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Lewisham housing: Arguments against privatisation win
LAST WEEK saw another victory by Lewisham tenants in the battle against privatisation of council homes. The ruling New Labour councillors finally called off their efforts to hand over properties in the New Cross Gate area to Hyde housing association.
Last December the plans of this south London council were defeated in a formal transfer ballot, with 54.6% of tenants voting No to privatisation (see The Socialist, 10.1.08). This covered 1,820 properties, one third of them in the Socialist Party-held council ward of Telegraph Hill.
New Labour were determined to avenge this defeat. Every transfer ballot lost, is a blow to their pro-market agenda. And it was a double blow in New Cross Gate because the Socialist Party councillors, Ian Page and Chris Flood, were prominent in the Hands Off Our Homes campaign for a No vote.
So in March this year Lewisham's mayor, Sir Steve Bullock, announced a new stock transfer plan for 660 New Cross Gate homes in parts of the original transfer area where there had been majority support for Hyde. New Labour councillors were confident that, this time, they would get a victory.
To build momentum a letter was sent to every householder by Sir Steve making the false claim, again, that Lewisham didn't have the funds to bring council housing up to national Decent Homes standards. This was followed by an aggressive 'opinion polling' consultation where tenants were asked whether they wanted "to remain with Lewisham with uncertain prospects of gaining the necessary funding" or "transfer to Hyde Housing Association with guaranteed funding for a higher standard of work"! Having shown, they hoped, 'public support' for transfer by this loaded 'consultation', they would then organise another, legally-required, formal transfer ballot.
But it was not to be. A street by street breakdown of the vote in last year's ballot showed there had been a 59.7% to 40.3% majority for Hyde in the proposed new transfer area. But in a major turnaround, this time 51% told the polling organisation that they wanted to remain as council tenants. This did not "represent a sound platform from which to launch a second transfer", the New Labour councillors and Hyde forlornly concluded. "Both sides felt the results were less positive (!) than expected".
Hands Off Our Homes campaigners found that the changed economic circumstances since last year, when only Northern Rock had hit the buffers, made it easier to explain the dangers of privatisation. Many people signed our petition against a new ballot, who had supported transfer last year. But the arguments still had to be won. At the same time as the New Cross Gate 'consultation', a formal ballot to transfer 639 properties in Lee on the other side of Lewisham saw an 86% Yes vote with, unfortunately, no organised campaign against.
This shows the vital role of the Hands Off Our Homes campaign, and Lewisham's Socialist councillors. Lewisham council has spent more proportionately in New Cross Gate promoting transfer plans than anywhere else in the borough. In the comparably-sized Grove Park area, for example, they spent £637,000, against £1.4 million now in New Cross Gate - and yet here they were still defeated, twice! The task now is to spread the campaign to other areas of Lewisham where the threat of privatisation remains.
In The Socialist 19 November 2008:
No Job Cuts
Post office closures
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis