As we are almost half way through the election campaign, I thought I would do a quick guide to the stories making the running.
This is just my view and I would like to know yours. Please take a minute to do this 3-question survey on what you think are the most important issues and who you think is best placed to deal with them.
West Kensington residents have won a 12-year battle to save their homes, after Conservative politicians sold them to a developer for demolition and replacement with luxury flats.
I was first elected to represent West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates off the North End Road in 1986 and was their councillor for 20 years. They are good quality low and medium-rise council homes, many of which are now owned freehold and leasehold or by housing associations. There are 750 homes in all, housing about 2000 people.
This is typical West London community. Hard-working, diverse, open-minded, but also with a lot of families overcrowded or struggling to make ends meet. It’s a nice area to live.
In 2006, when the Tories won control of the council after 20 years, they set about reducing the amount of social housing in Hammersmith & Fulham – that’s right, reducing it. 500 homes were sold off creating a shortage of affordable homes, and housing associations were discouraged from building.
There followed plans to demolish estate after estate and, in their words, ‘sweat the asset’ by replacing social homes with top of the market high rises. West Ken and Gibbs Green became a prime target. The council did a deal with Capco, the owner of Covent Garden, to sell them the estates with the people in them.
The council would have to buy out the freeholders and leaseholders with the money they got for the land, around £90 million, but because the sale wasn’t index-linked they could have ended up spending more on giving the developer vacant possession than they had been paid for the land. Over 20 acres in central London just given away.
This was never about regeneration or asset value for the council, it was social engineering by a very right-wing part of the Tory party. With the support of the Cameron government, Boris Johnson as Mayor of London, Greg Hands, then the MP for the area, and Stephen Greenhalgh, then leader of the council, the plan looked unstoppable.
But like their other schemes to destroy local assets – the demolition of Charing Cross Hospital and Shepherds Bush Market and the sale of Hammersmith Park – these very arrogant people reckoned without our residents. In West Ken, Sally Taylor, Diana Belshaw (pictured above) and Keith Drew led the charge, with the good counsel of Jonathan Rosenberg, the slayer of Shirley Porter 20 years before, and the chronicling of Dave Hill.
The guerrilla war against Capco turned to full-on resistance when Labour won back H&F council in 2014 and City Hall in 2016. Stephen Cowan, leader of H&F, made saving the estates a central pledge of Labour’s manifesto. Sadiq Khan said the GLA’s cooperation on any scheme depended on the estates being returned to H&F. Meanwhile, the luxury property market in London had tanked and so had Capco’s share price. They wanted out.
Last week, Capco cut its losses and sold to another developer Delancey. The difference this time was that a few minutes after signing the deal with Capco for the whole site, including the former Earl’s Court exhibition centres, Delancey agreed to return the estates to H&F for the price paid.
This is a huge victory for the residents of West Ken against all the odds. It is a prime example of how community action can work and of why politics matters.
Most of the residents have stuck it out and now need help with repairing and improving the estates which the council has promised to do. Most of the guilty politicians and developers have moved on to cause trouble elsewhere. I hope they are held to account for the harm they caused to my constituents and the huge sums of public money they wasted.
For me this is an important landmark. The Conservatives ran riot in this borough for eight years. It has taken another five to undo the worst aspect of the damage they caused. We saved Sullivan school, reversed the sale of Hammersmith Park, blocked the demolition of Shepherds Bush Market in the Court of Appeal. Earlier this year we stopped the closure of Charing cross Hospital.
Some of their legacy we are still living with and will take more time to correct: the lack of affordable and social homes, of youth clubs and community centres – all sold off at undervalues. And I wish we could spend more time and energy on new projects than undoing damage. But you play the hand you are dealt and it is always harder to build than destroy.
Saving Gibbs Green and West Ken is a reason to celebrate, though the party may have to wait until after 12 December.
Brexit – how to vote to get the result you want
I think most people know my view on Brexit by now. I don’t think we can ignore the 2016 referendum result, as the Lib Dems advocate, but I do think, given all the water that has passed under the bridge, that when we finally decide on a deal it should be put to the public to agree to or otherwise. The otherwise being staying in the EU.
Of course, I would like Remain to win that vote. We are reckless to abandon our main trading partners without any possibility, let alone guarantee, of a better deal elsewhere. If we secure a public vote, which we will with anything but a Tory majority government, I will campaign as hard as I can for Remain. But I also believe a public vote will reconcile most Leavers and Remainers, so we can move on.
My Brexit survey, which many of you took part in, indicated support for Remain in Hammersmith has risen from 70% in 2016 to over 80%, mainly because of new voters becoming eligible. But tactical voting will still be important in this election. Splitting the Remain vote may let Leave candidates win even in strong Remain areas. All the independent polling companies say Remainers should vote Labour in Hammersmith. Not surprising as the Lib Dems got 5% of the vote here two years ago and the Greens less than 2%.
Don’t take my word for it, have a look at:
The NHS is missing every major target. Waiting times are the longest in history. This is not clinicians’ fault. In fact, there are major staff shortages across the NHS. Reference from GP to consultant and between consultants is being rationed here because the local NHS is so deep in debt. Mental health, social care, palliative care – all are in dire need of investment.
Imperial Healthcare Trust would like to rebuild St Mary’s Paddington, doubling the number of acute beds (yes, I know they were trying to cut them until this year). They would like to do a complete refurbishment of Charing Cross and Hammersmith Hospitals. But the total cost is £1.5 billion, and the Government hasn’t come up with a penny for these works.
This is important because actual lies are being told about how Charing Cross was saved from demolition after a 7-year battle, and about its future. The Conservative politicians who tell us they saved Charing Cross (from themselves presumably) and that they have now secured the funds needed to recover the hospital from a decade of (their) neglect take us for fools. It shows a contempt for voters, but it also shows a disdain the NHS. Given the chance they will sell it down the river again, only next time it may be down the Hudson, as Trump and his vultures come to pick off the most profitable services.
School funding was the surprise big issue of the 2017 General Election. But it was a nasty surprise – we weren’t used to major cuts in school budgets. Well, now we are, but that doesn’t make it better.
Hammersmith is suffering the 4th worse cuts of the 533 constituencies in England. Every child in our schools is losing an average £726 a year by 2020 compared with 2015. That’s less money for special needs education, fewer teachers, bigger classes, and little or nothing for out or hours or out of school activity.
Every school if Hammersmith is worse off – this website gives a school by school break down of the cuts.
I am not pretending these problems – lack of affordable homes, NHS waiting times, proper funding for education – will be solved overnight by Labour. But we have a good record on clearing up the Tories’ mess. The huge efforts to rebuild our hospitals and schools and to reduce homelessness after the Thatcher and Major years paid off. Now after ten years of Tory austerity we have to do it all over again.
That’s enough for now. I will cover other issues I think important in this election in the next newsletter, including policing, poverty and climate change, but I wanted to tell the West Ken story today given the good news. In the meantime please tell me your priorities.
And if you would rather hear my views on the climate emergency, tonight Extinction Rebellion are holding the first hustings of the campaign on that issue with all candidates invited.
The event will be held at Our Lady of Fatima Church Hall, Commonwealth Ave, W12 7QR. It starts at 8pm.
Also, please make sure you’re registered to vote. The deadline is 11:59pm on 26 November:
If you don’t fancy a trip to the polling station in the cold and dark, get yourself a postal vote. The deadline is 5pm on 26 November: