Time to stop sneering and start re engaging: A fairer vision for Barking and Dagenham post Brexit

If the saying, “A week is a long time in politics” is true, the last few months then have seen seismic change rarely seen over years.  The people of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham voted convincingly to leave the European Union – 62.8%.

However, following this exercise of their democratic right, the analysis and reflection on their motives has been nothing short of shocking. The conversation in many places in traditional forums and on social media has taken a sneering, nose holding tone. It seems some want the will of the people as long as they vote the way “they think” they should.  By “they” I mean the Establishment. Who am I including?  Not just the media but disappointingly some MPs too,  anyone who didn’t vote to stay are derided as less “knowing” and intellectual as those that did.

Barking and Dagenham Council were recently featured in a housing programme on the BBC. (October 2016) The BBC filmed in the Borough for nine months. I, having worked for an MP for nine years, and a Councillor for six years, did not feel it truly represented the problems of housing in the Borough and the complex issues that are faced. The biggest omission of all however, was that it barely touched on the issue of Council housing.

The cuts to the Borough’s budget by 2020 will be a staggering 153 million. The impact cannot be underestimated. The cuts are ideological and are set to dismantle communities and to ultimately dismantle the welfare state as we know it. That is not unexpected from right wing Tory Governments is it?  The programme featured phrases such as “no aspiration in the working class”. The working people of the Borough are depicted as “grasping”, “moany”, and desperate. Nothing is further from the truth in my experience and it represents weak journalism. Like the language post Brexit, the needs of those who felt “left behind” by the established political elite are devalued with lazy stereotypes.

If a person goes to work, pays their taxes, pays their council tax, is a home to call their own out of the question? Are we saying to the residents yes please, be our refuse collectors, caretakers, Mid-day assistants, nurses and carers but if you want a home be prepared to place a huge deposit of £20,000- £25,000 on a private flat, pay a rent from a £1000.00 a month or take part in a “part buy” part rent property. And when they can’t afford it are we saying don’t look to a Labour Council to help?

Council housing is the realistic, achievable and obvious answer. I don’t mean being offered a percentage to buy again. I am talking about social housing at a real social rent and please let’s move away from the tag “affordable”. 80% rent is not affordable to people on a working wage, unless you are lucky to have a very well paid job and perhaps a dual income.

As a Borough we advocate slogans of “One Borough” and “No-one left behind”. These slogans sound great in a presentation or seminar. If they are mere rhetoric though, they are valueless They can only be used if we can truly as a Labour Council put our hands on our hearts and say we have concrete polices to ensure no one is left behind.

To reiterate and I make no apology for doing so, build more Council flats and homes and offer them as a working people’s option. The rent is less then private Landlords, the council keep the properties and the rent is affordable for the people in the Borough who work and don’t received the highest wages.

Let’s get a rent cap campaign running. The Borough will come behind it. We are not here to build property portfolios for Landlords but to serve our residents. The rents are so high, working families have to claim housing benefit to live and many seek out Foodbanks as the rent takes a huge proportion of their salary. At the moment until a Labour Government arrives at No 10 the community will suffer, but the community needs to see the Direction of a Labour Council.

There isn’t a person I have met in the Borough that doesn’t aspire to a better life for themselves or their families. That isn’t just a prerogative of the affluent or well-paid is it? Language is a very important part of political discourse and we need to be aware how we deliver it. It is too easy to write off communities in negative language and not engage with their lives, fears and hopes. Without this engagement and a programme of council housing, people will be forced out of the borough. With this gentrification will come a shift in ideology moving the Borough’s leadership away from any hope for social mobility and equality? A changed demographic will not deliver a fairer society. We need not to lose sight of socialist principles and a vision where truly – No one is left behind.

Simply put – build more council housing in Barking and Dagenham.

Margaret Mullane is a Councillor for Village Ward in Dagenham, Office Manager of Jon Cruddas MP, and the CLP Secretary of Dagenham & Rainham Labour Party; also a member of Unite and the GMB Union

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