in a moment.

The lobby was well supported and a testament of determination by the workforce to do all it can to protect jobs and services from the savage swinging axe that is attached at a right angle to George Osborne’s arm and being used to great effect to cull the services provided by local authorities up and down the country.

Trying to keep this post as short as I can... I decided to stay for the full council meeting, as I was intrigued to find out for myself what the Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman and his administration was really like and how did it operate in comparison to what I had read and heard in the the local and national media, you know I discovered the complete opposite, so I’m going to say this, what a lovely man is Lutfur Rahman, there is nothing pretentious or ostentatious about the man, that was my first observation and the second was just how skillful were his team of Tower Hamlets First Councillors in performing their duties as the peoples representatives.

This is a team who are determined to bring home the commitment made to the electorate in May, which includes waging a fight against poverty and improving lives of their constituents whether they voted for them or not.  

The one thing that stands out above anything and everything else is the improvements that have been made to the housing stock, the improvements in such a short time are like grease lighting. I work some of the time in Tower Hamlets so I've seen this appearing in the blink of an eye, there is much more of course, such as more housing or like free school meals and the educational and training support given to young people.

Lutfur Rahman has said:

“Supporting vulnerable children and their families is one of my top priorities and we continue to work with our partners in tackling child poverty. In light of central government cuts, we must work even harder to ensure our services reach those who need them most.”

Recent figures indicate that that Tower Hamlets houses and contains areas with some of the highest levels of child poverty in the UK, but despite the council’s efforts, the borough’s child poverty levels have risen from 42 per cent in 2013. In both Bethnal Green and Bow, and Poplar and Limehouse, almost 50 per cent of children live in poverty. So if it’s a crime to tackle this, if its a crime to tackle bad or the lack of good social housing  then Lutfur Rahman and his Councillors are guilty of it and they would be the first to put their hands up and own up... proudly to the crime of that I am now in no doubt.  

Part One

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