The social cleansing of London: the rich are eating the poor

The market place as the metaphor for London

The motif of twenty-first century London is an attempt to make London a if not the global capital of finance, investment and speculation, that is of unregulated capitalism. In many ways one could argue that this ambition is a continuation of a historically contingent but enduring dynamic, first established by the Roman Empire. Two thousand years ago the Romans had established a small port and market town, which grew in size as it became the hub for goods sucked out of the country and channelled to Rome and the rest of the Empire. In this way, the Romans created a psychogeographic space, one which both helped realise but also celebrate the avaricious ambitions of the Roman Empire, one in which material goods abounded and washed around. They created a honey pot, to which anyone interested in material gain gravitated reinforcing its pull on the resources from all around. With the decay of the Roman Empire came the decay and ruination of London, but it didn’t take long before the banks of the Thames were once again considered a good site for the location of a temple of prosperity, the area rejuvenated by the Hansiatic League in the Middle Ages and ignited in the eighteenth century by the fact of London being the capital of the global British Empire. That is to say there has long been a desire, often realized, of making a market town out of this place, if not the market town, a burning sun of avarice and consumption, a black hole for goods and resources expropriated from and produced in many sites dotted all around the world. One can see this in the more recent redevelopment of London as a global financial market place, under Thatcher and then under successive British administrations ever since. Wanting to emulate the Roman’s achievements, she attempted to revive the town’s fortunes as one of the world’s great trading centres, this time for financial, accounting and investment instruments. Inspired by the Roman’s aquaducts, she wanted to harness a previously untapped power, electronic rivers of cash, which she was able to engineer through deregulated banks, competition and untrammelled risk taking. Inspired by the Roman’s appropriation of foreign labour and the Hansiatic League, which allowed traders from all over northern Europe a berth by the Thames, she invited international bankers and financial businesses, from the United States and Switzerland in particular, to create such bridges. Her new market rose up, metaphorically and literatally, as towers of glass and steel. So big did this market become that pretty soon a population of men and women, of the size of a small city, would descend upon the market place in the morning and then leave in the evening, every day. Not content to rest on her laurels, she agreed to turn the northern part of the Isle of Dogs in East London, a place called Canary Wharf, into a private enterprise zone, to be developed into a second financial market place. Canary Wharf was removed from the hands of local authority control and handed over to private interests. Glass and steel edifices were constructed, some of the biggest known to man.

So themes, which could be developed may be, the fun of the market place, what goes on in the market place, and is the market place the ideal metaphor for London?

 

Steamrollering people and connections

So, then 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 owners of the market, together with the vendors, from time to time, are inclined to group together, with the politicans and mandarins of the town, bully boy police, and 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 people and communities formed in the interstices of the market place. This kind of bullying and exploitation has been going on since time immemorial, and is often cloaked in laws and political philosophy, which are sympathetic to the interests of those doing the bullying.

 

Building Railways

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, that is to say, 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 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 price to play for the developers, politicians and institutes.

 

The Great Western Bank Robbery

Little has changed since. In early 2007 the working people of London, that is, those who didn’t work for a bank, were together with many working people across the western world, victims of a power grab by the shareholders of banks, bankers, forming a loosely knit alliance with liberal political classes, homeowners and savers, derobed many working people of their right to enjoy the wealth of the land. Together this loose association of powerful interests, in effect, looted taxpayers and those dependent on state funds of their income and livelihood. Many bankers benefited and continue to benefit from the loot, which if things had been otherwise, would have been in the hands of families, children, older people and people who need support to live. There were two instances of looting. The first is known by the misnomer ‘the credit crunch’ and the second is known by the misnomer ‘the financial crisis’. The credit crunch came about when bankers, with governmental assent, started to loan savers’ money to people who didn’t earn enough money or have enough savings to ever realistically pay the money back, in return for a fee and interest payments. In effect bankers were giving savers money away and in return pocketed a slice of those savings in the form of commissions, interest payments, bonuses and wages, whilst the treasury pocketed a percentage in stamp duty and taxes. Whilst house prices continued to rise, and they rose in part because bankers, recklessly, loaned out increasing sums of money for the buying of houses, the effects of the bankers’ looting remained unfelt. During the time that house prices rose, borrowers who defaulted on their interest payments could always sell the house for more than they had bought it and return the money. However, once house prices started to come down, borrowers could no longer pay off the money they owed. Banks stopped receiving interest payments and their cash supplies began to dry up. On the 12th September 2007 Northern Rock was the first bank in England to refer to the Bank of England for a loan of money to pay savers for withdrawals. On the 14th September savers with Northern Rock queued up outside the bank in the hope that they might salvage their money. Savers were beginning to realise they had been looted.

