David Cameron’s vow to take the bulldozer to sink estates applies to England, but I thought some lessons from my homeland might prove a cautionary tale for him.
In Glasgow, there was a much-trumpeted slum clearance project in the 1950s. I’m sure it was proposed for the best of reasons, but what it turned into was an exercise in social cleansing, in that when the slums were knocked down – and they did need knocking down – working-class people were moved out of the city centre and relocated at its periphery. Talk about deconstruction at work! Unfortunately, not all went well in the new estates, and for a simple reason: the same people who made the slums worse than they needed to be turned the new estates into sink estates.
The borderline and more-than-borderline psychopaths who keep people divided and tied up in crises are fireproof: at best landlords are scared of confronting them, and at worst they are invaluable to landlords because they prevent effective tenants’ committees to form and stay stable long enough to hold said landlords’ feet to the fire.
This is, as I say, a Glasgow story, but I would be very surprised if it were just a Glasgow story.
The millionaire songwriters of Squeeze, who changed the lyrics of Cradle to the Grave to send a message to the Prime Minister on the welfare State, might have been lucky enough to get out of council housing before drugs took hold, more in some areas than in others. But I lived through it, so please forgive me for my lack of misty-eyed nostalgia. To make things worse, Glasgow Housing Authority (later Glasgow Housing Association) was so fiscally incontinent as to run up almost a billion pounds in debt, meaning it could do nothing to upgrade its stock, and GHA’s leader was forced to admit that nobody who could afford to live elsewhere was living in its stock. Again I’d be surprised if this were purely a Glasgow story, even if the scale of folly is unique.
Many housing estates do need bulldozing, because they were built not out of respect for human families but along the lines of battery farms, confining the maximum number of voters in the minimum space. But beware agenda contamination: will the new houses be smaller so there’s more of them, to disguise the overpopulation crisis arising from open-door immigration? Will the input of EU money be trumpeted in order to influence the result of the referendum and settlements thereafter?
The ball’s in your court, Prime Minister.