A future for Anerley Town Hall

Anerley Town Hall is one of those Victorian projects that provide some of the few civic spaces left for local people. I’ve written to Bromley Council making clear that they need to secure its future, rather than continuing the neglect or flogging it off for a one-off lump of cash.


Here is my letter:

Dear Mr Thompson,

I am writing as a local resident and occasional Anerley Town Hall user to feed in my views on the four options you have circulated regarding the building’s future.

Regrettably, the council took the damaging decision to close the library service. This decision was the council’s, in view of funding cuts and the view – wrong in my opinion – that the new library in Penge made this facility unnecessary. But the library’s closure should not be taken as any indication of the building failing to provide value to the local community.


While the business centre is losing money, it is helping to keep 55 people in employment and keep money circulating in the local economy. Closing it now would cut the legs from under the local economy, and could have knock-on consequences for other businesses such as the parade of shops on Anerley Road.

As you note, the Crystal Palace Community Development Trust have succeeded in running a thriving community facility in their part of the building. This shows both that the building itself has a valuable role in the local community, and that the CPCDT have a solid track record.

There are no alternatives to this listed building in the area that offer the same space with a kitchen, toilets and parking. Redevelopment into residential or commercial uses would represent a huge loss to Anerley, an area that is among the most deprived in Bromley but also with potential to thrive given further support for community and business development. I believe that, under the CPCDT’s management, the whole building including the business centre could go from strength to strength, with efficiencies and innovation likely to arise from bringing management into one organisation.


In view of their success, I would prefer to see the council opt for option 2 – leasing the entire building to the CPCDT. I believe they are best placed to find viable uses for the building.

I believe the council should guarantee payment for the urgent subsidence works, and work with the CPCDT to find the best way to upgrade the telephony systems.

With respect to the car park, I am sympathetic to the idea of selling at least part of the car park for development. But this should be done with care not to affect the viability of the facilities, which will require some parking for loading and disabled access. It should also be accompanied by a transport plan to reduce private car usage in visiting the facilities, and to address any barriers to people taking the bus, walking or cycling to the facility. For example, the council should consider introducing a 20mph speed limit and cycle lanes on Anerley Road, and undertake a survey of current users to discover any holes in bus route coverage, working with TfL to resolve any issues that arise.


Tom Chance

The future of Anerley Town Hall speaks to a wider potential for government to empower local people.

Government needn’t always do, it can also facilitate; it needn’t always do these things for local people, it can do things with them. Just as I want to see the council work with local groups to gradually improve Crystal Palace Park, and just as the Upper Norwood Library Trust are seeking council support to run a  community facilities, so I think Bromley Council can work with the CPCDT to do something far more powerful in Anerley.

I don’t support the Conservative vision of a “Big Society” trying (without funding) to fill the hole left by government cuts. Bromley cannot just hand over the keys to the Crystal Palace Community Development Trust, without funding the work to stop the subsidence and upgrade the telephony systems.

But it would be in the spirit of the Victorian age to see Bromley treat Anerley Town Hall not as a council asset to be flogged off, nor a consumer product it delivers for local people, but as a civic space – a focal point in which government and locals work together for the benefit of the community.

A defence of ideology

A defence of ideologyOne of the many abuses of the English language in mainstream political parlance is the denigration of ideology.

Defending his government’s cuts to public spending, David Cameron wrote in 2011 that:

This is a government led by people with a practical desire to sort out this country’s problems, not by ideology.

More recently, Nick Clegg attacked Michael Gove’s education policies as ideological, reportedly saying:

Parents don’t want ideology to get in the way of their children’s education

In fact, Nick Clegg really appears to have it in for ideology because he attacks it all the time. He said a couple of weeks ago:

I don’t take an ideological approach to public spending.

But it isn’t just our dear leaders trying to avoid the whiff of ideology. You hear it all the time – the Government’s cuts are “ideological” (i.e. bad), the Green Party’s opposition to nuclear is “ideological” (i.e. invalid). Just as Cameron denied the charge, Greens sometimes protest that their opposition to nuclear power isn’t ideological.

Hang on a second, aren’t they all involved in politics?

My concise Oxford English Dictionary defines ideology as:

a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy

Surely David Cameron should be guided by a system of political and economic theories and beliefs when deciding what this country’s problems are, and how to deal with them? Surely Nick Clegg’s opposition to Michael’s Gove’s policies stems in part from his ideology, and one would hope his approach to public spending would follow his liberal ideology and not whatever “commonsense” notion struck him at each meeting?