Effectively, under the cover of arranging a mortgage, bankers and the state had stolen savers money. By the time the saver realised he would be bereft of his earnings the banker had already scuttled away with his fee and the treasury had allocated the taxes to a budget. This theft of savers money has been assigned the misnomer ‘credit crunch’. ‘Credit crunch’ refers to the fact that banks would no longer loan money to each other. Prior to housing prices beginning to drop, where a bank found themselves low on supplies of liquid cash, i.e. money that was not tied up in investments, they would commonly be able to borrow money from a bank that had an abundance of liquid cash. However as soon as house prices began to drop banks became nervous about whether they would ever get their loans back. With interest payments on loans drying up, more and more banks found themselves needing a loan of liquid cash, and virtually no bank was able or willing to provide that loan. The term ‘credit crunch’ focuses attention away from the act of looting, and on to the effects of the looting for the looters themselves, as if the looter was a victim.

Following the credit crunch, a second instance of looting took place, to protect bankers and politicians from the wrath of savers. The government knew that the savers, who had been looted, represented a powerful interest group that could inflict serious damage on them. So they decided to loot taxpayers and the recipients of state support to pay back the savers. Effectively they spread the losses incurred by savers to those who had no savings. The government did this by borrowing money on behalf of the taxpayer and giving it to the banks so they could pay savers their money back. This meant that the money which banks had robbed savers of was converted into a debt attributed to and to be serviced by the taxpayer. This led to a reduction in the resources made available to the beneficiaries of state support. Politicians broke into the tax payers coffers, took the money that had been intended for the weakest in society, and gave it to the bankers. The bankers were naturally enthusiastic in handling this loot. Of course savers are taxpayers too, so the looting of taxpayers was also a looting of savers, but savers would be happier sharing their losses with taxpayers and recipients of state support with no savings. These last two groups, by dint of their position in the economy and society, are less able to fight back against being looted, and so made an appropriate target for the government and their accomplices the bankers. The term ‘financial crisis’ was another example of how powerful looters, the government and bankers, came up with a concept, which attempted to gloss over the fact that taxpayers and recipients of state support had been looted. The term ‘financial crisis’ suggests a general economic malaise, as if society has been blighted by some unstoppable abomination. To some extent the creators of this term were right, no one was able to stop this second incident of looting, this picking off of the poor by the powerful. The term ‘financial crisis’ also suggests we are all in it together, when we are plainly not.

 

Following the Robbery: the clearances and the hollowing out of London

The looting of savers’ money, the decision to transfer the private losses of the savers on to the state, and therefore on to taxpayers who are dependent on the state for their wellbeing and on to taxpayers who own no savings or housing, provoked a movement of Britain’s political classes to begin social clearances of London. Policies were instigated which cut off support to those with no savings and who rented, and which led to an increase in house prices and rents in London, with the effect that many could no longer afford to live in their homes, and were forced to move out. Local authorities have freedom to demolish their existing social housing, the inhabitants are which are charged at 50% of current market rates, and get developers in who pay for the right to build private housing on the space, together with new social housing, which is subject to different rules, in particular, that tenants can be charged 80% of market rates. So for example Southwark Council have decided to demolish the Heygate Estate, a monolithic brutalistic slabl of Council housing, in perfectly good condition, because by doing so they can sell rights to development to a developer, attract in higher local authority council taxes and better paid tenants. As Patrick Keiller pointed out in his interview with Natalie Olah from Vice, “Heygate offered an ideal opportunity to displace poor people from a potentially very valuable redevelopment site… The clearance is carried out in the name of “regeneration”, but the motive seems fairly transparent. The buildings are far from irredeemable, and they’re not even paid for – public-sector housing was built with 60-year loans. But instead the site has been handed over to [property developers] Lend Lease, who are no doubt very capable of undertaking a transformation in keeping with neoliberal assumptions. It’s a tragedy in three acts.

In effect the authorities had engineered a social cleansing of London, emmiserating a certain section of the population by cutting social support, encouraging house prices and rents to rise. London’s emiserated and poor were thus forced out of their homes, in what was effectively a hollowing out of London, a getting rid of poor people, to create spaces for the rich and wealthy, for the footsoldiers of capital, for whom London was being prepared.

“In years to come, it’s going to be like Paris, where the whole of central London will be money and everyone with less money will be pushed to the outskirts… You can shout and scream as much as you want, but you’re still getting pushed out eventually – end of.” said Brixton man Jimmy to Simon Childs of Vice in 2013. There’s a feeling that London is going to become a homogenised, corporate, banking city, where the financiers are buying up and hollowing out London, a process which began with Canary Wharf, and gated developments, in its surroungs, e.g. Limehose. Where everyone is new, convenient, glass, secure, portered, but where there is no history, no community, no people who are soaked or ingrained in the area who could tell you about the place, apart from David Owen.

