Thousands March for Homes in London

Yesterday saw thousands of people take to the streets of London in the March for Homes. This builds on recent high profile housing campaigns such as Focus E15, the New Era Estate, and Our West Hendon. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, as one campaigner from Feminist Fightback told me there are 70 social housing estates undergoing ‘regeneration’ which is often just a means of demolishing the existing homes, displacing the tenants and privatising some if not all of the land. The group has calculated that there are around 160,000 tenants facing eviction and/or rehousing. The land value of these 70 estates is estimated to be in the region of £52billion.

Fred & John Towers banner

There was a great spirit amongst the diverse range of Londoners traipsing through the rain from the congregation points of St Leonard’s Church Shoreditch and the Elephant and Castle – converging on City Hall, Boris Johnson’s Death Star. A lady thrust a yellow flier into my hand whilst I stood on a peddle-dash plinth trying to get a decent shot of the procession from a higher vantage point. ‘Fred & John Towers Not For Sale’ – Leytonstone’s own iconic tower blocks beside Wanstead Flats that played host to snipers and anti-aircraft missiles during the London Olympics. The E15 Campaigners have joined forces to help the residents who face being rehoused while Waltham Forest Council sell off one of the blocks and dispose of 70 Council homes in the process.

Fred and John Towers Leytonstone

Next week the residents of Earls Court will be demonstrating to save the heart being ripped out of their area with a £8billion development. New battle lines are being drawn all across London every day in the fight for the soul and the future of this great ancient city.

 

 

London’s Prophet and the death of Peter Cook

Rainbow George Weiss texts me at least once a week. The other day I received one which read, “The Quest for LondonWonderCity will …. all being well begin at the General Election when the People of London will be gifted the opportunity to Vote for their City to become its own WonderCityState with its own electronic Wonder Currency … and much more beside”. Just another Monday.

I first met George in 2007 when I was asked to be a guest on Russell Brand’s Radio 2 show. Russell had asked me to debate against George, who was waging a campaign to get Russell to run for Mayor of London in 2008. He’d successfully enlisted the help of The Sun newspaper and was attempting to get one million people to pledge their support. I confess I gave George’s WonderCity based in Hampstead short shrift but somehow our on-air encounter bound us together.
He continued to badger late-night phone-ins with his vision of London as the centre of an Isles of Wonder. He is unrelenting in his prophesying.
I sat in the Heathcote Arms and watched Danny Boyle unveil his Isles of Wonder to the world at the Opening Ceremony of London Olympics. George was sanguine – he’d seen it all before of course, in one of his many visions while tramping over Hampstead Heath.
When he texted me again on Tuesday to flag the article in The Independent about the 20th anniversary of Peter Cook’s death on 9th January, I decided that the occasion should be marked and proposed filming an interview.

It was my mate Russell, then a lanky Drama School graduate venturing onto the London fringe scene, who’d told me all about George back in 1999. How he’d made a pilgrimage to Peter Cook’s London home in Perrin’s Walk  with his comedy partner in crime Karl Theobald (one of the funniest people I’ve ever been in a room with). George had encountered them in the street then invited them inside where he played them some of the hundreds of hours of audio taped conversations he’d had with Peter in 1985. Russell and Karl have never been the same since.

I’d interviewed George before, but he’d been more into pushing a film idea where Russell plays the Wizard of Wonders with George taking up the role of Apprentice Prophet. I was keen to hear about his father, Leopold Weiss, said to be the finest diamond cutter in Hatton Garden and also stories about the ‘real’ Peter Cook. But what I got instead was the tale of George’s lost years in Ireland and dealings with an exorcist in Chalk Farm referred to him by legendary psychiatrist RD Laing.

Finally with the anniversary of Cook’s death looming George was ready to open up on the final days – the dash to the Royal Free at Hampstead hours after Ian Dury‘s son was born (‘one in, one out’, my Nan would say). He had an agenda – the revival of Peter’s What Party with Russell taking on the role of President and leading the people of London into a glorious future. I sat and patiently listened to his plans for a peaceful take-over then read out the text message I’d just received from Russell telling me to make sure George played me some of his famous Cook audio recordings. He relented – but on the condition that I include it in the final cut of the video, ‘Of course I would’, I told him.

He spooled through the tape to these never-before-heard words from the comedy hero’s mouth. A great moment of comedic riffing? Some biting satire? A political diatribe? Revelations about his relationship with Dudley Moore? No. It was Peter Cook calling Robbie Coltrane a cunt. George’s eyes lit up and he laughed.

He texted me this morning to make sure I’d included the clip. I was unsure – what if Robbie Coltrane heard it and was hurt? Also was this the memory of Peter Cook we wanted to give people? ‘

Do you want that to be Peter’s message on this day?’ I replied.
‘One of them, yes definitely!’ he confirmed.

There was much that had to be left out – I got home at 5pm and crashed through the edit whilst still somehow attending to family duties. The rumours of top flight football match fixing, George was a serious gambler in the 1970s and played cards with Lord Lucan. There was also the Captain Kinky story that appeared in the Daily Star and George’s incarceration for selling LSD to a couple of undercover coppers, being labelled one of the king pins of the nascent Acid House scene. I’ll have to dig it all out some other time – once I’ve finished dealing with George’s torrents of texts.

There is something rotten in the London Borough of Barnet

My latest Trews Report is on a situation at West Hendon in the London Borough of Barnet that is so scandalous it is difficult to comprehend. There appears to be a confiscation of public assets that are then gifted to private companies on such a scale that it felt like the train I’d taken from Farringdon had transported me to Pinochet’s Chile rather than North-west London.

The Council estate on the edge of the Welsh Harp Reservoir is being demolished to make way for a series of private apartment blocks currently being punted to investors as buy-to-let opportunities. The Council residents are being shunted off to a purpose built block away from the Waterside to the carpark. Leaseholders who purchased their homes under Right-To-Buy are being given less than half their value and offered a 50% stake in one of the new homes. And non-secure tenants are either being moved to another regeneration estate or discharged into the private sector. The SSSI rating of the Reservoir is being removed to allow for more construction around the lakeside.

It is a theft of public assets on an epic scale that would even make Berlusconi blush.

There is clearly something rotten in the Borough of Barnet – where the Mayor is a private landlord who receives large amounts of housing benefit from his own authority

Where at least half the councilors are private landlords.

Where the Tory Councillor responsible for housing, Tom Davey, refers to “benefit claiming scum”

Sign the petition to help Save West Hendon

‪London protest for ‪90-year-old Arrested For Feeding Homeless‬ – Trews Reports (E6)‬

I went along to the US Embassy last Saturday for the first of what will become a regular peaceful demonstration in solidarity with Arnold Abbott and against homeless hate laws. This is an issue not just in the US but increasingly in London.

There’s more info about the regular Saturday 2pm protests on Streets Kitchen.

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New Era Estate update

I returned to the New Era Estate in Hoxton on Sunday to film this update on the situation for Trews Reports.

Benyon Estates are now withdrawing from their involvement with Westbrook Partners due to the pressure of the campaign. This now shifts focus to Westbrook in the US after the directors of Hoxton Regeneration Ltd. mysteriously resigned on Friday.

The battle for the New Era Estate continues and won’t end until the families in this precious and unique community are granted long term tenancies.

Have read of this article in The Guardian with more background on recent developments.

Sign the petition here