London is a market place and almost everyone in it, or at least anyone with any muscle in it, is a vendor seeking to make money. Those who happen to live in and around this market place, who form communities and connections, upon which their sense of meaning, happiness and security depends, live a precarious existence, for the vendors, from time to time, are inclined to group together, and together with the obsequious self-aggrandizing mandarins of this town, cynical politicians and the bully boy police officers and soldiers, prey upon the resources of those too weak to defend themselves. That is to say, the movers and shakers in this place don’t have any truck with steamrollering the peope and communities formed in the interstices of the market place, and calling it progress and development.
When Jacques Rogge, dressed in a black cloak with a large stick supporting a Cockney skull, took to the rostrum in Singapore in 2005 to announce the hosts of the 2012 Olympic Games, a death knell rang out over the part of East London earmarked for the Olympics. Sebastian, hunched over the steering wheel of an armoured steamroller, hearing the deathly vibrations, tooted his horn and began the annexation. Leading a merciless and psychopathic army of demolishers, bulldozers, developers, security firms and policemen he bullied, intimidated and forced people from their homes. Four hundred people were evicted, travellers turfed out, businesses removed and community resources closed down. Besides the buildings, the social capital and synergies built up between members of these communities were burned to a cinder, the evicted and imposed upon feeling invisible, bullied, ignored and irrelevant. East Londoners put up limited resistance. Partisans fled into the parks and down the canals. ‘No bid no games’ and ‘Fuck Seb Coe’ were written on walls; businesses displayed anti-Olympics banners, the residents of Bow took the government to court to stop the army from mounting anti-aircraft missiles on their property, users of the Lea Valley towpath demonstrated the makeshift military camps which the army had created, stopping use of the canal. Gardeners from Manor Garden Allotments, which had been destroyed, marched from Hackney Town Hall to the Olympic Park Gates. All of this was to no avail, and in some cases provoked police intimidation. One business owner took a banner off the side of his warehouse, which read “Justice for Victims of the Olympics” after a senior police officer had a word with him. Furthermore, in the months preceding the games a private militia of unscrupulous landlords, most landlords, egged on by a barrage of inflammatory literature produced by East London’s estate agents, toyed with the idea of evicting their tenants for the period during the Olympics, to welcome wealthier members of the Olympic family. Many of them having toyed with the idea went ahead and evicted their tenants.
The areas of Somers Town, St Pancras and Regents Park Estate form an enclave of northern central London sandwiched between Camden Town and Kings Cross, with a history of housing poor immigrants. Here politicians and businessmen have traditionally, whilst smoking a cigar and sporting a very smug, wide, moustachioed grin, engaged in the sport of pissing all over the naked bodies of those residing in the quarters, admiring the hot steam of their yellowy effluent splash rising from the helpless pink skin of their victims. In the late nineteenth century when Midlands Railway Station acquired the site where the British Library now stands, to develop a goods depot for their railway line, four thousand homes in and around Somers Town were forcibly demolished and ten thousand people evicted to make way for the new railway line and station. A church was destroyed and a cemetery partly unearthed. Two hundred years later, just a few years back a further section of the cemetery was unearthed to make way for the railway line connecting St Pancras International to France. More recently Somers Town has become the home of a the National Institute for Medical Research, a virus medical research centre. It has not been lost on some commentators that angry types might see such an institute as an easy target for a bomb – releasing Pandora’s Box on to the residents of Somers Town. A small number of people who lived in Somers Town put up a squeak of a protest.
These cabals of exploiters and politicians are big beasts, they don’t always go for the weakest, and will sometimes have a go at their own kind, the middle classes and the aristocrats. The well heeled, by dint of their shared history and connections, not just with each other but also with those proposing the plans, and the wealth and time available to them, tend to be better off at putting up a fight. Whether the well heeled are effective in legal mattes, or whether the developers realise that their project will come at the cost of a series of rather uncomfortable dinner parties, they are able to stop the plans. When plans were muted in the 1960s for siting the new British Library in Bloomsbury, a seat of learning in central London, the educated residents of Bloomsbury were able to swat away the proposal. More recently, when plans for siting a new HS2 railway line between Birmingham and London proposed cutting a swathe through Primrose Hill, a quaint enclave of celebrities and politicians, the plans were said to have been modified.
The wolves will always find a way though, even if it means taking the path of least resistance. Rather than basing the British Library in Bloomsbury it was decided to base it in Somers Town. Instead of cutting through Primrose Hill, the HS2 railway will now be rooted through Regents Park Estate. Somers Town and Regents Park Estate have populations of people, traumatized, defeated by objectionable treatment in lands afar, unable to speak English, orphans, loners, isolated types who fear the worst evils in their fellow man, who are all too readily cowed into submission. No fear of a legal battle form these types and no fear of bumping into them at a Primrose Hill dinner party.
The cabals, for economic reasons, engage in a kind of psychological bullying, which precedes any possible physical bullying. The psychological bullying takes the form of arguments, which are publically aired, suggesting that by moving out of the area, the residents, whilst making a small sacrifice, are doing it for the greater public good. It as if they want to help residents to develop psychological tricks to help them deal with the humiliation of being evicted, through the development of a delusional state of mind, in which eviction seems like the right thing to do, the good thing. Those subjected to the bullying take up the notions, for it means they do not have to face up to the stress that opposition, which may end up being futile, might bring. So, when asking people to leave their properties on the proposed site of development, they remind them that they don’t own the property, they have no God given right to stay there, they are lucky to have any property at all given that they haven’t worked hard enough to raise the money to buy their own, and should be thankful that they are not being flattened together with the houses that they reside in.
During the Olympics at the same time Sebastian was thinking about which buildings to flatten first a team of propagandists: writers, artists and filmmakers, were recruited to use information to bias and sway opinion to ensure any revolt caused by the oppressed locals would not gain wider support. The area earmarked for the Olympic Park, the place where people lived and worked, was described as a ‘derelict slum’, ‘a scar’, ‘an urban desert’. The allotment next to the housing estate where the people lived was anthropomorphized, described as isolating people from the rest of the world. The misnomers regeneration and remarkable transformation were used to describe processes of annexation, eviction and colonisation. The land earmarked for the Olympic Park was described as a heart in need of being transformed. It was said the area contained untapped potential as if the previous inhabitants of the Olympic Park had been unwittingly sat upon a gold mine. Furthermore, in the run up to the Olympics, people who routinely used London’s public transport were told that they would be forbid from using it, in situations where the customers of this private party were to take up all the space on the tube. Adverts were scattered around London, promoting the virtues of walking or cycling to work, helping Londoners develop psychological tricks to deal with the humiliation they expected to face when they would be strong armed out of their local train station.