A Westminster aide to a Croydon MP, who has his wages paid by the tax-payer, has instructed his fellow councillors not to respond to local residents if they are contacted over concerns about evictions from housing co-operatives in Lambeth.
Matthew Bennett is the “head of office” for Steve Reed OBE, the MP for Croydon North, or what in Croydon Labour circles has become regarded as “Lambeth South” since the Progress supporter’s election in 2012. Reed was previously the leader of Lambeth council.
As well as his publicly funded salary for working for Reed’s Croydon constituents, Bennett also draws down nearly £40,000 a year in allowances from Brixton Town Hall, where the Gipsy Hill councillor is the cabinet member for housing.
A group calling itself the Lambeth United Housing Co-operative last month contacted their councillors, raising once again issues with their council’s policies which have seen the forcible evictions of dozens of residents of housing co-operatives, established for more than 40 years. The group has the support of Kate Hoey, the veteran Labour MP for Vauxhall, as well as Vivienne Westwood, the fashion designer.
Lambeth Council sending in the bailiffs to enforce compulsory evictions has been condemned by the campaign group as “social cleansing”. Campaigners claim that the evictions have cost ratepayers around £2million in legal and other associated costs. The human cost of people being forced out of their homes cannot be accounted for.
The evictions began under Reed when he was the leader of Lambeth Council. Now, they are being followed through enthusiastically by his right-hand man, Bennett.
In his email to his fellow councillors last month, Bennett – who refers to the housing co-operative campaigners as “the shortlife campaign” – says, “I’d be grateful if members of group didn’t respond to the email from the shortlife campaign which was sent on Tuesday evening.”
So much for openness and transparency, or even representing the people who got you elected…
Bennett seems to be relishing the task of using public money in expensive court actions to end long-standing and successful housing co-ops to evict residents, in the borough which his boss, Reed, boasted was a “co-operative council”.
“There’s been excellent progress over the summer,” Bennett told his fellow councillors, “a number of legal successes in the court and a number of long-term holdouts have dropped their court cases and asked the council to provide them with social housing instead.
“There are 37 households remaining who the council are working with. Of those 37, 22 have accepted re-housing and are waiting for a suitable property and one is in the process of buying their property. The remainder are in various stages of the legal process or in negotiation with the council about the terms of signing a possession order.
“I fully expect the shortlife programme to conclude before the summer next year. So far the programme has raised over £58 million to support our priorities, including going towards meeting our manifesto pledge for 1,000 new homes for council rent.”
That £58 million referred to is the cash raised by Lambeth from selling off the properties, which had been maintained and improved since the 1970s and made into habitable homes, by the people now being evicted.
Publicly, Bennett attempted to deny that he tried to stop other councillors from engaging with the co-operative group. Then Lambeth United published his email on its website.
The campaigners’ email which Bennett ordered his colleagues to ignore condemned the Labour councillors as “liars, pure and simple” for supporting the evictions after previously pledging their support.
They wrote: “You’ve already been told about one man who collapsed four days before his trial with a heart attack and about an elderly cancer sufferer who had to undergo one eviction and who – we believe – may face another eviction. Then there are cases of mentally vulnerable people whose conditions have worsened because of this vindictive policy. You don’t seem to care much – and if you do you’re not speaking loudly enough to help.
“Meanwhile, the destination of the monies raised by booting out some of the borough’s longest-term residents has been consistently hidden, with FOIs on the matter deemed ‘vexatious’. When Lambeth don’t like the questions it moves the goalposts. How democratic,” they wrote, accusing the councillors of abandoning their residents “in a flash of self-interest, careerism and short-termism”.
Councillor Bennett – who was appointed as Reed’s aide soon after his election as a Croydon MP – has clearly learned much from his boss, a man who has gone on the record to state that “most politicians don’t trust the people”. According to official Lambeth Council records, Reed even had a fellow Labour councillor’s emails spied upon when he was the leader of his council.
Might Reed and Bennett’s style of civic management be coming to Croydon now that Labour has control of the Town Hall?
- In related news, last week Croydon North constituency Labour party, at its annual meeting, elected Catriona Ogilvy as its new chair. Ogilvy moved to Croydon relatively recently, from Lambeth. She had previously been the chair of another constituency Labour party, in Streatham, which is, of course, in Lambeth, and where one of the local members was… Steve Reed. Her husband, Mike Smith, was previously a local councillor… in Lambeth.
- Politicians distrusted? Ask Lambeth’s housing co-ops
- New Statesman: Why is Lambeth dismantling its housing co-operatives?
- Read Brixton Buzz’s coverage of the most recent resident’s protests
Coming to Croydon
- MOPAC policing meeting, Surrey Street, Nov 4
- Personal safety training for volunteers, Nov 4
- St Giles School opening morning, Nov 5
- David Lean Cinema: Two Days, One Night, Nov 6
- Park Hill School fireworks display, Nov 7
- Grange Park bulb-planting event, Nov 8
- Streatham-Croydon women’s rugby training, Frant Road, Nov 9
- Brook recording studio open day and party, Nov 9
- David Lean Cinema, Paths of Glory, Nov 11
- Albert Einstein – Relativity Speaking, Spread Eagle, Nov 12-15
- David Lean Cinema, Ida, Nov 13
- Oval Tavern Folk Club, Nov 14
- South Croydon business breakfast, Nov 15
- Streatham-Croydon women’s rugby training, Frant Road, Nov 16
- Personal safety training for volunteers, Nov 17
- David Lean Cinema, Effie Gray, Nov 20
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
- Choose Your Own Documentary, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 21-22
- David Lean Cinema, Lilting, Nov 22
- Streatham-Croydon women’s rugby training, Frant Road, Nov 23
- David Lean Cinema, Wakolda, Nov 27
- The Last Sense of Sudden, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 27-29
- Ghost Stories for Christmas, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 3
- Fog Horn Funnies, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 6
- Coulsdon Yulefest, Dec 6-7
- Oval Tavern Folk Club, Dec 7
- South Croydon business breakfast, Dec 13
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
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