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Socialism and the Government of London by Owen Hatherley

Available from Repeater Books

Reviewed by Barry Coidan

The book review editor said 300 words. I like discipline – it’s a shame that Labour in power in London didn’t have that.

I devoured the book’s 264 pages. I am neither architect, planner nor a political activist. If I weren’t so lazy this book would have me on banging on the glass at the London Assembly’s gilded cage demanding action.

This is a beautifully written book. It’s helped by having a tragic story to tell. Except Labour’s failure is more spineless than tragic.

What we witness is Labour’s failure since the 80’s to confront the Tories and their market “solution” to housing. Labour councils selling off sites to speculators – supposedly to help the local working class - the only result being to drive out the very people this cack-handed policy was aimed to help. Tower Hamlets council at a Chinese trade fair in 2010 – bragging it was a “regeneration supernova”. The result being hardly any new housing for residents but lots of profit for the developers. Pure socialism.

Good build and design, in house dedicated, strong architectural and planning teams - which historically the LCC and GLC and the London Boroughs had - successfully planned and built homes for all. Forgotten – replaced by interminable contracts where no one has any responsibility for everything except turning a profit at every opportunity.

It’s not just the supine Labour boroughs that are at fault. The capital owning press including the Evening Standard and its erstwhile editor (ex-Chancellor) come in for some stick – and rightly so! As the author points out “disasters like Grenfell toppled governments in Romania and South Korea, but in England “it seemed there was no longer anything a Conservative government could do that would allow it to be voted out of office. We are living in a one-party state.” Right on!