Two long, sustained, informed and informative articles about London’s housing ‘crisis’ have been published in the past week: Oliver Wainwright’s ‘Revealed: how developers exploit flawed planning system to minimise affordable housing’, published in last Thursday’s Guardian; and Rowan Moore’s ‘London: the city that ate itself’ in Sunday’s Observer. However, at the end of both, and particularly the extended on-line version of the former, I felt myself almost crushed by what was depicted in both articles as the inexorable economic logic and political will behind the forces arrayed against us. But after giving myself a good kick up the arse at such defeatism, I began to query what exactly it is that articles such as these serve to promote.
Yes, they are well-argued and fairly objective investigations into the economic and political causes of the current situation, but in neither do I read more than the slightest hint towards solutions to the problems they spend the remainder of their many pages analysing. In this respect, it is significant that Moore’s article barely mentions ASH, which is one of the groups offering solutions and a plan of action and resistance. Far from compelling outrage and perhaps a willingness to combat these forces in the reader, it might be argued that these articles serve precisely what they claim to be exposing, by painting what is contingent as somehow given, irreversible and unchallengeable.
This, it bears being repeated, is precisely the function of ideology: to make capitalist economic and social relations seem part of the natural order of things. There is nothing natural, necessary, inexorable, irreversible or unchallengeable about what the property barons, politicians and investors feeding at the housing table are doing to our city. The housing ‘crisis’ is not a result of abstract faceless economic forces: it has been carefully prepared and legislated over a number of years to serve the interests and fill the pockets of those who benefit from it. If by ‘crisis’ we mean something that is out of our control, then there is no housing ‘crisis’. There is – in actuality rather than in the ideology of our society – a class war being waged through housing, and so far it is all going to plan. The so-called ‘crisis’ is well in hand. The sooner liberals with an unshakeable faith in democracy, market forces, common sense, human decency and all the other illusions of their class wake up to this reality, the sooner we can start coming up with ways to fight back.
We can start by stopping doing what these articles perhaps unwittingly perpetuate, which is analysing this so-called crisis in the same terms as those that created it – of profit-incentives and market forces, deregulation and financial constraints – as if this is the ground we should be fighting on. It isn’t. An enemy that is free to choose his own ground has already won half the battle. We need to start putting forward our own terms, choosing our own ground, rather than fighting for the scraps our masters let fall from their table. Only then will we be in a position to win this war. Then we need to get out there and win it.
– Simon Elmer