I went to see David Cameron when he came to speak to the electorate in LBH&F on the 5th of January. It was an interesting evening, he heaped praise on 'an excellent' local authority with a high resident satisfaction ratio - but strangely I heard mutterings of 'I've never been asked what I think about the council' from people sitting near to me who clearly were not satisfied residents. We were never given figures of how many had said they were satisfied or happy with the services and the plans this council has for its electorate.Thanks Janice. We appreciate the time you have taken to record your observations and your thoughts, as well as your good wishes.
However, it was soon evident that this was never going to be an evening of detailed thinking and precise plans; details, openness and transparency are not the qualities that David Cameron thinks are important. The experience is really a bit like being left on your own to draw up the dots, but you have no idea of what the picture is supposed to look like. During the evening, the issue of what plans the ruling Conservative administration have for estates such as Queen Caroline Estate and West Kensington came up repeatedly. David isn't one for detailed responses, but what was clear is that they want change and they want the change to directly affect people living on key estates.
He did not offer assurances that all social housing tenants would remain secure in their tenancies - in fact he said that things 'can't remain as they are'. As things are I understand that people have secure tenancies and permanence - from what he said this is clearly going to be something that they will look at with a view to change. There were no details given - only the recurring statement, 'things just can't stand still' . From this I took it to mean that he had no objection to what the council are planning; people could be moved away and merely offered unacceptable alternative accommodation on other estates or even in other areas.
Private leaseholders have been offered some money, but it will never be enough to compete on the private market in one of the most expensive boroughs in London, so they will have to look for homes in cheaper areas as even with a 'top up' it is unlikely to be enough to buy in LBH&F. The Conservatives are very keen to use social housing as a short term 'emergency' measure, so it is not beyond the realms of possibility that tenancies will be restricted to five years in order for tenants to move out into privately rented or into what the Conservatives clearly prefer to social housing - ' part private ownership'. He showed no interest in the sense of community or the need for community cohesion or how destructive this measure was for communities.
Difficult questions about the Queen Caroline Estate were asked by one resident and she was amazingly persistent in trying to get out of him what they were planning to do. She asked him for reassurances that if elected he would stop the council from taking homes and forcing the destruction of the local community. Four times she asked for clarification and each time David Cameron looked uneasy and offered empty phrases - eventually just stating that they wouldn't just 'knock the places down'. When the microphone was eventually wrestled from her hand it was clear to all that he hadn't done his homework; he didn't know that there had already been a number of meetings and discussions and little if any meaningful consultation with residents about what may happen in the future. He didn't deny that they were trying to sell the land to a developer - it would be the developer who knocks them down, so his reassurance was meaningless.
I think he was taken aback by the sheer number of dissatisfied members of the local electorate who had managed to gain entry into what was a tightly controlled political meeting. What was clearly established is that it is the disabled and the elderly who are paying the price of their 'no rise in council tax' .The charges for meals on wheels and social care have rocketed during this administration according to residents present.
The persistent questioning about plans for the estate and social housing caused considerable discomfort to him. It's up to you he said - you can vote them out if you don't like them.
When we left the hall, there was a small group of frozen protesters holding banners saying Save Our Homes. Sadly it's very clear from that meeting that Queen Caroline Estate is very vulnerable to development plans and that David Cameron doesn't really care - he relies on apathy - it's what will get him elected. What was cheering was to see so many people caring about what was happening to them, their families and communities. He may have come to LBH&F thinking it was a done deal, somehow I think that he may have miscalculated and underestimated local people, especially those fighting for the right to remain on Queen Caroline Estate.
Best of luck!
Friday, 15 January 2010
We received the message below from a local resident who doesn't live on our estate but clearly takes a keen interest in community issues. We thought you'd like to share it.