Monday, 29 June 2009

A Lesson in Manners?

On the evening of June 24th a number of residents attended the Council Meeting at the Town Hall, having heard that one of the Labour Councillors, Lisa Nandy, would be proposing a motion censuring the views expressed about council tenants by Stephen Greenhalgh in his chilling proposals for the reform of social housing, published by right wing think tank Localis. It was an illuminating but depressing experience.

The special motion was as follows:
"That this Council:

Rejects the offensive, damaging and false portrayal of social housing tenants in the paper 'Principles for Social Housing Reform' published by right wing think tank Localis.

Firmly rejects proposals which seek to deny decent, secure homes to those who need them.

Further condemns such a crude attempt to disguise deeply unpopular proposals to demolish local homes and communities by using the language of rights and empowerment.

Agrees with Shelter that people are empowered by genuine choice and security and asserts that people are disempowered by ill-thought out, stereotypical and stigmatising papers such as this.

Resolves that funding Localis £8,000 a year at a time when Hammersmith and Fulham Council is cutting vital services to local people is a shameful waste of public money that will cease with immediate effect."

We couldn't have said it better ourselves.

(£8,000? That was something we didn't know about before. Is that why they've started charging for home care? They've emptied the coffers supporting right wing think tanks?).

In support of the motion, Councillor Jean Campbell (the only council tenant on the Council) spoke movingly about the sadness she feels to hear people like her neighbours on White City Estate so grossly mis-represented and stigmatised by Stephen Greenhalgh: described in his paper as living in "broken neighbourhoods" and "ghettos" where a "dependency culture and culture of entitlement predominates". In contrast Jean Campbell described her community thus:

"My community on the White City is a vibrant one. My neighbours include people working in health care, people working as police officers or people who are simply doing their best to bring up their kids and look after their families."

What was notable about Jean Campbell was not just what she said but how she said it. She challenged the views of the Tory Councillors but spoke to them with respect. She persevered with dignity despite shameful behaviour from the other side of the chamber, reminiscent of school days (though with touches of Animal Farm).

Stephen Greenhalgh in particular spent his time ostentatiously misbehaving: noisily banging papers on the table, whispering and sniggering behind his hand to his chum Nicholas Botterill, closing his eyes in feigned (or perhaps real??) sleep. He behaved like this whenever members from the Labour Group were talking and seemed wholly proud of himself.

Others were as bad. When Labour Councillor Stephen Cowan, supporting Jean Campbell, pointed out that White City is already a mixed community with BBC workers amongst its residents he was heckled by Conservative Councillor Jane Law, who declared with a look of absolute disdain that "People from the BBC don't live on White City!" Clearly this concept was too horrific for her to contemplate. Poor thing, she looked like she'd had quite a shock.

Worst of all was the smugness, posturing and political point scoring at every opportunity, to the exclusion of intelligent debate. Even in full knowledge that members of the public were present these Conservative councillors did nothing to acknowledge us and our genuine concerns except by deliberately repeating the insulting language of the Greenhalgh report.

Yes, they knew we were there and yes, they seemed determined to show their contempt.

Are they really so certain of the electorate that they can afford to behave in this way?

Jean Campbell finished by asking Stephen Greenhalgh to look her in the eye and answer three questions:

  • Does he intend to lobby for an end of secure tenancies?

  • Will he provide a legal guarantee that all the social housing he demolishes will be replaced like for like - no catch?

  • Will he apologise to me and the thousands of council house residents like me for his simple caricaturing of our lives?

He made no attempt to answer despite repeated requests. Why was that, Councillor Greenhalgh?

Instead Councillor Lucy Ivimy was chosen to give a long winded, meaningless answer. She may be Cabinet Member for Housing but was nevertheless an odd choice to reply to a motion opposing the stigmatisation of council tenants, given her history. Few people have had the dubious honour of being outed by the Daily Mail over allegations of racism towards tenants, but she's managed it.

Thankfully we did not witness the same level of braying contempt for the political process from the Labour Group. If we had we might have lost all faith in the idea of decent people in politics. (We are not making a party political statement here, simply reporting what we observed on the night).

We are grateful to Lisa Nandy, Jean Campbell and their colleagues for standing up in that hostile environment to speak for ordinary people like us.

The motion was voted down, of course, but the words that were spoken remain.

If you think there is even the slightest exaggeration in this article do go along to a Council Meeting to see for yourself. It won't be the happiest evening of your life but it will be an education.


  1. I wonder what David Cameron would say if he got his hands on this superbly written account. Not the caring Tories he is at pains to present to the public. Be scared those of you who are considering voting Conservative. This is what you are letting yourselves and the rest of us in for.

  2. This is fairly typical of conservatives unfortunately. They keep using the word "responsibility" as a mask of stating that they wont support you with basic services but they'll be happy to take your taxes in abundance. I don believe they got such a huge majority in H&F.....