It’s not just HDV – Labour councils are gentrifying up and down the UK

Stratford and Newham are just the most blatant examples of a Labour council displacing old working class communities.

The only surprising thing about the anger unfolding in north London over the Haringey Development Vehicle isn’t that it’s happened. It’s that it took this long for serious anger to materialise. 

Of course it was going to happen and the Labour council should have braced themselves for the backlash that would come when a large private property developer began redeveloping council homes, especially one with a record of failure in Southwark. 

The anger is understandable, if a little misplaced. One can and should be angry with the local council’s decision to partner with Lendlease for the HDV vehicle but the context needs to be placed here.

Labour councils up and down the country have been trying to implement visions of fairness and equality on budgets that are just crumbs. The feast has been of course going to the super-wealthy.

Austerity and the Tories, not local councils, are to blame for gentrification. And when there are 9,000 people on waiting lists and 3000 families in temporary accommodation as they were in Haringey, it’s likely the council were prompted by a desperation to see these people rehoused. Understandable, and undeserving of the hatred they’ve gotten. But still wrong.

What’s happened in Haringey is reminiscent of regeneration and gentrification around the country, but especially in my own neighbourhood in Newham.

To set the scene: this is a London borough where the Labour mayor, sir Robin Wales, was once heard to say to a homeless mother “you just can’t afford to live in Newham”.

Stratford is a chain of memories and new modern outlooks. The old shopping centre, the stream of fried chicken shops nestling in every side street with their nauseating aroma that’s still enticing you in.

If you walk through the old mall, there are still the stalls selling fruits and frozen fish in such an irrevocably East End way, and it really does feel like the old east London.

Sometimes, when the mall is approaching closing time, you’ll find teenagers skateboarding and dancing at one end of the old centre. Signs of the old Stratford still flashing with life, remnants clutching desperately onto the forgotten ends of the town.

You think this is still Stratford, predictably same as ever. Nothing changed. Walking through them and walking through Westfield can feel impossibly different, right down to the demographic.

Standing over them though, still in construction, are the new block of flats. A glance at them and at the Olympics Stadium and Westfield standing where there were once empty wastelands of rubbish, you realise this isn’t the same Stratford.

This isn’t the same East London. That’s gone. When the flats are finished, they will look and be extravagant. For now, they’re a reminder, or a warning, to the forgotten working-class in London that we really are living on borrowed time.

This is a city of limited space and the working-class cannot compete with middle class graduates looking to earn a living just as they cannot compete with the super-wealthy.

Everywhere, working-class communities are changing, losing their sense of security, belonging and identity. Which is what in a way makes the Brexit arguments that expose the divide between London and the rest rather ironic.

Across the country, there is working-class anger torched ablaze by years of cuts to services and wage stagnation. There’s a feeling of not just economic deprivation but cultural displacement, the feeling of losing out to immigrants. 

The working-class of London share so much in common with them. They too are forgotten, airbrushed out of existence, easy victims for gentrification, squeezed by high rents and poverty-crushing wages.

They too are witnessing rapid cultural changes induced by fast economic transformations that they are unprepared for; a generation with skills not built for this one. Resentment, anger and hopelessness swirling but they have no voice.

If Brexit was the working-class of the rest of the country ‘taking back control’, those in London have no salvation.

The housing prices, the private-sector rents, the rapid looming pressures of a city constantly in flux will threaten to swallow them and with them, take every last trace of their existence.

Which is why when you walk through the streets of East End in London in a few years, you might not find a fried chicken shop, but another coffee shop run by a well-meaning middle class liberal unaware of their own complicity in the displacement of a forgotten class that for generations made the vibrant beating hubs of London what they are.

And maybe that’s how it is. Globalisation means everyone moves everywhere, and with it, old communities change and new ones are made. East London’s own history has always included communal changes.

But they are usually built over decades. This is quick, rapid and none of us have a chance. The London I knew is disappearing, and changing into one where only the middle-class can survive. We are dinosaurs watching the meteorite coming.

Rabbil Sikdar writes freelance for Huffington Post, the New Statesman, the Independent and others. He tweets here.

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