The Green Party’s opposition to nuclear power is absolutely ideological. A core tenet of the party’s ideology is putting power, be it electrical or economic, into the hands of the people, not corporations. Corporate power tends to be unaccountable, to act in its own interests, to lie and dissemble when it has done something wrong. Nuclear power can only be run either by the state or corporations, and is largely run by the latter. Another core tenet, coming from our ecological roots, is valuing diversity and resilience. Staking a very large share of our energy future on one technology supplied by a couple of companies in a dozen or so plants that need fuel from a handful of countries doesn’t seem to fit the bill. The party aims for peace and nuclear disarmament, so any move by the UK government that would put more potential weapon material into the world, and that would legitimate nuclear weapons programmes in countries like Iran, should be opposed. So the Green Party prefers a diverse mix of renewable energy technologies that can be owned by individuals, community-led companies, councils, small enterprises and, yes, big companies who build massive offshore wind farms.

To my mind, it is our ideological objections to nuclear power that are our strongest arguments. I’ve never been able to get my head around the comparative costs, and I’ve never wanted to cobble together information about safety that I don’t understand. But I don’t trust nuclear PLC as far as I can throw them, and if we can do without nuclear then I’m ideologically opposed to it.

The most infuriating example of this ideology denial is the claim that “it’s just about supply and demand”. I see this all the time on Twitter and on blogs, whenever anybody has the cheek to write something more sophisticated than an A-level economics essay.


Apart from the fact that this is extremely simplistic economics, it is also very often used in an ideological fashion. For example, you see people saying that council housing is pointless because it is just trying to buck the market, and at the end of the day the housing problem just comes down to supply and demand. People making this argument will often claim that anyone who disagrees is both “economically illiterate” and “ideological”, as though an economic theory based on the logic of a free market that has no place for public housing isn’t ideological. A variant is that the planning system must be dismantled because it gets in the way of supply and so makes house prices high, as though there is no value to the planning system and no objective for housing policy besides affordable prices on the open market.

Of course, ideology can prevent people from finding shared ground. Many blame inflexible ideology for the state of affairs in American politics, illustrated by this neat cartoon:


But this is a defect of the political process and the entrenched positions of politicians who depend upon their extreme wings to win primary selection. It isn’t the fault of ideology per se.

Let’s not shy away from ideology, please. Let’s not pretend we are all pragmatists arguing over the best way to manage a one-party state. Let’s talk about our values, our beliefs, the theories that guide our decisions.


This topic came up today in a conversation with a friend, Tom Hill. He suggested that “ideological” is often used to mean that somebody is ignoring, misrepresenting or lying about evidence to protect their own ideological position, as those who are pro or anti-nuclear are known to do from time to time! The same can be true of the reverse; somebody can try to pretend they are simply acting on evidence in order to cover their ideology, as Nick Clegg and David Cameron clearly seem to be doing in the above examples.

Never mind the narrative

Aled Dilwyn Fisher and Adam Ramsay have kicked off another little debate about the recent past and possible future of “the left”, following a total failure to seize the much-vaunted opportunity created by the massive financial crisis in 2008.

Why did anyone except the hard left – not known for their astute political realism – believe that we were likely to see a reshaping of international capitalism in 2008? Governments regulating and administering the major economic powers and their possible successors approaching national elections almost all lined up behind what Aled succinctly calls “deficit fetishism”. Even Obama’s green-tinged stimulus is undermined by States doing the exact opposite.

Adam is interested in narratives about greedy bankers and corrupt politicians, governments running out of money and youth unemployment spirally. Me too, but his writing verges on a pointless delusion – that “we”, a small rabble of bloggers and activists on the fringes of political power, can do anything to effectively resist the onslaught of cuts that the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems all signed up to during the General Election, and to bring about a fundamental reshaping of the global political economy.

When I read the language of resistance to today’s cuts, I’m reminded of Neil Kinnock’s most famous speech attacking Labour councils who brought cities to their knees in a vainglorious attempt to ignore (or in their language, resist) government cuts.

If we spend too much time fretting about our narrative we are in danger of falling into the trap of fighting an illusionary battle between the forces of the left and the right, as though they were two divided communities battling for the soul of the nation. A coalition of resistance might create a space for debate, as Romayne Phoenix has suggested, but it isn’t going to stop all the cuts. Debate will be healthy because there are many more than two positions on our current fiscal predicament, and accepting this is the first step towards focusing – as Aled suggests – on organising communities of interest to resist where there is a real chance of reversing a cut (such as housing benefits) and on getting significant sympathetic space in the media to decry cuts that are clearly abysmal and clearly unstoppable.