 

The Annexation and Cleansing of Hackney Wick and Stratford

In the twenty-first century, alongside the clearances and hollowing out of London to make way for the footsoldiers of capital, particular areas of London were annexed and socially cleansed to serve the interests who wanted to use the land upon which their homes and businesses were located, to establish bigger and more impressive markets. One of the best examples of this following the occasion of Jacques Rogge, dressed in a black cloak with a large stick supporting a Cockney skull, taking to a rostrum in Singapore in 2005 to announce the host city of the 2012 Olympic Games. At this point a death knell rang out over the part of East London earmarked for the Olympics. A man called 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. Together with the buildings, the social capital and synergies built up between members of these communities were burned to a cinder, the evicted and imposed upon felt invisible, bullied, ignored and irrelevant.

 

The Eviction of Prostitutes from Soho

According to Rupert Everett, in 2014, the new landlord of Soho Estates has come to an arrangement with Westminster Council to redevelop flats which have long been used by prostitutes, and believes that the police were somhow in on the act, evicting women understood to be working as prostitutes in the flats, to make it easier for the landlord and Westminster Council to get on with the redevelopment work. One cold January night two hundred police officers, acting, ostensibly in the name of the Sections 52 and 53 of the Sexual Offences Act raided more twenty flats in Soho, breaking down doors, arresting 30 girls, confiscating their earnings, and serving civil-eviction papers, and bullying them into accepting cautions for criminal offences.

 

Resistance

Yes, so its true to say that London is a market place, and 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 owners of the market, together with the vendors, from time to time, are inclined to group together, with the politicans and mandarins of the town, bully boy police, and prey upon the resources of those too weak to defend themselves. Yes, I’d like to repeat the evident fact that the movers and shakers in this place don’t have any truck with steamrollering the people and communities formed in the interstices of the market place. This kind of bullying and exploitation has been going on since time immemorial, and is often cloaked in laws and political philosophy, which are sympathetic to the interests of those doing the bullying.

However none of this is to deny that from time to time the cabals of big bullies aren’t met with some degree of resistance.

 

Ineffective resistance

However when there is resistance it is often absent or feeble. During the annexation of the areas around Stratford and Hackney, 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 and then quickly decided upon the idea of evicting their tenants for the period during the Olympics, to welcome wealthier members of the Olympic family. A small number of people who lived in Somers Town put up a squeak of a protest to the development of the Medical Research Institute in their midst.

 

Effective resistance

The results are more mixed when the cabals of exploiters and politicians have a go at their own kind, the middle classes and the aristocrats. Certainly this cabal of bullies really are big beasts, they don’t always go for the weakest, and still 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 matters, or whether the developers realise that their project will come at the cost of a spell 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 modified. However, 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 instead to base it in Somers Town, whose residents have also been subject to the pleasure of the company of the Medical Research Institute. Instead of cutting through Primrose Hill, the HS2 railway will now be rooted through Regents Park Estate. Somers Town and Regents Park Estate where there are 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, or to solitary acts or murderous retribution. No fear of a legal battle form these types and no fear of bumping into them at a Primrose Hill dinner party.

 

Development in motion, psychological bullying

The cabals, for economic reasons, when trying to force people from their homes and businesses, when trying to break up the communities and associations, which congregate on the land they want to exploit for commercial benefit, usually engage in psychological bullying before physical bullying. It can be cheaper and there is usually less blood involved. The psychological bullying takes the form of laws passed by the political classes, which effectively empowers the police to help realise any attempted land grab, laws, to paraphrase Rupert Everett, “masquerading as fair play and crested by the usual police bullshit”. It also involves using the mass media to present arguments, 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 develop psychological tricks to help them 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 physical opposition and violence, which may end up being futile and damaging, might bring. So, when asking people to leave their properties on the proposed site of their new development, the developers remind their victims 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. So during the annexation of Hackney Wick and Stratford, at the the same time as Sebastian was pulling skids in his JCB, whilst flattening the homes and businesses, 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 they would be forbidden from using it, in deference to those attending Sebastian’s televised private party. 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. According to Rupert Everett, in 2014, several prostitutes renting accommodation in Soho Estates had their flats raided, and were served election notices, several of whom unsuccessfully appealed against the notices. Everett suspects the police are working in partnership with Westminster Council and Soho Estates who want to turn the flats formerly inhabited by the prostitutes into new corporate flats, Sections 52 and 53 of the Sexual Offences Act being used ostensibly to justify the social clearances.

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