Thursday, October 19, 2017

1925 map by WB Northrop satirising landlords in London. Photograph: Cornell University/PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartology

It’s been fourteen months since I last commented on the EU referendum. Since that point, an enormous amount has happened, culminating in the stand-off between the UK Government and the EU that we see at the moment.

Along the way, we’ve seen all kinds of political fireworks, from the debacle of the snap General Election, in which the Conservatives had to go into a coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party to shore up their Government after failing to win a majority, to the Daily Mail resorting to blatant homophobia in its ‘Enemies of the People’ front cover.

What has also been distressingly noticeable, as The Guardian has confirmed, is the rise in the hate crimes that has spiked as a result of the referendum. To claim, as some have done below the line (BTW) in other Guardian articles, that the rise is due to a number of factors rather than the Brexit result, is disingenuous, as this Independent article confirms.

What has also been noticeable since the referendum is a tendency to blame EU migrants for the UK’s housing crisis, and the soaring costs in living - particularly in the capital, but also in certain other parts of the country too. This is far too a simplistic view, and ignores how our housing system works.

As this comment piece for The Guardian points out, in 1981 most people could either afford to buy property outright – at hardly a fraction of what property costs now, even accounting for inflation – or they had access to Council housing. Margaret Thatcher’s policy of selling off Council housing at this time greatly reduced the housing stock, a policy that was exacerbated, to some extent, under Labour. As it turns out, much as that Council housing was often of shoddy make, as Adam Curtis’s first documentary exposed:

There is a kind of passing of the buck in that film which is illustrative of where we are now. Instead of admitting that a lot of the problems that the UK finds itself in are of its own doing, the right-wing media have instead put the blame on others. This ignores the fact that the Government has been hugely ineffective in building new housing. This is because of a combination of factors: those controlling a good deal of housing in this country have very little interest in seeing new housing built. Another Guardian article, this time on the aristocracy, is striking for noting just how much property is concentrated into few hands. As the article states:

“One legal provision unique to England and Wales has been of particular importance to these aristocratic landlords: over the centuries they built many millions of houses, mansion blocks and flats, which they sold on a leasehold rather than freehold basis. This meant that purchasers are not buying the property outright, but merely a time-limited interest on it.”

Much of the aristocracy and the property-owning classes – by the latter, I mean those who own a whole number of properties, not just one - are aligned with the Tories. It’s in the interests of the ruling class to not see further housing built, because it would devalue the portfolio of the property owning classes.

The situation has been exacerbated by a ruthless Not In My Back Yard (NIMBYism) and the lack of thorough regulation of the private sector, which was deregulated in 1989. Unlike many other parts of Europe, the Tories have steadfastly refused to introduce a rent cap, instead leaving it to the free market. The predictable consequences of this are that landlords have been able to get away with murder, condemning the younger generations to have no choice but pay punitively high rents. Add to that the fact that the Tories have sold off public land, and the result has been a perfect storm in the housing sector.

At a time when there is a homeless crisis in London, much property in the capital continues to lay empty – and much beyond. Near where I grew up, an area called Woodberry Down - traditionally a rough and run-down area, but with a thriving community – has been transformed into shiny tower blocks that overlook the reservoirs at Woodberry Wetlands, which I had the fortune to visit nearby. Much of those flats lie empty, with many bought by rich Singaporean businessmen as part of a property portfolio.

There are other examples. From a friends’ flat in Stoke Newington, on the second floor, I can see a huge expanse of grass. That expanse, she tells me, never has anyone in it. It lies empty while kids play football in the tiny yard of concrete next to it. It should be free land, yet is owned by someone who forbids the public from trespassing on it.

Then there is the mansion on City Road, near where I work, that has been lying empty for as long as I can remember. It had been a squat since 1995 – I know, as I went to a squat party there once – before being boarded up. There is now no-one in there, and it continues to lie derelict.

The 21st century has seen property being used as a commodity rather than a place to live, in a way that it never quite was before. This is not the fault of the EU. The fact that entire streets in London have been exposed as full of empty properties because they have been used as part of portfolios by the rich from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Singapore, is a fault entirely of the UK Government. The greatest trick Tory politicians who voted Leave pulled off is convincing the electorate that our housing crisis is due to people from other EU countries living here. Yet leaving the UK will not solve our housing crisis. Only rent caps, and putative taxes on those who leave property empty for a substantial amount of time (or, better still, forcefully taking back the property) can introduce some kind of sanity into a dysfunctional system – something that Corbyn had included in Labour’s manifesto during the General Election. For that, he was savaged by the right-wing press, which only showed their genuine fright at his chances of being elected. At the next GE, it could genuinely happen.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

I mentioned in a previous extensive blog post some volunteering that I've been involved in, in conjunction with an organisation called On The Record, a not-for-profit organisation looking into oral and visual history in London – especially that of ordinary people and the working-class whose accounts of life may have been marginalised.