The CrapAnalysis Alliance strikes again

The self-appointed TaxPayers’ Alliance have published a shoddy demolition of The Spirit Level, which kicks off by claiming that “the best way of getting rich is by satisfying or anticipating the wants of other people”.

Apparently they are ignorant of advertising (shaping and creating the wants of other people), which is projected to reach £531bn globally by next year. That’s roughly the same amount that the UK Government brings home in tax revenue. Or to take a specific example, research from 2008 suggested that American drugs companies spend roughly twice as much on advertising as they do on research – getting rich by promoting cash-cow drugs instead of researching much-needed medicines.

Apparently they missed the collapse of the global financial system in the past few years, which was triggered by companies getting rich through risky trading practices far distanced from the wants of people outside the financial services sector. Those that were affected first – home owners with “sub prime” mortgages – were exploited by irresponsible people getting rich off their wants in an underregulated market.

Apparently they are ignorant of the way in which the business world actually works. Take this compendium of Microsoft’s dirty tricks, for example, which shows a company (and one man in particular) getting filthy rich by distorting and abusing another poorly regulated market. Yes, they satisfied the wants of a great many people, but if that was your only measure then other companies would have done equally well if not better. But they were crushed.

I’m not saying all businesses are evil, just that apparently the TaxPayers’ Alliance are talking out of their arse again.

Are the new new Right in this together?

February feels a distant memory. Back then, the Conservative Party released a report called Labour’s Two Nations, attacking Labour’s 13 year record on inequality. Britain had become (they suggested) a society of low taxation on the rich and high marginal rates on the poor; under Labour, risky personal lending inflating a housing fantasy replaced prudent saving and improving housing affordability.

So do the Conservatives now care deeply about inequality? Darren Johnson put the London Assembly Conservatives to the test this week, proposing that the Mayor of London implement Cameron’s policy of a maximum 20:1 pay ratio in the Greater London Authority group.

Here’s the response of the Conservatives:

In case you’re fooled into thinking that Darren and the Greens are ignoring the low paid, read Darren’s arguments in The Guardian. If we’re all in this together, shouldn’t government bodies ensure that the lowest paid receive a living wage whilst preventing spiralling pay at the top of the scale?

The cost of housing doubles in London

Halifax have published a great little fact sheet on some key housing trends over the last 50 years. The most dramatic is that the cost of buying a home has risen 273% above incomes over that period, with the sharpest rise during the 2000s when they rose by 63%.

This is the increasing cost of housing adjusted for increases in income; or adjusting for inflation to state rises in real terms, for economists. Imagine if food or heating bills rose that quickly compared to incomes!

Whilst the property-owning journalists hail this rise in house prices, more and more people are squeezed out of the market, or forced to sacrifice huge chunks of their salary to repay mortgages.

Jenny Jones published a report on the housing crisis in London recently. She shows that over the past decade the cost of buying a home doubled in London, well above the national rise of 63%. This makes the misleading boasts of our Tory Mayor – as he fails to even meet his own modest housing targets – all the more sickening.

Unless we double the number of homes we build, which is pretty unlikely, or we make a radical shift away from home ownership, this trend is set to continue for another decade. But our Labour government and this Tory Mayor are both  committed to mostly building homes we have to buy, with a very small minority available for affordable rent, almost no land being held by communities to keep it affordable, and pretty much no support for alternative models like co-operatives.

Can you balance right and wrong?

For your average closet climate change denier or otherwise-stuck-in-the-mud politician, the Balance is a great weapon to deploy against evidence-based policy. “Of course we want to tackle climate change”, the argument goes, “but we must strike a balance between this and [insert contradictory aim here]”.

If they understand the science of climate change, and have read the work of the Committee for Climate Change, they’d quickly realise they were asking for a balance between right and wrong, or more correctly and plainly for the wrong policy; you can’t really find a middle ground.

So lately we see lots of senior Tories running this trope in an attempt to rein in the green public face of the Conservative Party (despite the party demoting most of its green lights to the back benches). Riding the resurgence of denial in the Telegraph and Spectator, these MPs are boldly defending their right to ignorance. Three years after Stern put a conservative estimate on the cost of unchecked climate change at 20% of GDP, they decry mitigation efforts costing 2-5% of GDP which might “see the whole economy destroyed”, and call for a Balance to be struck.

