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Letter by Alan Walter, July/August 2008
Glyn Robbins concludes rightly that the obvious answer to the housing crisis is for government to invest in a new generation of first class council housing (Feature, Socialist Review, June 2008).
Socialists should expose the language of "affordable" and "social" housing designed to fudge the difference between council (public) housing and private (including housing association) alternatives that are less secure, more expensive and unaccountable.
Agitation around demands on government to invest in improving existing, and building new, council housing could help pull the political agenda back to the left in the same way that Margaret Thatcher used the "right to buy" scheme to shift it to the right in the 1980s. It would be popular among the 1.67 million households on council house waiting lists and a generation of young people unable to move out from under their parent's feet. Some might aspire abstractly to "home ownership" but could be mobilised to demand a massive council house building programme.
What the last issue of Socialist Review lacked was any sense of what we can do about it. There are plenty of opportunities: Defend Council Housing organises locally and nationally among 2.5 million tenants opposed to privatisation and an alliance of unions, councillors and MPs to demand investment.
There are campaigns against developer led "regeneration" projects demolishing homes, and people are starting to talk about occupying empty housing developments to demand councils take them over to house people on the waiting list. As more people have difficulty keeping up with their mortgage payments it may become possible to organise big public meetings to oppose collectively lenders threatening repossession.
Hopefully Socialist Review can find space to discuss the rich history of housing struggles and the fightback today.
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