The project that I have been working on, A Hackney Autobiography, has been a deeply personal dimension for myself, given that I grew up in the borough. Even more specifically, though, the project has focused on Centerprise – an organisation that my father was involved with in the 70s and 80s. A community centre that housed a bookshop, a cafe, a youth arts and performance space, a publishing project, and a housing/welfare advice service (the latter of which my father was involved with), Centerprise was unique in a pre-gentrification Hackney, where adult illiteracy was still relatively high and the borough remained one of the most deprived in the country.

The project involved unearthing an enormous archive, most of it at Bishopsgate Institute, to do with Centerprise: from the books released as part of the publishing project (which I then converted into digital), to the audio interviews that other volunteers conducted with those who were involved with Centerprise at the time (including with my father), to researching vast back catalogues of the Hackney People's Press, a left-wing newspaper based at Centerprise.

Last November, there was the first launch party for the project, at Hackney Museum, as I mentioned in this other blog post.

Now it's the turn of a second launch party, this time to celebrate the culmination of the volunteering into a book, The Lime Green Mystery: An Oral History of the Centerprise Co-operative. Accompanying the book will be an app and a website, both of which will be announced at the end of April.

Details on the flyer above (click on it for an enlargened image), and here:

A Hackney Autobiography: Launch Event
Sunday 7th May 2017
Sutton House, 2 & 4 Homerton High Street, London, E9 6JQ (map)

There are limited places, so booking is advised: email

Just before the party, there will be a unique chance to preview one of the audiowalks featured on the apps as part of a group. To book a place on the Inside Out Homerton audiowalk, please contact On The Record by Friday 21st April. Later bookings will be accepted if places remain available.

Event organised with Pages of Hackney.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Some music from my album features on a short documentary by a friend of mine, Naveed Nasir, which can be viewed below.
The documentary follows his partner teaching workshops in making signet rings at Milton Keynes Arts Centre.

Mark Making from Naveed Nasir on Vimeo.

There will be an exhibition at Milton Keynes Arts Centre on Saturday 18th February 2017, from 1-3pm, entrance free, exploring the themes touched on in the documentary.
More information here

From the venue website:
Mark Making celebrates Milton Keynes’ young people and the City’s legacy in an exhibition representing time and identity through a series of workshops in collaboration with students of Stephenson Academy, connecting past and present, providing a platform for the new wave of inventors, architects and designers to have a voice and share with the City what it means to them to be a young person living in Milton Keynes. Mark Making acts as the fourth and final instalment of Common Ground; 12months of collaborations between artists Yinka Ilori, Ibiye Camp, Tom Dale, Izzy Parker, Groundwork and our communities.
The exhibition will visually represent the time passed in the form of an immersive installation created from thousands of hung multiples. Artist Izzy Parker will showcase her participant’s identities, her father’s and her own identity in one setting; representing a generation of identities in one exhibition.
Parker asks students to explore their own identities by teaching them how to design and make their own signet rings and she will explore her own identity by creating a new body of work that is homage to the recent passing of her father.
The exhibition will provide a platform to encapsulate different perceptions of identity. Her own, her father’s and the students. The show will feature an immersive hanging installation by Izzy Parker, the students finished signet rings and a short documentary of the project created by filmmaker Naveed Nasir.
Set in Milton Keynes Arts Centre’s 17th century barn gallery, this event offers an opportunity for Milton Keynes residents to come together to share food and celebrate the achievements of the City’s young people.
An Introduction 
2017 will herald the 50th anniversary of Milton Keynes and much has changed since this ‘new town’ was officially inaugurated in 1967 with a simple brief to become a ‘city in scale’. Artist Izzy Parker will be marking this special occasion by exploring the theme of identity and asking participants from the Stephenson Academy to design and make their own signet ring.
Signet rings have been used since the 1400s as identification marks. They were first used to mark documents by way of an official seal being imprinted into hot wax or soft clay. They were also used to mark doorways and even seal tombs. Used on a global scale by men and women of great standing; each ring as individual as the person wearing it, it often hosted a bespoke family crest or symbol. The rings were considered such an official mark of identification, that to prevent fraudulent acts being committed they were often destroyed when their wearer died.
Izzy Parker has chosen to work with pupils from the Stephenson Academy to ask them to consider how and what factors represent their own identity. Be it their own personal history, clothing, friends, family or even their favourite musician. The ‘making’ element of the project will offer a calm, focussed and contemplative activity for them to engage with. Providing the head space to consider what and who they relate to as young adults.
It is important we find our own clan; where we feel we belong alongside peers we respect so we can contextualise where we fit into society and our community.  Izzy Parker, Artist
Parker’s own exploration of identity has been heightened by the recent passing of her father in December 2015. Interested by how signet rings were destroyed after the wearer died, somewhat eradicating the identity of the individual, Parker will investigate how we often try to hold on to the identity of a person after their death. She will consider our perception of memories and how they can change over the course of time.
Secondary to the signet ring workshops Parker will run some set building classes where students will assist in the build and installation of the set for the exhibition. By the end of the project they will have learnt a broad range of goldsmithing, set building and practical skills.