It’s not just the neophyte Tories, either. In a London Assembly meeting today, Labour member Navin Shah joined the motorist lobby in pressing for weakened car parking controls in outer London. We need, he suggested, to strike a better balance between the needs of business and sustainable transport. Not the most exciting policy, I’ll warrant. But half an hour reading up on transport emissions would convince a moderately brainy 10 year old that we need to significantly reduce car usage in outer London; a further half hour would be enough to grasp that more car parking will do exactly the opposite. Promoting a balance between sustainable transport and business is nonsensical in the long term; the only option is to promote business within the constraint of sustainable transport policy.

It all brings to mind Ben Goldacre‘s rants against “humanities politicians and journalists” who have no proper training in the sciences or scientific method. Those politicians that want to put politics and economics before basic scientific evidence could take a lesson from Cnut, one of the wiser politicians to have graced this country.

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Scrap those old boilers, politicians

This one is a no-brainer for blog action day. The UK’s Committee for Climate Change has called for it, Boris Johnson of all people includes it in his air quality strategy, and it will help people save money as energy bills rise.

The Government should set-up a boiler scrappage scheme (and you should sign the petition). Let people trade in old, inefficient boilers for new ones, or at least to get a massive discount. They did it for cars to help an ailing industry, why not do it with boilers to promote jobs across the country, cut carbon and help vulnerable households?

This fun little gimmick is of course one small piece of the unprecedented housing puzzle. How exactly do we cut emissions from heating, cooling and electricity by 90-100% across all the nation’s buildings in the next twenty to thirty years? The technical challenges are big enough, and with limp government exemplified by Labour up until a year or so ago – and matched by weak Conservative plans – getting the financing in place is a tricky subject.

But the hardest part will be selling it to the public. Loft insulation and new boilers are fine – more efficiency without visible changes. What about cladding that nice brick / pebbledash / stone house with external insulation? What about reducing some room sizes for internal wall cladding?

We need political parties that can implement this boiler scrappage scheme today, and begin to seriously address the wider challenge over the next two decades. We need MPs who are committed to a Green New Deal.

Who is really ripping us off?

A discussion with two friends on the back of my post about the cuts agenda brought up some interesting figures about benefit and tax fraud.

There’s nothing the Tories and right-wing media pundits like more than a good old attack on benefit fraud. Lazy good-for-nothings scamming our taxes! Get ‘em! But how big a problem is benefit fraud, and how does it compare to the rich ripping us off with offshore tax havens and the like?

Benefit fraud in 07-08 cost us around £800m out of a budget totalling £125bn. Tax evasio by the rich cost us around £18.5bn and a tax avoidance is estimated at around £100bn compared to a government budget totalling £589bn.

Tax evasion  is harder to tackle, involving international negotiations, but it says a lot about your priorities. Tory plans to bail out a few thousand rich families through inheritance tax changes would cost considerably more than benefit fraud. Are they cutting public finances to help the country, or to help their wealthy mates?

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Don’t let the Tories get away with it

As long as the Democrats talked within Republican frames like “tax relief”, they always lost the argument. So why are Labour taking on Tory economic narratives during their party season? They’re handing the election to Cameron on a plate.

The first narrative is that we need to cut public expenditure to save the deficit and curb the national debt. Except that our national debt is much lower than most developed economies, and is projected to stay that way. Our deficit is large, but Cameron’s criticism of any fiscal stimulus would only have landed us in a bigger hole with more unemployment and smaller tax receipts; perhaps even a depression.

The second is that the public sector is an unproductive drag on the economy, and should be the focus of cuts. Except that the public sector injects stable spending power into the economy; provides the infrastructure and services that business can’t function without; subsidises businesses who want to pay scandalously low wages through the benefits system; is funded more by working people’s tax contributions than those direct from business; and so on.

For much of the left wing commentariat, who think “Left equals Labour”, this is more evidence of the intellectual vacuum at what’s left of the heart of the left Labour project. But New Labour was born from the marriage of social democracy and New Right economic thinking. Brown et al are never going to seriously rethink the economic terrain they shaped, which contributed to the near-collapse of the economy. Their only narrative these past few months has been “our cuts will be nicer”. Nice.

If only those commentators would look beyond Labour to parties who are articulating a genuine alternative, and who are challenging these Tory narratives. Like, urm, the Green Party. At the moment they seem resigned to an electoral wipeout without redeeming heros.

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