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Camden New Journal - ROSE HACKER - The Oldest Columnist in the World
Published: 6 December 2007
Our socialist dreams are fading

ARGUMENTS rage about where to build so-called “afford­able housing”. For many people trying to find a first home, affordability is pure myth.
In October, the London Affordable Housing Show offered only one flat for less than 15 times key workers’ average earnings, a mere £92,000. All others started at more than £250,000.
One of the best unpaid jobs I ever enjoyed was my four years as elected Greater London Council member for St Pancras North.
Unfortunately, four years before, and four years after, the Tories were elected to run the GLC. This was unprecedented. They did many things to destroy some of the socialist programmes which had given us mixed communities and the green belt around London, with its playing fields, farms, river sports and many attractions for walkers and swimmers.
My assigned dream task, “Chairman of Thames and Other Waterways Board”, fitted beautifully with one of my election slogans: “Bring the country back to London.”
I was proud and pleased to be able to stop Tory plans to fill in all the canals and make motorways of them. We cleaned and opened them up, supporting the creation of many canal and riverside clubs for children for canoeing and rowing.
When Millie Miller was Mayor of Camden she bought the narrowboat Tarporley, still in use by the children of Camden. We provided seats and little gardens for the elderly. Everybody was catered for. Genuine arts and crafts markets were created along the canal at Camden Lock and Islington plus affordable workshops and low-rent ­studios for artists and craftspeople.
For the first time we gave permission for on-boat cafés, restaurants, theatres and puppet shows. It was not only canals that benefited but also many little tribu­taries of the Thames and the Cutty Sark gardens.
By the 1960s, London’s canals had become polluted, stinking dumping grounds.
We transformed them into pleasure places for young and old and it was a wonderful day when I walked 11 miles along the canals for charity.
In addition to funding the clean-up, the GLC and borough councils used their power to acquire land to create unimpeded public access and views along waterways. All that has now gone.
There has always been a majority of caring people in the world. The ancient Jews in the Bible were told God required them to reap their fields in circles, always leaving the harvest of the corners for the poor to glean.
In similar vein, in the Middle Ages British common lands were left for poor people to graze their sheep and cows and to use some small areas of land to help them to survive. Enclosure of common lands in Britain started in the 12th century, intensified under the Tudors and was formalised in the early 19th century, allowing the rich to grab common lands, safeguarded by law. Enclosure laws created many starving, landless beggars. History tells of them being chased from one area to another.
In the 21st century, another wave of enclosure is happening.
It began with the sale of council housing and the ending of garden suburbs, cities and estates and abandonment of the whole idea of mixed communities living to­gether in pleasant places. As in the past, once again this means landlords ­taking possession and deprivation for many people.
Wherever council housing was built along pleasant watersides, or near playing fields or small local parks, or in attractive environments with good views, we see gated communities with skyscraper flats or mansions for the wealthy. Poor people were encouraged to sell their council houses but there has been no rebuilding of housing for the poor. Metropolitan governments and borough councils controlled vast amounts of land and low-cost housing and were forced to sell them.
We now witness ghettoisation of both rich and poor, leading to the proletarianisation of the professional classes who cannot afford any housing in attractive areas.
I have heard that there are targets of just 2 per cent of social housing in expensive areas but no limits in poor areas.
I remember the debates about Coin Street on the South Bank where working people lived and worked. The GLC gave them their land. Now that same local community plans to drive out the poor people, building luxury flats for profit. It is easy to see how working people get drawn into the corruption process.
Inner-city children have lost their playing fields not only near the schools, but even a bus ride away.
More emphasis than ever before is on sport as a profit-driven, spectator and gambling activity rather than participatory fun for children and parents. Land ownership is, more than ever, the ownership of wealth with which to gamble. I never dreamt that I would see a so-called Labour government promote gambling and discourage playing games for fun.
Over several decades, with the welfare state which worked we saw our dreams of the people of London having a community for all classes beginning to come true.
Overnight it’s all being smashed. I find myself sick, unable to speak at the thought.
Where will affordable housing go now? Not anywhere the rich want to live.

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