Manchester Mayoral Hustings hosted by the Greater Manchester Housing Association on April the 3rd in St Philips Church, Salford.
Angry citizens and sycophantic party members from across the spectrum sat and listened to all five mayoral candidates speak and asked questions on housing. The atmosphere was heated and the candidates rightfully received a healthy dose of public cynicism.
Labour candidate, Andy Burnham, made a plastic socialism, pret-a-porter, Cambridge-standard speech that ostensibly made sense, emphasising his promise of eradicating homelessness in Manchester; also, the populist vote-courting promise of free bus tickets for youth aged 17–18. What would you expect from an experienced politico from the Blair cabinet of yesteryear? A man who has since redefined his career in the aftermath of a deafening defeat by Corbyn in the 2015 Labour leadership election. The official line is he’s moving away from Westminster politics towards local government… which could well be Burnham’s covert admission that his careerist ambitions aren’t quite up to par with the cut throat spinelessness that major politics demands. Andy has reinvented himself as the working class hero, recycled his accent and started campaigning for mayor on a decent socialist pledge. It certainly looks like he’s going to win based on recent hustings, despite his tortured politeness and the weariness of his “nice guy” suit, he’s still the most articulate of the three major party candidates present.
His record on welfare voting is decent, but his strong pro-war stance shows his socialism is adopted at the socially acceptable, easy level — not where it really matters, on the international conflicts at the nexus of our troubled times. Probably, for this reason, he might make a good mayor, in a world where a good mayor can make a limited difference against the current Tory central government. A limitation that all of the candidates seem to acknowledge.
Understandingly, the crowd manifested loud derision at the PR promises but the poor record of Labour. All around the chapel, that hosted the meeting, laid a very impressive set of construction sites where the new age of Salford gentrification is being built. Flats? Yes! Affordable? No…
As voices from the crowd pointed out: when are we solving the housing crisis for the working people, instead of building for the neocons and the rich, city elite?
Turmoil and indignation reached a boiling point when the “can’t they have cake” Tory Sean Anstee unveiled his strategy to tackle the housing crisis… Investment in more aspirational housing. Considering the fact that actual homeless activists were present, this sounded like contemptuous zilch. I couldn’t even make sense of his contributions, since the Tory language is but a random amalgamation of business concepts like aspiration, business, jobs, economic growth, prosperity, development… A little pseudo-economic façade for the organised redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich that neoliberalism actually is, once you strip away the bullshit. A doctrine that cares about you, only as a customer, not as a worker. Your dollar, not your life.
“How can you pretend you want to dispel homelessness when you’re part of the party that generated homelessness?”
When this was asked, mainly of Tory Sean Anstee by a Labour member, the question resonated with the hundreds present to a general uproar and the Tory’s face needed to be seen in its deadpan soulless glory.
“The Manchester economy underperforms against the UK average” he says, insinuating we get what we deserve for being lazy. And of course, he was met with even more derision from the crowd.
Here, the Green Party candidate, Will Patterson, made a spectacular contribution by pointing out that the goal need not be ever more economic growth, since the growth doesn’t seem to be accompanied by a rise in living
standards but for the very few, and an increase in inequality. He also made the sensible suggestion that we need to shift away from the stigma associated with renting, and acknowledge that the help-to-buy scheme has been a failure that ends up dispossessing the public of its social housing and further privileging the slightly better off. A man of sincere and honest solutions outside the dystopian parlance of mainstream politics, himself a renter, Patterson stood as the only one who might actually have the key to the housing crisis — had his chances not been equal to zero due to the anti-democratic ineffectiveness of the first past the post system.
The Liberal Democrat, Jane Brophy, would be so banal as to invite amnesia if it wasn’t for her outstanding error of blaming the housing crisis on the mental health and drug issues of the homeless.
On the off chance the lady might be reading socialist papers, may I suggest she takes note that homeless data in no way shows such a correlation: if the personal failings of the youth or elderly were the cause of the housing and homeless crisis, what explains its devastatingly increased rate over the last ten years? Surely, such an increase would have an economic or otherwise systemic explanation? All of which would ultimately be reducible to policies. The major factor in social politics over the last decade has been the Tory austerity regime. Therefore, austerity has caused this. And, probably, the complicit governments that have slowly walked the same neoliberal path.
A different angle: my native country, Romania. A country that doesn’t boast about its rich “economic growth” that the UK likes to selectively pump its chest with pride about. You see, in Romania, there isn’t a similar growing landscape of young, elderly, and dejected people filling the streets with their sleeping bags. There has been no aggressive dismantling of social protections over there. No weakening of the family structure via housing benefit afforded to a single occupier only, which forces people to choose between a family and a roof — the very essence of sadistic politics.
Therefore, I suggest you also forget about the unremarkable Lib Dem whose thinly veiled attempts at populism via quoting personal stories couldn’t make up for a structural lack of political understanding and her empty careerism.
I shall also gloss over the UKIP candidate, as the whole country also has. The only thing that stood out about Shneur Odze was his assertion that housing should be a priority for those born and bred here. And, also, his association with the UKIP Friends of Israel – a sneaky arm of the Israel lobby.