The Queen’s Speech on 27 May formally enshrined the Conservative Party’s manifesto promise to extend the Right to Buy scheme to more than a million housing association tenants. The consequences will be the decimation of already appallingly low stocks of public housing, the accelerated sell-off of council housing in London and other affluent areas, and a steep rise in homelessness for the poor, compounded by the overall cap on benefits. CAT WIENER reports
Right to Buy: the sell-off of public housing stock
Just under two million council homes – 37% of the total stock – have been lost since Margaret Thatcher introduced Right to Buy for local authority tenants in 1980. Only 345,000 local authority homes have been built in the same period. Housing associations – which in England are now private registered providers – control just under half of all public housing stock, serving around 2.5 million tenants. Those that have lived in the same property for more than three years will now have the opportunity to buy their home at a massive discount worth up to £102,700 in London and £77,000 in the rest of England. (Both Wales and Scotland are in the process of abolishing Right to Buy completely).
During our visit to ICAP we were joined by Fernando Gonzalez, one of the Cuban Five. Rock around the Blockade campaigned for the freedom of the Five throughout their imprisonment, so when Fernando entered the room he was greeted with spontaneous applause; an emotional standing ovation in recognition of the Five’s principled stand throughout a long, harsh, unjust incarceration. Fernando, who is now Vice President at ICAP, said:
‘It’s good to see you, it’s good to have a group of very young people here. There are few things that you miss when you get out of prison; you leave that experience behind and you basically don’t miss anything. If I miss one thing it is receiving your newspaper (Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!), every issue. It’s true! It was very interesting reading every time. Let me tell you something – it is a newspaper that is circulated around the whole prison; many people were interested in what the newspaper had to say because it is a view that is not common in the United States. So much for the freedom of press! Views like the ones expressed in your newspaper you never find in what you call the mainstream media.
On Saturday 20 June, Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG) supporters attended the 'End Austerity Now' demonstration in London, called by the People's Assembly. Up to 150,000 people marched.
Following the addition of Jeremy Corbyn to the ballot for leader of the Labour Party, the People's Assembly attempted to turn the march into an election rally. Sam Fairbarn, General Secretary of the People's Assembly, was reported in The Guardian on 16 June as backing Corbyn and complaining that Burnham, Cooper and Kendall had refused to attend the march. Of Corbyn, he said ‘Jeremy is the only candidate who takes a principled anti-austerity, anti-war stance consistently’. This was followed by an article on 17 June by Chris Nineham, national officer of the Stop the War Coalition and a leading member of the People's Assembly, under the headline 'Corbyn is in the leadership race – don't just celebrate, organise!':
‘Getting Jeremy Corbyn onto the Labour leadership ballot was a breakthrough which opens up a big opportunity for the left in Britain...An ambitious, high profile campaign for Jeremy which draws on the movements against austerity, war and racism, can project radical ideas to a huge audience and build the forces of the left in every area.’
Yet Corbyn's 'principled stance' has not prevented him remaining a member of a Labour Party that in government has implemented savage austerity policies, murdered hundreds of thousands in imperialist wars, and when last in office boasted of deporting one person every eight minutes – all of this while he has been an MP. There is no chance Corbyn will win the leadership contest: he is simply a left cover its evermore reactionary character.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ),1 the business newspaper of the large US corporations, argues that the glut of capital and labour throughout the global economy represents a major challenge to policy makers. The global economy, it said, ‘is awash as never before with commodities like oil, cotton and iron ore, but also with capital and labour’ – an oversupply which is creating serious difficulties for policy makers attempting to boost economic demand. As a result, we are experiencing ‘a low-growth, low-inflation, low-[interest] rate environment’ which could take a decade for the global economy to surmount.
Following the general election, Prime Minister Cameron and Education Secretary Morgan declared an ‘all-out war’ on ‘coasting schools’. All schools inspected by Ofsted will be taken out of local authority control and turned into academies and ‘free’ schools if they do not show improved results year on year.
The Ofsted inspectorate is a quango, a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation, funded by the state. However, since it was set up in 1992 Ofsted has been used not to support schools, nurseries and child-care provision but to attack local authorities. Ofsted publishes standardised judgments on the performance of educational institutions. Significantly Ofsted’s verdicts on the success or failure of schools closely match national test results, which in England occur at the ages of four, seven, 11 and 14. Standard Attainment Targets, or Sats, were first introduced not as tests but as a tool for tracking children’s learning. Today, Sats results, together with Ofsted inspection judgments, are combined into league tables which rate schools annually against each other. Schools are graded as ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘requires improvement’ (this was ‘satisfactory’ but the term was abandoned when Ofsted realised what the word means) or ‘inadequate’. Schools judged ‘inadequate’ are put into special measures which can mean sacking the head and/or staff and/or governors, followed by loss of reputation, pupils, income, increased workload for teachers, and regular inspections.