By John Watts
The marchers were a diverse group, with names that could have come from an indie gig in Camden, TUSC, COUNTERFIRE, OCCUPY, all under the March for Homes’ umbrella. Even the cold wet weather couldn’t dampen their unity and hope for rent controls, secure tenancies for all, cuts to rents not benefits, the stopping of the demolition of councils’ homes and the building of new ones.
They gathered outside St Leonards Church in Shoreditch and Elephant and Castle shopping centre; two temples of faith to God and Mammon, and lest we forget, religious denominations are one of the biggest landowners, and private developers’ architectural sermons are without doubt mortal sins.
Rent increases + evictions = homelessness. The reality of this equation brought home by many of the marchers’ individual stories. A good neighbour given a vindictive eviction notice because he helped the family next door with their housing rights, a single mother evicted for having too many children, a pensioner whose only crime seems to be that of getting old.
It is the fear of homelessness that is the worst, the sense of isolation, the depression that accompanies it, where one’s sense of belonging and identity is eroded away. What the march offered above all was hope, that there is another path from sacrificing on the free market alter to the God of private property and that life expectancy for homeless people is forty-seven for men and forty-three for women.
Crossing Tower Bridge, banners waving in the wind and rain, placards held high, and remembering Mayor Boris Johnsons’ words comparing London’s Housing to Balkan social ethnic cleansing. “On my watch, you are not going to see thousands of families evicted from the place where they have been living and have put down roots.” Well, we did see what he did on his watch from inside City Hall. It was not a pretty sight.
Marching on the Mayor’s office probably made no short term political difference, considering the hopelessness of all the major political parties’ housing policies, but sometimes hope is all there is, and sometimes it’s what you need the most for the future.
Many of the marchers’ speeches took time out to condemn the Labour party, hardly a surprise with its ‘sneering treachery’ towards social housing and its ‘flinching cowardice’ to private landlords. Next time, marching on Miliband’s Labour party London headquarters in Victoria might be a better idea. Except that it has been sold to developers and will be demolished after the general election to make way for offices and luxury flats. Just what London really needs.
“You don’t happen to know where Hope is living now, do you, Ed? Because she’s not living in your house.”