For the second time in a year an attempt to evict Tom Crawford from his Nottingham home has been foiled by a mobilisation of hundreds of supporters. Stewart Halforty reports
On Friday a flying picket of 500 people from all over the UK stopped bailiffs seizing a family home. It was the second time they had stopped a bailiff. In both cases the story featured in all mainstream media in the UK and around the world, and even the corporate owned and controlled media were sympathetic to the protestors.
Housing is the key issue in Britain today. The New Era Estate campaign and Focus E15 mothers testify to that. The issue appears different outside the capital, where home ownership is still a possibility for working class people, but it is essentially the same.
The story of Tom Crawford starts with the endowment mortgages mis-sold in the 1980s and ends in 2013 when those policies began to mature. In between, a banking crisis plunged the world into recession and we bailed them out with public money.
If you think you don’t know someone with an endowment mortgage that doesn’t cover the cost of their home, think again. People affected by the mis-selling scandal don’t wait for the bailiffs to arrive, they simply move, telling friends and neighbours they are ‘downsizing’. In reality they are silent victims of the endowment mis selling scandal.
Why Tom Crawford? Why 500 people? Why Nottingham? Because Tom spoke out, and his family organised, and because Nottingham is a city in the middle of the UK that is easy to get to and has a long history of radicalism.
Most of the people who stopped the bailiffs on Friday were from Nottingham. I know this because I handed out leaflets for our Empty Pots protest against food and fuel poverty and I asked everyone I gave one to if they were from Nottingham (if they were I gave them a handful of leaflets to give to others). The vast majority where from the city, but a contingent of people came from all over Britain to support the protest.
The picket was organized by Tom’s family using Youtube and Facebook. They had a team of supporters, and they know how to use social media to spread a message. It was a textbook example of organising and we could learn much from them. They didn’t need much help, just support.
Snake oil salesmen and the absence of the left
Where was the left? With the exception of the Nottingham People’s Assembly, the usual suspects were absent. The charitable explanation is that the left were not able to get out of work at short notice on a Friday. But that doesn’t explain the lack of support in the run up to the picket.
I know the Crawfords contacted left groups and parties because I received an email, by a circuitous route, which indicated they had contacted at least one left party office in London to ask for support. Unfortunately the left in Nottingham (and I suspect in many cites in the UK) is no longer equipped with the skills or tools to organise a mass picket against an eviction, although they do a mean paper sale.
In step the ‘anti debt’ campaigners. These charlatans prey on people in financial difficulty and promise ‘get out of debt free’ solutions such as declaring yourself ‘in lawful rebellion’ and other such nonsense. Frankly I have neither the time nor the inclination to look into these clowns. Suffice to say they are incredibly dangerous, and if you are on one of their websites you are never more than two links away from an anti semitic conspiracy theory video about pyramids with eyes, the illuminati and the Rothschilds. Beware.
I met one man who told me that a friend of a friend (it’s never anybody you can verify) had a letter from the UN Secretary General confirming that he was ‘in lawful rebellion’ and therefore could not be pursued for his debts.
Another had a sticker on his car window where the tax disc should be stating in garbled legalese that any attempt to affix a parking ticket to his car would be unlawful according to some law from 1846. It’s both very tragic and very sad.
One of these websites, the incredibly slick Get Out Of Debt Free site, promises template legal letters to send to bailiffs. In order to access these letters you have to log in to the site. When you login you are offered ‘instant access for a small one off donation’. Failure to donate means waiting 48 hours to download these template letters.
Doubtless many of the poor souls who stumble across this website will have acute debt problems, possibly notices of intent from bailiffs, and will pay the money to get these letters. At the time of writing my 48 hour waiting period has not expired so I can’t tell you what they say.
These people prey on the poor, make money from their misery and have mushroomed since 2008. As well as offering ‘advice’ they provide an explanation of the banking crisis that wouldn’t be out of place in the 1930s, if you get my meaning.
Whilst it was the family of Tom Crawford that organised the picket, it was the snake oil salesmen who provided the ideology. And that is a tragic indictment of the state of the British left. When working class people are in danger of losing their homes we don’t move in to help, and it’s left to peddlers of cod law to provide the theory.
Who owes what?
Does Tom owe any money? Maybe, who knows. Lots of other people do though. People who took out endowment mortgages in the 1980s now find themselves homeless. If you want to know why George Osborne’s promise to allow people to take their pension as a lump sum was so popular, you’re part way to finding out when you see the numbers caught up in the endowment racket.
There’s a story of right and wrong here but it’s not about who owes what, but about anger at banks. Endowments yes, but also bail outs.
If you doubt the scale of the anger, look no further than the Daily Mail. What ever you think of it, it’s read by millions. Their headline was ‘NOW will they leave him be’. ‘They’ are the banks, and there is no judgment of Tom, just support for his campaign. No one cares what is owed, they are angry at the banks and the corporate owned and controlled Daily Mail knows it must reflect that anger.
Anger at the banks has calcified into seething resentment, and a loathing of the financial system is crystallising around the issue of housing. Raising the issue of housing means we have to talk about how we create a financial system that works for us.
The picket that stopped the bailiffs should act as a wake up call. The word I heard most on Friday’s picket was ‘solidarity’. That’s our word, and the left should be central to these campaigns, but we weren’t.
Housing is an acute problem in the UK. It manifests itself differently wherever you are, and it is tied in closely with the other major issue for Britain, the banking system.
There aren’t enough homes, they’re too expensive, and you will have to sell yours to pay for care in your old age. The problem of housing is more than bricks and mortar. It’s about the type of society we want to live in.
Tom’s case hasn’t been resolved, and the bailiffs will call again. We’ll organise another picket when they do. Tom may keep his home, but there are many thousands who have given up theirs. What Tom’s campaign does show is the power of social media to mobilise quickly and efficiently, and that solidarity works.
In Nottingham on Saturday 31 January we have a pots and pans protest (cacalerazos) against poverty every last Saturday of the month until the election.
The politicians want to ignore the food and fuel poverty that blights 21st century Britain. We’ll use the tactic of the Latin American poor to make sure they can’t avoid the issue of austerity. We start on Saturday 31 January, and hope that other cities will join us. In London there are marches for housing on the same day. See you on Saturday.