The British Army operate a remarkably simple system for putting a roof over soldier’s heads.
They are a major employee, all over the world. They need to move their employees to some incredibly unsavoury places, thankfully for relatively short periods of time, and when they do so, they house only the employee in that area. They call it a barracks.
When they know that employment in an area is going to be both stable and safe, Yorkshire for instance, they build houses for both employee and family, and help them to find schools, hospitals, and shops in the area.
It is one of the perks of employment with the Army.
They don’t have any truck with pit bull terriers being accommodated as well; nor cars being left on blocks in the front garden for years on end. In fact they actually carry out regular inspections of the accommodation to ensure that you are looking after it. Inspections which strike terror into the heart of every army wife as the RSM pulls out the cooker to ensure there are no grease spots on the wall behind.
If that employment comes to an end, either through the untimely death of the employee, or through old age, they provide help and support to find alternative accommodation after a decent period of time. You are expected to have given some thought to this eventuality and saved some money towards putting a roof over your own head at this point.
I have never heard of this system being described as ‘tearing apart a community’, even though the word community is better employed describing the fellowship of the army than it is the inhabitants of the average council estate.
Back in the 60s, Aylesbury Park was a wide open space punctuated by bomb craters, and divided by the remains of the terraced streets lived in by those employed in the markets and tanneries, stables – there were many such remnants of a horse drawn London, hat makers, and glove makers, abattoirs and small forges. All the detritus of dirty manufacturing on a small scale.
The rag and bone man would still ply his trade in a horse and cart, as did the milkman. Few homes had a bathroom. My next door neighbour had 17 children, every last one bar those under three, were gainfully employed. This one boiling beetroot for sale in the market, that one polishing shoes for all the family, another peeling their way through one of the three immense sacks of potatoes that were delivered by the rag and bone man in exchange for horses fed and watered every week. Caitlin would sit on the doorstep day after day, nursing the youngest, watching over the antics of the toddlers too young for work. On Saturday mornings they would march off to the public baths in Manor Place in crocodile formation, singing in unison, exchanging greetings with their many friends, neighbours and employers.
Labour decided to tear this community apart, sorry, improve the lot of the working poor. The bulldozers moved in, and the proud Georgian homes were razed to the ground on a massive scale. Rats, thousands of them, not just the odd one or two, ran in broad daylight over the green space where children used to play and dig up the odd usable item. The chickens that belonged to my neighbour and fed the children, previously housed in a bombed out building, were taken away by the men from the council. The area was cordoned off. Nowhere for the children to play now.
They built the Aylesbury estate there, a vast Soviet style monolith of 2,700 units that stretched as far as the eye could see. The beetroot boilers shed had vanished, the rag and bone man sent on his way with his nags, no room for the glove makers. The pigeon lofts were dispersed.
Caitlin was re-housed on the top floor of a block 20 stories high. Four flats knocked into one as a privilege! She had her own bath – four of them in fact, but no doorstep. No employment for the children. No neighbours, she occupied the entire floor.
When she moved there, she was given, as was everybody else, a coupon for £50 for Court’s Furnishers in the Walworth Road. There was no room in the gulag for the collection of Victorian furniture she had begged borrowed and purloined.
There developed a new industry in the area. ‘House Clearance’. £50 was the going rate for an entire house full of furniture. An extra £12 if there was a Grandfather clock. That gave you the grand sum of £100 to spend on a G-plan sofa and Formica Kitchen table with matching chairs……
Caitlin’s husband went off to Liverpool in search of employment, and left alone in that sterile environment, she swallowed a bottle of bleach. And died. I don’t know what happened to the children, I lost touch with them all; it was a long time ago.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Labour party were building themselves new headquarters opposite the old Herbert Morrison house. Some of the middle class humourless apparatchiks that had attached themselves to the party became aware of the rows of Georgian houses and started a ‘Save Our heritage’ movement. I watched in amazement from my eyrie as the front of a row of humble cottages was supported, whilst behind, out of sight, a steel and glass edifice took shape that covered what had been half a dozen streets. When it was completed, you would see on the television, night after night, the cloth caps of the trade unionists, the sharp suits of the militant tendency, the Gannex macs, standing on the doorstep of what appeared to be a humble home ‘just like the one you used to live in’ – from the road you could see none of the open plan offices housing the Excalibur computer system logging every detail of every life. It was the beginning of the re-branding of what had been a working class movement into a middle class control of the proletariat movement.
Some of the slums in Cleaver Square had new fangled ‘preservation orders’ slapped on them. They were snapped up by the Walworth Road trendies, and today trade hands at figures in excess of £2 million as ‘fine examples of Georgian residences’. When the occupants – mostly MPs as it happens these days, it is sooo convenient for Westminster – retire, they are sitting on a healthy nest egg, paid for by the tax payer, for their years in a re-painted slum dwelling, forcibly removed from the likes of Caitlin and her children.
For now, they sit in Cleaver Square and pontificate on the evil Tories and their devilish plan to ‘tear apart entire communities’. The last I heard was that the Labour party headquarters were for sale, since Mandelson had moved the Labour party into Millbank. There didn’t seem to be any question of it being turned back into ‘community housing’.
Why can’t we treat social housing as the army does, a perk that is available as long as the need for mass employment is available, and stop waxing lyrical about ‘communities’ when what we actually mean are the sink estates that Labour created?