Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tenants' Win, and Russel Vindicated

 I'VE never been a fan of Russel Brand. Just not my cup of tea. I've never watched his programme, didn't like his treatment of Andrew Sachs or talk about "booky-wook", and I went as far as to unfriend two trying-to-be-trendy academics who got on my tits admonishing me for being insufficiently admiring of Brand, and telling me how useless the more conventional Left was.

But even a doubter like me had to rally to Brand's side when he was attacked by the 'Sun' and other media for turning up to support tenants on the New Era estate in Hoxton who were facing massive rent rises and evictions. The 'Sun' had a massive front-page headline screaming that Brand was a "hypocrite" because he payed high rent and his landlord was, it alleged, a tax-dodger. How Brand or anyone else is responsible for their landlord's tax affairs was a bit of a mystery, though I was impressed to see one of Murdoch's mighty organs suddenly getting upset about whether people are paying enough tax in this country.

The bigger question was how someone paying a rent that he can presumably afford  becomes a "hypocrite" by showing concern for people who are less well off and were being asked to pay rents that they could not afford, for what had originally been built as low-income housing. Most people would say the comedian was simply showing his decent side. But at a time when we'd been hearing from various celebs and has-beens how they feared the effect of Ed Miliband's proposed mansions tax, and might have to deprive us of their company and flee the country if Labour got in, Russel Brand had broken the rules.

He had showed ingratitude to the rich and ruling class, and genuine concern for the less well-off, and worst of all, instead of patronising us, and showing what a good chap he can be on some BBC charity show, he took sides with working class people who had organised themselves to fight injustice. There has been nothing like it (well not as publicised, that is) since Robbie Fowler broke the silence over the Liverpool dockers' struggle, by revealing his dockers' support tee shirt to the cameras on 'Match of the Day' , for which he was fined by UEFA, as well as badmouthed by the Beeb.

 But the good news now is that, with help from Russel Brand, and support from socialists and trade unionists, the New Era tenants who organised themselves to defend their homes have won, at least for the time being. First their Tory MP landlord and now the big American corporation that had wanted to develop the estate by getting rid of working class tenants, have backed off. 


Here  is an account by one of the tenants, Lindsay Garret, published in the 'Independent':
It all began on a Monday morning in June, when I received a letter from the owners of the New Era estate. It said that Westbrook Partners, who had bought the property in March, were planning on evicting 93 families, and more than doubling everyone else's rent.
My initial feeling was of shock and devastation. I cried - I couldn’t believe this was happening. And then my disbelief turned into anger. For all my life New Era has been my home. I couldn't stop thinking about my daughter's future, and what would happen to my parents, who are both in their late sixties and also live on the estate.
If we were evicted, we would have had no choice but go wherever Hackney Council could rehouse us - places that were being named were Hastings, Clapton, Birmingham - anywhere but London basically.
I cried, and then I thought: fuck this, and called the press. I had read an article about a similar housing problem in The Mirror a few weeks earlier, so I thought they might listen. Suddenly, our story was on the front page, and I realised that people were interested in what we were going through, as we received so much attention.

Everyone felt the same. We were upset, and wanted to fight back. So we organised a Tenants Association. We had a meeting and I got voted in as Chair.We then built a community around our campaign, and started getting out there, trying to get more people to listen. We launched the petition on Change.org, got down to Hoxton Market to hand out leaflets to people with the link to our petition. We contacted local housing groups like Digs, who gave us advice...

I don’t think we’d be here now without Russell Brand's support. We stopped him at the market in the middle of September, and met again a week later. He was really interested and impressed with what we were doing, and told us he was going to help us save our homes.

By getting involved he gave us a bigger voice. And rather than taking over, he gave us a much bigger audience to speak to. The amount of publicity that came with him really helped us.
He's been criticised for joining our campaign, but this has actually made more people interested in us. People who hadn't heard about what we were doing were suddenly asking what this New Era campaign was all about. I think the only people that the media harmed was themselves - it made them look a bit stupid, because everyone could see that what Russell was doing was a good thing.


And while I am at it , without becoming a "Brandite", because I like his style (with words, I could not possibly copy his hairstyle), let me commend the reply he wrote to a bank employee who complained that his lunch break was spoiled by an incident in which Brand was involved: Apology for a Cold Paella:


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